Wednesday, October 11, 2023

50 Years Ago: The Alternative to Private Ownership (1967)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The only alternative to the private ownership of the means of production by the few possible today, with the present stage of development of those means, is social ownership—ownership by the whole community. With the means and instruments for the production and distribution of wealth owned and controlled by the whole community there can be no other object in operating them but to produce wealth for the benefit of the community. The means of living belonging to the whole of the people, none is outside their ownership nor, on the other hand, can any person have ownership in these things as an individual, but only as a cell in the social body.

As a consequence of this the whole social fabric must reshape itself. The only means of productively applying it belonging to the community labour-power must come under communal control. No man can purchase it because, in the first place, he has no means of exploiting it, in the second place no worker would desire to sell his labour-power to another since he has the opportunity of exercising it through the communal means, and thirdly, since the whole of the wealth produced under such a system belongs to the community, there is no exchange within the community, and therefore money—the means of exchange— loses its function and its value, and becomes useless for the purchase of labour-power or anything else. The sale of labour-power for wages, then must disappear with the abolition of private property in the instruments of labour. The whole wages system, in fact, must collapse with the change in the property condition, and a new set of relations must arise between social units, in which the relations of master and man can find no place. The class division, by which the people of every country are divided into exploiters and exploited, employers and employed, masters and slaves, rich and poor according as they are propertied or propertyless, must vanish with the rest, giving place to a unified community of workers, socially equal because equal possessors in the economic basis of society— the means and instruments of producing the social wealth.

(From an article by ‘G’ in the Socialist Standard October 1917).

Economic Thought (1967)

Book Review from the October 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

A History of Economic Thought by William J. Barber, Pelican. 5s.

Socialists, who have all at least had a go at reading Marx, are familiar with big names in economic thought—Sir William Petty, the Physiocrats, Adam Smith, Ricardo—and even with lesser names now long forgotten like Nassau Senior and his last hour. Marx saw his work as in the tradition of the classical economists like Smith and Ricardo who had set out to study the processes of economic growth and the distribution of income among social classes. Later economic writers turned to the study of prices and the market. Marx called them ‘vulgar’ economists as they tended to take a businessman’s view of economic life. In his discussion of Adam Smith. Barber brings out the different approaches of classical and modern economics:
Smith’s analytical categories contrast sharply with those widely used in much current economic analysis. A prevalent modern approach to income distribution is entirely ‘functional’ in orientation; that is to say, various income payments are treated as rewards to the ‘factors’ contributing to production… In such a ‘functional’ system all class lines are hidden. Smith, on the other hand, began with a social class division and built the greater part of his analytical structure around it.
Barber briefly surveys the contribution to economic thought of Adam Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Alfred Marshall and Keynes. Malthus is obviously out of place since his contribution was next to nothing. He did open a discussion on population, it is true, but, and Barber notices this too, he contradicted himself in different editions of his main work. He was also a shameless defender of an idle and wealthy leisure class.

Barber’s treatment of Marx is reasonably intelligent though marred by a number of mistakes. He claims that Marx assumed that the rate of exploitation (the ratio of profits to wages) would remain constant over time. Yet Marx devoted much space to describing the means capitalists used to increase it like the lengthening of the working day and the intensification of work. Barber also states that Marx “eliminated the classical concept of rent from his analysis”. Yet Marx discusses this too in some detail. Marx is often wrongly seen as an underconsumptionist so it is odd to read that Marx
was too closely wedded to the classical tradition of Say’s Law to provide a systematic demonstration of cyclical fluctuations. Within his system there could be no deficiency in total demand; only capitalists were in a position to save; and what they saved went into investment expenditure.
Say, a minor French economist, argued that general overproduction or underconsumption was impossible as supply created its own demand; what was not spent was all invested. ‘This conclusion’, as Barber points out, ‘rested on an important, though implicit, assumption: that all income was spent and none hoarded’. Marx never held this view. In fact he was one of the first to see through Say’s Law. He explicitly rejected Say’s views, arguing that the possibility of a crisis arises if the capitalists hoard and don’t re-invest their profits, which they will do if they think there’s no prospect of making any more.

Barber would seem to be taking on the whole of sociology in his criticism of Marx’s ‘social determinism’. To suggest that human action in society can be explained in a scientific way, i.e. in terms of cause and effect, does not commit you to a fatalist view of human behaviour.

Despite these limitations A History of Economic Thought is a useful guide and introduction to the theories of both pre-and post-Marxian economists.
Adam Buick

Reforming Capitalism (1967)

From the October 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

To avoid misunderstanding about the terms we use, we will state briefly what is meant by reformism and by revolution.

Reformism means the formulation of day to day policies to make superficial adjustments to capitalism through legislation to meet the changing requirements of the system. A reformist party is one which, on the basis of such policies, seeks power to administer capitalism.

By appealing to workers on a programme of reforms, the political agents of capitalism create the illusion of trying to change things. The workers who vote for such parties and policies are being duped into supporting the system which rests upon their exploitation. Revolution stands against all this. It means the abolition of the system which reformists seek to preserve.

Perhaps by using one popular reform as an example we can make the Socialist position more clear.

It can hardly be an exaggeration to say that no single piece of reform legislation in modern times, was ever heralded with such widespread acclaim as the so-called National Health Service Act of 1946.

Politicians of all parties were confident that a way had been worked out to maintain a standard of working class health, cheaply and consistent with industrial efficiency and profitability. Also they had a handy device to fob off any working class unrest with the conditions of post-war capitalism.

The majority of the working class at the time were deluded by the sales talk with which the act was presented to them and widely regarded it as free state benevolence for which they should be duly grateful.

The idea of free access to wealth is incompatible with the private property basis of capitalism.

There can be no “little bits’ of Socialism. It’s all or nothing. And this is just why the National Health Service has not fulfilled its promise. The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain never expected otherwise and published a pamphlet called Beveridge Re-organises Poverty five years before the Act came into force. Two references from this pamphlet will show the line of our approach. We quoted the Beveridge Report as follows:
“.. . that each individual citizen is more likely to concentrate upon his war effort if he feels his government will be ready in time for that better world . . .”
and Samuel Courtauld’s comment on the Report:
“.. . social security of this nature will be about the most profitable long-term investment the country could make. It will not undermine the morale of the nation’s workers: it will ultimately lead to higher efficiency among them and a lowering of production costs.” (Manchester Guardian 19 Feb. 1943).
Whether, after nearly twenty years, this reform has lived up to the hopes of the capitalist class, we cannot say, but for the workers it should be a hard-earned experience in the futility of reformism. Far from anything being free, the last twenty years have been one long moan by successive Labour and Tory leaders about the costs of the “service”. There has been an unending trail of legislation making adjustments to the Act itself, largely concerned with money matters. In October 1949, just over a year after the Act came into force, the then Labour Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee announced proposed charges of one shilling for each NHS prescription. Although this proposal was endorsed by the Labour Parliament, it was not until March 1952 that the Tory Government put it into effect. It should be noted that the present Labour Government’s removal of the charges was followed by the most ruthless and sustained attack upon wages in post-war years.

After only five years of NHS in May 1953 Aneurin Bevan was complaining about the high cost of prescriptions. Proprietary dexedrine had cost £400,000 in 1952, when its chemical equivalent would have cost £158,000 over the same period. (The British National Health Service (p. 84) by D. Mc. I. Johnson.)

Three years later the Guillebaud Report on the cost of National Health Service was published, but despite much earnest delving into bureaucratic machinery, nothing more was heard.

Section 2 of the NHS (Family Planning) Act 1967 gives local health authorities power to make charges for certain contraceptives, according to ‘means’ and subject to the approval of the Minister of Health.

Although this might conjure up some humorous situations in one’s mind, it is anything but funny to read about the conditions of near breakdown in the health administration which are so widespread to-day, after nearly twenty years of this capitalist panacea.

Thousands of disillusioned doctors going abroad to get away from it; surgeons in over-crowded hospitals working a 90 hour week; people waiting for kidney operations, who well may die simply because the machines are expensive; old, decaying hospitals with hopelessly inadequate amenities; nurses as ruthlessly driven for long hours and low wages as ever. In the midst of this situation the Tory government in 1963, published a Hospital Plan for England and Wales. This proposed the spending of £600 million in a ten years programme of hospital building up to 1973. This figure for ten years is about one-third of the amount then being spent yearly on armaments. A fitting comment on the priorities of capitalism. Although it must be said that much has been achieved on the technical side of surgery and research, this is a tribute to the workers in these fields and has nothing to do with the NHS as such. In fact much research is still carried out which is financed by voluntary contributions including investigation into the causes of such diseases as cancer.

The conclusion is inescapable, reforms must be looked at against the general background of capitalism. If human welfare is to become our main consideration, this system must make way for Socialism.
Harry Baldwin

Marx’s View of Man (1967)

From the October 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The principles of the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain and of its Companion Parties abroad are based on the main theories of Karl Marx, social revolutionary writer of the mid-nineteenth century. One of the criticisms often levelled against Marx is that ‘he puts too much emphasis on the material aspect of man and not enough on the spiritual and moral side’.

Materialism is the doctrine that says that nothing exists but matter and its movements and modification. To enlarge on this, we may say for example that the human brain is a highly developed form of matter and that the mind is the sum total of its activities. Through his brain and his senses man perceives certain conditions in the world around him; conditions that make up the environment in which he lives. He then interprets these conditions. His ideas are, therefore, not created in a vacuum. His concepts such as Freedom, Truth, Good and Evil, are not absolute but are subject to change; not separate entities but qualified by conditions.

This particular criticism of Marx’s works arises because he maintained that the determining factor in history was the way in which man produced his means of living. In this production man forms certain social relations which are of paramount importance because they form the basis of the system of society in which he lives. Marx found that at a certain stage these social relations took the form of opposing class interests, and so he said that all written history is the history of class struggles. The system of capitalism existed in the time of Marx although of course not as highly developed as it is today. Marx defined the class system of capitalism as consisting of a capitalist (ruling) class and a working (subject) class. The capitalist class owns and controls the means of production and distribution of wealth like food, oil, copper and coal. The working class own virtually nothing but their ability to work. Therefore, in order to live they have to sell their labour power to the owning class to gain access to the means of production and to produce wealth. The workers are paid wages in return for their labour power, but the amount of money they receive is not the full value they create. Wages usually hover around the accepted subsistence level. The balance of the value of their labour (over and above their wages) forms profit and this keeps the owning class in luxury. The system of capitalism consists of a contradiction between socially produced wealth and the private or sectional ownership of the means of wealth production.

Included in the means of production and distribution are those for producing and distributing ideas. These means are the educational and advertising media: schools, colleges, universities, press, television, radio. They are owned by the capitalist class just as much as the land, factories, airways or mines. Having control of these media, the ruling class is able to spread and give an appearance of validity to ideas which are actually invalid because they have no bearing whatsoever on real human interests. To explain and justify a social system which works only in their own interests, they spread ideas of nationalism, patriotism, leadership, hero-worship, prejudice and religion. Economists, politicians, sociologists, historians, churchmen, lawyers—all play their part in this presentation of a good image for capitalism. The drawbacks of the system are either ‘explained’ as necessary evils in the best of all possible worlds, or else it is said that they are capable of cure within the status quo by ‘practical reform’ or belief in God. It is tacitly assumed that capitalism is natural and absolute.

Ruling class ideas of morality—in line with their other ideas—suit their particular interests. This is strikingly shown by the fact that in peacetime it is ‘wrong’ to kill because the taking of human life is most often connected with crimes against private property—for instance, bank and mail robberies. On the other hand in wartime it is ‘right’ to kill, for national capitalist interests need to be defended (by workers) when their masters’ quarrels (over markets, sources of raw materials and strategic positions, basically) can no longer be resolved without the use of force.

Because of its control of the means of communication, the ideas of the ruling class become the accepted ideas in society—often termed orthodox ideas.

Explaining the idea from the conditions and not the conditions from the idea is characteristic of Marx and is the materialist method that Socialists use. Far from being indifferent to what is termed our ‘spiritual’ or ‘moral’ welfare, Marx stressed the really human qualities of Man. He refers both to money and to the idea of god as examples of human alienation because they involve a transference of man’s own powers to an outside force—to the detriment of man himself.

We have only to look at some of the worst aspects of human behaviour under capitalism to see that drug-peddling, alcoholism, prostitution, blackmail, are reactions to a private property form of society, a society of buying and selling, profit and exploitation. If we define human beings as predominantly good or bad, we are being idealist and getting nowhere. Human behaviour varies from society to society.

When the working class channels its intelligence towards its own liberation it will by political action take the means of production and distribution out of the hands of the capitalists and place them at the disposal of the whole of humanity. This act will be its last act as a class for in so doing it will have established the first classless society in written history—Socialism. When wealth is no longer produced to make a profit by its sale but to satisfy the wants and needs of all, those ideas which belong to capitalism will have disintegrated and come down like Alice’s Pack of Cards. In Socialism, the criterion for all things will be human reason; the preservation and betterment of human life, untainted by human alienation, will have top priority.

SPGB Meetings (1967)

Party News from the October 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Life and Times: A bit of your own back? (2023)

The Life and Times column from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Someone I’ve known for a long time recently surprised me. He told me he was a shoplifter – a regular one. I say he surprised me because he’s got a regular job and it shouldn’t be something he needs to do to make ends meet. So why does he do it? ‘I’m just getting a bit of my own back’, he told me. What did he mean by that? Well, he explained that, while he had to do a job he didn’t particularly like to keep his head above water, those ‘damned shareholders’ were raking it in for doing nothing. ‘Legalised theft’, he called it. But, I objected, didn’t that mean other people who didn’t shoplift were losing out because the shops would just recoup their losses by putting up prices? No, he said. He’d thought and read about that and his conclusion – which actually seemed to make sense to me – was that they couldn’t put their prices up willy-nilly, because they were having to compete with other shops and stores as well as online retailers and would risk losing customers if their prices were higher than their competitors. It might affect their profitability a bit and their shareholders’ dividends, he said, but he didn’t care about that. So, he insisted, those who said he was penalising ‘honest’ shoppers were advancing spurious arguments.

He also explained that he didn’t shoplift from small shops, since that wouldn’t be fair. Most small shopkeepers, he said, were struggling to make a living and having stuff stolen from them would likely push them over the edge. In fact he told me he despised people who stole from small shops, since it was just poor people stealing from one another.

Trouble in store
What to make of all this? Well, I had a look into it myself and discovered that in recent times there has been what I saw described in one report as an ‘explosion’ in shoplifting. Figures issued by the British Retail Consortium showed thefts across the sector in England and Wales had risen by 26 percent in 2022. In an online article entitled ‘The cost of living started my shoplifting: why stealing goods is on the rise’, BBC business editor Ez Roberts interviewed a number of self-confessed shoplifters and concluded that, while many of them did it because they couldn’t afford food, others who could manage financially just saw it as an easy way to get something for nothing. And easy it is apparently, since, according to a supermarket manager interviewed, ‘little can be done about it’. ‘If staff intervene’, he said, ‘it can lead to violence’. He added that it was hard to get the police to come. ‘We don’t call the police anymore’, he said. ‘They won’t come. Unless the thief has stolen around £500 worth of items the police aren’t interested.’ But police obviously do turn up – sometimes – since their figures from March this year, the most recent available, show forces recording almost 33,000 incidents of shoplifting.

Too many offenders
Having said that, this is obviously only a tiny proportion of all the shoplifting that takes place. Most offenders ‘get away with it’, and even when they do come onto the police radar, they are unlikely to be prosecuted – and increasingly so. That’s because recent reports have shown that the potential prison population is growing faster than the jail cells and other space available, and the knock-on effects of this are that sentences are getting shorter, fewer people found guilty are being sent to prison and fewer people are actually being prosecuted. An increasing number are being given cautions, even for relatively serious offences. In these circumstances, therefore, it looks increasingly unlikely that shoplifters caught by police will get anything more than a ticking off.

The surge
As for the recent surge in shoplifting, though it’s mainly due to the rise in the cost of living and the inability of many people, even those with regular employment, to make ends meet, it seems also to be the case that at least some of the increase is not down to desperate hard-up individuals but to other factors – in particular the sense of insecurity even among those who have a steady income. It will always be a temptation to people living from one pay cheque to the next to steal to make that cheque go further. And then of course there’s the acquisitive ethic the system we live in imbues people with. An example of this came from the BBC report where an Oxford University student interviewed said she shoplifted because she wanted to use her own money to buy the more expensive products her fellow students were able to get.

There are of course other causes too, for example the need of some individuals to obtain drugs or alcohol and also the fact that an increasing number of people feel less intimidated by the ‘rules’ of private property society and the authority it seeks to exercise.

Unfortunately, while disobedience to the authority of the private property system by the act of shoplifting may give some personal satisfaction to individuals, it is not a particularly positive or constructive way to help do away with that system and replace it with another one in which the stores of the world can be made freely available to them – and to everyone.
Howard Moss

Pathfinders: Vanity projects (2023)

The Pathfinders Column from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Science fiction often presages science fact. In the 2013 Hollywood film Elysium, the super-rich live in luxury on an artificial utopia floating in orbit above a devastated Earth populated by desperate survivors attempting to scratch a living amid the dirt and ruins.

It’s a dystopian horror story that rings true. One can easily imagine the rich building something like this in reality, albeit not necessarily on a space satellite. They’ve always had landed estates and gated communities. They perpetually fantasise about escaping entirely into private little worlds, untouched by the brutal consequences of their own capitalist behaviour.

For instance, there are the ‘preppers’, who plan to ‘save themselves from the apocalypse’ by building luxurious bunkers complete with military security in order ‘to survive a societal collapse they helped create’. Author Douglas Rushkoff has met these preppers in person: ‘More than anything,’ he says, ‘they have succumbed to a mindset where “winning” means earning enough money to insulate themselves from the damage they are creating by earning money in that way.’ Interestingly, he adds that their biggest worry is how to stop their own security forces (ie, workers) turning on them after Doomsday has rendered their money and titles worthless ( It’s a valid concern. If these preppers end up being hog-roast on their own barbecues, there won’t be anyone around to protest.

Other billionaire moguls have set their sights higher than simply hiding in an underground James Bond film set. Elon Musk has said for years that he plans to die on Mars – ‘just not on impact’. In the event that he and his megalomania do rocket off together on a one-way trip to Mars, one expects that his son, X Æ A-12, will lose no time in changing his name by deed poll, just as Zowie Bowie did.

An altogether loftier, though Earth-based vision, was announced in 2021 by the former president of Walmart, billionaire Marc Lore, in the form of Telosa, a proposed $500bn ‘utopia’ in a yet-to-be determined area of American desert, and intended as a home to 5 million people by 2050. Far from being an exclusive Elysium for rich people, Lore envisages the project as a ‘reformed version of capitalism’ which embodies something called ‘equitism’. Based on the tax-reform ideas of Henry George, which saw something of a revival in the 2010s with the Occupy movement, this is supposedly a way of allowing workers to ‘share in the prosperity that they help create’ while not unduly taxing the profits of the rich ( Quite why this hare-brained have-your-cake-and-eat-it economic vision needs to be in a brand new futuristic city, rather than in an existing one, is unclear. At any rate, plonking it in a desert may save on land prices, but it will create one hell of a utility connection problem. Still, they did it with Las Vegas.

Hot desert is even less of an impediment to the Saudi Royal Hand-Choppers who, awash with oceans of cash thanks to ongoing stratospheric oil prices, are embarking on an eye-popping trillion-dollar scheme to build Neom, a gigantic ‘utopia’ on the Red Sea in the country’s north-western Tabuk Province, featuring beaches lined with marble, fleets of drones forming an artificial moon, and robots doing the menial work. Located 111 miles from the regional capital, Neom will apparently be an independent enclave free from Saudi government oversight and not subject to its laws, labour regulations or tax rules. Local Tabuk inhabitants are less than enthusiastic, however, as they are currently being evicted and even executed by Saudi forces, while foreign workers may also be reluctant to flock to this utopian oasis free of all labour regulations, especially when they find out what Neom CEO Nadhmi al-Nasr has said about driving employees like slaves, gleefully remarking that ‘when they drop down dead, I celebrate’ (

Neom is planned to consist of 10 regions, of which 4 are currently known. Trojena is an outdoor ski resort (yes, in a hot desert, you’ve read that right), while Oxagon is an octagonal floating industrial complex. There’s also a luxury yachting island called Sindalah, a name unhelpfully reminiscent of Sinaloa, home of the notorious Mexican drug cartel. Most gobsmackingly of all is The Line, a car-free, smart city-building 130 miles long but only 200 yards wide, a structure so enormous that ‘the curvature of the Earth becomes an engineering challenge’ ( It is intended to house 9 million people, with a high-speed rail line that can allegedly go from end to end in 20 minutes. Presumably passengers are shot out into nets as it rockets through stations at nearly 400 mph.

This is not the only folly currently gracing Middle Eastern regimes keen to squander their oil fortunes on pointless and ill-considered vanity projects, including golf courses, World Cups and Formula 1. Dubai, already famous for splashing out billions on a still-deserted archipelago of tourist island resorts shaped like a map of the world, is planning a $64bn answer to Disneyland, called Dubailand, plus a $5bn replica of the moon, for use as a hotel where guests wearing astronaut suits can enjoy lunar-rover taxis and, in some unexplained way, ‘low-gravity’ moonwalks. As if that’s not wacky enough, the UAE has also bought Mark Zuckerberg’s Kool-Aid by sinking billions into the Metaverse, while Bahrain plans to artificially extend its landmass by 50 percent.

In H G Wells’s seminal 1895 novel The Time Machine, beautiful, golden-haired Eloi enjoy carefree lives of idleness in above-ground pleasure gardens, while the stunted, troglodytic Morlocks do all the hard work. It’s a powerful metaphor for class war that has spawned many subsequent works, including the film Elysium. But, in a sort of ghastly quid pro quo, the Morlocks do at least get to eat the Eloi. No such luck in real-life capitalism, where the rich continue to consume us, body and soul, in the vainglorious quest to build their future fun palaces.
Paddy Shannon

Blogger's Notes:
Elysium was reviewed in the November 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Material World: The world of commodity trading (2023)

The Material World Column from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Clicking through to the commodities news section on the internet (such as reuters) is like taking a glimpse into the future. The stories there detail the raw stuff of life and the struggles to come to secure access and control over those things. Headlines such as ‘Gold eases as US dollar bumps higher before Powell’s speech’, ‘China’s biggest salt maker urges public not to panic buy after Fukushima discharge’ or ‘India’s food price surge forces government measures to improve supplies’ (to take just one day’s offering) prefigure the social and political events to come.

While we would normally understand a commodity, in Marx’ words as any ‘object outside us, … that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another’ produced for sale, when discussing commodity markets journalists and traders understand them as ‘a market that trades in the primary economic sector rather than manufactured products, such as cocoa,’. So, that is food cereals, oil, metals and the like. The firms that trade in these goods are, as Blas and Farchy relate in their book The World for Sale, an ‘international clearing house for essential goods.’ As they explain:
‘Commodity traders are arbitragers par excellence, trying to exploit a series of differences in prices. Because they’re doing deals to buy and sell all the time, they are often indifferent to whether commodity prices overall go up or down. What matters to them is the price disparity. By exploiting these price differences, they help make the markets more efficient, directing resources to their highest value in response to price signals.’
Or, put another way, they make use of information disparities to make their money, making use of networks of knowledge and connexions in industries to predict and find price disparities to target. The advent of the internet and modern computer communications technology has revolutionised the industry, removing some of the advantages some of the older trading houses had.

Trading water
Such trading is oblivious to human need, and is contrary to the quoted section above, only driven by effective demand. So, news reports that: ‘Water has joined gold, oil and other commodities that are traded on Wall Street, as worries about the uncertainty of its availability in the future rises. The US’s water trade market, the first of its kind, launched on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange with $1.1 billion in contracts tied to California water prices’ ( is alarming. This will enable spot markets and futures markets over the price of water.

There have been instances of commodities firms cornering the supply of a commodity (such as aluminium) in order to maximise their profits. Commodities markets put social power into the hands of the commodity traders, and give capital power over society. Further, the traders seek to take control of the supply chain, seeking competitive advantage by integrating all the stages of bringing the commodity to market.

In this way, they are recreating the way industrial capitalism emerged, as Jairus Banaji notes in his A Brief History of Commercial Capitalism:
‘Next to monopoly of the raw materials (wool of different qualities, dyestuffs, alum), integration of control over all these separate processes was the true basis of the merchant’s dominance in capitalistically organized domestic industries. (…) By compressing the chain of circulation … vertical integration increased its velocity and re-appropriated a part of the surplus-value that accrued to middlemen.’
Banaji also observes generally through his text how the physical presence of the merchants, and their contacts with political and military power, secure and control their markets, hence the movements and reports about commodities markets ripple out into the political and international realms, driving the actions of governments. This had led to many corruption scandals among the commodity trading world, as they slosh money around to their contacts to secure favourable terms. But, also, they are able to make quick agreements, accepting commodities in lieu of cash, as well as the converse of supplying cash when other financial bodies will not.

For example, in the 1980’s, Marc Rich & Co. was able to cut a deal to supply Jamaica with $10 million worth of oil (without even a formally signed contract). In return his firm secured favoured access to Jamaica’s bauxite and alumina. Further, the firm was able, through creative accounting, to bypass international financial institutions such as the IMF. The flip side of this was when local politicians started to suspect the traders were taking advantage of them, the traders were able to bring to bear international pressure to deter investigation. Similarly, the commodity traders were interested in profits, and would work with (and prop up) regimes of any stripe as long as they could get access to the goods.

Such manoeuvring allowed a relatively small circle of firms, such as Vitol, Phillip Brothers, Cargill, Trafigure and Glencore (who, for example, made $3,408 million net profit in 2018), to dominate many commodities markets.

For the billions, not the billionaires
These firms do provide a useful role in worldwide production in bringing agents in the productive process together, but they make their profits, essentially, from taking advantage of gaps in information. Opening up the information of stocks, orders and production would enable a co-operative community to carry out its own production. As we say in our pamphlet Socialism as a Practical Alternative:
‘On the smallest local scale, information centres could monitor the position of stocks and productive capacity to meet local needs. By collating these statistics, regional information centres would be in a position to know the complete picture throughout the region. This could be achieved by also monitoring the position of stocks, productive capacity and needs among regional production units.

A world information centre could collate regional statistics in a similar manner. This would be a connected but decentralised world information system providing any combination of information that people required.’.
The commodities news – as it is – is a record of the minority rule of billionaires. It could become the means of self-control for the lives of billions.
Pik Smeet

The rise of fictitious capital (2023)

From the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard 

By ‘real capital’ Marx meant money capital invested in physical means of production and the workforce itself with a view to producing commodities to be sold on a market in the expectation of realising a profit – or financial return – from selling them. However, what has become increasingly salient in recent decades is another form of capital that Marx dubbed ‘fictitious capital’.

Fictitious capital does not involve the transformation of money into commodities. It is not about investing in means of production to produce commodities for sale on a market. In this respect it is distinguishable from interest-bearing capital in the form of bank loans to businesses that produce commodities. The latter do not constitute fictitious capital as such.

Bank loans become fictitious capital when they are used for some other purpose than financing the production of commodities. For instance, you might borrow money from a bank to purchase a new car or, indeed, pay off another debt. The bank advances the loan on the understanding that it will be repaid, plus interest, over a certain period; it expects to make a ‘financial return’ no less that a factory producing widgets expects to make a financial return. Marx represented this formulaically as M-M’ where M represents the sum loaned out – the principal – and M’ represents the principal returned to the lender plus interest paid by the borrower out of her wages or savings.

In this scenario no new or additional value has been created – unlike in the case of the M-C-M’ circuit where C is capital invested in physical means of production. There has simply been a net transfer of money from the borrower to the lender. The lender has gained money at the expense of the borrower. While, for Marx, the M-C-M’ circuit quintessentially defines the capitalist mode of production, it is the M-M’ circuit, which starts and finishes with money, that most directly, or overtly, expresses what motivates capitalist production – namely, to make money. In this instance:
‘The production process appears simply as an unavoidable middle term, a necessary evil for the purpose of money-making. This explains why all nations characterised by the capitalist mode of production are periodically seized by fits of giddiness in which they try to accomplish the money making without the mediation of the production process’ (Capital, Vol. 2, Ch.1).
The desire to make money by bypassing the production process, as it were, has become increasing apparent with the growing ‘financialisation’ of the economy. What financialisation does is to drive investors to seek out and promote every conceivable kind of revenue flow – from student debt to mortgage repayments and much more besides – that can be turned into financial assets and bundled up in ways that make then appear more reliable and attractive as a source of future income.

Fictitious capital can be characterised as an outgrowth of the credit system. Traditional bank capital did indeed aid industrial production through the provision of credit to industrial enterprises as Marx noted, even if the banks themselves took a cut from the resulting increase in industrial output. With fictitious capital there is a difference. The tendency is to make money, not out of increased physical output but out of money itself in the form of various revenue streams. The financial instruments available to do this are diverse and evolving and include not just collateralised debt obligations or loans but also bonds, equity stocks and various kinds of derivatives.

If one were to identify a convenient starting point when financialisation began to seriously take off as an economic trend this would probably be the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system in the 1970s that had formally linked international currencies to the US dollar (itself convertible into gold up until 1971 when President Nixon abruptly abandoned convertibility). The new system of floating exchange rates paved the way to a sharp rise in currency speculation. In money value terms, the ratio of foreign exchange transactions to the global trade in commodities was 2:1 in 1973. By 2004 it had soared to 90:1 and has since grown even more, making the speculative trading of currencies the world´s biggest market (Firat Demir, ‘The Rise of Rentier Capitalism and the Financialization of Real Sectors in Developing Countries’, Review of Radical Political Economy, September 2007).

Subsequently, financialisation was boosted further by the Big Bang reforms of the late 1980s that deregulated financial markets and made London the leading financial centre in the world. In the wake of these reforms came various technological innovations which have also contributed to the astonishing growth in financial capital. The introduction of computers has given rise to the phenomenon of high frequency trading (HFT) employing digital algorithms to buy and sell financial assets by predicting short-term price movements in shares and identifying potentially lucrative arbitrage opportunities.

Since then, financialisation has, as it were, spilled over and penetrated even what is loosely called the ‘real economy’. Everyone is seemingly getting in on the act — from large retail establishments to manufacturing giants. Financial speculation and the provision of in-house credit are just more arrows to put in their quiver, so to speak — an additional means of making more money in an increasingly competitive world. That has made for a huge expansion in the role that financial intermediaries play within the economy and a notable diversification of the kinds of financial instruments at their disposal. Indeed, this has advanced to such an extent that, according to Ravi Bhandari, there is ‘no longer a purely financial sector (banks, insurance companies, etc.) on the one hand, and a ‘productive’ sector on the other’ (

The stock market has been dubbed a market par excellence for fictitious capital, representing the capitalisation of property rights (as opposed to the capitalisation of production itself in the case of real capital) and, as such, constitutes a market for the circulation of these property rights. These rights, suggested Marx, represent ‘accumulated claims, legal titles, to future production’ and any income resulting from that production:
‘Gains and loss through fluctuations in the price of these titles of ownership… become, by their very nature, more and more a matter of gamble, which appears to take the place of labour as the original method of acquiring capital wealth’ (Capital, Vol.3, Ch.30).
A corporation might well raise funds for investment (real capital) by issuing shares on the stock exchange. By purchasing a share, one then has a claim on the future earnings of this corporation. However, this share does not function as real capital. As Marx explained, the money advanced by investors for the purpose of being used as real capital does not exist twice, ‘once as the capital-value of titles of ownership (stocks) on the one hand and on the other hand as the actual capital invested, or to be invested, in those enterprises’. Real capital ‘exists only in the latter form’ and a share represents merely a ‘title of ownership to a corresponding portion of the surplus-value to be realised by it’ (Capital, Vol 3, Ch 29).

The shareholders will hope that, in addition to receiving dividends, the value of their shares will appreciate over time, enabling them to realise a capital gain if and when the shares are sold on the stock market (in the case of a ‘public’ company). The rise or fall in the value of this fictitious asset — the shareholder certificate — representing the capitalisation of anticipated income streams can sometimes bear little apparent relation to current movements in the real economy. The secondary market in the buying and selling of these financial assets is essentially driven by market expectations of future profitability, and this can have a speculative element.

That helps to explain the rather puzzling coincidence of a buoyant stock market with share prices sometimes reaching record highs alongside a real economy that shows every sign of being in the doldrums. A different kind of logic applies in each case. ‘Autonomisation’ is the buzzword to describe the tendency for fictitious capital to strive to transcend or unshackle itself from real capital in the business of money making.

Though ultimately fictitious capital cannot sever itself from developments impacting on real capital, there does, at times, appear to be a certain disconnection between them. Speculative activity that grew out of the very system of credit that financed industrial development can, at times, become frenzied and take the form of speculative bubbles – from the Dutch tulipmania bubble (1634-38) through to the internet-based Dot-Com bubble of the late 1990s, and many more besides. Inevitably these burst at some point when, as Marx noted, the magic of compound interest breaks down as, indeed, it eventually must.

In the meanwhile, as far as these paper claims to future income that constitute fictitious capital are concerned:
‘To the extent that the depreciation or increase in value of this paper is independent of the movement of value of the actual capital that it represents, the wealth of the nation is just as great before as after its depreciation or increase in value’ (Capital, Vol. 3, Ch. 29).
The belief that wealth can be created merely by making money from money is akin to the medieval belief in alchemy – that you can transform base metals into gold.

It is the investment of this ‘real capital’ that generates the surplus value the system fundamentally depends on. This presupposes the employment of wage labour to create the surplus value out of which such capital originates in the first place.

Fictitious capital, on the other hand, does not and cannot create surplus value at all but at best merely redistributes it amongst fractions of the capitalist class.
Robin Cox

Cooking the Books: AI in perspective (2023)

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

Vinod Khosla, the businessman, venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, told the On Technology podcast that AI would lead to fewer jobs but would increase productivity so greatly that it would lift economic growth. There would be greater redistribution of wealth to even out income equality and he predicted that in 25 years’ time, 64 per cent of all jobs would be capable of being done by AI: ‘There will be enough to afford a minimal standard of living for everyone, to pay them to live and do things that are useful, but not in today’s jobs.’” (Times, 22 August)

We have been told this before. Nearly 60 years ago an article in the January 1965 Socialist Standard on ‘Automation in Perspective’ noted:
‘A writer in Sunday Citizen (6 Dec. 1964), Mr. Stanley Baron, after he had talked “to the top brains in Britain” made the forecast that before the end of the century, “in every industrial country, certainly in the West, most of the essential work will be performed by about 20 per cent of the people—chiefly the most intelligent. The rest of us will work only as much as we wish—or as much as society requires’” 
So what went wrong? Basically, a failure to take into account that we are living under capitalism.

Capitalism is an economic system geared to the accumulation of profits as more capital invested in production for profit. It is not a system geared to improving the life of the majority.

New wealth, when it is produced, is initially divided into wages, which essentially cover what workers need to consume to recreate their ability to work, and profits. Profits are the part that in theory could be used to improve living standards. Some is taxed by the capitalist state to maintain itself, some is consumed by the capitalist class to maintain and improve its standard of living, but most is destined for re-investment in production, so expanding productive capacity. This is what drives the capitalist economy.

Given this, what Baron predicted was never going to happen. Profits were never going to be diverted to provide workers with a standard of living above what was necessary to maintain them as workers. Any attempt to do this would have clogged up the capitalist economic system by undermining its driving force.

Productivity did increase but not by as much as implied, once again because of capitalism where automation is only introduced if it is cheaper than employing workers, not as soon as it reduces the total amount of work involved. There was a redistribution of work from the manufacturing to the service sector including the capitalist state.

Baron’s figure of only about 20 percent doing ‘essential work’ — producing useful things and services — could be accurate. However, instead of this resulting in 80 percent being able to lead a life of leisure, the number of jobs that don’t produce anything or anything useful increased. These jobs, such as all those concerned with buying and selling, paying money, and providing buildings and hardware for this, are essential for capitalism to function, but not for society to survive.

Khosla will fare no better. AI will increase productivity but not by as much as he says, and certainly not spectacularly. The fact that 64 percent of jobs ‘would be capable of being done by AI does not mean that they all will be. And, are the capitalists going to allow their profits to be taxed to pay everybody a state income appreciably above the poverty line? Will any government even try to do this in the knowledge that it would undermine the driving force of capitalism?

Only on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources can production be geared to satisfying people’s needs, all the easier given the disappearance of inessential capitalist jobs, and automation and AI allow a reduction in work-time all round.

Employment as hell (2023)

Book Review from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Work Work Work. Labor, Alienation and Class Struggle. By Michael D. Yates. Monthly Review Press. 2022. 262pp.

This is a passionately written book by a lifelong critic of capitalism. Yates has an intimate knowledge of how that system works and this collection of essays, extraordinarily wide-ranging in its scope, covers key elements of social and economic development from the organisation of hunter-gatherer societies to the pressures exerted on human society and planetary ecology by 21st century capital.

It reminds us that, for around 95 percent of the 200,000 years or more that human beings have walked the earth, social relationships were relatively egalitarian and non-hierarchical and the ‘earth was a commons, the property of all’, in which people ‘managed their existence in ways harmonious with nature and kept the earth’s metabolism in balance with their own’. It was only when hunter-gatherer societies came to be replaced by permanent settlements of farmers from round about 10,000 years ago that inequality and hierarchy began to set in, resulting in societies based on rulers and ruled, rich and poor, and above all divisions into classes. This led ultimately to the apotheosis of class society under capitalism, to a polarisation where one tiny minority class owns and controls the vast majority of the wealth and the vast majority of people have to work for that minority, selling their energies to them day-by-day in order to survive and often suffering significant tribulations and a pervasive sense of insecurity. His rhetoric in describing this polarisation is often powerful. For example: ‘Workers get a wage in return for converting their life force into a commodity owned by those who have bought it’; and ‘Only profit rules us and those with money will beat down those with none, without mercy or remorse’. And there is much visceral description of the conditions suffered by workers at the cruellest end of the market process, as, for instance, his reference to the more than 800 million farm workers in the world who ‘suffer short-life expectancies, pesticide poisoning, and state-sponsored violence whenever they attempt to organise, and whose working conditions are extraordinarily harsh, and their prospects for decent lives non-existent’.

It is work or, more precisely, employment in modern capitalist society which a large part of this book examines critically and informatively. Chapter titles such as ‘Labor Markets: The Neoclassical Dogma’, ‘Work is Hell’, and ‘The Injuries of Class’ give a flavour of the areas focused on and the author’s approach to them. The author explains how capital’s single-minded need to realise profits necessarily leads to the exertion of managerial control over work and, in the way it is implemented and enforced, often sets up competition between those who carry it out, making work in capitalism ‘a traumatic affair’ and leading to a profound sense of alienation. And he is overwhelmingly critical of this way of organising work – and society – and of the notion that this is the best or only possible way for human society to manage itself. He also points to the insidious role of education systems and their promotion of ideas like individualism and nationalism among people at an early age, causing them to internalise the idea that the existing organisation of society is inevitable. This, he says, makes it ‘easier for capital to control the labour process’ and less likely that workers will collectively challenge that control.

The alternative to all this is what Michael Yates focuses on in the later essays of his book, in particular the final chapter entitled ‘Waging Class Struggle: From Principles To Practice’. He has previously stated that ‘either explicit or implicit in the essays is the belief that both capital and the working class itself must be abolished if we are to achieve a society free of alienation, one marked with substantive equality in all spheres of life’. He has condemned those on the left who think that somehow a fairer and more just society can be established within capitalism, of those who ‘believe that markets are not inherently destructive to social well-being’ and think that something called ‘market socialism’ can ‘embrace markets but control them in the people’s interest’. He has also described the programme of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) led by Bernie Sanders as a ‘social democratic pipedream’. labelling it ‘pathetically utopian’ for the way it limits itself to organising campaigns, electioneering and trade union action in the vain hope that this will encourage ‘a deeper understanding of capitalism’ and lead to ‘full socialism’ via gradual and incremental reforms. What is needed, he commendably argues, is a clear understanding of the need for ‘a more radical perspective’, in which ‘the anarchy of the marketplace should be replaced by conscious planning of what is produced’.

Yet at this point his argument goes unfortunately awry, as, in apparent contradiction to his condemnation of the DSA’s politics, he sets about recommending, in somewhat breathless fashion, a whole slew of ‘radical’ reforms to be fought for and brought in under the existing system: eg, shorter working hours, free universal healthcare, bans on fracking, abolition of student debt, local low-price food production, vertical farming, reparations for slavery, unions and political parties funding ‘eco-socialist’ production, no government support for ‘oppressive regimes’ – to name but a few. And, to make things worse, there is also a significant positive reference to oppressive state capitalist regimes and organisations, past and present, whose policies bear no relation to the socialist objective the author claims to espouse. Here we are talking, for example, about China under Mao, Castro’s Cuba, the USSR under Lenin and Trotsky, the present regime in Vietnam and Maoist rebels in India.

These disjunctions seem difficult to explain. But part of it may stem from the author’s statement of the Leninist notion that workers must be led to socialism (‘new parties must be built (…) leading the working class’) rather than achieving it via democratic action based on majority working class consciousness and understanding. Despite these significant differences, however, there is a great deal we would share about the ultimate vision of the new society the writer articulates in his closing words:
‘What we are, as human beings, is a species than can thoughtfully produce what is needed for survival and enjoyment. There should be no workers, no wages, no bosses, no capitalists (…) – only cooperative and beneficial production, with substantive equality in all aspects of life. (…) We will take for granted that most profound maxim: From each according to ability, to each according to need. When this necessity is realised, only then will we be free.’
Howard Moss

The economic is impersonal (2023)

From the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Light is a monthly free newspaper aimed at winning people over to a particular point of view. It’s been going since 2020 and champions various conspiracy theories, in particular that the Covid pandemic and the climate crisis are hoaxes designed to get people to accept restrictions on their freedom imposed by a secretive, self-serving elite. It is also a place where various other eccentric theories, as against conventional medicine, 5G, ‘transgenderism’, MMR and other jabs, are aired as well as for ‘natural’ cures and currency reform. It doesn’t seem to be antisemitic, as has been alleged. According to Wikipedia it has 100,000 copies printed each month, and so will have some influence.

The front page article in March this year sets out its basic position. Headlined ‘Agenda of lies to control us. World is awash with disinformation’, it begins:
‘People often ascribe failures and disasters to incompetence, greed or corruption. And while these play a part, there is a plan in place to continue to degrade everybody’s standard of living to the point where we will be grateful for handouts — a universal basic income’.
The next page explains who it thinks is behind this plan:
‘It should now be clear that a cabal of corporations, bankers and non-governmental organisations, aided by progressive political leaders (the Davos set) is really running the world. They care not for the ordinary people, but for their own elevation to an elite-run technocracy. The contrived climate crisis is the means by which citizens are held in a tightening ratchet of supposedly ecological policies’.
Its language can be quite radical. Its aim, the editorial in June declared, is ‘to help raise awareness of the evil agenda to control the entire population, and all the world’s resources, by a tiny few.’ And from the same issue:
‘Wage/Debt Slavery. While we all need money if we want a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, spending our entire lives working for a government bureaucracy or corporate kleptocracy is as soul-destroying as it is a waste of a life. No-one was born to just drudge by and pay the bills. That’s why they give you cheap entertainment and let you get drunk and high — so you don’t explode with boredom and meaninglessness and start raging against the machine’.
And ‘The Owners do not have enough real power to control the 99% through overt force, which is why they must trick us with deception’ (March).

There is some truth in what they say. There is a privileged elite in whose interest governments act and the economy functions. And our standard of living has been under attack and has in fact been reduced over recent years. So their message could appeal to those who resent both of these. Those behind The Light are latching on to this discontent and resentment, offering an explanation and, less frequently, what they see as the way out.

But there is much more that is wrong in what they say. Indeed, the charge of ‘disinformation’ could be levelled at them. The threat from global over-warming may be exaggerated by some but it does exist. The Covid pandemic could not just have been left to run its course (it would have been irresponsible for any central administration, even a capitalist one, to let that happen). Their basic mistake is assuming that everything that happens in society and the economy has to be ‘planned’ by some group.

The capitalist economy is by its nature unplanned; its working gives rise to impersonal market forces that governments cannot control and which, on the contrary, exert pressure on them to give priority, over meeting people’s needs, to profit-making and capital accumulation by the minority class who own the means of production. Because governments do not have a free hand but have to act in line with the economic laws of capitalism, the impression can arise that the world is controlled by some ‘cabal’ that plans what happens and instructs governments what to do. But once it is understood that the economic laws of capitalism act as if they were a force of nature then the need to have recourse to a cabal with a plan disappears. There is no cabal. There is no plan. There is just the operation of capitalism’s impersonal economic laws.

Until the Covid pandemic and the lockdowns that were imposed those with such views were confined to theorising about the coming of a ‘new world order’ that was going to suppress the individual’s freedom to act as they chose. The lockdowns, and the demonstrations against them involving many thousands of people, gave them a chance to acquire an activist base. This still exists. The Light is distributed free by volunteers. Street stalls are held. Protests are organised to resist what they see as the cabal’s plan. Like the anarchists and Trotskyists their emphasis is on ‘resistance’; they even use the same slogans such as ‘the power of the people is stronger than the people in power’.

However, unless they are simply what someone once called ‘mindless militants’ who just ‘resist’ without having any idea of an alternative (which of course is entirely possible), presumably they want the ‘plan’ to be defeated and the ‘elite-run technocracy’ to be overthrown. So, what do they envisage should take its place, where we will all be ‘free’, our standard of living won’t be degraded and we won’t be a drudge ‘working for a government bureaucracy or corporate kleptocracy’? What will be its basis?

Here they fall back on the philosophical views of intellectuals who are in the American tradition of individualism, ‘libertarians’ as they are called over there. There is also an overlap with individualist anarchism. The April issue had an article advocating the ideas of Henry Thoreau, including not taking part in elections (contradicted by an appeal a couple of pages later for candidates to stand as independents in local elections). In the same issue there was an interview with a freelance illustrator, Lee Simpson, who echoed the anarchist Proudhon:
‘My suggestion is an old idea called mutualism, where people freely organise into worker co-operatives, using a money backed by labour (the only thing we have a monopoly on) and take part in a legitimate free market’.
But mutualist anarchists are not the only ones who laud the ‘free market’. So do out-and-out defenders of capitalism in the tradition of a reactionary like Hayek and his polemic The Road to Serfdom. An article in May against paper money was subtitled ‘Free exchange of goods and services is bedrock of freedom’ and ends
‘ … those who value liberty know that personal ownership and the unfettered exchange of goods, services and ideas remains the bedrock of those free nations that refuse to be enslaved.’
Like, presumably, the United States.

An article in the previous issue on ‘How to build a resilient economy’ answered ‘Keep using cash and resist digital currencies’, arguing that:
‘Cash provides the opportunity to build a robust, resilient, and inclusive economy. An economy in which high streets prosper and in which towns aren’t some identikit version of each other. An economy in which goods and services are mostly produced locally. And most critically: an economy which doesn’t collapse every time there is a minor contraction in the money supply. The use and re-use of cash is the key to realising this sound economic foundation’.
The article went on to give as one of the advantages of cash that ‘it tends to be spent locally’ and that ‘it is more frequently spent in small independent businesses than large multinational chains’.

Exactly the same argument that Greens use to advocate local currencies. In fact, the author evidently shares the Green Party’s ideal of going back to a smaller-scale capitalist economy with no Big Business and no Big Banks.

Against ‘communism’
There is a tension, even a contradiction, between the different supporters of the free market, between those who appear near to the anarchists and Greens and those who think that the US is a ‘free nation’. The former won’t normally be attracted either to views expressed by other contributors against ‘transgenderism’ and refugees. All that unites them is a belief that a ‘free market’ will make things better and opposition to state capitalism that they misidentify as ‘communism’ and ‘authoritarian socialism’.

But, properly understood, communism (or socialism, the same thing) is not state capitalism. It is the negation of capitalism in all forms, and means the end of the whole market economy, whether ‘free’ or regulated by the state. A return to the smaller-scale capitalism of yesteryear, even if it were possible, would not solve the problems faced by ‘wage slaves’; the whole process which has led to the corporate capitalism we know today would start all over again and we would eventually end up where we are now.

The only way to stop people being subjected to economic forces that dominate them is to end capitalism with its class ownership of resources and its production for sale with a view to profit. To replace it with a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, so allowing them to be used to directly turn out what people require to satisfy their needs. That, not an idealised free market, would put an end to the impersonal market forces that The Light mistakenly takes for the machinations of some imaginary cabal.
Adam Buick

Letter: Food rescue (2023)

Letter to the Editors from the October 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Food rescue

In a world gone mad where tons of good, fresh food is sent to rubbish tips instead of being given to hungry people, it is refreshing to find organisations who are dedicated to trying to put a stop to this unnecessary waste and channel food to where it is needed. We, as socialists, should be applauding their efforts. We already know that in a socialist society there would be no such thing as food poverty. There is enough of everything to go around. We live in a world of abundance. Of course food should be made available to everyone, free of charge, but how difficult is it to do this under the constraints of capitalism? It is very easy to say that we should not support charity organisations but many thousands of people would die of starvation while we are waiting for worldwide socialism.

One group of dedicated volunteers, including qualified chefs, have taken this idea a step further. In New Zealand we have a couple of restaurants, one in Wellington and one in Auckland, called ‘Everybody Eats’ where anyone can go along and have a free meal. I have been along to the Wellington one a couple of times to enjoy their excellent fare. This is no soup kitchen. The restaurant is warm and cosy with flowers on the tables and a delicious 3-course meal is served. How can they do this in a capitalist society? Money has to come into it somewhere, surely? They have to pay rent for the building and electricity bills for the kitchen. They also have to buy cleaning products and disinfectants, tin foil, etc to meet Health and Safety regulations. The qualified chef and the manager need to be paid enough to meet their own living expenses, but everyone else works as volunteers. The volunteers work part-time so they are at liberty to take on paid work elsewhere. They open 4 evenings a week and need to prepare up to 180 meals each evening. Diners can make a voluntary donation. This is called a ‘koha’ in New Zealand. Those who can’t afford to pay anything eat for free and still enjoy the same delicious meal.

I contacted the manager, Jack, to find out how it all works. He invited me along to a meeting with the G.M. who was down from Auckland and over a cuppa and piece of cake I was able to ask questions about how they operate. All the food is sourced from supermarkets or from a food rescue service called Kaibosh. The chef then plans the meal from what is available on the day. There is only one meal planned, so everyone gets the same thing. They do, however, cater for special dietary needs. Diners just tell the waiter or waitress if they require vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free food and it will be provided. People don’t need to be presented with a menu with 40 choices on it. We should all eat what is plentiful and seasonal. This, of course, cuts down on wastage and it also means that all the food is ready to be served as soon as the doors are open at 6pm. There is no alcohol and no bring-your-own. That’s the only rule. They don’t even waste time with tea and coffee. There are jugs of water and glasses on each table. Diners are in and out of there in about 20 minutes, which is just as well because there is always a queue waiting to be admitted. It is comforting to see so many people, rich and poor, sitting down together, all enjoying the same wonderful food. High-wage earners are happy to pay what they would normally pay in any other restaurant, whereas those who can’t pay eat free of charge.

Maybe this wonderful restaurant is giving us a glimpse of what all restaurants would be like in a wageless socialist society. Would we still need restaurants in a socialist world? Well yes, I think so. Even though food and everything else would be free of charge, it is still a real treat to go out and enjoy a meal that has been prepared by someone else. Of course, there would be no koha and no problems of having to pay rent or electricity bills etc. There is a similar organisation in England called the Long Table, and maybe other countries are offering the same for their low-wage earners and unemployed.

I left our friends at Everybody Eats with some Socialist Standards to read in the hopes that they will see how easy it would be to feed everyone once we have got rid of this evil capitalist regime which creates poverty and wastage in a world of abundance. Maybe they will join us in our struggle for a better world for all.
Moggie Grayson, 
Wellington, New Zealand