Sunday, February 26, 2017

Maxton and Cook's Catchwords (1928)

Editorial from the July 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent manifesto by James Maxton (Chairman of the I.L.P.) and A. J. Cook (Miners’ Secretary) has received much notice in the Press, but only of a sensational kind.

The manifesto calls for a fight against the Capitalist system, but both the signers are supporters of the Labour Party, which has done its best to maintain and carry on the Capitalist system.

They claim that there has been a serious departure from the views of the founders of the Labour Party, such as Keir Hardie, but no evidence of that is offered or can be offered. Keir Hardie, Macdonald and other prominent leaders did not carry out a war against Capitalism and in favour of Socialism, but always stood for a long programme of reforms which would leave the system intact. Even in the early days of the Labour Party they ridiculed the principle of the Class Struggle, which lies at the root of the Socialist Movement—and the leadership, the policy and the programme of the Labour Party still ignore and gloss over the Class Conflict.

Cook and Maxton refer, with pride, to the thirty years’ work of the Labour Party, which they claim is now being destroyed. What is the thirty years’ work of the Labour Party? It is not as Cook and Maxton claim—work against the present economic system. For nearly thirty years the Labour Party have been recruiting the working class for a policy so much in harmony with the Liberals that several times they have called upon the workers to back up Lloyd George, Asquith and Co. in their Capitalist policies. Budget agitations. House of Lords’ Reform, Land Taxes, and similar anti-Socialist planks have been the common programme of Liberals and Labour. So much so, that to-day the Labour and. Independent Labour Parties’ cry is that the Liberal Industrial Report has been largely compiled from Labour’s Programme.

The Labour Government of 1924, endorsed by the I.L.P., is another example of what Maxton and Cook call, the “thirty years' work” against Capitalism. A Labour Government, maintained by Liberals, to carry on Capitalist policies!

What is the alternative suggested by those two advocates of the Labour Party? Simply that we should return to the policy of Keir Hardie and other founders of the Labour Party. This parade of sentiment about the pioneers ignores the fact that their policy was not Socialism, but actually so directly opposed to the Class Struggle of the workers that these "pioneers,” including Keir Hardie, supported the World War of 1914—a logical result of the anti-working class attitude of these alleged pioneers.
The objection raised by Maxton to the Mond Industrial Peace Conference ignores the fact that a majority of those taking part in the Conference with Mond and other employers are members of the I.L.P., and no action has been taken by the I.L.P. to expel or to repudiate them. A. J. Cook’s objection to the Mond Peace inference is not one of principle. More than once the journal of his supporters (the Communist Party)—The Workers' Life—has denounced Cook’s statement that he would not mind if only the Conference was representative of both sides, and had power to act.

At the Keir Hardie Memorial Demonstration, at Old Cumnock on Sunday, June 24th, Maxton defended the "Living Wage” Policy of the I.L.P., and completely ignored the fact that the "Living Wage” Campaign was simply a programme for the maintenance of Capitalism, with a series of minimum wage laws similar to the Trade Board’s Acts which legalise "sweating.”

There is nothing revolutionary in a policy which proposes to tax the employers in order to relieve slightly the employers' industrial victims.

It may be good election propaganda on the Clyde to talk vaguely about fighting Capitalism, but neither Maxton nor Cook have ever been prepared to lay down a Socialist Policy. They may be very useful to entice into the Labour Party those who are hoping that new leaders mean real changes. The workers, however, will still have to learn that new leaders and new catchwords do not take the place of sound knowledge and a Socialist Policy.

Our 24th Annual Conference. (1928)

Editorial from the May 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our 24th Annual Conference.
The best attended and generally the most helpful Annual Conference held for many years! Such was the opinion expressed on all sides. Next year we want to see more provincial delegates, as these are occasions when all, near and far, should make the utmost efforts to attend. The following are some of the outstanding features of the Conference:

A report was presented by the official engaged in maintaining communications with parties abroad similar to our own. Comrades in Austria are engaged in spreading our principles and a translation into German of our pamphlet “Socialism" is well under way.

A party has been formed which subscribes to the Object and Declaration of Principles of our Party. Readers of the Socialist Standard are being referred to the Secretary of this Australian Party, with whom they are asked to get into touch and so hasten the growth of a strong, virile fighting wing of the Socialist International. Their activities will be eagerly watched by our comrades over here.

From Canada and U.S.A. reports were given of groups who are making strenuous and untiring efforts towards the formation of a party in line with ours. Speed the day! is our message.

We were also told of efforts to get in touch with readers of the Standard in India, Egypt, South Africa, South America, Japan and China, and Russia. To all these scattered revolutionaries the Conference extended fraternal greetings and the hope for the early birth of the Socialist International.

The desire on the part of the majority of the London Branches to contest the next General Election is being met by the inauguration of a Parliamentary Fund. All sympathisers are asked to forward their contributions without delay.

The need for fresh party literature was expressed by many of the delegates. In order to meet this need funds are urgently needed.

Negotiations have been entered into with the view of taking over a large and suitable building in a main thoroughfare on the south side of the river.

The building contains a hall for indoor meetings and the E.C. strongly recommended the Conference to support their endeavours to their utmost.

For many years the party has been handicapped by lack of room. The present opportunity is one which, if taken advantage of, should mean a great step forward in the party’s activities. Again, therefore, all who can are asked to forward contributions or offers of loans to the Head Office for this purpose. The amount promised and collected to date is over £63.

This was well maintained. Indoor meetings in London broke all records and provided our speakers with good opportunities to place the party’s position before large and attentive audiences. Good work has also been done in Manchester, with an encouraging effect on the Manchester members.

During the summer season it is proposed to organise propaganda meetings at places within 30 to 50 miles of London.

All sympathisers of the party within this radius are invited to communicate with H.O. with a view to making the necessary arrangements for such meetings with the object of forming branches of the party in their localities.

On Good Friday evening, following our usual custom, a Reunion and Dance and Concert were held. These were the best attended for many years.


Book Review from the March 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Russia’s Disarmament Proposals,” by W. P. Coates, with preface by Arthur Ponsonby, M.P. Price 3d. (The Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee.)

This pamphlet is a report of Litvinov’s speech at Geneva and the Russian Memorandum calling for complete disarmament. Litvinov’s speech, however, shows the futility of expecting capitalism to disarm :
“The Soviet Government adheres to the opinion it has always held that under the capitalist system no grounds exist for counting upon the removal of the causes which give rise to armed conflicts. Militarism and big navies are the essentially natural consequences of the capitalist system.”
Armies and navies for the suppression of the workers at home and aggression abroad will always be needed and used by the capitalists. To ask them to disarm is to spread the view that such a thing is possible under capitalism.

The praise of the Russian proposals by the Daily Herald and the Labour Party is a piece of pure impudence considering the record of the Labour Government in building cruisers and the Labour Party’s support of the Great European Butchery.
Adolph Kohn


Editorial from the March 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Report of the Liberal Party Industrial Enquiry has at last appeared, but it should be called “The Capitalists White-Washing Programme." From beginning to end it calls attention to bad conditions, but never once does it enquire into the cause. The remedy proposed is more of the conditions that caused the evils. More Capitalism. Empire Development of—Capitalism. More shareholders in—Capitalism. More Free Trade in goods—and labour power. Less taxes for the industrial lord. Cheaper coal. More roads, and similar pills for the Economic Earthquake.

The dependence of the working class upon the employers for a chance to work; the resulting exploitation and insecurity of work, together with actual unemployment all the time under Capitalism—this situation is not dealt with by these Liberal experts. All these quack doctors can suggest is the workers should buy shares where they work and get a share of the profits in large concerns, and when jobless they can work on the roads or in the forests — developing capital for the capitalists. They tell us that ownership is far too concentrated, and while they report thus, the Liberal capitalists, like their Tory friends, are busy amalgamating, centralising, combining and trustifying modern capital in more powerful concerns, whether like Sir Ernest Benn in the publishing world, or like the Brunners in the chemical industry.

The Labour Party are angry because the Liberals have pinched their policy and put it in the Liberal Report. The MacDonalds and Hendersons say the Report embraces much of Socialism, but any Socialist who looks into the Report to find the Socialism will wear his eyes out in vain. What the Labour leaders mean by Socialism is municipal trams and beer and such schemes, to run things by a Capitalist State when it pays better than ordinary capitalist ownership.

The Labour Party’s programme is proved to be a capitalist one by its adoption by Liberals. 


Editorial from the February 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

The system that oppresses us to-day has centred in the hands of a few the control of the wealth produced by the many. Like an echo of this the blind strivings of the workers for freedom from oppression has centred the control of their organisations in the hands of a few trade union and political leaders. For decades the cult of leadership has lain like a blight on the struggles of the workers. The International Working Men’s Association opened full of promise, but was split and broken by this foul disease; its successors were born with this birth-mark upon them and linger a living testimony of futility.

The parties that claim the suffrages of the working-class to-day are, with one exception, saturated with the worship of the “great.” Avowed enemies, or professing friends, they alike deserve the uncompromising hostility of the workers.

The Labour Party, which opened its political career as the self-appointed guardians of the interests of the working class, after a long period of active work quenching the fires of revolution, and heading off almost every aspiration that promised progress to the workers, has finally graduated into the official opposition, the grave of dead hopes. Its leaders preach and pen empty platitudes, futile reforms that have seldom even the merit of simplicity. Intellectually bankrupt, undisciplined and eternally torn with dissension, it forms a solid barrier across the path to working-class emancipation.

The Independent Labour Party, having been built up on the same shifting sands of reform, is useless, and worse than useless, for the purpose of' achieving Socialism. It is irrevocably bound up with the Labour Party. It is in name “independent,” but one single independent blow for Socialism would bring upon it the open opposition of the Labour Party machine, would rend it from top to bottom and destroy the illusion that it is a real political force.

The Communist Party spurns Parliament and watches leaders, in theory. In practice, it helps into prominence and position the ghouls of the social battlefield, and prepares, a shambles for its guileless victims. With every change in the Russian situation it changes its policy and tactics. The “heroes” of yesterday are the “Petit Bourgeois” of to-day, and the “trusted leaders” of to-day will be the “traitors” of to-morrow. And as Russia, in harmony with historico-economic laws, daily proves more and more clearly that a society “can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development,” so the water of capitalism enters the milk of Communism in increasing abundance. The latter loses its driving force, and the wiser political charlatans turn to the richer field of spoil in the Labour Party.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed to propagate great principles and not “great” men. From the beginning the Party unflinchingly rejected all attempts at taking out of the hands of the working-class the control of its destiny, taking as a motto the watchwords, "The emancipation of the working-class must be the work of the working-class itself.” The social sufferer, like the sick, is slow to grasp the cause of his sufferings and prone to place his trust in those who promise quick relief —at a price. Hence we, who urge the worker to raise himself and conquer the world for himself, have made headway very slowly, and only after much toil. But we have made progress. Slowly the seed we have sown is bearing fruit. Here and there through the world, modest though it be at present, the germs of a greater International than the world has ever known is struggling into being. Here and there in the mighty cities that crowd the earth the voices of brother slaves have echoed our message: “Too long have the toilers been the playthings of the idle and the ambitious; let the capitalist world tremble at the upward march of its grave-diggers.”


Editorial from the January 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ten Years that prove our case.
It may appear paradoxical to write of the failure of a movement which has controlled the political machinery in the largest country in Europe for a decade. Success or failure, however, must be measured in relation to the avowed object of the movement. In England we have had, for generations, a movement (known as the Co-operative) which claimed to supersede capitalism. In fact, it has developed into a department of capitalist society. Similarly the Soviet Government employs wage slaves (like any other State), produces commodities for sale at a profit and arranges concessions with other capitalist concerns, private or national; at one time feared and execrated by capitalist politicians it is now treated on level terms at World Councils of the Powers. Why?

The Bolshevist coup of November, 1917, was no miracle. It was in line with the general history of Russian conditions for a century past. The development of industry, and, consequently, capitalist society had been held in check both by external and internal forces for generations. Britain and France had throttled expansion in the Baltic and the Black Sea, while the new capitalist power, Japan, put the finishing touch on the process in the East.

Capitalist industrialism must have markets, but the population of Russia consisted (and still consists) of millions of peasants producing mainly to satisfy their own requirements. Such surplus as they raise is under pressure from the tax-gatherer. According to Trotsky, "More than two-thirds of the consumption of the scattered peasant holdings is excluded from the market, and only the lesser third has any influence on the economy of the country.” — "Towards Socialism or Capitalism” (page 43).

Depending upon such immature productive resources the Tsarist bureaucracy plunged into the war with Germany (a highly industrialised nation) with the inevitable result that three years later its armies melted away, underfed, ragged, ill-armed and ill-equipped, to listen to the agitators. Revolt and the collapse of the governmental edifice followed. Party after party attempted to stem the rising tide. The Bolsheviki alone had the organisation, discipline and insight which enabled them to ride the storm.

Overthrowing Kerensky and his facing-both-ways supporters they endeavoured to obtain the support of the workers along parliamentary lines. Failing in this they proceeded to disperse the assembly by force and have "dictated" by the same means ever since.

Their leaders. Lenin, Trotsky and the rest had studied Marx and professed Socialism as their ultimate object. This, however, does not distinguish them from opportunist parties in other countries.

This programme upon which they gained the support of the army was certainly not Socialism; nor could any army establish Socialism, except under the direction and control of a Socialist working class, and this in turn could not have been found in Russia in 1917.

The army, drawn mainly from the peasantry, wanted to get back to their villages. Along with the workers in the towns they wanted food, and an end to the war in which they had no interest. The Bolsheviki promised them these things.

Although the new régime excluded all other parties from control, it dished them by stealing their programmes. Thus it legalised the Social Revolutionary Party’s ideal, peasant proprietorship, and eventually by means of the New Economic Policy opened up the avenues of development for the petty bourgeois elements in towns hitherto championed by the Mensheviks. It nationalised the large industries by the simple process of confiscation and then paid the capitalists to restart them (vide Trotsky’s book quoted above, page 38). The unreadiness of the workers themselves to assume ownership and control provided the dictators with both the opportunity and the excuse for the policy of compromise, economic and political, which they have since followed.

In foreign affairs, intrigue has been the weapon with which they have endeavoured to make terms with other capitalist powers.

Ostensibly they set out to initiate a world-revolution, ignoring the enormous amount of propagandist spade-work that still remains to be done before any such event is likely. Again the unreadiness of the workers of the world furnished them with the opportunity and excuse for entering into negotiations with the leaders of the "Second International,” whom they professed to be out to smash. Their "sympathisers” throughout the world, who suddenly conceived a respect for the magic of the name "Communist,” similarly commenced by attacking the Right Wing leaders both of Labour Parties and Trade Unions, and wound up by calling upon the workers to support these self-same leaders at the polling-booth. Where Marxian phraseology has appeared to meet their requirements they have used it only to disregard its real meaning whenever that has proved inconvenient.

The high-sounding phrases with which the movement proclaimed its alleged mission to the world have long since degenerated into empty verbiage, repeated parrot-like by the hot-headed "enthusiasts” who encumber the pathway of the scientific revolutionary party.

In Russia the proletariat (i.e., the wage-earning, working-class) is in a minority. Hence any movement on their part is a "minority movement.” In Britain the same class is in an overwhelming majority. It only needs to organise consciously and politically to have its way. Yet we have in this country a "minority movement”! What interests does it represent?

In Russia dictatorship is the traditional mode of government. It is made possible by the unorganised conditions of the majority of the population whose outlook is local rather than national; where politics are concerned the peasants "leave it to others.” In Britain the wage slaves have struggled for and gained legal and political rights which serve as a stepping stone to the control of society along democratic lines.

The Bolshevist movement has failed to teach the workers of Western Europe and America anything new concerning their position and has assisted but little to help forward their education in the task ahead of them. It has fogged the issue by introducing controversy over points long ago settled so far as this country is concerned. Let the workers study the history of their class and they will discover that the methods advocated by so-called Communists were tried and scotched by the ruling class over a hundred years ago.

When the army was quartered among the workers at the time of the French Revolution and the workers themselves were seething with discontent brought about by the advent of the machine industry then, if ever, was the time for seducing the troops from their allegiance. Destitute of political rights, it appeared in those days the only logical policy. Capitalist statesmen, such as Pitt, however, foresaw the danger to their class and segregated the army in barracks. To-day there is only one road to political power and economic emancipation. That is the slow but sure road followed by the Socialist Party. 

Marxists Under the Bed (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the February 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Anyone reading the Times over the end of the year period could be forgiven for thinking that the paper was waging a witch-hunt against 'Marxists'. An article by Philip Collins, once Tony Blair's speechwriter, on 16 December was headed 'Ministers must stand and fight RMT Marxists'. Another, on 3 January, by Melanie Philips, former Daily Mail columnist (and it shows), on Obama was subtitled 'The outgoing President is poised to return to his Marxist roots and lead opposition to Trump.'
What was the basis of these claims? Collins's argument was that the current series of strikes on Southern Rail was not an ordinary trade union dispute over workers' terms and conditions of employment but a political strike against the government. He cited talk by some of the union's officials about strikes to bring down the government, one of Arthur Scargill's illusions. Even if this was the union's official position (which it wasn't) this would not be 'Marxism' . The view that trade unions should take industrial action to overthrow the government is a syndicalist position, not one Marx held. He always stressed the need to win control of political power, via the ballot box if possible, as a preliminary to ending capitalism.
Collins also pointed to the fact that the RMT has supported TUSC, a Trotskyist front organisation. At least those behind TUSC do describe themselves as 'Marxists', even though they aren't. Trotskyism is a fundamental departure from Marx's own views and TUSC's policies are just Old Labour.
Melanie Phillips's case is even weaker. She can't even cite anybody who even claimed to be a Marxist. Her argument goes like this: Obama used to be a community activist; Saul Alinsky was a community activist; Alinsky was a Marxist; therefore Obama was a Marxist. The logical fallacy is glaring, but one of the premises is not even true. Alinsky never claimed to be a socialist, let alone a Marxist.
But what is a Marxist anyway? Marx himself of course once famously said that he wasn't a Marxist. The term originated in the dispute in the 1870s within the International Working Men's Association. Marx's opponents in the dispute dubbed those who took his side 'Marxists'. They retorted by calling them 'Bakuninists'. Some accepted the description 'Marxist', and, despite Marx, it stuck.
A Marxist is not a dogmatic follower of everything Marx wrote or did, but someone who shares his approach to history and economics and his insistence on the need to win political control before attempting to end capitalism and bring in communism (as Marx preferred to call socialism). In this sense, we would call ourselves Marxists, although our case rests on the facts, not on what Marx said, and stands irrespective of what Marx may or may not have said and even if he had never been born.
We wouldn't want to claim to be the only 'Marxists'. There are historians, such as Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm, who have brilliantly applied the materialist conception of history, but only to history. When it came to applying the same method to contemporary society they had a blind spot, believing that Russia was socialist or had been on the way to socialism, whereas the exploitative, class-divided, state-capitalist society there had nothing in common with what Marx envisaged as the next stage beyond capitalism. But one thing is certain, neither the RMT leaders nor Obama are in any way Marxist.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

At the street corner (1927)

From the June 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of our earliest, and one of our wisest decisions of policy, was that wherein we allowed an opponent access to our platform. Having heard our case, and subject only to the common usages and decencies of debate, we offer any opponent the right to oppose us, on our own platform. We believe that, as a party, we are unique in this respect. But then, of course, we are unique in having a position that we know will stand the test. Obviously a case can be made out for anything, even the most absurd proposition, if you ignore enough, and throttle the opposition. So that propagandist parties of all sorts, religious or political, who decline to allow their statements to be combated, where and when uttered, stand self-convicted of cowardice or dishonesty.

To allow questions is not enough. Their very allowance is often transparent trickery, for a false position can rarely be overthrown by one question. As soon as a questioner follows up by supplementaries, one usually finds the speaker evading an issue by saying the questioner is selfishly monopolising too much attention. He should give someone else a chance.

Or again, an awkward question is parried by another question from the speaker, or met by a provocative remark, and the succeeding jeers and howls used as a cover, whilst a more congenial questioner is baited. This is notoriously the method of the Anti-Socialist Union, and analagous bodies. They will not permit anyone on their platform to state a reasoned opposition. Oh, no! But questions! Bless you, yes!

There was a speaker the other day in a London market place, representing the British Empire Union. His remarks were a strange blend of sense and fallacy. He said, very wisely, “Do not be led hither and thither by leaders of any sort. Do not read the exclusive literature of any one party; read all, and come to your own conclusions. Read and think deeply,” he said. "Do not hurry to a decision, but let what you read and hear, have time to digest in your brain and then, as an individualist, stick to your own opinion.” How wise! How sensible! It impressed the audience. But someone asked him what he meant by an ”individualist,” a term he had used rather frequently. He replied : "One who believed in making his own bargain with an employer, and not being dictated to by a union.” Then, of course, the storm broke. Howls and jeers from obvious Labour adherents, gradually died down into questions, dealt with as outlined above. Then the mention of China was seized upon by the speaker as a useful get-out, and a peg upon which to jibe at the Labour Party and then invite further questions. Did he think it right, asked one questioner, that the Chinese women and children of Shanghai should have to work 14 hours a day in the cotton mills. As an "individualist,” replied the speaker, he believed anyone should have the unquestioned right to work as many hours as they wished. More howls and jeers, and then a quiet, insistent little man who had evidently thought out a short series of consecutive questions, got a hearing with his first one. "What was the cause of the trouble in China?” he asked. Twice the speaker ignored him. The third time the speaker paused, waved the crowd into comparative silence, and replied : "I don’t know, do you?” Bang went the little man's series. Thrown on the defensive, he said, "But I’m-asking you.” "Yes,” retorted the speaker, "but I don’t know. I’m asking you.” Bravely the little man started to explain conditions in the cotton mills in Shanghai when the lecturer interrupted by asking which mills, British or Chinese. The little man was not quite certain, but said both, when the speaker followed up by saying, "How many British mills are there out there?” The little man got nettled and said "I do not know, and the number is immaterial. What I contend—” "Oh, no!” said the speaker, "you are not sure of your facts. Let us have the facts,” and so on. Collapse of the little man.

So that the acceptance of questions at a public meeting does not constitute it a fair vehicle for the diffusion of views. Politics is essentially a subject for public discussion, and that cannot be called discussion which says "These are our views. You may ask us questions about them, but we will not allow your contrary views to be heard.”

Obviously, the British Empire Union is not concerned with the dissemination of accurate views, for its speakers must know perfectly well that the phenomenon they call an "individualist” cannot exist in human society. They must know that in ten short minutes a capable opponent could make the absurdity of such a claim apparent to the simplest intelligence. They must know, in spite of their waving of Union Jacks and their blether of King and Country, that the Government gave very short shift to "individualists” during the War or during the coal trouble. The B.E.U. therefore, take no chances. The capable opponent is kept off their platform. He may question, but not expound.

The Socialist Party is not built that way. We have a position, a philosophy, a policy, which has been tested in every possible way. Scientists, economists, politicians, have attacked it, belittled it, sneered at it, but Socialism remains. It is the one subject that is the common talk of the whole civilised world. Wherever human progress has attained the stage known as Capitalism, there inevitably the problems it raises are sure to be soluble in only one way. Nothing hinders its steady onward march. Even a world-war, overturning thrones and making hay of political frontiers, leaves Socialism still the talk of the world, and the hope of millions. As a policy, we of the Socialist Party have always realised that Socialism can only come when the majority of people want it. We conceive it our task therefore, to convert a majority of people to our point of view. With this clear object before us, we believe there cannot be too much opportunity for discussion. We are so convinced of the impregnable strength of our position that our platform is open to anyone who cares to try to prove us wrong. We have nothing to hide, no secrets to keep, no leaders to apologise for, nothing but straight Socialism to preach. So we have nothing to fear. If anyone thinks we are crying for the moon, or are on a wild-goose chase, he is at liberty to tell us so. If he can prove it, he will save us wasting our precious time, and so do us a service. On the other hand, if we can in turn show that he is harbouring delusions unawares, he should be indebted to us. We have everything to gain by discussion. Can it be said that any of our political opponents are similarly anxious for discussion, or that they are prepared to offer equal facilities? Try them and see. And in the meantime read our pamphlet called Socialism, still obtainable at the modest price of twopence (plus postage) in spite of its 48 packed pages.
W. T. Hopley

Violence at work (1992)

From the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

If Prince Charles falls off his horse or the Queen Mother gets a fish bone stuck in her throat we are invited to grieve over such matters by newspaper headlines and bulletin announcements to the accompaniment of Big Ben's chimes. When 500 workers are killed at work every year, however, this is not regarded as dramatic news. It is often looked at as something pretty much beyond human control. To describe these deaths as “accidents”, however, can be seen as perverse because although they are not intended by employers, neither are they chance, unpredictable incidents. They are, in most documented cases, plainly foreseeable.

In November 1991, Tony Linehan, the government's chief factory inspector, announced that industrial injury claims have doubled since 1985. On average two people a day are killed at work and 3,500 are injured. Almost half-a-million people each year suffer as a result of their working environments.

The violence of commerce
First let us consider the extent of the problem. Employment is violent. In 1989- 90 426 people, a third of them in the construction industry, died in violent incidents at their work. They were burnt, drowned, asphyxiated, electrocuted, crushed and impaled. In the same year over 21,000 suffered “non-fatal serious injuries"—amputations, for instance—and 160,000 suffered “serious injuries".

In addition, it is estimated that each year as many as 10,000 workers or more die a slow and painful death from the effects of industrial disease.

Most of these deaths are unnecessary and easily preventable. According to the Health and Safety Executive over 70 percent of workplace deaths are the fault of management and their failure to provide proper equipment or training or supervision.

Examining the same problem in the USA. one writer has given the issue a particularly striking perspective. He estimates that in 1972 the number of people in the USA dying from occupational hazards (diseases and accidents) was 114,000, whereas only 20,600 died as victims of personal homicide. Represented on a time clock, for murder there would be one personal killing every 26 minutes but:
If a similar clock for industrial deaths were constructed . . .  and recalling that this clock ticks only for that half of the population that is the labour force—this clock would show an industrial death about every four and a half minutes! In other words in the time it takes for one murder on the time clock, six workers have died just trying to make a living! (J. Reman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison. 1979 p.75).
Blackspot Construction is a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report which analyses the circumstances of 739 deaths in the construction industry between 1981 and 1985. Referring to these deaths, John Rimmington, the Director-General of the HSE, said "they represent a very saddening loss of life, particularly because most of the deaths could have been prevented" (Emphasis added). The report shows that the immediate reasons for most deaths were lack of supervision, inadequate training and lack of attention to detail:
   The figures in this report clearly show that the basis causes of the deaths of 739 people from 1981-1985 have not changed over the last ten years. There were, on average, two deaths every week on construction sites. Ninety per cent of these could have been prevented. In 70 per cent of cases, positive action by management could have saved lives. (Emphasis added). (HMSO, 1988, p.4).
   In another report, Agricultural blackspot (1986), a study of 296 deaths between 1981 and 1984 the HSE concluded that in 62 percent of cases "responsibility rested with management”. Again, in Deadly Maintenance (1985), a study into deaths at work in a range of industries, the HSE concluded that "management were primarily responsible in 54 percent of cases".
There is some evidence, as you might expect. that the toll on workers gets worse during an economic recession. Serious injuries, for example, suffered by young people on the government's Youth Training Scheme increased by 86 percent between 1986 and 1990.

In fact, the Health and Safety Commission published research last December indicating that the number of accidents at work is six times higher than the official figure.

Consider the social system in which these deaths and injuries occur. We live in a class-divided society. One economic class of men and women between them own and therefore control the means by which we all live. They own the factories, offices, transport and communication systems and so forth: in short the means of producing and distributing wealth. The empty and fraudulent rhetoric of people like Margaret Thatcher and John Major speaks of a "property-owning democracy" and “classless society”, and the nationalistic nonsense of John Putnam, Neil Kinnock and the Labour Party tries to fool people into thinking that everyone beneath the Union Jack has a common interest.These are shibboleths which are entirely refuted by the economic facts.

As the Inland Revenue, a body not known as an avid supporter of the Socialist Party, reported in January in Inland Revenue Statistics 1991, the richest one percent of the population today own more marketable wealth the poorest 50 percent of the population. In fact, the top one percent owns three times more than the poorest half of the population.

In this system wealth is produced not directly to satisfy human needs but to produce a profit for the owners of the means of production. If something is not profitable it will not be produced. In the cutthroat economic rivalry between companies to win contracts or keep their customers, costs are cut to a minimum wherever that is possible. Employers do not get rich in capitalism by being kind or charitable. Safety is often an expensive matter to a company. It involves paying for training, equipment and, perhaps, using methods which take longer than those which are unsafe.

The reports of the HSE are replete with how the cost-benefit principle of capitalism operates to cause death and injury but two vivid examples from other sources demonstrate what often happens when profits and safety are counterpoised.

On 13 September 1978, Ford Motor Company was indicted in Indiana, USA, for reckless homicide. A Grand Jury decided after three days of deliberation that Ford was to be tried as a responsible party for the deaths of three teenagers, who were burnt to death when their Ford Pinto burst into flames following a low-speed, rear-end collision. Many people had died in similar incidents all over the USA. One writer on the issue has stated that “by conservative estimates Pinto crashes have caused more than 500 deaths”. (M. Dowie, in Injury and Death for Profit, 1987, cd. S. Hills). The actual trial resulted in the company being acquitted but evidence was produced in the case which demonstrated that Ford was aware of the danger posed by the Pinto but had used a cost-benefit calculation to decide that the cars should be left unaltered with their owners. It would have cost less that 11 dollars per car to remedy the defect but calculations had shown that subsequent insurance claims resulting from the number of people predicted to be killed and injured would not exceed the $137 million that it would cost to recall and alter all the Pintos it had sold.

This sort of cost-benefit analysis, which relegates human life below the considerations of profit, is not peculiar to Ford Motor, Company or to recent developments. It is a feature endemic to the system of commerce. Max Weber commented on this issue in relation to its implications for capitalism in American cities. In 1904 he observed that:
After their work, . . . [Chicago] workers often have to travel for hours in order to reach their homes.The tramway company has been bankrupt for years. As usual, a receiver who has no interest in speeding up the liquidation manages its affairs: therefore, new tramcars are not purchased. The old cars constantly break down, and about four hundred people a year are thus killed or crippled. According to the law, each death costs the company about $5,000 which is paid to the widow or heirs, and each cripple costs $10,000, paid to the casualty himself. These compensations are due so long as the company does not introduce certain precautionary measures. But they have calculated that the four hundred casualties a year cost less than would the necessary precautions. The company therefore does not introduce them. (Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, 1958, H. Gerth, C. Wright Mills, p.16).
It is this sort of thing that may have been in the mind of John Cullen, the Chairman of the HSE, when he said in 1989 that:
The enterprise culture, the opening up of markets, and the need to survive competition place businesses under unprecedented pressure . . . the scale and pace of technological change means that increasing numbers of people—the public as well as employees—are potentially at risk. (Guardian, 4 May 1989).
Within capitalism, economic imperatives will always prevail. In a contest between principles of profit, morality and religion, profit will always triumph.The Chairman of British Steel will not keep Ravenscraig steel works open this year because it is morally better that 1200 people should not lose their jobs. The government will not make Sainsbury and Tesco shut on Sundays because various vicars and priests implore commerce to respect religion, neither will they be shut to protect the economic interests of shop workers.

The economic mechanisms of capitalism mean that workers will be killed and injured on the sacrificial altar of profit whenever the pressures are strong enough.

Anyone in any doubt about this can consider the position of workers as a result of health and safety legislation. The annual pattern of death and injury has been no different under Labour governments than it has under Tory governments, and there is no significant change as the result of the introduction of legislation like the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974. The annual profile of deaths at work has remained the same every year for the last 17 years since the coming into force of the Act.

Even now there are people clamouring, often with the best intentions, to bring in new legislation to amend the rules of capitalism. They seek to raise the fines paid by companies who kill or maim workers; to make the police investigate all construction site deaths and to make coroners call directors as witnesses so as to incriminate them.

These proposals, however, even if implemented exactly in accordance with the wishes of the reformers, cannot really deal with the problem because they leave intact the system of commerce and the paramountcy of companies. As Marx observed, within capitalism large employers have an interest in supporting safety legislation. By supporting legislation like the Factory Act of 1867, many capitalists were able to improve their positions by, on the one hand, having a hand in making sure the law was not going to adversely affect them and, on the other, making sure that it did impose conditions which could not be met by their less prosperous rival firms who would be put out of business by the costs involved in meeting the new safety requirements.

Only by transforming the basis of the production of wealth can we eradicate the violence of work and make safety its number one priority. In those circumstances it may even be safe enough to allow walking disaster areas like the royals to have a go at some useful work.
Gary Jay


From the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

"How do you know when politicians are lying? When you see their lips move”. Politicians have failed us so many times it is a standing joke. But it's not a very funny joke. They cruise comfortably through disaster after disaster while in power, but when elections loom they panic completely, lose all dignity and promise anything they can think of.

And what is unfunniest of all is that we believe them. Each election they beg for another chance. Each election we give it to them. And the starvation and misery in the world, the poverty, the pollution, the stress in our lives and the despair of so many, all of these get worse instead of better. In spite of "greening" themselves politicians can do almost nothing to stop the immense destruction caused by pollution, basically because it's cheaper to pollute than to reprocess waste.

And what could they do about poverty? Abolish it? If they do that then they must also abolish riches, surely, because you can't have one without the other. And what will the rich have to say about that? Can they abolish homelessness, perhaps by giving people free houses? Again, what would the rich building contractors say? Can they abolish hunger by making food very cheap? Not if they want the support of rich food producers. Politicians who are smart know this.

They know exactly how helpless they are in the face of problems which defy any attempt to control them. But they know also that to admit defeat is political suicide. Somebody else will make the same promises and get all the votes instead, as we've been seeing with the Greens. So instead they always beg us for one more last chance.

But there could be a better way.

We are going to make some proposals. They are not "common sense" proposals, so "realists" won't be interested. But that's all right, because they have all the rich and clever ideas of ordinary politicians to choose from. We think, however, that it is time to think big. The proposals we make are ambitious. Probably more so than any you will have heard before.

Because the problems are world-wide, we think that the solutions have to be world-wide. First, we are going to propose that the world organises itself democratically. It is not so at the moment, because we rely on leaders. We put people into positions of power, where they can control vast fortunes and vast armies, and then we expect them to act in our interest. That's like putting children in charge of a sweetshop. We should not be surprised when they let us down. But the world is no sweetshop, it is a matter of life and death. If we cannot trust leaders, we must learn to stand on our own feet - without leaders. We are not children, however much we are treated like children. We do not have to be helpless and weak. If we decide to make our world into a democracy, we are well able to do it.

If we decide that we should not be ruled over by tyrants and masters, we are well able to do that too. If enough of us organise together, we can accomplish anything. Which is just as well, because not everyone would welcome more democracy. In fact, there is a tiny minority of people who would not be at all pleased if we decided to run things ourselves. And that's because they happen to own nearly everything on this planet.

Imagine what life would be like if someone discovered how to stop you from breathing without their permission. That person could charge any price they liked, and you would have to pay. Just how free would you be then? Fortunately, no-one can do that to you, but consider this - can you eat without anyone's permission? If you think so, think again. You will be arrested if you try it.

You must pay the owner first - for permission. It's the same with everything else - heating, clothing, housing, travel, communications - we have to pay for permission to have these things. And what happens when they can't pay because you have nothing to sell? Then you must sell your time and your skills - you must find a job. If you can.

There's nothing wrong with owning things. We all do. But when somebody owns the food you need to live on, it's as if they are holding a gun to your head. They can make you do almost anything. The world we live in is so arranged that a small minority of people holds that power over a very large majority, simply because of what they own. And this affects everything we think, feel and do.

Rich people don't have to wait in queues. They don't have to swallow their pride, or shortchange their kids at Christmas and birthdays, or buy cheap clothes, or take abuse from bosses. They don't go red when policemen look at them, or worry about being late, or avoid people’s eyes. Rich people are beautiful people with beautiful lifestyles. And what, then, does that make us? If we want a real democracy, we must face the fact that property stands in the way.

However huge a step it is, we cannot ever be free until we have abolished the ability of people to hold such terrible power over each other. Property and money are worldwide institutions. To uproot them would mean turning the world as we know it virtually upside down. We do not propose such a change lightly. The implications are so enormous that they cannot possibly be covered in a few leaflets.

We know how much is against us, and we know what the rich and powerful might try to do to stop it.
Yet we believe it can be done, that it can be done quickly, and that it can be done without violence of any kind. In the next leaflet, we'll explain how.

Taken from a series of leaflets produced by our Lancaster branch.


From the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are lots of things in our lives that we don’t find it easy to talk about. Some of them are even "taboo". But there's one thing which we talk about, all of us, all the time, and never give its proper name because that name is, for most of us, a rather dirty word. That thing is Politics. It is such a dirty word that you could well be ready to throw this leaflet away right now. But before you do, think back for a minute on the conversations you’ve had this week.

What were they really about? Did you complain about the price of something which has gone up again? Did you talk about problems with the Council, or with your mortgage, or with your wages? If you work, did your boss get you down again this week, or was it the fighting in the office? If you’re unemployed, were you depressed because you walked past shops and people who all seem to live on a separate planet? Or was it a row with a loved one over money, or with the kids, or just because you’re so tired and full of stress that anything sets you off?

If your week sounded anything like that, you're not alone. What happens in our lives is not entirely up to us, and when we talk about life we are also making political statements about how we would like things to be. Politics is only a dirty word because the Thatchers and the Kinnocks have made it into a game that you play in parliaments and score off the opposition.

Their games are none of our concern, but our own lives matter, and the politics of our lives must matter to us as well. In the coming weeks we will be putting some leaflets through your door. They will be about politics, but don’t be put off by that. The things that worry you, that may be mentioned above, are the sort of politics we want to talk about. Not party politics, or 'real-politik'. but real life.

What happened in 1066? Well, not the Battle of Hastings, for one thing - that was apparently around 1087. It must have happened to you that you’d believed something for years without question only to find out one day that it wasn’t true after all. Life is full of popular myths that, like the Battle of Hastings, may be interesting to explode but don’t really matter to anyone. But one myth that is still around, and matters rather a lot, is the myth of 'common sense'.

If something is ’common sense', it is true. Many of the ideas we hear through the TV and papers are put in this way. We take them very much for granted. They are what is called "realism". In our last leaflet we talked about the dirty word ‘politics'. Politicians are fond of "realism" and "common sense approaches". Nowadays you don't have to prove somebody wrong, you just call them "unrealistic" or "naive". Politicians have managed to make everybody else’s ideas sound childish and naive. Major and Kinnock, like the good Mummy and Daddy they try to be, know all about 'common sense'. They should, they manufacture most of it.

The problems that we have in our lives, that we mentioned in our last leaflet, don't get talked about by the papers or politicians. That is left to us, on our own, in pubs or among friends. Why do we have to work for bosses? What is the point of saving when inflation eats it all up? Why do people starve when supermarkets throw food away? But it's not common sense’ to talk about things that Kinnock is not interested in.

In the next few leaflets we are going to ask exactly the sort of questions that Kinnock and Major are not interested in. The sort of questions you don't read about in the paper, or hear on 'Question Time’.

Some of the conclusions we come up with might well sound like science fiction, and not common sense at all. But they might also sound just like things you've said yourself in the past. Try not to lose patience with us. Things which aren’t ‘common sense' aren't automatically wrong. We ask you to judge for yourself.

In our last two leaflets we have explained why we think politics should not be a dirty word, and why 'common sense' answers aren't necessarily right answers. We hope you saw what we meant by that.

Here are some examples of this 'Common Sense', and underneath, the feelings, or as they are more usually called the "Bad Attitudes" that a lot of people have about them. 

Common Sense: This is a prosperous country.
Bad Attitude: Where is all this prosperity when you're on the dole or three months behind with the mortgage?

Common Sense: If you want to 'make it', work hard and be thrifty. 
Bad Attitude: Like my parents did, and look at them. Besides, what's the point when some yuppie can make my life’s earnings in twenty minutes on the Stock Exchange? 

Common Sense: Other people are worse off than you. If you've got an ounce of decency you should be grateful, and give to charities.
Bad Attitude: Alright, I can't walk past a collecting box without feeling guilty, but however much I pay, the problems don't seem to go away. If anything they get worse. Why don't the government pay?

Common Sense: Politics is for politicians. I wouldn't fancy trying to run the country.
Bad Attitude: Mind you, for £35 thousand a year plus expenses I couldn't do any worse than them, could I? All they care about is their own power.

If you have something like this 'bad altitude problem', don't despair. There are others like you, not in hundreds or thousands, but in millions. Just think of election-time, when you get to make your own mark for democracy. In spite of all the rousing speeches, the rallies and the broadcasts, many people still don't bother to vote. They obviously think it makes no difference to their lives who is in power and who isn’t. This, we are told, is because they have a bad attitude. Perhaps so. Perhaps, too, if speeches and policy reviews don't matter to them, they should get together and find out what does. They might find out they’ve got quite a lot in common. With each other. With us. With you.

Taken from a series of leaflets produced by our Lancaster branch.

Women's Freedom (1935)

From the June 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

How many of the slaves who sing with swelling breast that "Britons never never” ever give thought to what they mean by freedom. It is a word that is given a different interpretation as many times as it is used. Thus the capitalist free trader desires freedom to sell his goods in every market of the world regardless of the fettered millions who have produced them. Freedom to him means freedom to trade and make profit. The so-called free worker under capitalism finds that his freedom leaves him free to starve when he cannot find a boss. The “down and out” under a recent Act of Parliament is now free to sleep under the stars without incurring the wrath of the powers that be and without the doubtful hospitality of a police cell that used to be free to him. The suffragettes fought for the freedom of the vote so that they could have their say in the laws governing their property. The position of millions of working class women who had no property and were, in fact, bound hand and foot by their economic dependence upon the employer directly or upon some employed male relative did not rouse the ire of the suffragettes. Obtaining the vote has done nothing to alter that. Only when working class women learn their true position in society will they know how to use their vote wisely, and for this the suffragette movement had no time. Wilberforce, who was the champion of the black slaves' freedom, was one of the stoutest supporters of the combination laws which forbade trade unions and were designed to keep the white slaves of this country in subjection. The pious utterances of the dealers in cant and humbug stand for nought when we discover how far their principles of freedom take them. The Labour Party, the self-styled champion of the poor and oppressed, supported when in office the killing of natives who were misguided enough to believe that they, too, were fighting for their native freedom. The Labour Party soon taught them, however, that there is no such thing as freedom when capitalist interests are at stake.

Truly “it is a mad world, my masters,” but there are none so mad as the members of the working class who will not use their one freedom, their freedom to think and act in their own interests. The freedom upon which all freedom rests is the economic freedom of a class in society from the domination of another class.

This freedom is the object of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and is the only freedom worth fighting for, because it embraces all liberty that is possible for all mankind without distinction of race or sex. Working class women as well as men will find their political expression in the S.P.G.B. The so-called woman question is no different from any other working class problem. Working women are either in economic bondage to an employer or to their husbands, and Socialism ends both states of bondage. The petty tyrannies of domestic life are often the shadows of those in the industrial world. The worker eats, sleeps, and takes his leisure at the dictates of his job. His life is moulded round his job. In other words, while producing everything worth while in life his ability to enjoy life is regulated by the meagre amount of wages he receives. The man, then, should regard his wife as a partner and as a comrade to let off as lightly as possible and with whom to fight jointly against capitalism. Instead of this he sometimes assumes in his turn the role of master and initiates a fresh set of petty tyrannies. It is useless for women to fight against these various effects of the one great evil. They must break the economic stranglehold which holds the man, and they can only do this by breaking the economic stranglehold of capitalism upon the whole of the working class. On, then, with the fight for freedom, but let us first realise what we mean by freedom.

Primitive society knew no private ownership in the means of production. Nor will Socialism. The means and instruments for producing wealth must be the common property of the whole of society. It will then be out of the power of any person to coerce by threat or promise of material gain, any other person. Personal property suited to the taste and needs of individuals remains untouched, and fresh supplies being always available nobody will covet anybody's things, nor want to hoard up supplies for themselves. Freedom for the first time will be effectively realised and break its own shackles. The worker must first, however, use the faculty that he proudly claims distinguishes him from the brute. He must stage an intelligent revolt against the conditions that keep him as dull as a cow in a field. Then will he become really free.
May Otway


Book Review from the May 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

"What’s What in China.” Price 1d. L.R.D., 162, Buckingham Palace Road.

This 16 page booklet is "A description of the forces involved in the struggle in China, and of the interests they represent.” It serves a useful purpose in shedding a little light on the confusion in the Chinese struggles, but it suffers from the stupid and inexcusable vice of assuming that Chinese nationalism is for some reason, never to my knowledge stated, different in kind from Irish, German, British and other brands of patriotism. All forms of nationalism are in origin and effect anti-socialist and anti-working-class. Barely was this booklet off the press when events—as we foretold they would—proved how unsound is the view that the working-class movement should support Chinese nationalism, or any nationalism. On page 7 the author writes of the Cantonese movement that the class conflict within its ranks "has for the time being been softened by the formation of the united front,” and that "Chiang-Kai-Shek (Commander-in- Chief), has not hitherto shown himself any more tender towards the interests of the foreign capitalists than have the Communists or any other section of trade unionists of China” (Page 9), and lastly that “The single control of the Southerners is exercised by a civilian government to which the military are strictly subject ” (Page 7).

There is, of course, every reason why Chinese capitalists should be opposed to foreign capitalists, since they both wish to exploit the Chinese workers, but what we want to emphasise is that the Chinese capitalist nationalist movement is anti-working-class. At the moment Chiang-Kai-Shek is demanding the dismissal of certain civil ministers of the Cantonese Government (Daily News, 16th April), and has, during the past week or so, been busily engaged in dissolving trade unions by military force and in shooting Communists and others who were misguided enough to think that workers who offer themselves up for sacrifice as cannon-fodder in nationalist wars, thereby obtain the right to a voice in the policies of their capitalist masters.

Mr. Arthur Ransome recently interviewed Borodin, the Russian adviser to the Cantonese, on the aims of the Chinese movement. Borodin is quite frank :—"At present and for years to come Communists and Capitalists alike in China must have the same ideal of a prosperous and much more highly developed industrial China and a general rise in Chinese standards of living . . .  The Chinese Nationalists want an agrarian revolution, but they want it in order to clear the way for China’s capitalist development.” —(Manchester Guardian, 20th April.)

We recognize, as Marx recognized, that China, like other backward countries, must pass through the stage of capitalist development, but that is no reason for deluding the workers there or here into the belief that nationalism is anything but a capitalist movement. Premature attempts to seize power before economic conditions are ripe and before the workers are numerous enough and conscious enough to make success thinkable, are foredoomed to failure. Racial prejudices are aroused among the workers by association with Nationalist propaganda, violence is encouraged as a substitute for political education and organization, and the resulting disappointment, bitterness and social unsettlement are not conducive to rapid or orderly development of the working-class movement. Those organisations in this country which support any nationalist movement are deceiving the workers if not themselves, and are demonstrating their unfitness to claim to speak in the name of Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Friday, February 24, 2017

By The Way (1918)

The By The Way column from the November 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Lloyd. George in his Manchester speech once again crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s of the Socialist propagandist. It was in dealing with the lessons of the war that the Prime Minister told his hearers that “the State must take a more constant and more intelligent interest in the health and fitness of the people.” Why this interest was to be manifested was in order to maintain the Empire, and because the war and the need for fighters had shown what a pitiable caricature capitalist society had reduced its wage slaves to. The speaker went on to say— '
I asked the Minister of National Service how many more men could we have put into the fighting ranks if the health of this country had been properly looked after. I staggered at the reply. It was a considered reply. It was, “At least one million.” . . .  Here we are combing out the essential industries . . . and yet you had a million men who, if the State had taken proper care of the fitness of the people, would have been available for the war. . . . I solemnly warn my fellow-countrymen that you cannot maintain an A1 Empire with a C3 population. Unless this lesson is learned war is vain.—“Daily News,” Sept. 13th, 1918.
Now, I submit that this is a pretty strong indictment of capitalism. Strange, is it not, that it should require a world war to bring home to our rulers the truth of our contention of the indifference, even to the point of callousness, in the treatment meted out to the workers in the piping times of peace by the master class? Mate, it’s up to you! Is capitalism worth fighting for? Think it over!

* * *

Next our glib-tongued orator turned his attention to unpacking a box of red herrings, termed in these days reconstruction. The question of housing reform was an essential feature in improving the health of the people; healthier conditions of workshops, and wages which will sustain life in full vigour; more attention to be paid to the schools, encouragement of production and national assistance: all these things are offered as tempting baits to the unwary to lure them into further support of capitalist apologists. Coming to close grips with this specious thing, he adds—
  Let us have it when the nation is riding the chariot of a high purpose ere it comes down to the dusty road. That is the time to reconstruct, that is the time to build —when there is the spirit of fraternity throughout the land, when there is no longer rich and poor, one party or other, but one people, one spirit, one purpose, one soul—to lift our native land, not merely above the menace of a foreign foe, but above the wretchedness, the squalor, the horror, the misery which so many men and women and children who live on the hearthstones of this old land have been enduring. I have been amongst the people and I know it, and I want to see this thing righted after the war.
All these things are offered to the credulous if they will but bow down and worship him. But let us pause for a moment and ask if he will really “deliver the goods.” What of the promises made years ago? What of the land campaign, the 1909 budget, the easier and pleasanter road, the road through fields of waving corn, and the benefits to be conferred on long-suffering humanity by the insurance act. Long years of office and a total inability to deliver the goods in the past emboldens me to say that these fine words are but empty vapourings.

* * *

In these days when shortage of shipping is a continual cry, the following announcement is illuminating,—from South Africa this time—
  A boat arrived here the other day with motors and racehorses for Solly Joel, but no mails or anything of any use to the general community. No ships can be found for wheat, wool, hides, and a thousand and one things that are wanted at home in England, but a ship can be easily spared for Solly Joel's racehorses, motors, etc.—“Daily News,” Aug. 28th, 1918.
Cheerful news this for those who “spot” winners and “back” horses. But what matters it for those who lack the necessaries of life so long as we maintain this glorious form of sport ?

* * *

More business ability! Recently Mr. J. M. Hogge, M.P., was speaking at Liverpool, where he read the following letter received by a discharged soldier—
   The Minister of Pensions has decided to continue your pension at the rate of 22s. 9d. a week from July 31,1918, till January 31,1919, then at the rate of 19s 6d. for life, at the expiration of which you will again be medically examined with a view to consideration of your claim for further pension.
Funny, isn’t it? Evidently the age of miracles is not yet passed.

* * *

Whilst so many people are busily employed with the mote in the German’s eye regardless of the beam in their own it is interesting to read President Wilson’s Proclamation condemning manifestations of the mob spirit. I read:
  There have been many lynchings, and every one of them has been a blow at the heart of ordered law and humane justice.
  No man who loves America, no man who really cares for her fame and honour and character, or who is truly loyal to her institutions, can justify mob action while the courts of justice are open and the Governments of the States and nations are ready to do their duty.
  We are at this very moment fighting lawless passion. Germany has outlawed herself among the nations because she has disregarded the sacred obligations of law and has made lynchers of her armies. Lynchers emulate her disgraceful example.
   I say plainly that every American who takes part in the action of a mob, or who gives it any sort of countenance, is no son of this great democracy, but its betrayer. “Star,” Sept. 3rd, 1918.
In this “land of the free” we are also acquainted with the mob spirit. One has only to call to mind recent happenings at Plumstead Common and Abbey Wood. And we have no recollection of seeing any condemnation of such tactics by those who are alleged to be the custodians of the rights of small nations.
The Scout.

The Problem of the Small Shopkeeper (1934)

From the March 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lord Beaverbrook, who says that Fascism must be sternly resisted, and Lord Rothermere, who says it is the only solution, have joined hands to deal a stout blow at the Co-operative Movement, and are obligingly writing articles in each other’s papers about the iniquity of co-operative stores ruining the little shopkeepers.

The two lords are noted for their political stunting and for their frequent startling reversals of policy, and the present campaign shows them, as usual, wildly disregardful of consistency. Lord Beaverbrook, for the past three years, has loudly clamoured for higher wages, on the ground, among others, that higher pay means more money to be spent at the counters of the stores which advertise in his columns. He also found it a useful stick with which to beat the Labour Government early in 1931. He now makes a major point in his indictment of the co-operative stores, that they also have reduced the pay of their staffs. Yet Lord Beaverbrook finds no difficulty in associating with Lord Rothermere, whose papers have always been foremost in defending every wage-cut there ever was, and which now oppose the restoration of the 1931"cuts,” which Beaverbrook supports.

Lord Beaverbrook denounces the co-operatives because they dabble in politics. A trading concern, he solemnly says, should not be allowed to go in for politics. Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere themselves are interested in trading concerns, their newspaper companies. Do they keep out of politics? On the contrary, as everybody knows, politics, their own personal ambitions, their wirepulling and political back-biting, are the life-blood of their newspapers.

Then Lord Beaverbrook declares that the cooperative stores are to be condemned on two grounds: (a) That their prices are higher than those of the small traders, and (b) That the co-operatives have an unfair advantage in being able to return to their customers at the end of the year a “ dividend on purchases.” It should be apparent to Lord Beaverbrook that if, in fact, co-operative store prices are higher than those of private traders, then the “dividend on purchases" merely represents the accumulated savings of the customers. They pay more for the goods and in due course get the excess back again. If that were all the difference between the co-operatives and the small traders then the latter could help themselves quite simply by starting similar schemes for saving up their customers' spare cash.

The real trouble between the co-operatives and the small traders is a quite different matter. The gist of it is that the small trader is small, and the co-operatives are becoming mammoth capitalist trading concerns, just like any other.

That is where the shoe pinches, and Beaverbrook and Rothermere have observed it. They have learned from Hitler the political value of exploiting the resentment of the small trader at his extinction by the chain store and department store, and—also like Hitler—they have seen the wisdom of directing that resentment in a quarter least harmful to themselves, i.e. against the cooperatives. Logically, of course, Beaverbrook and Rothermere should march determinedly, not only against the co-operatives, but also, and mainly, against all the big battalions, Boots, Woolworths, Marks & Spencers, Selfridges, Harrods, Imperial Chemicals, Unilever, the London Passenger Transport Board, and so on. They do not do so because that would rouse too much and too powerful opposition, and would directly harm their Lordships by cutting off revenue from the advertising of the products of those concerns in their pages. The moral would appear to be that the co-operatives should pay for immunity by placing big advertisements in the Daily Mail and Daily Express. As they have recently taken a whole page in the Daily Telegraph, perhaps that is what the co-operative directors are going to do.

Before leaving the subject of the small trader and the big store, a candid declaration made by Mr. Gordon Selfridge deserves to be rescued from obscurity. In an address broadcast to a conference on retail distribution, held at Boston on September 18th, 1933, he said that both in U.S.A. and Great Britain there are “too many retail shops." (See report in Daily Herald, September 19th.) What he thought about small shopkeepers was this: —
This surplus of shops is an uneconomic proposition, and most of these inexperienced managers or owners are attempting to do work for which they are unfitted either by temperament or ability.
Small shopkeepers who have faith in Beaverbrook and Rothermere should ask their Lordships if they will publicly denounce Mr. Selfridge, and if not, why not.

A few words about the forerunners of Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere may also serve to show the danger of trusting to the promises of politicians that they will turn back the march of large-scale industry. Ten years ago, and twenty years ago, the Labour Party was vigorously defending the “little men” against the “great soulless corporations." “ Down with monopoly” was their battle-cry. As Mr. Clynes put it, a short twelve years ago, better a large number of small capitalists than a small number of large ones.

But capitalism marched on unheeding, and one day the Labour Party found itself in office, saddled with responsibility for tackling the problems of capitalist adjustment to changing economic conditions. At once the defence of the small man became inconvenient, and by the time the Labour Party entered office again, in 1929, the old coat had been turned inside out. It had been discovered by Mr. Herbert Morrison, Mr. Bevin, the late W. Graham and others, that monopoly is the salt of the earth. All the Labour leaders, except a few who resented this volte-face, now preached salvation by public utility corporations.

So now the small shopkeeper is looking to new groups of politicians, Hitler and Dollfuss, Rothermere and Mosley, to save him, but in that quarter the old game of broken pledges is proceeding merrily. Rothermere and Beaverbrook have no intention of attacking their own big-business friends, and Hitler, before being in power a year, was already explaining away his unwillingness to demolish the German chain stores and departmental stores.

That, however, is the affair of the small shopkeeper, not of the Socialist movement. What is our affair is the need to repudiate the charge put forward by Beaverbrook and Rothermere that Socialists support co-operative big business against the small shopkeeper. The co-operative movement (which, incidentally, is so unlike the dreams of its founders as to be almost unrecognisable) and the Socialist movement are as chalk and cheese. We have not the slightest interest in the efforts of the co-operative movement to extend its business organisation. Some workers may find co-operative "divi." a convenient method of saving, but, as a movement, it never will or could bring emancipation any nearer. It can thrive only by accepting and imitating capitalism. It can never bring the workers more than a few crumbs from the capitalist table.

As Socialists we do not gloat over the personal tragedies of the wiping out of the small shopkeeper any more than we do over other tragic effects of ruthless capitalism. What we do say, is that Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook have no intention whatever of setting back the clock of capitalist development in order to retrieve the fortunes of the small man. If they have, let them show it by retiring from the fight in which their newspaper combines crush out the small local newspaper.
Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook appear to have devised an astute plan for boosting circulation and delimiting their respective interests. They agree to disagree about Fascism, they agree to co-operate about the co-operatives, they agree to be dumb about the other big stores which advertise in their columns, they agree to disagree about higher wages and restoring the “economy cuts," and, above all and all the time, they are completely silent about capitalism and Socialism, except to gloss over the evils of the one and misrepresent the other.

The appeal of Socialism is primarily to the workers, that is, to all who live by selling their mental and physical energies, their labour-power, to an employer, for it is our class which provides and will provide the driving force towards Socialism.

At the same time we point out to those groups of "small men” trying to maintain a precarious and often illusory independence against large-scale industry and commerce, that there is no salvation for them under capitalism. As individuals their place is within our ranks, when they recognise that the prime need of our age is the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and the establishment of Socialism, and when they are prepared to work with us to that end.
Edgar Hardcastle