Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Some Questions on Economics (1933)

From the October 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

When is a commodity not a commodity
The following questions have been put to us by a Canadian correspondent: —
(1) Are the goods with a price tag on them in the stores commodities? K. and N. say no. They say the retailers bought them as use values and they are not commodities until they are sold, at which moment, of course, they cease to be commodities and become use-values to the purchaser.
(2) Is a Ford car that is ready to leave the factory for a salesroom in some distant town a commodity ?
(3) Is the wheat that is stored in the elevators all over Canada, some of which has been there for years and is deteriorating, is this wheat a commodity ?
(4) Can we say that the stock of surplus goods on hand in every capitalist country that at present cannot find a buyer are surplus commodities ?
(5) Has the unemployed person on relief, with no chance of finding a master, still got commodity labour-power to sell?
(6) Are they unemployed members of the working, or are they a parisitic class in society? 
A commodity is a useful article produced for sale. Two characteristics are, therefore, essential; it must be useful and it must contain value. This definition covers the mass of modern products.

A thing can be useful without being a commodity—air. A thing can be useful and produced without being a commodity—carrots grown in the garden for the use of the grower. A thing can be saleable without being a commodity—“personal honour” for example.

An article may not be produced as a commodity, yet may later take on a commodity character, by being put up for sale—a house or a piece of furniture made by a man for himself.

An article may be produced as a commodity and yet fail to fulfil its function—opium for customers who are not allowed to buy, or a tool that has become obsolete.

No definition, however, is absolute, covering every possible shade of a case—there are always instances on the border-line. For instance, a cartridge is sold to a purchaser, but bursts in the gun. It lost its useful character after the sale. It is a commodity yet not a commodity. The object of a definition should not be lost sight of, and that object is to help understanding.

In the light of the above remarks, let us now answer the questions.

(1) The articles exhibited in a store with a price attached are correctly described as commodities and: were bought as such, hence Karl Marx opened his book, “Capital," with the words: "The 'wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities." Stores do not buy things as use-values, but as exchange values. It is true the proof that articles are commodities only comes when they are sold, but, in like manner, the proof that a loaf is food and not poison only comes after it has been eaten. Are we, therefore, to say that no articles of food are produced because they are only proved to be such after they have ceased to be? However, the illustration of “K and N" is self-destructive. If an article is not a commodity until it is sold neither is it a use-value—unless the owner, with uncharacteristic generosity, gives it away! Their only usefulness from the retailer’s point of view is their saleability.

(2) In harmony with the foregoing, a Ford car ready to leave the factory for a saleroom is correctly referred to as a commodity—otherwise the expression “Commodity production" would be an illusion!

(3) Wheat stored in the elevators is also a commodity. If any of it eventually disintegrates or is destroyed, and hence does not find a buyer, then that part has failed to fulfill its function and thus was not a commodity; but who can differentiate which is which? A passenger steamer is built, launched, and delivered to the purchaser, but before it can carry a single passenger it catches fire and is reduced to ashes. Here is an instance of an article that was sold and yet, in fact, had no use-value whatever. In each case the labour spent in production was wasted and valueless.

(4) This is already answered above. The so- called surplus goods are correctly referred to as commodities. With few exceptions they will ultimately find buyers. It should, perhaps, be pointed out that it is only reasonable to deal with normal features of a case. One can hardly anticipate the destruction of huge stocks of coffee becoming a normal feature of coffee production.

(5) When the unemployed person, still obtaining unemployed relief, who has no chance of ever finding a master, turns up, it will be time to answer that question. When a person becomes unemployable he ceases to be unemployed.

(6) There is only one parasitic class—the capitalist class, but there are plenty of people who "live on their wits.”

Who Pays For The War? (1929)

From the August 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the most dangerous of fallacies is the idea propagated by every political party except ourselves, that the workers have an interest in reducing the burden of taxation. This unsound theory is none the less dangerous when it is used to back up a policy which is otherwise sound.

Many people who have instinctively felt that the workers ought to oppose war, have backed up their argument by telling us that the taxation needed for the upkeep of armaments and for the replacement of destroyed property, falls on the working class!

We, on the contrary, have constantly pointed out that the position of the workers is the same, whether taxes are high or low. If taxes decline and prices follow, so do wages.

The danger of the argument used by these people was recently illustrated by Mr. Snowden’s attack upon the Baldwin Government on the ground that Great Britain is paying more to America on account of war debts, and receiving less from France than ought to be the case. We ask you to recognise that it does not matter at all to the working class how the Capitalists of England, France and the U.S.A. divide up between them the proceeds of their exploitation of the working class, and the proceeds of the reparations payments taken from the German Capitalists. Those who preach otherwise are helping to stir up national hatred between the workers here and those in France and the U.S.A. The essential thing to remember is that reparations payments go to the Capitalist class, not to the workers, and taxes for armaments are a burden on the Capitalist class. If this were not so would Capitalist Governments trouble about reducing the cost of armaments, and would the German Capitalists try to resist the payment of reparations if they could pass the burden on to the German workers?

Let us consider the facts as regards the cost of the last War. Under the Dawes Scheme, Germany paid to the Allied Government £87½ million in 1928 and will pay £125 million in 1929. (See Liberal Year Book, 1929—P. 232.) And taxation per head of the population in Germany in 1927-28 was 134 Marks as against only 31 Marks in 1913-14; that is, the taxation was more than four times as great. (See Constitutional Year Book, 1929—P. 420.)

Yet in spite of Germany having to pay huge sums in Reparations the German working class are not worse off than in 1914. The taxation has had to be paid by the only class which can afford to pay, that is the Capitalist class. Defeat in the War has hit the German Capitalists, not the German workers. Figures taken from German official sources disclose something of the extent of the loss of Germany’s propertied class. (See “Observer,” Mar. 17th.) In 1914, there were 15,549 persons with fortunes of one millions marks or over; now there are only 2,235. And owners of more than £500,000 have decreased from 229 to 33.

Now let us consider wages. The Report on Economic Conditions in Europe, published in May by the Royal Economic Society (London), shows that the purchasing power of the wages of skilled workers in Germany is about 6 per cent, or 7 per cent, above the 1914 level. (This makes no allowance for increased unemployment since 1914.) And according to a German semi-official publication (Wirtschaft und Statistik, January, 1929) the wages of unskilled workers in Germany have risen somewhat more than this.

In Great Britain, one of the victors in the War and the receiver of part of the Reparations payments from Germany, the purchasing power of wages in 1928 was about 8 per cent, above the 1914 level, while if the increased unemployment in allowed for, the purchasing power of wages is practically the same as in 1914. (See Labour Bulletin, June—Published by the Labour Party. The figures are based on official and other authoritative estimates.) 

So we see that the German workers are not worse off through Germany having to raise more taxes to pay Reparations, and British workers are not better off through Great Britain receiving Reparations. The factors which govern the workers' wages under Capitalism are not in the long run affected by the highness or lowness of taxation. The working class have no interest at stake in wars between Capitalist countries, and have no interest at stake in questions of taxation or reparations. The working class can escape from their subject position only through Socialism, not by juggling about with direct and indirect taxation, or by making "Germany” pay or by making "France” pay.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Romance of Ages. (1925)

From the June 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Down from the tree-tops he came, primeval man, driven by hunger to wander through the forest with his kin searching for the nuts, roots and fruits on which he lived. He was the oldest specimen of his race and wandered over Europe when the climate was tropical and palms and tropical animals abounded. He required no clothes as the hair covering his body was sufficient protection in the mild climate then prevailing. His only weapons and tools were the branches torn from trees and the rough stones picked out of the beds of water-courses. He had learnt the art of communicating his primitive ideas by means of speech liberally helped out with gestures. His family arrangements were those of the brute from which he had just branched off, no rule had yet grown to guide him higher. He wandered widely over Europe before the coming of the ice drove him towards the Equator.

Slowly, very slowly, and painfully, man acquired more knowledge. A new type arose born during the breaks in the great ice ages. He discovered the wonderful properties of fire, and was able to add fish to his diet, a new weapon with which to fight hunger. Fire severed the cord that bound him to the forests and he wandered widely over the earth in the open, following the courses of the streams that provided him with fish. Out of the beds of streams he took rought stones and fashioned them into crude implements. His habitations were the beds of streams and holes in the hills. He peopled the hills, the woods, and the streams with living beings. The tree that fell on and crushed him, the rocks that impeded his passage, the mighty torrents, became to him objects endowed with life as he was—Religion was born. He wrought on the rough stone making for himself a stone-headed club and spear and became a hunter, strengthening himself in the fight against hunger by the addition of occasional supplies of meat to his food. The evil results of promiscuous marriage were modified by the growth of a rule prohibiting the marriage of parents to children.

Years passed away by the thousand and he learnt to make bows and arrows. Hunting became easier and meat became a more regular part of his food. On clay and stone, on the sides of his caves, using sharp-pointed wood or stone for pens, he sketched rude pictures of the animals he hunted, and the animals that hunted him. With the aid of fire he furnished himself with log boats to carry him over the water. He learnt to weave and make baskets and to make tools out of the bones of animals. He built himself huts and set them out in the form of village settlements—the town was born. He modified still further his marriage relations, and prohibited the marriage of brothers and sisters. He had by now gathered together some property and the seeds of the subsequent class struggles were planted. This property was held at first by women. He stepped higher in his religious ideas, and worshipped the elements; the earthquake, the cyclone, the cloudburst, inspired him with awe and he trembled before nature’s terrors and sought to find means to propitiate the mighty powers that so often involved him in wreck and ruin. He grew in numbers and lived in larger groups. These large groups were separated into gentes, phratries and tribes, or groups of close kinship, groups of near cousins, and groups of distant cousins. He improved his language and learnt the use of syllables. He polished up his stone implements and produced wonderful specimens of polished stone tools. The huge fierce animals that had harassed him of yore began to give way to a smaller and less ferocious kind, and the limbs, stature and gait of man lost much of their strength and uncouthness, becoming more beautiful as befitted one grasping at the conquest of nature.

With the discovery of pottery man continued his upward climb and found means to store his ever-growing varieties of food. He tanned the skin of the deer and took a pride in his personal adornment. He built himself villages surrounded by stockades, tamed the dog as a companion for hunting and learned how to make bread. His numbers had now grown so large that much of his attention was taken up with social organisation. The tribes had grown into numerous tribes living in a confederacy under a council of chiefs—the state was born. His religious ideas had moved upward to the conception of a great spirit that ruled his destiny, and the dreams that troubled his sleep became to him evidences of the wanderings of himself in other lands. His rude attempts at art grew into the making of pictures that conveyed ideas to those at a distance—the art of writing was born.

Some of the animals he hunted he learnt to domesticate and secured for himself a regular supply of milk and meat. But he did more. The work to be done in attending to flocks and herds was little. It was possible to supply the needs of many by the labour of few. Man at last was able to provide a surplus on which non-workers could live. Man learned the lesson well and in the wars on his kind he obtained captives who were put to work looking after the herds, thus giving leisure to the owners of the herds—in such wise was born the slavery that flourishes to-day.

Man cleared the forests and converted them into arable land and land on which to pasture his flocks. He cultivated gardens and raised root crops, pushing farther away his age-long enemy hunger. His wealth and responsibilities grew so much that he built for himself habitations of wood, mud and stone, and surrounded them with fortifications for the safe-keeping of his utensils and his cattle and to guard against the attacks of others of his kind. He added to his implements, his utensils, his weapons, and his ornaments by learning to manipulate metals—he had left the age of stone and entered the age of bronze. He built villages on the waters at the edges of lakes, safe from marauding animals and men. He made for himself personal gods, with idols and appointed officials to interpret the method of worship—priesthood had come into being. His council chiefs became organised into a close corporation, limiting election of officials to members of their families—aristocracy was born. He 

His garden cultivation grew into field culture by the discovery of iron and the subsequent invention of the ploughshare. He now changed his habitation into towns surrounded with walls and battlements. His growing wealth and aristocratic privileges brought on the first great class struggle— the struggle between man and woman as to who should own and bequeath the store of wealth that had accumulated. Man won, and changed the law of inheritance from the female to the male. Individual ownership of property and to some extent the private ownership of land followed.

With the discovery of letter script and its use for writing records man entered into his own as a civilised being. The rest is a matter of history.

Reader, the above is a painfully brief and scrappy description of man’s development during prehistoric times. If you would enter fully into the romance consult the books on the subject that abound and you will have no cause for regret. Most of what is written above you will find in “Ancient Society," a book written by Lewis H. Morgan. Look for it in the library.

Sanity. (1921)

From the April 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

It often happens after an argument, or an attempt at an argument, with a fellow member of the working class who was sturdily supporting the master class in all their works and ways, that you are told “You’re mad.” The other fellow walks away wondering why you are not under restraint, leaving you firmly convinced that there are more lunatics outside the mental hospitals than inside. The other fellow, who is the average working man, thinks that to live in rotten houses, surrounded by ex-orange boxes disguised as furniture, to eat as food strange chemical compounds that are produced in factories by men and women to whom the turning of rubbish into food is a fine art, to have every morning and evening both before and after a long day’s work a sort of Graeco-Roman, catch-as-catch-can, rough and tumble struggle to board an electrified monstrosity known as a workman’s car is Sanity. He is also convinced that when out of work, to have to walk about hungry, surrounded by plenty of everything, to watch trams and buses with plenty of room in them go by while he is wearily “padding the hoof,” is Sanity. He is also dead certain that to live in abject poverty surrounded by a super abundance of everything, to stint and scrape from the cradle to the grave while all around there is colossal waste, to build mansions and hovels and themselves live in the hovels, is Sanity.

The Socialist is insane when he points out that in society to-day there are two classes, the working class, who do all the work and live in poverty and misery, and the capitalist class, who do no work, and live in luxury and debauchery. He is insane when he points out that the workers, being in the great majority, can alter this ridiculous state of affairs when they desire to do so, and that the only thing that stops them desiring Socialism is their ignorance of the Socialist position.

As the condition of the working class under capitalism must inevitably and inexorably get worse, and as Socialism is the only remedy, if Socialism is insanity, sooner or later the majority of the working class have got to go MAD.
Fred Bailey

The Wrong Box. (1921)

From the April 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

Strenuous efforts are being made to cope with the problem of the starving unemployed ex-service men in Manchester and Salford. The big firms of the city are asked to organise collections among their staffs, the newspapers publish appeals for 3d. a day from those of us in work, individuals accost one on every street comer with collection boxes, and—we beat the Germans to a frazzle!

Manchester is by no means peculiar in its problem, but, as a fat man in spats said to me the other day, “London’s out of date, all the money’s made in Manchester now-a-days! ” Which possibly is true, and which placed in juxtaposition to the appeal for 3d. a day is very illuminating.

This is what comes of the specious promises made by the capitalist class in 1914. “Never again,” they said, “shall we see our returned heroes selling bootlaces on the streets.” And you quoted this when we pointed out what had been the fate of the Crimean and Boer War veterans. You even wanted to throw us into horse ponds because we told you it was just the bamboozling of the capitalist class anxious for your blood and energy to protect their wealth. But they do not trouble about promising yon anything now. You are not so much in request as you were then. You have to settle your own affairs now. But the pity of it is that you can’t seem to realise how you have been swindled. The bloody game of the capitalist class goes on in Ireland, in India, in Mesopotamia, and elsewhere. The clutching hand of Moloch is stretched toward the oilfields and markets of the East—you must deal with the starvation problem in Salford yourselves. You must be the ones to encounter with swelling hearts the queue of destitute waiting in Oxford Road for free soup; you it is who must organise your fellow workers into a regiment of collectors and send them out to beg from their fellow workers. And those “returned heroes” who are in work at, without exception, an inadequate wage, are expected to reduce that wage still further in order to keep their comrades from starving.

I tried hard to put the Socialist view to one of the collectors and I feel sure he went away with the impression that I considered that the spectacle of people starving was a pleasant one. He abused me because I endeavoured to point out the futility of the collecting box as a means of solving the poverty problem. I asked him if he could show me any justification for the fact that the class that produces all the food and wealth of the world is the class that suffers starvation and destitution—and he could not. 

The collecting box is the wrong box to solve the problem of poverty. The right one is the ballot box, and we call on the working class of Manchester, Salford, and everywhere to contribute therein the coin minted of their own common intelligence backed by Socialist knowledge, and raise a fund of political force sufficient to settle all the problems born of the capitalist ownership of the means whereby we live by abolishing the system itself.

British Hypocrisy Exemplified. (1917)

From the February 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

Early in 1915 it was admitted in the House of Commons that anilyne dyes were still coming into this country from Germany. Some time later various convictions were secured against individuals for trading with the “enemy," notably in the Fownes case. The following cutting from the ‘Daily Mail” of Nov. 4th last provides food for useful reflection :
“Mr. Runciman's 'National Interest' Excuse.
“The Government is still permitting trading with the enemy. Mr. Runciman’s excuse is that it is in 'the national interest.' In a written reply to Colonel Norton-Griffiths he says:
  Licences to import specified goods of enemy origin have been issued when it was clearly to the advantage of this country to obtain them, and the sale of British-owned goods in enemy countries has been authorised in special cases. Payments to enemies have been allowed in certain cases in order to preserve a British interest.  The main consideration is that the transaction should be proved to be so greatly to the advantage of this country as to justify a relaxation of the prohibition.
To sheepish believers and followers of the great Horatio and other “never againers,” I would whisper: Smile damn you, smile !

A French Exposure of British Slavery. (1912)

From the December 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have previously referred to the slavery in the New Hebrides, that was engineered by the Liberal Party in 1906, while these hypocrites and their Labour hirelings were denouncing the horrors of Chinese slavery in South Africa.

The following brief outline of the facts will refresh the reader's memory.

Just off the coast of Queensland, in a group of islands known as the New Hebrides, men, women, and children were to be recruited under this Ordinance to work fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, for ten shillings a month. (Cd 3288, 1907.) The three years term of service could be lengthened at the sweet will of the employer on the ground of misbehaviour and malingering. Those who have read the horrors of the sandal wood oil trade in these islands, with the cruel treatment of the toilers, whose work only finished when the sandal-wood was exhausted, can imagine the conditions under the 1906 indentures. Working, as they were, under a tropical sun, in strange islands to which they had been taken with no prospect of escape except the hospitality of the surrounding ocean, they were^an easy prey to the concessionaires.

Our statements at the time, vigorously denied but not refuted, are now supported by first-hand evidence of the conditions there. The Aborigines Protection Society have republished the investigations of M. Pierre Bernus, which originally appeared in the French Press. He says : 
    “The great anxiety of the settlers is to recruit native labour. This becomes every day more difficult, for, from a variety of causes, the population is going down.  . . . It is very probable that if they offered the natives fair wages and assured them of humane treatment, the settlers would get the labour which they need, but the natives are treated like beasts of burden, and even this is an euphemism, for beasts of burden are taken care of. Their work is overwhelming and their wages ridiculously small, often paid in kind, contrary to the terms of the regulations. Alas! it has become nearly impossible to obtain voluntary labour, and so one of the most disgusting forms of slavery has been established in order to procure labourers. The settlers equip a boat and go from island to island; sometimes by craft and sometimes by violence they seize the native men and women whom they want. This is what the English call kidnapping, or as we call it in good French, ‘la traite.’ Women and young girls are forcibly taken away from their husbands or relatives, and often find themselves at the mercy of the savage crews of the ships before they are sent to the plantations. Cases of sheer violence are numerous and are established by irrefutable documents. . . .  In truth the slave trade is re-established under most abominable conditions, and it is tolerated by the authorities, who look upon kidnapping as an offence of no importance. . . . When taken to the plantations the natives are there treated like slaves during the years of their pretended contract of engagement. They are detained by force and are cruelly flogged if they try to escape. If a labourer succeeds in running away, his comrades are subjected to a long term of servitude. What difference is there between this and the slavery of old times? ”
When we recall the outcry of the Liberals when in 1888 the Tories granted a like concession in the Fiji Islands, and more recently the “Chinese Slavery” campaign, it establishes for ever the cruel, callous, and contemptible hypocrisy of the Liberal Party.

It is worthy of note that the party who perpetrated this horror is supported with might and main by the Labour Party, who were busy at the time of the ordinance, booming Liberal swindles on Liberal platforms. No wonder they bang together they have a joint responsibility in numerous scandals and a joint interest in hiding from the workers their many crimes 

The class ownership of the world’s resources produce like effects in the New Hebrides and elsewhere, and these can only be removed by ending the profit-hunting system that is capitalism.
Adolph Kohn

In The Ditch. (1908)

From the October 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Common Objections To—The Clarion!
Mr. R B. Suthers is a distinguished member of the Clarion staff who gives expression to his avowed desire to propagate Socialism by propagating. anything and everything (nearly) that isn’t Socialism. His style is as faithful a reproduction of Mr. Blatchford’s as he is able to make it, and his speciality is milk and water and the like, which he is fain to see municipalised. In this, he has, although he may not know it, the support of considerable numbers of capitalists, who, being quite aware, as Mr. Suthers is apparently not, that municipalisation and nationalisation of various services will not affect their interests other than beneficially, are probably duly grateful for Mr. Suthers’ work.

Recently, Mr. Suthers, out of his plentiful lack of information, has undertaken to make the crooked path straight for those who cannot see. This is chivalrous, but it hasn’t prevented both the blind man and his Quixotic but equally blind guide finishing up in the ditch. Unfortunately, Mr. Suthers, being rather badly afflicted, isn't even able to appreciate the fact that he is off the road, and as Mr. Blatchford has all his attentions occupied in keeping touch with the German army which is mobilising somewhere or other in preparation for a descent upon our land (which we haven’t got) with the idea of doing us an injury (which we are suffering from already), there is nobody on the Clarion to acquaint Mr. Suthers of his unhappy position. This is a charitable presupposition of Mr. Blatchford’s ability and readiness to help his henchman out of his hole. As, however, Mr. Blatchford has himself pointed out, rather graciously, that he is miles in front of the rest of us, it is at least doubtful whether he would feel justified in returning, and there are those who allege that even if he did, it is extremely doubtful whether he would be able to assist. The result is that Mr. Suthers goes floundering along with his miserable charge in tow, and is so well satisfied with his efforts that he proposes to publish a full and correct report of them in book form.

At present only one volume has been issued and flounderings in article form are still appearing in the paper of “ the largest circulation of any,” etc., etc. (Mr. Blatchford sees no reason why the Daily Mail and all the other papers with largest circulations should have the brag entirely to themselves). When they are all published in book form somebody will have to come along with another book to show that it’s only a ditch Mr. Suthers has been exploring after all. In other words, Mr. Suthers’ answers to objectors to Socialism and his replies to those in difficulties, will require another answer by one who is not blind, and can see the difference between the plain high road and the dank and dreary ditch—or would require an answer if Mr. Suthers really and materially mattered.

We would turn one of our young bloods on to that book if his time and the Party money were not required for more important work. So while yet the great work is incomplete, we will just notice one of Mr. Suthers' efforts as it appears in article form, and then drop him unless we want a little light exercise again at some future time. Let us take this one as an example. Generally speaking, the others are full up to sample. Somebody had written to say that the Clarion closed its eyes to the class struggle and Mr. R. B. Suthers spreads himself in reply, thus: — 
   This is comic. The sole reason for the Clarion's existence is the awakening of the workers to the causes of their evil condition, viz., the private ownership of land and the means of production. Until they realise that these ARE the causes of their slavery there can be no "class’’ struggle. When they do realise the facts, and decide to remove the causes, the "struggle” will be of short duration, and of course it will be conscious.
Mr. Suthers opens well. The first three words are finely introductory to the remainder. Verily, this is comic. The class struggle cannot exist until the workers are conscious of it. (Mr. Suthers “lifted” that without acknowledgement from the comic work of his brother in affliction, Ramsay MacDonald). The man who, upon reaching home, finds that somebody has relieved him of hie purse, hasn't really been robbed, can't have been robbed—until he finds out he has been. The robbery did not take place half-an-hour or an hour, or whatever it was, before, but only when the man reached home and found it out. I suppose the man then shut his front door quick in case the pickpocket should get away!

Mr. Suthers has apparently never read his revered chiefs book, entitled, Not Guilty,” or he would know that every human action is the outcome of a conflict, or a struggle of forces, of which the individual is often blissfully unconscious. But perhaps Mr. Suthers does not think much of his chiefs collection of the opinions of others in the book referred to. And presumably he would say that the continual outbreaks of the working class against oppression are not expressions of the conflict of working class and capitalist class interests, because the working class do not recognise them as such.

Does Mr. Suthers admit the existence of conflict between the interests of the two classes referred to? If so, does he deny that the conflict cannot exist without struggle? Can he conceive of a conflict without struggle?—but perhaps he can. Mr. Suthers is like the most high with whom anything is possible. His arguments are like the love of the most high—they pass all understanding. That, of course, is largely due to the fact that Mr. Suthers does not understand. He hasn’t the knowledge. Which would not be nearly so serious a matter if he did not suffer so badly from the complaint of his chief —swelled head. That is fatal to his future usefulness in the working-class movement. With a little serious study he might be of assistance in the work of awakening the working class. But as he starts with the assumption that he has the knowledge he really lacks, there is not much hope for him unless something very special happens. Perhaps while engaged in blundering blindly in that ditch with his enquirer in tow, he will come a sufficiently forceful cropper to cause the enquirer to discover where he is and to lash out in indignation at the discovery. This may in turn arouse Mr. Suthers to the truth of affairs, and help him to a happier position. Or it may result in him throwing up the working-class movement in disgust at its base ingratitude and retiring to the somnolescent quiet of the Fabian Society. In either case the working-class movement stands to benefit.
James Alexander

US Capitalism: Born on the Fourth of July (2018)

The Material World column from the July 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Marxists see history is a series of disguised class struggles. Evidence of this is can be found in the story of America’s independence where its landed elite saw in the new government and constitution a protection against democracy and a means of safeguarding their privilege despite pretensions of being 'enlightened' by sweeping aside the king and his aristocrats.
The American colonists fought to separate from Britain yet the War of Independence was not merely about 'home rule' but also about who should rule at home. The new republic was never designed to be anything other than an oligarchic state which we see today. The War of Independence did not establish a truly democratic government, nor significantly change the structure of American society. It reinforced class division.
Alexander Hamilton, presently subject to a hit musical, at the Constitutional Convention said:
'All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. … The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government.'
The War of Independence may have advocated the abstract principles that 'all men are created equal' and that power is derived from 'the will of the people' but the definition of 'the people' excluded women, non-landowners, and slaves. The signatories of the Declaration of Independence were the land and property owners intent on building a system of government based on the division of power that would guard against what they saw as the excesses of democracy – 'mobocracy'. The colonial 'country gentlemen' were afraid that, as they were not themselves in the majority, the less well-off would vote to take away their property and arrangements.
Having two different houses of Congress, a Senate and a House of Representatives, places an obvious obstacle in the way of simple majority rule. There are 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. 51 Senators can block the majority rule. Moreover, Senators are elected for six years while Representatives are elected for two. The electoral college to elect the president operates intentionally in opposition to majority rule in this same way. In a system of electing the President by mere simple majority, a candidate or party could win by appealing to 51 percent of the voters. The electoral college, however, serves as a partial safeguard against those who might be able to find and win over a majority. The national popular vote is not the basis for electing a President, it is delegates elected locally (Clinton received almost 3 million votes more than Trump yet he won by achieving 306 delegates out of the 538 available in the electoral college that chooses the President.)
Those so-called American supporters of 'liberty' did not abolish slavery and continued to permit slavery to flourish. At the time of America’s founding, a full 20 percent of the US population was enslaved. By 1776, the number of slaves in the colonies had reached 500,000. Slavery in 18th century America was not confined to the South and could be found in each of the 13 colonies, and was especially numerous in New Jersey and in New York's Hudson River Valley. The slave-owning class from the South insisted as a condition of their participation in the Union that their interests be protected in the very fabric of the Constitution itself.
Consequently, the slaveholders would control the presidency of the new republic for 41 of its first 50 years, and 18 of 31 Supreme Court justices would be slaveholders. Slaves gained their freedom by entering the British army. This was especially true in Georgia, where over 10,000 slaves flocked to freedom behind British lines, one of the largest mass escapes in the history of American slavery. Eventually, more than 65,000 from across the South joined them. Wherever the British marched, slaves followed. Non-slave states now stood obligated to defend slave states against slave rebellion.
Nevertheless, there was also the revolutionary side of the American War of Independence as in all class struggles. There were a number of radicals seeking what the now household names of 'revolutionary' leaders feared and who are now relegated to footnotes in scholarly textbooks. Soon after the War of Independence there grew among the common people the feeling that the revolution against the British had been fought for nothing and there were popular uprisings such as Shays’ Rebellion (1787), put down by a mercenary army paid for by the well-to-do who feared a threat to their property rights, and the Whisky Rebellion (1791) was similarly suppressed by the wealthy.

50 Years Ago: Why Workers Save (1979)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the early days of capitalism it was possible for the man with small capital to set up in business with some chance of climbing to the top, and in consequence saving ranked high among the capitalist virtues. Out of this developed the silly theory that the possession of wealth in the modern world denotes "abstinence” and “self-denial" on the part of the possessing class. It was effectively answered by the late Sir William Ashley, economic adviser to the Conservative Party. In his Economic Organisation of England he says: -
  Phrases like these have occasioned no little mirth; it is hard to discover self-denial or parsimony as the world understands these words, in the processes by which modern capital is most largely accumulated.
Capitalist savings result mainly, not from self-denial, but from having incomes so large that it is difficult not to save. Knowing this, and overlooking the fact that the position of the workers is essentially different from their own. it is a common error for wealthy bankers and Cabinet Ministers to assume that the accumulation of funds in savings banks indicates property among the workers. 

Every worker appreciates only too well that the necessity of putting something by, out of wages already inadequate for decent comfort, is the result, not of prosperity, but of the insecurity of his existence. It is therefore interesting to see that Major-General J E B Seely, Chairman of the National Savings Committee, has realised this. In a speech at Leeds on December 12th he said that in November 1928 more Savings Certificates had been sold than in any November since 1921.
  As unemployment and distress grow, savings have increased. The reason is that the British people, when they are up against something, are determined to lay something up against the dangers looming ahead. Households now living on 30/- a week are saving more than they did when they were earning £7 or £8 a week.
(Daily Mail 13 December) 
And what a commentary on capitalism. Here we have one of the wealthiest ruling classes known to history financing a huge national organisation in order to persuade its wage-slaves, starving on 30/- a week, that they ought to save.
(From The Socialist Standard, January 1929)

Running Commentary: Golda Meir (1979)

The Running Commentary column from the January 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Golda Meir
The death of Golda Meir released the predictable flood of crocodile tears from her fellow leaders in various capitalist states throughout the world. From some of the tributes which were paid to her, it would seem that her death was a shattering blow to all who care for the human race.

The truth, as might be supposed, was rather different. Golda Meir was a very tough lady indeed and was always ready to do anything, no matter how dirty, which her job as Israeli Prime Minister required of her.

She was Premier during one of the crucial periods of the build up, and the assertion, of Israeli military power in the Middle East. In that she was as ruthless as she needed to be; and that also describes her attitude over the Palestinian refugees, whose suffering has been one of the side-effects of the war there.

So there is no reason for any member of the working class to mourn Golda Meir. In any case, she has already been replaced by others equally eager to carry on her work.

One other thing needs to be said. Women political leaders, even Prime Ministers, are becoming more common but it was not so long ago, before the first one—Mrs. Bandaranaike in Ceylon — came to power, that a baseless theory circulated about them. It ran like this: the world is in a mess: the world is ruled by men; therefore men cause the mess; therefore women rulers would bring a better world.

Well our experience since then has exposed that for the myth it is; not just in Ceylon but in Israel with Golda Meir and in India with Mrs. Gandhi. The capitalist social system is responsible for the problems of the modern world and it matters not which sex the people holding the seats of power happen to belong to. If the time of Golda Meir helps to drive home that fact, it will not be entirely wasted.

Violent City
With the killing by a policeman of an armed robber in South London, and the massive display of armed force to capture the two young men besieged in a derelict fire station in Highbury, the police of London have given notice that they are in open warfare against the capital’s heavier criminals.

Or perhaps there are other motives. The siege at Highbury looked, on television, suspiciously, like a rehearsal for some other, more threatening, occasion —against the IRA or some other band of urban guerillas.

The escalation of violence on both sides of the law is a chilling matter. People who rob banks have brought the techniques involved—requiring swift, carefully planned violence—to a fine pitch of efficiency. In response the banks have strengthened their security and the police have readier access to firearms, with a number of specialist units—Special Patrol Group, and snipers—to move in where they are required.

This does not present a happy prospect. If the escalation goes on, London may begin to rival some of the other champions in the violent cities stakes. In Los Angeles, for example, more policemen are killed or assaulted in attending to domestic problems than in facing armed criminals. The widespread possession of firearms in America is probably responsible for this particularly nasty trend, which is fair comment on the argument of those—now seemingly to include the London police— who want to meet violence with greater violence.

Crime will continue as long as capitalism lasts. The entire system rests upon a legalised theft and it is entirely natural that some people, among the disadvantaged strata of capitalist society, should try to grab a little more wealth for themselves and to initiate the life style of their masters, even if they have to try to circumvent the legalities of capitalism in order to do so. Add to these ambitions a background of violence which is an unvarying factor in any larger city and we have the ruthless criminal, displaying in his profession many of the qualities which capitalism lauds in the board- room.

Post Profits
In recent times the Post Office has done a lot to destroy the old, cosy image of the happy smiling postman bringing welcome letters and exciting, mysteriously wrapped parcels to the door. Now it has a reputation for charging a lot more, for delivering a lot later, than ever before. Victorian England, with its slower means of transport, did it faster; and up until the last war it was common to send a postcard to let someone know that you were not, after all, coming to see them tomorrow.

But one thing the Post Office cannot be accused of and that is operating at a loss. Its latest accounts, in fact, announce a profit of £170,200,000 —a figure which excludes £206 million which has been set aside to cover the costs of inflation.
Anyone who is able to digest those figures, with all the naughts in them, may wonder why a state industry should make any profit at all. State industries, after all, are supposed to be owned by the people and it is the people who pay the Post Office to deliver their mail. So the massive profits are being made by the people out of themselves.

In the same way, the people have been forcing themselves to pay higher prices to themselves and have been cutting back the service they give themselves.

If this sounds like nonsense, it is only so because the entire theory of nationalisation being common ownership, or something to do with socialism, is nonsense.

The Post Office was one of the first concerns to be taken into state control; a few years ago there was a change in its structure which made it rather different from nationalised concerns like the coal mines but it remains, in essence, an example of a state industry.

And like all the others, it operates on the same priorities of capitalism. Its workers are exploited, and resisted when they try to improve their wages. The driving force of the entire operation is the making of a profit, for profit means success while loss means failure.

By these standards, the Post Office is a howling success but it also shows up the confidence trick of nationalisation which was foisted upon the workers so long ago, and to which they are still vulnerable.