Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Bankruptcy of Liberalism. (1931)

Book Review from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Liberal Economist on the Problems of Capitalism

In his book, “The Problem of Industrial Relations” (MacMillan & Co., 1929), Professor Clay maintains that the “problem of industrial relations” is how to secure harmonious relations between worker and employer, how to find “an adjustment of the interests of employers and employed, that will secure the co-operation of both in the work of production” (page 3). The present order of society riven into two conflicting classes, the owners of the means of living-and the non-owners, he accepts without question. He admits that industrial unrest arises from the conflict of interests between employer and employed, and he is concerned with reducing to a minimum the economic friction between these two classes.

His main thesis is that inequality of wage rates, intensified during the war period, as between one trade or industry and another, is largely responsible for industrial disputes, and that attention should therefore be directed towards “the equalisation of bargaining strength among all sections of wage-earners,” either by the lower-paid workers themselves organising in Trade Unions, or by Government regulations to prevent sweating, so that all sections of the working class can obtain a “fair wage.” He devotes several chapters to a discussion of the spread of Trade Unionism during the War, and the growth of arbitration and conciliation methods—Trade Boards, Whitley Councils, Joint Industrial Councils, Works Committees, Industrial Courts of Arbitration, and so forth—means of negotiation which enable a trial of strength between organised employers and employees to be made, or, as Clay says, “interpret the interplay of economic and social forces” (p. 231) and so enable wage disputes to be settled without strike or lock-out to interrupt the flow of profits to the capitalist.

To the Socialist, however, the problem is not one of ensuring that the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, but of waking the working class up to understand the economic and social forces which make them wage-slaves. So long as the means of wealth production and distribution are privately owned by the capitalist class, so long will the labour power of the propertyless worker be a commodity which he must sell for the best price he can get according to the fluctuations of supply and demand. Whether at any particular moment he gets “fair” wages or foul, the fierce competition arising from ever-present unemployment prevents wages in the long run from exceeding the cost of living a shoddy life. As stated in one of the reports of the Whitley Committee on the machinery of industrial conciliation, which Clay quotes, “. . . such machinery cannot be expected to furnish a settlement for the more serious conflicts of interest involved in the working of an economic system primarily governed and directed by motives of private profit” (p. 150). The remedy for this problem is for society to own the means of production, and to produce for use.

At some length, Professor Clay tries to show that “wage rates and unemployment are correlatives; if a wage rate is too high, it will cause unemployment” (p. 245), and that “it is no kindness to fix wage rates above the level set by an industry’s capacity to pay wages and still employ its labour” (p. 192). He holds that “normal” unemployment is mainly due to the wrong distribution of labour force; and the present abnormal unemployment he attributes to the War, which enhanced the maldistribution of labour force and removed a part of England’s markets. He therefore advocates that wages should, in some cases, be lowered, so that lost markets may be recovered from foreign competitors.

The old story of more work and less wages to recapture lost markets! The standard of living in Germany is a little lower than in England, and there are 3,000,000 German workers unemployed ; the standard of living in America is a little higher than in England, and the number of unemployed American workers has been estimated at about 7,000,000. Unemployment is increasing in Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, and elsewhere. In all these countries the employers’ journalistic and academic servants are urging the workers to work harder for lower wages, in a world glutted with products which cannot find buyers, whilst in many branches of production desperate efforts are being made to restrict output !

Unemployment is an inevitable feature of capitalism, and its tendency is to increase. Dealing with American unemployment, The Times (August 8th, 1930) says:
“It is beginning to be realised at long last that even if a recovery in business on a scale no longer thought probable should occur, it would not go very far to solve the unemployment problem. Throughout the years of fabulous prosperity that preceded the crash of last autumn unemployment was steadily increasing. The same processes of technological change, including the rapid substitution of capital for labour in industrial and agricultural production, were going on before the crash, are going on now, and will continue.”
Professor Clay recognises the increasing insecurity of “the propertyless worker, whether unskilled labourer, responsible organiser, or scientific expert” (p. 270), but fails to suggest the logical remedy. Only when the means of production are commonly owned and democratically controlled by the whole community will the application of science to production cease to divide the vast majority of mankind into the over-worked and the unemployed. “Meantime,” says The Times (July 29th, 1930), “rationalisation and unemployment are both increasing.”

Clay’s attempt to show that the various forms of public relief and social insurance increase the real income of the working class is really funny. First, he says that since these social services are paid for with money provided by taxation, and practically all the wage-earners fall below the income-tax exemption limit, then “the aggregate expenditure on social services is in the main an addition to the real income of the class that draws wages” (p. 2i7). He forgets that these social services, by lowering the cost of living, also tend to lower the workers’ wages in a labour market where there are always more men than jobs. Lord MacMillan, in making his report on woollen wage reductions, pointed out that social services such as pensions, insurance, etc., should be taken into consideration in fixing present-day wages. And Lord MacMillan was only stating explicitly a principle already being put into operation by the employers generally.

Clay himself gives figures showing that during the period from 1880 to 1914 real wages were falling whilst expenditure on social services was increasing; and points out that “the increase in expenditure . . . has followed, and to a large extent compensated for, the check to the rise in real wages.” Finally, he concludes that the effect of these social services “was to change the form, without altering the amount of wages. They ordained that the worker, instead of getting all his earnings in weekly wages, should get a part in the form of rights to income in sickness and unemployment, . . . (they) secured a better distribution of the wage-earner’s income, reducing it when he was working, but insuring thai it did not cease when he was unable to work. Wage-earners could have made a similar provision for themselves, as some of them did, through Friendly Societies and Trade Unions” (p. 219).

His chapters on the distribution of property are a plea for the small property-owner, and he gives many useful facts and figures with regard to the distribution of wealth in this and other countries. He shows that the total value of the properly left by 97,000 rich people who died during the year ending March, 1921, was £431,000,000. an average of nearly £4,300 per person, whilst “five-sixths of the population may be presumed to have less than £100 property each.” He asks, “How many working-class homes would have fetched more than £20, if sold up, before the War?” (p. 286). He also shows that alongside the increasing inequality of wealth has proceeded a change in its composition, contractual rights to money payments taking the place of real property, and this to an increasing extent in larger estates. A rich man’s estate consists largely of stocks and shares.

Clay describes this change in the nature of the right of property, brought about by capitalism, as the change involved in “the separation of the ownership and use of wealth,” by which property comes to consist not of a concrete thing but of a right to income. Before the days of capitalism, the simple tools of peasant and craftsman were their individual properly. To-day a railway shareholder cannot point to a single nut or smut as his own; but he holds a right to share in the profits. Clay shows from the Estate Duty returns that whereas house and business premises represent about 16 per cent., and land only about 9 per cent, of the total property, nearly 45 per cent, is in Stock Exchange securities; or, in other words, the largest element in property to-day is simply the claim to a share in the profits of industry, i.e., a legal right to live on the back of the working class. Clay is right in regarding this revolution in the form of property as being based on the change from puny individual production to mass production and distribution on a large scale by machinery too vast for individual ownership; but he is wrong in speaking of it as having resulted from “the separation of the ownership from the use and administration of capital.” The tools of the mediaeval craftsman were not capital. He makes the common error of confusing “capital” with “instruments of production,” which only became capital as a result of this separation of ownership from operation, by which the capitalist class, owning the means of production, can live on the wealth produced by the propertyless working class, who alone organise and operate the whole vast and complex mechanism of production and distribution.

The Professor is distressed at “the inequality of incomes, which is a chief cause of social unrest and the chief cause of waste in the modern economic system”; but he desires “the maintenance of the present right of property.” He wants property more evenly distributed, so as to check the growing inequality of wealth which threatens to engulf the small property owner and crush his “personal independence” (p. 207). He wishes to alleviate effects without abolishing fundamental causes. He wishes especially to remove those effects which injure the “middle class,” by means of some scheme of taxation “to enforce a continual re-distribution of property” for “the creation of a large independent class of small owners.” He regrets that “it would hardly be possible to frame a (scheme) . . . that would reach any large proportion of the propertyless proletariat ; but it would be easy to frame a scheme that would do something to restore the fortunes of the non-commercial, small-propertied middle class, on whom, since the aristocracy was superseded by a plutocracy, the maintenance of the finer arts of life mainly depends” (p. 313).

Thus, “economic inequality remains to be redressed,” but “no revolutionary change … is needed” (p. 317). For the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little (professorial) child shall lead them.

In his last chapter. Clay defends the Liberal Party, a Liberal Party which stands for Free Trade and freedom of enterprise, as the only alternative to “a Conservative Party that is protectionist in principle, and a Labour Party that is socialist in principle.” He advocates “freedom of private enterprise” as contrasted with the State monopoly of industry (which he imagines is Socialism); “freedom of international trade as a safeguard of international peace” ; and “a wider diffusion of property” to correct the growing inequality of wealth.

Apart from the absurd suggestion that the Labour Party is Socialist (their only service to the Socialist movement is their refusal to allow official Labour candidates to label themselves Socialist), it is very clear that Clay confuses Socialism with Nationalisation. He says: “None of the numerous varieties of Socialism could have any effect except still further to concentrate authority and subject the workers to a more detailed and complete subordination. All alike involve the establishment of legal monopolies, and are based on the subordination of the economic organisation to the State. The extinction of free enterprise by the competition and legalisation of monopoly would result in a bureaucratic inequality as oppressive as, and more difficult to control than, the present inequality” (p. 311). This is true enough if the word “Nationalisation” is substituted for “Socialism.” The nationalisation of an industry means that it is controlled, not by individual capitalists, but by the capitalist class as a whole through the Government, which is its “board of directors.” Thus Clay, thinking he is discrediting Socialism, only condemns the latest and most complete form of capitalist organisation.

He has to recognise, however, that “the extension of the State’s economic activities is necessary and will continue” although he desires “to keep the political and the economic organisation of society distinct” and “to develop international trade as a safeguard of international peace” (p. 306) ; for, he says, “we are members of an economic community . . . the boundaries of which do not coincide with those of any State.” He falls to grasp that the political division of the world into antagonistic States, when all its parts are economically dependent one upon another, is the political reflection of the contradiction inherent in capitalism; the contradiction of the social use and operation of the tools of production by the working class of the world, alongside the private ownership of these tools by competing groups of capitalists in the Great and Minor Powers.

This contradiction between social production and private ownership is the rock upon which capitalism splits. It has been the historical function of the capitalist class to bring about social production, with its enormous possibilities for human comfort and culture; it is the historical function of the working class to bring social ownership and control into line with social operation, and make these possibilities a glorious reality.
Frank Evans

SPGB Meetings. (1931)

Party News from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Editorial: What the Cotton Lock-out Means. (1931)

Editorial from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Yesterday the miners. To-day the weavers. Next the railwaymen. Then— ! ! So goes on the attempt to force down wages all round—and the Labour Government lends the capitalist their valuable assistance as mediators—on the capitalists’ side.

At the moment of writing, a ballot is being taken amongst the Lancashire weavers on the question of giving Trade Union officials power to negotiate with the employers. If the weavers vote in favour of the proposal, then they accept the principle of more looms per weaver ; if they turn the proposal down, they are faced with the problem of getting food and heat in mid-winter. The masters have chosen the time for the struggle and have seen to it the time was favourable to themselves.

The origin of the strife in Lancashire was the attempt on the part of the employers to get each weaver to work more looms than formerly—eight instead of four. The Manchester Guardian for January 21st publishes a statement by the Nelson and District Weavers’ Association, from which the following extracts are taken.

The trouble started in 1928. The “Burnley employers approached the weavers’ committee with a request to be allowed to try and experiment in certain mills in the town. The terms were that at ten firms no more than 4 per cent. of the looms should be slowed down, provided with better yarn, with weft on larger cops, and should be tried for an experimental period of twelve months, at the end of which the experiment should be discontinued if either side was not contented with it. Each weaver on the experiment should run eight looms, and only ordinary Burnley printers’ cloth should he made.”

The Burnley Committee referred the matter to the Amalgamation of which they were members, and it was ultimately agreed that the experiment should be carried out, the period to be April 1st, 1929, to March 31st, 1930.

The weavers very soon found out what they had let themselves in for. Almost from the beginning of the experiment the employers ignored the terms of it. Looms were speeded up and, instead of Burnley printers’ cloth only being made, different kinds of cloth were made and they returned to inferior yarns. When the weavers’ representatives attempted to obtain information of the progress of the experiment, the employers met them with the statement : “We have a lot of matter here which we can make neither head nor tail of ; you can come and look at it if you like.” This, of course, was merely a “blind.” The employers were ignoring the agreement and going ahead with their arrangements for cheaper production—and incidentally the future swelling of the unemployed army by thc weavers thrown out of employment by the doubling of the number of looms per weaver.

When the Swift arbitration award, blessed by the Labour Government, reduced other weavers’ wages, the experimenting employers cut the wages they had pledged themselves to retain until the end of the experiment. It had been agreed that if either side were dissatisfied, the experiments should be discontinued. The weavers are now dissatisfied, but the employers say the experiments must go on.

That, in short, is the position at the moment.

The weavers have been badly caught ; they have been trebly caught. In spite of the bitter experiences of the past, they trusted the soft words of the employers. On the plea that cheaper production was essential to rehabilitate Lancashire industry (how often the old trick is worked !), they allowed themselves to be hoodwinked into producing a greater quantity of cloth with less labour, thus speeding-up the time when their labour would be redundant and an increasing number of them thrown out of work. Finally, they have allowed the employers to protract the negotiations until the time was most favourable for themselves to bring matters to a head. In mid-winter it is harder for the workers to stand a period of unemployment. On top of that, the employers can afford to have their mills idle for a while just now without much loss as the following comment of the Manchester Guardian (July 21st) testifies : —
“The least unsatisfactory feature of the stoppage is that it has come at a time when demand is very slack, and, although it is bound in have very serious results, it seems impossible that either employers or operatives will have caused a great deal of business to be lost……

There are stocks of cloth in Lancashire, and many producers can still guarantee delivery, so that the available supply should go part of the way towards meeting any demand which would normally have been experienced here.”
As we have so often pointed out in these columns, the aim of the capitalist at all times is to obtain the maximum of production at the minimum cost in wages, and wherever they can accomplish it without seriously interfering with their profits, the capitalists are always anxious to push down wages. Consequently the employers are always on the look-out for means of increasing output per worker by improvements in machinery, by extension of hours or of work, or by better methods of organisation. The wholesale adoption of mass production, in spite of a glutted market, is an instance of this.

The capitalist class as a whole grows relatively richer every year, and the working class grows relatively poorer. The workers must fight to resist the constant attempts of the masters to extract more work for less pay, but they should endeavour to choose the time most suitable to themselves, and they should not give ear so readily to the eternal negotiators and mediators who negotiate and mediate against them.

In spite of the heroic efforts of the workers, they are fighting the battle on the wrong ground. On the economic field the capitalist is the stronger, and while the worker accepts capitalist ownership of the means of the production the capitalists will remain the stronger. This unpalatable truth must be faced by the workers and they must grasp the fact (and grasp it soon, or risk utter degradation) that the capitalist class has neither natural nor supernatural right to the control of society, and only owns and rules because society, the vast mass of which is composed of workers, gives it that control and can take the control away as soon as the desire exists. The declaration of principles on the back page puts the position simply and clearly.

Northern Ireland: Unite for Socialism! (1973)

From the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Northern Ireland — with its street riots, its shootings, its bombings, its political prisoners — is but one of world capitalism’s trouble spots. What has been happening there is only exceptional compared with life in capitalist Britain. On a world scale it is normal. Somewhere, sometime innocent people are always being killed by the forces of Law and Order or by the terrorist activities of their self-appointed “liberators”. If it’s not Northern Ireland, it’s Cyprus. If it’s not Cyprus, it’s Algeria. If it’s not Algeria, it’s Palestine … or India or Vietnam or South Africa. The only difference is that Northern Ireland is a lot nearer home.

Violence is never far below the surface of capitalism, even in comparatively peaceful areas like Britain. The instutionalised violence of the State exists to protect the class monopoly of a minority over the means of wealth production and its agents have continually to contain the frustrations caused by the insecure and deprived existence of the working class under capitalism. But the scarcity the working class the world over have to endure is artificial. The world means of production are quite capable of producing an abundance of wealth from which everybody could freely take according to their needs. Capitalism holds back production because it operates, and has to operate, according to the rule “No profit, no production” and it restricts the consumption of the vast majority to what is needed to keep them efficient wealth — and profit — producers.

Reform Futile
Those who accept capitalism, and choose to work within it, inevitably find themselves dividing the working class by arguing the merits of which worker, or group of workers, should get which scarce job or house or hospital bed or university place. In Northern Ireland the Catholic workers naturally say it is unfair that they don’t seem to get a proportionate share of these things as compared with their Protestant fellow workers. The Protestant workers, on the other hand, equally naturally, don’t feel inclined to give up whatever small advantage they believe they have just to conform to some abstract principle of equality. The reformist in practice accepts the restricted choice capitalism offers and tries to make the best of it, which isn’t much. Sometimes, it is true, he does see that the solution is not a fair distribution of jobs (and so of unemployment) or of new council houses (and so of old slums) and so does propose an increase in what there is to share amongst the workers. But here he fails to see the very real restrictions which capitalism places on doing this. Under capitalism production is for profit, not for the benefit of the working class. The fact, confirmed by years of sad experience, is that capitalism just cannot be reformed so as to work in the interests of the working class, the majority of society. It is futile to try to do so — and, in the context of Northern Ireland, worse than futile.

Sectarianism Kills
For given the tradition of sectarianism, any move to redistribute poverty in favour of the Catholic workers was bound to antagonise Protestant workers. This is why the Civil Rights movement must take joint responsibility with the Unionists for the current violence in Northern Ireland. For their reformist campaign helped to unleash passions that have put the clock back fifty years. The very nature of their campaign — a fairer deal for Catholics under capitalism — meant that they were seen to be, and in fact largely were, a Catholic sectarian movement. The fact that this, and the resulting violence, was clearly unintended is beside the point (though it does do them credit as compared with most Unionist politicians who used all their party’s years of experience of stirring up sectarianism to manoeuvre the Civil Rights movement into this position). They should have foreseen that this was likely to happen and that the killings, the maimings and the burnings of the past few years would have been too high a price to pay for the comparatively minor reforms they were demanding.

We are not saying workers should not protest against their sufferings under capitalism. Of course they should. But they should fight back on sound lines — for Socialism, not reforms of capitalism. A redistribution of poverty from Protestants to Catholics is no answer. What is called for is an end to the situation where workers, Protestant, Catholic or whatever, are in the degrading position of having to struggle amongst themselves for the basic necessities of life, especially when the amount of these necessities is artificially restricted by the same system that degrades and exploits them.

No Workers’ Republic
Socialism alone can end this, by making the means of production the common property of all mankind so that they can be used to provide abundance for all. The struggle for Socialism will unite rather than divide the working class because it does not set worker against worker over the few crumbs capitalism has to offer but is so clearly in the interests of them all.

We would be the first to admit that, unfortunately, “Socialism” in Northern Ireland has come to be associated with pro-Catholic politics, another pernicious side-effect of the reformism of those who call themselves socialists but who in practice seek only to reform capitalism. These people — the Bernadette Devlins, the Gerry Fitts — are not, and never were, Socialists. They stand, at most, for State-organised capitalism in Ireland. The “Workers’ Republic” many of them proclaim as their aim is an empty, and misleading, phrase. In Irish politics, whether intended or not (and in this case it generally is intended), the word republic labels its advocates as in favour of a united Irish State, in effect as supporters of that section of the Southern Irish capitalist class which wants to rule all Ireland not just the 26 counties they now do. The word workers does nothing to dispel this, but merely shows that those who use it don’t want to be identified as uncritical supporters of all-Ireland capitalism and wish it to be known that they favour reforms they believe will benefit the working class. Some go further and advocate full State ownership of land, industry and trade, but such a programme of state capitalism would not benefit workers in Ireland. If anything it would probably lead to even more restrictions on the limited political democracy and trade-union rights they now have. The state capitalist government in Ireland would still have to sell exports on the world market and would still have to drive the workers to produce as big a surplus as possible for re-investment. The workers would still have to resist and struggle to return for their own consumption as much as it could of the wealth it produced (and they would probably find the likes of the IRA, in view of their record of callous disregard of working-class life, harsh taskmasters).

National or Worldwide
The plain fact is that there is no national solution to the problems which face workers in Ireland, North and South. These problems are not essentially different from those of workers in all the other countries of the world. Workers everywhere live under the same system, world capitalism, which artificially divides the world into States and cultivates loyalty towards these States in the form of nationalism in order to further the interests of the various sections of the world capitalist class who rule them. The working class, too, is a worldwide class with a common world-wide interest: the overthrow of capitalist rule everywhere and the freeing of modern technology from the fetters of the profit motive by the establishment of Socialism.

Abundance for All
Socialism is necessarily a world system because the system it will replace, capitalism, already is. As far as the production of wealth is concerned there is already one world. The production of the world’s wealth, artificially limited as it is under capitalism, is one huge co-operative enterprise involving factories, farms shipyards, railways, warehouses, offices and workers of every kind in all parts of the world. What is not worldwide under capitalism is the ownership and control of this productive system, which is scattered amongst hundreds of competing States and big international companies. What Socialism will do is to bring this vast worldwide productive network under the control of mankind so that they can use it for their own benefit: first of all, to abolish poverty destitution, hunger, slums, ignorance and ill-health and second, to provide an abundance of wealth from which every single human being can freely take according to their needs without money or rationing of any kind. On this basis, boring work can be eliminated and free men and women come to enjoy the fruits of the centuries of forced labour of their fathers. The degrading struggle for the means of life, and the senseless hatreds it engendered, will become a thing of the past.

Struggles can be Ended
We insist that this is relevant in Northern Ireland today as it is everywhere else. Understandably, at the moment, ordinary people in Northern Ireland want peace, an end to the pointless shootings and bombings and the added insecurity they bring. We too want an immediate end to this senseless sacrifice of working-class life to no useful purpose (not even now the interests of their masters, as was once the case). But, over and above this, we want Socialism, a far more worthwhile objective than a mere return to “normal” capitalism with its boring jobs, its dole queues, its slums and its general poverty and exploitation minus only the extra violence.

We urge workers in Ireland to join with us, and their fellow workers in all other countries, in working to establish as quickly as possible Socialism, a world of peace and plenty.
Adam Buick

Unemployment – Fact and Myth (1973)

From the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are some fields of study in which, as time goes on, false theories are abandoned and understanding deepens: unemployment is not one of these. In this field, though economists and research organisations studying unemployment multiply, old fallacies never die and new ones are added.

There are still politicians, business men and economists who believe, like their predecessors of the early nineteenth century, that capitalism contains within itself an innate tendency to absorb all the unemployed and that if only it is left alone by governments it will do so. At the other extreme are the Labourites and Keynesians who believe that what is needed is precisely the opposite, more and more government intervention in the form of nationalization or manipulation of taxes and bank lending. Likewise those who advocate, as a sure cure, more wage increases and shorter hours or alternatively lower wages and harder work, more strikes or fewer strikes, lower profits or higher profits. Inflation, to push prices up, and the currently fashionable “incomes policy” to keep wages and prices down, are just as futile as means of preventing unemployment.

Rising Figures
In the years since 1936 when Keynes popularized the idea that governments had only to follow a “full employment” policy to do the trick (accepted by all political parties in this country except the Socialist Party of Great Britain), nearly all the economists have been agreed that the old nineteenth-century trade cycle of alternate booms and depressions was dead for all time. Events, here and in other countries, have dealt shattering blows to their belief without however convincing all of them that they have been wrong.

The annual averages in the past seventeen years show clearly how unemployment rose and fell in spite of government policies of “full employment” being operated all the time: —
1955 265,000
1958 501,000
1961 376,000
1963 612,000
1965 360,000
1972 943,000
It will be seen that the peaks have been rising, a point emphasized by the numbers unemployed in March of the three years 1958, 1963 and 1972 — 575,000, 747,000 and 1,014,511.

Fallacy of Productivity
This rising trend, and particularly the large numbers of workers made redundant in the past three years, has led to the revival of a fallacy very common in the years between the wars. It argues that the cause of unemployment has changed, so that it is no longer mainly due to falling sales in a depression but is the result of a fantastic rise of productivity caused by mechanization and automation. In the nineteen thirties those who held this view foretold that at an early date the majority of workers would be replaced by machines and never be employed again, with, as an incidental consequence, the disappearance of organizations with a working-class membership. It was false prophecy: the number of workers actually in employment at the present time is several millions more than it was forty years ago. The fallacy has been widely believed in the recent depression. It was put in an extreme form in a letter in The Times (6 Dec. 1971) by a trade-union official who said that productivity in industry had increased a hundredfold and the unemployed would never get jobs again.

The misunderstanding arises out of a failure to understand what an increase of productivity means. Marx was almost alone in recognizing that account has to be taken of all the labour socially necessary to produce a commodity including all the processes from first to last. For a motor-car this means the labour required to produce and transport all the raw materials, the power, the machinery, etc., etc., not just the labour required at the assembly stage. Measured in this way, productivity does not increase a hundredfold but somewhere in the range, at most, of 2% or 3% a year.

Growth and Expenditure
Provided therefore that the total output of industry, transport, etc., increases by a percentage which is equal to the percentage by which output per worker increases, unemployment remains the kind of problem it has always been. At the present time the estimate is that total production is increasing by perhaps 5% a year and output per worker by about 3½% a year, which would explain why, contrary to forecasts of no reduction in the number of unemployed, the number registered has fallen by nearly 250,000, from over a million in the spring of 1972 to 782,000 in December.

Professor F. W. Paish risks the forecast that total output will grow at the rate of 5 per cent, for the next three years “and perhaps indefinitely”. If it did, it could be assumed that the unemployed figure would fall further — until such time as the boom faded out and unemployment rose again. For there are snags in this. First, it is not true that as the TUC, for example, believes, expanding production and reducing unemployment is just a matter of “pumping more money into the economy”. Between 1966 and 1972 production was nearly stagnant and unemployment grew by 600,000, yet those were years in which the amount of money spent on consumer goods was rising fast, by over 50 per cent, in all; by over £3,239 million in 1971 and still more in 1972. The principal result was not increased output but higher prices, to the tune of nearly 50 per cent.

Competition and Crisis
Second, it is not enough to produce things; the real problem is that they have to be sold at a profit. Much of British industry has found itself unable to compete with more efficient foreign rivals, one reason being that such countries as Japan and Germany (largely with the help of American capital) were modernized and re-equipped after the destruction of the war. While both of these countries have been able to expand exports greatly in spite of raising the exchange value of their currency, British exports have faltered in spite of the several devaluations of the pound designed to make the goods cheaper to foreign buyers. So it is not to be wondered at that the London and Cambridge Bulletin group of economists are fearful of another trade crisis for British capitalism before the end of the year.

Rebels in Check
The moral of all this is that capitalism has not changed in essentials. It has not evolved into something different and better, and it has not come under the control of “full employment” policies. It offers no more security for the workers than it ever did. But in one respect there has been quite a considerable change. The capitalists have not solved the problem of unemployment, but they have largely contained the problem of the unemployed. In the eighteen-nineties when Frederick Engels was among those who envisaged the unemployed “taking things into their own hands” and in the nineteen-twenties, violent discontent, protests and riots were the order of the day. There are still romantics who dream of organized “revolutionary” action by the unemployed, but in fact capitalism has been sufficiently resilient and adjustable to devise unemployment pay and social security, and thus take most of the heat out of capitalism’s perennial problem.
Edgar Hardcastle

50 Years Ago: Scarce houses and high rents (1973)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The two things, shortage of houses and high rents, generally coincide. Given the first, the second follows. The capitalists who are interested in the production of any commodity always prefer to see the supply short of the demand, because it enables them to raise prices.

Supply and demand are responsible for fluctuations in rent, while cost of production is the main level between the two extremes. When rents fluctuate upwards, either the workers must have increased wages to enable them to pay, or they must go short of other necessaries.

The two alternatives before the wage worker are, therefore, to pay the landlord and go short of other necessaries, or struggle for a higher wage. But this is as much the concern of capitalists generally as it is of the workers. If capitalists require a certain standard of efficiency in their wage-slaves, the latter must be fed and clothed up to that standard. The whole question, consequently, resolves itself into a tug-of-war between one section of the capitalist class and all the rest, the workers’ standard of living taking the strain. At the moment the housing interests have the pull.

This explains somewhat the deep concern of writers in the capitalist Press about the shortage of houses and high rents. Until rents are reduced, capitalists generally cannot enforce the wage reductions they so earnestly desire without seriously impairing the efficiency of their wage-slaves.

The capitalist system never did and never can insure to the bulk of the workers decent and convenient houses in which to live without overcrowding.

(From an article “Rents and Houses” by Fred Foan in the Socialist Standard, February 1923.)

He gave us Hell! (1973)

From the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the myth-shrouded images of capitalism’s politicians — the image of rich man, strong man, clever man and so on — there exists a place for common man, the one who climbs up from simple origins and thereby proves that buried somewhere beneath the privilege and suppression of capitalism there is a streak of essential hope.

Such a man was Harry Truman, who was President of the United States between 1945 and 1952 and who died in the last days of 1972. Truman, who came of an unpromising family background, was a failed mine prospector, oil man and haberdasher before he went, surrounded by cronies, into Kansas City politics in the Twenties. He was aided in this venture by the patronage of fearsome Boss Prendergast, who dominated the Democratic Party in Kansas City and Prendergast helped Truman to become first Judge and later Senator. Clearly, Truman was a fast learner and a slick worker; Prendergast however was not famous for a reverence for the legal niceties and his record of bribery and corruption was halted in 1939 by a 15-year prison sentence for tax evasion. Truman adroitly managed to avoid any of the Prendergast mud sticking to him.

In the Senate Truman soldiered on until in 1944 he emerged, as the saying goes, as a compromise between Henry Wallace and James Byrne as Vice-Presidential candidate to run with Roosevelt. By that time Roosevelt’s rule over the massive war machine of American capitalism was of great political importance. All over the world, workers who thought it their duty to fight and to die in the interests of their masters regarded Roosevelt as a great, comforting father figure. When he died, and Truman was thrust into the Presidency, a tremor of unease ran through the workers of the Allied countries. Who was this little man, known till then only for posing for a leggy picture with Lauren Bacall? Was he strong (in other words ruthless) enough to keep up the war? Would he be willing to kill enough workers on the other side? There was not long to wait for the answer.

Within months of taking over Truman had played his part as one of the victorious jackals of Potsdam, tearing up the carcass of Europe and the Far East and redrawing the frontiers to make the focal points of future conflicts. And he had ordered the use of the atomic bomb on the cities of Japan — upon live, warm, feeling human beings who turned into dust beneath the new horror weapon unleashed by the little man in the White House. Truman said later that he had cleared it all with Stalin. In this country the Attlee government set its course as the first majority Labour government in British history by also approving this act of cold-blooded mass murder.

Fortified, Truman gave the order for the manufacture of the American H-bomb — again approved, and copied by, the Labour government. He rushed America into the Korean war, and arranged afterwards for his side to be called the United Nations, which presumably was meant to make everyone feel better about it. It is said that he did not realise the possible consequences of these decisions — as if there is anything unusual about that. His sacking of the fabulously popular General McArthur was a calculated risk in which the calculations came off.

In 1948 the Republicans made the most of Truman’s difficulties in trying to control American capitalism, fighting the election on the slogan “Had Enough?” Truman, urged on with the battle cry “Give ’em hell, Harry”, fought a peppery campaign and secured his historical place as the little man made good when he upset all predictions by beating the smooth New York lawyer Dewey. In fact his was a shrewdly judged campaign. Truman gave up in 1952, just in time to avoid the Eisenhower landslides.

When he died Truman was widely described as a “great” American president. Presumably the word means that he was always ready to do whatever dirty work capitalism required of him. In the system’s long history of trickery, suppression and butchery no leader will deserve a more prominent place.

Is Religion Any Different Today? (1973)

From the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

A few times every year the Socialist Standard receives letters which read, on average, as follows: “I have been a reader for some months and agree with nearly all you say, except that you seem to find no room for Christianity in your socialist case. Surely Christianity and Socialism both aim at the same objective, i.e. the brotherhood of man? I am myself a lifelong member of the Anglican Church . . .”

The answer is that ever since its foundation the Socialist Party of Great Britain has been unequivocally opposed to religion in every form. No-one holding a religious belief is admitted to membership. The opposition is twofold. First, to give credit to the supernatural and supposed absolute truths is to have blockades up against an intelligent understanding of the world. Second, organised religion has always been fostered by rulers to keep subjects in their place. With fear and ignorance as stock-in-trade, and poverty and submission as blessed states, belief provides a perfect instrument. “Let them eat cake” means the divine ready-mix on which every status quo in history has been nourished.

Lingering Decline
In 1910 we published the first of numerous editions of Socialism and Religion, the pamphlet in which our attitude was fully stated. Then, as now, it was an attitude which only Socialists could take. Plenty of other organisations and individuals may have shared the feeling that the churches were in the pockets of the ruling class, but were not prepared to damage their prospects of power by publicly declaring it; the evasive principle “religion is a private affair” had widespread acceptance in the Labour and radical movements. The churches knew the position only too well, however. In 1914 a Catholic Congress in Belfast heard an address on Socialism and Religion. “The poisoned breath of Socialism” was the lecturer’s phrase, and his plea “that it shall never be allowed to establish a foothold within the fair hills of holy Ireland”.

Why is not Socialism and Religion published today? If there were money to spare, we might have done it; but the fact is that the exposure of religion is no longer a “must”. The social importance and the influence of religion have declined steadily in the western world. There are, of course, special cases — principally where Catholic populations exist. Nevertheless, if it can still be inflammatory to write “Kick the Pope” on a wall, it is hard to imagine “Kick the Archbishop of Canterbury” causing indignation (“Kick the Chief Rabbi” would annoy the Race Relations Board more than anyone else). A regular churchgoer is now almost an exceptional figure. In non-urban areas where the churches’ direct influence on social life has continued longest, only handfuls now attend. In recent years between eight and nine hundred churches in Britain have been shut up or demolished and their parishes incorporated in others.

Without doubt, the vestigial beliefs linger on. Most people if asked would probably acknowledge never attending church except for baptisms, marriage and funerals; but assert also the “rightness” of it on those occasions and profess faith in God and an afterlife. They would think it wrong, too, to swear in front of a clergyman or anyone known to be “religious”. The word “atheist” has curious connotations of shockingness (“agnostic” is more respectable, conveying vague intellectual qualities). Indeed, Christians seem to take for granted a right to make themselves offensive to whoever does not share their beliefs. Tell one that you are an atheist and he will say either “I hope you’ve thought about this” (well, yes: have you?) or “I hope you don’t thrust it down your children’s throats” — which, considering all the religious throat-thrusting, is as absurdly insolent a remark as could be made.

Playing for Safety
Why do these traces and assumptions hang on as gross impediments to sensible thought? One reason is simply conditioning: what we are brought up on is not readily relinquished. Prayers, axioms, reverence, the annual reiteration of the Christmas and Easter myths — no-one escapes them in childhood, and it is made heavily inconvenient to do so afterwards. Another is psychological need: many people’s inability, itself promoted by the social environment which includes religion, to face the conflicts and problems of life. Its phenomena range from Moral Rearmament’s screaming that sex is a Communist plot, to the small boom in spiritualism after every war. The common word for adopting belief in such circumstances, “embraced”, is remarkably apt. It suggests arms thrown round in an imploring hold, hugging tightly for support lest the subject slide to the ground.

Do they really believe it? All the evidence suggests that mostly the vestigial beliefs are professed and rational thinking rejected as a kind of post-burial insurance, a hedged wager to cover the however-unlikely chance of the outsider coming in. As Samuel Butler wrote, the well-known hymn ought to say “I bet that my Redeemer liveth”. This is in fact the agnostic’s position — despite lofty phrases like “an open mind”, agnosticism is merely hoping not to be caught out. Certainly the usual claim that it is “scientific” to be an agnostic is the height of inanity: how far would science get if practised in the frame of mind that leprechauns are always a possibility?

Belief and Action
But nor do the more ardent Christians believe in the nonsense they preach. George Orwell, replying to a critic in 1944, wrote: “Most Christians profess to believe in Hell. Yet have you ever met a Christian who seemed as afraid of Hell as he was of cancer?” There is a shrewdly-conceived episode in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists where a preacher is challenged over a biblical passage saying believers may take poison without being harmed, shown a likely-looking bottle, and invited to demonstrate. His answer—”I wouldn’t be such a fool” — is precisely what all Christians would say about the literal pursuit of their beliefs. Why should they not be expected to pursue them if they do believe them? After all, it is usually Christians who say to holders of unrespectable views: “What would the world be like if everyone were like you?” Well, what would it be like if everyone acted on Christian precepts? To see large numbers of people rejecting riches, turning the other cheek, giving precedence to the meek and lowly, etc., would be a nice change.

Bottom Knocked Out
There has been an interesting example recently. General Amin, when he first proposed to expel the Ugandan Asians, announced that he had been told by God in a dream to do so. Considering the precedents for this, the political and religious leaders in Britain should have been very deeply impressed by it. Instead, it was universally taken as proof that Amin was mad. So the hushed reverence with which the Bible stories of similar visitations are told and received is a spurious currency, circulated against the background knowledge that repetitions would not be allowed to upset the way this society goes on.

Of course, many Christians disclaim the superstition and mythology; most of our correspondents do. They could hardly say otherwise if an argument is to be had. The main supernatural claims of religion have been demolished by scientific discovery which has become everyday fact, from Darwin and Lyell to space-exploration. Even allowing that many Americans reportedly think no-one has been to the moon and the whole thing is a TV studio production, nobody has commented that one of the oldest props of rule by fear has gone. It was never suggested or expected that the astronauts might run into flights of angels or pass Paradise on the way; yet only a generation ago schoolchildren were taught and adults believed that they were all above the earth, looking down.

The religious fashion today is to talk as if those beliefs were never taken seriously, and the remaining supernatural doctrines can (if it suits, that is) be disowned. Thus, the self-styled “thinking” Christian can play a game of can’t-catch-me: on one hand repeating Creation, virgin birth, Hell, Holy Trinity, resurrection, on the other explaining that these are allegories whose meanings his opponents don’t understand. It would be more to the point to say that he finds them impossible to support but is anxious for other people to believe them.

Meanwhile, in Society …
The decline of religion is due to more than simply scientific knowledge, however. Just as devout Christians do not live according to the Commandments and the Beatitudes because it would be materially inconvenient to do so, working people generally are less and less ready to swallow doctrines palpably against their interests. A notable instance is the increasing failure of working-class Catholics to comply with their Church’s orders about family life. Irish Catholics practise birth-control of a kind by marrying as late as possible, but in Britain and America the majority of Catholic families are seemingly affected by relative sterility. The reason is obvious. In a different environment, the extreme poverty of outsize families becomes unacceptable : belief goes to the wall.

It is worth reflecting, too, on the altered social status of the clergy. Up to, roughly, the second world war they were taken seriously. Churchmen’s pronouncements were reported on the front pages of newspapers. In country districts they were almost dictatorial, virtually commanding people to church. If you look at jokes in old numbers of Punch, a great many were about the clergy; curates were usually nincompoops with fertile wives, but bishops were always shown as awesome figures of rectitude. Compare that situation with the minuscule congregations and the clergy-jokes of today, as in the TV comedies like All Gas and Gaiters. In them, clergymen (including bishops) are shown as asses who impress nobody and think of not much besides fleshpots. These depictions are not tremendously funny, but that is not due to any feeling of sacrilege. When real prelates and vicars can be seen on television, bumbling in news items and burbling in religious programmes, for sheer hilariousness there is no comparison. The clergy, apparently, do not complain of Gas and Gaiters; the actors would have a far better case for complaining of unfair competition.

Nothing in Common
But what of “the brotherhood of man”? Can the absurdities, the superstitious and absolutist elements be stripped from religion and an entity remain which Socialists and Christians are striving for alike? The answer is no. The presumption that brotherliness and co-operation are “what Christianity is all about” is another religious spoof. They are what, humanity is all about. Man is a social being, with co-operation and order as his dominant tendencies — if he had not them, we should not be here today.

Socialists therefore do not seek the brotherhood of man: it exists already. What we aim at is the creation of a society in which it can flourish, instead of being continually frustrated and perverted as it is under capitalism. And, to come back to where we began, religion gives no aid in that task. On the contrary, by the churches’ support for capitalism and Christians’ hocus-pocus beliefs, it is an enemy of social progress. If, improbably, in a sane society there turned out to be individuals who could not live without imaginative consolations, that weakness would be accepted (certainly it would not be treated with the malevolence with which Christians behave towards atheists today). However, we are in the world of capitalism, and in that context socialism and religion are diametrically opposed.
Robert Barltrop

Man and the Sea. Resources for Society’s Future (1973)

From the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

In obtaining food from the sea, man is continuing a process begun in the hunting and gathering stages of his history, although modern technology has taken much of the element of “luck” from fishing.

It appears that the sea is a virtually untapped food source, especially of protein foods. Fishermen are now taking less than 50 million tons of fish a year, while the amount available has been calculated to run as high as 100,000 million tons a year.

As well as using new methods of fishing such as echo-sounding and sonar beams, new uses are being found for the fish. One apparently important one is fish flour, a solvent extraction of fish protein: FPC or fish-protein concentrates. This is being developed in a number of places, and the US Bureau of Commercial Fisheries has devised a process for obtaining FPC from hake. The concentrate, which contains 85 per cent, protein, is highly nutritious, and practically tasteless and odourless. The idea is not that FPCs should be used as food in their own right, but as additives to the traditional dishes in areas where diets do not contain sufficient protein.

Another idea is to make use of the kinds of fish not yet exploited commercially, such as coley, redfish and dogfish, and to serve them in different and novel ways. School and industrial canteens have been used as guinea-pigs and the fish was found to be “perfectly acceptable”. Apart from the obvious advantages, the use of new and unknown kinds of fish will lessen the pressure on the traditional fishing grounds.

New Kind of Harvest
Many scientists believe there is a far richer source of sea food in plankton — the microscopic plants and animals that swim in the water and form the basis of all animal life in the sea. The plankton is eaten by small fish which in turn are eaten by bigger fish, and anywhere along the line man steps in and catches some of the bigger species. A way of eliminating the middle man, so to speak, would be to harvest the plankton directly. In this food chain, it takes about 100 lbs. of plankton to create 10 lb. of herring which creates 0.1 lb. of tuna fish.

The whale, one of the few mammals living in the sea, has a diet which consists entirely of plankton, which it scoops up as it travels through the water, and by doing so has drastically shortened the food chain. An idea would be to have nuclear-powered man-made whales, ships that would pour a steady stream of plankton into their holds as they ply the oceans.

Herds for Food
Very little farming of the sea has been done as yet, that is, to consciously rear and harvest fish, etc. The cultivation of the yellowtail is quite exclusive to Japan, although this cannot be considered true “farming” because the fish are taken when young from out at sea and are then fattened in enclosed areas of the sheltered inland sea.

The real breakthrough for marine farming came with the recent developments in stocking marine fields with domestically hatched and reared marine animals. There are still many problems to be overcome, but this opens up the possibility of achieving the same kind of revolution as Robert Bakewell achieved in livestock breeding in England in the 18th century. The specially-bred animals would be reared in marine fields. One of the most successful such ventures has been the rearing of the Japanese prawn. Methods were devised for hatching eggs obtained from female prawns brought in by fishermen.

In this way two types of fishery could develop. On the high seas fleets could cull the wild fish populations — somewhat as some African countries “crop” the wild animals in their National Parks; and nearer home, the marine farmer would cultivate “domesticated livestock” in the inshore pastures of territorial waters.

Scientists are now also turning to the sea as a source of drugs, and it seems as though it is a practically untapped source of potentially useful medicines, especially of further antibiotics.

Fit to Drink
Water is said to be in short supply in relation to the domestic, agricultural and industrial needs for it. Under capitalism much water is wastefully used, but even so very little is taken directly from where most of it is: the sea. The oceans and seas hold about 97 per cent, of the world’s stock of water, and unlike most other natural resources the sea is self-renewing — all the water eventually ending up in the sea, in a series of events known as the water cycle.

Although work is being done to develop strains of crops which are resistant to salt water, most of the water used by man needs to be fresh. So to obtain water from the sea, all the dissolved minerals have to be removed — desalination. There are generally three different types of methods, of which distillation is the major and oldest process. Desalination plants are in use in a number of places over the world. In Israel, where present water supplies fall short of the potential demand by as much as 80 per cent., the impetus for developing methods of desalting the sea and brackish waters derives from the question of survival rather than commercial interest. The Israelis have carried out an extensive research programme which they hope will lead them eventually to emancipation from the threat of serious shortages of water, and already have several desalting installations in operation.

Power from the Tides
The oceans are a huge source of restless energy deriving from winds, waves, tides and currents. The effects of these are sometimes disastrous, as in January 1953 when serious flooding in eastern England and the Netherlands caused extensive damage and resulted in the deaths of 2,107 people. Fortunately the oceans do not always expend their energy in such destructive ways, and can be put to man’s use. As tides are relatively reliable they can be harnessed to turn turbines and produce electricity. A place with a high tidal range is obviously necessary for the location of a tidal power station and there are only about two dozen suitable places in the world, of which about ten have been seriously considered.

The major possibility in Britain is the Severn Estuary, and a power station from Cardiff to Western-super-Mare has been estimated as being able to supply one-twelfth of the United Kingdom’s power, and an additional road between Wales and England. The French were the first people to build a tidal power station. It straddles the Rance Estuary in NW France, and is designed to produce 240 megawatts of electricity, enough for a city of about 500,000 people. Receiving the direct force of the great Atlantic tidal wave this coast also has remarkably regular tides, and during the spring tides has a range of 42 feet. At the height of the spring tide flow, water comes rushing up the estuary at a rate of nearly 4 million gallons per second. Even so, the power station’s output is only a small proportion of the 180,000 megawatts of energy thought to flow from the Atlantic into the English Channel, and is almost insignificant beside that of world tides — 1.5 million megawatts.

Resources Galore
For every statistic prophesying doom for the world in terms of mineral resources, there is another to contradict it. The ecologists contend that we must use the resources of the world austerely, to make them last — at least until other substances can be found to take their place. However, commerce lives only for the day: in case the high-grade deposits on the land really are becoming exhausted, the mining companies have their eyes on (and pockets ready for) the mineral wealth in the sea and on the sea bed.

The beautiful thing about the sea is that minerals are being deposited there faster than man can hope to collect them. Every year rivers flowing from the land add about 3,300 million tons of material which eventually comes to settle on the ocean floor. Nearly 4 million tons of meteoric and other materials rain down from outer space. In fact the oceans form a global chemical plant, in which practically every chemical is being processed and finally stored: providing a renewable resource which will last beyond the foreseeable future.

Dr. John Mero has presented some astonishing estimates of the various minerals in one type of deposit, manganese nodules, found on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. According to him, the nodules hold enough aluminium to supply man for about 20,000 years, cobalt for 200,000 years, copper for 6,000 years, manganese for 400,000 years and zirconium for 100,000 years. (The figures are based on 1960 rates of consumption.) In addition, these nodules are estimated to contain 207,000 million tons of iron, which is almost twice as much as the present land resources which are expected to last at least 250 years. There is also estimated to be nearly three times as much lead as the present land reserves which, we are told, could be exhausted by 1988. And the list goes on; but the store is hardly touched by man. Manganese nodules are not restricted to the Pacific. They are also found in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. They were first dredged from Scottish lochs!

Extracting Minerals
The problem is that the average depth at which they are found, about 13,000 feet in the Pacific, makes conventional dredging out of the question. Dr. Mero suggests that giant dredgers controlled from the surface could sweep up the nodules from the ocean floor. But while land reserves are still sufficient there is as yet no real incentive to take these minerals from the oceans, especially as the cost would be in the order of some £12 million or more. A further problem quoted was that America might find herself in the “embarrassing situation of having a surplus of some minerals”.

Red clay sediments on the ocean floor contain enough copper and aluminium possibly for a million years, but again are difficult to obtain. However, small amounts of sand, gravel, shells, limestone, tin, gold and diamonds are all dredged from the sea in shallow coastal regions. In 1966 over 6 per cent, of this country’s gravel and sand came from the sea bed. Apart from their direct use in construction works, sand and gravel taken from the sea also play a part in land reclamation.

Only three dissolved chemicals are extracted from sea water on a commercial scale: salt, magnesium and bromine. Today as much as a third of the world’s production of salt comes from the sea, the heat of the sun being used to evaporate the water as it has been done for centuries. The production of salt in this way led to the extraction of magnesium from the sea in the nineteen-thirties, and today most of this metal comes from sea water or brines.

For the Future
Natural gas, oil and molten sulphur can be piped up from the underlying rocks of the sea bed, and some 200 drilling rigs are at this moment probing the continental shelves in various parts of the world in search of these minerals. It is very difficult to gather figures as to the estimated amount of oil under the sea.

So there we have, briefly, the potential of the minerals in the sea. Their use, as with everything else, depends today upon the capitalist economics of mining for profit and on international law and technology. In many cases the necessary equipment does not yet exist, although the knowledge of how it may be used does.

The above article is from the notes of a lecture given to our Birmingham Branch last year.

Life and Times: What An Example! (2023)

The Life and Times column from the January 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

A short time ago I was trying to park my car in a shopping area near where I live when things didn’t entirely go to plan. What happened is explained in the message that I subsequently posted on the local community Facebook group I’m a member of. My post read as follows:
What an example! 
Yesterday I was involved in a slight road accident at the beginning of Beechwood Rd just after the Car Wash. I won’t go into details except to say that it was a real 50-50 thing between my car and another one, ie, you couldn’t say that either of us were really to blame. The young chap in the other car had a couple of scrapes on his bumper and so did I. He didn’t seem angry (and neither was I), but he told me he’d just had the bumper replaced. So a difficult situation. Then the young fellow from the Car Wash (some of you must know him) came up and said: ‘No point involving the insurance. Just wait a second’. He came back armed with a cloth and what I can only describe as some miracle stuff which he used on the scrapes and somehow completely removed them – and they haven’t come back. The other driver and I were both happy. We shook hands and agreed to leave it at that. What a relief! But now comes the big thing. I offered £20 to the young Car Wash man and he said no. I tried to insist, but he still absolutely refused. He said: ‘Look, next time you need a car wash, come here.’ All I can say is what a brilliant human being. 
Most readers will know that local community Facebook groups are normally populated with messages about lost pets, badly parked cars, yoga classes, street lighting, rubbish collection, activities in the local park, etc. My news was a little bit different, but it still seemed a good forum to let the local community know about a fantastic example of human togetherness unsullied by the idea of gain or material reward. It was also a way of my thanking the Car Wash fellow for being such a decent individual (and also maybe giving his business a bit of publicity).
But what I didn’t anticipate was what happened next. Within less than half an hour of my posting, there’d been over 70 replies – either ‘likes’, ‘loves’ or messages. After that the numbers only multiplied and by the following day there had been over 600 responses from people expressing approval, admiration, and various other kinds of thumbs-up. Examples of the various things people wrote were:
You are a good man and your company and workers are wonderful members of the community
I will take my car there next time, just for his kind gesture

Next time I need the car washed I’ll go there too. What a brilliant man!

My chariot is long overdue for a wash, I’ll have to bring it down

How fantastic

A little kindness goes a long way

Yes, I was nearby and witnessed the incident and was struck by the decency and generosity of the people involved. Surely a great example of how wonderful humanity can be when we choose to cooperate with each other. Thumbs up to the young man

There is kindness around us. We just need to look

Aww how lovely …. my next car wash will be there too!

Nothing compares to human kindness, well done young man x

What a lovely story, and what a kind person. When I need a car wash, I’m goin there!

What a great outcome,,,made me a bit tearful

What a lovely thing to do

I witnessed yesterday, wow I’m impressed

He is awesome

There are still lovely humans in the world

Gives such hope in our fellow human beings. If only it was normal behaviour

The Car Wash man responded too: ‘Thank you for your kind words. It honestly meant a lot. I could see the situation was getting a bit stressful, so I thought I’d help the situation. More than welcome anytime’.
What to say about this? Well, the fact that around two thirds of the 900+ members of the Facebook responded in this way was nothing if not heartening. How strongly it militates against the view we often hear expressed that looking after number one and the greed, selfishness and competition that goes with it is somehow all there is to ‘human nature’. That’s an idea expressed in a lot of what has been said, written and published over much of human history. Yet the tide seems to have definitely turned now with many studies coming to the opposite conclusion, ie, that not only are human beings capable of manifesting peaceful and cooperative behaviour rather than being hostile and competitive with one another but are more likely to behave in that way if conditions allow it. It all depends on the circumstances. This view sees humans as eminently flexible beings who will prefer to make common cause with their fellow creatures unless they are pushed into doing otherwise by conditioning or situation. Of course empathy and cooperation may not ‘make news’ as effectively as negative, selfish or uncooperative behaviour, but that’s largely because caring cooperative activities are so everyday, so common, far outnumbering negative behaviours, and so tend to get taken for granted and go unmentioned.

All this was borne out by a recent study (2021-22) based on online questionnaires (‘The Kindness Test’), carried out by psychology researchers from the University of Sussex in collaboration with the BBC. Its ‘take home’ was that, despite the competitive ethic of current society, human beings are fundamentally a kind species generally prepared to cooperate with and help one another in their daily lives and activities. This was manifested in apparently banal but obviously important findings such as most people being readily prepared to do favours for others, helping strangers to pick up things they’d dropped, or having concerned feelings for people less fortunate than themselves. A further finding was that people who regularly carry out kind acts or even just notice that other people are carrying out kind acts also have higher levels of well-being.

And doesn’t the ‘Car Wash’ story back this up? A person who was prepared to do what he saw as ‘the right thing’ to help total strangers. And most other people, as shown in the Facebook responses, admired him for behaving in this way. Isn’t the implication that, in a society organised in an entirely different way from the current capitalist one (the one that we call socialism), people would not have the slightest problem in operating in a harmonious and cooperative way most if not all of the time. In such a society, one of common ownership, free access to all goods and services and democratic organisation, the natural human tendency to share and cooperate will surely come into its own.
Howard Moss

The World Cup of Shame? (2023)

From the January 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many members of the Socialist Party, including the present writer, are keen football fans. We love the skill, the beauty, the athleticism of the game.. But at the same time we have severe reservations about the way it is organised and the conditions under which it is played. It is a kind of paradigm of capitalism as a whole, the system we all live under. What this means is that human beings produce the most potentially brilliant mind-blowing inventions and innovations and exhibit the most fantastic skills and ingenuity in putting them to use, whether that be in the field of technology, education, food and drink, sport, and much else. Yet there are almost inevitably serious warps in the way these are used and express themselves. That is partly because so much of what takes place in capitalism is focused on, bent towards money and profit rather than human need, but also because, through its system of forced wage and salary work as a means of survival for the vast majority, it engenders in the individual a sense of powerlessness, of being just a tiny cog, of being able unable to fulfil one’s individual potential.

Most people cope with this by considering it somehow natural quite simply because they have never known or imagined anything else, but also because, as one writer has put it, ‘distraction technologies and the entertainment industry sell us meaningless thrills to patch over the pain’.

Which takes us back to football and the spectacle the world is now emerging from, that of teams of highly talented footballers pitted against one another to win a coveted competition, the World Cup. One might have thought that the awful treatment – lethal in some cases – of those workers who built the structures and the infrastructures for the staging of the spectacle and the retrograde mentality of the rulers of Qatar (and apparently most of the inhabitants) would have led many of those with a degree of fellow feeling for other human beings to consider boycotting what one writer called ‘the World Cup of shame’. But few, it appears, went down that road, the vast majority being swept up in patriotic (or nationalistic or jingoistic – choose the word) hero worship of their own team and its players, individuals whose wealth dwarfed anything their normal daily grind could allow them to even dream of.The pictures on the television screen often showed nothing short of mass hysteria as teams scored goals or won matches, a true bread and circuses for modern times.

Yet at the end what was left was anti-climax, even for the supporters of the team that won the competition as they returned to their normal everyday lives as wage slaves and the powerlessness inherent in that role. Perhaps the spectacle they had experienced was an example of what the writer Charles Eisenstein, in his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, calls ‘a substitute for the expression of one’s own greatness’.

50 Years Ago: Britain Enters the Common Market (2023)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the beginning of this month Britain has been part of the ‘European Economic Community’, to give the Common Market its official name. This means that the British government is pledged to pursue, along with eight other West European governments, common policies in such fields as foreign trade, transport and agriculture. By 1978 all trade barriers between Britain and the other eight countries should have been removed and all nine should have erected a uniform tariff against goods coming from outside their ‘common market’.

For the capitalists of Britain, or most of them, this will open up a vast new market in which to try to sell their goods at a profit. But what about the workers? How will the Common Market affect the ordinary wage- or salary-earner in the factories and offices of Britain?

First, and this has already begun to happen, there’ll be a rise in food prices as a result of the British government having to change its method of subsidising agriculture. (…)

The second change the ordinary wage-earner will notice is in the way the goods he buys are taxed. From 1 April this year purchase tax and SET will be abolished and replaced by a Value Added Tax (VAT). (….)

Thirdly, workers from Britain will be free to move to the other countries in search of a job and will be able to carry social security rights with them. And workers from the other countries will be free to come here on the same terms, of course.

Within ten years, however, we could be using a common European currency and voting in elections for the European Parliament at Strasbourg. And after that, perhaps, there’ll be progress towards a ‘United States of Europe’ as another Great Power challenging the current world hegemony of America and Russia (…).

But, in any event, the emergence of such a new capitalist super-State, or the creation of a single European capitalist economy, is of no concern to the working class. Though it will affect them nevertheless. To try to mitigate these effects they will have to start thinking in terms of united action with their fellow workers in Europe. Already some trade unions, and trade unionists, have — wisely — been making contact with their opposite numbers in the other countries.

(Socialist Standard, January 1973)

The Time of a Whale (2023)

Book Review from the January 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Value of a Whale: On the Illusions of Green Capitalism. Adrienne Buller. Manchester University Press £12.99.

Green capitalism is described here as involving two main aspects: the wish to maintain existing capitalist relations, and the attempt at the same time to expand accumulation during the transition to an ecologically sustainable method of production. It is, Buller argues, self-defeating, as profit-motivated ‘solutions’ just exacerbate current inequalities. Economic imperatives are given priority over other needs, and even the Green New Deal still refers to markets and profits. Appearing to act on the climate crisis is widely seen as important, but effective action is much rarer.

One crucial area for addressing climate change is decarbonisation, which involves reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. Green capitalism addresses this either by imposing a carbon tax (depending on the cost per unit of carbon emitted) or by invoking a carbon market (whereby a firm has a cap on how much carbon it can emit and can ‘trade’ with others for additional amounts they will not use). But cost and profits are in general big obstacles to decarbonisation, and the fossil fuel industry has successfully lobbied against carbon taxes in almost all cases where they have been proposed. Carbon markets often involve companies in wealthy countries balancing their emissions against those in less developed parts of the world. Carbon offsetting, such as newly-planted trees, is unregulated and barely effective.

A fair amount of attention is given to what has been termed ‘asset manager capitalism’, whereby firms such as BlackRock and Vanguard play a large role in the corporate economy. This has become increasingly the case since the 2007–8 financial crisis, and they provide at least as much credit to companies as banks do. Asset management funds often adopt the strategy of passive investing, which means they buy many of the securities tracked by a share index in order to replicate its performance. They rarely disinvest in a company, and emphasise long-term investment. They have little interest in influencing corporate behaviour regarding the climate, and BlackRock in particular operates a revolving door with government, in both the US and UK.

The author says her aim is not to suggest solutions to the ecological crisis, but rather to argue that green capitalist approaches do not offer a path to a safe future. With reference to carbon sinks, which absorb more carbon than they emit, she writes refreshingly that ‘We are more than capable of sustaining a decent life for all – and for the long term – with the space, resources and natural “sinks” this planet generously offers.’

In case you are wondering, an IMF study estimates the value of a great whale at $2m, based on their contribution to eco-tourism and their capacity for carbon capture.
Paul Bennett