1950s >> 1958 >> no-652-december-1958

The Passing Show: Time and Money


Time and Money
Capitalism comes to different countries in different forms. The more recently a country has become Capitalist, the more efficient—from the point of view of the Capitalists—its system is likely to be: for it can draw on the experience of the rest of the Capitalist world.Capitalism’s first need is for plenty of workers. One of the most important steps in any Capitalist revolution is to drive many of the peasants into the towns, where they can form the new urban proletariat. If this is done too quickly, agricultural production will suffer; if too slowly, industrial production will be held up. Again, even in peace time each Capitalist state must maintain a standing army, to preserve internal “order” and to deter and to threaten other states. If this army is too small, other countries are not sufficiently impressed; if it is too big, it means that some men are kept in idleness when they could be working in factories or on farms for the profit of the Capitalists.

As the Capitalists see it, one drawback of their system is that these categories—town-worker, farm-worker, soldier—are too rigid. It takes prolonged economic discomfort before a town-worker will become a farm-worker, or vice versa; if only because it usually means a man and his family leaving the area they know and moving away to another district altogether. And when in war-time the army has to be rapidly expanded, it takes time and money to set up the large organisations necessary to conscript’ and train workers as soldiers.

Latest Model—Convertible
But China, which has been setting up its state Capitalist system only in the last ten years has been able to draw on the experience of British, American and Russian Capitalism, and has apparently been able to avoid some of the shortcomings of earlier Capitalist systems—shortcomings, that is, in the estimation of the ruling class. For example, over-rigid classification seems to have been avoided. According to press reports (e.g. The Observer, 9th November, 1958), the unit in the new Chinese Capitalism is not the factory or the farm, but the commune, the average size of which is “about 8.000 households”. The great advantage of these, to Mao Tse-Tung and his fellow-rulers, is that the Chinese worker is not allowed to settle down as one thing or the other; instead, he is organised in a thousands-strong labour corps, and then he and the rest are used as “workers peasants or soldiers, according to actual needs.” If this scheme succeeds it will make the American and Russian boss green with envy.

The Chinese have gone further. Communal mess halls are set up to feed the workers, and kindergartens to take care of their children: and thus the women of the commune too are “set free”—to join the labour corps. Shantung Province chums that it has “liberated six million women for productive work.” The commune owns all the land, the peasants having been compelled to hand over their individual plots to it. It runs agriculture within its boundaries on the lines of a great state farm. It also runs schools and broadcasting stations, collects the taxes—and organises the militia. But it does even more. In the last year or two thousands upon thousands of small factories have been set up throughout China: these, too, are run by the commune. It is “industrialisation without towns.” By these means the Chinese ruling class hopes to avoid the waste of the years of starving out the peasants, and the diversion of resources to build great new towns, which slowed up the British and the Russian Capitalist revolutions. The commune has replaced the town or the factory as the unit of industry, the village or the farm as the unit of agriculture, and the regiment as the unit of the reserve army. If everything which is reported is true, China’s system may turn out to be the most profitable Capitalist system we have yet seen.

Back to the alphabet
But why is this system mistaken for Socialism or Communism? Both those who support China’s rulers—the Communist Party—and the majority of those who oppose them, call China a “Communist” country. The Observer article mentioned above had a sub-title “A New Communism.” This is to get the very ABC of economics wrong. A more efficient form of Capitalism does not become Communism. All the well-known features urban (and rural) proletariat, owning neither the tools they work with nor the things they produce; a money-system of exchange, which is pointless except to deprive the workers of the full value of their produce; and a resulting surplus value, which goes to support the ruling class, for whose benefit the whole system is run.

Heredity
Another book has been published recently about the Churchills, from the Duke of Marlborough and his forebears down to Sir Winston. The idea behind it is a common one: that social characteristics, such as the quality of “leadership,” are passed down from parents to their offspring. No one doubts that physical characteristics. such as the colour of eyes and hair, are passed on to children in all animals, including human beings. But that social characteristics can be passed on seems a lot more doubtful, to say the least of it. In any case, full investigations are seldom made. To trace Sir Winston Churchill’s descent from the Duke of Marlborough, and to conclude that Sir Winston inherited some of the qualities of the Duke, is often done. But Sir Winston is in the eighth generation from the Duke, which means that he had two hundred and fifty-six ancestors in the Duke’s generation, all of whom, according to this theory, presumably contributed as much to Sir Winston’s character as the Duke of Marlborough did. And of these two hundred and fifty-six, sixteen were full-blooded Iroquois Indians. (Sir Winston Churchill’s mother had one Iroquois great grandparent). So if we accept the theory, whatever Sir Winston got from the Duke of Marlborough, he must have got sixteen times as much from the Iroquois. But whoever wrote a book about that?

The velvet glove
As a postscript to the events at Famagusta last October (when four lives were lost and two hundred and fifty people were injured in the British “search for suspects” after a woman was found murdered) a remark of Brigadier Terence Clarke, Tory M.P. for Portsmouth West, is not without interest. The Brigadier says (Reynolds News, 9th November, 1958): “We’ve had too much of the velvet glove : what we want is a bit of the mailed fist”
If four deaths and 250 injuries appear to the Brigadier to be too much like the “velvet glove,” one wonders what scale of casualties among the civilian population would be produced by his “mailed fist”

 

Laugh of the year
Sir Anthony Eden is reported to be among the possible candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize for 1958 (Sunday Express, 9th November, 1958). This Peace Prize award is always ridiculous; how can it be anything else, when it is inevitably presented to someone who supports the present system of society, which leads to wars as surely as old bread goes mouldy? But the consideration of this man, whose last service to peace was to commit aggression against Egypt on the grounds that Israel had already attacked her, makes the whole thing even more of a farce.

 

Scandal
Those who live on the exploitation of the workers have of late years become much more coy. Once no gentleman would admit to an occupation; now the wealthy often conceal their idleness by becoming directors of companies. Nevertheless, members of the upper class themselves sometimes let slip in unguarded moments just how much work is attached to being a director.

 

One such admission was recorded on October 12th in the Sunday Express, which in its hot pursuit of scandal often allows the rest of us illuminating insights into the lives of the rich. Some time ago a “Kentish squire” disappeared from his home, at the same time as a riding mistress nearby disappeared from hers. The Sunday Express had to give its readers a long report on the matter, with all the details, of course: no doubt in fulfilment of the high moral duty of the newspapers to the public, about which they so often tell us. But what concerns us is the fact that the squire was a director of an estate company. If the holding of a directorship fools the world at large, it doesn’t seem to have fooled his wife. Her husband, she said, “ hasn’t worked for twenty years.”

 

We all have our worries

On the topic of directors, an interesting little booklet has appeared recently. It is entitled “Health Problems of Directors,’’ and it is published by the Institute of Directors. Among the dangers and causes of ill-health that these gallant men have to contend with are mentioned: (1) Eating too much; (2) Drinking too much; (3) The blows to. a director’s self-esteem which come from being theoretically in charge of a concern about which his subordinates know a lot more than he does. The man at the factory bench or clerking in the office seldom realises the risks run by his boss. The Institute of Directors, of course, might lengthen its list. For any new edition of this stimulating little work may we mention these further hazards of a director’s life: (1) Falling off his horse when playing polo; (2) Barking his shin when his chauffeur is helping him from his Bentley; (3) Spraining his wrist while tucking into the turtle soup at official banquets.

Alwyn Edgar