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Article From COMPASS Theoretical Journal of the Communist League UK; No.1. February/March 1975. (First published in HAMMER OR ANVIL, April/May, 1966).
CLASSES IN MODERN BRITAIN
(originally unsigned; by W.B.Bland)
Those sociologists who serve ideologically the interests
of the capitalist class have long been engaged in "refuting" Marx by
arguing that the British proletariat has become and is becoming relatively
smaller, while the non-proletarian strata of the British working people have
become and are becoming relatively larger.
Revisionism is a system of ideas which serves the interests of the capitalist class while claiming to be "Marxism-Leninism brought up-to-date". Revisionism in Britain is not confined to the Communist Party, but shows itself in the thinking of some of the groups which-claim to be "Marxist-Leninist" and opposed to the revisionism of the CPGB. It is clearly discernible, for example, in a pamphlet on class relations in Britain published by the "Finsbury Communist Association" in 1966 and entitled: "CLASS AND PARTY IN BRITAIN". This pamphlet puts forward the above conception of bourgeois sociology, clothed in "Marxist-Leninist" phraseology: that the proletariat in Britain has become and is becoming relatively smaller, while the non-proletarian strata of the working people have become and are becoming relatively larger.
The FCA pamphlet goes so far in the direction of bourgeois-sociology as to use, without inverted commas the fashionable description of Britain as an "affluent society" (p. 9) and to state that the British proletariat is "not sufficiently large to form a solid base for a Marxist-Leninist Party". (p. 15).
It is because a correct analysis of classes in modern Britain is so vitally important for mapping the road to socialism in Britain that it is necessary to criticise the revisionist concepts that appear in this pamphlet.
Classes are large groups of people which differ from each other:
1) By their relation (of ownership or
non-ownership) to the means of production;
2) by the method in which they obtain their income (i.e., by means of their own work or by means of the exploitation of others); and
3) by their role in the social organisation of work.
"Classes are large groups of people which
differ from each other by the place they occupy in a historically definite
system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and
formulated by laws) .to the means of production, by their role in the social organization
of labour, by the dimensions and method of acquiring the share of' social
wealth which they obtain".
(V. I. Lenin, "A Great Beginning", in: "Selected Works",. Volume 9; London; 1946.; p: 432-3).
The Classes in Modern Britain
On the basis of the above definition, Marxist-Leninists recognise three classes in a developed-capitalist country, such as Britain:
1) the capitalist class or
2) the petty bourgeoisie; and
3) the working class or proletariat.
"Every capitalist country is fundamentally
divided into three main forces: the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie and the
(V. I. Lenin: "Constitutional Illusions", in: "Selected Works", Volume 61 London; 1946; p. 183).
The "Finsbury Communist Association" lists the three classes recognised by Marxist-Leninists, but denies that the term "working class" is synonymous with the term "proletariat". Thus, the three classes listed by the FCA as existing in modern Britain are:
1) the capitalist class (p. 4);
2) the petty-bourgeoisie (p. 8); and
3) the working class (p. 3), made up of two sections:
a) the "proletariat" (p. 5), which forms a minority of the working class; and
b) the "labour aristocracy" (p.5), which forms a "majority" 'of the working class.
The Capitalist Class
The capitalist class or bourgeoisie is that class whose members own or rent means of production and obtain their remuneration by means of the exploitation of employed workers:
"By bourgeoisie is meant the
class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and
employers of wage-labour".
(F. Engels: Note to 1888 English edition of "Manifesto of the Communist Party", in: K.Marx & F.Engels: "Selected Works"; Volume 1; Moscow;1951; p. 33).
The capitalist class includes persons
whose remuneration may come nominally in the form of a salary, but, in fact as
a result of their position in the employing class (e.g. company directors).
It includes persons who may or may not be employers, but who serve the capitalist class in high administrative positions in the capitalist state:
"The latter group undoubtedly
contains sections of the population who belong to the big bourgeoisie: all the
rentiers (who live on the interest from capita1 and real estate also a section
of the intelligentsia, high military and civil officials, etc."
(V. I.Lenin: "The Development of Capitalism in Russia", in: "Selected Works", Volume 1; London; 1944; p. 310).
It includes the dependents of these persons.
On the basis of the above definitions, it is possible to calculate from the 1961 Census statistics that the capitalist class in modern Britain comprises about 1 million persons, out of a total population of 52.millions,. i.e., about 2%.
The Petty Bourgeoisie
The petty bourgeoisie is that class whose members own or rent small means of production, but whose remuneration comes primarily from their own work (often assisted by that of their families):
"A petty bourgeois is the
owner of small property".
(V. I. Lenin: "To the Rural Poor!" in; "Selected Works". Volume 2; London; 1944; p. 254).
As a worker, the petty bourgeois has interests in common with the working class; as an owner of means of production he has interests in common with the capitalist class. In other words, the petty bourgeoisie has a divided allegiance towards the two decisive classes in capitalist society:
"Vacillations among these
strata are inevitable. As a toiler, the peasant gravitates towards socialism,
and prefers the dictatorship of the workers to the dictatorship of the
bourgeoisie. As a seller of grain, the peasant gravitates towards the
Lenin: "Greetings to the Hungarian Workers". in: "Against Revisionism"; Moscow; 1959; p.501).
This divided allegiance towards the two decisive classes of capitalist society applies also to a section of employed workers: those involved in superintendence and the lower levels of management, eg. foremen, charge-hands, departmental managers, etc. On the one hand these persons are exploited workers, with interests in common with the working class (from which class they largely spring). On the other hand their position as agents of management in supervising the efficient exploitation of their fellow-workers gives them interests in common with the capitalist class:
"The 1abour of supervision and
management, arising as it does out of an antithesis, out of the supremacy of
capital over labour, and being therefore common to all modes of production
based on class contradictions like the capitalist mode, is directly and
inseparably connected with productive functions which all combined
social-labour assigns to individuals as their special tasks".
(K. Marx: "Capital", Volume 3; Moscow; 1959; p. 379).
"The labour of supervision and management. . .
. has a double nature. On the one hand, all labour in which many individuals
co-operate necessarily, requires a commanding will to coordinate and unify the
process. . . . This is, a productive job. . . . On the other hand, . . this
supervision work necessarily arises in all modes of production based on the
antithesis between the labourer, as the direct producer, and the owner of the
means of production. The greater this antagonism, the greater the role played
(K. Marx: ibid.)
"An industrial army of workmen, under the
command of a capitalist, requires, like a real army, officers (managers) and
sergeants (foremen, overlookers), who, while the work is being done, command in
the name of the capitalist".
(K. Marx:."Capital", Volume 1; Moscow; 1954; p. 332).
Hence, those employees involved in this role of supervision and management have a dual role, as worker and as slave-driver. This divided allegiance towards the two decisive classes of capitalist society places them objectively in the class of the petty-bourgeoisie, in which this divided allegiance is a basic factor determining its social behaviour.
For the same reasons, the petty-bourgeoisie also includes persons in the middle and lower ranks of the coercive forces of the capitalist state (e.g. Members of the police and armed forces). It also includes the dependents of these persons.
On the basis of the above definitions, it is possible to calculate from the 1961 Census statistics that the petty-bourgeoisie in modern Britain comprises about 7 million persons out of a total population of 52 millions, i.e., about 14%.
The Working Class
The working class is that class whose members do not own or rent means of production, but whose remuneration comes from the sale of their labour-power. It is:
"The class of modern
wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to
selling their labour-power in order to live."
(F. Engels: Note to the 1888 English edition of 'Manifesto of the Communist Party’, in: K. Marx & F. Engels: "Selected Works", Volume 1; London; 1950; p.33.)
According to the FCA however, the "proletariat" is not the same thing as the working class, the class of wage-workers as a whole:
"Emile Burns persistently
translates the correct word "proletariat" into the incorrect-word
But Marxist-Leninists have always used the terms "proletariat" and "working class" as synonymous:
". . . of the proletariat,
i.e., of the, working class".
(K. Marx: "Wage-Labour. and Capital", in: "Selected Works"; Volume 1; London; 1943; p. 267).
"By proletariat (is meant) the class of modern
wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to
selling their labour power in order to live".
(F. Engels: Note to the 1888 English edition of the "Manifesto of the Communist Party", in: K. Marx & F. Engels: "Selected Works", Volume 1; London; 1950; P. 33).
"I have continually used the expressions
working-men . . . . and proletarians, working-class, propertyless class and
proletariat as equivalents".
(F..Engels: Preface to the 1845 German edition of "The Condition of the Working Class in England", in: K. Marx & F. Engels: "On Britain"; Moscow; 1962; p. 5).
"a class struggle, struggle between the
working-class, the proletariat, and the capitalist class, the
(V. I. Lenin: "Draft and Explanation of the Programme of the 'Social-Democratic Party", in: "Selected Works", Volume 1; London; 1944; p. 477).
What is the purpose, of the "Finsbury Communist Association" in revising Marxism-Leninism to deny that the term "proletarian" is synonymous with the term "working class"?
Its purpose is to argue that the proletariat is only a minority of the working class, that minority which receives wages at or below subsistence level:
"The proletariat consists of
the workers on subsistence wages, or below".
The FCA defines "subsistence wages" as the level of remuneration paid, by the Social Security Department (then the National Assistance Board):
"The National Assistance Board
undertakes to pay subsistence wages to anyone positively unable to find
But the majority of British workers receive more than this level of "subsistence wages". Thus, according to the FCA, the overwhelming majority of the British working glass belongs not to the proletariat, but to the "labour aristocracy":
"The overwhelming majority, of
Britain's workers belong to the labour aristocracy".
It is implicit in the argument, of the FCA that "subsistence wages" represent the value of the average worker's labour-power. It follows, therefore, that the overwhelming majority of the British working class receive more in wages than the value of their labour-power.
From where does this excess come?
From the super-profits of colonial exploitation, says the FCA:
"The British workers involved,
whether productive or non-productive, receive a good deal more than their
subsistence wages. In effect, they receive their subsistence wages out of the values
produced in Britain, and the extra bit out of the surplus value created by the
colonial or neo-colonial worker.
This extra chunk, of surplus value is given by the capitalist class to the working class for a very reasonable purpose, namely, to, keep the workers sweet, and ensure that. They continue to support imperialism. This tactic of British imperialism affects nearly all workers".
Thus, the "Finsbury.Communist Association" finds itself in agreement on this question with such a Labour imperialist as the late Ernest Bevin:
"If the British Empire fell it
would mean that the standard of life of our constituents would fall
(E. Bevin: Speech in House of Commons February 21st, 1946).
"British interests in the Middle East contributed
substantially not only to the interests of the people there, but to the wage
packets of.. the work-people in this country".
(E. Bevin: Speech in House of Commons, May 16th., 1947).
It is necessary to examine the argument of the FCA in some detail.
The Value of Labour Power
In the first place, the FCA implies that "subsistence wages" (i.e., the bare cost of keeping the worker and his family alive) represent the value of the average worker's labour-power. This is quite false. On the contrary, Marx stressed that a worker who was receiving mere "subsistence wages" was being paid below the value of his labour-power:
"The minimum limit of the
value of labour-power is determined by the value of the commodities, without
the daily supply of which the labourer cannot renew his vital energy,
consequently by the value of those means of subsistence that are physically
indispensable. If the price of labour-power falls to this minimum, it falls
below its value, since under such circumstances it can be maintained and
developed only in a crippled state".
(K. 'Marx: "Capital", Volume 1; Moscow; 1954; p.173).
The value of labour-power, in fact, varies from country to country, and from year to year in the same country, in accordance with the prevailing "degree of civilisation" a concept which bears some relation to the volume of production of consumer goods in a country at a particular time:
"The value of labour-power is
determined by the value of the necessaries habitually required by the average
(K. Marx: "Capital", Volume 1; Moscow; 1954; p. 519).
"The number and extent of his so-called
necessary wants, as also the modes of satisfying them, are themselves the
product of historical development, and depend therefore to a great extent on
the degree of civilisation of a country, more particularly on the conditions
under which, and consequently on the habits and degree of comfort I in which,
the class of wage-labourers has been formed. In contradistinction therefore to
the case of other commodities, there enters into the determination of the value
of labour-power a historical and moral element".
(K. Marx: Ibid.; p. 171).
In recent decades there has been a significant increase in the value of labour-power in Britain, as a result of many items previously regarded as "luxuries" coming to be regarded as "necessities". Television has come to be accepted as a "necessity" for most working-class families, to whom it carries nightly the ideological propaganda of the capitalist class. In 1965 more than 80% of British families had a licensed television set. The fact that more women are now in employment (about 50%) has transformed many household appliances previously regarded as "luxuries" – vacuum cleaners, washing machines, refrigerators -- into "necessities". More than 75% of households now have a vacuum-cleaner, 40% a refrigerator, 50% a washing machine. The increasing distance required for travel to work as a result of housing developments, the increase in shift work, the decline in public transport facilities, have combined to transform for many working class families a car from a "luxury" into a "necessity". At the end of 1964 there were about 8 million cars (an increase of 5 million in ten-years).
Thus, the fact that the majority of British workers receive wages above bare-subsistence level, the fact that they receive a significantly higher level of real wages than a few decades ago, by no means, indicates that they are receiving wages in excess of the value of their-labour-power.
On the contrary, the fact that hire purchase debt increased from Pounds Sterling 450 million in 1958 to Pounds Sterling 91,205 million in 1965 (an average in this last year of more than Pounds Sterling 75 per family) strongly suggests that average wages lag behind the higher value of labour-power. This view is endorsed by the statement of the 1959 Report of the committee of "independent experts" set up by the Organisation of European Economic Cooperation, referring to Britain:
"These studies suggest that,
other things being equal., the unions are not able to get full compensation for
(Cited in: "Marxism Today", Volume 8, No. 12; December 1964; p. 373).
In fact, the share, which the average British worker receives of the value he produces is less than it was a hundred years ago. Since 1850 industrial output per head has increased by 357%, real wages by only 235%.
"(ECA Mission to the United Kingdom: "Economic Development in the United Kingdom, 1850-1950").
Let us now look at the question from another angle: that of super-profits.
Super-profits are profits obtained
by the capitalist class of a particular country by means of the exploitation
of workers in other countries, principally in colonial-type countries.
Lenin speaks of:
"super-profits - since
they are obtained over and above the profits which capitalists squeeze out of
the workers of their 'home' country",
(V. I. Lenin: Preface to the French and German Editions of 'Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism", in, "Selected Works", Volume 5; London; nd; p. 12)
the bourgeoisie of the oppressing nations obtain by the extra exploitation of
the workers of the oppressed nations."
(V. I. Lenin,: "A Caricature of Marxism and 'Imperialist Economism'", in: ".Selected Works', Volume 5; London; n.d.; p. 291).
The Amount of Super-Profits
Although the importance of super-profits to British imperialism is stressed in the FCA pamphlet, no figure is given of the amount of super-profits obtained by the British capitalist class.
In 1964 -- the last year for which official statistics,
are, at present, available -- the total of interest, profits, dividends and
income from "other services" (royalties, etc.) coming to Britain from
abroad was Pounds Sterling1,507 million after payment of foreign taxes.
(This figure is taken from the "UK Balance of Payments", 1965", p.1. Since the item "other services" includes payments for certain exports, the actual figure of super-profit is somewhat lower than the figure given).
But a considerable part of these gross super-profits are re-invested abroad and are not available for "bribery" at home. In 1964 net investment abroad (i.e., the excess of investments made abroad by British investors over those made by foreign investors in Britain) was Pounds Sterling 228 million.
(This figure is taken from "National Income and Expenditure, 1965"; p.14).
Furthermore a considerable sum of
super-profit was extracted from British-workers by foreign capitalists. These
super-profits represent surplus value produced by British workers but lost to
the British capitalist class. In 1964 the total of interest, profits, dividends
and debits on "other services" paid from Britain to foreign capitalists
was Pounds Sterling 760 million.
(This figure is taken from "UK Balance of Payments, 1965"; p.1).
Subtracting these two debit items from the total of gross British super-profits gives a net figure of Pounds Sterling 519 million.
The Amount of "Bribery"
What proportion of these net super profits is passed to the British working class as "bribes" Lenin speaks variously of:
(V. I. Lenin: "A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism", in: "Selected Works'"; Volume 5; London; n.d.; p.291).
"a part (and not a small one at that!)".
(V. I . Lenin: Imperialism and the Split in Socialism." in: "Selected Works". Volume 11; London; 1943; P. 757);
and of a figure of 10% or so:
"The bourgeoisie of an imperialist 'Great'
Power can economically bribe the upper strata of ‘its' workers by
devoting a hundred million francs or so to this purpose, for its super-profits
most likely amount to about a billion".
(V. I. Lenin: ibid; p. 758).
So that we may be sure not to under-estimate the amount of the "bribe", let us assume that the British imperialists now devote five times as much of their super-profits as Lenin estimated -- namely, 50% to "bribery".
This gives a figure for 1964 of Pounds Sterling 260 million.
But the imperialists are able to obtain their super-profits from abroad only at the expense of large sums for military purposes overseas. In 1964 overseas military expenditure amounted to Pounds Sterling 334 million. (This figure is taken from "Labour Research", Volume 54, No. 5; May, 1965; p.69).
But approximately two-thirds of the revenue required to meet this overseas military expenditure was raised from the working class. (This figure is obtained from an analysis of taxation statistics. in "Britain: An Official Handbook, 1966" p. 405).
Thus, in order to receive a maximum possible "bribe" of Pounds Sterling 260 million, the British working class in 1964 had to pay extra taxation of Pounds Sterling 223 million.
It follows that the maximum possible "bribe" to the British working class from imperialist super-profits amounted in 1964 to Pounds Sterling 37 million.
Divided among the 44 million members of the working class, this gives a maximum net "bribe" from super-profits of 0.84 pence per head per year, or per head per week..
How Big is the Labour Aristocracy
Since it is clearly impossible for the working class as a whole to gain materially from imperialist super-profits, how big is the "labour aristocracy" which could gain materially from distribution of this "bribe" of Pounds Sterling 37 million?
If we assume that the minimum possible "bribe" likely to affect significantly the social and political outlook of a member of the working class is Pounds Sterling 50 a year, or just under Pounds Sterling l a week, it is clear that the maximum size of the British labour aristocracy which could benefit from imperialist super-profits is 740,000 out of a working class of 44 million.
Far from constituting, as the FCA hold:
"the overwhelming majority of
The labour aristocracy represents at most
less than 1.7% of the British working class.
In fact, Marxist-Leninists have invariably talked of a minority of the working class of a developed capitalist country as benefiting from imperialist super-profits. Lenin speaks of:
(V. I. Lenin: "Under a False Flag", in: "On Britain"; Moscow; n.d.; p. 211-12).
"certain strata of the working class";
(V. I. Lenin: "Imperialism and the Split in Socialism", in: "Selected Works" Volume 11; London; 1943; p. 758).
"the upper strata of 'its' workers";
(V. I. Lenin: ibid.; p. 758).
"labour leaders and the upper stratum of the
(V. I. Lenin: "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", in: "Selected Works", Volume 5; London; n.d.; p. 12).
"a stratum of the "labour
(V. I. Lenin: "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", in: "Selected Works", Volume 5; London; n.d.; p. 12).
---- as gaining materially from imperialist super-profits.
Furthermore, Lenin emphasised that the size of this "bribed" stratum was becoming smaller:
"Every imperialist 'Great' Power can
and does bribe smaller (compared with l848-8 in England) strata of the
(V. I.Lenin: "Imperialism and the Split in Socialism", in: "Selected Works", Volume 11; London; 1943; p. 758).
The Working Class - Summary
The working class or proletariat -- the terms are synonymous -- includes all wage workers except those who -- for objective reasons already stated - must be included in the petty bourgeoisie. It includes the dependents of these persons.
On the basis of the above definition, it is possible to estimate from the 1961 Census statistics that the working class in modern Britain comprises about 44 million persons, out of a total population of 52 millions, i.e., about 84%.
The classes in modern Britain are as follows:
1) The capitalist class, or bourgeoisie, comprising
about 1 million persons, or about 2% of the population;
2) the petty-bourgeoisie, comprising about 7 million-persons, or about 14% of the population; and
3) the working class or proletariat, comprising about 44 million persons, or about 84% of the population.
This is the broad objective position. It takes no account of strata within these classes - for example, of the distinction, of vital importance, between monopoly capitalists and non-monopoly capitalists, or that between industrial and non-industrial workers.
Above all, it is an objective picture. It takes no account of the subjective class consciousness of members of these classes, for example, of the, fact that many members of the working-class have been persuaded to regard themselves as members of a "'middle class".
However. Marxist-Leninists understand that in the long
run it is objective reality which. determines ideas, that in the long run. it
is objective class position which determines class consciousness. It is the
task of the Marxist-Leninist vanguard to lead the British working-class in its
day-to-day struggles in such a way that its members learn, from their own
experience, that they belong to the working class, to that class which is
destined to rule the Socialist Britain of the future.
(First published in HAMMER OR ANVIL, April/May, 1966).
The September 1966 issue of the "The Communist", organ of the "Marxist Forum, carries a review of the "Finsbury Communist Association" pamphlet "Class and Party in Britain" by "F.E.S.", who criticises the concepts dealt with in the article "CLASSES IN MODERN BRITAIN".
However, the "Marxist Forum Group" is careful to make it clear that their criticism of the pamphlet is not one of principle but merely of "terms" (p. 30). They find the pamphlet "a very courageous attempt" (p.34), with "good intentions" (p. 14), "one of the most serious pieces of work done by the anti-revisionist movement in Britain" (p. 30), one which makes "valuable contributions" (p. 12), the service of which "cannot be overestimated" (p. 34).
On the other hand, Mr. Brendan Clifford - writing in the same issue of "The Communist" - finds our criticism of the FCA pamphlet "confused" and "harmful", putting forward views which "distort the nature of imperialism and seriously underestimate its exploiting role in the present" (p. 34).
Mr. Clifford gives two reasons for alleging that our article underestimates the exploiting role of British imperialism in the present:
Firstly, that it relies on
Secondly, that it "ignores entirely a major source of imperialist exploitation, unequal exchange (p.33).
Certainly the statistics cited in our article are "bourgeois figures", in that they are issued by the capitalist state; "bourgeois figures" – are the only statistics available in a capitalist country. Mr. Clifford errs grossly, however, when he assumes that the masses of statistics which every capitalist state pours out are issued for the purpose of misleading the working class with falsified figures (perhaps Mr. Clifford is out of touch with the breakfast reading of the workers!).They are issued for the purpose of enabling capitalists and their economic advisers to operate as profitably as possible -- and this can hardly be done on the basis of falsified figures.
In fact, Lenin analysed imperialism solely on the basis of "bourgeois figures". Since, as will be shown, Mr. Clifford's picture of imperialism -- produced, it would appear, by inspired contemplation of his navel --- differs fundamentally from that drawn by Lenin, he may perhaps argue that Lenin was "misled" by "bourgeois figures". However to Marxist-Leninists Lenin’s analysis of imperialism remains the incontrovertibly correct basis for all study of imperialism. Mr. Clifford's rejection as "falsified" of all statistics which do not fit in with his mental picture of imperialism reminds one only of a shipwrecked navigating officer arguing that his vessel could not possibly have run aground since his calculations proved conclusively that it was in the middle of the Atlantic!
Profits from Foreign Trade
Mr. Clifford alleges, secondly, that our article unjustifiably omitted from the fund available for "bribery" of the British working class part of the profit which the British capitalist class obtains from foreign trade, namely, that part which comes from "unequal exchange" with underdeveloped territories.
However, our article was a critique of the FCA pamphlet, which is quite explicit as to the source from which, in its view, this "bribery" fund comes. It comes, they say,
"out of the surplus value
created by the colonial or neocolonial workers".
But it is an elementary principle of Marxist economics that trade, i.e., the buying and selling of commodities, creates, neither value nor surplus value:
"No value is produced in the
process of circulation, and, therefore no surplus-value.. . . . . . . If
surplus-value is realised by the sale of produced commodities, it is only
because that surplus-value already existed in them. . .
Seeing that merchant’s capital itself does not produce any surplus value, it is evident that surplus-value appropriated by it in the shape of average profit must be a portion of the surplus-value produced by the total productive capital".
(K. Marx: "Capital", Volume 1; New York; 1906; p. 329, 331-2).
Thus, when a British capitalist sells a commodity in an underdeveloped territory, the surplus value he realises is not created by the customer and thus has no relevance to "surplus value created by the colonial or neocolonial workers".
Similarly, when a British capitalist buys a commodity from an underdeveloped territory, the act of buying does not create any surplus-value. If the commodity concerned has been produced by a non-employed producer, no surplus value is created. If the commodity is produced by a worker in the underdeveloped territory who is employed by a native capitalist, then surplus value is created; but this is retained by the native capitalist and is not remitted to British capitalists as buyers.
If, however, the commodity is produced by a worker in the underdeveloped territory who is employed by a branch or subsidiary of a British company, then surplus value is produced and part of it is remitted to the parent company in Britain. This is super-profit, and it is included in the figures cited in our article -- Pounds Sterling 1,507 million for 1964.
Thus, in terms of the source of the, "bribery" fund as defined by the FCA, it would have been, quite incorrect to have included profit from foreign trade in this fund.
However, if the capitalist class of
a developed country is able to make extra profit by "unequal
exchange" with underdeveloped countries -- by selling its commodities
there at an artificially high price and/or by buying commodities from there at
an artificially low price -- then the capitalist class of the developed country
certainly gains at the expense of the people of the underdeveloped
territory. This extra profit may legitimately be included in the proceeds of
"imperialist exploitation" -- in the broad, non-technical sense in
which Mr. Clifford uses this term.
Mr. Clifford, however regards "unequal exchange" as:
"a major source of imperialist
and it is desirable to determine if this
is, in fact, so.
It is certainly true that Marx drew attention to such unequal exchange:
"Capitals invested in foreign
trade are in a position to yield a higher rate of profit, because, in the first
place, they come in competition with commodities produced in other countries
with lesser facilities of production, so that an advanced country is enabled to
sell its goods above their value even when it sells them cheaper than the
(K. Marx: "Capital" Volume 3; Chicago; 1909; p. 278).
But Marx wrote this passage a hundred years ago, before capitalism had developed to its imperialist stage, and when Britain was the only developed capitalist country in the world. Today British goods come into competition on the world market with goods produced in other developed capitalist countries, the technical level of production of which is in many cases significantly higher than that of Britain.
Lenin, who made the classical Marxist analysis of capitalism in its imperialist stage of development, pointed out that one of the distinctive features of this stage was that profits from foreign trade generally had become a minor factor compared with profits from the foreign investment of capital:
"Under the old type of
capitalism,''. . . the export of goods was the the most typical feature.
Under modern capitalism . . . the export of capital has become the
(V. I. Lenin: "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", in: "Selected Works", Volume.5; London; nd.; p,56).
Lenin defined one of the five essential features of imperialism as that:
"the export of capital has
become extremely important, as distinguished from the export of
(V. I. Lenin: ibid.; p. 81).
and noted that in Britain by 1915
"the revenue of the
bondholders is five times greater than the revenue obtained from the
foreign trade of the greatest trading country in the world".
(V. Lenin: ibid; p. 92)
Lenin also emphasised that, in the imperialist stage of capitalism, the predominant tendency in the foreign trade of a developed capitalist country is not, as it had been in Marx's day when Britain was the unchallenged "workshop of the world", to sell dear abroad, but on the contrary to sell dear on the home market and cheap on the foreign market where, even in dependent territories, greater competition has to be faced from imperialist rivals:
"The cartels and finance capital
have a system peculiar to themselves, that of . . 'dumping', as the English
call it: within a given country the cartel sells its goods at a high price
fixed by the monopoly; abroad it sells them at a much lower price to undercut
(V. I..Lenin: ibid.; p. 105).
The recent trend towards neo-colonialism
where direct political control of underdeveloped countries has given way
to more subtle forms of domination, has reinforced this predominant tendency.
This tendency is revealed in the figures for Britain's terms of trade over the last three-quarters of a century; the terms of trade are favourable to Britain when the average prices of its exports are high relative to the average prices of its imports, and are unfavourable when the average prices of its exports are low relative to the average prices of its imports. In the first instance the index is high, in the second instance the index is low:
(B. R..Mitchell: "Abstract of British Historical Statistics"; Cambridge; 1962; P. 331-32).
It is clear, therefore, that in speaking of "unequal exchange" as "a major source of imperialist exploitation" (p. 33), Mr. Clifford is a hundred years behind the times!
However, some "unequal exchange" still occurs
in Britain's trade with certain underdeveloped countries, and it would be of
interest to estimate the-maximum conceivable gain to the British capitalist
class which could accrue from this.
In 1964 British exports to and imports from under-developed territories together totalled Pounds Sterling 2,092 million. (This figure is taken from "Annual Sbstract of Statistics, 1965", p. 219-220).
Lenin estimated 2.5 % on turnover as the average rate of profit from foreign trade, taking this figure as a constant over the years. (V. I. Lenin: ibid.; p. 92).
But we are concerned with the extra profit resulting from unequal trade with underdeveloped countries. Let us assume that the rate of profit resulting from such "unequal exchange" is at the maximum conceivable figure of 50% above the average rate of profit on foreign trade generally, i.e., at 3.75% on turnover. This would give a maximum conceivable extra profit from "unequal exchange" of 1.25% on turnover, i.e., Pounds Sterling 26 million in 1964.
Assuming, in an effort to avoid underestimation, that the British imperialists now devote five times as high a proportion of this to "bribery" as Lenin estimated (see original article [ie see above before the postscript]), this gives a figure for "bribery" from this source of Pounds Sterling 13 million for 1964.
Divided among the 44 million members of the working class in Britain, this gives a maximum conceivable extra "bribe" from "unequal exchange", of 30 pence per head per year, or a half-pence per head per week.
Added to the proportion of super-profit proper which is available for "bribery", this gives a maximum possible total "bribe" of Pounds Sterling 1.14 per head per year, or 2 pence per head per week.
If we assume, as in the original article, that the minimum possible "bribe" likely to affect the social and political outlook of a member of the working class is Pounds Sterling 50 per year, or just under Pounds Sterling 1 a week, it is clear that the maximum size of the British labour aristocracy which could materially benefit from imperialist "bribery" is 1 million out of a working class of 44 million, or at the most 2.3% of the British working class.
It is clear, then, that the addition of the maximum conceivable profit from "unequal exchange" does not materially alter the conclusion of our original article: that the overwhelming majority of the British working class receive no material benefit from imperialist super-profits.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Clifford's distaste for this conclusion leads him to distort it into the shape of a pink herring:
"The conclusion that suggests
itself is that it is more trouble to Britain to remain an imperialist power
than it is worth it to her in economic gains. . . that Britain would lose
nothing . . . if she gave up the imperialist game; . . . that Britain gains
only marginal benefits from overseas exploitation".
But even the most elementary student of Marxism-Leninism does not speak of "Britain" in such a connection. Britain is a class-divided society and what is in the interests of one class is usually contrary to the interests of the other class. The British monopoly capitalists receive, as was stated in the original article, some Pounds Sterling1,500 million a year in super-profits as such, in addition to the surplus value they receive from the exploitation of the British working class. The latter pays the greater part of the cost of securing this imperialist super-profit; a tiny percentage receive some small economic gain.
A New Situation
Since it is this "bribery" which forms the principal objective basis for opportunism among the British working class, it is clear that the objective basis for opportunism -- except among a tiny minority of the working class -- does not now exist.
If, therefore opportunism is still widespread among British workers, this is not because the objective basis for it still exists, but because there is always a lag between a change in material conditions and the ideas reflected by those material conditions:
"Economic conditions change
first and the consciousness of men undergoes a corresponding change
(J. V. Stalin;" Anarchism or Socialism?", in: "Works", Volume 1; Moscow; 1952; p. 322).
Marxist-Leninists, understand, even if Mr. Clifford does not, that we face in Britain a qualitatively new situation where widespread opportunism among the British working class is in process of being swept away by a change in the material conditions of British imperialism. The strategy of Marxist-Leninists can only be correct when it is based on a correct understanding of this new situation.
The viewpoints of the "Finsbury Communist Association" and of the "Marxist Forum Group" are, despite their superficial differences, two sides of the same counterfeit coin. The FCA reduces the British "proletariat" to a mere handful of, mainly immigrant, workers living on subsistence level, a "proletariat" not even large enough to form a Solid base for a Marxist-Leninist Party. The MFG is concerned to exaggerate the strength of the most immediate enemy of the British working class -- British imperialism.
(First published in "HAMMER OR ANVIL", November/December 1966).