Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Future of Capitalism (1979)

From the Spring/Summer 1979 issue of The Western Socialist

The Christian Science Monitor, in five issues (13-19 April, 1977) published a series of articles by their business and financial editor, Mr. David R. Francis, on “The Future of Capitalism.” In them he told of capitalism’s present difficulties and the discontents created, summarised the views of numerous businessmen and economists, and outlined the changes already taking place and proposed for the future.

In one important respect the exercise was bogus. While pretending to give an objective and comprehensive account of the arguments for and against competitive private capitalism government planning and nationalisation, reforms of capitalism and alternatives to capitalism, nothing was said about the Marxist-socialist alternative to capitalism. There was indeed no indication that Mr. Francis and the people he quoted had ever even heard of it; and this includes Mr. Michael Harrington, Chairman of the Democratic Socialist Party, U.S.A. All of them accept continued production of commodities for the market and for profit, the existence of an owning class and a working class, and the division of the world into capitalist nation-state competing against each other — in short, capitalism.

The lead-in to the first article set the tone of everything that followed. It told the readers that those who challenge capitalism say “it is outdated and unresponsive but see the standard alternatives, communism and socialism, as too old-fashioned and conservative, too bureaucratic and inefficient.” This is a grossly misleading statement because, as Mr. Francis spelled out in his articles, the “communism and socialism” referred to are state capitalism with dictatorship, as in Russia, and the mixture of private and state capitalism administered by Labour governments, as in Britain.

No doubt Mr. Francis would offer the usual defence of this misuse of terms, which goes like this. Since the great mass of people (never having studied or thought about the matter) accept that capitalism means only private capitalism; that socialism means nationalisation, and communism means the Russian dictatorship, he, Mr. Francis, is merely following common practice in doing the same. An ingenious disclaimer of responsibility which, however, fails for several reasons.

In the first place, what has happened to the claim always made by columnists and economists that it is their elevated purpose to inform their readers, not encourage their misinformation?

Secondly, the Monitor articles include numerous references to Marx and Marxists (though without quotations of anything Marx actually wrote) so why didn’t Mr. Francis recognise his obligation to see that Marx’s own case against capitalism and Marx’s own alternative should be represented?

Or did he perhaps shop around to find someone to put that case and fail to find one? That is easily remedied. The W.S.P. of the United States would be delighted to put the case in the Monitor’s columns against the whole lot of Mr. Francis’ defenders of reformed or unreformed capitalism.

For the record, and in case Mr. Francis still believes that he dealt with Marx’s case, may we remind him that, for Marx, Socialism/Communism involves, among other things, the abolition of production for the market (“the abolition of buying and selling” — Communist Manifesto) and the abolition of the wages system.

A word here about the “socialist,” Mr. Michael Harrington, whose views are quoted by Mr. Francis. The New York Times (5 May) reported a speech made by Mr. Harrington on the question of the future of capitalism. He associated himself with Marx (“my friend Karl Marx”), then went on to show that his own "alternative” to capitalism includes the continuation of production for the market — that is, capitalism:
  "Mr. Harrington indicated that he was a friend of the market, as preferable to bureaucratic controls — provided that income was distributed equally.”
It is clear enough that when Mr. Francis uses the term socialism he does not mean what Marx and socialists mean. But what he actually does mean Is left in doubt. First to wrote:
  “Socialism, if the word is taken to mean state ownership of the most important means of production . . ."
Then (also in the first article) he quoted from Mr. Peter Drucker: “The United States is the first truly socialist country”; but added “whether it is socialism is a matter of definition” — so why did not Mr. Francis give us his own definition?

What seems to be happening in the U.S. is what happened long ago in Europe. If the workers are becoming increasingly disillusioned with capitalism, why not distract their attention from socialism by offering them state capitalism labelled socialism? Bismark did it in the 1870’s, which led Engels to dub nationalisation “a kind of spurious socialism.” In England, a little later, a prominent capitalist politician, Sir William Harcourt (and his friend the then Prince of Wales later Edward VII) played the same game with the slogan “we are all socialists now.” It would not have mattered much except for the fact that, both in Germany and England, men who had called themselves socialist lent themselves to the deception. People of this type feature in the Monitor articles.

Several misconceptions of Marx occur. His materialist conception of history turns up in the guise of “determinism” and ‘inevitability”; with the assurance that “even confirmed Marxists” now reject that (as indeed they should).

The labour theory of value is misrepresented as holding that “manual labour” is the sole source of wealth. It has, we are told, been replaced by recognition that wealth is produced by “applied science” and “the level of thinking.” Are we to suppose that “thinking,” studying, and applying science, are provided from outside the members of the working class? If so, by whom?

In the article on April 19 Mr. Francis made the statement: “Marxism has proved to be a dead end in the development of economics.” No explanation was offered but we may assume that it refers to the “old-fashioned” “conservative” “bureaucratic” and “inefficient” state capitalism, promoted, for example, in Britain by Labour governments. For the information of Mr. Francis, Marx’s economic theories have had no influence whatever on the British nationalised industries, either in their formation or their operation. How could it be otherwise since the British Labour Party has been wholly and blindly Keynesian for 40 years? In their leadership, as in the Universities, ignorance of Marxist economics is almost total.

The articles contained a formidable list of suggested remedies for the ills of capitalism — more nationalisation, the development of state-operated health and welfare services, workers to sit on boards of directors, workers’ pension funds to extend their ownership of corporation stocks and seek control of corporation policy, government curbing of the freedom of action of big companies, encouragement of small companies, government management and planning of the economy, and so on.

With the exception of worker directors (now being borrowed from Germany by the British Labour Government) nearly all these expedients have been tried in Britain — with total failure. They have not provided “jobs for all,” or eliminated depressions, or abolished poverty, or brought industrial peace and contentment to workers in state capitalist industries. What they have done is to raise prices to 900 per cent above the 1938 level, with a faster rate of inflation than ever before in the history of British capitalism and with living standards falling in the last three years. (Mr. Francis could learn from Marx how and why this happened).

Application of all these “remedies” has not materially affected the character or operations of British capitalism and recent elections have shown that the majority of workers do not feel that their problems have been solved thereby.

The Monitor articles have a certain interest for what they do not contain. Mr. Francis and many of those whose works he quotes seem to think that it is only now that capitalist spokesmen are fearful that their system has an uncertain future. On the contrary, in every big depression in the past century and a half, certainly in Britain, businessmen, politicians and economists have seen collapse and revolution round the comer, and wondered what they could do to be saved.

It is also curious that the last great saviour of capitalism, J. M. Keynes, does not present a remedy in the articles. Forty years ago he was supposed to have revolutionised economics to be unscientific and without application in the modem world. So why the need for Mr. Francis to go looking high and low to find a new saviour? What he is tacitly admitting is that Keynes has proved to be as helpless as all his predecessors to turn capitalism into a social system satisfactory to the working class.
Edgar Hardcastle

On April 17, 18, 19, 1979, the Christian Science Monitor had another series on socialism.

1. Lavatory of British, Swedish and German socialists; 2. Their success in outanswering communists; 3. Those socialists are hungry for new ideas.

Their summary: “Most Americans would be jolted if toe told them that two European leaders were socialists" — Need we say more?


Climate change: capitalism can’t cope (2019)

From the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last October the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report on what they consider would have to be done, and by when, to avoid average global temperature rising by the end of the century by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. They concluded that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would have to be stabilised by 2030, in the sense of no more being released into the atmosphere than can be absorbed by nature or by human action. Hence the headlines about only twelve years left to avoid disaster. Then, in December, a full-scale two-week conference on climate change, with delegates from the 190 states that had signed the 2015 Paris Agreement to take measures aimed at limiting the rise to 2°C, was held in Katowice in Poland.

The facts
1. That the amount of CO2in the atmosphere has gone up since pre-industrial times (from 280 parts per million to 410 ppm today).

2. That the average global temperature has also gone up since records began in the 1850s (by about 1°C, to about 15°C or 59°F today).

3. That this is not just an accidental correlation but that the first has caused the second. CO2is a greenhouse gas, i.e., a gas that absorbs heat from the Sun; in fact without it and the other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (especially water vapour, i.e. clouds) the Earth’s temperature would be –18°

4. That most of the increase in CO2is the result of human activity, in particular the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) since the mid-nineteenth century to generate energy and power transport. In one sense this is a good thing because it means that it is easier for humans to stop it than if it were some natural phenomenon.

5. That a rise in the average global temperature has various effects, the main ones being:

  • a rise in sea levels as oceans warm up and so expand and as the polar icecaps begin to melt;
  • more stormy weather in some regions due to more energy being in the atmosphere;
  • changes in regional agriculture conditions and ecology, disastrous in some places though not necessarily negative everywhere.
Guestimates
We know definitely that, unless the rate of emission of CO2 is stabilised, average global temperature is going to continue to rise and that this will affect sea levels, the weather, and regional agricultural and ecological conditions. (In fact it will continue to rise for a while even if emissions were stabilised tomorrow, as an effect of past emissions). The question is by how much and to what extent. This is where the speculation begins.

Not, however, wild speculation but speculation based on certain assumptions. In drawing up scenarios of what might happen in the future, scientists have to make two basic assumptions. First, about the link between a rise in CO2 in the atmosphere and the rise in average global temperature. Second, about what humans do, or do not do, to reduce or compensate for CO2 emissions.

As to the first, nobody knows with certainty what it is. The standard that scientists have chosen is an estimate of by how much the global average temperature would rise if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere doubled. This is not easy to calculate as there are feedbacks. Once these have been taken into account, the figure they come up with is anything between 1.5°C and 4.5°C, variously described as ‘the best estimate’, ‘most likely’, or even ‘the best guess’. It is in fact a ‘guestimate’, albeit an informed one.

Polar ice-core records show that in the pre-industrial past the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was for centuries 280 ppm. Today it is 410 ppm. If present trends continue it will reach 560 ppm, i.e., double, by 2050. In that case, in the period after that date until the end of the century average global temperature would gradually rise to 1.5°C or by 4.5°C above pre-industrial levels or by anything in between.

As average global temperature has already gone up by about 1°C since pre-industrial times we are talking about a possible further rise by the end of the century of between 0.5°C and 3.5°C.  That’s as accurate as you can get. The trouble is that there would be a huge difference in effects between the lower and the higher figure. All we can safely say is that if CO2 emissions continue to increase, so global average temperature will go up and so the effects of this will be felt. Since most of these effects will be negative, CO2 emissions should be reduced in any event.

But how? One suggested way focuses on individuals changing their individual behaviour, as by not driving a car, not travelling by air, eating less or no meat, turning the temperature of their home down and wearing a sweater, etc. Clearly this would not be sufficient, quite apart from the fact that the level of popular consumption is linked to the state of the economy which in turn is linked to the prospects for making and accumulating of profits as more capital. The tail can’t wag the dog. What is required is action at global level to deal with production methods that involve directly emitting CO2 into the atmosphere.

Nest of vipers
Co-ordinated global action is what is needed, but capitalism impedes this. Capitalism is a world system under which capitalist enterprises and states compete against each other to secure markets and sources of raw materials. It is driven by an economic imperative that imposes itself on those organising production to use the cheapest available methods so as to survive in the struggle to make and accumulate profits. ‘Growth’ of production is built-in to it.

Energy is a key input of all production; its cost affects the competitiveness on both home and world markets of goods produced within the frontiers of a state. This is why states are particularly concerned with the cost of energy and its security of supply. At the moment coal, oil and natural gas are still cheaper than alternatives such as renewables and nuclear, which is why they were used in the past and continue to be used.

When Trump says that he is not going to accept any measures that are ‘bad for business’ he is expressing the position that all states take and have to take. No state is going to decide unilaterally not to use its cheapest source of energy, even if it is one that emits CO2, as that would increase its energy costs and undermine its competitiveness internally as well as on world markets. So the states into which the capitalist world is divided have agreed that the United Nations should take the initiative. However, the various climate change conferences that the UN has organised have shown that the ‘nations’ are far from being ‘united’. They have proved to be a veritable nest of vipers as each state tries not only to advantage itself but to disadvantage its rivals.

The only agreement that has been possible – in fact, given capitalism, the only one that is possible – is one which disadvantages no one compared to everyone else. This was the outcome of the 2015 conference in Paris which agreed that all states should commit themselves to reducing emissions so as to avoid average global temperature rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels (a further 1°C from today) by the end of the century. However, as the UN is toothless and can’t impose anything on states, it left to each state to decide, in the light of its particular circumstances, what measures it would take to contribute towards this.

In November the journal Nature Communications published an article analysing the measures pledged by states in pursuit of the Paris Agreement, one of whose conclusions the Guardian (16 November) summarised as:
  ‘Under the Paris agreement, there is no top-down consensus on what is a fair share of responsibility. Instead each nation sets its own bottom-up targets according to a number of different factors, including political will, level of industrialisation, ability to pay, population size, historical responsibility for emissions. Almost every government, the authors say, selects an interpretation of equity that serves their own interests and allows them to achieve a relative gain on other nations.’
The conference in Katowice didn’t alter this but just worked out common rules for verifying whether the self-determined measures were being implemented and to what extent. It left unchanged a state’s right to decide what measures to adopt.

Lowest level consensus
Under capitalism, the best that can be achieved is some non-binding inter-governmental agreement that would disadvantage nobody commercially. Clearly, this is pretty minimalist, a consensus at the lowest level. The promised measures, if adopted, will have some effect in slowing down global warming, which should mean the IPCC’s worst case scenario of a further rise in average global temperature of 3.8°C by 2100 won’t be realised, even if they are not enough to limit the rise to a further 1°C (making the rise 2°C since pre-industrial times).

It is looking highly unlikely, if capitalism continues, that the rise in average global temperature this century is going to be held to this limit. This would bring other problems which would be more acute the more the limit is exceeded and which capitalism would be equally incapable of coping with, in particular the population displacements due to rising sea levels and worsened agricultural conditions in some parts of the world. Co-ordinated global action would also be required to deal with this, but once again capitalism’s division into competing capitalist states will impede this.

The lesson is that those concerned about global overwarming should direct their efforts to getting rid of capitalism and replacing it with a system where the Earth’s natural and industrial resources will have become the common heritage of all humanity. This will put a stop to the operation of the current economic imperative to seek and accumulate profits and will provide the framework for co-ordinated global action to deal not only with global warming but other current problems such as world poverty and constant war somewhere in the world.
Adam Buick

Change everything (2015)

Book Review from the February 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate’, by Naomi Klein, Allen Lane, 2014, £20

Oh what a bittersweet day: a book that makes you want to jump for joy about a topic which occasions floods of tears. Naomi Klein’s latest work should be widely read. She is bang on the money: the climate change argument is about capitalism. In short, free markets and sustainability are mutually exclusive, and either capitalism or the ecosystem has had its day. The slew of evidence on display is impressive – Klein is nothing if not a thorough case builder – and the whole book can be seen as a superb illustration of the class system at work.  She catalogues examples of the narratives being bent to suit vested interests and the dominant ideology: many parts of this we could not have written better ourselves. Talk about capitalism bearing the seeds of its own destruction.

It has always struck me as odd that so many of the rich and powerful behaved as if they had another planet to escape to, or that somehow they could end up breathing their own wealth if the atmosphere became problematic. Why on earth were they funding climate change denial movements if they themselves would also suffer when the stuff hits the fan – as 97 percent of those who know have agreed is going to happen? Klein solves this one: the climate challenge is such a threat to their ideology that they simply cannot tolerate it: the measures necessary to forestall disaster require such concerted effort that it would be essential to curtail the very market freedoms so dear to them and their position. Much like the dictators of yore, they’d rather bring all down with them than give up power; or maybe more like Magda Goebbels, the world was not worth living in for her or her family without the primacy of their Weltanschaung. Having spent the last 30 years unleashing the tiger of the neoliberal agenda, they were not going to let some bunch of green eggheads spoil the party.  This would be intolerably bad for business and thereby very bad for their interests.

As someone concerned about the environment since my teens (don’t ask…), I ended up in the Green Party.  However I left a while back as I was unconvinced about their attitude to power: how they would force vested interests to toe the line.  I came to the same general conclusion as Klein – capitalism has to go – and realised that without this step, all else on the environmental agenda is playing for time.  However here is where she and I might part company: the way forward and the alternative political landscape offered in her book is too hazy.  It is as if she pulls her punches in the last round for fear of scaring off the readers – the book is after all aimed at the mainstream  – or perhaps she really has not thought it through properly.

Her suggestion that protests and actions will emerge which must be exploited to promote the agenda is too haphazard and hazy. What is the over-arching political philosophy which will give such emergent forces any direction apart from the environment and opposition to capitalism?  The peg on which to hang the clothing of serious change is lacking in this book. Come on Naomi, at heart you’re one of us, if only you’d realise it – you can’t offer a solution without socialism.  Ducking the real question seems a bit odd after what you have written and what you plainly believe.  But  I still welcome this book like few others. In the current climate anyone who starts asking the right questions has to be congratulated.
Howard Pilott

Mixed Media: Heresy (2015)

The Mixed Media column from the February 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Heresy by Tilo Ulbricht, performed at the Tabard theatre in Chiswick, London, last year, is based on The Grand Inquisitor chapter in the Dostoyevsky novel The Brothers Karamazov. Ulbricht’s play is set in sixteenth century Spain ‘during the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when fires were lighted every day throughout the land to the glory of God and in the splendid autos-da-fé wicked heretics were burnt by the Cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor’ (Dostoyevsky).

Catholic philosophy pondered such questions as ‘whether angels have navels?’ or ‘ how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’ Thomas Aquinas’s position on heresy provided the doctrinal basis for the Inquisition: ‘in God’s tribunal, those who return are always received, because God is a searcher of hearts, and knows those who return in sincerity. But the Church cannot imitate God in this, for she presumes that those who relapse after being once received, are not sincere in their return; hence she does not debar them from the way of salvation, but neither does she protect them from the sentence of death’ (Summa Theologica).

Catholic philosophy did not allow the questioning of doctrine. As Bertrand Russell pointed out, Aquinas ‘does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry… before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation’ (A History of Western Philosophy).

The major theme of Heresy is ‘what is Truth?’ but Catholic philosophy can never ascertain what Truth is as there is no such thing as Absolute Truth. Marx identified that ‘the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism… the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics  . . it is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world’ (Introduction to A Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).

Dostoyevsky in The Grand Inquisitor identified the danger of socialism for religion: ‘humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; but there are only hungry people. Feed them first, and then demand virtue of them! – that is what they will inscribe on their banner, which they will raise against you, and which will destroy your temple . . . you promised them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread?’ Dostoyevsky later commented ‘by the stones and the loaves of bread, I meant our present social problems. Present-day socialism in Europe sets Christ aside and is first of all concerned about bread. It appeals to science and maintains that the cause of all human misfortune is poverty, the struggle for existence and the wrong kind of environment’ (Philosophy in Literature). In Heresy, Jesus is arrested by ‘the Cardinal himself, the Grand Inquisitor, an old man of nearly ninety, tall and erect, with a shrivelled face and sunken eyes, from which, though, a light like a fiery spark still gleams’ (Dostoyevsky). Peter Saracen delivers a commanding central performance as the Grand Inquisitor in Tilo Ulbricht’s play.

Ludwig Feuerbach argued in his 1841 work, The Essence of Christianity, that it is important for religion that its object should be radically distinct from humanity; and that it was equally necessary that it come down to Earth if it is to be religiously relevant. For this reason, Christianity teaches the Incarnation where God suffers the indignity of birth, the pain of suffering, and the emptiness of death out of love for humankind. With Incarnation, Feuerbach finds the ultimate expression of human self-love and the surest indication that religion is a human projection: in religion humanity has relation only to its own nature, only to itself, the clearest proof of this is ‘the love of God’, i.e. of projected humanity, for humanity, as before, the basis and central point of religion. With Incarnation, Feuerbach argues humans receive back all that they have surrendered to God. By worshipping God, people unconsciously worship themselves as in Spinoza’s ‘homo homini deus’ (Man is a God to Man).

Marx wrote to Feuerbach that he had intentionally or not ‘given Socialism a philosophical foundation’ (Gesammelte Werke, W. Schuffenhauer, Ed.), by exposing the mystified nature of religion, the alienated subject-object relation can be reversed, God brought down to Earth, and humanity made whole, putting social humanity in its rightful place at the centre of things. In 1870 Feuerbach read Marx’s Capital and joined the German Social Democratic Workers’ Party. Engels concluded that the ‘working class movement is the heir to classical German philosophy’ (Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy).
Steve Clayton

The Onward March of Globalisation (2015)

The Cooking the Books column from the February 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

For years the World Trade Organisation has been trying to change the rules of global trade in the interests of global investors. The US in particular wants to ease the out-sourcing and off-shoring of jobs, permitting employers to seek the lowest wages and weakest government oversight protections around the world; and to incorporate patent and intellectual ownership rules that will further restrict access to medicines for millions and could be expanded to include even surgical procedures and not just drug treatments.

Overall, it is a bid to implement a globalisation policy of trade harmony at the lowest common denominator that will further the interests of global investors by relaxing various standards to weaker levels of consumer and public protection. It would represent a further reduction in the ‘sovereignty’ of national governments and their already weak power to resist the dictates of the world market. But these negotiations have not yet reached a conclusion because some countries do not want to open their doors too much to multinational corporations.

At the same time the EU and the US are negotiating a ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’. One of the points under discussion is a mechanism known as ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS), which would give corporations the right to challenge a country’s laws. Clearly, this is something more than a mere ‘free-trade’ deal.

Even if a new reform or policy applies equally to domestic and foreign investors, ISDS proposes to allow corporations to receive compensation for the absence of a ‘predictable regulatory environment.’  Already under existing WTO ‘free-trade’ rules this type of argument has been used to attack clean energy, mining, land use, health, labour, and other policies. More than $14 billion in the 16 claims are now under litigation in the US; all relate to environmental, energy, financial regulation, public health, land use and transportation policies, which are not traditional trade issues. EU investors have attacked Egypt’s minimum-wage increase, and a US corporation has attacked the Peruvian government’s decision to regulate toxic waste and close a dangerously polluting smelter. In one of the most notorious cases, US tobacco giant Philip Morris launched investor-state cases challenging anti-smoking laws in Uruguay and Australia after failing to undermine the health laws in domestic courts.

Another proposal in TTIP is for ‘regulatory cooperation’ which would give big business lobby groups wide opportunities to influence decision-making, outside the normal democratic decision-making processes on both sides of the Atlantic. The clear intention is to allow business to in effect ‘co-write’ international regulations, as already happens at national level.

All new relevant US or EU proposals for legislation or regulation would have to be screened first for their impacts on trade. A report has to be made to that effect, to make sure legislators don’t adopt anything that would be detrimental to business. Even before a proposal is launched, say by the European Commission, the US has to be notified, and vice versa. This opens the door to intense lobbying and also to all sorts of pre-emptive pressure – for example a threat of litigation under the ISDS mechanism.

The socialist attitude is that, at the end of it all, the arguments within the WTO which have so far prevented agreement are a dispute between vying capitalist factions, free-trader versus protectionist, foreign versus native capitalist – competitors, fighting to defend or create conditions that offer them the best return. Even so, among the casualties are working people the world over, who will end up as collateral damage, more powerless and more vulnerable than ever in the face of global capitalism.
ALJO

Party News: Marx’s London Walk (2015)

Dean Street, London.
Party News from the February 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 7 January, a short walk was made by socialists around Soho and Fitzrovia. Despite the midday, mid-week timing, necessary to coincide with the visit of visitors from Sweden, there was a good turnout. We viewed the old Red Lion pub, where the iconic Communist Manifesto was presented to the Communist Workers’ Education Society, Marx’s house in Dean Street, scene of the dire poverty which killed off three of his children, and the home of the First International in Greek Street, which, as one comrade reminded us, was the venue for the first reading of the socialist classic Value, Price and Profit. We then proceeded across Soho Square and Oxford Street to the vicinity of Fitzroy Square, for nigh forty years around the turn of the last century, stomping ground of the Communist Club. The latter, the guide explained, was the successor to the Communist Worker’s Education Society, habituated by friends of Marx, as well as other late nineteenth century notables, such as William Morris. The club was also the first headquarters of our own Party, thus forming a neat link between past and present.

How the Ruling Class Rule in Britain (2015)

From the February 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Critics of the Socialist Party often ask why we would want to bother standing for election, when the real power is in the hands of the Establishment, and if an election went against their wishes, they’d just suspend democracy. Our answer has always been simple: the capitalist class is not united, but competing one against the other. They cannot trust each other with state power, because the temptations of cheating and corruption are too great. They need the political democracy and its openness in order to have a reliable machine to protect their general interests of property and contract. They need the army of workers who run the state to work for them.

Recent research by the University College London Constitution Unit shows how integral the elected parts of the state are. Their reports The Policy Impact of House of Commons Select Committees and The Policy Impact of Parliament on Legislation use a combination of empirical and interview research to assess how much influence parliament has on the policy over the executive and on the laws as finally produced by the state.

They found ‘Committees are highly prolific, and producing increasing numbers of reports. Between 1997 and 2010 select committees probably produced almost 1,500 inquiry reports (or 110 a year) and almost 40,000 recommendations and conclusions, of which 19,000 (or 1450 a year) were aimed at central government.’ Further, according to their examination of that work ‘around 40% of recommendations are accepted by government, and a similar proportion go on to be implemented. Calls for small policy change are more likely to be accepted and implemented, but around a third of recommendations calling for significant policy changes succeed.’

Further, their interviews with civil servants found that the question of ‘How could this policy be defended in front of a select committee’ loomed large in their minds at the policy formulation level. Indeed, the Constitution Unit’s work ‘identifies seven additional types of influence: contribution to wider debate, drawing together evidence, spotlighting issues and changing ministerial priorities, brokering (improving transparency within and between departments), accountability, exposure, and generating fear’(LINK). These layers of influence are important, as Select Committees have no formal (i.e. legal) means of enforcing their findings, their power is informal and political.

Detailed research on the Parliamentary process also illustrates how much power parliamentarians possess. Between 1999 and 2012 the House of Lords voted against the government 506 times, with around 130 (about 40 percent) of those defeats being upheld. Some of these issues were core government matters, such as jury trials, ID cards and detention without trial. In many ways, this demonstrates the important power of this unelected chamber, but, again, its power was informal, as the Commons could have overruled it. The number of defeats for the coalition government is lower, as they have greater representation in the unelected house (LINK).

In fact, as the Constitution unit found, government Ministers would often try to negotiate with peers and Commons back-benchers, because ‘the last thing they want is a vote’. Indeed, the executive operates a sophisticated parliamentary management policy to try and ensure that it is not defeated, making sure that it doesn’t propose anything that parliamentarians will not wear. The appearance of an almighty executive holding sway over parliament is very much that, appearance, and it is one that an executive must work hard to maintain. The first job of government is to look like it is in charge.

The academics found that around 60 percent of amendments to acts of parliament originated with non-government parliamentarians, despite being officially government proposed amendments to its own legislation.

Claiming legitimacy
This is the detailed impact of Parliament on the running of the country. Of course, the executive constitutionally can only be formed based on holding onto a majority in the House of Commons, which in turn means retaining the support of the largest section of the population at large (and usually a majority). Whatever the detail and objective effects of government policy, they can legitimately claim to have the support of the population, albeit with a sophisticated electorate management strategy as well.

The influence of parliament as a body stretches deep into the civil service and the daily operations of government. Its influence lies not in observable command control, but in the minds and imaginations of state actors, who are habituated to at least showing deference to their elected masters. This cannot simply be turned off at the flick of a switch: political democracy is well entrenched within the British state, and a great many politicians and civil servants (as well as their respective hangers-on) have a great deal of interest in maintaining political democracy. To put it bluntly, a lot of people have too much to lose to simply end democracy overnight.

Of course, parliament itself is limited in what it can do. It cannot act in such a way as to destroy its popular support. At the minimum, the politicians would lose elections and lose their jobs. In more extreme circumstances there would be riots and strikes or capital flight. They also have to act, ultimately, in line with the reified reality of the markets. The reliance on state borrowing means they have to placate the owners of debt and property.

To the extent that the executive retains immense patronage, able to buy off cronies with jobs, titles and entry into the revolving door of corporate boardrooms and consultancy work, it retains secretive, unaccountable power. A movement to promote democracy, to throw open the operations of government and to convert them from being government of people into the democratic administration of things will be able to cut off such chains of patronage.

Indeed, the relatively recent innovation on parliamentary votes on war (again, this has an informal status that has been elevated into what constitutional experts call a convention, since state actors behave as if they have to abide by it even if it isn’t enforceable), shows this power, with the defeat over military action in Syria. That is a massive inroad into the peremptory rights of the executive.

None of this is to fetishise parliament  nor its procedures, but instead to show how political democracy is central to the operation of the British state, despite occasional appearances to the contrary. It shows how human relations lie behind the surface machinery of state. Currently the majority continue to support capitalist politicians and parties, but if they were to turn into a movement for socialism, the democratic process is no barrier to them getting their way.
Pik Smeet


What about Chile?

Often, opponents of democratic socialist revolution cite the example of Chile, but that doesn’t bear up to scrutiny. In 1970 Salvador Allende was elected with 36.6 percent of the vote. According to the Constitution, if no candidate achieved more than 50 percent of the vote, the Chilean Legislature had to choose a President (usually the one with the most votes), and in Allende’s case, the Christian Democrats eventually backed him. At that point, the coalition of parties that backed Allende, the Unidad Popular, did not have a majority in neither the Senate nor the Chamber of Deputies.

In 1973, a parliamentary election saw the Unidad Popular defeated, and the Christian Democrats joined the Confederation of Democracy. The right were then able to use their parliamentary majority to harass Allende, and to claim legitimacy. Prior to the coup that ousted Allende, both the legislature and the courts accused him of acting unconstitutionally and undemocratically.

Nonetheless, before Pinochet could launch his coup, he had to assassinate his way through the military chain of command, so committed were the top generals to the constitutional process.

Allende was defeated by a conspiratorial coup, backed by the United States, but this was only possible with widespread popular support. At no point did Allende have an outright majority, not even a preponderant plurality.

50 Years Ago: Away With Hanging (2015)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘They pull the lever and away he goes,’ Mr. Albert Pierrepoint, public hangman, in evidence to the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment.

One of the conclusions of the last Royal Commission on Capital Punishment was that, in the words of one of its witnesses, hanging is ‘… certain, painless, simple and expeditious’.

Whatever the truth of this (and there are some horrible rumours which contradict it) the fact is that hanging was not originally designed as a quick and humane method of dispatching a criminal. The poor man was often dead before they hung him up. The idea was to display him in as humiliating a way as possible, strung up in public for the mob to spit and jeer at – and to take warning from.

Thus hanging was regarded as a particularly abject and dishonourable form of execution. Beheading used to be considered more dignified and soldiers, immersed in the fatuities of military chivalry, still prefer the firing squad.

(…)

The end of public hanging still left a lot of gruesome ritual, which has been slowly dismantled. No longer is a black flag hoisted and a bell tolled, or a notice posted, at a prison after an execution. No longer does the executed person suffer the last indignity of being left hanging for an hour after his death.

These reforms left the execution a cleaner, more clinical affair, but still a ritual. The condemned prisoner had to be weighed and measured, and secretly observed by the hangman, before the length of his drop could be calculated. (There is an official table on which this calculation was done). The execution had to be rehearsed with a bag of sand as a stand-in. Finally, amid unbearable tension within the prison, the execution itself.

Now, it seems, the whole thing is finished. After about 150 years of battle, the abolitionists appear to have won. Unless something unexpected – and, let us be clear, unplanned for – happens in the House of Lords, Mr Sydney Silverman’s private member’s Bill will soon become law. The hangman’s noose has rattled and jerked in this country for the last time.

(Socialist Standard, Feb 1965)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Can The Government Stop It? (1974)

From the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every time a war ends they say, “Never again.” Every time trade picks up after a slump they say, “It can’t happen again. We know how to control the economy now.” They try tariffs, trade agreements, devaluation, revaluation, altering the bank rate, juggling with the price of gold. None of it works: slumps still happen, just as there is always a war going on somewhere these days. If things improve, the government takes the credit. If things get worse they blame the previous government or another country. The truth is that they have no control at all over the economic convulsions of capitalism, because they are uncontrollable. Slumps and wars are essential phases in its progress. They restore a sort of balance for a few years. But what a ramshackle way of organizing the production and distribution of goods in the world.

CAPITALISM IS DUE FOR 
THE SCRAP HEAP

About Solzhenitsyn (1974)

Solzhenitsyn with Heinrich Böll in West Germany, 1974
From the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

So Solzhenitsyn is now able to voice his views openly. It is possible, for the first time, to see how he measures up to the problems not merely of writers in Russia, but of all mankind. What can this Nobel Prize winner tell us?

Before weighing in with criticisms of his manifesto (Sunday Times, March 3), we must make it clear, first, that we have always opposed all forms of censorship, and secondly, that in criticising his ideas we are in no way defending the Kremlinite creed, to which we have consistently expressed our hostility. But however sympathetic we may be to one who has struggled successfully and has made his views heard in spite of all the Soviet censorship and suppression machine, we cannot applaud his political views.

We should like to have greeted him as a world citizen, an internationalist not a nationalist. But his views are based on an insular patriotism and Russian Orthodox Christianity. He believes in the myth of the “national interest”: indeed he bases his argument against a Russian war with China, not on the view that working-class interests are not at stake, but simply on the calculation that Russia could not win such a war and therefore it would be against Russia’s “national interest”.

Although apparently a fervent Leninist when he started his prison career, he is now a devout believer in Orthodox Christianity. If this is the result of incarceration in those inhuman prisons and labour-camps, it would seem to be an effective practical demonstration of the truth of Marx’s words:
  Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.
On War and the Environment
In his manifesto Solzhenitsyn argues on two issues of the day. The first is the prospect of a Sino-Soviet war: he proposes that, since in his view ideology is the main cause of friction, the Russian government should abandon its ideology in the “national interest”. He seems to believe that, if this were done, there would be peace with China.

What the author of August 1914 should know is that nowhere can one find evidence of a war being fought solely because of ideology. Dogs may dislike each other’s colour or breed, but when they fight it is over a bone, or a bitch. Humans likewise don’t fight over creeds, but over markets and minerals, ports and provinces.

Solzhenitsyn’s second argument is not original and he names his sources — the Club of Rome and the Teilhard de Chardin Society. He has adopted their doomsday environmentalism, arguing against pollution and skyscraper cities and for a return to 2-storey houses and horse-transport. He sees a no-growth economy as the solution to the problems of mineral shortages, population pressures and pollution.

His argument, like that of other doomsday writers, takes no account of any possible re-structuring of society. Their computers are never programmed to tell us how world Socialism, with production for use not for profit, would employ the earth’s resources. Like the Club of Rome, Solzhenitsyn assumes that production for profit will go on for ever, and then argues that this system must be reformed to prevent it from destroying mankind’s habitat. Better surely to argue for an end to capitalism, since it is a system which generates waste and seeks constantly to increase the quantity of materials processed, year by year.

Solecisms Versus Marx
But when we come to his views on “ideology” it is plain that Solzhenitsyn has no knowledge of what Marxist theory really is. He has accepted the lies of the Kremlinites and so presents us with a distorted caricature of Marxism, a series of Aunt Sallys which he passionately shoots down in flames.

From this great sage, we learn that Marxism, “a primitive, superficial economic theory . . . declared that only the worker creates value and failed to take into account the contribution of either organizers, engineers, transport or market systems.” To start with, he ignores the fact that Marxist theory puts engineers and transport workers in the working class: they all have a living to earn, they all have to sell their labour-power. Also that in reckoning the value of a commodity, we take into account the wear and tear on machinery, the value of all raw materials used in manufacture and also any socially necessary labour time used in research and development (e.g. by engineers, organizers etc.)

The Marxist theory of value asserts simply that human labour is the sole source of value. But there is a lot more to Marxist economic theory than this basic proposition: to start with there are three volumes of Capital, and it is doubtful if even the sage Solzhenitsyn would describe them as “superficial”.

His other attacks on Marxism are similarly wide of the mark. Most of all he goes wrong on the question of revolution. According to him, Marxism “was mistaken through and through in its prediction that socialists could only come to power by an armed uprising.” Evidently Solzhenitsyn’s education in ideology did not include what Engels wrote on this subject:
  The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past.
Indeed Engels argued that for a complete transformation of society to be undertaken successfully, it must be on the basis of full participation and the support of the mass of the community.

Again, according to Solzhenitsyn, Marxism is wrong in stating that the Socialist movement will come to the fore in advanced and highly developed countries first. We have only to use our eyes, to look at countries such as Russia which claimed to be “socialist” and see that this vaunted pseudo-socialism is merely a nasty form of capitalism. In 1917 the S.P.G.B. was pointing to Russia’s backwardness as an indication that the revolution could only bring about an acceleration of capitalist development. Now in 1974 Solzhenitsyn describes how Russian technology has copied Western technology, how pollution increases due to greed for profits and how the people are oppressed by poverty:
  In practice, a man’s wage-level ought to be such that whether he has a family of two or even four children, the woman does not need to earn a separate pay-packet and does not need to support her family financially on top of all her other toils and troubles.
Russia is just as much a capitalist country as America or Britain, Cuba or Kenya. Everywhere the capitalist “mode of production” prevails: we see men and women who possess no land, no tools, nothing, who are driven by fear of want to sell their labour-power by the week or the month, mortgaging their lives in instalments so as to survive till the next pay-day. We see them producing goods galore, “an immense accumulation of commodities”, all their own work, yet they remain unable to afford most of what they need. We see human toil and human skills diverted from man’s real needs — food, clothing, health, housing, culture — to pander to the aristocracy of Big Business, the wasteful war-machine, the accountants, the luxury resorts, and so on.

This is what Marxists oppose: a worldwide system of exploitation of the many by, and for the benefit of, the few. A system which combines wanton waste with wasteful want. Shame it is that Solzhenitsyn has failed to join the movement to end it and has instead sided with those who say that authoritarianism can be made tolerable by reform. He is indeed one of those who “wear their chains with decency”.
Charmian Skelton

Russia is Capitalist (1974)

From the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

No matter what lies their leaders tell them (chiefly to make them work harder), the people of Russia, China, Cuba, and countries like them live in capitalism — not Communism or Socialism. You want proof ? — In all these countries, just like Britain or U.S.A., capital is invested for profit; commodities are produced for sale; ordinary people work for wages. — That’s capitalism. It doesn’t make any difference if the state nationalises some, or all, industries — as we know in this country — the people still don’t own them. That is why they have to sell their energy and skill to those who do own them — and the state can be a more powerful and ruthless boss than private companies.

Wherever people work for wages or salaries, they have been robbed of the land, the mines, the factories and so on; and they are steadily robbed of everything they produce, because it doesn’t belong to them when they have made it. In Communism or Socialism (same thing) it will belong to them. The land and factories will belong to the whole people. But that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world yet. It is the next stage in the evolution of society — the system to supersede capitalism. The sooner we make the change-over the better.

CAPITALISM IS DUE FOR THE SCRAP HEAP


So They Say: A Decent Idea (1974)

The So They Say Column from the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Decent Idea
“They fly forgotten, as a dream”: things said in General Election campaigns, of course. Here is one which should not be allowed to do so.

Before the election Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, as secretary of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, sent a five-point questionnaire to each of the party leaders purporting to seek their views “on the issues of indecency, obscenity and sex education”. In fact three of the questions were on that theme. The fourth asked for the leaders’ assurance that Christian religious teaching would retain a strong footing in schools. And the fifth? It ran:
  Would you establish a broadcasting commission to inquire into every aspect of broadcasting, particularly that of the facilities granted to the viewer and listener, and the effectiveness of existing safeguards against corruption and the exploitation of broadcasting by small and unrepresentative groups, whose activities enshrine anti-social and political aims.
(Guardian, 18th Feb.; our emphasis.)
Nothing about obscenity there. It means Mrs. White- house and her supporters want minorities to be refused expression of their views in the broadcasting media. Whose activities “enshrine political aims”?


Down With Profit — not Exactly —
During and after the Election the “big four” London Clearing Banks declared profits totalling over £600 millions, embodying increases over the past four years ranging from 67½ per cent. (Lloyd’s) to 99 per cent. (National Westminster). Whereupon Roger Opie, in The Guardian's Economic Notebook (4th March), carried on dreadfully — “effrontery”, “fantastic", “oligopolistic”, etc.:
  The Bankers have always had some excuse or other for their anomalous prosperity . . . Now a new one has been invented. The Chairman of the National Westminster Bank now has the impudence to argue that his and other banks’ vast profits are “in the national interest”.
Opie argues that the banks’ ordinary customers are made to subsidize their lending to pay for “the grasping excesses of the fringe bankers” and demands for advances from industry, and of the latter he says:
  Nor is this the only or the proper way to provide finance for industrial borrowers in liquidity trouble this year. Again, it is the responsibility of the Bank of England.
But this means Opie himself acquiescing in the myth of “the national interest”. He agrees that firms must be lent money at interest so that they can make profits. What is the difference? Is it nicer to see Carrington Viyella Ltd. on 11th March declaring a profit of £12,017,000 — or ICI’s £311 millions announced on 24th February? Presumably he would say these are features of the acceptable face of capitalism, as against the “unpleasant and unacceptable” one of the banks’ raking-in.


— in fact, Not at All
The source of all profit is the exploitation of the working class; where it goes is irrelevant. Part of the propaganda for nationalization (which Roger Opie ends up advocating, vis-à-vis the Clearing Banks) is that under State auspices workers are not exploited as they are under private ones.

The East German propaganda organ Democratic German Report (13th February) had a naive story on these lines. It told of Hermann Helbig, who had built up a small tailoring business after the war. It was one of 3,000 small enterprises nationalized in 1972, and he became manager. The article says:
   Property relations have changed fundamentally. Although the work is done on the same machines as two years ago, the workers are now the owners of the means of production.
That’s nice, Hermann. So the profit motive, wage- slavery and all that are abolished and . . . but what’s this?
  Hermann Helbig’s firm holds first place in the innovators’ movement of his district. Last year they achieved a per capita profit of 2,646 marks from innovations in the factory . . . New production techniques are to be introduced in the next few years and will provide for a further increase in productivity and reduction of costs.
So only the words are different. The actuality is the same.


Look, Mum — Twins !
We may have been wrong in insisting there is no difference between the “New” Left and the Old. There is a difference. The present lot are incontestably funnier, and International Socialists the most mirth-provoking of all.

Their paper Socialist Worker on 9th March had a front-page article headed keep your guard up! It began:
The Tories are out. Good.
The government that hammered workmg-class pay, living conditions and trade union rights for 3½ years has been kicked out of office.
Labour is back. That’s good, too.
We wanted a Labour victory because a vote for the Tories was a vote to carry on union-bashing, rent-raising, wage-freezing and profiteering.
Well, hurrah. And, having campaigned for a Labour government, what do IS anticipate from it?
For Labour supports the capitalist system . . .  it will surrender to the demands of the employers at home and the moneylenders abroad.
Don’t forget, the last Labour government — with a majority in parliament — froze your wages, hoisted your rents, boosted prices and profits and attempted to bring in anti-union laws.
This time the economic crisis is worse. Labour will attempt to shore up the tottering system by again turning on the organised labour movement.

Part of the System
IS, like the rest of the Left, want “organized labour” to take the form of extra-legal militancy. Something we have pointed out consistently is that workers’ organizations need trade-union law just as much as the employers and the government. One reason is simply to protect their funds which otherwise would be vulnerable.

As an example, in 1960 (chosen as a characteristic year, not an exceptional one) the Transport and General Workers’ Union lost £3,805. 4s. Id. through defalcations by Branch collectors. The standard resolution in each case includes that “proceedings be instituted under the Trades Union or other Acts” for the recovery of the moneys.

The sum is small in relation to the huge funds of the TGWU but the need for legal protection of funds is obvious. However, it can be added that in the same year the Union donated £75,000 to the Labour Party.


From Rags to More Rags
One of the myths of capitalism is that any man can become his own master and climb above the rest. The November issue of the New Zealand transport-union paper, Wheels, which has just reached us, has something on this subject. It cites a submission made by the Wellington Union to a Labour Bills Committee hearing:
The attraction to a worker to become an owner-driver is that:—
(a) His income will be greater than if he was an employed driver.
(b) He will, by physical effort and the application of his own initiatives, be able to increase even still further his income, and
(c) He will enjoy greater freedom of living, working, etc., due to being “his own boss”.
On examination it is found that in a great many cases this attraction is more illusory than real . . . The realities of this situation are that these workers are generally more heavily exploited than “employed drivers”.

Down to the See Again
On 3rd March The Sunday People, searching diligently as ever for scandals, found them among the priesthood in Rome:
I can inform His Holiness that when it comes to La Dolce Vita, the “sweet life” of Rome, there are no sweeter-living exponents than some of these young priests — and their more experienced seniors.
Lots about wine, night clubs, and permissive nuns. It would hold no interest — except that the Catholic Church lays great store by the text “By their fruits ye shall know them”, The common condemnation of Protestantism is that Martin Luther was a debauchee.

Will Catholicism therefore consent to being known by these fruits picked up by the Sunday People? Of course not. There are none like the religious for having their fruit and eating it. But how absurd they all are — reporter, Pope and priesthood alike!
Robert Barltrop

Letter: William Morris and Parliament (1974)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

I refer to the book review, “Revolutionary Art & Socialism”, in the January, 1974, Socialist Standard.

The writer states that ", . . he (William Morris) never did deny that in the course of the socialist revolution the working class would have to capture political power including Parliament”. Maybe. But putting it a different way: where does Morris actually advocate the capturing of political power, including Parliament as a (the?) means of establishing socialism/communism in Britain and elsewhere in the world ?

Perhaps A.L.B. might tell us the names of the ". . . anti-parliamentarians and anarchists” in the Socialist League who advocated “violence and bomb-throwing”.

Furthermore, was Morris’ vision of socialism the same as that of the SPGB? In his article, “Communism”, he writes: “An anti-socialist will say How will you sail a ship in a socialist condition? How? Why with a captain and mates and sailing master and engineer (if it be a steamer) and ABs and stokers and so on and so on. Only there will be no 1st, 2nd and 3rd class among the passengers: the sailors and stokers will be as well fed and lodged as the captain or passengers; and the captain and the stoker will have the same pay”. (Selected Writings, p670). But under socialism, will a ship have a captain as Morris and, for that matter, Engels (see his article “On Authority”) argue ?
Peter E. Newell
Colchester


Reply:
For the six years from 1884 that William Morris was an active member of the Socialist League he was resolutely opposed to a Socialist organization advocating or supporting reforms of capitalism and insisted that the sole task of such an organisation was to make socialists. In 1890 he left the League (because it had fallen under anarchist control) and later became reconciled to some extent to the Social Democratic Federation, and its policy of trying to advocate both Socialism and reforms.

But even in his period as a member of the League Morris was never completely and dogmatically anti-parliamentary in the way that anarchists were and are. For instance, he wrote to Dr. J. Glasse in May 1887:
  My position to Parliament and the dealings of Socialists with it, I will now [try] to state clearly. I believe that the Socialists will certainly send members to Parliament when they are strong enough to do so: in itself I see no harm in that, so long as it is understood that they go there as rebels, and not as members of the governing body prepared by passing palliative measures to keep “Society" alive (William Morris. The Man and The Myth, by R. Page Arnot, London, 1964, p.82). 
and again in September 1887:
  Of course, it’s clearly no use talking of parliamentary action now: I admit, and always have admitted, that at some future period it may be necessary to use parliament mechanically: what I object to is depending on parliamentary agitation. There must be a great party, a great organisation outside parliament actively engaged in reconstructing society and learning administration whatever goes on in the parliament itself (Morris’ emphasis, p.86).
We would not claim that Morris’ views were always clear, but it should be remembered that Morris was a pioneer Marxian socialist in Britain and was grappling here for the first time with a very important problem: how could a Socialist party prevent itself from becoming a reformist organisation? In his day the reformists were advocating the use of parliament to get reforms. Hence Morris’ anti-reformism tended at times to express itself as anti-parliamentarism. The use of parliament for the one revolutionary purpose of dismantling capitalism and its State, such as was advocated by the Socialist Party of Great Britain when it was founded in 1904, had not yet been elaborated, but as the above quotes show Morris came very near to doing this.

Was Morris’ vision of Socialism the same as ours ? Substantially, yes, but, as we said, Morris didn’t always express himself precisely. He and Engels are entitled to their opinions as to how they think a ship should he run in Socialism.

The 1890’s was a period of anarchist bomb-throwing called “propaganda by the deed’’. Those who came to control the League’s journal, Commonweal, after Morris left in November 1890, supported this policy. As one example, on 9 December 1893 Auguste Vaillant threw a bomb into the French Chamber of Deputies. Within two months he had been tried and executed. In June 1894 another anarchist assassinated the French President, Sadi Carnot, for having refused to pardon Vaillant. In July the English anarchists were selling a pamphlet “Why Vaillant Threw the Bomb’’ defending this assassination (see Wililam Morris, His Life, Work and Friends by P. Henderson, Penguin, pp. 411-2 and also pp. 376-7). For further evidence, Peter Newell might like to consult the files of Commonweal from 1890 onwards.
Editorial Committee.

The Professor and the Dustman (1974)

From the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Professor Samuelson’s book Economics: An Introductory Analysis is 794 pages long. It is the basic textbook for students of economics at American universities. In this mass of words there are only a meagre dozen or so references to Marx and Socialist ideas. That fact alone speaks volumes about the conspiracy against Marxian economics and Socialism in the so-called centres of learning.

Bland statements in the book like “A billion people, one third of the world’s population, blindly regards Das Kapital as economic gospel” display the Professor’s ignorance. How many people (in Russia and China, presumably the main places to which he is referring) have actually read any of Marx, let alone Capital? and what has state-capitalist Russia got to do with Marx’s main thesis that capitalist society, having created by technological advancement the possibilities for satisfying all man’s physical needs, should be replaced by Socialism — that is, a world-wide system based on common ownership and production for use?

Samuelson also states the following (pages 105-6):
  His (Marx’s) assertion that the rich will become richer and the poor poorer cannot be sustained by careful historical and statistical research. In Europe and America there has definitely been a steady secular improvement in minimum standards of living, whether measured by food, clothing, housing or length of life.
It is about time the Professor came out of his academic dark-room to look at the real world round him. For the working class, that is the vast majority, a study of Socialist ideas would put them on the right lines for solving the myriad problems they face all over the globe. The first step is to analyze correctly the society that surrounds them: a step equally necessary for the intellectual and the manual worker — say, the Professor and his dustman.

Capitalism is the system of society that exists over most of the world today. Those areas of the globe that are still surviving in semi-feudal conditions are being unavoidably brought into it. What is this system of society? It is based on private (or State) property relationships. The resources necessary to create wealth of whatever form are owned by, and therefore operated in the interests of, a small minority of the population. Production of the essentials (and luxuries) of life takes place solely because the owners of the means of wealth production hope to make a profit when what is produced is sold on the world markets. The ultimate object is the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the capitalist class.

There are certain features of capitalist society which can be distinguished. The converse of the fact that the instruments of production and what is produced belong to a small minority is that the vast majority own nothing other than their ability to work. Most workers in this country do not own the houses they live in, the cars they drive nor the washing machines they use; often even the clothes they wear are on credit. The fact that most people own almost nothing is even more apparent at the factories and offices where they work. The machines, raw materials etc. that they use, and the commodities they produce, belong to others. Other features of the landscape of capitalism are buying and selling, money, prices (including of course wages), employer and employee, and production for sale (commodity production). All these are identification marks of capitalism. They are all evident in the U.K., U.S.A., Russia, China, Japan, etc. Some of these things existed in a limited form in pre-capitalist society — e.g. a limited amount of commodity production in feudal society; none of them will exist in Socialist society.

Another characteristic of capitalism is great wealth alongside great poverty. The wealth of capitalist society is evident in vast luxury items (expensive houses, cars, hotels and so on) but the poverty side is even more evident. If it wasn’t, then government statistics make it abundantly clear. A report was published on 22nd February 1974 (see The Guardian of that date) based on figures from the Central Statistical Office. ‘‘Whatever happened to the Welfare State?” by George Clarke of the City Poverty Committee argues that living standards for one British citizen in four are now worse than they were in 1937-8. The report compares what an average family could purchase in 1937-8 with 1972, and shows that (largely because of increased food prices) one in four may well be worse off.

This sort of revelation (which, by the way, is constantly coming out of official sources) is of no surprise to the Socialist. It will clearly be a surprise to the Professor. In 1849, in his series of articles which later were published as a pamphlet under the title Wage, Labour and Capital, Marx pointed out that all wants stem from a social source. Man’s expectations depend on society’s possibilities at any given stage in man’s development. He says:
  A house may be large or small; as long as the surrounding houses are equally small it satisfies all social demands for a dwelling. But let a palace arise beside the little house, and it now shrinks from a little house to a hut.
When mankind is capable of producing vast quantities of things necessary to satisfy all sorts of desires which were unthought-of even fifty years ago, man’s social desires — his requirements of society — are raised proportionately. Accordingly, whether man is a socially satisfied creature depends on what needs are met at a given stage of his development. Queen Victoria did not miss a tv; now most workers at least rent one.

Because of the restrictions capitalist society places first upon production (limiting it to what can be sold on the market) and second on the consumption of the majority (the pay-packet and salary-cheque are only forms of rationing), man’s social wants are continually unsatisfied. This is what was meant by Marx when he said that under capitalism the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Note that this does not mean, as the academic misrepresenters like our Professor seem to think, that the worker necessarily becomes worse off in absolute terms. Obviously workers now use washing machines, cars, etc., that they were never able to have the use of in the past. What it does mean is that capitalist society creates contradictions for the working class by throwing up the possibilities of ever-increasing amounts of wealth whilst restricting the workers’ access to that wealth.

By its nature this outmoded system of society creates wealth, that wealth in turn creates increased demands by the workers — and yet capitalism is totally incapable of satisfying them. And those recently-published figures show that not only in relative terms do the workers get poorer as capitalism “advances”, but that in some cases they become worse off in absolute terms as well.

Anyone want a copy of Samuelson ?
Ronnie Warrington

Voice From the Back: Hungry kids in the USA (2015)

The Voice From The Back column from the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hungry kids in the USA
Poverty is usually associated with countries in Africa and Asia not the highly developed USA, but here are the facts. ‘about 16 million kids relied on the US government supplemental nutrition assistance program according to census bureau data released Wednesday, up from 15.6 million a year earlier’ (Huffington Post, 28 January). Capitalism is a world-wide system and it has world-wide problems.


Kobani carnage
‘The Kurdish forces’ unexpected victory in this north Syrian town marked a huge strategic and propaganda loss for Isis, which once seemed unstoppable in their rampage across the region’ (Observer, 1 February). There is no sense of triumph for these troops as Kobani is completely destroyed. Thousands massacred, all that remains is a bombed-out shell. In the yawning craters left by US air strikes buildings have vanished during months of heavy shelling. One side street is blocked by the bodies of Isis fighters, rotting where they fell – a pile of bones marked only by a foul smell. This is the inevitable product of capitalism’s rivalries.


A strange communism
According to the Hurun Global Rich List 2015 the world now has a record 2,089 billionaires – and for the first time, India has more of them than Britain or Russia. ‘The list charts every dollar billionaire currently living in the world. It shows an additional 222 billionaires were created last year, almost a third of whom were in China. The US still holds the crown for most mega-wealthy residents, at 537. But China conditions are not far behind with 430, having acquired 72 new billionaires in 2014’ (Daily Telegraph, 5 February). Somewhat comically the Chinese government still claims to be communist.


A fortune in stamps
Capitalism is a crazy system that can condemn working men and women and their families to starvation for the want of a few pounds while this madness occurs. ‘a few stamps which lay together in a cigar box in a dusty attic for a century are set to fetch £250,000 when next auctioned’ (Sunday Express, 8 February). Scraps of paper worth more than human existence. Crazy.


An obvious statement
It hardly needed a high-powered business survey to tell us the following. ‘Big UK firms face a ‘crisis of trust’ and the next government must prioritise better ethics, a lobby group has said. In a survey, the Forum of Private Business (FPB) found that over three-quarters of respondents think big firms put profits before ethical standards’ (BBC News, 9 February). Tax avoidance, treatment of suppliers, and late payment were all areas of concern we can easily understand that the poll of 2,000 people found, but business putting profits before ethics? Wow, what a surprise!


Crime and capitalism
TV programmes and the national press are fond of depicting the police as dealing successfully with the problem of crime, alas that is a complete fallacy. The advent of cheap heroin in Chicago has led to an increase in crime undreamt of by Al Capone and his contemporaries. ‘In the 1920s, 227 gangsters were said to have been killed in the city in the space of four years. Last year there were 424 murders in Chicago, most of them said to be gang-related’ (Times, 9 February), an increase of almost double in a quarter of the time. Some progress.


Profit and pollution
Details released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science show that about eight million tonnes of plastic waste find their way into the world’s oceans each year. ‘The new study is said to be the best effort yet to quantify just how much of this debris is being dumped, blown or simply washed out to sea. Eight million tonnes is like covering an area 34 times the size of New York’s Manhattan Island to ankle depth’ (BBC News, 12 February). In the battle between profit and pollution there is a clear winner.


Desperate workers
According to the UN at least 300 migrants are feared to have drowned after attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa this week in rough seas. ‘UNHCT official Vincent Cochetel said it was a ‘tragedy on an enormous scale’. Survivors brought to the Italian island of Lampedusa said they were forced to risk the bad weather on ill-equipped vessels by human traffickers in Libya’ (BBC News, 11 February). Desperate workers are prepared to take enormous risks just to get a job.