The Cooking the Books Column from the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where the money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labour lack that power. This makes it harder for society to be shaped by their interests.’ So wrote Charles Moore, Thatcher’s biographer and former editor of the Daily Telegraph in the World Street Journal on 25 September.
He had already assured his readers that ‘no one should worry that I have become a late convert to Marxism’ and went on: ‘In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don’t want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right.’
As a fan of Thatcher his way of putting it right is to create a so-called ‘property-owning democracy’ where ‘people who sell only their labour’ come to own their home and some stocks and shares. Quite a few are already in this position, especially in the US with regard to stocks and shares. But the assumption that this gives them any more power to decide where the money goes or to shape society in their interest is preposterous.
In fact being burdened with a loan to buy a house over decades weakens a person’s bargaining power vis-à-vis their employer as they can’t afford to lose money by striking or their job through being militant as they need to keep their mortgage payments up or risk losing their house. If ‘people who sell only their labour’ have a steady income from stocks and shares, as up to a third are said to in the US, this means that their employers don’t have to pay them so much to keep fit to work. So what’s the gain there? It’s just swings and roundabouts.
Moore needn’t have worried about being taken for a convert to Marxism as elsewhere in his article he displayed an ignorance of what Marx thought. According to him, Marx ‘did not understand markets or respect political institutions, and he thought liberty was a sham.’
On the contrary, Marx well understood how the market works. In fact Moore himself recognised this earlier in his article when he commended three passages which he later revealed were from the Communist Manifesto:
‘Where might one find a useful analysis of what is happening today in the market democracies of the West? How about this: “The executive committee of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie.” Or this: “Modern bourgeois society … is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the nether world which he has called up by his spells.” Or this: “The productive forces no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions … [and] they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property.”’
And why should Marx have respected the political institutions of capitalist society if they were there to manage the common affairs of the capitalist class? And isn’t ‘Liberty’ a sham if the ‘owners of capital’ exercise ‘disproportionate power’? Not that Marx was against the limited, political democracy that can exist under capitalism. He was all for it but regarded it not as amounting to freedom for ‘people who sell only their labour’ but only as an instrument to this, or as he put it, a ‘means of emancipation.’