Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The tragic comedians (1966)

Book Review from the June 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British Communist Party: Its Origins and Development until 1929 by Dr. L. J. Macfarlane Macgibbon & Kee, 63s.

In his book Dr. L. J. Macfarlane painstakingly traces the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain, in all its muddled and conflicting reformism, syndicalism, and anti-parliamentarianism in 1920, through its chequered career of alternately supporting and opposing the Labour Party, sometimes both supporting it and opposing it at the same time, with its playing at armed revolt, splitting the trade unions, marching the unemployed up and down, fancying itself leading the 1926 General Strike on to revolution—down to 1929 when “the Party was in a bad state, its membership was falling away and those who remained were engaged in bitter dissension and dispute.”

The CPGB started as a mixture of antagonistic elements; the resolution to seek affiliation to the Labour Party was carried by only 100 votes to 85, and the minority believed that they would have won if some of their supporters had not kept away from the founding congress. It has remained divided ever since, united only in one thing, the pathetic belief that victory for Socialism had been achieved in Russia.

Sometimes one faction gained the leadership and sometimes another. So its opposition to Labour Party candidates at Parliamentary elections in 1921 was followed in 1922 by a call to the workers to vote Labour. This was continued in 1924 but in 1929, when they coined the phrase “the third capitalist party” the Communists were telling the workers to vote for Labour Party candidates in some constituencies but elsewhere to abstain from voting.

The author, who describes himself as “sympathetic to the aims of the Communist Party,” admits that “there was little enough to show for nearly 10 years of devoted work by thousands of ordinary party members,” and he can claim for the Communist Party nothing more than that “for all its faults” it had “helped to keep alive a spirit of resistance to the meek acceptance of hardship and poverty as economic facts of life.” He should have remembered also the thousands of workers who, having been caught up by the emotional prospect of an impossible “revolution round the corner,” ended in apathy and cynicism after experience of Communist Party political trickery and deception.

The chief value of this book is that it brings together in chronological order a mass of detailed information, with references to sources, which will be useful to anyone wanting to follow up particular developments, but beyond that there is little to commend it. The major fault is the author's uncritical acceptance of grandiloquent claims made by the Communist Party and others without any attempt to examine them against the evidence. A case in point is the myth about the Jolly George and the campaign to stop the British Government intervening against Russia in the Polish-Russian war.

Dr. Macfarlane reports anti-war demonstrations, the formation of a Council of Action, the calling of a 24-hour strike in which “it was claimed that thousands of South Wales miners answered the call” and that the dockers of East London “refused to load the Jolly George with munitions.”

He concludes: “It now appeared that all these efforts had been effective—direct action to save the revolution had been taken at last”.

In fact it all had no perceptible effect on the actions and policy of the British Government, and this was admitted by the Communists in their journal. The Communist (7 October 1920):
Frankly, the National Council of Action has failed, and its failure is all the more disappointing when one remembers the unanimity and enthusiasm of the great Central Hall conference held at the beginning of August last. It was formed to prevent the supplies and munitions being sent in support of the attack on Soviet Russia, which it is quite obviously not doing. Somehow and from somewhere in this country, those supplies are being sent—a Moscow report alleges that England has sent seven steamers of munitions, three tanks and twelve small steamers with provisions in aid of Poland and that these have been unloaded at Danzig.
Dr. Macfarlane is uncritical in his approach because he obviously has no clear idea of what is the nature of the problem of replacing the capitalist social system by Socialism. To him “we are all Socialists”: Marxist and anti-Marxist, Labour Party, ILP, the defunct National Guilds movement, the Unemployed Workers Committee Movement of the Nineteen twenties; etc., etc. The fact that these bodies were fighting each other most of the time and that most of their aims were no more revolutionary than those of the present Labour Party passes him by.

He is able to report without comment that “as a revolutionary socialist party the British Socialist Party welcomed the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia” and that the Leeds Convention in 1917, with “rousing speeches from Phillip Snowden and Ramsay MacDonald” was “amazingly successful”—what exactly did it succeed in achieving?

He tells us that Tom Quelch went away from the Convention convinced that “the hour of the Social Revolution is close up on us”—why no criticism of that piece of silliness, or of Lenin's statement in March 1919 that “The victory of the proletarian revolution all over the world is assured”?

What was going on in those years was that the Communist Party of Great Britain, lacking any real understanding either of the strength of British and American capitalism and the capitalist outlook of the majority of workers, was dreaming of a non-existent Socialist victory in Russia, while Lenin and others in Russia were dreaming of a non-existent revolutionary working class in Britain, America, France, Germany and elsewhere about to come to the aid of the Bolsheviks.

Dr. Macfarlane has some surprising omissions. He does not tell us about the curious attitude and internal conflicts of the Communist Party, torn between its nominal acceptance of Marx's “Religion is the opium of the People” and the desire to get the votes of the workers who had a religious outlook. He briefly mentions Francis Meynell, who was editor of the Communist, but not that he was a Catholic!

Another omission is that he is able to describe the breakaway of the Socialist Labour Party from the Social Democratic Federation in 1903 but he does not mention the breakaway of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904. Perhaps this is not surprising. Had he thought fit to state the position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain he would have had to justify his extraordinary statement: “Was it surprising that Marxists and socialists everywhere should turn to the leaders of the revolution for inspiration and guidance?”

He tells us on the same page that “to socialists everywhere the Russian Revolution of October 1917, came as a revelation”.

The reader of the book will look in vain to find out what it was that was revealed except confirmation of what Socialists knew already, the impossibility of Socialism without Socialists, and of imposing Socialism from above.
Edgar Hardcastle

ID Cards and Social Control (1995)

From the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Britain first had identity cards in September 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War. They were subsequently abolished in 1952, seven years after the war ended.

The official reason for their use after the war was for the easier running of the ration system and the NHS. The same personal number being used for both. Cards also had to be produced at the Post Office for certain transactions.

According to Personal Identity by C. H. Rolph:
"The police, who had by now got used to the exhilarating new belief that they could get anyone’s name and address for the asking, went on calling for their production with increasing frequency. If you picked up a fountain pen in the street and handed it to a constable, he would ask to see your identity card in order that he might record your name as that of an honest citizen. You seldom carried it, and this meant he had to give a little pencilled slip requiring you to produce it at a police station within two days.
"The system was finally abolished in 1952 after the test case of Wilcock v. Muckle (1951 49 LGR 584). This arose from the refusal of a motorist either to show his identity card to a policeman or to accept the note requiring its later production at a police station in the next two days."
The High Court accepted that the constable was within the law, but Lord Chief Justice Goddard remarked: 
"Because the police may have powers, it does not follow that they ought to exercise them on all occasions. It is obvious that the police now, as a matter of routine, demand the production of national registration cards whenever they stop and interrogate a motorist for whatever cause. Such action tends to make people resentful of the acts of the police instead of assisting them."
The powers which were available then are very similar to the ones now being asked for by some MPs and police.

Identity cards are about social control. The experience of some European countries points to the danger of minorities and dissident groups being harassed by the police. The use of card checks to identify anti-government demonstrators means that such people can be monitored and discriminated against in various ways. There is also evidence that in Britain certain groups are subject to "Stop and Search" procedures.

In this computer age the dangers are self-evident. How much information will be stored on this card? How many people will have access to it? You will never know.

The argument is that identity cards will be effective against crime. This has not been proven. The professional criminal will always find a way round it. Dr Michael Levi, Director of Criminological Studies at the University of Wales and an expert on fraud, speaking to an audience composed of police, civil liberties groups, building societies and bankers, twenty-four hours after the Home Secretary announced at this year's Tory Party Conference a further step towards the introduction of identity cards said that "in ordinary policing terms, the value of ID cards is hard to discern". He went on:
"While an ID card would have a modest effect in helping to stop some types of fraud, whether even at a pragmatic rather then a rights-based level their benefits outweigh the cost to civil liberties is an open question."
The government is testing the water at the moment to see what public reaction there is. 
Gerry Geraghty

Between the Lines: Windsor soap (1989)

The Between The Lines Column from the January 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Windsor soap
Dynasty is the name of a tacky American soap opera. Windsor is the name of a curious British dynasty. Of course, in one sense they both serve the same purpose: an escapist show with classy costumes to distract the proles from the woes of life. For socialists, the monarchy really does not matter: it is the class of parasitical loafers which it represents that gets up our noses. Monarchy: The Enchanted Glass (3 December, C4) was an intelligent attempt to get to the root of what the monarchy does. What function does it serve — and whose interests?

The presenter, Christopher Hitchens, argued that monarchy is "a strange folk culture imposed from above” by a state seeking to hypnotise the working-class majority into believing that "we're all in it together”. It was suggested that monarchy, in its present form as a circus of social cementation, is of relatively recent development. “By the time the Napoleonic wars were over the English had succeeded in inventing British nationalism, a Royal-based nationalism with the Crown at the centre." This is a rather arbitrary approach to history: one could just as well suggest that the English state was most successful at achieving this by the mid-Sixteenth century. (This was not the only historically weak offering in the programme: the suggestion that George III was completely mad is a discredited caricature — plenty of British monarchs have been totally crazy, to be sure, but George III was one of the brighter of them.) The important point being made was that Monarchy as a cultural performance was invented as a means of consolidating the British national illusion. On that point the programme was quite right. For example, the investiture of the Prince of Wales, which many readers will remember as a major TV event starring Prince Charles, was invented in 1911 by Lloyd George who thought that such a phoney ‘‘ancient ceremony" would boost national morale at a time of fierce class struggle. Most of the so-called ancient rituals of the monarchy go back to the last two decades of the last century: and are, therefore. newer than many of the customs associated with the American Presidency. They were invoked to unite the nation's population — and how better to do that than by having us all cheer together?

On Sunday 11 December (ITV) Brian Walden interviewed the Queen's daughter. He was as obsequious as Alistair Burnett on a bad day, evidently reasoning that if Sir Robin can get one then so should he. Princess Anne is a woman filled to the brim with unscientific prejudices about human nature. She spoke about how in some countries people do not want to work, but prefer to go out robbing Does she not know that were it not for such a dishonourable British tradition she would not be a Princess, her old man would not have inherited his sausage empire, and her family would have no ruling class to symbolise?

History and irony
The great thing about Dennis Potter's four-part dramatisation, Christabel, was that it was about Nazis, not people who were self-evidently monsters. Utterly sick as the entire Nazi enterprise was. the illusion should not be entertained that it was all carried out by manifestly disturbed people. The workers who supported Nazism were deluded, but not sub-human.

The story, based on the biography of an English woman who married a German and found herself caught in the nightmare of fascist life, was about characters who could play in the garden with children and also shout "Heil Hitler" and support the persecution of Jews. Christabel herself begins by not caring about politics. She is bored by it all, and the rise of the Nazis is a matter of indifference to her, much as the ruthlessness of the Thatcher mob is currently of little interest to certain workers who think they can afford to ignore such matters. Christabel is astonished to discover that her Jewish doctor was found dead in his surgery after Kristal nacht. It is not until her lawyer husband is incarcerated in a concentration camp that the full horror of totalitarianism becomes clear to her. By then it is much too late. Too late for her: too late for all of the jolly ordinary, rather decent little Nazi supporters whose homes were being bombed. Potter showed both the sickness of Nazism and the irony of workers, not very different from those who supported Churchill, falling for it.

Potter's sense of irony was supplemented on the night of the final episode of Christabel (Saturday 10 December) by a remarkably sensitive film, made by a Palestinian director, called Wedding in Galilee. It was about a Palestinian family living in the Israeli-occupied territory: the father planned a wedding for his daughter, but the local, unelected Israeli military governor would only allow the ceremony to take place at night (after the curfew) if he was invited as guest of honour. The father concedes and this leads to family and village conflict, with some attacking him as a collaborator with the Israeli occupiers. It was not an aggressive or typically nationalistic film: the Palestinian director showed considerable sensitivity towards the arrogant Israeli militarists, trying to portray them as real people. Just like the Nazis in Christabel. Israelis. Just like the Nazis. Guns. Military uniforms. Ghettos for the Arab underclass. Curfews. Israelis just like the Nazis. This is what nationalism does to decent people.
Steve Coleman

Famine in Russia (1921)

Editorial from the October 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

To most of-those who know the history of India under English rule, and of China during the nineteenth century, the huge advertisement of the Russian Famine by the Capitalist Press of this country must seem singularly strange.

In 1918 there were 6,000,000 people carried off by the results of famine—camouflaged as Spanish “ ’flu ”—in India. Yet not one-tenth of the space was devoted to this appalling catastrophe that there has been to the Russian Famine, though the former was immensely more disastrous than the latter up to the present. Huge numbers of people have died of hunger in China during the latter portion of the nineteenth century without receiving more than a few lines notice in the Capitalist Press.

Why this sudden solicitude for starving people on the part of our masters? Have they become tender-hearted overnight, and full of desire to ease suffering wherever it may be found? One need go no further than the nearest street to find the answer.

There will be found “heroes” from the trenches often without a limb or an eye, “patriots” from the munition works, and women from the shell factories, each and all proclaiming their want and misery due to lack of employment or support. The Executive Committee of the ruling class, known as the Government, stops the Housing Schemes, thus adding a large number to the already immense army of unemployed, and then reduces the unemployed insurance pay, and so decreases the purchasing power—poor as it was—of those drawing such pay. Those in work have suffered reductions of wages in far greater proportion than the small fall in prices, and further reductions are threatened in all directions.

The class responsible for the forcing down of the standard of living of the workers, that looks on callously at the want and misery existing here among the masses out of work, and which rules an Empire where millions die of starvation in less than a year, cannot be accused of either sympathy or tender-heartedness towards the Russians. An explanation must be looked for elsewhere.

The various notices in the Capitalist Press are marked by a unanimity in charging the Bolshevik Government with being the cause of the Russian Famine. This statement is such a stupid lie that only the befuddled mentality of’ those who blindly follow that press and its teachings would accept it. The simple fact is that the extraordinarily dry spring and summer has affected Russia more than the rest of Europe because of her primitive methods of agriculture. This is aggravated by her lack of means of transport, though the Russian Government has made strenuous endeavours to improve this service during their control of power. The canting hypocrisy of this lie is shown by the fact that not one of the papers spreading it have attributed the famine in India to English rule, though there is a vast array of evidence to support such a contention.

Another point on which some of the Capitalist Press are openly, and others more guardedly, giving voice is the suggestion that the Russian Government is playing false over the matter of relief measures. Hence the demand for “committees of inquiry,” “full control of supplies,” etc. These demands only thinly veil the intentions of these capitalist ghouls. Under cover of these claims they would sort out the claimants for relief, and take care that only those opposed—really or apparently—to the Bolshevik rule would be assisted. A more sinister object that lies behind these moves is the attempt to use the famine as a means of entering Russia, , and, under the claim of “full control of relief,” seize positions of power for the purpose of overthrowing the Russian Government.

Here, then, is the explanation of the beating of the big drum about Russia. Not charity, nor humanity, nor fellow-feeling for suffering millions in Russia, but the slimy endeavours of the foul capitalists of Europe to use the disaster there as a means of seizing control of Russia, with its vast natural resources—not for the wellbeing of the Russian workers, but for the profit of those engaged in the burglary.

While the capitalists are haggling over the sending of relief to the starving people in the Volga basin, they are supplying huge quantities of munitions to Poland and Rumania for the purpose of military operations against Russia (see Daily Telegraph, September 13th, 1921). If these operations were to turn out successfully for the capitalists, the Russian workers might starve even to the extent that happens in India, but the Jackal Press would not then be able to find room to report so ordinary an occurrence.

It is another lesson for the working class, showing that only when they control the means of life will they be able to make provision against famines or floods. As soon as they learn the lesson they will set to work to establish that ownership by inaugurating Socialism.

Allah under the bed (1983)

The Letter From Europe column from the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

In January a number of strikes broke out in the French motor industry resulting in a shortfall, for Renault, of some 42,000 vehicles. This worried the government, both because of the loss of production and as it was clear that the dispute would be settled only by a wage increase above the 8 per cent norm they had laid down for 1983.

In other circumstances the government would have blamed “communists” (as Harold Wilson did when confronted with the seamen’s strike in 1966) but this propaganda ploy was not open to the French government since it included four ministers from the Communist Party. But another scapegoat was to hand. It so happens that the majority of shopfloor workers in Renault’s two factories in the Paris area are immigrants, mainly Moroccans and Algerians from North Africa. At Flins, the centre of the strike, 53 per cent of the 17,000 shopfloor workers are immigrants while at Billancourt the figure is 55 per cent of 12,000.

The campaign was opened by the Minister of the Interior, Gaston Deferre, who declared in a television debate on 26 January that there was a “special phenomenon" in the conflicts in the car industry: “Fundamentalists, Shiites are involved". The next day the Prime Minister himself, Pierre Mauroy, joined in. claiming that immigrant workers were “being stirred up by religious and political groups which decide their policies by criteria which have little to do with French social realities”.

After the strike at Renault was over (resulting in provision for an 11 per cent wage increase, without productivity strings, for three-quarters of the workforce in 1983) and after a conflict has broken out at a Citroen factory near Paris, the Minister of Labour, Jean Auroux, returned to the charge, alleging that the strikes were not purely industrial and that workers had sworn on the Koran to be loyal to their union (in the event the “communist”-led CGT!). He went even further:
Some people have an interest in the political or social destabilisation of our country. . . Certain forces in France and in the world arc seeking to make us fail but we are vigilant.
A newspaper comment, probably inspired by the Ministry of Labour, added: 
The underlying fear of the Minister is that fundamentalist agitators arc using Islam to manipulate immigrant workers, destabilise the French car industry and disturb social peace in the country (Républicain Lorrain, 11 February 1983).
Who are these Muslim fundamentalists who want to stir up social trouble in France for the benefit of some foreign power? The mind boggles at the possibilities. Deferre spoke of “Shiites”, the Muslim sect whose spiritual leader is the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranian government might well have reason to want to destabilise France since France has committed itself wholeheartedly in favour of Iraq (supplying arms, buying petrol) in the Gulf War. However, the trouble is that the Shiite sect is unknown in North Africa and there is probably not a single Shiite employed in any car factory in the whole of France!

Then there is Colonel Gaddafi whose expansionist ambitions have brought him into conflict with French imperialist interests in Africa, just as stoutly defended by Mitterand as previously by Giscard. Another possibility might be Ben Bella, one of the leaders of the FLN during the Algerian war and first President of Algeria from 1962 until he was overthrown and imprisoned in an Army coup in 1965. He emerged from prison in 1980 a Muslim fundamentalist. As if to point the finger at him. in the middle of the strikes the police raided the house he uses when he visits France, found some armed guards, arrested one of them for a bank robbery and expelled the others to Italy.

But there is not the slightest shred of evidence to back up the government’s smears. Despite Mauroy’s claim, the strikes clearly had their origin in “French social realities”: in the atrocious working conditions, lack of promotion prospects, and low wages (aggravated by the recent wage freeze) which workers in car factories have to suffer under capitalism.

Perhaps some workers did swear loyalty to the CGT on the Koran (for doing the equivalent of which six farm labourers at Tolpuddle were sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia in . . . 1834). But this would merely be a way of strengthening solidarity among workers with little experience of trade unionism and strikes. As to the suggestion of an international Muslim plot against France involving Khomeini, Gaddafi and Ben Bella, it would be hard to invent a sillier story. The government dearly made this all up as a way of setting public opinion against the strikes.

Inventing stories and spreading lies has always formed part of the arsenal governments of capitalism have used to try to discredit and defeat strikes. In employing such techniques the PS/PC government in France has shown once again that it is running capitalism in the only way it can be — against the interests of the wage and salary-earning majority.
Adam Buick (Luxemburg)

Trade Unions in China (1972)

From the November 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some of those most vocal in their opposition to the Tory Government’s Industrial Relations Act have been the various Maoist groups in Britain. One wonders, however, how many of them have bothered to examine the situation of trade unions in their “own” country.

The Chinese Communist Party’s concept of the role to be played by the trade unions was derived from Lenin: the unions were to be “transmission belts”, one of a number of organisations through which the vanguard exercised the alleged dictatorship of the proletariat. But at the same time, since the transmission belts were supposed to work in both directions, the Party was to learn from the masses via the unions. In practice, the first of these concepts meant a close relationship between Party and unions, with the latter’s role reduced to one of helping to maintain labour discipline and to increase production. At various times since 1949, what one might call “traditional union functions” have reasserted themselves, and the unions have found themselves accused of “economism”, i.e. concentrating on the immediate interests and material welfare of the workers rather than on furthering the interests of the State as a whole.

Two instances will suffice to demonstrate the legal position regarding trade unions and the general spirit of labour laws in China:
After a dispute has broken out, both parties, during the period of consultation, mediation or arbitration, shall maintain the status quo in production. The management should not resort to a lockout, suspend payment of wages, cease providing meals or take any other measures which lower the workers’ living conditions. Labour shall also maintain production and observe labour discipline. After arbitration by the Labour Bureau [a government organ], even if one party disagrees and calls for settlement by the court, the two parties shall nevertheless abide by the arbitration award pending the verdict of the court. [1]
In other words, from the start in 1950 (despite some measures designed to protect the workers’ interests), arbitration was to be compulsory, and strikes and go-slows were outlawed. Then in 1958:
The distribution of income shall be based on the principle of ensuring high speed in expanded reproduction. With the development of production, wages shall be increased every year, but the rate of increase must be slower than the rate of increase in production. When the average wages (including grain supply) of members of the commune rise to a level that guarantees a living standard equivalent to that of the well-to-do middle peasant, the rate of increase in wages should be reduced to ensure the rapid growth of industry, the mechanisation of farming and electrification of the rural areas in the shortest possible time. [2]  
Comment would be superflous.

Detailed information as to the exact way in which trade unions carried out their functions is rather harder to come by. Some interesting sidelights are shed by Edgar Snow’s report of his interview with Li Chi-po, Vice-Chairman of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (Chinese equivalent of the TUC), in 1960. Snow asked what would happen if a union of shoemakers wanted to strike for higher wages; as answer, he was told that the unions’ main task was educational, with auxiliary tasks being the maintenance of labour morale and the improvement of the workers’ living conditions. Eventually Li replied to the question as follows:
Strikes for higher wages cannot occur if workers have been properly educated to understand that wages are based on fair standards of values of production set by the state, which makes no profit for itself but merely acts for “the whole people” to reinvest national savings for the future enrichment of all.
(“The Other Side of the River, Red China Today”, 1963) 
During the Cultural Revolution, however, the unions were found to have been under the influence of Liu Shao-ch’i and his particular faction of the Communist Party. Liu was accused of attempting to emasculate the revolutionary nature of the trade unions and so pave the way for the restoration of capitalism (Peking Review, June 28, 1968). By October 1970, it seems, trade unions had ceased to exist in China. A British union official who visited China in that month was told by a Peking factory worker:
Before the Cultural Revolution . . . instead of carrying forward revolution the unions concerned themselves with welfare and material incentives to the neglect of politics and state affairs.
Among the organisations set up to replace the unions were Workers’ Representative Conferences “under the direct guidance of the Party”:
Their main activity at the moment is organising the study of Chairman Mao’s philosophical works. (“China Policy Study Group Broadsheet”, June 1971.)
In short, the attitude taken by those who control the means of production in China towards so-called workers’ organisations has been to use them as a means of raising production and thereby increasing the amount of surplus value available for reinvestment. Any attempts by the trade unions to gain a larger part of this increased production for their members have eventually met with determined resistance from these same rulers. Which, to say the least, makes the Maoists’ protests about the situation in Britain a little hypocritical!
Paul Bennett

[1] Provisional Rules of Procedure for Settling Labour Disputes (1950), Article 11. In Albert P. Blaustein (ed.): "Fundamental Legal Documents of Communist China”, New Jersey 1962, p. 505.
[2] Tentative Regulations (Draft) of the Weihsing (Sputnik) People’s Commune (1958), Article 22. In Blaustein, pp. 464-5. Emphasis added.

A fair day's wage? (1988)

From the February 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

How often have you heard the term "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work?" To the defenders of the wages system this slogan exemplifies the essentially "honest and fair" relationship between employer and employee within capitalism. But is it "fair"?

Marx understood that this relationship is based on the exploitation of employees as members of the working class by the capitalist (employer) class. Marx offered an explanation of how this exploitation takes place in his Labour Theory of Surplus Value. In the pamphlet Wages, Price and Profit, Marx demonstrated the fallacy of "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work".

Marx explains that all commodities produced have an exchange value. For instance in present day conditions 1lb of coffee beans may have the same approximate value as 5lb of sugar. To arrive at this comparison we compare both the coffee and the sugar against a third measure that is common to both. Marx identifies this common measure as labour - the "social substance" common to all commodities. In other words, commodities require different amounts of labour in production. The more labour required, the more exchange value the commodity has.

Marx explains that the price of a commodity is the monetary expression of its value. Here he is careful to point out that we are talking of market prices representing the average amount of social labour necessary across the whole production process. (Marx talks of social labour to differentiate it from the labour of the individual isolated from society who may produce things for his own use. In this case the product is not a commodity since it will not be sold or exchanged). Furthermore the price is an average because although the price will be the same for each commodity of the same type, the conditions of production will differ between each manufacturer. These prices will “gravitate" towards the actual value but in reality shifts in supply and demand will cause prices to fluctuate around value. Marx showed in Capital that some commodities sell above, and others below, value at a price that is derived from value and that we must be aware that in developed capitalism commodities do not sell at value. In Wages. Price and Profit the important point is made that the capitalists make profit while buying the workers' commodity, labour power, at its value.

Since on average price tends to equate with value over a given period of time, then it is clear that profit is not derived by selling commodities at a price consistently above value. In fact a profit is made by selling commodities at a price that is derived from value. How can this be?

To answer this Marx starts by looking at the value of labour power. We have established that the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labour invested in its production. This can be applied to labour power as well because it is another commodity on the market, the one owned by the worker which has a price tag called wages.

The value in this case is fixed by the value of the necessities of life needed to maintain the worker's ability to continue and maintain the "production" of labour power.

A capitalist buys the right to use a worker's labour power for the whole of the working week, but the crucial point is that the value of that labour power is covered by the worker's production before the end of the working week. For the rest of the time the worker is producing what Marx termed "surplus value" - that is, value over and above the amount needed to cover the value of the worker's labour power. It is here, in the production of surplus value, that a profit is realised for the capitalist despite the fact that the commodities are sold at their value. The factory owning capitalist does not keep all the surplus value. Apart from the profits which they take the land owning capitalist takes rent on the land involved in the production process and the money lending capitalist takes interest on loans advanced to set up, maintain and expand the production process. The important point Marx makes is that the value of labour power is covered by the amount of work necessary to maintain and perpetuate that labour power but the use of the labour power is only limited by the physical endurance of the labourer: "The daily or weekly value of the labouring power is quite distinct from the daily or weekly exercise of that power..." Thus, although the worker performs unpaid labour for the capitalist it appears as though the worker is paid for that labour in full in the form of wages.

Before capitalism the exploited classes produced wealth for the ruling class in more obvious forms. Slaves produced wealth for their owners and feudal serfs handed over a portion of the wealth they produced to the land owning aristocracy. Under a different guise this production process continues under capitalism, but it is obscured by the method of extracting of surplus value.

Since Marx formulated his Labour Theory of Value during the 1860s the fundamental structure of capitalism has remained unchanged although some features have altered. For instance, when Marx was developing these ideas he could not have forseen the growth and influence of trade unions as an important factor in influencing the level of wages. Instead Marx concentrated on environmental factors that could influence the supply of, and demand for, labour power.

The Labour Theory of Value remains as crucial an element to the socialist case today as it did during the nineteenth century and the proclamation made by Marx towards the end of Wages, Price and Profit demands as much attention from the working class now as it did then:
Instead of the conservative motto "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!" (Workers) ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword. "Abolition of the wages system!".
Tony Dobson

The reform fallacy (1977)

From the September 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard
“It’s not the narrowness of the Bowl, but the smallness of their spoons.”                                                               — Marx, Value, Price and Profit.
Whilst it is frequently said that the concept of Socialism is quite easy—simple, in fact—the analysis of capitalism is by no means so. Any active Socialist propagandist will confirm that even after opponents confirm the desirability, or even necessity, of a new social order, their main argument for supporting reforms is the “practical” evidence.

Comparisons with the harrowing past, or the starving millions in the Third World, or the situation in Russia, are advanced as arguments for the great "progress” made by social reform meriting continued support. Yet it cannot be denied that the greater the “progress” the more acute the problems. And so we get the paradoxical result that the more reforms, the more sophisticated and elaborate the Welfare State— the more dissatisfaction and protest.

We are regularly reminded that ordinary workers now have colour television, motor cars, telephones, central-heated homes and more leisure. They have holidays abroad, medical treatment and pensions, all things which their forebears never enjoyed. Judged by superficial appearances, discontent should be allayed, strife assuaged, replaced by harmonious content. But it is not so!

To understand the reasons for this requires rather more than a fervent wish for a new society. It is a complicated problem based on relative proportions. If, in spite of the fact that the worker’s productivity has increased greatly by technical progress, the worker’s share or portion of the increased total wealth is relatively less than that of the capitalist, the worker is poorer compared with the values he now produces.

“Peter only establishes his own identity by comparing himself with Paul”, says Marx in Capital: i.e., his needs are what society can now provide. If the Company is able, by new machinery, to turn out twice as much wealth, the worker is producing the same values in half the time. If he goes on strike and gets a 25 per cent, increase in wages he is still 25 per cent, behind his employer, who has replaced a 50-50 division of necessary and surplus labour with a 75-25 one. “By the reduction of the necessary labour-time from 6 to 4 hours with a 12-hour working day, the rate of surplus-value has risen from 100 to 200 per cent., it had doubled.” (Kautsky, Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx.)

Marx gave some explanation of this relative position by the simple analogy of the happy man in his little house, contented enough until there arises
next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks into a hut . . . however high it may shoot up in the course of civilization, if the neighbouring palace rises in equal or even in greater measure, the occupant of the relatively little house will always find himself more uncomfortable, more dissatisfied, more cramped within his four walls.
(Marx, Wage-Labour and Capital.
The more speedily the worker augments the wealth of the capitalist, the larger will be the crumbs which fall to him.
A recent TV interview with Kevin Keegan, the ex-Liverpool footballer, provided a similar analogy. He described his boyhood: dedicated to football, he was quite small compared with other boys. He said he was put in goal. With the small junior goalposts he could just about reach the top. But as he grew, so did the goalposts until they were so high that he was hopeless as a goalie!

The worker is the goalie and the posts are the system. However much the worker grows (his output) the goalposts always grow beyond his reach. “If, therefore, the income of the worker increases with the rapid growth of capital, there is at the same time a widening of the social chasm that divides the worker from the capitalist, an increase in the power of capital over labour, a greater dependence of labour upon capital.” (Wage-Labour and Capital.)

An indictment (1966)

Film Review from the October 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hands Across The City (Paris Pullman Cinema). 

This film has been described as Marxist. It is not. But it is a piece of brilliant angry protest at the way democracy can be brought into abuse by the workings of capitalist society. It snarls in indignant rage at the back-slapping activities and behind-the-scenes deals between right and centre parties of a city council, and it scorns the cynical attempts of the “communist” deputies to fish in troubled waters when the' question of rehousing and land speculation hit the headlines.

Made in Italy, directed by Francesco Rosi, it stars Rod Steiger as Eduardo Nottola, the notorious building tycoon, ruthless in the pursuit of his interests and seeing everything through L (for Lira) shaped spectacles. “Money is not like a car—to be put in a garage and forgotten,” he snaps at his aide, impatient at a holdup in his plans. “It has to be fed every day like a horse.” Or in other words, time is money and every delay is a threat to his profit margins.

For Nottola is indeed after big profits and has managed to get an outsized finger in the pie when decisions are taken by the local authority on slum clearance and rebuilding in a part of Naples. He is a shrewd, flamboyant businessman-cum politician and is not afraid to use his money lavishly when buying opponents over to his side, in a bid to keep his grip on the inner junta of the city council. Early on, his activities are brought dramatically into the limelight with the collapse of a row of derelict houses on the very fringe of his building operations. Two of the occupants are killed and a young boy seriously injured —he loses both legs eventually—and everything is set for a first-class row in the council chamber, with Communist opposition leader De Vita, an eye on the coming elections, pressing for a full enquiry.

Nottola's son is a council official, whose abuse of the site safety regulations has made him liable for prosecution, and has gone into hiding; but later on he is cheerfully handed over to the police in sacrifice to De Vita’s thirst for blood, and in cynical furtherance of his father’s interests. The film leaves no punch unpulled in its relentless portrayal of an administration riddled with corruption and political intrigue in the cause of the profit motive.

And at the end of it all, Nottola is still there, maybe a trifle bloody but certainly far from bowed. His party has lost its majority on the city council, but he has managed to ride out the storm. The new council is just as anxious to curry favour; indeed the election has been more in the nature of a reshuffling than anything else, and many of the old faces are in new places.

True, this is not a Marxist film, but it makes some telling points, and jabs away at the veneer of sickening self-righteousness masking the filth of capitalist politics. As Mayor Di-Angela says to one of the younger deputies in a rare flash of frankness: “Politics is not a moral issue. For the politician the greatest crime of all is to be defeated.” So he tries to make sure that he is not guilty of this by keeping on the right side of those with power and influence.

Then again, Nottola’s survival is symbolic rather than personal. There has been an upheaval, but the dust doesn't take long to settle, and afterwards rich, poor and profit motive are all still with us. Yet this very significance the producers seem to have missed—or refused to face—and we are left to search in vain for an answer to the problem they have so starkly posed. To judge by the dialogue, they do not seem to have much confidence in the working class to do anything about it either, although they do concede that election times can be pretty nerve-racking for some politicians.

This aside, however, the film is worth seeing as an indictment of private property society. “The story and characters, are fictitious.” says the usual disclaimer at the end of the titles. Well, it certainly could have fooled us.
Eddie Critchfield