Notes by the Way: “Self Made” Men: An American Myth Exploded
In the early years or capitalism, while expansion is still rapid, it is not unusual for individual workers to climb into the ranks of the capitalist class. Later on as conditions become more settled and as the amounts of capital required to run businesses on up-to-date lines become greater, it is much more difficult : for brains, energy and fortunate circumstances to overcome the disability of lack of capital. In America there is a hard-dying belief that the typical millionaire and captain of industry started life as a farmer’s or labourer’s son and worked his way upwards. A well-known economist, F. W. Taussig, and a sociologist, C. S. Joslyn, have just completed an investigation into the parentage of America’s 25,000 “nationally known business leaders ” (see “American Business Leaders,” published by MacMillan, 18s.).
The investigators sent out questionnaires to the 25,000, and received nearly 9,000 replies. Basing their conclusions on these replies they find that not more than 12 per cent. are farmers’ sons and only about 10 per cent. are sons of labourers. Considerably more than half (56.7 per cent.) had fathers who were themselves business men of one kind or other (owners or executives).
They also find that the proportion of farmers’ sons among Business men is tending to decrease, and
the proportion of business men’s sons to increase. They estimate that by 1950 it is “entirely possible … that more than two-thirds of the successful business men in the United States will be recruited from the sons of business owners and business executives.”
Unintended Humour in the “Telegraph”
A correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, in the U.S.A. describes the laxity of the laws governing banking, and introduces an unintended piece of humour. He writes : —
“Anyone may start a bank. . . . All the law requires is that he should have £2.000 capital.”— (Daily Telegraph, January 6th, 1933.)
The right of the Americans to start a bank is like our “right” to swagger about in a Rolls Royce car or dine at the Ritz; it is only restricted by the fact that quite a number of people do not own
How to Make Socialists: Lenin’s View
Most of the Communists who say that the way to make Socialists is not to theorise, but to concentrate on “immediate demands” in the day to day struggle against the employers are quite unaware of Lenin’s view on the subject. He set it out at some length in an article, “The Working Class as Champion of Democracy,” written apparently about 1901 and recently republished in What is to be done (Martin, Lawrence, Ltd., 175 pages, 2s.).
In this article Lenin vigorously rejects the policy of concentrating on immediate demands. He points out that any trade union secretary does this work admirably (he mentions Robert Knight, who was a Boiler Makers’ official well-known in England). He contrasts Knight, the trade union secretary who “conducts the economic struggle against the employers and the Government” with Liebknecht, who “engaged more in the propaganda of brilliant and finished ideas.” Lenin plumps for Liebknecht’s method and rejects Knight’s.
Lenin writes: —
“The economic struggle merely brings the workers ‘up against’ questions concerning the attitude of the Government towards the working class. Consequently, however much we may try to ‘give the economic struggle itself a political character,’ we shall never be able to develop the political consciousness of the workers … by confining ourselves to the economic struggle, for the limits of this task are too narrow.” — (Page 76.)
“The workers can acquire class political consciousness only from without, that is only outside of the economic struggle, outside of the sphere of the relations between workers and employers.” — (Page 76.)
“Robert Knight engaged more in ‘calling the masses to certain concrete actions,’ while Liebknecht engaged more in ‘the revolutionary explanation of the whole of modern society or various manifestations of it.'” — (Page 78.)
The whole article is well worth reading. It will be noticed that here, as on certain other questions, Lenin’s view was nearer to the S.P.G.B.’s view than to that of the Communist Parties.
The Dangers of Slogans.
Mr. Bruce Lockhart in his “Memoirs of ; British Agent” tells a story about the French labour leader, the late Albert Thomas, which contains a moral for those who believe they are doing a good work by trying to rally the workers with fine sounding slogans. After the overthrow of the Czar’s Government the Russian Workers’ and Soldiers Councils declared their adherence to the slogan “no annexations, no contributions” as a basis for ending the war. As the allied governments were all committed to the annexations specified in their numerous secret treaties they found the Russian demand an embarrassment. Unable to make headway the allied representatives in Russia called in M. Albert Thomas, who after a long career as a labour leader became French Minister of Munitions, and was then sent to represent the French Government in Russia.
Thomas knew the weaknesses of the slogan-ridden labour movements and knew that all he need do was to find a formula which would sound more or less the same, but would cover the divergent view of both the Russian war-weary workers and the Allied Imperialists. He selected the words “restitution” and “reparations,” and persuaded the Russians that the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by France would be a “restitution” not an “annexation,” and that paying for the war damage was “reparation” not “contribution.” Although suspicious that they were being hoodwinked the Russians accepted Thomas’ arguments.
Every capitalist politician is an adept at this sort of thing, and every member of the Labour and Communist Parties who encourages the workers to trust in slogans instead of acquiring a sound understanding of the social problem is playing into the hands of the expert formula fakers like Albert Thomas and Lloyd George.
(Socialist Standard, February 1933)