1940s >> 1946 >> no-504-august-1946

Notes by the Way: “You, too, can be a Capitalist”

“You, too, can be a Capitalist”


Under the title “You, too, can be a capitalist for £2,” Mr. Quintin Hogg, M.P. (Daily Mail, 4/12/45), let himself go at the expense of those who are guilty of “spreading the downright falsehood that nearly all property is in the hands of a few rich men.” Mr. Hogg’s years at Eton and Oxford do not appear to have taught him either arithmetic or logic, for his attempted refutation was built up on the assertion that any worker who has about £2 can buy one share in Imperial Chemical Industries, Ltd., and thus become a “capitalist.” It is true that there are large numbers of workers who have small shareholdings or deposits in the Savings Bank, but this is no answer to the often-demonstrated fact that nearly all property is in the hands of a comparatively few rich men. Daniels and Campion, in their analysis of the ownership of accumulated wealth, showed that over 80% of it is owned by a small group numbering less than 6%. (“The Distribution of National Capital,” 1936.)


Mr. Hogg chose Imperial Chemical Industries, Ltd., for his example. It happens that the Economist (5/12/1936) analysed the shareholdings of that and nine other large well-known companies. The result was revealing, but it does not help Mr. Hogg. True, I.C.I.’s 43,589,538 ordinary shares are held by 124,690 shareholders, but 80,000 of them had small amounts of less than 200. At the top was a handful of big shareholders (17 to. be exact), who owned over 4,000,000 shares between them, an average of about 250,000 each. At the present price of the shares these 17 own between them over £9 million. If Mr. Hogg wants something to get his teeth into let him try to find among the company’s 100,000 workers how many own 250,000 shares, or even 250.


Another interesting analysis was recently made by the Financial Times (16/2/46) into the Bolsover Colliery Co. The Financial Times was anxious to show that when the Labour Government take over the mines they will be dealing with large numbers of small shareholders; but their inquiry also disclosed that there were 33 shareholders with more than £10,000 each, their aggregate holding being £773,000. The 60 largest shareholders own about £1,000,000 between them.


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No More Rich Men?
The idea has been put around that the war has destroyed the big fortunes of the rich. Many Labourites, Mr. Bevin included, have swallowed this and deceive themselves into the belief that, somehow or other, Labour Government is incompatible with the existence of a wealthy minority. They could learn something by glancing at the wills published in the Times and other newspapers. In a period of two weeks from June 30th to July 15th particulars were published of 26 wills, each of them over £50,000. The total for the 26 was well over £5,000,000; an average of about £200,000 each. Several were over £500,000: – Mr. Douglas Charrington, £608,959 (Times, 2/7/46); Mr. W. M. Fraser, £650,000 (Sunday Express, 30/6/46); and Mr. W. Barnett, £576,383 (Times, 1/7/46).


The lucky heirs, even after payment of death duties, will be quite a long way removed from Mr. Hogg’s “capitalists” at £2 per head.
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Political Parties and Foreign Money
In the House of Commons on June 6th, 1946, the Home Secretary, Mr. Chuter Ede, stated that documents captured during the war included a letter written in 1935 by the Italian Ambassador in London, which contained reference to subsidies given by the Italian Government to the British Union of Fascists amounting to £60,000 a year. The Italian ambassador expressed the view to Mussolini that the money was wasted. He called it pouring money down the drain, and claimed that with one-tenth of the amount he could produce a result ten times better.


Sir Oswald Mosley issued a denial, in the terms: — “This statement is categorically denied by those responsible either for the policy or the finances of the British Union,” and he demanded that the Government state how, when and through what accounts the money was paid. (Times, 7/6/46.)


The working class should certainly be interested in the sources from which political propaganda is financed. Figs don’t grow on thistles; big business and capitalist governments do not finance propaganda that is going to help the working class to emancipate themselves from capitalism.


Whether the money comes from abroad is not the only question. From the working-class standpoint Sir Oswald Mosley’s receipt of funds for his New Party (before his Fascist days) from big industrialists was just as damning.


Readers of the Daily Worker (7/6/46) will have noticed that the Communist organ featured the Home Secretary’s statement about Mosley, but said nothing about the charges made against the Communists in the past of having received money from abroad. On two occasions Tory Governments published official reports on Communist money, one, in 1926, “Communist Papers,” and the other in 1928, “Communist Funds.” One statement in the latter was that on July 5th, 1927, and December 21st, 1927, payments from Moscow were made to the Communists totalling £10,330.


Apart from the Official Reports, the late Mr. Walton Newbold, writing in “Forward” (10/7/1926), after he had ceased to be a Communist M.P., admitted that his election expenses “were defrayed in the main from the funds of the Communist International, and originated in Moscow.”


For many years rank and file Communists indignantly denied the charges, until in May, 1928, the Communist Party published what it called “A Frank Statement,” though it wasn’t very frank. It explained that the Communist Party was a national section of an international party, “paying its financial contributions to its international headquarters and receiving assistance in return from time to time for different phases of its national work.” The “Frank Statement” did not include a statement of the relationship between the amounts flowing outwards as contributions and the amount flowing in as assistance, which would no doubt have been much more interesting.


No objection could be taken to a working-class organisation at the outset being helped by workers in another country to get on its feet, but that is a very different proposition from continuing year after year dependent to a considerable extent on subsidies from abroad. A healthy working-class party can depend on the willing work and contributions of workers in the country where it operates and will, of course, have its policy democratically controlled by its own members. The Communist Party of Great Britain was never in that position, its policies, including innumerable sudden somersaults, having been marked by a never-ending subservience to the Foreign policy of the Russian Government.


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Phillipine Independence—American Model
All imperialisms run true to form, though this does not prevent the apologists for each from throwing brickbats at the others. British capitalism gave “independence” to Egypt in 1936, but kept troops there. Russia negotiates a “friendly” agreement with Persia by which Russia gains control of oil wells in the north of the country, but took the precaution of keeping an army of occupation there until the Persian Government had accepted Russian terms. America has just given “independence” to the Phillipines, but one of the terms of the agreement is to be that “more American troops will be kept there than were stationed before the war. Moreover, the naval establishments will include at least one base for a battle fleet, whereas the pre-war American strategic system provided for no battle-fleet base west of Pearl Harbour.” (Economist, 6/7/46.)


The reason is the familiar one of strategic interests. By moving her base right up to the China Seas the United States becomes, as the Economist points out, “a Great Power of East Asia, as otherwise it would not be.” The old base, Pearl Harbour, in the Hawaii group, is several thousand miles nearer to U.S.A.


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Conflict in the German Social Democratic Party
The removal of the Nazi régime has brought the suppressed political parties into the open again, but only to uncover the deep dissensions existing within their ranks. Under Russian tutelage, not to say dictation, the Social Democrats have been merged with the Communists in the Russian Zone. In Berlin itself the Social Democratic Party escaped that fate but is now faced with a split. One group, represented by Karl Gerber (who has resigned his office as one of the three joint chairmen), favours modelling the Party on the British Labour Party. They have no use for “old-fashioned” Marxism, and, according to the Manchester Guardian (6/7/46), Gerber holds that much in the Marxist conception of the class struggle is out of date.


Of Gerber’s view all we need say is that events will show that the class struggle is still a reality, and the only old-fashioned thing about the business is the belief held by those like the British Labour Party, that the class struggle can be abolished under capitalism.


The other group is described by the Manchester Guardian as wanting “to maintain an orthodox Marxism,” but the fact is the German Social Democratic Party never was a genuine Socialist Party. Some of its prominent men declared themselves Marxists, but the membership as a whole were not Socialists and had little understanding of Socialist principles. If, now, there is a group that seriously wants to start building up a Socialist party they will have to recognise that they cannot hope at present to be more than a small organisation. If they have retained the old worship of numbers at the expense of Socialist understanding they will go the same way as the old Social Democratic Party.


Edgar Hardcastle