Saturday, December 7, 2019

Finance and Industry: Making Money from Armaments (1960)

The Finance and Industry Column from the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Making Money from Armaments
A generation or more ago, when most of the world's armaments were made by private companies, it seemed plausible to many people that if the armament-making came under government control and private profit was taken away there would be no deliberate encouragement of armament competition and the risk of war would be less. It was always a mistaken hope because the economic rivalries that make for war come from all the profit-seeking interests in all the countries, not just some sections or some countries. And in our own day armaments moving openly or secretly across the world are mostly despatched by governments not by private companies. These in any event could not operate without the consent of their own government.

The popular way of looking at the armament trade has changed too, and “merchants of death” has gone out of fashion as a term of abuse. This is not surprising, because the governments supplying the arms now present themselves as public benefactors, only concerned to help “good causes.” Anyway, all the governments are in the business—from the last Labour Government in Britain, which sold military aircraft abroad, to America, Israel and Russia.

Russia's latest business deal in its growing invasion of world markets is the reported sale to India of £11 million worth of equipment, including heavy transport aircraft, helicopters and road building machinery. (Guardian, 7/10/60). The India Government wanted to buy in America but the Russians offered the stuff at lower prices. The significant aspect is that the purpose of the purchase is to enable India “to defend its border with China.”

Of course, China may or may not continue to be Russia's ally, but business is business, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and who can object if Russia helps both sides.

It recalls the attitude of the Russian Government (and of the Communist Party) during the war, before Russia became involved. The Russian Government was selling oil and other materials to Germany and some simple-minded people here complained about it. Which brought from the Secretary of the Russia Today Society a letter to the Manchester Guardian assuring its readers that the Russian Government was quite willing to sell to both sides.


The "Alternative" Society
The people who refer to present-day capitalism as the affluent society make much of the greater variety of articles that are available to be bought by the mass of the population. They quote aggregate figures of washing machines, motor cars, refrigerators, etc., and the figures look impressive. But Mr. Mark Abrams, writing in the Observer (23/10/60) provides an analysis which puts the matter in better perspective. He divides families into two groups, those in “which the chief earner is in a white-collar post and earning at least £800 a year,” and those not in this group. About a third of families fall into the first group, and two-thirds into the second group, which he calls “working-class.”

He includes receivers of property incomes in this group as well as wage and salary earners. He shows that “only one item—the television set—is to be found in the majority of British homes.’' The rest are the possessions of minorities.

His list showing the percentage who own various items, among his “working-class” group is as follows:—
Television set            79 per cent.
Lawn mower             34 „
Washing machine ...  37 „
Car                            22
Refrigerator              13
House                         29
He does not make the important point that the percentage who own all of these items is, on his figures, at most 13 per cent. He does not include a telephone in this list; had he done so the percentage owning the lot would probably be under 10 per cent.

And he does not stress the point that “own” is an ambiguous term since millions of the houses and the rest are only “owned” by the user in the sense that he has them while paying off the mortgage or hire purchase instalments. And “car” includes all the barely roadworthy crocks.

Another enquiry (also referred to in the Observer) brings out that “many families when furnishing a home, prefer to leave some rooms bare rather than incur a small millstone of debt.” For the majority of workers it is not a question of moving all the things on the list but of owning one or two because they cannot afford them all—the alternative society. You can have full choice as long as you can afford what you buy.

A description of life in Stepney by Godfrey Hodgson (Observer, 21/8/60.) had the following which should further dampen the optimists.
  The Rev. Joseph Williamson, of St. Paul's, Dock Street, said that the best living quarters in his parish were the Peabody Buildings. They had no baths. The lavatories and sinks were outside the flats themselves, and were shared. “In illness, in winter especially, this is bad.” But all the other blocks of old flats were far worse.
  “Apart from the flats,” Father Williamson went on, “we have squalor beyond belief. Let me say in all seriousness that on a modern farm the accommodation provided for pigs is far superior.”

Canada’s Unemployment
The myth still receives wide acceptance that all the countries have for a decade had the low level of unemployment ruling in Britain. This ignores the years of massive unemployment that afflicted the workers in Germany and Italy until comparatively recently. And it ignores Canada. The Financial Times (28/10/60) printed a graph of unemployment in the past four years since January, 1957. It shows unemployment in Canada reaching 9 per cent. and 10 per cent. in each winter and never falling below 4 per cent. except early in 1957 and for a short period in 1959.

The Canadian Government has been calling special conferences to deal with the situation and admits that it threatens to get worse. Many British immigrants are coming back. The Canadian motor industry has been asking for tariff protection against the import of British cars.

Canadian workers out of a job or threatened with dismissal because of falling sales can derive what comfort they can from their Prime Minister’s remark that “the situation would get worse if action were not taken, and he promised that it would be taken before Parliament met.” Times (24th September, 1960.)


Russian Trade Policy
The oil industry has been worried by big Russian sales of oil at below the prices ruling in the rest of the world, but the Times (11/10/60) hopefully interprets some remarks made by Krushchev at a lunch in New York when he was asked: —
  Whether Russia would extend to other commodities the same sort of agreement on quotas that it had accepted already for tin, aluminium and diamonds.” According to Pravda “Mr. Krushchev replied that there was no reason why this principle should not be extended to other goods.”
The Times interprets this as meaning that “Russia is willing to join international commodity agreements provided that Western countries are prepared to allow the U.S.S.R. what it regards as a fair share of the market.” In the diamond industry it will be remembered that Russia now sells all its diamonds through the South African Diamond Group. A correspondent writing in Reynolds News (16/10/60) went further and suggested that Western oil interests are trying to do a deal with Russia.
   The leading capitalists in the world, the mammoth international oil companies, are planning to break through the Cold War barriers that have throttled top-level political contact between East and West since the Paris Summit fiasco. They are determined to make a vast oil deal with the Russians. In effect, they want to set up a cartel agreement that would span all the world's oil supplies . . . though the first news leaks, planned to test the temperature, refer to the scheme as a “ live and let live arrangement.”
   The Plan: Russia should be allowed to move immediately and extensively into the huge European oil market. With a one-fifth increase in consumption in 1959, this is still the world’s biggest market despite mounting African and Asian demands.
   In return, the Russians would offer the big international companies no oil challenge in the rest of the Western Zone and among the neutral nations.

Business Morality
Children may still be taught that honesty is the best policy and crime does not pay, but once they enter the adult world of business these notions fade away, not by “brainwashing” but simply by disuse; to be replaced by the practical rule that what is profitable is right, but when in doubt you should consult a good lawyer. In a successful take-over bid those who lose may set up an outcry about “shady methods,” but the business world really sees nothing wrong in taking over a concern at a fraction of its value, throwing out or buying out sitting directors, and getting rid of redundant workers. And when the takeover assumes the form of a government seizing foreign investments at dictated rates of compensation or none at all, the rest of the world sheds no tears over the “business immorality” of it but hurries in to trade with the new owners.

Cuba is a case in point. Fidel Castro’s government seized American-owned sugar plantations and factories and went on handling and selling the sugar on its own account. From the standout of capitalist morality these are "stolen goods.” So the American ex-owners started action to obstruct the sale of Cuban sugar by Castro’s government. At this point we turn to the Daily Telegraph (22/10/60), a correspondent of which had been making enquiries about the Americans’ chances.

The one thing entirely missing from the article was a nice upstanding declaration that of course they would not touch stolen goods, because that would be dishonest. The attitude rather was the purely legalistic one that the American companies do not stand a chance of proving their case. Not a denial that the Sugar is “stolen” but a near certainty that no American company can prove that a particular lot of unmarked Cuban sugar came from a particular factory which used to belong to the company.

The article quoted “a spokesman of a City firm” who said: “It is impossible to make any forecast. But if you have a cargo of, say 9,000 tons of sugar it would be very difficult for a person on the other side of the Atlantic to say: ‘These grains came from our factory'. "

Tate and Lyle’s are going on buying Cuban sugar and told the Daily Telegraph “We have not allowed our buying policy to change as a result of the dispute between the Cubans and the Americans.”
Edgar Hardcastle

The Hidden Persuaders (1960)

Book Review from the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Hidden Persuaders, by Vance Packard. (Penguin Books. 2/6d.)

This interesting, and in part entertaining, critique of a now not so new approach to advertising has recently been added to the Penguin catalogue. Although this one short book obviously cannot, and indeed does not attempt to, deal more than very superficially with the subject (as well as revealing Mr. Packard's obvious bias) it contains much useful information and some pertinent comments.

Motivation research invented and pioneered by people like Dr. Ernest Dichter (President of Motivation Research Inc.) and Louis Cheskin (Director of the Colour Research Institute of America) as early as the 1930's, has been developed since the second World War, and really became established in the early I950‘s. Even today those who are most enthusiastic admit that “M.R.” is only in its early stages.

What is M.R., and how does it help in advertising? Briefly, it could be explained as “selling to the subconscious that is, finding people’s hidden weaknesses, wishes and frustrations, and exploiting these in order that, to meet expanding production, they can be persuaded to buy more.

Different experts favour different methods of M.R., the best known of these is the “depth interview." For this individuals or groups of people taken from a cross section of the population are led in discussion by experts, having first been put in a relaxed state of mind either by hypnosis or the administration of a special drug. It is claimed by advocates of this method that. "when their defences are down,” people reveal secrets to which they would not admit under normal circumstances.

M.R. is used not only in persuading the consumer to buy more. Public relations experts can be found advising churchmen on how they can become more effective manipulators of their congregation, business concerns of their employees and politicians of their voters.

By the mid-fifties both major United States Parties had become deeply involved in the use of professional persuaders. In early 1956 “Nation's Business,” published by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, proclaimed: “Both parties will merchandise their candidates and issues by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods. These include scientific selection of appeals, planned repetition. . . . Candidates need, in addition to rich voices and good diction, to be able to look ‘sincerely' at the TV camera." This method of ‘selling’ was used to such an extent at the last but one Presidential Election that Mr. Adlai Stevenson said: “The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal . . . is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process."

As Socialists are not surprised that those in control under the present system are constantly trying to think of new ways to persuade us (quoting Christianity and Crisis, an American Protestant publication) ‘‘to consume, consume and consume, whether we need or even desire the product almost forced upon us . . . to consume to meet the needs of the productive process,” to accept their ideas, religion and leaders.

Although at present the use of M.R. in the United Kingdom is negligible, it will certainly increase. The Observer may have had this in mind when featuring Dr. Dichter in their “Profile" a few weeks ago.

Mr. Packard in his final chapter quotes Clyde Miller in his book The Process of Persuasion: “When we learn to recognise the devices of the persuaders, we build a ‘recognition reflex.' Such a recognition reflex can protect us, not only against the petty trickery of small time persuaders operating in the commonplace affairs of everyday life, but also against the mistaken or false persuasions of powerful leaders. . . That, surely, is a good thing for all of us to bear in mind when listening to the utterances of those who “lead" us today.
E. C.

Clear Thinking (1960)

Book Review from the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thinking to Some Purpose, by L. Susan Stebbing. Penguin Books (2/6).

Do you know what special pleading is? Would you recognise a syllogism if you saw one? Do you realise the fallacies that may lie behind an “average” figure?

If you arc a Socialist—reading, discussing, arguing about Socialism—you will know how necessary it is to be able to detect fallacies in your opponent’s arguments. And, for that matter, in your own. Thinking to Some Purpose will enable you to recognise immediately all the most common fallacies. It gives the groundwork of logic, put in simple, straightforward terms.

Special pleading, for example. This arises when someone makes an assertion that apparently applies to everyone, and yet clearly it is never intended to apply to the speaker. The speaker, in other words, makes an implied “special plea” in his own favour.
  You may hear a person who lives on a large inherited income complaining that the “dole” given to the unemployed “pauperizes” them by giving them the means of subsistence without working for it. Or, again, wealthy people sometimes argue that, if higher wages were paid to bricklayers and miners, for instance, they will only spend the extra money on amusements, such as the cinema and football pools; yet these same people may defend their own expenditure on amusements and luxuries on the ground that they are giving employment.
Miss Stebbing also quotes the well-known example of special pleading from Archdeacon Paley’s Reasons for Contentment addressed to the Labouring Part of the British Public, part of which runs:
  But no man can rest who has not worked. Rest is the cessation of labour. It cannot, therefore, be enjoyed, or tasted, except by those who have known fatigue. The rich see, and not without envy, the refreshment and pleasure which rest affords to the poor, and choose to wonder that they cannot find the same enjoyment in being free from the necessity of working at all.
Archdeacon Paley is saying here, in effect, that a poor labouring life is (for various reasons) a good thing; but at the same time he enters an implied “special plea” on behalf of the rich, since obviously these arguments are not intended to apply to them. As Miss Stebbing says, the poor “may have found it difficult to believe that the rich, who showed no eagerness to become poor, were in fact envious of the conditions imposed by poverty.”

To come to the second of the questions at the beginning of the article, a syllogism is a group of three statements, of such a kind that if the first two (the premises) are true, then the third (the conclusion) must also be true. For example:
All grass is green.This plant is grass.Therefore—This plant is green.
One of the reasons why one should be able to recognise a syllogism is that it enables one to see what isn’t a syllogism. We have all heard arguments like this:
I read in the paper that John Jones had knocked down an old woman and stolen her money.John Jones is a negro.Therefore all Negroes knock down old women and steal their money.
When written out in this way, the argument is obviously absurd. But it is on this level that very much political argument is carried on, and one has to be prepared to see it for what is is, and to counter it.

As for averages, it has to be remembered that while they are useful in summarizing information in some cases, in others they may well mislead. Suppose, for example, that in one group of eleven people, ten received £500 a year, and one £5,000 a year. It could be concluded that they all had enough to live on, because the average income of these eleven people is over £900. But, of course, that would be totally misleading. The average used here is what is called the “arithmetic mean”—that is, the figure obtained by adding up all the items in the group and dividing by the total number of items. A much better idea of the realities of the situation could be obtained by taking the mode, that is the item in the group that occurs most frequently, or the typical representative of the group. In the above group, the mode income is £500 a year, since ten of the eleven people in the group receive it. But very often the newspapers or political speakers use the arithmetic mean where the mode would be more appropriate, to try to prove, for example, that we “all” spend fantastic sums per week on tobacco, or drink, or gambling, and that therefore we must “all” be very well off.

Miss Stebbing covers all these and many other points of logic. She was not a Socialist. But she wrote a book which will be read with profit by anyone who wishes to train himself to think clearly.
Alwyn Edgar


Organisation Man (1960)

Book Review from the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are you fond of literature and music? Would you put your wife and children before your work? Do you feel unhappy about the way society is organised?

Yes? Then it’s unlikely you’ve the makings of a good Organisation Man—one of the fast-expanding army of junior and middle managements men in American Big Business.

William H. Whyte, an American journalist with an interest in sociology, puts him under the microscope in The Organization Man, published by Penguin Books in a 3s. 6d. edition. He reveals a picture of co-operation with conformity.

The typical O.M., a college graduate with a strong technical bias, sinks his individual identity into the group. He thinks, talks and acts like the collective. “Don't question or query things, accept them; be technically efficient, co-operate with the Company, and you’ll be looked after” is the philosophy peddled by his “benevolent” boss.

At work, he trains as a “dedicated” specialist in a team of “ dedicated ” specialists, toes the Company line, and wins promotion through personality tests—"Do yon agree foreigners are dirtier than Americans”?—designed to determine his ability to integrate himself in the Organisation.

At home, a mortgaged-to-the-hilt house in a “model” suburb, he and his wife participate actively in local affairs and just about make ends meet on a perpetual overdraft.

Whyte is worried about the O.M.’s loss of individuality; he calls it “a surrender to dehumanised values.” He’s worried, too, about the growing emphasis on specialisation at the expense of a broad, liberal education.

But both factors are not peculiar to American capitalism, or, for that matter, to Big Business.

First, unorthodox thought which questions the social system has never been popular with capitalists anywhere, be they large or small. And today the bigger capitalists in Western Europe, as well as America, strive to sidetrack criticism of the system among their executives with the carrot of Company cars, expense accounts, special allowances and top-hat pension schemes.

Second, scientific and technological skills are of vital importance to the advanced industrial nations in their cut-throat competitive struggles. A knowledge of higher mathematics produces more profits than a knowledge of Greek mythology.

Whyte urges the O.M. to fight back, but “not selfishly or stupidly,” and certainly not with the aim of changing society. Like every reformer, he has no real quarrel with capitalism which breeds conformity and an education system shackled to the profit motive.

He has yet to understand that only in a society liberated from the profit motive can man develop his individuality and knowledge to serve the common good.
Peter Jenner

Sting in the Tail: So What’s New? (1992)

The Sting in the Tail column from the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

So What’s New?
America is determined to remain the world's sole unrivalled superpower and is ready to guard against any Western European challenger, It is claimed.

The New York Times, quoting a Defence Department document, said the US must convince potential competitors "that they need not aspire to a greater role".

Instead, a single superpower will use its military might and "benevolent domination" to deter any challenger.
The US would "selectively address" those wrongs which threatened America and its allies' interests.
ITN's Oracle 8 March

Breaking into Jail or Militant Martyrdom
Tommy Sheridan, the leading light in Scottish Militant's anti-poll tax campaign, contested Glasgow Pollok from his cell where he is spending a six month sentence for defying an interim interdict.

According to his election leaflet Tommy is, as every good Trotskyist aspires to be, a "hero” and a "martyr": He runs in charity marathons and if he spots any local laden with shopping bags he will stop and say "c'mon, jump in". Mother Teresa isn't in it.

In case all this wasn't enough to impress the voters then much was made of his "university education” but Tommy's trump card was to be his list of reforms which he would pursue "when elected”. These included a Scottish Parliament, the re-nationalisation of privatised Industries, mortgage-to-rent conversion, and many other measures which would leave capitalism untouched. Incidentally, the word "socialism" didn't appear once.

And what was the result of all the martyrdom and goodies offered to the workers of Pollok? Tommy still lost by nearly 8,000 votes.


Jumping the Queue
In a report in The Herald (6 April) the medical correspondent reported that nearly 2,000 staff, most of them nurses, stand to lose their jobs in Glasgow's psychiatric hospitals over the next four years. This would cut nursing staff by half.

The unit general manager, Mr Tim Davison, said of these cuts that they would serve to increase further the "relative efficiency and competitiveness" of the unit.

Competitiveness in treating mentally-ill workers? This is the economics of the mad house indeed!

So while mentally-ill people roam the streets lacking even the minimum of health care, patients are being turned away from psychiatric hospitals. As the waiting list grows there is always one way to beat the system. According to a psychiatrist working in Glasgow:
  "They have to be placed somewhere else. Occasionally, you get the situation where there isn't a bed available in Glasgow at all. You have a suicidal patient you want to admit, and you have to leave him to turn up at out-patients next day, hoping he hasn't killed himself In the meantime."

Empty Slogans
"My Vote", "It's Time For Labour", "The Best Future For Britain". These were the election slogans of the three big parties, and the Socialist Workers Party had to have one too.

Remember some of their past slogans, gems like "Labour To Power Minus The Bomb" and "Vote Labour But Without Illusions"7 This time it was "Vote Labour And Build A Socialist Alternative”.

The one constant factor here is their urging workers to vote Labour, but with such a talent for slogans surely the SWP ought to be in advertising — just think of the mountains of soap powder and the rivers of lager they could be selling!

Well, maybe, but we can be sure that one slogan we'll never get from the SWP is "Abolish The Wages System".


A Deeper Slump
Capitalism's long-promised economic recovery will eventually come but things may get worse before they get better.

This would be due to the international nature of capital and in particular to the recent plunge in share prices on the Tokyo stock market. From a peak of 39,000 in 1989 the Nikkei share index has fallen to below 17,000.

These falling share prices mean falling profits for Japanese banks which own vast amounts of shares, and it is these banks which are responsible for providing much investment worldwide — 24% of British financial assets are held by Japanese banks and they provide 14% of the ECs direct inward investment (The Guardian 8 April). They also fund America's huge budget deficit and we all know that when America's economy sneezes then the world economy catches cold.

If these falling share prices mean that Japanese banks severely reduce their lending then the recession will deepen. Of course all of this may not happen; the Nikkei climbed by over 1,200 points in one day (9 April), but it shows that events in one part of the world influence events elsewhere and it also shows that the economic plans made by businesses and governments are — well, just plans.


Rich Pickings
The popular press never tire of telling us about working class scroungers. Those workers who actually have the effrontery to claim social security payments while working part-time in a public house, or doing a spot of gardening on the side.

Little or nothing is ever reported about the gigantic legal frauds carried out by members of the ruling class. The Observer Magazine (5 April) did however carry a report about a group of well-heeled landowners who have a nice little earner.

Under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act many of them are coining it in. This was an Act intended to keep some land free from the overdevelopment that is the norm of capitalism. All the owner had to do was threaten to develop the land and the Act would provide him with lavish compensation for doing nothing.

John Grant of Rothiemurchus owns 25,000 acres of Scottish wilderness. The government are about to give him a payment of £670,000 for not developing it and he is claiming an annual payment of £92,000 on top of that!

What about pension rights? (1992)

From the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month we looked at figures provided by the Inland Revenue and concluded that although the distribution of all forms of wealth was unequal enough—the top 1 percent own 18 percent, the top 10 percent own 53 percent while the bottom 50 percent own a mere 6 percent—the distribution of capital, as forms of wealth yielding an unearned income, was even more unequal. The top 1.5 percent of wealth-owners with £200,000 or more owned 36 percent while the bottom 65 percent owned virtually none.

Others have used a different set of figures to reach a different conclusion: those for the ownership of shares traded on the London Stock Exchange which show that only about 17 percent are now owned by private individuals (see graph). The rest are owned by commercial and financial institutions of one kind or another, in particular by insurance companies, pension funds, unit trusts and investment trusts or “institutional investors” as they are collectively known as. Since a large part of the funds of these institutions comes from small investors, the claim is made that these figures mean that the capitalist class now own only 17 percent of capital in Britain and even that the remaining 83 percent is owned by the working class.



Whatever may be the significance of the decline of the private Stock Exchange investor—what it means is that the person of the capitalist has become even more redundant, not only to organising production but now also to the specifically capitalist function of finance, making it clear that what we are up against is an impersonal system—it does not alter the figures for the distribution of capital given in last month's article.

Just because the rich no longer invest directly on the Stock Exchange to the extent that they used to does not mean that they don't do so indirectly. They too have bank accounts. They too have insurance policies (Maxwell was reportedly insured for £20 million). They too resort to investment trusts. According to the Inland Revenue figures, those with £100,000 or more (not enough at the lower end, it is true, to be a real capitalist but still only 7 percent of the population) own not only 85 percent of company shares (not just the 17 percent mentioned above but also of those held via unit trusts and investment trusts), but also 47 percent of bank accounts and 47 percent of insurance policies as well as 81 percent of other financial assets (mainly government and local authority bonds) (see Table 1).


Money invested in insurance policies, personal pensions, unit trusts, banks and building societies is taken into account in the Inland Revenue statistics—and they show that those with £100,000 or more own 61 percent of all capital. The one exception is the money in pensions funds, but would this alter the figures and who does it belong to anyway?

The Inland Revenue in fact publishes three sets of figures for the distribution of wealth. The first covers the distribution of "marketable wealth”. The second adds in occupational pension rights. The third adds in both occupational and state pension rights. The results of these additions, for what they are worth, for 1989 are given in Table 2.


Non-existent billions
The third set of figures—that incorporating state pension rights—is completely worthless. The government actuary has estimated the total value of state pension rights in 1988 to be £573 billion (Economic Trends, November 1991). As anybody who works or has worked acquires state pension rights this amount is assumed to be evenly divided amongst the adult population. So half, or £286.5 billion, is attributed to the bottom 50 percent. This is three times the total “marketable wealth” owned by this category and an average of £13.000 a person, so, by this simple device, increasing their average holding from £4000 to £17,000! Since only 1 percent of the total, or £5.73 billion, is added to the total wealth held by the top 1 percent, the overall effect is to considerably reduce the degree of inequality in the figures for the distribution of wealth. The share of the top 1 percent falls to 11 percent and that of the top 10 percent to 38 percent while that of the bottom 50 percent rises to 17 percent.

But this exercise is quite fraudulent. This figure of £573 billion—equal to more than a third of “marketable wealth”, which is wealth that really exists and is recorded in the first set of figures in Table 1—is purely fictitious. It has no real existence. There are no real assets “owned by the working class” and invested on the Stock Exchange that correspond to it. The figure is obtained by converting the flow of income represented by present and future state pensions into a notional lump sum. This is legitimate for some accounting purposes, but what is not legitimate is to go on to assume that this sum actually exists and to attribute it to individuals, in the event mostly workers, as part of their wealth.

State pensions in Britain are paid out of taxation. They are what the National Accounts statisticians call a “transfer payment”; someone else’s income is taxed and then transferred to state pensioners as their income. As taxes ultimately fall only on property incomes there are real capital assets somewhere which, through the exploitation of productive labour, yield the income out of which state pensions are paid. But these assets belong not to workers with state pension rights but to the rich property-owners on whom the taxes to pay the pensions fall.

The absurdity of converting a transfer payment into a notional capital sum and counting this as part of the wealth of the recipient can be seen when other transfer payments are given the same treatment. Income Support, for instance. It, too, could be converted into “wealth" and used to show that the poor are not really poor at all. In fact, since in many instances Income Support is higher than the basic state pension and since, being paid to people below pension age, it is payable over a longer period, the “wealth” which would be attributed to many on Income Support would be much greater than the extra £13,000 state pensioners are supposed to possess. Because attributing wealth of, say, £20,000 to someone on Income Support would be dismissed as absurd, the government's statisticians have not dared to do this calculation. They’d be laughed to scorn, as they should be for doing the same thing with state pensions.

But what about occupational pensions, those paid by employers? Most occupational pensions are not transfer payments since they are paid out of a fund that really does exist and which really is invested, among other places, on the Stock Exchange. The government actuary estimated the value of occupational pension rights in 1988 to be £441.6 billion, or on average £21,800 for each of the 20 million people in occupational pension schemes (Economic Trends, November 1991). But the total value of all pension funds is only £330 billion. It is the inclusion of civil service pensions, which are transfer payments, that is the main explanation for this discrepancy. So these must be taken out before we can even begin to take the figures seriously.

Once this has been done, there still remains £330 billions worth of real capital. Who does it belongs to? Legally it is the property of the trustees of the pension fund, who are required by law to manage it in the best financial interests of the scheme's existing and future pensioners. But this is not the whole story.

Employers are not obliged to set up a pension scheme for their employees, so those that do can be assumed to have done so in what they perceive to be their own best interest; in other words, with a view to enhancing their profits and profitability. Such factors as winning the loyalty of white collar staff, attracting and keeping skilled labour, and having a generally contented, and so more productive, workforce enter into the calculation.

If an employer wants to set up a pension scheme the law lays down that the money to pay present and future pensions must be kept quite separate from the rest of the firm's capital. Otherwise of course the temptation would be there for the employers, when they needed more capital or when they get into financial difficulties, to raid the money in the pension scheme. In most schemes the trustees are employer representatives wearing another hat and, although few go as far as the late great Robert Maxwell, they sail as close to the wind as they can. The law permits up to 5 percent of a pension fund to be invested in the employer's business. Employers can also quite legally appropriate a part of any surplus in their pension scheme:
  Companies throughout the country are wondering if they can. or should, follow Lucas by siphoning cash from their own pension funds.
 The group, based in Birmingham, has swelled its coffers by £150m. using a new rule giving companies access to what has been an untouchable source. The money came at a useful time for Lucas, whose automotive arm has been hard hit by the recession: it reduces the ratio of shareholders’ funds to company debt from 39 to 16 per cent.
 Attempted raids on the pension fund are a favourite tactic by finance directors looking to shore up balance sheets and are usually the catalyst for heart-rending schemes in which pensioners, having given the company the best years of their lives, feel distraught. insecure and betrayed . . .
 The freeing of the Lucas pension fund surplus results from a change to tax legislation governing occupational—that is, funds linked to employers’—pension schemes. (Independent, 26 November 1991).
There have also been cases where firms have been taken over by rivals hoping to get their hands on the surplus in their pension fund.

So, who do pension funds belong to? As can be seen, a strong case can be made for saying that they belong to the employers who set them up. The existence of the scheme benefits them; they have the final say in how the scheme is run and what benefits it provides; they pay most of the money into the scheme and, as the Lucas case shows, they can get some of it back when there is a surplus. On this view, the funds belong to the employers but are kept, by a legal device, in a fund separate from the rest of the capital of the business.

That there are serious difficulties in saying that pension funds are owned by the workers who receive or are due to receive payments from them is in part recognised by the Inland Revenue itself which excludes them from the figures it issues for the amount and distribution of “marketable wealth”. Their grounds for doing so are that, although in their view the capital in pension funds can be attributed to individuals and then counted as part of their wealth in the same way that they do for state pensions, these individuals don't exercise full ownership rights over it— they can't sell it or bequeath it to their inheritors; in short, they can't “market” it. To get round this the Inland Revenue has invented the strange concept of “non-marketable wealth” as wealth owned by individuals but over which they cannot exercise the basic right of ownership, namely, to sell it!

Workers have a more sensible conception of what occupational pensions are, seeing them, not as part of their “wealth”, but as deferred wages paid by their former employers.
Adam Buick

Next month: Do the rich get richer?

Story of an election (1992)

From the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the end the workers voted for the devil they knew. Kinnock, whose readiness to sell his soul and any physical parts of his anatomy to the devil as the price for power, finished with neither principles nor power. Ashdown, the shady middle man, ended the day firmly in the middle of the wilderness. dealing cards in a game which nobody needed to play with him.

The Greens suffered what future historians may decide to call The Fate of Kinnock: after a heated Conference debate as to whether they should be pragmatic and voter-friendly or say what they meant, the opportunist majority won, but the workers refused to offer the Green politicians the remotest lick of power. The Natural Law Party, created in 1992 with the backing of hippy millionaires and the ability to buy their way on to TV stations which have refused electoral broadcasts to socialists since TV started, proved that you can buy a few hundred votes in a few hundred constituencies if you have enough money and enough voters with enough madness.

It was a dull election which was dominated by media rambling and boring polls which proved to be wrong. It is too unkind to wish that the pollsters, together with the now obsolete kremlinologists, enjoy a short while on the dole queue followed by a long while doing something useful with their lives?

The essence of the election was negativity. The Tories did not win; indeed, most voters opted for parties other than Major’s. The Tory election campaign, backed by nearly every newspaper, was designed to scare workers against voting Labour. The Labour Party, wedded to the market and virtually the same in policy terms as the Conservatives, used most of its fire attacking the wicked Tories and presenting slick, sick ads with film stars and no ideas. As ever, the Liberals played it dirty. The most interesting poll of the election showed that negative motivation amongst younger voters outnumbered positive reasons for voting choice by three to one (Guardian, 12 March).

The socialist campaign
The Socialist Party decided to contest the London seat of Holborn and St Pancras. The campaign, organised by Camden branch, owed its success to enthusiastic support from many people, both members and supporters of the party. Manifestoes were printed by the party printers on our own presses and delivered free by the Post Office. Thousands of posters and stickers were printed and displayed. Open-air meetings were held in Camden Town. Kentish Town. Brunswick Square and Lincoln’s Inn. A loudspeaker car toured the constituency blasting out somewhat different messages from the other parties. Three different types of leaflets, in addition to the manifesto, were printed and delivered across the constituency. One thousand extra copies of the election issue of the Socialist Standard were distributed and so were many more back-issues. An eve-of-poll rally in Conway Hall had standing room only and was followed by a less formal gathering in a nearby bar where those interested met and talked with us. It was hard not to notice us in the area: the campaign is but a beginning of our serious work in Camden where we are determined to make the Socialist Party a force that the defenders of capitalism will be unable to ignore.

It was not all cheer and beer. The campaign had its down points and these told us a thing or two about how the capitalist system works. This party, which is hostile to both the market and to the rule of bureaucrats, was more than once the victim of both.

First, the market and the election. For the days after the election was called we roamed the constituency looking for an election office to rent. There was no shortage of empty shops in prime sites, but a combination of ridiculously high rents and lousy premises kept us out in the cold.

Finally, we found a shop which was affordable and more than half decent. The price was fixed with the agent and we arrived on the first Friday of the campaign (three weeks from the election day) ready to set up for action. A complication had arisen, said the agent: a well-known property company was the owner of the shop and was uncertain about letting us use it for “political reasons”. No Socialists Wanted Here. This is called democracy. We were told to wait for the directors to think further on the matter, but gently suggested that they jump somewhere where the water is less than fresh, and by that same Friday evening we moved into a shop in the less convenient area of Chalton Street, off Euston Road. The election office was transformed from a slum into a pleasant environment and was used efficiently for the three-week campaign.

Bureaucratic interference in our campaign came from the Post Office who told us that our manifesto, which had been stamped and approved by them, could not be delivered because it advertised our election rally. We pointed out to them that our last manifestoes had advertised meetings, and that the Post Office stamp of approval was placed right next to the rally announcement. They accepted that they were in the wrong, but not before wasting two days when the manifestoes could have been distributed by them. We are now in dispute with the same bureaucrats concerning several thousand manifestoes which they failed to arrange to distribute in the Kentish Town area.

Honest Politics
As ever, we made it clear to our fellow workers that while it is in their interest to vote for our candidate, we did not want their votes unless they were socialists. We asked the workers not to vote for us unless they agreed and they obliged: we won 175 votes.

Little can be said about our vote, but, for the psephologically-minded, here are a few points worth thinking about—“just for fun”, as the man with the silly swingometer might put it. Firstly, 175 votes equals 0.4 percent of those who voted, or four voters out of every thousand. It is a higher percentage of the vote than any national election we have contested for over twenty years, and since we were up against the Greens, the Natural Law Party and a Leninist outfit, as well as the big three parties, we may presume that our votes were not all mere protest votes but represented genuine support for our unequivocal socialist manifesto.

Secondly, even if we assume that not all the votes were as sound as we would like them to be, even if we halved the number of votes and then projected it across the country (assuming that socialist consciousness is not innately higher in Camden than elsewhere) we would have had 50,000 genuine socialist votes. If such a calculation is reasonable, it is amusing to think that there are already twice as many socialists in Britain as there arc millionaires!

Thirdly, the tactic of Leninist opportunism has been discredited by our result. Standing against us was the Revolutionary Communist Party, a disreputable Leninist sect. Being opportunist tricksters, they employed the old tactic of standing under the name of a front organisation: “Workers Against Racism". Yet, despite their reformist campaign and their efforts to appeal to populist single issues, the Socialist Party’s undisguised principles won more votes than them. This was not only the case in our constituency: the Socialist Party won more votes than any of the Leninist candidates standing in London constituencies. In times past parties like the Communist Party told us that appealing to the workers on the basis of tactical reformism was the only way to win votes. It is gratifying to note that honesty was respected more than tactics.

As for the other Leninist sects, their position in the election was just as disgraceful. Their call was to vote Labour. Workers News, the paper of the “Workers International League (Leninist-Trotskyist Ten- dency/Britain)” had as its election headline: “Kick Out The Tories! Vote Labour . . . But Reject Kinnock's Cowardly Policies”. The election headline of Workers Power stated “Vote Labour—But Organise To Fight!”. Rather like telling workers to jog on the M1, but remember to take some bandages.

As ever, the barmiest Leninist nonsense came from the SWP whose 4 April issue of Socialist Worker (the paper for those students who can only achieve a Leninist level of consciousness) had the following headline: “Major Out. Vote Labour. But Build A Socialist Alternative". Of the Labour Party, which they urge workers to waste their votes on, the same issue states that:
  the word socialism is not used once in labour’s election manifesto. Labour leaders have hardly uttered it throughout the campaign. Labour's priority in recent years and in its manifesto has been to appease big business and the bankers. (Our emphasis)
So, here is a so-called socialist organisation bemoaning the fact that Labour never speaks about or stands for socialism and instead supports the interest of the class enemy and therefore workers should vote for them.

In order to diagnose the symptoms of this political insanity (as well as put socialist leaflets into the hands of workers attracted to it by the pseudo-socialist title of the SWP), we attended their rally in our constituency where they were urging workers to vote for the party of “big business and the bankers” against the Socialist Party. Their speaker, one Alex Callinicos, a politics lecturer from York University, declared how delighted he was that Labour was ahead in the polls and how workers must be persuaded to vote Labour in order to learn that a Labour government will attack them just like the Tories!

SWP meetings are stage-managed and most of the “questions" from the audience take the form of pre-arranged harangues from members of the cult. The SWP is a party of confused capitalist reformism and urges workers to vote Labour "without illusions”. Interestingly, the rather less confused. but equally non-socialist Financial Times came out on election day with exactly the same recommendation to vote Labour but without illusions.

In place of leaders
Our candidate did not stand as a leader or potential leader. What he called for was a democratic socialist mandate. All of the other parties called on the workers to follow rather than think.

The manifesto of the Natural Law Party informed its readers that "our candidates have demonstrated greater orderliness of brain functioning, indicated by EEG coherence; and greater command of Natural Law, indicated by improved mind-body co-ordination—Yogic Flying”. On the basis that these self-styled superbrains can fly through the air in ways that would have left Lamont and Smith standing in silent awe, it behoves the floating voter to examine the economic section of the manifesto of their local floating candidate: "The Natural Law Party upholds the principle of free-markct economy".

Not to be outdone by such spectacular activities, Frank Dobson, the elected Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras, performed the much-admired circus feat of The Disappearing Man: he ran no meeting in the constituency throughout the campaign and appeared on BBCTV on election night saying that he had spent the best part of the campaign touring Britain.

Should he ever extend his tour into the constituency which political ignorance has made his, he might like to consider that there are two as yet unacknowledged challenges to debate awaiting him from the Socialist Party and there are 175 local voters who would like to see him respond to the genuine case for a socialist transformation.
Steve Coleman


Election Result
Abstentionists 23.863: Dobson (Lab) 22,243; McHallam (Con) 11,419: Horne- Roberts (Lib-Dem) 5.476 Wolf-Light (Green) 959: Hersey (NLP) 212; Headicar (Socialist Party) 175; Lewis (Trot) 133.