The following piece, written by the late Pieter Lawrence, is the ninth chapter of his 2006 work, 'Practical Socialism - Its Principles and Methods'.
Waste and Destruction
In comparing the capitalist system with the ways that production could operate in socialism we find that whilst the free market system sees itself as being most efficient it is in fact hideously wasteful. Yet, in socialism, whilst efficiency would not be a primary concern, communities would be able to apply their productive resources to the needs of people in a most economical way.
Over a century ago, Karl Marx drew attention to the wasteful use of labour. In a passage that also predicted how it would develop he said, “The capitalist mode of production, while on the one hand, enforcing economy in each individual business, on the other hand, begets, by its anarchical system of competition, the most outrageous squandering of labour power and of the social means of production, not to mention the creation of a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous.” (Capital, Vol 1, Part V, Ch XV11-1V).
This was an early indication of the extent to which the capitalist system diverts possibly half or more of its labour resources into jobs that are socially useless and in the case of the military, lethally destructive. To set this in perspective we must keep in mind a clear view of the basic object which motivates and sustains world capitalism. It does sustain life but not all the time and certainly not in every country. Many millions die of disease, starvation and in war and civil strife. But regardless of the degree to which the capitalist system succeeds or fails in providing for our needs, this is not its primary purpose. It is primarily a system of profit and capital accumulation. It is these objectives that set its wheels in motion. This is demonstrated by the fact that regardless of human needs, when no profit is made, production shuts down. It is in two sectors of the capitalist economy where most waste is generated: these are in the financial organisation of the markets and secondly, in the state machine, particularly the armed forces and arms production.
We have a simple test as to whether on not a particular job provides for needs. This is based on a concept of ‘real needs.’ It could be said that the subject of “needs” is problematical, that it is both relative and subjective to the extent that it defies a definition that can apply sensibly to all people. But we can take a practical, reasonable and general view of what we mean by “needs”. This would define needs in a modern context in relation to our great social problems that we need to solve and a secure material basis for preferred life styles. In this view we can argue that “real needs” include good quality foods, clothes which are a pleasure to wear, a comfortable home with heating and good services, etc. It could also include entertainment, books, art, health and education, leisure, mobility and communications.
So one test of a useful job is whether it contributes directly to any of these needs or whether it is only necessary to operate markets, or perhaps the military or arms production. For example, does an accountant provide for needs? Accountants spend their lives calculating profit and loss, preparing accounts, income tax returns, etc. Accountancy is certainly necessary for administering the economics of the market system but otherwise it contributes nothing to the material or cultural well being of our lives. In this sense, the work of accountancy is socially useless.
Bank workers do not contribute to real needs. In their work they spend the day counting out money or transferring totals from one column to another. This work arises from the servicing of bank accounts, the lending and borrowing of money for investment and purchasing, and so on, and therefore the work is inextricably bound up with the day to day operation of the money/market system and profit. It is not necessary for the production of goods and the running of services for needs. In fact, as a part of the market system the work of banking functions as an economic barrier between useful production and human needs.
Statisticians, systems analysts and computer programmers present them¬selves as being useful and. undoubtedly Socialism would require these skills, but at present one use of information systems by companies is to monitor the cash values of their stocks in relation to continuing inflation and exchange rates. Printers might present themselves as being useful and again, this is a skill which Social¬ism would require, but much of the present paperwork, including millions of documents concerning invoicing, taxation, the law, insurance, the administration of the dole system would be unnecessary in a socialist system.
Waste In A Big City – London.
The distribution of occupations in London is a further indication of the extent of wasted labour. In March 2002 Ken Livingstone, world famous Londoner and Mayor, issued his document Planning for London’s Growth. The document shows population trends and changes in London’s pattern of employment since the 1970s. It also projects these to the year 2016. It appears that London is going to get even bigger. “The Capital’s population, which fell to 6.8 million in the 1980s but is now above 7.4 million, is projected to exceed 8.1 million by 2016.” Having absorbed numbers equal to Sheffield during the 1990’s London is set to grow by the equivalent of the population of Leeds.
And what jobs will all these people be doing? London’s problems should indicate where the work will be concentrated. On housing the document says that London has “… some of Europe’s worst slums less than a mile from a central financial district that is the richest region in the continent”. “A disturbingly large number of London’s homes are unfit for people who will be expected to contribute to an expanding economy of new employment opportunities.” “It has become impossible for people on average incomes to afford homes in many parts of the capital.”
On health, “The number of patients treated within one hour in London’s accident and emergency services is the lowest in the country.” “Life expectancy for men in East London is among the lowest in the country.”
On poverty, “Child poverty rates in London, after housing costs, are 43 per cent, by far the highest in the UK.” “Income distribution between the wealthiest and poorest households is far more polarised in London than elsewhere.”
Much of this echoes the Strategic Planning Advice For London issued in 1988 by the then London Planning Advisory Committee. For example, on housing, it said, “About one million households have insufficient income to house themselves satisfactorily.” So, it appears that between 1988 and 2002 very little had changed.
If meeting people’s needs were the aim of our society we would have expected a forecast of massive expansion of building and construction jobs so that poor housing could become homes fit for people to live in. Curiously the number of people in construction is forecast to reduce from 211,000 to 160,000 between now and 2016. There should surely have been a forecast too of more jobs in health services. The document lumps health and education together and shows a modest increase of 50,000. But as a proportion of the extra numbers of population by 2016 this is not significant.
The document does anticipate more jobs but not in anything to do with real needs. Mostly these will be in Business and Financial Services which are forecast to increase by almost 500,000. And what will these people do? They will be part of the Stock Exchange, the offices of the Bank of England; they will be in the Money Markets, Clearing Banks, Overseas Banks, Merchant Banks, Discount Houses and the Insurance Companies. They will be in the commodity markets and export and import merchants. They will be in the growth of the Government machine.
This will be a modern example of “ .. the creation of a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous.” Marx himself became a Londoner but it is doubtful if he could have imagined the number of people now concentrated in London as a great accumulation of wasted labour. As highly trained people, workers in financial services often command high incomes, occupy buildings and devour useful services such as transport and energy supplies. By 2016 the number of people in Business and Financial Services in London is forecast to be 1,865,000. In a society organised solely for needs these almost 2 million people would be immediately redundant and therefore available for socially useful jobs.
A Picture of National Waste
From “National Statistics – Labour Market Trends 2003, Stationary Office,” in the UK we had a total of 29.5ml jobs. A breakdown of this total indicates the number of jobs that would be unnecessary in a society organised solely to provide for needs.
It is apparent that the numbers of jobs contributing to our real needs was as follows:-
Energy and Water 212,000
Public Administration 1,410,000
Health and Social
Socially useless jobs:-
Finance & Business
From these figures we might conclude that perhaps about 1 in 3 of all jobs exist only to administer the market system and therefore do not contribute to the real needs of the community. This would be wrong. In fact the number is much greater. Waste of labour extends throughout the structure of production to parts which may appear to be socially useful but which in fact only contribute to waste.
For example jobs in transport may present themselves as being useful but when we consider what transport is used for we find that to a large extent it is socially unnecessary and is therefore a waste. During World War II, to relieve pressure on an overworked transport system, numerous posters asked the question, “Is you journey really necessary?” This question could equally apply now to the countless millions of daily journeys by train, bus and car, from suburbs to every city centre. In London and throughout the country, many of the 5½ million people with jobs in finance, insurance and banking, etc., are commuters travelling to work by train. At the same time, throughout cities, cars and buses carrying people to useless occupations are stuck in traffic jams with vehicles coughing out a poisonous mix of gases whilst power stations generating the electricity for millions of useless train journeys do the same. From the available statistics it is very difficult to tease out the number of people in transport that are socially useful and therefore necessary. It is evident that in a socialist system the existing transport system would be re-organised whilst much of it would become redundant.
Some jobs under the heading of “Public Administration” are useful but many would disappear. For example departments such as Inland Revenue and Customs would no longer be necessary, nor would the thousands of workers distributing doles, social security payments and housing benefits, etc.
Similarly, the 3.8ml jobs in manufacturing present themselves as being useful but here again, not all of these provide for real needs. The millions of people in buying, selling and financial services use buildings, equipment, computer hardware and communications systems all of which represent a waste of manufacturing and energy resources.
From any social standpoint the category of “unemployed” is particularly bizarre. These are people who could be making a useful contribution not just in their own interests but for the benefit of their communities. They are prevented from doing so, generally, because there is no prospect of profit in employing them. The numbers fluctuate with the movement of the trade cycle. Over the ten years from 1992 – 2001 the numbers of unemployed fell from almost 2.8 million to 1.42 million. In 2002 it rose to 1.52 million.
The “opportunity cost” of these lost work days is incalculable. Over the ten years 1993 – 2002 the average number of unemployed per annum was 2,065,000 people. This means that every week over 10 million work days were lost; every year 500 million and over the ten years, 5 billion work days lost. Given that the unemployed represent a broad range of skills we can only imagine what the output could have been over ten years from these 2 million workers. Inevitably, as a consequence of the constraints of the market system, unemployment will continue with year on year additions to the number of work days lost. Seen over past decades and anticipated into the future this represents a vast accumulation of wasted labour.
Throughout the world millions of undernourished people are incapable of sustaining work activity. In 200/1 The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation recorded 820 million seriously undernourished people (living on a daily intake of 1,600 calories or less). This world wide trap of poverty not only denies them the basic necessities of life, they are also denied the means of self development through education and access to skills. This accounts for a further almost billion people who in a socialist society would be able to make a contribution to their communities.
Nothing demonstrates the destructive waste of the capitalist system more than the work of vast numbers of people in the arms industries and in the armed forces. On a world scale many millions of people are involved both directly and indirectly in war machines. As well as the numbers in the armed services every branch of industry, manufacture, communications and transport has been used to mine and process every kind of material for the production of the missiles, fighter aircraft, bombers, warships, tanks, lorries, guns, bombs, shells, bullets and much more, all of which make up the military in capitalist states. Increasingly, the military uses the most advanced technology. We face the prospect of more and more capitalist states holding nuclear weapons.
In 2000/1, the U.K. spent £25billion on Defence. But this was not only on armed forces and their civilian staffs. Part of the Defence Budget was also distributed to energy, industry, manufacture, and transport for the production of armaments. This included coal, coke, oil, gas, electricity, chemicals, steel, engineering and electrical, ship¬building and marine engineering and construction, etc.
This is yet a further example of jobs which may present themselves in the national labour statistics as being socially useful but which in fact are dedicated to producing the means of death and destruction. This means that for the year 2000/1, a significant number of the 3.9 million in manufacturing were not providing for real needs but were engaged with the military.
The Military of Six Nations
The “Financial Times World Desk 2003” gives figures for military budgets and numbers in armed forces for various nations. For 68 nations from a world total of about 170 nations “World Desk” gives an approximate total of 15½ million men and women in the armed forces.
For 6 leading nations the “World Desk” gives:-
Combined Army, Budget
Navy & Air Force
United Kingdom 211,430 $40 billion
France 258,600 $34 billion
Russia 677,000 $58.8 billion
China 2,270,000 $41.2 billion
India 1,263,000 $14.5 billion
USA 1,196,000 $295 billion
5, 876,530 $477.7 billion
These six nations have at their disposal over 42,000 main battle tanks, over 10,000 combat aircraft and over 1,159 war vessels. In addition, each country has an arsenal of missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. By far the largest share is held by the United States with 7,620 main battle tanks, 73 submarines, 12 aircraft carriers, 27 cruisers, 54 destroyers, 35 frigates, 21 patrol boats, 4,147 combat aircraft, hundreds of short to long range missiles plus 550 inter continental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear war heads. This array of weaponry provides the strike power of over 1.2 million men and women in the US armed forces.
In time of war the numbers in the armed forces are rapidly increased. For example, “On August 31st 1939, the strength of the armed forces of the United Kingdom was 681,000 men. Including reservists mobilised, a further 5,215,000 men were taken into the services between August 31st 1939 and June 30th 1945, making a total of 5,896,000 men (sic, including women) who served in the armed forces during the war.” The peak number actually serving was 4,683,000 in June 1945. “History of the Second World War: Casualties and Medical Statistics: UK Stationary Office 1972.”
At the same time the civilian population was mobilised for arms production. “The total number of those employed directly on munitions work rose from 1,150,000 in 1939 to 4,300,000 in 1944.” “In all, the iron and steel industry produced and handled a grand total of 86,000,000 tons of steel during the war.” “British War Production 1939 – 1945. The Times.”
In itself, the use of armed forces together with people in industry and manufacture for armaments production and the use of materials, represents a great waste but the purpose of war resources is to inflict death and destruction, which leads to further waste. This results in a socially insane circle of destruction which accumulates. We shall never know how many people were killed as a result of war since the beginning of the 20th Century. With each contestant inflating their enemies numbers whilst minimising their own, official figures are unreliable. We can only be certain that the bare statistics indicate countless personal tragedies. The deaths of every million blighted the lives of more millions who survived and went on to live with the loss. For World War II, a consensus view is that about 50 million people were killed and these were about 20 million in the armed forces and 30 million civilian deaths. In all wars since the beginning of the 20th Century it is likely that more than 75 million people were killed.
War objectives include the destruction of industrial, chemical and manufacturing installations with their machinery and equipment. Targets also include communications systems such as railways, roads, bridges, port facilities and telephone networks. Following the development of the bomber, towns and cities became prime targets. “It should be clear that the bomber was always a ‘terror’ weapon. It was the ability of the bomber to fly over defence lines and reach centres of population that made the bomber threat so effective. Claims that bombing could destroy the enemy’s industrial base are always cited to justify the use of bomber forces, and to a certain extent this claim is true; but it was the effect of bombing on civilians that gave the bomber threat its greatest potency. Inspiring terror, causing massive destruction and killing civilians, was what the strategic bomber was for.” “The Bomber War - Robin Neillands.”
Those who can recall World War II may remember the long list of cities that were destroyed by shell fire and bombing. As the Bomber Commands of the British and American Air Forces gathered strength, those living under the flight paths of the air routes to Germany will perhaps never forget the image of skies on moonlit nights made dark with bomber formations and the constant drone their engines as they left Southern England with their deadly loads. For those who did not live through it, the names of Plymouth, Coventry, Rotterdam, East London, Caen, Warsaw, Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden, Leningrad and Stalingrad, are just some from the long list of cities recorded in war histories, their pages filled with photographs of stark ruins. It is said that in the bomber campaign of the Vietnam War the American Air Force delivered even more high explosives than in World War II.
In a sane society these towns and cities together with power stations, industrial and manufacturing plants, bridges, railways, ports and communications networks would continue to serve out their useful lives for the benefit of communities.
The Capitalist System and the Cause of War.
It may be thought that the deaths and destruction brought about by war with its waste of labour and material resources should not be attributed to the capitalist system of production. It is true that war pre-dates the capitalist system and has been waged throughout history but a common cause has been that wars both now and in the past arose mostly from competing material interests. In the modern world these take a capitalist form. What should be discounted is the view that the ideology of war, that is, the given moral reasons, provide a cause of war. For example, the war by Britain and America against Iraq was said to be for the removal of a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and the delivery of democracy to the Iraqi people. The ideology of war provides a justification for war and its propaganda but it is not a basic cause. The main reason for the war in Iraq was to achieve a strategic economic objective; this was for America and Britain to gain control of the second biggest oil reserves in the world. It is true that within this context of national economic rivalry the ideology of war has a potent power to become an aggravating factor, especially where war leaders believe their own propaganda, which for political reasons they tend to do.
War happens in the modern world between rival capitalist states in pursuit of strategic economic objectives. These include an ability to maintain trade from a position of strength, access to and control of important materials (such as oil), access to and control of important trade routes, the retention and expansion of economic and political spheres of influence. These objectives of war are an extension of the economic objectives of capitalist production, which are to maintain a monopoly of ownership and control of the production process and an ability to trade, as a basis for the accumulation of capital. Therefore, because modern war is inherent in the national economic rivalries of the capitalist system, it can be rightly said to represent a vast waste of human and material resources, together with bringing about unimaginable misery and suffering. This waste and destruction would not happen in a system in which all humanity shared a common interest in co-operating to produce for their mutual needs. In a world socialist system, the oil reserves of Iraq, together with the material assets of the entire planet would be for the benefit of all people.
The truth behind the image of efficiency projected by the ideologues of the profit system is that it is a miserable, chaotic and destructive mess. In each business, to keep down costs, there is of course a constant pressure to produce goods and services using minimum labour and this may tend towards business efficiency. But from a wider, social point of view, that is, the ability of society as a whole to apply its resources of labour and the natural assets of the planet directly to our material and cultural needs, the market system is chronically inefficient. It was well said that it results in “… the most outrageous squandering of labour power and of the social means of production, not to mention the creation of a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous.” It is for these reasons that a socialist system would be able to approximately double the number of people able to make a useful contribution to society.