From the September 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Daily Express, which boasts that it has the largest circulation and the most up-to-date manner of presenting news and views of all the daily papers, has certain merits. One is that its reporting of the Spanish civil war, though concerned only with what editors call “news value," and therefore, scrappy on occasion, has been unusually fair and unbiassed. The second merit — the one which concerns us here—is that the editorials are often models of terse and lucid statement of fact and opinion. So much so that when they contain glaring falsities of argument it is difficult to avoid believing that the twist is deliberate. The issue of August 13th is a case in point. Here are the key sentences out of a three- paragraph editorial: —
One kind of person goes round saying: “We have now solved the problem of producing all that we need. . . .” He doesn’t know what he is talking about. The world is still a very poor place. Many people in it starve. Many more go short of the ordinary necessities of food, shelter, clothes, and warmth. That is why it is wicked folly to cut down the business of growing more food, making more goods, extracting more material wealth out of the soil.
The above-introduced fellow will often tell you that it is only the mechanism of the present (individualist) system that holds up the arrival of the Age of Plenty.
Russia, which has a collectivist system, seems to show otherwise. For there the standard of living is still poor.
Now this is all very clear and all very crooked. A mixture of truth and half-truth, well calculated to mislead the reader. The truth of this matter is of importance to every one of the workers who read the Daily Express, but the distortion of it is of equal importance to the directors and proprietors, hence the discreditable editorial
Let us straighten it out a little.
It is the Socialist who says that we have now solved the problem of producing all that we need, and he does know what he is talking about. For observe that we do not say sufficient is being produced for the needs of all, but only that the problem of doing so has been solved.
In other words, what the Socialist has been saying for a long while is that sufficient for all could be produced but isn’t being produced. The fertile fields and rich mineral deposits are there in abundance, so are the highly developed and productive machines, the railways and motor roads, ships and aeroplanes, and everything else needed for production. So are the human beings who could do the work needed to put everyone far beyond the fear of poverty and deprivation. The Socialist is well aware that enough is not being produced at present, and this in spite of the curious thing that there are numerous instances of production being deliberately restricted and goods destroyed. But when coffee is burned in Brazil or cotton and wheat areas restricted in U.S.A., it is not because the world's needs for coffee, cotton and bread have been satisfied. It is because the people who want more of these things have not money enough to buy them, and the people who have money do not want to buy any more of them. So destruction and restriction go on in spite of the well-established fact that if the hundreds of millions of poor people in the world were suddenly told that they could satisfy their needs free of charge there would be an immediate and immense shortage of the necessities of life.
It will be noticed at this point that, although the Express says that we who say this “don’t know what we are talking about,” what we say is in agreement with what the Express says itself— all except that disingenuous trick already mentioned of pretending that solving the problem of production is the same thing as applying the solution.
The next piece of dishonesty is the pretence that Socialists have in mind Bolshevist Russia; which, of course, they have not. Socialists were claiming that the problem of production had been solved long before the Express heard of Bolshevism, long before there was a Daily Express, and long before Lord Beaverbrook set foot in this country. What Socialists meant and said was, that the problem had been solved in the highly developed and industrialised countries like Great Britain, U.S.A., Germany, and so on. Russia has been dragged in by the leader writer only because he wanted to discredit the Socialist’s claim that it is capitalism which prevents the productive forces from being used to the full. Socialists point out the very obvious thing, that the twofold way of enlarging the supply of goods for those who need them is to increase the number of wealth producers by roping in the idle rich and the unemployed, and to cut out the enormous waste of effort of people whose work is concerned with the unnecessary financial and other operations which capitalism needs and Socialism would not need, including the waste of armaments. What prevents this from being done? Socialists say that it is prevented and will be prevented as long as the capitalist minority controls the machinery of Government, including the armed forces, and can use their control to perpetuate their ownership of the land, factories, railways, and the rest of the instruments for producing wealth. The capitalists are interested in ownership because it enables them to live in wealth and ease without the necessity of working. They are seeking profit, not trying to satisfy the needs of the human race. So they direct policy to that end. They open and close their factories, expand or restrict production, burn coffee and curtail wheat growing, in accordance with their estimate of the effect on prices and, through them, on the amount of profit to be made.
End capitalism and have the means of production owned by the whole community, then goods will be produced for use alone, and the supply of them will not be hindered by artificial barriers of profit and private interest.
What has the Daily Express to say to this? Nothing, except to drag in the red-herring that the “individualist” system cannot be responsible, because in Russia there is a “collectivist” system and still poverty. To start with, the supposed “individualist” system is a myth. The typical capitalist enterprise is no more individualist than is the State capitalist Post Office or the State capitalist concerns in Russia. The Express confuses individual dictatorship over policy with individual enterprise. Lord Beaverbrook and his fellow directors and shareholders can indeed impose their will on the large staff who co-operate to produce and distribute the newspaper, but not by virtue of superior enterprise, only by virtue of legal right of ownership, backed up by the courts and the police. They can prevent the staff from using the paper as a medium for disseminating news and information whenever this conflicts with the shareholders’ purpose of making the maximum profit, but that is no more individual enterprise than is the destructive power of a rat to black-out the electric lighting of a whole town by gnawing a hole in an electric cable. The great-great-grand-fathers of the present generation of capitalists might boast of individual enterprise, but their descendants who do so do not know what they are talking about. They are no more individualist than are the highly organised American racketeering organisations to which they are related by the common purpose of living on the backs of others.
Neither in Russia, nor in the U.S.A. or England, has Socialism, common ownership and democratic control been established. In all countries what we see is a privileged minority tenaciously fastened to the backs of those who co-operate to run the economic machine.
But whereas Russia is still economically a backward country, in England and U.S.A. the production of useful articles could be vastly increased if it were not for the capitalist stranglehold.