Saturday, September 10, 2016

Workers' Paradise? (1990)

From the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Unemployment has become a topic of discussion and even the Soviet party newspaper Pravda admits that perestroika has caused people to lose their employment. On 31 October 1989 Pravda stated that three million people have lost their job as a result of the reform programme and that this figure could rise to 16 million by the year 2000. In particular, 500,000 men are due to be demobilized from the Soviet armed forces during 1990 and 1991, following Gorbachev's speech to the United Nations in December 1988, adding to the pool of unemployed. In Central Asia youth unemployment has increased sharply rising to 25 per cent in certain districts and this has contributed to ethnic violence among the different nationalities.
  As well as unemployment the Soviet Union now concedes that a proportion of its population lives in conditions of poverty. The minimum level for material security is reckoned to be 75 roubles per month but 43 million people or 15 percent of the Soviet population are reckoned to fall below this level. There is no state plan for poverty and no government agency with the task of providing for those who are below this level as formerly poverty was not supposed to exist. Soviet officials resort to a euphemism and designate such people as 'underprovisioned' but the youth communist party newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda has stated that 'poverty is a reality, our national tragedy'. It is possible to see people begging on the streets or more commonly in the underpasses of major Soviet cities.
Geographical, January 1990.

Land of the Free? (1990)

From the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
There is no universal definition of hunger, but a concept generally accepted in the medical community is that a hungry person is chronically short of the nutrients necessary for growth and good health. Asking how many Americans are hungry by that definition, one encounters an astounding statistic: 12 million children and eight million adults, or about 9 percent of the population.
Scientific American, February 1987.

The price of caring (1990)

From the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The overwhelming majority of British workers support the industrial action taken by the ambulance workers. Despite all the efforts of the bosses press to depict them as money-grubbing troublemakers, few workers fail to see that when ambulance workers are offered a pay award which is less than the rate of inflation (a relative pay cut) there is something badly wrong. 

When that miserable embodiment of well-fed callousness. Kenneth Clarke, the Minister of Health, says that ambulance workers are only van drivers, he insults the medical skills of ambulance crews as well as the hard work of van drivers The reality of our rulers economic priorities are plain to see: if you are a seventeen-year old police officer, trained to protect property, you are worth considerably more money than if you are a fully-trained life-saver in the ambulance service: if you are a nurse in an NHS hospital you are worth ten—sometimes one hundred—times less than a money-vandal in the City who wastes away his days playing the Stock Exchange game for his parasite employers.

To most workers it seems unfair that useful work should receive low wages. There is something wrong. Maybe it is the government and that heartless woman Thatcher. If only we were led by Neil and his well-meaning team. To be sure, the Labour government-in-waiting is making the most of the ambulance dispute. Smiling Labour politicians adopt postures of the most self-righteous indignation and sermonise against the government's indifference to human need. They forget to mention their own NHS cuts when they were in power, and keep conspicuously quiet about the last Labour government's plans to use troops to break a threatened ambulance strike in the winter of 1978.

It may seem "unfair", but what is fairness under the present social system? It is getting the best price for what you sell. The price of labour power (wages and salaries) is no different from the price of cat food when it comes to "fairness". If there is a profit to be made by putting one tin of pet food on the market for 30 pence and the other for 50 pence, that is going to happen, regardless of the fact that the 50 pence commodity may taste no better than the 30 pence brand. Similarly, if a junior doctor can be purchased to work in a hospital for up to eighty hours a week for, say, 40 per cent less than it costs to buy a military research scientist, then this has nothing to do with the greater usefulness of arms production than working in a casualty department.

Illusion of Fair Wages
The market does not exist to measure or reflect social use. but only supply and demand in relation to what can be bought and sold profitably. There is a big market for new ways of killing people: skill in giving medical assistance to those who are ill but poor has lesser market significance. That is why we live in a mad-house society where killing is rewarded more than caring. The soldier trained to shoot and kill is given a medal: the ambulance worker stands in the high street with a bucket asking for a few pence to sustain the struggle for better pay.

There are stickers being handed out by the ambulance workers calling for fair pay. The only fair pay is no wage at all. We agree that the government would be more than ready to concede to such a demand, but let us take the matter a little further.

Let us suppose that nurses were paid well. For this to happen the market would have to be ignored. Why should workers be given fat salaries for looking after the sick when only a minority of the ill can afford to pay for their treatment? But let us imagine that a capitalist utopia has come about, as the left-wing reformers hope will happen. Ambulance workers are taking home big salaries and so are all of the most caring occupations. A problem would still exist. What about those workers who are doing necessary work for society, but receive less pay than the ambulance workers and nurses? They will then be demanding greater "fairness". They will say that it is unfair that they, whose contributions to society might be just as useful, if less visibly caring, are not equal to the well-paid health workers.

If health workers are extremely highly paid there will be queues of wage slaves wanting to do these jobs (rather than a rush to leave such jobs, as is the case now) and those who are surplus to requirements might well complain that it is unfair that just because there is no room for them m the health service the price of their standard of life poorer. So. there would still be inequality—still there would be cries against "unfairness".

Of course, the scenario outlined above is a daydream. The most useful workers will never be the best-paid people Under the market system labour power is valued in terms of production for profit, not social use. It is pointless for workers who feel under-valued" to ask to be recognised and paid a "decent'" wage Like it or not. they will be paid the market rate. The degree to which they struggle against the downward pressure upon their wages will help them a little, but in the end it is not going to enable them to escape from the tyranny of the profit system and its anti-human priorities.

There is no such thing as a decent wage or salary. The worker on 100 a week would rightly prefer to be on 1000 a week, but if all workers were paid 1000 a week we would still have to sell ourselves to the boss and still have to spend our earnings buying back some of the goods and services which we, the workers, have produced.

Abolition of Wage Labour
There is only one alternative to this situation and that is to abolish wage labour altogether. Instead of seeking "fair" wages, workers should realise that all wages are less than the value of what they produce. It is the difference between what the workers produce and what they are paid that is the basis of the unearned profit which the capitalists legally rob from the working class. The wages system is a system of legitimised exploitation. Those who do useful work can never win under such a system.

In a socialist society we shall work because it is useful to do so. People will contribute according to their abilities. In return, they will take freely from the common store of wealth in accordance with their self-determined needs. There will be no need to sell human care. Women and men who work in hospitals or on ambulance crews will do so simply because they are needed. They will have free and equal access to the wealth of society, not a bag of metal tokens called money wages.

Free access to all wealth will be the right of all people in a socialist society, regardless of whether they perform visibly caring work or less obviously important work or if, as a result of age or illness, they are unable to work at all. In a wageless society the sole rewards for work will be the satisfaction of utilising your mental and physical faculties and the appreciation of others. Ambulance crews will have the pleasure of knowing that they served their fellow men and women, who in many other ways will be serving them.

The wages system is still here. If Tories and Labourites have their way it will be forever. Even the few leftists who favour the abolition of wage-labour regard it as such a long-term aim as to be on a par with the Popes preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ. While there is a wages system workers must unite to get the most possible out of it. As fellow workers. socialists offer the hand of solidarity to the ambulance men and women. But as revolutionaries, seeking a new and saner way to run society, our immediate objective is to be contrasted with the parrot cries of pseudo-radicals who cannot see beyond the illusory horizon of “fair wages" for all. The Socialist Party stands alone in the political arena, united by Marx's revolutionary slogan, “abolition of the wages system”
Steve Coleman

Caught in the Act: Punishers and Moonlighters (1990)

The Caught in the Act column from the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

One thing to be said about the governments latest plans for the reform of what is still called Criminal Justice is that they are not designed around any nonsense about eliminating crime. This is something of a historical curiosity since all such reforms in the recent past have pretended to be moving towards a discovery of the key to the understanding, treatment and cure of crime. The White Paper Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public puts a simpler and perhaps more popular case: some criminals must be punished more severely while many of the rest can be punished more cheaply. Whatever effect these plans may have on the criminal statistics (where all progress or stagnation in the "fight against crime" is mistakenly measured) they are sure to give a thrill of satisfaction to the more seriously haunted sections of the Tory Party, whose appetite for savage vengeance would be sorely frustrated if crime were ever to disappear.

Although he came too recently to the job of Home Secretary to take any significant part in preparing the White Paper, David Waddington is likely to heartily approve of the main drift of what it proposes. Waddington is already in the tradition of Tory Home Secretaries—Leon Brittan was a recent example—who appear to be living in a different age. Brittan was like a Dickensian workhouse master while Waddington's looks, voice and arrogance are reminiscent of an eighteenth century magistrate reading the Riot Act to starving peasants before unleashing the dragoons to teach them that while it is permissable to be poor they are not allowed to protest about it. A QC who was a Crown Court Recorder, he is not abashed to parade his philosophy that anyone who goes outside capitalism's laws, with their plentiful licence for legal theft and disorder, to do a bit of the illegal sort, has got it coming to them. Waddington remains an obdurate supporter of the death penalty: he would have been in favour of hanging the Guildford Four and all the other people whose conviction for murder was later discredited. His proposals for reform of the criminal law display a similar disregard for evidence and logic.

The White Paper originates in the fact that putting offenders in prison is ineffectual and—the most persuasive argument of all—very expensive. The answer to this problem is to legalise a new range of penalties to enable courts to deal with offenders in other ways whenever possible. It is then assumed that the courts will not be attracted to the new penalties unless they are not only tough but are seen to be tough by the average reader of the Sun. There is very little evidence to support this case.

But popular attitudes to crime, which help to determine how many people vote, are not normally based on uncomfortable reality. As anyone who has been burgled or assaulted will tell you, crime is an emotive business and if you are one of its victims you are likely to be interested in revenge before any criminological niceties. Except that in the case of the Tory hangers and floggers it is not necessary to be a victim to be motivated by vengeful lusts. That is why the proposals in the White Paper are likely to become written into law in the near future.

Whatever this does to the courts and the criminals it is not likely to harm the reputation of the likely author of the proposals, who has watched over them practically since their inception. John Patten is a Minister of State at the Home Office, a man whose ambition is as plain as his bouffant hair style. Viewers of the Commons proceedings may already have noticed him out of concern for the fact that, as he sits behind David Waddington. he seems to suffer from an uncontrollable tic. In fact it is even more serious. Patten is nodding vigorously at everything his boss says, uncaring that as Waddington has his back to him his displays of devotion go unnoticed.

Let us hope, for the sake of his friends and family (he lists his only recreation in Who's Who as "talking to my wife") that Patten realises, as he struggles up the rungs of power, that the Tory political machine can be excessively ruthless. There is no more instructive example of this than the sad case of Nigel Lawson who. as far as is known, was never caught out nodding in agreement with anyone apart from himself. For those with a defective memory and for the more dangerously sycophantic Thatcherites we should explain that Lawson was once Chancellor of the Exchequer. He held the job for a long time and was widely praised as the man responsible single-handedly for a miraculous revival of the British economy and so for enabling the Tones to win a couple of General Elections. Such was the reverence in which Lawson was held that he was said to be the one minister Thatcher dare not sack, so he helped her out by resigning.

And what has happened since then? In a propaganda feast of startling skill and audacity the Tories have undermined Lawson's reputation as the miracle man. They have been unstinting in their efforts to publicise the fact that British capitalism is not in miraculous ascendant but declining into one of its periodic crises—that prices are rising too fast; that the balance of payments is badly out of true (or what the British capitalist class regard as true): that the unions are beginning to flex their muscles again . . .  Let us give thanks, runs the message, that the Treasury is no longer in the hands of that overweight buffoon with the untidy hair and the ready sneer and is instead run by nice, trim Mr. Major who can be trusted to really work the economic miracle and who will at least not argue with Margaret Thatcher.

Those who so recently clamoured to praise Lawson now eagerly bury him. As he nurses his bruised reputation he may take consolation in the fact that, like so many other discarded Tory Ministers, he has got himself a couple of well-paid jobs on the side. In case Lawson's constituents in Blaby have forgotten, he already has a job which is supposed to demand all his time— he is their Member of Parliament. His new job with an off-shoot of Barclays Bank is a two- day-a-week commitment but that does not mean the ex-economic wizard will miraculously be putting in a nine-day week. He will, in words familiar to the Sun reader, be moonlighting except that it should be called sunlighting because he will be at the Bank during the day when he should be on the benches of the Commons nodding like John Patten at his leader s words.

Moonlighting is something which Tory Ministers have been pretty scathing about in the past—at least when it involved the sort of extension of their working day when many workers have to resort to m order to bump up their wages. Norman Tebbit once got very annoyed about the alleged (not an inappropriate word since he regarded it as akin to a crime) moonlighting of a group of workers who were pressing for more pay a bit too effectively for Normans comfort. Tebbit argued that it was dishonest to pretend that the miserable pay they got for their basic job was all those workers had to exist on. This was a typical Tebbit blunder, in the class of his reminiscences about his cycling father, because the workers were nurses. When he left the government Tebbit was immediately moonlighting himself, accepting so many directorships that he couldn't possibly do a proper job in all of them let alone be a full-time MP as well. Of course he was only doing what other Tory ex-ministers had done, like John Nott, Jim Prior and Francis Pym for example. Like them, he was only being as hypocritical as he needed to be as an administrator of the capitalist system. 

Which brings us back to Nigel Lawson, John Patten and David Waddington. All of them claim to be reformers, to apply radical change to sweep away problems which have festered for too long. Lawson said he would bring about a fundamental change in the system of taxation and had been chipping away at it for some time, which impressed workers who mistakenly believe that taxation is a concern of theirs. Waddington and Patten are proposing changes in criminal law the like of which have not been contemplated for some forty years, which may impress workers who are deluded that they have something to gain from the states protection of property rights.

But effective, pre-designed reform is not possible unless the reformers have some control over what they are trying to change. As the Tory machine is now at pains to point out, Lawson had no real control of the economy of British capitalism. The history of crime and the laws made in response to it (if it should not be the other way round) indicate that this problem, typical of the social consequences of capitalism's class society, is also uncontrolled and uncontrollable. This might be seen as an amusing, trivial game except that it is always the same people who are the losers and who are punished by the law for being so.

Sting in the Tail: Getting Thatcher Out (1990)

The Sting in the Tail column from the February 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Getting Thatcher Out
Are Tony Cliff and the rest of the Socialist Workers Party dishonest or just barmy?

At an SWP meeting in Glasgow in December Cliff implored the audience to help "get Thatcher out".

When we asked if this meant that the SWP would, as it always does, urge workers to vote Labour at the next election, Cliff replied "We must always take sides in any struggle and if Labour Is even one per cent better than the Tories then we must support them".

Yet the SWP paper, Socialist Worker, on sale at that meeting stated:
We can recall again and again the record of past Labour governments which . . .  turned viciously on working people as soon as they gained office. 
and forewarned that 
. . .  it is perfectly possible that, regardless of intentions, a Klnnock government will be even worse In terms of its objective attacks on the working class than the Thatcher regime has been.
Any party which tells workers that and still asks them to vote Labour has to be dishonest AND barmy!

Getting Thatcher In
Mention of getting Thatcher out, do leftists ever ask themselves how she "got in" In the first place?

Back in 1974 their cry was "Heath out" and they got their wish when a Labour government was elected. But Labour inevitably got up the noses of so many workers that by the next election they would have voted for anyone, let alone Thatcher, to get Labour out.

So Thatcher's victory in 1979 was the product of the previous Labour government. Any future Labour government would be just as helpless in solving capitalism's problems and the Tories would claim that there really is no alternative to their policies and probably be given a mandate for even harsher policies than before.

The moral is; Electing a Labour government only gets you the Tories next time around.

Class Struggle in USA
They say in Harlan County there are no neutrals there,You either are a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair.
These words are from a union song written in 1931 about the bloody struggle between the United Mineworkers of America and the Appalachian coal owners.

This struggle has continued until today when the Pittson coal company in Virginia has set out to break the union. 1,700 miners have been on strike for seven months because:
Pittson has rejected the union contract and cut-off health benefits to 1,500 widows, disabled miners and pensioners.
(Billy Bragg writing in the Weekend Guardian 30 December)
The song also contains the line "And I'll stick with the union till every battle's won". A noble sentiment indeed, but workers' battles with capital can never be finally won by trade union action. Only their political action to end capitalism and establish socialism can do that.

Value for Money
The Times of 12 December brought the exciting news of two increases in income:
Britain's 55,000 pre-1973 war widows and their supporters have won the battle for a better pension . . . The rise will mean that all war widows will receive a pension of more than £100 per week.
The war widows' increase is the result of a 16 year battle by The Campaign for Equal Pay for War Widows organisation, who described the increase as "an enormous improvement and we are very grateful".

Mr. Michael Mates, chairman of the all-party select committee on defence called it "a quick, fair and generous response.

16 years is apparently Mr. Mates' idea of "quick". One wonders how many widows have died in these 16 years.

As for "generous" we wonder how he would describe the other increase reported in that day's Times.
Lord Hanson's pay topped £1.5 million In the year to end September according to Hanson's annual report.
It would seem that giving your life "for Queen and country" is valued rather less than staying alive as a company director.

Wounded Minds
When George Bush visited American soldiers wounded during the invasion of Panama, one man, paralysed by his wounds, handed him a small American flag and told him:
I want you to have this from them, and thank you for sending us.
Guardian 2 January
Presumably "them" were the 23 American soldiers killed and the 323 wounded during the fighting, but needless to say it was Panama's workers who suffered most. Their dead are expected to exceed 1,000 and many still lie beneath the ruins of the barrios (slums) which were flattened by indiscriminate American firepower.

But what if that paralysed soldier had been an Iranian and Bush the Ayatollah? The exchange between them would doubtless have been presented by the media as an awful example of Islamic fundamentalism. Bush and the class he represents should be pleased by the Yankee-Doodle fundamentalism produced by America’s head-fixing industry.

Blind Leaders
"What's that, my boy, you hate being a wage slave? Well forget socialism, that's utopian nonsense. Consider instead Mrs. Thatcher's vision of the future - 'Every man and woman a capitalist', so show some enterprise and start a business!

Pay no attention to the fact that there were 16,562 business failures in England and Wales alone in 1988. Trade Indemnity, insurers against bankruptcy, estimate there will be 20% more in 1989 with a further increase in 1990.

The reasons? Well, there’s high interest rates, but this would be to your advantage if you started a bank.

Then business confidence is low, but isn't that precisely when capitalists like to take risks? And there's increased competition from Europe, but we British can always see off these foreigners, eh?

So, my boy, I expect you can't wait to get started on the road to fame and fortune. What's that you say? You've never heard a bigger load of utopian nonsense in your puff and you'd rather stick with socialism!

There’s no helping some people."

Genocide in Brazil
The Yanomami Indians live in the remote forest area on the frontier between Brazil and Venezuela. As their home is stripped for cattle ranches their way of life is fast disappearing.

The process has been accelerated by the discovery of gold in the region. It is estimated that there are only 20,000 of them left. Their future looks bleak as the Brazilian government, instead of honouring its promise to send in troops to clear out the 45,000 gold miners who have invaded the area, have announced that 256 square km. of the area will be set aside for mining inside the 2,000 square km Yanomami reservation. This was formerly 9,000 square km.

Every time a more primitive people come in contact with capitalism the result is disastrous for the tribal society. The murder of the Indians of North America in the 19th. century is being repeated in the Amazon in the 20th. century.

Inside capitalism the profit motive is all-powerful. As a whole culture disappears, supporters of market forces can reflect on the "improvement" of pulling down the forests and poisoning the rivers with the mercury the miners use to purify the gold.

British Left in Disarray (1990)

From the February 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now that Leninism is stewing in its own ideological juice, and the vanguard parties which bullied workers in the name of "the proletarian dictatorship" are being hissed off the world stage by the workers who detest them, the British Leninists must decide what to do. Apart from a diminishing number of left-wingers within the pro-market Labour Party who have never embraced the Leninist dogma, the vast majority of those on the British Left subscribe to the political ideology of Leninism. They may call themselves Marxist-Leninists, but in practice they stand in the tradition of Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, and not Marx whose ideas Lenin distorted.

As Leninists they believe that the workers cannot understand the case for socialism, but must be led to revolution by politically-conscious cadres. The model for such a revolution is the Bolshevik coup of November 1917 in which a minority party claimed to establish a new social order on behalf of the non-socialist masses. Leninists preach the need for a vanguard party to lead the workers. Such a party must be organised on the basis of the Leninist principle of "democratic centralism" according to which dissent from the decisions of the leadership is an act of betrayal not to be tolerated. The Leninists' contempt for our ability as workers to emancipate ourselves from capitalism is matched by their opportunist efforts to be wherever the workers are in struggle, constantly aiming to lead such struggles. The Leninists are Generals looking for an army.

In Britain the Generals have always looked rather pathetic and the workers have shown a wise unwillingness to join the Leninist army. After the Bolshevik revolution most of the British Left went over to the side of Bolshevism. They were overwhelmed by the romanticism of the historically absurd claim of a small, secretive party in backward Russia to have established socialism by force of arms. Dazed by the Bolshevik daydream, the parties of the Left swallowed Lenin’s writings as if they were the revolutionary gospel, and formed the Communist Party of Great Britain.

From the outset the CP had as its purpose to repeat in Britain what the Bolsheviks had done in Russia. Without Leninism as a dogma and "Socialist Russia" as a model, the CP had no reason to exist. As Russian state capitalism became more obviously anti-socialist in its nature, so the CP had to twist and distort more and more in order to justify itself. The CPGB of the 1930s was a party committed to the propagation of lies. Purges? But there are no purges, they said. A dictatorship ruled over by the monster Stalin? But Russia is a workers' dictatorship and Comrade Stalin is the greatest Marxist alive, they solemnly declared. Wage slavery? No, no, the Russian workers are free from capitalist exploitation. Most of them believed that what they were saying was true: some of the more cynical leaders knew they were lying, but “tactics, comrades, tactics!” They were good Leninists, and if lies were required to make workers follow them, then why let mere “bourgeois honesty” stand in the way? After 1945. as the Russian Empire expanded to take in millions of new East European subjects, the British Leninists praised the wonderful lifestyles of the new prisoners of Leninism.

Sixes and Sevens
With the collapse of East European Leninism, what is the British Left to do? It has three basic options. Firstly, it can pretend that nothing has happened and go on supporting the glorious socialist paradise of Russia, even though the rulers of Russia now admit that the paradise stinks of its own failure. Secondly, the Leninists can support reform in Eastern Europe, pretending that this is what had been necessary all along. It can enter into a love affair with perestroika, even though the current reforms embody everything that the Leninists have traditionally regarded as counter-revolution. Thirdly, the Leninist Left can hang up its boots and retire. After all, the Hungarian Communist Party has dissolved itself, and other East European CPs are due to do likewise. The Australian Communist Party, which had 20,000 members in its heydey of the 1940s, has voted by a three to one margin to close down, and in Italy the PCI (the largest in West Europe) is to change its name. The Dutch CP has joined a faction of the Greens.

In Britain there have been moves in all of these directions. The membership of the CPGB was 20,000 in 1980: it is now under 7.000—and those are just book numbers. In 1977 the CPGB split: those who left formed the New Communist Party, committed to uncritical support for the Leninist states, while those remaining began to criticise certain aspects of the Russian Empire, still insisting that it was socialist. These critics—the so-called Eurocommunists—were still committed to the basic Leninist dogma: amongst their leading thinkers was Monty Johnstone who spoke in a debate against the Socialist Party, arguing that Lenin was a good Marxist. The Eurocommunists were used by a new group within the CP, based around the party's “theoretical journal", Marxism Today and its editor-cum-guru, Martin Jacques, who wanted to advocate the policies of an important role for the market under "socialism”, electoral pacts with all anti-Thatcher forces and the rejection of any kind of class analysis. It is an irony of CP history that ten years ago Johnstone and those like him were the radical heretics within the CP, fighting against its Stalinist past: now they are the mainstream Leninists, fighting against the total abandonment of anything resembling Leninism by the new Jacques leadership.

In 1988 the CP split again: the Marxism Today loyalists retained control of the CPGB. while some of the old Leninists who could not tolerate the complete rejection of ancient doctrines formed the 1500-strong Communist Party of Britain. So, there are at least three CPs in Britain today: the Jacques-dominated CPGB. the more conventionally Leninist CPB and the incorrigibly Stalinist NCP. At its November 1989 Congress the CPGB did not vote on a motion to wind up the party—although there are plans for a referendum to close it down and form a so-called Socialist Forum which would not be a party and which anyone, including members of other parties such as the Greens, could join. It seems likely that this is what will happen eventually (so the ‘Premature Obituary which the Socialist Standard published last year was not all that premature after all). In the meantime the CPGB has voted to follow the Jacques line of celebrating the downfall of East European "Communism" (as he calls it) and of abandoning Leninist dogma for support for what they call a socialist market economy.

The future of the 200-strong New Communist Party looks very bleak. Its funding came from the traditionally Stalinist Czech Party, which is now fighting for its political life (a fight it will surely lose) and is unlikely to pay for the NCP's weekly newspaper. So. the last true advocate of unadulterated Stalinism awaits burial. The Communist Party of Britain will either go the same way or will remain a sect in which old Leninists can comfort themselves in seclusion from the rest of the world, endlessly repeating worn-out Leninist cliches to each other in public meetings which the public will regard as a club for those whose time has passed. One thing is for sure: nobody will be persuaded to join political parties which exist to support conceptions of socialism which history has shown to be detested by the workers who were forced to put up with them. A few Leninists will turn their attention to the fantasies of "socialism" in China (until that dam bursts, as it is bound to) or Cuba or Albania (for as long as that lasts). In general, the myth that socialism/communism now exists somewhere is virtually dead.

Left in a Mess
Writing in Marxism Today (a journal which must soon decide to change its name, for it is no longer Marxist even on its own terms). Martin Jacques has stated that the tradition of the Bolshevik revolution, in which Russia stood as a socialist model against the rest of the capitalist world, is no longer relevant:
That era is at an end. From now on. with gathering pace, there will be an interpenetration of the two systems. The Soviet Union, over time, will acquire markets, international firms will operate there. Soviet tourists will be a common sight in London The international communist movement is now surely at an end. (January 1990).
What Jacques means is that the old division between state and private capitalism is ending. In an Open Letter to Marxism Today, John Lloyd, a member of the Labour Party, writer for the Financial Times and advocate of the Swedish market system, has suggested that Jacques cannot continue to pay lip service to Marxism while rejecting everything that the CP has always meant by the term (New Socialist, January 1990). Lloyd is quite correct: if Jacques is to continue to accept that Leninist ideology is irrelevant and also that class analysis is redundant, then why pose as a Marxist? Why not go the whole way and admit that he and his fellow “communists" are opponents of socialism/ communism and are simply interested in trying to make the capitalist market-system work well? Incidentally, the same question can be put to Mikhail Gorbachev.

Of course, there are still the Trotskyists. These are the Leninists who want it both ways: they hold passionately to the Leninist dogma, which the CPGB has thrown overboard, but whenever the results of Leninism are pointed out to them they cry in unison, “Nothing to do with us. It was all Stalin's fault”. This is crass historical idealism: as if one man turned Russia from a home of revolutionary socialism into a police state. The fact is that Stalin did nothing that Lenin, the authoritarian statist, had not begun. Furthermore. Trotsky, who was an accomplice of Lenin and was the leader of the massacre of the Krondstadt sailors as well as the advocate of the Bolshevik policy that trade unions must be subservient to the state employers, could not have ruled the Bolshevik dictatorship in any significantly different way from Stalin. At least the now-dying New Communist Party can be credited with defending unto the last the hideous consequences of their Leninist recipe: the Socialist Workers Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party want the recipe to be used, but demand the right to spit out the cake.

All in all, the British Left is in a huge mess. It is a mess of their own design. Ever since the formation of the Communist Party in 1921 the Socialist Party has warned them of the fallacies inherent within the Leninist strategy. In the 1930s our party was called fascist by the CP because we exposed the crimes of Stalin in the pages of this journal. It was official CP policy to break up our meetings. The Leninist Left is now left with a discredited record and no future. Despite our political hostility to them, we are bound to feel some sympathy for those workers who have wasted their lives in a cause which is now so rapidly crumbling before their eyes. Some of the workers who joined the Leninist parties in the early days were conscious of the iniquities of the profit system, often well read in Marx, and frequently active in the fights over wages and conditions which wage slaves must inevitably enter. These were the deluded workers who would talk endlessly about how well-off were workers in Eastern Europe, how rumours of dissent in those countries were mere CIA propaganda and how happy workers would be here if they were governed by a Gierek or a Brezhnev. How utterly mistaken they were; what an immense dis-service to the cause of world socialism they unintentionally caused.

After Leninism
Talk of a crisis of socialist ideas is much in the air. Thatcher, in her New Year message, said that the 1980s had been the decade in which socialism was shown to have failed. What has actually failed is state capitalism and the Leninist illusion that the state can run the profit system in the interest of the class which is exploited for profit. Leninists of all descriptions are in a dizzy crisis, the seeds of which are to be found in the illusory belief that the capitalist revolution in Russia in 1917 led to the establishment of socialism.

As far as real socialists are concerned, we have no awful record of lying and self-deceiving to explain away. Far from suffering from a crisis of ideas, recent events in Eastern Europe have served to clear the air of a number of foolish illusions about “socialist countries” which we have had to waste too much of our time having to expose as false. Indeed, now that the Labour Party has come out in its indisputably capitalist colours and the Kremlin is admitting that its job is to run the market profitably, just like all the rest of the capitalist governments, the task of socialists faces fewer obstacles. We can state the case for a world society without property, classes, states or money and only the most stupid of opponents will be able to tell us that that is what the Labour or Communist parties stand for. More clearly than ever it is apparent that there is only one Socialist Party in Britain. We have always been the only ones to stand for the establishment of a genuinely socialist world community; now we are the only ones to say that that is what we stand for.

Never having been taken in by the dogmas of Leninism or the myth of “socialist nations", the Socialist Party stands with a reputation which advertises the validity of our principles. Here in the West the profit system wears the mask of freedom. While ambulances are run by cops and soldiers, because the state thinks so little of workers' health that they would rather let us die than pay the ambulance workers above the rate of inflation; while the monopolised press tells lies with impunity and BBC employees are vetted by MI5 before they are allowed to report the news; while the inner cities fall prey to the Crack Culture and the Arthur Daley business ethics; while kids sleep in cardboard boxes and fifteen million British workers can only exist on state hand-outs; while Thatcher spits out the rhetoric of militaristic jingoism and all parties relegate human needs to the good health of the Stock Exchange, the workers of Eastern Europe are being offered this bogus freedom as a prize for their struggle against their pseudo-Communist masters.

Socialists stand in hostility to the boss class of the West and the East; whether they pretend to dictate on the workers' behalf or they are undisguised legalised robbers, we are out to end their power, and to expose the ideologies which have allowed them to hold it this long. Socialism is not dead: it has not yet been tried. And now that we can bury not just the corpse of Lenin but the myths of Leninism, it is a great time to be in the struggle for a society freed from the Dictatorship of Capital.
Steve Coleman

Socialism as a World Commons (2016)

The Material World column from the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The world’s environmental crises stem largely from the failure to share the ownership and use of the world’s natural and industrial resources. The principle of sharing has always formed the basis of social relationships in societies across the world. We all know from personal experience the importance of sharing to family and community life. In fact, sharing is far more prevalent in society than people often realise. The idea of individual (or private) ownership of land is a relatively recent phenomenon. There is now a growing movement that reminds us of this and which promotes the development of ‘the Commons’ and which has gone beyond the prevailing ideas of conventional capitalist private property economics.

Professor Cosmo Innes (1798-1874), Advocate and Professor of Constitutional Law and History wrote in his Scotch Legal Antiquities,
‘Looking over our country, the land held in common was of vast extent. In truth, the arable - the cultivated land of Scotland, the land early appropriated and held by charter - is a narrow strip on the river bank or beside the sea. The inland, the upland, the moor, the mountain were really not occupied at all for agricultural purposes, or served only to keep the poor and their cattle from starving. They were not thought of when charters were made and lands feudalised. Now as cultivation increased, the tendency in the agricultural mind was to occupy these wide commons, and our lawyers lent themselves to appropriate the poor man’s grazing to the neighbouring baron…’
Many parts of the world have had a tradition of common property rights. In Scotland, for example, they include rights arising from commonties, grazing rights, peat-cutting rights, salmon rights, rights to use harbours and foreshore, mineral rights, sporting use rights, rights to usufruct, rights of access to resources and rights of passage over land and inland water. ‘Commonty’ in Scots Law means a piece of land in which two or more persons have a common right. A widespread example of such common property is living in a tenement. Those who own or rent a flat also hold other parts of the property, e.g. the stairs or close (and have its common responsibility – taking turns to clean the stairs) and access to the communal back-garden (drying greens).  It is estimated that half the land area of Scotland was still common land in 1500. They provided areas of free access. It was not a ‘free for all’ but their use was covered by sets of rules that were well established and understood locally. The resources of the commonty were solely for personal usage, and individuals could not, for instance, cut timber for sale or rent grazing to someone else. No-one could make any financial profit.

This past still lives on in many Scottish place-names. A green provided an area where markets and other events were held, garments bleached and a host of other communal activities carried out. The greens in fishing communities were used for the repairing of nets, the salting and drying of fish.  A loan was a common route through private property to and from an area of common land or some other ‘public’ place. The distinction between this and a right of way was that the loan was itself common land and not just a right of use. Rigs were narrow strips of cultivated land. Traditionally, rigs were used by different cultivators and the rigs periodically re-allocated between them. This system was known as runrig.

In socialism the immediate users of parts of the Commons that the world’s resources will have become would not be trying to make an independent living for themselves but would be carrying out tasks on behalf of the community where the aim of production would be to satisfy society’s needs on a sustainable basis. This is not the kind of ‘one size fits all’ solution since socialism need not be exactly the same everywhere and at all times, though plainly its basic principles will not vary: a system of economic production and consumption where the Commons is for all and wealth is shared by all but owned by none. Humanity has to move away from today’s private and state ownership models, and towards a new form of resource management based on non-ownership. Common ownership would embody the principle of sharing on a global scale, and it would enable all communities to take collective responsibility for managing the world’s resources. Without a global movement of ordinary people that share a collective vision of change, it will remain impossible to overcome the influence of the vested interests of the capitalist class.  Currently, the world still lacks a broad-based acceptance of the need for planetary reconstruction but such a mood is beginning to stir.

6. Surplus Value (1974)

From the July 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Economics Series

Capitalism's innermost secret is the production and the accumulation of surplus value. This is sub-divided into Profit, Interest and Rent, and it is the blessed trinity dominating the entire international economic and political structure of the capitalist world. The seed corn of Surplus Value is Labour-power. Labour-power is now a commodity. It is different from all other commodities in that it produces more Value than it takes to reproduce itself. The mental and physical capabilities of human beings are thus appropriated as commodities and set to work to produce other commodities.

Social freedom, despite the high sounding phrases, is nothing less than permission to sell labour power from employer to employer,  who are the only people in a position of purchasing it. And this is taken to be in the natural order of things. It, however, is not nature which produces this strange relation, nor is the social basis of selling labour-power a normal social practice which has existed throughout the history of civilized society. On the contrary, the emergence of the commodity labour-power has been the result of many historical developments of propertied society, culminating in the establishment of the capitalist form of production.

Certain historical conditions are necessary before the product of labour-power can become a commodity, and these historical conditions apply equally to living labour-power itself. These conditions are:—
  1. That the means of exchange must be developed.
  2. That the means of production must be privately owned and operated socially.
  3. That the labourer must be separated from his means of production.

The value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labour which is socially necessary to produce it, and no more than is socially necessary. If the labour time remains constant the Value remains constant. New production methods cut the time required, and consequently reduce the Value. Other factors intervene like increased skill, state of science etc. When mineral deposits for instance, become less accessible so as to increase the labour time socially necessary, this increases the Value. We have a society where homogeneous human labour working within an average social time is expended in producing a huge mass of commodities. At any given period during the life of that society, a definite amount of value is produced.

Exploitation is, therefore, measured in time which is translated into monetary symbols. Time is money — a vulgar description for a most anti-social practice. If a group of workers each work 160 hours monthly for an employer, and the employer makes a profit at the end of 12 months, then where does the profit come from? The raw materials used in the productive processes cannot add to their value, nor can the machinery add to its own value. In fact, it transfers its value to the products as it wears out. Plant and industrial installations are in the same category. Likewise with the bricks and mortar of the factory, steel mill and shipyard. The worker has not been cheated because on average he receives the value of the commodity which he sells to the employer for wages — his labour-power.

Surplus-value is not created by trading transactions, even by cartels or monopolies. A manufacturer may corner a market and grab the lion’s share of the profit to the detriment of other capitalist groups. But no monopoly can create surplus value. In any case, goods have to be produced before they can be sold, and the producing capitalist would expect to make a profit apart from his trading partner’s profit. The only possible explanation left to us is that surplus-value comes from labour-power.

The capitalist buys labour-power in order to use it and puts the seller to work, providing the raw materials, machinery, factories, etc., the subjects of labour power, or the place where the labour process is to be carried on. Labour-power in motion becomes Labour, that is, it becomes congealed in the objects it produces. The capitalist buys labour-power, but he sells labour, and that labour is presented to us as a vast conglomeration of commodities. The value of labour-power and the value of labour are not the same thing. The commodities are sold, and the cycle is repeated. The capitalist buys labour power for money (wages) (M); labour power becomes labour (products, commodities) (C); commodities are sold (money) (M) — M.C.M. But the commodities are sold at their value not at the cost of production. That value is determined by the amount of socially useful labour contained in them. No capitalist sells goods or services at the cost of producing them — he is not in business merely to receive his money back.

Wages represent a certain period of time which the worker contracts to work for the employer, whether it be an hourly or weekly rate, or a monthly salary. He must, at some point, require to produce the value of his own wages. So, if a proportion of the working day is devoted to this purpose, then it becomes necessary for him to labour up to the point where he has in effect produced the value of his own wages. This is necessary labour. It follows that if he continues to work beyond this period of necessary labour he is in effect rendering a certain amount of superfluous labour, or surplus labour. The worker does not own his labour, this is the property of the capitalist. He owns his labour-power; indeed it would be hard to separate it from him as it exists in the form of muscle, brain and nerve, the human organism. He is, therefore, making a gift to his employer for every atom of time he spends in the labour process over and above that necessary to reproduce the value of his wages, which is the necessary labour-time. It is precisely this surplus labour-time which manifests itself in the physical products of labour (values), and this becomes surplus value, an additional quantity for which the capitalist has not paid.

We speak of time only at this juncture, but the workers are supplied, in addition to raw materials, with highly developed machinery and other sophisticated tools of production; the tempo of production is intensified. The greater the degree of production which can be achieved using up-to-date methods and techniques within the same time, or even less time, means that the rate of exploitation is higher, because the necessary labour time will have been reduced and the surplus labour time increased. This is what happens in real life. The TU movement has for years been trying to cut down the workers’ hours, although most Trade Unions have long-term agreements whereby their members work considerable amounts of overtime. The official working week has been reduced in most industries to around 40 hours in 1973, as compared to 52 hours per week in 1900, but even allowing for the additional number of workers in industry, production has increased at least two-fold, and this has been due to the extension of machinery over a whole range of labour processes. It is the capitalist who stands to benefit by this, as he benefits by every advance in science and technology. Whilst wages have risen above prices compared with 1900, the rate of exploitation has increased, and the capitalist class are much better off. Marx put it succinctly : “The bigger the banquet, the bigger the crumbs which fall from the table.”

The capitalists do not arbitrarily fix their profits over their cost of production. They sell the goods for what they think the market will stand, but the starting point is what it costs them. It is, however, the secret of commodities that, when brought to the market, they will exchange with other commodities according to the amount of socially-necessary labour time contained within them, and no capitalist knows this, although he will obviously know the amount of time his process has taken. Value contains surplus-value. The fact that articles do not always sell at their Value — sometimes above sometimes below — does not alter this rule. Buying and selling influence prices — they do not determine them. Profit is not made from trading transactions but from the productive process. The surplus product becomes the surplus value — the surplus value is the social fund from which the profits of all sections of the capitalist class — bankers, landlords and industrialists — are derived.

It is not our concern to take sides in disputes which occur from time to time between sections of the capitalist class on whether landlords’ or bankers’ profits are too high and industrialists’ too low. This is a matter for the Labour Party and the small fry of the Left, who usually side with the industrial capitalist. It is sufficient for our purpose to show where surplus-value comes from and not its final destination. We know it doesn’t go to members of the working class.

Surplus value is produced at the point of production and not during the process of circulation, i.e. banking, insurance and commerce. Whilst it is true to say that only productive workers produce surplus-value, it is equally true to say that all workers are exploited. How would the banking capitalist appropriate his share of the surplus value unless he employed bank clerks, accountants, etc. to appropriate it on his behalf? Where would the landlords get their share without the chartered surveyor, rent-collector and estate agents and clerical staff? How would capitalism function without street cleaners, refuse collectors, health services, and every other service, including police, civil servants and other ancillary workers?

Whilst the basic mechanism shows the original source of surplus-value to be labour-power at the point of production, in fact you cannot separate the main divisions of capital which through custom and the division of labour have historically impressed themselves on the capitalist mode of production — banking capital; industrial capital; landlord capital. Capitalism has to be taken as an organic whole, or an indivisible system. The extraction of surplus-value is a social act, consequently the entire resources of the body politic exist for that one purpose.

Every member of the working class plays a part, either directly or indirectly, and all are therefore exploited.

This is the final article in the present series. They have been based entirely on Marx’s Labour Theory of Value, and were intended purely as an introduction to a more detailed study of the subject of Political Economy and the mammoth contribution by Marx.
Jim D'Arcy