Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Porn Business (2012)

The Material World Column from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chatsworth is a leafy district of Los Angeles, home to various Hollywood film stars. Many famous movies and TV series were shot in the area. It is also the centre of the porn business, with 200 production companies employing some 1,400 performers (and a few thousand other workers). Here too is the office of the trade magazine Adult Video News, which sponsors an annual convention in Las Vegas.
Most performers are poorly educated women aged 18 – 21. They are attracted by the pay, which seems good compared to other jobs open to them. Rates for a scene range from $200 for a blowjob up to $2,000 for a double anal or gang bang.
Much of the money goes to support drug habits. Ex-porn star Shelley Lubben, whose Pink Cross Foundation helps performers trying to get out of the business, explains why they need drugs: without them they would be unable to bear the abuse the work entails. “Guys are punching you in the face. You get ripped. Your insides can come out of you. It’s never ending.”
Besides drug addiction, another perk of the job is sexually transmitted diseases. Only some end up dying of AIDS, but few escape the discomfort of herpes, which is likewise incurable.
Explosive growth
Porn is very big business. Worldwide revenue in 2006 is estimated at $97 billion. Revenue in the US rose almost 2,000-fold between 1972 and 2006 – from $7 million to $13 billion. Market expansion through the internet has fuelled this explosive growth, though other media – videos, films, TV, magazines – have also done well.

With growth comes political clout. Like other capitalists, porn makers pay lobbyists to promote their interests. One is Bill Lyon, head of the so-called Free Speech Coalition, which represents 900 companies. Besides passing porn off as free speech, Lyon plugs its contribution to California’s economy: 12,000 jobs and $36 million annually in state tax revenue.
Porn versus religion?
Opponents of porn have different and often conflicting motives. Many condemn it in the name of religious morality. Yet the same people support conservative politicians who are totally beholden to corporate interests and hostile to any restrictions on business, including the porn industry.

Porn promoters use the religious anti-porn movement to portray all their opponents as puritanical and intolerant – a false stereotype designed to silence anyone who does not want to be regarded as a killjoy. It’s quite possible to be against porn while valuing erotica – the artistic celebration of sex as a source of joy and beauty.  
Besides the suffering of those used to produce it, porn can have a dehumanizing effect on its male consumers. It has been argued that it distorts their perceptions of women and undermines their ability to engage in satisfying real-life relationships. Especially serious is the impact on teenagers ­ the age group that views the most online porn. The average age at which American boys first download porn is now 11 years.
Opening up new markets
As many consumers become desensitized to milder kinds of porn, they seek out more extreme varieties in order to sustain the same level of stimulation. The remorseless drive of capital to expand also impels porn makers to break down taboos and open up new markets. So porn grows more extreme, violent and abusive.

One barrier to expansion is the illegality of using children’s bodies in porn. But it is a weak barrier. Even those porn makers who take care to remain within the letter of the law press hard against the barrier by using “childified women” – a concept introduced by sociologist Gail Dines (see her 2008 interview with Citizen magazine). Young women are made to look like children by wearing children’s clothes and braces on their teeth, holding lollipops and shaving their pubic hair. So while these porn makers don’t abuse children directly some would argue that they incite their customers to do so.
Porn goes mainstream
Despite its increasingly violent character, porn is becoming more acceptable socially and culturally. Characters in popular TV sitcoms joke about it.

This is because the porn industry is no longer a disreputable enterprise on the fringes of the business world. “Respectable” business has merged with the industry as major corporations, observing the high rates of return offered by porn, have invested in it in a big way. Porn has gone mainstream.
* Media and telecommunications companies rely heavily on profits from porn. They have acquired porn-making subsidiaries and offer cable subscribers hardcore porn channels.
* Over 95 percent of new Hollywood films are “adult movies”.
* Some big hotel chains now make up to 70 percent of their profits by feeding porn to TVs in guest rooms on a pay-per-view basis.
* The most profitable parts of General Motors are no longer its auto plants but the porn channels EchoStar and DirecTV, owned by GM subsidiary Hughes Technology.

Consumer goods manufacturers are also linked to the porn business through their use of “soft porn” in advertising cars, clothes, shoes, cosmetics, etc. Fashion modelling, in particular, has close links with the industry.
The political implications of this development are discussed by D.A. Clarke, a contributor to the volume Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography (Spinifex Press). Now that the industry has gone mainstream, she argues, opposition to porn challenges the interests of capital as a whole. So anti-porn protestors would be up against formidable odds. If we want to decommercialize and humanize sex, we need to take the next step and build a broad popular movement to overthrow capitalism itself.
Stefan

Remember Featherstone! (1905)

From the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Britishers have proverbially short memories. Even when organised into Trade Unions they emblazon their regalias with such meaningless phrases as "Defence, not defiance," etc. If they were class conscious they would substitute the names of the battles they fought, even though lost, with the dominant class. But they are not class conscious, hence the easy and well paid jobs of their "leaders," the decoy ducks for the capitalist party. How many of the workers, how many of the miners even, remember Featherstone? Yet the circumstances were such that they should remain fresh in the minds of the people, and be told and retold to their children and to their children's children.

In September, 1893, the "brotherhood of capital and labour" was proved by one of the most foul and bloody murders perpetrated by the capitalist against his "brother" labour. In connection with the lockout of the Yorkshire miners, one of those outward and visible manifestations of that class war which Mr. Keir Hardie and his friends declare is only a "shibboleth" and only a "dogma by which the Marxists set such store," an excuse was found by the Christian capitalists to read the riot act, after which British troops (not Russian, remember) armed with Lee-Metford rifles and explosive bullets, fired upon the people, killing two miners who, at the Inquiry, were proved to have taken no part even in the demonstration, but were returning from choir-practice. The Liberals were in office at the time and Asquith, the cynical lawyer, was Home Secretary. Challenged at Glasgow on 17th October, 1893, he ghoulishly "accepted the full responsibility for everything that had been done" and in the debate which shortly afterwards ensued in the House of Commons, his chief defender was the renegade John Burns, whom some alleged Socialists still support. But we urge the workers to remember Featherstone and also to Remember the Traitor, John Burns.




Monday, September 29, 2014

Economic meltdown in Argentina (2002)

From the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

We look at the economic background to the rioting and looting in Argentina, and the factors which led to the social crisis there
Argentina, the one time darling of the IMF, held up as an example of how a country should stringently adhere to structural adjustment programmes, is presently standing as a shining example of how the capitalist system cannot be made to work in the interest of the majority.
When Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo pegged the Argentinean peso to the dollar ten years ago – on a one-to-one basis – he envisaged that this would end hyperinflation. Three years ago, when neighbouring Brazil devalued its real, this seriously began to upset Argentina's foreign investments and exports, as buyers of Argentinian products found they could get the same next door and far cheaper.
Argentina is now in debt to the tune of $132 billion – attributable largely to far-reaching borrowing carried out during the second term of the Carlos Menem government, prior to the election of President Fernando de la Rua. The effect of the domestic and foreign borrowing was to send domestic interest rates spiralling upwards. As the debt increased, so did the interest rates, which had a knock on effect for many businesses reliant upon credit.
In the 1990s, Menem introduced mass privatisation as a way of increasing economic efficiency. This resulted in many workers being made redundant, with them being surplus to requirements and unprofitable to employ.
So, back in 1999, the Argentinean recession began, a product of Argentina's relative economic inefficiency and the measures taken to tackle it. The recession began increasing in ferocity as domestic demand declined and unemployment increased and, because the government's tax revenues started shrinking, Argentina's burden of debt became all the more heavier.
In November all of Argentina's economic woes came to a head when people, fearful their pesos would be devalued, began hurrying to the banks to exchange them for dollars whilst the one-to-one rate was still in existence. Cavallo, fearful the banks would be drained of money, issued a decree which limited withdrawals to $1000 per person per month. The effect of this was to create mistrust in the government and widespread uncertainty with people rioting and protesting on the streets, with looting reported in many cities.
One week before Christmas the riots had spread to Buenos Aries. The president declared a state of emergency and brought troops onto the streets. But his government offered no remedy for the economic crisis and this only brought larger numbers of protestors back on to the streets within 24 hours, the unemployed being joined by "middle class" professionals – all taking part in the looting. When thousands of protestors congregated in Congress Square, banging pots and pans, the resignation of the president, his economic minister and the entire cabinet was almost immediate. De la Rua was determined to make one impassioned speech before he left, but with an angry crowd having none of it, he was instantly whisked to safety by a helicopter.
Tensions rose. People poured in from outlying districts, blockading motorways and erecting barricades, destroying banks and multinationals, looting supermarkets and fighting with almost 40,000 police who had been drafted into the city. When the violence had subdued, 26 had been killed.

        
Many Argentineans blame de la Rua for the crisis, citing the fact that he was the president when the crisis was deteriorating more alarmingly – as if he could control the economy! As the economy was controlling him, he had little option but to cut public spending to service debt repayments. De la Rua, however, did enter office foolishly promising to kick-start the economy and end high level corruption yet by early 2000 he had introduced £650 million worth of spending cuts and forced through eight unpopular austerity plans, which included a 13 percent cut in state workers' wages. Just prior to the unrest, the government planned to further cut public spending from £34 billion to £27 billion in a further attempt to service the crushing loan repayments.

The current president is one Eduardo Duhalde, a former left-wing senator and once upon a time investigated for the corruption his predecessor promised to stamp out. At present he plans to freeze the prices charged by foreign-owned utilities companies and put a tax on foreign owned oil companies. To protect the better off from currency devaluation he has offered to convert dollar loans under $100,000 into pesos, at the one-to-one rate – placing a hefty burden on banks, not borrowers – and he has further promised that cash will be set aside for the unemployed. All of which amounts to a timely game plan to placate the more volatile sections of Argentinean society.
Meanwhile, IMF top brass are in Argentina demanding, on behalf of the US and Europe, that the country does not default on its loan obligations. Outside markets are watching events carefully aware of the fact that economic crisis have tended in the past to lead to military coups and all their implications and are now mindful of granting further loans to the region.
There has been much analysis of recent events in Argentina. The general mood is that the IMF is to blame, that its structural austerity programmes are socially and politically unsustainable and that its rule-book needs tearing up. What has not been said is that, like the Argentinean government, the IMF is simply a body trying to make capitalism work. And in this regard they cannot entirely be faulted, because as events in Argentina have revealed, capitalism is working perfectly well, for this is the only way it can work in an anarchic and chaotic manner, negligent and oblivious to the misery and suffering it creates. If a few get rich while millions lose out big style, then this is capitalism working as it only can work. If there is recession followed by boom followed by recession, then capitalism is working healthily. Argentina, therefore, is another example of capitalism functioning normally.
John Bissett

A Socialist International (1916)

From the June 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard


In the April No. of the "Western Clarion," the official organ of the Socialist Party of Canada, the following welcome note occurs :
"Our comrades in Great Britain are having a very strenuous time in face of the present crisis ; but they are nobly upholding the WORKING CLASS POSITION in spite of "Prussian Militarism," and jingoistic sneers.
It is times like these that draw the revolutionists of every country closer together for united action against the COMMON ENEMY ; and may we, in the near future, be united together with the revolutionists of other lands who have expressed the aims and principles of that part of our class, who, realising that they are slaves, express a desire to be free, in an INTERNATIONAL which, founded on the firm rock of PROLETARIAN SCIENCE, shall withstand all the storms that may assail it.”
And in the report of the Dominion Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Canada, printed in the same journal, the further statement occurs:
"We are all heartily in accord with the attitude of the S.P.G.B., and hope that before long we will be affiliated with them in a new "International.''"
Comrades, a toast! Here's to the coming Socialist International!
ED. COM.
Strange ! The heroes of the British capitalist Press are the German Socialists who are opposing the war, while the British Socialists who are taking a similar course of action are traitors and skunks, according to that same Press. It is quite consistent with the hypocrisy that decorates one man for risking his life for a kitten, and another for butchering his fellow-man.
    o o o o o
Two hundred and fifty thousand men must be torn from their homes and families and driven into the Army in order to provide 200,000 officers with servants and grooms. Who said the workers are not slaves ? What, Henderson ? Military necessity ! Ha, ha !


Sunday, September 28, 2014

How Capitalism Works (5) (1979)

From the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

How Capitalism Works (5): Keynes and Capitalism

An enterprise's rate of profit is the ratio of the amount of profits it makes, say in a year, to the money-value of its assets at the beginning of that year. The average rate of profit of the whole economy is the ratio of total profit to total capital. The rate of profit would tend to fall if over time the amount of the total capital tended to increase at a faster rate than the total amount of profits.


This fall tends to happen as a result of the increasing amount of old wealth that must be used as fixed equipment in producing new wealth (or, what amounts to more or less the same thing, to the increasing size of the means of production in relation to the amount of human labour needed to operate them). Because there are so many offsetting factors, this tendency for the average rate of profit to fall only becomes evident in the very long run and so could not explain the onset of a much shorter term occurrence like a slump.



What else, then, could cause the rate of profit to fall? The ratio would also be reduced if for some reason the amount of profits made on the same amount of capital were to fall. Since profits are what is left after part of the newly created wealth has been allocated for consumption by wage-earners, then they would fall if wages were to rise.



The law of wages tends to keep wages down to what the workforce must consume to reproduce itself and keep fit for work, but wages are a price and so subject to the influence of supply and demand. Wages are the price of the skills wage-earners sell to enterprises so the market demand for these skills depends on the amount and kind of work enterprises want done. As the economy expands and as more and more workers are employed, then the level of more or less full employment of the workforce will be reached. At this point the market demand for workers' skills will begin to exceed the market supply: wages will tend to rise, eating into profits. The rate of profit would then tend to fall.



Rising wages eating into profits is only one possible cause. Another would be a miscalculation by a group of enterprises about the size of the market they supplied. The resulting oversupply in that particular market, and the resulting cutback in production for it would have a cumulative effect on the profits of other groups of enterprises and so on the economy as a whole. The particular market oversupply would then, through affecting general profit prospects, have become a general market oversupply and lead to idle productive capacity.



Despite the regular occurrence of slumps the general trend has been for the amount of wealth in the world, especially means of production, to increase. This means that in practice enterprises have been able to find profitable investments. These they have found in two main areas. First, in meeting the market demand for new equipment which is continually being created as the competitive struggle for profits forces enterprises to innovate in order to reduce costs. Second. in meeting the market demand created by the extension of exchange relationships into more and more parts of the world.



Slumps, in this light, appear as temporary setbacks to economic growth from which the system always recovers. Slumps (during which total market demand falls short of existing productive capacity) are the opposite of booms (during which total market demand exceeds existing productive capacity). Booms and slumps are in fact two sides of the same coin: they are complementary phases of the business cycle and the course which long-term growth follows.



But can there not be steady growth? Although the decision-making structure of the exchange economy is chaotic, the structure of production itself is extremely systematic with each workplace being an inter-dependent part of a world-wide system. This is why decisions made by enterprises controlling one part of this system are bound to affect the profit prospects of enterprises controlling other, especially closely related parts. It is also why a miscalculation in one sector can have a cumulative effect on the whole economy.



Leaving aside any instability introduced by changes in the rate of profit, in order to avoid booms and slumps there would have to be balanced growth of all the sectors of the economy. Each sector would have to expand at a given rate determined by its place in the productive system. This would require a degree of central co-ordination quite impossible so long as control over the parts of the system is scattered among thousands and thousands of profit-seeking enterprises. The anarchy which results from this makes balanced growth quite impossible.



SAVING CAPITALISM?



The man generally credited with having "saved capitalism" is the English economist John Maynard Keynes whose main work appeared in i936, Writing in the middle of the great slump of that period, he could see that Say's Law, as the dogma that total market demand would always be equal to existing productive capacity, was wrong. He showed how, due to what amounted to hoarding of profits (which he called "liquidity preference"), there could be a lack of market demand. He went on to claim, however, that this could be permanent, that even in the long run existing productive capacity would not necessarily be fully used. This places Keynes in the camp of the lack-of-market-demand school of economists.



Keynes was saying in effect that there was no reason to believe that the system would always recover from a slump: the lack of market demand might be permanent and lead to a permanent slump, to state of stagnation. He believed that the tendency of the economic system was towards such a state of stagnation. As the amount of capital in the world increased, he argued, so the rate of profit would tend to fall, thereby discouraging investment. At the same time people would be choosing to spend a smaller and smaller part of their rising incomes on consumer goods, thereby discouraging consumption. But this would mean, he went on, a falling market demand since market demand is composed of investment (purchase of producer goods) and consumption (purchase of consumer goods).



Keynes' solution was for the State to intervene and take steps to encourage investment and consumption. Investment could be increased by the State increasing its spending, while consumption could be raised by taxing the incomes of the rich and giving some of it to the poor (on the principle that many poor people will spend more on consumer goods than a few rich people).



A theory of permanent slump was obviously attractive in the 1930s. But even then it was wrong. One way or another — by the planned physical destruction of "excess" productive capacity on a massive scale, if need be — capitalism can in time always recover from a slump. It was the war and then repairing the damage the war caused — not Keynesian policies — which ended the slump of the 1930s. Since then the world exchange economy has resumed its growth, still punctuated by booms and slumps, misleadingly called "stop-go" to give the illusion that these fluctuations are the result of deliberate government policies rather than the normal working of the unplannable exchange economy. The Keynesians have the cheek to claim that the very event which proved their stagnation thesis wrong — the post-war re-expansion of capitalism — was the result of the adoption of their policies. Keynes did not "save capitalism" since, in the absence of a successful movement to abolish it, the system was capable of "saving" itself.



That the profit-motivated exchange economy tends towards a permanent slump brought about by a chronic lack of market demand has long been a view popular among reformers of the system. Keynes seemed to have confirmed their views: they in turn, have tacitly accepted his views. For in explaining, as many of them do, capitalism's survival by State spending on armaments they are in effect conceding Keynes' claim that States can engineer the "full employment" of the workforce within their frontiers.



That States do in fact possess such a power is very much open to question. They do not intervene in the capitalist economy from outside but rather are themselves essential parts of it, and have to rely for every item of wealth they consume on what they can obtain from enterprises, non-State as well as State. This means that State spending is ultimately limited by the amount of profits made by enterprises, or rather by the amount of profits it can take from enterprises without thereby reducing their incentive to invest or damaging their competitive standing in the world market. For, as explained in a previous article, State spending is a charge on profits, a cost enterprises have to bear and one which, like all costs, they want kept to a minimum.



STATE SPENDING



It is true that over the years State spending, as a proportion of total market demand, has tended to increase. But this has not been the result of a conscious policy aimed at saving capitalism from collapse. Rather has it been due to enterprises handing over to the State the responsibility for carrying out certain and increasingly costly non-productive services like health and education and to the increasing cost of maintaining and equipping the armed forces (another essential service as far as enterprises are concerned).



A growing number of people directly employed by the State in non-productive work will have some effect on the working of the exchange economy because the kind of work the State employs these people to do is not so dependent on market conditions as work done for enterprises. So will the growing demand of the State for buildings and equipment (schools and hospitals as well as armaments) to carry out this work. But these developments would mean that a slump, insofar as it affects employment, might tend not to spread as far as it would if wage-earners were employed by enterprises rather than the State. On the other hand, States do have to cut their spending when enterprises are suffering from lowered profits and are curtailing production, precisely because profits are the ultimate source of the money which States spend. This happens even though, in Keynesian theory, they should rather be increasing their spending.



The idea behind the State spending during a slump is that the State should take over and spend the profits enterprises are hoarding. If States were to do this, then it is possible they might help to speed recovery by closing the gap between market demand and existing productive capacity. But States do not act in this way because to tax away the hoarded profits of enterprises during a slump would only make matters worse. Enterprises would be discouraged from investing even that part of their profits they had continued to. The increased State spending would then be offset by the decreased investment of enterprises.



States prefer to get the money to spend during a slump by printing it themselves. Actually they do not usually do it as directly as that. What they do is to increase the National Debt by borrowing more and then repaying part of the debt and the interest in newly-printed money (or rather money-tokens). This of course is a policy of currency depreciation or inflation. Keynes believed that the rise in prices caused by depreciating the currency in this way would encourage enterprises to invest rather than hoard their profits. Whether or not he was right, one result of Keynesian doctrines has been permanent inflation, it is no accident that prices have been rising in Britain since 1940, the year of the first Keynesian budget. For, although States have not adjusted their spending in accordance with Keynes' theories, they have chosen to finance some of it by a policy of inflation. This has certain internal political advantages (Keynes himself pointed out that it is easier to keep wage-earners' living standards down by raising prices more than money wages than by reducing money wages in line with falling prices), but has definite external disadvantages. Rising prices at home means increasing costs in relation to the world market, a fact which places another limit on the extent of State spending.



Even if the State were itself to take over direct responsibility for all investment by establishing a state capitalist economy within its frontiers, it could still not escape the dictates of the world market. The State enterprises set up in place of the old non-State ones would still have to take part in the world-wide competitive struggle for profits. State spending would still be limited by how successful these enterprises were in that struggle. And the State would still be compelled to keep the consumption of its wage-earners to a minimum, as the experience of States like Russia which have tried this policy has shown.



Rather than States being able to control the capitalist economy as Keynes taught, it is the other way round. States have to trim their policies to the changing conditions brought about by the world capitalist economy as it expands and contracts.



The world economy needs to keep millions of people, some permanently and some for shortish periods, out of non-productive as well as productive work. A pool of unemployed is needed for two reasons. First, so that competition among wage-earners for jobs will prevent wages from rising and eating into profits. Where unemployment has been relatively low, as it was until recently in some of the industrialised parts of the world, the States there have implicitly recognised this by adopting policies of planned wage restraint as a substitute. Secondly, enterprises need a reserve of unemployed workers they can call on to work for them during the periods when they are expanding production. The bulk (but by no means all of the world's unemployed) are located in the industrially backward parts of the world which have supplied large numbers of extra workers for enterprises in the industrially advanced parts. Hence the migration of the unemployed to Europe and North America.



THE CASE AGAINST CAPITALISM



The full charge sheet against the world exchange economy with regard to the way it forces people to use the world's resources can now be drawn up. It reads:



(1) That, although there has been a long-term expansion of productive capacity and oil output, this has been only a fraction as fast and as extensive and as safe as technology has made possible.
(2) That, although in the long run the existing capacity has been more or less fully used, this has been broken by regular periods of under-use.
(3) That, in agriculture and in industries faced with declining markets, there has been deliberate destruction of productive capacity and regular destruction of wealth.
(4) That millions and millions of human beings who could have contributed to producing useful things have been prevented from working at all.
(5) That millions and millions more human beings have been allowed to work but only to engage in wasteful exchange and coercive activities.
(6) That the existing productive capacity has been used to produce considerable amounts of waste.



These are all serious charges and all of them are proved. They point to the need for the world's people to recover control over the productive system by abolishing the exchange economy altogether and replace it by a society that will allow them to plan the production of wealth in their own interests and to allocate the products for their own individual and collective use.

Adam Buick


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Obituary: Frances Ambridge (1985)

Obituary from the October 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Frances Ambridge

Frances De Metz was born in Amsterdam in 1898, the youngest of a dozen children of an orthodox Jewish family. Her father, a marine merchant, brought his family to Britain when Frances was tiny and they settled in London's East End. He was, as Frances would recount, severe with his children, but he was also severe with himself and, when she was barely a teenager, he took his own life out of shame at being prosecuted for a minor trading offence. Such stories of the past Frances would tell me and other friends. She told of how she threw off religious ideas at an early age even though this mean diminishing contact with her family, of how she worked actively as a trade unionist, and of how after much searching among political groups and organisations she finally came across the Socialist Party. As soon as she heard an SPGB speaker in Hyde Park in about 1936, she knew she was on to something different. She started going to Party meetings and before long she decided she must join.

Once in the Party she met another member, Bob Ambridge, who was to become her life-long partner. As individuals and together they made a formidable mark on the Party over the years. In London their energy and enthusiasm were an example and an encouragement to other members and when they retired to Swansea in the mid-60s they did not let up. They revived a flagging branch and laid the basis for the active unit it now is. Bob died tragically in a road accident five years ago, but Frances carried on going to meetings, selling the Socialist Standard and talking to people about socialism. She carried on coming to meetings right up to her sudden death on 30 July at the age of 87.

What most heartened her about the Party in recent times was the growing number of new young members she saw around her. It gave her great pleasure that the myth of the Party membership as old or ageing was now definitely laid. To older Party members who seemed to her unduly critical of the efforts and enthusiasm of the younger ones she would say: "We shouldn't criticise them. It's their world. Let them get on with it".

She leaves no known relatives but many friends who will sorely miss her undemanding company and her sense of humour but who will continue to be inspired by her lucid and unswerving commitment to the cause of establishing a society fit for human beings to live in.
Howard Moss

Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

Film Review from the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Prick Up Your Ears (Stephen Frears)

This film charts the meteoric rise and gruesomely spectacular end to the careers of two of the most influential dramatists of the late sixties—Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell.

Both men were homosexuals. They lived in a tiny Islington bedsit, wrote plays, decorated the walls of their cage with cuttings from magazines, defaced library books with suitably lewd amendments to their dust jackets and returned them to the shelves (for which they were imprisoned for six months). They also spent a good deal of time cottaging (the pursuit of sex in public toilets) from which the pair built up the Orton Gazetteer of Convivial Conveniences.

But this lifestyle could not last. After they came out of prison the two men grew apart. Orton was writing with confidence and becoming successful while Halliwell became increasingly disconsolate and insecure. The Orton diaries, covering the last eight months of his life, catalogue the descending spiral of Halliwell's decay. Orton's own promiscuous marathons and the eruption of his career, culminating in an Evening Standard Drama Award and the offer to script a Beatles film. Halliwell, ignored uncredited, and left alone with his growing sense of failure, could take no more and, on 9 August 1967 took  a hammer and splattered his lover's brains over the walls of 25 Noel Road, N1, then overdosed on barbiturates.

The intensity and frustration of their existence is conveyed well by the leading actors, in particular by Alfred Molina who plays Halliwell. There are also good cameo performances from Julie Walters as Orton's mother and Vanessa Redgrave as Orton's predatory agent (parallels here with her real-life political activity?).

The laughter, mockery and absurdity with which the characters in Orton's plays could transcend intolerable situations Orton could not match in real life. He, quite literally, lost his head.
Harvey Harwood  

The Passing of Eduard Bernstein (1933)

From the April 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard
The death (recently announced) in Germany of Eduard Bernstein recalls a life which spanned a period that saw rapid growth and development in working-class history.
He was born in 1850 of working-class parents. At the age of 22 he joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and eight years later became editor of the Sozial Demokrat, the official organ of the party. When Bismarck's anti-Socialist laws came into existence he had to leave Germany and for some years carried on his work as editor from Zurich, in Switzerland. In 1890 the anti-Socialist laws were withdrawn, but still Bernstein was not allowed to return to Germany. As a result he came to England, where he stayed for about 12 years until the ban was lifted.
During his stay in England Bernstein published writings, notably "Evolutionary Socialism," which afterwards came to be described and known as "Revisionism." He held that Marx's theories had to be modified on the grounds that capitalism had not developed along the lines that Marx had anticipated. He held, for example, that the middle-class and the capitalist-class were not decreasing in numbers, but were increasing both in numbers and in the amount of wealth that they owned; that the theory of the recurring cycle of industrial crises was wrong. Bernstein produced statistics, based on income-tax returns, to show that at one period there were more millionaires than at a slightly earlier period: and this, he claimed, was a flat contradiction of the theory that wealth was becoming concentrated into fewer and fewer hands ! What he seemed unable to grasp was that in a period of rapid capitalist expansion the capitalist-class could increase in number and wealth without affecting the concentration of wealth into fewer hands. Nor did he connect the fact of an increase in the number of millionaires with a possible decrease in the number of smaller capitalists. Similarly, what he mistook for a middle-class growing in numbers and security was a growing army of relatively well-paid salaried workers and officials who were brought into existence by capitalist development. Bernstein's "Revisionism" was in the first place due to his failure to interpret modern tendencies in the light of Marxian teachings; and, secondly, to the anti-Marxist influences of the British labour movement. He was lavish in his praise for the Fabian Society—particularly Mr. and Mrs. Webb—and the "I.L.P.," and held the "progressive reformism " of these organisations before the Social Democratic Party as being suitable for Germany. Like the I.L.P. in this country, he advocated compensation for the capitalists, arid stated that to expropriate the capitalist class without compensation was "robbery."
Bernstein's standpoint caused great consternation in the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and on his return debates on Revisionism took place at the party's conferences. He remained in the party, however, and gathered round him considerable support for his views. The acceptance of Bernstein's position by large numbers of German workers who professed an understanding of Marxist principles pointed to something more than the strong personal position that he held. It showed, above all else, the unsound and shaky foundation of the German Social Democratic Party. Though it had claimed to be Marxist, and through its leading members had published many sound theoretical expositions of Marx's writings, so little had this soundness been translated into policy that so far as concerned practical politics the differences between the "Marxist" and Revisionist sections of the party proved to be negligible. The one claimed to accept Marx; the other refuted him. Both sections, however, supported the policy of electioneering on a reformist and anti-Socialist programme. The result of this policy has justified condemnation of it. In 1919 the Social Democratic Party held power in Germany; but it was limited—by the millions of non-Socialist supporters who had voted it—in the extent to which it could interfere with the legally established property rights of the German capitalist-class. It therefore had no alternative but to administer capitalism. In consequence many German workers learned that capitalism is still capitalism no matter what Government administers it. To-day the German Social Democratic Party commands little more than a third of the votes it did in 1919. Moreover, its failure has damaged the progress of Socialism since the workers do not realise that the S.D.P. is not Socialist.
Bernstein opposed the War in 1914, while the so-called "Marxists" supported it. In taking up this attitude he found allies—temporarily—in such working-class champions as Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
Harry Waite

How Capitalism Works (4) (1979)

From the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

How Capitalism Works (4): Anarchy of Production

In an exchange economy control over the use of the means of production is scattered among thousands of profit-seeking enterprises with no central co-ordination of decisions about the amount and the kind of wealth to be produced. Anarchy inevitably prevails.

For a group of enterprises to make profits, its total productive capacity and output have to be restricted to the level at which the interaction of supply and demand will give a price high enough to cover both the cost of production and a margin for the average rate of profit. The chaotic way in which decisions about production are made means that it is sometimes difficult to restrict productive capacity and output to this level.

In agriculture in particular over-supplying the market is a chronic problem. This is due partly to lack of control over the process of production (essentially the natural process of growth) and partly to the large number of small individual producers who still survive in this sector of the world exchange economy.

Once a market has been over-supplied, the immediate problem is how to offset the fall in prices which threatens the profits of the agricultural enterprises and the personal incomes of the individual producers. The immediate answer is to destroy the excess market supply, and every year fruit is dumped or milk is poured away or vegetables ploughed back into the ground or butter is fed to pigs. This is often mistakenly said to be the result of "overproduction". It is due rather to more having been produced than can be sold at profitable prices. "Overproduction" is quite the wrong word since frequently there are people who desperately need the goods (although unable to pay for them): "market oversupply" would be a more accurate description.

The long-term solution is just as restrictive. The State steps in and takes measures aimed at restricting not simply output but productive capacity as well. The most notorious of these policies is that adopted in America in the 1930s under which farmers are paid not to grow food. The Common Market now has a similar policy and has paid farmers to slaughter their cattle and pull up fruit-trees as well as to curtail farm production.

The States which govern the areas where food and agricultural raw materials are produced have also taken steps to combat the problem of chronic market oversupply. Typically they operate a quota system under which each State undertakes to restrict production within its frontiers to an agreed level and to destroy any amount produced in excess of this quota. This is why recent years have seen public bonfires of cocoa or coffee in poverty-stricken African states like the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Kenya. When in 1968 the main wheat-producing States were faced with two bumper harvests on the run, they agree to restrict production. Canada's contribution was to pay its farmers to grow virtually no wheat at all during 1970.

Not that these restrictive practices were intended to secure monopoly profits. They aim merely to allow agricultural enterprises to make the average rate of profit (or the individual producers to get a very modest minimum income). Their significance lies in the fact that they dramatically show up the way in which the operation of the exchange economy restricts productive capacity even when human welfare demands it be increased.

Industry too destroys productive capacity in order to restrict output, as when a market is contracting. States then pay Industrial enterprises to destroy their machinery and equipment or themselves buy up (nationalise) their assets and arrange for the allegedly excess productive capacity to be destroyed. Generally speaking though industrial enterprises themselves manage on their own to restrict productive capacity and output to the profitable level. The problem of chronic oversupply of the market does not arise because the extra workplaces or the extra equipment that might produce the "surplus" are nor built in the first place.

This is the important point. The problem is not so much excess market supply as excess productive capacity. Excess market supply in agriculture and industries faced with a shrinking market is only a symptom of the fact that productive capacity there is able to supply the market with more than will result in profitable prices.

THE BOOM-SLUMP CYCLE

The problem of matching production with market demand is not confined to particular markets: it arises also for the exchange economy as a whole. Here again in the long-run the competitive struggle for profits does result in the two being matched, but at the expense of short-term fluctuations. These have been features of the exchange economy since the end of the 18th century and have been called "the trade cycle", "the industrial cycle", "the business cycle" and "the boom slump cycle".

The regular occurrence of "slumps", during which production is well below the existing productive capacity — the notorious paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty — has led some economic thinkers to suggest that built-in to the exchange economy is a permanent lack of market demand or, as they often put it, "a chronic shortage of purchasing power. Slumps arise, in their view, because in the long run total market demand is not large enough to keep the existing productive capacity fully used. This amounts to saying, not simply that the need to sell products on the market at a profit restricts the productive capacity of society (a valid charge) but to saying that the system also has a permanent difficulty in selling at a profit even the wealth it does allow to be produced.

Whether or not the symptom allows the productive capacity it has created to be more or less fully used, it is guilty of not expanding its productive forces fast enough.

One lack-of-market-demand theory says that because prices are composed of wages plus profits and because market demand is composed only of wages then there must be a chronic lack of purchasing power. It is quite true that the wages paid to the workforce can never be enough to buy the whole net social product, but they do not have to because what wage-earners do not buy can be bought by enterprises out of their profits (whether it always will be is another matter).

The wealth which enterprises buy is generally quite different in character from the wealth wage-earners buy. Enterprises buy new raw materials, new buildings, and items to use the following year to produce more new wealth. Wage-earners buy food, clothing and shelter for immediate consumption. This distinction is between producer goods and consumer goods, "investment" being the act of buying producer goods and "consumption" the act of buying consumer goods.

Early critics of the capitalist economy failed to see the real nature of investment as the purchase of producer goods. They saw, correctly, investment as a deduction from consumption but made the mistake of assuming that the level of market demand was determined by the level of consumption. If you believe this, then it follows that the act of investment inevitably leads to a state of general market oversupply: the increased output brought about by investment faces a market reduced by the very act of investment! This theory of course makes the growth of the profit-motivated economy impossible unless markets outside the system can be found, and this indeed was how these theorists did explain growth.

Early defenders of the capitalist economy could see these critics were wrong, but they went to the opposite extreme and claimed that total market demand would always equal actual productive capacity. They conceded that productive capacity and demand in particular markets could get out of line but vehemently denied that this could happen to the economy as a whole. This denial was maintained in the face of the regular occurrence of periods when productive capacity was not fully used.

This view is known, somewhat inaccurately, as "Say's Law" (after the early 19th century French economist I.B. Say who was among the first to suggest something like it). It implies that the money obtained from selling one product is immediately spent on buying another one. But what if one seller decides not to spend the money he gets from a sale? Would this not interrupt the whole process?

Say's Law did not take into account the fact that money could be hoarded. But once "this possibility is accepted then so must the possibility of total market demand being, temporarily at least, below actual productive capacity: general market oversupply leading to idle productive capacity becomes a theoretical possibility. Hoarding must not be confused with saving. When a person hoards money he takes it right out of circulation and holds it idle. Saving is defined rather as lending the money, either directly or through the banking system, to someone else to spend. Since (if there is no hoarding) the money saved, or not spent on consumer goods, must be spent on producer goods, then savings and investment are equal. From this angle, the mistake the early lack-of-market-demand critics made was to assume that saving and investment had the same economic effect as hoarding.

But why should anyone want to hoard money and not use it either to buy consumer goods or to bring him an income as interest? Why indeed should any person? Wage-earners, however, are not the only buyers since enterprises also have money to spend. Most of the profits enterprises make are invested, spent on buying producer goods for future production. But, according to the law of profits, enterprises will only invest in future production if they think that they will make enough profits from selling the products. If they think that the chances of profit-making are too low then they apply the rule "no profit, no production". But, in this event, what happens to the profits they made the previous year? They are to all intents and purposes hoarded by being held idle as cash or maybe lent for short intervals at a low rate of interest.

This is how in the real world a state of general market over-supply and under-used productive capacity can come about. If, because of the slim profit prospects, enterprises hoard rather than invest their previous profits then total market demand will come to be insufficient to fully use the existing productive capacity.

Enterprises tend to judge the future rate of profit by the existing rate. Next month, in the context of explaining slumps, what might cause the rate of profit to fall will be examined.
Adam Buick

Friday, September 26, 2014

TO THE PRINCES OF THE CHURCH. (1915)

From the February 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

You prate of love and murmur of goodwill,
Turn sanctimonious eyes toward your God,
Write on your walls the text "Thou shalt not kill,"
Point out the path your "Prince of Peace" once trod,
While all the time, with murder in your hearts,
You lie, cajole, and bully that the fools
Who heed your words may play their foolish parts
As slaves of Mammon, as the War-Lord's tools.
On many a field, in many a river bed,
Of Flanders and of Poland and of France,
Your bloody-minded words bear fruit indeed.
Preachers of Death! the thought of maimed and dead
Will nerve us when our hosts of Life advance
To crush for ever your accursed breed.
F. J. Webb

How Capitalism Works (3) (1979)

From the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

How Capitalism Works (3): Work and Waste

To stick to the word's original meaning only work which plays a direct part in producing wealth can be described as "productive". Any other work would be "non-productive". This is not to make a judgement as to its usefulness, but merely to record the fact that it does not result in any wealth being produced.

The productive non-productive distinction is not the same as that often made between manual and non-manual work. (The latter is an unreal distinction anyway, since all human work involves a person using both brain and hands). A craftsman working on his own must himself do all the work connected with production, planning and organising his work as well as fashioning the raw materials. In the modern workplace these productive tasks are divided among specialist workers, some of whom may wear white collars, work in offices and never see or handle the raw materials. This work — planning, organising, and design — is just as much productive as that done at the coal face or the factory bench. Similarly, an architect's office is as much a productive workplace as an engineering factory. The distinction here is between productive and non-productive work rather than between productive and non-productive workers, since in practice many jobs involve both kinds of work.

Since work is the expending of energy it includes a whole range of human activities which, though very necessary, do not result in wealth being produced. Eating, drinking. washing, walking, playing and other activities a person must do in order to stay alive do not produce wealth. Nor does the work involved in education, health and entertainment which is equally vital to human survival. These non-productive activities are all personal or communal services which are necessary to keep people alive and healthy. Insofar as they also keep people in a fit state to work they do, it is true, make a very real contribution to production. But this is only an indirect contribution, since the act of carrying out these services does not in itself result in any wealth being produced. To call these services "non-productive" is a useful reminder that those who perform them, and the equipment and materials they use, have to be supplied out of the surplus wealth created by productive work.

The non-productive work just discussed is essential whatever form human society takes. But there is other non-productive work which only arises in certain kinds of human society. In class-divided societies, for instance, the ruling minority has to maintain an apparatus of coercion. The armed men who perform this coercive function do work, but they do not produce wealth. And in societies where wealth must be exchanged before it can be used part of the workforce has to be engaged in activities connected with the exchange, as opposed to the production, of wealth. The extra work of an exclusively exchange or profit-making character which has to be performed today is really quite extensive.

Each enterprise employs, in addition to its productive workforce, people to buy the raw materials, people to hire and fire workers, people to sell the end-products and people to record and check all these exchange transactions. Certain enterprises have come to specialise in exchange activities. Shops are the obvious example. But so do banks, building societies, insurance companies, pension schemes, estate agents, accountants, employment agencies and so on.

A large proportion of the employees of the State, at local as well as national level, are engaged directly in exchange activities, from those who collect taxes, pay benefits and allocate government money to those who advise on the government's finance, tax, trade and economic policies. Also, the State itself functions as an exchange institution when it takes part in the competitive struggle for profits. So the members of the diplomatic services and of the armed forces can also be regarded as doing exchange work (to the extent that the armed forces are involved in maintaining law and order at home, their non-productive work is a coercive rather than an exchange activity).

Exchange workers, like those who perform essential services, have to be maintained out of the surplus which productive work creates. So do the buildings, materials and equipment they use, from bank premises to military airfields, from notepaper to uniforms, and from cash registers to nuclear missiles. All this plant and equipment is wealth in the sense of being the result of human beings applying energy to change Nature. The workers who produce it are, therefore, engaged in productive work. It may seem contrary to common sense to describe the work of those who make guns and bombs and tanks as "productive" but remember that the productive /non-productive distinction is not meant to be a judgement of social usefulness.

Exchange work is essential in an exchange economy and does contribute indirectly to production since without it wealth could not be produced. But it is not absolutely essential to human society in the sense that education is, and it would be superfluous in a society whose wealth was allocated directly for use without first having to be exchanged.

But if bank employees are non-productive and are maintained out of surplus wealth, where do the profits of banks (and other exchange enterprises) come from? Enterprises are best thought of as competing to draw profits from a pool formed by converting into money all the surplus wealth produced. Exchange enterprises (and, for that matter, other "non-productive" enterprises such as profit-making schools and hospitals) take part alongside "productive" enterprises in this struggle for profits and also tend to obtain the average rate of profit on their capital which, in their case, will be the money-value of the buildings and equipment they use together with their cash and their fund for paying wages. The profits they make are a kind of payment from the productive enterprises for arranging for wealth to be exchanged (or for workers to be trained or kept healthy, as the case may be). Productive enterprises are forced to share their profits with non-productive enterprises as an alternative to having to employ more non-productive staff themselves to do the work. This hiving-off of non-productive tasks to specialist enterprises has proved to be the cheapest way of getting them done.

This suggests an alternative definition of "productive" which might have some relevance in analysing the way the world exchange economy works: productive-of-profit as opposed to productive-of-wealth. On this definition any workers whose work helps to produce profits for the enterprise which employs them would be productive, whether or not they actually produce any material wealth. This means that services would under some circumstances be regarded as productive. Non-productive work would be work which does not result in profits being made, as for instance the work of domestic servants and of some State officials.

This definition did have some relevance in the struggle waged by the individual employers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries against the "waste" of the aristocrat-controlled State machine. They wanted what they regarded as non-productive work reduced to a minimum so that they could retain a larger share of the surplus wealth for investment as capital. Reducing non-productive-of-profit work to a minimum so as to increase the pool of profits is still favoured by the enterprises who have now taken over from the individual owners as the main employers.

Earlier, we classified arms production as productive (of wealth) even though this seemed to conflict with common sense. This classification, though quite justified, seems odd because arms clearly do not serve to increase human welfare. This suggests the need for another distinction besides the productive, non-productive one, between work which furthers human welfare and work which does not. This would be a distinction between "useful" work and non-useful or "wasteful" work.

How would the various kinds of productive and non-productive work discussed above fit into this classification? Obviously, the productive work of producing the food, clothing and shelter and the other things human beings need to live and enjoy life is useful. So is the non-productive work involved in carrying out essential services like health and education, and the productive work associated with it. Obviously too, the non-productive work of the armed forces and the productive work of manufacturing arms for them is wasteful.

But what about non-productive exchange work? This is a more difficult question. This work is not absolutely essential to human life as it would be superfluous in a society where wealth was not produced for exchange but was directly allocated for use. So the question can be re-phrased: is an exchange economy in the interest of mankind? This is an easier question because, as we have shown, wars, pollution, social unrest, anarchy in production, restricted output, destruction of wealth, and recurring mass unemployment are the inevitable consequences of the world exchange economy. Further, the kind of world commonwealth which alone could provide the framework for abolishing material want while at the same time conserving world resources would of necessity also be a non-exchange and direct-allocation society.

For, in a society in which the resources of the Earth, natural and man-made, had become the common heritage of all humanity there would be no place for the transfer of property between property-owners, which is essentially what exchange is. Exchange work, then, must be classified as wasteful and with it the work of producing the equipment and materials exchange workers use.

This shows a considerable proportion of the workforce to be wastefully employed and a smaller, but still significant, proportion of the gross social product waste. So another major charge against the world exchange economy must be that it misuses the resources of the world. It means also that the diversion of labour and materials from wasteful to useful work could play a major part in abolishing material want throughout the world
Adam Buick

"Lest We Forget" (1933)

Book Review from the April 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. John Scanlon, an ex-shipyard worker, parliamentary journalist, secretary to a Cabinet Minister in the late Labour Governments, has written a book called "The Decline and Fall of The Labour Party." It deals with the Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929-31.

Here is shown the Labour Governments in action. Compromising on every issue, bargaining with their opponents, dropping nearly every principle for which they professed to have stood rather than be thrown out of office. Here are set out the full details of their shameful record. We are shown how easily they succumbed to the flattery of the wealthy. Trade Union M.P.s—ex-workers from the docks, railways, mines, etc.—took lessons in deportment, affected white spats, and touted for invitations to Mayfair parties. Attendance at social functions became more important than attendance at the House of Commons—except when a bill was introduced to legalise Sunday Cinemas, then they turned up in full strength in order to stop such a revolution. It is an account of demagogues turned autocrats, and reformers who became reactionaries; of "lefts" who were transformed into "rights" by the simple expedient of appointing them to ministerial positions. Flabby and ignorant sentimentalists, confused at what had happened to them, thought they saw a remedy in removing MacDonald from the leadership. That gentleman, however, when faced by hostile criticism, could, with a little pompous eloquence, bring his critics to their feet in applause and reduce some of them to tears. What a mob!

Mr. Scanlon disposes emphatically of the view that the failure of the Labour Party was due merely to the leadership of MacDonald, Thomas, and others. On the question of the cuts in unemployment pay, which was the issue on which the Labour Government fell, only seven members of the Cabinet, out of twenty or more, voted against the cuts. Moreover, after the fall of the Government, many Labour ministers hung around 10 Downing Street, hoping to get jobs in the National Cabinet. They were unlucky—hence the hostility towards MacDonald.

As a record of broken pledges, incompetence, petty jealousies, and intrigue among the leaders, this book is well worth reading. Members and supporters of the Labour Party, whose memories are so notoriously short, should buy it and keep it for reference.
H. W.