Monday, March 31, 2008

Poles Apart: Capitalism and Socialism As The Planet Heats Up

Socialist Party of Great Britain London Day School

We are pleased to inform you that the Socialist Party will be holding a half-day school on the politics of Climate Change at the Conway Hall, Holborn (nearest Tube station is Holborn) on Saturday the 5th of April 1pm - 5 pm.

There will be a guest speaker followed by a speaker from the Socialist Party, plus plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion on this critically-important topic. We aim to make this event engaging, educational and thought provoking.

The guest speaker, Glenn Morris of Arctic Voice, is a frequent visitor to Greenland and during the last 20 years has stayed with the indigenous Inuit people as a guest and a valued friend of the community. Glenn confirmed it was possible for the Inuit to travel through the pack ice by kayak by completing himself a 2000 km journey through the North West passage from Inuvik to Greenland. During his visits to the Inuit he has witnessed the disappearance of their traditional culture and how the impact of consumerism and market forces is bringing about rapid social change between generations and even within families. His presentation will focus on how climate change influences social change, including having a profound impact on the Inuit concept of the common ownership of land and the natural resources of Greenland.

Brian Gardner from the Socialist Party will then look at how capitalism is coping with the political, social and economic challenges of a rapidly-warming planet. Is there a solution available within the market and money system? What sort of society would socialism have to be to address this global challenge? And will Climate Change threaten or assist the likelihood of a global socialist society being established.

During the evening there will be a social - with free food and refreshments and possible entertainment - at the Head Office of the Socialist Party: 52 Clapham High St. All we ask is that if possible you make a small contribution to cover the cost.

For further information contact:


The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UN

Tel: 0207 622 3811

Email: spgb@worldsocialism.org

www.worldsocialism.org/spgb

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ronald Raygun

From the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back:

On this day in 1981 newspapers and other media outlets were filled with reports concerning the shooting of President Reagan. By way of contrast, the event received scant and scathing coverage in the Socialist Standard of May that year:

"As for the shooting of Ronald Reagan, we have no sympathy for the figureheads of the most violent and barbaric society the world has ever known: world capitalism. America is one of hundreds of states competing to see who can exploit their population most efficiently, and organising wars all in the interests of the privileged minorities (including Reagan himself) who profit from expanding markets. American expenditure on weapons of violent destruction is rapidly approaching $400 billion a year, that is more than twenty million pounds an hour. Massive military aid is given to murderous military regimes such as that in El Salvador. Each year millions die of starvation, while millionaires like Reagan are prepared to use any kind of violence to defend their privilege and profits. He represents a system in which those with power are free to kill, free to exploit.

So we will not shed any tears over Reagan's wounds; unlike his fellow capitalist rulers, President Brezhnev sent a telegram from Russia: "I wish you, Mr. President, a full and early recovery". President Zhao Ziyang of China was "shocked to hear of your being wounded...I wish you a speedy recovery", while the Pope and Prince Philip both organised prayers for Reagan...there are thousands of others being murdered all the time, for it is the poverty, the coercion and the frustration of the present system which provokes theft, despair and violence. Let Reagan think of that the next time he orders the murder of a few thousand people from Latin America or Vietnam or anywhere else in the name of "freedom".

RS

Saturday, March 29, 2008

50 M.A.D Years

March 2008 Socialist Standard

Editorial

  • The Disarming Truth

  • Regular Columns

  • Pathfinders The Socialist Gene

  • Cooking the Books #1 Marx and corals

  • Cooking the Books #2 Who would work for nothing?

  • Material World Still In Chains: South Africa After Apartheid

  • Pieces Together Tough At The Top?

  • Greasy Pole Flint's Hard Line

  • 50 Years Ago The Uses of Monarchy





  • Main Articles

  • To Campaigners for Nuclear Disarmament The first ban-the-bomb march from Aldermaston to London took place at Easter 50 years ago. We reprint here a leaflet we put out for the 1961 CND March.Work as it is (and could be).

  • War: the Socialist Attitude Since our formation in 1904 our response to the problem of war has clearly distinguished us from other organisations claiming descent from Marx and Engels and the early socialist pioneers.Profit laundering: what's justice got to do with it?

  • Basic Income: a dangerous reform The Green Party’s idea of paying everyone a minimum income whether or not they are working might seem attractive, but it won’t necessarily leave us better off.

  • Can the media be made democratic? That there was once a press free from commercial or governmental influence is a myth.

  • Labour In Hell: Mining Sulphur In Indonesia The plight of workers who extract sulphur from the Kawah Ijen volcano in eastern Java.

  • Nationalism and Culture Nationalism is a perversion of a shared identity in the interest of some local elite.

  • Ire of the Irate Itinerant Cartoon strip



  • Letters, Reviews, Obituary & Meetings


  • Letters to the Editor: 'Work and Leisure'; 'Northern Rock'; 'The Hull Floods'

  • Book Reviews: 'Anarchy Alive! Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory' by Uri Gordon; 'A Socialist Critique of the BBC, Albert Einstein, Amartya Sen and Muhammed Yunus' by Binay Sarkar; 'The Real Toy Story' by Eric Clark; 'Symond Newell and Kett’s Rebellion' by Peter E. Newell

  • Socialist Party Meetings: Central London, Manchester, Norwich, South London
  • Voice From The Back

  • The Obscenity of Capitalism; Not So Primitive; Loaded But Stupid; Toothless Watchdog; Transcendental Materialism


  • Friday, March 28, 2008

    Don't Vote For What You Don't Want

    Editorial from the forthcoming April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    We don’t have to accept the self-fulfilling prophecy that “capitalism is the only game in town”.

    Imagine that all the people in the world made a set of informed, collective and democratic decisions about what kind of system would best meet their needs and solve global problems. Would they choose a money and property system that forced nearly half their total number to try to survive on a dollar a day? Or would they prefer to organise production and distribution of goods and services on the basis of what they need, without the profit system?

    Would they, if and when given the chance to vote, do so overwhelmingly for candidates who—whatever labels they attached to themselves or their parties—stood for the continuation of some form of capitalism? Or would they elect delegates, from among their own number, to initiate the process of setting up and running a fundamentally new form of world society, a system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution?

    Would they embrace nationalism, involving armed forces paid to kill and injure other groups (“the enemy”) with whom they have no quarrel? Or would they regard themselves and behave as citizens of the world, regardless of any geographical, cultural or philosophical attachments they may feel?

    Would they divide themselves into classes, rich and poor, leaders and led, privileged and unprivileged, dominant and submissive, superordinate and subordinate, master and servant, powerful and powerless? Or would they, despite individual differences in abilities, personalities, interests, tastes, likes and dislikes, think and behave as members of the one human race, not perfect, sometimes fallible or irrational, but never deliberately cruel or anti-social?

    Whatever words they use to explain or sloganise their ideologies, all parties except the Socialist Party stand for the continuation of some form of capitalism. From their point of view, a vote for their own candidate is best; a vote for one of their competitors is second best. Not voting could be a worrying sign of alienation from the system. Worst of all, a vote for the Socialist Party candidate – or, where none stands, writing “Socialism” across the ballot paper – would indicate the beginning of a resolution to replace capitalism with socialism.

    Don’t forget:

    Before the first Labour government came into power, and when some members and supporters used to profess socialism as their eventual goal, there was some justification for the argument that: “The Labour hell is one degree cooler than the Tory hell.” So “Choose the lesser of two evils.”

    Today, after successive administrations of the same system, the difference in temperature is too small to get excited about. The same applies to others lining up to be our government—the Lib Dems, etc. We don’t want them and we don’t need them.

    Support for socialism isn’t a matter of campaigning to make the poor rich in today’s terms of material consumption. That wouldn’t be environmentally sustainable. The socialist aim isn’t even equality in the sense of sameness, like amounts of work contributed or goods and services consumed. Socialism is essentially about social equality, encouraging and enabling every human being to realise their full potential as giver and taker, not buyer and seller, in the context of society itself moving towards reaching its full potential.

    Anarchists against democracy (2008)

    Book Review from the March 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Anarchy Alive! Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory. By Uri Gordon. Pluto Press

    There are many currents of anarchism; some, often called anarcho-communist, hold political ideas not so different from our own. The course of the twentieth century, however, saw these currents fade, and by far the most common ‘anarchist’ today is the individualist or libertarian.

    Because they start from the premise that individuals exist independently of society and that the freedom of the individual ego is the most important thing in the world, these anarchists have always had a problem with democracy. They have never been able to see why anybody should be bound by a majority decision; the individual must be free to ignore or even defy such a decision if he or she wants to, otherwise they would be being oppressed. That would be “the tyranny of the majority”. Some anarchists have been able to overcome this prejudice and try to practise democratic forms of organisation: but not Gordon, who launches a head-on attack on the whole concept of democratic control and accountability.
    "“Democratic discourse assumes without exception that the political process results, at some point, in collectively binding decisions. That these decisions can be the result of free and open debate by all those affected does not change the fact that the outcome is seen to have a mandatory nature. Saying that something is collectively binding makes no sense if each person is to make up their own mind over whether they are bound by it. Binding means enforceable, and enforceability is a background assumption of democracy. But the outcomes of anarchist process are inherently impossible to enforce. That is why the process is not ‘democratic’ at all, since in democracy the point of equal participation in determining decisions is that this is what legitimates these decisions’ subsequent enforcement – or simply sweetens the pill. Anarchism, then, represents not the most radical form of democracy, but an altogether different paradigm of collective action”.
    Socialism, on the other hand, does represent the most radical form of democracy. The socialist justification for accepting majority decision-making is that people are not isolated individuals but only exist in and through society, and that when there is a genuine community (either society as a whole or some collectivity within society) the best method of deciding what it should do, on matters of common interest to it as a community, is by a vote of its members after a full and free discussion. Of course the field of community activity has its limits and some decisions should be left to the individual (what to wear and eat, for instance), but we are talking about matters which concern the community as a community with a common interest.

    Capitalism resolves the problem by leaving common goods (basically, the means of production) in minority hands, so there is no popular debate about their use; socialism holds these goods in common, under democratic control; the anarchist trend is to minimise these common goods by wanting them small scale and being anti-technology, which as we can now see is more to do with a failure to resolve the democratic issue than a particular dislike of technology per se. Why do these anarchists like laptops but hate computer factories? The answer is a dislike of democracy.

    Gordon’s book is an attempt to give some theoretical coherence to the tactics and ideas of the anti-authority wing of the amorphous anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation movement. He openly admits they do not function democratically and is proud of it. They come together loosely – organise wouldn’t be the right word – in networks which do hold meetings with each other from time to time to discuss some activity. But those attending are not mandated delegates from their group, and no group is bound by any decision that might be reached; they are free to take it or leave it. Some do, some don’t. At demonstrations some will give out leaflets to the general public arguing a case, others will throw stones at the police. Hence the “pluralism” which Gordon celebrates but which is really a cop-out.

    Gordon goes further and argues that no individual anarchist or group of anarchists should be held accountable to anyone for what they do; they are quite free to take any action they like and that is how it should be. In answer to Jo Freeman’s important 1970 pamphlet The Tyranny of Structurelessness in which she argued that the absence of formal, democratic structures leads to domination by informal elites, Gordon says “Freeman’s proposals run against the grain of anarchist priorities”. He sees nothing wrong with some informal group of anarchists taking the initiative, it being up to others to decide whether or not to go along with it. The latter seem suspiciously like followers to us but in Gordon’s eyes they are merely showing “solidarity” with the unaccountable group. He doesn’t seem to realise that the same might be said of those who vote for some capitalist politician or party.

    Gordon also discusses other matters such as the attitude of anarchists towards violence, technology and nationalism, which are just as confused – or “pluralist” – as over decision-making. But his book is well-written and can be read on a know-your-opponent basis.
    Adam Buick

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    The Socialist Gene (2008)

    The Pathfinders column from the March 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Is there a gene for socialism? Are we hard-wired to organise a communal society, share everything and live a peaceful and democratic life in harmonious coexistence with nature and other species? Is anybody asking this question? If not, why not?

    Let’s face it, people have asked much sillier questions. Recent examples have included: is there a gene for aggression, or ‘obedience’, or ‘homosexuality’, or whatever human behavioural tic is currently inspiring tabloid copy-editors. Usually they are on the lookout for ways of explaining away character traits which their readers regard as undesirable, and which through cod-genetics can be made to look like evolutionary flaws or dead-ends, or else alibis by which the readers can avoid taking any personal responsibility. Serious researchers do ask questions about cooperation, altruism, sacrifice and other socially more admirable traits, but of course, ‘serious’ research is all a matter of what funding bodies are willing to pay for, so while the military will certainly be interested in studies which show aggression to be innate, and which thereby affirm the importance of the military, it is hard to see who, in a capitalist world, would be very keen to bankroll research pointing to the desirability of abolishing banks.

    What’s odd about these questions is that they run counter to the trend of all the evidence, which suggests that genes do not operate in isolation but in matrices, and that one single gene can never be identified as being attributable to one single and discrete characteristic, either mental or physical.

    This is strange when you consider how the brain works, and how it is popularly supposed to work. Nobody expects to be able to extract a single brain cell and find, encoded within it, a phrase from Romeo and Juliet or a picture of a Ford Mondeo. We realise the brain doesn’t work like that. With a hundred trillion neural connections to play with, the brain distributes its memory and cognitive processes in various different places at once, operating as an integrated network which, like the internet, is even capable to some extent of rerouting round damage and adapting spare parts to new uses.

    The nature and adaptability of the brain ought to be a clue. Humans are so adaptable that it is doubtful if anything beyond basic bodily functions can be ascribed to nature. But this doesn’t stop the speculation, because there is a small window of opportunity, via the study of identical twins, to explore the ‘nature’ side of the nature-nurture debate. For, argue people like Steven Pinker, we are not born a ‘blank slate’, so something must be genetically already in there. Something, but what? That’s the trouble. Until some intelligent life form is discovered in the cosmos, which can be studied and compared, there is no way to guess what is natural and what isn’t.

    A recent article in New Scientist illustrates the problem, when it asks whether political leanings are encoded in the genes (Feb 2). Some disparity between voting habits of identical twins is cited in support of this outlandish claim, which is being seized on by political scientists as a potential magic key to unlock the voter’s brain. Identical twins, it seems, are more likely to give the same answers to political questions than non-identical ones. While interesting, this is hardly ‘startling’, as the article puts it. If identical twins are truly identical, and if they are brought up together, it is not very surprising that they would develop the same views. The article does not mention identical twins who were brought up separately, however. If one twin is brought up in an impoverished mining town and the other in a mansion, would they still hold the same political views? If they did, this really would be startling. And where non-identical twins hold different views, no mention is made of a comparison with non-identical non-twins and whether the two correlate. This is significant because different siblings within a family experience that family differently, and differential experiences of attention, affection, expectation and responsibilities may well affect their subsequent political development. Lastly, we are told that identical twins tend to give the same answers, but we are not told what these answers are. Logically, of the 30,000 twins studied over two decades in Virginia, one would expect by random chance a greater number either of Democrats or Republicans. This information is not provided, possibly because the obvious conclusion to be drawn from either case is that humans are genetically disposed to be one or the other, which is plainly nonsense.

    Genetics has made huge strides in understanding the biological basis of many diseases which afflict humanity. Less successful have been attempts to investigate the supposed biological basis of human behaviour. As has often been stated in this magazine, our ability to think may be innate. What we think about, and what we then do about it, are not. Were it otherwise, there would be no point anyone discussing anything.
    Paddy Shannon

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (39)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 39th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1213 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Labour, the state and the market
  • Can the media be made democratic?
  • "Their Country Needs You"
  • This week's top quote:

    "We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies . . . The world is a collage of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable laws of business. The world is a business . . . !!" [Jensen in Network by Sam Hedrin, 1977.]

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    The Visible Man

    From the Marx and Coca-Cola blog:

    Last week Barack Obama gave a big speech in Philly on race in America, mostly to distance himself from comments made by his former pastor (apparently when you run for president the opinions of people you know automatically become your own). At the risk of losing my ultra-leftist street cred, I have to say that some of his speech was not all together wrong. It will probably be the only thing intelligent this entire presidential campaign season.

    Before I get into the speech I should talk about how race is treated in this country. America likes to think of itself as a classless society. Instead we have race, which has become a short-hand for class. Black equals poor, and white equals rich, and we ignore the other races. While it's true that black people make up a disproportionally percentage of the poor, we ignore the fact that 75% of black people live above the federal poverty line. We also ignore the fact that the majority of people below the poverty line are white. If you are black and have a job, or are white and have trouble paying your rent, you don't exist. And starting after the repeal of Jim Crow, and accelerating in the 80's, this view has been the consensus in politics and the media. It has turned public policy (and consciousness) away from important economic issues to one of trifling identity politics. And that brings me back to Barack's speech:

    About 16 minutes into it he actually challenges the liberal consensus of race (the speech itself is 37 minutes long. About 36:30 longer than the typical campaign speech). He starts by doing something I've never seen a politician do, and probably never will again: he puts an issue in historical context.

    "But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

    Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

    Legalized discrimination -- where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments -- meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations.

    That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities....And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods -- parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement -- all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us."

    This pretty much sums up where we are today. While slavery and Jim Crow where embodied in the legal code, and since the laws where changed are now gone forever. The problems today are economic. They are built into the capitalist system, and they can't be legislated away. And like all issues of class it's an issue of power and opportunities. That's why things are slow to get better. Liberals like to attack racism today like racism of old; through busing or affirmative action or other legislative programs. It rarely helps though. The hardships facing working class black people today are the same facing all people of the working class. Barack touches on this:

    "But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

    In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race.
    Their experience is the immigrant experience -- as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor.

    They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.

    So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time."

    He goes on to explain how this misplaced anger fueled the rise of Reaganism. And he is right. Since black equals poor concerns about closing factories, failing schools, and substandard health care aren't important to white voters. They only care about flag burning or gay marriage or whatever. That's why in the last four years we've seen Democrats move away from identity politics back to economic populism; they got tired of losing elections. Obama especially can't be seen as the "black candidate" if he wants to win. In the primary so far he's done really well with guilty upper class whites, and poorly with working class whites.

    "Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle-class squeeze -- a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.

    And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns -- this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding."

    In this speech at least Barack seems to understand that the economic infrastructure is the root of the problems in America, though he characterizes capitalism-as-usual as some defect in an otherwise healthy system. Like most politicians he will only mention the "c-word" (that's "class" get your mind out of the gutter) if he talking about that mythical "middle-class" every likes to think they belong to. As long as the working class anger is directed at other races, and not at the capitalist system "a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many." will continue. Towards the end he gives this prescription for what ails us:

    "This time we want to talk about how the lines in the emergency room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care, who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

    This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life.

    This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

    This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag.

    We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned."

    But talking is all he's going to do. Poking around his website it appears to me that his reforms are rather weak. He talks a lot about tax breaks. Tax breaks for "working families" (I guess us single people don't work. We just sit around in front of our laptops all day.), tax breaks for college students, tax breaks to strengthen marriages, blah blah blah tax breaks. His health care plan seems to consist of expanding medicaid, and putting a cap on private insurance premiums. He wants to make NAFTA friendlier not end it. He pays the typical Democratic lip service to labor unions and welfare programs. Nothing I would call "change".

    I have the audacity of hoping that Barack's speech is part of a larger change in the way Americans are thinking about society. There seems to be a movement in thought towards a politics of class. Instead of looking at a world split up between races or genders or civilizations or whatever we need to look at a world divided between those who control the wealth and those that labor to create it. Only if we can unite for our economic interest can we have real change we can believe in.

    But what do I know. I'm just a poor white dude. I don't really exist.

    JM

    Monday, March 24, 2008

    Basic Income: a dangerous reform

    From the March 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The Green Party’s idea of paying everyone a minimum income whether or not they are working might seem attractive, but it won’t necessarily leave us better off.

    In 1795 the magistrates of Speenhamland in Berkshire started a system under which farm labourers on poverty wages had their income supplemented from the poor-rates. The result was predictable. Farmers were encouraged to keep, and even to extend, paying low wages. The payment from the poor-rates became a wage subsidy to employers. Today, the Green Party wants to revive this under the name of “Citizen’s Income”, which they describe as “an automatic, unconditional payment sufficient to cover basic needs of every individual, working or not”.

    This is more commonly called a “Basic Income”. Daniel Raventós, whose study (and advocacy) of the proposal has just been published by Pluto Press, goes into more detail:

    “Basic Income is an income paid by the state to each full member or accredited resident of a society, regardless of whether or not he or she wishes to engage in paid employment, or is rich or poor or, in other words, independently of any other sources of income that person might have, and irrespective of cohabitation arrangements in the domestic sphere” (Basic Income: The Material Conditions of Freedom).

    He lists various things in its favour: that it would abolish poverty, enable us to better balance our lives between voluntary, domestic and paid work, empower women, and “offer workers a resistance fund to maintain strikes that are presently difficult to sustain because of the salary cuts they involve”.

    Maybe it would do some of these things, but two linked questions arise. Where’s the money going to come from, and how likely is it to be introduced in the form its advocates want?

    Abolishing means-tested benefits such as income support (in Britain) and paying every citizen a state income equal to the official poverty line (of 60 percent of average after-tax income) wouldn’t be cheap. Raventós, basing himself on income tax returns in his native Catalonia, calculates that it could be done by means of a 50 percent flat-rate tax on all incomes. Others have suggested that it might be financed by a wealth tax or by a tax on pollution, but Raventós wants to show that his scheme could be financed merely by redistributing the money the state already collects and spends on family allowances, pensions and means-tested benefits, without any extra taxes. In other words: that the total amount of money paid by the state either as benefits or tax concessions would remain the same, merely distributed differently amongst workers. As we said of the 1943 Beveridge Report that laid the foundations of the post-war “Welfare State” in Britain: it would be “a reorganisation of poverty”.

    Raventós lists various objections to the Basic Income scheme, basically that it would reduce the incentive to work, an argument he is able to refute; but he misses the main objection that, like the Speenhamland system, it would be a wage subsidy to employers. To understand this, we need to look at the economics of wage labour in some detail.

    Labour market forces bring it about that the income of workers is more or less what they need to keep their working skills up to scratch and to raise a new generation of workers. At one time, in the early days of capitalism, workers’ incomes were made up exclusively of what their employer paid them. Since the introduction of pay-as-you-earn income tax and the “Welfare State” matters have become more complicated. The income of many workers is now made up not only of their take-home pay from their employers but also of various payments from the state, mainly family allowances but also tax credits for the worst paid.

    If a basic state income of say, £200 a week (or £10,000 a year), was brought in, this would upset the balance: market forces would tend to bring about a new equilibrium, with those workers who currently get no extra income from the state (those without a dependant family) seeing their take-home pay from employers tend to fall by £10,000. Of course it wouldn’t be as simple as this since in many cases the extra state payment would be compensating for the abolition of family allowances, but there would in general be a strong downward pressure on wages and salaries.

    That there would be a tendency for something like this to happen has been recognised by less naïve advocates of Basic Income than Raventós. C. M. A. Clark, who wrote a study of the effects of the introduction of a partial Basic Income scheme in Ireland (The Basic Income Guarantee: Ensuring Progress and Prosperity in the 21st Century, 2002), admitted this was a possibility. In a previous article in the American Journal of Economic Issues in June 1996 he and fellow author Catherine Kavanagh had gone into more detail. They described part of the “conservative case for a Basic Income” as follows:

    “By partially separating income from work, the incentive of workers to fight against wage reductions is considerably reduced, thus making labour markets more flexible. This allows wages, and hence labor costs, to adjust more readily to changing economic conditions” (See Here).

    And “the liberal argument against Basic Income” as being that:

    “if a Basic Income policy is seen as a substitute for a full employment policy in the traditional Keynesian sense, then it is a major step backward and would harm all workers. The Basic Income would, in effect, subsidize employers, allowing them to lower wages . . .”.

    Clark and Kavanagh conclude, rather over-optimistically:

    “Whether a Basic Income policy would weaken or strengthen workers’ power in the labor market is a more difficult question to answer. It would depend on the context in which the Basic Income policy was instituted and the support workers already received from the state. The existence of a minimum wage, strong unions, and enforced pro-labor legislation might be essential to preventing the Basic Income from becoming a wage subsidization policy”.

    Clark and Kavanagh are being over-optimistic because no union can be that strong and because no state could sustain “pro-labor legislation” for any length of time that adversely affected profits.

    Unions do have some power, but it is limited to working with favourable labour market forces to get higher wages and better working conditions. When, however, labour market conditions are against them the most they can do is to slow down the worsening of wages and working conditions. If all workers got a basic income from the state of £5000, let alone £10,000, a year, this would change labour market conditions in favour of employers. In pay negotiations they would point to the state payment as evidence that they did not need to pay so much in wages or salaries to maintain their employees’ accustomed standard of living. The workers and their unions would realise this and the negotiations would be about what the reduction in wages and salaries should be. If the reduction was less than the Basic Income then the unions would be able to cry victory, but a reduction there would be. It is just inconceivable that a state payment to everybody in work would not adversely affect wages and salaries.

    As to “pro-labor legislation”, this presumably means that the state should take the side of workers against employers. Many Labour and similar governments have come into office promising to benefit wage and salary earners, and all of them have left office without doing this; most in fact have done the opposite and have ended up restraining wages and cutting state benefits. Why? It is not because they were sell-outs or were not determined or resolute enough. It was because they were attempting the impossible: to make capitalism work in the interest of the wage and salary working class.

    Capitalism runs on profits, derived from the unpaid labour of workers, and can only run as a profit-making and profit-accumulating system in the interest of those who live off profits, i.e., the capitalist class who own the means of production and employ others to operate them. Any government has to accept this and that, if it’s not to provoke an artificial economic crisis, it has to give priority to profit-making over “pro-labor” legislation. This is why Labour and similar governments have always failed.

    In fact, insofar as Basic Income is seen as a “pro-labor” measure as it is by Raventós, then that is a reason why it is never likely to be introduced, at least not in the form that people like him want. As we saw, Raventós puts forward as an argument for Basic Income that it would “offer workers a resistance fund to maintain strikes that are presently difficult to sustain because of the salary cuts they involve”. But can anyone realistically imagine that any government would bring in a measure that would make striking easier for workers? Already, today, there are provisions to cut state benefits paid to strikers. No state is going to shoot itself in the foot by undermining in this way the profitability and so the competitiveness of enterprises operating from within its borders.

    So, if a Basic Income scheme is ever introduced, it’s not likely to be more than some limited reform of the tax and benefits system. But even it were to be introduced in full it could turn out to be counter-productive for the working class by leading to an across-the-board decrease in wages.

    Adam Buick

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    War: the socialist attitude (2008)


    From the March 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
    Since our formation in 1904 our response to the problem of war has clearly distinguished us from other organisations claiming descent from Marx and Engels and the early socialist pioneers.
    We analyse social affairs in class terms. We approach problems in the field of economics and politics from a consideration of what we see as being the real interests of the world working class. It is our contention that there are only two classes in present day society. Firstly, the working class, who collectively produce the wealth of society and who, in order to live, have to sell their ability to work for a wage or a salary. Secondly, the capitalist class who accumulate profit through the economic exploitation of the working class.
    This situation leads to an inevitable conflict of interests and the generation of social and economic problems that cannot be solved while capitalism of whatever form continues. Commodity production (production of wealth for sale with a view to profit) inevitably brings conflict over access to markets and sources of raw materials, and for the control of trade routes, and for strategic point around the globe. Attempts are made to resolve these conflicts through discussion and diplomacy. Where diplomacy fails there remains the threat of force of arms to get what is wanted. From time to time this clash of interests breaks out in armed conflict. For the Socialist Party “capitalism and war are inseparable. There can be no capitalism without conflicts of economic interest.” ( SPGB: War and the Working Class. 1936. p.1)
    Within a year of our founding the Party published an article putting forward our view on war. In it the author wrote:
    “I do not think it will be questioned by any socialist that it is his duty to oppose the wars of the ruling class of one nation with the ruling class of another, and refuse to participate in them.” (‘The curse of national prestige.’ Socialist Standard, August 1905.)
    This has been our consistent view ever since. So long as the working class continue to support capitalism so long will its wars, and preparations for war, continue. Before the mass slaughter of the First World War we argued that because wars were the outcome of economic and strategic conflicts between the capitalists of the various nations any attempt to abolish war while those economic conflicts remained was bound to be futile. International meetings passing pious resolutions aimed at achieving “universal disarmament” were doomed to failure. This is what one early member wrote in December 1910 about a pre-World War I peace campaign:
    “[That] the ‘anti-war campaign’, as such, is, from the working class standpoint, absurd. Just as the class struggle cannot be abolished save by abolishing classes, so it is impossible for capitalist nations to get rid of the grim spectre of war, for Capitalism presupposes economic conflicts which must finally be fought out with the aid of the armed forces of the State.” (‘Socialism and the anti-war campaign.’ Socialist Standard, December 1910.)
    The only solution to war and the myriad other problems that face the workers of the world is to abolish capitalism and replace it with socialism. This involves democratic political action by a majority of the working class who understand the need for change and know how to bring it about.
    We do not call for people to love one another (though we are not opposed to that of course) rather we appeal to the workers of this and other countries to recognise their common class interest and to organise consciously and politically to gain the political power necessary to dispossess the owning class – to strip them of their right to own the means of life – and to put in its place a system of common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production – socialism.
    Socialism will be a classless, propertyless and moneyless world community of production directly for use without the mediation of buying and selling. Nothing else will suffice. Abolition of class ownership will result in the abolition of conflicts of interest both between the owners and the non-owners and also between competing national groups of owners organised politically into armed nation states. We can conceive of no situation in which we would give our support to either side in any of capitalism’s armed struggles.
    The role of the Socialist Party in helping bring socialism about is one of agitation and education. We are an instrument to be used by a conscious working class once the need for a revolutionary social change is recognised. Because they don’t stand for socialism, we are “hostile to every other Party”, even to those which claim to have socialism as their goal.
    Much of our argument with the left-wing revolves around their demands for reforms. Most radical left-wing parties say (or in the case of the Labour Party used to say) that their goal is “socialism“. However they also pursue reforms of capitalism as “stepping stones” to socialism. Any political party doing this soon find themselves saddled with the problems inevitably associated with the running of capitalism.
    In an article written in the Journal of Modern History on the eve of the Second World War the historian Harry J. Marks dealt with the collapse of the German Social Democratic Party as a revolutionary party in 1914. He encapsulated and highlighted the dangers to a working class movement inherent in the pursuit of reforms. The author wrote that:
    “By accepting the policy of the German Government on August 4, 1914, as fundamentally its own, the role of this enormous organisation as an independent factor in world history sank to insignificance and became no more than that of a cog to gear the labour movement into the German war machine.” (Harry J. Marks: ‘Sources of Reformism in the SDP of Germany 1890-1914.’ Journal of Modern History XI (1939) p. 334.)
    Our hostility therefore is no mere semantic quibble. It goes to the heart of our case against adopting the “something now” approach to problems, including the problem of war. Unlike those on the left who are choosy as to which wars they object to, we in the Socialist Party are against all of capitalism’s wars. Nor do we single out one or two aspects of war – atomic weapons, or land mines, or poison gas, or the use of child soldiers – we oppose the system that give rise to these things.
    Both the established capitalist class and those intent on joining them by force of arms need these weapons to defend and advance their interests against threats from competing groups of capitalists also armed to the teeth to defend their interests. The working class on the other hand have no such interests to defend. The workers have no country. What they do have is a common interest in making the world the common heritage of all who live in it.
    Gwynn Thomas

    Saturday, March 22, 2008

    Water Wars

    From the Class Warfare blog:

    Foreign Policy In Focus reprints an excerpt from Chapter 5 in Maude Barlow's latest book, Blue Covenant The Global water crisis and the coming battle for the right to water:

    “The three water crises – dwindling freshwater supplies, inequitable access to water and the corporate control of water – pose the greatest threat of our time to the planet and to our survival. Together with impending climate change from fossil fuel emissions, the water crises impose some life-or-death decisions on us all. Unless we collectively change our behaviour, we are heading toward a world of deepening conflict and potential wars over the dwindling supplies of freshwater – between nations, between rich and poor, between the public and the private interest, between rural and urban populations, and between the competing needs of the natural world and industrialized humans.”

    At the moment, 215 major rivers and 300 groundwater basins and aquifers are shared by two or more countries, creating tensions over ownership and use of the precious waters they contain. Coming across this link I was immediately reminded by Fred Pearce’s piece in last November’s New Statesman.

    Pearce observes that in the last three decades, the global population has doubled and water consumption has increased threefold. - “largely because, tonne-for-tonne, modern ‘high-yielding’ crop varieties often need more water than the old crops” - sparking a real danger that quarrels over the most necessary of resources could erupt into violence.

    Says Pearce:

    “A typical Westerner consumes, directly and through thirsty products like food, about a hundred times their own weight in water every day. That is why some of the great rivers of the world, such as the Nile, Indus, Yellow River and Colorado, no longer reach the sea in any appreciable volume. All their water is taken”

    “Many parts of the world, notably the Middle East, are running out of water to feed themselves. In response, a vast global trade is emerging. Not in water itself, but in thirsty crops like grains and sugar and cotton. Effectively the UK imports 45 cubic kilometres of water every year embodied in such crops – much of it from poor and arid lands.

    “Economists call this the ‘virtual water trade’. Many countries would starve without it. But as more and more countries run short of water, the trade will be disrupted. And the threat of wars over water will grow."

    Focusing on the crisis in the Middle East, Pearce notes: “Israel’s relations with its other neighbours are poisoned by its insistence on controlling the watershed of the River Jordan, its main source of water. The 1967 Six Day War was, according to former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s memoirs, fought as much for control of the River Jordan as for land. Israel hangs onto the Golan Heights less for military reasons than because it is where the river rises.”

    A cursory reading of the broadsheets uncovers a constant “constant drip-drip of stories about water riots in Pakistan, Mexico, India, China, Indonesia and elsewhere. The world is awash too with disputes over international rivers that threaten to become full-blown wars as water shortages grow”.

    Many a current water-fuelled dispute is the legacy of colonial rule argues Pearce:

    “The 1947 partitioning of India split control of the River Indus. Now India and Pakistan are at odds over a new Indian hydroelectric plant that, Pakistan claims, threatens its British-built irrigation schemes, which supply most of the country’s food. India’s control over the Ganges causes both floods and droughts in downstream Bangladesh.

    “In Africa, Britain left behind a Nile treaty that gives all the waters of a river that flows through ten countries to the two most downstream: Egypt and Sudan. Egypt now threatens to wage war on anyone upstream -- such as Ethiopia - who takes so much as a pint pot of water from the river.”

    Meanwhile, ongoing quarrels concern Chinese dams being built on the Mekong in Southeast Asia, and complex conflicts in central Asia, where upstream hydroelectric dams that keep the people of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan warm in winter disrupt water supplies for the huge cotton plantations of downstream Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

    Elsewhere the Iraqi and Syrian government are set to contest Turkish dams upstream on the Tigris and Euphrates and which threatens the water supply to millions.

    In a section of her book, Maude Barlow focuses on the how the water problem is becoming a major issue for US foreign policy planners, and which is worth quoting at length:

    “Water has recently (and suddenly) become a key strategic security and foreign policy priority for the United States. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9-11, protection of U.S. waterways and drinking water supplies from terrorist attack became vitally important to the White House. When Congress created the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, it gave the department responsibility for securing the nation’s water infrastructure and allocated US$548 million in appropriations for security of water infrastructure facilities, funding that was increased in subsequent years. The Environmental Protection Agency created a National Homeland Security Research Center to develop the scientific foundations and tools to be used in the event of an attack on the nation’s water systems, and a Water Security Division was established to train water utility personnel on security issues. It also created a Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center for dissemination of alerts about potential threats to drinking water and, with the American Water Works Association, a rapid e-mail notification system for professionals called the Water Security Channel. Ever true to market economy ideology, the Department of Homeland Security’s mandate includes promoting public-private partnerships in protecting the nation’s water security.

    “…Water is becoming as important a strategic issue as energy in Washington. In an August 2004 briefing note for the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a think tank that focuses on the link between energy and security, Dr. Allan R. Hoffman, a senior analyst for the U.S. Department of Energy, declared that the energy security of the United States actually depends on the state of its water resources and warns of a growing water-security crisis worldwide. “Just as energy security became a national priority in the period following the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973–74, water security is destined to become a national and global priority in the decades ahead,” says Hoffman. He notes that central to addressing water security issues is finding the energy to extract water from underground aquifers, transport water through pipelines and canals, manage and treat water for reuse and desalinate brackish and sea water – all technologies now being promoted by U.S. government partnerships with American companies. He also points out that the U.S. energy interests in the Middle East could be threatened by water conflicts in the region: “Water conflicts add to the instability of a region on which the U.S. depends heavily for oil.

    “Continuation or inflammation of these conflicts could subject U.S. energy supplies to blackmail again, as occurred in the 1970s.” Water shortages and global warning pose a “serious threat” to America’s national security, top retired military leaders told the president in an April 2007 report published by the national security think tank CNA Corporation. Six retired admirals and five retired generals warned of a future of rampant water wars into which the United States will be dragged. Erik Peterson, director of the Global Strategy Institute of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization in Washington that calls itself a “strategic planning partner for the government,” says that the United States must make water a top priority in foreign policy. “There is a very, very critical dimension to all these global water problems here at home,” he told Voice of America News. “The first is that it’s in our national interest to see stability and security and economic development in key areas of the world, and water is a big factor with that whole set of challenges.” His centre has joined forces with ITT Industries, the giant water technology company; Proctor & Gamble, which has created a home water purifier called PUR and is working with the UN in a joint public-private venture in developing countries; Coca-Cola; and Sandia National Laboratories to launch a joint-research institute called Global Water Futures (GWF). Sandia, whose motto is “securing a peaceful and free world through technology” and that works to “maintain U.S. military and nuclear superiority,” is contracted out to weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin by the U.S. government, to operate, thus linking water security to military security in a direct way.

    “The mandate of Global Water Futures is twofold: to affect U.S. strategy and policy regarding the global water crisis and to develop the technology necessary to advance the solution. In a September 2005 report, Global Water Futures warned that the global water crisis is driving the world toward “a tipping point in human history,” and elaborated on the need for the United States to start taking water security more seriously: “In light of the global trends in water, it is clear that water quality and water management will affect almost every major U.S. strategic priority in every key region of the world. Addressing the world’s water needs will go well beyond humanitarian and economic development interests. . . . Policies focused on water in regions across the planet must be regarded as a critical element in U.S. national security strategy. Such policies should be part of a broader, comprehensive, and integrated U.S. strategy toward the global water challenges.”

    “Innovations in policy and technology must be tightly linked, says the report, no doubt music to the ears of the corporations that sponsored it. GWF calls for closer innovation and cooperation between governments and the private sector and “redoubled” efforts to mobilize public-private partnerships in the development of technological solutions. And, in language that will be familiar to critics of the Bush administration who argue that the United States is not in Iraq to promote democracy, but rather to secure oil resources and make huge profits for American companies in the “rebuilding” effort, the report links upholding American values of democracy with the profit to be gained in the process: “Water issues are critical to U.S. national security and integral to upholding American values of humanitarianism and democratic development. Moreover, engagement with international water issues guarantees business opportunity for the U.S. private sector, which is well positioned to contribute to development and reap economic reward.” Listed among the U.S. government agencies engaged in water issues in the report is the Department of Commerce, which “facilitates U.S. water businesses and market research, and improves U.S. competitiveness in the international water market.””

    The latter paragraph says much. There’s profits to be had! And note Coca-Cola’s ominous and timely entrance. What is of key importance to the main players here is less that clean and fresh water is available to humanity – they don’t give a fuck for human life, evidenced by US foreign policy since 1945 to say the least – but the amount of bloody profit the trade in water can generate. If they could not make a cent, they’d show no interest at all and sod the millions dying of thirst. If they’re thirsty they can always buy coca-cola.

    In an age when we have the scientific and technological know how to enable us to solve almost all our problems, it is indeed an indictment on capitalism that so many humans, living on a planet, seven eighths of which is covered in water, have so little access to it; more, that a tiny minority wish to profit by controlling our access to it.

    A sane, moneyless society, in which the artificial constraints of profit have been removed from production, in which the satisfying of human need is paramount, in which people have free access to the benefits of civilisation, humanity would address water shortages with the building of more reservoirs, water channels, water desalination plants, making obsolete all current processes that waste water.

    John Bissett

    Friday, March 21, 2008

    Jockeying to avoid being put at a competitive disadvantage

    In a interview with the (London) Times (13 March) just before the summit of EU leaders in Brussels over the weekend, José Manuel Barroso, the (ex-maoist) President of the Europe Commission, revealed, perhaps inadvertently, one of the built-in obstacles under capitalism standing in the way of international agreement about what to do about the threat of climate change brought about by global warming.

    Barroso told the Times that:

    “. . . the EU could take protective measures sector by sector to safeguard European production of cement or steel. We do not want to put our energy-intensive industries in a situation of disadvantage in competitive terms, so that is why we will have measures that we are ready to take if there is not a global [climate] agreement”.

    What the EU wants to avoid, the report stated, was “big companies relocating from Europe to countries that refuse to join a post-2012 climate change agreement in order to avoid the EU’s tough CO2 targets” and so “gain a competitive advantage by continuing to allow cheap, high-pollution production”.

    Who’s going to get a competitive advantage? That’s the bottom line in the negotiations between capitalist states about what to do about global warming. America refused to sign up to Kyoto because its government reckoned that to do so would place it at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis China (which was not required to sign) and Europe (which burns proportionately less fossil fuels for energy than the US). They were probably right that this would have been the case. As an alternative way to reduce CO2 emissions than cutting back on burning fossil fuels, the US, which has easy access to coal and oil within its borders, proposes to continue burning them but to develop a way of extracting the CO2 before it is released into the atmosphere.

    The EU seems to have decided that this time China, which has access to huge reserves of coal, has to be included along with other big developing capitalist countries. In fact the Times report, headlined “EU threatens to punish climate deal rebels”, made it clear that China as well as America was in their sights. “America and China”, it began, “face trade protection measures from Europe if they fail to join a global climate deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol”.

    Kyoto expires in 2012 but the EU has already committed itself to reducing CO2 emissions after that date. But it is beginning to be concerned that this commitment may put its energy-intensive industries - particularly cement and steel, as mentioned by Barroso - at a competitive disadvantage if some countries refuse to sign up to a new Kyoto. Clearly influenced by intense lobbying by the European capitalist corporations with money invested in steel producing and cement making, Barroso was clear enough:

    “We want a binding decision now that we will take measures to protect these industries in 2012 in case there is not agreement. It would be completely foolish for the European Union to export the pollution and the jobs because globally the effects on climate change will be just the same, only we lose the jobs and our industry”.

    True, if steel production and cement making were transferred from Europe to some country with no or lesser restrictions on CO2 pollution this would leave overall world CO2 pollution the same. This is known as “carbon leakage” and the EU leaders, in a statement issued after their summit, backed Barroso’s threat, declaring that they “recognize[d] that in a global context of competitive markets, the risk of carbon leakage is a concern in certain sectors such as energy intensive industries particularly exposed to international competition that needs to be analysed and addressed . . . so that if international negotiations fail, appropriate measures can be taken”.

    So, watch out then for tough negotiations at the conference in Copenhagen in 2009 when a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol is supposed to be negotiated, when each capitalist state will be trying to ensure that it is not put at a competitive disadvantage by what is agreed. Will an agreement be reached? Perhaps. Will it go as far as scientists say it should? That must be open to serious doubt.

    Adam Buick

    Thursday, March 20, 2008

    Flint's Hard Line (2008)

    From the March 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
    “She prefers to ignore the real complications hampering so many people when they must face the need to survive through employment”
    Anyone with a surname like hers will need to become insensitive to pedestrian jokes about it so we shall not risk adding to Caroline Flint’s irritation with feeble cracks about her being hard and unyielding or liable to strike sparks to light your fag. In any case it is clear that her confidence is more than enough to brush off such attempts at humour; for example on a recent episode of The Politics Show she showed herself to be a match for the suffocating conceit of Andrew Neill, persisting in making her point – albeit a typically weary New Labour one – in spite of the presenter’s contemptuous interruptions. Obviously, this Blair Babe will not easily be shaken off her ascent of the Greasy Pole. So it was significant that, as the newly-promoted Minister of State for Housing and Planning she should choose to make her first serious bid for self-publicity with a proposal that unemployed council house tenants who fail to display the appropriate energy in looking for work should risk eviction. This was serious stuff, a challenge to the crustier of Labour’s dogmatists.
    Housing
    In any effective sense, council housing originated just after the 1914/18 War, when councils were able to build on a large scale by access to government subsidies. Massive slum clearance was encouraged by the 1930 Housing Act and the housing shortage after the Second World War saw the peak of council building, including huge inner-city estates some of which have acquired such grim reputations. Flint acknowledged that her speech was likely to stimulate a “strong debate”. That should be a warning to us all for in the mouths of New Labour leaders “debate” does not mean a free discussion culminating in a popular, constructive conclusion. Rather it serves notice that, to keep favour with as many voters as possible, there will be an enforced policy change emphatic enough to amount to a denial of what once stood as the party’s inviolable, defining principles. Council housing was originally designed to provide homes built to standards way above those of profit-hungry private contractors to be available at rents, set by the democratically elected council, affordable by the ordinary, working people in their area. This article of faith for Labour supporters encouraged numerous architects’ fantasies of sensitively designed estates where the lucky inhabitants could take their ease in safely pedestrianised areas beneath lush green trees. For the tenants an estate address was not supposed to act as a status symbol; but more a badge of communal security.
    Unemployment
    As she is the Minister for Housing, it has to be assumed that Flint is aware of councils’ statutory duty to provide for homeless people (although the exact definition of “homeless” can vary from one council to another and from time to time). In fact this legal obligation has caused families and individuals with what are known as “multiple problems” – mental and physical illness, addictive personalities, a history of institutional care – being placed by councils in their own, more easily available, accommodation, thus creating the dreaded “sink estates”. It is common for unemployment to be a contributory symptom of those other problems, which may be behind Flint’s sneer at the “no one works around here” culture which she said takes a grip on some communities. The most casual of visits to some estates can impress with the aimless apathy there, too often taken out in assaults on the fabric of the area. In one such high-rise hell in West London people hang dazedly around as the entrails of telephone junction boxes lie strewn across the pavement. A tenant who had just emerged from a long prison sentence was welcomed home by a TV set aimed at him from an upper level balcony (it missed – he later beat up the person responsible). Such places have a stigma of their own, often originating in the very sense of a supportive community which the estate pattern of living was supposed to encourage. A recent letter in the Guardian recalled that when the writer first moved to York she was advised that to try for a job with her address on the Tang Hall estate was to ensure that her application would be ignored; much more hopeful to say she lived in Heworth, which had a happier reputation.
    Contracts
    Flint suggests that this can be dealt with by making new council tenants sign a “commitment contract” to seek and participate in skills training programmes with a view to employment. She did not say whether the opposite process would apply – whether anyone who had demonstrated their commitment by training and getting a job would then be entitled to council housing. She prefers to ignore the real complications hampering so many people when they must face the need to survive through employment. Her argument was effectively exposed by Adam Sampson, chief executive of Shelter:
    “The government wants to return Britain’s unemployed to the workhouse by throwing them onto the streets. What is being proposed would destroy families and communities and add to the thousands who are already homeless.”
    In many cases a worker who is unemployed, untrained and aimless, finds their situation complicated by their making unwise life choices. Flint herself should be aware of this and should take it into account when she is ranting about the unemployed and the homeless. When she was 23, a trainee manager at the Greater London Council who had been through college where, like so many other prospective Labour ministers, she smoked cannabis, she met a man while on holiday in Tunisia. Perhaps it was his commitment to training and employment, and that of his family, which impressed her; his father was Tunisia’s Attorney General and he himself was a high earning stock market dealer. At any rate, she said he swept her off her feet; two children were born to them but the man’s family disapproved and eventually the couple married hastily in London where the reality of family life in poverty confronted them and essentially destroyed their relationship. Alleging that he had two convictions for violence, one of them against the police, Flint obtained a Restraining Order against him and soon afterwards he was arrested and deported on the grounds that he had no permanent home in this country. A year later they were divorced, leaving Flint to brush off the experience as an event which “unfortunately didn’t work out”.
    Blears
    In any case the episode did not hamper her career, which took her through jobs in local government and the GMB trade union until she was elected for Don Valley in the Labour landslide of 1997. In the Commons she voted as the whips required on matters such as Trident renewal, ID cards, the war in Iraq, justifying Andrew Roth’s assessment of her in the Guardian as a “loyal Blairite with a soft line in stooge questions” - which shows just how hard an operator she really is. She held a series of minor jobs until in the reshuffle of January this year she was appointed to Housing and Planning, a job which entails her attending the Cabinet. She may prefer to forget her victory in a 2007 poll to find “The Sexiest Female Politician” as well as her experience as Campaign manager for Hazel Blears’s attempts to become the Deputy Leader, in which Blears came sixth. Unless she takes consolation from the fact that this may have opened the way for her own attempt at a top job some time in the future.
    Ralph Critchfield

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (38)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 38th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1211 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • World hunger: A global problem
  • Terrorism and political violence
  • Political ideas in Africa
  • This week's top quote:

    "When that crisis comes the great act of confiscation will be the seal of the new era; then and not till then will the knell of Civilisation, with its rights of property and its class-society, be sounded; then and not till then will Justice - the Justice not of Civilisation but of Socialism - become the corner-stone of the social arch. (E. Belfort Bax, Concerning Justice, 1887.)

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Bubble Troubles


    From the World Socialist Party of the United States website.
    The hangover
    The intoxicating US housing boom has come to an end. Now the economic hangover has arrived. What is likely, at the very least, is a prolonged crisis of the credit system. And as credit greases the wheels of capitalism this is no laughing matter for the capitalist class.
    The Federal Reserve has been doing its best to ease the pain—the pain for the investment banks, that is. Barkeep Ben Bernanke announced on March 11 that the Fed intends to generously fund the banks “rehab,” loaning them the incredible sum of 200 billion dollars in return for the tainted “mortgage-backed securities” as collateral. This is very much like a doctor who prescribes a little hair of the dog to an alcoholic as a “cure” for a hangover. At best, such bailouts will probably only buy a bit of time.
    And not very much time at that—judging from the string of collapses in recent weeks. On March 7, the investment fund Carlyle Group Corp. announced that it was unable to meet $37 million in margin calls from its lenders and a few days later it was reported that the 85-year-old investment bank Bear Stearns, which suffered huge hedge fund losses, is being bought out by JPMorgan Chase in a fire sale, with money loaned by the Fed.
    Far from calming the financial waters, the actions of the Fed have drawn attention to the severity of the crisis and also accelerated the decline of the dollar. It is also doubtful that the Fed will have anywhere near the financial assets needed to bailout more than a selected few of the mass casualties that the crisis will claim.
    Somehow the system as a whole—the once inebriated economic body and its battered financial organs—will have to expel the vast quantities of toxic loans that are clogging it up. When other countries face this dilemma, the US has always been the first to prescribe a bit of shock therapy, making use of capitalism’s natural function of regurgitation. For some reason or another, though, the US policy makers are sentimental when it comes to their own venerable financial institutions.
    The US government that hasn’t lifted a finger to assist the massive number of workers who face foreclosure, while acting quickly to pump money into the accounts of those who have made a good living picking the pockets of those workers. The direct impact of the crisis involving “subprime loans” (once more accurately referred to as “predatory loans”) has already lead to hundreds of thousands of foreclosures, with the overall number of foreclosures up 79% in 2007 alone. Clearly, the US policy makers have every intention of shifting as much of the pain from the crisis onto the working class as is economically and politically possible.
    Empty wealth
    One benefit to workers from the crisis, however, is that it rips great holes in some of the smug arguments that economists and politicians have tried to pass of as “common sense” (and which seemed plausible enough during the long speculative boom in the US that basically stretches all the way from the mid-1990s until recent months). For instance, it is becoming increasingly self-evident that the prices of many “commodities” lack any real basis and are thus “fictitious” prices to a large extent.
    There is an important distinction, in other words, between the products of labor, which are the basis of any society and happen to take the form of commodities in a capitalist society, and the wide variety of things that have a price and thus take the commodity-form but are not the product of labor and thus lack intrinsic value. When capitalism is humming along, no one is very concerned with whether a commodity has intrinsic value or not, so long as it can be sold on the market. Thus, “mortgage-backed securities”—to take one example—were as good as gold for many years.
    Now that the housing bubble has collapsed, however, such securities are being shunned, as it is clear that a great number of borrowers will be unable to meet their mortgage payments. The “value” (=price) of this commodity has plummeted, wiping out a vast amount of wealth that existed on paper, while leaving a hard lump of debt behind.
    It is hardly surprising that people flock to gold during a crisis. That behavior is not motivated by a human love of shiny metal objects. Rather, gold has served as the “general equivalent” or money historically precisely because gold has intrinsic value as a product of labor and that value exists in a form that is inherently more durable and divisible than most other products of labor.
    In short, a crisis reveals the crucial distinction between commodities in the fundamental sense (as the capitalistic form of products of labor) and commodities in the purely formal sense (as anything with a price). Call it the revenge of the labor theory of value.
    There is some irony in the collapse of the housing bubble revealing the distinction between intrinsic value and mere price. Because one of the initial attractions of the housing market to investors, after their dizzying experience with stock-market gambling, was that it appeared to be terra firma. After a vast amount of paper wealth was wiped out of 401k plans and mutual funds circa 2000, it seemed that real-estate was a secure investment in tangible asset.
    But to describe a house as having intrinsic value turns out to only be a half-truth. Sure, the house itself has intrinsic value, like any other commodity in the fundamental sense just described, according to the socially necessary labor expended to produce it. In other words, the house’s value (as a structure) stems from the value of the building materials used and the amount of labor expended to assemble them.
    However, in addition to the house itself, the price of the land upon which it is built represents a large part of the overall price—and the bulk of the price in the case of large urban areas. And that land has no intrinsic economic value, apart from whatever labor was necessary to clear trees or previous buildings out of the way so that construction could commence. In this sense, real-estate prices are a reflection—more than anything else—of the purchasing ability of the prospective buyers. So it is no surprise that those prices rose rapidly along with the increasing abundance of cheap credit.
    Buyers in each particular housing market tried to convince themselves why the price of their own house would never fall (whether because of the desirability of their neighborhood, the solid construction of the house itself, the strong local economy, or some other reason), but in fact there is no intrinsic value around which the price must gravitate—meaning that there is no limit for a price to greatly rise or fall.
    Profit-creation
    Another central (but often ignored) fact which a crisis helps shed some light on is the origin of profit. During a speculative bubble, when mutual funds or housing prices are steadily rising, profit seems to arise magically from the very act of investment. No one is too bothered to ponder how this feat of alchemy is achieved. When the bubble eventually bursts, it may dawn on some that the actual creation of profit—rather than the mere transfer of money from one wallet to another—involves more than simply letting go of funds and then waiting for an even bigger sum to return in boomerang-like fashion.
    And if the person bothers to investigate the matter further, it would become clear that profit is generated in the production process. It is there that surplus-value is generated as the difference between the value of the labor-power the workers sell to capitalists in return for their wages and the value those workers add to the commodities produced through their actual labor. In contrast, much of the profit that appeared to be created during the boom was in fact an expression of the expansion of debt.
    The housing boom, like the stock market boom that preceded it, was praised as a way for workers to move up the social ladder, and it seemed that there was enough profit to go around to swell the ranks of the capitalist class. From today’s perspective, however, we see that workers are left in a worse situation than ever following the speculative boom, facing foreclosures and wiped out retirement funds. The only upward mobility in the end was for the money itself, which was coaxed out of the pockets of workers to pad the salaries of the much heralded “financial wizards.”
    Granted, in any speculative bubble the expansion of consumption also leads to an increase in productive activity, but it is certainly not the case that the enormous gains made through speculation reflect or correspond to an expansion in surplus-value created via production -value. Rather, the increase in the “value” (=price) of real-estate, stocks, or whatever the mania is centered on is fed by the speculation itself. Prices go up as more money is thrown at the object of speculation, and with those rising prices even more money is invested. But there is nothing to sustain the high prices once the speculative demand dries up. This is quite different from an increase of investment in productive activity that results in products containing surplus-value that are sold to realize a profit.
    A comparison to eating, rather than the earlier hangover analogy, may highlight the distinction between mere speculation and investment in production. Simply put, speculation is not all that different from a person who consumes a large amount of food without performing any physical activity whatsoever. The result, unless the person enjoys a remarkable metabolism, is weight gain.
    During the housing boom, the economy swallowed a tremendous amount of credit that for the most part was not directed towards productive activity, and this inevitably led to a flabby result. The speculative feast was good fun for those who partook of it, but now the heavy debt burden is making it hard for the capitalist economy to function, with the credit crisis also hindering investment in productive activities.
    But it is not as if a “muscle-bound” capitalism is a lovely state of affairs either. As mentioned earlier, the surplus-value that arises from productive activity is nothing more than unpaid labor extracted from the working class. So there is no profit without exploitation.
    A “fundamentally strong” capitalism (as it is called by those critical of finance capital but enamored by capitalism itself) may conjure up an image of a healthy organism, but really it is more appropriate to picture a young Arnold Schwarzenegger prancing around the stage of a Mr. Universe contest clad only in his over-inflated muscles and surreal suntan. It is not true health or strength, just the appearance of it. And just as Arnie worked out incessantly in the pursuit of muscles for their own sake, without any concern for their actual use, the productive activity under capitalism is only a means of building bigger and bigger profits, rather than being primarily a way to produce material wealth to meet the needs of society’s members in accordance with their collective and democratic will. There are all sorts of side-effects from the mad pursuit of profit, both in the short- and long-term, similar to how Mr. Schwarzenegger’s steroid-fueled body-building in his younger years resulted in open-heart surgery by the time his muscles had sagged with age.
    Workers cannot be indifferent to a crisis, no matter how much we are disgusted by the predictable pendulum swing between “boom” and “bust” (and the sudden mood swings it causes among our capitalist rulers), because our lives are directly influenced by today’s financial turbulence. But at the same time, we have no interest whatsoever in thinking up ways to put capitalism “back on track” or make it “healthy” again. Even when the system is in tip-top shape it works directly counter to the interests of workers.
    The crisis will not miraculously or mechanically turn every worker into a socialist, as some pseudo-Marxists fervently hope, but it does at least create a situation where socialists may find workers more willing to consider an alternative to capitalism. It is up to us, as socialists, to present that alternative in a convincing way based on our understanding of the essential nature and limitations of the capitalist system.
    Michael Schauerte

    Sunday, March 16, 2008

    What Marx Should Have Said To Kropotkin

    The following is the transcript of a talk given by Adam Buick to the 1994 Socialist Party of Great Britain Summer School, which was held that year at Ruskin College in Oxford, England.

    I once read a book which contained a sentence which began "As Marx said to Lenin ..." This would not have been a physical impossibility, as Marx’s life and Lenin’s life did overlap for 13 years. But quite why - and how - Marx would have confided his political views to a schoolboy in provincial Russia was not explained. In short, it never happened nor was it plausible to imagine it could have happened.

    Marx-Kropotkin meeting on the other hand, though it never did happen, could well have. Kropotkin was born in 1842, Marx in 1818 so, although Marx was a generation older, they could have met and discussed (just as Marx had in fact met and discussed with the three founding fathers of modern anarchism, Proudhon, Bakunin and Max Stirner).

    If Marx and Kropotkin had have met, it could have been on two occasions: in 1876-7 when Kropotkin arrived in England after making a dramatic and well-publicised escape from a Russian prison, or in 1880-1 when Kropotkin again lived in England for a while (before going to France - and ending up in a French prison).

    As a matter of fact, I think Marx would have been quite keen to have met Kropotkin on both these occasions. In the last years of his life (he was to die in 1883. aged 65) Marx took a great interest in Russia. He had always seen Tsarist Russia as a threat to democratic, let alone socialist advance in Western Europe and was interested in the prospects of an anti-Tsarist revolution there. He learned Russian and began to study in detail its history and social and political structure.

    Kropotkins reputation during Marx’s lifetime was not so much as an anarchist but as a Russian revolutionary with socialist leanings and as a geographer and explorer. Kropotkin came from a very privileged background. A member of the old Moscow aristocracy and a hereditary prince, he had been enrolled in the elite corps of pages, a military academy that supplied personal assistants to the Tsar. He had himself been the Tsar’s personal page for a while, but when it came to choosing which regiment to be an officer in he opted not for some prestigious one but for a regiment of Cossacks in Siberia a first sign that he was becoming disillusioned with the Tsarist regime. In Siberia, where he did his exploring and geological studies, his liberal sentiments grew turning in revolutionary ones, especially after a visit to Switzerland in 1872/3 where he joined the IWMA (International Working Mens Association, or First International). On his return to Russia he became involved in a revolutionary circle, of the "go to the people" variety rather than the conspiracies to assassinate Tsarist officials and even the Tsars that later developed. He got arrested and was imprisoned, escaping, as I have mentioned, in 1876.

    Marx would have loved to have met such a person and to have discussed with him the prospects for an anti-Tsarist revolution and for socialism in Russia including the Russian peasant commune (or mir). But the title of this talk is not "What Marx Would Have Said to Kropotkin". but what "Marx Should Have Said to Kropotkin". So what, then, should Marx have said?

    Three things:
    1. "Don’t call me a State Socialist! I was putting forward a case for abolishing the State while you were still a toddler".
    2. "With regard to paying people in labour-time vouchers in the early days of Socialist society, you were right and I was wrong. This was a silly, unworkable idea".
    3. "Like me. You’re a Socialist. We both want a stateless, moneyless, wageless society. Why then do you feel you have more in common with non-socialist opponents of the State than with me? After all, your disagreement with them is over ends, while you’re disagreement with me is only over means".

    Marx
    Most people in this room will already know either from reading Marx themselves or from hearing the arguments that Marx was not what in the 1880s and 1890s was called a "State Socialist" but that, on the contrary, he was what might be called a "no-State Socialist". This, however, is not what most people out there, including many otherwise well-informed people, think. The myth of Marx the Statist is widely accepted, as a result, it has to be said, not just of his critics but also of many (perhaps even most) of those who have regarded themselves as his supporters.

    But it is a myth and one that I’d like to begin by demolishing. The French marxologist, Maximilien Rubel, in an article first published in 1973 entitled "Marx: Theorist of Anarchism" has even argued that Marx was one of the pioneers of modern anarchism! I’m not sure I’d want to call Marx an anarchist without qualification, but I think a strong case can be made out for seeing Marx as the first person to put forward a full theory of no-state communism. Marx was, if you like, the first coherent and consistent theorist of an anarchist communist society. The quotes that I’ll be using to show this are mostly taken from Rubel’s article.

    Marx became a Socialist, or Communist as it was then known and as Marx generally described himself, sometime in 1843. Before that he had been a simple Democrat and active as the editor of a Cologne newspaper financed by the radical section of the Rhineland capitalists and which advocated political democracy for Prussia (which governed the Rhineland) and Germany generally.

    At this time Marx accepted the view of the then dominant school of political thought in Germany that of Hegel that the State was a higher realm of human activity than the realm of everyday economic activity ("civil society"). This was because, whereas in their everyday economic activity humans were acting in their own individual selfish interest (as they had to, to survive), the State was the realm in which they pursued the common good, the general interest of all. So the State in concrete terms, the law-making and law-enforcing institutions of society (the government, the parliament, the courts, the army, the police, prisons) was seen as representing the interests of the community as a whole. As indeed it still generally is seen.

    Actually. Hegel was a great deal more philosophical than this, speaking of the State as the embodiment of reason, etc. He also saw the existing Protestant Christian Kingdom of Prussia as filling this role. But Marx and the group of Young Hegelians to which he then belonged argued that the State would not become the representative of the whole community until and unless all its citizens had an equal say in its decision-making processes, until, in other words, it had become a Democratic State.

    When Marx became a Communist and came to reject individualism as the regulating principle of everyday economic life his perspective altered. The establishment of Communism would mean that it would be the realm of everyday economic activity that would become the realm in which humans pursued the common interest they would no longer be individuals trying to make an independent living in conflict with all others trying to do the same, but members of a real community cooperating to meet their needs. This meant that there would no longer be any need for another, separate and superior, realm of activity in which the common interest was pursued. There was no need, in other words, for a State.

    In fact, once he had become a Communist Marx came to see the State as a false (or at least only a very partial) community and as a realm that only needed to exist where individualism was the regulating principle of everyday life. It was an institution that was only needed, and only arose, out of such conditions, in order to restrain economic individualism in case it should tear society apart.

    Marx expressed these views in the first article he wrote after becoming a Socialist/Communist published in 1844 and called "On the Jewish Question". This was the question of whether or not Jews who did not convert to Christianity should be granted political and civil rights (in Prussia at that time only Christians could vote, be civil servants, army officers, etc). Naturally. Marx argued "yes", but went on to argue that "political emancipation", or the establishment of a Democratic State with equal political rights, for all, did not amount to full human emancipation.

    Political emancipation and a Democratic State, he pointed out had been achieved in the US but humans there were still not in conscious control of their destiny as their lives were still dominated by money and the need to acquire it to survive. Human emancipation, could only be achieved in a communist society where needs would be satisfied directly without having to go through the medium of money. Such a moneyless, communist society would not require a State, not even a democratic one, since there would then no longer be any need for a separate, political realm in which the general interest was pursued this would be being done directly at the level of everyday life.

    As Marx put it in the philosophical terms in which he then expressed himself:
    "Man must recognise his own forces as social forces, organise them, and thus no longer separate social forces from himself in the form of political forces. Only when this has been achieved will human emancipation be complete" ( Jewish Question, 1844. Early Texts, p. 108).

    So, what Marx was advocating was a society without money and without a State an anarchist communist society, if you like. And this remained his goal for the rest of his life, as a few quotes will confirm:
    "The existence of the State and the existence of slavery are inseparable" (1844 article, Early Texts, p. 213).

    "[The proletarians] find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consists, have given themselves collective expression, that is, the State. In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State" (1845, German Ideology, p. 85).

    Particularly significant is what he wrote in 1847 in The Poverty of Philosophy. This is a criticism of the economic views of Proudhon, the man who is regarded by Anarchists as the founder of modern anarchism. Proudhon wanted a society without government, a society he called "Anarchy". However, he was not a Socialist or Communist but an advocate of various cranky financial reforms in the context of a completely free market economy. In fact he was a bitter opponent of Communism as he believed that this would immensely increase the power of the government and turn people into State slaves (the common bourgeois objection to communism at the time.

    So it is very relevant how Marx dealt with Proudhons views. Naturally, he shows that a free market economy based on free credit is not the answer. Communism is, but Marx underlines that this will be a society without a State:
    "Does this mean that after the fall of the old society there will be a new class domination culminating in a new political power? No ... 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" (Poverty of Philosophy, 1847. Pp 196-7).

    Exactly the same point is made in the 1848 Communist Manifesto:
    "When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of the associated individuals, the public power will lose its political character" (1848 Communist Manifesto, p. 81).

    After the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871 Marx was called upon to write what amounted to an obituary for it on behalf of the General Council of the IWMA. He wrote various drafts for this statement which was published under the title The Civil War in France. In one of these drafts Marx wrote:
    "This was, therefore, a Revolution not against this or that, Legitimate, Constitutional, Republican or Imperialist form of State Power. It was a Revolution against the State itself, of this supernaturalist Abortion of society, a resumption by the people for the people of its own social life. It was not a revolution to transfer it from one fraction of the ruling class to the other, but a Revolution to break down this horrid machinery of Class-domination itself" (p. 166).

    This was an exaggerated description of what the Paris Commune was about (it was not the attempted socialist revolution that this suggests) and it was no doubt because of this that Marx did not include this passage in the final version. But it does show very clearly that Marx thought that the socialist revolution had to be a revolution against the State, not a revolution to establish a more powerful, centralised State.

    I only want to give one more quote from Marx but a very significant one as in it he uses the actual word "Anarchy". In the course of the dispute that broke out in the IWMA after the suppression of the Paris Commune, Bakunin circulated a document in which he claimed Marx stood for a new State in which a new ruling class of ex-workers would rule over the mass of workers who would remain exploited and oppressed. Marx wrote some notes in the margin of his copy of Bakunin’s pamphlet. Some are just words like "idiot" and "ass" but others are more substantial, including the following:
    "All Socialists understand by "anarchy" this: the aim of the proletarian movement, the abolition of classes, once achieved, then the power of the State, which serves to keep the great producing majority under the yoke of a small exploiting minority, will disappear and the functions of government will be transformed into simple administrative functions"(1874).

    Here Marx is saying, in explicit terms, that the communist society he sees as the aim of the working class movement is to be a no-state, no-government society. Here Marx is proclaiming himself to be an . . . . anarchist communist. Eight years before Kropotkin.

    Kropotkin
    There can be no doubt that Kropotkin was a Socialist in the sense we use the term. In fact he probably did more than any other well-known 18th century Socialist to promote the idea that Socialism means not just a stateless but also a moneyless and wageless society a society where the principle "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" would apply fully, where individuals would have free access to goods and services according to their own self-defined needs and without rationing of any kind. Kropotkin, in fact, always regarded himself as a Socialist and always called himself a Socialist.

    Here, for instance, is what he wrote in an article in an English magazine in 1887:
    "Common possession of the necessaries for production implies common enjoyment of the fruits of the common production; and we consider that an equitable organisation of society can only arise when every wage-system is abandoned, and when everybody, contributing for the common well-being to the full extent of his capacities, shall enjoy also from the common stock of society to the fullest possible extent of his needs "(1887, Anarchism Communism: Its Basis and Principles, p. 59).

    The Swiss Jura Federation of the IWMA adopted "complete communism" as its aim in 1880. Previously it had stood for the common ownership of all productive resources but for a person’s share in consumer goods and services to be proportional to the number of hours of work they had performed. Kropotkin and others criticised this as being only "incomplete" or "partial" communism and argued that a consistent communism implies free consumption according to individual needs as well as common ownership.

    At this time Kropotkin (like many others) felt that capitalism could not last into the 20th century and that therefore a socialist resolution was more or less imminent. His articles from this periods (1880s) all advocate that the aim of this revolution should not be the formation of a revolutionary government nor the institution of a so-called "Workers State" (he actually used the term) but the immediate establishment of full communism.When a number of his articles from this period were collected together and published (in French, the language he wrote them in, though from 1886 he resided permanently in England till returning to Russia in 1917 after the overthrow of the Tsar) in 1892, Kropotkin gave the book the title The Conquest of Bread. This well sums up what he thought the revolution should be all about: not about conquering political power and setting up a new political regime (as had happened many times in France without altering the position of the majority of the people), but about meeting the immediate consumption needs for food, clothing and shelter of the impoverished majority. To this end. he advocated that all food, clothes and houses in areas won by the revolution should be put into a common pool to which every member of the oppressed class should have free access according to their basic needs.

    The words Kropotkin used for "free access" were (in French) "pris au tas", literally "taking from the pile" or, colloquially, "help yourself, take what you need". If this wasn’t done, said Kropotkin, then the Revolution would have failed. It has to be said, however, that Kropotkins conception of the form the Revolution would take was somewhat old-fashioned, even for his days: a series of town risings on the lines of the Paris Commune of 1871.

    One of the articles that later appeared in The Conquest of Bread was called "The Wage System" (written in 1888, it appeared as a pamphlet in English in 1889). In my opinion, it is the best refutation that has been written of the idea of Labour Time Vouchers an idea, of course, that Marx somewhat unwisely endorsed in his 1875 comments on the Gotha programme of the German Social Democrats. Kropotkin’s criticism was not in fact specifically aimed at Marx (he couldn’t have known what Marx’s views on the subject were since Marx’s comments had not been made public at the time Kropotkin was writing). It was aimed at all those, including some anarchists as well as the German Social Democrats, who advocated the use of Labour Time Vouchers (LTVs), labour certificates, labour checks, labour chits, labour money, labour notes as they were variously called, to regulate consumption in a Socialist society.

    Kropotkin put forward two simple, but effective arguments.

    First, that it just didn’t make sense to try to measure an individual’s contribution to production. This was impossible since production was not (or no longer) individual, but was cooperative and social. All the workers in a particular factory or mine contributed to the product, but only as a group, not individually. In fact, in the end all that is produced is the result of the collective work effort of all the producers in all farms, mines, factories, transport, services, etc. So:
    "No hard and fast line can be drawn between the work of one and the work of another. To measure them by results leads to absurdity. To divide them into fractions and measured them by hours of labour leads to absurdity also. One course remains: not to measure them at all, but to recognise the right of all who take part in productive labour first of all to live - and then to enjoy the comforts of life" (1888, The Wage System, p. 10).

    Kropotkin’s second argument was that, in any event, and even if production had still been individual, it still wouldn’t be fair to ration a person’s consumption by the number of hours worked. Because the skills they would be using would have been acquired only through society they weren’t born with them, but were benefiting from the experience of countless past generations. And the towns and factories they worked in, as well as the general level of education and culture, were likewise the result of the work of past generations. So:
    "A society that has seized upon all social wealth, and has plainly announced that all have a right to this wealth, whatever may be the part they have taken in creating it in the past, will be obliged to give up all idea of wages, either in money or in labour notes" (1888. The Wage System, p.8).

    What Kropotkin was claiming was that to use LTVs to regulate consumption would be to retain the wages system.

    If people are to be given labour vouchers to regulate consumption, this implies that goods and services have to be given labour-time "prices". I’ve got the word "prices" in inverted commas in my notes but I could as well have left them out, as it is clear that the LTV system does imply problems of supply and demand, inflation, devaluation, etc, even taxes, just like the ordinary monetary system does.

    When he endorsed LTVs Marx never said anything about this, though he had done earlier when he had discussed and dismissed as unworkable various schemes that had been put forward for introducing labour money under capitalism. What he failed to realise was that many of his objections also applied to the use of LTVs in Socialism. LTVs were, or would rapidly have become, labour money and we’d be back to buying and selling and capitalism.

    It was Kropotkin’s merit to have seen this and to have denounced the LTV system as nonsense a criticism of course which we have long taken on board.

    Kropotkin was also able to see that because they didn’t really aim at abolishing the wages system, groups like the German Social Democrats stood not for socialism, but for State capitalism. In fact Kropotkin must have been one of the first to use this term, as for instance in his autobiography Memoirs of A Revolutionist that first appeared in 1899. And in one of another series of articles later published (in 1913) in Modern Science and Anarchism:
    "We entirely differ from all the sections of state socialists in that we do not see in the system of state capitalism, which is now preached under the name of collectivism, a solution to the social question. We see in the organisation of the posts and telegraphs, in the State railways, and the like which are represented as illustrations of a society without capitalists nothing but a new, perhaps improved, but still undesirable form of the wage system" (1913, Modern Science and Anarchism, p. 170).
    "Anarchism cannot see in the next coming revolutions a mere exchange of monetary symbols for labor-checks, or an exchange of present capitalism for state-capitalism" (p.195).

    So, as I said, if Marx had met Kropotkin he ought to have conceded that he was wrong on labour-time vouchers and that Kropotkin was right.

    Of course Marx could have said that, in the end, there is no point in discussing now how goods should be distributed in the early days of Socialism, since that will have to depend on how much there was to distribute at the time of the socialist revolution. In fact this is what he did say. Kropotkin was fully aware of this and one of the themes of the Conquest of Bread was to show that enough food, clothing and shelter already existed, or could very rapidly be brought into existence, to satisfy people’s needs for them. He knew that his call for the revolution to bring in full communism immediately depended on this being the case, and he used his scientific approach and knowledge to demonstrate that it was. This was also the theme of his other book Fields, Factories and Workshops, the first edition of which came out in 1899. Whereas the assumption in the Conquest of Bread was that communism would and should be implemented to begin with in one town and its surrounding countryside, here Kropotkin set out to show that a self-sufficient anarchist communist society could be established in the two islands that make up the British Isles.

    In the 1880s, as I said, Kropotkin really believed that a Socialist revolution was more or less round the corner. When it became clear that this was not the case, he settled down to trying to give anarchism a scientific basis in much the same way as Engels did for socialism. And just as Engels spoke of "scientific socialism", so Kropotkin spoke of "scientific anarchism". Kropotkin was in fact better-qualified to do this than Engels since he was actually a scientist himself, having made a major contribution to an understanding of the geology and geography of North East Asia and nearly becoming the Secretary of the Russian Geographic Society (he had been offered the post, but turned it down in order to devote his life to revolutionary activity).

    Kropotkin’s great achievement here was undoubtedly his book Mutual Aid (1902), which used to be on the bookshelves of every Socialist (in fact we used to sell it as a Socialist book along with those of Marx and Engels). Subtitled "A Factor in Evolution", this was a refutation of the Social Darwinist view (then very popular as a defence and justification of capitalism) that capitalism was natural as "the struggle for existence" and "the survival of the fittest" were inevitable features of all animal societies, including those formed by the animal species homo sapiens.

    Kropotkin produced the evidence to show that "mutual aid" and cooperation had been an important factor in both biological and social evolution. It was the right book at the right time as far as Socialists were concerned and by the right person, a Socialist who had had some scientific training and experience. This no doubt explains its one-time immense popularity amongst critics of capitalism. It showed that nature was not like capitalism and that human beings were social, cooperating animals and not isolated, competing individuals. This has since been confirmed many times by other scientists anthropologists, ethnologists, sociologists and others and is now an integral part of the case for socialism as a refutation of the so-called "human nature" objection.

    Incidentally, the American scientific writer Stephen Jay Gould in his collection of articles Bully for Brontosaurus has a chapter on Kropotkin called "Kropotkin Was No Crackpot" in which he says that most of what Kropotkin wrote in Mutual Aid has stood the test of time, even if he did commit the same fallacy as the Social Darwinists (to reach the opposite conclusion, of course) of arguing from what happened in the rest of nature to what should happen in human society.

    Creating an anarchist tradition
    The other thing Kropotkin did, once his revolutionary days were over, was to try to create an anarchist tradition separate and distinct from the socialist tradition. Originally, those who became the anarchists were one of a number of different groups within the First International, a group which saw themselves as Socialists and who called themselves Socialists. They stood for the end of the rule and privileges of the bourgeoisie, for the common ownership of productive resources, for the abolition of the wages system and for production for use not profit. In other words, they werepart and saw themselves as part of a broader anti-capitalist movement.

    This, no doubt, is why we today would find just as much to agree with in the writings of those in this tradition Kropotkin, Malatesta. Rudolf Rocker, Alexander Berkman and others as we do in the writings of those more directly in our tradition like Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Plekhanov. And our differences with them on how to get to the classless stateless, wageless, moneyless society that is Socialism are no greater, or no less, than those with the Social Democratic tradition of the Second International from which we emerged.

    Perhaps because he saw that most of those who called themselves Socialists (and the German Social Democrats in particular) stood in fact for State capitalism, Kropotkin became the prime mover in an attempt to invent a separate "anarchist" tradition. Although he himself was a thorough-going Communist, he dropped the insistence on standing for a moneyless and wageless society as a condition for admission to this tradition in favour of standing only for a stateless society.

    As a result, some strange people, from a working class point of view, came to be included in particular extreme individualists like Max Stirner as well as various currency cranks and free marketeers and other advocates of complete laissez-faire in the tradition of Proudhon. All of them raving anti-Socialists but with whom Kropotkin felt some affinity just because they envisaged the disappearance of the State even though they were all in favour of money and the market.

    It has to be said that Kropotkin (who wrote the contribution on "Anarchism" that appeared for years in the Encyclopaedia Britannica) largely succeeded in creating this anarchist tradition which lumped together all those who opposed the state from whatever point of view. It has affected anarchism ever since. Most anarchists today justify their anarchism not on the grounds that they want to abolish the State because it is an instrument of class oppression and defender of private property and capitalist exploitation, but on the grounds of the "right of the individual" to be unrestrained by any external authority. Look at the various anthologies of anarchism in the bookshops and you will see that the socialist element has shrunk to a distinct minority viewpoint.

    The idea of the isolated, completely independent and unrestrained individual is an absurd proposition, both from the philosophical point of view and from the point of view of social theory. It assumes that the individual exists prior to society. And it is this that makes it absurd since, clearly, society exists prior to any particular individual. An individual human being does not, and could not, exist outside society: all the things that makes humans specifically human arose in and through society language, abstract thought, the transmission of acquired experience by non-biological means, the consciousness of being a separate individual, even our physical attributes (voice box, brain size), all these are social products.

    Society is of course composed of individuals, but of social and already socialised individuals, not of previously independently-existing individuals who came together to set up society and who retain certain pre-existing rights against society, including the right not to comply with majority decisions if they don’t want to. People who take up this position are opposing not so much the State as Society. The ironic thing here is that Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid is one of the best refutations of extreme individualist position, which of course is shared by open supporters of capitalism as well as probably by most anarchists nowadays.

    It was because he understood that anarchists, including some who regarded themselves as Communists, were taking up an anti-society rather than a simple anti-State position that William Morris always refused to call himself an anarchist; in fact to denounce anarchism (in this sense) as an impossibility. This from a man who is on record as saying:
    "State Socialism? I don’t agree with it, in fact I think the two words contradict one another, and that it is the business of Socialise to destroy the State and put Free Society in its place"(Morris, Commonweal, 17 May 1890, p.479).

    So there would have been no need for Marx to have been clairvoyant in the early 1880s and warned Kropotkin against going off the rails by associating with anti-socialist, individualist anarchists as he was to after Marx’s death. Morris could have done it for him, and no doubt did since Morris and Kropotkin met frequently up to Morris’s own death in 1896.

    It only remains to mention the sad end to Kropotkin’s political life. When in 1914 war broke out Kropotkin came out in vociferous support of the British-French-Russian side against the German-Austro-Hungarian side in that struggle for markets, trade routes and spheres of influence. He was immediately disowned as a traitor (as he was) by most of the anarchist movement.

    It was clear that his character was marred by a deep-rooted anti-German prejudice which led him to advocate and cheer on the slaughter of millions of workers in a conflict between two imperialist power blocs. Even after he returned to Russia following the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917 he still advocated continued Russian participation in the slaughter. The Russian soldiers, however, were more sensible. They voted with their feet, as Lenin put it, by simply walking away from the front.

    Kropotkin died in Russia in February l921 and his funeral was the occasion of the last public opposition to the state capitalist regime Lenin and the Bolsheviks were setting up in Russia. He died a discredited old man, but this should not detract from his contribution to socialist ideas in the rest of his. life. After all. some others who we have always recognised made a contribution, such as Kautsky and Plekhanov, also took (separate) sides in this imperialist slaughter. And we are on record as criticising Marx for his support of the British-French-Turkish side in the Crimean War.

    I want to end on a point anarchists should appreciate. This talk has been called "What Marx Should Have Said to Kropotkin". But neither Marx nor Kropotkin should be regarded as authorities, whose views should be accepted just because they put them forward. They should be regarded simply as two 19th century Socialists who made some interesting contributions to the development of Socialist ideas. Their views are not, and should not be regarded, as any more "authoritative" than those of any of us in this room. The case for a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society rests on the facts and on its own merits, not on what one or other great man may or may not have said or written.
    Adam Buick