Common Nonsense about Socialism
“The Common Sense of Socialism,” Alban Gordon. Labour Publishing Co. 120 pages. 1/-.
This book is written for the purpose of winning the support of the “Middle and well-to-do classes” for the programme of the Labour Party. The author explains that his party “stands for Socialism” . . . but not now! They “totally deny its practicability either now or for generations to come” (94), But if the vulgar mob will be patient they may see Capitalism at an end possibly a century or more ahead” (65). For the present Mr. Gordon has some suggestions to make for the better running of the Capitalist system and, incidentally, for the improvement of the sad lot of the Capitalist class. There may even be some, crumbs for the workers if they are humble, and will duly observe the gulf between them and the “intellectuals” who are going to “control” at suitably attractive salaries.
Mr. Gordon is one of those “Socialists” whose fear of the workers is much greater than their hatred of Capitalism, and his anxiety not to offend members of the exploiting class leads him into some curious assertions. Communism he loathes because of its advocacy of violence, and Pacifism, the refusal to advocate violence, he also loathes, but does not say why.
In re-stating the simple economic case against Capitalism he is good. He describes clearly, though without originality, the poverty and wretchedness the system provides for the great majority. He shows its chaotic inefficiency as a wealth-producing, as distinct from a profit-producing system, and illustrates the parasitic nature of the propertied class.
He quotes a useful exposure of the odious intensified slavery which Ford disguises as philanthropy :—
“Men called ‘advisers’ visit the men’s homes and question them as to how they spend their wages. Ford has fixed the amount out of their wages that he thinks they should spend and save. He provides them with what his experts tell him is the most hygienic food for them to eat; and the best clothes for them to wear. . . . There is no more romance or real independence in the lives of the 55,000 men employed in the factories than in that of a thorough-bred Jersey cow.” (83).
But when he leaves the description of facts and attempts to supply remedies and state principles he is merely muddled.
He is emphatic that “Socialism is NOT the ‘have nots’ versus the ‘haves,’” and that it “does not propose to confiscate private property” (14), yet he recognises that “private ownership makes the rich richer and the poor poorer,” that “poverty is the direct logical outcome of Capitalism” (24) and that “two-thirds of the annual income …. goes to the small class of the rich” (22). He will not face the fact that the workers cannot obtain the whole of the annual income without depriving the idle class of the share they now receive, and that unless they do they will continue to be exploited. It is plain that the “haves” will resist and the “have-nots” will have to compel.
He repudiates Marx and the idea of a class war (pp.89 and 59) and is evidently quite unaware that the conflict which arises from the private ownership of the means of production is the class war. For on page 29 he writes :—
“Such disputes (strikes) are an inherent feature of the capitalist system in which ‘capital’ and ‘labour’ are enemies instead of allies. So long as we permit the private ownership of capital by the few, so long will antagonism and private warfare as to the terms on which its owners will permit its use be the rule rather than the exception.”
His chief remedy is Nationalisation, and like most of his fellow advocates, he fails to point to any single advantage nationalisation has to offer the working class. Railway nationalisation will, it is true, permit of greater economy and efficiency ; but he omits to remind his readers of the 50,000. railwaymen dismissed between 1921 amd 1923 owing to working economies, in spite of an increase in the volume of traffic. (J. H. Thomas, Daily Chronicle, November 17, 1923.) Men are still being dismissed and more will follow if and when unified State Ownership is introduced. Nationalisation of the mines and electrification schemes will save 55 million tons of coal per annum, but nothing is said as to the fate of thousands of miners who will lose their chance of employment. It is interesting to notice that men are still being discharged from Woolwich Arsenal, a State concern.
His solution for unemployment is an intensive campaign for the sale of British goods in the Colonies or foreign countries (62) quite oblivious of the fact that it was precisely in order to extend foreign trade that the last war was fought. The problem was not solved either for victors or vanquished, and while Gordon babbles of capturing markets by the peaceful penetration of commercial travellers, his “anti-violence” party in office are busy strengthening the Navy and expanding the Air Force for the anticipated conflict with some other market snatchers.
He himself unconsciously damns the case for Nationalisation when he joyfully records that the Sankey Report urging Nationalisation of the Mines was the work of a body which
“Included besides a well-known Judge, a steel manufacturer, Mr. (now Sir Arthur) Balfour, an engineer, Sir A. Duckham, and a shipowner, Sir Thomas Roydon, Brt.” (96).
He adds that it “was urged upon the Coal Commission of 1919 by the colliery owners as well as the miners’ representatives.”
Does anyone suppose that those members and representatives of the employing class want nationalisation because it will benefit the workers? They want it because it will benefit themselves, just as before the war the oil magnates of Germany were financing a Social Democratic agitation for the nationalising of the oil refining and distributing industry. Only last month a firm of Stockbrokers, Messrs. Arthur Wheeler & Co., of Leicester, were urging upon their clients the desirability of mine nationalisation from their point of view as shareholders. Their words are instructive :—
“A short time ago, in conversation, a number af influential colliery proprietors brought up this question. . . . They were agreed that supposing it became practically possible, it would be the best thing possible for themselves. They actually looked forward to its realisation.
Again and again past experience proves that when a Government department enters into a business agreement with private traders, the latter invariably get the best of the bargain. We, therefore, can assume the same would result if and when the Government took over the control of our mining industry.
Colliery shareholders would receive from the purchaser (i.e., the State) new stock in place of their original holdings. The industry, would be guaranteed by the whole taxable capacity of the nation. Hence the new stock would be of the same nature as all gilt-edged stocks, with both capital and interest a Government obligation. The risks of labour troubles and foreign competition would be taken from the present shareholders and placed on the broad back of the State. This, in the main, is the reason why colliery proprietors do not fear nationalisation.”
Mr. Alban Gordon and the Labour Party wish to earn the confidence of the shareholding class, but that they can do only by sacrificing the interests of the workers.
Another joy they have in store for the property owner is the abolition of rates by the extension of municipal trade (116).
The book is a quite readable and interesting account of the Labour Party’s plans for salvaging Capitalism, but in spite of its title it has nothing to offer the seeker after Socialist knowledge. The author has the usual superiority of the “intellectual” offering to teach the “lower orders,” and his indifference to principles and his preference for everyday superficialities, are well illustrated by his note on Marx’s “Capital” that it is “The classic which everyone quotes but no-one reads.” Had he read this and other serious works by scientific thinkers he might have realised that what he seems to dismiss as the “earlier statements of Socialism” are in fact indispensable to the student. He would at least have avoided being 20 years out in his statement of the date of “Capital.”
(Socialist Standard, August 1924)