At Newcastle University the Marxist Society is the most active group on the left and is fast becoming the reference point for students. This has been achieved by hosting weekly theoretical discussions as well as intervening in demonstrations and labour movement events locally, and was further bolstered by a recent debate between the Marxist and Conservative Societies, hosted by NUSU’s Debating Society.
Despite the prospect of looming deadlines, around 35 students came along to watch the three Tory and three Marxist panellists debate three motions: “the freer the market, the freer the people”, “socialism is needed to combat climate change”, and “profit is the unpaid wages of the working class”.
For the first motion, the Conservatives attempted to paint the market as ahistorical and efficient. Our panellists on the other hand, pointed out that while prior forms of society produced for need, the free market is a concomitant of commodity production, which is production not for need but for profit. This creates voluminous waste, and eventually leads to situations where the system enters into crisis because we have produced too much! They also pointed out that in a market based system, workers are obliged to trade the only commodity available to them – their labour power – so that they can in turn receive a wage to try and afford the necessities of life.
Moreover, freer markets mean there are fewer regulations concerning the safety of the workplace, the minimum wage, hours an individual must work a week, etc. Free markets are simply freedom for the bosses to squeeze as much out of the workers as they want!
In contrast, our panellists described a future under a socialist planned economy, where production would be for need, meaning there would be no compulsion for workers to sell their labour power. Moreover, because of the democratic planning, there would be less waste and also less need to work because the workers would no longer be producing endless reams of commodities to be sold for profit. This would lead to workers having much more spare time to spend with their families, enjoying culture, partaking in hobbies, getting/staying fit, etc. They argued that the only way to ensure true freedom is under a socialist planned economy!
For the second motion, the Conservatives once again pointed to the supposed efficiency of the market, while dodging questions from the floor about why a number of big monopolies suppressed research on climate change and why we are yet to see any action to tackle climate change under capitalism.
On the other hand, the Marxists argued that climate change is a social problem and thus requires social solutions. That means that, while things like recycling our own waste should be encouraged, individual solutions won’t solve a problem that effects society as a whole. Instead, and in contrast to the Tories, who could only argue that the market will – presumably – at some point in future fix climate change because that’s what people want, our panelists proposed a concrete solution, and again pointed to the need for a democratically planned economy which would enable the mass of working people to take decisions in their interests and not the interests of profit, and which would therefore allow for a rapid decarbonisation of the economy and a move towards green and renewable energy sources. This would be accompanied by a mass retraining programme so that workers previously employed in the energy industry would not now be rendered obsolete to society like they would be under capitalism.
The final motion saw our panelists argue clearly and concisely that it is only through the application of labour power to raw materials that they can be transformed into manufactured products which have an exchange value. Part of this additional value is paid as wages, while the rest is siphoned off as profit. The Tories attempted to rebut this by arguing that capitalists have taken a risk by hiring workers and purchasing the industry needed to manufacture goods, and therefore they deserve to be able take this as profit! And, besides this, they argued, it isn’t always workers who add value – in wine, there is no value until the yeast is added, so it is the yeast which creates the value and not the worker! Who adds the yeast to the fermented grapes remains a mystery – we can only assume it is the Value-adding Elf, the lesser known cousin of the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny!
No final winner was announced, but we can only assume this was to spare the Tories further embarrassment! The full debate can be viewed on the Newcastle Marxist Society page so you can decide for yourself.
The event successfully promoted the Marxist Society, and showcased and justified the Marxist Student Federation’s emphasis on education. Lenin said “without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement”. By studying and discussing Marxist ideas, we’re better able to use them in action – whether that is by intervening in the local labour movement or by defending socialism against young Tories on campus.
Hazel Gabbot, Newcastle Marxist Society