1920s >> 1927 >> no-272-april-1927

A look round


Those who must have the support of the majority of the workers in their present mental state must also of necessity appeal and act in a manner which will not arouse hostility, even although not in the workers’ interest. Whether such appeals are the outcome of sincerity or duplicity does not alter this fact. In the debate on the expenditure for the Duke and Duchess of York’s Australian trip we have a useful illustration, the Labour members being, of course, well to the front.

Mr. Scurr “did not think that this is a time when this visit ought to have taken place, considering the distress existing in the country.” Mr. Buchanan “thought it unjustifiable to expend this money on a useless visit.” Dr. D. Shiels seemed quite charmed because those in Australia “who belong to the same movement as we do are looking forward to the visit,” as they regard the Royal Family as “the symbol of the unity of the Empire.” How truly democratic these Labourites are ! Perhaps the “best” was what Mr. Kirkwood got off his chest:—

“Here we have got to pay for the sending out of their Royal Highnesses on this excursion, which is simply a joy ride. … I know the responsibilities that my own class are carrying at the present moment and they are very heavy. …. The Duke of York and his wife are being voted this £7,000, and who has to pay for it? The working class has to pay for it— my class, my fellow tradesmen; the engineers, with their £2 15s. a week; the miners have to pay for it. I wish the working class were here just now. I wish they had their eyes on me protesting here on their behalf.” (Hansard, Feb. 17th, 1927.)

This is just clap-trap. The inference is that if capitalist expenditure were curtailed, the money so expended would flow straight into the workers’ pockets. Actually, the enormous wealth you produce is the property of your masters, and that the portion returned to you (wages) never does much more than pay for the food, clothing, shelter and incidentals necessary to sustain your class as efficient units of wealth-producing energy. When you have purchased these necessaries, you could not give any away and maintain the efficiency your masters require. You are too closely rationed for that. How, then, can you pay for anything beyond these rations and incidentals? What you actually receive as wages is not the mere money, but what it buys. 60s. with high prices is no more to you than 30s. with low prices, if it only maintains the same standard of life. It is the money payment that permits the illusion so dear to the workers that they “pay for everything.” Those who retain all you PRODUCE, minus the fraction they return to you in the form of wages, must meet the expenditure incurred in maintaining their Royalty, their navies, armies, paupers, criminals, lunatics, and so on. Though you pile wealth mountain high, the wages system never gives you more than subsistence. These capitalist agents endeavour by any means to hide this fact, because they recognise that for you to have a clear understanding of the cause of your poverty would fit you for the working out of your own emancipation. In that case you would send them about their business, for the capitalist henchmen that they are. At present their only chance of keeping place and pelf is by preventing you from gaining knowledge of your class interests.

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“But the total production of the world has never been sufficient to keep the population of the world in decency, that is to provide that all shall live up to the standard recognised at any given time as desirable”. (Sir Ernest Benn, Times, Nov. 17th, 1926.)

The above is one of those meaningless ambiguities beloved by the so-called business men of to-day. Any standard work dealing with industrial history or a summary of the applied science and inventions of the nineteenth century would show that our potential powers of production were multiplied in that period far beyond anything the human family were ever likely fully to utilise. Allowing for the limitations imposed because capitalism produces only for sale, Dr. Russell Wallace, in “The Wonderful Century,” calculated that our producing capacity at the end of the century had grown ten times faster than the population. Ample evidence is available to show that as far as production is concerned the poverty question was no longer a problem with the coming of modern manufacture and mass output. We learn from a magazine to which Sir Ernest Benn has himself contributed many times : —

“Of all the agricultural countries of the world Canada stands first in ratio of increase of production in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Wheat production at the end of this quarter century was over 600 per cent. greater in yield than in 1900, oats 200 per cent., barley 500 per cent., rye 600 per cent. … It is, in the light of these facts, and prospects, not an exaggeration to say that we are only beginning to grow wheat in Canada.” (Business Organisation, March.)

What applies to agriculture applies equally to manufacture. The fact that in practically every leading industry (agriculture included) production has had to be curtailed, makes Sir Ernest Benn’s statement look childish. The following is only a sample of what takes place with tea, rubber, cotton, wool. etc. :—

“The steel cartel has decided to reduce production by 1,500,000 tons for the first three months of 1927.” (Daily Chronicle, Dec. 11th, 1926.)

We do not expect our masters to point out the cause of our poverty; their privileges as landlords, shareholders, and dummy directors are based upon our exploitation as producers. Obviously, then, it must be the workers’ task to convert those material means of providing comfort and security for others into the common property of all. Then, not only could the race be kept in “decency,” but a life of grandeur could be made available for all.

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It is in the very nature of the reformer to take for granted the continuance and the inevitability of the present system of society. After years and years of tinkering with social evils separately, and seeking to sum up the net result of their efforts, they are often in their more honest moments driven to confess utter failure and despair.

A committee of experts recently made extensive enquiries on an international scale upon the White Slave Traffic, and a lengthy report has been made to the League of Nations. Among some of the causes enumerated are :—

“Bogus offers of employment in a foreign country are not infrequently used as a means of leading girls to become prostitutes. . . . The contracts also are often drawn up in terms so harsh that the girl who signs one has little or no security. Governments would be well advised to protect their nationals against victimisation of this character.” (Times, Mar. 12th, 1927.)

It is almost needless to point out that those who must seek employment, bogus or otherwise, here or elsewhere, are girls of the working class. They have no more security here in “free” England than have their male counterparts in wage slavery. Here, too, the terms of living for thousands upon thousands of girls are so harsh that whole armies are driven to live in the same way as that which is deplored in these Continental cities, considered such sinks of iniquity. A country that can boast 80,000 fresh cases of venereal disease yearly (pamphlet issued by the Council for Combating Venereal Disease) has little right to claim Britain to be the “one bright spot.” Our ruling class, however, are essentially hypocritical, a relic of the Puritanism with which they helped to fight their way to power. The sentiments of this report are akin to the canting ethics of the cotton lords who shed crocodile tears for American slaves whilst fighting legislation aimed at preventing them from working their own child operatives to death. After a column of proposals the Committee practically admits its whole work to be a waste of effort, for we are told :—

“The measures to which we have referred above are not likely to be successful while the incentive of money-making remains. Profit is at the bottom of the business.” (Ibid.)

While profit is here held responsible for one evil, we claim that it is production for profit in the wide sense—the capitalist system—that engenders other evils. In our pamphlet, “Socialism,” we show how it begets unemployment, intensified exploitation, and the misery and general poverty from which our class suffer. We have no time to wring our hands and bemoan the foulness of a particular social evil, but carry on our work of spreading the knowledge that Socialism is the remedy for all of the economic problems of the working class.

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Sir Herbert Samuel is a Liberal who makes a few assertions, dubs them Socialism, shows their absurdity, and then congratulates himself that “it won’t stand criticism.” In the “Forward View” (quoted Westminster Gazette, 14/3/27) he writes :—

“But the Labour Party committed two great errors. First, it definitely bound up its fortunes with the theory of Socialism. And Socialism has not been able to stand criticism. . . . the idea that here was a panacea which would cure poverty and unemployment, did not pass the calm examination of practical, impartial minds.”

The Liberal is, of course, practical; his remedy, like that of the Labour Party, is to perpetuate the system that produces the evils that they are always going to remove. With years of office and a huge majority, they still have to leave poverty and unemployment to the Young Liberals. The others have grown old in the cause of such stirring reforms as Labour Exchanges, Insurance, and Home Rule. And what, pray, is this panacea that impartial minds can’t pass? Is it Socialism, or only what Samuel, through ignorance or imposture, calls Socialism? It is, he falsely says :—

“…. Transferring the greater part of production, distribution and exchange from private enterprise to some form of public ownership and management.” (Ibid.)

This he calls Socialism, but he is only repeating the confusion spread by the Labour Party and their leaders, like Mr. Hartshorn, who says that :—

“The Post Office was really the one big Socialist organisation that had ever been built up in this country. If they could introduce the same principle and the same spirit into the other great industries they would be able to build up a great international brotherhood. ” (Vernon Hartshorn, Labour P.M.G., Observer, May 5th, 1924.)

State activities such as the Post Office are run like other capitalist concerns : their profits either go to relieve taxation, or Government bondholders take them, instead of receiving dividends as shareholders in a private company. The workers remain under the State concern as before—wage-slaves—even if their condition is not worsened owing to co-ordination, speeding-up, and consequent displacement of large numbers.

“So far from being a charge on the community the Post Office has in the thirteen years 1912-13 to 1924-25 made a profit of 44 millions, all of which has gone in relief of taxation. Since 1914 there has been a decrease of more than 24,000 in staff, while much work has been added to the Post Office. This has resulted in speeding up and overwork.” (Daily Herald, Dec. 14th, 1925.)

Apparently what the Labour Party look forward to is an international brotherhood of overwork and speeding-up. In Australia they have had Labour and State activities for years, yet we get the following admission from those who support the same thing at home here :—

“Australia has had more experience of Labour Government than any country in the world. Some people may expect it to follow from this that Australia is the most Socialistic country in the world ; but, alas ! for democratic illusions. . . After years of office it has nothing to show except pettifogging reforms, and it has actually condoned and encouraged the dominance of Finance capital in its area of control. Is there any guarantee that in Britain politicians of the same school of thought will do otherwise.” (Labour Magazine, Nov., 1926.)

No, they will not do otherwise, even were they the most straightforward men who ever took office. Not until the number of workers wanting Socialism is greater than those who are opposed or apathetic, can it be at hand. Socialism is common ownership. Public ownership is State capitalism. Emancipation cannot take place without the former, which involves the abolition of capitalism, and not a mere change in its form.


(Socialist Standard, March 1927)

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