Friday, September 28, 2018

Obituary: Eddie Critchfield (2007)

Obituary from the August 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Eddie Critchfield died, a few months short of his eightieth birthday, on June 18. He was suffering from a multiple failure of his vital organs – the result of heart disease, first diagnosed when he was 16, which had resulted from rheumatic fever brought on by spending his nights during the Blitz in the garden Anderson shelter.

Through a rigorous regime of nature cure he succeeded in controlling the disease so that he was able to lead a full and active life, which included a lot of hard work for Socialism. He joined the Ealing Branch of the Socialist Party in June 1947, having left the Labour Party when he realised that it offered nothing more than another way of running capitalism. Ealing was a large, vibrant branch, which needed all of Eddie’s talents for meticulous efficiency when he took over the job of branch secretary.

Alongside that work he also spoke on the party’s outdoor platform, he was a branch delegate at Annual Conferences and Autumn Delegate Meetings and he was an editorial member of the Socialist Standard Production Committee. For a time he wrote the monthly Passing Show column and contributed articles – for example on homosexual law reform and the first research to link smoking to lung and heart disease – to the Socialist Standard. He was, in fact, a more skilful and effective writer than he gave himself credit for.

In a Branch which took pride in its high sales of the Socialist Standard Eddie was a successful canvasser. A gifted mimic, he could have us rolling in our seats in the pub afterwards, with his acting the part of perplexed people he had asked, on their own doorstep, to consider a different way of looking at society and how it must be changed for the better. At the same time he built up a solid, enduring base of regular sales.

With age and illness he dropped out of Socialist activity, although from his hospital bed he would rage about capitalism and the cynicism of Blair and the other tricksters. He devoted much of his time to a local amateur dramatics group. A great many people, saddened by his death, remember him for his warmth and humanity.

The Right to be Homeless (2007)

 From the August 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
“A homeless man who argued that begging is a form of free speech – after he was arrested for asking a policeman for a dollar in a New York suburb – has won his case” (Scotsman, 1 June).
We trust then that this magnanimous, if overdue, change of heart in capitalist legislation is not restricted to the homeless and that, as Anatole France would have pointed out, the rich also may presumably be homeless and beg in the streets for a dollar.

Socialism is — on the face of it at least — attractive to many: the apparent principles of “fairness”, or looking after everyone in the community (rather just number one) have broad appeal of course. But that is often insufficient to outweigh what many consider to be the main downsides to socialism. Prime amongst the perceived disadvantages of a socialist society is the idea that socialism is an inefficient way to produce wealth. In contrast, the market system portrays itself as a dynamic, productive and creative mechanism. By incentivising the inventors, the entrepreneurs and the risk-takers (so the fairy-tale goes) capitalism liberates human beings to work harder and smarter, producing more wealth and more choice.

The only problem with this superficially-appealing narrative is that capitalism is not in fact geared to the production of wealth per se, but rather is tailored to the production of profit, a very different thing. What is the evidence for this, and why is it an important distinction?

On 11 July the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown unveiled plans to try and encourage the house-building sector to . . .  (wait for it) . . .  build more houses. Now you may think that housebuilders would need little encouragement to build houses. That after all is what they do – that’s what it says on the label. But apparently not. The UK homebuilding sector is already under investigation from the Office of Fair Trading because – bafflingly – they seem unable (or unwilling) to build sufficient homes.

Perhaps there is an innocent explanation for this. Are there maybe far too many houses in the UK for the number of people? Is it the case that the population of the UK all live in comfortable, spacious, well-heated and refurbished houses? Is there no demand for new housing?

Needless to say, this is not the case. Millions of houses are sub-standard in terms of structural safety, condition, dampness, insulation ratings, degree of weather tightness (REF). Some 2,000 people sleep rough each night in the UK and in Scotland alone there are 30,000 homeless “households” with 3,000 children and pregnant mothers housed in B&B temporary accommodation. House repossessions in the UK are rocketing, currently approaching 400 per day.

So what’s happened? Why has the market failed? Why has the magical driving force of demand not triggered increased supply in this sector?

The reason is that inside a market-based system of buying and selling, wealth is not produced to meet human needs of the entire population, but instead to meet the profit expectations of the minority who monopolise ownership and control of the means of producing wealth (in this case, the housebuilding employers). For many years now it has been in their interest to keep the brake on the rate of releases of houses to the market, as this helps keep the price up: better to make 30 percent profit selling one house at £200,000, than make 20 percent profit on two houses at £150,000. And of course every plot of land they build on is one less house they can sell in the future, and the housebuilders don’t see the price falling in years to come.

In the ideal theoretical market – beloved of the apologists of capitalism – this shouldn’t happen. But in the real world, the housebuilders are far from being independent economic agents, and can be more co-operative than competitive. This isn’t a one-off, peculiar to the housing market. In fact there isn’t a single market that is unaffected by this phenomenon. Despite the government bluster, there is little they can do to “correct” the market.

Capitalism liberates nothing. The market system itself creates nothing beyond profit and misery, and will routinely stifle or sacrifice productivity for profitability. The ideological claims for capitalism as being an efficient system just don’t stand up to any sort of examination, with endemic inefficiency and wastage inherent. And attempts of governments to “correct” or regulate the market are usually cosmetic, partial and powerless in the face of the iron law of profitability.

To return to the item at the start of this piece, the good news is that at least it would appear that the homeless are indeed now permitted (under Human Rights legislation) to beg. However the man in question (Eric Hoffstead) didn’t have much opportunity to celebrate his legal victory – apparently he was imprisoned for a separate trespassing charge. Maybe we now need to try and make trespassing a “human right”?
Brian Gardner

Going for Growth (2012)

The Cooking the Books column from the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Mervyn King announced on 8 July that the Bank of England was predicting zero growth for 2012, Chancellor George Osborne pledged that the government would now devote a 110 per cent effort to creating growth. But how?

Growth is defined as an increase in Gross National Product (GNP). This is made up of three things: business investment, government expenditure and consumer spending. So, in theory, growth could be brought about by increasing any of these. In practice, however, it can only come about through an increase in business investment. This is because this is what drives the capitalist economy, but it only takes place in the pursuit of profit. When it contracts or stagnates this is a sign that profitability has fallen. Growth won’t take place again till this is reversed.

When there is a slump the obvious solution seems to be to increase consumption by giving people more money to spend. Keynes wasn’t so na├»ve but he did provide an economic theory that justified doing this. So it is fair to say that the Keynesian solution to a slump is that the government should intervene to increase both its own spending and consumer demand.

When this was last tried in Britain by the Labour governments of the 1970s it didn’t work, but merely led to “stagflation”, i.e. rising prices but no growth. The then Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, had to confess at the 1976 Labour Party Conference:
“We used to think that you could just spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you, in all candour, that that option no longer exists and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting bigger doses of inflation into the economy, followed by higher levels of unemployment” (Times, 29 September 1976).
The fallacy behind this policy, still advocated by Labour left wingers and the Green Party, is that it assumes that capitalism is an economic system geared to meeting paying consumer demand whereas it is in fact an economic system geared to making profits to accumulate as capital. Profits are the key to growth not government and consumer demand.

In a slump there is a fall in consumer demand but this is a consequence of an increase in unemployment due to a fall in profitable investments. This is why government action to increase demand does not work. Only an improvement in profit prospects, leading to an increase in business investment, will bring about an inevitably gradual exit from a slump. Various things that happen in a slump help to bring this about. Lower wages, lower interest rates, a fall in the value of fixed assets and the elimination of unprofitable firms all help to restore profitability. So does a reduction in taxes. In fact, insofar as a government does not decrease its spending and so taxes to finance it, this can prolong a slump.

To apply Keynesian remedies in a slump could even make things worse. Not that the present government has any intention of doing this. They can pledge to “go for growth” as much as they like but unless profits recover there will be no growth.

World Food Resources . . . the Myth of Shortage (1977)

From the January 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Six years ago the Socialist Standard told its readers : “the world has, and has had for some time now, the natural, industrial and human resources to provide for the needs of all its people” (July 1970).

Yet this December, as usual, the bleeding-hearts business, big charities like War on Want, Oxfam, Help the Aged etc. will be appealing to you for cash to help feed the starving millions. Their ad-men will portray the usual appalling and pitiable near-skeletons of Asia and Africa, and advise you that a mere 25p will adequately feed a family for a week. Apart from advertising the evident failure of the soup- kitchen dole to solve the hunger problem, they are reminding us that capitalism can only try to alleviate, never eliminate hunger.

Many people still believe that hunger is caused today by over-population and that if there were fewer people in the world, then, and only then, could they be adequately fed. This is not so. In the first place, the resources and technology exist now to feed the world’s population many times over. Second, even if the population did decrease substantially, there would still be a hunger problem, since hunger like homelessness is essentially an economic problem, a poverty problem.

American food and agriculture experts, writing in the September issue of The Scientific American, stress again and again that there is no technical reason why we should not enormously increase food production. The factors which prevent or retard this increase are social, political and economic.
“There are two components to the solution of the food problem: increased production of food primarily in the developing countries, and widespread increases in family incomes, particularly among the poor . . . People can buy food if they have money, but hungry people do not have money—in the developing countries or in the U.S. or wherever else people are hungry.” (Sterling WortmanScientific American p.35)
Writing about American agriculture, which by means of high capital inputs has enormously increased the potential of its labour force, Earl O. Heady calculates: “If international organizations or a single world organization could establish institutions that would make added output from American agriculture available to the world’s hungry, and if the effort could he made economic for American farmers, the US could increase its agricultural output and exports by a substantial amount . . . The US has a considerable reserve of land that could be planted to crops if it were profitable to do so. The latest available census data show that in 1969 the nation had 422 million acres of cropland, of which only 333 million acres were devoted to crops: the remainder was given over to pasture or lay fallow. . . .  If just the unused cropland were now converted to crops, if water were utilized efficiently and if all proved new technologies were adopted, by 1985 the nation could fully meet all domestic demand and still increase its exports of grain by 183 per cent over the record average level between 1972 and 1974. Specifically, corn exports could be increased by 228 per cent, wheat exports by 57 per cent and soybean exports by 363 per cent”, (pp. 126-7, our italics).

The reason agricultural output is not increased substantially is basically an economic one. The hungry have no money to buy food at existing prices, so they do not constitute a market. Under capitalism food is a commodity and commodities are only produced when there is an effective economic demand. People feeling hungry is not the same thing as “economic demand for food”.

Finally, W. David Hopper concludes his assessment of agriculture in developing countries by asserting that: “the world’s food problem does not arise from any physical limitation on potential output or any danger of unduly stressing the ‘environment’. The limitations on abundance are to be found in the social and political structures of nations and in the economic relations among them. The unexploited global resource is there, between Cancer and Capricorn. The successful husbandry of that resource depends on the will and the actions of men” (p. 205).

In the last thirty years there have been two major developments in arable agriculture. First, the application of fertilizers and the development of pesticides, which have boosted yields, especially in conjunction with improved irrigation. Then, the “green revolution”, based on irrigation, fertilizers and the use of new, improved varieties of rice and wheat developed by plant-breeding establishments. This has resulted in phenomenal increases in yield.

However water-control requires huge capital investment maintained over a long period. Also fertilizers and pesticides are very expensive luxuries for Third World farmers. The small farmer—and in India 25 per cent of farmers have less than 5 acres of land, and even the landlords typically own only 10 acres, worked by three or four tenants and their families—finds he cannot afford the new seed varieties and continues to use the old varieties. Thus in Third World countries the poverty of the rural population retards the development of modern agricultural techniques, and at the same time their failure to use these techniques perpetuates their poverty.

Roger Revelle estimates the capital cost for developing modern techniques in India at around 1,000 dollars per hectare. From this he projects an estimate for Asia, Latin America and Africa over a 25-year period at more than 30 billion dollars per annum. Feeding the starving millions would require an enormous capital investment totalling more than 700 billion dollars. Too much, say the governments of the world.

But capitalism has neglected the enormous potential of Third World countries. Land, water and sunlight are there in abundance. But India and other Third World countries concentrated on the development of heavy industry. They built up the cities at the expense of the countryside. Capital was directed to steel, mining, engineering and consumer industries. And when domestic agriculture, starved of capital investment, failed to deliver the goods, the US were all too quick to give food aid.

This “aid” was probably more helpful to the donor country than to the recipients in the long term. The former were delighted to find an “economic demand” for grain which might otherwise have had to be disposed of less profitably (in silos, at the bottom of the sea or simply ploughed under). But the provision of these vast quantities of grain helped to depress the price of locally produced food. So the Third World farmers were unable to expect a high price in famine years to compensate for lower prices in other years. Thus dependence on food aid has acted to retard the development in India and other Third World countries of an indigenous agriculture based on a high and continued capital investment in water-control, fertilizer and improved seed varieties. The policy of dependence on North America’s bread-basket is in the interests of the industrial sector in the developing countries: keeping food cheap is one way of preventing wages from rising.

Thus the food problem in Third World countries derives from he conflict of interests between the industrial capitalists and the rural proprietors. The consequence is summed up by Hopper: “Keeping food cheap to appease urban consumers often leads to policies that destroy the economic incentive for modernizing farms . . . The food generosity of the industrial countries, whether in their own self-interest (disposing of food surpluses) or under the mantle of alleged distributive justice, has probably done more to sap the vitality of agricultural development in the developing world than any other single factor. Food aid not only has dulled the political will to develop agriculture but also, by augmenting domestic production with grain grown abroad, has kept local prices at levels that destroy incentives for indigenous farmers” (p. 203).

We can sum up the conclusions reached from studying the facts and figures presented in The Scientific American, briefly, as supporting the Socialist case that it is the capitalist economic system that prevents farmers from growing enough food for every man, woman and child on this planet. The land is there, much of it unused, capable of feeding more than twelve times the world’s present population. That is the estimate given by Robert S. Loomis on page 105.

Capitalism has developed all the productive techniques necessary for production for abundance. But the capitalist economic system can only produce in response to economic demand and the prospect of a profit is a sine qua non, in farming as in every other sphere of capitalist production. The farmers must have “incentives” — and Oxfam pictures of starving children do not amount to an incentive.

The begging bowl is not just a symbol of the charities: it is a symbol of the misery and want in many forms endured by the poor. It is the hallmark of the most productive economic system man has ever developed. The stark contrast between the starving millions on the one hand and the enormous potential for food production on the other hand emphasizes the need to end commodity production. We have developed social production, with global cooperation we can make use of the techniques for increasing food output. Socialism can make this possible: only Socialism can release our productive potential and make the begging bowl a museum curiosity.
Charmian Skelton

Obituary: W. Griffiths (1977)

Obituary from the March 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

We recently learned with regret of the death of this veteran member. S. Goldstein writes:

It came as a great shock to me. I had for some time thought that if a loyal and consistent comrade is needed in East London to help revitalize that area with Socialist propaganda. Griffiths is that person. Alas, our comrade died only three or four Sundays after I last spoke to him at the Hackney Library. He had borrowed two books on Marx and, on encountering me, showed them to me and displayed rapt attention to conversation about them.

Comrade Griffiths had joined the SPGB in 1929, about two years before I joined. We were both in the East London branch, and he became a member of Hackney branch later. I would run into him in all kinds of places — getting a bus from Hackney Baths, at Whipps Cross (he told me his sister lived nearby) and on Sunday mornings in Club Row market. He would invariably acquaint me with all that was going on, and he was sympathetic whenever I expressed personal difficulties to him. He was never falsch to me.

His genuineness arose not only from his character but from an absolute intellectual conviction that, the sneers of renegades notwithstanding, the party in which we met — the SPGB — was the only party for the working class. As long as I live I shall remember him with respect and affection.
Solomon Goldstein

It can be done! (1977)

Party News from the March 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the Westminster Branch social just before Christmas, the voice of the secretary boomed out above the convivial din: “A madman among us, finding we have Socialist Standards unsold this month, is going to put up the platform in Hyde Park on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after, and has dragooned his two young sons as sellers”.

George II (not present at the social): “Mad, is he? I wish he would bite mein other generals”. Comrades, two young non-members sold 200 Socialist Standards. Food for thought?
L. E. Weidberg