Monday, February 5, 2018

50 Years Ago: The Morality of Capitalism (1968)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

As goods were produced, not that they should be used by their producers, but only to be sold at a profit, the quality of the articles was of little concern to the manufacturer so long as the purchaser could be deceived. The sale of adulterated foodstuffs, for instance, spread to proportions which would have seemed incredible in the ‘simple age' when people prepared food to eat. Bright declared adulteration a ‘legitimate form of competition’. Rubbish, in our civilised age, is sold as food, poison as drink, and the all-producing proletariat are clad in shoddy clothing, and in paper boots. Fortunes are built up, by the sale of quack ‘patent medicines’ and 'cures’ for every imaginable ailment. The advertising of goods has become an art in itself, an act of lying and deceit. Every article is pronounced from a hundred glaring posters to be better than all its competitors. Under capitalism it has become impossible to separate lying from the most everyday economic relations. The worker lies to his boss about his qualifications; the manufacturer and salesman lies to his customers from the hoarding and the Press, by his agent or over the counter. The ‘business lie’ has become ‘not a real lie at all’, a mere convention which everybody expects and everybody sees through.

Such are some of the glorious results of free competition and the 'rights of the individual’.

[From the Socialist Standard March 1918.]

Labour and the Health Charges (1968)

From the March 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The principle of the free, health service has been breached, and I dread to think how much that breach might be widened in future years”, said the President of the Board of Trade when he resigned from the Labour government in April 1951. He was objecting to 'imposing charges for National Health teeth and spectacles to raise money to spend on arms. His name was Harold Wilson.

Wilson was right. The new Tory government, elected in October of the same year announced within six months that it was to bring in prescription charges. The Labour Party was up in arms playing on its image as builder and defender of the welfare state. In Parliament they did all they could to oppose the measure. Former Minister of Health Hilary Marquand declared on 1 May 1952:
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I say when we are returned to power we shall take steps, as soon as Parliamentary opportunity permits, to bring all these charges— charges for drugs, medicines, appliances, dentures, dental treatment and spectacles—to an end.
This pledge was written into the 1955 election manifesto, Forward with Labour:
In order to restore a free Health Service, we shall abolish all charges, including those on teeth, spectacles and prescriptions.
In 1959 the manifesto, Britain Belongs to You, repeated:
We shall also restore the free Health Service by abolishing all charges, starting with the prescription charge.
When in 1961 the Tories increased the prescription charge to 2/- Labour MPs again opposed the measure. Anthony Greenwood, now a Cabinet Minister, told Labour’s 1963 Conference, on behalf of the Executive:
I repeat . . .  the pledge we have given you before this, that we shall remove the existing charges in the National Health Service.
Again, for the 1964 election The New Britain read:
The most serious attack on the Health Service made by Conservative Ministers has been the increasing burden of prescription charges imposed by them on those least able to pay. These charges will be abolished. Labour emphatically rejects recent proposals to introduce new charges for General Practitioner services; our aim is to restore as rapidly as possible a completely free Health Service.
This time they were lucky. Wilson became Prime Minister and Kenneth Robinson Minister of Health. Sure enough, in a few months Labour redeemed part of its pledge. On 17 December Robinson announced the ending of prescription charges “which, since 1952, have created a financial barrier between the patient and the treatment he needs”. He went on to state that in time they would also redeem the other part of their pledge:
There will remain charges for dental treatment and appliances and those for spectacles. It is our aim to abolish these charges also.
He did not say that for teeth and spectacles the financial barrier had existed since Gaitskell erected it in 1951.

In 1966, with Time For Decision, Labour faced the electorate, with the declaration that there were some principles they would not jettison “whatever the pressures”. One of those principles was that “even in times of economic crisis those in need should be helped by the state”. They brought forward their abolition of prescription charges as proof.

Less than two years later this principle is jettisoned, Wilson announced the restoration of prescription charges for many people at a rate of 2/6 an item. Far from abolishing the dental treatment charges, as Robinson promised, Labour raises them by 10/-. Charges for teeth and spectacles remain. After Wilson’s announcement a Labour MP, Laurie Pavitt, confronted him with Marquand’s pledge of May 1952. The official Hansard (daily) for 16 January quotes Wilson:
   The statement by Mr. Marquand on February 1, 1952, was a pledge to remove the charges which had been introduced in 1951, and it is only fair to say to my hon. Friend that such has been the problem that we have faced that we have not ourselves removed those Charges which were made on teeth and spectacles in 1951. I do not see how my hon. Friend can say that today’s announcement represents a fatal breach of principle.
This won’t do. If Marquand pledged Labour in 1952 to abolish the charges they themselves imposed in 1951, and Labour has failed to do this, then, by any standard, this is a breach of principle.

Wilson obviously found Pavitt’s reminder highly embarrassing. The parliamentary report of The Times of 17 January exposes Wilson's confusion. According to this report, what Wilson said was:
  The statement made by Mr. Marquand on May 1, 1952, was a pledge to restore the charges introduced in 1951. We have not restored those charges for teeth and spectacles, so I do not see how he can say that what I have announced reflects a breach in the principle
Another reporter, recorded in the Financial Times of the same date, confirms that Wilson said “we have not restored these charges on teeth and spectacles”. This, in his embarrassment, Wilson mistakenly has Marquand pledging Labour to restore the charges! But his remark about there being no breach of principle only makes sense if he really meant to say that Labour had not restored teeth and spectacle charges. Perhaps Wilson thought that Labour had ended these charges along with those for prescriptions in 1965. In any event, he was dodging the issue. Marquand pledged Labour to abolish all health charges and bringing back those on prescriptions is a breach of that pledge. Wilson seems to have had Hansard doctored to cover up his confusion, but despite this, his illogical argument comes out. Putting into Hansard something different from what was said is not uncommon, but it is nice to know that even Wilson has a guilty conscience over some of the pledges capitalism has forced him to break.

Aneurin Bevan called the National Health Service “pure Socialism” as it took buying and selling out of the treatment of the sick. True, Socialism does mean the ending of buying and selling, but Socialism is a social system that must replace capitalism; you cannot have bits of Socialism within capitalist society. In Socialism class ownership, the barrier to the community’s free use of the means of wealth production, will have been removed. All will have free access to what they need. But the NHS is not even free in the sense that Bevan meant. Part of the insurance stamp that is, deducted from wages and salaries is technically a “contribution” to the service. Wilson’s announcement that this deduction is to go up by 6d. will remind people of this.

So-called free services under capitalism are only so in appearance. Capitalism is based on the exclusion of the great majority of society from the ownership of the means of production. Consequently, they must find an employer to live; they must enter the labour market to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage. The value of human labour-power is fixed in the same way as that of other commodities: by the amount of socially necessary labour needed to produce and reproduce it. Thus, wages never amount to much more than enough to keep a man (and his family) fit to work at his particular job. If the working class has to pay little or nothing for medical treatment or housing, then their cost of living is subsidised and employers do not have to pay so high a wage. Employers do not have to make allowance for what their workers might have to spend on their health or housing. Since “free services” are paid out of taxation and taxation, in the end, falls only on those who own property, such schemes are really a way of spreading the cost of maintaining the working class in a fit state to work, over the capitalist class as a whole. The NHS has been correctly dubbed the back-to-work service. Except perhaps for minor ailments, the rich do not use it; they prefer to pay doctors and nursing homes for a better service. The aim of the NHS is to patch up workers as cheaply and quickly as possible. And it cannot even do even this minimum task adequately.

It is not because Socialists think highly of the NHS that we have produced Labour's past pledges on health charges. We do not think that Labour has betrayed us. They have, however, betrayed the millions of workers who voted Labour in the past four general elections. If you were amongst these millions, it is your duty to find out why Labour has betrayed you. Was it because Labour ministers are incompetent? Did they deliberately mislead you? Or, is it just that politics is corrupt? Labour leaders may or may not be incompetent, cynical or insincere. It matters little. Labour has been forced to break its word not because of the personal failings of its leaders, but because of the nature of the social system which they imagined they could control. Labour has always claimed that it could impose human and social priorities on capitalism. The NHS has always been given as a shining example. So it is poetic justice that Labour should be the agent of capitalism’s profit priority getting its own back.

Capitalism cannot be made to work in the interests of the whole community. It is a class system that runs on profits and so any government that tries to improve social conditions at the expense of profits, within the framework of capitalism, is bound to fail. The economic forces of capitalism will in the end dictate priorities to the government, as Labour now knows. Since they got power in 1964 capitalism has not given them a chance and, of course, it never will, despite the pathetic pleas of Wilson and Jenkins for another two years to put things right.

We are here fighting Labour on its own ground. It is they who made defence of the welfare state one of their principles, and used it as a means to win support. Socialists do not accept that the welfare state was the exclusive work of the Labour Party. Welfare services are a must at a certain stage of capitalist development. If free medicines and free prescriptions are something to do with Socialism, how explain that the Health Insurance Act of 1911 provided this for workers insured under it? The then Liberal government has no socialist pretensions. Quite the contrary, it was as anti-working class as the present Labour government. The last recorded case of striking workers being killed by troops occurred under Asquith.

The imposition of health charges is a further Labour attack on the living standards of the working class. No doubt workers will to resist by stepping up the trade union struggle. But this is only a defensive action. We advise workers to recognise that capitalism cannot work for them, whether run by Labour, Tories or Liberals: and to withdraw their support from these and other capitalist parties and join and support a genuine Socialist Party dedicated to replacing capitalism with Socialism.
Adam Buick

The Review Column: Trawlers In Distress (1968)

The Review Column column from the March 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trawlers In Distress

There is no quick solution to the tragic deaths in the deep sea fishing fleet—nothing that will appeal to any official inquiry, nor to zealous newspaper men, nor even to protesting relatives.

The fishermen would be safer in bigger and better ships, and with a mother ship to provide immediate help. The trawler owners are reluctant to invest in this kind of equipment, and are fighting against government restrictions on winter fishing, because they say this would damage the economics—in other words the profitability—of the industry.

For those who support capitalism, with its wealth production based on profit, that is a powerful argument.

But this is not a case of coffin ships being sent into impossibly dangerous waters. The fishermen themselves often take risks with their own safety; they penetrate into dangerous seas, they are reluctant to give their position away to other trawlers and do not, therefore, report regularly by radio, they often run before a storm instead of heaving to and riding it out because they want to be first into port with their catch.

They take these risks simply because they are paid on what they bring back. There is nothing new in workers, under this kind of pressure, putting their lives at hazard. An inspection of almost any factory or building site would reveal many cases of safety precautions being evaded in the chase after a bonus schedule or higher piecework pay.

Perhaps, if they were asked, the workers—including the trawlermen—would say they would not have it any other way. But what would that prove? 

That some workers depend on their wage almost to the point of desperation. That sometimes they will accept appalling conditions, because they can see no alternative to the system which makes them. That capitalism’s morals of acquisitiveness have hardened some workers to the point where even their own lives are cheap.

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The latest flare-up in Vietnam showed that not only the Americans are capable of escalating the war there. It also showed that, in spite of all the bombing, which Washington always insisted was aimed at the North’s supply lines, the Vietcong can still infiltrate in strength and can still equip their forces behind the lines.

Will this latest offensive be followed by the Americans stepping up their war effort? The working class have been well prepared for this and the newsreels and photographs of the recent fighting, including those of the outrages committed by both sides, will have stimulated those who advocate the use of nuclear weapons.

There is no reason to think that retaliation would not follow, perhaps from China. It is the blood-chilling work of capitalism’s strategists to evaluate such perilous situations and to make their speculations in death and injury and destruction.

Another possibility is that the Vietcong attack was intended to strengthen their hand at any peace talks which may be in the offing.

This in itself says a lot about the nature of any such negotiations as may take place. It reveals that they will not be about peace but about conflict and that they will be, in their way, as much a trial of strength as any war.

It reveals that the people of Vietnam have nothing to hope for from negotiations and that even if the current war is brought to a halt the Far East will continue to be an area where irreconcilable interests clash over which group of capitalists shall have access to which markets, oil fields, rubber plantations . . . 

Vietnam is simply another of capitalism’s conflicts. In its protraction, its atrocities, its morals of violence and its frightening possibilities it is no more than another page in a fearsome history.

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It would be exceedingly difficult, in face of the greater and greater mergers which are taking place in industry, to keep up the once-popular myth that this is the Century of the Common Man.

The two latest headliners—of GEC and AEI and of British Motor Holdings and Leylands—were classics of their kind.

All four companies were already huge and had been built up after a series of previous mergers and takes-over. There are, it seems, no limits to the field of monopoly; size is no restriction and neither is competition as deadly rivals readily sink their differences in the new combines.

One of the driving forces in this is the hope that the mergers will bring economies in production and administration—including in the people who work in these.

It did not take GEC long to announce some of their cuts, in particular their plan to close the old AEI factory at Woolwich. The workers there reacted with stunned indignation; some of them have been at AEI for a very long time, many with their families.

But of course capitalism does not employ people as a benevolent service; nobody has a right to a job. People are employed if it is profitable for an employer to do so; if it is not, or if there is more profit to be made from sacking them, they will not be employed.

These facts are harsh, but facts nonetheless. If mergers do nothing else, they show workers their degrading place in capitalist society—as entries on an accountant’s balance sheet, as faceless units in production to be analysed, coded, evaluated and, in some cases, dispensed with.

The employers, for their part, can only trust that the merger’s economies will solve their problems. But the markets of capitalism remain untouchably anarchic. Perhaps the workers in the combines are not the only ones who are in for some shocks.

The British Shipbuilding Industry (1968)

From the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the British shipbuilding industry, 1968 was greeted with tepid optimism. The optimism was based on the hope that world shipbuilding may at last have recovered from the slump which followed Suez and the conviction that the British industry is about to solve some of its longest standing production problems. But it was kept tepid by the memories of the slump, by the continued presence of uncertainty, and by the low standing of British shipbuilding in the world market (See Fig. 1).

The slump which started in 1957 was peculiar in that it came at a time of virtually full employment in developed countries and when the volume of world wide sea traffic was increasing. It was caused by the market proving to be smaller than the shipowners, who are only human and who cannot control or predict the anarchies of capitalism, had estimated.

This misjudgement was widespread. Not just the tramp owners but also the big oil companies, the steel firms, even the United Nations, thought there would be more sea-borne traffic than there turned out to be. The reopening of the Suez Canal in 1957 and the cancellation of the contracts for millions of tons of American coal for Europe contributed to the crash. When it came, shipbuilding prices fell by about 40 per cent over some three years and brand new tankers were being taken direct from launching to be laid up, some of them for years.

This typically capitalist mess was put to rights, slowly, not because of any acumen by the shipping men but by the continuing increase in world trade and the scrapping of some of the older ships. The Liberty ships, for example, which flooded out of American shipyards during the war, are now undergoing their sixth special survey—a rigorous examination which may be so costly to pass that it is cheaper to scrap the ship.

For the time being, then, the outlook is slightly better for the shipyards. “We enter 1968 with future commercial prospects brighter than for some years past . . ." said M. A. Scott, President of the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association (Times 1/1/68.) But at best this is a fragile hope.

In 1966 British shipyards were responsible for something like 7½ per cent of world launchings. Fig. 2 shows how the British share of an expanding market is steadily shrinking. What it does not show, however, is the historical scale of this decline—the slide from the days when British shipbuilding dominated the world.
Figure 1. Launchings during 1966 (Million tons gross)

In the 1880's, at the peak, something like 85 per cent of all ships launched in the world were built in Britain. It was not until the First World War that this share fell below 50 per cent. During the Thirties it fluctuated; after 1945 shot up- to about 55 per cent and since then has steadily fallen. (See Shipbuilding by A. C. Hardy and E. Tyrrell.)

This decline has not been caused by any reduction in the productive capacity of British yards, which remains at about 1¾ million tons, but rather by an increase in the output of other countries which have successfully modernised their yards, applied new techniques and undercut British prices. Hardy and Tyrrell had this to say about the stagnation in Britain:
The present stage is one of transition and, in British yards at any rate, it is likely to continue for perhaps another twenty- five years, because of physical limitations in the shipyard areas on the one hand and of the economic difficulty of scrapping existing and well-tried establishments and valuable equipment on the other.
Foreign competition is the bogyman of British shipbuilding, none of it more frightening than the Japanese. In 1955 Japan was producing about half the tonnage of Britain; by 1966 they were making about six times as much. In May 1963, when Court Line ordered a 67,000 ton tanker from Japan, the Guardian commented:
This is the first time Court Line has built abroad. It is not the first British flag vessel to be ordered in Japan, but it is certainly rare enough to come as quite a jolt to our shipbuilding industry. (23/5/63.)
Nowadays this event has become more familiar. Even the mighty P & O group, British from stem to stern, has had some of its latest express cargo liners built in Japan and so have Blue Funnel Line and Glen Line. (See Fig. 3.)

The British firms have blamed this onto certain advantages which, they say, their foreign rivals have over them—better credit and loan terms, cheaper steel, a more docile labour force, Whatever the truth of this applied to Japan; it is hardly true of Sweden whose wages and steel prices are high but whose ships are strongly competitive.

This is the situation which gave birth to the Geddes Commission, which investigated British shipbuilding and reported in 1966. As a result the government have introduced the. Shipbuilding Industry Bill, under which loans up to £200 million at any one time will be guaranteed for orders placed with British yards. (This was, in fact, higher than the Geddes recommendation). Geddes also came down for a 10 per cent cut in the price of ship steel (negotiations on this should come to a head this Spring) and for a series of mergers among the shipbuilding firms (many of these have already happened, others are now being talked about).

The other issue—probably the thorniest of the lot—may also be settled some time this year. The men who build the ships. Shipyard workers are among the toughest and have a reputation for prolonged disputes over who-does-what. Their work is hard, dirty and dangerous. Because shipyards, like coalminers, can be built only at certain places, their workers live in concentrated communities near the yard, which makes their unity in disasters, slumps and disputes more solid.

The memories of previous slumps—of Jarrow, of the hulk of the Queen Elizabeth rusting above the houses on the Clyde —hang on. The shipworkers’ unions have a healthy mistrust of new productive methods which mean more intense exploitation and probably sackings. Their policy has been to sell themselves as dearly as they can, and to fight every inch of the way—even if this meant arguing over who bored a hole or who chalked a line.

The Geddes Commission recommended a reduction in the number of shipyard unions, from about 15 to five, and many changes in conditions of employment, apprenticeship and so on. The unions have already said they are willing to sit down and talk and Dan McGarvey, President of the Boilermakers’ Amalgamation, has promised that there will never be another demarcation dispute between shipyard unions.

This, then, is a time of change for British shipbuilding. Geddes hoped that after two or three years of reorganisation the U.K. industry’s share of the world market should increase to at least 12½ per cent and production should rise to around 2¼  million tons.

But only a year ago, as the Shipbuilding Industry Bill, on which so many hopes are pinned, was published, the Shipbuilding Conference was drawing attention to the fact that ". . . it would be misleading not to recognise the present weak state of the international freight market.” This is something which no amount of reorganisation in shipyards and unions can change; and it could get worse. Peace in Vietnam for example, would probably release a flood of shipping looking for freight and upsetting many plans for new ships. Also no one is yet certain about the effect which the container ships will have on the number of ships needed on the busier trade routes.

In face of another slump Geddes would be seen for what it is—another desperate stop-gap for one of capitalism’s insoluble problems. Capitalism can never tell what is around the next comer; shipbuilding cannot see over the top of the next wave.

(Figs 1, 2 and 3 are compiled from figures published in Lloyd’s Register of Shipping Annual Summary of Merchant Ships Launched During 1966.)

Finance and Industry: Truth at the TUC (1968)

The Finance and Industry column from the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The full report of last September’s Trade Union Congress has just been published. We select two items of interest. First, consider this confession of the failure of parliamentary gradualism, Labour’s theory, made by Sir Harry Douglass in his Presidential address:
  All sophisticated countries have used taxation to achieve a more equal sharing of the wealth produced. In a democracy they have to, or the government would be quickly changed, or even democracy as we understand it would be destroyed. Yet, with all that has been achieved, 5 per cent of the population of Britain still own 75 per cent of the property.
What else does he expect? As long as a few monopolise the means for producing wealth, what is produced is bound to be shared unequally between the few who get a property income as rent, interest or profit and the many who get a work income as wage or salary. That is how capitalism works, and must work. But Socialism is nothing to do with “equal sharing of the wealth produced” ; it is about the common ownership of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth.

When in August last year the Socialist Standard discussed the Means Test we pointed out that some of those in favour were invoking the old socialist phrase: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. They tried to argue that the Means Test ensured that people got what they “needed” (as decided by bureaucratic rules concerned with spending as little as possible). We denounced this as an insolent and cynical distortion of the phrase. One delegate, E. Patterson, of the Constructional Engineering Union, made the same point in a debate on social security, so-called. Though he gives the impression that Marx expected social conditions to improve as a result of people becoming more civilised and rational rather than as a result of a social revolution converting the means of life from private to common property, Patterson puts the position well enough:
  Finally, in support of selectivity, certain people have had the audacity to use the slogan ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ That was real prostitution of a Socialist slogan because that slogan was characterised by Karl Marx in his critique of the Gotha programme as being a possibility in the highest stages of civilisation when the last vestiges of imperialism had gone, when man had become a real rational human being, when man worked for the benefit of the community and for the benefit of his fellow man. When such a thing as a means test was absolutely impossible, then and only then, said Marx, would there be the possibility 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. The use of it by people in favour of selectivity is a prostitution of that statement
Quite. In the complete Socialist society that Marx envisaged there would be no rationing since in a world of plenty all could have free access to what they needed to live and enjoy life. In 1875 Marx thought that a lengthy transition period between capitalism and complete Socialism would be necessary. He may have been right at the time but now, after nearly a hundred years further development of the forces of production, we say that Socialism, with abundance and free access, could be brought into being in a very short time once the decision to do so was made.

Today, of course, men and women of the working class are rationed and restricted by the size of their wage packet or salary cheque. So the TUC might take note of another Socialist phrase used by Marx. In 1865, three years before the TUC was set up, Marx advised the trade unions to replace the conservative slogan of a ‘fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work’ by the revolutionary one of ‘abolition of the wages system'.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: Children of the French Motherland (1968)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
(A French patriot had written urging the SPGB to support the war in order that Alsace-Lorraine, annexed to Germany in 1871, should be restored to France.)
This very annexation, now so loudly denounced, was agreed to by the French capitalist class on condition that the French prisoners of war should be released from Germany for the sole purpose of crushing the Commune of Paris. It was the price of the slaughter by French soldiers of 25,000 French working men, women and children in the streets of Paris. No capitalist eyes then wept for the workers; no capitalist love for the ‘children’ of France saved them from the foul conditions and awful tortures of Salory and other prison camps; no French capitalist ‘chivalry’ stood between hapless thousands and death from hunger and privation in savage New Caledonia. Long after the fighting ceased, the farcical ‘trials’ continued to provide targets for capitalist bullets. In fact, the slaughter was only stopped because of the fear of an epidemic. As the real historian—Lissagary —says, ‘It was pestilence, not pity’, that stopped the murders.

The French and German capitalist classes joined hands, after a tremendous war between the two countries, to crush down, maim and murder the working class in France. The lesson should be burned deep into the minds of the working class, not of France only, but of the whole world. For it shows the foul hypocracy of the capitalist class, whether of France or of Germany, of England or of Italy, of Austria, Russia, America, Japan or any other country, when they pretend to be interested in the welfare of the workers of the particular nations they rule, or aspire to rule, while all the time it is the profit plundered from the workers that is their real concern.
From the Socialist Standard, February 1918.

Black Power in the United States (1968)

From the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The American black power movement is a child of frustration. Thousands of civil rights supporters, having long since absorbed the few sops that capitalism can afford to give them, are running squarely into a sociological brick-wall—a wall they have termed the “white power structure.” Their response, the concept of black power, indicates that they have learned many lessons.

They have learned, for example, that “integration” as such is an empty issue when the integrated population still remains without any basic economic control over their own lives. They have learned that white liberals can do almost nothing for them. And they have learned that the Federal Government is not their friend; in the last analysis, it can never be anything but their implacable enemy. Anti-poverty and civil rights legislation masked for a time the nature of government, but last summer the mask was dropped. The spectacle of thousands of American troops, tanks, trucks, and jeeps being called out to crush rebellions on the part of other Americans, finally and fully revealed what governments exist for: to maintain the power of the ruling class by violent force. And they can never, of their own free will, enact any reform that will interfere with this function.

The black power movement itself is not a monolithic entity. The phrase “black power” means different things to the different groups which espouse it. Moderately interpreted, it means nothing more formidable than the idea that black people must be their own source of liberation; and to achieve liberation, they must cease to rely merely on street marches, and begin to make more extensive use of massive economic boycotts, large-scale rent strikes, black co-operative stores, and black political parties. Behind these proposals is often the feeling that American black people are not “Americans”, in the same sense as white Americans, because they are denied the rights and opportunities which normally attend American citizenship. Radical black power advocates assert instead that they are members of an exploited colonial nation, and, their colonial status cannot be changed until they acquire all the ingredients of nationhood: a separate territory, a separate economic unit, and a separate government and culture.

As victims of colonialism, they feel a special kinship with its other victims throughout the world: the Algerians, the Latin Americans, and the Vietnamese. And they are willing, like these other victims, to adopt violent insurrection as a method of separating themselves from their exploiters. American black nationalists, in short, appear to want a kind of North American Israel, a distinct rallying-point that will increase their ethnic dignity.

It is difficult for the Marxian socialist to explain his position to a black nationalist. The socialist rejects capitalist, imperialist, and colonialist ideology, and sympathizes deeply with all of capitalism's victims. It is his outrage at being victimised, in most cases, that originally led him to become a socialist. He recognises, too, that certain sections of the working class take more punishment than other sections, and at the present time the black worker in America generally suffers more than his white counterpart. This is an obvious fact to anyone who has lived in the U.S. with his eyes open. Yet the socialist, because of what he knows about capitalism, must reject the black power concept as a hopelessly inadequate solution.

The exploitation of black workers is not due primarily to their skin colour, but to their position as wage workers. A prejudiced white is able to discriminate against them because they have no share in the ownership of the means for producing goods. Their real oppression does not consist of taunts like “nigger” and “jigaboo”; if it did, then white people should long ago have been reduced to the same social level by the choice epithets that blacks have invented for them. The facts are that black people, as wage workers, are propertyless, and like other wage workers, they must sell their labour-power for whatever price it will bring. They must sell it even if they have to polish shoes, wash dishes, and pick up cigarette butts after the people who call them niggers and jigaboos. The alternative is to roam the streets of some vast concentration camp like Harlem, still propertyless, and therefore without the power to oppose the constant harassment of the police. The mere fact that someone disliked the colour of a black man's skin would be only a matter of annoyance and pity except for the weapons which the capitalist system places in the hands of his enemies—the threat to lower his wages, take away his job, insult him in the streets, and put him in jail. If capitalism were abolished, these weapons could not exist; nor, ultimately, would the urge to use them.

Private ownership of the means for producing goods divides capitalism into two basic classes: those who live on profit, and those who must sell their ability to work for a wage. This class division cuts across all the others. If the entire working class had precisely the same skin colour in a capitalist system, they would still suffer from the same problems: poverty, unemployment, wage slavery, discrimination, poor housing, inferior education, and conscription. These problems are generated by the system of wage labour and the sale of commodities for profit. Though in some countries they may fall more heavily on a particular ethnic group, they cannot be solved for any part of the working class until they are solved for the working class as a whole.

The black power concept, then, has several serious weaknesses:

As a nationalist ideology, it is anachronistic; it does not fit economic conditions in the U.S. Nationalism is basically a capitalist idea, since its political expression is in terms of territory rather than class. Nationalism may be useful in underdeveloped areas which must industrialise on a capitalist basis quickly; but in the U.S. any form of nationalism can only serve to distract workers from recognising their common plight as members of an exploited class. Because their exploitation is due to their membership in a subject class, they must free themselves as a class, not as a nationality. To adopt the black nationalist plan and divide the U.S. into competing nations would also weaken the productive power which capitalism in the U.S. has already built. Socialism, on the other hand, requires economic strength and unity in order to make its benefits available to all.

As an insurrectionist slogan, black power is suicidal. Only 15 per cent of the population in the U.S. are black. One needs no great mathematical skill to figure out who would be victorious in a racial war, not to mention the fact that a bottle full of gasoline is a rather inadequate defense against fleets of helicopters and tanks, armed with napalm, poison gas, and fragmentation bombs.

As a revolutionary theory, black power is divisive and self-crippling. Attacks on the “white power structure” mean little unless one understands that the source of its power is not the skin colour of the bureaucrats, but the enormous property values which employ them. We have already mentioned that any part of the working class cannot alone solve problems which stem from their position as wage workers; they must act together with the majority of their class. The concept of black power implies that black workers have basic interests which conflict with those of white workers. Both black power and white prejudice divide the working class against itself, thereby weakening the class and diminishing the power of each of its members. Black power is not a cure for exploitation, but a symptom of the disease.

Nevertheless, it is possible that black power may also be a healthy sign in the American, working class movement. The young insurrectionists of Detroit, Newark, Boston, Cincinnati, do belong to the urban working class, and this is the first time since the 1930s that masses of American workers have broken with “their” government and openly defied it to put them down. Some black power leaders also feel the need for greater support among white workers, and stress their goals of better schools and housing will benefit more white than blacks.

Class consciousness takes a long time to develop. One of the signs of its development is a wholesale rejection on the part of workers that a treadmill is their only possible alternative in life. The black powerists, the hippies, and the peace movement suggest that large things are happening in America which the socialist need not regret.
Stan Blake

About Ourselves (1968)

From the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain is an independent party set up in 1904. We are opposed to all other parties in this country including the Labour Party and the so-called Communist Party. Our only links are with similar Socialist parities in other countries.

Our object is Socialism: a world wide society where production will be solely for use, not sale or profit; where the means of life will be commonly owned and democratically controlled; where classes will have been abolished and all human beings be social equals. Production and distribution will be organised on the principle: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. There will be no buying and selling, no money, wages, profits or banks. All will have free access to what they need to live and enjoy life. As all will have the same common social interests there will be no need for a public power of coercion. The state, armed forces and weapons of destruction will disappear.

This is Socialism. Obviously it does not exist anywhere in the world, not in Russia, nor China, nor Yugoslavia, nor Cuba. What exists in these places is a class society best called state capitalism.

We are a Marxist party, that is, we accept the materialist conception of history, the labour theory of value and theory of the class struggle. In our view Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao Tse-Tung, Castro and the others have twisted Marx's views to back their state capitalist regimes.

President-day society, capitalism, is a class society. The means of production belong not to society as a whole, but only to a section of it, the capitalists. The rest of us have to work for them to live. There are thus two classes in society —capitalists and workers. The working class is not confined to factory workers but includes all who have to sell their mental and physical energies to live; clerks, civil servants, technicians and managers as well.

Built into capitalism is a conflict between these two classes—the class struggle. This struggle over the division of wealth (which is produced by the working class alone) goes on all the time. You are familiar with its forms: strikes, trade unions, employers associations, wage freezes. States of Emergency. This means that the working class is an exploited class. By this we do not mean that workers are treated brutally by bullying employers or that foremen walk about with whips. We just mean that although the workers produce all wealth, the best goes to the capitalists who live off rent, interest and profit. How workers live is rationed by the size of their wage packet or salary cheque. Generally this is not more than enough to keep a man and his family in efficient working order. Despite a world capable of providing plenty for all, workers have to put up with the cheap and second-rate in food, clothes, houses, entertainment, health and so on. We say this is how it must be under capitalism. These social problems are built into capitalism and will not go till the means of production cease to be the monopoly of a privileged class and become the common property of the whole community. Capitalism cannot be made to work in the interests of all. It can work only one way, as a profit-making system in the interest of those who live off profits.

A feature of present-day society that cannot be ignored is the government machine or state—the public power or coercion. It is used today mainly to protect the property of the property-owners. The owners of the places when you work do not own them in the same way as they own their toothbrushes; they are not their personal possessions What they have is a legal title, a piece of paper saying that they are theirs. This title is backed by the law.

Thus before the community can take over industry and run it in the interests of all, the working class must capture political power and, by using the state machinery, strip the capitalist class of their property. The means are already to hand in the vote and the ballot box. Elections are about who shall control the state. At present because people do not want Socialism or think it will not work they send to parliament and the local councils members pledged to keep capitalism going. When they want Socialism, then they will elect socialists. This is an important principle: there can be no Socialism without a socialist majority Socialism can only be introduced democratically to people who want and understand it and are prepared to take the steps needed to get it and keep it going. The only people who can change society from capitalism to Socialism are you, the working class. Nobody, no leaders no MP’s, can do it for you. If you want Socialism, it is something you must get for yourselves. This is where the Socialist Party differs from the Labour Party and the so called Communist Party. Labour says that MP’s by putting through reform measures can bring Socialism for you.The Communists say that a minority, the vanguard party can do the same. We reject both propositions—and the failure of both parties to further the cause of Socialism, let alone establish it, confirms our case. Capitalism has changed Labour, not Labour capitalism, and they have state capitalism not Socialism in Russia.

The Socialist Party stands for democratic, political action to get Socialism. We go further and say that the task of a Socialist party today should be to put the socialist alternative to the working class, and not to get involved in the running of capitalism. We only seek support on the basis of Socialism. We have no reform programme. When we contest elections we do so on a socialist programme and nothing else. This is not because we are opposed to social reforms, but because we are opposed to a policy of reformism. Trying to reform capitalism is pointless; it is like going up a downward moving escalator: you run fast to stay still. No sooner have you put through one reform than another is necessary.

We reject this futile task and set ourselves a worthwhile one: to help in the slow growth of socialist understanding. For this we are organised as a political party. We bring out this monthly journal, the Socialist Standard. We publish pamphlets and leaflets. We hold meetings, indoor and outdoor. We contest elections. We do this because we know that Socialism will not be achieved until a majority want it. There is no other way. There are no short cuts to Socialism.

So we are asking you to study our case and if you agree with us to join our party and so play your part in the struggle for Socialism.

The Review Column: Non! (1968)

The Review Column from the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard


France’s veto on the British approach to the Common Market added a little more to President de Gaulle’s reputation.

The cartoonists feverishly added another lump to his nose, another crease to his face, another shadow around his eyes. The leader writers dipped their pens deeper into the vitriol and Wilson virtually wished the General dead, when he said that time was on the side of the British application.

Bogymen are always useful to capitalism’s apologists; they are convenient outlets for frustrated nationalism and scapegoats for the unavoidable problems of the system.

In Britain, these apologists often demand that the government follow something like the policies of de Gaulle, who is determined to expand French influence and power.

This is unpopular in Britain only because it runs counter to the present interests of the British ruling class, Since the war they have seriously misjudged the course of events in Europe, first paying lip-service to European unity, then deliberately trying to frustrate the negotiations for that unity, then choosing to keep the trading links with the Commonwealth rather than join the Common Market.

The erosion of British interests in the Commonwealth, and the hope that there were fatter pickings to be had on the Continent has caused another look at Europe. But the British ruling class still want to have it both ways, to have the EEC fashioned to their design. The French conception of European unity, on the other hand, is one dominated by the interests of French capital.

The fact that the Six are divided over the rejection of the British application shows that even the organisations which are supposed to be based on common interests have their conflicts. If the British government eventually joins, the disputes will continue, over other issues and throwing up other bogymen.

Capitalism is a mass of diverging interests; even its unities are full of conflict

No Arms for South Africa

Most of the criticism which followed the government’s ban on arms sales to South Africa assumed that the decision was almost the single handed work of Harold Wilson.

The Prime Minister was supposed to have been inspired by opposition to racism—in other words, by political principle. This might be more convincing, were it not for the fact that the whole thing blew up at the end of a year which the Labour government had devoted to proving that its political principles do not exist.

The ban will of course make little difference to the South African government who will obviously get the arms they need elsewhere; few weapon salesmen can resist a fat contract. But presumably this had little influence on Wilson who must have acted, if not for political principle then for political reasons.

One of these could well have been that the government’s record has put a severe strain upon the loyalty of its supporters. Last year was one of unbroken gloom for them, culminating in devaluation, another upward lurch in prices and the promise of an even gloomier 1968.

Then Wilson’s policy on Rhodesia is clearly a stagnant failure; no amount of indignant patriotism can expunge the image of the “toothless bulldog”.

If the Labour government had been seen openly to be giving support to the South African regime there would have been a further strain on the Labour Party’s loyalty and on the government’s relations with the new African states.

This settled, Wilson’s superior political skill gave him an easy victory over Healey, Callaghan and Brown; he could appear before his party and the world as the unspotted, high principled defender of the brotherhood of man.

The only remaining question is whether Wilson misjudged his members. Over the past three years they have absorbed a tremendous amount of disillusionment, including the government’s about-face on immigration control. Who can be sure that arms for South Africa was their sticking point? In a party without principle anything is possible.

Backing Whose Britain

Of course Prince Phillip was heartened by the news that some workers were volunteering to work an extra half-hour a day without pay. He is the figurehead of the British capitalist class and if anyone is going to gain out of this it will be them.

For the workers it can only be a dead loss—adding to their working day without getting anything for it. For the employers it might be a clear gain—extra work, extra production which they don’t pay for.

Cutting dividends makes no difference to this. The level of dividends does not affect the amount of profit made from the exploitation of the workers; to cut dividends simply means that more money stays in the company, to be reinvested, distributed later in dividends or used in some other way the directors decide. Whatever happens, it belongs to the employers.

The Prince said that extra work for nothing would soon lick all our problems. But whatever the level of pay, whatever the length of the working day, the working class have always suffered the problems of poverty.

The employers’ problems, too, have always been there. Well-publicised, gimmicky campaigns will do nothing to help them. Apart from anything else, however hard the workers work the things they make cannot be sold without a market. The employers have no control over this; that is why firms go broke and why workers often find themselves out of a job.

Perhaps the few typists who started it all—although others before them had done the same thing, but without such a clever and well-managed publicity drive—did so from the best of motives. Perhaps they thought they were making a sacrifice for the common good—a reasonable enough incentive.

The tragic fact is that they are misled. They have no Britain to back; to think that they have a common interest with their masters is to fasten their chains more securely upon themselves.

If the representatives of the privileged class are heartened by this it is only because it must keep them more secure in their social and economic superiority.

Cooking the Books: Whom to Tax? (2018)

The Cooking the Books column from the February 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘Economists used to think that it doesn’t matter whom you tax, but it does’ was the title of the LSE’s Europp blog (18 November). Written by two 'behavioural economists', Matthias Weber and Arthur Schram, to publicise their research, it began:
‘In most countries, employers and employees both contribute to the taxes (or social security contributions) levied on labour. Employers pay taxes on top of the wage they transfer to employees and employees pay income taxes on the money they receive from employers. For many decades, economists thought that it should not matter who pays. Employers were thought to care only about total labour costs (gross wage paid plus employer taxes). Employees were thought to care only about their net wage (what’s left of the gross wage after income tax). The gross wage itself should be of interest to neither of them, so it should not matter who pays the taxes.’
According to Marxian economics, taxation is not a burden on wage and salary workers as a class. This is not to say that workers don’t pay taxes but that, if a tax is levied on wages, this will ultimately be passed on to employers in the form of higher wages. The increase in wages would not come about automatically, but through the class struggle and the play of supply and demand.
This was the view of the classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo, inherited by Marx. It is based on wages having to be enough to cover the cost to workers of reproducing their working skills. If workers have to pay taxes, this reduces the money they have to maintain their skills to below what is needed ; if employers are to continue buying the same quality of working skills they have to compensate for this by increasing wages.
The bloggers wrote that their research showed that who pays the tax in the first instance does have an effect even if it doesn’t affect the amount of money workers end up with – it affects workers’ perception of what is happening and so their behaviour. They found that, if employers paid all the tax, workers would favour more government spending, and vice versa:
'This suggests that employees believe that their own contribution to public spending is lower when taxes are levied on employers even if there is de facto no difference in the amount of money that ends up in their pockets.’
In other words, we can add, if workers do pay tax in the first instance they consider this is a part of their money that is taken from them. This opens the way for politicians and defenders of capitalism to con them into believing that they are part of a national community of taxpayers with a common interest in getting ‘value for money’ from how the government spends tax money.
The fact is, though, that if taxes on wages were to be reduced, workers would not be better off as their gross wage would fall correspondingly. As Marx pointed out:
‘If all taxes which bear on the working class were abolished root and branch, the necessary consequence would be the reduction of wages by the whole amount of taxes which today goes into them. Either the employers’ profit would rise as a direct consequence by the same quantity, or else no more than an alteration in the form of tax-collecting would have taken place. Instead of the present system, whereby the capitalists also advances, as part of the wage, what the worker has to pay, he [the capitalist] would no longer pay them in this roundabout way, but directly to the state’ (Moralising Criticism and Critical Morality, 1847).
Whatever the form of tax-collecting ‘there is de facto no difference in the amount of money that ends up in their pockets’. As long as the wages system exists, workers should indeed ‘care only about their net wage’.

Methods of Practical Socialism

The following piece, written by the late Pieter Lawrence, is the fourth chapter of his 2006 work, 'Practical Socialism - Its Principles and Methods'. 

Chapter 4

Methods of Practical Socialism

World Socialism is a practical possibility because over the past three hundred years global capitalism has developed a material basis for the new society.  It has created an integrated world structure of production; transport and distribution systems; instant global communications; decision making bodies and administrative institutions.   These structures   operate at local, regional and world levels in a state of rapid development which increasingly pre-dispose their free use for the benefit of all people. Given the political will they could be adapted as a socialist system over a relatively short period. The methods of practical socialism apply a distinction between the useful parts of production and social organisation which would be continued, and the economic/value factors which would be redundant and therefore removed. 

It has been suggested that the capitalist system marks the end of history; that we are now in a final phase of social evolution that is our ultimate destiny and from which there can be no further progress.  But can this strange idea be more than wishful thinking, a desperate hope amongst those who seek to idealise the market system and prefer not to see beyond it?   Far from being the end of progress the market system creates problems it cannot solve. Its competition and economic rivalries cause war and the build up of destructive forces that threaten human existence. The only sense in which capitalism may be the end of history is that it may   destroy humanity. Yet even in a time when faith in ourselves is fragile and our belief in the future is weak we should also  know that we are capable of bringing our rationality, humanity and good sense to bear on our social problems and by doing this, moving on. We may still hope that we can build a better world and create a decent way to live. In fact the intellectual powers required for this are minor compared with the immense complexities of modern applied science which support our modern technical culture. It appears that we are brilliant at sending space vehicles through the solar system whilst languishing in the dark ages when it comes to our social relationships. 

Rather than think that history is at an end it may be more useful to note that during the long period of pre-history,  a time sometimes referred to as ‘primitive communism’, with the use of only primitive tools, our distant ancestors co-operated to provide for their needs. Co-operation at that time conferred vital survival advantages on the group and without it we could never have emerged as a species.  Now we have advanced technology but primitive relationships With this in mind the socialist revolution may be seen as part of a long cycle of change from co-operation at a primitive level to co-operation at a more conscious, technically developed level. Throughout history human kind has been accumulating its collective powers of labour. These are now immense and more than capable of providing every person with a good life and there is no sound reason why we should not do it.

Use Versus Value
Under the capitalist system labour operates in two forms; its useful form and its economic form. Firstly it operates as useful labour producing the things we need to live. This is not unique to capitalism; it is common to all societies. Marx put it thus;  “So far as therefore labour is a creator of use value, is useful labour, it is a necessary condition, independent of all forms of society, for the existence of the human race: it is an eternal nature imposed necessity, without which there can be no material exchanges between Man and nature , and therefore no life.”   (Capital, vol I, chapter 1, section 2)

But simultaneous with its useful form, labour also operates in an economic form. Labour has a price that is its wage or salary and this indicates its value. When employed as part of the wage labour/capital relationship the economic function of labour is to create values over and above its own value. This is surplus value which is the source of profit and capital accumulation. The process begins with money capital invested in labour, materials, plant, machinery and land etc., and ends with finished commodities being sold in the markets for profit. It is only the labour component of these investments that produces the increased or surplus values that are realised in the markets through sales. This results in accumulated capital which, all things being equal, then becomes available for further accumulation throughout this circular system of exchange.

The change from capitalist to socialist production does not then require the establishment of anything new.   It is self evident that, although dominated by the economic/value factors of 
commodity production, labour is already working in its useful form and this would continue. The change would be in the internal working relationships of the production systems. The result would be that people would simply carry on doing their useful jobs in co-operation but without the exploitative features of the wage labour/capital relationship.
With the enactment of common ownership marking the end of the market system, society will work only with useful labour. The value form of labour will be redundant and will disappear. The wages system will end. Labour will then be free to co-operate to produce goods and provide services directly for the needs of the community. All the freedoms of socialist society will flow from this basic change in the use of labour.  Useful labour will find its freedom outside the economic constraints of the profit motive, commodity exchange and the accumulation of capital. The energies, skills and talents of people will at last be freely applied through voluntary co-operation in whatever ways the community may democratically decide.

The triumph of useful labour over its economic or value form will result in a far more efficient use of labour. The sole use of labour to provide for the needs of the community will mean that a vast amount of labour that is at present allocated to economic functions will become immediately redundant. This great advantage of socialist organisation will be covered at greater length in a later chapter. This freedom of labour also has an important bearing on the nature of the change from capitalism to socialism.  A system based on the sole use of voluntary labour acting in co-operation can only result from the conscious, democratic actions of a majority of people who co-operate to establish the new society.

Sudden and Gradual Change
Some opponents of socialism have argued that a world wide change from one society to another over a short period is unprecedented in history and impossible to achieve at any time. It is said that social change is gradual; it cannot be sudden or cataclysmic and this rules out a world wide change from capitalism to socialism. Set against this is the fact that the productive relationships of capitalism and socialism cannot operate together or be combined over time. Experience also shows that gradualist attempts to develop socialism within capitalist through reforms or other government measures have failed because they are impossible.  But we are not in fact confronted by a stark choice between sudden or gradual change. In practice the two are linked and there are examples from history of sudden, far reaching change.  The question is perhaps best understood through the ways in which gradual change can build up pressures of social, economic and political tensions that are eventually resolved through sudden change. This integrates the concepts of gradual and sudden change and sees them as different parts of a continuous process of change.

 A realistic view of history cannot be happy with the idea of sudden leaps in social arrangements but then neither can we out-rule rapid or sudden change and we would wrong to say that it has never happened. A modern example was the way in which the Bolsheviks abolished the landed aristocracy in Russia in l917. They did this overnight and ‘at a stroke’. It is true that some progress had been made in land reform before 1917 but for the most part feudal type agricultural relationships had existed for centuries and involved millions of people over the entire land mass of Russia. The removal of the entire class of aristocratic landowners and its corresponding mode of agricultural production was enacted by the Bolsheviks at 2.30 in the morning on 9th. November l917.

But the apparent suddenness of this change is misleading. Whilst it was certainly a dramatic political event it cannot be explained solely in terms of what happened on 9th. November l917. Although the power of the landed aristocracy had remained more or less unaltered for centuries, the pressures on it from a wide range of external sources had been intensifying. The change from feudal type relations to what, under Stalin, became state capitalist agriculture can only be fully understood in relation to the more gradual pressures leading up to it. 

The sudden abolition of the landed aristocracy in Russia is partly explained by the slow pace of change during the preceding 100 years and in particular the failure to develop more efficient capitalist agriculture, compared with other European powers. This meant that with the 1st World War, because food as well as industrial production was vital, Russia could not sustain its war effort on equal terms with other more developed combatants. The failures of the Russian army, the bankruptcy of the state, the conditions of the masses in desperate poverty and famine, combined to produce social and political breakdown which gave the Bolsheviks their opportunity to seize power. Thus the failure to develop on more equal terms with other European powers throughout the 19th Century eventually brought severe pressure on the backward nature of social relationships in Russia in 1917.

Whilst not using the terms gradual and sudden change the concept of how these may in practice be an integrated process was suggested by Marx in his distinction between the “material productive forces of society” and the “existing relations of production.” For Marx, this was more than a distinction, it becomes a conflict. “At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production.”  “Then begins an epoch of social revolution.”  (Preface to the Critique of Political Economy)

Applying this to the development of world capitalism it is useful to make a further distinction between the form and the content of its productive relations. The form or the social basis of capitalism, that is to say its  “relations of production,” is the class ownership of wealth. This means that means of production, transport and resources are privately owned or monopolised through state ownership.  In the modern world we see a vast power of ownership by global corporations.  These “relations of production” do not change, they are basic to defining capitalism as a system.  

Also, such economic categories as capital investment, the means of production functioning as capital, commodities and wage labour are key to explaining how goods and services are produced in the market system and who gets what from the pool of goods made available. Two hundred years ago the production of goods commenced with an exchange of wages for labour time and this has not changed.  It is exactly the same now.

Over the course of its history, as pre-capitalist ways of life have been swept aside, more and more people have come to be producing within the wage labour/capital relationship. Markets have expanded to their greatest capacity than at any other time. There is a greater pool of capital still being accumulated from the exploitation of workers than ever before. Structures of government have expanded. Capitalist states are stronger with more arms and greater powers of destruction than ever before. The capitalist system has spread to every corner of the planet with the result that it now exists as a gigantic world structure, with economic events in one place having repercussions throughout the world. 

What has changed within this expansion has been the social/technical content of the wage labour/capital relationship. Within this we include techniques of production, developed communications, productivity, a more complex division of labour, new products and new markets, administration, institutions, democratic rights, our knowledge of the world, social attitudes, living standards, etc. In each of these fields there is rapid change but these do not alter the basic wage labour/capital relationship through which production takes place. Nor does the motive of production change, which is that goods, as commodities, are produced for sale on the markets with a view to profit. This is the same now as more than three centuries ago when capitalism first became the dominant economic system. 

The dynamic technical and social changes which have been part of capitalism since the beginnings of the industrial revolution and which continue with increasing momentum have made no impact on the basic class relations of the system or its motive of production. This contrast between rapid social change that continues on a basis of static class relations is creating social and economic and political tensions that can only be resolved by the establishment of socialism.

We can acknowledge that at its beginning the capitalist system was in many important ways a progressive development of society. It is doubtful if even the most devoted admirer of privilege would want to return to feudalism and the absolute rule of monarchy.  However, having once moved us on the market system has long since outlived its ability to make progress. It now operates as a barrier to progress. The more our powers of production are developed the greater becomes the gap between what we could produce and what we actually produce. With deep social problems desperate to be solved the continuous accumulation of our productive powers comes into greater conflict with what appears to be our fixed economic relationships. This conflict between our limited economic options and our greater powers of production places increasing pressure on the need for political action to change society. Given a majority of socialists the task would present no difficulties. The developed powers of production and organisation that now exist pre-dispose the ease with which a world wide socialist movement could stop the operation of capitalism and immediately commence the operation of socialist society.

In this perspective, the question of a sharp distinction between sudden and gradual change is dissolved.  It is a matter of neither one nor the other.  Even now, the position of governments where they find themselves boxed in by severe economic constraints, or worse, as they stagger from crisis to crisis, is against a background of immense powers of production and social organisation that cannot be brought into use. This contradiction, or tensions, between static economic relations and developed powers of production can only intensify and bring about increasing pressure for change which by the nature of the two systems must take place over a relatively short period.

Practical socialism is defined as the work of proposing how existing powers of production and social organisation could be used directly for the needs of all people according to the principles of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use. It therefore follows that one method of work is to identify the socially useful parts of production such as industry and agriculture etc., that could be applied directly to the solution of problems.  These should be distinguished from parts of production that can only serve the objectives of capitalism and would therefore become redundant, for example, finance and business services, weapons and armaments production.  (More on this in a later chapter)

This method involves more than the factors of production; it must also include decision making bodies, means of organisation and administration. In its approach to the question of which bodies and institutions could continue in socialism the sole criteria is whether or not they could serve a socially useful function.  This method of selection must bring with it an open mind, free of any pre-conceived ideas that may come as part of the ideological baggage that can, unfortunately, travel with socialism as part of its diverse history.

For example, it is a prejudice of the anarchist school of thought that the entire machinery of government, having been part of the state, would be abolished.  These are merely the sterile attitudes of individuals who have used the socialist movement as a means of dissociating from society.  In fact Ministries such as the Ministry of Food, The Department of Transport, Department of the Environment, etc., together with their staffs and technical officers would have a vital part to play in the organisation of socialism.   No doubt the Treasury, Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue would become redundant but not because they are part of the machinery of government.  These would simply have no job to do.

A further method is the work of proposing how the existing machinery of government could be democratised so as to play a part in a system of democratic administration.

 Beyond continuous social and technical change which expose existing productive relations as static, destructive and historically redundant, the actual nature of the change from capitalism to socialism should be kept in clear perspective. We are not looking towards a sudden transformation of all aspects of society. In fact, substantially, we are looking towards the continuation of the most important things that society does.

The life of society depends upon people doing their useful jobs. With all their energies and skills it is working people of all kinds, from labourers to factory workers, technicians and computer operators who already run the world production system. There could be no sudden change in the work processes of people in mining, industry, manufacture, transport and distribution, farming, building and construction, energy supply, health services, education and the many other services. With the enactment of common ownership all these people would carry on with what they are doing, but in circumstances in which all the economic factors of the capitalist system will have been removed. With no wages system and no production of commodities for sale at a profit, this would be people working in voluntary co-operation for themselves and for the community at large.

The aim of socialism is to establish the relationships of equality that will dignify and empower our communities and so enable them to solve social problems in the interests of all people. The problems are huge. The actions and organisation required to solve them mean that to begin with communities in socialism will be bound to respond to these compelling pressures of necessity.  This will determine what socialism will have to do and this sets out a framework of known facts within which we may propose how socialism could be organised. As has been emphasised, this also rescues socialism from its tendency towards utopian speculation.  It provides an agenda for creative work that can be developed as a serious practical alternative to existing capitalist society.

Beyond the solution of social problems, as the pressures of necessity are lifted from communities, the options on how to live will widen. Because in this prospect we cannot sensibly anticipate what choices will be made, any attempt to do so would move from the sound work of proposing how existing problems could be solved into utopian spheres of futuristic speculation.

The “future” only exists in the sense that it is being contested now through the clash of political ideas.  These conflicting ideas reflect conflicting interests and whatever the future may be will be the outcome of these arguments. Opponents of socialism hold that in one form or another the capitalist system should continue into the foreseeable future. They argue that the means of production should remain under private or state ownership; that the market system should continue and that profit should come before the needs of people. But socialists argue for a different future and whether or not this happens will be the outcome of present political choice.

It would be impossible to argue a definition of needs valid for all time and for all circumstances.  Such a discussion would be endlessly subjective and irrelevant to our purpose. For practical socialism the question is answered from what socialism would have to do to solve existing problems.  Implicit in this is a working definition of needs. There is common agreement about what these problems are and they are defined as problems because they arise from a definite human need of one kind or another. This provides a context and a practical basis for saying what we mean by needs.

For example, who could seriously doubt that food is a vital human need? Socialism would give the utmost priority to stopping world hunger. Capitalism fails to do this.  The numbers of hungry people in the world are increasing. Between the years 1974 and 2000 the number of seriously undernourished people doubled from 435 million people to over 800 million. (FAO Fact File) Communities in socialism must stop people dying from hunger and could do it immediately. Beyond this a choice of good quality food would be produced for all people. This would require increased world food production.

Socialism must also house the world’s population in comfort, providing for the basic necessities of piped clean water, drainage systems, cooking facilities and other domestic amenities. In addition socialism must establish a safe world energy supply, stop pollution and adopt techniques able to work within the natural systems of the environment in non destructive ways. There is a need to bring into balance the world distribution of means of production, transport systems and storage facilities.  There is a need to extend health and education services and further develop communications of every kind.  For all these great projects, socialism would begin with a structure of production, inadequate for the supply of these needs. This would require a rapid expansion of production.

These aims would have to be accomplished in stages in an order of priorities, doing what was manageable at first, monitoring the progress made and then going on.  As we have said, this anticipates a stage of development in socialism when pressures of necessity will be eased with the result that communities will have wider options on how to live.   In these circumstances, no doubt, various philosophies of needs will be widely debated leading perhaps to a great diversity of life styles. But given the present state of things, our desperate need is to solve our problems. 
Pieter Lawrence

Link to Chapter 5