Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The economics of world poverty (1958)

From the October 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism spells plenty for the class who own the means of life—the capitalists—and poverty for the working class who produce that plenty. We are told this in The Observer (March 2nd, 1958):—
“One-third of the people of the world go to bed hungry every night.

“One-fourth of the population of the earth earns less than one dollar a week. This is about four dollars less than per capita expenditure in the United States on alcohol.

“The highest per capita income in Asia is in Japan and that is only $100 a year. The per capita income in the United States is over $1,500 a year.*'

“One-half of the population of the earth lives in Asia and yet they receive only 11 per cent, of the total income of the world.”

"Never before in the history of the world was there so much wealth . . . poverty, education, . . . so little coming to the knowledge of the truth . . . so much power. . . . prepared to be used for the destruction of human life.”
And it was Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of New York who made the above statements to an audience of politicians and administrators at a meeting of national leaders in the ballroom of a Washington hotel, in February last.

Although Bishop Sheen was speaking to a representative gathering of capitalists, it is primarily an indictment of their world economy; its shortcomings and failures. Let us follow the course the arguments take: —
"Our moral duty to aid the under-privileged arises from the fact that we have superfluities and the superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor.”
“(The “under-privileged,” the “poor” and the “rich” in this context, refer to the industrially underdeveloped countries; their poor standards of living, compared to those of the highly industrially developed countries.)
"A second reason for our moral duty to aid others is because the earth and the fullness thereof were made by God for all the peoples of the earth and not for the privileged advantage of few.”
This earth, this blessed plot!! made by God! This material universe upon which humans live and crawl, to fly now, many of them, is indeed something to set the imagination soaring, at least to those who have given this universal order more than passing thought.

It is common sense, common knowledge, the outcome of many generations of human experience, how the resources of the earth have been put to human use. It is likewise becoming more widely known that these resources, transformed by the labouring activity of the working class, result in the production and distribution of all those necessities which today make life possible. As to the part which God plays, we are reminded of the chat between a rural rustic and the local vicar:—
"Vicar (stopping to admire a garden): 'Wonderful indeed what God and his brethren can make out of a garden.

"Rural rustic: 4 Ay, yer reverence, but you should have seen this 'ere plot when God 'ad it to 'is self'.”
Bishop Sheen then made the following statement: — 
“ The under-privileged countries need our machinery for their fields, our clothes for their backs, our shoes for their feet and our food for their stomachs.”
In the terminology of capitalist economics what the Bishop is no doubt trying to explain is that exchange relationships between the industrially advanced nation states and the industrially backward ones of the world are not functioning as effectively as Bishop Sheen thinks they should. We were rather expecting, and interested to learn, why? But Bishop Sheen fails us. This is a problem which no doubt is confounding, not only the world’s stock exchanges, but likewise the economic professors of the world, too. As Bishop Sheen puts it—“ so much education . . . so little coming to the knowledge of the truth.” It would certainly seem that the professors have let the capitalists down. Just now America is, industrially, suffering a “stand-still,” though their millions of 'unemployed could be howling busy. As Bishop Sheen goes on to say:—
“ It is their stomachs that are empty; it could be our hearts that are empty.”

But how far do we get discussing empty hearts? It is common knowledge, for example, that the American economy has earmarked many billions of dollars on experimenting with the “ H ” bomb, guided missiles, and so on.

We were half expecting at this point that Bishop Sheen would come out with something more forthright than the following:—
"But governments are not completely inspired by an amor benevolentiae, or the love of others for their own sakes”
This revelation dates somewhat. Consider, for example, the hate let loose in the two world wars, diplomatically engineered by politicians, supported by the churches, inspired by capitalists’ greed for profit and plunder. But Bishop Sheen is not finished yet. He goes
on to point out:
"Foreign aid has many aspects, military, political,’ economic and social. One of these aspects worth examining is the giving of aid in order to combat communism by keeping the under-privileged nations within the orbit of the free world.”
In this respect, however, caution should be observed. In giving such aid it must be remembered, he says, that the Russians can and are doing this—to further communism and if it extends its “slave holding” methods, it will be in the position to give even more than the “free West.” It does not follow, he further suggests, that the powers which give the most to the under-privileged, will be assured of winning their allegiance. Besides, this aid by Russia and the “free West ” there is, he points out: — 
“What might be called a third world power . . . God and prayer! . .. One out of every seven persons in the world is a Muslim. 375 million of them in a world constitutes a great supra national force! ”
Think of all those millions of potential customers, he whispers to his capitalist audience! Now we are really getting to the capitalist heart of the matter: down to the skin and the bone, stomachs withall! Bishop Sheen is now in “full cry” with his sales talk. Cautions may now be discounted; they are superseded by the introduction of this “third power,” the Holy Ghost of the church —considered by Bishop Sheen the “inspiration ” of the “free world.”

Whilst not even attempting to disillusion the Bishop, we should just like to say by way of an aside, that it has been hushed about that the Russian orthodox church played a very significant part in world war two. This took the form of encouraging the Russian armies to resist the German invasion at its crisis. For this the Russian church were promised a more sympathetic consideration [♦] for their future status in the Soviet realm. Likewise, no doubt the Russian elite who top this realm will be correspondingly condescending to the Russian church in their attempts to set an example of respect for the formalities of church traditions. We shall expect to hear that it is now the right thing to attend the services whilst winking the other eye, if it but help to reconcile the Russian masses with their enslaved conditions. After all have not the free West been winking both eyes at their own church with its mumbo jumbo for generations! fobbing the working class off with “pie in the sky” as a consolation for the poverty of their material conditions. This is confirmed by Bishop Sheen when he opines:—
"The Soviets would have the world believe there is only hunger of the belly. One great country which has risen to prosperity because it holds that God has endowed men with certain unalienable rights must recognise that "not by bread alone doth men live.’
What kind of “prosperity” the millions of unemployed in Bishop Sheen’s America may be anticipating, now and in the immediate future, can be better imagined than described. The road up to this “prosperity” for the working class of America, it’s grim industrial struggles with its armed thugs and strike-breaking battalions—outstanding and distinctive features—is one long story of brutal repression, equalled and surpassed only by Russian slave labour and concentration camps of the present era.

To sum up, it would seem that Bishop Sheen has in mind a religious revival as a means of combating communism. If the Russians see things in a similar light than we may expect bibles by the billion, missionaries by the million, air-shipped to the uncharted wastes of Asia, Africa (including Timbuctoo, too). Bibles or boots, missionaries or machines, Gods or goods, the material needs of the industrially undeveloped countries and their toiling and impoverished millions will remain unsatisfied, just in the same way as the working class of the most advanced industrial nations goes unsatisfied today.

Finally, it must be noted that the guy who reported Bishop Sheen’s sermon, states that the Bishop embroidered on it as he spoke. What we have missed, we may never know! As far as it went it may have been well intended —for his capitalist friends. That he never once revealed, however, that the private property institutions of capitalism-exploitation of the working class for profit—the resulting poverty and degradation, plus the war-mongering which flowed therefrom, was the primary cause, gave us pause for reflection.

Capitalism is like this; populations thinned by starvation—unemployment—or war (a whole world plunged in twilight) and we felt tired with Bishop Sheen. He said a lot, but left. ..”. . . so little coming to the knowledge of the truth . . .” and we also went to bed hungering for it, like some of the “one-third.”
O. C. I.

♦This “hearsay” is confirmed by “Pendennis” in The Observer, April 13th, 1958, in an article “Five Monks to Moscow.” The writer says: “ They will be the first monks to have been invited to visit Russian monasteries since the revolution. . . For years the Church virtually went underground until in 1942 Stalin appealed to the priests to encourage the war effort (italics ours) and congregations and services suddenly reappeared. Since the war the church in Russia has been very much more in evidence. . . .”

SPGB Meetings (1958)

Party News from the October 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

At Home and Abroad . . . (1971)

The Home and Abroad Column from the October 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

At Home

In the thirties (which were, of course, the bad old days which will never return) there was something called the intractable million. This was an economist’s phrase for the figure of a million unemployed which, no matter what the government or the experts did, would not be eliminated. Well now, in the good new days, the figure for the out-of-work is rising steadily towards the million and, when we make allowances for the defects of official statistics, has probably passed that ominous water mark. It is also clear that the politicians and the economists have no more idea of how to deal with this problem today than they had in the thirties, although now, as then, they do their best to sound confident when they produce their pet schemes. And this is what is called progress. Since the war, as unemployment has kept to a comparatively low level, working class poverty has taken some new, less traditional forms. It seems we are about to witness a return of the old, established forms of poverty as well.

And in case anyone thought that the old forms of poverty had completely disappeared. Shelter produced a report on slums which estimated that they will not be cleared in England and Wales for 204 years. At all events, this is a more realistic estimate than the drivel we get from Housing Ministers who promise to deal with the problem within the next few years. Yet perhaps even Shelter are being optimistic; they base their estimate on the present rate of clearance as against that of the decline of houses into slumdom. Capitalism has an established reputation for producing crises which destroy optimistic forecasts. So anyone who thinks that in the year 2176 they will be moving out of their slum had better not make any firm plans.

In any case by that time, if we are to believe some of the panic-stricken interpretations of the crime statistics and of recent events in the criminal scene, we shall all be murdered in our beds. The gunning down of the police inspector in Blackpool, with other highly-publicised cases and some angry statements by high ranking policemen, have fed the popular appetite for retribution against the criminal. Murder, indeed most violence, is an intensely emotional business so it is predictable, that there should be the same sort of reaction when a newsworthy killing happens. In this atmosphere there is little chance of the acceptance of a more rational approach; and certainly almost none of a hearing for the argument that it is capitalism, in one way or another and whatever other factors are influential, which makes our outlaws.


One of the peripheral battles about the Ulster situation has been on whether Parliament should be recalled. This is good stuff for all the comedians who thrive on apolitical jokes; what a shame to bring the M.P.s back from their labours on the Riviera, and so on and so on. Much more amusing is the notion that recalling Parliament would have any effect on the problem. It would be very difficult to prove from experience that this is likely to happen, since at present Parliament is an organ which administers the affairs of capitalism. As such it is impotent to get rid of the effects of the system; that can only come when Parliaments all over the world are composed of socialists with a mandate to abolish capitalism and with it all its inhumane and murderous offsprings. So as far as socialists are concerned (and if it's any consolation to them) the M.P.s can stay on the Riviera.


When Khrushchev was deposed, on the day in 1964 that the British working class were returning the Labour Party to power (there were some theories that if Khrushchev had gone 24 hours earlier Wilson would not have won) a distinct chill of apprehension went around the world. In his years of power over Russian capitalism, Khrushchev had come to be accepted as a politician who was prepared to work towards a more comfortable phase in the Cold War and to ease the grip of the Russian dictatorship at home. One thing to be said about this is that none of this policy was a brilliant idea which sprang out of Khrushchev’s head. As he came to power there were changes in the world power structure of capitalism, with the rising threat of Chinese capitalism becoming ever more menacing. Within Russia, there had been signs of cracks in the dictatorship before Stalin died. As in other capitalist countries, Khrushchev was very much a man of his times, expressing and personalising the needs of his ruling class. It was clear at the time that he was under some political pressure at home, and that this went some way to explain such incidents as the Cuba missiles and Khrushchev’s apparent fondness for shoe-banging, raucous belligerence in public. What was happening was that he was saying one thing in.public while in fact doing the opposite — a common enough experience for capitalist leaders.

In Russia, we are told, we must expect barbarism and terror. But recent events in other countries have confirmed — if it were needed that this does not apply only to Russia. Events like the massacre at Attica prison, N.Y. Like the killings at the new airport in Tokyo. And so far we have not even mentioned Ulster. All the evidence points to the conclusion that capitalism is rotten and should be replaced by a society where people are precious.

Blogger's Note:
From the same issue of the Socialist Standard, see 'The Death of Khrushchev'.

The trade war hots up (1971)

From the October 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the myths in the economic textbooks is that the purpose of trade is to provide everyone amicably with the things he wants at the lowest possible prices, and that as restrictions on trade, whether in the form of protective tariffs and quotas on imports, or subsidies on exports, or of unstable currencies, prevent goods from being produced where and by whom they can be turned out most cheaply it is the duty of all ‘good governments’ to favour freedom of trade.

The myth was given official approval some thirty years ago with the establishment under United Nations auspices of the International Monetary Fund and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (G.A.T.T.), through which the nations were to co-operate to their mutual advantage in securing currency stability, promoting trade and employment and working towards the removal of all trade barriers.

The reality is nothing like this. Trade is a war in which capitalists, alone or associated groups, try to turn their products into cash at maximum profit, and to this end seek to capture markets from rivals by any means that will serve, including government action to protect home markets, subsidised exports and putting pressure on rival governments.

Outside the Russian and Chinese blocs (which have their own systems of trade imperialism) nearly all governments pay lip-service to free trade, but it is a principle they support or reject in practice just as their changing needs require.

Marx was pointing out more than a century ago that the free-traders of one generation become the protectionists of the next. The classic example was the mid-nineteenth century English manufacturers to whom free trade was a religion. They had been protectionist in the eighteenth century, against the free-trade landed interests, but when developed British industry had the world at its feet their slogan was free-trade, with its accompaniment of cheap imported food which meant lower wages and higher profits. It was the landed interest which then became protectionist.

Later on, when British industry was successfully challenged by foreign rivals, the manufacturers reverted to protection.

After World War II it was American exports which were penetrating into world markets, and the dominant sections of American industry and food production wanted to impose free trade on the rest of the world. But, following the re-emergence of powerful industries in Europe and the spectacular expansion of Japan with its cheap ship building and steel production and the flooding of the American and other markets with cheap textiles, motor cycles, cars, cameras, TV sets etc., the protectionist interests in USA increased their influence on American trade and currency policy. Hence the Nixon move of imposing a ten per cent surcharge on imports, to be used as a means of putting pressure on other countries, particularly Japan, into up-valuing their currency in terms of dollars. This enabled America to get the results flowing from a dollar devaluation while technically avoiding direct devaluation (but also with suspension of the already much restricted convertibility of dollars into gold at $35 an ounce).

Simply as an arithmetic calculation, if the Japanese Yen is up-valued by say ten per cent, this would enable Japanese importers of American goods to get them nine per cent cheaper and would force American importers of Japanese goods to pay ten per cent more for them, thus stimulating American exports and discouraging imports. In practice the effect is likely to be modified by both buyers and sellers being willing to adjust their prices, even at the cost of lowered profit margins. The same applies to the ten per cent surcharge on American imports which in any event is likely to be a temporary measure.

The Nixon move was received with cries of rage from the affected capitalist groups, with charges and counter charges of ‘selfishness’, ‘bad faith’, ‘callous disregard of world interests’ and so on.

There are seventy seven countries which are members of G.A.T.T. but they found that when it came to vital question of American interests their numbers did not count for much. A typical bitter comment was published in the Evening Standard (20 August): -
Now G.A.T.T. finds who calls the tune. Today it is the turn of G.A.T.T. to find that when the pinching starts to hurt the boss, suddenly all the rules are changed. These last few days very eminent economic set-ups like the International Monetary Fund and the Common Market Commission have been waking up to the fact that it is the U.S. government and not they who call the tune when world monetary problems get too close to home.
Doubtless very true, but it is only a repetition of what every government has tried to do from time to time. A case in point was the sudden decision of the Wilson government in November 1964 to slam a fifteen per cent surcharge on all manufactured and semi-manufactured imports. (Later reduced to ten per cent and abolished in 1966). This was received with similar howls of rage. It was strongly denounced in G.A.T.T., in the European Free Trade Association, the Council of Europe, and the Common Market. The British government was condemned for lack of consultation, even with its E.F.T.A. partners, charged with breaking G.A.T.T. rules and with action contrary to the spirit of international co-operation. A Swiss spokesman at E.F.T.A. asked what was the use of making international agreements when the British government could so flagrantly violate them.

As usual the economic ‘experts’ are all at sixes and sevens in their efforts to assess the Nixon move and its consequences. At one extreme was Joe Rogaly in the Financial Times (1 September) and at the other Nigel Lawson in The Times of the same date. Rogaly sees hope that the road will be open ‘to a long term future’ in which there were no balance of payments crises and in which each nation produced the goods that it was best at producing, thus increasing the efficiency of the world as a whole and raising the general prosperity of us all’.

Nigel Lawson regards it as a disaster.
in the course of an essentially domestic economic initiative designed to secure his re-election next year . . . the President gratuitously, and almost as an aside, gave the world a bloody nose — and the commentators, nearly to a man, squealed with delight. At one blow Mr. Nixon has destroyed the international monetary order on which the post-war prosperity of the West has been based and created the biggest threat to world trade since the thirties and everyone marvels at his sagacity.
Lawson is wrong in thinking that if things get worse it will simply be the fault of the American government. Nixon was responding to a hotting up of the trade war which was already taking place and was affecting in greater or less degree all the capitalist world. While capitalism lasts there is no contracting out of its evil effects.
Edgar Hardcastle

Ted’s all at sea but does it matter ? (1971)

From the October 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard 

If we accept their own evaluation of themselves, there can be no doubt that our politicians do a wonderful job. Toiling night and day, they control the economy to a hair’s breadth accuracy — stimulating here, damping there, so that we all enjoy the most marvellous prosperity ever known to man. And if anything goes wrong with their control, if they stimulate when they should dampen, or vice versa, they are ready with a number of amazingly generous schemes of social security which ensure that even when we are out of work we are almost as prosperous as before.

Then there is the matter of defence. We all know that we live in an extremely dangerous world where everything we hold dear, like our motor car and our back garden and the Royal Family, is under the threat from Russia and China and Egypt and many other uncivilised countries. To ward off this threat the politicians have arranged a fantastic armoury of weapons which are enough to frighten away the most insensitive Oriental ever born. Of course at the same time as they claim the credit for the production of these weapons the politicians also tell us that they have attended numerous conferences and signed numerous treaties with the professed object of ensuring that the weapons are never used, But that apparent contradiction should prove to everyone except the most cynical what wonderful men our leaders are.

With all these tremendously good, and time consuming, works being done for us the wonder is that the politicians ever have any time spare for anything else. Yet many of them are active in all sorts of other fields. Churchill, for example, used to spend a great deal of time eating and drinking; Attlee was clever enough to be able to doodle silently while the great affairs of state were being fought out all around him; Macmillan and Douglas-Home were both fond of the grouse moors. But now we have a Prime Minister who is better than all of them because he is an international sportsman.

It is possible that some sport fans will he misled by that description into thinking that Ted Heath has been recruited into Alf Ramsay’s squad and will shortly be taking on George Best for the glory and honour of Old England. But before any of them have a heart attack at this idea, it should be made clear that Heath’s international sporting is confined to yachting, in which he has represented Great Britain.

Perhaps Heath’s public relations men think that his hobby — if that is what it can be called — fits in well with his image of the small seaside town grammar school boy who made the top. This, you see, is the age of the Daily Mirror dinghy, when almost any worker who is not actually out of work can probably afford to buy or build his own sailing ship for a fairly modest outlay. Unfortunately Heath’s rather elephantine publicists seem to have overlooked the vital fact that his boat is larger and more expensive — something like £20,000 more expensive — than all those little do-it-yourself boats.

In addition the Prime Minister is providing the Labour opposition with some handy ammunition, because as he has been absorbedly sailing backwards and forwards there has been an escalation of the current problems of British capitalism which he as the top politician should be able to solve. In Ulster the violence flares even higher, with more and more deaths. The world is in the throes of yet another currency crisis. At home, among the usual poverty problems like housing, unemployment has become an issue and is likely to reach the dreaded million mark this winter.

The Labour Party have always been adept at picturing leisured Tory ministers callously at their sports while the workers are suffering. On the face of it, it seems reasonable to expect, politicians to be energetic and committed to their work. But it needs only a little probing beneath the surface to put this assumption in a very different light.

Of the men who have held the job of Prime Minister since the First World War, one who provoked a lot of criticism by his apparent inertia and lack of concern was Stanley Baldwin. He was a man who was always ready to make a sentimental speech about the beauty of the English countryside but who preferred to spend his holidays in Southern France. He exploited the image of the comfortable, fatherly, pipe-smoking leader talking to the people like a family doctor — which he rather spoiled by being photographed looking affectionately at a pig. Chamberlain referred sarcastically to his ‘‘poetic temperament” and whatever truth there was in this sneer, Baldwin was capable of coining some memorable phrases — like his slogan of ‘‘Safety First” for the election of 1929, when there were a couple of million unemployed in this country who might have been expected to want anything but a policy of caution. Nevertheless the workers were so fascinated by Baldwin’s promise of tranquility that they gave him almost enough votes to get back into power.

Just after he got back to the Premiership in 1932 he
. . . declared himself by no means overwhelmed by his responsibilities ... He was going to the theatre tonight!
(Neville Chamberlain’s diaries; 23.5.1932).
And while Baldwin was so gay and carefree Sir John Orr was telling the world, which included the politicians, that the cost of an adequate diet — nine or ten shillings a week — was beyond the purchasing power of one third of the people. A little before this Baldwin had announced to the Junior Imperial League that “This is a glorious age in which we live . . . the whole world is sick” but he did not mean the same thing.

After a time his lethargy and stone-walling became a liability. In addition he once made the statement that “You cannot palter with the truth for the sake of votes”, which must have seriously unnerved his fellow' politicians and, more than anything else, convinced them that he had to go.

Baldwin was succeeded by the scrawny Neville Chamberlain, who may have been the most unpopular Prime Minister of recent times. So old fashioned was he that he regarded the fountain pen as a new fangled instrument of torture. Chamberlain belied his appearance because, apart from recurrent gout, he was a robust and physically tireless man. He took the chair of every Cabinet committee dealing with major domestic policies; he was the one minister in his government who could always be relied on to read and digest every paper before the Cabinet; when he was seventy and would tire out his police bodyguard by dragging him on long, hard hikes over the Chiltern Hills. And of course there were those famous flights to meet Hitler — in those days quite an adventure for a man of 69.

Although Chamberlain championed many of the methods of running British capitalism which might have been put forward by the Labour Party — for example state welfare schemes and what he called a “managed economy” — he was the image of the stiff, grim faced Tory. Yet none of his opponents could accuse him of lethargy; indeed, when he later became damned with the memory of Munich the Tories must have wished miserably that he had not been so energetic. Perhaps a bit more of Baldwin’s casualness would have saved something from the wreck which emerged as Labour’s victory of 1945.

But in the nature of capitalism’s politics the Tories recovered and after Attlee’s men, many of whom were so energetic in their efforts to defend the interests of the British capitalist class that they worked themselves into an early grave, came the Age of the Grouse Moor. As it happened Macmillan was a one-time admirer of Baldwin’s and shared many of his characteristics as a slick performer on the political tightrope. He too made slushy speeches, once persuading a deputation of railwaymen to call off a strike by tearful reminiscences of the 1917 battle of Passchendaele.

Macmillan was a man who presented strongly contrasting images. He liked to affect the “effortless superiority” of one who had gone to a posh Oxford college yet he could also sponsor policies like the Premium Bonds which some Tories thought were vulgar. One of the many surprises he sprung was to become energised by taking on the job of Prime Minister. Before that he was thought to be worn out by his time as Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. But as Premier he blossomed; crisis suited his acting talent and he quickly dominated his party, stifling any gestures of opposition with elaborate yawns and deliberately boring speeches.

Nevertheless, behind the facade of the dandy in a fashionable play Macmillan was doing a tricky political job. He played a large part in recognising the necessity of, and organising, the retreat of British capitalism from the old Empire so dear to Tory hearts. He signalled this policy in a speech which passed a new catch phrase — the Wind of Change — into common usage and which infuriated those Tories whom Macmillan had allowed to believe that he would carry on with Eden’s policies in areas like the Middle East. Years later, in an interview with Nigel Lawson (Listener 8/9/66), he described the process of this trickery:
Lawson: Would you say it is easier for a Prime Minister in this country to do one thing if he says he is doing something else?
Macmillan: It is a very common method, yes.
As in the case of Baldwin, Macmillan’s popularity waned and his grip on his party weakened, with the growing impression that he pursued too casual a style while crisis mounted all around him. In the end he panicked, he came to admit in the Profumo debate that he was out of touch with the times and, after one last effort, he retired from the Premiership. Even his influence on the choice of his successor Douglas- Home provoked such a split in the Tories that they never used that method again.

After Douglas-Home, Wilson came roaring into office with a reputation for crushingly hard work. He was another grammar school boy made good — in fact the original, authentic article with his simple life style and comfortable family. Wilson was said never to relax, giving up even his Sundays to reading and to preparing his speeches. He said he thrived on work; only boredom made him tired and the most responsibility he had the more relaxed he became.

For a time this was effective; we all remember how pleased the voters were with their new, bustling Prime Minister after those thirteen years of Tory snobbishness and lethargy. It was only as reality forced its way into the picture (yet again, for the umpteenth time) that Wilson was discredited. He himself probably helped in this process, by persisting with the image long after it had been exposed as a sham and the man of action written down as a slick purveyor of empty clap-trap and blatant trickery. It will need a massive confidence trick now to reestablish him as a creditable politician worth any of the millions of votes which will be cast for capitalism at the next election.

It would be possible to go on like this for some time, but every example would lead us back to the same conclusion. The personalities of our politicians — whether they are stupid or clever, energetic or lazy — have absolutely no effect upon the world they are supposed to control and improve. The tragedy is that, as political leaders are necessary to capitalism, the working class assume that they will always be necessary in any society. In fact, a successful politician needs many of the talents and qualities of a good actor, which means that he cannot represent reality. It is not uncommon, when a play is no good, for the customers to enforce its shut-down by the simple method of not supporting it. In the same way the working class could bring down the curtain on the destructive farce of capitalism.

For New Readers (1971)

From the October 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard 

What we are not
The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not the Labour Party, nor do we support the Labour Party. In our view the Labour Party used to be an organization with confused and vague ideas about changing society and improving the lot of working people. It has now become little different from the Conservative Party — another “team” to administer capitalism.

We are also opposed to the so-called “Communist" Party and to the Trotskyists.

We have to explain these points because unfortunately the word “Socialism” has been used in many different ways, often very woolly, whereas we are quite clear about what we mean by Socialism, and about how to get it.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is connected with parties and groups in other countries. It is democratically run, with all members having an equal say, and no secrecy.

What we mean by "Capitalism"
By capitalism we mean commercial society, society based on buying and selling. This exists all over the world, with the exception of pre-capitalist societies which still survive, for instance tribal communism, and subsistence-level peasant societies. Capitalism rules in Russia, China, Cuba, and other countries falsely claimed to be “Socialist” or “Communist.”

Capitalism has not always existed, and it will not exist for ever. Capitalism is not an evil conspiracy (though as a matter of fact, it is fertile ground for evil conspiracies) but a type of social order which has been necessary for the progress of our species.

The function of capitalism was to put human beings through a great deal of anxiety, loneliness, boring work, shoddy food and housing — a generally insecure and frustrated existence — in order to screw wealth out of them. Capitalism developed science and technology with brilliant success, united the world (for communications purposes) into a “global village” and trained more people than ever before to a high level of knowhow and adaptability.

But capitalism has not, in the main, fully applied its science and technology for the benefit of the majority of the population, and in our view it cannot. Capitalism has not united the world politically — wars go on all the time, and a Big War which would exterminate the lot of us gets steadily less unlikely. Capitalism has not employed its knowledge and expertise in useful, dignified and happy productive activity, but has put a curse on work.

Capitalism has created a potential abundance of wealth, capable of satisfying human wants on a scale heretofore undreamed of. But capitalism cannot realize its own potential. This is because the capitalist economic system is best suited to rationing scarcity by means of the market. It goes haywire at the threat of abundance — as witness the “problem” of millions of tons of “surplus” food in a world where over ten per cent of the population is starving.

Who the workers are
To many people “the working class” is defined by occupation or education, or even by trivialities like accent or table manners. These may be useful classifications for some purposes, but to the Socialist “working class” has quite a different meaning, based on the analysis of Karl Marx. By this definition, the working class is composed of those who do not own enough to live off their possessions, and therefore have to sell themselves. The working class is a class of wage-slaves. This includes the great majority of the population, if we count dependents (such as housewives and babies) and trainee wage-slaves (such as schoolchildren, apprentices and students).

Capitalism has tidied up classes. All other classes apart from capitalists and workers (such as peasants) readily dwindle away under capitalism — usually by their members being recruited into the working class. Workers are exploited. By this we don’t mean that they always live in Dickensian conditions, or that foremen stride about brandishing whips. We mean simply that workers are a source of wealth, which is taken from them. This may seem fairly obvious, but many people appear to live in a make-believe world in which captains of industry” or “financial wizards” or (increasingly) “the authorities” somehow “give” workers employment.” The fact is that the world’s wealth produced by the working class, but does not belong to them. In Britain, for example, 10 per cent of the population own over 90 per cent of the wealth and get 99 per cent of the property income. The rich and powerful (the capitalist class) have interests opposed to those of the workers. They gain where workers lose: if wages rise, profits fall. And of course, the capitalists will lose their privileged position in Socialism, where all men and women will be social equals.

It is the working class which must establish Socialism, because they are the majority of the population, because they do all the essential work of operating capitalism and are therefore trained to a high degree, and because they are driven by their conditions of life to challenge the status quo — though to date it has usually been fairly easy for workers’ discontent to be channelled in a reformist, rather than revolutionary, direction.

Defeatists and self-styled “realists” are apt to point at that the majority of workers are “contented” or apathetic” — though of many workers it might be truer to say that they are worried so sick that they do not care. What the pessimists forget is that capitalism is a dynamic society, indeed a revolutionary society, of perpetual agitation and change.

Many workers adopt the motto: “Anything for a quiet life.” But most of them find this impossible, capitalism takes them by the scruff of the neck, gives them a good shaking, and says: “You cannot have a quiet life.” Just as we are about to close our teeth upon the dangling carrot, it is whisked away by war, slump, job re-organization or other arbitrary authority. There is of course no guarantee that workers will turn to Socialism as the answer to their problems. All we can say is that certain long-term trends in capitalism make it increasingly likely that they will. For the moment they may take refuge in television, drugs, mental and psychosomatic illness, feelings of personal guilt and feverish pursuit of “success.” It is up to the Socialist to dis-illusion people.

What unions can do
As long as capitalism stays, there will be class struggle. Workers don’t ask for it. Socialists don’t delight in it. Strikes, and other forms of “industrial action” are unavoidable if workers are to defend their living standards, and occasionally raise them.

We advise workers to be “militant” in the sense that they should press for the highest wages they can get, and should not soft-pedal this struggle because capitalism has started one of its wars or because the government says there is a crisis. But trade union militancy in itself does nothing to threaten the continued existence of capitalism, though it may threaten particular regimes or schemes of capitalism.

Strikes are necessary for our defence, but severely limited even for this. The general level of wages is largely fixed by the pattern of capital investment, and negotiable only within relatively narrow limits. The operation of capitalism’s trade (and employment) cycle is a running tide in relation to which the militant trade unionist is little more than a King Canute. In addition, trade unionism by itself may set one group of workers against another.

One of the immediate consequences of the growth of a mass Socialist movement will be a more effective trade union movement, which will take no notice of hallucinations like “the national interest” or “inflationary spirals.”

In keeping with our opposition to leadership, we say that the people best qualified to decide the tactics of a particular strike are the workers directly involved, who have to live with the consequences. It is not the function of our Party to lay down a detailed trade union strategy — indeed our trade unionist members may have differences of opinion about this. There are however two general aims which Socialists pursue: working class democracy and unity. Whereas governments of capitalism worry themselves about “giving unions more power over their members”. Socialists are more concerned with giving the members more power over their unions. Parochial craft or regional interests should be subordinated to the interests of all the workers.

The Conservative government’s Industrial Relations Bill could not have been killed by trade union action, because such a large number of workers were either in favour of it, or indifferent. (Many of those opposed quibble only about details, and would support anti-union measures by a different ruling party). If this were not so, the government would not have dared introduce the measure in the first place. Lacking Socialist understanding, workers find scapegoats for their problems. Union-bashing wins working class votes. Enforcing the Act is another matter. Whether the mass of workers will remain so docile then remains to be seen. In any case, we see here an example of the trade union struggle being hampered by the lack of a strong Socialist movement, based on widespread Socialist understanding.

Capitalism never runs out of reforms. On the contrary, it needs perpetual reforming. Capitalist political parties do not declare that the existing state of affairs is fine. On the contrary, they use words like “radical,” “dynamic,” "revolutionary” etc. to describe the reforms they advocate.

A Socialist party does not, of course, oppose all reforms any more than it advocates them. On the contrary, Socialists recognize that reforms inside capitalism may sometimes benefit the working class — though never by as much as one per cent of what is claimed for them!

But it is not the function of a Socialist party to campaign for reforms, or to seek support on the basis of reforms. Historically, we have seen parties which started out with Socialism as an aim, converted into run-of-the-mill capitalist parties (for instance, the German Social-Democratic Party) because they fell for the easy line: "Why not advocate revolution and reform — just in the meantime?” This must attract the support of those who want reform, but aren’t too interested in revolution. A “Socialist” party which grows in strength ahead of the real extent of Socialist understanding among the workers, is likely to be placed in a position where it is forced to administer capitalism, or go in for political trading with capitalist parties. For a party to canvass the support of non-Socialists is the first step to becoming a party of non-Socialists.

A Socialist party analyses closely the likely effects of reform measures, and gives a sober assessment of the extent to which they will benefit or injure the majority of the population.

Because Socialism will be a democratic society, in which the majority will get its way, with full rights of dissent and arguments for minorities, it follows that Socialism can only be set up democratically. That is to say, Socialism cannot be handed to the majority of people by an elite which thinks it knows what’s good for them.

Although Socialism is the culmination of trends within capitalism, this does not mean that Socialism will somehow come about irrespective of people’s wishes. On the contrary, one of the ways in which capitalism tends towards Socialism is by creating a large organized, informed working class. It is these people (i.e. it is we, the workers) who will establish Socialism, but we will not do it by accident or improvization: we will do it consciously, because we want it and see the necessity for it.

The chief job of Socialists at this stage is therefore to spread Socialist ideas, and expose the false remedies of capitalism. At present Socialists are in a tiny minority, but as we have pointed out, capitalism is unlike previous societies in that it is a system of constant agitation and rapid change in which nothing is sacred and no ideas are safe.

“Revolution” to the Socialist is not a violent thing, with street fights and barricades. Such a view of revolution is nineteenth-century. Today, no barricades could possibly stand up to the might of the modern state, and in any case there is no need, because in the advanced countries, where workers are most numerous and highly-trained, capitalism, is forced to give them certain political rights. We can see in the present-day Russian Empire what happens when an increasingly advanced form of capitalism is lumbered with an outdated political apparatus; more and more unrest and instability, which can only result in the granting of democratic reforms.

Socialists are not pacifists, and we are in no position to guarantee that the Socialist revolution will be altogether free from violence. Violence is improbable, but will depend upon the behaviour of the minority who are still opposed to Socialism. If there are people reactionary, desperate and foolish enough to use violence to obstruct the plans of the Socialist majority, then defensive action of some sort might have to be taken against them.

What we mean by Socialism
Socialism means the end of buying and selling, the end of money and the wages system. As long as these things remain, there will be economic crises, wars, bitter class struggle and day-to-day violence. In our opinion these problems cannot be cured by charities, social reforms or a personal “change of heart” on the part of individuals. Neither can they be solved by nationalization or "workers’ control” — since these are merely different ways of administering the same economic system.

Socialism will mean sweeping changes in many spheres of life: education, the family, social administration — but these will all be based on the abolition of production for sale (what Marx called “commodity production”), and the introduction of democratically planned production according to people’s wants.

Socialism will be a society of voluntary co-operation. There will be sexual freedom and equality. Work will be voluntary, and people will take freely what they need to consume. This is technically feasible because capitalism has already developed the potential for abundance.

Socialism will be a fully democratic society, with complete freedom of expression for everyone. And, of course, Socialism will be a society without economic classes — there will be no capitalist class and no working class.

Socialism can only be world-wide. “British Socialism” is a flat contradiction. Attempts to set up Socialism in one part of the world would have to fail — the remaining capitalist powers would see to that, if nothing else. On the other hand, the world is now so closely united in terms of communications, fashions and the rapid flow of ideas, that if the people in one place were ready for Socialism, the rest of the world could not be far behind.

A world community founded on common ownership, and democratic control — in our view this is the only solution to the major problems of modern life. We ask you to give it serious consideration if you desire an end to war, poverty and oppression.

Is this possible? The revolution begins when you decide that it is.
David Ramsay Steele

Workers Councils (1971)

From the October 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The policy adopted by the Labour and Social-Democratic parties in Europe has generally been described as “parliamentarianism”. By which is meant the idea that a parliament dominated by working-class representatives can, through various types of legislation, control the existing system of society in the interests of the community as a whole. Whilst workers have made some gains this way, more and more people are becoming aware that such a path offers no solution to any of the major problems they face, because it leaves untouched the basic structure of society which is their root cause. (Which is why the Socialist Party of Great Britain has always opposed any policy of social reformism).

In many radical political circles, especially those that have originated in or worked in conjunction with the Labour Party, the failure of this policy has been attributed, as much to the mechanism of parliamentary elections as to the nature of social reformism itself. It has been argued that the experience of Labour and Social-Democratic governments proves the uselessness of parliamentary institutions to the workers. The alternative form of organisation offered has usually been “workers’ councils”, or factory committees along the lines of the early Russian Soviets. These are said to be more democratic and responsive to the needs of workers. Obviously a council made up of revocable delegates is more democratic than one composed of individuals elected for a fixed period of time, but in other ways the typical workers’ council or factory committee is less democratic. It is organised on a narrower base and excludes those not employed such as the unemployed, old and young people, housewives and the disabled.

Despite their shortcomings, elections to a parliament based on universal suffrage are still the best method available for workers to express a majority desire for Socialism. Furthermore, although parliament run by Labour or Tory politicians is incapable of controlling the economic system in a rational and humane way, it is the centre of political control in the advanced industrial countries. The minority of people who now monopolise the ownership of wealth do so through their control of parliament by capitalist parties elected by workers. Control of parliament by representatives of a conscious revolutionary movement will enable the bureaucratic-military apparatus to be dismantled and the oppressive forces of the state to be neutralised, so that Socialism may be introduced with the least possible violence and disruption.

Parliament and local councils, to the extent that their functions are administrative and not governmental, can also be used to co-ordinate the emergency measures when Socialism is established.

We are not saying that workers councils are therefore quite useless. On the contrary; like trade unions they can often play a useful role under capitalism in the struggle of workers to maintain or improve working conditions and wages, and to resist capitalist authority at work. Factory or workplace committees, or something similar, would also play an important part in the democratic management of production inside Socialism.

Representatives elected by workers to parliament have continually compromised to the needs of capitalism, but then so have representatives on the industrial field. The institution is not here at fault; it is just that people’s ideas have not yet developed beyond belief in leaders and dependence on a political elite.
M. B.

50 Years Ago: The Problem of Unemployment (1971)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Notwithstanding the claims advanced by the daily press, that trade shows signs of revival, the unemployment figures are still in the neighbourhood of one and a half millions.

In fact, the workers of every country are unemployed to an extent never yet experienced, with one exception. We are told that Germany is the exception and that unemployment there is scarcely known . . . Some people might argue from this that the way to fuller employment for any country was to have a good war with a neighbouring country and lose it!

Such an argument, however, is on a par with the general capitalist principle that working-class prosperity in one country can only be built up on the unemployment and impoverishment of the workers of other countries.

That is necessarily the outcome of the contention that unemployment can only be reduced by the capture of foreign trade.

(From the Socialist Standard October 1921. Article by Fred Foan.)

Building profits versus building homes (Part 2)

From the Winter 1984 issue of the World Socialist

Housing reform and the profit motive
Housing is probably the one basic need which, were it properly satisfied, would be the most conducive to good emotional and mental health. It is, surely, very pleasant and soothing to relax among pleasant and agreeable surroundings.

The fact remains that such a happy situation only applies to the small minority of the population who have the means to buy beautiful homes. The vast majority suffer a housing problem of one sort or another, whether it be living in slums or near slums or being plagued by the fears and insecurities caused by trying to pay off a mortgage.

Governments do initiate various housing reforms to try to solve these problems, but these always fail. Why is failure so total, especially when the materials, know-how and labour power exist to adequately deal with the problem of providing decent housing for all?

Is it because of stupid or corrupt politicians? Many people believe so and view a particular government's shortcomings in the light of the various abilities and characters of its leading members. But in actual fact these factors play a very subsidiary part and make no fundamental difference. Some politicians and civil servants, assigned various tasks, may be very well-meaning and in some respects efficient, but in the final analysis fail because they cannot succeed.

Under capitalism all production, government-initiated or not, is with a view to profit, not the satisfaction of human needs, material and recreational. Since the profit motive is the very life-blood of the capitalist system, it logically follows that government housing programs will also be introduced with a view to providing a profit for some capitalist group or other. Whether or not the politicians involved be good guys or con-artists is immaterial, because the financial institutions putting up the money for these reforms want a return (sometimes a large one) for their investment.

Urban ruin for profit
Never could the profit motive in a housing reform be so blatantly obvious as in the US Government's National Housing Act of 1968. This Act merged the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Many new laws were introduced as part of this act and the whole thing was launched in an avalanche of hype and ballyhoo to the effect that the government would assist every poor working stiff to buy and easily pay for a really nice house. Things didn't exactly work out like this.

FHA began as a product of the 1930s depression. People could not then get mortgages because financial institutions were afraid to loan money after tens of thousands of homes foreclosed when the buyers had no money to continue paying for them. The purpose of FHA was to be a government insurance company. It didn't make mortgages or loan money for them, but it insured the finance company that loaned the money against losing it if the tenants (one can hardly call them house-owners) defaulted. Part of the interest payments on the loan went to paying the insurance for these cases of default.

One of the 1968 housing reforms allowed the FHA to branch out from mortgage insurance into subsidising interest payments on mortgages. Ostensibly this was to benefit the poorer home-buyer but in practice, due to the generous depreciation terms offered to encourage private investment in housing, it became a subsidy to well-to-do taxpayers looking for a tax loss to offset against their other income. This meant that many small time real-estate companies, loan sharks and other sundry tricksters which are part of capitalist society could enter into get-rich-quick schemes at the expense of the home-buyer. Admittedly we are dealing with illegal as well as legal capitalists here but often the dividing line is blurred, particularly where FHA-HUD was concerned.

A typical situation that occurred under FHA-HUD was when a real-estate operator would buy a property for $6,000, put in $1,000 worth of repairs and then sell it for $10,000, loaning this to the buyer against a mortgage on the property. The speculator would then sell the mortgage to an investor looking for a loss-making asset. As the investor wished to record a loss his interest was to let the property fall into decay. The fall guy in this was of course the home-buyer who found himself on an endless trip of payments for a slum house.

The "success" of FHA-HUD in this respect has been well described by Brian Bayer in his Cities Destroyed for Cash (published by Fallet, Chicago, in 1973). Basing himself on observations made on his travels through such major cities as Detroit, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Saint Louis as well as smaller cities like Seattle and Lubbock, Texas, he described a typical situation:
Half and more of the houses on any given block are boarded up with plywood squares. The gutters hang, rain washes through holes in the roof. Ruined by the elements and gutted by thieves, the houses seem to be disintegrating like the stumps of rotted trees. Fires at night cremate the remains. The next day the family moves out and another house is abandoned and eventually destroyed.
In other words, the FHA-HUD program was not screwed up by ignorance, stupidity and carelessness, or just not caring. It was virtually a deliberate program of urban ruin for profit.

Shady practices
One may wonder why people didn't just rent instead of buy (or attempting to), the answer being that the government told them they would help and that they were encouraged by real-estate and financial companies who said it would be easy.

The methods of these companies weren't exactly the kind that would be openly recommended by the Chamber of Commerce. To establish credit for the potential house-buyer they would get blanks of income tax forms, make up false information and submit this as part of the application for a mortgage. Under FHA-HUD regulations a certain amount of money was required to be on hand, therefore these companies would deposit their own funds in the name of the purchaser (the bigger the mortgage the more proportionately the deposit); so when the check was made the purchaser qualified. The information in the tax forms showed up when there was a credit check. So with a good income, good credit and funds in the bank, the purchaser got a house, and of course the funds were removed from the bank as soon as he did.

Though in many cases people were taken advantage of by their naivety and gullibility, and in many other instances home-buyers knowingly entered into shady deals, all of this is part of the normal functioning (if one can use the word normal) of the capitalist system, and prevails in every country.

It may sound surprising that anyone was able to make much money considering the defaults, but the premise was simply to get rich quick. When one buyer defaulted the real-estate operator could always sell quickly to another at a higher price. This could continue until they found a taxpayer looking for a tax loss to hold the baby; by which time they'd made a killing. The end result was a worse slum than before. Parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem and East Detroit are evidence of this.

It should be clear to anyone who studies the reasons things occur in society that all investment, hence production, is with a view to profit, and that the need for profit is so acute in such a competitive jungle of a society as capitalism that it doesn't matter how a business makes a profit, as long as it makes one.

It is pointless, and one would be on a totally wrong premise, to moralise. It is not a question of right or wrong, moral or immoral, good or bad, but of the need to understand the economic workings of capitalism and how it cannot function in the interest of the working class—and what socialism is and how it will solve the major social problems.

When Socialism is established
When socialism is established it will be necessary to set up councils at local, regional and global levels for the administration of social affairs in every aspect of productive activity. Also there will have to be councils whose function will be to co-ordinate the work of the various specific councils. The majority of the people in a local area will make decisions affecting that area specifically, the people in a certain region will make decisions for that region and everyone will make global decisions.

This will mean that everyone must have access to vast amounts of knowledge, concerning what each area produces, where it is stored, how what is needed can be got from one place and moved to another. All this knowledge can be stored in computers which can be hooked up to the TV system, so that people can receive whatever knowledge they wish by pushing a button.

When it comes to voting on specific issues people need go no further than their living room. Even today TV stations invite viewers to phone in their verdicts on alternative programs. The results, which depend on what number is dialled, are quickly computer translated and announced in only a few minutes. If this is possible under capitalism, one can imagine the tremendous advantages that can be made in a socialist society when people will be able to utilise the technology built up under capitalism as well as improve on it.

People could, if they wanted to, check and see how a certain project was progressing by tuning into a computerised-TV-News media, so that whatever was happening could be under the constant scrutiny of society as a whole.

First priorities for housing
When socialism is established it will first have two important projects concerning housing. One will be to find homes for the millions throughout the world who have none. The other will be to clear the world of the horrible slums and shanty towns in which so many of its population live. Therefore an enormous world-wide reconstruction project would begin which would involve the democratic participation of nearly everyone, in one way or another.

It would have to be decided, what region and what local area requires houses, how many, what type or style, what materials they will be made from and how much of each is required. Obviously, with this will go the many and various decisions concerning town planning, roads, recreational facilities, shopping centres (though we may not call it shopping then). Though the work involved may require many people, they will be forthcoming from all the occupations made redundant by the overthrow of capitalism, such as production for war and anything concerning finance, advertising, etc. Schools for training and re-training people in the various skills will be set up, and as far as the productive work goes they will have the machinery capitalism has created plus whatever advances on this the first members of socialist society will make.

People with specific skills related to housing, or those who wish to learn them, can give their names and lists of skills to an administrative office similar to present man-power or labour exchange offices and can be notified where their skills can be used.

In the longer run: an end to urban crowding
After socialism has solved the initial task of clearing away capitalism's rubble in every respect (feeding, clothing, housing, educating, clearing away pollution, curing curable diseases, etc), then it will be apparent that the change in society will be more than just production for use instead of profit, but will entail vast changes from top to bottom in every part of society. Nowhere will this be apparent more than over how we group in communities. Cities as we know them today will probably no longer exist as people won't want or need to be condensed in a particular area.

When starvation has been stopped and when every human being has a roof over their head, then socialist society can turn to satisfying people's needs in a more sophisticated way, and this will certainly be the case in housing.

Whenever there is a need for a new type of house, a town or a building for the use of the community, architects will submit plans and models which can be voted on by the community as a whole in a given area. Though there may be competition between the various architects and planners, it will be from the premise of who can best beautify the locality. One can be certain that there will be new types of dwellings. Along with the disappearance of cities as we know them will also go the high-rises, those up-turned shoe-boxes where people are crammed in like sardines, to be replaced with buildings where people can at least live like humans.

With whatever changes in the family structure the new social conditions will create will also come a need for new types of homes; there may be a type of communal home. And it may be that the design of a building will be determined by its functions, its given physical environment and the materials to be used.

Whatever the case, people will be able to choose their home to suit their.own particular needs concerning physical comfort and recreational requirements.

Who would not want such a society? So why not organise politically "for its speedy establishment?
Ray Rawlings (Canada)

Waste and want—the insane logic of capitalism

From the April 1984 issue of the World Socialist

The vast majority of the population of this planet live in want to one degree or another whether they be industrial workers in Western Europe or North America trying to make ends meet, or beggars on the sidewalk in India, or even beggars on the sidewalk in the USA.

Yet they seem to blindly accept that this is the inevitable consequence of things—and in the particular context of capitalism they are right. Various degrees of want will always exist in a private-property based society where all production is with a view to profit and where the majority sell their labour-power in return for a part only, expressed as wages, of what they produce.

Poverty, hunger, disease
When he advocated Medicare for the aged in 1962, Kennedy spoke of 17 million hungry Americans and said the average American retired with less than $3,000 in assets. In 1964 Fortune Magazine revealed that a survey showed that 6 million people were living in families whose incomes were so low that they qualified for free food from the government, that 7.3 million Americans lived in housing classified as dilapidated, and that there were nearly 2 million families who scraped by on cash incomes of less than $1,000 a year. In 1970 The New York Times spoke of hunger as affecting the health of over 20 million people.

By 1976 the US Census Bureau estimated nearly 26 million people lived in families that were below the then poverty level of $5,500 a year for a family of four. The Census Bureau added that more Americans slid into poverty in 1975 than at any time since the government have been keeping records.

During the years since those to which these figures refer—and also for many years before—various governments, both at federal and state level, have introduced various welfare programmes to eradicate poverty, and failed hopelessly. Some of the politicians behind these plans may well have been well-meaning people, whereas others were certainly trying to win votes, but whichever, it is immaterial as society as it presently exists cannot eliminate poverty let alone provide everybody with a full and happy life.

So far the figures have applied only to the United States because, as the most advanced technological power, as the very heart and pulse beat of capitalism, all the most positive and negative aspects of capitalism appear there in their fullest contradiction. Contradiction it certainly is when the means exist to give everyone a full and happy life yet the vast majority struggle to make ends meet while a substantial minority live in want of the basic necessaries of life.

If this be true, as it is, of the United States, what then can be said of the rest of the world, particularly as the economy of so many countries is tied up with that of the United States? According to a 1982 United Nations report, every 2 seconds a child has to die of disease or lack of food, and if present trends continue there will be at least 600 million undernourished children by the year 2000.

The report written by James Grant, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Director, says that despite medical advances offering the opportunity for a revolution in child health, many of the children are worse off than they would haver been years ago. Measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, polio and TB still kill some 5 million children world wide each year. Tetanus alone kills between 2,500 and 3,000 children a day. The report states that current projections show the proportion of the world's children who live without adequate food, water, health care and education staying about the same until 2000, but the absolute number will grow by 30 per cent to between 600 and 650 million.

Every day of the year, more than 40,000 children have died from malnutrition and infection, the report said. In recent years the percentage of child deaths due to hunger in African, Asian and Latin American countries has been increasing: "The quality of life has actually begun to fall as the economic foothold of their parents begins to crumble". The report went on to estimate that, excluding the cost of measures such as immunizing every child against killer diseases, a direct assault on the worst aspects of hunger and malnutrition would cost $6,000 million a year, "or one per cent of the world's annual expenditure on armaments"—a clear-cut example of capitalism's order of priorities.

World resources
Socialists have consistently maintained that the natural resources, technology and distributive capacity exist to feed, clothe and house the world's population many times over. This however, is impossible in an economic system where all production is geared to profit.

In reality nobody knows how big the earth's absolute supplies of raw materials are. No such investigations have been made. What has been investigated are supplies and resources that capitalism needs, and that is something very different.

In a recent interview in the Times Colonist of Victoria, British Columbia (May 13 1983) geologist Robin Folinsbee, of the University of Alberta, said that concern about dwindling fossil fuels was "greatly exaggerated" and that, besides, there were alternatives to fuels commonly used except that many of these would require too much investment at present to excavate.

About two-thirds of the energy released under present methods of splitting the atom in atomic power plants goes into waste heat—thermal pollution. Problems of coping with this waste heat have yet to be overcome, but the United States is planning floating nuclear reactors which would be used far offshore where the large volumes of water would not be affected by the warming. "Scientists are also working on ways to use the waste heat", Folinsbee says, "warm water created as a by-product might be harnessed to provide central heating for a whole city, then re-used when it had cooled. Then again the huge cost factor must be considered".

Further into the future scientists foresee that technology might utilize some of the sun's energy methods. Using laser beams they are finding ways of squeezing together several atoms with small atomic weights and of harnessing the heat energy given off by this fusion. Fusion of atoms is the opposite of the splitting of heavy atoms of the uranium type, but it also provides fantastic possibilities as an energy source. According to Folinsbee, "We've done it destructively with the hydrogen bomb. Now we must find ways to use it constructively". We would add that this is only one possible future source of energy. There are also proven safe renewable sources that could be developed.

Sir Derek Barton, professor of London's Imperial College, had already said when he visited British Columbia in 1977 that the world's problems of energy, pollution, hunger, overpopulation and the economy were all artificial or imaginary: "The energy crisis was entirely an artificial one, because it had been provoked by an international monopoly of oil-producing States which had arbitrarily and suddenly increased prices". (Vancouver Sun, October 31, 1977) Barton added that 70 to 80 per cent of the natural gas in the world is still to be found.

Deliberate waste
So destitution, starvation and deprivation do not exist because the capacity for producing and distributing wealth is insufficient. The technology to eliminate them does exist but is not applied under capitalism where all production is for profit and which also deliberately wastes and destroys resources.

In 1960 Vance Packard (certainly no Socialist) wrote a book called The Waste Makers which caused a minor disturbance at its publication because it dealt with what he termed "planned obsolescence". Packard showed how firms made shoddy goods, designed to wear out quickly so there would be a market for new ones. He wrote of radios, car parts, television sets which their designers and manufacturers knew could easily be made to last longer. There have even been instances of workers being fired because they took the time to do an excellent job, and so were not profitable.

Capitalism produces not for use but profit; so if wheat farmers, car makers, TV makers, appliance firms, heavy and light engineering companies can make more profit out of waste than by good quality products they will do so. But it is not enough to say that capitalism makes profits through waste. The fact is that the normal functioning of the system wastes an enormous amount of resources. Every year tons of foodstuffs are destroyed.

Wheat and coffee have been burned while millions starved. Fish are thrown back in the sea because the market was glutted (and capitalism is first and foremost a market system), and it was therefore not profitable to sell them. Potatoes have been dumped in order to maintain prices. In the United States several governments, both Republican and Democrat, have paid farmers not to grow wheat, in order to keep prices up.

It was recently reported that while the United States dairy herd is 57 per cent smaller than 40 years ago it is producing more milk (Western Producer, August 18, 1983). The result is a costly dairy surplus. Genetically improved cows and more efficient dairy farms have brought dramatic gains in milk output per cow. US milk production rose to a record 135.8 billion pounds for 1982. The US Department of Agriculture expects 1983 production to climb once again, probably reaching 139 billion pounds or 16 billion gallons of milk—enough to make a 7 million ton mountain of cheese.

At current levels of supply and demand, America's cows produce about 10 per cent more than enough to meet domestic and export market demand for milk, butter, cheese and ice cream. By law the federal government must purchase this surplus, and then incur the cost of storing and preserving these surplus stocks. This of course puts a drain on the federal budget, so the Reagan administration and the dairy industry are agreed on the need to cut milk production. Major milk industry organisations are advocating bonus payments for dairymen who cut their production and cash penalties for dairymen who increase production. On one thing all seem agreed: there must be no price cut, because that would "drive individual producers into increasing output as the only way to maintain their incomes when the price per gallon is reduced".

A similar situation exists in Canada regarding egg production. Here the National Farm Products Marketing Council oversees national marketing "plans" for poultry and eggs but since a market cannot be planned the industry is in a state of chaos. Meanwhile in the fruit and vegetable lands in British Columbia hundreds of cases of tomatoes were thrown away during the summer of 1983 because they could only have been sold at 70 to 80 per cent of what it cost the farmer to grow them.

When we speak of waste, it is not food and raw materials alone that are wasted under capitalism, but millions of workers who become unemployed during the various trade depressions and recessions which are another logical consequence of an illogical system. The devastating wars that are caused by the need of competing sections of the world capitalist class for markets and raw materials are still further proof, if any were needed, of the shocking waste of workers, especially when we consider there were more than 50 million casualties in the Second World War.

The logical insanity of capitalism
No one, whatever their political views, can examine these matters without being appalled at the logical insanity of capitalism. Logical, because these problems are a normal consequence of a society where all production is carried on only with a view to profit on the market. Insanity, because, surely to anyone in their right mind, it is insane that food should be destroyed when people are starving, that houses stand empty where people are homeless, that factories stand idle when workers are unemployed.

Years of tinkering with these problems by politicians, of all parties, well-meaning or not, has not achieved anything and in some instances matters have got worse. There is only one solution; which is for the world's workers to examine the contradictions of capitalism and then organise politically for a society where poverty, hunger, unemployment, pollution, waste, planned obsolescence, war and a host of things not even mentioned in this article will be a thing of the past.
Ray Rawlings (Canada)