Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Cooking the Books: Capitalism catches a cold (2020)

The Cooking the Books column from the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The pandemic, or global epidemic, of the new coronavirus strain could not have come at a worse time for the world capitalist economy which has only been growing weakly, with some predicting another downturn. It might well precipitate this through the effect on production of workers being told or compelled to stay at home as well as of those too sick to work.

Production fell considerably in China where the outbreak started:
  ‘Factory activity in China fell at a record rate in February as manufacturers closed their operations to contain the spread of coronavirus. The country’s official measure of manufacturing activity – the Purchasing Manufacturer’s Index (PMI) – dropped to 35.7 from 50 in January’ (LINK).
Output has also fallen, or will, in other countries though less in countries like Britain with a larger service sector, some of whose workers can work from home. The pandemic won’t last for ever and will eventually die down but, before it does, most capitalist enterprises will see their profits reduced.

Less production usually means less profit. This has spooked the stock market where past profits are redistributed and future profits gambled on. It also brings out that it is not entrepreneurs and their money-making schemes who are the ‘wealth producers’, but those workers who actually play some part in changing the form of materials that originally came from nature.

In his budget speech on 11 March, the new Chancellor Rishi Sunak said, when announcing measures to help small businesses pay sick pay, ‘if we expect 20 per cent of the workforce to be unable to work at any one time . . . ’ As the UK workforce amounts to 34.5 million, that’s some 6.5 million the government is apparently anticipating might be off work during the peak of the epidemic. This would only be temporary but would still translate into a significant drop in production and so in the flow of profits.

Capitalist businesses (except for those employing fewer than 250 workers) will also suffer a hit to their profits in that they will have to pay sick pay from day one rather than day three to those off with the virus or who have been advised to self-isolate. In view of the restrictions on large gatherings and travel, businesses with capital invested in these activities will be hit particularly hard. The headline in the Times Business section on 13 March read ‘Pandemic threatens to push UK-listed companies over the edge.’ Only two, one of which was Cineworld, were listed as at risk of not being able to continue as a going concern. Others weren’t in danger of going under, only of not making so much profit:
  ‘A string of other UK-listed companies yesterday warned about the financial hit they were facing from the virus. Go-Ahead, the train and bus operator, Traveline, the one ticket seller, and WH Smith, the retailer, all said their businesses were being hurt by a slowdown in travel.’
What about the workers? They, too, will see their income reduced, though the government’s announcement that sick pay would be payable from day one for those affected will mitigate this. Not that this is being done out of concern for the workers; they will in effect be being paid to stay off work so as to avoid the virus spreading further and causing further damage to profits and the capitalist economy. Those in the gig economy, some 4.7 million, mostly the lowest paid, will suffer the most.

The whole episode is a reminder that downturns can be caused by outside factors as well as by the internal workings of the capitalist economy.

Market Panic: Capitalist Hysteria (2020)

From the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another Market Panic

At the time of writing, the world’s stock markets have been in near free-fall with many of them entering ‘bear market’ territory (defined as falling 20 percent or more from their recent high). This has been in response to the concern around Covid-19 coronavirus, as human fright turns into financial panic. It is essentially because investors are fearful that ‘lockdowns’ in countries like Italy will negatively impact on company revenues and profits. Obvious candidates like airline companies and events management agencies have been especially hard hit, though the financial contagion has spread far and wide to nearly all sectors.

There are a number of elements to this financial panic. One is that when market sell-offs occur, the actions of dominant financial players tend to exacerbate them, as they did in the financial crisis of 2008. Many operate automatic trading systems driven by algorithms which will trigger further sales of shares when certain low prices are reached. These traders also tend to deploy ‘short positions’ to protect themselves from falling markets, which involves profiting from betting that certain shares will fall — but thereby making their falls all the steeper. This has been illustrated by what US asset management firms like Fidelity have said has been happening during this panic — that asset management firms and hedge funds have been on the sell side of most trades, while private investors have disproportionately been on the other side of the trade, buying for the longer-term (in the view that there’s a sale on). The Financial Times (7 March) reported that since 1960, of the 13 most volatile stock market periods, seven of them have happened since 2007.

Investors have been especially concerned that the coronavirus scare will lead to recessions in the countries affected (and even others too). This is on the back of investor suspicion that some of the world’s major economies have most likely been on the brink of a recession anyway. A good indicator of this has been the recent inversion of the yield curve in the world’s largest economy, the US. This happens when interest rates for tying up your money for longer (e.g ten years) are lower than for short periods (e.g two years). It is the opposite to the usual situation, and indicates fear in the government bond markets as investors move from investing in riskier assets to the safe haven of long-term government bonds, pushing their prices up and their yields down. This happened in the US late last year and is usually one of the best lead indicators of a coming recession there is, also reflecting the fact investors believe future interest rates will fall (as they do doing recessions). During the current panic, the yield on 10 year US Treasuries has reached the lowest it has been in history, at the time of writing 0.7 percent, i.e less than inflation and therefore effectively paying the US government for the privilege of taking your money.

Another factor in the market panic has been the oil price.  Some of those hardest hit on the stock markets have been oil majors like BP and Royal Dutch Shell as the oil price collapses, falling at one stage by a third in a single day (to around $30 a barrel for Brent crude). This has been because the major oil producer states, dominated by OPEC, have failed to agree with another major oil producer, Russia, to limit production and therefore push up prices. There is a suspicion that Russia won’t play ball as it hopes a falling oil price will drive a lot of newer US companies producing oil and gas from shale deposits out of business altogether — a tactical ploy that is exacerbating the panic.

Despite this current chaos, the crisis will of course pass and lower interest rates and lower commodity prices like oil will be among the motor forces for this. In the meantime the traders will scream and shout as they try to assess the real extent of the underlying economic crisis – seemingly unable to leap out of a rollercoaster ride that’s been scarier than usual for them, and for some good reasons.

Masterman's Muddle. (1920)

From the April 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The Globe" on February 6th, 18th, and 23rd published a series of articles by Mr. C. F. G. Masterman entitled ''The Failure of Class War," a premature verdict delivered while the manifestations of class antagonism become more apparent daily.

"Marx," says Mr. Masterman, "prophesied that all the means of production would pass into the hands of a small company of rich men. They would squeeze down the wages of the poor to the limits of subsistence. The poor, fighting against each other for the bare means of living, would possess nothing and become the mere wage-slaves of the rich. After a time of unspeakable misery these many poor would rise against the few rich in a 'class war,' destroy them, take over their property, and establish a communist state."

Much that Mr. Masterman afterwards writes goes far to prove that this "prophesy" of Marx is well on its way toward fulfillment. When he says later on "The power of capital concentrated in the hands of a few is far too tremendous," and when we find throughout his articles that he does not attempt to deny that the bulk of society—the working class—are wage-slaves, and that the majority of them live in "unspeakable misery," we can only conclude that he accepts these things as part and parcel of the system—necessary evils that may vary in magnitude but must always be.

Our author does not deny that the workers—as in the time of Marx—compete with each other on the labour market for the sale of their labour-power, the result being that their wages are "squeezed down" to the level that just enables them to go on producing for their masters. What he really does is to assert that to-day there are more people living in comfort than ever before. Professor Marshall in his "Economics of Industry," tries, through long, dreary pages of platitudes and repetitions, to defend the capitalist system on the same grounds. But what consolation is it to the dispossessed working-class to know that the number of parasites living by their exploitation has increased? Does the fact that 340,000 men made over four thousand million pounds during the war, bring any satisfaction to the thirty-odd millions of the population who belong to the working class and have to keep up a constant struggle against the masters in order to obtain a "minimum wage."

Mr. Masterman says that "Marx was utterly wrong in his prophesy. He did not foresee the coming power of the trade unions. . . or the interference of the government to raise wages to a minimum." Marx understood the power of trade unions—and the limits of their power—only too well. And Mr. Masterman pays him a well-deserved tribute when he points out the fact that trade unions have failed to raise wages to "a minimum "—-whatever that mean—without assistance from the government.

It is perfectly true that Parliament—although merely an executive of the capitalist class— spends much of its time framing laws to protect the workers from the ever-increasing rapacity of capitalists. This policy has been followed, more or less consistently, ever since the first Factory Act was passed, not from any goodwill toward the workers, but solely because the preservation of some sort of order is an imperative of any social order. Without restraint, exercised by the executive government, capitalism would quickly become a wild orgy of ruthless exploitation.

In pursuance of the same idea Mr. Masterman says that "In America most of the very rich men started from the bottom." But even if this is true it does not palliate the conditions of the bulk of American society, who still remain at the bottom.

In Britain, we are told, "The small farmers classes are disappearing through the losses and taxes of the war. The small farmers and small holders are buying their farms and holdings. They are becoming well off. They are becoming capitalists. They cannot understand the 'class war' theory. It does not apply to them." But Mr. Masterman has told them now: they are becoming capitalists ; that is why it does not apply to them. It is between the working class and the capitalist class that the class war must be waged, not between capitalists and capitalists. This should be obvious to the dullest of Mr. Masterman's readers.

Moreover, what if America's richest men did start from the bottom ? Their rise has been effected by the robbery of the working class, who are still at the bottom. It matters nothing to the working class how the personnel of the ruling class changes. Our author's point is pointless, because the Socialist declares that there exists antagonism of interests between exploiters and exploited, while he replies that there is no antagonism, therefore no class war, between capitalists and capitalists. We already knew that: the capitalists are fully occupied fighting the working class.

There is nothing new about Mr: Masterman's criticisms ; he has merely adopted the freak  arguments that were exploded by Marx himself, and which are easily dealt with by Socialists today. For instance, he contends that the ownership of capital is the result of work and saving; but it is the working class that do all the work, and by virtue of the fact that they only consume such wealth as is necessary to maintain their continued efficiency, are the only class that save. From the total wealth produced by the workers wages are paid. The remainder constitutes the fund from which new capital is saved. The whole of this fund is owned by capitalists, who use it either to satisfy their needs and fancies, or as fresh capital—in other words, for the further exploitation of the workers. Thus the working class only get what slave classes have always had—all the work and just sufficient of the necessaries of life to enable them to go on working.

Again, Mr. Masterman tries to show that the workers themselves are capitalists because of their funds in savings banks, trade unions, etc. He does not compare the few millions owned in this way with the thousands of millions owned by capitalists, nor does he acknowledge that these funds are practically the total savings of thirty-eight millions of the population to provide against unemployment and capitalist oppression generally. Instead, he quotes the railwaymen at investing their funds in railway stock, thus handing over to their enemies the funds they had built up to fight them with.

But Mr. Masterman has no delusions about co-operative stores. He says: "Co-operatives cannot attack capitalism. 'Divi' is the interest of capital." The strange thing is that our author cannot see, or pretends not to see, that "divi" is the capitalist's only object, and, therefore, that wealth can only be called capital when it obtains "divi," or profits, for its owner. He sees it quickly enough, however, in the worker who takes up a few shares in a co-operative store for the sake of a few paltry shillings a quarter.

"Capital," says Mr. Masterman, "is the houses we live in, the factories in which we make clothes, and ship, and machines ; the food we store up from one harvest to another; the ploughs and harrows and spades that enable us to produce a harvest at all." Some of these things, it is true, are capital; but not because of any quality they possess in themselves as means for producing further wealth, but because they are owned by the master class exclusively, and can only be used by the working class on the condition that all the wealth they produce belongs to the capitalist class.

Mr. Masterman's remedy is, in his own words, "to make all men capitalists" : a remedy that is just about as idiotic as that which used to be imputed to the Socialist—dividing up all the wealth. It would not then be a question of "who would do the dirty work," but who would do any work at all, because capitalists do not work, they live on "divi"—the surplus-value produced by the workers divided amongst them in the form of rent, interest, and profit.

Mr. Masterman's attack on Socialism is largely made up of apologies for the most pronounced evils of capitalism. He says : "The money spent or wasted on luxury by the rich, if saved, would make very little difference to the total income to be divided." Of course not: it is "spent or wasted " after it has been divided, after the workers have received their share— wages—which can never rise much above the cost of living. The irony of the worker's position is that the more wealth that is wasted by the capitalists the more work there is for him, the less competition there is for jobs, and the greater is the possibility of higher wages. But our author, failing to perceive the merchandise character of human labour-power, fails to see the natural results of that status. But that is not the only instance of his blindness. He says: "most of the money going now to men of great fortune is not spent but saved." Seeing that they already have great fortunes very little credit is due to them for their abstention. Oh, but, interjects our friend, "at death the State gets a big slice of it, and the rest is generally distributed among many others." The point Mr. Masterman does not (want to) see is that it never goes back to the working class, who produce it.

Mr. Masterman introduces his subject with the declaration: "it is no good going out fighting against empty abstractions ; battle with words. You can't destroy giant evils with words." From the capitalist standpoint Socialism is a "giant evil," that is why he sets out to destroy it—with words. Like so many others who have tried, he fails because he represents neither capitalism nor Socialism faithfully. He never examines the basis of capitalism because, for him, it is the best possible system. It divides society into a privileged and a slave class, and his lot is cast among the privileged. Socialism is repugnant to him because it would abolish slavery and privilege and establish society on a basis where the means of wealth-production, instead of being owned by a small capitalist class, would be the common property of society, to be used for the needs of a community making arrangements for production and distribution according to a settled plan agreed upon by all, a system based upon common ownership and democratic control of all the means of life.
F. Foan

By The Way. (1920)

The By The Way Column from the April 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the days of long ago we were accustomed to hear that "Socialism would break up the family life," but with the world war raging it soon became manifest that the sending of working men to participate in the masters' quarrel was a more potent factor for achieving that object. While the men of England were "crushing the German military menace" and making the world safe for democracy and "our women" later results would seem to show that there are Huns in other places than Germany. A study of the Press would soon clinch the point.

With the Bolshevik rebellion in Russia the antis here soon got to work and a new cry was taken up by them. For the benefit of those folk who put their thinking out to be done for them, like they do their dirty linen, the story was told and re-told of how the Bolsheviks "nationalised" their women, and other lying statements were made in order to throw dust in the eyes of the working people here. Yet at the same time in Christian England we speak of "public women" and on contents bills of local newspapers the line "The Social Evil" meets our eye week after week. Verily our masters are a gang of hypocrites.

Now we read of an astounding proposition emanating from the land of "our gallant ally," France. I will quote the announcement in full. Here it is:
   "A daring proposal for increasing the birth-rate in France is made in the "Paris Medical,"  by M. Paul Carnot, Professor of Therapeutics at the Faculty of Medicine at Paris University. He says that if the birthrate in France is not considerably increased in a few years France's losses of 2,000,000 men in the war will have been quadrupled.
   Discussing the methods by which maternity could be made a remunerative career for women, he asks whether society should not confide the mission of increasing the population to a large number of "volunteers of maternity," the community bearing the expense of rearing children and giving bonuses in respect of healthy offspring. " —"Daily News," March 26th, 1920.
Doubtless the master class have it in mind that, in order to maintain their system, wage-slaves and an armed force are necessary, and though the war just terminated was to be the last war, signs are not wanting that those who uttered such puerile twaddle so short a while ago were gravely in error or deliberately "kidding" the simple ones. Hence the necessity for preparedness for future eventualities thus the need for "volunteers of maternity." What will the antis say now ?

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We have all heard at some time or other that if we were careful, industrious, thrifty, god-fearing, and abstained from Bacchanalian orgies the ladder was clear and easy of access for every one of us to climb to fame and wealth. Have we not heard of this man and that who started life in humble surroundings and, by practising the virtues enumerated above, ultimately became what our false teachers call "self made men" ? Most workers now realise that to be born in the ranks of the working class means being doomed to remain there until the end of their days.

For the benefit of those who accept the dictum that we all have an equal opportunity of rising to the pinnacle portrayed by these misleaders, the following taken from the Inland Revenue Department and quoted in an article in "Reynolds's Newspaper" (28.3.20.) should afford some enlightenment:
(1) 340,000 persons added £2,846,000,000 to their fortunes.
(2) 280 persons added an average of £700,000 to their fortunes (total wealth) between the outbreak of war and June 30th, 1919.
(3) 200 persons added an average increase of £330,000 each to their fortunes.
(4) 564 added an average of £230,000 each to their fortunes.
(5) The remaining 44,500,000 being all those who were worth less than £5,000 on June 30, 1919, added £1,334,000,000 to their fortunes. Just less than one-half of the increase of wealth belonging to the favoured half-million.
No, the road to affluence and power is not through grinding toil.

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The oneness of the international master class has just recently been illustrated. How beautifully humane they are in their treatment of their slaves. From a report dealing with the revolt on the part of the German workers take the following extract:
  "Fighting continues in most of the thickly populated areas, and has been particularly severe in the Rhineland and at Leipzig, where the workers shot down a military aeroplane after bombs had been dropped on the city.—-"Daily News," March 20th, 1920.
It matters not what part of the capitalist world one looks at to observe the fact that whenever a revolt on the part of the workers takes place it is always met with the armed forces of capitalist society. When will the workers learn the lesson from the past and understand their position in society, then organise to overthrow the system that robs them of the fruit of their labours. "Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win !"

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On more than one occasion lately Mr. Lloyd George has told those who read his speeches that there is growing up in this country a movement which means to put an end to the capitalist system. To counteract this movement he desires a fusion of the different political parties he thinks that by this method he can give an extended lease of life to his capitalist paymasters. The puny efforts of this political mountebank are only to be likened to Mrs. Partington endeavouring with her broom to stay the incoming tide.

Strange, is it not, that this individual who was so loud in his condemnation of capitalist society from 1906 to 1910 should now be so keen in endeavouring to maintain that system, which he said at Swansea on October 1st, 1908, "No one can really honestly defend."

#    #    #    #

Perhaps in view of the foregoing paragraph a few extracts from that speech would not be amiss, Indeed, it may be helpful to those who as yet only see as through a glass darkly. In that speech Lld. George himself states part of the indictment against capitalism and furnishes the Socialist with ammunition to help him in storming the capitalist citadel. Let me quote:
  "There are 43 millions of people in this country. They are not here of their own choice. Whether they are here by accident or by the direct decree of Providence, at any rate they have had no control or voice in the selection of the land of their birth. If hundreds and thousands of them either starved, or were on the brink of starvation, we must not blame Providence for this misfortune. There are abundant material resources in this country to feed, clothe, and shelter them all—yea, and if properly husbanded and managed to do the same for many millions more."
Speaking of the callous indifference of the capitalist class he says :
  "We are still confronted with the more gigantic task of dealing with the rest—the sick, the infirm, the unemployed, the widows, and the orphans. No country can lay any real claim to civilisation that allows them to starve. Starvation is a punishment that society has ceased to inflict for centuries on its worst criminals, and at its most barbarous stage humanity never starved the children of the criminal.
   But what happens to-day. . . A workman breaks down in his prime, and permanently loses his power of earning a livelihood. . . . Why should he be allowed to starve and his children to die of hunger in this land of superabundant plenty ?"
Another quotation from the same source taken from the right honourable gentleman's speech at Newcastle, on October 9th, 1909, is particularly appropriate at this juncture. In fact, were he to refresh his memory once again and give utterance to his former speeches, one could imagine the cry of "Bolshevik" escaping from the lips of his patriotic supporters. In the speech referred to he asked a series of questions, as follows:
  "Who ordained that a few should have the land of Britain as a perquisite ? Who made ten thousand people owners of the soil, and the rest of us trespassers in the land of our birth ? Who is it who is responsible for the scheme of things whereby one man is engaged through life in grinding labour to win a bare and precarious existence for himself . . . and another man who does not toil receives every hour of the day, every hour of the night, whilst he slumbers, more than his poor neighbour receives in a whole year of toil ? " (Extracts from "Better Times," by D. Ld. George.)
Now this was the position of the workers fourteen years ago when Lld. George and the Liberal Party came into office — then he was going to lead us to the "fields of waving corn." At that period he stated — "If at the end of an average term of office it were found that a Liberal Parliament had done nothing to cope seriously with the social condition of the people, to remove the national degradation of slums and wide-spread poverty and destitution in a land glittering with wealth. . . then would a real cry arise in this land for a new party."

Fourteen months ago the same gentleman, having won the war, came along with his Coalition Party and his "New World"' stunt. A gain he glibly talked about a "land fit for heroes," and his reform-mongering panacea for all our social ills. Surely the time has arrived when he should be judged by the test he himself laid down fourteen years ago. Let the workers themselves ask and answer the question —Has Lloyd George and his Governments done anything to cope seriously with the social condition of the people, the poverty and destitution? Then, I think, they will bring in a verdict that capitalism has been found guilty, and that the next thing to do is to pronounce sentence of death and usher in the Socialist Commonwealth.

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It is extremely interesting to read the pronouncements of the men of God. Just recently Cardinal Bourne, in his Lenten pastoral, declared, according to the "Illustrated Sunday Herald" (15.2.1920), that "through the terrible scourge of the war God has wrought a real improvement in His People. Evils such as prodigal expenditure and unrestrained luxury were the outcome of the unreasoning restlessness which has always followed a terrible conflict. But deeper down one saw a more genuine desire in all classes to see justice done to those who in the past had been exposed to poverty, pauperism, and desolate old age."

Really the follower of the lowly Nazarene must have had his rose-coloured spectacles on to observe the things he portrays. Where, might I ask, is the "real improvement to be found? True we have read of the millionaire who has found "real improvement," and who exclaimed "What is the use of having a war if you do not make anything out of it ?" But generally speaking, from a working-class point of view, no improvement is discernible.

As to the statement that "deeper down one saw a more genuine desire to see justice done to those who had been exposed to poverty, pauperism, and desolate old age," that, to put it mildly, is a terminological inexactitude. The bitter struggle which ensues when these people endeavour to obtain an increase of wages or pension to keep pace with the ever-increasing cost of living gives the lie direct to these Holy Joes who prate about "genuine desires."

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In the days long ago when I used to attend Divine Worship one heard a great deal about the gospel of Christ being a gospel of peace and goodwill towards men. Maybe this was a good stunt for Sunday, intended to be put away in the drawer with the Sunday clothes. During the war period we are all aware that notwithstanding the lip-service given to this glorious gospel of "peace" by the ambassadors of Christ, they were, in the main, whole-hearted supporters of war to the bitter end, aye, to the last drop of somebody else's blood. Even now that our masters have arranged a kind of patched-up peace they want to be preparing for the next war. Witness the following :
  "At the morning and evening services at the Waltham Abbey Baptist Church yesterday the congregations passed resolutions declaring that the closing of the Royal Gunpowder Factory would have a disastrous effect upon the town and neighbourhood, and calling upon the Prime Minister to intervene to save the factory and thus avert the spread of unemployment. "—"Daily News," March 1st, 1920.
Here you have the glories of Christianity and capitalism. On Sunday you have the local tin-Bethelites forgathering ostensibly for worship and preparation for the "next world," but the uncertainty of an existence in this apparently troubles them more. They have their eyes firmly fixed on the main chance. What damned hypocrisy!

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At one time we heard a lot about the lofty ideals of the Allies—that they did not enter the war for self-aggrandisement or gain; no, simply to crush Prussian militarism and make the world safe for democracy. How successful they have been even an individual with one eye can perceive. From time to time quite a number of little differences have arisen among these would-be saviours of the universe over the division of the spoils. Take this as a recent example:
  "In shipping circles the decision of the Supreme Council with regard to the allocation of German tonnage among the Allies is being awaited with some anxiety. The council is to deal with the thorny question this week. France is going to fight against the plan that each Ally should be allowed to retain all the ships captured or interned in that Ally's ports during the war. Under this plan America would retain 50 per cent. more German tonnage than she lost. France would suffer in comparison, but so would this country, although much bitter French criticism is directed against us. France, it is asserted, will decline to hand back the 250,000 tons allocated provisionally for her use, in addition to her final share in the restricted pool, so that an amicable solution seems difficult of attainment. "— "Reynolds's," March 21st, 1920.
Another interesting piece of information was vouchsafed to us by the daily Press a few days ago. It concerns the question of "our mandate'' for Mesopotamia, and it runs thus :
  "Mr. Lloyd George has stated that the reason why we are extending our frontiers to include the distant province of Mosul is that ‘Mosul is a country with great possibilities. It has rich oil deposits.’"— "Daily News," March 29th, 1920.
Of course we are not told who are going to work these rich oil-fields or who will receive the dividends arising therefrom. But it is perfectly obvious that all the benefits to be derived therefrom will accrue to Lloyd George's paymasters, the capitalists. Working men laid down their lives to make this secure for their masters.

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While we are exhorted to work, and work harder, to increase production, I note that a "vote as a grant-in-aid of the mission of the Prince of Wales to Australia and New Zealand is fixed so as not to exceed £20,000." A holiday for the parasites of society while the only useful class toils on to maintain them in luxury. When will the workers awake and end the system which robs them of the fruits of their toil ? 
The Scout

£1000 Fund. (1920)

Party News from the April 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Don't forget that much of the value and efficacy if our activities depend upon that £1000 Fund. Save your breeches by sending us your money before it burns your pockets out.

“Economic Power.” (1920)

From the April 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Vague and misunderstood, or meaningless, phrases have proved useful weapons to the ruling classes, or would-be ruling classes, throughout history as means to rally to their support the mass of the population. Every class that has risen to power has exploited its own particular catch phrases to blind and mislead the rest of society.

The American smugglers and slave traders had as their watchword  “the inalienable rights of man.” When they had achieved their end it became evident that the people whose inalienable rights were to be safeguarded were the American exploiters of black and white labourers. The French bourgeoisie worked themselves into a frenzy over ”Liberty, Equality Fraternity”—the liberty, equality, and fraternity of the rising capitalists in the exploitation of the labour of the French workers. Throughout the 19th century the working portion of the population of Europe were ruthlessly suppressed and massacred in the name of “Law and Order”—the law and order of the exploiting class.

These historical incidents make it imperative that all phrases and catchwords should be carefully analysed in order that a true understanding of the expressions used may be arrived at, and the habit of giving blind adherence to pet phrases eliminated. Words have a tendency to take the place of ideas, particularly in revolutionary movements, with ruinous results.

A misunderstood phrase that has been bandied about a good deal of late, has acquired a mysterious potency for the advocates of so-called Industrial Action, is the expression “Economic Power.” Those who give allegiance to this phrase set out with the false premise: “Political power is based upon Economic Power.”

Let us examine the premise a little closer.

An investigation of history shows that political power generally reflects a certain stage in economic development, but all the elements necessary for the next stage in economic development are already in existence, and operating to a certain extent, before the political control corresponding to the previous stage is overthrown. Until the political control is overthrown the class at the political helm enjoys the fruits and emoluments resulting from the partially developed new stage.

A class develops into an important economic position in society, and feels the pinch and oppression of the existing laws and regulations before the idea of overthrowing the prevailing system arises in the minds of the oppressed class. This class feels the incidence and hardship of the shackling regulations and gradually reaches the understanding that these regulations must be overthrown. Hence political revolutions occur and new classes alter the constitution of society to suit their particular interests.

Political power does not necessarily infer economic importance, as instance the fact that economically important classes have supported useless classes in possession of political power for generations before the political supremacy of the parasitic class was overthrown, and often the former were swept away by the class in possession of political power.

In France the monarchical group lived like leeches on the French capitalists for generations before the French Revolution. They subjected the rising commercialists to a variety of methods of extortion, and the latter were powerless to check the diversion of a large portion of their wealth into the pockets of the ruling class until they had obtained control of the political machinery. Indeed, so frail was the “economic power” of the rising capitalists before they had captured political power, that the ruling class could, and frequently did, not only repudiate debts owing to them, but even dispossessed them altogether at a moment’s notice, as in the celebrated case of the Huguenots in the 17th century, when, according to Buckle (“History of Civilisation in England,” Vol. II., p. 145) half a million manufacturers and artizans were driven out of France.

From the 11th to the 14th century wool was the principle article of commerce in England, and the woollen industry grew to relatively large proportions. The individuals concerned in this trade became the commercial backbone of England. But political power centred in the hands of the sovereign, and the woollen merchants were drained of their wealth to provide luxury for the monarchical party and to finance foreign wars. The woollen traders were compelled to apply to the Jews and the Italian bankers for financial assistance, and the taxes were also farmed out to the latter groups. In fact, the Jews and Italians obtained such a hold that the carrying on of industry and the wars of the period largely depended on their financial aid. Their wealth and economic importance became immeasurably greater than that of any other section in the country. But they had no share in political power, and consequently the Jews and Italians were in turn bled by the royal power, and were finally ruined, imprisoned and driven from the country.

Referring to the position of the Jews H. de B. Gibbins writes :
  Their general financial skill was acknowledged by all, and William II. employed them to farm the revenues of vacant sees, while barons often employed them as stewards of their estates. They were also the leading, if not the only, capitalists of that time, and must have assisted merchants considerably in their enterprises, though only upon a heavy commission. After the death of Henry I., the security which they had enjoyed was much weakened, in proportion as the royal power declined in the civil wars, and in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries they were in a precarious position. Stephen and Mathilda openly robbed them, Henry II. (in 1187) demanded one fourth of their chattels, and Richard I. obtained large sums from them for his crusading extravagance. From 1144 to 1189 riots directed against them became common, and the Jewries of many towns were pillaged. In 1194 Richard I. placed their commercial transactions more thoroughly under local officers of the Crown. John exploited them to great advantage, and levied heavy tallages upon them, and Henry III. did very much the same. They were expelled from the kingdom in 1290, and before this had greatly sunk from their previous position as the financiers of the Crown to that of petty money-lenders to the poor at gross usury.—”Industry in England,” pp. 103-4.
Such was the fate of an economically important class that was excluded from political power — material for the wielders of the supreme power to prey upon.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Italian bankers grew powerful.
  “Between 1297 and 1330 the country developed steadily in spite of the troubled times of Edward II. The Italian bankers grew more and more powerful and rendered increasingly important services to the Crown. The tin mines, the parliamentary grants, and the customs were constantly farmed out to them.”—”The Financing of the Hundred Years War,” Schuyler B. Terry, p. xviii.
The English woollen manufacturers were opposed to the Italians, partly because the latter were getting control of the wool trade, and partly on account of the debts they owed the Italians. When the latter had served the purpose of Edward III., the English monarch repudiated his debts and withdrew his support. Consequently they could not collect the other debts owing, as they had no power to enforce payment. The result was that they got into difficulties and eventually failed. After Edward’s support had been withdrawn they suffered from the persecution of the English merchants, and were confined in the Tower of London and other prisons for various periods.

Their economic “power” had proved a sorry weapon when they had no political force to back them.

From the foregoing it will be seen that economic “power” is a myth until political supremacy is attained. Correctly speaking, “economic power” as defined by the misguided Industrial Actionists, is a figment of the imagination. The ideas and conclusions derived from the phrase are the result of a complete failure to digest the lessons hammered home history.

The employing class of to-day do not rule because they have possession of the means of production, but conversely, they have possession of the means of production because they rule. The employer who spends his time wandering over the globe cannot retain possession of the wealth produced merely through the legal form—the legal form must have the power behind it, the power that enforces acceptance of the existing legal paraphernalia; and wild words, empty stomachs, or brickbats, are not effective combatting forces.

Capitalist private property differs from previous forms of private property, particularly in its present highly developed form. The capitalist of the present day does not privately own a factory, a mine, or a mill. He owns a number of shares in several mammoth corporations. The handling of the whole business of these corporations—even to the buying and selling of the shares—is in the hands of individuals receiving wages, or, in the case the more dignified but none the less oppressed, salaries. In other words, the whole of business is conducted by wage slaves. The function of the capitalist is, generally speaking, restricted to the spending of the continually increasing bank balance.

This illustrates the fact that, at the present time the working, or wage-slave, class is the most important economic class in society. Yet in spite of this the capitalist lives like a parasite on the industry that is run by others. The only way a useless class, divorced from production, can do this is by having supreme power and the supreme power is the governmental machinery.

Therefore it is necessary to wrest from them the only power they possess. The only way this can be done is by the workers organising politically for the capture of political power, which is centred in the Parliamentary machinery.

“Economic power” is but another of the delusions and shadows the workers must clear out of their heads, along with the other cobwebs, in the march to emancipation.

Correspondence. Many Questions, Chiefly Concerning "Economic Power." (1920)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Editor.

Woodstock Rd.,


For the past couple of years I have been interested in the Socialist movement, and have been a constant reader of the official organs of the different parties, particularly the Socialist Standard and the "Socialist," of the S.L.P.

I have not yet made up my mind which of the two parties (the S.P.G.B. or the S.L.P.) advocate the correct tactics to be adopted in order to usher in Socialism. There seems to be such a fog about the whole question of method that I will be much obliged if you will answer in a straight, clear, and satisfactory manner the following questions, taking each one separately.
  1. Is it true that the master class control the armed forces solely through having political
 supremacy ?
  2. If the working classes sent a majority of Socialists to the House of Commons would that in itself give them control of the armed forces unless at the same time they had an Industrial Union to back up their political majority ?
  3. If you agree that Industrial Unionism is necessary as well as political action why do you disagree with the S.L.P. ?
  4. Is it not due to their control of the means of life on the industrial field that the master class control armed force, and if so, what use would a political majority be to the workers as long as the masters held the means of production in their hands ?
  5. Is it true that the military council over-ride Parliament instead of vice-versa, as witness, for instance, Churchill's expeditions, which were taken in hand without consulting the members of Parliament ?
  6. If class-conscious political action alone is necessary is it feasible to think that the master class are going to allow the workers to vote them out of power ?
  7. Is it necessary to wait for Socialism until the majority of people are class conscious ?
  8. What is your Party's opinion of the Russian Revolution and why did Kautsky of Germany and the Marxists of Russia oppose the Bolsheviks ?
  9. Does your Party agree that Lenin is a Marxist, and if not, why not ?
  10. Is it not a historical truth that economic power always preceded political power, and why, therefore, does your Party not help on the advocacy of Industrial Unionism ?
  11. If through the big number of Socialists that may be returned to the House of Commons the masters suspend the Constitution, what can the workers do then unless they are industrially organised ?
Hoping, gentlemen, that you will answer the above questions each in turn as I have asked them and as soon as possible, 
I am faithfully yours,
Samuel Smyth.

Our Reply.
Regular readers of this paper will see at once how careless Mr. Smyth has been in his reading of our columns, as most of the questions he asks have been answered therein during the period he mentions. Thus in the issues for January and February 1918 the front page articles cover a large portion of this ground. For the benefit of new readers it may be useful to deal with the points again.
  1. Yes. There is no other way in which the capitalist class can control the armed forces. It is significant that those who try to belittle this important fact never attempt to show in what other way the capitalist class could exercise this control.  
  2. As it is by their majority in the House of Commons that the capitalists control these forces now, obviously a Socialist majority would control the same forces then. The Industrial Union— if it existed (and there is no ground for supposing that it will)—could not "back up" a political majority. On the contrary, the greatest efforts any union, industrial or other, could put forth could easily be crushed by that majority. 
  3. That any reader of the "S.S." should not be aware that we have opposed Industrial Unionism from its inception in 1905 seems almost impossible. Both the articles mentioned above and one given below answer this question. 
  4. What this question suggests is exactly the reverse of the truth. The masters are only able to retain their possession of the means of life because they control the armed forces through their political power. What is the first action of the masters when a big industrial dispute occurs ? Is it to use their "economic power"? Not at all. The political machinery is set in motion and the armed forces are sent to protect the masters' property from being damaged, or taken hold of by the workers. Without this political power the capitalists' control of the means of life would vanish at the first move of the workers. 
  5. No. The Army Council derives all its authority from Parliament through the channel of the Cabinet. No expedition can take place without instructions from the Cabinet. This Cabinet is the executive committee of the majority in Parliament and can be turned out of office at any moment the majority decide to do so. In the present Parliament the majority have always agreed with these expeditions, and it is only a few individual members who have protested, and they have been outvoted each time by the majority. 
  6. It is quite possible to think that the master class will "allow" what they cannot prevent. When a sufficient number of workers decide to vote for Socialist candidates there will be a majority of those candidates returned to power. By this action the master class will be voted out, whether they like it or not. 
  7. "People" includes both classes in society—the capitalist class and the working class. It is only the latter class who are interested in establishing Socialism. A certain portion of this class are always more or less apathetic, and accept the actions of the active sections. A majority of this active section must be converted to Socialism—must become class-conscious—before the Revolution can take place. 
  8. Our opinion of the Russian "revolution" is to be found in the "S.S." for August, 1918 and February, 1919. In the latter issue is the article referred to above in answer to question 3, which gives complete proof of the anti-Socialist character and actions of the S.L.P.  When Kautsky and the "Russian Marxists," whoever they may be, publish their reasons for opposing Bolshevism we shall know why they did it. 
  9. Really, this is too thin, even from a Belfast man. It does not lie with us to prove a negative. Let those who assert that Lenin is a Marxist give their reasons for such assertion and we will deal with their case. 
  10. Economic "power" does not and cannot exist until political power is in the hands of the class concerned. Only when they have conquered this power are they able to control the means of life and the labour-power of others. As Industrial Unionism can neither supply this political power to the workers, nor defeat it when it is in the hands of the masters, to advocate it would be idiotic. 
  11. If the masters suspend the Constitution the workers may take one or more of the follow
ing courses:
  • Start peaceful agitations and demonstrations against the suspension.
  • Indulge in strikes to try to enforce the re-establishment of the Constitution.
  • Form secret societies for the purpose of using physical force against the masters.

 The success or otherwise of the first two courses depends entirely upon the divisions in the ranks of the master class. If the minority of the masters against the suspension of the Constitution was fairly strong, either or both of these methods would stand a good chance of success. If the minority was small, then both methods would be useless. The masters could easily ignore the peaceful demonstrations—or forbid them being held—and crush any strike that might occur.

In these circumstances the workers could not be "industrially organised," because with the suspension of the Constitution the legal right of the workers to form combinations would be abolished.

There remains the method of secret societies. A small group, organised for a special, limited object, such as the assassination of a crowned head, may sometimes be successful, but it would be utterly impossible to organise the mass, or even the majority, of the workers into a secret society. Even the small groups are often failures, and the actual perpetrator hardly ever escapes.

Thus it is easily seen that this method is as useless as the other two.

But all this is based upon the IF. A serious student would not have asked such a question, but would first have inquired : "Can the master class suspend the Constitution ?" This would have led to an examination of the Constitution, and then it would have been seen that the master class could only suspend the Constitution at the cost of the collapse of capitalism and the bringing in of chaos.

Capitalism has long outgrown the power of the capitalist class to manage all its activities. In production the capitalist has to employ special wage-slaves to organise his business, known as foremen and managers. In social affairs the complexity and area of the operations make it quite impossible for the capitalist class to manage the business, or even fill the offices required.

Hence thousands of functions have to be delegated to subsidiary bodies, as County Councils, Town Councils, etc., down to the little Parish Meeting. But this delegation of activities is necessarily based upon representation. Year by year the area of these delegated activities increases, and this increase compels an increase in the basis of representation—the Franchise. In every capitalist country this increase of the Franchise is steadily progressing, owing to the necessities of the system. In this country there has lately taken place a huge increase in the number entitled to use the Franchise.

Thus while persuading the workers to place the centre of power—the Parliament—in the hands of the masters, these masters are compelled to place administration into the hands of elected bodies. To stop the activities of these bodies, while unable to carry them on themselves, would mean chaos and the collapse of capitalism.

The suspension of the Constitution would be a last act of despair on the part of that section of the master class who, Samson like, would endeavour to involve all in a common destruction. Even then it would fail of its ultimate purpose as the workers could, sooner or later, build up order out of chaos, though vast suffering and misery would ensue until that order had been accomplished.
Editorial Committee.

Peace Problems, Prices and Panics. (1920)

From the April 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

For fear that the reader should imagine that I am going into a long diatribe about the capitalist peace I hasten to disillusion him. There can be no peace for the workers so long as capitalism exists, for wars are inevitable.

Wars are the outcome of an irreconcilable clash of interests manifest in the very nature of the capitalist system of society, wherein national groups of capitalists compete with one another in order to dominate the world's markets and trade routes. In their campaigns of conquest they drag in their train workers from all parts of the world, who are pitched and tossed like the gambler's coin to fight out the issue.

We have a glaring example in the recent world war—one of those periodical crises which shake society to its foundations and entail the sacrifice of millions of working-class lives.

The effects of the four and a half years war have set the ruling class of Europe trembling. For four and a half years the people have been engaged in the work of destruction. The blind passions of mankind have been aroused and inflamed by the cries of the capitalist class urging their wage slaves to slaughter one another.

Commencing with a propaganda of hate in the shape of the alleged German atrocities published as a blue book by the English Government. Following with the tirade against the "barbarous" methods of the German war lords—which methods were shown to be quite humane when practised by the Allied war lords.

There is a particular object in recalling to mind this propaganda of hate. We were told that the Germans would never be received or recognised by the rest of civilisation again. Now, however, the capitalists want peace, but they find it a very difficult thing to obtain. The problems with which they are confronted are becoming truly terrifying to them, and as the "Daily Telegraph" (2.3.1920) puts it in an article on the findings of the Supreme Committee appointed by the Allies to deal with the economic problems of Europe :
  By some means or other the mounting prices of practically everything in everyday use, and food supplies in particular, must be checked. . . . Technically the war is over, but in fact it cannot be regarded as at an end until we have cleared up the complications which it created, and among these the rise in prices is the outstanding one.
Of course it is not surprising that while the energies of the capitalist class have been engaged for the past eighteen months at the Peace Conference in Paris in trying to come to some agreement among themselves as to the sharing of the spoils of the war, the problem of making up for the shortage of the necessaries of life caused by years of concentrated destruction, has been somewhat neglected. The fact that prices of the necessaries of life are high, and that many of them are practically unobtainable by the workers, that substitutes for our daily diet are looked upon as almost a matter of course, that the shortage of housing accommodation causes the workers to be so scandalously herded together, that there is unemployment amongst those who were never to know the pinch of poverty more—the demobbed soldiers — all these represent problems to the ruling class, and problems they are likely to remain.

It consoles the workers, however, to read about all these problems, because they still fondly imagine that their condition will be improved by listening to talk from the governing class. But that is as far as it will get. What concerns the allied capitalists of Europe at the present time is the vastly more important task of dividing up the territories taken from their late foes during the war, transferring the control of trade routes, etc. They find it a rather difficult matter, however, and this accounts for the utterance contained in the latter part of the quotation given above. But the last few words about the rise in prices being the outstanding complication are merely added as a blind—the complication being the "equitable" division of the spoils of war.

That our rulers hope some day to clear up their affairs with one another is to be gleaned from the following extract from the same authority. Here can be seen the anticipations they have for the future: 
  Germany should receive her due quota of the available supplies in raw materials, provided the neutrals be willing to finance her imports of this nature . . . with America standing out Germany's custom and business partnership, however distasteful, and righty distasteful, it may be to her war victims, become Europe a disagreeable but compelling necessity.
The vile "Hun," with whom we would never trade again under any circumstances! The cant and cunning of the Allies' war cries are clearly shown in the above frank admissions.

The attempt to place the blame on America for "standing out" is a piece of camouflage artfully designed to hide their double dealing and justify their resumption of trade relations with their late enemies.

It must be borne in mind that the capitalist class of the world are united by common interests far more powerful than those which sometimes tend to tear them asunder. This point is convincingly illustrated by the fact that their guardians the Supreme Council have arrived at the following conclusion :
  Affirming the principle of International Solidarity, the necessity of Europe being treated in certain respects as a single economic entity . . . a general understanding has been reached by virtue of which Germany is to be helped by Europe to recover something of her pristine industrial productivity. (Same article in "Daily Telegraph.")
In the above can be seen how the masters realise the common interest of their class when they talk of International Solidarity. Territorial boundaries enable governments to explode different brands of patriotic gas to fool and divide the workers and create the necessary war enthusiasm. The workers, however, are referred to as fanatics, cranks, and bloody revolutionaries when they talk of Internationalism.

The writer finishes his article in thoughtful mood, remarking :
   Furthermore, far-seeing precautions must be taken lest we reproduce in these Islands, the worst evils which exist elsewhere. . . War. famine, revolution, that is the sequence which the allies must arrest, if not for the sake of the peoples who were so recently their enemies, at least for their own salvation. . . . The principles of economy and self help in association with a spirit of co-operation and must be accepted by Europe as essential to recovery of economic heath. None too soon the council has faced a problem which must be solved if the cancer which is consuming Northern Russia is not to spread far beyond the borders of that unhappy and distraught country.
This represents a heart-cry of the capitalists of Europe. They realise the perilous position in which the result of four and a half years of war has placed them. Torn between conflicting emotions, on the one hand endeavouring without success for nearly two years to arrange among themselves the division of the spoils of war, and on the other hand their burning zeal to resume their commercial enterprises and trade relations, they are suffering the agonies of conscious impotence. Further, they are faced with the graver peril of the growing unrest of the working class of their respective territories.

The workers of the world would do well to examine the events of the last five years in relation to the attitude which this Party took up immediately on the outbreak of the war. In our manifesto published in the September 1914 issue of our Party Organ, we began by saying- —
   "Whereas the Capitalists of Europe have quarrelled over the question of the control of trade routes and the world's markets, and are endeavouring to exploit the political ignorance and blind passions of the working class of their respective countries in order to induce the said workers to take up arms in what is solely their masters' quarrel . . ."
and concluded with—
   "Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism. The World for the Workers."
That attitude has been vindicated and stands on record to justify our oft-repeated claim of the truth and unchallengeable soundness of our position. Compared with the confusion and treachery of the pseudo organisations of this and other countries boasting that they champion the workers and represent their interests, we enjoy the supreme confidence which invigorates our consistent and unfailing efforts in the prosecution of the class war.

The facts, therefore, which the workers have to grasp are, that under the existing social order they are wage slaves; the only thing they possess is their power to labour, which they are compelled to sell in order to live.

The workers are poor because they are robbed of the greater portion of the wealth which they produce. The necessaries of life are produced by the social labour of the workers, but the means and instruments for producing these necessaries are owned and controlled by the capitalist class. It is because of this antagonism, this contradiction, in society, i.e., social production side by side with private ownership, that we have poverty-stricken workers and idlers rolling in wealth.

The solution to the "problem" rests with the working class, who must get to understand their class position in society and enrol themselves in a political party with the object of capturing the powers of government, in order to establish Socialism. That political party already exists—it is the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Study the Object and Principles of that Party—they will be found on the last page of this paper— and if you agree with them come and join us, and fight for the only thing worth while, i.e., Socialism.
O. C. I.

50 Years Ago: French “Communists” support wages system (2020)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 37th Congress of the French trade union centre, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), voted last November to change its statutes. It threw out the phrase “abolition of the wages system” (disparition du salariat et da patronat) and substituted “socialisation of the means of production and exchange” (socialisation des moyens de production et d’├ęchange).

Of course the paper aims of an organisation tell us very little about what it actually does, but they can tell us how its members and leaders think. The CGT is led by members of the French Communist Party. So it is particularly revealing that they should wish to remove a phrase which Marx described as revolutionary and specifically recommended trade unionists to adopt.

It is also a measure of the French Communist Party’s aim to reform rather than abolish capitalism that their trade union centre should adopt instead so meaningless a slogan as the “socialisation of the means of production and exchange”. The means of production arc already socialised in the sense that they can only be operated by social, co-operative labour. This has already been done by capitalism; what Socialism will do is to end the class monopoly of these means, to establish social or common ownership as well. The CGT’s new aim cannot mean this as the social ownership of the means of exchange (banks, etc) is a contradiction in terms. When the means of production arc socially owned, wealth will be produced purely and simply to satisfy human needs. Production for the market, or exchange, will disappear and along with this banks and other commercial and financial institutions.

(Socialist Standard, April 1970)

Editorial: Capitalism struggles to cope (2020)

Editorial from the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism survives by producing for profit, which takes precedence over human welfare. It is organised around nation states, representing the capitalist interests within their borders, competing against each other in the global market place. The new Covid-19 pandemic reveals this social system’s shortcomings in how it deals with global problems.

The virus is believed to have originated in a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, where animals were traded illegally. Overcrowded conditions and poor infrastructure in the large cities allowed for the rapid infection among the population. The virus was transmitted to other countries through tourism and trade.

Faced with such a global crisis, one would think that there would be some form of international cooperation. However, this has not been the case. The initial reaction of the local Chinese officials was to suppress any information, just as state authorities had done during the 2003 SARS outbreak, in order to avoid compromising China’s position in the global market place. After branding it a ‘Chinese virus’, Donald Trump haphazardly introduced a travel ban on European nations without any prior consultation.

Each nation state has been pursuing its own independent policy, sometimes following conflicting medical advice.

Governments have mostly been slow to respond to this emergency, partly through uncertainty and partly through reluctance to impact on the profitability of local enterprises. This lack of global coherence, cooperation and reactivity will certainly cost lives.

Despite the great advances made in medical technology over the last century and the existence of highly trained medical staff, health services will be struggling to cope. It is predicted that the NHS could be overwhelmed. Health services like everything else in capitalism are constrained by what can be afforded. In the last ten years, health services have generally seen their funding fall as governments introduced austerity measures as part of efforts to restore the rate of profit in the aftermath of the 2008/2009 economic downturn.

The production of vaccines to combat the virus is also subject to the vagaries of the market system. The largest pharmaceutical companies have the resources to search for a vaccine but will only do so if they can earn profits large enough to cover the development costs in the timescales required. Many of them have consolidated patents on the manufacturing processes. Even when work on a vaccine has begun, it may be shelved if the virus outbreak recedes (Stephen Buryani ‘How profit makes the fight for a Coronavirus vaccine harder’ Guardian, 4 March).

The government advises us to self-isolate if we think we have the virus, and are offering to pay 80 percent of wages to make sure workers do. But little concern has been paid to insecure workers on low wages or those who work in the gig economy, who are facing financial pressure to continue working and so risk spreading the virus.

The state has been forced to intervene in the economy and in our lives. Governments exhort us to be altruistic and to look out for others. What we need to do is develop real human solidarity. The only real way to achieve this is through developing socialist consciousness, the awareness that, as workers, we have a common interest in getting rid of capitalism and establishing a global socialist society without national frontiers.