Sunday, March 26, 2006

Class War No More? (1997)

From the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the more delicious frissons I derived from the recent death of Princess Diana was the wicked thought of what Class War magazine would have made out of it. They would have had a field day with the idiotic business, and shocked a great number of the grieving public with an extra-special dose of their puerile sick-bag humour.

But the demise of this less-than-august periodical means we will now have to make up our own sick Diana jokes, and we are the poorer for it. Of all the groups on the 'Left', Class War was the most consistently outrageous and self-parodying. Any revolutionary after our own heart could find much to like about Class War, even if some of their statements could bleach the roots of your hair. Tearaways, hooligans perhaps, juvenile and even infantile at times, the Class War Federation had an energy and a freshness about it which you don't often see in print, a willingness to say the unsayable, to alienate just about everyone, to flout almost every principle of taste and good manners in their unrelenting efforts to shock people into political awareness.

But now they've hauled down their pirates' flag. Class War is Dead, they proclaim. Long live the class war! They have decided to pack it in after 15 years, and do something else. And they are asking revolutionaries everywhere to discuss with them what that something else ought to be. In an Open Letter to the Revolutionary Movement' contained in their final issue, Class War, in a fit of honesty certainly alien to the Left, offer to exchange dirty washing with all-comers in an attempt to find the way forward. There follows a sad tale of internal division and internecine squabbling which will sound familiar to many groups. The gradual conversion of the Federation from free individuals to stagnating monolith is an object lesson in how not to run an organisation, as is their frank admission of the 'macho' female-excluding nature of their political ethos. That they are sincere cannot be doubted. Nor are they one whit diminished by these admissions, but in fact appear more dignified upon their retirement than ever during their career.

Class War, it has to be said, succeeded brilliantly in appealing to a small section of the radical 'market' – those who wanted action, but not the stale formulaic sloganeering of the Left. They had an effect and an influence out of all proportion to their size, making headlines and TV appearances again and again. But for every one person (young white male, as they admitted) who was attracted, fifty were put off. Mainly it was the violence. Pin-up pictures of dead coppers might make good satire, but confirmed most people's worst prejudices about the real nature of anarchists and of revolution. And it narrowed the already small band of their potential sympathisers to the point where Class War became more thuggery than thinking. And when the thinking stopped, the Federation fell apart.

One gets no satisfaction from saying this, but Class War got it wrong from the start. They wanted a democratic moneyless society, without leaders or classes, and without State control. Furthermore they detested the elitist and authoritarian demagogues of the Left every bit as much as we do. But they made, in my view, one crucial error in their class analysis. Instead of a two-class society – owners and workers, they had three. The middle-class to them was the 'controller' section of society (around 20%) which actively collaborated with the top 5% , and also acted as a buffer zone between the owners and the smelly 'working class' (the bottom 75%). This view therefore involved a class struggle not against a tiny minority, but against a very large minority which, though some might be expected to embrace revolution, had its role as collaborator and class traitor already marked out for it.
"We were inspired by the principles of anarchism to raise the flag of direct class conflict because we know that it's the only way our class can win its freedom. To do this we have to push the middle class out of the way".

Hence the perceived necessity, indeed inevitability, of violence. Hence the dropping of paving stones off motorway bridges onto 'posh cars' . Hence the whole tone and thrust of the magazine. Revolution to Class War was essentially a bloody affair, with at least one quarter of the population condemned to the wrong side of a civil war:
"We are in favour of mass working class violence, out in the open."

And this snobbish dismissal of the 'middle-class' in turn condemned Class War, for in purposefully insulting the educated, the Guardian readers, the trendy-lefties, the road-protesters, the vegetarians and the tree-climbers, they managed to alienate the 'joiners' and the 'do-ers'. Despite a circulation of up to 15,000, they could never persuade any of their 'real working class' readers to get involved. But they were not interested in getting involved, and they bought Class War because it amused them, like Viz or Private Eye, or because it flirted with some secret desire to destroy and vandalise, but not because they took it seriously. And revolutionaries need to be taken seriously if revolution is ever going to be possible.

Most jokes have a butt, a target to hit in order to get the laugh. It might be women, or men, or the Irish, or blacks, or politicians, but the victim must be there for the joke to work. Interestingly, most left-wing politics also has to have a butt, a human target, a victim, without which the argument doesn't work. Class War relied very heavily on having a palpable 'enemy', against whom one could vent one's spleen and exact one's revenge. But the trouble with this is, whom do you blame for the way a social system works? Our leaders? Or ourselves for following them? The rich? Or the poor for accepting their poverty? History doesn't hold individuals responsible. Capitalism is the real enemy, not its come-and-go managers, nor its police, nor its teachers. If scapegoats there must be, we are all deserving. The creation of the human 'enemy' in revolutionary politics is the point of departure from the Socialist Party's case for change, and the foundation and wellspring of all appeals to violence. In short, any solution which necessitates violence against individuals is probably wrong, not because of some pacifist moral imperative, but because it doesn't get rid of the problem.

In order for Class War's politics to maintain its appeal, the enemy had to be found, not in the abstract workings of a social system, but in the concrete everyday realities. The owning class was too remote to be tangible, and certainly too remote to be vulnerable. So Class War dragooned the 'middle-class' into the role:
"Those who really run society never put a foot outside their heavily protected worlds. For most of us, our immediate enemy is the middle class: management, social workers, magistrates, teachers and all the other functionaries of capital."

Making a putative middle-class into an enemy is as divisive as anything dreamed up by the owning class, and has more to do with testosterone than tactics. Violence is the steamy sex of left-wing politics, including Class War's. It is adventure, illicit excitement, danger, risk, Marx meets Millwall F.C, hooligans on a mission. It is attractive, but only to some, in the same way as cave diving or bungee jumping. To most people, I suspect, Class War was one of three things: an affront to common decency, or an MI5 plot, or a gang of kids having a lark. In no case was it a thing to get involved with.

What many groups can't stand about the Socialist Party is that we do not advocate violence and therefore cannot offer a practical programme of activity based on it. We are just not exciting enough for them, and thus we are labelled as sterile or 'theoretical' (this being a term of abuse, naturally). But we are not Quakers, and do not rule out the need for violence under all circumstances. We simply argue that it is quite possible, and highly desirable, for a large majority to establish socialism without bloodshed. The more violence is involved, the more likely the revolution is to fail outright, or be blown sideways into a new minority dictatorship.

The Socialist Party has consistently struggled to be heard for almost a century, and continues to struggle. Our venerable age however is no cause to be smug, and we hope that we also can learn something from Class War's commendable openness. We also have not always got it right. We also have had divisions. And we also have known stagnation. Partly it is the political climate. Partly our own shortcomings. Class War tried a tack – that of attack – which didn't work. We could have told them it wouldn't. But we are not sitting pretty either, and are not pointing any fingers. So long as there are revolutionaries out there with the energy to act and the will to think, we want to talk to them.

How to further the revolutionary process? We wish we knew. But we will be watching with interest as ex-Class War members grapple with this new, and for us, very old problem. Maybe they can make a few suggestions.
Paddy Shannon

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cuba: No Workers Paradise

From the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The scene is typical: the dog-end of a trade union branch meeting; members are tired after discussing complex pay and discipline issues; tired from listening to the hyper-activists glorying in the sound of their own voices; desperate to escape. Item 9 on the agenda of the hour-long meeting is expenses for a delegate to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign meeting. Exhausted hands fly up to approve the monies, without debate, voting as much for escape as for sanction.

Cuba has become a cause celebre amongst those who identify themselves as 'Old Labour'. Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party has dreams of an independent Scotland emulating Cuba; Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party adores Cuba and makes trade with it a centre-piece of their foreign policy; Guardianistas write endless letters in support of the country; no union conference is complete without a resolution or six in support of Cuba. (See Cuba Solidarity Campaign.)

This is as true for America as for the UK. Michael Albert of Z-Magazine had to give a rearguard defence of his criticisms of Cuba's decision to murder a number of hijackers (his critics themselves being activists and opponents of state-murder in the US); anarchist superstar Noam Chomsky warmly supports Cuba's defiance of the US, staying stoically silent on Cuba's internal regime, save that it is a matter for Cubans themselves.

In European literature, Utopia was always supposed to be an imaginary far-flung Island in uncharted seas like the Caribbean; now, it seems, it is a very real island in perfectly well-charted waters for a good majority of the left — even if those are waters that have been well sailed by the USSR and its sundry fellow travellers. This misty eyed respect for Cuba would not be so worrying were it confined to the dying ranks of Tankie Stalinists; however, its tendrils reach well beyond them. Like Chomsky, many take an anti-American reflex and root for the underdog versus the hyperpower: excusing the repressive parts of Castro's regime as mistakes, or excesses of siege warfare.

This is a siege that has been going on for a very long time. Castro's guerrillas emerged from the hills in 1959 to drive away the US-backed kleptocrat dictator Batista. What began as a simple nationalist movement was quickly driven into the "Communist" camp by the hostility of the American government. The new regime weathered numerous attempts to displace it, including Kennedy's Bay of Pigs invasion, and miscellaneous attempts by the CIA to assassinate Castro. Simultaneously, the former guerrillas declared for "Communism", and abandoned dreams of national autarky by becoming a sugar plantation for the USSR rather than the US. (See Socialist Standard, April 1984).

The US has never been able to forgive the expropriation of its millionaires by Castro's party, and has maintained its siege ever since. For its part, the Castro regime has proven remarkably resilient (to the point at which American planners are now taking the 'biological resolution', i.e. Castro's death from old age, as the most likely way for them to advance their cause). In that time, the regime has maintained a tight control over the economy. At times, this has meant a heavy bureaucratic hand, requiring strings of permits to produce, distribute and export or import goods.

None of this has abolished the commodity nature of production, nor the wages system. A fact starkly illustrated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the loss of Cuba's export markets as well as the convenient supply of oil for industrial purposes. The economy underwent serious recession, from which it has yet to fully recover. Since then, the government has been trying to re-orientate the economy towards tourism to bring in essential foreign currency. This has led to a situation in which goods are produced solely to be consumed by tourists in their enclaves which are denied the Cuban workers.

The continued existence of the wages system has meant the need for measures to impose labour discipline. The Cuban state only recognises one trade union federation, Central de Trabajadores Cubanos (CTC). This consists of unions entirely dominated by the ruling Communist Party, wherein officers are vetted (not just by their present affiliations, but on a documentary of their entire lives going back to their school records) before they are allowed to take up posts. Whilst independent trade unions are not entirely illegal, their existence is subject to repressive controls and harassment, beginning with the Associations Act (Leyes de Asociaciones) and escalating to the generally repressive political order laws. (Source: ICFTU).

As Amnesty International notes, in the past few years, the numbers of long term political dissidents imprisoned has fallen; but this is counter-posed by an increase in short-run harassment techniques, like arrest without trial, breaking up of meetings, threats of eviction, etc. According to the ICFTU (an organisation which the British TUC is affiliated to) in the early months of this year over 78 union activists had been targeted by the Cuban state. One, for example, was arrested for attempting to resist a state organised eviction of a family.

Although Cuba nominally has 100 percent post-16 suffrage, this is restricted to candidates approved by the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution. Likewise, a plethora of laws make free criticism and electoral organisation impossible: Article 144(17) of the criminal code prohibits disrespect to authority; Articles 200-201 preventing the spread and cause of panic and disorder have been used to imprison people publicly voicing criticisms; Article 103 prohibits 'enemy propaganda' which is interpreted as anyone inciting criticism of the Cuban system and its international allies; Article 203 criminalises disrespect to the flag and symbols of the regime; Article 115 prevents the dissemination of 'false news against international peace'; and the piece de résistance is articles 72-74 which forbid anything 'dangerous', which can be anything the police and courts decide are so (Amnesty International).

This battery of laws amounts to an arsenal fit to stop any independent thought and organisation, and amounts to a capacity to arrest anyone the state doesn't like, any time they want. In a situation in which workers cannot hope to organise politically, it makes free association in trade unions impossible. All of this needs to be borne in mind when stories are repeated by supporters of Cuba (such as the Cuba Solidarity Campaign) about how workers have democracy and freedom to organise in Cuba; or of how workplace committees and trade unions decide industrial matters. Indeed, as the ICFTU points out, the requirements of the Labour Code demand that collective agreements be decided by both workers' meetings, and the employers, with the Communist Party being heavily involved on both sides of these negotiations. There is no legally-sanctioned right to strike.

Thus, although there are formal and nominal freedoms, much like in the USSR, in practice they are undermined by highly centralised capacity to crush dissent. In the absence of political and trade union freedoms, then, the working conditions of Cuban workers are hard. Their living standards drastically cut by the recent recessions, even if they "agreed" to this in mass meetings to save their jobs. International companies that invest in Cuba are compelled to hire their workers via agencies. These agencies pocket 95 percent of the dollar value of the wages. State officials maintain that this is to maintain Cuban equality, and not to direct the dollars into state hands. This despite the obvious stratification of Cuban society that has emerged.

The romantic supporters of Cuba put their concerns for "national rights" before class solidarity, in supporting the Cuban regime. They excuse its actions as a necessary defence against US aggression, and will it to survive against the greater power, even at the expense of its workers' lives and liberties. And they can point to its impressive record on health care, education and education (much better than in much of the rest of Latin America: including a healthy 76 year life expectancy).

Cuba does indeed show what could be possible, even with meagre resources to meet the needs of human beings, and how artificial the deprivation across much of the rest of the world is. But the difference in treatment stems largely from an autarkic nation's need to maintain a functioning workforce versus the surplus population of the mono-export countries of much of the rest of South America.

Socialists do not consider that the best way to assist the workers of Cuba is to support the régime that dragoons them in siege warfare with the US, but that the spread of the world socialist revolution is the only way to rescue them from the unpalatable set of choices facing them. To do that, we need to free socialism from the taint of the undemocratic methods applied in Cuba and stand clearly for the political freedoms of association and speech for the working class the world over, so as better to spread the ideas and consciousness required for the building of a truly stateless classless world co-operative commonwealth.
Pik Smeet

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Open Letter To Michael Moore (2003)

From the January 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Mike,

I owe you, man. I've been watching your work for years now, from the first series of TV Nation onwards. I've enjoyed your rigour, integrity and sense of rye humour. I've been to see Bowling for Columbine – twice! By my calculations that means I've personally given you 48p. I got my hands, however, on a free "damaged" copy of Stupid White Men through a friend of mine. My calculations on that are that I've probably just cost you £1.50. So I owe you £1.02. Well, first off, let me tell you about the Socialist Standard. OK, that's free on the web, but if you bought the magazine, it'd have cost you a quid. So that's square. That leaves a wee bit left over, though. So I reckon I'll give you my twopenneth.

No one can doubt your heart is in the right place, nor your commitment. Your palpable anger at the destruction of communities by big business; at the bullying of the poor and defenceless by the rich and powerful; at the hypocrisy of our rulers; shows clearly in all your work. Yet, the answers that you present, your suggested course of action, I feel, just aren't enough. It's entirely laudable to say "Just get involved" – after all, if people don't get involved at all, then nothing will ever change. You've shown in yourself how simply turning up and noisily making demands can make the rich and powerful bend and twist to do the popular thing.

The problem is, however, that unless the people "getting involved" have some clear idea about where they are going, and what they want, they'll just end up pestering our masters for different crumbs from the table for ever: as those devious buggers spin and turn in the wind, giving just enough to stay in power. When the workers of St. Louis took control of the city in 1871, for instance, they had free reign to do as they pleased, to work for their own betterment. They came to power though, without any ideas, with no plan for running their own lives, and so slowly melted away again, to return to ordinary drudgery on the railroads.

Of course, America is the country that brought us philosophical pragmatism. This tells in your approach, taking whatever chances are available. In Stupid White Men you tell of how you tried to persuade the Green faction of the Capitalist Party's presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, to bargain from his position of holding the swing vote. "We hold all the power" you told them. What, though, did that power amount to? It amounted to being in a position to wring a few concessions from candidates from other sections of the Capitalist Party, dragging them "'to the left".

This maximum power for your candidate was only scheduled to last "for the next week or so", before handing absolute power over to someone who would "keep no promises". After all, once leaders are firmly ensconced in power, what need have they for king makers, whether other candidates or mere voters? The whole point of being a leader is to exercise power as you see fit. Bargaining with leaders is like letting a prisoner out for a stroll, and expecting them to come back.

You yourself admit there is not much difference in voting between different wings of the Capitalist Party. As you point out, Ronald "Evil Empire" Regan imposed stricter controls on car manufacturers on miles per gallon usage of petrol than "Slick Willy" Clinton. You could go further, and show how Eisenhower stuck by the welfare state as much as Johnson, who in turn was just as Hawkish as Cheney. In fact, you could show that, despite their protestations that the opposing faction are the paragon of all evil, that both sides are always prepared to steal each others' policies. Your list of how the Democratic faction of the Capitalist Party's voting records accord with the Republican faction's shows as much.

The reason for this is not hard to find – they're not really in charge at all. Any policy they may impose will have to accord with the ongoing operation of capitalism, and the rules of that system, or they won't work at all. After all, Reagan controlled miles per gallon because the world was still dealing with the effects of the 1972 oil shock and recession. Clinton was dealing with a time when oil was flowing free and constraints on use would have been constraints on profit rather than a support. So, Nader's maximum moment of power amounted to being able to ask for a few concessions from someone whose maximum moment of power would be asking for a few concessions from the people who really own the world.

No wonder politicians prefer to ape the noises of these parasites. They might as well make the right sounds so that they can kid themselves that they really are part of the gang in charge, and that the policies they are implementing really are their own. Who wants to sound like they are championing the cause of ineffectual groups?

Any leader is going to find themself in this position. Imagine (just for a second) that Nader did win the presidency (no, seriously), committed as he was to the continued existence of capitalism with a green face. He would have to make policies that conformed with one logical premise – the law of no profit, no production. All his policies would have to allow the owners of America to make at least the average rate of profit from their investments, or else they would launch a capital strike, declining to invest in industries or even withdrawing altogether. That is, no matter what he is like as a man, no matter how honest his followers, or their determination, he would have to adapt his policies to running capitalism the only way it can be run, in the interests of them as own it.

Even were (for some odd reason) someone to come to power in the US and nationalise everything that moved, just as in the state-capitalist states in the old Soviet bloc (and we all know how well that worked), they would still be subject to this self same law. Whilst they might not face the same irritating bunch of rich people, they would still need to operate the circulation of goods produced by waged-labour at a profit as a first condition of their policies.

This law afflicts even our rulers. As Lord Byron said, "there can be no freedom, even for the masters, among slaves". Even though you state that "there is no recession, my friends. No downturn," but that it is a deliberate machiavellian ploy by our masters to prevent us asking for a share of their wealth, the fact is that they are compelled into cutting back by the logic of their system.

If they did not disinvest, cut back, rationalise and downsize, any competitor who did so would get the better of them, and thus drive them out of the market. They may still be rolling in money themselves, but they cannot use it to create any more jobs. If they allowed their profits to fall behind relative to the size of their capital advanced, they would risk losing the lot (poor diddums). They just aren't going to allow that to happen.

The fact is that the crime of capitalism is not that some have money and refuse to give it to others - and the money is, as you rightly point out, there. No, the crime is that the rules of the system mean that all that money must uselessly slush around – protecting the stakes advanced by the capitalists – rather than going into doing the useful things that communities like Flint Michigan require. This inevitable waste stems from the law of no profit no production, and the whole system of producing commodities for exchange on the market (like SUV's) to be bought, rather than produced directly to fulfil a need.

So, bang goes your whole strategy. Badgering the rich and powerful like a toddler pulling at their parent's trousers – mummy, mummy, we want some welfare! Despite your call to get involved, to go out and get for ourselves, the result is that it involves going like naughty children up to some corporate master, and hassling them (preferably with an embarrassing film crew present to broadcast their perfidy and meanness to the world – no wonder Neil (brother of George) Bush was so relieved to run into you without your camera. It must be irritating for them to subjected to even that level of public scrutiny and expectation.

Your whole attempt to portray welfare as in the interests of our masters reveals the truth behind the welfare state that has gone before (Chapter Four "Kill Whitey"). They precisely instituted the welfare state on the expectation that it would increase their profits and help their system run smoother. Administering a share of the wealth to the workers, rather than allowing the market to do it, lest freak market conditions result in sections of the working class getting more than our masters' need for profits could allow. Now it has become less profitable to run (as well as too rigid), they have tried (quite successfully) to cut it back. So, we can see that any gains our masters may grant (because they are either in, or at least not against, their interest) can be revoked and re-instated as they see fit. Things may well get better again for places like Flint, only to be blighted again the next time the law of no profit no production demands it.

So, what's with badgering you, then? Why my twopenneth? Am I just getting on at someone powerful to try and get them to help promote my cause? Well, no. I was short of material for this month's magazine and you presented an opportunity of providing me with a focus for a simple message. If, as you most certainly do, you care about the widespread poverty and misery produced by US capitalism, then you need to go down to first principles.

Reject leaders. You don't need to be a cheer leader for Nader, it doesn't matter what he's like as a human. Both the capitalist system and the whole relationship of leader to led means that one is going to betray the other pretty quickly after assuming power (usually followers betraying leaders by actually expecting them to be able to fulfil their promises). We have enough strength in our own communities without having to bow and scrape to our masters.

Go beyond capitalism. Recognise that it is the whole system of producing things for a chaotic market that produces inequality and poverty, and think about how we could go about making the change to a situation in which we use all that idle talent, ability and imagination that you reveal and revel in your documentaries, to produce things directly for people's needs.

If we reach out across the workers of the world, who share more in common with you than any American capitalist, then we can create a co-operative commonwealth spanning the globe, which will put an end to all the wars, violence and strife caused by the competition between capitalist rivals, and which spill over into our communities and our schools. That commonwealth though, always starts with individuals, individuals like you, and anyone else who might read this open letter.

That's my twopenneth, I consider the debt settled.

For World Socialism,

Pik Smeet.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Democracy as a Way of Life

From the September 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unfortunately, democracy is one of those carelessly uttered words (like freedom, peace, love, justice etc.) that is constantly misused and prone to expedient adaptation. HL Mencken, for instance, mischievously declared: "Adultery is democracy applied to marriage." Politically, however, its misuse is contemptuously cynical and rarely funny, so it is especially important for socialists to be as precise as possible when explaining it. For us it is the heartbeat of every activity and has been so ever since the party was founded in 1904.

Perhaps the best conventional definition is to be found in Chambers: "A form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people collectively, and is administered by them or officers appointed by them." Replace the word government with society, or better still community a word without what the Austrian philosopher, Martin Buber described as "the attendant structural poverty of society" and, give or take a semantic quibble or two, it moves some way towards a basic definition that even socialists would find acceptable.

William Morris wrote very well about democracy and every place visited in his book about a future society (News From Nowhere) is veritably imbued with the democratic spirit. Points of view are exchanged in a charming, tough, frequently highly opinionated manner. Yet every discussion, as it should, displaying a deep and mutual regard for the right to differ. Here is a passage in which he explains the mechanism of democracy most beautifully:

- "Said I 'So you settle these differences, great and small, by the will of the majority, I suppose?'

- 'Certainly,'
said he; 'How else could we settle them? You see in matters which are merely personal which do not affect the welfare of the community how a man shall dress, what he shall eat and drink, what he shall write and read, and so forth there can be no difference of opinion, and everybody does as he pleases. But when the matter is of interest to the whole community, and the doing or not doing something affects everybody, the majority must have their way . . . in a society of men who are free and equal the apparent majority is the real majority, and the others, as I have hinted before, know too well to obstruct from mere pigheadedness; especially as they have had plenty of opportunity of putting forward their side of the question.'"

Morris was well aware that democracy could not be left to mature on its own like a good wine but needs to breathe out of the bottle, kept fresh by continual practice. This is something we endeavour to do in the Socialist Party but we cannot honestly claim that it is easy to get everything right. Since we assert that a stateless society is a viable proposition and recognise democracy as essential to its function, we are obliged to pursue it now to better understand its complexities and the difficulties that can arise. Unquestionably, even in the most enlightened community, because it would depend upon the co-operation of free (and potentially awkward) individuals, minorities would sometimes experience dissatisfaction and frustration. Giving rise to what most anarchists darkly refer to as "the tyranny of the majority". To deny the possibility, indeed, probably the likelihood of this problem, would be absurdly complacent and Socialists do not do so.

In a letter to Commonweal (the journal of the Socialist League) on 5 May 1889, Morris wryly observed: ". . . experience shows us that wherever a dozen thoughtful men shall meet together there will be twelve different opinions on any subject, which is not a dry matter of fact . . . and often on that too . . ."; an observation the accuracy of which may be swiftly confirmed whenever Socialists repair to the pub.

Anarchists, of course, might contend that in democracy the majority actually constitutes authority and Morris concedes that, for all it is worth, it might be so defined. But when free, uncoerced human beings voluntarily enter into a process where inclusive, open and (if necessary) prolonged debate concludes with a majority decision to describe it as authoritative is the logic of the absurd. To call it tyranny, a word redolent with connotations of oppression and cruelty, makes a mockery of language. Later, in the same letter, a dagger thrust is delivered: "For if freedom means the assertion of the advisability or possibility of an individual man doing what he pleases in all circumstances, this is an absolute negation of society . . ."

Morris readily acknowledges that a number of anarchists might well add a qualification: that in pursuing their own freedom they would feel obliged to consider the effect of their actions upon the freedom of others. Such an acknowledgement clearly recognises that it is not sufficient to regard democracy as a purely administrative, decision making, regulatory mechanism. Crucially, its very essence of principled and graceful conciliation needs to pervade the everyday interaction between members of any community aspiring to live co-operatively. One day, perhaps, it may no longer be considered necessary to use any. One day, perhaps, it may no longer be considered important to use any particular word to describe such eminently reasonable behaviour.

In another splendidly succinct passage in News From Nowhere, Morris explains that leaders have no role in a democratic society: ". . . a man no more needs an elaborate system of government, with its army, navy and police, to force him to give way to the will of his equals, that he wants a similar machinery to make him understand that his head and a stone wall cannot occupy the same space at the same moment." Sadly, the idea that homo sapiens might co-exist harmoniously, without any kind of government or leaders not to be confused with the essential administration of things is dismissed by most people as impossible.

When Socialists speak of a community based upon co-operation, of free access, of democratic administration but the absence of government; a society where the fundamental needs of every human being could be met; often the listener will nod sagely and sigh: "Yes, that would be very nice but it's impossible it's against human nature." Yet such an exchange though seemingly fruitless is frequently redeemed when, oddly enough, the sage immediately excludes himself from this gloomy conclusion, protesting: "It's not me, it's the other people who would fail."

A famous piece of graffiti states "Democracy is too good to share with just anybody." It makes us smile but makes a sinister assumption which is all to prevalent an elitist assumption that most human beings are congenitally incapable of becoming free enough to co-exist without coercion. That only a select few will ever be able to develop their potential to the required level. This pernicious notion has been carefully nurtured by all those who control the system, whatever name they choose to call themselves. For capitalist 'democracy' depends on containing that potential.

In order to do so they rigorously maintain a callous, exploitative and hierarchical system based on domination and privilege. By means of increasing propaganda and economic control, the self-belief of most of the population is seriously undermined. Reluctant to assert themselves, the subservient majority seek security through conformity, mistakenly assuming that they lack the power to change things. An unhealthy situation largely accepted not only as 'normal' but also immutable and inducing a condition of political acquiescence; for which the ruling powers are extremely grateful.

Since the only possible basis for creating an enduring, truly democratic, community is through the conscious choice of strong, independent, politically aware individuals, it might seem to be, at best, a distant prospect; but it need not be. Thankfully, though, the shared capacity of human beings to develop their conscious potential may become dormant but it can never be eradicated. Our present predicament was perfectly expressed by Thoreau, who wrote: "millions are awake . . . but only one in a million is awake enough . . . We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake . . . by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep."

Like all Socialists Morris was confident that this reawakening was within our grasp, once the last great illusion of our powerlessness had been overcome. In his lecture The Society of the Future, he said: "Therefore my ideal of the society of the future is first of all freedom . . ., the shaking off the slavish dependence, not on other men, but on artificial systems . . ." And later: "First you must be free, and next you must learn to take pleasure in all details of life; which, indeed, will be necessary for you, because, since others will be free you will have to do your own work."

One of the most pernicious untruths ever perpetrated is that there is some kind of unbridgeable chasm between independence and co-operation. Socialists are right to emphasise the significant determining factors of our social and political environment but also to reject the discredited notion of absolute determinism. Democracy, far from being an impossible concept, is something unconsciously we frequently exercise. In the relationship we have with our families, friends and colleagues; in the common courtesies we regularly show to one another; in the underlying decency of the behaviour of most human beings. A concept far more practical and sensible than the lunatic world of market manipulation and state control that presently masquerades as reality.

Socialism and democracy are complementary; more than complementary indivisible. In the sense that a democratic society can only result from free, conscious choice, it is a by-product of freedom. But in both a social and a political context freedom can only exist as a by-product of democracy. Whichever way round it is will not matter, when it is thriving in that community yet to be established, where though it still rains, we still quarrel and new problems confront us every day we have learned to accept that, just occasionally, we may be wrong but rejoice in the fact that tomorrow we retain the incontrovertible right to be wrong again.

Richard Headicar

Are Gypsies The Problem? (2005)

From the October 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

When a 'land for sale by auction' notice appeared at the end of a cul-de-sac in Billericay, Essex, the reaction was swift and well organised. A letter expressing concern that the land might be bought and occupied by members of the travelling community with a detrimental effect on the value of their properties was immediately prepared by two residents and delivered to 180 houses in the vicinity. Within days a meeting was held and a limited company set up with some 45 neighbours contributing to the eventual purchase price of £75,000. The land purchased is part of a 'field', thickly overgrown mainly with hawthorns, most of which is owned by a property company in the anticipation that its green-belt status will some time be changed.

Whether or not the fears of residents in this instance were well founded, the near impossibility of finding legal stopping places means that Gypsies and Travellers have been forced into confrontational situations with local authorities and with members of the settled community in the areas where they are encamped.

It is estimated that in England there are between 4,000 and 5,000 vans and from 16,000 to 20,000 Travellers and Gypsies either in transit or without a legal place to stay (Environmental Health Journal, April 2005, online). The shortage of sites means that Travellers are forced to move on, to the detriment of their health and their children's education. It also means that many more than were intended are stopping on legal sites. This for example is the situation at Crays Hill in Basildon, also in Essex, where there are some 30 legal plots on a site but more than sixty are occupied illegally. Similar situations can be found in various parts of the country.

The plight of Gypsies and Travellers is not a popular cause. In 1973 Jeremy Sandford wrote in his book Gypsies of the situation for Gypsies who had always been vulnerable to attack from those who "perhaps from envy of their free and easy ways" want to drive them from "our hedgerows, commons and public places" but were now faced with legislation which effectively outlawed their way of life. He also stated in his conclusion that at the present rate of progress "it may well be into the 2000s' before there was a place on a site for every British gypsy". However far from there being progress the situation has become much worse.

The 1960 Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act had "forced families to move off agricultural land onto lay-bys and car parks." A government survey revealed the extent of traveller poverty: more than two thirds were living on sites without access to running water or rubbish disposal (Helen O'Nions, The Marginalisation of Gypsies, 1995). The 1968 Caravan Sites Act had the prime purpose of remedying this situation. Local Authorities were mandated to provide "adequate accommodation for Gypsies residing in or resorting to their area". However, the sites that were provided by councils were not necessarily to the liking of Gypsies in that they made insufficient allowance for their lifestyle. For example the collecting of scrap metal and keeping of animals could be forbidden, and there would not be room for the gathering together of extended family groups. Councils had additional powers to remove Gypsies not on designated sites. The Act did not work as intended, not least because councils found ways around the duty to provide sites. By the time the Conservative government removed the statutory obligations in 1994 one third of Travellers had no legal place to stay. During the Thatcher era thousands of traditional stopping places disappeared.

In what is seen as an attempt to make Gypsies abandon the nomadic way of life the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 ended the duty for local authorities to provide sites and removed government funding for them. It also became a criminal offence for caravans to stop on the highway, unoccupied land, common land or land without consent. Gypsies were encouraged to buy land and develop their own sites, but because of the restrictive criteria set by councils some 80 per cent of these applications are turned down. This is why some have resorted to buying and moving on to land before seeking planning permission. The position whereby green-belt land could be considered for Gypsy sites ("a recognition of the difficulty of finding suitable sites in suburbia") was ended on the grounds that "Gypsies enjoy a privileged position in the planning system". Ironically councils were given encouragement to allow building and development on green-belt sites.

The Labour government has resumed the funding of sites and has increased the amount it intends to spend on them. However it has not put the responsibilities of councils back to the pre-1994 position. The Housing Act 2004 placed a duty on local authorities to include Gypsies and Travellers in their local housing assessments and "demonstrate how these needs will be met", with the Secretary of State having powers to direct a local authority to produce a plan. Brentwood is the first council to be challenged in this way. If the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is successful in getting Brentwood to comply it will encourage other councils "to get on with the job". Many councils do not need encouragement; the Environmental Health Journal cites the example of Norfolk, whose Traveller Liaison Group has already produced a Traveller protocol and has five authorised sites and is planning a transit site.

Basildon council has 106 authorised sites but still does not have enough places for all of the Travellers who wish to stop in the district. Wakefield claims to have one of the largest authorised Traveller sites in the country and is the first council to announce plans to apply Anti-Social Behaviour Orders to particular illegal encampments. These require a lower standard of proof than normal court proceedings but the Gypsy Council is advising Gypsies to challenge the orders through the courts.

In some instances local people protesting about illegal traveller sites are also sympathetic to the plight of Gypsies and Travellers; for example, the Cottenham Residents' Association and the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition forwarded a joint statement to the Government pointing out that the provision of adequate sites by all local authorities would address the acute shortage of sites and also bring an end to illegal and unauthorised encampments.

Whilst emphasis is put on the problems caused by illegal sites and the excess numbers who are stopping on authorised sites, the widespread perception is of Gypsies and Travellers as people who live outside of the constraints which the settled community are bound by, who do not contribute in work or taxes but commit crime, spoil the environment with their rubbish and generally cause trouble by their very presence in an area.

Gypsies and Travellers are much like other people; most of them do work, though not necessarily in full-time wage labour, and they do pay taxes. A study for the Rowntree Foundation among New Age travellers found that nearly half of those surveyed were in work and many more had worked at some time during the year. Most of the accusations regarding criminal behaviour are unsubstantiated but as in the rest of society some commit crimes. Ironically many thousands of Gorjios (non-Gypsies) choose to take caravan and camping holidays, and cook meals in their gardens; some dump their old sofas and other rubbish in country lanes.

Gypsies have maintained their identity through many centuries of prejudice and discrimination. They may choose to call themselves Travellers but not all Travellers are Gypsies and not all Gypsies are of a single group. Changes in their lifestyle have inevitably been made. The most obvious being the disappearance of horse-drawn caravans which had earlier replaced bender tents. We have shown some of the things which have made the itinerant life more difficult over recent years including legal restrictions, the disappearance of traditional stopping sites (some after hundreds of years in use), constantly being moved on. Other factors are the reduction in casual farm work, and restrictions imposed on scrap metal dealing.

I live in that cul-de-sac in Billericay but as a Socialist did not take part in the anti-Traveller action of the others. That would be to target a group of fellow workers for problems caused by capitalism. Could the reasonable enough demands of the Travellers be met within capitalism? Possibly. It may be that local authorities will be persuaded to fulfil their obligations but, since they are faced with competing demands on their finances, probably at the expense of other local services. But what will never be able to be ended under capitalism is the competition between workers for jobs, housing and amenities arising out of the artificial scarcity that is built-in to it and which gives rise to and sustains divisive prejudices amongst those who are not socialists. It was precisely because there are so many problems which cannot be solved within the capitalist system that I became a Socialist.
Pat Deutz

The Rise and Fall of the NHS (2005)

From the April 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

The National Health Service is trumpeted as the finest achievement of the Labour Party throughout its entire history. For years Labour supporters when tackled on the non-socialist and pro-capitalist nature of the Labour Party would reply with the one riposte, 'Ah, but what about the NHS?' Regarded by many Labour supporters as a socialist measure and holding out a promise of solving one of the most distressing problems of being a worker, being looked after when you were ill, it is hardly surprising that it was seen as a huge step forward in working class emancipation. One reform out of the multitude of reforms put into practice by a reformist party has survived — has it worked?

What did the NHS claim to do at its inception? Its chief architect Aneurin Bevan was very sure of his aims: it was to be an institution which would take care of all the medical needs of the working class for evermore and, hold your breath, without charge. However expensive the treatment might be medical attention could be obtained for all. For free! But it left a question hanging in the air, why was it only the working class who needed this ambitious solution? There was no problem for the capitalist class, who didn't need a health service. They could obtain all that was available from existing medical services by paying for it.

However, in the context of the time and given the pro capitalist inclinations of the Labour Party it was a bold, even visionary solution to the poor state of health of the mass of the working class after a long period of economic depression followed by six years of war. A situation, that had already been a serious cause of concern for government before the war. (Though in some respects the wartime diet plus the fact that unemployment had virtually ended for the duration had improved health standards). The NHS plan struck an immediate chord with the mass of the working class who saw in it a promise for massive changes for the better in the post-war period. Carried away by the prospect of free teeth and glasses for all, the NHS helped to allay the grim years of rationing and shortages and helped to secure a second term for the Labour Government.

Bevan is usually given sole credit for the NHS, but the real picture is slightly different. Like its companion, the Beveridge scheme for social security, it was implemented by the Labour Party but had the support of other parties, who generally recognised that some form of welfare was badly needed. So the NHS did not spring from nothing, as with the big bang theory of the Universe.
There had been health provision for the working class before the war that was free of charge, but it had been very haphazard, with some areas over supplied and others very badly neglected. Also it relied upon charity. It was not there by right and most people saw a big difference. Bevan promoted a scheme that would abolish the stigma and unpredictability of charity and was comprehensive and open to all. And he had to fight for it, even against opposition within his own party, and from the British Medical Association, who saw a threat to their own power within a government run scheme. But once the scheme had been publicised there was no going back.

Yet those were minor obstacles compared to a force that neither Bevan nor the Labour Party has ever properly understood, the forces of capitalist economics.

Money problems
The NHS had to be paid for, and the money had to come from the capitalist class. Ever since its inception the history of the NHS has been a story of trying to provide adequate funding. Every government has looked for ways to find the money and cut the costs, and every government has failed. The original set-up has been modified, tinkered with or altered repeatedly, all, we are told in the interests of efficiency. And every government produces a fresh plan with a fanfare of trumpets that promises to solve all problems. Bevan initiated a reform that would prove to be one of the biggest headaches of all time for his own party or for any party trying to run capitalism, including Margaret Thatcher, who thought she had the magic formula to solve all problems, privatisation, but ended up by spending as much as anyone.

In truth there are many factors within capitalism which augur badly for the NHS. Although the trend for well-established capitalist countries is to gravitate from a production economy to a service economy, this can have problems. Manufactured goods, once they are into full mass production generally go down in price, notwithstanding inflation because they embody less labour.
But not all wealth can be mass-produced. Many jobs that require intensive labour-power cannot be made more productive by technology. But wages paid have to come into line with those of production workers where fewer workers still produce as much or more. This is why it is so expensive to have such things as electrical or building work done. Nursing comes into this category: you can't replace a nurse by a machine (although they do their best). So, if there are going to be enough nurses to run a health service the total cost of nursing care has to go up. In addition to which, nurses have to be trained to manage the increasing technical demands of modern health care.

The government try to overcome this problem by the well-used tactic of recruiting from countries with lower wages, such as the West Indies, South Africa and Poland. Another tried and tested solution favoured by employers is that of up-grading, i.e. allowing some tasks to be undertaken by those not previously regarded as having the necessary skills; for example, encouraging nurses to undertake minor surgery, thus relieving some pressure on doctors.

But this is minor, compared to the increasing costs of drug treatment, which have risen to astronomical proportions since the NHS was founded. When Bevan dreamed up his panacea for the working class of Britain, which was going to be the envy of the world, the practice of medicine was not as advanced as it is today. Drug treatment, as we know it today, apart from the heavy reliance on aspirin and the wartime use of penicillin, was unknown. Modern medical science was more or less born during the Second World War and it has made giant strides since, especially with regard to costs. Developing a modern medical drug can cost millions of pounds. And, as every reader of any newspaper must have noticed, new, 'wonder drugs' are launched with astonishing frequency, generally leading newspaper articles somewhere asking indignantly, "Why cannot this life saving drug be made available to anyone who needs it?" The pressures on the NHS are relentless, all of them making for increasing costs.

Population trends are swelling the numbers of old in relation to the young, and as we all know older people tend to have more illnesses, and their illnesses are more likely to take the form of expensive operations such as hip replacements. All these items are creating big problems for the NHS. and resulting in intensive press coverage, most of it highly critical, especially when it comes to waiting lists. It must be pointed out that this does not just apply to the NHS. Other capitalist institutions, paid for out of taxation levied upon the wealthy, are being cut, notably the armed forces, the police force and the fire service. And private (more or less) firms, which cannot apply technology to reduce costs (read, manpower), like the post office, are cutting the numbers of branches. So, what does the future hold for the NHS and its equivalents in other capitalist countries?

As the longest running institution of its kind the NHS is probably the creakiest in Europe, but there is nothing special about British capitalism that makes it more likely than any other to undergo decline. Most European countries are already showing signs of strain in funding their welfare systems and what applies to the UK must inevitably follow with them.

The conclusion must be that to fulfil the professed aims of Bevan for a health service that would cover the needs of the working class was never more than a pipe dream. No government will dare to upset their masters to the extent necessary to maintain a decent health service. The most likely prognosis is that it will carry on much as now with an increasing bias towards private hospitals and treatment that is paid for at the point of consumption. In fact it never lived up to its hype from the beginning; within months charges were being introduced for dental and optical services. There is no such thing as an adequate health service within a capitalist system of society and there never can be. It seems the current trend is to go back to something similar to pre NHS. and have a two tier system where what you get will be what you pay for. The rise in private hospitals and health insurance is a potent symbol of this trend.

No doubt most workers will conclude that any deficiencies in the NHS can be put right by a change of government and that it lies within the power of the political process to achieve a viable health system. This is a fallacy. The money system we live under is inherently biased towards satisfying the demands of a minority ruling class who are only concerned with having a working class fit enough to go to work and fight their wars for them. Capitalism can never be run in the interests of the majority and in any case will always throw up new problems of ill health as it progresses. The rickets and tuberculosis of the Victorians are being replaced by more sophisticated illnesses such as heart failure, stress and obesity of a more modern age, not to mention AIDS.

In a socialist society where the capacity for wealth production, unhampered by the colossal waste endemic to this one, can be released to the full, human values will predominate and energy can be concentrated on the causes of disease and its prevention. Issues such as the need for pharmaceuticals to make billions of pounds in profit will not exist. The NHS has managed to carry on so far as a more or less viable service largely due to the dedication and hard work of its members but this cannot last forever.
Cyril Evans

Saturday, March 18, 2006

End Capitalism to End War

The text of a leaflet distributed by members of the World Socialist Movement at various demos across the world today.

Today, 18th March, campaigners across the world will be demonstrating against the carnage that Bush and Blair have brought to Iraq since the invasion of that country, demanding that allied troops are brought home and that the current war drive against Iran is halted.

Many here today will be veterans of the mass protests in London and elsewhere on 15th February 2003 which attracted many millions— people fully aware at the time that the events of 9/11 had no link to Saddam Hussein and that he posed no military threat to the West. Likewise, the millions who marched that day were right in believing that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction—a fact that has now been well established—and that any war in Iraq would fully destabilise the country. And you would have been in a minority had you not realised the blatant link between the intended war and the fact that beneath the sands of Iraq lay huge oil resources.

Three years of campaigning will have left you revolted at the incessant lies of the Bush and Blair governments as they have tried to justify the war on Iraq and the continued imperialist occupation of that country. Week in, week out, the British and American governments have distorted the truth and sunk to all manner of low tactics to justify the massacre of innocents.

Now, after all of your campaigning efforts, the meetings and demos you have attended, the petitions you have signed, the countless arguments you have had with friends and neighbours, you are back here again - your objections to the invasion of the Iraq war vindicated, yet still ignored - marching today, still demanding a withdrawal of US and British forces from Iraq and pleading for US bombers not to drop their payloads over Iran. In spite of all your hard campaigning, we now face a full blown Middle Eastern war.

But, whoa, hold on! Do you not think you might just be wasting your time here today? Granted, the Iraq War has resulted in the deaths of a hundred thousand and innocent Iraqis are still being killed every day. But do you not think you're asking the wrong questions, making the wrong demands? Repeating the mistakes of the past? We're not saying you are wrong for asking questions, only that you do not ask enough. Indeed, question everything! We're not suggesting you are demanding too much today—in truth, you are not demanding enough.

Whilst this protest demands the withdrawal of western forces from Iraq and pleads that Iran is not attacked, it supports the very system that creates war by not questioning the premise of war. War is a bedfellow of the system we know as capitalism, being waged over trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets, natural resources and the profits that can be had via the same. By not taking issue with the nature of capitalism, and the root of war, this protest is making the mistake of every previous anti-war demo and paving the way for more in the future. Wars will continue as long as capitalism exists.

Now we're not being churlish here. It is heartening to see so many here today, united in common voice—it reveals the workers can be mobilised around issues they feel are important. But from our experience—and we've had 100 years' experience of observing campaigns and demonstrations and protests around every kind of reform and demand imaginable—we can confidently say that this demonstration, no matter how well meaning, no matter how sincere its supporters, is just one of hundreds over the years that address the symptoms, not the cause, of the problem and will make no significant difference to the established order, either here or in Iraq and Iran, or to the way politicians think.

Three years ago, many millions marched all over the world, united in their objection to more capitalist bloodshed; there were demos and vigils every night in opposition to the war. The issue was debated in parliaments and senates and to top it all the push for war received no UN sanction - but still the troops were sent. So much for one of the biggest protest movements in labour history.

Consider this. Across the globe there are literally hundreds of thousands of campaigns and protest groups and many more charities, some small, some enormous, all pursuing tens of thousands of issues, and their work involves many millions of sincere workers who care passionately about their individual causes and give their free time to support them unquestioningly. Many will have campaigned on some single issue for years on end with no visible result; others will have celebrated minor victories and then joined other campaign groups, spurred on by that initial success.

And, considering the above, two things stand out: firstly, that many of the problems around us are rooted in the way our society is organised for production, and are problems we have been capable of solving for quite some time, though never within the confines of a profit-driven market system. Secondly, that if all of these well meaning people had have directed all their energy—all those tens of billions of human labour hours expended on their myriad single issues—to the task of overthrowing the system that creates a great deal of the problems around us, then none of us would be here today. Instead we would have established a world without borders, without waste or want or war, in which we would all have free access to the benefits of civilisation with problem solving devoid of the artificial constraints of the profit system.

If you are now confused forgive us if we come across blunt, but which part of "to end war we must end capitalism" do you not understand? Its simple! Every aspect of our lives is subordinated to the requirements of profit - from the moment you brush your teeth in the morning with the toothpaste you saw advertised on TV until you crawl into your bed at night. Pick up a newspaper and try locating any problem reported there outside of our 'can't pay—can't have system". Crime, the health service, poverty, drug abuse, hunger, disease, homelessness, unemployment, war, insecurity….the list is endless. All attract their campaign groups, all struggling to address these problems, and all of these problems arising because of the inefficient and archaic way we organise our world for production.

And let us never forget, therefore, that Capitalism is a war-prone society, in that built in to it is the perpetual conflict between rival states over markets, raw materials, trade routes, areas of influence and the strategic points from which the same can be defended. You simply can't have capitalism without wars, the threat of war and preparations for war. To end war we must end capitalism.

You've got it! We're unlike any other group out to reform capitalism, who beg governments to be just a little nicer, who think you can have capitalism without the horrid bits, satisfied if our masters throw us a few more crumbs from the bread we bake. We are not into the politics of compromise and we certainly are not prepared to be satisfied with crumbs. We demand the whole damned bakery!

So if you're just demonstrating against war, then take our advice and invest in a sturdy anti-war banner, for if you are prepared to oppose war without opposing the very system that gives rise to it, then you'll be demonstrating for quite some time to come - that is if the state will continue to allow such a mass voice of dissent at times of crisis. In recent years, in the US and Britain, the state has been demanding more and more control over our lives, limiting our freedoms and insisting we must be placed under moiré and more scrutiny. At the end of the day governments, as the executive of capitalism, represent powerful interests and quite simply we, as a potentially revolutionary class, need to be watched, our thoughts controlled and our actions monitored. The day may well come when workers look upon such demonstrations as this one as a luxury never to taste again.

We believe that protestors should not belittle themselves or their class by making the same age-old demands of the master class. Be realistic! Demand what until now has been considered "the impossible" – a world without waste or want or war! Join us in campaigning for a system of society where there are no leaders, no classes, no states or governments, no borders, no force or coercion; a world where the earth's natural and industrial resources are commonly owned and democratically owned and where production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the benefit of all - a world of free access to the necessaries of life. Wouldn't such a campaign movement address the real root of every campaign and protest currently being waged? We think it would.

We hold out to the workers a real revolutionary proposition. The choice is yours – the struggle for world socialism and an end to all our problems or a lifetime attached to the 'pick-your-cause' brigade and the certainty that, freedoms permitting, you will be retracing your footsteps here today in years to come. Please use the contact details overleaf for more information.

For more information about the World Socialist Movement, check out of the following websites and webpages:

Socialist Party of Great Britain

World Socialist Party of the United States

Socialist Party of canada

World Socialist Party of the United States on MySpace

Socialist Standard blog on MySpace

Murdering the Dead (2003)

Book review from the February 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Murdering the Dead: Amadeo Bordiga on Capitalism and Other Disasters. Antagonism Press GBP5. Available from Antagonism Press, c/o BM Makhno, London, WC1N 3XX. Website

It would hardly be controversial to argue that capitalism, with its emphasis on profit and short-term considerations, provides fertile ground for accidents and disasters of various kinds. It also means that any accidents which do happen are likely to be more serious and harmful than would otherwise be the case. Cutting corners and ignoring safety matters is part and parcel of a profit-oriented system. However, in the essays collected in this book, originally dating from between 1951 and 1963, Amadeo Bordiga argues that capitalism actually benefits from disasters.

(1889-1970) was the first general secretary of the Italian `Communist' Party, but soon broke with the politics of the Third International. After being jailed under Mussolini, he went on to advocate a moneyless non-market society. This might seem to put Bordiga in the same political tradition as the Socialist Party, but unfortunately he saw Socialism as being managed by an elitist central administration and was thus opposed to a truly democratic society.
His argument here is basically that disasters are profitable, far more so than simple maintenance of existing buildings, machines, etc. Contracts for rebuilding and replacement involve much larger sums than those for keeping an existing dam (or whatever) up and running. Natural disasters are therefore insufficient, and must be supplemented by human-made cataclysms. Destruction means bigger profits than mere depreciation, with built-in obsolescence just being a special case of destruction. Disasters, then, are not just made more likely by capitalism's emphasis on profits at the expense of safety, but are actually welcome in the pursuit of surplus value.

A possible objection to this approach is that it regards capitalism too much as a single entity, rather than as a system with a variety of competing capitalists. Certainly, some companies will benefit from a huge rebuilding contract, but others will not. And when the state pays in the case of `public' works, the costs fall on all the capitalist class. So it is not at all clear that capitalism as a whole does well from such a situation. In addition, if it really were just a matter of making money from disasters, capitalism could surely use this as a means of escaping from any kind of recession, along the lines that (some claim) can be done via arms-expenditure. In all cases, such spending has to come out of taxes and so out of profits.

Despite these reservations, though, this is a worthwhile volume devoted to a writer and activist who deserves to be better-known than he is. And it helps to show up the hypocrisy of the capitalists and their political supporters when they shed tears for the victims of disasters.

Paul Bennett

Friday, March 17, 2006

Maximilien Rubel: Anti-Bolshevik Marxist (1996)

Obituary from the June 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Maximilien Rubel who died at the end of February was not just a Marx-specialist, he was also someone who wanted Socialism in the real sense of a society of common ownership and democratic control from which what he along with Marx regarded as the two great expressions of human alienation, money and the state, would have disappeared. As such he recognised, and denounced in his writings, the rulers of state-capitalist Russia and their state ideologists as the great distorters of Marx's ideas. His ambition, on the academic field, was to produce a definitive edition of the writings Marx himself published but free from the distortions and tendentious commentaries in the editions emanating from Moscow and East Berlin.

Unlike many others, Rubel was never taken in by the state-capitalist regime in Russia. In other words, he was never at any time a member or supporter of the Communist Party. He came in fact from the old minority Marxist tradition within European Social Democracy.

He was born in 1905 in Czernowitz, at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (and later, successively, part of Rumania, the Russian Empire and now the Ukraine), and it was in Austria that he first encountered the ideas of Marx. There he came under the influence of the social philosopher Max Adler who, before the First World War, had been amongst those Social Democrats who sought to supplement Marx's critique of capitalism with an ethical element based on Kant's "categorical imperative": socialism was something the workers ought to establish for moral reasons rather than something they were inevitably going to establish for economic reasons. It was a controversial position but Rubel embraced it and expressed it in his own writings. In 1931 he moved to Paris where he lived for the rest of his life.

Rubel was the author of many books and articles on Marx mainly in French but some in English. They all make interesting, if sometimes difficult reading. Particularly to be recommended are the selections from the writings of Marx and Engels he edited with Tom Bottomore (Karl Marx: Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy; published by Penguins, this is still available and is one of the best of its kind) and the life of Marx he wrote with Margaret Manale Marx Without Myth. He also contributed a chapter to Non-Market Socialism in the 19th & 20th Centuries which he co-edited with John Crump.

In French there is the collection of his articles published in 1974 under the title Marx critique du marxisme ("Marx Critic of Marxism"). In it Rubel argued that Marx was not a Marxist. In two senses. Firstly, that Marx's own views conflicted with what was generally called "Marxism" (Bolshevism, Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, etc). Rubel argued vehemently against "the myth of the October Socialist Revolution" which he saw, not as the winning of political power through the self-activity of the working class as a prelude to socialism, but as the capture of political power by the Bolshevik Party as a prelude to the development of capitalism in Russia under the auspices of the state.

Rubel's second reason for saying that Marx was not a Marxist was that Marx had not set out to establish a new school of thought to be named after him and that in fact the establishment of such a body of thought named after an individual was contrary to Marx's whole approach and analysis. Ironically, though Rubel always refused to regard himself as a Marxist his writings expressed Marx's views more accurately than most of those who have called themselves Marxists.

Rubel emphasised that since his earliest socialist writings in the mid-1840s Marx had regarded money and the state as two expressions of human alienation, and had envisaged their disappearance as a defining feature of the free society that was the alternative to capitalism. Marx, said Rubel, saw this moneyless, stateless, classless society as being achieved by the independent self-activity of the workers themselves, which would include turning the vote into an instrument of emancipation; in other words, Marx's position was that the state, as an organ of class rule standing above society, should be abolished by democratic political action. Marx was not opposed to socialists contesting elections.

This of course is an interpretation of Marx very close to our own. Rubel was aware of the SPGB, having attended some of our meetings and corresponded with some of our members as well as subscribing to the Socialist Standard. He was apparently fascinated by our existence as a group which had stuck so closely to Marx's own conception of socialism and the socialist revolution. He didn't agree with our position of concentrating exclusively on what William Morris called "making socialists", and, tempted by the specious plausibility of the "lesser evil" argument, voted for in the 1981 presidential elections in France. Needless to say, within a year of election the Mitterrand government was freezing wages and cutting social benefits in accordance with the dictates of the economic laws of capitalism that profits and profit-making must come first. There is no lesser evil under capitalism, only one big evil, capitalism itself, as Rubel should have known.

Rubel was in the tradition of what Paul Mattick called "Anti-Bolshevik Marxism" and, through his writings, will continue to contribute to the socialist understanding required before a genuinely socialist society can be established.
Adam Buick

Art in Capitalism and Socialism (2005)

From the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
Will socialism be a society in which people passively consume rather than actively create art? In a postcapitalist society, will art exist at all?

The first attempts by early humans,some 35,000 years ago, to represent aspects of their lives through cave paintings show that art served a useful social function, as did the use of early jewellery to enhance sexual attraction. Many of the purposes of art in capitalist and pre-capitalist societies, such as self expression, beautification, recording history, education, entertainment and social comment, will doubtless exist in socialism, although perhaps not as we now recognise them.

The nature of post-capitalist art has been discussed by Engels, Marx and Morris, to name only three. As an artist himself, William Morris was particularly enthused by this subject. In Art and Socialism (1884) he contested that "the greater part of the people have no share in Art" because "modern civilization" had suppressed it. Defining art as "the expression by man of his pleasure in labour", Morris believed that art should be the intrinsic part of the labour process it had been before the capitalist division of labour had divided art from craft, and when craftsmen still worked with a sense of beauty. Socialism would not have art as such but 'work-art', and people would produce objects that were not merely useful, but also had some artistic merit.

Looking at society as it now stands, it is a fact that most children and young people are very creative. For many, childhood will prove to be the most creative time of their lives. As they get older, however, their creative output lessens until by adulthood they engage in few artistic pursuits. Instead of producing art they consume it in all its various forms, and some go on to learns skills of appreciation and criticism. Most, after their formal education is complete, rarely put pen to paper, brush to canvas, or whatever. Creativity seems to have withered away, perhaps because after years of secondary schooling when they are prepared for life as an adult worker in capitalism, creating art - unless they intend to become employed as artists - seems to lack purpose. When the young adult emerges from the education system, art is not likely to be pursued for its own sake, for what is to be gained by it? The chances are that the nearest a person may come to creativity is in an art therapy class, when it is used as a form of curative. But once the troubled mind has been soothed, it's back to a life devoid of creativity.

In contrast to this, socialism may prove to be an artistic renaissance in which more people produce more art than in any previous time in history. The things which historically have prevented them creating art will no longer exist: schooling, the art institution's failure to take seriously some forms of art, the art industry's failure to see beyond the profit motive, and people who may think that there is little point creating art unless someone is prepared to cross their palms with silver. But it will not be a renaissance in the style of the 16th and 17th centuries, which was restricted to an artistic and scholarly elite, and which had very little impact on the vast majority of people. Socialism may generate a workers' art renaissance or, more specific to a classless society, a people's renaissance, at a level which touches everybody and to which no one is denied access. But that does not mean that socialist art will be good art.

The Great and the Good
Art in capitalism has a dualistic nature. On the one hand there are The Greats: the Old Masters, the Pre-Raphaelites, even the Young British Artists, and so on, plus the various schools of art such as Metaphysical poetry, Augustan satire, and Naturalism. These comprise a small minority, but because they constitute an intellectual ruling class their ideas dominate thinking about art and their works are highly revered and among the best-known. Then there is all the rest: the vast majority of artists and people creating art whose output is either ignored or unrecognised. Because the people who create this art lack the privileges and advantages of the artistic elite, their work is considered substandard, if it is considered at all. It is also unknown to the wider public, or ignored by them, for they have been seduced by the cult of the great artists about whom films have been made, books written and songs sung. Van Gogh is a good example of this (although he achieved nothing like this sort of recognition in his lifetime).

Galleries and museums, or theatres and concert halls, seem more like temples to the idols of art, and the contemplative act of experiencing art almost becomes a form of prayer. In socialism, art will be complementary not competitive. Some artists may acquire small-scale status, but socialism contains no mechanism to allow individual artists to acquire privilege or power. So with no art institution which effectively decides what art is and isn't, and no art industry judging the quality of a work by its cost, people may be encouraged to create art. This art, however, may lack the very high quality of art produced in capitalism. Simply, most post-capitalist art may not be as good as capitalist art. Historically, artists of the greatest skill would be more likely to find patronage and success than those of less talent. Art became conceptualised as an activity of high skill restricted to a few gifted individuals of supreme talent. The art of the overwhelming majority of people, who were equally capable of producing art but who lacked the privileges of the Great Artists and whose work was inevitably of a different standard, became marginalised as rough and ready 'folk art' and not a serious aesthetic form.

It is likely that a post-capitalist society will generate a climate of tolerance and appreciation for art which lacks the skill of The Greats. We may even come to view their works not as highly capable but as highly compromised, undermined by the need to compete against other artists of equal talent for limited opportunities in a market place, or we may see them simply as expressions of an obsolete system. This does not mean that in socialism people will no longer try to produce works of great quality and indeed some may equal in skill the art of The Greats. The idea of doing one's best will translate into socialism, but how much of the desire to do one's best is generated by the desire to out-do the best of the rival artists and compete for the few opportunities available in a crowded market? So if art in socialism is not as good as art in capitalism then it is not something which should concern us.

Art is an institution as well as a massively profitable industry, worth billions of pounds every year. This institution has a number of functions, none of which would be particularly welcome in socialism, or particularly feasible. Currently, it defines what art is, and consequently blocks what it does not consider to be art. It promotes a cult of the individual artist as gifted genius whose brushes we are not worthy to clean. It finances profitable art and refuses to finance art from which a profit cannot be realised regardless of its quality or importance. Because the practices it engages in are inherently antisocial, divisive and pro-capitalist, no such organisation could survive the transition from capitalism to socialism.

With this removed along with its privileges, then something like folk art or 'people's art' will emerge, that is art created by the average person without state sponsorship or the support of the institution, and created not for purposes of individual gain or acclaim, but for other reasons such as self-expression, ornamentation, beautification and so on. The person who creates such art may not even be called an artist, for that term signifies a privileged occupation producing nothing of any practical value and necessitating community support. That a person could be only an 'artist' and produce nothing except art seems unlikely and the continuance of such practices into socialism a highly remote possibility. Just as there will be no workers, only people, in a post-capitalist society, perhaps also there will be no 'artists'. Or perhaps in socialism, everyone will be an artist.

In socialism, it is likely that art will be produced for many of the reasons it has always been produced in capitalist and pre-capitalist societies. Socialism will not be a society without emotion and people will still be moved to express themselves in one form or another and art will surely be one of those forms. Socialism will have its problems, although on a massively reduced scale compared to any previous form of society. Conflict between individuals and possibly between communities may exist. As mentioned above, the problems of capitalism have provided no end of material for artists to comment upon, as the problems of socialism may also do. But socialism will deal fairly and sensibly with its problems and will not try to disguise them. If any 'unfairness' exists, it will not require a great painting, novel or song to expose it; it will be there for us all to see and deal with. In socialism, it is therefore highly unlikely that art which protests against large-scale social wrongs will exist.

Such works as Gulliver's Travels, A Christmas Carol, North and South, Grapes of Wrath, 1984, Look Back in Anger, and Salvador could not exist in post-capitalist society, for the issues they address equally could not exist. Similarly, there would be no socialist Kitchen Sink Dramas, Mike Leigh or Ken Loach films such as Cathy Come Home or Bread and Roses, and no Bob Dylans or Woody Guthries. And the sort of science fiction which reflects the fears and paranoias of society by turning hostile countries into hostile planets and suspicious foreigners into aliens would find little purchase in socialism, and such works as War of the Worlds would exist only as fantasies that have no connection to the real world. Art which reflects and comments upon alienation, war, competition, injustice and inequality, as all the above do, is ideally suited to a society of alienation, war, competition, injustice and inequality, but not to socialism. It is to be hoped, however, that socialism will produce works of the same intensity, profundity and emotional depth as the ones mentioned above.
Neil Windle