A Complete Turkey
Most bibliographies are written for a market. Biographers, like Lady Antonia Fraser and David Starkey, make a living writing them. They sell because of the alleged fame or notoriety of the person being written about. Every year dozens of books are published on historical figures; kings, queens, literary figures and statesman. Some are turned into TV series where we are treated to historical gossip and intrigue by historians dressing-up in period costume.
For an example of this trite history writing, look no further than Jacob Rees-Mogg’s THE VICTORIANS: TWELVE TITANS WHO FORGED BRITAIN. The book is a biographical work, in which he discusses twelve influential British figures of the 19th century.
The book is a dreadful history writing. One Tory, Simon Heffer, called it a “complete turkey”. If you cannot find a Tory to defend another Tory’s book in public, then you must be in trouble.
The conservative historian, Dominic Sandbrook described the book as abysmal and soul-destroying. Writing in the SUNDAY TIMES, he said:
“No doubt every sanctimonious academic in the country has already decided that Rees-Mogg’s book has to be dreadful, so it would have been fun to disappoint them...but there is just no denying it: the book is terrible, so bad, so boring, so mind-bogglingly banal that if it had been written by anybody else it would never have been published” (18 May 2019).
The “sanctimonious academics” who bought the book, thinking it was about a critical history of politicians and generals would have felt rightly cheated. The book can’t be given away. No one wants it. Will it make it into paper back? At least Sandbrook got a free review copy.
As one wit said, if Jeremy Corbyn’s politics was of the 1970s then Jacob Rees-Mogg’s politics was of the 1870s. The book was politically written as imperial nostalgia. It was a yearning for a lost British Empire of statesman, officers and imperialists who administered the Empire and benefitted from its violence and plunder.
The book was also a Manifesto for the fantasy politics of a post-Brexit British Empire where “entrepreneurs”, freed from Europe, were now going to pin Union Jacks across the globe through aggressive competitive free trade like their 17th and 18th century forebears.
Who was the book written for? Maybe it was written for a fictional audience of children from the nineteenth century working class. They were forced to read the lives of ‘Great Men’ to improve their moral standing and to submissively doff their school caps to their betters?
After all, children in Britain, up to the end of the Second World War, were shown a world that was ostensibly coloured pink and were obliged to take part in Empire Day parades on the 24th May. Empire Day was to remind children from the working class, that they formed part of a British Empire. They were taught they were the top dog. This regrettable thinking still forms part of the working class view of the world. In a recent You Gov poll, 59% of workers thought the British Empire was a force for good; something to be proud of. (26/7/2014).
This is hardly surprising when imperialist propaganda was so pervasive throughout the school system. In the early 20th century school children were also encouraged to read books praising the “civilising force” of the British Empire, such H E Marshall’s OUR EMPIRE STORY published in 1908, a book still in print and avidly read, no doubt, by subscribers to the DAILY MAIL and DAILY EXPRESS. Children born after 1958 fortunately missed all the political poison of Empire and British exceptionalism. By the 1960s, the sun had certainly set on the British Empire - it had ceased to be, it was no more. But it still dominates Tory thinking about British capitalism’s place in the world and, unfortunately, it still finds support from a sizable section of the working class.
The Chartist General?
If the book was a “complete turkey”, it was also dishonest. General Napier, for example, one of the “Titans” mentioned in the book, was responsible for massacring thousands of people in the Punjab and looting the wealth when it took his fancy. He stole the Koh-I-Noor diamond which he then gave to Queen Victoria (the only female to be included in the book) to ingratiate himself in her favours. He also worked for the slave-ship traders of the East India Company. His view of imperial diplomacy can be summed up in the following gem:
“The great receipt for quieting a country is a good thrashing first and great kindness afterwards: the wildest chaps are thus tamed”.
(THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF GENERAL SIR CHARLES JAMES NAPIER, by William Napier. publ.1857, Cambridge Library Collection, Vol 3, page 34).
That said, it should be remembered that Napier headed 6,000 troops to the North of England to meet the threat of a potential Chartist up-rising. The State’s violent response to Chartism is as important to study as the Chartists themselves.
At the time the Chartists were seen as dangerous revolutionaries by the government and ruling class. In fact, the Chartists wanted, among their six demands, universal suffrage, an end to property qualifications to stand for parliament, paid MPs so that (male) workers could stand. Hardly ‘revolutionary’, but it was nevertheless a threat to the privilege and private property of the ruling class.
Why Napier got the position to lead 6,000 troops against the Chartists is puzzling. He had accused industrialists, in a book he wrote, of murdering children in the factories, he agreed with male suffrage and had much sympathy for the poor and for the demands made by the Chartist movement. These sentiments appear at odds with the political concerns of the government at the time. One recent historian, E. Beasley, (THE CHARTISY GENERAL, 2016) suggested that he should be credited for the restraint he showed at one of the most dangerous times in the Chartist era. However, Napier had no qualms in using violence. Later, in Sind, he became notorious as a cynical and bloodthirsty imperialist with a habit for torching villages.
Despite his sympathy for Chartism, what was the political reality for Napier? If the Chartists had risen up with arms (as they had in Newport in November 1839) what would Napier have done? He would have carried out his orders and crushed the revolt. To believe he would have militarily sided with the Chartists is pure fantasy.
Here is the reality. In 1839 he warned:
"We have the physical force, not they. They talk of their hundred thousands of men. Who is to move them when I am dancing round them with cavalry and pelting them with cannon shot? What would their 100,000 men do with my 100 rockets wriggling their fiery tails among them, roaring, scorching, tearing, smashing all that came near? And when in desperation and despair they broke to fly, how would they bear five regiments of cavalry careering through them? Poor men! How little they know of physical force!" (ibid).
The Northern Chartists made the right decision against confronting 6,000 well armed soldiers, cavalry and cannon. The Newport rising was easily crushed. Twenty-two chartists were killed and the leaders of the rebellion charged with “treason” and sentenced to be hung drawn and quartered but the sentence was later commuted to transportation. This was the last large-scale armed rebellion against the ruling class in Britain. The failure of armed revolt had a huge bearing on the thinking of future socialists who saw in the parliamentary vote, once the suffrage had been secured, a more reasonable revolutionary route for a socialist majority to gain political power and establish socialism.
There is a bronze statue in honour of Napier on the southwest corner of Trafalgar Square.
The British Empire: Brutal Aggression and Naked Greed
Rees-Mogg would have us look back to the days of the British Empire with pride. But there is little in the brutal oppression and naked greed with which it was built that deserves our respect.
The brutal oppression of the British Empire was highlighted in Richard Gott's book, BRITAIN'S EMPIRE: RESISTANCE, REPRESSION AND REVOLT. He too discusses General Napier, though not as a “hero” but as a “brigand”. He quotes Henry Pottinger, an Anglo-Irish soldier and colonial administrator who became the first Governor of Hong Kong. Pottinger said that General Napier’s treatment of the inhabitants of the Punjab was: “the most unprincipled and disgraceful that has ever stained the annals of our empire in India” (p 342). And, of course, when Pottinger refers to “our Empire” he is not referring to the working class in Britain. The working class own nothing except their ability to work.
Gott showed that violence was a central, constant and ubiquitous part of the making and keeping of the British Empire. He wrote:
“...Britain’s Empire was established, and maintained for more than two centuries, through bloodshed, violence, brutality, conquest and war. Not a year went by without the inhabitants of Empire being obliged to suffer for their involuntary participation in the colonial experience. Slavery, famine, prison, battle, murder, extermination – these were their various fates” (p.1).
Gott, unlike Rees-Mogg, showed the resistance and rebellion to British rule across the empire and the repression that followed. Unfortunately, he did not have time to discuss the collaborators and those who went on to rule the countries in the post British Empire. After 1947, for example, the success of Indian nationalism only replaced one ruling class with another, which led to one million deaths, the formation of three separate capitalist states and decades of hostility in the region. That sad history still has to be written from a Marxist perspective. History and class struggle does not end with the demise of the British Empire.
Resistance, rebellion and revolt are not to be found in the fictional history of conservative politicians and the Conservative History Group they follow. It certainly does not appear in Rees-Mogg’s, THE VICTORIANS. The conservative conception of history is nothing more than myth and propaganda. A useful lie.
Capital and Marx’s Labour Theory of Value
In capitalism, the products of workers pass through the market by exchange of commodities for profit. Human labour power is the basis of production. When people produce for each other, either directly on a communal or socialist basis, or indirectly through the exchange of their products as commodities, their labour becomes social labour. In capitalism, where the means of production are owned by the capitalist class workers are forced to sell their labour-power, or ability to work, as a commodity to employers who own the means of production as capital.
All commodities possess, by definition, two properties. On the one hand, in order to exchange at all, they must possess use-value or utility. On the other hand, because they exchange they must command a value. When, in capitalism, labour-power itself becomes a commodity, it must contain these two properties. Workers are individuals, different from each other, even when classified as of similar skills or occupation. But capitalism abstracts from these concrete differences all the time. Capitalism equates the infinite range of commodities of different types of labour.
Marx recognized in this process that the basis upon which capitalism organizes its productive efforts and regulates the exchange of the commodities produced by the working class. Value, the process in which commodities are quantified for exchange on the market with a view to profit, is nothing more or less than human labour-power expended in production, labour-power seen as a proportion of the total labour-power of society. In this way, capitalism abstracts from the individual differences that exist between the working class and likens all kinds of labour as abstract labour. Here is how Marx put it:
“Every child knows that a country that ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but for a few weeks, would die. Every child knows too that the mass of products corresponding to the different needs require different and quantitatively determined masses of the total labour of society. That this necessity of distributing social labour in definite proportions cannot be done away with by the particular form of social production, but can only change. What can change, is changing historical circumstances, is the form in which these laws operate. And the form in which this proportional division of labour operates, in a state of society where the interconnection of social labour is manifested in the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange of these products”.
(Marx letter to Kugalmann, 11th July, 1866. Correspondence of Marx and Engels, 1934)
Most subservient classes in written history have managed to produce more than they have consumed. Surplus labour has been performed and is embodied in a surplus product –tithes, for example, going to the Lord of the Manor or the Church. What is unique in capitalism is that the entire surplus product takes the form of commodities which in themselves are of only coincidental interest to capitalists for which they have been produced. The only concern of these employers is to sell these commodities for money, and thereby realise a profit. In this way surplus labour embodied in these commodities is transformed into surplus value. Surplus value is the form acquired by surplus labour in capitalism. The use-value of the commodity, labour-power lies in it being the source of surplus value.
The more social labour is expended in production the more value is created. But the work effort involved in production, and the degree of productiveness of labour, is not static. It is constantly changing according to advances in techniques of production. Social labour employed under old-fashioned technical conditions of production is clearly socially unnecessary. No architectural practice using drawing boards and pens could compete with an office using computer aided design. Capitalists using such techniques would be competed out of business. So the measure of value has to be socially necessary labour, that is, social labour using the “average” techniques available to capitalism, at that point in time.
Given the particular use-value to the capitalist of the commodity, labour-power, the basis of its exchange value follows logically. The value of any commodity will depend upon the quantity of abstract socially necessary labour embodied in its production. The means of production like machinery and computers are the product of embodied labour power. Only the free-gifts of nature will possess no economic value since they do not require labour-power for their production. But even they might require labour-power for their appropriation, that is, their adaptation to the production process, in which case they will embody value.
So, the value of any commodity will consist of the value of labour-power embodied (dead-labour) in the means of production used to make the commodity, plus the value of living labour-power used to make up the commodity. The value of labour-power itself is determined in the same way as for any other commodity, namely by the value embodied in its production. But in this case its production is one and the same as the reproduction and procreation of the working class. The value of the commodities consumed by workers necessary to exist as wage-slaves is the value of labour-power. And the value of labour-power manifests itself only in exchange. The price paid for labour-power is the wage.
Labour-power exchanging for a wage, that is, wage-labour, presupposes the existence of capital which has to be advanced to the working class in the form of wages to purchase the commodity labour power. But what is capital? And what are the laws governing its existence. These concerns were the main concern of Marx’s most important three volume work, CAPITAL.
The outstanding feature of capitalism is that it is a system of commodity production characterized by market competition for profit. And although today monopolies and multinationals have replaced the typically small capitalist firms known to Marx, even these have to face competitive markets on a world scale. More times than not they may attempt to change the form of competition and strenuous efforts are often made to enlist State support in the form of production contracts, tax concessions and investment subsidies, tariff discrimination against foreign competitors, etc. But world competition is still the order of the day. This is the hostile market terrain within which all capitalists have to function.
Success means survival and growth. Failure means takeover or bankruptcy. Although size alone is not always a sufficient condition for success, it is often a necessary one for two reasons. Large-scale production brings economies of scale, or lower unit costs, and therefore greater efficiency in production and marketing. Largeness also helps bring creditworthiness with the banks and political and economic pulling power with the State, as well as the resources for financing research and development, and finally the reserves to draw upon during an economic crisis.
Because of this competitive environment, capitalists constantly have to judge themselves in relation to the performance of rival capitalists (for example, sales turnover, profit returns, shares of the market, and so on). The basis for this competition is the proportion of the total surplus value a capitalist can command. In this way, Marx saw capital as a social power. The more value a business can accumulate, the more it can grow, the greater is it as a social power.
For the working class, capital is the alienated product of wage-labour. Capital is alienated in the sense that while being the product of labour it remains independent of labour and through the labour market, comes to dominate labour. That is why Marx characterizes the social relation of commodity production within capitalism as the wage-labour: capital relationship.
Money, Value and Exchange
For capital to be able to expand itself as a value and to accumulate, it needs to realize the surplus value, embodied in the commodities, produced through sales on the market. These are money transactions and raise the important question of where money comes from.
Marx’s answer to that question is that money originates from the process of commodity exchange itself. He explained it along these lines. Even in the simplest form of commodity exchange (barter) there exists, in principle, two aspects: on the one hand the commodity being sold (“the relative value form”), and on the other the commodity being sold in exchange (the “equivalent value form”). The one could only be expressed in terms of the other. Where, therefore, more than one commodity was being sold, or a number of alternatives were being offered in exchange, it followed that all could be expressed in terms of any one of them which would act as the money-commodity.
What makes them equivalent in the first place (that is, what regulates their exchange) is that they are all products of human labour as measured by the quantity of socially necessary labour embodied in them. The form in which that value expresses itself, the exchange value, is measured in the units of the money-commodity. Early in history gold came to be the prime money-commodity. As a commodity it has a value of its own (determined by the abstract socially necessary labour embodied in its production).
This is a quite separate consideration from its function as money. In its latter role it expresses a universally accepted equivalent of value, and the quantity of its necessary to perform its money role is determined by the sum total of values (commodities) being offered for exchange on the market. So, firstly, money is imminent in the exchange process itself. For Marx, money is the universal value equivalent. Secondly, the quantity of money is determined by, and does not determine, the sum total of value (commodity) transactions over a given period of time.
From this basic theory of money, Marx proceeded to analyse more specifically the mechanisms by which capitalism financed itself, dealing in turn with hoarding, paper money, credit, the rate of interest, banking, the trade cycle and the world monetary mechanism. Many of these themes were left incomplete at his death.
Nationalism or Socialism?
One of the unique aspects of the socialist case against capitalism is that socialists reject nationalism, nationalist struggles and national identity. For socialists, nationalism is bound up with the historical development of capitalism during the 19th century. Capitalism is made up of competing capitalist states each with a capitalist class and working class. The capitalists own the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of the working class majority.
It was Marx and Engels who, in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO of 1848, stated that workers “have no country”. They wrote “We cannot take from them what they have not got” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO).
Increasingly, those who believe that capitalism can be regulated and reformed, left wingers and social democrats, have courted nationalism to gain support from the conservatives and populist politicians. The Labour Party now wraps itself up in the Union Jack, claiming they are “proud patriots” and would support the Tory government in any war or conflict to show that Labour was just as nationalist as the Tories. It should be remembered that the Labour Party has a history of supporting capitalism’s wars.
Labour has been helped in this embrace of nationalist politics by journalists who should know better. Socialism puts the class struggle first and last. Nationalism is a barrier to socialism. Socialism is a global social system or it is nothing. There will be no nation states in socialism, no boundaries, no borders or barriers preventing people moving across the world.
So, who are these journalists claiming nationalism trumps class struggle and that to get rid of the Tories we all have to become patriots? Regrettably, one of the leading advocates of “Left-wing nationalism” is Patrick Cockburn, a journalist at the i newspaper.
In an article, “How to stop populist leaders exploiting patriotism” (January 1st 2022), Cockburn wrote that “nationalism, national identity and national self-determination are three main driving forces of modern history”.
Contrast this with the statement in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO made by Marx and Engels, that the class struggle is “the motor force of history”. Nationalism and nationalist struggles changes very little: usually one ruling class by another. The class struggle – the working class struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation – has revolutionary potential; the end of buying and selling, labour markets, class exploitation, employers and its replacement with production solely and directly for use. In short, with class struggle pushed to its final limit with the establishment of socialism, we will have: ”... an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO).
Cockburn went on to write that these three nationalist driving forces of history:
“….remains the primary focus of communal loyalty – something demonstrated decisively by the response worldwide to the Covid-19 pandemic. The lack of international co-operation when the chips were down has had destructive consequences and this has been the repeated pattern in the past two years”.
Really? Did the working class form government policy on the Covid-19 pandemic?
It was the Tory government who refused to give vaccines in any great number to poor countries because it wanted to keep the working class in the UK fit and healthy for class exploitation. And what of “communal loyalty”? Capitalists like multi billionaire Sir James Dyson have no compunction to move their operations abroad to tap into cheaper labour markets or to stash their profits in off-shore tax havens.
It is class solidarity which should be aimed at not class division through nationalism and nationalist struggles.
Cockburn goes on to say:
“The priority should be not to deride the patriotic card with the aim of discrediting it, which seldom works, but to take it away from those who exploit it”.
Cockburn criticises those who believe nationalism, And he concludes:
“...for good or ill, the basic building blocks of international co-operation are the nation states and the idea of a truly global response to anything has always been wishful thinking”.
How does a socialist respond for these nationalist apologetics from the capitalist supporting left-wingers?
For a start, if you do not want the corrosive and divisive politics of nationalism then socialism is the only answer. The “patriotic card” should be replaced by the acknowledgement that the working class do not have the same interest as the capitalist class. We do not share their history. Class, class interest and class struggle trump the “patriotic card”, no matter who holds it. A war led by Sir Keir Starmer is just as repugnant as one led by Tony Blair or another ‘leader’.
Workers have no interest in wars led by a Labour government any more than they have for ones led by a Tory, Green or SDP government. The world working class with identical interest in replacing the profit system with socialism.
Second, nationalism is a mask for racism and imperialism. Behind the mask is class division and British exceptionalism. Behind the mask there is contempt for “the other” and pride in Empire with its genocide, slavery, plunder and colonialism. Take the mask off and deal with the politics behind it. Socialists have to confront class division to make a socialist case for class unity.
What of socialist support for “nationalist movements” in the 1960s and 1970s. There was none. The Socialist Party of Great Britain rejected the politics associated with nationalist movements. We opposed the IRA and Irish nationalism and we opposed the nationalists in the north during the Vietnam War. We have no placards with “patriotic heroes” since socialists reject political leadership and political heroes. Facts, evidence and reasoned argument to support the socialist case against capitalism is what socialists care about.
This is what socialists said about the Vietnam War and “patriotic heroes”. On the front page of the SOCIALIST STANDARD (October 1968), we said:
“Vietcong, No!, Mao, No!, Che, No!: Socialism, Yes!”
And inside the issue we reminded readers what the SPGB had said at the outbreak of the First World War:
“Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of Capitalism and the triumph of Socialism”
And third, what does “international co-operation” under capitalism amount to. We live in a capitalist system where capitalist states are in conflict with each other. War over oil, gas, land, spheres of political influence and trade routes is the reality of “international co-operation”. Does Cockburn not read his own articles where he has shown “International co-operation” to be a mirage”? What about his articles on the civil war in Syria and Libya?
The basic building block is not “international co-operation” but the formation of a world socialist movement with its only goal being the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society. And that co-operation starts with rejecting the “patriotic card” and its class division.
The Capitalist Class: Poverty and Food Banks
The capitalist class owns the means to life. Capitalists own the world’s means of production and distribution, the raw materials, land, factories, transport and communication systems - to the exclusion of the rest of society.
The capitalist class exploit. They pay workers less than the wealth they create in goods and services. It is this surplus, that provides the wealth capitalists accumulate.
The privilege and wealth of the capitalist class is protected by the machinery of government including the armed forces of the state. Workers are prevented from directly producing what they need and want to feed, clothe, educate and house their families. Workers are forced onto the labour market to sell their ability to work as a commodity for the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. They can never amass surplus wealth although they are the ones who produce it because their employers take it from them.
More than 51,000 capitalists joined the ranks of the ultra-wealthy in 2021 as the fortunes of the already very rich benefitted from rising global stock markets and increased property prices during the pandemic (Knight Frank Property1/3/ 22).
The number of extremely rich capitalists in the UK has increased by 11 per cent to 25,771. Capitalists in Britain with assets of more than $30m have doubled since 2016 and Knight Frank Commercial Property, predicts the total will rise to more than 32,000 by 2026.
Compare this wealth ownership with the poor. According to a research briefing paper “POVERTY IN THE UK” published in the House of Commons Library in October 2021:
* 11.7 million people were in a relative low income at a similar level to the year before
* 3.2 million children were in relative low income, an increase from the year before
* The proportion of children and pensioners in relative poverty is higher than it was five years ago
* The share of people in absolute poverty has not changed in five years
And then there are the food banks. They are a growth industry. The Trussell Trust charity supports more than 1200 food bank centres to provide three days of nutritionally balanced emergency to the desperate and vulnerable. 40,000 people volunteer at food banks.
Not that the poor will get any sympathy from capitalist politicians. In 2013, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, said families who were forced to use food banks only had themselves to blame because they are “unable to manage their finances”.
(METRO 27 November 2019).
In 2017, Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the rise of food banks by saying they were “uplifting” and showed “what a compassionate country we are”.
Charity for the ‘deserving poor’ (coined if the nineteenth century) is what it is all about for Gove and Rees-Mogg. The capitalist class has to retain its wealth. Making profit is what capitalism is all about. Capitalism does not exist to meet people’s need.
Or, as Marx once remarked:
“Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets?...Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake...”(CAPITAL vol. 1)
Social reforms have not been able to get rid of poverty. The Labour Party is a symbol of that failure. They have been reduced to just being another capitalist party serving the class interests of the rich and powerful.
distribution are privately owned, poverty will persist from one generation to the next.
Socialism is the only answer to the social problem of poverty. Poverty ends once a socialist majority establishes the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. If the 40,000 people volunteering at food banks understood how the economic system of capitalism worked, they would see that charity solves no problems in the long term. They could then become socialists and to join with other socialists to form a majority.. They will then understand why this is the only course of action.
To establish socialism requires democratic and political action. The machinery of government must be taken away from protecting the private ownership of means of production and distribution. This requires a principled socialist party, socialists understanding socialism and being prepared to vote and send socialist delegates to Parliament.
Once socialism is secured then production and distribution can take place directly and solely meet human need. Volunteering can then be put to social use rather than as a sticking plaster for the problem of poverty caused by capitalism.
State Terrorism – US Style
In 2001, The Socialist Party of Great Britain published a pamphlet - It was the time when, following the 9/11 attacks in New York, the United States embarked on its War on Terror, supported by The UK and other NATO countries.
A million people in London marched against the war. We were there with our literature table and sold the entire stock of pamphlets we took with us. Few who read the pamphlet contacted us. Even fewer became committed socialists. Capitalism and its wars still continued. As we wrote in the preface to the pamphlet at the time:
“In this pamphlet the Socialist Party of Great Britain addresses the question of terrorism, its relation to war and why both are caused by capitalism and the pursuit of profit. We have always held that conflict, terrorism and war are inevitable under capitalism but that their abolition can be accomplished by the establishment of socialism”
It fell on deaf ears.
Now the war in Afghanistan is over. The War on Terror has gone full circle. The Taliban are back in control. They impose their feudal and barbaric ideology on the country. Public floggings and hangings, misogyny women, and theological authoritarianism are what these terrorists inflict on those unfortunate enough to live in Afghanistan.
With the end of the war there is nothing to celebrate. Socialists are not dancing in the streets with left-wingers. We do not rejoice at the United States’ defeat. Capitalism is still intact and capitalism’s wars still take place in the world: in Syria and Yemen, Libya and on the continent of Africa. Socialists do not single out the United States as the villain of the piece. Yet the United States is not exceptional, it has imperialist designs, it is ruthless and tries to take what it wants. No different than any other capitalist country.
The Capitalist Left and Imperialism
The United States likes to paint itself as the good guy, the cowboy with the white hat or the Seventh Calvary riding to the rescue of the homesteaders being attacked by Native Americans. Although the history of the United States is one dripping in blood, plunder and misery it has a slick PR machine. It hides its imperial adventurism in the South Seas as a defender of democracy from a rapacious Chinese capitalist class. In addition, it is applauded by its obliging supporters, like the United Kingdom.
Socialists do not take sides in the squabbles between the capitalist class of one country and that of another. We maintain that the working class, those forced to live on wages and salaries, have no country. War and imperialism flow from the competition of the market and commodity production in exchange for profit. Capitalist states want to dominate the world and have access to its resources, they impose their will on less stronger countries that fight back with nationalist struggles, violence and terrorism.
This is not the case with the capitalist Left. The capitalist Left, do take sides. The capitalist Left see the United States as a personification of evil. There was much rejoicing in capitalist Left circles with the humiliation heaped on the United States by withdrawing from Afghanistan in August this year. The capitalist Left has a history of supporting nationalist liberation movements, particularly during the Soviet era. The United States enemies are the Left’s friends: the politics of the stupid.
The capitalist Left end up supporting barbaric dictatorships, terrorists, authoritarian governments, regimes imposing anti-working class exploitation. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Lenin, Trotsky, Castro and a whole host of other political leaders have been supported or explained away by the capitalist Left because they all opposed the United States. A gallery of rogues hang from the bedroom walls of the capitalist Left, like the student pin up Che Guevara.
Socialists urge the working class not to support leaders. Do not have heroes and heroines. Socialists have never supported one country or nationalist group against another. We have said a plague on both your houses. We have attacked the United States just as severely as the old USSR and its Empire. We had no truck with North Vietnam and the Vietcong or the IRA or the myriad of African “freedom fighters” supported by Moscow.
We do not support those countries, who claim to be ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’. Socialists see China as a capitalist country where the ruling class exploit its working class, prevent free trade unions and a principled socialist party from putting the case against capitalism. We are opposed to world capitalism and all the nation states that make up the global capitalist order expressed by the private ownership of the means of production and distribution by a minority capitalist class to the exclusion of the exploited working class majority.
War and Capitalism
Warfare is not a game of cricket. The method of war under capitalism is to annihilate the enemy using whatever technological advantage is at hand.
As one US general, Curtis E. LeMay, remarked it is to bomb the enemy “back to the stone age”. The other method is to starve, terrify and undermine the civilian population. And this is the method adopted by the United State and its allies for over twenty years as they took the “War on Terror” to Afghanistan.
When the US and the UK financed, armed and trained the Taliban they were supposed to have been regarded as “freedom fighters”. The enemy then was the Soviet Union. When the scene changed, they became terrorists. Double standards and hypocrisy are applied by governments to suit prevailing interests on capitalism against a background of hidden agendas, strategic and economic ambitions, and propaganda lies.
As wars have become immeasurably more destructive, pain and misery falls increasingly onto the civilian population. No more so than in Afghanistan where over twenty years tens of thousands of civilian, many of whom were children, were killed by the United States and its allies.
The Dead have a Price
Under capitalism even the dead have a price. Accountants at the Ministry of Defence even calculated the loss of civilian life in Afghanistan when the RAF or the military killed civilians by mistake.
According to the BBC, British forces are linked to the deaths of 86 children and more than 200 adult civilians during the Afghanistan conflict, the youngest recorded civilian victim was three years old (BBC NEWS September 23rd 2021).
In February 2008 a family received just £104.17 for a confirmed fatality and property damage. The British paid out £586.42 for the death of a 10-year-old boy in December 2009.
£4,233.60 for four children "shot and killed by ISAF” (International Security Assistance Force) in the same month. That is £1058 for each child. There is no record of this incident in the English language media.
The British media are not interested in civilian casualties. They just cravenly reproduce the handouts given to them by government officials; £1058 is not a lot of money even when the average income for a worker is about $11,700USD (http://www.salaryexplorer.com), with a low life expectancy caused by high maternal mortality rates, the second highest in the world. So, where did the millions given by the US in social care aid go?
So, the statistics seep out from the Ministry of Defence. Five Afghan children wounded by stray bullets fired from a British Army Apache helicopter received £7,204.97. A family of three Afghan farmers allegedly killed in cold blood in 2012 received £3,634 three weeks after the incident. The logs describe the money as an “assistance payment to be made to calm local atmospherics [sic]”.
The Ministry of Defence paid out £688,000 for 289 civilian deaths between 2006-14, an average of £2,380. Afghanistan war: UK's lowest payout for civilian death was £104.17 – (BBC NEWS)
Such is the price of life in capitalism’s wars.
The Empire is Defeated but at what cost?
So, there was rejoicing from the usual suspects from the Capitalist Left – the SWP, Counterfire and assorted ‘Communist Parties’ as the United States and its streetwalkers left Afghanistan in abject failure, not before killing tens of thousands of civilians in a twenty year occupation although the exact figure will never be verified.
The United States does not think the civilian dead in Afghanistan are worth counting although academics at Brown University put the civilian dead at 71,000. The war, begun in 2001 has also inflicted invisible wounds. In 2009, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health reported that fully two-thirds of Afghans suffer from mental health problems as a result of the conflict.
The United States often committed acts of terrorism in Afghanistan. Of course, they are never designated these attacks as acts of terrorism only “mistakes”, “collateral damage” or “errors of judgement”.
According to the Watson Institute at Brown University (December 2020), the United States military in 2017 relaxed its rules of engagement for airstrikes in Afghanistan, which resulted in a massive increase in civilian casualties. From the last year of the Obama administration to the last full year of recorded data during the Trump administration, the number of civilians killed by U.S. led airstrikes in Afghanistan increased by 330 per cent.
Over the last 20 years, the United States has conducted more than 93,300 air strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen that killed between 22,679 and 48,308 civilians, according to figures recently released by Airways, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group. The total number of civilians who have died from direct violence in America’s wars since 9/11 is between 364,000 to 387,000 according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project. Can you imagine the terror of these civilians as they were bombed by drones operated by the military thousands of miles away or from high altitude bombers?
Just before the last evacuees left Afghanistan in August 2021 the US government trumpeted that they had foiled a terrorist attack by Isis. There were celebrations in the United States media. The United States might have lost the war in Afghanistan but Uncle Sam could still take out terrorists with its sophisticated drone strikes.
However, it turned out that the car which was hit by rockets fired from an unmanned drone was not being driven by ‘terrorists’. The US has admitted that a drone strike in Kabul days before its military pull out killed 10 innocent people (BBC NEWS 18/9/2021).
A US Central Command investigation found that an aid worker and nine members of his family, including seven children, died in the 29 August strike. The youngest child was just two years old. It was one of the US military's final acts in Afghanistan, before ending its 20-year operation in the country.
US intelligence had tracked the aid worker's car for eight hours, believing it was linked to IS-K militants - a local branch of the Islamic State (IS) group, US Central Command Gen Kenneth McKenzie said. The investigation found the man's car had been seen at a compound associated with IS-K, and its movements aligned with other intelligence about the terror group's plans for an attack on Kabul airport. All these military hand-outs are uncritically taken in by a servile capitalist media.
At one point, a surveillance drone saw men loading what appeared to be explosives into the boot of the car, but these turned out to be containers of water. Gen McKenzie described the strike as a “tragic mistake” and added that the Taliban had not been involved in the intelligence that led to the strike. The explosion set off a secondary blast, which US officials initially said was proof that the car was indeed carrying explosives. However, the investigation has found it was most likely caused by a propane tank in the driveway.
One of those killed, Ahmad Naser, had been a translator with US forces. Other victims had previously worked for international organisations and held visas allowing them entry to the US. Many of those killed had been hoping to board evacuation flights leaving the city.
The question remains – why? If those drone operators knew this was a civilian group, with children, loading water not bombs, and was watching them for quite a while, they must have known what they were doing, and so must their superior officers and those giving the orders. Government sanctioned murder.
So, lots of military officials knew in advance: a case of state terrorism. Not one you will see published as such in the capitalist media. The war on terrorism began in 2001 when terrorists flew two jets into the World Trade Center in New York and ended as a terrorist fired a stinger missile at a car carrying children and their parents to escape the Taliban
It hasn’t escaped notice that it took quite a while for the US to finally admit that this was a mistake – and not in any way excusable due to haste and urgency. In short, this admission means this killing was done with advance knowledge and in cold blood. What do the drone operators killing civilians, think about these “mistakes”? How do they cope?
Many returning solders from Afghanistan turn to drink and drugs and are scarred by psychological problems. Mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety are likely to increase in military personnel during the months after returning from Afghanistan.
Only the politicians who sent them there, sleep easily in their beds every night clinging to their delusionary belief that their fateful decisions in 2003 would bring democracy, peace and western influence in the middle east.
Socialism, Terrorism and War
Capitalism is made up of competing nation states, some dominant like the United States and China, others less strong but no less destructive when pursuing their national interests. There is a continual conflict over resources like oil, gas and minerals, strategic spheres of influence and trade routes. It is within this violent and competitive framework that terrorism, international violence and war has to be understood.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain reaffirms that the interest of the world’s working class - on whom the untold misery and suffering of conflict and war inevitably falls – lies in abolishing the capitalist system where a minority class own and control the whole of the world’s recourses. Only world socialism can end war, conflict and terror by abolishing class relations and nation states.
The working class can replace capitalism with world-wide socialism – a system of society based upon cooperation not competition; on common ownership of the world’s resources democratically controlled by the whole community; a society with production directly for social use, not profit; a classless society where wars and terrorism will be a thing of the past.
To achieve worldwide socialism, the working class must wake up to the reality of the situation they find themselves in and to stop sleepwalking into yet more nightmares and terror. Not just to oppose war and terrorism, but to oppose capitalism, the cause of modern wars, and to organise world-wide to end the profit system through conscious and democratic political action.
Marx: Surplus Value & Class Exploitation
Introduction: What is Surplus Value?
What is surplus value? To understand this fundamental Marxian concept it is important first to be clear what value and the commodity, labour power are.
Unlike modern economists, Marx uses a labour theory of value to study economic relations and to explain the class struggle between the working class and the capitalist class over the intensity and extent of exploitation.
Value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in a commodity. Socially necessary labour time corresponds to normal production conditions with average skill and intensity of labour.
All serious economists had a labour theory of value. Marx called these economists the “Classical School”. These classical economists included David Ricardo, who applied a theory of value in his book ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION (1817).
Although Marx was influenced by Ricardo, he rejected the attempt to discover universal economic laws which are unchanging over time or social systems. For Marx, capitalism and its economic categories were historically specific. A future socialist system would have no commodities, no buying and selling, no labour market, no classes and class relationships. These were all economic categories associated with the profit system.
And unlike, David Ricardo, Marx applied the labour theory of value to labour itself. For Marx, Labour power, under capitalism, is a commodity like any other, with a use-value and an exchange-value.
Labour power, or the ability of a worker to work, has a use for the capitalist or they would not buy it, and it has an exchange value in as much as a worker sells their labour power for a wage and salary. Workers need wages to buy food, pay the rent and mortgages and to buy other necessary commodities in order to survive.
The value of labour power, according to Marx’s theory of value, is determined by the socially necessary labour time embodied in this peculiar commodity, to produce and reproduce the workers and their families, as an exploited class.
On the value of labour power Marx remarked:
“The value of labour power is determined as in the case of every other commodity by the labour time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction, of this special article. So far as it has value, it represents no more than a definite quantity of the average labour of society incorporated into it” (CAPITAL vol. 1, p.81).
Therefore, labour power, as the most important commodity of all, is like all other commodities, subject to the labour theory of value for the determination of its value.
Capitalist exploitation involves the contradiction – labour is free under the profit system but is exploited through the dispossession of the working class of the means of production and distribution. The contradiction can only be resolved by a socialist majority establishing the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Then, and only then, would there be free and voluntary labour producing directly to meet social need.
Until socialism is established workers cannot produce directly to what society needs nor take directly from what is produced. Workers are imprisoned within the deliberate rationing of the wages system. What workers receive in their pay packet is not enough to lead worthwhile lives and flourish as human beings. Wage slavery springs to mind.
All class societies exploit. There was exploitation in ancient Greece and Rome during the period of chattel slavery. There was exploitation by the Lord and Bishops against the serfs during feudalism. And now there is exploitation in capitalism by a capitalist class minority, over a working class majority.
Exploitation in capitalism is more difficult to see than in previous class systems. You can see a slave producing goods and services for free, you can see the buildings where the surplus grain produced by the serfs was kept for the benefit of the lord of the manor. Slaves were bought and sold. Serfs had to carry out free time or services for the Lord.
However, the working class are also exploited. Today we take the buying and selling of labour power for granted. To sell someone’s ability to work on the labour market appears natural. The reality of class exploitation – of a few getting hold of additional value created by the working class majority – is hidden from view. Beneath the apparent equality of the contract between capitalist and worker there is class exploitation.
Class exploitation is a necessary feature of capitalism: its life blood. The working class is not exploited because of cheating, low wages, and ruthless, bullying employers. The working class is exploited because, in the process of commodity production, the workers are paid the value of their labour power but the employer gets the use of this commodity to create an additional value.
Marx gave this definition of labour power. By Labour power Marx meant:
“...the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality, of a human being, capabilities which he sets in motion whenever he produces a use-value of any kind”
CAPITAL Vo.1 Ch.6, p.270 Penguin ed.).
The working class not only produces a value equivalent to their wage but a surplus value which is the basis of the capitalist profit. Profit, as surplus value, is made in production and realised in circulation.
Surplus value appears in the form of the unearned income of rent, interest and profit. Surplus value as profit also provides for the up-keep of the capitalist state through taxation on the capitalist class.
The origin, nature and distribution of what Marx called “surplus-value” plays an important role in his analysis and critique of capitalism. In the first volume of CAPITAL, Marx devotes chapter 6 of the book to the sale and purchase of labour-power and then pens three complete sections to give a detailed understanding of surplus-value. In Part Three he looks at the production of absolute surplus value, in part 4 the production of relative surplus value and in part 5 the production of absolute and relative surplus-value.
Marx thought that his theory of surplus-value his most important contribution to the economic analysis of capitalism. In a letter to Engels he wrote:
“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, letter to Engels of 24 August 1867).
To grasp the ideas of surplus value first requires an understanding of labour power, the commodity the working class sells the capitalist in exchange for a wage and salary.
At the beginning of chapter 6 of CAPITAL, Marx gives a definition of labour-power. In the chapter “The Sale and Purchase of Labour-Power” he wrote:
“We mean by labour-power, or labour-capacity, the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality, of a human being, capabilities which he sets in motion whenever he produces a use-value of any kind” (p. 270).
Marx made plain that workers do not sell their labour but their labour power. Although labour is the substance and labour-time the measure of value, labour itself has no value – only labour power has value.
The value of labour power is the amount of socially necessary labour time embodied in the commodities the worker and his family must consume to produce and reproduce themselves as an exploited class.
The capitalist pays the worker according to the exchange value but obtains the use value of the labour power. Labour power is a peculiar commodity in that the value it creates in production, is in excess of its own value.
As surplus labour, surplus value arises as the difference between the length of the working day, say eight hours, over which the worker is contractually obliged to labour for the employer, and the socially necessary number of hours, say five, during which the worker can produce the commodities necessary to maintain and reproduce their labour power.
Another way of looking at the exploitation of labour power is that what the capitalist pays the worker is the equivalent to five hours’ work, whereas the worker’s labour is performed over the entire length of the working day of eight hours. The difference between the eight and five hours is the three hours of unpaid labour. This is the source of the capitalist’s profit.
Marx defined surplus value under capitalism in the following way:
“The exact form of this process is therefore M-C-M’ where M’ = M + AM = the original sum advanced plus an increment. This increment or excess over the original value I call surplus value. The value originally advanced therefore, not only remains intact while in circulation, but ads to itself a surplus value or expands itself. It is this movement that turns it into capital” (CAPITAL vol1 p 71).
The existence of surplus value comes from the unique commodity, labour power.
“In order to extract value out of the consumption of a commodity our friend, the money-owner, must be lucky enough to find, within the sphere of circulation, on the market, a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an objectification of labour, and hence a creation of value”
(Capital Vol. 1, Chapter IV, p.270).
The value of labour power is determined by the value of commodities in the subsistence basket required for the maintenance of the worker and the means of reproducing more workers. It varies between countries and over time.
“The value of labour-power is determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production and consequently also the reproduction, of this specific article.”
(Capital vol 1, ChVI, p274).
These means of subsistence must include:
“..the sum of the means of subsistence necessary for the production of labour-power must include the means necessary for the worker’s replacement, i.e. his children, in order that this race of peculiar commodity-owners may perpetuate its presence on the market, the means necessary for the labourer’s substitutes, i.e., his children, in order that this race of peculiar commodity-owners may perpetuate its appearance in the market...”
(Capital vol 1, Ch.VI, p275).
For educated skilled workers like mathematicians and engineers, we must add the costs of education in terms of the value of commodities. Marx explained:
“..the costs of education vary according to the degree of complexity of the labour-power required. These expenses (...) form a part of the total value spent in producing it.”
(Capital vol. 1 Ch VI, p.276).
Unlike other commodities, the value of labour power has a ‘moral’ and “social” element in it, which would vary from country to country and over time. Marx stated:
“In contrast therefore, with the case of other commodities, the determination of the value of labour-power contains a historical and moral element. Nevertheless, in a given country, at a given period, the average quantity of the means of subsistence necessary for the labourer is a known datum
(Capital Vol. 1 Ch VI, p. 171).
Surplus value, then, is surplus labour or unpaid labour. More precisely it is class exploitation.
It is important to note that the subsistence level is not a physical minimum. Marx rejected the “Iron theory of wages”.
The subsistence level increases over time due to the class struggle and the needs of capitalists to have an educated and healthy working class to exploit.
Marx was equally explicit that this subsistence was not a physical minimum. He remarked:
“The ultimate or minimum limit of the value of labour-power is formed by the value of the commodities which have to be supplied every day to the bearer of labour-power, the man, so that he can renew his life process. That is to say, the limit is formed by the value of the physically indispensable means of. If the price of labour-power falls to this minimum, it falls below its value, since under such circumstance it can be maintained and developed only in a crippled state and the value of every commodity is determined by the labour-time required to provide it in its normal quality”
(Capital vol 1, Ch.6, p276-277).
There is nothing in CaCAPITALpital to suppose Marx believed the amount of the workers pay would become worse and worse and, as a class, they would all end up in a “crippled state”.
Absolute and Relative Surplus Value
Surplus value is all about class exploitation. The production of surplus value is directly related to the rate of exploitation of workers in the workplace (total surplus value divided by wages).
There are essentially two ways to increase this rate.
* Increasing the length of the working day (absolute surplus value).
* Decreasing the value of labour power, i.e., decreasing necessary labour (relative surplus value).
Absolute surplus value can be increased by an extension of the working day, the intensity of work, overtime (paid or not), “management restructuring” and making fewer workers work more for less, limiting breaks and so on. Nevertheless, this increasing of the length of the working day by employers depends on the relative strengths of the capitalist class and the working class.
Workers need rest and leisure, too much pressure at work can mean physical and mental illness. And there is also the limit of 24 hours imposed by the working day.
Workers, although engaged in a constant struggle for more wages can also struggle for more time off, better working conditions, trade union representation and other benefits if the class struggle tilts in their favour.
As Marx wrote:
“Hence, in the history of capitalist production, the establishment of a norm for the working day presents itself as a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e. the working class”
(Capital vol.1, Ch.X, p344).
The production of relative surplus value, however, doesn’t suffer from these limitations, making it the main way of increasing surplus value for the capitalist.
Relative surplus value is produced through the reduction of the value of labour power (variable capital) by means of improvements in the production of commodities which form part of the subsistence basket of the working class.
In this case, with the working day and wage remaining the same, the value of labour power falls, leaving a higher surplus value.
There are several ways to achieve this result, such as introduction of better machinery, a better organization of the workplace, and so on. Increasing productivity also increases surplus value and profit.
Rate of Surplus Value
In developing his theory of surplus value, Marx gave a definition of the rate of surplus value, or the rate of exploitation.
He first distinguished between constant capital and variable capital.
Constant capital includes raw materials and machinery. They are called constant capital because they simply transfer their value to the final commodity.
The value of raw materials gets transferred in full to the final commodity, while only a fraction of the value of fixed capital (machinery) gets used up in the process of commodity production and transferred to the final commodity.
Variable capital refers to that part of capital which alters in value during the process of commodity production, namely labour power
The rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation is defined as the ratio of surplus value to the value of variable capital.
The rate of surplus value can be defined as:
S’(V) = surplus value/ variable capital = surplus value/
value of labour power = surplus labour/necessary labour.
With these equations Marx was able to show “capital in motion” as it moved from one economic crisis to the next; from one cycle of class exploitation to the next.
This class exploitation is possible for one essential reason: the unequal social relationship between capital and labour, which is masked by the formal exchange relationship between them.
The underlying social reality, highlighted by, Marx, is in reality an unequal relationship between the class of capitalists, who monopolise the means of production and distribution and who buy and exploit labour-power with money capital, and the disposed class of workers, who are forced to sell their ability to work in order to survive.
Political economy or economics is not a particularly exciting subject. The 19th century critic, Thomas Carlyle thought economics was the “dismal science”. But it is important to understand capitalism in order to reject it in a revolutionary way.
Marx’s critique of capitalism, using his theory of value to explain class exploitation and the class struggle deserves an audience. It is important that workers understand that they have diametrically opposed interests to that of the capitalist class and its political agents.
The value of labour-power, therefore, comes back down to that of a social relation – ultimately of a class struggle between the working class and the capitalist class; a struggle for higher wages and better working conditions on the side of the workers, and greater profits on the side of the capitalists.
Marx explained why workers are forced to defend their interests in trade unions and in strike action. He showed the limitations of trade union action. He set out to show why capitalists try to increase the intensity and extent of exploitation. And he explained why workers are more successful at certain stages of the trade cycle than at others.
More importantly, Marx showed why capitalism can never be run in the interest of the working class. While the capitalist class own and control the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of the majority of society, the working class will be exploited and never have their needs met. It will always be second best or not at all. Therefore, workers have no choice but to democratically and politically join together and organise into socialist political parties to replace the worldwide profit system with: “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all
The Rich, Slavery & the Poor
A not too well known Member of Parliament recently came to the public’s attention. Step forward, Richard Drax Conservative MP and landowner: less commonly known as Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernie-Erle-Drax.
Drax lives in his family ancestral seat, Charborough House in rural Dorset. Drax is the largest landowner in Dorset. He owns about 2% of the county.
Apparently, he inherited wealth direct from slavery. His ancestor, John Erle-Drax who had an estate in Barbados, was recorded in a data base created by University College London, as having received £4,293 12s 6d in compensation in 1836 for 189 slaves when slavery was abolished (BBC news 17 Feb 2013).
Capitalism and Slavery
Drax’s appearance in the news coincided with the Penguin publishing house deciding to republish Eric William’s book, CAPITALISM AND SLAVERY, first published in 1944. The book, derived from a doctoral thesis, is an investigation of the relationship between the Atlantic slave trade and the emergence of European industrial capitalism from the sixteenth through to the nineteenth centuries.
Williams, one time Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, argued that the slave trade was at the heart of Britain's economic development as a major European power. His landmark 1944 study revealed the connections between capitalism and racism. He described his historical research as an:
“…..economic study of the role of Negro slavery and the slave trade in providing the capital which financed the industrial revolution in England and of mature industrial capitalism in destroying the slave system” (Preface p xi).
Although Marx is not explicitly mentioned in the book or appears in the bibliography, it is clear that Williams’s drew upon Marx’s CAPITAL particularly part 8 of the book entitled ‘So-called primitive accumulation of capital’ to show that the Industrial Revolution was not a benign event, but one partly financed by capital from slavery and its derivatives: sugar, tobacco and cotton.
Marx believed that the emergence of capitalism was not a peaceful or benign process. Capitalism began by forcibly taking land away from the peasants—or taking people away from their land. The Enclosure Acts, for example, deprived peasants of their original source of livelihood and forced them into the cities to survive by providing cheap labour for businesses owned by the mill owners, and other industrialists.
In the nineteenth century, as Marx observed, this process fed the emerging factory system in Europe creating huge profits on the one hand and wretched poverty on the other. Williams noted that, European colonisation of the Americas quickly led to a drastic reduction in the number of indigenous peoples (mostly due to the spread of smallpox, estimated to have killed 90% of the native population) which created an economic incentive to develop the global slave market in order to supply the colonists with cheap labour for their plantations and businesses.
In this way, as Marx noted:
“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production...capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt”.
(Capital Vol.1 ch XXX1 p703-712).
Williams traced the rise and fall of the Atlantic slave trade through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to show how it laid the foundations of the Industrial Revolution, and how racism arose as a means of rationalising an economic decision to enslave millions of people. Most significantly, he showed how slavery was only abolished when it ceased to become financially viable, exploding the myth of emancipation as a mark of Britain's ethical progress and enlightenment. The slave abolitionist, Lord Wilberforce may have enjoyed personal moral and religious satisfaction in the abolition of slavery but it still did not stop him supporting the Combination Acts against trade unionists, class exploitation and wage slavery.
Drax, like other Tory historians want school children to be taught that the British Empire led the way for the ending of slavery; that the Empire was a moral force for good. Williams showed that this was not the case. There can be no moral plaudits for the abolition of slavery. It was just that slavery was no longer economically necessary or viable. What was not abolished was wage slavery and the poor who eked out an existence in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution.
‘Socialist Red Meat’
What has this to do with Mr Drax? Well, he recently came to the attention of the media when he questioned The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak’s ‘socialist red meat’ taxes, as he called them. He claimed Sunak’s financial crumb of £400 handout to offset rises in energy and the cost of living was equivalent of 'throwing red meat at socialists’. Somehow, Drax erroneously thought the measure was something to do with the Labour Party.
The Labour Party has never been, is not and never will be a socialist party. It only exists to administer capitalism, maybe not in the way Richard Drax likes, but it is nevertheless a capitalist political party and supporter of the profit system and class exploitation.
Drax asserted that Conservatism is not about the redistribution of wealth. He is of the view that the poor should be blamed for being poor. Instead, Drax believes conservatism is about justifying capitalism, retaining wealth, using capital to invest to make more capital. It is not about giving money away to help the poor Oh, to be a rich landowner!
As other Tories have remarked about the poor; they do not know how to cook and budget; they have too many children, and they revel in their ignorance and stupidity. The Conservative MP Lee Anderson recently argued in the Commons that food banks were largely unnecessary because the main cause of food poverty is a lack of cooking and budgetary skills. Lee Anderson was once a Labour councillor!
The poor have always been a problem for the rich. There is the myth of the ‘deserving poor’ and the ‘undeserving poor’. History is replete with ideas for dealing with the poor. In “METHODS PROPOSED FOR REGULATING THE POOR”. (1725), Sir William Fownes suggested “badging” the poor so that they could be easily identified, and the authorities could regulate their movement. The fascists in 1930s Germany “badged” the gays, gypsies and Jews and they were forced to wear visible coloured stars, so it is doubtful if this will become government policy anytime soon.
Fownes also proposed that the ‘deserving poor’ should be housed in little huts along the roadside and repair the roads for the rich to be carried along the King’s highway. Then there was the 1834 poor law Amendment act which created the Union workhouse where children of the poor were taken away to become workers in the mills.
The 19th century was full of advice for dealing with the poor. The historian Kate Lister wrote in the i newspaper
“Some of the less useful Victorian advice included things like “economy coffins”, which allowed a corpse to be dropped through a trapdoor into the grave so that the coffin could be reused; or, earning a bit extra by putting your children to work in the mills or down the mines when they weren’t at school, a practice known as “half timing” (5/5/2022).
And then there are the comments of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne at the 2012 Tory conference who decried the “idlers and shirkers” who slept while the “Strivers”, on their way to their places of exploitation, passed the “shirker” houses “with their closed blinds” - “sleeping off a life on benefits”.
How the audience laughed and cried. A clever tactic to divide the working class; to divide the working class between those in employment and those on the dole. Nothing was said about the real “idlers” in society; the capitalist class who parasitically live off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit.
Socialism has nothing to do about redistribution of wealth. You cannot have socialism while retaining the private ownership of the means of production and distribution by all of society. It is about production to meet human need not the Robin Hood approach of those still believe that capitalism can be reformed and regulated. Socialism is about the abolition of the profit system, not its retention. Socialism is about the common ownership of the means of production and distribution by all of society, not a minority.
By labour power Marx meant:
“the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercised whenever he produces a use value of any description”
(Capital volume 1, Chapter 6, p.167).
It is this generation of ‘surplus value’ in the production process which provides a surplus which is the basis of capitalist profits. It is this surplus value derived from production which is then split between industrialists, bankers and land owners like Drax in the form of the unearned income of rent, interest and profit.
Social wealth is created by wage slaves. The poor are poor because of capitalism. The poor are singled out for attack by defenders of capitalism because their existence demonstrates a failure of capitalism to meet the needs of all society. It is a demonstration that profit is more important than people. And it shows that while the private property ownership of the means of production and distribution is retained then so does poverty.
Get rid of the profit system and its apologists like Richard Drax and you end poverty. This, however, first requires a majority of socialists, throughout the world, taking democratic and political action to replace the profit system with socialism.
What Is Capitalism?
In his article “To prevent climate collapse make extreme wealth extinct” (Guardian 10 November 2021), the environmental journalist, George Monbiot stated that one of the problems with global warming is an understanding of capitalism. He wrote:
‘There is an oft-quoted axiom, whose authorship is obscure: it is easier to image the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Part of the reason is that capitalism itself is difficult to image. Most people struggle to define it, and its champions have generally disguised its true nature’
Socialists have had no difficulty in giving a definition of capitalism.
Capitalism is a social system set within human history. That is a good place to start. Capitalism has a beginning; it now exists globally and it has a potential end in human history. No social system lasts forever.
Capitalism is also based upon the class ownership of the means of production and distribution. This includes the fossil industry and the green renewable industry. Capitalism can be state, corporate or individual in its ownership. Nationalisation is state capitalism and has nothing to do with socialism.
The private ownership to the means of life is protected by the machinery of government, including the armed forces. Government is controlled by Parliament and politicians.
Politicians exist to serve the general and sectional interests of the capitalist class. Some politicians are in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry and some represent the interests of the renewable industry.
This brings us onto the capitalist class who form a minority within society. Capitalists invest capital into buying labour power for wages, natural materials, property, communication systems, transport buildings, distribution centres and so on to produce commodities for exchange on the market for profit.
Profit is the motive which informs capital investment. Capital is invested to produce more capital as an anti-social objective in its own right.
Under capitalism there is an imperative to accumulate capital under pain of competition. The function of the capitalist is to accumulate capital.
“Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!...Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake...”
(Marx, CAPITAL VOLUME 1, Ch. XXIV).
Capitalism is a class society with a privileged few living off the labour power of the exploited working class.
And the working class form a majority in capitalism. It is the workers who produce more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries. This surplus wealth or, as Marx called it, ‘surplus value’, is the basis of the unearned income going to the capitalist class in the form of rent, interest and profit and the taxation to support the capitalist state.
And it is the machinery of government protecting the private ownership of the means of life that prevents workers directly producing what they need, taking what they and their families need and to solve environmental problems like global warming.
However, within world capitalism there is a class struggle. It is a class struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation and the inability of workers to control and direct society to directly meet human need. It is primary a struggle over the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution.
The class struggle is not only the motor force of history it signals that capitalism has a potential end in history.
The working class majority have the power to change society in a revolutionary way. They can organise into socialist parties to abolish capitalism globally and replace the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Socialism will be an association of individual working together under the socialist principle:
from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
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.