Friday, March 1, 2019

The Capital Levy. (1924)

From the January 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ramsay MacDonald Supports Our Case.
In previous issues we have dealt with the Labour Party’s scheme for a levy on Capital to pay off part of the war debt. It was explained why the levy is merely a matter for the consideration of the capitalist class, who have to decide on purely financial grounds whether the levy is advisable in principle, and secondly whether it would be wise to institute it so long after the war and in a period of depression. In the main they decided against it, because, apart from mere prejudice, they were of the opinion that the problems of the capitalist system were not pressing enough to warrant such a difficult measure. Moreover, that section of the capitalists which stands to gain most from it, the financiers, were unable or unwilling to come out vigorously in its support at an election. It was, therefore, from a vote-catching point of view, probably a mistake for the Labour Party, to make it their main plank. But for that they would have received the valuable support of the section of the Conservative Party which centres round the Observer. These people believe that two things are needed to maintain Britain in her world position, and to safeguard the dominance at home of the ruling class.

These are industrial reconstruction to regain and extend our foreign markets; and an advanced programme of social reforms to increase the efficiency and stifle the discontent of the workers.

But the Conservative Observer was strongly against the levy on account of the undoubted disturbance it would cause (serious even if only temporary) in the British financial world.
  We are perhaps nearer to them on international questions than to the older parties! If Labour had confined itself to a drastic programme of practical reconstruction—for electric power, transport, and the general development of the resources of the country—we would have been disposed to lend it a hand. (Observer, 25th November, 1923.)
The leaders of the Labour Party were, of course, not blind to the political situation, but, unfortunately for them, it was too near the date of the election (December 6th) to do anything very effective. Mr. Snowden had only a week or so earlier tried to find a way out by proclaiming that while the levy was good, the time was not quite so opportune, and that the proper moment was just after the war. And then, on Saturday, November 24th, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald went considerably further, and in fact admitted explicitly what we have always said : that the levy was a device to stabilise the capitalist system. He was making a last-hour endeavour to overcome the hostility of the industrial capitalists who could see in the levy only the certain danger that they would be put still more at the mercy of the banks. These are MacDonald’s words in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester :—
  Referring to the Capital Levy, Mr MacDonald said he found it a most popular topic. It was not a special Labour proposal. Some people imagined they wanted to use it as a malign or magical leverage for the complete change of society. If he were a Capitalist and opposed to Socialism, he would support the capital levy. . . .  He supported the capital levy, not as a Labour man but as a Scotsman. (Observer, 25th November, 1923.)
Those who have followed MacDonald’s career will be impressed by the frequency with which his Scotch nationality has overwhelmed his socialist principles.

During the same week he spoke at Northampton and at Bristol, and showed again how little the levy had to do with the workers.
  The Capital Levy proposal did not come from the Labour Party in the first instance. It came from business men, economists, university professors, and others, and the Labour Putty had not taken it up until they had enquired in to it.
  When the Labour Party had educated the people, it [the Capital Levy] would become popular and would be applied by other parties. (New Age. 29th November.)
It is, I think, quite plain that if the levy did mean helping the workers at the expense of those who exploit them it would not have come "from business men, university professors and others," nor would it ever become popular with the "other parties.”

But the Labour Party’s chances of getting the Astor millions behind it in the election, were doomed to disappointment for the reasons I have mentioned above. The Observer had already decided upon its attitude. There was, however, an amusing sequel. While it was all very well for MacDonald to make such a speech disclosing the levy’s real object, it would have been decidedly unwise to print it in the Daily Herald, where it would be read by the militant trade unionists who only fight for the Labour Party because they believe that it means to take really drastic action against the employing class.

Accordingly, we find that although the speech is reported in the Daily Herald of November 27th, and the same amount of space is given to it as in the previous day’s Observer, the remarks about the levy are left out

By a curious coincidence the same issue of the Herald contains an indignant letter from a worshipper of MacDonald, complaining that the British Broadcasting Company does not broadcast his speeches!

The Editor of the Herald was no doubt privately thanking God that the B.B.C., doesn’t; and hoping that they never will.
Edgar Hardcastle

By The Way. (1924)

The By The Way column from the January 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another of our wise rulers has been giving us the benefit of his profound intellect ; speaking at Bradford, Sir Eric Geddes said (Daily News, 7/7/23) :
  “Trade cycles are very undesirable . . . they are probably due to the natural and to some extent commendable tendency of sales departments to overestimate future demand.”
Which means of course, that trade cycles are due to—eh ! trade cycles. No doubt Eric, they are undesirable, for they interrupt the smooth working of the profit producing process, and play havoc among the smaller capitalists, but they are not the only undesirable things in a world of trade and profit. War, poverty, prostitution, and disease, are also noxious conditions generated in that world. But what happens that demand should suddenly cease? Have the masses a plentitude of the things they require? Let us see if there is an explanation. Lancashire produces cotton goods, and at one time had practically the monopoly of the world trade; for years her products represented more than a quarter of the total British exports. But other countries, including France, China and Japan, entered into competition, becoming to us lost customers and new competitors. Furthermore, we now export up-to-date textile machinery to these very countries. In 1913 the total exports of this class of machinery were valued at a little over eight million pounds. In 1922 they had risen to .£25,000,000 (quoted from News of the World, 23/9/23). What does this mean? It means relatively shrinking markets, with fiercer competition in those markets, not only for cotton goods, but for nearly every other industry, industries in which these countries now engage. An enormous quantity of products produced in an ever shortening period of time, which neither the unlimited luxury of our masters and their hangers-on can consume, nor the meagre wages of the workers buy; wages representing in value but a small part of the wealth they have produced—not for their use, but for sale or exchange to realise the capitalists' profit. Failure to effect this sale, which to-day comes between production and the use of wealth, brings about a stoppage in production, known as an industrial crisis, with its consequent anarchy and chaos. Only then, when they cannot sell their goods, and the crisis is upon them, do the manufacturers become aware of their overestimated demand. Under Socialism, with production for use, sale would be abolished, thus allowing the uninterrupted and full satisfaction of social needs through cooperative organisation, instead of our present chaotic scramble. It is a striking confirmation of the Socialist exposition of trade cycles, that the gradually increasing competition for markets, dating from the first crisis of 1825, has been accompanied by shortening periods of years between the recurring crises, until to-day, international competition, accompanied by monopoly and deliberately restricted output, has resulted in one prolonged depression, that after three years shows no signs of abatement. The fiercer the competition grows, the greater the need for sections of the capitalists to secure and retain markets. Hence the cause of modern war.

The Daily News, commenting' upon Sir Eric’s observations, despairingly wails :—
   "There is surely a middle course between sanctioning monopoly and tolerating anarchy.”
Alas! a barren hope, for there is but one course, and it is for the workers to take it. It is to end capitalism, with its absurd contradiction, super abundance, and want, coexistent, and to establish a community of interests—Socialism.

Cooking the Books: Trump and anti-socialism (2019)

The Cooking the Books column from the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Here, in the United States,’ President Trump declared in his State of the Union message to Congress on 5 February, ‘we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence – and not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.’

The United States was founded on capitalism and so involved government coercion, domination and control from the start. The American ‘war of independence’ was a classic bourgeois revolution in which a class of rich merchants, landowners and slaveholders mobilised enough popular support to set up an independent capitalist state on the east coast of North America. A state is a coercive institution and, when controlled by a capitalist class, is used to dominate and control the subordinate working class, as it has been throughout American history.

When it came to imposing controls on individual capitalist activity in the overall or long-term interest of the capitalist class as a whole, however, it has been a different story. Individual capitalists, defended by their ideologues, resented this and were able to minimise it due to the relative weakness of the US central state compared with its European counterparts.

Without ideological leftovers from feudalism such as honour and duty, American capitalists could devote themselves exclusively to profit-seeking and money-making, idealised as ‘rugged individualism’ and ‘free enterprise’. As far as they have been concerned, the ‘liberty’ and ‘independence’ that Trump spoke about has been their liberty to pursue profits and capital accumulation unhindered by state interference, with attempts by the government to restrict their activities in the general capitalist interest being denounced as ‘socialism’ and later ‘communism’ and, more ridiculously, ‘Marxism’. Hence Trump’s rhetoric.

Even so, the US state has intervened to curb individual capitalist excesses – to save them from themselves – as with trust-busting before WW1 and, then, in the 1930s with Roosevelt’s New Deal. In fact, before WW1, genuine socialist and Marxist ideas did circulate amongst a section of the American working class, as a rich body of literature bears witness to. After WW1, however, these were swamped by Bolshevik ideas from backward Russia and working class understanding regressed. After WW2 ‘anti-communism’ ruled supreme.

Now, especially since the Crash of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed, more and more people, in particular young people, are no longer afraid of the word ‘socialism’. There is even one Senator and one member of the House of Representatives who openly call themselves ‘socialists’. It is this that has alarmed Trump (or that he feigned to be so as to take a dig at the Democrats). But he has no need to worry as they are merely reformist Social Democrats who are no threat to US capitalism. They may want to rein in the activities of individual capitalists that are harming the long-term interests of the US capitalist class, as for instance over carbon dioxide emissions, but they don’t want to get rid of capitalism as a system.

We don’t want to be too churlish about the revival of interest in the word ‘socialist’ not being an interest in genuine socialism in the sense of a society based on common ownership and democratic control with production directly to satisfy people’s needs. The very fact ‘socialism’ is no longer a dirty word means that real socialism can be discussed too, bringing closer the day when what used to be the United States of America becomes a part of the world socialist commonwealth.

50 Years Ago: The Catholic Church and the Pill (2019)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mussolini’s massacre of the Abyssinians, Hitler’s systematic murder of the European Jews, the American slaughter of Vietnamese—none of these atrocities, or others like them, caused more than mild rumblings in the Roman Catholic Church—and yet Catholics were deeply involved in all three. But the use of ‘the pill’ has caused a series of explosions which threaten to blow it apart at its rotten seams. The contrast would be laughable if it were not so tragic. The Pope’s ruling on oral contraceptives has caused more Catholics to question the authority of their church than any other event this century. It has called forth more jokes than the Profumo affair. And the jokes and arguments have arisen because people are struggling to understand and digest a seemingly absurd situation. For thousands of Catholics it was a shock situation, because the pill seemed to offer the answer to all the objections that the church had raised to mechanical or chemical contraceptives. Many of them were already using the pill in expectation that the Pope would bless it, and there was a powerful lobby of bishops and influential lay Catholics urging the Vatican to take this decision. When finally, after long delay, and against the majority advice of his own Commission, Pope Paul’s encyclical forbade its use by Catholics, the reaction by Catholics and non-Catholics alike was close to incredulity.

That was seven months ago. Many non-Catholics have already forgotten it—or at least they would have done if it had not been for the way Catholics are still reacting. For many, particularly in countries like Holland, France and Britain, the resentment and disappointment have led to a continuing series of minor rebellions on other issues such as the celibacy of priests, the virginity of Mary, and the dominance of Rome. It is plain now that the Vatican must prepare for many years of dissent and controversy.

(Socialist Standard, March 1969)

Editorial: Lethal Might Before Needs (2019)

Editorial from the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the calamity of Brexit continues to engulf British capitalism, its representatives and supporters indulge in all manner of fantasies and delusions. We are assured that once the UK leaves the EU, the rest of the world would be falling over themselves to negotiate trade deals with it. Now we are told that the UK can again become a great global military power as it was in the good old days of the British Empire.

As Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, put it in his speech to the Royal United Services Institute on 11th February , ‘Brexit has brought us to a great moment in our history. A moment when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality and increase our mass.’  However, this speech was not well received in certain quarters. His boss, Theresa May, was none too pleased with his plans to send an aircraft carrier to the Pacific, a move that the Chinese leaders  would interpret as being provocative, as she hoped to establish closer economic ties with Chinese capitalism. Provoking other countries militarily is generally not seen as the best way to form advantageous trading relations with them. Indeed the Chinese leaders were so incensed by this, they cancelled a proposed visit to Beijing that Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, had intended to make with the hope of forging trade deals with them.

It is also ironic that Williamson proposed to take ‘action to oppose those who flout international law’ when the UK government has done that on several occasions.

However, the speech was more than posturing by a Churchill wannabe trying to promote his career. When he said the Western powers  must be prepared to ‘use hard power to support our interests’, he was not just laying bare the current real tensions between Russia and China on one side and the Western Powers on the other, but was  also revealing the essential nature of capitalism  as a system whereby nation states need to compete with each other over global markets and that for this purpose vital trade routes and sources of raw materials need to be safeguarded. Thus they need to be constantly armed to the teeth and prepared for war. As too often when all else fails, war inevitably breaks out.

Perhaps the Labour Party in its response called out Williamson for ramping up the pro-war rhetoric? No, actually, Nia Griffith, the Shadow Defence Secretary, took the government to task for running down the armed forces over the years as part of their cost-cutting programme. The Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Jamie Stone, also made a similar criticism that the armed forces had been ‘hollowed out’.

It must be borne in mind that this speech was made at a time when there have been cutbacks in welfare and local services — more people using foodbanks and local libraries closing. Therefore, what Williamson has also shown is that the priority of the capitalist state must be to advance the interests of its capitalist minority, even at the risk of war, over the needs of the working class majority.