Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Anti-Bolsheviks (2021)

Book Review from the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Council Communist Reader. Radical Reprint, 2021

The articles in this collection – by Paul Mattick Snr, Herman Gorter, Karl Korsch, Otto Rühle and Anton Pannekoek – have long been available elsewhere.

They called themselves Communists as they agreed with Lenin’s break with pre-WW1 Social Democracy when he changed the name of his party in 1918 from RSDLP to Communist Party; some initially joined the Communist Party in their country. They had regarded what happened in Russia in November 1917 as what it purported to be – a workers’ revolution in which workers, organised in soviets (the Russian word for ‘council’), had assumed control of society. Within a few years they realised that this had not been the case but continued to call themselves Council Communists as opposed to Bolshevik-sponsored ‘Party’ or ‘State’ Communists.

Their basic position was that workers should abandon the parliamentary Social Democratic parties and trade unions and organise themselves in work-based councils both to wage the day-to-day class struggle and to overthrow capitalism. They became very anti-party and anti-parliament, which made them similar to Syndicalists except that they situated themselves in the Marxist tradition.

They were what Mattick Snr called ‘Anti-Bolshevik Marxists’ (among which we can be included), regarding Russia under the Bolsheviks (Trotsky as well as Stalin) as state capitalism and opposing Lenin’s vanguard party concept. They weren’t always clear on the implications of a post-capitalist, communist society, some of them drawing up elaborate schemes for labour-time accounting and labour-money (not included here).

Annoyingly, Paul Mattick Jnr repeatedly refers in his introduction to the German Social Democrats who took political control in Germany immediately after the end of WW1 as ‘socialists’. He must surely know they weren’t.
Adam Buick

Letter: Who are the working class? (2021)

Letter to the Editors from the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

I am curious about the following extract from the explanation of your declaration of principles on your website [under About Us] which seems to imply a hugely simplified, black and white analysis of the mechanics at play:
“if your main income is derived from the work of others then you are a capitalist”.
This then IS the person living on state benefits but NOT the person who has inherited huge wealth OR the millionaire who fortuitously invested his earnings on the stock market etc

It also strikes me that the attempt to represent a simple two class structure is somewhat flawed, the ultimate business owner and the lowliest of the employed being an obvious distinction, but the upper management for example are rewarded at a much higher level, this will be related to the relative wealth/success of the company and therefore by definition the labour of the employees, their main income then is also derived from the work of others and as such they are also capitalists; but not in the same class as the business owner.
Ralph P.

Interpreted literally and out of context the passage quoted could be pedantically interpreted as meaning that someone on benefits was a capitalist. If, however, the complete passage is read – ‘if you must work for a living then you are working class, if your main income is derived from the work of others then you are a capitalist’ – then a person on benefits is clearly a member of the working class; only, for one reason or another, they are not able to find an employer and so have to be maintained by hand-outs from the state. That, however, does not make them capitalists any more than being paid out of profits makes a capitalist’s servant one either.

In any event, whichever way to turn it, the passage cannot be said to mean that a person who has inherited huge wealth or a millionaire speculator on the stock market is not a capitalist since neither must work for a living.

As to ‘upper management’, by which we take you to mean managing directors and CEOs of big corporations, you are right that most of their income will be a share of profits, disguised, for tax avoidance purposes, as an income from employment. So, yes, they are members of the capitalist class. Management below that level, on the other hand, are members of the working class doing a particular job within the division of labour (and antagonistic capitalist relations of production). As the section from which you have extracted a passage says later on, it is the labour of workers ‘including the plant management’ that creates the profits that keep the capitalists rich.

Our declaration of principles asserts that there are two classes in society – ‘those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess’. The income of those who possess land, factories, offices, communications and the other means by which society reproduces itself is a property income which accrues to them without them having to work; it is, as the tax authorities used to call it, ‘unearned income’. It takes the legal form of corporate profits, dividends on shares, interest on bonds, ground-rent on land and, also, as just explained, bloated ‘salaries’. Only a small minority of the population are in this position. The rest of us, the vast majority, not possessing such income-yielding property, are obliged to go out on to the labour market to try to find an employer. If we find one, as most of us do, then our wage is our main income; if we don’t find one, as many don’t, then we have to exist on meagre state hand-outs.

Apart from their main income some workers own shares or other interest-bearing savings but, as we say on our website, none ‘have the luxury to quit their jobs and live off investment income’. In fact, according to a recent survey by the Yorkshire Building society ’19 per cent of adults had less than £100 in savings … Thirteen per cent of people have no savings at all to fall back on and more than a quarter (26 per cent) have less than £500 put away’ (Times, 15 June). Even those with ten or twenty times as much as that wouldn’t be able to stop off working for wages for long.

Present-day society is manifestly divided into two classes – a small minority who live off profits and the rest of us who are wage-seekers.—Editors.

50 Years Ago: Revolt on the Clyde (2021)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

We’ll occupy the yards and bring the government down! Only force will get us out! These were the sentiments expressed by the UCS shop steward’s convenor just after the government announced its refusal to help Upper Clyde Shipbuilders out of yet another financial difficulty.

These sentiments are understandable but the fact remains that the occupation of the shipyards — other, perhaps, than for a short while as a token demonstration of anger and protest at the way capitalism works — would be utterly futile. Those who urge the Clyde shipyard workers to believe that they can in this way coerce the government to preserve their jobs are cruelly and foolishly misleading them. That workers, especially in a declining industry like shipbuilding, have any “economic power” capable of overcoming the all-too-real and socially accepted political power of the government is a myth.

Locked in the yards with no work and no money, the workers would only be able to hold out for a short while. All the government would have to do would be to sit back and wait for them to surrender. They would not even have to consider using troops. The plain truth is that there is nothing the workers can do to save their jobs. The most they may be able to get is a short postponement or a little more redundancy pay. ( …)

As workers in an unprofitable industry about to lose their jobs, sooner or later, en masse or in dribs and drabs, they are victims of capitalism. They have our sympathy as fellow-workers and we wish them luck in using their bargaining strength to get the best of redundancy terms they can, but it would be dishonest of us to pretend — as do the loud-mouthed advocates of occupation, nationalisation, workers control, etc. — that there is any way out for them under capitalism. The way to fight back is to recognise the essentially defensive and limited nature of industrial action and to join in the political struggle for Socialism, to make all the means of production the common property of the community and to abolish forever the system of employment for wages.

(From the article, 'Revolt on the Clyde',  Socialist Standard, August 1971)

Why the Labour Party is useless (2021)

Editorial from the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

As part of his ‘frank conversations’ with the British people, Keir Starmer recently faced a group of former Labour voters in Blackpool, where he eagerly spelt out his ‘strong ideas’ on how he would reform British capitalism to make it work for the working class, with measures such as support for children and the under-25s, and policies to buy, make and sell in Britain. Unfortunately for him, his audience couldn’t share his enthusiasm. One remarked ‘actions speak louder than words’ and another asked ‘where is the money coming from?’ With the crumbling of the Northern red wall at the last general election, the Labour defeat in the recent Hartlepool by-election, only just retaining the Batley and Spen constituency, and receiving a measly 622 votes in the recent Chesham and Amersham by-election, Starmer is facing an uphill struggle to persuade workers to elect a Labour government.

No soon as he was elected Labour leader, Starmer got to work to not just distance himself from his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, but to purge any influence that he and his allies may have had. He sacked Corbyn ally Rebecca Long Bailey from her post of shadow Education Secretary for retweeting an interview with the actress Maxine Peake, where the latter made comments that were deemed to be anti-semitic. He then moved against Corbyn himself by suspending him from the Labour Party for remarks he made in response to the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report on anti-semitism within the Labour Party (although he has since been reinstated). Four left-wing groups – Resist, Socialist Appeal, Labour in Exile Network and Labour Against the Witchhunt – have been expelled from the Labour Party.

However, marginalising the Corbynistas and the left-wing is deemed not enough to convince voters that the Labour Party can be trusted. Starmer has been advised to promote patriotism and the use of the Union flag in the hope that this will help to bring the ‘traditional working class’ back into the fold. Beating the patriotic drum is nothing new for the Labour Party. All previous Labour governments invoked nationalism when it suited them. Remember New Labour’s bulldog arising from its slumbers in 1997.

In left-wing mythology, Starmer will no doubt join the pantheon of traitors who betrayed the ideals and principles of the Labour Party from Ramsay MacDonald to Tony Blair. In truth, there are no ideals or principles to betray, as the Labour Party is not a principled socialist party, but a capitalist one. It doesn’t attempt to raise working-class consciousness, but competes for votes in the capitalist political marketplace, which requires it to opportunistically play on workers anxieties and fears. The Labour Party was founded with the aim of promoting parliamentary legislation on behalf of the trade unions. It sought to run capitalism in the interest of the working class. However, this cannot be achieved as capitalism can only be run in one way, that is to generate profits for the capitalist class. Through hard experience, Labour governments have ended up managing capitalism in a similar fashion as Tory governments.

Perspective on Guatemala (1954)

From the August 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is called the land of eternal spring and appropriately so, for Guatemala does not know the changes of season such as we have in England. It is a country in which you are almost always in sight of a mountain or a volcano. It is the land of the marimba and the quetzal bird and of ancient intricately ornate architecture. Of dictatorship and malnutrition. Of lemongrass and citronella oil, quinine and cinnamon. Of cotton, chicle, coffee—and bananas. It is also a country regarded by United States Secretary of State John Foster Dulles as a possible danger to the peace of America.

Guatemala lies on the narrow connection between the land masses of North and South America. It is bordered by Mexico, British Honduras, Honduras and El Salvador. The Caribbean Sea lies to the east and southwards is the Pacific Ocean. It is a country about as large as England with a population of 3½ million—roughly the same as Yorkshire. Over two million of these are the religious, superstitious Maya Indians, who are unable to read or write, and live on maize, kidney beans and dried fish. The climate is agreeable enough to have attracted many American vacationists. The main port is Puerto Barrios, situated on the eastern coast and connected by an important railway to the capital Guatemala City. Through the country runs the Pan American Highway, which ribbons along the entire isthmus of Central America. A fertile plain stretches for about 40 miles inland from the Pacific; here are rich banana farms, cornfields and grazing lands.

The country's chief exports are coffee, bananas, chicle, essential oils and honey, of which coffee is the most valuable. Chicle is a latex which is bled from wild sapota trees and forms the basic ingredient of chewing gum. Guatemala has little mineral resources and so is not an industrial nation. Her principal imports are machinery, textiles, petroleum and vehicles. Most of her trade is with the United States.

The early history of Guatemala has been obscured by the passing centuries and the destruction of records in the Spanish conquest of the 16th century. We do know that by about three thousand years ago an advanced civilisation had cleared the jungle, raised crops and built splendid cities, which have left their ruins as evidence of greater days. Over two thousand years ago the Mayas had developed a calendar as accurate as the Gregorian (adopted by Great Britain in 1752) and were working a mathematical system which was the first to use the concept of zero. Around the year 900 the Indians for some reason emigrated to the Guatemalan highlands and the jungle overgrew the deserted cities. The civilisation declined and the Mayas split into warring tribes.

In 1523 the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez sent a small band of conquistadors under his lieutenant Don Pedro de Alvarado from Mexico into Guatemala. There was little in the divided native tribes to resist the Spaniards’ superior equipment and military technique and by 1524 the country was under Spanish control. With the conquistadors came Roman Catholicism and the Inquisition. The Catholic Church assisted in the suppression of the country. In 1593 Pope Alexander VI issued a bull giving Spain sovereignty over Central America, including Guatemala. When the Spaniards found the resistance of the Rabinal Indians too fierce for them. Padre Bartelome de las Casas and other priests penetrated the Indians and won them over by missionary work. Incidentally, it was agriculturally-inclined Padre Tomas de Berlanga who introduced the first rootstocks of the banana plant from which have grown the huge plantations of the United Fruit Company of Boston, U.S.A.

The story of the Spanish conquest is re-told at the Maya fiestas, when masked Indians perform the Dance of the Conquistadors. The dance, to the music of the marimba—an instrument like an outsize xylophone—is an endurance test lasting for several hours. It represents the 1523 hand-to-hand battle between Alvarado and the Maya chief Tecum Uman, in which the Indian lost his life. This was a crucial victory for Alvarado.

The decline of Spain loosened its hold upon the Americas and in 1821 Guatemala was able, like other South American countries, to declare her independence. Then followed a succession of revolutions and presidencies, each relying upon bloodshed and tyranny for its position. In 1873 Justo Rufina Barrios deposed the ruling president and established a dictatorial government. Barrios did much to develop the resources of Guatemala and when he was killed in 1885 he was a national hero. The port of Puerto Barrios is named after him. His death was followed by more revolutions and a procession into and out of the presidential chair. In 1931 General Jorge Ubico was elected to power.

Ubico led a pitiless dictatorship which dissolved the trade unions and gave power to the landowners, greatest of which is the United Fruit Company. When he was forced to resign in 1944, Ubico left less than two per cent. of the population owning 78 per cent. of the land. For six years Guatemala was ruled by three army officers headed by Dr. Juan Arevalo, until in 1950 Jacob Arbenz was elected president Now, in face of the invasion, Arbenz has fallen and the presidential procession has started again.

The invasion came after several weeks of pressure from the U.S.A. The resolution sponsored by Mr. Dulles at the Caracas conference last March was directed against the Arbenz government and provided a legal weapon for future use. More essentially, America has for some years refused to sell arms to Guatemala, who not unnaturally took her custom elsewhere. The arrival at Puerto Bgrrios of weapons from Poland touched off a fine panic in the State Department and provoked the American request to Britain and other countries to allow the right to search their ships. Thus was quietly buried the traditional American lip-service to the freedom of the seas. When Guatemala was attacked America, tongue in cheek, denied the evidence of an invasion. On the other side of the table Russia forgot about Eastern Europe and came out in defence of the rights of small nations. As The Economist put it, rather neatly, it was “war through the looking glass . . .” with “. . . all the words . . . the wrong way round.” But that is nothing new.

What are the reasons for the conflict in the little Central American state? Well, first there’s the Panama Canal, the vital snip of the scissors which cuts America in two. A glance at a map will show the importance of the canal as the short cut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As the quetzal bird flies, Guatemala is 800 miles from Panama and is separated from it by several countries which are friendly to the United States.

Then there’s the United Fruit Company, which owns most of the banana plantations of Guatemala. The company says that it has lost control of 400,000 acres in the recent land nationalisation; it is in dispute with the government over the scale of compensation. Its local legal representative is Dr. Juan Manuel Galvez, President of Honduras, whence came the invaders of Guatemala. Apart from its landholdings, the United Fruit Company owns the dock and harbour installations at Puerto Barrios. Through International Railways of Central America it has virtual control of the entire Guatemalan railway system, including the busy line from Puerto Barrios to Guatemala City. It is noteworthy that the first warnings about Guatemala came from the State Department at the same time as the early expropriation of United Fruit Company land. Foreign control is also strong in the field of electric power, four-fifths being supplied by a company subsidiary to an American firm.

What about Russian interference? Well, the Arbenz government could not be described as a follower of Moscow, although it did suffer the influence of Guatemalan Communists. There was in Guatemala an active opposition with its own newspapers. The Arbenz regime was crudely nationalist—an outlook bred from its attempts to break the American near-monopoly of the country’s wealth and develop a modern industrial state from a semi-feudal country. In competition with the foreign companies the government was building its own wharves at Puerto Barrios and, with the help of a United Nations Technical Assistance scholarship in highway construction, had commenced work on a heavy-duty road from the port to Guatemala City. A state-controlled power station costing nearly £2 million is also under construction.

It is a story by now familiar enough. Along with the bananas and coffee Guatemala has grown its own exploiting class who aspire to own their country’s wealth free from foreign interference. They expressed themselves in a nationalist party which found the American companies as the first obstacle to its plans. So it ran foul of the U.S. State Department. For Central America has for a long time been dominated' by American investment and influence. And in her conflict with Russia the United States cannot allow this power to be challenged and the security of the Panama Canal threatened. An. unfriendly Guatemala was bound to suffer the attention of Mr. Dulles. The Land of Eternal Spring has felt the first wintry blast of the cold war.

Blogger's Note:
The original map from the August Socialist Standard was a bit basic, so I grabbed a replacement. In the 1954 map, Belize was still known as British Honduras.

The Economics of Capitalism (1954)

From the August 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1867 Marx brought out his “Capital,” a searching analysis of the basis of Capitalism, and since that date it has been the backbone of the Socialist Movement. Here we can only attempt to give a brief outline of some of his conclusions

The Problem of Value
Under Capitalism the overwhelming mass of products are produced solely for the purpose of being sold at a profit; this was not true of any of the previous social systems, neither in ancient nor in mediaeval times. As the system lives by the continuance of buying and selling, that which determines the value of goods, the source of value itself, is a problem fundamental to it The problem of value is an old one, as old as Aristotle who knew that there must be some property, apart from its usefulness, that was common to all articles of commerce, articles as unlike as bread and shoes, that made it possible to measure them one against another in a value relation. But he never got farther than putting the problem. The slave-based society in which he lived hindered even his acute mind from arriving at a solution, and it remained shrouded in mystery until buying and selling as a social system commenced to emerge m the Seventeenth century. The restraints upon industry and commerce melted into the right of everyone to do what he liked with his own, and the labourer, without property, was free to sell his working energy at whatever price he could get. Then the problem came up in an acute form as the rush to become rich developed. It was inspired by a desire to find out how wealth accumulated; or, to put it another way, to find out the source of surplus value.

Early Contributions to the Solution
The first real contribution to the solution of the question was made by Sir William Petty who, in his Treatise on Taxes (1662), stated that labour was the source of value, but, defining exchange value as money, he claimed that the particular labour employed in the production of the precious metals was the only labour that produced value. Later Benjamin Franklin tackled the problem in an essay entitled A Modest Inquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency (1729), arguing that the value of articles is measured by the time taken to produce them. Money, however, according to him, had an extra value owing to the way it facilitated exchanges. Adam Smith followed with his Wealth of Nations (1777) in which he urged that the determination of the value of an article by the time 'taken to produce it was true of earlier times but not of the time in which he lived. He attributed the accumulation of wealth to the division of labour and confused the value of what a labourer produced with the wages he received for producing it. The final contribution to the investigation, before Marx commenced to publish the results of his studies, was made by Ricardo in his book “On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation” (1817). In this book Ricardo got close to the answer, arguing that the values of all articles, including the value of labour-power, was determined by the labour required to produce them under the prevailing conditions of skill and methods. When applying his theory, however, he went astray because he did not see the distinction between labour and labour-power with sufficient clearness, and, hence, that the accumulation of wealth in the form of capital was based upon the buying and selling of labour-power. It was the discovery of this fact that gave Marx the key to the problem.

The Wealth of To-day
As the wealth of capitalist society consists of commodities, useful articles produced for sale, Marx commences his investigation with the analysis of a commodity. The things we eat and drink, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, and the transport that conveys us to wherever we wish have all been made for the purpose of being sold. They appear in the shop windows or showrooms with price tabs attached, or they appear in price-lists of goods offered for sale, or again they are advertised as something for which a price will be stated if requested. In other words they are goods produced for sale whether they be butter or battleships, salt or sables. Nothing is produced for sale unless it is considered to be useful to somebody for some purpose, whether the purpose be good or bad or both. Of course many things are produced and sold that the buyer finds are not what they were pretended to be; they were sold under false pretences and the buyer was defrauded; but this is not true of the mass of things produced, though many may not come up to the level claimed for them by their sellers. The wealth of to-day, then, consists of commodities— articles of commerce, things that are the subject of buying and selling. This is real wealth, or economic wealth. Whatever philosophers or poets may have said a man is considered wealthy to-day according to the amount of his material possessions or the size of his effective claim upon them; a man is considered poor because of his lack of them, and to the poor group the majority of society belong.

Why Things Sell at Different Prices
As useful articles there is nothing mysterious about commodities; they are pots and kettles, loaves of bread and pats of butter. The more you have of them the better off you are, but to get them you must pay varying prices. This is where the difficulty arises. Why do things sell at different prices? Why is it that those things which it is almost impossible to live without. such as bread, butter and milk, sell at low prices compared, for instance, with diamonds which we need far less? Why does a linen coat cost a few shillings and a fur coat cost a few hundred pounds? To answer these questions we must first find out what prices are and how they are arrived at. We have said that a commodity is a useful article, but it is also an article of value because, to get it, you must pay a price, its exchange value. We have already noticed that its usefulness has nothing to do “with its price; we are speaking, of course, of the normal operations of commerce; the hundreds of pounds a man in the desert, dying of thirst,, might be willing to pay for a bucket of water “has nothing to do with the case.” In normal times a tiny diamond may exchange for as much money as many tons of bread, and the price of water is infinitesimal. As use-values commodities are of different qualities—softness, hardness, thickness, and the like; but as exchange-values they are of different quantities—20 loaves, 10 coats, 2 pairs of shoes, and the like. Exchange value is a relation of quantity, 20 loaves of bread for ten shillings; it is the quantity of loaves and the quantity of shillings that matter. In this exchange relation, 20 loaves equals ten shillings, the loaves and the shillings contain something that is equal in each and yet can be distinguished from their physical appearance; the loaves and the shillings are equal to a third thing which is neither the one nor the other. If we leave out of sight their usefulness, which is tied up with their physical properties, commodities have only one thing in common; they are products of labour, they are the result of the application of human labour to materials provided by nature. When looked at only as products of labour articles are values. Exchange-value, such as twenty loaves of bread equals ten shillings, is the only form in which the value contained in a commodity is, and can be, expressed. The quantity of labour required to produce twenty loaves is the same as the quantity required to produce ten shillings, for the ten shillings is a fixed portion of a fixed piece of gold, as we shall see later. Thus the size of the value contained in an article is measured by the quantity of labour contained in it, and the quantity of labour itself is measured by the time the labour is in action—so many hours of work. As the illustration indicates, value can only be expressed relatively, the value of one article in relation to another. It is only because they are the products of human energy that articles can be measured against each other as values, and from this it follows that their quantity relation to each other varies with variations in the productiveness of labour; at different times, with changes in the productiveness of labour, we may get more or less than twenty loaves of bread for ten shillings.

The Effects of Competition
Although the quantity of the value contained in an article is determined by the amount of labour required to produce it, this does not mean that the less efficient the labour the greater the value of the article. All commodities are produced for the market, that is. for sale, and buyers endeavour to obtain each particular kind of commodity as cheaply as possible; they buy in the cheapest market. The system of commodity production is a competitive system and each producer tries to produce as cheaply as possible in order to get as large a share of the demand as possible. This drives each producer to search for new machines and better productive methods in order to produce goods cheaper than competitors. The result is that, in general, the amount of labour required to produce a given article is constantly being reduced. All producers are compelled to introduce the latest methods or be left behind in the struggle for markets. Where producers fail to keep pace with improvements in production they gradually lose their trade and are finally faced with ruin. Two hundred years ago hand work, or handicraft, was the prevailing method of producing commodities; then machines were introduced and gradually monopolised all forms of production. The hand workers who were unable or unwilling, to adopt the new productive form, fought a losing battle for decades until finally the only prices they could get for their products against the machine-made article had reached such a low level that they could not earn enough to live, and they had to give up. Thousands of them eventually died of starvation.

Thus, at any given moment, there is an average amount of labour, recognised by society in practice, that is required to produce a given product, and it is this average amount that determines the value of the commodity. Where, through inefficient organisation, more labour than is necessary is spent on the production of a commodity it will only have a value equivalent to the average amount necessary in a particular society at a given time. Value-producing labour is therefore average socially necessary labour, and the producer ignores this fact at the cost of ruin to himself, a ruin that we see every now and again reported in the newspapers.

Skilled Labour more Intense than Unskilled
There is another aspect of this value-producing labour that needs to be understood. Articles that are produced in a relatively short time appear to have the same value as those that take much longer to produce. At first sight this is puzzling. A group of men working on a farm in the country without machinery will produce articles of an annual value that is only equivalent to what the same number of men will produce in a few weeks in a highly organised machine factory. The explanation of this is that, in estimating value, it is necessary to consider all the labour that is incorporated in the production of an article. The more complicated the task the more intense the labour, that is to say the more of simple labour is compressed into an hour of its use. Nowadays, for instance, in even the comparatively simple labour possessed by a boy leaving school there is incorporated a portion of the labour of teachers who taught him, scientists who made certain knowledge available, and the labours of those who made the maps, tools, and other teaching appliances. Thus, in the machine made product, there is involved the labour of toolmakers, machine makers and hosts of other allied workers, all of whose labour appears in the final commodity and takes part in determining its value. Skilled labour, therefore, compresses in an hour of work several hours of simple labour.

(To be continued)

The Middle Class (1954)

From the August 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard
"What sort of person was Mr. Weare?"
"He was always a respectable person."
"What do you mean by respectable?"
"He kept a gig."
(Murder Trial, 1823).
Three thousand pounds is a lot of money. By itself, it should provide a good-sized house or a small-sized business; as an annual income, it would give most people the same feeling it gave to Shaw’s displaced dustman. Sixty pounds a week put him among the well-to-do—“shoved him into the middle class"  and forced strange manners and morals on him. And the curious thing is that the middle class, from which there is no escape with three thousand a year, is the fortress too of the curates and the come-down gentlefolk who have all the morals and all the manners and not even a dustman’s income.

The middle class is a myth. Every age has its myths and fictions. Sometimes a social assumption is at variance with reality, and everybody knows it to be so — for example, the doctrine in Britain that the sovereign rules and makes laws; that sort of doctrine is called a fiction. On the other hand, a belief may be at variance with reality and still generally accepted as true; that is the nature of a myth. A good deal of everyday religious belief is mythology. So, too, is the middle-class belief, which usually takes the form not of “I believe in it” but of “I belong to it.”

Like many myths, this one began as reality. There was a middle class, and it became the capitalist class. That is a different thing, however, from what they mean nowadays. The middle-class person sees himself as the genus of a flowery dell between the working-class cabbage patch and the upper-class orchid house. He regards himself as the type of most value to the community (“the backbone of the nation”); “the British way of life” is his way of life. The latter, incidentally, is true. Itself a myth, “the British way of life” is really the sum of the traditional desiderata for the middle class; semi-detached houses, cricket on the green, Old Boys’ dinners and all the rest. A sketch —it would have to be an imaginative one—of a middle-class man would simply portray life in Britain as it is imagined by sympathetic foreigners, and a good many British, too.

The authors of books about the middle class always acknowledge the impossibility of defining it. It would seem like being in love—unexplainable, indefinable, but you know it when you’re there—except that a classification needs to be based on reason to be valid. What, then, are the reasons for classifying people as middle class? Not income, because that would exclude the curates and the impoverished gentlefolk. On the other hand, not education, because that would rule out Alfred Doolittle and a good many local Aldermen.

Numbers of people consider themselves middle-class on the score of occupation. Probably most “black-coated” workers would say so if they were asked, on the grounds that they keep clean and are non-industrial. So is a lavatory attendant; and doctors and nurses have routine tasks which would be exceptionable to a self-respecting paperhanger. Then there are managers, but it is difficult to see them as anything other than well-paid employees. And, of course, the doctors, lawyers, teachers, clergy—in fact, professional people generally. Most of them come from comparatively well-off homes—almost a necessity for a long course of professional training. Their “middle-class” status is the cause, not the result of their being in the professions.

Certainly the middle class are not only conscious but very jealous, of the unfathomable dividing line between them and the working class. (The tea shoppe and the strangled vowel are its monuments.) Since the war middle-class people have complained continually of impoverishment, of being no better off than manual workers: Poverty can be a relative term. In a recent Manchester Guardian correspondence, people whose incomes range from two hundred and fifty to three thousand pounds a. year told of their difficulties in making ends meet. Obviously there is a difference, and the people with large incomes are not poor in the sense that people with a fiver a week are; all the same, they are telling the truth. If you are the manager of a large firm, you have to live like the manager of a large firm. Recently a teacher wrote to one of the papers and complained that he could not afford a holiday. What he really meant was that he could not afford his sort of holiday, not a cheap week in a cheap guest house at a cheap resort.

Is there really a class of people, even a small one, that stands half-way between the working class and the capitalists? The simplest way to answer is to discover and place those two classes and then see what, if anything, is left. A capitalist is a person who lives by owning something of the means of production or distribution. If he has a small ownership and gets along only by working at it himself, then he isn’t a capitalist because he is living by his labour and not by his ownership; a capitalist can live without working. A worker has no facilities for doing so, no ownership of the means of life. He has to sell his ability to work—brawn, brains, or whatever comprises it: the price is his wage, and he is wholly dependent on it.

There are no people in capitalist society whose living comes in any other way. Clerks, managers, teachers, parsons, dentists, lawyers—they are all dependent on their wages, salaries, stipends, fees, what they are paid for their labour-power. They work for their livings, have to find and hold jobs. They belong, in fact, to the working class.

There is no middle class. Our world is a two- class world of workers and capitalists. In the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the growing capitalist class was a middle class itself, a third element in the society where landowners ruled and tenants worked. The cloth manufacturers, the merchant adventurers and bankers, struggled to throw off the incubus of feudalism. The Civil war and the political revolution of the mid-seventeenth century were part of this struggle; it was expressed in Milton's prose as well as in the new economic doctrines. And when the manufacturers and the others became the ruling class, the existence of it middle class ended.

A large number of those who call themselves middle class are much better paid than most workers. It is worth considering why, because the reason will explain also why they are not sitting as pretty as might be expected. Labour-power is bought and sold in a market; it is a commodity, like boots or biscuits, Everything has its price, and the price is the expression in money of its value; there may be fluctuations because of supply and demand, but they are fluctuations round this point of value. And the value of any commodity—biscuits, boots or labour-power—is determined by the amount of labour that went to make it. That is why mass-produced boots are cheap and handmade shoes are dear; it is also why a bank manager is well paid and a builder’s labourer poorly paid.

Little training is needed to pull down ceilings, carry buckets and mix cement; no instructional books, no theoretical lectures. Nobody requires a builder’s labourer to speak well, display refinement or know much (he would probably be thought to be putting on side if he did so). But a bank manager does need training and the other things. He must know banking, which is not a simple subject; he must speak well, organize well, and have a good deal of what is called “madam.” His labour-power, in short, embodies a lot of labour from other sources, so its price is comparatively a high one.

That is not the whole story, however. The wages of these two have to maintain them, not as human beings, but as a labourer and a bank manager. The labourer’s address does not matter; the bank manager’s does. Some “middle-class” people pay more for their childrens’ education than a labourer earns—not just because it is expected of them, but_because we all reproduce our kind, and their kind needs to be well educated. It may sound ridiculous to use the word “subsistence” for wages of two or three thousand pounds a year, but in fact that is the position. All wages provide subsistence on different levels. For some it is food, clothing and shelter and the instalments on the television; for others, it includes the appearance and necessities of “middle-class” life.

In the last few years, numbers of the “middle class” have unconsciously acknowledged this by organizing to protect their standards of living. Civil Servants and Local Government workers have pressed continually for more pay, and the teachers’ unions have shown less interest in education than in salaries. The truth is that, whatever groups may be distinguished on the grounds of income, culture and so on, they are distinguished within, and not from, the working class.

Of all the factors which tend to obscure the class position in capitalist society, the middle-class myth is perhaps the strongest. “Class-consciousness” is often used to denote middle-class snobbery, but it has a wider, more vital meaning. In its true sense, it is the most important thing that can be learned by working men and women.
Robert Barltrop

Notes by the Way: Population, Food and Fuel (1954)

The Notes by the Way Column from the August 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Population, Food and Fuel

In recent years much interest has been shown by governments, agricultural experts and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations in problems of world food supply. With world population not only increasing, but increasing at a faster rate, the technical problems of raising food output had to be and have been solved, though the prospect of the solutions being fully applied in a capitalist world is another question for capitalism is more concerned with what is profitable than with the human tragedy of half the population of the world being underfed.

But along with food there is also the question of' meeting the rapidly growing demand for fuel supplies. It is the realisation of this that has made atomic energy an industrial as well as a military question and explains why “exclusive of weapons” the British Government is spending £54 million a year on atomic research and development (Financial Times, 31/7/54.)

According to studies made for the United States Atomic Energy Commission the known resources of coal, oil, water-power and other existing sources of energy are likely in future decades to fall short of the needs of industry and at the same time become more costly to produce. There will, therefore, be increasing need for atomic energy. As a scientific correspondent of the Financial Times puts it: “The arrival of the Atomic Age is, it would seem, only just in time.”

Failing Coal Production

For British capitalism the problem shows itself in the failure of coal output to keep pace with demand. The post-war years have seen periodical dependence on imported coal, and coal exports from this country, which formerly bulked so large, have now fallen behind the value of exported petroleum products from the new huge refineries. Even if, with the investment of sums in mining machinery and equipment—£450 million is to be invested in the next six years—the total quantity can be increased, productivity has fallen and therefore the real cost has risen. This is the result of many factors, but chiefly because the richer and more easily worked seams were the first to be exhausted.

This is apt to be overlooked because comparison is rarely made with the earlier periods when productivity, measured in annual output per worker in the mining industry, was at its peak. The Daily Express (5/7/54) made the point that in 1953 the “output per man in the mines was 295 tons” (almost exactly one ton per working day), and that this has only once been exceeded since the war. But though this output is also well above the low levels of some years between the wars, it is far below the peak of 333 tons of 1883 and the average of 319 tons in 1879-1883. (Report on the Coal Industry, 1925, Vol. I, Chapter XL)

On the above figures the present annual output per worker is 8 per cent. below what it was seventy years ago, but the actual fall is really much greater than 8 per cent. because present output can only be maintained by the labour of increasing numbers of workers in the engineering industry engaged on the production of machinery for the mines.

For the present the Government is encouraging the use of oil in place of coal, as at the new Bankside power station, but at the same time atomic power is being developed for electricity generation. This is no doubt mainly for the technical reasons, but it will also not have escaped the notice of the Government that a subsidiary source of energy may also be useful to them in resisting wage demands of the miners.

Wages, Prices and Labour Government

This year, for the first time since June, 1947, the Ministry of Labour Index of average wage rates caught up with the Cost of Living Index, both now standing at 42 per cent. above 1947. In 1951, when the Labour Government left office, the Cost of Living Index at 129 was seven points higher than the wage index. In the main, the movements of prices depend on the workings of capitalism here and in the world generally and are not under the control of governments. The one important exception is currency manipulations, like the Labour Government's devaluation of the pound in 1949, which, as they well knew, was bound to raise the cost of living and leave wages lagging behind. The actual course of events certainly gives some support to the view that the Labour Government’s preaching of “wage restraint" to the workers in 1947 onwards played its part in keeping wages below the rise of the cost of living.

Armaments for Peace

The plausible argument used by the advocates of armaments and still more armaments is that if the country is unarmed or armed less powerfully than some other country this encourages the stronger Powers to attack the weaker. The weaker should therefore get more armaments and so deter the potential aggressor.

One fallacy in the argument is, of course, that if they all increase their armaments by, say, 50 per cent. their relative position is just where it was at die start.

It will also be noticed that the more strongly armed Powers use an argument that is just as plausible and just as silly. Their generals demand more arms, not in order to catch up with somebody else, but in order to retain their lead. All the big Powers use this argument, among them Russia.

At the so-called elections in Russia earlier this year one of the Communist Party candidates (no other political parties are allowed to put forward candidates, or, indeed, to exist at all), was Marshal Bulganin, whose election speech was published in the 'Russian Embassy's Soviet News, under date 10th March, 1954.

In his speech he not only reiterated that the Russian army is already “the strongest in the world,” but that it is urgently necessary to make it stronger still. “ As we know, those who do not go forward, fall behind, and those who fall back are defeated. For this reason, since the victory won in the great Patriotic War. the Party and the Government have not relaxed their efforts to strengthen our defence capacities.”

Needless to say, Bulganin, like his opposite numbers in all the countries, insists that their massive equipment in artillery, tanks, atom bombs, hydrogen bombs, etc., etc., are merely to preserve peace!