Friday, March 5, 2021

Why unemployment? (1985)

From the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Britain today over three million workers — 12.6 per cent of the working population — are officially unemployed. If those not claiming benefits or registering as unemployed are added to that figure we can safely say that the number of unemployed is well in excess of four million — and rising. Forty per cent of the officially unemployed are under the age of twenty-five and 400,000 are classified as being long-term unemployed, in some cases having had no full-time job between leaving school and their mid-twenties. It was estimated in 1984 that one in two people leaving school in London last July would not have a job by the end of the year — and in some areas the problem is far worse. It is not only in "Thatcher's Britain" that millions are out of work: in the USA nearly ten million are on the official unemployment scrapheap and in the EEC countries the figure is fifty-five million and rising by the month.

The statistics do not tell the full story of what unemployment does to workers. When a young worker comes out of school, trained for work and wanting to express his or her talents, what can be more frustrating than to be told that there is nothing but the boredom of the dole queue? If they are lucky, then after writing many — sometimes hundreds — of letters they might end up in a low-paid, dead-end job. It's what they call "getting experience". Or they might be placed on one of the government's youth exploitation schemes, where profits for the bosses can be supplemented by exploiting the desperate position of the young unemployed. What about the workers in their late forties and fifties who have worked for years on the same job and are told that they are no longer needed by the boss? Skilled as they may be. workers losing their jobs in many occupations will stand little chance of ever being employed again if they are over fifty. What does that do to a person's confidence? Is it any surprise that heroin addiction has increased rapidly in recent years in the areas of mass urban unemployment? Is it any surprise that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of unemployed workers who are ending their own lives? What a tragic and disgusting waste! Workers have a right to be angry about an economy which is inflicting unemployment on those who need and want to work.

If we are to eradicate a problem we must discover its cause. This is the first principle of science and, as scientific socialists, we must ask why unemployment exists. Why are men and women who are fit and eager to work and have diverse talents which are needed by a society full of human deprivation excluded from the labour process?

The reason is that under capitalism people's ability to work — labour power — possesses the status of a commodity; it is an item of purchase, to be sold on the market to the highest bidder. There is a crucial difference between work (the expenditure of labour power) and employment (the sale of labour power). To work all that we need is a desire to use energy, and we all need to do that. But to sell labour power for a price, referred to as a wage or a salary, requires a buyer who will find it in his or her interest to make the purchase. The employer of labour power is concerned with purchase on a purely economic basis: the employer buying labour power is like the farmer buying a horse — the farmer does not go to the horse market in order to provide a home for the horses and the capitalist does not go to the labour market in order to pay our rent. Workers are employed when the capitalists can gain from our labour power. Workers have no choice, within capitalism, but to sell labour power so that the capitalist may exploit it. We are often told — and it is theoretically true — that we are free not to work for the capitalists if we so decide. It is the freedom to exist in destitution.

The capitalist employs the worker to make commodities which can be sold on the market. Anything from bombs to boots are legitimate items for labour power to be set to work on, but one economic law of capitalism is that there will be no production unless the capitalist has reasonable expectation of a profit. Production is for sale and profit, not simply to satisfy human needs. In buying the commodity labour power the object of the capitalist is not simply to reproduce the price he has paid for it. but to exploit labour power so that it will produce a value over and above its own. The profits obtained by the capitalist class are the result of the legalised robbery of the working class. So workers who are "lucky" enough to be employed are not being given a wage by the capitalist — they are giving an unearned income to the capitalist who must then pay the cost of keeping alive the goose that lays the golden egg.

But why are millions unemployed? Surely, if the capitalists can make a profit out of exploiting labour power they will employ everyone. Indeed, this is what the capitalist class would like, and that is why they are in favour of full employment. To suggest that unemployment is caused by the capitalist wanting it is to misunderstand the nature of the capitalist system.

The trouble with capitalism — from the angle of those who want to run and reform it — is that the market is out of control. When the market is expanding the capitalists can sell more commodities, profits rise and there is a market demand for labour power. When markets are not expanding, but stagnating or contracting, then capitalists' profits fall and less labour power is needed. Economists are the intellectual vandals who are hired to watch the market and tell the capitalists whether to expand production, which ultimately means employing more producers, or to cut back on production, which means forcing workers to be unproductive: unemployment. So, if workers produce so much wealth that the markets are glutted it is necessary to lay them off. So much for the theory that unemployment is caused by laziness: in a sense, it is caused by workers producing too much. Of course, "too much" means more than the market will take, not more than people need. Thus, we have a world crisis of milk over-production at present while babies in Africa are dying for want of milk. This is the economic logic of capitalism.

So we can say that unemployment is caused by the fact that there are more workers on the market than are needed by the exploiting class in order to make profits. This can be shown by example: in 1983 the pre-tax profits of ICI more than doubled — from £259 million to £619 million. In order to achieve increased profits during a period of market recession ICI had to cut its workforce by 18 per cent (since 1980). In all, 25,000 ICI employees lost their jobs so that profits could be doubled. Similarly, the Delta Group increased its pre-tax profits in 1983 from £14 million to £32 million. In order to achieve this they had to cut their workforce by one third so that, although they have only had a 6 per cent increase in sales in 1980. sales per worker have increased by 57 per cent. They are paying out less money (in paying the price of labour power) and so receiving more profits. Other firms are not increasing their profits, but are still having to cut the workforce just to stay in business. And the record number of firms which went bankrupt in 1984 (under a government which claimed to serve business) put hundreds of thousands out of jobs.

Unlike all the other political parties, which seek to reform capitalism, the Socialist Party does not propose any policy to create full employment or to reduce unemployment. We agree with Thatcher and her horrible mates that this is the only way capitalism can be run and that there are no remedies to unemployment. Keynesian kidders like Kinnock and Benn might claim that printing more money will create more jobs, but Keynesian policies have been tried and failed by both Tory and Labour governments which presided over rising unemployment. The Socialist Party is unique in pointing out that there is no way to run capitalism but in the interest of the rich, privileged scroungers who live off the back of the working class. We tell workers this in an open and rational way, refusing to make promises which cannot be kept.

In 1983 the top thirty-five companies in Britain increased their profits by 42.3 per cent. The rich do not suffer in the recession, but do their best to ensure that the workers pay the cost of the market malady. One part of that cost is that our class is forced into the dole queue so that the bosses can profit from the production of wealth.

Let us dispose of the fallacy that unemployment is caused by immigration; it will not take long. In 1979 195,000 immigrants entered Britain and 189.000 emigrated. In short, 6,000 more entered than left. By 1980 the trend was reversed: in that year 174,000 entered and 229,000 left. In 1982 202,000 entered and 253,000 left. If immigration causes unemployment, then why has unemployment increased as the number of people emigrating from Britain has increasingly exceeded the number entering? We might also ask any proponent of the theory why it is that Glasgow and Northern Ireland, two areas of the UK with the lowest number of black immigrants, are areas with the highest unemployment. Clearly, the argument that immigration causes unemployment is a fallacy, spread by those who seek to divide the working class and accepted by wage slaves who are foolishly blaming other wage slaves for their condition.

The starting-point of any understanding of how unemployment can be eradicated is a recognition of the fact that it is an inevitable feature of capitalism. So, if we want to end unemployment we must put an end to the capitalist system. This means abolishing employment, because there is only unemployment where there is a social system in which labour power is sold.

In the socialist society which the Socialist Party advocates as an immediate, practical alternative to the chaos of the present there will be no classes. All people will work for society according to their ability, doing so in a voluntary way, and they will be able to take freely from the common store of goods and services. Wage labour will cease to exist; we will work so that society can operate for the full satisfaction of human needs. In a society of production for use no person will be forced not to work; we will need the talents and creative energies of all people to ensure that the abundant resources of the planet can be utilised for the benefit of all. Co-operation will be the driving force of socialism, and by conscious co-operation we workers, whether employed or unemployed. can unite now to organise politically for the real socialist alternative. The so-called right to work under capitalism amounts to no more than the miserable right to be exploited — a "right" which workers do not have and should not want. Let us instead demand and achieve the revolutionary right to live.
Steve Coleman

Blue bloods for progress? (1985)

From the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many noble eyebrows must have arched in astonishment and indignation, when the House of Lords was congratulated by Red Ken Livingstone's County Hall on their resistance to the government over the abolition of the GLC. This uneasy alliance between blue blood and left wing bogeys was another example of the Lords' changing reputation, from a home for senile aristocrats to a crucible of incisive debate and defence of democratic freedoms. Whether this reputation is deserved or not, the Lords press on; now they have dared to experiment with live TV coverage. Perhaps we shall have a show to rival Game For A Laugh, with a more elegant set and rather wealthier — if more menacing — participants.

The reputation which the Lords seem to be trying to lose, for obstinately refusing to recognise the times. let alone move with them, was set hard in a century of battles with the Other Place, sometimes known as the Lower House or the House of Commons. Joseph Chamberlain in 1884 responded to their obstruction of the Reform Bill with the unoriginal sneer that the Lords represented a class "who toil not. neither do they spin" (he was probably meaning to be offensive). In 1910, at the height of the Asquith government's long crisis over parliamentary power, Lloyd George described the peers as "descended partly from plunderers who came over with William the Conqueror and partly from plunderers of the poor at the Reformation" (he was in favour only of plunderers of the more modern kind).

The Lords have always defended themselves, apparently against the odds, on two main grounds. Firstly, they have asserted that their privileged standing in parliament, free of the need to campaign for the votes of the lower class, enabled them to be more objective and independent; secondly they have been sure that as a vetting chamber they do a much better job than the Commons anyway. Lord Salisbury, speaking in 1907. claimed that the hereditary principle had the merit of "trusting a man because of his sense of public duty", which was like arguing that a few people are rich because they are worthy, and worthy because they are rich. In 1910 Lord Cawdor, referring to some of the issues at dispute between the Lords and the Liberal government, said that the former were the closer to the people's will on Home Rule for Ireland, the Licensing Bill, the Education Bill and the Budget.

Cawdor was speaking at the time of the most important clash between the two Houses, which ended in victory for the Commons when the Parliament Bill of 1911 was pushed through (in theory the Lords could have blocked it) on the threat to ensure its passage by the mass creation of Liberal peers. (When it was all over and the Bill had become law the king, obviously exhausted by the prospect of all those ennobling ceremonies, rushed off to holiday in Yorkshire.) The 1911 Act cut the Lords' power to delay a Bill to a maximum of two years and less in the case of finance Bills. That remained the situation until 1949 when the Attlee government, to ensure the passage of measures like steel nationalisation, pushed through another Parliament Act which reduced the delaying power to nine months. That government, in the overall interests of the British capitalist class, planned a lot of state ownership and they could not tolerate any obstruction by the Lords. Their case was much the same as Lord Roseberry's. in a letter to Queen Victoria in 1894:
  When the Conservative Party is in power, there is practically no House of Lords: it takes whatever the Conservative Government brings it from the House of Commons without question or dispute: but the moment a Liberal Government is formed, this harmless body assumes an active life. and its activity is entirely exercised in opposition to the Government . . .
The Lords' image as a bunch of diehard, crusty Tory backwoodsmen who would travel up from the slaughter of the grouse moors to kill off the policies of a popularly elected government, was potent ammunition for their opponents. Persistent criticism on these lines undermined their own confidence in their superfluous function; clearly. British capitalism could do without the House of Lords. There was irresistible pressure for reform, if not for abolition. The only chance of this happening seemed to be in the Labour Party, which had once stood clearly for abolition but had since then failed to make it a priority in their election programmes. The more impressionable Labour supporters were quite excited by the prospect of abolition, regarding this, in the face of all the evidence about the nature of capitalism in those countries without an hereditary second chamber, as a step towards socialism But as usual the reformists were disappointed; when Labour was in office they did not get rid of the Lords but helped to keep it alive with regular infusions of new blood.

In fact, both the recent significant reform measures have been the work of Conservative governments. The Life Peerages Act of 1958 introduced life peers — and. for the first time, peeresses — so that the Lords became infested with retired trade unionists, business people, university dons and media personalities. A few years later, after a long campaign by Tony Benn, the Peerages Act of 1963 allowed hereditary peers to disclaim their title. It was never quite clear how Benn could represent this as a step towards socialism even if it was a step forward in his political ambitions. It also came in the nick of time to help two prominent Tories Lords Home and Hailsham — in their bid to win the party leadership and so to succeed Harold Macmillan as Prime Minister. Unlike Benn. these two were not opposed to the hereditary principle. When it suited them, they took their title again and now sit again in the Lords. Home inclined wearily beside the frail form of Lord Stockton and Hailsham slumped pompously on the Woolsack.

These two Acts also did a lot to avert the abolition of the House of Lords which was a great boost to their lordships' battered morale. Nowadays there is no certainty that the Lords will tamely fall in with the Conservative line. Instead, the House is populated with bodily testimonies to the impotence and confusion of the men and women who have tried to control and modify the capitalist system. There sit. or have sat. so called economic experts like Balogh and Kaldor, who bore so much responsibility for the economic policies of the first Wilson government — as well as Lord George Brown, who so enthusiastically and rashly took on the job of showing how futile those policies were. Who now, apart perhaps from someone writing their thesis on Great Confidence Tricks Of Our Time, remembers the Department of Economic Affairs and what it promised to do for us? There sits the centurion Lord Shinwell. who travelled politically from pacifism to being Minister of War. but whose opinions are nevertheless listened to with awe. There also can be seen Lord Thorneycroft, one of the monuments to the Age of Supermac, who resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer because he thought we were having it too good and that government spending should be cut. Somewhere on the Labour benches rests ex-TUC chief Len Murray, exhausted by his adoption of something called the New Realism, which was actually no more than an appreciation of the fact that there is a slump on and that it will weaken the unions' bargaining power.

Exposing themselves to the TV cameras is likely to do the Lords no harm. Indeed, it has already given a lot of publicity to Stockton's patronising of the miners and to Scarman's call for a Bill of Rights (people who have already been denied their "rights" in police cells and prisons will wonder what difference another law will make). Parliament has always needed the media, whatever form it takes, but it has always tried to control how and when the media reported on it. The objections to live TV reporting were the same as those used against radio and. a long time before, against the presence of newspaper reporters. Such publicity, it was said, would encourage demagogic speeches aimed at a wider audience outside, it would lead to ministers taking up too much debating time, it would reduce spontaneity and emphasise the theatrical elements of parliament at the expense of the workaday. These objections were usually put most strongly by those members who feared that they would fail to get into the limelight; as far back as the 1950s slick parliamentary performers like Ian Macleod. Jo Grimond and Aneurin Bevan were in favour of allowing the TV cameras into the Commons.

Parliament's readiness to compromise with the media has been ensured by the Members' need to win votes for their party. It was in the late 19th century that the parliamentary timetable, which had hitherto been set by seedtime and the harvest, began to take account of the requirements of the press. This was encouraged by the rise of the popular newspapers (the Daily Mail was launched, as a halfpenny newspaper, in 1896) and the decline of the morning provincial papers (between 1900 and 1940 their numbers fell from 52 to 25). In 1850 a separate press gallery was first set aside. In 1902 Arthur Balfour, conceding that "We must arrange our proceedings. I presume, so that they may be reported in the newspapers that have currency all over the country", brought Question Time in the Commons forward so as to meet press deadlines.

The result of the publicity has to some extent been as predicted. The parliamentary exhibitionists, the specialists in newsworthy subjects and the headline-conscious Members have been encouraged at the expense of the heavy, soporific speechmakers. It has also, more crucially, given an opportunity to the listeners and the viewers, who have the power of the vote at their disposal, to see how the people they vote for do the job of running capitalism. The voters can now witness. as it happens, all the sound and fury of Neil Kinnock shadow boxing with Margaret Thatcher over some trivial difference in their policies for British capitalism. They can view the political cast-offs in the House of Lords reviewing the state of British capitalism as if their own failure to operate the system in the interests of the mass of people had never happened. They can watch mature people playing games in archaic dress, except that they should beware that behind this seeming tomfoolery lurks the awesome power of the state machine.

There can be no doubt that it is progressive and encouraging, that workers should be able to observe all of this. The important thing is how they absorb it — and how they interpret what they absorb. Will they conclude that titles and rituals are of little account; what matters is that it is by the overwhelming preference of the working class that the power to monopolise the means of life is given to a small parasitic elite? Will they see it as further evidence of the decadence of capitalism and of the urgent need to act on the issue of who controls the state machine and for what purpose? Or will they miss the whole point and regard it all as just another soap opera, even if it is one which they can't switch off when they've had enough?

How many die of famine? (1985)

From the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are two short answers to this question. One is that we don't know and the other that it depends what you mean by "die of starvation".

Obviously in those parts of the world affected by hunger the last thing doctors and government officials do is fill in death certificates setting out the cause of death, and even if they did there would be no guarantee that they would be using the same criteria from country to country. So we are dealing here not with accurate information but with informed guesses based on what statistical evidence there is.

The word "starve" in English has two meanings: it can either mean to die from lack of food or it can mean to suffer from lack of food. An ambiguity can easily arise here: when we say someone dies from lack of food, do we mean that they literally die from not eating (as Bobby Sands and other hunger strikers did) or that they died as a result of some disease from which they might not have died had they not been suffering from lack of food? Clearly the figures for the former are going to be much lower than those for the latter.

Some absurd figures
In the course of the 1981 presidential election campaign in France, Mitterrand went on record as saying that "50 million human beings die from hunger each year" (La Croix, 18 May 1981). It is not too clear how this figure got into circulation but it came to be widely quoted by charitable organisations in France. It was not until a year later that an expert in the field. Professor Joseph Klatzmann of the Institut National Agronomique in Paris, showed how absurd this figure was by pointing out that the total world deaths in 1981 were about 48 million (Le Monde, 24 March 1982)! This refutation of the claim of 50 million deaths from hunger was also incorporated in the second edition of his book Nourrir Dix Milliards d'Hommes? ("Can Ten Thousand Million People Be Fed?") published in 1983. in which he argued that using existing agricultural techniques world food production could be increased two or three times so as to be able adequately to feed every single man. woman and child on the planet and if necessary more, up to the 10.000 million mentioned in the title of his book. So Klatzmann is no defender of the existing capitalist status quo where millions suffer unnecessarily from hunger and malnutrition.

On 5 August 1981 the Guardian claimed in its Third World Review that:
  Every year 30 million people die of hunger, more than half of them children under five.
  Every year 780 million people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
  By the end of this decade these figures will have doubled.
At first sight this seems more reasonable since the number of deaths claimed to be due to hunger is at least less than the total number of deaths from all causes. But on closer examination it too turns out to be absurd.

If 30 million of the 50 million deaths in 1980 were due to hunger this would leave only 20 million for deaths from other causes. If this figure of 30 million deaths from hunger were true, it is logical to assume that all these deaths would have occurred among the 780 million suffering from hunger and malnutrition (the one figure quoted here by the Guardian not open to challenge, if anything it is probably on the low side). If we also assume that the death rate among the remaining 3,650 million of the then total world population of 4,430 million was the same as that in the developed countries — about 9 per 1,000 — this would mean that 33 million would have died in 1980 from causes other than hunger. But this is more than 20 million, so the figure of 30 million can't be right.

As to the claim that by 1990 the number of deaths from hunger will have doubled to 60 million, this is just as absurd as the 50 million figure mentioned earlier, since it too is higher than current estimates for all deaths in the world in 1990.

The basic figures
All estimates of the number of deaths in the world are derived from figures published regularly by the United Nations. These are prepared on the basis of national population statistics. The latest set of figures was published in 1982 under the title World Population Prospects as Assessed in 1980. The following Table has been prepared from the statistics given in this document :

This table shows:
  1. That world population in 1980 was estimated at being 4,430 million.
  2. That about a quarter of the world's population live in the developed countries, defined as being Europe, North America, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the USSR.
  3. That the number of deaths in the world in 1980 was estimated as being 50.5 million, about 40 million of which occurred among the three-quarters of the world's population living in the underdeveloped countries.
  4. That nearly 15 million children under ten years of age died in 1980, all but about 300,000 of them in the underdeveloped countries.
Interpreting the figures
The first point to notice is that the figures often quoted by UNICEF (UN Childrens Fund) of 40,000 young children dying a day in the world is correct (40,000 X 365 = 14.6 million). But it should be noted that the Executive Director of UNICEF. James P. Grant, when he first launched this figure in the early 1980s, did not attribute all these deaths to hunger alone. What he actually said was:
  every day of this last year more than 40,000 young children have died from malnutrition and infection (The State of the World's Children 1982-3. UNICEF, quoted in Hunger Project Handout "The "Other" UN", p.5).
So Grant was not saying that 40,000 children die a day from inanition, from not consuming enough food to keep them alive. Most of them died from parasitic or infectious diseases of one kind or another which is what you'd expect in fact, since children under ten don't die from natural causes — but he did strongly argue that the spread of these diseases and their effect were made easier and more devastating by the fact that nearly all the children were already suffering from malnutrition in one form or another.

Thus the claim is that 40,000 children a day die from the combined effects of malnutrition and disease. In this form, and only in this form, is the claim correct. If the "and disease" is omitted then it becomes misleading as this would suggest that 40,000 children die a day simply from lack of food — which, factually is just not the case. This clarification allows us to see how a claim such as the Guardian's "every year 30 million people die of hunger" could have got into circulation. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), most people in the underdeveloped countries die of diseases related to inadequate water and sanitation. Thus Susan George in her excellent How The Other Half Dies (first published in 1976) writes that
  in the Third World 70 per cent of the people die of parasitic or infectious disease for which hunger provides the favourable terrain (Penguin edition, p.32).
On the basis of estimated population and death trends in the mid-70s when George was writing her book, this would mean that there were then about 25 million deaths in the underdeveloped countries attributable to these diseases. It is easy to see how somebody eager to do something about world hunger, sincere but not too careful about statistics, could turn George's carefully-worded statement into a full-blown claim that 30 million people actually starve to death each year. George herself makes no such claim and is considerably more cautious. In her introduction (in a passage which is also quoted on the back cover of the book) she writes:
  If it takes you six hours to read this book, somewhere in the world 2.500 people will have died of starvation or of hunger-related illness by the time you finish.
This is equivalent to 10,000 deaths a day. or 3.65 million a year, from "starvation and hunger-related illness"; which is a much more defendable figure for the number of people who die because they literally do not have enough to eat, together with those who die from protein or vitamin deficiency diseases like kwashiorkor and beri-beri (as opposed to the parasitic and infectious diseases mentioned earlier).

People do die of starvation (inanition) in the world today (under capitalism there is always a famine somewhere in the world — last year it was North-East Brazil, this year it is Ethiopia) but nowhere near 30 million. To quote such a demonstrably exaggerated figure is to weaken the credibility of those who do so, and is quite unnecessary since the case against capitalism on this question is strong enough without exaggerating. The knowledge, resources and machines exist to provide enough food for every single human being on the planet yet capitalism, because of its property and profit basis, does not allow this to happen, so condemning millions to malnutrition and diseases and. as we shall now see, to preventable death.

Preventable deaths
The second point that emerges from the basic figures is that, if the same health standards (clean running water, vaccinations, regular medical care) applied in the underdeveloped countries as in the developed countries, then the number of world deaths would be considerably less than they are. Since, from a technological point of view, it is possible both to produce enough food to eliminate malnutrition in the world and to provide adequate water supplies and health care for every man. woman and child on the planet, these deaths can objectively be regarded as being "preventable". They are deaths that can be laid at the door of capitalism in the sense that if society were geared to catering for human needs (as it would be in socialism) they would not happen.

How many such "preventable" deaths can there be each year? A very simple calculation allows us to estimate a minimum figure. As the Table shows, the death rate in the developed countries is 9.4 per thousand while in the underdeveloped countries it is 12.1 per thousand. If the death rate were 9.4 per thousand throughout the world then only 41 million would have died in 1980 compared with the 50 million who are estimated to have died that year.

But this difference of nine million is, as we have said, only the minimum figure for preventable deaths. The death rate depends not only on health and sanitation standards but also on the age structure of the population. Since the population of the underdeveloped countries is on average younger than that of the developed countries the death rate, if the developed countries' health and sanitation standards prevailed throughout the world, would have been lower than 9.4 per thousand. Calculations based on the figures in the 1982 UN population report referred to above suggest that it would have been between six and seven per thousand. This would mean that world deaths in 1980 would have been as low as 32 million. In other words, that preventable deaths will be of the order of 17 or 18 million a year.

A closer examination of the figures show that most of these preventable deaths are those of young children. If the death rate for children under five and for children under ten had been the same in the underdeveloped countries as in the developed countries. then 10 million children under five and 13.5 million under ten (including the under fives) would not have died.

We can now estimate how many people died in 1980, not "from hunger", but from a combination of malnutrition and parasitic and infectious diseases caused by the conditions under which capitalism forces over half mankind to live: about 17 million, of which about 13 million were children under ten.

A final word of warning. This estimate refers to the year 1980 while the basic statistics on which it was based change as the years go by (for instance, the world population is going up and the world death rate going down). In time then these figures will need to be revised, upwards or downwards, in the light of new statistical evidence.
Adam Buick

Obituary: Gordon Beeson (1985)

Obituary from the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Members heard with regret of the death of Comrade Gordon Beeson at the age of 85. who spent a long life working hard and enthusiastically propagating socialism. He joined the Party in 1931 and was a member of Kingston Branch, transferring to Ealing, later West London Branch in the 1950s.

Living in New Malden. Surrey, he was rarely seen at Branch or Party meetings but worked indefatigably in the area of his home. Until recently, when ill-health restricted his activities he undertook literature drives and regularly held meetings. He sold the Standard for many years in New Malden High Street where he and his wife Edna were well known for their work for socialism

We all extend our sympathies to his wife and family.
West London Branch

Telegraph gets it wrong (1985)

From the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Daily Telegraph ran a two-day feature last January putting forward a "cure" for unemployment. This wasn't promoted with quite the same vigour as bingo in the Sun or Mirror, but within the constraints imposed by its upper class image the Telegraph mounted a reasonable advertising campaign. The views expressed were scarcely of working-class origin, yet they are held quite widely, by workers as well as capitalists. So in offering a critique of what the Telegraph says we are in fact examining misconceptions. for it became clear after only a few lines that these articles were not going to live up to their billing, despite the 23 "experts" consulted by the three staff members who did the actual writing. An editorial in the issue of 29 January stated: "While Western Europe as a whole has succumbed to the disease known as 'Eurosclerosis', the United Kingdom has consistently done worse than its near neighbours in terms of either unemployment or inflation and for most of the 1970s in both at the same time".

The inflation question did not figure in the advance publicity and its inclusion hints that the paper's real concern is not unemployment but regret that the British capitalist economy appears to it to have lost out to its competitors over recent years. In such circumstances we can expect unemployment here to rise more sharply than elsewhere. We therefore need not be surprised to find that the solution offered (eight specific proposals were put forward) are designed to increase UK competitiveness in the hope of regaining lost markets. Even if successful in this (and to accept even this would be an act of faith) the most to be expected is a slight decrease in British unemployment at the expense of a corresponding rise elsewhere. This is no gain; the total unemployment problem has not diminished one iota. The gainers are those capitalists able to resume operations.

Reluctantly the Telegraph editorial did at least acknowledge that unemployment is currently endemic across Europe. But the use of the term "Eurosclerosis" indicates that they have not appreciated the worldwide character of the present slump. Despite overwhelming evidence, nowhere is the existence of a similar problem in America noted and part of the presentation of the 29 January entitled US Experience of Employment exaggerated minor differences between American and British economies almost to the point of suggesting that the former had "cracked it”. Similar notions were expressed by the ageing Earl of Stockton in the first televised Lords debate. These were in no way the product of his ninety-plus years for Harold Macmillan was just as confused in his economic thinking when he was in his prime as Supermac.

A further interesting Telegraph comment was that "Many people view unemployment as akin to a natural disaster — we are unwilling to accept the pessimism — unemployment. like inflation is a soluble problem". On the first point, no doubt many workers believe that unemployment is here to stay but it is barefaced cheek for the Telegraph to talk like this. From the end of World War II right up until the current recession was well developed, the Telegraph, and all of Fleet Street, supported by a host of economic "experts", told us almost daily that the “bad old days" were gone, that unemployment was a thing of the past and that we must change our ideas accordingly. Militant trade unionists were told to forget their old "class war shibboleths" and unite with the capitalist enemy to build a new paradise of prosperity, class co-operation and peace. Even in 1985, when the flimsy premises of these arguments have long since been destroyed this claptrap can still be heard and has perhaps had some success in discrediting sound ideas by branding them as out of date.

In saying "unemployment, like inflation, is a soluble problem", however, the Telegraph is right even if for entirely the wrong reasons. Unemployment is soluble, but only by abolishing the capitalist system which spawns it. Under capitalism labour power will be utilised only if more can be extracted from it than is paid out in wages — in Marxist economic terms if the surplus value embodied in the finished product can be converted to actual profit through sale. In contrast the Telegraph has found itself unable even to recognise, let alone tackle, the world wide unemployment problem. Inflation, although also a problem of capitalism — or at least of money economies is different. Inflation is caused by governments increasing the supply of inconvertible paper money (in earlier times debasing the coinage served the same end) without a corresponding change in the total value of the goods in the economy. The remedy is therefore to cease this practice, as has been done successfully on a number of occasions (one was by Lloyd George in 1919-20). The Telegraph however propagates the fairly common myth that there is a relationship between unemployment and inflation, claiming that there is a "natural rate" of unemployment which was at the 200,000-300,000 level in the 1950s and 1960s but has risen significantly since because
  welfare benefits increased by 30 per cent in real terms and the labour market rigidified under the influence of incomes policies and increasing union power.
Here the Telegraph in effect says that if unemployment is below a certain level workers are more easily able to increase real pay. This is of course often the case. However they come close to admitting that when this situation arises governments often react by deliberately increasing inflation in order to steal back these gains through higher prices. This is certainly a plausible explanation of the inflationary policies pursued by many governments, particularly since the last world war, although it is not the sole motivation. Here the reduction of real wages emerges as the main plank in the Telegraph's "solution", the argument being that if wages and other costs were lower employers would see more potential profit in expanding production. The example of America is cited, where real wages have been falling for some time and unemployment has fallen slightly. However the net effect is small, especially remembering the falling standards of those in work.

Clearly we cannot expect any sensible analysis to come from such sources, but for the record here are the Telegraph's eight suggestions. We have heard such ideas many times before and expect to hear them a few times yet. possibly as part of the 1985 Budget Speech.
  1. Cutting the tax on jobs. This is merely cosmetic and very old hat.
  2. Easing the Unemployment Trap. The unemployment trap means situations where the going rate is so low that the worker is nearly as well off on the dole. As the idea is to reduce real wages there are no prizes for guessing that the suggestion here is to cut "benefits". To a large extent this proposal is post-dated, as the authors themselves point out that benefits have been cut since 1979 so that the "trap" is much less common nowadays than in the 1950s or 1960s.
  3. No Penalties for Part-Time Work. Yet another way to shove wages down. The idea here is to encourage the jobless to take cut rate part-time work to the disadvantage of those who still have jobs.
  4. Reforming the Unions. This offers further ideas to back up those already embodied in actual or projected legislation with a view to weakening the unions' efforts to protect living standards.
  5. Training to the age of 18. An extension of the old idea of raising the school leaving age. coupled with complaints that young workers' wages are too high.
  6. Community Work. Another cheap labour scheme. In the 1930s a few swimming pools and similar projects were carried out at cut-price rates in this way.
  7. New Work Patterns. More of the same. Wage rates to be reduced by encouraging existing trends towards part-time and more flexible working arrangements generally.
  8. Profit Sharing. A hoary old chestnut. The idea this time is to cut employers' costs and make staff more profit-conscious. What will shareholders (the real ones) say about this, as there will be less profit for distribution among them.
A last example of the Telegraph's lack of perception is that they recognise only two explanations of economic crises. Firstly, the neo-classicist, where the cause is believed to be excessive real wages as seen from the employers' viewpoint as part of production costs. Secondly the Keynesian, which contends that the cause is insufficient demand and the cure increased government spending. Although the Telegraph's experts are able to point out the shortcomings of these two theories, they are quite unable to offer any alternative.

The true alternative model is the Marxist which has been in existence for about 120 years but unfortunately for the Telegraph and its allies it tells us that these problems cannot be solved within the framework of capitalism. However it also gives us genuine cause for optimism. The Marxist model also shows us how society can be re-shaped on a co-operative basis so that all the present social ills will disappear.
E. C. Edge

50 Years Ago: The Peace Ballot and the League of Nations (1985)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Others preach peace, but steadfastly defend the property basis, which means war. Socialists preach the abolition of the private ownership of the means of life. That is the only way of ending the war of classes.

As it is at home, so it is abroad. Capitalism gives the ruling class the incentive to protect vested interests bound up in trade routes, sources of raw materials, and areas of foreign investment. Control of the machinery of Government gives them the power to wage war. The only sure road to peace is the road which leads to Socialism, conquest of the powers of the Government by a politically organised Socialist majority While Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere. and the rest of the capitalist class, own and control the means of life, they are the enemies of the working class and a danger to the human race. Their pious oath that they are not interested financially in this or that armament, or aircraft. or any other particular company, is of no significance They have the supreme vested interest, a vested interest in the maintenance of capitalism. They can be expected, therefore, to sacrifice the interest of society to the interest of themselves and their class.

The Socialist who examines the Union's five questions has no difficulty in seeing their futility. The real position boils down to one question: "Are you in favour of depriving the capitalist class of their control over the machinery of Government, including the armed forces?" "Yes", says the Socialist. "No", says the capitalist and his avowed supporters. "Yes and no. but only gradually, and not unless the capitalist agrees". says the Labourite, with his muddled conceptions of capitalism and Socialism.

It will be seen, therefore, why the Socialist does not share the enthusiasm over the ballot expressed by the League of Nations Union.

(From an article "The Peace Ballot and the League of Nations' Socialist Standard, March 1935.)

Questions and answers (1985)

From the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The following is the text of our new introductory leaflet. which is available from Head Office on request.

It is a political party, separate from all others, Left. Right or Centre. It stands for the sole aim of establishing a social order based upon human need instead of private or state profit. The Object and Declaration of Principles printed in this introductory leaflet were adopted by the Socialist Party in 1904 and have been maintained without compromise since then. In other countries there are companion parties sharing the same object and principles, and they too remain independent from all other political parties.


Capitalism is the social system which now exists in all countries of the world. Under this system, the means of production and distribution (land, factories, offices. transport. media, etc.) are monopolised by a minority, the capitalist class. All wealth is produced by us, the majority working class, who sell our mental and physical energies to the capitalists in return for a price called a wage or salary. The object of wealth production is to create goods and services which can be sold on the market at a profit. Not only do the capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class, but, as a class, they go on accumulating wealth extracted from each generation of workers.


No: as long as capitalism exists, profits will come before needs. Some reforms are welcomed by some workers, but no reform can abolish the fundamental contradiction between profit and need which is built into the present system. No matter whether promises to make capitalism run in the interests of the workers are made sincerely or by opportunist politicians they are bound to fail, for such promises are like offering to run the slaughterhouse in the interests of the cattle.


No: nationalised industries simply mean that workers are exploited by the state, acting on behalf of the capitalists of one country. rather than by an individual capitalist or company. The workers in nationalised British Leyland are no less the servants of profit than workers in privately-owned Ford. The mines no more belong to "the public" or the miners now than they did before 1947 when they were nationalised. Nationalisation is state capitalism.


No: the so-called socialist countries are systems of state capitalism. In Russia and its empire, in China. Cuba. Albania. Yugoslavia and the other countries which call themselves socialist, social power is monopolised by privileged Party bureaucrats. The features of capitalism, as outlined above, are all present. An examination of international commerce shows that the bogus socialist states are part of the world capitalist market and cannot detach themselves from the requirements of profit.


Socialism does not yet exist. When it is established it must be on a worldwide basis, as an alternative to the outdated system of world capitalism. In a socialist society there will be common ownership and democratic control of the earth by its inhabitants. No minority class will be in a position to dictate to the majority that production must be geared to profit. There will be no owners: everything will belong to everyone. Production will be solely for use. not for sale. The only questions society will need to ask about wealth production will be: what do people require and can the needs be met? These questions will be answered on the basis of the resources available to meet such needs. Then, unlike now, modern technology and communications will be able to be used to their fullest extent. The basic socialist principle will be that people give according to their abilities and take according to their self-defined needs. Work will be on the basis of voluntary co-operation: the coercion of wage and salary work will be abolished. There will be no buying or selling and money will not be necessary in a society of common ownership and free access. For the first time ever the people of the world will have common possession of the planet earth.


Capitalism, with its constant drive to serve profit before need, throws up an endless stream of problems. Most workers in Britain feel insecure about their future; almost one in four families with children are living below the official government poverty line; many old people live in dangerously cold conditions each winter and thousands die; millions of our fellow men and women are dying of starvation — tens of thousands of them each day. A society based on production for use will end those problems because the priority of socialist society will be the fullest possible satisfaction of needs. At the moment houses stand empty and thousands of building workers are unemployed; yet many people are homeless or inhabiting slums. At the moment food is destroyed and farmers are subsidised not to produce more; yet many millions are malnourished. At the moment hospital queues are growing longer and people are dying of curable illnesses; yet it is not "economically viable" to provide decent health treatment for all. In a socialist society nothing short of the best will be good enough for any human being.


Human behaviour is not fixed, but determined by the kind of society people are conditioned to live in. The capitalist jungle produces vicious, competitive ways of thinking and acting. But we humans are able to adapt our behaviour and there is no reason why our rational desire for comfort and human welfare should not allow us to cooperate. Even under capitalism people often obtain pleasure from doing a good turn for others; few people enjoy participating in the "civilised" warfare of the daily rat-race. Think how much better it would be if society was based on co-operation.


Yes: the Socialist Party has no leaders. It is a democratic organisation controlled by its members. It understands that socialism can only be established by a conscious majority of workers — that workers must liberate themselves and will not be liberated by leaders or parties. Socialism will not be brought about by a dedicated minority "smashing the state", as some left-wingers would have it. Nor do the activities of paid, professional politicians have anything to do with socialism the experience of seven Labour governments has shown this. Once a majority of the working class understand and want socialism, they will take the necessary step to organise consciously for the democratic conquest of political power. There will be no socialism without a socialist majority.


Many workers know that there is something wrong and want to change society. Some join reform groups in the hope that capitalism can be patched up. but such efforts are futile because you cannot run a system of class exploitation in the interests of the exploited majority. People who fear a nuclear war may join CND, but as long as nation states exist, economic rivalry means that the world will never be safe from the threat of war. There are countless dedicated campaigns and good causes which many sincere people are caught up in. but there is only one solution to the problems of capitalism and that is to get rid of it and establish socialism. Before we can do that we need socialists; and winning workers to that cause requires knowledge, principles and an enthusiasm for change. These qualities can be developed by anyone — and are essential for anyone who is serious about changing society. Capitalism in the 1980s is still a system of waste, deprivation and frightening insecurity. You owe it to yourself to find out about the one movement which stands for the alternative.