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Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain - Marx Studies - One Capitalist Kills Many

In a bi-weekly arrangement, THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY magazine gives space to Tom Hogkinson of the IDLER magazine to air the trials and tribulations of what Marx called “the petit bourgeoisie”, a class squeezed in between large capitalist companies and the regulatory capitalist State. Hogkinson dislikes both multi-national and corporate businesses and the politicians who serve their interests. He sees both as impediments for a better society. In his December sermon (I ON S 15.12.2013) he praised the anti-Semitic, GK Chesterton, who wrote “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists” (THE USES OF DIVERSITY, 1921). Mr Hogkinson wants us to all to become self-employed, each trading with each other.

Hogkinson, like Chesterton, yearns for a pre-capitalist past. In his later years Chesterton pursued a politics which he believed would create an atomised world of buyers and sellers in which as many individuals as possible pursued the goal of profit. He thought such a society would wrest capital accumulation from both a few vastly powerful interests (such as "Jewish banking families") and a monolithic State capitalism which he erroneously and persistently referred to as “Socialist” (for a demolition of Chesterton’s anti-Semitic ravings see S Mayer’s recent book, CHESTERTON'S JEWS http://simonmayers.com/2013/12/09/g-k-chesterton-and-the-stereotype-of-the-greedy-jew/)

In a similar vein to Chesterton, Mr Hogkinson favours a global Federation of anarchist shopkeepers buying and selling in the morning, idly sleeping in their hammocks in the afternoon and indulging in “education and merry-making” in the evening. Such is the fantasy world of the anarcho-capitalist dressing-up his or her reactionary view of the world as “libertarianism”.

In the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO Marx did not see the petit-bourgeoisie as having much of a future. He wrote:

The small tradesman generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants – all these sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialised skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO AND THE LAST ONE HUNDRED YEARS, Socialist Party of Great Britain P.67)

And through ruthless competition and the centralization and concentration of capital, Marx traced out a tendency for fewer capitalists not more. In the first volume of CAPITAL he said that: “one capitalist kills many”:

That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralization of capital.

Marx went on to say:

One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the co-operative form of the labour-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labor only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialized labor, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime

This process of the concentration and centralisation of capital is reflected in the current economic troubles of the modern high street, the site of Mr Hogkinson’s utopia of small shopkeepers and traders mirrored in Adam Smith’s economic dynamism of “the butcher the baker and the candlestick maker” whose self-interested profit-making lays the foundation for the good of society as a whole.

Under capitalist competition, notably from the internet and large conglomerates like Amazon and, terrestrially, from large supermarkets and commercial chains, the small shopkeeper is disappearing as quickly as the public house. The family butcher and baker, to all intents and purposes, has long since gone from the high street although there are still some trendy “I saw you coming” artisans still hustling in Notting Hill by selling over-priced commodities to the bored Cameroonian rich. As for the candlestick maker; the development in the techniques of production since the 18th century, particularly the discovery of electricity has largely meant his commercial extinction and replacement with mass-produced light bulbs by an estranged and alienated working class. Ironically, in the 1990’s what candle-stick production still existed, several companies used toxic wicks causing potential brain damage to users.

What of Adam Smith’s belief in the common good of society being met by the pursuit of self-interest in buying and selling. The candle stick maker has long since been replaced by the working class working in factories, like today’s Chinese workers producing light-bulbs. Several centuries after Smith wrote his bible for the capitalist class no one knows how many workers, young or old, who have been killed or maimed as a result of being forced to work in capitalism’s factories, mines, building sites and farms; hundreds of thousands maybe, the figure could even run into the millions since diseases like asbestosis will still be killing workers during the middle of this century. According to World Health Organisation of the United Nations over 100,000 people die of asbestos related diseases each year (www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs343/en/?).

Of the actual numbers killed by capitalism since Adam Smith’s pin-making factory extolling the virtue of productivity, it seems that no economist cares; no labour market “supply and death curves”. All is just fine and dandy in Adam Smith’s world of the invisible hand where social harmony prevails as capitalists pursue their self-interest; thus the irony in Marx’s phrase “one capitalist kills many”. The free-market institutes worshiping at the altar of Adam Smith are silent on this class genocide.

As for the workers now producing light bulbs, a news report in May 2009 noted:

Large numbers of Chinese workers have been poisoned by mercury, which forms part of the compact fluorescent light bulbs. A surge in foreign demand, set off by a European Union directive making these bulbs compulsory within three years, has also led to the reopening of mercury mines that have ruined the environment http://freedomoutpost.com/2012/11/light-bulbs-that- kill/#E34qovVLHRIYV0TK.99 There is also the periodic economic crisis which afflicts both large scale capitalists and small traders alike. As the GUARDIAN recently commented:

The physical retailing sector has already seen 21,000 jobs lost since the beginning of last year because of the struggling economy and competition from the internet and the string of collapses includes Clinton Cards, Game and Peacocks (24th June 2013)

Marx also showed, that even under simple commodity production, the utopian world favoured by Adam Smith, G. K. Chesterton and Mr Hogkinson, economic crises trade depressions, and bankruptcy will still occur. There is no escaping from capitalism’s economic laws, even to the far-flung fantasy world of capitalist utopianism favoured by the so-called libertarians living their empty and tragic lives deep in the bowels of the Conservative Party. Throughout Britain small shops increasingly remain empty with retail areas “becoming like a ghost town” in which the only life to be found amongst the graffiti and the litter emanates from charity outlets, turf accountants and the ubiquitous fast food take-away found floating on a surfeit of beer in some gutter thirty minutes later.

If the tendency of capitalism’s anarchic trajectory from one economic crisis to the next is for fewer and fewer capitalists then on the flip side of the same capitalist coin, there is the potential for a majority of Socialists to kill capitalism altogether.

As Marx wrote:

Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.

Concluding:

The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. [This] integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated

As with most anti-Socialists, Hogkinson writes-off what he perceives to be an alternative to capitalism as nothing more than a “Socialist utopia” in which “an enlightened state” exists to “protect and guide its citizens”. Socialism will be no such thing. Socialism will be a free association of men and women living harmoniously within the framework of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. There will be no State in Socialism, “enlightened” or otherwise. Men and women will democratically make their own decisions producing and distributing according to need. There will be an “administration of things” not people.

While rest, sleep and doing nothing are pleasurable human activities, work should also be a pleasurable human activity; the meeting of a human want and desire to be creative. After all, contemporary artists are prepared to spend hours and hours labouring on their paintings, conceptual installations and sculptures in the pursuit of meeting a human need for creativity. However, this artistic expression only takes place within the rarefied world of the art market in which the commodity production and exchange of artistic objects for the benefit of wealthy art collectors and gallery curators employed by the State.

What should be a universal human need is experienced under capitalism only as a minority act by privileged individuals from art schools. What capitalism denies to a majority of the world’s population Socialism would free and foster as the realisation of a basic human need; the creation of a universal aesthetic dimension in the production of useful things. The powers and capacities of men and women should be richly developed in all their complexity not as discrete atomic events, but as Marx noted in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, through the self-realisation of others where “the free development of each is the free development of all”.

So it is to the practical Socialism advocated by Socialists not the winsome Utopianism of the IDLER that the working class should look to if they want a future in which social harmony, gentleness, and “education and merry-making” will prevail. William Morris, writing of a Socialist Society in which art as a creative act of labour will be made by the people for the people, once remarked:

…Meanwhile, if these hours be dark, as, indeed in many ways they are, at least do not let us sit deedless, like fools and fine gentlemen, thinking the common toil not good enough for us, and beaten by the muddle; but rather let us work like good fellows trying by some dim candle-light to set our workshop[ ready against tomorrow’s day-light – that tomorrow, when the civilised world, no longer greedy, strifeful, and destructive, shall have a new art, a glorious art, made by the people and for the people, as a happiness to the maker and user (THINKING HANDS: THE POWER AND LABOUR OF WILLIAM MORRIS, P. Katz, p.287)

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