Capitalism is a world-wide, integrated social system characterised by commodity production and exchange for profit. Not only is the profit system split up into competing nation states, but capitalism is also divided into two classes – the capitalist class and the working class.
The capitalist class owns the means of production – oil, gas, transport, communication systems, factories and distribution points and so on. The capitalist class also owns what workers produce as commodities, to be later sold on the market for profit. Capitalism is a profit-making society and not one whose sole basis is to meet human needs. And the power, privilege and ownership of the means to life of the capitalist class are all protected by the machinery of government, including the armed forces.
The working class does not own the means of production, nor does it have direct access to what is produced. Workers have to sell their ability to work, or labour power, as a commodity to capitalists in exchange for wages and salaries necessary to buy food, to pay the rent and mortgage and to produce and reproduce themselves and their families as an exploited class. And the working class is exploited. It is exploited just as slaves and serfs were exploited in previous social systems.
However, exploitation under capitalism is not so direct and simple as it was for the serf working on the lord’s manor. Market relations hide class exploitation under capitalism. Unlike the slave or serf, workers are seemingly “free” to sell their labour power on the labour market to whoever wants to buy it. It was Marx who showed how and why the working class produces a surplus of wealth over and above what it gets back in wages. It is this unpaid surplus which creates the vast differences in the ownership of wealth between those who produce but do not own and those who own but do not produce.
Capitalists have every interest in increasing the intensity and extent of class exploitation. This forces the working class, individually or collectively, to resist an increase in the rate of exploitation. Under favourable economic conditions workers can also struggle for higher wages and better working conditions.
Trade union membership is another means by which workers resist the encroachment of capital, backed-up with the strike weapon. Even though strikes in the UK during 2017 have fallen to the lowest rate since 1893 – 276,000 working days - (GUARDIAN 31st May 2018), we must not forget that trade unionism should be placed in the context of changing patterns of employment the introduction of new forms of technology, and the anti-trade union legislation enacted since 1979, including the more recent Trade Union Act of 2016. Without trade unions workers are vulnerable to aggressive and callous management.
Ambulances, for example, had been called to Amazon’s distribution centres at least 600 times in the last three years – more than four times every week. The GMB union also reported that pregnant women “are forced to stand for 10 hours a day, pick, stow, stretch and bend, pull heavy carts and walk miles”. (OBSERVER, 3rd June 2018).
Marx saw the usefulness of trade union action. He argued that: “By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they (the workers) would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement”. Marx, here, was speaking to the General Council of the First International in 1865 on the question of trade union in pursuing higher wages.
However, trade unions are not the answer to the problems facing the working class under capitalism, for as Marx noted:” the working class ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects”. He went on to conclude that the only way to prevent the capitalist class from exploiting workers is to “abolish the wages system” (VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT, International Publishers, p. 61). Marx’s view is accepted by socialists today.
Governments also take part in the class struggle on behalf of the capitalist class, whether by passing anti-trade union legislation, imposing wage freezes or income policies, and breaking strikes. Governments also carry out propaganda campaigns either misleadingly claiming workers cause inflation by struggling for higher wages and salaries or telling workers that they are lazy and do not work hard enough.
During the last century the use of troops against striking workers by Labour governments, particularly during the post-second world war dock disputes, rivalled the Tories. Labour government also used troops to break the fire-fighter’s strike of 2002-2003 which echoed the actions of the Callaghan government in 1977 when the army using “Green-Goddesses” against the nine week fire-fighters’ strike.
Class exploitation leads to class struggle on a daily basis, whether there are trade unions or not. Less than 25% of workers in the UK are now trade union members but conflict at work manifests itself through grievances, absence, high turnover of workers leaving a company for another one, the withdrawing of commitment, sickness and other forms of protest. The rate of strike action may have fallen over the last two decades, particularly after the economic crisis of 2007-8, but 1.37 m working days were lost due to sickness and injury in 2017 (GUARDIAN, June 2nd 2018).
Another recent change is the increasing use by trade unions and workers of the courts. In 2016 the ride-hailing firm Uber was told its drivers should be classed as workers with minimum-wage rights. However, the legal system is expensive, the trade unions might lose the case and face crippling legal fees, and the law might be changed to favour employers.
If the economic terrain of the class struggle is tilted in favour of the capitalist class, the results of inequality should hardly be a surprise. Class exploitation certainly brings its rewards to the capitalist class who live off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit. Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average rate of 6% a year – much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Should that continue, the world’s richest 1% is on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030 (GUARDIAN 7th April 2018).
To counter this huge concentration of wealth, power and privilege generated by the exploitation of the working class can workers have to abolish capitalism and its replacement by socialism. Reformism has failed. For over two hundred years reformers have been trying to improve the lot of the working class or trying to make capitalism “more fair”. It can’t be done. Capitalism can only run in the interest of the capitalist class. And as we have seen, it has been running very well for the capitalist class to the detriment of the workers.
Only a committed socialist majority can change society to work for everyone through the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. However, a socialist majority has to remove the coercive machinery of government so as to prevent it from protecting the ownership of the means of production and distribution of the capitalist class.
To create a society where production and distribution solely takes place to meet human needs, workers will have to take conscious, political and democratic action through the revolutionary use of parliament and the vote. Only then can a classless society begin to make the necessary social arrangements to ensure that the needs of all of society are met.
Is the Working Class Cut-Out for Socialism
Unlike socialists the capitalist left has a long history of believing that the working class are either incapable of thinking and acting as socialists without the need for leaders (like Kautsky and Lenin) or have abandoned the working class altogether for students, nationalist liberation movements or identity politics. In the latter group we now add Paul Mason, who believes that you can achieve the freedom of a socialist society or communism without the conscious and political action of the working class.
In his essay, The Meaning of Marxism Today (NEW STATESMAN,4-10 May 2018), Paul Mason argued that the working class was no longer capable of exercising sufficient political power to break out of the capitalist prison in which it finds itself. In other words, workers were unable to reach the level of class consciousness necessary to place them in a position to change their circumstances in a revolutionary way. Mason thinks capitalism has developed strong strategies which now prevent workers making history and developing from a class “in itself” to a class “for itself”. Mason writes:
What’s left of Marxism in our era of techno-euphoria and environmental doom? Not its class narrative: despite the doubling of the global workforce, the workers of the developing world are as encaged in bourgeois society as their white, male, manual counterparts became in the 20th century. Workplace unrest will continue but capitalism has worked out how to quarantine it away from revolution.
However, individuals within capitalism are born into class relations over which they have no control. They are born into a class with class interests and take part in the class struggle on a day to day basis. For the vast majority of society, what unifies them as a class is being divorced from the means of production and distribution and forced to have to sell their ability to work for a wage or salary; daily, weekly, yearly in order for capital to reproduce itself through class exploitation. Clearly Mason has no understanding of Marx’s theory of value or his theory of class struggle.
Imprisoned within the wages system, workers do not have their needs met in order to lead creative and worthwhile lives. Capitalism denies workers the ability to flourish and to democratically take part in the affairs of society. Workers under capitalism do not produce what they need nor have direct access to what has been produced. As the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the State, protects the means of production and distribution, there is only one way for the working class to emancipate itself and that is by engaging in the political class struggle – a struggle for working-class emancipation.
The working class and self-emancipation
And that emancipation from class exploitation has to be through a principled socialist party using the revolutionary vote and parliament. Workers, through socialist delegates will have to gain control of the machinery of government to allow a socialist majority to replace capitalism with socialism: the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Mason denies this possibility and looks for an alternative revolutionary subject in the “self”, abstracted away from class, class interest, class struggle and revolutionary class politics. He writes of “individual human beings”, “human essence” and of “humanity” not of class and class struggle. He replaces class politics with a “humanist” politics which might suit his “radical social democracy” but has nothing to do with Marx and Marx’s concept of freedom.
In any case Mason’s exclamation “The revolutionary subject is the self” is a weak and idealistic abstraction more associated with the graffiti sprayed on Parisian buildings in 1968 than one to be found in Marx’s mature writings such as CAPITAL.
Mason’s “the self” is not rooted in class society and revolutionary politics. It is a fiction. Mason appears to be moving from the Trotskyism of his youth to the Labour Party as a “radical social democrat”, where he currently finds a convenient political resting place and perhaps, when the Corbyn project disintegrates, move on to radical liberalism.
Mason and Labour’s Reformism
And the Corbyn’s reformist project, supported by Mason, has a high chance of failure. The Labour Party, if it forms a government intends to initiate a reformist programme which will include, amongst other things, higher taxes on incomes over £80,000 per year, raising corporation tax and introducing a tax on certain City deals. Labour wants to use this additional income to spend on schools, infrastructure, childcare, the NHS, reversing the benefits freeze and abolishing tuition fees. On top of these reforms, Labour wants to renationalise the railways, the water industry, the National Grid and Royal Mail, and there are also proposals on helping small businesses, the self-employed and enhancing “workers' rights”.
Labour’s reformist politics does not address class ownership of the means of production and distribution nor the class struggle. However, these social reforms will come up against the profit limitations of capitalism. Tax avoidance, relocating companies abroad and the unintended and negative consequences of social reforms will have a marked adverse affect on this “radical social democracy” as Mason calls it. And then there is the likelihood of an economic crisis and trade depression forcing Corbyn to protect the profitability and competition of British capitalism against the needs of the working class. The slogan “For the Many not the Few” will be forgotten as a Labour government comes up against the challenging problems thrown up by capitalism.
What will Mason do when Corbyn’s Labour government fails, as have all previous Labour governments have failed? Mason’s politics is then only a short step away from “radical liberalism”, with its cult of the individual, to free market anarchism; a movement made by others before him, like the leadership of Living Marxism/Spiked.com who, like Mason, now proclaim that the working class is not a revolutionary agency for social and historical change.
And placing so much emphasis on Marx’s 1844 notebooks, as Mason does in his NEW STATESMAN article, is ridiculous. Marx at that date, in his mid-twenties, was still working his way out of Hegel and c18th enlightenment thinking towards his own ideas. He was on a political journey and his notebooks were his way of sorting things out - not the last word by any means. Rather than take Marx’s ideas about capitalism forward, Mason appears to want to go backwards, from Marx to Hegel to classical liberalism.
Marx and the working Class
Marx’s brilliant breakthrough came in seeing in the working class as the potential agency for freedom: a universal class because it alone can create a classless society. It is a unique theory. No one else expressed it in this way because no one ever saw in the Europe of the time the potential in the down-trodden, the exploited and the poor; a class that could actually become socialists and establish socialism by their own efforts. Leaders were not needed, no matter how benign. As Marx wrote, with Engels, in the GERMAN IDEOLOGY (1846), socialist revolution
“...can only be effected through a union, which by the character of the proletariat itself can again only be a universal one, and through a revolution, in which, on the one hand, the power of the earlier mode of production and intercourse and social organization is overthrown, and, on the other hand, there develops the universal character and the energy of the proletariat, without which the revolution cannot be accomplished; and in which, further, the proletariat rids itself of everything that still clings to it from its previous position in society”.
From Marx, this was truly revolutionary thinking borne out of the material conditions of a then emerging capitalism and working class.
And Mason’s final sentence quoted above about “the impulse towards individual liberation” seems to be an attempt to reconcile Marx's early idea of freedom by means other than conscious working class action.
Marx was right about how such ideas from the likes of Mason, has come to be the received wisdom of the age; that the workers are not cut out for establishing socialism.
"Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man's ideas ... consciousness, changes with every change in .... his social life?... The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class." (see SPGB edition of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, p78).
To deny the workers can ever have the potential to become socialists and establish socialism through their own initiative and effort is surely one of the most pernicious ruling class ideas to be found in capitalism.
Workers are cut out for Socialism
Capitalism would have workers compete against each other - and different groups and sections of the working class are set against each other: skilled/unskilled, black/white, men/women, old and pensioners and sick or disabled/ hardworking, home-seekers/home-owners, etc - every possible individual or group characteristic is dragged in to create a competitive division, and prevent solidarity and unity. In many countries, language and religious differences are used to divide different ‘communities’ and nationalism is used to foment conflict and civil wars.
Yet workers have organised against capitalism; workers have politically acted in their own class interest by establishing the Socialist Party of Great Britain as far back as 1904. And in establishing a principled socialist party with socialism and only socialism as its objective workers showed that they were not permanently “encaged in bourgeois society” and quarantined from socialist revolution. True, there are few socialists on the ground but the historically capitalism cannot meet the needs of the working class it will always create dissent, questioning and a search for alternatives.
For decades, former would-be “Marxists” have declared that the working class is “dead” or has been “bought off” with the promise of cheap consumer goods and readily available entertainment like television, computer games and mass sporting events – the “culture industry” of bread and circus existence, as Adorno and Horkeimer of the Frankfurt school once remarked. They too, along with Herbert Marcuse (ESSAY ON LIBERATION, 1968) all gave up on the working class.
Mason appears to want to have Marx without the working class and without a socialist political party. He tells “the vanguard party” to go forth and multiply, which is fine by socialists since a vanguard party has nothing to do with Marx or the establishment of socialism by the working class. However Mason’s utopianism was dismissed by Marx and his co-writer Frederich Engels, at the time of writing the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. They wrote:
"The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.
They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes..”.
And in believing that workers are not cut out for making socialist revolution – making history - Mason did not see us.
Does Nationalism Trump Class ?
Unfortunately for socialists, the socialist case against capitalism comes up against the barrier of nationalism. Nationalism is a successful politics of disreputable political charlatans found across the capitalist spectrum, from Trump in the US, Farage in the UK and the mediocre populists in Hungary, Poland, Germany and France who exploit the fear of “migrants”.
Nationalism gets the votes of workers. It creates crowds waving flags, singing national anthems and painting national emblems on their faces. It creates the “other”; the refugee, the immigrant and the “alien”. And it gets workers to kill. Socialists are told that nationalism trumps class, class interest and the class struggle. We are told that there is something called “the national interest” to which both capitalists and workers automatically defer. It is true that non-socialist workers carry nationalist ideas, particular in times of war, but even during periods of war workers have been known to strike and the class struggle is never suspended.
Strike action, both large- and small-scale, was by no means uncommon during the First World War. The government had powers under the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) to deal with labour unrest and was eager to negotiate so as to prevent delays to the production of commodities vital to the war effort. The onerous powers at the disposal of the state still did not prevent the class struggle from taking place.
At the height of World War I, in February 1915, workers in munitions factories on the Clyde walked out, with industrial unrest spreading to factories in Sheffield and Birmingham. Later in the year, 15,000 Clydeside shipyard workers went on strike again, in protest at the compulsory deduction of rent arrears from their pay packets. Then, in 1917, 200,000 workers in 48 different towns walked out, mainly over wages, but also over food prices, exemptions from military service, and what they termed ‘war profiteering’.
Class is a real struggle between capital and labour while nationalism is a convenient fiction. As Marx and Engels perceptively wrote in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO (1848):
"The Communists are . . . reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationality. The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got."
Workers have no stake in a country. It is utterly irrelevant which section of the capitalist class owns the world. Workers have a world to win, not an interest in killing and being killed for the interests of another class.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain’s position is quite simple. Socialists warn workers not to take sides in capitalism’s wars and urge them to refuse their consent. Nationalism, sadly, has some force as a power and emotive set of ideas and beliefs but it is nevertheless a political fiction; it has no reality.
The only real divisions which exist in the world today are the ones between classes; a division between the capitalist class, which owns and controls the means of production and distribution and the working class, who for the most part, own none of these and is forced to sell its mental and physical labour-power to the capitalist class in order to live. Workers in the UK and the US have more in common with workers in other countries, like Libya, Afghanistan, Syria and Africa than they do with their respective ruling class and its political agents. One class and a unified class struggle across the world. Working class unity is everything.
And what of the nationalism embraced by the capitalist class?
Vickers and Krupp shared out their war-time profits after World War One.
During the Second World War, capitalism still worked for the interest of profit through and within the belligerent nation-states. In a book about the Bush family, it was shown that G.W. Bush’s grandfather – Walker – had been Hitler’s banker in the 1920s to 30s, while Prescott Bush was found guilty by Congress of trading with the enemy, during the war (GUARDIAN 25th September 2004).
In his book TRADING WITH THE ENEMY: AN EXPOSE OF THE NAZI-AMERICAN MONEY-PLOT 1933-1949", Charles Higham showed in detail how, when it come to profit-making, capitalism has no patriotic flag to wave.
One example Higham gave in his book was the Bank for International Settlements located in Basel, Switzerland towards the end of the war. The BIS was a German-controlled bank presided over by an American, Thomas H. McKittrick, even as late as 1944. While workers from the US were killing and being killed in Europe for the interest of the US capitalist class, McKittrick met with his German, Japanese, Italian, British and American colleagues to discuss the gold bars that had been sent to the Bank earlier that year by the German government for use by its leaders after the war. According to Higham that gold was:
“Gold that had been looted from the national banks of Austria, Holland, Belgium, and Czechoslovakia, or melted down from the Reichsbank holdings of the teeth fillings, spectacle frames, cigarette cases and lighters, and wedding rings of the murdered Jews” (p.1).
Morality has no place in the calculation of the capitalist class, only naked self-interest and callous “cash payment” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO).
Today, capitalists do not think twice about moving production to other parts of the world to secure cheap labour or import foreign labour to reduce wages and working conditions. Flags of convenience are another example of the “nationalism” the capitalist, where a ship's owner may decide to register a ship in a foreign country to avoid the regulations of the owners’ country which might impose stricter safety standards. They may also select a jurisdiction to reduce operating costs, bypassing laws that protect the wages and working conditions of sailors. The flag the capitalist class fly is the flag of trade and profit.
Borders are both arbitrary and political. They are arbitrary because they are artificially imposed, usually by conquest or enforced “alliances”. And they are political because, whatever assets of a country’s ruling class they contain - minerals, oil, the physical means of production and distribution, transport and communication systems – these are all under the protection of the machinery of government, backed-up by the armed forces of the state.
In modern capitalism, where paradoxically, international travel and communications are far easier than in past times, the world is increasingly subdivided by political borders defined by walls and fences, backed by border guards or armed troops (e.gg. Isreal-Palastine, India-Bangladesh, or the Us-Mexico border).
Socialism, by contrast, would be a world without borders, without border guards, without detention centres and concentration camps, without walls and barbed wire. Passports, migrants desperately searching for work and refugees fleeing war-zones will not exist. People will be able to freely travel around the planet, and meet with other people elsewhere in the world in human friendship and mutual respect.
World socialism will be one people living where and how they want to live without a “hostile environment”, the imposition of “immigration acts, xenophobia, a fear of the “other” and the “outsider”. There will not be “patriots”, “white nationalists” or the struggle for “national liberation”. Socialism will be a society of inclusion not exclusion.
Nationalism and Patriotism is only for idiots. Does nationalism trump class and class interest? If you want to see the consequences of nationalism – a political poison that affects the minds of the working class, particularly during the build-up to conflict between nation states, - then visit the war cemetery at Passchendaele.
There are no common interests between capitalists and workers, only class conflict. The pursuit of profit by employers always means two classes, with diametrically opposite interests struggling over the reality of class exploitation; profit and wages, and politically over the ownership of the means to life.
Neoliberalism or Capitalism?
Fictional accounts of Capitalism
Before 1979, if you are to believe the fictional accounts of capitalism given by the capitalist left, all was grand and dandy in the UK. Children roamed freely and safely through orchards and meadows, the young had no worries about housing, wages and employment, the middle aged were all content and happy while the elderly could relax and live out their remaining years on generous pensions and the safety net of the NHS. Bliss was it then to be alive.
Then along came Margaret Thatcher and all became darkness and gloom. And this evil politician brought with her the seeds of market fundamentalism known as Neoliberalism which she then planted in this veritable Garden of Eden of post-war political consensus and full employment. As a consequence, we are told, Thatcher reaped havoc on everyone’s lives except, that is, the rich and the privileged.
That is a very powerful and oft-repeated political narrative used by the capitalist left to hide its own inadequacy and irrelevance, but it is wholly a myth. Life for the working class majority was just as hard before May 3rd 1979 as it was afterwards. Unfortunately political fairy stories have an enduring power and influence.
So what is Neoliberalism?
The essential claim of Neoliberalism is that the market and competition are the answer to every economic and social question facing governments. “If it moves, privatise it”, as one of its supporters once said. Markets, so free marketers claim, are rational, efficient and harmonious.
The failure of Keynesianism to prevent economic crises and periodic high levels of unemployment within western capitalism gave “free market” ideas and policies of privatisation and de-regulation, the upper hand. Supporters of nationalisation lost out to those advocating privatisation although nationalisation has nothing to do with socialism: state ownership is still capitalism, not the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution. Nor is nationalisation a stepping stone to socialism. Nationalisation is just one capitalist policy among many, useful in the past in dealing with monopolies or inefficient but important industries.
This movement towards market solutions rather than government intervention also coincided with the end of the Cold War in 1991, the rise of globalisation and the numerous trade agreements arranged between nations under the auspices of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. Market fundamentalism was also propagated by dozens of evangelical free market institutes like the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs; all devotees of the classical liberalism of F.A. Hayek and von Mises whose ideas were dominating economic discourse from the 1980s.
Like Keynesianism before it, free market fundamentalism was not going to last. It too had a short shelf-life. The end of the policy Neoliberalism policy was caused by the reality of capitalism biting home. If the legacy of Keynesianism was the oil crises and stagflation of the 1970s then what did it for economic liberalism was the global economic crash of 2007–08, an event defenders of Neoliberalism said was never meant to happen. Markets did fail; they were not harmonious and self-adjusting nor did a wholly free, unregulated, market economy give long term growth and prosperity to everyone.
“No more boom and bust”, boasted Gordon Brown, again showing that those who believe they can run capitalism often find their political careers ending in hubris and failure. Capitalism runs and ruins politicians. Globalisation policies created few winners and many losers, with the 1% amassing more wealth than any ruling class in human history but for the majority of the world’s population it was a life of misery and poverty.
Although by 2017 the globe's richest 1% owned half the world's wealth (GUARDIAN, 14 November 2017), immigrants were conveniently blamed by the losers for their own desperate plight and desperate circumstances. Following wars in the Middle East, like that in Syria, the movement of refugees into Europe has been exploited by politicians for their own political advantage. A racist politics has now asserted itself in Germany and Austria, with the “Alt Right” in the US and in central Europe like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. The extremist wing of the Brexit and UKIP movements in Britain has also exploited racist and xenophobic fears and resentment.
With Neoliberalism being increasingly challenged by economic nationalism there has been a rise in white supremacism, anti immigration and political populism. Protectionism is now becoming fashionable once again, as it did during the depression of the 1930s, with Trump imposing tariffs on imports from China, Canada, Mexico and the EU and Jeremy Corbyn announcing that British naval shipping contracts will stay in the UK to be built by British not foreign labour (INDEPENDENT 10th May 2018).
Neoliberalism: “A story of recklessness, hubris and greed”?
It is quite clear why the capitalist left use the term “Neoliberalism” rather than capitalism. It is because they defend a particular form of capitalism rather than seek its abolition. This is also true of the so-called “financialisation” of the economy over the last 40 years, often given as the reason for the economic crash of 2007/8 (see UK Crises: HISTORICAL DESCRIPTION AND THEORETICAL EXPLANATION, Professor Simon Mohun, THEORY AND STRUGGLE, 14th March 2018, pp114-120).
“If proponents of neo-liberalism, as the cause of crises and under-investment in productive capital are right, then the political response would be to end neo-liberalism, regulate or nationalise the financial sector which is well short of the revolutionary transformation of the entire capitalist system. However, there was exploitation of wage labour and cyclical economic crises and trade depressions before economic liberalism as there will be after its demise, unless, of course, the working class establish socialism”.
Neoliberalism was in the news again on the 16th May 2018 when a cross-party group of MPs on two select committees published a report on the bankrupt Carillion construction firm which had cost thousands of jobs and left many sub-contractors unpaid. The MPs stated that Carillion was:
“A story of recklessness, hubris and greed”
Writing in the GUARDIAN the following day, Owen Jones said that the committee’s report on Carillion was “an epitaph on Neoliberalism” (“Carillion is no one-off scandal. There are many more to come”, 17th May 2018).
Jones went on to say Carillion was a:
“...symptom of a decaying social order that is anti-democratic, inefficient and places profit ahead of people’s need, aspiration and even lives” .
He believed that the state of the world was caused by Neoliberalism, allowing greedy bankers and avaricious directors putting “profit before people”. Of course “profit before people” is not a socialist slogan. Socialists want to see people’s needs being met not profit, which is an altogether different proposition advocated by Jones. He wants capitalism without the effects of capitalism. This is pure utopianism.
However, putting profit before people tells shareholders that directors of companies are only doing their job. And if you want democracy surely you should be advancing the establishment of socialism, not another variation of capitalism. Unaware of the realities of capitalism, Jones concluded:
“Since the dawn of Neoliberalism in the late 1970s, Britain has suffered its worst three slumps of the post-war era, as well as lower growth that has been less equitably distributed. In the past decade, workers have suffered the worse squeeze in modern times. All of this is interlinked: from privatisation to deregulation to the shifting of power from workers to bosses. Carillion is a story of a system that favours profit, dividends and shareholder’s interests over the common good. That system is Neoliberalism. Until we have a government that rips up these contracts and brings all these public services back in-house, there will be many more Carillons to come”
Jones’s answer: vote Corbyn and vote for a Labour Government. Yet, voting for another capitalist political party and its anti-working class policies is no answer at all. And certainly a vote for labour at the next general election is just another vote for the continuation of wage slavery.
The Reality of Capitalism
What about the capitalist reality before the rise of “Neoliberalism”?
Let us take for example the 1970s just prior to Thatcher taking power and supposedly sowing the seeds for 40 years of Neoliberalism.
In 1973 there was a period of economic stagnation in the UK and much of the Western world over which governments had no control. The crisis ended post-war economic expansion. It differed from many previous depressions by being a stagflation, where high unemployment and high inflation existed simultaneously. Post-war government policies, Tory and Labour alike, were influenced by Keynes’s theory, which held that mass unemployment was caused by low levels of demand so could be countered by inflation to boost workers’ spending power. As inflation caused prices and wages to rise, by the 1970s, government economists and even Labour politicians were starting to question this received wisdom, and some even latched onto the economic dogmas of the free market Chicago School led by Professor Milton Friedman.
By 1975 inflation had reached 25 per cent. To combat inflation it was agreed by the government and the TUC that wage increases would be restricted to £6 per week. Unemployment continued to rise and the government was forced to accept loans from the IMF with the consequence that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was forced to cut government expenditure including social welfare.
Unemployment in March 1976 was well in excess of 1,000,000 people, whereas it had been less than 600,000 at the start of the decade. This was the result of the economic decline, as well as advancing engineering techniques which required fewer personnel, along with other factors including the closure of unprofitable factories and coalmines.
By September 1978 there may have been signs of economic growth but inflation was still at 10%, and unemployment now stood at a post-war high of 1,500,000.
In 1976 James Callaghan had become Prime Minister after Wilson had resigned due to ill-health. In 1977 Callaghan announced a wages ceiling of 10 percent (inflation was running at 15.9 percent) and then in July 1978 stated that wage increases would be kept at 5 per cent.
Callaghan lost the co-operation of the trade unions. During the winter of 1978-9 a number of strikes took place, the most serious for the government being the lorry drivers.
The Labour government also used troops to break the fire-fighters’ strike. The strike, again over pay, started on November 14th and lasted for nine weeks, stretching over Christmas and New Year. The unions were calling for a 30 per cent pay increase but their demands were turned down by the Labour government. More than 10,000 members of the armed forces were brought in to cover for the striking fire-fighters.
At the 1978 Labour conference, Callaghan announced that you could no longer spend your way out of a depression and abandoned the Keynesian post-war economic policy for the monetarism of Milton Friedman and his ‘Chicago Boys’ - fresh from advising the Chilean dictatorship under Augusto José Ramón Pinochet.
In the election of March 1979 Callaghan was voted out of office by an electorate who had been persuaded by the media that the problem lay with the trade unions not capitalism. These were the real social conditions faced by the working class before the Thatcher regime of 1979, not some fictional world of milk and honey.
Capitalism is the problem not Neoliberalism
The problem facing the working class is not government policy – whether it be Keynesianism, Monetarism or Neoliberalism - but capitalism. There is a fallacious view that somehow the right politician with the right policies can make capitalism into an equitable and benign social system. This is pure utopianism.
Capitalism is an integrated world-wide system of commodity production and exchange for profit. It has an exploitive wages system and a working class majority who do not own the means of production and distribution but are forced onto the labour market to sell their ability to work for a wage or as salary.
And it is also a social system of war and conflict. Wars under capitalism are caused by competition over resources such as oil and gas, spheres of strategic importance and trade routes. Today there are wars in Syria, in Yemen and in the occupied areas of Palestine. There are also potential future wars between Israel and Iran, Russia and adjoining countries like the Ukraine and between the US and China in the South Indian Sea. And wars and conflict under capitalism will continue even if Corbyn ever gets elected into power and will still take place once he has left office. Only the establishment of socialism can end war.
And it is capitalism which causes poverty, poor health provision and inadequate housing. The profit system caused poverty prior to 1979 and did so after Thatcher came to power, because the working class does not own the means of production and distribution. It is capitalism that causes the problems facing workers and their families not a particular government policy. It is not in the power of governments to end class exploitation, poverty and war.
Economic crises predate Neoliberalism and, if Corbyn’s Labour Party gets into power, there is no reason why, during Corbyn’s period in office as Prime Minister, there will not be another economic crisis and lower growth. Capitalism has contradictions, stresses and conflicts which politicians cannot control. Like its predecessors, a Labour government would have to prioritise the interests of capitalism and the profit motive against the needs of the working class. You cannot have “socialist distribution” and equality based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. And if governments introduced too much regulation that it makes British capitalism uncompetitive on the world market they it would be met with protests from capitalists and their political, media and economic supporters.
Nationalisation, the Labour Party’s nostrum, is not the answer for working class problems. It has been tried and failed. Nationalisation can never meet the needs of the working class. The history of nationalisation was a history of workers employed in the state sector facing redundancy through “efficiency” measures in order to save money being forced to accept low pay and “wage freeze” policies and having to take strike action to secure higher wages and better working conditions. From the perspective of working class interests there is no difference being employed by the State or by individual capitalists. Both forms of capitalism leave workers exploited and vulnerable to redundancy.
Under capitalism profit will always come before human needs. You cannot have a form of capitalism which balances profit with human needs. It is either a social system based on profit or a social system based on human needs. It can’t be both. Rather than workers waste their vote on Jeremy Corbyn’s reformism, the working class should use their vote as socialists to end capitalism.
Capitalism, War and Robotics
According to Ian Sample, Science editor of the GUARDIAN, thousands of scientists who specialise in artificial intelligence (AI) have declared that they will not participate in the development or manufacture of robots that can identify and attack people without human oversight. He wrote that:
“Demis Hassabis at Google DeepMind and Elon Musk at the US rocket company SpaceX are among more than 2,400 signatories to the pledge which intends to deter military firms and nations from building lethal autonomous weapon systems, also known as Laws”.
And Sample goes on to say:
“Orchestrated by the Boston-based organisation, The Future of Life Institute, the pledge calls on governments to agree norms, laws and regulations that stigmatise and effectively outlaw the development of killer robots. In the absence of such measures today, the signatories pledge to “neither participate in nor support the development, manufacture, trade, or use of lethal autonomous weapons.” More than 150 AI-related firms and organisations added their names to the pledge to be announced today at the International Joint Conference on AI in Stockholm”. (Thousands of leading AI researchers sign pledge against killer robots” (GUARDIAN, 18th July 2018).
This is reminiscent of previous peace pledges, all of which have failed.
At the establishment of the Labour Party, its leaders, like Keir Hardie, said that the Labour Party would get rid of armaments and war. Throughout the entire 20th century Labour governments not only signed armament contracts and supported the war industry by selling guns and planes to other countries, and signing arms contracts with dictators, mass murders and torturers, but also the Labour Party, in and out of government, took part in two major world wars and dozens of smaller ones. In 2006, a century after the launch of that party, the Labour government was engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Capitalism can never give permanent peace nor can scientists and others influence governments not to develop particular types of weaponry because no capitalist country, in intense competition with other capitalist countries over raw resources, trade routes and strategic spheres of influence, will ever give up their weapons or stop researching and developing new ways to kill and destroy. Permanent peace was supposed to be the dividend at the end of the cold war but wars have continued as well as the use of more and more destructive armaments.The idealism professed by the signatories of the petition declaring their non-co-operation in designing killer robots is not new. For instance, after 1945 there was a similar principled declaration by nuclear scientists following the publication of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto.
A few days after the release of the manifesto, philanthropist Cyrus S. Eaton offered to sponsor a conference—called for in the manifesto—in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Eaton's birthplace. This was attended by many leading physicists who decided to persuade governments not to use nuclear weapons but only to work on peaceful applications of nuclear physics.
Nevertheless the main Cold War rivals continued their research into more destructive weapons of mass destruction with often dreadful consequences. According to the records the Russian authorities released in 1991, the Soviets set off 214 nuclear bombs in the open air between 1949 and 1962, when the United Nations banned atmospheric tests worldwide. The billions of radioactive particles released into the air exposed countless people to “extremely “mutagenic and carcinogenic materials, resulting genetic maladies and deformities”
Peace conferences do not turn out as their instigators initially wished for. In 1899 the Tsar’s army was very large and found to be too expensive. The cost of the Russian army at the time equalled the combined cost of the armies of France and Germany. So the Tsar organised a peace conference at The Hague for countries to agree to cut the cost of armaments and to reduce the size of their respective armies. Twenty-eight countries attended the conference and passed a series of pious resolutions. Fifteen years later the First World War began, costing the capitalist class billions of pounds in lost profits and setting in motion a train of events which led to the end of the Tsar as well as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. These events also led to the dictatorships in Russia under Lenin and in Germany under Hitler, and eventually another World War in 1939.
The Hague convention of 1909 had one success. The signatories to the convention voted to prevent the dropping of bombs from balloons, which was limited to five years. Of course, technology had moved on from 1909 and now the Germans had the Zeppelin airship to drop bombs. The main campaign against England started in January 1915 using airships. From then until the end of World War I the German armed forces mounted over 50 bombing raids on the United Kingdom. Twenty years after the end of that war, another war began, one in which the dropping of bombs was even more destructive culminating in the dropping of atomic bombs in 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing tens of thousands of civilians and maiming countless others.
Since 1899 there have been countless wars and the cost of military expenditure has gone on rising to a rate many times more than it was at the end of the 19th century. And the cost to the capitalist class for World War II alone was 1 trillion dollars with some 54 million deaths –dead workers who would have normally been used to generate surplus value (WIKIPEDIA 2013). Such are the contradictions to be found in capitalism.
This does not deter starry-eyed idealists like Yoshua Bengio, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) pioneer at the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms. He told the GUARDIAN that if the pledge was able to shame those companies and military organisations building autonomous weapons, public opinion would swing against them. He said:
“This approach actually worked for land mines, thanks to international treaties and public shaming, even though major countries like the US did not sign the treaty banning landmines. American companies have stopped building landmines”.
The majority of the countries remaining outside the treaty keep stockpiles that collectively total around 50 million landmines. If not destroyed, those landmines remain ready to be used at any time.
The biggest stockpiles of antipersonnel landmines are held by: Russia, Pakistan, India, China, and the United States. In 2016, an average of 23 people around the world lost their life or limb to a landmine or another explosive remnant of war, every day
And the US might not be producing land mines but its armed forces have other particularly nasty weapons of mass destruction, like their nuclear arsenal which they are currently expanding.
Consequently, it is doubtful if the US will give up its research into the design of killer robots when other countries are also carrying out this research. The US military is one of the largest funders and adopters of AI technology. With advanced computer systems, robots can fly missions over hostile terrain, navigate on the ground, and patrol under seas. Remote-controlled drones, operated from computers in distant bases, have been responsible for many deaths in Syria and other wars.
More sophisticated weapon systems are always in the pipeline. And the UK is not far behind in developing AI research with military capacity. In July 2018, the defence secretary Gavin Williamson unveiled a £2bn plan for a new RAF fighter, the Tempest, which will be able to fly without a pilot.
UK ministers have stated that Britain is not developing lethal autonomous weapons systems and that its forces will always have oversight and control of the weapons it deploys. But the campaigners warn that rapid advances in AI and other fields mean it is now feasible to build sophisticated weapons that can identify, track and fire on human targets without consent from a human controller.
Not long ago, this was thought to be the stuff of science fiction, a nightmare fantasy of the cinema of special effects. Now, robotic devices are routinely used by police for tracking individuals, with face recognition software able to identify protesters in mass demonstrations.
For years banks and other commercial organisations have also made use of these new technologies, state departments can identify motor vehicles, the public using their credit cards are routinely tracked, while their movements are constantly monitored via CCTV cameras.
An American science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, wrote of a future with robots. He suggested in his First Law of Robotics that all robots should be banned from harming humans. But capitalism has other priorities.
Today, for every drone being used to deliver medicines to remote African villages or to monitor wildlife and earthquakes, there must be thousands being used to murder and maim in the killing fields of capitalism’s conflicts. This technology reinforces the modern mode of warfare as being typically asymmetric – a conflict where ancient rifles are used by some of the poorest in the planet against sophisticated and well-funded forces using the latest in remote-controlled lethal drones.
If scientists do not want to see the development of autonomous killer robots then they will have to acknowledge that you have first to get rid of the capitalist cause of warfare and join with socialists in working to replace the profit system with world
Putting socialism on the Menu
Socialism is not a very popular word at the moment. The meaning of socialism is also totally misunderstood, erroneously linked with the reform policies of Jeremy Corbyn, as a false description of the political regimes found in China, Cuba and Venezuela, and the failure of what was once the Soviet Empire.
Socialism, though, simply means a social system in which the production and distribution of goods and services takes place solely and directly to meet human needs instead of making profit. Socialism, which has never existed, will be based on the common ownership and democratic control of the worldwide means of production and distribution by all of society.
Socialism and the urgent need for socialism to be established by a working class majority are constantly attacked in the capitalist media: par for the course. However, it is extremely rare for socialism to be attacked in the glossy foodie supplements which fall out of the broadsheet Sunday newspapers, like the OBSERVER. The OBSERVER, although it weeps over the plight of the poor, panders to the consumption habits of rich and powerful. It sends its food critics to expensive restaurants - not to food banks. It wants capitalism but not the effects of capitalism.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the OBSERVER food critic, Tim Adams, recently interviewed Yevgevy Chichvarkin about the new restaurant, Hide, he has recently opened up in Mayfair, London. Chichvarkin made his millions in Boris Yeltsin’s corrupt winner-take-all Russia, but later fell out of favour with President Putin and now is an exiled wealthy Russian Oligarch with a smart Chelsea address.
Chichvarkin owns a wine shop, Hedonism, in Berkeley Square where a bottle of 1847 Yquem sells for £76,000 although an 1848 red would suit any discerning wine collector’s cellar. After all, 1848 was a revolutionary year in which Marx and Engels published The COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. However, Mr Chichvarkin has a great dislike for Marx and Engels as he does for socialism. He told the OBSERVER food critic, who had brought up the subject of socialism, as you do over a drinkable glass of wine:
“I think people should go and live 60 days in Russia in the 1970s. They would lose 10 kilos, be beaten-up, queue for cans of fish, and then they should come and talk about socialism” (OBSERVER FOOD MONTHLY, July 2018, no.206).
Of course Russia was never socialist. Russia, in fact, was state capitalist. Marx was quite clear that socialism meant the abolition of the wages system, the absence of the buying and selling of labour power – people’s ability to work – and no coercive state, totalitarian or otherwise.
It is doubtful, if Mr Chichvarkin and his wealthy patrons would be found queuing at the hundreds of food banks to be found in the UK. The nearest food bank to the Hide restaurant is the Trussell Trust food bank at Buckingham Gate. It is one of the 400 food banks used by the millions of people in the UK who live below the official poverty line.
A study of the users of food banks, by researchers at Oxford University stated in their report:
“Most food bank users reported that they were unable to afford to buy sufficient food, as well as finding it difficult to pay the rent, heat their home or buy clothes and toiletries. This should be regarded as a “serious health concern” (GUARDIAN 29th June 2017).
In 2017, the Trussell Trust’s food banks delivered 1,332, 952 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis across the UK, a 13% increase on the previous year. Low income is the main, and growing, reason (INDEPENDENT 24th April 2018).
Those queuing at the Trussell centres for food would be malnourished, hungry and humiliated at having to beg for food. Those using food banks would never be found either visiting Chichvarkin’s restaurant or drinking his rare cognac at £36,000 a bottle, a price more than the average yearly wage of workers in the UK.
Of course the desperate are free to avoid food banks by scavenging through the waste bins of restaurants like Hide.
And scavenging for food is taking on an air of respectability. It is called “Dumpster Diving” by self-styled “freegans”. The Real Junk food project reclaims food from bins of restaurants and supermarkets destined for landfill and redistribute this to shared houses, cafes and school partnerships.
The “hospitality” industry wastes $100bn of food each year so there is a lot to choose from (GUARDIAN, 15th May 2018). And capitalism likes “choice”. “Free to Choose” (1980), the late Professor Milton Friedman once said. “Free to lose” was the socialist’s reply. And under capitalism the losers have dustbins in which to forage for left-over’s and food banks in which to queue for handouts
In the end, the food consumed by the rich at Hide and the food consumed by the poor at the nearby food banks all becomes excrement, sharing a common destination as it flows through the sewers of London to be treated, composted or sent to anaerobic digestion tanks, which creates enough methane to fire a power station. Under capitalism equality only exists as shit.
Capitalism: a system of waste amid want; a social system in which the capitalist class enjoys the best society can produce while thousands are left to queue at food banks or have waste food distributed to them via refuse bins. Is this the type of society we really want to live in?
Socialism should be on the menu. The first course: the formation of a socialist majority. The second course: socialist revolution and the political capture of the machinery of government including the armed forces. The third course: the establishment of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
In socialism free access will mean just that: free access. The housing crisis, caused by capitalism and one of the reasons why people are forced to go to food-banks, is the result of the high cost of rents and the exorbitant price of houses. The rich never suffer from a housing crisis, and are never found sleeping rough. Nor do they have to beg for food from charities.
Under capitalism nothing is free except fresh air – everything else comes with a price tag attached. Rationing by the purse is the rule. And the patient queues at food banks and desperate hopeless homelessness are the inevitable result of capitalism’s inhuman priorities, of production for profit.
This system has to go – like the waste food from restaurants and supermarkets, it is well past its sell-by date. It is a system ripe for the dustbin of history.
Marx: From Each According to Ability
Marx famously wrote in his CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAMME (1875) that in a developed communist/socialist system the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” would hold as a guiding principle. Communism and Socialism mean the same thing – the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
The basis of Marx’s statement was the realisation by the working class of a socialist society. There would be an abundance of goods and services to which all people would have direct access. Labour would be voluntary and there would be a free association of men and women engaged in the democratic organisation of society at all levels of decision making.
The phrase “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” has a long history within the socialist tradition. The phrase was used by August Becker in WAS WOOLLEN DIE KOMMUNISTEN (1844) and by Louis Blanc in PLUS DE GIRONDINS (1851).
The phrase has also been attributed to the French utopian socialist, Etienne-Gabriel Morelly. In his 1755 Code of Nature Morelly wrote of the “Sacred and Fundamental Laws that would tear out the roots of vice and of all evils of society”. These “Laws” would include the following three principles:
1 Nothing in society will belong to anyone, either as a personal possession or as capital goods, except the things for which the person has immediate use, for his needs, his pleasures, or his daily work.
2 Every citizen will be a public man, sustained by, supported by, and occupied at the public expense.
3 Every citizen will make his particular contribution to the activities of the community according to his capacity, his talent and his age; it is on this basis that his duties will be determined, in conformity with the distributive laws.
(See Gregory Titelman, RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY OF POPULAR PROVERBS AND SAYINGS, 1996, p. 108).
A useful overview of the origins of the phrase is given in Wikipedia
However, unlike previous use of the phrase, Marx related “from each according to ability: to each according to need” to what he called a “higher phase of communist society”. Is this still necessary?
In the 21st century, Marx’s reference to a “lower communist society” and a “higher communist society” are irrelevant and redundant. Capitalism has developed the forces of production, -including social and co-operative labour – to such an extent that communism/socialism can be established in its fullest form immediately, given, that is, the existence of a world-wide socialist majority.
In socialism, a person’s “ability” will be the self-realisation of their socially useful and creative potential. This ability of someone to do something useful and creative would be freely and unconditionally given will not be coerced, rewarded or paid for.
There will be free and voluntary labour. Work, in socialism, would be a creative act where a person would be able to develop their particular talents to the full. Work would not only become “a means of life” but become one of “life’s primes want” (CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAMME)”. For many workers, forced into the wages system, work as “life’s prime want” is incomprehensible, given what paid employment amounts to. However, in socialism work will not be something to be feared or avoided.
The second half of Marx’s dictum is no less revolutionary. “To each according to needs” just means that production and distribution in socialism will take place to produce and distribute goods and services directly to meet people’s needs, whatever they happen to be.
Socialism would not be tied to artificial scarcity of the market but will be able to produce an abundance of goods and services in terms of housing, clothes, art and culture, transport and so on.
What prevents the establishment of socialism and the realisation of Marx’s guiding principle is not the forces of production but the absence of a socialist majority. For socialism to be possible it first requires a socialist majority taking conscious, democratic and political action within a principled socialist party.
Without a socialist majority there can be no socialism and no way of realising Marx’ principle “from each according to ability: to each according to needs”.
Marx had no love for political economy – referring to it in a letter to Engels as “shit”. He once said that nobody has written so much about money but had so little themselves. He wrote about political economy as something tyrannical and needing to be removed.
Marx critique of political economy was to lay bear the tyrannical grip of capital and economics over human lives. He analysed “capital in motion” from its beginnings, through to its contradictory , its violent movement in time and anarchic global development, to its potential termination at the hands of the working class – its gravediggers.
If men and women realise their own particular capacity and self-realisation how does this differ from classical liberalism where the individual as an atomised agent pursues his or her self-realisation in isolation from others. Marx’s answer was that in any complex society men and women could only realise their capacity through the realisation of other people doing the same. The self realisation of the individual will become the self realisation of all – COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.
What will be the necessary institutions to enable this association to flourish? For Marx, it was co-operative and democratic institutions of free men and women working voluntarily together. Marx did not believe in equality as uniformity. He stated:
“from each according to ability to each according to needs” – CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAMME
Marx set out the specific conditions under which such principle would apply—a society where technology and social organization had substantially eliminated the need for physical labour in the production of things, where "labour has become not only a means of life but life's prime want", where there was abundance, no buying and selling and free and direct access to what people needed to flourish and live worthwhile lives.
Marx explained his belief that, in socialism, each person would be motivated to work for the good of society. That is why there first has to be a socialist majority not only understanding the need for socialism but being prepared to undertaken the necessary work and organisation necessary for a socialist society to produce and reproduce itself as a integrated world social system.
In conclusion, Marx intended the initial part of his slogan, "from each according to his ability" to suggest not merely that each person should work as hard as they can, but that each person should best develop their particular talents. Marx also used the word “need” to refer to subjective as well and objective wants in a society producing at the level of abundance, all of which would be freely available to everyone.
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 stew)”.
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 (necessary labour time). 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 (surplus labour time).
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 for a profit.
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 (absolute surplus value), or by decreasing the value of labour power, that is, decreasing necessary labour (relative surplus value).
Empirically this can be observed when capitalists introduce new machinery and speed up production, by displacing workers who are no longer needed and by making those workers remaining taking on a greater burden of the work for the same pay.
Absolute surplus value can be increased by an extension of the working day, but this depends on the relative strengths of the capitalist class and the working class. Marx wrote:
“Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is the working day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working class (CAPITAL, Volume 1, Ch. X, p. 235).
Relative surplus value can be increased by decreasing the value of labour power, the commodity workers sell to the capitalist class in exchange for a wage or salary. The value of labour power can be decreased by increased labour productivity in the production of the subsistence commodities workers need to buy in order to live. If, for example, there is increased productivity in food production, each unit of food would have less labour embodied in it and the food consumed by the working class would have less value (see CAPITAL VOLUME 1, Ch. XVII, p. 523).
The rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation is defined by Marx as the ratio of surplus value created to the value of variable capital. Variable capital is that part of capital which alters in value during the process of production as opposed to constant capital – raw materials and machinery - which simply transfer their value to the final commodity.
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.
Note: Mathematically the rate of exploitation can be expressed as:
S(V) = surplus value/ variable capital = surplus value/value of labour power = surplus labour/necessary labour = s(V)/ v(V)
Nationalism, Racism and Populism
Disillusion, Discontent and Division: this cocktail deludes workers into voting for supposed leaders, politicians who will solve their problems at a stroke.
That belief in the magical power of supposedly Great Men has led to the election of Trump in the US, Erdogan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, Xi in China, Duterte in the Philippines, Al Sisi in Egypt, Modi in India, and a score of other increasingly extremist right-wing and racist governments in Europe and around the world. In Britain the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign was fuelled by xenophobia and racist rhetoric, with the slogan “take back control”. In Trump’s America, an ‘alt-right’ demonstration in Washington in August 2018 was said to be about ”restoring our rights which had been robbed” – an echo of the old Ku Klux Klan (KKK) slogans, opposing the Civil Rights movement in the name of ‘states’ rights’.
It seems as if there is a global epidemic of anger: in so many countries workers are increasingly divided, led by demagogues to believe their problems are caused by refugees, or religious or racial minorities. The ‘populist’ politicians play on this, exploiting supposed grievances and grudges. Instead of pointing to the real causes of workers’ problems, these charlatans offer the magic potions of blacklisting and deporting supposedly ‘illegal’ immigrants and ‘bogus’ asylum seekers (a.k.a. refugees).
But low pay, unemployment, and shortages of housing, hospital beds, etc., are not the fault of immigrants and refugees, or religious or racial minorities. The problems of poverty are to be found worldwide, even in populations with very little racial or ethnic diversity. That is because their root cause is the capitalist system, a system of class exploitation, which exploits, degrades and humiliates all workers, native and immigrant alike.
In Britain where whole industries have closed down as Capital sought cheaper labour in China and South East Asia, likewise in the US when car manufacturers relocated to Mexico, mass unemployment resulted from capitalism’s basic law - cut-throat competition. To expect otherwise would be like wanting a river to run uphill. The politics of ‘populism’ feeds upon ignorance and prejudice – divisive, nationalist rhetoric rouses racism and xenophobia, an epidemic of anger erupts, and workers end up fighting against each other, not against the capitalist system.
The Wizard of Oz
In this popular film, the “all-powerful” Wizard of Oz is found to be just a charlatan with no real answer to Dorothy’s problem. In Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar – ambitious to be crowned emperor – is no Superman, and there are protests:
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,
That he is grown so great? ...
Ye gods, it doth amaze me,
A man of such a feeble temper should
So get the start of the majestic world,
And bear the palm alone...
And this man / Is now become a god
JULIUS CAESAR, Act I, sc. ii
The SPGB’s 1948 pamphlet, THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO AND THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS, described the 1930s, when Europe was dominated by dictatorships, as a period characterised by “the propaganda of slogans in place of knowledge, and the strutting of impotent and empty-headed leaders who clothed themselves with a little temporary limelight” (p 37).
Today’s politics seem to echo these words. Every one of those men named in the first paragraph of this article could well have been the model for this description! You could also add in the preposterous Boris Johnson, with his open ambition to become the next Tory Prime Minister, who bases his appeal on a racist dog-whistle article sneering at Muslim women who wear traditional veils, for whatever reasons. This outrageous ploy resulted in the orange-haired one hogging the August newspaper headlines for over a week, echoing the election stunts of Donald Trump who from the start had targeted Muslims and Mexicans.
Racism and ‘Populism’
In the US, today’s racism is not a new phenomenon, just an old one in new clothes. A recent book by historian Jon Meacham, THE SOUL OF AMERICA - THE BATTLE FOR OUR BETTER ANGELS, described how, through the 20th century, there were taboos on racial ‘integration’, fears of immigration, and of the Japanese in World War II, and post-war the rabid anti-Communism that led to McCarthyism and witch-hunts. Always there was a paranoid fear of ‘the other’.
Racism ruled especially in the southern states, south of the Mason-Dixon Line, where Jim Crow laws persisted, as did KKK lynchings. In the 1950s, Senator Strom Thurmond, in a racist speech at Charlottesville, VA, opposed integrated public swimming pools, arguing this would lead to communism. In the 1960s, Governor George Wallace of Alabama was fiercely opposed to the federal law on racial integration in schools. KKK white supremacist groups had an estimated 3m membership in the 1920-1930s and, even in New York, the KKK held large violent rallies, requiring 1,000 police to maintain order. The recent revival of the Confederate flag and of neo-Nazi swastika armbands and slogans, openly flaunted at extremist ‘alt-right’ marches, is symbolic proof that this deep-rooted racism still appeals to some of the American workers.
In Britain, in the late 19th and early 20th century, racism took the form of a widespread anti-Semitism as many Jews arrived fleeing the pogroms and persecution of Russia and eastern Europe. Earlier there had been English prejudice down the centuries against the Scots, Welsh and Irish and, in Tudor times, against French refugees. Later, with the arrival of post-war immigrants from the West Indies, the new prejudice took the form of systematic discrimination. Immigrants looking for rooms to rent were faced with notices saying ”No Coloureds, No Irish, No Dogs” and estate agents showed them only the worst housing. Job discrimination was widespread.
The newcomers were said to be a threat to the ‘British way of life’, to the sense of ‘national identity’. Colour prejudice was rooted in British imperialism which saw the ‘colonials’ as uncivilised. The ‘white man’s burden’ was said to be a duty to bring the blessings of Christianity and civilisation to the colonies. White men who served as troops, police and administrators regarded those they ruled over as inferiors, and this racist ideology was taught in schools. Such racist divisiveness could not last, especially after the immigrants were seen as neighbours and colleagues at work.
Like Americans, a nation of immigrants, the English/British were always a mongrel breed, as De Foe argued in his 17th-century satire THE TRUE-BORN ENGLISHMAN:
For Englishmen to boast of generation
Cancels their knowledge and lampoons the nation.
A true-born Englishman’s a contradiction,
In speech an irony, in fact a fiction; ...
A metaphor invented to express
A man akin to all the universe.
However, British government policy now is to deport any immigrants who could not produce enough documents to ‘prove’ their residence in Britain for every year for many decades. Failure to do this means you lose your job, your home, your access to the health service, education, state benefits, and even legal aid. You become an ‘un-person’. Policies like this were introduced because Tory – and Labour - politicians supposed their voters to be prejudiced and racist and, by “playing the race card”, they pandered to this divisive prejudice.
An Age of ‘Big Brother’ Politics
In Putin’s Russia, the leader’s ideological mainstay is Orthodox Christianity, combined with xenophobia, nationalism and a state-sponsored militarist culture. And Stalin’s ‘cult of personality’ still lives on. Putin may not indulge in mass murders and a Gulag Archipelago totalitarian terror, but he controls the judiciary and most of the mass media, and from time to time his opponents are murdered (e.g. Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Nemtsov). Like Orwell’s Big Brother in “1984”, Putin the Paranoid portrays Russia as surrounded by powerful enemies – Georgians, Chechen ‘terrorists’, Ukrainian ‘fascists’, and the West. Huge sums are spent on the military, leaving precious little for social welfare or basic infrastructure. His ‘elections’ are as rigged as those held in African states.
There is a similar picture in other states ruled by authoritarian would-be ‘Great Men’. Look at China under President-for-life Xi: a state which still operates on Stalinist lines with vast forced-labour camps, total intolerance of dissidents, and a fearsome growth of new forms of IT and AI combining facial identity and computer records so as to give the state complete control of the citizens. In North Korea, little brother Kim echoes the Stalinist methods of the master.
Then there is Egypt under former General Al Sisi, swept to power by the army after a coup and a massacre of unarmed demonstrators - a state where journalists are jailed and tortured. There is Turkey under Erdogan, who since the attempted coup against him has jailed thousands of civil servants, judges, teachers and army personnel. The law courts are packed with his placemen, ensuring his judiciary is totally subservient. He too has a convenient ‘enemy’, an oppressed minority, the Kurds.
In India, Prime Minister Modi, leader of the BJP, an extremist Hindu party, also likes a bit of swagger. As if to illustrate “the strutting of impotent and empty-headed leaders who clothed themselves with a little temporary limelight”, on a visit to Washington he wore a bespoke suit tailored from cloth woven with his name in gold thread. He had no sympathy for farmers ruined and driven to suicide, victims of drought and government policy. Modi had only contempt for these “cowards”, like Trump who calls the hard-up “losers”.
In the Indian state of Assam (pop. 33m), a National Register of Citizens, a list that clearly aimed to exclude non-Hindus, was drawn up which excluded 4m people, allegedly Bengali ’infiltrators’, In Assam, state propaganda was used to whip up hostility to these so-called “illegal immigrants”, scapegoating them and blaming them for social problems and the scarcity of resources.
Modi has declared his aim is to make all India a Hindu state - a dangerous, divisive policy in a state where there have been so many, religion-based, inter-communal riots and massacres down the seven decades since Partition/Independence. Similarly, Netanyahu in Israel has passed a new ‘nation-state law’, decreeing that Israel is a Jewish state, meaning that all non-Jews are second-class non-citizens. That will impact harmfully on Palestinians, other minorities and atheists, etc., and will make Israel an openly racist state. Then woe betide any who criticize Israel’s policies: that would be to declare yourself by definition anti-Semitic!
While Socialists call for the workers of the world to unite, capitalism answers by border controls and building walls. Israel has built a fortified wall separating Palestinians from Israel. India too has a wall surrounding Bangladesh, backed by the army which fires on any Bengalis that get too near to it. Britain has partition walls in the cities of Northern Ireland, to keep Catholics and Protestants apart. And Trump too is pledged to build or re-build a wall along the US southern border with Mexico.
Resurgent Fascism – History and the Future
The inter-war period of the 20th century was a time of racism, militarism and nationalism as World War One had left once-powerful states defeated and in debt. The defeat of Germany and of the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires, the fall of the Tsars, and the heavy costs of the war for France and Britain left post-war America in a strong position.
The bitter taste of defeat and loss of prestige and power brought to power the new European Fascist ideologists, calling for scapegoats. By contrast, the US “had suffered least economically, finishing a creditor power, with economic domination almost within its grasp” (SPGB, THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO AND THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS, 1948, p38). By the end of the 2nd World War, US military and economic dominance was complete, and the dollar was the world’s trading currency. The British empire was dismantled over the next few decades.
But even as the US imperial dominance seemed secure forever, China’s recent industrial growth and international trade, with the US reliant on its ever-growing national debt and imports, meant a decline in American power and influence. At the same time, the Chinese economic powerhouse had enabled a growing Chinese imperialism, new military bases in Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, and the development of trading and investment links in Britain and Europe. Chinese banks now own most of the US national debt.
In the 1930s, the US had entered a period of mass unemployment, triggered by the shock of the Wall Street Crash, likewise after the 2008, banking crisis Western economies have taken a decade or more to recover. The workers of European states feel themselves crushed by the forces of globalisation, by the pressures of the ‘gig economy’ where real jobs are few, and low-paid, casual, ‘temping’, agency and sweatshop work is all that many can get. The British state can no longer afford the ‘welfare’ system or the health service, state pensions and housing that post-war governments had provided.
In 2016 huge numbers of wretched refugees from the Syrian war headed for Europe, providing a trigger for the rising tide of nationalism and racism propaganda. In the US, at his 2016 mass rallies, Trump’s campaign message used unscrupulous anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim rhetoric to whip his supporters into a frenzy. His associate, Steve Bannon, now tours Europe hoping to build up a racist pan-European, group, ‘The Movement’.
This dangerous and often deadly cocktail of divisive ideologies – racism, religion, nationalism, militarism, the cult of the Great Man – the Leader: all come together at a time when capitalism can offer many workers only disappointed hopes, despair and hopelessness, and when workers’ problems seem ever more insoluble. Some take to drugs, some are obsessed with popular forms of escapism – music, consumerism, holidays. Some look for convenient scapegoats. Some have dreams of making it and becoming filthy rich.
Socialists however have a positive message, one of hope. We urge the workers of the world, whatever their race or sex, to unite in a worthwhile cause, based on their common interests as a class. As the capitalist system can only get its profits from our unpaid labour, it is high time we, the exploited working class, gave this rotten divisive system a kick in the backside. Historically this system is well past its ‘sell-by’.
Only a society based on worldwide common ownership and cooperation can hope to tackle the many global problems caused by capitalism. That way alone lies a positive and hopeful vision for the future, .not the dark dystopian nightmares of capitalism’s bitter conflict, never-ending wars, waste and class struggle.
Book Review:Clans & Clearance Highland Clearances Volume 1 by Alwyn Edgar
Volume One of Alwyn Edgar’s five volume account (some 1.5million words) of the Scottish highland clearances deserves attention, not only of those particularly interested in Scottish history, but by everyone who has wondered why accounts of major historical events vary so much and why we need an accurate account of the facts if society is learn any lessons from them; inaccurate accounts lead to inaccurate conclusions.
The first two sentences of the first volume are: “History is the handmaiden of propaganda. Nothing is more false than the idea that history is a generally agreed narrative of years gone by.” Edgar is mindful of this throughout his work and critical of many books already written on the subject. He goes to some length to point out their authors’ failings through sloppy research, incorrect data and spurious interpretations that seek to sanitise the clearances.
Having spent over 50 years researching and writing these volumes it will come as no surprise that his research has been meticulous and exhaustive letting the facts and evidence expose the relentless ‘land grab’ that took place in Scotland over some 250 years. It is a salutary lesson on how the control of natural resources by the few inevitably leads to the misery of the many.
Edgar is a witty writer and there are plenty of anecdotes and wry observations along the way. There is no flab, rambling speculation or subjective pontification. He has picked his way through published works, contemporary accounts, parish registers, original documents and censuses in extraordinary detail and like a good detective then examined their validity pointing out that just because a contemporary document exists doesn’t make it true. This forensic approach makes compelling reading.
I suspect Alwyn Edgar (who joined the SPGB in the 1950s) would not want his work to be described as ‘definitive’ but I have no doubt that once these important volumes have been widely read it will be describe it as such.
Vol: One: Highland Clans and Clearance. An overview with particular attention to the centuries before the Jacobite rebellion. Available through Amazon.co.uk Soon to be published:
Vol Two: Eighteenth-century Clearances. Deals with the clearances before 1800 and the observations in the Old Statistical Account of Scotland published between 1791 and 1799.
Vol Three: The Sutherland Clearances. Sweeping changes that took place under the direction of the Countess of Southerland in the early 1800s.
Vol Four: Highland Clearances 1800-1840. Clearances other than in Southerland including contemporary contributors to the New Statistical Account 1833-1844.
Vol Five: Highland Clearances 1840 – 1900. Includes the continuing resistance of Highlanders after the ‘Crofters’ War’.
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.