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Susan Green

Productivity Under Socialism and Capitalism

Figures Don’t Lie, But ...

(8 November 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol 12 No. 45, 8 November 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Time was when the supporters of capitalism had to resort to the bogy- man to scare people away from the idea of socialism and communism. Socialism would break up the family, socialize the women and any number of other hair-raising catastrophes would come about.

Today the technique is different. These capitalist supporters claim that socialism exists in England and that communism is full-fledged in Russia; so they proceed to compare the standard of living for the workers in capitalist America with that in England and Russia. What can be a simpler way of “proving” that socialism and communism are abysmal failures!

Following this method U.S. News & World Report of October 29 hits its readers in the eye with an expensive pictograph on the cover, proclaiming that under capitalism the American worker makes $10 in eight hours, that under socialism the British worker spends 19 hours making that same $10 in terms of values, and that under communism the Russian worker toils 81 hours for the same reward.

Comparison of Productivity

On page 20 appears an article elaborating this striking pictograph. The American workers, it says, can buy a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs and a quart of milk for an hour’s work. If in England the worker can buy his food with about the same labor time, this is possible only because of government subsidy and American aid. Whereas in Russia, if these things were available to the worker, it would take him half a day’s work to buy them. In the line of clothing, the article points out, the U.S. worker can earn a good quality shirt in half a day, while the British worker will labor two days for the same shirt, and the Russian worker four days. The article makes such comparisons in the standard of living in the three countries, declaring that under capitalism there is room in the budget of the worker and farmer for other things besides food and clothing, for things like cars, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and other devices and gadgets. The case is, of course, different in England, very, very different in Russia, in which two countries we are told socialism and communism are “in practice.”

The basic reason for this difference, it is pointed out, is to be found in the productivity of capitalism as against that of socialism and communism “in practice.” In the U.S. an auto and a steel worker turn out four times as much as his British fellow worker; an American coal miner produces two and a half times what the British miner digs; the capacity of the American textile worker is one and a half times that of his British brother. As to Russia, exact statistics are not available, but it is estimated that the worker in this country produces ten times as much as the worker in Stalinland.

On any basis,” concludes the article, “the private capitalism of the U.S. is shining in this period. Socialism and communism, by comparison, are producing a record that is not quite in the same class, whether in terms of effort required of workers or in volume of goods available to workers.”

So, therefore, what is there for a revolutionary socialist to do but fold his tent and quietly steal away!

By and large the comparisons made are correct. Yet, from beginning to end, the article is a lie because its implications and its conclusions are as false as the oldtime bogyman scares about socialism and communism.

First it must be pointed out that there is no socialism “in practice” in England or anywhere else. A few nationalized industries which pay profits to the recent private owners in the form of interest on government bonds – profits at the same rate as under private ownership – can hardly be called socialism. A few nationalized industries directed and controlled by the late private managers now given fancy positions on government boards, while worker participation in industry control is only an empty gesture, is not socialism. Production for the market, with emphasis on export trade, as is the case in England, is not socialist production. Nor is a foreign policy of traditional imperialist machinations backed by military might, what socialists conceive as leading to international socialism and the brotherhood of man.

Stalinism versus Communism

Coming to Russia, the bureaucratic police-state monstrosity that exists there is not communism by any stretch of the imagination. Even a simple dictionary definition of communism, without the trimmings of scientific Marxism, indicates that Stalinism is as far from communism as the north from the south pole.

Funk & Wagnalls say communism is “A theory of government and social order according to which property and the instruments of production are held as a common trust and the profits arising from all labor devoted to the general good.” Russia’s nationalized industries, run like prisons by the bureaucrats, with the secret police as the final arbiter, are not “a common trust.”

The wide gap between the well-being of the ruling bureaucrats on the one side and the poverty of the ordinary worker and the animal existence of the slave worker on the other side, attests amply to the fact that “the profits arising from all labor” are not “devoted to the general good.” Or perhaps the intellectual and spiritual enslavement in which Stalinism holds the populace can be considered for the good of anyone but the ruling bureaucrats. Maybe the Stalinist foreign policy of aggressive and brutal imperialism, crushing independent peoples under its iron heel, is the road to a world alliance of free and independent peoples.

When the writers in the U.S. News & World Report state :“Merely to buy food for an ordinary family will take most of the working time of an average man laboring under a system of communism,” they lie, because nobody knows what the working time of an average man laboring under a system of communism will net him. There is nowhere in the world a system of communism.

Misrepresentations about capitalism are made in the article as well. The American system is passed off as synonymous with capitalism, whereas American capitalism is really the only segment of world capitalism that still has virility left in it. The older capitalisms of Europe, in a weakened state before the war, have been entirely unable to pull out of the collapse wrought by the war. Why do not the writers reporting from London, Moscow and Washington report also from Paris and Rome? How about the standard of living in those unhappy capitalist countries – France and Italy? How about the productivity of labor there? And why, in reporting from London, do not these “factualists” state that in England, too, the collapse of the capitalist system was the reason for trying the kind of nationalization that they falsely call socialism?

Picture of Capitalism

Furthermore, the picture presented of American capitalism is not an honest one, though the comparison of AVERAGES with England and Russia may be correct. The shine and sparkle of American capitalism is not seen by the millions of substandard

American families with incomes below three, two and even one thousand dollars a year. That shine and sparkle does not reflect itself from refrigerators and washing machines in their homes because they have neither adequate homes nor these devices in them. Again, such a resplendent painting of American capitalism leaves out important vistas like the crises that have punctuated its development, fear of a recurrence of which is in the conscious mind of every worker.

The conclusion that comparisons in the standard of living and the productivity of workers in Russia, England and America is the death knell of communism and socialism, is definitely a bit hasty. Communism does not exist in Russia and is not on trial. Socialism is not being established by the British Labor Party and cannot be judged by what is happening there. American capitalism is not representative of world capitalism and is not an honest basis for comparing world systems of production – to say nothing of the obvious injustices of “shining” American capitalism itself.

However, the pivotal point in this business of comparisons must still be made. Suppose there were bona fide workers’ governments in England and Russia, striving with all their might to lay the foundations for socialism and communism. And suppose even under such revolutionary workers’ governments the standard of living of the workers and their productivity would compare as unfavorably with America as now. This fact in itself would not be a condemnation of socialism and communism. The reason is simple.

Potential of Workers’ Government

A workers’ government cannot pull a highly mechanized and technologically perfect productive system out of the sky as a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat. The workers, under their revolutionary government, take over what there is. What there is in Russia, what there is in England, are productive systems far inferior to the American system, an inferiority for which not the workers but the ruling classes are responsible. The test, then, is not a comparison with America, but each country with its own past.

A revolutionary workers’ government would relentlessly proceed to eliminate profits as a drain on the national income and as a bar to economic improvement. This would have to result in a higher standard of living and increased productivity, and not only from the technological point of view. The workers would feel the honesty of the new system, would consider it their own, would have the right to exercise control of the means of production, and a new inspiration would fire this most precious asset of any nation, namely, its workers.

A socialist people would understand, to begin with, that “socialist” and “nation” are mutually antagonistic words. Socialism is international, and to the extent that more and more nations wipe out the national divisions and unite their economies for socialist production, to that extent would the benefits flow more lavishly to the people.

Suppose there were really workers’ governments in England and Russia today, guiding their own economies toward socialism and giving help and leadership to the distraught peoples of Europe held under the debris of collapsed European capitalism. The glib supporters of “shining” American capitalism would have to do a good deal more lying in a futile effort to make out a case for that same capitalism, whose contradictions are, in spite of the surface sparkle, becoming more and more untenable.

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