Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Bird’s Eye View: War without end (2022)

The Bird’s Eye View Column from the May 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

War without end

One hundred years after the war to end all wars (1914-18) started, Russia’s current war against Ukraine began. February’s major escalation has made it the largest war in Europe since the end of WW2. The mass exodus of millions of children, women, and men too old to be conscripted is similarly record breaking. In 1914 we were told that German ‘militarism’ had to be rebuffed and ‘plucky little Belgium’ supported. Today we are told by the US Ambassador to UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, that ‘There can be no fence-sitters in this crisis’ (pl.usembassy.gov, 21 February) and are encouraged to #StopRussia and #StandWithUkraine. But the truth is wars are always and only waged for largely commercial reasons – access to raw materials, markets, trade routes and strategic positions from which to defend them all. ‘Russia’s president knows exactly what he wants, and it’s not eastern Ukraine. His interests are all about oil and gas and supply routes. The rest is smoke and mirrors’ (Daily Beast, 1 March 2015, bit.ly/3M0FAmK). Socialists oppose all capitalist wars, so-called ‘progressive wars’ or struggles for national liberation. Workers have no country. ‘Russia’s 500 Super Rich Wealthier Than Poorest 99.8% ‘ (Moscow Times, 10 June 2021, bit.ly/3M0FAmK). Similarly, ‘in total, the top 100 wealthiest business people in Ukraine control around $44.5 billion, according to Forbes, which accounts for 27% of Ukrainian GDP in September, 2021’ (en.wikipedia.org, bit.ly/3wmpmiz). Indeed elsewhere, ‘since the onset of Covid-19 in early 2020, the combined wealth of the 650 American billionaires has increased by nearly $1 trillion’ (commondreams.org, 30 November 2020, bit.ly/3L4dypj). The overwhelming non-owning majority, those who do the fighting and the dying, effectively get nothing. Would any worker, apprised of this, raise even a paintball gun? Hence the need for Wilfred Owen’s ‘old lie’: ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’.


Class war

‘Would you stay and fight or leave the country? A bare majority, 55 percent, said they would stay and fight, while 38 percent said they would leave. “When confronted with a terrible hypothetical that would put them in the shoes of the Ukrainians, Americans say they would stand and fight rather than seek safety in another country,” said Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy. That’s one way to spin it, I guess. For me, the fact that just under half of my friends and neighbors would hypothetically abandon their homeland and all it stands for in the face of a foreign invader is less than encouraging. Many people don’t even seem to have hypothetical patriotism, let alone fortitude. Further disheartening is that the youngest Americans, those ages 18-34 and most physically capable, were even less likely to stay and fight. Only 45% said they would remain, while 48 percent would flee’ (postbulletin.com, 17 March,).

Less than encouaging? Disheartening? Not at all! We said at the ‘start of WW1 ‘…that no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working-class blood’ (Socialist Standard, September 1914). Let the capitalists fight it out themselves:
‘SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is offering to fight Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that if he wins, Putin will have to withdraw his military forces from Ukraine. “I hereby challenge Владимир Путин to single combat,” Musk tweeted, using Cyrillic in an apparent bid to make sure Putin understood him. He added, “Stakes are Україна” — Ukraine’ (dailymail.co.uk, 14 March).


War and want

War is completely unnecessary. We are living in a world that has enough resources to provide plenty for all, to eliminate world poverty, ignorance and disease, to provide an adequate and comfortable life for everyone on the planet. Yet under capitalism resources are squandered on armaments, of individual as well as of mass destruction, and, as now, in actual war. ‘Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Feb 27th proposal to ramp up defense expenditures by tens of billions of euros, spurred by Russia’s war on Ukraine, has defense officials in Berlin scrambling to identify spending opportunities that promise fast results, according to several company officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations’ (yahoo.com, 11 March).


Hypersonic

‘Russia unleashed nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles for the first time ever in combat, obliterating an ammunition depot in western Ukraine, its defense ministry said Saturday, as embattled President Volodymyr Zelensky made an urgent plea for “meaningful and fair” peace talks and the strategic port city of Mariupol was on the precipice of falling to the invaders’ (nypost.com, 19 March).


No WW4
‘”The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ (axios.com, March 14).
Rosa Luxemburg offered us a prescription in 1918: ‘During the four years of the imperialist slaughter of peoples, streams and rivers of blood have flowed. Now we must cherish every drop of this precious juice as in a crystal glass. The most sweeping revolutionary action and the most profound humanity—that is the true spirit of socialism. A whole world is to be changed. But every tear that is shed, when it could have been staunched, accuses us’ (marxists.architexturez.net). 

Friends for Life (2022)

Book Review from the May 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity. By Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods. Oneworld £10.99.

The title is a reference to the ‘survival of the fittest’, Charles Darwin’s alternative formulation of the idea of natural selection. This raises the issue of how fitness is measured: it is sometimes seen as a matter of physical strength, intelligence and power, and some racists even regard it as a justification for white supremacy. Here, however, Hare and Woods argue that it is friendliness and co-operation that have led to humans’ evolutionary fitness. The argument is in some ways similar to that of Rutger Bregman in Humankind (discussed in the May 2021 Socialist Standard), though the evidence here is more based on human (pre)history and psychological experiments, rather than discussion of human behaviour in the real world.

The essential concept here is that of self-domestication: ‘natural selection acted on our species in favour of friendlier behavior that enhanced our ability to flexibly cooperate and communicate … we thrived not because we got smarter, but because we got friendlier.’ Female preference for male friendliness is claimed to have caused a friendlier society to evolve. Other human species besides sapiens went extinct since they could not co-operate and communicate in the same way. Friendliness resulted in larger social networks and hence better technology, which meant bigger groups and even better technology, in a positive feedback loop. Human self-domestication happened before eighty thousand years ago. Dogs and bonobos are also ‘built for cooperative communication’, but chimps are not.

However, there is a negative side to the formation of larger groups of people: outsiders can be treated with fear and even aggression. They may even be dehumanised, considered less than fully human, and simianised (looked on as similar to apes). This occurred as part of the justification for the slave trade, and one recent study of Americans found that Muslims were regarded as only 90 percent fully human by the group tested. Dehumanisation seems to be central to explaining why some people do terrible things, along with obedience to authority and a desire to conform (note that all this is in the context of a society that sets people against each other). But contact with other groups reduces conflict, by removing the sense of threat and increasing empathy.

Unfortunately among this presentation is a truly bizarre claim that ‘communists’ (who support ‘extreme forms of egalitarianism’) and anarchists are dehumanisers. Naturally no explanation or justification is offered for this.

On the whole, though, this is a worthwhile account of aspects of human evolution, where co-operation and friendliness have played a crucial role in making modern-day humans such an intelligent and technologically-advanced species, with the potential to live in a world of equality where all needs are met.
Paul Bennett

Russian gold (2022)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘The Bank of Russia has resumed gold purchases this week, but more importantly, the regulator is doing so at a fixed price of 5,000 rubles ($59) per 1 gram between March 28 and June 30, raising the possibility of Russia returning to the gold standard for the first time in over a century,’ RT reported on 2 April (bit.ly/3juJTda)

This led to speculation that, in a further bid to get round Western sanctions, Russia’s next move might be to require all its exports be paid in roubles that would in effect link their price to the price of gold. This would not be a return to the gold standard that existed up until 1914 but would be more like what the US did up until 1971 when it agreed to buy gold at $35 an ounce. This was part of the ‘gold exchange’ system where other currencies had a fixed rate of exchange with the dollar and so were linked to gold that way.

The US decision to end this in 1971 led to the present era of floating exchange rates where rates go up and down depending on the demand for a particular currency to pay for imports or to invest abroad. In practice the dollar remained the main, but by no means the only, ‘reserve currency’ as the currency in which central banks held money for their country’s international transactions.

The West’s decision to deny the Bank of Russia access to its dollar reserves may be more significant than anything Russia might do. It will be a signal to other countries that holding dollars is not as safe as they assumed and may lead them to find alternatives, even to rely more on gold. It could be the beginning of another change in the international payments system.

The previous regime in Russia – the one that came to power in November 1917 with the Bolshevik coup d’état – also toyed with the idea of a gold rouble. Trotsky, who considered himself the leader, albeit in exile, of a within-the-system opposition to the Stalin government, was an advocate of this. In an article published in English in 1935 entitled ‘If America Should Go Communist’ (bit.ly/3xjYJuS), he affirmed his belief that a gold-based currency was best:
‘Your “radical” professors are dead wrong in their devotion to “managed money”. It is an academic idea that could easily wreck your entire system of distribution and production. That is the great lesson to be derived from the Soviet Union, where bitter necessity has been converted into official virtue in the monetary realm. There the lack of a stable gold ruble is one of the main causes of our many economic troubles and catastrophes.’
Trotsky mistakenly believed that Russia, even under Stalin, was in a transition from capitalism to socialism and that, during the transition, money was needed, ideally linked to gold. He was, however, aware that socialism would be a moneyless society, but that was only for the dim and distant future:
‘Only when socialism succeeds in substituting administrative control for money will it be possible to abandon a stable gold currency. Then money will become ordinary paper slips, like trolley or theater tickets. As socialism advances, these slips will also disappear, and control over individual consumption – whether by money or administration – will no longer be necessary when there is more than enough of everything for everybody!’
What he failed to realise was that the very existence, due to ‘bitter necessity,’ for money in the Russian economy showed that it was still a capitalist economy. It wasn’t in a transition to socialism. If anything, the state capitalism that existed there in his time was a transition to the more classic type of capitalism that existed in the West, and which largely came into being when the old USSR collapsed in 1991.

Mutual Aid (2022)

by Clifford Harper
From the May 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

A recent edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time featured a discussion on the Russian anarchist Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin. The focus was not primarily on his political advocacy, rather it was his book Mutual Aid: a factor of evolution that was the object of consideration.

Published a couple of years before the Socialist Party of Great Britain was founded, it is an examination of the role cooperation and mutuality has played in evolution. There was an aggressive strain of Darwinism, personified by Darwin’s bulldog, T.H. Huxley, which emphasised the war of all against all as the motive force behind natural selection.

This view has often been deployed as justification for capitalism being the expression of self-interest as the prime motivation of human economic, political and social relations. It has been a persistent theme, running from Hobbes’s Leviathan, that seemed to draw biological justification from Darwin’s work.

In common parlance, this thinking is often expressed as socialism being a nice idea, but against human nature. If evolution depends on natural selection being driven only by self-regarding motives, then socialists are setting themselves against nature.

Kropotkin however, along with many, many others internationally, insisted that it was this brutalist view that disregarded the actuality of nature. Rather than begin by justifying human potential for cooperation, which might have been regarded as a plea for human exceptionalism, his approach was to examine nature more broadly to see if there was evidence of mutuality being fundamental.

His was no sentimental view of nature, as is demonstrated in the opening lines of the Introduction. ‘Two aspects of animal life impressed me most… One of them was the extreme severity of the struggle for existence which most species of animals have to carry on against an inclement Nature; the enormous destruction of life which periodically results from natural agencies’.

This is the antithesis of unbridled idealism, a realistic view based on his own extensive travels, experience and observation. The second aspect arising from his observations is telling:
‘…even in those spots where animal life teemed in abundance, I failed to find – although I was eagerly looking for it – that bitter struggle for the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists… as the dominant characteristic of the struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution.’
Then, chapter by chapter, he goes on to demonstrate how it is mutuality amongst animals of the same species that is the primary, and crucial, factor in survival and evolution. He begins with invertebrates and progresses through ants, bees, birds to mammals.

On reaching humans he presents what evidence there is that cooperation in the Palaeolithic period was a necessity for survival in a hostile world, continuing to be so in both the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. Primitive communism was not some fancy of Marx and Engels.

He goes on to trace this important feature of human life as it expressed itself, often in adverse political situations, from pre-history into history itself, into the medieval free cities and guilds. He cites examples of insurgent warriors taking land by force who eventually swapped spears for spades and operated cooperative farming communities.

Even in the 19th century he found expressions of mutuality in village communities and the nascent labour movement, although it is through the 19th century and the rise of industrial capitalism that private property became predominant and protected by the state. The mutual gave way to the individual.

While Mutual Aid is an anarchist constructing a scientific basis for communism rather than the historical materialism of Marx, the two approaches are surely not exclusive. Marx gives an understanding of how we arrived at the society we have and identifies the mechanism for change, the conscious action of the working class acting on its own behalf. The object being the establishment of a worldwide socialist system based on meeting need not profit. The question as to its viability will undoubtedly continue to be raised until socialism is actually realised.

Kropotkin indicates that rather than being alien to nature, biology demonstrates the contrary. Modern research and observation has found cooperation to be fundamental in nature. Plants provide each other with nutrients, fish groom each other for parasites, ants work together to build nests, bees sacrifice their lives for the good of the hive and predators hunt in packs.

Evolution requires groups of organisms to act together for mutual benefit. In 2016, research using a new conceptual evolutionary model at Tomsk State University was published. Competition and the struggle for existence were found not to be the main drivers of evolution. Rather, the avoidance of competition is important (bit.ly/3xkTOK9).

So, Kropotkin is vindicated by research in the land of his birth, as well as research more widely throughout the world. His own book refers to many researchers and observers from a plethora of nationalities, just as he draws evidence from every continent. By doing so he not only makes the case for mutuality, but also demonstrates human progress to be a global phenomenon, as socialism, as the practical realisation of mutuality, must be.

This book review might seem to be 120 years late, but not so. There is an abiding interest in the premise of Kropotkin’s argument and it continues to have a resonance for those advocating a radical alternative to capitalism.

Eighty years after Mutual Aid was published Stephen Jay Gould’s essay (1988), Kropotkin Was No Crackpot (marxists.org/subject/science/essays/kropotkin.htm) examines the controversy around the meaning for society of Darwinism at the turn of the Twentieth century.

Gould expresses how seemingly contradictory positions do not have to be polarised: ‘Reproductive success … works in many modes. Victory in battle may be one pathway, but cooperation, symbiosis and mutual aid may also secure success…’

He goes on to outline Kropotkin’s work, setting it in the mainstream of Russian thinking as exemplified by N.I. Danilevsky whose expertise in both population dynamics and fisheries led him to critique Darwinism as ‘…the credo of a distinctly British ‘national type’ as contrasted with old Slavic values of collectivism.’ The ‘national type’ he referred to was the line of thought running from Hobbes through Adam Smith to Thomas Malthus, the developing philosophy of capitalism.

In September 2021, to mark the centenary year of his death, PM Press/Kairos published a new edition of Mutual Aid with a new Forward, Introduction, Afterword and Postscript. Some of the terminology is anachronistic – references to savages and red Indians – but it is of its day. When he uses such nomenclature, it is not to disparage, rather to show mutuality to be universal.

Those who would change society need to counter assertions rendered as indisputable facts, such as competition is fundamental to human nature. What Mutual Aid demonstrates, along with subsequent biological research showing cooperation at the cellular level is vital for organic development, is that advocacy of a system based on people voluntarily contributing their abilities so all can receive according to their needs is not utopianism, but natural. Mutual aid indeed.
Dave Alton

Voice From The Back: Class War (1998)

The Voice From The Back Column from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class War

War may be hell, but so is work. Managers now double their chances of a heart attack a week after they fire an employee. For the first time, according to a report in the journal Circulation, significant events at work have been tied to heart attacks “In order to negotiate with employees, we treat them as opponents,” says Dr Joseph Loizzo of New York’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. “It’s the kind of thing that happens in warfare, in combat . . .” “These things take a toll,” says Loizzo, who recommends such de-stressing techniques as yoga, meditation and prayer. An even easier solution: Hire your own hatchet man. Financial Mail on Sunday, 19 April.


Creating superhumans

“My fear with genetic engineering very simply is one of the things I try to bring out in my book [Remaking Eden, Weidenfeld, £20]: that it won’t be available to everybody. It will cause greater social injustice. That’s my real fear,” he [Lee Silver] says. “I don’t think it is going to be used terribly: I think it is going to be used to prevent disease. The problem is—in the US—that it is going to be controlled by the market-place. And I am very cynical about the market-place. That’s my fear about genetic engineering. It is so powerful, it is so good, it will only be available to those who have money.” Guardian online, 16 April.


Big Brother

The existence of Echelon was officially acknowledged for the first time two months ago in a report, Assessing the Technologies of Political Control, commissioned by the European parliament’s Civil Liberties Commission. It stated “Within Europe, all e-mail, telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the US National Security Agency, transferring all target information from the European mainland via the strategic hub of London, then by satellite to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill, Yorkshire. Financial Mail on Sunday, 1 March.


Alarm

Clergy are to be offered a new device for their protection—a crucifix with an integral alarm. Avon Silversmiths plans to launch the product, which costs £169, at the annual National Christian Resources Exhibition next month. One tug is said to be enough to activate the device. Times, 13 April.


Unite for work

A salesman’s damages award has been doubled to £320,000 because a road accident made him a “better person” and he lost the aggression necessary for his job. Charles Cornell suffered serious brain injuries in the accident on the M11 in Essex in 1991 which left him with a “a more pleasant personality”, Lord Justice Stuart Smith said in the Court of Appeal. Although friends and relatives thought the change was for the better, his less aggressive manner robbed him of his thrusting nature and he was now unemployable in a reputable sales force. Evening Mail, 21 March.


Global capital diplomacy

The Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which will ease rules for global capital flow, has been in negotiations since late 1995. Its advocates argue it will promote investment flows that help promote economic growth and technology transfers, and so enable poor countries to catch up with rich ones. To its enemies, it is a charter for multinational companies to observe minimum environmental or labour standards, while giving them the right to sue governments who harm their interests. Guardian online, 16 April.


God embraces Mammon

Canon Raymond Rodger, personal assistant to the Right Rev Robert Hardy, Bishop of Lincoln, and who has helped to set up the first masters degree in church management at Lincoln, said the notion of the Cross becoming a brand image was useful. “It is our job to extract the best that successful corporations have to offer and use it in our context,” he said. “We have to think in terms of exceeding customer delight. What we have to offer is the glory of God, and we have got to give the very best service to our customers in terms of added value and value for money that we can. Our product is quite simply allowing people to come closer to God.” Times, 13 April.


Our society of hatred

When the Nazis invaded in 1941, the Jewish population of Lithuania—the home of their community for 600 years—numbered about 250,000. Four years alter, 200,000 had been murdered in cold blood by Nazi Einsatzkommandos, assisted by numerous and, by some accounts, enthusiastic Lithuanian auxiliaries. Almost all were foully killed within 10 weeks of the Nazi blitzkrieg. The remnant who survived were kept alive as “work jews”, escaped, or were hidden by all too few “righteous gentiles”. The Lithuanian and Latvian Jewish Communities, we learn, “had more of their people killed in the Holocaust, proportionally, than any others in Europe.” Guardian, 16 April (Review of Heshel’s Kingdom by Dan Jacobson).


Don’t tell them!

Powerful American business interests want to stop British supermarkets telling consumers which products contain genetically engineered ingredients . . . US commodity firms are threatening to complain to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, claiming that labelling by European companies is an obstacle to free trade. Financial Mail on Sunday, 19 April.

From work to welfare and back (1998)

From the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
At one time the Labour Party wanted to reform capitalism into something different and better. Now it isn’t even a genuine reformist party but, in its thinking as well as its practice, is continuing the Thatcherite counter-reformation of whittling away state benefits.
“A new contract that will lift people out of dependence and into dignity” was how Frank Field, the Minister for Welfare Reform, described the proposals in the Labour government’s Green Paper New Ambitions for Our Country–A New Welfare Contract, published at the end of March.

The best form of welfare, declared Field, was work. Everybody able to do so had a duty to work and the Labour government would take steps to ensure that three groups in particular—young people, single parents and the long-term unemployed—fulfilled this duty. Of course it wasn’t presented quite as bluntly as this but in the form of offering these groups the “opportunity” to work and of “helping” them to overcome their “dependence” on state benefits. It was clear all the same that Article I of the new “contract” the Labour government was proposing them reads: Either you take a job or we cut your benefit.

Field was in effect saying that it is better for the poor to be dependent on an employer rather than on the state. But why? To Socialists both forms of dependency are equally undignified, an expression of the fact that in capitalist society the propertyless majority only have a choice of who to depend on for the source of the money they must have to buy what they need to live. What we want is a society in which nobody will be in this position, but where everybody co-operates to produce what is needed and then everybody has access as of right to the common store of wealth to satisfy their needs, a society of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.

Field, on the other hand, as a manager of the political side of capitalism, has a different point of view. From his perspective, it is better that the poor should be dependent on some employer for an income rather than on the state, for the simple reason that this is cheaper for the state and saving money on welfare benefits is the name of the game.

What Field was announcing was a policy aimed at shifting as much as possible of the burden of maintaining the poor from the state to employers. This has two aspects. First, forcing the able-bodied poor to take any job, however shitty and however low-paid, by threatening to cut their benefits. Second, if the wages are too low, making them up to the poverty line by payments either to the employer or to the person. Subsidising low-pay employers in this way will still cost the state some money but far less than the present system, so Field and his team of accountants at the Department of Social Security have calculated.

This does represent a change of policy, but is one forced on all capitalist governments, irrespective of their political colour, by the workings of the capitalist economic system. Capitalism runs on the profits made in the profit-seeking sector of the economy and most of the state’s income comes from these profits, either through taxation or through borrowing. The state is in this sense parasitic on the profit-seeking sector and when this latter is in difficulty, as it has been since the long post-war boom came to an end in 1973, the state has had to trim its spending.

This is why all capitalist states have experienced a more or less permanent budgetary crisis since the middle of the 1970s. The main consequence of this for ordinary people has been a continual whittling away of the reform measures that existed up until then. This was the policy of the Thatcher administration who carried it out under the ideology of “anti-socialism” by which was meant undoing everything the post-war Labour government had done. This policy is being continued by the present Labour government because, given the economic circumstances, as Thatcher put it, “there is no alternative”.

Christian doctrine
The only difference is one of tone and style. Thatcher and her ministers arrogantly expressed the contempt the ruling class has always had for the lower orders by denouncing the poor as work-shy scroungers. Blair and his ministers preach to the poor that they have a duty to work in accordance with the Christian doctrine that, because Adam and Eve dared to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, all humans have been sentenced by God to hard labour for life. The Tories just cut benefits to the poor but Labour tells them that if they don’t work they won’t get to heaven either.

There was a time when the Labour Party’s ideal was to shift the source of people’s income away from work and more and more towards as-of-right payments from the state. The more daring of their thinkers looked forward to a time when, in return for some socially useful work, everybody would be guaranteed a decent income by the state sufficient to meet their needs. They saw this as coming about as a result of the extension of the system of transfer payments to parents, pensioners, the unemployed, the sick and disabled which already existed. It was an argument that the way forward lay through more, not less, of people’s income being provided by the state.

It was a reformist proposal in the classic sense of the term—a suggested way of gradually transforming existing capitalist society into something different. It was never going to work (since taxing profits to pay people a decent income goes against the whole logic of the capitalist system) and it hasn’t, but at least it represented a view that things don’t have to be as they are. The present Labour government not only disagrees with this classic reformist strategy but wants to move—and is bringing in measures to move—in the opposite direction: away from income-through-the state back to income-from-jobs.

The harsh reality of governing capitalism long ago led to Labour accepting the logic of the profit system. In practice all Labour governments have done this but it has now led to Labour embracing its ideology as well. The Labour Party was set up to try to reform capitalism into something better for workers but it now merely aspires to make capitalism work more efficiently by its own criteria of profitability and competitiveness. Instead of the Labour Party changing capitalism, it is capitalism that has changed the Labour Party.
Adam Buick

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Moral Craze (1998)

From the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
A miserable moral anxiety is in the air. The self-righteous are on the march. Wrong. Right. Good. Evil. Simplistic moral certainties blast from the megaphones of the media, as the high priests of Capital cast their judgements upon everything but the lousy system of class exploitation that keeps the vicars, the rabbis, the mullahs and assorted other bullies in business.
From presidential blow jobs to ex-murderers signing book deals, an obsession with the trivia of individual transgressions serves as a soap opera distraction from the pervasive atrocities of the system. How much easier it is to incite crowds of under-educated, aimless, embittered kids to riot in Bristol because a sex offender released from prison is sitting in a police cell thinking deranged thoughts than to attend to the malignant rationality of a social system which condemns millions of children to the fatal abuse of starving in a world of plenty.

We know what the Moors’ murderers did. We know where they are. We know that Evil is getting its due reward. And how easy it is to sit in perpetual anger, demonising their villainy. We are told their names and their crimes are repeated with regularity in a frenzy of tabloid outrage, as if these were the sole disrupters of an otherwise tranquil society. We do not see published the names of those decision-makers in the World Bank whose determination to cut aid here and finance dictators there has led to millions dwelling in poverty and perishing needlessly. There are no scowling mugshots of those men in suits from the IMF who enrich themselves upon the corpses of those who cannot be milked for profit. Where are the lurid tabloid accounts of the sordid merchants of death who jet from nation to nation attending arms fairs, exchanging millions of dollars for the latest weapons of murder, the most sophisticated torture equipment, the means of creating hell on earth? For such callous inhumanity they will be medalled, given knighthoods, made richer than the most violent of gangsters could hope to become. It is a highly selective morality that capitalism embraces.

Jack Straw, the man who shopped his own son to the police for possessing dope, appears in front of every camera that will recognise him. He is in a denouncing mood. He has been taking lessons from Michael Howard. He is Disgusted of New Labour, ready to write to his MP and demand that something is done when it occurs to him–I am an MP, so I can pursue my philistine rage in the name of justice. So the tabloid rags, with their naked models and naked lies, provide space for the Straw man to denounce the child killer who was paid money for helping to write a book about what, as a deranged child, had made her kill. Thatcher demands $25,000 a time to appear before worshipping Americans with her kiss-and-tell Falklands memories. The murdered conscript crew of the Belgrano is conveniently unmentioned either by Thatcher or the tabloid bog rolls. But Straw is not denouncing Thatcher. Neither is Blair. They are out to pick on an old woman who has written a book regretting that she had once committed a hideous offence. Is it the money that they begrudge her? Or the fact that she has dared to confuse the simplicity of witch-hunting by expressing remorse?

Sickening hypocrisy
How convenient these moral distractions are for those with an indefensible system to sustain. So, Robin Cook insists that he did not know–or forgot–or wasn’t as bad as the Tories had been if he did indeed know–that arms were being sold to mercenaries in Sierra Leone, even though international law forbade it. Call in the broadsheet detectives who will piece by piece, in the manner of a bad Agatha Christie novel, seek to unravel the story. There is a rather bigger story they will ignore, of course. Who are the regimes to which Mr Cook is quite happy and legally free to sell weapons of mass destruction? When last did the Foreign Office publish a list of those companies in Britain which make profits from selling torture equipment to dictators? And how big are those profits? And what precisely has happened to those upon whom they have been used? Can we expect a statement about that, Mr Cook? Perhaps the tortured and the bombed should be informed that these

British weapons have been sold in the name of an “ethical foreign policy”. A further twist of the knife. But Cook can rest easy in his bed, for the journalists are much more concerned about who he shares it with than how many lives he helps to ruin as head of one of the biggest arms-exporting nations in the world. Now, that’s what the public need to know: Was Robin Cook unfaithful to his wife? Will he be unfaithful to his new wife? And was Bill Clinton the innocent victim of a crazed young girl’s fantasy or was she the victim of a dirty old man’s fantasy? And what about OJ Simpson–and George Michael–and Michael Jackson–and on and on until a frenzy or moral anxiety scares everyone into trusting no-one, particularly themselves. Because when the majority are frightened and unconfident they trust the nearest bully who will tell them that his mob can keep the streets safe.

Law and Order.
We have always known that Labour and Tories support the same system. The current fashion for shocked or amused realisation that Blair is to Major what Major was to Blair is no postmodern irony–just what socialists have been saying for decades. But can even the most hardened of scientific socialists be permitted just the merest morsel of surprise at the ease with which New Labour has taken to its very heart–or, more probably, its Christian soul–the indecently unforgiving, excessively punitive, uncouthly scapegoating rhetoric which seeks to monopolise virtue as a state asset while condoning every crime of capitalism as if it has nothing at all to do with them? The fine-tuned skills of sickening hypocrisy have exceeded all negative expectations.

The worst of this obsession with personal moral transgressions is its failure to see anti-social behaviour as anything but inner weakness: an inherent flaw. So the fault must be purged–isolated–tormented–anything but understood. And this is the right way for capitalism to respond. Because the alternative would be to go beyond the tabloid simplicities of crime and punishment and seek the cause of what makes killers kill and sex offenders offend and muggers mug. There is the Saudi Arabian response–of which New Labour’s toughness is a cowardly imitation–which refuses to ask questions. And if you cut off the hands of enough shoplifters and whip enough adulterers it will not be too long before the message is driven home and only the most persistent offenders need to be tortured, killed or incarcerated. Elegantly simple. The more complicated alternative of seeking causes is not that difficult. Most child sex abusers were themselves victims of child sex abuse. Most muggers are from families that are poor and uneducated rather than affluent and privileged. Many rapists have immersed themselves in commercially packaged porn, appealing to their disempowered craving for respect and power, before they rape women. In short, the behaviour of those we least like arises from specific social relationships. We cannot ignore or approve of the relationships and then indulge in orgies of moral indignation because they produce inevitable social effects.
Steve Coleman

New Itinerary for Africa (1998)

From the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those who chanced upon UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s recent report on Africa’s ills, requested by the UN Security Council as a contribution to the US effort to bring about an “African Renaissance”, could be forgiven for thinking it was written by President Bill Clinton on behalf of the US corporate elite.

Annan’s manifesto smacked of the same hypocrisy and was fused with the same Orwellian double-speak as had characterised much of President Clinton’s speeches during his six-nation tour of Africa in March.

Annan’s blueprint called for continent-wide reforms and urged Africa to solve its own problems. He criticised the “accountability of leaders”, neglecting to mention just how many were US-backed, the “inadequate checks and balances, non-adherence to the rule of law”, the lack of respect for human rights, argued that African governments should stamp out corruption and accused African states of being far too reliant on military force. All of this would be laughable were it not downright pathetic, for the same critique could just as easily be levelled against the US, with particular emphasis on violations of human rights and some 300 foreign military interventions.

The report suggested Africa could steer a path to “economic liberation”, by ushering in deregulation and the privatisation of state-controlled industries and that the private sector was the engine of growth that would speed Africa’s integration into the world economy.

Ever the altruist, Annan also suggested that other countries could also do their bit to help Africa, but for instance by reducing debt repayments and by opening their markets to African goods, and he proposed that a ministerial session be held every six months by the UN Security Council that would result in a summit in five years’ time. Talk about the triumph of hope over experience!

It hardly seems coincidental that Annan’s report comes less than a month after president Clinton’s six-nation tour of Africa, nor that this tour included specifically those countries deemed economically stable, countries highly rated in a Harvard study which listed African countries according to “good governance and competition”—Ghana, South Africa, Botswana, Senegal and Uganda. Rwanda was included but only as an afterthought and the object of the visit to “send a message that genocide is not acceptable and cannot go unpunished”, (Guardian, 26 March)—brave words indeed from a president whose military machine brought about bloodshed in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Iraq on a much greater scale than in Rwanda.

Pre-empting Annan’s report, President Clinton had previously declared his 12-day visit to Africa to be all about “delivering the message that the US stands ready to be an active partner in Africa’s prosperity”, (Guardian, 16 March). If past experience is anything to go by, Africa’s immiserated millions should set no store by such statements. For when it comes to trade with Africa and direct foreign investment, the facts speak for themselves:

Whereas flows of direct foreign investment reached $315 billion in 1995—two-thirds of those transactions between the wealth OECD countries—only 0.5 percent found its way to the developing world. and while the former are the main beneficiaries of the “Uruguay Round” of GATT, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to lose $1,200 million per year. It is also the case that trans-national corporations (TNCs) have almost total control over the process of globalisation, and that they can dictate the terms and conditions governments must adhere to prior to investment. These same TNCs will have the biggest say in Africa’s future, and it’s worth pointing out that in 1994, the top 5 TNCs had an income of $871.4 billion, compared to sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP of $246.8 billion, that in the same year General Motors alone enjoyed corporate sales of $168.8 billion, while Nigeria (Africa’s most populous country) had a GDP one-fifth of that figure.

This is the reality behind Kofi Annan’s diatribe. These are the facts President Clinton’s speeches are devoid of. There is no real agenda to lighten the lot of the average African, regardless of the cant contained in the recent African Growth and Opportunity Act approved by the US House of Representatives. Africa may well experience growth, but when the big boss is sent over to Africa you can bet your bottom dollar the real beneficiaries are already sizing up Africa’s mineral deposits and the exploitability of the African working class. That whereas in the past, when Africa was divided between the superpowers, each one pursuing their own interests, the future will see Africa divided between the super TNCs.
John Bissett

Obituary: Sid Woodhall (1998)

Obituary from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sid Woodhall died in mid-January this year. Who was Sid Woodhall? You won’t find his name in any newspapers and he never received a title or was honoured by the Queen or voted “Australian of the Year”. In fact Sid died virtually alone without family or friends to remember him. Sid would be classed as a “nobody” and our society would be completely unaware that he ever existed.

But Sid did exist and he first contacted me by letter in October 1995. Although we never did meet I got to like Sid through a lively exchange of letters and I discovered a lot about Sid’s life which has left a lasting impression upon me. During this all-too-brief association it was clear that Sid was seriously ill and yet his correspondence demonstrated a great variation of interests and a sense of humour that I could really take to. I regret losing a friend who I wish I could have known longer.

Sid Woodhall was born in East Ham, in London’s East End on 2 January 1927. He was the youngest child, born—no doubt surprisingly—to parents who were at that time, quite elderly. His father was a tug skipper, hauling barges on the river Thames between Woolwich and Tower Bridge. As a lad Sid would often hear SPGB speakers on street corners and outside pubs and their Socialist message is something that registered and never left Sid’s mind.

Sid was still a schoolboy when World War II started and he was evacuated with his elder brother to Devon to escape the bombing blitz upon London. He described his elder brother as “a bit of a villain” who consistently managed free transport into Exeter so Sid and he could regularly see the sights of that city.

Sid left school during the war and soon afterwards he was conscripted into the coal mines as a “Bevin Boy”. This was a scheme devised by the then Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin, where young men, selected by ballot, were sent to work in coal mines instead of doing conventional, military service. The importance of coal at this time was paramount. HM Navy Fleet and Merchant shipping were almost entirely coal-fired and the railways were completely dependent upon coal.

Sid was sent to Doncaster main colliery No.67 for four weeks’ training. “You walked into the side of a mountain (Dole Holes) and coupled up trucks just about 100 yards from the pit face!” For four years extending beyond the end of the war Sid was forced to labour in a Barnsley coal mine in South Yorkshire. During this time he lost both parents. His mother died in 1946 and his father the following year.

Sid was kept in the mines after the end of the war until eventually military demobilisation provided adequate labour again. Sid was then summarily dismissed by the mine-owners and government “without any gratuity or help of any kind . . . not even a suit, which demobilised servicemen received. Now in his twenties and without any experience or training for anything else and employment priority given to returned servicemen, Sid found life difficult. Indeed he found he was unable to pay for adequate food and accommodation for himself. He was forced to rely on his married older sister to feed him and she gave him a few shillings from time to time to help him during this period.

Sid eventually became a seaman and joined the SS Orsova which voyaged regularly from Tilbury to Australia’s east coast ports. He also visited Fremantle, some pacific islands and ports on America’s pacific coast. In 1959 he left the sea and emigrated to Australia where his sister now lived, in Adelaide. The ending of a romance (“dumped by my girlfriend”) saw Sid travelling to Sydney and acquiring a job in a paper mill at Botany Bay. After seven months he returned to Adelaide where he took “umpteen jobs”.

In 1964 Sid trained to become a psychiatric nurse and for the next 18 years he witnessed some heart-breaking and distressing cases of humanity which he tried to tend. His most traumatic experience was his involvement in a nursing-home fire which caused the deaths of some patients and the follow-up coroner’s court enquiry.

Sid began to experience breathing problems and in 1982 they became so acute that he was forced to resign. Constant medical attention classified him as an official invalid until age 65 in 1992, when he became an aged-pension recipient.

During these years Sid’s elder brother in England and his elder sister in Australia died. Sid’s breathing problems deteriorated over the years and he was now virtually alone and living in a small rented South Australian Housing Trust flat. At times his breathing difficulties became dangerously severe and Sid now became a regular patient, visiting and staying in hospitals for tests and various attempted treatments to alleviate his suffering. Sid became more and more incapacitated but, when at home, he befriended and fed stray animals that other people had dumped. Sid expressed concern for the welfare of these animals.

Sid spent his 71st birthday in hospital struggling to breathe, dosed up with morphine. He died a few days later when his lungs refused to function any more.

The diagnosis of Sid’s condition apparently varied from “chronic asthma” to “asthma with complicated chest infections”. No treatment was able to halt the deterioration and the cause was never investigated. Was it purely coincidence that those vital years of Sid’s adolescent life were spent continuously breathing coal-dust? Is it not quite probable that the form of pneumoconiosis that plagues coal-mines also slowly killed Sid Woodhall? Sid suffered all his life, initially from humiliation then deprivation and finally from remorseless and agonising ill-health, all probably caused by the “joy” of being forced to help ungrateful capitalist governments to win their war.

Sid never forgot the words of the SPGB speakers which he heard in his youth. He was happy to re-associate with these ideas whenever he was able to. In a recent letter he wrote: “Although I will never see World Socialism develop it is essential that these ideas be kept alive until people are ready to accept them. If the Socialist idea is ever lost then all hope, not only for humanity but for the whole planet, is also lost.”

Sid was a somebody and he represented the hundreds of thousands of people who desire a better way of living so others can avoid the sufferings that are common under our present social system. Sid understood the significance of the Socialist ideal and that made him special. Personally, I would prefer one Sid Woodhall to 10,000 politicians, ambassadors, bureaucratic figure-heads and successful entrepreneurs. Perhaps you could find a moment or two to reflect upon what you now know about Sid Woodhall.
Ron  Stone, 
Western Australia

Greasy Pole: Tories lying low? (1998)

The Greasy Pole column from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Tory Party moves in a mysterious way, its wonders to perform. Well that bit about performing wonders may explain how they are moving at the present—which is mysterious indeed. We refer to the fact that, just over a year since Tony Blair moved into Number Ten, the Conservative Party seems bent on convincing everyone that they are in a condition rather like those persistent comas which often affect the victims of serious accidents. They are almost immobile. They make hardly a sound. Anxious friends gather round, wondering whether it is true yet to switch off the beeping life-support machine.

While it is true that William Hague is active and noisy, often outsmarting Blair in the puerile exchanges of Prime Minister’s Questions (which sends the sparsely occupied benches behind him into raptures) the same cannot be said for the rest of the Tory Shadow ministers. For example the career of Robin Cook at the Foreign Office has so far been a succession of crises—without counting those on his domestic scene. A most recent of these has been the arms-to-Sierra Leone affair, which threatened to implicate him over the breaches of a United Nations embargo on sending weapons to that unhappy country. But through all his difficulties it seems that Cook has been able to rely on his opposite number not to make things more difficulty by behaving like—well, his opposite number.

For those who don’t know it—and there must be many—Cook is shadowed by Michael Howard, who used to be a Home Secretary who would bring the House down at Tory Conferences with his promises to have half the population in prison and the other half keeping them there. Howard made a name for himself as a political bruiser (as Jack Straw once found out, to his obvious discomfort) and he was expected to give Cook a very, very rough ride. When he did speak on the issue it was not with his customary ruthlessness.

Mary Bell
Then there is the case of the man Howard savaged in the Commons. Jack Straw looks and sounds like a person oppressed by visions of marauding teenagers out late at night, washing the windscreens of strangers’ cars when they should be at home doing their homework. Straw’s quick-fire populist responses to every vote-worthy incident in the lad-and-order filed makes the knee-jerk reactions for which Thatcher’s Home Secretaries were notorious look positively elephantine. Consider, for example, his desperate attempts to cash in on the tabloid frenzy over the Gita Sereny book about Mary Bell. There is no question that Mary Bell did an awful thing—although how awful it was in comparison to the mass murder in wars which the Labour Party so eagerly supports is another question. It was probably an unwise move by the author, to pay Mary Bell for being interviewed for the book—although how this should be worse than the arms industry making profits by supplying dictatorships in places like Indonesia is something to ponder on.

But these were side issues. The gutter press, ignoring the fact that some of them had made large offers to Mary Bell for her story, saw a wonderful opportunity to create the kind of self-righteous panic which helps them sell so many copies. Faced with a surge of mob hysteria demanding all manner of irrelevant, illegal or impractical things, Straw might have taken a stand, instead he acted in what we suppose must be called his character and posed as the mob’s friend in High Places.

After 1945
The Shadow Home Secretary is Brian Mawhinney, who during his time as Tory Party chairman had plenty of practice in the business of reconstructing reality and seizing every opportunity to make a party point. Naively, it might have been expected that Mawhinney would have wanted to expose Straw’s disgraceful behaviour, if only to make a few people wonder whether there was more to him than a dishonest party hack. But from Mawhinney there was no comment worth so much as a mention in the media. Perhaps he was submissively contemplating his own boredom, which is rumoured to be responsible for Hague’s intention to ditch him at the coming reshuffle.

Stephen Dorrell, who was a minister in the last government and who may yet become Conservative leader, had recently said that his party is deliberately keeping silent because the voters simply don’t want to hear from them for a couple of years. Dorrell says that was how the Tories behaved after their defeat in 1945 but that hardly fits the facts. As in 1997, in 1945 the Conservative were damaged by a reputation for cynicism and complacency. They were held responsible for the inter-war slumps and for collusion with Nazi Germany, which led to the outbreak of war. But their reaction to electoral defeat was anything but despairing. Under the chairmanship of Woolton they at once set about reorganising their party.

One effect of this was to turf out many of the vacuous buffoons who rarely spoke in, or even attended, the Commons but who had won the nomination for a safe Tory seat by contributing handsomely to the local party’s funds. It was among these Honourable members that the Nazis had their most enthusiastic supporters. Another effect was the production of a series of policy statements—like the Industrial Charter, which was approved at the 1947 Tory Conference, described by its originator R. A. Butler in his memoirs as
” . . . an assurance that, in the interests of efficiency, full employment and social security, modern Conservatism would maintain strong central guidance over the operation of the economy.”

Election winners
And there was the emergence of the Tory Party, out from the genteel exchanges of coffee mornings and whist drives into the crude robustness of the outdoor meeting. This was quite a shock to them, not to mention to their audiences but it was all intended to prove that the party had changed; it had taken the lesson of the defeat to heart and it was now a party which cared and listened and acted. A people’s party in fact—and where have we heard that before?

Whatever the reason for the Conservatives being now so quiescent it would be very unwise to write them off as an electoral force, as so many did in 1945. They are among the world’s most expert election winners, which was why Blair and his acolytes decided that Labour’s best chance of being elected was to become as much like the Tories as possible. For the Conservatives there is an obvious danger in keeping so far below the parapet: stay there too long and the voters will grow up believing that Tony Blair has always ruled over us and always will—which will be neither mysterious nor wonderful.
Ivan

Appeal for funds for India (1998)

Party News from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The World Socialist Party (India) is in the process of building a party headquarters in Calcutta.They need money to complete the building and also to equip it with office furniture, a computer, a fax machine and other modern methods of communication. The office is situated at 257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East).Acharyya Prafulla Park, Calcutta 700086.

Donations can be sent via the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We will collect the money and forward it as a single sum so as to minimise bank charges.

Please send any donation to:

India Fund, Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN. Cheques should be made payable to: “The Socialist Party of Great Britain”.

Thank you in advance.

The Reverend Bigot, I Presume? (1998)

TV Review from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

When socialists have engaged reactionaries and fascists in debate before now, our critics on the left-wing of capitalism’s political apparatus have opposed us and, on occasion, tried to break-up our meetings. We have always insisted that the best way to effectively oppose reactionary ideas is to give them critical, public exposure to the socialist viewpoint.

Preventing free speech is neither democratic (and socialists are democrats–indeed the democrats) nor an effective way of preventing the spread of dangerous ideas and political illusions. While the left have been correct to assert the view that giving repugnant ideas exposure can sometimes assist them gain credence, it does very much depend how those views are conveyed. There has been no better illustration of this process than the recent Witness programme for Channel Four entitled “Dr Paisley, I Presume”, first shown at the end of April and then repeated due to popular demand in mid-May.

This was a programme in which one of Britain’s foremost bigots and racists was made to look the complete and utter fool many us already know him to be. It was entertaining, intelligently done, and merciless.

The focus of this programme was, of course, the Reverend Ian Paisley, or “Dr” Paisley to you. Dr Paisley was filmed—”fly-on-the-wall” documentary style–on a trip as a missionary to central Africa. The programme, though a one-off, took as its reference point the recent spate of serial documentaries previously commented upon in this column, such as BBC1’s Hotel about The Adelphi in Liverpool, or its series about Unijet’s holiday reps. Just like these programmes, it was not an overt assassination–it was much more subtle than that. It was the filming of a slow and painful suicide.

It’s a jungle out there
It would be a very brave or foolish person who would voluntarily submit themselves to the intrusion of a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary camera crew. If you have as many personal foibles and outrageous opinions as the Reverend Doctor Ian Paisley, then you would have to be very brave or exceedingly foolish. (It is likely, incidentally, that Paisley is both of these things, remembering that there is no intrinsic merit in bravery anyway as any failed kamikaze pilot could tell you.) Realising this, it is probable that most of the people watching this programme anticipated what was delivered by the programme’s makers–Paisley’s self-inflicted crucifixion. In truth, this must have been one of the easiest jobs in television.

How could it be otherwise when the object of this documentary, followed around by a journalist of Jewish origins at the head of the camera crew, would only address him as “the Jew” or “the Israelite” while insisting that everyone refer to himself at all times as “Dr Paisley”? And how could it be otherwise when Paisley communicated via walkie-talkie with this Jewish journalist with the opening line “Germany calling! Germany calling!”? The fact that he went on to explain such behaviour with the comment that “there is a little bit of the racist in all of us” did nothing more to help his cause. Neither did his patronising and self-serving attitude towards the Africans he met assist him much either.

But where this documentary departed from those like Hotel and Reps was in the attitude engendered among viewers towards the victims of this arrogance and foolishness. It was possible to feel a great deal of sympathy towards the victims of the profit-hungry Britannia group who run Liverpool’s Adelphi, but Paisley’s victims were of a different type. The most pathetic victim of all was Paisley’s right-hand side-kick, the quintessential hen-pecked husband married to the Racist Reverend (only metaphorically speaking of course). Rarely outside of the Cabinet Room of Number Ten Downing Street has such a pathetic sycophant been given such timely exposure. Tending to Dr Paisley’s every whim and desire without apparently one questioning thought entering his head, here was a man who had found his true vocation in life as arselicker-in-chief to the Bullshitter General Persuviant.

This man (who we shall not name for fear of detracting attention from his under-exposed and misunderstood master) is in need of help and socialists are, naturally enough, here to help him and those like him. There are people all over the world just like this man, whose life’s ambition has been to turn themselves into human clones of Dolly the sheep. But luckily for them all, socialists have the wherewithal to reverse this terrible affliction and make these people truly human again. We have, one might say, the technology–and it is our duty to use it wherever and whenever it is needed. Let the Free Presbyterian Church be one of our starting points.
Dave Perrin

Letters: The blessings of money (1998)

Letters to the Editors from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The blessings of money

Dear Editors,

In the March edition of the Socialist Standard there is an article entitled “The Curse of Money”. Whereas I consider such ought to be termed “The Blessings of Money”. For when Pol Pot destroyed money he didn’t advance his country to new heights, but rather dragged it back to the Stone Age.

Money gives the individual the facility of choice: spend it on immediate gratification, or invest it for long-term interest. Do as you please—but of course you take the consequences.

I have also taken the opportunity of enclosing several items from the Nottingham Evening Post, Friday 13 March 1998. You will find its very relevant to my comments.
Alan Donn, 
Nottingham


Reply: 
Of course if you have capitalism people need money—that’s one of the things wrong with capitalism—and the more of it you have the better you can live. But we’re not proposing the abolition of money within a capitalist society. As you point out, when Pol Pot tried this in Cambodia it had disastrous results. What we are advocating is a change in the basis of society from class ownership to common ownership so allowing the purpose of production to be changed from making a profit to meeting needs, one consequence of which will be that money will become unnecessary. In such a society people would have a much wider choice than they do today where the amount of money you have limits what you can get. The point made in the book which the article you mention reviewed was that money also poisons social relationships by reducing them to commercial, buying and selling.

The items you sent us from the Nottingham Evening Post about bonus payments to workers in Jessops department store don’t back up the point you are trying to make. They report that 750 workers are to share a “bumper payout” of £2m representing 22 percent of their annual salary or 12 weeks’ wages. A bit of simple arithmetic shows that each worker will be receiving an average of about £2,667 which is 22 percent of £12,112 a year—well below the average wage, even if some of the 750 will be part-timers. Jessops is part of the John Lewis Partnership which operates a scheme of paying workers low basic wages and then topping them up with bonuses related to profits. Most workers would probably prefer to receive their wages as a guaranteed £12,112 a year rather than as a basic £9,445 plus a possible bonus of £2,667. Profit-sharing schemes are a swindle designed to get workers to work harder and be grateful to their bosses for paying a part of their wages as if they were a share in profits.—Editors.

 
Socialism on one island?

Dear Editors,

Re your reply (“Socialism on one island?” April), you restate that a global balanced growth in socialist awareness is more likely, and ask: “What’s so special about the [British] 1 percent . . .?” Of course, the answer is Britons aren’t special, and socialism might take off quicker elsewhere. But can you not envisage a time when one country might have a particularly influential socialist; TV programme; publicity campaign; profits-before-people scandal etc—or a combination of these—which results in exceptional progress? That country’s socialist party would then have a choice of either pressing on to abolish capitalism first, or deliberately easing off to avoid uneven development—this latter choice probably being made if party members believe one-country socialism to be impossible. If this belief is erroneous, a critical opportunity may then be lost. Hence the suggestion that the feasibility of go-it-alone socialism be properly evaluated now.

For example, you suggest the downside of British-only socialism would be going without citrus fruits and other products “that won’t grow in these climes”. But a counter argument is that whereas using large translucent canopies, hothouses, genetically modified plants, artificial lighting etc to enable such growth may be economic madness under capitalism, it can easily become a socialist reality if needed.

I’m not nationalistically “deliberately aiming to establish socialism in just [one] country while the rest of the world remains solidly capitalist”. The fact is common ownership must start somewhere, and even you acknowledge the likelihood of “socialists having won control in some parts of the world but not everywhere”, so why not consider the workability of one-country socialism and its ramifications for global capitalism, in case we get the chance to board the first bus that comes our way? Ignoring it without good reason, and waiting years longer until a dozen come along together, isn’t necessarily the best way of getting from A to B.
Max Hess, 
Folkestone, Kent


Reply: 
The establishment of socialism is not a race between national sections to see who can get there first, but a co-ordinated world movement to ensure that we all get there at more or less the same time. If there is any uneven development it will be up to the world socialist movement to decide what to do. As we said in our pamphlet Questions of the Day (1978, p.64):
“Socialists are sometimes asked about another aspect of uneven development. This relates to the possibility that the socialist movement could be larger in one country than in another and at the stage of being able to gain control of the machinery of government before the socialist movements elsewhere were as far advanced.

Leaving aside for the moment the question as to whether such a situation is likely to arise, we can say that it presents no problems when viewed against the world-wide character of the socialist movement. Because capitalist governments are organised on a territorial basis each socialist organisation has the task of seeking democratically to gain political control in the country where it operates. This however is merely an organisational convenience; there is only one socialist movement, of which the separate socialist organisations are constituent parts. When the socialist movement grows larger its activities will be fully co-ordinated through its world-wide organisation. Given a situation in which the organised socialists of only a part of the world were in a position to gain control of the machinery of government, the decision about the action to be taken would be one for the whole of the socialist movement in the light of all the circumstances at the time.”
Editors.

Getting on in capitalism (1998)

From the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard





Party News (1998)

Party News from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The results in the three wards in which the Socialist Party stood in the May local elections were:

South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council—Primrose ward

Scorer (Lab) 1155, Smith (LD) 220, Armstrong (Con) 181, Bissett (Soc) 104.

Manchester City Council—Levenshulme ward

Whitemore (LD) 1550, McGregor (Lab) 771, Davies (Con) 148, Garratt (SLP) 104, Chislett (Green) 81, Pitts (Soc) 32 .

London Borough of Camden—Brunswick ward

Weekes (Lab) 653, Cousins (Lab) 601, Avery (Con) 443, Norman (Con) 376, Jones (LD) 286, Whitley (Green) 258, Parker (Soc) 58.

London Referendum

The Labour government has claimed public endorsement of their undemocratic proposal to have a directly-elected mayor for London who will have all the power, reducing an elected assembly to the status of a chat show. The actual results were:

Non-voters: 327,897 (65.4%), Yes: 1,230,715 (24.6%), No: 478,413 (9.5%), Rejected (spoiled and invalid papers): 26,188 (0.5%)

It would be nice to think that the unusually high number of rejected votes was due to people writing “Socialism” across the ballot paper, but most were probably blank votes.

 
No, thank you.

Last year two Labour MEPs, Hugh Kerr and Ken Coates, were expelled from the Labour Party for being too reformist. They are seeking support to get re-elected in opposition to Labour and feel that they may have a good chance since these elections will be held under a proportional representation system. In January a group calling itself the Green left issued a statement calling on “all radical and environmentally minded people-organisations to consult on the possibility of a green, democratic and pluralist alternative for the 1999 European elections and beyond. We ask the Green Parties of England, Wales & Scotland, the English Socialist Alliances, the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party and all other Green Left Affiliates to respond positively to our consultation.”

At its meeting in May our Executive Committee adopted the following reply:
“The Socialist Party’s only aim is socialism as a society of common ownership and democratic control with production for use not profit. Because we hold that the best way to further the cause of socialism is to campaign for socialism and socialism alone—’to make Socialists’, as William Morris put it—we have always refused to ally ourselves with organisations which campaign for reforms to be achieved within the context of capitalism. We do not see that the introduction of proportional representation is a valid reason for abandoning this principled stance.

On these grounds, therefore, we decline your invitation to talks with a view to presenting joint candidates in the next European elections.

We shall, in all probability, be standing our own candidates in these elections, in opposition both to candidates who openly support capitalism and to those who are standing on a platform of reforms to be achieved within capitalism.”