Friday, March 26, 2010

It’s about all of us

Cross-posted from the World Socialist Party of the United States website

In an article Peter Rachleff, a professor of History at Macalester College in St. Paul, reminds us of some statistics concerning the USA.

Between 1979 and 2005, the mean after-tax income of the top 1 percent of income earners rose 176 percent while that of the lower half rose less than 10 percent. In 1970, the average CEO earned forty times as much as the average worker. By 2010, it has become nearly 400 times.

80 percent of all the wealth in the U.S. is owned by the 10 percent at the top of our economic ladder, with some 38 percent of the wealth the property of the top 1 percent alone. The bottom 90 percent of the ladder has to share only 20 percent of the wealth.

“American workers have long organized in unions to gain a share of their productivity increases, assure fair treatment on the job, expand benefits, and lay a foundation for a secure retirement…For two generations, workers purchased cars and homes, sent their children to college, and enjoyed a genuine retirement…As the unionized percentage of the workforce shrank from 30 percent in the 1950s to 20 percent in the 1980s to little more than 10 percent in the 21st century, unions’ ability to defend their members’ wages, benefits, work rules, job descriptions, and rights on the job melted away…” Rachleff writes.

But he also describes that a union can fight back. Its success rested on the ability to make their struggle about “all of us.” To adopt an encompassing approach which pulls together its diverse membership , that builds alliances with the community and organises the support of other unions.

The WSP’s advice to workers would be :-

  • 1 ) Try to push wages and salaries as high as they are allowed to go by the owners and management.
  • 2 ) Organise democratically to achieve your aims, without reliance on leaders, who will often sell you down the river.
  • 3 ) Recognise that any union struggle is necessarily a defensive one as there can be no real and lasting victory within the profit system. So ready yourselves for the inevitable next battle.
  • Alan Johnstone

    Marxism. Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie? (1985)

    Book Review from the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The important part of the title of this posthumous work by Paul Mattick (he died in 1981) is the question mark, since Mattick did not regard Marxism as "bourgeois" at all. He did, however, want to explain how "Marxism" had become an ideology of regimes and movements which had absolutely nothing to do with Marx's aim of a classless, stateless, wageless world community.

    The first part of the book is devoted to a discussion of Marxian economics, where Mattick sets out to explain why so many academics have come to imagine themselves as Marxists without having understood at all what Marx's aim was. Thus many learned works have been published on value and price, and the so-called problem of the “transformation" of the one into the other, without the authors understanding that Marx aimed at the abolition of the price system and that for him "value was a historical category [that] is bound to disappear with the ending of capitalism" Clearly, the "transformation problem" fades into insignificance in the face of a proposal to abolish both price and value. Similarly, those academics who use Marx's ideas to make policy recommendations to governments have failed to realise that "Marxian theory aims not to resolve 'economic problems' of bourgeois society but to show them to be insoluble". As Mattick puts it, “Marx was a socialist, not an economist".

    When Mattick writes about Marxian economics. therefore, he is on the same wavelength as us, even if we can't always agree with him. As, for instance, over the supposed economic breakdown of capitalism which Mattick believed in for the whole of his political life and which he still, in this, his last book, expected to finally spark off the socialist revolution.

    The second part (which is more lucid and can be read separately before, or without, the more difficult first part) deals with "Marxism" as a political and ideological movement. Here Mattick has some very pertinent things to say, pointing out that German Social Democracy in its heyday before the First World War saw socialism not as the abolition of the wages system and the control of production by the producers, but as the control by a democratically-elected government of the one Great Cartel towards which they saw capitalism tending.

    This state-capitalist conception of "socialism" was later abandoned by them (in favour of a frank acceptance of the mixed private/state capitalist status quo) but was inherited, and to a large extent achieved, by the Bolsheviks. The Russian revolution, says Mattick, was "a sort of bourgeois revolution" in which "the historical functions of the Western bourgeoisie were taken up by an apparently anti-bourgeois party". And the following comments could just as easily have come from us:
    "The Bolshevik regime had no intention to abolish the wages system and was therefore not engaged in furthering a social revolution in the Marxian sense..."
    "...The capitalist system was modified but not abolished. The history made by the Bolsheviks was still capitalist history in the ideological disguise of Marxism."
    In this way "Marxism" became the ideology of state capitalist regimes, a theory of the totalitarian control of society by a minority, whereas Marx had always stood for a society without classes and without any machinery of coercion. It is a pity that there will be no more books from the pen of Mattick to make this point.
    Adam Buick

    Empty Hope (2010)

    The Cooking the Books column from the March 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
    “Fresh blow to hopes of consumer-led recovery as squeeze tightens on pay” ran the headline of an article in the London Times (21 January) by GrĂ¡inne Gilmore, reporting on official figures for wage growth in the three months to November:
    “Average pay excluding bonuses rose at an annual rate of 1.1 per cent for the period . . . Private sector staff saw no pay rise at all in November. . . Analysts said that companies were cutting workers’ hours and pay to try to limit redundancies . . . Colin Ellis, European economist at Daiwa Securities, said: ‘The lack of any pay increase in the private sector will weigh on consumption during 2010, much as weak wages have in Germany.’”
    She didn’t say who was hoping for a “consumer-led recovery” but this was always an impossible dream. As should be clear from her report, consumer demand depends largely on what people are paid. In other words, it is largely made up of what wage and salary workers have to spend. Which depends on the level of employment; which in turn depends on what those who own and control productive enterprises (or who act for them) decide to produce according to what they think are the prospects of selling it profitably.
    The economy, and its ups and downs, is not driven by consumer demand, but by capital accumulation, i.e. by profits being invested in expanding production. The ups and downs of consumer demand in fact reflect, not cause, the ups and downs of the economy. Paul Mattick put it well in his Marx and Keynes: “The business cycle is not caused by variations in social consuming power, particularly not that of the workers; rather the cycle determines these variations”.
    When production is expanding so is employment and income from employment. Workers have more to spend and, on the basis of the assumption that their employment is secure, are able to borrow against future expected income and so can spend even more. Some economic observers, perhaps influenced by what they were mistaught in college about capitalism being a system of production for consumption, jump to the conclusion that it is this increased consumer spending that is causing the economy to grow. But this is an illusion. Consumer spending is booming because the economy is booming, not vice versa. This becomes clear when the economy stops expanding, as it did in the second quarter of 2008 and in fact began to contract. When this happened consumer spending fell too.
    Consumer demand will never recover of its own accord. How could it? Workers can’t simply spontaneously increase their income. It will only revive when production and employment do. And that depends on the prospects of profitable production reviving. Which the squeeze on pay Gilmore reported on will in fact be contributing towards.
    Capitalism is a system geared to profit-making, not to meeting needs, not even to restricted, paying needs.

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 140

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 140th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

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    Socialist Party of Great Britain