The Festival of Capitalism

It may have been part of the general optimism of the good times ahead that pervaded His Majesty’s third Labour Government in its early days, that induced “Old Moore” Morrison to announce in December, 1947, the Government’s plan for a national display to mark the centenary of the 1851 Exhibition. Possibly it was thought then that festivals were to be part of the usual scheme of things that was to be “ours” in the “Brave New World.” Alas! it was not to be. In fact the attitude generally expressed is for Christ’s sake let’s go to the Festival and forget Korea and raw materials just for one day.

As always, only this time more so, the main problem confronting trade unions is the standard of living. As is to be expected, resolutions calling for wage increases are the order of the day.

In line with their political thought trade unionists have in the past few years made many sacrifices; the outstanding instance being the wage freeze. But the harsh realities of the capitalist economics expressed in the continual increase in commodity prices make a mockery of present day wages—the wage increases of last year, last month, or even last week, have already been gobbled up—and force unions to go forward with new demands in the attempt to catch up with the rising cost of living.

One of the slogans that carried the Labour Party into power was “Fair Shares For All.” This, like many of the catch-phrases bandied around the political arena, is an ambiguous statement; just as meaningless as “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.” Supporters of the Labour Party would claim, however, that “Fair shares for all ” and “Redistribution of wealth ” mean simply: that the rich get poorer, and the poor get richer. But the evidence of six years of Labour Government bear out once again the correctness of “Tin Pan Alley ” who said in “Ain’t We Got Fun,” “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” You would think then—if we accept for a moment the seeming logic of the Labourites—that if the workers are up against it, then the capitalist class should be really on the floor. The position, however, is to the contrary; published figures for the five months up to the end of May show that the aggregate profits of some 1,300 companies hit the all-time high of £700,000,000. This indeed is festival year for British Capitalism.

The ever increasing announcements of record profits have even astounded some of the most devout supporters of Capitalism. The City Editor of the Sunday Express is promoted to the front page, leading article, on June 17, 1951, where he asks, “Are Prices Too High Because Profits Are Too High? ” He wrote thus:—

“These [profits] in the aggregate total more than £700 million, compared with £587 million in the previous year.
“Profits reported last month were on the average 5/6 in the £ higher than in May, 1950.
“City experts I have consulted believe that by the end of the year the total profits to be announced may be nearly half as much again as in 1950, which itself was one of the lushest years for money making.
“On all the evidence never before has British industry experienced such a profit boom as it is enjoying now.”

Here are four examples showing the fantastic increase in profits: —

1949 1950
£ £
I.C.I. 25,300,000 41,700,000
Dunlop Rubber 9,405,000 17,539,000
J. & P. Coates 10,883,000 12,751,000
Courtaulds 8,244,000 17,520,000

Usually the last ten or so pages of the Economist each week, are given to reports of company meetings, together with a summary of the accounts. To read some of the comments of the chairmen, when trying to explain away the high profits in terms of high taxation, and the high cost of replacing plant, you would think they were one step away from the workhouse. Workers also have to contend with higher costs—the high cost of existing. Only they start off with a measly six or seven pounds a week.

They can, though, if they will, comfort themselves from the following nonsense:—

“ . . . that the higher the increase the greater has been the rise in the average price of goods and services bought. The wage-earner has therefore improved his comparative lot to an even greater extent than is indicated by the income differences already calculated.” (Economist, 16.6.51)

Therefore take the example of two men, say, ten years ago. One could afford a car, the other couldn’t. To-day, neither of them can afford a car. This, then. makes the person who couldn’t afford a car in the first instance, relatively better off than the other. Or so this cockeyed writer in the Economist would have us believe.

We see in another direction how the facts belie the claims of the Labour Government. Those in the past who styled themselves socialist, often stated in round figures that 10 per cent. of the population owned 90 per cent. of the wealth. For comparison we give these recent figures of Mr. Hugh Dalton: —

“One per cent, of the people still own 50 per cent. of the wealth, and five per cent. of the people still own 75 per cent. of the wealth. Official figures show that we still have several hundred millionaires among us. and it is notorious that, apart from the large incomes assessed for tax. many people have been living on capital gains and many have been tax-dodging.” (Sunday Times, 17.6.51.)

Although Mr. Dalton does not go into the top flight and give comparative figures of to-day and pre-war, so that we may adjudge his party’s claim of “redistribution of wealth,” we would say that there is very little difference. Before we leave this point let us give an illustration, using Dalton’s figures of five and seventy-five. Let us say that both population and wealth equal a hundred. This means then, that five persons have £15 each, and the remaining 95 have approximately 5/3 each. This is the sum total of the “redistribution of wealth.”

Members of the Labour Party in debate with the Socialist Party of Great Britain have claimed the respective aims to be identical. Where the Labour Party have it over us, so they say, is that they will arrive first by reason of their practical approach. Before leaving the reader to decide which party is on the road to Socialism—that is a classless, wageless society—may we remind you again of the words of Mr. Dalton that “five per cent. of people own 75 per cent. of the wealth.”


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