Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What can a capitalist do? (1973)

From the March 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Well, who is a capitalist?” A question we Socialists are often asked. Recently the Sunday Times (11 February) has provided us with an outspoken analysis of his social and economic role by "that big bastard Bentley, a millionaire at 32” (his words).

How did he do it? Simple, really. With Jim Slater’s financial backing, he bought up “soft” companies, i.e. those with more potential than the City realised, and then sold off the bits he didn’t want, thereby covering his outlay, "which means that he ends up with what he does want, all for nothing”.

Rather on the defensive, Bentley emphasised the useful role of the capitalist in ensuring the efficient use of capital: "I make the very best use of a firm’s reserves when I take over.  . . .  When I arrive, the ray of sinecures, of directors promoting their nephews, is over. It’s good news when I arrive. Shareholders are thrilled . . . What I’m trying to do is to get a return for every piece of plant, every pound spent, every person employed”.

He was rather aggrieved at his unpopularity in the City, where "asset-stripper” is one of the criticisms levelled at him: the hyper-efficient capitalist represents dangerous competition. He went on to say significantly: "I’m a realist and I realise that the mood of the country is against people like me . . . It’s not just that being a capitalist is a dirty word today. Profit is a dirty word. Even money is a dirty word!”

So now the fun has gone out of the game, a game which he compares to the competition of archery or spear-throwing: "It’s just another form of animal behaviour. You’ve got to be fighting fit to survive.” And having reached his goal, he looks around for something “socially useful” to do. (I’ll bet he gets not a few begging letters from charitable concerns!) For Bourgeois Bentley, as for the rest of us, the recognition that "profit is a dirty word” must be followed by action designed to remove the dirty reality of the profit motive from man’s social relationships. This is socially useful activity, useful not just to one section of the community, but to all the human race, the whole family of man.

He has also realised that money brings power: power which can be used to preserve the capitalist class and its profits, or to aid its unfortunate victims — the homeless, the destitute, the disabled who can’t keep up with the aggressive competition of capitalism’s rat-race, or politically to try to soften its harsh and bitter realities by reforms. But none of these is going to make much difference in the end, since they do not deal with the root cause of man’s pressing social and economic problems, namely the organisation of society for production for profit.

A Socialist society — call it communist if you like: names are not that important — producing to satisfy human needs, i.e. for socially useful purposes instead of for profit, will not have to waste and dissipate its resources on war and waste, nor will it have to worry over poverty problems. So if Honest John Bentley is seriously interested in an efficient society, he should examine whether capitalism, where the worker owns and controls neither the tools of production nor the raw materials nor any part of the end-product, is not more than ready for the scrap-heap. It could hardly be called efficient!

He says he "stands back and sees the whole picture, working out the overall strategy”. He’s "all for Communism in theory” (like many others today he uses the term Socialism for state capitalism) — well, let’s see him relate theory to practice. Let’s see him work to bring about a society where work will not be a four-letter word, due to the exploiting relationships of capitalism. Let’s see him help the exploited workers by joining their movement for one world, a classless society where the dirty reality of profiteering from others’ sweat will have vanished and where humans will no longer be divided by man-made barriers of class, religion or racism. No longer wolves dismembering a rabbit, no longer the competitive rat-race, but social cooperation of civilised homo sapiens: surely a worthy goal for any poor devil of a millionaire looking for "socially useful” activity?
Charmian Skelton

1 comment:

imposs1904 said...

More on John Bentley:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/predator-turned-prodigal-son-john-bentley-profile-1574976.html