Friday, June 5, 2020

Where Private Property Does Not Reign. (1922)

From the March 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism stands for a society of equals in which the distinctions between rich and poor, exploiters and exploited, no longer exist. Opponents of this revolutionary conception assure us frequently that no such form of society has ever existed, or ever will ; that there always have been rich and poor, and always will be, and so on. The following is an attempt to show this statement to be false by depicting the social conditions obtaining amongst the native races of the interior of Africa prior to the European invasion. This invasion having taken place (so far as the countries known as Kenya and Uganda are concerned) during the past generation only, living evidence of previous conditions still exists. It takes the form of customs not yet entirely abandoned, of institutions not yet completely destroyed, and, above all, of the wonderful memories of the old men of the tribes, memories which, of necessity, are enhanced and sharpened by the absence of any literature of native origin.

The evidence above described has been the subject of much investigation on the part of Government officials, missionaries, and travellers in the course of their occupations, some of which has found expression in book form. To this the present writer is much indebted ; but the key to the understanding of native life was supplied to him by one (Lewis H. Morgan) who actually had very little knowledge of Africa; for the obvious reason that it had hardly been opened up at the time he wrote his master-work, "Ancient Society." This speaks volumes for the thoroughness with which Morgan dug to the foundations of barbaric society.

He discovered that among the American Indians the clan (or gens) was the central institution of society, the pivot on which turned the customs and beliefs of the people. He further showed that the same condition had obtained in ancient Greece and Rome before the development of political society, that is, society founded on economic classes ; and also among the barbaric races of Northern Europe and Western Asia who subsequently came under the sway of the above Empires. The case is the same in Africa!

The essential feature of the clan is kinship, i.e., its members are supposed to be descended from a common ancestor more or less remote. Being of the same blood, they may not intermarry. Each member of the clan must find his or her mate among the members of the other clans, the children ultimately becoming members of their fathers' clan. This occurs at the age of puberty, when the rite of circumcision is practised amid great ceremonial and rejoicing. Henceforth they are regarded as adults eligible for marriage. The young men at this age are trained as warriors. Their function is to protect the flocks and herds (which constitute the tangible wealth of the clans), and occasionally, when considered necessary, to undertake raiding expeditions on hostile tribes to augment this wealth.

At this age the young men and women enjoy a considerable amount of sexual freedom, which, as might be expected, gives bourgeois, who are establishing themselves there, a horrible shock and provides them with ample material for the propaganda of measures, such as forced labour, etc., which convert the men into wages-slaves and the women into whores. Infanticide appears to be practised before marriage, but this latter state is seldom long delayed, whereupon children become an important object in life. In fact, barbaric sentiment with regard to the younger generation, only equalled by its respect for the old, surpasses anything the present writer has seen expressed among the civilised races.

The first-born child marks yet another change in the status of its father, who thereupon commences to take an active part in the administration of tribal affairs. He serves at this stage an apprenticeship, as it were, in the art of judging cases such as are brought from time to time before the council of elders, the supreme judicial authority of the tribe. A man becomes an elder upon the circumcision of the firstborn. He thus enters upon the final stage of his career. Those dying before reaching this stage are exposed for the wild beasts to devour ; the elders, however, are accorded burial and their spirits become the guardians of the tribe. This brings us to another aspect of native life, i.e., its religious aspect. It is difficult, however, to say just where this aspect begins and ends. Unlike the abstract religions that have succeeded it, ancestor worship is an everyday religion. From birth to death the life of the individual is hedged around with superstitious observances to secure the favour of the guardian angels and, through them, of nature, the supreme element in a social order based upon primitive modes of living. As a result there exists a hierarchy of so-called medicine-men, elders who are supposed to have special intimacy with the spiritual forces surrounding the tribe and are expected to exercise their influence for its benefit.

Mr. A. C. Hollis, in his work, "The Nandi," gives a curious instance of a chief medicine-man who was put to death by his tribesmen for being the assumed cause of a serious military disaster. Misfortune, however, of various kinds continued to dog the path of the tribes, who then, with characteristic lack of consequence, attributed this to the murder of the medicine-man!

The medicine-men share with the people at large the selection of the chiefs from among the warriors to direct military affairs, and their advice also guides the people in the choice of times and seasons for stock movements in the case of pastoral tribes, and planting, etc., for those depending on horticulture. Thus the religious and conservative element dominates and holds together the destinies of the people, as is but natural in a State where economic conditions hardly vary from generation to-generation.

Between the different leagues of tribes, or peoples, the mode of life naturally varies. Thus, in the mountain fastnesses, clad in dense forest, dwell the Wandorobo, hunters of the big game (elephant, buffalo, and the like), whose bows and poison-tipped arrows are practically their sole means of production. Out on the open plains the Masai herd their cattle, wandering from place to place according to the rainfall and the growth of grass. Among the lower hills and the valleys formed by the streams, live people like the Kikuyu, cultivating with primitive knives and hoes small patches of ground for grains, legumes, tuberous roots, plantains, etc. But although normally hostile to one another, each people recognises amongst itself the principle of common access to the means of life, i.e., the land. With the hunters and the pastoral nomads this is obvious ; but even in the case of the horticultural tribes the same principle applies. The family (normally polygamous) holds from the clan sufficient land for its needs. It is entitled to that, and no more, and if by chance it dies out the land reverts to the clan.

Private property is confined to tools and domestic utensils, weapons and ornaments. These are all in such an immature state of development that it is impossible for them to form means for exploitation through monopoly. Agriculture strictly so-called (i.e., the cultivation of fields by drawn ploughs) not having arisen, the productivity of the individual is too small to make slavery a source of wealth. The slaves would produce little more than they would consume. Hence only the female sex are taken captive in battle, and they are adopted into the captor's family either as daughters or wives. Cattle occupy a peculiar importance in native economy. Their slaughter for food is practically confined to festivals and sacrifices. Their milk, of course, is used, but their principal function seems to be to serve as equivalents to human beings. Thus, when, by marriage, a man takes a woman from another clan, he has to compensate that clan, through the father, for the loss, with so many head of cattle. When, again, a man kills another, of a different clan, similar compensation must be made.

To kill a member of the same clan as himself is apparently a hopeless crime, for which no compensation can avail. The murderer becomes an outcast for the rest of his life.

After a raid the relatives of any warriors who have been slain receive, again, this same compensation. The herds are so numerous in excess of economic requirements and are distributed so liberally among the families from the heads of the clan downwards, and are, withal, regarded with such an intense sentiment, bordering on (if not actually amounting to) superstition, that they appear as a part of the tribe rather than a form of property.

Thus European civilisation has discovered in Africa a form of society somewhat similar to that examined by Morgan in America, a system in which economic classes do not exist, in which each individual becomes in turn warrior, worker, and counsellor, thus combining in his own person the social functions, the division of which, later in history, formed the basis for the origin of classes.

Some bourgeois critics, impatient for an end to this primitive form of communism, do not hesitate to describe it as the enslavement of the people by the chiefs.

Their assertions, however, are based on a very scanty acquaintance with the facts, and are effectively refuted by the painstaking literary efforts of prominent officials such as Sir Alfred Sharpe and Sir Harry Johnston, men whose life-work is the overthrow of this same communism in favour of British capitalist Imperialism, and consequently they are not prejudiced on its side.

The chiefs and elders express the unity of the clan. They have no power apart from it. They are its agents in dealing with other clans and with its individual members. Any privileges which may be incidental to their office are in the nature of special rewards for special services. They depend upon the voluntary tribute of the people and not upon any political or economic means of extortion. (Such means are a later innovation of the British Government, anxious to undermine native solidarity.) The chiefs are the creatures of the customs which they enforce ; any antagonism between them is fatal for the chief. As for the so-called subjection of the female sex, this is readily seen to be a form of division of labour dictated by the conditions of social existence. The women till the gardens, look after their houses, prepare the food, and nurse the young; but the bourgeois critic conveniently forgets that the tribes would soon expire if the male sex did not clear and break up the ground, fell the trees and build the houses, and devise and construct the tools and weapons (of iron) with which the ground is tilled and the herds protected from the wild beasts.

Still the defender of capitalism remains unsatisfied. "Even so," he will say, "admitting that society existed without economic classes for hundreds of thousands of years from the days of the ape-man to the dawn of history, granting that in that time it developed speech, discovered the art of making fire, domesticating animals, the use of grains and vegetables, and evolved from promiscuous herds to organised groups, even so, it did not produce the comfort and leisure without which art and science, in a word, civilisation, would not have come into being ! To do this the subordination of the ignorant many to the intelligent few was necessary."

This admits that civilisation is based on the servitude of the people; for it is not they who enjoy comfort and leisure, art and science, although they produce these desirable conditions by their labour. They do not even obtain the same security of life as the clansman ! But the same onward march of the productive forces which burst asunder the narrow communism of the past is preparing the economic basis of the world-communism of the future, i.e., enough wealth, comfort, leisure, art and science for all !
Eric Boden

Dope and Anti-Dope. (1922)

From the March 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard
  " . . . Instead of combining to make the public pay an economic price for papers, they" [the newspaper proprietors] "combine to cut wages and then throw at the head of the public not only a commodity at a cost which scarcely covers productions, but also valuable prizes, insurance policies, supplements, etc., etc., etc. The consequence is that many papers cannot pay their way. But what of that ? Many papers are not intended to pay their way. If they pave the way for someone to political power, or the peerage, they will have done all that is asked of them.
  "It is a curious fact, and one worth pondering deeply, that while the banks during the last year or so have held up credits for industry in general, they have allowed huge overdrafts to newspapers. (I am assuming for a moment that all the tales of woe told by newspaper proprietors are as veracious as they are pathetic.) General trade for the home markets and export have gone to rot. The banks would not finance enterprise to enable cheap textile or other goods to be made for export. But they have financed newspaper proprietors to enable them to produce cheap newspapers. Why? Is it that the bankers believe that the newspapers are necessary to instruct the public as to how it should behave, how it should think, and how it should vote ?"
—General Secretary, N.U.J., "The Journalist," February, 1922.
Well, well, well ! Did you know that, Mr. Worker? Did you know that many papers were not intended to pay their way? Did you know that the bankers have allowed huge overdrafts to the proprietors of newspapers to enable the papers to be sold at a price within reach of the workers ?

Of a surety, do the bankers believe it is necessary for the workers to be instructed as to how they should behave, think, and vote.

And why? Well, dear worker, so long as you behave along the lines of conduct laid down by the bankers and their class, so long as you vote with them and for them, so long will they be able to maintain their position in society to the detriment of your class.

The things required to satisfy the needs of the world are to-day wrested from nature by one section of society, the working class. The other section, the master class, appropriate the results of the workers' efforts, the wealth produced, by virtue of the fact that the workers have "behaved" and "voted" in such a way as to enable the masters so to do. Thus the master class determines who shall have, who shall have not, and in what proportion—determine who shall eat and who shall starve.

The remedy? Well, fellow-worker, you really must, behave, think, and vote differently. You must think for yourself, instead of absorbing the dope dressed up to look like real knowledge. You must vote for your own class, and not that of the banker. You must see to it that your fellow-worker has the real position of the working class laid in front of him, instead of the dope issued by the banker-financed "Press" daily. The Socialist Standard is the instrument for your purpose ready to hand. Bring it to the notice of your mates in the mine, mill, factory, or railroad. Push its sale for all you are worth.

Written by workers for the workers, it is the safe antidote to the poison pushed into the minds of the workers. It cannot, it attempts not, to "pay-the-bill-while-you-are-ill." The Standard's only mission in the insurance line is to point the way to the workers by which they can insure against the evils of capitalist society, by ensuring a speedy termination of the system that robs them of the fruits of their labours.

Get on with the job, then—AT ONCE.
H. W. M.

The Communists and the Labour Party Alliance. (1922)

From the March 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

There has of late been much talk in Communist circles for and against assisting the Labour Party into power at the next election. The position at the moment is that the Communist Party officially favours the idea of getting inside the Labour Party, but that the latter body nationally (and often locally, too) rejects the request for permission to affiliate. There now arises the problem of whether or not the Communists are to support Labour candidates when Lloyd George thinks fit to appeal to the electorate.

In the main the Communists do not pretend to believe that the accession to power of the Labour Party will directly and of itself solve the problems facing the workers. It is true that Malone, the C.P.’s solitary M.P., is of the opinion that the “few divergences between the Communist Party and the Labour Party … will soon be settled by affiliation” (Daily Herald, January 23rd), but probably the majority of the Communists who desire affiliation regard it as a tactical weapon likely to be of value to them, not as an admission that they and the Labour Party have much in common.

This kind of discussion is not new: for generations the question of alliance with capitalist political parties has agitated the minds of sections of the working class. Our attitude is clear and definite enough. We want Socialism, and we are convinced that we should not be bringing it nearer by angling for the support of anti-Socialist bodies, even although it might seem superficially that some gain would accrue.

The discussion only interests us in so far as it serves to expose the danger to the working class of following those who advocate such a course.

What is strikingly new is the claim for this idea that it has had its origin in Russia, as one of the lessons of the Revolution there. W. Paul, who for years in the S.L.P., opposed alliance with the reactionary Labour Party as a principle (although in practice joint demonstrations, etc., did take place), now that he is in the Communist Party has seen the “Light from the East” and stands forth as a convert. Lenin has taught him what his own knowledge and experience could not.

The object aimed at is, to gain the sympathy of the rank and file, discredit the present leaders, and then capture or disrupt the party. In addition, Paul has in mind the urgency of removing the Coalition in order to save the Bolshevik Government. The Bolsheviks, fully aware at last of the futility of expecting revolution in Western Europe or America, and equally aware that they will only with difficulty maintain themselves in power in face of internal and external pressure, seek to gain relief by aiding their alleged enemies of the Labour Party to gain a Parliamentary majority.

John S. Clarke, in the Worker (November, 26th), opposes the view point of W. Paul. He deals very successfully both with the lack of tactical value of this move, and with its history. His main arguments are that it is not new, having been tried before in this country with unfortunate results, and that the possibility is that the Bolsheviks themselves, far from having; originated; it, actually learned it here.
  “As a political tactic it has had an interesting history and by no means successful one. Not to carry the reader too far back, we see it operating in the year 1841. The Whigs and the Chartists met together in that year on the 21st January to try and arrange a ‘bloc.’ Three months later at a parliamentary by-election (Nottingham), the Chartists actively supported the Tory candidate, Mr. Walter, in order to deal a blow at the Whig Government.”
The Chartist paper, the Northern Star, commented as follows, says Clarke :
  “It is better at all times to submit to a real despotism than to a government of perfidious, treacherous and pretended friends. We are the natural enemies of Whiggism and Toryism, but, being unable to destroy both factions, we advise you to destroy the one faction by making a tool of the other.”
In 1921, eighty years after, we find the Communist Party seeking to destroy one “natural enemy” (the Coalition) by making a tool of another, (the Labour Party). What 1922 will bring forth the Lord only knows.

The Chartists alternately supported. Whigs and Tories, sometimes neither, and sometimes both together. In the Northern Star, on June 12th, 1841, were two leading articles advising opposite policies. We now have the Communist Party actively opposing some Labour candidates (e.g., MacDonald at Woolwich) and taking up a non-committal attitude towards others (Naylor at Walworth).
   “Chartism collapsed in 1848. The Social Democratic Federation was not born until 1885. In 1908 it changed its name to Social Democratic Party, a distinction without a scrap of difference. In 1911 it was joined by a few Clarion Scouts and I.L.Pers, and changed its name again to British Socialist Party.
  "Each of these different political parties (if thy can be writ as different parties) was practically dominated by the same personalities—Hyndman, Quelch, Lee, Hunter-Watts, Belfort Bax, Dan Irving, Tom Kennedy, Jack Jones, and Will Thorne. Each party practised the ‘tactic’ inherited from the Chartists.”
The S.D.F., alter seeking in vain for an alliance with the Liberals, went to the Tories, and fought the 1885 Election on their money, with the avowed object of splitting the Liberal vote. This very nearly brought the party to an unhonoured end, the only good that could have come to the workers out of the transaction.

This policy of political bargaining went on, with varying success in the shape of Parliamentary honours for the auctioneers of working-class votes, until in 1903 the Scottish, and in 1904 the London, branches left in disgust to form the S.L.P. and S.P.G.B. respectively. Old readers of this journal will remember that our pages between 1904 and 1914 contained ample evidence of the persistence of the S.D.F.’s peculiar conception of working-class antagonism to capitalist political organisations. It changed its name to S.D.P. without discarding its errors, and in 1910 another attempt was made to form a “bloc” with the Liberals, who, however, like the Labour Party now, were indifferent if not actively hostile.

In 1901 the S.D.F withdrew from the Labour Party (then the Labour Representation Committee), and for twelve years remained outside, supporting first one and then the other of the capitalist parties. It incidentally carried on a guerrilla warfare with the I.L.P. rather in the nature of a squabble for the spoils attaching to the disposal of the corpse of working-class independence.

The S.D.F. stuck tight to the alliance idea, and in 1913 had decided to re-affiliate with the Labour Party, when the war came. The inevitable then took place, and the B.S.P. went all out for the murder of the workers at their masters’ behest.

In due time another split took place: Hyndman and the jingo group called themselves the National Socialist Party, while the others, still the B.S.P., first worked the I.L.P., and later affiliated again with the Labour Party. Both sections kept their belief in the use of helping one enemy to fight another. The N.S.P. reverting to its old name, S.D.F., is now again urging that the Labour Party should link up any party which will endeavour to oust the Coalition.

The B.S.P. eventually formed the bulk of the membership’ of the Communist Party and that body—having re-discovered the “tactic”—proclaims amid great flourish of trumpets that if only they can help the Labour Party, to help the Liberals, to turn out Lloyd George, the Russian Revolution will be saved and all will be well. They are urged by the Bolsheviks to this course as the last word in political strategy, but, as Clarke points out, many exiles from Russia towards the end of last century were studying the English political world, and at a later date many of those now prominent in the Bolshevik Party, including Litvinov, Rothstein, Tchicherine, and Petrov, were members of the S.D.F. or B.S.P. This, then, was where they picked up the idea, which
“was conveyed to Russia, where the masses are not more, but less, advanced than they are here (vide  Lenin), and where it is alleged to have been successful in the hands of a party of ‘iron discipline,’ which is due, to quote Lenin again, ‘to a great many historic peculiarities of Russia.’ In the process of time it arrives back to the land of its birth, where it succeeded in sowing only distrust and dissension and is dished out to British revolutionaries as ‘Lenin’s revolutionary strategy’ and  ‘the adroit tactic of the Bolsheviki’ in the pious hope that the reiteration of such alluring phrases will convince the unsuspecting that they are marrying a comely damsel of tender years, whereas in truth they are being saddled with a withered-up, pre-historic hag.”
The foregoing brief history of the “tactic” is commended to the notice of those who think that the Socialist Revolution can be achieved by some energetic political wire-pulling, and by cunning manoeuvring of the votes of the “masses.” In a game of that kind the ruling class and their hirelings know all there is to be known. They have been at it for centuries, and if the outcome of it is to be somebody’s funeral, it won’t be theirs. The result of this fooling will be what it has always been, suffering and disillusionment for the unfortunate workers who are taken in by it.

The antecedents as well as the present activities of the “intelligent minority,” who, as the Communist Party, are to shepherd the mere untutored workers, are sufficient to justify describing them as in the main blind leaders of the blind. Under the guise of revolutionary discipline, that party shows just the same slavish hero-worship arid ignorant chatter of revolution as typified the S.D.F. at its worst. A recent incident will serve to illustrate this internal rottenness of the “Burlesque Bolsheviki.” At a meeting of the London District Council (October 8th) the delegates were asked to rise to their feet as a token of respect when ‘‘Lord” MacManus entered the room, and with hardly an exception the request was immediately complied with !’

Could “Jimmy” Thomas expect or receive more?

Whether these people are good or bad leaders is, however, not the important point. The particular course they are advising has in the past proved disastrous, not only here, but in Germany, France, and everywhere else where working-class organisations have left the safe path of independence for the morass of alliances.

Socialism will be achieved by Socialists; by the deliberate action, that is, of those who, understanding. what is at the root of the present evils, know what is necessary for their removal.

The existence of a considerable proportion of convinced Socialists precludes the possibility of swaying the electorate by emotional appeals. Without ignorant emotionalism there is no need, no possibility, of political leadership, whether from a traditional ruling class or from a minority of superior intellects.

Political bargaining exists because Socialist knowledge is lacking. Without such knowledge neither the Communist Party nor anyone else can give you Socialism. Do not, therefore, waste time trying to dragoon the working class into striving for an object which they do not understand;

HELP US TO PROPAGATE SOCIALISM.
Edgar Hardcastle

Parliament . . . (1922)

From the March 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Parliament, the executive power of the ruling class, levy rates and taxes upon the owners of this property, in order to defray the cost of the legislative machinery, represented by the various departments of the State, i.e., Home Office, Foreign Office, War Office, Board of Education, etc., etc. The position of the worker is that he receives wages—when fortune favours him with work—which are based upon the cost of living.

The Key to Historical Development. (1922)

From the March 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard
"According to the materialistic conception, the decisive element of history is pre-eminently the production and reproduction of life and its material requirements.   This implies, on the one hand, the production of the means of existence (food, clothing, shelter and the necessary tools); on the other hand, the generation of children, the propagation of the species. The social institutions, under which the people of a certain historical period and of a certain country are living, are dependent on these two forms of production; partly on the development of labour, partly on that of the family. The less labour is developed, and the less abundant the quantity of its production and, therefore, tho wealth of society, the more society is seen to be under the domination of sexual ties. However, under this formation based on sexual ties, the productivity of labour is developed more and more. At the same time, private property and exchange, distinctions of wealth, exploitation of the labour power of others and, by this agency, the foundation of class antagonism, are formed. These new elements of society strive in the course of time to adapt the old state of society to the new conditions, until the impossibility of harmonising these two at last leads to a complete revolution. The old form of society founded on sexual relations is abolished in the clash with the recently developed social classes. A new society steps into being, crystallised into the state. The units or the latter are no longer sexual, but local groups; a society in which family relations are entirely subordinated to property relations, thereby freely developing those class antagonisms and class struggles that make up the contents of all written history up to the present time."
Frederick Engels.

Mass Production. How it affects the workers. (1922)

From the March 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is hardly possible nowadays to pick up a newspaper or magazine that does not contain articles on bad trade, excessive taxation, and unemployment. In some of these articles the writers try to show that bad trade is largely caused by high taxes; while others insist that high wages and low output is the chief cause. Some writers combine the two, and represent the capitalist as a helpless victim being squeezed dry between the Government and the workers.

Those who understand Socialism know that periods of bad trade are the result of modern methods of production, that outstrip the demand for commodities all over the capitalist world, and that bad trade will recur periodically, or will continue as a chronic social complaint so long as trade governs the production of wealth. Once we understand this clearly it is easy to see the futility of all the reforms suggested by writers who do not appear to understand the nature of the problem. In certain cases the fact that they argue that taxes should be lightened for the capitalist; that he is justified in reducing wages, in demanding greater efficiency and longer hours, arouses at once the suspicion that such writers are either capitalists themselves or are in the pay of capitalists.

One writer in the "Sunday Pictorial" (22/1/22), Mr. J. Ellis Barker, puts the case from the capitalist standpoint and tries to prove that the workers' interests are identical with capitalist interests. That the capitalist cannot extend his business and employ more workers because the Government takes in taxation the necessary capital. This is one of the stock arguments of the anti-wasters, but everybody should know that there is no shortage of capital wherever there is a promise of dividends. The shortage is in the effective demand for commodities, and if the capitalists were relieved of the whole burden of taxation employment would not increase unless the effective demand were increased.

Moreover, the money taken in taxes by the Government is either spent in wages—to Civil servants, etc.—or in purchase of goods, the manufacturers of which employ workers. These vorkers spend their wages on commodities placed on the market by other manufacturers. Thus, not only is the demand for goods increased, but the number of unemployed is diminished by Government expenditure. From the workers' standpoint, therefore, Government expenditure, coming on top of ordinary capitalist outlay, is all to the good. This is easily seen, without going into the purpose and object of government, when we remember how unemployment figures fell during the war and wages rose in many industries. During the war Government expenditure reached the highest level ever known.

Mr. Barker argues that the lack of capital forces capitalists to act along certain lines : in bad times, and faced with the competition of countries less heavily taxed, they must either sell at a loss or close their factories. In good times they raise prices and thus pass the burden on to the masses. He says :— 
"In good times income tax and super-tax are paid by the masses as a whole in increased prices, while in bad times unbearably high taxes lead to general unemployment and distress. The poorest pay income tax and super-tax, estate duty and succession duty in their bread and their boots, in their coal and their rent, and sometimes in unemployment and distress. It is chiefly in their interest that taxation should be as low as possible."
Here, the exponent of capitalist economics, in his eagerness to clear the capitalist of blame for bad times, unconsciously exposes the rottenness of the system he is trying to defend. What do the workers get out of the system? In bad times they suffer from unemployment and distress and in good times they suffer from increased prices.

A Socialist knows that the workers suffer acute distress in periods of bad trade and are forced to study the strictest economy in the best of times in order to live on their wages, but he has yet to learn that while in this condition they can pay any of the taxes enumerated by Mr. Barker. Whilst wages are based on the cost of living they rise or fall generally, over a given period, as the prices of necessaries rise or fall, and the worker never gets much more out of industry, even when he is lucky enough to be always at work, than the necessaries of life required to keep him fit and to support his family.

The cost of living is the mean level around which the industrial war takes place. Supply and demand plays its part, but nearly always on the side of the masters, because there are nearly always more workers than jobs. Represented by leaders who do not understand the economic laws of the capitalist system nor how to direct the workers in times of crisis, the latter are always at a disadvantage in disputes over wages.

Mr. Barker's unsolicited and unconscious admission that the workers suffer whether trade is good or bad is true in substance, though based on a fallacy. Let us examine his proposed remedy and see how much that is worth.

There follows half a column of statistics on the comparative values of English and American production, a few cheap sneers about workers who restrict output, and a piously-expressed opinion that no one wants to see the old evils of sweating restored, and then he openly advocates mass production as a remedy for bad trade and unemployment. He says : —
"It is clear that we can treble British production, and with British production our national wealth and national income, by improving our industrial methods."
Now, mass production means not only the adoption of labour-saving machinery and devices, but production in such vast quantities that waste is eliminated. In mass production capitalists reduce their wages bill for the production of a given quantity of wealth to the lowest level yet reached. Factories worked on this principle in America turn out commodities in such vast quantities that they are forced to close down for weeks at a stretch, or discharge thousands of workers, until the surplus is sold. The very company cited by Mr. Barker as a shining example of mass production prosperity has given him the lie. In 1920 the Ford Company employed 52,000 persons to make 100,000 cars a month. In 1921 they employed 32,000 persons to make 87,000 cars per month, and had to close down owing to over-production. What became of the 20,000 workers not wanted—and what happens as mass production becomes more general? The answer is obvious, yet Mr. Barker further outrages common-sense by stating in black type that
"There is no fear of over-production," 
and following this in italics :
"There is an unlimited demand throughout the world for cheap goods."
Ford cars are cheap. Why did the Ford factory close down and reduce the number of its employees if the demand is unlimited ?

When Mr. Barker writes about unlimited demand, he is writing unlimited nonsense, because there is no such thing. Production and demand, or production and consumption, may be likened to a tank with water continually running in from a tap and out through a waste pipe. If two gallons flow in every minute and during the same time only one gallon can pass the waste, the flow will have to be stopped periodically or the tank will overflow. In filling the social tank with commodities, however, human labour functions. Human labour-power is the worker's only commodity ; he lives by the sale of it and starves if he cannot sell it. Unable to take out of the tank more than the value of their wages, or go on producing when demands fall off, and a constantly diminishing numher of workers are required. Mr. Barker gives figures that credits the American worker with producing as much as three British workers. According to his reasoning, unemployment in America should be less severe than in this country. Is it ? Everybody knows that the number of unemployed in the United .States is treble the number of British unemployed

To sum up, let every worker understand once for all the real meaning and significance of labour-power as a commodity. Let him realise that his wages can seldom rise above what it costs to maintain himself and his family. That wages are more likely to fall below that level as competition increases ; he, therefore, only deludes himself when he imagines that high or low taxes affect him in the long run. The inevitable consequences of mass production are increased unemployment and lower wages. Mass production is the latest and most callous form of capitalism; it manufactures cheap and shoddy goods to feed and clothe its overworked and poverty-stricken slaves. It drives the slaves to despair through long periods of unemployment and dread of the sack. Mass production is not a thing of the future; it is with us now in all its hideousness, and promise of worse to come. May it startle the workers of all lands out of their lethargy, strip the scales from their eyes, and force them to examine the claims of the Socialist; for only then will they understand that they are slaves, why they are slaves, and how they can be free.
F. Foan

Election Manifesto (1970)

Election Manifesto from the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Limits of Protest (1970)

Book Review from the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Limits of Protest by Peter Buckman. Gollancz. 50s.

Despite its promising title this is a rambling and confused book. Buckman’s basic argument (so far as it can be disentangled from the mass of quotations) is that single-issue campaigns aimed at winning mass support to persuade a government to change its policy arc ineffective.

He says much the same of these campaigns. such as CND. as we said of them at the time:
  campaigns on single social or political issues suffer from the fact that, if they are successful, it is too often through no contribution of theirs : besides, an exactly similar issue will shortly crop up when the energy of the protesters has been dissipated.
and protesters
  offer empty demonstrations on vicarious issues, opportunities to "do something" which are more gesture than substance, vacuous rhetoric and pious imprecations.
Is Buckman against such campaigns then? Of course not; he is a typical "leftwinger" who believes that you can combine the fight for reform with the fight for revolution. "Single issue campaigns”, he says “are essential to build a radical consciousness”.

What he has in mind is "radicals” helping discontented people in their protest campaigns in the hope that in return these people will help them overthrow “the system". This is the old discredited Leninist tactic. Buckman, however, cannot make up his mind whether or not there should also be a vanguard party to lead these struggles. He obviously does not like the idea but speaks of the “immense danger” that the energies of those who preach "spontaneity”.
  if not co-ordinated, will simply dissipate themselves in isolated actions, which more and more resemble the single-issue campaigns whose limitations we analysed.
But is the choice really only between elitism and ordinary reformism? Since we solved the dilemma of reform and revolution many years ago the Socialist Party of Great Britain has insisted that there is another way: the role of a revolutionary party is to spread revolutionary ideas and not to propose reforms of the system it seeks to overthrow.
Adam Buick

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Letters: What about Vietnam? (1970)

Letters to the Editors from the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

What about Vietnam?

Dear Sir,

As a practical expression of my personal disgust and repugnance I ask you to take the name of this organisation off your mailing list.

This protest is brought about by your article in your January issue which carries the odious title “The Issue at Pinkville”. To give to a Vietnamese village the same name as was given to it by the American aggressors is completely unforgiveable in a magazine which purports to be socialist. The lunatic right fringe may dub My Lai thus, they presumably know no better. You are supposed to be on the side of freedom and justice, yet you stoop to the same level as those who carried out the massacre.

Your references to the “Viet Cong” are also in bad taste and reflect the limitations of a mind which has been successfully brainwashed. “Viet Cong", for your information, was a term coined by Deim — a contemptuous term which dubbed anyone who opposed his bloody and dictatorial regime as “communists”. It is on a par with the name “Pinkville”.

You have the gall to speak of “ferocious Viet Cong atrocities". And who, may I ask., was responsible for this war which has forced the freedom fighters to defend their very existence? Do you equate the actions of a rapist and a murderer with a person who is being raped and murdered, and solemnly conclude that it is all a matter of which side you are on? Pity help the Vietnamese people if they have to rely on people like yourself for their moral support.

I cannot decide if your paper is a bogus front, unintelligent or lamentably ill-informed on the facts about Vietnam. I do not know if the writer is consciously reactionary or merely a poor deluded fool who has read too many Time magazines.

Not that I care very much. People who are ignorant enough to think in terms of "Pinkville" and "Viet Cong” atrocities may enjoy your paper. Those of us who are concerned with freedom and justice have better things to do than read it.
Stanley Moore 
(Minister, Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church. Melbourne. Aust.)


Reply:
When we have sifted out the abuse from Mr. Moore’s letter we find that it has only one serious point. In the fourth paragraph he more or less argues that any atrocities committed by the Viet-cong are justified because it was the Americans who started the war. This is of course a very old argument — it was used to excuse the obliteration of Hiroshima and in fact has always been used by capitalist states as part of their war propaganda.

It is true that the Americans interfered in Vietnam — in the same way as the North Koreans did in the South, and as the Russians did in Czechoslovakia, Finland and so on. In each case the inference has been justified by counter-accusations of threats from the subject of the interference. And so we go on — all the time avoiding the real issue, which is why wars, invasions and international interference take place. Why are they sometimes (not always) resisted? What interests are at stake? In Vietnam, we are seeing a struggle between rival capitalist groups for the control of an area of great economic and strategic importance. The interests in the war are those of capitalism; the people on both sides stand to gain nothing from the war and their interests are in keeping out of it as far as they can. Whoever wins, the people of Vietnam and of America will lose.

Mr. Moore, who accuses us of being deluded fools, thinks the North Vietnamese are fighting for freedom and justice. Is it part of freedom and justice to commit mass murder among the Vietnamese people? In war no one side is alone responsible for all the atrocities and this is widely accepted, with only a few people like the John Birchites on one side and Mr. Moore on the other closing their eyes to the evidence.

We thought the names “Pinkville” and "Vietcong” had passed so finally into common usage as to be acceptable to even the most touchy lefty. After all, there are plenty of protest banners which carry the slogan "Victory to the Vietcong”.

Two last points. First, why does Mr. Moore get so upset about trivial matters and ignore the main argument of the article in question, which was that capitalism is the cause of war and since war and atrocities are inseparable it is capitalism which causes the atrocities? Second—and here we probably find the answer to our first question — why is Mr. Moore so anxious to avoid reading the Socialist Standard, when his only complaint against it is that he disagrees with it?
Editorial Committee


Chomsky

Dear Sir,

In the February issue of the Socialist Standard Noam Chomsky is accused of confused, muddled and wishful thinking. This description would be more aptly applied to your writers.
  “Principled opposition to capitalism necessarily gives rise to principled opposition to war, which—and this should always be made clear means hostility to both ‘sides’ in every war.”
  “Whatever the outcome the workers will have gained nothing on either side”
  "In part it (this confusion within the shell of Chomsky’s glittering erudition) is due to his overpowering abhorrence of the war, and the sense of urgency he feels about it. Everything must be subjugated to the task of stopping the war."
May we examine these statements in the light of some of the facts?

First, here is a description of North Vietnam (‘no paradise” as you insist) in the time when it was a French colony:
   "Translated into the policies of empire, the French presence made of Vietnam at once a prison and a museum. Exquisite French scholarship explored the ancient history and archeology of Vietnam; exquisite French cruelty made it the most savage colony in Asia. In my youth in Asia, I remember it as the place where I first saw grown men strike other grown men and watched the stricken cringe —white Frenchmen had the right to slap awkward native waiters who spilled the soup, or slap native rickshawmen who argued about the fare. It was a place where the state monopoly’s purchase of opium exceeded by five times French expenditures on schools, libraries and hospitals combined . . .”
It is from Theodore White’s The Making of a President. But it is mild in comparison to Edgar Snow’s reports of Vietnam under French domination where there was a guillotine in every village.

One does not even need to go to communist sources—one has only to read The Peasants of North Vietnam by Chaliand—Mission To Hanoi by Atheker, or Cameron's or Burchett’s accounts to see that although it is not paradise, it is a new and better life for the people since Vietnam won independence from the French.

Would you have the Vietnamese still exploited by the French because we must oppose both sides in every war and the workers gain nothing on either side ?

Would they have the Vietnamese remain slaves under the French because in struggling for indpendence they might not achieve paradise and might fall under the influence of China or Russia? (Incidentally Jean Lacouiure in his study of Ho Chi Minh has described the diplomacy of Ho and his government in keeping a middle course between these two communist powers).

And what of South Vietnam:
  "The Army’s area handbook for South Vietnam (1967) says 2.5 percent of the landowners held half of the cultivated land, and more than 80 per cent of the land was cultivated by peasants owning no land at all whom the landlords could dispossess without cause . . . Former Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman told a reporter recently (Richard Critchfield in Washington Star March 16 ’69) that the US Embassy in Saigon ‘informed Washington it opposed land reform on the grounds that it would create political instability’.”
The NLF may not be creating paradise but it is doing something about land reform for the land hungry peasnats. Left in peace it would be able to do more. Are you aware of the corruption, exploitation, oppression and terror resulting from the series of Saigon regimes which America has backed financially and militarily? Were the people of the South to accept this because all wars are equally wrong and therefore both sides equally bad—all governments equally corrupt and all leaders equally bad?

Meanwhile, to have any sense of urgency about opposing the war, which we see as American aggression—to have any sense of guilt about what is being done to Vietnam is to have been hypnotized by some ‘immediate’ issue and to have indulged in the guilt of the flagellant!

The trouble with your writers is not that they are looking for paradise but that they think they have found it in their pure principles which are totally removed from realities. These socialists of Great Britain are very British in their outlook. Fair play, chaps—never take sides, and whatever you do, never get ruffled! This is the same attitude which permeates the British Government, the BBC, television and press whenever the war is mentioned. In the face of what Chomsky has rightly called "an enormous pattern of devastation which, if seen in its entirety, would have to be described as one of the most evil acts committed by any nation in modern times”, it is simply not done to take sides.
Yours sincerely
Jo Janet


Reply:
Of course we would not have the workers and peasants of Vietnam exploited by French colonialism. Nor do we say that the people of South Vietnam should put up the series of corrupt American-imposed governments there. We are fully aware of what the world capitalist system has done, and is doing, to the people of Vietnam. The question is, however, how to deal with this: Is it by supporting the rise to power of a new state capitalist ruling class or is it by struggling to establish world Socialism?

The Socialist Party of Great Britain argues that capitalism (including the state capitalism of Russia and China) as a world system has become reactionary and that it has no progressive role to play anywhere in the world. This is because Socialism, the next stage in social development which will involve the emancipation of all mankind, is possible. Only Socialism is progressive, and this alone is what workers everywhere should strive to establish.

We do not deny that the NLF in Vietnam as carrying out land reforms and other changes necessary for the development of (state) capitalism there. What we do challenge is the assumption that, now Socialism is possible, Socialists should support this. What workers everywhere should be striving for is Socialism, not national state capitalism.

Our correspondent’s final paragraph is typical of the self-righteousness of many of our critics. Because Socialists do not support their pet struggles we are accused of being unconcerned about the suffering capitalism causes human beings. We could turn the tables on them by saying that in concentrating on single issues it is they who are prolonging the suffering capitalism brings by diverting attention from the struggle to over it.

Note also that our position is to oppose both sides, not neutrality as our correspondent suggests.
Editorial Committee

Food production for human need (2020)

Book Review from the June 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Carolyn Steel. Sitopia. How Food Can Save the World. Chatto and Windus. 2020

In 2008 Carolyn Steel published Hungry City, a book that explored how, since early times, people in cities found food for themselves, what that food was and how it influenced their history and development. Now the same author has written another substantial and more ‘political’ volume, in which she ranges expertly across both both time and geography to trace the history of food, its consumption and its intersection with the concept of nature of work. Sitopia. How Food Can Save the World draws upon wide-ranging and well-integrated research to show the history of homo sapiens as largely one of group cooperation and human beings as natural collaborators and ‘infinitely inventive and adaptable’. Her clearly expressed desire is to see a world in which adequate resources for a decent life can be available to all.

This is something she sees as eminently possible, pointing out that enough food is already produced to feed everyone on the planet, since ‘farmers worldwide currently provide the daily equivalent of 2,800 calories of food per person – more than enough to go round, given an ideal food system’. She also refers to Tristram Stuart’s book, Waste, published in 2009, which illustrates ways in which one third of the global food supply could be saved, enough to feed the world’s hungry 23 times over. However, the reservation implicit in her ‘given an ideal food system’ is made clear when she shows how far from ideal the system of food production is in modern-day society. She explains how, in its drive to produce and sell food at a profit and its compulsion to grow and continually expand, capitalism’s combination of industrial agriculture and market forces, while making food as cheap as possible through the need of producers to compete, fails to take into account the wider costs, for example to the environment and to human health. She sees food production as an integral part of the scenario whereby the whole future of humanity is threatened by ecological destruction, climate crisis and increasing obesity. But at the same time food for the author is a potentially important means to remedy the situation. She says: ‘If we are to free ourselves from money’s grasp, we need a way of thinking that transcends it: an economy based on values grounded in reality. Food can give us this.’ That, in her view, is the case because food is, as she puts it, ‘by far the most powerful medium available to us for thinking and acting together to change the world for the better’. She goes on to say: ‘Descartes might just as well have said: “ ‘I eat therefore I am”.’

So, while recognising that existing resources are not in themselves a limiting factor to a better life for everyone, she also sees it as vital to ensure that ecological considerations and environmental balance are in the forefront of any such project. As she puts it: ‘We already know how to feed the world, warm our houses and cure disease; what we lack is the capacity to put our ideas into effective practice.’ She goes on: If our goal is to create a world in which everyone can flourish, then our common task must be to plan what form such growth would take.’ She then reveals that she has a plan (‘Plan B’, as she calls it), the centrepiece of which is non-industrially, cooperatively, locally produced food: ‘local sustainable production, ecologically produced organic food in which the market would favour foods that nurtured nature, animals and people’. In this context she mentions, for example, organic box schemes, community kitchens and gardens, forest gardens, microbreweries and bakeries, food co-ops and community supported permaculture.

Steel sees the spread of such activities as a response to what she calls ‘the blandness and destructiveness of industrial food’ and goes on: ‘It is also symptomatic of something far deeper … Food is something we can make, that brings us together and grounds us …Food, in short, is something through which we can root ourselves in the world, both socially and physically.’ She continues: ‘Since food affects virtually every aspect of our lives, adopting such an economy would have an immediate, even revolutionary effect. By changing the ways in which we produce, transport, trade, cook, share and value our food, we could transform our landscapes, cities, homes, workplaces, social lives and ecological footprint. She argues that society should aim for a low or zero-carbon steady-state organic system of production of food and other goods and is especially concerned by the loss of biodiversity caused by capitalism, seeing it as an even greater threat to life on earth than climate change. As she puts it, ‘everything in nature is connected’ (quoting Darwin’s insight), and ‘in order to live, we must manipulate nature, yet must seek to do so without diminishing it’. She is hopeful of progress too, comparing the new food movement to ‘a deep ocean current: invisible on the surface, yet steadily gathering pace and strength to the point where it can effect real change’.

For the change in society which would bring this about, her political prescription is an avowedly anarchist one. She declares support for what she sees as the vision of anarchist thinkers Proudhon and Kropotkin, a vision characterised as ‘small groups of territorial collaborators without formal leaders, a society whose very existence depends on common ownership’. However, to achieve it, she sees the need for ‘a social vision that transcends the fatal duality of neoliberalism and totalitarianism, one capable of engaging with and connecting with us at every scale from local to global’, since ‘anarchism’s core message, that we should embrace democracy while sharing our goods more in common could not be more apposite’, and, ‘by accepting our duty as political animals … we can become more effective, empathetic, fulfilled social beings’.

Despite the author mistakenly equating Marxian socialism (or communism) with the authoritarian state capitalism of countries like Russia and China, there is a lot in her book that socialists can agree with. Examples of this are her trenchant critique of capitalism and its contradictions, her insistence that humans are a collaborative species, her liking for ‘common ownership’ and her desire for a society of ‘empathy, equality and ecological longevity’.

It is only a pity that she doesn’t quite go far enough and, despite recognising and condemning the iniquitous and socially divisive effects of money and the market (‘for most of human history money didn’t exist … humanity had social bonds instead’), she allows her imagination to be limited by the idea that money and the market are nevertheless somehow inevitable, at least on some level, and bases her project on the hope that that they can somehow be made to work against their inbuilt nature, i.e benignly and cooperatively. We would obviously disagree that this was possible. Only in the kind of moneyless, marketless society of free access and voluntary cooperation advocated by socialists can food production, and indeed all other production, take place in a truly cooperative, balanced and human-centred way. Only in that kind of social context will it be possible, as the author puts it eloquently as ever, ‘to reimagine the landscape as a canvas for human flourishing’.
Howard Moss

Wood For the Trees: Responsibility (2020)

The Wood for the Trees Column from the June 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Human activity has changed our planet profoundly. Vast swathes of urban development, agricultural clearance, industrial complexes and military installations have impacted the ecosphere which in turn has affected the other species we share the Earth with. Although all of this is indisputably the consequence of human activity can we, as a species, be held responsible for the effect it has had on our environment and ourselves? Some may find it an absurd proposition that we can somehow be innocent of the consequences of our actions as a species. But we would not prosecute a child of criminal acts in the same way we would an adult; similarly as an incredibly young species (in geological time) can our actions be considered as merely the immature destructive anarchic play of Hominids?

We like to contrast our behaviour with that of other species by pointing out our ability to imagine the consequences of our actions within an ethical and moral context; for this reason it would be irrational to hold a tiger or a gorilla responsible for the consequences of anything they do. They act primarily on instinct in nature and to do otherwise would seriously compromise their survival. They are ‘programmed’ to respond to stimuli in a way that natural selection has determined. Although we may believe we can impose moral constraints on our actions as individuals because of a different level of consciousness is this true of our actions as a species? Can we claim the ability to direct our development according to any ethical principles or are such aspirations merely a result of an idealistic conceit that any serious study of history can discard?

Before the development of science our species did not possess the knowledge and information to understand the impact that our economic activity would have on the ecosystem. Those indigenous cultures that did practise some level of integration with their environment were ruthlessly swept aside by the juggernaut of capitalist industrialism and farming. Although primarily motivated by the greed of a tiny minority it was always justified in the name of ‘progress’. Even if those concerned had sought to control it this mode of production, once set underway, could not be directed. The idealists who sought to impose limits on it because of moral or environmental concerns always failed, not because of any lack of integrity but because they did not understand that humankind’s productive activities controlled it – the capitalist mode of production, like the other forms of private property that preceded it, created a profound alienation between producers and any control of what and how they produced. Like other species responding to the natural environment humankind had created a cultural environment that it responded to. There was no possibility of control either through an ability to imagine consequences of economic activity or, even if this had been possible, any ability to do so. Our species was not responsible for its own development.

This is clearly exposed in the ideology of those who defend the system – they think of it as ‘natural’ and unchanging. Some go as far as to make a religion of free markets and their faith in its ability to make our lives better. Both stem from the essential mystery (to bourgeois economists) of alienated human production. Capitalist development is indifferent to the needs of those who serve and create it. This fact has been known by a minority for over 100 years now. This is why socialists struggle for a revolution to sweep away capitalism because we know that it cannot be controlled – it is anarchic and destructive.

 Those who realise this and do not help in the struggle are indeed responsible for its continuance. But without such consciousness entering the lives of the vast majority (who, out of political ignorance due to ideological manipulation do not support the struggle) the destruction will continue. Some may despair of our species and even long for our demise but such emotions are merely self-indulgent moral outrage based on the idealistic conceit that humanity has the ability to impose rational and moral control on capitalist production or the idea that many maintain a wilful rejection of the political imperative of socialism even if they understand it. 

 The simple fact is that most people do indeed want an end to the environmental destruction, not just for their own sakes but for other species as well. Most still believe it to be a scientific and rational problem that has to be resolved within a capitalist context. Far from believing themselves to be ‘lords of creation’ in terms of the relationship with other species most feel themselves to be victims of mysterious economic forces out of their control. In this they are entirely correct but to realise that they are merely puppets of their own productive activity is a profound affront to an identity forged by the ideology of individual moral responsibility.
Wez

Modern Times (2020)

Book Review from the June 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Matthew McManus ed: What is Post-Modern Conservatism? Essays on Our Hugely Tremendous Times. Zero Books £14.99.

This is probably not a question most people have asked, and in any case it is not clear that the answers given here will be all that satisfying. The book consists of a large number of shortish pieces, mostly written by the editor but some written or co-written by others, so it is rather repetitive and there is little sense of a sustained argument being built up.

McManus describes post-modernism as an epoch in human history, a culture defined by globalisation and massive technological changes. Traditional conservatism is mutating into post-modern conservatism, exemplified by such as Trump and Farage. It is ‘ascendant across the Anglo-Saxon world’ and is supposedly characterised by a number of features, including: indifference to the distinction between truth and falsehood, affiliation with a powerful identity seen as under attack, use of modern media, and cracking down on other identity groups when in power. ‘Post-modern conservatives largely come from the most privileged groups in history’, it is stated, but this appears to mean white people in Western countries, not the truly privileged, the one percent, the capitalist class. At one point, post-modern conservatism is equated with right-wing populism, but this is not argued properly, nor is there any discussion of populist ideas in general. No suggestion is made that post-modern conservatism claims to be opposed to an elite, which is usually seen as a main tenet of populism.

The last section of the book is a criticism of the ideas of Jordan Peterson, such as his views on ‘post-modern neo-Marxism’, which illustrates the kind of jargon found not just in these pages but in many of the writers discussed here. One good point is made: that Lenin and Mao launched their revolutions in poor developing countries, in contrast to Marx’s view that communism required the means of production to be highly advanced. The final article, by Borna Radnik, refers to the abolition of private property but notes that the Left have failed to propose an alternative to capitalism. To which we can only say, never mind the Left, look at the publications of the World Socialist Movement.

And as for what is meant by the hugely tremendous times mentioned in the subtitle, the book is silent.
Paul Bennett

One world or many states? (2020)

From the June 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have been asked for our view on the movement for West Papua to gain independence from Indonesia. Here is our reply.
The Socialist Party and wider World Socialist Movement in various locations throughout the world, consists of individuals who have come together for one purpose: to assist in the urgent task of establishing world-wide socialism. We define socialism as a society in which all the resources of the world are used in common to meet all the needs of all the people of the world, without any distinction whatsoever, including the distinction of so-called national identity. It follows, then, that we do not concern ourselves with either the destruction or the creation of national or territorial borders within capitalism. This is a policy that we have upheld from our formation in 1904. During that time, we have, of course, been admonished to recognise the seemingly vital need to defend this national group against that one; to support the imposition of this territorial border or the dissolution of that one; to denounce this act of nationalist aggression or to excuse that one. Our reply has always been that while capitalism exists, such disputes and conflagrations are unending and it is not the role of socialists to act as adjudicators over the rights and wrongs of conflicts that are endemic to capitalism. 

To talk of self-determination is to play with words. Past circumstances notwithstanding, the world is today so integrated that no country can be genuinely independent in how it acts. Usually, it can’t even independently decide how it behaves within its own ‘borders’, for fear of criticism or censure from international bodies, or, more usually, powerful outside interests.

World capitalism always has been, is now, and always will be a quagmire of different competing interests along national, religious and ethnic lines. But all such differences are artificially created by artificial scarcity. Only world socialism can finally put an end to this fight for resources – a sordid fight that, in order to acquire a semblance of decency, hoists coloured rags on poles and conscripts evolved human morals and ethics into ‘national’ armies and risibly ordained ‘national’ interests.

Socialists don’t deny the value of human culture, of course not. What we abhor and oppose is the culture of all the people of the world – which ‘belongs’ to and should be accessible to us all – being turned into nothing more than ruses to corral the working class of the world behind artificial borders, the real and sole purpose of which is to enlist us into fighting for and protecting world markets for ‘us’ and not ‘them’.

Historically, West Papua is little different from any of the countless other regions that have been colonised and invaded over centuries. Today, a population of less than a million in West Papua contains 6 ‘ethnic’ groups, practises 5 religions and speaks a variety of languages. Yet, the twin issues of personal poverty and the human rights of the individual are the main concerns in West Papua, just as they are in West Ham in London or West Bronx in New York. Why should the members of the human family who happen to be born in the particular part of the world named (by ‘foreigners ‘) West Papua limit their horizons, in this day and age, to West Papua? Why shouldn’t an inhabitant of West Papua not see themselves as a citizen of the world, free to live wherever they choose on the planet? Why shouldn’t anyone have the right to go and live in West Papua if they so desire?

Capitalism, of course, can never allow for such a world at peace with itself, of personal universal rights and personal self-determination – the only form of genuine self-determination and the only form that socialists care a hoot for. Only in capitalism is it necessary to construct borders around a designated area arbitrarily created by history, to keep certain people in and keep other people out. Socialism, the only universal solution to ‘borders’ will require no such artificial distinctions between the world’s people and will have no borders. And since this is the goal of socialists, why would we do something as illogical as interrupt or postpone our endeavours to create a borderless world in order to advocate new borders that we aim to abolish?

Material World: Guns before healthcare (2020)

The Material World Column from the June 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent pandemic highlighted the shortages of vital medical supplies even though the need had been anticipated. Under capitalist logic, spare hospital bed capacity and stockpiles of personal protection held in storage for medical staff represent wasted resources and, rather than addressing the deficiencies in healthcare, investment in military equipment to prepare for future wars are considered money better spent.

Max Mutschler from the Bonn International Center for Conversion, a peace institute, explained, ‘Military expenditure is based on worst-case scenarios.’ He explained that the threat of military conflict always remains present in the background: ‘With regard to the tension between the US and China, we do not know if there will be an armed conflict or not. So the militaries in both countries are preparing for this eventuality, and they’re very good when it comes to lobbying for more funds’.

Global military expenditure reached $1.9 trillion in 2019 according to the latest figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Of the 15 countries in the world with the highest defence budgets, six are NATO members: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States. Their combined military expenditure makes up almost half of the world’s total figure. In 2019, the total military expenditure of NATO’s 29 member states was some $1.04 trillion.

According to the SIPRI report, in 2019 the USA was responsible for 38 percent of global military expenditure, totalling $732 billion. The increase over its 2018 budget alone amounted to the equivalent of Germany’s total expenditure in 2019. China ranked second place after the US when it comes to military spending. Its budget contributed 14 percent of global military expenditure in 2019 and rose by more than 5 percent to $261 billion. China’s military budget has jumped by 85 percent since 2010.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed what the priorities are under capitalism. Keeping citizens safe ought to be the greatest responsibility of any society. Since 2003, the world witnessed the SARS, H1N1, MERS, Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks. States, in other words, had ample warning time to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic. But governments’ priority was to spend on armaments rather than readying for a potential pandemic disaster.

Military spending leads to states diverting money away from health care systemsIta fact long acknowledged even by capitalist politicians. US President, Eisenhower, aid in 1953:
  ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children’.
Nation-states have failed to recognise the biggest threats to our safety: pandemics, climate change and environmental destruction, and prefer to safeguard global trade routes and sources of raw material for capitalist industry.

A new report by the National Priorities Project (NPP) at the Institute for Policy Studies, examined the connections between the climate emergency and the US military.

The report, entitled ‘No Warming, No War: How Militarism Fuels the Climate Crisis—and Vice Versa’, says that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic ‘has utterly changed life as we know it’ and warns against working toward a return to an old normal which was ‘defined by unfettered capitalism that thrives on the devastation of our planet, the devaluation of human life, and the use of military force to perpetuate both.’

The report also takes aim at the military contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman that reap massive profits from the devastation of war.
‘On a local and global scale, humanity and community have been co-opted by profit and violence. This ‘normal’ has now brought us to the brink of an existential crisis as climate change continues nearly unabated,’ co-authors Lorah Steichen and Lindsay Koshgarian write in the foreword. ‘In the face of both COVID-19 and the climate crisis, we urgently need to shift from a culture of war to a culture of care’.
Half of all international wars since 1973 have been linked to fossil fuel resources, particularly in the oil-rich Middle East. According to NPP:
‘The US military spends an estimated $81 billion a year to protect the world’s oil supplies—even before accounting for the Iraq war.’
It is ‘among the biggest polluters’ on the planet, producing about 59 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, more than countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. A B-52 consumes as much fuel in an hour as the average car driver uses in 7 years.

The interests of working people are best promoted by a society based on common ownership of the world’s resources, with no national barriers. Then, global production system can be geared not to the interest of profit, but to serving human needs. Rational economic decision-making can replace the present chaotic market. Coordination and planning will aim to benefit the people. The main task of socialist society will be to satisfy people’s needs. That is the goal to socialists strive for.
ALJO

Capital's Strangle-Hold. (1922)

From the March 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article published in the review of the International Federation of Trade Unions a flood of light is thrown upon the question of the capitalists holding up production. It appears that the International Labour Office, acting upon the instructions of its governing body, instituted an enquiry as a result of a meeting held at Genoa in June, 1920. At this meeting a representative of the employers' group said:
"The cost of living has increased in every country to an alarming extent; this phenomenon is due to many causes, but under-production is certainly one of these causes. Under-production is in its turn a result of several causes, some of which (scarcity of raw material, lack of shipping, disorganisation of land transport, etc.), are not within the scope of this body; but it would be interesting to consider whether and to what extent conditions of labour (such as the adoption of the 8-hour day, the frequency of strikes and lock-outs too, if you like, opposition to methods of remuneration proportionate to individual or collective production, etc.) have influenced production."
After some discussion on this point, it was finally agreed to, that the enquiry should be of a general character and not exclusively confined to the conditions of labour.

The enquiry was entrusted to Professor Milhaud, of the University of Geneva, and the first volume of the "Enquiry on Production—General Report" is now to hand, and forms the basis of the article, "An Enquiry into the Causes of the Decrease in Production," from which we quote.

There are two lengthy quotations from well-known capitalist representatives, such as M. Millerand and Mr. Herbert Hoover, the American organiser, both of whom during 1919 and 1920 delivered speeches in which they called upon the workers for increased efforts towards greater production. Of course, neither of these gentlemen called upon the capitalist class to produce more, they apparently being well aware of the fact that it was useless, since the capitalists not only do not work, but have no intention of so doing.

Then follows several lengthy extracts from the report, showing the fluctuation of prices during December, 1919, and June, 1921, concerning such "products of primary importance" as silk, cotton, cast iron, wool, etc., which, reaching their highest price point in May, 1920, fell considerably between that date and June, 1921.

We insert this point because what follows shows that the writer of the article in question must have favoured the demand for increased production, for in commenting upon the great fall in prices, he (or she) asks as follows :
  "Was not this fall in prices just the very remedy of which the whole world was in need ? Was not the general high level of prices the scourge under which the world had been groaning ? Was not the return to normal prices the factor from which increased production was to be expected ?"
How the workers were to benefit by the great fall in prices, he does not show; in fact, although the attempt might have been made, it must have proved a failure.

When the markets of the world are glutted with the wealth produced by the working class, and a fall in prices takes place, it follows that the labour market is subject to the operation of the same factors as operate in the other markets, for besides producing a larger army of unemployed and thus increasing the competition for jobs, a decline in the cost of living cheapens the cost of producing the commodity labour-power, and consequently its price (wages) tends to fall.

The main point of the article to which we draw attention is, that with the fall in prices the writer seems very disagreeably surprised to find that something else had happened, and with an air of injured innocence he laments :
"The fall in prices gave rise to a crisis in production such us the world had not yet witnessed."
Strange ! For it was then discovered that this crisis brought forth a universal restriction of production, a huge systematic plan all over the world to hold up the production of wealth and thus maintain high prices. This was not the policy of the wicked workers in the Trade Unions, who, we are very often told, are guilty of slowing down and "Ca' Canny." On the contrary, it was the capitalists who, when faced with falling markets, decided upon restricting output.

Under the heading o£ systematic restriction the article gives several examples taken from Professor Milhaud's report, as follows :
  "In the first place there is the restriction of the production of Rubber, in which movement the Rubber Growers Association took the initiative in its circular issued on September 24th 1920, the result of which was a reduction in production amounting to 30 per cent.
"The situation with regard to cotton has been exactly the same. In December, 1920, the production of Japan was already reduced by 40 per cent., and further reductions were contemplated. In Egypt it was the public authorities themselves who took the initiative. The provincial councils unanimously decided to restrict the cultivation of cotton for 1921. In accordance with this decision the Sultan signed a decree on December 7th ordering that the area under cotton should be reduced by two-thirds and prohibiting the cultivation of cotton in upper Egypt except in the parts irrigated by the Nile."
"The American Cotton Growers Association succeeded in bringing about the largest percentage of reduction on record in the production of cotton. This Association boasted of the firm and vigorous attitude of the bankers of the whole of the cotton-growing districts, who refused to grant the necessary advances and credits to enable the cultivation of enough cotton to ensure a normal crop.'' 
The "Cotton News" of June 1st, 1921, refers, furthermore, to the radical restriction of the use of artificial manures in the old cotton-growing States along the east bank of the Mississippi,
  "which means to say that the growth and ripening of the new crop will be impeded and. furthermore, that the crop, already greatly restricted as regards the area under cultivation, will be seriously handicapped during the growing season. That applies even in those cases where the climatic conditions would be otherwise favourable."
"A similar policy has been applied by the International federation of Linen Manufacturers, comprising the linen manufacturers of France, England, Holland, Belgium, Ireland, and Denmark, who declared at their meeting held at Brussels on November 18th, 1920, that the most important consideration was to restrict production and stabilise the market."
Many more examples of this kind are given, showing to what an extent the capitalists have their grip on the world's resources. Figures are also given concerning the amount of unemployment in various countries.
Robert Reynolds