1970s >> 1979 >> no-896-april-1979

Cutler’s Last Stand

   Greater London Council leader Horace Cutler in debate with an SPGB member on a motion: “That the profit system provides for the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

 

Horace Cutler is the Conservative leader of the Greater London Council. Horace Cutler claims to be a ‘self-made man’. Horace Cutler is a great believer in the profit system. On Tuesday, March 6th, he was given the chance to tell the world the merits of the profit system. He was proposing the motion in the Bentham Memorial Debate at University College London. “That the profit system provides for the greatest happiness for the greatest number”. He was seconded by a member of the College Conservative Society and opposed by one member and one supporter of the SPGB. Approximately one hundred students attended the debate. This is not a report of what both sides said—the views of the opponents of the motion will be found in the Declaration of Principles at the back of this journal—but is intended as an assessment of Horace Cutler’s defence of capitalism. Being a democratic journal, a copy of this article will be sent to Mr. Cutler and, should he wish to offer a reply, he will be given the same amount of space in which to do so.

 

Socially Unequal

 

First, let us make clear why it is that Socialists oppose the profit system. It is based upon the minority ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution. It is a class society in which a minority own the means of life and the majority—the working class— own nothing and therefore have to sell their labour power to an employer in return for a wage or salary. So the profit system is socially unequal. The capitalist class needs to employ the working class as the labour of the latter is the source of the profit of the former. The profit consists of the difference between the capital expenditure of the employer and the values created by the employee. Labour creates values over and above the value of labour-power. Because wages represent the price of labour power and not the value of the commodities produced by labour, the workers always receive less than they have produced. In short, they are exploited. The profit system is exploitative and unequal and the consequence is an unending conflict of interests between wage labour and capital. Hie capitalist needs profits. It is in the interest of workers not simply to increase wages, but to abolish the wages system. And the only way to get rid of the wages system is to abolish the profit system. The Right wing of capitalism support the bosses in their struggle for more markets and greater profits; the Left wing encourage the workers to go for higher wages and better conditions under capitalism. Only Socialists oppose the profit system as such. That is our case against Mr. Cutler’s system. It is not usual, however, for the dice to be as evenly loaded as in a debate. Usually, the schools, the Churches, the press, the T.V. and the radio adopt the ideology of the profit system. Open debate forces the supporters of capitalism to put their case in a coherent and logical form. If Cutler’s efforts are anything to go by, the case for the profit system couldn’t survive the equality of communication for very long.

 

Mr. Cutler’s opening speech lasted approximately twenty minutes. In it he gave five main arguments in favour of the profit system. So as not to misrepresent him we quote verbatim from a tape recording that was made of the debate.

 

He began by defining what he thought the debate was about:

 

It’s whether or not we want the profit system—that is free enterprise or capitalism—or the collective system or Socialism.

But what is meant by capitalism—what does he understand by Socialism? Nothing resembling a definition was offered from the proposers throughout the course of the debate.

 

Mr. Cutler then began to develop the first of his five arguments. The Case Based Upon Experience:

 

  I have lived through two wars—not one, two wars. And I’ve seen the depression of the thirties. If I may immediately declare my interest in the capitalist system—and I don’t like the term capitalist system. I do like the word profit motive. I do like the word free enterprise. I do like the word initiative—because these things epitomise the whole of my life. None of you are ever going to work as hard as I have and none of you are going to make as much money as I have and live so affluently as I do . . . because the real capitalist system does comprise in work. Unless you are prepared to take off your coat and roll up your sleeves you will not be able to achieve very much in life.

 

So, according to Cutler, despite witnessing the pathetic suffering of the Depression, workers should believe that initiative and hard work are what make the rich rich. And conversely, it is the lack of these attributes that keeps the working class in relative poverty. The facts of success and failure within the profit system stand in conflict with Cutler’s experience. Those who take off their coats and roll up their sleeves every day of their lives don’t ‘achieve very much in life’. The idle parasites do.

 

Mr. Cutler has not learnt very much from his personal experience. Neither has he learnt very much to support his second argument; The Case Based Upon History:

 

 After all, if you go back to the origins of the capitalist system it was based on barter. If you go back to the time before some silly idiot invented money, which is the cause of all our problems, you will know what happened in those days. You made something and a neighbour of yours made something and you exchanged them. The goods had to be of good quality or you’d exchange them with someone else. In that system you either improved the quality of your goods or you went to the wall.

 

It seems that the Leader of the Greater London Council prefers barter to the money system. He is wrong when he states that money ‘is the cause of all our problems’. Money is the result of the problem: it is the means of buying and selling commodities in a society in which wealth is produced for sale and not for use. In the days before there was the potential for an abundance of wealth to fulfil human needs money was necessary. An economy based upon monetary exchange is now an anachronism. Socialists look forward to a society in which men and women have free access to wealth. Horace Cutler looks backwards to the age of barter.

 

He then turns to this third argument; The Case Based Upon Human Nature:

  I believe in capitalism because I believe it fits in with human instincts and with competitiveness.

 

Biological evidence for this belief? Anthropological evidence? You might as well ask for medical credentials from a witchdoctor. All we get from Cutler is the anti-social and arrogantly asserted statement that

 

  Of course people will always exploit each other and it doesn’t matter what society you are in, it will be done. I don’t agree with it, but it happens, humans being the swines that they are.

 

It is true that if you put humans in a jungle society they will act like wild animals. That is why we need a system of society that is designed to accommodate rational human beings and not swine.

 

Mr. Cutler then proceeds to examine what he spuriously describes as ‘the alternative to the profit system’. And so we have The Case Based Upon The Freedom Of The Individual:

  In Russia there are people living on top and most people at the bottom living very flat and uninteresting lives. We find that some people have to work so that others can make money.

 

Recognise the situation? It sounds remarkably like the system that Cutler is supposed to be defending. Of course workers in Russia are not free. Why are they not free? Because ‘they have to work so that others can make money’. That is the principle of the profit system. If Mr. Cutler doesn’t like it he should work for a system of society in which people have free access to the wealth that they create.

 

For his fifth and final effort to justify the existence of the profit system, Mr. Cutler refers us to The Case Based Upon The Evil of The State:

 

  We live in a society today where the system looks after everybody. Some people take advantage of this and don’t do any work for the whole of their lives. The less the State gets in the way the more morality there will be.

We presume that Mr. Cutler’s reference to people ‘who don’t do any work for the whole of their lives’ is to the Royal Family, the aristocracy and the rest of the capitalist class. The parasites of the boardroom contribute nothing to society, but take the greatest proportion of the world’s wealth. State interference in terms of taxation and welfare reform is not the aim of Socialists. We do no advocate State capitalism, although both Labour and Tory Governments have gone in for nationalisation. The State is the coercive organ of the capitalist class. Horace Cutler looks back to the age of laissez faire capitalism when the law of the jungle ruled supreme. Socialists look forward to an age when there will be no class divisions and therefore no State.

 

Popular Prejudices

 

We have concentrated on Mr. Cutler’s defence of the profit system, not because it contains an ounce of originality. but because it encapsulates most of the cliches and popular prejudices which we often encounter from capitalism’s apologists. In open debate its emptiness can be adequately demonstrated. At other times such nonsense is allowed to masquerade as political common sense. It is little wonder that most people cynically reject politics as something above their heads, instead of realising that the case for capitalism should be beneath their contempt.

 

During the course of the debate Horace Cutler read out the following piece of doggerel which, insultingly, constituted his New Year message to the people of London:

 

No bees, no honey.
No work, no money.

 

One sharp wit from the floor of the debate read out the following response:

 

No music, no dance.
No capital, no chance.

 

The motion was lost. A few more people had seen the logic of the case for Socialism. Mr. Cutler went back to run the Greater London Council. The profit system goes on.

 

Steve Coleman