Friday, January 31, 2014

The "Money" System (1966)

Report from the August 12th 1966 issue of the Hackney Gazette

S.P.G.B. lecture at Hackney

"Money dominates Man almost completely in modern Capitalism. Man's history shows no other human invention to which he is so subservient," said Mr. H. Baldwin, lecturing recently at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Hackney Branch. "Despite its universal use, many mysteries surround money and most people have only vague notions about its nature. It is credited with magical, mystical powers which really stem from its users. It has no use or existence apart from men in society. Men do not derive power from money, but money derives its power from men."

In Capitalism, he continued, everything produced by labour is reduced to money terms; has a price. All spheres of human activity are measured by cost. Every human relationship is either directly affected or tainted by money considerations. Working-class family life, particularly, centres around the wage-packet, which determines the standard of living, amenities and social status enjoyed, type of clothes and education of the children, the future wage-earners. Success is measured by pay, irrespective of usefulness of work.

"The basic capitalist relations of buyer and seller, employer and employee, landlord and tenant, into which all enter, are regarded—almost revered—as indispensable, yet they need not exist at all at Man's present industrial development."

The rich are not rich merely because they have money, but because they own the means of production and distribution. The rent, interest and profit they accumulate, derived from the sale of commodities, produced by workers but owned by capitalists, represents their real wealth. The poor, on the other hand, are not poor because their wages are low but because, not owning means of production and distribution, they are compelled to continue as workers for wages whether high or low. Since people are esteemed for their possessions they display rather than for their capabilities, many workers accumulate a mass of trashy, flashy junk, cheap, commonplace substitutes for the possessions of the rich. The so-called culture pattern set by the wealthy is imitated by workers and futile pastimes replace the zest of living.

All this, declared the lecturer, takes place against a background of ceaseless industrial struggle and international conflict, generally accepted as inevitable, a view strongly challenged by the S.P.G.B.

Man's mastery over nature has transformed the Earth but the fruits of science and technology are not readily available to him. The "money" system's straitjacket  stifles his every move. Hundreds of millions still starve and "live" in slums. Social techniques remain only potential while the phantom dominates the real. Capitalism's antiquated social relationships prevent abundance for all. These must be replaced but first understood. Hence the need to understand money.

Mr. Baldwin explained Karl Marx's analysis of commodities and money and concluded: "In terms of satisfying human needs, the 'money' system, the production of useful things primarily for sale at a profit, is a failure. Profit is now primary over people. Politicians, world bankers, economic experts, members of Prices and Incomes Boards, all act futile parts in a pointless farce. At this very moment, the Labour Government is prepared  to inflict hardship on people in order to defend money: to save the pound even if it brings unemployment and suffering to many workers.

"The S.P.G.B. holds that the social division into rich and poor, the contrasting extremes of wealth, are inseparable from the 'money' system, which is now redundant. The S.P.G.B. points the way to the next stage in Man's social development; to World Socialism, a world-wide, moneyless, classless society in which all Man's productive means would belong in common to all humanity. In Socialism the means of life would be produced in abundance solely for use and distributed freely, not exchanged or sold, rendering money unnecessary. Freed from the debased motives engendered by Capitalism, humanity could at least realise its full physical and intellectual powers."

Trade Unions and "Public Interests" (1967)

Report from the 7th April 1967 issue of the Hackney Gazette 

S.P.G.B. lecture at Hackney

"The myth of the 'public interest' is used by politicians who run Capitalism to mask the conflict of economic interests between exploited and exploiters. It deceives workers into believing that they have a common interest with the capitalist class and diverts their attention from their own real interests," asserted Mr. J. McGuinness, lecturing recently at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Hackney Branch.

The S.P.G.B., he said, claims that capitalist society is divided into two classes whose economic interests are completely opposed. The means of production and distribution are monopolised by the capitalist class. The working class, the overwhelming majority of the population, mainly owning little or no property, are compelled to seek employment by owning class as wage or salary workers. The rent, interest and profit of the capitalist class are derived from the surplus which the workers produce over what they are paid for their labour-power. Hence the capitalist tries to keep wages and salaries down while the worker constantly resists and attempts to improve his position.

This conflict, inherent in Capitalism, is responsible for the industrial strife. Machine-breaking, strikes, lockouts and penal legislation have testified to this antagonism of interests for over a century and a half, he said.

Reviewing Trade Union history, the lecturer continued that, with the rise of the factory system at the beginning of the nineteenth century, British wage-earners had to fight a grim battle for the right to combine to improve their conditions. The Unions found arrayed against them not only the individual masters or groups with whom they were directly struggling but also the forces of the entire master class, represented by the State. Anti-combination laws pressed heavily upon them and for long they were subject to legal persecution as unlawful conspiracies.

Even when these laws were somewhat relaxed, their interpretation by judges continued to deprive the Unions in great measure of their effectiveness. Gradually the employing class saw the unwisdom of trying to destroy them and by Acts of Parliament beginning in 1824 and culminating in Acts of 1871-6 trade union action was legalised and union funds protected.

In time the masters discovered that ambitious Labour leaders, on the industrial and political fields, whom the workers have all too readily trusted, could by judicious flattery and other means, be used to help maintain the industrial peace they so much needed. Whereas previously the economic interest of the workers were the Union's sole concern, these leaders now appealed to a fictitious "public" or "national" interest in order to restrain the workers' demands. This together with the constant improvement of machinery, methods of working and financial organisation by employers has steadily undermined the Unions' efficiency as fighting forces.

Ironically, the Labour Party, originally formed to protect Trade Union interests, today controls the State power and under the guise of "public interest; legislates against workers' interests, on behalf of the capitalist class. The S.P.G.B., however, has always exposed the anti-working-class character of the appeal to "public interest" and has constantly warned workers not to be misled by it, he stressed.

"Both the S.P.G.B. and the Trade Unions arose out of the conflict of interests between capitalist and worker, which is innate in Capitalism," concluded Mr. McGuinness. "While the Trade Unions exist to struggle on the industrial field to maintain workers' living standards within Capitalism, the S.P.G.B. is organised on the political field for the conscious abolition of Capitalism by the workers. Its growth will depend upon the degree of their determination to end the struggle by converting the means of living into common property, so establishing a true and lasting harmony of interests within human society."

The Economics of Capitalism (1966)

Report from the October 11th 1966 issue of the Hackney Gazette

S.P.G.B. lecture at Hackney

"The post-war illusion of permanent affluence has been shattered. The failure of capitalist economists to cope with Capitalism's problems, the possibility of another great world economic crisis demands renewed interest in Marxian economics, which alone explains Capitalism's devious workings." declared Mr. S. Goldstein, lecturing recently, at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Hackney Branch.

Karl Marx's penetrating analysis of Capitalism, he continued, is today of even greater consequnce than in his own day because Capitalism now prevails throughout the whole world, including Russia and China.

Marx regarded Capitalism as a phase of Man's economic development, in which the labour-power of wage-workers is bought by the capitalist class to produce commodities. A commodity is a useful thing produced, not for personal consumption by the owner, but for exchange or sale with the intention of realising a profit. All commodities, he claimed, have a common, inherent social quality by which they can be measured against each other in exchange. This quality is Value, which consists of the human labour contained in each commodity. The Magnitude of Value is measured by the amount of socially necessary labour-time embodied in the commodity that is the amount of abstract human labour, mental and physical, measured by time "required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time." The quantity of one commodity which is exchanged for another is called the latter's Exchange Value.

Marx distinguished various historical forms of Exchange Value, namely: Accidental Form, in which one commodity simply exchanged for another: Expanded Form, in which the value of one commodity is expressed in the form of many others; General Form, in which the value of many commodities are expressed in the form of one commodity, the universal equivalent; and Money Form, in which a metal becomes the universal equivalent  and circulates as coin. The Value of a commodity expressed in money is its Price.

Since Marx's time, said the lecturer, paper notes have replaced gold as currency, but they still symbolise it, the Pound note today representing about one-twelfth ounce of gold.

Marx's outstanding contribution to economics is this Theory of Surplus Value, which explains the capitalist exploitation of labour. Labour-power, he showed, is also a commodity. Its Value being the socially necessary labour-time embodied in the worker's necessities of life required to replace it. Wages, the price of labour-power, are there therefore generally equivalent to the worker's keep.

Labour-power, however, when expended as Labour, produces commodities with greater value than the wages paid for it. Thus the worker produces the Value equivalent to his wages, part of the day, and the rest of the day, produces for his employer. Value surplus to his own needs, i.e. "Surplus Value," which the employer obtains free. The rent, interest and profit of the various sections of the capitalist class is derived from this during the process of circulation from manufacturer to consumer.

"Surplus Value is the primary motive of production in Capitalism." concluded Mr. Goldstein. "Its production leads to industrial strife and crises and its realisation on the world market to international conflict and war.

"The Principles of the S.P.G.B. are based firmly on the scientific work of Marx and Engels in the spheres of economics, history and politics. A thorough understanding of Socialist principles by workers will preserve them from past illusions and convince them that the only solution of their problems is to replace Capitalism by classless, moneyless World Socialism, based on production, not for profit, but solely for use."

What is History? (2014)

From the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism, Historians and the New History Syllabus in the National Curriculum

In February 2013 the National Curriculum Consultation Document was published and capitalist ideologue and Tory Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove made a statement to the House of Commons about the new history syllabus: 'in history there is a clear narrative of British progress with a proper emphasis on heroes and heroines from our past' (Daily Telegraph 7 February).

Earlier at the 2008 and 2010 Tory Party Conferences Gove had complained that 'our children are either taught to put Britain in the dock or they remain in ignorance of our island story, education has been undermined by left wing ideologues, the under-appreciated tragedy of our time has been the sundering of our society from its past and the current approach we have to history denies children the opportunity to hear our island story. This trashing of our past has to stop' (Guardian 30 September 2008, Daily Telegraph 5 October 2010).

When the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government came to power in May 2010, Gove invited historian Niall Ferguson to advise on the development of a new history syllabus for the National Curriculum, 'history as a connected narrative' (Daily Telegraph 30 December 2012). Later in 2010 at the Tory Party Conference Gove announced historian Simon Schama as the new 'History Czar' to ensure pupils learn Britain's 'Island Story', and review the curriculum. Schama responded 'without this renewed sense of our common story, we will be a poorer and weaker Britain' (Guardian 5 October 2010).

Conservative historians
Schama is well known for his 1989 book Citizens; A Chronicle of the French Revolution where he defines the 'Revolution' by the Reign of Terror. Historian Eric Hobsbawm described the book as a political denunciation of the revolution, a continuation of a traditional conservative view of the revolution started by Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, and continued in Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. Gove called Edmund Burke 'the greatest Conservative ever' at the 2008 Tory Conference (Daily Telegraph 30 September 2008).

Niall Ferguson is a conservative historian who cites as influences Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. His 2011 six-part Channel Four TV series Civilization: Is the West History? is a hymn to Western capitalism, global free trade and bourgeois liberalism. Ferguson identifies the 'six killer apps' of competition, science, rule of law, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic as keys to the dominance of western capitalism. Hobsbawm has called Ferguson an excellent historian but a 'nostalgist for Empire'. He is also a historian of financial capitalism having written The House of Rothschild and a biography of a merchant banker High Financier: The Lives and Times of Siegmund Warburg. His magnum opus on finance must be the publication in November 2008 of The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World which unfortunately for Ferguson was overtaken by the events of September 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed and the resulting global financial crisis. In this book Ferguson penned a hymn to global financial capitalism whereas we agree with Marx that 'money is the universal whore, the universal pimp of men and peoples'.

The Department of Education stated that 'our approach to the history curriculum has been supported by some of the country's most eminent historians' (Guardian 13 May). But the new history syllabus was immediately criticised by the President of the Royal Historical Society, the Historical Association, the Higher Education group History UK, and senior members of the British Academy.

The overall aim of the new history syllabus is 'a knowledge of Britain's past, and our place in the world helps us to understand the challenges of our time' with supporting aims to be to 'know and understand the story of these islands; how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world'. The syllabus will attempt to cover the Palaeolithic era to the fall of the Berlin Wall in seven years. Even at Key Stage 1, ages 5 to 7 years, children are expected to understand terms such as 'civilisation', 'parliament', 'monarchy', 'democracy', and the 'concept of nation and of a nation's history' (Department for Education: National Curriculum Consultation 7 February).

At Key Stage 2, ages 7 to 11 years children will be taught 'the essential chronology of British history sequentially' from the Stone Age to the 1688 bourgeois 'Glorious Revolution'. This is history as a story, chronology, narrative, dates, events which makes Henry Ford comment 'history is bunk and just one damn thing after another' quite apt. Professor Jackie Eales, President of the Historical Society said 'intellectually, it is exactly what 1066 and All That was designed to lampoon. It is a trawl through history, one damn thing after another, in a very superficial way. It's a very old fashioned curriculum' (Guardian 16 February).

One of the recommendations of the 1999 Macpherson Report was a 'National Curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism' but in April 2013 History teacher Katherine Edwards pointed out that 'the new curriculum is very likely to alienate and disengage children and young people, especially those of black and Asian origin. Black and Asian people are excluded completely from the primary history curriculum and, apart from the token inclusions of Equiano and Seacole they only feature as slaves in the secondary curriculum until the arrival of the Windrush generation' (Guardian 19 April). Later in June children's laureate Malorie Blackman added 'if children are not taught about black historical figures along with heroes such as Lord Nelson, they might be turned off school altogether' (Guardian 4 June). In fact Olaudah Equiano, freed African slave who campaigned for abolition of the slave trade and Mary Seacole, Creole nurse in the Crimean War, were only introduced into the National Curriculum in 2007 but it was announced in 2012 they were to be dropped in the new syllabus. This prompted Operation Black Vote to gather 35,000 signatures on a petition to Gove, and American Democrat Reverend Jesse Jackson to write a letter to the Times. Gove conceded and Equiano and Seacole stayed in the new syllabus. But Martin Luther King and the US Civil Rights movement have been dropped from the curriculum.

As for the role of women in history there are no women at all mentioned in the Key Stage 2 syllabus except for two Tudor queens. In Key Stage 3, ages 11 to 14 years, Mary Seacole, George Eliot and Annie Besant are grouped under the heading 'The Changing Role of Women'.

China is not included in the curriculum but is only mentioned as a loser to Britain as a result of gunboat diplomacy, although the OECD stated in March 2013: 'from a long-range perspective, China has now overtaken the Euro area and is on course to become the world’s largest economy around 2016, after allowing for price differences' ( 23 March).

‘Great Man’ Theory
The syllabus focuses on kings, queens, and the lives of great men which is part of the bourgeois 'Great Man Theory of History' which has its origin in Thomas Carlyle's 1840 book On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (1840) where he writes that 'the history of the world is but the biography of great men'.

Do 'Great Men' impose themselves on history? Marx wrote in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon: 'Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past'. It appears that Napoleon Bonaparte perceived this truth when he wrote in exile 'I found all the elements ready at hand to found an empire. If I had not come probably someone would have done like me. A man is but a man, but often he can do much; often he is a tinderbox in the midst of inflammable matter, his power is nothing if circumstances and public sentiment do not favour him' (The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words edited and translated by J. Christopher Herold. Columbia University Press: New York. 1955).

Peter Mandler, Cambridge professor of Modern Cultural History said of the new syllabus 'we need to know the history of family life, economic development, class formation, not just a list of prime ministers, admirals and treaties. And when the curriculum talks about the rise and fall of Empires it still only means the Roman Empire' (Guardian 16 February 2013).

History from below
The antidote to bourgeois 'Great Men' history is 'History from below' (the term coined by historian George Lefebvre) which is people's history, the history of the working class, everyday history or even micro-history. A good example of 'history from below' is The Crowd in the French Revolution by George Rudé where he points out that 'those who took to the streets were ordinary, sober citizens, not half-crazed animals, not criminals' in contrast to Carlyle, Dickens and Schama.

E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class is a sweeping people's history of the English proletariat but his book Whigs and hunters: The origin of the Black Act is a great example of micro-history. Following the collapse of the 'South Sea bubble' in 1720 there was an economic downturn and groups of poachers appeared in forests in Berkshire and Hampshire stealing deer from the aristocracy. The Whig government responded with an Act in 1723 which introduced the death penalty for over fifty offences. The Act would not be repealed until 1823. The Act can be seen as an example of 'bloody legislation' against the working class. In 1688 there were fifty capital offences on the statute book but by 1800 there were 220 capital offences mainly concerned with the defence of property. Between 1770 and 1830 35,000 death sentences were handed out with 7,000 executed.

At present capitalist ideologists are engaging in a type of 'historical revisionism' in relation to the First World War. In The Great War was a Just War published in History Today in August 2013, Gary Sheffield writes 'Britain’s First World War was a war of national survival, a defensive conflict fought at huge cost against an aggressive enemy bent on achieving hegemony in Europe. If the allies had lost, it would have meant the end of liberal democracy on mainland Europe'.

Prime Minister David Cameron's speech in October 2012 at the Imperial War Museum announced that there would be commemorative events to mark the First World War. These would include the outbreak of war, the naval battle of Jutland, Churchill's disastrous Gallipoli campaign, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Passchendaele, and the Armistice.

The Socialist Standard of November 1914 pointed out that the Sunday Chronicle of 30 August 1914 had identified that it was a capitalist war when they wrote 'the men in the trenches are fighting on behalf of the manufacturer, the mill owner, and the shopkeeper'. In August 1919 the Socialist Standard concluded that 'while competition between capitalist groups for routes, markets, and control of raw materials exists, the cause of war remains'.

In capitalist society the working class are educated to identify their interest with the interests of the capitalist class and identify with the nation state not with our interests as a class. As socialists we believe 'the working class have no fatherland'.

As well as commemorating the First World War, the capitalist state  has also allocated £1 million to restore the battlefield of Waterloo in Belgium ready for the 200th  anniversary in June 2015. There is even talk of commemorating the 600th  anniversary of the battle of Agincourt. All this is done to bolster nationalism and ensure that the working class identify with capitalist history.

The new History Syllabus in the National Curriculum demonstrates the truth of what Marx and Engels wrote in The German Ideology: 'The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force'.
Steve Clayton

S.P.G.B. and the unions (1966)

Report from the May 24th 1966 issue of the Hackney Gazette

Lecture at Hackney

"Necessary as they are to resist encroachments on conditions and wages by the employing, class and to maintain the workers standard of living the S.P.G.B. has no illusions about Trade Unions and exposes their limitations," said Mr. A. L. Buick, lecturing on "Socialism and Trade Unionism," recently, at Hackney Trades Hall to the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s Hackney branch.

"While Capitalism, with its conflicting class interests, remains, they can serve only as defensive organisations, their effectiveness depending on the state of the labour market. The real solution of working class problems lies in political action by a majority of socialists to replace Capitalism by World Socialism."

Summarising a brief review of Trade Union history, Mr. Buick said that they had evolved from weak protective organisations of craftsmen, concerned with regulation of wages, into massive stable forces, now very much involved in the administration, of Capitalism; pillars of the State, whose opinions are considered before legislation is embarked upon. Early in the century they had formed the Labour Party to defend their interests in Parliament, but Labour Governments, concerned with running Capitalism in the interests of the Capitalist class, are forced to act contrary to working class interests and though linked with them may conflict with the Trade Unions.

Trade Unions, he continued, aim at strengthening workers, by combining together in bargaining with employers over wages and working conditions. The strike, organised withdrawal of labour power, is their main weapon. The S.P.G.B. endorses fully both aim and method, since if workers relinquished their organised struggle they could no longer resist the pressure of the employers to increase profits at the expense of wages and conditions of labour. 

The S.P.G.B., he said, sees not only the advantages of Trade Unionism in teaching workers solidarity and in helping them to obtain the best price for their labour power, but also its limitations. In the interwar years with high unemployment, Trade Union action was practically ineffective. Since 1945, however, with boom conditions, living standards have been improved, but the exploitation of the workers still continues. If wages, however, are pushed too high, employers may install more modern machinery to reduce costs. The S.P.G.B. does not approve of some activities of Trade Unions and their officials, such as industrial collaboration, serving on Government economic bodies, and support of Prices and Incomes Policies, since this lessens the independence of the unions and creates confusion among their members. It neither seeks to infiltrate the unions in order to use them for political purposes nor deludes itself that they can be used to abolish Capitalism. The time and money spent to securing a Labour Government is considered by the S.P.G.B. as misdirected, since all Governments are committed to Capitalism, which perpetuates working class problems.

"Although the S.P.G.B. and the Trade Unions both arise out of the class conflict in Capitalist society," Mr. Buick concluded, "they have quite different aims. The Trade Unions, like employers' organisations, are part of the present social system with its wages, profits, money and markets, and accept its continuation. Their purpose is to struggle to maintain or improve their members' living standards. The object of the S.P.G.B., on the other hand, is to end Capitalism and establish World Socialism, a classless, moneyless society, in which there will no longer be a working class selling its labour power to an employing class, and in which, therefore Trade Unions would be unnecessary. The sooner the workers understand the pressing need for such a basic social change, the sooner will they become socialists and organise politically to realise it."