Letters: Loot and Surplus Value

In the January issue Harmo does not justify his statement that, because the loot is part of the surplus value extracted from the workers, thievery and shoplifting do not force up prices. I think the shoplifter exploits those whose work has produced the goods. The consumer majority will have to pay more to maintain the profitable revenue depleted by the theft. The interdependence of capital and labour means the capitalist’s thieving problem cannot be wholly isolated from our concern.
RAW says class division and the profit system are the causes of greed. Of course, the system perpetuates greed, but I think the reverse is more likely to be the primary truth—greed, i.e. excessive self-interest, caused the class-divided profit system.


Every aspect of behaviour is inherent in human potentiality, environment and individual characteristics being the deciding factors. It is a curious paradox that increasing abundance makes socialism a logical conflict solution and also provides greater scope for greed.


If basic motivation precedes any system how can an exploitative system be the cause of selfish greed? The proposition that socialism is the expression of working class interests, while true, does not in my opinion, negate the fact that any system of production involving people necessarily contains an ethical element. And I suspect that it is in this area—not primarily in the lack of universal socialist knowledge—that makes progress so slow. So the pursuit of differentials. Wholesale gambling and other divisive objectives go on.


W. Walker



It is of course a common theory that prices can be increased at will in order to maintain profits—whether the threat to the level of profits comes from, say adverse market conditions or shoplifting. In fact, if it were possible to raise prices in this way no firm would ever go bankrupt.


The article in question stated correctly how prices are determined. This is a separate process from the production of profit, which is realised at the point of sale (failing to make this distinction gives rise to the confusion in Mr. Walker’s letter) but created in the process of production, from the surplus value arising from the exploitation of working-class labour.


Capital and labour can be described as interdependent only in the sense that they are opposite sides of the class struggle of capitalism. This does not imply a unity of interest; the two classes have interests in opposition, over the division of wealth in capitalist society and finally over the transformation of society from capitalism to Socialism.
Capitalism came into existence after a bitter, and often bloody, struggle in which one side was protecting its privileges and property rights while the other was seeking to assume the position of social domination. Perhaps both sides can be described as “greedy” but this judgment does not fill the bill historically; it ignores the reality of social change and revolution, which is a process of social adaptation to developments in the mode of production. “Motivation”, in terms of human desires, is secondary to that.


Class society is then part and parcel of social evolution; capitalism, which is the final form of class society, has as one of its essential features the drive to accumulate capital, to amass and invest wealth with the object of producing more wealth for sale at a profit. The privileges which go with being a member of the dominant class in society, and the accumulation of capital, are not examples of “greed”—they are unavoidable features of a necessary phase in the development towards a classless society.


“Greed ‘ is in any case a factor relating to its conditions; it can exist only in times of shortage and restrictions and becomes more evident as scarcity develops. When wealth is freely available, as it will be in Socialism, greed will not exist—it will be an attitude so archaic that it will be almost beyond understanding.


This illustrates the fact that “ethics” are not eternal and unchanging; each social system has its own, in a sort of superstructure of ideas and responses which rest on its economic base. Capitalism’s ethics are those of division, of panic, of destruction and competition. Socialism’s will be those of co-operation, abundance and efficiency.



Evolution or Revolution?

Many years ago I read a statement in the works of Marx which is as follows:


  No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed, and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society.


Does this mean that Socialism will be established more by evolution than by Revolution?


J. Ahern
London W.13



The passage you quote is taken from the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, where Marx summarizes the fundamentals of the materialist conception of history. Another sentence from this Preface may help in understanding the section you have asked about:


  In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production.


So the relations of production, the economic structure of society, are in keeping with the degree of development of the productive forces. As the productive forces develop, says Marx, they will come into conflict with the existing production relations, which then inhibit further growth of the productive forces. Only a social revolution that transforms the economic foundation of society can bring about new relations of production which again correspond to the developing forces of production.


Capitalism has brought about a tremendous increase in the “material powers of production”, to the point where society is now technically capable of producing an abundance of goods and services. But this abundance is not produced under capitalism, because its highest priority, profit, acts as a fetter on the productive forces. The Socialist revolution will usher in new relations of production —common ownership and production for use—which will enable this potential for abundance to be realized and will no longer hold back the development of the forces of production. Common ownership will be linked with democratic control of the means of production to resolve another of the contradictions of capitalism, that between social production and class monopoly of the means of production.


The passage you refer to is to be read in the context of what we have said above. One implication of the passage is that a Socialist revolution cannot be carried out simply if men desire it, but is dependent on a certain degree of development of the productive forces, to a point where an abundance is possible but capitalist relations hold back their further growth. So a Socialist revolution in countries as backward as Russia in 1917 and China in 1949 is inconceivable.


Lastly, regarding your question as to whether this means that Socialism will be established more by evolution than by revolution, the answer is, No. A conflict between capitalist production relations and the forces of production is not of itself sufficient to bring about a Socialist society. The establishment of Socialism requires a revolution carried out by a working class who have come to understand the nature of capitalism and the desirability of Socialism, and who are willing to run a Socialist system and make it work. The material conditions for Socialism already exist. The SPGB exists to spread the idea of Socialism and to act as the political tool of the Socialist working class who will carry out this revolution. And that’s a task where you can help us!



A Capitalist Clause

I agree very much with your philosophy and the aims of your party but what upsets me is how much longer before we get a Socialist State.


As Labour Secretary of the Penzance Branch, I am endeavouring to spread Clause 4 of the Labour constitution. I would be grateful if you would tell me why you are not members of the Labour Party. The Labour Party now is going to the Left and the members down here like myself are doing all the things you are proclaiming.


Surely it would be better for your members to join a big political party which is changing back to its original form and with your members’ obvious talents rid this country once and for all of Capitalism.


Alan Graham 



Many disgruntled Labour Party members like Mr. Graham think that their party once had a basic affinity with the idea of Socialism but that it has since been perverted. This is not true; the Labour Party has always been an organisation aiming, at best, at reforming some aspects of capitalism.


This is well expressed in Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution which advocates, among other things, common ownership of the means of exchange. Common ownership of the means of production—Socialism—will bring an end to the exchange of wealth and therefore to the existence of a means of exchange. The Labour Party aims at a society in which the means of exchange—money, banks, finance houses and so on—are still in existence. This is capitalist society.


From its inception the Labour Party has been concerned with winning power on programmes of reform without caring about the political understanding of its members or of its supporters. One result of this is that many of Labour’s policies need to be tailored to win votes; for example the move in the sixties to ditch Clause 4 was based on the argument that it put people off voting Labour.


Another result is that when Labour gets into power, backed by the votes of people who are in favour of reformed capitalism, it can do no other than run that system—even supposing that politicians like Wilson, Callaghan, Foot, Benn and so on wanted to do otherwise.
Capitalism cannot be run to satisfy the needs of its people so that Labour in power has to ditch even many of the reforms it cherishes—a”free” National Health Service is one—and to implement many policies which upset its members: support for the Americans in Vietnam, a British nuclear weapon store, dragging down working-class living standards, cutting back medical and social services, using troops to break the firemen’s strike are a few examples.


The important point is that these are not accidents or the betrayal of ideals by subversives in the seats of Labour power. They are the predictable—and the SPGB has always predicted them—results of electing a capitalist party to power.


The Labour Party does not have to be changed back to its original form—it is acting and working exactly in character. Mr. Graham should give up his struggle, which may be sincere but is obviously futile. He is interested in developing a new society operating on a different basis from capitalism; he should examine the case for Socialism.