Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The World in Crisis (2017)

Book Review from the June 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
'The World in Crisis'. Edited by Guiglelmo Carchedi and Michael Roberts, (Zero Books, 2017)
Karl Marx believed that capitalism had a tendency for the rate of profit to fall, and that this is ‘the most important law in political economy’. The Socialist Party has been non-committal on this ‘law’, partly because of its unfinished state (basically notes edited for publication by Engels after Marx’s death), and partly because the ‘law’ seems to be questionable due to what Marx called ‘counteracting factors'’. Also, some leftists have invoked a tendency for the rate of profit to fall as the cause of capitalism’s inevitable collapse (not heard so often these days, they are capitalism’s falling rate of prophets).
This collection of essays from writers around the world examines the evidence from states around the world (including China) using Marx’s theory of value. Marx’s ‘law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’ (LTRPF) can be stated in a couple of sentences:
•  Capitalism is based on the competitive accumulation of profits through technological innovation.
•  Technological innovation increases output but reduces the value of commodities and therefore the profit of what is produced.
This, in one form or another, is the explanation for the cause of capitalism’s inherent economic crises. What the writers here refer to as the ‘Great Recession’, which began in 2008, was the LTRPF manifesting itself as a financial crisis. The LTRPF is also a rejection of explanations of crises in terms of a general lack of purchasing power (Keynesian economics), high wages or government spending (the right wing) or inequality (the left wing).
Against the LTRPF Marx identified five counteracting tendencies which raise the average rate of profit:
1.         Increases in the intensity of exploitation (getting more out of the same or fewer workers).
2.         Reduction of wages below their value (in money wages or in real terms through inflation).
3.         Increasing unemployment (depressing wage levels and holding back wage rises).
4.         Cheaper constant capital (less money spent on productive assets).
5.         Foreign trade and investment (new markets and export opportunities).
Marx mentioned other possible counteracting tendencies but did not go into detail. For Marx and the authors in this book the counteracting tendencies are insufficient to prevent a long-term fall in the average rate of profit. The long-term trend is downwards (in the UK since the late nineteenth century), punctuated by upsurges brought about by the counteracting tendencies. The main part of this book is a detailed statistical analysis of evidence from around the globe. It is, the editors admit, ‘often dense in analysis and flush with figures and numbers’. But for anyone looking for the hard data which backs up Marx’s LTRPF, here it is.
Marx was in no doubt that ‘permanent crises do not exist’ and the writers here agree. So what of the future? The intensification of class struggles and further bouts of austerity for the working class, alternating with booming economies, seems the most likely. All in the name of a declining rate of profit. Perhaps the most important consequence of the analysis in this book is that there are no reformist solutions. As long as the profit system – capitalism – remains the future for the working class is a world in crisis.
Lew Higgins

General Election: Manifesto of The Socialist Party (1910)

From the January 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

FELLOW MEMBERS OF THE WORKING CLASS,
Unlike the usual election manifesto, this is addressed to those who have not a vote as well as to those who have. Its object is to gain, not your vote, but your understanding. You think, perhaps, that the choice now before you is only between the various candidates clamouring for your support. But there is, as we shall show, another alternative that follows logically and inevitably from the position of the working class. And since a knowledge of this position is essential to intelligent political action, we shall deal briefly with it first, and ask you in consequence to give it a moment’s attention.

WHAT IS YOUR POSITION?
It is your lot to toil for a master while you can, and to starve quietly when you cannot. When you are in work to-day, you toil harder, and produce enormously more than ever before, — yet your wage barely suffices for your maintenance. Unemployment, with all the misery it entails upon you and those dependent upon you, dogs your footsteps. Of the total produce of your labour an increasing portion goes to an idle class, while, though you make all the good things, you are forced to consume the cheapest rubbish. Why is this?

Are you poor because there is not abundance of the necessaries of life? Is it because the means of producing them are insufficient, or because there are not willing hands to labour? No. There are hosts of willing labourers. And the instruments of labour become every day more perfect and more productive. Surely, then, with marvellous labour-saving machines and huge waste-saving combines, there should be increased wealth and leisure for all. Why, then, is it that wealth and leisure are only for a class, while poverty and arduous toil are the lot of the producers ?

You have noticed that when a labour-saving machine is introduced into a factory to-day, men are thrown out of work to starve. The toil and insecurity of those who remain in employ are increased, while only the owner of that machine reaps the benefit. Clearly, however, if those who produce owned the machine, the result would be entirely different; there would be shorter hours of labour and higher remuneration for them. It is, consequently, not the machine that injures us, but the ownership of it by the non-producer. Because the workers do not own and control the land and industrial machinery they are the hirelings of those who do own these things, and must sell their bodily energy to them. Thus the propertyless are compelled to cede to the capitalist class the whole product of their labour over and above their maintenance. That is why, so long as class ownership continues, greater poverty for the working class will accompany the increasing wealth and productivity of society.

The abolition of unemployment and the brightening of the workers’ lives can. consequently, only come with the abolition of wage-slavery and of class ownership in the instruments of production. The means for producing wealth must be restored to the workers; and this, to-day, can only be done collectively. This collective ownership and democratic control of industry scientifically organised is SOCIALISM.

And while there is admittedly no other remedy for unemployment and poverty, there is also no way to Socialism except by means of the conquest of political power by a Socialist working class. Your rulers expend huge sums to retain their control of Government in order to maintain and extend their exploitation. And in advancing to the conquest of the political machinery, we shall, consequently, always find the capitalist class our implacable enemy. As in the past, each side will struggle for its interests as it understands them, and the interests of the working class being diametrically opposed to those of all the capitalists, no quarter can be expected or given. Any alliance or compromise with capitalists in the political struggle can only be a working class surrender. Hence the supreme importance of adhering consistently to the fundamental Socialist principle of the CLASS STRUGGLE. For it is only when the wealth-producers control political power— only when the workers are victorious — that the work of transforming the means of production from ruthless instruments of profit for a few into the means of healthy life for all, can begin.

In the light of these facts let us examine the political parties which are begging for your support during the present election, taking first

THE TORY PARTY.
Tariff Reform, say the Conservatives, is just what you need. It will relieve the admittedly terrible unemployed evil, will improve the lot of the worker and increase his wages. These and similar Tory statements can only be described as “frigid and calculated lies.’" The position of the worker as outlined above holds good of every capitalist country, whether it has Protection or Free Trade. Poverty and unemployment are rife, and tend to increase, despite temporary fluctuations, under both fiscal systems. In every country the wage of the worker has a direct relation to his cost of subsistence, but none whatever to the presence or absence of tariff walls. Tariffs, at most, benefit one set of capitalists at the expense of another, but the toilers are wage slaves exploited to the utmost all the time. The 'Tories, indeed, are frankly our enemies; they stand for the present system of robbery in all its ugliness. 'Their antagonism to working-class aims has been proclaimed from the house tops, and by supporting them the working man stultifies himself and sets a seal on his slavery. Let us now turn to

THE LIBERAL PARTY.
Equally with the Tories they stand for capitalism, and make no secret of their hostility to Socialism As Dr. Macnamara said, “Radicalism is irrevocably opposed to the principles on which Socialism is based.” [1] Mr. Asquith, Mr. Ure, and Mr. Churchill have been equally definite. Take the present Budget over which so much bother is being made. The increased expenditure is due, above all, to huge armaments for the protection of capitalist interests and property. It is a Budget of exploitation. Its disputed taxes have been advocated by Tories, and are in operation in other countries with no benefit to the workers. The only valid grounds for the Tory objections are the exigencies of party politics, and the possibility that the new sources of revenue may postpone the necessity for a tax on imports.

Mr. Lloyd George rightly summed up the overdone Tory opposition and showed what the Budget really is when he said [2]
   When I come along and say to the landlord: “Here, the State wants money to protect you and your property your landyour mansionyour rights your privileges: we want money to protect you; you must pay ,£15 out of £150 —they say Robber!"
And do they intend to abolish the House of Lords? Mr. Asquith said: [3]
   You will be told that the issue lies between government by two chambers and government by a single chamber. That is not the case. I myself, and I believe a large majority of the Liberal party are in favour of what is called a bi-cameral system.
Thus the Liberals do not intend, and, indeed, never have intended, to abolish the House of Lords. That institution is regarded by the capitalist class as a great bulwark of the “rights of property," and any reform of the Upper House, put forward by the Lords themselves, the Tories, or the Liberals, can only result in strengthening it against the people. The Liberal party would, moreover, be impossible without the Lords as a foil. It is their perpetual election cry and universal excuse for broken promises. Indeed, while pretending to protest against usurpation, the Liberals have deliberately canceled new privileges. After saying that to dissolve at the dictation of the Lords would be to capitulate, they have deliberately capitulated. Instead of making use of the undoubted rights of the Commons, or using the power which Lord Courtney [4] has shown that the Government possesses over the Lords, the Liberals have given the Upper House the powerful precedents and privileges of rejecting a Budget and compelling a dissolution; precedents which even the ultimate passing of the present finance bill will neither destroy nor weaken. Even the Church Times was moved to remark that “There is only one true description of the situation—ministers have capitulated to the House of Lords." [5] It is seemingly part of a great conspiracy to strengthen the Upper Chamber and humbug the people. There is every reason, therefore, why your attitude toward Liberal candidates should be one of uncompromising hostility.

But we have not quite finished with the Liberal party. There is still a section of it which claims our attention. We refer to

THE LABOUR PARTY.
(which includes the so-called Independent Labour Party). The Labour M.P.s cannot be completely separated from the Liberals in politics, for their political independence is non-existent. “My Budget," says Mr. Lloyd George. “My Budget," says Mr. Philip Snowden. [6] They are "whole heartedly" for the capitalists’ Budget. And it is amusing to find them trying to assure the murmuring rank and file that no understanding with the Liberals exists, in face of the withdrawal of “Labour" men in favour of Liberals, and of Liberals in favour of “Labour" men. One does not. of course, expect to find a written compact. It might become awkward evidence while, as the Times says. “With friends who understand each other so well it is unnecessary.” [7] Quite so. The compromise of the last General Election, in fact, is being repeated on a more complete scale.

The legislatively impotent “Labour” members claim as theirs measures passed by the Liberal majority, and are now engaged in booming the bogus agitation over the Lords and the Budget, and in rallying the workers once more to the support of the Liberal section of the exploiting class.

That there is no Socialism in the “Labour” group is proven by the welcome given them by the anti-Socialist Liberals. Mr. Churchill said: [8]
   Don't let there be any division in our ranks at this juncture. I know that the Lords and their backers are counting on divisions between Liberal and Labour But I think they are likely to be a little bit mistaken.
Several of the newer candidates have been speaking plainly of the pressure brought to bear on them to force them to retire in favour of the Liberals. Mr. Vernon Hartshorn made a vigorous protest. He said : [9]
  I would have gone on in spite of this, but I have been reluctantly compelled, from circumstances of a very personal kind, to conclude that the whole machinery of the Labour Party throughout the country is under the control of the Liberals, and as the latter did not approve of a fight in Mid-Glamorgan, the former are left with no option but to submit to their masters, and I am left with no option but to surrender.
Of such is the “Independence” of the “Labour” Party. The workers pay the piper and their misters call the tune!

There is, however, another organisation, which need not be given a distinct heading We refer to the SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY. This organisation talks of the Class Struggle, but denies it by its every political act. and does not otherwise differ from the “Labour” Party, which it jealously emulates. One of their number. Mr. Will Thorne, was elected in 1906 as a “Labour” member under the auspices of the Labour Party, and is a candidate now under similar conditions. In the present instance the political worthlessness of the S.D.P. may be gauged by the fact that in their official organ, while they denounce the campaign against the Lords as a mere "stage fight,” and assert that the “ Liberals do not wish to abolish the veto of the Lords,” on another page they publish as leading article “A Plea for Unity,” in which they say : [10]
   We are inclined to accede to the claim of ministerial journals and politicians that in the present contest we should be content to waive every other consideration and make the question of the House of Lords the supreme issue, and therefore avoid on this occasion all division of the forces which might be arrayed against the House of Lords. We are all for showing an undivided front against them.

And they conclude this touching appeal by suggesting to the Liberals that they refrain from opposing their candidates and help to get them returned. If the S.D.P. has not “got on” it is not because it has any principles that stand in the way. It “waives every other consideration," including every vestige of Socialist principle, in order to get into Parliament, and offers to aid the Liberals in what it confesses to be a bogus agitation.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
It is evident that from your standpoint as wage-workers none of the foregoing parties is worthy of your support. Not by voting for any of them could you strike a blow for your class. Indeed, from the position laid down it is obvious that the only party you should support must be in direct contrast with these parties. Your party should be democratic. It should have Socialism as its programme and the Class Struggle as its guiding principle. Its candidates should be controlled by the rank and file. It should devote its energies to converting the workers to Socialism, and to organising them for the conquest of political power for its realisation. It should never compromise with capitalist parties, and should refuse to barter away the workers’ salvation for crumbs that profit not. 'That is the party that you should support, and for its candidates alone could you logically vote. Only one party answers to that description in this country—the SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN. But since the ground must be well tilled before the good harvest can be reaped, that party is putting no candidates forward during the present election. Even the poverty which impedes the activity of the working- class party is in itself only a reflex of the present unreadiness of the electorate. Therefore the principles of Socialism must be more widely propagated and the workers more fully organised, before candidates of the Socialist Party can usefully enter the Parliamentary arena. And if you agree that your position is as we have outlined it; if you realise that your policy must be distinct from and hostile to all capitalist politics, and that Socialism alone can help your class, then it is your duty to join the Socialist Party and take a democratic share in its work; thus advancing the day—not far distant—when it will place its own candidates— your candidates—in the Parliamentary field to wage uncompromisingly the fight for Socialism. But until you can thus vote for yourselves and strike a blow against exploitation, it is clearly your duty to ABSTAIN FROM VOTING.

To do otherwise would be to-stultify yourselves and to support the system that crushes you. Go to the ballot box by all means, but only to write Socialism across your voting paper; for if you cannot vote now for what you want, it is folly to vote for what you do not want. The vote, like the razor, is an instrument for a purpose. If you cannot for the moment use it to your advantage, it is madness to cut your throat. And by voting for your enemies, for traitors and charlatans, you are surely cutting your throat.

Above all, however, whether you have a vote or not, realise how much depends upon you and how much remains to be done. A vote, even for a candidate of the Socialist Party, is of no value unless it expresses a Socialist consciousness. Understanding must precede action, for Socialism is impossible until the workers become class-conscious Socialists. There is, therefore, work for you to do. There are outlets for your energy infinitely more profitable to your class than voting for the defenders of exploitation. The army of Socialism must be recruited, and your place is within the ranks of the organisation of your class, taking your part in the battle for the emancipation of your fellows from wage-slavery.
                             THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF 
                                     THE  SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN

NOTES
[1] Daily Chronicle, Oct. 21.
[2] Carnavon (italics are ours).
[3] Albert Hall, Dec. 10.
[4] House of Lords, Nov. 30.
[5] Quoted Daily Chronicle, Dec. 6.
[6] Portsmouth Dec. 3.
[7] Dec. 9.
[8] Crewe, Dec. 9.
[9] Quoted Daily Mail, Dec. 8.
[10] Justice, Dec. 11 (italics are ours).


Exhibition Review: Never Going Underground (2017)

Exhibition Review from the June 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Sexual Offences Act became law in 1967, the consequence being that sex between consenting adult males in private was no longer a criminal offence. An exhibition ‘Never Going Underground’ on LGBT+ equality at the People’s History Museum in Manchester marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Act (it’s on till 3 September). The title is a reference to the use of a logo based on that of the London Underground.

Many gay men had had their lives more or less ruined. For instance, in 1958 Conservative MP Ian Harvey was found guilty of ‘committing an act of gross indecency with another male person’. He was fined £5 but, as his counsel noted, he would in fact be paying for the rest of his life. Not that the 1967 Act would have made much difference to Harvey, as his offence took place in a park.

The exhibition covers a number of themes, such as the importance of activism and demonstrations in getting the law changed. The Sexual Offences Act was of course not in itself the end of the campaigning. The age of consent for gay sex was 21 and was only reduced to 16 (the same as for heterosexuals) in 2003 in England and Wales. In 1988 an amendment to the Local Government Act, the notorious Clause 28, barred local councils from ‘promoting’ homosexuality (which was given a very wide interpretation); this was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and in the rest of the UK in 2003.

It is also clear that there have been arguments within the LGBT+ community on various matters. One was whether it was acceptable to have the police, the armed forces and big business involved in Pride Parades. Another was whether legalising same-sex marriages represented a kind of liberation or acceptance of an oppressive institution. Also, many gay black men have found that racism in the gay scene has been greater than homophobia in black communities.

At least two interesting general lessons can be learned. One is that legal status is not by itself sufficient: there has never been any ban on lesbian sex in the UK, but there has been plenty of anti-lesbian prejudice and discrimination. Another is that solidarity across different causes is important: co-operation between a lesbian and gay group and some South Wales miners played an important role in the 1984–5 miners’ strike.       
Paul Bennett

Comic Belief (2017)

The Action Replay column from the June 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Comic Relief is a British charity, founded in 1985 by the comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis and comedian Lenny Henry in response to famine in Ethiopia. The highlight of Comic Relief's appeal is Red Nose Day, a biannual telethon held in March, alternating with sister project Sport Relief. The idea for Comic Relief came from the charity worker Jane Tewson, who established it as the operating name of Charity Projects, a registered charity based in England and Scotland.
Lenny Henry travelled to Ethiopia to celebrate the first Red Nose Day on the 8 February 1988. The event raised £15 million and attracted 30 million television viewers on BBC1. Richard Curtis and Lenny Henry are still active participants of the Red Nose Day Telethon which continues to raise funds for numerous charities that help children in need and tackle worldwide poverty.
The most prominent symbol of Comic Relief is a plastic/foam 'red nose', which is given in various supermarkets and charity shops such as Oxfam in exchange for a donation to the charity and to make others laugh. People are encouraged to wear the noses on Red Nose Day to help raise awareness of the charity. This year’s event took place on Friday 24 March and was broadcast live from Building Six at The O2 in London.
The charity’s clearly stated aim is to 'bring about positive and lasting change in the lives of poor and disadvantaged people, which requires investing in work that addresses people's immediate needs as well as tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice'. A fundamental principle operating at Comic Relief is the 'Golden Pound Principle' where every donated pound is spent on charitable projects. All operating costs, such as staff salaries, are covered by corporate sponsors, or interest earned on money waiting to be distributed.
Large amounts of money flow into Comic Relief, for example the July 2010 accounts for charity registration showed grant payments of £59 million, net assets of £135 million, with an investment portfolio held in managed pooled funds and fixed term deposits. The average full-time staffing complement was 214 (with 14 staff paid over £60,000). Remuneration for the year, excluding pensions, for Kevin Cahill, Chief Executive, was £120,410.
On the 13 March 2015, the Red Nose event took place at the London Palladium and raised £99,418,831. At the end of the 2015 Red Nose Day telethon it was announced that in its 30-year history, Comic Relief, the Red Nose Day and Sport Relief appeals had raised in excess of £1bn (£1,047,083,706).
Obviously this is a very well-meaning charity whose stated aim is to improve the lives of people at home and abroad. Many people will experience a sense of wellbeing from donating money to a good cause – feeling that they have made a contribution to ease the suffering of others, and this is, in a way, laudable.
However, one does not want to be perceived as a killjoy or to be lacking the ‘milk of human kindness’ but we might ask ourselves why a charity that has operated for over 30 years has not been able to remedy or overcome the problems of famine or bring about real change in the lives of poor and disadvantaged children.
These problems continue to persist despite large sums of money thrown at them. Could it be that well-meaning initiatives like Red Nose Day and their like, deal only with the symptoms of poverty and famine and not the causes? We live in a world where we could produce enough food for all and yet people still starve. We learn from Economics text books that ‘demand’ is identified as the ability to pay – so food, shelter and other necessaries of life will not be made available to the starving and dispossessed unless they have the money to purchase them. It’s a crazy system that needs to be replaced by socialism – a world without money where people democratically produce and share the goods and services they create. In a socialist society there will be no need for Red Nose Day, Sport Relief, Comic Relief or any other ‘sticking plaster’ initiative, however well-meaning to exist, because we will have created a society where these problems are firmly left in the past.
Kevin.