Friday, April 2, 2010

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 142

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 142nd of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1564 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Tony Blair and the Chilcot inquiry

  • What is Real Democracy and How Do We Get It?
  • What’s Wrong with Using Parliament?
  • Quote for the week:

    "Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people." Oscar Wilde (attributed)

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Q & A: What is common ownership? (2010)

    From the April 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    What is Common Ownership?

    Quite simply, the common ownership of the world’s resources and productive capacity is the basis for a reorganisation of society that would ensure plenty of the necessities of life for everyone on the planet – no more starving, malnourished people, no wandering homeless, no senseless deaths for the want of easily affordable medical care and medicine, no more poverty, unemployment, or inequality. How can this be so? Surely, if it were possible to eliminate these scourges we would have done it long ago. Aren’t we working on these problems anyway?

    At present we live in a world where the resources of the Earth and the products made from them, the processes needed to make them, and the transportation systems to get them to you, are all owned by private individuals. A company proposes to extract resources or manufacture commodities. It needs money in order to do this. Wealthy people loan the company the necessary capital, but they don’t do it for nothing. They will expect a healthy return on their money every year of say, 10 percent, or £100 000 on every million pounds loaned. If this return is below expectations, then the lenders will withdraw their funds and look somewhere else to invest.

    This puts every enterprise in a competition for capital to fund their operations and for expansion. Thus all companies must compete and strive to do whatever is necessary to create profit to pay dividends to lenders. If a company fails in this, capital will dry up and production will stop, rendering its physical assets as junk or sold at a fraction of their value, and its employees will be out of work. In other words, commodities are only produced for the purpose of profit or they are not produced at all.
    The profits go to a tiny minority of big investors of capital to enhance their already vast fortunes that allow them to live in luxury while contributing no work whatsoever.

    We believe that the Earth’s resources are the common heritage of all mankind and should be managed for the benefit of all. Those resources are easily abundant enough to feed, clothe, and house everyone on earth and provide medical care, education and everything else necessary to ensure a full and happy life for every one.

    The establishment of common ownership would eliminate the competition for resources and for capital. It would eliminate production for profit. It would eliminate the need for states and their central governments that exist to serve today’s competitive system. It would even eliminate the need for money and trading as goods and services would be produced solely to meet the needs of humans who would have free access to those goods and services, taking them as needed. Competition would be replaced by cooperation, eliminating conflict and war and because everybody and therefore no one person or group would own the means of producing wealth, everyone would stand equal to the powers of production – no owners and non-owners, no exploiters and exploited, no employers and employed, and therefore, no classes.

    Today, this is quite obviously not the case. We have constant conflict and war, vast inequality, poverty, malnutrition, starvation and deprivation amid wealth and plenty. Workers produce all the wealth in the world and perform all the work, yet are only allowed to take home a small share of that wealth to enable them to exist so they can show up at work the next day to produce more profit that goes to the already wealthy. And they are only allowed to do so at the whim of that tiny minority of owners.

    Today, nobody starves or goes hungry because we lack food. Nobody is homeless because we lack building materials or builders, nobody lives in poverty because we lack wealth. People suffer theses scourges because they are unable to pay and thus realize a profit for some enterprise or other. In one fell swoop, in one simple action, production for profit could be replaced with production to satisfy the needs of all.

    A Nobel Prize for Marx? (2010)

    The Cooking The Books column from the April 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    “If Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin were alive today, they would be leading contenders for the Nobel Prize in economics”, wrote Paul Craig Roberts, former editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan, in an article on Counterpunch last year.

    “Marx”, he added in explanation, “predicted the growing misery of working people, and Lenin foresaw the subordination of the production of goods to financial capital's accumulation of profits based on the purchase and sale of paper instruments.”

    Lenin first. He didn’t write much on economics but the two books he published on the subject are not too bad. Both rejected “underconsumptionism”. The first, The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899) was a refutation of the Narodnik view that capitalism could not develop in Russia because of a lack of markets. The second, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), argued that the imperialism that characterised the thirty or so years till the WWI was caused by profits in colonies being higher than at home. (The nonsense about some workers in the imperialist countries sharing in the exploitation of the colonies was only added in the introduction to the 1920 French and German editions). It was heavily based on a work, Finance Capital, A Study in the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development (1910), by the Austrian Social Democrat Rudolf Hilferding. So, if anyone deserves a Nobel Prize for analysing financial capital (at least in continental Europe) it would be Hilferding rather than Lenin.

    As to Marx, he did write of the “increasing immiseration” of the working class as capitalism developed, but he did not intend this to be understood as the whole class necessarily becoming worse off materially. “Misery” included the quality of life and work and social factors such as the gap between rich and poor and not just the quantity of goods consumed. So misery could increase along with increased consumption. If Marx had meant “increasing pauperisation” (a view long supported by the old Communist Party) then he would have been proved wrong and so be out of the running for a Nobel Prize.

    Even so, Roberts wrote that the working class in America is now materially worse off than it was twenty years ago:
    “In this first decade of the 21st century there has been no increase in the real incomes of working Americans. There has been a sharp decline in their wealth. In the 21st century Americans have suffered two major stock market crashes and the destruction of their real estate wealth. Some studies have concluded that the real incomes of Americans, except for the financial oligarchy of the super rich, are less today than in the 1980s and even the 1970s. I have not examined these studies of family income to determine whether they are biased by the rise in divorce and percentage of single parent households. However, for the last decade it is clear that real take-home pay has declined.”
    The explanation he offers is “financial capital’s power to force the relocation of production for domestic markets to foreign shores. Wall Street’s pressures, including pressures from takeovers, forced American manufacturing firms to ‘increase shareholders’ earnings.’ This was done by substituting cheap foreign labor for American labor.”

    There could be something in this but there’s no way of reversing it. Capital will always flow where the profits are highest. That’s its nature.