Monday, March 20, 2017

Is anyone exploiting you? (1966)

From the March 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ferrovius was a slave in Caesar’s Rome. He was owned by his master, who fed and housed him. and who took everything he produced. Ferrovius was absolutely without any rights—he could not acquire property, nor could he enter into a Roman marriage. He could not even call his life his own; his master could, if he wished, kill him with impunity.

It was obvious that Ferrovius was exploited, but very few people cared; his condition was mostly justified by condemning him as a member of an inferior race. But his exploitation was not as complete as it appeared to be on the surface. His master could not take everything he produced without returning some of it, in some form or another, in the shape of food, clothing and shelter.

Bodo was a peasant who lived on the lands of the Abbot of St. Germain des Pres, near Paris, in the time of Charlemagne. He held a small farm of arable and meadow land and a few vines. In return, he had to do a certain amount of ploughing on the Abbot’s land, he had to help in other work like repairing buildings and to contribute some of his produce lo pay for grazing and other rights.

Like Ferrovius before him, Bodo was clearly exploited. But in his case there could be no confusion about the extent of it; the division between the work he did for himself and what he did for the Abbot was plain for all to see. Society had developed since the days of Caesar, and the manner of exploitation had changed, but exploitation itself was still going strong.

Of course there were plenty of moralists who sounded off about the conditions of men like Bodo and Ferrovius. They succeeded in making slavery and serfdom dirty words—and thereby persuaded millions of people in capitalist society that they are free.

Consider now the modern descendant of Ferrovius and Bodo—Bob Stiles, who works in a factory on an industrial estate on the fringe of London. Bob operates a machine which, in a rapid-rhythm burst of hiss and thump, punches six holes at a time in the steel shell of an electric kettle. He does this all day long, with the usual meal breaks, and every day. As often as he can he works overtime, which usually means when the management will let him, because the electric kettle market is too unstable to justify continual late working.

Bob's work is murderously boring, but he absorbs it all, and the heat and the noise and the smell, like a punchy boxer taking it on the chin. His wage is above the National average; he has a car and a television set and a washing machine. His house is heated by those electric fires which are supposed to deceive us into thinking that they are a mass of cosily blazing logs; the same mechanical patterns of light flicker again and again over the fitted carpet and the wall where the almost obligatory flight of plaster ducks climbs up towards the latest thing in do-it-yourself wall lights. Bob has spent a lot of money on his home, and likes to think that he is comfortable there.

Most people would probably agree with him. Certainly, they would not think that Bob is exploited as Ferrovius and Bodo were. Yet in truth he is the most intensely and ruthlessly exploited of them all. Indeed, his exploitation has been developed into a science which other men (who themselves are also exploited) can study, and graduate in, at university. It is true that there are historical differences; where Ferrovius seemed to spend all his time working for his master, and where Bodo clearly worked part of his time on the Abbot’s lands, the nature and extent of Bob’s exploitation is not so easily discerned. It is necessary to examine his standing in capitalist society.

It is not just in things like the plaster birds that Bob is typical. Like the overwhelming majority of people in modern society, the only way he has of getting a living is by going to work for a wage. From the earliest days of understanding, the need to get a job when he grew up conditioned his life. Although he has never grasped it in these terms, the only thing he has which he can exchange for a livelihood is his ability to work. It is this ability that Bob sells to his employer, and for which he gets his wage at the end of the week.

Wages are not a reward for a job well done, nor are they a share of the wealth a worker has produced, nor a cut out of his employer’s profits. They are the price of a person’s working ability; at any one particular time, the size of the wage represents what can be got for that ability on the labour market. It is, for example, no coincidence that for the simple job of punching holes in kettles Bob gets a wage which was out of his father’s dreams. In the area where he works there is a chronic shortage of labour, and plenty of factories competing for the local available working force. It was not always like this. Before the war, when the slump was at its worst, Bob’s firm made a name for itself for the stringent conditions it imposed on its employees.

Taking one period with another, in general wages represent what it takes to reproduce a worker and his energies. Bob has obvious basic survival needs; food, clothing, shelter. But capitalism would be in poor shape if it only provided for basic needs. Human beings, if they are to be efficient workers, must have other things; they must have recreation and holidays and even some luxuries. So Bob’s wage covers more than just the barely necessary food, clothing and shelter; he has his television and car and his holiday, perhaps even abroad if he can save enough.

This is what makes up Bob’s standard of living and what is covered by his wage. The standard can vary with time and place. Bob’s father did not have a need for television because the thing had not been commercially developed when he was working; he got his relaxation in other ways. Bob’s firm exports parts of kettles for assembly in other countries, some of which are far away enough for the workers there to have different standards of food, clothing and housing to those in England. This all has its effects on the wage which is needed to reproduce a worker.

Now if Bob’s employer pays him enough to live up to his standard how does he make a profit? How can we say that Bob is being exploited?

By the time the electric kettles reach the market a great many people have contributed to their production—punching holes, tightening screws, soldering leads and so on. Part of their work has transferred the value of machinery, materials and parts to the kettle; and part of it has, in transferring those parts, actually added to the value of the finished product. The work has, in other words, produced a surplus value, which is something no machine or raw material can do. The ability to enhance a commodity’s value is unique to human labour power; that is why, no matter how much an employer may complain about strikers and no matter how much automatic machinery he may instal, in the end he is dependent on employing human beings.

It is surplus value which gives an employer his profit and which enables him to pay his rates and taxes, rent, interest on money loans and so on. In other words, Bob works for part of his time to produce his own keep—just like Ferrovius and Bodo. And part of the time he works for somebody else. Again like Ferrovius and Bodo, he is exploited.

The difference in his case is that the exploitation is not so immediately apparent. Bob is not. like an ancient slave, possessed mind and body by his master; on the other hand, there is no point in his working week when he stops working to produce his wage and starts working to produce his employers profits. In everything he does when he is working, every second of the lime. Bob is turning out surplus value. This very fact conceals his exploitation from the casual examiner.

The manner in which capitalism hides its exploitation has caused a lot of confusion. It is as well to get one or two things straight.

To begin with, let us recognise that exploitation is one of those emotive words (capitalism is another) which are often taken to imply a moral judgement by those who use them. But to point out that exploitation is part of property society, and to examine the style it takes under capitalism, is not to make any sort of judgement. Capitalism could not exist without exploiting its people; exploitation is a natural result of a system where one class employs another. There is no room for moralising here, although many people who lay claim to be Socialists are fond of talking as if it were possible to have capitalism without exploitation.

We have said that an employer gets his profits from the exploitation of his workers, but it does not follow that higher profits shown in company balance sheets mean greater exploitation. Workers are exploited when they are producing but profit is realised some time after, when the goods come on to the market. An unfavourable market can reduce, even wipe out, an employer’s profit and it could follow from this that he actually intensifies the exploitation of his workers. Falling profits often lead to economy campaigns, to cuts in staff and to more intense working through labour saving machinery. (This, in fact, is what is now happening in Bob’s firm.)

The fact that capitalist exploitation is something of a concealed process has had many side effects. Only very few workers have tumbled that they are exploited, and of those most misunderstand the way in which it happens; they think that it has something to do with high prices, of generous fees paid to company directors or something equally wrong. Many workers spend their lifetime pining for a ’’fair” wage in return for which they are prepared to give “fair” work — without ever considering what they mean by “fair”. Others think that the ideal to aim at is co-operation between both sides in industry, so that ’’their” goods capture every available market and drive ’’their” competitors (whose workers have presumably also been co-operating) out of business.

This is a convenient delusion for the capitalist class and of course hardly a day goes by now without their official representatives in the Government advising us to forget all about exploitation, which went out with the days of Ferrovius and Bodo, and to pull together so that ”our” exports are competitive enough to put the Old Country back where the politicians say it belongs.

Sadly, this sort of drivel is hungrily lapped up by the working class, who seem ready to go to almost any lengths to fall for any discredited reform, and to listen to any nonsense, rather than consider a change in society itself. Yet only when they do opt for another social system will exploitation cease. In this there is a basic irony. For the working class will only want to end capitalism when they realise, among other things, how they are exploited under it. But the very nature of capitalist exploitation tends to conceal the fact that it exists.

If this is a neat, frustrating, vicious circle then it is also one which must be broken if society is to solve its problems. And one which will be broken.

The Review Column: Space Deaths (1967)

The Review Column from the March 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Space Deaths

The American space authorities knew that the pure oxygen used in their ships carried a serious risk of a rapid, intense fire. But to have changed to a mixed gas system would have delayed the entire American space programme.

If everything went perfectly according to plan, the danger would come to nothing.

In the same way, if everything had gone according to plan the early Comets would not have broken up in the air, there would have been no typhoid epidemic at Zermatt, the spoil heap would never have crashed down the mountain at Aberfan.

Capitalism is a society where economic rivalry — they call it competition—is not only inevitable. It is actually encouraged.

As one result of this rivalry, America and Russia are now engaged in a grim race. They are not probing out to the Moon merely to satisfy a lust for adventure but because the development of rockets has opened up space as a strategic highway, perhaps to be used in a future war.

No major power can now afford to ignore the ballistics of space. Each landing on the Moon adds to this knowledge, apart from the fact that it brings nearer the day when other planets become military bases for the great powers on Earth.

Neither America nor Russia can afford to fall behind. If this means that they have to take chances—with equipment, with buildings, with human lives—this is all part of the competition for top place in Space.

A big prize. Beside that, does it matter to capitalism that trapped inside the burning space craft there were three human beings?

Bank Rate Cuts

Bank Rate is generally regarded among the economic “experts” as a means of controlling the economy.

Put up the Rate, runs their argument, and you slow down production; put it down and production will start booming.

None of the experts have ever explained why, if it is really so easy to control capitalism, the economy ever gets into a crisis.

The Chancellors’ decision to reduce Bank Rate by one half per cent was greeted as a stimulant to British industry.

“One positive gain,” said the Daily Telegraph, “it (the government) hopes to see . . . is a greater willingness among businessmen to proceed with their capital investment programmes.”

Since September 1953, when Bank Rate was 3½ per cent, there have been twenty seven changes. Both Conservative and Labour governments agree that Bank Rate helps to control the economy, both have upped it to seven per cent in times of crisis.

But none of these changes have altered a course of economic events which was already set. They have, in fact, been made in response to those courses; they have been not an influence but a reaction.

Callaghan’s panic seven per cent last July was no exception and neither is the latest reduction. William Davis, the Guardian’s Financial Editor, put it:
I gather that the Bank of England advised the Chancellor a a few weeks ago that a half per cent cut in Bank Rate couldn’t be delayed much longer.
The economy of capitalism, as so many Chancellors have found out cannot be controlled, by Bank Rate changes or any other juggling. The Labour Party should know this, perhaps better than anyone.

For they once had a mighty Plan to defeat economic crises. But just like the Tories, they end up doing what the Bank of England tells them.

Export Incentives

Harold Macmillan, in one of his languid moments, once said that exporting is fun.

Harold Wilson, and Prince Philip, will have none of this. Exporting is a stern business. It is, in fact, a national duty.

In case there are any firms with a sense neither of fun nor of patriotism, the Labour government have provided some inducements to make them look favourably on exporting.

It is apt comment on whether Wilson really believes in the appeal of national duty, that these inducements are financial—tax rebates and so on.

By this the Labour government show how firmly they realise there is only one kind of incentive capitalism understands and that is one which improves the balance sheet.

This is basically what decides a company on whether to export their produce or not. Unless the financial bait is juicy enough, they will ignore all the speeches about national duty, and happily forego their fun, by concentrating on the home market.

This is how Derek Pritchard, chairman of the British National Export Council, put it in an address on January 18 last:
No one in their senses exports at a loss in the national interest. This is a sure way to go out of business. No business man today exports at the behest of politicians. He does it because he sees a chance of making a profit.
There is, of course, nothing exceptional about this statement. All production under capitalism is carried on in the hope of making a profit. If a capitalist thinks that a market, home or abroad, is too tough for him to realise his profit there, he will avoid it. Politicians and princes may blather about having fun and the national interest but in the end they have to face the uncomfortable facts of capitalist life.

The D’Ollveira Affair

The South African government have always made it plain that mixed colour touring teams were not acceptable to them.

For a long time the issue has been dodged by the sporting authorities of the countries which send teams to South Africa. Recently, the New Zealand Rugby Union was brought face to face with it; some of their best players are now Maoris and they were not prepared to go into Tests against South Africa without them. So they cancelled their tour.

Now the MCC are probably praying that Basil D’Oliveira will get them off the hook by losing form (and in the circumstances he will be something of a cricketing superman to keep it) so that the question of his selection does not arise.

Of course, the South African government have been accused of mixing politics with sport. And so they are.

But what were those ranting, hysterical thousands at the World Cup Final doing, but mixing nationalism—which, after all, is politics—with sport? Each foreign foul booed, each English foul applauded as an act of manliness, mixed politics with football.

South Africa’s ban on D’Oliveira is no more than the projection of their unsavoury political and racial theories into cricket. Anyone who objects to this, and who wants to see sport as a contest carried out for the sake of the game alone, cleanly and with no grudges, should ask themselves whether this will ever be possible in a society which fosters racism, nationalist hates and economic rivalry.

Revolution (2) (1968)

Book Review from the March 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

History of the Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky, Sphere Books (3 volumes) 30s.

This is the first paper-back edition of Trotsky’s masterly book. The three volumes are here unabridged and also contain the valuable appendices. Together they are an essential reference work and, at the same time, a refreshing antidote to the official Stalinist “histories" of the revolution. Even when his revolutionary enthusiasm gets the better of his theoretical grasp of Marxism (the "law” of combined development and so on) Trotsky remains an immensely attractive thinker and writer. But in the end socialists must apply to Trotsky the verdict which he himself gave on Stalin: “It is well known that people make history without understanding its laws . . . ”
John Crump

Revolution (1) (1968)

Book Review from the March 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Short History of the Russian Revolution by Joel Carmichael, Sphere. 5s.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Bolshevik coup last November brought with it a crop of books, and so also the problem of sorting the wheat from the chaff. This paperback edition of an earlier work is one we can recommend. In two hundred or so pages Carmichael presents a readable and accurate account of events in Russia between March and November (leaning heavily on a work by the leftwing Menshevik Sukhanov which he himself has translated into English). His assessment of these events is also good and comes very near to ours.

Carmichael sees the elitist side of Bolshevik theory and also that they, once in power in a backward peasant country, were doomed to failure. They could not set up Socialism and inevitably “the former band of professional revolutionaries was radically transformed from a group of intellectuals into a corps of administrators”.
Adam Buick

Marx's Daughter (1968)

Book Review from the March 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Life of Eleanor Marx. 1855-1898 A Socialist Tragedy by Chushichi Tsuzuki. (O.U.P. 45/-)

Born 16th January, 1855, Eleanor Marx was the sixth child of Karl Marx, co-founder of the scientific socialist movement. Marx took care to provide his daughters with the best education he could afford. Eleanor developed with unusual rapidity, at the age of nine writing letters to her uncle, Lion Philips, commenting on the international political situation. Later on, no doubt at least partly due to the influence of her father, her main concern became the socialist and working class movements.

Her main political work was achieved with the co-operation of Dr. Edward Aveling, a secularist lecturer who became interested in Socialism in the early 1880’s. It is not known exactly when Eleanor and Aveling met, but it was probably in 1882. Soon after they began to live together in free association. Both were opposed to a formal marriage, which was not possible anyway since Aveling was already married but separated from his wife (who, according to Engels, was highly religious and ran away with a priest!)

By 1884 Eleanor and Aveling associated themselves with the recently organised Social Democratic Federation, while Aveling was still President of the North Western (London) Branch of the National Secular Society.

The SDF, though claiming to be socialist, was in fact a basically reformist organisation dominated by its leader, H. M. Hyndman. Largely as a result of a disagreement over Hyndman's dictatorial position a group, including Eleanor Marx, and Edward Aveling, left the Federation toward the end of 1884 in order to form a separate organisation. This was the Socialist League, which tended to oppose parliamentary action. Despite the presence in it of such as Eleanor Marx and Aveling, this organisation was eventually taken over by the anarchists and soon became defunct. Later, Aveling participated in the formation of the Independent Labour Party, a definitely reformist organisation, at a conference in Bradford in 1893. Only a few years later, Eleanor was to meet her tragic end. On 31st March, 1898 she committed suicide, taking prussic acid.

The movements such as the SDF in which Eleanor Marx became involved were essentially reformist and therefore, non-socialist. As with all such movements, these became completely reformist, concerned only with patching up the capitalist system. Eleanor Marx made an invaluable contribution to the evolution of the working-class movement, industrial as well as political, in Britain.
D. S.

The Fenians (1969)

Book Review from the March 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Fenian Movement, Edited by T. W. Moody. Mercier Press, 10s. 6d.

This small, relatively expensive paperback consists of eight essays on the Fenian movement and its leaders. The essays, which are written by prominent historians, concentrate more on the factual events during the years of Fenianism than on its, admittedly diverse, economic ideals.

Fenianism had its origins in the abortive Rising of 1848. Ireland was, at that time, in the grip of a famine, and Landlords were expropriating the food from the peasants so that rents could be realised even if the peasants had not enough left to feed themselves. Some members of the 1848 Rising lived in exile in France. One of them. James Stephens, spent some time among Parisian communist and revolutionary circles. and returned some years later to Ireland, a self-professed revolutionary. He initiated a new secret organisation which, until 1921, was a thorn in the side of the British government. Fenianism, though purely a political movement with an independent Ireland as its ideal, strongly influenced the inception of other nationalist movements, the most notable of which were the Gaelic League and the Land League and also the Irish literary revival, led by Yeats.

The Fenian leaders planned an insurrection for 1865 but postponed it until 1867. The British forces easily suppressed this outbreak and the most notable feature of Rising were the brilliant speeches delivered from the dock by its leaders at the trials which ensued. After that the Fenians pursued a policy of sporadic outbreaks of violence and stood opposed to the constitutional methods of Parnell. In 1916 another insurrection was squashed but the executions which followed antagonised the people; the result was a stronger Republican army which engaged in intense guerrilla warfare with the British forces from 1919 until the Treaty in 1921.

The Fenians faced strong opposition from the Catholic Church and were often accused of being communist —mainly because of the strong working-class element within its ranks. It was at all times a minority action movement and much of its finance came from Irish-Americans. Its leaders advocated the “rights of the people" to determine their own political and economic affairs. Some even advocated “rights of labour” and “more equitable distribution of wealth”. But being a minority action movement its role could only have been the establishing of “the rights" of representatives of Irish capitalists to manage their own interests. This is exactly what happened. It is now nearly fifty years since Ireland became independent of British rule but still world capitalism draws off Irish surplus labour, while in Ireland wages are ridiculously low. The Church, which once opposed the Fenians, now, paradoxically, venerates the memory of its leaders. The sad thing is that it was Irish workers who wasted so much life and energy in acquiring a separate parliament which could not possibly manage capitalism in their interests.
Patrick Garvey

Brighton Councillor's allegations: The facts (1970)

From the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard
In January a Brighton Councillor, Millyard, resigned from the Labour Party giving as one of his reasons that a number of Brighton Labour's ward parties were dominated by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. This was a tribute to the success of our comrades’ efforts there to bring our name to people's attention; but quite inaccurate as our comrades pointed out in the following statement :
The Socialist Party of Great Britain, since its foundation in 1904, has visualised a socialist society as a world-wide system based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of production, with free access to the necessities of life available to all mankind; which can only be achieved by the conscious effort of the majority, expressing their will by means of the ballot. Thus we consider that any organisation which seeks only to win mass support without the necessary understanding of how such a new society could be built from the present, can never achieve Socialism.

Accordingly, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has always been a completely democratic organisation with an Object and Declaration of Principles (reproduced on every piece of literature published by us) which makes [our] position unmistakably clear. Furthermore, every meeting of the Party (including administrative meetings) has been open to public and Press alike, ever since our foundation.

The policy of ‘boring from within’ i.e. the infiltration and control of other political organisations, such as the Labour Party, has repeatedly been denounced as a dangerous and useless tactic in the Socialist Standard and other Party propaganda. Our insistence that a socialist party can only succeed as a completely independent organisation has been unequivocably stated from the beginning.

This should not be seen as a sectarian attitude. It is simple logic. Our aim is the establishment of a new human society. To dissipate our energies infiltrating other organisations (which merely seek to maintain the present society) instead of striving to gain conscious support for our ideas, would be stupidly futile. Thus our attitude might be summed up in the well- known (if slightly re-arranged) cliche : “We must not only be independent, but must be seen to be so.”

The Socialist Party’s case has been put forward locally for a number of years by an active Brighton Group, by means of Public Meetings, debates, pamphlets, the local Press and Radio as well as our regular discussion meetings every Thursday evening. With the growing disillusion of would-be socialists within the many organisations of the so-called ‘Left’, it is not surprising that our ideas are being examined and discussed more attentively.

There is, therefore, no excuse for the absurd accusations levelled at us by Cllr. Millyard. Contrary to the opinion of the Brighton & Hove Herald editorial, he obviously has not the slightest knowledge of our Party’s activities, and cannot have made any attempt to verify his wild statements before making them.

Should Cllr. Millyard be prepared to defend his accusations, we shall be glad to accommodate him at any time, in open debate with an independent chairman (perhaps the writer of the Herald editorial would oblige). Alternatively, a retraction by Cllr. Millyard would seem to be called for.

Law and what? (1971)

From the March 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism would break down in universal chaos, because without law there would be no order; without the coercive apparatus of the state to keep us in check, no police, law-courts or prisons, we would all run amok; nothing and nobody would be safe; all kinds of crime and violence would everywhere abound — so the argument runs.

This ‘objection’ to Socialism in fact has a lot in common with the ‘human nature’ objection. It assumes that human beings are by nature aggressive and anti-social. It further assumes, that present-day patterns of social behaviour are static and have always existed. And, since the police, politicians, lawyers and judges are also human beings, and therefore as inherently ‘anti-social and violent’ as the rest of us, it begs the question, who or what makes them behave in a ‘lawful’ and ‘orderly’ manner?

Far from being a profound argument against Socialism, as soon as one starts to examine it, it is seen to be superficial and absurd. Most members of the working class uncritically accept the shallow ideology of capitalism’s apologists.

This ideology consists of a series of excuses which seek to explain away all that happens in the modern world of capitalism. If, as the ideology tells us for example, the ‘powers of freedom’ must stand up to the ‘powers of tyranny’, the amassing of H-Bombs and even a third world-war must be accepted. Should the outcome be the total extinction of life on earth, this is sanity — this is normal. But, by token of the same ideology, should a petty crook with a gun or a cosh steal £10,000 from a bank, he must be caught and locked in a cell. He is wicked and abnormal.

Internationally, the order of modern capitalism is the order of the H-Bomb, the ‘order’ of a global war strategy with a liberal sprinkling of Korea’s, Vietnam’s and Middle-East situations.

It must not be thought, that in condemning the lawful military violence of world capitalism we are condoning armed attacks by individuals. We maintain that both arise from the way society is organised and that both will only disappear when society is changed.

It is the private-property basis of capitalism, whereby a minority class monopolises the productive forces of society, that give rise to crime. A crime is by definition a violation of a law. Over 90 per cent of crimes in this country are crimes against property. This means they are cases of people who are have-nots trying by illegal means to acquire property from people who own it. 

At this point we can hear the indignant objection of our opponents that the ‘people who own it’ are often workers whose gas-meters are broken into or even old-age pensioners who are coshed for a few paltry shillings, and of course, this is perfectly true. But whether it is the miserable few shillings of a worker or several thousand pounds from a capitalist, acquisition remains the motive. The fact that under ten per cent of the population own 90 per cent of the wealth, shows in whose interests the legal machinery works, and whose social dominance is served by private property institutions.

This is where the apologists of capitalism are thrown into a tailspin. They have to explain how the capitalist class came to own 90 per cent of the wealth, if not by robbery? This is the rub. Private property in the means of production, land, factories and so on is itself the result of the legal plunder by the capitalist of the working class. The wealth produced by the workers is systematically acquired by the capitalists. Anything the workers produce over and above their wages belongs to their employers. By means of this confidence trick, the world’s capitalists have accumulated many thousands of millions of pounds. Compared to the scale and scope of their operation the Mafia gets peanuts and it’s all perfectly legal because either they, or their muscle-men the politicians, make the laws.

Now let us return to the argument that we must have law and order. There is one further assumption made by our opponents. Namely, that law and order co-exist; where there is law there is order, and vice versa. It is only necessary to look at the soaring crime figures to conclude that the reverse is much nearer the truth. A succession of governments in this and other countries have promised to fight crime. Both Nixon and Heath fought their elections as “law and order” men. A better equipped and full-strength police force, with all the aids of modern science, was to enforce the law and establish that elusive thing called order. Alas, the crime figures continue to rise.

What then, can capitalism do? The answer is, nothing. As with the other major social problems, crime and violence are an integral part of capitalist society. While private property remains, society cannot even get beyond the primitive concept of punishing people, which today takes the idiotic form of locking them in cells in the vain hope that being dehumanised will make better people of them.
Harry Baldwin

The Miners' last stand (1972)

From the March 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard
A coalface worker from Scotland writes about the strike.
The present struggle of the miners has been a long and complicated one eventually forcing them to strike work. It began as far back as the end of the second world war, when in Britain, as elsewhere in the world, there was a shortage of fuel. There had been no large investments into plant and machinery; coal was still being hewn and drawn by hand. Vast amounts of capital were required to modernise coalmining by introducing mechanisation. Higher coal output was essential to the capitalist class as a whole, but the coalmines were owned by independent capitalists, who were not prepared to invest large amounts into an industry which did not have a secure future. This was the main reason the Labour government nationalised the industry, the usual procedure when the interests of the capitalist class as a whole are being jeopardised commercially by a group which owns a key industry.

From the time of nationalisation, the NUM pursued a policy of moderation, being under the false illusion that nationalisation and the Labour government were in the workers’ interests and would lead to vast improvements eventually. This enabled the NCB to provide coal at prices below those prevailing on the world markets. The miners were just getting over these illusions when in 1956 came the crunch.

Coal, the miners were told, is finished; it cannot compete with other fuels. Governments showed that oil, natural gas, and nuclear power, were cheaper and more efficient than coal, and started to run down coal production. The number of collieries fell from 840 in 1956 to 299 in 1970. The labour force declined from 697,400 in 1956 to 295,650 in 1970. The chairman of the NCB, year after year, asked for productivity, and because of fear of redundancies, the miners responded. Output per man shift in 1956 was 24.8 cwts; in 1970 it was 43.4 cwts. and in 1971 was 46.9 cwts. Earnings, however, did not rise in conjunction with productivity. In 1956 the miner was top of an earnings table of 17 industries, in 1970 he was 13th in the table, 4th from the bottom.

Yet still the industry declined; the mining communities were broken up; villages deserted, many families moving home as many as three or four times. The unemployment rate for miners is over 8 per cent. The miners were treated as capitalism always treats its unwanted, in a callous and degrading manner.

In the collieries that remained, mechanisation took over almost completely. 240 HP machines cutting coal into fine power and spewing it out at over 3 tons per minute, creating a permanent cloud of dust at the coalface. This will give miners pneumoconiosis, the dreaded lung disease, and conjunctivitis, the eye disease, much earlier than ever.

In the late 60’s, however, things began to change again. In 1966 the National Power Loading Agreement, was signed. This agreement meant that over the next five years up to 1971, the lower-paid areas, Scotland, South Wales, etc., would be brought up to the same wage level as the higher-paid areas of Notts and Kent. In reality this agreement has meant that the wages in the high-paid areas have practically stood still to allow the low-paid areas to catch up. This has led previously unmilitant areas like Notts to become as militant as the more traditional militant areas of Scotland and South Wales.

Government policies here and abroad in the years 1968-69, of running down coal production, have proved to have been very shortsighted, and have led to the present world-wide shortage of coking coal. This is seen in Britain, by millions of tons of coal being imported from Australia at up to £35 per ton. The N.C.B. are trying to reopen mines, and are surveying for new deposits. In America and Russia vast coalfields are being opened up, but will not be in operation till 1975-76.

The miner sees himself in a better position for bargaining than he has been in for many years. He is not going to let the chance pass as he did in the 1950s. For the first time in their history all the coalfields arc on the same wage level; they are united going for the same thing, £26 surface, £28 under ground, and £35 coalface, with corresponding increases for craftsmen. They are more militant than ever before, as has been seen by the unofficial strikes in 1968-69-70. In a national ballot in October 1970, 55 per cent voted to strike, after rejecting an offer from Lord Robens of £2.50, the highest ever offered in their history. Union rules prevented a strike then by demanding a 66 per cent vote to call a strike. Even so 100,000 miners struck work unofficially, and the offer was increased.

In November 1971, an overtime ban was put into operation, and a national ballot gave the executive the majority to call a strike. The NCB offer of £1.75 to £1.80, was well below the £5 to £9 asked for, the £9 being to bring the lowest paid underground man from £19 to £28. After weeks of talks and no increase in the offer, a strike was called to start on 8 January. After more talks the offer was increased by 10p per week, with some vague talk about extra holidays provided there was extra production. This brought the offer up from a 7.1 per cent increase to 7.8 per cent, keeping it under the government’s ceiling of 8 per cent. This too was rejected.

The miners believe that a lot of other demands they will soon be making depend on the outcome of this strike: A better pension (at present the miner gets £1.50 per week after 50 years service); usually he has some disablement from working over the years in arduous conditions; the re-introduction of the six-hour day, which the miner had after the first war, but lost in the lockouts of the 1920s; three weeks holidays which many industries already have.

The NUM have the backing of the railway unions, the Transport and General Workers Union, and the seamen’s and dockers unions, who refuse to go through miners’ picket lines. This has meant that they have been successful in picketing power stations, and to a lesser degree the docks.

There has been some confusion, however, and unwelcomed publicity about the picketing of coalboard offices. The staff of these offices belong to different unions, the Colliery Officials and Staffs Association, which is affiliated to the NUM and, mainly in the area offices, the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union. The NUM have instructed these unions that there will have to be staff working during the strike, to allow payment of income tax rebates to strikers, sick pay to miners on compensation, and pensions to widows and retired miners. COSA called all its members out saying, “one out, all out”, and the others nearly all worked on. This led to some offices working and some not, and the NCB saying that tax rebates may not be payed out. The NUM made it clear that they would not picket offices, but some misinformed NUM members and striking COSA members picketed some area offices in an angry and vile manner. The TV and press have made great play of this. The NUM have cleared this up, however, by making their pickets go to places that will benefit the strike more.

Despite what the NCB say, in Scotland the NUM have covered safety for personnel underground; they supply winding enginemen, boiler firemen, engineers, blacksmiths and electricians to stand by as long as officials are going underground. They are not, however, in most cases going to supply men to save machinery and equipment, which is more of a worry to the NCB as every day the strike lasts the more this equipment is crushed at the coal face. The price of this electronic and hydraulic face equipment is very expensive and will cost the NCB millions of pounds to replace.

All this is taking place in a country where one coalmine was in operation where only a handful of men went underground, and no one worked at the coalface while the machines were in operation; production was all controlled from the surface. This, however, proved unprofitable due to the high cost and maintenance of the machinery, as coal like every other commodity under capitalism is produced for a profit on the market, and not for social use. Men’s health and lives are available at a cheaper rate than machines.

The miners are struggling to maintain their standard of living under capitalism, and while we support workers in this struggle, we see that at the end of the day workers will still be in the same position; they will still be wage slaves subject to the anarchistic and wasteful economic laws of capitalism.

We, therefore, urge workers to join with us in the political field, to abolish capitalism and set up a worldwide, classless, wageless society, where the wealth of the world is produced for the common use of mankind, and not for profit. Then people like miners will not have to survive from week to week, on the pittance they get for spending a great deal of their time, crawling on their bellies, filling their lungs with dust, at some gas-filled, wet and treacherous coalface.

Crisis and Revolution (1973)

From the March 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Be reasonable: if we hadn’t said we wouldn’t bring you here, you wouldn’t have come.” — Left-wing leaders to workers, passim. 
The Left is saying the crisis is coming; and from that crisis the workers will rise to overthrow, cast off the yoke, destroy the juggernaut of capital, et cetera. There comes to mind, irresistibly, the futile drama of all the times before. The Communist speaker of the ’thirties, proclaiming that civilisation now stood at the brink, imparting to his hearers that the capitalist system was tottering and all that was needed was a good push. Syndicalist doomster in the post-war years, impressively pointing to the approaching crisis as one of capitalism itself: the phrase conveying certainty that the machine would now grind to a halt, its cogs gummed-up with (probably) an excess of the seeds of its own decay.

This continual resurrection of old beliefs is one of the many chronic diseases of the Left. Each generation rediscovers the theories which proved sterile for its predecessors. The failure is never attributed to the error of the theory itself. Those who followed it were “betrayed”, or the time was unforeseeably not ripe; but now it will be written on banners to make the revolution. Yet this theory of the climacteric crisis—“the death agony of capitalism”—and its revolutionary consequence is perhaps the most hopeless of all. What is involved is dual misunderstanding: of the nature of economic crises and the nature of the socialist revolution.

Mortal Struggle
The form of the argument today is as follows. Capitalism is now acutely pressed between a falling rate of profit and workers’ wage demands. Glyn and Sutcliffe put it thus in British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze:
Our argument in this book is that British capitalism has suffered such a dramatic decline in profitability that it is now literally fighting for survival. This crisis has developed because mounting demands from the working class for a faster growth in living standards has coincided with growing competition between capitalist countries.
In such a crisis the capitalist class responds, largely through the government, by seeking to force down working-class living standards. Its aim is to draw the teeth of organised labour and reduce wages, and to create unemployment. In the preface to The Transitional Programme of the Fourth International, reprinted in November 1972 by the Socialist Labour League, C. Slaughter asserts:
Yet capitalism must seek precisely to restore those conditions and much worse, this time at a level determined by the even more violent rebellion of the productive forces, stifled by monopoly capitalism.
However, the fact that wage demands and strikes have gone on increasing shows that the workers will have none of this downward pressure on them. The claimed inevitability, therefore, is that as the crisis heightens it must become an open struggle between the crippled giant capitalism and the insistent working class. “Perspectives for the Transformation of the SLL into a Revolutionary Party”, taking up six pages of the Workers’ Press on 3rd February, says:
The British capitalist class, gripped by insoluble world economic crisis, and mortally afraid of the organised strength of the undefeated working class of today, has resolved to destroy these rights . . . The international crisis forces the classes to confront each other in direct conflict.
Crucial Cause?
The belief that the falling rate of profit must produce an ultimate crisis “of capitalism itself” is by no means new Drawn from the section headed “The Law of the Falling Tendency of the Rate of Profit” in Volume III of Marx’s Capital, it was put forward in the 'thirties in John Strachey’s The Nature of Capitalist Crises—a book which was strongly influential on the Left of the time. Then as now the contention was that the downward movement continually approached points where accumulation, the driving force of capitalism, failed; and that these crises would become more and more severe, presaging the eventual downfall of the system.

But this was not Marx’s view. In that section of Capital he listed “counteracting influences at work, which thwart and annul the effects of this general law, leaving to it merely the character of a tendency”. They include a higher intensity of exploitation; cheapening of the elements of constant capital (i.e. machinery, tools, etc.), largely by foreign trade; the existence of a pool of cheap labour-power (“relative overpopulation”) which is used to set up new industries with a higher rate of profit. All these counter-tendencies have been in operation in recent years, leaving the situation as Marx described:
. . . that the same causes, which bring about a tendency of the rate of profit to fall, also check the realisation of this tendency.
We are left, then, with an inherent inclination instead of an uncheckable headlong descent to disaster. And in practice, within the framework of that inclination, the rate of profit has its ups and downs like everything else.

Unsuccessful Forecasts
The prediction of crises is an unsuccessful business. Left-wing militants often cite Marx’s writing in the Communist Manifesto of “the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on trial, each time more threateningly”. However, during fifty years both Marx’s and Engels’s views on crises altered in the face of events. From a belief that they became more frequent, Marx changed to an approximate ten-year recurrence. Engels in the eighteen-eighties was saying that the cycles had ended and “permanent and chronic depression” arrived, only to return to the ten-year view.

Modern attempts to predict crises or discover a pattern have done no better. Indeed, one of the reasons for the decline of the Left for several years between the end of the last war and the early ’sixties was simply its reliance that a depression would turn up and restore the traditional field for agitation. It can be remarked that events have not turned out as prophesied even in the short time since the publication of British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze. The authors lean heavily on the effects of growing unemployment :
But as these forms of income grow, side by side with redundancies and unemployment for more and more workers, they come to demonstrate more conclusively the essentially parasitic nature of the capitalist class.
Yet since that was written the number of unemployed has fallen. If that is the yardstick, a quarter of a million workers no longer have the parasitism shown to them.

Wages and Profits
The belief that wage increases can cripple capitalism is also untrue. Obviously there is a sense in which capitalists would like workers to work for nothing, and in industries like agriculture low wages are a result of workers’ inability to organise effectively to resist the downward pressure. But obtaining substantial increases does not necessarily mean proportional inroads on employers’ profits. F. W. Paish in Studies in an Inflationary Economy (1966 edition) writes:
In fact we find that, between 1953 and 1955, income from wages rose by 17 per cent and gross trading profits of companies by over 24 per cent. There is no evidence here that wage increases were at the expense of profits. It is rather that wages went up, not so much because trade unions asked for higher wages as because employers could afford to pay them.
Paish is here refuting the view that wage demands are the cause of inflation. It can be argued, of course, that the profits would have been higher had the wage increases been less. But—and this is part of the fallacy of seeing catastrophe in a falling rate of profit—capitalism has no optimum profit figure which must be sustained. From where does a rise ascend or a fall descend? Expectations are no doubt created by precedent, but in practice the satisfactory figure is the best one obtainable in the current circumstances.

The position is that in times of expanding production and full order-books, employers will grant increases with little argument rather than risk hold-ups in production. In the opposite situation they will resist demands—thereby creating an illusion that it is the workers who are starting to fight. At the present time British capitalism is undoubtedly going through such a phase, principally through the effects of foreign competition. But that is the normal cycle of capitalism, not a revolutionary situation.

Prophecies are sometimes borne out by coincidence. If a severe depression were to happen and unemployment grow to mass proportions in Britain in the near future, is the working class ready for what the SLL’s writer (preface to The Transitional Programme) calls “the impending revolutionary battles”?

The chief source of the optimism of militant organisations is the growth of industrial action over wages and conditions. They point to the fact that the number of working days lost through strikes has risen steadily from 6 million in 1969 to 13,600,000 in 1971 and will almost certainly have exceeded 20 million in 1972. However, a glance at the figures for pre-war years would lessen this euphoria. In the decade 1921-30—described by Glyn and Sutcliffe as “a period of crisis in some ways similar to the present”— an average of 31 million days a year were lost from strikes and lock-outs. Relatively the excess over the present was greater, because there are now many more trade unionists and a higher incidence of unofficial strikes.

If the similarity to the present can be noted as significant, it must be worth noting also what ensued from the unrest of the ’twenties. They were characterised by depressed trade, high unemployment and terrible poverty among the working class. For the reason already given that in such times the employers strongly resist wage demands, all the strikes produced less than nothing: wages as a whole fell by about 20 per cent. Nevertheless, the political militants of the period were urging workers into "revolutionary battles” with the cry that the capitalist system was gripped by a crisis from which it would never recover.

The excitement generated by this conviction is shown in quotations given in our 1932 pamphlet Why Capitalism Will Not Collapse. Palme Dutt, the Communist Party theoretician, wrote in Labour Monthly in such terms as “the fight is here”, “the whole system is faced with collapse”, “the hour of desperate crisis begins”. James Maxton, the ILP MP, was reported in a newspaper: “ 'They may postpone the collapse for a month, two months, three months, six months,’ he cried, forefinger pointing at his audience, and body crouched, ‘but collapse is sure and certain.’ ” And what happened? After each wave of discontent the hollowness of the theory was admitted by all those who had held it. A writer about the unemployed in the Communists’ Workers’ Weekly put it:
They have attended innumerable meetings and have been told to be "solid”. They have marched to London, enduring terrible hardships . . .  All this has led nowhere.
Poverty and Consciousness
What is appalling—less objectionable only than the glorification of war—is to find the prospect of a crisis hailed enthusiastically by Left groups. In paranoid hopes of some kind of victory for themselves, they speak eagerly of a situation which would mean destitution for huge numbers of working people. While it is true that the Social Security system has taken the sharpest edge off unemployment in recent years, it should be remembered that in the pre-war depression unemployment pay was reduced and the Means Test applied rigorously. There is nothing attractive or exciting about a slump.

The easy assumption is that extreme poverty will make workers rebel against capitalism and flock to “revolutionary” leaders. All the evidence is against it. If it were true the Gorbals, Liverpool, Falls Road and the tied farm cottages of England would be full of revolutionaries. In the hungry era between the two world wars, the majority of the working class elected Conservative (or “National”) governments except for two short spells of Labour rule. Unpalatable as it may be, what the unemployed worker seeks is work and relief from his acute immediate problem, not to be assaulted further in an ideological battle. Dr. E. W. Bakke, in his 1932 Greenwich study The Unemployed Man, wrote:
But when the invitation was issued by the agitators in Greenwich for men to take part in what was termed the largest demonstration of the year, there were only ten men from that community at the appointed meeting-place. Ten men are not conspicuous among the more than 3,000 unemployed in Greenwich.
That does not mean conditions are irrelevant. Socialist consciousness starts from indignation at the consequences of capitalism; but until feeling has given way to understanding, consciousness does not exist. The aim of the crisis-struck Left is to foster blind revolt, from which not Socialism but only defeat and disillusionment can result. The real need is for working men and women to comprehend that, in or out of crisis, the capitalist system must always frustrate hopes of a satisfactory life. As William Morris prescribed it:
Intelligence enough to conceive, courage enough to will, power enough to compel . . . and then, I say, the thing will be done.
Robert Barltrop

Tussy in her time (1977)

Book Review from the March 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Eleanor Marx. Vol. 2: The Crowded Years, 1884-1898 by Yvonne Kapp. Lawrence & Wishart, £12.00.

We are bound to be interested in Eleanor Marx. She helped her father and Engels; she translated some of Marx’s work; she spoke in the streets, took part in agitations, was in William Morris’s Socialist League and the SDF from which the Socialist Party of Great Britain sprang.

The first volume of Yvonne Kapp’s biography, published in 1972, reconstructed the life cf the Marx family and Eleanor’s until she went to live with Edward Aveling, and was stunning. This one is twice as big, even more assiduously detailed, and not quite as good. In particular, there is an overweight middle section. Aiming to give a comprehensive account of Eleanor’s political and trade-union activities, Mrs Kapp explains why she was speaking at Stratford or Beckton or Clapham Common; this produces lengthy accounts of the gas-workers’, dockers’ and match- girls’ wages and conditions, and the unrest of the time; and in turn, the feeling that much of it can be and has been read elsewhere.

The people in the story come alive. As in the first volume, Engels — “the General” — emerges as a superb character. He is not only scholarly, industrious, far-seeing and generous, which we knew, but immensely lovable and put-upon by females. Of Morris, Mrs. Kapp says his stature was so great that a biographer of his associates wants to echo Alice in Wonderland : “All persons mere than a mile high to leave the court." The writer does not conceal her likes and dislikes. She finds H. M. Hyndman and several of the other well-to-do radicals of the time to have been detestable, and has a poor opinion of Eleanor's sister Laura and her husband Paul Lafargue. As the translator of the Engels-Lafargue correspondence twenty years ago she revealed the astonishing extent to which Lafargue sponged on “the General”; here she suggests plainly that he was politically inept too.

Mrs. Kapp argues against the established picture of Aveling as a dishonest adventurer who lived above his means and caused — even arranged, in some versions — Eleanor’s suicide. She successfully shows that Hyndman and some of his colleagues did all they could to promote the picture, and questions the evidence on various incidents. At the same time she acknowledges that hardly anyone liked Aveling; she presents him as weak and lacking sophistication in some ways, though a masterly public speaker. In fact some of the founders of the Socialist Party of Great Britain had attended Aveling’s economic classes while in the SDF. According to our late comrade Gilbert McClatchie they described him as a first-class tutor and a “bad hat” in his private life; whether the latter was first-hand knowledge or SDF reputation is not known.

The book is a mine of sidelights and quotations. It accounts of the wheeling and conniving in the SDF and the short unhappy life of the Socialist League are vivid, and the writer is sharply aware of what happened when the labour leaders Eleanor helped to raise took over: “She could not foretell that the word ‘socialism’, still a beacon to millions of working men and women, would — unlike that ‘spectre haunting Europe’ — be misappropriated to make capitalism more viable, for which service feudal honours, lordships and knighthoods, would be conferred upon the low-born; nor that ‘Marxism’ would become one of the most popular parlour games to be played at universities . . .” Mrs. Kapp conveys to the reader her sympathy with the old watchwords “educate, agitate, organize” — perhaps with too much emphasis on “agitate”, as if despite her own lesson. But her two volumes together are a fine piece of work. It is not the fault of author or publisher that the price of this volume is going to confine ownership of it largely to those university parlours until or unless there is a cheaper reprint; can that be hoped for?
Robert Barltrop