Saturday, August 1, 2020

Classification (2020)

Book Review from the July 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cédric Hugrée, Etienne Penissat and Alexis Spire: Social Class in Europe: New Inequalities in the Old World. Verso £16.99.

Written by three French sociologists, this volume is based on studies carried out under the aegis of the European Union Statistical Office and makes use of the standardised European Socio-economic Groups classification of employment. This leads to the distinguishing of three classes: working class (including unskilled manual workers, nursing assistants and farmers); middle class (office workers, police officers, IT technicians, teachers, etc); and dominant class (doctors, senior managers, lawyers, journalists, CEOs, and so on). Probably the most surprising aspect of this is the identification of a dominant class, and it is claimed that the one percent, the super-elite, ‘need allies to ensure that their orders at work will be transmitted and fulfilled, and ultimately to secure their hegemonic position in society’ and that the dominant class ‘encompasses all workers who have the power to impose rules in professional, social and even political life’ (so it seems they are workers too).

It is true that many people in this ‘dominant class’ are in charge of managing and supervising others (as are some of the ‘middle class’), but this is hardly enough to make doctors and engineers ‘dominant’ in any sense. And when it is stated that CEOs on average have less disposable household income than teachers and nurses, it does raise questions as to how reliable the classifications are. The dominant class includes entrepreneurs, but since this label applies to street hawkers as well as factory owners, its usefulness appears limited.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of interesting information here (in this paragraph we use the book’s terminology, without implying that we agree with it). In Central and Eastern parts of the EU, the dominant class is much smaller than in the North and West, on account of the control of the economy there by some Western firms. Industrial production has a greater share of the economy in the East and Centre and in the Baltic countries. The ageing of the population in the North and West, plus the greater number of women at work, has led to increased demand for childcare, care of the elderly and so on. Over one-fifth of the working class live below the poverty line (earning less than 60 percent of the median wage in the country concerned). Members of the dominant class are far more likely than others to attend a live performance such as a play, and to speak an international language such as English or Spanish. Trade unions find it harder to operate and negotiate at an international level, partly because of language difficulties.

The conclusion states that ‘experience of hardship and suffering at work is the common ground between members of the working and middle classes’, and argues for transforming work to make it less hierarchical and pay more attention to health and the environment. But it will take more than this to do away with the inequality and poverty that are described, if not convincingly analysed, here.
Paul Bennett

‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts’ (2020)

From the July 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Miami, Florida – December 26, 1967: just a few months removed from the ‘long, hot summer of 1967’, in which rampant unemployment, poverty, and police brutality in black America reached a boiling point, sparking almost 160 race riots across the country. Ironically, that same summer was referred to as the ‘Summer of Love’ by hippies due to their rapid concentration in San Francisco. Miami’s Police Chief, Walter Headley, held a press conference regarding a spike in violent crime in the city’s ‘Negro district’ that past holiday weekend. Miami narrowly avoided race riots that summer, with Headley saying ‘We haven’t had any serious problems with civil uprising and looting because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts’ (snopes.com/fsact-check/trump-wallace-looting-quote). We’ll leave aside the fact that this statement contrasted with a recent comment from Sheriff Purdy, saying that his department’s community relations programs and specialized training projects successfully prevented the civil disorders. This statement encouraging police to murder irreplaceable citizens for looting replaceable commodities – valuing commodities over human life – was predictably criticized by several civil rights leaders.

As Karl Marx once said, history repeats itself ‘…the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce’. More than 50 years later, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, made the same statement regarding looting in various cities across the country due to George Floyd’s recent murder. After liberals had yet another field day of moral grandstanding, he tweeted to clarify his statement the next morning, but this was just an attempt to save face.

George Floyd was a former athlete, rapper, Christian, and proud father. Originally from Houston, Texas, he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota around 2014 for a fresh start after serving four years in prison. Floyd was looking for another job after recently being laid off due to the pandemic, just like millions of other Americans. Shortly before his death, he’d purchased items at a local corner store with what the clerk believed was a counterfeit bill, which made them call the police. The police arrived, and the situation escalated to another unarmed black man being strangled in broad daylight as they repeatedly said, ‘I can’t breathe!’

This incident resembles far too many to name. Fatal police shootings have been rising every year, and the victims are disproportionately black. An estimated that 76.5 percent of Americans were white, and 13.4 percent were black in 2019, but victims of fatal police shootings were 36.85 percent white and 23.4 percent black that same year (the rest being unknown or Hispanic – Link). What’s worse, roughly 1,000 people are killed by the police every year, but only 98 officers were arrested and only 35 convicted for it from 2005 – 2019.

Outrage over these incidents happening so often without officers being held accountable understandably led to widespread protests. There are countless videos of protests happening peacefully until police officers with more gear than Robocop assaulted citizens first, agitating them and leading to riots. It’s hard not to question the government’s priorities when they’re more prepared to attack its citizens for condemning murder than to protect them against a pandemic – whether the equipment was a free military surplus or not. You’re forced to wonder why using tear gas against foreign armies is an international war crime, but somehow not illegal to use against American citizens – or why rubber bullets are being shot directly at them when they were initially intended to be bounced off the ground.

Trump unsurprisingly condemned the riots, but not the police brutality that sparked them, nor did he call for any of the officers who’ve committed recent murders to be convicted. He says it’s due to the looting, but he couldn’t care less about corporations looting the ‘Not-So-Democratic’ Republic of the Congo. He hasn’t called for any of their CEOs or members of their Boards of Directors to be shot, just domestic workers looting products made by other workers abroad. What’s more concerning is that he’s decided to blame most of the looting on ‘Antifa’ and called for them to be designated as a terrorist group.

We’ll set aside all the terrorist groups backed by the United States and pretend that matters to Trump. What’s important, for one, is that we currently only have laws that allow us to designate international extremist groups as terrorist organizations, so an entirely new law would need to pass to classify domestic extremist groups as terrorist organizations. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_and_state-sponsored_terroris). )The question would then be why that kind of legislation hasn’t been passed yet to designate at least the KKK as a terrorist group after all the murders they’ve committed – but it’s pretty clear once you realize that Trump’s dad was arrested at a KKK rally, although neither his exact charges nor the exact circumstances could be confirmed (Link). For two, and we’d argue most importantly, Antifa isn’t even a cohesive organization. Unfortunately, that could work in his favor. He probably knows this, but it could be incompetence at best or an excuse to charge dissenters as terrorists at worst.

Often people throw around the term ‘fascist’ too loosely and this waters down fascism’s actual meaning. Some might concede that Trump could be considered something of a ‘fascist-lite’. However, blaming a loose organization for the looters and calling for police to shoot them admittedly seems like he’s creeping into that sort of territory – especially once you consider the implications of the ‘EARN IT Bill’ (Link) and jokes he’s made about staying President for life.

The real question here is what we should do about this? In some ways protesting, signing petitions, posting on social media, etc. are all great activities to bring awareness to the issue. But we’ve done that countless times and know it’ll take much more than that to bring about any fundamental change. Attempts to hold law enforcement accountable have failed many times before, with two recent examples being a bill watered down in California and another blocked altogether in Utah. As Martin Luther King once said ‘…a riot is the language of the unheard’. Until justice is served, riots are guaranteed to continue happening. But the question is, can systemic racism and police brutality be prevented within our current system?

A fundamental change would require this system to work in the interest of the majority in the first place, which it doesn’t. It works in the interest of the capitalists. And we don’t mean your bootlicker, wage-slave Facebook friend that only comments on your statuses to defend Jeff Bezos. We mean the actual capitalists, the ones with mansions the size of Vatican City that still lobby to keep their taxes lower than anybody else’s. We’ve seen time and time again that, when it comes down to it, the state and the police won’t protect and serve the people; they’ll protect and serve the rich and their property. Police will hesitate to arrest their colleagues for murdering unarmed civilians, but if anyone peacefully protests in response? They’ll tear gas pregnant women in a heartbeat – knowing it’s been linked to miscarriages – arrest legal observers just for being there, then shoot people who riot or loot because of it. Police and the state only value your life if you’re part of the ruling class.

Private property, being different than personal property, inherently leads to competing classes. In the words of Adam Smith, ‘Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many’. Capitalism perpetuates systemic racism so well because it’s much easier to justify this inequality when those poor tend to be a particular race. It makes them easy to dehumanize, whether consciously or unconsciously. This perpetuation couples with the fact that private property requires a means to legitimize and protect it. In the quote mentioned above, Adam Smith also says, ‘The acquisition of valuable and extensive property, therefore, necessarily requires the establishment of civil government. Where there is no property, or at least none that exceeds the value of two or three days’ labour, civil government is not so necessary’.

That doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be democratic. Dictatorships have still been capitalist; all it needs is a monopoly of force. Even in an anarcho-capitalist dystopia where a traditional state wouldn’t exist, there’d still need to be private security forces. But once we understand that capitalism necessitates inequality and a defensive body and how that perpetuates racism, then we see why systemic racism would be a rampant problem and why trying to end it without ending capitalism is futile.

As long as we have private property, we’ll have trigger-happy, racist police hired to protect it at the expense of human life. I’m not saying never to speak out and protest against systemic racism, but to do that without keeping abolition of capitalism as the primary goal would be like hacking at a tree’s branches, rather than its trunk. To end police brutality and systemic racism for good, we need to establish socialism: an economic system based on common ownership of the means of production and production for use. Classes, class antagonisms, and systemic racism would thus be done away with once and for all.
Jordan Levi 
(World Socialist Party of the US)

The Case for Socialism (2020)

From the July 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The basic case of the Socialist Party can be set out in three parts: a description and criticism of present-day society; a proposal for a new social system to replace it; and a way of moving from the present to the future society.

The system that dominates the world today is capitalism, which has a number of central features. There is a class division: the vast majority of the population have to work for a wage or salary in order to survive, or are dependent on someone else who has to do so; in contrast, a small number of people, probably well under one in a hundred, live off income from rent, interest and profit, and are immensely wealthy. The former are the working class, the latter the capitalist class. The wages system is a basic feature, as workers have to sell their ability to work, their labour power, to an employer in return for a wage, and are exploited by their employer, as they produce more in value than what they earn in wages.

Under capitalism, goods and services are produced for sale at a profit and will generally not be produced unless there is a prospect of a reasonable amount of profit resulting. Workers who cannot be profitably exploited will be unemployed and have to live on various kinds of handout. The state or government exists to defend the interests of the employers, the capitalist class. It does this by protecting their property, by making it difficult for workers to fight for better wages and working conditions, and by defending the interests of the capitalist class abroad, such as attempting to guarantee access to raw materials and trade routes. The police, courts, prisons and armed services are the central aspects of the state machine. There may be some limited show of democracy, such as elections and the ability to organise political parties and publish dissenting views, but in reality workers have little control over their lives and are dominated by the anarchy of the market and the power of the capitalists.

Capitalism has not always existed. We could argue about when it began, but it is best seen as being less than three hundred years old. Capitalism has changed in some ways since its early days, when there was nothing like the massive international companies that exist today. The state interferes much more in the economy than it once did, and there is a variety known as state capitalism, where the state is the main employer and those who control the state form the capitalist class. But all versions of capitalism have the basic properties of wage labour, class division, production for profit, repressive state and lack of true democracy.

So what are the consequences of capitalism being structured the way it is? One is a barely-credible degree of inequality. There are many statistics that could be cited to illustrate this, but here we will content ourselves with just two. Last year, the richest two thousand people in the world had more wealth than the poorest 4.6 billion combined. Bosses in the UK’s top hundred companies took just 33 hours to be paid more than the typical worker’s annual wage.

Equally, there is poverty and even destitution for many workers. It may be said that, in a world of smartphones and overseas holidays, there is little real poverty left, but the facts show the falsity of such an argument. More than one person in five in the UK is classed as living in poverty, including four million children. Over half of those in poverty are in a household where at least one person is working, so having a job is no guarantee against poverty, especially in a society reliant on zero-hours contracts, precarious work and the gig economy. When there are food banks and people sleeping on the street, clearly extreme poverty still exists.

Capitalism does not just force masses of people into poverty, it actively reduces the amount of useful goods and services produced. This is partly on account of the profit motive, as, for instance, there is no profit to be made in building houses for those who cannot afford to buy or rent them. But also the whole paraphernalia of the money system means that so much work is just wasted: everything to do with money, banks, credit cards, accounts, insurance and so on makes no contribution whatever to meeting human need. Nor do the armed forces and most of the functions of the government.

Politicians of all stripes have over the decades attempted to reform capitalism, but this inevitably cannot do away with its basic features. In its place, socialists advocate an entirely new form of society. We call it ‘socialism’, but it could also be called ‘communism’, or ‘post-capitalism’. We can describe socialism briefly as a classless moneyless stateless world community based on common ownership, production for use and democratic control. Let’s look at each of these points.

A classless society would not have a division into the capitalist class and the working class; the resources of the planet would belong to all the people, so they would be owned in common. There would be no rich and poor, indeed no concept of poverty. There would be no money, no credit cards, no chequebooks, no prices, no wages; goods and services would, as far as possible, be freely available to all. There would be no government, no organised means of coercion, as there would be no ruling class whose interests would be defended. It would be a true world community, with no countries or borders, no passports or visas. Production would take place to meet human need, so there would be no motivation to produce substandard or dangerous goods. Production, and society as a whole, would be under the democratic control of the people, giving them proper control over their lives.

This is all completely feasible. For one thing, there is nothing in human nature that stops people from co-operating and volunteering to do things together. Further, with the artificial limits of capitalism removed, it would be possible to produce far more, so that nobody need go hungry or be homeless. Building houses, for instance, would be undertaken to provide homes for people, decent homes with efficient heating and insulation; architects and building workers already know how to do this, without having to cut corners, skimp on costs and make a profit. Food, too, would be produced to feed people, not to make a profit for agricultural mega-corporations. Health care would be the best that could be provided.

We must emphasise that socialism will not be a perfect society where absolutely everything runs smoothly, just that it represents the best, indeed the only, way of solving the problems that beset humanity. Some, such as poverty and hunger, will be solved more or less immediately on the establishment of socialism; in the case of others, especially environmental problems, socialism will offer a framework in which they can be addressed, based on considerations of meeting human need rather than producing for profit.

But how would we get from here to there, how could a socialist society be established? The essentials of an answer to this spring from the nature of future society. It would be democratic and based on co-operation, and it is simply not possible to force people to behave democratically or to co-operate. Socialism, then, can only be established when an overwhelming majority of people want it, when, in other words, a class-conscious working class are determined to set up a society of common ownership and to make it work. There are various aspects to how this will be done, and part of it involves capturing control of the state, probably via elections, to ensure that the machinery of government cannot be used to prevent the establishment of socialism. It would also involve being organised to maintain production and ensure that nobody was forgotten about or left behind in the changeover to a new society. Socialism would not be established in parliament but by socialists taking the responsibility to remake how the world is organised.

That, in brief, is the case of the Socialist Party. If you agree with it or want to learn more or wish to ask about any aspects you don’t agree with, get in touch with us, whether online, by post or by contacting your local branch.
Paul Bennett

Negative interest rates (2020)

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

Last month the question of ‘negative prices’ came up. Now, there is talk of ‘negative interest rates’. This would be where the lender, instead of receiving at the end of the loan period more than they lent, would end up with less. It is hard to imagine a bank lending on such terms. As interest is the source of income which, after paying their expenses, bank profits come from, this would be to run at a loss. The bank, instead of increasing its capital in accordance with the economic logic of capitalism, would see it diminish.

This, however, has often been the fate of other lenders, especially small savers. It occurs when there is inflation and the price level rises by a higher percentage than the rate of interest. In that case, at the end of the loan period the purchasing power of the amount lent will have fallen; the amount by which it has fallen could be described as ‘negative interest’. Governments have been known to deliberately inflate the currency in order to reduce their debt in real terms. However, this can’t be done too often as lenders will soon cotton on and lend only if the rate of interest is tied to the rate of inflation (‘indexed’).

Current talk about negative interest rates is not about this, but about the Bank of England fixing what used to be called the Bank Rate (but is now the ‘base rate’) at a minus figure. This would not be much of a change as the rate is currently only 0.1 percent (1p on every £1,000 lent). The Bank Rate is what the Bank pays commercial banks on what they deposit with it. This is therefore a policy aimed at banks, to discourage them from holding money and make them lend more.

The banks are sceptical as they know from experience that bank lending is not governed by the supply of money to lend. There are plenty of entrepreneurs who want money for some project but banks will only lend for projects that they consider viable, i.e., will turn out to bring in a profit sufficient to repay the loan with interest. This depends on the state of the economy and the general prospects for profit-making; in other words, on the likely rate of profit. It is this rate, not the rate of interest, that drives the capitalist economy. Which is why monkeying about with the rate of interest over the past decade or so has failed to stimulate the economy (but only the stock exchange).

A negative Bank Rate would also make banking less profitable. As Stephen King, HSBC’s Senior Economic Adviser, reflecting his paymaster’s point of view, put it in the Evening Standard (1 June):
  ‘Banks traditionally make money through the “spread” between the interest rate offered to depositors and the interest rate demanded from borrowers. With negative interest rates, banks would effectively have to take money out of savers’ bank accounts, a deeply unpopular outcome. In the face of this banks might end up letting lending rates fall more than deposit rates, in effect cutting the “spread”. That, however, would lower bank profitability and reduce the volume of lending, the opposite of what policymakers would be hoping for. Borrowing costs would be lower, but a dwindling proportion of people would actually be able to get access to credit.’
He went on to add that, with inflation still happening even if at a low rate, reducing the amount paid to savers would reduce the purchasing power of their savings as in the first type of ‘negative interest’.

Note the matter of fact way in which King writes about a bank’s income coming essentially from the difference between the rate of interest it pays to those it borrows from (depositors and others) and the higher rate at which it lends money. No nonsense here about banks having the power to create out of thin air the money they lend.

News in Review: British Transport’s big loss (1961)

The News in Review column from the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

British Transport’s big loss

The British Transport Commissions 1960 deficit was good headline material for the Tory press. One hundred million pounds down the drain! Didn't that prove how inefficient nationalisation is? This may or may not be true. But there is one way in which nationalisation is very good business — for the people who are prosperous enough to have money invested in it.

B.T.C.’s loss of £100 million was arrived at after £45 million had been paid in interest and other charges. This makes its true deficit more like £55 million. Everybody knows that a private company which finds itself with a deficit in its accounts does not usually lumber itself with an even greater loss by paying out enormous amounts of interest.

But that is exactly what B.T.C.—and all other nationalised industries—must do, because their capital is wholly guaranteed, unlike the equity shares which make up the bulk of most private companies' capital. British Overseas Airways Corporation had a kick about this last May when they announced that their interest payments had transformed an operating profit of £4.75 millions in»o an accounting deficit of £1.7 millions.

A lot of people were taken for a ride when public transport in this country was nationalised, but the shareholders were not among them.


Berlin

It is not so very long ago that British, French and American workers were being killed in their attempts to blow Berlin to pieces. There is now a possibility that more workers will be killed in an attempt to put the German capital together again. This is what is called post-war progress.

The division of Berlin, and of Germany, has been a bone of great power contention ever since those same great powers decided to carve it up in 1945. At that time, the division was supposed to be one of the essentials of peace in Europe. Everybody expected the usual peace treaties to be signed within a few years.

The facts have disappointed these expectations. Whenever Mr. Khruschev starts talking about a German peace treaty, there is an ominous sound of the release of safety catches. Now the question has the nuclear powers grappling again—and who is to say that they are not edging little by little nearer the brink?

Perhaps Europe has never recovered its nerve from the 1948 Berlin blockade. Another world war could start before the last one has been officially signed into history. Who said that capitalism was fit for sane human beings to live in?


E.T.U. and the Communists

Nobody needed a long and expensive court case to tell them that the Electrical Trades Union was dominated by energetic Communists.

And no trade unionist needed the capitalist press to tell him that it was all his fault and that he must take a greater interest in his union's affairs. Such solicitous concern from such a quarter is, to say the least, suspicious. After all, when trade unionists become sufficiently active to organise a strike for higher wages, they have hardly a friend in Fleet Street.

Nowadays, the Communists are in the vanguard of trade union activity and for this they earn the disapproval of the press. But let us remember that they have been a nuisance to British capitalism only since Russia ceased to he Britain's ally. An upset in the international line-up could make Communist shop stewards useful to British employers, as they were during the last war. We should all be as active as possible in trade union work which is in working class interests. And we should all realise that trade unions should be the enemy of the capitalist class, instead of the docile hangdogs which the newspapers would like them to be.


Kuwait

General Kassem is only the latest of a long line of post-war bogey men in the Middle East. King Saud of Saudi Arabia used to be a bogey man, a fact which was played down when he sent troops to support the British landings.

British influence in the Arab states has been extensively undermined, and the Foreign Office policy of propping up one feudal despot against another has been a comprehensive flop. Most of the despots agree that, before most other things, they want the British to leave.

The oil-rich states are especially anxious to be "free," so that they can make the best of their natural wealth. This is the fact behind the newspaper blah about big brother coming to the aid of little boy set on by big bully.

Kuwait is the Middle East's greatest oil producer, with half of its main concession held by British Petroleum. Apart from its importance as a supplier to British industry, Kuwait is holding between £200 and £300 million in sterling. If this were transferred into some other currency, it could cause a lot of financial trouble to British capitalists.

The troops who have suffered the murderous heat of Kuwait must have guessed that they were not sent there for the good of their health. But it is improbable that they realised that it was all for the welfare of British capitalism.

Who'd be a politician? (1961)

From the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who’d be a politician? To be sure, there is glamour in the job: lots of pressmen to follow you about, your own personal ’bodyguard and (for the zanier ones) photographs with sizzling film stars. But politicians are, of course, men who have to work and, some of them, to worry.

First of all, what are politicians? Cut away all the hand-out material about their alleged brilliance and sincerity and we are left with people who are hard worked administrators of the detailed affairs of capitalist society. Whatever department a minister may have under his control, his twenty-four hour concern must be to protect the interests of the ruling class; all his decisions must conform to society’s capitalist basis. Because that, after all, is what the state apparatus is there for.

The unfortunate fact about this, though, is that capitalism can often be most difficult to administer. It continually thrusts up problems for its ministers to attend to. And when the ministers think they have settled a problem, they often find that capitalism has an ungrateful way of undermining their solution. In foreign affairs, the pressure is particularly strong—we can all think of prominent politicians who have been sent to an early grave by the persistent worry of trying to sort out the tangle of clashing national interests. Similarly, attempts at taming the economic waywardness of property society have virtually killed some ministers and reduced others almost to invalids. Yes, a politician, apart from needing to be cynical and industrious, must also be tough.

One of the acutist and most persistent of capitalism’s problems is the conflict of commercial interests. We do not need to be very observant to appreciate that the goods and services which contribute to our lives today—and even those which are completely essential to our lives—are turned out only to be sold. We know, for example, that nobody is allowed to use a motor car simply because he is a good driver: provided the necessary cash has been paid to the motor car manufacturers, the worlds most incompetent driver can take the wheel. But before the car gets into any driver’s hands, the commercial requirements of capitalism must be satisfied. The car, in fact, must be sold.

Now where the problem comes in is that selling capitalism’s commodities need not be an easy business. There are many motor car manufacturers after the money of our incompetent driver. They all point out the extra-super qualities of their car, prove that it accelerates better, runs faster, travels safer, uses less petrol, than the cars of their competitors. But, for that particular customer there can be only one satisfied car maker. The rest must be disappointed, and try extra hard to catch other sales. This is the competitive race which causes capitalism so much trouble.

The capitalist class regard the selling of commodities as vital because unless they are sold, the profit which the workers have built into them with their every working action can never be realised. The shareholders of the motor car industry would never invest their money in enormous factories, labour and costly machinery if it were only to make a loss. So, unless a profit can come from selling cars, none of them will be turned out. Motor cars, of course, are not peculiar in this. No clothes would be tailored, no houses built, no television sets assembled, if there was no prospect of a profit being realised somewhere along the line. Nobody would cut your hair, or put you up in an hotel, or entertain you. Even food production depends upon profit.

Here we have one of the current worries of British politicians. Barley growers in this country have every prospect of harvesting a record crop this year. Are they pleased about this? Do they look forward eagerly to the harvest festivities? They do not. For the French also have a lot of barley in the offing and so have the farmers in Western Germany. All of them have their eyes on the barley market in Great Britain. Meanwhile, the Russians have already shipped some of their surplus barley over here and, because they are determined to sell the stuff no matter how cheaply, they have knocked the bottom out of the market. (Let nobody assume that a commercial surplus of barley in Europe means that all human needs for it have been fulfilled. China, faced with famine, has been forced to ask Canada and Australia for shipments of it on credit. And she Russia’s ally, too.)

The result of unloading so much barley onto the British market has been to force the price down to less than £16 a ton— and it may fall further yet. Now, if farming was carried on for some other reason than profit-making, we might expect a measure of satisfaction that there is so much barley knocking about. But this is capitalism: we need not be surprised that the British farmer is anything but satisfied. The National Farmers’ Union, in fact, has asked for action under the Customs (Dumping and Subsidies) Act to keep out the foreign barley.

This does not mean that British farmers are always in favour of tariff protection for all British industries. Just like any other industry under capitalism, the farmers are interested in holding onto their own markets and in getting the best price they can for the goods they sell. When they buy goods, their attitude is rather different—they want them as cheap as possible, even if it means that foreign industries must be allowed to export cut price commodities to this country. For example, British farmers would like to see unrestricted entry allowed for fertilisers and farm machinery, and some for feeding stuffs. A couple of years ago, the chairman of the Farmers and Smallholders Association spoke bitterly of what he called “. . . the fertiliser monopoly . . .” making ". . . at least an extra £10 millions by charging the British farmers more than the European price for fertilisers. This racket,” he said, “Could be stopped overnight if the Government would remove the protective duties on imported fertilisers, and the taxpayer would immediately be saved £10 millions in farm subsidies.”

Presumably, the fertiliser firms have different views on the subject. Although they would not like to see the tariff wall which shelters them knocked down, they might perhaps be in favour of cheap barley and other foodstuffs, which might mean fewer wage claims for them to face. Now if you were Minister of Agriculture or President of the Board of Trade, how would you sort that one out?

Whatever you did, you could bet on it that there would soon be another, similar problem clogging your In-tray. For not only the farmers and fertiliser kings are in conflict over issues like tariff' protection. Capitalism, because it moves on its bearings of profit motive, turns up a multitude of opposing interests. It is the politician who must sort them out and must offer his solution to the voters as the sanest, surest method possible. Perhaps, at the previous election, he offered an opposite policy, which he said was also sane and sure. Never mind. The good politician has no difficulty in skating around that one.

And while the politicians are sorting and skating, what of the working class who so affectionately vote them into power time and again? They are the people who suffer, and are exploited as a result of the anomalies of capitalism. However hard the going a politician must endure, it cannot compare with the rough road of working class existence. So—who’d be a worker? There are millions and millions of them, and hardly one of them has any say in the matter.
Ivan

Finance and Industry: Chancellor's Pay-roll Tax (1961)

The Finance and Industry Column from the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chancellor's Pay-roll Tax

In the budget earlier this year the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that he would get power to levy a Pay-roll Tax to be used, when he thought fit, as a means of encouraging employers “to use more labour-saving machinery” and seek ways of cutting down the number of workers they employed. The amount proposed is 4s. a week for each worker, the tax to be paid by the employer.

It had a very hostile reception, not only from the Opposition but from many Conservative M.P.’s and employers. Nobody seems to have remembered that a “Keynesian" scheme very similar to this was agreed by the three political parties in the war-time national government and set out in a document called Employment Policy, which was to be the blue-print for maintaining full employment and for preventing prices from rising. It was to be operated by making workers and employers pay higher national insurance contributions when unemployment fell to a low level, and lower contributions when unemployment increased. The idea was that if demand for consumer goods fell and unemployment increased, reducing the national insurance deduction would encourage more spending: and if demand for consumer goods increased too much, some of the spending would . be halted by levying higher contributions. The suggested range was from a top-rate of 10s a week (workers 5s. 6d., employers 4s. 6d.) to a lower rate of 5s (3s. and 2s.).

Like many other plans it has never been used, so we have no factual evidence to show what result it would have had.

Discussion about the proposed Pay-roll Tax has however produced some interesting information about developments in industry that have been going on and would presumably be stimulated by such a tax. A contributor writing to the Financial Times (8/7/61) states that in the engineering and building trades there is an increasing tendency for work to be done by small contractors without any direct employees themselves:
  There are in the engineering trades today thousands of one-man firms or small companies where the entire labour force consists of directors and which have no pay-roll at all. These firms produce drawings or tools on a free-lance or sub-contract basis for the larger organisations. In the building trade there is a growing tendency for the craftsman, plumber, mason or joiner to employ himself and hire his labour out to the small builder who again may have no pay roll at all.
Impetus has been given to this by the development of small electrically driven machines which can be set up in home workshops and he says that on the Continent the idea has been extended to the point of operating a factory on the basis that the workers come in as self-employed master-men, hire the machines and sell the products to the management without any wages relationship. As the contributor points out, a pay-roll tax levied on the number of workers directly employed would be avoided by these methods.

Notes on Automation

Six years ago in these columns (September, 1955) the opinion was expressed that automation would not develop in this country as quickly and extensively as many people were claiming. It is interesting to look at some of the trends to see what has happened since then and is likely to happen. The prevailing mood of comment today is one of caution, allied with disappointment about the results of automation so far. Often there is contrast with the progress made in other countries, especially America.

Mr. F. Griffiths of the British Motor Corporation writes that in the motor industry “the pattern of automation . . . still remains mainly in the machine shop. Basic processes, such as the foundry and the forge have not yet been given any consideration to enable real automation to be installed.” (Electronics and Automation Supplement to the Financial Times (23/1/61). Mr. Griffiths lists the many technical and organisational problems that need to be solved before automation can become general in the motor factories. A scientific correspondent in the Financial Times (8/1/60) estimated that it might be 1965 before this development was completed.

In the field of electronic computers for commercial purposes, experience has been mixed. According to a correspondent writing in 1959 (Financial Times, 2nd April) many firms that had bought computers for commercial purposes bad found them a failure from the financial point of view. But in the engineering and scientific fields “there have been equally remarkable successes.”

And while automation and electronics manufacture have rapidly grown to “ big business,” employing nearly a quarter of a million people, there aren't enough orders for the home market and according to a report in the Times (29/11/60) almost every firm in the business is losing money on its manufacture of data processing equipment.

As regards the total numbers of workers employed, the process of automation in the past six years has had little effect, either in manufacture or in offices, though clerks in banking and elsewhere are becoming increasingly worried about the future, especially on promotion prospects. In factories and offices shift working and night work will increase.

With government encouragement, designed to prevent industry in this country falling behind its competitors, automation and similar innovations in factories and offices will develop at an increasing pace, but none of those who sweepingly claim that automation brings about enormous economies in labour and materials (productivity up tenfold, costs reduced 25 per cent. to 40 per cent—Financial Times, 8/1 /60) have explained why automation so far has had so little impact here or in any other country.

Why have not these alleged savings of labour shown themselves in falling prices? The answer in most instances is that even when the labour-saving is as high as stated it is effective only in a small part of the total process of production. If labour is reduced by say 40 per cent in processes representing a quarter of the total factory operation, the average for the whole factory operation is 10 per cent, and if production and transport of materials is not affected the overall reduction from start to finish may be less than 5 per cent And this leaves out of account the, sometimes, greatly increased amount of labour needed for production and maintenance of the automation plant.


Living in one room

Workers having a hard time in the country of their birth find it easy to accept travellers’ tales about the summer weather and the “gold paved streets" in some other part of the globe. Governments all try to counter these beliefs because they encourage discontent

Recent observers from both sides of the “curtain" have been commenting on housing conditions in Britain and Russia. First, we have Mr. Yur Fokin, a Russian broadcaster, who wrote in the Daily Express (13/6/61) giving his eye-witness impressions of this country. Mr. Fokin said he was surprised to notice in London “sharp differences in the type of districts where people of different classes live." He said it was very strange to Russian eyes because “in Moscow, for instance, there is no class distinction."

As it happens an Englishwoman. Mrs. Reita Ovsyannikov, married to a Russian, has just returned to this country after thirty years in Russia. In her article in the Sunday Telegraph (9/7/61) she notes the contrast that Mr. Fokin did not see. She writes that "even to this very day, most Russian families have to make do with one room," but because her husband belongs to “the managerial class" and she also had a highly paid job: “We enjoyed a far better standard of living than the great majority of Soviet citizens. For the last ten years of our life in the Soviet Union we had a flat of our own, a car, and all the money we needed. It was not luxury by Western standards, but we were comfortable."

Many visitors to Russia have commented on the large number of families compelled to live in one room and nobody, not even Mr. Fokin, believes that Krushchev and the other V.I.P.’s or the “rouble millionaires" live in one room. Mr. John Cole (Guardian, 7/6/61) also noted “the very limited living space compared with that expected by English families," but he described the comparison “misleading" because “The Russians like the Swedes and French attach less importance to homes than the English." The implication is that “Russians" and Swedes and French don't mind living in overcrowded conditions. If this is so, why doesn't Mr. Krushchev live in one room? And why was the Englishwoman quoted above glad to be able to afford not to?

The truth is quite simple. It is nice to be rich in any country and if you are rich you don't have to put up with the conditions suffered by the poor: which includes the Glasgow home visited by the Queen on 30th June—a man. wife and four year old son living in one room.


Not belonging

The double-talk of politicians, newspaper editors and business men is sometimes so odd as to be hardly comprehensible. as witness an editorial in the Daily Mail on 1st July.

Just about the time that there was an "unofficial" strike at Ford Motor works called by the shop stewards, the firm's chief medical officer was at a conference on automation telling the delegates the secret of “good labour relations." He said that “all employees need to have a feeling of belonging to the company," each one “must feel he counts as a person.

These events inspired the leader writer of the Mail to try to explain to the Ford workers what is the true shape of things:
 The war cry of one of these shop stewards is worth recording. “Nobody here", he shouted, “wants to see the Ford Motor Company win “
  But who and what is the Ford Motor Company if it isn't the 20,000 workers he was talking to? Are they not as much the Ford Motor Company as Mr. Ford himself, or any of his directors or executives?
Of course, legally the Ford Motor Works and all its properties belong to the company, in effect the shareholders, to whom also the £18 million profit in 1959 belonged. And last year when the American Ford company bought out the 45 per cent, of the shares that they did not already hold, for £129 million, they paid the money (£7 5s. 6d. per share) to those shareholders. The English company now therefore belongs wholly to the American Company. The 20,000 Dagenham workers who, according to the Mail are the Ford Company as much as Mr. Ford himself, weren't even asked whether they wanted the sale to go through, much less paid for handing over what the Mail thinks is their own company.

And is it surprising that the strikers wanted to win their wage-claim? They no more wanted to see Fords win than the Ford's management wanted to see them win. The strikers and the management both see plainly that there is a conflict of interests between them.

Which brings us to the firm's medical officer who worries because the workers don’t feel that they belong. Why has it not occurred to him that perhaps that is just what irks the workers at Dagenham and elsewhere? They feel very strongly that they are treated as if they do belong to the firm, as if they were part of the equipment, along with the machines and trucks and typewriters; instruments for making profit.

If the medical officer ever happens to meet one of the Ford family or other owners he should watch them closely to note if they, too, suffer from any feeling of frustration or sense of. “not belonging." Then the secret will be revealed to him. He will find that they “belong" all right, because Fords belongs to them.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford might also tell him more about the £100,000 they spent recently on a party for their daughter (reported in the Sunday Telegraph, 25/7/61. Just one daughter, one party, one hundred thousand Pounds.
Edgar Hardcastle

Master and Worker (1961)

From the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

How often has it been proclaimed that the planning of constitutions and the founding of leagues of nations have been for the purpose of establishing equality among all men. Yet, as long as capitalism exists, the equality of men can be nothing more than a Utopia, or, at best, just a fancied reality. Laws may propose that employer and worker have equal rights; that just as employers have the right to employ or not to employ, so have the workers the right to work for whomsoever they please. But do these rights exist in fact?

On the employers' side, there exists not only the "right," but the power. This may not apply to those who, by their own desperate struggle and long hours of work, manage to run small businesses with a return hardly higher than the wages paid to an outside worker. These are not capitalists, but men forced to work, very often more arduously than most other workers. They may delude themselves that they are “ upper class," but actually they are of that vast army which must toil in order to live.

When Socialists speak of the employing or the capitalist class they refer to that small class in current society which, enabled to employ and to exploit the workers by its ownership of the land, factories, mines, railways, etc., is, if necessary, able to live without working upon the proceeds.

This, then, is the capitalist class: the class of employers, of masters. At the sweet will of this class men can be employed. exploited, dismissed. And in each of these eventualities the right and the power of the capitalist are plainly visible.

From the very first appearance of a working-class applicant for employment the whip-hand is held by the capitalist. He is seeking a worker whose energy, applied to the tools and material which he, the capitalist, has made available, will create a mass of commodity values and. in due course, blessed and well-loved PROFIT.

This is the sole purpose for which a capitalist employs workers. But, yearned for though they are, profits are not essential in the preservation of life. Their diminution or failure to rise above a certain level may mean for capitalists a check upon expansion, and a drop in interest, even a curb upon luxurious living. But that is all. Only profits are at stake—not the essentials of life itself.

For the working-class applicant for employment the case is very different. Dependent upon his success or failure is the problem of whether or not he will be able to provide for himself, his wife and family without recourse to assistance boards and the like. Should he fail, will the matter of the new clothes he had promised the children have to be forgotten? Will his wife have to go out to work? Will they have to cut down on the food bill—have marge instead of butter, buy cheaper milk? Must the washing be done by his wife instead of being sent to the laundry? Must he cut out his daily pint and smoke fewer cigarettes? Will he have to take the telly back?

Thus does the encounter between prospective employer and prospective employee show the inequality in the "master and man" relationship. It is further shown when the new worker is absorbed into industry. The “governor" himself is seldom seen in the factory for there is no real need for the presence of one who takes no part in production, and who possibly knows nothing of the working side of the industry. But ever present are the works manager, the supervisor, the foreman, the progress chaser those members of the working class who, for somewhat higher wages must see, on behalf of "the governor," that production is carried on speedily, conscientiously, and as profitably as possible. This overseership, whether tyrannous or not, reveals the existence of someone at the top; of an individual or group with something to gain from working-class exploitation.

And where is equality when capitalists, in depressed trade conditions, are unable to sell their commodities? Where is the evidence, then, that working men may work for whomsoever they please — that they need even be employed at all? Where is the “right” to work when the introduction of machinery renders certain workers redundant? Experience shows that wholesale sackings and dismissals are the accepted order of the day as soon as the employment of workers is not profitable enough. It matters not that these dismissals might mean for the workers involved long spells of unemployment, a depression of living standards already far from satisfying, and minor—or even major—domestic tragedies. For such is the accepted pattern of master-class behaviour in capitalist society. That it is accepted—and not least by those who suffer most therefrom —is the most pitiful feature of modern life.
F. W. Hawkins

Parliament or Soviet. (1930)

From the August 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Proletarian of America for July, 1930, publishes an article under the above title by John Keracher, which contains a covert attack on our principles and policy. Although our name is not mentioned, our Declaration of Principles is quoted.

The writer opposes our contention that the workers must capture power through parliament, but he carefully abstains from putting forward a course of action himself unless we are to take his blessing of the Paris Commune and the Russian Soviet as his idea of the future course of events.

The article contains alleged statements of Marx and Engels for which, significantly enough, no reference is given. Where, however, reference is given for quotations from Marx and Engels the context of these statements will not bear the interpretation Keracher tries to foist upon them. We will deal with these statements further on.

In a paragraph near the middle of the article Keracher ties himself in a knot and incidentally destroys his case. He writes:
  Then, again, the election of working-class representatives to the parliamentary bodies (local and national), gives the proletariat an opportunity through those representatives, to combat the representatives of Capitalism at close range. Those elected representatives of the workers can take advantage of their prominent position to combat and expose the nature of capitalist legislation , and to speak to the proletariat over the heads, as it were, of their political opponents. To "elect its own representatives in place of the capitalists" is also a means of hampering the capitalists in their "exclusive political sway"; of contesting every measure they bring forth in their own interests, and proposing measures in Parliament that would be a decided advantage to the workers, even while fully realising that the capitalist representatives, in the majority, will not permit their passage.
Good! And when the working class has a majority in Parliament cannot they seize the State power? But Mr. Keracher  is silent, wrapped in contemplation, with his gaze rivetted on Russia—which is thousands of miles away! Perhaps, in his simplicity, he thinks that when the working class have obtained a majority in Parliament  the representatives should disperse to the constituencies and start forming soviets. They certainly cannot start these organisations with any success before —  “the armed forces of the nation” will see to that!

In the effort to show the limitations of Parliament, Keracher, seeking for support from Marx, trots out the quotations we have dealt with over and over again in these columns, and, like other opponents, he omits the significant context. According to Keracher Marx wrote: “The working-class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery and wield it for its own purposes.” The paragraph in The Paris Commune , however, which is the opening paragraph of Chapter 3, runs as follows:
  On the dawn of the18th of March, Paris rose to the thunder-burst of ‘Vive la Commune!’ What is the Commune—that sphinx so tantalising to the bourgeois mind? 
  "The Proletarians of Paris" said the Central Committee in its manifesto of the 18th of March, "amidst the failures and treasons of the ruling classes, have understood that the hour has struck for them to save the situation by taking into their own hands the direction of affairs…. They have understood that it is their imperious duty and absolute right to render themselves masters of their own destinies, by seizing upon the governmental power." But the working-class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”
From the above it will be seen that the phrase referred to the position after the workers had seized governmental power. This is the point our opponents always appear to overlook. The workers must, first of all, obtain control of power; once they have obtained supremacy in the State then they will, as Marx follows on by explaining, re-organise the administration of affairs to meet their needs. In his introduction Engels also makes this position clear: “From the outset the Commune had to recognise that the working class, having once obtained the supremacy in the State, could not work with the old machinery of government.” (Italics ours.)

Keracher, and others like him, are putting the cart before the horse. The quotation from Marx has no bearing upon parliamentary action in the way they seek to use it.

The comparison that is sought to be made between the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik Dictatorship is curious, as the Bolsheviks have done just the opposite to what was proposed by the Communards. The Communards proposed decentralisation of control whereas the Bolsheviks have established a rigid centralisation of control in the hands of a group inside the Russian Communist Party. The Communards made all posts elective and paid all officials the same pay as an ordinary workman. The Bolsheviks have established different grades of pay and the central group appoints the officials. Yet Keracher says:
  It [the political form of the future] must be a commune form, or Soviet form (the better known term since the Russian revolution). The Soviet government is the fully developed Commune; or, as Joseph Stalin expresses it, the Commune was "the Soviet in embryo."
This Russian Soviet that is alleged to be the shadow of our future we have repeatedly shown to be a state where frantic efforts are being made to build up a capitalist industry. We have so often given evidence of this that one illustration must suffice here. In Russia there is a large and growing class of capitalist investors drawing incomes from private trading and from investments in the co-operatives and the Russian State Loans. In 1927, the total share and reserve of capital in the Co-operatives amounted to ninety seven million pounds. In October, 1926, credits borrowed at home and abroad by the Co-operatives amounted to one hundred and eight million roubles. (Soviet Union Year Book, 1928, p.183 and 193). State Loans in Russia are used exclusively for financing industry, and by February, 1930, had reached nearly 300 million pounds. (Review of the Bank of Russian Trade, May, 1930). The interest on these loans averages about 10% What is the difference between this and Western capitalism?

Is this a lopping-off of the worst features of the State- as the Commune did?

Keracher attempts to wave aside a paragraph in our Declaration of Principles on the ground that it is opposed to the phrase from Marx, relating to the laying hold of the ready-made State machinery. After quoting the sixth paragraph in our Declaration of Principles he goes on to say: 
  Marx and Engels, whenever they wrote in relation to the State, took pains to point out that this is just the thing the working-class cannot do. The working-class cannot use "this machinery, including these forces", for the working-class "emancipation and the overthrow of privilege." When writing on the Commune, Marx tells with approval of ‘the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.’ In other words, it was not "this machinery, including these forces" that were to be wielded as an "agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege". The Parliamentary government was to be to be eliminated and replaced by the Commune form of government, with its ‘suppression of the standing army, and the substitution of the armed people.’ Marx eulogises the Commune because it "got rid of the standing army and police." These neo-Marxians are going "to use the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation" (the capitalist government and the standing army and the police) as the "agent of emancipation.’”
If “Marx and Engels wherever they wrote in relation to the State, took pains to point out that this is just” what “the working class cannot do”, it is surely strange that Keracher cannot produce a single quotation to support his view!

Instead he drags out one or two phrases which in their context have nothing to do with the point. We have already quoted the first paragraph of The Paris Commune. The following three paragraphs are devoted to a brief history of the growth of state power in France to the time of the Commune. Then comes the paragraph from which Keracher has torn pieces and fitted them to suit his argument. The paragraph runs as follows:
  Paris, the central seat of the old governmental power, and, at the same time, the social stronghold of the French working-class, had risen in arms against the attempt of Thiers and the Rurals to restore and perpetuate that old governmental power bequeathed to them by the Empire. Paris could resist only because, in consequence of the siege, it had got rid of the army and replaced it by a National Guard, the bulk of which consisted of working-men. This fact was now transformed into an institution. The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.
It wasn’t a case of eliminating “parliamentary government”, but of resisting an attempt to restore an older form of government than the 3rd Empire. Also Marx was not referring to the general question of the suppression of the army, and his “eulogy” consisted of pointing out that as the army had been got rid of and was already replaced by armed workers, the first decree of the Commune very properly as a natural consequence was the “suppression of the standing army and the substitution for it of the armed people.” They took advantage of an accomplished fact.

In England and America, however, the army, etc., has not been got rid of, and the people are not armed. And in view of the powers of government through parliament, we would be interested to learn from him how he proposes getting rid of the army and arming the people.

This misapplied phrase of Marx, however, does not touch our position. Marx said, in effect, that you cannot carry on Socialism with capitalist governmental machinery; that you must transform the government of  one class by another into the administration of social affairs; that between the capitalist society and Socialist society lies a period of transformation during which one after another the political forms of to-day will disappear, but the worst features must be lopped off immediately the working class obtains supremacy in the State. This completely harmonises with the position laid down in our Declaration of Principles.

Mr. Keracher’s peculiar group gives no indication of the way they propose getting rid of the armed force now controlled by the capitalist and they hide their lameness in a cloud of phrases, like the following:
 The Proletarian Party continually labours to organise the workers as a class, to perform a political act, namely, the conquest of political power by the vast majority, and the organising of a State form, such as the Commune of Paris and the Soviet of Russia, with its proletarian dictatorship to coerce and expropriate all expropriators, and to ultimately develop a classless society of free people.
This means, in fact, the organising of another state within the capitalist state.

And we suppose that while all this is going on the capitalists and the force they control, “are just going to stand, hat in hand, and say, ‘Welcome, brothers. It’s all yours!’ ”
Gilmac.

Appeal For Funds. (1930)

From the August 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is no new thing for us to appeal to our readers for donations to assist us in carrying on our work. To those who know the Party it is sufficient to say that our need at the present moment is more pressing than it has been for some considerable time. Our larger Head Office costs us more in rent and other expenses, and we have during the past few years been hit by the decision of the L.C.C. forbidding the sale of literature and the taking up of collections in the parks and commons.

For the benefit of new readers, we would explain that our members are working men and women, and it is no easy matter for them to find the money required for carrying on the Party’s propaganda, the money to print literature, hire halls, and so on. Our expenditure is kept to a minimum, and everything which can be done by the unpaid services of our members in their leisure hours is carried out in that way; the secretarial work, speaking at meetings, writing articles and pamphlets, and all the irksome tasks incidental to the work of the organisation.

Our readers cannot all help us directly by lending a hand in this way, but they can help by providing us with the funds without which even voluntary work cannot be carried on.

Please send your donations to the Treasurer at 42, Great Dover Street, S.E.l.

Corrections. (1930)

From the August 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Editorial in the July issue (column 2, page 168) a line which should have appeared as the eighth line from the top of the column was dropped so that it appeared as the third line in the paragraph below.

On page 167, line 12, the phrase "the natural source of supernatural phenomena" should have read "the natural source of supernatural seemings."

Edinburgh. (1930)

Party News from the August 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Edinburgh Comrades are holding good meetings at the Mound several nights a week. A large part of the time is devoted to answering questions on Socialist policy, in view of the confusion spread here by the I.L.P. and Communist organisations, as well as direct action elements. The decline of Communists is seen in the poorly attended meetings conducted by them in this town, where once they had a large following.

Good sales of literature are being made, considering the uphill work of pushing scientific literature against the sensational and so-called practical rubbish which passes for working class education. All those interested in our work should attend our meetings.

"The Socialist." (1930)

Party News from the August 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

It will not be news to our readers that “prosperity" in the U.S.A. has taken a wrong turning. We regret to have to announce that something has happened much more serious than the ruin of large numbers of gamblers on the New York Stock Exchange. The issue of "The Socialist” has had to be suspended temporarily. The following extract from a letter written by our New York comrades tells its own story :—
  Conditions here are much worse than you read in the papers. More than half our members are unemployed; others had to leave for other parts, crippling us almost mortally. At open-air meetings, where formerly we sold from 12 to 14 dollars’ worth of literature in an evening, we now do well to sell one and a-half dollars’ worth. The workers simply cannot afford to buy.
This is bad news, but not quite so bad as it might have been. “The Socialist" will not disappear. It will be printed, but at intervals which will be irregular for a time until conditions improve.

Readers in Great Britain who have paid their subscriptions through the S.P.G.B. will be supplied with the number of issues for which they have paid, unless we hear from them to the effect that they wish the unexpired part of the subscription returned.


The Forces Making For Socialism. (1930)

From the August 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the June issue, we dealt with Shaw’s reference to Marx’s “dream” of International Socialism. We pointed out that “the very development of capitalism makes Socialism inevitable.” A Manchester correspondent says that our statement is incorrect.

In the original short paragraph we could not explain the full meaning of such a phrase. It has been explained in this journal often, but we will outline the basis of our position.

The economic development of the present economic system produces industrial efficiency and at the same time growing economic insecurity and unemployment. The concentration of wealth into the hands of relatively fewer owners increases the contrast between the workers and the employers. The anarchy of each firm producing as much as possible for the same market leads to continuous over-production under the highly organised producing system of to-day.

Contradictions such as increasing productive power along with increasing misery more and more affect the workers’ minds. When they escape from the confusing ideas of the reformers the workers will organise to take over the industries, etc., and end the discord between social production and private ownership. The working class will rescue society from the chaos which would ensue unless the fruits of industrial evolution were gathered up into a new system, consistent with economic tendencies.

Does our correspondent deny the inevitability of Socialism? If not, what makes Socialism inevitable but just the economic developments of the present system? The same development will drive more and more workers to seek a way out and, therefore, make them willing listeners to the propaganda of Socialism, until under the varying pressure of conditions the mass of the workers are compelled to accept the Socialist policy and organise to win political power to establish the new system.

Economic conditions, it is true, do not alone change class rule. The contest for supremacy is a struggle between classes. But the development of economic conditions drives the subject class to struggle to establish a new system.

The development of capitalism makes Socialism inevitable, because while the material conditions are ripening, the working class are being matured for their emancipation.
C.

Marxist guide (1997)

Book Review from the August 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx: A Clear Guide by Edward Reiss (Pluto Press, 1997)

Reading Marx for the first time has always been something of a problem. Even with his more popular works, such as Value, Price and Profit (also found under the title Wages, Price and Profit), an understanding of its historical context and related arguments is helpful in making sense of what he was saying. This prospect is daunting for most newcomers. The Socialist Party has usually recommended reading the Old Man himself because commentators often have an ideological axe to grind, particularly Leninist ones. So it comes as a pleasant relief to read an introduction to Marx and his work that is generally clear and reliable.

Reiss organises his book into chapters on alienation, history, class, politics, socialism, ideology, philosophy, economics, gender, colonialism and religion. Included are chapters on the lives of Marx and Engels, with a couple of chapters assessing their work, and each chapter ends with a list of questions for the reader to take the analysis further.

There is much that is excellent. Socialism is "a society of common ownership and production for use: or an end to the exchange economy (buying and selling), classes and the state". However, this is a "warts-and-all" account of Marx and his ideas, with all the errors and inconsistencies of a mere mortal. And of course there are some views of Marx which the Socialist Party does not accept. That said, it is to be regretted that Reiss follows conventional academic practice (he is a lecturer at the University of Bradford) in rubbishing Marx’s theory of value. "The whole notion of value as a fundamental unit of analysis is mistaken." writes Reiss, because it is "an idea which corresponds only roughly to the actual prices of real things." This assumes that it was Marx's intention to provide a theory of price rather than a theory of exploitation. Reiss appears to realise that this was not the case, but argues that Marx's approach to exploitation is untenable in any case:
  “In an important sense, people know in on immediate, practical way when exploitation is happening. It does not then need to be ‘proved' in an abstract way. Indeed the abstraction may complicate and confuse what would otherwise be a straightforward, direct and felt realisation that exploitation is occurring. The danger is that in trying to make the concept more precise, you end up making it more convoluted.”
The danger of overcomplicating things is very real. But so is the danger of oversimplifying things to the point of being false. Marx did not simply equate exploitation with low pay, as Reiss does when he gives the example of Thai workers earning 16 pence an hour for producing Nike footwear. Many socialists will testify that workers in such situations more often than not want to end their exploitation by getting "a fair day's pay for fair day’s work". On the other hand, too many workers with average and above average incomes do not regard themselves as exploited. It is precisely to avoid reaching such complacent and dangerous conclusions that Marx's theory of value is so important. It is a theory which abstracts from the real lives of workers and reveals the underlying mechanism of exploitation, a mechanism which is not always noticeable in our everyday experience. Marx's analysis showed how, under feudalism, the distinction between "necessary" and “surplus" labour is, according to Reiss, "glaringly obvious". The time peasants spend on their own patch is "necessary labour"; and the days toiling on the baron's estate "surplus labour":
  “Under capitalism the distinction is not so apparent. When workers get their wage packet or salary, it is not clear how much corresponds to ‘necessary' labour and how much is ‘surplus labour, but, according to Marx, even if the distinction is invisible, it is still important.”
Indeed it is. Surplus labour (or surplus value: rent, interest, profit and taxes) fuels the entire capitalist world economy. No other theory comes close to satisfactorily explaining the social accumulation of capital, the vast personal fortunes of a few and the sheer drudgery of most workers’ lives.

This criticism should not deter even those who have read Marx, for this is an honest, thoughtful and at times provocative study of Marx and Marxism. It is highly recommended.
Lew Higgins

Nationalist nonsense exposed (2000)

Book Review from the August 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Origins of Scottish Nationhood by Neil Davidson. Pluto Press 2000.

This book’s thesis is that Scotland as a nation-state does not stretch back into the very deepest dawn of time and only came into existence with the advent of the Union with England, and the rise to dominance of a Scottish capitalist class. As such it presents a fundamental challenge, from a Marxian perspective, to the totems and myths of the Scottish nationalists and their intellectual cheerleaders.

Davidson gives a clear account of the way in which Scotland did not come to the same situation of having a national absolutist government that England did (starting with Henry VIII), and thus entered the union as the junior partner, creating most of the national institutions (law, education and Kirk) that are traditionally listed as the reasons for Scotland’s “continued national identity”. Further, he demonstrates that the real divide was within Scotland, between Lowlanders and Highlanders, as the lowlands developed an urbanised élite. The idea that Scotland was a colonial subaltern of England also comes under withering assault, as Davidson shows how Scotland was not just a willing partner, but also a major force in promoting the British empire; and how the experience of Empire further helped shape Scotland as a “national identity”.

As such the book serves a worthy enough purpose, and on one level it achieves most of its ends; however its assiduity and worthiness is undermined by a number of failings. The book has a disturbing tendency towards arguing by assertion: in a discussion of the Declaration of Arbroath, Davidson simply says that its authors had a different meaning when they used the word nation (i.e. as a people/race) from the meaning it has in modern discourse. Considering this point was so important to the book’s case, this constitutes a serious weakness.

Quite often the theoretical expositions fail to adequately express their own application. Davidson’s definition of a nation simply as an “imaginary community” does not capture any notion of the relationship between nation and class interests, nor of its relationship to power. Yet, in his historical analysis, he often refers to national consciousness almost entirely in terms of it being the consciousness of the rising Scottish capitalist class. At other times this concept of national identity being tied to élite consciousness becomes confused, as when he attempts to engage with the arguments of contemporary Nationalists and tries to disprove mass consciousness of nationhood.

The desire to engage with the Nationalists further leads Davidson to make some elementary errors in analysis—in assessing the core/periphery thesis regarding Scotland and England he ends up reifying these supposed imaginary communities in order to show how an aggregate Scotland compares strongly with an aggregate England, none of which takes into account the unevenness within both territorial units, and the core/periphery relationships of provinces to the metropoles within each. In engaging closely with the Nationalists’ nonsense he accepts their flawed presuppositions in order to disprove the conclusions they base upon them.

A central theoretical point of the book is to make a distinction between nationalism and national consciousness—the former being a politics based upon national aims/structures, the latter simply being the knowledge of a common nationality. This distinction seems weak, since any dominant form of consciousness must surely find expression in social being. Thus if people denote their consciousness of subjectivity in terms of nationhood, then, surely, their politics will necessarily be guided by such national consciousness.

None of this, however, stops the book being right at a basic level, rather, it merely makes it weak for use in polemical terms. It often makes excellent points that expose the nonsense nationalists talk, and it builds a very strong case about the historical origins of the birth of “the Scottish nation”. This book is useful, in the main then, as a part of a much wider reading of the subject.
Pik Smeet