Sunday, May 7, 2023

Running Commentary: Census count (1981)

The Running Commentary column from the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Census count

In early April, workers in Britain were treated to some special attention. We were counted. “Today well all be counted because we all count", said the official adverts in the papers. It was a bit like election time or war time, when we are required to lay down our votes or our lives. We had to fill in the sordid details about our living conditions and the company exploiting us. We could then read the free leaflet explaining the usefulness of the census: "Housing: to work out present and future needs we must know how people are housed now, and the sizes and ages of their families." But don't they realise that in this capitalist society needs are only ever met if people can afford to pay the price, and ensure the profit for the shareholder or the government? That is why most cities have had a “housing problem" for generations, and why there are thousands of homeless people in Britain today, while there is a “slump" in the building industry.

Wealth before health

Another example of how the profit system fails to satisfy human needs — private wealth must come before public health. The latest report of the Alkali and Clean Air Inspectorate says that concern for the environment is increasingly having to compete with worries about inflation, employment, difficult trading conditions and profit. And for the first time since the thalidomide case twenty years ago, the regulations governing drug-testing in Britain are to be eased. The Sunday Times reported that the Association of Community Health Councils is worried that “the interests of industry, rather than any great concern for patient benefit, seem to have been the motive force behind the changes” (5/4/81). The same edition contains advertisements for a Mayfair house costing £625,000, a Knightsbridge “family home" for £550,000, a Rolls-Royce car for £55,000 . . . so it seems that not everyone is tightening their belt.


In his hit record Imagine, the late John Lennon sang of a society rid of the religious myths which offer the false hope of paradise beyond the grave: 
Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try,
No hell below us, above us only sky
Imagine all the people, living for today;
Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for; and no religion too . . .
So it is rather odd that a memorial service should have been organised for him in Liverpool cathedral. The crowning irony, though, was that Imagine was played as part of the service!

As for the shooting of Ronald Reagan, we have no sympathy for one of the figureheads of the most violent and barbaric society the world has ever known: world capitalism. America is one of hundreds of states competing to see who can exploit their populations most efficiently, and organising wars all in the interests of the privileged minorities (including Reagan himself) who profit from expanding markets. American expenditure on weapons of violent destruction is rapidly approaching S 400 billion a year, that is more than twenty million pounds in hour Massive military aid is given to murderous regimes such as that in El Salvador. Each year millions die of starvation, while millionaires like Reagan are prepared to use any kind of violence to defend their privilege and profits. He represents a system in which those with power are free to kill, free to exploit.

So we will not shed any tears over Reagan’s wounds, unlike his fellow capitalist rulers. President Brezhnev sent a telegram from Russia: "1 wish you, Mr. President, a full and early recovery”. President Zhao Ziyang of China was "shocked to learn of your being wounded . . . I wish you a speedy recovery", while the Pope and Prince Philip both organised prayers for Reagan (The Times 1/4/81) 

Apart from Lennon and Reagan there are thousands of others being murdered all the time, for it is the poverty, the coercion and the frustration of the present system which provokes theft, despair and violence. Let Reagan think of that the next time he orders the murder of a few thousand people from Latin America or Vietnam or anywhere else in the name of "freedom”.

Russian gold

Those who still hang on to the myth that there is something about the Russian Empire which is different, and better for the workers than other nations in this capitalist world, will have had their illusions shattered by Gold and Diamonds — the Kremlin Connection (Panorama, BBC 1, April 6). Russia and South Africa hold between them a virtual monopoly of the world’s gold, platinum and diamonds.

This programme exposed the secret collaboration between presidents of Russian marketing organisations and directors of companies like De Beers and the Anglo-American Corporation of South Africa to fix the world market and control the prices of these commodities.

It was shown how gold sales to the West are set up by WoZchod (Western) Bank of Russia in Zurich. The film focussed on the hypocrisy of this partnership in the face of the proclaimed military hostility between “Communist” Russia and capitalist, race-segregated South Africa. But it was also evident that the Russian ruling class, involved in high finance, is just as removed from the workers of the world as are the ruling class in other countries.

Capitalist Russia

There are many other examples to demonstrate how countries like Russia and China are part of one world-wide capitalist economy, in which commodities are produced by wage-workers and sold on the market at a profit.

At the end of March, the Midland Bank opened a branch in Peking. A project currently being undertaken by Buckinghamshire College of Higher Education and the Humboldt University in East Berlin to study differences between the systems of East and West is in danger of being terminated by the East German authorities, because of the similarity it shows between the two (Guardian 24/3/81).

An international conference in Hangchow recently announced that foreign investors in China need not worry, for they will be guaranteed a profit. China has now officially adopted a policy of what they call “commodity economy", with fierce market competition through the price mechanism (Guardian 27/3/81). The Sunday Telegraph Magazine on October 15, 1978 showed about ten limousines owned by Brezhnev, including one of the Russian hand-made Zil cars.

A booklet published in 1972 by the Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, Moscow, on “Labour Remuneration" boasts that in Russia "The level of profitability rose from 13 per cent in 1965 (in industry as a whole) to 22.5 per cent in 1969” and even makes the outlandish claim that "Profit and the level of profitability are the most important indicators of the operation of a socialist enterprise”.

But this does not mean that socialism has "failed to work"; in fact it has never been tried. There cannot be socialism without socialists; a majority of people who are ready to co-operate in a democratic society based on a real community of interests, people who want and understand socialism.
Clifford Slapper

SPGB Meetings (1981)

Party News from the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Storm over Shipping (1944)

From the April 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The most critical period of World War 2 is now but a painful memory to the members of the British and American capitalist class. The dark days of Dunkirk, of Singapore, of Pearl Harbour, are to them fast receding into history. They were indeed anxious, perilous days for them—days during which their whole economy was ruthlessly transformed and moulded, their wealth and material resources made subordinate to the needs of a struggle, the stake of which they realised, almost too late, was their very existence as major capitalist powers.

The fortunes of battle have turned. Optimism over the prospects of winning out in the struggle has given way to confidence. No longer immersed in the arduous struggle for self-preservation, they have begun to devote more of their attention to matters much more pleasing to their hearts— and, incidentally, to their pockets.

As a contrast to the airy nature of their promises of Atlantic Charters and Four Year Plans, their statements on this subject have not been marked by any lack of frankness. Recrimination and accusation have been equally indulged in by both sides. In industry after industry, particularly during this last year, has this conflict of interest made itself manifest. Some months ago controversy arose between Britain and the U.S.A. over post-war air transport. Hardly had this died down when mutual denunciation ensued over natural and the question of natural and synthetic rubber. Even more recently many hard words have been said by both parties over petroleum supplies during and after the war. On the subject of this increasing friction between the interests of British and American capitalism, the United States News (October 22nd, 1943) says the following : —
“Nationalistic suspicions are putting a new strain upon the relations between the U.S. and its British and Russian allies. They break out at every turn—over oil, bases, rubber, lend-lease supplies, shipping.”
In no industry has there been more mutual suspicion and ill-will aroused than that of shipping.

To British capitalism, a large and efficient merchant marine is an absolute and vital necessity. During the nineteenth century, when she was the “workshop of the world,” she possessed a virtual monopoly of the world’s shipping tonnage. Since 1900 that supremacy has been gradually whittled down until the proportion now owned by British shipowners amounts to but 26 per cent. of the world total.

The history of American shipping has followed a much different course. Although the end of the First Great War saw the U.S. emerge as the possessor of a large merchant fleet, the passing of high tariff laws, almost always fatal to the development of a large home shipping industry, caused the tonnage to decline rapidly. Playing in this war the same role she played in the last—that of the arsenal of her Allies—she has again been compelled to develop a large merchant marine. There is evidence, however, to show that after this war is over, she intends to maintain her maritime supremacy. It is evident that there are other motives at work besides philanthropic ones in this concern of hers for a strong mercantile marine. She sees the prospect that the conclusion of this war will witness the emergence of the U.S.A. as the dominant capitalist power of the world. From the speeches of her statesmen and businessmen, she appears to make her economic influence felt throughout the whole five continents. Already she has in some cases backed up those speeches with action—e.g., the building of air and sea bases. To the American capitalist class it is obvious that their plans to “muscle in” in the economic sphere will be far from watertight without the possession of a large merchant fleet to carry their commodities at reasonable rates. It would be economic suicide for them to produce goods to flood the markets of the world, only to find themselves held to ransom, by exorbitant freight charges in foreign vessels. They have made their intentions in the matter quite clear, witness Time (October 18th, 1943) : —
“A hoarse warning bellow tore through the fog of post-war shipping plans last week, set Britons tooting nervously. Back in Washington from a three-week visit to London, U.S. Maritime Commission’s Rear-Admiral Howard L. Vickery announced that he had told the British the U.S. ‘had become a maritime nation and intended to remain one; that we would do it by cooperation if they wanted to, but if they didn’t want to, we were going to do it anyway’. . . .”
And further :—
“The U.S. merchant fleet will be responsible almost completely for the distribution of the world’s goods immediately after, the war.” (Frank Taylor, President, American Merchant Marine Institute, Sunday Pictorial, November 21st, 1943.)
The significance of these remarks has not been lost upon British shipowners, who are themselves naturally very much concerned with their own post-war prospects and problems. The Stock Exchange Gazette (November 27th, 1943, page 1291) says, for instance: —
“Meanwhile shipowners have been able, through the General Council of British Shipping, to get down to some very important national problems, and, in this respect, will be more fitted to come to grips with actualities when the end of the war quickens the pace.”
The General Council had itself something to say in reply to Vickery’s challenging statements (Time, October 18th, 1943) : —
“Shippers have sufficient faith in American realism to believe that it will be recognised that, however important the possession of an adequate merchant marine may be to the U.S., to Britain it is a vital necessity.”
Neither British nor American representatives appear very happy about the position, however. Oscar R. Hobson, City Editor of the News Chronicle, says in this connection (October 19th, 1943) :—.
“The policy of the U.S. is to remain one of the dominant maritime powers of the world. Admiral Land, discussing the relations between the U.S. and the other maritime powers hoped that a policy of collaboration would be followed, but admitted that it would not be easy to achieve. He suggested that all the nations concerned would want a larger share of the shipping trade than the others would be willing to concede to them. Everybody, he said, wants to cut the pie, but no one wants to take a small piece. His suggestion was one which will commend itself to all right-thinking people: ‘I recommend that we bake a bigger pie.’”
In one respect, however, British and American capitalists and their economic experts are at one—neither party can put forward any solution to the problem convincing enough to bear even superficial scrutiny. The only solution which Admiral Land can advocate is “that we bake a bigger pie,” which is an argument he himself has already demolished in his own previous remarks. Whatever the size of the pie, everybody, as he himself says, wants to cut it, and no one wants a small piece.

The Stock Exchange Gazette (November 27th, 1943) is even more pessimistic : —
“It is easy, with sufficient State aid (and sufficiently complacent taxpayers) to build a mercantile marine up to any size. It is another thing to be able to use that mercantile marine, not necessarily profitably but at all, except by sailing the ships round the world in ballast. Otherwise they must be tied up at the buoys, as the unfortunate American ships were in the Hudson River and elsewhere after the last war because they were the wrong ships for such scanty post-war employment as was available.”
There it is in black and white. After the last war. the spectacle was seen of dozens—nay, hundreds—of ships lying idle in rivers, docks and other waterways, lying idle not only in the Hudson river, but in the Clyde, Mersey and Tyne; lying idle not only in Britain and the U.S.A., but in. every country possessing a merchant marine worthy of the name; hundreds of vessels rusting and rotting for lack of profitable cargoes, whilst millions of the world’s inhabitants went hungry, cold and comfortless, and this at a time when—crowning, tragic irony of all—foodstuffs were being burnt, raw materials destroyed, machines deliberately scrapped or rendered idle, and millions of human beings the whole world over, who could have set to and produced the means of human satisfaction were wasting their miserable lives away in poverty and idleness.

The stresses and strains manifest now in shipping are but the reflection of forces at work throughout the whole of industry. The struggles for economic advantage now taking place are paralleled in oil, rubber, textiles, steel, air transport; these struggles, heated and violent as they are now whilst the war is still being waged, will be nothing to the conflicts set in motion after the war has been won.

Whatever group of capitalists wins out in this economic struggle, the conditions the workers experienced before the war they will suffer again in a more aggravated form after it. Socialism still remains the only solution to their problems. Their task is still before them : to organise consciously and politically for the abolition of capitalism and all that it entails, and in its place to establish Socialism, a system in which all the world’s resources will be utilised to the full, in which production will be made subordinate, not to the will for profit of a few, but to the needs of all its inhabitants.
Stan Hampson

Compromise leads to Catastrophe (1944)

From the April 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nothing that has occurred in working-class history has weakened our view that the most important task to-day is that of making Socialists. We cannot have Socialism until a majority of the workers are Socialists, also as Socialist knowledge animates large numbers of the workers, so will recede the possibility of dictatorship and war. The alternative task to propagating Socialism is that of advocating reformist policies and getting support from workers on the basis of those reforms. Having obtained support, the reformist parties have the task of administering capitalism, a task which immediately brings them into conflict with working-class interests, however sincere their efforts. The Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929 discovered this, but they “heeded not the warning,” and in 1940 some of their leaders joined the Government at the invitation of the ruling class. Inevitably disputes have arisen over reforms, and during many recent debates Labour M.P.s have criticised the seemingly complacent or compromising attitude of these leaders. Mr. Morrison, for example, was described as a “backstair, Tammany-Hall politician” during the debate on Workmen’s Compensation.

Mr. Woodburn, Labour M.P., is seldom amongst the critics. His articles appear in “Forward” defending the Labour Party chiefly on the grounds that they are engaging in the practical politics of to-day and they are obtaining some improvements for workers; and if some of the concessions are smaller than Mr. Woodburn would like them to be, he still supports them because of “quarter of a loaf being better than none.” So is the proverbial crumb. A dispute in “Forward” finished with Mr. Woodburn chiding those whom he calls “the romantic school of Socialists,” who “people the world with villains called capitalists and heroic martyrs called workers.” Actually, and we are indebted to Mr. Woodburn for reviving this profound truth, “there are good and bad in all classes” (“Forward,” October 9, 1943). We are not following him into the ethics of the social classes: we are faced with a serious problem. How can the working-class establish Socialism ? Let us first glance at the economic division in society.

The people in the world are divided into two classes : the capitalist class, who own the means of producing wealth, and who live on the surplus value derived from this ownership; and the working class, who are compelled, in order to live, to sell their energies to the owners for wages. Between these classes there is a class struggle which manifests itself both on the industrial and political fields. Politically it is a struggle over the ownership of the means of wealth production. This is a revolutionary struggle. When Woodburn commends the work of Bevin, Morrison and “others under Clem Attlee” for “creating new methods of running social life” as though these new methods were a development towards Socialism, and infers (without definitely saying so) that the alternative to these activities is catastrophic change, he is merely supporting popular misconceptions of Socialism and revolution. He states : “Socialism is not a catastrophic change from capitalism, but a development out of and on the basis of capitalism. Capitalism is indeed the mother of Socialism. . . . Socialism is approaching us every day in economic development.” (“Forward,” October 9, 1943). In the same issue he commends working with those who are Liberals and Tories—we are not to spurn them because of their label as “our aim is to make Socialists not enemies of our opponents.”

The Labour leaders are not in the Cabinet to establish Socialism; they were allowed in to help in the work of prosecuting the war. Their help in the task of conscripting workers is invaluable to the capitalists; Conservative ministers would have been unable to put into operation so easily such measures as the Essential Work Order and other restrictive orders. These are new methods of coercing the worker, methods of tieing him to his job—in short, they are new methods of running capitalism. They have brought a degree of security to the worker—convict security. Mr. Woodburn, of course, knows that. Where are the Socialist measures or achievements of the Labour leaders? There have been various reforms, approved by a Cabinet predominantly Conservative, such as the Catering Bill and the Pensions Bill and other measures which will alleviate some distress. They are reforms considered to be necessary for the smooth running of capitalism. They have effected no general improvement in working-class life; the capitalism that we knew in 1939, with its slums, poverty, miserable pensions and doles, still persists.

Merely to state that Socialism is approaching, without any clue as to the nature of the change to Socialism, except that it is not catastrophic, is valueless; it conveys nothing to the reader. Two of the necessary conditions for Socialism are a socially-operated, highly-developed industrial system and a working-class capable of controlling and running the system. In this sense, in every country in the world, including Nazi Germany, we are approaching Socialism, but the change to Socialism requires something more than that. It requires a working-class that understands and desires Socialism, and organises politically for the conquest of political power in order to establish Socialism. Having gained political power, they will effect a change in the basis of society from private to common ownership of the means of producing wealth. This is not catastrophic, but it is not simply a progressive economic development from capitalism; it is a revolutionary change in the basis of society.

Past experience has shown that the danger of catastrophe arises from collaborating with the representatives of the ruling class. Bewildered by the broken promises of the Labour parties and their changes in policy, workers have been swept into support of reactionary movements. In 1931, after two and a half years of Labour Government, millions of workers registered their opposition to what they falsely imagined to be Socialism, and voted into power a Government that openly advocated severe wage-cuts and economies. In Germany the Social Democrats had held power or participated in coalition governments for 15 years. In 1933 the Nazis and their allies were voted into power; the reformist efforts of the Social Democrats had the effect of making Nazis. The considered opinion of a small group of German workers, who in 1933 secretly published a book, “Neu Beginnen,” is worth recording: —
“The disappointment of the workers in their own organisations is the fundamental cause of their indifference and inactivity in face of the Fascist advance and even of the partial sympathy which they show towards it.” (Page 36, “Socialism’s New Start,” N.C.L.C. Translation.)
Compromise and reforms had brought, not Socialism, but “National Socialism.” Working with the German counterparts to our Liberals and Tories had not made them Socialists, it had not even brought lasting support from their own members. Bitter experience had shown these workers the truth, that “repeated and disgraceful failures of these parties (the Socialist Labour organisations),” had led to indifference and even opposition to Socialist ideas. These failures were inevitable—capitalism cannot be run in the interest of the workers—but the opposition to Socialist ideas is not inevitable.

The contrasts of wealth and poverty impress workers and make them ready to discuss and accept the Socialist solution. We claim that in order to make them Socialists it is necessary to show most clearly the difference between reforms of capitalism and revolution. History has shown that our claim is true. Workers ignore the class struggle at their peril; no compromise should be their guide in the difficult situations that war and peace have yet to bring.
L. J.

Malthus to Hitler—or Marx (1944)

From the April 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Socialist View of Population Theories
The Government is very worried and has appointed a Commission of sixteen members on Population. “Their main task will be to examine the present population trends in Britain, investigate their causes and consider their probable consequences, and recommend measures to influence the future trend of population.” (News Chronicle, March 3rd.)

The newspapers are solemnly featuring splash stories of the number of children various members of the Commission have, like the News Chronicle, which gives the list of members complete with size of family.

Thus the Earl of Cranbrook qualifies with five children, although why the mother of the Heanor quads has not been asked to serve, we can’t think !

After all, she’s only just started, and got four already; while the father of the quads is surely more qualified than Lady Dollan, who is quite mature and only has one child.

There is actually a “Biological” Sub-committee presided over by a professor—to investigate the reason for the poor response to the Government’s population appeals.

The Evening Standard (March 1st), in an editorial, “From Malthus to Hitler,” declares that “population statistics are notoriously the most uncertain and dangerous field of economic study.”

After summarily dismissing the Reverend Malthus, who, in his notorious “Principles of Population,” reached the conclusion that the only solution was continence by the working class, the editor of the Evening Standard goes on to consider the findings of Mr. Berle, of the U.S. State Department.
“He foresees the future of the nations in terms of rising and falling populations.”
Germany will decline from 69 millions to 64. Britain from 46 millions to 42. U.S.A., with 135,000,000, will slowly increase. Brazil has doubled her population, and “has every chance to become a great nation.” “Russia’s population is likely to rise to 222,000,000.”

“The advantage from these calculations,” says our Editor, “lies heavily on the side of the United Nations.” We have an idea that is the main reason they were made.

But even the Evening Standard smells a rat. “We cannot be content, . . . the economists should be set to work until they have produced a set and recognisable theory.”

There is no need to set “economists” (?) to work. One great economist has already said all that need be said on the subject.

The first point is that there is no such thing as a general abstract law of population—”every special historic mode of production has its own special laws of population, historically valid within its limits alone.” (“Capital,” K. Marx. Kerr Edition, Vol. I, p. 693.)

What we are concerned with therefore is the law of population of the capitalist system. This is a rather complicated business, as everyone who has read Marx’s exposition in “Capital” knows. It depends very largely on the organic composition of capital—or, in other words, on the proportion of machinery to human labour. Thus, in highly developed industries, the. proportion of human labour is low, the amount of machinery high.

With every technical improvement this proportion increases, so that—
“The labouring population therefore produces, along with the accumulation of capital produced by it, the means by which itself is made relatively superfluous, is turned into a relative surplus population; and it does this to an always increasing extent. This is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production.” (“Capital,” Vol. 1. Kerr Edition, p. 692.)
Marx exploded the fallacy that population rises and falls with wages, showing by the example of England from 1849 to 1859 how a rise in agricultural wages, accompanied by a fall in the price of corn (consequent upon the construction of railroads, war, and the exodus of agricultural population to the new factories), placed the farmers in a difficult position.
“What did the farmers do now ? Did they wait until, in consequence of this brilliant remuneration, the agricultural labourers had so increased and multiplied that their wages must fall again, as prescribed by the dogmatic economic brain ? They introduced more machinery, and in a moment the labourers were redundant again in a proportion satisfactory even to the farmers. There was now ‘more capital’ laid out in agriculture than before, and in a more productive form. With this the demand for labour fell, not only relatively, but absolutely.” (“Capital,” p. 700, Vol. I.)
The same applied on a national scale to the United States of America.

The important point to remember, therefore, is that capitalists can always compensate shortage of labour by increasing machinery.

If Mr. Berle had anything, China would be the ruling nation of the earth, with India a close second.

What is important is the degree of development of the constant capital (machinery) to variable (human labour), which is highest in the United States, Britain and Germany.
“Capital works on both sides at the same time. If its accumulation, on the one hand, increases the demand for labour, it increases on the other the supply of labourers by the setting free of them, whilst at the same time the pressure of the unemployed compels those that are employed to furnish more labour, and therefore makes the supply of labour, to a certain extent, independent of the supply of labourers.” (“Capital,” Vol. I., p. 702.)

“But … as soon as (in the colonies, e.g.), adverse circumstances prevent the creation of an industrial reserve army, and with it the absolute dependence of the working class on the capitalist class, capital, along with its common place Sancho Panza, rebels against the ‘sacred’ law of supply and demand, and tries to check its inconvenient action by forcible means and State interference.” (“Capital,” Vol. I., p. 703.)