Tuesday, July 31, 2007

“Old McDonald's had a brand...”

From the August 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

The world's biggest fast-food chain trains customers in its own image - but we don't have to be part of its assembly line.

McDonald's is one of the largest global mass consumption brands, straddling the world like a ravenous colossus. With a presence in 119 countries, over 30,000 restaurants and 48 million customers daily (2005 data), it is the world's largest fast food chain.

What is it that McDonald's sell? At first sight, the question may seem foolish, as McDonald's is synonymous with hamburgers. But that is not how the brand sells itself, or how it wishes to be portrayed. Since the 1950s, Ray Croc – the great disseminator of the McDonald's brand – insisted that he was not in the hamburger business, but in show business. McDonald's sell not only bread but circus, too, which makes it an outstanding paradigm of what has been called the "image society".

The early McDonald's: the pursuit of fun
McDonald's started as a small drive-in in California in the late 1930s, when mass production began with Henry Ford and his Model T and movies were becoming an industry. The appearance of drive-ins brought promise to the business of serving consumers inside their cars. The McDonald brothers (the original owners prior to purchase by Ray Croc) decided in the late 1940s to renovate their drive-in and turn it into a fast food restaurant. Their innovations included replacing all utensils with disposable wrappings; doing away with waiter service – customers would have to leave their cars and order at the counter; and a new way of making and delivering sandwiches: the menu was reformulated and reduced and orders prepared as if on an assembly line.

To encourage the public to identify with their business, the McDonald brothers developed the company's first branded character, a cartoon chef called Speedee. They figured that service speed would be appreciated by customers, as would predictability of product.

In the 1960s the association of brand image, brand character and entertainment was achieved through the creation of clown Ronald McDonald. There was also an architecture and design mix that matched the goal of selling fun. According to his "biography", provided by the company, Ronald is a smart, sensitive clown who loves hamburgers, fun and children. Ronald McDonald is a superstar, the company's official speaker for children, and became the world's most publicised clown.

Children's pester power was enlisted to boost sales. "Ask Mummy and Daddy to take you to McDonald's." But the clown's tone was always happy, innocent and sincere, matching his appearance. His look was dictated by McDonald's products. His hat was a tray with a styrofoam hamburger, a bag of French fries and a milk shake. His shoes were shaped like buns and his nose was a cup. He wore a styrofoam belt from which he would magically pull hamburgers.

Ronald McDonald appeared within a culture that was already in process of being branded by consumerism and at a time when television was becoming ever more popular. Mass culture was, and still is, attempting to fill the leisure time of workers with the commodities of the Industrial Revolution and beyond: consumer goods and services of all kinds. The activities of production and promotion are done by workers who then wear their other hat as consumers: only a relative few big owners can stand outside and control this duality, making sure they are the people with real privileges and benefits.

McDonaldisation as part of globalisation
Globalisation is a complex of inter-related processes which have in common the basic idea that relationships and organisations have spread increasingly around the world. Its key components are the destruction of distance barriers, the stretching of relationships beyond national boundaries, a growing awareness of the world as a whole, and an increasing inter-dependence between different parts of the globe.

The world is becoming a singular domesticated space, a place where everyone is in process of becoming assimilated into a common culture – a dominant capitalist culture. The success of fast-food franchises such as McDonald's is a case in point. Ritzer, in his 2001 book The McDonaldization of Society, argues that this is a process to be found not only in food but also in car maintenance, education, child care, supermarkets, cinemas, theme parks, and so on. McDonaldisation represents not just food but also a cultural message. The burger is not only consumed physically but also as an image and an icon of a particular way of life - capitalist way of life. Extravagant claims are made for the "freedom" of personal choice, but this is increasingly being governed and determined by market forces.

Brands and images in socialism?
Nineteenth-century socialists like Marx and Morris didn't have to worry about things like brands and images. There weren't any. Perhaps that last statement is a bit too sweeping. There were probably some early indications of how capitalism would develop from its primarily goods stage to its increasingly services stage (the Great Exhibition of 1851? Barnum and Bailey?).

Then and now it basically was and is the same system – private or state ownership, class division into workers and capitalists, access according to monetary demand. But the emphases have changed over time, especially in what has become known as the First World. It is not that food, clothing and shelter have stopped being marketed. They haven't. It is not that industries and places of work like factories, offices, mines and railways have disappeared. Generally speaking, they haven't. But today, much more than in the past, "intangibles" have been pushed to the front of the market.

Appearances, brands, celebrity, many things to do with computers, entertainment, experiences, fantasies, fashion, icons, illusions, images, lifestyles, mass markets, niche markets, planned obsolescence, retail therapy, show business, simulations, spectacle, virtual reality, waste - all are on the march, even though not everyone is in step. To say that shopping is not what it was is no mere expression of nostalgia - it is to recognise that the dominant capitalist culture has changed for many people the buying of things into a socially-produced and market-promoted but self-administered drug - from "don't really need" to "must have".

The future shape of socialism is more likely to be influenced by its replacing and converting the later than the earlier forms of capitalism. No one will buy or sell brands, images and suchlike. But does that mean there will be no use for them and therefore no need of them? We can, of course, simply say that the people at the time will decide. But we can be a bit more imaginative, and discuss, admittedly in a very tentative way, plans for a socialist future.

It seems safe to say that brands like McDonald's won't have a brilliant future. Perhaps there will be living museums in which "customers" will stand in line to place their orders for hamburgers and volunteer "staff" will experience for a short while what a McJob was like. Not to everyone's taste, but maybe fun for some, especially children.

There is a better case for the survival - even development - of images in socialism. Take travel, for example. Today the market for mass tourism is being promoted furiously and satisfied recklessly. But it is clear that this trend can't go on. The six and a half billion world's population - let alone the 9 billion expected by 2050 - won't all be able to travel at First World frequencies and distances.

Image - the experience of being there but not the reality - may come to the rescue. "Walking around" an art museum or suchlike is not physically limited. Feeling what it's like to skim over a mountain top is potentially open to everyone. Here we are in the exciting but sometimes scary territory of technology. Bearing in mind the unforeseen inventions of the last 50 years, who knows what the next 50 years will bring? The greatest challenge to be met is how to get from the capitalist world to the socialist world.
Stan Parker

Note: some material in this article is taken or adapted from Isleide A. Fontenelle, Fantasy sandwiches: image as value in the McDonald's case, World Leisure Journal, 1, 2007.

For more information about the August 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard, click on the image below:

The New Reformism (2002)

Book review from the January 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

French Socialists Before Marx: Workers, Women and the Social Question in France by Pamela Pilbeam.

The emergence of the new Labourite and general European "plural left" in politics of the late 20th century has resulted in the rewriting of the history of working-class politics. No longer seen as a linear history, the "rise of the Labour Movement", "socialism" so-called is now deemed a cyclical rise and fall of various progressive trends in which state intervention was only one option. This view, it is true, has been expressed ever since the disappointments of state ownership sent Labour politicians back to the drawing board in the 1950s and 1960s.

In recent times, however, with the conclusion of Labour's shift from the left, the search has been on for a new historical tradition for British capitalism's new political elite. Throughout the 1990s many books and pamphlets on this theme culminated in the will-o'-the-wisp that was the Third Way but still the output of the reformers-turned-reactionaries trundles on, the lack of any content beyond the oft-repeated mantras being no bar.

Pamela Pilbeam's recent book on early French socialism falls into this bracket, despite offering some original historical insights. The book's aim is clearly laid out as being to assert "the vitality and relevance of plural socialism in the first half of the 19th century, to show that the social question was addressed by a range of methods and led to a variety of milestones, but the underlying goal was to make society fairer", slap in the middle of the aforementioned revision.

Pilbeam goes to some lengths to claim the utopians and social radicals of early 19th-century France in the "socialist" camp, against a body of historical opinion that rightly has defined Saint-Simonianism, Fourierism and other schemes of social improvement as too vague to even be termed "socialist" (meaning reformist). This amorphous section of social reformers, claimed as socialists, were apparently held together by "the same initial starting point, the 1789 Revolution; a belief in the value of education; the need to improve the legal and educational status of women; address contemporary employment problems through co-operative, no capitalist, enterprises, and above all, take concrete actions to attack the social question. Many also had profound religious convictions."

There certainly were many early or proto-socialists in France in the period covered by Pilbeam's book (1820s to 1840s) but they were not "before Marx"; they developed at the same time and influenced his political development; they were not utopians or reformist tinkerers, they were revolutionaries who talked of the class struggle and working-class emancipation. Of these revolutionaries there is little said, except in reference to the Babouvist tradition of revolutionary violence (which was indeed prevalent although later rejected by Marx).

There are positive sides to this work, however. It serves to confirm Fourier as a utopian crackpot despite the author's best efforts and provides a good account of the roots of the politics of working-class reformism and - its most original contribution - serves to highlight the role of women in the movements which, however incomplete, were reactions against the onslaught of industrial capitalism. For the 21st century, however, it is Marxian contributions to socialist analysis, rather than the utopianism and reformism of Fourierism and Saint-Simonianism, that offers the way forward for the working class.
Colin Skelly

Unvarnished History of the Panama Canal

From the June 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

The story of the building of the Panama Canal at the turn of the last century is an expose of the operations of the capitalist system and the enormous damage that is done to workers under it.

Matthew Parker's recent book Panama Fever (Hutchinson) is a piece of unvarnished history that makes the case for socialism more powerfully than any political tract could do. The construction of the canal and the ambitions, machinations and cold calculations that lay behind it make for grim reading. There were two elements in the building of the canal; the first, a failed French attempt under the leadership of De Lesseps ('builder' of the Suez Canal) and the second successful effort of the government of the United States. Over both construction stages, in the region of 28,000 workers lost their lives, mostly from diseases, which is a toll on a par with many wars.

As soon as fifty years after the 'discovery' of the continents of North and South America, the advantage to World Trade of a man-made opening through the narrow isthmus of lower Central America was appreciated. Construction though had to wait until the appropriate technology had advanced and such a project began to appear feasible from the middle of the 19th century onwards. One of the main drivers was the rapid economic growth of the United States and its trade with the rest of the World, including both Europe and Asia. The canal which would be about 80 kilometres (50 miles) long would shorten the sea-going distance between New York and San Francisco from 22,500 km (14,000 miles) to 9,500 km (6,000 miles). In the 19th century Panama was a still a province of Columbia, ruled from Bogota. For the major powers of Britain, France, Spain (all three of which still had remnants of their colonies in the Western Hemisphere) and the United States, the future and control of the region provoked strong strategic rivalry. Panama itself had a sparse population and Columbia was weak and prone to recurring civil wars. Along with its own ambitions, each country was fearful of the significant commercial and military advantages that would accrue to the nation that would dominate the region.

While some 'understandings' were present between the powers, the most explicit posture was that of the United States with its self-declared Monroe doctrine of 1823. This policy began as a defensive mechanism whereby the US stated that it would not accept any future European re-colonisation of any part of the Americas; though ultimately it was used to justify exactly such activities by the United States itself. More specifically, as the idea of a canal was mooted, it became US policy that, if the canal was to be built, it would not be allowed to be under the control of any foreign power. As early as 1848, the Americans forced Columbia to grant it the right to land troops on the isthmus if free transit across it (by road, rail or future canal) was prevented. This was the only foreign treaty signed by the US in the 19th century and for almost the first time the country declared it had strategic concerns outside its continental borders. American interest was whetted by its acquisition of vast Pacific territories from Mexico after the 1848 war, which made the isthmus a key strategic artery for the country. The California gold rush accentuated this trend and an American financed railway across Panama was completed in 1855. Simultaneously, the US Navy made itself routinely present in the neighbouring seas.

Financial swindle
The European powers, while mindful and wary of the obvious growing strength of the United States, were not ready to relinquish their presence in the western hemisphere. Confident from their success in building the Suez canal, a private French company headed by De Lesseps came to an agreement with the Columbian authorities and began work on a canal in Panama (more or less along the exact path of the current canal) in 1880. There was strong American suspicion that this was another attempt by France to gain leverage in Central America after the debacle of its involvement in Mexico in the 1860s, while the US was pre-occupied by its own Civil War. The US made its displeasure known with the result that this private French effort could not be officially backed by the government in Paris. Nonetheless, there was a patriotic flavour to the French enterprise with the project being seen as a means to improve France's standing after the defeat by Prussia in the war of 1870.

There were two main tasks for the De Lesseps organisation: the raising of capital to finance the project and the sourcing of adequate numbers of workers for the huge construction effort that would be required. To lessen the dependence on what were regarded as Jewish-dominated monetary institutions, small investors were encouraged to come forward to give the project a more 'authentic' Catholic French flavour. This could be regarded as an early type of 'Peoples Capitalism'. From the outset, dubious methods were employed to raise finance and maintain investor confidence. Payments to newspaper editors and financial journalists for positive coverage, sweeteners to senior bank and stock exchange executives and payoffs to government deputies for a favourable attitude were prevalent and seen as necessary. This of course is still a practice that is widespread today by Western companies in undertakings such as the massive gas and oil pipeline projects in the former Soviet Union and in southern Asia.

The British Caribbean islands were identified as a promising source of labour, principally Jamaica owing to poor economic conditions on the island. Large numbers of workers were shipped from there to Panama. In fact initially so many Jamaicans left the island that plantation interests there lobbied to stop the outflow as it was driving up the price of labour. In Panama, the workers had to contend with extremely difficult and dangerous conditions; the diseases of malaria, yellow fever, pneumonia, dysentery, typhoid and tuberculosis were all present in addition to the hazards of physical exhaustion and frequent industrial accidents. The workers toiled outdoors in one of the wettest places on Earth with poor food and rudimentary accommodation. They were completely open to exploitation as there was no labour law in Panama except 'the freedom to work'.

By the late 1880s the French effort had run into serious problems. They had grossly underestimated the scale of excavation involved and persisted with an unrealistic sea level plan for the canal. The project was plagued by mismanagement, extravagance and corruption amongst the contractors and senior officials with huge profits being taken by some engineering firms and financial middlemen. In addition, periodic civil unrest in the province of Panama and a weak police force hindered any meaningful advance. The high death rate amongst the workforce (approximately 20,000 died in the eight year period) caused demoralisation, led to a high turnover of workers and thus pushed up the wage rates. The scale of the deaths amongst the West Indians, combined with some high profile fatalities amongst the senior French administrators and their families, caused doubts about the canal's prospects for success. Hence raising money in Paris for the scheme became more and more expensive. The project eventually collapsed in 1889 with most investors losing their savings. A bitter atmosphere of recriminations developed in France with professional anti-Semites, in the years just prior to the Dreyfus case, using the collapse to make allegations about the role of some Jewish financiers. The canal company was accused (and indeed was guilty) of misleading investors by false announcements of progress. An enquiry, driven by angry shareholders, was held to determine whether embezzlement and corruption had occurred. The fact that 20,000 people had lost their lives, as opposed to their savings, was not regarded as a cause for scandal.

Land grab
After the failure of the De Lesseps venture, a new French company was formed to try to keep the project going but little extra progress was recorded. The remaining investors realised that they could not hope to complete the work and the whole asset would have to be written off, unless they could find a purchaser for the, by now, quarter finished canal. They turned to the United States government as the only feasible body and employed intermediaries (what we would today call lobbyists) to petition the administration in Washington. They were helped by the advent of Teddy Roosevelt to the Presidency after the assassination of McKinley in September 1901. While regarded as a progressive Republican in domestic issues, Roosevelt was one of the new breed (and still historically one of the most important) of American imperialists who rose to power at the turn of the 20th century. At the outset, the new President decided that absolute American control over the canal zone would be necessary for success. This was opposed by the authorities in Bogota, who would only grant a lease arrangement that respected ultimate Colombian sovereignty. In a move that would be repeated many times in years to come, the US sponsored an independence movement amongst the top levels of society in Panama which was also supported by people with a financial interest in the canal. A successful coup against the small local Colombian garrison took place. This could have been subsequently suppressed by Bogota but crucial American intervention took the form of warning the Colombian government off. A pliant administration was formed in the newly independent country and in fact the US obtained decisive control over internal Panamanian politics for decades to come. One of the first acts of the new government was to cede the canal zone (a strip about fifteen miles wide) to the US government in perpetuity. The United States had total control over the zone and appointed a series of Governors and Special envoys to the region. While such a naked land grab was clearly unpopular with nationalists in Central and South America, it also provoked a backlash in America itself. Critics claimed the country was behaving more like an Empire than a Republic; defenders of the move replied that such operations were essential to the economic future of the United States and such arguments proved hard to refute in the Age of Imperialism.

From the start in 1904, the US effort was much more substantial than the French, backed as it was by the enormous resources of the American government. It was also free of the constraints to continually raise capital on the stock markets. The US army took effective control over the project, operating as a quasi-autonomous government and the military oversaw most aspects of workers' lives in the canal zone. Undesirables could be immediately deported from the zone with the police given almost unlimited discretion as to who constituted an 'undesirable'. Everything (health, housing, schooling, canteens, entertainment) was provided or organised by the state and at the time the project was viewed as having all the characteristics of paternalism and 'welfare socialism'. So much so that a member of the then US Socialist Party working on the canal was asked by a visiting journalist whether this was the type of society he wanted to see in the future. He replied, 'government ownership don't mean anything to us working men unless we own the government. We don't here – this is the sort of thing Bismarck dreamed of'.

It was recognised that one of the main reasons for the failure of the French attempt was the crippling effect of disease on the white administrators and black workforce. Using prevailing medical advances and knowledge gained from conditions that faced US troops in the recent war in Cuba, the Americans were in a position to eradicate yellow fever and control malaria. This was accomplished by a massive sanitary campaign against the mosquito transmitters of both diseases. The huge resources put into this campaign were also seen to have wider strategic advantages in permitting safe settlement of the tropics by Caucasians. In actuality, pneumonia was a much bigger killer of black labourers but was almost unknown amongst the white work force. Malaria affected the success and efficiency of the project more significantly, both because this disease affected whites mainly and because, being generally not fatal, it resulted in expensive hospital treatment. Thus virtually nothing was done against pneumonia compared to the large programme to minimise malaria. This bears out the socialist view of the ultimate purpose of state-run health systems: they are financed precisely to the amount where the cost of dealing with the consequences of not having then would exceed the cost of having them. Hence hospitals were not constructed and maintained for workers' benefit but as a judicious investment to ensure the profitability of the enterprise.

As with the French effort, the supply of an adequate labour force was seen as essential. The skilled workers and foremen would of course be white Americans but as regards manual labourers, white US workers were regarded as too expensive, too unionised and susceptible to tropical disease. Black Caribbean labourers were again seen as the most suitable being English speaking (thus able to understand instructions) and having some immunity to tropical diseases (to reduce hospital and sickness costs). More importantly they would be 'cheap' in all senses of the word. The island of Barbados was this time identified as the best source. The island was overpopulated with descendants of sugar plantation slaves who were now landless labourers and there was a tradition of emigration. Over the course of the first decade of the 20th century, Barbadians in their thousands were shipped in cattle boats to Panama. Technically of course these were all voluntary migrant labourers though because of economic pressures, the real situation was little different to slavery. It highlights the socialist case that slavery can exist long after its formal abolition which is something those proponents of 'Apology for the Atlantic Slave Trade' could do well to remember. In many cases, the Barbadians were victims of racism from the local Panamanian police and from their American supervisors.

While conditions for the black workers were materially better under the Americans (principally because of a major reduction in the death rate and appreciation of the cost benefits of maintaining a healthy workforce), compared to the French era, there was much more rigid colour stratification. The first decade of the 20th century marked the approaching apogee of the Jim Crow system in the southern US states. Intermingling of the races was seen as undesirable and was actively prevented; there were separate schools, canteens, bars, churches for blacks and whites. Not surprisingly living quarters and canteens, etc. were of a much lower standard for black workers. They endured conditions such as working in the rain 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Black workers (unlike their white colleagues) did not have paid sick leave and could lose their jobs if they became ill. The West Indian workers were three times as likely as other workers to die from disease or accidents. Furthermore, to weaken worker solidarity and to prevent the occurrence of strikes (of which there were very few) the authorities had a scheme of periodically bringing in labourers from different European countries to lessen solidarity amongst the manual workers. Spain, Italy and Greece provided the majority of these extra men who were given double the wage rate of the black workers. This was a deliberate and successful Divide and Rule policy by the authorities.

Less important
The canal eventually opened under the Wilson Presidency in the summer of 1914 just as World War I started. It remains a busy trade route to this day. As it happens one of the main military reasons given for its construction, namely to permit US warships more rapid movement between the East and West coasts of the US was soon rendered redundant. The huge and permanent expansion in the US navy in the 20th century to police America's global commitments made it necessary to have separate Atlantic and Pacific fleets and the development of aircraft carriers (too large to pass through the canal) as the crucial naval warship made the canal militarily less useful. Hence it was important but not vital to America in World War II and the Cold War. Increasing Panamanian resentment at the permanent ceding of a portion of their territory to the United States led to the signing of a revised treaty in 1977, in spite of vehement opposition by American conservatives. This set in motion the process of the return of ownership of the canal to Panama which was fully completed in 1999.

Would the canal have been built if socialism existed? In my personal opinion, yes, though clearly with a careful analysis of the costs and benefits to humanity. Instead of the needless and pointless diversion of time and resources into raising finance, political manoeuvring, wining and dining the people with influence, maintaining confidence etc, the focus under socialism would be on the engineering aspects of the project, its environmental impact and the health and safety of the people involved. The story of the Panama Canal serves as reminder of the totally avoidable waste that occurs under capitalism and the bizarre priorities of the money system. The fever for profit that gives the book its appropriate title was fundamentally the cause of the devastation wreaked upon the workers by exposure to the yellow fever and malaria fever on the Panama Canal.
Kevin Cronin

Friday, July 27, 2007

Is Human Nature A Barrier?

From the Socialist Courier blog:

One of the most common objections to socialism is that it is against human nature. Socialism is based on common ownership where everyone will work to the best of their ability and everyone will take according to their needs. "Impossible" claim our critics because it is human nature to be greedy and selfish. It is certainly true that inside a competitive society like capitalism people often behave in a selfish greedy fashion. This behaviour is conditioned by the society we live in, but even today human beings are capable of behaving in a cooperative fashion. For instance inside the USA the embodiment of capitalism we learn the following:
"More than a quarter of Americans spent some of their time lending a helping hand last year. That good news kept the rate of nationwide volunteering at historically high levels: Some 61.2 million people dedicated 8.1 billion hours of service to schools; hospitals; and religious, political, and youth groups in 2006, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS)." (Christian Science Monitor, 17 July)
Richard Donnelly

Further reading:
Socialist Party pamphlet - Are We Prisoners Of Our Genes?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Birth and Death

From the Socialist Banner blog:

In the 35 countries covered by the report of the World Bank, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, the estimated 210 million women who become pregnant every year worldwide, more than 500,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth. One in five women resorts to abortion because of poor access to contraception. 68,000 women die each year as a result of unsafe abortion, while 5.3 million suffer temporary or permanent disability, and many end up being ostracised within their own communities.

"Poor women endure a dis-proportionate burden of poor sexual and reproductive health because they run into financial or social barriers getting access to these basic but vital programs," said Mrs. Joy Phumaphi, the World Bank's Vice President for Human Development, a former WHO Assistant Director General, and a former Health Minister in Botswana, 1999-2003. "The low status of women often poses a barrier because in many societies, women lack the power to make their own decisions about using contraceptives or using other reproductive health-care," said Phumaphi.

The Chocolate Wars

From the Socialist Courier blog:

We all know that capitalism is a crazy system based on competition and profit, so it comes as no surprise when we have wars over oil in the Middle East, over diamonds in Sierra Leone and timber in Liberia but now we have war over chocolate!
"Government and rebel leaders of the world's leading cocoa exporter, Ivory Coast, both siphoned off millions of dollars from the cocoa industry to finance the 2002-03 civil war that divided the once-stable and prosperous country in two, according to a recent report from Global Witness, a London-based group that focuses on resource-fuelled corruption. The government received more than $58 million from institutions and cocoa revenues, while the rebel New Forces pocketed about $30 million since 2004 in taxes and revenues, claims the report titled "Hot Chocolate: How Cocoa fuelled the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire" . . . Fighting here ended with the government of President Laurent Gbagbo in control of the south, where 90 percent of cocoa production takes place, and the rebel New Forces in charge of the north." (Christian Science Monitor, 17 July)

Truly capitalism is a crazy system!
Richard Donnelly

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Socialist Standard July 2007


  • The Profit System Must Go
  • Regular Columns

  • Pathfinders Upload, Download, Freeload!
  • Cooking the Books 1 Oliver in Blunderland
  • Cooking the Books 2 Who Will Verify The Verifiers?
  • Greasy Pole Blair Bites The Hand That Feed Him
  • 50 Years Ago Socialists and the Press

  • Main Articles

  • Suicide Bombers: Heroes and Villains? On the morning of 7 July 2005 the inhabitants of London awoke and prepared to go out for the day. Fifty-six of them were to die the victims of terrorist bombings. For twenty years in countries across the globe members of our class have been subjected to other such murderous outrages. What motivates the bombers and who supports their actions?
  • Back To Power-Sharing What thirty years of death and destruction in Northern Ireland brought?
  • The French Elections: Mr Nasty Wins The recent round of elections in France resulted in the rout of the French Left. Were the workers wrong not to vote for them?
  • The Hanging Gardens of Bombay In India, the Prime Minister's is worried about the way the rich flaunt their wealth . . .
  • The Haves and the Have-Yachts . . . in Britain Blair and Brown make the super-rich welcome.
  • Free Access to What? Some Problems of Consumption in Socialism How will the range of goods and services to be supplied be determined in a socialist society?

  • Letters, Reviews & Meetings

  • Letters to the Editors 'The Panama Canal'
  • Book Reviews The Progressive Patriot by Billy Bragg; A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr; Brave Community: The Digger Movement in the English Revolution by John Gurney; Operation Supergoose by William Hart

  • Meetings Birmingham, Swansea, West London, Manchester & Norwich.
  • Voice From The Back

  • Hard Times; Moral Majority Nonsense; USA: Fantasy and Reality; Merchants of Death ; Let Them Suffer; Capitalism Distorts Science; Growing Old Disgracefully
  • From each according to their ability

    From the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back:

    "I don't want to take £1 billion pounds to the grave with me." (Sir Tom Hunter, Daily Telegraph, 18 July 2007).

    Andrew Carnegie, Bill Clinton, Bob Geldof et al would no doubt agree that there can be only a small percentage of financial, business, sport or artistic successes in any one generation. There just isn't space at the top of any profession or vocation for the majority of the population. The system doesn't work like that. A pyramid requires a very broad, solid base made up of multitudinous blocks rising in successively smaller layers to the apex. The financial structure of the world is the same; the many enabling the few to amass their fortunes. In sport or art, whether through talent or promotion, a similar structure exists.

    Whilst the super-rich can afford to give away much of their monetary wealth without hardship or set up trusts, charities, concerts and the like to alleviate some of the world's worst conditions (and the rest of us can donate much smaller amounts according to our individual situation and whim), the plain facts are that each year, year in, year out, millions more around the world find themselves in abject poverty. Whatever is given in aid, grants or donations is never, and will never be, sufficient to "make poverty history".

    Sir Tom Hunter appears not at all gloomy about the world situation and claims "he gets a bigger buzz from a successful philanthropic venture than from his businesses". There is an obvious satisfaction to be gained from personally being able to bring positive solutions to problems of those less fortunate than oneself; however, even supposing all the world's billionaires were to prove as altruistic in ministering to the world's needy, it would only result in a partial cure of humanity's sores rather than total elimination of the disease.

    The Daily Telegraph article ends with Carnegie's assertion that "all personal wealth beyond that required to supply the needs of one's family should be regarded as a trust fund to be administered for the benefit of the community." Which is not all that different from Karl Marx's dictum "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need". However, the poor of the world don't need a hand-out. They simply need to be a part of a world system that doesn't exploit them and with the universal right to nutritious food and clean water, shelter, responsibility for self-determination, all long recognized as prerequisites for a fulfilling life.

    With "from each according to ability, to each according to need" applied globally it will not only be possible but achievable in the foreseeable future to eliminate poverty, malnutrition and the other ills inherent in global capitalism.

    When doctors, teachers, musicians, scientists, technicians, farmers, entrepreneurs use their expertise solely for the benefit of the (world) community; when the Earth's rich resources are used for people, not profit; when all citizens of the world are seen to have equal, intrinsic worth regardless of background, intelligence or class; when our collective aims are truly altruistic rather than accumulative then there would be no worries about taking money to the grave. Wealth would be real, not virtual; the Earth's resources would belong to all, not to be pillaged for profit for the minority; talent, skills and human endeavour would be the wealth to be spent by all for the benefit of all.

    How satisfying to go to the grave fully used up with absolutely nothing going to waste.
    Janet Surman

    Saturday, July 21, 2007

    Adventures in Marxism

    From the From Despair To Where blog:

    A couple of years ago, I picked up Marshall Berman's Adventures in Marxism. I couldn't get on with it and chucked it aside. But recently I stumbled across it again, dipped in at random, and have been hooked ever since. It's the first 'unputdownable' book I've read in ages.

    For the first time in years, it's made me want to go back to Marx. Berman's genius is to make Marxism seem relevant. When most Marxists try to do that, they just give us a dull lecture on how capitalism has or hasn't changed, the relevance or not of Marx's analysis of capitalism, how he got it right or not about globalisation, and so on. Berman, on the other hand, likes to focus instead on the individual lives of individual workers, what they think about their lives and work, what they think about prospects for the future, their hopes and dreams, whether realised or frustrated. He shows that they are rarely stupid, often intelligent and thoughtful, never as trapped by fetishism and false consciousness as many Marxists would have it. They may be stuck in pointless jobs, but they are also able to construct something meaningful and creative out of their lives. And however trapped ordinary workers may or may not be in their jobs, Berman shows that they're rarely as trapped as Marxist intellectuals are in their own thought. In a brilliant piece on Perry Anderson, Berman says:
    "Another reason that I've written so much about ordinary people and everyday life in the street, in the context of this controversy, is that Anderson's vision is so remote from them. He only has eyes for world-historical Revolutions in politics and world-class Masterpieces in culture; he stakes out his claim on heights of metaphysical perfection, and won't deign to notice anything else. This would be all right, I guess, except that he's so clearly miserable over the lack of company up there. It might be more fruitful if, instead of demanding whether modernity can still produce masterpieces and revolutions, we were to ask whether it can generate sources and spaces of meaning, of freedom, dignity, beauty, joy, solidarity. Then we would have to confront the messy actuality in which modern men and women live. The airmight be less pure, but the atmosphere would be a lot more nourishing; we would find, in Gertrude Stein's phrase, a lot morethere there. Who knows – it's impossible to know in advance - we might even find some masterpieces or revolutions in the making."

    I think that passage might sum up why I hated the book the first time round, and love it now. First time around, I identified more with the Andersons of this world. But Berman's right: it's lonely and miserable up there. We can't wait for revolution before doing everything we can to fill our lives with joy and freedom.

    In another piece in the book, Berman even makes me want to go back to Marx's Capital. And given how much pain and anguish it caused me the first time round, that's no mean feat. Berman's review of it focuses onthe people that talk to us from the pages, the "shopkeepers and sharecroppers, the miners and millowners, poets and publicists, doctors and divines, philosophers and politicians, the world-famous and the anonymous". Marx takes us, argues Berman, "back to the glorious days of the 19th century novel", where some of the "most vivid characters appear for only a moment; [and] others stay with us for long stretches and engage Marx in long and passionate argument; others disappear for hundreds of pages, only to return transformed". But it also looks forward to the modernist masterpieces of Eliot and Joyce, with its "voices from mythology and poetry, sorcery andtheology, from every country and culture under the sun".

    Berman again:
    "Marx's point in presenting this immense and bizarre chorus is to show capitalism as a maelstrom that sweeps the whole world into its flood, past and present, reality and mythology, East and West: everything and everyone is caught up and whirled in the world market, nothing and no one has the power to hold back. We the readers – along, of course, with the writer – are part of it; we respond, our voices are incorporated into the chorus; the audience finds itself onstage. This may be one reason why, like many great modernist works, Capital never really comes toan end: it reaches out to us in the audience, and challenges us to give the work an ending, by bringing an end to capitalism itself […]

    "[Marx's] feeling for contradictions infuses the wholeof Capital with vitality and adventure. An adventureis not an idyll: much of its excitement springs from its risks, from the chance that it could end horribly; but we go on, because we are moving in an ambience of life and hope. The ambience could be a great gift to us today. It is right there, in Capital: the book lies open and open-ended, waiting only for us to give ourselves."

    Wonderful stuff. But, says a critic, didn't Marx get it wrong? Berman has the best answer to this we haveyet come across, and I'll finish with just one more quote from him:
    "Even when Marx is studied in universities… his thought gets chopped up into various theories to be verified or refuted, and methods to be followed or discarded; what gets left out is what is most alive and exciting, Marx's vision of the world as a whole. A writer's vision of life is less tangible than his politics, economics, religion, ideology; but it goes deeper, and it is what makes his work last long after his causes have won or lost or faded away. Literate people understand this in general: they know that the truth and power in Plato doesn't depend on the validity of his theory of ideas, that Dante can change our lives even if Thomism doesn't, that Dostoevsky's hold on our souls doesn't stand or fall with his claims for the power of the Russian soul. But so many ordinarily sophisticated people become crude when they come to Marx: they observe acidly that workers are often nasty and brutish, or that capitalism hasn't collapsed, or that, in places where it has collapsed, the state hasn't withered away; they note these things, rather impatiently, then slam the book closed and walk away fast without looking back. They forget, or repress, something that they normally know: that it's possible for a writer to be wrong about all sorts of things, and yet to tell the truth about life."
    Stuart W.

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    Interview With Marx (1983)

    Published originally in the March 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard, and reproduced from the Mailstrom blog:

    Interview with Marx

    Question 1 : Dr Marx , you are well known as the author of a book on economics but I think you studied law at university, didn't you ?
    Karl Marx: Although I studied jurisprudence, I pursued it as a subject subordinated to philosophy and history. In the year 1842-43 , as editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, I first found myself in the embarrassing position of having to discuss what is known as material interests . The deliberations of the Rhenish Landtag on forest thefts and the division of landed property; the first polemic started by Herr von Schaper, then Oberpresident of the Rhine Province, against the Rheinische Zeitung about the condition of the Moselle peasantry, and finally the debates on free trade and protective tariffs caused me in the first instance to turn my attention to economic questions .Present-day society.

    Q 2 : What, as a result of the studies you then undertook, would you say is the basis of present-day society?
    Marx: "Present-day society" is capitalist society, which exists in all civilised countries, more or less free from mediaeval admixture, more or less modified by the particular historical development of each country, more or less developed.
    In present-day society the instruments of labour are the monopoly of the land-owners ( the monopoly of property in land is even the basis of the monopoly of capital ) and the capitalists.
    The capitalist mode of production rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of non-workers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal conditions of productions, of labour power.

    Q 3 : What would you say are the essential features of this capitalist society?
    Marx: Capitalist production is distinguished from the outset by two characteristic features.
    First. It produces products as commodities. The fact that it produces commodities does not differentiate it from other modes of productions ; but rather the fact that being a commodity is the dominant and determining characteristic of its products. This implies, first and foremost, that the labourer himself comes forward merely as a seller of commodities, and thus as a free wage-labourer, so that labour appears in as wage labour. The relation between capital and wage-labour determines the entire character of the mode of production. The principal agents of this mode of production itself, the capitalist and the wage-labourer, are as such merely embodiments, personifications of capital and wage-labour.
    The second distinctive feature of the capitalist mode of production is the production of surplus-value as the direct aim and determining motive of production.

    Q 4 : You say that the relation between capital and wage-labour determines the whole character of capitalism but how, first , would you define "capital"?
    Marx: Capital is a social relation of production. It is a bourgeois production relation, a production relation of bourgeois society. Capital consists not only of means of subsistence, instruments of labour and raw materials, not only of material products; it consists just a much of exchange values. All the products of which it consists are commodities. Capital is, therefore, not only a sum of material products; it is a sum of commodities, of exchange values, of social magnitudes.
    Material wealth transforms itself into capital simply and solely because the worker sells his labour-power in order to live. The articles which are the material conditions of labour, the means of production, and the articles which are the precondition for the survival of the worker himself, the means of subsistence, both become capital only because of the phenomenon of wage-labour. Capital is not a thing , any more than money is a thing. In capital, as in money, certain specific social relations of production between people appear as relations of things to people, or else certain social relations appear as natural properties of things in society. Without a class dependent on wages, the moment individuals confront each other as free persons, there can be no production of surplus-value; without the production of surplus-value there can be no capitalist production, and hence no capital and no capitalist! Capital and wage-labour (it is thus we designate the labour of the worker of the worker who sells his own labour-power) only express two aspects of the self-same relationship.

    Q5: But in some cases the means of production belong to the State. Does this make any difference to this basic relationship of capitalism?
    Marx: The social capital is equal to the sum of the individual capitals (including joint-stock capital and also state capital, in so far as governments employ productive wage-labour in mines, railways, and so on and the function as industrial capitalists). Where the State itself is the capitalist producer, as in the exploitation of mines, woodlands and the like, its product is "commodity" and for this reason possesses the specific character of every other commodity.

    Q6: How do you explain the origin of surplus-value?
    Marx: The value of a commodity is determined by the total quantity of labour contained in it. But part of that quantity of labour is realised in a value, for which an equivalent has been pain in the form of wages; part of it realised in a value for which no equivalent has been paid. Part of the labour contained in the commodity is paid labour; part is unpaid labour.
    The surplus value, or the part of the total value of the commodity in which the surplus labour or unpaid labour of the working man is realised, I call Profit.
    It is the employing capitalist who immediately extracts from the labourer this surplus value, whatever part of it he may ultimately be able to keep for himself. Upon this relation, therefore, between the employing capitalist and the wage labourer the whole wages system and the whole present system of production hinges.

    Q7 : So you are saying that it is through the wages system that the workers are exploited?
    Marx : Wages are not what they appear to be, namely, the value, or price, of labour , but only a masked form for the value, or price, of labour power. The wage-worker has permission to work for his own subsistence, that is, to live, only in so far as he works for a certain time gratis for the capitalist (and hence also for the latter's co-consumer's of surplus-value); the whole capitalist system of production turns on the increase of this gratis labour by extending the working day or by developing the productivity; consequently the system of wage labour is a system of slavery , and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labour develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment.

    Q 8: But surely you are not saying that workers should not try to obtain "better payment" while capitalism lasts?
    Marx: To clamour for equal or even equitable retribution on the basis of the wages system is the same as to clamour for freedom on the basis of the slavery system. What you think just or equitable is out of the question. The question is: What is necessary and unavoidable with a given system of production?
    The periodical resistance on the part of the working man against a reduction of wages, and their periodical attempts at a rise in wages, are inseparable from the wages system, and dictated by the very fact of labour being assimilated to commodities, and therefore subject to the laws regulating the general movement of prices.
    The value of labour-power constitutes the conscious and explicit foundation of the trade unions, whose importance for the English working class can scarcely be overestimated. The trade unions aim a nothing less than to prevent the reduction of wages below the level that is traditionally maintained in the various branches of industry.
    Trade unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injurious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organised forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system.

    Future Society

    Q9 : Clearly then, the abolition of the wages system is one key feature of the socialist, or as I believe you prefer to call it communist, society which will achieve "the emancipation of the working class", but what else can be said about it?
    Marx : The condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class. The working class, in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power properly so-called since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society.
    Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them.
    There can therefore be nothing more erroneous and absurd than to postulate the control by the united individuals of their total production, on the basis of exchange value, of money. The private exchange of all products of labour, all activities and all wealth stands in antithesis to free exchange among individuals who are associated on the basis of common appropriation and control of the means of production.
    If we were to consider a communist society in place of a capitalist one, then money capital would immediately be done away with.

    Q10 : So you are saying that the working class can only emancipate themselves by establishing a classless, stateless, and moneyless society, but , with regard to this last point, you yourself are on record as mentioning "labour-time vouchers" as a possible means of distributing consumer goods in the early stages of communist society. Is there not a contradiction here?
    Marx : Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one.With collective production, money capital is completely dispensed with. The society distributes labour-power and means of production between the various branches of industry. There is no reason why the producers should not receive paper tokens permitting them to withdraw an amount corresponding to their labour time from the social consumption stocks. But these tokens are not money; they do not circulate.
    The certificate of labour is merely evidence of the part taken by the individual in the common labour, and of his claim to a certain portion of the common product which has been set aside for consumption.

    Q11 : But you are not claiming , are you , that such "tickets" or "certificates" would be a permanent or even an essential feature of a future classless society?
    Marx : What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.
    In a higher phase of communist of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and herewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, have vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly - only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners : From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

    The Period of Revolution

    Q12: The continuing development of the forces of production over the last hundred or so years means that communist society could now proceed almost immediately to this stage of free access. But I want to move on to ask you about how you see the change-over from capitalist to socialist. Or communist, society taking place.
    Marx: The first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy. 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, of the proletariat organised as the ruling class, and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.

    Q13: Wait a minute . Let me stop you there . What exactly do you mean by the phrase "centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State , of the proletariat organised as the working class"? In a previous reply you told us that socialism was a society without a State.
    Marx: When [ the proletariat] attains government power its enemies and the old organisation of society has not yet vanished.
    The proletariat still acts, during the period of the struggle for the overthrow of the old society, on the basis of that old society, and hence also still moves within political forms which more or less belong to it. It has not yet, during this period of struggle, attained its final constitution, and employs means for its liberation which this liberation fall aside.
    It can however only use such economic means as abolish its own character as salariat, hence as a class. With its complete victory its own rule thus ends. As its class character has disappeared.
    When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the public power will lose its political character.
    In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms , we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

    Q14: You are saying that to establish a classless, stateless society the working class has first to organise to gain control of political power - "win the battle of democracy", as you put it - and use it to expropriate the capitalist class. This seems reasonable enough, even if today it could again be said that this period of revolution could be passed through very quickly precisely because the centralisation and development of the means of production has now reached such a high degree. But how do you see the working class winning political power, peaceably or violently?
    Marx: The workers will have to seize political power one day in order to construct the new organisation of labour; they will have to overthrow the old politics which bolster up the old institutions.
    We do not claim, however, that the road leading to this goal is the same everywhere. We know that heed must be paid to institutions, customs and traditions of various countries, and we do not deny that there are countries , such as America and England, where the workers may attain their goal by peaceful means. That being the case, we must recognise that in most continental countries the lever of the revolution will have to be force.

    Q15: Today of course "most continental countries" have adopted the same political forms as America and Britain, but in any event won't socialism or communism, have to be a world system?
    Marx: United action of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.
    Empirically, communism is only possible as an act of the dominant people "all at once" and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with communism. Moreover, the mass of propertyless workers presupposes the world market through competition. The proletariat can thus only exist world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a "world-historical" existence.

    Causes of Crises

    Q 16: Can we now perhaps turn to some current issues that are of immediate concern to people today. First of all, the present slump where we hear about there being over-production of steel, cars, food and other goods.
    Marx: The word "over-production" in itself leads to error. So long as the most urgent needs of a large part of society are not satisfied. Or only the most immediate needs are satisfied, there can of course be absolutely no talk of an over-production of products - in the sense that the amount of products is excessive in relation to the need for them. On the contrary, it must be said that on the basis of capitalist production, there is constant under-production in this sense. The limits to production are set by the profit of the capitalist and in no way by the needs of the producers. But over-production of products and over-production of commodities are two entirely different things.

    Q17: Yes, that's clear enough, but what do you think of the proposal put forward for instance by the Labour Party that the way out of the crisis is to increase spending.
    Marx : The popular ascription of stagnation in the processes of production and circulation to an insufficiency of the circulating medium is a delusion.
    It is pure tautology to say that crises are provoked by a lack of effective demand or effective consumption. The capitalist system does not recognise any forms of consumer other than those who can pay, if we exclude the consumption of paupers and swindlers. The fact that commodities are unsaleable means no more than that no effective buyers have been found for them , no consumers ( no matter whether the commodities are ultimately sold to meet the needs of productive or individual consumption ). If the attempt is made to give this tautology the semblance of greater profundity, by the statement that the working class receives too small a portion of its own product, and that the evil would be remedied if it received a bigger share , if its wages rose, we need only note that crises are always prepared by a period in which wages generally rise, and the working class actually does receive a greater share in the part of the annual product destined for consumption. From the standpoint of these advocates of sound and "simple" ( ! ) common sense, such periods should rather avert the crisis. It thus appears that capitalist production involves certain conditions independent of people's good or bad intentions, which permit the relative prosperity of the working class only temporarily, and moreover always the harbinger of crisis.

    Q18 : What about the other aspects of crisis such as unemployment and falling real wages?
    Marx: Capitalistic production moves through certain periodical cycles. It moves through a state of quiescence, growing animation, prosperity, overtrade, crisis and stagnation. The market prices of commodities, and the market rates of profits, follow these phases, now sinking below their average, now rising above them.
    Well! During the phase of sinking market prices and the phases of crisis and stagnation, the working man, if not thrown out of employment altogether, is sure to have his wages lowered.
    A surplus population of workers is a condition for the existence of the capitalist mode of production. It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, which belongs to capital just as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost.
    Capitalist production can by no means content itself with the quantity of disposable labour power which the natural increase of population yields. It requires for its unrestricted activity an industrial reserve army which is independent of these natural limits.
    Taking them as a whole, the general movements of wages are exclusively regulated by the expansion and contraction of the industrial reserve army, and this in turn corresponds to the periodical alternations of the industrial cycle.

    Q19 : Lets now turn to the other big economic issue, inflation. What do you see as its cause and consequences?
    Marx: Here we are concerned only with inconvertible paper money issued by the State and given forced currency.
    Pieces of paper on which money-names are printed, such as £1, £5, are thrown into the circulation process from outside by the State. In so far as they actually circulate in place of the same amount of gold, their movement is simply a reflection of the laws of monetary circulation itself. A law peculiar to the circulation of paper money can only spring up from the proportion in which that money represents gold.
    In simple terms the law referred to is as follows: the issue of paper money must be restricted to the quantity of gold ( or silver ) which would actually be in circulation, and which is represented symbolically by the paper money.
    If the paper money exceeds its proper limit - the amount in gold coins of the same denomination which could have been in circulation - then, quite apart from the danger of becoming universally discredited, it will still represent within the world of commodities only that quantity of gold which is fixed by its immanent laws. No greater quantity is capable of being represented. If the quantity of paper money represents twice the amount of gold available, then in practice £1 will be the money-name not of  1/4 of an ounce of gold but of 1/8 of an ounce. The effect is the same as if an alteration had taken place in the function of gold as the standard of prices. The values previously expressed by the price of £1 would now be expressed by the price of £2.
    In such a case nothing would have changed, either in the productive powers of labour, or in supply or demand, or in values. Nothing could have changed except the money names of those values. To say that in such a case the workingman ought not to insist upon a proportionate rise of wages, is to say that he must be content to be paid in names, instead of things . All past history proves that whenever such a depreciation of money occurs, the capitalists are on the alert to seize this opportunity for defrauding the workingman.

    Q20 : What do you think of the idea of cutting taxes as a way of trying to improve the workers' position under capitalism?
    Marx: If all taxes which bear on the working class were abolished root and branch, the necessary consequence would be the reduction of wages by the whole amount of taxes which goes into them . Either the employers' profit would rise as a direct consequence by the same quantity , or else no more than an alteration in the form of tax-collecting would have taken place. Instead of the present system, whereby the capitalist also advances, as part of the wage, the taxes which the worker has to pay, he [ the capitalist ] would no longer pay them in this roundabout way, but directly to the State.


    Q21: Finally, there is a growing concern these days about pollution and the environment. Could you say something on this.
    Marx: The capitalist mode of production completes the disintegration of the primitive familial union which bound agriculture and manufacture when they were both at an undeveloped and child-like stage. But at the same time it creates the material conditions for a new and higher synthesis, a union of agriculture and industry on the basis of the forms that have developed during the period of their antagonistic isolation. Capitalist production collects the population together in great centres, and causes the urban population to achieve an ever-growing preponderance. This has two results. On the one hand it concentrates the historic motive power of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil. Thus it destroys at the same time the physical health of the urban worker, and the intellectual life of the rural worker. But by destroying the circumstances surrounding that metabolism, which originated in a merely natural and spontaneous fashion, it compels its systematic restoration as a regulative law of social production, and in a form adequate to the full development of the human race.
    Moreover, all progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress towards ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility.
    Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth - the soil and the worker.

    Q22: Would you like to address a special message to our readers?
    Marx: It is the working millions of Great Britain who first have laid down the real basis of a new society - modern industry , which transformed the destructive agencies of nature into the productive power of man. The English working classes, with invincible energies, by the sweat of their brows and brains , have called to life the material means of ennobling labour itself , and of multiplying its fruits in such a degree as to make general abundance possible. By creating the inexhaustible productive powers of modern industry they have fulfilled the first condition of the emancipation of Labour. They have now to realise its other condition. They have to free those wealth - producing powers from the infamous shackles of monopoly , and subject them to the joint control of the producers, who, till now, allowed the very product of their hands to turn against them and transformed into as many instruments of their own subjugation.
    The English working men are the first-born sons of modern industry. They will then, certainly, not be the last in aiding the social revolution prepared by that industry, a revolution, which means the emancipation of their own class all over the world, which is as universal as capital-rule and wage-slavery.

    A Note on Sources

    Every word in Marx's replies is taken from his actual writings, the only changes being to leave out, in some cases, introductory phrases or conjunctions. Nor have we indicated that we are sometimes quoting from different writings in the same reply.

    Q1 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy Lawrence and Wishart, 1971, p19-20
    Q2 Three separate passages from the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Progress Publishers, 1971 , p 25 , p13 , and p18 respectively.
    Q3 Capital Vol 3, FLPH, 1959, p 857-8Q4 Wage Labour and Capital M-E Selected Works, Vol 1, 1958, p90 Results of the Immediate Process of Production , appendix to Penguin Vol 1 of Capital, 1976 p1005-6
    Q5 Capital Vol 2, Penguin 1978 p177 Comments on Adolph Wagner's Lehrbuch , BICO. 1971, p22
    Q6 Three separate passages from Value, Price and Profit ,Peking, 1969, p54, 55 and 56
    Q7 Critique of the Gotha Programme p22-3
    Q8 First two and fourth paragraphs from Value Price and Profit, p 46 , p71 , and 78-9. Third paragraph from Results, p1069
    Q9 The Poverty of Philosophy FLPH ,1956 p196-7, Critique of the Gotha Programme, p16 Grundisse, Pelican, 1973, p158-9
    Q10 Critique of the Gotha Programme p18, Capital Vol 2, p434, Capital Vol 1 p188-9 footnote
    Q11 Critique of the Gotha Programme, p16 and p17-18
    Q12 Manifesto of the Communist Party, FLPH ,1954, p79-80
    Q13 First three paragraphs from Conspectus of Bakunin's Statism and Anarchy, The 1st International and After, Penguin, 1974 p 332, 338, and 335. The fourth paragraph from the Communist Manifesto p81 and p82 [re-translated from original German]
    Q14 Speech at the Hague Congress, The 1st International p324
    Q15 Communist Manifesto, p7
    7Q16 Theories of Surplus Value, Pt2 , Progress Pub., 1968, p527
    Q17 Capital,Vol 1, p218, footnote, Capital , Vol 2 , p486-7
    Q18 The first two paragraphs from Value , Price and Profit , p69, the other three paragraphs from Capital Vol 1 , p784 , p788, p790
    Q19 First three paragraphs from Capital Vol 1 p224-5. Last paragraph Value, Price and Profit, p65-66
    Q20 Moralising Criticism and Critical Morality, Collected Works, Vol 6 Lawrence and Wishart ,1976, p329
    Q21 Capital, Vol 1 p637-8
    Q22 Letter to the Labout Parliament, Articles On Britain, Progress Pub., 1975, p215 Speech at the anniversary of the "Peoples Paper", Articles On Britain, p261

    Thursday, July 19, 2007

    Suicide Bombers: Heroes or Villains? (2007)

    From the July 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    On the morning of 7 July 2005 the inhabitants of London awoke and prepared to go out for the day. Fifty-six of them were to die the victims of terrorist bombings. For twenty years in countries across the globe members of our class have been subjected to other such murderous outrages. What motivates the bombers and who supports their actions?

    One common response to an unpleasant or disturbing occurrence is to attribute bad intentions to others more often than we should given the evidence we have about their states of mind. If we believe we are under threat or are likely to be harmed by others there are at least four explanations we can adopt for their behaviour:
    1. It was unintentional – an accident.
    2. It was unintentional but arose from an unavoidable clash of interests.
    3. It was intentional and arose out of malice or the wish to cause deliberate harm.
    4. It arose from some personality or character defect in the other.

    In the case of terrorist attacks a common reaction is to attribute malice or other defect –an understandable reaction to emotionally disturbing events. But politically it is a dangerous one as it disposes of the need to examine the actions of the perpetrators more closely. This unconsidered reaction can be encapsulated in a catchy slogan such as "axis of evil". Each subsequent event can then be explained by this slogan and difficult or time-consuming analysis can be avoided. Thus in the popular imagination terrorist bombers remain "lunatics" and their activities labelled "irrational".

    Socialists challenge these reactions. We insist that emotion itself is not enough. Indeed while we share the understandable revulsion expressed by the majority of our fellow workers we insist that emotion must be accompanied by careful thought and analysis. Explaining suicide terrorist activity by reference to the make-up of the individual perpetrator while ignoring the social and political environment from which they come is inadequate. What needs to be understood is that far from being mad or lunatic or irrational, people and organisations who engage in suicide terrorism are in reality rational killers who employ violence to achieve specific political objectives.

    Terrorism uses violence, or the threat of violence, to achieve its ends. It is designed to have far reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target. It is at bottom political in its aims despite the high sounding phrases used to disguise that fact.
    One political analyst has examined the phenomenon in depth and has produced the following useful summary:
    "Terrorism is designed to create power where there is none or to consolidate power where there is very little. Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorists seek to obtain the leverage, influence and power they otherwise lack to effect political change on either a local or an international scale." (Bruce Hoffman: Inside Terrorism)

    The suicide terrorist differs from the "ordinary" criminal or lunatic assassin in that the suicide terrorist is not pursuing purely egocentric goals. They are not in the main driven by the wish to line their own pockets or to satisfy some personal grievance. It is important to see the suicide terrorist as fundamentally an altruist. He or she believes that they are serving a 'good' cause designed to achieve a greater good for a wider constituency (real or imagined) which the terrorists and their organisation purport to represent.

    Suicide terrorism has its own strategic logic. To treat it as "irrational" or driven by religion or personal economic gain fails to take account of the facts concerning the social, historical and political conditions which give rise to it. Academic and other research in the field reveals a number of things not commonly believed or understood about suicide terrorists.

    Audrey Cronin – a researcher for the United States Congress – has reported that "most terrorist operatives are psychologically normal". Their attacks were always premeditated and the perpetrators were aware of the consequences of their actions to themselves and others. Scott Atran – a Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan – concludes that "Suicide terrorists on the whole have no appreciable psychopathology". A CIA study concluded from their investigations that there was: "No psychological attribute or personality distinctive of terrorists."

    The findings of a number of studies can be briefly summarised as follows:
    - Terrorists tended to be young men aged between 18 and 30.
    - They are in the main well adjusted in their families and liked by their peers.
    - They are often better educated and economically better off than their surrounding populations.· Personal despair is not a significant factor in their actions.
    - They are willing to sacrifice themselves for others and for what they see as the welfare of future generations.

    Not motivated by religion
    Despite the religious language in which the claims and statements of some terrorist organisations are made when looked at in a world wide perspective it has been found that religion is not a strongly motivating factor. Robert Pape of the University of Chicago has compiled the world's largest database on suicide terrorism including information on every attack reported between 1980 and 2004. His conclusions are:
    "The data show that there is far less of a connection between suicide terrorism and religious fundamentalism than most people think", and "Overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that terrorists view as their homeland". Such attacks are: "Mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism".

    To underline this one has only to recall that at the top of the suicide bomber league table are the secular nationalist Tamil Tigers operating in Sri Lanka and India. Other secular nationalist or separatist organisations who indulge in suicide bombing include the PKK and PFLP. Even in ostensibly Muslim countries secular groups are responsible for one third of all attacks.

    What then is there in it for the terrorist organisation?

    The characteristic mode of a terrorist attack is that of hit and run. For a relatively small organisation to directly take on the might of the armed state invites complete annihilation. Instead terrorist organisations use "cowardly" tactics such as ambush or hidden explosive devices set off by remote control. These tactics ensure a high survival rate for the terrorists. This is not the case with the suicide bomber where success inevitably means death. What are the calculations made by groups using these tactics?

    Suicide attacks are attractive as they offer a range of advantages:
    - The suicide terrorist has been described as the ultimate "smart weapon". The bomber can control the time and location of the attack so as to maximise the number of casualties and/or damage done to the target.
    - Suicide attacks attract wide media coverage giving maximum publicity to their supposed grievances and their determination to have them resolved.
    - The publicity for their cause leads to increased support by way of new recruits and political influence locally and also to increased funds. Following one female bomber's attack on an Israeli supermarket Saudi TV ran a 'telethon' which raised $100m for the organisation concerned.
    - Suicide bombings are often spectacular – think of those images of the Twin Towers – and they are frightening, disorientating, intimidating and psychologically disturbing.
    - They are cheap – typically around less than $100 for an attack on a target in Palestine – and success is virtually guaranteed. Moreover they do not need complicated and potentially expensive mechanisms of escape and safekeeping.
    - A successful suicide attack leaves no survivor to be captured and interrogated with the danger of their passing on information that might endanger other activists.
    - As killing operations they are effective – in the period mentioned earlier suicide bombings formed 3 percent of all attacks world wide but accounted for 48 percent of all deaths due to terrorism. In Palestine 2000-2002 suicide bombers accounted for 1 percent of all attacks but for 44 percent of all deaths due to terrorism.

    This is an impressive list of operational advantages for the organisation using such tactics. What then are the advantages or benefits for the perpetrators themselves?

    Researchers have found that what motivates most suicide bombers is a sense of outrage at a situation they find both oppressive and undignified. What must be understood here is that the term "suicide" is misleading. Those of us from a different culture find it difficult to comprehend that young people should deliberately undertake a course of action knowing with almost complete certainty that they will not survive the experience.

    The perpetrators and their families and communities do not see it like that. In particular activists operating within an Islamic frame of reference know that committing suicide is forbidden by the Koran. However they believe that there is a divine command to protect their religion and way of life from attack by infidel unbelievers. Verses from their holy texts can be quoted to justify this. By undertaking such attacks the activist is seen not as a suicide but as a martyr and as acting in a highly commendable way in line with a long and noble tradition.

    In addition a potential Islamic martyr is assured by elders and clerics that they will suffer no pain, will avoid the supposed horrific purification period in the grave, and will go straight to heaven. Martyrs are also allowed the privilege of ensuring that 70 members of their family also go to heaven.

    In the meantime the families left behind are assured of material support from various religious, charitable and philanthropic organisations – many of them with their own political agendas. The martyrs' families are also the recipients of a number of less economically tangible but nevertheless real benefits – the honour and respect of the community for example.

    Where they exist then the religious beliefs of suicide bombers act as an enabling factor and not as a motivating one - they are the lubricant in the engine not the petrol in the tank. And just as the IRA bomber did not intend to turn Protestants and agnostics into Catholics so Muslim suicide bombers are not in the business of religious conversion.

    There are patriotic, political, and nationalistic aspects to these altruistic acts which demonstrate how altruism – the undertaking of tasks primarily for the benefit of others – can be warped and distorted by political interests. The result is that this otherwise admirable human trait is made to work for the political interests of a minority bent on achieving political change often of an overtly nationalist kind

    Political agenda
    A brief examination of the political agendas of three organisations among many that advocate and pursue a policy of suicide bombing will illustrate what has been said above.

    Osama bin Laden's messages to the world are invariable couched in religious terms but in reality his first and abiding concern relates to political conditions in Saudi Arabia. He is driven by a strong desire to replace the present rulers there – possibly with himself though this is never explicitly stated – and with an obsession to end United States presence in the Middle East. Two thirds of all Al Qaeda attacks originate from countries with a US military presence not from for example Sudan or Iran – both strongly Islamic states.

    He castigates the United States because it supports regimes that he considers are corrupt, and because "It wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources" They should "Deal with us on the basis of mutual interests and benefits, rather than the policies of subjugation, theft and occupation."

    These demands seek alterations to geopolitical realities rather than changes in religious affiliation. After an analysis of bin Laden propaganda video tapes Fawaz Gerges of Columbia University has concluded that bin Laden and Al Qaeda are "religious nationalists" and that "under the thick layer of bin Laden's rhetoric and Islamic trans-nationalism lies an unconscious Saudi nationalist."

    The Islamic Resistance Movement – better known as Hamas – aims "to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine." That phrase is of course is double speak for the destruction of the state of Israel – not for religious reasons but for economic and political ones mainly to do with the dispossession and displacement of the Arab population living in Palestine prior to 1948.

    Article 12 of their "Covenant" or manifesto reads:
    "Nationalism, from the point of view of the Islamic Resistance Movement, is part of the religious creed. If other nationalist movements are connected with materialistic, human or regional causes, [the] nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement has all these elements as well." (Emphasis added).

    Islamic Jihad - also known as Hizballah (the Party of God) - is a radical Shia group formed in Lebanon in 1988. Their stated objectives include the expulsion of the United States and the French from Lebanon thus "Putting an end to any colonialist entity on our land" also expressed as "destroying American hegemony in our land." They claim to reject both Capitalism and Communism as both are incapable "of laying the foundations for a just society."

    Here again we have a radical group that has gained seats in the legislature of a country only to find that the economic realities are not capable of political manipulation to the extent that they might wish. Faced with a number of intractable economic problems and increasing social unrest Hizballah has had to act like any other capitalist party and enter into negotiations over competing interests so as to maintain a hold on political power.

    One further thing unites these organisations. They are led almost exclusively by members of what is an emerging privileged class. This class has its sights on political power and is intent on replacing the existing elite in societies and states that are not yet fully formed capitalist ones. They encourage and facilitate others to carry out acts of murder that they themselves are unwilling to undertake. In effect they are attempting to emerge as a new ruling class by clambering through the blood and over the bodies of our class.
    Gwynn Thomas