Wednesday, June 5, 2019

To have and to hold (1985)

Editorial from the August 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in a society in which almost everything we need is owned by someone else. It is their property. We must buy it from them.

From infancy we are taught: theirs; ours; yours; mine. Possession. "Don't touch, it doesn't belong to you." We learn early about ownership, and when we obey its rules we have been "civilised". A peasant who watches her child die of starvation while armed guards protect grain mountains is a very civilised person. A homeless father whose family must live in squalor is civilised when he banishes from his mind the thought of breaking into one of thousands of empty properties. Civilisation is not an historical achievement, but an assault on the dignity of those who do not own.

If you own something you can use it. Vast areas of land in Britain are owned by this Duke or that Lord or another yet-to-be-titled dignitary. They can do what they like on their land. You can't. You are not even allowed to walk on it. for if you do you are a trespasser and trespassing is as illegal as owning is legal. "Private Property — Keep Out." No "please", no "thank you", and what difference would it make if they were polite about it? Ownership is brutal. Go in when they tell you to keep out and you are an intruder — an intruder on your own planet ; now there 's a fine state of affairs. But it is not our planet, is it? Not our country, not our city, not even our street. We will soon be evicted from the small bit of property in which we live if we fall behind with the rent or mortgage payments. "Our" is a funny old word: most workers use it when we should be saying "their”.

After all, it is their world. In Britain. 1 per cent own more marketable wealth than the poorest 80 per cent. Across the world it is the same. It belongs to them, not us. A minority of people own and control the means of living — the machinery of producing and distributing wealth, such as factories, farms, offices, transport and the rest. That minority owns the world: it is theirs, not ours.

And how did they get it? Thievery, generally speaking. Expropriation. Plunder. It is a long and violent history, the story of how the capitalists came to own. Suffice to say that they did not get it by the sweat of their labour. The history of property society is the history of robbery of the majority by the minority. That is a generalisation but it will do for now.

So, they obtained it by thievery; but how do they keep hold of it? By law. They passed laws saving "This is ours". The law of property. Nine tenths of the law is about property. The police are usually too busy to attend to the other tenth.

A law is a decision which must be obeyed — or else. Those who offend against the dictatorship of property are dealt with. They are locked away. Illegal burglars in the prisons; legalised robbers in the country mansions — this is the law of civilisation. Growing numbers of men and women across the world are paid to carry guns — not to help old ladies across the road but because the defence of property, like its acquisition. is a violent business.

In some countries workers can have their hands cut off or be flogged or legally murdered for disobeying the law of property. They had needs; they took in order to satisfy those needs; they took what they did not own; they must be punished. Thus goes the "order" of a society based on ownership.

The laws which permit the owners to own are enforced by coercion. The state is organised coercion. But who gives the coercers the power to threaten the non-owners? In many countries the non-owning majority have the vote. The non-owners — the workers — vote for those who own and control the means of life to go on doing so. And because the owners own the means of persuasion — the newspapers, the TV and radio, the publishing houses — they can put a mighty pressure on the minds of the working class to accept that minority ownership is how things should be, have always been and always will be. In short, the voters endorse the continuation of the property system and the property-owners maintain the voters' right to be non-owners. And. of course, we who tell the non-owners that the owning class are their enemies are described as enemies of law, order and civilised property society — which in a sense we are.

Why must we buy what we need? Why can we not take what we need from the common store, having contributed to wealth production according to our abilities? "If there was free access to everything people would take too much". The greedy people. But would they? In a society where there is no buying, but free access, why should you eat more than enough? We know why millions of workers eat less than enough under the buying and selling system: because they cannot afford to buy food. Would people in a society of free access drive more than one car at a time or wear more than one shirt or cover themselves with so much gold that they would be unable to walk?

If there was a society of free access next week, would you take more than you need? If so, why? Because taking freely would be a novelty — but not for long, and then you could get down to just taking enough. Are you really naturally greedy? Or is it not the case that you are intelligent and self-confident enough to know that in a society based on satisfying people's needs there would be no reason to behave like a kid in a sweet shop when the governor's out the back? You are capable of acting as a co-operative human being. And if you are, others are. And if others are, then we could live without buying and selling.

But we must buy and sell until ownership is got rid of. We must buy food and clothing and housing and heating and entertainment and all the other necessities and luxuries of life because the means of creating what we need belongs to them. The minority who own and control.

But they only own and control because the majority lets them. The majority, the working class, says, "It's your world; keep it and do with it what you like". Socialists are workers who want the world back. We want common ownership and democratic control of the world by all of its people. We want to let the minority know that they have had possession of property for too long. It is time for common property. Or. as a logical consequence, no property. A propertyless society: common ownership — no ownership.

And where there is no ownership, no property, there will be no exchange or money. There will be free access for all people to all goods and services. That is socialism. What do you reckon?

Watch Comment: Channel 4, Wednesday 7 August, 7.50pm (1985)

From the August 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard



Blogger's Note:
A bit of a problem with regards to this notice which appeared in the pages of the August 1985 Socialist Standard: the problem is that I don't know which SPGB Comment speaker the notice is referring to.

It could be either Clifford Slapper or Brian Montague. Both appeared in this 5-minute slot on Channel 4 in the mid-80s. So, not taking any chances, I've decided to post both clips .



Opt For Socialism (1969)

Editorial from the June 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day this year saw what the press claimed was "Britain’s largest and most sporadic political strike since 1926". The Communist Party congratulated "the hundreds of thousands of workers" who were downing tools and Socialist Worker (IS) was so confident that "this May Day’s political strike confirms a willingness to struggle" that they wanted it to "mark the start of the fight for workers’ power”. But the Revolutionary Socialist Students’ Federation didn’t think it was as simple as that; first we had to decide whether we were witnessing merely "a massive rise of Trade Union consciousness" or was there instead "some glimmer of systematic revolutionary politics emerging from the militancy”?

Reading this sort of comment you could have been forgiven for not noticing that, at a time when trade unions and the right to strike are being openly threatened by the Labour government, less than one per cent of the labour force was prepared to stop work for a single day. Even in those areas where a relatively high proportion of workers turned out (Sheffield, for example, with 10,000 or 4 per cent of the work force on strike) the marches and demonstrations were poorly attended. In Sheffield 500 men and women gathered at the City Hall to listen to Labour MP Norman Atkinson calling for different policies from the government; in Manchester perhaps a similar number marched to the Labour Party’s headquarters; in Hull (with 3,000 dockers out) about 20 made the effort to demonstrate.

The facts, then, argue quite plainly that—such is the lack of even trade union consciousness among the vast majority of workers—they will accept some form of Industrial Relations BiU. In fact, Labour and Tories both recognise anti-strike legislation as a vote winner with the working class and vie with each other in portraying strikers as bloody-minded wreckers intent on sabotaging industrial output.

No delusions
Faced with this situation socialists do not take refuge in the sort of romantic delusion which the Left comforts itself with (“. . . the working class begins to move decisively onto the political scene .. .’’ writes the May Day edition of the Newsletter (SLL)). Members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in the industries involved were, of course, on strike on May Day. This is because, as workers ourselves, we support efforts by groups of working men and women to defend their wages and working conditions. We also support actions such as that taken by the employees at the Broadheath industrial estate near Manchester who passed a resolution at their May Day meeting calling on the AEF executive to conduct a ballot on the withdrawal of financial support from the Labour Party. Socialists have always refused to pay the political levy and have consistently advised other workers to do the same. And at our union branch meetings socialists put forward the sort of arguments which expose the government’s lies. So when Barbara Castle’s white paper In Place of Strife suggests that the class struggle can be eliminated from capitalism we show that the measures she proposes are futile. In America, for example, where the president can impose much longer ’cooling- off periods’ than Castle's 28 days, the average worker loses over four times as many days through strikes as in Britain; while in Australia, where strikes are virtually illegal, there are still many more stoppages per worker than in Britain.

But what distinguishes the Socialist Party from all other organisations is that our members constantly pose the socialist alternative to capitalism at their workplaces, at their trade union meetings, in bus queues—in fact, whenever and wherever we come in contact with other workers. We point out that far more than trade union activity or political reforms are needed to achieve a decent world; one without money or a wages system where the means of production will be owned by society and can therefore be used to satisfy people’s needs instead of being cramped by the dictates of the market.

Majority needed
Now the new call is for a work stoppage when the TUC meets on June 5. Groups like the Socialist Labour League are calling on the TUC at that meeting to organise a general strike in order to "halt Wilson". They write:
  But our cowardly critics will ask — ‘would a general strike be successful?’
  This is not the question (!). The task of revolutionary leadership is to provide the type of political leadership which is necessary in order to prepare the working class for what lies ahead. Since only a general strike would halt Wilson the task of all trade unionists and Marxists is to fight for it.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain argues that what is needed is not merely to "halt Wilson" but to "halt capitalism". This will not be achieved by any amount of loud-mouthed adventurism or super-revolutionary leadership. What is needed for such a social revolution is a majority of working men and women understanding what Socialism entails and determined to establish such a system. This understanding will grow (is growing) out of the collective experience of workers under capitalism —a process which socialists attempt to encourage by their propaganda activities. So even while socialists are engaged in the struggle over wages and working conditions, they never cease putting forward Socialism as an immediate demand. Far from standing back from the day-to-day struggles of the working class, socialists are involved in these efforts —and complement them with a socialist perspective. On the other hand, it is the Left which opts out of the basic task confronting the working class —by failing ever to put forward socialist ideas. We opt for Socialism.

1929: Labour's Cruel Memory (1969)

From the June 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Forty years ago this month—on June 5 1929—the second Labour government in British history came into office. They had, in fact, won the election with about 300,000 votes less than the Conservatives but the electoral system had given them 27 more seats. They relied for their majority in Parliament on support from the 59 Liberal MPs—support which, in their previous attempt at government in 1924, had let them down. The Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, was quite firm that there would be no repetition of that; “I am,” he said, “going to stand no monkeying.”

The Labour governments which have been elected since 1929—Attlee’s in 1945 and Wilson’s in 1964—faced problems similar to those which savaged MacDonald’s between 1929 and its collapse in 1931. All of them have struggled to defend sterling as an international trading currency and to energise a drive to capture export markets. But the 1929 government also had on their hands the effects of a world depression and chronic unemployment which was responsible for what the economist Pigou called “the intractable million”—the figure below which the number of unemployed in Britain could not be reduced.

When Labour took office in 1929, a great investment boom was under way on Wall Street and there had indeed been considerable optimism expressed about the chances of beating the depression. As the year opened Philip Snowden, who was to be Labour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote in the Daily Express:
  There are some grounds for hope that trade will improve in the year on which we are now entering . . .  On the whole I think the outlook for 1929 is better than at the opening of any New Year since 1922 . . .
In truth, there was little cause for optimism among the British capitalist class or their administrators in 1929. By that time it was clear that they had little chance of regaining their pre-1914 dominance. Many of their investments abroad had had to be sold to pay for the war and the basic British industries had lost many important export markets. Some hope was put in schemes to re-organise old industries and to develop new ones but this needed substantial injections of capital, and after the years of bad trade there was little confidence or incentive for that.

For some time before the first world war, the British capitalist class had enjoyed a position which depended extensively upon the dominance of their coal, textiles, and heavy engineering. In 1913 coal and textiles contributed 55 per cent of British exports and cotton alone provided a quarter of the value of total exports. Before 1914 unemployment had fluctuated; it was between 3 and 4 per cent in good years and rose to 10 per cent in bad. But after the war it soon became apparent that the basic industries had suffered a setback. The coal mines were affected by the development of new forms of power and by the more economical use of coal in power stations. More serious was the loss of export trade, of the markets in Russia, Poland, and the Baltic countries and the competition from increased exports from Germany, some of which went out as war reparations. This decline was the background to the bitter struggle between the miners and the owners over wages and hours, which reached its peak in 1926.

The textile industry was hit because many countries which had once been ready markets for British produce had built up their own production — often with plant imported from Britain. In India, for example, cotton output trebled between 1913 and 1929 and the Indian government imposed protection against British goods. By 1929 Japan had captured 19 per cent of the world’s trade in cotton, after starting from virtually nothing in 1913. It was a similar story in iron and steel; between 1913 and 1923 British exports to Italy fell by 38 per cent, to Japan (which started importing from India and China) by 87 per cent, and to France (which had turned to local production after the accession of Alsace-Lorraine) by 63 per cent.

Dole queues grew
The war was followed by a mild boom in Britain and the post-war governments were reluctant to upset this by returning to the gold standard which, they thought, would hinder industrial renewal and development. This policy was changed with the serious inflation of the European currencies and in 1925 the pound became once again convertible into gold, at the pre-war parity—a measure which, the unemployed were doubtless overjoyed to hear, was "making the pound look the dollar in the face”. As usual, there was a division of opinion among the experts over the wisdom of this attempt to re-establish pre-war monetary and trading conditions; in the Labour Party Snowden was in favour and Pethwick-Lawrence against, although by 1931. when the gold standard was abandoned, Pethwick-Lawrence had changed his mind.

But no amount of financial juggling could save the leading British export industries. From 1925 onwards, with hardly a break, the dole queues grew longer. As American investments were drawn into the Wall Street bonanza, and as the French government adopted a policy of building up their gold reserves in preference to investing abroad, British financiers were left alone trying to make the gold standard work and virtually financing the depression themselves.

This was the situation when Labour took office in 1929. The gravity of unemployment had made it the main issue of the election and one of MacDonald’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint a special, high ranking committee of Ministers to study the problem and suggest remedies. Of course this went down very well with the men lining up at the labour exchanges, who had too much to think about to remember that ever since it came on the scene unemployment had been studied and probed and had been the subject of countless nostrums.

The committee—George Lansbury, Tom Johnston, Oswald Mosley, and J. H. Thomas —was not one of the happiest episodes in the history of Labour government. Lansbury and Johnston did little to distinguish themselves, and Mosley, who was sold on Keynesian theories and who produced masses of memoranda, resigned when the frustrations of the job became too apparent to him.

Nothing but promises
But the most remarkable figure on the committee—perhaps in the entire government—was Thomas. He had come up through the trade unions—he was once secretary of the NUR—and obligingly conformed to all the music-hall conceptions of the cloth-cap worker turned foreman. He dropped aitches here and stuck them back there; he loved dressing up and mixing in high society; at the Lord Mayor's banquet he ended up slumped drunkenly across the table. Beatrice Webb described him in her diaries: “. . . a boozer, his language is foul, he is a Stock Exchange gambler, he is also a social climber.”

Yet Thomas was no joke. Millions of workers were desperately relying on him to relieve unemployment and he was not above cruelly raising their hopes. In August 1929, for example, he went to Canada with the accepted mission of arranging markets for British products. In fact there was never much reason to think that Thomas would succeed; nevertheless he carried the hopes of all those men in the dole queues. On the way back he cabled: "Satisfied in my mission and certain that work for the unemployed will result.” On his return he would not be drawn further, except to hint: "I have a lot of things up my sleeve.” A few days later he was more specific: “I have a complete cure. There are a few people who won’t work and we can’t do anything for them. But for all ordinary forms of employment, yes.” But it soon became clear that Thomas had brought back nothing more than promises — there were no orders for coal, or textile goods, or for ships to carry them. Very quickly Thomas’s mission faded into memory.

Arthur Henderson (who was a political rival) said that Thomas was “. . . completely rattled and in such a state of panic that he is bordering on lunacy . . .” and perhaps, to be charitable, that explains the lies which continued to come from him. All along he kept assuring the unemployed that things were about to improve (and in this he was not alone):
November 4 1929: ‘‘I have no hesitation in saying there is a trade improvement.”
February 12 1930: “I think the bottom has been reached.”
March 12 1930: “Thinks could only improve.’’
March 20 1930: “The worst is past.”
But by August 1930, after he had lost his job at the head of the special committee, Thomas dropped his mask and made this callous remark which presumably was supposed to be funny:
Do not be too keen about this humbug of breaking records. I broke all records in the number of the unemployed.
After Thomas and his blather had been dismissed to the Dominions Office, unemployment kept on rising while the economists and the politicians looked on helplessly. Some of the experts were sure that an energetic programme of public works — road building, land reclamation and so on—was the answer. They were, if anything, farther from the real world of capitalism than were men like Thomas, who at least had to face the fact that a slump, most of all, is the time when capital cannot be directed at the stroke of a pen and that in any case public works could offer employment for only a fraction of the out-of-work and then not at once. A road, for example, cannot be built by assembling all the necessary labour and materials at one go—this must be a gradual process, in time with the progress of the work. Any public works programme, supposing it were economically possible and supposing it had any noticeable effect, would have taken about two years to make itself felt through the economy.

In the autumn of 1929 the great boom on Wall Street collapsed and the downward slide became an avalanche. In America, bankrupt capitalists, who had always preached the virtues of hard work to their employees, committed suicide when they became confronted with the possibility of having to do some themselves for a living. On March 28 1930 Margaret Bondfield, Minister of Labour, described the government’s bewilderment at the events which had overtaken them:
  Nothing in the case of the live register before Christmas gave any inkling of the phenomenal rise (in unemployment) which has taken place since the turn of the year.
Thenceforward, Labour was caught in what MacDonald later called an ’economic blizzard’—just as if it had not always been their boast that they could control the winds and the weather of capitalism. '

MacDonald’s advice
This is not the place to tell the rest of the sorry story of that government—the story of millions of underfed people existing alongside ’surpluses’ of food, of Labour’s desperate search for economies to reassure the international financiers and of their final collapse into the National government of 1931. Nor is this the place to tell how that National government, which was formed specifically to deal with the emergency, also failed. Let it be enough to say that when MacDonald's men took over at Westminster, pledged to cure unemployment, there were 1,163,000 out of work. When Parliament broke up on July 31 1931 for the last time under Labour—there were 2,713,000.

The final surprise was that the Labour Party survived. When MacDonald called his junior Ministers together to tell them that he was going to lead a National government, he advised them, as ambitious men (no word about principle, or Socialism, or even softening capitalism) not to follow him; they should, he urged them, consider their future careers; it would in the end be more profitable for them to dissociate themselves from him and the National government and to join the Labour opposition. They took his advice—men like Attlee, Morrison, Dalton. The Labour Party lived—just—to fight another day and although it took time, in the end they managed to blame for that debacle of 1929-31 a combination of a 'bankers’ ramp’, the ignorance of the economists, and MacDonald’s treachery.

By 1945 the British working class had all but forgotten the experiences of 1929 and they were ready again to trust Labour as the party with a heart. In fact there are many parallels between the Attlee and Wilson governments and that of MacDonald — and we can all think of Labour Ministers of 1945 and 1964 who are counterparts of men like Thomas and Snowden. Labour, like any other party of capitalism, does not change. It is all up to the workers with the votes; when, we may ask, will they ever learn?
Ivan

The Myth of Man as a Killer (1969)

From the June 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
Of all the vulgar modes of escaping from the consideration of the effect of social and moral influence on the human mind, the most vulgar is that of attributing the diversities of conduct and character to inherent natural differences.
John Stuart Mill
Mankind today has greater wealth and knowledge than at any other time in history. Yet today mankind seems more cruel, more aimless, more insane than ever before. It appears to many observed that man has the chance of an earthly paradise, but has chosen an earthly hell. If an individual must be mad to commit suicide, then perhaps the human species as a whole must be mad, for it is quite possible that humanity will exterminate itself.

How baffling this situation appears to so many well-meaning people! They look around and scratch their puzzled heads—if only they could discover the cause of all this lunacy! One of these sincere and disturbed individuals is Konrad Lorenz. However, he actually has managed to find the cause, or so he supposes.

Gazing at all the wars and other atrocities in human society, it occurred to Mr Lorenz that "we are all so accustomed to these phenomena that most of us fail to realise how abjectly stupid and undesirable the historical mass behaviour of humanity actually is.” He began to ponder why "reasonable beings behave so unreasonably.” Lorenz happens to be one of the leading experts on the behaviour of animals. It didn't take him long to decide that the reasons some animals fight each other were basically the same as the reasons some human animals fight each other. Of course he realised that a simple theory like that wouldn't do at all, because non-human animals never display anything on the scale of wars and massacres. So an ingenious twist was added.

With most varieties of birds and animals, fights sometimes occur between members of the same species. But if these fights became too vicious or too frequent, they would be very bad for the species as a whole, which would soon become extinct. So as these animals have evolved, natural selection has bred into them inhibitions. For instance, if two alsatians are fighting, one of them has only to stand in a certain submissive posture, and the other dog will automatically stop attacking. These inhibitions are adapted to the killing ability of the species. An animal which can very easily kill with one bite or blow will usually have strong inhibitions against doing so. If an animal can’t kill quickly, or if his intended victim can get away easily, there will be no need for inhibitions. But if the living conditions of these species are altered, so that they can easily kill their fellows, they will do so without hesitation or remorse. And Lorenz emotionally describes how a dove (the symbol of peace!) will slowly and cruelly torture another dove to death, when they are in captivity.

Applying this to man, Lorenz says that men find it comparatively difficult to kill each other with their bare hands, but as soon as they invent weapons—clubs, spears, atom bombs—their killing ability is vastly increased. Their innate inhibitions against killing, however, remain slight. So they are liable to go around slaughtering each other in a big way.

Having thought up this modem Just-so story, Lorenz leapt into print with his book On Aggression, which has had a huge sale in the German and English-speaking worlds. In this volume he gleefully expands his theory to explain nearly everything about human society, taking in his stride juvenile delinquency, space flight, Kantian moral philosophy, sport, the generation gap, and so forth. Some of it is not exactly new ("The romantic veneration of national values . . . can do nothing but damage.” “We should love all our human brothers indiscriminately.”) But underneath it all is Lorenz’s space-age version of original sin.

Meanwhile someone else was having the same worries. This was Mr Robert Ardrey, who in the 30s was involved with writing plays about social problems. In those days he attributed suffering and poverty to economic and social causes. But how innocent that was! Since then we have had the ‘affluent society’ which has given everyone marvellous economic and social environments, yet the same old problems remain. Perhaps Ardrey's affluence has increased a bit more than most people’s. After all, there is a tendency for those who have moved up in the world to imagine that the world has moved with them, And Ardrey did get the backing of a wealthy capitalist foundation to write his book The Territorial Imperative. This is how he sees the problem:
  How could we know that in the end there would come a changed environment and a prosperity such as no man had ever seen? And that such an age of affluence and material security would witness a level and degree of juvenile delinquency that did not exist in the depression years; racial conflict and bitterness that we had never known; and a crime rate beyond our most monstrous imaginings . . . A changed environment demonstrated that our environmentalist conclusions were inadequate.
. . .  Or perhaps, that a television set and a car aren’t the only requisites of a healthy environment. But to continue with Ardrey’s life story: when he heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbour:
  I ached with my love for my country, I ached with horror at the Japanese deception, I ached with sickness for the American loss I had encountered, slam-bang, for the first time in my experience, the territorial release.
So Ardrey concluded that not only his own reaction, but the actual entry of America into the war, were caused by instincts. He pooh-poohs the suggestion that he had been indoctrinated with patriotic values by pointing out that there were a lot of cynics, sceptics and leftists about in America during his childhood, and he doesn’t remember taking patriotism very seriously.

Although Ardrey is not a scientist, he, like Lorenz, is constantly at pains to state that his opinions are in keeping with the latest scientific findings. His two books, African Genesis and Territorial Imperative, are best-sellers, and together with Lorenz’s propaganda, other popular works like The Naked Ape, and most of all the novel Lord of the Flies, give many folk the impression that the view of man as inherently aggressive and possessive is well substantiated, whereas in fact it is the wildest fantasy, a superstition totally lacking in evidence and utterly rejected by all scientists specialising in this field.

Ashley Montagu has put together an anthology of articles, Man And Aggression (Oxford University Press) mostly written by leading scientists who have been appalled at the epidemic of falsehoods spread by Lorenz and Ardrey. This volume shows, not only how the reasoning of these two writers is mistaken, but also how, time after time, they have simply got their facts wrong. We can recommend any worker bothered by the fairy tales of Human Nature, Killer Instincts, or Territorial Drives, to read Montague’s book. As Montagu makes clear, man has no instincts. Man’s behaviour is learned behaviour, and varies immensely with different upbringing and living conditions.

Most of the Lorenz/Ardrey arguments are developed by assuming that what is true for some animals and birds is true for man. But arguments drawn from birds are strictly for the birds. Furthermore, man’s closest relatives, the primate apes, are especially unaggressive:
  Primates are not usually belligerent unless provoked, and the more carefully they are observed the more remarkably revealing do their unquarrelsomeness and co-operativeness become' . . . if, as is evident, man’s nearer collateral relatives are wanting in anything resembling an inborn territorial drive, it is highly improbable that any form of man was ever characterised by such a drive.
And J. H. Crook adds:
  Perhaps the most striking feature of those nonhuman primates the behaviour of which is most relevant to man is precisely their lack of easily defined territorial behaviour.
In view of the indisputable fact that man’s closest living relatives are notable for their lack of aggression and territory, it would seem that all the arguments in the world about coral fish and greylag goslings must fail to prove that man is naturally a killer or a nationalist.

One of the strange things about Ardrey and Lorenz is that, with their theories of innate depravity, they try to present themselves as courageous seekers after truth, ready to spurn comfortable illusions and face the harsh reality that men are naturally nasty! But the reverse is the case.

The great majority of people today believe in a greedy, lazy and warlike 'human nature'. This is a popular myth which discourages investigation of the real, social causes of man’s inhumanity to man. That man cannot help himself, that he is born cruel and selfish, is just what most people want to be told. This myth enables them to accept without question their most cherished institutions of property and patriotism as 'natural'.

Born and brought up in a specific society, we learn the values of that society just as we learn the laws of nature, and we confuse the two, supposing that private ownership, or governments, or romantic love, are eternal and instinctive, when they are really artificial and indoctrinated. Yet while Ardrey and Lorenz tell the world what the world dearly wants to hear, they pose as bold overthrowers of customary ideas. And the dust jacket of Ardrey’s second book proclaims that he, "threatens even more forcefully some of our most precious assumptions. Mr. Ardrey’s conclusions ... will undoubtedly raise an even greater storm.” Reading that, you will hardly guess that most of his reader- ship are having their most precious assumptions confirmed, and that most of the 'storm' raised by Ardrey’s books has come from scientists who know something about the subjects he dabbles in.

The importance of all this to socialists is clear. We want to remove capitalism—the cause of wars, poverty, nationalism, and exploitation, and of the frustrations which provoke much aggressive behaviour. The lie of innate depravity is a weapon in the hands of the capitalist class: it prevents criticism of capitalism, since there is supposed to be no possible alternative. Ardrey’s theories are the direct offspring of the Christian bogey of original sin. He betrays this quite clearly when he assumes that those who disagree with him think that man is innately ‘good’. Of course, innate goodness is just as much a myth as innate wickedness. Ardrey has consciously set out to rehabilitate the discredited concept of original sin, just as Golding did when he produced Lord of the Flies.

Even the contributors to Montagu’s book, who are no Socialists, have tumbled to the political implications of the Ardrey/Lorenz thesis. K. E. Boulding comments:
 A line of argument like that of Ardrey’s, therefore, seems to legitimate our present morality, in regarding the threat system as dominant at all costs, by reference to our biological ancestors. If the names of both antiquity and of science can be drawn upon to legitimate our behaviour, the moral uneasiness about napalm and the massacre of the innocent in Vietnam may be assuaged.
And Ralph Holloway says of Ardrey’s work:
  In short, this book is an apology and rationalisation for Imperialism, Pax Americana, Laissez-Faire, Social Darwinism, and that greatest of all evolutionary developments, Capitalism.
While Montague concludes:
  What, in fact, such writers do, in addition to perpetrating their wholly erroneous interpretation of human nature, is to divert attention from the real sources of man’s aggression and destructiveness, namely; the many false and contradictory values by which, in an overcrowded, highly competitive world, he so disoperatively attempts to live. It is not man’s nature, but his nurture, in such a world, that requires our attention.
Socialists can only regret that Montagu’s book (at 42s) is unlikely to reach the same massive working-class market open to the capitalist apologetics of Ardrey, Lorenz, Desmond Morris, and William Golding. It is a drop in the ocean compared with the intense brainwashing with ideas of innate depravity which workers receive an the time.
Steele.

Immunisation or Pain-killers? (1969)

From the June 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The difference between the aims of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and all other political parties (except our companion parties) is somewhat comparable to the difference between immunisation and treatment in medicine.

The Socialist Party strives after the creation of a new kind of society—Socialism—in which such problems as famine, poverty, war, and inequality could not conceivably arise, Socialism is a way of life based on, as our object says, “the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community”. This is to be taken literally, not as meaning nationalisation, or any other such phoney system, which has been amply proved in places such as Russia and here in Britain to be as offensive to the workers’ interests as open private ownership.

The Socialist Party seeks the removal of class society where the minority capitalist class exploits the majority working class and which has brought about the conflicts and problems we have listed. The other parties, however, do not seek to remove the cause of these problems, which is capitalism, and therefore cannot succeed in removing them. Instead, they accept the present capitalist system and try, allegedly, to make these problems felt less acutely Barbara Castle in her notorious White Paper on industrial relations recognised that there had to be conflicts in this society: ''The object of our industrial relations system, granted that there are necessarily conflicts of interest, should be to direct the forces producing conflict towards constructive ends” (emphasis added). But how she hopes to make the robbed work hand in hand with those who are robbing them is beyond comprehension.

Her attitude is similar to that of all other political parties : what they are doing is trying to patch up capitalism to make it less brutal and painful to many people. The failure of successive governments of various political colourings to make any appreciable impact on such problems as poverty and hunger should demonstrate clearly enough that it is time to start tackling such problems from their roots instead of smothering them with meaningless statements and promises.

The policies of the Socialist Party of Great Britain offer immunisation against these problems arising in the first instance whereas all the other political parties offer mere pain-killers—and not very good ones at that.
R.A.S.

Part 2: Labour in Panic (1969)

From the June 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Link to Part 1

The Conservative victory at Smethwick in the 1964 election was not unexpected. For some time before, they had been running a skilful racist campaign which won a seat on the local council for, among others, Don Finney, who had been chairman of the local branch of the Birmingham Immigration Control Association and who was the originator of many inflammatory statements about coloured immigrants. In the May preceding the general election, the Tories won control of the council

They kept up the pressure during the general election campaign, in which they effectively cashed in on — if they did not originate—the slogan “If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour”. The Labour candidate, Patrick Gordon Walker, suffered under this pressure which drove him to try to blame the Tories for immigration, saying in his election address that “. . . . the main flow of immigration happened to come in the thirteen years during which the Conservatives were in office.” This desperate counter-attack did not help him and Smethwick swung 10.4 per cent against the national trend to Labour.

It was this national swing which gave us the Wilson government and as soon the new Prime Minister could spare time from saving the pound sterling and attacking workers' living standards he turned his attention to immigration. Results like Smethwick had proved that something more than Labour’s change of mind on the Commonwealth Immigrants Act would have to be done to erase the memory of their original opposition to control. In February 1965 Wilson complained that the Act was being “almost fatally eroded” by evasion. It was the job of the man who was the Home Secretary—Frank Soskice, whose father was an immigrant from Russia—to announce the new measures which did not abolish or liberalise the Act attacked by Gaitskell as “shameful” but made it tighter and harsher.

Naturally most of the Tories were delighted at Labour’s conversion to their way of thinking. Geoffrey Lloyd, one of the Conservative campaigners for tighter controls, was aglow about “this very realistic approach by the government.” On March 29 the government showed that they did not mind this approval from the benches opposite; Herbert Bowden, as he then was, announced that the Ministry of Labour was urgently reviewing the whole question of work vouchers for Commonwealth immigrants.

In November 1967 Roy Jenkins, who was then winning a lot of applause as a ’liberal' Home Secretary, told the House of Commons how much more successful Labour had been in applying racist laws than the Tories. As a result of the 1965 measures, he said, the number of voucher holders coming to Britain had dropped to 5,461 in 1966 compared with 12,880 for 1965 and 14,705 for 1964. This downward trend, said Jenkins, was continuing. So there the matter seemed settled; Britain under Labour was a tight, satisfied racist state and the politicians could get on with the job of trying to run British capitalism.

The results of the next election, in March 1966, might have convinced many people that racism in Britain was firmly in check under Wilson’s control. Gordon Walker came back to Parliament; Labour regained Eton and Slough and Perry Barr. But sweetest of all to them was their victory at Smethwick where bearded, flamboyant television actor Andrew Faulds beat both the Tory Peter Griffiths and an openly Fascist candidate from the British National Party.

Delusions shattered
But any delusions about racism, and about the Labour Party’s attitude on it, were soon shattered. On December 1 1967 new immigration restrictions came into force in Kenya, which also applied to about 200,000 Asians who were living in that country but who had not taken out Kenyan citizenship. Under the Keynan independence agreement, negotiated by the Tory government, these Asians had the right to opt for British citizenship, which gave them a British passport and so the right to come freely into this country.

The man who had signed this agreement for the British government was Duncan Sandys, who had been Colonial Secretary when it was negotiated. This did not prevent Sandys raising an immediate scare about floods of Asian immigrants pouring into Britain. This scare was also worked up by prominent racists like Cyril Osborne and by one who was only just climbing onto the bandwagon but who was soon to be in the driver’s seat—Enoch Powell.

In face of this rising hysteria and prejudice the government might have remembered that they claimed to be men of principle, and stood firm. But they had learned their lesson, and although the evidence indicated that nothing like the rumoured quarter of a million Asians wanted to come to Britain from Kenya, they rushed through yet another Commonwealth Immigrants Act to deal with the situation. This new Act, apart from further tightening the controls in the 1962 Act, introduced the novel principle that holding a British passport no longer guaranteed free entry into this country.

To get round this problem, the Act provided for the application of immigration control to citizens of the United Kingdom and the colonies who, although they held British passports, had “no substantial connexion” with Britain. This vague, but ingeniously dishonest, qualification notwithstanding, the government denied that they were in a panic — and then went on to push the Bill through Parliament in a week. At any rate they could once again be consoled by the support for them from the other side. Sandys backed them and amid this approval yet another piece of racist legislation was added to the Statute Book which, just a few years before, had been clean of it.

This was the atmosphere into which, a couple of months later, Enoch Powell launched his Wolverhampton speech. At that time there was nothing more the government could conveniently legislate upon and their spokesmen tried, with some embarrassment, to make some political capital out of Powell's dramatic and inflammatory words. The embarrassment came from the fact that it was in Labour's traditional strongholds — places like Stepney and Smithfield — that the support for Powell was most emphatic and most violent. It was a danger signal, and not only for the Labour Party.

Defenders of the Wilson government point to legislation like the Race Relations Act as evidence of Labour’s determination to stamp out racism. In fact, such laws are merely perfunctory gestures and do nothing to disprove the old truism that no government can legislate ideas out of existence. The law now gives, in theory, legal protection to the immigrants in parts of the fields of employment and housing. In fact, discrimination carries on almost untouched; ‘No Coloureds' no longer appears on the newsagents’ advertisement boards but all too often a West Indian or an Indian applying for accommodation finds that it has been taken. The same thing happens over employment. In some ways the laws actually stirred up racism; a popular argument, at the time of Powell’s speech, was that the anti-discrimination law made a privileged class out of coloured immigrants. And when all is said and done there is the hard, practical case of Anne Dummet, who has left her job in race relations because it is impossible in face of enormous obstacles.

Neurotic resentment
What do the Labour Party, and all the other parties of capitalism, offer as a solution? Racism cannot be separated from all the other delusions and misconceptions which are current; it cannot, in other words, be separated from the capitalist social system and all the strange, pernicious ideas which divide the working class and help to keep the system in existence. The first need, for those who want to fight racism, is to speak out loud and clear among the confusion.

Capitalism does little to unite human beings; at most times it works actively to divide them—as it is working now, for example, to divide the people of Russian and China. This often means that capitalism actually fosters nationalism and racism; during the last war British workers were encouraged to believe that the only good German was a dead one and it is only a short step from there to being told, if the interests of a ruling class demand it, that the only good Negro is a dead one.

At the same time capitalism is working a particularly pernicious trick upon the working class. As a system of privilege, it must promote the idea that acquisitiveness is a high virtue, but at the same time it cannot provide security. Thus there are millions of workers in this country, reading of the glorious exploits of their masters in the press and trying to hold at bay the ravages which industrial capitalism is wreaking on their mortgaged homes, who are desperately dependent on their jobs, their masters.

The contradiction between capitalism’s encouragement of acquisitiveness and its undermining of security has produced what can only be called a neurosis among the working class. This works in many ways. Workers who are struggling to buy a home on a mortgage often resent the existence of council houses near them, and think of council tenants as dirty and unprincipled spongers. This sort of neurotic resentment is all too easily transferred to immigrants, especially when they have a different cultural background and when they are easily distinguished by the colour of their skin.

Surge of hysteria
The result of this is that there is a vast reservoir of prejudice and fear which extreme conditions can cause to burst its banks, as happened in Germany before the war and as threatens to happen in America now. The British political parties who are pandering to these prejudices, and who think they can control the flood if it comes, are not paying enough attention to their precedents. In Germany the Nationalists also went along with racism—of the most extreme kind — thinking that if they could get a toehold on power in a coalition with the Nazis they could control the situation and eventually become its masters.

Their disillusionment came all too quickly and brutally. The Nazis rode into power on an irresistible surge of hysteria, which the crisis of German capitalism had provoked among the workers; the Nationalists were among the first to be purged. How much more would it need for the British working class to reach the same conclusions as the Germans in the 30s? And if that happened, how far would the traditional parties of capitalism be prepared to go along with it, in their efforts to cling to power? They have already shown that they are willing to compromise; where will they end up, if their attempts at appeasing racism fail?

Before we get to this there is time, and need, to assess the situation. The history of racism exposes the futility of trying to reform capitalism and how too often those who set out to reform end up worse than what they set out to reform. It shows that the only way to attack the problems of capitalism is at their root—and, as so often is the case,, this means the apathy, ignorance, and deception which are nurtured among the working class by the parties of capitalism.

Finally it emphasises that in modern capitalism the alternatives really are sanity or savagery, harmony or hatred —which means Socialism or chaos.
Ivan

Action Replay: Reds in the Red (2013)

The Action Replay column from the February 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Salford is the largest city in England without a professional football club. You might think that the proximity to Manchester more than made up for this, but it also has something Manchester lacks, a professional rugby league team, currently known as Salford City Reds (it used to have two, but Swinton Lions are at present playing at Leigh’s ground because of their own financial problems).

Last year Reds left their stadium at the Willows to move to a new ground, the Salford City Stadium at Barton, a brownfield site near the River Irwell. The stadium was built as a joint venture between Salford Council and Peel Holdings, the largest property investment company in the UK (they also own the Manchester Ship Canal and Liverpool Airport). The stadium, currently shared with rugby union club, Sale Sharks, actually belongs to Peel, and optimistic comparisons were made between the Reds’ move to Barton and Manchester City’s move to their new Eastlands stadium and the investment that attracted.

But all did not go well. Blame has been attached to the general economic recession, to overinvestment in new players, and to failure to attract large enough crowds; whatever the reason, Salford got into financial difficulties and had their bank account frozen, though the chairman insisted it was just ‘a short-term cash flow problem’. In December Salford Council rejected a £1.5m rescue plan.

At the time of writing, the club owe money to ex-players and to Revenue & Customs. A hearing to wind them up was due to be held in early January but was adjourned until 4 February, just after the new league season starts. A millionaire racehorse owner has now emerged as a potential buyer.

So it looks like another example of an enterprise aiming too high, failing to achieve its targets and so possibly going out of business. A familiar story in sport and other areas of the economy.
Paul Bennett

Mixed Media: The Strange Agency (2013)

The Mixed Media column from the February 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Strange Agency (Live in Tottenham)

The Strange Agency, an Anarcho-Socialist ‘prog rock’ quartet from West Wales was the highlight at the ‘Paranoid Olympics’, a Mad Pride fund-raiser for the Campaign Against Welfare Benefit Cuts in Tottenham recently.

The Strange Agency (possibly named in homage to the 1960s Marvel Comics superhero, Dr Strange) are Craig High, vocals, Dave Bates on guitar, Issy Bates on bass guitar, and Steve Johnstone on drums. Their début LP, Strange One, was reviewed by Classic Rock Magazine in September 2012, which declared that: ‘Had this unruly bunch of West Wales long hairs been signed to Stiff Records in 1976, you can’t help but think chart success would surely have been theirs’. Dave was previously a long-term member of former Hawkwind front man Nik Turner’s band, and Craig also worked with Turner on a dub/psych version of the 1973 Hawkwind single Urban Guerrilla, which was about the anarchist Angry Brigade.

The Strange Agency played a set of nine songs in Tottenham which displayed Craig High’s political lyricism from helping out your neighbour in Digging Holes – also notable for the John Cipollina guitar style of Dave Bates – to Stanley, a tribute song to the film director Kubrick, famous for the anti-nuclear bomb film Dr Strangelove, and the psychedelic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Twisted Instinct is a powerful tour de force, referencing LSD discoverer, Albert Hoffman, and musically it was Blue Cheer’s cover of Summertime Blues or James Williamson’s guitar on Iggy and the Stooges album Raw Power. The lyric ‘Do they know what we are after? signals a call to overthrow the system. Digital Inferno is an attack on capitalist war, The Storm identifies the bankruptcy of bourgeois capitalism and Judeo-Christian civilisation, Corporate Buildings highlights the oppression of financial capitalism, A Global Warning shows that capitalism is the enemy of nature and the urgent need for a green socialism. Whirlpool attacks political apathy and urges people to ‘mobilise your picket lines’ and ‘mass action is a must’.

Craig High’s vocals are articulate and literate Punk, and his trilling ‘r’s’ are reminiscent of John Lydon while Dave Bates’ guitar has its origins in Hendrix. With Craig also on clarinet or blues harp, the Strange Agency effect is a 1960s and 70s psychedelic and progressive melodic rock sound. Think of a heavier Tom Verlaine and Television circa 1977.
Steve Clayton

Why the Arms Trade (2013)

The Cooking the Books column from the February 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is the LibDem MP for Twickenham. At a meeting in his constituency on 29 November he was handed a petition signed by 9,000 demanding an end to arms sales to oppressive regimes. Among other things, the petitioners criticised the government for helping organise the two-yearly arms fair at the Excel Centre in London. According to the local paper:

‘Business Secretary Dr Cable defended his position and said the aerospace sector was helping to refuel the economy and countries should be allowed to protect themselves. Dr Cable said: “I am not a pacifist. I do accept that governments and countries have a right to defend themselves and that is done either through manufacturing or [importing] the weapons to do so”’ (Richmond & Twickenham Times, 7 December).

Actually, given capitalism (which both he and the petitioners accept), this is not an unreasonable answer. The world is divided politically into armed states whose governments preside over the operation of capitalism in the territory where their writ runs. These states are all jockeying for position over access to raw materials, markets, trade routes and investment outlets. It’s a struggle in which ‘might is right’.

In order to maintain their position, states need to arm themselves with the most destructive weapons they can afford, not necessarily to use but to show how much ‘might’ they have when it comes to negotiations over these economic matters. They need weapons for this just as much to ‘protect themselves’ in the event of invasion. In fact, actual war is only as a last resort, when a state considers that its ‘vital economic interests’ are under serious threat.

So, there is an economic demand for weapons, and where there is a paying demand a profit-seeking supply will arise to meet it. Britain has an arms-producing capacity – miscalled the ‘defence industry’ which can meet this demand. The capitalist firms concerned are not going to miss this opportunity to make profits, and the government is not going to discourage them. Quite the reverse. The Prime Minister himself has not hesitated to personally become a ‘merchant of death’:

‘The Prime Minister said Britain should support all sectors of the economy where it had a comparative advantage, including defence. He came under fire last week for pushing for contracts for Typhoon jets in UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman. He previously led trade missions to Africa, Indonesia, China, India, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Japan and Malaysia’ (Times, 13 November).

Opponents of the arms trade argue that it promotes war. But they have got it the wrong way round. It is economic competition in which ‘might is right’ that promotes the arms trade. As long as capitalism lasts with this built-in competitive struggle between states over economic matters there will be a demand for arms and so an arms trade. No state which has, as Cameron put it, a ‘comparative advantage’ in arms production is going to renounce this profit-making advantage on ‘ethical’ grounds. This means that, given capitalism, the opponents, despite their sincerity and however justified their objection to arms and arms trading which socialists share, will unfortunately be tilting at windmills. The only way to stop it is to join us in campaigning to end capitalism.

Religious Observations (2013)

From the February 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) has put a stop to the publication and sale of all books in its archives that support the theory of evolution, daily Radikal has reported. Titles by Richard Dawkins, Alan Moorehead, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Levontin and James Watson are all included in the list of books that will no longer be available to Turkish readers: (Link)

Every year an unknown number of children – most of them disabled in some way – are murdered in northern Ghana because of the belief that they are in some way possessed by evil spirits set on bringing ill fortune to those around them. The practice is the consequence of ancient traditions and customs and is shaped by poverty and ignorance in remote and often marginalised communities. But it is still infanticide and no less horrifying than the killing of children anywhere. For years NGOs and the Ghanaian authorities have tried advocacy and education in an attempt to eradicate the practice but with only marginal success. Well into the 21st century, Ghana’s so called spirit children are still being killed because they carry the blame for the misfortunes of everyday life: (Link)

Millions of children in Indonesian elementary schools may no longer have separate science classes starting in June, the beginning of their next school year, if the government approves a curriculum overhaul that would merge science and social studies with other classes so more time can be devoted to religious education…. Officials who back the changes say that more religious instruction is needed because a lack of moral development has led to an increase in violence and vandalism among youths, and that could fuel social unrest and corruption in the future: (Link)

A popular Indian spiritual guru sparked a backlash Tuesday after saying a 23-year-old student could have averted a murderous gang-rape by begging for mercy from her attackers. Self-styled godman Asharam, known to his followers as ‘Bapu’ or father, told his devotees: ‘This tragedy would not have happened if she had chanted God’s name and fallen at the feet of the attackers. The error was not committed by just one side,’ he said: (Dead Link)

Being spiritual may give life deeper meaning but it can also mess up your mind, research suggests. A study found that people professing to be spiritual, but not conventionally religious, were more likely to suffer from a host of mental challenges. Their demons included abnormal eating conditions, drug abuse, anxiety disorder, phobias and neurosis. They were also more likely than others to be taking medication for mental health problems: (Dead Link)

What is Capitalism? (2013)

From the February 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the dawn of humanity people lived in small communal groups and shared the produce of the day’s gathering and hunting amongst themselves to ensure their collective survival. With the advent of agriculture, many thousands of years later, came private property. With private property came social classes and the state. Property, in the form of land and cattle to begin with, has to be defended from those who do not own it. The state develops as institutions are created to help preserve private property.

Early agricultural society eventually develops into feudalism. At the top of the feudal system is an all-powerful monarch; below him, barons and knights; and below them, peasants and serfs. The monarch grants the barons land in return for support in times of war. At the bottom of the pyramid are the peasants and serfs who work the land. Serfs are tied to the land and have to give a certain amount of work a year to support the barons.

Eventually, as the result of a process that begins in the seventeenth century, increasing numbers of peasants are driven from the land and become wage-labourers. The era of Capital is born.

Capitalism is a system of society in which the purpose of economic activity is to both reproduce and enlarge capital.

What is capital?
‘Capital’ is wealth, but a very specific type of wealth, which merely through ownership allows one to create more wealth. In capitalism wealth takes the form of commodities.  A commodity is any useful product of human labour that is produced to be exchanged. Money acts as the universal equivalent of all commodities.

Since all goods have been turned into commodities, and access to non-commodified materials is restricted, those without the means of producing anything to exchange must sell the only thing they have: their capacity to work and bring themselves back to work the next day –their labour-power.

As an economic system, capitalism involves just two classes. On one hand, the capitalists, those who use their monopoly on the productive wealth (factories, raw materials etc.) to create more wealth, and on the other, non-owners of capital, the workers.

In feudal society, as the peasants have their own means of production, surplus must be extracted via ‘extra-economic’ methods through the real or ultimate threat of force. In capitalism surplus wealth is extracted through economic means; it is because of the market-dependency of the wage-labourer that labour-power is sold and the owner of capital profits from it.

Production in a capitalist society is not production for use but production for exchange with a view to a profit. The producer does not produce to directly satisfy a need but produces in order to exchange one commodity for another. In order to produce, the capitalist must purchase means of production (factories, land, equipment etc.) and labour-power. Once the production cycle is complete the capitalist hopes to recoup these costs plus an extra amount on top (the profits).

To survive in the competitive marketplace each enterprise attempts to increase the amount of profit coming to it; the capitalists must strive to increase the productivity of labour-power. But paradoxically this increased productivity has the effect of lowering the value of commodities since less labour-time is required per unit to produce them.

If an enterprise adopts a new production technique that allows it to produce commodities at a rate below the socially necessary average labour time it will have a competitive advantage: it can sell the commodity cheaper than its competitors and yet still make a profit or sell at the same price as its competitors and make ‘super profits’.

To compete and remain profitable, the competitors have to adopt this new technique also. The socially necessary average labour time is now reduced across the board; instead of being a means of gaining a competitive edge, the new technique is now a necessity for remaining in business.

It is this never-ending need to improve production techniques that creates the dynamic of capitalism. To simply stand still capitalists must re-invest the majority of their surplus value. Without keeping pace of developments in machinery and technological advances the capitalist would go out of business and cease to be a capitalist.

In this sense then, capitalism is not a system for the enrichment of individuals but a system for the never ending accumulation of capital for its own sake.

At odds with itself
In primitive societies where production is not yet market dependent crises take the form of disease, pestilence, famine and natural disasters. In capitalist societies crises tend not to be caused by nature. For the most part we can store enough surplus to protect us from the ravages of the elements. Capitalist crises occur when the market mechanisms that regulate the distribution of labour break down. This is not because of some external influence that disrupts an otherwise balanced system but because of the internal contradictions of capital which periodically present and resolve themselves through crisis.

Capitalists throw their money into circulation in order to have it returned plus a profit. When there are no profitable avenues of investment to be found the production cycle freezes up, commodities pile up in warehouses, debts cannot be repaid and economic activity comes to grinding halt.

Crises can only be overcome by the devaluing of capital. This is done by selling off commodities cheaply, laying off workers, shutting down factories and dropping property prices. Though some capitalists will not survive the purge some will and those that do will be able to buy the assets of their former competitors at knock down prices, thus fuelling the next round of accumulation.

The capitalist system is the most productive mode of production in the history of humankind. In the space of a few centuries the world has been transformed beyond all recognition. Average life expectancies have more than doubled. Technological developments occur at a rate that would have been previously unimaginable. More food, clothing and shelter can be produced using less labour than ever before. It would seem that the material problems of survival have finally been solved.

Yet capitalism is a system at odds with itself. The need for constant accumulation is the driving force of society, determining where and in what way human energies will be used. Instead of being a system through which humankind controls the fulfilment of its own development, humanity is controlled by a system which it has itself created. It is the conflict between the need to accumulate capital and the need to fulfil human want that is at the heart of all social problems today.

Capitalism creates vast wealth but it also creates vast poverty and inequality. If you image the world were shrunk to a global village of 100 people with all ratios remaining the same, 20 people would own 75 per cent of the wealth, 21 would live on $1.25 a day or less, 18 would live without clean water and 14 would go hungry or malnourished.

Society has passed through many stages and it would seem unlikely that this current one is the final. A further period of social change is possible, where humanity as a whole takes control of the productive powers and where human need becomes the guiding force for a new age of technological and scientific progress.
DJP