Friday, January 31, 2014

THE "MONEY" SYSTEM

Report from the August 12th 1966 issue of the Hackney Gazette

S.P.G.B. lecture at Hackney

"Money dominates Man almost completely in modern Capitalism. Man's history shows no other human invention to which he is so subservient," said Mr. H. Baldwin, lecturing recently at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Hackney Branch. "Despite its universal use, many mysteries surround money and most people have only vague notions about its nature. It is credited with magical, mystical powers which really stem from its users. It has no use or existence apart from men in society. Men do not derive power from money, but money derives its power from men."

In Capitalism, he continued, everything produced by labour is reduced to money terms; has a price. All spheres of human activity are measured by cost. Every human relationship is either directly affected or tainted by money considerations. Working-class family life, particularly, centres around the wage-packet, which determines the standard of living, amenities and social status enjoyed, type of clothes and education of the children, the future wage-earners. Success is measured by pay, irrespective of usefulness of work.

"The basic capitalist relations of buyer and seller, employer and employee, landlord and tenant, into which all enter, are regarded—almost revered—as indispensable, yet they need not exist at all at Man's present industrial development."

A POINTLESS FARCE
The rich are not rich merely because they have money, but because they own the means of production and distribution. The rent, interest and profit they accumulate, derived from the sale of commodities, produced by workers but owned by capitalists, represents their real wealth. The poor, on the other hand, are not poor because their wages are low but because, not owning means of production and distribution, they are compelled to continue as workers for wages whether high or low. Since people are esteemed for their possessions they display rather than for their capabilities, many workers accumulate a mass of trashy, flashy junk, cheap, commonplace substitutes for the possessions of the rich. The so-called culture pattern set by the wealthy is imitated by workers and futile pastimes replace the zest of living.

All this, declared the lecturer, takes place against a background of ceaseless industrial struggle and international conflict, generally accepted as inevitable, a view strongly challenged by the S.P.G.B.

Man's mastery over nature has transformed the Earth but the fruits of science and technology are not readily available to him. The "money" system's straitjacket  stifles his every move. Hundreds of millions still starve and "live" in slums. Social techniques remain only potential while the phantom dominates the real. Capitalism's antiquated social relationships prevent abundance for all. These must be replaced but first understood. Hence the need to understand money.

Mr. Baldwin explained Karl Marx's analysis of commodities and money and concluded: "In terms of satisfying human needs, the 'money' system, the production of useful things primarily for sale at a profit, is a failure. Profit is now primary over people. Politicians, world bankers, economic experts, members of Prices and Incomes Boards, all act futile parts in a pointless farce. At this very moment, the Labour Government is prepared  to inflict hardship on people in order to defend money: to save the pound even if it brings unemployment and suffering to many workers.

"The S.P.G.B. holds that the social division into rich and poor, the contrasting extremes of wealth, are inseparable from the 'money' system, which is now redundant. The S.P.G.B. points the way to the next stage in Man's social development; to World Socialism, a world-wide, moneyless, classless society in which all Man's productive means would belong in common to all humanity. In Socialism the means of life would be produced in abundance solely for use and distributed freely, not exchanged or sold, rendering money unnecessary. Freed from the debased motives engendered by Capitalism, humanity could at least realise its full physical and intellectual powers."

TRADE UNIONS AND "PUBLIC INTERESTS"

Report from the 7th April 1967 issue of the Hackney Gazette 

S.P.G.B. lecture at Hackney

"The myth of the 'public interest' is used by politicians who run Capitalism to mask the conflict of economic interests between exploited and exploiters. It deceives workers into believing that they have a common interest with the capitalist class and diverts their attention from their own real interests," asserted Mr. J. McGuinness, lecturing recently at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Hackney Branch.

The S.P.G.B., he said, claims that capitalist society is divided into two classes whose economic interests are completely opposed. The means of production and distribution are monopolised by the capitalist class. The working class, the overwhelming majority of the population, mainly owning little or no property, are compelled to seek employment by owning class as wage or salary workers. The rent, interest and profit of the capitalist class are derived from the surplus which the workers produce over what they are paid for their labour-power. Hence the capitalist tries to keep wages and salaries down while the worker constantly resists and attempts to improve his position.

This conflict, inherent in Capitalism, is responsible for the industrial strife. Machine-breaking, strikes, lockouts and penal legislation have testified to this antagonism of interests for over a century and a half, he said.

Reviewing Trade Union history, the lecturer continued that, with the rise of the factory system at the beginning of the nineteenth century, British wage-earners had to fight a grim battle for the right to combine to improve their conditions. The Unions found arrayed against them not only the individual masters or groups with whom they were directly struggling but also the forces of the entire master class, represented by the State. Anti-combination laws pressed heavily upon them and for long they were subject to legal persecution as unlawful conspiracies.

UNION ACTION LEGALISED
Even when these laws were somewhat relaxed, their interpretation by judges continued to deprive the Unions in great measure of their effectiveness. Gradually the employing class saw the unwisdom of trying to destroy them and by Acts of Parliament beginning in 1824 and culminating in Acts of 1871-6 trade union action was legalised and union funds protected.

In time the masters discovered that ambitious Labour leaders, on the industrial and political fields, whom the workers have all too readily trusted, could by judicious flattery and other means, be used to help maintain the industrial peace they so much needed. Whereas previously the economic interest of the workers were the Union's sole concern, these leaders now appealed to a fictitious "public" or "national" interest in order to restrain the workers' demands. This together with the constant improvement of machinery, methods of working and financial organisation by employers has steadily undermined the Unions' efficiency as fighting forces.

Ironically, the Labour Party, originally formed to protect Trade Union interests, today controls the State power and under the guise of "public interest; legislates against workers' interests, on behalf of the capitalist class. The S.P.G.B., however, has always exposed the anti-working-class character of the appeal to "public interest" and has constantly warned workers not to be misled by it, he stressed.

"Both the S.P.G.B. and the Trade Unions arose out of the conflict of interests between capitalist and worker, which is innate in Capitalism," concluded Mr. McGuinness. "While the Trade Unions exist to struggle on the industrial field to maintain workers' living standards within Capitalism, the S.P.G.B. is organised on the political field for the conscious abolition of Capitalism by the workers. Its growth will depend upon the degree of their determination to end the struggle by converting the means of living into common property, so establishing a true and lasting harmony of interests within human society."

THE ECONOMICS OF CAPITALISM

Report from the October 11th 1966 issue of the Hackney Gazette

S.P.G.B. lecture at Hackney

"The post-war illusion of permanent affluence has been shattered. The failure of capitalist economists to cope with Capitalism's problems, the possibility of another great world economic crisis demands renewed interest in Marxian economics, which alone explains Capitalism's devious workings." declared Mr. S. Goldstein, lecturing recently, at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Hackney Branch.

Karl Marx's penetrating analysis of Capitalism, he continued, is today of even greater consequnce than in his own day because Capitalism now prevails throughout the whole world, including Russia and China.

Marx regarded Capitalism as a phase of Man's economic development, in which the labour-power of wage-workers is bought by the capitalist class to produce commodities. A commodity is a useful thing produced, not for personal consumption by the owner, but for exchange or sale with the intention of realising a profit. All commodities, he claimed, have a common, inherent social quality by which they can be measured against each other in exchange. This quality is Value, which consists of the human labour contained in each commodity. The Magnitude of Value is measured by the amount of socially necessary labour-time embodied in the commodity that is the amount of abstract human labour, mental and physical, measured by time "required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time." The quantity of one commodity which is exchanged for another is called the latter's Exchange Value.

Marx distinguished various historical forms of Exchange Value, namely: Accidental Form, in which one commodity simply exchanged for another: Expanded Form, in which the value of one commodity is expressed in the form of many others; General Form, in which the value of many commodities are expressed in the form of one commodity, the universal equivalent; and Money Form, in which a metal becomes the universal equivalent  and circulates as coin. The Value of a commodity expressed in money is its Price.

Since Marx's time, said the lecturer, paper notes have replaced gold as currency, but they still symbolise it, the Pound note today representing about one-twelfth ounce of gold.

Marx's outstanding contribution to economics is this Theory of Surplus Value, which explains the capitalist exploitation of labour. Labour-power, he showed, is also a commodity. Its Value being the socially necessary labour-time embodied in the worker's necessities of life required to replace it. Wages, the price of labour-power, are there therefore generally equivalent to the worker's keep.

Labour-power, however, when expended as Labour, produces commodities with greater value than the wages paid for it. Thus the worker produces the Value equivalent to his wages, part of the day, and the rest of the day, produces for his employer. Value surplus to his own needs, i.e. "Surplus Value," which the employer obtains free. The rent, interest and profit of the various sections of the capitalist class is derived from this during the process of circulation from manufacturer to consumer.

"Surplus Value is the primary motive of production in Capitalism." concluded Mr. Goldstein. "Its production leads to industrial strife and crises and its realisation on the world market to international conflict and war.

"The Principles of the S.P.G.B. are based firmly on the scientific work of Marx and Engels in the spheres of economics, history and politics. A thorough understanding of Socialist principles by workers will preserve them from past illusions and convince them that the only solution of their problems is to replace Capitalism by classless, moneyless World Socialism, based on production, not for profit, but solely for use."


What is History? (2014)

From the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism, Historians and the New History Syllabus in the National Curriculum

In February 2013 the National Curriculum Consultation Document was published and capitalist ideologue and Tory Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove made a statement to the House of Commons about the new history syllabus: 'in history there is a clear narrative of British progress with a proper emphasis on heroes and heroines from our past' (Daily Telegraph 7 February).

Earlier at the 2008 and 2010 Tory Party Conferences Gove had complained that 'our children are either taught to put Britain in the dock or they remain in ignorance of our island story, education has been undermined by left wing ideologues, the under-appreciated tragedy of our time has been the sundering of our society from its past and the current approach we have to history denies children the opportunity to hear our island story. This trashing of our past has to stop' (Guardian 30 September 2008, Daily Telegraph 5 October 2010).

When the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government came to power in May 2010, Gove invited historian Niall Ferguson to advise on the development of a new history syllabus for the National Curriculum, 'history as a connected narrative' (Daily Telegraph 30 December 2012). Later in 2010 at the Tory Party Conference Gove announced historian Simon Schama as the new 'History Czar' to ensure pupils learn Britain's 'Island Story', and review the curriculum. Schama responded 'without this renewed sense of our common story, we will be a poorer and weaker Britain' (Guardian 5 October 2010).

Conservative historians
Schama is well known for his 1989 book Citizens; A Chronicle of the French Revolution where he defines the 'Revolution' by the Reign of Terror. Historian Eric Hobsbawm described the book as a political denunciation of the revolution, a continuation of a traditional conservative view of the revolution started by Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, and continued in Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. Gove called Edmund Burke 'the greatest Conservative ever' at the 2008 Tory Conference (Daily Telegraph 30 September 2008).

Niall Ferguson is a conservative historian who cites as influences Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. His 2011 six-part Channel Four TV series Civilization: Is the West History? is a hymn to Western capitalism, global free trade and bourgeois liberalism. Ferguson identifies the 'six killer apps' of competition, science, rule of law, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic as keys to the dominance of western capitalism. Hobsbawm has called Ferguson an excellent historian but a 'nostalgist for Empire'. He is also a historian of financial capitalism having written The House of Rothschild and a biography of a merchant banker High Financier: The Lives and Times of Siegmund Warburg. His magnum opus on finance must be the publication in November 2008 of The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World which unfortunately for Ferguson was overtaken by the events of September 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed and the resulting global financial crisis. In this book Ferguson penned a hymn to global financial capitalism whereas we agree with Marx that 'money is the universal whore, the universal pimp of men and peoples'.

The Department of Education stated that 'our approach to the history curriculum has been supported by some of the country's most eminent historians' (Guardian 13 May). But the new history syllabus was immediately criticised by the President of the Royal Historical Society, the Historical Association, the Higher Education group History UK, and senior members of the British Academy.

The overall aim of the new history syllabus is 'a knowledge of Britain's past, and our place in the world helps us to understand the challenges of our time' with supporting aims to be to 'know and understand the story of these islands; how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world'. The syllabus will attempt to cover the Palaeolithic era to the fall of the Berlin Wall in seven years. Even at Key Stage 1, ages 5 to 7 years, children are expected to understand terms such as 'civilisation', 'parliament', 'monarchy', 'democracy', and the 'concept of nation and of a nation's history' (Department for Education: National Curriculum Consultation 7 February).

At Key Stage 2, ages 7 to 11 years children will be taught 'the essential chronology of British history sequentially' from the Stone Age to the 1688 bourgeois 'Glorious Revolution'. This is history as a story, chronology, narrative, dates, events which makes Henry Ford comment 'history is bunk and just one damn thing after another' quite apt. Professor Jackie Eales, President of the Historical Society said 'intellectually, it is exactly what 1066 and All That was designed to lampoon. It is a trawl through history, one damn thing after another, in a very superficial way. It's a very old fashioned curriculum' (Guardian 16 February).

One of the recommendations of the 1999 Macpherson Report was a 'National Curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism' but in April 2013 History teacher Katherine Edwards pointed out that 'the new curriculum is very likely to alienate and disengage children and young people, especially those of black and Asian origin. Black and Asian people are excluded completely from the primary history curriculum and, apart from the token inclusions of Equiano and Seacole they only feature as slaves in the secondary curriculum until the arrival of the Windrush generation' (Guardian 19 April). Later in June children's laureate Malorie Blackman added 'if children are not taught about black historical figures along with heroes such as Lord Nelson, they might be turned off school altogether' (Guardian 4 June). In fact Olaudah Equiano, freed African slave who campaigned for abolition of the slave trade and Mary Seacole, Creole nurse in the Crimean War, were only introduced into the National Curriculum in 2007 but it was announced in 2012 they were to be dropped in the new syllabus. This prompted Operation Black Vote to gather 35,000 signatures on a petition to Gove, and American Democrat Reverend Jesse Jackson to write a letter to the Times. Gove conceded and Equiano and Seacole stayed in the new syllabus. But Martin Luther King and the US Civil Rights movement have been dropped from the curriculum.

As for the role of women in history there are no women at all mentioned in the Key Stage 2 syllabus except for two Tudor queens. In Key Stage 3, ages 11 to 14 years, Mary Seacole, George Eliot and Annie Besant are grouped under the heading 'The Changing Role of Women'.

China is not included in the curriculum but is only mentioned as a loser to Britain as a result of gunboat diplomacy, although the OECD stated in March 2013: 'from a long-range perspective, China has now overtaken the Euro area and is on course to become the world’s largest economy around 2016, after allowing for price differences' (forbes.com 23 March).

‘Great Man’ Theory
The syllabus focuses on kings, queens, and the lives of great men which is part of the bourgeois 'Great Man Theory of History' which has its origin in Thomas Carlyle's 1840 book On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (1840) where he writes that 'the history of the world is but the biography of great men'.

Do 'Great Men' impose themselves on history? Marx wrote in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon: 'Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past'. It appears that Napoleon Bonaparte perceived this truth when he wrote in exile 'I found all the elements ready at hand to found an empire. If I had not come probably someone would have done like me. A man is but a man, but often he can do much; often he is a tinderbox in the midst of inflammable matter, his power is nothing if circumstances and public sentiment do not favour him' (The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words edited and translated by J. Christopher Herold. Columbia University Press: New York. 1955).

Peter Mandler, Cambridge professor of Modern Cultural History said of the new syllabus 'we need to know the history of family life, economic development, class formation, not just a list of prime ministers, admirals and treaties. And when the curriculum talks about the rise and fall of Empires it still only means the Roman Empire' (Guardian 16 February 2013).

History from below
The antidote to bourgeois 'Great Men' history is 'History from below' (the term coined by historian George Lefebvre) which is people's history, the history of the working class, everyday history or even micro-history. A good example of 'history from below' is The Crowd in the French Revolution by George Rudé where he points out that 'those who took to the streets were ordinary, sober citizens, not half-crazed animals, not criminals' in contrast to Carlyle, Dickens and Schama.

E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class is a sweeping people's history of the English proletariat but his book Whigs and hunters: The origin of the Black Act is a great example of micro-history. Following the collapse of the 'South Sea bubble' in 1720 there was an economic downturn and groups of poachers appeared in forests in Berkshire and Hampshire stealing deer from the aristocracy. The Whig government responded with an Act in 1723 which introduced the death penalty for over fifty offences. The Act would not be repealed until 1823. The Act can be seen as an example of 'bloody legislation' against the working class. In 1688 there were fifty capital offences on the statute book but by 1800 there were 220 capital offences mainly concerned with the defence of property. Between 1770 and 1830 35,000 death sentences were handed out with 7,000 executed.

At present capitalist ideologists are engaging in a type of 'historical revisionism' in relation to the First World War. In The Great War was a Just War published in History Today in August 2013, Gary Sheffield writes 'Britain’s First World War was a war of national survival, a defensive conflict fought at huge cost against an aggressive enemy bent on achieving hegemony in Europe. If the allies had lost, it would have meant the end of liberal democracy on mainland Europe'.

Prime Minister David Cameron's speech in October 2012 at the Imperial War Museum announced that there would be commemorative events to mark the First World War. These would include the outbreak of war, the naval battle of Jutland, Churchill's disastrous Gallipoli campaign, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Passchendaele, and the Armistice.

The Socialist Standard of November 1914 pointed out that the Sunday Chronicle of 30 August 1914 had identified that it was a capitalist war when they wrote 'the men in the trenches are fighting on behalf of the manufacturer, the mill owner, and the shopkeeper'. In August 1919 the Socialist Standard concluded that 'while competition between capitalist groups for routes, markets, and control of raw materials exists, the cause of war remains'.

In capitalist society the working class are educated to identify their interest with the interests of the capitalist class and identify with the nation state not with our interests as a class. As socialists we believe 'the working class have no fatherland'.

As well as commemorating the First World War, the capitalist state  has also allocated £1 million to restore the battlefield of Waterloo in Belgium ready for the 200th  anniversary in June 2015. There is even talk of commemorating the 600th  anniversary of the battle of Agincourt. All this is done to bolster nationalism and ensure that the working class identify with capitalist history.

The new History Syllabus in the National Curriculum demonstrates the truth of what Marx and Engels wrote in The German Ideology: 'The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force'.
Steve Clayton

S.P.G.B. AND THE UNIONS

Report from the May 24th 1966 issue of the Hackney Gazette

Lecture at Hackney

"Necessary as they are to resist encroachments on conditions and wages by the employing, class and to maintain the workers standard of living the S.P.G.B. has no illusions about Trade Unions and exposes their limitations," said Mr. A. L. Buick, lecturing on "Socialism and Trade Unionism," recently, at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s Hackney branch.

"While Capitalism, with its conflicting class interests, remains, they can serve only as defensive organisations, their effectiveness depending on the state of the labour market. The real solution of working class problems lies in political action by a majority of socialists to replace Capitalism by World Socialism."

Summarising a brief review of Trade Union history, Mr. Buick said that they had evolved from weak protective organisations of craftsmen, concerned with regulation of wages, into massive stable forces, now very much involved in the administration, of Capitalism; pillars of the State, whose opinions are considered before legislation is embarked upon. Early in the century they had formed the Labour Party to defend their interests in Parliament, but Labour Governments, concerned with running Capitalism in the interests of the Capitalist class, are forced to act contrary to working class interests and though linked with them may conflict with the Trade Unions.

Trade Unions, he continued, aim at strengthening workers, by combining together in bargaining with employers over wages and working conditions. The strike, organised withdrawal of labour power, is their main weapon. The S.P.G.B. endorses fully both aim and method, since if workers relinquished their organised struggle they could no longer resist the pressure of the employers to increase profits at the expense of wages and conditions of labour. 

LIMITATIONS
The S.P.G.B., he said, sees not only the advantages of Trade Unionism in teaching workers solidarity and in helping them to obtain the best price for their labour power, but also its limitations. In the interwar years with high unemployment, Trade Union action was practically ineffective. Since 1945, however, with boom conditions, living standards have been improved, but the exploitation of the workers still continues. If wages, however, are pushed too high, employers may install more modern machinery to reduce costs. The S.P.G.B. does not approve of some activities of Trade Unions and their officials, such as industrial collaboration, serving on Government economic bodies, and support of Prices and Incomes Policies, since this lessens the independence of the unions and creates confusion among their members. It neither seeks to infiltrate the unions in order to use them for political purposes nor deludes itself that they can be used to abolish Capitalism. The time and money spent to securing a Labour Government is considered by the S.P.G.B. as misdirected, since all Governments are committed to Capitalism, which perpetuates working class problems.

"Although the S.P.G.B. and the Trade Unions both arise out of the class conflict in Capitalist society," Mr. Buick concluded, "they have quite different aims. The Trade Unions, like employers' organisations, are part of the present social system with its wages, profits, money and markets, and accept its continuation. Their purpose is to struggle to maintain or improve their members' living standards. The object of the S.P.G.B., on the other hand, is to end Capitalism and establish World Socialism, a classless, moneyless society, in which there will no longer be a working class selling its labour power to an employing class, and in which, therefore Trade Unions would be unnecessary. The sooner the workers understand the pressing need for such a basic social change, the sooner will they become socialists and organise politically to realise it."

Thursday, January 30, 2014

How Socialism Can Organise Production Without Money (2)


From the Winter 1984 issue of the World Socialist

Part 2. ECONOMIC CALCULATION VERSUS PRODUCTION FOR USE
Defenders of capitalism never seem to ask themselves the practical question about what is the critical factor determining a production initiative in a market system, and moreover, what is the function of a cost/price calculation in relation to that initiative.

The answer is obvious from everyday experience. The factor which critically decides the production of commodities is the judgement that enterprises make about whether they can be sold in the market. Obviously, consumers buy in the market what they perceive as being for their needs. But whether or not the transaction takes place is not decided by needs, but by ability to pay. So the realisation of profit in the market determines both the production of goods and also the distribution of goods by various enterprises.

In the market system the motive of production, the organisation of production, and the distribution of goods are inseparable parts of the same economic process: the realisation of profit and the accumulation of capital. There is no choice about this. Commodity production is organised within the constraints of the circulation of capital. This capital can accumulate, maintain its level or become depleted. The economic pressure on capital is that of accumulation, the alternative is bankruptcy. The production and distribution of goods is entirely subordinate to the pressure, on capital to accumulate. Therefore the practical, technical organisation of production is entirely separate from the economic organisation of the accumulation of capital in which cost/ price, value factors play a vital part.

The economic signals of the market are not signals to produce useful things. They signal the prospects of profit and capital accumulation. If there is a profit to be made then production will take place; if there is no prospect of profit, then production will not take place. Profit not need is the deciding factor.

CALCULATING EXPLOITATION
The real function of economic calculation in the market system is not to facilitate the practical, technical organisation of production; it is ultimately about calculating the exploitation of labour.

The market system, involving the circulation of capital, generates commodity values which are brought into a relationship of exchange in the market, so that value, surplus to the value of labour-power, embodied in commodities is realised through sales. When enterprises calculate costs as a relationship of labour-time to output this is not with a view to passing on socially useful information about the organisation of production. They are calculating costs plus the average rate of profit.

Through the exchange of labour-power for wages, capital is invested in the power of workers to produce goods. It is with active labour functioning as deployed capital that capital expands. Labour-power generates more values than it consumes. These surplus values belong to the enterprise in the material form of commodities which are then sold in the market. This is where capital realises its self-expansion and thereby accumulates. The market price of commodities produced must exceed the price of the materials and labour-power required to produce them. This is what costing is all about, and it has nothing to do with the practical organisation of production. In its overall effect the subordination of useful production to the accumulation of capital distorts and constrains social production.

The market is at every point in the system a barrier of exchange between production, distribution and social needs. The circulation of capital confines useful labour within a self-enclosed system of exchange. Labour is activated by an exchange of labour-power for wages and this is determined by the capacity of the market to provide profit through sales.

Economic calculation is not part of the technical organisation of production; it is an indispensable part of the accumulation of capital whether this takes place within the free market or under the system of state capitalism.

What socialism will establish is a practical system of world production operating directly and solely for human needs. Socialism will be concerned solely with the production, distribution and consumption of useful goods and services in response to definite needs. It will integrate social needs with the material means of meeting those needs, that is to say, with active production. Under capitalism what appear to be production decisions are in fact decisions to go for profit in the market. Socialism will make economically-unencumbered production decisions as a direct response to needs. With production for use, then, the starting point will be needs.

QUANTITIES OF MATERIAL THINGS
Socialism will not depend on calculations of labour-time or the conversion of these into costs since production will not be generating exchange-values for the market. Production for use will generate useful goods and services directly for need, and this will require not economic calculation but the communication of quantities of material things throughout production. This will result from the change in productive relationships. The use of labour in a market system begins with an exchange of labour-power for wages, which is an economic exchange between individual workers and invested capital. This will be replaced by direct co-operation between producers to satisfy social needs in the material form of productive activity.

Modern production embraces activity across the world as a network of productive links. It consists of decisions and actions by individuals, small groups and large organisations. Many of these dispersed activities interact with each other and alter the pattern of the whole. Modern production can only operate on the basis of particular production units being self-adjusting to social requirements in response to information being communicated to them.

Socialism would take over existing world production which is generally structured on three scales. Socialism could rationalise this world structure on a decentralised basis which could operate in the most efficient way through a world, regional and local structure.

Extraction and processing of basic materials such as metals, oil, coal, and some agricultural products, etc., could be organised as world production with distribution to regions and localities.

These materials could be taken up by the regions for the production and assembly of component parts of machinery, equipment and goods for distribution to localities within a region. This regional organisation could include the extraction and supply of those materials which could be contained within that region. A regional tractor-producing plant could take its materials from world supply and then distribute tractors down to the localities within that region.

On the smallest scale, but nevertheless extremely important, local production units could be producing local goods for local consumption and use.

This need not be a rigid arrangement, but an adaptable skeleton structure operating in these three, world, regional and local scales. These would represent the general scales of productive organisation, through which required quantities of materials and goods could be communicated between production units.

DIRECT RESPONSES TO NEEDS
Production for use could work with the basic structure as outlined above. It would operate in direct response to need. These would arise in local communities expressed as required quantities such as grammes, kilos, tonnes, litres, metres, cubic metres etc., of various materials and quantities of goods. These would then be communicated as required elements of productive activity, as a technical sequence, to different scales of social production, according to necessity.

Each particular part of production would be responding to the material requirements communicated to it through the connected ideas of social production. It would be self-regulating, because each element of production would be self-adjusting to the communication of these material requirements. Each part of production would know its position. If requirements are low in relation to a build-up of stock, then this would be an automatic indication to a production unit that its production should be reduced. If requirements are high in relation to stock then this would be an automatic indication that its production should be increased.

The register of needs and the communication of every necessary element of those needs to the structure of production would be clear and readily known. The supply of some needs will take place within the local community and in these cases production would not extent beyond this, as for example with local food production for local consumption.

Other needs could be communicated as required things to the regional organisation of production. Local food production would require glass, but not every local community could have its own glass works. The requirements for glass could be communicated to a regional glass works. These would be definite quantities of required glass. The glass works has its own suppliers of materials, and the amounts they require for the production of 1 tonne of glass are known in definite quantities. The required quantities of these materials could then be passed by the glass works to the regional suppliers of the materials for glass manufacture. This would be a sequence of communication of local needs to the regional organisation of production, and thus contained within a region.

Local food production would also require tractors, and here the communication of required quantities of things could extend further to the world organisation of production. Regional manufacture could produce and assemble the component parts of tractors for distribution to local communities. These would be required in a definite number and, on the basis of this definite number of final products, the definite number of component parts for tractors would also be known. The regional production unit producing tractors would communicate these definite quantities to their own suppliers, and eventually this would extend to world production units extracting and processing the necessary materials.

This would be the self-regulating system of production for need, operating on the basis of the communication of need as definite quantities of things throughout the structure of production. Each production unit would convert the requirements communicated to it into its own material requirements and pass these on to its own suppliers. This would be the sequence by which every element of labour required for the production of a final product would be known.

This system of self-regulating production for use is achieved through communications. Socialism would make full use of the means of communication which have been developed. These include not only transport such as roads, railways, shipping, etc. They also include the existing system of electronic communications which provide for instant world-wide contact as well as facilities for storing and processing millions of pieces of information. Modern information technology could be used by Socialism to integrate any required combination of different parts of its world structure of production.

IN WHOSE INTEREST?
Defenders of the market such as Von Mises and Hayek appear not to understand the system which they represent. But this is not simply a matter of them putting forward fallacious assertions as a matter of ignorance. Their position is based on a crude defence of the privileged interests which do benefit from capitalism. In arguing in favour of these interests, it appears that any nonsense which defies the reality of experience will do. Their more honest position would be that the market system does work, but for those who monopolise the means of living and that therefore economic calculation of the exploitation of labour is indispensable in pursuit of that interest.

The interest which socialists pursue is fundamentally different. Socialism stands for the interest of all workers, the wage and salaried working class on whose skills and energies the material running of society depends. But we also emphasise that the political victory of labour over capital through socialist action will result in a society which will work in the interest of the whole of mankind without distinction of race or sex.
Pieter Lawrence

How Socialism Can Organise Production Without Money (1)

From the Winter 1984 issue of the World Socialist


Part 1. Labour-Time Accounting Or Calculation In Kind?
In 1920 Ludwig von Mises published an article "Die Wirtschaftsrechnung im sozialistischen Gemeinwesen", which was translated into English in 1935 as "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth" and published in Collectivist Economic Planning: Critical Studies on the Possibilities of Socialism edited by Fron Hayek. His basic argument was that socialism would be impossible because, without money and prices fixed by the market, society would not be able to do economic calculations rationally. Or, as he put it, "where there is no free market there is no pricing mechanism; without a pricing mechanism, there is no economic calculation".

Von Mises defined socialism to mean any system in which the ownership of means of production by private individuals was entirely abolished. His definition thus covered total State capitalism as well as socialism. This makes some of his arguments, in so far as they were meant to be arguments against socialism, irrelevant, but in arguing against the possibility of a moneyless society he was also arguing against socialism.


Von Mises accepted that socialist society would be able to decide what it wanted but denied that it would be able to work out the most rational way of meeting those wants:
It will be evident, even in a socialist society, that 1,000 hectolitres of wine are better than 800, and it is not difficult to decide whether it desires 1,000 hectolitres of wine rather than 500 litres of oil. There is no need for any system of calculation to establish this fact: the deciding element is the will of the economic subjects involved. But once this decision has been taken, the real task of rational economic direction only commences, ie, economically, to place the means at the service of the end. That can only be done with some kind of economic calculation. The human mind cannot orientate itself properly among the bewildering mass of intermediate products and potentialities of production without such aid. It would simply stand perplexed before the problems of management and location. It is an illusion to imagine that in a socialist state calculation in natura can take the place of monetary calculation. Calculation in natura, in an economy without exchange, can embrace consumption-goods only; it completely fails when it comes to deal with goods of a higher order. And as soon as one gives up the concept of a freely established monetary price for goods of a higher order, rational production becomes impossible. Every step that takes us away from private ownership of the means of production and from the use of money also takes us away from rational economics.
 He did not deny that "labour time" could theoretically provide an alternative unit of economic calculation, but argued that in practice it would be impossible to establish an accurate labour-time unit because of the difficulty of measuring the intensity and skill of different people's labour. The only possible unit of economic calculation, he concluded, was therefore money.

This was a powerful criticism which caught the Social Democratic and Bolshevik thinkers — both defenders of a total state capitalism rather than socialism, it is true — unprepared. There were three possible reactions to Von Mises's criticism:

1. To accept that money would have to continue to be the unit of economic calculation in "socialism";
2. To argue that labour-time could be the unit of economic calculation "in an economy where neither money nor exchange were present";
3. To argue that in socialism "calculation in natura [in kind] can take the place of monetary calculation".
The Social Democrats, including the Bolsheviks (who were of course Social Democrat up until 1917), tended to have a technocratic conception of "socialism" which in practice, as we have already remarked, made them advocates of state capitalism rather than of socialism. As a result discussion on what should be the unit of calculation in socialism was largely a discussion of what should be the unit of calculation in state capitalism. This meant in fact that the outcome of the debate was predictable from the start: the partisans of retaining money, as Kautsky advocated in 1922, as "a measure of value for accounting purposes and for calculating exchange ratios" were bound to win since, in the long run, this was the only solution compatible with the operation of the capitalist system which they wanted to continue, even though in a statised form. The partisans of accounting in labour-time and those of accounting in real physical quantities were never more than marginal and by the end of the 1920s had disappeared both amongst the Social Democrat and amongst the Bolsheviks.



A LABOUR-TIME BLUEPRINT
Calculation in labour-time was defended by the Social Democratic writer, Otto Leichter, in his Die Wirtschaftsrechnung in der sozialistischen Gesellschaft ("Economic Calculation in Socialist Society") published in Vienna in 1923, in which he argued that this was perfectly feasible as it was already applied under capitalism by accountants to fix prices and by time-and-motion experts. Money, he argued, could therefore be abolished in socialism (= state capitalism), even for the distribution of consumer goods, which could be distributed directly to consumers in kind in amounts fixed by nutrition and other experts.

Otto Neurath (later prominent as a logical positivist philosopher) argued that even labour-time accounting would be unnecessary in socialism (state capitalism). In an "administrative economy" production plans could be drawn up and executed directly and solely in real physical quantities:

The theory of the socialist economy knows only a single economic agent — society —which without profit-and-loss accounting, without monetary circulation — whether metallic money as now or labour-money — and on the basis of an economic plan, organises production without using a unit of account and distributes the means of subsistence according to socialist principles. (O. Neurath, Wirtschaftsplan und Naturalrechnung, Berlin, 1925, p.84)

As the last part of this passage indicates, Neurath too argued that consumer goods could be directly allocated to people in kind.

An attempt to present an alternative to what they called the "State socialism" of both the Social Democrats and the Bolsheviks was made by a group of Dutch "Council Communists" in their Grundprinzipien kommunistcher Verteilung und Produktion ("Basic principles of communist distribution and production") published in Berlin, in German, in 1930. The "Council Communists" were a group which had supported the Russian Revolution, really believing it to be what, in its propaganda, it said it was, namely a soviet (the Russian word for "council") revolution. Within a few years, however, they realised their error and that Russia was heading rather for state capitalism. They called themselves "Council" Communists to distinguish themselves from "State Communists" such as Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.


The Grundprinzipien outlined a plan for organising the production and distribution of wealth without money but on the basis of accounting in units of labour-time. They followed Otto Leichter here, but totally rejected the technocratic structure in which he had seen labour-time accounting replacing monetary calculation. In its place they proposed a federation of workers' councils.


But when this plan is stripped of its socialist terminology, it turns out to be a scheme for a sort of self-regulating exchange economy in which money as we know it today would be replaced as the currency by a "labour-money"; in other words, the money-prices-wages system would continue to exist but would be run by workers' councils and without exploitation. But to believe that an exchange economy could function in the interests of the workers if labour-money and labour-time accounting were to be used in place of the coins and notes and monetary calculation we know today is to completely misunderstand how capitalism works and to fall into the purest currency-crankism.


CALCULATION IN KIND: THE RIGHT ANSWER
In the end, then, it was Otto Neurath, with his view that socialist society could organise the production and distribution of wealth directly and solely in kind, who was on the right track. The only other personality in the Social Democratic and Bolshevik movements to take this view was Amadeo Bordiga, but not until the 1950s and in a quite different context to the so-called "economic calculation" controversy sparked off by Von Mises in 1920.

Bordiga had been the first leader of the Italian Communist Party but was eased out of this post in 1923 for his leftist views (which had already been denounced by Lenin in his famous pamphlet Leftwing Communism An Infantile Disorder) and was eventually expelled from the Party altogether in 1930. Although he himself dropped out of political activity till the fall of Mussolini in 1943, his particular brand of "leftwing communism" continued to be propagated by a group who came to be called "Bordigists". Bordiga did not begin to reflect seriously on the nature of socialism till he was faced with the problem of explaining, after the war, to his followers why Russia was state capitalist and neither socialist nor a "workers' state". Thus, after commenting that planning in Russia wasn't socialist because the plans there were drawn up in money terms as well as physical quantities and that in fact, just like in the capitalism analysed by Marx, these physical quantities had to be converted into money before the productive cycle could begin again, Bordiga went on:

If there is accumulation in socialism, it will take the form of an accumulation of objects, of materials useful to human needs, and these will have no need to appear alternatively as money, nor to undergo the application of a "moneymeter" allowing them to be measured and compared according to a "general equivalent". Thus these objects will no longer be commodities and will not longer be defined except by their quantitative physical magnitude and by their qualitative nature, what the economists, and Marx also, for explanatory purposes, express by the term use-value. (A. Bordiga, Structure economique et sociale de la Ftussie d'aujourd'hui, Paris, 1975, pp. 191-2.)


Elsewhere, he pointed out that:

In post-bourgeois society, therefore, it will not be a question of "measuring value by labour-time", as fools believe, but of finishing altogether with the measurement of value. (Quoted in J. Camette, Capital et Gemeinwesen, Paris, 1976, p.213.)

and,

The rational relationship between man and nature will be born from the moment when these accounts and these calculations concerning projects are no longer done in money but in physical and human magnitudes. (Quoted in J. Camette, Bordiga et la passion du communisme, Paris, 1975, p. 23.)

This is undoubtedly the correct position. Calculation in socialism can only be done directly in physical quantities without the need for any "general equivalent" or any general accounting unit, certainly not money but not labour-time either.


Basically, socialism does not need any general equivalent. Such a universal unit in which all goods can be expressed is only necessary in an exchange economy where all goods have to be reduced to some common denominator as a means of determining the proportions in which they exchange for one another.



ECONOMIC CALCULATION AND CAPITALISM
Capitalism is in fact not just an exchange economy but an exchange economy where the aim of production is to make a profit. This too requires a general equivalent in order to be calculated and measured. Profit is the monetary expression of the difference between the exchange value of a product and the exchange value of the materials, energy and labour-power used to produce it, or what Marx called "surplus value". Similarly, the cost of production of a good is the exchange value of the other goods (including labour power) used up in its production, while its selling price is the monetary expression of its exchange value.

Since, as the classical economists and Marx showed, the exchange value of a product depends on the amount of socially-necessary labour incorporated in it from start to finish, the question arises of why calculations cannot be done directly in labour-time rather than in money. It is this reflexion that is behind all schemes for labour money and labour-time accounting.


The reason why it is not possible to use labour-time as a general equivalent in place of money is that the exchange-value of a product does not depend on the actual amount of labour incorporated in that product in the course of its production from start to finish but on the amount of socially-necessary labour incorporated in it, which is by no means the same (otherwise an inefficient worker would, because he took more time, produce more value than an efficient worker, but this is not the case).


While the actual amount of labour spent on producing a good could theoretically be measured, what labour is socially-necessary is a social average — taking into account average techniques, average productivity, average intensity of labour, etc — that can only be established through the social process that is the operation of the market whose price changes reflect the changes which are continuously taking place in the various factors we have just mentioned which determine the average. In other words, it is an average that can only be established after a good has been produced.


This is why Von Mises was right to say that — under capitalism of course — the only possible unit of economic calculation is money not labour-time, but this point had already been made by Marx when he discussed, and dismissed, various schemes for labour-money in 1859 in his A Critique of Political Economy.


NO EXCHANGE VALUE TO MEASURE IN SOCIALISM
If calculation in labour-time is impossible under capitalism, it is simply unnecessary in socialism since socialism will have no place for the concept of "exchange value" of which both money and labour-time are proposed as units of measurement. In socialism goods will not be produced for sale, they will not be commodities and so will not have any exchange value or price. They will simply be useful things capable of satisfying some human need, or as Bordiga put it "materials useful to human needs", use-values. While capitalism is only interested in the exchange value of goods — capitalism is in fact an economic mechanism geared to the accumulation of more and more exchange value — socialism will only be interested in their use-value. Socialism will be a society entirely geared, in the field of wealth-production, to turning out the specific useful things which people have indicated they want to live and enjoy life.


Under these circumstances calculations concerning the production and distribution of wealth will of course still be necessary, but these can be done exclusively in units to measure specific amounts and kinds of different goods — units such as kilos, litres, square metres, watts, even hours. There will be no need for any general equivalent by which to measure and compare all goods. In other words, calculation in socialism will not be economic but technical. In socialism calculations will be done directly in physical quantities of real things, in use-values, without any general unit of calculation. Needs will be communicated to productive units as requests for specific useful things, while productive units will communicate their requirements to their suppliers as requests for other useful things.

Adam Buick


THE FETISHISM OF COMMODITIES - or is Adidas cooler than Nike?

The following piece is a transcript of a talk that was given at the Socialist Party of Great Britain's 1998 Summer School, 'Marxism Revisited', which was held at Fircroft College in Birmingham, England. It is reproduced from the pamphlet of the same name. The audio of the talk can be heard at the following link.

The Socialist Party must as a scientific organisation constantly re-examine its principles and practice. I intend to re-examine this afternoon a small part of Marx’s Das Kapital (published in 1867). This is a mere 12 pages long and is entitled ‘The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof.’ I intend to show:
1. This is a major insight into how society operates;
2. This fetishism explains many modern social developments;
3. Why a non-commodity producing society is our goal.

Major Insight
According to The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, “fetish” is of French derivation, first used in 1613 and defined as, “Any object used by the Negroes of the Guinea coast and neighbourhood as an amulet or means of enchantment, or regarded by them with dread.” and further, “Any inanimate object worshipped by savages…”

A fetishism is defined as, “The worship of fetishes, or the superstition of which this is the feature.” Why did Marx use such a term for value in a commodity-producing society? In his own words:
“There it is a definite relation between men that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.”

Marx is here showing that what appears to be a relationship between things is in fact a relationship between the producers of those things. Marx viewed everything historically. For him the capitalist mode of production disguised the value relationship so that it appears as a relationship between things instead of between producers. In his own words:
“As a general rule, articles of utility become commodities only because they are products of the labour of private individuals or groups of individuals who carry on their work independently of each other. The sum total of the labour of all these private individuals forms the aggregate labour of society. It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire, as values, one uniform social status, distinct from their varied form of existence as objects of utility.”

For Marx, capitalism was distinct from all previous modes of production because wealth took the form of commodities. Articles that were produced and reproduced for the purpose of sale or exchange on the market with a view to realising a profit.

Previous societies had produced commodities but inside capitalism commodity production was the prevailing form of production. In order to analyse how capitalism operated it was necessary for Marx to take an historical approach or, as he writes:
“Man’s reflection on the forms of social life, and consequently, also, his scientific analysis of those forms, take a course directly opposite to that of their actual historical development. He begins, post festum, with the results of the process of development ready to hand before him. The characters that stamp products as commodities , and whose establishment is a necessary preliminary to the circulation of commodities, have already acquired the stability of natural, self-understood forms of social life, before man seeks to decipher, not their historical character, for in his eyes they are immutable, but their meaning.”

With the market economy of capitalism established, this circulation of commodities does indeed seem to be “natural, self-understood” but behind this apparent relationship between commodities what is actually being compared is the abstract human labour embodied in these commodities.

Frederick Engels in his book On Capital shows how in pre-capitalist society the relationship was obviously one between producers and not products:
“The peasant of the Middle Ages therefore knew fairly accurately the labour time requisite for producing the things he obtained by exchange. The blacksmith and the wagoner worked in his sight, as did the tailor and she shoemaker who, in my own youth, went from hut to hut among our Rhenish peasants making clothes and shoes from home-made cloth and leather. Both the peasant and those he purchased from were themselves labourers: the articles exchanged were the products of their own labour. What did they expend to produce these objects? Labour and only labour; for the replacement of working tools, for the production of raw material and for its working up they expended nothing but their own labour power; how could they then exchange these products otherwise than in proportion to the labour expended on them? Not only was the labour time expended on these products the sole appropriate measure for the quantitative determination of the magnitudes involved in the exchange, but any other measure was unthinkable. Or does anyone believe that the peasant and the artisan were so foolish as to exchange a thing that took ten hours’ labour for something that took only one labour hour?”

Here Engels explains how in a pre-capitalist economy the role of abstract human labour was self-evident. In modern society with all the complexity of the market this relationship is more difficult to grasp. Modern pundits talk glibly about “the dictates of the market”, forgetting that markets are human products, or possibly because they lack an historical view, not even knowing it.

Like modern day savages human beings worship at the feet of capitalism’s markets, while the high priests of Madison Avenue tell us we can only be truly human if we consume the products that they are advertising. The sum total of human possibility has been reduced to how many designer labels we can purchase, and we are assured by the inner sanctums of Whitehall that the “invisible hand of the market” deems this or that policy necessary. In 1998 the worshippers of the fetishism of commodities are everywhere.

Modern social developments
This fetishism of commodities explains many modern developments. It touches every human activity, even those apparently divorced from it. Sport, education, arts, science and politics are affected by it. At present we have the World Cup Tournament in France with 32 of the world’s best football teams competing, but this is more than a sporting event. According to the American magazine ‘Adbusters’:
“But the fiercest battle of all will be the one waged off the pitch between Stripes and Swoosh, the boot wars between the sportswear manufacturers Nike and Addidas.”

The Adidas spokesman, Steve Martin, is quoted as saying:
“Youths wear 75 to 80 per cent of our products for leisure, while only 20 to 25 per cent wear it for sport. Sportswear sales have grown at a phenomenal rate in the past five years. Football is the only truly global sport; control that and you’ve got the cornerstone of a $30 billion global sportswear industry.”

If any football supporter wondered why Brazil were playing all over the world prior to the World Cup , here is the answer:
“For the 1994 World Cup, held in the US, not one national team was sponsored by Nike. In France it will have six, including World Champions and favourites, Brazil, who’ve been signed on a ten-year deal for $400 million. Part of Brazil’s deal requires them to play five matches a year for Nike, which the company promotes and owns the TV rights to.”

In the USA sport is dominated by advertisers and manufacturers of commodities. American football (grid-iron) is played on television around the advertising slots and it is not difficult to see why. According to the San Francisco Examiner (18.1.98):
“Over the eight years of a contract that will amount to at least $17.6 billion. Each of the 30 NFL teams will get an average of at least $73.3 million; less at the beginning, more at the end. This season they’re getting $40 million each from television.”

Sport in a pre-commodity society was a healthy, enjoyable pastime. Inside capitalism it has become a vehicle for selling commodities.
When we look at education, the pervasive influence of the commodity is even more awful. Rather than engender a spirit of enquiry and wonder in the young, capitalism sees only another potential market. In the same issue of the San Francisco Examiner we learn of Channel One TV, owned by Whittle Communications:
“Beaming news and commercials into 12,000 of the nation’s secondary schools, the programme reaches 8 million teenagers. In California, the telecast is delivered to 180 schools. In return for broadcasting the Channel One program—broken up into 10 minutes of news briefs and 2 minutes of flashy, MTV-style ads for companies such as Pepsi and Reebok—schools receive free TV monitors for each classroom, VCRs, satellite dishes and wires.”

The exploitation of the classroom is not peculiar to the USA. McDonalds has got its greasy paws on the kids in Britain. The Observer of 26.6.98 reports:
But since 1993 the company has offered teachers in all schools ‘resource packs’ which could take the place of elusive, expensive textbooks. History, one pack recommended, should be taught by getting the children to ‘explore the changes in the use of McDonald’s site’. Music teachers were advised to encourage pupils to ‘make up words for “Old McDonald had a store” to the tune of “Old McDonald had a farm”. The English pack includes such literary tasks as identifying the words “Chicken McNuggets”.

Opera doesn’t escape the dead hand of big business. The thinking seems to be that if businessmen, the modern high priests of commodity worship, know about markets then they must know about everything else. Commenting on the growing involvement of capitalists with the arts, ‘The Observer’(18.1.98) reported:
“The new and dominant values were vividly expressed in te withering words with which Gerald Kaufman [in June 1998] forced the resignation of the entire board of the Royal Opera House: ‘We’d prefer to see the House run by a philistine with the requisite financial acumen than by the succession of opera and ballet lovers who have brought this great and valuable institution to its knees.”

The popular arts fare no better at the hands of the commodity worshipper. The same paper commented on Hollywood’s thraldom to the fetishism. The production of the film Godzilla cost about $120 million, but the marketing cost an additional $60 million.
“Moreover, Godzilla was released to such a monstrous flood of tie-ins—cameras from Kodak, tortillas from Taco Bell, watches by Swatch and beer by Kirin—that Robert Levin, Sony’s marketing chief, remarked: “We aren’t launching a movie, we’re launching a franchise.”

It is when we turn to the world of science that we find the commodity fetishism at its most hellish. Here one would imagine is the one field of human endeavour and achievement above the sordid cash nexus of capitalism. Alas, this is far from the truth. More and more the perversion of commodity worship has distorted the idea of a disinterested pursuit of knowledge. One of the world’s leading geneticists, R.C. Lewontin, in his book The Doctrine of DNA, explains the role of science in capitalism:
“Science uses commodities and is part of the process of commodity production. Science uses money. People earn their living by science, and as a consequence the dominant social and economic forces in society determine to a large extent what science does and how it does it.”

The idea of disinterested devotees of science is knocked on the head by his further disclosure about some of his fellow scientists:
“No prominent molecular biologist of my acquaintance is without a financial stake in the biotechnology business.”

Perhaps the maddest example of commodity fetishism is reported in ‘Adbusters’ magazine, where Pepsi Cola are reported as possibly seeking a copyright for the shade of blue they use on their cola cans. This isn’t as unlikely as it seems:
“In 1995, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a colour can be registered as a trademark provided there’s evidence that shows the colour has become associated with a particular product.”

Nor does Keith Hughes, the Pepsi Cola spokesperson, rule out their attempting to copyright Pepsi Blue:
“We’re reviewing the possibilities. We’ve got some exciting plans, but I couldn’t really address that question at this point. I think we already do own that colour of blue, in the beverage market anyhow.”

In 1848, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels saw how capitalism was turning once revered human occupations into mere wage slaves; they stated in the Communist Manifesto:
“The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science into its paid wage labourers.”

Prophetic as these words were, it is unlikely that even Marx and Engels could have imagined a statesman like Mikhail Gorbachev, head of state of the USSR, ending up as the lackey of a western capitalist company. According to The Guardian (5.12.97) he was a major world figure:
“Ten years ago Mikhail Gorbachev was a name with which to move mountains. When he spoke to the UN offering unprecedented troop cuts in Eastern Europe, this newspaper’s Washington correspondent said that one could “almost feel the earth shifting inside the building.””

So there you are. A great man. What’s he doing now? Working for Pizza Hut! Not serving behind the counter but advertising for them on television:
“Mr Gorbachev will be paid more than £100,000 for the adverts, more than Pizza Hut paid to Pamela Anderson.”

Our Goal
Inside a socialist society all wealth will be produced solely for use. There will be no need for markets. Men and women will produce only use values. There will be no need for the duplicity brought about by the insane worship at the shrine of commodities. Education will be free of the hucksters and con men of advertising and can become free to inform our children of all the wonders of the world.

Science liberated from the market place can become humanity’s crowning achievement. Sport can once again become an enjoyable, healthy pursuit. Dramatists, poets and artists can depict the real world with all its natural beauty and portray human existence in all its splendour and drama.


Best of all, we can become fulfilled human beings, no longer mere consumers worshipping commodities. We will not be blinded by the market system but able to look at the world clear-eyed and clear-headed.
Richard Donnelly