Friday, January 23, 2015

Saturday afternoon fix (1979)

From the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

In May 1647 the supporters of Oliver Cromwell warned Parliament that "under pretence of football matches and cudgel playing and the like, have been lately suspicious meetings and assemblies at several places made up of disaffected persons" (D. Brailsford, Sport and Society, 1969, p.135). Today the ruling class need not fear subversion at Arsenal-Chelsea derbies or the dog tracks; indeed, organised sport is a necessary cement in the struggle to patch up the "nation's morale." A society that exudes boredom has to be able to provide its members with amusements. and you can safely bet that reading about, discussing, watching and engaging in sport wile away more hours of the day, for millions of people, than any other activity apart from eating, sleeping or working.

Sports are pursued today with the same tenacious ferocity with which wars are fought. Winning is everything, drawing is like kissing your sister and losing is nothing. In sport, as in the rat race, the aim is to accumulate assets—in society called capital; in football, baseball and rugby "points". Playfulness, improvisation and spontaneity are increasingly abandoned in favour of obedience to strict rules, discipline, efficiency and record times. Training, especially ay the higher levels, turns people into efficient machines who know no other satisfaction than the mastering of their own bodies.

The rules of the game in capitalist society are assumed to be perfectly natural, so that success—whether in sport or work—depends fundamentally on your attitude. If you follow the rules—or play the game—compete hard and never give up, you can be a winner. The others must learn to be good losers. The sporting concepts of "fair play" and "team spirit" have their direct equivalents  in the world of business, where "free enterprise", the "national interest", the "Dunkirk spirit" and "equality before the law" are in daily use. Both sides of industry are supposed to play the game according to a sort of sporting social contract governed by an impartial referee — the State. The fan, like the consumer and voter, has learned to take in more or less passively a product assembled by the other people—be it a sports spectacle, consumer good or candidate. All three "games" have their statistics and stars and nobody but the socialist questions all the rules.

Mass sport is the product of the reduction of working hours, urbanisation and the development of transport. Only in the last century have the activities we call sports occupied the time of any substantial section of the population. In the city states of ancient Greece or the kingdoms of mediaeval Christendom, the labour of the overwhelming majority did not provide an economic surplus large enough for more than a small elite to take part in organised games. Also, as long as most workmen were engaged in crafts or agriculture, in which they produced the whole product for the purpose of satisfying clear needs, they had less urge for systematic diversions to keep them in humour.

Team sports developed in the elite private schools of those who controlled 19th century English society and were shaped to fit the ideological and socialising needs of the class which was establishing its power at home and abroad. The split between the field and the stands developed at the same time as that between factory managers controlling production and the worker performing the fragmented tasks on the assembly line. Sport follows on directly from mechanical work, and is a factor for reducing the population to a mass and exercising discipline. When a man leaves work he finds in sport the same mentality, the same criteria, the same morality, the same movements and the same objectives—all the laws and habits required by technical organisation—which he has only just left behind at the office or factory. As in society generally, sport ignores questions of quality and focuses exclusively on what is measurable and quantifiable.

An important feature of present-day professional sport is the manipulation of athletes by doctors, psychologists, bio-chemists and trainers. In the drive to push back the limits of human capacity, technological discoveries are used to bring about organic mutations, changes in the structure of muscular growth, brain functioning, psychological equilibrium and so on. Top class distance runners think nothing of a quick change of blood before a race, thus raising the level of haemoglobin retention and endurance. For years now the sex of sportswomen suspected of being too virile has been checked with male hormonal injections and the most intimate of their metabolic functions submitted to the urine managers. In track and field circles it is next to impossible to get to the top without the use of anabolic steroids. While these add plastic muscle to the athletes frame, in many cases they have the side effect of shrinking the testes—of producing plastic supermen with no balls. The virtues of suffering and labour are inculcated into increasingly younger recruits, trained to run, jump and swim like machines and generally "produce the goods" when required.

As a noble attempt to promote friendship, understanding and reconciliation between people, sport fails with flying colours. The attitudes and norms of day to day life under capitalism carry over onto the sportsfield, with violence and deliberate brutality becoming increasingly frequent. Even chess is getting physical. A survey on the attitudes of English professional footballers was recently published, which revealed that 62 per cent thought it proper to upset a temperamental member of the opposing team; 69 per cent considered that in a match a player may attempt anything provided he is not caught; and only 16 per cent thought it necessary to behave according to the spirit of fair play. (P. McIntosh, Fair Play: Ethics in Sport and Education, 1979).

In the years that followed the Napoleonic Wars the connection between successful warfare and sport was popularised, the latter becoming an integral part of Prussian militarism. Following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 French nationalists, including the founder of the Olympics, Baron de Coubertin, sought to convince ruling elites that sport for the masses had a paramilitary value. In Britain the Conservatives introduced what was to be the Physical Training and Recreation Bill of 1937, providing physical jerks at school to get the nation in shape for the approaching slaughter. Similarly, in Canada the onset of war led to the passage of the 1943 Physical Fitness Act. In England "muscular Christians" such as Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown's School Days, forged the connection between team sports and building national consciousness. Today the institution serves the same function, with ministers for sport, "Sport for All" campaigns and the regular feasts of nationalism served up at Olympics and World Cups. Douglas MacArthur, war hero and general of the United States army, summed up the relationship on one of his lesser known lyrical poems.
Upon the fields of friendly strife
Are sown the seeds
That, upon other fields, on other days
Will bear the fruits of victory
It is through sport that workers can submerge themselves, if only as screaming fans willing "their" team to victory. Spectating (even from an armchair) acts as a kind of encounter group therapy, with each person experiencing a community absent in the routine of work under capitalism. It is much easier to get worked up about the Big match than about big unemployment or big price rises, and a temporary 'high' on Saturday serves as a tonic to face another week's work. To some the Saturday game is not a matter of life and death—it is much more important than that.

The frustrations and emptiness of existence in our society encourage the development of more and more techniques of relaxation and diversion. Sport, however, cannot successfully combat these effects so long as it plays the role of temporary escape or pleasant change of pace from meaningless work. In socialism, sport as we know it will no longer exist . . . but there will be football at Craven Cottage.
Melvin Tenner 

Sunrise capitalism (1986)

From the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Japan is often cited as an example of how capitalism can work, if only all workers were hard-working and loyal. Its low unemployment, high growth rate and high wages are apparently what we should all be striving for. Indeed, when he was describing Labour's economic policy recently, Neil Kinnock said that Labour was after a Japanese-type economy.

It is not only in this country that Japan is held up as a shining example of "successful" capitalism. In the United States, competition from Japan has led to many industries closing down - especially car and steel plants - which in turn has resulted in some American workers mistakenly blaming "dirty foreigners" for their unemployment. Russian leaders have also been pointing to Japan's economy, and the quality of their goods, as an example of what their workers should be aspiring to.

Despite the fact that in Japan unemployment is one fifth of Britain's, that wages are on average one third higher and that the economy is growing at a relatively high rate - conditions which are supposedly the best that capitalism can achieve - Japanese workers face problems and conditions that are bad even by British standards.

Housing in Japan is generally very poor and costly in comparison with Britain. It costs three times as much, which makes a nonsense of directly comparing wage rates. In the late seventies, one third of Japanese houses averaged 11 feet by 11 feet, and are often referred to as "rabbit hutches". Nearly one half of the 34 million homes in Japan have no flushing toilet and 6 per cent have no piped water. Within the three main metropolitan areas, 50 million of Japan's 120 million people are crushed; Tokyo has very few parks or gardens.

The old and sick in Japan are in a precarious position. Pensions are usually low, and some workers do not even get one. Many have to rely on savings or charity from their families, although less old people are now being looked after in this way. Some old workers are retired by companies at 55 years old, although pensions don't usually start until they are 60. On the other hand, many small businesses in Japan employ old workers who have to work until they drop.

It is not advisable to fall ill in Japan. Although there is health insurance, it is not comprehensive, and up to 30 per cent of the bill may have to be paid by the patient himself.

Unemployment in Japan may be lower, but if you are out of work then you are in trouble. Unemployment benefits usually lasts for only 90 days, although older workers at the bigger companies might get a maximum of eight months' benefit. After this, workers who cannot get a job have to rely on any savings they may have, or on their families, as there is no supplementary benefit.

Although security of employment is better in Japan (at least in the bigger companies), when companies do make workers redundant it is the 45-55 year age group that is most vulnerable. Pay rates in Japan are linked to age and workers may get as much as three times more than their colleagues in their twenties which, apart from dividing the workforce, makes them a ready target for cost-cutting employers.

Employment in Japan is not an altogether pleasant experience, and workers there have less protection than their European counterparts. Independent unions are discouraged and instead workers join company unions. These unions preach subservience and loyalty to the company, which is like cattle preaching loyalty to the butcher.

In the bigger companies workers do have relatively high wages and security (of exploitation). Long hours are expected, however, and overtime is often little short of compulsory. Many Japanese workers, however, are employed in smaller firms, where wages are much lower (up to a third), and conditions and job security are much poorer. This is most noticeable in the car industry, where the further down the sub-contracting line the worse the working conditions tend to be. Temporary labour is used a lot, with the advantage to the capitalists of being cheap and disposable.

Workers in Japan are cajoled and exhorted to work hard and be loyal to "their" company. A strict labour discipline which is instilled in workers at an early age. The school system in Japan can be brutal. Strict codes define all aspects of a child's behaviour throughout the day. The uniformed nonentities found in Japanese factories are found in the schools, where rules of dress are strict.

Large classes are geared towards passing exams, which are themselves geared to the needs of their future employers (pronounced exploiters). Failure is not tolerated. The creating of a compliant, docile workforce, suitable for the profit requirements of capital, leaves its mark on the children. Violence, bullying, absenteeism and delinquency are on the increase. Those children whose academic achievements are poor or appear different are the main targets for bullying in the classroom jungle.

In 1984, 572 people under the age of 19 committed suicide. The figure was 62 for those under 14, compared to two in Britain. The "success" of Japanese capitalism has its price.

Japan's economy is now the second biggest in the world, after the United States. But the problems facing workers in Japan, who created this wealth, have not disappeared. In fact, you could argue that they are relatively worse off, in that the wealth they have created has increased faster than their wages, becoming an oppressive, alienated force in the hands of capital. Certainly, Japanese workers do face similar problems to those elsewhere.

When capitalism is a "success", as we are led to believe it is in Japan, it is only the capitalists who benefit. It is clear that those who express an admiration for, and desire to emulate, Japan are only wanting capitalism to be "successful" in their countries. The lot of the working class is not substantially changed by capitalist success or failure. It will only be changed by its abolition.
Ian Ratcliffe

Backwaters of History - 9 (1954)

From the July 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Knights of Labour

America in 1869. Abraham Lincoln had been deal four years and Andrew Johnson was president, to be ousted in that year by the famous General Ulysses Simpson Grant. Brigham Young, who had proclaimed the doctrine of polygamy in 1852, was prophet and president of the Mormon state of Utah, to which he had led his persecuted followers five years earlier. In San Francisco the infamous Barbary Coast was at the height of its notoriety. Indian wars were being fought in Colorado. There was gold in Nevada. The westward flowing traffic on the Oregon trail was passing to the newly built Union Pacific Railway. Gun-slingers were rampant on Kansas. In the southern states, recently devastated by the civil war, the negroes, released from their chattel slavery, were being coerced into a form of serfdom through the medium of "protective legislation" and vagrancy laws. "Carpet-baggers" from the north and "Scallywags" from the south, were muscling-in on the war-torn states and creating the rackets that furnished the foundations for more than a few American family fortunes. In the northern states industry was flourishing. The European agents of American manufacturers were gathering together hundreds of thousands of willing worker emigrants, making contracts with them and herding them across the Atlantic to satisfy the hungry maw of the American labour market for cheap labour power.

Philadelphia—"city of brotherly love"—founded by William Penn, the Quaker, in 1682 as a city in which men of all races might live, each following, unpersecuted, his own religion. Philadelphia, with its growing industries, received its share of immigrants. Amongst them were many Germans, some of whom were political exiles and refugees and had experience with the International Working Men's Association.

The condition of the American workers in 1869 was vile. Tens of thousands of women and children were working eleven and twelve hours a day. Overcrowded, ill ventilated, damp, insalubrious tenements and dwelling houses were a prolific cause of disease. Wages were kept low and strikes were smashed by the importation of more and more cheap labourers from Europe and Asia. Workers were imported from China for $100 each and paid wages of from $8 to $12 a month.
"A shoe manufacturer in North Adams, Massachusetts imported 75 Chinese to displace striking members of the Knights of St. Crispin in 1870"— (The Workers in American History, James Oneal, p. 175.)
It required courage to stand up to the persecution and the outlawing black-list that threatened every worker who attempted to organise with his fellows, yet, despite these conditions, there arose some powerful working class organisations.

Amongst the garment workers of Philadelphia were some courageous men, including some of the German exiles. They were organised by Uriah S. Stephens into a secret society the name of which was not written but indicated by five stars whenever it was necessary to refer to it in print or writing. For nine years it preserved its secrecy with its passwords, handgrips and queer cabalistic signs chalked on the sidewalks and fences. Its ritual declared that,
" . . . open and public association having failed after a struggle of centuries to protect or advance the interests of labour, we have lawfully constituted this assembly and in using this power of organised effort and co-operation we but imitate the example of capital, for in all the multifarious branches of trade, capital has its combinations and whether intended or not it crushes the manly hopes of labour and tramples poor humanity into the dust."— (Quoted by Mary Beard in A Short History of the American Labour Movement. pp. 116-117.)
In 1878 this society came into the open as the Noble Order of the Knights of Labour, called its first general assembly and elected its founder as Grand Master Workman. Stephens resigned shortly afterwards and was succeeded by Terrence V. Powderley.  

The Knights of Labour proclaimed a concern for all workers regardless of skill, sex or race. It took as its slogan, "An injury to one is the concern of all." It refused to countenance craft exclusiveness, claiming that the solidarity of the workers could bridge all differences and secure "the physical well-being, the mental development and the moral elevation of mankind." Anyone who worked for wages could become a member. Only saloon keepers, lawyers, doctors and bankers were prohibited from joining.

The organisation spread all over the United States. It was organised into locals of two kinds; trade locals comprising members of one trade only, and mixed locals with membership available to all. Delegates from five locals constituted a district assembly and delegates from the districts formed the general assembly which had the over-riding authority.

The aims of the K. of L. were not revolutionary and it did not recognise the class struggle. Amongst its aims were these: —
" . . . no conflict with legitimate enterprise, no antagonism to necessary capital . . . "
"We shall with all our strength support laws made to harmonise the interests of labour and capital and also those laws which tend to lighten the exhaustiveness of toil." — (Quoted by A. Bimba in The History of the American Working Class. pp. 173-174.)
The Knights did not start out to encourage strikes and the leaders frequently tried to suppress them. They aimed to replace a competitive society by a co-operative one which would give the workers the opportunity to enjoy fully the wealth they created. This was to be done by reducing the "money power" of the banks. They also aimed to secure the eight hour day, equal pay for equal work by women, abolition of child and convict labour, public ownership of mines, railways and other utilities, and the establishment of co-operatives.

The religious fervour with which the campaign for the eight hour day was conducted drew thousands of workers to the ranks of K. of L. Despite its original aims it was forced to participate in strikes and it entered into wage agreements with employers. Its locals organised stay-in strikes amongst miners, boycotts and sent funds to strikers.

On February 26th, 1886, the shopmen on the Wabash Railroad suffered a 10 per cent. cut in pay. The following day they were out on strike and were joined on March 9th by the shopmen of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway, who had received a wage cut the previous October. Shortly there were 4,500 workers on strike. The Knights sent their Union Pacific Railroad man, Buckman, with $30,000 to lead and finance the strike and locomotives were immobilised by the removal of vital parts. The railway companies gave in but later that year they tried to break the power of the K. of L. by dismissing them from their employ. They were immediately faced with a threat of strike action by 20,000 workers, and Jay Gould, the owner of the south west railway system, surrendered.

Successes like this caused workers to flock to the K. of L. and its membership increased seven-fold in one year reaching the peak of 700,000, almost 10 per cent. of the industrial wage workers.

Later strike efforts were sabotaged by the Knight's leaders on the plea that prolonged strikes caused suffering to the workers and their families. Strikes were even called off when they had been waged to the point of success. There was an instance in Chicago. In October, 1886, 20,000 butchers were locked out by the owners of the meat packing industry in an effort to re-establish the ten hour working day, the workers having achieved an eight hour day some time previously. Two regiments of militia were sent by the State governor to force the workers into submission and the packers association employed hundreds of Pinkerton agents and provocateurs to the same end. Organised by District Assemblies 27 and 54 of the K. of L., the men held firm till the employers weakened and offered concessions. On the eve of victory Terrence V. Powderley sent a telegram ordering the men back to work and so demoralised the ranks that the workers finally submitted to the employers' demands.

In 1881 there had been formed the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour which in 1886 gave way to the American Federation of Labour with Samuel Gompers of the Cigarmakers; Union as its first president. It set out to organise the skilled workers on a craft basis based on ideas directly opposite to those held by the Knights. The A. F. of L. began to draw members from the K. of L. and a struggle began between the two organisations. At the height of its strength a rot set in in the Knights of Labour. It became the victim of that most destructive element, the labour fakir and job-seeker. When the American capitalist class was getting its biggest fright from the K. of L., that body began to crack. It had attracted to its ranks all kinds of cranks, reformers, careerists, anarchists, professional people and even a few employers. It became a battleground for all sorts of ideas. When the eight hour campaign fizzled out and the opposition of the A. F. of L. had to be met the Knights declined rapidly. The employers took advantage of their plight and with blacklist, ironclad and Pinkerton detectives set out to smash them. As the Knights crumbled the A. F. of L. rose on its ruins.

By 1900 the Knights of Labour had ceased to exist as a national organisation with any influence, although it continued in some localities until 1917. So the all inclusive "grand national union of industrial workers" passed into the limbo of dead experiments. Such is the fate of all organisations that set themselves a political objective and try to solve the problems of capitalism without aiming at its abolition. They have their day of popularity, gathering support from all kinds of people with varying ideas who will either divert it from its object or desert it, or both.

Books to read:
Class Struggles in America, by A. M. Simons.
The Workers in American History, by James Oneal.
The History of the American Working Class, by Anthony Bimba.
History of Trade Unionism in the United States, by Selig Perlman.
A Short History of the American Labour Movement, by Mary Beard.
Brief History of the American Labour Movement, by the United States Department of Labour.
W. Waters

Cooking the Books: Capitalism in Action (2012)

The Cooking the Books Column from the March 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a speech in January David Cameron talked about using “this crisis in capitalism to improve markets, not undermine them”. At least he admits that capitalism does have crises, which is progress compared to the previous Prime Minister. He said he wanted “these difficult economic times” to “lead to a socially responsible and genuinely popular capitalism. One in which the power of the market and the obligations of responsibility come together. One in which we improve the market by making it fair as well as free, and in which many more people get a stake in the economy and share in the rewards of success. That’s the vision of a better, more worthwhile economy that we’re building”.

By “a socially responsible capitalism” and a “fair market” all he seems to mean is that the top executives of capitalist corporations don’t line their pockets so much, while everything else goes on as before, with profits coming before people and market forces enforcing the economic laws “no profit, no production” and “can’t pay, can’t have”. More a nightmare than a vision.

He went on:
“We are the party that understands how to make capitalism work … Because we get the free market we know its failings as well as its strengths. No true Conservative has a na├»ve belief that all politics has to do is step back and let capitalism rip. We know there is every difference in the world between a market that works and one that does not.”
It would be interesting to know what he thinks the market’s failings are. But he didn’t say. Nor did he elaborate on how he was going “to make capitalism work”. He can’t have been claiming like Gordon Brown to be able to make it work without it leading to other economic crises in the future. No politician dares do this now.

But, then, why does he not come out and say that there will always be crises from time to time under capitalism as that’s the way it works, as many other open supporters of capitalism have done? Such as HSBC chief economist, Stephen King, who has written of “capitalism’s inherent instability” (Times, 7 February). Or Times columnist (and former Tony Blair speechwriter) Philip Collins who has commended to Ed Miliband’s attention Marx’s “picture of capitalism as creative, destructive, radical, disruptive and prone to cycles of boom and bust” (Times, 7 January).

Or Tory grandee William Rees-Mogg stating that “no theory can stop recurrent boom and bust” (Times, 22 September 2008). Or the Times whose editorial (17 September 2008) observed after the collapse of Lehman Brothers that the “profitable parts of the business will find a new home and the weaker parts closed down. This is painful and worrying but the opposite of a disaster. It might be brutal and unforgiving but this is how capitalism works. The market ensures that those who make mistakes are accountable for them. What critics are too hasty to see as capitalism in crisis is, in fact, capitalism in action”.

Falling living standards and cuts to social amenities, needed in a crisis to help restore the profitability that drives capitalism, are equally brutal and unforgiving but that’s how capitalism works. Yes indeed, his is the “party that understands how to make capitalism work”. And, no, it doesn’t believe in just stepping back and letting capitalism rip. It believes in intervening, as at present, to help let capitalism rip.

What about human nature?

From the Spring 1985 issue of the World Socialist

Although not very much to their liking, it was the Victorians who made the discovery that the human being was not an example of an act of special creation on the part of the Almighty, but instead, another animal that had evolved. Since Victorian limes many have claimed that humans could not be regarded as being unique; homo sapiens was nothing but another animal species.

The word "unique" means the only one of its kind and, although this tends to connote a concept of the absolute, the term can only be used relatively. For example, somewhere in North London is a building which the architects claim to be the first of all concrete-constructed buildings in the world. Let us assume that this claim is authentic. As a building it is like others; it was not the first building ever to be constructed. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it was the first in the world to be constructed throughout with concrete.

This kind of reasoning is applicable to the human condition. Homo sapiens is not just another animal species. Animal species it most certainly is, with phylogenetic links with the rest of the animal world, and indeed with the whole organic world. But it is a very special kind of animal species with a unique combination of complementary biological attributes which enable it to have a potentiality for qualitative behaviour of almost unlimited variability.

Superficially, there does not seem to be very much difference between the human species and its nearest animal relative, the chimpanzee, with regard to genetic distance. Anatomically and physiologically there are great similarities, but bearing in mind the adage that it is the last straw that breaks the camel's back it does not require very much in genetic distance to transform quantity into a tremendous difference in quality. So that if ramapithecus of about 9-12 million years ago can be said to be the common ancestor of all future hominid evolution, it may well be that australopithecus of about 3 million years ago represents the first great qualitative leap towards homo sapiens. The emergence of homo erectus of about 800,000 to one million years ago represents a type of homo very near indeed to the Cro-Magnon of Combe Capelle type, the homo sapiens of about 40-50 thousand years ago, of which all men and women living today are examples.

The available evidence suggests that this species has not undergone any significant biological, evolutionary changes during the 50,000 years of its existence. Homo sapiens is the sole surviving hominid species. What exists at present is a single human species which is genetically unified and which populates the earth, whose basic biological attributes are the same in every case.

It is at this point that we need to deal with the term "race" as applied to human beings. In the context of biology the most basic fact in defining a species is its genetic and reproductive isolation from other species. During the course of evolution by natural selection, different species have developed through the agency of adaptation of favourable mutant variations to a restricted environment brought about by geographical isolation. A race, on the other hand, is made up of the members of a same species which, through geographical isolation, have developed physical differences which are non-basic in the sense that reproduction with the other members of the species still remains possible. A race is therefore a sub-species, or subdivision of a species which could, with continued geographical isolation and further adaptation through natural selection, eventually develop into a new species. In most cases the formation of a new species took a very long time, far longer than the 50,000 years that homo sapiens has peopled the earth.

The non-basic physical variations which now exist between groups of human beings (skin colour, hair, facial characteristics, etc), and which are considered by some ethnologists as defining "race", are mistakenly interpreted by popular wisdom to mean species. In fact all existing human beings are members of the same species, and even the term "race" is inappropriate in the human context since those sharing non-basic physical variations do not live in geographical isolation. On the contrary, there is, and always has been, constant and increasing intermarrying between the various groups. As far as the human species is concerned the factors which operate in the formation of new species have largely ceased to exist.

Although humankind is the highest form of organic existence (the supreme achievement of evolution by natural selection, as it were) it is also the end-product of biological evolution in the sense that its coming into being gave rise to a new direction which is determined by cultural development in which the ability of humans to adapt, to learn and to transmit knowledge by non-biological means is the most important single factor. With homo sapiens, evolution is no longer biological but cultural and social.

Is human nature a barrier to socialism?
In order to come to any conclusion with any degree of objectivity, it is first necessary to define what we mean by the term socialism, and also what we mean by the term "human nature".

The World Socialist Movement has a clearly stated objective which is the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community. The establishment of world socialism will result in a transformation in human relationships and social behaviour. All the manifestations and paraphernalia necessary for a market economy will be discontinued and only those things under capitalism which would be useful to the new society will be retained and the rest discarded. The concept of exchange will fall into disuse together with the use of money. The production of wealth will be carried on throughout the world with the sole purpose of satisfying needs. Socialism will be a system in which the spontaneous and voluntary code of social behaviour will be from each according to ability to each according to self-determined need.

The factors which determine human nature are the same as those which apply to other animal species. The nature of a particular species is the sum total of the basic biological attributes common to all its members. It is these biological characteristics which impose behavioural limitations on all the individuals belonging to a species, irrespective of individual variations.

Chimpanzee behaviour refers to the chimpanzee on a species basis. All chimpanzees have the biological equipment enabling them to climb trees when necessary, although they are also adapted to movement on the ground. Elephants cannot climb trees, but there is no reason for them to do so. When a tree comes into their path, their nature determines that they go around it or uproot it. Neither chimpanzees nor elephants can modify to any great extent these biologically-determined and genetically-inherited behaviour patterns; they are not only the products but also the prisoners of natural selection.

The lower animals spend the greater part of their time engaging in functional behaviour, foraging for and consuming food, excreting waste, and mating and producing young, for example. The higher primates are also subject to this functional behaviour, including homo sapiens, but in human society, with its highly complex learned and non-biologically transmitted social activity on a collective basis, this reflex and functional behaviour has become of secondary importance as an individual survival factor.

There is no evidence to suggest that the nearest animal relatives of the human species, the anthropoid apes, are evolving towards the emergence of a higher form of ape. On the contrary, they are on the way to extinction. Homo sapiens on the other hand, has no evolutionary necessity to evolve biologically. The biological equipment it already has is sufficient to ensure the possibility of millions of years of cultural development to come. Human nature is the sum total or combination of the anatomical and physiological attributes applicable to all members of the human species on a species basis. This is to say that all groups of members of homo sapiens have, apart from minor variations, the same basic biological characteristics, which are, upright stance with bipedal locomotion, prehensile hands with opposable thumbs, stereoscopic, binocular, colour vision, vocal tract anatomy, and above all, the relatively largest and most complex brain of any species or organism living, or long since extinct.

Human behaviour on the other hand is what the human being does individually and on a social basis within the limits set by human nature as it has now been defined. But unlike other animals whose behaviour is not only very limited but stereotyped by specialised biological attributes for a simpler lifestyle, the complementary character of human beings' biological nature enables the species to possess what is virtually unlimited plasticity and adaptability of thought and action. A glance at our history over the past 40,000 years will show that human behaviour has changed considerably over time, and on occasions very drastically. Over tens of thousands of years human nature has remained more or less constant. But what is there in bipedal locomotion with upright stance etc., which makes it absolutely certain that human beings in society will behave in a preconceived way? The answer to that question is—nothing.

The human animal is a conceptually-thinking animal. It has the biological ability, not only to react in its behaviour to environmental changes going on around it, but to condition and determine changes in that environment for its own purposes. Human nature is not therefore a barrier to socialism. But this does not mean that human beings will automatically use their potentiality for finding rational solutions to social problems, so that socialism will come about without any effort from individual members of society. Socialism can only happen if people the world over want it to happen. It can only be operated by socialists.

It only remains to add on this whole question of human nature/human behaviour that they are both parts of a single whole. But this is not to say that they are the same, any more than each end of a walking stick is the same because they are part of a whole stick. When considering the anatomy and physiology of the human body, although the feet and the head are joined together as parts of the whole body, this is not to say that an assessment of the particular function of each is the same.

All of the investigations of modern science tend to become more specialised (more and more becoming known about less and less). But in those sciences pertaining to the human species, the reverse seems to have taken place, each specialist presenting the same kind of eclectic explanation.

It is the kind of reasoning which enables a person like Richard Leakey, who is eminent in the study of pre-history, to at the same time hold religious ideas, and Sir Frederick Hoyle, world-renowned astro-physicist and mathematician not only to hold creationist ideas of the origin of the universe but to suggest a theory of biological evolution to accommodate this belief which claims that, although evolution has proceeded through the agency and mechanism of the genes, it has not been by the process of natural selection. According to his theory, mutations are not generated through the cell structure and the genetic pool but occur from outside; apparently outer space is full of organic particles, genes, which are directed by a mysterious force and float down to the surface of the earth and in some miraculous way are incorporated into the mechanism of reproduction.

There is no doubt that Hoyle would have been well advised to have confined his writing of science fiction to the field of astronomical physics and to have left the field of biology (in this regard) well alone. However this is not to say that there are no eminent biologists who are, or were, creationists at the same time. Which might explain Hoyle's admiration of Alfred Russel Wallace, who has been described as the co-founder, with Darwin, of the theory of evolution by natural selection, and regarded by Hoyle as the greater of the two. Wallace, who became a spiritualist, in spite of his undoubted great knowledge of natural science, was hoodwinked by the most outrageous charlatanism and trickery of fake mediums.

The human behaviour of property societies is, taken as a whole, a corrupt and degenerate behaviour compared with that of peoples who lived in the so-called primitive societies that preceded them. In spite of this, however, there are many instances of people living in modern "civilised" society performing acts of heroism and self-sacrifice for the benefit of the common interest. These two factors alone—the superior social behaviour of primitive society and the many instances of self-sacrifice of people living in property society—illustrate the enormous range and flexibility of human social behaviour.

Although it is true that "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness" (Marx), it is also true that the forms that this consciousness takes can become instruments that determine social existence. It is the social contradictions engendered by capitalist society that give rise to socialist ideas. The antagonistic productive forces which have developed in the modern capitalist system have created also the material conditions for its abolition. But it is only people, or rather a majority of people, who have become conscious of this possibility who can bring about the required change in social existence. All previous social revolutions have been a transition from one kind of property society to another. The socialist revolution will abolish the last antagonistic form of the social process of production. By its very nature the introduction of socialism demands the participation of the world's population on the basis of majority understanding.

It is not human nature (which is relatively unchanging) that is a barrier to socialism, but human social behaviour which at present is determined by the social conditions of capitalism, reinforced with capitalist ideology. When this ideology is dissipated then human social behaviour, under the impact of the socialist revolution, will change dramatically, and the introduction of socialist society will become a reality.
Harry Walters (Britain)

The economic crisis—the Marxian explanation

From the April 1984 issue of the World Socialist

At the present time world capitalism is in depression. Throughout the world there are millions of unemployed. So it is important to know why this depression is happening, whether or not it could have been avoided. Will it pass away, and if so, when? Will depressions happen again in the future?

We hold that depressions are inevitable under capitalism, and that no reformist policies based on Monetarism or Keynesianism, or anything else, will make any difference. We agree with Karl Marx that capitalism and depressions go together and that the only way to get rid of depressions is to replace capitalism with socialism.

"Capitalist production moves through certain periodical cycles, it moves through a state of quiescence, growing animation, prosperity, over trade, crisis and stagnation" (Marx, Value, Price and Profit)
Nowadays we would use the word "boom" where Marx used "prosperity" and "depression" where Marx used the word "stagnation", but these terms mean exactly the same thing. The cycles are not tidy and regular like the movement of a clock. It is not possible to say how long will be the period between the end of one depression and the arrival of the next crisis, and it is not possible to say how long a depression will last. Some depressions have been quite short, but what was known as the Great Depression in the last quarter of the 19th century lasted for twenty years. There were ripples of partial recovery during this long period which faded out.

It seems safe to accept, as did Marx, that the period of prosperity, or boom, never lasts for long. Marx put it that boom conditions are the harbinger of a coming crisis, but the Keynesians and the Monetarists believe that they have discovered a way in which governments can make the boom permanent.

Marx did not use the term "crisis" to mean the same as "depression". The crisis is the sudden break which brings the boom to an end, the depression is the decline of production and increase of unemployment which comes after the crisis. It is important to recognise the difference between these two stages of the trade cycle, because the factors which govern the period up to the crisis and the crisis itself, are different to the factors which operate during the period of depression.

The state of quiescence, as Marx called it, is the period towards the end of the depression when production has ceased to fall and when unemployment has ceased to grow, when things are moving along a fairly even but low level. We seem to have been in a period of "quiescence" for the last year or year and a half; in other words, unemployment having increased fairly rapidly about two or three years ago, and production having fallen sharply, in the last year or so, things have been moving along fairly quietly, without getting worse.

The period of "growing animation" is when most industries are working to full capacity and unemployment is correspondingly very low. The boom moves into the next phase which Marx called "overtrade", when a number of industries find that they have each produced more than they can sell at a profit in their particular market. Then comes the sudden crisis followed by the depression.

It is important to be clear about the state of "overtrade" which produces the crisis. It does not mean that there is a fixed total size of the market and that a crisis occurs when total production exceeds it. After every depression the total market and total production have gone to higher levels and will do so again. Nor does it mean that each and every industry is at the same time producing more than can be sold in its market. Such a situation does not arise and the term "general overproduction" is meaningless. Each industry produces for its own particular market but to some extent the expansion of production in one industry creates a larger market in some other industries. If, for example, British motor manufacturers, having produced and sold a million cars last year, decided to expand production so that, in total, an additional million cars are being produced this year, the production of this additional million will create additional markets for steel, rubber, glass, engines and other requirements of expanded motor car production even before the additional million cars are sold.

What actually happens in the boom is that some industries produce too much for their particular market. Competition to sell the excess reduces prices, leading to reduced profits, or no profit at all. Companies then scrap plans for further investment, reduce output and sack workers no longer needed. This in turn affects the market for other industries and if the combined effect is large enough, results in depression with its heavy unemployment.

In the autumn of 1973, after a period of expanding production and falling unemployment, a survey of companies was conducted, asking them if they were producing below capacity and if not, why not. While a considerable number reported that they were producing below capacity because of falling orders, about half the companies had more orders than they could meet and were producing below capacity because they could not recruit enough skilled workers or could not obtain enough materials and components. Among the listed scarce materials was steel. A few years later, when unemployment had risen sharply, there was a surplus of steel for which no market could be found and steel workers were being made redundant.

The capitalists in each industry are in business to make profit—the more the better. How much they succeed in making depends on several factors. Their profits will increase with bigger sales and higher selling prices, and a lower wages bill. Their profits will fall if sales fall or selling prices fall or the wages bill rises.

As heavy unemployment tends to depress wages, unemployment is also a factor. This has led some British Labour Party spokesmen to put the view that the Thatcher government in Britain deliberately created 31/2 million unemployed in order to hold down wages, help curb the rate at which the general price level is rising, and also to increase the amount of profit going to the capitalists. If it were true that governments control the rise and fall of unemployment, the Labour Party would need to explain why, in the four periods of Labour government in Britain in the 50 years 1929-1979, unemployment was higher at the end of each of the four periods than it was at the beginning.

If governments had such control, no government would want heavy unemployment, and the capitalists would want to have the unemployed at work producing profits for them. Capitalism is not under government control in that way: crises and depressions occur from time to time irrespective of the party in office and the policies it applies.

The Labour Party case against the Thatcher government is that Mrs Thatcher deliberately increased unemployment from 5.4 per cent in 1979 to 12.5 per cent in 1982 in order to depress wages and increase profits. But the reverse happened. Wages went up and profits went down. Official figures show that "income from employment" rose between 1979 and 1982 by £41,000 million while gross trading profits of companies fell by £331 million. More light is shed on it by showing gross trading profits each year as a percentage of total income from employment in that year. The percentage rose from 17.7 per cent in 1975 to a peak of 25.2 per cent in 1979, after which it declined each year, to 18.3 per cent in 1982. So, in the years 1979-1982, as unemployment went up, the relative amount of profit went down. With the recent expansion of sales, profits are now rising sharply again.

Looking further into the question, what causes a boom to develop into a crisis, it is useful to start with the early 19th century French economist J.B. Say, who thought that capitalism is a self-regulating system which, if left to market forces, would keep industry working to full capacity. He is remembered for his saying "every seller brings a buyer to market", by which he meant that every capitalist who sells a commodity then has money with which to buy another commodity.

But, as Marx pointed out, while each seller is able to buy another commodity, "no one is forthwith bound to purchase because he has just sold". He may choose not to do so and "if the split between the sale and the purchase becomes too pronounced", this "asserts itself by producing a crisis".

An example of this is the General Electric Company. At the beginning of the present depression, having sold commodities they had £400 million "cash" but instead of using it to buy materials with which to produce more of the commodities in their range of products, they chose to lend it and get income from the high current rates of interest. By the end of 1983 GEC's "cash mountain" had reached £1,400 million.

If GEC had behaved as J.B. Say supposed, they would have used their cash to recruit more workers, and expand output, but like many other companies, they have been closing some of their factories and declaring workers redundant. They have not done so because, so far, they have seen no prospect of making more profit by doing so.

Many economists and politicians blame the banks for the depression. They say that if only the banks would lend money to industry, production would expand again and unemployment would fall. The banks are in business to make profit by re-lending the money depositors lend to them and they do not need economists and politicians to tell them how to run their business. But banks are only interested in lending more money to companies which themselves see prospects of using it profitably. When trade improves and companies can expand investment and production profitably, there is no dearth of funds for that purpose, either direct from investors or through the banks. Marx dealt with the fallacy that depressions are the result of industry's inability to borrow funds and his case receives striking confirmation in the fact that, far from wanting to borrow from the banks, some of GEC's cash is lent to the banks.

Why does the prospect of investing profitably disappear for many companies and a crisis occur. One of the factors already mentioned is that some industries find at the height of the boom that they have produced more than can be sold at a profit in their particular market. It is inevitable. In the period of recovery from a depression the market for each industry is seen to be expanding, and the firms in that industry in each country are set to take advantage of the expansion. But they do not know with any precision how great the total expansion will turn out to be, and even if they did, they are in competition with each other and each section tries to get in as quickly as possible and to capture as large a share as it can. As Marx said, they all behave as if the market is limitless.

Another factor is the rise of wages causing a reduction of profits. In the phase of expansion and boom unemployment falls and the unions are in a position to push wages up. A general rise of wages beyond a certain point will wipe out profit for some companies and will influence the decisions of the more profitable companies about further investment and expansion of output.

A popular belief among trade unions is that raising wages is a cure for depression because it "expands the market". But of course a rise of wages does not "expand the market". What it does is to expand the market for the goods the workers buy, but correspondingly reduces the market for the consumer and luxury goods bought by the profit receivers and reduces the amount available for investment.

Marx dealt with the argument that raising wages would solve the problem by pointing out that in the boom wages do rise but without the supposed effect of averting a crisis.
If one were to attempt to clothe this tautology with a semblance of a profounder justification by saying that the working class receive too small a portion of their own product, and the evil would be remedied by giving them a larger share of it, or raising their wages, we should reply that crises are precisely always preceded by a period in which wages rise generally and the working class actually get a larger share of the annual product intended for consumption. From the point of view of the advocates of "simple" commonsense, such a period should rather remove a crisis. It seems, then, that capitalist production comprises certain conditions which are independent of good or bad will and permit the working class to enjoy that relative prosperity only momentarily, and at that always as a harbinger of a coming crisis. (Capital Vol II, page 476)
In the real world of capitalism the total demand for commodities is not increased either by raising wages at the expense of profits or by raising profits at the expense of wages, but there is a widely held belief today that there is another source of increasing demand in the supposed power of banks, by their lending transactions, to "create deposits" and thus add to total purchasing power. This belief was aptly described by the late professor Edwin Cannan as the "mystical school of banking theorists". It is held by the Keynesians and by the Monetarists. It is quite baseless; the banks can lend no more than depositors choose to lend them.

If the "mystical" theorists were right and the banks could create deposits which depositors could withdraw and spend on purchasing commodities, it would follow that the price level is determined by the banks. If you think that nobody could hold such an absurd view, this is what J.M. Keynes wrote in his book Monetary Reform:
The internal price level is mainly determined by the amount of credit created by the banks, chiefly the Big Five. .. The amount of credit, so created, is in its turn roughly measured by the volume of the bank deposits ... (1923, p.178)
According to this, if the banks "create" more deposits prices go up and if the banks "create" less deposits, prices go down. There is nothing in actual experience of capitalism to justify this fallacy, any more than there is in the Keynesian belief that depressions could be averted by the government borrowing more and spending more, or in the Monetarist belief that depression could be averted by the government borrowing less and spending less.

It was in 1977 that the British Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey, having seen unemployment rise from 600,000 to 1,700,000, announced the abandonment of Keynesian doctrine and the adoption of the Monetarist policy continued by the Thatcher government. Though unemployment did fall a little for a time, it then rose to 3½ million. Seven years after the adoption of Monetarism, it is still over 3 million.

The Keynesians have two showpieces. One of them is Roosevelt's New Deal which is supposed to show how successful Keynes was. The other is what has happened in Britain between 1945 and 1977.

The man who said Roosevelt's New Deal was a piece of Keynesian success was Professor Dudley Dillard, Professor of economics at Maryland University, who wrote a book called The Economics of J.M. Keynes, published in 1948. Dillard said that Roosevelt in his New Deal did all the things which in 1936 Keynes advocated should be done in a depression. He ran a high budget deficit, he borrowed the money, he increased government expenditure, and government investment. Dillard said that it was a great success, and that the economic expansion between 1933 and 1937 "was one of the most rapid in the history of American business cycles. The speed of the recovery was undoubtedly conditioned by the depths to which activity had plummeted in 1932. It was nevertheless a remarkable recovery which was nurtured by fairly large-scale borrowing."

You will notice, by the way, that Dillard hedges a bit; he doesn't say that it was the only recovery, he says it was one of the most rapid. But Dillard did a useful thing. He compared America under Roosevelt with what was happening in Britain at the same time under the Ramsay MacDonald National Government. Whereas Roosevelt was running a policy which Keynesians later claimed was in line with their views, the British government were doing the opposite. In 1932 they were running the same policy which Mrs Thatcher is running now. So you have the two contrasted, Keynes in America and anti-Keynes in Britain, and what actually happened?

In 1932, unemployment in America was 24.1% and 22.1% in Britain. Five years later, in 1937, unemployment in America had fallen to 14.3%. In Britain it had fallen to 10.82%. The same thing happened in both countries; it was a bit more favourable in the anti-Keynesian Britain than it was in the Keynesian America. What sort of success is this? In 1938, which was 6 years after Roosevelt had obtained power, unemployment in America was 19.1 % and it was 13.5% in Britain. In other words, after 6 years of Keynesian policy, it was double what it was in America in 1983 in the midst of this present depression.

There is one other interesting aspect of this. The Keynesians say that if the government spends more it will not only create jobs directly, but it will stimulate private industry so that the private capitalists will spend more and invest more so you get the jobs being created both directly from government expenditure and throughout industry generally.

It would not however be of any use for the government to increase expenditure, if at the same time the capitalists were reducing their expenditure. What happened in America? If you compare the pre-depression year 1929 with 1938, government expenditure went up from 22 billion dollars to 34 billion dollars. That was an increase of 12 billion dollars. Fine, jobs were created and all the rest of it. But at the same time, private investment went down from 39 billion dollars to 21 billion dollars. So while government expenditure was going up, private investment was going down, which explains of course why unemployment was 19.1%. Dillard recognised this and he actually says that private investment "remained abnormally low" during that depression.

He and Keynes both worried about this. They said that it didn't seem to work the way they thought it would, and they both put forward the view that perhaps it would have been all right if only Roosevelt instead of increasing government expenditure by a mere 12 billion dollars had increased it by more. It is worth noticing that in Germany in 1920 to 1923 when the government didn't just increase expenditure by 22 billion dollars, but were doubling expenditure every month, after 3 years of it 25% of the German workers were out of work and nearly another 25% on half time.

The second showpiece of Keynesianism is what happened in Britain between 1945 and 1977. It is absolutely true that in the first ten years after the war unemployment was abnormally low in this country and averaged about 2% or less, but from 1955 unemployment began to rise there. Unemployment never remains absolutely stable, it goes up and down in this way, and in 1955 it began to rise. It went up from 500,000 in 1955 to 700,000 in 1963, 800,000 in 1968 and up to a million in 1970 under Heath and to 1,700,000 under the Labour Government in 1977.

Was Keynesian policy really the reason why unemployment was very low for the ten years after the war? We can quote two Keynesian economists. One is J. Robinson and the other is Alvin Hansan, who wrote in 1950 and 1953, both of whom, though they were Keynesians, said that the low unemployment was nothing to do with Keynes and that it would have happened in any event.

Now look at the real reason why unemployment started to rise after 1955. During the war, Germany and Japan, and some other countries, were devastated. They were no longer in the world market producing goods. It took them years to recover. They recovered, largely with the aid of American finance, and when they did so, they didn't only have their factories rebuilt, but they had them completely modernised and re-equipped, so that Germany and Japan became the leading cheap producers of commodities in the whole world. And as Germany and Japan came back into the market, British exports were squeezed out. There is quite a useful way of looking at it. There are figures available showing 11 countries, which included Germany and Japan, and their total export of manufactured goods and the proportion going to British capitalism. You can see that in 1955 the British proportion was about 20%, and you can see it coming down to 16%, 18%, 15%, 10%. You will have noticed that it was recently announced that for the first time in British history, Britain is now an importer of more manufactured goods than it exports.

So it can be seen that the two showpieces of Keynes had nothing whatever to do with Keynes. It did not work and the whole claim made for Keynesian policy is an illusion.

The course of events has justified Marx's explanation of crises and depressions against both the Monetarists and the Keynesians. It only needs to add that, unlike Keynes and the Monetarists, who were vainly trying to improve capitalism, Marx reached the conclusion that the only solution is to abolish capitalism and establish socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle (Britain)