Friday, July 31, 2009

An industrial estate as it might be

Originally posted on the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog

Where I live, in a relatively quiet back-water in SW Turkey, there is one particular pointer to how I think things might be. I'm not suggesting that it's an example of socialism in practice, but I do believe it is an example of one way a socialist society might organise one particular sector of its activities on a local level – small industrial manufacture, repair and supply.


OK! Let's take a walk around my local Industrial Area (Sanayi Sitesi in Turkish) which meets the needs of a town of 25,000 and of the dozens of villages scattered about its administrative area. It consists of 5 back-to-back rows of small workshops that adds up to about 200 individual businesses each employing between 1 and 5 people. These units are rented from the local council for a very moderate sum which provides area services; road paving, cleaning, rubbish disposal, etc. It is sited on the edge of the town, close enough to be convenient but far enough from the centre that its activities are not an inconvenience. It is not a pretty place but it is fit for purpose, and in common with other sites around the country it takes industrial workplaces out of “normal” streets and concentrates them in one area.

Here you will find carpenters, blacksmiths/metal-bashers, glaziers, auto mechanics (2 and 4 wheels, tractors, trucks, buses, you name it), boat-builders, fibre-glassers, marine engineers, refrigeration engineers, agricultural engineers, irrigation system fitters, the list goes on. Mixed in with these producers and service providers are the various wholesalers of everything from timber and laminated chipboard to steel stockists, suppliers of bits for every major manufacturer of anything that runs on fossil fuels, stockists of tools and specialised equipment, plastic pipes and bits and bobs.

No repair or fabrication workshop ever needs to burden itself with stock because within a couple of hundred metres there will be a stockist. Larger or less common items can be got by cargo from anywhere in the country within 2 days. On the outskirts are the recyclers of metal, glass, plastic, etc. Brewers of tea, the staple drink, have their cubby-holes scattered around with orders relayed via a cat's cradle of wires from baby alarms. Vendors of locally produced snacks push their 3-wheeled carts complete with glass display cabinet around the area bellowing their wares. There is even a small cafeteria and a barber's shop.

Individual businesses cooperate and network to meet their customers' needs. For example, I always have the same engineer work on my car, but he is a motor engineer and if there is something outside of his expertise he will summon a specialist in that area to do the work whilst retaining full responsibility to ensure the job is properly done and the price is fair.

During school holidays there will be lots of young people around the place doing real work experience that also brings in some much needed income to their families. Before you flinch and mutter about child labour and exploitation I need to explain; in every case that I've witnessed these young people work by shadowing an experienced adult. They are not used to fetch and carry, get the tea, carry out repetitive chores, etc.; they are not patronised in any way, they are learning and they are treated and spoken to as one adult to another. It reminds me of Ron Cook's vision in Yes! Utopia where people move in and out of education or work to suit their particular needs/desires at that particular point in their lives. I can visualise it working in this environment. Learn what you need when you need it rather than the conveyor belt system that is the lot of those “fortunate” enough to get a state education where it is available. That is not to say that there is no exploitation here, people in Turkey are at the mercy of the same system and subject to the same pressures as workers anywhere else with people working long hours for relatively little pay

Conserving resources

So, there you have a broad pen-picture of how the place looks; with socialism areas like this wouldn't have to labour under the constraints that money presently places on them. There would be more trees and why not gardeners to tend some beautiful flower beds? The rainwater drains would work better – no, the rainwater drains would work! – and those ugly electricity poles and wires could go. Nevertheless, these places do have a significant beneficial impact on the environment, even allowing for the spilt oil and other noxious stuff around. How so? Because here, as well as in so many other “under-developed countries”, having a throw-away mentality is not an option. Here, if it can be repaired or recycled then it is. Here, there are still craftsmen who can make the part that will save an item from being scrapped.

I had a very practical lesson not long after moving here 12 years ago. I had shipped my old side-by-side fridge/freezer here because it still worked despite its age and it was convenient. That first summer in heat it was never designed to cope with it had a heart attack and died and I asked a Turkish friend's help as I tried to make some arrangements to replace it. “Why are you throwing it away?” he asked, whilst calling a local refrigeration engineer. This engineer has repaired and upgraded this battered old fridge several times and it is now functioning better than when it was new nearly 30 years ago. Until I came to live here it had never occurred to me that it could be cheaper to repair something than throw it away and buy new. When all you have seen is a mass-consumerist, throw-away, built-in obsolescence, Granny Smiths from Chile, 1 beefsteak tomato (from Holland) for 59 pence society, that is understandable.

I'm pretty sure that if I brought some of you here to tour my local industrial area to illustrate my points you would look askance. After all, the place does appear to be pretty “undeveloped world” when compared with the sanitised and health and safety at workified European industrial parks. But, what I am talking about is the seed corn of an idea of how we might tackle some things in a socialist future. Work areas would be attractive with pleasantly designed buildings where craftsmen would contribute their skills to their community and pass them on to others who wanted to acquire them. They would be safe places to work and safe too for the environment because there would be no financial or profit motive to compromise or cut corners. The same lack of financial pressure would drive up quality and durability bringing pleasure to the users and profiting (in the right sense) once again the environment.

Socialism is about striving always to find the highest common denominator, not the lowest. Work areas could become real centres for each community regardless of that community's size. There could be recreation facilities and places of education, learning and experimentation would naturally combine there as learning new skills and acquiring knowledge becomes a life-long practice instead of a one shot, hit or miss chance to become another bit of fodder for the factory, shop or office. They really would become places where work ceases to be a grind and instead becomes part of the pleasure of living a fulfilling life where everything and everyone is valued not for the surplus value they can generate but for the varied contributions they can make to the communities that make up our future socialist world.

In truth, our communities could be like that now, but where's the profit in that?

Alan Fenn

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (105)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 105th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1521 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Patents and the suppression of inventions
  • Is technology to blame?
  • Ending child slavery
  • Quote for the week:

    "The capitalist system of society instills within its youthful members aspirations for "success" and an unflagging ambition to climb the somewhat elusive ladder of fame and fortune to achieve comfort, riches and security. The seeds of ambition are subtly imbedded during early school years by false propaganda that benumbs and misleads the mind when it is too immature to be discerning and too enthusiastic to be realistic." Samuel Leight, World Without Wages, 1980

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Are You A Socialist? (2004)

    From the December 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
    Do you ever get the feeling that something isn't right with the world? Although you can't quite put your finger on it, you instinctively know that life shouldn't be the unending uphill struggle to make ends meet while coping with stress and a job that provides little interest or stimulation? The very fact that you're reading the Socialist Standard suggests that you're looking for answers to questions about the way we live and that you already have serious doubts about the things the media and politicians tell us. So what does being a socialist mean?
    Adopting a socialist view means looking at the world from a class perspective instead of a national one. It is understanding how and in whose interest today's world is organised, envisaging how a socialist society can be established, and appreciating how socialism will improve people's lives. Socialism has nothing to do with organising capitalism as many, including the Labour Party, have erroneously asserted and nor is it a description of the regimes in the former Soviet Union, China or various other countries that have adulterated the word to describe state capitalism. Fundamentally, being a socialist means realising that no amount of government reform or attempt at improvement can resolve our problems because their root cause lies in society's economic base, and that working people must themselves, without leaders, organise to end capitalism and replace it with a new and different society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, with production solely for use not profit.

    Class society

    The source of the problems working people face today is the minority, or class, ownership of the means of life. The small minority who own the companies and corporations that control the factories, mines and raw materials live by harvesting the profit from wage or salary earners employed to produce goods and services for sale on the market. The market dictates 'what' and 'how much' is produced because the things we need to live are produced to meet what is called 'effective demand', meaning not actual demand but only 'demand' backed by the money needed to purchase. So unless we have money to buy goods we cannot have them. Productive activity is not organised to satisfy people's actual needs or wants but to generate profit for the owning class.
    So life today means we have to cope with all kinds of deprivation and pressures resulting from an artificial scarcity resulting from the pursuit of profit. It means finding money to pay the rent or the mortgage or to buy food. It means anxiety over mounting debt and fear of losing our job in the next reorganisation. It means an unreliable health service, a stressful transport system, and relentless pressure from every direction to buy and consume more. Life is a treadmill, where worry and stress are an everyday part of existence, symptomatic of a world where we have no control and in which we feel isolated and estranged from a society that functions to make profit.
    From a global perspective, production for profit has an even greater consequence. It means a world where people starve yet plenty can be produced to feed all, where millions seek work while factories lie idle, where poverty and deprivation exist alongside technologies that could produce an abundance of life's necessities, where people suffer or die while medicines are stockpiled. The list of contradictions is endless, but however barbaric this seems it all makes perfect sense when we grasp the truth that profit is more important than human welfare. People suffer because there is not enough profit in ending their suffering. Investment is made only where sufficient profit is assured, regardless of the human needs that go unmet.
    Most of us have been seduced by a false notion that minority ownership of the means of production and distribution is 'natural', and have not yet grasped the fact that while the owning class needs working people we don't need the owners. Capitalism is organised from top to bottom by ordinary wage and salary earners, who make all the goods we need to live and operate all the services we depend on. And yet it is the non-productive parasitic owning class who grow wealthy on our labour and live lives freed from material worries. For them luxuries and infinite choice, for us cut-price bargains, poor quality, stress and worry. We spend a lifetime struggling to overcome hardships but unselfishly reward the owners with a life of opulence and plenty.
    The owning class are aided and abetted in their task by governments that consciously work against our interest. Government and the state exist to perpetuate class dominance, and to create a continuous flow of healthy, educated, trained and obedient workers and to provide an infrastructure that caters for profit making. They deceitfully tell us that wars must be fought to defend 'democracy' or end 'injustice' or for some other high-sounding ideal, ignoring the fact that in reality wars are caused by the owning class attempting to protect or expand their markets, spheres of influence or simply to plunder raw materials. Politics and government is the art of giving the appearance of enacting policy that will benefit working people while actually pursuing interests that benefit the owning class. Sometimes, of course, certain policies do incidentally benefit working people. But their prime motivation is never a desire to make life better and if such policies are examined closely, it soon becomes apparent whose interests are really being served.
    But just being critical of capitalism is not enough. The problems it causes will not cure themselves. Socialists know that capitalism cannot be reformed to serve human needs and are therefore hostile to all political parties that falsely claim to be able to do this. The source of our deprivation and anxiety lies in man-made structures and can be eliminated only by men and women understanding their condition and combining together to replace capitalism with socialism. A global society – one so inhuman as to place people's welfare at the bottom of its priorities – can only be globally replaced. Socialism is the root and branch replacement of capitalism throughout the world where national boundaries and the concept of nations will disappear.
    Socialism

    Socialism is an immediately realisable society which will replace minority ownership with the common ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth, which will be democratically organised by the whole human community. Production will be for use and not for sale on the market to make profit. Productive capacity, freed from the constraint of profit, will be utilised to produce an abundance of life's necessities for no better reason than to satisfy people's needs and wants. Markets, exchange and money will all be abolished. Instead all will have free access to the things that have been collectively produced by human society. The free access to life's necessities will be irrespective of whether people have actually participated in the productive process or not, since work will be voluntary and without compulsion. In capitalist society work is seen as synonymous with employment, but once this link has been severed and wage slavery abolished there is no reason to assume that work will be not only a biological necessity but also an enjoyable and creative experience.
    Socialists understand that, to abolish capitalism, working people, without leaders, must win control of political power. But capturing political power requires political organisation and a political party to serve as a vehicle to express a socialist majority. The Socialist Party in Britain (together with its companion parties in other countries) has as its objective the establishing of socialism. It offers itself to serve as a instrument which working people can utilise within the electoral system to vote a socialist majority into local government and parliament. Having democratically won control of political power and neutralised the power of the state, working people need to take but a single action: the abolition of class society and its replacement with the common ownership of the means of production and distribution. The abolition of capitalism and the end of the class struggle will also signal the demise of the Socialist Party itself, for, having served its purpose, its continued existence will be meaningless.
    Socialism can only come about when a majority of working people want it. This necessarily involves breaking with the mindset induced by society's class structure, a difficult but not impossible task. The owning class has created social institutions that express class dominance and society has become infused with habits and customs that reflect the values of the owning class. Without our knowing, our beliefs have been artificially constructed by capitalist society, and our social consciousness, our assumptions and ideas have all been subtly moulded to reflect that society's economic base. We have been instilled with slanted values, conventions and concepts continuously reinforced by education, religion, entertainment, advertising and the media that all prepare us for a life of class, profit and wage slavery. We accept authority without question and have assimilated a view that society is 'good' and 'fixed', a frame of mind that makes it very difficult to envisage change and an alternative society.
    As a result, many dismiss socialism as a 'good idea' but claim it will never happen. But why should this be so? Nothing is forever 'fixed.' Class society and government rest almost solely on opinion and when a majority of working people armed with socialist understanding demand change we will be unstoppable. Likewise, many claim no interest in politics, but to genuinely feel this is to abandon any concern in one's own welfare, a notion that serves our masters well by keeping working people obedient and placid.
    Socialists have seen through these myths. Socialists within the Socialist Party assist in dispelling society's illusions and aid working people to comprehend capitalism by exposing society's abominations and spreading socialist understanding. The Socialist Party has no leaders or secrets, is democratically organised, and meetings are open to everyone.
    So isn't it time to break free of the deceptions, to acknowledge the reality and to join the struggle for socialism? The choice is simple. You can either watch helplessly as the world's problems intensify and threaten the very existence of humanity or join the movement to end capitalism and build socialism. If you're a socialist your place is in the Socialist Party. There is no middle course.
    Steve Trott

    Cartoon Karl (2009)

    From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Taro Aso, the current Prime Minister of Japan, is widely known to be a fan of “manga”. His love of comic books seems quite genuine (although it may be related to his notorious inability to read even some of the more basic Japanese kanji characters). Setting aside whatever personal reasons he may have, however, it is clear that Aso loves manga for practical political reasons as well, as he is convinced that it can contribute to an expansion in Japan’s “soft power.” Aso has clearly stated a hope that manga will assist Japanese diplomacy by raising what he calls the “brand image” of Japan, particularly in those Asian countries where people’s memories have been branded by the experience of Japanese colonial rule.

    The problem for Aso is that not every manga published today conforms to the hollow “cool Japan” marketing image that he is peddling. Around two years ago, for instance, one top-selling manga was a version of a 1920s “proletarian novel” written by the Communist author Takiji Kobayashi, which depicted the harsh life of workers at the time and exposed nationalistic ideology. And now, to Aso’s dismay I suspect, there is also a manga version of Marx’s Capital available in Japan.



    This new manga, published by East Press last December, comes in two pocket size volumes. Volume one presents a fictional tale of a young man named Robin, who is first seen in the marketplace selling cheese that his father produces on his small farm. Against the wishes of his father, who is a sort of anti-capitalist curmudgeon, Robin accepts the financial backing of a smooth venture capitalist named Daniel (who resembles a young Mick Jagger) to go into the cheese business on a large scale.

    The rest of the story depicts how Robin, once he has become a capitalist, must follow the logic of capital, ruthlessly seeking to raise productivity, even it means squeezing his workers dry; and how the workers begin to rebel against their servile position as wage slaves. Instead of an overly simplistic tale of heroes and villains, the story makes it quite clear that the characters are forced to act in accordance with the nature of the capitalist system. However sympathetic Robin might be as an individual, and however pure his (initial) intentions, he ends up acting as a capitalist must act to remain a capitalist.

    The second volume concentrates more on the actual content of Capital, particularly the first few chapters where the labour theory of value and the all-important concept of surplus-value are presented; and Marx and Engels appear to explain those and other points. At the same time, the example of Robin’s cheese factory is again referred to as a way to clarify how capitalists go about trying to squeeze out more surplus-value as a means of increasing their own profits and driving competitors out of business. On the first page of this second volume, where the cast of characters is introduced, it is clearly stated that, “Within capitalist society lurks an insatiable monster” – and the reader soon discovers that this monster is the insane pursuit of profit that drives capitalism forward.

    One might quibble with certain aspects of the books, including what seems to be an idealization of small-scale producers (like Robin’s father), but on the whole both succeed in clarifying the most-important aspects of the capitalist system in a vivid way that even young readers can understand.
    Currently the manga is only available in Japanese; but the publication generated a number of newspaper reports in the UK and elsewhere, and there is some possibility that it will eventually be translated into English.
    Michael Schauerte

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Was Nowhere Somewhere? (2009)

    From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    MORE’S UTOPIA AND THE MEANING OF SOCIALISM

    The word utopia, together with its derivatives utopian and utopianism, is a familiar part of our political vocabulary. It originated as the title of a work by the Tudor lawyer, statesman and writer Thomas More, first published in Latin in 1516 as a traveller’s description of a remote island. Utopia is a pun: it can be read either as ou-topos, Greek for ‘no place’, or as eu-topos, ‘good place’ – that is, a good place (society) that exists in the imagination.

    More invented the word, but the thing it represents is much older. Plato in his Republic discussed the nature of the ideal city state. Medieval serfs took solace in the imaginary ease and plenty of the Land of Cockaigne. More’s utopia, however, is the first to embody a response to capitalist social relations, which in the early 16th century were just emerging in England and the Low Countries (in agriculture and textiles). As the first modern utopia, it has a special place in the emergence of modern socialist thought.

    Contents of More’s Utopia
    The work consists of two ‘books’. Book I is More’s account of how he came to hear of Utopia. Book II describes the Utopians’ way of life – their towns and farms, government, economy, travel, slaves, marriages, military discipline, religions.

    More presents his story as true fact. Henry VIII sends him to Flanders as his ambassador to settle a dispute with Spain – and we know that this is true (it was in 1515; the dispute concerned the wool trade). During a break in the negotiations he meets his young friend Peter Giles, who introduces him to an explorer, Raphael Hythloday, just back from a long voyage. There follows a long conversation between More, Giles and Hythloday.

    Giles and More urge Hythloday to put the vast knowledge acquired on his travels to use by entering the service of a king. Hythloday refuses, arguing that no courtier dare speak his mind or advocate wise and just policies. This exchange is thought to reflect More’s misgivings about his own career in royal service.

    The conversation then turns to the situation in England. They discuss the enclosure (now we call it privatisation) of common land to graze sheep, the consequent pauperisation and uprooting of the peasantry (“your sheep devour men”), the futile cruelty of hanging wretches who steal to survive, and other social ills.

    This leads them to the question of remedies. Hythloday declares that the injustice, conflict and waste inherent in the power of money can be overcome only by doing away with private property. More objects that this would remove the incentive to work. (Sounds familiar?) Hythloday replies that More would think otherwise had he been with him in Utopia.

    Utopia is, indeed, a society without private property. Households contribute to and draw freely on common stocks of goods. Money is used only in dealings with foreign countries, while gold and jewels are regarded as baubles for children and “fools” (i.e., the mentally retarded). In these respects Utopia resembles socialism as we conceive of it.

    In other respects, however, it does not. Decision-making procedures are only partly democratic. A hierarchy of “magistrates” enforces draconian regulations: travel, for instance, requires official permission. The main penalty for serious transgressions is enslavement – not to individuals, of course, but to the community. Thus, there is a class of slaves who do not participate in common ownership but are themselves owned. Utopia is not a classless society.

    Was More joking?
    Almost all critics treat More’s factual presentation as a mere literary device. They do not believe that he met an explorer while in Flanders or that he was influenced in his description of Utopia by information about real places. This is not to say that they attribute everything solely to More’s fertile imagination. They often draw connections between his ideas and the thought of Greco-Roman antiquity. In the foreword to an edition of Utopia published in 1893, William Morris even calls Utopia ‘an idealised ancient society’. More was one of the foremost classical scholars of his day, so it is a plausible view.

    Yet More always maintained, even in private correspondence, that Utopia was based on fact. Was he joking? He liked a good joke.

    Two researchers take More at his word. It is quite possible, they argue, that he did meet an explorer who had encountered or heard about a pre-Columbian society in the Americas that served More as a prototype for Utopia. Arthur E. Morgan, an engineer who was chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s, takes the Inca Empire as the prototype (Nowhere was Somewhere: How History Makes Utopias and How Utopias Make History, University of North Carolina Press 1946), while the anthropologist Lorainne Stobbart identifies the Utopians with the Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula in present-day Mexico (Utopia: Fact or Fiction? The Evidence from the Americas, Alan Sutton 1992).

    They argue that it is not valid to argue that Hythloday cannot represent a real person because Europeans knew nothing of the Maya or Incas at the time when More was writing Utopia (1515—16). This is true only if we accept the conventional chronology that conflates discovery with the military expeditions of the Spanish conquistadors (Cortes first landed in Yucatan in 1517; Pizarro entered Inca territory in 1526). But Morgan and Stobbart refer to old maps and documents indicating that Portuguese explorers reached the eastern shores of Central and South America as early as the 14th century (Hythloday is Portuguese), while English sailors were trading with the new lands by the 1470s. Whether any of these early travellers got as far as Peru is less certain, though some may have obtained indirect information about the Incas.

    How closely does More’s Utopia resemble the Maya and Inca civilizations? Morgan and Stobbart detail numerous similarities in political and economic organization, dress, social customs, city layout, family life, science and art, and so on – even down to such practices as the erection of memorial pillars and ceremonial wearing of quetzal feathers. The Maya and the Incas, like the Utopians, used money only in foreign trade and had common stores from which officials distributed produce (except that, in contrast to Utopia, it was rationed). It is extremely unlikely that so many close parallels should arise purely by chance.

    But there are also important differences. The most telling criticism made against these authors is that they obscure a wide gap in social structure between the aristocratic autocracies of the Maya and the Incas and the basically democratic governance of More’s Utopia (see George Logan’s review of Stobbart in Moreana, June 1994).

    It is therefore doubtful whether Utopia is a direct representation of any specific pre-Columbian society. Nevertheless, More’s account does probably reflect the influence of knowledge of such societies that he had somehow acquired, possibly from a Portuguese explorer he met in Flanders.

    A bureaucratic mode of production
    This conclusion has implications for our understanding of the development of socialist ideas. For it means that a seminal work of modern socialist thought bears the imprint of archaic societies that though not based on private property were far removed from the classless democracy of genuine socialism.

    The Maya and Inca social systems are strikingly ‘pure’ examples of what Marx called the ‘Asiatic mode of production’. In this mode, a royal bureaucracy extracts and redistributes surplus from pre-existing peasant communes and directs public works. The monarch is considered the owner of land and resources. The word ‘Asiatic’ does not, of course, fit the New World context (Marx had mainly India in mind). Karl Wittfogel, stressing the centrality of water management, coined the term ‘hydraulic mode of production’. Or we might call it the pre-industrial bureaucratic mode of production.

    Louis Baudin paints a vivid picture of what it was like to live under this system in his Daily Life in Peru under the Last Incas (Macmillan, 1961). It was a hard life for the common people, but their basic necessities were supplied: a small dwelling, two woollen garments each when they marry, a patch of land, relief in the event of local famine. They were more fortunate in this regard than poor people were in More’s England – or than they themselves would be after the Spanish conquest. But they were victims of class exploitation nonetheless.

    It is understandable that the Incas and the Maya should have appealed to early European critics of capitalism. Theirs, however, was not the only alternative model that the pre-Columbian Americas offered to the reign of private property. The New World was also home to the much more egalitarian ‘primitive communism’ of peoples like the Iroquois who so fascinated the 19th-century anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan and through him Engels and Marx, influencing their conception of ‘advanced communism’.

    An upright and honest official
    More’s utopia is a sort of compromise between the democratic and authoritarian-bureaucratic conceptions of communal life. He omits important information that would help us clarify the nature of the society that he is portraying. In particular, how are the higher officials appointed or elected? (We know that lower-level officials are elected.) Do they have material privileges? Does Utopia have an aristocracy of any kind?

    I interpret this ambiguity in light of More’s general attitude toward the lower classes. He felt genuine compassion for the suffering of the poor. This is clear not only from the sentiments he expresses through his alter ego Hythloday, but also from his reputation as an upright and honest judge and official. He did not take bribes from the rich and he patronised the poor. By the standards of his day and age, he was open-minded and tolerant. He belonged to the same social type as that other upright and honest official, his near-contemporary in Ming China, Hai Rui.

    But More, like Hai Rui, was no rebel. He was a “good servant” of God and king, a member of the ruling class with a strong belief in order and hierarchy. His ideal was not the fully democratic self-administration of society, which he could hardly imagine, but rather paternalistic “good government” by upright and honest officials like himself.

    In conclusion
    So what shall we make of More’s Utopia? It is, to be sure, an eloquent critique of the cruelty and perversity of capitalism, all the more remarkable for having been written at a time when that system had scarcely bared its fangs. However, More – although he envisages the abolition of money – does not provide a picture of what we now mean by socialism. But then that could hardly have been expected of him.
    Stefan

    democracy and leaderships

    This post was originally posted on the Mailstrom blog

    One so often overlooked American once said :-

    “I never had much faith in leaders. I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week. If you go to the city of Washington, and you examine the pages of the Congressional Directory, you will find that almost all of those corporation lawyers and cowardly politicians, members of Congress, and mis-representatives of the masses — you will find that almost all of them claim, in glowing terms, that they have risen from the ranks to places of eminence and distinction. I am very glad I cannot make that claim for myself. I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.”

    And another time he said :-

    “I am not a labor leader. I don’t want you to follow me or anyone else. If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out.”

    There is one political party that does take the issue of leadership seriously and since its formation over a hundred years ago , it has had no leader !!

    Working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership. Even if it could be conceived of a leader-ridden working class displacing the capitalist class from power such an immature class would be helpless to undertake the responsibilities of democratic socialist society. The SPGB is a leader-less political party where its executive committee is solely for housekeeping admin duties and cannot determine policy or even submit resolutions to conference (and all the EC minutes available for public scrutiny access on the web as proof of our commitment to openness and democracy ) . All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership . Even our General Secretary has no position of poweror authority over any other member . Despite some very charismatic writers and speakers in the past , no personality has held undue influence over the the SPGB .

    It is NOT the party’s task to lead the workers in struggle or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, tenants’ associations or whatever , because we believe that class conscious workers and socialists are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. For the Trotskyist Lenininist Left, all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, neighbourhood community struggles , etc.) , whereas for us, the Party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles, a tail to be wagged by the dog.

    The SPGB is like no other political party in Britain. It is made up of people who have joined together because we want to get rid of the profit system and establish real socialism. Our aim is to persuade others to become socialist and act for themselves, organizing democratically and without leaders, to bring about the kind of society that we advocate. We reject the idea that people can be led into socialism. Socialism will not be established by good leaders but by thinking men, women and children. There can be no socialism without socialists.

    Democracy and majority decision-making must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of socialist society itself.

    If a majority of workers really were as incapable of understanding socialism as many on the Left maintain , then socialism would be impossible since, by its very nature as a society based on voluntary cooperation, it can only come into being and work with the conscious consent and participation of the majority. Socialism just could not be imposed from above by an elite as envisaged by the Left . Democracy is not the mere counting of noses; it is the only principle of organisation compatible with a classless society.

    A real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. We don’t vote for leaders to implement this or that decision; we vote according to our ideological inclinations to give them a “free hand” to make decisions. The point is that the very mechanism of decision-making we have today is a product of the social system we live under. The market economy, with its built-in contradictions and conflicting interests, has massively complicated the process of decision-making itself. It has moved it further and further from the ambit of “ordinary people” as the system itself has become more and more globalised. It is this that has made the paper pledges of our elected leaders seem increasingly irrelevant and ineffectual

    Posted here

    UPDATE REPLY TO COMMENT

    Another of his [Debs] poignant quotations is " I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want, and get it. " - the case against the lesser of two evils argument when it comes to elections - and just how many remember when they have decided upon the lesser evil , that it was indeed an evil !

    Democracy under capitalism is reduced to people voting for competing groups of professional politicians, to giving the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down to the governing or opposition party . Political analysts call this the "elite theory of democracy" since under it , all that the people get to choose is which elite should exercise government power. This contrasts with the original theory of democracy which envisages popular participation in the running of affairs and which political analysts call "participatory democracy".

    This is the sort of democracy Socialists favour but we know it's never going to exist under capitalism. The most we will get under capitalism is the right to vote, under more-or-less fair conditions ( which when i read your website your organisation are endeavouring to improve upn ) , for who shall control political power—a minimalist form of democracy but not to be dismissed for all that since it at least provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians.

    Capitalist democracy is not a participatory democracy, which a genuine democracy has to be. In practice the people generally elect to central legislative assemblies and local councils professional politicians who they merely vote for and then let them get on with the job. In other words, the electors abdicate their responsibility to keep any eye on their representatives, giving them a free hand to do what the operation of capitalism demands. But that’s as much the fault of the electors as of their representatives, or rather it is a reflection of their low level of democratic consciousness. It cannot be blamed on the principle of representation as such. There is no reason in principle why, with a heightened democratic consciousness (such as would accompany the spread of socialist ideas), even representatives sent to state bodies could not be subject – while the state lasts – to democratic control by those who sent them there.

    In case you do not realise , the economic re-organisation being called for is certainly not State ownership or nationalization or even mixed economy , which unfortunately has been represented as the socialists objective when nothing further is from the truth

    But risking the fact that i may be repeating myself :-

    The SPGB is the oldest existing socialist party in the UK has been propagating the alternative to capitalism since 1904. A Marxist-based ( but perhaps a William Morris - Peter Kropotkin amalgam , may be a better description ) organisation . It is a non-Social Democrat 2nd Internationalist , non-Leninist 3rd Internationalist , non- Trotskyist 4th Internationalist political organisation that is a formally structured leader-less political party .( under UK electoral law a registered political party which we are has to name its leader and to comply the SPGB simply drew a name out of a hat and i doubt any member recollects who it was )

    Socialism is almost globally misunderstood and misrepresented. Socialism will be a basic structural change to society, and many of the things that most people take for granted, as "just the way things have to be", can and must be changed to establish socialism.

    People tend to accept as true the things they hear over and over again. But repetition doesn't make things true. Because the truth and the facts often contradict "common knowledge", socialists have to show that "common knowledge" is wrong. The task of capitalist ideology is to maintain the veil which keeps people from seeing that their own activities reproduce the form of their daily life ,the task of the SPGB is to unveil the activities of daily life, to render them transparent.

    Capitalist ideology treats land, capital , and the products of labor, as things which have the power to produce, to create value, to work for their owners, to transform the world. This is what Marx called the fetishism which characterizes people's everyday conceptions, and which is raised to the level of dogma by Economics. For the economist, living people are things - factors of production -, and things live ie money - works and Capital - produces .Yet when men refuse to sell their labour, money cannot perform even the simplest tasks, because money does not "work". The notion of the "productivity of capital," and particularly the detailed measurement of that "productivity," are inventions of the "science" of Economics.

    Matters little if capitalism is small or large - either way , it is based on robbery . The choice of "good" or "bad" capitalism is little different than choosing between typhoid or cholera

    Capitalism is in fact not just an exchange economy but an exchange economy where the aim of production is to make a profit .Profit is the monetary expression of the difference between the exchange value of a product and the exchange value of the materials , energy and labour-power used to produce it , or what Marx called “surplus value” . Defenders of capitalism never seem to ask themselves the practical question about what the critical factor determining a production initiative in a market system. The answer is obvious from everyday experience . The factor that critically decides the production of commodities is the judgement that enterprises make about whether they can be sold in the market .Obviously , consumers buy in the market that they perceive as being for their needs . But whether or not the transaction takes place is not decided by needs but by ability to pay . So the realisation of profit in the market determines both the production of goods and also the distribution of goods by various enterprises . In the market system the motive of production , the organisation of production , and the distribution of goods are inseparable parts of the same economic process : the realisation of profit and the accumulation of capital. The economic pressure on capital is that of accumulation , the alternative is bankruptcy .

    Socialist determination of needs begins with consumer needs and then flows throughout distribution and on to each required part of the structure of production. Socialism will make economically-unencumbered production decisions as a direct response to needs . With production for use , the starting point will be needs .

    Socialism is a decentralised or polycentric society that is self regulating , self adjusting and self correcting , from below and not from the top . It is not a command economy but a responsive one . By the replacement of exchange economy by common ownership basically what would happen is that wealth would cease to take the form of exchange value, so that all the expressions of this social relationship peculiar to an exchange economy, such as money and prices, would automatically disappear. In other words, goods would cease to have an economic value and would become simply physical objects which human beings could use to satisfy some want or other. The disappearance of economic value would mean the end of economic calculation in the sense of calculation in units of value whether measured by money or directly in some unit of labour-time. It would mean that there was no longer any common unit of calculation for making decisions regarding the production of goods. Socialism is a money-less society in which use values would be produced from other use values, there would need no have a universal unit of account but could calculate exclusively in kind .The only calculations that would be necessary in socialism would be calculations in kind. ( Calculation in kind entails the counting or measurement of physical quantities of different kinds of factors of production. There is no general unit of accounting involved in this process such as money or labour hours or energy units. On the one side would be recorded the resources eg materials, energy, equipment, labour , used up in production and on the other side the amount of the good produced, together with any by-products. This, of course, is done under capitalism but it is doubled by an exchange value calculation: the exchange value of the resources used up is recorded as the cost of production while the exchange value of the output after it has been realised on the market is recorded as sales receipts. If the latter is greater than the former, then a profit has been made; if it is less, then a loss is recorded. Such profit-and-loss accounting has no place in socialism and would, once again, be quite meaningless.

    Alan Johnstone

    For more information about the SPGB and her companion parties, visit the World Socialism website.

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (104)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 104th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1519 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Open Letter to Michael Moore
  • They shoot cowards, don't they?
  • Whose thoughts are you thinking?
  • Quote for the week:

    'Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it really is the source - next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself.' Engels, The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (1876)

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Monday, July 27, 2009

    The Zeitgeist Movement - Some personal observations

    This post originally appeared on the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog:

    Further to a previous mention on SOYMB of the Zeitgeist and viewings of their film at Head Office , we offer the personal views of a party member who decided to investigate further.

    I went a meeting of theirs held in Goldsmiths College yesterday addressed by Peter Joseph, a US film-maker who made the two Zeitgeist films. As the word "Zeitgeist" and "Venus Project" could suggest some New Age Cult I wanted to actually meet some members (as opposed to reading their stuff on the internet) to make a judgement on this. The lecture hall was full with 250 or so men and women mainly in the 30s and 40s who seemed quite reasonable and normal to me, ie this is not a cult. Most of them seemed to be supporters of the ideas put forward by the movement.

    Peter Joseph, who would also seem to be in his thirties, spoke with the aid of slides for an hour and 20 minutes. He began by explaining how the present money-based and profit-driven system was the cause of most of the problems facing humanity and how it could not be made to serve the interests of humanity. He described the various single-issue organisations such as Greenpeace as growing "like weeds" and as being bogged down in trying to deal with effects while ignoring the root cause. The solution, he said, was a moneyless, "resource-based economy".

    This is described on one of their sites as follows:

    "All social systems, regardless of political philosophy, religious beliefs, or social customs, ultimately depend upon natural resources, i.e. clean air and water, arable land and the necessary technology and personnel to maintain a high standard of living.
    Simply stated, a resource-based economy utilizes existing resources rather than money and provides an equitable method of distributing these resources in the most efficient manner for the entire population. It is a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter, or any other form of debt or servitude.

    Earth is abundant with plentiful resources; today our practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant and counter productive to our survival. Modern society has access to highly advanced technologies and can make available food, clothing, housing, medical care, a relevant educational system, and develop a limitless supply of renewable, non-contaminating energy such as geothermal, solar, wind, tidal, etc. It is now possible to have everyone enjoy a very high standard of living with all of the amenities that a prosperous civilization can provide. This can be accomplished through the intelligent and humane application of science and technology.

    To better understand the meaning of a resource-based economy consider this: if all the money in the world were destroyed, as long as topsoil, factories, and other resources were left intact, we could build anything we choose to build and fulfill any human need. It is not money that people need; rather, it is free access to the necessities of life. In a resource-based economy , money would be irrelevant. All that would be required are the resources and the manufacturing and distribution of the products.

    When education and resources are made available to all people without a price tag, there would be no limit to the human potential. Although this is difficult to imagine, even the wealthiest person today would be far better off in a resource based society as proposed by The Venus Project. Today the middle classes live better than kings of times past. In a resource based economy everyone would live better than the wealthiest of today.

    In such a society, the measure of success would be based on the fulfillment of one's individual pursuits rather than the acquisition of wealth, property and power.

    A Resource-Based Economy is a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. All resources become the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few."

    This, surely, is the same as what we call "world socialism".

    He then went on to deal with what he regarded as the main objection to this:

    "Some people who consider the tenets of a Resource-based Economy think that the system would be difficult due to something called 'Human Nature'. The argument is that humans are inherently competitive, greedy and blindly self-serving, implying that no matter how technically good things are in society, there will always be 'corrupt' people who want to abuse others and seek dominance."

    Which he dealt with in the same way that we would and did in our pamphlet "Are We Prisoners of Our Genes?".

    Of course, there are differences. Their economic theory (especially of banking) is mistaken and there are aspects of Technocracy (rule by engineers) no doubt via Jacque Fresco, a designer and engineer now in his 90s and the man behind the Venus Project (named after the town of Venus where he is established, not the planet).

    Peter Joseph seems to have come from a conspiracy-theory background (evident from the first Zeitgeist film)which he said he has now abandoned and is in fact being denounced by conspiracy theorists as a propagandist for the "New World Order".

    We [ The Socialist Party of Great Britain/World Socialist Movement ] , on the other hand, come from Marxism and the working class movement, so there are bound to be differences of language.

    And they haven't yet fully worked out how to get there. In answer to questions on this, Peter Joseph said that the important thing at the moment was to get the idea across; people could decide later exactly what to do (he seemed to favour some sort of non-political mass movement).

    Even so, I think it could be said that the appearance of this movement can be said to be confirmation of our theory that, even in the absence of an organized socialist group like us, capitalism would still throw up socialist ideas. I say movement because, at the meeting, it was said that there had been 50 million viewings of the Zeitgeist videos on the internet and a figure of 300,000 was mentioned as supporters (presumably those who have registered for its discussion forums, blogs, etc -- in which case they'd be counting me as a member). Still the figure is impressive and even if they were only one-tenth of this it's a significant phenomenon and one that we should watch.

    There are two sites in the UK. The UK Project site , from which the definition of a "resource-based economy" above was taken, which seems to be for engineers and designers interested in the technical site of producing abundance. And a social networking site .

    Adam Buick

    Sunday, July 19, 2009

    Globalization (2009)

    Book Review from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Marxian Economics and Globalization. By Binay Sarkar and Adam Buick, Avenel Press, Calcutta, 2009.

    Is globalization just another word for capitalism? The short answer is yes. A longer answer is provided in this invaluable book written by two socialists. Using Marxian economics as their explanatory framework, there are chapters on ‘Capitalism as a world system’, ‘What is political economy?’, ‘The basic categories of Marxian economics’, ‘The marginal revolution in economics against the labour theory of value’, ‘The cyclical nature of capitalist production’, ‘The era of permanent inflation’, ‘The Bolsheviks and the abolition of money’, ‘Anti-globalization or anti-capitalism?’, ‘Why we need global change’. The book is dedicated to “The Working Class of the World”.

    Today we live in a world completely dominated by capitalist production, where wealth is produced for sale on a market with a view to profit. Writing in the middle of the nineteenth century, Marx's analysis of capitalism had identified it as an inherently globalizing system. As the Communist Manifesto put it, “the cheap price of commodities ... compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production”. The authors look at the globalization of capitalism since his day, as manifested in the ever-widening world division of labour, world wars and rivalry for sources of raw materials, markets and investment outlets, the rise of the multinational corporation and the emergence of global financial markets. They discuss the opposition to these developments and argue that anti-imperialism and anti-globalization are not the same as anti-capitalism, as this has to be a movement aimed at a world socialist society where the resources of the globe have become the common heritage of its entire people.

    There are a few quibbles. State capitalism is said to be the “most regressive, dehumanizing and degenerating” form of capitalism (page 55). But this is arguably a judgement on which socialists do not need to take sides; we are opposed to capitalism whatever form it takes. We are told that under state capitalism, “capital remains private property of the state functionaries collectively” (page 56). But this could suggest that state functionaries had a legal claim on capital, which was generally not the case, though they did exercise possession as a class through their control of political power. It is claimed that John Stuart Mill was an “opponent of Karl Marx” (page 90). But though Marx was well acquainted with the writings of Mill, there is no evidence that Mill knew of Marx's existence. But these are quibbles. Hopefully a future edition will have an index, so enabling the reader to easily track down the many fascinating ideas and quotes to be found in this important book.
    Lew

    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    Who’s afraid of the BNP?

    From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The BNP's racist ideology is hateful and it is understandable – and to be welcomed – that most people don't like it. But what's the best way to deal with them?

    Despite the high profile media campaign supported by the churches and all the other parties to try to stop this, the BNP did manage to get two MEPs elected to the European Parliament in last month's elections. The BNP is an obnoxious outfit and people are stupid to vote for it. It is no more able to provide an answer to workers' problems than the other parties. The problems facing working people and their families are not caused, as the BNP claims, by immigration or immigrants and will not be solved by the Fortress Britain they advocate with "British Jobs for British Workers". They are caused by capitalism which the BNP, like the other parties, supports. Even if all immigration was stopped and all (recent) immigrants expelled this would not make things better for those the BNP calls the "indigenous population".

    The other parties had a cheek in asking people to vote for them to keep the BNP out. That's because they all support capitalism and it is capitalism's insoluble problems that the BNP exploits to gain votes. Voting for some other capitalist party to keep the BNP out is as stupid as voting for the BNP. That’s to vote to maintain the conditions which allow the BNP to flourish.

    Others, on the Far Left, want to take a more confrontational attitude towards the BNP. They say it is a fascist party and that it should be physically "smashed" before it has a chance to smash political democracy. One problem with this is that the BNP is not a fascist party. Some of its leaders have expressed pro-Nazi sympathies in the past (and may well still harbour them) but, unlike the Nazi party in pre-1933 Germany, the BNP is not blaming parliamentary democracy for causing working-class problems. If it did, it wouldn't get the votes it does. It blames workers' problems on immigration and immigrants. So, it is anti-foreigner and racist, which is objectionable enough, but that's not the same as fascism.

    The only effective way to deal with the BNP is to confront their arguments head on and that includes their nationalism. The other parties cannot do this because they too are nationalists. The BNP is only expressing in an extreme form a nationalist position that they themselves share. They have even tried to steal the BNP's clothes here by emphasising that they are against "illegal" immigrants and vie with each other to boast how many they have, or should have, deported. They encourage nationalism by describing members of the armed forces as "heroes" and by flying the Union Jack or even the flag of St George (a traditional fascist emblem) on public buildings. All grist to the BNP's mill.

    Like the BNP, the other parties claim that all "British people" have a common interest as against the people of other countries, i.e. as against "foreigners". But this is not the case. UK citizens are divided into two classes, on the basis of their relationship to the means of production – those who own them and those who don't –, whose interests are quite opposed. It is in the interest of those who own Britain to convince the rest of us living here that we share a common interest with them in them acquiring and protecting outside markets and investment outlets. To get us to support them is the role of the nationalism that is inculcated into us from birth and reinforced every day by the media.

    The semblance of justification for this is that, if employers are successful in this, then they can offer more and more secure jobs. In actual fact, however, those in one country who have to work for a wage or a salary have a common interest with wage and salary workers in other countries rather than with our employers. That is the socialist, anti-nationalist position which the Socialist Party maintains against all other parties, not just the BNP.

    Bash the Fash?

    The Far Left have made two mistakes in trying to counter the BNP. The first has been to adopt a policy of physically fighting with them. The second has been to invoke the BNP as a bogey to try to gain recruits amongst post-war immigrants and their families.

    Beating somebody up never changed anybody's mind. It probably reinforces their views. In any event, this is defeatist in assuming that people can't change their minds. Which, fortunately, has been disproved many times. For instance, the actor Ricky Tomlinson, who introduced the Scargill Labour Party's Party Political Broadcast in the recent elections, was once a member of the National Front, even a candidate for them in a local election. Now he thinks that the EU not immigrants cause working-class problems. Still wrong, but no longer a racist.

    What BNP members need is not a kicking, but putting right. And the best way to do this is to confront the ideas of their leaders in open, public debate. That's why the Socialist Party is opposed to the policy of "No Platform for the BNP". On the contrary, we want them up on a platform to face socialist criticism of their erroneous ideas and futile policies.

    Organising particular immigrants as a group, as the SWP tried to do with Muslims through Respect (before George Galloway threw them out and continued this with the aid of other Trotskyist groups), is dangerous and plays straight into the hands of the BNP by introducing "communalist" politics. If, says the BNP, Muslims can organise as a "community" to defend and further their "communal" interests, why can't the "indigenous" (read: "white") working class do the same? Indeed, under Nick Griffin, this is the successful strategy the BNP has pursued. The BNP, he argues, seeks to represent the interests of "indigenous" workers as against immigrants who, he claims, are being given preferential treatment by the "liberal Establishment". It's untrue, but it finds an echo amongst some sections of the working class, though not amongst those living and working in close proximity with immigrants who have learned to regard second and third generation "immigrants" as fellow workers.

    In other words, two can play at "communalist" politics and the BNP will always be able to make more progress at this than the Far Left since they are appealing to a majority "community". It is possible to detect a certain jealousy amongst Leftists at the ability of the BNP to "mobilise" workers they would like to be able to mobilise themselves. Indeed, the rivalry between the BNP and the Far Left, which sometimes finds expressed in physical fighting, can be seen as a rivalry between two leadership groups – one calling itself a "vanguard", the other a "spearhead" – to lead workers. To which workers should adopt "a plague on both your houses" attitude.

    As capitalism is the cause of the problems workers face these problems will continue as long as capitalism does. And as long as capitalism continues there will always be parties like the BNP which scapegoat other workers as the supposed cause of these problems. The answer is not to stop these parties by voting for other parties or by physically fighting or banning them. It is to organise on a world-wide class basis to end capitalism – which, necessarily, involves a rejection of nationalism.

    Adam Buick

    Pieces Together (2009)

    From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    MEGA-DEATH MARKETPLACE
    "The annual Asia Security Conference, a forum for discussion, brought together some of the world's main arms-makers with military chiefs nervously eyeing their neighbors' moves and looking to upgrade defenses in a region full of long-running insurgencies, potential maritime disputes and growing wealth. ‘Defense suppliers find it very important to be here to make a set of contacts,’ said Jonathan Pollack, professor of Asian and Pacific Studies at the U.S. Naval War College. Japan's defense minister told the gathering that the country, anxious about North Korea's latest nuclear test, would not strike first but it was still looking to boost its air force with Lockheed Martin F-22 fighter jets. Top executives from firms such as Boeing, the Pentagon's No.2 defense supplier, flew to Singapore to rub shoulders with potential clients, as they look to expand foreign sales at a time when the Obama government is starting to cap defense project spending." (Yahoo News, 31 May)


    YESTERDAY’S PRICE OF OIL
    "Royal Dutch Shell and the families of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an executed Nigerian opposition leader, and other activists hanged by the military government in 1995, on Monday agreed a $15.5m settlement in a New York court case stemming from allegations the oil group was complicit in the executions. The settlement, in which Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary denied any liability, ended a 13-year campaign by relations and supporters of Saro-Wiwa to hold the company accountable. A spokesman for the plaintiffs said $5m of the settlement to be paid by Shell would be put into a trust fund to promote education and welfare in the Ogoniland region of the Niger delta. The balance would be shared among 10 plaintiffs after legal costs were met. Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists were hanged after leading a campaign against Shell’s activities in the region and the then military-led government. ...Oil production stopped in Ogoniland in 1993 when Shell ceased operations amid mass protests led by Saro-Wiwa against the environmental damage alleged to have been inflicted by the company’s operations. The plaintiffs had alleged that at the request of Shell, and with its assistance and financing, Nigerian soldiers used deadly force and massive, brutal raids against the Ogoni people throughout the early 1990s to repress a movement against the oil company." (Financial Times, 9 June)


    TODAY’S PRICE OF OIL
    "President Alan Garcia labored Saturday to contain Peru's worst political violence in years, as nine more police officers were killed in a bloody standoff with Amazon Indians fighting his efforts to exploit oil and gas on their native lands. The new deaths brought to 22 the number of police killed — seven with spears — since security forces moved early Friday to break up a roadblock manned by 5,000 protesters. Protest leaders said at least 30 Indians, including three children, died in the clashes. Authorities said they could confirm only nine civilian deaths, but cabinet chief Yehude Simon told reporters that 155 people had been injured, about a third of them with bullet wounds." (Associated Press, 6 June)

    Understanding history

    From the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    This year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species but also of the publication of Marx’s first economic writings after his more detailed study of the workings of capitalism, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

    The Preface to this work contains a summary of Marx and Engels' materialist conception of history. Marx comments that during the course of his studies he reached the conclusion that the explanation of social development was not to be found merely in the realm of ideas but rather in the material conditions of life, and that a proper understanding of capitalism is to be found in economics. Marx then gives a condensed account of his key concepts and their likely relationships which provided the guiding thread for his historical research:

    “The general result at which I arrived and which, once won, served as a guiding thread for my studies, can be briefly formulated as follows: in the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their social being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundations the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so we cannot judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation. In broad outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism, but of one arising from the social conditions of life of the individual; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism. This social formation brings, therefore, the prehistory of human society to a close.”

    Discussions of this passage usually omit the first sentence above where Marx says the following “general result” served as a “guiding thread” for his research. This makes it clear that his theory of history is not a substitute for actual research. The materialist conception of history is a method of investigation, not a philosophy of history. Marx and Engels emphasised this point in their first explanation of their materialist (in the practical sense of the word, not in its acquisitive sense) outlook:

    “Viewed apart from real history, these abstractions have in themselves no value whatsoever. They can only serve to facilitate the arrangement of historical material, to indicate the sequence of its separate strata. But they by no means afford a recipe or schema, as does philosophy, for neatly trimming the epochs of history. On the contrary, our difficulties begin only when we set about the observation and the arrangement – the real depiction – of our historical material, whether of a past epoch or of the present” (The German Ideology, 1846).

    As Engels wrote: “...the materialist method is converted into its direct opposite if instead of being used as a guiding thread in historical research it is made to serve as a ready-cut pattern on which to tailor historical facts” (Letter to Paul Ernst,4 June 1890). And Marx emphatically rejected “general historico-philosophical theory, the supreme virtue of which consists in being super-historical”. He poured scorn on a critic who:

    “... insists on transforming my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in western Europe into an historico-philosophical theory of the general path prescribed by fate to all nations whatever the historical circumstances in which they find themselves in order that they may ultimately arrive at the economic system which ensures, together with the greatest expansion of the productive power of social labour, the most complete development of man. But I beg his pardon. He is doing me too much honour and at the same time slandering me too much” (Letter to the editorial board of Otechestvennive Zapiski, November 1877).

    Despite the numerous warnings, many commentators have concluded that Marx's theory of history, as set out in the 1859 Preface, is a form of productive forces (or technological) determinism. For instance, in his influential book GA Cohen claims that “high technology was not only necessary but also sufficient for socialism” (Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, 1978). But socialism is not inevitable; the fatalism of determinism is fatal for the socialist movement which requires a politically active class conscious working class to achieve our self-emancipation as a class.

    The 1859 Preface assumes the development of human productive forces throughout history, but this is not automatic or inevitable. In Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) social and political development did not occur exactly as outlined in the 1859 Preface, but that was not the point. Marx's hypothesis showed the key concepts and where to look in researching the past and present. That study reaffirmed the importance of understanding the specific contexts of material circumstances and humans as agents of historical change:

    “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.”

    If this looks like stating the obvious (apart from the sexist assumption), to some extent it is because of Marx's influence on public thinking about history. In his day prominence in historical writing was given to the role of ideas – for example, nationalism, freedom, religion – in explaining social development. This is still not unknown today and there are many who, explicitly or implicitly, reject the materialist theory of history for its revolutionary conclusions.

    The 1859 Preface identifies certain well-documented “modes of production” found in history, whose constituents are “forces of production” (productive technology) and “relations of production” (economic classes). Present-day capitalist production relations involve minority class ownership of the means of life, which means the majority must sell their labour power for a wage, while production is geared to profit for the few. In feudalism – where aristocrats owned most of the land and peasants were tied down to that land by a host of restrictions, including the requirement that they did unpaid labour for their liege lords. There was slavery – where the bodies of the producers were the property of slave owners and were bought and sold like land or goods. The Asiatic mode of production (sometimes called “oriental despotism”) was a system where millions of peasants were engaged under military pressure to raise water for the irrigation of crops. There were various types of primitive society – the key one being the primitive communistic tribal form, where localised common ownership was practised.

    The actual correspondence between forces of production and relations of production takes place through the mediation of the class struggle and the balance of class forces – what Marx called “the respective power of the combatants” (Value, Price and Profit, 1865). For example, China's rise as a capitalist super-power has taken place mainly through the Chinese state's ruthless use of cheap and plentiful labour power, rather than advances in its productive technology. For the workers of the world the materialist conception of history is a vital tool in our emancipation, for taking informed political action to bring class-divided society to an end.

    Lew

    Thursday, July 9, 2009

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (103)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 103rd of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1511 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Marx's Contribution to the Critique of Reformism
  • Levellers or Diggers?
  • Why socialism is still relevant
  • Quote for the week:

    ...'if thou consent to freedom for the rich in the City and givest freedom to the freeholders in the country, and to priests and lawyers and lords of manors.... and yet allowest the poor no freedom, thou art a declared hypocrite. Gerrard Winstanley. 1609 - 1676.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    No Chief, No God (2009)

    Book Review from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes. By Daniel Everett. (Profile)

    In 1977 Dan Everett travelled with his wife and their three young children to the midst of the Amazon jungle. They were going to live among the Pirahã people, where Everett was to learn their language in order to translate the new testament into it and so convert them to christianity (he was working for a missionary organisation). He learnt the language but failed to convert any of the Pirahã; rather, they and their culture had a profound influence on his own beliefs, about language, religion and how to live.

    The Pirahã, who now number less than four hundred, are typical of pre-state societies. They depend on hunting, foraging and fishing, and a family can acquire enough food for a week by working at most twenty hours each (including the children), though fishing and so on are fun and don’t really count as work. They do not plan for the future, and do not preserve food. They have few possessions but no concept of poverty. There is a strong sense of community and of mutual responsibility: an elderly disabled man who could not fend for himself was given food as a matter of course. There are no chiefs, and ostracism and exclusion from food-sharing are the main means of ‘coercion’ used to control each other’s behaviour.
    Spirit ‘voices’ can also influence the Pirahãs’ conduct, but they claim to see these spirits regularly and have no concept of a creator god. Their lives are very much in the here and now, and what they talk about is limited to what the speaker or someone they know has witnessed. Consequently, they were completely unreceptive to Everett’s religious message, based as it was on books produced by people he had never met. He translated Mark’s gospel into the Pirahã language, but they were only interested in hearing about the beheading of John the Baptist!

    This led Everett to question his own faith in unseen things, and to a realisation that it was perfectly possible to be contented without believing in sin, hell and heaven. He kept his new-found atheism a secret for many years, and when he eventually came clean it resulted in the break-up of his family.

    Everett describes the Pirahã as happy, patient and kind, certainly happier than any religious people he has encountered. It is important not to romanticise them and their way of life: they live in a dirty and dangerous environment, suffer high infant mortality and can be astonishingly violent to outsiders. But the Pirahãs “show no evidence of depression, chronic fatigue, extreme anxiety, panic attacks, or other psychological ailments common in many industrialized societies.”

    This book shows clearly how life under capitalism is just one means of human organisation, not the consequence of ‘human nature’, and that life without money and mortgages and god has plenty of attractions.
    Paul Bennett

    Monday, July 6, 2009

    World Socialist e-book now online

    One for the kindle lovers amongst you:

    "A World Torn Apart is a collection of forty articles on diverse topics written from a world-socialist perspective by Stephen Shenfield (Stefan). Organized in nine sections entitled: profits versus needs; working to survive; politics in various countries (U.S., South Africa, Israel/Palestine, China); popular culture; international relations; war and peace; non-military global threats; historical reflections; thinking about socialism. Includes analysis of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, Congo, and Gaza and discussion of such issues as patent law, disaster management (Hurricane Katrina), paying for air, advertising, U.S. presidential elections, children's TV, national sovereignty and globalization, exploitation of Arctic and lunar resources, naval confrontation in the South China Sea, humanitarian intervention, nuclear disarmament, 9/11 and the "war against terror," Iran, global warming, pig/bird/human flu, the Neolithic Revolution, religion, literary utopias, technocracy, and free access."

    You can already access some of the articles from the e-book over here. Get scribd.

    Friday, July 3, 2009

    Communism in Japan?

    The Material World column from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Surprisingly, the Communist Party of Japan still exists and, indeed, seems to be flourishing. Faced with the Japanese economy in steep decline, and ever-growing unemployment, many Japanese workers are, in the words of the Guardian (24 April), turning “to a new trend of cuddly communism”. But are they? Is the JCP educating common ownership, production for use instead of profit and the abolition of the wages system?

    The Japanese Communist Party was formed in July, 1922, largely by anarcho-syndicalists who were quite influential among Japanese workers prior to 1914.

    Between 1922 and the end of the second world war, in 1945, the JCP was an illegal organisation, with an underground membership which never exceeded 1,000. With legality it became a typical Leninist-Stalinist party, faithfully supporting the Soviet Union and advocating those reforms which it felt would get support from the Japanese working class and, hopefully, bring it to power.

    At first the JCP supported the American occupation, considering it a “liberating force”. Although considering Japan to be a highly developed capitalist state, it nevertheless claimed that all feudal remnants must be eliminated before proceeding to what it considered to be socialism – actually state capitalism.

    By 1947 the Communist Party had 100,000 members; and in the 1949 general elections polled three million (10 percent) votes. By the time of the Korean war, the party ceased to collaborate with the American occupiers; and by 1951, it was reduced to a semi-legal status. With the Soviet-Chinese split, the JCP leadership tended to side with the People’s Republic of China, and was increasingly critical of Khrushchev. By 1965 all the pre-Soviet officials were expelled from the party.

    Nevertheless, despite all its ideological problems, the Japanese Communist Party could claim almost 300,000 members in 1966. Later, it fell out with Mao and membership declined. It considered itself to be a completely independent, national Japanese party.

    According to the Guardian’s Tokyo correspondent, Justin McCurry, “the JCP is barely recognisable from the party of 30 years ago”. It has seen its fortunes transformed after years of being dismissed as an irrelevant hangover from the Cold War. Membership is now said to be over 410,000, with around 15,000 joining since 2007, of which 25 percent are under 30. It is popular with students. The circulation of the party’s official paper, Akahata (“Red Flag”), has increased from about one million six months ago to 1.6 million now, although in 1980 circulation topped 3.5 million.

    The party owes some of its success to a novel, Kaniksen (“The Crab Factory Ship”), first published in 1929, and forgotten until last year when 500,000 copies were sold in a few months. It describes how fishermen rebelled against their bosses.

    Need the Japanese capitalist class worry? I doubt it. It talks about welfare and jobs, and improving education. It has also made itself felt on the internet. With regard to the traditional Liberal Democratic Party, the JCP says: “We would co-operate on individual policies, but we wouldn’t be part of a coalition.” Of the 480-seat lower house of the Japanese parliament, the JCP has nine seats. It has, it proclaims, a commitment to “democratic change within the current framework of capitalism”. And not a word about communism/socialism.

    Peter E. Newell

    Wednesday, July 1, 2009

    The passing show

    Editorial from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The media has recently worked itself into a frenzy over the authority of the Prime Minister. The Euro-elections followed a spate of cabinet resignations. Every statement, coded phrase, nod and wink from the apparatchiks has been analysed. Whose side is Mandelson on? Will Milliband break ranks? And even, what's that badge that Blears is wearing? Kremlinologists used to try and find out what was happening in state capitalist USSR by analysing the seating positions of the party functionaries. A similar game of smoke, mirrors, cloaks and daggers appears to apply to the "democracies" of modern capitalism.

    This focus on the minutiae of our leaders is what passes for democracy around the world. Democratic decision-making has become a spectator sport. We'd be as well reading our tea-leaves to find out what's happening. Jeremy Paxman could read the entrails of a chicken on Newsnight for all it matters. And as the column inches grow and the 24-hour rolling news channels multiply, year after year fewer people bother to vote.

    It is in any case only every couple years or so that we get our hands on the stub of a pencil to register our pitiful preference. A few dozen crosses is your lifetime quota to express your opinion. In the time between voting, wars can start, economies may implode and climates change. And you can bet these issues won't all have appeared on the manifestos.

    For world socialists, the presence of leaders is the antithesis of genuine democracy. The dominance of the market system must be removed before genuine participative democratic decision-making is possible. Crucially however it must not be forgotten that this is only achievable on the basis of majority support for socialism, by which we mean a moneyless, wageless, classless and stateless society based on producing wealth for human need not the profit of a few.

    But while the democracy that capitalism provides (at least in most developed nations) is a pale imitation of the real thing, in our view it is usually still sufficient to be used to help bring about the end of capitalism.

    That doesn't mean that such a transformation would be restricted to parliament (far from it – the transformation to socialism will obviously resonate across all parts of society, and in many different ways). But it does mean that any movement set on democratic revolution should not ignore the machinery of government but instead call the bluff of the democratic credentials of the capitalist state. Alongside many other developments in the wider revolutionary movement, politically we need to set out with the intent to use the shoddy political mechanism of capitalism, albeit for one purpose only, that of expressing the majority support for the ending of capitalism.