Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Britain’s Wealth Is Its People

First Published: The Worker, No. 24, December 20, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Britain has not lost the capacity to labour and produce wealth, Reg Birch, Chairman of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) said in London on December 3rd. Speaking to an audience at the Bellman Bookshop Reg Birch ridiculed the notion that Britain was bankrupt and sustained by other countries.

The capitalists certainly do not believe that Britain is finished. West German and US capital prefer this country to any other for investment. It was rubbish to believe that the British working class was weak and not very skilled and not able to compete, if that was to be the game.

The myth that Britain is not self-supporting is part of an ideological indoctrination that has gone on for a long period of time, “What is needed is to revitalise the basic industries, industries which capitalism always neglects.

All the resources are present in Britain, more than any nation in the whole world. The most valuable resource is people. The people can achieve anything. The first task is to take care of people.

The full speech reads:

If we are to talk of what we have to do, we need to know what is and what could be – Britain today and Britain tomorrow. If we take the people of Britain, either class, capitalists or workers, they don’t know where they are or where they’ll be tomorrow. Tomorrow belongs to the people. But it can only do so if the people understand the present state of society and, understanding it, change it. This change for the working people of Britain can only mean the liquidation of the opposing class.

The battle between the classes is permanent but certain features of it are new. Britain is supposedly suffering from a malaise, a sickness. According to capitalism it has lost its capacity to produce wealth; it is not self-supporting; it runs back and forth with a begging bowl. In this highly industrialised society it supposedly takes one worker to labour and support another which is not all that different from an agricultural society of the past. We have to dispel the notion that Britain is being sustained by ’friendly’ capitalist countries.

This is a confidence trick upon the mind.

The decline is visible to all. “When I go abroad on trade union business, as if I were an “ambassador for British capitalism”, I am given a booklet to counter talk about the “English sickness” by showing that West German and US capitalists prefer Britain as an investment opportunity. Having complained for decades about the damage of strikes to Britain’s economy, the Government now juggles with statistics and arrives at the conclusion that there are not so many strikes after all. They only feel they’ve overdone it a bit.

Within the limits we have, let us analyse the present in order not to be Ignorant about tomorrow. A study of 620 companies in Britain shows that pre-tax profits, after deducting wages and costs, runs into £197,000 for building firms, £300,000 for electrical engineering firms and 1180,000 for engineering firms. In spite of the Government’s running backwards and forwards “seeking aid”, there was the skill produce those profits in Industry. We are told Britain has to export: because it is not self-sufficient and has to import food. But food exports from Britain are to exceed 1231m. What is the sense of this? It simply means that keen-witted traders find things to export either way to make profits, particularly with the opportunities provided by currency instability within the EEC.

How can there be these contradictions, that there are profits and yet massive loans, great unemployment and rapidly descending living standards? Profits and yet all manner of cuts, especially in those precious areas of health and education, so that the end product can only be illiteracy and malnutrition. That is what is in store for us unless we seek to change.

This is no sudden situation. Since the last great depression in 1931 there has been no development of basic industry. The basic industries are always neglected in capitalism, after an initial upsurge. Only the war halted this process in Britain for a time, and even then the engineering industry was using old machinery. Then the switch to other sources of quicker profits. But once you do that you bring about the destruction of a people. It is not whether capitalism is to do without a water industry, a coal industry or the railways, but whether the very foundation of our industrial society is to be swept away.

It was a canard that the burgeoning motor industry could replace what was being destroyed. The growth of the GNP in West Germany was held up as some kind of an ideal but it was simply that having its industrial base destroyed and starting anew with US and UK money there was an inevitable reversal in economic roles. The whole import and export of motor cars with their interchangeable parts also being imported and exported so that there is no such thing as a national car, is absurd. They are bulky things to export, but then if you let Latin Americans assemble them, you are in danger of turning more peasants into a proletariat.

We have to revitalise the basic industries. Railways, electricity, road transport are a subsidy to capitalism. We would revitalise them: agriculture, transport, engineering. They have been run down because of the profits skimmed elsewhere. We are in a situation where all those things we are best at are being run down because other things are more profitable. This means our people are being run down while capitalism will sojourn elsewhere. The EEC. The intention to invest in Europe is not like the Tsar running off with a tiara but a decamping with a bourgeois fort to sit in. With the breaking down of our society through devolution, let it be remembered that there is also a parliament in Brussels.

How could they done such things? How could they get away with it? Because of the acceptance of capitalism and the labour movement IS idea of gradualism not revolution. For the labour movement to take on this struggle now must lead to revolution and socialism –which denies its very origin, We have a farcical situation in which a wage freeze would be an improvement compared with the social contract! And what is it for – to survive today so that some one else can die tomorrow? The labour movement had a primitive function to maintain wages; milk for the kids. To do that now means a direct confrontation with capitalism, means not gradualism but revolution. The situation in Britain is very reminiscent of the Weimar Republic before Hitler.

It is rubbish to believe that the British working class is weak, not very skilled, unable to hold its own and in, need of being supported by ‘friendly’ capitalist countries, that we have to plead with the Japanese not to dump their goods here and put us out of business, All the wealth and skills are present here in the people – more than in any other ’nation in the world and that is no chauvinist boast. It’s obvious that revolution is inevitable or else counter-revolution under a care-taker social democracy. The only thing that holds us back is fear. If we, consider supposing we began to seize power tomorrow. How can we do that? With no arms. And all those other capitalist countries will descend on us. Such a dilemma of even worse dimensions faced the working class and the Bolshevik Party in Russia in 1917.We must not forget the great debt owed to the proletariat and peasants of Russia. Without their victory others would not have been able to do it, which is not to diminish what others have done but only to keep the chronology in mind. More than twenty countries waged war against a bankrupt Russia, and their war of intervention failed: the decline of capitalism’s world crisis. If the workers of the world could respond then do you think workers today would be any different if we began the first revolution in an industrialised country here in Britain? Do you think that the US or the USSR could attack us so easily? Would they dare turn their backs on their own workers?

The alternative is corporatism fascism counter-revolution. We cannot go back to a relatively democratic bourgeois rule with occasional crises. The idea that if we wait little things will get better is rubbish. Not only have they run down the economy with no knowledge of what they have done, they have no idea of how to keep the crisis from deepening. Capitalism is not a science. It is a disease.

The impact of a move to revolution in this land will devastate capitalist thinking in other countries. It has to because we are the worst off and each day it will get still worse. Can, we say that our kids will do it? Will you let your boy do it – when he will be bowlegged with rickets? We can do it because we have to do it. Remember “The British Working Class and Its Party”! Remember “Congress 1976”!

Don’t be hypnotised by leftists running up and down screaming “We want a Job”. Don’t be distracted by being urged to fight these cuts but not those. Don’t believe we can disguise ourselves as social democrats, or Scottish nationalists to creep under the door, to infiltrate the Labour Party and seize power so that we can then hand it over to the people. Only they can take it. If you are worried about armed might; remember that we make the arms. If you are afraid that a standing army will fall on us, remember that the bourgeoisie in two wars has not been able to depend on a standing army but had to turn to the people, to us.

Other points made by Reg Birch

Why at this time is there so much talk about workers’ participation? Does it not equate with the fact that when we raised the slogan about the right to work, they countered with retraining schemes and redundancy payments. When women fought for equal pay they were fobbed off with the Equal Pay Act in order to deny it. Workers’ participation is for the purpose of seeing to it that workers don’t have real control. The only real workers’ control is the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The trade unions are not revolutionary organisations. They have reached the end of their traditional role. The trade unions cannot do what they traditionally did defend the standard of living of the working class. To demand that they take up their traditional role is, itself the revolutionary act. To call for the very right to live; since others are determined that we shall die, is revolutionary.

We the people must do it. Just as once, in Russia, ten million said: you go to the war. Not us. So we have to say: you have to suffer cuts. Not Us. What is true now is that it cannot be done by degrees...

Our first exposure has to be ourselves. Because we have accepted that we are less able than we used to be, the people have not lost the capacity for labour nor has their intellectual level declined.

We have to say in factory, office or school: there is nothing right about shutting hospitals, closing schools, accepting the social contract and a declining standard of living. We have a right to work, to no unemployment. This means no contraction wherever you are – in mine, office or school. Don’t get involved in taking 100,000 from here and putting them there. That is the sort of thing Robens, Beeching and the like did for capitalism. We do not run steel or the mines, but we work there and you are not shoving us out. We say the same thing in schools, hospitals or wherever we work.

We have only one way to survive. We have to work. This will lead to the seizure of power. We have allowed this unemployment to happen, to us because we were not convinced of our right. We will not bother with arguments about do we need a shipbuilding industry or do we need railways nor if we give up a school here will they build a vacuum cleaner factory there.

The only real investment is investment in people. Take Albania with its oil and mineral wealth. It is because Albania invested in its people that its industry and agriculture are thriving. The question is not can we afford to build a new steel mill? The people can do anything. Wealth and its preservation is the people. We insist on surviving. Then we can have a steel mill: a shipbuilding Industry or anything else. They cannot do it. Capitalist ’planning’ is that with working people, their only source of wealth they have 2.2 million unemployed!

You have to be brave ’and clever to be a worker’ – brave to go to work every day to you’re your family, clever to screw even a half decent wage out of the employer. Workers are afraid of what would be if they seek change. People naturally prefer the existing thing they know to the “x” quantity of change, they wonder if they will muck it up. There is that humility there. But they have to do it. There is no one else.

An important part of the answer to the working class’s reluctance to embark on revolution is the inadequacy of this party. It is our fault also that the long heritage of social democracy has not been changed. We cannot change it simply in our own minds. We have to change it in converse with our mates. Such, as change is not unknown. It has been done. Here it could be done very successfully indeed.