Friday, March 30, 2007

The Rebel Sell (2007)

Book Review from the April 2007 Socialist Standard

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter: The Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consumer Culture.

I finished this book wondering just what I'd been reading. It's largely aimed at the 'counterculture', a notion which seems to encompass everything from anarchism and the Sex Pistols to Naomi Klein's No Logo and the Situationists.

The countercultural critique of capitalism, so Heath and Potter argue, is far more wide-ranging than that of Marxism, which is concerned with abolishing exploitation and establishing common ownership. In contrast, the counterculture aims at a society without institutions and regulations, though it's usually very vague as to what a free society would actually be like.

But, the authors continue, countercultural rebellion is in practice counterproductive: it distracts attention from initiatives to bring about real improvements in people's lives and even encourages contempt for such changes.

To the extent that attacking such an ill-defined set of ideas makes sense, there is a fair amount here that Socialists could agree with. The whole notion of 'fair trade', for instance, has become itself part of the competitive selling industry, as has other merchandise produced by various countercultural organisations. If you buy from the Body Shop because it makes you feel morally superior, then you're just being driven by a desire not to conform.

However, it's in their positive prescriptions that Heath and Potter go wrong. You might interpret their critique of countercultural rebellion as applying also to the Socialist insistence on advocating revolution and opposing reformism. Their case for this rests on two pillars. The first is that it's better to 'plug the loopholes, not abolish the system', i.e. they advocate reforms of capitalism. But the measures they advocate are pointless, such as introducing a progressive income tax on the grounds that lowering income would lower consumption.

The second pillar is, in effect, the impossibility of a socialist society. Of course, the authors never actually deal with the idea of a society based on production for use, since they consider that the only alternative to a market system is centralised production of the type formerly seen in Russia. But they regard a market system as inevitable, and advocate the kind of ideal market described in economic textbooks (presumably because these only exist in books, not in the real world).

Writers like Murray Bookchin (author of Post-Scarcity Anarchism) are criticised on the grounds that 'in our society, scarcity is a social, not a material, phenomenon'. Scarcity therefore cannot be overcome through increasing production: fast cars and 'cool' clothes, for instance, are necessarily scarce because their value depends on providing a distinguishing feature to those who consume them. But a society of free access will work on a very different value system and so won't involve people trying to look or live differently from their friends and neighbours.

So perhaps the answer to my wondering about what the book is would be that, though the authors never use the terms directly, it offers an unconvincing defence of reformism and criticism of socialism.
Paul Bennett

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Great Global Warming Swindle' Swindle (2007)

A Pathfinders TV Review from the forthcoming April 2007 Socialist Standard

'The Great Global Warming Swindle' Swindle, Thurs, March 8, Channel 4

Increases in atmospheric carbon don't cause global warming, global warming causes increases in atmospheric carbon. So what is heating up the Earth? The sun. So why are the vast majority of climate scientists claiming it's carbon, not the sun? Because they're on a $4bn gravy train of funding and they aim to ride that sucker until the end of the line, even though their phoney Carbon Crusade is killing the poor little children in the Third World who are not allowed to have electricity like the rest of us.

This, in case you missed it, was the argument behind 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' broadcast on UK's Channel 4 on March 8. An impressive array of paleoclimatologists, oceanographers and other assorted professors was wheeled on to assure us that everything we thought we knew about global warming was upside down and back to front, and that the present warming phenomenon was entirely natural, and no different from previous warm spells in Earth's history. What was really going on was a gigantic conspiracy to pervert science, distort the facts and condemn developing countries to perpetual misery by creating an entirely bogus panic about atmospheric carbon. They gave us the figures, they showed us the charts, they answered the questions, and it was all utterly convincing.

And nonsense, unfortunately, as a stroll through various online blogs and articles soon revealed. The experts on the programme, with one exception, turn out not to be quite the scions of honesty they appear to be, but rather well-known Denial Monkeys who have agendas of their own and whose theories have already been falsified repeatedly. The exception, oceanographer Carl Wunsch, after seeing the show, sent an apoplectic letter to C4 saying he'd been conned into appearing, thinking he was taking part in a balanced and critical analysis. This is almost certainly true, and he wouldn't be the only one. The producer, Martin Durkin, has a history of making contentious programmes accusing environmentalists of being 'proto-nazis', and from which his researchers have walked out in disgust and his interviewees have wailed afterwards that they've been had. In Durkin's experience, when the BBC reject his programme synopses as junk science, he can always rely on Channel 4 to produce them instead.

Just why Channel 4 thinks bad science makes good TV is a total mystery. Pathfinders does not often stoop to sending whingeing letters, but the memory of C4's disgraceful championing of the charlatan Graham Hancock is still raw and rancid, so a quick blister to the C4 complaints department seemed appropriate for once, to whit: "I appreciate that C4's brief is in part to be 'controversial' but to extend this brief to making programmes that are based on deliberate and easily verifiable lies is not only immoral and indecent, I'm surprised it's not illegal as well. I just don't see how you can justify the dissemination of nonsense in any programme but especially one in which the issues at stake - the future of the planet - could hardly be more important. Judging from the resulting blog discussions there are any number of gullible people who are now completely convinced by your programme that global warming is not a problem, and who will never see any rebuttal unless another channel takes responsibility. There are people out there who claim (with lots of evidence, naturally) that Jews cause AIDS, that blacks are racially inferior, that rape and violence are genetically-based, and that the CIA is putting nanoscale monitoring devices in our drinking water. No doubt these people would do anything for the oxygen of a Channel 4 publicity hype, so I'm bound to wonder just how far your lust for controversy takes you and where you draw the line." A pre-transmission statement from Channel 4 gives you some idea of their probable response to this:
"It is essentially a polemic and we are expecting it to cause trouble, but this is the controversial programming that Channel 4 is renowned for." (LSE UKNews, March 4)

They will doubtless not be worried, even though in the past they have had to broadcast an unreserved apology for one of Durkin's other documentaries.

And what of the programme-makers themselves? Several of the interviewees are known to have right-wing free-market sympathies with links to the anti-environmentalist Foresight Institute, and their attack on human-derived global warming is seen by many to be a response to their fear that political action to prevent climate change will entail greater government intervention in the capitalist marketplace. So, a free-marketeer plot to loosen the grip of state governments and let the corporations take control? But wait, the plot thickens. The producer, Durkin, and some of his colleagues, are associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party, aka Living Marxism, aka the Institute of Ideas, aka Spiked Online, aka Sense About Science. So, a left-wing plot by a sect of multiple identity, media-cuddly Bolsheviks? Are the right and left-wings of capitalism now climbing into bed together to breed Son of Denial Monkey? What for? According to SwindleWatch.org, the RCP's master plan could be to foment total environmental complacency in an effort to bring capitalism to early disaster, thus inciting a revolt by the proletariat, if any of us are still left alive to revolt, that is. Either that, or they are just plain bonkers. Nobody knows.

In the wake of the Stern report, Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, and the recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, it's easy to see that the small minority who deny human responsibility for global warming are feeling somewhat ganged-up on. It's just not like the good old days, when natural scientific caution by researchers allowed gainsayers all sorts of loopholes to exploit. Even with the reservations among scientists about the IPCC pulling its punches (New Scientist, last week), their report is damning enough to be conclusive as far as most policy-makers are concerned. Whether this programme has damaged the climate debate or merely Channel 4's already shaky reputation on factual reporting remains to be seen. What is worrying is that there is an extraordinary enthusiasm on the part of many people to believe that the world of science is as corrupt and dishonest as the world of politics, and that the 'brave' heroes who stand up against it are to be admired and believed implicitly. It's not just those who inhabit the twilight world of paranoia who believe this. Even realists can succumb to cynicism. This is a world, after all, where money doesn't just talk, it smooth-talks, and nobody can really trust anything anybody says when there's a dollar behind every answer. Are people wrong to distrust the scientific community, and therefore believe every nutjob with a theory that same community has loudly disowned? Generally yes, but when it is well known that science chases the money and that money doesn't chase the science it doesn't like, it is not hard to see how these conspiracy theories get started.

Interestingly, the only real attack on the global warming lobby which has had any real merit is the report (BBC Online, Feb 27), that the Oscar-winning Al Gore has a 20-room house and swimming pool which uses twenty times the national energy average. Gore's spokesperson shamefacedly admitted this, and responded rather lamely that the family were looking at low-wattage light-bulbs and solar panels to reduce their consumption. Hooray for the press. Nobody likes a smart-alec.
Paddy Shannon

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Only Means Necessary

From the World Socialist Party of the United States MySpace Page:

Many revolutionary groups and tendencies are convinced that any overthrow of capitalism will involve war. This is usually based on the premise that the ruling class will violently oppose any attempts to usurp it and therefore must be defeated militarily. Also personal acts of resistance are advocated, up to and including deadly force. "By any means necessary" has become a catchphrase for the advocating of violent revolution. Socialists have a different point of view, based on reason and practicality.

First of all, socialists are no good to the revolution dead. We don't see the sense in squandering lives in a senseless violent attack on the ruling class, when those people and the skills they possess will be needed for the worldwide implementation of socialism. Quite frankly, the sheer amount of deadly force in the possession of the entire ruling class, and the willingness to use it, will never be matched by any revolutionary movement. This is evident around the world, where misguided, violent rebellions and insurrections are either put down or held at bay with shocking brutality. Nothing would suit the defensive strategy of the world's armed forces than an easily identifiable enemy engaging them on a battlefield. Furthermore, guerrilla warfare, sabotage, and other non-traditional methods of resistance are not very effective as offensive actions, which is what a supposed violent socialist revolution would boil down to. In the past, so-called socialist armed revolutions have temporarily succeeded in individual countries. Unfortunately, those revolutions, no matter how well intentioned, quickly descended into totalitarian state capitalism. Not one ever succeeded in actually bringing about socialism, since it cannot exist as isolated outposts in the larger context of a capitalist world. Our Movement is not seduced by the temptation of socialism in this or that country, and seeks to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

We hold that a successful socialist revolution cannot take place until the majority of the world's population desires it. Only then will the ruling class be at a true disadvantage and the time to act arrive. We have identified the legal existence of private property (as opposed to personal property), protected by government, as the Achilles Heel of capitalism. Instead of trying to eliminate individual capitalists, the people of the world will vote to abolish property law by legal means - in one definitive democratic action. Deprived of their source of power, the ruling class can no longer resist. They will truly be in the minority, and those that attempt to react will find themselves without a leg to stand on: when money becomes worthless they can no longer buy weapons or pay soldiers, and violent defense of private property now held in common becomes murder. Support structures for the existence and maintenance of police and armies will quickly wither when the people no longer need to make weapons, or use them, for a paycheck. Hopefully, most defenders of private property will see that it is pointless to commit murder in the defense of a dead idea and lay down their arms. Ultimately, the ruling class themselves will see the personal and moral danger of trying to defend property they no longer own and cease resistance quickly.

In sum, the democratic seizure of power, and subsequent immediate abolishment of property law along with the government structure that protect it, will be accomplished by a worldwide referendum - but only when the time is right. This is the only means necessary. With adequate prior preparation and education, the entire world will know when and how the revolution will be accomplished; not only should this make the transition to a moneyless, stateless society a lot smoother, it should erode any hope of the ruling class to make a violent, and in the end self-destructive, last stand.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Poverty

The following text is part of a series of leaflets/flyers written by a member of the World Socialist Party of the United States.

Poverty, starvation, and want do not exist because of scarcity, as the central teachings of capitalist economics would lead you to believe.

It has been shown many times over that present agricultural and manufacturing technology can produce enough food and goods for a human population actually larger than the one that exists right now. Stores in western nations are constantly fully stocked, and food is thrown away because it spoils before it is sold. Houses sit empty and cars fill sales lots. However, the fruits of the planet and human labor are only available to those who have the money to buy them. Since the capitalism tends to deny access to far more people than it allows, it is therefore the restriction of access to the means of survival, such as food, water clothing and shelter that creates poverty!

It would be nice if everyone could obtain or produce the things they need to live a comfortable and healthy life from their nearby environment. However, the wide range of planetary conditions prevent it. Due to property law and the money system, the two most important features of capitalism, people living in areas of the world where the essentials of life cannot be produced as needed are forced to buy it from those who can. Most often, if they cannot buy what they need, they go without it. The existence of national borders and other political divisions also provide barriers to the flow of food and goods to where they are needed, further preventing millions from enjoying a healthy living standard both inside and outside these borders.

Unfortunately, the lure of capitalism has always been the supposed ability for any given person to gain wealth beyond the value of their individual labor. We see rags-to-riches stories on television and are constantly updated on the lives and activities of the rich and powerful, many of whom got that way through hard work and sacrifice. What is never glorified, however, is the ability of capitalism to create poverty for billions of people.

Think about it, poor people did not invent capitalism. For every millionaire, dozens must necessarily be doomed to squalor and destitution. So why should anyone expect anything different than the continued existence of poverty when that was exactly what the capitalism is supposed to accomplish?

Strangely, many well-meaning individuals believe they can make governments force capitalism to take care of the poor, or that vast networks of charities can help to eliminate poverty. These folks engage in reform politics or join "humanitarian" organizations, hoping to somehow force the system to work exactly opposite of the way it is designed to work. Attempts to reform the present system (no matter how well intentioned) to eliminate poverty are doomed to fail because the core structure of capitalism creates the problem. Capitalism can never be reformed to work against it's own operating principles!

Our Movement thinks that providing for a world of billions requires a revolutionary change from the way things are done right now. That is why we demand nothing short of the complete replacement of the property and money systems - the "heart and soul" of capitalism. Socialism, a system based on free access and administered by the democratic action of the entire world's population, can accomplish the elimination of poverty, because that is what it is designed to do! Socialism does not exist to create rich or poor people, but to make available a sustainable and healthy standard of living for every human being. Future advances in technology and agriculture should be enjoyed by the entire world, not just a privileged minority. Given that, the ability of socialism to succeed in providing for every human being will lie in creating fair and efficient distribution and accounting methods to ensure that both the resources of the earth and human labor are applied when and where it is needed most.
Tony Pink

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Paying For Air - Why Not?

Introductory note. As a researcher, I am swamped by a constant stream of Working Papers, Discussion Papers, Position Papers, Occasional Papers and Miscellaneous Papers that all sorts of schools, networks, institutes, foundations, and centres are kind enough to send my way. Most of them go straight on a pile for later transfer to the green recycle bin, but now and then one catches my eye. I was so impressed by the sheer brilliance of this "Thought Paper" by a junior economist at the Centre for Research, Analysis and Policy (CRAP) that I decided to share it with readers of The Socialist Standard. The author wishes to remain anonymous. -- Stefan

PAYING FOR AIR – WHY NOT?

Optimal efficiency in the use of any resource requires the functioning of an effective market in that resource. Everyone (that is, everyone who matters) accepts this thesis in principle, but proposals to put the principle into practice still run up against irrational fears and prejudices, hidebound attitudes, and vague moral reservations. This applies especially to the still controversial issue of establishing and regulating a market in air. That no doubt explains why the published literature on air marketization and privatization is so scanty, although these topics have been the object of lively discussion among economic policy specialists, and not only at our centre.

And yet, as people are beginning to realize, the air in the earth's atmosphere is a limited resource like any other. If its use is to be rationalized, the consumption of air must be subject to the discipline of the market. As in the case of wood, water or any other resource, free access to air is a flagrant invitation to profligacy and waste. Studies by physiologists in several countries have revealed that surprisingly large proportions of individuals breathe more deeply and/or at more frequent intervals than strictly necessary for adequate body maintenance. Many of these irresponsible "free riders" encourage their children to follow their own bad example. Indeed, there are even misguided physicians who in deference to the latest health fad promote "deep breathing" practices among their patients.

In the past, the purely technical difficulties of controlling air consumption confined discussion of air markets to the realm of futurological speculation. H. G. Wells imagined a future in which the majority of the population live and work underground and, in addition to rent, pay private companies to ventilate their quarters. If they fall into arrears with their air payments the air supply is turned off until the next tenant resumes payment.*

Recent developments in pharmacology give reason to hope that in the not too distant future it will be feasible to control air consumption above as well as below ground. In the most plausible scenario, a legally mandated annual dose of a paralytic agent makes respiration impossible without subsequent weekly injection of an antidote, the market in which serves as a proxy air market. Of course, the first dose of the paralytic agent has to be combined with the first dose of the antidote; it is only from the second dose that the consumer starts to pay for the antidote - that is, for air access. The right to sell the antidote to different sections of the population could be sold at auction to the highest bidders.

Those who feel that such an arrangement is morally repugnant usually justify their stance in terms of the naive idea that a person's access to a vital necessity like air should not depend on how much money he or she has. Presumably it is acceptable to regulate access to luxuries by means of money, but not access to the necessities of life. But this idea makes no sense in the real world. Consider what absurd conclusions would follow if we applied it consistently.

It would mean that there should be free access to food just because we have moral qualms about people starving to death. It would mean that there should be free access to housing, heating, and warm clothing just because we shrink from the sight of people freezing to death in the winter cold. It would mean that there should be free access to medical care just because we feel people should not die for lack of the money to get treated. After all, besides breathing people need to eat and drink, keep warm, and so on. To be sure, asphyxiation is a quicker way to die than most. But that makes it more humane, not less.

What has this sort of fuzzy thinking got to do with economic rationality?

*The reference appears to be to Wells' novel When the Sleeper Wakes(1899). The people who are forced to live and work underground are, of course, the working class. From The Time Machine (1895) we learn that they eventually evolve into a separate species, the Morlocks, who feed on the overground descendants of the privileged, the Eloi. –Stefan

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Socialism Means (2005)

From the April 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Although the word socialism is itself more or less modern, its meaning can be said to go back to early religious sects of the ancient world and was taken up by religious dissidents in mediaeval times. Words attributed to John Ball during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 capture its meaning very well:
"My friends, things cannot go well in England, nor ever, until everything shall be held in common, when there shall be neither vassal nor lord and all distinctions levelled, when lords shall be no more masters than ourselves."

But it was not until the 19th Century that the concept of socialism (or communism) was developed by utopian socialists and then more systematically by Marx and Engels. Since the early 19th Century socialism has meant an alternative, classless society which can be set out under three main headings as follows:-
1. Common Ownership.
2. Democratic Control.
3. Production solely for use.

These features of socialist society would be dependent on each other and could only operate together as basic parts of an integrated social system. In combination, these define a way of organising society that in every important aspect of production, distribution, decision making and social administration, is clearly distinguished from the operation of capitalist society.

1. Common ownership means that the entire structure of production and all natural resources be held in common by all people. This means that every person will stand in equal relationship with every other person with respect to the means of producing the things we need to live, that is, mines, industrial plants, manufacturing units, all land and farms, and all means of transport and distribution. This also means the common ownership of all natural resources. Perhaps "common ownership" is partly a misnomer because what is meant is that means of production and resources would not be owned by anyone. In place of the property relationships of owners and non-owners, means of production will simply be available to the whole community to be used and developed solely for the needs of all people.

2. Democratic control means that social policy would be decided by communities. In place of rule by governments, public decisions would be made by people themselves. One great advantage of democratic practice in socialism would be not only the organisation of decision making but also the freedom to carry out those decisions. This freedom of action would arise from direct control of community affairs following the enactment of common ownership and removal of the economic constraints of the capitalist system. Without powers of action decision-making is meaningless.

3. Production solely for use means just what it says. People in socialism would be free to co-operate voluntarily with each other in producing goods directly for the needs of the community. This would be useful labour co-operating to produce useful goods solely for consumption. Production solely for use would replace production for sale at a profit. Things produced for sale under the capitalist system are of course intended to supply a need of one kind or another but as commodities they are produced primarily with a view to money gain and the increase of money capital. As a general rule the market system is a system of 'no profit no production'. In socialism this profit motive would be entirely removed. In a moneyless socialist society the factors of production would operate only in a useful form and not as economic categories with a price. Labour would not be wage labour serving the interests of an employer but would be free labour. People at work would be creating only useful things and not economic values from which profit is derived.

There should be no doubt that these basic features that define socialism clearly distinguished it from the capitalist system. Common ownership of means of production would be in direct opposition to private, corporate or state ownership; democratic control would be fundamentally different from rule by governments; production for needs would be in direct opposition to production for sale at a profit. These contrasting features of the two systems cannot be operated together; they are mutually exclusive. The mistaken idea that they can be operated together has been a major cause of political confusion about what socialism means.

Production solely for needs
What is meant by needs should not be understood as mere personal consumption. It should not suggest a rampant consumerist culture. Production for needs would include a wide range of considerations such as the need to protect and conserve the environment. In defining socialism we should emphasise that it will provide for one vital need in a way that is impossible under the capitalist system. This is the need of peoples throughout the world to bring the organisation of their community affairs under their own democratic control and to develop them in the interests of the whole community.

It was with the emergence of the capitalist system that society lost its direct control of its productive resources. In previous societies, accepting that they were ruled by privileged classes in their own interests, it was often the case that production was at near maximum capacity given the technology and resources available and this determined what could be distributed. In times of good harvests the whole community could benefit in some shape or form. But with the development of the capitalist system this was eroded as what is produced depends crucially on what can be sold. This means that distribution through sale in the markets determines production and this is always less than what could be produced.

Market capacity is inherently unpredictable. If too many goods are produced for a market and they remain unsold, a crisis and recession may occur with reduced production, increased unemployment, bankruptcies, and large scale writing-off of capital values. Despite the many attempts that have been made, no theory of economic management has ever been able to predict or control the anarchic conditions of the market system. This is rule by market forces which serve minority interests and which generate the insecurities, crises and conflicts that shape the way we live. The fact that we have great powers of production that cannot be organised and fully used for the benefit of all people has devastating consequences and is at the root of most social problems.

In this way, the capitalist system places the production of goods and services, on which the quality of all our lives depends, outside the direct control of society. Contrary to this, a socialist system would bring the entire organisation of production and distribution under democratic social control.

Social class
A further basic distinction between the two systems is that whereas the capitalist system is inherently class ridden, in socialism, social relationships of common ownership and equality will end class divisions. Much discussion of class centres on various sociological differences between groups which may be useful for some purposes. However, sociological differences can tell us little when seeking to explain how production is organised.

Some evidence may suggest, superficially, that we live in a society of greater equality. For example, we can accept that not so long ago "toffs" were people who played golf and went on motoring holidays, touring the Continent. Now, many people from all walks of life do these things. This shows that these pursuits have become relatively cheaper and that some working people are now able to enjoy them, but this in no way alters the economic relationships of production. It does not alter the economic, class relationship between capital and labour which dominates the way we live. At the point of production, the workers and their employers who may be sharing a golf course in their leisure time remain in a relationship of conflicting economic interests which, whilst it continues, must always condemn our society to the class divisions of strife and to the many ugly comparisons that we see of poverty amidst luxury. Class is a social relationship that invades and has a corrupting influence on every part of our lives.

An economic definition of class based on the categories of capital and labour in a system of commodity production is basic to our explanation of how we produce and distribute wealth and the economic motives that are involved. Social class defined as economic relationships is a key to how the operation of the market puts profit before needs and places constraints on all our activities. Our lives and the quality of our society depend upon our relationships of production and on the services we can provide. An analysis using economic/class categories tells us who gets what from the pool of wealth that is made available and how a privileged class has accumulated great wealth and property; it therefore explains the great social differences that we see about us.

In addition, we find that increasingly, giant global corporations own and control the world production of goods and services together with the natural resources of the planet. The sole object is to amass greater concentrations of capital and to increase their economic and political powers.

We live in a society of deep class divisions with a conflict of economic interests between those who work the productive system and those who own it. This economic conflict can only be reconciled by the relationships of equality and cooperation that would integrate the community in socialism.

Whilst it is right to feel outrage at the great class divisions that exist socialists do not come to this question in a negative spirit of class hostility. The aim is to end it. Class conflict has gone on for too long; there has been too much strife and we have to heal the wounds of history through entirely democratic means.

Class society is both morally and materially indefensible. It need not linger on and on as part of an outdated system. An ethical society would be one in which all people would live their lives, free from the disadvantages of under privilege and class injustice. To live in a classless society would be in the interests of all its members. Freedom for every person to develop their skills and talents on equal terms could benefit everyone. Equality has the potential to enrich all our lives and would be a basis for a true community of shared interests.

Socialism - a human-centred way of life
Having set out what socialism means, and having set out features that distinguish it clearly from capitalism, these can be summarised as one all important difference. Whereas the capitalist system works for sectional economic ends that are alien to the interests of the whole community, a socialist system would be wholly dedicated to the interests of all people. There would also be a difference of complexity and simplicity. Whereas, working within the complex economic limitations of the market system, our endeavours are frustrated and often blocked by the barriers of costs, in a socialist society, communities would be free to set up their goals and then organise their resources of labour, materials and technology to achieve them in a straightforward way. People in socialism would need only to work with the material factors of production and not any economic factors.

Given the control of human affairs that a socialist system would bring, people in socialism would be able to take charge of their destiny. What is undeniable is that we are a species with great talents. In science, technology, in art, crafts and design we can call upon a wide range of great skills. The point now is to release these for the benefit of humanity.
Pieter Lawrence

What Socialism Means (2005)

From the April 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Although the word socialism is itself more or less modern, its meaning can be said to go back to early religious sects of the ancient world and was taken up by religious dissidents in mediaeval times. Words attributed to John Ball during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 capture its meaning very well:
"My friends, things cannot go well in England, nor ever, until everything shall be held in common, when there shall be neither vassal nor lord and all distinctions levelled, when lords shall be no more masters than ourselves."

But it was not until the 19th Century that the concept of socialism (or communism) was developed by utopian socialists and then more systematically by Marx and Engels. Since the early 19th Century socialism has meant an alternative, classless society which can be set out under three main headings as follows:-
1. Common Ownership.
2. Democratic Control.
3. Production solely for use.

These features of socialist society would be dependent on each other and could only operate together as basic parts of an integrated social system. In combination, these define a way of organising society that in every important aspect of production, distribution, decision making and social administration, is clearly distinguished from the operation of capitalist society.

1. Common ownership means that the entire structure of production and all natural resources be held in common by all people. This means that every person will stand in equal relationship with every other person with respect to the means of producing the things we need to live, that is, mines, industrial plants, manufacturing units, all land and farms, and all means of transport and distribution. This also means the common ownership of all natural resources. Perhaps "common ownership" is partly a misnomer because what is meant is that means of production and resources would not be owned by anyone. In place of the property relationships of owners and non-owners, means of production will simply be available to the whole community to be used and developed solely for the needs of all people.

2. Democratic control means that social policy would be decided by communities. In place of rule by governments, public decisions would be made by people themselves. One great advantage of democratic practice in socialism would be not only the organisation of decision making but also the freedom to carry out those decisions. This freedom of action would arise from direct control of community affairs following the enactment of common ownership and removal of the economic constraints of the capitalist system. Without powers of action decision-making is meaningless.

3. Production solely for use means just what it says. People in socialism would be free to co-operate voluntarily with each other in producing goods directly for the needs of the community. This would be useful labour co-operating to produce useful goods solely for consumption. Production solely for use would replace production for sale at a profit. Things produced for sale under the capitalist system are of course intended to supply a need of one kind or another but as commodities they are produced primarily with a view to money gain and the increase of money capital. As a general rule the market system is a system of 'no profit no production'. In socialism this profit motive would be entirely removed. In a moneyless socialist society the factors of production would operate only in a useful form and not as economic categories with a price. Labour would not be wage labour serving the interests of an employer but would be free labour. People at work would be creating only useful things and not economic values from which profit is derived.

There should be no doubt that these basic features that define socialism clearly distinguished it from the capitalist system. Common ownership of means of production would be in direct opposition to private, corporate or state ownership; democratic control would be fundamentally different from rule by governments; production for needs would be in direct opposition to production for sale at a profit. These contrasting features of the two systems cannot be operated together; they are mutually exclusive. The mistaken idea that they can be operated together has been a major cause of political confusion about what socialism means.

Production solely for needs
What is meant by needs should not be understood as mere personal consumption. It should not suggest a rampant consumerist culture. Production for needs would include a wide range of considerations such as the need to protect and conserve the environment. In defining socialism we should emphasise that it will provide for one vital need in a way that is impossible under the capitalist system. This is the need of peoples throughout the world to bring the organisation of their community affairs under their own democratic control and to develop them in the interests of the whole community.

It was with the emergence of the capitalist system that society lost its direct control of its productive resources. In previous societies, accepting that they were ruled by privileged classes in their own interests, it was often the case that production was at near maximum capacity given the technology and resources available and this determined what could be distributed. In times of good harvests the whole community could benefit in some shape or form. But with the development of the capitalist system this was eroded as what is produced depends crucially on what can be sold. This means that distribution through sale in the markets determines production and this is always less than what could be produced.

Market capacity is inherently unpredictable. If too many goods are produced for a market and they remain unsold, a crisis and recession may occur with reduced production, increased unemployment, bankruptcies, and large scale writing-off of capital values. Despite the many attempts that have been made, no theory of economic management has ever been able to predict or control the anarchic conditions of the market system. This is rule by market forces which serve minority interests and which generate the insecurities, crises and conflicts that shape the way we live. The fact that we have great powers of production that cannot be organised and fully used for the benefit of all people has devastating consequences and is at the root of most social problems.

In this way, the capitalist system places the production of goods and services, on which the quality of all our lives depends, outside the direct control of society. Contrary to this, a socialist system would bring the entire organisation of production and distribution under democratic social control.

Social class
A further basic distinction between the two systems is that whereas the capitalist system is inherently class ridden, in socialism, social relationships of common ownership and equality will end class divisions. Much discussion of class centres on various sociological differences between groups which may be useful for some purposes. However, sociological differences can tell us little when seeking to explain how production is organised.

Some evidence may suggest, superficially, that we live in a society of greater equality. For example, we can accept that not so long ago "toffs" were people who played golf and went on motoring holidays, touring the Continent. Now, many people from all walks of life do these things. This shows that these pursuits have become relatively cheaper and that some working people are now able to enjoy them, but this in no way alters the economic relationships of production. It does not alter the economic, class relationship between capital and labour which dominates the way we live. At the point of production, the workers and their employers who may be sharing a golf course in their leisure time remain in a relationship of conflicting economic interests which, whilst it continues, must always condemn our society to the class divisions of strife and to the many ugly comparisons that we see of poverty amidst luxury. Class is a social relationship that invades and has a corrupting influence on every part of our lives.

An economic definition of class based on the categories of capital and labour in a system of commodity production is basic to our explanation of how we produce and distribute wealth and the economic motives that are involved. Social class defined as economic relationships is a key to how the operation of the market puts profit before needs and places constraints on all our activities. Our lives and the quality of our society depend upon our relationships of production and on the services we can provide. An analysis using economic/class categories tells us who gets what from the pool of wealth that is made available and how a privileged class has accumulated great wealth and property; it therefore explains the great social differences that we see about us.

In addition, we find that increasingly, giant global corporations own and control the world production of goods and services together with the natural resources of the planet. The sole object is to amass greater concentrations of capital and to increase their economic and political powers.

We live in a society of deep class divisions with a conflict of economic interests between those who work the productive system and those who own it. This economic conflict can only be reconciled by the relationships of equality and cooperation that would integrate the community in socialism.

Whilst it is right to feel outrage at the great class divisions that exist socialists do not come to this question in a negative spirit of class hostility. The aim is to end it. Class conflict has gone on for too long; there has been too much strife and we have to heal the wounds of history through entirely democratic means.

Class society is both morally and materially indefensible. It need not linger on and on as part of an outdated system. An ethical society would be one in which all people would live their lives, free from the disadvantages of under privilege and class injustice. To live in a classless society would be in the interests of all its members. Freedom for every person to develop their skills and talents on equal terms could benefit everyone. Equality has the potential to enrich all our lives and would be a basis for a true community of shared interests.

Socialism - a human-centred way of life
Having set out what socialism means, and having set out features that distinguish it clearly from capitalism, these can be summarised as one all important difference. Whereas the capitalist system works for sectional economic ends that are alien to the interests of the whole community, a socialist system would be wholly dedicated to the interests of all people. There would also be a difference of complexity and simplicity. Whereas, working within the complex economic limitations of the market system, our endeavours are frustrated and often blocked by the barriers of costs, in a socialist society, communities would be free to set up their goals and then organise their resources of labour, materials and technology to achieve them in a straightforward way. People in socialism would need only to work with the material factors of production and not any economic factors.

Given the control of human affairs that a socialist system would bring, people in socialism would be able to take charge of their destiny. What is undeniable is that we are a species with great talents. In science, technology, in art, crafts and design we can call upon a wide range of great skills. The point now is to release these for the benefit of humanity.
Pieter Lawrence

Monday, March 12, 2007

A World Without War

Reproduced from the WSPUS MySpace Page

Anyone who has paid attention in history class probably observed that the major periods in American (and for that matter World) history is divided up mostly by wars. Often the most studied and revered historical figures are those who led their people to victory in times of conflict. Since the dawn of civilization, brought on by the Agricultural Revolution, different groups of humans have waged war against other humans. The methods may have become more deadly and efficient over thousands of years, but the main cause for war has not, and neither have the outcomes - misery, death and destruction.

Why do humans continually wage war on each other, despite the constant efforts of diplomats and the development of ever more frightening weapons capable of killing millions? Typically, the people writing the history books assign the blame to at least one party (typically the loser) in every conflict; it is because of their evil nature, greed or foolishness that innocent people are attacked, and that more often than not, the bad guys are defeated by others who are good and wise and noble. Only when evil is finally eradicated, or super weapons developed that are so devastating no one would ever think to use them, can people finally live in peace. So says the narrative we all learn from a young age.

Actually, the cause of war is never found in the people that actually fight them. Throughout human history, wars have been fought and paid for by the wage earners and the poor, who ironically are the ones who always come out the loser of every conflict, no matter who claims victory. It isn't even correct to blame the people who start the wars, the ruling or owning class, because even they answer to a higher authority which goads them to hurl bodies and bullets at their so-called enemies.

If you really want to understand why wars are fought, simply look at what is actually being fought over - the answer invariably ends up some form of Property. A concept devised when the first cities sprung up around agricultural areas, ownership of property gave birth to the class system we have today, and has been defended by laws and the threat of violence ever since. A few people owned all of the wealth and the rest owned none. This ruling or owning class, once made up of priests, kings and warlords, now consists of politicians, business owners and what's left of the monarchies around the world. In order to preserve their positions of power, wealth and privilege, they must maintain the property system at all costs. Often, this means expansion, into new land, trade routes, resources, or even human minds. When that expansion infringes on the property of other members of the ruling class, wars are inevitable. So it has been for thousands of years!

The property system doesn't just involve armies and wars over other people's land and resources. It has a tremendous impact within any given society. Multiple layers of police and security forces exist to protect the countless laws that define and continue the property system. Often deadly force is used to protect them, placing the value of property above the lives of the people making up a society. But that is a discussion for another time.

Wars can be stopped forever by simply removing the reasons for their existence. A system where property law and violence separates people into two classes can be replaced by one in which all property, wealth, and land is held in common, and where the owning class no longer has the ability to sustain itself. This system is called socialism. True socialism does away with governments and private (as opposed to personal) property, freeing the sum of all the world's wealth to be shared equally by all humans and removing the need to fight over anything. Socialism, and the end of all war, is not utopia or a lunatic's pipe dream, but a real solution to many problems. Are you ready take the first steps to end war? Contact us today!
Tony Pink

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Sit-Down Strikes in America (1937)

From the April 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

America, we have often been told, is the great land of "Liberty". They boast there of their "Liberty Statue" and their "Declaration of Independence". There is scarcely a snob in the American States who will fail to trace his ancestry to the "liberty-loving" English, or omit to recall with pride the landing on Plymouth Rock of the Puritan Pilgrim Fathers from old England. Perhaps Col. Bob Ingersoll, the Freethinker, was not unwise when he suggested what a pity it was that Plymouth Rock hadn't landed on the Pilgrim Fathers. The liberty known to the American workers is much the same as that experienced by the working class throughout the world -- the liberty to work for the benefit of capitalists and to slowly starve amidst the plenty which the workers have themselves produced. Since it is part of the workers' "freedom" that they may leave off working when their masters fail to consent to demands for improved conditions, trouble is bound to arise between these two contending forces. It is inevitable that some "wicked and troublesome swines" among the toiling masses will set out to ask for a little more from life as they find it. Hence, in America and practically all over the world, we are presented with a series of strikes which periodically mark the history of capitalist society.

Despite the efforts of all the social reformers and "world planners", the clash of interests between workers and capitalists asserts itself. The recent strikes in America provide proof (if indeed such is needed) of the soundness of the Socialist analysis of capitalism. Private property versus the sustenance of the workers -- profits versus wages -- the power of those who own the means of life versus the slender means at the disposal of those who merely interfere with that power rather than become all-powerful themselves. The underlying causes of the American strikes have been misrepresented to be due to inter-Trade Union rivalry -- to the long-standing quarrel between craft Unions and industrial organisations. But whilst it is true that conflict between these does exist, the causes of the strikes are, as usual, the conditions of capitalist society. The Trade Union movement of America has been largely built up on the basis of craft organisation, and generally only what are called the best-paid workers have been catered for. The mass of semi-skilled or unskilled workers have had little or no organisation to deal with their demands in negotiation with the employers. In fact, many of the most powerful combines in America have always refused to deal with any other workers' organisation than those which they, the employers, finance and organise, under the name of "Company Unions". But the present strikes have been conducted by a committee for industrial organisation led by, among others, John L. Lewis, a former Welsh miner and latterly a member of the United Mineworkers of America.

Following the example of the French and Belgian workers during last year, who decided to "stay-in" whilst on strike, the American Automobile Workers' Union "struck the job" and "stayed put" inside the factories. It was here that the sanctity of private property asserted itself. Those inside the factories formed their own committees, which arranged for the supply of food, to be delivered to them by friends and relatives outside, every means possible being observed to conduct the strikes on orderly, peaceful lines. But the majesty of the Law had something to say -- and do -- in the matter. Ordinary police, special police, and hired thugs surrounded and entered the factories, using mustard and tear gas to dislodge the strikers. A judge decided that the action of the strikers remaining in the factories was illegal, so a cordon of 4,000 troops, armed with bayonets and machine guns, was drawn round the factories, and the strikers' food supplies cut off. Yet the strike ended largely in favour of the workers. Soon after the settlement the General Motors Corporation announced an increase of pay of 2 1/2d. a hour, which, it is estimated, will cost 5,000,000 pounds a year, and agreed to the principle of collective bargaining. The success of the automobile workers appears to have been the signal for similar strike movements all over the country. The giant steel industry, which has turned its back on collective bargaining for the past fifty years, was threatened with strike action. At Waukegan, Illinois, in two factories of the Fansteel Metallurgical Company, a stay-in strike actually took place. The Times' report of this is to the effect that the fight which took place between the strikers and the police was an "unequal fight". Against sprays of acid from fire extinguishers and volleys of tools and other missiles used by the strikes, the police brought into action "an improved turris -- a wooden structure 30ft high, armoured with sheet steel and mounted on a lorry -- and through its portholes shot hundreds of gas bombs into the factories." "It was impossible", says the Times, "to stand up against that, and after an hour's fighting the strikers broke and fled."

Yet here again the workers gained notable concessions, such as are described as "the biggest victory United States labour has ever had."

"By two wholly surprising acts late yesterday", says the Times (March 3rd), "the principal steel companies have averted from this industry a strike involving half-a-million men, and ended at the same time a deadlock which has kept the Government from getting the steel sorely needed for new armaments." (Bold Italics ours.) The Times describes these two "surprising acts" to be, first, the recognition by the Carnegie Illinois Steel Company of the right of an outside Union, i. e., other than its own company unions, to act for the men. Second, the establishment of a basic 40-hour week and 1 pound a day, with usual overtime rates. It is thought that this decision will serve as a standard of working conditions throughout the entire industry.

It appears that a wave of enthusiasm has now taken hold of the American workers, and a great increase in Union membership is announced. As Socialists, we see in this something that is to the good in the class struggle. These efforts of the workers to combine, either to resist the onslaughts of the master class, or to gain whatever they can, must meet with the support of all workers who understand their class position.

The particular form of economic organisation through which the struggle is conducted is one which the circumstances of the struggle must mainly determine. The chief thing is to maintain the struggle whilst capitalism lasts. The spirit of the craft form of Trade Union is generally one which tends to cramp the activity and outlook of the workers, each craft thinking itself something apart from all others, particularly from the non-skilled workers. But capitalist society itself tends to break down the barriers artificially set up between sections of the working class, as many of the so-called "aristocrats of labour" have been made painfully aware. The industrial form of union should tend to bring the various sections of workers in an industry together, and thus help level the identity of interests between all workers so organised. But the whole question of Trade Union organisation in itself, and by its very nature and necessity, calls into prominence the deeper, far deeper, question of the position of the working class in its entirety. Capitalism, the private ownership of the means of life and production for profit, is the root cause of the workers' troubles, and they must, therefore, learn that the capitalist system must be abolished if they are to reap the fruits of their labour. What are called high wages cannot secure the workers against the ravages of capitalist exploitation. The supreme task of the working class must be the ending of capitalism.

Meanwhile the struggle on the economic field must be looked to and encouraged. But the workers must not be deluded into a false sense of power by occasional Trade Union victories, such as those in America, France, and elsewhere. It is essential that stock should be taken of the conditions at every step of the way. In the case of the American strikes, conditions favoured the workers in gaining their demands. Prices and profits are at present rising, and production is in fairly full swing. In such cases the capitalists do not want their works idle; that they can reserve for the time when they really want a fight to a finish, or when they want to dispose of surplus stocks when changes in the methods of production are contemplated. It is estimated that in the case of the steel industry of America the pay-roll will, in consequence of the increases in wages, increase by twenty millions a year, but, as the Times points out, this sum will be recouped by the present rising prices of steel. The American Government alone needs twenty-five million pounds' worth to meet its naval requirements, and steel works must be kept going for that purpose. Besides this, private orders for steel in America are even larger than those of the Government. In such conditions the master class will seek to compromise with the demands of the workers. But these conditions are not always with us, consequently, it is not always possible to win strikes, as the history of strike movements in this country will prove. Nevertheless, the workers should take what opportunities that come along. It would be a lamentable fact if they failed to take advantage of a "rising market" in the sale of their only commodity -- their power to labour. Failure to take this elementary step in the class struggle would generally indicate failure to work for the greater movement for Socialism. What the workers need to learn is the source of capitalism's power and the process by which the workers are subjected. That "learned judge" of America who declared the stay-in strike to be illegal, truly sized up the position when he said:
". . .  he had no power to consider the merits of the dispute . . .  He confined himself to the point that, under the law, the workers had not the right to take possession of their employers' property." (Bold Italics ours.)

That it is outside the pale of the law to deal with the struggle between workers and capitalists is, of course, a purely technical point in legal procedure. In practice it proves not only a mockery of the workers' position, but at the same time reveals the underlying force of capitalist "law and order".

The declaration of illegality was accompanied by the use of gas-bombs and machine-guns to drive unarmed men from occupying a vantage point in a battle for bread and butter. Truly can the "impartiality" of capitalist law-givers be taken as tragi-ironical. Anatole France, with characteristic irony, correctly figured the position out when he wrote: "The Law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike -- to sleep under arches; to beg in the streets; and to steal bread!"

The Socialist Party urges all workers to consider the position. They have to strike and face lock-outs because they are slaves to the capitalist class. They cannot enter into ownership of the means of life whilst the capitalist is in possession of political power. That power is given them by the workers themselves, who have been trained for centuries to think along capitalist lines, and then through the medium of the ballot box have, in consequence, elected the capitalists to, power. The wealth of the world is produced by the workers and it is, therefore, just sound common sense to say that what the workers can produce for the capitalist they can produce for themselves. But Socialist understanding and determination is essential to that task. Until the workers are prepared to give their consideration to this aspect of their problems, all the stay-in sit-down strikes in the world will not rid them of their troubles.

Already, as far as the working-class movement in America is concerned, there are rocks ahead to be seen. John L. Lewis, their strike leader, who backed Roosevelt in the last Presidential election, is said to be looking to the Presidency himself, and may contest the election for the position in 1940. The Labour movement in America is similar to the Labour movement in this country; it is reformist, and does not seek to abolish capitalism. Let the workers ponder over the position. Should Labourism triumph in the USA the workers may find themselves, during future sit-down strikes, gas-bombed by the police, acting under the authority of their own leaders. The only cure against all this is Socialism, a system of society wherein strikes and all other aspects of class struggle will have been consigned to the limbo of the past.
Robertus.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Pathfinders Column - Particles of Faith (2007)

From the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to legend the ancient Greek natural philosopher Democritus was eating a piece of cake one day, and with a knife idly cutting it into sections, when he embarked on a thought experiment. Suppose, he wondered, one had a knife that was infinitely sharp and infinitely thin, how many times could one divide a section of cake until the resulting piece was something so small no knife could ever cut it. Would this piece represent the ultimate building block of all matter? He supposed that it would, and he gave to this hypothetical building block the term 'a-om', meaning 'will not cut', and to posterity he gave the solid beginnings of atomic theory.

Since Rutherford cut the 'uncuttable' and split the atom in 1913 scientists have pursued the quest to find the smallest irreducible particle, and they still haven't managed it. While this may seem only of mild interest to the non-scientific public, what does seem rather astounding is the eye-watering budgets which this continuing, some think Quixotic, quest seems to attract from what are, after all, capitalist governments with more interest in profits than proton colliders.

Great excitement is being stirred up at the moment by the imminent firing up of the biggest and most expensive research installation the world has everseen, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the Centre for European Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland. While the physics and engineering are state-of-the-art, the concept behind LHC couldn't be more old-fashioned. If you send two particles flying around a long tube in opposite directions and smash them into each other at stupendous speed, you get an explosion of bits and pieces flying off, and some of these bits and pieces might be new particles unknown to physics.

Why does this matter so much to physicists? Because, with its two intractable paradoxes of dark matter (which nobody can find) and dark energy (which nobody can find) forming essential cornerstones supporting the 'standard model' of physics upon which everything from Einstein upwards is based, physics can reasonably be said to be in a new dark age. It is enough to make anybody's head ache.

Either Einstein's general relativity is wrong or quantum mechanics is wrong, but they have both passed every known test and fulfilled every known prediction. The essential problem is that of the four known forces, three, the electromagnetic, and the strong and weak nuclear forces, are mediated by particles. The fourth, gravity, is apparently not.

Gravity is the black sheep of the family in other ways too, being thirty orders of magnitude weaker than the other forces (think of fridge magnets), and uniquely exerting the same force on all objects regardless of weight (keeping both you and an ant on the ground). What possible Unifying Principle can be behind all this? To which the physicists reply: we have no idea, but give us billions of dollars and let us smash things up, there must be some more particles out there somewhere.

But why does this matter so much to the rest of us? The answer, perhaps shockingly, is that it doesn't matter a damn. If the arguments between the handfuls of people worldwide who really understand the various brands of string or quantum gravity theory are ever resolved, nobody else will understand the answer anyway. What will, ahem, 'normal' people get out of it? Nothing, in all probability.

Bear in mind that nobody is arguing for investment on the promise of profits from by-product technology, as we saw from the space race with such things as digital watches and vastly better computers, and even Velcro. There is no known military application. There is no suggestion of being able to harness or use the energy involved for practical purposes. To be sure, government investors are being kept on the hook with tantalising talk of 'quantum computers', a concept which might reduce super computers from filing cabinet to fingernail size, despite the fact that the physics is hotly disputed, it is a paper-only theory and no experiment has provided even proof of principle never mind an actual demonstration of viability. But there must be an angle here somewhere, surely? Hard-nosed governments know better than to throw away billions on vague guesswork. Don't they?

No, they don't. Capitalists, and the governments who mediate their interests, don't invest in horizon science because they believe it will go anywhere, but because they can't be entirely sure that it won't. It's a modern form of Pascal's wager, which proposed that the risk of being wrong if one worshipped God and he didn't exist was as nothing to the risk if one didn't and he did. If anything ever came of this atom-smashing malarkey in Switzerland, what capitalist wouldn't want a piece of the quantum action? And if nothing comes of it, well then, they've all lost money equally.

What all this does of course is to play into the hands of a small handful of physicists who want big toys and who can invent impenetrable arguments which capitalists can't fathom and don't dare ignore. Moreover, these same physicists are in a position, with lofty talk of understanding 'where the universe came from and where it's going', to browbeat the rest of us with a quest that is so transcendently awesome that all other quests for knowledge or human improvement appear to pale into insignificance. Quite simply, and with the entire history of scientific enquiry and endeavour stacked up against us, we don't dare ask the question 'what does it matter?'

That it matters, in some profound philosophical sense, is of course unarguable. But the question we, as socialists and as scientifically-minded members of the modern age, should be asking is, does it matter now? In a world already half-destroyed by the consequences of a steam-age political system, is this really what we should be spending our time and effort looking into? Aren't there more pressing things for science to be doing?

This is all pure heresy, of course. But in a recent New Scientist review of Oliver James' book Affluenza, which describes western capitalist populations' unhappy love affair with consumerism, the reviewer constantly demands more evidence and better research before accepting the validity, albeit intuitively acknowledged, of much of what James has to say about the meaningless of a life lived for material gain alone. A cynic might conclude that when scientists are not interested in the debate, they demand impossible amounts of evidence while making no useful suggestions about what evidence would satisfy them or what methodologies would be acceptable. When the debate concerns their own fascinations, however, they rely heavily on funders being willing to speculate wildly, without any evidence nor any guarantee of success.

Democritus is referred to as a 'natural philosopher'. The term 'scientist' was not coined until 833, at which point the deep-seated respect for the 'polymath' who was good at lots of things was replaced by a new Enlightenment-age adoration of the person who did just one thing. 'Scientist' describes what a person doesn;t do as well as what they do, a single-tasking paradigm which tries to exclude the real world and its values, from the simple and 'pure' mono-dimensional thought-process.

We need scientists to join the rest of us in the real world, and help us do the research and find the evidence we need to prove to the world that a non-market economy can work better than what we have, or conversely, prove that it can't. But it seems they are too busy chasing bucks and bits of quanta, all in the Nobel cause of selfless enquiry.

Another ancient story has it that Archimedes, he who expressed such delight in flooding his bathroom, was so absorbed in mathematical calculations that he ignored, in the middle of the battle for Syracuse, an invading Roman centurion who was demanding his attention with extreme prejudice. The Roman, evidently miffed at the other's lack of social graces, shoved his sword in the mathematician and killed him. Which just goes to show, if you don't pay attention to the world around you, things can get very sticky.