Who’d be a politician

Who’d be a politician? To be sure, there is glamour in the job: lots of pressmen to follow you about, your own personal bodyguard and (for the zanier ones) photographs with sizzling film stars. But politicians are, of course, men who have to work and, some of them, to worry.

First of all, what are politicians? Cut away all the hand-out material about their alleged brilliance and sincerity and we are left with people who are hard worked administrators of the detailed affairs of capitalist society. Whatever department a minister may have under his control, his twenty-four hour concern must be to protect the interests of the ruling class; all his decisions must conform to society’s capitalist basis. Because that, after all, is what the state apparatus is there for.

The unfortunate fact about this, though, is that capitalism can often be most difficult to administer. It continually thrusts up problems for its ministers to attend to. And when the ministers think they have settled a problem, they often find that capitalism has an ungrateful way of undermining their solution. In foreign affairs, the pressure is particularly strong—we can all think of prominent politicians who have been sent to an early grave by the persistent worry of trying to sort out the tangle of clashing national interests. Similarly, attempts at taming the economic waywardness of property society have virtually killed some ministers and reduced others almost to invalids. Yes, a politician, apart from needing to be cynical and industrious, must also be tough.

One of the acutist and most persistent of capitalism’s problems is the conflict of commercial interests. We do not need to be very observant to appreciate that the goods and services which contribute to our lives today—and even those which are completely essential to our lives—are turned out only to be sold. We know, for example, that nobody is allowed to use a motor car simply because he is a good driver: provided the necessary cash has been paid to the motor car manufacturers, the worlds most incompetent driver can take the wheel. But before the car gets into any driver’s hands, the commercial requirements of capitalism must be satisfied. The car, in fact, must be sold.

Now where the problem comes in is that selling capitalism’s commodities need not be an easy business. There are many motor car manufacturers after the money of our incompetent driver. They all point out the extra-super qualities of their car, prove that it accelerates better, runs faster, travels safer, uses less petrol, than the cars of their competitors. But, for that particular customer there can be only one satisfied car maker. The rest must be disappointed, and try extra hard to catch other sales. This is the competitive race which causes capitalism so much trouble.

The capitalist class regard the selling of commodities as vital because unless they are sold, the profit which the workers have built into them with their every working action can never be realised. The shareholders of the motor car industry would never invest their money in enormous factories, labour and costly machinery if it were only to make a loss. So, unless a profit can come from selling cars, none of them will be turned out. Motor cars, of course, are not peculiar in this. No clothes would be tailored, no houses built, no television sets assembled, if there was no prospect of a profit being realised somewhere along the line. Nobody would cut your hair, or put you up in an hotel, or entertain you. Even food production depends upon profit.

Here we have one of the current worries of British politicians. Barley growers in this country have every prospect of harvesting a record crop this year. Are they pleased about this? Do they look forward eagerly to the harvest festivities? They do not. For the French also have a lot of barley in the offing and so have the farmers in Western Germany. All of them have their eyes on the barley market in Great Britain. Meanwhile, the Russians have already shipped some of their surplus barley over here and, because they are determined to sell the stuff no matter how cheaply, they have knocked the bottom out of the market. (Let nobody assume that a commercial surplus of barley in Europe means that all human needs for it have been fulfilled. China, faced with famine, has been forced to ask Canada and Australia for shipments of it on credit. And she Russia’s ally, too.)

The result of unloading so much barley onto the British market has been to force the price down to less than £16 a ton— and it may fall further yet. Now, if farming was carried on for some other reason than profit-making, we might expect a measure of satisfaction that there is so much barley knocking about. But this is capitalism: we need not be surprised that the British farmer is anything but satisfied. The National Farmers’ Union, in fact, has asked for action under the Customs (Dumping and Subsidies) Act to keep out the foreign barley.

This does not mean that British farmers are always in favour of tariff protection for all British industries. Just like any other industry under capitalism, the farmers are interested in holding onto their own markets and in getting the best price they can for the goods they sell. When they buy goods, their attitude is rather different—they want them as cheap as possible, even if it means that foreign industries must be allowed to export cut price commodities to this country. For example, British farmers would like to see unrestricted entry allowed for fertilisers and farm machinery, and some for feeding stuffs. A couple of years ago, the chairman of the Farmers and Smallholders Association spoke bitterly of what he called “. . . the fertiliser monopoly . . .” making “. . . at least an extra £10 millions by charging the British farmers more than the European price for fertilisers. This racket,” he said, “Could be stopped overnight if the Government would remove the protective duties on imported fertilisers, and the taxpayer would immediately be saved £10 millions in farm subsidies.”

Presumably, the fertiliser firms have different views on the subject. Although they would not like to see the tariff wall which shelters them knocked down, they might perhaps be in favour of cheap barley and other foodstuffs, which might mean fewer wage claims for them to face. Now if you were Minister of Agriculture or President of the Board of Trade, how would you sort that one out?

Whatever you did, you could bet on it that there would soon be another, similar problem clogging your In-tray. For not only the farmers and fertiliser kings are in conflict over issues like tariff’ protection. Capitalism, because it moves on its bearings of profit motive, turns up a multitude of opposing interests. It is the politician who must sort them out and must offer his solution to the voters as the sanest, surest method possible. Perhaps, at the previous election, he offered an opposite policy, which he said was also sane and sure. Never mind. The good politician has no difficulty in skating around that one.

And while the politicians are sorting and skating, what of the working class who so affectionately vote them into power time and again? They are the people who suffer, and are exploited as a result of the anomalies of capitalism. However hard the going a politician must endure, it cannot compare with the rough road of working class existence. So—who’d be a worker? There are millions and millions of them, and hardly one of them has any say in the matter.


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