Thursday, September 20, 2018

Two Stories of Synthetic Rubber (1942)

From the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two newspaper reports on synthetic rubber together provide an illuminating commentary on the capitalist outlook and on the way in which war speeds up the development of new industries and thus destroys the value of investments in the old ones.

The first is from the Times Washington Correspondent (Times, March 28th, 1942):—
  The revelation of the nature and effect of a cartel agreement between the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and the I. G. Farbenindustrie, of Germany, has aroused bitter feeling in and out of Congress. Broadly, it has been shown by Mr. Thurman Arnold, Assistant Attorney-General, in evidence before a Congressional committee, that an American process for the manufacture of synthetic rubber, which was withheld from American manufacturers, has been made freely available to the Germans, and that in 1939 the Standard Oil Company’s subsidiary in the Reich was helping to design plants for the manufacture of aviation spirit according to an American formula.
  The Standard Oil Company had secured from the Farbenindustrie its process for the making of Buna rubber, but, Mr. Arnold said, had delayed its use in the United States because the Hitler Government objected. Then the Standard Oil Company had developed its own butyl process for the production of synthetic rubber. Before America entered the war the company had informed Germany, alone among foreign nations, of this process, and had refused the licensed use of it to independent producers in the United States.
  Mr. Arnold continued his testimony to-day, in the course of which he said that the Farbenindustrie was found to have more than 100 cartel agreements in the United States, for "one cartel agreement leads to another.” 
It may be added that the Company denies that its cartel agreement "weakened the war effort," but does not dispute the facts.

The second is from the Manchester Guardian (March 24th, 1942), and deals with the Government schemes to speed up and cheapen the production of synthetic rubber in order to meet the situation caused by the Japanese conquest of the rubber producing territories in the Pacific. It is estimated by the Oil and Gas Journal of U.S.A. that the synthetic rubber known as “Buna” can be produced from raw materials taken from the petroleum industry cheap enough to be sold at not more than 10 or 15 cents per pound (5d. to 7½d.). The Guardian questions this, and shows that the cost of production will actually be much less, with consequent drastic effects on the marketing of plantation rubber:—
  That forecast applies, of course, to a scale of output that may not be reached for two or three years. But it disregards the fact that capital expenditure, which will account for almost the whole of the production cost, will be cheapened by Government assistance, either through tax reliefs or by low-interest loans. Further, while the war lasts certain raw materials necessary for both synthetic rubber and aviation spirit will be somewhat short, but as soon as the war ends abundant supplies will be at hand. All this means, first, that the plantation interests must abandon all hope of seeing "shilling rubber” return, and, secondly, that they will have to concentrate, when the time comes, on finding means of competing with the new rival.
What is true of rubber will be equally true of many other raw materials and finished products which will be faced with the competition of substitute products and goods produced in countries whose industries have been developed under the pressure of war.
Edgar Hardcastle

Party News Briefs (1954)

Party News from the March 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last October a member suggested to S.W. London branch that a “Sale of Work" should be held to raise the funds a little. The branch agreed immediately; a small committee was set up, and December 19th was arranged as the date for the sale. All London branches were circularised, as were some thirty members who had already indicated that they were prepared to collaborate, inviting them, not only to the sale, but to donate some article of whatever shape, size or description. In the end, although many of the articles were obviously not "home made," a good, varied collection was offered for sale, for which the donors are heartily thanked. Some of them were apparently turning teetotal: there were three sets of drinking glasses and two bottles of mead. The sale commenced at 3 p.m., and within 10 minutes there was £2 in the kitty. Thereafter trade was not quite so brisk, but there was £7 in the till by 5 p.m., and when the remainder of the goods were sold during a social in the evening the total had reached, with the aid of a raffle, £19 5s. 10d.

Some of the children present in the afternoon were too young to appreciate the "Sale of Work," but proved good customers in the canteen.

A further sale will no doubt be organised. Craftsmen to work!

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A further reminder of Conference, April 15th, 16th and 17th at Conway Hall. Social and dance is being held on the Saturday (16th) and delegates requiring accommodation are urged to contact, through their branches, the Central Organiser.

#    #    #    #

The third of the series of meetings organised by Paddington Branch is being held at Denison House on Sunday, March 7th, at 7 p.m. The fourth and final meeting is being held on Sunday, 4th April. The two earlier meetings have been successful and the Branch urges Members to bring friends and sympathisers along to ensure the success of the final meetings.

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It is not too late to send your annual subscription for the Socialist Standard—5s. 6d. post free per annum.
Phyllis Howard

Socialist Party On The Air (1976)

Party News from the November 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

London Broadcasting gave the Socialist Party of Great Britain the opportunity to state its case on radio on Tuesday 28th September. We were invited to send two speakers with a view to telling the listeners, in the week of the Labour Party Conference, what Socialism really is.

In an unscripted, unrehearsed interview Comrades May and Barltrop were asked by Brian Hayes of LBC to expound Socialism and our argument against nationalization and the rest of the Labour programme. Further questions brought out our attitude to the Communist countries, our view of inflation and other problems, the fact that Socialism will be world-wide, how a moneyless society will work, and a good deal of information about the Party.

Following this groundwork the speakers answered questions asked by listeners on the ’phone. They asked about Marx, leadership, choice, free access and several other things before time ran out. With short breaks for news headlines and commercials the programmnte ran for an hour, from 11 to 12 in the morning. The producer told our speakers that the interest roused was tremendous. After 12 o’clock listeners continued to ’phone in to raise points with Brian Hayes; clearly he had learned something because he put callers right on various aspects of the Socialist case.

This was the first time we have been able to address a radio audience at length, and it was highly successful. A tape recording was made, and cassettes of it are available on hire for 50p. or can be bought for £1.60: write to the Tapes Committee at Head Office.

Possibly provoked by LBC’s having had us, a week later the BBC invited the party to send some “young Socialists’’ to ask questions of Sir Harold Wilson in a programme presented by the disc-jockey Jimmy Savile on Sunday 10th October. This was a very lightweight affair aimed at entertaining rather than enlightening, and a roving microphone in a large audience gave our members only one opportunity for a question. The member putting it dismayed Savile by failing to call Wilson “Sir”. The question was about Socialism; and it was plain from his reply that Wilson had never heard of such a thing.

Revenue Streams (2018)

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

Since the internet came along, we’ve got used to having instant access to whatever information or services or media we want (or are supposed to want) whenever we want it. This easy availability has left many older ways of doing things lagging behind: online shopping is pushing out the high street, newspaper sales have declined as we increasingly turn to our smartphones for fake news, and traditional broadcast television has similarly been under threat. The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 started to lose their market dominance when satellite and cable channels popped up, and now all of them have to compete with streaming media platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. These let us watch any of their programmes at any time (for a price), so waiting for a show to come up on a channel’s schedules now seems as old-fashioned as a squarial. 

 Younger people are particularly likely to embrace newer ways of watching telly. According to a recent report by Ofcom, teenagers and young adults now watch around 40 per cent less through old-school channels than they did seven years ago. This has meant fewer people watch the adverts between shows on ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, with the consequence that their advertising revenue fell by 7 percent in the last year due to ad agencies turning to the internet. There’s less money in all of the terrestrial channels, who now spend 28 percent less on programming than they did twenty years ago. And for the first time, streaming media has overtaken older paid subscription channels in the race for customers. 

 There are now 15.4 million subscribers to Amazon Prime, Netflix and Now TV (nearly 40 percent of households in the UK) compared with the 15.1 million who pay for satellite or cable channels like Sky, Virgin and BT. However, the pay channels are still raking in much more dough than their online rivals: yearly revenues for pay channels are £6.4 billion compared with a mere £895 million for streaming services (Link.).  Both are also contributing to the decline of the shiny disc; sales from streaming and downloads of films and TV shows are now greater than those of DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

Streaming media and traditional broadcast channels tend to lend themselves to different kinds of programmes. Netflix specialises in lengthy drama serials we can binge-watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon, with crime drama Breaking Bad being the first to benefit from the platform boosting its audience. Since 2013, Netflix has started producing its own shows and films as well as buying content from other studios. Recently, it has brought us popular series including House Of Cards, Orange Is The New Black and The Crown. And there have been a couple of transfers, with Netflix bagging the terrific anthology drama Black Mirror from Channel 4, and that irritating trio of presenters from the BBC’s Top Gear selling themselves to Amazon Prime with The Grand Tour. Broadcast channels suit ‘event television’ better, such as live coverage of sporting events and royal weddings, and shows which play out over a few weeks, like reality TV and The Great British Bake Off. They have also adapted to the internet age with catch-up and on-demand services like the ITV hub, Channel 4’s All 4 and the BBC’s iPlayer and BBC3. And the three channels have already started looking into collaborating on a joint streaming service to challenge Amazon and Netflix. 

So, the TV industry marketplace is split between the licence-funded BBC, channels paid for by advertising revenue, subscription-based satellite and cable channels and now streaming services, each competing for our attention and money. As streaming media fits in better with our have-it-now expectations, its popularity and profitability are growing. This doesn’t mean that corporations like Netflix have just been in the right place at the right time to cater for media-hungry millennials. 

 Their rise is largely down to knowing their customers well enough to churn out and effectively promote what’s going to attract viewers. As well as handing over their money, subscribers hand over large amounts of data about who they are, what they watch, when they watch it, how much they watch of it and how much they like it. Number-crunching this data enables Netflix not just to predict the kind of shows its customers want to see but to shape them. Algorithms can target particular shows at those people most likely to be receptive, and can even determine preferences for the styles, tones and designs of their content. In his 2014 book The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions, Phil Simon describes how data can be used to make decisions as specific as the colour schemes of promotional posters. The principles behind all this aren’t new, of course: the BBC is bound to use market research and focus groups to inform the kinds of programmes it makes, and adverts slotted in around Coronation Street, for example, have been placed there to appeal to its particular audience. The difference is that Netflix’s way of gathering and using data is personal and meticulous enough to smack of being insidious. 

 The technology’s already here to let us have any media we want delivered straight to our screens, and there’s something socialistic about this kind of ready access. Sadly, the reality is that this always comes at a price: what we can afford and what makes a profit for the media moguls. Bringing data and algorithms into all this gives streaming services more power over our choices, making them less of a choice than we think.
Mike Foster

Capitalist Ideology (1973)

Book Review from the November 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ideology in Social Science. Edited by Robin Blackburn (Fontana. 75p.)

Ideology for the Marxist, is not simply any system of ideas. It is a false (though not necessarily consciously false) system of ideas, a wrong way of looking at and explaining the world. In the study of society the dominant bourgeois ideology is the assumption that what is being studied are “objective facts” similar in status to natural facts. But, and this was Marx’s point, social phenomena differ from natural phenomena in being, in however disguised and roundabout a way, human creations. Indeed, the task of social theory is precisely to uncover this and so demonstrate that society, being man-made, can be changed by conscious human action. Bourgeois ideology, on the other hand, in treating social and economic phenomena as unchanging, natural facts denies this; it turns social relations into things. This is particularly obvious in economics where money, wages, prices, interest, profit, etc are defined in such a way that they must exist in any society, so making capitalism appear to be a natural and eternal social system.

Norman Geras’s contribution on “Marx and the Critique of Political Economy” in this collection of essays brings out this point very well. Indeed some of the other contributors would do well to read him.

These essays are divided into three groups: critiques, key problems and alternatives. The first group is by far the weakest. The second demonstrates that present-day society is still an unequal and profit-governed one. Amongst the essays in this section is one by Nicos Poulantzas criticising Ralph Miliband’s The State in Capitalist Society (criticizing Ralph Miliband’s The State in Capitalist Society on the same sort of grounds as we did in 1969). Miliband tended to argue that what made the “capitalist State” capitalist was that those occupying its top posts were drawn from ruling-class backgrounds. Poulantzas points out that, though this may well be true, it is irrelevant since under capitalism the State would still have to act in the overall interest of the capitalist class even if the top posts were filled entirely by people from working-class backgrounds. It is the State’s rĂ´le, rather than its personnel, that determines how it acts.

The third part gets a bit involved, but the essays by Hobsbawn and Nicolaus (particularly good on Marx’s Grundrisse) as well as Geras’s are well worth reading. The final contribution which asks “Marxism: Science or Revolution ?” raises a very pertinent point in view of the fact that (probably) none of the contributors understands what Socialism is, thus showing that for them Marxism is not the theory of the Socialist revolution but merely another way of interpreting the world. Certainly, most of them stand for social change of some sort but, if the references to Russia, China and Cuba are anything to go by, merely from private capitalism to state capitalism.

Nevertheless, the book is worth reading for some of the ideas contained in it.
Adam Buick

Who Needs Money? (1973)

Book Review from the November 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who Needs Money? by Herbert Lomas (Blond and Briggs, 1972)

A moneyless society is so obvious a suggestion for this age of potential abundance that it is not surprising that people should come to realize this quite independently of the activity of Socialists. Herbert Lomas is one such person. His argument for replacing capitalism by what he calls "a planned moneyless society” is simple (too simple in fact):
  Our problem is abundance. The Law of Supply and Demand, when used to make a profit — as it inevitably is in a continuing money economy — gives the rich an investment in the poverty of the community. Simply stated, the Law tells us that if goods are short, prices are high. If goods are in abundant supply, prices are low. In this way the productive powers of our society are opposed to the interests of sellers. And so the productive powers of the world are systematically sabotaged in the ways indicated in this book. Most of the instances are well known already. What is not well known is their rationale for it, or if known its full implications are not allowed to come home. What is not well known is that the productive potential of the world can be released by removing the money system, for then the inherent conflict between wealth and profit will be dissolved. No one will have an interest in creating dearth.
In other words, technology, if not restricted by the money system, could provide goods and services in such abundance that their price would be nil, so they could be given away free. But certain people, the rich — and Lomas produces figures to show how they own most of the wealth and draw most of the unearned income in Britain — have a vested interest in preventing abundance since only in conditions of scarcity can they make profits. If goods were abundant, prices would be nil — and so would profits. So the rich seek to prevent abundance and maintain scarcity by all sorts of artificial methods: wars and preparations for war, planned obsolescence, not automating, overpopulation, etc. The unleashing of modern technology, says Lomas, would not only allow goods and services to be given away free; it would also allow the abolition of toil. With machines as their slaves people could lead a life of leisure and creative activity.

Lomas’ style — a hundred-page paperback, easy to read and full of quips — shows that it wasn’t his intention to write a theoretical treatise, but rather to appeal to people’s imagination, to get them to consider the possibility of a world without money. Nevertheless, his economics is a little shaky. It is inadequate to explain money, prices, profits, etc purely in terms of supply and demand. The price of a commodity is related, however indirectly, to the amount of socially necessary labour time spent in producing it and profits are made from the unpaid labour of the producers not from charging high prices. But Lomas is right in seeing that developments in modem technology now mean that a moneyless society in which people’s needs are fully satisfied is possible. He is also right to see that it can never materialize under capitalism. As technology advances, capitalism becomes increasingly a system of artificial scarcity and organized waste.

But Socialism won’t evolve automatically or gradually out of capitalism. Its establishment requires a decisive break — a political and social revolution — that will replace class ownership by social ownership. This brings us to the really weak part of Lomas’ book: his views on how to achieve a planned moneyless society. First, he sees it as being possible in one country (a section of the book is devoting to arguing how Britain could do without imports), but this is absurd: the means of production that make possible plenty for all are world-wide and trans-national so any change from capitalism that will harness them to serve human needs must be on a world scale. Second, Lomas sees his moneyless society being introduced gradually via a transition period during which people would be paid not to work. This wouldn’t work either because it presupposes that the community is already in control of the means of production, but if they are why would they not establish a moneyless society straightaway?
Adam Buick

Does it matter what you think? (1957)

From the October 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

The last of the Film talks at Head Office in the early part of the year was entitled: “Does It Matter What You Think?

The film was lively and interesting, for many reasons. It had been produced for the Army authorities. It was a very clever film, from the point of view of the powers that be. It made great play about the freedom to think, write, make up your mind yourself, and organise to influence Parliament in the direction of your point of view.

It gave examples of newspapers and political party speakers, describing a measure as in the best interests of the country, and others describing the same measures as one that would bring the country to ruin. It gave a picture of a man at the bench just after the war who was told that the man whose job he had taken was coming back from the Army to his old job, and the wartime worker (who was rejected from the Army on account of ulcers) getting the sack. It then showed the opposite look of the two men to the question of the returned soldier. All through the picture there was a discussion between two men at an exhibition—one contending that no matter what you did, nothing would come of it, and the other arguing that you should listen and read all points of view until you made up your mind, and then organise to influence Parliament. The latter was the main speaker, and his points were illustrated by flashes on the screen.

In fact, the film was so beautifully fair that one felt there was a catch in it somewhere. And there was! It was prepared for the purpose of easing the troubles in connection with the rehabilitation of soldiers after the war. Its sponsors obviously wanted to drive home two main ideas.

Firstly, that this is a country with institutions that were worth all the miseries involved in defending them.

Secondly, that if you are disgruntled over your conditions you can organise to improve them; if you are active enough, get a large enough body together and exercise patience, you can influence Parliament to remedy, in the course of time, the most pressing evils. But there was no suggestion in the film about a basic cause for the evils mentioned, and hence no suggestion of abolishing this cause. Thus you were urged to occupy yourself with piecemeal legislation, palliatives, which would keep your mind off the idea of abolishing the system from which the evils arise. The method of procedure that has been followed by reformers for over a hundred years and still leaves the mass of people groaning under burdens, both old and new.

The illustrations of reform activity that were given in the film were examples of the limitation of the outlook put forward.

He mentioned Wilberforce, and said he was instrumental in abolishing slavery. Well he wasn’t. Slavery still flourished long after his day. But there is more to it than even that. Wilberforce was a pillar of the Church and, as Lecky points out in his History of European Morals (Lecky was a Protestant!):—
  "Slavery was distinctly and formally recognised by Christianity, and no religion ever laboured more to encourage a habit of docility and passive obedience." (Page 66, Vol. 2.)
  "Christianity for the first time gave the servile virtues the foremost place in the moral type." (Page 68, Vol. 2.) 
What was Wilberforce’s attitude towards the oppressed at the time he was agitating against negro slavery in America? In the period following the Battle of Waterloo, when industry was changing over from hand work to machine work, children of six years of age and upwards were employed for long hours in factories; girls and boys were working up to sixteen hours a day in coal mines. Wilberforce was deaf to all appeals for assistance on their behalf. He, and those who associated with him, shed tears over the condition of the black slaves in faraway America (whose traders were threatening to undersell English traders by the use of cheap labour) and were blind to the anguish of the tiny white slaves at their door. He used his influence to support the Government in savage acts of repression against the overworked and starving workers. In 1818, when a peaceful meeting of working men assembled at Peter's Fields to protest against oppressive regulations, a body of militia set upon and massacred numbers of them. Wilberforce opposed any enquiry into the matter, and the same year voted £1,000,000 to build new churches!

Such was one of the reformers held up for admiration by the sponsors of the film. The film also put forward as examples Lord Shaftesbury and Florence Nightingale.

Shaftesbury right enough did a lifetime of good work mitigating some of the worst evils of the factory system, and did it against opposition and vilification by the factory owners and their supporters. But he also lived on the same basis as they did, and consequently did not think of abolishing a system that, at best, involved wage slavery and its consequences for the mass of the people.

Florence Nightingale was an active, energetic woman, who was appalled at the slipshod method of dealing with wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. She brought some order into the confusion, helped to make a more effective army, but was not interested in abolishing the system from which wars sprung.

Though the film urged you to think for yourself, the sponsors wanted you to get a satisfied feeling that everything is fundamentally all right if only people would spend their time ironing out some of the wrinkles in the complicated system of production for profit. Thus production for profit could go ahead piling up comfort and security for some, insecurity and misery for the mass, but at the same time it was the best of all possible systems.

We also urge working men and women to think for themselves. Our idea of thinking for ourselves differs in important particulars from what the film portrayed, and what it left out. One of the things we face is the fact that after over a century of remedial legislation the world is still an unhappy place for most of its inhabitants. The alleged progress has been, to a considerable extent, backwards. For instance:—

  • Freedom of expression—but not for the S.P.G.B. on the B.B.C.
  • Freedom of expression—but you must not hold Parliament up to ridicule.
  • Freedom of expression—except for the libel laws. The truer the facts, the greater the libel.
  • Freedom of expression—except for the action of powerful individuals, groups and governments, who take action to deny expression of what hurts their interests or their particular outlook.

On the very day the film was shown the following appeared on the front page of the Daily Express, relating to a statement sent to the Press Association by Lambeth Palace for circulation to the newspapers throughout Britain:—
  "The statement arrived in the Sunday Express office headed: Private and confidential memo to Editors: We are requested on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury to send you the following:—
  The Archbishop of Canterbury wishes to convey to editors his earnest hope that in the interests of the 14-year-old mother and her twins recently born in Scotland, it will not be felt necessary to make further comment on this case."
On the same page we are also informed that action had been taken officially to prevent the circulation of the current number of the American magazine Newsweek on account of its comments on a recent court case.

It does not matter what the intentions were of the people behind these two actions. They were, in fact, instances of the limitation of freedom of expression by people who set themselves up as judges of what people ought or ought not to read.

The conditions that limit all forms of freedom of expression are bound up with the present system of society in which goods are produced for the sole purpose of profit for the owners of the means of production and distribution. It is not the goodness or usefulness of a thing that determines its production. If its production will realize a profit, it does not matter whether it is harmful, shoddy, or merely useless.

Profit comes out of the difference between what the workers get in wages or salary for producing, and what the owner gets for the sale of the article. Wars, crises and industrial strife arise out of this basic position. They will plague the world until a new system of society is established in which all that is in and on the earth is the common possession of all mankind. Where all will join in co-operative production, privilege will no longer exist, and each will take according to his need.

Lunacy: The Struggle for Space (1962)

From the October 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

A schoolboy fantasy is fast approaching realisation. There may be a man on the moon in the next three or four years if the latest Russian achievement is any indication. Recently two men—Major Nikolayev and Lt.-Colonel Popovich—were sent up within twenty-four hours of each other, about 150 miles above the earth.

“Quite fantastic,” said Sir Bernard Lovell. This man of science at Jodrell Bank was quick to point out the depth of Russian resources which must have been behind their double space shot, and there is general agreement that it brings a lunar expedition very much nearer. According to Colin Frame in the Evening News, the preliminary to a moon landing would be a space base assembled about 500 miles up, from which further rockets would be launched. Professor Lovell thinks that the Soviet experiment may well have this in view.

From the available evidence then, the Soviets seem still to hold the lead in this field, but it need not mean that they will continue to do so. President Kennedy has admitted that America does lag behind, but for some time now desperate efforts have been made to shorten the gap, and contracts have already been placed in connection with a future U.S. Moon Shot, estimated to cost $30 thousand millions. It makes nonsense incidentally, of the rather silly suggestion in the Evening News editorial that the American failure is because money has been diverted to other things more urgent, such as houses, roads, etc. In fact, the budget of the National Space and Aeronautics Administration has increased this year from $1,700 millions to $3,000 millions, and it has been said that none of its work in the space programme is hampered for lack of funds.

So the Russian advantage is a technical one, and this must be causing the American government some concern in more ways than one. It seems almost too obvious to say that this is a severely competitive world and the space race is no exception. Linked with it is the struggle for prestige between the two giants of capitalism, U.S.A. and U.S.S.R., and prestige means a lot when you are jostling for influence among the newly rising states.

Nor should we lose sight of another and much more sinister aspect which Sir Bernard Lovell himself has mentioned. Talking about the Soviet feat on August 13th, for example, he told reporters that “. . .  you cannot divide the military and peaceful significance.” And again, on August 15th, he spoke of the ". . . terrible avenue of the militarisation of space which is now obviously opening before our eyes.” In this respect, he was not concerned merely with the Russians, but was critical of their combined failure with U.S.A. to achieve ". . .  co-operation on a big scale . . .  to further the peaceful exploration of space.”

Yet it is precisely this peacefulness which is an impossibility in a private property set up. A mere absence of actual fighting does little to conceal [that] the vicious RAT Race in Space undertones working to another horror later on. Research into new weapons and perfection of the old are going on all the time, and it is futile for Professor Lovell to talk of peaceful co-operation when on his own admission there is really no such thing. And for all their talk, the actions of the U.S. and Russian governments show that they don't believe it either. Both sides have been developing rockets capable of delivering nuclear warheads, and it is interesting also to see from The Guardian of 16/8/62 that twenty unidentified American satellites have been launched under military secrecy since last November. At least some of them have been designed for missile warning and reconnaissance work.

Indeed, Max Freedman put his finger on the sort of dilemma which confronts capitalist powers when he wrote:
  The Kennedy Administration is unshaken in its central belief that outer space should be reserved for peaceful purposes alone. But it is aware that it cannot allow Russia to achieve an acknowledged lead in outer space without running the risk that the U.S. one day may find itself at a formidable disadvantage in measuring its ultimate military power against the Soviet Arsenal.
Even Britain, barely an also ran in the race so far, is thinking of edging into it by way of a high performance aircraft capable of eventual orbit. The R.A.F. is said to be seeking support for such a programme and its possibility is being studied, according to Aviation Minister Julian Amery speaking at the Society of British Aircraft Constructors dinner in London last month.

What a prospect then, for the future! Maybe a man on the moon in three or four years and the certainty anyway of a frantic arms race pushing itself more and more into space. Already nuclear bombs have been exploded high above the earth's atmosphere by both America and Russia, and Professor Lovell thinks that the Russians may well be able to shoot down American satellites. Incidentally, this sparked off an interesting but largely futile speculation in one newspaper on the legality of such action. Futile, because legality is just about the last thing capitalist powers will allow to stand in the way of their interests.

And then Soviet scientist Fyodorov innocently says: “There is room for everybody in space — and nobody need fight over it.” Well, don’t you believe it! Capitalist powers will fight over anything if they think their interests justify it. And these need not be only of a military nature. A new and specialised market is in prospect with the advent of space exploration. In Britain, for instance, eight large industrial firms have formed British Space Developments Ltd., and one of the backers, Sir Robert Renwick, believes that: " . . . there is more money in space than ever dreamed of. The use of space in the next two decades will be a major key to continued prosperity."

Having said all this, the outstanding thing to remember is the shocking wastefulness of it. This is not to decry space exploration as such. We might well have it under Socialism, though in its proper sequence of priority and in any case not for the destructive and harmful purposes behind today’s efforts. It was bitterly ironical that the latest Russian astronauts burst through the natural wall of gravity almost exactly one year after the building of the man-made wall across Berlin. But such incongruity probably never occurred to the flying young men Nikotayev and Popovich, or for that matter countless other people here on earth. And those who did notice it do not seem to have gone so far as to question the whole social system which can solve the tricky problems of space travel, but cannot even feed clothe and house most of its earthly population decently.
Eddie Critchfield

Caught In The Act: Breakdown (1989)

The Caught In The Act Column from the December 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

When he was a Labour MP Leo Abse was one of the more —how shall we put it — colourful legislators in the — how do they put it — Most Exclusive Club in The World. He was recently shown that he can still make the news by writing a book which purports to give a psycho-analytical explanation for the style in which Margaret Thatcher runs the government of British capitalism.

According to Abse, if we are to understand Thatcher’s abrasive, overbearing and unyielding personality we must refer to her attitude towards her parents. She has fond memories of her father, a dourly religious grocer and council alderman in Grantham, which is reputed to be among the most boring towns in England. The late Alderman Roberts stood for the small shopkeeper's morality of Value for Money, Hard Work and Thrift, and Know Your Place and Keep To It. He had no ambitions to excite anyone; no Leo Abse was he. However he made a deep impression on Thatcher, who is liable to claim that she runs Britain like a corner shop where, if all goes well, we shall eventually be enjoying the finest English cheese, best butter and broken biscuits. In the meantime she has had a tendency to treat her ministers — Francis Pym, Geoffrey Howe, Douglas Hurd, Nigel Lawson — rather like indolent shop assistants or errand boys in a H.G. Wells novel.

Immaculate Conception
But Thatcher shows a different estimation of her mother, who is so pale a shadow in her life that it is almost as if she never existed. Amateur mind benders and shrinks — not to mention those humiliated ministers — may find some amusement in raking over Thatcher's hangups about her ancestry and, such is the situation today, they may like to consider another explanation. It has been obvious for some time that Thatcher thinks herself as a sort of queen. In the aftermath of Lawson's resignation she defended herself with a defiant quote from the Bible: “I am what I am", which could mean that she has risen above royalty into a deity. At this time of year we hear a lot about a child who was supposed to have been born a long time ago and who had a mother but no biological father; his mother was a virgin. The offspring of that unusual and inexplicable event was — so runs the myth — destined to save the world, although from what, how or when have never been made clear. Thatcher likes to behave as if she too is a saviour, at present of Britain and much of Europe but perhaps soon of the entire world. Perhaps the attempted elimination of her mother from her life springs from a desire to be the outcome of a twentieth-century immaculate conception, biologically even more difficult than the one in the Bible, as a prelude to her saving the world from her version of socialism, Neil Kinnock, state controlled industry and the European Monetary System.

That does not seem so far-fetched when we bear in mind other aspects of Thatcher's behaviour. She is known to detest holidays, to need hardly any sleep and recently dismissed the engineering workers' claim for a 35-hour week with the sneer that she often works that many hours over a two day period and then, if need be, does it again over the next two days. Her relaxation seems to be in harassing her ministers and intruding in the details of the work she has delegated to them; she needs to be prime minister, foreign secretary, chancellor of the exchequer and home secretary, as well as queen and god, combined in one frenzied, immaculately conceived person. So there is some restlessness now among the Tory faithful. Some questions about what was once unthinkable — is it the most promising way of assuring the Conservative Party of victory at the next election — which, in the view of all good Tories, amounts to the same thing?

Electric Treatment
The prime minister’s standing has not been improved by the news that she is kept going by taking electrified baths, a therapy administered by a woman in, of all places, Shepherds Bush. Her sycophants, so long buoyed up in arrogant strength, must be wondering what will be revealed next. Will it be furtive visits to a fortune teller, to map out the course of the economy over the next couple of years by spinning out playing cards? On reflection that may not be such a bad idea, for the fact that a “brilliant, brilliant" chancellor like Lawson is unable to prevent economic crises shows how chaotic capitalism is and how unwise it is to rely on the economists and the “experts”, in the Treasury or elsewhere.

And that may be an explanation for what a growing number of people are beginning to see as mental imbalance in the prime minister. Perhaps she really did convince herself that with a mixture of stubbornness. belligerence and browbeating she could personally reshape capitalism on some misconceived principles learned from a blinkered small shopkeeper. The frustration of failing against the inexorable chaos of this social system may have unhinged her, for failure does not become success by pouring ever more energy into the frustration.

Alcoholic Problem
Any anxiety about the nation's affairs being in the hands of an overwrought leader whose judgement becomes increasingly warped through a masochism of effort should be tempered by the fact that Thatcher is not the first politician to show symptoms of instability. There are many, many other examples but for the moment let us consider the late Lord George Brown, who was also famous for his energy and his unmanageable personality. As consolation for his defeat by Harold Wilson in the contest for the Labour leadership, Brown was later put in charge of the Department of Economic Affairs. He would have preferred to be prime minister but his new job was very important because it involved snatching the British economy from the stagnating grip of the Treasury soothsayers and placing it with the DEA, where the crystal balls were specially designed to block off all images other than those of expansion, growth and prosperity. With manic power Brown laboured to set up the new ministry which was to change the face of British capitalism. But the prophets of the DEA could no more do the impossible than could those at the Treasury and the whole idea was quietly abandoned soon after Brown had been reshuffled into Foreign Secretary.

Brown found some release from the frustrations of his job in an industrious consumption of alcohol (what fun Abse would have, musing on the possibilities of an oral fixation and the quest for a mother substitute in the bottle) and when in his cups he was liable to be, well, indiscreet. Apart from his persistent offences against the niceties of protocol at many a ruling class gala event, he was liable to surges of temper and sulks in which he would resign from office on the assumption that nobody would take any notice. But the day came (actually it was at night, when Labour ministers were in panic session, grappling with yet another financial crisis) when, as Wilson had foretold, one of these resignations stuck and Brown awoke to find himself not only hung over but a back bencher again. At which point he forgot his reputation as a right wing defender of all that is normal to capitalism’s property motivated operation and declared that the left had at fast found a leader. Apart from the embarrassment this caused to left wingers, nobody took him seriously and Brown set into decline, ending his days as a less-than-rapturously-welcomed recruit to the SDP.

Any discussion of the apparent madness of some politicians, whatever form it takes, is useful only in so far as it exposes the fact that the “sane" ones are no more effective. If the Labour Party succeed in their efforts to persuade large numbers of workers that the present crises of British capitalism are largely caused by Thatcher’s rampant character a valuable lesson will be missed. The two men who would probably be in charge of the Treasury and economic affairs if there is another Labour government — John Smith and Gordon Brown — have made it quite clear that they offer no policies which are in any significant way alternative to those of Lawson and Major. Another way of saying this is that Smith and Brown are admitting, even before they are in power over British capitalism, that they will fail to control this social system, just as the Tories have failed and as all governments must fail. As these are two "sane" leaders, it is abundantly clear that the only way out of the mess is to summon the electoral equivalent of the men in the white coats.

Crisis: the stories so far (2011)

Book Review from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Business As Usual: The Economic Crisis And The Failure Of Capitalism by Paul Mattick. Reaktion Books: 2011. £12.95

Just yesterday, we were all supposed to believe that the globalisation of capitalism and free markets was the route to freedom, peace and prosperity for all. Then, with barely an explanation, and somewhat out of the blue, the story changed. Now we are to believe that, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, prosperity will have to give way to austerity. The good times are over.

It is characteristic of crises that the stories we are expected to believe suddenly change. But how can we understand the change? And might there not be better stories than the rather grim and gloomy one we’ve been ordered to swallow? Paul Mattick Jnr’s short book is just such an alternative. For him the crisis signals the complete bankruptcy and destruction of mainstream economics.

Why crisis is impossible 
Why did the crisis appear as a bolt out of the blue? Why was it not expected or anticipated by any economist or mainstream commentator? In short, because there is no place in the standard economic story for crisis, any more than there’s a place for wizards and interstellar travel in a 19th-century realist novel. The old story goes something like this:
  “Capitalism is a system for producing wealth to satisfy consumer needs. Individuals set up in business looking out only for their own interest, but in doing so produce for society. Only what can be sold will be produced; money will be borrowed, land rented and labour hired only because the resulting production meets a need. The money earned by selling one’s product will then be spent either on consumption or further production. The economy therefore tends naturally to a balanced state, in which all products find buyers. There may be momentary imbalances between supply and demand, but rising and falling prices soon take care of those. In this way, capitalism creates the wealth of nations, and all is well in the best of all possible worlds.”
No doubt the story sounds reasonable – it is, after all, part of our cultural inheritance, as familiar as Noah and his ark, Jesus and the wise men, Little Red Riding Hood and her granny. But there’s no room in this picture for the kind of crisis we’re currently living through. The crisis appears as a shock and is regarded as a mystery simply because there’s no framework within which it makes sense. We can understand that a very small scale ‘crisis’ will result if a business fails to meet consumer need: it may go bust, and this will be a crisis for those relying on that business for their living. But there’s no reason why this should cause much of a problem for the system as a whole – and economists never expect it to. Within the framework outlined above, there is no room for the sort of crises we actually see in the real world – society-wide and global crises where vast amounts of real wealth and the means of producing it (factories, mines, offices and so on) exist side by side with grinding poverty and unemployment. This kind of insanity makes no sense in terms of the story. Surely, great masses of wealth would just go to satisfy consumer demand? And if wealth outstripped consumer demand, then, well, great! The age of leisure and abundance, long promised by capitalism, would finally be upon us, and we could collectively lay back and enjoy it.

Unable to find a satisfying explanation from within the story, the storytellers are obliged to smuggle in some bogeymen from the wings. The balance we expect from the story is then upset by one of various villains, which one depending on the predilections of the storyteller: state interference or largesse, insufficient (or too much) regulation, greed, and so on. Quite why these things sometimes cause a crisis and sometimes not when they’re always lurking in the wings is left unexplained.

Why crisis is inevitable
However, there are some thinkers, Mattick among them, who were not at all surprised by the crisis. This is not, as Mattick says at the start of his book, because they are cleverer than the mainstream storytellers. Nor have they access to more or better information – in fact, for the most part, rather the opposite. Instead it is a matter “of knowing how to think about what is going on”. Or, in the terms we’ve introduced in this article, of having access to better stories – stories that capture what’s actually going on in the real world. Here’s Mattick’s story:
 “Capitalism is not primarily a system for producing wealth to meet consumer demand, but for making money. This is what business is all about: using money to make more money. The capitalist (or, increasingly, a capitalist institution subsidised and backed by the state) starts off with a sum of money, which he throws into circulation in the expectation that it will return to him as a greater sum than he started with. To this end, the capitalist buys means of production and labour power on the market, then puts these to work to produce goods, which he then takes to market in the expectation not just of sales, but of profits. If he is successful in his aim, and if he is to remain a capitalist and keep up with the competition, he must reinvest at least a portion of that profit in yet more production, buying yet more labour power and means of production, to produce yet more wealth and, potentially, money profits. And then the cycle begins again, on an ever-expanding scale.” 
The motive here is not the satisfaction of consumer need – a relatively straightforward matter – but the production and appropriation of profits on an ever-expanding scale – a much more tricky thing to achieve. And as the production of social wealth increasingly takes on this capitalist character, the production of the things we need increasingly relies not on our need for them, nor on our ability to produce them, but on the ability of capitalists to make profits from the whole process. When they cannot make or do not expect to make a profit from production, or when they produce too much to sell profitably, they will not invest in production, but in speculation, or will not invest at all, and hoard money. This can affect not just their own line of business, but the whole system of wealth production. Crisis, in this view, is not caused by any bogeyman in the wings, but is a necessary result of the process itself.

What’s the answer?
Once we’ve understood this story, our expectations are turned on their head. We are no longer shocked by capitalism’s periodic crises, but expect them. The question then is, do we really need to forever make our lives hostage to capitalist profit; or might we be able to do things in a different way? In the mainstream, the debate over how to resolve the crisis is between two alternatives. The first is to just let things collapse so the economy undergoes the necessary correction, restoring profitability and eventually returning the system to business as usual. The second is that the central banks should continue to print money and the state bail-out bankrupt banks and countries and so on, so that ‘business as usual’ is not disrupted by potentially catastrophic upheavals (as was the case in the Great Depression of the 1930s). The debate is between the needs of business, on the one hand, and the need to preserve social cohesion (for the needs of business) on the other. Businessmen and policy-makers are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. But what are usually thought of as ‘socialist’ alternatives are unlikely to work either – history has shown that reformist social democracy and ‘communist’ central planning have been no better at controlling capitalism’s crises than anything else. It’s no good, says Mattick, demanding jobs from a system that would happily give us the jobs if it could.

If there’s hope, it’s in the belief that human beings will eventually tire of walking into brick walls and begin to look for a door. If you have a concern that produces socially necessary goods or services, on the one hand, and poor and unemployed people on the other, and there is no way of putting the two together in a way that produces profits for owners, then that’s what capitalism calls a crisis. The solution – bringing workers, the unemployed, the poor and the means of producing wealth together, not in order to make profits, but to provide for need – is called socialism.

The story has a name
We’ve left the name of this alternative story till the end because it is liable to scare unwary readers. That’s because, in the standard story, it’s portrayed as one of those bogeymen waiting in the wings. The name is Marxian socialism. Mattick’s is the second major book from a Marxist thinker to appear since the onset of the crisis (the first was David Harvey’s Enigma Of Capital, favourably reviewed in the June 2010 Socialist Standard). And we highly recommend it – it’s a brilliantly comprehensive and yet miraculously short history and analysis of capitalist crisis. The Marxists associated with this journal will have their differences with the details of Mattick’s account. In particular, we would say he puts too much emphasis on Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and throws the baby out with the bathwater when he rightly rejects the old left but places his faith seemingly more in the spontaneous appearance of mutual aid and communist formations than in working-class political organisation. But what’s more important than the minor disagreements is the framework that Marxism provides for understanding what’s going on in the real world, and for that, Mattick’s book is an essential guide.
Stuart Watkins