1940s >> 1943 >> no-461-january-1943

Notes By The Way: Should Coal Miners be Abolished?

Should Coal Miners be Abolished?
Socialists are always being asked who will do the dirty, dangerous, arduous or menial tasks under Socialism. It is a question that seems to worry some people, though we have not noticed that the workers actually performing such tasks under capitalism are overmuch concerned. The simple answer to the question is that if dirt, fatigue, and danger cannot be eliminated, then a sensible solution would be that all should take their turn at such tasks. As for so-called “menial” work this is merely a piece of capitalist snobbery—no useful work is inherently menial. Too little attention is, however, paid to the possibility of eliminating the particularly objectionable features now attaching to certain kinds of work. It should not be assumed that because capitalism has not eliminated them that they could not be eliminated. An illustration of this was provided in an article by J. B. Davidson in the Sunday Express (December 13, 1942). He relates that over 60 years ago an eminent scientist, Professor Ramsay, suggested a scheme for the utilisation of coal by converting it into gas in the seams of the earth. The coal-owners were not interested, but Lenin, 40 years ago, came across an account of Ramsay’s scheme in the British Museum, and “to him the idea seemed to offer a heaven-sent opportunity for saving the back-breaking toil and degradation of millions of workers.” Davison states that by 1938 Russian engineers and scientists successfully applied the idea in a Russian mine and “gas from subterranean gasification had been supplied to the furnaces of a chemical coking plant.” Davison ends his article with a quotation from Professor I. Bardin, of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Science:—

   By the application of this technological process, coal can be used in its most convenient form (gas) and the miner’s arduous toil thus eliminated.

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The Socialist and the Reformer Contrasted
The Socialist aim is to abolish poverty. That can be done only by abolishing the system based on class division—those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

The social reformer does not want to abolish poverty in the only way in which it can be done. Instead he wants to diminish poverty or remove some of the features that result from poverty. The most fatuous form this desire takes is to be found in the recurrent schemes for keeping rich and poor, but mixing them up a little—just as a defender of slavery might dwell on the beautiful thought of occasional friendly gatherings of slaves and slave owners.

Thus at the Conference of the Association of Headmistresses a speaker urged what she called “equality” in education—”Let the Duke’s son learn with the Dustman’s son.” “The first essential was that all children, rich and poor, should spend their school life together, irrespective of the incomes of their fathers.”—(Daily Herald, April 9, 1942.)

A similar proposal conies from the Bishop of Leicester, who asked that we abolish for good “that snobbish expression, ‘the better class residential districts.’ “—(Evening Standard, December 2, 1942.)

  The bishop said England took a wrong turning in the last century when great cities were built, so that the poor lived at one end and the rich at the other.

War has the result of enforcing temporarily a certain amount of contact between rich and poor. Did they not meet together in the same air-raid shelters? But note the comment made by Father Groser. of Stepney: —

  When Mrs. Churchill went to see him in the heavy air-raid period and asked how people sleeping in the shelters could remain so cheerful, he told her : ‘These shelters are better than their homes. They have at least a bed each, and more privacy than ever before in their lives.”—(Manchester Guardian, April 15, 1942.)

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The Rich are no Longer with Us
All sorts of people who profess to know the facts go on telling us that the old inequalities have disappeared and the rich are no longer with us. All we can say is that if the rich have gone there are still some people about who are able to spend a lot of money as witness the following headline in the News-Chronicle (December 23, 1942): ” Grapes 85/- a pound; Roses 4/6 each in West End Orgy of Spending.”

But the facts are not really in dispute. The ownership of land, factories, railways, etc., is still predominantly vested in the numerically small capitalist class, and if their profits are being heavily taxed during the war they have no doubt that things will improve for them when the war is over. We have yet to hear of heirs to millionaire estates refusing to accept them because they will be valueless or unnecessary in the new world after the war.

Lord Glanely, 71-year-old shipowner and racehorse owner, recently left estate worth £1,813,625, on which death duties amounted to £860,722 (Daily Telegraph, November 27, 1942), and note the following from the Evening Standard (December 15, 1942) :—

  The Duke of Westminster’s estates have been estimated to be worth about £20,000,000. He has sold portions of them, such as the great family mansion in Park Lane, on the site of which Grosvenor House now stands, and eight acres in Millbank, on which Thames House stands. He still owns 600 acres in Mayfair and Belgravia, in addition to 30,000 in Cheshire, and an estate in Scotland.
The Duke, now 62, lives at Eaton, in Cheshire. He was in the Home Guard for a time, but the reduction of the age limit barred him from further service.
He has been married three times. His first wife was Constance Edwina, daughter of Colonel William Cornwallis-West; she obtained a divorce in 1919. His second wife was Violet Mary Geraldine, daughter of Sir William Nelson; she obtained a divorce in 1926. In 1930 he married the Hon. Loelia, daughter of Lord Sysonby.
There is no direct heir to the title. It will pass to a cousin, Captain Robert Arthur Grosvenor. Captain Grosvenor is 47. He was at Dunkirk, but was invalided out of the Army in October last year. He is now farming near Banbury.

Then there was the court case in which Lady Furness secured an Order that the annuity of £8,380 a year (about £160 a week) left to her by Lord Furness, which had been stopped by the Board of Trade owing to her residence in France, should be continued (Manchester Guardian, December 22, 1942).

After all, it does not seem that the rich are expecting, after the war, to work for their living or depend on the Beveridge Report to save them from want.

It is only for the workers that the social reformers hand out Beveridge pension schemes.

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New Political Constitutions in China and Abyssinia
Much of the vague talk about democratic political methods as understood in a country like Great Britain, where the Parliamentary system has had centuries in which to evolve, has not much relationship to the political trends now at work over a large part of the globe even outside the Nazi- Fascist countries. Russia, of course, has its one-Party system—as Bukharin said many years ago, one Party in power the other in prison. Now it is reported that China has formally gone over to a one-party system. The Manchester Guardian correspondent in Chungking, Mr. Gunther Stein, reports decisions reached by the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang, the Chinese Government party: —

  First it has strengthened the basis of single party rule and made closer the integration of party and Government in local as well as national administration through the decision that from now on the district Kuomintang secretary shall be simultaneously the district magistrate. Secondly, there is a more uncompromising exclusion of the opposition with the exception of those who have “repented.”—(Manchester Guardian, December 3rd, 1942.)

Earlier in 1942 Abyssinia, when freed from Italian rule, reverted to the Constitution of 1931. Here is a description from the Manchester Guardian (May 6, 1942):—

  “This provides for certain limitations upon his (the Emperor’s) powers as monarch. A legislative body will, under the Constitution, be set up. It provides for two Chambers—an Upper Chamber of nobles nominated by the Emperor, and a Lower Chamber whose members are nominated by the nobles and local chiefs.”

The Guardian’s comment is interesting: —

  This is, of course, far removed from a Parliament on the democratic model, but it corresponds to the needs of Abyssinian society. Above all, it expresses and preserves social discipline.

The Guardian writer also makes the significant remark that “Ethiopian society is in the feudal stage and was disrupted by the Italian conquest.”
Whatever he may think about this Constitution corresponding to the needs of Abyssinian society, it seems highly improbable that this intention of reverting to the condition of affairs before the Italian conquest is going to satisfy the lower orders for long. Abyssinia will find itself forced into growing relationship with and dependence on, the capitalist world, and the growing needs of capitalism will not for long accept the fetters of a feudal order.
Edgar Hardcastle