Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Welsh Nationalist Party and the Workers (1953)

From the October 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Welsh Nationalist Party claims to stand in the interest of the workers in Wales. It is not concerned with the fact that because of the international nature of Capitalism, workers are exploited everywhere and therefore the attack against exploitation must be on a broad front recognising no national barriers.

The W.N.P. naturally cannot possibly possess this world outlook being a parochial organisation not recognising exploitation as being synonymous with Capitalism.

Its members base their policy on the importance of the National State, demanding National Status for Wales arguing that with its achievement the workers' troubles will end.

They conveniently forget (at least they never mention) that Wales was as much oppressed (i.e. the people) when she was governed by the Princes of Wales of “Welsh blood” as she has been ever since the statute of Ruddlian: that she has been oppressed in common with the workers of other parts of the British Isles from the inception of Capitalism is not so much history but a tale of yesterday and today. If the Nationalists get their way it will be the tale for tomorrow as well. 

In early mediaeval Welsh there were two classes—the Free and the Unfree, the Princes (Tycoysogion) knights and gentry (Boneddwyr) and the slaves (Caethion). The Nationalists completely ignore the progression of history commencing with the gens and developing into the nation, and the fact that the development of World Capitalism tends eventually to break down national barriers. "The society that organises production anew on the basis of free and equal association of producers will put the whole state machine where it will then belong: in the museum of the antiquities, side by side with the spinning wheel and bronze axe" (Engels: "Origin of the Family and the State").

The Nationalists, flying in the face of scientific analysis of society, base their appeal on two planks—the Cultural and the Economic. They have a certain following for their cultural policy among certain University "Intellectuals" and religious leaders whose minds dwell on the delights of the Mediaeval past and the "simple grandeur" of rural life. They are enthusiastic about the fostering of the ancient Welsh language and literature (The writer is pleased to include himself in the 40 per cent. who retain command over the Welsh tongue, and enjoys reading Welsh classical literature but what this has to do with combating Capitalism is difficult to see.)

It is when we come to the economic policy that we realise that this party of "Patriots" is just another party of Capitalism. A reading of its publications in both English and Welsh has failed to produce anything new apart from somewhat peculiar suggestions for the better administration of Capitalism.

Completely ignoring the fact that the "freedom" of the workers in self-governing states such as Finland, Denmark, New Zealand and Eire is simply freedom to remain an exploited, wage earning class, the Welsh Nationalists proudly present their pamphlet "Can Wales afford Self Government?" The first reaction of a Socialist born and bred in Wales and knowing something about the past and present of the country, is that the question is irrelevant. One could afford to buy a thousand aspirin tablets with which to poison one self but that is no argument for taking them.

The question that Socialists in Wales put to the Nationalists is—if Wales succeeds in obtaining Home Rule (i.e. Dominion Status though there is a wing of the Nationalist movement out for Republicanism) what will be the political outlook of the Welsh Government? Will industry be carried on for profit? Will monetary considerations rule the field of planning and production? The answer contained in the above mentioned pamphlet is clear—all the machinery of Capitalism will be in operation; nothing will have changed basically.

Welsh and other readers should not be carried away by cleverly worded statements (intended to woo the large industrial army of Glamorganshire miners) suggesting sympathy with "Socialism" whereas all they mean is nationalisation.

The choicest section is the part "proving" the possibility of setting up home rule. Eire is given as an example. In Eire, the firm of Rowntrees came to the rescue by building a factory in Dublin exploiting 600 workers. Exploitation, under these circumstances, is not exploitation because the Irish now have "Home Rule"!

As to the question "where's the money to come from?" the section dealing with the floating of Ireland's first National Loan takes some beating: " . . . the Irish Government courageously determined to float its first National Loan . . . the Loan was immediately over-subscribed. Among the biggest subscribers were  . . . Church of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, and Guinness, Ltd." (so drink up, begorrah your troubles are over!)

The Irish Free State Government, in 1927, found itself having to float a second National Loan amounting to £7 million; £4 million of which was taken up by Irish and English Capitalists and £3 million in New York "the whole of the New York issue was oversubscribed within two hours" (our italics). It is natural that the Capitalists of U.S.A. should take out a stake in a paying proposition.

The Welsh "patriots" therefore have no compunction in pawning the freedom of the new National State to outside Capitalist interests right from its very inception.

What security do they offer for such loans? They mention the great resources of wealth beneath Welsh soil, "only waiting for timely stimulus and support," together with the skill and industry of Welsh workers. They say that "income derived from Wales by companies with headquarters in London would be taxed." What a revelation! The "foreign" Capitalists are to be allowed to exploit the Welsh workers first, and then are to be taxed. The Welsh wage slave will have the satisfaction of knowing that "his" government has rented his labour power to outside interests in order to receive the wherewithall to keep him alive!

We agree that as in the case of Eire the future Welsh Government need not worry about finance; it will be sufficient to advertise that the Welsh workers are up for sale; that they are available to any Capitalist concern that cares to come and exploit them—as they are at the present time.

Is there a case for Welsh Nationalism? From their own Capitalist point of view there might be—it might be more profitable to operate Capitalism from  Cardiff than from London.

From the point of view of the Welsh workers, the position would remain broadly the same – he would remain the vehicle creating surplus value. He could—if he has a mind to—stagger to the mine or steel mill in the grey dawn singing triumphantly the words of the Welsh National Anthem and consider himself as having achieved his emancipation. On the other hand he could get down to the fundamentals of Socialism and throw his exploiters out whether they scream Nationalism, Patriotism, or any other brand of moonshine—in Welsh or English.

The land of Wales could raise its voice in a mighty chorus which would reverberate through the hills and valleys and beyond. “Workers of all lands, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to gain.”

This is the real message of freedom: these words spell freedom in any language.
W. Brain

Down on market (1997)

From the July 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Market System Must Go! Why Reformism Doesn't Work. The Socialist Party, 1997

For those intending to advance their study of socialist politics beyond our more introductory material, this pamphlet is a must. It develops a comprehensive analysis of reformist theory and practice in an understandable and easy-to-read manner.

Twelve chapters long in all, the earlier sections focus on the historical background to reformism, the rise of anti-reformist organisations such as the Socialist Party and how reformist politics has developed in practice to the present day in all its various guises, from the Conservative Party through to the far left. The later chapters discuss issues of particular concern to modern reformers—taxation, the welfare state, economic crises and unemployment, income inequality and inflation.

The aim of the pamphlet is to provide a thorough critique of the inadequacy and failures of reformist politics. Most political practice across the world is still predicated on the basis that capitalism can be humanised through benign government intervention. This pamphlet demonstrates why it can't and why modern-dat reformers are to all intents and purposes wasting their time, chasing a chimera when they could be doing something really constructive and really likely to succeed—constructing a mass movement for democratic socialist revolution. An understanding of why capitalism cannot be reformed to run in the interests of the working class is an essential pre-requisite to this most important of tasks.

Karl Marx and the abolition of money (1980)

"The Man with the Moneybag and his Flatterers"
Peter Bruegel the Elder (1568) 
From the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

At one time the Socialist Party of Great Britain was almost alone in saying that socialism by its very nature had to be a moneyless society and that this had also been Marx's view. Our views were rejected not only, as was to be expected, by the Labour Party and the so-called Communist Party but also by the various Trotskyist sects which, right up until the late 1960s attempted to argue that it was not Marx's view that socialism had to involve the disappearance of money.

The publication, for the first time in English, in 1973 of a complete version of the pages and pages of notes Marx had scribbled down in 1857-8, known as the Grundrisse, settled this question once and for all. It completely vindicated our position, even though the other writings of Marx on money and socialism had long been there to demonstrate that he regarded the two as incompatible. The Grundrisse, we hasten to add, must not be over-rated and should be regarded as no more than unrevised private notes made by Marx, but nevertheless as notes which do allow us to follow the train of thought which led him to formulate the views expressed in his published works.

Marx published three works on economics in his life-time: The Poverty of Philosophy (1847); A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) and the first volume of Capital (1867). In them he described money as a "social relation". By this he did not simply mean that money was a material link between isolated producers of commodities, relating them to each other, that is, socially, through the products of their labour. Money was indeed such a link but, in Marx's view. it was more than this: it was a material form taken by the relations between the producers, a sort of material reflection of the basic social relations of production.

In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, where Marx does not deal with developed capitalism but only with simple commodity production, these relations were those between small-scale independent craftsmen working on their own and exchanging their products with each other. In Capital these relations are those between a class of producers operating an already socialised productive system and a minority class monopolising the means of production and appropriating for themselves, as a section only of society, the social product.

Clearly then, as a material form taken by the social relations between producers and non-producers under capitalism, money must disappear with those relations. When they are abolished, then so is money. This is a fundamental — and elementary — proposition of Marxian economics.

One of the ideas current in Marx's day for improving the lot of the working class was to substitute for metallic and interest-bearing money a paper "labour-time money". The basic idea was to express the prices of commodities in amounts of labour-time incorporated in them, so undermining the basis for any non-labour incomes. Today we would regard this as just another currency-crank idea hardly worth considering, but in Marx's day it had considerable influence in certain working class circles, even being regarded as a sort of "socialist" money. Marx dealt with this question in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy where he ridiculed the very idea of a "socialist money":
"Louis Blanc transforms the 'money of the society', which simply means internal, national money, into socialist money, which means nothing at all  . . . " (1971 Lawrence and Wishart edition, footnote, p. 167).
Marx also discussed this idea in the Grundrisse notebooks in connection with a book by Darimon, a now obscure follower of Proudhon. The Proudhonists' scheme was basically a proposal to improve the lot of the working class by monetary reform while retaining production for sale. After pointing out that the Proudhonists, in saying that their aim was to find a money which wouldn't cause crises by alternatively appreciating and depreciating ( which was to put things back to front anyway), were in effect trying to prevent prices rising and falling, Marx went on:
" . . . the problem would have to reduce itself to: how to overcome the rise and fall of prices. And how? By doing away with exchange value. But this problem arises: exchange corresponds to the bourgeois organization of society. Hence one last problem: to revolutionize bourgeois society economically. It would then have been self-evident from the outset that the evil of bourgeois society is not to be remedied by ‘transforming’ the banks or by founding a rational ‘money system'" (Pelican edition, p. 134).
So, Marx was in favour of abolishing prices and doing away with exchange value as the only way of preventing monetary crisis. And he also knew that the abolition of bourgeois society (capitalism) would necessarily involve the disappearance of money, prices and value. In fact in a later passage he says so in such explicit terms that no one, after reading ti, should be able to seriously contend otherwise:
"The very necessity of first transforming individual products or activities into exchange value, into money, so that they obtain and demonstrate their social power in this objective form, proves two things: (1) That individuals now produce only for society and in society; (2) that production is not directly social, is not ‘the offspring of association’, which distributes labour internally. Individuals are subsumed under social production; social production exists outside them as their fate; but social production is not subsumed under individuals, manageable by them as their common wealth. There can therefore be nothing more erroneous and absurd than to postulate the control by the united individuals of their total production, on the basis of exchange value, of money, as was done above in the case of the time-chit bank. The private exchange of all products of labour, all activities and all wealth stands in antithesis not only to a distribution based on a natural or political super-and subordination of individuals to one another . . . but also to free exchange among individuals who are associated on the basis of common appropriation and control of the means of production. " (Pelican edition, pp. 158-9.)
The existence of money, in other words, shows that production is already social but that it is not under social control. When, with the establishment of "common appropriation and control of the means of production" (socialism), production comes under the direct and conscious control of society then money quite simply disappears.
Adam Buick

Marx on Money
Marx's Capital is a treasury of literary allusions. The quotation below is from Chapter 3 "Money" (part 3) Everyman's Library (page 112)
As the circulation of commodities extends, the power of money increases, of money which is an absolutely social form of wealth, ever ready for use. Columbus, in a letter from Jamaica penned in 1503, says "Gold is a wonderful thing! Whoever owns it is lord of all he wants. With gold it is even possible to open for souls a way into paradise!" Since money does not disclose what has been transformed into it, everything, whether a commodity or not, is convertible into gold. Everything becomes saleable and purchaseable. Circulation is the great retort into which everything is thrown, and out of which everything is recovered as crystallised money. Not even the bones of the saints are able to withstand this alchemy; and still less able to withstand it are more delicate things, sacrosanct things which are outside the commercial traffic of men.

Henry III, most Christian king of France, robbed monasteries of their relics in order to turn these into money. We know what part the despoiling of the temple of Delphi by the Phocians played in Greek history. Among the ancients, the god of commodities had his dwelling in the temple. Temples were "sacred banks". The Phocians, preeminently a trading people, looked upon money as the transmuted form of all things. It was, therefore, quite in order that the virgins who, at the feast of the goddess of love, gave themselves to strangers, should offer up to the goddess the pieces of money they received.

Just as all the qualitative differences between commodities are effaced in money, so money on its side, a radical leveller, effaces all distinctions.
"Gold! Yellow, glittering, precious gold! . . .
Thus much of this will make black, white; foul, fair;
Wrong, right; base, noble; old, young; coward, valiant."
Shakespeare, Timon of Athens, Act IV, sc iii. 

If Robots Take Over (2015)

Letters to the Editors from the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

In your October edition you published an article entitled ‘Robots of the World - you have nothing to lose but your blockchains’.

Although it was highly amusing it only superficially dealt with a problem in economics that intrigues me. At the moment automation (robots) are merely advanced tools (constant capital) where the profit is made by the labour manufacturing the programming and fabrication (variable capital). What happens when the robots become ‘self-programming’ and able to build themselves? Does the ‘organic composition of capital’ become such that the variable part is so negligible that profits plunge? Will profit levels be held up by the monopolistic ownership of these robots and the increased productivity they represent? Surely the capitalists not within that particular industry would object on free market grounds?

Andrew Westley, Cambridge

Reply: The answer is that, in the fully automated production system that you are asking about where robots would do everything, building themselves from scratch, supplying their own power and maintaining themselves, as there would be no human labour input there would be no value produced and so no prices, no wages and no profits either.

Such an economy is only a theoretical construct; in fact the theoretical limit to capitalism, as Marx pointed out in the ‘Fragment on Machines’ in the Grundrisse. This is the only place where Marx uses the word ‘collapse’ in relation to capitalism which he said would happen at the point where productivity was so high that the prices of units of commodity would be virtually zero and so would have been given away free. Obviously capitalism could not function on that basis.

But this point is a (very) long way off and in practice will never be reached, if only because political action would have put an end to capitalism, and its production for sale on a market with a view to profit, long before.

Mechanization, automation, robotization are all manifestations of the same trend under capitalism where, under the lash of competition, capitalist firms are driven to constantly strive to reduce the cost of production of what they are producing for sale, i.e. to increase productivity. But productivity does not proceed at the rate that some people sometimes mistakenly assume that it does because they take into account only the last stage of production.

What has to be taken into account is the labour that has gone into the production of a commodity from start to finish. So robots introduced at just one stage of the whole process will only have an impact at that stage. Which is why the increase in productivity in the economy as a whole has been at a rate of only about 2 percent a year, a rate that the capitalist economy can absorb.


Long live the (electronic) revolution! (2004)

From the June 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists have always been aware that if we want to influence the ways in which people think and act we must be able to talk to them. Communication is inseparable from politics. For thousands of years this involved oratory and conversational skills. Even into the last decades of the twentieth century, members of the Socialist Party have been expected to try to develop the ability to deliver talks either to groups of fellow workers at indoor meetings and/or in the cities from outdoor platforms. But one of the reasons that we now find it more difficult to attract workers to our indoor meetings is the fact that they consider the idea old-fashioned. And there are so many modern counter-attractions, such as TV.

Admittedly, these were not the only means of communication we had. Printed matter (which had been used for propaganda effectively from the mid seventeenth century) including handbills, advertisements in newspapers and magazines, was most important for putting forward the detailed case for a socialist revolution, once the initial talking was finished. Publishing our own journal and pamphlets was  considered essential by the founding members of the Party. It is still very important.

Mass communication
For the great majority of working class people in Britain, access to means of communication remained unchanged until the last decade of the twentieth century. They got their information, carefully edited, from the BBC and, latterly, the commercial broadcasters on radio and television; and they/we read slight  variations in the constant support of capitalist values and social structures from daily, evening and Sunday papers.

Telephone communication was just as limited. Even in the late 70s and early 80s the few users of mobile phones needed to carry a heavy suitcase full of electronic equipment in order to communicate  with a limited range of similar users, mainly corporate, without dependence upon telephone land lines. Monitoring all or any of these channels of communication was not only straightforward but fairly simple for governments uneasy or suspicious about what their subjects were talking about. The American listening stations in Britain at Goonhilly and Fylingdales were able to intercept and process all the messages both in Britain and on the Continent, to the great advantage of American military and business organisations.

The IT revolution
The switch to digital instead of analogue handling of signals, and the application of computing power to telecommunications constituted a technological revolution. The recording, processing and transmission of information was standardised and universalised, largely owing to the selfless generosity of many enthusiastic experts in the field who took no payment for their inventions. The microminiaturisation of circuits and transistors developed at an unprecedented rate, and is still continuing, although not quite so fast. This made not only personal and portable computers possible and increasingly affordable, but it made mobile telephones as small and light as they are likely to become, if we want to continue to hold them in our hands.

For communication purposes computers have, in the main, linked into existing, landline, telephone services (although radio links are becoming popular). Mobile phones grew out of the popularity of walkie-talkie and citizen’s band radio systems. Instead of needing the power of such radio transmitters and receivers, mobile phones were much more modest transceivers, depending upon a forest of aerials deployed across the land and connected to stations which routed and boosted signals to and from them, the whole lot being capable of connecting to the land-line telephone network as well. And this is the way  in which mobile phones and computer mail systems are starting to interact.

Although there are many large areas of the world where there are still no mobile phone systems and infrastructures, these are being colonised steadily because such phones obviate the need for much more expensive land-lines in sparsely populated or undeveloped areas. Millions have therefore been sold throughout the world.

There is an essential difference for users between the mobile and the land-line telephone – a call to a  mobile phone is a call to an individual person, rather than to a building or an organisation, and this alters the nature of the relationship or the type of message that is being sent. The facility to send brief text messages which wait to be accessed by the recipients has resulted in a snowstorm of texting in which individuals keep in contact at low expense, sometimes every few minutes. For organisational purposes, therefore, they are becoming invaluable. Protest demonstrations have been organised and co-ordinated with their aid, just as any two people are able to locate and find each other. On the other hand, advertisers have not been slow to recognise and employ this opportunity to send messages to hundreds or thousands of individuals.

The internet
In Britain and most other countries, communication by computer has been strongly encouraged by the decision of service providers to charge for messages to anywhere in the world at local call rates.  Although email systems will transmit highly complex information such as colour pictures, which take a disproportionate amount of time, the bulk of email traffic is plain text. This is treated as a simple system of numbers (the ASCII code) and is therefore extremely fast and economical. Not only brief conversational messages but also whole books can be transferred from one computer to another. They can then be printed out, if necessary, and as many times as necessary. Moreover, such emails can be despatched to many addresses at once, as we have found and utilised in the World Socialist Movement. In  consequence, we can now communicate with our comrades in Australasia or the Americas or Europe or Africa with virtually the same immediacy as we can with other socialists in Britain.

World-wide impact
Quick though socialists and many other organisations were to take advantage of the World Wide Web, industry and commerce were far quicker. Communication inside and between businesses has provided  a boost sufficiently great to have helped spur growth and delay another recession. It has also opened up an entirely new field for advertising and the sale of information.

Among the many areas affected in companies’ operations, one of the most significant has been the  facility to use cheap overseas labour without needing to move the workers. In the Indian subcontinent, for example, an increasing amount of clerical and telephone answering work is being done by English- speaking workers accepting far lower wages than capital needs to pay in the USA or Britain.

Another example of a qualitative difference occurring because of the quantitative difference of speed of communication is that factories in China now produce tailor-made wrought iron (mild steel, these days) gates and fences and garden furniture, based on drawings and dimensions sent by email, and ship   them to Britain for a fraction of the price they would cost to make here. Similar endeavours are being made by American firms to use labour in Mexico and South American countries rather than pay the higher domestic rates for the jobs. These and related developments are bringing increasing numbers of workers into a world working class, with English (American) as the lingua franca. This makes it possible for us not only to communicate with each other but to begin to organise together.

Towards democracy
One of the important facts about this burgeoning global electronic traffic is that no governmental or supragovernmental authority can prevent it or even regulate it to any considerable extent (as the struggle  to prosecute paedophile rings indicates) without crippling legitimate commerce and information services. And the development of the World Wide Web means that when one electronic pathway is blocked another will be found for a message to get through. Even the eavesdropping efforts by the American government become helpless as the volume of mobile phone texting becomes a torrent of  billions. Known organisations and known individuals can always be targeted of course, but the great majority of people’s chatter is of no interest to those in power.

There is a great deal to learn in using electronic communication so that it serves the socialist movement’s democratic methods and objective. As we have already learnt to our cost, it is easy for   people to be abusive, tediously verbose, obscurely illiterate and seriously undemocratic with email. These faults, among others, at present vitiate the potential of the medium. But we are learning and this writer, for one, believes that it is essential that we do; and that we impress this upon all those workers who communicate with us. Oxford University would not have founded a Chair of Electronic Democracy if there were not a strong establishment belief that this is the medium of major communication and decision-making for the future. For the socialist movement to be left out of it because we are a hundred years old would be to agree to die of old age. As governments faced with falling turnouts at elections by disillusioned voters realise, this offers their greatest hope of renewed political interest and participation.

Such developments would direct the attention of socialists towards the propagation of socialist ideas via  the internet, where an increasing proportion of the world’s thinking working class is going for its information and discussion.

As the numbers of participants grows greater for a socialist revolutionary change in the world’s dominant social system, it will be possible to chart and display its increasing strength. It will be possible to set up a worldwide proliferation of sites and forums in local languages and dialects so that workers will be able to assemble physically, if they consider it safe, in their own geographical areas. Above all, it will be possible to have world-wide discussion of the nature of socialist society; the means of achieving it in different parts of the world; the assistance needed by some areas from others; and the steps needed to establish the new social order in different parts of the world, bearing in mind the legacy left to us by this destructive and increasingly paranoid social order we know as capitalism. Speed the day!
Ron Cook