Wednesday, August 29, 2018

This Month's Quotation: Karl Kautsky (1940)

The Front Page quote from the April 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “Every conscious human action presupposes a will. The will to Socialism is the first condition for its accomplishment.”
Karl Kautsky
This Month’s Quotation.
The passage quoted on the front page is from Kautsky’s “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” P.12.

This Month's Quotation: Marshal Foch (1940)

The Front Page quote from the March 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "New areas for Trade are cleared by cannon shot."
Marshal Foch, December 1918.

This Month's Quotation: R. H. Tawney (1940)

The Front Page quote from the February 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “The exploitation of the weak by the powerful, organized for purposes of economic gain, buttressed by imposing systems of law, and screened by decorous draperies of virtuous sentiment and resounding rhetoric, has been a permanent feature in the life of most communities that the world has yet seen.”
R. H. Tawney
This Month’s Quotation
The passage quoted on the cover is from R. H Tawney’s “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.' (Pelican Books. 6d. Page 252.)

This Month's Quotation: Karl Kautsky (1940)

The Front Page quote from the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “Socialist Development will not proceed on the lines of a Dictatorship, nor by means of cannons and guns, nor through the destruction of one's political and social adversaries, but only through democracy and humanity.”
Karl Kautsky
This Month's Quotation
The passage quoted on the front page of this issue is from the last page of Kautsky’s “Terrorism and Communism” (National Labour Press, 1920).

Competition: a race to where? (2018)

The Wood for the Trees Column from the August 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the time of writing the English Summer is, for once, not merely an oxymoron; it has enabled a multiplicity of sporting delights. Tennis at Wimbledon, cricket at Lord’s, motor racing at Silverstone and (not dependent on English weather) world cup football from Russia. Whilst listening to the England v. Panama football match I overheard the commentators debate something which, unusually, is of interest not just to soccer enthusiasts but to those intrigued by the politics of competition. During the committing of one of the game’s innumerable fouls a commentator wearily concluded that the Panamanian team and its supporters could only interpret any such event through biased eyes; his colleague, however, objected to this stating that he believed most of the fouls were obvious infractions of the rules that anyone with any honesty could see.

In these cynical times it was refreshing, although somewhat naïve, to hear someone articulating the possibility of a level of objectivity overcoming sectarian bias. He may well have been unaware of the political implications of this insofar as it undermines the ‘my country, right or wrong’ ethos of nationalism/patriotism. We might go further and say that competition itself necessarily excludes any kind of objective fairness. If this is the case then it exempts capitalism from any moral or rational concern for justice because it depends on competition from top to bottom. Can there ever exist something we can call ‘fair competition’?

Competition between nation states, corporations, scientific researchers, academics, artists, politicians and even between individuals is endemic to capitalism. We are told that competition breeds excellence when in reality those who proclaim this will do everything in their power to circumvent the rules to get an advantage over their competitors. So what are ‘the rules of the game’?

 Like all forms of competition there is a continual attempt to impose rules that will benefit all those involved by creating a ‘level playing field’. The capitalist class invests heavily in legal frameworks for trade, financial institutions, property ownership and employment but the overriding need to be competitive and thus commercially successful creates a continual tension that often leads to corruption, trade wars, monopolies and militarism; a dangerous contradiction exists between the recognition by the bourgeoisie of themselves as a class with their shared political interests and their need to compete with each other to survive in the cutthroat business environment. The media is full of stories of corporate greed and corruption that focuses on the immoral and illegal acts of individuals (scapegoats) as if, somehow, it is always ‘human nature’ that is to blame rather than the structure of corporate and political institutions. Dialectically we can say that when the quantity of these cases of corruption become so numerous and continual they then become a quality of capitalism itself. 

 Some may object to this cultural understanding of competition by pointing to ‘nature’ and its inherent struggle for survival. It is a favourite manoeuvre of reactionary ideology to attempt to incorporate Darwin’s theory of evolution in its bastardised form of ‘the survival of the fittest’ to justify economic competition. Any such recourse will however serve to prove the opposite of such an assertion because we are a social species and our success is due primarily to our cooperative abilities. Males may compete for the right to procreate in nature but in a human cultural context we know that the ‘successful’ members of our society are far from being the ‘fittest’ either physically or intellectually – just look at the ‘rich list’. Inherited wealth and status are still the predominant elements of ‘success’ within a capitalist context, that or the dumb luck of winning the lottery. Again those who seek to defend capitalism might point to the sporting elite who have had no advantage other than that of a talent honed by competition. Here we return to how we began with a consideration of the relationship between sport, politics and money. 

 Ever since the invention of private property we have had wars over its retention and extension between ruling elites. From ancient civilisations we have evidence of the origin of sports being an arena for practising the arts of war. The original Olympic Games provided an opportunity for both competition between Greek city states and a celebration of a shared culture or ‘Greekness’. The individual athletes would be pampered and admired by their ruling classes because they were representatives of the power of the respective states. The modern Olympiad was also motivated by ideas of the world as a community. Inevitably, like everything left in the hands of capitalism, it has become a celebration of the tribalism of nation states combined with the marketing of consumer goods.

 Today’s elite soccer players are commodities who are occasionally called upon to masquerade as symbols of national pride in contrast (although a good international performance will enhance their value) to their normal existence as money making machines for the football industry. With all of these pressures it is not surprising that any rules are a remote secondary consideration compared with winning.  Once the phrase ‘it’s not cricket’ could be used as a universal condemnation of any rule bending but now even this bastion of gentlemanly behavior has been witness to the sordid phenomenon known as the ‘professional foul’.

 Rules of behaviour (not the logically innate structural and procedural rules) in all areas of human activity are only necessary when pressures exist that create confrontation and potential violence. Competition is one such pressure and that is one of the reasons that socialists believe it should be confined to sports. If identity is dependent on feelings of superiority rather than community we have a recipe for the distress and violence we see around us in capitalism. Another reason is that all of that egotistical infantile energy is so wasteful and counterproductive. If you can imagine a world where competition is confined to the entertainment of sports where its child-like qualities can be embraced with humorous indulgence then you are a long way towards becoming a socialist.

This Month's Quotation: Frederick Engels (1939)

The Front Page quote from the December 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
"Man, at last the master of his own form of social organisation, becomes at the same time the lord over nature, his own master—free”
F. Engels on the Socialist Future of Mankind
This Month’s Quotation
The passage on the cover of this issue is from “Socialism: Utopia and Scientific,” by Frederick Engels. (Allen and Unwin edition, page 86.)

This Month's Quotation: Socialist (1939)

The Front Page quote from the November 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialism and only Socialism will convert weapons of destruction into instruments of Peace.

This Month's Quotation: W. J. Perry (1939)

The Front Page quote from the October 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
  " . . .  far from civilization having tamed the savage, It has made man into a “savage," into a being who has learned modes of violent conduct rarely exhibited in his forerunners . . .”
W. J. Perry ("The Growth of Civilization.”)

This Month's Quotation: Jan Bloch (1939)

The Front Page quote from the September 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
   "There is a possibility of a European War in the future . . . .  What basis is there for the supposition that the next war will definitely settle this or that question, or what is more, settle all quarrels between nations?"
Jan Bloch (1899)

This Month's Quotation: Angelica Balabanoff (1939)

The Front Page quote from the August 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “I am proud to have lived and worked with artisans of a new social order. Many of them are now dead or defeated—in exile or in their own countries. But a new generation will take their place — to build more wisely and more successfully on the foundations we have laid.”
Angelica Balabanoff
This Month’s Quotation
The passage quoted on the front cover is from "My Life as a Rebel" (page 349). Angelica Balabanoff was associated with Mussolini in his pre-Fascist days, on the journal Avanti. After the Bolshevist seizure of power she was given important posts in Russia but resigned owing to disagreement with the Bolshevist attitude on democracy and other questions. Her whole life has been spent in working-class movements.

This Month's Quotation: Joseph Dietzgen (1939)

The Front Page quote from the July 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “Science is not limited to the so-called scientific world. It reaches beyond all classes, it belongs the full depth and width of life. Science belongs to thinking humanity in its entirety.”
Joseph Dietzgen (“The Positive Outcome of Philosophy" p. 130)

This Month's Quotation: George Sand (1939)

The Front Page quote from the June 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "The wealth of the soil, the harvests, the fruits, the splendid cattle that grow sleek and fat in the luxuriant grass, are the property of the few, and but instruments of the drudgery and slavery of the many."
George Sand ("The Devil's Pool.")

This Month's Quotation: Heinrich Heine (1939)

The Front Page quote from the May 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “Everywhere we are stared down on by Wealth and Respectability, while crammed away in retired lanes and dark, damp alleys Poverty dwells with her rags and her tears.”
Heinrich Heine (“The Wonder of London.")

This Month's Quotation: Antonia Labriola (1939)

The Front Page quote from the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "The laws of economics  . . . . . .  have triumphed over all illusions and have shown themselves to be the directing power of social life ”
This Month’s Quotation
The quotation on the front page is from Labriola’sEssays on the Materialist Conception of History” (p. 167).

This Month's Quotation: James Connolly (1939)

The Front Page quote from the March 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
  ". . . the pressure of a common exploitation can make enthusiastic rebels out of a Protestant working class, earnest champions of civil and religious liberty out of Catholics, and out of both a united Social democracy. "
James Connolly
This Month’s Quotation
The passage on the front cover is from James Connolly's “Labour in Irish History.” (Published 1916, by Maunsell & Co., Dublin. P. 216.)

This Month's Quotation: August Bebel (1939)

The Front Page quote from the February 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
  ". . .  if, in the course of this great battle for the emancipation of the human race, we should fall, those now in the rear will step forward.”
August Bebel

This Month's Quotation: Karl Kautsky (1939)

The Front Page quote from the January 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
"Whether Votes are a power or not depends upon the type of men who cast them."
Karl Kautsky.
This Month’s Quotation
The quotation on the front page is from Karl Kautsky'sThe Labour Revolution” (Allen & Unwin, 1925, page 30): —
   Whether votes are a power or not depends upon the type of men who cast them. If the voters are shiftless persons who only live by the favour of the rich, or wage-earners whose mentality is such that they regard the capitalists as “ bread-givers," such workers will certainly not capture political power through the vote they cast. So far as they possess the vote at all, they will rather be inclined to sell the political power which it represents to the highest bidder.
  The case is different with workers in a society which they sustain, and which would collapse without them. When the workers form a majority and are conscious of their importance to society, their voting for the Socialist Party signifies that they have recognised their strength and are determined to make use of it.

The Importance of Marxism—(continued) (1940)

From the August 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Continued from the July 1940 issue.

In preceding issues of the Socialist Standard we have discussed at some length the writings of the most outstanding economists and Socialists prior to Marx, and have, in addition to this, touched upon the scheme of Marxian Political Economy. Let us now consider the Marxian analysis more closely.

The Nature of Wealth Under Capitalism
Bourgeois economists have expressed divergent views concerning the true nature of wealth. The Mercantilists, for example, identified wealth with money, whereas the Physiocrats thought that only the products of agriculture could be regarded as real wealth.

Marx’s view on the subject is expressed clearly in the opening chapter of his famous work, “Capital,” where he says:—
  The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities, its unit being a single commodity.— (Vol. I, p. 41, Modern Library Edition.)
Commodities are articles produced for exchange or sale. In the May Socialist Standard we pointed out that every commodity is a combination of use-value and value, and that it is the latter quality which determines the commodity’s average price on the market, and not the former. The vendor of commodities is, as we know, primarily interested in the exchange value of his articles, and not in the fact that they will satisfy human needs of some kind. That the prime motive of Capitalist production is not the satisfaction of human wants, but rather “sale at a profit," has been demonstrated only recently by the tremendous destruction of coffee and cocoa, that has taken place in the colonies.

The Function of Money
Quite a number of people have misunderstood the rôle played by money. Britain has been literally overrun by miscellaneous currency cranks— from Major Douglas to the Imperial Fascist League—who either regarded money as the be-all and end-all of human existence, or else thought it an absolutely worthless object, perpetuated as a trick on society by unscrupulous financiers. In reality, however, money is the all-important medium of exchange—the resultant of the evolution of commodity exchanges. According to Marx the germ of money is to be found in the earliest accidental exchange of articles between one tribe and another—in barter. This elementary exchange Marx refers to as—
  1. The Accidental Form of Value: 5 shells = 2 skins. In the, example cited above the value (i.e., the socially necessary labour) of one given commodity (shells) is expressed in terms of another (skins). With improved methods of production and, as a consequence, greater contact between tribes, the accidental barter of articles gives way to an increasingly enlarged sphere of exchange which Marx calls—
  2. The Extended Form of Value: 5 shells = 2 skins = 50 beads = 2 sheep = 2 ozs. gold, etc. An illustration of this extended form can be found in the “Iliad," where Homer say: “To Atreus’ sons, as he gave charge, where merchandise it was, the Greeks bought wine for shining steel, and some for sounding brass, some for ox-hides, for oxen some, and some for prisoners.” (Book VII, p. 102, George Roulledge. -Ed.) Following on the extended form, we get—
  3. The General Form of Value: 5 shells, 2 skins, 50 beads, 20 yards cloth, 2 ozs. gold = 2 sheep. In this third form the values of all commodities are now expressed in terms of one single commodity. At the dawn of civilisation it was cattle that predominantly functioned as the general equivalent in exchange, but this form was eventually supplanted by gold, silver and copper: articles that are easier to divide and transport. The expression of the values of commodities in terms of the precious metals Marx designates as— 
  4. The Money Form of Value: 5 shells, 2 skins, 50 beads, 20 yards cloth, 2 sheep = 2 ozs. gold (or when coined).
This money form is the price form of commodities. Between forms 3 and 4 there are no differences, except that in the one case it is cattle and in the other gold which serves as the general equivalent. Fundamental differences exist, however, between forms 1, 2 and 3. The illustrations I have presented show that gold became money because it had previously served as an ordinary commodity. The value of gold, like the value of any other commodity, is determined by the labour time socially necessary for its production. Gold is portable, divisible, endurable and non-corrosive; moreover, a small quantity of it incorporates comparatively a great deal of labour time—hence these qualities eventually forced it to the top as the money commodity, as the universal medium of exchange par excellence. As far as paper currency is concerned, Marx has this to say on the subject:—
   The State puts in circulation bits of paper on which various denominations, say £1, £5, etc., are printed . . .  A law peculiar to the circulation of paper money can spring up only from the proportion in which that paper money represents gold. Such a law exists; stated simply, it is as follows: the issue of paper money must not exceed in amount the gold (or silver, as the case may be) which would actually circulate if not replaced by symbols.—(Vol. I, page 143.)
In recent years gold has ceased to function legally as money. The consequence of the abandonment of the gold standard has been precisely that which Marx pointed out would be the case, viz.:—
   If the quantity of paper currency issued be double what it ought to be, then, as a matter of fact, £1 would be the money name not of ¼ of an ounce, but of  ⅛ of an ounce of gold.—(P. 144.)
To-day gold sovereigns are bought and sold like any other commodity. This abandonment of gold as legal money in no way alters the basic economic laws of Bourgeois society. It can, however, be regarded as a disturbing feature—one symptom out of many of the underlying chaotic instability of recent international Capitalism.

For the sake of simplicity in the points that follow, we shall express prices in terms of gold coin—thus assuming gold as still the money commodity. The reader can easily reduce our illustrations to terms of present paper currency.

Capital and the Problem of Surplus Value
It has already been pointed out that the circulation of commodities presupposes in its pure form an exchange of equivalent values. This exchange of equivalents can be designated with the Marxian formula—
C—M—C or Commodity—Money—Commodity.
Let us illustrate this formula with two examples: (1) A handicraftsman has, shall we say, taken eight hours to produce a chair. He exchanges his chair (commodity) with, say, a gold sovereign (money) embodying an equal amount of labour, and with the money obtained he purchases a clock (commodity) in which eight hours of labour are also incorporated. (2) A worker sells his labouring-power (commodity) for wages, and with the latter buys articles of consumption (some commodities).

The formula for capital is, however:—
£100—Commodities—£ 110
M — C — M
and in this case it is no longer a question of recovering a mere equivalent, but of throwing into circulation a given amount of value for the purpose of recovering a greater amount. This increment obtained, or surplus of value over the original amount invested is what Marx calls surplus-value. Thus, capital is money invested with a view to gain or surplus-value. The problem Marx set out to solve was: on the assumption that in exchange only value-equivalents are given, where does the surplus-value come from?

That capital is not merely wealth, as such, but wealth invested for the specific purpose of profit, has been either completely ignored or hotly disputed by the Bourgeois economists. Karl Kautsky, in his work, "The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx,” has the following interesting observations to make in this connection:—
   It is value that breeds surplus value. Those who ignore this movement and try to conceive of capital as an inert thing will instantly involve themselves in contradictions. Hence the confusion in the orthodox text-books concerning the idea of capital, and the question as to which things should be regarded as capital. Some define it as tools, which implies that there were capitalists in the Stone Age. Even the ape, which cracks nuts with a stone, is a capitalist; likewise, the tramp’s stick, with which he knocks fruit off a tree, becomes capital, and the tramp himself a capitalist. Others define capital as stored-up labour, according to which marmots and ants would enjoy the honour of figuring as colleagues of Rothschild. Bleichroeder and Krupp. Some economists have even reckoned as capital everything which promotes labour and renders it productive, the State, man's knowledge and his soul.—(Pp. 53-54, A. & C. Black Edition.)
The prevailing form of capital is industrial capital. Commercial and financial capital are historically much older, but, to-day, play but a subordinate part alongside the capital of the industrialist.

It is in industry that surplus value is produced. Precisely how this is done we shall discuss in next month’s Socialist Standard.
Solomon Goldstein

Press Cuttings (1941)

From the August 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
“True, we are out to stop Hitler by any and every means we can. We have definite objects in mind. We want to protect our markets and trade. We mean to keep the sea lanes open.”—(U.S.A. Senator Pepper, quoted by the Evening Standard, July 2nd. 1941.)

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  “The (Peru-Ecuador) frontier dispute is over the possession of some 100,000 square miles of land rich in rubber, timber, and, perhaps, gold. . . — (A.P. message, Evening Standard, July 7th. 1941.)

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". . .  such a (Anglo-American-Russian) pact will, I believe, do more than anything else to convince the Soviet Union that her security is threatened not by a vague entity called the capitalist system but quite specifically by the anti-Comintern powers only. —(Mr. Harold Laski, in the New Statesman and Nation, July 5th. 1941. Our italics.)

Counter Culture (2018)

The Proper Gander column from the August 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

 A shop marks the end of the long journey which a pair of socks or a tin of beans has taken to reach us. And the last of the innumerable workers who contributed to getting it to us is often the ‘shopgirl’. Shops and their staff, therefore, have a crucial place in the economy, on the front line of consumerism, as highlighted by the BBC’s Shopgirls: The True Story of Life Behind The Counter.

 This documentary series focuses on how the role of the shopgirl has changed over the decades, and the wider trends behind this. Presenter Pamela Cox, professor of sociology at the University of Essex, tells the story in an engaging, cheery way, linking up personal accounts with the bigger picture.

 Shop work was for men only until the mid nineteenth century, and at least one woman (dubbed a ‘romantic freak’ in the press) twice disguised herself as a bloke to get a job in a shop. The ever-increasing number of mines and factories which were springing up led to an ever-increasing number of stores to sell their products in. This meant more people were needed for the labour market, so the proportion of women employees grew. The widespread assumption that women were more suited to domestic duties put them at a disadvantage when competing for jobs, meaning they ended up in low-status roles, especially in shops. Many shop staff ‘lived in’, meaning their job came with accommodation: usually bleak, strictly-run dormitories. By providing accommodation, employers could both keep and control their staff. Working hours were long, pay was low, and there was constant pressure to perform. ‘The more obsequious and helpful the assistants were, the better you did [as a business]’. Many of their tasks were monotonous and useless, such as winding and unwinding ribbons to give the impression of busyness. Lengthy days without being able to sit down were called ‘the standing evil’, one of many damaging effects on shopgirls’ health detailed in the 1884 report Death And Disease Behind The Counter. Despite the government knowing about the harm which shop work caused, little changed for decades.

 One group aiming to improve conditions was the Co-Operative Women’s Guild, which was founded in 1883 and only closed in 2016. It was set up to provide mutual support, not only for work-related issues, but also with education and welfare. However, many workers were reluctant to organise together, not least because joining a union could lead to getting the sack. Margaret Bondfield was a prominent member of the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen, and Clerks who campaigned for union membership and also wrote a series of articles exposing the shop worker’s lot. In her later career, she sided fully with the establishment, becoming the first female cabinet minister when she was appointed Minister of Labour in 1929. 

 By the end of the nineteenth century, the rising number of women employed in shops had reached nearly a quarter of a million. In 1909, a branch of Selfridges opened in London, its stylish brand imported from America, along with working practices uncommon in Britain. Selfridges’ shopgirls didn’t live in and were trained to be more confident and less deferential. Grand shops with showy window displays were a visible sign of the growth of commercialism during the twentieth century. Perhaps it was because of this that Suffragettes targeted shops by lobbing bricks through their windows.

During both world wars, men were conscripted and more women joined the labour market to replace them, often taking roles still not considered ‘women’s work’, which in the retail sector meant managerial positions. And when each war ended, men returned to their old jobs and many women returned to the home. 

 By the early ‘50s, three quarters of a million women worked in retail. The way shops were run continued to follow trends which began in America, such as personality-sapping training in ‘customer service’ and the self-service store. The idea that customers would have to go to all the trouble of choosing things from a shelf, dropping them into a basket and actually carrying them to the counter took a while to catch on in Britain. Before self-service, the customer would go to the counter and the shopgirl would encourage them to buy whatever, measure out how much they wanted, and then wrap it up. The packaging on the goods lining the shelves did the same job, starting the shift towards the shopgirl role meaning shelf-stacking and sitting bored behind a till.

 Not so for a shopgirl in a with-it fashion boutique in the ‘60s, though. They were hired to look fab and hang out with the customers, with any hard selling being seriously uncool. But the groovy image of the boutique didn’t convince everyone. In the early ‘70s, feminist magazine Spare Rib published a report on how shopgirls in boutiques were exploited, and the Angry Brigade bombed a branch of Biba, accompanied by a statement that criticised its staff for their uniformity. But it was changing shopping habits which had a greater impact on the boutique’s decline, as they were squeezed out by the growth of department stores and clothing chains. And into the ‘80s, Thatcherite policies like deregulation of planning and employment laws encouraged the shift towards supermarkets and out-of-town malls. 

 The programme crowbars in a mention of Margaret Thatcher’s early years living above a shop in Grantham, which Cox ridiculously claims taught her ‘that the power lay with the customer. She believed in the “right to buy” in the broadest sense, that the customer should have what they wanted when they wanted it’. It’s doubtful that Thatcher had such a naïve view of capitalism, although she probably wanted us plebs to believe it.

 Today, retail workers are the largest group of private sector employees, almost two thirds are women and almost half work part time. Staff today cite pressure to perform, low pay and the stigma of being a shopgirl as problems, as others have in previous times. The efforts of unions, campaigners and reformists haven’t been able to create ideal conditions for shop staff. As the programme shows, wider forces such as the profitability of emerging ways of shopping, and wars, have done more to shape how shop work is carried out. And it’s still changing: now, the role of the shopgirl is being pushed out by the popularity of online shopping and the spread of those annoying self-checkouts.
Mike Foster

Great Men (1942)

Quote from the August 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “Great men have invariably failed to 'deliver the goods'; but because we admire their qualities and envy their success, we continue to believe in them, and to submit to their power."
(Aldous Huxley. “Grey Eminence." page 139.)

Letter: I. T. — for profit or for democracy? (1984)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Further to the article by ALB in the July Socialist Standard which dealt with the possible use of information technology in socialism for stock control and the communication of needs to production, it was mentioned that computer operators would be using their skills to a socially useful end for the first time. A particular example of the present destructive use of this technology is the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Cheltenham.

It is now known that this benign title is a euphemism for an elaborate spy set up which employs about 9,000 workers in the headquarters and throughout the world wide network of listening posts, known as the Composite Signals Organisation. The work of these establishments is that of spying on other capitalist states, particularly state capitalist Russia and its dominions in the eastern bloc. It has its counterpart in America, which is the National Security Agency, and doubtless its even more secret equivalent in Russia.

This international espionage involves the most sophisticated communications technology. At GCHQ they have in use the CRAY I, the world’s most powerful computer, capable of making 150 million calculations per second and of storing 30 billion words. The principal function of the CRAY I has been to decrypt soviet and other information, transmitted in code. As well as the world distribution of listening posts, information is also gathered via satellite surveillance. Space technology is vitally involved for both photography and for listening in to telephone and wireless communications. Apart from the CRAY I, other computers are programmed to sift through the voluminous data which becomes available. Recently the Geoffrey Prime spy case, and the banning of trade unions at GCHQ. have focussed attention on its work.

In his article, ALB illustrated how the technology involved could be adapted for the organisation of production for need, but he quite rightly dismissed the idea that world production in socialism would be controlled by a single huge computer. He stressed the practical need for different scales of productive organisation on local, regional and world levels. He suggested a hierarchy of computer networks, or to put it differently, a decentralised information system, corresponding to the different scales of productive organisation which could monitor production in relation to needs and, for example, the availability and use of materials, etc. Can I suggest that this practical use of information technology for human needs would be vastly more simple and straightforward compared with the sinister complexities of its present use?

Moreover, such an information system in socialism would be completely open with free access to any part of it. This factor is vital to democracy, which cannot operate without freely available information. Although computers and communication systems are described as "information" technology, their use under capitalism is not to make information freely available. Both state and private enterprises and the state machine itself operate in secret, with dismissal or imprisonment for those who break the rules. By itself, the concealment of information condemns a society as being undemocratic and corrupt.

Yet when everything has been said, responsibility must come back to the workers on whose skills the running of these systems depends. Their skills could be adapted so easily for the running of a sane, democratic society concerned solely with needs. Adaptation would have to take place, yet with such establishments as GCHQ and the world Composite Signals Organisation the equipment and skills are already in place for the operation of a completely open world information system as part of the practical running of production for use. To repeat ALB's conclusion, "all that is lacking is the will to change society so as to be able to take full advantage of it"
Pieter Lawrence

Supply and needs in socialism (1984)

From the July 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

If socialism had to be summed up in a single phrase we could say that it was conscious social control of all aspects of life, including the production and distribution of wealth. This is why Marx once spoke of real history only beginning with socialism, by which he meant that humans had until then been the victims of natural scarcity (low productivity imposing hard labour and material shortage on the bulk of the population) and, under capitalism, of blind economic forces beyond their control; pre-history would end with the end of capitalism as the establishment of socialism would precisely put social life under conscious human control; in socialism the human race would be carrying out their own desires and decisions.

What will give humans this freedom in socialism is the fact that all the Earth's resources. including the means for producing wealth, will have become the common heritage of the whole of humanity. Actually, this is just another way of saying that the world will belong to nobody; there will be neither property nor territorial rights over any part of the globe. Humanity will therefore be free to organise its social life in accordance with its wishes. To do this—to decide on and carry out its wishes—humanity will have to organise itself, inevitably democratically, since if decision-making were left to a permanent minority they would constitute a new owning class.

Socialism will be a society entirely geared to satisfying human needs. What human beings decide they want will be paramount; everything else will be subordinate to this aim. It is difficult for us. living in capitalist society where time-measured cost as reflected in accounting in monetary units is paramount, and where human energies are no more than a costed factor of production. to appreciate how enormous a change this will be. Today time is money and the economic pressure is to do everything as quickly as possible. In socialism not only will there be no money but time will no longer be so important. Men and women will be free to choose to take longer to produce something if, for instance, this slower production method gives the producers more pleasure, is less unpleasant or results in a product that is better for the health and the welfare of human beings.

This latter brings out again the whole point of socialism: to satisfy human wants and needs. In contrast to capitalism, human beings will no longer be the mere bearers of value-producing energy that most of us are today; satisfying their needs will be the sole determinant of production. This too represents an immense change as compared with today, where human needs are only catered for (“satisfied" would be the wrong word) as a means to the end of maintaining people as efficient wealth-producers. Under capitalism the qualitative and quantitative consumption of the majority of the population is restricted to more or less what is needed to maintain them in efficient working order.

Slowly changing wants 
When we have cleared up the mess left by capitalism—which will involve an immense increase in production to eliminate material want and misery throughout the world—socialism can be expected to become a stable, slow-changing society, in terms both of population size and of the wants and consumption habits of its members. This will considerably simplify the task of balancing production and consumption.

As the consumption habits would be stable, or only slowly changing, so would the distribution circuits. Everything would be running more or less smoothly from year to year: adjustments would be relatively easy since it would only be a question of adding something here or subtracting something there in the context of an already functioning system. Production can be expected to platform off (and eventually may even fall since goods will be well-made and so will last longer than today, so needing to be replaced less often). Nevertheless, it is still useful to outline how such a system of ensuring the satisfaction of the material needs of humans might function.

The material needs of human beings boil down basically to food, clothing and shelter. We will begin with food. Here, as with everything else in socialism, humans will have a free choice. Having made this proviso however, it is hard to sec the people of socialist society being satisfied with the Instant this and Quick that that is the staple diet of most people today. In fact most of the food available today in shops and supermarkets is likely to be rejected as substandard. If only for the sake of their health (quite apart from improved taste) people are going to demand more fresh fruit and vegetables and more free-range animal products.

If we imagine people living in much smaller urban communities than today we can also imagine this need being satisfied to the maximum extent possible locally, with each town/country area trying to be as self-sufficient in these products as it can. Some of course will be less successful in this than others, their excess needs having to be satisfied on an inter-regional basis in the same sort of way as we shall see could be applied for certain other consumer goods. As to the distribution of locally-produced food, no doubt the same sort of system could apply as was suggested by pre-industrial socialist writers like Thomas More and Gerrard Winstanley. The produce could simply be taken to stores from which people could take freely what they needed without buying and selling.

With regard to the home, we enter the realm of speculation. Some writers like Cabet and Edward Bellamy have envisaged preparing—and eating— meals, washing clothes, cleaning and the like being done communally, pointing out the waste involved in each household preparing its own meals and doing its own washing. We have already seen that saving time won’t be a consideration in socialism if it conflicts with satisfying human needs in the best way possible, so this is not a very strong argument. But we can certainly expect that socialism, being a society which will give free range to the nature of humans as social beings, will see needs being satisfied in common much more than is the case today under capitalism, which has made the nuclear family the basic competitive unit in the rat-race society that it is. Anyway this is a question that can be left open without in any way affecting the case for socialism.

But, whatever the choice, houses will be built to conform to it and. in any event, whether cooking or washing are done individually or communally, the “consumer durables" required will be technically similar. The houses and communal buildings would be built locally with perhaps the participation of their future inhabitants, but there is no particular reason for every town/country area to be self-sufficient in the production of cookers, washing machines, fridges, and so on. This is something that could enter into a more complex distribution system than that which we have mentioned for locally-produced food products.

A question of stock control
The techniques for estimating wants exist already under capitalism, even though they are distorted to gauge not real wants but only profitable markets. But whatever the subject being investigated—real needs in socialism, restricted market demand in capitalism—the techniques remain the same: representative sample surveys as well as data on what has happened in the past, changing age-patterns, and so on. which are fed into computers.

The other aspect—ensuring that what people want is always available when and where they want it—is more complicated but once again this has been considerably eased by the coming of computers which are ideally suited for organising the dispatching of goods and stock control. The system we are about to describe is one that could be used to ensure that town/country communities will always be adequately supplied with what their inhabitants are likely to want in terms of non-locally produced food, materials to make shoes and clothes, consumer durables, furniture and other items of everyday use.

We will imagine all these goods to be available—for taking freely as and when needed of course—in stores which will be connected to a central computer. This will allow the dispatching centre (where we will assume this computer to be sited) to know at any time the exact state of the stock in all of the stores it covers. The computer would be programmed to indicate when the stock of any particular item fell below a certain level and to order further supplies of the item in question to be sent to the store in question. This could be co-ordinated, again by the computer, with other orders from other stores so as to work out a full load and itinerary for a lorry or train leaving the dispatching centre.

Such a system is not something that socialists have dreamed up. It already exists and is already used by some supermarket chains, as anyone in the trade will know and as is explained in an article on the mechanisation of work by Martin Ernst in the September 1982 special issue of the Scientific American. You may have noticed on many of the things you buy in supermarkets and grocery stores a space filled with thick and thin lines. These “bar codes", which are read by an electronic eye at the same time as you pass the cash desk, allow the good in question to be identified as well as who supplies it. The only difference between what happens now and what could happen in socialism would be that in socialism stocks would run down through people taking according to need, while under capitalism they run down through people buying according to what they can afford. Even under capitalism this computerised system is essentially a system of stock control (even if inevitably it is also used for identifying the price of a good and for profit calculation purposes).

So far we have only dealt with what might be called the retail side of the question. but it is possible to imagine the same sort of computerised system working at the "wholesale" level too, with the various dispatching centres we have mentioned in their turn being connected with the factories where the goods they supply are produced. Then we can imagine these factories being connected with the suppliers of their raw materials, and so on. Such a computer network. when perfected, could provide a system of adjusting supply to demand just as flexible as the advantages claimed for the free market by the defenders of capitalism, only the “demand” in question would be real human needs and not artificially restricted market demand.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that we are not envisaging the level of stocks of consumer goods throughout the whole world being controlled by a single huge computer, the sort of “Brain" that some science-fiction writers have thought up. Clearly there is no need for those concerned with, say, world copper production to know the state of the stock of copper wire in every distribution centre in the world! What we have in mind is a sort of hierarchy of computer networks going from those controlling stocks in the local distribution centres in a particular region through those controlling stocks in “wholesale" distribution centres right up to those controlling the production of raw- materials on the world scale.

Of course it would still be possible to organise the adjustment of supply to real needs even without today's electronic computers but this would be much more time-consuming. Most stock control—for that is what we are talking about rather than buying and selling—under capitalism is still not computerised and yet still works more or less efficiently as a means of adjusting supply to market demand. It is just that computers simplify the task immensely. This in fact is yet another example of every advance in science and technology making socialism ever more practicable.

We have been talking about the system once it has been set up and is in operation. Once this has been done it will function fairly smoothly, especially as demand is likely to be fairly stable. The big problem will be setting up the system, but the technology and human skills to do this already exist. This will be a challenge which we are sure computer workers, once socialism has been established, will be only too keen to take up with enthusiasm. Most of them would be using their skills to a socially useful end for the first time. Today, most computers are used in connection with money, while advances in telecommunications are prostituted either to relay share or commodity prices to stock exchanges and brokers throughout the world or for military purposes. The scope for combining computers and telecommunications in the service of satisfying human needs will be immense in socialism.

Pre-computer socialists like Cabet, Marx and Bellamy (and indeed earlier members of the Socialist Party) got it basically right when they saw the problem of adjusting supply to needs in a moneyless society as being essentially one of surveying and deciding wants and then organising the production and distribution of wealth accordingly. They realised that this was essentially a statistical exercise and one that could be done much more easily in a moneyless society than in an exchange economy like capitalism where, quite apart from the artificial restrictions imposed on the consumption of the majority, adjusting supply and demand is very much a hit-and-miss affair. Mistakes could occur in socialism but they would not have the disastrous effects they do under capitalism. As Marx pointed out, socialist society could deliberately choose to overproduce a little to constitute a reserve precisely to cater for underestimates (and natural disasters), and if demand was overestimated, then those producing the good in over-supply could . . . simply take a holiday and do something else for a while.

What we have described here is not something completely new thought up by socialists. It is something which already exists and which we are suggesting could be extended and adapted to serve human needs, instead of being prostituted in the service of profit and capital accumulation. After all, as we have always said, the material basis for socialism (of which the mechanism for adjusting supply to needs is one aspect) already exists, and has existed for some time; all that is lacking is the will to change society so as to be able to take full advantage of it.
Adam Buick