Thursday, September 28, 2006

Socialism, sudden and gradual change (2002)

From the March 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

In modern times the idea of a new society, or a change from capitalism to socialism, goes back to the turn of the 19th century when it was discussed by utopian writers. These ideas were developed by Marx and Engels as a political and economic criticism of the capitalist system and in 1848, in the Communist Manifesto, they set out a revolutionary programme for achieving this change. The pamphlet became a great influence on the growth of working class movements when the many Communist, Social Democratic and Labour Parties were founded. Some were eventually successful in winning power and forming governments. Even now, in China, a so-called Communist government wields power over nearly a quarter of the world's population.

As we now look back over the struggles of countless millions of working people throughout the world during the l9th and 20th centuries, which were dedicated to the idea of building a new society, it is important to ask what has been achieved? And if the aims that inspired all these movements have not been realised, what went wrong? It has to be accepted that they made no progress towards a socialist society, and it should now be asked why the methods and policies of these movements were doomed to failure.

Though it was a great influence it would be unjust to blame the failures on the Communist Manifesto. However, whilst we may still admire that great historical document we should also accept that the revolutionary programme it set out was fatally flawed. One problem with this programme was that it envisaged that socialism would be established after a period of time following the capture of power by a working class government:
"The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organised as a ruling class, and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible."

So the expropriation of the capitalists was to take place gradually and would include the continued use of such features of capitalism as money, rent from land, income tax, private property and a national bank with state capital. It was in effect, a recipe for state capitalism.

A process of change, by degrees, from capitalism to socialism is not possible. This would have to assume that at each stage there would be, side by side, wage labour producing commodities for sale on the markets with people co-operating voluntarily to produced goods solely for needs. It would also have to assume that sales of goods would operate side by side with free access to goods. But if the function of state capital was that it should be invested in labour, machinery and materials with a view to its circulation and accumulation throughout production and the sales of commodities, then this could only have resulted from the exploitation of workers. That this function of capital would gradually disappear from the system, and voluntary co-operation with free access to goods would displace wage labour producing commodities for sale, is, once again, just not credible.

Taking the works of Marx as a whole, we can understand that the productive relationships of capitalism and socialism are mutually exclusive and cannot operate together. In fact, a capitalist basis compels each part of the productive system to be profitable or at least solvent, and if they are not they tend to drop out because they are not viable. These are the pressures of economic selection which tend to maintain the system as an exclusively capitalist structure.

It is true that later in his political life Marx came to see the revolutionary programme of the Communist Manifesto differently, but by that time the idea of nationalisation and state control as providing a road to socialism had become the received wisdom of working class movements and tragically, it all was to lead to failure, disaster and disillusion. It was the founder members of the Socialist Party who insisted that the change from capitalism to socialism could only be achieved by a majority of socialists taking democratic control, bringing in the common ownership of the means of production and commencing the organisation of socialist society from that point.

On the face of it, this suggests that the change from capitalism to socialism would be a sudden leap from one social system to another. But, seen against the background of continuous development and the particular factors that would be involved, it would not be a total social change so much as a change in the social relationships through which society is operated. This would be the new basis on which people would reorganise society to meet their needs.

An example of a "sudden" and far-reaching change in social relationships was that carried out by the Bolsheviks as part of their state capitalist revolution in 1917. Not the nationalisation of industry and manufacture, which was not so much a basic change as a transfer of private ownership to the benefits of monopoly and control for a new class of state bosses. But, in the countryside, the Bolsheviks destroyed the landed aristocracy overnight. These feudal relationships had existed for centuries and involved millions of people over the entire land mass. This destruction of an entire class and its corresponding mode of agricultural production was enacted at 2.30 in the morning on 9 November 1917.

But this is not to suggest that this sudden change can be explained solely in terms of the events of 9 November 1917. Although the power of the landed aristocracy had remained barely unaltered for centuries, the pressures on it from a wide range of external sources had been gradually intensifying. In this broader context, the sudden destruction of the landed aristocracy in Russia is explained in relation to the slow pace of social development during the preceding century including the failure to develop more efficient capitalist agriculture compared with other European Powers. This lack of proportionate development meant that in the First World War Russia was unable to sustain its war effort on equal terms. The failures of the Russian Army, the bankruptcy of the state, and the desperate condition of the Russian masses in poverty and famine led to social and political breakdown, which gave the Bolsheviks their opportunity to seize power. So the sudden changes enacted by the Bolsheviks in l917 were the outcome of these tensions which acted as a more gradual build up of predisposing factors. Although the circumstances would be totally different this may be a useful analogy in considering sudden and gradual change as elements in a socialist revolution.

At the time of the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels believed that one of the limitations on what could be achieved was the relative lack of capitalist development. This meant that, though the political and economic arrangements were vague, the first thing the working class would have to do with its "political supremacy" would be to "increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible." But 150 years later this has been massively achieved by capitalism itself. In fact it has done much more.

A key concept in the materialist view of change is what Marx referred to as the conflict between the "material productive forces of society" and the "existing relations of production". Applying this to capitalist society, its productive relations of class ownership, wage labour and capital have not changed over more than two hundred years. These define capitalism as a system and cannot change. But its productive forces have changed enormously. These have increased and spread to every corner of the globe to become a world system. Means of production of every kind, transport and advanced technique have been developed together with instant world communications, administration and institutions. These developments over time now pre-dispose the ease with which a majority of socialists could stop the operation of capitalism and immediately commence the organisation of socialist society.

These changes have altered the conditions in which the work for socialism is carried on. For example, the existence of great powers of production which cannot be used for the benefit of all people because they are constrained to serve the interests of a few in a profit system sharpens the conflict between human needs and the prevailing class relations. We are also able to learn from the political experience of failure. Mainly the disastrous idea that socialism can be established over time by a "working class government" through nationalisation and state control.

In practical terms the change from capitalism to socialism will not mean the introduction of anything materially new so much as the immediate removal of redundant features of an existing structure of production and social organisation. The establishment of common ownership does not and could not imply a sudden transformation of all the material processes of living. There could be no sudden change in the actual work processes of people in mining, industry, manufacture, transport and distribution, farming, building and construction, energy supply, health services, etc. All these people would carry on with what they are doing but within the new relationships of voluntary co-operation. From this point a period of rapid re-organisation and development would also be commenced after production and administration has been released from the economic constraints of capitalism. This will necessarily take time. Seen in this practical perspective the change from capitalism to socialism can be seen as combining elements of both short and long-term change.
Pieter Lawrence

Redefining War (2001)

From the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

George W. Bush has said that the best way to keep "peace" is to redefine war on his own terms. Our own war against Bush and his ilk, the class war, needs no redefining.

Whatever the post-Taliban set-up in Afghanistan one thing is a forgone conclusion. Any new government will have to be ready to bow with supplicant's knee before the interests of US and in particular its oil hounds, paying back the support their military wing the US air force and US army afforded them. But by all accounts Afghanistan looks to be years away from any semblance of peace and order - which of course gives the US an ideal excuse to maintain a military presence in an oil rich region.

Whilst Tony Blair has been globetrotting, drumming up support for the US cause like some keen-to-impress US foreign secretary, there has been every sign that George W is attempting to fulfil his father's prophecy, mouthed during his presidential inaugural address all those years ago, that the 21st Century would be "another American century".

For anyone interested in US domestic politics, aware that George W could never sway an electorate by the power of his words, it perhaps came as no surprise to learn that he could so blatantly repay his corporate backers and grassroots supporters so early into his administration. Within months of coming to office the gun lobbyists, oil companies, and defence contractors had their services recognised for the world to see. The 1997 Kyoto protocol on emission reductions is now history. The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - the cornerstone of all arms-control negotiations during and since the cold war is now only fit to wipe the presidential arse with, and down the proverbial toilet went the comprehensive test-ban treaty and the UN treaty on the control of small arms. Bush even denounced the recent UN convention on slavery.

On 25 July, the US scuppered a decade of international negotiations by announcing in Geneva its intention not to back a draft protocol to reinforce the biological weapons and toxin convention, which was initially signed in 1972. Its reason? Such a move threatened US commercial interests. The protocol would have included verification measures that would have given international inspectors access to laboratories in the signatory countries. Perhaps the US has some stronger reason for denying inspections at thousands of its defence plants and biotechnology sites. What on earth are its commercial interests that it can nonchalantly destroy a treaty signed in the interest of humanity? What is the US developing? And wasn't it the US that was so insistent that an international scientific inspectorate search behind every Iraqi door capable of being locked?

In effect, President Bush has told the world: "Fuck off, it's US first. The world will be ruled by force and on behalf of US corporate interests".

The evidence has been ever present since 11 September. Colin Powell, when asked to publicly provide evidence of bin Laden's links to the attack on New York and Washington, avoided the issue by claiming such a disclosure would be a breach of national security. When the Taliban wished to negotiate, offering to hand bin Laden to a third party, Bush replied: "I said no negotiations and I mean no negotiations." And while the US is keen to point out it has a "coalition" of support against the Taliban it has bombed Afghanistan virtually unilaterally, except for a few token cruise missiles fired from a British submarine (a doggie-snack for the ever-loyal poodle) on the first day of the attack upon Afghanistan.

It is now not only full steam ahead with the prized National Missile Defence (NMD) system with a target date for the deployment of the system set for 2005 (See March 2001 Socialist Standard), but plans are now afoot in the US to develop a space bomber that could destroy targets on the other side of the globe within 30 minutes; the bomber travelling 15 times faster than conventional bombers, able to hit a target from 60 miles up and paving the way for a new era of stratospheric warfare. And research is ongoing into direct energy weaponry, to be precise, the future use of air-based lasers and space-based lasers, able to hit even moving targets from 400 miles away at the speed of light.

NMD, however is clearly a sign that the US is moving towards becoming a more aggressive and threatening military power. Experts now maintain that the issue is not so much whether an anti-missile system is feasible or desirable, but what kind of diplomatic and military policies the world's only superpower would pursue from beneath the relative safety of a nuclear umbrella. It seems less the case that NMD is about protecting the USA from 'rogue states', and more the likelihood that such a sophisticated system of defence will ensure the profits flow in the right direction and that the global schoolyard bully can streamline its protection racket, safe in the knowledge it will meet little resistance.

Back in 1992, Paul Walfowitz (now Deputy Secretary of Defence) and Lew Libby (Bush's National Security Adviser) formulated ideas which were presented as a confidential Pentagon document by none other than vice-president Dick Cheney:
"The US must hold global power and a monopoly of force. It will then protect the new order while allowing others to pursue their legitimate interests as Washington defines them. The US must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership, or seeking to overturn the established political order, or aspiring to a larger regional or global role . . . we will retain the pre-eminent responsibility for addressing those wrongs which threaten not only our interests but also those of our allies and friends. The US alone will determine what are those wrongs and where they are to be selectively righted." (quoted by Noam Chomsky in Year 501).

This is an extremely revealing document - a document that is also very worrying. And it's not a one-off. There are others, take for instance the US Space Command's document "Vision 2020" which, now five years old, well telegraphs US designs for the 21st Century, suggesting that globalisation will lead to greater misery, to a lot more "have-nots" with an axe to grind and who will have to kept in line:
"Although unlikely to be challenged by a global peer competitor, the United States will continue to be challenged regionally. The globalisation of the world economy will also continue, with a widening between the haves and have-nots. Accelerating rates of technological development will be increasingly driven by commercial interests not the military. Increased weapons lethality and precision will lead to new operational doctrines . . . only military dominance will protect US interests and investments."

In 1998, the US government report "The Long-Term Plan" reiterated this notion of there being trouble ahead from the dispossessed:
"The US will remain global power and exert global leadership. Widespread communications will highlight disparities in resources and quality of life, contributing to unrest in developing countries . . . The gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' will widen, creating regional unrest. The US will remain the only nation able to project power globally."

It is a fair bet that such sentiments have been prominent components of the US worldview for some years - at least since 1945 and definitely since 1989 and the collapse of Russian-style state capitalism. Moreover, it's no bold assertion to suggest that China is the chief enemy in waiting - not the allegedly "rogue states" such as Iraq and North Korea, nor the threat of international terrorism which has really been a US favourite since the days of Reagan - for the simple reason that China is an economic and military power on a collision course with the US over domination of the Pacific. And if the US learns anything from its military history it is to get in first - hence the dire necessity of a fully functioning NMD.

At the beginning of July this year, only days before the New York Times announced Bush's plans to ditch the comprehensive test ban treaty, his administration enquired of nuclear laboratories just how soon they could begin testing again - clearly intent on breaching agreements made 16 months earlier by 187 countries who had negotiated steps to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty.

On the 14 July, the US launched a missile from the Marshall Islands. Twenty-nine minutes later a second missile, launched from Vanderburg, California, intercepted it at an altitude of 144 miles. The success not only strengthened Republican arguments for a competent star wars system, but was the order for similar multi-million dollar tests to be carried out every month and helped justify the mobilisation of contractors into Fort Greeley, Alaska, to begin foundation work on a new missile silo.

Just over two years ago George W Bush, gave a speech at Charleston, South Carolina. He spoke of the "contagious spread of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction" and hence the necessity of strengthening the unrivalled military power of the US. He then boldly announced that "the best way to keep peace is to redefine war on our terms." Which just about says it all - "to redefine war on our terms." Forget all the crap that George W's father mouthed when he became president. The "peace dividend" that was supposed to replace cold war hostilities and benefit all after the collapse of "communism" was as fictitious as fairies. The agenda now is as it was then and 50 years previous - US global domination in the military and economic fields and woe betide anyone foolish enough to think otherwise.

As socialists we certainly do not need to redefine our war. The war we must fight to end the insanity and horror Bush and Co would hurl us headlong into is the Class War. And this can not be fought with missiles, but something more powerful - our minds, our imagination, our solidarity and preparedness to unite as the majority exploited class and to wrest control of the planet from the madmen before it is to late.

Are you with us? Don't take too long to think of a reply - the doomsday clock really is ticking.
John Bissett

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