Sunday, August 27, 2023

Marx and Keynes (1972)

Book Review from issue number 2 (1972) of The Western Socialist

Marx & Keynes — The Limits of the Mixed Economy by Paul Mattick. Published by Extending Horizon Books, Boston. Mass. 364 Page, $6 95)

In the last quarter or the 19th Century capitalism went into one of its periodic "recessions,” affecting in different degrees all the world market countries. Unemployment rose to high levels, discontent and riots were rife and many Marxists were hopeful that this would be the end of capitalism and the triumph of socialism.

In Britain it was particularly acute and prolonged. Maurice Dobb in his "Studies in the Development of Capitalism" (1946) wrote of it: "What has become known as the Great Depression, which started in 1873 and, broken by bursts of recovery in 1880 and 1888, continued into the middle nineties." Frederick Engels, in his 1886 Preface to Capital put forward the view that capitalism was in a "permanent and chronic depression" and wondered just how soon the unemployed would "take their fate into their own hands.” In such circumstances, he wrote, surely the voice of Marx ought to be heard. And, indeed, the study of Marxian economics received great encouragement in working class circles. (Incidentally capitalism recovered from that depression without the help of Keynes.)

After the First World War the spread of Marxian ideas continued and, increasingly, political and industrial organizations of workers were looking to Marx for an explanation of crises and depressions. But then the interest in Marxian economics declined. The universities, while taking up to some extent Marx the philosopher, had no time at ail for Marx the economist. The British trade unions, following the lead of the Labor Party, (which had never been Marxist) swallowed whole the new conception that capitalism can be "managed" in such a way as to produce a continually rising standard of living, freedom from crises and a permanently very low level of unemployment. As the man responsible for this change of direction was J. M. Keynes, Marxists cannot afford not to know about Keynes' theories, especially now that, in Britain for example, the six-year rise of unemployment, first under the Labor Government and, since 1970, under the equally Keynesian Tories is bringing the whole body of doctrine into disrepute. Even dedicated Keynesians cannot just shrug off their fiasco of the past six years — production rising by barely 2 per cent a year; registered unemployment up from 383,000 to over a million (with perhaps another 500,000 not registered); and retail prices (including rents) up by 40 per cent.

Mattick's book is a Marxian criticism of Keynesian economics. Chapters 2-10 deal with Marxian economics. chapters 11-17 with the so-called mixed economy and chapters 18-22 with national state capitalism and the backward countries.

Mattick places the falling rate of profit at the center of his version of the Marxian theory of crises and the so-called collapse of capitalism.

Crises break out, he says, when the factors offsetting the latent tendency for the rate of profit to fall (due to the rising organic composition of capital) fail to prevent the rate from actually falling. Capitalism recovers from a crisis, he goes on, because the resulting devaluation of capital assets again raises the rate of profit. Accumulation proceeds until it is again checked, though at a higher level. As Mattick puts it:
“Despite intermittent periods of depression, each upswing brings capital production to a higher point and wider extension than its previous level of development. Capital develops in a manner that may be described as three steps forward and two steps backward. This type of locomotion does not hinder the general advance; it only slows it."
This is a good description of capitalist development, even though Mat- tick has little space for unbalanced growth arising out of the anarchy of capitalist production.

Marx, says Mattick, recognized that there were theoretical limits to capital accumulation. It can be demonstrated mathematically that it is physically impossible for a rising rate of surplus value (s/v) to forever prevent a declining rate of profit (s/c—v) given an ever-rising organic composition (c/v). But although Marx once or twice used the term "collapse" in this context, this is not really a theory of the collapse of capitalism because in practise the point of no accumulation is never likely to be reached. It would presuppose, for a start, a fantastically high degree of capital accumulation, automation and labor productivity (which would mean, as Marx once pointed out. that the price system would break down because commodities would be so cheap that they ought to be given away free). This theory was meant as Marx’s contribution to the problem of the threat of stagnation which had worried classical economists like Adam Smith. Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. Marx was pointing out that if this stage was ever reached it would be due to an economic factor like falling profits rather than a natural one like diminishing returns from agriculture.

Mattlck is undoubtedly right in stating that "Marx's theory is not a theory of underconsumption" and in placing profits rather than markets as capitalism's big problem.

Keynes, too, held a theory of capitalist stagnation. He felt that as capital became more and more abundant, the rate of profit (its “efficiency," as he called it) would fall, thus discouraging investment. His policies were meant to combat this state of stagnation towards which "mature" capitalism was tending.

Mattick’s criticism of the theory of Keynesianism is quite good. He points out that all government spending must be financed from the present and future profits of capitalist industry. Government spending to combat slumps would thus be a redistribution of profits from one section of capitalists to another (those who sold to the government or who received government subsidies). It would be a cost which, by maintaining what Mattick calls a "non-profit sector." reduces the overall rate of profit. The limits of Keynesian policies are the profits of private industry. If these are discouraged then more government spending would be needed to avoid the slump and so on, with full national state capitalism as the logical outcome. Since the capitalists do not want this, says Mattlck, they seek to keep government spending within limits.

Mattick does seem to imply that the "state of stagnation" of both Marx and Keynes had begun to appear and that government spending has been consciously undertaken to combat it. This is open to challenge on a number of counts.

First, Marx’s theoretical state of stagnation is nowhere near. Second, government spending has been undertaken not so much to avoid slumps as to provide essential services for the capitalist class as a whole (education. health, defence), though this has Incidentally affected the overall level of production and employment and has been financed out of profits and by inflation. Third, Mattick is saying in effect that Keynesian techniques have saved capitalism, at least temporarily. This is not true because hitherto they have never really been tried properly, except perhaps as inflation to reduce real wages; and the clearest conscious attempt to try them out — the experience of Britain in the present recession — has proved a failure.

Mattick also deals with economic development, the backward countries and Russia. Although he describes Russia as state-capitalist (because it is still based on wage-labor), he views the national state capitalism practised there and in a number of other countries as a quite different social system from Western-type capitalism.

Indeed, he sees it as more advanced and one towards which the West is heading, too, under the ideology of Keynianism. This does not mean that he supports it. National state capitalism. he says, is no solution to the problem of the backward countries, only world socialism is. And Mattick is quite clear that socialism means the end of money, wages, profits, interest, etc.

On a number of points Mattick come quite close to us and wrote for The Western Socialist during the fifties. In fact, parts of chapters 1, 2. and 12 of this book appeared in the WS article ‘Marx and Keynes' Mattick wrote in November-December, 1955. Unfortunately, his book assumes a high level of acquaintance with the theories of both Marx and Keynes which makes it difficult to follow for beginners.

Socialist Victory or Election Antics (1958)

From the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Judging from recent press reports, it would appear that a number of Labour Party M.P.’s are not at all sure that the Conservative Party’s inability to solve the problems which are making capitalism unpalatable to an increasing number of workers will result in the return to power, at the next General Election, of the Labour Party.

The fact that it is the system of society which needs changing, and not the people that administer it has not yet been understood by the majority of the working class. It is because of this ignorance of their class needs, that workers have been persuaded at election time to cast their vote for whichever programme of reforms seems to offer the greatest measure of security against the constant threat of unemployment, war, attacks upon wage levels, and the host of other afflictions that are the burden of the property-less in a class-divided society.

It is apparently because of the pronounced lack of enthusiasm shown by voters during recent bye-elections for the vote-catching schemes which the Labour Party have put forward, that has given rise to another splinter-group within the Labour Party. The sponsors of this new group claim that they will be able to combat the apathy shown by the electorate, and will be able to help mould public opinion into accepting the Labour Party as the next government

Mr. Stephen Swingler, M.P., chairman of the group, in an attempt to convince the party leaders—“that the movement is within the four walls of party rules ” (Daily Telegraph), quotes the application form for membership of the group as demonstrating their loyalty to the party. He points out that only Labour Party members who are anxious to work for the success of the Party, are eligible for membership.

Mr. Swingler sets out the group's aim as being “to recruit individual members pledging themselves to work for Socialism on a national basis.” This must be somewhat confusing to those people who have been kidded by the misrepresentation of the daily newspapers that the whole Labour Party was Socialist, for it now appears that only a select band, working both “for the success of the party” and for "Socialism on a national basis ” (which appears to be something quite different) are, according to Mr. Swingler, Socialists.

This trick of going in two different directions at the same time has also been used by Mr. Lamb, the Labour candidate in the Torrington By-election. Mr. Lamb is reported as having said: “I believe we should stop immediately everything connected with the manufacture and testing of H-bombs. Britain must not be a base for the launching of guided missiles. As I do not consider the H-bomb a deterrent 1 cannot consider the manufacture and testing of them a peaceful activity.” He then went on to say: “I have expressed a personal view, a line which I shall pursue throughout the election. I shall be unrelenting in my opinion.” He did, however, modify this statement considerably by adding: “If subsequently my method is not acceptable to the majority (of the Labour Party), I must be prepared to and indeed will, accept the majority decision ” (Daily Express).

Mr. Gaitskell, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, warned these misguided enthusiasts of the dangerous effects of setting up organisations within the Labour Party. Addressing a constituency party dinner gathering at Keighley, Mr. Gaitskell said: “Recently an impression has been created that disunity may be reappearing. 1 want to warn the party of the dangers of this. We have at present, every hope of winning a substantial victory at the next general election. But this could be seriously jeopardised if division and disputes in our ranks broke out again.” He then went on to say: “If one organisation of this kind is permitted, there is no reason why it should not be followed by others, advancing other points of view. The result would inevitably be the distraction and disruption of the Party, with disastrous effects alike on our electoral efficiency and our reputation as the alternative government.”

“Victory for Socialism” is the title adopted by Swingler and Co., to cover their activities which they claim will help the Labour Party to return to power at the next general election. One of the first moves of this group, in their attempt to cash in on popular movements, was to ally itself to the “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament” which organised the Easter march on the British nuclear weapons' headquarters at Aldermaston.

The object of this campaign is to gain publicity for the movement's protest against the manufacture of nuclear weapons and rocket missiles in this country. It must be pointed out that these activities, whatever else they may accomplish, have nothing at all to do with a victory for Socialism.

The fact is that these architects of “Socialist Victory” stress that they are always prepared to toe the Labour Party line, which does not say much for their sincerity in opposing nuclear armaments. Or have they forgotten that it was the Labour Party who pioneered the manufacture of the atom bomb in this country and made the manufacture of the H-bomb possible?

What these political opportunists fail to realise is that capitalism, with or without the H-bomb to protect the interests of the propertied class, with or without a Labour Party dedicated to nationalising the exploitation of the workers, cannot function without the poverty of the wage packet; the pursuit of profit; the wars that arise because of the need of rival capitalist groups to protect or capture markets, sources of raw materials and trade routes; and the periodical trade slumps which result in workers becoming unemployed as a consequence of their producing more than the market can absorb.

But one cannot expect Mr. Swingler and his associates to face these tiresome facts. And so the political merry-go-round goes on, with the charlatans and misguided do-gooders performing mental acrobatics in order to gain the votes of working people. And for what purpose? The purpose of gaining governmental power in order to administer capitalism with all the problems that it produces. One can only hope that sooner or later workers will get wise to this kind of double-talk, and decide to run society themselves, and run it for their own benefit. When this happens, the need for wars. H-bombs, poverty, slumps and leaders of the calibre of Mr. Gaitskell and Mr. Swingler will finally disappear.
Eric Coffey

Age Without Wisdom (1958)

From the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Workers Who Still Have Capitalist Ideas
As time passes the trade unions, and the Labour parties, become older and their policies change, but without any noticeable sign of having learned by experience.

These remarks are prompted by two recent events that would have appeared surprising 50 years ago. Earlier this year New Zealand farmers complained that they were selling less butter in this country because of cheaper butter coming on the market from several exporting countries, including Finland, Argentine and Ireland. After some delay the Government announced in the House of Commons on June 19th that they had approached the governments concerned and had got them to agree to reduce their deliveries of butter where this was not already happening. It was done deliberately to help the New Zealand exporters, although it meant that the price of butter here would go up. The first somewhat surprising event was that the T.U.C. supported the idea of helping New Zealand:—‘We decided to tell the President of the Board of Trade that we supported the New Zealand government’s request for anti-dumping duties.” (T.U.C. Report in What the T.U.C. is Doing.” Page 38.)

At the same time the Lancashire cotton manufacturers and the textile unions were pressing the government to help the depressed Lancashire cotton industry by restricting cheap imports from Hong Kong, India and elsewhere. And in the House of Commons on June 19th the Labour M.P. for the Lancashire constituency of Westhoughton, Mr. J. T. Price, asked:
“Whilst the House will be quite pleased with the action taken by the right hon. gentlemen’s Ministry in dealing with this stabilisation of butter prices and checking the unlimited import of very cheap butter at subsidised rates, why is not the Ministry also prepared to take similar action on behalf of Lancashire cotton, which it has just turned down? ” 
Here we see the T.U.C. and Labour Party opposing Free Trade and supporting restrictions on imports. Yet at the Trades Union Congress in 1904 a strongly worded resolution was carried (by no means the first, or last) affirming that “any departure from the principles of Free Trade would be detrimental to the interests of the working classes.” The resolution named as the chief evil result of departing from Free Trade that Protection would increase “the cost of the people’s necessaries.”

About the same time the Labour Party was declaring its staunch adherence to Free Trade, and Mr. Francis Williams in his Fifty Years March recorded that at the 1906 General Election the Labour Party “saw eye to eye with the Liberals” on the dominant issue of the election, “the issue of Free Trade or Protection.” (Page 155.)

That trade union and Labour Party policy of support for Free Trade in order to get low prices for food and other articles derived from the agitation of the early nineteenth century. It was led and financed by the British cotton and other manufacturers and ended with the abolition of the Corn Laws and other protective laws, and turned Britain into a free trade country. The employers (who were interested in low prices, because that would enable them to pay low wages and make large profits) persuaded the workers that low prices would be in their interests. Apart from the agricultural workers who saw their jobs disappearing, most workers accepted the employers’ argument and thought that they had won a great victory, so for nearly a century the trade unions and later on the Labour Party were mostly free-traders, though this did not prevent workers in particular industries that were hit by foreign competition from taking a different view: just as today, while the T.U.C. and the Labour Party agree in demanding lower prices they do not think it very odd when the miners favour dearer coal; transport workers, higher fares; and agricultural workers, dearer food.

The same confusion exists among workers in other countries and shows itself at international gatherings. The textile workers in Hong Kong and India are not at all perturbed about the troubles of Lancashire, and the workers in Ireland and the Argentine are not impressed by arguments about the danger that if New Zealand farmers’ incomes fall, they will not be able to buy British motor cars and other manufactures.

The policies, always dealing only with the surface of things, change, but do not become sounder and wiser. The fact is that the trade unions and Labour parties are not international workers’ organisations trying to better the conditions of the working class everywhere, but sectional and national bodies viewing the world in the light of what they imagine to be their interests as workers in a particular trade in a particular country: they identify their interests with those of their employers.

And, of course, they are quite wrong. They do not constitute a united movement of hope progressing towards a new, better social order, but fractional bodies fighting against each other and with their policies determined for them by the rivalries of capitalist industries and capitalist national groups.

They can see that the capitalist world does not provide abundance, security and peace for the peoples of the world; that it cannot even secure that surpluses of food in U.S.A., Canada, Australia and other countries, shall be made’available to the half-starved millions of the world. They can see, too, that unsaleable surpluses are a positive evil in causing unemployment. Yet all they do is to try to solve these problems within the framework of capitalism. They have tinkered with useless remedies for upwards of a century and have got nowhere.

Recognition of and action on the simple principle that the workers in all countries have a common interest against the employing class, and the logical further recognition that it is in the interest of the workers to abolish capitalism and establish Socialism would revolutionise the home and international scene: but with all their experience of the uselessness of Free Trade and of Protection this is the one thing they are still unable to see. 
Edgar Hardcastle

Letter: About Catholicism (1958)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Editor,
Socialist Standard,

Dear Comrade,

For the first time I have had the pleasure of reading in Socialist literature an acknowledgment of the working-class foundation of the Catholic Church, when your contributor. Robert Coster, in his April article on the Catholic Church Today, states: “The majority of Parish priests are working-class boys who were attending the altar, etc ” (and are from the best taggers). To enlarge upon this encouragement I venture to contest some of his premises.

If God did not make him, will he name his Maker, and why he is not subject to the law. That is—if his parents are his creators, why does he survive them; if the elements are responsible for him. how does the variation enter: if he is just a lump of material, why is he not static. Will he give me the authority of his “supernatural dictum” (one part body, nine parts soul). 1 have yet to learn this. While he is disputing the Spirit I notice he does not categorically state it does not exist. Will he therefore name any civilisation, empire, regime, nation, organisation, family or partnership (including Marx and Engels), which has come into existence or been maintained without the spirit.

Further, will he explain, as an adherent of Marxism, the phrase attributed to Marx in his famous Opium paragraph the last sentence: “It is the heart in an heartless world ” (i.e„ religion). Would he also deal with the last few words in one of Engels prefaces wherein he refers to the “Revolution which began nearly two thousand years ago.” I hope he will not attempt to pity the old age or youthful exuberance of Marx and Engels.

I should also like him to give me quotations of either Marx or Engels where they definitely state there is no God or Spirit. In spite of them being exponents of Materialism (not Atheism), I have a faint recollection that they prove God to be the Theo or Thesis, and therefore behind and responsible for all society. Is this not also the conclusion of Frazer’s Golden Bough. Perhaps he will deal with and dispose of this monument of priestly defence.

Finally, of all the contradiction in Materialism, will he tell me why reference is made to the Materialistic Conception of History. I can never get at the back of that word Conception. Why don’t Materialists stick to Materialistic History without any Conception.
Yours fraternally.
W. Doherty

Mr. Doherty asks a number of questions which are. in effect, points of argument against the Socialist attitude to religion, with special reference to the Catholic Church. For clarity’s sake, these can be dealt with one by one.

(1) Mr. Doherty should read again the paragraph about priests being working-class boys. The passage in full is:—
“Most of them are as ignorant as those they preach to and believe it all themselves. Every good Catholic family hopes for one of the boys to become a priest. The majority of parish priests are working-class boys who were attending on the altar when they should have been playing tag, who went to Catholic schools, where they learned the Catholic view of history and the Catholic view of science (which, put briefly, is that most science does not exist), and finished off reading devotional works in a bachelor college full of others like themselves.”
It is hard to see how Mr. Doherty has inferred from this an “acknowledgment of the working-class foundation of the Catholic Church,” unless he thinks that a working-class membership means a working-class foundation. If this is so, he should consider that practically every organization of any size has a working-class membership— simply because most peoole are workers. The basis or foundation of an organization is the purpose for which it is in being and I note that Mr. Doherty does not contest the statements about this in the article The Catholic Church Today.

(2) Who made man, if not God? The evolutionists have answered satisfactorily most of the questions about man’s emergence. On the other hand, if Mr. Doherty means. “ What is the origin of life? ” I claim to know as much about that as he or any other Christian—i.e., nothing. What I do know, however, is that mankind has had innumerable gods of all kinds, from the Catholic one to Siva and Bacchus, and they have all been the embodiments of man’s social needs at various times and in various circumstances. Of God making man there is not a scrap of evidence, but man making God out of his social consciousness is on every page of the history books.

(3) “One part body, nine parts soul.” This was a simple indication of where the Catholic Church lays the emphasis when it talks about man. Vide the Catechism: How is your soul like to God? My soul is like to God because it is a spirit, and is immortal. Of which must you take most care, your body or your soul? I must take most care of my soul, for Christ has said, etc. I think my phrase represents the position fairly enough.

(4) Will I name any civilization or organization of any kind which has done without the spirit? Mr. Doherty’s talking mystical gibberish. What does he mean?

(5) Will I explain Marx’s “heart in a heartless world,” and quote some definite repudiation of religion by Marx or Engels? Marx’s actual words are: “Religion is the sigh of the hard-pressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, as it is the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people.” (On Hegel’s Philosophy of Law.) This hardly needs explaining: it points simply to the  rôle of religion in making the working class endure the unendurable. I should say it indicates not old age or youthful exuberance, but maturity and power of thought

There are several quite clear statements by Marx and Engels on Mr. Doherty's question of “no God, nor spirit.” On page 35 of Ludwig Feuerbach, Engels says: “The material, sensuously perceptible world to which we belong is the only reality.” Marx in Volume I of Capital: “The religious world is but the reflex of the real world” (p. 51, Swan Sonnenschein edn.). Incidentally, Mr. F. J. Sheed, a Catholic apologist, has no such doubts as Mr. Doherty’s. On page 30 of his Communism and Man (Sheed & Ward, 1946), he writes: “Marx's Materialism thus means two things: Realism and Atheism.”

(6) Why the Materialist Conception of History? In fact, Engels often—e.g., in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific—called it Historical Materialism. The important thing, of course, is not the title but whether Mr. Doherty finds Marx’s analysis of history correct or not.

Though if Mr. Doherty is a Catholic, as his letter implies, I'm surprised that he wants to stop a conception.
Yours fraternally, 
Robert Coster.

Chemistry (1958)

From the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

"It must not be thought that explosives are useful only in war: they are extensively used in mining, tunnelling, quarrying, etc. They can be used either for forwarding the work of civilisation, or for destroying men and goods. Chemists know how to prepare them; but their rightful use does not really lie within the sphere of their services.

“They will be used properly only when the community as a whole has developed real social consciousness and raised its public ideal!”—“Chemistry,” by Professor T. A. Sanarys, London Institute of Education (Oxford University Press, 1945).

The Atheists and Auntie (1958)

From the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

I was surprised when I read that, according to the chairman of the B.B.C., Sir Arthur fforde, in the B.B.C. staffs there was "a complete belief in the absolute importance of the love of God." Does that mean atheists are barred from Broadcasting House?

(Sarah Jenkins, in the News Chronicle, June 21st, 1958.)

Depression (1958)

From the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a long time since the last great trade depression. Younger people will have little or no clear recollection of it. It occurred between 1929 and 1939, coming to an end after the outbreak of the Second World War. The period was known as the Hungry Thirties. At that time there was something like a million unemployed in Canada, three million in Britain, six million in Germany, eleven million in the United States. In 1934 it was reported that there were between 80,000,000 and 100,000,000 unemployed at that time throughout the world. Even Russia, where unemployment was claimed by its supporters to have lately been abolished, was affected by the depression and had to cope with growing numbers of unemployed. And wherever it existed, unemployment, then as now, deprived its victims of the sources of life other than the limited means made available through charitable groups and government agencies.

The world’s warehouses were filled with goods, the world's workers were in want and the statesmen were helpless. Bennett, of Canada, who rose to power in 1930 promising to end the depression, was ushered out of power in 1935, leaving 1,341,000 of the electorate on relief. Roosevelt of the United States called to his service the greater part of the alphabet and won the hearts of the American people—but failed to end the breadlines. Hitler of Germany blamed the evils suffered by his countrymen on the victors of the First World War and he fed the German workers’ national pride, red banners and brown shirts—to go with their black bread and sausages. The Labour Party of Britain, which came on the scene to bring shelter to the underdog from the storms and stresses of modern life, became, after a quarter century, without accomplishment, an unheroic victim of the 1930’s, broken by a Labour Government measure designed to worsen the living conditions of large number of workers.

And so it went. Wherever one chanced to turn, the story could be told in much the same terms. It was a time of bleakness and want, anger and upsurge, fed upon by demagogues and mountebanks and turned in directions that brought no clear thought, much worthless and harmful effort and nothing of benefit to workers who were willing simply to serve as followers. Children spent their childhood improperly fed and clothed and lacking in playthings other than those that were whittled from wood by their fathers or fashioned from rags by their mothers. They entered schools and came out again, products of an educational system that shed no light on the desolation surrounding them. They approached young adulthood with nothing better to hope for than permission to enrol on the breadline without being subjected to the humiliating impertinences of petty officials. They feared to become married because marriage carried responsibilities which they had no way of meeting, as was carefully pointed out to them by the guardians of society. And those who became married despite these cautions found the stern visage of authority hovering over them fearful lest they add to their numbers and increase further the burden the nation was already groaning under!

The passing years, particularly the dozen recent years of work and wages and television sets, have dimmed the memory of the Hungry Thirties. For most people the angry insistence that something be done has given place to a placid acceptance of things as they are. That there can be another depression is a thought they will not entertain. They feel vaguely that everyone learned a lesson from the last depression, that people will not stand for another one, that in any case the world's governments have taken measures or will take measures to prevent another from occurring. What lessons were learned and what measures have been taken or will be taken to prevent depression, these are matters which the average person hesitates to discuss—the blunt and gloomy truth being that his views in this connection are simply the product of wishful thinking.

It is a fact that the average person learned no lessons that matter from the last depression. It is also a fact that the politicians, the statesmen and all those on whom they depend for impressive thoughts, have failed to prove themselves better informed. The reasons are not hard to find. The average person has not made the slightest attempt to learn about depressions, and the official representatives of society, if they have made a study of the subject, have not come up with knowledge they are prepared to impart or act upon; for if they have discovered anything they have discovered that such knowledge can provide no help in preventing depression and nothing sensible that can be used to encourage the average worker to continue his approval of the existing form of society; and since these people are committed to the preservation of present society without important changes they are obliged either to remain silent or ask people to retain confidence, trust in providence, or engage in other childlike pastimes.

There is no treatment for depressions that can bring lasting and beneficial results for the mass of the people while retaining the present order of society. That is why the brightest of capitalism's defenders have nothing to offer on the subject but nonsense. The trouble is that capitalism is not a system that can concern itself about the needs of people and how best to satisfy those needs; it is a system in which goods are produced in order that capitalists may obtain profits; and when a situation arises in which these goods cannot be sold profitably, they are retained in warehouses whether or not there are people in need. This was the situation that prevailed during the Hungry Thirties; vast quantities of wealth decaying with passing years, vast numbers of people in constant and serious need—and not a government anywhere in the world that knew what to do about it!

Capitalism is by nature a chaotic form of society, often in the throes of stagnation and never free of misery. To end the fears, uncertainties and horrors of modern life requires the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of society as a whole. This is a task to which you should give immediate thought and action.

(Leaflet published by the Socialist Party of Canada.)

The Wisdom of China? (1958)

From the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Porcelain, Filigree and Philosophy
Ever since those many delightful commodities— porcelain, silk, embroidery, cloisonné enamel ware, carved jade and ivory, paintings, wallpaper and the like—were brought into Europe in quantity, there has also been an invisible import. A civilization that could produce such works of art stimulated curiosity, and many thoughtful people tried to understand the remarkable and impressive social theories that dominated Chinese life at the time. They saw a chance to use these ideas, which, though old in China, were newly imported into Europe. Chinese philosophy propounded theories which were particularly useful to the spokesmen for those who were finding that the feudal system of society on the Continent was becoming outmoded.

Did China influence the French Revolution ?
Confucianism became popular, though it was not generally recognised that this was only one of three systems of thought in China. Chinese philosophy, in the Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries, meant only Confucianism which was so eminently to the taste of those who wished to overthrow feudalism. As Maurice Collis remarks in The Great Within, men had freed themselves from the limitations imposed by mediaeval theology and its scholastic metaphysics; they were tiring of the half-mythological speculations of the Renaissance: they had set their feet in a new rational world. The condition of society and the structure of the state, these were the practical problems which they were trying to pose and solve. What was therefore their surprise at perceiving that 2½ thousand years ago in China a philosopher had devoted his attention almost precisely to the same problems and found an answer that worked out in practice.

Similar conditions anywhere at any time give rise to comparable thoughts. Some present-day sinologists say that China thus had its effect on the French Revolution. But history shows that new economic classes in society have little difficulty in rationalising their aspirations. If they cannot find a ready-made philosophy then their thinkers will produce one. If the French bourgeoisie had not been introduced to Confucianism it is doubtful if there would have been any difference in subsequent events. The thinkers in Europe felt that their men must act well if possessing right knowledge and this could only be acquired by the reasoning mind. This was all very modern at that time: it was clearly connected with the great advance then taking place in mathematics and the natural sciences.

Famous men who plugged Chinese Philosophy
Leibniz (1646-1716) made great use of Jesuit missionary publications and in his correspondence mentions “the work of Confucius, the King of Chinese philosophers, which has been published this year in Paris.” In 1697 he published his Novissima Sinica, in which he argued that just as Europe had sent missionaries to China so should China send to Europe to give instructions in government and morality.

Holding such views it is not surprising to find that his metaphysics are tinged with Confucian ideas.

Quesnay (1694-1774) was known as the European Confucius. It was he who, after a study of the Chinese classics, formulated a political philosophy derived from them with the practical object of inducing the Monarchy in France to model itself upon the Imperial Government of China. He saw that the French government was heading for revolution but argued in his book Le Despotism de la Chine (1767) that it could be reformed and saved if Louis XV should become an enlightened despot in the Chinese classic sense.

Voltaire (1694-1778) was another enthusiastic follower of Confucius, and in his play the plot turns upon the thesis, of which the Chinese were so fond, that as soon as the Outer Barbarians (as Europeans were called in China) come under the influence of Confucian culture they mend their ways and lead the moral life.

The feudal system of society in France at this time threw up the theory that the king can do no wrong. Some sinologists declare Chinese theories (including that of the Emperor ruling on approval, so to speak, and that if his rule does not win popular approval he must be dismissed), were a revolutionary force in feudal Europe and helped to influence the social revolution to capitalism which followed. Though men can learn from early history, in general it is the prevailing economic set-up that forms the basis upon which men build their ideas and policies.

Some say “ Good old Confucius,” but we say . . .
Even at the present time it is quite normal for the professional sinologists to advocate that the West would do well to follow the teachings of Confucius, and it may be a coincidence, but they seem to find in the teaching of the Old Master many virtues which it would be in the interests of our ruling class to inculcate in us. Such as humbleness in the presence of superiors and submissiveness to the State conservatism of ideas. Some even plug the old French Jesuit theory that Confucius was practically God.

The object here is to delve into this controversial subject to see if the tenets of Confucius can be helpful to the working-class movement

But first let us consider what Confucius advocated. He lived about 2½ thousand years ago and China at that time was in a period of great change. Until then there was ample land for expansion, but the population was increasing along with wealth. State boundaries became contiguous and this was a further cause of the friction which developed into internecine warfare as the more powerful Chinese States swallowed the weaker. But on the other hand, the people still obtained their livelihood from agriculture. Farms in river valleys had to be drained, then dykes built to contain floods. Farms on higher ground necessitated water systems to supplement the rain which in that country is uncertain. The maintenance work on these water installations was heavy and done by human power. Fairly large groups were required to co-operate in this work and so large family groups composed of several generations was the normal unit of society. This, then, was the milieu into which Confucius came. The prevailing insecurity induced him, as is quite usual in such circumstances, to look back to the good old days when the ruling classes exploited their subjects without having to fight for this right. They needed a code of ethics in order to enable their subjects to live peacefully together in these great family units and to keep the unit always submissive to the State, and Confucius, the conservative sage, obliged by consolidating the philosophy which bears his name, though the tenets were practised before his time.

Chinese Ship of State drops the Pilot
This philosophy was useful in China just as long as this system of farming lasted, but in 1949, when a capitalist government seized control they promptly dropped Confucianism as no longer suitable. Workers work harder if their income is kept for their wives and children and not shared amongst many relatives. The modern State taking over control of waterworks dispenses with the need for the old organisations. Ring out the old, ring in the new, cut out the deadwood, including Confucianism —this is Capitalism in China. Mao tse-tung, himself a Confucian scholar, leads this refrain. The ancient wisdom of China arose in an ancient system of society, but now, both have passed away. It is futile to try to resurrect the past.

Why Socialists reject Confucianism
Confucianism does not arise from Capitalist conditions and cannot be used by those living in Capitalism— the Chinese themselves recognise this. It is doubtful if any philosophy makes anything but nonsense outside of the conditions which give rise to it. It is no accident that Christianity, the religion of the slaves of the Roman Empire and which was found such a consolation for the slaves of later times, has failed so utterly to take root in China, a land of yeoman farmers living since time immemorial in civil service controlled State where, domestic work apart, slavery was virtually unknown.

We in the working-class movement have a Socialist philosophy which is all-embracing and leaves no vacuum to be filled by other systems of thought. It deals with the labour theory of value, the class struggle and the materialist conception of history, which point the way to a classless system of society where the means of life will be held in common. Arising from this we have an attitude towards trade unions, war, morals, marriage, property rights, the wages system, trade, religion, yes, and even Chinese philosophy. We leave the nostalgic yearnings of Confucius to the spokesmen who find part of it useful to capitalism, while we are content to explain it, and in so doing, demonstrate the correctness of the materialist conception of history which is the pillar of our Socialist outlook.
Frank Offord