Monday, January 23, 2017

The John Bull League (1910)

From the January 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard


Our attention baa been drawn to the John Bull League and an opinion asked upon it. The principle guide we have to this organisation is the inaugural address delivered by its president, Mr. Horatio Bottomley, at the Albert Hall on October 21st, 1909. Before we criticise the speech and its contents, we may admit that the form in which the matter was presented is of the first order, with its rotundity of phrase and flashes of wit that easily explain the popularity of the person and emphasise the necessity for challenging the political and social position of the body. With regard to the matter, however, we can safely say that the vapid eclecticism that borrows phrases and ideas from all and sundry; that extracts suitable titbits from any and every philosophy and emasculates them by extracting, must be purely abortive when applied to questions of an economic and social nature, if the modern theory of the organic nature of society be admitted. The John Bull League, therefore, in tilting at windmills in the shape of abuses and ignoring essentials, undermines that practical understanding of present day social conditions which must precede the acceptance of the Socialist solution.

The stated object of the League is the stamping out of cant and self-righteousness, and the introduction of common-sense business methods into the government of the country. Much stress is laid throughout the speech on the “business methods" which matters in Parliamentary matters is the touchstone by which everything is tried. “What would a common sense board of directors do?” seems to be the question that has to be asked on every thing that comes before Parliament ; just as some people would ask on every question, “ what would Jesus do?" Now, the desirability of the standard depends entirely on the point of view. The object of the most common-sense business man is to make his business pay; that is, to increase profits. That object does not necessarily fit in with the point of view of the workers in that business, indeed, their object will be the increase of their wages, which will diminish profits. And this capitalist point of view is very strongly hinted at in its fullest significance in the peroration which is given in full, as follows: "I do not know how you read the signs of the times. For myself, I think that this country of ours, this Empire of ours, is entering upon a critical period. 1 think her sway is in the balance. The European nations are thinking what they dare not speak. Demos—the great god of the people—is shaking off his chains, and hungry men and women, conscious only of their sufferings and unable to understand the complicated phenomena of our communal life, are asking why they starve in the midst of plenty. And all the time, the professional politician prattles his party platitudes, and the ponderous professor prates about "political principles." Ladies and gentlemen, do you see the clouds gathering?- do you see the ‘trail of the curling winds’?— do you hear the distant rumbling? If you do, join the John Bull League." So! our country is in a critical condition; the people are rising and asking awkward questions; the professional politicians are not alive to the danger; if you are, join us. That appeal is not to the people who are awakening, but who do not understand, with the intention of enlightening them; it is an appeal to those who have to wake up and resist the demands of those who have not.

Having sorted out the object of the League, we may turn briefly to the statement of position regarding the larger questions that already divide the opinion of the country into more or less antagonistic camps. The position is carefully chosen in each case to appeal to as large a section of opinion as possible obviously. Take religion. On the negative side we are treated to a warm criticism of those who thrive on Foreign Missionary Societies and the like, we are told, coining to the positive side, "its church will be broad enough to embrace all mankind . . . It embraces all mankind, tolerating, respecting, and honouring their faith . . . It will know no sect, no dogma, no distinctions: it will rest upon the corner-stones of the four quarters of the world and it will be roofed over with the illimitable domain of heaven.” If anything could be more ambiguous than that, kindly refer us to it.

Politically, the party system is condemned, and business methods sought to be introduced in place. The anomalies of the present electoral methods are dwelt upon and proportional representation delicately hinted at. The House of Lords are very gently criticised, while the necessity for a second chamber is laid stress upon, and a suggestion made for a body, partly hereditary, partly appointed. The Crown is eulogised: The League looking upon the King as “our most valuable national asset—our best statesman, and, by a long way, our finest ambassador.”

And so on, almost without end. Throughout the whole speech, there is no hint of the underlying problem of poverty, no glimpse of a way to social and economic freedom for the working class. Quite the contrary, they are urged to send their masters to rule over them in Parliament on the same principles adopted in the workshop—the principles on which capitalist business is run. As though all capitalist government were not carried on for the capitalist class by the capitalist class to the exploitation and degradation of the working class, notwithstanding official incapacity, corruption or expediency, and as though the workers stood to gain anything by such a proceeding! When the working-class members of the John Bull League —if such exist—get down to think about the things that matter, they will discover that the greatest abuse they can find in modern society is the outgrowth —exaggerated, it may be — of some established principle consistent with the capitalist basis of society, and that the real cure in each case lies in the alteration of the basis from capitalism to Socialism. 
Dick Kent


From the August 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

One must admit there is a charm about some of the old, simple hymn tunes that survives the decay of one’s beliefs. Perhaps the mellowing of the years has toned the memory of hot, stuffy, fidgetty afternoons, spent in Sunday School classrooms, and left but the dim impression of droning harmonium and simply melody. To these were often wedded homely sentiments and words full of the colour and romance that appeal to the fresh imagination of a child.
“There is a green hill far away.”
With the clear eyes of childhood one could clearly see that grassy knoll, though most children were unable to fathom why it should be
“Without a city wall.”
Then, especially when one of the scholars had to emigrate, we would devoutly sing— 
“O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea."
One pictured the raging sea, and the wistful face of our late playmate peering over the taffrail. Then there was that superb piece of colour composition :
“From Greenland’s icy mountains
   To India’s coral strand,
Where Afric’s sunny fountains  
   Roll down their golden strand.
From many an ancient river,
   From many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver
   Their land from error’s chain.”
On the whole the memories one preserves from those days are happy ones. One saw the blue ice of the frozen North. One saw the pink coral and golden sands of the sunny South. One saw the smooth rush of a mighty river and saw the waving palms of the tropics. And there, amidst these natural beauties, but one blot appeared. The pathetic figure of the savage, turning from his uncouth gods of wood and stone, and stretching out his arms to us, appealing, as the hymn said, to be delivered from the galling chains of error.

It is satisfactory to reflect that one has lived long enough to see the process in action. We are indebted to the issue of May 12th of the New Statesman for an illuminating account of our attempt to deal with one of Afric’s sunny fountains. Their correspondent J.H.H. tells of a small tribe of about 1,500 Hottentots, known as the Bondels, living in the direst poverty in a corner of South West Africa. To secure their miserable flocks from the raids of jackals, hyenas, and other predatory beasts, they were obliged to keep numbers of dogs. To show them how different life under the Union Jack could be, compared with their late masters, the Huns, the Government inflicted upon them a dog tax, which is described as preposterous. Possibly the simple Bondels still thought, as the Governor’s name was Hofmeyer, they were still under the tyranny of the Boche, and decided not to pay it. The Governor, doubtless inspired by the two last lines of Land of Hope and Glory—
“ God who made thee mighty,
   Make thee mightier yet,” 
decided to "inflict a severe and lasting lesson” on them. He therefore proceeded against this mighty nation of 1,500 miserable black men with artillery, aeroplanes, machine guns, and all the implements of modern warfare, and proceeded to wipe out indiscriminately men, women, children and cattle. It is difficult to arrive at the exact result. Some say not an adult male survived. Some that the prisoners were nearly all murdered. Some that there were no “wounded.”

When the story got known there were apparently sufficient people still in possession of enough humanity to be shocked, and to call for an enquiry. The enquiry was held, and nearly 12 months after the Bondels were delivered from error’s chain the report published. According to the Statesman's correspondent, it is one of the most unsatisfactory documents ever published on a punitive expedition. The enquiry was held everywhere in camera, and the evidence of 124 witnesses completely suppressed. On the initial point as to whether a rebellion existed to call for repression not a tittle of evidence is given. There are no casualty figures, no numbers of women and children blown to atoms by aeroplane bombs, no numbers of prisoners, no numbers of survivors even. Mention is made of the brutal treatment of prisoners, but no reply is given to those who allege that there were no wounded. One thing appears to be certain anyway, there are not enough Bondels left to be interested in the further report that the correspondent demands. Whether they "called us to deliver” or not, they have been effectually freed from error’s chain. Thus are laid the foundations of Empire. 
W. T. Hopley

Is Marx's Theory of Value Sound? (1925)

From the May 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard


About five hundred people were present at the Leyton Town Hall, on Sunday, March 8th, to hear the debate between the London Constitutional Labour Movement and the S.P.G.B. The subject for debate was, "Is Marx’s Theory of Value Unsound? ” Councillor A. Smith occupied the chair.

Mr. Kirkley (of the L.C.L.M.) opened the debate to show that “Marx’s Theory is unsound.” He stated that the subject for debate was of the greatest importance, and indeed, so exceedingly deep that he doubted whether all in the audience would fully comprehend the arguments advanced by both sides. It was necessary for them to understand Marx, for in his opinion, much of the industrial unrest of to-day could be traced to the influence of Marx’s writings.

Much that had been written against Marx’s Theories could be correctly described a£ rubbish. Undoubtedly Marx was an able man; in fact he was a genius. Therefore his views could not be easily dismissed. Mr. Kirkley then dwelt at length with facts concerning the birthplace of Karl Marx. Marx had studied Law, Philosophy and History and had gained a degree on Philosophy at the University of Jena with a thesis on Epicurian and Democritian Philosophy.

The first nine chapters of Marx’s work, “Das Capital,” contain the essence of his theory of value. Therein Marx had defined wealth as an immense accumulation of commodities. Each of these commodities, said Marx, had value, that value being determined in a certain way. It was here that he parted company with Marx. Take the case of a chair. It required labour to make that chair, but we must remember that it was only produced because there was a demand for the chair. The chair has a value because it is a useful article. It was Marx’s contention that the value of the chair is determined by the amount of labour embodied in it. He, Mr. Kirkley, had now readied the main point of the discussion, but since the time of his first speech had now expired, he would reserve his main criticism until his next speech.

Comrade Reynolds, on behalf of the S.P.G.B., stated that he agreed with his opponent that much rubbish had been written against Marx. If any person in the hall had not previously heard what Marx’s theory of value was, the remarks of Mr. Kirkley, who had set out to oppose that theory, would not have enlightened them one iota upon the subject. More than one half of Mr. Kirkley's time had been spent on points concerning the birth certificate of Karl Marx. We were not here to discuss that, but to debate Marx’s theory of value. Mr. Kirkley had failed not only to disprove that theory, but to state that theory correctly. In view of this, he, Comrade Reynolds, would state it, but before doing so would make a few remarks concerning the meaning of certain terms to be used in the debate. The term value, as used in Political Economy, must not be confused with the same term which we all use to express our likes and dislikes in various ways. In economic science, as in other sciences, certain terms are used to express specific meanings. The political economist John Stuart Mill says :—
"The word value, when used without adjunct, always means, in political economy, value in exchange."
In that sense we were concerned with the word value in this debate. Again, there is the word wealth, which is commonly understood to signify only money. For the purposes of political economy, the term wealth embraces all those things which are the result of human energy having been applied to nature given material. Hats, boots, clothes, ships, houses, gold and silver, etc., come within the real meaning of wealth. At present we are concerned with the theory which explains exchange relationship between commodities. Commodities are useful articles which are produced, not for their use to their producers, but for the purpose of exchange.

Thinkers in the past have endeavoured to discover the basis of the exchange relationship of these commodities. Aristotle, one of the greatest thinkers of ancient Greece, had applied his mind to the subject, and saw that exchange implied equality. As to what the basis of the equality in exchange was, Aristotle never saw. Between the seventeenth and the early part of the nineteenth centuries, a number of political economists formulated theories of value which regarded labour as the basis of value in exchange. The chief of these economists as far as England is concerned, were Sir W. Petty, Adam Smith and David Ricardo. After quoting and indicating the shortcomings of these economists Comrade Reynolds said the labour theory of value was for the first time scientifically worked out by Karl Marx. Marx laid it down that the value of commodities is determined by the amount of labour socially necessary for their production and reproduction; the amount of that socially necessary labour being measured by time. Thus according to Marx’s theory, value is socially not individually determined. This point is of vital importance. Mr. Kirkley had stated that the labour embodied in the chair determined its value. Mr. Kirkley was wrong. If therefore Mr. Kirkley intended to build up a case against Marx on that unsound foundation his case must inevitably collapse. After elaborating upon Marx’s theory, Comrade Reynolds said probably there were some in the audience who wonder how, if exchange is conducted on the basis of equality, profit is obtained. The explanation is quite a simple one. Of all the commodities exchanged in the market there is one peculiar commodity known as labour power. That commodity is represented by the mental and physical capabilities of the men and women of the working class. Since the workers under capitalism have no means of obtaining a living other than by way of selling their power to labour, that labour power becomes a commodity. Like other commodities, it is, broadly speaking, paid for or exchanged at its value. But between the value of labour power and the value of its product there is a difference. The capitalist does not employ workers from a motive of philanthropy. Capitalism could not exist in that way. The workers produce the wealth, only a portion of that wealth is returned to them, the remainder being retained or appropriated by the capitalist. The difference between what the workers produce and what they get in wages is generally known as profit, but called by Marx surplus value. That profit or surplus value, though not realised until the exchange of commodities takes place, is actually derived from the process of production, and represents the unpaid labour of the workers. The Marxian theory of value, not only shows us what value is, and how it is determined, but also shows us the source from which flow the riches and poverty in modern society. He, Reynolds, would now ask his opponent to attempt a refutation of Marx’s theory.

Mr. Kirkley in his next speech of twenty minutes congratulated Reynolds upon his knowledge of Marx. It was absurd to say that there was such a thing as surplus value. In the production of wealth there were five requisites, viz: Land, Capital, Labour, Enterprise and Ability. The Socialists recognise only one, namely labour, as sole source of wealth. The man who uses his ability is entitled to some reward. Surplus value could not arise since no matter who gets it, whether the Duke of Devonshire or the Duke of Northumberland, it all comes back to the workers. The capitalist, i.e., the man of ability, either invested part of his profit in business or spent it in some way which caused employment for the workers. He regretted as much as any man the existence of poverty. He would like to see a more equitable distribution of wealth. The men of organising ability would always be required. Under no form of society, even Socialism, could the worker receive the full value of his product. „

The Chairman then called upon Comrade Reynolds to speak for twenty minutes. With scathing humour and satire Reynolds exposed the shallowness of his opponents position. Mr. Kirkley had not said one word to disprove Marx’s theory. Instead he had given utterance to a number of amazing contradictions. If surplus value did not exist how did it come back to the workers. But how surplus value came back to the workers Mr. Kirkley had not told us. Perhaps it comes back to the workers by way of a certain gentleman now spending his time in a cruise in the Mediterranean to recover from a slight attack of influenza. Perhaps it comes back by way of the tour about to be made by the Prince of Wales to South Africa and the Argentine. If surplus value comes back to the workers, why does Mr. Kirkley require a more equitable distribution of wealth? To show the absurdity of Mr. Kirkley’s statement he, Reynolds, would quote not from Marx, not from any Socialist, but from a well-known capitalist, Lord Leverhulme, who said :—
When we remember that nine-tenths of the wealth of the United Kingdom, and of probably of many other countries, belongs to one-tenth of the people, and that one-tenth of the wealth only is the portion of nine-tenths of the people, we get an idea of the scope there is for adjustment of conditions and opportunities. (“The British Dominions Year Book.")
Contrary to his opponent, who said there were five requisites for wealth production, he, Reynolds, recognised only two, namely nature given material and human energy. Ability is essential to wealth production, but who applies the ability? No other than those who belong to the working class. People who spend their time around the gaming tables of Monte Carlo, and in making pleasure trips to various parts of the world, may possess ability, but do not use that ability in the process of wealth production. No Socialist claims that under Socialism the workers will receive the full value of their product, since a certain amount must be set aside for reproductive purposes. But all that is set aside for this purpose under Socialism will be used for the benefit of the whole of society, and not as it is to-day, for the benefit of a few parasites.

The remainder of the debate was taken up by the Anti-Socialist repeating his former statements regarding surplus value, and asserting that increased production was the only remedy for working class troubles. All his points were effectively dealt with by Comrade Reynolds.

The debate was well appreciated by the audience, who showed unmistakable signs that the Socialist case was a sound one.

Undoubtedly good propaganda work was done by this debate, besides a good deal of literature being sold.
A. S. C.

A Socialist New-Year Message (1940)

From the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists are far from conventional in their attitude towards accepted traditions. If we referred in these columns to the various religious and seasonal festivals, it would, most likely, be in order to emphasise some aspect of the Socialist conception of life. If we went so far as to wish our readers “The compliments of the season," we should temper our good wishes with not a little cold factual reasoning. It is an embarrassing habit that Socialists have. Like other workers, most of us can appreciate a good meal on any one day in the year, not excepting Christmas Day; nor are we lacking in the qualities which promote convivial social gatherings. That workers should eat and drink of the good things of life, for example, on Christmas Day, is good. What is bad is that on 364 days of the year a great proportion of the workers are not in a position to partake of the good things. In fact, according to the authorities, whose job it is to know about such things, about half the population suffer from malnutrition. That is to say, they have a standard of living below that required to keep them in a state of physical fitness. Socialists are among those awkward people whose minds are not blurred by the maudlin sentiment appropriate on such festal occasions.

Modern productive forces are capable of producing more than sufficient to give every worker access to good food and clothing, and other amenities of life, not only on one day of the year, but every day. That they are not used for this purpose is because the means and instruments of production are privately owned and because, production is for sale and profit, and not to provide useful things for the well-being of all. It is private ownership which denies the worker access to the things which would remove his poverty. Workers are not denied these things because the capitalist is privileged to own by some divine or natural right. In fact, the capitalist class emerged from obscure historical beginnings and itself had to clear the way of a previous ruling class before it became dominant. Nor is working-class poverty attributable to lack of ability, for workers organise and carry out production on behalf of the capitalists. The capitalist class, as a class, is outside the process of production. Whilst the social means of production continue to be the private property of a class who are a small minority, social contradictions are inevitable; that is to say, the majority will be poor whilst there is plenty, and wars will arise through the clash of interests between capitalist states. "Progress" will be governed by what is in the interests of the minority who own the means of production, and not by what is in the interests of the whole of society. Even with all the goodwill in the world to solve social problems, by the very nature of them, the capitalist class can only apply such remedies as will leave unchallenged its privileged position as an owning class.

Only the working class is free to take the step which will remove social contradictions and the obstacles to the progress of human society.

These are truths which are topical for us at all seasons.

The year which has just drawn to a close has not been a particularly happy one for the workers. The year 1939 saw unemployment increase ominously to the point which threatened another severe industrial crisis, with its intensification of working-class problems. The outbreak of war swallowed it. Now millions of workers, who would otherwise have been unemployed, are engaged in producing, and being trained in the use of, instruments of warfare in order to maim, blind and kill their fellow workers who live in other countries, who, in their turn, are similarly engaged. There is, however, one inescapable fact the capitalists will have to face. This war, like the last, must inevitably help on the recognition of social contradictions and bring the working class nearer to a true understanding of the solution.

If we have a New Year’s message for the workers, it is that the progress of humanity does not require the loss of millions of lives in war.

Work and live for Socialism!
Harry Waite

The Slave’s Awakening (1940)

From the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The capitalist class, by means of their control of the publicity organs, are able to focus the attention of the working class on things that are often of little concern or consequence; the wage slave’s mind is on the war; the exploiter devotes his energies more closely at this time to the source of profit; real wages must not be allowed to rise: forced saving by means of rationing must of necessity be ruthlessly imposed upon those who do not pay income tax. The wage-worker listens to his master’s voice and submits to his master’s will. The standard of living of the proletariat falls, and this, together with the harassing black-out, induces many to give expression to the dissatisfaction they feel; they inwardly curse many of those in power or they openly denounce Hitler, but one rarely hears a statement that places the blame where it belongs, on the supporters of the capitalist system.

The exploiter could not long continue in his privileged position if he failed to keep going the mills of deception; the capitalist not only lives at the expense of his victims but he succeeds in preventing them from finding out how it is done.

It is obvious that the process will continue until the worker decides to end it, and the idea of ending it will never enter his head until he realises that only by doing so can he hope to enjoy a life worth living.

Shakespeare says: “He that being robbed misses not that he is robbed of, let him not know it and he’s not robbed at all.”

The worker thinks he sells his labour and, what’s more, gets paid for it; whereas he sells his mental and physical energy, his labour-power. Labour-power is the source of all value, and this is sold to the capitalist before the seller delivers the goods. When the working man punches the clock he begins to deliver what the exploiter has bought; the labour-power of the worker is already capitalist property when the wage-slave is producing, that is, when he is undergoing the agony of delivering it. The amount of wealth the worker produces during the day does not determine the price he receives for his labour-power; the wealth produced, that is, the results of his labour, belongs to his employer as it comes into being.

Why does the worker sell his labour-power? Why does the capitalist buy it?

The worker sells his labour-power because he must – or starve. The capitalist buys labour-power because he makes a profit by exploiting it.

The capitalist class own those things essential to human existence: the worker is divorced from ownership; he owns nothing but his mental and physical energy; he is therefore in no position to live except under the terms laid down by the owning class.

The worker does not even own a job, the capitalist retains the right of discharge; all the worker, therefore, can hope for is the loan of a job – by the kind permission of his master.

When the extraction of labour-power is going at full swing the working class are producing wealth in quantities that exceed in value the amount of wages they receive; the difference between what is required to keep the working class in fair working condition, and what the working class produces, goes to the capitalist class; this is why the capitalist desires to keep the process going and why he is also desirous of preventing the worker from getting a clear idea of what is happening.

The wealth produced is composed of things for sale – commodities. The capitalist, as a result of the process above described, can sell them at a profit; that is, if he can sell them.

Sometimes the sale becomes difficult, owing to the fact that other exploiters are offering similar goods on the market, and, in consequence, the would-be sellers of commodities go further and further afield to discover a place where they can profitably dispose of what they have obtained by making wage slaves work for them. As production increases, so does the struggle for markets, and when some discover that their rivals are trespassing on territory they regarded exclusively as their own, quarrels occur and threats are made.

It frequently happens that capitalists cross swords with each other about the right to possess certain areas where raw materials may be obtained cheap. The friction gets worse and worse as productivity increases, until eventually there is an open quarrel and the war is on.

Deception now assumes form, the worker is told that his country is in danger, and he is informed it is his duty to defend it. He is led to believe that the country is his, although he does not own any of it. If he hesitates to obey the call of duty he is rounded up and made to do so.

There is much hurrying to and fro, and from every quarter appear men and women who never took any interest in the working man before, but who now tell him what he should do and also what his wife and children should do. He listens vaguely, but supposes they know more about it than he does, and from force of habit obeys the instructions issued.

He listens to the radio about the glorious exploits of his fellow workers who are now in uniform. He reads the newspapers and, after vainly trying to puzzle out what it all means, gives it up, accepts everything as inevitable, and hopes it will soon be over.

He has no great knowledge of the world at large and the foreign names of places that now come into the picture are difficult to pronounce or spell; he is somewhat surprised when he goes to the cinema to perceive that the enemy look very much like people he knows, but he is sure they are in the wrong in taking the stand they do. Britain is morally right, she must be; there is no doubt about it, Mr. Chamberlain has said so.

He does not realise that the “enemy” is the result of the same process that forced him to move on unfamiliar lines; the last thing he is likely to perceive is that working men are killing each other wholesale because the buying and selling of commodities and the capitalist ownership of the means of production have brought it about; his greatest hope is that after the war he will be able to get a job and continue indefinitely to sell his labour-power.

He is bewildered by discordant cries of “Fascist!”, “Nazi-ist!”, “Trotskyist!”, “Right deviation!”, etc.

He contributes sometimes to funds, ostensibly collected for babies in Spain or comrades in China, without knowing what becomes of them; he is held spellbound and hypnotised by the easy manner in which some orators use a language utterly unknown to him; he has an uncomfortable feeling that he is out of date or too ignorant to understand. He does not realise that those who lay down the law so emphatically are often working under instructions; selling their labour-power to a Russian bureaucracy or a British capitalist combine, and coming to heel with a bound when their masters crack the whip.

The abolition of the wage system is something that, as yet, has not entered his head. If he hears the phrase the thought comes to him: “How could we live without wages? It’s impossible! Why, it’s all we have to live upon – except the dole.”

The conditions now unfolding will result in making plain to him many things that seem beyond his ability to grasp. When, at the end of the present blood-bath, the unemployed number millions; when the wounded and the maimed are prominent in all localities; when stagnation exists in all branches of production, and those who have been his advisers run around like chickens without heads; when the State rocks as a result of the clash of conflicting elements and amidst this confusion the voice of sanity is heard, he will understand then what is beyond him now. His fellow-worker and he will confer and arrive at the conclusion that the abolition of the wages system is the only sensible thing to do.

How can the wages system be kept going when the wheels of industry are braked by the inability to find markets and the chaos existing in the buying and selling organisations of the capitalist world?

It will exist in some fashion, becoming ever more irksome and distasteful to society in general and the working class in particular.

In contrast to the prevailing discontent will appear with ever-growing clarity the vision of what is possible should the means of production be commonly owned and operated with the idea of producing wealth for the common good.

The wage-slave will then have reached the end of his travail, he will go out of existence along with his exploiter and their hangers-on. He will be transformed into a man bold and free; he will know not only that the world is his but, in addition, how to make the best use of it. Whatever he does henceforth will react, not for the exclusive benefit of a class, but for the well-being of mankind.
Charles Lestor

Can the welfare state survive? (1992)

From the September 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the deepening of the world economic crisis and the inevitable increase in unemployment, homelessness and poverty, pressures on welfare agencies world-wide are increasing. Governments are being compelled to review their public spending budgets in an attempt to meet these problems.

Here in Britain the Chancellor, Norman Lamont, has emphasised the Conservatives' commitment:
to reduce the proportion of the nation's wealth pre-empted by the public sector . . . Recession inevitably makes that difficult for a while, as output shrinks while rising unemployment pushes up spending. So public spending as a proportion of GDP will rise for a couple of years. But as the economy recovers we need to get it back on a steady downward trend (Daily Telegraph. 24 July).
He went on to say that the "total level of public expenditure must be fixed on the basis of what is affordable".

This statement implies that, for the government’s plan to succeed, recovery must occur within two years. If the Chancellor's previous forecasts arc anything to go by— he announced in June last year that recovery had begun—then his pronouncement lacks credibility.

Same the whole world over
The strains on welfare budgets are not confined to Britain. In America the State of California is broke. For the first time since 1930 welfare cheques have been issued as lOUs and some banks have bounced them. In New Zealand, the National Party government of Jim Bolger has made a determined attempt to drastically modify the welfare state which has existed ten years longer than in Britain. Against a background of net debt ratio to public spending of 46.5 percent, compared to an OECD average of 33 percent, cutbacks have begun in earnest. Hospital charges for those on higher incomes have increased and are effectively means-tested. Retirement age will be increased from 60 to 65 over a ten-year period. There will be a surcharge for all tax-paying pensioners. Unemployment benefit for a single person has been cut by 10 percent in cash terms. It is now no longer paid to those below 18 and only at a reduced rate to those up to age 25 (Financial Times, 24 July).

Sweden, that shining example of a social welfare state according to many reformist Social Democrats, where prior to last year’s election public spending totalled 61 percent of GNP. has been forced to make reductions in social security spending. After nearly 60 years so-called “caring economics” has ended “in uncontrollable public spending and the highest tax rates in the world along with chronic wage inflation as workers tried to claw back tax increases through their wage packets" (Daily Telegraph, 26 March).

In Italy the public debt at a level of 105 percent of National Income is clearly out of control. The ratio of debt to GNP is growing faster than the economy. Endemic political scandals linking prominent government Ministers to corruption involving public works contracts and the Mafia have undermined confidence in the country’s finances. Privatisation plans, intended to reshuffle the states insurance, oil and electricity into two main groups in preparation for sale to the public, had to be modified as a result of the disclosure of huge debts owed by these institutions to foreign banks totalling £5.2 billion (Financial Times, 24 July).

Governments have no money other than that which they raise from taxation, direct and indirect, borrowing by issuing government stock, increasing the money supply and, in recent years, privatisation of formerly state-run industries. Ultimately this revenue must come out of the profit-making sector of the capitalist economy.

It follows that increases in public spending must involve a reduction of profit in the non-state profit-making sector unless the latter can increase its profits to a level that compensates for the increased public sector spending. This, however, is not possible when the capitalist mode of production. whose sole function is the accumulation of capital in order to realise a greater mass of profit, enters into deep economic crisis, as it has at present. Personal and business bankruptcies increase, unemployment soars along with homelessness resulting from repossessions, all increasing demands on the public sector. This in turn results in increased government borrowing.

In spite of their alleged differences, all the major parties at the last election attempted to outbid each other in their promises of increased public spending. The Conservatives claimed that better management and accountability would produce better value for money. Labour called for a more "caring society”, but the call from their deputy leader, Margaret Beckett, for the lowering of interest rates to revive the economy fails to account for the fact that the US has its lowest interest rates since the 1930s and yet still has no recovery.

More cuts to come
None of the catch slogans of either party address the fundamental contradictions contained within capitalism which are manifesting themselves in greater problems in the public sector. Having allowed public spending to increase, with the elections over, the Chancellor now has the task with Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, of keeping public spending within the projected limits of £245 billion for 1993/ 94. While details of cutbacks have yet to be revealed, unemployment benefit is a likely target.

Some idea of the magnitude of the problems involved can be seen from the estimated costs of unemployment, income support and housing benefits which rise by about £350 million for every 100,000 unemployed above the governments projected forecast (Daily Telegraph, 24 July). The costs of long-term unemployment of 600,000 have been put at £4 billion by R. Layard (Employment Institute pamphlet, September 1991). The charity Relate has put the cost of single parent families to the public sector as £600 million (Daily Telegraph, 1 August).

And what if the long-promised economic recovery fails to materialise on time? Then the problems outlined above will increase to a degree that at worst could cause a collapse of the welfare state both here and abroad or at best result in a drastic cut back in welfare provisions as in the 1930s with its consequent suffering and hardship for members of the working class. The solution lies with those who are always on the receiving end. The class that produces the wealth—the working class. They and they alone can end this nightmare by establishing a society of production for use and the welfare of all humanity.
Terry Lawlor

Letters to the Editors: Aloof from the Workers (1967)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard


You state that the SPGB is not “aloof" from the working class movement. In effect, you say that the SPGB is the working class movement in Britain. This is obviously not the case.

Generally, the SPGB is regarded as Utopianist. And no wonder. The SPGB prejudges all organisations, without first having any real contact with them. This cuts two ways. Even if organisations do not start out as Socialist, the presence in them of persons of left-wing opinions can transform either the organisation concerned, or some members thereof. Anyway, if it becomes obvious to a Socialist party that an organisation to which it is affiliated cannot possibly become Socialist itself, then that party would be perfectly at liberty to disaffiliate.

The classic case of this was when the Labour Representation Committee was formed in 1900. Many organisations joined up with the LRC, in order to further their own non-Socialist aims. The Independent Labour Party joined in the hope of forwarding the progress towards Socialism. After years of dedicated struggle for Socialism, which brought a heap of anger and retribution upon its head, the ILP finally realised that it had been “had”. It disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 1932, after the Macdonald betrayal. At least the ILP has had a bash— and even today has the respect of a large minority of working class people.

Let the SPGB start off by contacting the Independent Labour Party, the true Socialist Party.
George Curtis (Wolverhampton)

The passage our correspondent refers to (Socialist Standard, February 1967) was in a letter which accused us of standing aloof from “main stream politics” — not the working class movement. Our reply said, “The Socialist Party, far from standing aloof, is actively working for Socialism”.

What is the working class movement in Britain? If it is the political movement which at present has mass working class support, then we make no claim to be in it. What we do assert is that, as the only organisation to stand for Socialism, we alone represent working class interests on the political field.

Of course this is regarded by many workers as Utopian —but then so is the ILP. And perhaps here they are nearer the mark; after all, Mr. Curtis writes to us urging us to affiliate with other political organisations, and then gives us an excellent example of the futility of doing just that.

It would have been better if our correspondent had given us some examples of our prejudging organisations without having any contact with them. The fact is that our opposition to other parties is always based on our examination of their policies and their records. If we decide that an organisation is Socialist in its principles, as we recently decided in the case of our new companion party in Austria, then we are only too happy to welcome another member of the Socialist international fraternity.

The present Labour government provides a good example of what happens to “persons of left-wing opinions” and shows how (even if they wanted to) they cannot transform organisations. There are many Labour ministers, once the hopes of the left-wing, now complacently applying Wilson’s policies.

Another example is the very betrayal Mr. Curtis mentions. Many members of the 1931 Labour government, including Macdonald and Snowden, were once left wingers and were, indeed, leaders of the 1LP.

It is clearly time for Mr. Curtis to ask himself why this sort of disappointment is always happening to left wingers but never to the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain. The reason is simple.

A Socialist party does not become involved in alliances and compromises with capitalist organisations. Parties like the Labour Party and the 1LP, which dabble in capitalist reformism, are not and cannot be Socialist. The Socialist Party opposes such parties. It does not fall for the promises and the vanities of leaders, whichever “wing” they play on.

Anyone who wants to abolish the capitalist social system should not waste their time trying to alter the basic nature of capitalist organisations. Their place is in the Socialist Party, helping with the work for Socialism.
Editorial Committee

Beyond Economics (2016)

The Cooking the Books column from the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
This year is also the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Although not the main theme, or even a minor one, it is clear from the characters’ behaviour and occasional asides (at least in the first two series) that it’s a money-free world. Set in the 23rd and 24th centuries, scarcity no longer exists as anything material needed to meet human needs can be produced by ‘replicators’. This prompted one trekkie, Manu Saadia, to write Trekonomics: the Economics of Star Trek that appeared earlier this year and which sparked a discussion on ‘post-scarcity economics’.
Actually, ’post-scarcity economics’ is a contradiction in terms as academic economics defines itself as the study of how societies and individuals allocate scarce resources. The opening chapter of a typical American textbook (Economics by Byrns and Stone) is headed ‘Economics: The Study of Scarcity and Choice’. Paul Samuelson, in his much more widely-used textbook of the same title, invents ‘The Law of Scarcity’:
‘If an infinite amount of every good could be produced, or if human wants were fully satisfied, it would not then matter if too much of a particular good were produced. Nor would it then matter if labor and materials were combined unwisely… There would then be no economic goods, i.e., no goods that are relatively scarce; and there would hardly be any need for a study of economics or ‘economizing’. All goods would be free goods, like air.’
This is not a ‘law’ but a definition and an odd one at that. In its normal sense ‘scarcity’ means there’s not enough of something, that it’s in short supply. But economics defines it as a situation where Samuelson’s ‘infinite amount of every good’ cannot be produced, i.e. as the absence of sheer abundance.
For Byrns and Stone  ‘a world in which all human wants are instantly fulfilled is hard to imagine.’ But this is just what Star Trek  does imagine and what its creator, Gene Roddenberry, insisted should be a background assumption. It is thus a direct challenge to economics and economists.
Accusing Roddenberry of espousing ‘utopian socialism’, a certain Gardner Goldsmith asserted that a ‘no-money society’ was a fantasy:
‘Like Roddenberry, many thinkers have tried to envision a world in which there is no need for money, no market exchange, and no property. And every one of those thinkers, whether be they followers of John Lennon, Michael Moore, or Karl Marx, has overlooked one key insight: man’s nature does not change.’
As if we hadn’t heard that one before! Paul Krugman made a more intelligent point that, while replicators might be able to produce material things in demand, they wouldn’t be able to provide services.
Star Trek is of course fiction. But Roddenberry’s assumption raises the question of what humans would do (besides exploring space) if they didn’t have to work to satisfy their needs. Provide services for each other perhaps?
Even in 2-300 years time humans will still have to put in some work to satisfy their needs, if only to maintain the replicators. But this doesn’t undermine the case for a society based on common ownership of the means of production where exchange and money would therefore be redundant and where people work at what they do best and take according to their needs.
Scarcity has already been conquered, not in the economists’ eccentric sense of the absence of sheer abundance, but in the sense that the resources, technology and human skills already exist to produce enough satisfy likely human needs and wants. No need to wait for the invention of replicators to establish this down here on Earth in the 21st century.