Letters: Was Marx Right?
I have had one or two specimen copies of the Socialist Standard and have taken an interest in Marx, but having very little knowledge of the position I would be pleased if you would help me in the clearing up of a few points.
Marx lays it down that Capital, as the system develops, becomes concentrated in fewer hands. Is it not a fact that instead of that being the case decentralisation of Capital is taking place on an ever larger and larger scale? And instead of the small man or middle class such as lawyers, doctors, etc., being eliminated they are becoming more numerous?
Marx states that the workers condition under Capitalist must get worse, and that the worker must sink lower and lower in the social scale. Is it not true to say that for the last 30 years the workers condition instead of getting worse has been gradually improving’. If these two statements are true, how do you reconcile them with the position of Marx? Should be much obliged if you would supply me with the answers to these questions. I am only seeking for information.
I am, Yours fraternally,
C. F. BRANSBY.
REPLY TO BRANSBY.
The student of Marx is often astonished at the emptiness of the supposed arguments advanced against the Marxist case. The questions given above are good specimens of these objections, as the following facts show.
For several years there have been numerous agitations organised in America against the ” Trusts,” and various methods—all equally futile—have been proposed for curbing these huge concentrations of wealth. At one period the capitalist press here claimed that such ” Trusts ” were purely American phenomena, and that they could not exist in “freedom loving Britain.” Yet at the time such statements were made Trusts existed here in more than one industry. The Cotton Thread Trust, under the control of J. and P. Coats, and the Tobacco Trust were well known cases. The directors of the various Railway Companies used to meet periodically to arrange fares and rates and so forming a price-fixing ring.
The war increased the speed at which these combinations were formed, and in whatever direction one cares to look now combinations are seen in control. Lever Brothers, Ltd., is a gigantic Soap Trust and it is spreading into the Fish Industry. The armament firms form a big ring and control the battleship building yards. Over 80 per cent. of the banking business is controlled by five Banks, viz., Barclay’s Bank, Lloyds Bank, London County Westminster and Parr’s Bank, London Joint City and Midland Bank, National Provincial and Union Bank of England. (Wages, Prices and Profits, p. 101).
“We find that there is at the present time in every important branch of industry in the United Kingdom an increasing tendency to the formation of Trade Associations and Combinations.
Some highly interesting information, with curious details, is given in this valuable report, that every critic of Marx should read.
In view of recent developments in the East it may be mentioned that practically the whole of the oil resources of the world is controlled by two immensely wealthy Trusts—The Standard Oil Co. and the Roya1 Dutch Shell Co.
There is some confusion of thought shown in referring to lawyers, doctors, etc., as the “middle class.” When Marx was dealing with the concentration of wealth, he referred to the small producer or capitalist being crushed out. The lawyers, doctors, and the whole of the professional section live by the sale of their services and are therefore, in the mass, members of the working class. They have increased in numbers due to the greater demand for trained and technical advisers and managers in the industrial combinations and to the fact that so many small capitalists, seeing the hopelessness of their own position, have had their sons trained for the professions as they believe there is a greater chance of obtaining a livelihood in such directions. In face of the huge array of facts around us to-day showing the misery of the worker’s position, it is remarkable that anyone—not a defender of capitalism—can talk of the workers’ position being “improved.” The standard of life of the working class has been steadily deteriorating for more than 30 years. Even during the period of the war, when the workers opportunities of raising wages were greater than at any previous time under capitalism, the wages paid did not keep pace with the increasing cost of living. Since then wages have fallen heavily in all directions, far faster than the cost of living has decreased, so much so that in certain cases, e.g., the coal miners, many of those in work have to seek relief from the local Guardians.
But this is not the whole, nor even the main part of the case. First, relative to the amount of wealth produced, the social position of the worker has become much worse. In the middle of the 19th century the millionaire was looked upon as a wonder. To-day the billionaire excites no particular comment. While immense fortunes have been amassed in the hands of the few, the workers are struggling harder than ever to obtain a subsistence.
Second, whether the wages of a particular worker has increased or not the insecurity of his existence has grown by leaps and bounds. No one to-day is sure of his job, no matter how ” high ” or ” low ” his status may be. And it is this appalling insecurity of life amidst wealth produced in gigantic quantities that drives the workers down in the social scale as capitalism develops.
Every fact of the workers position demonstrates the correctness of Marx’s great analysis of society, and the path society was bound to follow.
(Socialist Standard, August 1922)