Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Tenth of Marx's 'Grundrisse' (1972)

Book Review from the April 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx’s Grundrisse, by David McLellan. Macmillan. £2.50.

In 1923 some previously unknown manuscripts by Marx from the period 1857-8 were discovered, but were not published until 1939-41. These thousand pages of hand-written notes are known as the Grundrisse Der Kritik Der Politischen Oekonomie (the Basic Principles of the Critique of Political Economy) or simply as Marx’s Grundrisse. They have not yet been translated in full into English despite this book which is really a bit of a take-on. It only includes 100 of the 1,000 of Marx’s pages, as well as 30 more which have been available in English translations since 1904. And some of McLellan’s summaries are tendentious in that they advance his view that Marx always was more of a humanist philosopher than a socialist economist.

Nevertheless some of the selected passages are interesting in that Marx spells out in some detail how capitalism prepares the basis for Socialism and what Socialism will mean. His views can be summarised as follows.

Capitalism, as it develops, brings about a number of connected changes in the character of production:
  • First, it increases productivity so that a smaller and smaller amount of labour-time is needed to produce the same amount of real wealth.
  • Second, it increases the stock of fixed means of production (plant and machinery) which comes to play a much larger and more important role in production than direct human labour (which still remains essential though).
  • Third, it reduces the amount of time society has to devote to producing the necessities of life so increasing the potential amount of free time.
  • Fourth, wealth comes to be produced, not by individuals working on their own, but by the social workforce as a whole utilizing science and technology so that it is no longer possible to measure the individual worker’s specific contribution to production.

These developments, said Marx, make it possible for society to use science to reduce the working day, make work interesting and attractive and increase the free time of every member of the workforce, and also to abandon the exchange of products in accordance with their labour-time values.

But, his argument goes on, capitalism cannot do this because it is based on the exploitation of the workforce by the theft of their surplus labour (or potential free time) and it cannot distribute products other than through the price mechanism because they must be converted into money in order to realise as profit the surplus labour embodied in them and to recover the capital invested in their production.

These passages came as a relevation to the pseudo-Marxist Left who, misled by the Russian revolution, had imagined that Marx shared their view that "socialism” was merely nationalisation and planning, with or without democracy, and who had even twisted other passages from Marx to make it appear that he too thought that money, wages, prices and so on would continue to exist at least in the "first phase” of "socialism”. The passages caused Herbert Marcuse (who must be given the credit for first publicizing them in the English-speaking world) to declare that the Left had not been utopian enough!

But they came as no surprise to us. We had long realised, and argued in the face of fierce opposition and jibes of “utopian” from the Left, that Marx had always expected Socialism to involve the abolition of production for sale and a great change in conditions of work.
Adam Buick

The Economics of Unemployment (1973)

From the April 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is much confusion about the causes of unemployment and almost as much about how many unemployed there actually are. Early last year when the official figures stood at about a million several unofficial estimates put it much higher. The official figures told us how many men and women there were who were available for work and were on the Register. But what about those who for one reason or another were not on the Register? One estimate was that the real total was a million and a quarter. The Observer (23 January 1972) thought it was a million and a half and the same newspaper (20 February 1972) estimated that there were two million fewer people at work than there had been three years earlier. Harold Wilson (Financial Times, 8 April 1972) capped it with his own estimate that if you included all the people who were not looking for a job because there were no vacancies, the real figure “was nearer three million than the government’s figure of one million”.

There is nothing new about this kind of discrepancy between official figures and unofficial estimates in times of heavy unemployment and, provided it is borne in mind, the official figures do give a sufficient indication of how the level of unemployment alternately rises and falls as trade and production decline and expand.

Karl Marx from his study of nineteenth-century capitalism gave a summary description of what goes on:
The enormous extensibility of the factory system, the way in which it increases production by leaps and bounds, and its dependence upon the world market, necessarily give a febrile impetus to production, with a glutting of the markets, a subsequent relative inadequacy of demand, and therefore a paralysis of industry. The life of industry becomes one characterized by a succession of periods of moderate activity, prosperity, overproduction, crisis, and stagnation.
(Capital, Vol. I, page 456. Allen & Unwin edn.) 
Earlier economists had maintained that this kind of trade cycle did not and indeed could not happen. Later critics of Marx, who were compelled by events to admit that it did happen, then maintained that it was not necessary and that it only required certain kinds of corrective action to be taken to prevent it.

Try these Pills
Every variety of “corrective action” has been tried and all have failed because they all come up against certain inescapable aspects of the capitalist system. In a very abstract way it could be said that if all branches of all industries in all the world were planned to be kept in line with market demand and if technical improvements which reduced costs in one country were shared with all other countries and if wages, prices and levels of efficiency were the same everywhere, the trade cycle could be eliminated; but it is only necessary to state this to see that it is impossible. Individual capitalists fight for their own interests and national groups of capitalists have overwhelming economic and military reasons not to be submerged in such an all-embracing scheme. In practice nobody treats seriously ideas of that kind.

In the sphere of what is considered practicable the cures for unemployment fall into a few main groups. One is for the government to prop up ailing firms or industries with subsidies, or to promote employment in particular regions by the same means. These schemes are however not preventives of unemployment but ways of keeping the unemployed on the pay roll and off the dole queue. In effect they are payments to particular employers to employ people they otherwise would not employ. They are a burden on the rest of the capitalist class since they have to be paid for out of taxation. Frances Cairncross (Observer, 28 May 1972) in an article on the cost of promoting employment in the “development areas” in the ten years 1960 to 1970 stated that it was over £2,000 million and “the average cost of each new job created came to £678”; in spite of which unemployment in those areas jumped from 85,405 in June 1961 to 206,740 ten years later. “Looking at those figures, one might well ask whether regional policy was anything more than an expensive attempt to keep marginal constituencies in the backwoods sweet.”

Fewer Hands Make Less Work
A second idea for curing unemployment has been the Labour Party and trade-union belief that workers would be given job security if industries were taken out of the hands of private employers and nationalized. Hugh Scanlon, President of AEUW, voiced this in an attack on the General Electric Company. He pointed out that in the past three years GEC had cut their labour force in Britain from 245,000 to 181,000 while their profits increased (Financial Times, 14 December 1972). He described the company as “the largest unemployer of labour in this country". He seems to be singularly ill-informed. For years the nationalized industries — coal, gas, railways and electricity supply — have been reducing staff by tens of thousands; now joined by the Steel Corporation’s estimated 50,000 redundancies. The forces pressing the nationalized industries to cut staff are exactly the same as those affecting private industry, the need to be competitive and profitable.

The most spectacular of the schemes to obviate the trade cycle has of course been the Keynesian idea that the government can take action to keep up the demand for goods by its own investments and by stimulating consumption and private companies’ investment — the policy of Full Employment. Now that it has manifestly failed it is hard to believe how confident the Keynesians were that it would work. A typical claim was that made in 1946 by Barbara Wootton (now Lady Wootton) when she wrote: “It is now generally accepted, even at the highest academic and political levels, that there can be enough jobs to go round.” (There are still a few "true believers”. Michael Foot, MP, said on the radio, 24 January 1972: “By following Keynes’ doctrine it is a simple matter to make work.”)

Falls on Deaf Ears
Events of the past two years have shown how right Marx was when he pinpointed the fact that what alone will induce the capitalists to increase production is the confidence that what they put on the market will be sold at a profit. No amount of exhortation by the government and assurances that the banks will advance money to aid them will have any effect, and increases of the governments’ own expenditure make no difference if at the same time companies are holding back on investment.

In a speech on 4 February 1973 Prime Minister Heath was chiding businessmen for their reluctance “to expand and invest”, but he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers had been saying the same for the past two years, back to 1971. On 5 December 1971 the Observer published the results of an enquiry into the extent to which industry was, or rather was not, expanding its investment; under the title “Anthony Barber has been begging industry to invest . . . no-one is listening.” They quoted Barber’s claim in the House of Commons that “never before has a government taken so much action to stimulate employment”.
Mr. Barber was so right in telling the Commons this. He has cut taxes, stepped up spending, urged bewildered nationalized industry bosses to get out and spend, and maintained a brave front about economic progress. But Barber missed the point. No one, especially in industry, is arguing about how much he has done. What they are sweating about is whether it is working.
It was left to the City Editor of the Daily Mail to make the appropriate cynical observation on the situation:
Businessmen are not going to invest their own money or shareholders’ funds just because men are out of work or the Government asks them to.
(Daily Mail, 28 Feb. 1972)
He added that businessmen would not change their line until “prospects of better profits emerge”.

Now indeed, helped by the sacking of thousands of workers and the tightening up of work processes, expectation of profit has risen again and unemployment has fallen. But it comes after several years of stagnation which, if the Keynesian idea had been valid, would never have happened in the first place.
Edgar Hardcastle

Must Man Starve? (1974)

From the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
For six months the peasants of the drought-stricken regions of Wello and Tigro in Ethiopia have been suffering from famine . . .  In the five months from April to August between 50,000 and 100,000 died. (Guardian 18 October 1973)
Malnutrition in the Bangladesh villages has reached near-starvation levels among the poor and landless. “I have seen village children who look like Biafro babies”, said a senior official. (Guardian 19 October 1973)
In large parts of Africa, Asia, and South America malnutrition is the norm and starvation common, while even in industrially developed countries considerable numbers eat badly and too little. In Britain’s “affluent society” it is reckoned that 50 to 60,000 old age pensioners die each year through lack of food and warmth.

Most experts estimate that two-thirds of the world’s population are undernourished — and that the situation is getting worse.

Is It Inevitable?
Yes say many. It’s a popular view that there are just too many people and too few resources for everyone to eat well. This is demonstrably false.

At the Second World Food Congress (June 1970) United Nations experts stated that if present technology were used to the full the world’s population could certainly be fed. Then years ago the International Agricultural Centre at the Hague announced that the earth could support a population of 28,000 million if food production were organised on lines then known to be practical (Times 24 July 1962) (Present-day population is under 4,000 million).

The many studies undertaken by various food production experts leave us in no doubt that it is possible to produce enough good-quality food for everyone.

Why Then Hunger?
Simply because in this society food is not produced to feed people but to make a profit for the farmers and other investors in the food industry. This results in: —
  • People starving amidst a sufficiency of food — because they’ve not got the money to buy it. “The problem in Bangladesh, as elsewhere on the subcontinent, is not that the food is not there but that the poor (and especially the landless) cannot afford to buy it” (Guardian 19 October 1973).
  • Food being produced, then either left to rot in warehouses or deliberately destroyed — because it can’t be sold profitably. 300,000 tons of “surplus” butter are considered a "grave problem” in the EEC while in Britain perfectly good fish and apples have recently been destroyed.
  • Quotas being set to limit foodstuffs production and farmers being paid to keep perfectly good land unused. "It is a known fact that, to avoid overproduction of grain, an attempt has been made in various parts of the United States to apply the principle of subsidizing farmers to leave a percentage of their arable land fallow. The same method has been used with other agricultural products”. (Hugo Osvald, The Earth Can Feed Us All).
  • Land that could be brought into production by irrigation, and new methods (such as underwater farming) that could be employed, not being used due to the general effort to keep production below a certain level to maintain high prices.

What's The Solution?
Since it’s the basic economic structure that causes the problem all petty reforms merely tinkering with the superstructure are bound to fail. The land and the means of food production, along with all the natural and man-made resources of society, must come under the democratic control of the whole world community. The sole aim of food production must be to satisfy the food requirements of the world and to provide satisfying work for those involved. The buying and selling of food, and the other needs of life, should be abolished and a system of free distribution adopted. Eating is a natural function, not a privilege. In a world based on the common ownership of the means of wealth production, food production would be merely a technical problem — and we already have the technology to meet the task. With the fetters of profit-making removed, today’s potential plenty would be made a reality.

How Can This Be Achieved?
No leader can usher in such a society on your behalf. Its establishment depends on YOUR understanding and effort. Nothing less than conscious political action by a majority of the working class can create World Socialism. The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its Companion Parties overseas are striving to this end.
Aberdeen Socialists

Kicking Out Cant (1975)

Book Review from the April 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Christianity and Socialism by Horace Jarvis. Published by the author. 30p.

This 80-page pamphlet should please many people and enlighten many more. It concentrates on attacking religious superstition and the idea of divine authority, and is well furnished with quotations and examples from the author’s extensive knowledge of Christian teachings. Socialism is defined and explained, and the reader is told why the Socialist Party of Great Britain does not admit people holding religious beliefs. There is a short but-to-the-point chapter on "Was Jesus a Socialist?”, and the pamphlet ends with a survey of some modern revivalist and splinter groups.

We are asked to say that it is obtainable from 72 Beechwood Road, Sanderstead, Surrey, and that the price includes postage.

Socialists in Ireland Battle On (1976)

From the April 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Explanation of failure to reply to earlier communication . . .


Some time ago our premises at Pimm Street, Belfast suffered bomb and fire damage and had to be vacated. The proprietor of a small printery, whose basement workshop in the same building was only slightly damaged, decided to continue in business and agreed to accept incoming mail on our behalf.

Last week this printer decided to go into the unoccupied part of the building in search of some timber and there he came on the front door of the rooms we had occupied. The door had been blown from its hinges and had actually fallen into a lower floor of the building but it still had affixed to it the mail box. Later examination revealed some letters in the box including yours of 29th March 1974.

It is a crazy little chapter from the sad and crazy world we live in; however we now enclose our reply and our apologies.


The enclosed circular will explain why we did not reply to your letter of the 29th March 1974.

The circular gives an insight into the problems we face in N. Ireland at present. We did manage to maintain premises up to two years ago but even this was a dodgy proposition. Our “meeting” night was Tuesdays but most evenings people were afraid to come out and I have memories of sitting long hours alone beside a dirty paraffin stove. Sometimes the foot on the stairs brought mixed feelings; “Good! Someone . . ." but there was the fear that the "someone” might not be good! Just before the premises were blown up they were vandalized by the military and, on another occasion when I foolishly took my seventeen-year-old daughter (who was a Party member) with me, we had a visit from some worthies who were obviously confident that if they could provoke us into starting something they could handle both of us.

Finally, our “national heroes”, the Provos, in pursuit of their “economic war” or their equally intelligent counterparts, the Loyalists, blew the place up. It must have been a victory for something.

After that we tried to get an old slum shop and dwelling in a “borderline” area. It had been vandalized and was going very cheap and I had arranged with the agent to accept £200 deposit and the £500 balance by weekly instalments of £2. Unfortunately, when the crunch came, the woman who owned the place refused to sign the contracts.

Now we have learnt that the premises at Pimm Street have been bought by a tyre trader who carries on his business in the adjoining property. The place is being re-roofed and repaired in a make-shift way and we are hopeful that we might get our old room back.

Of course normal political activity is impossible at present in this lunatic asylum but, still, an address that could be used openly would open some avenues. At present, apart from putting the case to individuals in general conversation (and this with some caution!) we confine our activities to sending the Socialist Standard to various groups and individuals and to the principal newspapers. It is dangerous to write to the papers; both morning and evening newspapers print most of their letters under pen names but require that the writer enclose his name and address; a friend of mine who had a letter published criticizing the Loyalist “strike” of ’74 received a threatening telephone call the following day — this despite the fact that his letter had been published over a pseudonym. Obviously one does not want to put one’s family at risk by identifying one’s home address but, if we get premises, we will use the address openly for letters and the occasional leaflet.

I am convinced that we must show some evidence of our continued existence during this period, however slight or sporadic. To fail to do so will leave us open to the charge of deserting our case when it was dangerous to stand by it. Honest explanation of our smallness and lack of resources can be made for little activity in the present period but we would have no excuse for total silence.

Over the past two months I have engaged in an exchange of letters with the Secretary of a Dublin group who call themselves the Socialist Party. Some progress has been made but the issues of nationalism and religion still prove tortuous (what a dis-service the “Marxist” Connolly did for Socialism!). In my last letter I suggested that I would like to visit the group and, if I get a favourable response, I will take a week-end in Dublin.

Bad as the situation here is I feel it is not without a glimmer of hope. Some of the old loyalties are being scrutinized more incisively than heretofore by many on the political touchlines; the anger of the moment may not reflect this but there is much evidence to show that it is true. Some — indeed, many — of the Loyalists have lost some of their intractable “Britishness” and, equally, many of the Catholic Nationalists have been disillusioned by blatant indifference shown to their plight by a self-preserving Southern capitalism. True, the battles go on; today’s fought in the bitterness of last night’s memories. Increasingly, however, it is only the scarred and the most deeply committed who can maintain the fight on a no-hope diet of hatred. When the anger ebbs the old values will be in the melting pot and while, then, Socialist hands may be few, they will at least be clean.
Richard Montague

Queen Capital's Jubilee (1977)

From the April 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

In June 1911, when George Wettin was crowned, the Socialist Standard carried an article with the title “King Capital’s Coronation”. This article was reproduced in the September 1964 anniversary issue of the Standard and so is still obtainable. A Socialist classic and a masterpiece of erudition, wit and irony. In about eighteen hundred words it takes in every facet of Socialist education. History, economics, parasitism, exploitation, class-struggle. It explains why the capitalist class preserve an obsolete and costly monarchy. An institution whose origins stretch back to barbarism, whose rituals and incantations are at once primitive and ludicrous and whose great wealth has been built up on centuries of plunder, piracy and wholesale murder. That the monarchy survived the onslaught of such an article is a tribute to the control exercised by the capitalist propaganda machine over the thinking of the working class. Working on the theory that meaningful education begins with class-consciousness, we think the article would have an electrifying effect if reproduced in the Times and Guardian education supplements.

Here we are sixty-six years later and the workers still dragging their feet. After twenty five years as the royal mascot of British capitalism, what can be said about Elizabeth? She has been all over the world as the commercial representative and prestige symbol of the ruling class, visited hundreds of places, travelled scores of thousands of miles and been received by all the heads-of-state and civil “dignitaries” on earth, and yet has probably never uttered a word in public, apart from casual conversation, that was her own. Apart from the obligatory built-in grin, what accomplishments does she need? Riding side-saddle for the trooping of the colour ceremony must be quite arduous, but who could not memorize a line like “I name this ship ‘Servitude’ may god bless her and all who sail in her”? (Swinging the bottle of champagne is not like driving home the rivets.) With every advantage money can buy, she needs proficiency at nothing. In terms of social usefulness, the girl in the typing pool or the woman who cleans lavatories makes a far greater contribution. Yet it is such useful members of society who denigrate themselves by lining the gutters to wave and cheer as she passes. She is regarded as some great White Mother whose grin protects us from evil and stimulates “our” trade. It is argued that if we did not have a monarch we would have a president and that might even be worse. This of course is an argument for scrapping both, not for maintaining either. The working class will only be prepared to get rid of the trappings, when they have come to reject the private-property relationships of capitalism which require these elevated nonentities.

The twenty-five years since 1952 have seen the world in a state of unprecedented turmoil. Untold millions have died from starvation while vast surpluses of unsaleable food have been systematically destroyed. Millions more have perished in wars. The Korean war was raging when Elizabeth was crowned, and was supported by her Labour and Tory ministers of state. These same ministers have tested and built up the British arsenal of nuclear weapons, for “her” armed forces. But she just reads their speeches; all this has nothing to do with her.

Whilst old people after a working life dependent on wages, producing wealth for sale and profit, live in deprivation and often die for the want of life's simplest needs of food and warmth, she represents every excess of conspicuous consumption. The exploitation of countless millions in this country and throughout the world is the foundation upon which rests the grotesque accumulation of wealth belonging to the class of socially useless people, whose cover-up is the monarchy. The queen’s cloistered existence hidden from reality makes a mockery of stricken humanity. Even public toilets have to be disguised when she passes. Yet, despite the squalor of the Walworth Road and Brixton, and many more such slum areas, at the time of the Coronation one could hardly see the slums for bunting. Even the kerbstones were painted red, white, and blue. This was the message the parasite class wanted. This made it all worth their while. Bread and circuses. Now there will be more beakers and mugs — always plenty of those — and sundry souvenirs to make profitable business and remind the workers how lucky they are.

The women’s magazines conjure up a phoney sense of delight as if they were treating some small children to their first Punch and Judy show. The television and radio put on special programmes which help project the illusion that something important has happened. The press, servile and sycophantic as ever, carries more stories and pictures than usual, which is no easy task. The Guardian on 7th February published a eulogy by the Poet Laureate, which is reminiscent of the grovelling non-sense that Pravda used to print about Stalin. In his day, William Morris turned down the job of Poet Laureate; as a Socialist he would not lend himself to such humbug. When it is understood, that no less a luminary (and there are no lesser luminaries) than Mary Wilson had a poem read at the Albert Hall at the same do which launched the above mentioned epic, and that she has been hinted at as a possible future Laureate, perhaps the ruling class and their mascot are more up against it than we realize.
Harry Baldwin