The many not the few seems to have its origins in the 1848 Manifesto of the Communist Party and therefore gives some credibility to the claim that the most recent iteration of the Labour Party is Marxist. This suggestion is relished by the likes of John McDonnell who can’t escape from the exciting psychodrama of class war.
It was Karl Marx who scientifically explained the process by which all property is theft, he called it “exploitation”. Workers only had their labour power to sell. The class system required the costs of children to be covered by the worker and a surplus workforce existed which would suppress wages. Between living costs and competing with other workers, it was not possible to accumulate wealth. Together these two features of the worker’s life interfered with his desire to acquire “Property”. Workers wanted property and could, in theory, have it but the wages system made it almost impossible.
The property, of course, does not mean personal property (Hats, coats, furniture etc) but property that consists of valuable and tradable assets like buildings, stocks and shares and gold. The process of exploitation identified by Marx resulted in the capitalist accumulating property whilst the workers essentially paid for it. By buying labour power the capitalist owned the surplus once wages were paid and this surplus value became capital and therefore property. This is why capitalism is correctly identified as ‘unfair’ or exploitative.
Now in Marxian terms, the “many” would be the army of workers all of whom collectively were creating the surplus value necessary to provide the capitalist with his property. The few would be the capitalists who were benefitting from this “rigged” system as John Mc Donnell puts it. It’s not so much rigged… It just is what it is!
Others who benefitted from this system would be the army of bankers, politicians and lawyers and other Pettit bourgeoisie who were able to gain payment from capitalists by reinforcing the expectations and interests of the system, courts upholding property rights for example. Upholding the interests of capital against the interests of workers.
Capitalism is inherently unfair and socialism was seen by many as the brief collective action necessary to enable the worker to claw back a greater slice of the product of his or her labour power. So far so good. A coherent idea framed within the context of the mid 19th century.
From the 1900’s onwards the march of socialism began to address some of the unfairness within the capitalist system. By the end of WWII it was possible to envisage a “socialist state”. A landslide Labour victory after WWII resulted in the nation-state having the power to collectively redistribute the surplus value hitherto appropriated by capitalists, but this time in favour of everyone. The welfare state was born and there was a wealth re-distributive programme and Nationalisations.
This trajectory from 1848 to about 1948 delivered socialism or as near as damn it and thus, in theory, liberated the workers from “exploitation” by capitalists.
To be fair to capitalism the economic principles underpinning it which we at Blue Revolution simply describe as “Contract, Choice and Consent” have not only endured over the last hundred years they have taken on a “social character”. So we now enjoy these principles as a matter of routine in all aspects of our lives. In this respect, the efforts of the Suffragettes, Labour Party and the more recent coalition and Conservative governments have achieved excellent results promoting enhanced rights for women and a huge number of previously discriminated against minorities.
Unlike social progressiveness, however, the economic unfairness inherent within the capitalist system was not really addressed by the post-war Labour and subsequent governments. Indeed the failed efforts of Labour to deliver for the working class needs some analysis because “socialism” did not “liberate” workers in any economic sense.
By the mid-1990’s the Labour Party’s appetite to deliver socialism was in full retreat. Unless one understood what was going on one would be forgiven for thinking “capital” had won. This is still the narrative of right-wing publications and those quick to look to the failure of the old USSR, but it is not so!
Capitalism had in the West succumbed to its inevitable destiny of collapse by around the mid-1980’s. The racketeering free market was engineered by governments and banks to keeps its corpse twitching on the slab for as long as possible. Put simply capitalisms failure was because “surplus value” the holy grail of capitalism, socialism and beyond, was in mature western capitalist economies, non-existent and workers were now under the direct or indirect pay of the government and taxpayer who had no surplus value to work with, just debt.
In the period after WII state industries struggled and then failed to deliver surplus value to the nation, and in too many cases, the nation was subsidising the nationalised worker. This is not how the process is supposed to work. From Steel Yards to Coal Mines the workers were effectively taking on the taxpayer in industrial disputes and demanding a higher slice of taxpayer subsidy. This was the case with all the industrial monopolies and some of the utilities. This was the precursor to the “Thatcher” reforms and privatisations. Even Marx recognised that the rapid growth of capital was an essential element of the liberation of the worker. But by the 1970’s that capital growth based on surplus value was in reverse.
There are two possible theories why no surplus value was created. One is that the workers in failing to identify the nation as having the ownership of capital took on the “management” as surrogate “capitalists” and destroyed their and our nations industrial base. An alternative and the one favoured by us at Blue Revolution is that Western capitalism, even state capitalism in the form of nationalised industries, were by the 1970’s unprofitable and doomed to failure and eventual closure due to global economic factors and in particular wage and pension costs.
Western industrial workers were too expensive to employ and pension. Working classes elsewhere in the world could make the stuff the West needed and the “surplus value” would come by the interplay of global capital and global labour. This phase is our modern economic history saw ‘expensive’ workers being cast aside in favour of Chinese employees and others. Workers saw industries shipped abroad in crates and their children, intended to replace them in the labour market, pushed out onto a diet of welfare and healthcare. The State in the form of the taxpayer picked up the tab. The ghastly word ‘underclass” fails to capture the reality of these people as victims of the failure of domestic capitalism and socialism to deal with global conditions. And the 1970’s model won’t work this time either.
It is difficult to see how Labour will sort this issue out with its programme of nationalisations and debt. The whole world economy has become a machine for papering over the cracks of the failure of Western capitalism to recover profitability sufficient to pay for its State social and other obligations. It now costs the nations of the West trillions to make it look like capitalism still works here.
The substitute for western capitalism the “free-market” system requires state expenditure and obscene levels of personal indebtedness to maintain aggregate demand for products made elsewhere. Labour will sadly add to the toxic mix of debt and declining productivity with their parochial economic policies which can’t address significant global factors and would leave workers outside their financial comfort zone. This isn’t a thumbs up for Remain either, only Brexit gives the freedom to escape debt.
So back to the original point above. Who are the many and who are the few? Sadly within the current economic paradigm just as in the 1970’s the many will be the hard-pressed indebted taxpayers and the few the state political and economic elites and hangers-on. Not quite what Marx and Engles had in mind! They saw socialism and its aftermath as beneficiaries of global capital not sadly inheritors of the national debt!