BEGINNERS GUIDE 6.

On Past and Present Labour.

It cannot be surprising that advocates of capitalism assert that economic production is totally dependent upon the investment of capital. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? However, that opinion advertises the superficial thinking among such apologists. It exposes an inability or unwillingness to look beyond the monetary surface of capitalistic economic activity. Despite the cliché and ‘Cabaret’ song; ‘money makes the world go around’ – it certainly does not. Appearances, (as with the sun appearing to go around the earth) often contradict reality.

‘Capital’ doesn’t make anything. It is merely an aggregated medium of exchange (ie money) used to purchase already created means of production such as buildings, machines, tools, raw materials and labour-power.

And, ‘Means of production’, whether simple or complex, are actually produced by workers applying energy and skills to various raw materials. Even digging out and processing raw materials for use in further production, requires the application of a set of tools (means) produced by labour in the past, and new labour in the form of digging. In reality, all means of production are the results of ‘Past Labour’.

NB. Under any social system, all production, including subsequent production, requires the coming together of ‘stored’ Past Labour and ‘expended’ Present Labour.

We know from earlier Beginners Guides, that under capitalism, the bringing together of these two separate stages, of production (means of production and labour-power) results – after a period of unpaid labour – in the creation of surplus-products. The value of these products or services – once sold – deliver a monetary return to the capitalist. So workers not only produce the means of production along with new products, but also create the surplus-products, containing surplus-value, which later becomes capital.

Beneath the illusion caused by the fetish status of money, and the complexity of the division of labour, capital only symbolises the monetised value of Past Labour. Indeed, consequently, ‘capital’ itself is the result of Past Labour – but stored in a socially agreed symbolic form – ie money! In further production, a part of this banked value and surplus-value – in money form – is used to purchase (not create) new means of production; whilst another part of it is used to pay workers their salaries or wages. In short; Past Labour enables Present Labour to continue to produce.

The relationship between Past Labour and Present Labour, described above is undoubtedly the original unity of the social productive process of humanity. It is only the intervention of ‘money’ and class divisions which help to obscure it’s fundamental connection. These, together with the hypnotic effect of ‘money’ can blind some professional intellects to exactly what is involved. To further illustrate this important point about production I offer the following general example.

If one day someone makes a fishing net out of material scavenged from a dump and puts it to one side until the following day. That object (the net) has clearly been the product of their past labour. If on the following day they take the net to the river or sea, cast it into the water and catch a fish, they have used their past days labour (the net) as a means of production along with their Present Labour of walking, carrying and casting, to produce a meal in the form of a fish. No money is involved!

This combination of past and present labour would also be the case if a group of people during one week constructed a boat, sails, nets, plus ancillary equipment and the following week used it to catch many fish. Past Labour (stored in the form of boat equipment) would have been used as means of production for the following weeks Present Labour of fishing. So before, beyond and after capitalism, production doesn’t actually need money or capital.

Despite the inability of those blinded by capitalist theoretical presuppositions, the real facts are indisputable. All productive activity is nothing more than the products of Past Labour being used by Present Labour to make (or in agriculture to plant and grow), what is needed or desired. As demonstrated above this fact becomes extremely obvious when production takes place outside of the complications imposed by the modern capitalist mode of production.

No matter how simple, protracted or complex the Past Labour has been, or the material form it takes, (ie from producing a loaf of bread, to making a Jumbo jet or launching a rocket to the moon) all current production requires the sequential combination of Past and Present Labour. And it is Labour which is carried out, not by the thousands of rich and powerful elites (nor the ‘capital’ secreted in their banks) but by millions upon millions of working people. To produce anew, workers actually only need a means of access to their Past Labour.

This fundamental  analysis is not taught in schools or disseminated in the media, because, most of the mainstream intelligentsia have never looked beyond economic text books or below the complex surface phenomena of social production. As with former religious elites and the sun’s orbit; unless challenged, self-serving assertions continue to distort our daily reality.

Those who have probed below this surface and capitalist ideological justifications have been generally ignored by the elite because such understanding reveals that the real producers of all wealth are working people. By understanding the underlying reality, rather than capitalist ‘spin’ and appearances, the huge differences in wealth between non-productive elites and workers is revealed as – shocking! Those who collectively create all the vast amounts of social wealth, (in whatever form) – also have the least of it!

Moreover, with this revolutionary-humanist level of economic understanding, the capitalistic underpayment, overworking and mistreatment of working people are exposed as bizarre historical injustices, needing radical redress. Add to that the pollution, ecological destruction and warfare the capitalist mode of production spawns and the case for a revolutionary-humanist transformation to a post-capitalist, ecologically sustainable, and humane based mode of production becomes all the more obvious.

Roy Ratcliffe (October 2019)

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SUPPORT THE KURDS!

Was anyone really surprised that Donald Trump, the current President of the USA removed military assets from North Syria, whilst sending more to Saudi Arabia? I wasn’t, because I didn’t buy President Trumps assertion that he wanted to disengage from costly foreign deployments. I reasoned that his assertion was a fig-leaf to cover his naked support for Turkey’s right-wing Islamic government. Mr Trump knew from his phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the intent was to invade and colonise a section of northern Syria. So taking away US troops was giving the green light to Erdogan’s invasion. Does this make way for possible Trump Tower in Turkey, instead of Russia?

If you really want to cut military expenditure and reduce military casualties to a minimum then taking them out of all foreign countries and wars, not just some is how to do it. I was also sceptical when the President of Turkey announced he wanted to invade Kurdish held territory so as to provide a save haven for displaced people currently in refugee camps. There was clearly more to the invasion than that. It should be reasonably well known by now that significant sections of the Kurdish people have created secular forms of communities with real equality for women in all economic and social levels of society – including in the armed forces. In addition they have adopted policies to support cooperative modes of production, rather than capitalist ones and have pledged to promote ecologically sustainable living.

Thus the Kurdish people are doing the very opposite of what Erdogan and his pro-capitalist Islamic supporters have forcibly established in Turkey and wish to spread elsewhere.

It’s not hard to understand that the democratic, egalitarian, pro-feminist Kurds therefore represent the threat of a very good example of what is possible in the middle east and elsewhere. Indeed, the Kurds went even further than the above in promoting humanist values in opposition to religious dogma. They took a leading role in the struggle against the Islamic State when it was established in Syria. In fact they did more than most of us in the west. Women soldiers, alongside their male comrades, operated on the front line and fought to a standstill the throat-slitting, women-raping, soldier-burning, Islamic patriarchs of ISIS. What a wonderful example these people are – not only for those struggling against patriarchal kingship and dictators in the middle-east, but to all struggling humanity.

As the feminist author, Mona Eltahawy points out there is a considerable problem developing throughout the middle east.

“….regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice in the next world, rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by men who use women’s faith to imprison them.” (Mona Eltahawy. ‘Headscarves and Hymens.’ Chapter 1 page 6.)

No wonder then that most right-wing pro-capitalist, religious and otherwise, have been happy (or content) to have the democratic forces of Kurdistan labelled as terrorists. And it is no wonder that the regime in Turkey wishes to eliminate them. This also goes some way to explaining why pro-capitalist and patriarchal elites everywhere have stayed silent or have dammed with faint praise the Kurdish Hero’s and Heroines in their battle against Islamic Fundamentalism. Recall also that a few years ago, on the back of a feeble and probably deliberately engineered coup, Erdogan’s forces ruthlessly tortured, murdered and removed all secular leaning democratic citizens in Turkey. Teachers, lawyers, authors, reporters, army personnel, state officials etc., we’re evicted from their jobs, communities and life itself.

Now Erdogan intends to do it all over again in Northern Syria. Ece Temelkuran, in her excellent book, on the demise of Turkish democracy, echoed the banality of evil characterisation of the fascist mentality. She reminds us that what happened in Turkey didn’t happen all at once but unfolded as a succession of stages each of which was regretted but not seriously opposed. She wrote;

“How and why Turkish democracy was finally done away with by a ruthless populist and his growing band of supporters on the night of 15th July 2016 is a long and complicated story………This is a historic trend and it is turning the banality of evil into the evil of banality.” (“Ece Temelkuran. ‘How to lose a country: The Seven Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship’. Introduction.)

So now instead of the ‘Me Too’ and Women’s Rights Movements, spreading across the East, we have hard-line religious patriarchy being rolled out across the region armed by the west’s arms suppliers. And this is being done with the active or passive assistance of economic and political elites in western capitalist countries. Moreover, this assistance is not only being implemented by the right-wing in these countries. Even liberal and democratic elites in Europe and the US do not want the example of an anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal (such as the Kurds have introduced) to exist and flourish in Middle-Eastern countries. Hence their silence or crocodile tears over Turkeys new killing spree against Kurdish communities and their defenders.

It is important that elite manipulation and distortion of news and propaganda for Kurdish Independence and Self-Determination, to make out that it amounts to terrorism, does not go unchallenged. All those who are against patriarchy, capitalism and ecological destruction should speak out for the Kurds and demonstrate against the infringement of their human rights. The Kurds are not terrorists. In fact they are a brave section of humanity who are proving that another world is possible not only in words but in their day to day actions. They are at the forefront of the struggle for a revolutionary-humanist alternative to the capitalist mode of production and deserve our support.

Roy Ratcliffe (October 2019)

Recommended further reading:

Ece Temelkuran ‘How to lose a Country: The Seven Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship.

Mona Eltahawy ‘Headscarves and Hymens’

Abdullah Ocalan ‘Liberating Life: Women’s Revolution’.

PS. Below is a statement by the Kurdish fighters against ISIS. (RR)

PKK letter to the American people and President Trump

Turkish leaders believed, like so many tyrants throughout history, that they could crush the basic human desire for a free life with violence and terror. They branded us as terrorists and criminals and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get other countries like the United States of America to do so too, even as their forces committed unspeakable atrocities in violation of all principles of international law. We signed the Geneva Conventions and asked for peace negotiations on various occasions since 1993, knowing that the war could end the second Kurdish rights were institutionalized. These efforts were ignored…As our movement and our people gave thousands of lives in this fight, the Turkish state that calls us ‘terrorists’ did nothing to stop the ISIS extremists that were terrorizing innocent civilians across the world. The Turkish state has attacked Northeast Syria with greater ferocity today than they ever did when ISIS plotted international attacks from territory just across their border. They have sent terrorist gangs affiliated with al-Qaeda to torture and murder the people who defeated ISIS. They see the simple articulation of Kurdish identity as a greater threat than the groups that targeted innocents in not only Sinjar and Kobani, but Paris, Manchester, and New York City… We are not guilty of terrorism; we are victims of state terrorism. But we are guilty of defending our people. We believe that the American people will be able to judge for themselves who the dangerous terrorists of this world are.
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“HOW DARE YOU!”

A tribute to the Greta Thunberg generation.

“How dare you!” These are the words that rang out from the voice of 16 year old Greta Thunberg at the recent (September 2019) Youth Climate Summit. Her words were being hurled at the heads of states assembled in the USA, but they we’re equally applicable to the entire political class, the media and all complacent adults globally. She had chosen the least polluting means to ‘sail’ cross the Atlantic using a wind powered vessel to attend the conference, whilst her targets for criticism had used the most polluting form of transport available.

Private and state run fuel and resource-guzzling luxury jets were of course the transport of choice for politicians, businessmen, academics and media reporters attending the UN sponsored events. A group of many thousands who routinely cross and recross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans along with continental land masses leaving pollution, ecological destruction and resource depletion in their wake. Yet despite this contrast in travel styles and personal ethos, young Greta has been enthusiastically ‘courted’ (ie used) by many of these elites and their publicists to promote their own ‘clean’ image and prolong their sell-by dates by association with this young eco-warrior. It was an obvious, but unconvincing, innocence by association strategy.

In a parallel way, the media circus has publicised her activities and courted her undoubtedly as a way to simultaneously increase or stabilise the circulation of their media outlets and enhance their own credentials as ecologically concerned citizens. These minimalist reporting activities follow the now jaundiced pattern of jet – setting investigative reporters who over decades have mounted countless resource consuming expeditions to far away places to show scenes of climate change or pollution. Many have made profitable careers out of talking to camera with a backdrop of Artic or Antarctic ice depletion, exceptional flood devastation, droughts, or hurricane disasters.

They have done this, and like their analogues in the space exploration industry, without an ounce of self-critical reflection, shame or embarrassment. For individually and collectively their affluent life – styles, their forms of transport and even the production of their documentaries add up to a substantial part of creating the disastrous effects they draw our attention to. But Greta is on to them. She knows their self – promoting game. In calm but forceful tones she exclaimed;

HOW DARE YOU! …come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

Empty words indeed! An awareness of the problems caused by industrial overproduction, resources depletion and climate change have been highlighted at least since Rachel Carson ‘s 1962 book, ‘Silent Spring’ and James Lovelock’s Gaia thesis of 1962 and beyond. However, for almost six decades (yes 60 years), the elites of all sectors of society, including a majority of academics and intellectuals, have ignored, downplayed or contradicted the symptoms of planetary damage in the same way as they have ignored the increasingly precarious welfare of the worlds working classes and the future welfare of our children. Human degradation as well as planetary degradation has been the continuous backdrop to the centre stage display of global production and consumption. And so when Greta pointed out that;

“….people are suffering…..people are dying..”…. “Entire ecosystems are collapsing.”

She was stating nothing new. This information has been available for decades. But the persistent sounds of almost universal distress had been drowned out by the orchestrated symphony ‘s of praise for the latest technological developments. The elites, in particular, have remained deaf and blinded – by their own relative success and affluence – to the high-tech coffin nails being increasingly fashioned – which if not stopped – will eventually be used to seal the lid on viable habitat and humanity.

What was new in 2019 was that a child who had not been born when the evidence was rapidly accumulating had taken the trouble to understand the problem and was determined to not just echo the research but to do something about it. And as Ms Thunberg correctly understands it, it is not just humanity which is threatened;

We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of  eternal economic growth..”….”.How dare you?” …”How dare you continue to look away and come here saying you are doing enough?”

Her devastating critique also included elements of analysis mostly missing from mainstream liberal ecological concerns – eternal economic growth and money – the two elements which are motivating and propelling the symptoms she had described. The motives behind the current capitalist domination of economic activity – growth and profit – are the cause of the current ecological problems and much more and so she hit the nail precisely on the head when she declared;

..”…How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business as usual and some technical solutions?”  

The teen age Greta spoke candidly and forcefully to the elite at the youth climate summit but her message was to all adults around the globe to play our part.  Alas I fear her message will fall on deaf ears in both camps. Just like the warning words of those who have campaigned before her. My own post-second world war generation have at least a basic idea of the existential problems, facing people and the planet, but I know only a few who are prepared to consistently speak out about it or do anything seriously radical to change things. Not all my generation of educated middle or working-class citizens even recycle or drastically cut back on activities which are a contributing factor to climate change and pollution, let alone impoverish other peoples. Those who can still afford holidays are still – without shame or embarrassment – jetting around the planet or planning their next luxury cruise.

Those who can no longer afford to ostentatiously consume in all the imaginative ways devised by cancerous entrepreneurial enterprises are invariably hoping to do so as soon as circumstances permit it. I would love to be wrong, but I fear Greta’s exact criticism of the myopic sentiments expressed by economic, financial and political elites ie (“..this can be solved with business as usual and some technical solutions?” ) are close enough to what the average adult citizen of industrialised countries have been persuaded to hope is the case. Unfortunately, it is likely to take a series of huge ecological catastrophes or economic collapses rather than Greta’s perceptive and prophetic words to shake people out of their left, right or liberal conservatism.

From my decades long experience as an anti-capitalist activist, the numbers who would advocate or even implement some really radical changes to how production and consumption have been taking place are well below any critical-mass necessary to trigger profound and effective action. Two world wars with deaths in tens of millions along with the devastation of countries and continents were not enough. Those historic tragedies only inspired slight reforms, before Greta’s “business as usual” observation returned to churning out more of the same.

So not dodging responsibility myself I do hope that Greta is typical of the new Global Climate Strike generation of young people. I really hope they will persist and rise to the revolutionary-humanist challenge facing humanity and do what previous generations, distracted by ideological and sectarian divisions or hypnotised by capitalist commodity fetishism, have failed to do.

Roy Ratcliffe (October 2019)

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BEGINERS GUIDE – 5.

On colonialism and Imperialism.

Undoubtedly, colonisation and Imperial conquest occurred during the ancient Persian, Greek and later Roman civilisations. It was nothing new. However, the modern versions of these socio-economic practices need to be understood within the evolution of the capitalist mode of production. In beginners guides 3 & 4, it was noted that the capitalist production process needed ever more external sources of raw materials and markets to keep the entire system going and profits accumulating. The more capitalism developed, the greater these pressures grew.

Moreover, numerous agriculture changes and increased mechanisation within capitalist industry also led to relative population surpluses. In time, methods and machines developed to increase commodity production, began to replace working people. It is capitalisms recurring problem. When more commodities are produced than can be sold within capitalist nations, and more people are born than can be profitably employed, colonialism and commodity exports can be used to solve these problems.

Colonialism.

The economic need for territorial expansion soon became self-evident and the essence of European colonisation in North America, Africa and the East is revealed by the business models they chose. For North America, the ‘London Company’ was formed in the UK to ‘settle’ (!) Virginia, whilst the ‘Plymouth Company’ was founded to ‘settle’ Main. For Africa the ‘boards’ of the ‘British South Africa Company’ and the ‘Royal Niger Company didn’t hide their geographical focus. The British East India Company openly advertised it’s interests. These particular examples were based in the UK.

Colonisation during the capitalist era was arguably more extensive and intensive than ancient times. Ancient forms did not usually set out to destroy local modes of production. These were generally supplemented or left largely intact. However, in the capitalist era, motives were different. The aim was Profit and trade, not just land or produce acquisition. In order to feed the circulation of profitable commodities, pro-capitalist colonists marginalised local modes of production and later imposed their own.

The successive phases of capitalist development also introduced large-scale displacement, dispossession, enslavement and extermination. In their global extent these acts of calculated inhumanity to indigenous peoples were without historical parallel. The real-world imposition of international capitalism on continents and islands, required a parallel ideological world of rationalisation and justification.

The rationalisations took the form of extending religious patriarchal prejudices of superior (and inferior) religions, classes and genders to encompass foreign people. Considerable effort was put into the invention of ‘race’ and associated superior and inferior categories of ‘racial types’. Such ‘fabrications’ were used to convince people that differences in skin colour and culture were not human adaptations to geographical location and economic history, but something else.

Numerous academics and intellectuals reasoned that dark skin shades, along with cultural and morphological adaptations had their origins in the evolution of a lower sub-species, while pale skin humans evolved from a higher one.

Once in vogue such false ideas perfectly fitted the arrogant, colonialist and Imperialist mindset. The three C’s, Commerce, Christianity and Civilisation articulated by David Livingstone and other ‘God and Mammon’ colonisers, actually became five as Conquest and Control were added during a later Imperialist stage. Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Germany – Spain and Holland to a lesser extent – were the main perpetrators of global pillage.

Imperialism.

With increased production volumes via steam power, plus assumed European biological/ cultural superiority, the entire globe came under the prejudiced scrutiny of European private enterprises. During these expansionary periods, capitalists had actively created monopolies, cartels and extended the finance-capital banking sector noted in Beginners guide 4. Government trained armies and navies were employed to assist ‘their’ capitalists to implement Imperialist dispossession and plunder, only thinly disguised as trade.

Further expansion of production required expansion of raw material sources and markets. Thus, former hostilities between rival company elites for ‘market share’, morphed into wars between hostile and competing ‘Empire-building’ national elites. Alongside this ‘progress’ (sic) in trade, came the continuous development of weapons technology. Trade joined God as a motive for native genocides. Diplomacy aside, the results of disputed annexations and ‘spheres of influence’ depended upon the strength and skills of the armed forces available to each side.

International and local wars for trade advantages, became routine during the 18th and 19th centuries, leading to the outbreak of two world wars in the 20th century. Despite academic/political rationalisations, once examined economically, these conflicts, were over which countries would dominate world trade. Switching from coal to oil for producing steam and electrical power, meant that when it was found abundant in the middle-east, this region became a battleground for rival capitalist nations of Europe to control.

Given the biased mainstream assessment of the two world wars (ie it was fought by good people against bad), it is worth quoting some rare candour. The 1914-18 First World War perspective for German capitalism was; “Our people has grown …at home discontent is rife…German’s boundaries are too narrow. We must become land hungry and acquire new territories for settlement” (Baron von Vietinghoff-Scheel.) Prior to the Second World War, (1939-45) Hitler wrote;

“In an era when the earth is gradually being divided up among states..we cannot speak of a world power whose mother country is limited to…five hundred thousand square kilometres” (Hitler. Mein Kamf). Those governments who twice fought against Germany’s “world power” ambitions (Britain and France plus Allies) were not against Empire building, they were actually defending, whilst expanding, their own world power and Imperial ambitions.

Millions of people, recruited by elites on all sides of these by now globalised wars, were quickly killed or wounded in a fight to sustain modes of production which were already shortening their lives during normal working days, (and years) of pollution and danger. Moreover, since capitalist production still relies on burning oil for energy, regional conflict continues there. Interference by the pro-capitalist agents of Imperialism’s latest offspring – neo-liberalism – is still causing existential problems for working people in Europe, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, etc.

Roy Ratcliffe (October 2019)

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BEGINNERS GUIDE – 4.

On Finance-Capital.

In beginners guide 3 (On Capitalism) the source of the profit on productive capital was traced to the surplus-labour performed by working people during an unpaid part of each working day. This unpaid surplus-labour yields a monetary value once the extra commodities or services created are sold. The huge amounts of surplus-value created by millions of workers in thousands of factories, warehouses, docks, mines, engineering firms, shipyards, locomotive and automotive plants, over many years, was indicated.

Once that continuous yearly flow of monetised surplus-value is understood something else becomes obvious. The mounting deposits of unused money in bank accounts, became more than could be profitably invested in the production of more of the same (or similar) commodities or services. Within national markets that would lead (and did) to, unsold products, income/capital losses and bankruptcies. Another form of investment was needed and not in different commodities or in different locations, but in a form not directly involved with production.

Dormant money in many bank accounts was therefore creatively transformed into loan-capital and offered to other capitalists or speculators for a set period at a rate of ‘interest’. The term Finance-Capital replaced ‘loan-capital’ so as to include further complex ways of utilising the accumulating money. The process of money directly producing ‘interest’ can be misleading. In the finance-capital sector, money appears to have an innate property of expanding itself simply by being loaned.

But of course, money cannot directly create anything. The return of the amount loaned and the interest has to come from the financial or productive activities of someone else. In many cases it comes via a complex chain of borrowers and lenders. The links between lenders and borrowers may be obscure, but somewhere along the chain of transactions the value of the loan plus added interest is created by the transformational application of human skills and labour. The only other way is by someone making a gain as a result of someone else making a loss.

The economic foundation of interest is nothing more than a deducted portion of the monetised surplus-value created during capitalist production and passed along a chain of obligations back to the lender. Productive-capital is therefore directly parasitic upon the labour-power of workers, whilst finance-capital is parasitic on productive-capital. The vast amounts of monetary wealth accumulated over decades has made the Finance-Capital sector so rich and powerful that it not only influences industry and commerce but also national governments.

The ability of the finance-capital sector (banking, insurance etc.) to reward favours with grants, lucrative posts and consultancy fees makes it able to promote self-serving changes in government policies. Institutions such as the World Bank, the International Bank of Settlements, and International Monetary Fund are the global pinnacles of this sector. They and their proxies have conduits of influence reaching deep into industry, politics and governance.

Lower down the institutional pyramid of finance there are organisations (stock exchanges, Hedge Funds etc.) whose activity is also global. This includes investment openings, speculative possibilities and asset stripping opportunities. Industries paying high wages can have difficulty obtaining capital, whilst other’s paying low wages may find it easy. Financial institutions (developed from merchant bank organisations) also originate and circulate financial instruments known as Asset Based Securities (ABS’s), Mortgage Based Securities (MBS’s) and Collatoralised Debt Obligations (CDO’s) among others.

Basically these speculative instruments are nothing more than complex, upmarket IOU’S and like loans cannot directly preserve value or create any new surplus-value. Since IOU’S, no matter how sophisticated, are paper promises to pay at a later date, they can circulate like huge denomination bank notes. Buying and selling them at discount and hoping to make money on any difference in purchase and selling price has long been routine in the finance-capital sector. As long as participants can pay when due dates arrive there is no widespread problem.

However, these, and other pass the parcel antics, are part of a system of speculation in which asset bubbles are created. Purchasing power, (real money, credit or even temporary ‘spoofing’ orders) are used to purchase or pump up asset values in order to sell them at a higher cost than bought. This leads to price escalation far beyond any intrinsic asset value. When confidence wanes and the price starts to go down, purchasers hurry to sell before a price collapse occurs (the bubble bursts). This leaves some unable to pay (or unable to borrow to pay) when it becomes due.

The general 2008 financial crisis, triggered as it was by the collapse of the housing mortgage bubble in the USA, revealed the vast international network of financial instruments (ABS’s; MBS’s ; and CDO’S etc.) then circulating around the globe. Some people in the financial sector had long suspected a looming problem, but not even the expert regulators of these, fully understood their complexity, the amount of leverage based upon them, and the magnitude of defaulting when the bubble burst.

This unravelling of financial speculation again demonstrated that financial crises, don’t remain within that sector. The 2008 crash caused bankruptcies in industry and commerce, redundancies in employment, as well as public sector shrinkage and austerity. This is because the ‘finance sector’ is connected to the general commodity and service circulation system, the private productive-capital sector and the public sector. Any sizeable crisis in the finance sector instigates a general economic and social crisis and visa versa.

Despite their culpability, those in the financial sector were bailed out and their losses made good or simply written off. This, as much as anything, demonstrated the power and influence of the finance sector over the economic and political classes. Few in the banking and financial sector thought they had done anything wrong and have continued doing what they did before. Consequently, another financial crisis lies ahead – only it’s timing is uncertain! Meanwhile, the sector carries on, granting itself huge bonuses for selling unstable financial instruments, and naive speculators within ‘the system’ continue to buy them.

Roy Ratcliffe ( September 2019)

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BEGINNERS GUIDE – 3.

On Capitalism.

The mode of production now dominating global economic activity is known as capitalism. This particular mode began to dominate societies when the main means of production passed from the owners of large tracts of land (feudal aristocrats) to the owners of large amounts of money (capitalists). Beginning in the late 16th to 17th and onto the 18th century in Europe and England, capitalism continued to spread internationally throughout the 19th and 20th.

Unlike previous modes of production, from the outset, capitalism was dependent upon money for the circulation of products and services. Consequently those with sufficient financial wealth steadily dominated all aspects of economic and social life. Moreover, due to the growing size and complexity of the means of production, money (as money-capital) or credit (borrowed capital), became necessary in large quantities to purchase and operate them.

Furthermore, the capitalist mode brought with it the profit motive for engaging in production. In previous modes of production the dominant motive was need. In contrast, the primary capitalist motive is to obtain a profit on each element of capital invested. This means that human, social and environmental issues became a secondary consideration, unless profits from them can be extracted.

The process of extracting profits from production is as follows. Capitalists employ workers on a wage or salary, which is payment is for a definite period of working time, usually a day, week or month. However, their contracted working period is always longer than the time necessary to produce a value equivalent to their actual wages (or salaries). The time they work in excess of this necessary-labour period (the surplus-labour) therefore becomes work they do for free.

For example; If in a 40 hour week 100 workers worked 20 hours making enough products or services to equal the value of their weeks wages and then worked a further 20 hours making more products or services and did this for a 45 week year, then 100 x 20 x 45 = 90,000 would be the total of unpaid hours they worked. If they did this for a 40 year working life, then a total of 3,600,000 unpaid hours would be worked. Now if each worker made one product (or service) during each unpaid hour and that product sold for £1 or $1, then the monetary value produced over and above the value of their wages in 40 years would be 3.6 million pounds or dollars.

Bearing in mind that many capitalist industries employ thousand of workers who work for decades making products or services costing hundreds or thousands of pounds (or dollars), then the typical amounts of free labour provided (or surplus-value produced) can reach astronomical proportions. Assuming no tax evasion or creative accounting, the employers will not receive the whole of that monetised surplus – value.

However, what remains – after all the various deductions such as tax and interest – is the balance of the product value that employers have not paid for. Incidentally, those deductions (tax, rent and interest payments) from the astronomical levels of surplus-value produced by millions of productive workers and collected from their employers, become the source of income for the heads of states, bureaucrats, the non-industrial middle classes and public service workers.

This much abbreviated economic analysis of the capitalist mode of production outlined above also explains why capitalists like to employ cheap labour and set it to work for long hours. Indeed, the modern occurrence of child labour and trafficked labour is down to this desire to maximise surplus-labour, monetise the surplus-value created by it and thus realise profits. This monetised exploitation of human labour has always been a feature of the capitalist mode of production.

The desire of capitalists to gain the unpaid surplus – labour and its monetised product value (classed as profits) also explains why capitalists and pro-capitalist elites in general seriously resist the following; a) a radical shortening of working hours; b) increases in wages and salaries not linked to productivity; and, c) adequate health and safety conditions for all at work. All these, if seriously implemented, would reduce the time available for unpaid surplus-value and thus reduce the wealth created for them.

The effects noted above are bad enough, but there are more. The means of production are continuously improved in order to increase production levels and profits. This increase in production, leads in turn to the pressing need to sell products in more and more markets and obtain raw materials from ever wider sources. The ever increasing material and marketing needs by capitalist firms can (and does) lead to competitive trade wars and in extreme cases, nation-based military wars.

Rising production levels also create more waste materials and noxious substances used in manufacturing processes. Therefore pollution, ecological destruction, landfill dumping and health issues also multiply alongside increased production. Every shiny new commodity temptingly featured in brochures or display windows leaves behind it an open (or hidden) trail of poisons, polluting dust, harmful fumes and waste materials.

Such destructive by-products of industrial manufacture are an integral feature of all capitalist production for obvious reasons. The capitalistic desire for private profit consistently outweighs the public need for sustainable, non-polluting, non-exploitative forms of production.

Another serious problem connected to the capitalist mode of production is the fact that when profits cannot be made at levels satisfactory to the investors, then production is reduced, transferred elsewhere or ended altogether. These periodical ‘economic recessions’ leave large numbers of workers jobless and without access to alternative means of production.

Ownership and/or control of the main means of production by the relatively small class of owners/managers of capital means that the vast majority of people in global societies – white collar, blue collar, unemployed workers and non-workers – are subject to profit based, political-economy decisions. This frequently results in increased poverty, pollution, ecological destruction, trade wars or even the two 20th century World Wars, and of course, self-serving pro-capitalist denial.

R. Ratcliffe (August 2019)

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BEGINNERS GUIDE – 2

On Modes of Production.

From the revolutionary-humanist perspective it is important to understand what is meant by a mode of production, and also what is known as the means of production. Both are important. However, clearly understanding the difference between the two is crucial. A study of 20th century radical political movements indicates that most participants (leaders and led) did not fully understand the difference. Therefore, the efforts they made to moderate the negative effects of the capitalist mode of production were easily negated.

The means of production are those discrete elements that once combined allow economic production to take place. These are; raw materials, tools, workplaces, technical processes, human skills and human effort (labour power). They may vary in quality and quantity and how they are combined, but it is from these means that any human form of production takes place.

In contrast, the mode of production refers to how the means of production are distributed among the socio-economic community. Modes such as hunter/gatherer; pastoralist; agricultural; industrial all have their respective means. However, a mode of production based upon slave labour could use the same means of production as a mode of production based upon tied peasant labour or the present capitalist mode of production based upon wage labour.

So the difference between various modes of production is not determined by the means themselves but by who owns or controls those means. Moreover, the distribution of products and value created is largely determined by the structure of this control. Under peasant agricultural modes the main means of production (land, rivers and mineral deposits) was owned and controlled by a land owning class. Within limits these ‘owners’ determined what was produced, how much was produced, how much the peasants could keep and who got the surplus.

Under slave owning modes of production a similar pattern applied. The slave owners controlled the means (land, tools, machines, labour power,etc.) In this case even the actual workers’ bodies were owned. Workers were bought and sold as commodities. Slave owners determined what was produced, how much was produced, where production took place and who got the value created.

Under the capitalist mode of production, its workers are not tied to land and their bodies are not ‘owned’ by their employers. However, the main means of production are overwhelmingly owned/controlled by individual or collective groups of capitalists and pro-capitalists. And, of course, workers under the capitalist mode are ‘controlled’ at work and in effect, ‘tied’ to a wage or salary. When that tie is cut, workers become dependent on public or private charity.

In all modes of production ownership and control of the means of production overwhelmingly determines how they are used.

The modern capitalist classes, together with their various agents, decide how and where production takes place, what materials are used and how the wealth created is distributed. In addition, this class – through its managerial agents – also decide important social issues. They decide how many workers are needed, what level of wages/salaries are suitable and what happens to the wealth and waste materials produced by these means of production.

Indeed, the two paragraphs above are all the reader needs in order to understand what group is ultimately responsible for all the major problems currently facing humanity. If there are sub-standard products; if there are large pockets of unemployment; if there is low-paid precarious employment; too much pollution; too much ecological destruction; too many un-recyclable disused products; then it isn’t difficult to figure out why.

A 20th century effort at controlling capitalisms anti-social tendencies sought to regulate what could be done by its agents. It was thought that parliamentary scrutiny and legal enforcement would curb the worst features of the capitalist system. Others thought that nationalising some means of production would also help. Varieties of such social-democratic reforms were tried in European and North American countries after the Second World War (1939-45).

The current reality of Europe, UK and the West now demonstrate the utter failure of this reformist tinkering with the means whilst retaining the mode. Post-war socio-economic history demonstrates that it is not the physical elements (the means of production) that directly cause problems – it is how these are used! Oversight of the means by politicians and bureaucrats still left the basic mode of production intact – hence the mess much of the world is now in.

An alternative, radical, political tendency viewed the regulation of capitalists as impossible. It’s adherents reasoned that as long as capitalists retained their wealth and power, they would be able to subvert or remove anything which reduced profit making. Classifying themselves as revolutionary anti – capitalists this radical tendency assumed power in 20th century Russia and China. Sharing the mistaken illusion of the reformists – but going further – they nationalised everything.

The Bolsheviks created the former Soviet Union; the Maoists, Communist China. In both these cases, (and a few others) an oligarchy of politicians merely replaced an oligarchy of landowners and capitalists in controlling the main means of production. These new totalitarian state capitalist modes of production continued to exploit workers, create injustice, human rights violations, ecological destruction, serious pollution and distorted forms of production.

Elite ownership and/or control of the means of production, – in all its historical forms – is thus a problem for humanity, not a solution.

Historically, elite interests have always departed from the interests of the rest of humanity. Elite control of the means of production caused serious problems in the past, is doing so existentially in the present and will do so in the future. In the long term, humanity needs a new community controlled mode of production which ensures every human being has a safe and adequate standard of living without the means of production directly or indirectly creating warfare, poverty, pollution and ecological destruction.

R. Ratcliffe (August 2019)

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