The Politics of Austerity
The effects of any budget will not change the fundamental plight of the working class, however the economic forecast given by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, showed no let-up in poor economic growth and productivity. For the working class the austerity programme, introduced in 2010, will continue for at least another ten years.
According to the INDEPENDENT it is the biggest fall in living standards for a generation with “[the] age of austerity and stagnant wages to last another decade” (Friday 24th November 2017). And the Resolution think-tank claimed that “productivity levels were running at their weakest levels since the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century”. All doom and gloom
Socialists do not see the Tory politics of austerity as inevitable. Socialists were never taken in by the vacuous claim that: “we are all in it together”. Austerity was imposed by the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition on the working class to help the capitalist class in the wake of a severe economic crisis and trade depression.
The Socialist Alternative to Capitalism
There is, however, a socialist alternative to austerity but the social reformers keep on getting in the way by promising something to the working class they can never deliver: capitalism working in the interest of all society. It is a myth.
Seventy-Five Years ago, Beveridge published his 299-page report laying the foundations of “the welfare state”. We were told by the social reformers that we did not need socialism because the state, underpinned by Keynesian economics, would end the five social evils of “idleness, want, ignorance, squalor, disease”. That these five social evils are still with us not only shows the failure of social reformism but also its success in pushing the urgent need to establish socialism off the agenda.
The social reformers claiming to be able to ditch austerity and spend in the interest of workers have previous form. If Gordon Brown had won the election in 2010 he would have had to carry out similar economic reforms to the Tories. The Keynesian policies introduced by Brown in the wake of the economic crisis – a crisis he claimed would never occur under his watch - would have resulted in the same failure as in the 1970s when the Callaghan Labour government had to drop Keynesianism in favour of the equally flawed Monetarism of Milton Friedman.
Callaghan told the 1976 Labour conference that the government could no longer spend their way out of a depression. He told them:
“We used to think you could spend your way out of recession and increase employment by boosting government spending. I tell you, in all candour that that option no longer exists ...”
The same economic reality would have applied to Ed Miliband as it will equally apply to Jeremy Corbyn if he ever gets elected into power. Past history has shown the Labour Party promising workers all and everything when in opposition but when in power forced to introduce measures to help British capitalism no differently than the Tories, resulting in cuts to public services, the NHS and the so-called welfare-state.
Austerity and the Working Class
The impact of the politics of austerity has fallen on the working class particularly the unemployed, the disabled and those working in the public sector like the NHS and Local Government. Food bank usage has increased since 2010, half a million people received food package from the Trussel Trust’s 428 outlets and an all-party parliamentary group on food poverty estimated that at least as many independent food banks again were in operation (GUARDIAN 26th November 2017).
Universal benefit has led to an increase in child poverty and there has been an increase in homelessness. Austerity for the poor while the rich get richer. The capitalist class has increased its wealth by investing capital, exploiting the working class and making a profit as capitalism slowly moves out from a deep economic depression. There are now more billionaires in the UK than ever before: so much for us all being in it together.
Of course, the Tory government will not admit that the economic crisis of 2008 was caused by capitalism. They conveniently blame the previous Labour government. In fact, they still blame the Labour government for the last economic crisis. During his Budget speech, the Chancellor Peter Hammond referred to “The Labour Government’s financial crisis” as though it was caused by their reckless economic policy. Governments do not cause economic crises and trade depressions. That is the result of capitalism and the anarchy of commodity production and exchange for profit.
The Blame Game
Now Labour blames George Osborne for austerity claiming he never cleared the deficit and increased government debt to one trillion pounds. In fact, the policy of austerity is not about reducing the deficit or government spending or about reducing the national debt. Lowering corporation tax, and the rate of taxation of the rich, along with a reduction in state spending and a fall in real wages which is usual in a depression, are all factors the Tories believed, might tempt capitalists to invest again. However, at the end of the day it is only when the capitalist class believes that economic conditions are right to make a profit that they will start to re-invest again. The movement of the trade cycle is immune to government interference.
The only way to stop the economic and social consequences of the trade cycle – periodic mass unemployment, government attacks on the unemployed, the sick, the disabled and the vulnerable is for the working class to organise consciously and politically to replace capitalism with socialism. Otherwise the problems workers face will just be repeated from one generation to the next.
WHY ARE THERE FOOD BANKS?
Outside the Friends House in Hampstead a sign asked the question: “Why in such a rich country are there food banks”? The answer is simple: Capitalism. And until the working class replace capitalism with socialism the obscenity of food banks and people living in doorways will continue. The Quakers look to social reformism as an answer. It is not. Socialism reformism cannot make capitalism operate in any other way than in the interest of the capitalist class. The error of the Quakers is to believe that the problem of food banks it is a moral issue. This is to misunderstand capitalism and its priorities of profit instead of human needs. The issue is political and so is the solution.
Workers Should Have Nothing To Do With The Labour Party
The Labour Party, under Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor, John MacDonnell, claim they oppose austerity. If he ever comes to power Corbyn wants to introduce a “People’s Quantitative Easing” to replace the Tory policy of austerity possibly causing inflation to rise. His Chancellor wants to “borrow and invest” (GUARDIAN 27th November 2017).
If Corbyn became Prime Minister and tried to put his policies into practice, he would find resistance from the markets and investors would require a higher rate of interest before lending to the Government. He would have to back-track and amend or drop the policy as previous Labour administrations have had to do.
If there was an economic crisis other economic forces would also derail the policy as the government would be faced with high unemployment, lower taxes coming into the treasury and depressed markets. Note that in the speeches on the economy, if and when they take power, Corbyn and MacDonnell assume no economic crisis will take place during their administration. Why do they think their administration of capitalism will be any different from previous governments?
In 1949 a financial crisis and run on the pound developed, similar to that which led to the split in the Labour Party in 1931, and to the devaluation crisis in 1967. After a dozen declarations that the pound would not be devalued, devaluation by 30 per cent was announced.
And it should not be forgotten that the periods of inflation are caused by governments, Tory and Labour, but erroneously blamed on the trade unions and workers struggling for more pay so as to prevent their wages and salaries from being de-valued. Of course inflation has always been a way of confiscating savers’ money and eating away at the interest on loans.
Witness the Weimar Republic. Like the rest of capitalism, one person’s loss is another person’s gain.
The total amount of wealth in circulation is unchanged at any one moment. It takes human labour-power to create new wealth along with natural resources, including machinery and technology. Those who imagine new wealth can be created by the “stroke of a banker’s pen” are indeed living in an economic madhouse. What economists and politicians do not understand is that the total spending power of the capitalists and the government is a fixed amount at any time. If the government subsidises one section of the capitalist class, it is usually at the expense of other capitalists.
An understanding of the politics of austerity by the working class should be creating socialists. The working class does not have to put up with austerity nor sign up to the failed reformism of the Labour Party and the capitalist Left. Austerity shows that capitalism and those who administer it are not interested in the welfare of human beings, only in the interest of the capitalist class to make a profit.
Deaths in the NHS resulting from cut-backs, discomfort to the disabled and blaming the poor for being poor as a result of benefit assessments and the imposition of the Universal Credit show what a callous and anti-social system capitalism is when having to sort out problems created by the profit system. Socialism should be seriously considered by the working class as an urgent necessity.
However, what stands in the way of clear working-class thinking about capitalism is the lure of social reformism. It is all very well being “against austerity” but the priorities and options governments are forced to follow are dictated by the capitalist system not the needs of the working class.
It is very easy to blame the government for its politics of austerity but the government is behaving in the way any government, Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrats or Greens, would behave in the circumstances. If you live in capitalism you have to play by the rules of capitalism. And the rules of capitalism are all about profit making, not about meeting people’s needs.
The politics of austerity can be resisted to some extent by trade union action but only so far. Long ago, in a paper WAGES,PRICE AND PROFIT, Marx said that there are limits imposed on trade union action. Determined action by the employers and the state cannot be overcome by trade union resistance and strikes.
Trade unions can be successful here and there when particular economic circumstances are in their favour but they cannot change the playing field in which the class struggle is played out – the private ownership of the means of production and distribution protected by the machinery of government including the armed forces. In depressions or when trade unions are weak, employers and their government have the upper hand.
This is not defeatism but realism. Workers must be made aware of the reality of capitalism: class exploitation and the problems that causes, as well as the severe limitations imposed on what can and cannot be done by trade union action within the profit system. Workers must also understand that politicians and governments, whether well-meaning or vindictive have no option but to run capitalism in the interest of the capitalist class.
Socialists are not defeatists because we do suggest an alternative route away from the politics of austerity. We urge workers to consciously take political action to establish socialism, to change society by social revolution from minority ownership and production for profit to common ownership and production directly to meet people’s needs. Instead of the politics of austerity and the futility of reformism it has to be socialism.
There is a misguided belief by “cyber communists” that we are fast approaching “luxury communism” in which robots and Artificial Intelligence will be used to furnish all our desires. There will be no work but the pursuit of an Epicurean life style. Automation is coming; its profits can be amassed by a small minority for themselves with the rest living lives of misery and un-met need. Or the wealth could be redistributed “according to need”. We are also told that an intermediary step is a “universal basic income”. There are four things wrong with this utopian sketch. First, there is nothing wrong with work; the problem is employment and class exploitation. Second, technological determinism leading to communism is a fallacy: to use the means of production and distribution for the benefit of all society require first the conscious and political action of a socialist majority. Third, a universal basic income advocated by some of the capitalist left is a non-starter because it is not in the interests of capitalists and their politicians to introduce it in the first place. And fourth, work and co-operative human creativity is a suppressed human want and not one indulging in a menu of anti-social personal self-gratification.
The capitalist Left continually get in the way between the working class and the case for socialism.
Here is a typical article on the shallow antics of the capitalist left.
On the evening of the 21st November 2017, following the announcement of the Budget, the People’s Assembly – an anti-austerity group - demonstrated outside the gates leading to Downing Street under the banner “Sack the Tories”. They also want an end to the Tories universal credit policy. As a publicity stunt they piled up £10,000 of food on the pavement to embarrass the Tories, which was then going to be distributed to a food bank in Coventry.
One of the leaders of this group is Counterfire. This is what they said:
We want to urge the Government to use the Budget to scrap their plans for Universal Credit, to close tax loopholes and force the tax avoiders to pay their fair share, to end the public sector pay cap with an increase above inflation, and to make sure our public services are properly funded.
Counterfire is not a socialist organisation but a reactionary group peddling failed political ideas to the working class. In “CLASS: WEALTH AND POWER IN NEOLIBERAL BRITAIN” (no date), Lindsey German calls for a Trotsky-inspired “United Front” to fight racism and fascism and a “new Leninism” while parasitically feeding off the discontent, anger and rage of a non-socialist working class.
A “United Front” formed by a non-socialist working class led by professional revolutionaries will not prevent the rise of racism and fascism because such political action does not deal politically with the capitalist cause. And a “new Leninism” is the last thing that should be offered to workers. The old Leninism was bad enough and is rightly seen as one of the principles barrier to socialism by distorting the ideas of Marx and exporting out of Russia a political creed that, if successful, would only lead to state capitalism and totalitarianism.
What sort of propaganda is “sack the Tories”? Who is going to sack them? They were elected largely by a non-socialist working class vote and the conservatives do not have to seek re-election until 2022. It really was a crass and childish propaganda stunt by professional politicians who do not even believe in the practical success of their own publicity stunts. What did they achieve?
Absolutely nothing! The last thing on their mind is to explain to workers the case for socialism.
In any case they would have been unable to explain the case of socialism to the working class and for a very simple reason. The capitalist Left do not advocate the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Instead they offer the working class a vision of nationalisation or state capitalism. Socialists the capitalist Left are not.
The capitalist Left have an utter contempt for the ability of working class to understand and accept socialist ideas and become socialists. These self-appointed leaders think workers are too stupid to become socialists, to think for themselves and to understand the need for revolutionary socialist action. And their opportunism beggars belief. Here is John Rees, another leading intellectual of Counterfire on the former dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein:
“Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein” (Alan Johnson “The Euston Moment”, the Guardian.com, 21st April 2008)
Counterfire also supports Corbyn’s Labour Party and John Rees toured the country in 2016 to support Corbyn’s bid to become Prime Minister. Do these self-styled revolutionists ever learn from history? http://www.jc4pmtour.com/
At the demonstration in London, there was no analysis of capitalism by the organisers of the People’s Assembly Against austerity. There was no recognition of the futility of reformism. And there was no spreading of socialist ideas. Do they really believe a hectoring speech by Lindsey German, one of the leading lights of Counterfire, will so frighten the Tories that they will drop their Universal Credit policy, close the tax loopholes, particularly for those funding the Tory Party and end the public sector pay cap? What planet does she and her organisation live on?
The demonstration was a waste of time on a cold Wednesday night. Gesture politics does not change anything. A bitter truth is better than a sweet lie. The bitter truth is that the only way to end the politics of austerity is to abolish capitalism and establish socialism. And the sweet lie of the capitalist left is to make workers believe capitalism can be changed to meet their interest when it can do nothing of the sort.
Instead of the politics of austerity and the futility of social reformism, socialists suggest to the working class the establishment of socialism. Socialism has to be established by a majority of workers acting in their own class interest, without leaders and the led. As socialism will be based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources there will be no barriers, as there are under capitalism, preventing production being used solely and directly to satisfy people’s needs, such as housing, healthcare, education , transport and other services.
Socialism is, the only alternative to the politics of austerity. Jeremy Corbyn’s reformism and the Trotskyist-run People’s Assembly cannot offer a practical and realistic way out of the economic assault on the working class. Only the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism will create a world free from capitalism and the brutal callousness of the politicians who serve it.
MARX ON THE MATERIALIST CONCEPTION OF HISTORY
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.
The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living.
And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionising themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language.
What did the British do for India?
Following the EU referendum in 2016, there has been a growing, albeit insidious, nostalgia for the British Raj, from politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg, MEP David Hannan, Boris Johnson and others on the capitalist right. Even, Liam Fox, the ludicrous Foreign Minister, dreams of recreating a new post-Brexit British Empire (DAILY MIRROR 15th October 2017). While, according to the INDEPENDENT, the “British Public” are: “generally proud of their (sic) country’s role in colonialism” (19th January 2016). And, recently a group of reactionary Oxford academics set out to construct a “balance-sheet” of the “rights and wrongs” of Imperialism under the heading of “Ethics and Empire”. The balance sheet would indeed be weighted on the side of “the good”.
So the recent publication of INGLORIOUS EMPIRE: WHAT THE BRITISH DID TO INDIA (2017) by Shashi Tharoor, a Congress MP in India, is a timely and useful book to debunk the arrant nonsense by the politically stupid and ignorant that the British Empire was a force for good.
Nevertheless, there is a word of warning about Tharoor’s book and that is the special pleading made by the author for the Indian ruling class before and after the British Empire. Thardoor conveniently either ignores or downplays the historical fact that life for millions of Indians prior to the British Raj and after Independence in 1947, when the British finally left, was and still is brutal, unpleasant and exploitative. All ruling classes exploit a subject class, whether peasants or workers, and, today, Indian capitalism is no exception. If Tharoor’s facile apology is ignored, the book’s merit is that it clearly demonstrates with well-researched facts and figures that the British Raj was not the benign political system its apologists believe, but was, instead, genocidal, racist and brutal to those who lived and died under its iron heel.
The British Empire blew rebels from cannon, massacred unarmed protestors, forced millions of Indians to migrate as cheap labour and caused millions of Indians to die from starvation. Imperial “gifts” – from the railways to a peculiar form of British governance – was purely designed to further the interests of British capitalism, trade and profit. A force for good it was not.
These three themes: famine, forced migration, brutality and racism are dealt with in some detail in the fifth chapter of the book – The Myth of Enlightened Despotism - in which Tharoor shows that the British did very little for the Indian population. Imperialism is only ever pursued in the interest of Imperialists not for those the imperialists rule over.
Economic policies enforced by the British led to between 30 and 35 million deaths of starvation during the Raj. Tharoor calls it a “British Colonial Holocaust”, pointing out that this figure is up there with the 25 million who died in Stalin’s collectivisation drive and political purges, the 45 million who died during Mao’s cultural revolution and the 55 million who dies world-wide during World War 2 (p. 150-151).
Tharoor states that the British tended not to intervene in famines due to three factors: an obsession with free trade and profit, the Malthusian doctrine in which there is belief in a natural level of population and refusal to spend money to alleviate the problem of hunger.
The last famine under the British Raj was during the Second World War. In war-time Calcutta, with many troops for the Burma campaign boosting demand for food, speculators bought up rice and hoarded it so the price rose. There was no actual shortfall in the crop – just grubby speculation by Bengali merchants and politicians. That caused the famine – British war priorities led Churchill and Leo Amery to deny the seriousness of the famine and to refuse transport of grain from other regions.
Nevertheless, for Tharoor the villain of the peace was Winston Churchill who is now being feted as a “Great Man of History” in the film, “DARKEST HOUR”. According to Thardoor, Churchill:
“...deliberately ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and even to top up European stockpiles in Greece and elsewhere”.
Churchill is quoted by Tharoor as saying:
“The starvation of anyway underfed Bengalis is less serious than that of sturdy Greeks.”
And Churchill went on to say:
“The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits” (p.160).
Some 500,000 labourers from India were transferred to Mauritius under the contract system for indentured labour; many were convicts, but others came voluntarily, though “their willingness was sometimes obtained by conversion” (p. 163).
Besides the strait settlements and Mauritius, Indians were also shipped as indentured labour to other British colonies around the world, from Guyana and the Caribbean islands to South Africa and Fiji in the pacific. According to Tharoor:
“Some 1.9 to 3.5 million Indians (the numbers vary in different sources, depending on who is counted) moved halfway across the globe, most involuntarily, under the colonial project. They played their roles as cogs in the wheels of the imperial machinery, toiling on sugar plantations, building roads and buildings, clearing jungle. Many suffered horribly on harrowing journeys and some perished on route (p.163).
Between 1519 and 1939, an estimated 5,300,000 people were transported on British ships, of whom approximately 58 percent were slaves, mainly from Africa, 36 percent were indentured labour, mainly from India, and 6 percent were transported convicts, both from India and other colonies. As Thardoor concludes:
“If nothing else, this British endeavour, motivated as always by the simple exigencies of the colonial project, transformed the demography of dozens of countries, with consequences that can still be seen today” (p. 164).
The history of India under the British was a history of war, violence and retribution. Tharoor states that for two centuries the British suppressed dissent, executed deserters and rebels, and chopped off the thumbs of skilled weavers so that they could not make “the fine cloth that made Britain’s manufactures look tawdry” (p. 165). The suppression of the India Mutiny of 1857 saw 100,000 lives lost in retribution.
And then there was Amritsar massacre in April 1919 where armed British forces under the leadership of General Dyer opened fire on unarmed protesters killing 379 people and wounding 1,137.
And for what reason was famine, forced migration and brutality towards the Indian population pursed. Tharoor quotes William Joynson-Hicks, one-time Home Secretary in Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s government, who stated:
“I know it is said in missionary meetings that we conquered India to raise the level of the Indians. That is cant. We conquered India as an outlet for the goods of Britain. We conquered India by the sword, and by the sword we shall hold it.
I am not such a hypocrite as to say we hold India for the Indians. We went with a yardstick in one hand and a sword in the other, and with the latter we continue to hold them helpless while we force the former down their throats” (quoted in the DAILY NEWS, 17 October, 1925, p.174).
The British Raj was replaced by the rule of an Indian capitalist class where the machinery of production and distribution – including the railways and the infrastructure of communications, administration and transport built up by the British - are either owned privately or owned by the capitalist state.
The profit motive is the guiding principle as it is with any other capitalist country. The majority of the Indian population own nothing except the commodity, labour power which they are forced to sell on a daily basis for a wage or salary.
Poverty is a significant issue in India, despite having one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, growing at around 7.6 per cent in 2015. The World Bank, in 2014, on the basis of its current definition of poverty, calculated that the world had 872.3 million people below the poverty line, of which 179.6 million people lived in India. In other words India with 17.5% of the world’s total population had 20.6% share of the globe's poorest population.
A recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that 77% of India workers will be engaged, in what it calls, “vulnerable employment” by 2019.
According to the ILO, “vulnerable employment”:
Vulnerable employment’ is characterised by meagre earnings (below minimum wage), difficult and insecure working conditions (for example, workers are made to work long and taxing shifts; they can be hired and fired without notice at any point), unsafe work environments, and complete violation of labour laws.
The ILO report goes on to show that, globally, there was around 1.4 billion worker in vulnerable employment in 2017 with an additional 1.7 million expected to join this figure in 2018 and 2019.
As for the rich in India “vulnerable work” is not their problem. According to the TIMES OF INDIA (7th November 2017) there are 219,000 ultra-rich millionaires in India with a combined wealth of £877 billion.
From the late 19th century through to the early 20th century, under British colonial rule, poverty in India intensified, peaking in the 1920s. Famines and diseases killed millions each time. After India gained its independence in 1947, mass deaths from famines declined however, for most of the population life remains fragile, uncertain and unpredictable. Of the 2.8 million newborns dying at birth worldwide each year, India accounts for 700,000 such deaths (CNN 1st September 2015)
The reality for the working class in India is that independence has meant just the replacement of one class of exploiters with another. Independence – freedom - from capitalism is what workers in England and India should be politically thinking and acting on, not nostalgia for Empire or being told by politicians to blame the Raj for the severe shortcomings of 21st century capitalism in India as it bears upon the lives of the Indian working class. Capitalism, no matter who is in power and who owns the means of production and distribution cannot be made to run in the interest of all society. Socialism is the only answer.
MARX AND THE MATERIALIST CONCEPTION OF HISTORY
oes it require deep intuition to comprehend that man's ideas, views and conceptions, in one word, man's consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations, and in his social life?
What else does the history of ideas prove, than that intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material production is changed?
The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.
When people speak of ideas that revolutionise society, they do but express the fact that, within the old society, the elements of a new one have been created, and that the dissolution of the old ideas keeps even pace with the dissolution of the old conditions of existence.
Marx and Engels: THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO 1848
Trade Unions, Class Struggle and Socialism
Falling Trade Union Membership
Trade unions have experienced the biggest fall in membership since formal government records began in 1995. In 2016 trade unions lost 275,000 members. British trade union membership is now 6.2 million. Union membership fell in the private sector by 66,000 to 2.6 million and in the public sector by 209,000, to 3.6 million (GUARDIAN 1st June 2017).
This problem is not unique to the United Kingdom but is also found in other European countries and the US. World-wide, trade union membership continues to decline.
Socialists support workers in forming trade unions. In its early years the Socialist Party of Great Britain rendered valuable service to the workers by showing the possibilities and limitations of trade unions, and their inability to challenge successfully the dominant power of those who control the machinery of government, including the armed forces. When employers, backed by government, decide to fight an issue to the bitter end the employers are bound to win.
In their own interest it is essential that the workers should be effectively organised so that the employers know that when the members decide to strike it is a threat that has to be treated seriously. Long experience shows that when profits are high and rising employers will make concessions to avoid strikes. At such timer strikes are few and short. When profits are falling the employers will successfully resist claims notwithstanding frequent and prolonged strikes.
Trade unions take part in the economic sphere of the class struggle over wages and conditions of work. Trade unions, under certain favourable circumstance, in periods of economic boom and high employment, can prise higher wages and salaries from employers. However, the same cannot be said for in periods of economic crisis and trade depression when there is high unemployment. Capitalism has a profound effect on what trade unions can and cannot do.
Trade union membership, though, is better than going it alone. When and where workers are unorganised the employer can impose excessive hours and intensity of work, and drive wages down to the bare subsistence level. With trade union organisation, workers can defend themselves against unrestricted exploitation; but always subject to the over-riding condition that production remains profitable to the employers.
Karl Marx, who studied the workings of capitalism in some detail, gave this considered view of the relationship between profits and wages over which the class struggle rotates:
"As to profits, there exists no law which determines their minimum. We cannot say what is the ultimate limit of their decrease ... Because, although we can fix the minimum of wages, we cannot fix their maximum. We can only say that, the limits of the working day being given, the maximum of profit corresponds to the physical minimum of wages; and that wages being given, the maximum of profit corresponds to such a prolongation of the working day as is compatible with the physical forces of the labourer.
The maximum of profit is therefore limited by the physical minimum of wages and the physical maximum of the working day.
It is evident that between the two limits of this maximum rate of profit an immense scale of variations is possible. The fixation of its actual degree is only settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labour, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction.
The matter resolves' itself into a question of the respective powers of the combatants." (VALUE,PRICE AND PROFIT, Chapter XIV).
Problems Facing Trade Unions
Trade unions, though, suffer a number of problems under capitalism, some of their own making.
First, trade unions cannot ultimately win against determined resistance of employers and their state. This was shown by the failures of the General strike of 1926 and the Miner’s strike of 1984. Also the Docks strike when the post-war Attlee Labour government used army conscripts to break the strike. Fire fighters’ strikes were later also broken by the Army used as blackleg labour.
Second, the economic field on which the class struggle takes place is always tilted in favour of the employers because the capitalist class own and control the means of production and distribution.
Third, trade unions have erroneously followed capitalist politics by appointing trade union leaders which have a tendency to prevent the membership from having any real say in issues like the terms of a deal with employers, overall trade union strategy and tactics. Individual member’s engagement in trade union affairs is marginal.
Fourth, trends take place within capitalism over which trade unions have no control such as the gig economy, capitalists moving production aboard, the introduction of labour-saving machinery, robotics and artificial intelligence, part-time isolated working patterns, obsolescence or unprofitability of certain industrial and commercial sectors like ship building and coal mining and steel manufacture where production has been re-located to low-wage and non-trade union countries and a working class fragmented and blaming each other and trade unions for the problems they face rather than blaming capitalism.
With regards the negative effect of trade union leadership we can recall the late Tom Jackson, leader of the Postal Workers Union. At the end of the 1971 postal strike, he insisted on balloting being done in such a way that London postal workers (more committed to strike action than the rural ones) were effectively excluded from the ballot.
Many London postmen did not live in the City but out in the suburbs or further. The ballot was carried out at their place of work, with very short notice, and striking post office workers who could not come in due to lack of funds or time, could not cast their votes and Jackson got the majority he wanted to call off the strike.
Democracy in trade union affairs is just as important as it is within the organisation of a socialist party. The trade union should be controlled by its membership not by leaders and officials when strike action takes place a majority should be in favour of the strike and a majority in favour of the deal done to end it.
Fifth, the trade union leadership, through the TUC, have aligned themselves with the reformist politics of the anti-working class Labour Party. The trade unions not only give funds to the Labour Party, but also help draft policy. The trade unions then get bitterly disappointed when the Labour Party forms a government and introduces policies favouring the employers – particularly capping wage increases - and using the police or armed forces of the state to break strikes. Trade unionists forget that the Labour government, like the Tories, can only run capitalism in the interest of the capitalist class not trade union members.
Sixth, trade unions not only support capitalism, favouring nationalisation and Keynesian economic policies - they have also supported British capitalism’s wars, notably the First and Second World War This flies in the face of the interest of the working class in not getting involved in the periodic quarrels of the capitalist class and their politicians either at home or abroad. Workers have no interest fighting or supporting capitalism’s wars.
There are advantages of being in a trade union, not least class solidarity and unity of purpose against the intensity and extent of exploitation. Trade unions teach workers to think as a unified group rather than as a powerless individual. It is harder for management to bully a trade union; in fact, a lot of trade union work is around victimisation, health and safety as well as securing more wages. Nevertheless there is a spectrum of anti-socialist political views held by the trade union membership.
It would be a mistake to assume that workers joining a trade union necessarily mean a better understanding of their class position. Under New Labour the unions were almost forced to portray themselves as 'partners' with business. The unions offered their members technical training, health, accident and legal insurance, etc.
As employers were cutting back on apprenticeships, company pension schemes, insurance, as well as other benefits, the unions found that - to compensate for their perceived unpopularity - they needed something to persuade workers to join up, so they took on what in the past had been done by employers. In the past being post 1945 to the late 1960s, when jobs were a-plenty, and employers were forced to offer attractive 'packages', not just pay but good perks.
Trade Unions and British Capitalism
The problem though, with or without trade unions, is that workers are very divided, particularly around questions of immigration/racism, and “welfare”. The key reason for this is poverty, competition for jobs, housing and so on.
All this has been aggravated, especially since about the 1970s, due to the declining state of the economy which has forced cuts in the NHS, the Right to Buy policy which has meant over the last few decades a continuing decline in the amount of 'social housing', cuts in Local Authority budgets and social services. And it is not the result of policies associated just with the ‘evil’ Tories. The problems of the capitalist economy have led to aggressive policies by both Tory and Labour governments to ensure a profitable environment for British capitalism to complete on the world market. This has left its mark on the effectiveness of trade unions and the number of workers prepared to join. A Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government would not halt this trend. If in power Corbyn would have to look to the interest of British capitalism first. He would have no alternative.
During Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s each year the headlines were screaming about a balance of trade deficit, and fears of devaluation of the pound, which culminated in the IMF crisis when Callaghan's government had to accept IMF terms and policies, i.e. cuts to the NHS, social services, government spending etc. The government also tried to put a limit on trade union pay increases. That was the beginning of the austerity which seems to have been government policy forever!
Looking at the issue long-term, there was a long post-war boom, when unemployment was well below half a million. This figure started to creep up to over a million (headline news!), then over 1.5 million, and so on, always rising. Employers were assisted by first the Thatcher government and later John Major’s administration in their dealings with trade unions with the passing of a number of anti-trade union legislation during the 1980s and early 1990s.
By the time Blair and New Labour got to power in 1997, their Manifesto and Blair's speeches and articles all declared their intention of reducing the amount spent by government on supporting the sick, disabled and unemployed - a policy currently being pursued with the Tories Universal Credit policy. The Blair government also failed to repeal the anti-trade union legislation of the previous Tory governments.
Socialists are not surprised by all of this. This is what governments have to do. There is very little trade union action can do to prevent this. Look at the countless strikes by teachers, nurses and doctors. Trade unions spent a great deal of time fighting privatisation as though being a state employer was somehow different and commendable.
The capitalist Left used to claim that, with a crisis, increased hardship and poverty, discontent would increase and so produce a REVOLUTION! They look at every strike as an opportunity to lead workers into street confrontation with the state. Nothing of the sort ever happens. Political opportunism always leads to political failure.
What, then, can be said about the potentialities and limitations of trade union action? Something Marx wrote about it is as true now as it was a hundred years ago:
"The working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects ... that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady" (Wages Prices and Profit).
Marx went on to conclude that the only way to further the interest of the working class is politically; with the abolition of the wages system and the establishment of socialism- the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Capitalism, Migration and Maternity Provision
Divide and Rule
To divide the working class and play one section of workers off against another, the media produce a stream of misinformation about the numbers and impact of migrants using the health service, the benefits system, schools and housing. And the DAILY TELEGRAPH, SUN, DAILY EXPRESS and the DAILY MAIL have been all very successful in this form of mendacious propaganda by poisoning the minds of their readership and creating an atmosphere of racism, xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiment.
The newspapers seize upon government statistics and use them to their own advantage and sectarian political view. According to the statistics released from the Office of National Statistics, over a quarter of births in England and Wales in 2015 were to women born outside the UK. There were 192,227 live births to women born outside the UK and 505,588 to UK-born women. Poland was the most common country of birth for mothers born outside the UK, followed by Pakistan and India. Pakistan was the most common country of birth for fathers born outside the UK, followed by Poland and India.
However, what the media critics of migrants using maternity services will not tell their readers is that these migrant workers giving birth in the UK are just that: workers. They are members of the working class no different from those workers born in the UK. As a class they do not own the means of production and distribution; they are excluded from direct access to what is produced; and what they need in terms of goods and services, like adequate maternity care, is constrained by the rationing of the wages system.
And all workers are exploited as a class. It is a unifying feature that anyone who is forced to sell their ability to work for a wage or salary is a member of the working class and this includes migrants. It is the working class who generate what Marx called “surplus value” that eventually goes to the employers in the form of unearned income of rent, interest and profit with a segment of this surplus value, as taxation, used for the upkeep of their state.
What unites working class mothers born in the UK with their migrant counterparts is that the children they produce will make up a future exploited working class. Their children will be born into a class of wage slavery. Therefore, from the perspective of class and class relations, it is irrelevant to compare the number of births from migrant women compared to native-born female workers. And it is racist, and divisive to suppose it is.
Furthermore, migrants are not the cause of government policies to cut back on hospital services, schools and housing. Nor do migrants cause the operation of the gig-economy; impose zero-hour contracts, low-paid, precarious part-time employment and poor working conditions. These policy decisions are made by employers and their government. The working class, whether they are migrants or not, live lives of poverty and discomfort because they do not own the means of production and distribution.
In fact, in an open and rational society like socialism, there will be free movement of people around the planet. However, in socialism there will not be enforced economic migration and refugees fleeing from conflicts. Socialism will be a global society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society.
Migration and free movement only become a problem in a world partitioned by national frontiers, national interests and national competition. What capitalism does, in all its ugliness and division, is create artificial boundaries in which members of our class are mistakenly seen as “alien” or “foreign”; where workers act out lives as atomised and isolated individuals in constant competition with each other. Fear and hate replace class unity and cooperation. In the “blame game” the only winners are the capitalist class.
Maternity is a Class Issue
The problems facing maternity wards - over-crowding, stretched services and increasingly stressed and over-worked midwives - are due to capitalism and the priority of governments to serve the interest of the capitalist class. Profit instead of meeting human needs defines capitalism. Cost- cutting, paring back services, making workers redundant and keeping pay low and working conditions difficult so that mistakes occur, are continually forced on maternity services and the NHS.
So it comes as no surprise to read that NHS maternity wards in England were forced to close their doors 382 times in 2016. According to the GUARDIAN:
“In total, there were 382 occasions when units had to close in 2016. This figure is slightly higher than the 375 occasions from the year before, and an almost 70% increase on the 225 in 2014.”
The article went on to state:
Trusts reporting maternity closures cited bed capacity problems and high activity. St Helens and Knowsley teaching hospitals NHS trust closed down for more than 30 hours during one period; Bradford teaching hospitals NHS foundation trust shut 10 times; the maternity unit at Royal Berkshire NHS foundation trust had to close 30 times due to “insufficient midwifery staffing for workload”; Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS trust said the need to “maintain safety and staffing levels” forced it to close five times, including once for 14.5 hours. Other trusts cited a lack of cots (NHS Maternity Wards forced to close 382 times last year (GUARDIAN, 8th August 2017).
The 2014 Immigration Act has also forced the NHS to charge, often destitute women, £6000 for their maternity care. Doctors of the World, which runs a specialist clinic for migrants in East London, has seen over 200 pregnant women who have not received any maternity care because they have been denied treatment or because they are worried about the costs they cannot afford. The callousness of the Act is shown by that fact that two women were pursued with demands for fees even though their babies had died in hospital.
The DOCTORS OF THE WORLD REPORT, written in 2015, concluded:
This report finds evidence of the deterrent effect of entitlement checks and charging in a population with little access to primary care. Antenatal care is frequently received late and often does not meet the minimum standards for care and subsequently puts women and their unborn children at increased risk of pregnancy-associated complications.
Doctors of the World have recently published another report in 2017 in which they say pregnant and seriously ill migrants are going without medical care because they are afraid of receiving bills they cannot pay and subsequently being referred to the Home Office (INDEPENDENT 22nd October 2017). And the Home Office is always looking out for excuses for deporting migrants, so sick migrants also feared the risk of being deported.
Socialists can understand why the capitalists and their government want to make migrants pay or enjoy scare stories appearing in the media about migrants giving birth in hospitals. They have an economic interest in keeping taxes low and costs to the NHS down. After all it is the capitalist class who have to ultimately pay for the capitalist state and its institutions. Workers, on the other hand, have no interest in the concerns of the capitalist class, their state and their political parties. Workers no matter who they are or where they come from have an identical class interest.
The problem is not migrants but capitalism. Immigration was encouraged by the 1950s Tory government, recruiting nurses and transport workers from the West Indies, and later by employers recruiting from India, Pakistan and so on for the textile mills of the north – a period of ‘full employment. Capitalism is a social system of commodity production and exchange for profit. Social wealth is created by workers but they do not own the raw minerals, transport systems, factories, distribution system and transport and communication systems. They get the minimum “social service” for workers to reproduce their class.
Cost cutting, inadequate staffing levels and lack of facilities are hallmarks of the NHS, under both Labour and Tory governments, and this has been the case since its inception. But in a social system of free access in which the means of production and distribution would be commonly owned and under democratic control, there would surely not be inadequate midwives, stressed working conditions, unsafe working practices and lack of facilities like cots.
It is the inadequacy of capitalism as an anti-social system based on profit which is where workers’ attention should be should be focussed, not migrants – not their fellow workers.
The socialist response to the question of large numbers of migrant women giving births is simply to point out that inadequate maternity service and over-stretched maternity staff is caused by capitalism, a social system which requires the vast majority of the population to rely on selling their labour power to survive. Migrants are workers; they are members of our class and they are all potential socialists. They are to be welcomed. Socialists are calling for class unity - not disunity which only makes socialism that much harder to achieve.
Socialism would be a society with free access to goods and services, including maternity care. Women would not be forced to pay £6000 to give birth or made to pay for ante-natal care. Socialism is about production for use and directly meeting human needs. Migrants are not the problem: capitalism is. And world socialism is the answer.
MARX ON THE MATERIALIST CONCEPTION OF HISTORY
The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that it is essential to educate the educator himself.
Marx, From THESES ON FEUERBACH
Marx and Surplus Value
Marx thought that his theory of surplus-value was his most important contribution to the progress of economic analysis (Marx, letter to Engels of 24 August 1867):
“The best points in my book are: 1. (this is fundamental to all understanding of the facts) the two-fold character of labour according to whether it is expressed in use-value or exchange-value, which is brought out in the very First Chapter; 2. the treatment of surplus-value regardless of its particular forms as profit, interest, ground rent, etc. This will be made clear in the second volume especially. The treatment of the particular forms in classical political economy, where they are forever being jumbled up together with the general form, is an olla potrida (rotten pot of
Marx, by using his theory of value to analyse “capitalism in motion” placed capitalism within a historical context allowing him to explain why and how exploitation takes place within the profit system, the peculiarity of the class struggle under capitalism and the contradictions which bear on commodity production and exchange for profit.
The origin, nature and distribution of surplus value play a central role in Marx’s analysis of capitalism. “surplus value” is the translation of the word “Mehwert” which means “value-added” and is used by Marx to explain how invested money capital brings in more money capital as profit than first invested (M> C > M1, where M is the original money-capital, C is the production of commodities and M1 the original investment plus profit).
Capitalists and workers meet on the labour market on apparent equal terms where the workers sell their labour power to the capitalist in exchange for a wage or a salary. The capitalist pays the worker according to the value of the labour power. Marx made the important distinction between labour-time and labour power. It is not labour which the worker sells to the capitalist, but his capacity to work.
The value of labour power is determined like any other commodity by the amount of socially necessary labour time embodied in its production. The capitalist pays according to the exchange value of the commodity, but obtains the use value of the labour power.
This distinction between the use value and exchange value of the commodity labour power is important in understanding Marx’s concept of surplus value. The commodity, labour power, is a peculiar commodity in as much as the value it creates in the productive process is in excess of its own original value.
The worker, having sold their labour power to the capitalist has now lost control of its use. Instead, the capitalist has use of the worker’s labour power for a specified period of time – the working week.
The worker, having sold his labour power, must work and produce to the dictates of the employer. He has to produce what the capitalist wants him to produce. And what the worker produces as commodities belong to the capitalist. So how does surplus value arise in this process? Engels expressed the question in ANTI-DUHRING (1877) as follows:
"Whence comes this surplus-value? It cannot come either from the buyer buying the commodities under their value, or from the seller selling them above their value. For in both cases the gains and the losses of each individual cancel each other, as each individual is in turn buyer and seller. Nor can it come from cheating, for though cheating can enrich one person at the expense of another, it cannot increase the total sum possessed by both, and therefore cannot augment the sum of the values in circulation. (...) This problem must be solved, and it must be solved in a purely economic way, excluding all cheating and the intervention of any force — the problem being: how is it possible constantly to sell dearer than one has bought, even on the hypothesis that equal values are always exchanged for equal values?”
We can answer the question with the following example. Say the working week is forty hours long. And in this working week it takes the worker 30 hours to reproduce the value of the wage or salary necessary to buy commodities for the worker and their family to produce and reproduce themselves as workers.
However, the worker cannot just stop work when they have reached 30 hours; the worker must continue to work for free for a further 10 hours of work.
The 10 hours of surplus labour time creates the surplus value. This is the source of the capitalist’s profit. This surplus value is congealed within the commodities the workers produce and is realised as profit once the commodities are sold on the market.
The surplus value is divided as unearned income between the industrialist (profit), the landlord (rent) and the banker (interest), while another portion goes to the capitalist state in the form of taxation.
For the working class, surplus value, explains why the capitalist class will not leave them alone. Capitalists are always trying to extend and intensify the rate of exploitation by making workers work harder: by lengthening the working day, by introducing new machinery, by speeding up, by displacing workers and making those remaining taking a greater burden of the work for the same pay.
As an analytical tool for explaining how capitalism works and how capitalist enterprises are forever forced to speed up production, Marx’s theory of value has no rival.
A BAD DAY FOR WHITES NATIONALISTS AND SUPERMATICISTS
The GUARDIAN recently carried an article “First Modern Britons had ‘Dark to Black’ skin” (8th February 2018) on the first modern Britons. They lived about 10,000 years ago and had “dark to black” skin according to groundbreaking DNA analysis of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton. The fossil, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough’s Cave in Somerset. There has been deep interest in Cheddar Man’s origins and appearance because he lived shortly after the first settlers crossed from continental Europe to Britain at the end of the last ice age. People of white British ancestry alive today are descendants of this population.
According to the GUARDIAN:
“The results pointed to a Middle Eastern origin for Cheddar Man, suggesting that his ancestors would have left Africa, moved into the Middle East and later headed west into Europe, before eventually crossing the ancient land bridge called Doggerland which connected Britain to continental Europe. Today, about 10% of white British ancestry can be linked to this ancient population.
Britain was periodically settled and then cleared during ice ages until the end of the last glacial period about 11,700 years ago, since when it has been continuously inhabited. Until now, though, it hasn’t been clear whether each wave of migrants was seeded from the same population in mainland Europe; the latest results suggest this was not the case. The team homed in on genes known to be linked to skin colour, hair colour and texture, and eye colour. For skin tone, there are a handful of genetic variants linked to reduced pigmentation, including some that are very widespread in European populations today. However, Cheddar Man had “ancestral” versions of all these genes, strongly suggesting he would have had “dark to black” skin tone, but combined with blue eyes.
Scientists believe that populations living in Europe became lighter-skinned over time because pale skin absorbs more sunlight, which is required to produce enough vitamin D. The latest findings suggest pale skin may have emerged later, possibly when the advent of farming meant people were obtaining less vitamin D though dietary sources like oily fish. Cheddar Man would have lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, making sharp blades from flints for butchering animals, using antlers to whittle harpoons for spear fishing and carving bows and arrows”.
So it was a good day for science and a bad day for anti-immigrants, white nationalists and supermaticists.
Marx At 200
2017 marked CAPITAL’s 150th anniversary as well as the 170th anniversary of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO in February 2018, and it was Karl Marx’s 200th birthday in May 2018, of this year. A lot to celebrate if you are a socialist.
Together, these anniversaries offer the opportunity to look at Marx’s contribution to socialist theory.
Why is Karl Marx still so important? There is a simple explanation. Marx and his critique of capitalism never went away.
Contrary to the claims of anti-Marxists, his ideas were not buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He was read for the important insights he gave about the development of world capitalism at the turn of the century when so-called ‘globalisation’ was being discussed. He was read again during the economic crisis of 2007/2008 and subsequently during the period of “austerity” when many workers found themselves in the gig economy, forced to take precarious low-paid jobs, visit food banks or desperately tried to find somewhere to live, whether with parents, friends, or in doorways. And, of course, Marx is still read and studied by socialists who want to understand capitalism. And Marx should be read and studied by the working class in order to help it to change the profit system in a revolutionary way to Socialism – the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Marx cannot be understood by merely repeating what he said about the conditions of the 19th century. Marx’s critique of capitalism is, in effect, part of an on-going socialist critique of capitalism as it moves from one crisis to the next, one circuit of exploitation to the next and from one war to the next. So long as capitalism exists with the economic, political and environmental problems it causes the Marxian critique of capitalism will never go away.
So, who was Karl Marx?
Karl Heinrich Marx was born on 5 May 1818 in Trier in western German, the son of a successful Jewish lawyer.
Marx studied law in Bonn and Berlin, but was also introduced to the ideas of the philosophers Hegel and Feuerbach. In Berlin, when studying philosophy, Marx came into contact with radical or left-wing Hegelianism and he joined the “Young Hegelians”.
In 1841, Marx received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Jena. In 1843, after a short spell as editor of a liberal newspaper in Cologne, Marx and his wife Jenny moved to Paris, a centre of revolutionary ideas.
In Paris, forced by exile due to his radical views, Marx became a communist and befriended his lifelong collaborator, Friedrich Engels.
Expelled from France, Marx spent two years in Brussels, where his partnership with Engels intensified. They co-authored the pamphlet 'THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO' which was published in 1848 and asserted that all human history had been based on class struggles, but that these would ultimately end with the victory of the proletariat and the establishment of a classless society of men and women.
In 1849, Marx moved to London, where he was to spend the remainder of his life. For a number of years, his family lived in poverty but the wealthier Engels was able to support them to an increasing extent.
Marx had a long association with working class organisations; first with leading members of the Chartists (KARL MARX: HIS LIFE AND THOUGHT, David McClellan) and then the Working Men’s Association known as the First International. It is during this time that Marx produced his most important critique of political economy: 'DAS KAPITAL' (1867), of which only the first volume was published in his life-time, the remaining two volumes were published posthumously by Engels.
In his final years, Karl Marx was in creative and physical decline. He spent time at health spas and was deeply distressed by the death of his wife, in 1881, and that of one of his daughters. He died on 14 March 1883 and was buried at Highgate Cemetery in London.
Throughout his life, Marx produced a vast amount of work on political economy, philosophy, history and politics. The MARX/ENGELS COLLECTED WORKS is the largest collection of translations into English of the complete works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels covering the period 1835-1895. The 50 volumes contain all the written works of Marx and Engels including formerly unpublished manuscripts and letters. The cost to someone who wanted to buy the entire collection would be £1,600 – a lot of bottles of champagne - and perhaps a life-time to read and digest.
Marx’s intellectual debts are numerous – he was well-grounded in the Greek early pre-Socratic materialists philosophers and Aristotle, but probably most importantly the primary influences go to Hegel (philosophy), to the French utopian socialists (St Simon, and Fourier) and to the English Classical Economists (Adam Smith – THE WEALTH OF NATIONS) and David Ricardo – (PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY) and to the French Physiocrats Quesnay and Turgot.
There have been numerous debates over whether Hegel walks the pages of CAPITAL, upside down or otherwise, but Ricardo certainly does; there is a critical dialogue between Marx and Ricardo’s writings on political economy.
Marx gave due credit to Ricardo, along with Smith, even though they could never get outside their “bourgeois skins”. Both Ricardo and Smith recognised that human labour is the only source of value although with them the ‘labour theory of value’ was unable to explain the source of profit. Marx’s labour theory of value did what their theory of value could not do.
Marx explained the source of surplus value and the unearned income of rent, interest and profits. In the capitalist commodity – the production process, the workers sell their labour power – their physical and mental abilities – for wages and salaries which are calculated on the basis of the cost of producing and reproducing labour, but the value of what they produce is normally in excess of what is necessary to cover their wages. Smith and Ricardo assumed workers sell their labour so were unable to explain the origin of surplus value and profits.
Marx made a useful distinction between “classical” and “vulgar” economics. The former tried to understand capitalism; the latter dealt only with appearances. To borrow from Oscar Wilde, the vulgar economists know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Marx had an utter contempt for the economists who came after Ricardo, such as Say, Senior and Malthus.
Marx and Engels explained in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO that a constant factor in all recorded history is that social development takes place through the class struggle. Under capitalism this has been greatly simplified with the polarisation of society into two great antagonistic classes, the capitalist class and the working class. The tremendous development of industry and technology over the last 200 years has led to the increasing concentration of economic power and wealth in a few hands.
Although Marx declared in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” he did not invent the class struggle. What Marx did do was to explain the class struggle by the application of his theory of surplus value. As Engels noted in ANTI-DUHRING, Marx’s theory of history, more popularly known as the materialist conception of history, his theory of surplus value were his two most important contributions to socialist theory. Marx also held the revolutionary view that the state is an expression of class interests and class power.
Marx had many personal faults and some of his views on political issues at the time are not shared by socialists today. Socialists do not support “progressive wars” or nationalist groups. Marx was not a prophet and CAPITAL is not “the bible of the working class”. CAPITAL is not a closed set of dogmas but a text to be used by socialists to analyze current issues and trends in capitalism.
Where Marx made errors and misjudgements socialists will point them out. Marx’s economic and political thinking was formed by the time in which he lived. Socialists do not have to agree or defend everything Marx said or wrote. Socialists stand or fall on the OBJECT AND DECLARATIN OF PRINCIPLES (1904) of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, much of it informed by the ideas of Marx, notably:
“That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself (Clause 5)
What socialists do defend, though, is his scientific analysis of capitalism, his theory of value, his theory of history, known popularly as the materialist conception of history and his political concept of the class struggle. These three interconnected theories form the basis for a scientific explanation of capitalism.
Marx was also a political activist, engaged in the revolutionary politics of his time. He wrote important contributions and carried out useful work for the First International which bought out the global nature of capitalism and the class struggle which had an important bearing on war and the socialist opposition to war.
There is his scathing work – the 18TH BRUMAIRE with its criticism of Louis Bonaparte. Or his equally strongly worded pamphlet, the CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE on the bloody crushing of the Paris Commune. These works were not purely theoretical but examples of his political activism as a revolutionary socialist.
And finally, in later life, he studied Russian so as to engage with Russian revolutionaries in correspondence – and voice his objections to the romantic ideals of the Narodniks, and their belief that the peasants in backward Russia, because they had a primitive form of collective, the Mir, could leapfrog past capitalism straight into socialism.
Marx is often referred to as a philosopher. He would have disagreed. As Marx once said: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways: the point is to change it” (THESES ON FEUERBACH).
Or, more tersely, “philosophy stands in the same relation to the study of the actual world as masturbation to sexual love” (THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY, International Publishers, ed. Chris Arthur, p. 103).
Marx, it should be said, was foremost a socialist revolutionary.
LEWIS H MORGAN AT 200
“Morgan’s great merit lies in having discovered and reconstructed this prehistoric foundation of our written history in its main features, and in having found in the groups based on sex of the North American Indians the key to the most important hitherto insoluble riddles of the earliest Greek, Roman and German history…Morgan was the first person with expert knowledge to attempt to introduce a definite order in the study of the history of primitive man; unless important additional material necessitates alterations, his classification may well remain in force. Of the three epochs: Savagery, Barbarism and Civilization, he is naturally concerned only with the first two epochs into a lower, middle and upper stage”
Friedrich Engels, THE ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE STATE:IN THE LIGHT OF THE RESEARCHES OF LEWIS MORGAN, 1884
Socialism, Robotics and AI
In an article: Robots will take our jobs. Plan, now before it’s too late, the GUARDIAN journalist, Larry Elliot said:
A new sort of convenience store opened in the basement of the headquarters of Amazon in Seattle in January. Customers walk in, scan their phones, pick what they want off the shelves and walk out again. At Amazon Go there are no checkouts and no cashiers. Instead, it is what the tech giant calls just walk out shopping, made possible by a new generation of machines that can sense which customer is which and what they are picking off the shelves. Within a minute or two of the shopper leaving the store, a receipt pops up on their phone for items they have bought (1 February 2018).
Elliot believes that the use of robotics and artificial intelligence is the shape of things to come in food retailing and in other areas of the economy. Technological change is happening fast and he thinks it has “economic, social and ethical ramifications”. He comments that the Amazon android app, which has to be down-loaded to a smart phone, excludes the poor, especially those living on welfare food stamps. And he considers there is a “whiff of Big Brother” about the relationship between the seller and the consumer regarding the storing, using and sharing with third parties the personal information of individuals for commercial gain.
Of course, this does not have to be the future at all. A socialist society could use this technology, held in common and under democratic control, to allow all people free access to what they need to live on and to transparently use the down-loaded android app as a means to stock control goods and services through the use of computers and artificial intelligence.
In a socialist society there would not be buyers and sellers of commodities; socialism would be a society where production and distribution will be held in common under democratic control and where there will be direct and free access to what people need to live worthwhile lives. It is sad reflection in today’s intellectual climate on the lack of critical examination of the potential use of robotic technology. What prevents journalists like Elliot from seeing beyond the market to a society in which production and distribution just takes place to meet human needs. Is it fear of losing their jobs?
In not being able or unwilling to think outside the capitalist box, Elliot is all doom and gloom for the future of the working class and employment. True, by voting to remain in capitalism, workers and their families will be in for a rough and uncomfortable ride over capitalism’s use of robotics and AI technology over which they have no control or say. Driverless cars and lorries will have an impact on the employment of those currently employed as taxi drivers and lorry drivers. Robotics and AI will also make inroads into accountancy, health, construction, journalism, management and law.
As Elliot rightly states, the use of robotics and artificial intelligence will mean higher growth in the economy, but it also will mean greater productivity, greater profits for employers and a more precarious employment as workers find themselves displaced from one labour market to the next. The owners of the machines will “get richer and richer while those displaced get angrier and angrier”.
This future does not have to be as unpredictable and precarious for workers as Elliot thinks it will be. The working class does not have to remain an angry and discontented mass. Workers can actually do something about the situation in which they find themselves under capitalism. They can begin to understand capitalism and begin to recognise that the profit system cannot be run in their interests. They can realise that the means of production and distribution do not have to be used for the benefit of a minority but under socialist conditions could be used for the benefit of all society. Workers can become conscious and political socialists. They can become agents of revolutionary change. They can establish a society in which technology is used for the advantage of everyone not just not the few.
Of course, the experience of past industrial revolutions suggests that resisting technological change is futile. The Luddites could not stop the consequences of the industrial revolution. Nor, given that automation offers some tangible benefits for a future socialist society – in mobility for the elderly and in healthcare, for instance – is it the cleverest of responses. Of course, the reason why AI is being touted for the “care” sector in capitalism has a lot to do with higher labour costs, and the need to cut these costs. The introduction of AI is not being done for the benefit of the elderly but an exercise in cost-cutting, for profit.
The use of technology in socialism, on the other hand, would allow men and women who are not directly engaged in production and distribution to be free to pursue other socially necessary activities, particularly becoming involved in the democratic decision process at a local, regional and global level and in meeting their own creative needs. The response to robotics and AI is to look at the way in which technology is owned, used and for what purpose. If robotics and AI can allow for the realisation of the creative need of human beings to be realised why not use it.
In one respect, Elliot does acknowledge, from the experience of globalisation, that the introduction of robotics and AI will not mean a “trickle down” effect from the rich to the poor. That is why he considers, and dismisses, the “robot tax” proposed by Bill Gates and Jeremy Corbyn. Early advocates of Globalisation believed that the free movement of goods, people and money around the world would create losers as well as winners, but provided the losers were adequately compensated – either through reskilling, better education, or a stronger social safety net – all would be well.
This proved to be demonstrably false. What happened in practice was that the rich became increasing richer. According to Oxfam, in 2017 eighty two percent of the wealth generated went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth (Oxfam Report 22nd January 2018).
As Elliot goes on to say
“... the reskilling never happened. Governments did not increase their budgets for education, and in some cases cut them. Welfare safety nets were made less generous. Communities affected by deindustrialisation never really recovered
”. He quotes a recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly journal by W. B Arthur who put the problem this way:
“Off-shoring in the last few decades has eaten up physical jobs and whole industries, jobs that were not replaced. The current transfer of jobs from the physical to the virtual economy is a different sort of off-shoring, not to a foreign country but to a virtual one. If we follow recent history we can’t assume these jobs will be replaced either.”
He may be right or wrong. The introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence will replace workers faster than new employment can be found. Futurologists, like economists have a track record for being wrong.
We can recall the over-optimistic claims for automation fifty years ago. There was a report by The DAILY MAIL(16.7.73) of a statement made by Jack Peel, Director of Industrial Relations for the Common Market Commission, and formerly a trade union official. Mr Peel said: “Well before the end of the century less than 50% of the population of working age will be working”. His prediction was utterly wrong. In the final decade of the 20th century there were, in the United Kingdom, some 27.8 million persons in work out of a potential working population of about 35 million.
What is Elliot’s “answer” to the problems that apparently will be thrown-up by the future introduction of automation? He offers, for consideration, research from the Public Policy Research Unit who have proposed a “citizen’s wealth fund” gained from the profits of automation and the more fashionable universal basic income. Why? The full implementation of both policies would require the acquiescence of the capitalist class and their politicians which, being against the interest of employers, would not be forthcoming. These two proposals, therefore, are non-starters.
Benefits to all society, as Elliot admits, did not happen with globalisation so why should it happen with robotics and AI? Idealistic reforms of the type championed by Elliot do not get enacted but are watered down to the point of uselessness or have to be cut back or abandoned because of unforeseen consequences. In the meantime the rich amass more wealth and the precariousness of working class life continues without respite.
The whole debate on automation takes place as though human beings are passive and powerless actors to whom events happen and over which they have no control. There is nothing wrong with technology, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. What is wrong is that they are owned and controlled by a minority for the benefit of a minority. Elliot refuses to accept that this is the problem. And it can only be addressed by a working class majority taking conscious and political action to replace capitalism with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
ENGELS ON THE CLASS STRUGGLE
The 'Manifesto' being our joint production, I consider myself bound to state that the fundamental proposition which forms its nucleus belongs to Marx. That proposition is: that in every historical epoch, the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes; that the history of these class struggles forms a series of evolution in which, nowadays, a stage has been reached where the exploited and the oppressed class—the proletariat—cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class—the bourgeoisie—without, at the same time, and once for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions and class struggles.
Engels, Preface to the Communist Manifesto
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.