First, let us have some facts about the position of the workers in this country today. So much political capital has been made out of the workers alleged “prosperity” that if we merely succeed in getting the facts and establishing the truth, we shall have done something really worthwhile.
A few facts, then, about the distribution and ownership of wealth. One of the most recent assessments is Professor Morgans book The Structure of Property Ownership in Britain. Professor Morgan estimates that the total nominal wealth of this country today is £40,355 millions. Of this, 5 per cent or 1 in every 20 own a total of £30,000 million. That means that the remaining 95 per cent own a balance of £11,000 millions. In other words, 1/20 of the population owns 3/4 of the nation’s wealth. The remaining 19/20 own about a quarter between them, but of this 95 per cent over a half own nothing.
In I960 10 million people paid Income Tax on £10/20 a week; nearly 6 million paid on £3 to £10 weekly; while only 16,000 paid tax on over £10,000 a year income. That means that less than one in a thousand gets £200 a week. The number of millionaires in Great Britain increased from 37 in 1956 to 67 in 1961. An increase of 30 in live years. Some, such as Mr. Clore, Mr. Hugh Fraser and Mr. Cotton, are multi-millionaires. of the order of 15 to 20 million or more. As might be expected, many increased their wealth by vast “take over” deals.
In the lint quarter of 1960, there were mergers to the tune of £200 million. The first quarter of 1961 more than doubled this figure with £427 millions, which included the largest bid of all time—£130 million for Ford’s Motor Works, besides £39 million for Odhams Press. Six per cent more retail trade passed into the hands of the great multiple combines in 1950/60.
How have the wage earners fared? From 1938 to 1960 real wages (i.e. what wages will actually buy) have increased by 22 per cent. [London and Cambridge Economic Service] This is based on the Ministry of Labour’s Price Index, which always starts an argument. What must be remembered is that this is for manual workers only (whose wages were low to start with in 1938). Were the clerical workers, local Government lower grade Civil Servants and teachers included there would hardly be any increase. Behind the purely nominal increases, real wages have remained practically stationary.
On the other hand, the workers staged 800 more strikes in 1960 than in 1959 with 200,000 more workers involved, showing that they are not as docile as their employers would like. Assessment of the situation in 1961 would be incomplete without some reference to Automation.
In practice, this means that more processes are controlled by pre-set electronic and other devices. The worker has less choice than ever in the character and quality of his product, and so is more completely than ever the appendage of a machine. It ensures that workers work regularly at a faster pace, and is a fruitful source of more surplus value and higher profits. The large amount of overtime worked, and long hours spent in travelling to and fro, do not improve matters. Working hours remained around the 46/47 hour mark. Where decreases ate obtained they barely compensate for Automation. In fact, 1960 might be summed up by saying that it gave the very best that workers can expect under Capitalism—plenty of work.
Unfortunately workers cannot get straight improvements under capitalism —they all have strings. Wages may improve, but with a big demand for labour, up go rents and the price of food and necessaries. So that, overall, it might be said that in spite of the fantastic technical developments of the last decade—the fundamental position of the worker (with his television set) remains the same. With the Frenchman he can say “The move it changes, the more it remains the same.” And this, after hundreds of Reforms, scores of leaders, the finest Health Service, the best Insurance Scheme and the most democratic rights in the world.
Perhaps I ought to say a word about atomic power, space-flight, the penetration of the mantle of the inner earth etc. Apparently some people think that all this supersedes or invalidates Socialism. So far from refuting the analysis of Capitalism as a passing stage in social development which prepares the ground for Socialist society, they confirm it.
Marx can well stand on his own feet, needing no prop from anyone. All who take the trouble to read what he wrote, will find the definition of Capitalism as the explosive destroyer of the Old World. It is unmistakable. Does the following sound out-of-date? Is it old- fashioned? Victorian? 19th Century?
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarous nations, into civilisation. The cheap prices of all commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese Walls. It compels all nations to adopt Capitalist production. . . .
It has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. . . . It keeps on doing away with the scattered state of the population centralised means of production and concentrates property in a few hands. Independent provinces become one Nation, one Government, one law with one frontier and Customs barrier.
. . . The capitalists have created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.
Subjection of Nature’s forces to Man, machinery, application of chemistry to Industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole countries for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground—what earlier century had ever a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?
Now a word about the political scene. Conservatives still command a majority. For years now the Labour Party has been losing ground. So much so, that the Liberals have actually staged a revival.
Surely this is the tragedy of our generation! That the Party which claimed that it had successfully “united” all the motley crowd of which it was formed, should today be torn into contending factions is no fluke, but the inevitable result of its original blunders in . But that bewildered workers should turn back to Liberalism in their despair is tragic
The Labour Party was born out of the idea of working class political action. Many of its prominent figureheads claimed to be Socialists. Even more than this, they claimed to be “practical” Socialists who knew the way to get Socialism without explaining it to the workers. To quote from the Party’s Foundation Manifesto:
This political party of the workers can only be a Socialist Party because Socialism alone is based on the facts of working class existence. Socialism alone can free the workers from the necessity of selling himself for the profit of a master. Socialism alone will strip him of his merchandise character, and allow him to become a full social being.
This has never been understood by Labour, I.L.P., Communist and other Parties. It is for this reason that the Resolution which created the Labour Party stated that the new Party “would cooperate with any other group in support of any measure in the interests of Labour, in the House.” Capitalist Parties cannot work in the interests of the working class.
Why, the Labour leaders actually started activities with pacts with Liberals against Tories, they advocated, like Mr. Harry Judd of the S.D.F. at Northampton in 1900 “Unity to defeat the Tories” just as the Communist Party does now with the Labourites. This was the start of a 57-year record of job-hunting and place seeking, culminating in the Labour Government, in which the Labour leaders systematically opposed the very reform measures they had themselves used, to clamber into positions of power.
War, Conscription in peace-time, Strike-breaking by Troops, Wage Freeze, Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, they have supported all these and actually implemented most of them. Their Nationalisation schemes, with their disastrous failure to understand that Society (meaning today, the workers) or the “Community” cannot “control” industry without owning (that means taking them out of capitalist hands) through political power first, are bogged down and discredited. Their housing projects, as soon as they became landlords, bring them both opposition and hatred.
The myth of the working class marching steadily forward to Socialism by increasing Labour majorities is well and truly finished.