Thursday, November 8, 2018

Abundance and Poverty (1961)

From the May 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some time ago, under the above caption, the now defunct News Chronicle, in a leading article, asked “is it really beyond the wit of man to devise a means of sharing out more fairly the world's bounty?" This was by no means the first challenge to society to meet the paradox of want in the midst of plenty, and the report that to-day, in Toronto, thousands of children are starving, provides ample evidence that the challenge has not been met

The statement comes from Dr. Morris Zeidman, a Presbyterian minister who runs the Scott Mission, which has “opened its doors to feed the hungry children of the city’s unemployed.” Referring to a woman who could not drink the soup provided, a mission worker said, “Some of these people have been subsisting on so little that they now find it hard to stomach ordinary food ” (The Guardian 10/3/61).

Is this, we may ask, part of the heritage of freedom for which members of the working class fought and died in two of the bloodiest wars in history? Must people go without the basic essentials of life at a time when productivity has increased to heights never known before? When man was the slave of nature, shortage and want could be explained in something like intelligent terms, but to-day, when his productive capacities are virtually unlimited, he must find some other answer.

Thirteen years ago, Lord Boyd Orr, then Director-General of the World Food and Agriculture Organisation, could say “There was no difficulty about producing food for the present population of the world, or even twice that number, but the problem was, could politics and economics arrange that the food that was produced was dispersed in the countries that needed it?’’. Seven years later, the Oxford economist, Mr. Colin Clark, remarked that in two years no authority had disagreed with Professor Dudley Stamp, who pointed out that if Danish agricultural standards were to be practised on the available cultivable land, there would be enough food produced to give an excellent diet to probably seven times the world’s present population.

What Lord Boyd Orr and Mr. Colin Clark failed to recognise, or at least make no mention of, is the fact that however capable man may be of producing wealth, it is ultimately the question of ownership which decides whether or not he will partake of that wealth. Food, like every other commodity in our modern world, is produced primarily for profit, and the fact that it eventually may satisfy hungry children in Toronto or elsewhere is incidental and of secondary importance.

The answer to the News Chronicle’s question will not be found in the speeches of politicians and economists; if it could, the question would not be asked after a century of Parliamentary Statutes and fact-finding Commissions, designed to reform capitalist society in the interest of those who make it tick.
A. F.

Branch News (1961)

Party News from the May 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day, 1961

May Day is being held on Sunday, May 7th. and the Party is arranging to hold as many meetings as possible to make more well known the case for Socialism. In London, at Hyde Park, in the afternoon Party members will gather to support the meeting and there will be three speakers. The platform will be in a prominent position on the grass. At 7.30 p.m. there will be an indoor rally at Denison House, Vauxhall Bridge Road (near Victoria Station). At both these meetings, the support of as many comrades and sympathisers as possible will add to the success of the demonstration.

In Glasgow, at Queen’s Park, meetings will be held, followed by an indoor Rally at St. Andrews Halls, Berkeley Street. So, Glasgow Comrades, turn out to support the meetings as the London Comrades will be doing—rain or shine. See that every effort is made to Demonstrate For Socialism.

Trafalgar Square, Easter Monday

Despite drenching rain and cold, grey skies, comrades of the Socialist Party of Great Britain dauntlessly and enthusiastically rallied round and showed their worth by turning out—at least fifty in number, to sell literature at the termination of the C.N.D. Easter march in Trafalgar Square. Some comrades were at the Albert Memorial and others at the Square. Their efforts resulted in the sale of literature to the extent of £13 14s. 44—350 Socialist Standards and 89 War pamphlets. In addition 5,000 Nuclear leaflets were distributed, resulting (up to the time of going to press) in ten enquiries for more information about the Party, and five requests, with Postal orders for War pamphlets. Among these enquiries were requests from Montrose in Scotland and Aberdare in Wales. This was a first-class effort on the part of Party comrades and proves that with enthusiasm and organisation—even the worst weather is not a bar to getting on with the job! One of the Paddington Comrades, in an effort to preserve the literature, wrapped individual copies in cellophane for protection. It is hoped also that the handbills (which were also distributed) advertising the April 19th meeting at St. Pancras Town Hall, will prove equally successful.

Coventry Group

Coventry members are still very active and are in contact with Birmingham Branch with a view to holding some joint outdoor meetings in Birmingham during the summer. The Group members regularly attend political meetings, take part in discussion and then sell Socialist Standards outside the meeting places. For a small group this is very good work and the Group members are hoping that their various contacts will, in the not too far distant future, enable them to form a Coventry Branch.

Central Branch

The Central Branch Secretary would very much like to hear from Comrades A. Bowley and C. J. Hutton. Correspondence has been returned from their addresses, without details of change.

Demonstration For Socialism

A full report of our successful meeting in St. Pancras will unfortunately have to beheld over until next month. We can nevertheless give the essential details. An audience of 400, plenty of questions and lively discussion, and a collection of over £25. All concerned have good reason to be pleased with such a fine result to their efforts — on such a miserably wet night too!
Phyllis Howard

Monkeys of the World, Unite! (1961)

A Short Story from the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Monkeys, trained to operate controls at given signals, are being used to pilot American space ships! Newspapers show front-page photographs of the new astronauts, their apish chins thrust forward with Mussolini arrogance. It's all very interesting, but what about the social effects of such new developments?

Human astronauts are too few and disorganised at the moment to insist on union membership. And if an Astronaut Union meeting was held to discuss the matter, it’s likely that there would be more chimps there than men. The result could be a union dominated by chimpanzees.

Now everyone knows chimps are reactionary. They accept the truck system of payment, fully satisfied with a weekly wage of bananas. They demand no danger money and can easily be bribed with a full length cover story in Life magazine. What will happen when the characteristics of monkey labour are noticed by industrial employers?

An American factory has already tried using chimps as labour. Mechanisation and mass production have reduced most factory jobs to a simple routine. The monkey could become a serious threat to the working class. Their food, clothing and shelter requirements are few: so are their notions of freedom. They could be farmed in colonies and crossbred to produce strains suitable for all conditions.

Naturally they'd have to be kept happy but industrial psychology is already a science. How about a few rousing songs like. "The British Chimpanzee, is the salt of our Count-err-ree ”?

Laws could be passed making it a capital offence to murder a chimp and a National Veterinary Service could be set up to make sure a sick chimp could go back to work as soon as possible. British law would have to be extended to cover the chimpanzee; he should be able to sue his master for the loss of five bananas at the cost of only a hundred bananas.

Religion would have to be adapted for him. As a reward for work, patience and obedience, he would look forward to a life after death in which he would be introduced to a Gorilla father image who presided over a banana plantation. He would learn modesty and cover up his bottom, read good books and be prevented from reading bad books about his promiscuous ancestors.

None of these things is impossible with careful scientific breeding and conditioning, and our modern age would he far better served by chimp workers. For it’s becoming increasingly obvious that in our modern age. human beings simply don't belong.
P. McHale

Finance and Industry: The Manufacturer’s Dream (1961)

The Finance and Industry Column from the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Manufacturer’s Dream

Stock Exchange speculators and the financiers who manoeuvre take-overs can, within limits, accommodate themselves to the fluctuations of markets and production but the manufacturer has them always on his mind. When demand leaps he may suffer the anguish of knowing that if he had expanded more he could sell more and make more profit; and when demand drops he may find he has stocks of unsaleable goods. The manufacturers' dream of heaven is a market that steadily grows and never catches him unprepared.

After last year's collapse of the motor industry this thought has recurred to the export director of the British Motor Corporation, Mr. J. F. Bramley. In an interview in the Sunday Express (12/3/61) he told how he feels about it:
  People just don’t understand the problems that a sudden boom and an equally sudden slump bring to the industry. As long as the demand is there the overseas dealers keep clamouring for cars and you have to keep supplying them. At any moment there may be thousands of vehicles in ships or on railway sidings awaiting shipment and your factories are in top gear. Then overnight the market goes "soft" and the pipelines are choked with cars nobody wants any more. We would much rather see a steady demand at a gradually rising level.
The motor firms and other manufacturers may go on hoping, but there isn't anything they can do about it, for the "trade cycle” of alternate expansion and contraction is how capitalism has always operated. Already there is talk of another set-back for motor cars later this year, and now the cotton industry is facing trouble again, as well as the furniture industry and the clothing trade.

For many years politicians and economists claimed that, with the lessons learned from the depression of the 'thirties, governments could handle the problem, but fewer now confidently hold that view.

One popular business theory was that firms could gain stability by extending their activities into several different fields, but the experience of the oil companies shows the flaw in this remedy.

For some years now the oil companies have been hit by overproduction of oil, recently aggravated by the Russian drive to invade Western markets and by the opening of the Sahara oil fields. There have also been too many oil tankers, in spite of which the Shell Company reports that "in recent months there has been increased placing of new orders and this must inevitably tend to prolong the world tanker surplus, now in its fifth year."

The Royal Dutch-Shell group of companies found new outlets by developing methods of producing chemicals from oil, including fertilisers, industrial chemicals, plastics and resins, which, of course, meant competition with the chemical industry.

They now report that others are moving into the chemical-from-oil activity, "strong competitors formidably equipped with capital and technological skills." Consequently, "there is some danger of surplus manufacturing capacity being created as the result of investments based on an over-optimistic assessment of profitability.

Perhaps when there are too many chemicals the research chemists will develop another new industry, to turn the surplus chemicals back into oil.

Concentration of Ownership

Writing in the February Bulletin of the Oxford University Institute of Statistics, H. F. Lydall and D. J. Tipping publish the results of a new attempt to estimate how the wealth of the country is distributed. They write:—
  In broad outline these figures suggest that total personal net capital in early 1954 was about £40,000 million. Of this, nearly £31,000 million was owned by three million persons possessing over £2,000 each; and the remaining £9,000 million was owned by the other 32 million persons aged 20 or over. In the top capital group there are 20,000 persons with more than £100,000 each and an average holding of over £250,000; in the bottom group are 16 million persons with less than £100 each and an average holding of less than £50.
So the 20,000 persons who own over £100,000 each have £5,000 million between them; while the 16 million people who have less than £100 each have a total holding of less than £800 million.

In between are nearly 19 million people whose total is about £34,000 million, which makes their average about £1,800.

They warn that their figures are very rough owing to the difficulties of handling the available material. They think that there has been some redistribution during the past twenty years but have not found it possible to give even a rough estimate of its extent.

Views of Inflation

In the past, inflation had a precise meaning. Mr. Frank Bower, M.A., Lecturer on Political Economy, gave a definition in 1908 which was in harmony with that given by Marx half a century earlier. Bower wrote:
  A fall in the value of. money, with a rise in the cost of living, caused by a comparatively permanent excess in the amount of money in circulation over that which is needed to perform the transactions of the community. Inflation usually means the artificially high prices caused by an over-issue of inconvertible paper money.
Marx deal with this in Capital (Vol. I, Ch. III), when he wrote: “stated simply, it is as follows: the issue of paper money must not exceed in amount the gold (or silver as the case may be) which would actually circulate if not replaced by symbols.”

Bower and Marx were both writing when gold coins, and Bank of England notes that were convertible into gold, were circulating in this country. They were describing what would happen if an inconvertible paper currency replaced the gold and convertible notes, and if notes were issued in excessive amounts.

Later on, some economists abandoned that specific meaning of inflation and replaced it by the looser conception indicated by the definition given by Nuttall's Dictionary in 1931: "increase of the quantity of money and/or credit relative to the volume of exchange transactions.”

Then came Keynes, who used the term to mean something different again. For him it was a question neither of currency nor credit, but of whether there are unemployed workers, idle factories, and reserves of materials. With very low unemployment and fully occupied factories he argued that increased demand could not lead to increased production but only to higher prices and wages, a condition he defined as “ true inflation.”

His biographer, Sir Roy Harrod, wrote of Keynes: “He had indeed the right to claim that his theoretical work between the wars had revolutionised the modes of thinking of economists upon inflation. They had long ceased to regard inflation primarily as an over-issue of notes or even as an over-expansion of bank credits.” This disregard of the over-issue of notes reached its culmination in the remark of the Committee on the Monetary System in 1959, that ”bank notes are in effect the small change of the monetary system,” and that the Government’s action in expanding the note issue is merely the passive one of seeing that sufficient notes are available for the practical convenience of the public.

As the total volume of production in this country is about 50 per cent. above the level of 1938, those who hold such views have yet to explain why it has been "convenient” for the government now to have in issue over four times the amount of notes then in circulation from £530 million to £2,250 million. And if the over-issue of notes has not been the main factor in causing the price level to be three or four times what it then was they might explain what the cause has been.

Which Horse Won the Race?

Early each April the financial columnists go in for the sport of guessing what sort of budget it is going to be. It is like backing horses, but with a difference; for after a race you do know which horse won. Not so with the columnists, who, when the budget comes out, can rarely agree what kind of budget it is. The reader can take his choice according to the paper he reads.

This year on the 11th April the Telegraph headed its column "Chancellor puts Checks on Inflation but the Mail found the budget “inflationary,” as also did the Express. The Financial Times hedged and would only concede that on paper it was "a substantially disinflationary budget." The Guardian, less cautious, decided that "the total effect . . .  is disinflationary"; while The Times, coming up a day later, thought it "at least mildly disinflationary."

The confusion is partly the result of the “experts” not being able to make up their minds what effect, if any, particular governmental policies for managing production and trade will have, but it is also a by-product of conflicting views as to the meaning of the term inflation.
Edgar Hardcastle

50 Years Ago: King Capital's Coronation (1961)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

A king is to be crowned. In the presence of Our Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Premiers of the five Dominions of “our" Mighty Empire, and the assembled Monarchs of many lands, and the Lord God of Israel and the Stock Exchange himself.

It is commonly believed that “royal" power is the attribute of the monarch of a constitutional country, but nothing could be further from the truth. That question our capitalist masters fought out many years ago. They have left the King his name and his robes, his crown and his palaces, but they have stripped him of every vestige of power. The “Crown" is not the King, in any capacity, but the capitalist State. The King's Speech to Parliament is written by his Ministers, even the prerogative of mercy is not the King's but belongs to the capitalist Cabinet.

Even the swearing to uphold the institutions of capitalism is all bunkum and make-believe. There is today, in this country at all events, no institution of capitalism that the capitalists themselves are not fully able to maintain, or that they trust to other hands than their own.

This is the real use of Monarchs in capitalist States. Behind the person of the King the capitalists can hide the fact that it is they in reality who rule. By parading their kings before the workers at every possible opportunity, and with every circumstance of pomp and display that their ingenuity can invent, by investing them with divine right and something of divinity itself, the capitalists awaken and simulate and nurture that spirit of reverence, which is so deadly an enemy to the growth of revolutionary ideas, and so detract attention from themselves.
[From the 
Socialist Standard,  June, 1911.]

The Materialist Conception of
 History (1934)

From the April 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Further Letter on the Subject 
By Frederick Engels.

Translated for the “Proletarian" by Prof. J. I. Cheskis, of the University of Michigan.

A young student addressed to Engels the following questions:

  1. How is it that, after the consanguineous family ceased to exist, marriage between brothers and sisters was still permitted by the Greeks, as Cornelius Nepos attests?
  2. How was the fundamental principle of historical materialism understood by Marx and Engels themselves; are the production and reproduction of actual life alone the determining factors, or are they only the basis of all the other conditions acting by themselves?

Frederick Engels replied:
London, Sept. 21, 1890.

Dear Sir,

Your letter of the 3rd inst. was forwarded to me at Folkestone; but not having the book I needed I could not reply. Having returned on the 12th of the same month, I found such an amount of pressing work that only to-day am I able to write a few lines. Please excuse my delay.

To your first question:— First of all you can see on p. 19 of my “Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State," the Punalua family is represented as developing so slowly that even in this century in the royal family there have been marriages between brothers and sisters. In antiquity we find examples of marriages between brothers and sisters, for instance, the Ptolemies. We must make a distinction between brothers and sisters on the mothers' side and brothers and sisters on the fathers' side. The Greek Adelphos (brother) and Adelphon (sister) are both derived from Delphos (mother), indicating thus the origin of brother and sister on the mother’s side. And from the period of the Matriarchate there has been preserved for a long time the feeling that the children of one mother but of different fathers are more closely related than the children of one father but by different mothers. The Punalua form of the family excludes only marriages among the first, not among the second, since the latter, while the Matriarchate lasted, were not even considered relatives. Cases of matrimony between brothers and sisters in Ancient Greece are limited to those in which the contracting parties are descended from different mothers, or to those of whom the parental relationship was unknown, and hence the marriage was not forbidden. This, therefore, is not absolutely in contrast with the Punalua custom. You have noticed, then, that between the Punalua period and Greek monogamy there is a jump from the Matriarchate to the Patriarchate, which changes things considerably.

According to the “Greek Antiquities" of Wachsmuth, one finds in the heroic period of Greece “no trace of scruples due to a too close relationship of the contracting parties independently of the relationship between the parents and children." (P. 156.) Marriage with a carnal sister was not at all scandalous in Crete." (Ibid., p. 170.) This last affirmation is based on Strabone (X) but at the present moment I cannot find this passage because of faulty division of chapters. Under the expression “carnal sister" I understand, until proof to the contrary is furnished, a sister on the part of the father.

To the second question: — I have interpreted your first main phrase in the following way: According to the Materialist Conception of History, the factor which is in the last instance decisive in history is the production and reproduction of actual life. More than this neither Marx nor myself ever claimed. If now someone has distorted the meaning in such a way that the economic factor is the only decisive one, this man has changed the above proposition into an abstract, absurd phrase which says nothing. The economic situation is the base, but the different parts of the structure—the political forms of the class struggle and its results, the constitutions established by the victorious class after the battle is won, forms of law and even the reflections of all these real struggles in the brains of the participants, political theories, juridical, philosophical, religious opinions, and their further development into dogmatic systems—all this exercises also its influence on the development of the historical struggles and in cases determines their form. It is under the mutual influence of all these factors that, rejecting the infinitesimal number of accidental occurrences (that is, things and happenings whose intimate sense is so far removed and of so little probability that we can consider them non-existent, and can ignore them), that the economical movement is ultimately carried out. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of any simple equation. We ourselves make our history, but, primarily, under pre-suppositions and conditions which are very well determined. But even the political tradition, nay, even the tradition that man creates in his head, plays an important part even if not the decisive one. The Prussian State has itself been born and developed because of certain historical reasons, and, in the last instance, economic reasons. But it is very difficult to determine without pedantry that, among the many small States of northern Germany, precisely Brandenburg has been destined by economic necessity and not also by other factors (above all its complications with Poland after the Prussian conquest and hence, also, with international politics —which, besides has also been decisive in the formation of the power of the Austrian ruling family), to become that great power in which are personified the economic, linguistic, and—after the Reformation—also the religious difference between the North and South. It would be mighty difficult for one who does not want to make himself ridiculous to explain from the economic point of view the existence of each small German State of the past and present, or even the phonetic differentiation of High German which extended the geographic division formed already by the Sudetti mountains as far as the Faunus.

In the second place history forms itself in such a way that the ultimate result springs always from the conflicts of many individual wills, each of which in its turn is produced by a quantity of special conditions of life; there are thus innumerable forces which cross each other, an infinite group of parallelograms of forces, from which is derived one resultant—the historical event —which in its turn again can be considered as the product of an active power, as a whole unconsciously and involuntarily, because that which each individual wishes is prevented by every other, and that which results from it is a thing which no one has wished. In this way history runs its course like a natural process, and has substantially the same laws of motion. But, because of the fact that the individual wills—each of which wishes that to which it is impelled by its own physical constitution or exterior circumstances, i.e., in the last analysis, all economic circumstances (either its own personal circumstances or the general conditions of society)—do not reach that which they seek but are fused in one general media in a common resultant, by this fact one cannot conclude that they are equal to zero. On the contrary, each contributes to produce the resultant, and is contained in it.

I would further ask you to study the theory from its original sources and not from secondhand works; it is really much easier. One can say that Marx has written nothing in which some part of the theory is not found. An excellent example of its application in a specific way is the “Eighteenth Brumaire of L. Bonaparte." Also in “Capital" (III) are many illustrations. And also permit me to recommend to you my writings, Herr E. Duehring’sUmwalzung der Wissenchaft," and "Feuerbach und der Ausgang der Klassischen deutschen Philosophie," in which I have given the most ample illustrations of Historical Materialism which to my knowledge exists. That the young people give to the economic factor more importance than belongs to it is in part the fault of Marx and myself. Facing our adversaries we had to lay especial stress on the essential principle denied by them, and, besides, we had not always the time, place, or occasion to assign to the other factors which participate in producing the reciprocal effect, the part which belongs to them. But scarcely has one come to the representation of a particular historical period, that is, to a practical application of the theory, when things changed their aspect, and such an error was no longer permissible. It happens too often that one believes he has perfectly understood a new theory, and is able to manage it without any aid, when he has scarcely learned the first principles, and not even those correctly. This reproof I cannot spare to some of our new Marxists; and in truth it has been written by the wearer of the marvellous robe himself. [That is, by Marx.—Editor.]

To the first question:—Yesterday (I am writing these words on the 22nd of Sept.) I also found in Schomann, “Greek Antiquities," Berlin, 1855, Vol. I, p. 52, the following words, which confirm definitely the explanation given by me. “It is noteworthy that in later Greece marriages between brothers and sisters of different mothers were not considered incest."

I hope you will not be dismayed by the terrible parentheses which for the sake of brevity overflow from my pen. And I subscribe myself .
Your devoted,
F. Engels

Blogger's Note:
The second part of this letter - with a different translation - is already on the Marxist Internet Archive site. According to MIA, the letter was addressed to J. Bloch.