Friday, September 1, 2023

Men, Ideas and Society (1973)

From the September 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx became a socialist sometime towards the end of 1843 or the beginning of 1844, Engels a little earlier. Previously the both of them had been “Young Hegelians”, that is followers of Hegel’s philosophy who gave it an atheist and radical-democratic interpretation.

Hegelian philosophy, the dominant school in Germany at the time, was thoroughly Idealist holding that ideas, and even the Idea, made history. During 1845 and 1846 Marx and Engels wrote a criticism of this view which they called The German Ideology. This book, for which they were unable to find a publisher, is important because in it Marx and Engels set out in more detail than in any other of their writings their alternative, materialist conception of history.

A word of caution is in order here. Years later Marx, and particularly Engels, didn’t attach too much importance to these early manuscripts of theirs and didn’t think them worth publishing. Which is not surprising since at least two-thirds of the 700 pages of the German Ideology is taken up with a line by line polemic against Max Stirner, the father of individualist anarchism. But the first part, a criticism of the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, contains what Engels described in 1888 as “an exposition of the materialist conception of history which proves only how incomplete our knowledge of economic history still was at that time”. This is a fair criticism as in parts the arguments are scrappy and undeveloped, but it is the exposition of the general theory rather than its attempted application that is of relevance today.

A good edition of the first part of the German Ideology is the one published by Lawrence and Wishart in 1970 with an introduction by C. J. Arthur, from which the quotations in this article are taken.

Need for Empirical Research
Marx and Engels called their approach to history materialist to contrast it with the idealist approach they were criticising which held that ideas were the dominant forces in history. On the contrary, said Marx and Engels, ideas arise from material social conditions so it is with the study of these conditions that all historical research must begin:
“The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way (p.42).
“The fact is, therefore that definite individuals who are productively active in a definite way enter into these definite social and political relations. Empirical observation must in each separate instance bring out empirically, and without any mystification and speculation, the connection of the social and political structure with production” (p.46).
That the materialist conception of history insists on scientifically-conducted empirical observation of what real men actually do has sometimes been forgotten by many who consider themselves Marxist. They have mistakenly treated the materialist conception of history as a short-cut to understanding history without needing to study the results of historical research.

The German Ideology is not itself a work of original research, but is rather a preliminary elaboration of some general theoretical conclusions suggested by the research of others.

Man Makes Himself
There is no such thing, say Marx and Engels, as abstract human nature, what the German philosophers they were criticizing called the “essence of Man”. Their criticism of Feuerbach is neatly summed up as “he says ‘Man’ instead of ‘real historical man’.” They went on later:
“because he still remains in the realm of theory and conceives of men not in their given social connection, not under their existing conditions of life, which have made them what they are, he never arrives at the really existing active men, but stops at the abstraction ‘man’ (p.64).
So, to find out what “human nature” might be we must study what men do, i.e. human behaviour. Such a study soon discloses that there is no such thing as a fixed human nature in the sense of a fixed human behaviour pattern, but rather a great variety of behaviour patterns depending on differing social environments. Human behaviour, in other words, is socially-determined and changes along with the changing social environment.

But Marx and Engels do not stop here, leaving men the passive products of their environment. They point out how men, unlike other animals, play an active part in shaping their environment. Indeed, it is precisely this that distinguishes man from the other animals:
“Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.”
They go on:
“The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means of subsistence they find in existence and have to reproduce. This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the production of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production (p.42).
Very crudely, man is what he does. Men in effect make themselves in that their behaviour is determined by conditions which they themselves continually create and recreate. These conditions have to be taken as given, as part of the environment, by those born into them so that, at any stage in history, “there is found a definite material result”; namely:
“a sum of productive forces, an historically created relation of individuals to nature and to one another, which is handed down to each generation from its predecessor; a mass of productive forces, capital funds and conditions, which, on the one hand, is indeed modified by the new generation, but also on the other prescribes for it its conditions of life and gives it a definite development, a special character. It shows that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances. This sum of productive forces, capital funds and social forms of intercourse, which every individual and generation finds in existence as something given, is the real basis of what the philosophers have conceived as ‘substance’ and ‘essence of man’.” (p.59)
Men are continually modifying, within certain limits, their behaviour. Or, to put it another way, their “nature” is continually changing.

What is remarkable about this view is the time it was formulated: 1846. For it anticipated by nearly a century the theories of modern anthropology which see man as a “culture-bearing animal”, culture being the technical name for the artificial part of the social environment — instruments of production, behaviour-patterns, ideas, what Marx and Engels described as a “sum of productive forces, capital funds and social forms of intercourse” — handed down from generation to generation by non-biological means. According to modern anthropology all human behaviour is learned and culturally-determined, but culture is itself a human creation so that it is quite legitimate to say that man makes himself. Which was precisely Marx and Engels’ point and the basis of their materialist conception of history. Where Marx and Engels would differ from most modern anthropologists is in attributing the key role in determining the patterns of human behaviour to one particular part of culture, namely, the mode of production.

Social Nature of Mind
German idealist philosophy made ideas the driving forces of history. Marx and Engels did not deny that the real men who made history were conscious beings who had ideas about what they were doing; their point was that these ideas did not come from nowhere and were not arbitrary. Ideas, they said, arose from material social conditions so that men’s ideas reflect their material conditions of life, their activity in society. Consciousness in the abstract did not exist: “Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life process” and “life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life”.

The theory advanced here is not a theory of the physiology of perception and thinking (which Marx and Engels knew they were not qualified to formulate) so that talk of ideas “reflecting” social processes must not be misunderstood as a theory that the brain is a kind of camera photographing the world. It is a theory of the social origin of ideas. Though Marx and Engels did go further than saying merely that the particular ideas men held at any particular time depended on the particular society they were living in.

They also argued that “consciousness” (in the sense of the ability to think abstractly, to consider and plan future behaviour, to be aware of your own existence as a separate organism) as an empirical phenomenon was a social product:
“Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men, and for that reason alone it really exists for me personally as well; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity of intercourse with other men . . . Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all” (p.51).
Language is obviously a social product, the outcome of men living together in societies and communicating with each other for co-operative activity. Language is not the only method of communication, but it is a highly-developed and specialized one and one which alone makes abstract thought possible. Language can be defined as an organized system of meaningful symbols (words) standing for abstractions and mental constructs from the ever-changing world of reality. Other animals can only react to their immediately-sensed environment; they cannot abstract parts of it so as to consider, delay or plan their response. The only animal that can do this is man and it is through language that they do it (of course this presupposes also a development of the brain and nervous system that makes language and abstract thought possible). Since abstract thought — “consciousness” in the sense used here by Marx and Engels — is impossible without language, since in fact language and abstract thought are two aspects of the same thing, and since language is a social product, it follows that thinking, consciousness, mind are also social products.

Once again this view is surprisingly modern, anticipating by over half a century its systematic elaboration by George Herbert Mead in his lectures at the University of Chicago (published in 1934, after his death, under the title Mind, Self and Society). It is a refutation not only of idealist theories which see mind as some mysterious intangible substance human beings are endowed with at or before birth, but also of crude materialist theories which seek to reduce thought to a purely biological, physical or chemical phenomenon. Thought of course does involve brain activity but there is more to it than that. Marx’s theory of mind was materialist in that it explained “mind” in terms of material social conditions rather than in terms of some mysterious physical substance called “matter”.

Human beings are born with brains, but not minds. Men only acquire minds in and through society, the content of their minds reflecting their social life and experience. A man outside society, could he exist, would have a brain, but no mind. Which is why physical theories of the mind are inadequate.

More Too
That human nature is variable and socially-conditioned and that mind is a social product are only two of the theories put forward in the German Ideology. Marx and Engels also sketch the emergence of capitalism out of feudalism (along the lines elaborated in the Communist Manifesto they wrote two years later) and set out the general relationship between the forces of production, the social system and ideology in more detail than in Marx’s well-known 1857 Preface to the Critique of Political Economy. And there’s some useful comment on the nature of Socialism (then called communism) and on the need to capture political power to change society.

All in all, Part One of the German Ideology is a very good introduction to the materialist conception of history and a key work of Socialist theory.
Adam Buick

Town and Country: Marxism’s Answer to the Problems (1973)

From the September 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx and Engels are the most contemporary of writers. Reading their work of a century ago, one is struck again and again by its potent applicability to today. The recently-published Grundrisse should be thrust in the hands of every sociologist playing handy-pandy in foam and backwaters: here is the social ocean itself expounded. The problems of the present are continually anticipated — and the only tenable conclusions drawn by relating them to the economic foundation on which the complex of human organization is built.

We think of civilization as towns, and modern man as urban man, for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, between the towns is country and one-fifth of man in Britain remains rural man. What about the country? The environmentalists have brought attention to the problems suffusing it today: the long-term effects of agriculture’s chemical-propelled drive for short-term gains, the damage done by improvements and the car. Apart from gloomy prophecies of the ultimate from these developments, the question to be asked is what is the countryside’s future. Has it still an organic function in society or, as the present tendency appears, is it to become simply a townsmen’s recreation ground?

Divided and Distorted
Marx and Engels considered the past, present and future of the country. “The first great division of labour in society,” wrote Engels in Anti-Dühring, “is the separation of town and country.” In The Origin of the Family, he wrote:
“Also characteristic of civilization is the establishment of a permanent opposition between town and country as basis of the whole social division of labour.” (p.201)
Elsewhere, both he and Marx spoke of “the antithesis” and “the antagonism” between the two spheres. It is, says Marx,
“. . . the most crass expression of the subjection of the individual under the division of labour, under a definite activity forced upon him — a subjection which makes one man into a restricted town-animal, the other into a restricted country-animal, and daily creates anew the conflict between their interests.” (The German Ideology, p.44)
What is being said is that town and country labour create two types of man practically in opposition in their conditioned requirements from society. If you like, two kinds of human nature; and underlying them, and their conditioning, is the division of labour which is produced by and intensified under property society. Marx observes that it begins to exist “from the moment when a division of material and mental labour appears”, and goes on:
“For as soon as labour is distributed, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood.” (The German Ideology, pp. 20 & 22)
And for the final effect of specialist division of labour on man: “It converts the labourer into a crippled monstrosity.” (Capital, Vol. I, p. 396)

Is Migration a Factor?
Thus, the countryman sees the town-dweller as an overpaid smart-alec with unhealthy lungs, and the reciprocal view is of a cretin with straw in his hair. Underlying the townie concept is acceptance, conscious or otherwise, of the theory of migratory selection: the more dynamic move, the less able stay put. Despite attractive examples like the Parsees and the Jews, the theory does not hold water. It cannot be applied to the gypsies, for instance; and, obviously, with different working and living conditions it would be the “fitter” who stayed and the “weaker” who emigrated.

The matter therefore comes back to the division of labour. The real difference — the two kinds of human nature — was expounded by Engels in Anti-Dühring:
“The town artisans, it is true, had to produce for exchange from the very beginning.”(p.300)

“The first great division of labour . . . condemned the rural population to thousands of years of degradation, and the people of the towns to subjection to each one’s individual trade. It destroyed the basis of the intellectual development of the former and the physical development of the latter”. (p.320)
A great deal is covered by this. It includes the fact that the townsman’s idea of the countryman as simple and uncomplicated is the opposite of true. “Development” means rural workers’ difficulty in organizing because of their scattered situation, which reinforces their apparent backwardness and lack of ability to improve their conditions compared with industrial workers. It should be considered also that from the Middle Ages until very recently large numbers of country people were employed in servile non-productive work as domestics, gardeners, retainers and so on.

About Pollution
Yet the techniques of industry have, inevitably, penetrated the country. The brisk expert of today can tell us that agriculture has become an industry. Marx told us so a hundred and twenty years ago.
“But e.g. if agriculture itself rests on scientific activities — if it requires machinery, chemical fertilizer acquired through exchange, seeds from distant countries, etc., and if rural patriarchal manufacture has already vanished — which is already implied in the presupposition — then the machine-making factory, external trade, crafts etc. appear as needs for agriculture.” (Grundrisse, p.527)
Engels speaks of capitalist industry going outside the town concentrations and “bringing new large towns into being” in the countryside. This is not breaching the town-country division of labour, but in the same context Engels makes some startlingly prescient points. His comments on pollution would gratify any present-day ecologist:
“The factory town, however, transforms all water into stinking ditch water . . . The present poisoning of the air, water and land can only be put an end to by the fusion of town and country; and only this fusion will change the situation of the masses now languishing in the towns, and enable their excrement to be used for the production of plants instead of for the production of disease.” (Anti-Dühring, pp.324-5).
Whatever may have been in Engels’s mind at the end of that passage, it applies now to the “sludge de-watering” plant which reduces sewage to clear water and a biscuit usable as low-grade fertilizer. It can serve only populations of 20,000 or less and could not deal with the amount of sheer litter that accompanies city sewage; but those considerations only support Engels’s case for a society of small communities.

Planned Spread
At the same time as attacking pollution, Engels points to the actual possibilities for decentralizing industry:
“Large-scale industry which has taught us to convert the movement of molecules, which is more or less universally realisable, into the movement of masses for technical purposes, has thereby to a considerable extent freed production from the restrictions of place. Water-power was local; steam-power is free … It is the capitalist mode of its utilisation which concentrates it mainly in the towns and changes factory villages into factory towns.”
(ibid., p.324)
For steam, electric power must now largely be substituted; but Engels’s remarks remain true. The economics of capitalism have led to even greater concentration of industry in and around major towns, and government attempts to have it re-located have been conspicuously unsuccessful. There are some examples whore decentralization has suited companies (such as Pye’s small electronics factories in villages), but they are exceptional.

Engels saw that capitalism had, in his own day, made the break-up of town agglomerations possible but impractical for its own purposes. To bring it to actuality, and end the innumerable existing problems, society must be reorganized:
“Once more, only the abolition of the capitalist character of modern industry can do away with this new vicious circle, this contradiction in modern industry, which is constantly reproducing itself. Only a society which makes possible the harmonious co-operation of its productive forces on the basis of one single vast plan can allow industry to settle in whatever form of distribution over the whole country is best adapted to its own development and the maintenance of development of the other elements of production.”
Greater Competence
What is specially important about these passages is that they present the dispersal of industry and the big city, and the ending of pollution, not as a simple-life dream but as a theory of social organization — based on the achievements of capitalism itself. “The technical basis of modern industry is revolutionary”, said Engels. In the same light, the abolition of the division of labour is not simply a cry for humanity but a leap to an immensely more competent organization of society. Marx put it:
“Modern industry, by its very nature, therefore necessitates variation of labour, fluency of function, universal mobility of the labourer . . . We have seen how this absolute contradiction . . . vents its rage in the incessant human sacrifices from among the working class, in the most reckless squandering of labour power and in the devastation caused by social anarchy.” (Capital, Vol. 1, p.460)
With the ending of the division of labour, the “opposition” between town and country gives place to their fusion. The two human natures become the one, Marx’s “mere fragment of a man” replaced by his “fully developed individual … to whom the different social functions he performs are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural and acquired powers”.

Villages of the Future
Engels went on to suggest, from his own analysis and from the projections made by Fourier and Owen (both of whom were conscious of the effects of the division of labour), how life and labour would be in Socialism. He approved their idea of social groups of between 1,600 and 3,000 people — good-sized villages. The closest thing to a town would be four or five of these situated near one another. Every person would work in both agriculture and industry, and young people would be given all-round training so as to incorporate “the greatest possible variety of occupation for each individual”. The country would become an integral part of everyone’s activity — not as a playground and a different place, but as a productive force and a source of pleasure simultaneously.

This was both practical and urgently necessary to Marx and Engels. The problems of the present day are not new, but were considered by them in their view of society. The country’s dilemmas are also the town’s; in The Housing Problem Engels shows how the town-country antithesis blocks attempts to deal with that chronic social misery. The solutions he and Marx gave remain the only workable ones — and needed all the more urgently today.
Robert Barltrop

50 Years Ago: No future for the co-operative movement (1973)

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

Unfortunately for the idealistic Co-operator, it is a world of realities and not ideals that has to be dealt with. Capitalism has possession of this world at present, and hallmarks productions with the capitalist stamp as products of slave labour. Though such products may be produced by a Co-operative Society and sold in a Co-operative shop, still they are none the less articles produced by people who own no property but their power to labour, and who have used up this power to labour in the production of Co-operative products. In return for this expenditure of energy they have received no more than in any other capitalist concern — the average cost of production of such labour power. In other words, whether the work is done for a Co-operative Society or a joint stock company, the worker is still a wage slave, whatever be the fanciful title applied to his wage.

As we are organised to abolish wage slavery, we are opposed to the Co-operative movement.

(From an unsigned editorial, Ideals and Reality, in the Socialist Standard, September 1923)

SPGB Meetings (1973)

Party News from the September 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

August's "Done & Dusted"

Cue cut and paste . . . 

What is now a regular feature on the blog . . . and like all regular features on the blog, one that I should have put in place about 10 years ago. (It's the same with the Pages that I'm slowly introducing to the top of the blog's homepage).

It's perfectly simple. Here's a list of the Socialist Standards (and others) that were completed on the blog in the month of August 2023. Slowly but surely the digitization of the Standard is *cough* nearing completion. If I'd hazard a guess, I'd say it will be finished by the end of 2024  2029. Famous last words, and all that. 

They are broken up into separate decades for the hard of hearing.

August 2023's "Done & Dusted"

Halo Halo! (2023)

The Halo Halo! column from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is China to be congratulated on putting ‘illegal religion and superstition’ books into the same category as pornography? Heterodox teachings are prohibited. In June the Market Supervision Bureau in Shangcheng County raided bookstores looking for those types of books and confiscated those found. With impressionable youngsters in mind the MSB searched bookstores near schools and colleges (Bitter Winter 29 June).

China’s Central Institute of Socialism (sic) has been teaching Christian leaders ‘core Marxist principles (sic), the 20th National Congress of CCP, and Xi Jinping’s thought on a “new era of Socialism”’! (Bitter Winter 13 June). Crack the ‘he’s not the messiah, he’s a naughty boy’ joke about Xi Jinping at your peril.

* * *

Richard Dawkins, as of 25 June, is very annoyed with New Zealand. Science students in NZ are to be taught that, ‘Māori ‘Ways of Knowing’ (Mātauranga Māori) have equal standing with ‘western’ science.’ Dawkins calls this a ‘ludicrous policy’ and ‘adolescent virtue-signalling’ (

Which country will be the first to elevate Mary Eddy Baker to a surgical genius and insist that Christian Science replaces the learning presently taught in medical schools?

* * *

Welcome to the class struggle Brothers! Church of England clergy discover that they’re members of the working class! The trades union Unite has a Faith branch and the 2000 who pay their union subs every week have got their District officer to put in a first-time-ever pay claim for a minimum of 9.4 percent. Their employer has, amongst other assets, a £10.3 billion investment fund which produces over a ten per cent return. Those Sunday collection boxes must be raking in the gelt. Unite’s General Secretary says, ‘The clergy deliver a clear message for the Church of faith in the hereafter. Unite is fighting for a better deal for them in the here and now’ (Counterfire, 23 June).

Sounds like those preaching pie in the sky need to put down their bibles and pick up the Socialist Standard.

* * *

Does anyone remember the Only Fools and Horses episode, The Miracle of Peckham, where DelBoy scams money from exploiting a weeping statue of Mary in the local church? The ‘miracle’ occurs because the lead of the church roof has been nicked and when it rains the water drips down and off the face of the statue. Has the Pope seen this episode and is it one of his favourites?

Miracles don’t happen! The pontiff has been berating his flock for believing in ‘miracles’ and weeping madonnas in particular. ‘Apparitions of the Virgin Mary are “not always real”, he said, in what appears to be an indirect reference to a woman who drew thousands of pilgrims to pray before a statue that she claimed shed tears of blood.’ ‘The Madonna has never drawn [attention] to herself,’ he added. The statue was bought by Maria Scarpulla in Bosnia, who returned to Italy and claimed the Madonna wept tears of blood and communicated to her (Guardian, 4 June).

As if!

Before Marx: David Ricardo (2023)

From the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

David Ricardo, who died 200 years ago this month, was after Marx the person who contributed most in the 19th century towards an understanding of how the capitalist economic system works. Today he is remembered in academic economics only for his theory of comparative advantage in international trade (that a country should not necessarily produce for export what it can produce the cheapest but should concentrate on what it can produce cheaper than others). Socialists remember him for his class analysis of the capitalist economy and for formulating the labour theory of value in clear terms.

Class analysis
The 1817 Preface to his On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation begins:
‘The produce of the earth — all that is derived from its surface by the united application of labour, machinery, and capital, is divided among three classes of the community; namely, the proprietor of the land, the owner of the stock or capital necessary for its cultivation, and the labourers by whose industry it is cultivated’.
This three-class division had already been used by Adam Smith and was adopted by Marx in Capital. It was accepted by nearly all those analysing the capitalist system, whether for or against it, up until the end of the 19th century. Academic economics then abandoned both it and the labour theory of value, and for the same reason — the anti-capitalist interpretation given to them by Marx and others.

Ricardo’s use of the word ‘cultivate’ brings out how important a role agriculture played in the economy at that time. It was also important for politics in Britain, with the main struggle in the 19th century being between the representatives of the ‘proprietors of land’ and the ‘owners of stock or capital’. Ricardo was an open supporter of the latter and his economic theory underpinned his politics by showing that rent was an unearned income that impeded capital accumulation. He was himself a capitalist (a financial capitalist rather than a factory owner) and a Whig MP.

By the end of the century the three-class division had become outdated, with the economic and political victory of the ‘owners of capital’ and the merger of the landowners into the capitalist class. Since then there have been only two classes in the capitalist economy — the owning class and the working class.

Labour theory of value
The labour theory of value states, basically, that the exchange-value of a commodity depends on the amount of labour required to produce it. As Ricardo put it, in the opening lines of his book:
‘The value of a commodity, or the quantity of any other commodity for which it will exchange, depends on the relative quantity of labour which is necessary for its production…’
He went on to deal with various objections to this view and answered them in a way which socialists still do.

To have an exchange value a commodity must be useful:
‘Utility then is not the measure of exchangeable value, although it is absolutely essential to it. If a commodity were in no way useful — in other words, if it could in no way contribute to our gratification, — it would be destitute of exchangeable value, however scarce it might be, or whatever quantity of labour might be necessary to procure it.’
The theory did not apply to such items for sale as ‘rare statues and pictures’ – since they were unique and could not be reproduced, their exchange-value depended entirely on the demand for them. The theory applied only to commodities that can be reproduced:
‘In speaking then of commodities, of their exchangeable value, and of the laws which regulate their relative prices, we mean always such commodities only as can be increased in quantity by the exertion of human industry, and on the production of which competition operates without restraint’.
It wasn’t just the labour applied at the last stage of production that counted, but also the labour applied in the early stages of their production. So it was the total labour employed in producing a commodity from start to finish including the labour involved in transporting it to the place of sale:
‘Commodities vary in value conformably with this principle: in estimating the exchangeable value of stockings, for example, we shall find that their value, comparatively with other things, depends on the total quantity of labour necessary to manufacture them, and bring them to market’.
Ricardo then went on to spell this out in detail:
‘First, there is the labour necessary to cultivate the land on which the raw cotton is grown; secondly, the labour of conveying the cotton to the country where the stockings are to be manufactured, which includes a portion of the labour bestowed in building the ship in which it is conveyed, and which is charged in the freight of the goods; thirdly, the labour of the spinner and weaver; fourthly, a portion of the labour of the engineer, smith, and carpenter, who erected the buildings and machinery, by the help of which they are made; fifthly, the labour of the retail dealer, and of many others, whom it is unnecessary further to particularize. The aggregate sum of these various kinds of labour, determines the quantity of other things for which these stockings will exchange, while the same consideration of the various quantities of labour which have been bestowed on those other things, will equally govern the portion of them which will be given for the stockings’.
A fall in the amount of labour required at any of these stages would result in a fall in the exchange value of the final product. On the other hand, a fall at the last stage, because it contributes only a part of total value, would not mean an equivalent fall in the product’s value, a point often forgotten when it comes to calculating productivity and which is why an increase in this is not as much as sometimes assumed.

There were inconsistencies. One was over the ‘value of labour’ — what determined wages: how come that there was a difference between what labour produced and what it was paid? Some in the 1820s and 1830s argued that the monopoly of instruments of labour by the ‘owners of stock or capital’ and the competition between workers for jobs meant that workers were not paid ‘the full product of their labour’ and that the source of profits was the ‘unpaid labour’ of the workers. They were later called the ‘Ricardian Socialists’ though this was not what they called themselves.

In his economic writings up until the mid-1850s Marx could be classified as one of these. He, too, saw competition between workers as resulting in them being paid less than the value of what they produced. It was only when he began to study economics more thoroughly in the library of the British Museum in the 1850s that he came up with the solution: what the workers were paid for was the value of their capacity to work (their ‘labour power’) which was different from and less than the value of their labour (what they produced). Marx called this difference ‘surplus value’. This was the same as ‘unpaid labour’, a term still in use inherited from pre-Marxian working-class economics but which must not be understood as saying that workers are not paid the full value of their labour power; they generally are.

Falling rate of profits
There was another question that Ricardo discussed and that Marx was also led into discussing. Ricardo’s chapter ‘On Profits’ is devoted to arguing that there is a ‘natural tendency’ for there to be ‘a fall in the general rate of profits’. He saw this as being the result of diminishing returns from agriculture which would require more labour to be devoted to producing what workers needed to consume to be able to work properly; so wages would rise at the expense of profits. Not only that but the rent paid by the ‘owners of stock’ to those who owned the land they farmed or on which their factory stood would go up as more and more land had to be brought into cultivation to provide food for workers’ consumption.

The general assumption of post-Ricardo economists was that the rate of profit would tend to fall. Marx took up the problem and sought to explain any such tendency from factors internal to the workings of capitalism rather than something external such as diminishing returns from agriculture. He explained it as resulting from a larger and larger proportion of capital consisting of buildings, machinery and plant compared with that used to employ productive workers as only the latter produced the new value, a part of which was the source of profits.

Because Marx devoted so much space to correcting Ricardo on this the impression has been created that Marx saw this tendency as having an actual long-run effect on capital accumulation. Some students of Marxian economics have been so bold as to argue that it would lead to the collapse of capitalism as, at some point, the rate of profit would fall so low that capital accumulation would stop. This was not Marx’s view. He did see a temporary fall in the rate of profit as playing an important role in capitalism’s boom/slump cycle but this was caused by other factors (over-investment in a boom leading to overproduction).
Adam Buick

Action Replay: Gaming the system (2023)

The Action Replay Column from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Commonwealth Games are nowhere near as big a sporting gathering or media show as the Olympics, but are still pretty sizeable, with twenty sports, over five thousand competitors and 1.5 million tickets sold for last year’s Games. They have taken place in the UK several times in recent years: Manchester in 2002, Glasgow in 2014, Birmingham in 2022.

But things have started to go pear-shaped. The 2022 Games were originally awarded to Durban, but after possible financial problems were given to Birmingham instead. The Australian state of Victoria has decided not to stage the Games for 2026, on account of the rise in costs, with claims that the original estimate was likely to be doubled. The Commonwealth Games Federation is searching for a replacement host, and has said it could delay the Games until 2027 to allow for arrangements to be made. The Canadian province of Alberta has pulled out of a bid to host the Games in 2030, with a government minister saying the cost was a burden ‘too high for the province to bear’.

On the other hand, it has been argued that, in recent cases, for each dollar spent by governments on operating costs and venues, two dollars was generated for the local economy, with improved transport links and more jobs. ‘That feelgood factor is great for business, and it really helped businesses to boost their profile,’ said the head of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce after the 2022 Games. One possibility for 2026–7 is that Birmingham could step in once more. But as usual under capitalism, visions of profit and economic growth are not always enough to persuade people to put their money in. Championships in other sports are often more attractive to sponsors and broadcasters.

There have been suggestions that the Games may not be held again, or that if they are, it will have to be in a very different format, perhaps with fewer sports or in more than one location. One former badminton medallist said, ‘the really sad thing about the news … about Victoria withdrawing is it’s hard to escape the fact that this is almost certainly the beginning of the end for the Commonwealth Games. It’s really hard to see how it has a long-term future now when so many governments and countries are just so reluctant to pay the cost’.

The Games began in 1930 as the British Empire Games, and are sometimes referred to as the Friendly Games. The Commonwealth Games Federation website states: ‘We create and celebrate a uniquely inclusive and diverse sporting movement, levelling the playing field and addressing inequality in sport in all its forms, so that all people of the Commonwealth know that sport is for them’. Nothing to do with international rivalry, flag-waving or making a profit, then.
Paul Bennett

Why I’m a socialist (2023)

From the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every morning, as the sun is still rising, a crisp 5am where I am awakened by noise coming through the paper-thin floors and walls of my flat complex, I open the blinds and take in the beauty outside my window. Of course, this beauty is the litter flying out of our bins and dancing around, a private circus show! And, as I hear my dad grumbling, and getting his crappy grilled cheese breakfast made in the George Foreman, I can practically already smell the rust coming from his steel-capped shoes and the electrical smoke on his carpenter pants. I often wonder, isn’t there a world better than this?

Is there not a world where my dad is fairly compensated for the hours he spends, a world where I don’t have to live in a dump surrounded by affluence? Walking to school, I never understood that I was different to the others, but now it’s so clear. I go past family homes every morning, decorated with BMWs and Chevrolets parked outside with their licence-plate-teeth grinning at me, and every morning I’m jealous that people have an upstairs. I’ve never had an upstairs of my own, a room which wasn’t practically transparent for everyone to listen in on because of how small the house is. I’ve never been to a private school, nor have I the outfits or the latest fashion which all my peers covet. I’ve always been what they would consider an outsider, inadequate and an outlier to their inner circle.

My friends don’t really get it. Sure, they’re not rich, but they’re well-off enough to have a house – I mean how lucky is that? Never in my parents’ lives have they had the money to actually buy property, yet some people in the world have dozens of homes, which they don’t even live in. What do they have them for? To showcase? To boast? Meanwhile, I need a place to live which doesn’t have mould in every corner, or a boiler which isn’t straight from 1940, and what do they need it for?

Perhaps because I’m not one of them, I don’t understand the reasons behind it – I probably never will – but to me, this world is black and white. There shouldn’t be an argument over who deserves housing, we are all deserving of at least that – shelter. And I find it so hideous that people like us are out on the streets while landlords hoard their property, boasting about how smart it was to get into real estate. It’s not ‘smart’, it’s just the exploitation of a broken system.

What does this party offer to me, specifically, as someone who is both transgender and autistic? Genuinely, what does this article have to do with either of those things? What are you talking about, Jame? Well, I think the answer lies in the fact that both of these things will forever be intertwined with my status as a working-class citizen. I don’t have the money to afford private gender-affirming care, of course, so I’ve had to rely on the wonderful Conservative-run NHS for help.

I’ve been on the waiting list for about two years. Of course, when profits and tax cuts are prioritised over actually helping the people, and healthcare is neglected, this is what you end up with. I’ve had to wait a similar amount of time to get my autism diagnosis, on top of that.

So what, Jame? What does this have to do with anything, why the Socialist Party?

Because capitalism doesn’t care about people like me. Not one day in this world have I ever felt like I’ve truly mattered, simply just another burden to the government, never somebody worth fighting for. Never have I felt reassured by government when they say they’ll repeal conversion therapy, never have I felt safe when I’ve walked through CAMHS’ doors and I’m met with stark-empty hallways and a dilapidated counselling service. Never have I felt equal, and sure my superiors can smile and make me feel comfortable all they can, but to them I’m just a pawn they need to wrangle in place so that their bosses don’t decrease their pay for not managing me well enough. Do I really want to continue living in a system where the worker is so undervalued and overworked, that they are not even considered human? We are just products, who need to be maintained and placated so that the higher-ups aren’t faced by union strikes.

But it hasn’t been working. It hasn’t been good enough. Concessions are not being met, and I’m tired of being ignored as a transgender, autistic, working-class teenager. My needs, most people’s needs, are not being met. We’re in a world where the difference between the mega-wealthy and the poor is so discouraging that it’s hard to think that we can carry on this way.

I don’t see the world in the same way that you do, most likely. And in my eyes, things are either good or bad. Things are unbelievably bad. I see the world as being in a massive stalemate, torn between what’s right, and greed. There are solutions, but nobody is jumping at the opportunity to use these solutions, because they are too distracted by greed. Yet, nobody is speaking out? Everyone is just sitting around, letting our leaders do nothing? When will change come? When will things actually be good? I just don’t understand. People will flagrantly defend our leaders, capitalism, the free market, but what has it ever done for us?

What has it ever done for us trans, autistic, working-class teens?

That’s why I joined the Socialist Party, because I’m tired of the way I’m treated. I’m tired of being exploited, ignored, disparaged, and I want to make a change. I don’t want to be part of a system which hates me for my uniqueness.
Jame(s) Witkowski

Cooking the Books: Reformism sucks (2023)

The Cooking the Books column from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Although it is rather obvious that the ‘resource-based economy’ that Peter Joseph of the Zeitgeist Movement wants – with no ownership rights over resources, no money and open access according to need – is recognisably what we could call ‘socialism’, he himself has consistently refrained from using the word.

In a podcast on 17 June entitled Why ‘socialism’ sucks. And it’s not why you think 😉 he gives one reason for this ( Basically, he sees it as a reaction to the effects of capitalism involving government intervention in the market to try to deal with them. That’s not how we use the word. The term we use for that is ‘reformism’. But let’s see how he develops his argument.

He sees capitalism as a system founded on ‘the use of markets’:
‘Markets are indispensable to capitalism and define its very nature. From the act of market trade, the structure develops in a self-organising manner. For instance, markets can only exist if there is property or ownership. Ownership leads to the idea of capital, which in turn creates group competitive incentives, resulting in hierarchies, power imbalances, inequity, and other common features. These features also generate responses such as legal regulation against property crime, etc.’
So, capitalism is a system with its own structural logic:
‘the market system is hence a dynamic system with structure and not a blob of malleable philosophical incentives […] The system tells us what to do and not the other way around. […] [L]iterally every country in the world that uses a market economy – which is every single one – is utilising the same foundational structure regardless of how it’s administered or regulated. The only variation we observe within this basic system structure is the extent to which external forces attempt to manage or control it. This intervention does not alter the system structure itself but rather influences its endogenous behaviours, reorienting outcomes within certain limits.’
But such interventions cannot solve the problems capitalism generates:
‘A truly objective system analysis of capitalism reveals that poverty, deadly inequity, and environmental destruction are built-in functions of the system, as natural to the system as the production of a good like a smart phone. The only options to address these negative issues are either to completely move away from the trade-based system or to attempt strategic regulation to slow down these outcomes, although never completely eliminate them, of course — they are built in.’
This leads to his definition of ‘socialism’.
‘Socialism essentially builds upon the idea of regulating the inherent features of market economics to create a more sustainable and equitable world. It involves micro-level interventions, such as the state taking control of healthcare to ensure more equitable access. This is a common understanding of socialism in popular culture, deviating from the natural, self-regulatory nature of markets by using bureaucracy/law to compensate for market failures and ideally produce more balanced outcomes.’
In this sense ‘socialism’ is not a distinct, separate system but a reaction within the capitalist system. It sucks, in his view, because when it is portrayed as the alternative to capitalism it ‘limits the potential for improved economic and social organisation’. This sucks for us too, only we call it ‘reformism’.

We agree that capitalism is a system with a built-in logic that can’t be lastingly overcome through government or any other intervention, even if we don’t start from the same basis of systems analysis that Joseph does (or accept his rather unhistorical account of the origin and development of capitalism). Capitalism can’t be reformed so as to work in any other way than it does. It needs to be replaced by a system that ‘completely moves away from the trade-based system’, involving the abolition of property rights over productive resources and production directly for use not sale. What we mean by socialism.

Proper Gander: Super marketing (2023)

The Proper Gander column from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

What’s the difference between Wagon Wheels and Cart Wheels? About 10p a pack and the colour of their packaging: Cart Wheels are Aldi’s cheaper version of the perennial chocolatey snack, which original maker Burton’s insists hasn’t shrunk over the decades. The differences – and similarities – between established brands like Wagon Wheels and supermarkets’ counterparts were the subject of Channel 4’s Secrets Of The Supermarket Own-Brands. Presenter Denise van Outen checks out the products lining the aisles, and chats with various experts to reveal how supermarket own-brands are more than just slightly inferior copycats of ‘proper’ brands. How they are marketed is as important as how they are manufactured, and the documentary only has enough time to outline some of the methods used to flog us one variety of comestibles over another. With its jaunty music and bright colours, the programme is pitched as a cheeky nudge to be more shopping savvy rather than a hard-hitting exposé of a racket. Despite this, it highlights how much we’re manipulated not just in what we buy, but also what we think we’re buying.

Most supermarkets have at least three ‘tiers’ of own-brand goods: the cheapest ‘budget’ range, the standard one which just undercuts the ‘proper’ brands, and the ‘premium’ one with the swankiest wrapping. Traditionally, ‘budget’ ranges were packaged in an obviously no-frills way, with the apparent cheapness of the design echoing the lower price. A tin of Tesco’s Value baked beans with its stark blue and white stripes looked quite unlike a can of Heinz Beanz. Strategies started to change around 2018, by which time discount chains like Aldi and Lidl had established themselves in the marketplace. Since then, ‘budget’ supermarket own-brands have been more likely to ape the packaging of their branded counterpart, such as Cart / Wagon Wheels and other favourites like Hula Hoops and Robinson’s cordials. Often, the branding will barely mention the supermarket and instead go for an image that suggests a homespun, small-scale producer, such as Sainsbury’s Stamford Street or Tesco’s Stockwell & Co. Both strategies disguise that the products are ‘budget’ own-brands, although the ‘premium’ ranges, such as Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference, aren’t shy with mentioning the shop. All this suggests that supermarkets no longer want their name to be associated with cheapness, even though cheapness is what more people are after since prices rocketed. Still, the strategies are doing what they’re supposed to, proven by how supermarkets generate more profits from their own-brands than from branded products.

The way that own-brand goods are manufactured is planned to maximise profits by minimising costs. Richard Crampton, Sainsbury’s Director of Fresh Food, admits that sometimes the three ‘tiers’ of their own-brand products, from ‘budget’ to ‘premium’, are all made in the same place. One example is their own-brand stuffed pasta, with each range distinguished from the others by slight variations in their recipes ‘enhancing that product’ to the ‘same high standards’, enthuses Crampton. There are also more similarities in the content of branded and own-brand goods than we might expect. For example, Hula Hoops and their replicas are both produced in the same crisp factory, albeit with varying ingredients or processes. And the six most well-known brands of washing powder are made by only two companies, with nearly all own-brand ones manufactured by a third. The diverse range of brands for what boils down to similar products by a few producers gives only an illusion of choice, one of capitalism’s hallmarks.

The companies get away with this because of how their branding strategies are underpinned by an understanding of psychology. One state of mind which they aim to encourage is loyalty to a particular product. We’re most likely to stick with ‘proper’ brands for toiletries, beauty products and cleaning materials, no doubt reinforced by their advertising campaigns which can ‘shout louder’, according to retail expert Miya Knights. While there’s more competition between own-brand and branded food and drink, some long-established names have maintained their loyal followers, such as Coca Cola. The documentary features YouTube food reviewers the Smythe family, whose parents resolutely only buy Coke. However, the predictable result of a blind taste test is that they mistake Lidl’s Freeway cola for ‘the real thing’, showing that the brand they adhere to isn’t as distinctive as they assume.

A related point was made when Denise and brand psychologist Jonathan Gabay set up a street stall to hand out Magnum-like ice creams to passers-by. Some are promoted with a snazzy image and an elaborate back story about how the ice cream gets churned, and others are only announced with the word ‘Aldi’ written in felt-tip. Even though the same ice cream was given out throughout, those which came with the sales pitch were thought to taste better than the ones without, even once the hoodwinked recipients were told the truth.

The two experiments show us how much our preferences, for food in this instance, are shaped by how they are commodified. A small number of producers have dominated the market by finding the most cost-effective ways to manufacture our more popular fodder. Tweaking the details of a basic recipe creates versions of the product which can be pitched to customers grouped by levels of spending ability. This lack of real choice between ice cream, cola or pasta is disguised by varying the branding, either a little or a lot. At its most manipulative, branding can even impact on how appetising we find the product, when we associate its image with good taste. Throughout, money dictates how this process plays out, in the costs of manufacturing and marketing, and then in the sales which turn into profits for the owners. The way that commodification moulds what we consume is inescapable in capitalism, of course, not just in what we use but also what we watch. Secrets Of The Supermarket Own-Brands itself was interspersed with glossy adverts and sponsored by a big name brand.
Mike Foster

Geopolitics (2023)

Book Review from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Future of Geography: How Power and Politics in Space Will Change Our World. By Tim Marshall (Elliot and Thompson, 2023)

Marshall has written a few books on geography and politics. In this work he argues that it is helpful to see outer space as a place with geography: it has corridors suited to travel, regions with key natural assets, land on which to build and dangerous hazards to avoid. In the twentieth century, the three main spacefaring nations were the USA, China and Russia. The USA is now the dominant player, with China catching up and Russia falling away. Each has their own version of a ‘Space Force’ to provide military capabilities for their forces on land, sea and air. In 2021 NATO established a Space Centre in Germany. Increasingly important are the capacities to attack and defend satellites which provide those capabilities.

The UK Space Command was created in 2021 and is based at RAF High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. From there it controls their Skynet satellite communications system (not to be confused with the rogue AI system, also called Skynet, in the Terminator series of films). Its commander, Air Vice-Marshall Paul Godfrey, declared that ‘One of our goals is to protect and defend our assets in and through space’.

Since this book was published Brigadier General Jesse Morehouse at US Space Command has claimed that Russian aggression and China’s vision to become the dominant space power by mid-century, had left the US with ‘no choice’ but to prepare for orbital skirmishes. Morehouse said: ‘The United States of America is ready to fight tonight in space if we have to’ (Guardian, 28 May).

Elon Musk’s SpaceX company has Starlink satellites and has distributed more than 10,000 broadband terminals (what Starlink engineers call ‘Dishy McFlatfaces’) to Ukraine and this has proved invaluable in fighting Russian forces. It could be argued that SpaceX was a third party from a country that was fighting a proxy war. If Russia shot down the satellites orbiting over Ukraine would America respond militarily? Nobody is sure what would happen.

The history of capitalism is the history of wars. Specifically, it is competition over markets, sources of raw materials, energy supplies, trade routes and areas of strategic importance. Space is no exception. As Marshall points out, ‘There’s money to be made in space’. As long as capitalism lasts it is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ there will be a war in space. Such a conflict would be unlikely to be confined to space.

Marshall argues that China has asserted ‘the superiority of communism’. He quotes the historian Barbara Tuchman writing in 1972 on the ‘fact’ that China is ‘communist’ and Marshall adds: ‘Tuchman’s words are as true now as then’. China is ruled by a ‘Communist’ Party dictatorship, but neither it nor any other state has claimed to have established a communist society. Marshall is by no means alone in making this error but it is worth emphasising — no country in the world has claimed to have established communism. Ever.
Lew Higgins

Forward Thinking (2023)

Book Review from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The World in 2050: How to Think About the Future. By Hamish McRae. Bloomsbury £12.99.

In 1996 McRae published The World in 2020, in which he referred to the likelihood of Brexit. Now he has again looked a generation ahead, to examine what the future might hold. Of course he accepts the continuation of capitalism, with competing countries and political conflicts, but he has some interesting points to make about environmental issues, demographic changes and the impact of technology.

The global population is ageing, with people living longer and birth rates falling (the latter quite drastically so in Japan and South Korea, but less markedly in much of Europe). Younger workers are apparently more productive than older ones, but seven retirees for every ten people employed (as may happen in Japan by 2045) will put a strain on healthcare and so on. For instance, the Health Foundation recently claimed that by 2040 one person in five in England (nine million people) will be living with a serious illness. Other parts of the world are different, though, with India and Africa having youthful populations. By 2100 Africa may have 40 per cent of the global population: ‘It will be young; most of the rest of the world will be old’. Nigeria may well have a population of 400 million (at present 224 million). The Anglosphere, as a ‘community’ of English speakers, is likely to be very powerful.

By 2050 the world will be able to feed a projected ten billion people, but water shortages may well be a major problem, at least in some places. Flooding of coastal areas will become increasingly likely, while some cities will run short of water, and two-thirds of people will probably live in cities. China will be short of water, arable land and sources of energy. Indonesia is at particular risk from climate change, with rising waters a real problem. Australia will have to cope with a warmer and drier climate. Global warming may well lead to large-scale migration, well beyond what currently takes place.

The last fifty years have seen little improvement for most people in ‘developed’ countries: ‘Median earnings in the US have barely risen in real terms since the 1970s, while in Europe the picture is more varied, but certainly since 2007 they have at best been flat.’ Workers’ share of GDP has been falling since the 1960s. By 2050 there will supposedly be a ‘middle-class world’, which presumably means that at least two-thirds of the population will be comfortably off, though not much justification is given for this view. Productivity has been increasing over the decades, but it is easier to achieve this in manufacturing than in services, which is where consumption may become concentrated. The absence of any discussion here of degrowth is a major shortcoming, though.

But the world in 2050 might be very different, without rival countries or trade or inequality. That would be a much better situation to combat climate change and water shortages.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Marx in his time (2023)

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

Marx, in short, was politically active in an age when capitalism had yet to become the dominant world system, economically or politically. This decisively shaped his political tactics. Since he believed that capitalism paved the way for Socialism and that it still had part of this work to do, he advocated that, in this circumstance, socialists ought to work not only for Socialism but also for the progress of capitalism at the expense of reactionary political and social forms. This involved Marx in supporting campaigns to establish political democracy or which he felt would have the effect of stabilizing or protecting it. […]

Living in the age he did when, as we saw, capitalism had not yet fully created the material basis for Socialism, Marx stated, when pressed on the question, that had the working class won political power at that time (which we can now see was most unlikely in view of its political immaturity, indeed in view of the fact that many of them still worked in petty industry) there would have had to be a longish period during which, first, control of the not yet fully socialized means of production would be centralized in the hands of society and then, this done, the means of production would be rapidly developed towards the stage at which they could provide plenty for all. In the meantime, even on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, consumption would have to be restricted (Marx mentioned labour-time vouchers as a possible way of doing this). Free access according to individual needs could not be implemented till the means of production had been further developed. Marx did not mention how long he felt this might take but, judging by the subsequent technological advance under capitalism it could have been up to thirty years.

Once again this perspective made some sense in Marx’s day, but not now. Today “transition periods”, “revolutionary dictatorships”, “labour-time vouchers”, “first phases of socialism” are irrelevant, nineteenth-century concepts. Full free access to goods and services can be introduced almost immediately after Socialism has been established, and Socialism can be established almost immediately after the socialist-minded working class wins political power. This is what Marxism implies today and why we in the Socialist Party of Great Britain feel fully justified in claiming to be the Marxists of the twentieth century.

(Socialist Standard, Special Issue on Marxism, September 1973)

Editorial: Neither Starmer nor Old Labour (2023)

Editorial from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

After Keir Starmer had said in an interview with the BBC on 16 July that he didn’t object to being called a ‘fiscal conservative’ (presumably with a small ‘c’), Mick Lynch of the RMT commented on Sky News that ‘at the minute many people can’t spot the difference’ between Labour and the Conservatives’, but spoilt it by adding ‘and that’s a shame for somebody who’s probably as talented as Keir Starmer is’ and calling on him to ‘show that he’s on the side of working people.’ That would be difficult because he’s not on our side.

Lynch went on:
‘He should be saying something about workers’ rights. He should say stuff about the NHS, looking after people who are struggling in the housing market, council houses for the masses, controlling rents, addressing all sorts of stuff about what’s going to happen in the imbalance in our society. He’s not saying any of that. He won’t dare mention the word socialism’ (
Who does he think Starmer is? Jeremy Corbyn, the man Starmer stabbed in the back? Lynch is nostalgic for the Labour Party of yore – workers’ rights, council houses, rent control – but it’s a couple of generations since Labour advocated that sort of thing. That workers should want better conditions is normal but this was never going to come through the Labour Party; a little through trade unions perhaps but dependent on labour market conditions. The ‘imbalance’ between those who own and those who work is built into ‘our society’ and nothing can be done to reduce it. The whole basis of society needs to be changed from class to common ownership before production can be geared to meeting people’s needs properly.

The present ‘labour unrest’ is a reaction to rapidly rising prices putting pressure on workers’ living standards and so is essentially defensive, running fast to try to stand still. If it leads to a revival of a bit of class consciousness in some workers that can’t be bad, but defensive, trade union consciousness is not enough. What is required is the socialist consciousness that there is no solution under capitalism but only through socialism.

Lynch chides Starmer for not daring to mention the word socialism. It’s a good thing he doesn’t. We don’t want Labour leaders claiming to be socialist. The Labour Party doesn’t stand for socialism — everyone can see that now — but never did. It’s just another capitalist party and always has been, even in the pre-Blair days when it had a paper commitment to full-scale state capitalism (nationalisation). Which is probably Lynch’s idea of what socialism is.

The alternative to Starmer is not to go back to Old Labour and its reforms that didn’t work but forward to socialism where productive resources are commonly owned and democratically controlled so that they can be used to turn out what people want and need, instead of as now (and under Labour governments) to make profits for the few.