1910s >> 1919 >> no-181-september-1919

The Labour College. Our Criticism “Answered.”

In the May issue of this journal I dealt with certain statements which appeared in the “Plebs Magazine” for April. Among these was a long paragraph by Mr. W. W. Craik, in which he attempts to explain the meaning of capital. As that paragraph was misleading I pointed out where it was wrong and gave a a definition of capital more in accordance with Socialist knowledge and principle. An anonymous writer in the July issue of the “Plebs” attempts to rescue Mr. Craik from the results of his ignorance of Socialist economics by declaring that the definition used by him was that of an opponent which he was endeavouring to ridicule. I give here the writer’s remarks.

 

The May number of the Socialist Standard, the organ of that truculent band of last-ditchers, the S.P.G.B., contained an article entitled “Economics at the Central Labour College,” which “was full to overflowing of instructive and edifying information. It was signed “F.F.” Whether those initials stood for Fearful Fool or Funny Fellow we are unable, except on the evidence of the article itself, to conjecture, Give ear: —

  The mistaken notions of the S.W. miners and the Liberal politics of the Labour Party form the basis of the College instruction, which is carried back to the T.U. and I.L.P. branches as independent and scientific knowledge of the working-class position.

Comment (on which would only spoil  its touching simplicity. We quote it to show how much the man who wrote it is in touch with the world outside his hermitage.
“F.F.” has also something to say about W. W. Craik’s article in the April “Plebs,” the unsoundness and anti-Marxian character of the economic views expressed in which are duly exposed. As thus :

  Mr. W. W. Craik, dealing with the Coal Commission, asks a simple question in economics— “What is Capital?” But although economics is an important subject at the College, and a correct definition of capital is very essential to that subject, the writer seems quite unable to give one. “What is capital?” he asks. “Wealth used to produce more wealth,” he replies.’

And then follows a criticism of this alleged “reply” ! . . . . This is a new method of controversy indeed! I quote some ridiculous remark made by an opponent, and instantly a high-browed S.P.G.B.’er leaps up and accuses me of having uttered the very nonsense which I am doing my best to ridicule! ” F.F.” should read articles before he reviews them. He might then save himself some time which he could devote to the study of Marx, That he stands in some need of such a course of study is fairly evident from his assertion that capital is a thing, and that the source of capitalist power is the political machinery.

 

In Mr. Craik’s article there is no mention of opponents. The definition is imputed to no one; it is not in quotes, nor is it questioned by Mr. Craik. He says : “But does not capital make some of this wealth possible? Does it not contribute to the creation of value? What is capital? Wealth used to produce more wealth! That does not tell us much, not even who produces it.”

 

Such a definition is a favourite one with anti-Socialists because it includes practically all wealth, and makes the wage worker a capitalist by virtue of his tools. If Mr. Craik disagreed with it why did he repeat the fallacy in another form, and in the same paragraph ? He said :

 

  “Capital is the ownership of labour, the ownership of the labour of yesterday and of to-day, of the labour materialised in the pit props, the steel cage, the winding engine, and of the living labour which sets all in motion and embodies itself in the saleable product coal, in the value and price of coal and, therefore, in the forms of revenue which are derived from value—the wages of the labourer, the profits of the coal-owner and coal merchant, and the royalties of the landowner.”

 

In this sweeping definition, which is undoubtedly the product of Mr. Craik’s brain, all wealth is included, with the exception of virgin soil, undiscovered minerals, and such other forms of natural wealth not yet appropriated or transformed by the application, of human energy. Mr. Craik’s champion says that “F.F.” should really read articles before he reviews them. From the foregoing it will be seen that it is Mr. Craik’s apologist who does not read his articles. Instead, he indulges in silly guesses as to whether “F.F.” stands for Fearful Fool or Funny Fellow—all in the name of education.

 

Following on his remark about reading articles before reviewing them, the writer of the “Plebs Bookshelf” says:

 

  He [the present writer] might then save himself some time which he could devote to the study of Marx. That he stands in some need of such a coarse of study is fairly evident from his assertion that capital is a thing, and that the source of capitalist power is the political machinery.

 

This statement at once puts the Labour College out of all decent discussion. To deliberately misquote an opponent is not only contemptible, it is an admission of a bad case. Below is the paragraph referred to as it appeared in the May “SS.”

 

  Now it must be obvious that capital is something that is owned, and not the act of ownership, and Mr. Craik is only adding to the confusion that already prevails when he tells the “Plebs” readers that capital is the ownership of pit props, winding gear, machinery, etc. Adam Smith’s definition that capital is ‘wealth used for the production of profit’ is a far more scientific one, and always good enough for the Socialist, because it can easily be shown that there are no profits without exploitation.

 

It will at once be seen that the Labour College prefers to misrepresent its opponents rather than admit itself in the wrong or attempt to discuss the question at issue with the object of ascertaining the truth. The lack of understanding and the confusion of the workers today is largely due to false or ill-considered definitions of economic terms. Nowhere is this more forcibly shown than in the works of Marx. In every chapter of “Value, Price, and Profit” economic errors like that of Mr. Craik are exposed, and in simple language Marx shows that there is no need for fantastic hypotheses, the Socialist philosophy being built entirely on facts.

 

Similarly, there is no need to draw conclusions from anything but facts, with regard to the inference of the Labour College that the source of capitalist power is not the political machinery. What is power? The control of physical force. What physical force do the workers control that is at all comparable with the armed forces controlled through Parliament by the capitalist class ?

 

The Industrial Unionists and Direct Actionists have been repeatedly challenged to show how the workers can overcome the organised forces that are used against them by the ruling class. The only reply vouchsafed is to ridicule the notion that the armed forces will be used, or to assert that the soldiers will not shoot, or to claim that they will be Industrial Unionists too, or other nonsense of that kind. But they never attempt to meet the Socialist argument that the workers, possessing as they do, the majority of the votes, can, by organising as a political party, capture Parliament and control the armed forces, as a first step towards expropriating the capitalist clats and establishing Socialism.

 

But the Labour College is not alone in denying the political character of the class struggle. The numerous adventurers in the trade union movement advocating what is called “Direct Action,” all claim that the working class can afford to ignore the political fight. Though none of them ever produce a single argument that would justify its adoption by the workers as a means to their emancipation. They are thus the best friends of the ruling class because they persuade the workers to continue their present fruitless struggles on the industrial field, while leaving the real power in the hands of their masters.

 

The South Wales Miners in particular are enamoured of this doctrine, and in small matters affecting their working conditions have carried it further than most trade unionists. But on questions where the mine owners have elected to oppose them they have been no more successful than other sections of the workers.

 

Notwithstanding the repeated failures of the strikes to effect anything of importance for them, they cling to it and use it more frequently than most workers, as a weapon against the master class. But frequently as they are in collision with the masters, they have not yet learned that the forces that beat them in every strike are placed under capitalist control by their votes. They still continue to vote Liberal and Liberal-Labour, thus placing in the hands of their enemies or their agents, the power that defeats them on the industrial field.

 

This wooden-headed policy is applauded by the Labour College because the South Wales Miners is one of the two unions that owns that institution, and, as Philip Snowden once said in connection with the I.L.P. in similar circumstances, “those who pay the piper call the tune. “The “Plebs Magazine” for December 1916 Says ”The Central Labour College is owned and controlled by the South Wales Miners and the National Union of Railwaymen.” But this in itself would not justify me saying, as I did in the May “S.S.,” “The mistaken notions of the South Wales Miners, and the Liberal politics of the Labour Party, form the basis of the College instruction, which is carried back to the trade union and I.L.P. branches as independent and scientific knowledge of the working-class position. Thus neither the College nor unions can get beyond the compromising and reform attitude of the Labour Party.”

 

What does justify the statement is the fact that the pages of the “Plebs Magazine” are almost entirely devoted to the advocacy of ideas that dominate that union. The “Plebs” is an organ for advertising the methods of the South Wales Miners, and the College is an institution that confirms them in their sterile methods by educating new misleaders on the lines of the old.

 

If the Labour College wants to prove that it is a genuine working-class institution, established for the purpose of giving the working class a sound knowledge of their slave position in capitalist society, their writers will need to do something more than refer to our indictment as “touching simplicity.” Before they can justify their pretension to be an educational centre, fitting the working class for its historic mission—the abolition of class rule and the establishment of Socialism—they must not only understand Socialism themselves: they must unlearn the fraudulent practice of making statements they cannot prove, and denying truths merely because they are unpleasant to
 them or their supporters.

 

F. Foan

 

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