Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Crisis in the Car Industry (1961)

Editorial from the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Although the car industry has managed to make some recovery from last year’s slump, its effects are still being felt. In spite of all the optimism a few months ago it is now clear that output is not going to get back to the previous high levels for some time to come. As for exports, the outlook is not bright at all and much of the manufacturers’ former confidence about prospects has evaporated.

The pre-war seasonal sales pattern, high in the spring and summer, and low in autumn and winter, seems now to have re-established itself. There may well be further difficulties later this year, therefore, as the graph turns downwards. Nor are manufacturers reassured to hear of the various dire measures which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is said to have ready once the 1961 Finance Bill has become law—an increase in the purchase tax on cars is hardly likely to improve their sales prospects.

A further worry is, of course, the Common Market. If Britain stays out it means the end of any hopes to step up sales in Europe since the ever-increasing tariff against countries outside the Market will put British prices completely out of the running. If Britain goes in, the position may hardly be any better since British cars will be open to the full blast of European competition.

Even the second-hand car market is feeling the pinch. Recent large-scale hire purchase defaulting has made the finance companies jittery. Deposits have gone up and interest rates are due to follow. The result has been that many firms have gone out of business or are on the point of doing so.

The situation is hardly different elsewhere. American car production is still bumping along the bottom, with little sign of an upturn. Output in France and Italy is down. In Germany, Volkswagen is still apparently doing well, but Borgward has run into difficulties and may be forced to go out of business altogether. The tempo everywhere has slackened off compared with the hectic scramble of 18 months ago when the U.S. market in particular was wide open to the exports of the European small car manufacturers. This is the present situation. What of the future? It is certainly going to see many bitter struggles.

Like Britain, every one of the other major national producers has large-scale expansion programmes ahead. Some firms are already far advanced with their plans and almost ready to go into production —Volkswagen in Germany, Citroen in France. Fiat in Italy. Others, such as Renault in France and Lancia in Italy, have also actually started work on their big new projects and until recently, at any rate, were pushing them ahead with all speed. Further to these. Alfa-Romeo in Italy has just begun building an important new plant near Milan and Peugeot in France has recently bought a large piece of land near Mulhouse for a further factory. No doubt all these firms are wondering, like their British counterparts, whether all this projected expansion is going to be worthwhile.

At the same time, every manufacturer without exception is working hard on the production of up to date models, constantly introducing new developments in techniques and design All of them are striving continually to discover the secrets of their competitors and to go one step further. If they do not do these things they will just be left behind in the race.

The Daily Mail recently interviewed Sir Leonard Lord, the Chairman of the British Motor Corporation. One of the things they said to him was: "You are raising capacity from 750,000 to 1,000,000 cars a year. Do you think next year you will be able to sell 18,000 cars a week”? He smiled broadly, raised both his hands, and showed two sets of crossed fingers. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty apt comment on not only the car industry—but capitalism itself.

Effective Democratic Control (1961)

Editorial from the November 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now that the last delegates have packed their bags, we may well ask what the whole palaver of the Labour and Conservative Conferences really amounted to?

They voted for and against many resolutions. The Labour Party reversed its support for unilateralism. The Conservatives surprised the pundits by heavily voting down a resolution in favour of whipping and the birch. They, all of them, passionately argued their points of view, and seemed to take themselves very seriously. But what did their votes add up to?

After their election defeat in 1959, the Labour Party debated how much say its Conference should have in deciding policy. They searched deep into their archives, digging up a lot of contradictory pronouncements on the question. At the end of it all, the Labour leadership stated bluntly that Annual Conference decisions did not necessarily commit the Parliamentary Labour Party. In effect a future Labour government would act as the needs of the day (i.e., British Capitalism) dictated. And if this meant—as in past Labour governments—breaking Conference decisions, it would be unfortunate but necessary.

Likewise with the Conservative Party (although they have never pretended that their Annual Conference should dictate policy). On the two main issues at Brighton—the Common Market and Penal Reform—there was a possibility that the Government’s policy would be defeated (as it turned out, it was upheld). The Party leaders made it clear, anyway, beforehand that they would not be deterred by any adverse decisions.

It seems reasonable enough to expect that majority decisions of political parties, as expressed at democratically convened conferences, should decide policy. But the Labour and Conservative Parties, both upholders of Capitalism, must take other considerations into account.

Capitalism can only be run in the interest of the Capitalist class. The majority of us—the working class—suffer the brunt of the system’s evils, which only Socialism will remove. Conservative and Labour Party delegates at their conferences, full with their pet reform measures, often take no account of the basic facts of Capitalism, which contradict the intention of their proposals. Inevitably, the Party leaders faced directly with the administering of Capitalism, will ignore their own followers’ wishes.

The leaders of the Labour and Conservative Parties arc concerned with the day to day running of British Capitalism. and their supporters are living in a dream world if they imagine that their grumbles and whims will radically change the direction of Government policy.

Further, it is not possible for Capitalism, with its commercial rivalries, its diplomatic intrigues, its "defence” secrets, etc., to be administered openly, for everyone to see. Socialism in contrast will be based on common ownership and democratic control. And democracy in this context will really be effective.

The Common Market — the Real Issue (1962)

Editorial from the January 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Common Market has become front-page news. Papers that could hardly spare it a thought a few short months ago now give it headlines. Special features set out to explain things in simple terms for “the man in the street.” On radio and TV it is the same. Even ITV did a series and got criticised for slanting the programme too heavily in favour of Britain going in.

There is plenty of such criticism, of course. Dire warnings of what will happen to us if Britain goes into the Common Market are matched by equally dreadful ones about our fate if she stays out.

We are told of other possible consequences. Of how the Government is thinking of going over to decimal currency—after hesitation on the part of its predecessors for close on a hundred and fifty years. And of the way Mr. Marples is apparently making preparations just in case we have eventually to drive on the right hand side of the road! How much keener can British capitalism’s representatives show themselves than that?

But, more seriously, why this sudden about-turn? Why, after resolutely refusing to have anything to do with the Common Market for years, is the British Government desperately trying to get in? Even in 1958, when the writing was pretty plainly on the wall, they still preferred to set up the rival firm EFTA (the Seven) rather than come to terms with the Six. They had the chance of joining then and turned it down.

Even a few months ago prominent Tory leaders were loudly proclaiming that they wouldn’t have anything to do with the Common Market. Now they have eaten their words and are almost knocking the door down in Brussels trying to get in. Why should this be?

The reason is quite simple. The Common Market has become a threat to the interests of British capitalism, too blatant and dangerous to be ignored any longer.

The Common Market has a population as great as that of the United States. It is now not only the biggest importer of raw materials in the world, it has also become the largest exporter of manufactured goods equalled only by the Americans. And even American capitalism is beginning to be worried about its encroachments upon what it has always regarded as its unassailable position —witness the sudden haste to liberalise its trade laws and the recent statements by prominent leaders that the United States may itself be compelled to apply for membership of the Common Market in time.

The reason, then, for British capitalism’s change of front is the one we should always seek when we wish to discover the motive for the really important activities of capitalist nations and their political spokesmen-the motive of harsh, real, cold economic interest.

Plain and inescapable is the fact that if British capitalism does not go into the Common Market, it is going to be left isolated in a world increasingly under the sway of the economic power of the Six. This isolation will become more and more pronounced as the Market’s internal tariffs fall and its duties on imported products increase. Eventually, if the avowed aims of the Common Market were to be achieved. British capitalism would be left high and dry. The Tory Government has, belatedly, woken to the danger and is now fighting a desperate last-minute battle to avert it.

This is the real meaning of the Common Market for British capitalism, and we have thought it of sufficient importance to justify this special issue of the Socialist Standard. It still will not amount to much space compared with the vast resources of the capitalist Press. But it will be sufficient for us to present a really adequate Socialist analysis of yet another aspect of capitalism.

Mergers and Take-overs (1962)

Editorial from the February 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

The air is thick with rumours of mergers and tales of take-over bids. The past year has seen more company amalgamations than ever before and the pace has become even hotter during recent months.

Within the space of a few weeks ICI has made overtures to Courtaulds. Mr. Gore has tried hard to take Saxone into his shoe empire, Mullard and GEC have joined up to make transistors, and there may be a technical link-up in the car industry between BMC and Rolls Royce. There have been almost daily reports of other such link-ups among firms not so well known.

The same development is going on abroad. The proposed ICI-Courtaulds link-up was a direct reaction to the recent merger of the French giant Rhone-Poulenc with another big firm Celtex which made it into one of the most powerful firms in Europe in man-made fibres. The Mullard-GEC tie-up scotched rumours that Phillips of Holland were out to take over GEC (Mullard is the British subsidiary of Phillips and presumably the new arrangement will satisfy its appetite for the time being). All over the Common Market there are amalgamations, subsidiaries being formed, pooling arrangements being made to exchange technical know-how.

It is the Common Market that has had a lot to do with quickening up this process, of course. With Britain’s application to join the Six the pressure is now hard on British industry to adapt itself more effectively to meet the challenge of European competition. British firms have been actively engaged for many months in getting footholds in Europe, setting up subsidiaries, and forming link-ups as hard as they can. Even the United States, which has been pouring money into Europe since the end of the war, has increased its activities during the past twelve months under the stimulus and threat of the Common Market.

In agriculture also the trend is towards bigger and bigger units. The day of the peasant proprietor is fast coming to an end. In Germany, France and Italy he is being deliberately eliminated. Farm holdings are being joined up into larger units, and the surplus farmers forced into the towns and industry. Even in Britain and America, where the farm population is only a fraction of the whole, the process still goes inexorably on,

The same thing is happening in the sphere of distribution. Supermarkets spread everywhere, with the bigger ones even at this early stage already beginning to swallow up their smaller brethren. We now have super supermarkets. A further recent appearance in this country has been the discount store, narrowing margins still further and squeezing the small man even harder. There may be half a dozen different names over the shoe shops in the local High Street, but if Mr. Clore’s attempted deal goes through they will all probably belong to the same firm.

Even among nations the same forces are at work The Common Market is itself the reflection in some degree of the pressures towards bigger and bigger units, the size of the new giants on the world scene—Russia, the U.S. and China.

This process of concentration is part and parcel of capitalism. Behind it lies the relentless drive for greater and still greater efficiency, and before it the all-important quest for profit. Marx saw it operating in its very earliest stages over a hundred years ago and foresaw that its effects would become more and more profound.

From the hectic pace of events today we know how right he was.

Taxing Capital Gains (1962)

Editorial from the May 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lots of speeches have been made and articles written about the "unfairness" of stock exchange and property speculators having been able to buy shares or land or buildings, hold them for a while, and sell at a profit without paying tax on it. The people who see this as “unfair” do not think it “unfair” that the wealth the workers produce should belong to someone else.

Now the short-term speculators will have to pay tax, and we are being assured that this is a small step towards making the rich less rich and the poor less poor. Of course, it will have no such effect. America, which has for years had taxation of capital gains, has seen no lessening of the concentration of wealth. On the contrary, the inequality is as great as, or even greater than, it has ever been, and in nine years the owners of five million dollars or more have multiplied from 2,113 to about 10,000.

Wealth-ownership in Britain sheds even more light on the success of the propertied class in holding on to their own, for here, in the past 100 years, there have been many promises and campaigns to reduce inequality with no result whatever.

One of the advocates of a wealth tax, Mr. Samuel Brittan, writing in the Observer (April 8th, 1962). rejected in advance the idea of a mere capital gains tax. as one that “deserves to be laughed out of court," and stated his case for something much more drastic. He based it on what he described as the “fantastically unequal distribution of wealth” in this country, and urged that there should be a regular annual tax on accumulated wealth itself, not just on the increase of it. He pointed out how easy it would be to collect such a tax because it need be levied only on the 800,000 people who own £20.000 or more and possess between them nearly half of the total personal wealth. (He also thought that the total of personal wealth and the inequality of ownership are probably even greater than the official figures show).

Each time someone like Mr. Brittan comes along to advocate a new scheme for reducing inequality he has to explain why earlier schemes failed. Mr. Brittan recalls the death duties, which in their day were supposed to do the trick, and tells us. what is indeed common knowledge, that death duties “have become a farce." He quotes one example, the Ellerman fortune, but does not tell its interesting history.

In 1933 death duties reduced the fortune from £40 million to £18 million. By 1937 it had increased to the original £40 million and it is now reported to be about £100 million!

Other nostrums for dealing with inequality have included taxation of land values (in the Liberal Programme in 1892), supertax and surtax and taxation of company profits. There was, too, the movement for a “capital levy” after the first world war, favoured by Liberals. Tories, and the Labour Party, but dropped on grounds of administrative difficulties and probable disturbing financial effects.

If it had been imposed it would merely have been a transfer of wealth among wealthy persons, not a reduction of the wealth and income of the propertied class. And nationalisation in some muddled way was supposed by the Labour Party to have the effect of lessening inequality.

After all those years and all these “cures” capitalism exhibits just the same “two nations" that the Tory Disraeli described over a century ago.

One man who saw capitalism as it really is was the banker R. H. Brand (later Lord Brand) who in 1923, in a booklet "Why I am not a Socialist" wrote: “There has always been and there will always be inequality of wealth . . .  nothing like equality can be attained without the abolition of the whole present system of wealth, ownership and production.”

As a wealthy man who prospered under capitalism his attitude was understandable. By the same token the working class should give up following futile schemes for achieving the impossible dream of an equalitarian capitalism. Their interest lies in establishing Socialism,

Fascism and Ignorance (1962)

Editorial from the September 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again, there is a demand that the Fascists in this country should be legally banned. This demand comes most strongly from what we can loosely call the Left Wing. A legal ban was their answer to the Fascists before the last war; they are, it seems, always wanting to ban something. It is no surprise that, as soon as the Fascists come in for some unnecessary publicity, the Left turn their attention momentarily from the bomb to the Blackshirts.

It is easy to see why the Left Wing, which mistakenly regards itself as consisting of democratic socialists, is so often eager to try to ban some other organisation's ideas. They have always firmly embraced the idea of leadership, by which they mean leadership of the working class to some vaguely defined destination by some dubiously knowledgeable Left Wing politicians.

An essential of the leadership theory is the political ignorance of the unlucky people who are to be led. Leadership, in fact could not exist without blind and ignorant followers. The followers, reason the leaders, cannot be trusted to resist the temptations of race hate and totalitarianism. It is a waste of time to try to educate them. Like children who are kept away from a case of chicken-pox, the working class must be quarantined from the infection of fascist ideas.

Like any other favourite Left Wing theory, this one starts off on the wrong foot and never recovers from it. The working class do not need any more leaders to decide what ideas they may and may not come into contact with. Capitalism is full of leaders, pulling this way and that and all achieving nothing towards the solution of our problems. It is high time for the working class to wake up from their slumbers.

It is high time for them to get some knowledge of capitalism. They need to know how capitalism works. Why it breeds ugly and destructive ideas like Fascism. Why it can never solve its own problems. Why its leaders are powerless to staunch its course.

This need is as great today as ever. Racist theories, with their vicious fallacies, are as active in the world as ever. In other fields there is the same depressing story. The endless saga of the test ban negotiations drags on, with both sides making offers which are transparently insincere. The disarmament conference has dissolved again in the usual muddle and exasperation. There is an excuse for anyone who thinks that capitalism is efficient only when it is being destructive.

There are other examples of the unpleasant prospect with which capitalism faces us. Whoever climbs into leadership, and whatever ideas they may try to proscribe, will make no difference. Capitalism will keep producing the evidence of its own contradictions and inhumanities.

There is only one way of cutting through the confusion. The future of society rests in the hands of the people who make it and organise it. The working class of the world can decide whether the waste and destruction of capitalism shall continue.

At the moment ignorance is in charge and capitalism rolls on. But when the working class have woken up, when they have realised that false ideas can only be answered with knowledge, when they have decided that they do not need leaders to run their lives and their ideas for them, capitalism will stop rolling. For the working class will also have realised that Socialism is the answer to the problems of property society.

Labour's Prospects (1962)

Editorial from the October 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now that it is Conference time for the Labour Party once more, one question will occupy the minds of its members. What are their prospects of returning to power? For some of them, we hope, another question will be even more important. What will a Labour government be worth, to the working class of this country and of the world?

Mr. Gaitskell seems to think that he has an election winner in the Common Market. Judging that the government will find it difficult to put over the idea of abandoning the Commonwealth preference system to join Europe, the Labour leader is demanding that a general election be held before Great Britain commits itself either way. This attitude is justified with some blatantly jingoistic arguments. Some Labour leaders now talk of the British Commonwealth as affectionately as does Lord Beaverbrook. Gone are the days when the Labour old timers scorned the British Empire as a great exploit of capitalist imperialism.

This brings us to our second, and more important, question. Would a Labour government benefit the working class? Some pioneers of the Labour Party used to think that it stood for peace, security and prosperity. That was their dream. What is the reality?

Peace? One of the first jobs of the Attlee government was to represent the British ruling class at the Potsdam conference. Here the leaders of the victorious Allies drew afresh the frontiers of Europe, carving up Germany and dividing Berlin. We all know that these are now among capitalism’s sorest spots. If they should erupt into World War III the Labour Party will stand foursquare behind the war effort of British capitalism.

Security? It was the Attlee government, again, which condoned the A-bomb attacks upon the two Japanese cities, which started the programme to make a British H:bomb and a fleet of missiles to deliver it.

Prosperity? The sternest government restrictions on wages since the war were those imposed in the Cripps wage freeze. And when the freeze was not as successful as they had hoped, the Labour government indirectly cut wages by devaluing the pound. Since then, Labour leaders have often boasted that, because they have such strong connections with the trade union movement, they would be better able to control wages than a Conservative government would. Mr. James Callaghan, who is the Labour Party's shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, touched on this last August when he spoke to the Yorkshire miners’ summer school. According to The Guardian of 28th August. 1962 he “. . . hinted yesterday that a Labour Government would limit the freedom of wage-fixing together with the freedom to fix prices, dividends and rents."

A future Labour government, then, would he as keen to protect the interests of the British capitalist class by holding wages in check as is the Tory government we have at present.

There are other reasons for deciding that no worker should waste his time by voting for a Labour government. The Labour Party did none of these things because they lacked knowledge, or had the wrong leaders or for any of the other excuses which are offered to explain away the melancholy records of capitalist governments. They acted as they did because they are a capitalist party, which aims for power to run British capitalism. And no party has yet succeeded in doing that to the benefit of the great majority of the people.

Workers everywhere—who are the majority-should see through the false propaganda of the Labour Party and of the other organisations which stand for capitalism. There is an alternative to them all. Socialism will bring us a world of peace and plenty That is a world worth working for, because it is a world worth living for.

The Conflict that is Capitalism (1962)

Editorial from the December 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

So the crisis is over—for the time being! The Soviets have climbed down over Cuba and have withdrawn their missiles from that unhappy island. Everyone is sighing with relief and no doubt President Kennedy is congratulating himself on the success of his tough line. The press generally acclaimed him as the saviour of the peace, although it has been suggested in one journal at least, that there was no real Russian intention to fight over Cuba because the U.S.S.R. was just not ready for a shooting war yet. Russia, it seems, has run away to fight again another day.

Just what day, when and where, none can say—least of all the various opposing governments themselves. It is one of the terrifying aspects of the whole ghastly business that at the most we can only guess where the next trouble spot will be, and whether that will then trigger an explosion which will blow the world sky-high. Look back over the years since 1945. Berlin, Korea, Suez, Hungary, Lebanon, Formosa—the monster of war can rear its ugly head any place at any time and this is not to mention the smaller in-between conflicts such as Indochina and Algeria.

Cuba has simmered down for a while and maybe will move out of the headlines altogether, as the major capitalist powers find their attention diverted elsewhere. Who amongst us anyway would have risked a wager even six months ago that Castro's Land would be the focal point in a crisis which edged the capitalist world perilously close to another horror?

And now there is India's fight with China. This again is in a part of the world which has only recently become big news, as Capitalist China pushes her borders outwards in pursuit of her expansionist aims. She has been squabbling for some time over certain slices of Indian border territory and negotiations have dragged wearily on, but force is the final arbiter in the clash of opposing interests, as we have pointed out on many occasions.

The Indian affair highlights perhaps the most tragic irony of all, that of poverty stricken workers literally running to join the Indian Army in defence of their masters' interests and in ignorance of their own. No need for conscription, said Mr. Nehru; his government could take its pick from millions of volunteers. But ignorance is not something peculiar to Indian or Chinese workers, or people in “backward" countries alone. It is a failing common to workers the world over, even though many of them may not join the army quite so enthusiastically as their Indian brothers.

Yet sooner or later ignorance will have to yield to the growth of Socialist knowledge and the realisation that war is not just a nasty accident but has its roots in the private property basis of modern society. It is an ever present menace so long as capitalism survives. The sordid squabbles over markets, trade routes and other considerations, give way eventually to armed conflict, but no working class interest is involved, and no social problem is solved by fighting. When each war is over, all that can be said is that countless workers have died to preserve the conditions for another holocaust later on. Someone once said that the next war really begins where the last one ends. We could not agree more.