Thursday, September 14, 2017

Analysing an Economic System (2017)

From the September 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
One criticism of Marx’s Capital is that, written 150 years ago, it is describing conditions in mid-century Victorian Britain which have long since disappeared. It does do this, but this is to miss the point. Marx was analysing an economic system, not the particular political, sociological and historical conditions under which it happened to operate in his day. It was written not, or not just, as a criticism of conditions in mid-Victorian Britain but as an analysis of capitalism in general, of the capitalist economic system as such irrespective of the conditions in which it operated.
As Marx was writing in mid-19th century Britain, most of his concrete examples are drawn from the experience of capitalism in and up to that period. Then, the main industry was textiles whose products were exported throughout the world; the main source of energy was burning coal in steam engines; and the dominant form of ownership of means of production was a factory owned and managed by an individual capitalist family.
Marx’s examples are drawn from the 1860s but, even before he died in 1883, things had begun to change. The production of machines was becoming more important than textile production; coal was about to be used to raise steam to drive electricity-generating turbines; the joint stock company with limited liability was becoming the dominant form of capitalist ownership. But these developments did not alter how capitalism worked as an economic system. It continued to operate in the same basic way that Marx had analysed.
Technology and the political and sociological framework are even more changed today but capitalism as an economic system still works in the same way. The fact that Marx never saw a motor car or an aeroplane or radio, television, electronic computers or knew of nuclear power or genetic engineering does not affect his theory.
Political economy
The subtitle of Capital, when it was translated into English in 1887, was ‘A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production’. It was this, but a strict translation of the original German would have been ‘A Critique of Political Economy’, a subtitle used in more modern translations.
‘Political Economy’ was the name applied by David Ricardo, author of The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1821), and others to the study that they were engaged in of the production and distribution of wealth in a market economy. They imagined that they were discovering a natural process just as other scientists were. Marx’s major criticism of them was that in reality they were analysing one historically-evolved, and ultimately passing, way of organising the production and distribution of wealth, which he called ‘the capitalist mode of production’.
Nevertheless, the ‘economic laws’ they posited still acted as if they were natural laws, even though they came into being only under specific social and historical conditions. The Political Economists saw the ‘natural’ way to organise the production and distribution of wealth, and which they regarded as being distorted by political interference, as: factories and other workplaces owned by capitalists; production carried out by wage-workers; and the capitalist owners aiming to make a profit by investing money in production and selling what was produced at prices established by the market.
On the basis of these assumptions (and policy recommendations) they sought to work out how wealth would be distributed between capitalists, wage-workers, and those who owned land and other natural resources. They also sought to work out how the prices of goods produced for sale (which they called ‘commodities’) were determined. They correctly identified this as having something to do with the time taken to produce them.
Marx made his own contribution to this analysis and in particular solved the mystery of how profit could arise if all commodities exchanged at their labour-time values. His solution was to make a distinction between what workers expended in production (‘labour’) and what they sold (their ‘labour power’) and for which they were paid a full price as their wages. He showed that profit arose not in circulation but in production, out of the difference between the value of what wage workers produced, which belonged to their capitalist employer, and the value of what they were paid for the sale of their labour-power, a difference he called ‘surplus value’.
The adepts of political economy didn’t like this any more than they liked being told that what they were studying was not the natural laws of production and distribution. Their successors, realising where a labour theory of value might lead, abandoned this approach and began to analyse the economic system in terms of how businesses experienced it.
Greed is irrelevant
The concept of ‘surplus value’ is key to Marx’s analysis of capitalism as an economic system. He saw the driving force behind production under capitalism as being to maximise the amount of surplus value. This was not because capitalists were greedy, but was something imposed on them by the economic laws of capitalism. These laws forced capitalists to re-invest in production as additional capital most of the profits they made.
Capitalists, he argued, were in competition with each other to sell their products and make a profit. To win what he called ‘the battle of competition’ firms had to reduce the unit cost of what they produced so as to be in a position to sell more cheaply than their rivals without impingeing on their own profits. A firm could achieve this by reducing the time needed to produce its product, or, what is the same thing, increasing the productivity of its workforce, but this involved equipping them with more efficient machines, bought out of previously made profits. The first firm to do this would make a temporary ‘super-profit’ but this would disappear as other firms, to stay in the race for profits, also bought more productive machines and the market price for the product fell, restoring profits to their ‘normal’ level.
Capitalist competition thus results in a race to reduce costs by increased productivity, mainly through the installation of more efficient machines. The tendency under capitalism is for most profits to be reinvested in production as further capital, for more and more capital to be accumulated by being invested in expanding the means of production and so both production and employment (though the first at a faster rate than the second). This economic ‘growth’ is built-in to capitalism and is not a free choice of those running capitalist enterprises, so it can’t be reversed. It’s a drive that will last as long as capitalism does.
Forms of enterprise
One consequence of Marx’s analysis of capitalism as an economic system operating according to its own economic laws is that the institutional form in which a capital is embodied and treated as a single unit – whether the individual capitalist owner of Marx’s day, a limited liability company (what in America is called a ‘corporation’), a state-owned enterprise, or even a worker-run cooperative – is incidental. What is decisive is that, whatever the institutional form, commodities are being produced for sale on a market with a view to profit; which means that the enterprises are subject to the economic laws of capitalism and have to keep on re-investing profits in more modern machinery in order to keep costs down and stay in the battle of competition.
Also incidental is the distribution of that part of profits that is not re-invested in production but is used for the consumption of those who manage units of capital. Those who 'personify capital' (Marx's term) can be individual capitalists, company directors, big shareholders, or government officials. They don’t have to be bloated men in top hats smoking a cigar. In the history of capitalism there has also been a wide variety of personal beneficiaries of capitalist production, from individual capitalist owners (an almost distinct breed these days) to top level state officials, civil and/or military. In fact the Britain of Marx's day was itself exceptional in having a landed aristocracy in a position to command a share, in the form of ground-rents and royalties, of the surplus value extracted from the workers by their immediate employers.
That Marx’s analysis of capitalism was not tied to conditions in mid-century Victorian Britain is shown by the fact that the same economic laws, the same economic drive to accumulate capital out of surplus value created by wage-labour, operated also in the former USSR. The institutional framework there – the absence of individual capitalist ownership and the almost total state ownership of the means of production, and the distribution of the consumption part of surplus value amongst various layers of state officials – was quite different from what obtained in the West. Yet capitalism existed there. Even the abolition of private capitalists and capitalist private property rights is compatible with the existence of capitalism.
Marx’s analysis of the way capitalism works is valid wherever there is sectional ownership and control of the means of wealth production and where production is carried out by wage-workers for sale on a market with a view to profit. As this is undoubtedly still the case today, Marx’s Capital remains valid and relevant.
Adam Buick

A Thought From George Jackson (1991)

From the August 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
George Jackson (1941 - 1971).
Twenty years ago this month the militant American black nationalist George Jackson was murdered during a prison riot. Although his politics were generally confused—he was a Maoist and supporter of the late unlamented Albanian government—he did express the following view in one of his prison letters: 
"Consider the people's store, after full automation, the implementation of the theory of economic advantage. You dig. no waste makers, nor harnesses on production. There is no intermediary, no money. The store, it stocks everything that the body or home could possibly use. Why won’t the people hoard, how is an operation like that possible, how could the storing place keep its stores if its stock (merchandise) is free’’

Men hoard against want. need, don't they? Aren't they taught that tomorrow holds terror, pile up a surplus against this terror, be greedy and possessive if you want to succeed in this insecure world? Nuts hidden away for tomorrow's winter. 

Change the environment, educate the man. He'll change. The people’s store will work as long as people know that it will be there, and have in abundance the things they need and want (really want), when they are positive that the common effort has and will always produce an abundance, they won’t bother to take home more than they need. Water is free, do people drink more than they need?” (Letter of June 17th. 1970. in Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Penguin. 1981)

Crazy World of Economics (1991)

Book Review from the September 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Action for prosperity : a new direction for industrial solidarity By Robert Corfe (Collindist Press. 1990.)

The author of this booklet is a management consultant employed by engineering firms in the Eastern Counties. A year ago, after less than a month’s service, he was fired along with most of the labour force, from a small company which had been taken over. A privileged few of the staff had been kept on and transferred to another factory. These and other experiences have led him to draw a number of conclusions about the world we live in. particularly the world of economics, and to write a series of booklets, of which this is one.

He says that nowadays firms tend to be financed by “rentiers” or owned by multinationals. whose thinking is short-term and who are sufficiently remote to have no other thought than for the bottom line of the balance sheet. The consequence of all this, he argues, is the de-industrialisation of Britain (and the US). Businesses funded by rentiers tend to be bankrupted by the moneylenders at the least sign of trouble, and those taken over by multinationals are closed down in rationalisation programmes. The only sectors to expand are those peculiar to money-juggling such as banking. insurance and other such “services".

We cannot quarrel with much of this; the problem is what to do about it. His short-term prescription is for the workers and management to occupy the factory. His long-term solution is a new ethos based on proper long-term funding of wealth-producing industry, and protection against imports.

The occupation of factories, sit-ins. work-ins, and similar stratagems are tactics which have been used in many places and for a long time. I am not sure of their efficacy, but the privilege of judging does not belong to us, since we do not have to bear the responsibility that goes with the action. Workers in dispute are better off without armchair generals to advise them.They will know better than anybody the risk of encounters with bailiffs and their rottweilers, of truncheon-wielding policemen, of, in the last analysis, the armed forces, all of which have been used by governments against workers in occupation of factories.

What Corfe does not attempt to deal with is the cause or causes underlying these closures. We must, according to him, look forward to an infinite future of work-ins, lockouts, and similar industrial scenarios.

His alternative long-term solution is for finance to be made available to productive industry at much cheaper rates, as is the case in Germany and Japan where there is a much more rational attitude to wealth creation and a realisation that what are referred to as "service industries”, the objects of Corfe's ire don’t create wealth at all.

But let us assume that all his pleas were satisfied, that special interest rates were agreed for manufacturing. what would that do to prevent the system continuing to oscillate between slump and growth, as it has done for the last two centuries? We have experienced the whole spectrum of market economy operation, from command systems like those of Eastern European state capitalism, through various flavours of intervention, Keynesian and Fabian, for example, to the voodoo Free-Market Economics of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The first lot finally collapsed last year, the Keynesian dream ended in the sleepwalk of the Carter and Callaghan administrations, and the last lot are just slipping down the toilet. Corfe would appear to favour the Keynesian interventionist option. But has he forgotten the 1970s?

The alternatives within this system are always a slump or growth. Too little or too much. A slump that threatens the majority of people with debt, in some cases denying them the bare necessities of life; and as an alternative the growth which is destroying the planet.

Now we have got a crazy idea. This is to let Mr Corfe and his fellow workers have all the food, clothing, housing, transport and entertainment, and the factory have all the plant and raw materials they need at a cost of nothing, nil. nix, no money. They can do the same for others. In this way we can get down to satisfying our needs directly without the need for finance or financiers. Too simple? But the truth is always simple. Understanding it is the hard bit. Entitia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, superbly translated by Ray Kroc, founder of the MacDonalds junk food empire, as: "Keep it simple, stupid!"
Ken Smith

Reaching where other propaganda can't (1991)

From the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Yesterday I was helping to wash my two-year old daughter in the bath. I picked up a toy boat and asked her what it was. “It's a big red boat", she replied.Then I held up a bottle. “And whats this?” I asked. She hesitated for a moment so I said “It’s shampoo, isn’t it?” “No!", she corrected me, and with her tone changing slightly to the undulating phrases of airport tannoy announcements, she told me that “'This is Wash and Go—not just shampoo, it’s shampoo and conditioner. Why bother to take two bottles into the shower. Just wash and go!”

I found this sudden fluent echo of a television advert quite funny, but then afterwards thought about the contempt that the manipulation and deceit of advertising deserves.

Building societies have repossessed more homes from "mortgage defaulters” than at any time on record. Families are ruthlessly evicted on to the streets. Lawyers and bailiffs are brought in to do the dirty work and then the Building Societies casually move on to pay Advertising Agencies to dream up a few slow-motion, black-and-white trendy adverts to portray them as the warm, beneficent friends of anyone who needs setting up with a loan for a home. A wolf in sheep’s clothing would, perhaps, be a more suitable image for such institutions.

As a source of ideas and prejudices about our society, advertising plays an important role. It has proliferated to such an extent that it now permeates every pore of social life. Today people are indoctrinated into the ways of the society into which they are born by a number of sources: their families, their schools, but predominantly the communications media. By the time most children leave school they will have spent more time watching television (10-15,000 hours) than in the classroom. During those hours they will have been exposed to approximately 20,000 commercials. They will have heard, perhaps more than 10,000 radio commercials and read thousands of adverts in newspapers and magazines.

Advertising has moved from the occasional bold and simple street poster to a continuously multiplying profusion of forms. Everywhere we go or look or listen we witness the selling game. From “Silk Cut Snooker” to “The Royal Shakespeare Company courtesy of Royal Assurance”.

The unavoidable message of advertising is to inculcate people with a frame of mind which is prone to regard the rat-race as a fundamentally unchangeable feature of society. Adverts do not directly advocate capitalism. Imagine one which did. The viewer might be addressed by a well-fed man or woman from the capitalist class, holding a glass of the finest Champagne. “Well now. you are a wage-slave. You have nothing to sell but your mental and physical energies. You have to keep working all your life just to get by. I am a member of a class who live in luxury as a result of your efforts. You fight my wars for me and sometimes pray to the skies for better things. Probably the best system in the world, for us. Support capitalism. You know it makes sense."

Party political broadcasts are adverts for capitalism whose claims about how the parties will improve our lives are about as meaningful as stating that a soap powder washes whiter than white. Advertising really imparts its social message by omission. It sets an agenda of “important" concerns, occasionally with wit and style, which project the basic way in which we live in a way which is forever out of focus. You should be thinking about what to rub into your legs, what to rub into your face, 20 good reasons to read The Sun. what toilet paper is best, which building society you should rent your home from, which music to plug into your cars, and whether the man and woman from the coffee advert saga will ever stir more than each other's coffee?

Within the context of the society we inhabit—a class-divided society working in the interests of a parasitical minority—there is a necessary role for advertising in its current form. As with all other problems generated by the profit system, it cannot be resolved by legislative reform. Socialists do not hold a brief for the Advertising Standards Authority. We do not want adverts to be "legal, decent, truthful and honest”, as these ideas are measured by the barbaric standards of the profit system. Soliciting men to join a violent gang and to use weapons to kill strangers is a criminal offence unless you are advertising for recruits to the army.

Selling game
Advertising and marketing are the glossy, glamorous facades on a society of starving children, the carnage of war, 35 million refugees and the menace of insecurity for everyone. Advertising aggravates the problems of workers by tempting people with merchandise which poverty precludes from our legal grasp. The society of the hard sell and the soft sell is also the society of the prison cell.

The only way to genuinely escape from the culture of commodities is to transform society from one based upon property to one based upon common ownership of the means for producing and distributing goods and services. Only when the means of communication have been put into the control of the community will they be operated in a way which can inform people about goods and services without the deceptions and trickery that flow from vested  interests.

The children's educational programme Sesame Street uses a skilful mixture of imaginative techniques to teach young children basic numeracy, literacy and points of nature and culture. The originator of the programme once said that she realised how powerful were repetition and short musical jingles as teaching aids when her child demonstrated the ability to sing lots of television adverts. It is a reflection of the disingenuous aims of the advertising agencies (and their paymasters/mistresses) that they attempt to shape our lifestyles and outlook by techniques that exist where nursery rhymes meet mantras.

George Orwell once described advertising as "the rattling of a stick in a bucket”. As the volume of those beats grows and the cacophony worsens, thundering and screaming to obliterate the noises of social misery, it becomes imperative to organise a society with a break from commercials.
Gary Jay

Socialist Definitions (1991)

From the November 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

CAPITALISM is the sort of society you live in now. It is a system of wage-slavery in which a small minority owns most of the world and (sometimes) employ the rest of us. In capitalism, most things are sold for a price — production is for profit rather than for use. The world is divided by frontiers into warring factions known as "nations". Symptoms of capitalism include war, hunger, boom-slump cycles, strikes, widespread loneliness and despair. Countries like Russia or China, whose governments claim to be "socialist" are, of course, capitalist like their western rivals.

COMMUNES (kibbutzim, and similar communities) are attempts by a few to get some shelter from the capitalist rat race. Whilst they may benefit their members, from the standpoint of abolishing capitalism they are a waste of time. Socialism in one country is not possible, let alone socialism in one farm. Socialism could, however, be described as a world-wide commune.

HUMAN NATURE is a most frequent objection to the idea of a socialist society. It is supposed that human beings have some fixed patterns of social behaviour which are especially conducive to capitalism. In fact, what is normally termed "human nature" is the result of social conditioning. Private property, leadership, aggressiveness and monogamy are no more congenial to human beings than alternative forms. A knowledge of different societies, historically and geographically, is sufficient to knock the human nature myth on the head.

LABOUR PARTY is often called "socialist" (less now than in the past, it's true) but in fact never has been. The Labour Party was formed to improve the conditions of workers by reforms within capitalism. It sought gradually to change capitalism; instead capitalism has gradually changed it. The Labour Party is now no more than an alternative team for the management of British capitalism.

PATRIOTISM is irrational from the point of view of humanity as a whole and runs counter to the interests of the working people. It is therefore opposed by socialists, who do not offer "policies for Britain" or for any other of the artificial political entities into which the world is now divided but demand a world community without frontiers.

POPULATION EXPLOSION is certainly a reality, but it is a myth that it is responsible for hunger, pollution or overcrowded living. The world can easily support many times its present population in comfort and plenty of room. Hysterical Malthusianism diverts attention from the real problem: production is geared to the market, rather than to the satisfaction of human needs.

REFORMS are basically attempts to solve problems within capitalism rather than by doing away with it. Capitalism never runs out of reforms. Socialists are not opposed to all reforms, but we don't think it is our job to propose them or campaign for them. Reforms are usually of negligible value to the working class, and often create new problems which require further reforms. Fundamental social problems are always untouched because these are rooted in capitalism.

RELIGION is opposed by all rational people, but especially by socialists who see it as compensation for social misery, and a diversion from the urgent problems of the real world. Happily, religion is steadily ebbing away in the most advanced areas of capitalism.

REVOLUTION is the process of changing from one social system to another. It is not necessarily a matter of barricades and bloodbaths, and not at all in the case of the socialist revolution, which requires mainly mass understanding and democratic organisation. It is part of the job of socialists to hasten this revolution by spreading socialist understanding.

SOCIALISM is the next stage in human social evolution — unless capitalism destroys us first by means of nuclear/chemical/ biological war, or ecological collapse. Socialism will mean the abolition of private property, money and the wages system; the introduction of voluntary work and free access to necessary goods and services. Socialism is a world-wide society of voluntary co-operation. It will put an end to wars, poverty and unemployment, enabling our species to concentrate on the less serious problems of everyday living.

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If you have any other questions about socialism you are welcome to write to us at:
The Socialist Party 
52 Clapham High Street 
SW4 7UN 
We will be delighted to hear from you and can assure you of a prompt reply.

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What Do We Mean By Class? (1991)

From the December 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class is a redundant issue. Everyone's a worker now.

Class is still very much the basis of present-day society. In this society people are divided into those who own the workplaces in the form of capital, the employers or capitalist class, and those who do the work but do not own what they produce, the working class.

As a system of society which predominates throughout the world, capitalism is based on the extraction of surplus value through the wages system. Even if there has been some separation of ownership and control in capitalist enterprises, this does not affect the inherent class antagonism between those who own and those who produce. Ultimately, those who benefit are still those who don't need to work because they enjoy an unearned income derived from the exploitation of those who do.

Exploitation is a thing of the past. If you don't like your job you can always leave it.

Exploitation exists because of the very fact that people work for employers. Employers buy our capacity to work with a wage or a salary and then extract more work out of us than it cost them to pay us. This unpaid surplus work is the source of their profit. So there’s a conflict of interests at work: they want to get as much out of us for as little expenditure as possible, and we need the money in order to live. It's the only way this competitive organisation of society can work, since their success depends on our exploitation. It's nothing to do with morality or low wages. It's all about the employers owning the workplace and us earning our livelihood by being a wage slave. And it really is a form of slavery, because although we can leave our particular job we can't leave that class of people who are compelled to get a job.

As long as I get "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work" I don't mind if my employer makes a fair profit.

There can never be anything fair about the wages system for workers, since this is the mechanism of our exploitation. It pre-supposes that workers do not own or control the workplace. Wages and salaries are the price of the value-creating ability we sell to employers. We produce goods and services worth more than we receive in pay, whether the pay is high or low. This socially-produced surplus value is the source of the employers' profit. Employers operate in a competitive world economy and will, irrespective of the size of their profits, pay their workers only what they must. Without the resistance of workers, wages and salaries would be lower than they are. So we have a class struggle at work.

I work in an office. I don't produce anything physical, so how can I be exploited?

The life-blood of this economic system is the making of profits through the exploitation of the whole working class. This is a social process which involves the whole workforce in a complex division of labour in which some physically alter materials while others are involved in planning, design and organising. All of these roles are part of this economic system and all those who perform them are exploited as they all contribute in one way or another to the production of profits for the employing class as a whole. As a class we run society from top to bottom. We do not run it in our own interest, however. We run it for the profit of the employing class, a minority of people with most of the power and wealth and the freedom this gives them.

I am not working class: I earn a good salary, own a house and big car; I've been to university and take a Mediterranean holiday every year.

You may think of yourself as being a "professional" or "middle class" but this doesn’t affect your basic economic position. Because the property you own does not bring you in a regular income large enough for you to live on, like the rest of us you are compelled to sell your working abilities. Your pay may be called a salary but you still belong to that class of people forced to hire themselves to an employer. From this perspective, things like status, level of earnings, education, type of job or occupation are besides the point. They do not affect your exploited class position in society, even if you arc in some respects better off than most other workers. Salaried doctors, managers, teachers, scientists, and so on are comprised within the working class.

There will always be classes; there will always be rich and poor - it's only human nature.

It is class society which operates against human nature. Capitalist exploitation creates rich and poor people, with their opposing interests. But there is no reason why our rational desire for mutual aid should not allow us to establish a classless society. To end class exploitation requires class-conscious political action by the working class to establish common ownership and democratic control of the places of work. This will do away with the wage slavery of working for an employer and open the way for work based solely on human needs and abilities.

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If you agree with these views or have any questions, please write to us or come along to one of our meetings.
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Socialism and Materialism (1926)

From the April 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Any person lacking previous knowledge of the subject can hardly fail to be confused by the contradictory pronouncements issued in the name of Socialism regarding the basis of society. A few days ago, for instance, Mr. Robert Young, M.P., speaking at a Brotherhood meeting, pleaded for a “new society based upon Christianity." This represents the prevailing attitude among the “Socialists” (so-called) of the Labour Party. On the other hand, we find supporters of that Party claiming to be atheists or materialists, and professing to derive their “Socialism" from some abstract ideal of “justice” or “brotherhood."

The Socialist Party is the only one in which a clear and consistent attitude on this question is to be found. This attitude frankly rejects any attempt to explain society in terms of “ideals,” whether Christian or otherwise. It points out that the necessity of obtaining a livelihood (and not mere opinions or sentiments) is the real foundation of social existence; and that, consequently, the conditions under which that livelihood is obtained determine, in the long run, the form taken by ideals of every kind.

This attitude is, of course, very frequently misunderstood. The average person, accustomed to look at matters metaphysically, jumps to the conclusion that the Socialist is only concerned with filling his belly, as a matter of philosophical principle, and he usually dishes out some would-be serious reflections upon the necessity for “ higher ” things, such as morals, etc. He fails entirely to see that his so-called “higher things," including morals, are themselves the outcome of a particular set of social conditions which depend in turn upon a certain stage of economic development.

The fact is, of course, that the Socialist has ceased to regard himself as an independent entity, in some way separate from the society of which he forms a molecule. He looks at the whole matter from the standpoint of the class to which he (as a rule) belongs, i.e., the working class. Even when this is pointed out, however, the bourgeois-minded objector invariably protests against what he calls  "class-selfishness”; as though this phenomenon was the cause instead of the effect of existing conditions.

The class-war is the basis of the Socialist movement. Does that mean that the Socialist creates the class-war? On the contrary, the Socialist merely perceives an already existing fact (to which his fellow-slave is either wholly or partially blind), and further realises that this war can terminate in only one way, i.e., the emancipation of the workers through the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of the common ownership of the means of life.

Thus, according to the Socialist, the ownership of the means of life is the central, basic factor in the matter, not some fantastic dream of a perfect social state which merely reflects the imperfections of that which exists at present. But why must the means of life be commonly owned? Whence arises this idea? Does it fall from the clouds? By no means! It is the logically inevitable product of the stage of development reached by those means of life, or, in other words, the instruments of production and distribution of wealth. It is technical advance, not mere speculation, which necessitates social change.

Still our opponent does not understand us. "Under your proposal,” he protests, “men and women will be exclusively greedy unless some sound ethical instruction is given to them.” Well, the answer is simple. We have had centuries of ethical instruction of various kinds. The ancient Greek philosophers ransacked their imaginations in vain for some ideal principle to inculcate into the minds of their followers which would lead to individual happiness and social harmony. The Christian Fathers saw in preparation for the hereafter the surest guide to the elimination of the pressing desires of the here and now. With what success? Greed is a more firmly entrenched social element than ever. Quite irrespective of what their opinions may be, men and women are compelled to look after “number one” ; and failure to do this spells annihilation.

Again, this is the result, not of philosophy but of the conditions arising from the private property basis of society. Frankly egotistic philosophies have, of course, been advanced, especially during the nineteenth century, but these are the outcome of the conditions rather than the cause of men’s attitude towards one another. Human history is, in fact, eloquent upon the poverty of philosophy. The mission of the Socialist is not merely to explain the world, but to change it. This, however, demands the practical application of the scientific method to the economic problem.

This problem may be stated thus. Why is it that, with greater powers of production than have ever existed in human history, numerous people exist in want, and that, broadly, the mass of the population who produce wealth receive in return a smaller proportion of that wealth than ever before? This problem cannot be solved by chloroform, whether administered by Tory Prime Ministers or Labour M.P.s. Christianity and the “spirit of goodwill” can avail us nothing. Their admonitions are addressed to the individual and ignore the social forces of which he is the product. They seek to mould his conduct, it is true, but in a reactionary direction. Only by understanding economic development and consciously co-operating with its established tendencies can we rise above it, thus mastering instead of being enslaved by it.

The politicians of all parties outside the Socialist Party trade upon the economic ignorance of the mass of the workers, but that does not prevent them from stimulating their blind greed. Every proposal which appears in their election addresses is calculated to obtain the support of those who do not realise the futility of such measures from the standpoint of working-class interests. Protection, Free Trade, Land Taxation, Nationalisation, the Capital Levy! "What have these measures to do with ethics?” we may ask. They are merely the means by which sections of the master-class seek both to serve their own interests and hoodwink their slaves. Some high-sounding phrase such as the "public interest” or the "welfare of the community” is used to camouflage their motives and blind the workers, who vainly look for some material gain from these measures.

The Socialist, therefore, has no need to apologise for appealing to the workers to use their intelligence in their own material interests. Our moralising masters have looked after theirs long enough. From the dawn of history society has rested upon the exploitation of the workers. This was inevitable so long as the limited powers of production only allowed of comfort and luxury for a few. To-day, however, those powers are so great that there is no longer any reason why anyone should lack all that is necessary to complete health and leisure for self-development. Our masters pretend to believe in sacrifice. Let them set us an example by forfeiting the privilege of living on our backs. We cannot sacrifice that which is not ours. Let the workers beware, however, from relying on the sincerity of their exploiters.

The increase in the powers of production is, of course, no miracle. It has been accomplished only by the application of science to industry, involving the co-operation of masses of workers on an unprecedented scale. From puny individual instruments such as the spade and hoe, we have advanced to the giant tractor-plough, which can only exist because millions of workers are busy in forges and mills throughout the world. And what applies to one industry applies to all that are of general importance. Here and there, maybe, technical difficulties or the existence of a cheaper supply of labour retard progress on mechanical lines, but the essential fact remains that, for society as a whole, the methods of industry have been revolutionised during the past century and a half.

The new powers of production, social though they are in character, remain in the hands of a class of private owners, who perform no useful function in return. Their only concern is to reap the fruits of the labours of society which are periodically disorganised through the conflict in the ranks of the parasites. For the so-called struggle for existence is a struggle not between individuals as such but between competing masses of capital, of which individuals are but the legal appendages. The survival of the fittest has nothing to do with the personal qualities of the capitalist who survives. It is merely the survival of the more efficient instruments of production of which he is the fortunate possessor. The ruined capitalist occasionally ends his existence as an individual upon his descent into the proletariat, but more frequently he re-adapts himself to his changed environment in which he finds an entirely different form of struggle in progress.

Among the workers the problem of the individual is not how to exploit, but how to secure the opportunity to be exploited; not how to amass wealthy but rather how to_find someone who is willing to purchase one’s power to produce it. The fruits of victory for the individual capitalist are more opportunities for ease and luxury than he can personally utilise. A successful hunt for a job, however, spells for the worker merely a ceaseless round of toil, for a wage which buys the bare necessities of existence.

For the workers, therefore, individualism is a bankrupt creed. They are constantly involved in a struggle against the effects of the whole system of private property. In this struggle the inexorable logic of facts convinced them of the necessity of co-operation long before the Socialist arrived upon the scene. The Trade Unions, for instance, originated, not from mere theorising, but from the practical pressure of events in the industrial sphere. They were the inevitable offspring of the industrial revolution. For a time they were successful in lessening the suffering of the workers, but the limits of their powers were soon reached, and to-day it is evident that a wider and deeper mode of co-operation between the workers is necessary to effect any improvement in their condition. The concentration of capital and the constant advance of machine industry makes anything less than class organisation practically futile.

Such organisation, however, involves the clear and definite object of expropriation of the possessing class. So long as production is carried on for profit, so long will the workers endure the effects of the ensuing anarchy in society. Every technical advance to-day is made as a result of competition for profit at the workers' expense. Every successful attempt at obtaining a higher wage-rate thus merely stimulates the scrapping of obsolete methods of robbing the workers, the increase of the unemployed, the intensification of the struggle for jobs, greater speeding up and insecurity.

The social character of the means of production indicates the solution, i.e., social ownership of those means, combined with production, for the use of all without distinction of race or sex. The conduct of production and distribution in accordance with a social plan will give mankind for the first time the conscious control of their means of living. Henceforward waste an dstagnation will be eliminated for the benefit of all. The resources of the world are barely scratched. Whole continents cry out for development, but capitalism cannot respond. To attempt to do so merely intensifies the antagonisms within itself. The quest for new markets and sources of raw material is speedily followed by war, resulting in widespread ruin and reaction. The international co-operation of the working class alone can make peaceful progress possible.

The recognition of the above facts is the materialism to which Socialists plead guilty. Only when the satisfaction of purely animal wants is definitely secured to all will the opportunity arise for the universal cultivation of distinctively human and social qualities. By conditions which allow for individual development and expression, and not by moral and legal repression, will social harmony be obtained.
Eric Boden

Destroying the Hand that Feeds Us (2017)

From the September 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

It would be correct to say that most true socialists see almost all of society’s problems as a direct and inevitable outcome, or by-product, of the capitalist system. The threats and damage caused to our environment, become to socialists a symptom alongside all the other obscene and alarming ‘givens’ such as warfare, starvation, homelessness and so on that we face as a world community. A system based, as it is, on profit and continued growth ‘at all costs’, places unsustainable demands on the planet’s reserves – be they mineral, biological or social – and, in the end, must logically collapse. And yet, faced with irrefutable evidence of catastrophic damage to these reserves, the vast majority of people do not seem able, or perhaps do not wish, to make the connection and, alarmingly, seem ready at every opportunity, whether through relaxed social intercourse, elections or even by going to war, to stand by and defend a system that is patently failing, dangerous and serves them so badly.

The word ‘environment’ can mean many things, such as where we are at a particular time, or perhaps our immediate surroundings, but here the word is synonymous with what is also known as the ‘natural world’. Thus the term ‘environmentalist’ is a person generally thought to have a keen interest in (preserving and caring for) the ‘natural world’. The term ‘natural world’ is an interesting one as it suggests or implies that it exists as a separate entity, independent and apart from humanity – a place we can visit and leave as we wish. It is likely, also, that most people would wish the ‘natural world’ to continue to exist, unthreatened, undamaged and just how they imagine it should be; that is to say, with rivers and seas full of fish, woodlands verdant and alive with birdsong, endless square miles of unspoilt jungle, vast pods of whales in pristine, icy oceans or palm trees nodding gently next to lapping azure seas on Pacific islands. Sadly, though, the environment could not be less detached from the human species and in reality is the source of all the fundamental elements needed to sustain life. To damage it, therefore, is to damage ourselves.

Capitalism sees the environment, or natural world, in a rather different light. For capitalism, the natural world is an unwanted obstacle, a hindrance to expansion and growth; it is of no consequence to capitalism whether there are a dozen wonderful, species-rich ancient woodlands in the path of HS2. If it means increased profit and productivity, then they can be cut down with impunity. The great sadness is that capitalism is not a deranged despot or vicious psychopath but simply a construct – a means of arranging our affairs, distributing wealth, relating to each other and interacting with the environment.

With simple and logical examination it can be easily demonstrated that the dreadful damage that is being wrought on the environment and the natural world can be reversed or, at least, dramatically reduced by ending capitalism and establishing a new world order that puts the environment and people – the ‘natural world’ – first; a society predicated on free access to wealth, equality and a deep respect for wildlife and the environment – these things would be second nature to all people. Capitalism’s relentless conditioning of people to believe that the way to happiness and fulfilment is the acquisition of more stuff would be a forgotten malaise of the past, the idea that everything needed to be led by an economy and profit an outdated and arcane notion.

The facts relating to all the various ills that face the environment and, therefore, by definition, us, are there to be seen with only rudimentary investigative skills – corporations and politicians cannot censor everything. But to want change the individual needs to believe that there is an alternative way in which society can be managed and, equally, what it is about the environment or natural world that is intrinsic to their lives, indeed why the natural world is essential to their lives. Furthermore, what would the continued decimation of the environment and other species with which we share the planet mean to them?

Capitalism does not put a true value on the natural world, so, given its blatant ability to brainwash people and very successfully maintain itself, people feel part of capitalism and not part of the natural world. The stark reality is that there is no other planet to escape to and unless capitalism is brought to an end worldwide, and by true democracy, the true value of nature, the natural world and the environment will never be understood by future generations; like the dodo, once gone it will be gone forever.

Nature and the environment are truly beautiful and priceless – and therein lies the problem for the socialist within a capitalist society – nature is priceless.
Glenn Morris

Increasing Crime (1964)

From the January 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Crime is one of the many scars upon the face of the so-called Affluent Age. And it is a scar which year by year grows ever more angry and disfiguring. Amid the increasing number of cars, washing machines, television sets, and so on, the crime graph also keeps on rising.

In 1961, the number of people in England and Wales found guilty of indictable offences was 11.5 per cent above that for 1960; and in 1962 the number was 11.8 per cent, up on 1961. There were 896,484 indictable offences known to the police during 1962, which is about double the figure for 1953. The largest proportionate increases were in those offences broadly known as “dishonest”—breaking and entering, receiving, fraud, and so on. The Metropolitan Police estimate the value of property which was the subject of petty thefts in their area alone as over £11 million for 1962.

It is the same sort of story for crimes of violence, although these showed only a slight increase over the past year. Even so, the two years since 1960 saw an increase in indictable crimes of violence of about twenty-five per cent., from 2,536 to 3,160. Eleven more murders were known to have been committed than in 1961, when the total was 132. Sexual offences were a little down last year.

These figures are gloomy enough, but gloomier yet is the fact that the steepest increase in crime is among young people. During 1962, the number of boys between the ages of fourteen and seventeen convicted of indictable offences rose by 8.2 per cent, and that for girls of the same age by 13.9 per cent. Proportionately twice as many male juveniles, and three times as many female juveniles, are found guilty of such charges as before the war. This rise has been pretty consistent over the past ten years, after a decline in juvenile crime from 1952 to 1954.

Naturally, every government regards crime as a serious problem. The inherent exploitation of capitalism has been well described as legal robbery, robbery committed within capitalism’s rules. But those who try illegal robbery—the sort which is outside the rules—are an obvious threat to whatever social and economic stability capitalism has. That is why—and not for any reasons of morality— capitalism fights crime.

Apart from this, crime is an expensive business. Courts, police forces, prisons and the rest cost a lot of money. One estimate of the yearly cost of keeping a boy at an approved school in Derbyshire put it higher than that of sending him to Eton—£639 against £554. Lord Stonham, who is President of the Prison Reform Council, recently complained that £60 million a year is spent upon keeping men in prison ". . . and only £250,000 a year trying to keep them out.”

Why does crime flourish? The government complain that there are not enough policemen to keep it in check. The police force in England and Wales is nearly 6,000 men below its authorised establishment, although this establishment itself is well below the actual requirement, bearing in mind the growth of population and increasing jobs which have been given to the police. By this standard, the Metropolitan Police alone is probably about 6,000 men short. This shortage may have contributed to the growing proportion of unsolved crimes—56 per cent. of the total in 1962.

Some so-called experts have blamed mounting crime onto the after effects of the war, or upon the restlessness of youngsters who, in the days of conscription, knew that they were shortly to waste a couple of years in the Forces. Time itself, with the relentlessly rising crime wave, has destroyed these theories although, of course, they have been replaced by others. It is now fashionable to put the blame onto the frustrations of full employment, telemania and the other features of life in the Sixties. In his recent book Crime and the Social Structure, Mr. J. B. Mays, who has had a lot of experience as a Liverpool youth club leader, says:
   It is not so much that the social structure, as such, forces people to become delinquents as that it makes it much more likely in cases where individuals fail, for a whole variety of reasons, to make a success of their lives as success is defined by normally accepted values. Crime is to such people an alternative road to achievement.
Now there may, or may not, be some sort merit in these explanations, at any rate as far as the immediate cause of a particular crime may go. But they are at best only temporarily valid; we are looking for something more permanent.

“The law in its majesty,” said Anatole France, “permits rich and poor alike to sleep under the railway bridges.” Put another way, one could ask how often does one find a millionaire up before the Magistrates accused of stealing. The property basis of society and the property basis of crime really do not brook of much argument. One need but recite a list of the crimes that spring most readily to mind—murder, theft, robbery, fraud, larceny—and, apart/from the first one, it is abundantly clear that they are all merely ringing the changes on one theme, namely, the taking away of the private property of an owner. (Even in the case of murder, a large proportion of such crimes are linked with taking of property in one way or another.)

Capitalism is a comparatively recent phase of human society whereas we know from such things as the “thou shalt not steal” commandment of the bible that crime was a problem in ancient society as well. But always in a property society. In those primitive societies in which property was owned in common and where there were not even words for the concepts of “mine” and “thine” (and it is remarkable how few people realise that the kind of property society which we have today did not exist from time immemorial) what basis for crime within the community could possibly exist?

The fact is that capitalism is stiff with crime and criminals because it is, if you look deeply enough into the matter, a criminal system. It is a system in which the mass of the people are forced to submit to daylight robbery every time they receipt of wages signifies that the recipient has done a surplus amount of work which the employer appropriates for nothing (else why should he employ anyone at all?). And it is to protect the ownership by the few of the means of production, and of the harvest of surplus value which they yield, that the majesty of the law exists.

But, it might be argued, it is only fair that those who own should reap the benefit of their owning. Whence then does the owning class derive its title to the possession of the earth? Obviously not by any law of nature. As the men of the Peasants’ Revolt in the Middle Ages put it: “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” They had a clearer idea than workers have today of the dictum of Proudhon, the contemporary of Marx: “All property is theft” Human society did not start with an owning class and a propertyless class. A process of robbery had to take place so that the latter class should be stripped of their share of the earth. And it did not all take place in the mists of ancient history either. As a book recently published points out, in quite recent times the clansmen of vast areas of Scotland were driven—even burned—out of the glens they and their forbears had inherited for centuries by the very chieftains whose kinsmen they believed themselves to be. And this is a story that has been repeated over the centuries all over the world.

The whole capitalist system being based on a crime, it can hardly be surprising that there is such a proliferation of what are legally known as crimes. We live in a society where the ones who are looked up to are those who can live in luxury out of the proceeds of the work of others without themselves being called on to do any useful work at all. In a society whose motto is acquisitiveness and whose slogan is “I’m all right Jack ” nothing could be more natural than that a proportion of the wage slaves should try and emulate their betters by finding a means of enjoying the good things of life without working. And in a world where periodically it becomes not only permitted but a duty to steal and burn and kill in the wars of the master class it is clearly not so easy to keep “morals” in the convenient pigeon-holes that would suit our rulers.

Perhaps a suitably cynical conclusion to this article could be provided by mentioning that yet another committee has been recently set up to enquire into the causes of crime with the Home Secretary himself as chairman. But it is safe to assume that they will not reach the one conclusion which will make their deliberations worthwhile. We will eliminate crime only when we eliminate capitalism.
L. E. Weidberg

A One-Act Monologue: Samson and the Philistine (1964)

Samson Captured by the Philistines by Guercino (1619).
From the February 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard
(Scene: After Samson's capture and blinding. Samson pauses on his treadmill, rattles his chains, and mumbles something about the class struggle. A runty, quick-eyed fellow stands at some distance from him, smiling jovially and fingering a barbed whip. As he begins to speak, his mien and gestures resemble those of a carnival pitchman.)
Samson, your groans are dated; what do you mean, class struggle? There's no class struggle. Look how far 1 have elevated you above the abject, miserable state you were in a century ago, when 1 first blinded you and put you in chains. You think you have it bad now; why, without me you could never have it so good. Apparently you’ve forgotten when you trod the mill eighteen hours a day, barefoot over sharp rocks, with spikes on the inside of your collar. Apparently you've forgotten the bite of the lash on your back, it’s been so long since I've had to lay it on. Remember the bread you used to eat then? Full of alum and chalk? Remember the goads and tortures on your flesh when you raged and wouldn't tread the mill? And look at you now, lapped in luxury; the sharp stones gone, fur on the inside of your collar instead of spikes, sandals to keep your soles from getting calloused—why, 1 haven’t whipped you for years. Next thing I know you’ll be wanting mink gloves and gold toothpicks. What don’t I do for you? Look at me, all kindness and benevolence. Instead of a lash I hang sweet-smelling carrots in front of your nose. Don’t you prefer them, or would you rather have the lash back?

Samson my boy, you’ve grown sleek and strong since 1 switched you to meat and potatoes, and you do so much more work! Do you not also have frequent rest periods, and are you not now only obliged to tread eight hours (maybe ten or twelve if we count overtime and moonlighting) instead of the former eighteen? Haven’t I given you the freedom to change your manacles every four years? Haven't 1 given you the freedom to criticize the workmanship of your collar any time you want? Haven’t I given you the freedom to eat your meals on time? Haven’t I given you the freedom to worship whichever of my overseers you choose? You look so healthy since I've been treating you better, you may last me another hundred years. You’re a fine specimen, Samson; I couldn’t have gotten a, better commodity if I'd scrounged the labour market forever.

I throw you scraps from my plate every Christmas and let you frolic with the female slave on the other treadmills. 1 give you scholarships and time off so you can study treadmills and learn how to make your work easier, and all 1 ask in return is that you also make it go faster. And you don’t appreciate any of it. You just rattle your chains and growl, and stop your treadmill to ask for more scraps. Now really Samson, how do you expect me to get my grain ground when you act that way? Have a little kindness. What do you want to do, make a slave out of me?

Nicky Krusher and Blastro use the lash on their hands. It could happen here, you know.

We could get along so well if you would only stop this growling and keep your hair cut. What’s this malarkey about your being propertyless? Don’t I give you food, sandals, and hides to wrap yourself in on cold days? Don’t I supply the treadmills? Don’t you own your own chains? And what do you mean I don’t earn my living? I worked hard enough to catch you and blind you. didn't I? It's a day's work just to keep you plodding around, let alone the accounts I have to keep of what you produce for me. So you think you don't need me. huh? I’d like to know who’d keep you working for me, who'd hang up the carrots in front of your face, who'd lay on the whip when you needed it, if it wasn't for me?

If only you would drop this class struggle thing, we could be so happy together—you making the goodies and I consuming them. I would always keep fresh carrots in front of you and throw you all my extra scraps, and if you worked hard enough I'd even sell you a gold ring for your nose. 1 tell you what, I’ll make a deal with you, a contract: a fresh bone every Christmas if you stop being angry and get to work. Straight business proposition. How about it? Don't we have a lot of common interests?
(Samson rattles his chains and looks at his hands. What does he see? Will he ever see again? There is a good chance, if he wants to. Everything hinges on his morale, you know.)
Stan Blake
(World Socialist Party of the United States)