Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Leftist Wonderland: Militant in Liverpool (1986)

From the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

For those of you who are confused about what’s been going on at Liverpool City Council, here are the facts:

Militant is a newspaper. The people who sell it are members of the Labour Party, although they don’t support it, and supporters of Militant (the tendency, not the newspaper) although they are not members of it. The Labour Party leaders are neither members nor supporters of Militant (the tendency), and neither do they sell Militant (the newspaper), although you can never be sure since Militant newspaper sellers are notoriously shy about coming out.

The Labour Party leaders want to expel Militant supporters from the party since they think that they are wrecking Neil Kinnock’s chances of moving into Downing Street after the next general election. They claim that Militant (the tendency) is in breach of the Labour Party’s constitution since they operate as a party within the Labour Party, with different aims and objectives. But Labour’s leaders are worried that to expel Militant might upset other Labour supporters and also, presumably, damage Neil Kinnock’s election chances. So instead of expelling supporters of Militant, they have suspended the whole of the Labour Party in Liverpool—home of the Tendency’s most vociferous spokesperson, Derek Hatton, who they especially want to get rid of. (There are rumours that at least some supporters of Militant are no longer so keen on supporting Hatton, but maybe we shouldn’t make this any more complicated than it already is.)

Militant in Liverpool are very upset that the Labour Party is treating them in this way and assert that they, unlike the Labour leadership, are the real guardians of Labour Party conference decisions since they are resisting “Tory cuts” and fighting to “save the jobs and services for the people of Liverpool”, and want to institute Clause Four of the Labour Party’s constitution (the one stating that the Labour Party is committed to nationalisation). The Labour Party conference is supposed to be the main policy-making body of the party, but the leadership ignores conference decisions when they don’t like them. So, just to recap, Militant, which doesn’t agree with the Labour Party, is upholding its constitution and decisions made at conference, while the leadership, who do support the Labour Party, are ambivalent about nationalisation and Kinnock has said that he will ignore conference decisions if he doesn’t agree with them. But it is Militant that looks set to be thrown out of the Labour Party for a breach of the constitution, while Kinnock is increasingly regarded as the party’s saviour.

The Militant leaders of Liverpool City Council, as already mentioned, claim that they are fighting to preserve jobs and services. As part of their strategy to do this they sent out redundancy notices to 31,000 local authority workers and looked set to close down council-run facilities like day-care centres for the elderly and handicapped, children’s homes, libraries, sports centres and swimming pools. Their concern for the workers of Liverpool was such that they asked them to work for nothing after they received their redundancy notices. The workers however could not understand how this was helping them (not surprising, Militant would say, since to them workers are too stupid to recognise their real interests and so need leaders like Militant to protect their interests for them). Teachers in Liverpool took the City Council to court and managed to get an injunction against the redundancy notices. But it wasn’t just the teachers who were too stupid to understand that Militant were looking after their interests; just about every trade union with members working for the local authority have also shown signs of “stupidity” by expressing their hostility to the leadership.

Militant also claims to be working for racial harmony in Liverpool and to that end they appointed a community relations officer. That appointment has resulted in almost every community group representing black people in Liverpool refusing to have anything to do with either the council or the community relations officer and trade unions have advised their members not to co-operate with him. So much for racial harmony and community relations.

Finally, Militant claims to be “socialist”. Apart from the doubt cast on this idea by their membership of the anti-socialist Labour Party, their support for state-capitalism, their undemocratic organisation, their patronising attitude to their fellow workers, besides all that, this “socialist” tendency has just accepted £30 million from those well-known supporters of socialism, the Gnomes of Zurich, to bail them out.

So, to sum up: Militant are members of the Labour Party although they don’t agree with the Labour Party. Labour’s leaders want them out because they are in breach of the party’s constitution even though the leadership itself does not honour decisions made at the party’s conference. Derek Hatton and his fellow Militants on Liverpool City Council claim to be acting on behalf, and in the interests, of the working class of Liverpool and demonstrate this by threatening workers with the sack or asking them to work for nothing. They claim to be“socialist” but are quite happy to take money from a bunch of capitalist financiers who are no doubt rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of making a financial killing from all the interest they are going to receive on this loan.

Still confused? So you should be!
Janie Percy-Smith

Monday, February 18, 2019

Dreams in the Sky (2019)

Book Review from the February 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Municipal Dreams: the Rise and Fall of Council Housing’, by John Boughton (Verso. £18.99)

The first council homes in Britain were built in Liverpool in 1869 and the first council estate, in the Bethnal Green area of London, opened in 1900. But it was only after the First World War that council housing really expanded, with 1.1 million homes built in the inter-war period. These and other events are chronicled in Boughton’s informative and comprehensive history of council housing and the more general modern category of social housing. It is largely confined to England, but there are many discussions of individual areas and estates (from Wythenshawe to Park Hill) that mean it is more than just a general survey.

Reformers feared the filth and disease of poor housing, and often saw council housing as being for those displaced by slum clearance. But, like many others, the new Bethnal Green estate mainly housed the better-off working class (in the sense of manual workers) who had stable jobs, with those in insecure or badly-paid occupations left in privately-rented slums. Many people saw their new council homes as luxury compared to the dirty and overcrowded back-to-backs they had left behind. Even multi-storey blocks could provide decent homes with a sense of community, provided they were not built with the kind of cost-cutting measures that led to the disasters of Ronan Point and Grenfell.

The biggest number of council homes built in a year was 229,000 in 1953, under a Conservative government, but this was partly aided by a reduction in the size and quality of the homes. Labour government policy from 1977 required local councils to give priority to vulnerable groups (though this was absolutely not ‘a well-meaning socialist measure’, as Boughton claims). It led to the perception that council housing was for the most needy, a situation described as residualisation, an ugly term for an unpleasant concept.

There had been previous ‘Right to Buy’ schemes, but nothing on the scale resulting from the 1980 Housing Act, which gave discounts to long-term tenants; the income from sales could not be used to build new homes (just four hundred council homes were started in England and Wales in 1996–7, for instance). Owner-occupation was seen as a good thing, though the numbers are down since their peak in 2003. Most new council lettings now are for fixed terms of two to five years, so removing the long-term security previously offered. In 2016 1.8 million households in England were on waiting lists for local authority social housing.

Council estates in particular are often seen nowadays as a problem, and expressions such as ‘sink estates’ reinforce this view. But Boughton convincingly makes the point that social housing just reflects the wider problems of poverty and insecurity in society, rather than being a cause of these problems. His book is a bit optimistic about the positive results of council housing, but provides an excellent account of its history.
Paul Bennett

Rights. What rights? (2019)

From the February 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the bourgeoisie (capitalist class) was struggling with the feudal nobility, it was anxious to secure its ‘rights’ –  the ‘rights’ of the towns – the rising factor all through the Middle Ages – against barons and king, who controlled the state.

Rights were in the hands of the feudal state to bestow on its subjects. The word implies acceptance of one’s subordination to another, of whom you demand rights – the right to do something, express an idea, and so on. Rights are bestowed or withheld. Where there are no classes, no rulers and ruled, rights are an absurdity. They cease to be.

When the bourgeoisie stopped requesting its ‘rights’ and, instead, overthrew the nobility (namely in the French Revolution), it kept the language of Rights, and enshrined it in the bourgeois constitution. Now the bourgeoisie grants rights to, or withholds them from, its subject class, the working class.

Everyone thus today clamours about their ‘rights’ – the right to be a wage-slave, the rights of women, the rights of animals, the rights of minorities, ethnic or sexual. Like ‘freedom’, ‘rights’ is bourgeois language. We petition and plead with our masters for our “rights.”

No more rights! No more capitalist system! Abolish class by abolishing the wages system! Let’s get up off our knees and stop begging for treats.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Trump – Not Happy with his Lot as World Policeman? (2019)

The Material World column from the February 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

America may have entered upon a new relationship with the rest of the world if we are to believe its president, Donald Trump.

In a speech to American troops in Iraq on Boxing Day he announced a military withdrawal from Syria and declared that the USA would no longer ‘…continue to be the policeman of the world,’ warning that he was committed to withdrawing troops from foreign wars. ‘We’re no longer the suckers, folks.’

Trump’s removal of American soldiers from Syria can be seen as belatedly rectifying the crime of Obama in placing them there in the first place.

The ‘policeman of the world’, a mantle taken over from the British Empire and other colonial powers, is a benign description of being able to deploy armed forces to any spot in the world to protect national interests wherever they are threatened. Trump is not the first president to advocate an isolationist foreign policy and we doubt he will be the last. But saying one thing does not necessarily mean it can be accomplished. Nevertheless, Trump has already cancelled agreements and broken international treaties which he has deemed to be against his ‘America First’ stance. Trump’s policies in the White House certainly show that he is not out of step with many other politicians supporting nationalist, isolationist and protectionist measures. Rarely has there been a US president so maverick, so egocentric and so unconcerned about the suffering and misery of other people as Trump has revealed himself to be.

It should not be thought that his fine rhetoric demonstrates a principled commitment. Trump has not expressed any intention of following up on any ‘peace’ dividend by cutting the military budget. Nor does he intend to stop the lucrative American arms trade. The exercise of might will always be part of his outlook. America, after all, is the caretaker of world capitalism. The concept of American isolationism is a myth and a deception.

A 2007 article in the Socialist Standard in May 2007 drew attention to the argument that an anti-war position was not only the preserve of the liberals and progressives but there was a strong current on the right who opposed foreign military ventures.
  ‘…The logic goes something like this: Free-market capitalism on its own would naturally lead to a world of personal freedom and economic prosperity, but this is thwarted by the power of the state, an organism that grows robustly at times of war. Hence, war must be opposed not only because of its own obvious evils, but as a way to drive back the power of the state which is standing in the way of a better life… The state and the wars it wages may seem a complete waste of taxpayer money to the individual capitalist…’
Against such isolationist views, the transnational corporations and international capitalists (now derided by populists as ‘globalists’) cannot allow narrow national fragmentation to succeed. The belief that isolationism is possible for the United States is an illusion, without any connection to political and economic reality.

Whether they call their wars humanitarian and defensive, waged for democracy and freedom, the true purpose is to control the resources of the world for various sections of the capitalist class. Trump will persist with his fake criticism of unprofitable wars but will maintain Uncle Sam’s military domination because he stands for the retention of capitalism. The thought that the United States can remain ‘isolated’ from any vital conflict is absurd, regardless of the president at its helm.

The Socialist Party attitude to war is that no matter what side prevails, a war still leaves the real problem – capitalism – unsolved and by creating more national hatred, it makes the socialist solution even more difficult than ever to achieve.

‘Isolationism’ in foreign affairs was once seen as a rare phenomenon yet now the ‘isolationist’ sentiment seems to be flourishing. Many working people think the tragedies in other parts of the world are none of their business. Their own problems and issues as workers leave them feeling indifferent, an attitude of ‘isolationism’ harmful to the very people who practise it. The workers of one nation have a common cause and a shared sympathy with the fellow-workers of every other country.

If you are neutral in such situations, ‘you have chosen the side of the oppressor’ as Archbishop Desmond Tutu once put it.

50 Years Ago: Take Over (2019)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest and church-going. In fact, it is the day when about ten million British people excite themselves by reading in the News of the World all about sex sins of famous actresses and obscure country vicars.

The paper recently described itself as ‘as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding’ and perhaps, in a way, that is true. Little wonder, then, that when Pergamon Press launched its takeover bid the fight for the shares was a matter of popular concern.

It was one of the hardest fought of all takeovers. The News of the World warned darkly that ‘Mr. Robert Maxwell, a Socialist M.P., is trying to take . . . over’ and was careful enough to remind its readers that Maxwell (who was responsible for the Back Britain campaign) was ‘formerly Jan Ludwig Hoch.’

The NOW, it was clear, thought that the worst thing that could happen to British workers would be to have their favourite Sunday scandal sheet taken over by a naturalised Labour M.P.

Maxwell himself has never been famous for a reluctance to join the in-fighting. His delicate description of the man who defeated him — Australian newspaper owner Rupert Murdoch — was ‘motheaten kangaroo’, and after the shareholders’ votes had gone against him he (of all people) mourned that ‘the law of the jungle has won.’

These dignified exchanges should be remembered, the next time Maxwell, or the News of the World, complain about the alleged childishness of striking workers. In the meantime, let us extricate ourselves from the mire of the battle between rival capitalists so anxious to protect their bank balances and take a look at the real issue.

Modern capitalism is a society of unrelenting insecurity and poverty. Such is the degradation of its people that millions of them greedily swallow the muck dished out by rags like the News of the World.

It pays to produce this muck. The real issue is not who owns the muck-making machine, but what about the nature of a society which makes it worthwhile to produce it, and which stimulates the need for it?
(Socialist Standard, February 1969)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Yes, Greta, change is necessary but radical change (2019)

From the February 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 5 December 2018 social and print media published news of a press conference at the United Nation’s COP24 climate change conference held in Katowice, Poland. The news and a short video rapidly became viral on social media with large viewership and shares. The centre of attraction was a brave and articulate young girl, Greta Thunberg, aged just 15, a young climate activist from Sweden. Sitting by the side of the UN General Secretary, she uttered some rousing truths which at the first instance made us delighted. She blamed all political leaders of past and present generations for the catastrophic climate changes which have brought the whole human civilisation and nature that surrounds us to the brink of disaster. We could only congratulate her courageous words, ‘We have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us, they ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.’

Yes, we understand that a change is necessary. A radical change is essential in our thinking, leading to a radical change in our socio-economic system to save the Earth, life and human civilisations. But for that, we have to replace the existing profit-based, exploitative, oppressive, manipulative, disruptive and dehumanising capitalist society with our much-awaited socialist society. A worldwide association of humans irrespective of nationalities, race, ethnicity and sex has to be organised, which will function on the basis of participatory democratic principles. The socialist, resource-based sustainable economy will produce things as per social needs with democratic control over the means of production and distribution. Preserving ecological balance is only possible in a world socialist society.

The most serious barrier is the prevailing capitalist mode of production. It’s the responsibility of the working class, the creator and sustainer of human civilisation, to protect it by establishing world socialism democratically with the force of our immense majority. But our valiant young girl’s remedial prescription also made us apprehensive. Before the commencement of the summit, as a mode of protest, she has been organising her schoolmates for a school strike on every Friday and sitting in a demonstration outside the Swedish parliament.

The demand of her climate movement is to compel the Swedish government to implement the Paris agreement to reduce carbon emissions to check global warming within a safe range. Till then she will continue to sit and demonstrate in front of the parliament with her schoolmates weekly on a specified day. She also made an appeal to children all over the world to sit and demonstrate in front of their national parliaments to make people aware of the dangers of climate changes. This is no doubt a praiseworthy initiative but we would like to express our concern that she might be used by the capitalist class to channel people’s anguish into a reformist blind alley.

In the first week of October 2018, the United Nation had released an alarming report that we have only twelve years left to prevent a catastrophic climate change that would wreak havoc on the world population and environment. But are the climate changes sudden? Scientists have been warning world leaders from 1977 about the threat, when climate change was not even talked about much. But the corporate businesses that are responsible for most of the world carbon emissions successfully ran a campaign to suppress the climate facts and worked to keep the United States from signing the Kyoto protocol, which helped China and India, two other giant emitters of greenhouse gas, to avoid signing.

The capitalist propaganda machines are spreading the illusion that a ‘carbon tax’ on emissions will reduce the use of fossil fuels and encourage entrepreneurs to use clean energy, but this is not going to work. As long as capitalism persists, the logic of the market economy is to make money even at the cost of natural calamities.

The exact same class which is actively cranking up the global thermostat that threatens to inundate 20 percent of the global population is actually controlling the United Nations and parliaments of different nations. So we think we, the working class, should expect nothing from the ruling minority capitalist class, but should rapidly organise ourselves into a political party of our own on a global basis with the aim of electing MPs as mandated socialist delegates to take over the parliaments and pronounce: annulment of all property and territorial rights whereby all that is on and in the Earth will become the common heritage of the whole of humanity. This will help clear away obstacles for the working class movement as a whole and usher humanity into the realm of freedom towards world socialism.
Partha Pratik Mukherjee

Rear View: More migrant misery (2016)

The Rear View Column from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

More migrant misery
War and want have forced millions of our class to move. Those with the means, a minority, represent a market for smugglers. There is no guarantee that the dreamed of refuge will ever be reached, but the smugglers insist on payment and for them blood is an acceptable currency. ‘Migrants who are unable to pay people smugglers for their journey from Africa to Europe are killed for their organs, a former smuggler has said. Nuredein Wehabrebi Atta, who has been sentenced to five years in prison for his involvement in moving migrants, told Italian police that migrants who couldn’t pay for journeys across the Mediterranean were sold for €15,000 to groups, particularly Egyptians, who are equipped for harvesting organs’ (independendent.co.uk, 5 July). Avoiding this nightmare, those reaching Europe are greeted with hastily erected barriers and, quite possibly, hate in the form of Pegida, for example. Tatjana Festerling, the group’s erstwhile leader, said of asylum seekers, ‘if they keep crossing the border and you cannot arrest them, shoot them.’ Apparently, on ‘her Facebook page, Festerling bragged about spending an entire day with the Bulgarian Military Veterans Union a paramilitary group of vigilantes who patrol the border searching for illegal immigrants. Accompanying her was Edwin Wagensveld, a leader of a Dutch offshoot of Pegida’ (neweurope.eu, 7 July).

Going nowhere
‘Can religion be a positive force for social change?’ asks Manini Sheker (opendemocracy.net, 5 July). No, but she and those behind the Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky disagree. This colossal waste of time, talent and energy ‘will be a life-size reminder, with a 510-foot-long Ark as its centerpiece, to the truth of God’s Word and His involvement in the affairs of humanity. We will powerfully show that, just as the account of Noah’s flood did actually happen, so did the rest of what we read in the scriptures – especially the gospel message preached by Christ in the New Testament. We hope to inspire a return to and a respect for the Bible as relevant for our culture today’ (foxnews.com, 6 July). Ken Ham or Neil deGrasse Tyson? Superstition or scientism? Neither will bring about meaningful social change, though socialists can to an extent empathise with Tyson and suspect that one too many encounters with the-pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die crowd contributed to the genesis of a recent tweet in which he proposed a country of #Rationalia, where ‘all policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.’

Stupefying silence
Silence is no way to respond to the mass murder of millions in the Somme 100 years ago or any of capitalism’s wars, past or present. According to former diplomat Craig Murray, ‘Blair is still a creature of absolute self-serving slime’. But it is the system he defends which should be the focus of our attention. Socialists do not need millions of words to explain that capitalism is the cause of war and want in the world, something which the multi-volume Chilcot report naturally omitted. This is not to say however that it does not contain evidence we can use when making our case. ‘The US and British governments fought bitterly over control of Iraq’s oil following the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Chilcot papers show. Tony Blair seemed more concerned than the Americans about any invasion being seen by critics as a war for oil, telling them it would be very damaging if the two countries were seen to grab Iraq’s oil. But Sir David Manning, foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair, told Condoleezza Rice, the US national security adviser, in Washington on 9 December 2002 that Britain still wanted more of the spoils. “It would be inappropriate for HMG [Her Majesty’s government] to enter into discussions about any future carve-up of the Iraqi oil industry,” he said. “Nonetheless it is essential that our [British] companies are given access to a level playing field in this and other sectors.” UK government officials called in a team from BP for a briefing about the prospects for the Iraq energy sector on 23 January 2003, two months before the invasion, which ended in May’ (theguardian.com, 7 July). BP’s reaction? No comment!

Friday, February 15, 2019

War in Syria (2016)

Book Review from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War’, by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami (Pluto Press, 2016)

Of all the countries swept by the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, Syria has been the most unfortunate. The sole response of the Assad regime to peaceful popular protest was ruthless violent repression, eventually resulting in a devastating many-sided civil war, intervention by rival regional and world powers, and massive flows of refugees within the country and across its borders. The authors have drawn on a variety of sources, including interviews with direct participants in the events, to produce an illuminating and often harrowing account from an anti-authoritarian left-wing perspective.

The book begins with necessary historical background, focusing mainly on the various divisions within Syrian society and on the origin and evolution of the Ba’ath (Arab nationalist) regime under Hafez Assad and then his son Bashar. Chapters 3-4 portray the nonviolent phase of the ‘revolution from below’; Chapter 5 explains how resistance to the regime – inevitably under the circumstances – came to assume a primarily military form. Chapter 6 discusses the growth of the initially weak Islamist forces. Chapter 7 (‘Dispossession and Exile’) describes how millions of Syrians became refugees. Chapter 8 highlights the cultural renaissance that accompanied the uprising. Chapter 9 deals with the failure of old opponents of the Ba’ath regime inside and outside the country to play a significant role. The last chapter analyzes the attitudes of the international left toward events in Syria. An epilogue brings the story up to date as of October 2015.

Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami give a preview of their analysis in the Preface. In the areas where the government machine broke down ordinary people began to run their own affairs: ‘For a few brief moments the people changed everything.’). But then
 ‘the counter-revolutions ground them down. The regime’s scorched earth strategy drove millions from the country; those who remained in the liberated zones were forced to focus on survival. Syria became the site of proxy wars, of Sunni-Shia rivalries, of foreign interventions. Iranian and transnational Shia forces backed the regime; foreign Sunni extremists flocked to join the Islamic State… Nobody supported the revolutionaries. ‘
Note that the authors perceive not one but two counter-revolutions – the one represented by the regime and its foreign backers (Iran and later Russia), the other by the Islamic State (IS) and its wealthy patrons in the Gulf States. They even find covert links between these two forces: Assad assisted the growth of Islamism by releasing many Islamist militants from prison. Islamist predominance in the anti-regime camp is very much to the advantage of Assad, enabling him to present himself to a confused world as ‘the lesser evil.’

There is evidently widespread bitterness among non-Islamist oppositionists that they have received so little material and moral support from the West and from the international left. It is true that the slogans of the uprising initially emphasized ‘Western ideals’ like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy.’ Western politicians, however, are at best ambivalent about ideals; what they need is clients who can be trusted to serve the interests of the West and its regional allies. There is good reason to doubt the reliability in this capacity of Syrian ‘revolutionaries’ who, for instance, criticize Assad for insufficient militancy in the face of the Israeli enemy.

As for the international left, most of it – under the influence of its Bolshevik core – is inclined to support (‘critically’ or otherwise) the Assad regime. That is because ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ – their ‘enemy’ being not the world capitalist system but merely ‘US imperialism’ and its Zionist ally. Such is the stance, for example, of the Stop the War Coalition. It is only in the circles of the anti-authoritarian left that Syrian democrats can hope to find sympathy.

Although clearly written and coherently organized, this is a demanding book to read for anyone not already familiar with the complexities of Syrian society and the many political trends and movements within it. But if you want to understand what has been happening in ‘the burning country’ it is well worth the effort.

50 Years Ago: Rebels Too Late (2016)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Few things have more searingly exposed the futility and absurdity of Labour’s so-called left wing than their ‘revolt’ over the government’s policies on prices and incomes and Vietnam.

In all the fuss over the revolt, it seemed to escape notice that, not for the first time, the rebels were rather late. The Prices and Incomes Bill was first introduced during the lifetime of the last government; the version which caused Frank Cousins to resign his Ministry is actually milder than the previous one.

On Vietnam, the Wilson government always made clear their support for American actions, including the bombing of the North.

In other words, the present government are simply carrying on the policies of the last. But in between there was the general election; that was the time for the rebels to make their disagreements known.

They might even have resigned from the Labour Party and fought on an independent platform. But they had probably all studied the fate of the Radical Alliance in Hull North. So what did they do? Well here are extracts from the election addresses of two of the Vietnam rebels:
Hugh Jenkins (Putney): … we need a longer period of office, with a more secure majority, so that we can get on with the job.
Sydney Bidwell (Southall): If you . . . intend to vote Labour again . . . may I warmly thank you in advance and urge you, in the name of our just and common cause, to make absolutely sure you use your vote.
No word of dissension disturbed the orthodoxy of these addresses. Hugh Jenkins was hanging so firmly on to Wilson’s coat tails that he embellished his address with a picture of the Leader, pipe and avuncular expression and all. There was plenty to protest about last March but the rebels held their tongues. And their seats.

(from News in Review, Socialist Standard, August 1966)

Rear View: Ortega, Somoza Mark II (2016)

The Rear View Column from the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ortega, Somoza Mark II
Daniel is determined not to lose any more elections. Having ousted the previous dictator Somoza in 1979, he and the Sandinistas became the new darlings of the Left and used the inane slogan ‘between Christianity and socialism there is no  contradiction.’

Following a decade of dictatorship the Sandinista regime agreed to release some political prisoners and hold free elections in return for the closing of Contra bases in Honduras. He subsequently lost several elections before returning to power in 2007 as the Catholic president of Nicaragua, one of only five countries where abortion is totally illegal. ‘President Daniel Ortega has named his wife as his running mate in November’s elections, leading to accusations he is trying to found a political dynasty.

The former guerrilla fighter hopes to win a third consecutive term for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) with his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his vice president. “This revolution – in which women have participated shoulder to shoulder – has opened the doors to the full participation of women in all spheres: political, social and economic,”’ he said’ (theweek.co.uk, 4 August). Such nonsense is only matched by that of another President, Ronald Reagan, calling Nicaragua a beachhead of communism.

Corbyn’s Commandments
‘Jeremy Corbyn will today set out ten pledges “to rebuild and transform Britain”. Speaking in London, the Labour leader will promise to ensure full employment as prime minister by creating one million jobs to build new infrastructure and call for an NHS free of  private-sector involvement. “We could all be living richer lives in a sustainable, more prosperous and more caring society,” he is to  say’ (theweek.co.uk, 4 August). These pledges include expanding wage slavery and a million new homes being built over five years. Yet no Labour government has ever left office with unemployment lower than when it started and after World War II (Labour has supported all wars since WWI – bang goes the peaceful foreign policy pledge!) Bevan promised to solve the housing problem.

Other pious pledges include ‘security at work’ (recall the use of troops as strike breakers against the dockworkers) and a secure NHS. Labour Minister Bevan felt more secure with his own private physician, and let us not forget he oversaw the introduction of charges for dental and optical services as well as prescription fees. Tuition fees? That was Labour too. Do not bank on the pledge for them to be reversed! The climate change pledge? That’s likely to be just hot air. Free transport? No, nothing more than the possibility of an expanded publically-controlled bus network. Apparently, FTSE 100 CEOs are now paid 183 times the wage of the average UK worker. Expect a redistribution of crumbs, nothing more. Emphasis on human rights? Your right to be exploited is guaranteed under Labour!

Socialism, the smart answer
‘If futurist, inventor, and Google executive Ray Kurzweil is right about the future, we’ll all be augmenting our brains with extra capacity in the cloud at some point in the future. Which sounds exciting, even if a little frightening. But this very advance could also pave the way for the rich to become thousands of times smarter than poor people, which would likely permanently solidify and even exacerbate current socioeconomic stratifications’ (venturebeat.com, 2 August). The rich do not need to become smarter – we work for them and run society from top to bottom. A member of the 1 percent does not need to be particularly smart to know if they have enough money in their Swiss bank account to purchase ‘a $22 million penthouse in Las Vegas’ and its ‘fast car, fine art and free tickets to sporting events’ (wsj.com, 1 August). A more likely scenario is that some of us would be augmented in order to develop new weapons, advertising campaigns, reality TV concepts, or discover why ‘homeowners in affluent neighbourhoods play host to more species of arthropods than their poorer counterparts’ (washingtonpost.com, 4 August). But just imagine for a moment how useful enhanced intelligence could be in a society where everyone of us could benefit. No pinko liberal enhancements on our watch!

50 Years Ago: Apartheid Must Go (2016)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party is opposed to Apartheid, just as to any other policy or movement based on colour prejudice. We think racism is foolish, unscientific and against the interests of the working class. We can see that the South African government’s slogan of Apartheid (‘separation’) is really a hypocritical screen for baasskap (white domination), and that all manner of atrocities and hatreds flourish under the Verwoerd tyranny.

Our attack on apartheid is quite distinct from the attacks made on it by other organisations such as the Labour Party, Communist Party, Christian Action, etc. We do not support the “anti-apartheid” movement.

Socialism will be a world wide democratic community without private or government ownership of the means of production and will mean the end of Apartheid, together with a lot of other major human problems like wars, slumps and poverty.

To detach ourselves from other organisations who attack apartheid is no sectarian quibble: the most that members of the anti-Apartheid Movement can suggest to replace Apartheid is something rather like we have in Britain today. In other words, they want to swap one system of oppression for another. The only ‘equality’ they want for the races of South Africa consists of the equal ‘privileges’ of wage-slavery.

The best interests of industrial capitalism in South Africa call for the abandonment of Apartheid policies and the putting into effect of social reforms aimed at integrating Africans into the labour force as better trained exploitable wage workers. However, in view of the historical background of South Africa, capitalism has to adjust itself to a political situation that expresses the deeply entrenched prejudice that exists. (….)

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is with the working class of South Africa in their struggle for democracy, for the vote and for the right to strike. But more than that, we work for the day when black, white, coloured and Indian workers in South Africa will unite with workers all over the world to remove wage-slavery and establish Socialism.
(from article by Steele, Socialist Standard, September 1966)

Knowledge: A Matter of Opinion? (2016)

From the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is often said that: ‘we all have a right to our opinion’. Socialists would confirm this, perhaps not as a matter of rights but as an inevitable consequence of an enquiring mind. The expression of an opinion within the public arena is, of course, a rather different matter. I was once informed by a librarian that he would not stock the Socialist Standard because they would then have to make available fascist material in an effort to balance two political ‘extremes’. Somehow, in this perverse logic, because we have always opposed xenophobia, racism, class/political elites, militarism and authoritarianism (the essence of fascism) we are responsible for our own antithesis!

We would say that some opinions have more value than others when analysed in terms of motivation and obvious intrinsic humanitarian content. On a more prosaic level if you have problems with your car it is rational to consult a qualified mechanic rather than someone who has watched motor racing on the TV occasionally. It is the same with politics – an opinion not grounded in some level of study is of less value than that of another who has dedicated their life to understanding the origins and evolution of social power. It may be objected that even those who have made such a study may, and do, come up with very different, and often opposing, values and perspectives. Is, then, all knowledge merely a matter of opinion?

Most of us would not consider ‘gravity’ as a matter of opinion. It is, of course, a theory that attempts to explain the observed phenomena of the attraction of two bodies – commonly called ‘falling’. It might be said that this is a scientific fact and so cannot be compared to political ideas. But anyone who is interested in the history of science is aware that scientific consensus is often the result of bitter internal struggles within the science establishment. Some have maintained that the discipline of history (including the history of science) is purely the creation of historians and is, therefore, entirely composed of subjective opinion. But has any historian claimed that Belgium invaded Germany to start the First World War; or that Napoleon won the battle of Waterloo? If they were to do so then the subsequent derision would be well deserved as in the case of the theories of ‘holocaust deniers’.

Socialists are materialists and one of the consequences of this philosophy is the insistence that events, whether scientific or political/historical, occur independently of their observation. We insist that a tree can fall even if there is nobody there to observe it doing so. This, in no way dilutes the importance of human agency within the understanding of phenomena but it insists that it is the objective existence of phenomena that must always precede our ability to observe it and think about it. Our minds, both physically and psychologically, have to exist independently before we can ‘think’ at all. Is it possible, then, to cut our way through all of the preconceptions and prejudices that so often make up an ‘ideology’ and get to the elusive ‘what actually happened’?

Class struggle
The recent success of the ‘Brexit’ campaign has been explained by some as an example of an uneducated and politically naive section of the population being easily manipulated by lies about the nature of the EU and the benefits of leaving it. But what of those who make this judgement – from where does their superior information originate? The ‘liberal’ media also has an ideological agenda that is just as politically superficial as that of the Brexiteers. How can we be sure of this? Because both camps completely ignore the biggest political elephant in history’s room – the class struggle. Well over one hundred years ago the discovery was made that this was the dynamic element within human culture which drives historical development. The implications of this for liberal sensibilities are intolerable and so are ignored thus rendering any attempt at political analysis superficial and ultimately meaningless. It’s like trying to understand evolution without reference to genetics or physics without reference to quantum mechanics.

All political phenomena have their origin within the relationship of social groups (classes) with the means of the production of life (industry, etc). This mutual antagonism is reflected within all political ideologies whether recognised or not. Some debate the possibility that you can be involved in the class struggle without being conscious of its existence but nobody would claim that before we became aware of the existence of bacteria and viruses they had no effect on human life. This is the essence of materialist thought – we strive to create theories that are increasingly successful in describing our world which, in turn, allows us to be more confident in our predictions of how it might change. Knowledge is the historical assimilation, refinement or rejection of such theories; in this sense it can never be purely a matter of personal opinion unless that opinion originates within, and recognises, this context through study. It is not a matter of cultural consensus since this is invariably the creation of power elites who only seek to justify their continued existence and therefore explicitly reject any theories concerning the dynamics of historical change which might indicate an end to their rule.

The absence of class consciousness prevents political evolution because ideologies swirl around the anachronistic phantoms of nationality, race, gender, religion and (the most fantastic of all illusions within a capitalist context) economic fairness and social justice. Because, historically, the working class represent the revolutionary catalyst they have a privileged perspective in terms of relevant knowledge – they see the world as it really is and, potentially, what it can become. The universe is indifferent to the needs of our species, as is history. Many have dedicated their lives to creating equality and justice but without knowledge their failure was inevitable. The resolution of the class struggle is the only way to liberate our species from the slave mentality that sustains capitalism. Once achieved there seems to be no limit to our potential – think about this the next time you are promised a few more crumbs from the rich man’s table by liberal/leftists, whether we are part of the EU or not.

Rear View: Everything is for sale (2016)

The Rear View Column from the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Everything is for sale
‘Brokers in Egypt’s underground trade in human body parts use prostitutes to tempt migrants to sell their kidneys as hospitals turn a blind eye to illicit dealing in donated organs for transplants, a report says. Undocumented African migrants arriving in Cairo, desperate for cash, told the British Journal of Criminology that sex workers were offered as a “sweetener” before or after removal of their organs. “(One pimp) used the services of sex workers as leverage when negotiating fees with both sellers and buyers,” the report said. “A night with a sex worker was offered as an extra inducement to sell.” Organ purchase is banned in Egypt, though the country is a common destination for transplant tourism, along with India, Pakistan and Russia, according to separate research by Erasmus MC University Hospital Rotterdam in the Netherlands’ (news.trust.org, 2 September).

Wages in a sick world
The Daily Mail is a mine of misinformation which has supported fascism and today works with the People’s Daily, the official organ of the so-called Communist Party of China. That the British Medical Association’s ‘Junior Doctors Committee (JDC) is full of Labour Party members’ and ‘many are Jeremy Corbyn supporters and have links to Left-wing group’ may well be true, but to say they ‘idolise [sic] Marx’ and want to make ‘capitalism history’ (dailymail.co.uk, 2 September) is nonsense. Socialists support action by doctors, just as we do with any such activity fought on sound class lines, but would urge them as fellow members of the 99 percent to note the remarks of one Dr. Marx: ‘the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects…that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady’ (Value, Price and Profit, 1865).

Not yet endangered
Some 40 percent of animal species are parasites, a fact recognised by the nursery rhyme Fleas:
Big fleas have little fleas,
Upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
and so, ad infinitum.
D. H. Lawrence in one of his poems compared the mosquito and capitalist:
The mosquito knows full well, small as he is
he’s a beast of prey.
but after all
he only takes his bellyful,
he doesn’t put my blood in the bank.
‘Mosquitoes kill more humans than any other animal and were linked to roughly 500,000 deaths in 2015, mostly from malaria. For more than a century, humans have used bed nets, screens and insecticides as weapons, but mosquitoes keep coming back. They are now carrying viruses like Zika and dengue to new parts of the world’ (wsj.com, 2 September). Capitalism has eradicated Rinderpest and Smallpox. and the spread of Zika may hasten the demise of its carriers. Yet, the driving force of capitalism is the pursuit of profit not health. Neglected tropical diseases are aptly named as they are largely confined to members of our class living in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The eradication of NTDs is possible but not profitable. The establishment of socialism means the end of capitalism and the parasitical 1 percent.

Not FARCical
‘Colombia’s Marxist FARC rebel group said on Friday it had rescheduled its conference to ratify a peace agreement with the government to Sept. 17-23. After almost four years of protracted talks in Havana, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government agreed last week to end a five-decade-long war that has killed more than 220,000 and displaced millions’ (reuters.com, 2 September). Socialists are, of course, pleased that the slaughter may soon be over but are sick to their back teeth with media lies and distortions. FARC is Marxist in the same way that North Korea (DPRK) is democratic. In fact, FARC declare themselves to be Bolivarian and call for ‘Colombia for Colombians, with equality of opportunities and equitable distribution of wealth and where among us all we can build peace with social equality and sovereignty’, rather than for Marx’s call for workers of all lands to unite for the overthrow of all existing social conditions. Marx during his lifetime was implacably opposed to political terrorism and fought a bitter battle with the anarchist, Michael Bakunin, which resulted in the expulsion of the latter from the International Workingmen’s Association. Marxist socialists oppose terrorism, individual, group or state, guerrilla ‘armies’ and so-called national liberation struggles. Instead we organise for and propagate worldwide common ownership, democratic administration, control of the land, means of production and transportation and the abolition of the wages system.

50 Years Ago: Confusion on the Left (2016)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is obvious that those trade union leaders who back the wages freeze are not acting in the interests of their members. But even those who oppose the freeze are hopelessly confused when it comes to politics. This was well shown at a meeting on September 1 organised by five of the unions opposing the freeze.

Not seeing Socialism as a practical alternative, the five general secretaries who spoke offered their own solution to the present financial problems of the British capitalist class: cut military spending overseas; impose import controls; launch a productivity campaign and end the status of sterling as a reserve currency. On this last point, loud applause followed a statement of the general secretary of the Association of Scientific Workers in which he said that they did not want ‘our’ currency being a commodity traded in by foreign bankers! Again, Clive Jenkins of ASSET commended De Gaulle’s policy of erecting a fence round France to prevent Americans buying up French industries. ‘I’d like to see the same here’, he said amidst applause.

This petty patriotism expressing itself as a dislike of international bankers (and America) is a characteristic of the Left, one which clearly distinguishes them from Socialists. Socialists know that patriotism is a delusion as workers have no country.

Jenkins’ main charge against the Labour government was that it was incompetent. Wilson was wrong, he said, in claiming to have been blown off course; he had steered right into the eye of a hurricane. ‘Had the government not heard of Keynes?’ he asked, suggesting that since Keynes any government that allowed unemployment to grow must be incompetent.

This is another myth of the Left. Governments fail to solve our troubles not because they are incompetent or insincere or irresolute but because they are trying to do the impossible. Our problems just cannot be solved within capitalism. The Left, with their so-called solutions, merely serve to keep alive the myth that capitalism can be made to work in our interests. That is why Socialists oppose them.
(Socialist Standard, October 1966)

What Could Socialism be Like? (2016)

From the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism will be a global society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the world’s natural and industrial resources. But how might this work? How will production, decision-making and culture be affected?

There will be a complete transformation in the calculation of resources, and their production and distribution. In capitalism articles of wealth (commodities) are produced to be bought and sold on markets, at a profit. This trade in commodities generates: waste; pollution and externalities; overproduction and under -production; built-in obsolescence; quantity over quality; crisis and booms; poverty amidst plenty; employment for some and a waste in human potential for most; and obscene wealth for the few.

With no commodity production and trade there will be no exchange value and prices, just the inputs and outputs of resources and human needs. The decision-making process will aim to ensure there’s sufficient stock control to meet projected needs through calculation in kind.

This decision-making process will also configure: environmental impact assessments; a high standard of quality control and durability; positive recycling – where products will be deliberately designed so to ensure that they last longer and when they are passed their usefulness all their component parts are easily recycled into other useful products; and transportation miles for distribution of human needs so the shortest journey possible is covered. This efficiency of calculation will ensure the energy required for producing needs will be kept to a minimum and promote the production of renewable energy sources.

Here the system will be participatory delegate democracy. In capitalism political parties represent the sectional interests within the capitalist class with all of them competing for political control of the state and its machinery of government. With no sectional interests to  be represented when there is common ownership, there won’t be political parties or a state machinery. Nonetheless, major issues will be thrashed out with decisions being made on what’s the best course of action for gaining a successful outcome.

A bottom up decision-making process involving voluntary participation cannot be imposed by a hierarchy or a vanguard or the concept becomes meaningless. The basic building block is the community or neighbourhood assembly, face-to-face meetings where citizens meet to discuss and vote on the issues of the day, not that there will need to be a vote on every issue as most of day-to-day work carried out will be routine. These assemblies elect mandated and recallable delegates who then link with other assemblies forming a confederated council, a ‘community of communities’. The difference between this form of delegate democracy and our current form of representative democracy is that in a representative democracy power is given wholesale to the representative who then is free to act on their own initiative. In a delegate democracy the initiative is set by the electing body and the delegate can be recalled at any time should the electing body feel that their mandate is not being met, thus power remains at the base.

Due to the impact of common ownership on the global community there’ll be even more of an increase in cultural choices and options than there is under capitalism. Unrestricted to the social conformity of private property relationships, individuals and communities will be able to focus on an ongoing celebration of freedom of expression – leading to an increase in cultural diversity.

Leisure activities are likely to increase in scope and decrease in size. Presently, with package holidays the most affordable way of taking a break from the drudgery and monotony of the production line or the office, they are the most popular form of holiday.

In socialism, where the principle of free access underpins the common ownership of the means of living, our options and choices on travel and holidays would be extended and influenced by what positive contribution we can make to the country we are visiting. And with package holidays and mass tourism a thing of the past, it is likely holidays in socialism would not be restricted within a timescale of 10 to 14 days of hectic hedonism, but transformed into an unique opportunity to stay in a particular location for as long as it takes to understand the history and culture of that region. In effect the transformation in the social relationships from private property ownership to common ownership will radically alter our perception of culture, leisure and travel.

Human nature
But wouldn’t all this be against human nature? No. Socialists make a distinction between human nature and human behaviour. That people are able to think and act is a fact of biological and social development (human nature), but how they think and act is the result of historically specific social conditions (human behaviour). Human nature changes, if at all, over vast periods of time; human behaviour changes according to changed social conditions. Capitalism being essentially competitive and predatory, produces vicious, competitive ways of thinking and acting. But we humans are able to change our society and adapt our behaviour, and there is no reason why our rational desire for human wellbeing and happiness should not allow us to establish and run a society based on co-operation.

Needs have a physiological and a historical dimension. Basic physiological needs derive from our human nature (e.g. food, clothing and shelter), but historically conditioned needs derive from developments in the forces of production. In capitalism, needs are manipulated by the imperative to sell commodities and accumulate capital; basic physiological needs then take the historically conditioned form of ‘needs’ for whatever the capitalists can sell us.

Social evolution suggests that no mode of production is cast in stone and the dynamics of change also affects capitalism as a social system. Studies of social systems with distinct social relationships related and corresponding to their specific mode of production have identified, for instance, primitive communism, chattel slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. All of these societies changed from one into another due to the contradictions inherent in that society and also due to technological advancement which each society found itself incapable of adapting to. Capitalism reached this point over a century ago. It’s time to move on to socialism.