Thursday, February 8, 2018

Party News Briefs (1968)

Party News from the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Westminster Branch have just concluded a series of four ‘teach-ins’ on Marxian Economics at the Royal Oak, York Street, W.1; these were very successful in every way. Comrade D’Arcy took three of the sessions, dealing with Capital, Wages. Value, Commodities, Banking, Finance, Houses, etc. and Comrade Hardy rounded off the series dealing largely with Taxation. In all over 100 members and sympathisers attended the four sessions. It was a new venture in Party Education, as many members are unable to attend a course running over many weeks which is a feature of our usual classes. Questions and points in discussion were thrown in at all times, and one member was heard to remark ‘Ive never found economics so interesting before". The Branch have a series of Lectures and Discussions arranged up to the end of October. Full details under ‘Meetings’ columns.

50 Years Ago: The Making of Socialists (1968)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Today the workers as a class are not revolutionary. For them to become so implies a great mental change. We have seen how successfully bourgeois vehicles of thought, such as the schools and the Press have given the workers a capitalistic outlook. Is it possible and likely that they will ever be able to throw off these baneful influences and come to a realisation that their interests lie in social revolution? The Socialist answers, yes! The process will doubtless be slow, but there are two powerful agents which further it—economic and social developments and Socialist propaganda. The former is the more important, for the Socialist, unlike those Utopians who worshipped at the shrine of “reason”, knows that masses of men have never been moved to effect social changes through mere argument, however logical they may be, unless reinforced by interest, by the sting of outraged feeling. It is experience of the bitter fruits of capitalism that will have the sophistries of capitalist apologists and of imparting to the proletariat a frame of mind conducive to the acceptance of revolutionary ideal The real function of Socialist propaganda is to clarify and organise the vague anti-capitalist thoughts already present in the minds of discontented workers, by educating them to the true nature of capitalism and the means of their emancipation, thus giving to the working class an objective which social development demonstrates with ever increasing vividness to be both desirable and possible.
From an article "Socialism: Its Economic and Theoretical Basis’' by R. W. Housley, Socialist Standard, August 1918).

Background to the Vietnam Peace Talks (1968)

From the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The peace negotiations, coming in the middle of hostilities without either side obtaining an overwhelming decision, will cause many people to ask if the Vietnam war has been worth fighting.

Let us look, therefore, through the ideological smokescreen that has been blown over the mass murder there and see what are the real interests involved.

The Vietnam war is an example of an established capitalist power being challenged by an up-and-coming one. America, having helped to smash Japan in the last World War, and being in control of South Korea and Taiwan, is the dominant power throughout the Pacific, but is being challenged by China.

That America can suddenly try to negotiate a peace underlines the conflicting interests that lie behind the American government. Robert Kennedy, in running for the Presidential candidature on a policy of peace in Vietnam, is indicative of such interests, which are further demonstrated by the rise of many stocks and shares on both the U.K. and American Stock Exchanges at the news of peace.

But opposing interests arc demonstrated by the losses on the Metal Exchange and Wool Market:
  Copper, the most strategic of the raw materials, fell sharply yesterday on the London Metal Exchange when news of the Hanoi peace talk moves reached the market.
   After a quiet morning, when the forward wirebars price had eased by £5, afternoon dealings saw the price “drop like a stone by £20 before anyone had a chance to open their mouth", according to one dealer.
   By the close, cash wirebars were £45 lower at £527.10s. and forward metal lost £38.10s. to £493 a ton.
   Stop-loss selling also pushed down the prices of the other base metals, but to a lesser extent. 
Japanese reactions.   Wool prices on the London terminal market were up to l.9d. a pound easier, a movement directly related to the fact that a large part of Japan’s economy is hinged to the American commitment in SE Asia —and to the fact that Japan takes around 30 per cent of the Australian wool clip.
   There is a fairly logical belief that Japan will be cutting its wool purchasing if peace is achieved in Vietnam. (Financial Times, 4/4/68).
Some of the American capitalists hope to profit from the extensive cash crops and the minerals resources from the mines — the coal, copper, tin, zinc, bauxite, manganese, phosphates and gold and precious stones. They would also like to retain Vietnam as a market for American goods. All this cannot be in the interests of the would-be rulers of Vietnam and one can understand that they win fight against this almost to their last worker.

Those who believe that the “free world” is concerned in fighting for lofty principles should read reports from Indonesian newspapers. Indonesia has been reluctant to join Western-backed military pacts in S.E. Asia. Djakarta newspapers are rather sceptical about calls for “unity to fight communism" in Vietnam. Gotand Rojong recently quoted a Republican member of the U.S. Congress, who alleged that during June last, nine British ships, one Italian and one Cypriot ship carried 76,000 tons of cargo, (including, he claimed, strategic goods) to Hanoi — more than was delivered by Russian ships in the same period. During the first six months of this year, he stated, the number of ships from the "free world" calling at North Vietnam ports had shot up to 39, compared with 20 in the previous six months. So much for capitalist principles!

Ho Chi Minh, the so-called communist leader of North Vietnam, takes great pains to mislead the workers under his control.

He holds himself out as being at heart in favour of the workers, but pleads that capitalism won’t let him do all he would like to do for them. That if only the workers would oust the American colonialists then everything would be all right.

Like their counterparts elsewhere in the capitalist world the rulers of both North and South Vietnam have managed, with the help of the profit system, to create scarcity in the midst of plenty. In Vietnam, of all places, the climate ensures that crops are lavish to an incredible extent. Even the fish thrive to such a fantastic degree that the facetious maintain that the sea surrounding Vietnam consists of 90 per cent fish and 10 per cent water. But the food ration for the North Vietnam troops is 1½lbs. rice a day and for the civilian poor, starvation is never far away. Ho proclaims that he is out to defeat capitalism and colonialism and that North Vietnam is a communist state run for the benefit of the workers, and has changed the name of the Party he leads from Vietminh (National Party) to Vietcong (Communist Party).

But some observers cannot detect any difference between the governments of North and South. A member of the Vatican delegation said that “all they need do is to change flags, and overnight. South Vietnam could be a communist country" (The Making of a Quagmire—David Halberstam).

Both North and South are police states with similar terrorist methods, a wages system, conscription, payment by result, an exploiting class and a working-class.

Russia, China and America have been competing with each other in trying to gain favour by supplying new industries to Vietnam. Of these the cement factories are directly useful in prosecuting the war and so are the roads and civil engineering works.

The country is being opened up and the mines developed, and, at the same time, is rapidly becoming modernised and mechanised. For years the workers engaged in the war have been operating up-to-date equipment, like their opposite members in the American forces. Even the agricultural workers in producing coffee, rubber and rice, are intimately bound up with international markets. They work under capitalist conditions and when the cash crops they produce cannot be sold on the world’s markets they are unemployed.

It is the battles that creates the sensational news coming from Vietnam and help to sell newspapers in the West. But, when peace is declared, and the dust of battle settles, it will be found that a great change has quietly been coming about and that Vietnam will have taken its place in the present day world of capitalism. But there will be another war continuing there — the class war. The world of capitalism is becoming one!

Wealth will be churned out and fortunes will be made. The war in Vietnam will have been worth fighting after all —but not for the workers.
Frank Offord

Get Rid of Wages! (1968)

From the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Over a hundred years ago, Karl Marx gave a talk to the general council of the International Working Men’s Association, a talk whose main point was to show that workers’ unions really could get wage rises — for already the silly idea was being put about that wage increases led to higher prices and therefore the workers didn’t gain. After proving his case up to the hilt, with his usual forceful logic, Marx naturally drew the conclusion that workers should fight for higher wages. But he added the following remarks, which deserve close attention:
  At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought therefore not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work'." they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wages system'.
If that doesn’t startle you, then perhaps it should. After all there are dozens of “Marxists” [parties] about, but how many of them advocate the abolition of wages? Take the British “Communist” Party, for example, which is very well-known as a Marxist Party. In vain will you scour its programme, The British Road To Socialism, for the faintest hint of the abolition of the wages system — though it reeks of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.” Look through every item of the CPGB's current propaganda material: it is as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard of even the skeleton of Marx’s “revolutionary watchword.”

What about the “Socialist” Labour League then? They’re always accusing the CP of “betraying Marxism” aren’t they? Surely their material is full of revolutionary watchwords? No, not a jot. We could ramble through a lengthy list of so-called Marxist groups in this way; but already you're beginning to lose patience. How ridiculous, really, to take a paragraph out of Marx and use it as a touchstone of the correctness of political parties a century later!

But Marx was not just affected by the heat on that June day in 1865. The abolition of wages used to be taken for granted as the chief aim of nearly everyone who claimed to be socialist. “On this point all Socialists agree,” ran the Manifesto of English Socialists of 1893. “Our aim, one and all, is to obtain for the whole community complete ownership and control of the means of transport, the means of manufacture, the mines and the land. Thus we look to put an end for ever to the wages system, to sweep away all distinctions of class, and eventually to establish national and international communism on a sound basis.”

Frederick Engels in 1881 wrote of the workers’ day-to- day struggle for higher wages: “It is a vicious circle from which there is no issue. The working class remains what our Chartist forefathers were not afraid to call it, a class of wages slaves. Is this to be the final result of all this labour, self-sacrifice and suffering? Is this to remain for ever the highest aim of British workmen? Or is the working class of this country at last to attempt breaking through this vicious circle, and to find an issue out of it in a movement for the ABOLITION OF THE WAGES SYSTEM ALTOGETHER?” (Engels' capitals.) Notice that neither this passage nor the one from Marx were passing brainwaves related to a misty, distant future. They were both addressed urgently and directly to the workers.

Why did Marx and Engels insist on the abolition of wages? They saw that European private property society had gone through phases: chattel slavery, feudalism, and capitalism or wage-slavery. Marx pointed out that capitalism was the only system in which the vast majority of wealth took the form of commodities — articles and services produced primarily for exchange rather than for use. He saw the abolition of capitalism as the abolition of commodity production, and thus the end of money, which only exists to facilitate commodity exchange. (The other form of commodity exchange is barter: socialism will have neither barter nor buying and selling). Marxists claim that capitalism has developed science, technology and automation to such a degree that everything we need could be provided free of charge. The catch is that capitalism itself causes an artificial and unnecessary scarcity, because it is so wasteful and destructive. Things are made for profit instead of for people’s use and enjoyment.

Capitalism is, among other things, a system for rationing out scarcity. But we have reached a stage where the system for rationing scarcity itself keeps the scarcity in existence. Everywhere the forces of production are straining at the leash to flood the world with abundance — but everywhere the wages-profits system restricts, wastes and destroys, prevents this potential from being realised.

In Socialism: Utopian And Scientific Engels stated: “The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialised production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now for the first time here, but it is here.”

It is true that since Engels wrote there has been a huge increase in world population. It is also true that much of the easily-available mineral wealth has been consumed. It is further regrettably true that capitalism, in its beserk scramble for profits, has damaged our ecology through such abuses as chemical pollution and irresponsible treatment of the soil leading to erosion. Some of the ill effects of this insane society will take decades to cure. Some of them, alas, can never be cured. The annual extinction of scores of species of animals, plants and birds is a tiny enough matter compared with war on poverty, but our heirs, the people living in Socialism, will no doubt find time to regret such permanent scars on their beautiful planet.

However, alongside the population explosion and the Frankenstein ecology, we must put the rapid advance of science, the potential of computers and robots, the development of new sources of power and materials, and staggering new productive processes (most of the patents for which are snapped up by the big monopolies so that no one can use them).

There could easily be more than enough to go round. There is no need for scarcity. There is thus no need for a money system of allocation. Some folk, forgetting about the threat of nuclear war and imagining that we have all the time in the world, say: “True, we have the potential for abundance, but let’s delay establishing Socialism until we have actual abundance.” But capitalism, which long ago created the potential, will never actually deliver the goods.

What happened to Marxism ?
You miss the whole point of Marx's great work Capital, if you don’t see why he defined “a commodity” on the first page. Capital does not simply describe a certain system of society; it proves that all the main features of that society (things like slumps and unemployment) are necessary consequences of mass commodity production. It is therefore impossible to get rid of them without getting rid of commodity production, in other words getting rid of wages, profits and money.

So we return to the question: where did it all disappear to, this talk about abolishing wages? Did somebody come along and prove Marx wrong, so that socialists started aiming for something different? No, nobody has refuted Marx. And neither did the “Communists” and left-wingers come out and say: “We have broken with Marx. We are now anti-Marxist.” It all happened in a much more subtle, slow and underhand way. Nonetheless, though these people did not say “We have broken with Marx” in words, they have certainly said it in deeds. With every drop of workers’ blood they have shed by their support for the monstrous state capitalist tyrannies in Russia, China and Cuba, every compromise they have engineered with backward forces like patriotism and religion, with every oily-tongued betrayal, they have shouted: “We are anti-Marxist.”

The substitution of means for ends
But how did it happen? Even given careerism, compromise and deceit, how could so many people — some of them dedicated and sincere, let’s face it — make such a momentous about-turn within a few years, and in such a way that many of them hardly realised they had done it? The main outlines of the process are amazingly similar in most cases.

Consider the man who wants the abolition of the wages system, the man who sees that there is no other solution to the problems of the working class. What is he to do? He is in an awkward position, because he soon discovers that the great majority of the working class do not want, and never have wanted, the abolition of the wages system. So there are two alternatives: either a minority can bring about this social revolution, or the majority must be convinced. Of course it is manifestly the case that the majority must be convinced, but that does not end the matter.

The task of trying to convince so many people, even though social evolution is on his side, is a daunting one. Easily scared by this prospect, and maybe wanting a quick career in politics, our man eagerly snatches at another scheme. Why not, he reasons, put forward a less frightening demand than the abolition of the wages system altogether? And why not, having got a big following behind that other demand, then lead this following in the direction of a real socialist revolution, the abolition of wages? This plan has every advantage on the personal level. He can think of himself as a real pioneering socialist, but never actually talk about Socialism, and therefore never suffer the scorn of unimaginative nitwits. He can even make a virtue out of expediency and erects a whole glorious mythology of “vanguardism,” “boring from within,” “transitional demands” and so on. There is just one snag. It is quite impossible to get Socialism this way.

If you advocate some measure, it does not matter what obscure and ingenious implications you may privately see in it: the followers you attract will not see them. You are forced to argue that this measure can solve the basic problem—which is an argument against Socialism. As your movement gets bigger, you find it becomes a straightforward reformist movement for the defence of capitalism. Nothing else could have happened. Your movement may actually capture political power, and at this juncture you turn to the minority who are still advocating Socialism, and you say to them: “Look where we’re heading! Why are you wasting your time in the wilderness?” And when your government, as it inevitably must, attacks the workers you may even have the impudence to say to that minority: “This would never have happened if we’d had more people like you on our side!” In your very success you have failed utterly. At this point you start looking around for a scapegoat, and who knows what trouble you will cause now? You may, for instance, come to the farcical conclusion that the way you took power was the culprit, that there is something intensely corroding and demoralising about parliament, that armed insurrection is the answer.

In this way, by irresponsibly pretending that the vote doesn’t count, you help to pave the way for a new Hitler. Thus the self-styled followers of the ultra-democrat Marx are seen disparaging even the measure of democracy the workers have won within capitalism. Although (and perhaps., more fortunately), you may just get tired, and forget even the word “Socialism”.

Some of the people who took the above road used nationalisation (state capitalism) as their “immediate demand.” (Some of them thought that nationalisation was an actual, material stage on the way to Socialism, but that is simply incompetent economics). It is rather comical, tragicomical of course, to look back on their history and see how even the original “immediate demands” were thought so wild that even milder “immediate demands” had to be put in their place. Thus, it was argued that total nationalisation would lead to Socialism, then that partial nationalisation would lead to total nationalisation, eventually that the mere existence of the government with the right tag (even though this party ruled no differently to its rivals) would do the trick. A further ironic twist is that as this retreat took place, each stage along the road was itself christened “socialism.” And then along came a host of modifiers and tinkerers with all sorts of prescriptions for running the same reformist romance along slightly different lines. Thus we get, for example, laugh-lines like “Socialism Is Nationalisation Plus Workers’ Control” (title of an article by S. Newens in Socialist Review, February 1957).

When will they learn?
That muddled assortment of movements and groups which use socialist-sounding phrases but are opposed to Socialism is sometimes loosely named “the Left Wing.” Occasionally, in all this barren confusion, like tiny shooting stars in a black sky, we see a brief mention of the need to abolish wage-slavery. In a recent essay (in The Incompatibles, Penguin) Ken Coates makes such a mention, and in fact builds up a good case against capitalism, even quoting Marx’s revolutionary watchword. But is he on the right track? Not on your life. He is merely issuing a reminder.

Coates argues that workers in general respect “fairness,” an attitude which is used to support capitalism. He wrote: “Between the idea of a fair day’s pay and the goal of the abolition of the wages system, it is clearly necessary to place a third demand.” This third demand, he believes, should be acceptable in terms of fairness, but should lead to an understanding of Socialism. (Incidentally, someone entirely ignorant of history might assume from Mr. Coates' essay that he was proposing a totally novel strategy. In fact, of course, it is the same old hat of so-called “revolutionary reforms” which has been tried countless times, has always failed, and always will).

Coates seems to realise that the reason workers accept capitalist values is because of the weight of indoctrination to which they are subjected. In other words the problem is NOT that workers are either naturally or by conditioning incapable of understanding Socialism, but rather that they hardly ever hear about it and don’t take it seriously when they do. The reasons for this are plain — the chief one being the comparatively insignificant size of the propaganda for abolishing the wages system. The prognosis is obvious: join the small but growing movement which is uncompromisingly putting the case for Socialism. Coates' strategy, though well-meant, has the effect of reinforcing the capitalist values of fake fair play.

Having taken a clear stand for the abolition of the wages system we must of course use the sort of psychological analysis indicated by Coates to inform our educational tactics. But it is a mistake to suppose that “fairness" is a concept of no use to socialists. It is hazy to be sure, but it can be used to criticise the very capitalist society which relies upon it. Any worker can quite clearly understand, when he is told that 90 per cent of the wealth is owned by ten per cent of the population, that this is hardly fair. The knowledge of economics needed to grasp the point that it is impossible for wages ever to be fixed by merit (even though that’s not what we want) is very slight. These elementary criticisms of the capitalist system are not enough. They must be followed up by the theory of surplus-value, which, again, anybody can understand. But the deeply-entrenched concept of fairness does not in itself put a vast gulf between workers' minds and understanding of revolution.

People never form their attitudes entirely by logically processing the information they get. They do this to an important extent, but they also look particularly for logical arguments in favour of what they already want to believe. So let us repeat: all the essentials of the case again capitalism, and the case for abolishing the wages system, can be readily grasped by any worker. It is not a problem of people’s mental ability which we socialists face: it is a problem of the tremendous continuous pressure of reformist conditioning.

A big obstacle is put in our way by precisely those left-wingers who have prostituted socialist phrases. Go up to any worker and tell him you want Socialism: what is the result? You may spend a couple of hours explaining that Socialism is not slave camps in Siberia, nor the Labour government, nor “workers’ control.” After that, if he has the patience, you can start talking about Socialism.

This is not his fault. And it is not our choice. We don't relish spending our time debunking the Labour and “Communist" parties. We have a straight case to put, which no one else is putting: that in a world of plenty there is poverty, that a society which puts ironmongery on the Moon cannot house people decently, that workers are debased and degraded in useless toil, that our species is threatened with extermination because of capitalist economic conflict — and that all this is absolutely unnecessary for a single day longer.

A world social democracy without frontiers, in which work will be voluntary and enjoyable, in which every member of our society will have equal access to all goods and services, in which poverty and war will not exist — this free society is technically feasible now, and can be established as soon as the majority of people understand and desire it.

The history of the last hundred years has proved time and time again: reformist programmes do not lead the working class to Socialism. They obscure the issue. What is needed is a clear case, uncluttered and uncompromised, for the abolition of wages. Please help us to put it.
Steele.

Money: a matter of life and death (1986)

From the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 16 October last, a local television programme highlighted the deaths of 13 children over the past year from curable heart diseases. It was an emotive programme that showed other children suffering from the same illnesses, some of whom are destined to die unless the problem is solved. For a few days following the programme, those needless deaths were a minor talking point; it made the inside pages of the newspapers and even elicited from the relevant Minister in the Northern Ireland Office an undertaking to look into the matter.

Most of the children who suffer from these particular heart complaints are successfully treated at the Clarke Clinic in Belfast — the only source of such treatment in the province. The requisite medical techniques are well known and the specialised equipment for their treatment is available. The missing factor is a paediatric consultant. The Clarke Clinic does employ one such consultant, Dr Conor Mulholland, but his overwork and dedication are not sufficient to deal with the workload and a second specialist is required. The cost of providing for a second specialist is £150,000 and this money is not forthcoming from the local Health Board. So little children have to die.

The programme makers interviewed a number of parents who had either lost children or whose children required the life-saving treatment. These parents have now formed an action group in an effort to force the authorities to make the necessary funds available. Understandably, the parents saw the problem in simple terms, of appalling government meanness. Their answer was straightforward and reasonable: the Health Board should hand over the paltry £150,000 and prevent further needless deaths.

Viewed thus, many of the grimmer problems that exist today in this country and elsewhere throughout the world could easily be solved. Some 15,000,000 children under the age of five die of starvation or hunger-related diseases every year. They do not die because there is not the food available to feed them. Their problem stems from the very same cause as the unnecessary deaths of the children in Northern Ireland: their parents or guardians do not have the money to buy what they need to stay alive

In the United Kingdom thousands of elderly people succumb to winter cold every year. They die needlessly of hypothermia because they do not have the money to eat properly and provide sufficient heat to maintain their body temperature. People eke out miserable lives in slums and hovels because they do not have the money to buy or rent decent accommodation. Handicapped people are denied the facilities to make their lives pleasanter through lack of money and, of course, millions of people suffering the multiplicity of painful, crippling and terminal illnesses that affect human beings could all make the same complaint about government meanness. Cures for cancer, arthritis and all the other terrible illnesses that inflict their miseries on people are starved of what, in capitalist society, is an essential element in the successful research equation — money.

Money. In the case of multi-millions of people its non-possession is a matter of life and death. In the case of those whose only access to money is through the sale of their labour power for a wage or salary, it is the seal of mere want or actual poverty on their lives.

Those with access to an abundance of money — and such people are never to be found among those who have to work for wages — have the best at their command. The best food, the best clothing, the best housing, the best transport; the freedom to enjoy leisure or study in luxury as, when and where required. In a word they have the best lives. Their money can buy them the best medical treatment available to ease their pain and prolong their lives and their deaths are not burdened by leaving problems for their loved ones.

Money, and the means by which the rich procure it, is the most potent force in the world today. The lack of money means death and suffering for countless millions and it imposes degradation and mean living on most of the world's population. It is hard to imagine a single problem that will not yield to the power of money and. sadly, people like the parents of the children in Northern Ireland who die needlessly completely fail to understand why money exists in our society and the class interests it serves.

Take the demand by the Northern Ireland parents' action group on the Northern Ireland government for £150,000 to save the lives of their children. It sounds logical and reasonable and must appeal to the political Left and various groups of well-intentioned reformers. But capitalist society is neither logical nor reasonable and the actual business of forking out the money is fraught with real problems for government, whether of the Left, the Right or the Centre.

True, £150,000 is pin money where governments are concerned. As we have seen, however, money can solve any of the social problems that exist in our society and most problems have one or more pressure groups to press their claim with government. In such circumstances only the self-interested are really clear about which problem warrants priority. The very success of one action group, which succeeds in forcing authority to concede its claim, may militate against the success of another and, in so doing, deny the hopes or increase the misery of some other group of suffering people.

These who demand that governments should advance funds for this or that good cause are, in effect, saying that the government — the agent of national capital — should take the required funds out of the capitalists' profits, through taxation, in order to provide services for the working class. This idea, continually advanced by reformists of the Left, shows a complete ignorance of the capitalist laws of value and. against the background of vicious competition that exists within capitalism, could actually create more problems for the working class.

The current Thatcherite contention that the workers could price themselves out of jobs has as much validity now as when it represented the thinking behind the various wage freezes, pauses and guide lines that dominated the policies of all Labour governments since World War Two. Within capitalism jobs are dependent on investment and the level of wages and taxation has a direct bearing on the geographical location and area of trade or industry in which capital is invested and whether such investment is attracted into labour-intensive or capital-intensive enterprises. While it is futile to speculate on the possibility of the government being forced to fund, say, the 150,000 "good causes" represented by charities in Britain, it is possible that political stability or selective politico-economic considerations could force government to concede to demands for a wider consideration of social needs — thus effectively changing the distribution of surplus value to the extent that a falling rate of profit would be reflected in a fall in investment, a consequent loss of jobs and a following government cash crisis that would ultimately adversely affect all social welfare projects.

Governments just cannot serve two diametrically-opposed interests. Whatever the concerns of the individuals that make up the parties which seek a mandate to govern a society wherein there is ownership — either private or through nationalised state enterprises — of the wealth-producing machinery and the essential economic corollaries of such ownership — production for profit, wage labour, money and markets — concern, compassion and judgement has to yield to the requirements of capital.

It is the recognition of this fact that underlies the unique position of the World Socialist Movement. If the world in which we live was freed from the restrictions and encumbrances of class ownership and its complex, utterly wasteful and limiting money and marketing structure, it has the potential to produce an abundance of all the things that all human beings need or require. All the wasteful jobs necessarily associated with capitalism could be disposed of; co-operative and voluntary work could replace wage labour in producing and distributing all the things we require and everybody could have free and equal access to the things they need.
Richard Montague
Belfast Branch
World Socialist Party of Ireland

The Economics of Capitalism (1986)

From the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

In present-day. capitalist society food, clothes, accommodation and all the other goods and services which people need are articles of commerce which are bought and sold. Money, as an object which can be exchanged for any other object, is a sort of claim on wealth that everybody must strive to obtain if they are to survive in a competitive. commercial society.

Apart from stealing and relying on charity. there are only two ways of obtaining money under capitalism. One is to be the owner or part-owner of some business; the other is to sell your ability to work to one of these businesses for a wage or salary. The vast majority of people fall into the second category since the ownership and control of the means and instruments for producing the things people need are concentrated in the hands of a relative handful, five per cent or less, of the population.

This monopoly exercised over the means of production is in fact the basis of the capitalist economic and social system. It means that the rest of us are obliged to go out on to the labour market and sell our mental and physical energies, precisely to some member or representative of the class which monopolises the means of production. Just as we obtain our access to money from wages or salaries, so the members of the employing class obtain their access to money as profits realised from the sale of articles they employ us to produce.

This division of society into employers and workers, into profit-takers and wage-earners, is so obvious a part of everyday life that many people overlook the completely different nature of these two sources of income. Wages and salaries are paid to us for the exercise of our mental and physical energies. They are a work income and the claim on wealth to which they give rise is a claim on wealth which the wage and salary earning class has itself created.

Profits, on the other hand, accrue to the members of the monopolising class, not as a result of any work they may or may not have performed but purely by virtue of the monopoly they exert over the means of production. Since this does not alter the fact that work on nature-given materials is the only source of wealth, the wealth which profits entitle their recipients to claim can also only be wealth created by those who do the actual work of production — the wage and salary earning class. In other words, the newly-created wealth of society, although exclusively produced by the working class, is divided into the wages and salaries paid to those who created it and the profits the owners receive from the sale of this wealth.

Profits are a non-work income arising out of the fact that the producing class in society are denied the full product of what they collectively produce. They are a sort of tribute levied by the class which monopolises the means of production on those who do the actual work of producing wealth, as a condition for allowing them to use the means of production to ensure the material survival of society.

How we are exploited
So the wages and salaries we are paid are less than the value of the wealth we create. This robbery by the profit-taking class of a part of the wealth we produce is not only quite legal but also takes place without infringing the basic economic law of the market that there should be an exchange of equal value for equal value.

What we sell to our employer is our ability to work, our mental and physical energies. which is not at all the same as our work — what we produce when we exercise these energies in the service of our employers. This distinction between work and ability to work is the key to understanding the process by which our class is legally robbed, exploited, under capitalism.

What we sell to our employer, then, is our ability to work. Like everything else under capitalism this is an object of commerce whose value on the market is ultimately determined by the amount of time needed to produce it from start to finish. Since our ability to work is produced when we consume the food, clothes and other goods and services which recreate the mental and physical energies we use up in working so many hours a day. or week, or month, for our employers, the time needed to produce this ability is in fact the same as that needed to produce these goods and services.

In other words, the price we can command on the labour market is the equivalent of the prices of the goods and services we must consume in order to keep ourselves fit to work. In paying us a wage or salary sufficient to buy these goods and services our employers are therefore paying us the full value of what we are selling them. We sell them so many hours or days or months of our ability to work and they pay us enough to buy the things we need to go on recreating it.

But, as in any exchange transaction, once a good has been paid for it belongs to the new owner to use as he or she pleases. So, once employers have paid us for our ability to work this belongs to them to use as they think fit. They are therefore fully entitled. in accordance with the laws of the market as incorporated into the laws of the land, to put us to work. And they do so. In their places of work. And on their materials. For the contracted period of time. The product of our work belongs to them, once again quite in accordance with the laws of the market. But we are able to produce in a day, a week or a month goods worth far more than the value of our own ability to work.

This extra or surplus value over and above what we are paid as wages and salaries goes not to us we've already been paid the full value of the mental and physical energies — but remains the property of the employer. This surplus, which employers obtain purely because they own the workplaces and the materials, is converted into a monetary profit when they sell the goods we have produced.

Profits arise from employers selling their products, not above their value but at their value, as measured by the time needed to produce them until they are put on the market. including the time we needed to spend on them at the stage of their production in which we were involved. Profits are created by our unpaid work during the process of production; they are only realised, that is converted into money, on the market.

Another way of explaining this, is to see the whole of the wage and salary earning class, irrespective of whether we are engaged in manual or white-collar work, exercising our ability to work collectively, as a sort of collective worker employed by the employing class as a whole. During a part of the time that we work we are reproducing the value of what we need to keep all the members of our class in working order, and for this we are paid wages and salaries and various state benefits. The rest of the time we are working unpaid, to produce the surplus value which the employing class appropriate as profits and later share out in various ways among their hangers-on in the rest of the privileged class.

In this way it can be clearly seen that only a part and not the whole of the wealth we create in any given period, say a year, comes back to us as wages and salaries, the other part being the profits of the class who monopolise the means of production.

The fact that production under capitalism involves the legalised robbery of the producing class by the class that owns and controls the means of production means that an irreconcilable class struggle is built in the system. The interests of the two classes are quite irreconcilable because the one class lives off the unpaid labour of the other and as long as such a situation lasts we, as the exploited class, have an interest in struggling to mitigate, and eventually to abolish, our exploitation.

The owning class, on the other hand, have an interest not only in maintaining and increasing the amount they rob us of but also in seeing that we don't wage the class struggle in an organised or conscious way. This is why the role of the established institutions of present-day society — the schools, universities, churches, newspapers. radio and television — is to try to keep us in ignorance of capitalism's class nature and of the legalised robbery on which it is based. One of the major tasks of any government is in fact to try to prevent the class struggle breaking out and. when it does, to contain it by discrediting the section of our class concerned or, if need be, employing the coercive force at their disposal. But with the experience of the prostitute press and the flying anti-pickets during the miners' strike fresh in our minds, there is no need to labour this point.

The Iron Law of profits
As a matter of fact, the monopolising class could not pay us more than what we need to recreate our mental and physical energies. even if they wanted to. They have no choice in the matter since they — or, increasingly since the middle of the nineteenth century, their paid managerial or governmental representatives — are compelled by the very workings of capitalism as an economic system to try to maximise the amount of surplus value extracted from our class.

In this sense the aim of production under capitalism is not so much to provide a privileged income for the monopolising class as the impersonal accumulation of more and more capital. The operation of market forces obliges businesses to reinvest as much as possible of the profits they make in the installation of new. more up-to-date and productive machines and methods of production as a means of staying competitive. This is the price they have to pay if they wish to remain in the struggle for profits. Failure to do so means either ruin or absorption by some other business. Those in charge of capitalist businesses are thus compelled to give priority to profit-making and capital accumulation, even over their own consumption.

This is why the Labour Party, supported by a section of the trade union movement, was mistaken in imagining that, to end exploitation and re-direct production towards the satisfaction of needs, it was sufficient to eject private capitalists from the management and control of particular industries. as nationalisation was supposed to do. But although the nationalisation of an industry did mean the exclusion of its former private owners from any say in the running of that industry, in no case has this resulted either in the end of the legalised robbery of those working in it or in that industry producing for use rather than for profit.

Trade unions are useful and necessary to wage and salary earners as long as capitalism lasts, but what we achieve through them is severely limited. Their activity is essentially defensive, resisting the downward pressures on our working conditions and living standards that are continually exerted by employers. In periods of slump like the present the most they can do is to brake the downward trend, while in periods of boom they cannot do much more than push up our wages and salaries in accordance with the state of supply and demand on the labour market.

The plain fact is that, as long as capitalism lasts, we are not going to receive more than what we need to keep ourselves in working order and our jobs are going to depend on the profitability or otherwise of the industries in which we work. Neither trade union action nor reformist political action can alter this basic fact of capitalist economic life. Capitalism just cannot be reformed by Labour governments, nor pressurised by militant trade union action, into working other than as a profit-making system in the interest of the profit-taking class.
Adam Buick


Between the Lines: Trouble at Motel (1986)

The Between the Lines column from the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trouble at Motel
Not even dedication to the cause would normally move me to watch several consecutive episodes of Crossroads, which is without doubt one of the worst things to hit the working class since the Blitz. Crossroads is unadulterated rubbish the sort of drama which makes East Enders seem like high art. If you've ever wondered what Sun readers do in the evening, Crossroads is your answer. But what's been happening at the motel of late? A strike, no less: picket lines in front of the entrance and banners demanding the reinstatement of a sacked waitress. (It would never have been allowed in Meg's day.) The portrayal of the strike reached depths of caricature and insensitivity lower than those usually descended to in TV dramas which try to get to grips with the class struggle. The strikers are led by a nasty little rich kid (the boss's stepson) and the workers on the picket line are depicted as witless dummies — puppets in the hands of the up-to-no-good leader who is really only using them for political ends: to embarrass his step mother in the eyes of the big hotel chain which took control of Crossroads after David Hunter slung his hook. In the end management convene a meeting and. in a spirit of benevolent compromise, agree to reinstate the waitress and allow the workers to have a management consultative committee — a company union. The workers say thanks very much for letting them return to normal conditions of wage slavery and the strike is over. Like the trendy vicar who can bring himself to be radical and critical about anything except the validity of the twaddle of religion, TV drama is able to depict all kinds of realistic scenes, but comes totally unstuck when it attempts to show episodes in the class struggle. The result of this incapacity is dramatic parody in which caricatured beings are put on our screens as representations of what the capitalist media would like the class struggle to look like. If the ruling class had to think of a way to insult the exploited majority they could not do much better than the "entertainment'' of Crossroads; if workers wanted to demonstrate just how willing to be insulted millions of them are they could do worse than to continue making Crossroads one of the most-watched programmes on British TV.


A Russian tells the truth
Open To Question (BBC2, 19 November) is a series in which well-known people (usually politicians) answer questions put to them by teenage school students. In the programme under review the interviewee was a man called Posner, a reporter in London for Russian TV. Most of his answers to questions ranged from the "America's just as bad" response (which, logically interpreted, means that Russia's just as bad as America) to the "This does not happen in the Soviet Union' response (to questions about why people are drugged in psychiatric hospitals for dissenting from the police state). Like most journalists in a foreign country, paid to speak up for what they perceive to be "their" nation. Posner lied through his teeth. But on one question — a crucial question — he told the truth. He was asked about "communism" in Russia. "We do not have communism in the Soviet Union", he replied. "Maybe one day we shall have communism in the Soviet Union, but that day is a long way off." So. Russia is not a communist society — and that's official


Much ado
I often find myself puzzling why so many grown men sit in front of TV cameras shouting at each other about matters which the average worker could settle over half a pint of lager. This Week, Next Week (BBC 1. Sundays) had a blazing row on 24 November between a Bishop who was against, and a Labour MP who was for. Sunday Opening. What a thing to get all upset about. In a socialist society, where people will take freely what they need, there can be all night opening seven days a week. The Sunday before, the same programme had a debate between a crowd of bigoted Northern Irish politicians, all shouting the odds about who was going to get it in the back if they didn't get their way. Fancy getting so upset over a little business like who runs Ireland: socialists are after the whole world but we can get it without behaving in TV studios like kids squabbling over a toy. Try to forget all you have been taught about how wise and dignified our leaders must be and then take a look at a bunch of them next time they're having a televised brawl — would you buy a used manifesto from these clowns?


Strangers, keep out
The role of the working class under capitalism is to be exploited so that the capitalists can get rich. In parliament, representatives of the robber class run the system and if members of the robbed class want to see the capitalists and their political agents at work we are confined to the "strangers' gallery'  — highly appropriate, seeing as workers are strangers to any real power. In November the House of Commons threw out a Bill which would have allowed its proceedings to be televised. Could this be because our leaders fear they will be caught sleeping in the chamber and debating under the influence of more alcohol than is safe to drive a car, let alone make decisions about society? Could it be that if workers were to hear the level of thinking exhibited in the average Commons debate more might decide that none of the rogues and liars is worthy of our votes? Could it be that all these Labour MPs who shed crocodile tears about unemployment will be seen to be conspicuous by their absence when debates on the subject take place in the House? The idea that democracy exists in a small chamber, isolated from the rest of society is as outdated and undemocratic as is the entire capitalist system.


Unreasonable language
There are people who get very upset at hearing words like "fuck" on television. Such fetishes are their problem and socialists will have no part in such taboos, especially when words like "war" and military hero" are considered by the Clean Up TV Brigade as quite acceptable. What most certainly does constitute unreasonable language is the persistent use of terms like "socialists' and "Marxists" by TV reporters and pundits who fail to define their terms and use them in ways which ignore social reality. For example, we have had news reports about the "Marxist government in the Seychelles" (which presumably spends its time advocating the abolition of the wages system?), the "militant socialist council in Liverpool”, the "more socialist elements (sic) in the Church" and " Marxist guerrillas from Angola" If these unreasoning TV pundits were given £2 at the end of the week, instead of the £200 which the BBC has agreed to pay them for a couple of nights of talking nonsense, they would be annoyed if the BBC told them that "what you call a penny we call a pound, so there's your wage and get lost". Similarly, socialists have good reason to accuse those who use the word "socialism" of changing its meaning to suit their own purposes.
Steve Coleman

Hypothermia in the old (1986)

From the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every winter thousands of old people face the agonising choice of heating their homes or buying food. Unable to accumulate sufficient savings for retirement from the meagre wages paid during their working lives and forced to subsist on inadequate pensions, they spend time each winter huddled in blankets in badly heated homes, trying to make their small stock of food last until the next payment of their pension allowances. The onset of each spell of cold weather leads to considerable numbers of the elderly being admitted to hospital suffering from accidental hypothermia and, if the weather is particularly severe, the death toll can be quite high.

Hypothermia is a medical condition in which the central (or deep) body temperature falls below 35 degrees centigrade (95 degrees Fahrenheit). If a further fall in temperature continues unchecked the victim passes through the various stages of shivering (though sometimes this does not occur in the elderly), confusion, memory loss, abnormalities of heart rhythm and muscle rigidity, semi-consciousness, more serious heart abnormalities, irreversible coma and death. The condition is called "accidental hypothermia" to distinguish it from the short-term, deliberately induced, hypothermia for therapeutic reasons.

Unfortunately, accidental hypothermia can be caused by an interplay of factors — exposure; impaired regulation of body temperature; decreased metabolism; drugs. It is. therefore, extremely difficult to determine how much accidental hypothermia is due to living in cold conditions, or to poor nutrition leading to decreased metabolism, or to a combination of several causes of which poverty is the final straw. Hypothermia may also occur in the summer months, or even in hospital as a result of medical conditions which lower the metabolic rate.

Nevertheless, even when other factors are taken into consideration, elderly workers are prone to suffer from hypothermia because they are poor. More than half the substandard housing or property lacking in basic amenities is occupied by the elderly. It is much more difficult adequately to heat and keep warm in damp, draughty properties with outside toilets, which are also less likely to have central heating. Open fires can present a problem for the frail elderly who, because of poor social services, may then have to rely on the goodwill of relatives or neighbours to ensure that a fire is lit for them.

Where the "head" of a household is elderly the average income is only 53 per cent of that of all households (Central Statistical Office. 1976). The cost of heating, therefore, stretches the limited resources of most pensioners even when their homes are of a reasonable standard. Malnutrition may play a part in causing hypothermia and in Britain it is the elderly who are most likely to be its victims. In 1972 the DHSS stated that 3 per cent of the elderly suffer from malnutrition, and the Consumers' Association pointed out the close relationship between hypothermia and poverty a couple of years later.

The importance of hypothermia in the elderly was first recognised during the excessively cold winter of 1963, when 148 people died from the condition compared with only seven recorded deaths in 1957, although the number of certified deaths from accidental hypothermia does not provide a true total as many deaths are certified as due to bronchopneumonia without the underlying cause being detected. Indeed, accidental hypothermia in the elderly is not mentioned in medical books written before the second world war, or in nursing books written before the 1960s, although accidental hypothermia was a well known hazard for shipwrecked sailors immersed in cold water for long periods, and there must have been a high death toll during the winter of 1947 when power failures added to the difficulties of the severe weather conditions.

The reason for the failure to recognise the widespread dangers of accidental hypothermia for such a long time lies in the social organisation of capitalism. Medical resources are directed towards the "productive" members of the working class, as their continuation at work provides profits for their employers. The elderly, having ceased productive work, are at a disadvantage in competing for a share of the resources available — a disadvantage enhanced still further during a recession, when it is less profitable for capital to spend money maintaining a healthy workforce.

The elderly frequently have to put up with redundant workhouses as hospital accommodation when they fall ill. Geriatricians have to manage far more hospital beds than their consultant colleagues in acute medical and surgical specialties. At a symposium on geriatric medicine Dr Nagley described how, when he was seconded to the Western Road Infirmary, Birmingham in 1936, there were two doctors for 1,350 elderly patients and Dr Parnell stated that the North Birmingham Group had one consultant geriatrician for 548 beds while 144 longer-stay beds had no consultant at all. compared with 20 consultants responsible for 316 "acute'' beds in 1971 (Symposia on Geriatric Medicine, Vol.l. 1972).

The sheer pressure of work made accurate diagnosis extremely difficult and the pioneering geriatricians of the 1930s and 1940s had to battle against government indifference to the plight of the elderly, squalid hospital accommodation, scarce resources and the professional prejudices of their colleagues. Training in nursing care of the elderly was not included in the syllabus for student nurses until 1973, reflecting capitalism's lack of concern for the well being of "non-producers". Medical and nursing textbooks, in common with all goods, are produced for a market and the profit that can be made from them. Knowledge of hypothermia, therefore, no matter how important it may have been to prevent or treat the condition and save large numbers of elderly people from serious illness, was omitted because of lack of demand.

Although accidental hypothermia has now been well researched and documented the death toll continues. The response of governments has varied from exhortations to the public to be charitable —the "Be A Good Neighbour" scheme, while making cuts in public spending — to patronising advice — the Health Education Council's booklet advised the elderly to "Ask visitors if it seems cold to them in your house and take their advice". While it is quite possible for some old people to have defective regulation of body temperature, asking the advice of visitors is a poor substitute for having sufficient means to heat their homes properly. Victim blaming has been a recent government trend, emphasising individual responsibility for maintaining health. This trend disguises the social causes of poverty and disease and hampers the attempts of workers to control environmental and occupational hazards.

Financial help is available to assist pensioners with heating costs but it is confined to the poorest group who are in receipt of Supplementary Benefit. Grants are also available to help with house insulation but are not always claimed as they tend to be poorly publicised and many pensioners are not aware of them or find the spirit of condescending charity with which they are given offensive. In a study of hypothermia it was estimated that 700.000 people were "at risk" as a result of physical disability, low income and poor housing (Wicks. M.. Old and Cold. Hypothermia and Social Policy. Heinemann. 1978). Other studies have confirmed that one in eight pensioners are cold both by day and night in the winter.

Undoubtedly, better education could help to prevent some of the problems associated with cold weather. Lack of knowledge of the dangers of cold means that it is not unusual for bedrooms to be kept cool and windows left open in the mistaken belief that it is healthy, even in winter. Alcohol may be consumed late at night or before going outside in the cold to "keep out the cold". In fact alcohol dilates the blood vessels and. after an initial feeling of warmth, the body loses heat. Comparatively little is done to educate older people to such dangers because their health commands a low priority under a profit-oriented society.

Capitalism, in the pursuit of profit, is an inhumane society in which coal mines are closed while old people die of cold; food is thrown away while a quarter of a million pensioners suffer from malnutrition, media coverage is devoted to the trivial jaunts and extravagant spending of the parasitical royal family while pensioners remain ignorant of the risks of hypothermia.

Hypothermia is, on the whole, a disease of poverty: eighty-year-old millionaires are not taken to hospital suffering from the cold. It is the poor whose lives are placed in jeopardy and often, on discharge from hospital, returned to the same deprived circumstances which made them ill in the first place. Accidental hypothermia may be correct medical terminology but there is nothing accidental about a vicious social system which condemns its pensioners to an ice cold death while a minority of capitalists can live in luxury.
Carl Pinel

Some facts of life at the top (1986)

From the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Facing each other across the table at Geneva last November. Reagan and Gorbachev underlined the fact that America and Russia are the two powers which count in world capitalism in the 1980s. As recently as Macmillan. a British prime minister could expect to have been involved in negotiations at this level. Now states like Britain are reduced to being satellites, bases where one or other of the super powers sites their missiles. The sun has finally set on the British Empire; imperialism now wears a different face and calls it human progress.

It was to be expected that some of the media would do their best to cloud the reality of the summit at Geneva by concentrating on the ballyhoo which always obscures such events. So we saw much of Reagan — who is unusually skilled at reducing desperately frightening issues to a few folksy, vacuous words — musing on whether Gorbachev would accept some fatherly advice from him. Gorbachev is a son for a father to be proud of — smooth and intensively educated, not at all like those aged Kremlin manipulators who preceded him. And of course he has a dazzling wife, who almost upstaged Nancy Reagan. Mrs Gorbachev's dress designer (in a country where class privilege is supposed to have died in the Revolution) works "almost exclusively" for her and she seemed to be on a personal mission to erode the stereotype of Russian women as lumpy bundles of quilting and head scarves. If Reagan ever gets to press the button, it will no doubt be to the accompaniment of some banal homily, while Gorbachev will do it with an economic urbanity.

But beneath the ballyhoo there is the matter of the relationships between Russia and America and what these mean to the people of the world. Reagan is always liable to describe the conflict as a matter of ideology — "we don't like your system and you don't like ours". For millions of Americans, the "system" means an unrelenting round of slums, disease and impoverishment; who can understand what interests they feel they have in the "American way of life" ? They suffer poverty because the ideology of capitalism, in Russia as well as in America, is that of the commodity, of wealth which is turned out for sale and profit as opposed to satisfying the needs of people. Capitalism is a society in which minority interests prevail.

That ensures that international negotiations are not about clashes of principle, nor about differences between father and son; on the basic principle of class monopoly of the means of life both sides are at one. They are concerned with the continuous capitalist conflict over economic supremacy, about which ruling class will dominate and plunder which parts of the world. The supposed ideological clash did not prevent a steady growth of trade between Russia and America during the 1970s. until Carter reacted to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. “We used to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment to the Soviets", ruefully said James Griffin, president of the US/USSR Trade and Economic Council. "We won't see those figures again for a long time”. Some American companies are doing their best on this score — Caterpillar Tractors recently agreed a contract to export $90m worth of equipment to Russia and Pepsi Cola are hopeful that their 14 plants there will triple sales over the next six years. But time is pressing, as the gap left by the American withdrawal is being filled by trading rivals, notably Japan — another country which should be prevented on ideological grounds from trading with Russia. But the blood of profitable trade is thicker than any water of supposed principles; as Nikolai Zinovyev, boss of Russo/American trade affairs in Moscow, put it: "Let us sincerely hope that whatever results from the conference. they will produce favourable effects on our bilateral trade".

So what about that other issue the nuclear arms race? Reagan is said to be anxious to persuade the Russian government that the Strategic Defence Initiative — Star Wars — is a purely defensive project. Only the very gullible would believe that a powerful capitalist state would place such an expensive priority on defending human beings, who at other times are treated as coldly dispensable. The Russian government, who have participated wholeheartedly in the nuclear arms race, are not gullible; they see Star Wars as a shield from behind which America could launch the first, knock-out blow. Star Wars is really just another episode in the arms race, a typical defensive move which the Russian military will have to try to overcome. with the end result of intensifying the power and sophistication of the armaments concerned. Gorbachev put this clearly to the Supreme Soviet, on his return from Geneva:
We will find a response, just as we did in the past . . .  To restore the balance the Soviet Union will have to enhance the efficiency, accuracy and strike power of its arms, in order to neutralise, if we must, the electronic space machine of Star Wars.
It is perfectly normal, under this social system, for states to develop these enormously destructive weapons and then, on the pretence of promoting a more peaceful world, to talk to each other about controlling them. This stagnant ritual has been experienced many times in the past, while the development of ever more horrifying weapons has continued. The summits of 1955, 1959 and 1960. when Eisenhower was American president, were largely concerned with tensions in Europe, particularly over the division of Germany and Berlin. This area is not now of such immediate concern; others have taken its place as potential flashpoints in an uneasy world. In 1961 Kennedy met Khrushchev and the effectiveness of that meeting can be gauged by the fact that soon afterwards there was yet another crisis over Berlin and then the confrontation over Cuba. In 1962. Nixon and Brezhnev signed the Salt I treaty, which caused a lot of excitement: "the first step on the road to peace" declared a jubilant Nixon, adding himself to the long line of politicians who have made such a claim. It is nearer the truth to say that that summit and that treaty signalled American resignation to the fact that Russia must be dealt with as a super power, to carve up the world with and to act with to try to restrict the number of nuclear powers. Salt I opened the age of detente, when Russo/ American trade began to expand, but it did little to slow the pace of the arms race and it certainly did not make nuclear war less likely.

The same two leaders met again in 1973 and 1974 (when Nixon was in the throes of Watergate) and Nixon's successor. Gerald Ford, met Brezhnev in 1974 and 1975. One outcome was the projected Salt II treaty, which was eventually signed four years later, by Brezhnev and Carter (both of whose time was running out). So there has been no lack of contact between the leaders of Russian and American capitalism — no lack of talk about "disarmament" and about "peace". And what has been the result? The two super powers have enormous nuclear arsenals — about ten thousand warheads each, more than enough to lay each other waste, as well as most of the rest of the world. With "peace" talks like those, what arms manufacturer needs a war?.

Each summit has taken place on the assumption that it would lead to greater "understanding". It is almost as if the opposing ruling classes exist in deep ignorance of what goes on behind their frontiers and need the occasional friendly chat to enlighten themselves. But of course the ruling classes of the world understand perfectly well. They understand that they are in deadly rivalry over access to raw materials like oil, over the boundaries of their respective spheres of control, over the strategic dispositions of their imperialism. They understand that this rivalry must first be carried on through negotiation, with the negotiators backed by force which will be applied if the talks break down. Finally, they understand that all of this, which in a rational society based on human interests will be seen as an insane waste, is normal and sane under capitalism.

Summit talks are barren because capitalism's leaders are powerless to eradicate problems which are rooted in the system. Perhaps some of them even understand that and try to cover their impotence under such ballyhoo as Reagan's jokes and Mrs Gorbachev's clothes. If at present this seems to work for the leaders, it can only be because the world's people are dazzled by their distant view of the summit and ignore what is going on all around them on the ground.
Ivan

Zombie Capitalists (2018)

The Cooking the Books column from the February 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
In November the Bank of England increased the bank rate from the 0.25 percent that it had been since March 2009 to 0.5 percent, still very low by historical standards. As the rate that banks are charged when they borrow from the Bank it sets the minimum for a number of other rates.
The media commented mainly on the effect the rise would have on workers and retired workers. Those buying a house via a mortgage will have to pay more but those with savings will get more from them. But this is not why the Bank changes the bank rate; that’s just a side-effect. The main reason is to try to influence the level of economic activity. Since the initiative for this rests in the hands of profit-seeking capitalist enterprises, bank rate changes are aimed at influencing their investment decisions.
As Oliver Kamm pointed out in the Times (8 January):
‘The global economy is still operating in the shadow of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009. All the advanced industrial economies, in differing degrees, have been struggling to boost growth ever since. All have resorted to the same approach of aggressively easy monetary policy, with near-zero interest rates and big asset-purchase programmes by central banks.’
The theory is that if capitalist firms don’t have to pay so much interest out of their profits they can built up their reserves and so have more money to invest. But capitalist firms' investment decisions are influenced by the rate of profit rather than the rate of interest. If the profit prospects are not good enough they won’t invest however low the interest rate. You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink if it’s not thirsty.
Very low interest rates have had one side-effect but not a desirable one from a capitalist point of view. It has prevented firms that would otherwise go bankrupt from doing so. ‘100,000 zombie firms suck life out of economy’ was how the Times (7 December) headlined an article reporting on a survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental think-tank set up by the developed capitalist countries.
The OECD defined zombie companies as firms more than ten years old ‘having persistent problems meeting their interest payments’ and went on to deplore their effect on the capitalist economy:
‘Zombie firms represent a drag on productivity growth as they congest markets and divert credit, investment and skills from flowing to more productive and successful firms and contribute to slowing down the diffusion of best practices and new technologies across our economies.’
It said that ‘Britain would be growing more quickly if it encouraged a clearout’ of the 100,000 ‘zombie companies kept on life support by the banks.’ This could well be the case as inefficient firms going to the wall and their assets passing cheaply to more efficient firms is one way in which during a slump the rate of profit is restored, itself a prerequisite for recovery and moving on the next phase of the boom/slump cycle.
Ironically, then, instead of low interest rates encouraging a recovery they may have retarded it.  Another example of how governments can’t control the way capitalism operates.

Letter: Let's Unite against Racialism (1968)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Comrades,

Since Enoch Powell’s race-hate speech, the Wolverhampton branches of the YCL have led in the formation of the Wolverhampton Front Against Racialism. We have taken as the symbol of the six-pointed Yellow Star, known in Hitler-occupied Europe as the ’Badge of Shame’.

These badges have been distributed to demonstrators at protest marches, and to other opponents of racialism and fascism, along with an explanatory leaflet.

Our idea is to unite all anti-racialist, anti-fascist forces in common action. So we call upon readers of the Socialist Standard to take the initiative in their localities in the formation of similar fronts. Make your own badge, do your own leaflets, lead and fight.

It is vital that a stand be made — Powell has not learned to keep his mouth shut yet — we must shut him up for good. It is above all vital that this campaign be national, uniting all progressive forces.
R. M. Bashforth
Organiser, Wolverhampton, Y.C.L.


Reply: 
It is a pleasant change to get a letter opposing racialism. Nevertheless, although the Socialist Party of Great Britain is of course opposed to racialism, we cannot agree to join any united Front Against Racialism, as proposed by the Wolverhampton YCL branches.

Many times before have we been invited to join with others to oppose, for instance, the Tories, fascism, some war or nuclear weapons. We have always turned these invitations down, not because we are not against the Tories, fascism, wars and nuclear (and other) weapons, but because we do not think that this is the way to oppose them. To unite with non-socialist organisations is a dangerous policy for a Socialist party. It would be a hindrance to what should be the basic aim of such a party: to agitate, educate and organise for Socialism. At present most people are opposed to Socialism. They are prepared to put up with capitalism and much of what goes with it. It is only because most people are patriotic (think they have a country) and are ready to trust leaders that they do listen to appeals for national unity, strong leadership, wars and armed forces. What is needed is not mere anti-racialist propaganda, but basic Socialist education: the statement in clear and unequivocal terms of the case for a socialist world community.

Since Socialists appeal to workers to unite, irrespective of nationality or colour or race (so-called), to the extent that we are successful racialist and nationalist ideas are defeated. As part of a general Socialist education campaign anti-racialism is much more effective. In our socialist activity we warn workers of the dangers of supporting leader-based, nationalist parties like the Tories, Labour, Liberals, fascists and, yes, the Communists. Were we to unite with (nationalist) non-socialists our case would be weakened. One moment we would be urging workers to oppose Labour, Liberals, the Communists and the churches; the next we would be working with them! We would appear as unprincipled hypocrites. Our task is to spread socialist ideas as, in the end, only a working class, imbued with socialist ideas, is a sure guarantee that they will not listen to racialists like Powell and Mosley and nationalists like Wilson, Heath, Thorpe and Gollan.

While they may mean, well, we cannot agree with the Wolverhampton YCL’s suggestion on Powell that "we must shut him up for good”. We have no wish to shut anyone up, not even Colin Jordan. We are more concerned with persuading the tens of thousands of workers who support Powell not to take any notice of what he says. Shutting up Powell would achieve nothing. It would rather (like Heath’s sacking him from the Tory Shadow Cabinet) earn him undeserved public sympathy. Powell’s views are obnoxious and he does use lies and half-truths (but don’t they all?), but he should still be allowed to speak. As Socialists we are quite opposed to all restrictions on the free expression of ideas. In 1941, when the government banned the Daily Worker (for calling, among other things, for peace with Hitler) we protested. It is worth recalling what the Socialist Standard of February 1941 had to say:
    “The SPGB has its own, quite different, point of view. True to our basic principle we do not support suppression of opinion, however false we believe that opinion to be . . . The SPGB is opposed to suppression of opinion. In our view the way to counter any kind of propaganda, and in the long run the only way, is to meet it in the open in unfettered discussion. We are entitled to add that we practise what we preach and have always thrown open our platform to our opponents.”
We stand by this today, and would urge those who want to shut people up to think where this might end. After Powell, who?
Editorial Committee