Saturday, July 27, 2019

Economics Exposed: The great money trick (1987)

The Economics Exposed column from the July 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The most relevant response to debates about "economics" in the current era is to point out that the present global system of production is based on the legalised robbery of the majority by the minority. As long as the wages system exists, therefore, the needs of the majority cannot properly be met, as production will remain geared to the needs of our employers rather than to the needs of humanity as a whole.

This socialist assertion about the economic system which exists throughout the world today can quite easily be shown to be correct. A recent survey by Management Today has shown that the top hundred British companies have all increased the value of their shares by at least six hundred per cent over the past decade. Now there is a capitalist cliché about "making your money work for you" which is as misleading as statements about the famous billionaire tinfoil-magnate, Lord Skiver, having "built" a palatial residence in the South of France. What it really means is using your money in order to make others work for you. And if I had invested a million pounds in a share portfolio covering those hundred companies ten years ago, I would now have over six million, without even having heard of the companies, let alone worked for them.

This leads us to the key question. Where would my extra five million pounds' worth of wealth have come from? The honest answer is so simple and obvious that it will give the average economist (who works for money by dealing with such “complex” matters) a bout of apoplexy. This surplus is created simply because the wages and salaries paid to workers by our employers amount to far less than the value of the wealth we are creating. And that surplus value goes directly into the hands of those who own the productive resources in the first place, allowing them to build up their monopoly of the means of survival still further.

The prices of goods and services reflect the "value" label which is pinned on them by the capitalist economic system. These relative "values", or ratios in which goods and services are exchanged, are determined ultimately by the amount of socially-necessary labour-time required to produce them. In other words, the quantity and quality of human effort involved in producing some finished item (and delivering it to its point of consumption) is what guides capitalism towards determining its price on the market. Within the wages system, however, the working abilities of human beings have themselves been turned into items of purchase. on the labour market. And the wage (or price) needed to buy your creative powers for a given period is determined in the end by the amounts of labour time or social resources required to "produce" you, as reasonably fit for productive work.

Under the influence of these economic laws, then, let us assume you have been employed for a week. The employer may pay £120, in real terms as the price commanded by your working abilities for that week. That may be the minimum amount necessary to supply the housing and sustenance needed to make sure that you are physically and mentally capable of being a productive and profitable investment for that employer. But unlike other items which are bought and sold in the world market, human working time has a special quality. It is the only item which, once bought, will then proceed to create new values, new wealth. Other investments may seem "productive", but in all cases it is human labour alone which is responsible for generating socially recognised wealth or value.

Having hired you for the week for £120, the boss can rely on you to produce new value substantially in excess of this, even allowing for "overheads” such as paying for fuel and other services, raw materials and the depreciation of machinery. The simple fact is that given access to natural resources and twentieth century technology, one worker can produce the basic material necessities for one person in a fraction of each day, or week, or year. In a sane system of society this would happen, and the remaining time could be spent in constantly refining and improving life, in addition to safely and happily guaranteeing decent food and housing for every human being. In capitalist terms, however, those few hours taken by each worker each week helping to produce (directly or indirectly) the equivalent of their own bare means of survival, is seen merely as "the reproduction of the value of labour power", in other words the part of the week during which we create the equivalent of our wage. Any wealth you create in the remainder of the week goes to the owner of the enterprise (who may live a thousand miles away). The penalties for ignoring these present laws are severe in terms of material suffering, as any worker will find if you pack up and go home every Wednesday afternoon, informing your boss that you have finished for the week because you have created the "value" of your wage. This, then, is the legalised robbery which workers have too often been persuaded to vote for.
Clifford Slapper

Between the Lines: The democracy show (1987)

The Between the Lines column from the July 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The democracy show

I watched the 1987 election on the telly. More than any previous one, this was democracy which you watched, like you watch Cagney and Lacey or championship wrestling. It was an election campaign devised for cameras, in which people with minds were temporary screen interferences, which existed to be watched. But that is not what the Chartists fought for over a hundred years ago. Those men and women of the working class who were depicted insultingly as "the mob", unworthy of the right to vote, campaigned for the chance to participate in democracy. They were under no more illusions than socialists are today that the "democracy" which could be squeezed out of capitalism was mean, limited and only a means to a far greater freedom, but, like socialists today, they knew that once they were in on the political act they possessed a means to power in society. But there is a massive distinction which must be recognised between being in on the political act — being active participants in democracy — and having democracy turned into a television show, there to be watched by a passive electorate whose greatest possible function (if they are lucky) is to become invited members of a controlled studio audience. The Chartist movement did not struggle for that: our fellow workers today in dictatorships from the East of Europe to the South of Africa are not struggling for that. What must be recognised, because it has been more apparent in 1987 than it ever was before, is that the democratic election process has been appropriated by unelected, unaccountable media chiefs who have taken it upon themselves not to go as far as to deny workers the chance to vote, but to dominate what workers see before they vote. This gross erosion of meaningful democracy has not occurred as a result of the independent arrogance of the media bosses: they have been aided by the full collusion of the major capitalist parties who have decided to abandon the process of real public debate and opted for stage-managed imagery. In the process the intellectual debate which is fundamental to any kind of meaningful democratic election has been all but stifled. Theatricals have replaced polemics; images have been substituted for ideas; the condescending spectacles of red-rose rabble-rousing and leader-worshipping displays of amorphous masses have compelled even democratic socialists to wonder how seriously one can take a general election which is presented in the manner of The Eurovision Song Contest. What we are saying is that the extent to which the media has taken it upon themselves to lay out the electoral agenda, excluding as they do so all reference to the revolutionary socialist alternative, is a threat to the rights which workers have fought for — a threat which socialists, who regard democracy as an inseparable means and end, will resist.

The show itself

The real election took place away from the cameras. In Islington, where the only Socialist candidate stood, the battle was fought on the streets where literature was sold on stalls and at tube stations; in our manifesto and leaflets which were delivered to all households; on posters and stickers which clearly stated the socialist message; and at our election rally: ours was a battle of ideas. The TV Democracy Show was a prolonged. boring performance, virtually devoid of ideas and totally devoid of fresh thought. There was the torturing experience of endless Kinnock interviews, as the Labour windbag piled on alliterative negatives in description of the satanic evils of Thatcher. The demon Thatcher herself was interviewed rarely, leaving it mainly to Tebbit who looked like a man waiting for an urban riot to break out so that he could squash it. Healey came across, as usual, as an affable lout and Owen as an arrogant phoney. It was an election of characters, not ideas, and as The Socialist Party is interested in ideas, not characters, it all seems hardly worthy of comment. One moment on the election night sticks in this writer's mind. It was when Robin Day, in the middle of one of those utterly empty studio debates which earned him his knighthood, broke off because he had been instructed to cross to David Dimbleby. the linkman. Dimbleby was unable to speak because his mouth was full of chocolate toffee (a Mars Bar. he splurted: "I can't say anything because I'm in the middle of eating a Mars Bar"). Perhaps there lies a clue to the way to finally destroy the stream of banalities which characterise these BBC election specials: stuff their gobs with Mars Bars and give us all a rest. Perhaps the Animal Liberation Front has an historic role to play after all!
Steve Coleman

A better world (1987)

From the July 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the world today we have the resources, the technology, the skills and the knowledge to satisfy everyone's needs — in food, clothing. shelter and everything else — several times over; no informed person would deny it. But we cannot fully use those assets in a society where the fundamental aim of production is profit. We can only use them in a society where the fundamental aim of production is human needs.

This means establishing a society without money — where we don't use bits of metal and pieces of paper to needlessly ration ourselves, we don't all walk around with a cash register in our heads.

This means a society without wages — where we aren't forced to work for an employer just to get by. but where we can choose the work we want to do for our own satisfaction and for the benefit of the community as a whole.

This means a society without frontiers and nations — where the world's resources and knowledge are used rationally and not in the crazy, haphazard way determined by "market forces" or governments, causing millions to die of starvation or go short while food and other essentials are stockpiled in huge quantities.

This means a society without wars or the threat of wars — because wars in the modern world are caused by economic and trade rivalries between nations, and in a world that is united there won't be such rivalries to fight over.

“You can't change human nature"
A lot of people will say that this sounds nice but it's impossible because human beings are naturally lazy, greedy and aggressive, and "you can't change human nature".

We'd reply to this that human beings can certainly be lazy, greedy and aggressive, but that they can be (and they usually are in their day-to-day relations) co-operative, generous and caring. They are what their situation makes them. We are not, for example, usually greedy or aggressive about the thing that is most essential above all else to our survival — water. We don't fight for it, refuse a glass of it to a thirsty stranger, or hoard it in our baths or in buckets under our beds. Nor do we needlessly waste it. Why not? Because we know that every time we turn on the tap. it's there. And if we organise society — and we can do it easily — so that everything we need to live comfortably is there when we turn on the tap (in other words we have free access to all goods and services), then we are more likely, in these circumstances, to behave in a generous and co-operative way. We will also be providing for ourselves the secure material framework within which we can attend to all the inner, non-material needs we may have.

The real alternative
So we're not asking people to be "good" or “idealistic". We're simply asking them to see that a fundamental change in the way society is organised — which we call socialism — is in their individual interests, in their children's interests, and in the interest of society as a whole.

But the Socialist Party doesn't exist to bring about this state of affairs for you. We exist to spread the ideas we've outlined and to be used, if people want to use us, to vote out the present system of buying and selling and production for profit and vote in a new system of common ownership, production for use and free access to all goods and services. And just as it must be voted in democratically. this new system can only be run democratically — by everyone — with all having equal access to everything it produces.

Socialism (1987)

From the July 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism means a world without nations and passports, borders and barriers. By replacing production for profit with a society based on production direct for human needs, socialism will do away with prices and profits, buying and selling, money and markets. In the process, socialism will remove war — not by deterring it with ever more destructive weapons, nor by futile attempts to ban the weapons — but by removing capitalism, the cause of war.

Casualties (1987)

USS Stark
From the July 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every day wars are fought. Every day the pressures inside this society erupt as some new battleground opens somewhere in the world. Every day capitalism puts new lives on the line to fight over land or minerals or markets. Or, as Ronald Reagan recently put it after the "accidental" rocket attack on a US frigate in the Gulf, "safeguarding the interests of the US and the free world in the Gulf, remains crucial to our national security and to the security of our friends throughout the world".

That sounds unequivocal but friends and relatives of the 37 American sailors who died on the USS Stark will be confused to find out that after the Iraqi Exocet attack, the US administration is portraying Iran, not Iraq, as the villain of the piece. As one Arab diplomat put it.
  the US said it was a mistake to sell arms to Iran, and now Iraq says it was a mistake that the frigate was attacked. Now the two sides are even. It's ironic but the only major consequence of this incident may be a warming of relations between Washington and Baghdad.
The lives were not lost in vain, however — the US armed presence in the Gulf exists (just as for any other country) in order to protect the small number of American-flagged vessels (owned by a small number of Americans) that need to use the Gulf.

There won't be a small number for much longer, hence the build-up in the US state's pressure. By mid-July, eleven oil tankers owned by the Kuwaiti Oil Tanker Company will be transferred to a Delaware-based corporation, putting them under US registration, under the US flag and. more importantly, entitled to the protection of the US navy. While the oil barons and their class shift from nation to nation, flying the flag of greatest convenience, workers of the world are expected to put up with the rhetoric of "the national interest" and to put down their lives, if necessary. In Mexico, lives are risked in trying to cross the border into Texas; in Ireland, workers have to enter a lottery to get a visa to work in the US; in America, Reagan announces the plan to test all immigrants for the HIV virus. At the same time as people are being barred from access to parts of the world, there's no problem, about becoming American if you are an oil tanker.

Of course, it's not just about oil. Capitalism produces many conflicts between nations. It produces many strategies, alliances and rivalries which cannot be ignored. Last December, Washington turned down a Kuwaiti request for help but following the news that the Russians were preparing to provide the naval escort, Washington quickly offered their help. Oil is just one example but it is part of a much bigger ballgame. and such small apparently insignificant disputes can easily turn into something much worse within days. Remember the Falklands War? But do you remember the almost comical news that preceded it, about the scrap-metal merchants from Argentina who had landed on something called South Georgia. Similarly, some small item on tonight's news about some far-off battle in some far-off place with a funny name could be the first kicks, the labour pains for the Third World War.

But whatever the battles are fought over, it’s not in the interests of the vast majority that are at stake. There's only a few people who stand to win or lose in times of war. The business pages of the papers make that quite clear:
 Shell, up 10p at 1011p. and BP. 11p ahead at 749. were the hot favourites as word filtered through that 2.000 lraquis had been killed in a new Iranian offensive. . .
(London Evening Standard. 9 January 1987)
Offensive is the word. And of course it's not the shareholders or the politicians who do the fighting. They stay safe in their offices rattling their sabres and letting others do the dying. According to diplomats in Washington, the deaths on the USS Stark, "provided President Reagan with a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the 'Gulf Cooperation Council' the US's determination to pay with its own lives to protect the oil lanes, despite the cooling in relations because of the American arms sales to Iran". (Guardian, 19 May 1987)

Where, for that matter, was Reagan when American teenagers were dying "to safeguard the interests of the US and the free world", during the Second World War? As someone who sometimes appears to welcome the prospect of a Third World War, he was in no hurry to appear in the last one — Reagan spent the war working for the FBI spying on any suspect communist subversives in Hollywood. One actor that he'd never need to worry about is Sylvester Stallone who has made millions out of encouraging American children to hate Russians in Rocky IV (like I-III). and to kill Vietnamese in Rambo (Rocky without boxing gloves). The actor though, doesn't quite match up to the wide range of characters he portrays: would Rambo have refused (as Stallone did last year) to travel to Cannes for the Film Festival, for fear of attacks from terrorists (or at least film critics)?

Recently our hero has been in Israel looking for a new location for an old script, as Rambo turns his attention to the Gulf after having finished off anyone with slanty-eyes in his previous film. But where was Stallone when the real Vietnam War was on, the one without the make-up and the blanks? Apparently Stallone saw out the war as a Physical Education instructor at a finishing school for rich young women in the jungles of Switzerland. Of course we've nothing against draft dodgers, quite the opposite in fact. But these are the people (and Stallone is just one of the more obvious) who encourage nationalism, who profit from warmongering, and who are all for dying for their country, just so long as it doesn't include them. But what of the sailors who did die in USS Stark? They died for precisely nothing — to help save Reagan's face after Irangate, to defend the American Oil Corporations.

There'll be another conflict in the Gulf, sooner or later. More names to be chiselled into the war memorial. But if the next conflict escalates, it won't just be the soldiers and sailors who suffer. We'll all be in the front line. If you put your trust in leaders, give up your power to politicians, and give up your imagination to film stars, the next thing you could find yourself giving up is your life.

The Development of Capitalism and its Lessons. (1927)

From the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

For many years it has been a platitude with capitalists, and capitalist newspapers, that agitators are the cause of discontent among the workers. Many workers who unquestioningly absorb capitalist ideas and opinions themselves believe it to be true.

The labour agitators are undoubtedly on the increase. There is money in the business. It is a calling that appeals to those who love to be in the limelight, and like most callings is becoming terribly overcrowded.

To become a labour leader, either on the industrial or political field, is one way of escaping from the onerous conditions of capitalist employment, or possibly unemployment. In this we find evidence that it is not agitators who make discontent, but that it is the already existing discontent of the workers with their conditions that makes agitators possible. Capitalist conditions of employment are so wretched that many of those with ability slightly above the average endeavour to escape them by becoming leaders. Too often it must be admitted, such aspirants care little where they lead the workers. Their chief concern is where and what they get themselves. While those who cannot escape in this way, the majority of the workers, are ready to listen to anyone who will promise them some improvement in their lot.

For many years before the possibility of leaders living on the backs of the workers could be foreseen, the workers themselves used to meet secretly to discuss their grievances and agree upon common action against the masters. The chief grievance then and since has always been the low standard of living forced on them by means of the wages system. The trade union movement, as we know it to-day, has grown out of those secret meetings, that had their origin in the early days of the factory system, in the North of England. The degrading conditions of employment and the low standard of living were the cause of discontent then as they are now.

Trade unions were originally organisations to raise or maintain wages. As the workers realised the advantages of combination in this direction, trade unions grew up in one industry after another. While the capitalists were disunited, the unions met with frequent successes. Every success was an inducement to others to organise. It was out of these successes, and the recognition by the workers, that if they did not organise against the masters, their wages would be forced ever lower, that trade unionism grew to its present dimensions.

But side by-side with the growth of trade unions, and in a great measure responsible for its rapid and enormous growth, there took place what has been, in all probability the greatest and most sensational movement in history. This was the invention and introduction of labour saving machinery and methods, which has developed from its simplest forms to its present complexity and importance during the same period.

An adequate idea of the effects of labour-saving machinery and methods on production and employment can be obtained from the S.P.G.B. pamphlet “Socialism,’’ pages 9 and 10. It is there shown what a relatively small proportion of the population can, by modern methods, produce all the wealth for which markets are available. So efficient are these powers of production that capitalists everywhere find it necessary to restrict them. In many industries capitalists have combined for the purpose of ascertaining the market and dividing the amount of production necessary between them. By this means they avoid over-production; competition is eliminated, and prices can be kept up. It is thus seen that by their ownership of the means of wealth-production, capitalists can and do hold up production to suit their own ends. The only useful purpose of labour-saving methods is, consequently defeated. That purpose, for a sane people, can only be to satisfy their material needs with the smallest expenditure of energy. But this is impossible unless the people own the means of wealth-production and use them by common agreement to satisfy their needs.

It would be stupid to denounce capitalists for restricting production, however. It would be absurd from their point of view if they allowed the production of commodities to go on when there was no sale for them. Their need is evidently for wider markets, but where can they be found without elbowing other capitalists out of their preserves? One reform party, the I.L.P. proposes to find them by persuading the capitalists themselves to pay higher wages. In other words, that capitalists should extend their markets by giving the workers more money to spend.

Without questioning the philanthropy of the capitalists or the strength of the trade unions to-enforce higher wages, the futility of such a reform is shown by America’s example. In the United States higher wages are paid than in most other capitalist countries. As a set-off against these higher wages, however, must be reckoned the much higher cost of living. But higher wages are not paid, either in America or anywhere else, unless individual production is increased. In other words, higher wages are paid to a few men for producing as much as had been produced by many. Higher wages, in this sense, by the fact that unemployment is increased, really spell a wage reduction for the workers as a whole.

We should expect to find, if the above is correct, that unemployment in the States is extensive, in spite of the enormous trade they boast. We are not surprised, therefore, to read the following reference to conditions in the U.S.A.
  The Mackenzie report takes a million and a half unemployed at any time as more or less normal; Trade Union evidence suggests a far higher figure. There is no security of employment—the rate of labour turnover is as high as 300 per cent. per annum.
The above is from the “New Leader” (17/6/27, p. 6), the organ of the I.L.P., that advocates the same policy for this country. While nobody would be so fool-hardy as to deny that a high wage is better than a low one, the amount of poverty must necessarily increase as the number of workers who receive wages at all are reduced.

The main fact that stands out clearly is that the number of workers required to produce the world’s wealth is constantly diminishing. As unemployment increases, competition for jobs intensifies in proportion. The conditions of labour become more exacting. Wages, generally, fall rather than rise. The same problem as of old faces the workers. Not only their standard of living, but their security is threatened. But the irony of the situation lies in the fact that the enormous development in the means of wealth-production has made security of life possible at a far higher standard than ever before. Possible, that is, when the workers see the necessity for making those means of production the common property of society.

What is the solution? Evidently not by paying a minority higher wages to do all the work, and sacking the majority. Nor yet by pointing the way to new markets, fighting for them, as in the great war; or even by entering with zest into the competitive struggle to help one capitalist group to win markets from another. None of these things will help the workers.

A few moments' consideration will show that poverty exists for the workers because they are unable to use the means of wealth-production to satisfy their needs. The means of production are the property of the capitalists, who only permit the workers to use them on condition that the product belongs to them. What the worker gets we have seen, while the capitalist controls the rest. Taking no share in the work of production the capitalists nevertheless are able to appropriate in this way approximately two-thirds of the total wealth. In addition to this, by virtue of their ownership, they hold up production until they have found markets for the product.

There can only be one solution for the workers. They must take over the means of wealth-production, making them the common property of society. These means can then be democratically controlled by the people, and used for the purpose of satisfying their needs.

For this organisation is necessary; and history and commonsense alike dictate that the form of that organisation must be political. That its first concern must be with the capture of the parliamentary institutions controlling the forces that make capitalist government possible. This much being achieved, the way will be cleared for the establishment of the new order— Socialism.
F. Foan

Correspondence. (1927)

From the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

E. Wright (Southwark). — If you can reduce the chaos of statements in your letter to a coherent and intelligible form, we may be prepared to deal with your views. In their present shape it is impossible to do so.
Editorial Committee

New Pamphlet. (1927)

Party News from the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are proposing to publish a new pamphlet but we cannot do so until we have the money. If we print 20,000 copies the cost will be in the neighbourhood of £100. We ask, therefore, for donations. As soon as we get sufficient to justify giving the order to our printer we shall be pleased to proceed.

Economic Tendencies. (1927)

From the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
 . . . and still the Socialist utters his mumbo jumbo about the imminent coming of the Socialist state; as a fact the whole tendency of our times is in the direction of the multiplicity of small capitalists, every one of whom is a bulwark against Socialism. This increasing growth in the wealth of the wage-earning classes which gathers impetus before our eyes is the whole justification of the principles of Capitalism. (Business Organisation, April.)
If Capitalism is justified on the basis of the above piffle, then its defenders must indeed be running short of subtle and plausible excuses for the existence of working-class poverty: Socialists are not concerned with the “coming” of any state, but with its “going.” With the establishment of classless society (Socialism), institutions such as the State, Government, etc., could serve no purpose : Without a subject class to govern and repress, the object of their existence to-day, their function would be ended. Regarding the growth of “small” Capitalists, one would have thought that in face of the growth of combines, trusts and amalgamations within the last generation, the fact of the concentration of Capital would have a commonplace admission. If the tendency is toward an increase of Capitalists, why is it that every trade paper devotes columns to the reports of bankruptcies in their particular trade? If the smaller fry are unable to stand the competitive pace of to-day, the process is obviously a “coming down,” and not a “going up” one. These business wiseacres have so much justification for capitalist principles that in the same issue of their journal they furnish us with the evidence that gives the lie direct to their previous statement.
  "Personal ownership has given way to the Limited Liability Company, and to-day this is rapidly becoming the large combine or group of companies. . . . the employer is now identified with an association, and these associations are also combined into large federations"—Ibid. 
Imagine the chance that the budding capitalist would have arriving on the scene to compete with the combine or the group of companies. Yet this is the sort of argument that justifies this “rosy” outlook. The present state of affairs is becoming fatal to the small investor. With the stagnation due to want of markets, his investment brings small return in a safe concern, whilst it is well-known what easy prey such investors make for the bogus or apparently promising financial adventure. Karl Marx demonstrated in a way what to-day reads like prophecy —how the battle of competition between the Capitalists is fought out on the basis of cheapening commodities. This is done by increasing the productivity of labour through up-to-date machinery, large scale production and so on. In competition, therefore, the largest capitals beat the smaller. Our opponents, in their weak attempt to meet the Socialist case, pay tribute to the analysis Marx made, and by which he showed the broadening and the deepening of the gulf between the Capitalists and the Workers. It is this gulf that intensifies the antagonism between the two classes as non-producers and owners, and producers but non-owners of wealth respectively.

"All you want to do is to buy brains.” (1927)

From the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
  When I started business in America Andrew Carnegie told me, "All you want to do is to buy brains.” (Sir Algernon Frith, Shoe and Leather Record, 6/5/27.)
Simple, isn’t it? Obviously they don’t buy their own brains. Those brains belong to workers, even if in return they receive salary and dress so like the buyers. The latter may be prospectus ornaments of any number of concerns, while the actual, as distinct from the nominal directing, is undertaken by these “special kind of wage earners.” The “Daily Chronicle” (16/11/26), commenting on the increase in the numbers seeking these kinds of jobs, made a discovery and headed their comments : “Brains nearly as cheap as Brawn.”

Why We Are Socialists. (1927)

From the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is by no means uncommon for anti-Socialists of various types to try to explain away Socialist principles as a result of a mental kink, as a symptom of pure cussedness, so to speak. This attitude finds considerable encouragement in the posturing of the sentimentalists of the Labour Party and kindred bodies. To judge by the speeches and writings of many of these worthies, they "thank God that they are not as other men are”—that their pure and lofty aims spring from hearts brimming over with loving-kindness to all mankind—in vivid contrast with the base machinations of their "hard- faced” opponents.

The members of the Socialist Party, however, make no such angelic pretensions. Our temperaments are as varied as our physical qualities, and these, again, are as numerous as those of the rats in Browning’s "Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Attend one of our annual conferences and you will observe the lean and the fat, the tall and the short, the bald and shock-headed, the ugly and the—well, we will not claim that anyone is pretty; somehow capitalism doesn’t have that effect. As for mental disposition, you will find the verbose and the reserved, the calm and the excitable, the artistically loose and the mechanically precise, all contributing their quota to the discussion, and either impeding or expediting the business to the best of their ability; and while this is not the place in which to disclose unofficial secrets, we may perhaps admit that there are to be found in our ranks both the austere and abstemious, and those who indulge not wisely but too well—tho’ in this respect, again, the system we oppose involves obvious limitations.

Whence, then, arises this tendency to regard the Socialist as a crank—a conceited meddler with the welfare of the human race? The answer becomes obvious the moment we consider just what it is that Socialists have in common.

Despite the variety of their physique and character, almost all, without exception, are drawn from a certain class in society, i.e., the working-class. The Socialist may be distinguished from his fellows perhaps by his greater sensitiveness to certain aspects of his environment, by his keener insight into conditions, and his greater readiness to grasp general causes; but that in itself does not explain the ideas he has.

There are adaptable men and women of mental vigour among the members of the capitalist class, but they do not become Socialists. On the contrary, their class interests lead them to oppose the Socialist movement with all the greater steadfastness the more they understand the conditions under which they live.

There have been, it is true, capitalists who have accepted the Socialist outlook through the operation of exceptional circumstances, but in order to do this they have had to forsake the standpoint of their own class and to study the position of the workers. That is the crux of the matter— the struggle between workers and capitalists forms the basis of Socialist ideas.

The Socialist is discontented, but so are many non-Socialists.

There has been widespread discontent under previous forms of society. The serfs and burghers under feudalism, the slaves under the Roman Empire, were the victims of oppression, and occasionally revolted; but their revolt did not form a Socialist movement. Their aims were either personal freedom and more private property, or some vague Kingdom of God in which all material problems would find magical solution. Scientific Socialism could arise only when the development of machinery had rendered antiquated all the old utopias and made the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life both possible and necessary.

So long as the means of production were small and could be operated by individuals or groups in isolated villages, the total wealth produced was insufficient to provide all with comfort and leisure. Hence private property was the necessary condition of security for producer and parasite alike, and the struggle between them was a struggle for one form or another of private property. The feudal lords struggled with their peasants over the land, but whichever side won held to the private form of ownership. The merchants and the handicraftsmen struggled over conditions of trade and production, but each side saw their “beau ideal” in the individually owned workshop or sum of money.

What is the position to-day? Millions of wage-earners co-operate, directly and indirectly, in the production of the wealth of the world, which is so abundant that it suffocates the markets. The means of production are so huge that they have long ago passed out of purely individual control. The individual capitalist only holds so many shares in a giant concern which may extend its operations over the whole earth. The vast mass of the producers are disinherited. For them private property has long ago ceased to exist. They have nothing to struggle over of an individual nature except wages; and these can only be defended (and but seldom extended) by collective action.

If under these conditions the workers still idealise private property, that is only because they have not yet fully realised their position. If the grasping of new facts is the hall-mark of the crank, then Socialists are cranks; but the only people whose interests are served by the worker’s ignorance are the parasites.
Eric Boden

"An old prevaricator of the truth . . . " (1927)

From the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
 The Police-aided scheme for destitute children in Edinboro' has had to provide boots for 4,600 children during the past winter as compared with 2,500 a year ago. (Daily Herald, 30/4/27.)
This is the sort of “progress” that will cheer that brand of optimist who finds the workers’ conditions improving, because, in addition to the small fraction of their total output returned as wages, necessity compels sections to accept insurance benefits, pensions, relief, etc. Reasoning from such mental shallowness, it would appear that the more we need such things, the happier we shall be.

#    #    #    #
 I am an old Socialist and I have done more for the British Worker than any Red-flag-waving churl in the kingdom. (Robert Blatchford, Sunday News, 8/5/27.)
For “British Worker” read Robert Blatchford. Those who remember this gentleman’s boasting of Tariff Reform, big navalism, conscription, municipal bakeries and milkshops, everything on earth to Spiritualism in the clouds, will appreciate this modest claim. In the opinion of R. B. he is an old Socialist. Our evidence from the past shows him to be an old prevaricator of the truth.

Letter: The Value of the Franchise. (1927)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
 The correspondent whose letter was dealt with in our May issue writes again. His letter and our comment are given below:—
To the Editor.

Thanks for the consideration of my letter under above heading in S. S. May. We want the facts certainly, not so much that they prove our case, but because they are facts. It is absurd to draw the inference that I am a busy body nobly searching for “injustices” to put right, but I am not half so enthusiastic as your good selves in your endeavour to prove the “injustice” but a little one. The extracts you give from the Acts of 1918 are quite correct, but I am by no means impressed by your figures when I know that almost every brick that stands on top of another, and almost every piece of enclosed land, carries a vote, and I am convinced that such is by no means a negligible factor in determining the result of an election. On the authority of an official connected with the compilation of the voting register, I am enabled to state that, while the act says that a person may not vote in more than two divisions at a general election, the lawyers have found a flaw in the Act which enables a person to exercise the vote under business premises or occupational clauses in as many pieces of property above a certain value in separate divisions as they may possess. As this applies, not only to the actual owner, but the members of his or her family, and in the case of a limited company, to the directors and their dependents, the plural vote assumes enormous dimensions. I am not able to state definitely the nature of the “flaw” in the Act, but should imagine that it has something to do with the Acts round about the time of the Charles.

“No taxation without representation.”

You ask me how many persons there are in the family cited who qualify for twelve votes in the three Leicester divisions. Four—father, mother and two sons. You also ask me to state the disqualifications which militate against working-class representation, and I will name a few: for instance, soldiers and sailors (R.N.), lodgers and boarders of the artisan class, who form the bulk of the floating population, inmates of workhouses and other Poor Law institutions, the Mercantile Marine in most cases, as they never know where they will be at the time of an election. As to the proxy vote, you speak as if, when those on the absent voters’ list die off, there will be no more. Then, of course, we come to the final argument. If the plural vote is of such infinitesimal importance as you would lead your readers to believe, why do the Capitalist Class retain it? They are not such fools as to cling to a thing which carries with it a certain amount of odium, unless it is of use to them. Perhaps you can find an excuse.
F. L. Rimington.

I did not suggest that Mr. Rimington is interested in searching for “injustices” to put right. What I said was that we are not interested in doing so.

Mr. Rimington “is not impressed” by the figures given in my article but does not show where they are in error. He cannot, in the circumstances, expect me to be impressed by his repetition of his criticisms: He says he "knows” that “almost every brick . . . carries a vote.” If it did, the plural vote would not be a negligible factor. But it. does not, as I showed, and I repeat, therefore, that it is a negligible factor. Against my figures from official sources of the negligible number of business premises votes, Mr. Rimington refers to an unnamed “official connected with the voting register,” in proof of the existence of a ”flaw in the Act,” the nature of which he is ”not able to state definitely,” but which he “imagines” has "something to do with the Act round about the time” of the Stuart kings. Really, Mr. Rimington, how can you expect such nebulous stuff to be answered ?

Mr. Rimington lists a number of obstacles which may make it difficult for some workers to use their votes, but he does not answer the main point of my reply, which was that, in fact, the workers have so overwhelming a majority of votes that, allowing for these disabilities and all the plural votes of the employers, the working class are in a position to swamp the master class at the polls. If this is true in fact, then the anomalies are negligible. If it is not true, it is for Mr. Rimington to show that it is not true.

The reference to the proxy vote and the dead I do not understand.

Mr. Rimington’s final point is that the capitalists would not keep the plural vote unless it were worth something to them. In the first place, I did not deny that it is useful. I expressly pointed out that it gives them the control of a certain few constituences like the City of London, and this is valuable to them. But the loss of the City of London is not of so great importance to the workers that it is worth while suspending Socialist propaganda in order to secure further amendments in the franchise law. It may, however, be pointed out in passing that the Capitalists are, contrary to Mr. Rimington’s belief, “such fools" as to cling to useless forms. The long resistance of influential capitalist circles to any extension of the franchise in the 19th century shows that they were “such fools” as not to realise that the workers, when given votes, would use those votes for the retention of the capitalist system.

In conclusion, I would repeat that the only major obstacle to socialism is the non-socialist outlook of the workers, not anomalies in the franchise law. If those anomalies were abolished to-morrow, the great mass of the workers would still vote capitalist candidates into Parliament.
Edgar Hardcastle

"Profligate Extravagance . . ." (1927)

From the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
Never has Le Touquet seen bigger gambling than this Whitsun.  . . . Banks of £2,500 were by no means uncommon, and the losing of a million francs was a frequent occurrence. (Daily Mail, 8/6/27.)
Karl Marx showed that, in contrast to the earlier parsimony of the Capitalist Class, profligate extravagance becomes a normal expenditure to them as an off-set to the enormous increase of their wealth. The above is only an incident which shows that our masters can afford to gamble away at one sitting an amount that has to suffice to keep a worker’s family for years.

‘An Urgent Referral Still Takes Quite a Long Time’ (2019)

The Proper Gander column from the July 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you have a medical problem and don’t mind your trip to the doctor being broadcast on the gogglebox, you’ve got a choice of where to go. If you’ve caught something gruesome or unusual, then the doctors on Embarrassing Bodies (Channel 4) will share your diagnosis with any voyeuristic viewers. Or you could register at one of the surgeries featured on Channel 5’s fly-on-the-consulting-room-wall documentary GPs Behind Closed Doors. The series isn’t cluttered up by narration or backstories (i.e. it’s fairly cheap to make), and instead just lets us watch what happens when people see their GP.

General Practitioners learn a lot about what makes us tick in their five years of training after spending up to six years in medical school. Those filmed for GPs Behind Closed Doors are all impressively knowledgeable and need to be, given the range of ailments people come in with. Patients are introduced with on-screen captions like ‘Pauline: Blistered Lips’ and ‘Regan: Nail Biting’. Other issues discussed include abdominal pains, memory loss, backache, weight gain and skin complaints. Some patients in the waiting room have completely fuzzed out faces, a presumably serious condition which we sadly don’t see the doctors address.

The GPs deal with their patients calmly and professionally, with empathy and kindness. But what’s really going on behind closed doors in NHS surgeries is a system in crisis. The UK’s population has grown by over two million in the last five years, with an increasing proportion of older people with complex health issues. The number of GPs and the resources of the health service as a whole haven’t grown to match, leading to ever-rising pressures on primary care services.

Many GPs have working weeks of around 50 hours, longer than is reasonable for anyone, but still not long enough to see every patient or get all their admin done. More than eight out of ten GPs believe their current workload is excessive or unmanageable, meaning they can’t be as thorough as they should (BMA Survey of GPs in England, November 2016). The constant slog to keep up means that 39 per cent of doctors report their morale as being low or very low (BMA Quarterly survey, quarter1, 2019).

GPs work long, stressful hours because there aren’t enough of them to meet demand. And there aren’t enough of them because the long, stressful hours put people off joining the profession. In 2017, over a quarter of Scotland’s GP practices had at least one vacancy, most of which had been unfilled for at least six months (BMA, June 2017). The number of GPs per 100,000 people has fallen from almost 65 in 2014 to 60 in 2018, according to a May 2019 study by the Nuffield Trust. The chair of the Royal College of General Practice, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, describes the situation as ‘gravely concerning’, adding ‘All GPs are overworked, many are stressed, and some are making themselves seriously ill working hours that are simply unsafe, for both themselves and their patients – it is making them want to leave the profession… This is having a serious impact on many of our patients, who are waiting longer and longer to secure a GP appointment. But it also means we don’t have the time we need with patients’.

Changes in demand should logically be met by increasing or reallocating resources to meet that demand. In capitalism, though, people’s needs are only met to the extent that it is affordable to do so. GPs are expensive: starting wages are over £57,000 a year, and the overall cost to the NHS for General Practice service providers was over £9,050 million in 2017/18. General practice accounts for just over 7 percent of NHS funding, with the proportion declining over recent years (, Feb 2018). The lack of sufficient funding is largely down to how GP services don’t directly make a profit. General Practice is one of those institutions, like council housing, which the capitalist class would see as a financial burden, even though it helps knit society together. It benefits capitalism because it helps workers stay fit and healthy enough to be productive elsewhere, but as with everything else, costs have to be kept as low as possible so more money can end up with the elite.

Of particular interest to the capitalist class is how there is a lot of money to be made by producing the pills and potions we are prescribed. GlaxoSmithKline, Britain’s largest pharmaceutical company, makes profits of around £25 billion each year. Ill health can be lucrative, and one growth industry is mental health problems, which are discussed in around 40 percent of GP appointments. The number of prescriptions for antidepressants in England almost doubled over the past decade, from 36 million in 2008 to 70.9 million in 2018, according to NHS Digital. When a GP only has a few minutes with each patient, there may not be time to do much else than write out a prescription.

The pressures on General Practice, along with the rest of the NHS, mean that doctors just have to manage the best they can. It’s a credit to those we see on GPs Behind Closed Doors that they cope as well as they do.
Mike Foster

Negative for Freedom (2019)

Book Review from the July 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rob Larson: Capitalism vs. Freedom. Zero Books £14.99.

There is a standard distinction between two kinds of freedom. Negative freedom (‘freedom from’) involves a person being able to act without others having the power to coerce them, while positive freedom (‘freedom to’) is about what a person is actually free to do. Here, confronting supporters of capitalism (especially Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek) who see free-market capitalism as the best guarantee of freedom, in particular the negative type, Rob Larson claims that capitalism cannot deliver either kind of freedom. His arguments and examples apply particularly to the US, but have wider validity. His previous book Bleakonomics was reviewed in the March 2013 Socialist Standard.

He begins by considering freedom to buy and to work, with people supposedly free to choose what job to do and which goods and services to purchase. But this is really very limited, since in practice concentration of power makes markets gradually less competitive over time. The US has two main ‘merchant monopolists’, Amazon and Wal-Mart. Amazon, for instance, extracted better terms from publishers by not recommending their books and so cutting their sales. Technology giants conspired to keep down the wages of software engineers. The class division of capitalism is an impediment to real freedom, as the employing class have far more power and freedom than the workers.

Larson then moves on to looking at freedom of information, where he has little difficulty in showing that powerful oligopolies dominate the media, and that advertising is a form of brainwashing that has enormous influence on people’s behaviour. With regard to political freedom, he notes how wealthy most of those who framed the US constitution were, and how dependent political campaigning is on big donations, from such as the Koch brothers.

A more interesting chapter examines ‘power over future generations’, how a terrible legacy is being left: species extinction, global warming, massive pollution. Later generations may lack access to many things taken for granted today, such as adequate fresh air and water, and the benefits of biodiversity. The ability to enjoy nature is a clear example of a positive freedom that may be drastically restricted in future. By the end of this century, for instance, it may well be impossible to live outdoors in summer in much of the Middle East.

In his final chapter, Larson observes correctly that many political parties that call themselves ‘socialist’ simply stand for mild reforms of capitalism. He criticises Lenin for his authoritarianism, and admiringly quotes Anton Pannekoek in support of economic democracy. But his own ideas for a future society are not very clearly explained. He advocates ‘workforce control over production and investment’, with production units interacting by means of ‘free association’. He does not mention the abolition of wage labour, so it can be assumed that there would still be wages and prices in this supposed ‘participatory socialism’.
Paul Bennett

Freedom of Movement: Another Euromyth (2019)

From the July 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

The freedom of movement for workers is one of the European Union’s ‘four economic freedoms’. Freedom of movement is one of the key elements of membership and is championed by Liberal and Social Democratic parties. How then, do socialists engage with and redirect support for this concept, to support for socialism?

Genuine socialists seek to abolish class, and with it the money, wages and nation states which facilitate its reproduction. As such, one could say that the freedom of labour will become as irrelevant in socialist society as the freedom of capital. However, socialists accept that work of some form – in contrast to wage labour – will continue to exist in a democratic society. It follows then that there will still be ‘workers’ who would benefit from an enhanced and genuine freedom of movement. In a border-free world, workers will be able to reside where best suits their abilities and needs, without the constraints of economic and social mobility.

The socialist response to this is to categorise freedom of movement in the EU as freedom of movement of wage labour. This, of course, is oxymoronic. Under a wage labour system, freedom of movement is utilised to facilitate economic and political regression. Freedom of movement undoubtedly generates national and ‘racial’ divisions between workers in a context of false scarcity. It is also, in reality, a contradictory concept to say the least. At its southern frontiers, workers from outside the EU are often presented with a grave fate quite polarised from that of freedom.

Economic migration is seen as undermining wage rates, and placing a strain on welfare resources. To many in deprived areas, these arguments against immigration have become intrinsically logical and deeply engrained. Despite its considerable merits in comparison to a system of economic migration such as ‘hukou’ in China, Liberals and Social Democrats obnoxiously replicate and encourage support for right-wing populism by acting as dogmatic apologists for the EU.

Unfortunately, recent political developments have provided increasingly fertile ground for smug liberal apologism in certain circles as well as right-wing populism in deprived economic regions. As this binary divide deepens, it increasingly becomes perceived as a question of good and evil. Going by results in the recent EU elections, potential socialist sympathisers seem to have been unable to not prioritise supporting the supposed ‘good’ option.

As socialists, we are right not to take sides in capitalist debates such as Leave or Remain, but we must be forthright in our economic critique. In other words, we must challenge, engage with and supersede capitalist debates and binaries. It is up to us to present the objective and inherent forces of capitalism as being to blame for economic deprivation, monotony, strife and the working class’s distance from any influence over their communities and society in general. It is only the socialist critique of capitalism that can reconcile the interests of workers. Only socialism can rebuild a sense of empathy between deprived workers inside relatively desirable borders, and those who are desperately trying to reach them. Ultimately, all workers are driven by a sense of fear regarding our own ongoing economic security – it is socialism’s job to bring those in the same economic class together politically.

It is vitally important that socialists provide a critique of EU freedom of movement, if we don’t, right-wing nationalists and vacuous liberals will continue to be able to frame a capitalist binary divide and prevent socialism from taking root in the working class.
James Clark