Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Non-manual labour

Letters to the Editors from the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

I am writing in the hope that you can enlighten me on a point concerning non-manual labour. Unless I have completely misunderstood the dynamics of capitalism, the exploitation of the workers rests on the extraction of surplus value, and the wages system is the mechanism by which this robbery takes place. This is easily observable in, say, mining or steel production. Physical wealth is produced, expropriated and sold. However with unproductive work such as, for example, a typist or a bank clerk, what wealth is being produced? How can someone who is producing no wealth be exploited through the extraction of surplus value? What wealth is being expropriated?

I understand that much non-manual labour is an essential part of production (nursing, planning etc) and that this labour, indirectly, produces wealth. However, doesn't this suggest perhaps the existence of two different types of exploitation? (1) the ‘real’ economy—physical wealth production on which we all depend, and (2) non-manual labour, some of which (like the occupations mentioned above) is essential and some of which (bank clerks, etc) is completely wasted labour. The exploitation of someone in the 'real' economy is easily analysed—the owner's outlay (wages, rent, repairs, etc) can be said to cost x, commodities are sold for y. the difference between x and y being profits.

Can the exploitation of a typist be quantified in this way? A miner pays his own wages, he has produced wealth over and above the value of his wages, does a typist do the same? Who pays for a bank clerk's wages if they don't actually produce any wealth? Is it enough to say that employers are happy to pay unproductive workers because within the context of the money system they do serve a purpose? Are unproductive workers a sort of subsidised workforce, paid for with wealth accumulated through physical wealth production? If so, doesn't that imply a rather more sophisticated understanding of the system amongst employers than blind obedience to the God of profit—if they are prepared to forsake immediate gain by employing workers whom they can’t actually physically exploit for profit, or is it a situation that developed naturally?

Production is the transformation of materials that originally came from nature into something that serves some human purpose. This necessarily involves both physical (manual) and mental (non-manual) work. Mining is not just a question of digging. It also involves surveying, planning how to extract the mineral and how bring it to the surface, and the like. This work is just as necessary to production as the physical side. Originally the same person would have done both but, as the division of labour has grown, the manual and mental aspects have come to be performed by different groups of workers. All of them are equally engaged in productive labour, including, we might add. the typists who type out the plans.

Under capitalism it is not just use-values that are produced but commodities, or items produced for sale. This means that a whole series of other operations become necessary which wouldn't exist if production were carried on simply for use: buying, selling, accounting, banking, insurance. Necessary though these activities are under capitalism, they are not productive as they do not enhance the usefulness of the product. This does not mean that the workers involved in them are not exploited. As Marx explained in Chapter 6 of Volume 2 of Capital on "The Costs of Circulation", such workers, just as much as productive workers, are paid less in terms of labour-time than the time they actually work and so perform unpaid labour for their employer. It is this unpaid labour which transfers a part of the surplus value produced in the productive sector to their employer. So an employer of unproductive labour has not abandoned the pursuit of profit. Quite the contrary.

The Necessity of Revolution

We are not progressives, not liberals but revolutionists. We declare our aims, our perspective, and our attitude. We take this opportunity to restate our aims.

The capitalist class owns and controls the means of production, distribution and communication. The working class owns none of these, and therefore workers must sell their labour power to the capitalist for wages in order to live. The worker creates a product of value, part of which is returned to him as wage, and the rest of which is taken from him by the capitalists as profit. Thus is created the basic antagonistic contradiction between worker and capitalist, since the interest of one is, and has to be, directly opposed to the interest of the other. This most fundamental of contradictions will not end until capitalism with its private or state ownership is itself ended, and replaced with socialism, where all means of production will be common property. There will be no classes and no class struggle. The consequences of class divided society – racism, national chauvinism, male supremacy, the monogamous family based on property, etc. – will all have disappeared. There will be no wars, no armies, and no need for weapons of war, which will become historical curiosities. There will be no distinction between mental and manual work. Socialism will be a life of material and cultural abundance. Contradictions between people will remain, but these will not be antagonistic and will be resolved by mutual cooperation.

The capitalists have attacked you with every weapon at their command. They have battered down your wages to starvation levels. They have cast you on the scrap-heap of unemployment. They have gagged your every protest, bludgeoned you when you assembled to demonstrate your misery, and laid by the heels in prison all those bold enough for voice your claims and your indignation. To hell with their capitalist politics! We want an end of class tyranny and oppression. Vote down every capitalist candidate. Their labels mean nothing to us. Conservative or Labour or Nationalist, they are all the same. They all stand upon the backs of the workers, and differ on only over their share of the plunder. We must stand together against them.

The only struggle for us is the struggle of the workers against their exploiters. Wherever one looks, we see  more of the rubble that wars have piled up. Thousands of people can’t get a job to live and are hungry. Misery, undernourishment and a huge increase in sickness and the number of the people’s children dying every day. The social misery and poverty continuously grow begging, prostitution and the number of criminals whom the prisons cannot hold any more. A clique of financiers is gambling on the backs of the people. A class of bankers, industrialists, big merchants, big landlords and arms dealers, after accumulating easy riches and taking advantage of every commercial or political abnormalities in order to profiteer on the needs of the population, now holds in its hands huge concentrated economic forces (stock-market capital, land, factories, transport, construction etc), that is, it holds in its hands almost completely the lives of the people. The sharks of bank capital, the big industrialists and big merchants, speculators and the upstart newly rich of the wars; on the other hand, out in the rural areas, the big landlords and money lenders hold the lives of the people in their hands, and with more or less “legal” methods they usurp, they steal, the labour of the vast majority of the people, comprising of workers, poor peasants or landless ones, clerks, small-holders and dispossessed refugees.

The plutocratic oligarchy exploited the labour of the people. Underneath a thousand lies and prejudices and customs this great evil was hidden. Only then the poor popular masses began to realise that these drones constituted a class on their own, with its own separate interests, and that the poor workers of cities and villages are another class with its own separate interests, opposing those of the exploiters class’. And then they began to understand well, that they must wage a social struggle, to fight that exploiting class with their own forces and not wait passively for its charity. That they had to organise themselves.

Political exploitation and tyranny. They tell us that “the people is sovereign” and decide on their own on their fortunes with elections. They send their own representatives to the parliament and they take decisions with their interests in mind. Especially now, with Democracy, the sovereignty of the people, they say, will become even greater, since only they will be able to elect the Head of State, the President of the Democracy. But we know well that the great majority of the poor people, whether they want it or not, remain still illiterate and cannot know about the various issues concerning the country. They don’t have the chance to educate, because they are condemned to work only.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Socialism need not stay a dream

Capitalists acquire their wealth , not from their own toil, but from the labour of working people. The workers produce wealth far in excess of the wages they are paid, whether these wages are high or low. The surplus they produce above their wages is not paid for, but is taken as profit by the capitalists. This is exploitation, the source of all capitalist wealth. The capitalists use their profits not merely to live in luxury, but to pile up new capital. The socialist movement has therefore always aimed to take the means of production and distribution out of the hands of individuals, and to transfer them to the ownership of the people as a whole, so that they can be used for the common good. The social ownership of resources—socialism—is the foundation on which the people can build a new life. Social ownership means an end to the chaos and wasteful competition of production for profit. Planned production and distribution ensures the development of new productive resources to provide what people really want. Socialism does not mean the levelling down of living standards. Nor does it bring bureaucracy and tyranny. On the contrary, socialism draws more and more people into planning and making their own future, and frees their creative energies for great economic, social and cultural advances. A socialist society means above all a better future.  Socialism can only be built with power in the hands of working people.

Socialism must be established by the workers before they can enjoy the fruits of their labour. The madness of excessive competition built up on the commodity character of labour-power and production for profit, can only cease when production is carried on for use. Capitalist anarchy grows with the growth of Capitalism. The system fails utterly to give a full life to the class that produces all wealth. Capitalism is over-ripe. Men and women are needed to awaken the workers to a realisation of their slavery, to expose confusionists, and impart a knowledge of socialism to those who suffer under the system, that they may organise and work for their emancipation.

Amelioration of working and living conditions can be achieved by the action of the workers themselves on the industrial field using the strike weapon. Workers can strike without the right to strike, they can achieve higher wages and better working conditions whether it is legally recognized or not. Workers have no rights before capital other than those they obtain and keep through their own action in the class struggle. If the workers using the strike weapon in a properly organized way are unable to wrest from their capitalist employers higher wages and better working conditions, then they are unable to obtain these by means of reformist political action. Reforms will always be enacted when the political parties representing the various sectional interests have made out their case, and the capitalist is convinced that his interests, whether long-term or short-term, will be served. By legalising trade unions the government will be able to monitor their activities and to obtain their co-operation.

On the industrial field the working class can force the capitalist employer against his will to disgorge a larger share of the wealth extracted from the worker than he would otherwise part with. Therein lies the antagonism of interests which manifests itself as a class struggle between possessors and producers. Higher standards of living and better working conditions must be sought on the industrial field, and not through reformist political action. However, this economic antagonism of interests, which expresses itself in the class struggle, can only be ended by political action for the establishment of socialism. This is the real issue which must confront workers, not the futile and useless policies of hordes of reformers bent on keeping capitalism going. 

The problem is an economic and political system that has by design created a world of wage-slaves and rich masters. A new mass political formation of people prepared to oppose capitalism, remains our only hope, but much depends upon how we creatively re-imagine making our case. 

Our party is a party of the socialist revolution and revolution is the only solution of the social problems and all our work must lead to this goal. If we keep this always in mind and measure all our daily work by this standard we will keep on the right road. The Socialist Party’s Declaration of Principles to which we are committed put upon us responsibilities and duties which cannot be shifted or evaded. We have to stand up and fight for the true interests of the working class as a whole, at every turn of the road.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Lest we Forget

Obituary from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Robert Russell joined the Socialist Party during the second world war. He was born in 1925 and came from a deprived area of Glasgow called Anderson but despite an impoverished background he managed to obtain a bursary grant and attended the fee-paying Allan Glen’s school. He was an extremely intelligent man and after some time working in the shipping trade he qualified as a Chartered Accountant.

Bobby, as he was known to his friends was to become something of a Marxist scholar inside the Glasgow branch of the SPGB. He was particularly adept at conveying this knowledge to younger members of the branch. I for one am grateful for the time he took encouraging me to read the Marxist classics and for his arguments and discussion.

He was a very active branch member and during his membership he must have held about every post in the branch. As a regular branch attender he could always be relied upon to make worthwhile contributions to the branch’s activities. He was a modest sort of man and could often be self-depreciatory about his abilities as a speaker.

Despite this he was a regular indoor speaker and an excellent tutor at many of Glasgow branch’s study classes. During the sixties when Glasgow branch conducted many electoral campaigns he stood as a candidate for the SPGB at local elections.

Bobby was an extremely kind and generous person and when he married later on in his life he was especially kind to his new adopted family. When he retired from work he was the Managing Director of a Glasgow Iron Works and used his pension with great generosity towards his family. He was especially good at dealing with children as many of the young in his family can attest to.

Bobby was in many ways the embodiment of what is called a “self-educated” man. He took a lively interest in politics, science and language, but what he will be remembered for by his Glasgow comrades was his friendliness and generosity.


The Goal of the Socialist Party

The Socialist Party’s  aim is socialism, because socialism is the only way to solve the problems of working people and end the class divisions in society. We never stop work for world socialism. We do everything we can from limited resources. We never miss any opportunity of presenting the socialist case. The fact that all other parties are reformist is fundamental to the case of the Socialist Party. This means they seek not to abolish capitalism with its class division, wages system, state and frontiers, but to modify it a little this way or that in a futile effort to legislate away its problems and inhuman consequences. Poverty is produced by capitalism. It is glib and cynical nonsense to promise to end it while retaining the system. Reformers want capitalism without its economic consequences. The Socialist Party stands alone in this country as the one party which rejects the system the others want to reform and retain. Socialism depends upon understanding. Only a conscious majority gaining political power can achieve a world of common ownership where production will be solely for use with free access. One of our earliest, and one of our wisest decisions of policy, was that we allow our opponents access to our platform. Having heard our case, and subject only to the common usages and decencies of debate, we offer any opponent the right to oppose us, on our own platform. We have nothing to hide, no secrets to keep, no leaders to apologise for, nothing but straight socialism to advocate. So we have nothing to fear from debate. We have everything to gain by discussion. 

The technological conditions for establishing socialism, the capacity for a society of free access, have existed throughout the twentieth century. The task of the Socialist Party is to advocate it. Although, we strive to replace capitalism by socialism, we believe that it is essential to fight now, within capitalism to defend and improve the immediate lot of the working people. But that task is performed more effectively by workers’ organisation other than our own, such as trade unions. Wars, poverty, hunger, slumps and mass unemployment have been the lot of working people. But the billionaires and the industrialists have made their fortunes out of the people’s labour. Nine-tenths of the wealth is owned by one-tenth of the population.

 Workers should study their own position in the modern world and ask themselves why, with powers of production growing at an enormous rate, with the workers slaving harder than ever, with their actual situation grows steadily worse, while the insecurity of life becomes more pronounced than ever. When a worker goes to work it is always for somebody else (even the so-called self-employed are usually subcontractors to bigger businesses). Why? Because a worker cannot obtain the raw material, cannot use the machinery, cannot carry out the processes or move the finished articles without the permission of someone else. When workers looks around they can see the fact existing in every branch of production and distribution. The general situation thus revealed is that in society the section who perform all the work— useful or other—are shut out from any control of the means of producing wealth, that is, from the means of living itself. The other section, performing no necessary function in society, own and control these means of life. But if one section in society owns the means of life, the other section must necessarily be slaves to those owners.

And this is exactly the essential fact the organised workers have failed to grasp. Once they do understand it the superstition of common interest between master and slave will be dropped, and taking its place will be the recognition of the fundamental and unbridgeable antagonism between the two classes while capitalism lasts. Then will the organised workers start to fight the master class in earnest and build their organisation upon a class basis instead of splitting up into crafts, industries, or any other anti-working-class division. Understanding also that the masters' centre of power rests in their control of the political machine, they will enter the ranks of the Socialist Party for the purpose of capturing political power from the masters and establishing socialism in the place of wage-slavery.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Marriage Vows

Statistics showed there were 12,635 civil ceremonies last year, 5,879 humanist marriages, 5,812 Christian marriages and 1,409 marriages of other religions.

The trend suggests that humanist ceremonies are increasingly popular, with only 82 marriages of this type carried out in 2005 when they were first legally recognised in Scotland.

Fallacies on the Left (1962)

From the June 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Commenting on the Socialist Party contesting the recent Municipal Election in Glasgow*, the Scottish Daily Express called us “a far left group.” This is indicative of the childish view of the political scene held by the Press and by many workers.

According to this view the political parties in this country line up something like a football forward line with the Fascists at outside right, the Tories at inside right, the Liberals at centre forward, the Labour Party at inside left, and on the left wing C.N.D.’ers, Trotskyists, Communists and Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

Yet for all their differing programmes these organisations are united by their desire to operate capitalism. From the so called right wing to the out and out “left-wingers” you will find nothing about the abolition of the wages system appearing on their programmes. It is left to the Socialist Party of Great Britain to point out that only by the abolition of the wages system and the introduction of a society based on common ownership can the problems of war, unemployment, and poverty be overcome.

Since it is from this “left wing” of the Trotskyists and Labourite rebels that the claim to be Socialists is most often heard let us look at their policies and actions, bearing in mind that because a group calls itself Socialist it doesn't necessarily mean that it is. We saw a good example of this recently in the Daily Mail :

 A spokesman in Seoul for Dr. Rhee's Liberal Party (now leaderless) said to-day it planned to change it's name to the "Democratic Socialist Party’’—but it would remain Conservative.
Every time the Socialist takes the “left-wingers" to task for the anti-working class policy of the Labour Party he gets the reply, “ Ah, just wait until the next conference. The left will triumph. What the Labour Party needs is left-wing leadership." Which shows quite clearly that the left wing shares the right wing's view on leadership and that although it claims to understand politics, it thinks the working class too stupid to comprehend the complexities involved. Instead, it sees them as a troop of boy scouts who need a left-wing scoutmaster to lead them to the promised land.

Socialists, on the other hand, say that not only can the working class understand Socialism, but that only by their understanding and organising for it can Socialism be brought about. Socialism is a new social system where there will be no buying or selling, where men and women will co-operate to produce wealth to the best of their ability and take according to their needs. Without the majority understanding what Socialism is, it is an impossibility.

Their emphasis on the importance of leadership shows that the left wingers do not understand the nature of Socialist society. In a society based on co-operation rather than coercion, the majority must willingly participate. Men cannot be led into Socialism.

Another aspect of the left wing that illustrates its anti-Socialist attitude, is the prevalent idea of gradually changing Capitalism into Socialism. This “creeping Socialism" they say, is more practical than the revolutionary proposition. Now bearing in mind that Socialism will have no private property and no money, how does this “creeping Socialism” stand up to examination? How is our gradualist going to abolish money? This week do away with the penny; the next the shilling; the next the half-crown; and so on? If such is the “creeping Socialist” concept he no doubt applauded the disappearance of the farthing.

Socialism may be gradual, in that the working class will gradually adopt Socialist ideas, but we realise that once the majority understand and desire Socialism they will revolutionise society by democratically taking hold of the State machine, declaring private property illegal, and instituting the common ownership of the world by the whole of society.

A favourite argument of those "left-wingers” who say that Socialists are wasting their time by remaining outside the Labour Party, is that the Labour Party can be converted into a Socialist party by “left-wingers” boring from within. Let us have a look at this argument.

The S.P.G.B. was formed in 1904 by people who realised that only an independent Socialist party, restricted to those who understand Socialism, could be an efficient instrument of working class emancipation. Those who called the early Socialists “impossibilists" elected to bore from within the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party. The S.D.F. is now dead and buried and the I.L.P. is to all intents and purposes dead if not yet buried.

The Labour Party has been subjected to over fifty years of boring from within,. but with what effect? Today even the vague claims of some of its early members to be Socialists appear to be dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary in comparison with the respectable, staunch support of Capitalism that the Labour Party now offers. It would be as difficult to find a Socialist in the modern Labour Party as an Anarchist in the League of Empire Loyalists.

The left wing of the Labour Party, in attempting to show they are less reactionary than their comrades playing at inside left, point out that they are in favour of more nationalisation, rent control, improved welfare facilities, and the rest. This is the same old rag bag of reforms that have been proffered by their other colleagues in the past.

The theory that nationalisation is Socialism, or a step towards Socialism, is patently absurd. Even in countries such as the United States, where no pseudo-Socialist party such as the Labour Party has been in power, Capitalism has found it necessary to have state control over some industries. If those who favour nationalisation are Socialists then such people as Churchill and Mussolini must be classed as such.

There is in reality no right-wing and left-wing in British politics. All the reformist parties, whether they be Fascist. Communist or Labour, stand for Capitalism. We have no more sympathy with the left-wing of the Labour Party than with the inside left. For the Socialist there is only one attitude towards the Labour Party, whatever position they elect to play in, unqualified opposition.


76 votes were registered. Members of the Glasgow Branch summed up as follows: “We consider this, our first effort at a Municipal Election in Glasgow, a success from two standpoints:
  1. The experience gained of organising meetings in the area, distributing Manifestos and literature, and of the legal set-up at election time.
  2. The amount of literature sold, the valuable opportunity of getting our case over to the workers, and the prestige gained for the Party in Glasgow.

What we hold to be true

The capitalist is defined by the ownership of the means of production and exchange. This ownership is what gives the capitalist power of life or death over the working class and over society as a whole. To live, working people, must not only work for the owners of the means of production and exchange – they must guarantee them a profit. Working for them is not enough; a profit is absolutely required for you to get your job; and that profit can be obtained in no other wise except by exploiting that which is your only real possession – namely your physical or mental capacity to work. That is all the worker has. To live economically, the capitalist must accumulate; not that he wants to or doesn’t – he must accumulate in order to live. To accumulate, he must be assured profit. To profit, he must exploit labour. There is no other way. The capitalist always seeks to intensify exploitation; the worker always seeks to resist exploitation. Capitalism, cannot exist without the private or state ownership and control of the means of production and exchange, has brought society almost literally to the edge of as abyss, where it cannot guarantee security to the people, cannot guarantee peace to the people, cannot guarantee harmony with nature, cannot guarantee abundance to the people. Any social system which cannot guarantee those to the masses of the people stands condemned. The only way to replace capitalism, the only socialism.

Socialism demands the common ownership and democratic control and management of the means of production and distribution for the benefit and welfare of the people as a whole. That is the socialist objective; nothing less than that suffices. The Socialist Party has never pointed to the former Soviet Union as an example of a socialist society. The reason there is no socialism is that socialism demands  common ownership of the means of production and democratic and the democratic control by working people. Again, anything less is not and never will be socialism. We reject completely as incompatible with our principles and our aims any and all regimes, even if they proclaim themselves as “socialist” that are in actuality totalitarian state-capitalism, as in the case of the former USSR or China. We reject all political movements, parties and doctrines that support such regimes, that are their defenders or apologists. We stand for the traditional socialist conception that the winning of the battle for democracy is the establishment the inauguration of a class-free society. We reject the concept of a one-party dictatorship in which all other political parties are prohibited or suppressed as a violation of democracy in general and of socialist democracy in particular. We reject totalitarianism, or any dictatorship over the working class, as the road to socialism. We reject the imposition of “socialism” on the working class “for its own good,” against its will or without its freely-arrived-at democratic decision. The road to a socialist society lies only through the ever-greater expansion of democracy. To these propositions the World Socialist Movement is unequivocally committed.

The Socialist Party welcomes its fellow-workers of this world. We are the party of revolutionary socialism. We are part and parcel of the labour movement and have no interests separate from the interests of the whole working class. With our own eyes we can see the successes capitalism: millions of new graves, cities and whole countries turned into cemeteries, more millions wandering without homes or countries to call their own, still more millions under the rule of despots suffer starvation, misery and insecurity throughout the world. The working class is losing confidence in capitalism and its spokesmen. That is a most encouraging sign.

The Socialist Party is fundamental and thoroughgoing opponents of capitalism and we seek to replace it completely by a socialist society. We do not seek to “reform” it – wage-slavery is not to be reformed but replaced fundamentally by social democracy. We aim at building a democratic socialist movement, for the aim of socialism is nothing but the fullest attainment of democracy. The World Socialist Movement is the consistent and thoroughgoing champion of democracy in all spheres of economic, political and social life. In that most urgent of political struggles of our day, the struggle against the war danger and for world peace. We stand for the fullest democratic rights of the members of the trade-union movement, in which we shall seek to have the voice and vision of socialism heard again loudly and effectively.