Notes By the Way
Workers Better Fed 200 Years Ago
Sir William Bragg in an interesting article on the kind of food we ought to eat and the possibility of supplying it to everyone in war-time (Times, October 26th, 1940), throws light on what has happened to the diet of the workers during the past two centuries—the centuries when we were reaping the supposed benefits of capitalism: —
“Professor Drummond, of the Ministry of Food, has recently made it clear that in this country our people were worse fed at the end of the nineteenth century than at any. time within the preceding 200 years. White bread and meat in some plenty had become the
principal foods of a great part of the population, and, though energy and warmth were thus supplied in sufficient quantities to appease hunger, a number of constituents necessary to health were no longer included in the popular diet. This was not so when milk and vegetables, fruit and wholemeal bread were more commonly consumed. The result of the change was the frequent occurrence of certain diseases, and the nation was horrified to find in 1914 that a considerable number of the people must be classified as C 3.”
—(The Times, October 26th, 1940.)
He goes on : —
“White bread and meat are the cheap foods when the demands of hunger are alone concerned, because they supply the energy and warmth which the body wants and asks for. Consequently, when there is very little money to spend on food, the body is allowed to go without the necessary aids to health and growth which the cheaper foods do not contain. Thus the poor suffer first when the proper supplies are not available, not because they go hungry but because they are insufficiently protected from disease and structural failures. From the national point of view the protective foods are the cheapest, because it is costly to maintain an unhealthy nation.”
Sir W. Bragg appears to think that the fault has been one of the population merely falling into bad habits, and he is gratified with “the effort now being made by the Minister of Food to bring milk and other protective foods within the reach of the poorest.” He does not touch on the fact that there have been and will continue to be the interests behind the food trades whose concern is not with working-class nutrition, but with making a profit. They have at their disposal powerful means of encouraging the population to buy their well-advertised products whether good or bad, and the small voice of any disinterested scientist or doctor has no chance of being heard against them.
It will, too, be noticed that Sir William Bragg is anxious that certain foods should be brought within the reach of the poorest—he has nothing to say about the problem which underlies it, the existence of rich and poor.
The Scientist and Accumulated Knowledge
Incidentally, Sir William Bragg wrote interestingly about the use the scientist makes of accumulated knowledge and experience : —
“Scientists have so many new tales to tell that they are often supposed to pay little regard to that which is old. It is a fundamental mistake. Science is built on the accumulation of experiences, and every scientist knows that he must not base his conclusions only on the last few experiments in the laboratory. He must take into account all that has been done before. History is to him a very real thing; tradition is priceless, because there is no substitute for it. Practice is based on the experiments of innumerable years, and even when there are no written records to be consulted, the behaviour of men, the thoughts they have turned over and sifted, the knowledge they have gained in ages of trial and error are all of value; they are not to be thrown aside in favour of the last galvanometer reading. When a scientist records a discovery he only makes a new entry in an old book.
Now in this matter of food the scientist is at the. present time insisting that certain old ways are best, and it is queer that he should be supposed to be trying to introduce fads that have no merit but novelty.”
“There Is No Morality”
The Daily Worker (October 28th, 1940) had a smug editorial under the above heading telling us that “there is no morality in power politics. The European system has always been based on the balance of power, with France perched between Britain and Germany—the two strongest imperialisms. After their own military defeat and the vital elimination of British influence on the Continent the French ruling class now enters the camp of their former enemy. Capital knows no frontiers….”
It comes ill from the Communist Party, which has defended the Russian Government’s power politics through thick and thin, to talk in this strain about other governments. The choicest passage in the editorial comes later when the Daily Worker says that “the Tory ‘anti-Fascists’ are still itching to switch the war, and they would take Hitler into their arms to-morrow if only he would honour his promises of Munich. And so would the dollar capitalists of America.”
The Daily Worker seems to forget that one principal reason why other people cannot take Hitler into their arms is that he is already in Stalin’s arms, but, apparently, in Communist eyes, hobnobbing with the Nazis is onlv a crime west of the Rhine.
Remembering Finland it is ironical to be told by the Daily Worker that it is the code of the detested “power politics” that “conflicts can be settled only by means of superior force and violence.”
Those Bus Tickets Again
It was recently suggested in these columns that if the powers that be really wanted to save paper, and if their vision were not limited by the capitalist necessity of profit making, they would not waste efforts printing thinner bus tickets, but would do without tickets. Now the “Londoner” in the Evening Standard has been thinking about the problem : —
“The reduction in the length of the London bus ticket has caused some people to suggest that London Transport should find means of using tickets a second time, or even of dispensing with tickets altogether.
But no one can explain how this is to be done and, while invention in most fields marches on, the majority of tickets used to-day on road vehicles all over the country are issued by a device that has known no major change since it was first made, some sixty years ago.
I am told that nearly £1,000,000 has been lost in efforts to establish various new types of issuing machines. One of the successful is the “Tim” printer used now on some London buses, but the old “bell punch” system remains pre-eminent.”
—(Evening Standard, October 22nd, 1940.)
For a very long time Socialists have been trying to persuade the workers that while capitalism has provided the incentive for much technical and economic development, it now stands in the way of the development of society. Perhaps something that seemed unnecessary or even Utopian under peace conditions, in the eyes of men and women still steeped in tradition, may be more easy to grasp under the stress of war. Under a sane, economical system of society road vehicles and rail transport systems would exist simply to convey people to their work and their places of entertainment, etc. Consider then the absurdity of a social system which permits the problem of transport to be cluttered up with financial considerations and the employment of an army of men and women engaged in checking and counter-checking the payment of fares, and generally in safeguarding the interests of a body of shareholders who own and control what are mistakenly known as “public” services. Even under the stress of travelling to and from work during the war the companies are still concerned with the problem of profits. Consider the absurdity of the disclosure that “nearly £1,000,000 has been lost in efforts to establish various new types of issuing machines.” Consider the absurdity of the following : —
“Many people have been told that the little confetti-like circles of ticket that fall into the bus conductor’s machine are counted as a check on receipts. And most of them think that it is not true. But it is true—up to a point.
The scraps of paper are counted if the conductor’s takings do not agree with the serial numbers on his unissued tickets when he goes off duty.
Generally the clippings are emptied out of the “punches” and heaped together to become pulp.”
And all of this puerile business proceeds in what the Labour Party calls the “socialised” London Passenger Transport Board.
The Army and The Workers
Readers of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD over a number of years will remember several occasions when Communists have argued that the S.P.G.B. is wrong in holding that when a Socialist majority is in control of the political machinery this will also give control over the armed forces. One of their arguments has always been that the army, both rank and file and officers, would be out of sympathy with Socialism and would assist reactionary elements to prevent the majority from democratically and peacefully introducing Socialism. In particular they have argued that the officers would challenge the democratic system. In the light of this controversy it is interesting to read the following views expressed in the Soviet newspapers. The summary was published in the Times (October 7th, 1940), from their New York correspondent: —
“New York, October 6th. .
Soviet newspapers published last night what foreign correspondents in Moscow were permitted to say were “significant,” approving references to working-class participation in Great Britain’s war efforts. They were contained in a two-column message of the Tass Agency from London, which praised British defences and the discipline, moral, living conditions, and social conditions in the British Army. The article, in giving an eye-witness account of a British anti-aircraft battery in action, reported that most members of the battery were trade unionists and of working-class origin. This, it declared, was “unlike the last war when few trade unionists were among the British soldiers.” It was unlike the last war, too, it added, in that British officers were now drawn from all walks of life and were not professional soldiers.”
Mr. William Hickey, in the Daily Express (October 22nd, 1940), has the following: —
“A worker in a Torquay hotel (“which of course might bias my outlook,” he says) sends this choice there’s-a-war-on cutting from a local paper: —
” Dog nurse wanted. Woman to take care of small dog, partially paralysed. Vet. attending daily. Only those who have some experience & knowledge of this type of case need apply. …”
I feel sorry for this dog’s obsessed owner ; sorrier still for the dog. Wouldn’t it be best to coin a phrase & put him out of his misery ?”
The Case of Prince Starhemberg
The following report of some heated questions and answers in the House of Commons is taken from the News Chronicle (October 24th, 1940): —
“Captain Balfour, Under-Secretary for Air, replying to Mr. Wedgwood (Lab., Newcastle-under-Lyme), said that Prince von Starhemberg held the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force, and received £1 4s. 11d. per day in pay and allowances.
Mr. Wedgwood: Is it not rather indecent that this man, who assassinated democracy in Austria, should now be allowed to fight on our side and be paid by us in a war against all that Starhemburg has stood for ?
Captain Balfour: I reject wholeheartedly the hon. member’s suggestion. We owe a debt of gratitude to anyone who risks his life in the air to fight on our side.
Mr. Woodburn (Lab., Clackmannon and Eastern) : Is there any suggestion that we are going to impose this man on Austria at the end of the war ?
Mr. Shinwell (Lab., Seaham) : Supposing his name were Starhemberg, instead of Prince von Starhemberg, would it make aay difference ?
Captain Balfour : No. None at all.
Mr. Wedgwood : Why does not he allow other aliens from Austria who hate Nazism to fight ? Why keep them in prison ? Why allow this scoundrel to fight for democracy? (Loud cries of “Order!”) I want an answer.
At this point the Speaker intervened and the next question was called.”
The Times and the Causes of War
On October llth the Times published the first of two articles on “Fallacies of Nazi Finance,” written by an unnamed correspondent. He touched, incidentally, on the world scramble for markets, and had the following to say about its relationship to war : —
“Beyond doubt one of the fundamental causes of this war has been the unrelaxing efforts of Germany since 1918 to secure wide enough foreign markets to straighten her finances at the very time when all her competitors were forced by their own war debts to adopt exactly the same course. Continuous friction was inevitable.”
The Times correspondent’s main concern was to show that “Hitler has not advanced Germany one step towards the solution of this problem,” and he did not go on to the still wider problem of how to get rid of this struggle for markets. Socialists, having become aware of the facts long before they were discovered by the Times know quite well that the problem is utterly insoluble short of introducing Socialism.
Do We Want to Legislate for the Talented or for Everybody
In an article which otherwise showed a good deal of insight into the real nature of the poverty problem the Reverend W. Rowland Jones (Daily Herald, October 28th, 1940), describes the “better world” that he wants to see as one in which “the backward son of the rich” shall not be able to pass through a sheltered life “to a position of responsibility just because he is a son of the rich,” and in which “the brilliant son of the slum” shall not be hedged in and “kept out of the advantages of education just because he is a son of the slum.”
The idea behind this is to be found mixed up with all the reforms demanded by the Labour Party, it is the idea that attractive careers should be open to the talented, not kept as a preserve for the rich and influential. It is naturally a very good idea in the eyes of those who think they are talented, but thwarted in their striving for success in the world of to-day. It is not a Socialist idea. Giving a privileged place to one select group means relegating the rest of the population to an inferior position. Socialism, on the other hand, will give every human being access to the means of life. Socialists are not concerned with enabling a selected few of the poor to climb into the ranks of the rich, but with abolishing both rich and poor.
Mr. Jones should consider the problem again, and particularly consider what he means by his own phrase that the new world “shall have no poor and rich.”
Really, Mr. MacDonald !
Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, Minister of Health, spoke recently about the future health of the population. The Times reports his speech as follows: “He insisted that the lessons taught by the war must be remembered in peace. One of these was the stimulating effect on their physical well-being of sending children from the cities to the country; after the war the children in cities must be able to draw fresh draughts of life from that source. Another lesson was that there must ! be adequate consumption of the right kinds of food.”—(Times, October 18th, 1940.)
Obviously the Times noticed nothing odd about the speech, for they did not make any critical comment. Yet the speech is odd and incomplete. Why, in the past, have poor children not been sent to the country and not been given enough of the right kind of food. Mr. MacDonald implies that fathers of children did not know, having had a war to teach them, or if they did know they forgot, and in future they must not forget. And if it wasn’t the fathers who forgot then it was someone else, perhaps the Government, or the rich. The truth is that most of the fathers had a very good idea about it all and did not forget. The Government and the rich did not forget (they remembered about their own holidays and food, anyway), they just weren’t concerned. The fathers failed to take the necessary step because they were poor, and for no other reason. It is therefore up to Mr. MacDonald to tell us precisely what he and his fellow Ministers are doing to abolish poverty.
The Complacent Bishop
Bishop Hensley Henson, Canon of Westminster, preached a sermon at Westminster Abbey on the anniversary of the declaration of war. He touched the social reforms that were introduced since the last war.
“The last War had stirred deeply the social conscience of the British people, and perhaps one reason why the nation was so perilously slow to realise the fell significance of Hitlerism was its fear that war would arrest the salutary movement for social reformation which, in the interval between 1918 and 1939, had effected such great improvement in the life of the people and brought new hope into- the darkest places of industrial society. The determination to fight was accompanied, and in some sense conditioned, by a determination to continue and complete the effort to re-order British social and economic life on more reasonable and equitable lines. The combination of these two objects—defence and reform—was deeply significant, for it separated sharply the British ideal of a rightly ordered society from the ideals of Moscow and Berlin, which were either coldly indifferent or professedly antagonistic to Christian faith and morals.”— (The Times, September 4th, 1940.)
The complacent view of “such great improvement in the life of the people ” is hard to square with the well-known facts of poverty in the distressed areas and elsewhere. A few weeks after the sermon was preached a letter was published in the Manchester Guardian (September 24th, 1940) from Mr. Eddie Williams, Chairman of the Children’s Nutrition Council (Wales). The following is taken from the letter, which dealt with investigations “into the income and expenditure of some of the poorer sections of the community” :
1. Number in family seven—father and mother and children aged 14, 13, 11, 9, and 5.
2. Income £2 5s. unemployment assistance.
3. Expenses: Rent 12s., coal 2s. 6d., light 2s., clothing club 3s., insurance 1s.
The parents say : “What we are receiving is not sufficient to clothe and shoe the lot of us and to feed the children and ourselves all the week. Often there is nothing in reserve in the larder. We cannot afford to buy milk; and butter is too dear. Three of the children get free meals in the school feeding centre, and we are thankful.”
1. Number in family seven—father and mother and children aged 26 (a cripple), 13, 12, 10, and 9,
2. Income £2 5s. from unemployment assistance and the cripple on relief just enough to keep himself.
3. Expenses: Rent 11s., coal 2s. 6d., light 2s., clothing 4s., insurance 1s. 6d.
The parents say they are unable to use meat coupons because meat and bacon are too dear. Their children are without boots most of the year because boots are out of their reach. They buy one pint of milk per day and two tins of milk a week. The children in school have free dinners. Other instances were also given.”
It is true that these investigations were made after the war had been in progress some time, but even if the families had received the same income before the war their standard of living must have been deplorably low.
How To Win Elections in Rumania
Mr. Noel Panter, Balkans correspondent of the Daily Telegraph (October 17th, 1940), tells how Rumanian and Hungarian peasants were induced to vote for Nazi-minded politicians: —
“Nazi propaganda in the Hungarian provinces is of the most blatant type.
It was in Rumania that M. Goga, who became Premier, gained electoral support by proposing to bring the printing presses and royal mint from Bucharest to the village market-place so that the peasants’ pockets should be filled with crisp 1.000-lei notes as these rolled off the machines, “instead of those officers and courtiers who have the advantage now.”
To-day the Hungarian peasantry are being told that when a Nazi Government is in power pengoe notes will be scattered about the streets and the millennium will have arrived, with the wealthy being compelled to share with the poor. The benevolent Greater German Reich, they are also told, will assure work and plenty for all.”
This sounds very childish—until we remember the Social Credit Movement and the way the Alberta Election was won by Dr. Aberhart with his promise of “dividends for all.”
Candid Mr. De Valera
It is striking to contrast the above with Mr. De Valera’s gloomy words to his supporters : —
“The Prime Minister, who, when in opposition, had painted a rosy picture of what he could attain if given a majority, admitted that the problem was disconcertingly difficult. Indeed, he went so far as to say that it defied solution, and that it is an apparently incurable ” blot on our social organisation.”
The working classes must produce more and, if necessary for this result, work harder. The trade unions must cease to practise restriction of output and must be prepared to accept a lower standard of living.
—(Economist, September 7th, 1940.)
Mr. De Valera also stated, according to the Economist report, that “Nationalisation of industry or the manipulation of credit are incapable of improving the situation.”
At least the Irish workers will not be able to complain in future that De Valera has given them less than he now promises.