Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Paul Mason Waits For Godot (2015)

From the December 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Paul Mason (economics editor at Channel 4 and author of the recent book Postcapitalism: a guide to our future has reported on a paper by the Morgan Stanley economists Charles Goodhart, Manoj Fradhan and Pratyancha Pardeshi (Guardian Weekly, 2 October). Their argument was that global demographic trends have resulted in a glut of labour that has exerted a downwards pressure on wages for the past three decades (the result of a baby boom in developed economies, urbanisation in the industrialising economies and the entrance of millions of women into the workforce). As urbanisation peters out and birth rates fall, it is suggested, a labour shortage will develop leading to a rise in the bargaining power and wages of the labour force. This will counter the predictions of rising twenty-first century inequality by the likes of Thomas Piketty. We will find out in good time who is closer to the mark.

In practice any gains by workers will depend not only on global economic conditions (the vagaries of the business cycle) but on the balance of class forces (improvements in pay and conditions need to be maximised by a strong trades union movement) and on the economic, political and cultural conditions in different localities. Mason, however, regards the report as grist to the mill for his ideas as to how a post-capitalist world may materialise. Faced with the possibility of a higher paid labour force, Mason asserts that the stimulus for businesses to introduce labour saving technology will be increased. He uses the example of McDonalds, which he says is introducing touch-screen technology to replace that portion of its labour force currently taking orders and payments from customers.

The pursuit of flexible labour markets over recent decades has led to a substantial increase of employees on temporary and informal contracts (a section of the workforce Mason calls the ‘precariat’). Mason cites another recent report by economists (at Delft University) that such flexible workforces come at the expense of expanded management and limited incentive to increase productivity through technological innovation. Hence the reason that ‘it’s common to hear politicians of all stripes say that wages need to rise.’ Mason is concerned that these politicians succeed in tackling the presence of the ‘precariat’. The theory goes (as set out in his recent book) that continued increases in productivity will see the value of goods reduce to the point where they become virtually free heralding a transition to a post-capitalist era, a sort of lengthy and convoluted transition from capitalism to a kind of communistic society.

Need for conscious political action
Capitalism undoubtedly does demonstrate a tendency for the price of goods to fall over time due to the development and implementation of labour saving technology. This drive to reduce labour costs (to maximise profits) is a basic feature of capitalism and not just when wages are rising, after all the touch-screen technology being introduced by McDonalds is being carried out despite its labour force consisting of the ‘precariat’.

The drive to innovate may well be stimulated by rising wages but it is doubtful whether the trend for increasing productivity will reduce the value of a significant amount of goods to the point where their value is negligible at any point in the next 50-100 years, despite the fact that some (mainly digital) goods can or could do. Such developments certainly do highlight a major contradiction of capitalist production – an increase in material wealth (more goods) leads at the same time to a fall in the value (per unit) of those goods. However, waiting for this trend to result in a post-capitalist world will probably be like waiting for Godot.

There are contradictions enough in capitalist production for workers to see the necessity in ending it, not just following through the logic of its development. Just as the transition from feudalism to capitalism entailed political struggle, battles over different visions of the future, of different ideals, so will the transition from capitalism to socialism. The difference is that now the struggle is not over one group of owners, of rulers, supplanting another in a struggle in which intentions and ideas were often veiled (by religion) and unconscious. Marx has some interesting things to say on this when he writes about the fetishism (veiled appearance) of commodities:
  ‘The veil is not removed from the countenance of the material process of production, until it becomes production by freely associated men, and stands under their conscious and planned control’ (Capital, Vol.1).
In other words, the transition from capitalism to socialism, by necessity, has to reject capitalist social relations (appearing as a society of free and equal exchange but based on exploitation and the extraction of surplus value from workers) and establish a new society of free association and conscious and planned control of economic activity. In other words, the transformation of a society based on commodities and value (buying and selling) to one based on the free exchange of use-values, the establishment under democratic control of the means of living (nature, factories, transport, etc.). A transition between capitalism and socialism must therefore have to be conscious and clear-sighted and involve a relatively short period of rapid social change, a revolution, a break from one kind of society to another.

The contradictions within capitalism of the kind that Mason cites, that make some goods effectively free (as examples of different social possibilities), may be part of the story of how such a revolution comes to pass. However, there will, at some point, need to be a conscious process of social change and not, as Mason suggests, a lengthy opaque and semi-conscious process where various policies are advocated that would encourage the digital revolution in order to transfigure capitalism rather than end it.
Colin Skelly

Scottish Green (2015)

Book Review from the December 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Humanity at the Crossroads: A Political and Humanist Dialogue’, by Raymond Garbet. Newton Books. Edinburgh, 2015. 260 pages.

This is a self-published book by a long-term member of the old Communist Party of Great Britain who is now a member of the pro-independence Scottish Green Party and so shares the illusion that an independent Scottish government would be able to buck the economic laws of capitalism and put people before profits.

He is also a member of the Humanists (hence the book’s sub-title). As such he rejects religion (which he defines as any belief in the exist of a ‘soul’) but doesn’t call himself an atheist because that is saying what you are against not what you are for, preferring ‘Secular Humanist’; which is fair enough. Basically, he sees the way forward for humanity as the UN taking action to deal with climate change, world poverty and human rights abuses; a worthy internationalist perspective but another illusion to expect that collection of capitalist states to do anything about any of these.

If you buy the book you get a Trotskyist pamphlet thrown in free as he has a 20-page interview with Colin Fox, ex-MSP and leading member of the Scottish Socialist Party (which Garbet annoyingly refers to as the Socialist Party) and representative within it of the old Militant Tendency. The trouble is that it is outdated as Fox puts his group’s pre-Corbyn line that the Labour Party is finished and so for the need for a new union-based workers party, stressing ‘the enormous obstacles that exist in reclaiming the Labour Party as Jeremy Corbyn has been attempting for years.’ But, to be honest, we didn’t see it coming either, not that it makes any fundamental difference. That Fox is no socialist is summed up in his last word: ‘we want to create a society where everyone receives a decent wage.’
Adam Buick

The Socialist Forum: The Value of Emotional Appeals. (1931)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The correspondent whose letter was replied to last month, writes again on the need to make an “emotional appeal.” 
Tottenham, N.17,
July 7th, 1931. 

The Editor,
Socialist Standard,                          
42, Great Dover Street,
London, S.E.1.

Dear Sir,

(1) May I reply to the points raised against my letter in the July issue. The success of the emotional appeal of the war reveals how powerful appeals to irrational forces can be. The workers do not simply commit an error of judgment, mistaking "the capitalists’ interests for their own,” but respond because their behaviour is so largely influenced by emotional tendencies, which, suppressed by the demands of civilised life, find outlets in behaviour often irrational when judged from an economic standpoint.

(2) The Socialist case may be rejected or fail to arouse interest because the dominant trends in a person do not respond sympathetically to the exposition. Trivialities such as the manner, speech, or clothes of the propagandist may evoke unfavourable impressions, or the immediate attraction of a tennis game or dance distort the value of the propaganda.

Influences which seem remote from politics play a part in the making of Socialists. As mentioned in my letter, “experiences of sexual character, dislike of certain individuals, jealousy, etc., find consolation in Socialism,” supplying motives other than a sense of inferiority.

(3) It is noteworthy that, while Christian, Communist, and Socialist vigorously assert the intellectual character of their convictions, it is not difficult for each to discover emotional influences at play in the others.

(4) Modern psychology, distinguished by its emphasis on a dynamic or hormic view of the mind, is reversing the conceit that man, among animals, is a rational creature. In the nineteenth century, when Darwin established the truth of evolution, those whose approach to people depended on the retention of an obsolete account of man's origin, resisted the theory strenuously. Now, a like opposition is offered to the psychologists’ conviction that the intellectualist interpretation of man’s behaviour is equally outworn.

Just as evolution is older than Darwin, so there may be much that is not new in modern psychological theory, but it is through the mass of evidence collected that theories gain weight and insist on scientific recognition.

(5) The tendencies within capitalism seem to point to a drift towards Socialism, but they, after all, are tendencies only, to be worked out by human-beings. There is no divinity benevolently directing events to a happy ending, and so if Socialists persist in presenting their propaganda to a mythical working-man, guided by intellectual preference, and, with a fine disdain, refuse to stoop to moulding their propaganda nearer the hearts of the workers, their efforts may be mis-spent.
Yours faithfully, 
R. Hobsbaum.

(1) Our correspondent now claims that the workers' support of the war proves "how powerful appeals to irrational forces can be," and he denies that they responded to an appeal to their "interests." Does our correspondent then deny that the workers in 1914 were trapped by being told that defeat would mean the loss of "their" colonies, "their" foreign trade, “their" merchant shipping, "their” property, "their" liberties, "their" jobs, and "their" security, not to mention their lives and those of their dependants? If these are not appeals to the workers' interests what are they? Even the talk about "poor little Belgium" was backed up with the threat that defeat would mean the same treatment for this country as had been meted out across the Channel.

If the workers respond merely to "emotional tendencies," not guided, by assumptions as to their interests, why do not the workers endeavour to treat their class enemies at home as they treated the Germans when they (the workers) believed their interests to be bound up with the outcome of the war? What sort of "emotional tendency" is it that leads the half-starved and unemployed dweller in a slum to vote for the class (and even for the individuals) responsible for his miseries, makes him leave the place where the miseries are inflicted and could be ended, and actually lay down his life on foreign soil under the orders and in the interests of that class? If the uncontrolled "emotional tendency” dominates the situation why did not and do not the victims make a direct attack on the landlords, employers, and politicians with whoso activities their miseries are closely and obviously associated?

The answer is that the workers are always having it drummed into them that they have a common interest with the capitalist class in maintaining capitalism.

Our correspondent, as was pointed out last month, ignores the results of 40 years of I.L.P. and Labour Party appeals to emotion. He persists in ignoring the results, except to make the claim that the war shows how powerful the emotional appeal can be. In his anxiety to seize a supposed point Mr; Hobsbaum appears to have forgotten what we are discussing. His admission that years of emotional appeal from the Labour Party and I.L.P. did not succeed in making socialists but did succeed in making willing victims for the slaughter only supports our objection to the emotional appeal as a means of making socialists.

(2) The remarks in this paragraph are obvious but not in the least helpful. Of course socialist propaganda will be listened to more readily if it is pleasantly and tellingly presented; but so will anti-socialist propaganda. Does our correspondent imagine that Liberals are all of them people who think that Lloyd George has a nice kind face? And that the workers are all childish like H. G. Wells and will, like, him, allow their dislike for Marx’s Victorian whiskers to dissuade them from studying socialism?

(3) It is difficult to make out what this paragraph is intended to imply, as it seems to have little to do with the argument. Our correspondent lumps together Christian, Communist and Socialist and says that he finds "emotional influences" in us all. It would indeed be strange if he did not. If he looks a little closer he will discover that we are actually human beings. But what has that to do with our contention that emotional appeals are not a method of building-up a socialist organisation, and with his contention that emotional appeals are such a method? /

(4) Again, we must ask our correspondent to consider the facts and not just discuss airy assumptions. "Modern psychology,” he tells us, has shown that the emotional appeal is the way to build up a socialist party. Will he then explain why the I.L.P., which concentrated on this emotional appeal, from its formation back in the eighteen nineties, has failed so utterly to get socialism, or to build a socialist organisation, or even to build a solid and dependable organisation at all? Why, in face of emotional appeals backed up with lavish funds and delivered by professors at the game such as J. Maxton, why, in face of that has the I.L.P. lost half its members in two or three years?

(5) In this paragraph our correspondent (who, by the way, writes in language which the average reader would find it very difficult to understand) tells us how to get to the hearts of the workers and thus not waste our efforts. We can only reply that if we had had the relatively enormous financial resources of the emotional appealers the I.L.P. and the. Communist Party, and yet found our efforts had produced as little result as theirs have done, we would indeed have cause to look for different methods. But the facts point to the reverse conclusion. Apart from confusing the workers’ minds and making our propaganda efforts more difficult, the emotional appealers have achieved nothing of assistance in the task of getting socialism.
Editorial Committee

Letter: A New Reader Asks Some Questions. (1931)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard
 A correspondent who is evidently not acquainted with the Socialist Party asks a number of questions on a variety of subjects. The answers may be of use to other new readers who have yet to learn where we stand. 
Legion of Unemployed,
54, Poole Road,

Editor, “Socialist Standard.”                             
July 16th, 1931.

Dear Sir,

  1. What is your policy with regard to finance?
  2. Assuming the S.P.G.B. got a majority in the House, how would they proceed to nationalise the means of production?
  3. Do you think that the centre of control of economic power is vested in Parliament, or with the Bank of England?
  4. Assuming a Socialist Government nationalised the means of production, how will they guarantee it will function, and how do you intend to distribute amongst the people, claims on the proceeds of production in the form of consumable goods and services, besides wages for labour?
  5. As a policy, don’t you think issuing claims on production by the Government to the people, is better technique in achieving Socialism than that of owning means of production?

 Yours faithfully,
George Hickling.

(1) Questions of finance are questions of capitalism. Under capitalism the means of production and the products are the private property of the capitalist class. Money serves the purpose (among others) of enabling workers and capitalists to realise in a convenient form their respective shares of the products which the workers produce and the capitalists own; the workers’ share being their wages based on their cost of living. A money system is neither necessary nor possible under socialism. The means of production and the products will no longer be privately owned. The workers will not be in the position of selling their labour-power to a propertied class, and goods will not be the object of buying and selling transactions because buying and selling are only conceivable between private owners. Money will have lost its purpose and there will be no financial questions.

We are not concerned with the financial problems that arise under capitalism between the different sections of the capitalist class, although these questions greatly exercise the so-called “Labour” organisations. They conceive it to be their duty or their interest to try to teach the capitalists how best to run capitalism, whereas we are concerned with pointing out to the workers how to get socialism.

(2) Our correspondent is completely in error when he accuses us of wanting to ‘‘nationalise the means of production." We, want to do nothing of the kind. Nationalisation or state capitalism is an arrangement by which the capitalists exploit the working class through the Government instead of through private companies. Under nationalisation the capitalists receive their property-incomes as before and remain the owners of the means of production. The difference consists in the holding of Government securities instead of company shares. It often means the replacement of a varying ratio of interest by a fixed rate. The change is in the interests of some of the capitalists. It is not in the interest of the working class. The Socialist Party has always opposed nationalisation.

What socialism consists of is the removal of the capitalist class from their privileged positions as owners and controllers of the means of production and distribution. The change is a simple one. When a majority of the workers are socialist and are organised in the Socialist Party, they will gain control of the machinery of Government. By so doing they will have taken away from the capitalist class their only means of retaining their hold over the means of production, &c. Their political power taken from them, the capitalists will then just cease to be a propertied class.

(3) Our correspondent asks us if we think that “economic power” is vested in Parliament or the Bank of England. It is a pity he did not try to explain what "economic power” is. If our correspondent means the power of the capitalist to own and control his factories, land, workshops, &c., and only to permit these things to be used by the workers when and on such conditions as he thinks fit, then that power is based on the laws of property and the armed forces which enforce those laws. That power is centred in Parliament and the rest of the political machinery, because it is Parliament which makes those laws and Parliament which maintains and controls the other political machinery and those armed forces. The Bank of England, like other private business concerns, exists and operates only by virtue of Acts of Parliament. It has no "power” and indeed no existence except that which Parliament permits. This fact is obscured by the circumstance that usually the capitalists in control of Parliament and the capitalists in control of the Bank of England either belong to the same group or see eye to eye because they have identical interests.

(4) This question starts off with a mistaken assumption about nationalisation which is dealt with in (2) above.

The question contains several other serious misconceptions. First of all it is a wrong conception that socialism is going to be introduced by a Socialist Government acting as an entity separate and apart from the people and managing their affairs for them. There will be no socialism until a majority understand socialism and organise to get it. They will decide what they want done and how they want it done. Once political power has been obtained, they, the majority, will decide how the proceeds of production are to be distributed among the members of society. Apart from the early period when there may be an insufficiency of certain kinds of goods (a heritage from capitalism) goods will be freely accessible to the members of society.

There will be no private ownership of the means of life, hence no relationship of employers and employed and no buying and selling of labour-power. In other words, there will be no wages because there will be no system of wage-labour.

(5) Our correspondent here asks us to abandon common ownership of the means of production and to adopt another means of "achieving socialism.” But socialism is a system of society based upon common ownership. Therefore our correspondent’s scheme of social organisation is not socialism, whatever else it may be.

As he rejects common ownership the only alternative is private ownership, and this indeed is evidently what he has in mind, since he writes of—"the Government” issuing claims to the products of' industry "to the people.” It would not be socialism but state capitalism, under which the owning class would own and control the means of production and issue "claims on production” to the working class. State capitalism, as seen in the Post Office and in the Russian state industries, may be a good thing for the capitalists, but it solves no important working-class problem.
Editorial Committee

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Replies to the following correspondents have been crowded out of this issue, and will appear in the next issue. Mr. Dowdell (Oxford), Mr. Manning (Wealdstone), and Mr. Berman.

Editorial: The German Crisis. (1931)

Editorial from the August 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

The present situation in Germany, and the international financial crisis springing from it, brings into clear light some of the contradictions bound up with the capitalist system of production.

Germany was defeated in the war and the victors hastened to collect the fruits of victory, but there were a host of obstacles in the way. The fruits could only be obtained from the surplus value (unpaid labour) wrung from the German workmen. In order that German workmen should be able to labour German industries must flourish. This fact, and the international nature of capitalist investments and banking operations, along with the international complications of buyers and sellers, frustrated any attempt to ruin German national capitalists. The victors dared not kill the goose that they hoped would lay the golden eggs. Germany was like the debtor with “expectations" who had to be kept alive and well.

Since the war German industries have developed and German industrial competition has been keenly felt in all direction. When attempts have been made to curb their industrial aspirations, or press for reparation settlements they just pointed to probable ruin as the result. Their plan of campaign has been aided by the mutual distrust and jealousy of the erstwhile allied nations. France, in particular, whose position looked to be most promising, has constantly felt the pressure of its allies in thwarting its industrial designs.

Although France has undergone a rapid and thorough industrial revolution in recent years, the progress of its industrial magnates is hindered by the intrigues and jealous activities of their rivals in other nations who have suddenly discovered an altruistic interest in Germany's welfare. These other nations frequently call upon France to make concessions to Germany and foster the idea that France is the thorn in the rosebud. In the meantime, German capitalists pile up their fortunes and their debts, grin, and groan about the burden of the peace terms—which deprives them of a portion of the fruits of the German workman's labour.

In particular, the growing gold reserve of France has been the subject of much feeling to outside capitalists. The present German crisis has been seized upon at once to try to induce France to disgorge some of it. The “News Chronicle" for July 14th in an editorial article under the heading “France’s great opportunity," puts the matter bluntly as follows:
  The world is face to face to-day with an economic situation more sinister than any with which it has ever been confronted. Unless from some source credit and confidence can be promptly restored in Germany, Germany will collapse.
  The situation thus created places France in a position which is really decisive. On the one hand she is the only European nation which possesses the financial resources necessary to meet the case, and, on the other hand, she alone can create the atmosphere of goodwill and confidence, without which no outside financial help is likely to be forthcoming.
Conferences of international financial advisers and political “heads" have been held and, at the moment of writing, France appears to have been induced to do her share in backing a loan.

The “Sunday Express" for July 19th printed a long article setting forth the financial details of the situation, from which the following points are taken :—

  • Germany owes America £650 millions; America also has £300 millions invested in German industrial securities and real estate.
  • Germany owes England £150 millions, and about £100 millions to France, Switzerland, Holland and Sweden, but not much of it to France.
  • Included in the above totals is £300 millions of short term loans to Germany repayable in October. It is this money that has caused the crisis as Germany is unable to find it.
  • £150 millions of this short term money is due to America and £100 millions to England.

France’s interest in the above is negligible. On the other hand she has a large amount on short term loans in Roumania, Hungary and Poland—which goes if Germany collapses. Apart from this, France’s main interest is in the £50 millions reparations money guaranteed annually under the reparations agreement. The fall of the German government, which seems certain if they either accept conditions for a loan or fail to surmount the crisis, will probably ruin English and American merchant banking houses and compel France to say good-bye to the £50 millions a year.

The “Daily Express” article contains one statement to which we must call attention, although it is really outside the subject of this article. There has been an almost unanimous moan about the shortness of money in this country, and an attempt to trace industrial troubles to this source. It is therefore useful to note the following from the above mentioned article:
  "Meanwhile,” what about Great Britain? She is in a good position. If it were necessary for her to meet her foreign obligations we could mobilise from all sources—we could send out of the country —as much as £100,000,000 in gold, without disturbing the necessary cover for the note issue of the Bank of England.”
The real crisis in Germany, however, is political rather than financial. It is a fight for life on the part of the coalition Government parties. The Hitler Party and the Communists repudiate the reparation terms and seek to blame reparations for the present situation, and with them the Government and also the Social Democrats, whose votes have more than once saved the Government from defeat. These parties are on the horns of a dilemma. If they repudiate the reparations agreement and Germany crashes, they will go down too. If they stand by the terms of it Hitler and his group (now the second largest party in Germany, the Social Democrats being the largest) will probably swoop into power. There is a third way out for them—to invite Hitler into a coalition Government, in which case they would all stand or fall together. At the moment the interested parties outside of Germany are anxious that the coalition parties should retain control on account of the risk of debt repudiation in general.

At the moment the Social Democrats are using their votes to prevent the defeat of the Government. On the 17th July the Reich and State Governments were given power to confiscate or suppress at discretion any periodical in the country. They can compel any periodical to insert in the position, in the type, and with the headings they demand, and without any comment, any statement or declaration whatsoever. (“Sunday Times,” July 19th.)

That such steps should be deemed necessary is an indication of how frail is the Government’s hold upon power.

There is one lesson the last few days should make plain once again. Socialism cannot gradually arise in a capitalist world. The German S.D.P. has professed to be aiming at Socialism and believes it possible to introduce it gradually while still assisting in the administration of capitalism in association with capitalist parties. But the running of capitalism demands so much (quite apart from corruption and the like), and its financial operations are so complicated, that there is neither the time nor the means left to do other than make the machinery run smoothly. When the machine gets out of gear those at the head of affairs and all parties supporting them get their due—the antagonism of the masses.

The reparations question, and the financial crisis generally, is occupying the whole of the attention both of the German Social Democrats and of the British Labour Government. Mr. MacDonald told the London Conference on Monday, July 20th, what was the issue. He said (”Daily Herald,” 21st July) :—
  Our position, therefore, in a word, is to restore the confidence of the foreign investor in Germany.
What a spectacle for laughter! The English and German Labour leaders struggling to avert the ruin of the bankers and to restore the confidence of the investing class in the stability of German capitalism !