Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Party Notes (1942)

Party News from the February 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

The New Year augurs well for the Socialist Party. The following brief resume of propaganda activities may convey to our readers the fact that whenever and wherever an opportunity presents itself, the Party sends out its propagandists to state the case for Socialism.

On January 11th about 650 people were present at the Conway Hall, London, to hear the debate between Com. C. C. Groves, and F. A. Ridley, who represented the I.L.P. The interest and enthusiasm aroused in the audience may be gauged from the fact that our sales of literature (monthly pamphlets) exceeded £5, and the collection realised £14.

It is of great significance that in the midst of this world conflict a growing number of workers in this land are manifesting such keen interest in the only solution to their problems—Socialism.

A fortnight later Com. S. Rubin delivered the Socialist message to an audience of 300 at the Cosmo Club, Nottingham. Considerable interest in our case was created as a result of this address by Com. Rubin, and a keen discussion amongst the audience followed.

Under the auspices of the energetic Glasgow branch of the Party, Comrade Groves spoke to an appreciative audience of 200 at the Central Halls, Glasgow, on January 25th. This audience demonstrated its interest in our case by donating over £8 to Party funds and purchasing nearly £3 of pamphlets.

Meanwhile outdoor propaganda in London has not slackened. Com. Turner continues to hold excellent meetings almost every mid-day in the City of London. Sunday meetings at Hyde Park, London, still attract large crowds to our platform, and at many of these meetings Com. Turner is ably assisted by Com. Young. Literature sales and collections resulting from these meetings are excellent, and in no small measure are due to the patient and untiring efforts of a band of sellers and collectors, who often stand for hours in order to reap the harvest of the spoken word.

The above are but a few of the many activities of the Party, and in another article I hope to acquaint readers with the invaluable work which is being performed by our tutors in charge of various educational classes at Head Office.
January, 1942.                                                                                                                       H. G. Holt.

Latin America: 2 Tomorrow’s prospects (1971)

From the June 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The modernisation of Latin America will be a fantastic task for whoever takes it on. Despite the existence of several nations with a more or less European culture and level of technology, the continent is generally appallingly backward. In the mid 1960’s its industry accounted for only 24 per cent of the gross domestic product and employed only 14 per cent of the native population. Only half the population ever receives any primary education and in some parts the rate of illiteracy is 100 per cent. In 1965 the income of General Motors was 20.7 billion (thousand million) dollars which was more than the gross national product of any Latin American nation including Brazil. In case the message still isn’t clear, one man, Paul Getty, owned more personal wealth than the yearly income of Ecuador. Moreover, many millions live outside a money economy: In Brazil’s north east alone 10 millions are reckoned to come into this category.

The most awesome statistic about Latin America is that from a total of 226 million in 1965 the population is expected to be around 316 million by 1980, 40 per cent of whom will be under 15 years of age. This means that the vast majority will be non-producers. Here, rather than China or India, is where the so-called population explosion is at its worst and an annual increase of 3 per cent in the economy is required just to keep living standards as they are.

In the face of all this can there really be any hope for Latin America? The answer is “yes”. In fact it is precisely this state of affairs which must galvanise capital into action, whether using the methods of democratic government or military juntas, for failure to act will ensure that the situation becomes utterly chaotic, and that can’t be good for business. What use is a continent seething with discontent and crawling with guerrillas in the countryside and in the cities? We dealt last month with the poor prospects of the rural guerrillas. As for their imitators in the cities, they have no basis of support among the working class class and can really only have nuisance value. A resumption of constitutional rights in Uruguay will undoubtedly cut much of the ground from beneath the Tupamaros. Indeed, the only possible contribution the guerrillas might be able to make is by prodding tardy regimes into some concessions that little bit sooner.

The working class of Latin America has already been written off as the “revolutionary” force by the would-be emancipators at the meeting of the Latin American Solidarity Organisation (OLAS) in Havana in 1967. It is true that the continental working class is still very weak and is actually declining as a percentage of the population. There are only about 7 million members of the trade unions and these mostly in the more developed nations. But in Latin America, as elsewhere, the Socialist movement must be essentially working class.

A popular explanation for the political backwardness of the Latin American working class is that it brings with in into the cities reactionary rural attitudes among which is the desire for a strong-man such as Peron was. In short, they look to a “Patron” to solve problems rather than their own political or industrial action (see S. Mander Static Society: The Paradox of Latin America). There is some truth in this explanation but it has to be seen against the fact that millions of city dwellers in Latin America aren’t, strictly speaking, workers at all. Each year destitute rural inhabitants drift citywards to end up in the shanty-towns such as the “Favelas” of Rio. Some drift back to the countryside for a variety of reasons but many of those who remain never really get involved in the relationships and disciplines of wage-labour, so the size and attitudes of Latin America’s working class cannot be accurately judged merely by looking at the urban populations.

Nor will the idea of the “Patron” endure outside of the semi-feudal hangover which throws it up. As capitalist expansion really gets underway the workers will be forced by an intensification of the class struggle to look to unions for help and to the various political parties. This has been the pattern in Italy, Japan, and other countries which have recently undergone large scale industrialisation and it is no accident that Latin America’s trade unions are strongest in those countries where capitalism has already made considerable progress, such as Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Venezuela.

The evidence is that Latin America’s capitalist class is awakening to the possibilities. Their theorists have long extolled the need to control foreign investment and interference, particularly American, and the current denunciations of the “imperialists” are belated recognition of this. Covering the election by the Chilean Congress of Dr. Allende as President, Lewis Duguid reported that “. . . the bourgeois congressmen, some of them bitterly anti-American and convinced that Chile’s problems are imported, have voted in a man who repudiates many institutions of Chile while glorifying its distinctiveness”. Of Allende’s alleged Marxism, Duguid quotes Allende explaining this as meaning "he accepts the Marxist interpretation of history”. (Guardian 25 October, 1970) So what? This is purely academic and the fact remains that Allende’s government is committed to and was elected on a mere ragbag of reforms, and far from opposing US investment is soliciting it, only this time for "fair returns”.

Meanwhile the government is forcing foreign companies which are wholly controlled from abroad to sell the majority of their shares to local investors. In Venezuela the bourgeois government is progressively increasing its share of the profits of the largely US owned oil companies and is extending its overall stake in the oil industry. This bourgeois confidence stems from the sure knowledge of their newfound unity.

As we have already said, our interest in Latin America lies in the prospects for the growth of socialist ideas there. These ideas will go hand in hand with the strengthening of the conditions which have produced them elsewhere — mainly the development of capitalism and all that stems from that, including its ever increasing problems and contradictions. Of course as socialist ideas grow in the rest of the world then, with the existence of today’s sophisticated means of communication, Latin America cannot fail to be affected by this. Indeed, even if the continent continued indefinitely in its backward state it could not escape Socialism when the developed world put it into operation. It would fall in line with the superior social system, so we don’t have to wait for every backward part of the world to be modernised before production for use becomes possible. The fact is that capitalism has come to Latin America and is rapidly expanding its techniques and relationships.

We confidently look forward to the day when growing interest in our ideas will be reflected in the number of enquiries from Latin America. What should socialists there do in the meantime? Certainly not to engage in movements of "anti-imperialism”, demands for agrarian reform and the like, but instead to propagate whenever possible the case for Socialism — worldwide common ownership and democratic control of society’s resources.
Vic Vanni

Latin America: 1. Economy and Investment (1971)

From the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Latin America is the Cinderella of world politics. In comparison with Africa and Asia it has been neglected, as a glance at the shelves in the libraries and bookshops will show. Penguin paperbacks, for example, have published a whole African Library but nothing comparable on Latin America, and even the left wing have been relatively silent on the subject. Why is this? The main reason is that while Afro-Asia’s struggles of “national independence” are either current or very recent, Latin America’s similar struggles occurred over a century ago. And while the left has seen “socialism” in just about every Afro-Asian state, Latin America has been a United States colony, ridden with rightist governments and dictators. The Cuban revolt caused a momentary flutter but interest soon waned when the whole continent didn’t follow Cuba’s example and when the inevitable “degeneration” set in.

The rise of the Tupamaros plus Allende’s electoral victory have produced a reawakening of interest, so it would be a good opportunity for us to assess the situation in Latin America and the prospects for the growth there of socialist ideas. And what a task this is! We are dealing with 14 per cent of the world’s land mass containing 7 per cent of its population and with greatly varied technology and culture. A continent dominated by a mountain range which severely restricts communications, a continent with the world's greatest jungles and even a desert, and yet with an extremely high level of urbanisation and great cities on the scale of London, Paris and Milan. Alongside this are remnants of feudalism in the rural areas with master and serf relationships, not to mention those pockets where people are still living in primitive tribal societies.

The modern history of Latin America starts with independence from Spain and Portugal at the beginning of the 19th century. The continent was, and to a lesser degree still is, ruled by landowning oligarchies. America, Britain and France soon made it an area of investment and a market for their manufactures. Today, America has largely ousted the others and made the continent its own preserve. Of course American domination has tended to keep Latin America industrially backward in order to maintain it as an outlet for exports. Even now, when American big business sets up large scale industry, such as car factories, it does so only to protect existing markets from foreign rivals and local entrepreneurs. It is this situation which has thrown up the growing bourgeois and military nationalists plus the would-be imitators of Castro and Guevara, all determined to end “Yankee Imperialism”.

The major problem for Latin America is, how can it become industrialised to the extent that is required? The need is for the accumulation of capital to finance expansion carried out by one means or another — through military juntas as in parts of Afro-Asia; through “revolutionaries” using highly centralised government action as in the “communist” world; or through a home-grown recognisably capitalist class perhaps utilising some of the methods of the other two groups. The first two groups have already made their presence felt in Peru and Cuba respectively, and the signs are that the last group is at long last coming through. Whichever aspirants come to power in whatever country their most important task must be to tackle the antiquated and inefficient methods of agriculture caused by the system of landowning.

Until now this system has severely hampered industrialisation. The big landowners often trace their ancestry back to the conquistadors and regard wealth through feudal eyes — as ownership of land providing, above all, social status. As a result the land is often badly and underused so agriculture remains static with too many people producing only enough — and usually not even that — for themselves. Consequently, there can be no surplus for investment in industry nor a rural population with any money to become emergent industry’s consumers.

Undoubtedly Latin America’s system of landowning is archaic. Land is owned mainly in large estates (latifundios) and the rest in dwarf holdings (minifundios). On the large estates can work wage slaves plus a variety of peasantry categorised as follows
(1) Tenant Farmers: works part of landlord’s land for himself giving a money rent in return.
(2) Sharecropper: gives part of produce in return.
(3) Labour Tenant: gives personal service (labour) in return and is an out and out feudal throwback. [1]
It is these three groups that the rural guerillas set their sights on. The following figures show the extent of big landowner’s holdings: Between 3 and 8 per cent of landlords own between 60 and 80% of the continent’s cultivable land. In Paraguay eleven lots cover 35% per the eastern region. In Chile 63% of arable land is owned by big owners, the remainder being dwarf holdings. In the Peruvian Highlands 1.3 per cent of estates control more than 50 per cent of land. [2]

So agriculture must be modernised by getting it onto a capitalist basis in order to stimulate investment, free a major portion of the population to become workers in industry and commerce, and create the mass of consumers necessary for a home market. Right, but who is to carry out the role of accumulators? Obviously the Castro-type solution is out, as the guerilla movement — where it even exists — is being given short shrift by the U.S. trained Latin American military. Witness the experience of Guevara in Bolivia. Also, the peasantry is fatalistic in its outlook and will only join in a revolt after it is seen to be winning. Besides, any idea of splitting up the land amongst the peasantry is, in the long run, opposed to modernisation in that while it may produce happier peasants it does not lead to a surplus for investment.

Can military dictatorships of a nationalist complexion fill the bill as in, say, Egypt, Indonesia, or Nigeria? This is likely in some of Latin America’s less developed nations where the bourgeoisie are still too weak or disunited, but in the more advanced nations a native bourgeoisie is emerging strong and determined enough and has been flexing its muscles of late, particularly in Chile and Venezuela.

Of course their potential has always been there as was shown during the depression years when, paradoxically, a considerable degree of industrialisation was achieved. As the flow of foreign funds dried up then the state and local capital stepped in to fill the vacuum. And during world war two, when Latin America’s normal suppliers of manufactures were otherwise engaged in mutual mayhem, a profitable opportunity beckoned for home investors. Then there is the 5 billion dollars of Latin American capital which is invested overseas, [3] so it’s not as if there is simply nothing in the kitty. Given the right climate for home investment (political stability) the continent’s capitalists could be induced to plunge heavily. Until now the state has had to do the job of laying the foundations of industrialisation. In what is virtually America’s backyard 30 per cent of all investment is by the state!  [4] Nationalisation, so beloved by the left, is embraced by conservative regimes easily enough. Oil, railways, steel, electricity, mining, are either wholly or partly state owned in many Latin American countries. And why not? It is often the logical way for an as yet economically weak owning class to run things by combining into a community of capital.

So far we have been reviewing Latin America’s past and present. In the next article we shall be considering the prospects for the future.

(To be concluded)
Viv Vanni

1. P. Cole Latin America: an economic and social geography
2. T. Szulc Wind of Revolution
3. P. Nehemkis Latin America: myth and reality
4. J. P. Cole (ibid).

Was Dutschke subversive? (1971)

From the April 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rudi Dutschke, the former German student leader, has been expelled from Britain because the government decided that his political views were a threat to the “security” of the British State.

Most people will know that Britain, like all States, has a secret police force and some will have probably assumed that it was exclusively concerned with tracking down spies and with spying on other governments. The Dutschke case brought to the attention of the general public the fact that the so-called “security service” is also involved in spying on internal opponents of the government who have no connection whatsoever with any overseas government.

The hearing of Dutschke’s appeal against expulsion was essentially a political trial. His political views were being examined to see whether he should be classified as an ordinary or as a subversive opponent of the government. The tribunal decided his views were subversive.

What were these views, anyway? Dutschke, according to his representative before the Tribunal Basic Wigoder QC, "had repeatedly said that before his idea of a new society could come into existence the minority had to enlighten the public generally until the minority became a majority in support of his views” (Times, 23 December). Richard Davy, writing in the Times (9 January), stated that Dutschke “yearns for a classless and moneyless utopia in which every individual is free and equal” and Dutschke had previously told Davy in an interview that “a life independent of wages” was his aim (Times, 16 January).

The government were certainly right to regard anyone who spreads ideas about a classless, moneyless, wageless society to be set up by an enlightened majority as dangerous to the capitalist system it is their role to protect.

Unfortunately, not all Dutschke’s ideas are as good as these. He is confused about the nature of the system in Russia and East Europe and seems to favour minority direct action or "revolutionary terror” against the authorities as one means of enlightening the majority, a policy he should know is bound to lead to violence in which those best equipped and trained to use it — the authorities — will come off best.

Nevertheless Dutschke is one of the growing number of people — including Tariq Ali and some of the hippies and yippies — who are coming round to the Socialist view that money and wages have no place in a sane world.

High Wages and Low Profits (1971)

From the April 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

There may be a million men and women on the dole next winter. This at least is what some economic soothsayers are predicting.

Many people are mistakenly blaming the government. Their attitude is understandable in view of the extravagant claims made about governments being able to control the level of employment.

The number of unemployed—or the size of what Marx aptly called the industrial reserve army—is something governments cannot control any more than they can the level of production. Employment and production depend on the working of the capitalist economic system which runs on profits and not according to governments’ decrees. As has been demonstrated time and again, capitalism controls governments not governments capitalism.

Unemployment is rising at the moment because the falling rate of profit is discouraging capitalists from investing. Profit margins, as capitalists call the rate of profit, are falling because wages have been rising faster than prices.

Geoffrey Bell, writing in The Times (2 March) about "The Dangerous Pressure on Profits”, notes this about the current crisis:
   Profits have fallen, are falling and show every sign of continuing to fall relative to the growth of gross national product in the United Kingdom. Wage earnings are rising at nearly twice the pace of retail prices. This gap between wage costs and price increases is clearly greater than the growth in productivity and any improvement in the terms of trade. As a result, profit margins are being reduced further after a decade of being squeezed . . .
   The United Kingdom suffers from inadequate industrial investment and perhaps the major reason for this inadequacy is a lack of profit on such investment. It should be stressed that this point is made not with a view that there is some ’natural’ or ‘correct’ level of profit margins in the United Kingdom but simply because unless margins are improved then investment will continue to suffer and hence economic growth more generally.
This is a refreshing change from the usual nonsense we hear from the politicians about wage increases causing inflation. Insofar as wage increases outstrip rising prices they cut into profits and this is what worries the capitalist class and their agents, the government.

Trade unionists and reformists like to think that wages can be pushed up indefinitely without any effect on investment and employment. This is an illusion. Capitalism runs on profits and any threat from rising wages to the rate of profit will lead to a “downturn” (i.e., a slump) in production and a rise in unemployment. Unemployment will reduce the pressure on profits from wages and eventually restore the conditions for an expansion of production and employment. This is the normal business cycle of capitalism, something analysed by Marx a hundred years ago and still operating despite Keynes and governments pledged to maintain “full” employment and to end “stop-go”.

Meetings on South Africa and Womens Liberation (1971)

Party News from the March 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two meetings of particular interest were held at Westminster Branch recently.

The first on 20 January was a discussion on apartheid opened by Scrape Ntshona, a representative of the Unity Movement of South Africa. The Unity Movement was established in 1943. It adopted a ten-point programme that was mainly designed to win support for the establishment of a non-racial democratic republic in South Africa, and included demands such as universal franchise, freedom of speech and freedom to organise politically and industrially (which are demands a socialist group in South Africa might have to advocate whilst maintaining its separate identity and its opposition to all other parties). Ntshona went on to claim that the “leadership” of the Unity Movement had longer-term objectives including "public ownership of industry”, “redistribution of land” and “democratic control in industry”. It is clear that a small group within the Unity Movement recognise that some change in economic and social relations is necessary, as well as a change in the mode of government, before the problems of workers can begin to be solved. The change they seek, however, turns out to be little different from the failed national state capitalism of Russia and its successors in China and Cuba. In view of the many similarities in the foreign policies of both America and Russia with regard to Africa which the Unity Movement itself draws attention to, it is surprising that they have not recognised the basic similarity in the economic structure of the two countries. Ntshona's views on the vote were rather confused since, while he considered that it was something to be fought for by “non-european” workers in South Africa, he did not (unlike ourselves) see it as a potentially useful weapon in the struggle for the establishment of Socialism. Despite these criticisms it is true that the Unity Movement has made some contribution towards an understanding of the nature of apartheid and perhaps also to the development of some kind of independent working class activity amongst "non-european” workers in South Africa who after all make up the majority of the working class there.

The second discussion on 3 February was opened by two members of the Women’s Liberation Workshop. There was general agreement between them and us on the distorting effect that capitalist society has on the relationship between men and women; and on the particular forms of discrimination against women: the supporting role they are trained to play and accept as wives and mistresses or as nurses, teachers and cleaners and their partial exclusion from other tasks designated as suitable for men; the concentration of working women in lower-paid jobs; the portrayal of women as sexual objects of men in advertising. Disagreement arose mainly on the questions of whether a separate women-only organisation was necessary and whether Women’s Liberation was in itself a revolutionary force. Our members pointed out that the stated long-term objectives of Women’s Liberation — a full and free relationship between the sexes on the basis of social equality — could only be realised in Socialism, but their immediate demands such as “equal wages” and “free abortion” were more likely to attract support and so make of Women’s Liberation another reformist movement. To the extent that these immediate demands could be achieved within capitalism — and of course they could be — Women’s Liberation would become a movement for “making women as free as men aren’t”. The speakers explained that their movement, being only two years old, was still at a very formative stage and that few of its members had yet developed any clear idea of the form of society they wish to see established.
M. Ballard

Where Conquest goes wrong (1971)

Book Review from the February 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Where Marx went Wrong, by Robert Conquest. Tom Stacey. 30s.

In this very readable book Robert Conquest presents his views on Russia. China and the other countries under Communist Party Rule, contrasts them with the Western World and attempts a criticism of Marxian theories. Many years ago, he was. for a short period, a member of the Communist Party: now his main concern is to attack the lies, pretensions, failures and savageries of the Communist Party regimes. In this he is very much made at home but unfortunately his wide knowledge of what goes on under the Communist Party dictatorship is not backed up by an equal understanding of the long-term trends at work behind the facade of “Marxist” slogans. Instead of seeing Russia as it really is, a great capitalist power bearing features derived from the history and social structure of pre-1917 Tsarist Russia, he sees it as a kind of corrupt and degenerate ‘Socialism’, more or less influenced by Marx; this in spite of his own recognition that much Communist policy is in flat contradiction to Marxist theory.

It follows that only a small part of the book actually deals with Conquest’s criticisms of Marx. The title, in order to fit the major part, should be Where the Communists Went Wrong and it would have only the most tenuous connection with Marx.

Some of the author’s criticisms of Marxist theory raise issues worth consideration but his treatment is marred by a peculiar defect of vision: he cannot see the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

It is not that Mr. Conquest does not know of us; he has on occasions paid tribute to the Party’s freedom from the dishonesty and cant that is a hall mark of the “Leftwing” parties. When therefore he deals with the attitudes of various bodies claiming to be Marxist and attacks what he regards as their errors and illusions why does he not notice our distinctive attitude? We can appreciate his difficulty. If he had done so he would have had to qualify a dozen or so of his remarks about Marxists by adding "This does not apply to the Socialist Party of Great Britain.”

When he was planning his book, and if the thought of including the SPGB ever crossed his mind, he would have had to plan us out of it. Voltaire said: “If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.” Conquest, in order to make his criticisms of Marxian theory credible simply had to disinvent the SPGB.

This is not just a question of acknowledging our existence; it is crucial to the kind of case he makes against Marxism. He writes for example that his “Main objection to the whole Marxist attitude is . . . that it is a system of dogmas and. as such opposed to the Western tradition of independent thinking.” He can justify this as a criticism of Russia but it is quite invalid for us.

At its formation and since, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has not followed a set of dogmas but has evolved lines of its own not to be found elsewhere — its attitude to war and violence, its insistence on the need for the development of working-class understanding and acceptance of Socialist principles, slow though this must be, its open democratic organisation, its attitude to the conquest of the machinery of government, its rejection of a programme of reforms, its attitude to nationalisation (State capitalism), and to leadership.

A general acceptance of Marxism if compatible with these attitudes it is not open to the charge Conquest levels against it.

There is little that is original in Conquest’s approach to the criticism of Marxism. He takes what is now a common attitude, that of conceding some value to Marx’s historical materialism while dismissing his economics as being hardly worth bothering about. He disposes of the economic theories in less than three pages.

He makes the point that the essence of Marxian economics had already been stated before his day by “all the great economists of the English school’’, not noticing that among other things, Marx made the important new contribution of recognising that what the worker sells is not his labour (an idea which ran into a dead end and explained nothing) but his labour power.

Conquest’s “disproof” of the Labour Theory of Value is the following:—
it was clearly untrue — as has been pointed out, an oil well jetting suddenly in one’s garden has an instant exchange-value without any work being done at all.
If Conquest would look at what Marx wrote he would realise that Marx, very sensibly, was dealing with the normal conditions of the production of commodities in a capitalist system, not with things "passing strange and wonderful”.

The normal procurement of oil does not consist of oil wells jetting suddenly out of gardens all over the place. If it did in accordance with the Marxian labour theory, the value and price of oil would drop very sharply and Royal Dutch and Shell would not need to spend upwards of £100 million a year on oil exploration.
Another of Conquest’s criticisms is that Marx, in Volume I of Capital, came up against the dilemma that surplus value is created by the workers but the trend is towards a decline in the number of workers relative to the amount of capital invested in plant and machinery etc., and therefore the rate of profit must fall. He writes: “This was plainly untrue at the time and Marx himself finally noted the difficulty but set it aside for later treatment which he never gave it”.

Almost all of this is wrong. Long before Marx, economists were trying in vain to understand the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. It was Marx who found the logical explanation, and Marx who also explained why that tendency was partly offset by counteracting influences. This was done in Volume III of Capital and, as Louis Boudin pointed out in his Theoretical System of Karl Marx,
Most of the third volume, and particularly those portions which are supposed to modify the first volume, were actually written down by Marx, in its present form, before the publication of the first volume.
Conquest also has a go at what Marx wrote about “increasing misery” — or rather he has a go at what Marx did not write.

What Marx wrote was
as capital accumulates, the condition of the worker, be his wages high or low, necessarily grows worse.
In Conquest’s version this becomes “the more the capital invested and the greater the production, the less will be the wages paid for labour”. (Italics ours in both quotations).

It is possible to agree without reservation with one of Conquest’s observations about Marx’s Labour Theory of Value that “its influence on modern economic thought has long been negligible”— but so much the worse for modern economic thought.

He has complete confidence in modern economists. Is it not due to them that "the standard of living has gone up enormously in all the Western countries and. though no economy can be called crisis-proof in any general sense they show themselves able to control the allegedly inevitable cyclic crises”.

Conquest appears not to be looking at the same world that we see. We see the British, American and other governments fumbling along from one crisis to another, not knowing what to do, with the economists giving contradictory advice or admitting that they are baffled, or saying, with economist Galbraith, that of course there will be another 1929 crash and depression.

If he believes that these are evidences of capitalism being under control he will believe anything.

One development of thought among economists should particularly interest Conquest and others who accepted the claims of the successors to Marx. Thirty years ago Keynes warned the capitalists that the only way to save capitalism was to create full employment. Now, faced with the manifest failure of the Keynesian dream, a new school of economists is emerging, telling the capitalists that their system is in peril from inflation and the only way to save it is to have more unemployment.
Edgar Hardcastle

Motives of militarism (1971)

From the January 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is just over ten tears ago that peace time conscription (one of the Attlee government’s steps towards socialism) came to an end (by order of a Tory government). For the most part, National Servicemen agreed that the time they spent in the forces was a stilling bore. Some swore that they spent almost the entire two years sitting around with virtually nothing to do; others, that any sporting prowess was the passport, through a corrupt adjutant, to a cushy posting.

The surprising fact was that so many of these men, after their demob, could recall the episode without experiencing an overwhelming urge to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Very few were really angry about those wasted months; they looked back on it all with an amused tolerance, perhaps even with some affection.

They remembered the time spent square-bashing under roaring NCOs, the kit inspections with everything moronically clean and laid out in monotonous pattern. They swapped memories of barrack room japes and booze ups as if service life was one long revel. Many a demobbed clerk used to announce his morning arrival at the office with "Orderly officer! Stand by y’beds!” It was almost as if, in very drab lives, being plucked out into the service was one isolated, treasured patch of colour.

Perhaps those gentle memories were a rationalisation of what was actually an unpleasant experience, which the conscripts could not contain or justify in any other way. If there is a massive guilt complex at large, it has probably been successfully projected; a recent Opinion Research Centre poll said that 43 per cent of those questioned about conscription favoured a return of it.

At this time of long haired, protesting, questioning, free-loving, delinquent, youth — a return of conscription? It is useful, to take that as a starting point.

If we played the old psychological party game and asked a collection of people what word came immediately to mind when we said “Army”, a fair number would reply “discipline". And it is discipline, with elements of orderliness, smartness, cleanliness, which present day society is supposed to lack. A large part of the Services’ efforts goes into this discipline business and the instilling of it is the basis of all those parades, saluting, stamping, polishing, shining, folding, adjusting . . .

A plainer, but more accurate, way of expressing this is that it is intended to induce a state of mind in which the disciplined ask no questions. They obey — even the word of an ignorant, bull-headed man whose only advantage is in the stripes on his sleeve. Men who can be trained to co-operate enthusiastically in pointless activities like making sure they walk about a barrack square in exactly the same way as a few hundred other men can also be trained to give of their best in other, equally pointless, activities. They will, for example, if the man with the stripes tells them to, do their best to kill some other, equally disciplined and conditioned, man who is wearing a different uniform.

Once in that mindless mob action, it takes some courage to make a stand. Conform — that is the password. When you are in the mob you take everything like a soldier. That includes your work (which may mean killing your fellow conscript on the other side), your punishments, your drink. Even your sex. The old conscripts may backlash, now that they are in their thirties and forties, at the so-called Permissive Society and the current attempted ventilation of some of the more suffocating phobias of sex. It was different in their day, when a soldier was applauded for taking a local wench upright in an alley at the back of a dance hall. That, after all, was the soldier's way . . .

This professed contempt for women is in fact part of an obsession which finds its place conveniently among the myths of capitalism. That is the obsession with manliness, the notion that a man must act in a particular style and must confine his interests to particular fields. Thus in advanced society a man may be employed in a factory, he may relax in some sports, he is pressured to adopt certain dress styles, even to like particular drinks (like in the T.V. ad for Courage bitter). To step out of this pattern — for example for a man to put on an apron and do the housework while his wife goes out to work — would be to put doubt on his sexuality, even his sanity.

There is of course a vast amount of research which destroys the idea that the respective roles of men and women in society are fixed and necessarily logical. In fact capitalism allots to them the roles which fit in with the system’s needs and priorities. Predictably, capitalism justifies this with a campaign which glorifies the roles it has allotted and by erecting a huge edifice of prejudice. In this way, manliness and militancy are connected; the soldier stamps his way around, he shouts his commands. He demonstrates strength.

The crucial point here is that the reactions and the disciplines which are instilled by military life are in their way very useful to capitalist society outside. Capitalism is a social system of privilege in which the vast majority are underdogs. If they ever realise their sheer power, if they ever see through the system’s deceptions, then the days of privilege are numbered. A great propaganda effort is devoted to delaying the day of reckoning.

Workers are taught that in many things conformity is a virtue; they are taught that mass production is good because it is more profitable. The ideal which is dangled before them is to live in one of a regiment of semis, with a Ford in the gutter outside and two point three (or whatever point it is) children to take out an endowment insurance on. They are taught docility, that the life of the worker who accepts his lot is good (those endowments mature someday) and getting better. Anybody who gets impatient at the slowness of the “improvements”, or who wants more than an improvement, must be a neurotic, a long hair, a hippy. It would obviously do him good, knock all that nonsense out of him, if he had to go in the Army. A pity they don’t bring conscription back . . .

This is no more than an attempt at an easy answer to all the doubts and questioning about capitalism and its effects. Militarism is itself suppressive, an attempt to harden bodies and brutalise minds to the point where they are ready to obey any order, tolerate any obscenity. But the questioning will go on and militarism is no more than an obstacle to be surmounted. If there is no discipline in this it is not the discipline of the barked command, the automatic obedience. It is the discipline of knowledge and in the struggle between the two there is no doubt about which shall overcome.

What's your share (1985)

From the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many reformist parties throughout the world, particularly Labour and various social democratic parties, while accepting the continuation of capitalism have argued that market capitalism should not be left to its own devices. In this view, production should be planned, and moreover a deliberate policy should be operated for raising the standard of living of workers by transferring wealth and income from the rich to the poor, pushing up wages, and introducing a series of social reforms.

There are compelling economic reasons why this cannot work. It is nevertheless an old idea, and Marx criticised people who in his own day made the same error as do the various reformist parties now:
Vulgar socialism has accepted as gospel from the bourgeois economists that the problem of distribution can be considered and treated independently of the mode of production, from which it is inferred that socialism turns mainly upon the question of distribution.
(Critique of the Gotha Programme)
What Marx was saying to these "vulgar socialists" was that if there exists production on a capitalist basis — an owning class and a working class and commodities being produced for sale — it is that basis which also determines distribution. It is impossible to have capitalist production and socialist distribution. If there is capitalist production, this will also determine how wealth is distributed.

The experience of reformist parties as governments has been the opposite of what they intended. For example every Labour government in Britain since the end of World War II. instead of trying to push wages up. has been compelled by the pressures of capitalism to introduce a "wages policy" with the object of holding wages down. The trade union movement has been forced to fight many industrial battles over wages and conditions during periods of Labour government. as at any other time.

Another fallacy of these reformist parties is their belief that capitalist production can be planned by the government. They work on the simple assumption that if the government increases total production this must mean that there is more of everything for the mass of the population. But in capitalist society, what there is available for the mass of the population does not depend on how much can be produced, but on how much can be sold at a profit. If commodities cannot be sold, workers lose their jobs and therefore have no wages with which to buy. During the period 1974 to 1979 the British Labour government "planned" to expand steel production and spent hundreds of millions of pounds doubling the output capacity of the steel industry, which it raised to 22 million tonnes of crude steel. But they were unable to sell the steel, and tens of thousands of steel workers lost their jobs. Successive governments have spent more hundreds of millions of pounds cutting back capacity to what it was before they started.

Another example was with coal production. As a result of forward "planning" there were, before the recent strike. 50 million tonnes of coal lying at pitheads, power stations and other places, which could not be sold or used. Arthur Scargill. the president of the miners union, said that the accumulation of unsold coal should be given away, particularly to old age pensioners. But what Scargill forgot is that if the 50 million tonnes were given away it would simply have reduced the ability of the Coal Board to sell 50 million tonnes of newly mined coal. Scargill takes his place among those who Marx described in 1875 as "vulgar socialists" who think it is possible to superimpose socialist distribution on capitalist production.

Another reformist intention has been to make the ownership of wealth less unequal. This was supposed to have two beneficial results. First it would make workers better off. and secondly it was supposed to reduce unemployment because it would expand the market. But this involves another illusion. If wealth is transferred from the rich to the poor it has no effect on total market demand and therefore no effect on unemployment. All it means is that capitalists buy less and workers buy more, so overall market capacity is not affected.

Change in the distribution of income and ownership of wealth has to be looked at more closely. It takes place as a result of a whole set of economic circumstances affecting the operation of capitalism and there is no evidence that this is affected to any considerable degree by particular government policies. For example we can assume that it was the wish of the present Thatcher government in Britain to increase the size of profits and to depress wages. But was it the wish of this government that some 13,000 companies should go bankrupt during 1983? Was it the wish of this government that in real terms, after allowing for price rises, the total profits of companies should have continued to fall, so that in 1983 they were well below the 1979 level? Obviously, what this government wants has very little influence on the way capitalism operates.

Looking back over the past 130 years it is possible to see the phases that British capitalism has passed through. Between 1850 and 1914 average wages rose by nearly 90 per cent. This was against a background of big and rising profits so that the inequality in the distribution of wealth and income probably increased or remained unchanged. On the workers' side of the division of wealth, the major factor was the growth and development of the trade unions in the last quarter of the century.

Between 1895 and 1914 British capitalism more or less stagnated. Profits began to fall and there was some fall in wages. During the period between 1914 and World War II it is probable that the inequality of wealth and distribution of income remained unchanged or may have increased in favour of profits.

After World War II wages increased and profits declined. Up to 1977 the government statistical office published figures every year showing the distribution of income to wages, salaries and trading profits for manufacturing industries. These showed that in 1950 the total profits of manufacturers were 55 per cent of the total wages and salaries bill, and 57 per cent in the following year. After this there was a continual decline of profits. In 1964 it was 43 per cent. In 1970 it was 35 per cent. This fell to 30 per cent in 1977 and there was a further fall to about 25 per cent in 1982.

What is happening now is a reversal of this trend. Companies which survived in the depression shed a lot of workers and tightened up production. With over 3 million unemployed the position of workers is weakened. Now output has been increasing but companies are not taking on more workers and profits have been rising sharply. As sales have picked up companies are able to achieve the amount of output they had before the depression with far fewer workers. The result has been a remarkable increase in profit over the past year and some estimates have put it as high as 50 per cent and it is still rising.

It is likely now that the post-war trend towards less inequality has been reversed and British capitalism is once again in a phase of greater inequality in the distribution of wealth and income. This has been due to changes in the relative strength and bargaining power of workers on the one side and employers on the other in relation to the ability of the market to provide for sales at a profit.
Edgar Hardcastle