Wednesday, May 11, 2022

50 Years Ago: The Labour Government gets tough with the workers (1998)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Capitalist Press has found a new hero in Sir Stafford Cripps. They congratulate him on having taken firm control of Government economic policy on standing up manfully to the trade unions on the wages issue. In his recent speeches and in the Government declaration. "Statement on Personal Incomes, Costs and Prices," he announced plans to avoid increases of prices and profits and, if possible, to reduce them and told the trade unions there must be no more wage increases unless accompanied by a substantial increase in production, or for the purpose of attracting workers to undermanned industries, or in the event of a future marked rise in the cost of living. And if we do not obey (Sir Stafford warns us) we face “a serious and prolonged set-back in our economic reconstruction accompanied by a persistent low standard of living.” He follows it up with the threat of dictatorship.
“We must all subordinate our own interest to those of the nation. Otherwise someone will be called upon to force us to comply as the only alternative to disaster” (Speech at Edinburgh, Observer, 8/2/48.)
A typical Press comment on the Government s new statement of policy was that in the Daily Mail (6/2/48). Under the heading “The Truth at Last" the Mail wrote: “The Government have taken their courage in both hands . . . Not only have they for the first time made far-reaching economic proposals without the prior permission of the T.U.C., but they are facing up to the hard facts of our economic situation. This is a refreshing change from the weak and hesitant attitude we have come to expect.”

(From front page article by ‘H', Socialist Standard, March 1948)

Obituary: Samuel Leight (1998)

Obituary from the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard 

We regret to have to report the death of Samuel Leight of the World Socialist Party of the United States.

Sam Leight was born in London. England, and joined the old Marylebone Branch in 1942. He emigrated to the United States in 1948, transferring his membership to our companion party there. Eventually he settled in Tucson, Arizona, where he built up a business as a realtor (estate agent). He generously ploughed back some of the money he made into the world socialist movement, financing in particular a series of radio broadcasts but also contributing to general funds. He was also an indefatigable writer of letters to the press and a vegetarian and nature cure fanatic. Some of his radio broadcasts formed the basis of two books he published, World Without Wages and The Futility of Reformism which many newcomers to socialism found a useful introduction to our idea of socialism.

Party News (1998)

Party News from the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Donations to the Socialist Party 

The Party's ability to pursue its objectives, energetically and effectively, is prejudiced by lack of funds. We manage on shoestring budgets when, with more resources, we could accomplish so much more.

We invite members and sympathisers to donate money to the Party's General Fund. Please send donations (cheques and postal orders made payable to “The Socialist Party of Great Britain") or, preferably take out a regular Standing Order in favour of the Party, by writing to the Treasurer.The Socialist Party. 52 Clapham High Street. London SW4 7UN. asking for details and a form.

Socialist Correspondence Network

Any member from any part of the world wishing to correspond on capitalism, socialism and related matters with members and sympathisers from other parts of the world should contact the Overseas Department of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, do John Bissett, 10 Scarborough Parade. Hebburn, Tyne and Wear NE31 2AL. GB.

Help Wanted

This appeal is addressed to members and sympathisers in the London area who might be prepared to devote one day a month to helping out at our Head Office in Clapham, South London. Help is needed, for instance, with putting the Socialist Standard into envelopes for posting at the end of each month, with printing and folding leaflets, cleaning and other routine, but essential, work. If you are available to help, please contact the Head Office Organiser on 0171 622 3811 or write to HOO. 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN.

Value For Money? (1998)

TV Review from the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Value For Money?

A new concept is invading television; the concept of “value for money”. The TV executives aren’t attempting to deliver a fair return for the licence-payers’ cash of course, but they have discovered that the search for “good value” can provide them with an endless stream of cheap programmes.

It is a concept that the ordinary person is familiar with, since modern-day crusades are more likely to be carried out under the banner of Fair Trading than anything else. The Bargain has become the Holy Grail of the 20th Century and is proving to be equally elusive—because it is equally mythical.

Any local news programme shows how deeply ingrained this myth of “value” is. A recent report showed an elderly woman expressing her disgust that diabetics should have to pay more vehicle insurance simply because they constitute more of a risk. It didn’t seem to occur to her that the nice man from the Prudential advert wants to make as much profit as he can, and will penalise diabetics all the way to hell and back if that’s what it takes. Incredibly, many people share this delusion, the untenable belief that private companies are in some way providing a public service.

My job enables me to see this widespread fallacy at work. Charging for entrance to a multi-feature attraction with a single admission fee, I find that those who don’t want to see all the attractions tell me this is “stupid”. Stupid? Do they seriously believe that it’s some kind of oversight on the part of the management? It’s a deliberate policy designed to extract as much money as possible from visitors. And it works.

In this society goods and services are produced with one aim in mind, the production of profit. Capitalism dictates that only what is profitable can be done, so there is little hope of companies behaving in a selfless way. They will never allow those who constitute a greater risk to pay the same insurance premiums as others, because this would lose them money. They will not selflessly decline the opportunity to make a profit since profit is the oxygen they breathe. They are bound by the rules of The System just as we are. It is The System which creates “raw deals”, and to end them we must end the system.

There may be times when we can buy what might be called “bargains”, articles priced at less than we might normally expect to pay for them. Prices are not reduced out of generosity though, but with the aim of minimising losses and enticing people to spend more. In short, the bargain is just another means by which the capitalist machine ensures that profit is made.

Nonetheless, the value-for-money myth has now provided us with five different flavours of Watchdog. It’s a profitable seam to mine—but the rip-offs that concern the BBC are far removed from the fundamental exploitation which lies at the heart of capitalism.

Anyone who feels they’ve had an unfair deal can now write to Anne Robinson and have their claim investigated on a Thursday or a Friday. The introduction of the second show is proof, if any were needed, that the first show wasn’t working.

Sooner or later Robinson will have to admit not being quite the Wonderwoman she’d like to be. No matter how much she probes and sniffs there are always enough rip-offs left to fill the next edition of her show.

If she was honest she’d admit that you might as well write in to her show to complain about the weather. Watchdog has more chance of securing a sub-tropical rainy season for Great Britain than it has of getting a “fair deal for the consumer” whilst capitalism survives. But are we to be faced with five channels of 24-hour Watchdog before she realises this? I hope not, especially as the answer is staring her in the face. Were she to turn around the title of her own show’s sister programme—Value for Money—she would have the key to the solution.

The bigger rip-off
Value For Money. Money for value? Does money equal value? Are our wages (money) equivalent to the value of the things which we produce? Clearly they are not, otherwise where would profit come from? It might then occur to her than even if someone managed by some incredible fluke to purchase nothing but “bargains” throughout their entire life, they wouldn’t be getting a fair deal by any means. They would still be exploited.

The working class are paid less than the value of what they produce, or else are condemned by The System to bare subsistence on the dole, as part of the army of unemployed that capitalism requires to keep wages down. Would Robinson grasp that there can only be the occasional piece of “good value” because everything else is very bad value indeed? No matter how cheap an item may be it is still far, far too dear, for why should we be forced to labour in order to have what should be ours by rights?

Perhaps she would see the irony of the fact that the capitalist who, in order to make a profit, pays workers less than the value of their labour, always gets good value for money, whereas the producer never does. The mists would then clear, allowing her to see the answer to the difficult question of why so many companies are unscrupulous, why so many people are exploited, cheated and penalised, whilst others live in luxury and why unnecessary things are produced even though much that is vital is left undone.

I’d be quite happy to see the Ginger Ninja fighting our corner. She may grate the nerves but she’s a tough opponent, and I could even bring myself to tolerate her infamous winking, if every wink were a symbolic nail in the coffin of capitalism. But for the time being we must put up with her being an apologist for the myth that a Fair Deal can be had under capitalism.
Matthew Vaughan Wilson

Letters: Is there a “middle class”? (1998)

Letters to the Editors from the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is there a “middle class”?

Dear Editors,

I have read with great interest your new pamphlet The Market System Must Go! on “why reformism doesn’t work” and admire the style with which you present usually obscure economic topics in a readily understandable way. I should like to comment on one of these–the distribution of wealth–dealt with in Chapter 7.

Here you explain how in modern capitalism ownership of the means of production takes the form of legal rights to claim unearned income from stocks and shares, interest-bearing bank and building society accounts, government bonds and National Savings, (perhaps rents could be added to this list?). You demonstrate the grossly unequal distribution of this income-producing wealth using tables from Social Trends published by the Central Statistical Office. These can be arranged to show that in 1992 the top 5 percent owned 53 percent of investment capital, the next 20 percent owned 29 percent and the last 75 percent owned 18 percent.

In my view these figures are slightly misleading as although they exclude the value of dwellings, they do include household goods and personal items–such as cars–which make up such a large proportion of “working-class” wealth. On the other hand the top one percent “hold more of their wealth in shares than in any other form”. (Social Trends 1996 p. 111). This reinforces the socialist case that the largest concentration of ownership of the means of production is in the hands of a small minority of the population, and the working-class majority own a very small amount of investment capital–probably in the form of modest building society or National Savings accounts.

But what about the middle group, shown here as 20 percent of the adult population owning 29 percent of investment capital?

These make up what is generally regarded as the “middle class”, except by the Socialist Party who maintain that there are only two classes–the owners of the means of production and the wage or salary earning working class. For example, in the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard, the now defunct Class War is stated to have made “one crucial error in their class analysis. Instead of a two-class society–owners and workers, they had three”. Evidently Class War (whose publications I have not read) made many errors, but this was not one of them–the three-class analysis conforms more closely to reality than the two-class model of the Socialist Party.

In the above table the population is split at 75 percent because a scrutiny of the relevant Inland Revenue statistics indicates that below this point the average holding of investment capital or “savings” (excluding dwellings, household and personal goods) does not reach £16,000–the point at which eligibility for any Social Security benefit is disqualified. For the 20 percent, this £16,000 minimum (it increased rapidly up the population scale) produces significant unearned income, but not enough to live on. The individual is forced to seek employment as a wage or salary earner, and it is this dual relationship to the means of production–as significant investor and as employee–that defines the middle class and is the economic basis for this class.

The Socialist Party’s view that the middle class are simply the “better off” working class implies that they have an identity of interest with the 75 percent wage-earning majority. While this may be true in the long-term perspective of a future socialist society, it is far from the case now. As the middle class derive an income from their “stake” in the ownership of the means of production they will, and do for the most part, identify their interests with those of capital rather than labour. This middle class (probably in fact larger than Social Trends’s tables indicate) occupy positions of power and influence in all areas of political, economic, and cultural life. They are Tony Blair’s “stakeholders” in capitalism and it is not clear how they can be converted to socialism. On the contrary, they act as a channel for capitalist ideology to permeate the working class–a formidable challenge indeed for the Socialist Party!
John Williams, 

Classes are defined by the relationship of their members to the means of production, not by how rich or poor they are. Of course the members of the dominant class are generally rich and the members of the dominated class(es) are generally poor, but this is an effect not the cause of the division of society into classes.

This means that the figures for wealth ownership are only an indication of the class structure of society–they show that society is divided into classes but not how it is. So, classes should not be defined on the basis of them; classes are defined socially not statistically. And the working class is defined socially as those members of capitalist society who are excluded from the ownership and control of the means of production and are therefore forced to get a living by trying to find an employer to buy their labour power.

Most of those you want to call the “middle class” fall into this category, even if they do have savings, since these savings are not sufficient to change their social position. In the vast majority of cases their “investment income” is not going to amount to more than a few thousands pounds a year at most. Nor are we convinced that such people regard themselves as capitalists; they may not call themselves “working class” but this is because of the term’s popular (but mistaken) association with manual labour and not because they don’t regard themselves as working. In fact they get quite irate if you suggest this. On the other hand, as we said in our criticism of Class War, “making a putative middle class into an enemy is as divisive as anything dreamed up by the owning class”.

Have these better off workers (yes, that’s what they are) you want to call the “middle class” an interest in establishing Socialism? Why not? They are exploited in the sense that they produce more value (or save more time) for their employers than they are paid for (this surplus value they produce will also be more than what they get as income on their savings). Like the rest of the working class (properly understood), they suffer from pressures to work harder, stress and job insecurity.

And even if their higher income does allow them to avoid bad housing and hospital queues and dump schools they still suffer from the bad–and worsening–“quality of life” under capitalism: rampant commercialisation, lack of community feeling, social breakdown, decadent values, not to mention pollution and the threat of war.

Ending Poverty

Dear Editors,

I should like to put forward a question which I think of more relevance now towards the end of the century and the beginning of the new one: what are your aims as the Socialist Party of Great Britain on the transformation of the state? Do you advocate the same theoretical line of certain other system-methodists in the prediction of the withering away of the state, and the instigation by some organised body of a working class of what Lenin referred to as “Marx’s first and second phases” of Communist society?

I know you don’t refer to yourselves as communists, but surely in certain respects your ethos is the same (please correct me if I speak out of turn). What are your thoughts on the acceptance of inevitable inequality in the evincement of the capitalist system, as it crumbles away around us, and we search the debris for the remnants of order, moving consciously towards the second, or higher, phase of the new society? I’m not speaking of “fantastical utopianism” but merely the practical acceptance of the inevitable, and the proper instigation of the new order.

I understand fully that your long term aim is, as all good socialists, the seizing of the means of production, and the property of the whole rather than the individual. But for which socio-economic system do we aim? You will of course say socialism. Perhaps you could define what you mean. Are you referring to some time in the far future, when we shall all work voluntarily as best we can, as far as our ability goes, to suit our joint needs, as part of a co-operative society, no man more independent than another? Do you see this as the conclusion to the modern life-style under the present socio-economic system?

Do you still see yourself as the aggressive enemy of the oppressors of the masses, and the benefactor of the working people? Do you advocate a revolution, or simply a democratic process which is no longer democratic in that it no longer means “for the people”? There can be no democracy under a capitalist system. Do you suffer under the illusion that you can win our case through agitation of the media and non-socialist members, as well as so-called socialist members of the government and local political constituencies? I’m not asking for a recital of your Objective as a Party, but merely a considered response to a straightforward letter.
Kimberley J. Ellis, 
Bromley, Kent

Our aim is socialism, which we define as a world-wide society in which the Earth’s resources will be the common heritage of all humanity under democratic control at world, regional and local level as appropriate. It will be a society where, in your words, “we shall work voluntarily as best we can, as far as our ability goes, to suit our joint needs, as part of a co-operative society”. It will be a society in which the state, as the public power of repression at the disposal of a ruling class, will have been abolished and replaced by a participatory democracy. This is our immediate aim, not some long-term goal.

In short, we think that given the development of productive capacity since Marx made the distinction in 1875 between a “first” (when full free access according to needs would not be possible) and a “higher” phase of “communist society” (when it would), the so-called higher phase can-and should-be established more or less immediately.

Although we call such a society “socialism” we have no objection to it being called “communism” as long as it is clearly understood that this has nothing to do with the state-capitalist dictatorships that used to exist in Russia and East Europe.

As to your other questions, no, we don’t see ourselves as “the benefactor of the working people”. We are wage and salary workers who don’t see ourselves as a group doing anything for other fellow workers other than putting before them the basic socialist propositions that under capitalism there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest between capitalists and workers; that capitalism can never be reformed so as to work in the interest of workers; that what is required is a society of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit.

If workers want such a socialist society this is something they must do for themselves without following leaders or relying on benefactors. We can’t establish it for them. As we say in our declaration of principles “the emancipation of the working class must be the working of the working class itself”.

No, we don’t suffer from the illusion that existing MPs and local councillors can do anything to further the cause of socialism. Their job, and in fact aspiration, is merely to run the political side of capitalism in Britain, and capitalism can only be run as a profit system in which priority must always be given to making profits over meeting needs. We also agree that there can be no real democracy under capitalism in the sense of a situation in which everybody has an equal say in deciding what should be done and in which those decisions can be implemented without hindrance. This is not the case today.

Having said this, in many parts of the world including Britain a sufficient degree of democracy exists for a socialist majority to be able to use existing elective bodies, such as parliament, to win control of the state machine through the ballot box. Of course, to work, this presupposes a socialist-minded and democratically organised majority outside parliament standing firmly behind the delegates they will have sent into parliament with the single mandate to take the formal steps to stop the state supporting capitalism.

Edinburgh Branch (1998)

Party News from the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Discussion Forum: Imagine
Politics is out of style. Racing towards the Millennium, we are faced as consumers with an increasingly perplexing range of career decision, pension plans, healthcare options, educational opportunities and leisure choices. But as electors, the political choice we are provided with appears to be rapidly narrowing down to an infinite number of politicians dancing on the middle-ground. Even Greenpeace and Oxfam have given up on governments, focusing their energies instead on shareholders at AGMs. It is against this background therefore that Edinburgh Branch has organised a series of discussions on the theme “How we live and how we might live.”

Saturday 21 March, 3-5pm.
The Classless Society. Speaker: Brian Gardner.

Is the accelerating development of capitalism, with its smart cards, TESSAs and ever-increasing consumer choice, gradually moving towards the classless society that both John Major and Karl Marx referred to? Is the market system the only way of prioritising what gets produced – or who goes hungry? Is the old communist ideal of production for use just a romantic but Utopian vision? And who cares about globalisation anyway if the bus service is still rubbish?

Venue: Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, Grassmarket, Edinburgh.

Goodbye to the Welfare State . . . as we know it (1998)

From the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

As members of the working class living on state benefits are well aware, it is quite impossible to put a little by for a rainy day, for every day is forecast as a downpour, and trying to keep your head out of the deluge is a constant problem. And for those who are wholly dependent on benefits as their only source of income, their whole lifestyle is dictated by their resourcefulness in eking out their pittance from one day to the next. Yet the Labour government is planning to make things worse.

One of the major problems for the Labour government is the ongoing increase in the benefits bill—which this year is approaching £100 billion—accounting for the largest slice of government expenditure. The changes in the NHS and education system, brought about by the Tory administration, were plainly underfunded and have resulted in Labour putting Tory Plan B into effect by instigating a deliberate purge in social security payments to enable them to fund the NHS and education changes set in motion by the previous government. In order to meet these financial targets Blair needs to make savings of around £8 billion on the social security budget.

Scraping the barrel
Alongside this Labour are also faced with the problem of attracting skilled workers back into the workforce should the economy show signs of improving. Why put workers through costly training programmes when there are ample skilled workers already available, albeit suffering ill-health or disability to varying degrees? Far better to meet the demands for a low paid, short-term casual and part-time workforce by scraping the barrel and getting the skilled disabled—specifically those who are suffering less than 65 percent disability—back into the labour market. With 2.8 million people of working age claiming benefits due to ill-health or disability, Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Security, intends to ensure their amount of benefits does not act a disincentive to them returning to employment.

This explains the emphasis Tony Blair places on “offering the opportunity” to those who are sick and disabled to provide for themselves with “appropriate support”. But such explanations also provide the means for the Blair government to distance itself from the present obligation of “provision of universal benefits for life” to a scenario of capping universal entitlement to incapacity and disability benefits to one, or two years, so that after that period means tested benefits come into operation.

The present Social Security Review is the third since the Beveridge proposals for a two-tier National insurance/national assistance social security system were implemented in 1948, with each review making major changes in “the application of universal entitlement” by a mixture of increased bureaucracy and deterrence through lack of appropriate information, or any help from qualified staff at point of access to enable benefit claimants to actually receive their full entitlement. This is a major reason why one million pensioners fail to apply for the full range of various benefits that are available.

The whole purpose of the two previous reviews was to make substantial cuts in the social security budget. So we should not expect this one to be any different. But another lesson of history, which Labour have failed to learn (and as the present cost of social security amply illustrates), is that the previous reviews proved to be damp squibs when confronted by workers more resolute in keeping their heads above water than meddling politicians or inept bureaucrats.

Blair is bowing to the need to impose austerity measures in response to the global crisis of capitalism and the Maastricht criteria in order to ensure British capitalists are well-placed if and when the upturn in the global economy occurs and for possible entry into the single European currency. Such measures also offer the opportunity of projecting the image of a “reforming government” when plainly they are no such thing, but merely a reorganising (and cutting-back) on past reforms.

It is also hoped to curtail fraud and abuse by developing an integrated computer system for the Employment Service, the DSS, local authorities and the Inland Revenue. Initially this reorganisation will put increased pressure on DSS staff and hinder them in achieving their cost and efficiency targets set at 25 percent savings, and also undoubtedly lead to inevitable delays in claimants’ payments whilst claims are being processed. As for claimants, with delayed payment notorious for the creation of a “crisis period” any further adverse moves will only exacerbate the problems of those caught up in the poverty trap.

Various leaks have suggested which benefits could come under the hammer. For instance, Child Benefit is likely to be limited to under 16-year-olds and also capped for those who earn over £20,000-£30,000 a year. Likewise Statutory Sick Pay and Statutory Maternity Pay face the possibility of being capped at the level of £20,000 yearly earnings—resulting in 8.8 percent of claimants of SMP who are currently over that bracket having their disposable income accordingly reduced. Incapacity Benefit could be limited to one or two years, after which those claimants found to be only 65 percent disabled will be encouraged back into the work force by linking them to the means-tested Disability Working Allowance, or something similar. Should this “opportunity” to return to wage slavery found to be wanting no doubt more compelling measures will be used in conjunction with the Job Seekers Allowance. For those in receipt of Severe Disablement Allowance and Industrial Injuries Benefit there is the possibility of both these benefits being amalgamated under a new disability heading and either taxed accordingly, or made an overlapping benefit against other disability benefits.

Since the introduction of policies such as Care in the Community, and with the creation of unitary authorities, many Social Services departments are being hard pressed to meet many of their statutory obligations within their present budgets. This state of affairs has resulted in them considering charging for some of the services they dispense to the mentally and physically disabled. This raises the possibility of claimants currently receiving either the care component for Disability Living Allowance, or if aged over 65, Attendance Allowance, finding they will have to forfeit these particular benefits for receiving local authority care or support. It is also highly likely that both these benefits will, be capped for those earning over £20,000 a year, or taxed as income—and therefore in a roundabout way means-tested—or even for that matter directly means-tested.

The introduction of disablement benefits undoubtedly enabled many recipients to partake in activities which previously had been denied them, especially those who experienced difficulties with mobility. The prospect of this continuing looks bleak for those claiming the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance for it is highly possible that on reaching the age of 65 they can look forward to a life sentence of being housebound with the mobility component being cut from that age.

If such measures are actually put into practice the limited autonomy the disabled presently enjoy will face even further erosion, leading no doubt to an explosion of discontent from the numerous charities and agencies involved with disablement issues, and also from those who were instrumental in obtaining reforms of this nature—in recognition that the needs of the disabled outweigh those of the able-bodied. But with Blair clearly stating that “the welfare state had been left behind by social and economic change”, it is pretty obvious their pleas are going to be met with cynical platitudes from the politicians.

Deterring take-up
Whatever austerity measures are actually imposed on those benefits which presently come under the criteria of “universal entitlement”, the general trend will be towards linking them with some form of means-testing in order to deter the recent high growth in the take-up rate for benefits—especially from the sick and disabled. The high take-up rate for disability benefits in particular proved to be a stumbling block for the Tories, who sought to curb it by installing a stricter medical criteria, and by introducing the Benefit Integrity project which randomly selects 12 percent of claimants for review (this alone is expected to cover 500,000 disability claims) and resulted in 10 percent of those reviewed having their payments cut. Yet despite these and other measures workers have managed to counter them by adopting the realistic attitude of “getting what they can from the system”, and responding in kind with 345,859 new claims for DLA and a further 55,605 new claims for Industrial Injuries Benefit since April.

With a full-blown means test unlikely to become the norm for claiming benefits—for the extra cost of administration would be self-defeating—and with Blair making a point of emphasising that the means-tested safety nets of Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit also face scrutiny, it can be expected that cuts will be implemented on these already meagre handouts. For instance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit could be made applicable to only one person per household—irrespective of whether other members of the household claim Income Support. Alternatively, claimants could be made to pay 20 percent of their rent before Housing Benefit comes into operation. If such measures are adopted it will inevitably mean that means-tested claimants will feel the pinch by being expected to pay a portion of their benefit towards rent.

Socialists argue that all reformist activity is subject to the changing nature of capitalism. To fight the same old welfare reform battles over several decades is demoralising enough, but when previous reforms are put into reverse the case against the system which puts profits before needs is stronger than ever.

Even before Labour won the May election, the Child Poverty Action Group in their Rights Guide to non-means-tested benefits, made a point of forecasting that “Is it naïve of us to hope that our successors(s) as authors of this Guide will have a comprehensive range of non-means-tested benefits to describe here in six years time?” (March 1997.) Frankly with Blair and his ilk locked into the profit system, the Socialist Party can confidently assure the CPAG that their guide for 2003 will be a decidedly slimmer version.
G. Digger

The Curse of Money (1998)

Book Review from the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

An important new book presents a powerful critique of money. Everything money touches acquires a price tag. That’s the problem.

Many people see money simply as a useful tool to facilitate the exchange of goods giving people a wider choice of things to consume. There is an element of truth in this. Without coins, and nowadays bank accounts and cheque books and credit cards, exchange at existing levels would be impossible, and wage and salary earners are better off being paid in money than in kind as it means that they, not their employer or the government, can decide what to consume (within the limits of their pay cheque, of course).

But this is only one side of the story. The other side is told by James Buchan in Frozen Desire. An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money (Picador). This is a history of money but one written not so much from an economic as from a cultural point of view. It records money’s role not just as a technical means of exchange but also the effect it has had on social relationships between humans. This is not to say that Buchan hasn’t got a grasp of economics. He has (at one time he worked for the Financial Times) but this is supplemented by a wide knowledge of literature and art on which he draws to illustrate his points.

For Buchan, money is the “frozen desire” of the title of the book. Before money existed people satisfied their everyday concrete needs (meals, clothes, a roof over their head) directly by concrete means, by themselves working or by sharing the fruits of the work of the other members of their community. With money this changes. Because money is a universal equivalent—something that can be spent on anything—the needs of its owners cease to be concrete and limited and become abstract and limitless.

A money-owner’s desires are no longer limited to what they can personally consume but only by the amount of money they possess. The more money they possess the greater their “needs” and, since there is no theoretical limit to the amount of money they can own, there is also no limit to their needs or, more accurately, to their “desires”. Put another way, people come to desire more than they reasonably need or consume. However, although there are no theoretical limits to the amount of money a person can own there are severe practical limits to what most people can. So, with money, most people are going to be constantly and permanently dissatisfied, and they are generally, without hope of relief.

Money, says Buchan, as the means to satisfy the unlimited desire which it generates, can itself be seen as a part of that desire but in concrete form, as “congealed” or “frozen” or “incarnate” desire. Although money does give people a wider variety of choice, it is only a choice of things that have a price tag on them and so doesn’t—in fact can’t—include non-monetary considerations such as friendships, relationships, sense of belonging to a community, artistic values and other non-material satisfactions. In fact, the choice of these things, which most people value higher than material things, is diminished since they don’t count in a monetary economy which either makes them disappear or else devalues them by trying to pin a price tag on them.

Cuckoo in the nest
Money is a social relation. It links together people and their work, but, says Buchan, it’s an insidious social relation. Once introduced into society it tends to spread and undermine and ultimately dissolve all other social relationships. As he puts it, “money enters the system of values, and then displaces all other values like a cuckoo in a nest”. At first this freeing of people from all obligations towards other people except monetary ones was a liberating process: serfs and workers were freed from dependence on feudal and religious hierarchies; women’s dependence on men was reduced; discriminations other than those based on how much money you have began to die out.

But the process doesn’t stop there. It has continued and tends to dissolve all non-economic relations between humans not just hierarchical and discriminatory ones. It leads to everything coming to have a monetary price and to everything being judged in monetary terms. The process is not yet quite complete but it gets nearer and nearer to completion all the time. For instance, in recent years we’ve seen the idea progress that the victims of atrocities, crimes and accidents can be “compensated” for their suffering by monetary awards. It is obvious that money can’t really relieve their past and present suffering but it is becoming more and more acceptable, even to the victims themselves, that a money payment can somehow compensate, for instance, the surviving Jewish victims of Nazism, former British prisoners of war in Japan or the victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

Thatcher once notoriously said that society didn’t exist, only individuals and families did. As a description of the situation under capitalism it was accurate enough and is still true today to a large extent, but money is exerting pressure to dissolve the family too so that all that will be left in the end will be competing individuals whose only links with each other will be monetary. Buchan foresees the day when relations between the sexes to reproduce the species will be on a purely monetary basis: men will openly pay women to have their children and women will openly pay men to be the fathers of theirs. The signs are already there in surrogate mothers, divorce settlements and the philosophy and activities of the Child Support Agency.

Economics, says Buchan in a criticism of that old hypocrite Adam Smith (who preached free trade but took a job as a customs officer), instead of recoiling in horror from the prospect of all relations between people being reduced to monetary ones, positively welcomes this, indeed proclaims and preaches it, arguing that the pursuit of short-term monetary gain by individuals is the most efficient way to organise the production and distribution of wealth. This leads, Buchan says, not only to all social relationships being poisoned but to nature being raped. “For that is the end of economics: the world reduced to a scorching slum, its women to whores, its men to murderers”. Poetic licence perhaps, but who can deny that this is the direction the world is heading?

Unfit for humans
This understanding, Buchan points out, was the great contribution of the Romantics, the name given to those 18th and 19th century poets, artists and writers who objected to the rise of industrial capitalism and its utilitarian and money values:
“The Romantics reminded us of the evil of money: how the habit of calculating and making comparisons in money diminishes much that is strange and precious in creation, indeed abolishes quality itself as a mental category by which to understand reality; displaces trust in people by trust in money, and thus poisons the relations between human beings and atomises society; and submerges being in possessing”.

“These contradictions lie at the heart of the great sadness of our civilisation: that by using money, we convert our world into it. Humanity is . . . estranged by money from its natural habitat, without any hope of appeal. We are also . . . estranged by money from one another. It is this sense of a community of people atomised by money where all human relations are disrupted by money, that is the second great Romantic legacy to our age”.
In a chapter on Marx entitled “Death in Dean Street” Buchan, basing himself on Marx’s writings from 1843 and 1844, classifies Marx as being in the Romantic tradition because his objection to money and capitalism was not merely that it wasn’t an efficient economic system in terms of satisfying the material needs of the majority but that “a social system that evaluated men and women in terms of money and made morality a function of credit was unworthy of the human being”. This was why, explains Buchan, Marx’s utopia was “an ideal society without money”.

At the end of the final chapter (“Money: A Valediction”) Buchan hints that this is his utopia too. He doesn’t see why resources need to be distributed amongst separate owners and suggests that the unowned parts of nature pass “into communal ownership, which is no ownership at all” , and writes:
“I know you are weary of communism, of the lullaby of Calvary and Dean Street, but it will be heard as long as there is money; like the Sibyl’s books, it is offered to every age, and always at a higher price in money. To reject it is to persist in a delusion so complete that human beings exult in their irreparable losses; and like Hazlitt’s misers, ‘are not sorry when they die, to think they shall no longer be an expense to themselves'”.
Adam Buick

Voice From The Back: Thought for food (1998)

The Voice From The Back Column from the February 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thought for food

Back in the summer, the weather expert in the Guardian chatted about global warming and came to the conclusion that it was capitalism that would cause the problems, not carbon dioxide. She or he said: “[A] Deep Truth about world food supply . . . has been clear since the Science Policy Research Unit made an in depth analysis of climate and world food in the 1970s. There is no difficulty in growing enough food to feed even the increased population of the globe in the 21st century, however the climate changes. The reason why there are famines now, and will be in the future, is that food is not distributed evenly. On many scenarios, the overall effect of global warming will be to increase world food supply. But the haves are likely to have even more, while the have nots experience the droughts and famines. People starve because of politics, not because of the weather.”

It’s a business

As the law stands, dealers in illegal drugs can register their trade for tax purposes and tax officials will protect their identify from the police and other government agencies . . . A spokesman for the Inland Revenue said: “Tax law does not discriminate between profits made from illegal or legal activities. We only report taxpayers to the police if we suspect they are involved in murder” (Independent on Sunday, 16 November)

It’s a crime!

Magistrates in Wales have fined a woman £200 for possessing a tiny piece of cannabis with an estimated street value of 50p. The 23-year-old single mother pleaded guilty to have 0.2 grammes of cannabis at her home in Cernarth, Dyfed, and on top of the fine was order to pay £40 costs. Her solicitor, Mr Alan Lewis, said. “The drug seized was no more than the size of a grain of rice, barely enough to smoke. It was so small she could have brushed it off the table and no one would have known” (Independent on Sunday, 16 November).

New sweatshops

Automatic all distribution (ACD) and information and communication technology (ICT) have enabled call centres to become hugely powerful business machines, and the UK has proudly assumed the mantle of Europe’s “call centre capital”. With more than 250,000 people already employed in call centres, and around 1 million expected to join them by the end of the decade, it is the fastest growing employment sector of the economy . . . Call centres are all about cost reduction. If companies learned one lesson from the recession it was from Direct Line founder Peter Wood’s brainwave: slashing wage bills by replacing hundreds of high street outlets with a shed full of telephones . . . In several of the largest call centres, operators are virtually chained to their desks, even having to ask permission for toilet breaks . . . John Orsmond, chairman of Advertising Research Marketing, which advises advertisers on how to use call centres, says he knows of employers in Scotland paying rates as low as £2.35 an hour.

A grateful nation

An 81-year-old crippled war veteran who was refused a place in a care home by his local authority, threw himself under a train after his pleas for help were ignored, a Northern Ireland inquest heard yesterday . . . Mr McLarnon has been taunted by youths for being an ex-soldier, the court heard. On the day he died, he had visited his local British Legion club—as he usually did—and asked friends for help. He had only 63p in his bank book and did not have enough for his bus fare home. Elizabeth Thompson, nursing manager of the Somme home for ex-soldiers in Belfast, said she had recommended Mr McLarnon’s admittance but the health board has refused to fund it. Health chiefs had been “irate” about the pressure being put on them (Guardian, 13 November).

Giving thanks

As the service of thanksgiving for the life of billionaire Sir James Goldsmith entered its second hour at St John’s in London’s Smith Square on Thursday, the first of the 700-plus congregation began to leave. Baroness Thatcher, who was due at another memorial service, for Viscount Tonypandy, was followed by GEC boss Lord Weinstock and the Earl of Suffolk. In the event the celebration lasted more than two hours, something of a shock for Goldsmith’s widow lady Annabel . . . (Mail on Sunday, 16 November).

Letters: To vote or not to vote (1998)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

To vote or not to vote

Dear Editors,

In his article on Class War (Socialist Standard, October 1997) Paddy Shannon wrote that “so long as there are revolutionaries out there with the energy to act and the will to think, we want to talk to them”. Unfortunately when talking to revolutionaries, Socialist Party members are usually caught up in the debater’s tricks that have so characterised any debate with anarchist revolutionaries, that is, to wilfully misunderstand what we are saying, and then accuse us of a whole list of things that we have never said or done. Such was the case with a recent exchange with the Anarchist Communist Federation. First we were falsely accused of punishment beatings, and when we strenuously denied this, we were then told we were also guilty of advocating head-shaving, tarring and feathering, tying to posts, sticking notices on front doors, curfews and chasing people out of town. This cheapjack debater’s rhetoric is camouflage for the Socialist Party’s own failure to address the problem of the State, the police and crime.

Are the police merely “workers in uniform”—“not the real enemy” as Paddy Shannon says—who will continue to exist after the Socialist Party has managed to persuade the majority to vote for them and who will carry on doing what they were doing before the Great Socialist Vote? You have never seriously tackled the question of the police, the army and the other forces of repression organised by the State and the ruling class. When others attempt to develop ideas about how we can control our own areas without the police, you readily caricature us as advocates of vigilantism.

The forces of State repression are our enemy just as much as is the boss class. Of course all methods must be used to counter them—not excluding fraternisation, revolutionary propaganda aimed at them etc. But this leads to the dissolution of these forces not their control by some benign Socialist Party administered State.

You seem to think that you are revolutionaries. But you have consistently failed to take part in any mass actions—for example against the Poll Tax—preferring the safe isolation of your own sect. You have consistently argued against revolutionary action on every occasion. In actual fact you are good old-fashioned reformists. Wait till you have an electoral majority to vote in Socialism—of course the boss class and the State won’t lift a finger-and in the meantime do nothing but propagandise! But you can’t even get the votes of most social-democratic parties and you have been trapped in your sterile logic for the good part of a century!

Of course as Paddy Shannon correctly says: “The more violence is involved, the more likely the revolution is to fail outright, or to be blown sideways into a new minority dictatorship.” But most revolutions are remarkably non-violent, in their constructive phases at least. The violence comes when the boss class starts fighting back. That’s when armed self-defence of the Revolution is necessary. You criticise Nestor Makhno in the Ukraine for defending revolutionary gains there. What would you have done there? Call for an election and a vote for the Socialist Party? As White and Bolshevik armies attempt to destroy any revolutionary gains!

There are many fine and decent people in the Socialist Party. But if a real revolutionary movement emerges in Britain, you will be forced as individuals to come to terms with the dead end of electoralism. Then there may well be splits in your Party, as some see the need for revolutionary action and others remain trapped within an irrelevant sect.
Ron Allen, 
London E1

1. Perhaps we are doomed to misunderstand each other. You accuse us of caricaturing your position yet immediately go on to caricature ours by talking about “some benign Socialist Party administered State”.

Anyone who knows anything about us knows that we regard the whole idea of a “socialist state” or a “socialist government” as a contradiction in terms and that we envisage the dissolution of the repressive state upon the establishment of socialism.

So let’s start again.

We have thought long and hard about the state and its repressive forces. Our reasoning goes like this. We want the useful majority in society (workers of all kinds) to take over and run the means of production in the interest of all. However, at the moment these are in the hands of a minority of the population whose ownership and control of them is backed up-and, when necessary, enforced-by the state and its repressive forces. The state stands as an obstacle between the useful majority and the means of production because it is at present controlled by the minority owning class. They control the state, not by some conspiracy, but with the consent or acquiescence of the majority of the population, a consent which expresses itself in everyday attitudes towards rich people, leaders, nationalism, money, etc. and, at election times, in voting for parties which support class ownership. In fact it is such majority support expressed through elections that gives their control of the state legitimacy.

In other words, the minority rule with the assent of the majority, which gives them political control. The first step towards taking over the means of production, therefore, must be to take over control of the state, and the easiest way to do this is via elections. But elections are merely a technique, a method. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the useful majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority; they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule-they must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control.

Alternative ways of dislodging the owning class have been suggested, such as the head-on clashes with the forces of the state by a determined minority that you advocate. This is foolish, not to say suicidal: the state wins every time. The plain fact is that you can’t “smash the state” while it still enjoys majority support—and when those who control it no longer enjoy majority support there is no need to try to “smash” it: the majority can use the power of their numbers to take control of it via the ballot box, so that it is no longer used to uphold class ownership.

To do so they will need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. This is what we advocate. We don’t suffer from delusions of grandeur so we don’t necessary claim that we are that party. What we are talking about is not a small educational and propagandist group, but a mass party that has yet to emerge. It is such a party that will take political control via the ballot box, but since it will in effect be the useful majority organised democratically and politically for socialism it is the useful majority, not the party as such as something separate from that majority, that carries out the socialist transformation of society. They neutralise the state and its repressive forces-there is no question of forming a government-and then proceed to take over the means of production for which they will also have organised themselves at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, reorganised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the useful majority will have formed to take over and run production, to form the democratic administrative structure of the stateless society of common ownership that socialism will be.

This is perhaps a less romantic idea of the socialist revolution than yours but a thousand times more realistic. Which is why we think this is the way it will happen. When the time comes the socialist majority will use the ballot box since it will be the obvious thing to do, and nobody will be able to prevent them or persuade them not to. At that time it will be anti-electoralists like you who will be irrelevant. Presumably you’ll be there on the sidelines (except, that is, for those who will have split off and joined the socialist majority) chanting “Don’t Vote”. It is doubtful if anyone will be listening.

2. Our differences on this point lead to different conceptions as to what is “revolutionary action”. Since you favour head-on clashes with the forces of the state, it is such actions that you regard as “revolutionary”, irrespective of what the clashes are about.

This is the only basis on which you can make the preposterous claim that the campaign against the old Poll Tax was “revolutionary”. After all, this was a campaign to reform the tax structure of the capitalist state. It is true that it did contain elements of resisting some people’s standard of living being reduced, but that still didn’t make it revolutionary but merely a defensive action within the capitalist system (and a sectionalist one in that not all workers were worse off with the Poll Tax compared to the previous system of paying rates).

Our individual members made up their own minds as to whether or not to pay the Poll Tax (some did, some didn’t) and it is true that, as a party, we didn’t try to jump on the anti-Poll Tax bandwagon and hijack it for some supposedly “revolutionary” end by trying to provoke confrontations with the police. A reformist campaign does not cease to be a reformist campaign because its partisans, or some of them, resort to riots and grappling with the police. Violence no more equates with revolution than non-violence does with reformism. It is the end not the means that decides.

At the moment it is the peaceful activity of undermining people’s support for capitalist ideas that is the most revolutionary and subversive activity that opponents of capitalism can engage in because it is precisely people’s pro-capitalist ideas, not the repressive forces of the state, that maintain capitalism in being. Yet you consistently dismiss such revolutionary activity as mere propagandising.

3. Finally, to return to your idea of forming a “real neighbourhood watch” to deal with “anti-social elements” in place of the police, we don’t think you’ve thought this through either. People resort to drug-dealing, mugging and burglary, not because they are evil, but because to live in a capitalist society you need money and this is one option that is open for workers to acquire some.

Chasing the police off some housing estate or out of some neighbourhood won’t change this reality; it then becomes someone else’s problem. You then take on the responsibility for trying to suppress what is undoubtedly anti-social behaviour but which some people will always resort to as long as capitalism exists-and your “no go” areas will continue to exist within the framework of capitalism.

We don’t think that we are being unfair in putting you on the spot over this. How precisely are you going to deal with drug-pushers, muggers and burglars? No doubt you would begin by warning them off, but if that didn’t work what would you then do? OK, you could bring popular pressure to bear on them-boycott them, “send them to Coventry”-but, if that didn’t work you’d have to resort to physical force in the end, to chase them away (not that that would solve the problem; it would be a typical not-in-my-backyard reaction; they would merely move to some other area and continue their anti-social activities there).

We find it strange that people calling themselves anarchists should want to get involved in trying to maintain “order” under capitalism, to in effect try to do the state’s job for it. It won’t work anyway since crime, being endemic to capitalism, cannot be suppressed by the police, or by vigilantes or by your vague “real neighbourhood watch”. It will always exist under capitalism and to get involved in trying to suppress it is dangerous for revolutionaries as it is to take on responsibility for running capitalism, which, as we know from experience, always ends in tears. A self-policed neighbourhood under capitalism is no more revolutionary than a self-managed firm producing for the market-which is another mistaken idea from the same stable.

Ending Poverty

Dear Editors,

Thank you for publishing your review of my book To End Poverty (Socialist Standard, November). It was very good and would give your readers a clear idea of what it was, and is, all about.

I was only a little disappointed that you did not mention the key factor—the disproof of the Theory of Division of Labour. This theory says that all members of a firm benefit with higher wages if the firm succeeds. I say that the lowest paid don’t benefit because the unemployed outside are prepared to work for less. Conventional economic wisdom used to say that theoretically there can be no unemployment because production creates its own demand (Say’s Law), so theoretically there are no unemployed outside to depress wages. Say’s Law has now been junked by Keynes, and everyone else, so the Theory of Division of Labour has been disproved; so industrialisation impoverishes.
Richard Hunt, 

We don’t understand the point you are trying to make. The Theory of the Division of Labour says that more can be produced by people specialising in what they are best at than by everybody having to produce everything they need. It applies equally in an agricultural, and even a hunter-gatherer, context as in an industrial one. For instance, in a tribe of hunters, it is more efficient if some members concentrate on making arrows while others concentrate on actual hunting than if every hunter has to make his own arrows.

This is a technical point which has nothing to do with Say’s Law which is an erroneous (as Marx pointed out long before Keynes) theory about markets.

What your example shows is not that the industrial division of labour as such causes poverty but that it only does so where the means of industrial production are owned by one class for whom the rest have to work for wages. If the means of production were owned in common and used to produce what people require, as socialists advocate, there would be no need for anybody to go without adequate food, clothing, shelter and the other amenities of life. We don’t need to abolish industry to get rid of poverty, only the ownership of industry by a minority, privileged class.

(To John Williams, Kimberly Ellis, John Loomes and Ian Synclere: we will be replying to your letters in coming issues.)

A familiar story from Japan (1998)

From the February 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

In August of last year, analysing the Earth II Summit, we hinted that nothing much should be expected from the December 1997 Conference on Climatic Change which was to be held in Kyoto, Japan.

Judging by the pessimistic headlines that carried news of the Conference’s closure, it would seem we were again proved right.

The Guardian on 12 December, for instance, announced: “Kyoto Deal Leaves US Free to Pollute”, and the story was the dominant one to emerge from the talks.

After hundreds of hours of arguing, the 10,000 who attended the conference from 160 countries agreed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent over the next 15 years. The compromise basically involved the cutting of such gases by 38 leading industrial countries—the developing nations being under no obligation to reduce emissions—the EU by 8 percent, the USA (the world's biggest polluter) by 7 percent and Japan by 6 percent.

Long before the compromise had been reached there was evidence of its hollow echo, with US congressmen, representing coal, iron and steel interests, intimating they would scupper any treaty by voting to oppose it when it comes up for ratification by Congress later this year.

Similar fears were echoed by Japanese officials who pointed out that the fuel lobby can assert considerable influence on Japanese governmental decisions.

Moreover, critics have pointed to one clause of the agreement—the trading of emissions quotas—which would enable the US to make no cuts at all, and perhaps even increase emissions. Impoverished countries would be all too tempted to sell portions of their quota on emissions to countries such as the US where powerful fuel interests care more for short-term profit than the long-term damage to the environment. In short, this clause—and one the US insisted was included before they would agree to anything—is a loophole designed to let Western corporate élites buy their way out of the obligation to cut emissions.

What becomes of the brave words spoken at Kyoto when the time comes for the promises to be implemented is anyone’s guess. One thing is certain. We can not expect obligations to be met so long as there are profits to be made.

Perhaps Michael Meacher, Environment Minister, said it all when he complained: “We in the EU cannot be expected to reduce our emissions more than our competitors” (Guardian, 10 December). Nice one, Michael. Need we say more?
John Bissett

Europe’s industrial reserve army (1998)

From the February 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last November the leaders of the 15 member countries of the European Union met in Luxemburg for a summit on unemployment. At the last count there were about 18 million registered unemployed in the Common Market or 11 percent of the active population.

As was to be expected nothing spectacular was decided. Led by fellow conservatives Kohl and Blair, they limited themselves to endorsing measures aimed at helping the economy recover of its own accord. The buzzwords were “flexibility” (making it easier to sack workers), “competitiveness” (not placing any extra cost burdens on employers such as shorter hours with no proportionate loss of pay) and “employability” (sending people on training courses). Not only this but a public works programme, which even pre-Keynesian governments used to resort to in times of slump, was ruled out.

Marx called the unemployed “the reserve army of labour”, as a pool of workers which employers can draw on in periods of rapid growth and send back to in times of slump and stagnation. Changes in the size of this reserve army—the level of unemployment—depend on a number of factors. The growth of the working population obviously, but also on the rate at which jobs are destroyed by the rise in productivity (resulting in the same amount being produced with less workers).

So, for unemployment to fall, the economy must grow not just faster than the growth of the working population but faster than the rise in productivity as well. As Marx put it in a talk given to German workers in 1847, ironically enough in Brussels, “the most favourable situation for the working class” under capitalism is “the most rapid possible growth of capital” in the sense that “the more rapidly the worker increases the wealth of others, the richer will be the crumbs that fall to him, the greater the number of workers that can be employed and called into existence, the more can the mass of slaves dependent on capital be increased” (Wage Labour and Capital).

This basic fact of capitalism is recognised in a discussion paper “Long-term growth potential in the EU and its relation with employment and unemployment” produced by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Economic Affairs. According to this, the working population in the EU countries is more or less static while productivity is growing at 2 percent a year. The rate of growth since 1990, however, has only been 1.4 percent, clearly not enough to reduce the current level of unemployment.

Defining full employment as 3 percent of the working population, the paper calculates that to get unemployment down to this level from its current 11 percent within ten years would require a sustained rate of growth of between 3 and 3.5 percent in each of the coming ten years.

That this could in theory happen is not the question (such rates have been achieved in the past). The question is: how likely is it to happen in practice? The European Commission itself clearly didn’t think it likely as the paper was not presented to the summit and remains a mere departmental discussion document. And the paper itself is not very confident either as its ideas are presented as a mere possible “scenario”.

It does not even offer any reason as to why the rate of growth should suddenly and spontaneously more than double from its current 1.4 percent to the required 3-3.5 percent. It merely mentions in passing increased exports (to where?) and expresses the hope that the currency stability, which it expects the Euro to bring, will give employers the confidence to invest more than up to now.

This is all pretty flimsy. Both the logic and the history of capitalism, which is a system driven by the accumulation of capital out of profits, show that the rate of accumulation only increases as a result of a sustained period of technological innovation (such as the application of the internal combustion engine to transport or the electrification of industry) which requires the stock of capital equipment to be renewed. It has never been consumption-led.

Increased consumption has always been a consequence, never the cause, of a sustained period of economic growth. So it is no good pointing, as reformists do, to the vast unmet need for better schools, hospitals and housing and for more food and clothing for the between 10 and 15 percent of the population living on or below the poverty line. That is not relevant since capitalism as an economic system is not geared to satisfying consumption but to accumulating capital, in the form of more and more productive plant, machinery and equipment.

So there is every reason to remain sceptical and to doubt that in ten year’s time unemployment will be down to 3 percent. Those who claim otherwise are either wishful thinkers or illusion-mongers.
Adam Buick

Crack Down On Robbery – Abolish The Wages System (1998)

From the February 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much talk about crime and disorder fills the press. New Labour’s neo-Tories compete with one another to invent harsher ways of being “tough on criminals”. They speak as if they are opposed to robbery. But the fact is that they fully support a system which is based upon legalised robbery. Governments, be they Labour or Tory, are the robbers’ best friends and protectors.

There are two classes in present-day society: those who possess but have no need to produce wealth, and those who produce all the goods and services but do not possess the means of production. Between these two classes there can never be peace or stability. The one is enriched at the expense of the other.

According to the most recent United Nations Human Development Report (July 1996) “half the world’s wealth is owned by just 385 people”. The report gives figures to show how just 385 billionaires possess more assets than the collectives GDPs of countries containing 45 per cent of the world’s population. This staggering concentration of economic power is not the result of these billionaires working hard. (Most of the very rich inherit their wealth.) But it is the result of hard work–ours.

The capitalists of the world (by which we mean the millionaire and billionaire monopolisers of the means of wealth production and distribution, not the owners of corner shops or small businesses) are the beneficiaries of a system of organised robbery known as the Wages System.

How does this system work? Most people own little except their mental and physical energies. The one thing we have to sell is our ability to work – our labour power. We sell this for a price known as a wage or salary.

To whom do we sell our labour power? To those who possess the power to exploit it. In short, to the owners of the means of production (factories, offices, farms, mines etc.) who pay us money for producing wealth which they own.

The unique characteristic of labour power, which makes it a particularly valuable commodity for the capitalists to purchase, is that it can produce value greater than itself. In other words, even if workers are paid approximately the value of their labour power, the product of their labour is always greater than that value.

Let us take an example of how this robbery works. A boss employs a worker for £200 a week. For the worker to be profitable they must reproduce the price of his own labour power (£200) and transfer the costs of using capital, i.e.. machinery, electricity, raw materials. But still, having repaid the capitalist’s investment, the worker must produce a surplus: wealth over and above the value of his or her own purchase. This surplus value is the source of profit.

Now, let us imagine that a worker earning £200 a week realises that by Wednesday afternoon they have reproduced their wage: paid back the capitalist’s investment in them. And she has covered the investment in capital. So, they go into the boss’s office (is a boss is to be found in the workplace!) and say,”‘I’ve given you a fair exchange. I’ve received a wage and now I’ve repaid it. So I’m going home to take a rest.” The capitalist (or a managerial errand boy) would soon have to put this worker straight. For workers sell their labour power for a weekly wage or monthly salary and the deal is that they are only offered payment as long as the capitalist can reasonably expect to be able to rob them of the fruits of their labour.

The serious problem of mass unemployment of millions of able-bodied people in this and other countries is a direct result of the need for capitalists to be free to exploit workers for surplus value. A man might have great skill as a bricklayer or computer programmer, but if the wage or salary which they would receive as an employee is unlikely to be repaid by surplus value, then the skill is unused and the human doomed to idleness and hopelessness. No profit, no employment.

So, employment is in reality a system of legalised robbery. Deluded wage slaves have been taught to be grateful to employers for giving them a wage or salary. In fact, this payment is only a fraction of what they produce. It is they, the wealth producers, who are giving an income to the capitalists. It is an unearned income. And it is a thief’s income. For, like all robbers, the capitalists do not steal from the workers on an equal basis. Just as the mugger with a knife takes the purse from an old lady and pleads in court that she “chose” to part with it, so the capitalists maintain that working for them is a “voluntary contract”. And in a sense it is. The alternative to being an exploited wage slave is to starve or depend on the ever-diminished pittance of state charity. Some choice; some voluntary contract.

There is only one sense in which workers choose to be robbed, and that is the acceptance of the working class of the wages system. For most people, this is not an enthusiastic embrace of a wonderful system, but a resigned acquiescence to what seems like an inevitable way of running society. In short, the majority has been conditioned to believe that there is no alternative to being robbed. Just as slaves once believed that there was no alternative to being owned as chattel.

It is time to fight against robbery. The battle need not be wasted on those poor wretches who rob in order to feed their kids. Nor need we waste time on those workers whose robbery of other workers is anti-social and foolish, but only a reflection of their poverty and lack of hope. The war against robbery must begin and end with the system which allows the rich to prosper in privilege and affluence by robbing the vast majority of us. Declare war on the robbers. Abolish the wages system!
Steve Coleman

Greasy Pole: Learning a Lesson (1998)

The Greasy Pole column from the February 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was not so long ago when no Labour Party rally was complete without a nostalgic reference to the likes of Keir Hardie and George Lansbury, those dead leaders whose spectres could be called up to prove that Labour was true to its faith. Whatever the Party—or sometimes a Labour government—might do, there was always the memory of people like Hardie and Lansbury to reassure the doubters that their party’s heart was in the right place, and that one day they would bring us all to the Promised Land. This usually provoked a few tears and lots of applause. It sounded good, stifled any awareness of reality with a blind faith.

There were some other Labour leaders who were never mentioned in those circumstances. Among these were Ramsey MacDonald and Philip Snowden, Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour government of 1929-31. The reason these men were kept in the background was that, although holding the two most powerful jobs in that government, they had not made any progress towards the Promised Land; they did not inspire any confidence in the staunchness of Labour’s principles. After a short spell of confused impotence in the face of an economic crisis MacDonald had sacked all his ministers and taken back only those who promised to behave themselves in future—which meant join in a government with the Liberals and Tories, who until recently were supposed to be Labour’s sworn enemies.

That crisis sprang from the effects of an international slump on British capitalism, causing unemployment to climb steadily, up towards the three million mark. Due response was to set up Committee on National Expenditure, presided over by George May who (like Peter Davis, who now heads the Blair government’s drive to force welfare claimants into work) was a big noise in the Prudential. When the May Report came out, towards the end of August 1931, it recommended, among other measures, that unemployment benefit should be cut by 20 percent.

This attack on the fragile conditions of the poorest workers was not in itself a new idea. Nor was it accompanying justification, that people who are poor and unemployed are like that because they want to be, through laziness or ignorance. It is exactly the kind of propaganda we are being subjected to now, as the Blair government push through their policies of depressing the living standards of the lowest and most vulnerable people. Those who accept these arguments, often on the flimsiest anecdotal “evidence”, have to explain why so many people, all at once, all over the world, become suddenly afflicted by this idleness and stupidity and why this always coincides with economic recessions—and why so many become energetic and sensible as the recession eases.

But for the moment the significant thing is how some elements in the Labour Party reacted to the suggestion that British capitalism’s fortunes should be protected by assaults on the unemployed.The two Labour members on the May Committee issued a dissenting report—which disappeared almost without trace. When the Cabinet met to decide finally to cut unemployment benefit and by how much (ten percent) they were almost equally divided, with ten of them opposing the cut and 11 supporting it. So it was that MacDonald became Prime Minister in a “National” government, supported by Conservatives and Liberals.

It is worth remembering that sorry example of Labour’s futility and cynicism in order to compare it to the conduct of the lot who now occupy the seats of power in the name of introducing a new, more humane and equal society. As the Blair government, through the hapless Harriet Harman, bulldoze through their plans to cut the benefits of single parents and the disabled (with much more to come) there is nothing worth the name of opposition in the Cabinet.

There was, of course, one brief and feeble coded protest from David Blunkett but that soon died away and in any case, Blunkett was always careful enough to avoid making it a resignation issue. It was almost the same story among Labour MPs, with only the usual veterans of dissent like Livingstone, Skinner and Benn and a few others sticking their heads over the parapet. Among the new MPs, ecstatic at finding themselves in this new important powerful job, there was overwhelming obedience to the whips and the spin doctors.

Typical of this was the passionate advocacy of the cut in single parent benefit from one MP who just after May confessed himself astonished to be in Parliament, let alone with such a large majority and a dizzying swing. When the Parliamentary Labour Party met to discuss the proposed cut this MP distinguished himself—and perhaps booked himself a very minor government job—by ranting that the cut amounted to only the price of a packet of fags a day.

This contribution to the debate—if we can call it that—fulfilled a necessary condition for such arguments; to blame the poor for being that way. It used to be that the poor would not leave a bath unfilled with coal; now it is that single parents make themselves a present of struggling to bring up children on their own and simply can’t be trusted not to smoke their benefit away.

The odious creep who talked about the price of cigarettes had obviously learned his lesson because he was once a prominent and ardent member of a local council which in the 1980s supplied a lot of copy to the gutter press about their policies as so-called loony lefties. One effect of this was that the local Tory MP bounced back to Westminster with a hugely increased majority—and stayed there until he was defeated last May. Obviously, the point went home; to win votes it is necessary to be willing to say anything, at any time and to be flexible in what you say so that you always pander to every popular prejudice. It is a lesson which the Labour Party at large has absorbed, since those days of MacDonald and Snowden, and in Blair they have found a relentless teacher.

Blair’s support is not confined to the Labour Party. In a letter to the Sunday Times of 28 December last Madsen Pirie who is president of the Adam Smith Institute—which is a longstanding proponent of Thatcherite policies—said:
"Your leader last week supporting welfare reform was most timely . . . Tony Blair has shown commendable resolve by his insistence that the system must be changed . . . so far the signs are encouraging.”
With friends like that does Blair need enemies—especially among those whose lives are an endless grind on the lowest level of poverty—of hunger, sickness, despair?