Monday, August 14, 2023

Mr. Brown goes to town (1946)

From the August 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. W. J. Brown, M.P., in an Evening Standard article (15/3/46), "What Price Utopia?”, says Darwinism reduces man to a non-moral unrestrained biological process (unproven, of course) and has served to justify the barbarities of capitalist anarchy and the Marxian "Class Struggle.” Also Marxism is merely its application to the political field. Such trivialities are a commonplace of anti-Marxist propaganda, but Mr. Brown is as useful as anyone else to provide the means for restating some Marxist essentials.

His unsupported contention that Darwinism is unproven implies that its partner in crime, Marxism, is likewise. “David” Brown thus kills two ”Goliaths” with one stone. True Darwinism has been implemented by further research, but Darwin’s evolutionary principle of organic life—with overwhelming evidence—remains to-day the touchstone of biological science. Further, it would be a strange theory of evolution in which the theory itself failed to evolve.

Mr. Brown’s non-moral allegation exhibits abysmal ignorance as to the scope and function of the scientific method, which is a discipline of general and impersonal facts, and no more relevant to the scientist’s personal bias than pipe-fitting is applicable to a plumber’s politics. Scientific investigation is ethically neutral and no more impugned than the activity of bricklaying, regardless as to whether that activity assists in building a church or a brothel. Ethical consideration of those institutions, like other things, is a matter of social evaluation. Science as a social result is subject to social motivation, which depends on the nature of the society. In this profit-motive society, science serves to increase wealth productivity and is a social instrument for increased working-class exploitation.

In like manner is the birth and growth of scientific ideas integrated into the prevailing social structure. A closed feudal economy, with fixed hierarchical status, and where men prayed to be kept in their station of life, would have made an evolutionary conception of life impossible, even unthinkable. An early capitalism needed science, and "the reign of scientific law.” Moreover, in its quest for markets it opened up the world, and vast unknown tracts of land with unknown animals and plants, which hitherto would have made it impossible to generalise about life, could now be explored. The practical triumphs of capitalism also brought into being a leisured section who could devote time to intellectual and scientific pursuits. Thus Darwin was handed on a well documented and detailed classification of Natural History. Geological science also expanded in this expanding world and gave Darwin those vast time periods needed for the presentation of his cosmic drama. And because mid-Victorian capitalism was still expanding, what more natural that the capitalist class should, with mid-Victorian complacency, view it as the best of all possible worlds and see in Darwin’s scientific theory their own social projection as "the fittest to survive.” But the first expanding bloom has withered, and in the sombre deepening of modern capitalism’s insoluble contradictions and conflicts the theme of scientific apologetics is replaced by mysticism and miracles; virile confidence gives way to doubt and even despair, unconscious credos, perhaps, of a doomed social order.

Is there a parallel, then, between Darwinism and Marxism? The answer, is only in so far as they both reveal the same ordered pattern of evolutionary development. Purely biological considerations, however, do not hold good in social relationships. Society is not a biological organism, but a social organisation into which men consciously enter into relationships for a given end. The development of society is not a result of man’s biological adaptation of his own organs to a natural environment, but the development of productive tools—for he is the only tool-producing animal- in a "social environment.” The enormous material advance which this tool-producing ability has made possible gives to social development its unique character. The laws that explain this unique development constitute Marxism.

Marx did not invent the class struggle, he traced it to its objective source and found it was not located in the consciousness of men but in the relationship in which they stood to each other in the division of wealth. If, for instance, you have at different periods slave labour, then the feudal windmill, and later the modern power plant, then not only will you have different methods of wealth production, but a correspondingly different division of classes of owners and non-owners in the distribution of wealth as between master and slave, feudal overlord and serf, capitalist and wage dependent. The different methods of production create then their own type of economic structure, and economic struggle over the participation of the fruits of labour. This will not only profoundly affect men’s lives, but through their lives, the social institutions and ideas of the period. Productive activity and social institutions, however, do not exist apart from or prior to each other, for all these activities are found in any period as an interrelated and interacting living whole, each exercising a mutual influence on the other. Thus politics influences religion, education, law and economic struggles, and is in turn influenced by each. But the economic factor or the way men live in order to reproduce their kind constitutes the central structural factor of social life. and forms the preponderating influence in social development. The functioning of the methods of wealth production and the changes that arise in them provide the key to the driving force of social development.

The significance of changes in the instruments of wealth production is seen especially in modern societies, and in the course of development a stage is reached where the forces of production come into conflict with the relations of production, which means that the method of distributing income arising from class ownership and control does not permit the fullest expansion of the productive agencies, or as Marx says: "From forms of development of the forces of production the relations of production turn into their fetters.” The class, then, that suffers from the existing operation of wealth production must seek to strike off these fetters and secure the widest possible expansion of these productive forces in their own class interests. To-day the wealth-producing but non-owning class, the working class, merely receive, the value of their labour power, or the average sufficiency of things necessary to sustain and restore their working capacities. All over and above what they produce goes to the owners of the wealth-producing agencies, the capitalist class, in the form of surplus value. The struggle of the workers to maintain or improve existing “standards” and the desire of the capitalists for greater profits produce the mutual antagonism of class interests in the participation of the social product. The capitalist class will then seek to improve the productive efficiency of the workers as an incentive for greater profit. But on the basis of income distribution, inherent in capitalist society, certain results ensue. Working class consumption of available wealth is limited by their wages, which is a fraction of this total available wealth. The consumption of surpluses in the hands of the capitalist class and its retainers is restricted by physical limitations. This tends to lead to heavier investments of the residue of these surpluses, in industries making productive goods, rather than consumption goods. This, however, ultimately leads to greater productive efficiency and consequently to a greater quantity of commodities being thrown on the market. A point is finally reached where effective demand ceases or, to put it another way, no purchasers can be found. Overproduction then results. It must not be thought that this is under-consumption of what the worker needs, for that is merely determined by the value of the commodity he sells—his labour power. Moreover, workers' wages always tend to be higher in the boom which precedes the slump. It is his under-consumption in relation to what he produces.

To produce for use, however, would undermine the very foundations of capitalist society. To turn out wealth to the fullest extent of existing plant capacity would normally invite, comparatively speaking, a “standstill” over night. For that reason its monopolistic class character compels it at one period to restrict and destroy the wealth so lavishly produced at another. For the working class it must ever remain the system of organised scarcity.

But the working class, to secure the greatest expansion of productive forces, must become a self- conscious independent political force, having as its aim the replacement of the existing system by one based on its own economic interests. For that reason it must seek through existing agencies the control of the State, which, because of its own control of the armed forces, provides the ultimate physical sanction for all social authority. This is our own historical justification as a political party. The struggle between the working class and the capitalist class is, however, the last historic form of fundamental social antagonism. With the abolition of private property in the means of production, it is no longer a question of who shall enjoy the fruits of ownership, but the vesting of ownership in the hands of a community of free producers for satisfying the needs of society as a whole. The State itself, as an instrument of class domination, likewise disappears and is replaced by “the administration of things.”

The class struggle is not then an eternally imposed necessity of “Nature red in tooth and claw." Even within capitalism working class resistance seeks to limit the system's rapacious and degrading effects. In its final outcome the class struggle establishes universal co-operation, thus constituting the greatest progressive human force in history.

Mr. Brown's diagnosis of our troubles as a Cosmic sadness, and deep frustration, haunting and troubling man's soul, and his remedy a return to the faith of the past, with its conception of the Fatherhood of God, brotherhood of man, and duty towards our neighbours, might further suggest that there is no place for morality in the Marxist critique. That is a denial of Marx's own dictum, “ that men make history.” What Marxism denies is the relevance of an abstract classless morality in a class-divided society. Class conflicts generate moral conflicts. The shining swords of moral truths often reveal the camouflaged weapons of class interests. A system productive of class conflicts, racial hatreds, fierce national rivalries, and even though still war-exhausted can yet contemplate the final "atomic” catastrophe, "where only the stars will be neutral,” turns such alleged categorical imperatives as the brotherhood of man, love thine enemy, etc., into ghostly and grisly caricatures. There is a morality, of course, as old as man's social instincts, but each class struggling towards political maturity gives its own significance to moral concepts in accordance with its class aims. Each class then fashions its moral code. Against the "ruling” morality largely divorced from social practice, and tending to become an ethical game whose rules are politely admitted in theory, but ignored in practice, an increasingly politically conscious majority will oppose with a higher moral code, based on higher social objectives. The moral idea becomes then an indispensable feature of working-class emancipation. With the growth of class knowledge grows the moral indignation to finish with this sorry scheme of things—forever. Morality by itself cannot, however, in a class society, provide a common ethical denomination to which some general social goal is referable. Reduced to a social abstraction, it merely seeks a change of heart, but class needs are alone capable of changing a social system and realising in practice what the moral ideal merely contemplates. Because Socialism has an economic basis its ideals, nevertheless, lose none of their greatness, or impoverish in any way the rich field of human experience. It is in the struggle for what is attainable that men are motivated by that deep sense of urgency arising from deep social needs, and it is this which gives to their actions its intrinsic human character. Likewise, the brotherhood of man and duty towards our neighbour will, when based on democratic co-operative economic equality, cease to be a vain ethical plea and become integrated into the social practice—"From each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs.”

Mr. Brown’s own remedy is grotesque. He proposes to retain the man-eating tiger, capitalism, and convert it into a playful pet as well, while in the moral atmosphere of the jungle he would expound the ethics of the Bible class. Like many others, Mr. Brown sees no economic problem, only a religious and psychological malaise. He thus appears to have become a neurotic victim of his own views. Having no solution for the future, he seeks salvation in the past . . . for him everywhere the horizon looms dark and menacing . . . it is the Socialist who sees on the skyline the classless commonwealth.
Ted Wilmott

Editorial: Palestine, the Arabs and the Zionists (1946)

Editorial from the August 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

As Socialists we are determined to end for all time the exploitation of one class by another. We sympathise with all the victims of capitalism, the exploited workers and peasants, the men and women robbed of loved ones or maimed in capitalism’s wars whether in the "victorious” or the vanquished countries, and the hundreds of thousands of homeless refugees. Among the latter are many Jewish people who seek escape from their present miserable plight by leaving the European countries where they have known much suffering and sorrow. Some among them would go to any country that offered them refuge, but most of the governments, faced with problems of housing shortage and threatening unemployment, not to mention the prejudice that still greets “foreigners," are more apt at expressing sympathy than at welcoming refugees. In one instance, that of Austria, where the Government has welcomed the application of 2,000 Austrian Jews to return to Austria from Palestine, the opposition comes from local authorities, the mayors of twenty-two principal towns having jointly protested for "economic reasons" (Manchester Guardian, 15/7/46).

Other Jewish refugees look only to Palestine for refuge, and some of these Zionists have as their declared aim to make Palestine a Jewish State. They are, in short, "nationalists," looking to solve their problems not by abolishing capitalism, but by creating one more national state in a capitalist world of national states and empires. Zionist nationalism, as such, is not different from the other nationalisms and we, as Socialists, are opposed to them all, British, Russian, American, Polish, Indian and the rest. The most that could be said for nationalist movements where directed against alien rulers was the argument that, with alien rule ended, it would be easier for the workers to grasp the fact that their enemy is capitalism, whether the capitalists are aliens or not. It is, however, clear, from the experience of the last half-century, that the exploiting class of each country finds it about as easy to set the workers against the workers of other countries as it was to set them against a foreign ruling class. It is only necessary to look at the national antagonisms stirred up between the workers of the countries of Europe to see how illusory was the old belief that when Czecho-Slovaks, Serbs, Bulgarians, Poles and others were freed from their respective foreign oppressors they would live amicably side by side. To the Socialist, what has happened is not surprising. What are called nationalist movements are essentially the movements of capitalist groups striving to drive out foreign exploiters so that they can mount the vacant saddle. Having achieved that aim capitalism continues to range one national group against another in the competition for markets and the endeavour to secure lines of transport and communications, sources of raw materials and strategic frontiers.

The spokesmen of nationalist movements do not in the main declare their capitalist objectives. British capitalism talks of bringing peace to the Middle East, or of helping the Jews and Arabs. Actually British Imperialism is in Palestine for reasons of Imperial strategy and to protect oil interests in that region, doubly important now that the base in Egypt is being evacuated and since, in recent years, enormous and cheaply accessible reserves of oil have been discovered in the Middle East Alongside the imperialist or investment interests of Britain, U.S.A., Russia and France in the Arabic-speaking countries a new factor is becoming of increasing importance. Among the 40 million Arabic-speaking peoples the old social structure and ways of life are being broken down by the development of communications, by trade, and by the growth of the petroleum and other industries. Capitalist industrialisation is making headway and with it its usual expression, nationalist movements.

It is against this background that the demand is made for the settlement of Jewish people in Palestine, with the usual irrelevant arguments so beloved of all nationalisms. The Principal Rabbi of the Federation of Synagogues, Kopul Rosen, writing to the Times (13/7/46), claims that those who work for the return of the Jewish people to Zion, "whether they be Zionists or non-Zionists, are fulfilling not a secular ambition, but the Divine will as revealed in the visions of Israel's prophets." Moslem Arabs can, of course, invoke a like Divine mission.

The spokesmen of some Zionist groups talk in a less fantastic but more threatening tone. In August, 1944, David Ben-Gurion, a Zionist leader, made the following belligerent declaration:—
"We shall go to Palestine in order to become a majority there. If need be we shall take the country by force. If Palestine proves too small . . . her frontiers will have to be extended."
(Quoted in Manchester Guardian, 3/7/46.) 
Such threats to crush Arab resistance and to annex neighbouring territory can, of course, be paralleled with statements of a like belligerency by some Arab nationalists. Like all stirring-up of nationalist antagonisms, these statements hinder development towards Socialism, the world’s only line of progress. Even on the short view of helping the homeless refugees their wisdom is more than doubtful. The Arabic-speaking lands claim that their record in the treatment of Jewish minorities is better than that of most countries. It is certain to deteriorate if the situation moves towards civil war in Palestine, for the reason, among others, that the Arab nationalists see behind the entry of Jewish refugees something else, invasion by more and more Anglo-American capital seeking to control the developing industries of the whole Middle East. 

If we had a Socialist world the population in all countries would welcome men and women rendered homeless by some failure of resources in the land they lived in. There would be no problem. Only capitalism and its wars, and the prejudices it engenders, make it a problem to-day, but at least the organised workers in all countries should have the insight and the humanity to realise their obligation to make it clear that they are willing to receive refugees. If unemployment is the fear, it is a mistaken one. Unemployment is a by-product of capitalism and is not caused or, in the long run, even aggravated by immigration.

On the vital question of the welfare of the working class and the Socialist Movement, we urge all workers, Jewish, Arab and others, to recognise their common interest in standing together as a class for the overthrow of capitalism. There are no circumstances justifying working-class support of capitalist governments or movements, including those that masquerade under the name of nationalism.

The Power of the Radio (1946)

From the August 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard
(A reader of the Socialist Standard sends us the following letter, which we publish for the interesting points contained therein.—Ed. Com.)
It must be obvious to everyone that those in control of the Radio exercise a tremendous power over public opinion. During industrial disputes this influence is very pronounced.

Whatever may be said to the contrary, the negative attitude of the B.B.C. towards Marxian teaching is a powerful weapon in the hands of our opponents. This unfortunate circumstance is difficult to overcome. The B.B.C. refuses to grant permission to the S.P.G.B. to broadcast and we are forbidden by law to operate a broadcasting station of our own. The argument advanced against such a proposal is, of course, that if everyone was allowed to set up on their own, chaos would ensue upon the ether. That appears reasonable on the face of it. But why should one side be given the sole monopoly?

The only reply to this is that it is the law of the land, and the reply to this is that as the working class, if the franchise is not a fraud, hold a political majority, hence they like things as they are. However, we must take into consideration that the working class are sadly handicapped. As children they receive their education from schools that support capitalist ideology, every channel of knowledge is polluted, the Press, Pulpit, the Cinema, and now this super force, the radio, gets at the working class night and day. We ask you, fellow workers, how long are you going to stand for this state of affairs, that your champions in the cause of your emancipation are denied the elementary right to free expression of opinion.
F. L. Rimington

Voice From The Back: No prize this time (2002)

The Voice From The Back Column from the August 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

No prize this time 

The Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen writing in the Observer (16 June) starts by asking an intriguing question. “Q: Why, in the twenty-first century, are 800 million people living in the shadow of hunger? A: Widespread hunger in the world is primarily related to poverty. It is not principally connected with food production at all. Indeed, over the course of the last quarter of a century, the price of the principal staple foods (such as rice, wheat etc) have fallen by much more than half in ‘real’ terms.” So far, so good, but what about his answer to the question “What is the solution?” The usual reformist claptrap “It also requires visionary economic policies which both encourage (especially allowing exports from poorer countries into the markets of the rich) but also reforms (involving patent laws, technology transfer etc.) to dramatically reduce deprivation in the poorer countries.” Nothing about how capitalism must have trading blocs and patent laws in order to exist.

Heartbreak hotel

Amongst the Labour Party’s more sweeping boasts about dealing with “social exclusion” was reducing the plight of the homeless, but once again capitalism has shown that good intentions are no substitute for clear thinking. “Despite repeated government promises to end the problem, 81,000 families are living in temporary accommodation, which includes bed and breakfast hotels and hostels, a rise of 9 percent on last year. More than 11,000 children are being brought up in bed and breakfast hotels . . . the figures will cause dismay for ministers, who promised this year that no homeless family with children would be forced to live in bed and breakfast accommodation by 2004.” Times (18 June).

Grapes of wrath

In any sane society a bumper grape harvest would be greeted with joy, but this is capitalism, a mad society, where wine, like everything else, isn’t produced to be enjoyed but to make profit. “Faced with a worldwide glut of wine and a tidal wave of competing New World tipples, the producers’ union of the Beaujolais region has finally succumbed – 100,000 hecto-litres of unsold wine is to be destroyed. The equivalent of 13 million bottles of wine, certified of Beaujolais appellation, is to be made into vinegar, distilled into ethyl alcohol for use as road fuel or just poured down the plughole.” Times (25 June).

White House hypocrisy

Capitalism is a nasty, competitive social system, so politicians should be very careful about striking high moral poses. They are so often exposed for the hypocrites that they are. Take the case of George W. Bush fulminating about the wrong-doing of corporate America, and promising to clean up any crooked inside dealing or phoney accounting. “Mr Bush had failed to disclose stock sales promptly, as required by law, on four occasions in the 1980s. In the most serious incident, he disclosed a 1990 sale of $848,560 (£558,263) of Harken Energy Corp stock 34 weeks later than was required by federal law. Mr Bush was a director in the Texas-based oil and gas exploration company at the time. Two months after Mr Bush had sold the stock, the company announced losses and the stock fell 20 percent.” Times (4 July) In his defence Mr Bush has come up with a feeble excuse. “In the corporate world sometimes things aren’t exactly black and white when it comes to accounting practices.” Newsweek (22 July)

A dog’s life

If you have ever been in New York City you will probably have noticed the number of homeless people eking out an existence on next to no money. According to the following news items they would probably have fared better in the capitalist jungle if they had been a rich woman’s pet dog. “The former Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, got out of subsiding costs for his pet in the divorce courts. His estranged wife wanted him to pay £850 a month to cover the care of their golden labrador. The dog lives in Manhattan’s Upper Eastside, which boasts pet-gyms, swimming lessons for dogs, and exotic pet suites that cost £200 a night . . . Mariah Carey sends her dog to a dog psychiatrist for $300 (£200) per hour.” Independent Review (5 July).

Spoiled for choice?

Apologists for capitalism are always telling us about the wonderful choices that this competitive system presents to the working class. Take beer, they argue; look at the wonderful varieties of brands made by scores of brewers that you lucky workers have to choose from. Stella Artois, Boddingtons, Bass, Rolling Rock, Becks, Hoegaarden, Leffe, Sol, Dos Equis, Tennents, Oranjeboom and Staropramen. The list looks like a formidable example of competition until you realise that all of these brands are owned by the one company; the Belgian based multi-national Interbrew.

Figure it out for yourself

Socialists are constantly hammering on about how capitalism is a mad house, where a mere handful live in obscene grandeur while the majority scrape by as best they can. But don’t believe us; here are some figures from the owning class’s own sources – Observer (14 July): “… 2.8 billion of the world’s 6 billion people live on less than $2 a day; 1.2 billion on less than $1 a day. Between 30-35,000 children under five die every day of preventable diseases . . . with the assets of the world’s top three billionaires exceeding the GNP of all the 48 least developed countries (population 600 million).”

Does capitalism have a conscience? (2002)

From the August 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
“When abuses like this begin to surface in the corporate world, it is time to reaffirm the basic principles and rules that make capitalism work: truthful books and honest people, and well-enforced laws against fraud and corruption. All investment is an act of faith, and faith is earned by integrity. In the long run, there’s no capitalism without conscience; there is no wealth without character.”
Thus spoke President George W Bush to Wall Street on 9 July in the wake of the biggest corporate fraud in history as stock markets around the world were reeling from the news that WorldCom, the US phone company, had admitted to a $4 billion hole in its accounts. As WorldCom’s share price fell from $60 to $2 it was further revealed that Xerox, the multinational photocopying and printing company had similarly overstated its profits by $billions.
At the end of last year energy multinational Enron, caused panic on the world’s stock markets when it emerged the company had hidden debts of $9 billion. Other financial scandals have involved Global Crossing, Arthur Andersen, Tyco and Adelphi Communications, prompting many investors and economists to wonder just how deep corporate malfeasance is and whether any company offering shares can really be trusted.

The truth is that there must be thousands of firms out there telling porkies about their profits in an attempt to raise their stock market rating. And there are reasons for this. Because capitalism is a ruthlessly competitive system, each company aims to maximise its share of its respective market and to get the better of its competitors. When a company inflates its profits its share price typically increases. More people are prepared to buy shares in profitable companies and “profitable” companies find it easier to borrow with a view to investing in newer technology that can win them a greater share of profits and undermine the efforts of their competitors. The problems, however, is that future profits are purely guesswork. No one can realistically predict demand (it’s not a natural science). And when a company can’t meet the expectations of its shareholders, panic sets in, with all concerned running away from the sinking ship with whatever they can carry.

Bush would do well to remember that it is not “truthful books and honest people . . . that make capitalism work”, but the drive to make profit, whether it be through the creation of false needs, warfare, artificial scarcity or planned obsolescence. And if there were “well-enforced laws against fraud and corruption” in the corporate world, Bush himself would never have become president and America’s prison population would be twice its present size.

More importantly, however, Bush’s speech focused on a few individuals, giving the impression that a few nefarious persons had tarnished the good character of capitalism – a move totally designed to distract from the real nature of the beast. Capitalism is an oppressive and exploitative system in which human needs come a poor second to the requirements of profit, a system that consigns billions to lives to abject misery. Its indifference to the hardship of the real wealth creators is evidenced in the present instance by the fact that while the “honest” bosses at WorldCom have pocketed $millions in the perpetration of their scam, the company now wants to sack 17,000 of its workers; the same workers it encouraged to invest their hard-earned retirement funds in company shares in the full knowledge those same shares would lose value. Prior to the recent scandal these retirement plans-cum-shares shares were worth almost $220 million; at the moment they are valued at $4.4 million. “No capitalism without conscience”, Mr Bush?

Neither was there room in Bush’s lecture on corporate ethics to Wall Street for mention of the practices of monopolies and oligopolies, of the market power of the likes of Exxon-Mobile, Ford or Wal-Mart, whose revenues are larger than the national budgets of many countries; whose power is such that even the US government is afraid to curtail their shenanigans. While Bush can lecture Wall Street on corporate “ethics”, given half the chance these bastards would apply for a patent on the very air we breathe. Where there are profits to be had, honesty and conscience, ethics and values are swept under the carpet and trodden upon.

So is the current crisis evidence that the capitalist system is about to come tumbling down? No – production for profit will continue apace and will still be impinging on every aspect of our lives for some time to come as no crisis lasts forever.

What the recent scandals reveal is that corporate greed is endemic to the system and that financial regulators were not regulating all that well. Indeed, it is possible that eventually US Capitalism PLC may come away from this fiasco stronger than before, with corporations (in the wake of Bush’s speech and the now widespread demands for tighter regulations) winning more confidence from investors.

So put away the bunting and party-poppers and calm down. Capitalism may be going through one of its periodic crises but it is going to have to be dismantled the hard way – with a class conscious majority bringing about its end by democratic means. Because in the long run, that is the only storm capitalism cannot weather.
John Bissett