Saturday, October 21, 2023

Editorial: A choice worth the name (1978)

Editorial from the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Callaghan eventually calls a general election the vast majority of workers will accept that, in casting their votes between the Labour, Conservative, Liberal or other parties, they are exercising a choice. They will be encouraged in this belief by the propaganda of those parties, all of which will be directed at convincing people that there are vital, fundamental differences and that the choice the voters make between them will effect a significant change in our lives.

Nobody who has lived through, say, the last fifteen years with their sensory organs operating at anywhere near efficiency, could accept such an idea. To state the facts briefly, there has not been a scrap of difference worth bothering about between working class life under Labour and working class life under the Conservatives. And there is no reason to believe that Liberal rule, if that were ever to return to this country, would be otherwise.

It is, regrettably, too often the presented images of the parties of capitalism which engage the voters rather than the reality. The Conservatives offer themselves as the party of business, who will run British capitalism like a big industrial concern. They argue the case for the profit motive and for commodity production as the sanest, most efficient method of operating society. It is not necessary to be a socialist, nor to understand the economics of capitalism, to realise from experience that commodity production results in cut-price, shoddy goods, that it restricts production, hampers human efficiency and makes for starvation in the midst of plenty. It also produces a divided world—divided into competing firms, nations, power blocs and in a wider sense, into two classes whose interests are irreconcilable. Capitalism is a dangerous world to live in, with its wars and its ever-intensifying means of destruction. The Tories stand, with no ifs or buts, for that world.

Alongside them stands the Labour Party, which has always claimed to be the party of change. After some seventy years of planning to keep capitalism basically the same — and even sometimes adding some unpleasant extras — Labour can still demonstrate its ability to deceive voters into thinking that they represent change. Again, it does not need great powers of perception to be able to reject this notion. For almost half the time since 1945 British capitalism has been under Labour government and it remains the same unmanageable, insecure, crisis-ridden, divided society that it has always been. Labour calls itself an internationalist party yet it works — like the Tories — to promote the exclusive interests of the British capitalist class; on occasions it will actually admit to being patriotic. Labour has claimed to be reformist, the problem-solvers, yet experience of their periods of rule has been one of crises, a continual pressure upon working class living standards and, in their tawdry concern to grub up as many votes as they can, of racist immigration laws. After years of Labour rule, capitalism remains.

The Liberals, too, claim to be different but in truth the only difference they have is in the fact that their remoteness from power enables them to make more extravagant promises than the rest. Since 1970 the Liberals, by their readiness to enter alliances to keep either Labour or Conservative parties in office, have shown that they have no superiors in the arts of opportunist politics. Their pact with Labour has associated them with that party’s latest failure to make capitalism run smoothly — which can do the Liberals no good when it comes to a general election.

What it amounts to is that there is no relief from capitalism — its poverty, its divisiveness, its crises — in Labour or Tory or Liberal rule. Each of these is no more than a slight variation on the same basic theme. None of them offers a genuine choice and there is no reason for workers to concern themselves with preferring one before the other.

The real alternative to capitalism is a new society — one that will be basically different because it works from common ownership of the means of production and distribution and from the production of wealth for use instead of for sale. That society is called socialism. It will be a society in which there are no divided economic interests and therefore no classes. Because wealth will be freely available in socialism there will be no exchange of it — and therefore no means of exchange such as money.

The production of use values will entail society turning out its wealth to the one, unvarying grade of the best we are capable of. Socialism will be a world without artificial, economically inspired restrictions upon production. It will be a world of abundance, an efficient society in which human beings co-operate for the common good. And all of this will mean that socialism will be a democratic society, in which the world’s people are, for the first time, free.

This is the real choice for any worker who is sickened by the sordid, hopeless world of capitalism and the cynicism of its political parties. The act of achieving Socialism must be a political one, by a conscious working class all over the world. Only a socialist party — one standing for the revolution for common ownership—can be part of the act and in this country that means only the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Out of the blue (1978)

From the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

So after all the speculation about the fifth and the twelfth, Callaghan has decided that the Labour Party has a better chance of winning the General Election if it is held some time next spring rather than this month. In other words, he is tacitly acknowledging the failure of Labour’s attempts to make capitalism run in the interest of the majority and is desperately hoping for some improvement in working-class living conditions between now and the spring so that he can claim credit for it.

Of course he did argue that living standards had been raised recently (though we can surely be forgiven for failing to have noticed this). Some political commentators have claimed that this “temporary boom” was engineered in order for Labour to win an election — as if capitalist governments had ever been able to control even temporarily, the booms and slumps of the economic system. But Callaghan rejected any such suggestion, saying that “I am not proposing to seek your votes because there is some blue sky overhead today”. Any party who could ensure permanent blue skies would of course win every election hands down. But it can’t be done: governments really do have about as much chance of taming capitalism as they have of controlling the weather.

Callaghan went on to say: “I ask every one of you to carry on with the task of consolidating the present improvement in our country’s position. Let us see it through together.” We would hope that workers’ reaction to this empty rhetoric will not be to attempt to “see it through” but rather to “see through Jim”, and indeed to see through the utter uselessness of reformist politics. The difficulties which Callaghan admitted he could see ahead mean continued misery and continued poverty for the working class. This is inevitable as long as class society lasts, and it is why Socialism is needed NOW!

Blogger's Note:
For more background on this wee will-he-or-he-won't runaround, check out this Guardian article from 1978 about Sunny Jim, the TUC conference and the warbling of  '. . . waiting at the church.'

The liberation of Africa (1978)

From the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

It might as well be made clear at once. The title of this article is black humour. In the whole of this mighty continent (Europe would fit into a corner), from Cairo to the Cape, there is hardly a square mile of liberty—even of the capitalist brand such as exists in places like Britain where the proletariat is at least able to organise itself into trade unions and political parties (and where the SPGB can publish, and you can read, this journal).

For a hundred years and more, almost the entire continent was carved up among the powers of Europe, mainly England and France but also including Portugal, Belgium, Italy and pre-1914 Germany). The European imperialists had little difficulty in ousting the native rulers who were in many cases barely out of the Stone Age—but who, like all ruling classes, had treated the subject classes with horrifying oppression and exploitation. It would be anybody’s guess whether the mass of the African peoples were subjected to more vicious exploitation under the Europeans than they were under their own native rulers (some of whom, among other delights, were always ready to sell their subjects for transportation to slavery). However, there grew up in the African countries (just as in India and South America) a movement to liberate the Africans from the European capitalists—a movement which was eagerly supported by European leftists of the Fenner Brockway ilk (it may be news to some readers that this ancient ILPer, a colleague of such as Maxton whose names sound like history lessons, is alive and well in the Lords where he occasionally pontificates about Africa without the slightest sign of realising that he spent his life helping to con the Africans from a white-ruled hell to the black-ruled hell that they have to endure now). We in the SPGB always did our best to point out that nationalism, whether in Ireland or India or Africa, was simply a trap for the working class and that those who laid down their lives for this cause were merely substituting a native ruling class for a foreign one. With the kind of "benefits” that are made so horrifyingly clear every time you open a paper or switch on the news.

It may be worthwhile to have a very brief look at a few of the dozens of countries where nationalism has won the day. In the north there is Egypt where the lot of the mass of the people is at least as degraded as it was in British days and where, only a year ago, President Sadat rewarded the poor devils who crossed the Suez Canal in the teeth of Israeli guns in the Yom Kippur War by decreeing a massive increase in the prices of the poor basic foods that they subsisted on—with no comparable increase in wages. As these workers were already only just about subsisting, there were riots in Cairo and Alexandria which were put down with at least as much brutality as was used by the British. And the "ring-leaders” (the name the ruling class always gives to workers who have the cheek to kick against the pricks) are still rotting in gaol—as though rotting in the normal poverty of Cairo’s slums is not bad enough. That should teach the Egyptian workers to fight their masters’ wars against Israel. (Sadly, there is no reason to think it will. Any more than in the case of British workers.)

Sadat recently had the impudence to hold a referendum where the voters were given the chance to say they thought there was too much political freedom! And, according to Sadat, said it. There is of course no freedom whatsoever in the land of Egyptian “Socialism”. (Almost all these countries now have the nerve to call themselves socialist.) Except the freedom of a small ruling class to get inordinately rich while the people who produce the wealth live in abject poverty.

Similar conditions obtain in the other countries of the north of the continent, in the former French colonies, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Senegal, all of which have divested themselves of European rulers since the war. In all of them the position of the working-class is one of wage slavery compounded by the opposition of the native rulers to the formation of trade unions or independent political parties. One day, the workers will no doubt succeed in getting them. But meanwhile, their fate is deplorable. And as we move south of the Sahara, conditions are even more appalling. The very names of places like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the “Central African Empire” (ruled by a murderous megalomaniac called Bokassa, formerly a soldier in the French army, another General Amin) are enough to give nightmares to anyone with the slightest knowledge of the excesses that are perpetrated there. Then we have Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo. One might have thought that the atrocities committed by King Leopold in pre-1914 days—his speciality was to cut off the hands of natives who impeded his quest for profits—would be unequalled. But the former Belgian soldier, Mobutu, who now rules in Kinshasa (formerly Leopoldville) can compare with the worst of them. And to some purpose. The fortune that he has spirited out of the country (against the day when he may have to get out in a hurry) is reputed to make him one of the richest men in the world. And this brings us to Angola with whose president, Netto, Mobutu has apparently come to terms recently after the wars and massacres that have taken place in the copper-rich province of Zaire, twice invaded recently by rebel forces stationed in Angola. Angola, like all the worst hell-holes, is now a "Marxist” state if you please. Marx repudiated Marxists in his time, but he could never have dreamt that his name would be purloined by the kind of regimes that exist in Angola and Ethiopia where mass murder and constant terror—against their own subjects, as well as against neighbouring black countries—are worthy of Genghiz Khan.

In Nigeria, the largest and potentially the richest country in the continent, once again there is not a vestige of freedom and the lot of the workers can be gauged by an item which was mentioned in the Socialist Standard some years ago but is worth repeating in the present context. The government of this rich country, which had recently finished off a war attempted secession by Biafra (and finished off around a million people by guns and starvation) had the effrontery to put an advert in that well-known liberal paper, the Guardian, calling on British capitalists to invest in factories in Nigeria where the main advantage was “the cheapest wages in Africa”—seven cents an hour. Just enough to keep a monkey in peanuts. So much for black workers in independent Africa. The black capitalists make royalty look like beggars. At the very time when Biafran workers were literally starving to death (and when all fighting had ended) the Nigerian chief, General Gowon, got married. The papers were full of the stories about planes coming in from France carrying tons of the most delectable foods—and French chefs to deal with them for the delectation of the ruling class wedding guests. Yet only a few days before this article was written, there was an article by the editor-in-chief of the Observer, Conor Cruise O’Brien, saying what a nice chap Gowon is and how graciously he accepted the coup that kicked him out—so that he could live in Hampstead on the millions he had salted away!

We can only just glance in passing at such details as the war between “Marxist” Somalia (formerly backed by “Marxist” Russia but now armed by America) and “Marxist” Ethiopia (formerly backed by America and now backed by “Marxist” Russia). Suffice it to say that thousands of poor people fight and die in places like the Danakil desert where, in temperatures that go up to 150F in the shade, life is just about on the margin even in peace time. And Kenya. Here, we have just ben regaled with the story of the funeral of M’zee, the Grand Old Man and Father of the People, Jomo Kenyatta. Some of us knew Kenyatta in the ’40s when he was in Manchester; our word for him was “four-flusher”. He played the leading rôle in getting rid of the British in Kenya so that now there is, as always, a small, exceedingly rich, black capitalist class and a mass of liberated black workers who are suffering at least as much poverty, unemployment etc. as they ever did. And let anyone who criticises the leadership beware. Even an MP who had the nerve to open his mouth in Parliament was kidnapped by Kenyatta’s guards and his body found dumped in a ravine. The Commission of Enquiry is still sitting!

Still, these poor Third World countries do get aid from places like Sweden; a herd of magnificent Swedish cattle, each beast being worth a hundred men in hard cash, was donated to improve the Kenyan stock. No doubt it improved the stock on the farm belonging to Kenyatta’s sister where the entire herd ended up. Then, a year or two later, a proud announcement was made by Tiny Rowland the chairman of Lonhro, the British firm trading mainly in Africa (the actual “unacceptable face of capitalism”—Heath): "We have appointed the first black man onto our Board”. Great news for the downtrodden proletariat. Especially when the new director was the son of the same Kenyatta’s same sister. How many African workers, conned by leftists of all colours, were made to suffer privation and even death in rebellions like the Mau Mau so that a few blacks should own the country instead of a few whites? And who will win the election to succeed Kenyatta? Nobody. No election, see.

All of which leaves us but little space to deal with the appalling state of affairs in Rhodesia which is now filling the papers (not to mention the cemeteries). The white capitalists have undoubtedly treated the black people in unspeakable fashion ever since the days of the unspeakable Rhodes. And now there are massacres of blacks and whites so as to sort out which black leaders will come out on top in the struggle for power when the whites are dethroned. Which will get the black Mercedes and which the hearses. There is no more principle involved than in the struggle between A1 Capone and Jack Diamond —or Stalin and Trotsky. At the time of writing, the favourite for the role of Stalin is a gang-leader called Mugabe, backed by Nyerere of Tanzania (another black “socialist” dictator who has an enormous number of political prisoners rotting away in his gaols). Mugabe has been most honest for a politician. He has made it perfectly clear that there will be no freedom to oppose him once he gets power. One man one vote —for Mugabe, or else. He has also made it clear that there is a grisly fate awaiting those who are now opposing him—which means huge numbers of ordinary blacks as well as leaders (and ordinary whites). And when there was a debate in the Commons about a dreadful massacre of missionaries and their families, a loud-mouthed leftie, a former actor called Faulds, blamed the massacre on those who failed to give “one man one vote”. Knowing full well Mugabe and Co have declined to take part in elections. Saying in effect: We have got the guns. We are going to take power on our terms and to hell with democracy. And if a lot of “our" blacks are going to get killed in the process, who cares?

And while on that note it is apposite to mention the role of our former “socialist” Premier, Sir Harold Wilson. When sanctions were first proclaimed against the Smith regime many years ago, he boasted they would bring down the white regime “in weeks, not months". And the British navy have mounted a blockade outside Beira ever since. And now even a paper like the Observer (Sep 3) calls Wilson a hypocrite because he was at that very time conniving in supplies of oil—the heart of the matter—being pumped into Rhodesia by British government-owned BP in order to defeat those very sanctions. Still, as the paper says, some hypocrisy is essential in government; it is merely a matter of how much! Wilson went too far! And the dreadful thing is that the majority of workers, of all colours, just swallow the hypocrisy of capitalism as though no other system is possible.
L. E. Weidberg

Cambodia: the Abolition of Money (1978)

From the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have been asked to comment on the situation in Cambodia. “Here is a country three years without money”, writes one correspondent. “This is proof that the moneyless system works”.
On 17 April 1975 the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh was captured by the Khmers Rouges (Red Cambodians). The new state of Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia) was established, with Norodom Sihanouk, who had been ruler from 1941 until the 1970 coup, as Head of State. The victory was followed by an immediate evacuation of Phnom Penh and other large cities, their entire populations being deported to the countryside to build their own dwellings and grow their own rice. The country is now controlled by the Angkar (Organisation, a euphemism for the Cambodian Communist Party), and has to a remarkable extent shut itself off from the rest of the world.

For this reason, information about what is going on in Cambodia is rather hard to come by, the main sources being official government statements and refugee accounts, neither of which can be regarded as fully reliable. Refugees often blacken the state they have left in order to justify their leaving, and say what they think their interviewers would like them to. But even when due allowance is made for this, there are independent accounts which give the impression of a slave-like system based on unremitting work, little food and arbitrary killings at the whim of the Angkar, making it impossible not to give some credence to them.

The refugees ‘stories could scarcely be more different from the government’s depiction of Cambodia as a society without money, classes, or exploitation. Here is the picture drawn by Sihanouk (interview in Far Eastern Economic Review 14.11.75):
“I am very proud that Cambodians are the first to create a classless society. The Khmer Rouge have introduced into Phnom Penh the same sort of regime they had in the countryside. Everything has been levelled. There are no longer rich or poor, exploiters and exploited; no longer any differentiation because of class or fortune. There is one single class—the Administration feeds and clothes everyone according to their needs. At present there is no money and no markets. Everyone works, repairing and running electric power and water supply, making bicycles and textiles; refining sugar; or transforming destroyed tanks into agricultural and kitchen implements. Within their working organisations, there are FUNK (United Front of Cambodia) committees at every level which draw the necessary supplies from the Minister of Trade. Equal distribution on a family per-head basis is made through the FUNK committee. If clothing is needed, Government stores are there to provide it.”
There is, however, plenty of evidence that “moneyless, classless Cambodia” is nothing but a myth.

For one thing, Sihanouk himself is one of the privileged. When he “retired” from his post as Head of State in April 1976, the government voted to pay him an annual pension of eight thousand American dollars — an odd gesture in a society without money. Many refugees have reported that the Angkar and their soldiers are better fed and clothed and receive better medical attention than the ordinary population. As far as decision-making is concerned, the population at large is totally excluded, political power being firmly in the hands of the Angkar.

The distribution of food rations (mostly rice) may well be conducted without the intervention of money, but some exchange of goods still takes place. A Phnom Penh radio report stated that silk products not “needed” by local people are traded for goods from other co-operatives (Summary of World Broadcasts, Far East, Weekly Economic Report 7.4.76). Cambodia’s need to import raw materials, medicines, and the like has necessitated the setting-up of a trading company in Hong Kong. A large foreign-trade deficit has been financed by China, but certain Cambodian products are exported, including rubber to China and North Korea. At a time when the daily rice ration was a mere 250 grams per person, Deputy Prime Minister Ieng Sary stated that rice was being exported to earn foreign exchange (FEER 29.10.76. and 10.12.76). Most people live on little more than rice, yet according to Phnom Penh radio:
“We are boosting the production of our fresh and salt water fish for export. This will bring the money we need to buy various engines and motors for our factories and build the economy of cur new Cambodia” (SWB 25.6.75).
In their drive to industrialisation, Cambodia’s rulers are well aware that they cannot do entirely without money.

Rivalry with other newly-established regimes in Southeast Asia has led in recent months to a border conflict with Vietnam. The Vietnamese press has published accounts of Cambodian-committed atrocities which in their horror equal any of those recounted by refugees to Western journalists. One Hanoi paper described the new Cambodian villages as “forced labour brigades of the age of slavery” (Guardian 20.7.78).

Evil cities
While Cambodia is certainly not a moneyless society, dislike of money and other trappings of “civilization” in pre-revolutionary Phnom Penh seems to have been widespread among the Khmers Rouges. During the forced march from Phnom Penh, soldiers were reported to have searched evacuees for their money and then thrown notes in the air, saying that the Angkar had put an end to money (Francois Ponchaud: Cambodia Year Zero). At a commercial bank in the capital, notes were burned or just dumped by the victorious troops (John Barron and Anthony Paul: Peace with Horror). On the day of the Angkar takeover, one of their commissars told some foreign priests:
“Cities are evil. There are money and trade in cities, and both have a corrupting influence. People are good, but cities are evil. That is why we shall do away with cities”  (quoted in Peace with Horror).
Slogans used by the Khmers Rouges in “education” classes included: “We are building the only true communism . . . Our communism will be better than in Russia or China where there are still classes” (ibid).

Some of these views are probably best interpreted as a reaction to the corruption and inequality of the American-backed Republican regime which ruled Cambodia from 1970 to 1975. Many of the Khmers Rouges leaders are Paris-educated intellectuals who on the one hand look back to the pre-monetary agricultural economy of traditional Cambodia and on the other look forward to the country’s modernisation and “independence”. The radicalness of their policies has led to an almost unimaginable degree of suffering, with some estimates of the deaths since April 1975 exceeding one million, out of a population of about seven million. It should perhaps be said that many of these would have died of starvation in any case (the inhabitants of Phnom Penh were previously only fed by massive American airlifts of rice). But, as was shown above, food desperately needed by the Cambodian people is being exported for the sake of foreign exchange. As production in Cambodia increases, money will be reintroduced, together with wages and prices (Ieng Sary has accepted that a monetary system might be set up later, see FEER 23.3.76.). When that happens Cambodia will be more fully integrated into the world capitalist system.

In reply to our correspondent’s remark, we can point out that there have been many human societies which have functioned without money and even without exchange relations at all, so that the fact that people can live together without the intervention of money is incontestable. But Cambodia provides evidence of no such thing.
Paul Bennett

From America: Business week and the “Marxist assault” (1978)

From the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Business Week, Avenue of The Americas, New York City, should urge its writers to do their homework. In its issue of July 17, 1978, the Economics department does a review (or comment) on a new attack on Marxian economics, co-authored by four British self-styled Marxists (Barry Hindess, Paul Hirst, Athar Hussain, Anthony Cutler) entitled Marx's ‘Capital’ and Capitalism Today. The magazine’s caption reads: “A Marxist Assault on Marx” and the writer wastes no time in displaying his own ignorance of the barest essentials of the Marxian system.
Item: . . . the labour theory of value . . . holds that products are worth as much as the amount of labour that goes into producing them.
Stated thus the proposition is easy to refute. Why would a “product” (commodity) with more labour incorporated in it because of inferior production technique have more value in the market than a similar commodity produced with modern efficiency? It would not and Marx knew this. That is why he insisted upon using the phrase “socially necessary labour time” and explained it with thoroughness as the average labour time needed to produce an article under normal conditions of production and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. Commodities are not produced for some intrinsic pleasure in production but to sell and realise profit for their owners. Competition in the market place dictates that labour time in the factories be socially necessary.

But this is by no means the worst of the Business Week article. The writer, by an exercise of common horse sense, could nave attacked the credibility of the “Marxist” professors by exposing their naïveté. It does not necessarily follow that one must be pro-Marx to expose faults in anti-Marxist critiques.
Item: ‘There is no such thing as a general theory of prices or production,’ says Hirst of the University of London. ‘The way in which firms make calculations depends on each particular situation,’ he adds.
But of course individual firms must be concerned with one particular problem: achieving profitable increase in capital expended. A knowledge and understanding of general theories of the source of such increase is unnecessary to achieving one’s goal although factory managements succeed best that learn how best to milk their work force. Somehow, even without book knowledge, they realise that the source of their profits is not the prices of their commodities in the market place but the value over and above wages paid, created gratis by the workers.

Except that this seems to be what bothers the professors most about Marxian economics. Capitalism, they contend—according to Business Week—is not one enormous factory. Marxists, they say, neglect such areas of activity as the huge service sector and the vital banking system:
Item: But the most glaring error in Marxist economics, they say, has been to ignore the role that money, credit, and financial institutions play in the economy . .

For example, they point to the variety of financial activity in which companies engage, such as foreign exchange speculation, in addition to production. And they further argue that the expanded role of government monetary authorities and their influence on the banking system, as well as the availability of credit, play a key role in how much profits companies earn. Indeed, government now has the clout to bail out companies that would otherwise go out of business were competition to prevail.
Indeed! The most glaring error of the professors— and of such experts as are found in the Economics department of Business Week—is the ignoring of the role that class has always played in capitalism. The total national capitalist, from away back, and the total international capitalist, in this country, have functioned as the final arbiters in the affairs of individual companies and industries through their states and their international financial and political institutions.

But what has all that to do with the source of profits? Long before the times of Marx, certain economists (Benjamin Franklin among them), observed that what took place in the market was an exchange of equal values. Whence, then, came the profit? Having the clout to determine whether or not a business will survive is not the same thing as producing profit. Such is obviously not the function of banks and governments.

And then the confusion of Business Week and the British “Marxists” becomes confounded because, accepting the myth of socialist nations (Russia, China, Poland, Cuba, etc.) they blame the “marked slowdown in economic growth” of some, such as Russia and Poland, on a blind adherence to Marxist economics.
Item: ". . . By adhering to a narrow interpretation of Marx’s theories, these nations have pursued one-dimensional development programmes, pumping up production in such industries as steel and heavy machinery, while neglecting to improve agricultural yields, expand the production of consumer goods, or provide better cultural and recreational services. According to some Marxists, these countries have sacrificed the socialist ideal for the sake of rapid industrial growth.”
Now why should anybody believe that Marx’s Capital offers a programme or an understanding of how production can be organised within the relationships of wage labour and capital in a manner as to benefit all, or anything more than a minority, of the population? Certainly there were no nations professing to be Marxist or socialist in Marx’s time, no national propaganda machines teaching that wage-labour and capital relationships can be socialist as well as capitalist. He did not have that idiocy to contend with and there is nothing in Capital to indicate that he foresaw such a turn of events.

Yet the woods and streets are filled with true believers of that myth, from plain men and women on the street to economics professors and business magazine writers. The answer to the question of why these “socialist” economies fail to equal those of the more traditional capitalism is not nearly so important as why or how state capitalism gets tied to the analysis in Capital and touted as socialism.

The emphasis of most “socialist” nations on production of capital goods and heavy industry (China and Cuba are cited as exceptions where the “socialist ideal,” presumably, has not been “sacrificed for the sake of rapid industrial growth”—despite the overt attempts of both nations to overcome backwardness) indicates only that they are by very nature capitalist. What is the number one object of capitalist production? As Marx so well put it:
Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets! . . . Therefore, save, save, i.e. reconvert the greatest possible portion of surplus-value, of surplus-product into capital! Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake: by this formula classical economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie, and did not for a single instant deceive itself over the birth-throes of wealth. But what avails lamentation in the face of historical necessity? (Capital, Vol. 1, p. 652 Kerr Ed.)
Whether by traditional bourgeoisie or state bureaucracy functioning as bourgeoisie the primary object still holds.

And yet, out of this concentration on production for the sake of more production eventually must come a mass realisation that the floodgates of abundance for all—the socialist ideal—can be opened simply by abolishing the relationships of wage labour and capital and introducing a world wide system of production for use. That is the message of Capital and Marxism generally.
Harry Morrison
(WSP-US Boston)

The Soviet opposition (1978)

From the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the most part the Party maximum was an operative rule until the end of the twenties and early thirties. Then it began to be undermined, primarily by the decline in the real wages of most workers. The limited increase in money wages did not cover the rapid rise in prices; a considerable number of workers found their small circle of high officials was protected by the creation of a system of special stores, distributing centres, and dining rooms, where goods could be obtained at fixed prices. Gradually they acquired other privileges too: their own hospitals, free rest homes, dachas, and so on. In the same period a peculiar habit began to appear: the Party activ were given expensive gifts for holidays, congresses, and conferences. On February 8, 1932, the Party maximum was formally abolished, bringing a new increase in the real income of leading officials.

When the economic situation improved, permitting the abolition of rationing in 1935 and a steady increase in real wages, the privileges of high officials were not terminated. On the contrary, they were increased. A system of representatives’ subsidies (predestavitel 'skie dotatsii) was established for all officials at the level of the chairman of a city Soviet or higher. Moreover, the direct salaries of higher officials rose much faster than wages of ordinary workers. Many officials increased their salaries even more through a system of pluralism (sovmestitel ’stro); that is, one man held several offices, receiving full pay for each. Thus the l-to-5 ratio between an average worker’s salary and that of the highest official, which Lenin evidently considered optimal, was violated even before the war.

Subsequently the ratio grew still greater. During the war and the first post-war years, when the real wages of ordinary workers were falling once again, the salaries of the highest officials continued to rise. That was the period when the disgraceful system of “packets” (pakety) was introduced in the higher State and Party institutions. Each month almost every high official would receive an envelope or packet containing a large sum, often much higher than the salary formally designated for his post. These payments passed through special financial channels, were not subject to taxes, and were kept secret from the rank-and-file officials of the institution.

Russian dissident Roy Medvedev on the growth of the Russian rulers’ privileges, in Let History Judge, Knopf, N.Y. 1972, pp 539-40.

The myth of trade union power (1978)

From the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the current hobby-horses of the Tories which they hope will help them win the coming general election is to attack the trade unions as too powerful. The power of the unions has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished, is how their argument might be summarised. The Labour Party, not to be outdone before that section of the electorate which is anti-union, counters by claiming that, because of its links and traditions, it is better able to control the unions than are the Tories.

In actual fact, however, it is a complete myth that the unions have any great power. The only power they have is that of ensuring that their members are paid on average the value of their labour power (not the same of course as the value of what they produce), and not less as would tend to happen if wages were fixed unilaterally by employers as was the general rule in the 19th century when most industries were not unionised. The unions do this by exerting pressure for higher wages when the labour-market is favourable and by putting a brake on wage reductions when it is not, as today when unemployment is fairly widespread. Trade unions are essentially only defensive with a limited power to resist the inevitable downward pressures—"the never-ceasing encroachments of Capital” as Marx called them—exerted on their members’ living standards by the workings of the capitalist system.

The fact that unions only have the power to defend wages against downward pressures has been obscured by the rise in the general price level caused by the inflation of the currency which has gone on continuously since the beginning of the last war. The over-issuing of inconvertible paper money inevitably means a rise in the general price level, that all prices rise, including wages, the price of labour power.

Thus, in a period of inflation, unions appear to be negotiating wage increases rather than simply maintaining and defending established standards. They are in fact negotiating increases in money-wages, but this is not the same as negotiating an increase in real wages (= wages in relation to the prices of what workers buy). In a period of inflation a rise in money-wages is necessary in order to defend real living standards. In a sense such rises are inevitable since, with an inflated paper currency, all prices, including wages, must sooner or later rise—and one of the limited powers the unions do possess is precisely to see that in these circumstances wages rise sooner rather than later.

Downward pressures are exerted on wages whether or not there is inflation and would continue even if inflation were to stop tomorrow. But inflation provides employers and governments (who are obliged, whatever their political colour, to abide by and apply the economic laws of capitalism) with a wonderful means of disguising the "never-ceasing encroachments of Capital” on wages: they can present the workers’ resistance to these pressures, their demands for higher money-wages, as the cause of inflation. So instead of appearing as the victims of inflation the workers and their unions are made out to be responsible for it!

The politicians, in the Tory and Labour parties, who act on behalf of the capitalist class, have an interest in perpetuating this confusion as it helps to weaken working class resistance to downward pressures on their living standards. Occasionally however a maverick politician steps out of line and blurts out the truth, as did Enoch Powell in a speech in Eastbourne on 2 June when he stated :
In the last thirty years governments in Britain—and not only in Britain—have deliberately caused the depreciation of the currency by increasing its quantity to meet their own expenditures. Simultaneously they have attempted, first by persuasion, then by compulsion, and finally by persuasion again, to prevent the inevitable consequences of inflation following in terms of rising money wages. When this proved impossible, they invited the public to deduce that the unions were more powerful than the State. More subtly, the present government, having partially desisted from financing its expenditure by the creation of new money, has attributed this result to their own special ability to manage and persuade the all-powerful trade unions.
We hold no brief for Powell—quite apart from his general support for capitalism, his racialist views are naturally anathema to Socialists — but on this issue he does have a more or less correct understanding: the unions have no geat power; they can’t do much beyond raising money-wages in line with rising prices generally. As Powell declared some years ago, the workers are the victims, not the cause, of inflation:
Wage claims, wage awards, strikes do not cause rising prices, inflation, for one simple but sufficient reason —they cannot. There was never a strike yet which caused inflation, and there never will be. The most powerful unions, or group of unions, which was ever invented is powerless to cause prices generally to rise . . . In the matter of inflation, the unions and their members are sinned against, not sinning, in the matter of inflation, the unions and their members are as innocent as lambs, pure white as the driven snow (speech in Scotland, 20 November, 1970, quoted in Socialist Standard, February 1971).
Capitalism is a profit-making system which can only run in one way: in the interest of those who live off profits, and there is nothing the working class can do, and it’s not much at that (though it must be can do, and its not much at that (though it must be done), is to unite in unions to exert pressure to ensure that they do actually get paid the value of the labour power they have to sell. But even to do this they have to keep running all the time as the “encroachments of Capital” are “never-ceasing”.

As Marx went on to say: “Instead of the conservative motto ‘a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword ’ABOLITION OF THE WAGES SYSTEM!’ ”. But this requires that they organise politically with this as their conscious aim. It requires over and above trade union activity political action based on majority socialist understanding to convert the means of production into the common property of the whole community under democratic control.
Adam Buick

Is Socialism freedom? (1978)

From the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The question of whether or not Socialism would mean the destruction of individual freedom of action and choice is usually asked by opponents who believe that Socialism is something to do with nationalisation or that it exists in countries such as Russia, China and Cuba. We deny that Socialism exists, or ever has existed, in any part of the world and we state that nationalisation and state control of industry are nothing more than a way of running capitalism—the social system which dominates the entire world. Further, we declare that far from being the negation of freedom, Socialism will in fact be a new age of the fullest possible freedom in which the free development of each will be the condition for the free development of all.

By Socialism, we mean world-wide common ownership of the earth and all that is in it and on it (including farms, factories, and transport). The implication of this is that Socialism must be completely democratic—how else will the people control what they own? The fact that Russia, China, Cuba and so on are not democratic (and even in its most restricted form democracy means, at least, free elections, press, speech and association) underlines the fact that those countries are not Socialist.

In Socialism, assembly halls, theatres, cinemas, printing presses and all other media will be commonly owned and thus everyone will be free to use them as they require and, unlike today, use of them will not be restricted by proprietors (private or state) who demand profitability and often orthodoxy, before allowing anyone access to these means of communication which are vital to effective democracy. Instead of the narrow expression of views that normally occurs under capitalism, resulting from its minority ownership and production for profit basis, in Socialism, there will be the fullest expression of views without any censorship, copyright or restricted access to information whatsoever. The freedoms of association, assembly, and expression together with all the other aspects of individual liberty will exist in Socialism not because there will be any paper constitution which guarantees them, but rather because the organisation of Socialism will make their prevention impossible.

How will the organisation of Socialism ensure freedom of action and choice? The answer to this can best be illustrated by comparing Socialism with the society it will replace—capitalism. Capitalism is based upon wage-slavery—that is, because the vast majority of the population do not own the means of production and distribution they must sell their only commodity, their ability to work (labour-power) to an employer in return for a wage or salary. The working class are paid wages which are of less value than the product of their labour, the remaining (surplus) value being realised as rent, interest, and profit, the property incomes of the ruling class; thus the working class are exploited. Because they do not receive the full value of the product of their labour the working class have unsatisfied needs—they are restricted in their freedom of choice to what they can afford on their inadequate wages. In Socialism, there will be no wage-slavery, no employment and therefore no unemployment. Each will give voluntarily according to their abilities and each will take what they need — food, clothing, housing, travel, health-care — freely. Under wage-slavery, you are not free to do as you wish with your time nor free to go where you want, because you are contracted to an employer for a large chunk of the week and frequently your job becomes monotonous and meaningless. In Socialism, you will not be tied down to a particular job but rather, you will be free to do a wide variety of work which you will choose and control yourself.

Further, under capitalism, the choice and variety of goods and services is limited to what can be sold profitably on the market. Millions die for want of food, not because agriculture hasn’t the capacity to produce the food, but because the starving haven’t the money to make such production profitable. In the
moneyless society of Socialism, because we shall all own and control social production, all the necessaries of life will be produced in abundance (which is technologically possible now). We shall produce the greatest variety of clothes, housing, entertainment. We shall all democratically control, and decide policies for, housing, education and transport services—which at present are controlled by ‘experts’ and politicians.

Because Socialism will mean world-wide common ownership, there will be no state. The state—police, military, prisons, and judiciary—exists to protect the rights of private property owners. Where private property doesn’t exist neither will the state. Thus all those whom the law discriminates against—in the main, the working class—will be liberated by the abolition of private property and thus of its state. Those who argue that all that needs to be done to ensure freedom is to liberalise the authoritarian nature of the state by having a ‘Bill of Rights’ or a written constitution, ignore the fact that the state, far from being impartial and above the struggles in society, is in fact in the thick of them. The USA which has had a Bill of Rights for 200 years, has in recent decades witnessed vast Civil Rights Movements by people (Blacks, Women, Gays) claiming to be discriminated against by the state. As long as the state is in the hands of a minority, the majority remaining non-socialists, then the state can only be used to repress the working class, the vast majority.

The only way to ensure the fullest possible freedom for all humanity without distinction of race, sex or sexuality is to set up a social system based upon common ownership and, therefore, democracy. It is only common ownership which guarantees free access to the means of communication, to information and to all wealth. It is only socialism which, being free of any state machine, can ensure true democracy and freedom. Socialism is the only effective liberation.
Brian Philips

No royal road (1978)

Book Review from the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Social Change and Scientific Organization — The Royal Institution 1799-1844 Morris Berman. Heinemann.

The SPGB has always held the view that science is not an independent or self developing force which can be blamed for the problems that arise in society. On the contrary, science develops the way it does because it serves some particular interest, in modern society that interest is the profit of the capitalist class.

The above book is a study of the motives behind the establishment of the Royal Institution and its development as an organisation for serving capitalism. Despite the author’s misunderstanding of the nature of socialism and capitalism, notably the belief that the former has been established in some countries, he illustrates well the motives for the development of science, in the early nineteenth century. Whereas for most of the eighteenth century scientific institutions, like the Royal Society, were mainly concerned with amateur speculative pursuits, leaving practical techniques to individual innovators, by the end of the century some 'improving landlords’ sought to exploit the expanding market for agricultural produce through enclosures and the introduction of new methods.

But the problem for them was that this only led to an increase in the propertyless, who were forced to resort to the Poor Rate for subsistence. This Poor Rate was paid by the local landlords. Various ideas were dreamed up to try and eliminate this problem of the poor, which was a restriction on the landlords. But the Royal Institution was formed as part of an attempt to overcome the problem through the organised use of science. Scientific principles were to be used to prepare more economic food recipes for the poor, suggest how to build cheaper cottages, establish workhouses and soup kitchens, and also to educate the lower class to live more cheaply.

The development of this Benthamite use of science was frustrated by the differing interests of various capitalists and landlords. The industrial capitalists feared that the widespread use of their techniques and inventions would undermine the profitability of their products, and thus opposed the Royal Institution. Few joined it in its early years. The landlords wanted to use science to increase the yield of their lands, rather than to assist the poor, and with the fears of popular unrest growing the idea of a scientific education for the propertyless was soon dropped.

The outcome of this was that in its early years the science of the Royal Institution was directed to the interests of the landlords, and it was seen and described as a “society of husbandry”.

But it was also concerned with the study of minerals for mining, the tanning of hides, and other concerns which could benefit the landlords. Scientists of the Royal Institution, such as Humphrey Davy, inventor of the miner’s lamp, who was originally an amateur scientist in the eighteenth century tradition, soon found their scientific investigations being directed along paths consistent with particular class interests. However, the dominance of landlords in the Royal Institution did not last, as the changing social structure thrown up by the industrial revolution led to conflicts with other groups. The group of capitalists, merchants, and nabobs who wanted to exploit the resources and workers in the Eastern Colonies came into conflict with the landlords in the Royal Institution over whether the substance catechu should be developed for use in tanning leather (the landlords’ interest) or for adulterating tea so that it could be sold cheaply to the working class (the Colonial interest). In 1805 the Colonial group of capitalists broke away to form their own scientific organisation, the London Institution, with the aim of developing the type of science which served their particular interest.

By the 1840s control of the Royal Institution had slipped from the landlords’ grasp. After some administrative reforms the organisation became increasingly involved with serving the wider interests of capitalism. One way this was done was by supplying the ruling class with ‘scientific experts' to act for the government in their enquiries into some of the disasters created by capitalism. Such a disaster happened at Haswell Colliery in 1844 when a gas explosion killed 95 men and boys. It was Faraday, the founder of the science of electro-magnetism who conducted the scientific investigation. His report was used to give respectability to the coroner’s verdict of ‘no fault’ (accident) because it was supposedly based upon a scientific study, even though the scientific knowledge of mining at that time was negligible. The cause was put down to gas building up and the ignorance of the miners. The report contained an elaborate scheme for getting rid of the gas (which even the owners recognised as useless) and also called for scientific education of the miners. The reality of the situation was somewhat different. On the one hand, the introduction of Davy’s lamp did not make mining safer because it made the working of deeper and more dangerous seams profitable for the mine owners. On the other, the mine owners had the practice of working ‘rich’ seams and leaving the less profitable ones to waste. This often led to the sporadic release of gas from the abandoned seams into the worked mine, increasing the chances of an explosion.

The Royal Institution assisted in putting science at the service of capitalism both by helping to find ways of increasing the surplus value for the ruling class, and also in becoming a part of the ruling class ideology which sanctions the profit motive. The situation today is not fundamentally different.