Saturday, October 19, 2019

Global Capitalism - The Facts (1996)

Party News from the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party Research Department has recently been considering how, as a movement, we can be more organised in our effort to get up-to-date facts to support our case against capitalism. Our new project aims, to build upon the strong tradition of Socialist Party members and supporters conducting independent research into the many aspects of capitalist society and the case for socialism. Firstly, we are starting a more systematic way of getting information and secondly we will present the results in regular reports. The reports could be used by socialists as a source of facts for leaflets, posters, letters to the press, articles, debates, etc.

We have prepared a research plan which includes some of the most important themes that are touched upon by the socialist analysis of capitalism. On each topic there is the potential to find recent statistics and examples to illustrate the socialist case. If you are interested in helping please write to the following address for more information.

Research Department, Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

Bankers Bonus Bonanza (2012)

From the March 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pigs, fat cats or scapegoats?
Bankers are unpopular. Not the ordinary bank teller or the back-up IT staff, but the directors and top managers who award themselves huge salaries and big bonuses. They are so unpopular, in fact, that the chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, Stephen Hester, has been forced to give up a bonus of nearly £1m while his predecessor, Sir Fred Goodwin, has been stripped of his knighthood.

The banks defend themselves by arguing that they bring “wealth” into Britain, and pay a considerable amount of tax on it. Some even describe themselves as “wealth creators”. This is absurd. What banks do is compete for a share of the pool of wealth already created by the productive sections of the world’s working class, wealth which is extracted from them as surplus value. They can be more or less successful in doing this. Banks situated in Britain can channel some of the world’s surplus value this way which might otherwise have gone elsewhere, but this is capturing surplus value rather than creating wealth. In this way, banks do bring profits to Britain and the taxes they pay on it help finance the capitalist state. It’s an argument that carries some weight with other capitalists and with the government, whether Tory, Coalition or Labour (and it was Labour who knighted Goodwin), which manages the general affairs of UK Plc.

The popular perception of banks as merely shuffling money rather than producing anything useful is basically correct, even if it doesn’t go any deeper than that. Wealth – as something useful to human living – can only be produced by humans applying their physical and mental energies to material that originally came from nature to fashion it into something useful. As an early political economist, Sir William Petty, put it in the seventeenth century, Labour is the father and the Earth is the mother of all wealth. No bank, not even any bank worker, is engaged in the production of wealth as they are not involved in transforming materials from nature into something useful. This is not to say that banks do not play an important role within the capitalist system. They are part of the division of labour within the capitalist class. If banks didn’t exist then industrial capitalists would have to be their own bankers.

Under capitalism, as under all social systems, wealth is produced by human labour acting on materials that came from nature. But capitalism is a class-divided society in which the means for producing wealth – factories, machines, means of transport and communication as well as raw materials – are monopolised by a minority.  On those means the rest of us are dependent and in them wealth is produced for sale with a view to a profit for this minority. Two consequences follow. First, wealth acquires a value (related in the end to the amount of labour required to produce it from start to finish). Second, that those involved in the actual production of wealth are exploited – they produce more value than what they are paid for the sale and application of their mental and physical energies. This “surplus value” is the source of all profit, not just the profit of the industrial capitalists but also of the profit of those capitalists engaged in non-productive activities such as selling – and banking.

Such non-productive activities are necessary under capitalism and if they were not organised by independent businesses then the industrial capitalists would have to arrange for this themselves. They would have to tie up some of their capital in a department to sell their product to the final users or in a fund to finance longer-term activities. It proved more convenient – and in fact more profitable – to in effect hive off these activities to independent businesses. But this still involved sharing some of the surplus value extracted from their workers with these hived-off businesses.

Banks make their profits out of providing some services for other capitalist businesses, but essentially out of lending money to them and getting a share of the surplus value as interest. The money they lend could be their own or, more likely, it could be money they have themselves borrowed, though at a lower rate of interest. While some capitalist firms have a need to expand production, others will have a temporary cash surplus; the economic role of banks is to channel money from those who don’t need it for the time being to those who want to invest it. They are economic intermediaries.

The share-out of the surplus value produced by the productive section of the working class comes about through the averaging of the rate of profit. Different amounts of surplus value are produced in different industries, but if capitalist firms were able to keep as their profit all the surplus value produced in them then some industries would be more profitable than others. To the extent that this tends to happen the higher rate of profits attracts more capitalists to the industry, leading to more being produced and to prices and profits falling. In the end the equilibrium position (which is never reached) is when capital invested wherever, including in non-productive activities, would make the same rate of profit.

It’s as if all the surplus value produced in all industries was pooled and that capitalist firms of all sorts compete to withdraw from it as much profit as they can. This gives rise to the illusion that it is the business acumen of the directors or managers that determines the amount of profit a firm makes.  This is true only to a certain extent. The amount of profit a particular firm makes does depend on the decisions of those managing the firm. Being able to see trends and follow them up, being more efficient and the like can bring a firm higher profits. This is why some firms are prepared to pay their top managers big bonuses, on the assumption that their skills will bring in more money than the amount of the bonus. Whether this is in fact the case or whether the top managers are simply plundering the shareholders is an open question. In any event, it is not the business skills of those in charge of a firm that “create” the profits; they only withdraw them from the pool of surplus value previously produced by the working class, “capturing” them as we said. And the more they capture the bigger the bonus some get.

The averaging of the rate of profit means that in effect the whole capitalist class exploits the whole working class. So workers have has no interest in singling out one section, for instance bankers, for special opposition. They are all in it together and should be denounced equally as exploiters and parasites.

We have of course no sympathy for Stephen Hester and Fred Goodwin, but they are only scapegoats for the sins of capitalism. As far as we’re concerned the side show of them being sacrificed is not going to detract us from campaigning to get rid of capitalism altogether.
Adam Buick

Whose Tax is it Anyway? (2012)

James Gillray, William Pitt's Policy of Income Tax (1799)
A Short Story from the March 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
(The Socialist Standard Archives Department recently came across a hand-written document concerning William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister and inventor of income tax, which appears to be part of the memoirs of some obscure 18th century official. We are unable to say whether the document is genuine, but the argument contained in it is plausible and may well have taken place in some form. We reproduce it here because it has some bearing on current debates about what ‘public money’ is used for.)
A Capital Notion

Being a true account of intercourse lately passed between Mr Pitt and one Edgar Crutchley, Comptroller in the Office of Customs and Excise, Whitehall, June 1796.

Mr Pitt (afterwards WP):          I am informed that you wait upon me for purposes of discussing the war with our French brethren?

Mr Crutchley (EC):      Indeed sir. I have an idea how you can raise the money to fight Napoleon.

WP:      Pray enlighten me, I am all ears.

EC:      Well, you know that whereas it is always easy to tax the poor, to separate the widow from her mite, as it were, the rich manage to squirm out of every tax you can concoct, and thus deprive the state of any meaningful revenue?

WP:      Ah, t’is ever so, more’s the pity.

EC:      You tax windows, they brick them up; you tax shoe buckles and hair powder, they adopt new fashions; you tax offices, they change the names…

WP:      Yes, yes. The gentle classes are most assiduous in such evasions.

EC:      And when you try to tax their land and business income directly, they cry pompously about invasion of privacy and then hide their money.

WP:      Well? Get on with it, man. Now you are taxing my patience.

EC:      There’s a form of purchase only the rich can make, and one they can’t hide or change like their wigs – that is when they hire workers. What if you create a tax on wages and force the workers, not the employers, to pay it?

WP:      Tax the workers? What nonsense. Where will they find the money to pay a tax? They are destitute, with scarce enough to live on. Indeed, they are sucked as dry as they can be sucked!

EC:      Precisely sir. So wages will have to go up, won’t they? It stands to reason.

WP:      You mean, visit upon workers an insupportable tax which employers must needs supply the money for? And the point of this device, my good man?

EC:      The point is, workers can’t get out of paying the tax, and employers can’t get out of increasing their wages to pay for it, or else they’ll get no workers. So it’s a tax on the rich, not by the front door but by the servants’ entrance, if you like. One they won’t be able to evade like they evade everything else.

WP:      I suppose it might settle present accounts with Boney. But I could hardly make such a thing permanent. There would be pandemonium in the House, by God.

EC:      Well then, sir, call it a temporary measure. Like as not, a man of your noble intellect can find reasons to keep introducing it every year. One day you may even make it permanent, and your revenue thus secured.

WP:      Hmm. T’is true, an enforceable tax on the rich would answer our lamentable want of funds. We could have a proper civil service at last, an efficient administration of the state. Ah, but I perceive a problem.

EC:      Problem, sir?

WP:      The labouring classes will think that they are paying this tax, out of their own money, will they not?

EC:      Yes sir, they certainly will believe it to be so. It will even say so on their payslips.

WP:      Why then, they will think themselves entitled to parlay every purpose we put this tax money to. They will say that our institutions are really their institutions. We shall have a caterwauling mob every time we use the money to finance a war, build a government office, or bail out a bank. We shall have their damnable interference at every transaction, as if they were the true holders of the purse strings!

EC:      That may be, sir. But you shall have a reliable source of revenue from the rich, which is no small thing. And it may be that a working class which believes itself to be the source of state money will tend to ally its interests with that state, instead of being arraigned as outsiders against it.

WP:      Can such a working class, thus flattered above its degree, be kept in due station, I wonder?

EC:      That is for history to unveil, sir. I merely cast accounts in the present. But I believe a class which thinks itself already in power will see no need to seize power. By such grand illusions is true power maintained.

WP:      Are they all as smart as you in the Treasury? I shall have to watch out.

Transcribed by PJS

Point and Sneer (2012)

The Proper Gander Column from the March 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Did you see those tacky dresses worn by those gypsy girls? One had a big pineapple on it. The other was shaped like a palm tree. Ridiculous, they were, and they cost thousands. I bet they didn’t pay for them by hard work. That’s my taxes paying for their benefits, it is’.

This seems to be the reaction expected by the makers of Channel 4’s fly-on-the-wall docusoap Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. It’s one of those programmes churned out for bored office workers to talk about at the water cooler. It wants us to be voyeurs, pointing and sneering at the funny gypsies in their funny clothes.

The whiff of prejudice hanging around behind the cameras became more noticeable with the stink caused by the latest series’ advertising campaign. Billboard posters promised that the show would now be ‘Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier’. In a complaint made by the London Travellers Unit and two members of the London Assembly, it was rightly pointed out that Channel 4 probably wouldn’t promote a programme as ‘Jewisher’ or ‘blacker’.

Why do they feel they can get away with advertising this show in this way? The answer is that prejudice against gypsies and travellers is seen as acceptable by many people because of the misplaced  assumption that they are ‘spongers’. Gypsies continue to be scapegoats for several of society’s problems, much like Jewish and black people have also been. So they remain, almost by definition, marginalised in capitalist society. It seems that the gypsy communities’ younger members have overcompensated for this by lapping up society’s excessive demands to focus on image.

Those appearing on Big Fat Gypsy Weddings don’t do themselves any favours by dressing up young girls like Barbie dolls and instilling a fierce competitiveness to be the most ‘attractive’. But, of course, the programme makers are using their favourite tool for moulding the truth – selective editing. There are a few token mentions of those in the gypsy community who aren’t image obsessed, but the overwhelming emphasis is on false-tanned bling-addicts. Big Fat Gypsy Weddings brings together these misrepresented gypsies and cynical programme makers in what is best described as an unhappy marriage.
Mike Foster

50 Years Ago: Expensive Royalty (2012)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many tongues were clucked at the news that the Royal Family is to have some more money spent on them.

It must cost around £400 a year in fees to send the Prince of Wales to Gordonstoun School. The fees, says the school vary with the parents’ financial circumstances; which does not mean, of course, that the school is full of clever, deserving boys whose parents pay no fees because they cannot afford them.

It will cost about £85,000 to renovate the wing of Kensington Palace where Princess Margaret and her husband are living – £15,000 more than the original estimate.

Some critics say that Prince Charles should be sent to a comprehensive school, like a sizeable part of his subjects. Others think that the Princess should be content to live in a council semi-detached, which to them seems roomy enough for a couple with only one child.

These views are way off the mark. The Royal Family stand for the possessions, rights and privileges of the British ruling class. It is, therefore, only appropriate that they themselves should live in lavish privilege.

And nobody has yet explained how sending a prince to a council school, or sticking a princess in a small house, would help the working class parents who struggle to keep their children at school past the age of fifteen and who have to renovate their house during their summer holiday.

These problems are typical of what faces workers all over the world, under monarchies and in republics.

While the tongue-cluckers do their measly, pointless sums, Capitalism grinds merrily on, providing a fat living for a few of its people and condemning the rest to dull poverty.

(From “The News in Review”, Socialist Standard, March 1962)

Socialist Party to contest London elections (2012)

Party News from the March 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the elections for the Greater London Assembly on 3 May the Socialist Party will be contesting 2 of the 14 constituency seats, giving the chance for those in four London boroughs with a total population of over one million who want socialism to vote for it.

Further information, offers of help or contributions to the election fund, contact us at spgb@worldsocialism.org or at 52 Clapham High Street, SW4 7UN. You can also follow the campaign on our election blog at: http://spgb.blogspot.com/

Action Replay: Kitted Out (2012)

The Action Replay Column from the March 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many supporters, especially in football and rugby, like wearing the same shirts as their clubs wear, perhaps with their own name on the back. And kids in particular want the very latest design, not last year’s, which is why clubs often change their shirts every season or so. Teams may well have two or even three designs and colours to cope with potential clashes when playing away.

A recent absurd example of a sports goods company cashing in on shirt-mania was to do with the kit of the British team (Team GB, as they’re called) for the 2012 Olympic football. Late last year, Adidas released a ‘commemorative shirt’ for supporters. Mind you, it’s not the one the actual team will be wearing when they play. It has a nice design, with union jack, lions and Britannia. It costs a nice £52, so the company will no doubt make a very nice profit out of it.

And just as you can buy cast-offs from some singer or film star, you can even buy the actual shirt worn in a game from some years ago – at a price, of course. For instance, the shirt ‘believed to have been worn’ by Alan Hudson for Stoke City in 1975–6 was recently available from an online company for £499.99! As their website says, ‘why not make yourself stand out from the crowd with a vintage football shirt and relive the old times, and have a great investment for the future too.’ 
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: The Worker and his Work (1992)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many years ago the S.P.G.B. rescued from undeserved oblivion William Morris’s Art, Labour and Socialism, in which the truth was proclaimed by a man who understood the subject in all its aspects. Morris had his limitations, but he was right in his insistence that capitalism, along with its economic exploitation of the working class, had committed the crime of compelling many workers to perform degrading tasks under conditions robbed of all pleasure and intelligence. He rejected the shallow view that all we can do, and want to do. is to take over capitalist industry as a going concern, and put it under new management. He saw that with the abolition of capitalism Socialists will get rid of the profit seeking that has corrupted the production of wealth. "That system.” he wrote, "is after all nothing but a continuous implacable war; the war once ended and commerce, as we now understand the word, comes to an end, and the mountains of wares which are either useless in themselves or only useful to slaves and slave-owners, are no longer made, and once again art will be used to determine what things are useful and what useless to be made; since nothing should be made which does not give pleasure to the maker and the user.” He was not, as some of his admirers have supposed, aiming at putting the clock back and dispensing with machinery. He knew this could not be done, but he also saw that machinery which could have been used to minimise that necessary labour, not pleasant in itself, had not been so used under capitalism. He echoed J. S. Mill's doubt whether all the machinery of modern times has lightened the daily work of one labourer. Instead, capitalism has imposed on its machine slaves "plenty of unnecessary labour which is merely painful".
[From the editorial, Socialist Standard. October 1942.]

50 Years Ago: A Challenge to Mr. Bevin on 
Post-War Reconstruction (1992)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The S.P.G.B. has throughout its existence urged that the conversion of private ownership of the means of production and distribution into common ownership is the only way to solve the poverty problem; but Mr. Bevin does not subscribe to this. He is a member of the Labour Party, and that Party, far from seeking to abolish the rentier, prepares to establish him more firmly than ever by setting up state industries or public utility corporations and compensating the present owners with Government bonds, or stocks guaranteed by the Government. Has Mr. Bevin noticed, for example, how the rumours of nationalisation of the railways gladdened the hearts of the railway stockholders?The Sunday Express (June 7th. 1942) reported “a slow upward move in home rail stocks. The buying is based on the theory that Britain’s railways will never return wholly to private ownership". The Express went on:—
  That would have most important results for the 500,000 investors in railway stocks. Instead of a fluctuating income dependent on operating results, their revenues would be fixed.
In short, Mr. Bevin. these stockholders are counting on the Labour Party establishing them in permanent security as rentiers. 
[From the Socialist Standard, August 1942.]

50 Years Ago: Japanese Background (1992)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Japan’s chief obstacle to the establishment of the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere" is the presence in the Far East of the Great Western Powers:—
  "Altogether the U.S. alone has invested 800 million dollars in the whole Orient."
Japanese imperialism challenges the hitherto undisputed right of the great Western powers to exploit the vast resources and peoples of the Far East. This right Japan claims for herself, hence, her military expenditure for 1940/1, added to most of the new capital issues which went to finance war industries, amounted to no more or less than 37 per cent. of the total national income.

The Pacific rivalries were not permitted to obstruct legitimate business, thus to quote Deva: “It is said that during the last two years Japan bought 85 per cent. of her war material from Britain, United States and the Netherlands East Indies." Business, after all, is business, and appeasement is an important political policy.
[From a review of "Japan's Kampf' by Jaya Deva, Socialist Standard, June 1942.]


50 Years Ago: Political Parties and the Workers (1992)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Only Socialism can guarantee the conditions of a life worth living for all. Because its establishment depends upon an understanding of the necessary social changes by a majority of the population, these changes cannot be left to parties acting apart from or above the workers. The workers cannot vote for Socialism as they do for reformist policies and then go home or go to work and carry on as usual. To put the matter in this way is to show its absurdity.

Socialist ideas are not acquired merely by the experience of hardships and tragedy under capitalism. They must be propagated and learned. The party of the workers, therefore, cannot be anything less than a Socialist Party; its task, the conversion of the working class to the principles of Socialism. Nor can it at present be much more. (. . .)

So long as the workers do not comprehend the necessity and meaning of a revolutionary social change they will have no choice but to leave their fate in the hands of "parties" and "leaders". With the development of Socialist consciousness (class-consciousness) will come the realisation that they, the workers themselves, must take control of society. Knowing what has to be done will give them the will and assurance needed.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its fellow parties therefore reject all comparison with other political parties. We do not ask for power; we help to educate the working- class into taking it.
[From an article by S. R. in Socialist Standard, May 1942.]

50 Years Ago: Are The Workers Better Off During The War? (1992)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

As far as it is possible to describe, what has taken place with regard to wages and prices, by means of figures, the position is fairly clear, it gives no support whatever to the claim that wages have outstripped the rise in the cost of living. The Ministry of Labour Cost of Living Index shows a rise from 155 in September, 1939, to 200 in February. 1942. This increase of 45 points represents a percentage rise of 29% above the level of September, 1939. As regards the level of wage rates for a normal weeks work, the Ministry of Labour Gazette (January, 1942) shows that the average increase due to wage increases and war bonuses since September. 1939, has been about 26% or 27%. it will be seen, therefore, that wages have barely kept pace with the rise of the cost of living index figure. If in some industries wages have risen by a larger percentage this is offset by the many industries in which the rise has been much smaller.

The critics who talk about high wages ignore the above official figures and either seize upon the few exceptional cases where the increase has been larger or else use a quite different set of figures which relate not to the standard wage for a normal week’s work but to earnings for the very long hours now being put in. earnings which include of course payment for overtime and Sunday work.
[From an article by 'H', Socialist Standard, March 1942.]

50 Years Ago: Trade Relations After The War (1992)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The other side of the New Order is the insistence on the desirability of raising the standard of living of the world’s population. Here you find the Conservative Times and the Labour leader, Mr. Herbert Morrison, agreeing about the form of words to be used. The Times (October 4th. 1941) says that the old conception of "Wealth of Nations" is "finding more positive expression in ‘the welfare of nations,”’ and Mr. Morrison suggests "the conception of human welfare as the avowed aim and object of international post-war policy” (Times, June 7th, 1941). But the magic word “welfare" and seeming agreement get us nowhere. Before human welfare can be the aim and object of international policy that aim and that object have got to be adopted by those who control the Government and that cannot be while capitalism is the established order of society. The aim of the capitalist, whether individually or through capitalist trading and industrial associations or through Governments, is and must continue to be the production and sale of goods for profit.

Governments may come under the control of men or parties which profess other aims, but so long as they have the task of administering capitalism it will be the profit motive, not the idealistic aim, that will and must determine their conduct and policy at home and in the international field.
(From the Socialist Standard, February 1942.)

Is Capitalism Collapsing? (1973)

Book Review from the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze by Andrew Glyn and Bob Sutcliffe. Penguin. 55p.

The thesis of this book can be stated simply: British capitalism is in crisis because profits have been squeezed between rising wages, on the one hand, and increasing international competition which has prevented compensatory price rises on the other.

The authors present figures to argue that there has been a drastic fall in the rate of profit since 1964 and predict that, sooner or later, this will be reflected in a collapse of share prices on the Stock Exchange too. Increasing international competition they attribute to the end of the post-war boom. "British capitalism", they say, “has entered a crisis which it may not survive”. In short, in their view, the long-expected "big slump” is imminent.

Maybe. That there has been a fall in the rate of profit in recent years is undeniable; so is the fact that this has been the cause of a slow rate of capital accumulation in Britain. And, that, therefore, all recent governments, Labour as well as Conservative, have been forced to attack working-class living standards in a bid to increase profits, the lifeblood of capitalism.

But is this fall in profits the beginning of a "big slump” or just the downturn of another normal capitalist business cycle which will eventually be followed by a recovery? Past experience (including our own) of predicting slumps advises caution. Capitalism has proved to be more resilient than we might like.

Two points of economic criticism. First, Glyn and Sutcliffe betray no knowledge of the basic cause of inflation and indeed appear to think that it is the result of capitalist firms putting up prices. But, as we have repeatedly shown in the Socialist Standard, inflation has been caused by the currency policies of successive post-war governments. Partly this has been due to an ignorance of monetary economics, but partly also it has been political: inflation undermines working class living standards without provoking the head-on clash with the unions a direct reduction of wages would. Recent trade union activity has largely been a response to inflation and has only kept real take-home pay rising slightly faster that prices but less than productivity.

This brings us to our second criticism. Glyn and Sutcliffe grossly over-exaggerate the effectiveness of trade unions in raising wages. They attribute to the unions a major responsibility for the present crisis. For, according to them, by pushing up wages in a period of intense international competition the unions have squeezed profits. In fact there is no evidence that rising wages do squeeze profits. The working class has certainly resisted capitalist attempts to reduce their living standards more successfully than the capitalists would have liked, but this is not quite the same thing. As the authors themselves point out, in previous crises the workers have become more militant essentially only in defence of their living standards.

But, for political reasons, they want to believe the present crisis to be different. They believe that if the workers keep up their present pressure for higher wages (and if they are not “betrayed” by their trade union leaders as in the past) then capitalism, at least in Britain, can be overthrown.

Quite apart from the fact that what, in their minds, is to replace capitalism here is merely a national state capitalism (which, surely, would be subject to the same pressures from international competition to restrict working-class consumption in the interests of capital accumulation?), this is nonsense. The defensive trade union struggle cannot lead to the overthrow of capitalism precisely because in the end the capitalist class and their government have in their hands all the wealth and power they need to defeat the unions. To overthrow capitalism a conscious political movement for Socialism must arise (and not just in one country either). Otherwise, and until it does, capitalism will indeed "muddle on for ever”.
Adam Buick


Blogger's Note:

To Our Readers (1973)

Party News from the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the possibility of the Party managing to arrange a programme in the new BBC Open Door TV series, we are anxious to obtain any material which would enable us to make our approach as varied as possible. Would any members or sympathisers who have films or photographs of Party activity (e.g. Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park meetings, etc.) please advise us as soon as possible? At this stage a note of what you have, its subject, and time run if a film would be most helpful.

Replies please to: Propaganda Committee, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52 Clapham High Street, London S. W. 4.

The Workers in Ireland (1973)

Book Review from the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

A History of the Irish Working Class by P. Berresford Ellis. Gollancz. £3.50.

The Rise of the Irish Trade Unions 1729-1970 by Andrew Boyd. Anvil. 50p.

A history of the working class in Ireland is badly needed but this book by Ellis is no good. It is too hastily written, too full of factual mistakes and too biased in favour of Irish republicanism. Indeed the last part is largely a list of the various republican sects, all of which claim to be “socialist”—which means they stand for an Irish state capitalism of one sort or another. Nor are we told much about the trade union movement.

This omission is corrected in Boyd’s booklet (for it is only about a hundred pages). He describes the laws passed against and the punishments meted out to the local craft unions of Dublin and Belfast in the 18th and early 19th centuries (including, be it noted, those passed between 1782 and 1800 by the Irish Home Rule Parliament). Later these craft unions were to amalgamate into national unions, though generally on an all-Britain rather than an all-Ireland basis, much to the dislike of later Irish Nationalists. Then in the years before the first world war came the organisation of the unskilled (Catholic) workers by men like Jim Larkin and James Connolly.

Irish trade unionism has of course been weakened by the sectarian divisions amongst the workers. Boyd tends to blame the Unionists exclusively for this, and indeed Ulster Unionist employers did use sectarianism in a bid to defeat attempts to organise their workers into unions. But the blame must be shared by union organisers like Connolly who openly proclaimed their own Irish Nationalism and even that the unions in Ireland should support the demand for Irish independence. No wonder the ITGWU in Belfast remained confined to Catholic workers. The Protestant workers, with some justice, suspected that Connolly wanted Protestant / Catholic unity as much for Irish Nationalist political ends as for trade unionism.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that those who argued that the trade unions in Ireland should steer clear of politics, both Nationalist and Unionist, and concentrate on bread-and-butter issues like wages and working conditions were better trade unionists than Connolly even if they weren’t always so militant over wage demands. After all, when it comes to organising workers to defend their interests at work a man’s politics or religion is irrelevant. What is required is unity.
Adam Buick

Shall Capitalism Continue? (1943)

From the April 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

The question that all thinking men and women must be asking themselves to-day is: Can capitalism stand inviolate and yet satisfy human needs? That this stage of thoughtful consideration is prevalent is borne out to some extent by a leading article in the "Transport and General Workers' Record," the organ of the T. and G.W.U., the union that caters for over a million "unskilled" workers. (Feb. 1943).

Under the heading "A Call to Duty," the writer insists that it is the duty of every trade unionist to study the social and economic problems that press for a solution to-day. He goes on:—
  But we have seen nothing in any of the post-war plans published by organised vested interests which encourage us to hope that if their proposals are adopted we shall not see once again the skies black with the smoke of burning wheat, coffee and cotton while the streets resound to the march of the unemployed, or hear once again the scream of bombs and shells of nations fighting yet another devastating world war.
The writer's solution for this is summed up in his own words :—
  A way must be found to keep the resources of the world in full employment, and to enable the people to have access to the goods produced. There must be an unbreakable link of adequate purchasing power between production and consumption.
What we should like to ask is this: Is it possible under capitalism to let the people have access to the goods produced? Let us probe this a little deeper.

Socialists have critically examined capitalism, and have come to the conclusion that the wages system is basic to it.

That in order to end capitalism, an end must be made of wage labour, and no amount of tinkering, planning or scheming will unfetter the latent productive powers that are waiting to be used by humanity, unless the wages system is abolished.

This may seem an alarming conclusion to many, and we must provide some evidence for this finding.

The wages system is the capitalist method of paying for the use of the mental and physical energies of men, women, and even children, by those who possess and control money, plant, land and raw materials.

To put it bluntly, the transaction amounts to this: The owner of this energy or labour-power sells it to the highest bidder; the buyer then rises it to his best advantage, appointing foremen, overseers and timekeepers to see that the contract is kept, and that he gets his money's worth.

Wages, then, are the price of labour power, which takes on the attributes of a commodity for sale on the market. Its price rises and falls—it is dear, it is cheap, it is scarce, or there is a glut—in short, labour power is part and parcel of commodity production. Well might an old speaker of the S.P.G.B. enquire of his audience. What is the difference between what you sell and pounds of sausages—sausages 1s. 4d. per lb., and you 1s. 4d. per hour?

Yet there is a special difference between the commodity labour power and the other goods that our capitalist must purchase for production. Honest business man that he is, paying the proper market price for machinery, materials and his labour power, he finds that by putting to work this active commodity on his inert merchandise, that it produces goods or values over and above what he originally laid out, thereby leaving a surplus which legally belongs to him.

Our capitalist is in possession of commodities in which is contained the unpaid labour of the worker.

As to their use value to other people he is not so much interested as how quickly he can sell them, and it must be fairly obvious that the worker cannot buy back the whole of the product that he has produced by his labour.

Here we must leave the simple illustration, and transpose it to the real world, for we have arrived at the point around which swings the whole capitalist system.

For our capitalist is representative of the employing class which exploits the great working class with one object— the obtaining of surplus value, which they divide among themselves as industrialists, bankers, landlords or middlemen, by a process which is beyond the scope of this article to describe.

The workers' share is kept at a minimum by the acceptance of the commodity nature of their one possession—their labour power, and in the struggle over its price they have built up huge unions, in order, as the cynics have it, to bargain over the conditions of their servitude to the capitalist class. Yet if they did not struggle, and if necessary withdraw their labour power—i.e., strike—they would, in the words of Marx, be reduced to the level of broken wretches past salvation.

But our capitalists have troubles of their own. What if they cannot sell their commodities? Contained in the mass of products in capitalist hands, there is, when sold, not only the income they seek, but the new capital to repeat the operation we have described. This is where the trouble starts, for capitalist production is not an isolated phenomenon but is world wide, and the "world markets" are the possession of those who can sell the cheapest. They can reduce prices by more than one method; they can reduce the cost of labour power, increase the intensity of labour, instal labour-saving machinery, lengthen the working day, obtain cheaper raw materials, or keep rivals from obtaining same.

A tendency in this we must note is that capitalism to-day is organising not as a "private enterprise" agglomeration, but as national units, which speak and trade for their capitalists as a body.

Every so often, as has been seen, there comes a "depression." The markets are "glutted," and the first action of capitalists is to reduce the buying of labour power, so then its unfortunate owners must walk the streets unemployed, sustained by grudgingly given doles or charity. Nor can the capitalist give away the products he cannot sell, even if he wished to, for not all have their capital in "means of subsistence," which is what our worker needs in the shape of clothes and food. Many are engaged in producing "means of production," such as factories and heavy engineering; furthermore, they would by such methods knock the bottom out of prices, thereby rendering capitalism further inoperative.

The usual practice is to let their commodities lie up, and often rust if they be ships or plant, and even make bonfires of such things as wheat or cotton.

Having brought the reader so far, it does not need any great imagination on his or her part to understand that a prolonged stalemate on the part of world capitalism can easily lead the competitors to settle the question by force of arms—by war. Therefore to let the people have access to goods produced, there is only one way: let the people own and control all the means of production and distribution, producing everything solely for use instead of for sale and profit.

Well might Marx, that guide and thinker, begin his classic "Capital" with the words: "The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities." For in this prosaic opening is contained for Man, as for us, the crux of capitalist production, and to-day, 60 years from his death, there is no working class in the world that has abolished commodity production—has, in other words, established Socialism, where the buying and selling of labour power has ceased, where the link of "purchasing power " is abolished as a capitalist device.

We as the only Socialist party in this country hope for the day when the mature advice of Marx is heeded, and trade unionists write upon their banners, not a fair day's work for a fair day's wage, but the abolition of the wages system.
Frank Dawe