1920s >> 1923 >> no-230-october-1923

A student of frauds

The recent debate in the House of Commons on a resolution of Mr. Snowden’s gave rise to quite a number of articles in the press on what is understood by most people to be Socialism.

Now, most of the writers in the daily press who pretend to deal with Socialism— generally, once and for all—display the most pitiful ignorance of the subject. Not one of them appears to know anything of the writings of Marx, except through other writers and critics who have been either incapable of understanding him, or who have been wholly interested in perverting or misconstruing him.

Marx proved conclusively—and showed how—that capitalism is a system where the mass of the people, the workers, are robbed of the wealth they produce by the class that calls itself capitalist. Hence, the capitalist and those who serve him find themselves in direct opposition to those who have adopted the truths discovered by Marx. They are totally unable to deny, or even meet, these truths. There has never yet been either an honest or dishonest critic who has discovered any weakness or flaw in the reasoning of Marx, nor anything false in his facts or the evidence on which they are built.

The book writers who have spelt out dreary criticisms through dry volumes have involved themselves in endless contradictions, and only succeeded in branding themselves as wordy ignoramuses, or, what is worse, perverters of scientific truths. The latter is more likely to be the correct estimate, as such writers usually show that they have some intimacy with the works of Marx.

The average writer in the press, on the contrary, is as serenely ignorant as the majority of his readers as to the nature of Marxian philosophy or the real meaning of Socialism. Their ignorance, however, is easily accounted for. The slight knowledge they possess is obtained from parties like the Independent Labour Party, which only recognises one fact in common with the Socialist Party—the fact of the workers’ poverty. They have never yet proclaimed the cause of that poverty, never admitted the antagonism between the capitalist and Working Class, and never declared in unmistakable language that the workers must abolish the capitalist system and establish a new order based on the common ownership and democratic control of all the means of wealth production. All they have done is to recognise the poverty of the workers, foist themselves upon them as leaders with promises of reforms, and bleed them. Truly, ignorance of Socialism is seen to be, not a disadvantage, but an asset, for Labour leaders, industrial and political, as well as for the average political writer. They can, one and all, write or speak in accord with popular fallacies without fear of the truth getting in the way of better-paying utterances.

Mr. Snowden’s definition of Socialism was, “The public ownership and democratic control of the instruments of production and distribution.” A writer in the Daily Chronicle (18/7/23). calling himself “A Student of Politics,” accepts this definition and quite easily shows what a failure it would be from the workers’ point of view. There is no quibbling with words on his part : “Public ownership” means exactly the same for him that it does for Mr. Snowden and the I.L.P. He argues that the public ownership of the instruments of production means the transference of capital from private capitalists to collective possession by them. He points out quite correctly “That it brings no message of comfort to the worker that henceforth his employer will be an omnipotent abstraction called the State”—a point which the Labour Party has never met when challenged by the Socialist.

With regard to the Labour Party’s proposal to buy out the capitalist, “A Student of Politics” says :

“I can understand confiscation of capital such as has taken place in Russia. That is revolution and robbery. But Socialism which does not confiscate and refuses to rob anyone, seems to me to have no more virtue than a new system of book-keeping.”

To him nationalisation is “Capitalism in a new guise with the State as master” ; and he is quite correct when he describes it in his title as “Sham Remedies of Socialism.” All these kind of shams stand in the way of the real thing and hide it with senseless clatter and drivel.

If industry is nationalised, a “Student of Politics” points out, interest has to be paid on capital, while so much has to be put by for sinking fund, depreciation, etc., just as capitalists do at present. He then asks where is the money coming from for any great improvement in the workers’ position ? The Labour Party has been repeatedly asked this question by Socialists. Obviously, if capitalist wealth is not appropriated—which is so-called confiscation— the payment of interest to buy out capitalists must be equivalent to present dividends. To talk of a fair rate of interest, as some Labour Leaders do, is only begging the question, because a “fair rate” would be an average rate on present dividends. But all such points are dust in the balance beside the main fact that only by cheaper production—less workers and reduced wages—can nationalised industries compete in the world markets.

The object of the Socialist Party is the only possible definition of Socialism. Mr. Snowden and “Student of Politics,” together with a host of others with similar ambitions, are, either knowingly or unknowingly, wrong when they define it as anything else. How is it possible to end the capitalist system unless society is established on principles where wealth can no longer be used as capital? It is the use of wealth in this way that gives its name to the present system. The reverse of capitalism must be a system where the means of wealth production are owned in common and democratically controlled by the whole of the people.

Under such a system there can be no question of the State being the only employer, because there are no longer employers and employed, no longer capitalists and wage-slaves. Instead, there are men and women producing to satisfy all their needs according to a plan agreed upon as the result of experience, discussion, and majority voting.

“A Student of Politics” says :

“There must be some more modern, some more English diagnosis of our trouble than that of the German Marx two generations ago.”

And if Mr. Snowden’s definition of Socialism were identical with that of Marx, “A Student of Politics” would be right. The Labour Party, however, has never analysed the capitalist system correctly; has never shown why we have poverty in spite of the material means at our disposal for production in plenty. Nor has its greatest exponents, or its most irresponsible wild men, ever outlined a course of action for the workers that would free them from their present exploitation.

“A ‘Student of Politics” should study Marx for himself, when he would not make the mistake of supposing that the childish fallacies and futile reforms of the Labour Party and I.L.P. are built on, or in any way deducible from, the writings of that great thinker.

His own contribution to the subject, entitled “A Liberal Alternative,” is just as fallacious as that of the Labour Party :

“To have more capitalists to distribute the rewards of industrial efficiency more fairly and to insure as far as possible that no industrial virtue should go without its capitalistic reward.”

The cure for hydrophobia used to be a hair of the dog that did the biting. “A Student of Politics” would substitute another bite for the hair. It requires little reasoning ability to see that an increase in the number of capitalists would mean greater competition for markets, a reduction in wages wherever possible in order to cheapen products, and a consequent intensification of the workers’ struggle for existence. Markets would be glutted more rapidly, and the usual “capitalist reward for industrial virtue”—the sack—would be dealt out to the workers more freely.

F. F.

(Socialist Standard, October 1923)

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