Monday, September 18, 2023

Our View Of The Recent Municipal "Entente". (1905)

Party News from the November 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the Quarterly Meeting of Delegates held on Saturday last at the Communist Club it was unanimously resolved to send the following telegram and letter to the National Congress of the French Socialist Party in Chalon :


London, Oct. 28th, 1905.

To the President of National Socialist Congress, Chalon, France.

Fraternal greetings but we protest against action of Paul Brousse and other Municipal Councillors, members of your Party, last week in London.
(signed) CARTER. 
Secretary of The Socialist Party of Great Britain.


1a, Caledonian Road, London, W.C.
October 29th, 1905

To the President of National Socialist Congress, Chalon, France.

Dear Comrade,

We have the pleasure of confirming our telegram of yesterday which read: “Fraternal greetings, but we protest against action of Paul Brousse and other Municipal Councillors, members of your Party, last week in London.”

While we note that your Party is based upon the class-struggle, we desire to point out that the recognition of the class-struggle alone is, however, not sufficient guarantee for uncompromising Socialist action in open hostility to all capitalist parties or alleged labour organisations supporting the capitalist class. We hold that Socialist principles must at all times be honestly translated into politics. Hence any alliance or co-operation with the enemies of Socialism can only tend to confuse the minds of the working-class and thus retard the achievement of their emancipation from wage slavery. If the Socialist Party of each country are to seize the political machinery, national and municipal, they can do so only by carrying the class-struggle to its logical conclusion, that is, by acting throughout in antagonism to the class which, under the present system, control the political machinery, and by doing so are enabled to retain possession and control of the means of production and distribution.

We therefore protest strongly against representatives of your Party feasting and receiving or being feasted or received by the political representatives of the capitalist class. The fact of Paul Brousse and other members of your Party having been feasted and received by the municipalist representatives of the capitalist class in this country has been a severe blow to the Socialist Cause, not only in Britain, but to the whole International Socialist movement. It appears to us that this municipal “Entente” between the capitalist administration of London and the so-called Socialist municipal administration of Paris is but a municipal endorsement of the “Entente” of two capitalist governments already established. And it further appears to us that the fact of Parisian Socialist Councillors having taken part in the interchange of capitalist municipal courtesies will be utilised by the Liberal Party (which controls the London County Council) to obtain the votes of the British working class at the approaching General Election.

Seeing that at your Congress you are to consider your political action we sincerely trust that you will take such steps as will prevent in future representatives of your Party coquetting with or paying homage to the representatives of capitalism in France or abroad.

In conclusion we wish to point out that by the expression of the aforegoing sentiments we do not presume to interfere with your internal affairs but to convey to you our opinion as to the action pursued by members of your Party which seriously affects the propaganda of Socialism in this country.

With fraternal greetings, I remain, dear Comrade,
Yours in the Cause of International Socialism,
(signed) G. C. H. Carter,
General Secretary,
The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Revisionism of the German Socialist Party. (1905)

From the November 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the issue of Vorwaerts,” the Central Organ of the German. Socialist Party, of October the 21st last, appeared an announcement that six members of the Editorial Staff of the “Vorwaerts” had tendered their resignation to the Executive Council of the Party. The issue of the same paper of October the 24th contained the following notice :—
“To the Members of the Party.

“To-day a meeting was held in which took part the Executive Council of the Party, the Press Committee of the “Vorwaerts,” the Confidential Men of Berlin and suburbs, the Chairmen and Treasurers of the 8 Socialist Election Associations, the Local Committee, the Propaganda Committee for the Province of Brundenburg and the Members of and Candidates for Parliament for the Constituencies in Berlin and suburbs. Those present resolved—only 8 dissenting : ‘That this meeting accepts the resignation of Comrades Buttner, Eisner, Gradnauer, Kaliski, Schroder and Wetzker as Editors of the “Vorwaerts,” as such resignation will make it possible to change the conditions in the Editorial Department of the paper in accordance with the wishes and views of this meeting. The Executive Council and Press Committee are hereby instructed to take the necessary steps for replacing some of the Editorial Staff accordingly. Public information as to the incidents leading to the resignation of the said 6 comrades will be given to the members of the Party as soon as matters have been put straight in the Editorial Department.’
“(Signed) The Executive Council.”
For the information of those who are unable to follow up the progress of the movement in other countries it may here be explained that at the last annual Congress of the German Socialist Party the Editorial Staff of the “Vorwaerts” was requested to refrain from supporting Revisionism. The aforementioned six members of the Staff, among whom is Buttner the Editor-in-Chief, took no notice of the warning by the Congress or subsequently by the Executive Council. This body was consequently compelled to hold several meetings relating to this matter and to refuse the Staff of the “Vorwaerts” admittance thereto. This want of confidence was too much for the six above mentioned, hence their resignation. For the present there is no further news to hand.

The full Editorial Staff of the “Vorwaerts” at present consists of 10 members, viz., Buttner (Chief and responsible Editor), Eisner and Gradnauer (Politics), Schroder and Kaliski (Local), Wetzker (Social), Strobel (Foreign), Cunow (Economics), John (Trade Unions), and Leid (Party News),
Hans Neumann

Editorial: The Folly of Fools. (1905)

Editorial from the November 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

In common with most other London and Suburban districts, Poplar has an unemployed problem—somewhat more acute, perhaps, in the neighbourhood of Poplar, but the same problem that afflicts every industrial centre of every capitalist country in the world, and, because capitalism is impossible without this out-of-work army, that will continue to afflict until production is organised for the use of the producer as distinguished from the profit of the non-producer, as at present. But the affairs of Poplar, being in the hands of progressive gentlemen—practically Socialists as we are informed—it follows that, in real or feigned ignorance of the inevitability of unemployment, the public progressive persons of Poplar are making efforts to solve the, under present conditions, insolvable. Their methods as compared with those of other borough councillors are, however, sensational. They want, and in this respect they are just ordinary, Mr. Balfour to call a special Parliamentary session to deal with the question—although what that amiable apostle of culture could do is not clear. Mr. Balfour, apparently, is not inclined to do anything of the sort. Whereupon our Poplar worthies spring into a great notoriety by asking that the King himself shall hear their requisition, the which the “little father,” being a moderately wideawake gentleman, agrees to. The humble and loyal representations are duly made and most graciously received (the little mother smiling sympathetically the while) and—passed back to the amiable Balfour ! Whereat Poplar is delighted, Mr. and Mrs. Crooks are photographed in the act of smiling their pleasure, the Mayor walks on his heels, bearing himself proudly, and the unemployed take in their belts another hole and look hopelessly and shudderingly ahead to the rigors of a winter that threatens to be even longer and more bitter than usual. 

Well, it is useless to bemoan the abysmal ignorance that will forever follow in the wake of folly. We can only proclaim to those whom our voices will reach and who have ears to hear, that there is no hope for the working-class until they cease appealing and appealing and appealing for what they may take when they will. We can only repeat and repeat and repeat that there is no hope for the working-class until they have understood and have themselves taken over the means by which they may produce the things necessary to their life and happiness. It may seem a cold and comfortless answer to give the appeal of huddled misery crying aloud for “something now.” But it is not. It is a message charged with hope and a great possibility—if only the workers will listen. It is a message that will bring the “something now”—if only the workers will listen. For, as we have so often urged, and as every indication goes to show, “something now” is never conceded except out of the fear of the possessing class. And no greater fear can be bred in their hearts than that of an intelligent working-class after the means of life upon the ownership of which the power of the capitalist depends. At present the workers are asking for crumbs as a charity, and they got the equivalent of nothing. Let them demand the whole loaf as a right and show behind their demand a determination that will not be denied and the “something now” will surely materialize. The message of the S.P.G.B. indicates the only path that can be followed for the attainment of the “something now” or the whole loaf of presently.

Editorial: The Silence of Jones and Others. (1905)

Editorial from the November 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two months ago we challenged those (members of the S.D.F. and others) who had alleged inaccuracy, misrepresentation and abuse against us to produce their evidence. We offered every facility possible to enable them to establish their charge, undertaking to withdraw anything that had been written and that we found ourselves unable to justify, in a frank and honourable manner. We knew of nothing that would bear the construction of abuse or misrepresentation, but we were quite ready to believe that those who were concerned to prefer charges against us had some basis in fact for them, and were not entirely actuated by malice. As we said then, we are anxious to remain what we have always endeavoured to be,—a clean and clear exponent of unadulterated and unadjectival Socialism, and should be grateful to anyone who would point out where we have failed and how we might, remedy our defect.

Our challenge was reprinted in leaflet form, and scattered broadcast. It has been brought directly under the notice of many of our accusers, and—it has met with absolutely no response !

Very well. Let the working-class judge the motives of men who will make damaging allegations without being able to produce their proof and who will not avail themselves of the opportunity of withdrawing what they find themselves unable to substantiate. We ask the working-class of Camborne Division to note the position of Councillor J. Jones in this connection. Cllr. Jones is one of the many S.D.F. men who have accused us of vilification and perverting the truth. But Cllr. Jones has supported his allegation with no proof, which is prima facie evidence of his inability to do so ; nor has he withdrawn his allegations, which is prima facie evidence of the absence in him of a sufficiency of decency and honesty.

And that is all the comment we need make.

Can the Capitalist Class Protect its own Interests? (1905)

From the November 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a common assertion that the profit, rent, and interest forming the income of the ruling-class is a natural remuneration for its superior intellectual power and for its greater responsibilities. The idea put forth is that profit forms the “wage of management,” the “rent of ability” of the capitalist class.

The Problem stated
The working-class are warned against the agitator who talks against the capitalist class and the capitalist system of production. The worker is not to be led into opposition to the capitalist whose interests so runs the tale are in no way opposed to his own. There is a harmony existing between them. The worker must not in any way be led into disturbing that harmony. Capitalism must not be abolished, it must be “moralised.” The capitalist must not be treated as an enemy but as a friend. He must not be coerced but must be won over to a recognition of the true position of the workers and he will immediately seek to alleviate it.

A pretty story, forsooth ! One which, fortunately for themselves, the working-class are little likely to believe. They know full well that the position of the capitalist-class is opposed to theirs inasmuch as the wealth of the capitalist depends upon the poverty of the worker—the poverty of the worker exists only through the wealth of the capitalist. Profits and dividends are raised when wages are lowered, and any increase of wages under given, conditions must necessarily be at the expense of profits and dividends.

This is a very obvious conclusion. The worker creates a certain supply of wealth in a given time. The greater the quantity of that wealth the capitalist takes as profits or dividends the smaller is the quantity remaining for the wealth producers. The endeavour of each class to raise his share as against the other is a necessary result of this state of things and constitutes one of the features of the economic warfare which Socialists have named the class struggle.

The impotency of Capitalism to touch it
Even were it not the case that the ideas of the capitalist-class qua capitalist-class are the reflex of their economic position and that they are thereby precluded from understanding the ideas, the longings, the feelings, and the aspirations of the working-class there would be no reason for trusting them. If they knew the sufferings of the worker and wished to redress them is there anything to show for a belief that they would transform those wishes into realities ?

We fancy not. To judge from the general ineptitude and inefficiency which they display in dealing with the interests of their own class—the inadequacy of their methods of securing their own class benefits it is at all events conceivable that an even greater degree of ineptitude and inefficiency would arise in dealing with the welfare of an alien class.

In every sphere of life they have monopolised the advantages but have been unable to make the best of them. The fact that their class is based upon a system of virtual slavery seems to stultify their ideals, dwarf their efforts, and belittle their every aim. The canker-worm is at the core of their civilisation, and the greed of gain, the motive power of their civilisation, has forced from their brains and hearts all pure thoughts and lofty ideals. The art, the literature, the drama, the science, the religion, and the politics of the age are purely commercial—the natural products of a commercial age. “Getting and spending they lay waste their powers.”

In nothing is this incapacity of our ruling class more manifest than in their foreign politics—a euphemism for the exploitation of the weaker races and for the prevention of such exploitation by races equally strong. Arising from the productive system and its ramifications in the credit system is the necessity of monopolising markets. From this springs the jealousies between nations, the necessity of protecting commercial spheres of influence. The resultant friction tends to end in the breaking off of diplomatic relations followed by war.

Inevitable products of it
Every civilised country prepares for this. The national politics have more interest in war than in peace and efforts are made to maintain a permanent fighting force for offensive and defensive purposes. To maintain a standing army and navy with a further auxiliary force huge sums are annually expended. Plans are everlastingly being devised for the improvement of our war organisation—plans which receive the authorisation and support of the Executive and are thereupon shelved. Time and again it has been declared to be absolutely imperative to fortify and protect London by a line of forts—and time and again the capitalist-class has done nothing. Another feature and one of some importance to the ruling class is the fact that that Britain does not grow her own food supplies. Every year a larger percentage of our wheat is derived from foreign countries, the actual stock of wheat varying from three to fourteen weeks’ supply.

In case of a war between the ruling class of this country and some important Continental power, or even between two Continental powers, this fact might have the effect of raising wheat prices to starvation point. Even during the Civil War in America the cost of insurance of goods from America was raised enormously and much more would this be the case in a war in which the British Government was itself engaged. Insurances and freights would be raised, trade and commerce would be hampered, the market would be restricted, prices would rise, and the misery of the worker would be accentuated while the luxury of the capitalist would be diminished.

Much more dangerous would the position be if the country with which this country was at war was one which controlled the source of any considerable section of our wheat supply—say Russia or the United States. The flow of wheat would be stopped at its source and the supply would prove inadequate. To the capitalist this would be of less concern than to the worker, for he who has the longest purse can secure the first draft of an inadequate food supply.

The Food Question considered
Now to anyone who has studied the food problem it is well known that this country could supply not only sufficient wheat, but also sufficient of every other kind of agricultural and dairy produce to comfortably feed a much larger population than the forty millions who at present inhabit Great Britain.

The annual wheat requirement of the people of this country is at present 6 bushels per head, making a total requirement of 240,000,000 bushels per annum. Of this 60,000,000 bushels are grown at home while the remainder is imported.

Taking this country we find that it possesses the finest wheat growing land in the world. Its productivity per acre—29 bushels—is higher than that of any country which cultivates the cereal upon an equally large scale. Allowing that the present methods of farming are continued and that the average of 29 bushels to the acre could be maintained over a sufficiently large area it would require 13,000 square miles in grow the whole quantity needed for consumption in this country. The area of the United Kingdom—121,000 square miles should surely allow of this placing of 13,000 square, miles under wheat culture. Kropotkin gives the cultivablc area as 50,000 square miles.

At present we have in the United Kingdom under cultivation :
Wheat  .  .  . 3,000 square miles.
Barley  .  .  . 3,400 „
Oats     .   .  . 6,500 „
making a total of 12,900 square miles devoted to the cultivation of mixed cereals.

Again, we are informed by scientific agriculturists that by intensive agriculture—that is by a system under which the soil is specially prepared, where deep ploughing is resorted to, where the seeds are selected by the progressive eliminating of the unfit, an immense increase of productivity is to be secured.

The attitude of the Socialist
To the Socialist who has neither country nor patriotism it matters little whether England feeds herself or not. With true international sympathy he wishes to obtain the means of satisfying the material requirements of himself and his fellows with as little expenditure of social effort as possible. But from the point of view of the patriot it is very singular that, possessing the power of producing sufficient for home requirements, we continue importing the greater portion of our food supplies.

Every year a large portion of the land is allowed to go out of cultivation and the problem becomes intensified. Men give place to deer in many parts of the country. Now it would be easy to show that there are limitations—individual and economic—preventing the British farmer from holding his own with his competitor in other countries. On another occasion I may be permitted to discuss them at length.

It seems strange that the ruling class of this country holding the power of entirely solving this problem of food production should do nothing to solve it. The solution, however, involves the resumption of ownership of the land by the people, and it has been written, on the scrolls of fate that in the transformation of individual private property into collectivist common property the land must come last.

The answer in the negative
We have then to consider that the ruling class cannot rule, cannot administer the country—they can only drift upon the current of progress. They are an effete and impotent class, ruling by the power of the status quo. With them the working-class has no interest in common and the worker must learn that it is only by consciously organising himself in a political party for the purpose of getting rid of this capitalist class that he can in any way help forward the emancipation of his class.
Robert Elrick

"Electionitis." (1905)

From the November 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of course, the critics have been having at me anent my arguments in the last issue. It is a way that critics have, and I believe other notabilities have been victims of this species of organic life which is so hard to classify. The particular sample of the unspeakable order whom I have in my mind’s eye at the moment appears to base his claim to lay down the law economic on the fact that he has read W. T. Stead’s If Christ came to Chicago. One point he maintains is that the return to labour is dominated by the cost of subsistence, and, too modest to claim that his pronouncement alone places the matter beyond dispute, he says that Karl Marx agrees with him. Well, to save trouble, I will agree with him also, after which there is nothing more to be said upon the matter. But having thus simply established the great truth that the return to labour is dominated by the cost of subsistence, we have still to deal with the inquisitive man’s query, “Why?” And from what I know of the inquisitive man he is not likely lo be satisfied with the woman’s answer (if I may say it without raising the sex question) “Because it is.”

Now I do not wish to be understood to imply that the variations in the relative proportions of supply and demand in the labour market are to be explained by the accelerated or retarded growth of the working-class population. In stating that a greater material return to labour must result in an increased production of labour-power I have made the proviso that other conditions remain constant. Such a consummation under the given conditions would, of course, be only the insistence of the natural law of life. But capitalism has laws of its own ; and my point is that it is these laws of capitalism that determine that the return to labour shall fluctuate about a certain point, and which set limitations upon, or—I dare narrow it down to this—render utterly ineffective, any and all interference of man save such interference take the shape of the abolition of the form of production which is supported by these laws.

To insist that, under certain conditions, an increased return to labour will result in an increased production of labour-power is not by any means to say that such result will take place in fact. If other things did remain unaltered, that is to say, if the increased return to labour which the palliatives aim at did not set in motion certain antagonistic and irresistible forces which would presently compensate capital for its previous disbursement, then such increased return to labour must have the result I have indicated. I would venture to suggest, seemingly against the opinion of Marx, and therefore with humility, that capital does to a certain extent, and by a deeper and steadier movement than the more apparent ones to be mentioned later, as the tide is deeper and steadier than the waves, regulate the supply of labour-power to its average requirements (perhaps it would be more correct to attribute this activity to forces outside capital) by controlling the growth of the working-class population. It seems to me that only by this movement can the cost of its production dominate the value ol labour-power, while its price is more directly under the influence of other movements. Whether this is correct or not matters very little at this juncture. Karl Marx shows very clearly that the labour market appears relatively full or empty, not on account of any absolute increase or decrease of the number of the wage-workers, but because the contraction or expansion of capital, calling for less or more labour-power in its operations, alters the proportion of the employed to the unemployed among the workers. This, then, is the outline of the process by which capital controls the supply of labour :—

Capital, growing by the absorption of profit, increases faster than the working-class population, restricted as the latter is by the degree of exploitation, and presently outstrips the supply of labour-power. The result of this is a rise in wages ; and since this can only take place at the expense of the rate of surplus-value, the growth of capital is checked, firstly by the reduction of the proportion of profit which it could possibly add to itself, and secondly (owing to the decreased rate of profit offering smaller incentive to productive activity) by the reduction of the proportion of realised profit which is converted into new capital. So the growth of capital itself raises up obstacles to its continued expansion, and it next proceeds to remove those obstacles. The relative proportion of the unemployed to employed having fallen below the point of greatest advantage to capital, the latter sets about a readjustment of the labour-market. This is accomplished by the simple expedient of increasing the productivity of labour. Machinery already in partial use becomes profitable to a still larger circle of employers ; invention is quickened and new machinery, throwing many out of employment and consequently into the reserve army of labour on the one hand, on the other hand places at the disposal of capital another and lower strata of labour-power. And the supply of surplus labour-power having been so adjusted to the needs of capital, wages again decrease, larger profits again stimulate industrial activity, capital expands by leaps and bounds and rushes on fill it raises again in its path the obstacle to extension—a relatively small unemployed or industrial reserve army. And so the round is repeated.

All this is on the authority of Karl Marx. Whether it, is endorsed by the author of If Christ came to Chicago I am unable to say : perhaps my critic can. And that reminds me that the latter has led me rather away from my intended line of argument, which was to show that, given the competitive labour market—the very vital spot of capitalism,—the return to labour is prescribed by laws which, while permitting temporary interferences, use the effects of these interferences as a means of restoring the normal degree of exploitation, and even of exacting compensation for the earlier advantage such interference may have given the workers, and that, therefore, all such artificial interferences with the return to labour (in which category we must place nearly all the so-called palliatives) must fail to effect their purpose of bettering the material conditions of the working-class. That they might benefit a section I will not deny, but I, for one, if I desired the advancement of any section, see no reason why I should not rest content with the magnificence of the capitalist section.

Let any thinking man study the working of the marvellous laws by which capital, sensitive to every fluctuation in the flow of its life’s blood, profit, controls the material conditions of those whom it only suffers to exist for the purpose of producing that profit, and then, having learned how faithfully capital is served by these laws, he may judge how little they may be defied or circumvented. Let him observe how a rise in wages is met by the extension of the circle of the profitable employment of machinery, how the shorter day is counterbalanced by speeding-up and increased output, how the depleted labour market is rendered fat and redundant by the contraction of capital and the greater use of labour-saving machinery, how every effort of man to find some little amelioration is baffled and beaten by those vigilant, sheep-dogs, the laws of capital; and observing all these movements, tireless and irresistible as the tides, he will begin at last to understand why we so steadily refuse to direct the workers’ strength to be broken against these implacable laws.

The palliatives, so far from being desirable to the workers, are very quicksands for the entanglement of working-class feet. They are the means of seduction in the cunning hands of capital, and possess a power for capitalist defence that only the stewards of capital seem to realise. These gentlemen know that they properly belong to capital’s armoury. To how many of us is the tale familiar, of the Russian noble who was chased by wolves. He was up to the palliative dodge. One article after another he flung to the wolves for them to wrangle and delay over, and they missed their prey after all. This is the chief use of reforms. Cleverly handled there is a century of respite for capitalism in the palliative programme of the reform parties—and who can doubt that they will be cleverly handled ?

Those who are urging the workers on after the palliative chimera are assuming a responsibility of profound gravity, notwithstanding that they take it up lightly as a child draws breath. That they assume this responsibility in the name of Socialism compels our strenuous opposition : we dare not be silent because we dare not be implicated. We do not doubt that a certain early progress will attend the efforts of the reformers : that is always the portion of those who take the line of least resistance. But when the lever meets little resistance it is moving little weight; and the weight we are trying to get our lever under is a stupendous one.

The effect of “electionitis” upon those who yield themselves guarded by anything less than the most stringent and exclusive of Socialist restrictions, up to its seduction, is utter political prostitution. Examples of the truth of this statement might be given ad nauseam, but one case which has recently come under my notice will suffice. At this November election in West Ham the Stratford Branch S.D.F. contested the High Street Ward. A really sterling Election Address was rounded off by the usual list of palliatives which the candidate pledged himself to work for in order to “ease” the condition of the workers. And among others appears this :—”School Board and Poor Rate to be a national charge.” I do not know whether I should be sooner forgiven if I credited the participants with unshameable dishonesty or with incredible ignorance, but, fortunately, the choice is not mine. The clear drafting of the Address testifies to their knowledge of the position, and so doing convicts them of dishonesty. Further, the members of this branch have recently lifted themselves on to the pedestal of notoriety by the vehemence with which they have publicly asserted that rates are no concern of the workers, and that they did not care if they went up “to twenty shillings in the pound.” If rates are the concern of the workers it is dishonest to say they are not; if they are no concern of the workers it is treachery for working-class representatives to pledge themselves in connection with them. It is interesting to recall that “electionitis” three years ago led the Committee fighting this ward to dodge a resolution which the present scribe got passed, to the effect “that Terrett be not allowed on MacAllen’s platform,” by the simple expedient of putting MacAllen on Terrett’s platform ! Which makes one sigh for the honour even of thieves.
A. E. Jacomb

Voice From The Back: Outdated Marxism? (2007)

The Voice From The Back Column from the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Outdated Marxism?

One of the oppositions to Marxism is that it is so out-dated, it is so 19th century. So let us get up-to-date. “The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is to ballot its members on industrial action over pay, the first time in its 125-year history that such a move has been made. ..The decision to ballot 23,000 midwives, taken at an RCM council meeting last night, follows the government’s announcement that midwives and nurses would get a 2.5% pay rise in two stages, amounting to 1.9% across the year.” (Guardian, 20 July) It just shows you how outdated Marxism is, after all in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels wrote, “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverend awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-labourer.” How outdated, they never even mentioned midwives did they?

Loads Of Money

The Wall Street Journal employ Robert Frank to record the comings and goings of the super-rich, so he has decided to publish his findings in his book Richistan; A Journey through the 21st Century Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich. This was reviewed by Tim Adams who came up with a couple of statistics that should interest all workers. “There are many statistics that attach themselves to Richistan. These are two telling ones; Wall Street’s five biggest firms paid out $36 billion in bonuses in 2006; and while in the Seventies the average American chief executive typically took home 40 times the wage of his average employee, he now pockets 170 times that of his typical minion.” (Observer, 22 July) As a “typical minion” how do you feel about that?

Worked To Death

We are all familiar with the old saw “hard work never killed anybody”, but it just isn’t true as can be seen from the following report. “The number of people killed at work has risen to its highest level in five year, according to figures released by the Health and Safety Commission, whose strength has been cut by 1,000 over the same period. Of 241 fatalities in the last year compared with 217 the previous year, the greatest number, 77 – up 31% – were on building sites. Sir Bill Callaghan, the HSE chair said the increase was disappointing. The TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, said each death was preventable. ‘Increasing the likelihood of a visit from a safety inspector would make a real difference.’” (Guardian, 27 July) Why increase the expenditure on safety? It cuts profits and capitalism hates that.

Same The World Over

“Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim, who is estimated by some calculations to be wealthier than Microsoft founder Bill Gates, said Thursday he did not care if he was the world’s richest person. …In July, a journalist who tracks the fortunes of wealthy Mexicans said Slim was worth an estimated $67.8 billion and had overtaken Gates as the world’s richest person. Slim hit the No. 1 spot after a recent surge in the share price of his America Movil, Latin America’s largest cell phone company, according to Eduardo Garcia of the online financial publication Sentido Comun.Garcia said that made him close to $8.6 billion wealthier than Gates, whose estimated worth was $59.2 billion. …In Mexico, a small elite holds most of the country’s wealth and about half the population lives on less than $5 a day.” (Yahoo News, 3 August)

Homeless Heroes

We are all familiar with cheering crowds applauding soldiers as they march to war and the praise of politicians as they fall over each other in adulation of service veterans, but the reality is far different. “One in 10 homeless people in the UK are former members of the armed forces, a charity working with veterans says. A survey in 1997 by the Ex-Service Action Group on Homelessness suggested that 22% of people who were street homeless had a military background. Veterans charity, the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation, said that efforts by the government and the voluntary sector had brought that down to about 10%. It fears the numbers may rise because of service in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (BBC News, 7 August) “When Johnnie Comes Marching Home” may have been an old popular song but today there is no home nor house either.

Illusion And Reality

Many people imagine that with retirement comes a pleasant period in a hard-working life. Alas, the reality is far from idyllic for many workers. “Pensioners are burdened with debts of £57 billion from mortgages and credit cards, new figures show. One fifth of retired people are still paying off a mortgage and a third owe an average of £5,900 on credit cards and loans, says Scottish Widows, the insurer. The 11 million pensioners who are still making repayments owe an average of £38,000 on their homes, compared with £35,000 last year. One in eight owe more than £50,000.” (Times, 13 August)

Pathfinders: Earth Version Two (2007)

The Pathfinders Column from the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Earth Version Two 

Possibly the deepest fault-line in the territory of that large and disparate body of people describing or thinking of themselves as ‘socialist’ concerns the question whether people are either smart enough to organise their own revolution or dumb enough to have to be led to it. On one side we have the ‘vanguardists’, a motley collection of would-be leaders convinced, mostly on the basis of historical arguments relating to under-educated rural peasants, that the vast majority of the world’s people have always needed and will always need to be told what to do. Thus, many left-wing organisations feature a top-down hierarchical structure, entirely the same as the capitalist structures they supposedly abhor. On the other side we have another motley collection of would-be revolutionaries, sometimes called ‘libertarians’, who consider this kind of hierarchical thinking to be precisely part of the problem, and do not foresee any realistic prospect of emancipation from capitalism while this sort of oppressive mentality remains a part of the picture.

There are interesting hints that the same ambivalent attitude towards the working class is to be found among scientists too. While pundits often debate the question of what workers think of science, rarely does anyone ask what scientists think of workers. Perhaps it is supposed that the boffins are above such value-judgments, solely concerned with their test-tubes and tunnelling microscopes. But of course, scientists are human too, and it would be nothing less than astonishing if they didn’t share some of society’s prejudices. The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, for example, plainly struggles to contain his contempt for weak-minded people who believe in elves, pixies and celestial beings, having convinced himself that religion is the root of all evil despite the abundant evidence that atheists can be evil too. In a recent discussion with the eminent physicist Lawrence M Krauss, the two debate the best way to go about weening the population away from fairy stories and into the sunlit uplands of rational science (Scientific American, July 07). The ‘softly softly’ Krauss seems to persuade the firebrand Dawkins to the conclusion that the working class must be ‘seduced’ out of ignorance rather than beaten over the head with it, a conclusion one can’t imagine Dawkins ever sticking to. But what is uncomfortably apparent in their language is a mental image of the worker as an Alabama redneck with a gun in one hand, a crucifix in the other, and who has only ever read two books, both of them about UFO’s.

Of course, it may be true, as Sam Goldwyn used to say, that nobody ever went broke underestimating the public intelligence, and the resurgence of Christian fundamentalism and anti-evolution in America will certainly lend weight to that particular prejudice. But the last time ‘Intelligent Design’ (creationism) was in the news, it was being publicly humiliated in Pennsylvania as working class parents, some of them Christians, took the battle for rationality to court and forced the entire Dover School board of governors, who advocated teaching creationism in class, to resign in ignominy.

In the past, the views of individual scientists about the mental or intellectual capabilities of workers was a matter merely of private discussion. Now, however, the question has begun to erupt into the foreground, and all because of ‘Web 2.0’.

The World Wide Web is changing fast, and whether we like it or not, it has become interactive. More and more, on every hard news or information site, we are seeing invitations to readers to send in their pictures, their articles, reportage or opinions. This is not simply a crafty way to pad out pages at no expense, it is what is called ‘user-generated content’, the new fully interactive Web – Version Two Point Nought – where every consumer is potentially a producer. And the implications are beginning to expose a fault-line in society which exactly mirrors that found among radical political groups. For some, the ‘democratisation’ of the means of communication marks a thrilling phase-change in the pace of human progress. For others, it is the start of a catastrophic dumbing-down which threatens to drown civilisation in a welter of mediocrity.

Leading the charge against what he sees as a colonisation of genuine expertise by an invasion of insipid, inaccurate and second-rate vanity publishing is the Californian entrepreneur Andrew Keen, who argues in his controversial book The Cult of the Amateur that “what the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment” (quoted in New York Times, June 29). And why might this be? Because the crowd is now in charge, and “history has proven that the crowd is not often very wise, embracing unwise ideas like slavery, infanticide, George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, Britney Spears.” This is a curious argument, considering that the same crowd subsequently abolished slavery and infanticide, and will very likely do the same to the war in Iraq and even, with a bit of luck, Britney Spears. Keen is obviously not keen on the politics of Web 2.0, likening it to Marxism or a ‘communist utopia’: “It worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests that everyone—even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us—can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves.” This last quotation comes from his entry in Wikipedia, a user-generated phenomenon which Keen has stated he despises, because anyone can write anything they like in it without being a tenured professor, on the basis that the crowd holds more collective wisdom than the individual. To Keen, this is tantamount to pulling down the Library of Congress and replacing it with the Tower of Babel.

Keen and others have made much of Wikipedia’s potential for inaccuracy, while absurdly ignoring the fact that Wikipedia is dynamically self-correcting. One may as justly accuse science of getting things wrong sometimes. Indeed, comparison of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica articles on science by the magazine Nature revealed a roughly equal number of errors in both (BBC Online, March 24, 06).

Ridiculed by the ‘digerati’ as a mastodon railing against the warming winds of change, Keen is certainly a minority voice, although probably the vocal end of a significantly large silent rearguard. Whereas elitist notions of worker stupidity tend to predominate in left-wing circles, they are definitely infra dig among the online community. And to give credit to Keen, he is honest enough to admit that he may have overstated his case: “I think I idealised mainstream media … I concentrated on the good things. I didn’t write about the Sun newspaper. I didn’t write about Fox” (Guardian, July 20). No, he didn’t. And he didn’t consider the fact either that his historical crowds, wherever they acted stupidly, undoubtedly did so because the ruling elites kept knowledge to themselves in order to maintain their power and prestige. If the advent of Web 2.0 forces this kind of prejudice into the foreground, so much the better. Keen, if he gets lonely, could always go and join the mastodons of the left-wing. Socialists however will feel more at home among the trail-blazing digerati of the interactive revolution. Roll on Earth 2.0.
Paddy Shannon

From each according to their ability (2007)

From the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard 
“I don’t want to take £1 billion pounds to the grave with me.”  (Sir Tom Hunter, Daily Telegraph, 18 July 18).
Andrew Carnegie, Bill Clinton, Bob Geldof et al would no doubt agree that there can be only a small percentage of financial, business, sport or artistic successes in any one generation. There just isn’t space at the top of any profession or vocation for the majority of the population. The system doesn’t work like that. A pyramid requires a very broad, solid base made up of multitudinous blocks rising in successively smaller layers to the apex. The financial structure of the world is the same; the many enabling the few to amass their fortunes. In sport or art, whether through talent or promotion, a similar structure exists.

Whilst the super-rich can afford to give away much of their monetary wealth without hardship or set up trusts, charities, concerts and the like to alleviate some of the world’s worst conditions (and the rest of us can donate much smaller amounts according to our individual situation and whim), the plain facts are that each year, year in, year out, millions more around the world find themselves in abject poverty. Whatever is given in aid, grants or donations is never, and will never be, sufficient to “make poverty history”.

Sir Tom Hunter appears not at all gloomy about the world situation and claims “he gets a bigger buzz from a successful philanthropic venture than from his businesses”. There is an obvious satisfaction to be gained from personally being able to bring positive solutions to problems of those less fortunate than oneself; however, even supposing all the world’s billionaires were to prove as altruistic in ministering to the world’s needy, it would only result in a partial cure of humanity’s sores rather than total elimination of the disease.

The Daily Telegraph article ends with Carnegie’s assertion that “all personal wealth beyond that required to supply the needs of one’s family should be regarded as a trust fund to be administered for the benefit of the community.” Which is not all that different from Karl Marx’s dictum “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”. However, the poor of the world don’t need a hand-out. They simply need to be a part of a world system that doesn’t exploit them and with the universal right to nutritious food and clean water, shelter, responsibility for self-determination, all long recognized as prerequisites for a fulfilling life.

With “from each according to ability, to each according to need” applied globally it will not only be possible but achievable in the foreseeable future to eliminate poverty, malnutrition and the other ills inherent in global capitalism.

When doctors, teachers, musicians, scientists, technicians, farmers, entrepreneurs use their expertise solely for the benefit of the (world) community; when the Earth’s rich resources are used for people, not profit; when all citizens of the world are seen to have equal, intrinsic worth regardless of background, intelligence or class; when our collective aims are truly altruistic rather than accumulative then there would be no worries about taking money to the grave. Wealth would be real, not virtual; the Earth’s resources would belong to all, not to be pillaged for profit for the minority; talent, skills and human endeavour would be the wealth to be spent by all for the benefit of all.

How satisfying to go to the grave fully used up with absolutely nothing going to waste.
Janet Surman

Cooking the Books: Turmoil at the Stock Exchange (2007)

The Cooking the Books column from the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

“FRESH TURMOIL IN EQUITY MARKETS” read the headline of the weekend Financial Times (11/12 August) after a week of dramatic falls in share prices on the world’s stock exchanges. “GROWTH THREATENED BY MARKET TURBULENCE, SAY ECONOMISTS” read the one in the Times the next day, which reported the principal of one hedge fund are saying “Nobody has yet mentioned to me the possibility of a stock market crash and I find that surprising”.

So, what was it all about? Could it really have been a prelude to another 1929 and 1930s slump? Or was it another purely financial crisis hardly affecting the real economy?

Although the turmoil was centred on financial markets, especially stock markets, in most respects its origins lay in the housing sector in the US where financial institutions have been selling “sub-prime” mortgages, i. e. to those with poor credit records and who are therefore more likely to default – and have been. The US housing market bubble – now being paralleled in the UK and elsewhere – has come to an end and mortgage defaults have escalated.

Financial institutions in the US and elsewhere are now coming under pressure because of their exposure in this market but the main issue at present is that no-one knows the extent of the problem, mainly because much of this debt has been packaged together and sold on to financial institutions other than those originally lending the money.

Some hedge funds and other financial instruments that have invested in this debt in the hope of higher than average returns for their investors have got into trouble. In the case of some funds run by BNP Paribas, they have simply been unable to calculate their value because of the current volatility of this sector of the financial markets, leading to even further fear and uncertainty.

The most serious knock-on effect has been a tightening of credit – banks are reluctant to lend money, even to one another. It is this that has been affecting stock markets in particular.

The easy credit that has helped financial merger and acquisition activity the last two or three years (especially by private equity firms) propelled the stock markets of the world upwards. This is because private equity groups, by changing the legal status of the firms they take over from public to private companies, have been taking firms off the stock market and so reducing the supply of shares available as a whole; also, easy credit has helped companies buy back their own shares, to the same effect – reducing the supply of shares and so, in accordance with the law of supply and demand, pushing up share prices.

It is the end of this easy credit and the positive stock market conditions it has promoted that is bothering the financial markets more widely. In truth, after the massive stock market falls of 2000-2003, most stock markets are not over-valued but are being affected by a contagious fear that has spread from the housing sector via the credit markets.

But this is one of the problems with the capitalist market economy – the lack of planning and the instability inherent in the system can have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences. Just how far-reaching only time will tell, but given the underlying problems into the UK housing market alone, this period of market fear may have some way to run yet.