Saturday, October 14, 2017

The British Economy: It was all K's fault . . . (1974)

From the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Professional politicians never confess. When, after years in office, they are thrown out by disgruntled electors they never make frank admission that the mess they leave behind must have been their fault. Instead they blame it on the Opposition, or the trade unions, or the cantankerousness of foreigners or on the bad advice given to them by their advisers, the top civil servants and economists.

In this the politicians differ from the economists because quite a lot of the latter have recently been confessing that they were wrong. The difference, however, is not great because what the economists are doing is to blame it all on Keynes.

For most of them, Keynes was the New Messiah. Did he not show them how capitalism could be managed, how unemployment could be abolished along with crises and depressions? not forgetting that Keynes was supposed to have proved Marx wrong about capitalism.

What most of all created doubts in their minds about Keynes was the way “full employment” policies failed to prevent unemployment rising by hundreds of thousands, first under the last Wilson government and then under the Heath government which came into office in 1970.

Faced with the rise of the registered unemployed to over a million in the spring of 1972, a Financial Times editorial threw Keynes overboard:
  Both the Treasury and the House of Commons Expenditure Committee were united in the assumption that unemployment could be determined by demand management and exchange rate policy at almost any figure the government regarded as prudent. But in so doing they were reflecting an orthodoxy, which may be as out-of-date as the opposite orthodoxy against which Keynes was battling in his lifetime.
(22nd Sep. 1972)
But if the economists abandoned Keynes entirely, what could they put in his place? So the line taken by many of them is to try to re-arrange the pieces and build up variations on the old “Keynesian orthodoxy”.

Cambridge, Oxford and Edinburgh Universities have all joined in an involved controversy about the advice given by The Times to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the next Budget. It led Professor Little of Oxford to accuse Professor Neild of Cambridge of “Keynesian orthodoxy”, to which Neild wrote a reply (Times 26th Feb.) which contained the following:
   I and a number of my colleagues at Cambridge believe that the orthodox view, to which many of us used to subscribe, is wrong and that its application in policymaking has been a major cause of Britain’s post-war economic troubles.
Professor Little had already concurred with this: “At any time between ten and twenty years ago, I would, if asked, have agreed to sign this part of Professor Neild’s letter” (Times, 6th Feb.).

From all of which we gather that the professional economists went on for years recommending policies which they now confess were “a major cause of Britain’s post-war economic troubles”. It will be noticed, not a word of regret and remorse.

And of course they are still wrong. Capitalism, with or without the advice of orthodox or neo-Keynesians, or Milton Friedman or Galbraith or any other economist, never did operate and never will operate in the interest of the working class.
Edgar Hardcastle

Leaflet Publication (1974)

Party News from the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has come to our notice that a number of propaganda leaflets purporting to be issued by the Socialist Party of Great Britain are circulating in the Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and possibly Glasgow areas. These leaflets have not been published by the Socialist Party of Great Britain and we do not therefore accept responsibility for their contents.
Issued by the Executive Committee.

Bishop Who Made Our Pamphlet His Bible (1974)

From the June 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1920 William Montgomery Brown, Bishop of Arkansas, published a book called Communism and Christianism. It was caused by his reading the Socialist Party of Great Britain pamphlet Socialism and Religion; not only did it quote our pamphlet extensively, but offered prizes for essays based upon it.

As Socialism and Religion “took apart” Christianity, what happened to Bishop Brown? He was tried by a court of the Protestant Episcopal Church to which he belonged, and expelled for heresy. He described himself thereafter as “Episcopus in partibus Bolshevikium et Infidelium”, and published more books — My Heresy and The Bankruptcy of Christian Supernaturalism.

Promising as his case might sound, unfortunately the Bishop understood little of what he had read. He was carried away by the Russian Revolution; though his book was largely about “Marxism and Darwinism”, he had no idea of either. He joined the Rationalist Press Association, but fought against his expulsion from the Church. In fact he never gave up Christianity. His claim was that Jesus (for whom he continued to use a capital H: “Him”, etc.) was dedicated “to the truth and to the proletariat”.

The Labour and Communist press in America was bitter towards the Church over Bishop Brown’s expulsion. That is in character: they supported religion, or said it was ‘‘a private affair”. The Socialist Party’s only regret was at its work being borrowed for a muddled and sterile non-purpose. We thought the Bishop was a blithering idiot.

Pathfinders: Subscription-based Capitalism (2017)

The Pathfinders Column from the October 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Everyone knows that cutting costs means boosting or at least safeguarding profits, and some elements in the capitalist class are now figuring out that they can cut their administration costs by doing away with individual purchase transactions and moving towards a subscription-based business model.
We’re familiar with subscriptions with things like unions, clubs, political parties, rail travel, telephone lines and mobiles and newspapers. You could add the BBC TV licence fee, the NHS and any kind of insurance policy too. One can think of a subscription as another form of rent for something you use but don’t own. The advantage to you is simplicity. The advantage to the provider is low admin costs, locked-in customers or ‘members’, and reliable, predictable income, an especially bankable asset for any business.
So now we have Netflix subscriptions, and Spotify and iTunes. Software houses like Microsoft and Adobe, tired of having to market every update and sell it all over again to customers who don’t need it, have moved over to subscription-based models. You can’t buy the software, you can only rent it, but the updates are all free.
Perhaps no surprise that the founder of Netflix now wants to do the same thing with cinemas (BBC Online, 8 September,
The subscription model was always practical for retail areas that were steady and largely unchanging. What’s new is that the model can now be applied to areas of fluctuating demand and usage, thanks to sophisticated real-time transaction monitoring within a fully-connected and automated banking system. Just how far can this model go? What if it goes all the way?
Recently technology has facilitated the rise of the so-called Platform service, an aggregation of small or sole traders onto one centralised commercial hub which gives them access for a fee to a level of marketing, market reach and financial administration that would be beyond them as individuals. Think Uber, and the ubiquitous Just Eat, now appearing on every high street. Think eBay, and Airbnb, and Facebook and Google, all matchmaking buyer to seller and streamlining the transactional process.
People who have multiple debts and at least some hope of being able to pay them already know that they can consolidate these disparate debts, with their varying rates and payment terms, into one central pot. This makes it simpler for them, and works for the debtors too.
Suppose, on the same principle, a new cloud-based super-Platform service arises which offers to consolidate ALL your living expenses including rent, food budget, fuel, education, entertainment, holidays, even savings, into one monthly sub, which amounts to most or perhaps even the total of your wage. So your wage doesn’t go to you, it goes to the Hub, and you don’t need to think about money at all unless you want to buy something that’s not in the budget. This might then be automatically negotiated as an overall rearrangement in your Hub payment, with less going to savings, holidays etc. You wouldn’t have to worry about whether you could pay back a debt because you wouldn’t be allowed to accrue any debts. The only thing you’d need to worry about is not losing your job and being unable to pay your monthly life subscription. If you underspend carefully, you’ll be in credit and more goes into your savings. If you overspend, then once your savings and holiday funds are gone you will not be able to buy anything as the Hub will not allow it, but will instead place you ‘in administration’. What this might involve is anybody’s guess. The experience could be like being strangled by your own dog lead.
Well, so what, you might ask. Maybe capitalism will go down this road, maybe it won’t. How does this change anything?
Well that’s the interesting question, from a socialist point of view. What a subscription does is decouple the act of consumption from the act of transaction. To an outsider who does not see the monthly, digital payment that takes place behind the scenes, normal everyday consumption would look as if it was free. You get a train ticket: no charge. You get breakfast on the train: no charge. You go to the movies, buy a dress, have a couple of G&Ts in a wine-bar, take a taxi home, order a takeout: no charge.
In other words, it would look like a society of free access, and subscribers would grow accustomed to a culture and an expectation of free access. Even though it isn’t free, it would look and feel that way. Paying real cash would come to be seen as weird and unnatural. And perhaps in order to cut admin costs ever further, the Hub would start to make some cheap things actually free, the way supermarkets offer free taxi phones and trains offer free newspapers. Over time, the expectation may be one of increasing levels of service and free elements, versus stable or lowering subscription rates.
The subjective experience of such a subscription-based world would be a life without paying for things, without cash or card transactions, where money becomes invisible and, in practice, non-existent. All that would remain is the single subscription, the Life Bond.
Could all this help socialist ideas to prosper, if we don’t get a revolution in the meantime through other means? What it could do is reduce the conceptual gap. Life as it is presently experienced in capitalism is a matter of being caught fast in a giant web of debts and financial obligations. It’s hard to see how you can sever all the bonds that hold you to capitalism, in fact it seems impossible. But one single connection is a different matter. Then the task becomes conceptually easier. Instead of hacking your way out of a limitless financial mesh, you are invited to cut just one cord, the golden leash that binds you. For the rest, you are already accustomed to free access, so instead of being some frightening leap in the dark, socialism represents a world of familiarity and continuity, something you almost had anyway but not quite, and not for real. Thus, Day One of socialism could mean, for many people, continuing largely as they did before, the only material difference being that they would not be required to worry about subscriptions, or the means to service them, ever again.

The French Presidential Election (1974)

From the July 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spring 1974 in France and the presidential election gets the full “American” treatment. To regale the electors there are live television debates, whistle-stop helicopter tours and pop stars singing for their favourite candidate. Opinion polls come and go and one even looks beneath the show-biz facade by finding that approximately 2 per cent, of voters in their twenties are happy with things as they are. And when we get down to the real nitty-gritty, the issues are the familiar ones: inflation, housing, pensions, taxes and unemployment. Such problems, of course, each of the dozen contestants must faithfully promise to put right at the first possible moment.

The two who survive the first round are François Mitterand, the left-wing champion of both “Socialist” and “Communist” parties, and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Minister of Finance and politically a Liberal. What follows is a tooth and nail affair, a battle of wits with no quarter given or asked and incomparably high in entertainment value.

Mitterand, the railwayman’s son, plays on his humble background and consequent understanding of the needs of working people. Giscard, the rich aristocrat, deplores his opponents’ claim to a monopoly of compassion and proclaims himself “a man of heart as well as privilege”. Needless to say, both candidates, in their promises, cater for all sections of the community, from immigrants to pensioners from small traders to women. Both pledge change, prosperity, social equality and all the other familiar vaguenesses which trip off politicians’ lips at election time.

In the end Giscard, by the narrowest of margins, wins through. Perhaps it’s his “red scare” campaign that’s worked ? But if so, only just and next time he’s going to find it even more difficult to convince people that a tame Communist Party finger in the government pie represents a genuine Soviet-style threat to “individual liberty” and “democracy”. Again perhaps the French people, looking at Britain’s experience, are genuinely haunted by the spectre of “collectivism” (as Giscard labels Mitterand’s heavy nationalization plans). But the simplest and most likely explanation is that Giscard has proved the slightly superior showman, the better image-projector as they say these days.

Shadow of De Gaulle
What now? Well, a cast-iron certainty is that many of the new president’s pledges of social reform will be broken. Partly out of the usual need of capitalism’s rulers to adopt to economic and political conditions beyond their control. But also because Giscard will not wield anything like the same degree of personal power as his predecessors, Pompidou and De Gaulle. De Gaulle enjoyed a kind of Churchillian prestige amongst the majority of deputies in parliament and this earned him their almost unquestioning obedience. Hence he was able to rule France almost as a dictator over a period of 11 years. If he sometimes “bent” the constitution, he did so with the full compliance both of those deputies and of the voters who had elected them. At the end of that time (1969) these self-same deputies and voters cried “enough” and. showing where the power really lay, consigned their dictator to the political scrapheap. Pompidou was prudent enough to cotton on to the remains of his master’s personal prestige and, with the official tag of the -ism named after him, he too had parliament very much in his pocket.

Giscard will have a far thornier time of it. A member of the small Independent Republican Party, the poor relation of the ruling coalition, he commands nothing like the same parliamentary support or esteem as Pompidou or De Gaulle. De Gaulle’s faithful followers remember Giscard’s back-stabbing volte-face in 1969. After serving the General for a decade as Finance Minister, he turned round and opposed him in the referendum which ended his career. In these elections he has further antagonized those deputies (a large minority in the house) who call themselves Gaullists by pitting himself against (and beating out of sight) the official Gaullist candidate, Jacques Chaban-Delmas.

No great love for Giscard but fear of a left-wing success rallied most of these deputies to his cause in the run-off. He will have to tread warily in the time to come if he is not to suffer the humiliation of parliamentary vetoes to his measures. He will find it doubly difficult to satisfy these “supporters”, as they themselves are no longer united except in name, and in practice represent a whole range of different expectations.

Iron Necessity
Finally nobody, not even his enemies, denies the new president certain talents and advantages. He is highly intelligent, speaks English well and has a close personal friendship with the new German leader, Herr Schmidt. This bodes well, say some. He will rule France wisely, communicate easily with Britain and America and work in unison with West Germany. Hence a new era of harmony and cooperation, both at home and abroad. The reality of the matter is quite different. Anyone seriously thinking that such attributes in a politician can make a worthwhile impact on the jungle of problems created by the ups and downs of the world market is in for some severe disappointments. Monsieur Giscard d’Estaing will soon find out, like so many before him, that capitalism imposes like an iron necessity on its administrators the most unpalatable constraints and limitations.

The French electors too will find out that the “choice of societies” M. Giscard d’Estaing said they were voting for was in fact a choice of different tinkerings with the same society. That society is capitalism. When Giscard’s private free enterprise brand of it fails to satisfy them, as it unquestionably will, perhaps next time they will turn to François Mitterand’s state-controlled variety of the same thing. One thing is certain. As long as they continue to support parties and politicians agreeing to administer this society, they will see no basic change in their conditions of life. Only when they have the understanding to introduce a Socialist community of  voluntary work and free access, can they look forward to their full share in the wealth of the world. Then they will have made the real “choice of societies”.

The Trotskyist Vote Interpreted
Trotskyists of all shades will be jubilant with the 649,414 (2.69%) votes cast for their two candidates in the first round of the French presidential election. This means well over half a million workers ready to take up arms for a Trotskyist revolution. Or does it? Before young Lefties gets too excited, let's take a closer look at those figures.

Arlette Laguiller polled 595,370 (2.33%) votes and Alain Krivine 94,044 (0.36%). Both candidates, following the usual Trotskyist policy, invited their supporters to transfer second round votes to the United Left representative, François Mitterand. Now an opinion poll breakdown of the likely destination of these votes showed that, although the vast majority of Krivine’s supporters were following his advice, only some 60% of Laguiller’s were doing the same. The remaining 35- 40% were set to vote for the so-called right-wing candidate, Giscard d’Estaing! 

What happened ? Well most of Laguiller’s supporters were women attracted not by her Trotskyism but by the modish Women’s Liberation side of her platform. In the run-off those genuinely interested in reforms for women went on to vote for the candidate they considered was offering the most in that sphere (and they both seemed to be offering an equal bundle). Those who had simply cast a vague kind of protest vote for Laguiller (and first rounds are well known for protest votes) turned, like most of their male compatriots, to one of the two “respectable” candidates who made the greatest personal impression upon them.

The “pure” Trotskyist, Krivine, with his 90 thousand, collected less than half as many votes as in the 1969 presidentials.* And even this cannot be considered as an accurate measure of the support for Trotskyism, as on low percentage votes a good proportion are cast by chance or in error. While continuing to let themselves be taken in by the traditional capitalist parties, the French working class at least has the good sense to reject the far more dangerous nonsense aired by the followers of Trotsky.
Howard Moss

*Then he polled 236,263 (1 per cent.).

Ivan Illich, Intellectual (1974)

From the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

A recent recruit to the band of self-appointed leaders of the thoughts of men is Ivan Illich. There are several hallmarks of the recent intellectual. A passionate love of long words where short ones will do, is one. An exaggerated notion of their own importance is another. A third, and this is the most crucial, is their utter lack of understanding. That is what makes them so dangerous to workers already confused by the political opportunists of the left. Illich certainly fits the bill.

As the co-founder of the Centre for Inter-Cultural Documentation in Cuernavaca, Mexico, Illich seems to have a ready press for his ideas. His book, Deschooling Society, caused a minor explosion in the education world when it was published a few years ago. For those who do not have the time (or the patience) to read his “shrewd and passionate arguments” (The Guardian), BBC Radio 3 broadcast a long interview with him in April of this year. You can’t avoid him.

In the interview Illich explained his basic position, in this way:
  It is my hypothesis that when the tools for production exceed a certain measure, they impose exploitative relationships on the society, no matter what political choice in ideological terms, the society thinks it has made.
In other words, he is saying it is the size of the productive and other “processes” (e.g. the education system) that is the cause of society’s problems. His favourite illustration is to compare the bicycle with the motor car. A “convivial society” he says
   . . . can only arrive on the bicycle. With shoes alone we are not efficient enough. And with cars we are already over-efficient and impose an exploitative mode of production on the entire society.
Many intellectuals are obsessed with one small aspect of capitalist society; Illich’s obsession is the bicycle. In his long essay Equity and Energy he states: “The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion.” (It takes an intellectual to make a simple statement, that the bicycle is a mechanically efficient machine, as confusing as that.) He is urging that it is necessary to return to a simpler form of life.

Like most intellectuals, Illich, is looking at society upside down. It is not the size of the productive processes that is the cause of the problems, but the object of the productive processes and people’s relationships to it and each other. The products that come off the production line belong to the capitalist (the individual, the shareholder, the company, the government—it does not matter which). But the capitalist has not actually made the products. It is the workers who have produced everything, in whatever capacity they have worked whether as manager, machine operator or floor sweeper, but do not own the products they have made.

This relationship results in a struggle between these two groups in society — a fight over the means of subsistence. The capitalist at the end of the production process has his commodities which he has to sell in order to make his profit; the worker has his wage, which is only sufficient to keep him and his family going from week to week. Now looked at that way, what does it matter if bicycles are produced — or motor cars or jam-pots or steam-rollers ? The net result is the same, a society of conflicts. The interest of the capitalist lies in extracting as much fat as he can out of the worker. That is where his profit comes from. The interest of the worker is in obtaining as high a wage as he can from his employer. That is what determines his level of subsistence and therefore his access to wealth.

It is on the basis of production for profit that cars are produced to snarl up the cities and pollute the air. Illich is right to point out the appalling effects on the planet we inhabit, but it is the profit system that draws forth cars from the witches’ brew of capitalism. Merely urging people to go back to bicycles is about as sensible as King Canute ordering back the waves.

Illich stated in the interview that the “convivial society” he wants can only be “a society which opts for voluntary poverty.” In other words he wants to abandon technological progress and put everyone in rags on a bicycle. For several reasons this is childish:-
  1. The bicycle itself is a result of technology. But when bicycles were common the poverty of the working class was more dreadful than today. If late nineteenth-century England is what Illich means by “voluntary poverty” (only a well-fed intellectual could think of a phrase like that), who wants to “opt” for it?
  2. Illich’s thesis assumes that people are not poor today; certainly not in the more “advanced countries” where capitalism has been long established. By ignoring the fact that society is divided into classes, Illich’s analysis becomes totally meaningless. Workers are poor because their access to wealth is restricted by the pay-packet or salary cheque. On the other hand the capitalist class, by virtue of their ownership of wealth, have no such problem of poverty. Perhaps Illich wants only the capitalist class to “opt” for voluntary poverty. Would Howard Hughes or Paul Getty care to comment?
  3. Illich is saying it is technology which imposes the misery on mankind that is evident everywhere. But it is capitalist society, which does not take into account the satisfaction of human needs, that causes problems.

Illich ignores that car manufacturers exist to make profits, not cars, so car production continues notwithstanding some deadly side-effects.

When technology is harnessed to the object of satisfying human needs there will be no need to fear it. It is only because of the advances in technology that it is now possible to organize society in such a way that poverty and deprivation can be abolished. It is not technology that stands in the way of man’s advance, but the present system of wealth ownership.

Illich is now living in a Mexican Village. Presumably he has his head buried in the sands of the Mexican desert. Workers must learn to treat the ideas of such intellectuals with the contempt they deserve. A “convivial society” cannot be achieved by pedalling on a bicycle. Capitalism itself must be abolished, and a society based on common ownership must be established in its place. This is the task of the working class. It demands not leaders or intellectuals to show them how to do it, but the conscious understanding and commitment to Socialism of the working class itself. It is not the leaders or lefties or intellectuals that are needed, but Socialists.
Ronnie Warrington

Socialist — Not Labour (1974)

From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has no connection with the Labour Party, or any other Left-wing group, including Communists, Trotskyists, International Socialists or Anarchists of any description. We are an organization of over seventy years’ standing, completely independent, and in favour, as always, of a fundamental social change from capitalism to Socialism.

Socialism means the introduction of an international socialist system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution. None of the political parties referred to above stands for this objective. All are opposed to Socialism and the means of obtaining it, i.e. by a politically enlightened majority using the franchise, fully democratic in its intention.

No Government has ever had a mandate for Socialism, and we include the Russian and Chinese. The pitiful rubbish which emanates from members of the Labour Government about their intention to introduce “Socialist” policies is an act either of duplicity or ignorance. Socialist policies cannot be introduced without a working class which understands Socialism. The Labour Party is the “break-down gang” of the capitalist system, who will encourage the workers to hope that something better will turn up. These hopes are fostered and encouraged, not only by the capitalists’ propaganda machine, but by the alleged friends of the working class — the trade-union leaders. Mr. ScanlonMr. Jones, Mr. Murray (all members of the Labour Party): In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Their influence is based on the support they receive from the majority of politically uninformed workers whose lack of knowledge of Socialism is equal to theirs.

History repeats itself — the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Another minority Labour government prepared, as always, to delude the workers in the interest of capitalism. Capitalism cannot be controlled by Acts of Parliament — it runs according to its own anarchistic economic laws, and it controls the policies of the politicians. As for the others, the Liberals, the Scots, the Welsh and the cavemen from Ulster, it would be hard to find such a talentless mass of narrow mediocrities and bigots under one roof at one time.

There is not one original idea to be found among the whole gang at Westminster. The whole rotten system cries out for social change, and what’s more — we can have it. The working class must get Socialist knowledge — they must resist apathy and challenge their existence of poverty and uncertainty. They must not allow capitalism to get on top of them, but seek Socialism as a priority.

We Socialists are optimistic about the future, and we are equally optimistic that the working class will achieve this social change. This is urgent and necessary.
Jim D'Arcy