Sunday, June 9, 2024

Letter: Part of the struggle (1996)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

To me Colin Skelly in his letter to the April edition of the Socialist Standard reveals an almost religious zeal in his description of his efforts to resist the "temptation" to join a rally protesting about the proposed Newbury Bypass. I wonder, does he think he may have been in some way tainted by reformism had he succumbed to this "temptation”?

Surely, we are all involved in the class struggle (I know I am and have been for most of my life) whether we like it or not. Under this senseless and barbaric system of society we all have to compromise our principles every day of our lives and in fact those of us who still have a job may sometimes be faced with the prospect of industrial action. So tell me, Colin, would you avoid the "temptation” to strike along with your fellow workers for higher pay or better conditions? Would you honestly remain alone in the factory or office muttering "reformism" to yourself?

If we spent all our lives trying to avoid being involved in achieving “small, meaningless actions" then we truly risk becoming an elite and we also miss the opportunity of experiencing solidarity and comradeship with other workers. But what we most miss out on is the chance to tell other people about what we believe and why we think reformist action will not solve the problem.

To me being a Socialist means being a part of the struggle but without any illusions. If we do choose on occasion to unite with others against capitalism then we learn and grow as people. The end of capitalism is surely not some deadline that we must all sit down and wait for! Do you really believe that, Colin? Somehow that notion makes me feel very uncomfortable.
Heather Ball, 
Norwich, Norfolk

Letter: Quite a simple concept (1996)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

I was interested to read your April issue and in particular the article, "How to tell a real Socialist". I thought the article was very interesting and made the point well that Socialism is actually quite a simple concept. Part of the reason, as you point out, is that many self-styled Socialists have no faith in ordinary people and their potential. The Leninist sects hold people back from an understanding of real Socialism but most of the people attracted to these organisations do genuinely believe they are working for Socialism.

The task must be to create dynamic and effective organisation(s) that can win some of these people over to Socialism and win the majority of the population over in the long run.

My point though is can the Socialist Party do this alone? Are you willing to work with other people, with similar views? Or do you see yourselves as in competition with them?

I believe there should be an alliance of Green and left groups prepared to work together in a non-hierarchical way. What do you think?
Ray Kent, 
London E8

Since socialism can only come about when a majority want it, we see the task of socialists at the present time as being to do all they can to spread socialist ideas. We think that, to do this, all socialists should organise together in a separate organisation whose only aim and activity is to campaign for socialism.

As we campaign only for Socialism we are not in favour of allying ourselves with other groups to campaign for other things, however desirable some of these might be. Other organisations, such as trade unions, exist to do this. Campaigning for higher wages, better conditions, a better local environment and other ameliorations within capitalism—or, these days, campaigning to stop things getting worse—is not the job of a socialist party. It is the job of these other organisations.

Although we, as a party, don’t get involved in these organisations and their struggles, our members, as individuals, are members of some of them. In them they urge that these organisations be run democratically and that any struggles be conducted on a democratic, no-leadership, non-hierarchical basis. Naturally, our members are only too pleased to find others in these organisations who share this approach and to work with them to prevent these organisations and their struggles being hi-jacked either by Leninist vanguards or by Labour Party and other careerists.

Do we think that we alone will bring about the majority desire for socialism which will have to exist before socialism can be established? No, we don’t and never have as it is capitalism itself that does most of the work, creating discontent over its insoluble problems and getting people to think about alternative ways of organising society. If, as is conceivable, capitalist conditions throw up other groups of workers, whether from the traditional labour movement or the alternative green movement or anywhere else, which have the same aim and approach as us we would not only be prepared to work with them to campaign for socialism but we would be duty-bound to amalgamate with them. For all we know, this may be how the mass socialist party without which socialism cannot be established will come into being. Who can know at this stage? In the meantime, in the absence of any other groups that favour campaigning and democratically organising for socialism and nothing but, we continue doing this on our own. 

Stepping stones to nowhere (1996)

Book Review from the June 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reform and Revolution: Three early Socialists on the way ahead. William Morris, John
 Carruthers, Fred Henderson.
 Edited and introduced
 by Stephen Coleman
 (Thoemmes Press 

The first organisation in Britain to put forward Marxian views was the Social Democratic Federation which had been founded in 1881 as a federation of Radical (i.e. left-wing Liberal) political clubs and which two years later adopted socialism as its aim and added “Social” to its title. The second was the Socialist League, formed as a breakaway from the SDF in 1884.

The main difference between the two organisation was over reforms (legislative measures within capitalism aimed at improving social conditions or extending political democracy). The SDF believed that a socialist organisation should advocate reforms as "stepping stones to socialism", but the reforms it advocated were the same as it used and to when it had still been a left-wing Liberal organisation.

The concept of reforms as stepping stones to socialism implied that socialism would come about as a result of a gradual accumulation of reforms passed by parliament. The Socialist League disagreed with this position, arguing not only that reforms were not stepping stones to socialism (they were more inclined to regard them as measures to consolidate capitalism) but also that a socialist organisation should not advocate reforms at all but should concentrate exclusively on propagating socialist ideas with a view to building up a mass class-conscious working class organisation to challenge capitalism.

Until now, with the publication of this book which reproduces three contributions by members or ex-members of the Socialist League with a modern introduction, the anti-reformist arguments of the League have not been readily available. Many people have heard of Morris the poet, Morris the craftsman, Morris the wallpaper designer, even Morris the socialist, but few will be aware of the grasp of political realities and analysis that Morris revealed as the main defender of the Socialist League's anti-reformist position, Morris the socialist theoretician, if you like.

In his talk “The Policy of Abstention", first given in 1887 and reproduced here, Morris argues against the SDF position of trying to get elected to parliament in order to get reforms passed as supposed stepping stones to socialism. Socialism, he argues, would not come through parliament (which he regarded as part of the government of capitalism) but through the mass action of workers outside parliament This was why, in his view, socialists should "abstain" from parliamentary action and seek instead to build up a mass anti-capitalist workers’ organisation. This would be political but not parliamentary and have socialism as its aim. As a mass organisation able to organise strikes and demonstrations it would be in a position to extract reforms from the ruling class, though not as stepping stones to socialism but as concessions to try to stop its growth. Reforms, in other words, could be obtained (if that was what was wanted) without needing to go into parliament, as a by-product of uncompromising agitation and organisation for socialism.

Although he came close to it, Morris’s position was not totally anti-parliamentary (he clashed with and opposed the anarchists, who eventually took over the Socialist League and committed it to "propaganda of the deed” as they called bomb-throwing). He always envisaged the possibility, as he repeats here, of the mass Socialist organisation sending delegates into parliament on the eve of the socialist revolution, with a view to neutralising it and depriving the pro-capitalist minority in society of any legitimacy for violent resistance to the establishment of socialism that having a parliamentary majority might give them.

What Morris was saying was that socialists should abstain from going into parliament to get reforms rather than they should abstain from going there altogether. John Carruthers, in his talk on "Socialism and Radicalism" that was published as a pamphlet by the Hammersmith Socialist Society, argues that, even were the sort of reforms advocated by SDF, ILP. the Fabians and others to be achieved (as they had been to some extent in countries like New Zealand), this would not solve working-class problems as their cause—the capitalist ownership of the means of production—would be left unchanged. Carruthers saw clearly that nationalisation of certain industries would only benefit the rest of the capitalist class and not the working class, and so should not be supported by socialists. As to political reforms, he made the point that sufficient political democracy already existed in Britain for workers to be able to use it to gain power peacefully to establish socialism once they had come to want it. So there was no need for socialists to campaign for political reforms either.

The real issue was that most workers didn't yet want socialism, and that was what socialists should concentrate on trying to remedy. Fred Henderson’s contribution—"The ABC of Socialism"—was written some fifteen years later, long after he had ceased to be a member of the Socialist League and indeed long after the League had gone out of existence. By then he was a member of the ILP—he was later to become the Labour Lord Mayor of Norwich—and so was not opposed to campaigning for reforms. But even he argues that as long as the cause of working-class problems remains—the private, or class, ownership of the means of production—then so will the problems. Reforms, in other words, can’t solve these problems; only Socialism can do that.

Henderson’s contribution to this book is in fact a basic exposition of the case against capitalism and the case for socialism, a reminder that before the First World War the argument was not so much about what socialism was but about how to get there. Henderson's definition of socialism is clear enough: "community ownership of the land and of the means of producing and distributing wealth; and the organisation of industry under that common ownership as public service for the benefit of all; directed to social ends and the equipment of the life of the whole people instead of, as now, to the private enrichment of a privileged class of owners".
Adam Buick

Socialist Party Summer School (1996)

Party News from the June 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Party Meetings (1996)

Party News from the June 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Politicians and the Cost
 of Living (1955)

From the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

In all the elections of the ’twenties and ’thirties the chief issue was unemployment: who caused it and how to cure it. Since the war pride of place has been given to the cost of living: who sent it up and who will bring it down again. The attitudes of the Governments and the Opposition parties towards unemployment in the first period have been paralleled by their attitudes towards rising prices in the second. Each party claims that it will keep prices (or unemployment) down because it alone knows how. Each party when in power pretends to be surprised and displeased to find prices (or unemployment) rising, and trots out a glib excuse: it is due to strikes, high wages, or low productivity, or to world factors beyond the control of the Government in this country.

At no time has there been agreement between what the parties promised at elections and what they produced in office. Conservatives, Labour and Liberals, were all subscribers to the policy laid down in the document “Employment Policy" issued by the Coalition Government in 1944. Among other things it committed them to the policy of keeping prices down, and at successive elections they all promised to pursue the policy of avoiding a rising cost of living.

In or out of office they have put forward a number of schemes for achieving this, credit restrictions, higher Bank interest, rates, budget surpluses, increased national savings, bulk buying, price controls, limitation of dividends, restraint in wage demands, action against monopolies and price rings, food subsidies, etc., etc., without the upward movement of prices since 1938 being arrested.

Indeed prices have in fact risen since 1914 with only one downward movement—that which marked the deflation of the ’20’s. The cost of living in October, 1951, when the Labour Government left office, was about 40 per cent. above 1945, now it is 60 per cent.

We are faced then with the remarkable happening that those who keep on telling us that they can and will keep prices down if we put them into power go on asking for votes on no better ground than their total failure to do so when they were in power.

Yet one thing is certain. The Government’s financial advisers and at least some members of Tory and Labour Cabinets have known all along how to keep prices down or reduce them again to a former level. They know how to reducer the cost of living—which most electors want—but they dare not do it because they fear it would be accompanied by something most electors do not want—an increase of unemployment.

So by tacit agreement the party leaders fiercely fight a mock battle over the cost of living but avoid even a mention of the remedy known to them.

That is why no party has suggested that the method which did produce a fall in prices when it was adopted in 1920, namely currency control and limitation, should be tried now. Prices rose from 1914 owing to the expansion of the note issue and so long as that continued went on rising despite everything the Government did. Then by minute of 15 December, 1919, Austen Chamberlain announced that the Government would act on the recommendation of the Cunliffe Committee and would limit the fiduciary note issue for 1920 to £321 million, the maximum then reached in 1919, and that in subsequent years the permitted maximum would be the actual maximum of the preceding year. After a few months the effects of this policy of currency limitations became apparent and the trend of prices was reversed, affecting wholesale prices in the middle of 1920 and retail prices before the end of the year.

Later on the 1919 decision was abandoned and the note issue has been steadily increased, particularly since 1939. It now stands at £1,775 million, £50 million of which was added this year in April and May, £25 million on each occasion, and the Labour and Tory leaders who were responsible still affect to be surprised that the cost of living and prices generally have mounted accordingly.

If the Tory and Labour leaders now really believe their professed determination to lower prices why their reluctance even to suggest the renewed application of the policy which proved so effective when it was applied 35 years ago?

It is because both parties are convinced that such a policy is incompatible with "full employment,” that in fact full employment can only be kept going by a “little gentle dose of inflation.” As an unsigned article in the Financial Times phrased it:—
"Among considering people there can be few illusions over what the election is really about. It is a matter of voting for the party that is likely to do the least harm to the precarious economy in which we live. In short, for the party that will inflate the least.”—(Financial Times, 9/5/55.)
It might be thought that at least the politicians and their economic advisers have been right to practice this deception on the voters for it has been through their foresight and skill that we have been spared heavy unemployment. But before anyone starts complimenting them on their cleverness in thinking beforehand that the way to avoid heavy unemployment was to pursue a policy of inflation and consequent rising costs of living he should turn to the 1944 statement on “Employment Policy,” which shows that they did not foresee this at all but then believed the opposite. They were all committed to maintaining “full employment,” but the 1944 policy statement held that it could only be achieved if prices and wages did not go on rising but remained “reasonably stable.” The idea was that if prices were kept down the workers could be persuaded to accept “wage restraint.”

Between the wars, when prices were falling, workers’ struggles to raise or even to maintain money wages were impeded by the heavy unemployment.

After the war, when the Labour Government came into office, they intended to operate the policy of the 1944 statement and have both prices and wages stable. In the “Labour Party Speakers’ Handbook,” 1949-50 (p. 207) it was claimed that during the first two years of Labour Government from 1945 to 1947, “prices were kept fairly stable”; though critics maintained with undeniable evidence that it was the cost of living index that was kept down, not the cost of living. After 1947, when even the Labour Government could not, in face of its own figures, deny that the cost of living was rising the “wage restraint” policy was restated and emphasised by the late Sir Stafford Cripps. It was only partially successful and money wages went on rising, though all the time lagging behind the soaring cost of living. The situation was unlike that between the wars but it was a distinction without a real difference. Then the employers' ally against the workers’ efforts to raise their standard of living was unemployment, now the usefulness of every increase of wages and insurance benefits was subject to ceaseless erosion by higher prices, which whittled away the purchasing power of every pound.

And this has been the chosen policy of all post-war Governments. A milestone in the inflationary trend was the devaluation of the pound by the Labour Government in 1949. They knew this must raise the cost of living though they continued to make their stock speeches about their resolve to keep it from rising.

Also all the Governments since the war have made great efforts to persuade the workers to go without purchases they would normally have made and to save the money instead. Since the Governments knew that their currency and devaluation policies would raise the cost of living this savings drive was but a further deception, the losers being those who put their money into National Savings.

True, if they invested £50 they have received interest and eventually have the £50 back, but at that later date it buys very much much less than could have been bought with the original £50. The big investor who went for company ordinary shares suffered no such loss as the prices of their shares went up along with other prices.

We may be sure that future Tory and Labour Governments, so long as they go on fearing that heavy unemployment would put them out of office, will continue their policy of gentle inflation and their two-faced policy of promising to reduce the cost of living without any intention of doing so by the means they know would be effective.

What happened between the wars and what has happened since are just two faces of the capitalist system of society. Of course a disturbance of the precarious balance of world production and markets of the size and pattern of that which occurred in 1931 will find the currency inflation remedy helpless to stop a collapse.

In 1931, as now, the S.P.G.B. pointed out that the one way not to have unemployment and price fluctuations to be have a system of society in which commodities, among them the workers power to labour, are not bought and sold—the system of society known as Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Hire Purchase (1955)

From the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard
“To Have and Have Not”
It is often said that Punch is the great social historian of the last 100 years. Since comic journals thrive on aptness rather than humour, they do in fact provide a minor guide to changes in manners and morals.

A joke that has entirely disappeared now is the one about “the instalments on the furniture.” Continually, in magazines of the 1920’s little boys blurted out that the settee wasn't paid for, and men called to take back the chairs when guests had come to tea—the psychology being that, 25 years ago, to buy on hire-purchase was to have a guilty secret.

All different nowadays, of course. There are even good, wise reasons for instalment buying: for example, if the thing goes wrong the firm will see to it. Hire-purchase is an accepted social fact. Last year, half the radio sets, seven-tenths of the furniture and bedding and vacuum cleaners and TV sets, and nearly all the refrigerators and washing machines sold in this country were bought on hire-purchase. “Cash only” shops are the exceptions now, and very recently the instalment system has spread as far as air travel and holidays.

That is not to say all reprehension of hire-purchase has ceased. Generally, there have been two sorts of objections to it. The one voiced by most working people in the past was strictly practical: “I’m hanging no millstone of weekly payments round my neck,” said the poor, poverty-hardened man in Love on the Dole. The other objection was that to have something before paying for is wrong—apparently a moral view but in fact only cash customer’s attitude. The people who largely held that view were the better-off, professional and black-coated workers; since the war their position has declined, and so consequently has their moral objection to hire-purchase. Many of the “swell” shops, in fact, now advertize hire-purchase facilities.

Hire-purchase trading has gone on for at least a century. Before 1914 it was mainly a hole-and-corner business (nevertheless, plenty of suits were bought at a shilling a week). Its growth between two wars went with the mass-production of cheap luxuries—gramophones, bicycles, radio sets; the first legislation to regularize it in this country was in 1938. The great boom in instalment buying came after the second war, however. Some idea of its extent is given by the banks’ statement of their loans to hire-purchase finance companies. The total in February, 1955, was £30,493,000, compared with £11,188,000 in February, 1954. The sum actually was greater, since many loans for general trading went mainly into hire-purchase; and in the same period several of the companies made capital issues.

Few shops finance their own hire-purchase trading—in fact, only the very big ones. Most of them borrow from hire-purchase credit companies, which often buy the goods themselves, receive the instalments themselves, and leave the shopkeeper as little more than an agent. There are several organizations for checking on prospective buyers. Every hire-purchase customer has his particulars filed (including how he pays); investigators discover all they can about him, and the information is filed for future reference. In America, according to a recent Picture Post article, the files include; “. . . intimate details and frank character assessments. Facts include positions and salaries of all members of a family, bank balances, litigation records, all past time buying deals, estimates of business or professional prospects, value of house or mortgage position, or amount of rent and how paid, local reputation and probably social habits. Police records are included.”

Hire-purchase buying is dear. It has to be. There are the book-keeping and the postage and the enquiry fees and the advertisements (last year the Gas Council and Hoover Products each spent about a quarter of a million pounds on advertizing); the “free” maintenance is really, of course, covered in the cost. The rates of interest range from five to ten per cent. At least, those are the nominal figures: calculated on a diminishing debt they are much higher—over two years, the usual period for furniture, they actually average out at something like 20 per cent. The number of bad debts is said to be small, and hire-purchase firms try everything before resorting to court action, which usually is fruitless for them.

Outside the main stream of instalment trading, there are innumerable related concerns; for example, the cooperative societies’ “mutuality shares,” where vouchers are issued to be exchanged for all sorts of goods. Then there are the clothing clubs, and a host of door-to-door easy-payment salesmen—many of the latter charging rates of interest which are exorbitant even by hire-purchase standards, and having no advertizing or accounting costs to speak of. Incidentally, cars do not figure in hire-purchase as much as would be imagined; most are bought by bank overdraft and re-mortgaging houses.

From the economists’ point of view, instalment buying is simply the form taken by the demand for certain sorts of goods today. Thus, when the number of new contracts fell last year in America, the Government hurriedly urged traders to get things back to normal. And in this country the recent restrictions on hire-purchase were headlined by the Manchester Guardian as “Plans to Limit Demand for Goods.” A fair enough estimate; with the minimum deposit raised to 15 per cent., the demand for furniture has fallen to not much more than half what it was a year ago.

To see hire-purchase as something which—vide Fyfe Robertson in Picture Post—"puts real wealth, which otherwise would not be acquired so quickly, into consumers’ hands and raises living standards,” is to grasp flight appearances, however. It is easy enough to point to all the television sets, but television is only the newest replacement for the piano, and pianos were a far greater luxury in their heyday. Before the wireless era, one cost as much as a television set today—that is, anything between £40 and £70, at a time when money wages were much lower.

But to consider living standards in terms of luxuries is to succumb to advertizers’ patter. The fact is that working people obtain luxuries only at the expense of other things. How can a family with £8 a week get them otherwise? The other things may, of course, be minor luxuries themselves—drinking, pictures, smoking; a small boom in smoking cures has accompanied the big one in hire-purchase. They may, on the other hand, be necessities—food and clothing; or the “solution” for a good many families is the wives’ going to work. Whichever way it is, there is not much to confirm the idea of better, more gracious living for the working class.

“Luxuries” is the wrong word, anyway. There is nothing luxurious about buying clothes by instalments, knowing they will be half worn-out before they are paid for: “pay as you wear” has the sound of eternity. True, furniture is more durable—it is outmoded instead of wearing out in two or three years. A favourite sneer of precious suburban aesthetes is that working people lack taste. An ignorant untruth, as the beautiful little gardens in the dingiest surroundings show; but in any case, there is no scope, for modishness when things are bought over two years to last for 20. Most people, in fact, buy furniture only once in their lives—as the hire-purchase advertisements, with their single-minded appeal to the newlywed testify.

Probably the best example of this sort of thing is the way in which television sets have superseded one another since the war. Each latest model, gaining its owner the maximum of prestige, has been rendered inferior long before the final payment. There cannot be much feeling of luxury about having given up smoking to buy a set with a nine-inch screen five years ago and finding it primitive by today’s 17-inch standards.

The truth is that hire-purchase is a monument to poverty, not a pillar of prosperity. People can buy more things, by whatever method, only if they have more money. For a year or so after the war there was no hire-purchase; it began as the briefly spectacular spending of the gratuity era faded. It is hard to believe that anybody enjoys paying instalments—indeed, these commitments add to the tension of modern living. There is no alternative except going without, however. It is all very well to think people can save up to buy, but it doesn’t work out like that—and in any rase, it means going without just the same. The rise of hire-purchase and the decline of the pawnshop are probably not unconnected.

The average gross wage of male workers today is just under £9; for women, it is just over £5. According to the Chancellor of Exchequer in November last year, there were 8,600,000 receiving less than 96s. a week. Compare those figures with pre-war ones, remembering the cost of living today as 2 1/3 times what it was in 1938. In that year, 63.2 per cent, of the families in Britain received under £5 a week, and 11.8 per cent, between £5 and £10. About the same time, John Strachey did some calculations—slightly tortuous, admittedly—in “The Theory and Practice of Socialism” to show that “the real earnings of the working class in 1934 were only 91.1 per cent., of what they were in 1900.” The only conclusion is that the buying power of working people is much the same as it has always been—small; hire-purchase is the latest manifestation of the smallness.

One other aspect of hire-purchase needs to be mentioned. It helps to discipline the working class. The man with heavy commitments—or the American worker who values his “credit rating”—is the man who must keep his job at all costs. Bernard Shaw’s Andrew Undershaft preferred religious workmen because they were sober and honest and amenable; nowadays his ideal would be the employee buying a dining-room suite. The recent Government Economic Survey mentioned that more than a quarter of industrial operatives worked overtime last year, and it is a sad but fair comment that more than a quarter probably want to work overtime this year, too.

Ours is the age of mass-production. One would imagine it to be an age of plenty, but it is not so. It is a queer reflection that, in this world of science and power, the majority of people have to buy trashy products bit by bit and perhaps abstain from necessities in the process. Profit is often imagined as the greatest incentive to progress; in reality, it is the fetter. The hire-purchase system is a fresh pointer to the outstanding contradiction of capitalism: the inability of a productive system which has industrialized the world to perform the only real function of production—the satisfaction of people’s needs.
Robert Barltrop

Party News Briefs (1955)

Party News from the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ealing Branch. The special May campaign to increase the sales of the S.S. has got off to an exceptionally fine start. At the time of writing (the middle of the month) over 35 dozen copies have been sold, and everybody is confident that the target of 50 dozen will be more than realised before the end of the month. The regular canvassers have been heartened by the support of members new to this form of activity, who in turn have been agreeably surprised by the results obtained. The Branch Literature Committee are confident that there is no reason why these figures should not be further increased; all that is required is a steadily increasing number of members prepared to canvass. It is as easy for the Committee to organise a canvass with a dozen members, as it is to organise a party of six—and even more stimulating!

Approval of the Branch’s scheme to distribute back copies of the S.S. has been given by the E.C., and several hundred have already been disposed of in this way. Members unable to canvass are asked to get in touch with the Branch Literature Secretary and offer their help in this form of literature activity.

The first of the Branch’s propaganda excursions takes place on Sunday, 5th June, when two cars will be taking members to Southsea. Other meetings will follow in the course of the season.

Finally, will all members note that outdoor meetings will be held, weather permitting, every Saturday afternoon, at Ealing Green. Please give your support, if you can.

* * *

Bradford Branch say that their canvassing drive at Dewsbury is still going strong. They report that they sell four to five dozen Standards each month (not three dozen as mentioned in April) and of the former, three dozen Standards are sold to regular readers.

* * *

May Day arrangements in London and the Provinces were hampered through the very bad weather. In London the Hyde Park meetings were cancelled but despite this, there was a good audience in the evening at Conway Hall, where Comrades May and Coster gave very interesting talks on May Day and aims and objects of die Party.

Reports are not in from Glasgow, but we understand that very good evening meetings were held there.

Nottingham Branch report that Comrades Keys and Warlow addressed about 250 workers on Market Square on the Saturday before May Day, the meeting lasted from 7 to 10 p.m. On the Sunday morning the “Nottingham Labour Day Demonstration” was held, although it was raining heavily. Our speakers attempted to hold a meeting but the rain forced them to abandon it. A good meeting, however, was held for about an hour, between heavy rain showers, in the afternoon. About 10s. worth of literature was sold during the two days. Branch members find that Market Square is a good station for propaganda meetings and they are aware of sympathetic interest from the audience.

* * *

Swansea Branch has not been in a position to hold any propaganda meetings during the last four months, but their activities have been directed in writing to the Press —letters stating the Party’s Object have appeared in the South Wales Evening Post, Llanelly Star, Neath Guardian, Western Mail and Swansea Voice. An attempt is also being made to advertise the Party’s literature in the Swansea Voice.
Phyllis Howard

Notes by the Way: Whose May Day? (1955)

The Notes by the Way Column from the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whose May Day?

At one time May Day was an occasion on which workers demonstrated international solidarity and drew attention to current claims and grievances. Such May Day meetings were frowned upon by governments and employers, but things are different now. Many governments have taken over May Day and from the side of the workers the demonstrations are often nationalist not internationalist. The following are reports of May Day activities in various countries.
“Moscow, May 1st.
“Four giant new cannon, which might be capable of firing atomic shells, took part to-day in Moscow's traditional May Day military parade. The emphasis in planning the parade was on air power but because of low cloud and steady rain there was no fly-past”—(Manchester Guardian, 2/5/55.)

CHINA.—Buddhist monks and nuns in long, flowing saffron and red robes marched with long columns of workers past Mao Tse-tung and other Chinese Communist leaders.
“Mr. Harry Pollitt, Secretary-General of the British Communist Party, was among the foreign guests,
“The Mayor of Peking, Peng Chen, called for the strengthening of national defences and opposing of American occupation of our sacred territory of Formosa.' Balloons with 'Free Formosa’ slogans were carried.”—(Daily Mail, 2/5/55.)

GERMANY.—East Germany’s growing armed forces were paraded in the Soviet sector of Berlin in a giant demonstration evidently designed to impress Berliners with the Communist capacity to counter West German rearmament.
“West German trade unionists at mass meetings issued a demand for a 40-hour week to replace the present 48-hour week.”—(Daily Mail, 2/5/55.)

GREECE.— Free Cyprus was the theme of May Day in Athens, with prayers in churches calling for Divine blessing on the ‘liberation struggle '."—(Daily Mail, 2/5/55.)

From our Correspondent 
Rome, May 1st.
“Labour Day was celebrated with great pomp in Rome, where the tenth anniversary of the foundation of the Italian Workers’ Catholic Association (A.C.LI.) was made to synchronise with it. Some 150,000 Catholic workers from all over Italy made a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s, where they were addressed this afternoon by the Pope.
"The Pope, who came down to St. Peter’s Square to bless the workers, announced the institution of a new feast that of St. Joseph the Workman, with which Labour Day will henceforth be celebrated by the Church. He said that he did this in order that May 1st might receive Christian baptism, so that, 'far from being a stimulus for discord, hate, and violence,’ it should be 'a recurring invitation to modern society to accomplish that which is still lacking for social peace.” —(Manchester Guardian, 2/5/55.)

Washington, April 28th.
“President Eisenhower to-day proclaimed May 1st as loyalty day and called on citizens to observe it 'by reaffirming their loyalty to our beloved country'." Reuter.—(Manchester Guardian, 29/4/55.)

More Prisoners, In Worse Prisons

There are more people in prison today than there were before the war and more than at the beginning of the century. In the debate on Prisoners in the House of Lords on 4th May, 1955, Lord Pakenham commented on the decline of the number of people in prisons and Borstal institutions from 24,000 in 1953 to 21,000 at the present time, but added: “There is still nearly twice the pre-war figure of about 11,000.”

His figures related to England and Wales only. The total for the United Kingdom, after adding Scottish and Northern Ireland prisons, was 13,005 in 1938 and 26,224 in 1952. (See “Annual Abstract of Statistics, 1954, pages 58-68).

A corresponding figure representing the daily average prison population for the years 1900-1904 was 18,775, and the number in 1913-14 was 17,056. (“English Prisons TodayBrockway, p. 28).

In the House of Lords debate Lord Templewood, who has long been active as a prison reformer, regretted that our “Welfare State” has not dealt with this problem “in a common sense and urgent manner.” He said that though “over the last generation we have had a series of great prison reformers . . . in certain respects, particularly in the matter of accommodation and work, so far from making any progress in a world in which a great deal of progress has been made in other walks of life, we have actually fallen back, I would almost say 50 or 60 years.” (Col. 758.)

He went on:—
“To-day there exists a thing unheard of in the days when I or my predecessors were connected with the Home Office. No fewer than 4,595 prisoners are confined three in a cell; they are shut up in that cell about tea-time in the afternoon, and left there with nothing to do until the following morning. A state of affairs like that would have horrified the great penal reformers of the past, who made our system one of the best in the world.”
Lord Huntingdon thought that something should be done, “not only from the humanitarian or Christian standpoint,” but also from the economic point of view—the cost of prisons is nearly £10 million a year and this could be reduced if the prisoners did more useful work.

He described appalling sanitary conditions which would be a “ disgrace to a Hottentot village.”

Lord Chorley said:—
“There are still in existence jails which were condemned long before the First World War and which are not fit to house swine, let alone human beings.”

Taxing the Rich out of Existence ?

For half a century the Labour Party has been lamenting the existence of the very rich and promising to do something to end, or at least to diminish, inequality of property ownership. The rich themselves and the Tory Party joined with the Labour Party in agreeing that as a fact, whether desirable or not, the rich were disappearing. From time to time, however students of the subject intervene to point out that extermination by taxation had plainly failed and the rich were still with us, not noticeably reduced or inconvenienced.

It is a fact that the concentration of property ownership in the hands of a very small minority has not been materially altered by the ups and downs, war and crises of the past half century.

A special correspondent of the “Times Review of Industry” (April 1955, page 109) has bean analysing the report of the Inland Revenue Department and has drawn some interesting conclusions.

Dealing with duties levied on properties left at death he remarks on the very large proportion of the total payments that came from the small number of large estates: “ This year 97 per cent. of the total duty was paid by 16,514 estates (those over £10,000), and 5,205 estates (those over £25,000) paid 87 per cent.”

The year in question was 1953-4, in which there were in all 71,510 estates that paid duty (estates under £2,000 are not included in these figures as they paid no duty in that year).

The writer of the article had forecast a year ago that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would receive less revenue from estate duties. This turned out to be wrong and the Chancellor actually received £10 million more than on the previous year. Part of this increase is attributed to the rise in share prices on the Stock Exchange— “no doubt the rise in stock market values has helped to swell the capital value of estates. . .”

The writer makes an estimate from the official figures of the income and property of the wealthiest group, those with income above £12,000 (before tax) and with estates above £250,000.

He finds that this group (at present numbering about 2,900) have investments worth £1,300 million. The net income of the group (after paying tax) is about £10 million a year whereas the same group are paying out on estate duty some £40 million a year. In spite of this, he writes, “the class is by no means declining in numbers. . .” and note his final comment:—
“No doubt in many instances the high taxation is offset by tax-free capital profits, but even so the steady increase of a class which, in theory, is being taxed out of existence shows the remarkable resilience of capital in a welfare State."

Crime in America

“The crime rate in the United States rose in 1954 for the seventh consecutive year, Mr. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, reported to-day. Major crimes committed last year numbered 2,267,250.

The statistics, published in the bureau’s annual crime report, showed that the crime rate has increased by 26.7 per cent since 1950, while the population increased by seven per cent, in the same period. On an average day last year an estimated 34 persons were feloniously slain and 256 other felonious assaults were committed; 49 rapes occurred; 3,674 larcenies were committed; 592 cars were stolen; and there were 185 robberies and 1,422 burglaries.” (Manchester Guardian, 26.4.1955.)

Mental Illness Hits One in Twenty

The following is taken from a report in the Manchester Guardian (24 March, 1955) of an address given by Mr. Walter Maclay, of the Ministry of Health, at a Mental Health Research Fund Meeting at the Mansion House on the previous evening:—
“Nearly half of all the institutional beds available for all forms of illness, he said, were, in fact, required for patients suffering from mental illness. Anything from 10 to 30 per cent. of all patients seen in general practice were not suffering from physical illness at all, but from some form of psychotic or neurotic condition. One in 20 of all children born would spend some time in a mental hospital. It was most important in the national interest that more should be found out about the causes of such illness and how to cure and prevent it. Research was going on continuously, but it was not enough—it was the object of the Research Fund to provide more opportunities for such research in related fields and, if possible, to co-ordinate them."
Edgar Hardcastle

Editorial: Slums doubled since 1933 (1955)

Editorial from the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

In their election manifesto, “United for Peace and Progress,” the Conservatives promised to start a programme for clearing the slums and aiming to rehouse “at least 200,000 people a year from them.” (P. 23).

As the Conservative Minister of Housing, Mr. Duncan Sandys, put the probable number of slum houses at a million (Manchester Guardian, 12/1/55) and as you can reckon that there are between three and four million people living in that million slum houses, it would take a very long time to clear the existing slums at the rate proposed. And in the meantime more slums will have appeared out of the other millions of old and dilapidated houses.

The Conservative manifesto went on to make the claim that “there has been only one full-scale slum clearance drive in British history, and that was when Conservatives were in office in the late ’thirties.”

But, according to the Labour Party’s “Handbook 1951” (p. 234), that Conservative slum clearance programme had closed or demolished only 245,000 slums by March, 1939, so that nearly half of the original 1933 estimate of 472,000 slums were still being lived in.

It will be observed that, according to this estimate, there are about four times as many slums now as there were in 1939 and double the number that existed in 1933.

Slum clearance fares no better in New York according to an article by Mr. Gerard Fay in the Manchester Guardian (9 May, 1955). There, too, they plan to abolish the slums and “the housing now planned, when built, will be a victory over a problem which must once have seemed insoluble, but it will be far from total victory.”

“At the end of 1952 there were still 426,792 apartments in the city which were more than 50 years old. This does not sound alarming by European standards but New York tenements more than 50 years old, especially in Manhattan, are often below, far below, any decent housing standard.”

He writes of “ the more than a 100,000 apartments in New York which have no private bath or toilet . . . an equal number which have no running water or are classified as * dilapidated,’. . .  the more than 50,000 which have cold water only.”

Lastly, “the housing shortage could be ended and the slum problem finally solved only by building something like 400,000 apartments. The present plans fall far below this ideal."

Spring Song after the Election (1955)

From the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard
Another Election has come and gone.
The tumult’s ended, the shouting’s done.
Tweedledum’s lost, and Tweedledee’s won.
Loud sing cuckoo!
Lib., Lab., Con.,—and C.P. too,
Made up a right reformist crew,
Dispensing the usual vote-catching brew.
Loud sing cuckoo!
Liberal and Tory, C.P. and Lab.,
All full of promises, all full of gab.
Labour with ’Erbie, Tories with Rab,
Loud sing cuckoo!
Sugar and soft soap again the rule.
Kissing the babies, playing the fool,
Nice glossy photos to make the girls drool.
Loud sing cuckoo!
Candidates handsome, candidates plain,
Candidates pleasing with might and main,
All to keep capitalism running again.
Loud sing cuckoo!
All the old catchcries out once more,
Canvassers knocking at every front door,
First they’d been seen since the barney before,
Loud sing cuckoo!
Street-comer meetings, things of the past, 
Democracy’s symbol’s a radio mast.
Now its the “ telly ’’—with all star cast.
Loud sing cuckoo!
Millions of workers put down their crosses, 
Applauded the “gains,” regretted the “losses,” 
Fine difference it made, they still work for bosses, 
Loud sing cuckoo!
So the farcical game goes on.
Tweedledum’s lost and Tweedledee’s won.
Another Election has come and gone,
Loud sing cuckoo!
Stan Hampson

The Question (1955)

From the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

On January 7 the magistrate of Clerkenwell Court was asked: “The railways are public property, aren’t they? ” and he gave the following answer:—
“The nationalised railways don’t belong to you and they don't belong to me. They may belong to us—in a peculiar kind of way.”
Now, dear reader, if they do not belong to me and do not belong to you, it is obvious that they do not belong to the plural pronoun, us, just as the National Consolidated Debt does not belong to us.

The Fruit of Illusion (1955)

From the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the American periodical The Nation (April 23rd) an article appears by G. D. H. Cole. It is a very pessimistic article. Cole considers that the Socialist movement has lost its way and is not what it was when he joined it long ago in the days of Jaures, Kautzky, Keir Hardie, and the Webbs. His principal disappointment concerns the International aspect of the movement and the national concentration upon ends that are not Socialist.
In the early part of his article Cole writes:
“When I joined the Socialist movement in England, it never occurred to me to doubt that I was accepting an international obligation and a loyalty that transcended national frontiers. My task, as I saw it, was to play my small part in a great crusade for human brotherhood that would make an end of the exploitation of man by man and of country by country, destroying capitalism and imperialism together and putting in their place a world society set free from war and hatred to devote its energies and vast resources to banishing poverty and slavery from every country.”
He then goes on to ask “Where are that task and those efforts now?”; and he claims that since 1917 there have been “two sharply antagonistic movements, each claiming to be the torch-bearer of the true Socialism but at bitter conflict about the means of advancing towards their goal and even about the goal itself.” Cole did not go far enough back. The trouble started tong before 1917. It started with the groups he thought so much of in his early days—the German and English Social Democratic Parties, the Fabian Society, the Independent Labour Party, and, finally, the Labour Party. It was their concentration upon “immediate aims,” which included a multitude of reforms, that landed the movement in the morass in which it finds itself to-day. The result is a logical development «of the early policy. But Cole can‘t see this; he wants to go back and start all over again the policies that can only bear its present fruit. His disappointment is the result of his failure to grasp the essential difference between a revolutionary and a reformist policy, and the inevitable result of the latter.

Later on in his article he writes, referring to the cleavage between the Social Democratic and the Communist movement:
"I have never been able to accept as final this sharp cleavage in what I still think of as fundamentally a single world-wide movement against oppression. I am no Communist, for I detest the suppression of all free thinking which Communists not only regard as needful, but seem positively to admire. 1 hate cruelty, rigid discipline, and the vindictive mistrust which the Communist philosophy appears to involve. I cannot, however, for that reason consent to regard the peoples of the Communist countries, or the Communists of my own or other countries, as enemies with whom I have nothing in common. I have much in common with them. I share their wish to help all the subject peoples of the world to emancipate themselves from foreign imperialist rule; I admire their planned economies and their vast achievements in economic construction; and I see them, on one condition, as advancing, however deviously, toward a classless society and an expansion of freedom for the ordinary man and woman in the affairs of everyday living. The one condition is, of course, that they escape from the ever-present peril of utterly destructive world war, fear of which poisons their behaviour and forbids them luxuries of common honesty and decent tolerance."
The above is some measure of Cole’s lack of insight, and how much the fear of war has clouded his vision. To suggest that fear of world war is a determining factor in the behaviour and the dishonesty of the leaders of the Russian Communist Party is just nonsense. Their reformism, their twisting of Marxism, their internal strife and their mutual wiping out of each other, is based on far more than that. And Cole’s admiration of their achievements is in line with his own life-long support of reformism. His description of the present position of the Social Democrats is interesting from two points of view; he recognises the position of futility they have reached but he also accepts that Socialism does include “national endeavours to advance gradually.” Here is his description:
“I am assuredly no Communist. But no more am I a Democratic Socialist if this means renouncing the Socialist revolution and reducing socialism to a set of independent electoral movements designed to gain parliamentary majorities with the support of non-Socialist voters. I do not deny the need for parliamentary action, but I do deny that Socialism means no more than a number of national endeavours to advance gradually and constitutionally toward the welfare state. Even where nominally Socialist parties have gained majority support, they have never attempted to establish Socialism; even their attempts to further welfare have shown signs of petering out after their initial successes, owing to the difficulty of advancing further without disturbing the smooth working of the capitalist structure—to which they are supposed to be hostile—and the fear that by attacking it they will alienate marginal support. This seems to be the position in the Scandinavian countries, as well as in Great Britain."
He adds to the above that in Europe “the Democratic Socialist parties, in their fear of Communist aggression” seem to be prepared to acquiesce in rearmament, including atomic weapons and hydrogen bombs and finishes a paragraph about these measures with the following remarks:—
"They are being forced on the Socialist parties by a reactionary leadership that has come to be more anti-communist than pro-Socialist and sees nothing amiss in turning to capitalist America as its ally against the Communists."
Cole then proceeds to outline his own position, stating at the outset that old Socialists like himself—"Internationalists and non-Communists ”—find themselves in a terribly difficult position, faced with a conflict of loyalties, loyalty to their parties or loyalty to Socialism as an essentially international cause. The Labour Party, he says, has no clear vision of what to do and “its recent programmes have been quite remarkably ineffective and even trivial.” And then he puts the question:—
"What, then, is to be done? The Socialism to which I was converted in my youth was the fruit of long, hard, and passionate thinking, subsequently translated into policies, not for the full establishment of a Socialist way of life, but for the first steps towards it."
Earlier he had claimed something was badly amiss "with the development of Socialist thought in face of the vast change in the problems mankind must face in order to progress, or even to survive.” To meet this and to get out of the mess in which social democracy had landed he makes his proposals. Before doing so he gives voice to the deep-rooted feelings of the intellectual who has cursed the radical movement by his self-appointed function of leading the ignorant. Here is how he puts it:—
“Besides, mass parties cannot think; they can only be influenced by the thinking of individuals or small groups of people who are prepared to think for them." 
and here is the thinking of one of those individuals:—
“With these ideas in mind, I have come to the conclusion that an attempt should be made to establish internationally a small society, or order, of Socialists who would pledge themselves to do their best to restate the essentials of their Socialist faith in terms applicable to the present world situation. . . . The immediate task of this group would be not to act but to think together and to plan— to restate Socialist principles in relation to the most pressing contemporary problems, and to base on these principles a broad programme of action in which the various national movements could be called upon to play their part. Each member of the group, or order, would publicize its ideas in his own country and try to induce the national leaders to take them up."
So there we are, back to where the Labour Party came in, with the Fabian Society producing the ideas and policy that helped to lead them into the present mess. No fundamental change in outlook, just a different bottle to contain the same old illusions. And far from the problems having changed, they are just the same, only in one direction aircraft, mechanisation and the bomb, have replaced horse-drawn cannon and the maxim gun.

These are some of the practical suggestions Cole thinks come from this new group:—
"first, a clearly defined attitude toward the making and potential use of atomic weapons; second, a well-thought-out plan of campaign for a 'war upon want' designed to equalize, as nearly as possible, conditions of living in all countries; third, plans for a world economic structure that will avoid the evils both of capitalism and of bureaucratic centralization and will open up for the workers in every country rapidly increasing opportunities for democratic, responsible self-government in their working lives; and fourth, the complete ending of imperialist domination, both political and economic, and the extension of self-governing independence to all peoples.”
Here they are, the same old windy type of high-faluting propositions, the practical application of which would only land the proposers in the present position of the movement they have supported, and this is the result of a life-time of experience! The intellectual never learns, he only prophesies and proposes; then weeps at the result and lays the blame on others.

When Cole started operations there was a party in existence which kept its course steadfastly to the accomplishment of Socialism and opposed all reformist policies. This Party was the Socialist Party of Great Britain, but Cole would have nothing to do with it because it opposed reformism. There is the World Socialist Party of America, and parties in other countries, which take the same line as we do, but Cole still ignores our existence, preferring to follow the path of reformist illusion.

Prisoner’s Story (1955)

Book Review from the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the summer of 1953 Rupert Croft-Cooke, a novelist by profession, was arrested on a charge of homosexuality. A few months later he appeared before the Quarter Sessions at Lewes, was found guilty on some charges and not guilty on others, and sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment. Apart from a few days at Brixton he served out his sentence (actually six months, allowing for remission) in Wormwood Scrubs. His book, “The Verdict of You All,” is the story of his experiences there.

Rupert Croft-Cooke, to judge by the scraps of personal information scattered throughout his book, has not been too hardly dealt with by life. Well-educated, much-travelled, a lover of things good to eat and drink, he was living a well-ordered and comfortable existence in the Sussex countryside until he was rudely awakened one night by the village policeman and two detectives. These, after due observance of the usual legal ceremonial, took him off to the local police station, and from then on he found himself in a world he had hardly known existed. “The Verdict of You All” records his reactions to, and observations of, this world into which he was so suddenly and so rudely thrown, an alien world inhabited by beings he had heard about only through the crime stories of newspapers, a world a million miles removed from the bright and comfortable surroundings he had been accustomed to enjoy.

To those who cherish comforting delusions about the wonderful reforms that are supposed to have been wrought in our prisons, this book will come as a shock. The tale told by the author is of a penal system grim, drear, unimaginative, means, and degrading – to prisoner and keeper alike. It tells only of Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton the first a prison for first offenders serving sentences of six months and over, the second for men sentenced to less than six months. Only briefly and occasionally does he make mention of places such as Dartmoor, most notably on the occasion when some of its inmates were sent up the Scrubs to receive their annual visits from relatives unable to make the journey to Princetown. To the author these men conveyed
“by their very appearance and movements, dark horrors suffered, depths of evil and desperation, which the Star prisoners of Wormwood Scrubs had never known.”
Yet the picture he draws of even a Star prison like Wormwood Scrubs is frightening in its grimness; and of Brixton, which he thinks is much worse, he is vitriolic. This is his account of the sight that met him on his entry for the first time into Wormwood Scrubs:–
“A long interior street on each side of which are rows of identical cell doors. The floor of this street is of concrete, the doors are blank and painted a dull cream with formidable black bolts on each and a small eye-hole. The street is a hundred yards long, lit with naked not-too-powerful electric bulbs and running down to iron railings and a gated wall at the far end… There was, as we entered, complete silence in this grim and ugly street and it was hard to realise that behind each of the uniform doors was a man in a cell.”
There are four floors like this, each containing 80 cells. At the level of the first floor is stretched wire-netting to lessen the risk of suicide from those throwing themselves over from the upper floors, and also prevent injury from articles dropped intentionally from above. The author adds:–
“A prison ‘hall’ realises the hopes of its original architect for it is probably the ugliest structure ever conceived by man… From entry to discharge the prisoner never sees anything inanimate which is not positively ugly, and of living things there is nothing on which the eye can bear to dwell, except occasionally the faces of some fellow-prisoners.”
So much for Wormwood Scrubs. His description of Brixton is even more horrifying.
“It would be difficult to imagine and impossible to create a more rank and stagnant breeding-ground of evil than Brixton goal. Life at the Scrubs was not without a certain gloomy dignity; a prisoner could pass his days there with no affront to his manhood and the men he met were often rumbustious sinners with a tale to tell. Here everything was mean and degrading – the very appearance of the place was grimed…

“C Wing, in which most of the convicted men were herded, was a ‘hall’ about half the size of those in the Scrubs, but housed more prisoners, since they were crammed three to a cell. This leads to the most filthy pollution. Imagine an airless cell, scarcely large enough for one man, filled with the bunks, the bodies, the clothes and the chamber-pots of three. If it were an ordinary bedroom or a ship’s cabin it would be monstrously unhygienic, but when it is an almost windowless cell in which men are locked without respite from half-past five in the afternoon to seven o’clock the next morning it becomes foul and pestilential beyond all words…

“The whole place stank. The cells at night were pigsties and the effect of this gloom and neglect on the wretched prisoners was evident. Abject creatures, for the most part they made no attempt to keep their spirits up, or show any of the generous geniality of men suffering together, but grumbled and blasphemed in the filthiest terms, abandoning themselves to the atmosphere of shame and abomination which filled the place like a cold miasma.”
“The Verdict of You All” is a book of highly personal comment and description – one man’s account of his experiences in prison. His account may be true, it may be false, it may be a mixture of the two. Every reader must be his own judge of the category in which it should be placed. The author is a novelist, has naturally a good command of words, can tell his story well. Inevitably, there must lurk a suspicion that harbouring a feeling of injustice (he strenuously denies that he was guilty of the charges brought against him) he may tell the story too well. In spite of himself, indignation may get the better of judgment. Resentment may carry him beyond the limit of accuracy. Situations, conditions, may become over-coloured. In the last analysis, only those who have themselves been subjected to his experiences can confirm or deny his story.

This much, however, can be said: If it is, in fact, an essentially reliable and authentic account of life as it is actually lived in such prisons today, then it is a downright, uncompromising challenge to all the fine words that have been said about the reforms in our penal system. If it is but half true, it is a grim and sorry reflection on the efforts of those reformers who have laboured over the years to improve conditions in our prisons.
Stan Hampson

SPGB Meetings (1955)

Party News from the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Work and Leisure (1955)

From the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Leisure," he said, “if people only knew: Its the most precious thing a man can have and they are such fools they don't even know its something to aim at. Work? They work for work's sake. They haven't got the brains to realise that the only object of work is to obtain leisure."

“Most people, the vast majority in fact, lead the lives that circumstances have thrust upon them, and though some repine, find themselves square pegs in round holes and think that if things had been different they might have made a much better showing. The greater part accept their lot, if not with serenity, at all events with resignation. They are like tramcars travelling for ever on the self-same rails. They go backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards inevitably till they can no longer and then are sold as scrap iron.   . . ."

(From The Lotus Eater," by Somerset Maugham.)

Class and colour in South Africa (1955)

From the May 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class struggle
The class struggle in a fully-developed capitalist society is a struggle between the ruling class, which owns the means of production, and the working class, which operates the means of production and is exploited by the ruling class. Such a struggle can be observed in full swing in countries like Britain and America. But in societies which are slightly less fully developed, the capitalist class has to fight not only against the working class, but against the previous ruling class—that is the class which derived its power from the ownership of land, and which formed the master class before the progress of large-scale industry threw up another class to challenge it. Nineteenth-century Britain witnessed the strife between the old landed upper class and the rising industrial upper class, culminating in the victory of the latter in the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832 and the Repeal of the Corn Laws 14 years later.

The situation in South Africa at the present time is in some ways not dissimilar to the situation in this country 130 years ago. There is a class which draws its wealth from the ownership of land; and there is a class which draws its wealth from the ownership of industry. There are, in fact, two kinds of society in South Africa: the old agricultural society, and the new industrial society. South African politics reflect the economic and social struggle between the old form of society and the new.

Dutch South Africa
The farming community of South Africa is very largely composed of Afrikaners—descendants of Dutch, Flemish. German Protestant and French Huguenot immigrants. These Afrikaner farmers own the land and employ Negro labourers. The landowners are and always have been determined that the Bantu shall form merely a floating population, with no stake in the land. The Bantu farm-workers have very little money; the white farmer pays the greater part of his labourers’ meagre wages in kind, in the form of huts to sleep and eat in, rough grazing for their few head of cattle, and seed for their garden plots. This form of society has existed, and from the point of view of the ruling and owning class has prospered, almost since the first settlers were put ashore, by the Dutch in the 17th century, to hold the Cape as a valuable halfway house for the ships trading to the East.

British South Africa
The Dutch took possession of the Cape as a landfall on the way to India; and the British stole (or, to use a more polite word, captured) it from them in 1806 for the same reason. As the century wore on, and the Dutch quarrelled with their new masters, the more independent spirits among the settlers trekked north, to Natal, then across the Orange River, and finally across the Vaal River. But British settlers followed them, attracted by the lure of diamonds and of gold. The apostle of this industrial expansion was Cecil Rhodes, at once Prime Minister of the Cape and Managing Director of the British South Africa Company; its centres of operation were Kimberley and the Witwatersrand, and its outlets Cape Town and the ports of Natal. A number of armed clashes between the British and the Boers culminated at the turn of the century in the Boer War, which, at length, the British won, by means of destroying the farmsteads of their enemies and transporting their families into concentration camps, where many of the Boer children died. It may be doubted whether at that time the strength of the new capitalist class was sufficient by itself to overcome the class which drew its strength from the land; but the ultimate issue was put beyond dispute by outside intervention. The farming-landowning class had been cut off from its former fatherlands in Europe; while the Capitalist class could count on the help of imperialist Britain, then the greatest industrial power in the world

This is the background of the South African scene. But the Boer War did not settle the matter. There was, and still is, much vitality left in the Afrikaner farming class. It still carries on its resistance to the industrial capitalist class; but in the long run one of them must go down before the other.

Black South Africa
The hostility between these two classes can be seen clearly in their respective attitudes to that majority of the South African population—the Negroes—who form the bulk of the working-class, alike on the farm owned by the Afrikaner and in the mine or factory owned by the Britisher. Each of them regards this class as subordinate. But while the Afrikaner’s self-interest drives him to adopt a harsh and oppressive policy, the Britisher, also motivated by self-interest, tends ip take a more “liberal” point of view.

To the Afrikaner the Negro has two possible capacities. He is, first and foremost, a rival for the ownership of the land. There were in 1946 over 8,000,000 Negroes in the Union, against 2,300,000 whites, nearly 1,000,000 Cape Coloured (of mixed white and black ancestry) and 200,000 Asiatics (nearly all of them Indians). Most of the Negroes are the descendants of the Zulu-Xhosa peoples, who came into the country from the North while the whites came in from overseas—the whites having exterminated or driven out the original black inhabitants of the area. These white and black invaders naturally found themselves in competition for the possession of the land. It has always been the policy of the Afrikaner landed interest to confine Negro ownership of land to certain fixed “Native” reserves: the Bantu can emerge from these reserves only as landless labourers on the white-owned farms, and must never be allowed to take root in the great areas of South Africa which are kept exclusively for white ownership. This restriction of Negro ownership always applied in the Afrikaner territories of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State; and the granting of Dominion status to South Africa in 1909 by Asquith’s Liberal Government' enabled the Afrikaners (who were the numerical majority of the white population) to impose the same rule throughout South Africa. Since 1913, Negroes have been able to own land only in certain carefully limited areas of the Union. At the present time, more than three-quarters of the total population of South Africa can own land in only one-tenth of its territory. This fragment of South Africa set aside for Negro ownership consists largely of less favoured land in remote districts, such as the Transkei Reserve in eastern Cape Province. At the beginning of this year there was only one important urban area throughout South Africa where Negroes could own land : and that was in a suburb of Johannesburg called Sophiatown.

The Nationalist Government has now put a stop to this anomalous situation. It has built a new settlement of corrugated-iron-roofed one-storey-huts at Meadowlands, eleven miles outside Johannesburg, and has forcibly begun to evict the Africans of Sophiatown from their freeholds and to carry them and their goods to Meadowlands. There the Negroes will be allowed to become tenants of the land; but they will not be allowed to to own it. The Africans have no say in the matter. The Government says they must go, fixes the exact days, and provides transport and police. This operation is being carried out under the Native Resettlement Act, passed by a Parliament elected almost exclusively by the whites. The Nationalists claim that the removal to Meadowlands is aimed solely at improving Native housing; but there are other African locations around Johannesburg where the housing conditions are worse than at Sophiatown; and, what is more, the shacks of Sophiatown are being destroyed and the area reserved for white occupation— this in a city which is short of 50,000 houses for its black population (Daily Telegraph, 10/2/55). The real aim is clearly to destroy the African’s ability to own land in one of the few urban areas where he still had that right.

The Afrikaner, then, sees the Negro as a competitor for the ownership of the land; and is led thereby to support apartheid, the policy of confining each of the ethnic groups in South Africa to its own areas—with the unspoken corollary that the areas reserved for the white minority shall be much larger than the areas reserved for the coloured majority. But to the Afrikaner the Bantu is not only a competitor for the land: he is also a farm-labourer. If apartheid were carried out in full, as is advocated by the extreme wing of the Nationalists, who would do the work? The extremists, those who embrace apartheid in all its pristine purity, say that the Boers must return to the ways of their ancestors, and themselves work their farms with their own hands and those of their families. But the majority of the Afrikaners are no more prepared to give up the surplus value—that is, the profits —which they make out of their African labourers, than they are to abandon their ownership of the land to the Africans. “On the farms you hear sad tales of how difficult it is to keep Africans, even with the help of legislation, from drifting away to make rather more money in urban employment. No one at these managerial levels suggests that his workers—-or he—would be better off if there were a trek back to the Reserves. On the contrary the cry is for more cheap labour.” (The Times. 14/1 /55: succeeding references are also to The Times). The Nationalists, then, are in a dilemma. They have swept triumphantly into power on the cry of apartheid: they captured 86 of the 156 seats in the South African Parliament in 1948, and in 1953 they increased their members to 94. But even their own supporters would not tolerate them if they ever seriously tried to put apartheid into effect.

Big business
The Nationalists must also, when they are considering apartheid measures, reflect upon the opposition they would arouse among the English-speaking element in the Union. Although this element is now split among the United Party, the Federal Party, and the Liberal Party, it remains very powerful; for it contains within its ranks the owners of the country’s industries. The Times correspondent, coming from a country where the Capitalist class and the ruling class are merely two names for one body of people, finds this distinctly odd. “The situation is a somewhat curious one in which a Government and those who have voted it to power play relatively little part in the conduct of big business. . . . It remains true to say that the bulk of the business in the Union, especially at its directorial and managerial levels, is carried on by men of British stock or by other non-Afrikaner immigrants. The Afrikaner now governs: the minority makes the money in the towns.” (14/1/55). Curious or not, it is the fact; and the Capitalist class gains in economic power with every year that passes. “By 1939 South Africa was well advanced along a course from which, so far as can be seen, there is no turning back and which was transforming her from a land of primary producers and gold and diamond miners into a complex society in which secondary industries were looming more and more large. The process was accelerated by the war-time hold-up leading to demand for consumer and capital goods. Major industries were established or extended.” (11/1/55). Industrial expansion means larger towns and more workers in the factories. If we take four of the largest cities in the Union, Johannesburg, Cape Town. Durban, and Port Elizabeth, we find that between 1936 and 1946 the white population rose by 29%; the Cape Coloured population by 34%; the Asiatic population by 38%, and the Negro population by 71%. Recently Mr. Hepple, a South African M.P., speaking in Parliament, said that in 1936 there were only 175.000 Negroes in industry; now there are 500,000—nearly three times as many (9/2/55).