Saturday, March 9, 2019

Cooking the Books: What are normal profits? (2019)

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

In his column in the Times (7 January) Oliver Kamm gave both a description of how the profit system works and a defence of profit-seeking as ‘a benign and socially useful activity’:
  ‘Businesses are run with an eye to generating profit . . .  Expectations of higher profits will induce businesses to invest.’
Yes, but, equally, expectations of low or no profits induce businesses not to produce even if there is a need for their product. They only respond to paying – what economists cynically call ‘effective’ – demand, as Kamm admits:
  ‘If companies are confident about future demand, they will invest in plant, machinery and labour. If they’re not, they won’t – and this will accelerate an economic downturn. In an efficient economy, there’s no way of avoiding this.’
Kamm went on to describe another feature of capitalism – the averaging of the rate of profit across all sectors of the economy:
  ‘. . . if profits are abnormally high then other companies will enter the markets. This added production will constrain prices and cause profits to be no greater in one sector than in other industries.’
This is indeed what tends to happen and was noticed by Marx too. He devoted a whole section of Volume III of Capital, comprising five chapters, to ‘the transformation of profit into average profit’:
  ‘Capital withdraws from a sphere with a low rate of profit and wends its way to others that yield higher profit. This constant migration, the distribution of capital between the different spheres according to where the profit is rising and where it is falling, is what produces a relationship between supply and demand such that the average profit is the same in the various different spheres.’
So there is no disagreement between Marx and Kamm on what happens. The disagreement is over the source of this average, or ‘normal’, profit. Kamm argues:
   ‘A ‘normal’ profit is not, contrary to critics of the market system, exploitative of either consumers or workers. It is a genuine contribution by businesses and investors to public welfare. By deferring consumption and taking on risk, investors are expanding the possibilities of future production. They deserve a reward for this.’
This is not an economic explanation of the origin of ‘normal’ profits, merely an attempted justification for capitalists receiving a profit. It’s moral preaching not economics. And it doesn’t explain how its level is determined. Marx provided the economic explanation: the normal rate of profit is determined by the total amount of surplus value produced in the whole economy divided by the total amount of capital invested. Competition between capitals, embodied in companies, in their quest for higher profits leads to each capital tending to receive a share of profits pro rata to its size.

Noting that ‘the various different capitals here are in the position of shareholders in a joint-stock company, in which the dividends are evenly distributed for each 100 units,’ Marx concluded that:
   ‘… each individual capitalist … participates in the exploitation of the entire working class by capital as a whole, and in the level of this exploitation; not just in terms of general class sympathy, but in a direct economic sense, since… the average rate of profit depends on the level of exploitation of labour as a whole by capital as a whole.’
Kamm’s claim that a normal profit does not arise from the exploitation of workers could not be more wrong.

News in Review: “Freedom’’ in Africa (1964)

The News in Review column from the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Freedom’’ in Africa
By European standards, the recent mutinies in East Africa were very small beer. It was crushingly ironical that when the trouble started the new governments turned to the hated and despised British ex-rulers for help. If this proves anything, it is that ruling classes all over the world, whatever the colour of their skin, have common cause in the maintenance of their privileged position.

The troubles turned a spotlight upon Africa which is very disconcerting for the organisations which can always be relied upon to support any movement (especially in Africa) for national independence. These organisations have argued that the nationalist movements stood for freedom against the oppression of a foreign power. But how has freedom fared in the newly independent states?

Only five of them now make any pretence at being democratic. Ghana —the favourite example, of course—is now what the pro-Nkrumah Accra Evening News calls a one party democracy. Uganda has promised that it will also become a country where only one political party is allowed.

On all sides there is a developing African patriotism which is as pernicious and as nauseating as the Blimpishness which it ousted. Nkrumah and Kenyatta have both done their part in fomenting this patriotism; only last January Uganda’s Prime Minister said that there is what he called “an urgent need to cultivate national consciousness.”

This indicates what will happen when the workers of Kenya, Uganda and the rest start their first organised struggles to improve their wages and working conditions. They will be foolish to expect their new, African masters to take seriously the promises they made, in the days when they were opposing British rule, about freedom and human rights.

Capitalism laughs at such concepts. That is something which, we hope, the African workers will come to appreciate. It may even also get through to the people who like to call themselves progressive, the people who unfailingly speak up for Uhuru and other swindles which promise freedom and happiness but which only bring the customary repression and poverty.

Stiff Sentence
Reuter reports from Moscow that two former directors of a Riga department store have been found guilty of accepting bribes. Over here, that sort of offence against capitalism's rules of legal robbery would mean at the most a few years in prison. But in the so-called Socialist paradise it means something else. Both men were sentenced to be shot.

The Paul Report
There are many occupations under capitalism which will be quickly dispensed with under a Socialist administration. To list a few that will disappear, we have all banking and financial wizards and non- wizards, all military, naval and air force personnel, decorated and un-decorated, all ticket collectors on trains, buses, ships and air liners, all advertising, sales and business executives and, last but not least, lurking in the background of the commercial drapery, with soft lights and sweet music, the modern clergy.

After the publicity given to the Paul Report, this particular occupation of clergyman is in the news at the time of writing. The Liverpool Echo was recently lamenting the city’s shortage of clergymen and quoting from the Report that a ratio of one clergyman to 6,000 population showed Liverpool as . . . “one of the country’s worst hit spots ” . . .  Rather a novel way of putting it, like a shortage of coal in winter, or a shortage of water in summer!

The question arises—are these reverend gentlemen who wear their collars back to front, deal in holy water, and claim to be the earthly representatives of the supernatural, indispensable to society? The answer is that capitalism finds them an indispensable ingredient in fostering and perpetuating the myths of antiquity which Marx correctly described as . . . “ the opium of the people.”

So, whilst clergymen may be necessary to a ruling class anxious to control the brains of their wage slaves, we, the working class, could well travel along the road to our emancipation in a quicker, lighter way, freed from the phoney incantations of these modern medicine men.

The working class have no cause to lament a shortage of the “tools” their masters use against them, rather should they rejoice at any evidence that the religious pillar of capitalism is crumbling away.

End of R.P.M.?
As the general election draws nearer, the government tells us that every decision they make is a compound of courage, wisdom and humanity. That is why Sir Alec Douglas-Home described the move to abolish resale price maintenance as the grasping of a nettle.

It is not unreasonable to ask why they took so long to make up their minds, these wise, courageous, humane men. Only a few years ago the government gave R.P.M. its blessing; even now, it is not sure that price fixing will end. The proposed legislation will have plenty of loopholes through which even a moderately determined manufacturer will be able to slip and so continue to impose his terms on the retail market.

Perhaps the announcement was part of the usual pre-election handouts, like the raising of the school-leaving age. If the Tories can convince the voters that they are on the side of the consumer against the price-fixer, they may win some marginal seats in areas like the North and Midlands, where the price-maintained goods are so widely sold.

Of perhaps it was another move in the interminable fight against wage increases. Mr. Edward Heath, speaking to a Young Conservative conference last month, defended the decision to end R.P.M. on the grounds that: —
  . . . it had been found that full employment and an expanding economy brought rising prices.
  The Government believed the best way to deal with this problem was in the general context of competition between firms and in the retailing and distributive part of the economy. This was where resale price maintenance had had its effect. (Daily Telegraph, 10/2/63.)
Price levels are, of course, a vital factor in the bargaining which goes on over wage claims. No post war government has been able to halt the rise in prices, although all of them have promised to do so. Abolishing R.P.M. might be Douglas-Home's contribution to the wage battles of the next few years.

Meanwhile, the supermarkets lick their lips. Already they are slashing prices, pushing the little man farther and farther into the back street corners where his only sales appeal is that he gives “service." This is capitalism grinding on in classically ruthless style and the big supermarket tycoons, apparently, love it.

Probably a lot of workers will fall for the promises about the benefits which lower prices are supposed to bring them. There are plenty of people who regret the days when half-a-crown could buy a night out in the West End. A lot of the glamour rubs off these reminiscences when we remember that wages were then proportionately lower.

The fact is that anyone who has to work for his living always gets, on a general average, enough to keep him going. If prices go up, he gets a little more; if they go down, a little less. Sometimes this process may take a time to work out in the labour market, but in the end that is what happens.

This should always be remembered when we are talking about prices and wages. Unfortunately, it is more than likely that the ballyhoo over resale price maintenance will ensure that, not for the first time, the very fact that should be kept in prominence is obscured.

Spare a thought
The Sultan of Zanzibar, after fleeing to this country from the coup which deposed him, was reported to be in dire penury. He had to leave his posh hotel and to put up some of his retinue in a Salvation Army hostel. But the cruellest cut is, apparently, yet to come. The Sultan will now, said his private secretary, “. . . have to earn his living.”

Now the ruling class are never tired of telling us about the nobility of labour and about how good it is for us to rely upon our wage for our living. Yet when one of them is deprived of his investments and is faced with becoming one of us, their reaction is sympathetic horror. A flash of insight, this, into what our masters really think of this social system—and of the people who are foolish enough to let it continue.

Fiftieth Birthday
Nineteen sixty-three was the fiftieth anniversary of the New York stockbroking firm of Merrill Lynch, Pierce Fenner and Smith.

This firm recently announced its results for last year; operating income of $170 millions, net profit of $18 millions, 137 offices in the U.S.A. and 17 outside—including one in London. And an item of expenditure, on advertising and “public education," of $4-6 millions.

In the stuffy world of stockbrokers, Merrill Lynch have long been something of an unconventional outfit. For some years they have been trying to float their own shares on the New York Stock Exchange and have been prevented only by the Exchange's constitution. When they opened their London office three years ago they upset all the conventions over here by advertising their services in the press—something which, they say, has paid off handsomely.

It is by a typical piece of chop-logic that the Stock Exchange, although it allows its members to deal in the shares of companies whose advertising campaigns may be nothing more than dishonest, frowns upon those same members advertising themselves. Well-cared-for stockbrokers can apparently see nothing wrong in a tobacco company tempting its customers to ignore the evidence which links smoking with lung cancer, but they can see everything wrong in a broking firm tempting those same customers to invest in the tobacco companies through them.

Merrill Lynch's ads were aimed at the small investor—indeed, they have a rule that they never turn away any customer, no matter how little he has to invest. They thus have an interest in fostering the delusion that a worker can get rich by risking his paltry savings in a share gamble rather than by using them in some other way.

This is a useful delusion for the capitalist class. A worker who invests a few pounds usually thinks that he has a stake in capitalism and is, therefore, that much more servile and uncritical of the anomalies and inhumanities of the system. He will think that way even though his chances of making a significant profit from his shares are infinitely less than those of losing his lot in an unwise speculation.

Who, then, is likely to make a profit on the Stock Exchange? Take a look at Merrill Lynch’s balance sheet and you will see.

The Piper and the Tune (1964)

From the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are now, ladies and gentlemen, approaching the period of mud-slinging, evasions and lies which goes under the name of a general election.

The campaigns which the two main parties carry out cost them both a lot of money and this in itself promises to be one of the smaller issues in the election. For the Conservatives, and some of their supporters, spend much more on their propaganda than the Labour Party does. This has given the Labour Party the chance to pull out of the cupboard one of their favourite bogymen—the corrupt Tory in the pay of rich industrialists who expect some legislative favours in return for the money they have lashed out on Central Oflice propaganda.

In the two years up to the last election the Conservatives spent about £468,000 on advertising and during the campaign itself £475,915. (These figures, and some of the others in this article, are taken from some contributions to The Guardian by its Labour correspondent, Mark Arnold Foster.) A Labour candidate recently estimated, in Socialist Commentary, that the Tories put about £1 million a year into all forms of central expenditure The pre-election spending goes into the sort of campaign which Colman, Prentis and Varley waged so successfully for the Macmillan government and into the sort of posters which are now dominating so many hoardings, with Douglas-Home's head tilting massively into a goofy smile, promising us Straight Talk and Action. (Even if we did not already know it, all the emphasis on action and energy among politicians would tell us that an election was near.)

Apart from their own spending, the Tories are supported by some industrial groups, and some companies, who donate to their funds (Fisons gave £2,320 in 1962) and who push out anti-nationalisation propaganda. Before the last election these groups spent £1,435,000 on this sort of activity.

The Labour Party are also supported by outside contributions which we shall deal with later. But even so, their expenditure does not come anywhere near that of the Conservatives. In 1959, every Tory vote cost the party 3s. 6d., against the 1s. 8d. which every one of their votes cost the Labour Party.

The amount which a candidate may spend on his campaign is limited by the Representation of the Peoples Act to £450 plus 1½d. or 2d. per elector, depending on whether the constituency is town or country. But the Act only applies to the period of the campaign itself. Money which is spent on propaganda before the election is announced escapes the Act's restrictions. That is why we are now being treated to press advertisements which innocently tell us how efficiently the steel industry is being run under private enterprise and to others less innocently worded, which are outright attacks on nationalisation. All of these are paid for by the steel companies or by groups like Aims of Industry.

Any business man who wants to make an anonymous contribution to the fight against nationalisation can send his money to Aims of Industry, or to other groups like British United Industrialists or the Economic League. All three of these have some impressively rich and powerful chiefs of commerce and industry among their sponsors. In many ways, the Economic League is different from the other two; it is more of a storm troopers' organisation, running its little green vans all over the country, holding meetings at factory gates and street corners, offering a lecture service to apprentices and supervisors.

The Labour Party say that they want these organisations brought out into the open. They want them to publish their accounts; they want all the companies who donate to political parties to say so. They also think that the Tories should publish their accounts. They hint darkly about rich men secretly master-minding the Tory government. This may be fruitful propaganda for the Labour Party; it may also be a useful excuse if they lose the election. Nothing so soothes the disappointment of a defeated Labour man as the conviction that, although the common people are solidly behind him, he has been robbed by the underhanded intervention of the unscrupulous rich.

The Conservatives like to say that the hand outs they receive from the industrialists are no different from the support which Labour gets from its affiliated Trade Unions. Certainly, trade union money is important to the Labour Party; in 1962 the Transport and General Workers gave them £37,500, the AEU £29,047, the mineworkers £20,124. Apart from this, there are the sponsored candidates who are financed by their unions. But the big difference is that the unions publish the details of their contributions and that any member who does not want to pay the political levy (and none of them should want to) can quite easily contract out of it. This is in contrast to the secrecy which surrounds the donations to the Tory Party.

We can expect the Labour Party to plug the line that it is undemocratic for a political party to be financed by outside organisations and to spend a lot of money on its campaigns. Expensive propaganda is popularly supposed to obscure the issues in an election and to undermine the simple voter's ability to see clearly through to the heart of things. This, incidentally, was said a few years ago about the last electoral campaign of Dr. Adenauer, when his Christian Democratic Party swept back to power in West Germany and some political observers professed to see a threat to democracy in the costly campaign which the CDU had waged. This idea is important—and importantly wrong—enough to be dealt with in stages.

First of all, is it true that political parties are dominated by the organisations who donate funds to them? Has the Conservative government gone out of its way not to upset its supporters in industry and commerce? Far from it. Its 1962 Budget, for example, was criticised by the journal of the National Association of British Manufacturers as giving assistance to the car, television and radio industries
 . . .  at the expense of other industries notably furniture and clothing which are in no position to help others. The injustice to the users of heavy hydrocarbon oils remains. The concession on estate duties is too small to be significant for small, privately owned businesses and the 10 per cent surcharge on revenue and purchase tax has, in most cases been consolidated, becoming a permanency with the possibility of a further 10 per cent addition.
The same government has forced large scale amalgamation among aircraft firms. It has imposed vast cuts in the cotton industry and in its intention to abolish resale price maintenance has upset many of the small shopkeepers who, we are told, have faithfully supported it for years.

Similarly, it is wrong to say that the Labour Party is dominated by the Trade Unions and that a Labour government would therefore knuckle under to strikes and other industrial action. The last Labour government fought wage claims all the way along the line and took a much tougher line with unofficial strikes (official ones were hardly heard of in those days) than the Tories have done. In fact, although they were formally linked with the Trade Unions, the 1945/51 Labour government opposed every attempt to apply the object—the improvement of working class conditions—which every union should have.

This can all be put into perspective. Political parties do not get power in order to pay off electoral debts nor to favour any industry or group of industries. Whatever may have been true in the past, modern parties in this country want power simply to run British capitalism in the overall interest of its capitalist class. Sometimes this means — as it did in 1945 — that some basic industries must b: nationalised. Sometimes — as it did later — that others must be amalgamated. Or—as it does now—that there must be some control on the speculative development of land. Both Labour and Conservative parties broadly agree on what British capitalism needs to have done and both are prepared to do it.

If, that is, enough people vote for them. That is why they spend so much money in trying to persuade us to do just that.

There is nothing intrinsically undemocratic in expensive election campaigns. It is no empty truism to say that democracy depends upon the existence of democrats. That fact is too often ignored; the Labour Party are ignoring it when they say that the donations to Tory funds are undemocratic. For what sort of a democrat is it who can be swayed by expensive publicity into voting against his convictions? Who falls for Douglas-Home’s smile? Or for Wilson’s thumbs- up? Or Grimond’s lock of hair?

Only the politically ignorant will be impressed by such things. And since the Labour Party, like all the other capitalist parties, exploits political ignorance, it can hardly complain if the person who blindly voted Labour yesterday just as blindly votes Tory tomorrow. It cannot even complain when the same person follows the racist or some other demagogue and blindly votes to abolish what little democracy he has— and abolish, perhaps, the Labour Party along with it.

Capitalism itself rests upon ignorance, and its political parties, with their symbols and slogans, their banners and big drums, are all up to their necks in it. The mass of the people are taken in by the ballyhoo. They support the system of private property for the flimsiest of reasons and never seriously consider the proposition that there is a better way of running the world. As long as such ideas keep their grip, the world will remain in confusion. Apart from anything else, democracy will always be unsafe.

Both Labour and Conservative parties support this chaos of ignorance. Beside that momentous fact, what does it really matter which has the bigger posters, or the more press advertisements, or bangs the bigger drum?

Big stamp wrangle (1964)

From the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The biggest battle for a long time is now being fought in the retail trade in this country—and all, on the surface, over a little piece of green, or pink, or gold, sticky paper called a Trading Stamp. Yes, on the surface. The real cause of the battle is to be found much deeper than any newspaper cares to dig.

Trading Stamps have been going in this country for a long time with Green Shield, a British company, having the big hold. But the stamps were mainly confined to small shops; they had no really big retail organisation to issue them. What started the present fuss was the decision of millionaire Garfield Weston (ABC, Fine Fare Supermarkets) to issue the American Sperry and Hutchinson pink stamps in his supermarkets.

This started a flood of stamps, among them another American concern — King Korn — and another British Super Yellow, owned by the same John Bloom who has made a lot of money out of direct selling washing machines. One gimmick followed another — Mr. Weston, for example, had glamorous pink-coated hostesses outside his supermarkets dishing out the S.H. gift catalogue.

Sperry and Hutchinson have been going for a long time—since 1896, to be exact, and have been in England, looking for an outlet, for over a year. They claim forty per cent. of the £300 million trade done in 275,000 retail shops in the States and have 280 redemption shops where their stamps can be exchanged for what are called gifts. The man behind them is Mr. William Sperry Beinecke, who says that trading stamps are no panacea for the retailer but only a promotional tool to help his sales.

Ranged against the stamp firms are some of Britain's retail giants Boots, W. H. Smith, Sainsburys, and so on. Labour peer Sainsbury, who has hundreds of shops, is spending some £50,000 in a campaign to thwart the trading stamp firms. Sainsbury opposes the stamps because, he says, they are wasteful and in the end lead to higher prices. And, of course, because they are "unfair competition.” He is doing his best to persuade the Labour Party to make the matter one for legislation.

On the side of the big retailers in the battle is the shopworkers’ union— USDAW, whose executive committee, in the name of their 350,000 members, say that trading stamps are against the interests of shops and stores, employees and consumers and that in the end the nation (by which they mean you and me) will bear the added burden of the cost of the stamps and gifts and the labour involved in producing and checking them.

Mr. Garfield Weston, for his part, protests that he would not do anything which was against the public interest and so is determined to carry on his sales drive with what he hopes will be the help of the stamps.

The printing and distribution of hundreds of thousands of gift catalogues alone costs at least £2 million; it is this sort of cost which Lord Sainsbury says will be passed on to the customer. The Progressive Grocer Magazine figures that trading stamp amount to fourteen per cent, of a retailer's operating costs and that he has to take this into account when setting his prices.

Frank L Chavia in his book Supermarkets, published in 1961, writes:
  “Selling Operations". Stamps are generally at the rate of one stamp for each 10 cent purchase. For a supermarket to use this promotional tool successfully certain prerequisites must be met.

  1. The (user) shop should be part of a group of different stores reasonably close to each other geographically. All should handle the same stamp with the super or a departmental store as the centre of influence.
  2. Stamps are promotional: customers must be encouraged to save them and associate the stamps with that particular store.
  3. Stamps must obtain and hold additional volume, while the volume increase varies; at least 10% increase in sales is needed to break even on the stamp cost.
  4. The super must be able to handle added volume without materially increasing the overheads.
  5. Stamps are not a panacea for supers whose quality and type of service are inferior to those offered by competitors.
  6. Stamps do not permit much if any, independence in pricing.

Now it is obvious that the retailers who have taken up the stamps have not done so, so that they can give the housewife a brand new set of saucepans or any of the other “gifts.” They hope and expect to increase their profits through the stamps and this need not come about by a simple rise in their prices. What they say they are aiming at is to increase their turnover and by this means to increase their profit. One of the stamp companies’ press adverts claims that, in retaliation, some anti-stamp retailers have had to cut prices and that therefore the ultimate winner in the struggle is the consumer. In this sort of advert it is always the consumer—and never the shareholder—who wins.

In fact, trading stamps, like the checks, coupons, premiums, samples, contests which have all been well tried in the past are part of the jungle of capitalism's competition. And competition will only bring prices down when there is an overall excess of the supply of a commodity over the demand for it. The fierce competition between the grocery retailers did not, for example, prevent the increase in the price of sugar last year.

The process of profit making is basically quite simple. The capitalist class, who own the places and the materials which go to produce and distribute wealth employ the working class. The labour of the working class produces the wealth; it builds the shops, produces the groceries, transports them. The workers serve in the shops, they take the cash at the counters. In this process they are exploited simply because, in terms of a commodity’s value, they contribute more than they get back in wages. When their labour is done the commodity they have made or handled has a higher value than it had before. It is from this higher value that the employer—the industrialist, the retailer perhaps—gets his profit.

This profit often has to be shared with other capitalist concerns—with advertising agencies, insurance companies, banks, landlords. And sometimes with a “gimmick” concern like the trading stamp companies. In the competitive rat race the capitalists get headaches, and worse, in trying to outwit and outsell each other. Some retailers may try simple low prices—like Salisburys and Boots. Others may fall for the wiles of the stamp trading companies. In this they are creaming off some of their profit, sometimes in the hope of making a larger overall profit—and sometimes merely to survive.

The working class are as passionately divided in this struggle as are the competing retailers. Some of them like the stamps—they like sticking them in, they get a kick out of their “free gift.” Other workers think that the stamps are a dishonest gimmick. Yet if they will all take a deep breath and have a good think about it, what would they find? Why. that whether they collect stamps or not, and whether prices go up or down, they still only just manage to get by on their wage. When they have paid the landlord and the grocer and the H.P. man, when they have put a bit by for their holiday, and when they have paid for all the other necessities of life, there is precious little left.

As long as the working class are deluded by the gimmicks of capitalism—in all their many shapes and sorts—there will be no end to them. Perhaps some enterprising firm will try white balloons next. For saving so many white balloons you can get so many black stamps which you can exchange for so many pink discs which you can swop for . . . and so on, and so on, until they get wise to it, and it dawns on them that a better, saner way of making and distributing humanity's wealth is so that it is strictly for use instead of for sale and letting all human beings have free access to it.
Joe McGuinness

The Passing Show: Competitive Friendship (1964)

The Passing Show Column from the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Competitive Friendship
It's a competitive system all right. Competition colours the whole of our lives and dominates our actions. It is praised and advocated as a worthy thing by all the capitalist parties, some more than others, of course, although none of them is so enthusiastic about it when their ruling class is in the weaker competitive position. But still, there is nothing much they can do about it but accept the basic proposition of competition. It is an accomplished fact of capitalism. And because of this, it often makes a mockery of friendship and subjects the most personal relationships to intolerable strain.

In the wider international political field, too, no alliance (or “friendship” to use a statesmen's euphemism) is free from its buffetings. Indeed, even while swearing eternal brotherhood and clasping hands across the conference table, the politicians must always keep a sharpened knife to use against their former allies, should the interests of their ruling class so demand at any time. History—particularly in recent years—is full of such examples. Was it not Stalin, for instance, who signed a non-aggression and friendship pact with Hitler after having moved his forces half way across Poland to meet the advancing Nazi armies? Both men must have known at the time how worthless such a pact was, but it suited their interests to sign it. And less than two years later they were at war.

One piece of “non-aggression” was dead and another was born. Russia became the ally of Britain and U.S.A., once again amidst the toasts, the backslapping, and vows of everlasting friendship. Only since the war has some of the truth trickled out concerning the intrigue and double-crossing that went on. We know that the first atomic bomb was dropped not to end the war—it could have been ended some months before on the Allies’ terms—but to demonstrate America’s nuclear might and as a diplomatic trump card to be played at later conferences with the Soviets. Was it not Field Marshal Montgomery who, in the closing stages of the European war, wanted to race on to Berlin, not primarily to defeat the Nazis, but to forestall Russian occupation of the city?

Since those days, all sorts of re-shufflings have taken place and nobody can guess what new line-ups will emerge even in the near future. Which brings us back to our initial point. The more farsighted capitalist politician never assumes permanency of any alliance. He must be prepared to tear up treaties, stab ruthlessly in the back where necessary, and be in opposition to those with whom perhaps only yesterday he was wining and dining. In fact, even while the alliance is still in force, he must try and perceive future trends and warn his “friends” not to tread on his toes in any future bargaining session.

Stripped of any verbal niceties, this was the very point made by Prime Minister Douglas-Home when addressing Conservatives at Bury last month. Britain must not abandon nuclear weapons, he said, because she would lose her place at the top table when such matters were discussed between East and West. He went on:—
  I want to make it quite clear that 1 am not going to get out of that chair and I will not see it empty. France, when she has a nuclear arm will be there. She is our close and valued ally. So, too, will China, if and when she has a nuclear bomb. But they will not, if I have anything to do with it, supplant Britain. If, as seems certain, they are to become nuclear powers it is more vital than ever that Britain should be at the centre where matters of war and peace hang in the balance.
No doubt the Bury Conservatives did not disagree with Sir Alec’s words. It is a fair bet that a Liberal or Labour audience would also be ready to echo their basic sentiment of pushing their masters' interests at the conference table. In fact it will be interesting to compare Mr. Wilson’s public statements on such matters (should he become P.M.) with those of Douglas-Home. There won't be much to choose between them. The same old game in fact, and bang up to date.

Scramble for Oil
An important background to the bloody struggle between the Algerian Nationalists and the French, was the discovery of oil and other minerals in the Sahara. Had it not been for this, the area would probably have been given its independence a long time before. As it was, huge sums of money were poured into its development and an army of half a million soldiers was tied down in trying to hold it for the French capitalist class.

There is news now that oil and gas may be found in large quantities under the North Sea, and it looks as if a new and bitter struggle will be focused here in the very near future. This is what is behind the rather hurried ratification by various governments of the Continental Shelf Convention, which divides the shelf between the states for exploration and exploitation. According to Labour M.P. Sir Frank Soskice, no less than eighteen countries are carrying out borings and oil companies have been prospecting there for two years, so there is a strong chance of new supplies being found.

But as work proceeds, so the rumblings of discord grow louder and already the West German government have issued a "hands off” warning to foreign companies. When the Continental Shelf Convention comes into force, they will no doubt assert their legal right to push the others out, but by then there will be American Overseas Petroleum Ltd. drilling in the area, as well as those already there. So keep your eye on the North Sea. There may be two big explosions there shortly, the first when the gas and oil come up, the second when they all start squabbling over who is to get the lion's share of it. But whoever gets it, workers will not. Just another example of that “good healthy competition” we were discussing just now.

M.l Madness
That surely must have been a nightmare on the M.l motorway during that foggy night of January 21st when crash after crash occurred, and altogether some two hundred vehicles were involved. It seems that the drivers simply refused to obey common sense rules, not only attempting to overtake, but doing so in some cases at speeds upwards of sixty m.p.h.

Well might Mr. Marples lash out at them in the Commons two days later. Well might he express horror “at this further series of multiple accidents.'' It was an easy matter for him to lay the blame fairly and squarely where it belonged—on the shoulders of the foolish motorists who travelled too fast and too close to the vehicles ahead of them for safety. Indeed, reading reports of the minister's statement, it is difficult to escape the impression that this was not just an attack but a counter attack. He has come in for some pretty hefty knocks from the "Marples Must Go” faction, but here was one time when he could throw their words back in their faces. His position was unassailable, and opposition criticisms fizzled out.

As far as he went, Mr. Marples was right, of course.. But only as far as he went. He seemed to forget that the whole idea behind the construction of the M.l and other motorways was not just to relieve congestion and get traffic moving, but to gel it moving quickly. They were built for fast traffic; that is why the pedestrian and the push cyclist are banned and there is no speed limit. If this fosters an attitude of recklessness at times bordering on the maniacal, it is a bit late in the day to complain.

Incidentally, contrary to claims made when it was opened, the findings of Professor W. Gissane and Dr. J. Bull after a three-year study of deaths on the M.l are that:—
 . . . the risk of fatal accidents to car occupants and perhaps to lorry drivers, per vehicle mile travelled, is appreciably higher than on other types of road . . . 
Speed is the order of the day in capitalist society. Speed with its handmaidens of greater nervous strain, injury and often death. It is against this sort of background that we must view the pile ups on the M.1 and the truly frightening casualty list on the roads in general (almost 7,000 deaths in 1961). This is what Mr. Marples may moan about, but is largely powerless to prevent. This is capitalism—on the move.
Eddie Critchfield

50 Years Ago: Waste of Armaments (1964)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The champion of the European Unity League (an international organisation existing in Piccadilly), one Sir Max Waechter, D.L, J.P., informs us through the daily Press that "the British Empire spends on her army and navy about £100,000,000 per year," and that “approximately 500,000 white officers and men are kept under arms." “If,” says Sir Max, “we estimate again that these could on an average earn about £100 a year, we find that the preservation of peace costs us about £150,000,000 annually ” “With this amount," the gallant knight goes on, “we could rapidly abolish the slums, rebuild our towns, resettle the country, improve education, and could vastly increase the prosperity of the people.”

Very vague, that term. “the people.” If the working class is meant, our D.L etc. would find it somewhat difficult to persuade the masters who control this expenditure to spend it in the workers' interest

“Wages are higher in America and Australia,” says our peace advocate, “partly because wealth is not drained away by the mad race for armaments." But is the American or Australian worker the better off for the increased money wage? There are slums in the great cities of the United States, whilst unemployment and poverty are rampant in both countries. And if money wages are higher, so. too. is the cost of living.
[From the February 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard.]

[Armament expenditure is now in 1964 £1,766 million a year. Allowing for prices being five times as high as in 1913, the £150 million would now he equivalent to about £750 million a year. Expenditure is therefore more than twice as great. As a percentage of total national product it has risen from about 6 per cent. In 1913 to 7 per cent—Editorial Committee.]

Party News (1964)

Party News from the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many meetings are arranged for this month (details are given in this issue) members and friends are urged to give all their support, much work is needed in the preparation of meetings and it behoves on us who are not directly connected with the organising to attend these meetings.

Annual Conference is being held at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London, W.C.1., on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 27th, 28th and 29th. Will all provincial branches who need accommodation for their delegates please contact Head Office as soon as possible in order that arrangements can be made.

Swansea Branch is looking forward to the General Election, and hopes to take good advantage from it. Members are very active; a recent meeting addressed by Harold Wilson, the Labour leader, was attended by Party members. Leaflets introducing the SPGB were given out, the Socialist Standard distributed and our case put to passers by. Membership is building up and it is hoped soon to be able to contest a Municipal election. Support in the Party case appears to be quite strong in the area. Swansea branch is confident that it can greatly extend socialist propaganda in the area.

A reminder. Meeting at Bromley Library, (Lecture Room) High Street, on Wages and Inflation, Friday, March 20th, 8 pm Debate: SPGB v Labour Party. Hammersmith Town Hall, Wednesday, March 18th at 7.30 pm.

Blogger's Note:
The details of the above mentioned debate with the Labour Party are as follows:

“Can the Labour Party bring Socialism?"

For SPGB: C. May
For Labour: S. Bidwell (Parliamentary Candidate)

Wednesday 18th March 7.30 Hammersmith Town Hall

Syd Bidwell was a former member of the Trotskyist organisation Revolutionary Communist Party and, at the time of the debate, had some kind of relationship with Tony Cliff's International Socialism group, though I don't know if he was a member at the time of the debate. Bidwell was elected to Parliament in the 1966 election and remained a Labour MP in West London until he was deselected by his local Labour Party in the 1990s.

Our General Election Campaign (1964)

Party News from the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers of the February issue of the Socialist Standard will be aware of the Party's preliminary activities for the General Election. Progress has been made and in Bromley and Glasgow comrades are concentrating their work so that they will reap maximum results when the time arrives.

In Bromley, which is the constituency near to Lewisham, it it the Lewisham Branch which is doing the spade work in preparation. The representative of the Party to stand as the Parliamentary candidate is Comrade E. Grant and the Election agent is Comrade I. Robertson. Much canvassing has been done and meetings held. On Thursday, March 20th at Bromley Library Lecture room, High Street. Bromley at 8 p.m. a public meeting is being held the title being “Wages and Inflation ".

In Glasgow, the Branch members are well prepared for the General Election, no matter when it occurs. Since October they have been canvassing the Socialist Standard around the working class in the Woodside constituency. At the moment they are concentrating their literature selling in the North Kelvin Ward (which forms a part of the Woodside constituency) in preparation for Glasgow Municipal elections in May. 

This year will be the first time that the Socialist Party has ever contested two wards in a local Glasgow election. North Kelvin Ward (for the third time) and for the first time the Knightswood Ward. Literature sales in both wards have been encouraging and the intensified effort of four nights each week devoted to selling the Standard in these two wards should make the case for Socialism extremely well known.

Indoor meetings have continued since October in the Woodside Halls and will carry on until April. The Glasgow Branch urges all members and sympathisers to assist them. There is plenty of work to be done. Your assistance, both physical and financial is needed. How about it Comrades? The Party representative for the Woodside constituency is Comrade R. Vallar and the Election Agent is Comrade A. Webster.

Two of the essentials to help our campaigns: all party members available are urgently required to work with the local branches in the two areas now, and as much money as can be spared by members and sympathisers should be sent at once to the Parliamentary Fund. Without the money the necessary work will be seriously handicapped. So please help all you can.