Sunday, May 21, 2017

Why is the world so cramped? (1988)

Cartoon from the February 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Campaign-Against Prohibition in the U.S.A. (1932)

From the September 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the time of writing arrangements are being made to hold a big parade, and it is claimed that many trade unions and working men have applied for permission to march in it.

The parade is to protest against the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition), and to demand the legalising of beer. The workers are led to believe that if beer is legalised a lot of jobs will be brought back and this will cause a demand for commodities which will put the workers on the road to more prosperous times.

It is interesting to consider why the Eighteenth Amendment was made the law of the land. We will quote Fort, a member of the House of Representatives, in a speech made before the House concerning the economic causes of Prohibition: —
  With high-speed machinery and increased specialisation in its use, alertness of body and mind became essential for both the safety of the worker and the efficiency of his work.
   With factories organised so that processes were continuous, and a break at any point in the handling chain slowed all the wheels and hampered all the work, each workman’s presence and correct performance must be assured. Midday drinking by one man might cause someone to slip and injure either his fellow workman or the whole system. So, too, the plant must be fully managed every day, each specialised workman at his appointed task. No longer could our industries proceed with a 50 per cent. attendance Monday, 80 per cent. on Tuesday, and 100 per cent., perhaps, by Wednesday noon. In the old days of one or two men it had not been so serious. If necessary the delinquent could work later when sober and make up for lost time. But the eight-hour day and dependence of one man's work upon the other made that impossible.
   . . . Then, too. machines were^st replacing horses. Now a horse would get home with a drunken driver, but a railroad train, trolley car, or an automobile might not . . .
    The swelling power of our new economic era, therefore, had to match swords against the saloon.
(Times, New York February 2nd, 1930.)
Charles and Mary Beard support this view. They say: “ . . . . employers of labour, in their quest for efficiency give money and support to the new crusade, for drunken workers were a danger as well as an economic loss to machine industry.** (“The Rise of American Civilisation," Vol. II., page 733.)

As long as it remained a “moral" issue, Prohibition did not make much headway; but when it was found that drink interfered with the profits of manufacturers, it had to go. The distillery and brewery owners had to be sacrificed for the good of other manufacturers, and their workers lost their jobs. The workers have very short memories, for it is not so long ago that they believed that their poverty was due to drinking, and that if Prohibition were passed they would be better off. But we now find the position of the.worker to be the same as it was before. Prohibition or wet, there is no difference. In relation to the capitalist, the worker is still a wage slave and poverty stricken. Now he believes that Prohibition is the cause of his poverty, but if he would think just a bit and look across the herring pond he would discover many countries in Europe that do not have Prohibition, yet their wage-slaves are in the same condition as in U.S.A., where we do have it.

Thus it can be clearly seen that neither Prohibition nor Repeal is the solution to the wage-workers’ problems. While Repeal might make prosperity for some distillers and brewery owners, the workers will gain nothing.

The contention that the legalising of beer will make more employment cannot be accepted. Although the figures given are not capable of proof there is little doubt that there are more persons engaged in the liquor industry now than before Prohibition. In New York City alone there are more than thirty thousand speakeasies ; it is doubtful if ever there were as many saloons as this. Also, owing to the less efficient methods that have to be used now. than when it was legal, room is made in this trade for extra thousands.

And as for workers not being able to get a drink, this is not due to any lack of beer supply, but that they simply cannot afford to buy it. If you have the price you can get all you want. This state of affairs will continue, whether legally or not. There is not a bit of doubt but that when beer is legalised, Prohibition, or something near it, will still be the lot of many wage-workers. They will be unable to buy much beer owing to lack of money.

Since the introduction of Prohibition, considerable changes have taken place. The capitalist is no longer worried about having to make his workers sober by law. Owing to the unemployment situation, police are now required to control the large numbers of applicants for jobs. The wage-slaves stay sober because they know they can be so easily replaced, and that if they get into the ranks of the unemployed they will have to stay sober, anyway. So the manufacturing capitalist is not worried on this score any longer, and for this and other reasons has changed his outlook. Behind the demand for the legalising of beer is the problem of taxation. This is behind much of the propaganda now being let loose upon the working class.

Making beer legal appears to be in the interest of sections of the capitalist class, who want to shed some of the increasing burden of taxes. They cast about to discover how to shift some of this burden of taxes on to other sections of their class. They see that the brewery owners pay no taxes on beer at present; they know it is being made, so why not make it legal and tax it, thus making the brewery section of the capitalist class pay a share of taxes? They would have less to pay themselves, so they are willing to bring back beer, which, like the poor, is always with us, wet or dry.

The worker, generally, thinks that he, also, suffers from the burden of taxes. So he is easily led to believe that his interests are involved when the question of taxation comes up. If he would examine this point a little more closely, he would find that taxes are a levy on property, and that wage-slaves are, in the main, propertyless. To the workers, as a class, it does not matter a tinker’s damn if the taxes are high or low: all the.worker gets when he works is, roughly, a wage sufficient to keep him in a state where he can continue to. produce efficiently and bring up a family, and no more; just enough to repeat the process of bringing new values into existence, new wealth that did not exist before he applied his labour power. If prices fall owing to lowered taxation, or any other reason, wages tend to follow. The employers, not the workers, gain thereby.

Yet we see that reformer after reformer brings out this question of taxes, which, economically, has nothing to do with the workers. This is done to hoodwink the workers into giving support to this or that section of the capitalist class. That section whose representatives succeed in enticing the workers' support secures political control of the State. In this position they have the power to shift the tax burden to the shoulders of other sections, thus relieving themselves in proportion.

It is not due to beer, or lack of it; nor is it due to high or low taxes, that conditions are as we find them. It is due to the system of society that divides mankind into classes, those who own the means of wealth production and distribution, and those who own nothing but their labour-power.
Taffy Brown
Workers' Socialist Party of U.S.A.

Malthus, Marx and Socialism (1975)

From the June 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

If Malthus could look in at present-day discussions about population and food supply he would no doubt be flattered that he and his ideas are still remembered and that the discussions have gone beyond this country, to occupy a prominent place on the world stage. He would be particularly interested to note that the question now takes in the allegations that world resources are approaching exhaustion and that continued growth of total production is becoming more and more difficult.

Malthus has a special interest for us, both because of Marx’s attack on his theories and because of the purpose for which he published his essay in 1798. Its full title was: Essay on the Principle of Population as it affects the future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other Writers. At that time the British ruling class were alarmed by the spread of revolutionary ideas following the French revolution in 1789. Among those who caused them alarm was the philosophical anarchist William Godwin who propagated the idea that people could live happily together, free from poverty and crime in a system of society based on voluntary co-operation, with no coercive state or other institutions of a class society.

Malthus wrote his Essay to show that Godwin and others who shared his views were wrong because they ignored what Malthus called the Natural Law of Population. This law, as stated by Malthus, was that population, if not checked, would always increase faster than food supplies, and that it always is held in check by the limited food supply operating through poverty, war and pestilence, which necessarily bring misery and vice; therefore the Godwin utopia of universal happiness was impossible.

Having to admit that population in theory might be restricted by what he called “moral restraint’’ he fell back on the argument that such restraint could not be exercised in a society that lacked private property to act as incentive. (Much like the argument now used by Sir Keith Joseph for his “Social Market Economy” capitalism.)

Malthus’s Essay was welcomed by some of the ruling class at the time because it could be used not only against revolutionary ideas but against almost any social change. Malthus made no serious attempt to prove the arithmetic of his law, and the nineteenth century in Britain showed the rate of increase of the population falling drastically while powers of production were increasing fast. Interest in Malthus continued though very erratically, declining when trade was good and unemployment low and reviving during every recession, particularly in the Great Depression of the last quarter of the century.

This was the key to Marx’s attack on Malthus. Marx pointed out that capitalism has its own population law, the symptoms of which are that in a boom the population appears to be too small and in a depression too large. Because capitalism does not produce to meet the needs of people but only to meet the effective demand in the market, capitalism never had produced enough to meet the needs of the whole population.

Capitalism has not changed in that respect, and UN officials now estimate that about a third of the world’s population are poverty-stricken as measured by accepted standards of nutrition. This figure is quoted in a recent article by a regular columnist of the Financial Times, C. Gordon Tether (1 May 1975). He used it to show the uselessness of leaving the problem to the interplay of supply and demand and defines it as a double one, that of raising the standards of the “poor” and of providing for the expected big increase of world population.

Mr. Tether has at least come some way from Malthus, for whom there was a second “natural law”, that the poor should go on being poor. Mr. Tether is so fearful of “ultimate global disasters” that he demands “a far-reaching re-structuring of the planet’s economic system during the next few years”. He does not spell out what he has in mind, and it would be most improbable that he envisages the social revolution at which Socialists aim. Yet it is the only one that, by eliminating the waste, the limitations on production and the sheer destruction of capitalism would give the big increase of useful production that he knows is necessary.

One last word about Marx and his collaborator Frederick Engels. They were fully aware of the arguments of the Malthusians and Engels wrote in 1844:
Even if Malthus were altogether right, it would still be necessary to carry out this [Socialist] reorganization immediately, since only this reorganization, only the enlightenment of the masses which it can bring with it, can make possible that moral restraint which Malthus himself puts forward as the easiest and most effective counter measure against overpopulation.
(See Marx and Engels on Malthus by Ronald L. Meek, p.109.)
Engels recalled this in a letter dated 1 February 1881 sent by him to Kautsky, in which he wrote:
There is of course the abstract possibility that the number of people will become so great that limits will have to be set to their increase. But if at some stage communist society finds itself obliged to regulate the production of human beings, just as it has already come to regulate the production of things, it will be precisely this society, and this society alone, which can carry this out without difficulty.
Edgar Hardcastle

"A Decent Living Wage" (1950)

From the March 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

"All a man wants is a decent living wage.” How often has this remark been passed by members of the working class when talking to a socialist. Behind it, one can sense the desire for economic security, and the mental peace and relaxation that would arise from it. So, in a form of society where everything is measured in money, those that have so little of it spend the whole of their lives working and wishing.

Thousands, recognizing that only “Lady Luck” can get them out of the drudgery that is their social possession by birth, spend some of the hard-earned cash in an attempt to beat the horses, dogs or cards. Each week-end millions more have a “flutter” on the pools, and others turn to crime, all in a vain attempt to find their way “upwards” (economically). We say vain attempt, for if these workers would reason collectively instead of individually, it would be clear that although one or two may go up, thousands will go down still further. For everyone who wins a pound thousands more will lose it; for everyone who is successful in crime, thousands more are steadily plodding round the prison yards.

It is to this majority of society, the workers, to the people who day after day sell themselves to be exploited by the owners of the tools of production, that the socialist message is addressed. By understanding and co-operation it is possible for us to take the constant drudgery out of our lives, the boredom that herds us together each week-end to get a little excitement out of football or gambling our money on animals. For the philosophy of “Well, you never know, you may be a pound better off” arises directly out of the realisation that if you had another pound or so, you could perhaps break the boredom for a week. But the tragedy is that most of us never win; we lose that pound and the misery is intensified.

The alternative to this barren existence? It is within the reach of all workers. We could send our delegates to Parliament to take over the “State Machinery” by which the owners protect their interests, abolish private ownership of the means of production and introduce common ownership. Did we hear someone say “Then what?”

Why, then would come the end of wars, the end of poverty, the end of monotony, of insecurity, the end of the capitalist class and the end of the working class.

Man will work with man for the betterment of all, subjecting natural forces for social comfort, serving the cry: “ From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Finally, it will put an end to the remark, “All a man wants is a decent living wage.” For wages being the price that is paid by the owners for our labour power, workers will realise that it is only by putting an end to the wage system that we can get a decent living.
Terry Lord

The Social Revolution (1975)

From the September 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

An immediate and fundamental change in the basis of society. Perhaps, when younger and struck with some glaring contradiction of capitalism, you felt the need for a reorganization in human affairs. Eliminating such superfluous stuff as money, you went on to build a model of this new, perfect world inside your head. Its characteristics were peace, harmony, plenty and so on. As you filled in the details the picture grew clearer and more insistent. You began to question your friends upon their views. Finally, you put forward your ready-made utopia and asked them to follow you.

Suddenly it seemed as if everybody had been rehearsing a hundred objections to your scheme beforehand. It won’t work! You can’t change human nature! Who’ll do the dirty work? There’ll be no incentive to produce! What about the lazy people? Overwhelmed by this tremendous opposition, you had to concede the impracticalities in a few bits of your new scheme. Whereupon the completed system became a patchwork of ideas and one of your friends, who was taking O-level Economics, quoted a passage from the Old Testament, proving conclusively that capitalism had always existed as the natural state of mankind.

This onslaught beat your dream world to the back of your consciousness; parts of it to be resurrected only when sardonic comment upon the world was called for. But even a suggestion of your old utopia received so much stick from your friends that it made your position untenable. A year later, upon hearing something reminiscent of your old view from a stranger, you caught yourself saying — “Yes, I wanted to change the world too when I was younger. It’s part of the process of growing up. You’ll learn!’’ — You’d come full circle and disowned your brainchild! What went wrong?

The source of your error lies in history. You stopped short at Fourier, Owen and Proudhon. Though you may never have heard of these people, yet you were tracing, in your mind and conversation, the practical steps which these men and their followers took to remodel a bit of society upon different lines. Like your theoretical notion, they all came to grief.

If you followed the steps exactly you will have dived straight into trade unionism after abandoning Utopias. Owen did. The Grand National Trade Union which he helped to found, grew to a million members and then petered out. The General Strike of 1926 and the ease with which it was crushed makes plain what is the result of trade unions essaying confrontation with the State.

You may have begun your encounter with the union by advocating protracted strikes — “Bring the capitalists to their knees!” Which advice foundered upon the objections of the plodders, who said; “The masters will just starve us out, they can live off their fat in the Bahamas — we can’t. We never get back from a strike what we lose in pay.” Just like the New Model Unions of the 1850s!

Now if you are an archetype you will have remembered that your uncle was once the lord mayor of Louth. After a long talk with him you joined the local Labour Party. Talked to all and sundry about “Keeping our feet upon the floor of the House of Commons. Doing something practical NOW!” It had all the charm of your early utopian illusions — with none of the drawbacks. You could still foment about wicket capitalists, while at the opposite pole, you dealt in wage-price indices and the regulation of “mixed economies”.

Here is where we found you. On a wet Saturday in September, back where you started, an individual member of the working class. Your mind having reached the peak of its political evolution in society; you bought from the SPGB a copy of the Socialist Standard. The solution is now staring you in the face.

At first it seems like a refrain from the past. Common ownership? Abolition of the wages system? Classless, moneyless society? Production for use — not profit? Free access! Only, the details are missing. The SPGB does not paint a picture of the future society. In this journal there is no blueprint for Socialism. We only say to the mass of the population who, whether they know it or not, are in the working class: pursue your class interest.

Human life is essentially practical. Never mind what men say, think or write — in practice they must prove the truth. Can Socialism be established by the Labour Party? No matter how many workers say or think that it can, how do they act? When the Labour Party is running capitalism, do the workers abandon the economic struggle? Do they give up their trade union organizations? Of course not. Thus, their theory is at variance with their practice.

Similarly regarding life under capitalism. Do wage increases cause inflation? Is the “vicious spiral” all the fault of greedy workers? Never mind what economists and governments say, what do they do? Governments, when they have to, can end the inflation which they began by expanding an inconvertible currency. This action will prove all of their post pronouncements on inflation to have been nonsense. A glance at history, however, will show it makes no difference to capitalism and the working class: with or without inflation things are just the same.

Underlying all government propaganda on inflation is their basic need to sustain the interests of their capitalist class. Wage increases reduce profits. Capitalism’s apologists may deny that the class struggle exists. But on the annual balance sheets of trading and industrial concerns, evidence of the class war is written. In other words — at the highest level of practicality that capitalism assumes, in its budgetary affairs, the age-old conflict between classes is taken for granted.

Recognize the type of historical process by which changes in society are brought about. To introduce Socialism you must get yourself into an organization with that single purpose. Then help convince other workers that Socialism will be in their interest. But before you can introduce the fundamental change from private to common ownership, you must capture political power; to ensure that the state forces of coercion cannot be used against you. Your numerical superiority must be demonstrated, that means the ballot and the representative institutions must be yours also. This plan of action has been the programme of the SPGB for 71 years. We are the only political party which has succeeded in remaining a revolutionary party. Showing that the centuries-long evolution of political parties has not been in vain. And in practice, that is how you prove the truth in politics.

That viewpoint survives which is best fitted to survive. It must be capable of comprehending the world of the past, present and future. The object and declaration of principles of the SPGB express the working-class viewpoint. Against all comers they have never been found wanting. This organization has adhered to them without compromise or expedient. We urge you to make them your own.
B.K. McNeeney