1970s >> 1974 >> no-836-april-1974

The Professor and the Dustman

Professor Samuelson’s book Economics: An Introductory Analysis is 794 pages long. It is the basic textbook for students of economics at American universities. In this mass of words there are only a meagre dozen or so references to Marx and Socialist ideas. That fact alone speaks volumes about the conspiracy against Marxian economics and Socialism in the so-called centres of learning.

Bland statements in the book like “A billion people, one third of the world’s population, blindly regards Das Kapital as economic gospel” display the Professor’s ignorance. How many people (in Russia and China, presumably the main places to which he is referring) have actually read any of Marx, let alone Capital? and what has state-capitalist Russia got to do with Marx’s main thesis that capitalist society, having created by technological advancement the possibilities for satisfying all man’s physical needs, should be replaced by Socialism — that is, a world-wide system based on common ownership and production for use?

Samuelson also states the following (pages 105-6):

  His (Marx’s) assertion that the rich will become richer and the poor poorer cannot be sustained by careful historical and statistical research. In Europe and America there has definitely been a steady secular improvement in minimum standards of living, whether measured by food, clothing, housing or length of life.

It is about time the Professor came out of his academic dark-room to look at the real world round him. For the working class, that is the vast majority, a study of Socialist ideas would put them on the right lines for solving the myriad problems they face all over the globe. The first step is to analyze correctly the society that surrounds them: a step equally necessary for the intellectual and the manual worker — say, the Professor and his dustman.

Capitalism is the system of society that exists over most of the world today. Those areas of the globe that are still surviving in semi-feudal conditions are being unavoidably brought into it. What is this system of society? It is based on private (or State) property relationships. The resources necessary to create wealth of whatever form are owned by, and therefore operated in the interests of, a small minority of the population. Production of the essentials (and luxuries) of life takes place solely because the owners of the means of wealth production hope to make a profit when what is produced is sold on the world markets. The ultimate object is the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the capitalist class.

There are certain features of capitalist society which can be distinguished. The converse of the fact that the instruments of production and what is produced belong to a small minority is that the vast majority own nothing other than their ability to work. Most workers in this country do not own the houses they live in, the cars they drive nor the washing machines they use; often even the clothes they wear are on credit. The fact that most people own almost nothing is even more apparent at the factories and offices where they work. The machines, raw materials etc. that they use, and the commodities they produce, belong to others. Other features of the landscape of capitalism are buying and selling, money, prices (including of course wages), employer and employee, and production for sale (commodity production). All these are identification marks of capitalism. They are all evident in the U.K., U.S.A., Russia, China, Japan, etc. Some of these things existed in a limited form in pre-capitalist society — e.g. a limited amount of commodity production in feudal society; none of them will exist in Socialist society.

Another characteristic of capitalism is great wealth alongside great poverty. The wealth of capitalist society is evident in vast luxury items (expensive houses, cars, hotels and so on) but the poverty side is even more evident. If it wasn’t, then government statistics make it abundantly clear. A report was published on 22nd February 1974 (see The Guardian of that date) based on figures from the Central Statistical Office. ‘‘Whatever happened to the Welfare State?” by George Clarke of the City Poverty Committee argues that living standards for one British citizen in four are now worse than they were in 1937-8. The report compares what an average family could purchase in 1937-8 with 1972, and shows that (largely because of increased food prices) one in four may well be worse off.

This sort of revelation (which, by the way, is constantly coming out of official sources) is of no surprise to the Socialist. It will clearly be a surprise to the Professor. In 1849, in his series of articles which later were published as a pamphlet under the title Wage, Labour and Capital, Marx pointed out that all wants stem from a social source. Man’s expectations depend on society’s possibilities at any given stage in man’s development. He says:

  A house may be large or small; as long as the surrounding houses are equally small it satisfies all social demands for a dwelling. But let a palace arise beside the little house, and it now shrinks from a little house to a hut.

When mankind is capable of producing vast quantities of things necessary to satisfy all sorts of desires which were unthought-of even fifty years ago, man’s social desires — his requirements of society — are raised proportionately. Accordingly, whether man is a socially satisfied creature depends on what needs are met at a given stage of his development. Queen Victoria did not miss a tv; now most workers at least rent one.

Because of the restrictions capitalist society places first upon production (limiting it to what can be sold on the market) and second on the consumption of the majority (the pay-packet and salary-cheque are only forms of rationing), man’s social wants are continually unsatisfied. This is what was meant by Marx when he said that under capitalism the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Note that this does not mean, as the academic misrepresenters like our Professor seem to think, that the worker necessarily becomes worse off in absolute terms. Obviously workers now use washing machines, cars, etc., that they were never able to have the use of in the past. What it does mean is that capitalist society creates contradictions for the working class by throwing up the possibilities of ever-increasing amounts of wealth whilst restricting the workers’ access to that wealth.

By its nature this outmoded system of society creates wealth, that wealth in turn creates increased demands by the workers — and yet capitalism is totally incapable of satisfying them. And those recently-published figures show that not only in relative terms do the workers get poorer as capitalism “advances”, but that in some cases they become worse off in absolute terms as well.

Anyone want a copy of Samuelson ?

Ronnie Warrington