Sunday, August 11, 2019

Voice From the Back: The Priorities of Capitalism (2012)

The Voice From the Back Column from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Priorities of Capitalism
All over the world capitalist governments facing an economic recession are eager to reduce expenditures. They are examining ways to cut pensions and welfare payments, but there is one area of government expenditure that shows no signs of cut-backs. ‘The USS Gerald R. Ford is the most expensive weapon ever created and will run to about $11.5 billion, with three ships costing about $40.2 billion. Even given these generous estimates, the Navy figures that the USS Gerald R. Ford could cost as much as $1.1 billion more than planned, making it far and away the service’s most expensive warship’ (Business Insider, 25 October). To protect sources of raw materials, markets and spheres of economic and political influence, the owning class must have up-to-date weapons of destruction.


A Cut-Rate Health Service
In times of economic downturn the government searches eagerly for ways to cut expenditure and one of the easier targets is the National Health Service. ‘The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that despite the Coalition’s promise to protect frontline staff from cuts the NHS workforce has fallen by almost 21,000 since the Coalition Government came to power. This includes a loss of more than 6,000 qualified nursing posts – from a total of 312,000 nursing posts in the NHS … Patient safety will be seriously undermined by falling numbers of nurses, with the RCN’s chief executive warning that standards of care ‘are going to get a lot worse’ (Independent, 13 November). Spend more on bigger and better bombs, but spend less on health services: that is how capitalism operates.


The Class Divide
The daily press in Britain is fond of creating the myth that workers are gradually improving their economic position in society, but occasionally a journalist will report on what is really happening. Here is an example from the writer Philip Collins giving the facts about Britain. ‘On current trends, an ordinary family will have 15 percent less cash coming in by 2020 than 2008. This has happened all over the world. Blue-collar workers in America have hardly had a pay rise in 40 years. Their counterparts in Germany and Canada have been stuck for a decade. In the UK the household fuel has risen 110 percent, council tax by 67 percent and food is 37 percent more expensive than in 2000’ (Times, 1 November). Needless to say, during this period the owning class have improved their economic standing.


The Widening Gap
Chrystia Freeland has spent 20 years of her life working for the Financial Times and Reuters and she has recently turned her long experience of the owning class into a book about them, entitled Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich. It was recently reviewed by the press. ‘In the 1970s, the top 1 percent of earners in America captured about 10 percent of national income. Today their share has more than doubled to 22 percent … Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have the combined wealth (about $100 billion) of the bottom 40 percent of the US population – about 120m people’ (Sunday Times, 28 October).


Behind The Statistics
The recent economic downturn throughout Europe has led to the publication of staggering statistics about poverty. ‘Every fifth resident lives in poverty in Spain, new figures showed. The national statistics institute INE said 21.1 percent of the 47-million population lives below the poverty line, meaning they live on less than €7,355 ($9,610) annually … The number of minors aged under 16 living in poverty has increased to 21 percent from 19.4 percent in 2011’ (Turkish Weekly, 22 October). Behind the grim figures lies the day-to-day misery that capitalism forces on members of the working class. ‘A woman aged 53 jumped to her death from the balcony of her fourth-floor flat in Bilbao as bailiffs arrived to evict her for failing to pay her mortgage. There are 500 evictions a day in Spain’ (Times, 10 November).


Water, Water Everywhere . . . (2012)

The Pathfinders Column from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since Pathfinders last wrote about the curious incident of the jet stream in the summertime (September 2010) a consensus has begun to form like a dark storm cloud across the faces of climatologists. With the arctic now warming at twice the speed of the rest of the world and largely failing to refreeze in winter, the sharp difference between arctic and tropic temperatures is disappearing, and with it the thermodynamic differential that creates and powers the polar jet stream. It is now increasingly believed that this loss of differential is what’s causing the jet stream to slow down, loop, meander drunkenly and stall for weeks on end, which in turn is causing extreme weather events every year in the northern hemisphere. If you are stuck inside a northerly loop you’ll get drowned, drenched, frozen or flooded, while in a southerly loop you’ll be fried to a crisp, even if you live in Alaska or Siberia. Expect more of the same, plus frequent North Atlantic hurricanes and storm surges battering the coastline. The jet stream may even disappear altogether for months at a time, effectively including the UK in the Arctic Circle and further accelerating Greenland and tundra melt.

It’s not the fault of humans that we did this. Nobody could reasonably have predicted it. Had the world turned socialist in the time of William Morris the following century would have been vastly different, not least in avoiding two world wars, but we would still have industrialised and therefore might still have caused global warming by accident. The difference is, we would have started to do something about it by now. But not capitalism. Thanks to its obsession with private as opposed to common property, its byzantine system of related and conflicting sectional, national and class interests has paralysed it in the face of a universal threat. Unable to pursue any common goal, it commonly scores own-goals. Today they’re no further forward than they were at Kyoto twenty years ago. In fact many countries have retreated even from the ‘commitments’ made then. Carbon emissions aren’t going down, they’re rocketing. In the recent Romney vs Obama TV debates no mention was made by either side of climate or environmental issues, even though hurricane Sandy was at that moment knocking ten bells out of New York. Nobody’s even trying to look as if they’re trying.

This year’s word, according to pundits, is ‘omnishambles’, one of many linguistic jewels gifted by the talented writers of BBC’s political comedy The Thick of It. Nowhere is the omnishambles of climate change more obvious than the ‘problem’ of water, the theme of this issue. It simply beggars the imagination how the world’s most abundant renewable resource could have been mismanaged so badly that it is expected to become a major, and perhaps the primary cause of future wars. Blue gold indeed. We evolved in the stuff, we’re made of the stuff, and 70 percent of the planet is covered in the stuff. Yet even in the UK, where we are often inundated with the stuff, we are regularly threatened not with deluge but with drought, because water companies prefer to allow reserves to leak away rather than spend shareholder dividends on repairing pipes. Meanwhile we are told to act ‘responsibly’ over our individual use of water, and while the stuff continues to fall out of the sky the meters are being fitted in our houses. We should object strenuously, like Inuits faced with an igloo-tax and being told they’re responsible for depleting ice stocks in the arctic. This is a non-problem, created by capitalism. Our personal ‘responsibility’ has got damn-all to do with it.

If we abolish capitalism and its paralysing sectional conflicts, we could solve this water ‘problem’ in no time. In the first place, water is renewable. There is as much today as there was in the Middle Ages, or the Devonian period. Thanks to our atmosphere it doesn’t evaporate into space. The only real difficulty is that most of it tends to fall in the wrong place, so as the (article by Horatio) points out, it’s not a question of shortage of water but of pipes. Humans have been laying pipes since Babylonian times, so the engineering is not difficult. And if the water for whatever practical reason can’t be made to go to the people, then the people will have to go to the water.

In socialism, where there are no national boundaries or private estates, the laying of pipes would not be confounded by political questions of ownership, nor would populations migrating from dry areas to wet ones have to worry about passports or title deeds. Without any clever technology we could socially ‘engineer’ the Earth, even if it means depopulating the tropics and half of Africa and India and crowding everyone into Canada and (increasingly) Greenland. In fact, at the rate the poles are heating up, we’ll soon be able to colonise West Antarctica as well.

This leaves aside entirely the question of whether people would want to move, and such cultural considerations should not be flippantly dismissed. But such drastic large-scale house-moving operations may not even be necessary if emergent technologies are developed, in particular desalination. A recent report in New Scientist (20 September) describes the problem of supplying water to the 80,000 strong Navajo Nation of Arizona, who are scattered across a huge area of what, before 20 years of unrelenting drought, used to be fertile grassland and is now a desertified hellhole. But the Navajo don’t want to leave their reservation, for historical and in fact pre-historical reasons – the Navajo language is one of the most ancient on Earth, probably Mesolithic and possibly related to old Chinese, Basque and Etruscan. If anyone’s got a right to say they’re staying put and staying together, come what may, it’s probably the Navajo. So now they regularly have to drive hundreds of kilometres to fetch fresh water. Laying pipes over an area the size of West Virginia is an ‘economic impossibility’, while concentrating everyone in a small area of desert is culturally unacceptable, unless the Navajo take it into their heads to build a new Las Vegas and Navajo theme park. There’s no rain even in monsoon season and the aquifers are 120 metres down and full of salt, arsenic and uranium. Needless to say there’s no electricity either. In these circumstances even socialists might be tempted in despair to consider that the Navajo are being a teensy bit bloody-minded. Instead, the University of Arizona has come up with a scheme to use solar energy, with which the Navajo are over-endowed, to power a durable and low-maintenance, off-grid water desalination system. Millions of poor worldwide, without even the modest political clout that the Navajo can muster, will not be so lucky.

Socialists believe in encouraging people to take personal responsibility for resource usage, but as well as and not instead of society-wide responsibility. Capitalism, being systemically incapable of taking responsibility for supplying even the most basic human need, will instead try to confuse us with some blackmailing guff about our own ‘environmental footprint’. On such arid and hypocritical reasoning we should not fail to pour cold water immediately.
Paddy Shannon

Painting Dutch Capitalism (2012)

The Night Watch by Rembrandt
Art Review from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Rijks Museum in Amsterdam is home to the art of the Dutch Republic of the 17th century, which was ‘the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.’

The Dutch bourgeoisie declared their independence from the Spanish in 1581. The Explosion of the Spanish Flagship during the 1607 Battle of Gibraltar by van Wieringen reflects pride in the victory of the Dutch fleet over the Spanish. The Celebration of the Peace of Munster, June 1648 by van der Helst depicts a banquet and displays the bourgeois pride in independence and victory over feudalism.

The world financial centre was in Amsterdam. It had the first ever Stock Exchange, the Bank of Amsterdam, capitalist cycles of boom-and-bust, speculative asset inflation (‘Tulip Mania’), and Isaac Le Maire, the first stock ‘bear trader’.

The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers Guild by Rembrandt depicts the sampling officials who checked the quality of dyed cloth, and it reflects the Calvinist simplicity of bourgeois self-confidence.

Amsterdam was noted for its ‘schutterij’, the bourgeois civic militias and these are portrayed in two famous paintings of the era: The Company of Captain Reynier Reael by Hals, and The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq better known as The Night Watch by Rembrandt. 

The bourgeois religious sensibility was dominated by Calvinism which provided a theological justification for the developing capitalist mode of production. The Merry Family by Steen appears to be a celebration of alcohol, music, and tobacco but a note in the painting provides the subtitle of ‘as the old sing, so pipe the young’ which warns the viewer not to copy such dissolute behaviour.

The Dutch Republic was the imperial power (‘the colonial system of trade and navigation ripened like a hothouse’) with colonies and trading posts in North America, Brazil, the East Indies and South Africa. The Dutch East India Trading Company controlled the maritime trade routes and dominated world trade for 200 years. By 1650 there were 16,000 Dutch merchant ships. View of Olinde, Brazil by Frans Post depicts the former Portuguese colony that had been taken by the Dutch in order to exploit Brazil’s sugar cane plantations.

Economic competition with England for control over the seas and the trade routes led to three naval wars between the Dutch Republic and England which confirmed Dutch domination of world commerce until the Napoleonic Wars.  Several marine paintings by van de Velde depict Dutch merchant and naval supremacy such as The Cannon Shot and Dutch Ships on a Calm Sea.

The Portrait of Baruch de Spinoza depicts the great Dutch philosopher who advocated a classical pantheism, opposed Cartesian dualism and was admired by Marx for his materialism. Hegel believed ‘you are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all’.

Marx concluded ‘the total capital of the Republic was probably more important than that of all the rest of Europe put together and the people of Holland were more overworked, poorer and more brutally oppressed than those of all the rest of Europe put together’.
Steve Clayton

All Together? (2012)

Book Review from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Co-operative Revolution: a Graphic Novel. New Internationalist on behalf of The Co-operative Group. £5.99

2012 has been the UN International Year of Co-operatives, marked by a Co-operatives United World Festival in Manchester at the end of October and start of November. This book charts the origin and history of the co-operative movement and its current size and influence. In a rather pointless future section, the Rochdale Aerotech Co-op is shown providing the parachute for a Mars landing. There is also a section that looks at co-operation in nature, e.g. among bees.

The co-operative movement began in Rochdale in 1844, many of its first members being Chartists. According to figures given here, there are now 1.4 million co-operatives in the world, with over 100 million employees and nearly a billion members. In Britain there are over 18,000 organisations in the ‘mutuals sector,’ which includes housing associations and NHS Trusts.

So immediately we come up with a problem that is not addressed here at all:  what counts as a co-operative?  One definition (adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance in 1995) is ‘an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise’. The notion in practice covers a wide range of entities, from The Co-op (staple of British High Streets) to Barcelona Football Club, Best Western hotels and Ocean Spray soft drinks, in addition to genuine small worker-owned enterprises. These may all have in common that they are supposedly owned and run by their employees and other members, but they differ in many ways and they all have to compete in the capitalist market place. For instance, The Co-op’s posh new headquarters in Manchester has been put on the market on leaseback terms (once finished, the building will be sold and leased back in order to obtain finance to invest in the next stage of the development). And no form of employment under capitalism is voluntary in the terms of the definition above.

Nothing sponsored by the UN can be seen as any kind of threat to the status quo. The Mondrag√≥n Co-operative in Spain, usually cited as one of the movement’s success stories, was set up under the Franco dictatorship, despite the oppression suffered in other parts of the Basque Country, so it was hardly any kind of radical undertaking. And, as made clear in the useful timeline at the end of the book, The Co-op contributed to the British military machine in both world wars, such as by making military clothing and even weapons. Furthermore, it supports the Co-operative Party (‘the political arm of the co-operative movement’) and hence the Labour Party. 

There is nothing at all wrong with workers getting together without bosses to organise production and distribution. But by no means everything that calls itself a co-op should really be counted as such. And the view taken in the book, that the Rochdale pioneers made a revolution, is, unsurprisingly, not argued for at all.
Paul Bennett

Letters: Beamers and bouncers (2012)

Letters to the Editors from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Beamers and bouncers

Dear Editors

Regarding the article on sport in the November Socialist Standard, the beamer is a delivery outlawed in cricket today. The umpire may order the bowler out of the attack immediately. The bouncer though I predict will prevail in socialist society, I just hope I am fit enough and young enough to bowl one when such a state exists. Whilst we cannot control the weather, cricket clubs down to the smallest hamlet would enjoy proper facilities to cover the wicket and sight screens. Batters playing on better surfaces and having more leisure time to train would have more opportunity to practice playing the bouncer, either by taking evasive action or hooking or pulling it. Whilst socialist society is unlikely to throw up any characters like Jardine it may well spawn a budding Larwood or Voce or Lilley or Thompson, and a Viv Richards to counter them. Who knows, without market forces clubs may well revert to playing in all white.
Jon Brown (by email)


Hurricane Sandy

Dear Editors

After Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of North America I wrote a commentary on the disaster and the feeble attempts to fix things and concluded that ‘The irresponsibility of the capitalist system dwarfs Nero’s fiddling while Rome burned. The problem in New Orleans reveals the malaise affecting the entire country, one that cannot be solved with more civil engineering works nor dams, earthworks, concrete barriers or anything of the sort. It is a profound social problem that requires ending the economic system that has degenerated into a massive death machine, and unfit to manage its own industrial apparatus’.

Seeming little has changed since then except for the worse. Similar to Katrina, the devastation, destruction and death caused by the hurricane that swept into the East Coast far inland attests to the ongoing dysfunction of capitalism, for it is the effects of global warming, long scientifically identified as the cause of dramatic changes in the weather patterns, coupled with uncontrolled technological changes and urbanization gone berserk.

Capitalism is the fault. It’s most fundamental configuration orientation of production for profit, with at best, marginal considerations for the human population it dominates, has imparted its primary path of development. That path is urban sprawl, inadequate infrastructure to accompany such urbanization, the so called ‘automobile culture’ to enable ever more sprawl, with individual dwellings facilitating the endless expansion of home appliances. The whole confronts us with an overwhelming plethora of cars, gadgets, and gismos which fits the sorcerer and his apprentice story to a tee. It constitutes an unending quest for the expansion of commodity markets.

The results are the capitalist cities and urbanization and the vulnerability of cities, of which New York is the quintessential example. This megalopolis is the template for disaster as a result of mindless capitalist city-building.

In these situations a critical element like the subway system is a disaster waiting to happen. The entire complex requires pumping water out of tunnels, storm or no storm 24/7. Ground water seepage requires this. Maintenance of the system is a growing and perpetual burden on the resources of the city and state. The extensive electrical grids, with numerous grade level and below grade transformer vaults are vulnerable. Power plants are characteristically coastal facilities and thus vulnerable. Residential communities of lightly constructed dwellings occupying close proximity to beaches, promoted for their recreational ambience by real-estate/builders interests. Roadways, with their underpasses, tunnels and viaducts, together with corroded bridges are equally vulnerable.

One could go on and on listing vulnerabilities that are posed by capitalist cities. But it must be emphasized that these are capitalist cities, formations created primarily to promote the production of commodities. They are the products of an irrational social apparatus that has gone mad and largely out of control responsive only to the profit motive.

This was recognized very early in the development of scientific socialist thought. Friedrich Engels in his work entitled The Housing Question, 1872, recognized the fundamental conflict when he noted: ‘The housing question can be solved only when society has been sufficiently transformed for a start to be made towards abolishing the contrast between town and country, which has been brought to its extreme point by present-day capitalist society. Far from being able to abolish this antithesis, capitalist society on the contrary is compelled to intensify it day by day.’

In writing of fundamental change, Engels goes on to note ‘In the beginning, however, each social revolution will have to take things as it finds them and do its best to get rid of the most crying evils with the means at its disposal.’ He was writing of the erroneous housing theories that were being bandied about by contemporary reformers. But Engels remarks offer us guidance in the present predicament.

Under socialism, the Socialist Industrial Union government will confront the current problems of capitalist cities and will have to deal with them as best it can. And to that extent it will be far more effective because the motive of production for use will displace production for profit, and with it will fall away the conditions that encumber the productive apparatus of society in such a way that all of the resources of production will be brought to bear upon the residual problems capitalism created, focused largely on the cities.

That natural disasters will occur under socialism is obvious. But prevention of potential calamities will receive top priority, for the welfare of the society will be paramount. What the decisions of the SIU government will be we can only speculate for that is not our job. But rational thinking now, can only imagine that a good deal of gradual dismantling and rebuilding in far more rational terms, of housing, transportation, power resources, and ecological consideration will govern. Only the physical limitations of science and the productive forces of society will be the constraints for the wellbeing of society as a whole will be the single dominant motivation for the construction and development of habitation and communities.
Bernard Bortnick, 
Texas, USA


Reply. 
You make some good points. But we don’t agree that socialist society will be run by industrial unions or, as you put it, that there will be an ‘SIU government’. Quite apart from the word ‘government’ which we don’t like because it suggests rule over people, we talk simply of a democratically elected socialist administration, leaving it up to the members of socialist society to decide what the basic units will be. – Editors.







Action Replay: Own Goal (2012)

The Action Replay column from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The NFL is the National Football League, but the nation is the United States and the football is of the American kind, known as gridiron, with helmets and shoulder-pads. We have commented previously on how dangerous the game can be for the players and how the owners wanted to extend the playing season and reduce wages (Action Replay, March 2011). Now, though, the focus of industrial action has shifted to the referees.

The league wanted to cut referees’ wages and introduce an inferior pension and retirement plan. They relied on the fact that refereeing is a part-time job with a number of perks and that there would be plenty of refs who have worked lower down the sport’s ladder and would be only too pleased to step into the shoes of their professional colleagues. The refs were seen as an unimportant part of the whole package. As a league vice-president said, ‘You’ve never paid for an NFL ticket to watch someone officiate at a game.’ So in June the 121 official refs were locked out and replaced by others who were way down the pecking order in terms of training and experience.

But from the bosses’ point of view things did not go as they hoped. It turned out that the less well-qualified refs were, would you believe, less able to make correct decisions in top games subject to massive TV coverage and intense scrutiny by pundits and fans. After the number of mistakes became embarrassing, and some teams missed play-offs owing to the fiasco, in October the league had to climb down and reinstate the proper refs on their original contracts.

The NFL hierarchy had tried to save what was, in the context of the sport as a whole, relatively small amounts of money only to find that the multi-billion-dollar product was damaged, and they were forced to backtrack. In other words, the industry needed a competent workforce, even in the most unglamorous of its jobs. As elsewhere, it’s the workers who produce the wealth and provide the services.
Paul Bennett

A Food Shortage in War and Peace (1946)

From the April 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

Poverty and plenty are the most vivid contrasts of capitalism. A day after the Manchester Guardian Weekly printed a report from Budapest which stated that owing to famine: “Of 3,000 babies born in November only 800 survived,” an article in the Economist finished with this sentence: “The agricultural crisis is still with us; but it will be our old acquaintance, the crisis of plenty—for those members of the human race who survive the present crisis of famine ” (16/2/46). They did not develop this idea—they did not ask: Why the crisis of plenty? Earlier they stated that there had never been sufficient to fill all "human bellies”; also effective demand was lacking for the "unsaleable surplus.” Why was this demand lacking? This article stopped where it could well have started.

From every part of the world comes news of a terrible food shortage. It is estimated that millions will die owing to the deficiency amounting to several millions of tons in staple foods. Politicians are not short of reasons; the monsoon has failed and long, repeated droughts have ruined the grain harvests in the Southern Hemisphere. But it is not merely a natural calamity. Given a social order where the only purpose of production was use, sufficient would be produced and stored in good years to spread over the very rare bad years. What we have had is this. For six years the representatives of capitalism urged their armies to “bomb, burn and destroy.” They, engaged in the cruel process of reducing each other to famine. To preserve their wealth and privilege our masters turned Europe into a desert of destroyed towns and ruined farms. At their victory banquets they exhort us to tighten our belts. At the same time they call on us to produce more food to avoid the disaster of mass starvation.

But will the production of an abundance of food free workers from a starvation diet? or, is a world food shortage the sole cause of hunger? Not at all. In countries such as Great Britain and America, where workers were alleged to enjoy a “high standard” of living and where there was an abundance of food before the war, millions of workers suffered from semi-starvation. The “unsaleable surplus” was there but the demand was lacking as workers, unemployed or earning low wages, were unable to buy the food necessary to health. Hunger existed, not because of a natural shortage, but because the food was produced for sale. As wheat was produced primarily for the market, good harvests were regarded as natural disasters because they threatened glut. In May, 1937, the Daily Herald reported on the possible wheat crop: “The Imperial Economic Committee fears over-production . . . the Committee visualises the “danger” of a series of good harvests ” (12/5/37). By way of a joke, the failure of 1932 was alleged to be due not to the monsoon, but the Boll Weevil; the pest that should have but failed to destroy cotton crops.

Capitalism’s politicians meet the food crisis by advocating the simple remedy—produce more. Mr. R. Law, minister in the late Coalition Government, stated in a broadcast talk, “I wonder how many people realise that there was a world food shortage before the war. Even in the U.S.A. . . . there were millions of people who were not eating the food to keep them reasonably healthy . .  . And it was not only a question of bad distribution. It was not just our old friend, 'Poverty in the midst of plenty.’ As a matter of fact the food simply was not there.” (Quoted in Forward, 15/12/45.) He wants to produce 20 per cent more grain and 100 per cent more meat, milk and fruit. Did Mr. Law and his colleagues know that there was insufficient food before the war? If so, why did they not set about producing more? Did they make any effort to close me gap between supply and needs? If there was a shortage, why restrict production? Why destroy that which had already been produced? In his book, "But Who Has Won,” Mr. J. Scanlon gives the following quotation from “Health and Nutrition in India,” by Professor N. Gangube: "Owing to the restriction put in the export of meat by the Ottawa agreement in 1932, the Government of Chile considered it expedient to kill half a million sheep for the manufacture of tallow on condition that the carcasses should be burned. In Denmark the Government created a special destruction fund to kill and burn about 5,000 cattle per week. . . . In America the farmers of Kansas and Nebraska were subsidised for burning their grain . . . For the sake of 'National Prosperity’ the Federal Government ordered the slaughter of some 5,000,000 pigs and some 200,000 prospective mother sows. Brazil burned its coffee crop . . .” (Page 197.) To this can be added the stories of fish sold as manure, oranges dumped in the sea and wheat used as engine fuel. The destruction of wealth for victory in war simply followed the destruction of wealth for profit in peace.

The remedy is not simply that of producing in abundance. Mr. Law has seen only part of the truth. It is true that there never has been sufficient for all, but Law has overlooked this: that no effort has been made to produce this abundance as those who own the means of producing wealth, and decide what will be produced, require not abundance but profit. They produce at a profitable level—a level far below the needs of all mankind, but a level that on average supplies the market to capacity. The cry of overproduction merely meant that too much had been produced for that market; it had no relation to the needs of the population. While Mr. Law’s colleagues bleated "too much wealth” and advocated severe wage-cuts as the remedy to the crisis, millions of workers starved. They starved while the wealth that they had helped to produce was destroyed. We have answered the questions for Mr. Law. The capitalists did not attempt to close the gap, they restricted production and destroyed wealth and for one purpose—to preserve profit.

Mr. Law scoffs at "Poverty in the midst of plenty,” but has himself completely missed the point. The act of producing more, unless accompanied by a social change, will be nullified by the workings of the economic laws of capitalism. Plenty would once more, as the Economist states, lead to crisis. The reason is that, owing to capitalist ownership, all wealth produced belongs to them while the working class have only a very limited purchasing power; a purchasing power far below the value of the goods they produce. "Unsaleable surpluses” accumulate and starvation exists while food rote in warehouses and is destroyed. The famine of peace will follow the famine of war. In capitalism, whether we have war or peace, only poverty and hunger comes to those who toil while riches and repletion come to those who own. The solution lies in the hands of the working-class. It must make the fundamental social change from private to common ownership of the means of life.
Lew Jones

Camberwell Branch (1946)

Party News from the April 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the formation of a branch in Camberwell a large area that has been devoid of party activity for years is to receive party propaganda again.

The branch visualises the commencement of a large-scale propaganda drive in 1946, and to ensure its success we appeal to all members and sympathisers who live in or around the district to come to branch meetings or get in touch with the secretary (see branch directory).

The venture depends upon the combined efforts of all to bring the party to the fore in this region.

Is the gap between rich and poor narrowing? (1946)

From the April 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “But what is necessary is a very great reduction in our present economic equalities.
  “This implies that, while the average level of wellbeing must be greatly raised, the rich shall become poorer and the poor richer.
  “The span of individual incomes in this country runs from well over £50,000 a year to much less than £1 a week, a ratio of much more than one thousand to one. This is grotesquely wide.”
(“Practical Socialism for Britain,” Hugh Dalton, pp. 319.)
Is the gap between rich and poor narrowing?

This is the monotonous theme of both Conservative and Labour propaganda—and Liberals as well. In fact, all reformists—busy reforming capitalism—keep telling the workers how much good their reforms have done.

The Conservatives have published “How Conservatives Have Helped the British People,” listing 94 pages of Acts passed by the Conservatives, showing “that the bulk of the social and industrial legislation for the benefit of the people since the beginning of the nineteenth century has been passed by Conservatives.”

Pamphlets like “Labour on the March,” by the late Geo. Ridley, start by describing the appalling conditions of the last century and proceed to enumerate the Bills introduced by the Labour Party as the reason for the “great” improvements.
  “What I have so far written has been an attempt to show that the great social changes in the last forty or fifty years have been due to the growing powers of Labour in every sphere of its activity . . .
  “Up to 1906 the Statute Book, was almost barren of social legislation . . .
  “Then there came a most perceptible change. Labour was on the march. . . .
  “Great changes have resulted—in all directions. The young, the aged, the unemployed have all greatly benefited by these changes. . . .
  “These changes, however, have done no more than relieve the worst evils of our social and economic system.”
(“Labour on the March,” by G. Ridley, M.P., Published by Labour Party. Pages 10 and 11.) 
Quite apart from every working-man’s own personal knowledge an array of facts refute the claim that the social position of the working class is being “improved.”
  “The total value of property in Great Britain has been estimated by Mr. H. Campion to be about 13,090 millions in 1911-13, 24,570 millions in 1926-28, and 25,560 millions in 1932-34. About 90 per cent. of it was privately owned.”
("Facts for Socialists,” Fabian Society, p. 18.) 
“Eighty per cent. of the private property of the country is owned by 7 per cent. of the population.” Sir William Beveridge. 
Further, the Economist of December 30th, 1944 (requoted in The Socialist Standard of July, 1945), showed Mr. Campion’s estimates proved that
  “The problem of the rich and the poor, the inequalities of wealth have not been eliminated. . . .
  “These estimates show that whatever levelling up at the bottom may have taken place and however the relative share of the middle class may have increased, the property structure of society has not altered fundamentally.”
The Economist also very soundly pointed out the futility of comparing incomparables, which is what reformist propaganda does.
  “Indeed, to draw any detailed comparison between conditions in 1844 and 1944 would be a 'waste of time’ . . . People lived and worked under primitive and barbarous conditions, herded together like cattle in their tenements; they were illiterate, half-starved, filthy and diseased. The only relaxations were liquor, horse-play and sex. Typhus and the yellow fever spread through the infested dwellings, but the toll of life was no matter because workers were plentiful and cheap,”
(Economist, 30th December, 1944.) 
The abolition of these conditions is, even in the absence of an organised political Labour Party, the normal process of developing capitalism. It has nothing whatever to do with Socialism—and does not lead to it.

Many competent employers have introduced Welfare Schemes, free Medical and Dental Treatment, thrift Schemes and educational courses, entirely on their own initiative.

Modern employers do not want drunken lecherous hooligans, they are inefficient and unprofitable.

“Social legislation” is really for the maintenance of the supply of efficient, healthy value-producers.

Every “improvement” in the position of the wage-earner, as wage-earner, merely makes him a better producer of surplus value—and therefore more profitable.

This is all that the Labour Government’s elaborate nationalisation schemes will do, resulting eventually in greater unemployment and “miserable poverty” than ever.

Some indication of the vast “improvement” in the position of the workers as a result of both Tory and Labour social legislation is provided by the “evidence” advanced by these parties in their propaganda.

Thus the Tories, in “Forty Years of Progress,” declare that:
  “As long ago as 1934 over 4,000 cinemas, each the product of the century, were providing seats for nearly four million people at round about the rate of one seat per night among every 12 persons. And the money freely circulating in dog racing, horse racing and the football pools, patronised in the main by those who rank as the poorest among us, indicates clearly the large amount of free money available in the country.” (pp. 8.)
While the Labour Party in Hampstead listed as one of its main election slogans in the recent Municipal Elections—the “Provision of a local Employment Exchange to avoid travelling and inconvenience for workers.” (As though one can be a worker without “inconvenience.” 1).

From all of which it appears that the worker intent on “improvements” without abolishing capitalism can vote Tory for “More and better dog tracks,” or Labour for “Bigger and Better Labour Exchanges.” Even a modern electronic microscope fails to reveal any real difference basically between Labour and Tory programmes.

Mr. David Stelling, in “Why I am a Conservative,” published officially by Conservative Headquarters (1945), says:
  “The Conservative approaches new problems—and today they are all new—with an open mind . . .
  “If nationalisation of a public service—or national control of an industry—appears to be the best course, he is prepared to adopt it.” (pp. 14.)
As time proceeds the normal course of the “Ins” and the “Outs” will operate, with Tories becoming more “concerned ”than ever about improvements for the workers to get votes, and Labour Ministers “rising to their ministerial responsibilities” to prove that it can’t be done—until they’re “out.”

No wonder Mrs. E. M. Braddock, now Labour M.P. for Exchange, Liverpool, declared at the 1944 Conference of the Labour Party that
  “I have been trying during the whole of this Conference to discover some difference between our policy and the policy of the Conservative Party. Every White Paper issued up to date has had the complete agreement of both sides and I cannot for the life of me understand how we are going to fight a General Election when we are in practically complete agreement with the Conservative Party.” (Conference Report, pp. 167.)
Socialism is not “making the rich poorer and the poor richer.” It is not reducing the gap between riches and poverty. It is the abolition of riches and therefore poverty. Unless this principle is first understood there can be no Socialism.
Horatio.

Is there a clear line of demarcation between Working Class and Capitalist Class? (1946)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent (Mr. H. Godfrey, Somerset) writes as follows: -
"In attacking society as constituted now your statements convey the impression that we have a master class and an enslaved class with a clear line of demarcation. Personally, I think that, to-day particularly, this is incorrect. Whilst no one would deny the existence of a definite capitalist class and a definite enslaved class, society is far more complex than that, and though I have no statistics, I should say there is a considerable proportion of the population who belong to both classes, i.e., whose income is derived both from earned and unearned sources. As these are in various proportions, in each person's case, how can one say to which class an individual or group of persons belongs? It is no answer to say in such and such a case unearned income is so small that it is not worth mentioning, because in other cases it is larger and considerable, but still the person is not a ‘big capitalist.' A matter of degree, but degree does not alter the principle.

"My reason for raising this matter is that, in my opinion, this very complexity of society is a real cause why Socialism does not make a more rapid progress; and more important still, I don’t think anything is gained in the long run by obscuring this point of view.”
Yours, etc.,
H. Godfrey.

Reply
When our correspondent admits that "no one would deny the existence of a definite capitalist class and a definite enslaved class ” he goes far to destroy his own criticism, and to confirm the soundness of Socialist propaganda. What he calls the definite enslaved class constitute the overwhelming majority of the population, and they are in no doubt whatever that they get their living only by being employed or by being dependent on an employed worker. The fact that a small minority have a considerable interest both in employment and in property and therefore do not have a predominant interest in the one or the other, is a small matter by comparison.

We do not deny the existence of this small minority though we do say (with our correspondent) that there is a definite working class and a capitalist class. That is quite a legitimate statement, just as legitimate as to talk of "urban" and "rural” areas, notwithstanding the existence of areas on the fringe of towns which are neither urban nor rural.

As regards statistics, the pre-war position was analysed carefully by Daniels and Campion, economists at Manchester .University, in "The Distribution of National Capital” (Manchester University Press, 1936). The present position is not likely to be greatly different. In their book the writers show that out of about 22¼ million men and women aged 25 and over, 17¼ million, or about. 77 per cent., owned small amounts not exceeding £100 (p. 30). The number who owned £1,000 or over (including, of course, the largest fortunes) was about 1,366,000.

In between were 2,850,000 who owned £100 to £500, and 825,000 who owned £500 to £1,000.

Some of these will have been people owning a small business, alone or in partnership, but working in it as well. The man who owns £500 cannot simply invest it and live on the very small income he would get from it.

Where, then, are the "considerable proportion” of the population who are neither mainly dependent on employment nor mainly dependent on income from property? Our correspondent misunderstands the point at issue when he says that it is "a matter of degree, but degree does not alter the principle.” The principle is not the question whether a person owns £100, £200, £900, and so on, but whether his property is or is not sufficient to relieve him from the necessity of working for his living. When this test is applied, the problem stated by our correspondent is seen in its proper proportion.
Editorial Committee