Tuesday, January 28, 2014

No, it can't (2014)

Book Review from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Can Income Redistribution Rescue Capitalism? By Andrew Kliman, Marxist-Humanist Initiative, 2013, $8 plus postage from mhi@marxisthumanistinititiative.org

Subtitled ‘Monthly Review’s Factual & Theoretical Myths’ most of this pamphlet deals with the theoretical and statistical errors used by the USA's dominant left-wing journal in explaining the latest capitalist economic crisis. The Monthly Review attributes the crisis to rising income inequality, with the clear implication that income redistribution can rescue capitalism, though it is doubtful that Monthly Review would admit to that implication. Underpinning Monthly Review’s explanation is an underconsumptionist theory of capitalist economic crisis, and this is Kliman's main target. Underconsumption theory argues, basically, that crises are caused by a lack of effective demand.

Kliman shows that in Marx’s crisis theory crises result from the normal functioning of capitalism and are inevitable under it. Underconsumption theory, on the other hand, typically implies that something has gone wrong and can be remedied. Kliman also challenges the popular notion of the alleged success of the ‘neoliberal’ assault on the working class, the supposed decline in workers’ share of output, and their allegedly stagnating wages. He provides evidence that this notion ignores the substantial growth in the incomes of older, female, and more highly-educated working people. The evidence Kliman cites is mainly drawn from the USA but the point generally still stands. The history of capitalism shows that it is not inconsistent with rising living standards for the working class, and the 100 years prior to the 1970s saw consistently rising real wages in the USA and elsewhere but still with regular crises.

Kliman maintains that undue concern over inequality can divert attention from major economic problems like mass unemployment, people losing their homes, and poverty. And what about the fact, he says, which dominates most people’s lives, that they are forced to do what bosses tell them to do, day after day, year after year––or else starve? 'Why is there so little outrage about this', writes Kliman, 'or even concern about it?' The criticism here is mainly directed at the 2011 Occupy movement which generally focused less on these concrete problems and more on the abstraction 'rising inequality'. Some may find this line of argument controversial, while for others it will be a breath of fresh air. It should be noted that, contrary to popular belief, Marx did not condemn capitalism for its inequality (rising or not), nor did he frame his arguments for socialism in terms of material equality. For revolutionary socialists, claims Kliman, the interests of the working class and the interests of the system are fundamentally opposed and 'this is the primary reason why they maintain that revolutionary transformation of society is needed' (Kliman's emphasis).

Included in this pamphlet are selections from Kliman's book The Failure of Capitalist Production (2011) where underconsumptionist theory is examined in detail. It is sometimes suggested that Marx held to an underconsumptionist position with this statement: 'The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses'. However, capitalist production is production for the market with a view to sale and profit, not directly for human needs. It is profitability, or the lack of it, which creates the possibility of an economic crisis. And this possibility, argues Marx, is 'no more than the possibility. For the development of this possibility into a reality a whole series of conditions is required' (emphasis added). As Kliman points out, there is no suggestion here that crises are the result of persistently inadequate demand. Kliman is worried about the political implications of underconsumptionist theory because 'underconsumptionism implies that a more equitable distribution of income will make capitalism work better'. This is a fallacy all socialists oppose.
Lew Higgins

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (1966)

Report from the September 6th 1966 issue of the Hackney Gazette

Hackney S.P.G.B. lecture

"Lenin towered, intellectually, high above the capitalist mediocrities of his time, but, nevertheless, like other outstanding historical figures, was driven by circumstances often beyond his control," said Mr. J. Crump, lecturing recently at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Hackney Branch.

Although couched in Socialist terminology, Lenin's ideas, he continued, were typical of a 19th-century bourgeois revolutionary and were geared to the needs of Russian capitalism in its conflict with Tsarist feudal privilege at the beginning of the 20th-century. Long before the October Revolution of 1917, Lenin had developed ideas at variance with those of Marx and Engels, whom he professed to follow. Time after time he harked back to the French Revolution of 1789 as an example, saying that "all the old must be swept away with 'Jacobin' ruthlessness. Russia must be rejuvenated, regenerated economically."

Quoting extensively from his pre-revolution writings, the lecturer examined Lenin's views on various subjects in relation to Socialism.

On religion Lenin was prepared to compromise and to accept religious members into the Bolshevik Party, his most far-reaching demand, reminiscent of 1789, being the separation of Church and State.

To his credit he opposed World War I and exposed its imperialist nature, but his attitude to war was dubious. In 1918, however, he did stop the slaughter on the Eastern Front and secured peace for war-weary Russia.

Lenin believed that a resolute revolutionary elite could lead the non-Socialist masses to Socialism and proclaimed the Bolshevik Party as the self-appointed "vanguard" of the working class, thus departing from Marx in holding that supporters of private-property society could play a part in constructing a classless society. He saw no contradiction between democracy and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individuals, a principle later fully exploited by Stalin with dire effects.

That all he could envisage in the foreseeable future was Capitalism in Russia dressed up in pseudo-Socialist terminology, is demonstrated by his definition of Socialism as "State Capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people," which, said the lecturer, would have afforded considerable amusement to Marx and Engels.

Shortly before the October Revolution, Lenin stated his aims which comprised the ending of the war, division of land among the peasants and a number of reforms, including profit-sharing and nationalisation, particularly of the banks, which he thought would make for efficiency, enhance military prowess and permit better credit facilities for small industrialists and peasants, although he admitted, that this reform would have no  significance for workers.

Out of touch with events outside Russia, he mistakenly believed that Europe was on the verge of revolution.

"Lenin," concluded Mr. Crump, "failed to learn the lessons taught by the founders of Scientific Socialism; that Socialism could not be imposed upon an economically backward country with a non-Socialist population; that it could only be achieved after a period of industrial development by a consciously Socialist majority. The Bolsheviks were not morally wrong to institute State Capitalism in Russia, since under the conditions prevailing it was all that was possible, but in claiming State Capitalism to be Socialism they had for half a century misled the working-class movement.

"It is a tribute to the soundness of the S.P.G.B.'s Marxist position that it has consistently upheld the view that the Bolshevik Revolution could not be a Socialist Revolution and could result only in the establishment of Capitalism in Russia, a fact only now becoming generally recognised."

Labour Government's failure (1966)

Report from the 8th November 1966 issue of the Hackney Gazette

S.P.G.B's condemnation at Hackney

"The Labour Party formerly claimed to be Socialist, but events have finally exposed this notion. The differences between Labour and Tory Governments are superficial; both aim at running Capitalism," declared Mr. H. Baldwin recently, answering "Any Questions on the Labour Government" at Hackney Trades Hall, at a meeting of the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Hackney Branch.

Questioned on the difference between . the S.P.G.B. and the Labour Party, Mr. Baldwin said that the S.P.G.B.. formed in 1904. has always been independent and opposed to all other political parties in this country. Whether obviously pro-capitalist, like the Conservative and Liberal Parties or pseudo-socialist like the Labour and "Communist" Parties, these aim to achieve power by reformist election promises, but when returned can only attempt to cope with the numerous problems which Capitalism produces, inevitably clashing with working-class interests.

The S.P.G.B., while exposing the Labour Party's non-socialist character, since its inception, is the only party that aims solely to change completely the basis of society by replacing Capitalism by World Socialism, he said.

The speaker described Capitalism as a social system in which a minority capitalist class own almost all the means of production and distribution by money invested in private or Government concerns, whilst the overwhelming majority, the working class, have only their labour-power which they must sell for wages to the capitalist class. The capitalists employ workers solely to create wealth over and above the total wages paid. The commodities produced by the working class are sold to realise profit for the capitalist class. Competition for markets, trade routes and raw materials leads to international conflict and war, hence armed forces and H-bombs, while the conflict over the price of labour-power shows itself as industrial! strife.

This system, he continued, answering further questions, the Labour Government claimed to be able to plan. The Labour Party, formed in 1906 to protect Trade Unionists' interests, which claimed the workers' votes recently with slogans like "Higher Wages and Productivity" and "Planned: Growth — An End to Stop and Go" now deliberately creates unemployment as a weapon of economic policy. Again wages are frozen by a Labour Government, while prices rise, many of them by Government action. They pressed through legislation giving , them the power to fine or imprison Trade Unionists, which no Tory Government had dared to do. 

Asked about previous Labour Governments, Mr. Baldwin said it today's event are reminiscent of the past. Unemployment rose under every Labour Government since 1924. The 1945 Labour Government, the first with a working majority, also introduced a wage-freeze. As prices steadily rose steadily, helped by devaluation, real wages declined. Troops were used to break strikes and dockers prosecuted for striking. Today’s Labour Government supports America’s private Vietnam war and sends arms salesmen round the world, while the 1945 Labour Government introduced peacetime conscription, started the A-bomb and helped in the Korean War— a strange record for a one-time "Party of Peace."

Mr. Baldwin concluded: "Labour Governments, like other Governments fail to solve working-class problems, not through insincerity, but because they attempt the impossible. These problems just cannot be solved within Capitalism. The Labour Party's so-called solutions merely perpetuate the myth that Capitalism can be made to work in the workers' interests. Enmeshed in Capitalism's sordid conflict of class interests and economic chaos, the Labour Government, itself, applies the Tory policy which it formerly ridiculed, but with greater ruthlessness. The real solution is the replacement of Capitalism by World Socialism, a society of cooperation and freedom where men will really be able- to plan, their affairs and in which man, not profit, will matter most."

Spain and Democracy (1966)

Report from the 6th December 1966 issue of the Hackney Gazette

Lecture at Hackney

"Spain’s industrial backwardness was the main factor in her delay in developing political democracy. Nevertheless, Franco's new constitution, though still authoritarian, reflects real changes in economic and social relations resulting from Spain's increased industrial development," said Mr. E. Grant, lecturing recently at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Hackney Branch. 

Spain's former control of South America's gold and silver, he declared, enabled her to buy manufactured goods from other countries with developing industries. Her own industries were therefore neglected and she remained primarily agricultural. Her purchasing power suddenly ending with the breakaway of her American colonies in the early 19th century, she was left with little else. Subsequently, Spain's political history was marked by civil wars and struggles for a republic. By 1900, however, industry had begun in Catalonia and Basque Provinces. Modern towns sprang up and industry advanced during the 20th century. Out of this economic development arose conflict between the Royal Government in Madrid and the industrialists of Barcelona and Bilbao. The Government, to keep prices down, favoured an "open door" policy. The industrialists demanded protection for their new industries. Discontented, they supported militant Catalonian and Basque separatist movements. 

In 1921, nationalist revolts increased in Spanish Morocco. Inefficiently - armed, badly - paid conscripts were poured in. Their sufferings had repercussions at home. In 1931, municipal elections expressed the desire for a republic. The King left Spain and a Republican Government established formal democracy. The Government, however, was slow in encouraging industrial development. Mainly anti-clerical, it antagonised large sections of Church opinion which were amenable to change, thereby losing support of the most influential force in village communities for its programme of agrarian reform. During the Civil War, which left Spain technically crippled, continued the lecturer, the contestants on both sides included opponents of democracy. Franco was wholly supported by monarchist factions and Falangists and the Republican Government by "communists" and anarchists.

Spain has been strengthened, since 1950, as a bulwark for American power in Europe. Together with the tremendous influx of money spent by tourists, this has had a tremendous influence on economic progress, producing new industries and extensive electrification. Paradoxically, economic advance in a Fascist setting has provided the potential for development of a working class movement greater than in the past. Movements are appearing among students and workers for free trade unions, political parties and parliamentary elections. The fascist Falange fears that the fruits of the Civil War victory are being filched from them and that a form of capitalism which they did not favour will emerge. 

Mr. Grant said that Franco's demand for Gibraltar is an astute move to unify ail Spanish factions by appealing to nationalist sentiment, and concluded:

"Political democracy, according to Capitalism's needs, exists in greater or lesser measure. The term is now applied even to forms of government far from democratic. For the Socialist movement, the greater the extent to which freedom of speech, organisation and Press is allowed, the better. But democracy itself cannot solve working class problems. This requires the replacement of Capitalism by World Socialism,; for which purpose political democracy used with Socialist understanding is invaluable. Real and : lasting democracy, however, can result only from the establishment of Socialist society."

War, Waste and Want (1966)

Report from the 26th October 1966 issue of the Hackney Gazette

S.P.G.B lecture at Hackney

"We live today in a world of potential abundance. Yet, while millions are in want and many starve, part of the world's resources are consumed in producing weapons of war and in training millions of men and women to use them. How can this terrible paradox be explained?" asked Mr. F. C. Manning, lecturing on "Waste amidst Want," recently, at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Hackney branch.

Modern society's technical basis, he said, is large-scale mass production, which by its nature can be operated only by the labour of millions of people all over the world. These millions do not work alone. They work together. No man makes anything by himself but only plays some part in the co-operative labour by which things are today produced. Factories and farms, mines, mills and docks, though spread throughout the world, technically depend upon each other like links in a chain. They are but parts of one world-wide productive unit. 

Commonsense would, therefore, suggest that to derive full benefit for all from this worldwide productive unit, it should be owned and controlled by all humanity; that it should belong in common to all mankind and be controlled by them to satisfy their own needs. In Capitalism, however, the means of production belong to a small section of the population: the capitalist class, and they are used by the working class to make things, not primarily to satisfy needs, but to be sold to realise a profit on the world market.

Those who own the world and its implements of production, continued Mr. Manning, compete against each other to buy raw materials and in selling finished products. But competition is not only economic; political means are also used. The competing capitalist groups have at their disposal massive armed forces which exist to protect and further their interests. Capitalist economic conditions make them necessary. Any owning group which controlled no armed forces would be in dire peril and would go under. Not only would it be unable to protect its own wealth, it would also be unable to take and hold sources of raw materials, keep others out of a market, and to control ports and trade routes around the world. The owners, therefore, compete politically and economically for raw materials, markets and trade routes. When other political means fail, all that is left is brute force—organised, scientific killing and destruction— War.

Owning groups are always under pressure to equip their armed forces with ever more destructive weapons. In this "arms race" enormous resources are now devoted to research into nuclear physics, biochemistry and space travel. In addition, millions throughout the world are conscripted or enticed into the armed forces and trained to kill, wound and destroy.

"This," declared the lecturer, "is what is behind the paradox of waste amidst want. The problem of war. militarism and armaments is one of the many which arise from Capitalism, from class ownership and production for profit."

" Militarism." he concluded. " is the inevitable outcome of commerce, of the buying and selling that goes with the private ownership of the world's resources. To abolish militarism we must abolish commerce. To abolish commerce we must replace private property by common property; that is, we must establish Socialism. This means a worldwide change which will harmonise social production with social needs. Only then will the resources of the world be able to provide the plenty they are capable of. instead of being wasted on such things as arms.”