Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Historical Method of Karl Marx by Paul Lafargue. (1920)

From the August 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reprinted from the “International Socialist Review,” Oct., 1907.

IV. The Natural Environment and the Artificial or Social Environment—Continued.

A few historical facts, too recent to be forgotten, will illustrate the interplay of the various parts of the artificial environment through the medium of man.

When industry had utilised the elasticity of steam as a motor power, it demanded new means of transportation to carry its fuel, its raw material and its products. It suggested to the interested manufacturers the idea of steam traction on iron rails which began to be practised in the coal fields of Gard in 1830 and in those of the Loire in 1832; it was in 1829 that Stephenson’s first locomotive drew a train in England. But when it was desired to extend this mode of locomotion, active and various opposition was encountered, which delayed its development for years. M. Thiers, one of the political leaders of official capitalism, and one of the authorised representatives of its common sense and public opinion, opposed it energetically, because, he declared, “a railroad cannot work”. Railroads, indeed, upset the most reasonable and established ideas: they required, along with other impossible things, grave changes in the mode of property – serving as a basis for the social edifice of the bourgeoisie then in power. Till then a capitalist created an industry or a mercantile establishment with his own money, increased, at the most, by that of one or two friends and acquaintances who had confidence in his honesty and skill; he directed the use of the funds and was the real and nominal proprietor of the factory or the commercial house. But the railroads were obliged to amass such enormous capitals that it was therefore necessary to induce a great number of capitalists to confide their money, which they had never left out of their sight, to people whose names they scarcely knew, still less their ability or morality. When they let go of the money they lost all control over its use; they had no personal proprietorship in the stations, cars, locomotives, etc., which it served to create; instead of pieces of gold or silver, having volume, weight and other solid qualities, they received back a narrow, light sheet of paper, representing fictitiously, an intangible morsel of the collective property, the name of which it bore, printed in big letters. Never in bourgeois memory had property taken on such a metaphysical form. This new form, which depersonalised property, was in such violent contradiction with that which summed up the joys of the capitalists, that which they had known and handed down for generations, that to defend it and propagate it no one could be found but the men charged with all the crimes and denounced as the worst disturbers of social order, — the Socialists. Fourier and St. Simon welcomed the mobilisation of property in paper stock-certificates. We find in the ranks of their disciples the manufacturers, engineers and financiers who prepared the revolution of 1848 and were the plotters of December 2: they profited by the political revolution to revolutionise the economic environment by centralising the nine provincial banks into the Bank of France, by legalising the new form of property and causing it to be accepted by public opinion, and by creating the network of French railways.

The great mechanical industry, which must draw its fuel and its raw material from a distance, and which must scatter its products widely, cannot tolerate the parcelling of a nation into little autonomous States, with tariffs, laws, weights and measures, coins, paper currencies, etc., of their own; it requires, on the contrary, the development of unified and centralised nations. Italy and Germany have met these requirements of the great industry, but only at the cost of bloody wars. MM. Thiers and Proudhon, who had numerous points of resemblance, and who represented the political interests of the little industry, became ardent defenders of the independence of the States of the Church and the Italian princes.

Since man successively creates and modifies the parts of the social environment, therefore, in him reside the motive forces of history, — so Vico and popular wisdom hold, rather than in Justice, Progress, Liberty, and other metaphysical entities, as the most philosophical historians stupidly repeat. These confused and inexact ideas vary according to the historical epochs and according to the groups or even the individuals of the same epoch; for they are the mental reflections of the phenomena produced in the different parts of the artificial environment; for example, the capitalist, the magistrate, and the wage-worker have different ideas of Justice. The Socialist understands by justice the restitution to the wage-working producers of the wealth which has been stolen from them, while to the capitalist justice is the conservation of this stolen wealth, and as the latter possesses the economic and political power, his notion predominates and makes the law, which, for the magistrate, becomes justice. Precisely because the same word covers contradictory notions, the capitalist class has made of these ideas an instrument of deceit and of domination.

That portion of the artificial or social environment in which a man functions gives him a physical, intellectual, and moral education. This education by things, which engenders ideas in him and excites his passions, is unconscious; so when he acts, he imagines he is following freely the impulses of his passions and ideas, while he is only yielding to the influences exercised on him by one of the parts of the artificial environment, which can react on the other parts only through the intermediary of his ideas and passions. Obeying instinctively the indirect pressure of the environment, he attributes the direction of his actions and emotions to a God, a divine intelligence, or to ideas of Justice, Progress, Humanity, etc. If the march of history is unconscious, since as Hegel says, man always finishes with a result other than that which he sought, it is because thus far he has been unconscious of the cause which makes him act and directs his actions.

What is the most unstable part of the social environment, that which is changed oftenest in quantity and quality, that which is most apt to disturb the whole?

The mode of production; answers Marx.

By mode of production Marx means not what is produced but the way of producing it; thus there has been weaving from prehistoric times, but it is only for about a century that there has been machine weaving. Machine production is the essential characteristic of modern industry. We have under our eyes an unparalleled example of its terrible and irresistible power to transform the social, economic, political and legal institutions of a nation. Its introduction into Japan has lifted that country in one generation from the feudal state of the middle ages into the constitutional state of the capitalist world, and has placed it in the front rank of world powers.

Multiple causes unite in assuring to the mode of production this omnipotence of action. Production absorbs, directly or indirectly, the energy of an immense majority of the individuals of a nation, while in the other parts constituting the social environment (politics, religion, literature, etc.) a slender minority is occupied, and even this minority can not but be interested in procuring the means of existence, material and intellectual. Consequently all men undergo mentally and physically, more or less, the modifying influence of the mode of production, while but a very small number of men are subjected to that of the other portions; now, as it is through the intermediary of men that the different parts of the social environment act on each other, that which modifies the most men possesses of necessity the most energy for moving the whole mass.

The mode of production, relatively unimportant in the social environment of the savage, takes on a preponderant and ever-growing importance through the incessant incorporation into production of the forces of nature, in proportion as man learns to know them: prehistoric man began this incorporation by using stones for weapons and tools.

Progress in the mode of production is relatively rapid, not only because production occupies an enormous mass of men, but again because, by enkindling “three furies of private interest”, it puts into play the three vices which, for Vico, are the moving forces of history, – hardheartedness, avarice and ambition.

Progress in the mode of production has become so headlong for the last two centuries that the men interested in production must constantly remodel the corresponding parts of the social environment to keep them on the level; the resistances which they encounter give rise to incessant conflicts, economic and political. Thus, to discover the first causes of historic movements, we must seek them in the mode of production of material life, which, as Marx says, dominates in general the development of the social, political and intellectual life.

Marx’s economic determinism takes away from Vico’s law of the unity of historical development its character of predetermination, which would carry the idea that the historic phases through which a nation passes, like the embryonic phases of an animal, are, as Geoffrey Saint-Hillaire thought, indissolubly linked to its very nature and determined by the inevitable action of an inner force, an “evolutionary force”, which would conduct it along pre-established paths toward ends marked out in advance; whence it would follow that all nations must progress, always and whether-or-no, at an equal pace and along one and the same path. The law of the unity of development, thus conceived, would be verified by the development of not one nation.

History, on the contrary, shows nations as they are, some limping through certain stages of evolution, which others traverse like race-horses, while others again go back from stages already reached. These delays, progressions, and recessions are explained only when we examine the social, political and intellectual history of the several nations in the light of the history of the artificial environments in which they have evolved, the changes in these environments, determined by the mode of production, determine in their turn historic events.

Since artificial environments are transformed only at the cost of national and international struggles, the historic events of a nation are thus subjected to relations which arise between the artificial environment to be transformed and the nation, fashioned as it has been by its natural environment and its hereditary and acquired characteristics. The natural environment and the historic past have impressed upon each nation certain original characteristics; so it follows that the same mode of production does not produce, with mathematical exactness, the same artificial or social environments, and consequently does not occasion historical events absolutely alike in different nations and at all moments in history, since vital international competition increases and intensifies in proportion to the growth in the number of nations arriving at the higher stages of civilisation. The historic evolution of nations, then, is not predetermined, any more than the embryonic evolution of individuals: if it passes through similar organisations of family, property, law, and politics, and through analogous forms of thought in philosophy, religion, art, and literature, it is because nations, whatever their race and geographical habitat, experience in their development material and intellectual wants which are substantially alike and must inevitably resort, for the satisfaction of these wants, to the same methods of production.
Paul Lafargue 
(Translated by Chas. H. Kerr.)


Soft Soap for Leverhulme. (1920)

From the August 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is much confusion in the minds not only of the rank and file of the organised workers, but also among their most prominent leaders with regard to the forces that make for Socialism. Those forces may be divided under two heads. First, the discovery and general dispersion of Socialist knowledge, and second, the general development of the capitalist system, which constantly tends to place the social organism out of harmony with its surroundings. The first is by far the more important at the moment, because the second has already reached a stage where its results are seen on every hand : poverty in the midst of plenty, and endless disputes over the distribution of wealth that threaten to plunge all human society into chaos and anarchy.

A system of society in which wealth does not belong to those who produce it may for a long time be borne with patience by the producers, if it does not impose any great hardships on the majority. The fact that with increased powers of production and a greater expenditure of energy poverty becomes more acute, is excused and partly hidden by the current belief that wealth cannot be produced except for markets. The imperative necessity—from the capitalist standpoint—for ever cheaper methods of production, coupled with the insatiable greed of the master class, breeds antagonism everywhere between the two classes in society. The competition between combines and groups of capitalists wipes out large numbers of smaller capitalists and leaves the bulk of wealth-producing concerns in the possession of a dwindling number of financiers.

Whether the means of wealth-production are owned and controlled by a capitalist class large or small in numbers, the interests of that class are always opposed to Socialism. It is even possible that, as the capitalist class grows smaller in numbers they may be able to combat Socialism more successfully because of the greater ease with which they could agree upon, and set in motion, antagonistic forces.

The growing antagonism between capitalists and workers centres largely around the question of wages and conditions of employment. The workers in the main are thus expending their energy in the struggle over hand to mouth conditions, and neglecting any study of the root causes of their poverty. The longer they pursue this short-sighted policy, which at the best can only slightly retard their downward progress into depths of poverty, the more permanent and fixed does the capitalist system appear to them, and the more hopeless does their struggle seem.

It does not follow that their hopelessness will cause them to accept Socialism, which has to be understood first, and which therefore requires a certain amount of study. Until the workers are prepared to give the necessary time to its study the question of economic development is a secondary matter, and small progress is being made toward Socialism. Those who pretend that anything else but the propaganda of Socialist knowledge makes for Socialism are only spreading confusion among the workers and encouraging them in the belief that economic forces of themselves will work out their emancipation for them. Philip Snowden, writing in the “Labour Leader” (17.6.1920), is guilty of this kind of confusion. He says :
  Disciples of Marx must be following with sympathy the frequent public appeals by Lever Brothers, Limited, for new capital. The function of the capitalists which Socialists can regard with approval is that of eliminating competition and concentrating capital into huge combines. If this process be a preliminary to Socialism, then no man of this generation is more entitled to the gratitude of Socialists than Lord Leverhulme. It is a pity that he is getting into advanced years, for if he could be spared to live and continue his activities for another generation, he would probably succeed in amalgamating all the commercial enterprises of the world. Then we should be ready for complete International Socialism. 
The Socialist does not regard with approval the elimination of competition—that is only one of the contradictions of capitalism he calls attention to. Up to twenty years ago the economists all boasted that competition protected the consumer, while the economist of to-day tries to prove that the big concern—a result of the eliminating process—makes for economy in production and lower prices. It is no satisfaction to the Socialist that the development of capitalism causes greater suffering for the workers. Suffering alone does not make Socialists : it is more likely to result in desperate actions or futile attempts at reform, generally followed by apathy and inaction.

Mr. Snowden. after enumerating these items of economic development, says “Then we should be ready for complete International Socialism.” But Socialism must be established by the working class, therefore, until the working class perceives in these economic factors the necessity for revolution and understand how to carry it through, we are not ready for Socialism. The economic factors wait on the knowledge of the workers. Without Socialist knowledge, no matter how these factors intensify, Socialism cannot be established. With Socialist knowledge the workers can take possession and control at any stage in capitalist development.

It is only the sentimental labour leader, always professing sympathy and friendship for the workers, that can see in their increasing poverty and hardship something to be thankful for, and can even express gratitude to the enemies of the workers for their callous methods. Thus Mr. Snowden says:
  Men like Lord Leverhulme are undoubtedly instruments in the evolution of capitalism, and the services they have rendered in preparing the way for Socialism will probably be gratefully acknowledged, by the erection of marble monuments perhaps, by the Socialist Commonwealth.
Such monuments would be incomplete without the effigies of labour leaders supporting the entablature, to signify their willingness to support them under capitalism.

But even while Mr. Snowden is lavishing praise on Lord Leverhulme and calling him comrade (extremely apt, by the way, as both are in one camp—the capitalist camp) Lord Leverhulme, in a dispute with his wage-slaves, beats them to their knees and forces them to accept his terms, thereby proving his antagonism to them and to the working class as a whole. In addition he cancels the co-partnership arrangement made with the strikers, who thus find in that arrangement another weapon that can be used against them when they threaten to strike.

But the discovery by the workers that one reform is useless, or even harmful to them does not help them to see that all reforms are equally helpless to release them from the results of capitalist domination. Because one reform has failed them, they do not necessarily examine other reforms critically ; on the contrary, they either swing back to the methods that captivated them before, or follow new will-o’-the-wisps invented by labour mis-leaders.

Profit-sharing was going to do wonderful things. Among others it was going to make the interests of capitalists and wage slaves identical. It did if the workers submitted — a chief condition of all capitalist experiments. The inevitable rupture having occurred, and Lever being the sole judge as to who is responsible for it—he being in possession—the workers lose their co-partnership holdings, and another bubble they have been chasing bursts, and leaves them wondering at their own childish credulity.

This has evidently convinced them, not that the interests of employers and employed are always opposed, but that “improvement in wages would have more permanent value to the whole of the workers.” Thus they swing backwards and forwards like the pendulum, first putting their faith in the promises of their masters, and then just as blindly following the lead of labour confusionists. Every capitalist party deceives them in turn, and after each experiment, or reform, they find themselves no better off. With strikes, however, the workers have the satisfaction of knowing that they have at least put up a fight, tried to do something but simply to wait on economic development, calling the capitalist “comrade” the while, is mere senseless optimism.

Economic conditions are ripe now for the establishment of Socialism, without any further amalgamation of capital or nationalisation of industries. The only thing now wanting is the acquisition of Socialist knowledge by the working class, and the organisation of the toilers for the accomplishment of their mission. The bigger the organisation spreading this knowledge, and the more rapidly and perfectly this other condition is achieved, the sooner shall we be ready. The obvious course for every worker, therefore, is to study Socialism, push Socialism, organise for Socialism.
F. Foan

Truth Will Out. (1920)

From the August 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

In spite of the determined endeavours in capitalist circles to vilify the Bolsheviks upon every possibly occasion, there come times when the more responsible of them, driven into a corner, have to admit the truth. Such grudging admissions are not less impressive because they are wrung from hostile witnesses. Thus Mr. Bonar Law did much to demolish the structure of lies which his fellow capitalists have built up, with the aid of disgruntled parsons, dispossessed duchesses, and the prostitute Press, when he admitted in the House of Commons on August 9th, in reply to a question, that, “British women and children in Baku have not been molested, and they have been allowed to look after their male relations in prison.”


As we go to press the air is thick with rumours of war. The labour fakers are playing the same old game, promising to “reconsider the position,” if the “independence” of Poland is violated. No wonder. Lloyd George said “That is enough for me.” Our readers know our position towards all capitalist wars. It is the Socialist position.

You Can Help (1920)

From the August 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

One or more capitalist groups or individuals have been busy of late issuing pamphlets and leaflets pretending to combat Socialism. Lord Leverhulme’s pamphlet “What is Capital” is a case in point. These lucubrations bear the name of no organisation or individual as the issuer, hence it is difficult to find out who the responsible parties are. In all cases that have come before our notice the effort at capitalist propaganda is so comically poor that there is no wonder no one can be found to publicly father the miserable weakling. It seems, however, that many large employers are thinking it worth their while to get these leaflets circulated, more or less surreptitiously, among their workpeople.

This, of course, is sufficient reason for us to find out just what is going on, and we shall be glad if friends who are fortunate (!) enough to share in these generous gifts from their masters would forward them to the Editorial Committee of the Socialist Standard, at the Head Office of the Party, giving fullest particulars as to how they came by them.

We would point out to our friends that there can hardly be any finer antidote to this sneakish capitalist propaganda than our Manifesto, of which we have just issued the Sixth Edition.

How much longer is the Working Class going to accept this? (1976)

From the April 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most people are aware that something called “Inequality” exists in society, but have only vague ideas about how great it is and about how it has been caused. Socialists know that enormous inequalities are unavoidable symptoms of capitalism which can only be eradicated in one way: that is by the abolition of capitalism and by replacing it with Socialism, under which the wealth produced by industry and agriculture, as well as the means for producing that wealth, will belong to all the people.

Why is the need for the establishment of Socialism urgent? As an answer, let us look briefly at some of the recognized social problems: the uneven distribution of wealth, housing and homelessness, unemployment, industrial injuries and diseases, old age and retirement. The Welfare State and its reforms have been with us for thirty years and yet these social problems remain as serious as before its introduction. Just read a few items in the book Unequal Britain by Frank Field (1974). It is worth while to look at the following figures and think about what they mean.

In this country more than 25 per cent. of the wealth is in the hands of the top 1 per cent. of the population (Unequal Shares by Tony Atkinson, 1960). The top 10 per cent. own approximately 75 per cent of the wealth while, at the other extreme, more than 90 per cent, of the population have total wealth holdings of below £5,000 (each).

In terms of absolute wealth, some of the richest industrialists are Lord Thomson of the Thomson Organization, with a personal shareholding of £59.5 million, Sir Jules Thorn and Sir Charles Forte with £29.6 million and £28.9 million respectively. As a worker, whatever your employment is, how about comparing your annual income (or, perhaps, your life’s income) with the incomes of these privileged individuals:
F. S. MacFadzean (Shell)                       £75,900
Val Duncan (Rio-Tinto Zinc)                 £63,000
Sir John Davis (Rank Organization) £55,000
It is a fact that today two million families (not individuals, but families) live in homes which possess no hot water, no bath and no inside toilet.

Meanwhile, in the Daily Mirror series on injustices and privilege (1st October 1974), John Pilger reveals that Hugh Denis Charles Fitzroy, the Duke of Grafton, lives in a house with twenty bedrooms. Of course, he owns additional property and houses.

7.7 per cent. of households have no fixed bath, 7.4 per cent. have no inside toilet, while 6.1 per cent. have no hot water supply. 5 per cent. are living in officially classified “overcrowded conditions” (Labour Research Department, 1973).

On the other hand, Harry Hyams, the property speculator, owns a six-hundred-acre Wiltshire estate. In April 1973, Ravi Tikkoo, the shipping magnate, paid £500,000 for a house on Hampstead Heath (Daily Mirror, 19th April 1973).

The social problem of unemployment is striking hard at the working class, with 1,430,000 (white- collar workers and professionals, as well as blue- collar workers) out of work in December 1975.

Two-fifths of all pensioners are living on means which arc below the official Supplementary Benefit levels. From October 1973, the standard old-age pension was worth just 20 per cent. of the average male take-home pay. On the question of redundancy payments, workers who devote sizeable parts of their lives to industry receive an average redundancy payment of £328 (1972). Meanwhile, Aubrey Jones received a golden handshake of £63,000 from Laporte Ltd. and Duncan Sandys MP was given £130,000 from the Lonhro company (source: Labour Research Department).

It is these inequalities which are the symptoms of capitalism. Socialists recognize these inequalities as inevitable reflections of class ownership. This is the situation after thirty years of the Welfare State and more than a hundred years of social reform. The same inequality and the same social problems remain. We can reject completely that reformers’ red-herring of trying to redistribute wealth. Therefore, the working class (all working and employed people) must, for its own sake, reject tinkerings and tamperings with capitalism.

No, capitalism cannot be reformed in the interests of the working class. It can never be made to benefit the working class. Just looking at the history of capitalism and at capitalism today proves this point over and over again. Given that capitalism cannot be reformed to suit the interests of the workers, who are the overwhelming majority of the population, and, remembering all the misery, poverty, destruction, wastage and violence which are an inevitable consequence of capitalism, there remains the urgent task for the workers to say that they have had enough and to abolish capitalism.

Capitalism must be ended by the conscious, democratic action not merely of workers in Britain, but of workers throughout the world. When this happens, it can be guaranteed that the full potential of mankind will be released for the first time in history. The forces of nature have endowed each individual human being with a brain capable of immense creativity in innumerable different forms. For the very first time, Socialism will enable Man to use these faculties and energies to the full.
Vincent Otter

An Implement For Digging (1976)

From the April 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Have you noticed the way today’s politicians are afraid to call a spade a spade and instead resort to every kind of euphemism to disguise the reality of whatever they happen to be talking about? So we have “social security”—the Poor Law or National Assistance by any other name—a cynical term indeed. Ask anyone who’s ever had to claim and they'll tell you there’s little that’s social and nothing that’s secure about it. Perhaps you’ve experienced yourself the interminable form-filling and prying by clerks for a pittance that won’t feed a dog, let alone keep it warm.

We have the “Department of Employment”. I wonder what the one and a half million on the dole would say about that, the Industrial Reserve Army as Marx put it?

What other contenders are there? How about “an expanding economy”? An expression that looks a little sick in these days. How about “the underprivileged”: politicianese for the poor and the deprived—members of the working class in other words. But let us not forget “the affluent society” (it’s been a good year for grinding the faces of the workers); “we have got to pay our way in the world” (we’re going to turn the rack a few more notches); “nobody owes us a living” (your tomorrow, the promised land is just over the next hill); and, to end a short selection, “welfare state” (80,000 will die this year from hypothermia).

Politicians are the mouthpieces and the lackeys of the capitalist system which needs to dupe the mass of the people in order to maintain itself in power. The contrast between the humbug of political pronouncements and the struggle for survival of the working class worldwide cries out for a solution. That solution can be achieved—Socialism, which will finally make politicians redundant when it replaces capitalism across the globe.

Workers of the world unite—you have nothing to lose but your leaders.
A. L.

So They Say: A Simple Solution (1976)

The So They Say Column from the April 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Simple Solution

The homely proposition that Britain is one big (happy) family, and like other families, should the expenditure exceed the income, we will all fall into bankruptcy, has been put by most politicians. In a letter to the Financial Times on 9th March, a correspondent gave an equally tidy solution to the problem:
  When will someone, Labour, Conservative, or Liberal, tell people that the answer to our present problem is for each one of us to earn more . ..  To the workers — from the working man to the professional man — this means ‘doing a full week’s work for your week’s pay' . . . Had everyone been doing this over the last few years, we would not be in the dire financial straits in which we find ourselves today.
Stunned by the sheer simplicity of the idea, it was with some regret that we read in the following day’s newspaper:
  A depressing forecast that unemployment will go on rising to 1.4m. by the end of this year and 1.5m. in late 1977, is made this morning by the independent National Institute of Economic and Social Research in its latest review. These are seasonally adjusted figures and would mean a peak next winter of 1.5m. to 1.6m. even excluding students.
Financial Times, 10th March 1976
So much for “Labour, Conservative, or Liberal” telling these particular members of the working class that the answer is “for each one of us to earn more.”

Gently Does It

However a somewhat closer analysis of the depression seems to have led the Financial Times on to dangerous ground. Socialists maintain that depressions, together with unemployment, result directly from the capitalist mode of production. Although politicians tinker with reforms and economists gaze at crystal balls, capitalism periodically enters times when production has to be cut back, and workers are made unemployed. The irony being that these times result not — as the aforementioned correspondent would have it — because workers have not been “doing a full week’s work” etc., but because they have. Should the correspondent be unwilling to accept such an explanation from us, we refer him to his peers:
  However, a close examination of the evolution of the world’s economic affairs during the past five to ten years provides clear indications that the capitalist system has been heading for one of its periodic crises for some time past. It is a crisis stemming — as all the previous ones have — from its seemingly built-in inability to keep the growth of the demand for goods moving in close harmony with the expansion in productive capacity for any prolonged period of time . . . Does it make sense in these circumstances, for example, for all the industrial countries to continue attaching the highest priority to improving the productivity of their work-forces and getting them to labour harder so that their manufacturers will be able to compete more effectively for available markets with one another? . . . will not the rigorous application of this principle be to prolong and accentuate unemployment ?
Financial Times, 10th March 1976
Of course this is a reductio ad absurdum. Even if all capitalists agreed unanimously on the cause of crises, they would be obliged to go on re-enacting it They have to pursue their interests, not “make sense”.

Friendly Cooperation

The view has been expressed recently that the American and Russian policy of “mutual trust and cooperation” is falling apart at the seams. The fact that these are two mighty capitalist nations with conflicting interests may have something to do with the rumour — but they are still making friendly pacts with one another apparently:
  The United States Government is reported to have made a secret pact with Russia to remove some of the electronic intelligence-gathering equipment from the roof of the American Embassy in Moscow, in return for a reduction in the Russians’ micro-wave radiation bombardment of the building. The Russians began directing microwaves at the Embassy in the early 1960s as a counter measure against American electronic spying.
Daily Telegraph, 9th March 1976
With friends like these . . .

Liberal Shares

At the time of writing the Liberal Party seems to be running around like a chicken without a head — they are suffering a “leadership crisis.” In normal times of course, they run around like a chicken with a head. However their economy spokesman, Mr. John Pardoe, gave the lie to the belief that they are all political bantam-weights when remarking in Parliament on 9th March:
  We have to make high profitability acceptable to the mass of people. I do not object to high profits — I just object to the people who get them. I think profits should be shared around more.
Financial Times, 10th March 1976
Now here is a marvellous proposition; if only workers would agree to a greater degree of exploitation profits could increase, and then they would be “shared around more.” Shared around — to whom? Mr. Pardoe neglected to say.

Three Wishes

Pardoe did go on to make a further observation:
  The British people must get used to the idea that their living standards would fall for a long time to come, whether the government was Conservative or Labour.
Times, 10th March 1976
A straightforward admission that the present social system cannot be run in such a way as to benefit members of the working class. We were only surprised at his modesty in omitting the possibility of a Liberal government having to tell us the same thing. Perhaps he does not seriously entertain the notion.

Past Masters

The impoverishment of the aristocracy has led modern-day landed gentry to clutter up their estates with a dazzling assortment of diversions in order to make ends meet. Their lands are filled with lions, monkeys, old motor cars, pop-groups and of course, paying visitors. As they appear as a group more prepared than most to adopt any gimmickry which may lead to an increased income, they will be interested to learn that The Friends of the Earth unintentionally struck a blow against capitalism on the 9th March. But not for Socialism — they seem to be moving in the opposite direction. They launched a Rent-a- Garden scheme, whereby those people who are “too old or lazy” to cultivate their own gardens, would grant permission to others who are keen to raise crops beneath the washing lines:
  In return the gardeners will pay the owners rent or a percentage of the crops.
Daily Telegraph, 10th March 1976
Should Friends of the Earth require advice on such a project, we understand that the landed gentry may assist, having developed some expertise in past years.
Alan D'Arcy

Letters: Wages and Prices (1976)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wages and Prices

In the Socialist Standard (January), you stated in your reply to Derek Clarke: “There is no wages fund” in which one Union dips at the expense of others. If say, the engineers gain a pay rise, that does not obstruct agricultural workers from gaining one; in each case it is obtained from their respective employers, and no one else”.

This is simply not true. If we take miners’ wages as an example it can be seen at once that though the extra “raise” is paid by the employer in the first place, it is recouped through higher charges to the consumer. Try telling the people paying higher prices for their coal, that the extra money the miners got was from their employers and no one else! Of course there isn’t a wages fund as such: but there is a deal of truth in the statement by the late Stafford Cripps: “that the National cake is a certain size, and those who carve themselves a bigger slice, do so at the expense of others.” It is also true of course that extra wages can come out of profits if the profits are big enough, and there is pressure on the employer against raising prices.

The fact that the capitalist system restricts production is accepted in the context of this argument, but the fact that the cake can expand with an expansion of the economy, doesn’t invalidate the point. At any time, the size of this “National cake” is limited. Wages can increase in one or more industries at the expense of other wages! Do you believe that the relatively better placing of miners’ earnings today has come from the pockets of the rich? Is it not also true that a drop in purchasing power caused through higher prices is equivalent to a reduction in wages? You constantly reiterate that the only people who produce wealth are the workers. This is of course an absolute truth. But it follows that the workers’ wages plus the surplus-value the employers take is, in total, the price that the community as a whole has to pay for those goods or services. This is putting the whole interplay of wage rises and prices and the relative changes in the positions of groups of workers in the wages scale too simply, but I think it is sufficient for the point.

May I congratulate you on your open and frank approach in printing the debate “Socialism or Reformism.” I found myself more in agreement with the viewpoint put by LPYS than with that of the SPGB.  I feel that the leaders of the SPGB live in an ivory tower. It is a sad reflection on the policies followed by the SPGB that as L. E. Weidberg remarked in his article “Why I joined the SPGB”:
“And sadly one must confess that the real Socialists in the great working class city of Manchester could still meet in the Atkin’s parlour.” All together in one little room — after nearly forty years or so? 
S. Costin

We are pleased to see you agree that the working class is the wealth-producing class in society. Wealth today is represented by vast numbers of commodities and on average these are bought and sold at their values. When a capitalist employs workers, he pays a wage which is again, on average, the value of their particular commodity, i.e. Labour-Power. Their labour is something different, this is what they leave behind them at their places of work in the form of commodities belonging to their employers. The capitalist is able to sell his commodities at a profit by selling them at their value because of the unpaid labour contained in them.

In a given industry — whether privately or State owned — the owners must immediately meet any increase in wages at the expense of profits. But it is wrong to assume that a capitalist can automatically and immediately recover this reduction in profit by increasing his prices. In the first instance he is in competition with other capitalist concerns, and an arbitrary increase would give his competitors the edge in undercutting him. In fact, in normal market conditions, the seller of a commodity will always ask as much as he thinks the market will stand. Even in monopoly conditions, where prices can be kept artificially high, there comes a point when buyers seek alternatives, or will cut down. Look for example at the increase in oil prices after the 1973/4 shortage, followed by a reduction in consumption, and currently, a petrol price war. If, as you assume, an increase in wages can be covered simply by increasing prices, consider why the capitalist did not put up his prices before granting a wage increase. The fact is that capitalists keep a close watch on their markets and try to keep their prices in line with market conditions. Although you direct your comments to price-rises as they affect the “consumer”, it should be borne in mind that the capitalist class themselves are huge consumers of commodities, and the example you give of coal serves to underline this.

Similarly, when workers sell their commodity labour-power, they will seek the highest possible price and in general this will be equal to the value of the labour-power, corresponding to the amount required to feed, clothe, shelter and generally maintain the worker and his family in accordance with traditional standards. Whether individual groups of workers can enforce a rise in wages in order to maintain or improve these standards will depend on the circumstances at the time, but it must be noted that they cannot be depressed very far. In general the most favourable condition for achieving wage increases is when production is expanding and the capitalist is therefore unwilling to risk stoppages. The owners will view wage demands in the light of their increased profits.

Inflation (the excess issue of paper currency) complicates the whole picture by generally pushing up all prices (remember here that wages are prices). Since 1938 prices have risen approximately eight times, while the “national cake” has only doubled. As Socialists we are not impressed by the size of the “national cake” nor the crumbs that the workers are likely to get from it. Rather it is the bakery which we are interested in. We refer you to Value, Price and Profit by Karl Marx where you will find your proposition, and Marx’s reply to it, in much greater detail than we can go into here. Instead of cakes, he deals with a bowl of soup and spoons of various sizes.

We are sorry that you find the LPYS point of view more agreeable than our analysis of society. To us, it is a nonsense to tell people to vote for the Labour Party and then spend most of the time criticizing it. The SPGB has no leaders and the fact that the Party is small does not detract from the accuracy of our case. We maintain that it is better small and Socialist, than large and steeped in reformist nonsense.

Explaining Wages

Socialists know the Marxian labour theory of value: that wages is the price of labour-power or cost of production of the one commodity that overproduces itself, i.e. the ability to work and create useful things.

But how is the figure of £10,000 and upwards a year for managerial class arrived at? Directors’ fees and in several companies at once, many of them absentees, and golden handshakes on retirement or redundancy?

Is their cost of production so steep or is it that the working class having produced such a vast amount of surplus-value it must be squandered on useless luxury for the few?
Harold Shaw

As you point out, labour-power is a commodity and wages are its price. Price is the monetary expression of value, i.e. it indicates the amount of labour-time embodied in a commodity, and this applies to labour-power as to everything else. Wages correspond, in general, with what it takes to produce, maintain and reproduce particular kinds of workers.

Some workers’ labour-power is a relatively cheap commodity. It requires the minimum of education and training, and does not need to be sustained by a high standard of living. Other workers sell a comparatively more expensive product. They have had to acquire special skills or knowledge, perhaps be educated much longer; it is expected that they should live fittingly and that their children be schooled for a similar future. This is the difference between wages of £2,000 and £10,000 a year.

The price of labour-power can be affected, in common with other prices, by supply and demand. Another factor is the strength of trade-union organization in particular industries and professions and its success in getting wage increases under favourable conditions. Higher-paid workers are not a separate class and are as much at the mercy of the wages system as the rest. In recent years executives and managers have been losing their jobs, having to change the life-style they may have thought was divinely ordained for them, and going to the Social Security office.

Directors’ fees are a different matter from wages. Since changes in the taxation laws made “unearned income’’ subject to heavier tax rates, it has become the practice for capitalists to have nominal occupations of which “director” is the most common one.

Not That Sort of War

I am not a member of the SPGB. Why? I object to Principle 8, line 4. War can prove nothing but who has more money or more brawn.
Winifred Mawson 

Your objection comes from too literal a reading. The statement that we “wage war against all other political parties” means that we oppose them uncompromisingly and seek to dissuade workers from supporting them, not that we envisage using armed force (or even fisticuffs) against them. War with weapons is not an instrument which Socialists can use. Means have to harmonize with ends. A regime brought into being by force thereafter depends on force: our instrument is understanding.

Morris and Marx

In the article “The Poverty of Sociology” in the January Socialist Standard you say that William Morris had never read Marx. However, this is not so, and I quote from Morris’s How I Became a Socialist: “Well, having joined a Socialist body I put some conscience in trying to learn the economic side of Socialism, and even tackled Marx (in French) though I must confess that, whereas I thoroughly enjoyed the historical part of ‘Capital’, I suffered agonies of confusion of the brain over reading the pure economics of that great work. Anyhow, I read what I would, and will hope that such information stuck to me from my reading . . .”

So Morris certainly read Marx even though he may not have easily understood the economics.
F. Ansell

We accept the correction with thanks.

Socialism & Religion

It does not necessarily follow that a religious person cannot take an active part in the abolition of the capitalist system of society. The belief in any view of the immortality of the soul does not spring from any particular mode of production. Such beliefs can be used for the good or the ill of man, just as a razor can be used for shaving or cutting one’s throat (or some other one’s). It is sheer super-optimism to believe that in a reasonable given time the majority of the world’s workers will discard their religious beliefs in favour of a materialistic outlook on life and death.

It is in the manner in which religion is used that it becomes the opium of the people. So I cannot see what prevents a religious person advocating and working for the abolition of the exploitation of man by man in the economic field.

Please note: You can cut this short letter if you wish. If you do so, it will be interesting to see which parts you censor.
Ron Smith

That religion is “the opium of the people” is only part of the Socialist case against it. Underlying all religious belief is idealism — the assumption that ideas have an existence of their own and can be the operative force in changing society “for the good or the ill of man”, as you say.

Scientific materialism rejects this belief. The drive to Socialism is not a pursuit of ideas, but the expression of a class interest. Revolutionary social changes in the past have been brought about (and resisted) by classes seeking the fulfilment of their material interests. People holding religious or otherwise idealist views have, therefore, an obstruction to their understanding of society: contrary to what you say, it does necessarily follow “that a religious person cannot take an active part in the abolition of the capitalist system”.

You tell us it is mistaken to expect that the majority of the world’s workers will reject religion and see things materialistically. Look round. The capitalist system itself requires materialist thinking and is helping to effect the conversion. A poll reported in the Guardian on 14th October 1974 concluded that only 33 per cent, of young people today believe in God or an after-life.

As regards your ending: don’t be childish. Letters are shortened for space reasons, not censorship. If other letters on these pages had not been reduced in length yours might not appear, and vice versa.

SPGB Manifesto (1976)

Party News from the April 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has no connection with any other political party or group and cannot be held responsible for wrong theories and incorrect ideas held by them. In this category we include the major parties, the Communist Party, International Socialists, IMG, etc. The Socialist system we advocate has never been tried. It is not based on leadership, nationalization, state control or the systems operating in Russia, China, Cuba, etc. The description of “socialist” as applied to these countries is a distortion of the word and arises through ignorance or a deliberate attempt to discredit Socialism.

Election after election has been fought over issues which were held to be in the interest of the working class. The promises made by Tory, Liberal and Labour in the past if carried out, they say, would have removed poverty, established security of jobs and solved the housing problem. As you are aware, none of this has happened, nor could have happened. This does not prevent them again making the same promises which they will be unable to keep.

Despite their excuses, you must judge them on their record. You should enquire into the reason why these political parties cannot run capitalism in the interest of the working class. Most of you accept the world of capitalism with its wages system, price structure and private property in the means of production as a permanent condition of human existence. You take for granted that you will sell your mental and physical energy, your brain, muscle and nerve to an employer for wages. You accept the fact that you have to pay for permission to inhabit the globe through rent and mortgages. You never challenge the ridiculous claim made by politicians that poverty and bad housing and insecurity are due to circumstances outside the control of men and women.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is asking you to question the whole basis of your life under capitalism. Acceptance of the wages system means submission to the perpetual robbery practised on you by a small group of international parasites who own the means of wealth production and in whose interest wealth is produced. We realize how difficult it may be for you to break with ideas held for most of your lives, but break with them you must if the problems of poverty, starvation, disease, war and unemployment are to be abolished.

There is no shortage of natural wealth in the world and no shortage of people capable of transforming that wealth into useful articles we can enjoy and freely consume. Capitalism has created a shortage because the productive powers of society can produce more wealth than the market economy can cope with. Access to the factories, workshops, mills, mines and land can only be obtained through wage labour. Goods can only be produced provided that they can be sold. These conditions are rigidly enforced and periodically, as you are well aware, millions of workers are removed from production in every field because they would produce too much. According to the Prime Minister, the ten largest industrial countries in the world have an unemployment figure between them of over 14 million (Daily Telegraph, 20th January 1976).

Consider the position in the world today where each year over 15 million children die of diseases caused through lack of proper food and where millions more are underfed and underhoused. This in spite of the fact that the World Food and Agricultural Organization reported (Times, 5th January 1976) that, for the third year running, they expect a world glut of dairy products. No sane society would tolerate these crimes against its members. Capitalism produces wealth but it produces poverty at the same time.

It is because of this contradiction that society must be reorganized on an entirely different basis. Men and women everywhere must have direct control over their means of production.

The only obstacle to the introduction of a Socialist world is the lack of Socialist understanding. This means that the majority of workers at the moment are unaware that Socialism can be introduced simply by voting for it, based on this understanding. Capitalism rests on the political support given to it by the working class through the ballot box. Take that away and capitalism is finished. But until such times as you are convinced that Socialism presents an immediate solution to working-class problems you will continue to vote for capitalist candidates.

We ask you to examine the case of the Socialist Party of Great Britain before you once again commit yourself and your children to yet another spell of unnecessary misery, frustration and poverty.


Wake Up and Live (1951)

From the April 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

In these days of peace-talks and war preparations, Socialists are amongst the few who remain unenthused on learning that the four major capitalist powers are going to meet and “ talk things over.”

When the radio and the newspapers build up hopes of “lasting peace” or “friendship and co-operation” socialists listen with a critical ear. From past lessons we know the strength of peace treaties when markets are endangered by the cheaper goods of a competitor. So when the big bad wolves of capitalist society face each-other over the conference table, we don’t expect anything but a patch-up job, a stalling action which can only postpone the evil day when hostilities break out once more. 

Each side claims to be the true pursuers of peace and each is ready with excuses to blame the other if at any stage the talks break down. The working class of each country will be given a running commentary by their respective masters so that if the talks achieve temporary settlement the Russian workers will be told how brilliant diplomacy and love of peace on the part of their delegates was responsible. If no agreement is reached, that will be due to "American and British Imperialist warmongers.” The American, French and British workers will be correspondingly hood-winked by their respective rulers. 

If workers really want to know what all this diplomatic nattering is about they will be well advised to read the pamphlet “The Socialist Party and War"; this will tell them all they need to know about it and enable them to see through the wordy, smoke-screen laid down by the ruling class which sends millions of workers to their deaths under the false pretences of “democracy,” “freedom” and “better worlds” etc. When markets, raw-materials, ports and trade routes which make vast profits for their capitalist owners, are threatened, no peace treaty is worth the paper it is written on. As the result of economic causes, Germany attacked Russia while a so-called peace-treaty was in operation. 

The pamphlet mentioned gives scores of other examples where political leaders have come right out with their intentions which are always guided and motivated by the economic interests of the class they represent. In 1925, Britain’s Tory Home Secretary, the late Lord Brentford, said without any qualms, “we did not conquer India for the benefit of the Indians. I know it is said at Missionary meetings that we conquered India to raise the level of Indians. This is cant. We conquered India as an outlet for the goods of Great Britain. We conquered India by the sword and by the sword we shall hold it.” The French Marshal Lyautey was equally frank about the aims of the French capitalist class in Morocco, namely to extend their trade. Profits once more—not ideals. 

If Russia’s stooges in Malaya expand and snatch Malayan wealth from the British master class it would be members of the British working class who would go to defend it, to "hold it by the sword” and they would be told not only at missionary meetings but by the press, screen and radio that they were struggling for freedom against aggression. The same thing applies to any other “ trouble spot” in the world when a similar position arises. The Gromykos and the Jessups can talk till they gasp but they cannot talk themselves out of capitalism with its economics which lead to war. 

While goods of every kind are produced for sale and profit, markets to sell them in and the raw-material to make them will always have to be defended at the cost of working class blood. The remedy for this terrible state of affairs rests in the hands of those who suffer most, the workers, for when the earth’s resources are the common property of all mankind and they are used solely to satisfy man’s needs, wars and the diplomats who go with them will be a thing of the past. Once more, regardless of the word-spinning at Capitalist conferences, the Socialist message holds good. Workers of the world unite for Socialism. You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to gain.
Harry Baldwin

To Members and Sympathisers (1951)

Party News from the April 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Appeal

At a Party Meeting held in Central London on the 19th January, it was decided that the Executive Committee proceed with the purchase of premises in Clapham for use as the Head Office of the Party. The need for new premises arose a year ago when the lease on Rugby Chambers expired. An extension of one year was obtained, and that year is now at an end. The lease could be renewed, the landlords informed the E.C., at a rental of £357 p.a., payment of rates at approximately £60 p.a. and provided that the premises were redecorated, the cost of which would have been in the region of £400/450. In addition, the display of bills, posters and advertising matter generally on the outside of the premises was prohibited.

Faced with this alternative, the E.C. decided to purchase suitable premises and those at Clapham High Street were chosen. Much more space will be available there for the routine tasks of the Party-tasks which increase in size and number as the Party grows. The room for E.C. meetings is much larger and there will be ample space for those members who attend Head Office on E.C. meeting nights. In addition, there are eight other rooms which can be used for storage and despatch of literature, meeting rooms for the various committees, a room for the library, and so on. The possession of suitable premises can materially assist the Party in its growth, and the main object of our organisation—Socialist propaganda—can go ahead unhampered by cramped quarters.

Those are the facts: now for some figures. The new premises were bought at a cost of £4,000. Following appeals to Branches and members, approximately £2,700 has been subscribed towards the cost. This represents a generous response by the membership as a whole, but more is needed. The balance of the purchase price could be borrowed from bank or building society, but, if this sum can be subscribed, it will relieve the Party funds from having to bear the considerable strain of making mortgage repayments on the loan. Interest alone on £1,300 (i.e. the balance required) amounts to £1 per week. It is highly desirable, therefore, that, wherever possible, the Party is freed from the necessity of using its funds in this manner. Accordingly this further appeal for funds for the new premises is being made.

To those who have already given we say “ Thank you—and can you give again?” To those who have not yet subscribed, “Can you and will you?” iTo those who find themselves unable to help the Party in its day-to-day tasks or to attend Branch meetings regularly or frequently; to Central Branch members whose contact with the Party is necessarily restricted; to all those who, for one reason or another cannot do all they would like to help the progress of Socialism, we say “This is a fine opportunity. This is an occasion when the Party needs help and you can supply it.”

Finally, a word to those readers who understand and sympathise with the aims and principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain but who are not members. The help of all is needed.

The acquisition of these premises represents a large step in the progress of the Party, but it could mean a heavy drag on the Party’s funds. This can only be avoided by sufficient money being subscribed to cover the full purchase price and, in addition, the legal costs, cost of removal, decoration and furnishings. The extent to which the Party can flourish—free of binding financial restrictions—depends completely on how much you will give.

Please give quickly and generously. The address for your subscription is: E. Lake, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52 Clapham High Street, Clapham, S.W.4.
Thank you,
Funds Organiser.

Voice From The Back: The wasteful society (2002)

The Voice From The Back column from the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

The wasteful society

Socialists are always pointing out what a wasteful society capitalism is. Inside a socialist society there would be no need for bankers, stockbrokers, admen, conmen or jailers. A couple of recent items in the media illustrate just what a waste of human energy capitalism engenders. “The value of commercial fraud has doubled from £82.2m in 2000 to £162.2m in 2001 with management twice as likely to commit fraud as employees.” Accountancy Age, 14 February.

“The prison population world-wide is 8.7 million, according to figures compiled by World Prison Brief Online. About half are in the US (1.93m), China (1.43m) and Russia (0.9m).” Guardian, 16 February.

New deal, no big deal

Governments always claim the credit if unemployment figures fall, but blame outside agencies if the figures rise. In 1997 the Labour government introduced its “New Deal” policy on unemployment. The first analysis of the scheme by the government’s own National Audit Office shows that, like most of these reformist schemes, it was all just empty rhetoric. “Gordon Brown’s New Deal programme which promised work for 250,000 unemployed young people has resulted in only 20,000 jobs at most in its first two years . . . The report, published today, suggests that most of the young people would have found jobs anyway due to the strong economy and natural turnover.” Times, 28 February.

A hopeful sign

One of the essential factors in the working class throwing off the fetters of capitalism and establishing socialism is a recognition that reformist political parties cannot change society in the interests of the majority. The dropping of live TV coverage of party conferences by the BBC is an indication that some workers are beginning to see through the charade of reformism. “One senior BBC executive said: ‘The conferences are now stage-managed by the spin-doctors. There is no real debate, or real dissent, and all controversy is confined to the conference fringe long after the live coverage ends. Even the MPs avoid conferences if they can.’ . . . In the BBC research, almost 40 percent of respondents replied with negative associations of politicians, calling them crooks or liars who didn’t care about ordinary people.” Times, 28 February.

The bulldog breed

Every year the Forbes Global magazine lists the world’s richest billionaires. This year Bill Gates tops the list with £37.4 billion. Britain’s richest the Duke of Westminster with £4.75 billion is way down the list at 38th. But don’t get downhearted you British patriotic workers, you will be delighted to know that David Sainsbury copped £3 billion, Bernie Eccleston £2.1 billion and Sir Richard Branson £1 billion. (Figures from the Herald, 1 March) Makes you kind of proud to be British when you are waiting in the Post Office queue to cash your Giro or Pension; doesn’t it?

Nice for some

There is a government body called The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) set up to decide what drugs the NHS should prescribe. It has recently severely restricted the use of Irinotecan, a drug for the treatment of bowel cancer, a disease which kills 16,000 people a year. “Professor Jim Cassidy of the Beatson Oncology Centre in Glasgow said: “The decision by Nice to effectively deny patients the best treatments for advanced colorectal cancer is intensely frustrating. The only explanation is that it was primarily an economic decision.” Observer, 10 March. The newspaper goes on to report the case of a woman who was refused the treatment of Taxotere for breast cancer by her NHS doctor, who agreed she should have it to survive. As her son said, “The NHS was going to let my mother die by making her wait three months and giving her 20 year old drugs. But we spent £60,000 in France, and that cured it.” A happy ending, but what about those of us who haven’t the sixty thou?

A mad, mad world

Capitalism is a crazy society that is full of contradictions. People starve to death while farmers are paid not to produce food, it can land men on the moon but can’t solve a problem like war. The list of contradictions is endless but this item from the journalist Chris Ayres writing in the Business section of the Times (14 March) takes a bit of beating. “So the Dow Jones is finally rallying after more than two years of misery. Unfortunately, it reminds me of the discussion between Tom Clarke, chief executive of TheStreet.com, and James Cramer, the Wall Street columnist, on 10 September. ‘Jim, this is the worst market I have ever seen,’ said Clarke. ‘What can turn it around?’ Cramer looked him in the eye, and gave a one word reply. War.’”

Letters: Debate on Europe (yawn) (2002)

Letters to the Editors from the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Debate on Europe (yawn)

Dear Editors,

Your reply to my letter (February Socialist Standard), on the potential political dangers of the euro and any future European nation state, requires response to the questions you raised.

1. My “nightmare scenario” of a possible fascist European state emerging, if the capitalist system became endangered, was deliberate and justified with our knowledge and experiences of Europe’s history of the 20th century.

2. While all states do exist “to uphold class rule and production for profit” it is essential to realise that a “democratic” capitalist state is vastly different from an “authoritarian dictatorship” where organising for socialism is not tolerated.

3. Troops sent from other parts of Europe into Britain to quell social unrest are much more likely to use ruthless methods of repression than indigenous forces.

4. “Europe a nation” and “European Union” was the policy first advocated by Sir Oswald Mosley in 1948 as Western Europe’s post-war fascist agenda to salvage its aims to defend capitalism and oppose socialist ideas by force.

5. Romano Prodi, European Commission President, has now declared that “the present members of the EU must lose their power to veto EU decisions” (Daily Mail, 12 January). This is further confirmation of the agenda to build a European Superstate and the real dangers for the working class.
Lionel Rich, 
London NW6

You seem to have been reading the Daily Mail too much, though we don’t think even they have come up with the idea of a fascist Europe sending foreign troops to quell social unrest in Britain. We don’t accept, either, that fascism in Italy and Germany in between the two world wars of the last century was a response to the capitalist system becoming endangered; at most it was a response to the problems faced by the capitalist class in these two particular states due to them being excluded from a place in the sun (access to markets and raw materials) by the US, Britain and France.

Let’s start on the purely factual level. Under the present structure of the EU the power to make EU laws rests not with the Commission (whose role is essentially only to propose legislation) nor with the European Parliament (whose role is still largely consultative) but with the Council of Ministers composed of ministers, varying with the subject, from the (currently) 15 Member-States. Even then the Council of Ministers cannot make laws on all subjects but only on those permitted under various treaties (Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam, and soon Nice) and which are essentially economic. Some of these decisions require unanimity, i.e. every state has a veto; others are taken by a majority vote, but one which in which the bigger states have more votes than the smaller ones.

When Prodi says that Member States must give up their veto what he is advocating is that the Council of Ministers should take more decisions by majority voting (not, as the Daily Mail imagines, that the Commission should be able to impose its will on Member States). And he is proposing this for practical reasons (to avoid a small insignificant state such as Estonia or Slovenia being able to veto too many decisions when countries from eastern Europe join the EU in a few years time) rather than because he wants to construct a European super-state, still less because he thinks he’s Hitler or Napoleon.

Under these circumstances the only way in which your nightmare scenario could come about would be if the governments of all 15 (soon 25) EU Member States were to agree to setting up a centralised super-state, which in turn, since the governments of all these states depend on commanding a majority in an elected parliament, would imply that this is what a majority of people in all of these states wanted. We don’t buy it. It’s just not a realistic scenario. It’s just a scare story put out by those sections of the capitalist class in Britain who want Britain to depend on America rather than the EU. We are surprised that someone like yourself who has some knowledge of socialist ideas should fall for it.

A change of money-tokens, snail-pace political development towards a united Europe, these are not things to get worked up about. They are just superficial changes in the superstructure of capitalism that leave its basis unchanged. Profits before needs, class privilege and exploitation, these are the things that get us worked up, and why we will not drop our single-minded concentration on advocating socialism in favour of defending the pound or British “sovereignty”. When the referendum on the euro comes, we’ll be advocating that people write “I want world socialism” across the ballot paper or, alternatively, they could go fishing that day to show that they couldn’t care less either way.

A former Communist writes

Dear Editors,

As a former Communist, I’ve always felt the SPGB was the political equivalent of Christian fundamentalists who prayed first abstractly for people to change their souls/minds to “end” iniquity –but never advocated anything practical like joining trade unions, voting or taking part in military service. Still a socialist, I still fundamentally disagree with you, but your article on the euro intrigued me with some of its observations.

Twenty-six years ago, at a rally in Hyde Park against EEC entry, I asked a Spartacist what their view was. “It is of no concern to the workers,” he said. “We want a United States of Europe”. “What about the increase in food costs? What about heavier indirect taxation? Doesn’t that concern workers?” “Only marginally.” Reflecting that decimalisation was used as an excuse for a rip-off, I suppose the American Spartacist is now “happier” at the prospect of workers being ripped off .
D. Shepherd, 
London NW4

We hold no brief for Trotskyism, and certainly not for the cult known as the “Spartacists”, but the person you met in Hyde Park all those years ago was basically right (rare for a Trotskyist) except that workers should be concerned instead with establishing world socialism rather than a United States of Europe.

The introduction of the euro may well provide an excuse for certain shops to put up prices but they can only do this because the currency is being slowly depreciated due to the government over-issuing it, which means that there’s a tendency for prices to rise slowly all the time, and with them wages. This is why this is “only marginal”. The same goes for higher food prices and higher indirect taxes: in so far as they increase the cost of living they exert an upward pressure on wages, and the best way to deal with them is to press for higher wages, not take sides in arguments between capitalist groupings as to which trading bloc they should join.

We for our part used to compare the now defunct “Communist” Party to the Catholic Church, with its popes and cardinals who decided what the “line” was (what was in the interests of state-capitalist Russia) and then told their followers what to do and think including lies. While it is true that our members took the very practical stand of refusing to do military “service” (i.e. learn to kill fellow workers), it’s a lie that we don’t join trade unions (we do) and that we don’t vote (we do go and vote, but not for any pro-capitalist or reformist candidates).

Marx: A globalisation convert?

Dear Editors,

Marx “would be a vocal advocate for globalization”, so stated The Hon. Michael Costa, MP, on 19 September in his maiden speech to the Legislative Council of the New South Wales State Parliament.

Prior to a parliamentary privileged life Costa was an executive union official with the Labor Council of New South Wales. In his maiden speech he referred to the many Labor Council officers who have represented the workers of the state in the Legislative Council, “an institution that served the workers of this state well” (my observation as an elected workplace union delegate is that “conned” would be a more appropriate word than “served”).

Costa, in a seemingly apologetic phrase, disclosed that he was one “who started off in the far left by accident”. No definition of “far left” was given by Costa, though he did refer to “Marxists”. There followed a diatribe on self-styled followers of Marx, etc and so it went on.

I find it amusing that when some politicians enter parliament they have to atone for previous political thoughts. Is the public purge a requisite for being accepted into the Temple of Reform? Nevertheless a bit of political underwear washing never hurt our accident-prone Costa, for in November he was appointed to a ministerial position – Minister for Police.

One of the New Year announcements by Mr Supreme Plod was the news that more prisons are to be built in NSW. One wonders whether prison building is to accommodate unemployed workers, one way or the other.

As to Costa’s informed (?) knowledge of what the resurrected Marx would subscribe to, I quote the offending maiden speech paragraph in full: “I have no doubt that if Marx were alive today he would, given his understanding and interest in economic systems and technological development, support economic policies that promote prosperity and indeed would be a vocal advocate for globalization and in all probability would be a member of the Centre Unity faction of the Labor Party”.

Costa’s litany has no doubt earned him a seat on a multinational company board in his post-parliamentary life. I have no doubt that if Marx were alive today he would never condescend to becoming a company director, even of a cigar factory.
“G. Brunker”,