From the July 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Are you irritated? Annoyed? Angry? What causes this? Standing in a ten-year supermarket check-out queue? Your children scattering their toys and clothes all over the house? Gameshows on television? A social system where the many are economically exploited by. and for the benefit of, the few?
Everything’s relative. To be a victim of a capitalist’s pension fraud rates rather higher on the cosmic scale of things to get upset about than does burning the breakfast toast. Whilst the one event is an obvious effect of a social system based upon production for profit where the continuing accumulation of wealth overrides all other human considerations, capitalism can’t be held responsible for burnt toast. Unless it’s a result of having to rush in order to fulfil one’s obligations as a wage slave.
My local newspaper gives front-page prominence to the news that in the town where I live a clothing store run by the WRVS for the distribution of free second-hand clothing to the poor and needy is closing. One volunteer said that she never knew there was so much poverty until she started working for the scheme. Although 10,000 items of clothing had been distributed during the last twelve months, she was distressed that the powers- that-be knew nothing about the needs of people affected by the recession.
Still, it’s all relative. According to the 480-page, 43rd edition of Britain—an Official Handbook published by the governmental Central Office of Information, Britain is a prosperous society enjoying unprecedented wealth (Wolverhampton Express & Star, 9 January). Little mention is made in the handbook of the effects of recession or of rising unemployment. It’s unlikely that those members of the working class queueing up for free hand-me-downs, or buying from charity shops, are among the one in four who now own shares.
A few hundred British Telecom shares doesn’t put you in the capitalist class. Try giving up your paid wage slavery, assuming you have some, and living off the share dividends. You'll quickly discover that you’re still a member of the majority who are forced to sell their labour power in order to survive in a capitalist society. Even if you have “taken advantage” of the many privatisation share offers of recent years, statistics show that most people take a quick profit and run.
The number of people owning their own homes, says the Handbook, has risen almost four-fold compared to 40 years ago. If you have actually paid off your mortgage you are one of the fortunate minority. Most “home-owners’” houses and flats are still owned by building societies. As more and more families and individuals find themselves unable to maintain their mortgage repayments and have their homes re-possessed, the effects of living in a “private property” society become devastatingly clear.
Still, it’s all relative, isn't it? Compared to conditions in other parts of the worldwide capitalist system life in the geographical economic unit called Great Britain remains reasonably safe and civilised. Or does it? What odds on your being one of those members of the working class who lose their life in one of the 600 work-related fatalities every year? Or being seriously injured in one the 100,000 work- related major accidents every year? Money spent on health and safety in the work-place reduces profits—and profits are more important in a capitalist society than workers’ safety.
If you believe that the odds on your becoming one of the above statistics are too long to worry about, those on your being, or becoming, in serious debt are much shorter:
High interest rates, easy consumer credit and poverty have driven 2.5 million British households into debt. Research published by the independent Policy Studies Institute shows that 12 per cent of British households have problems with debt. The report rejects stereotypical views of people running up huge debts on credit. It concludes that poverty, rather than excessive consumer spending, forces many families into financial difficulties. Mr Berthoud. a senior research fellow at the PSI, said, “We don't find that buying lots of videos. televisions, cars and so on is very strongly implicated in debt; we do find that not having much money to live on, running out of money at the end of each week, what we call hardship, is implicated in debt”. Poorer people are no better off than they were in 1979. (The Independent, 27 February 1992).
It’s all relative. But need it be?
A house may be large or small; as long as the surrounding houses are equally small it satisfies all social demands for a dwelling. But let a palace arise beside the little house, and it shrinks from a little house to a hut. However high it may shoot up in the course of civilisation, if the neighbouring palace grows to an equal or even greater extent, the occupant of the relatively small house will feel more and more uncomfortable, dissatisfied and cramped within its four walls. (Wage Labour and Capital. Karl Marx).
The majority working class has no cause to feel satisfied with capitalism. The time has come for the working class to translate its dissatisfaction into positive political action.
“But what", you ask, “of socialism?" It is too facile to sneer at the idea of “civilising” capitalism. What do you imagine the trade unions are about? Or the welfare state? It is a plain fact, which we should all recognise, that there has been no comprehensive programme (Bolshevism apart) (sic) to replace capitalism as the dominant system in this country since the early 1830s when there was massive but brief support for Robert Owen’s niillenarian vision. Two lessons surely stand out from the past 13 brutal years. One is that it is better to have a “civilised” capitalism (sic) than the kind sponsored by Margaret Thatcher or John Major. The second is that, with the internationalisation of capital, there cannot be Keynesianism, let alone socialism, in one country. (Joe England, Tribune, 24 January).
This is the “solution” offered to the working class by all other political parties—reforming capitalism, civilising capitalism. It is not the solution presented to the working class by this particular party, the Socialist Party. All it takes to do away with all the ills of capitalism is a politically aware and motivated working class which wants and understands socialism.
There was a man I used to have business dealings with. I never met him, we used to converse over the telephone a lot. After the company employing him went bust I never heard from him again. I read in the newspaper that he had run a rubber pipe from his car exhaust and gassed himself. The inquest was told that he owed creditors lots of money, and letters from his bank were found beside him. I still feel sick when I think of the unimaginable, the pressures on an individual that forces him into doing that. It’s said that you can be poor and still be happy. The evidence to show that you can only be poor and miserable, or worse, in a capitalist society is all around us. What makes you angry?