Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Socialist Party of Great Britain - Camden and North West London Branches SPGB Lectures - The Socialist Case Against Capitalism.

The Practicality of Socialism

Despite the arrival of the World Wide Web, the Socialist case put forward by the Socialist Party of Great Britain is not widely known. Most of the internet is taken up with non-political trivia or related to commercial communication in the day to day functioning of capitalist production and exchange. Few currently see the internet as a revolutionary tool to communicate Socialists ideas to and between the working class in the urgent necessity of replacing capitalism with Socialism. The internet as a means to spreading Socialist ideas is relatively new and has much potential although speaking to workers terrestrially on a one to one basis still is one of the best ways to explain Socialist ideas to the working class.

Nevertheless, no matter what means Socialists pursue to spread Socialist ideas the majority of the world’s working class still has no conception of what Socialists are talking about when we say that capitalism should be replaced by the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Not only is there a confusion about what Socialism means but there is an equal confusion over the definition of capitalism as a unique and historical social system of class exploitation with a beginning and a potential end in class struggle.

Only a small number of workers have considered the necessity of establishing a social system in which the production and distribution of goods takes place just to meet human need. And when workers do come into contact with Socialists we are often dismissed as “utopians” or acting “against human nature”.

Yet the Socialist case we put forward was known to Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels and a lot of other Socialist pioneers including incidentally, some of those people who later became leaders in the Labour Party. Socialism is not a utopian dream but is a practical solution to the very real social problems constantly generated by capitalism and which cannot be solved within commodity production and exchange for profit.

The Declaration of Principles which appends our Socialist Object sets out the political practicalities from getting from capitalism to Socialism. The clauses describe capitalism as a system of class exploitation. The working class is recognised as the political agency for establishing Socialism. And Parliament is seen as the means to secure political power to enable a Socialist majority to transform production and distribution from the profit motive to just simply meeting human need. Without a Socialist majority existing prior to the establishment of Socialism there can be no Socialist revolution.

The question of the small number of Socialists has to be addressed. Why the low level of Socialist awareness among the working class? Part of the answer is the propaganda of the three main political parties, Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrats. These parties have sizable funds at their disposal to defend and propagate capitalist ideas and in particular to dogmatically state that there is no alternative to the market, buying and selling and private property ownership.

The Tories, Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party and lots of others political organizations come before the working class, defined by Socialists as those who are forced to work for wages and salaries or are dependent on those having to earn a living this way, and say: “don’t take any notice of Socialists; we will make capitalism alright for you”. They say to workers: “give support to political leaders like Ed Miliband, David Clegg and David Cameron and one or the other will make capitalism work in your interests”. The political leaders of the main capitalist parties constantly say that they can make capitalism work in the interest of all society and this fallacy is what Socialists have to struggle against.

Political leaders and their supporters in the media say to the working class: “you really don’t need Socialism and we want you to oppose it”. Instead, they say “ we will we offer you ‘popular capitalism’, a ‘responsible capitalism’, an ‘ethical capitalism’ and an ‘improved capitalism’ and things will get better and better”. However they will not get better and better for the working class. Capitalism will be just like it has been in the past with its class exploitation periodic high levels of unemployment, wars, poverty and social alienation.

Misrepresenting Socialism

Another problem Socialists face is the uncritical way the capitalist media constantly refers to as “Marxist” those countries which either once claimed or still claim to be Socialist. The Chinese ruling class recently replaced one set of leaders with another. BBC NEWS prides itself on “the truth” and public trust in its “unbiased reporting” of world events but it constantly and uncritically refers to the Chinese ruling class as “Communist” who are somehow associated with the writings of Marx.

Recently the BBC’s China correspondent, reporting on the Chinese leadership transition in November 2012, constantly referred to China as a “Communist country”. That China was no different to any other capitalist country ever entered her mind. China is not a Communist country in the way Marx understood the concept. China is a mixture of private and State capitalism. Socialists are on firm ground when we argue, both empirically and theoretically, that there has never been and nor are there currently in existence today any “socialist” or “communist” countries.

Socialism has never been established in the past and it does not exist anywhere in the world today. And it is not utopian. The journalist, Peter Hitchens is wrong to believe that the sea between capitalism and Socialism will be a blood red sea of violence, death and destruction (MASTER OF MONEY: MARX BBC 2 October 2012). A Socialist majority, understanding and wanting Socialism can establish a classless society peacefully and without turmoil and anarchy. Socialist delegates will be sent to Parliament by a Socialist majority to ensure the machinery of government is not used to prevent the smooth and democratic transition from capitalist production and exchange for profit to Socialist production and distribution for social use. Socialism cannot be established by violence any more than it can be established by a determined leadership.

The Socialism advocated by the Socialist Party of Great Britain has nothing to do with Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Socialism cannot be established by a small minority of professional revolutionaries and it cannot be established by violence. Today in China, Vietnam and Cuba there are governments in power who all reject that Socialism entails the abolition of money and the wages system (both propositions were put forward by Marx in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO and WAGES PRICES AND PROFIT) and they all dismiss the central Marxian principle that Socialism has to be established by the working class itself and by no one else.

If critics of the Socialist Party of Great Britain do not believe our argument that Cuba and China are not socialist, we suggest a little test. Next time our critics are in Cuba or China just enter into a shop and take what you want; tell the manager you have no intention of paying for these items since you are in a Communist country whose social system must be based on production for use and free access. The shop manager will call the police saying that he has some eccentric criminal who mistakenly thinks we have got communism or socialism and doesn’t believe he has to pay for the goods in the shop. The tourist will be arrested by the police for breaking laws protecting private property ownership.

The essentials of capitalism

The essentials of capitalism are that commodities are produced for sale and profit. What generates profit is the exploitation of the working class who are paid less in wages and salaries than the social wealth workers actually create in production. Class exploitation takes place in all capitalist countries today whether they are Islamic theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Iran, alleged Communist dictatorships like North Korea or the so-called “Anglo-Saxon” capitalism found in the US and the UK.

And the way society can go forward and resolve the problem the profit system generates is to abolish the wages system. And the Socialist case against capitalism has been put in print and other ways for well over a hundred years or so suggesting to the working to replace capitalism with Socialism.

There is a very serious point Socialists make about capitalism and that is that capitalism cannot be reformed to act in any other way than it does today. It cannot become more civilized, it cannot become benign and it cannot be all the things Ed Miliband believes it can become – pleasant, decent and equitable. It can’t.

Ed Miliband and his brother believe that capitalism can be reformed to create a “decent wage” for the working class. Writing recently about the failure of the minimum wage, David Miliband called for a wage that met the needs of workers (SUNDAY OBSERVER 4th November 2012). Wage slavery can never be “decent”. As Marx showed wages are located around the subsistence level necessary to produce and reproduce the working class as a source of social wealth. A portion of this social wealth goes in the form of unearned income to the capitalist class as rent, interest and profit. The wage can never give workers a decent and worthwhile life. Wage slavery is just that; wage slavery.

The capitalist class cannot be blamed for this state of affairs. Capitalists have to exploit the working class or they can no longer remain capitalists. They have to try to reduce wages and make more commodities at cheaper prices with fewer workers. They are forced to behave in this manner by competition and the actions of their competitor’s throughout the world. If workers do not like capitalism then they will have to consciously and politically act together and replace capitalism with Socialism.

Socialism and the abolition of Money

Socialist critics are discouraged at the idea you can have a society without money. You look at the economic textbooks about the marvels that the money system is supposed to offer. The money system is supposed to give every person what he wants, and it’s supposed to work for the further improvement of society.

Well if you look around the world today the monetary system is in complete anarchy with thousands of economists, financiers and government officials trying bizarre and often fallacious monetary policies to resolve problems associated with inflation, deflation, high currencies, low currencies, credit crunches and the like. The Euro project is in a mess. In Spain, the government has even set up a “toxic bank” in which financial institutions on the verge of bankruptcy can park their bad debts at some considerable loss to their investors and shareholders.

To solve the problem of the current economic crisis, some economists propose digging a hole in the ground and filling it with money for the unemployed to dig up, some suggest politicians throw paper money out from a helicopter to the people below to buy commodities from the shops and others recommend the cancellation of the government debt at a stroke of a pen – a view recently advocated by that well-known economist, David Icke. Capitalism, despite the intentions of capitalists and their politicians constantly throws up economic and social problems they can’t deal with and the economists create fanciful theories to explain away the contradictory problems of using money as a means of exchange.

Socialists make another serious point about the social problems facing workers; the working class has two choices, they can either go on with capitalism or they can change over and have socialism. There is no third alternative. If workers continue to vote for capitalist leaders then all capitalism will give them is class exploitation, war and conflict, and a life stamped “second best”.

Capitalism deliberately underproduces

The trouble about capitalism is that the means of production are not used to their full capacity. The employer doesn’t just say to the workers “get on with the job, produce as much as you can”. The employer is looking at production and of course, he’s looking at the market, and he is saying to himself; “I wonder how many of the things I’m producing that I will be able to sell before my competitors step in and undercut me and how much of this can I sell at a profit”.

Having decided how much the capitalist thinks he can sell, he then produces to this guestimate but if he undershoots his target and makes a loss and finds he now has too many workers he sacks those he cannot profitably employ. The capitalist doesn’t want to produce things that he cannot sell at a profit. The opinion of capitalists about what to produce, how much and to what market is usually totally wrong as capitalism is unpredictable and the employers and their economic advisors are always making mistakes in their forecasts.

As an example of the failure of academic economists to understand and predict the movement of capitalism from one economic crisis to the next there is the assertion on the trade cycle made by Professor Robert Lucas, the President of the American Economic Association, the body representing all pro-capitalist economists in the US. He told his audience in 2003, that “the central problem of depression-prevention has been resolved” (quoted in THE GREAT RECESSION: PROFIT CYCLES, ECONOMIC CRISIS: A MARXIST VIEW, M. Roberts, ch. 49 p. 281). He was certainly wrong in his forecast.

Capitalism is governed by the market and as Marx showed at great length in his three volumes of CAPITAL and elsewhere it is a productive system of anarchy with economic laws periodically leading to trade crises and depressions. Marx spent a lifetime analyzing capitalism. No other economist before or since has ever done anything like it.

Marx analysed capitalism and showed how the profit system works with its exploitation and that there is nothing politicians can do about the consequences. And experience has shown that no government has ever been able to control unemployment. Unemployment takes its own course there is nothing the governments can do about it.

All the different parties the Liberals Democrats, Tories and the rest, say that Socialism is unnecessary. Shedding crocodile tears they say sorry to us that Socialists have not made much progress over the past 100 years or so but if you look at the broken promises made by the parties of capitalism; the wars they have pursued; the death and violence which has taken place on almost unimaginable scale; the endless failed reforms and failed political careers have they really been that successful themselves?

By getting the working class to support them at elections; to deny a socialist alternative, capitalism’s politicians have perpetuated a failed social system that during the full Twentieth Century has led to the death of approximately 231 million people in wars and conflict (DEATHS IN WARS AND CONFLICT, Milton Leitenberg, Cornell 2006). It is not a proud record for capitalist politicians crowing at the current failure of Socialists to persuade a majority of workers to make history and establish a moneyless, wageless and classless social system without political leaders. And by no stretch of the imagination can the “success” of capitalist political parties in preventing the establishment of Socialism be called “civilized”, “decent” or an act of “progress”.

The Crises of Capitalism

And so the politicians are now faced with a “crisis of capitalism”. The FINANCIAL TIMES (http://www.ft.com/indepth/capitalism-in-crisis) recently carried several poorly researched and economically illiterate articles by its leading economic writers on the crisis of capitalism –one was even entitled “Can Marx save Capitalism”? With a nod to Keynes, Ed Miliband recently told the journalist, Charles Moore that he wanted to “save capitalism” thereby trumping the megalomaniac claims of his former boss, Gordon Brown, who told an astonished House of Common in December 2008 that he had “saved the world” shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Even the Cambridge Union on October 4th 2012 debated the motion that “This House believes Capitalism has failed”. Unfortunately most of those attending the debate did not know what they were voting for, particularly when one of those speaking in favour of the motion was the General Secretary of the discredited Communist Party. The general conception of capitalism for most of those taking part in the debate appeared to be what takes place in the stock market or the financial sectors of the City not in the contradictions and conflicts within commodity production itself. Defenders of State capitalism and a spokesman for the mis-named Adam Smith institute are invited to debate at the Cambridge Union but no one contacted the Socialist Party of Great Britain to put a Socialist case against capitalism.

David Cameron says capitalism’s fine if you believe in “the free market”. The Labour Party says that a “predatory” capitalism is bad and they don’t believe in it and want a “responsible” capitalism instead. The Social Democrats want to go one better than the Labour Party and have a “fair capitalism”. Socialists do not want capitalism at all.

Of course, when in office and administrating the capitalist system politicians are all obliged to lecture the working class to worker harder, be more productive and restrict pay demands so that higher profits can be made. And when in power the parties of capitalism are faced with the perennial dilemma of trying to put pressure on other governments to allow British goods into their markets; to win contracts against competitors, attract investors and sorts of things like this. All governments prepare for war. They have to. They have no choice.

Workers have no interest in the political and economic problems facing the capitalist class and their politicians. The social and economic consequences of the trade cycle, the question of money and finance, whether to have an under-valued or over-valued currency, whether to favour importers or exporters, the protection of trade routes, the necessity of access to raw resources like oil, the protection of spheres of influence, the issues surrounding the balance of payments, how much regulation or deregulation should there be, policy on inflation, deflation and a stable currency, whether to be on or off the gold standard, whether to stay with the Pound or join the Euro, the issue of trade wars, the pursuit of either free trade or protectionism, the national debt, whether to stay in or leave the EU, the desirability or otherwise of stable exchange rates, the benefits of high or low interest rates and who within the capitalist class should bear the burden of taxation are questions of no interest to the working class. The working class has its own interest quite separate and distinct from the capitalist class and that is to consciously and politically establish socialism as fast as possible.

The capitalist car has to be scrapped

As way of an analogy you can compare the differences between the various capitalist parties with a motor car.

Let us take our motor car analogy for the sort of disagreement found in capitalist politics.

They all agree that it not at all road-worthy; the windscreen is filthy so that the driver cannot see the road ahead. Now the Labour party says that it needs a different driver, it needs a compassionate man like Miliband instead of the hard hearted Cameron.

Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats attack the Labour party over this. They say that Milliband does not know where he’s going because he is a trouble making militant who if driving the car would keep turning the wheel and driving left, and the Liberal Democrats said it would be better, if they had two drivers both sitting there and both with their hands on the wheel at the same time.

Now among the cars defects is the gauge. Every now and then the car stalls and starts to go backwards, into a depression. This is what capitalism is like.

The Labour party demands that the car should be overhauled, heavily regulated, the speed restricted to 25 miles per hour and with all the passengers in the back seat- trade union, employer and government minister wearing safety belts and sitting in harmony reading GUARDIAN articles by Polly Toynbee recommending using spare parts from the Keynesian toolbox.

Mr Cameron wants it streamlined as a private free-market deregulated capitalist car, the type you see advertised by his friend Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear marked “only for the rich” so it can be made faster and can outpace all foreign cars.

The Liberal Democrats can’t make up their mind which of these two methods they favour perhaps neither of them.

Here we come to the end of the motor car analogy but Socialists would just emphasize that from the Socialist point of view the capitalist car has had its day. The terminal rust means the body work is beyond repair. The oil leaks; it is inefficient; it periodically breaks down; quite hopeless.

No garage mechanic would want to waste their time getting it on the road for a minute longer than it required sending it to a breaker’s yard. The only future is to scrap the old jalopy altogether and of course, at the same time get rid of all the drivers and have socialism, in which society will, in fact, reach its own decisions about what to produce, how much and for whom.

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