Thursday, December 31, 2009

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 130

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 130th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1557 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Snowfall
  • Happiness, happiness
  • Breakdown At The Hague
  • Quote for the week:

    "The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange." >Engels, Socialism: Utopian & Scientific, 1880.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Never a follower be (1998)

    From the April 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
    The Greek phrase "an-archon" or "no leader" gave us the word "anarchy". Yet "anarchy" to most people is another name for chaos, or disorder. The assumption is that without leaders, there can be no civilisation. Our contention is the opposite. Leaders, and the followers who create them, are holding us back from any real global civilisation.
    Think what some of these leaders have accomplished for humanity. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, Margaret Thatcher, Mao Tse Tung, Saddam Hussein--it would be perverse indeed to claim that such leaders have benefited the human species, and yet stubbornly the leadership cult persists. Anyone can write a long list of "bad leaders". But try writing a list of "good leaders" and see how far you get.

    The world is obsessed by leaders and leadership. Corruption charge may follow sex scandal in the halls of power, and it doesn't seem to matter how many political, religious or other leaders are exposed as liars and frauds, nothing seems to dent the idea of leadership as a practical and reliable method of organising human affairs. The evidence may say differently, the individuals in real life may be as bent as a rubber shilling but the principle of leadership is still considered perfectly valid. Is this because we believe that some (mostly) men are just superhuman, or because we are over-rating the few and under-rating the many?

    The comic-strip character "Superman" has to save the human race so often he must get really bored with it. In most adventure stories, books and films, and in true heroic form, one or other man usually saves us all. With this plot, write your own blockbuster. We have a "hero" fixation, perhaps shaped in a modern form by Nietzchean ideas of perfectibility, but born originally in the vacuum left by the death of old gods and antiquated religions, and justified by a rather freudian view of history as the sequential biographies of great leaders and lords. All this continues to inform our art, our imagination and our politics. If only we had the right people in charge, everything would be better.

    Or would it? In nature, any species which relied so heavily on certain "heroic" individuals to save it just wouldn't last a single sweaty afternoon. Human beings are far too inventive and adaptable to leave themselves in such a fix, and in order to persuade ourselves that we need leaders we somehow have to forget this fact, and keep on forgetting it.

    Humans are remarkable. Our very diversity as a species is the key to our success, if that is the word, in dominating all other species. We have the most complex brain ever evolved in nature and by trading ideas through the medium of our collective diversity (that is to say, society) we have multiplied our latent ingenuity by many orders of magnitude. In a geological second or two we have climbed down from the trees, given ourselves a name, learned to produce food in abundance, and sent our spacecraft to explore our planetary system.

    That's not bad going for an unpromising and rather weedy bald, deaf ape with bad eyesight and no sense of smell. Nobody would have put money on us back in the Pliocene.

    We now we dominate the globe. And are we looking after it properly? Obviously not. The rest of the animal species are at our mercy, and we are making them extinct. Are we content? No, we're not. Can we stop destroying everything around us? No, we can't. What's wrong with us?

    Post-scarcity era
    It's because we can't let go of the past. Yes, we've had to fight all the way to survive. Yes, we've had slavery of one sort or another and, yes, we've been dominated by priests, kings and presidents for all our written history. We're in a new era now, the post-scarcity era, and we don't need to fight anymore, but we haven't woken up to the fact. We still think we have to dominate everything, including each other. Our social systems, our behaviour, the cast of our ideas are all predicated on the inevitability of competition for wealth and favour, on the need for leaders and followers. We are still hypnotised by the historic glare of power and domination, lulled and gulled by the soft insistent tones of our leaders that they and their ilk are as inevitable as the stars in the sky, that leadership, the power of it, and the competition for it, are as natural as birth, sex and death. That's the way the world is, people say, even Darwin said so.

    But he didn't say so. There is nothing in the human brain that inclines it to subservience. Nor is there a "must-dominate" gland. Attempts by so-called Social Darwinists to justify our terrible oppression of ourselves as natural and correct have long been discredited, while efforts by some modern sociobiologists to do essentially the same have also been severely attacked. To imagine, as did the Social Darwinists, that evolution is entirely a process of merciless competition is to take no account of the alternative and co-operative tactics nature also employs, while to suggest, as do some sociobiologists, that our genes may dictate our behaviour and therefore our culture (including leadership culture), is merely to sit down very heavily on one end of that old see-saw, the Nature-Nurture argument, and hope the riders at the end fall off.

    But although there is nothing "natural" about our social condition, there is nothing unnatural about it either. Where evolution calls forth one or another set of behaviour patterns in other species, we have the ability, and indeed, the obligation, to make our own conscious changes. We have changed in the past often enough as circumstances demanded. In the new post-scarcity era, we can and must adapt again, this time in the interest of the whole planet.

    Each of us can be our own leader. The greatest command is that over oneself. Our capitalist world, controlled by a few rich people and their minions, has done its level best to school out of us the very things which make us such a great species in the first place--initiative, experimentation, imagination, diversity. But society can't reduce us, because it is attempting a self-inflicted wound. The rich need us to be smart to run their wealth-collection system for them, but they try to keep us in our place by browbeating us and treating us like children. It won't work for ever, even if it seems to be working at the moment.

    The leaders we are asked to support, and sometimes choose between, are a myth, created and maintained by--leaders. They are poor examples of honesty, integrity, even of humanity. They are not interested in truth, justice, or any of the grand notions they spout about. They exist, have always existed, will always exist, for one purpose only: to line their own pockets and empty yours. They are parasites on the social body, unwanted, unnecessary and destructive. To follow leaders is to hand over your heart on a platter, with knife and fork attached. It is an admission of defeat, acceptance that you are inadequate, in and of yourself. It is an act of submission and indeed an act of cowardice unworthy of the human animal.

    To refuse to follow leaders is a liberating step, one which the working class has yet to take. When we realise that the post-scarcity world can be run very efficiently and healthily by democratic co-operation, that our own lives would be vastly better without states, governments, police, and all the trappings of leadership, we will collectively be in a position to make that step. And then we will see a revolution unprecedented in history.

    The Socialist Party has no leaders in fact or theory. Socialism wouldn't operate that way and neither do we. All decisions are made by common vote, all administration is above-board and open to inspection, and all work is voluntary. None of us is perfect, and that's why democracy works better than leadership. Mistakes by one person are not disasters for the many. Private interests don't count. Power doesn't exist. Socialists are their own leaders, and they follow nobody but themselves.

    Socialism--common ownership in a leaderless global democracy--could not work with people unwilling or unable to think for themselves, to take responsibility, or to co-operate, but fortunately it doesn't have to. Human beings are better than that. We can think, and we can co-operate, and we don't need the bigots of the Right to tell us we're worthless, nor do we need rescuing by some "heroic" and entirely untrustworthy vanguard of the Left.

    In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius advises Laertes: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." Socialists, having to truck with the money system in any case, would instead offer the following injunction: "Neither a follower, nor a leader be." So the next time you are asked to vote for a leader, do yourself a big favour. Don't.
    Paddy Shannon

    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    A different kind of politics (2009)

    From the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
    Politics has become a dirty word, but that’s because we leave it to professional politicians.
    Most political groups today use the word “socialism” to refer to a brand of Leftist politics advocating things such as nationalization of industries, higher taxes for the rich, greater participation of trade unions in government, more spending on social programmes, and greater control of the economy by the state. These so-called socialists of the Left, in common with all the other political parties of the Right and the Centre, look at all the world's problems – hunger and malnutrition, poverty, unemployment, epidemics, war, genocide – and they tell us none of them can't be solved by putting them in charge of the system. If only they could change the laws, set the budgets, and liaise with the other world leaders, they say, things would be better. And so we vote these politicians into power – again and again and again – and still, over the decades and centuries, the problems are still with us.

    However, the Socialist Party is not a party of the Left, and doesn't advocate any of their political reforms. When we talk about socialism, we mean one thing and one thing only: a world-wide, democratically organized system of society without states, leaders, markets, and money. We believe that society at large, not governments or a small minority of private owners, should own and control the means of producing and distributing wealth. We believe that production of goods and provision of services should take place not for profit but rather directly to satisfy human needs. We believe that labour should be voluntary, not coerced, and that people should have free access to the goods produced by society. This isn't the mere tinkering with taxation and budgets and laws which is all the other political groups want to do---what we want is a fundamental, revolutionary change in the way society is organized.

    What exactly do we mean when we talk about the means of producing and distributing wealth being owned in common? By “the means of producing and distributing wealth”, we’re not talking about personal possessions like your house or your clothes or your toothbrush. Rather, we’re talking about the forests, farms, mines, and oceans from which natural wealth is extracted; the factories in which it's processed; the transportation networks, such as roads and railways, that carry these goods across the Earth; and the distribution centres, such as warehouses and department stores from which we collect these goods for our own use. Currently, all these things are owned and controlled by a tiny minority of the world's population. If these owners can't find out a way of turning a profit out of the sale of the goods, then they don't get produced or distributed, no matter how much people need them. This is why millions of people all over the world have little or no access to the food, water, medicine, and shelter they need to stay alive. It's not because we lack the resources or the capacity to produce these things, but because it's not profitable to do so.

    On the other hand, capitalism seems to be very good at churning out loads of goods that nobody needs at all. Instead of finding out what it is that people need and then producing the goods to meet that need, a large part of energy in our present society is focussed on coming up with all manner of new gadgets, gimmicks, and other shoddy merchandise, and then convincing people that they need them. The entire system is back-to-front! You just can't walk down the street today, or turn on the television or radio, or open a newspaper or web page, without being constantly bombarded with billboards, commercials, banner ads, inserts, leaflets, coupons, sandwich boards, posters, stickers, infomercials, and spam, all trying to convince you that you need to buy whatever hyped-up product du jour they're flogging. A lot of the time these products are of such inferior quality that they don't work as advertised, or end up breaking after a few months or years.

    In a socialist society, though, all the means of producing and distributing wealth would be democratically owned and controlled by society at large. That means that every one of us would have the right to participate in decisions about how to organize the production of goods and services. And in any sane technologically advanced society, there is no reason why the sole object of production would not be simply to meet people's self-determined needs with the very best goods we know how to make. This would entail an end to buying, selling and money. We already have the resources and the technology to supply every single human being on this planet with all the material goods that they need for a comfortable, pleasant, enjoyable life. All we lack is the system of society that would permit this to happen.

    So how do we establish this new system of society? The Socialist Party does not believe in achieving socialism through coercion or through violent seizure of power by a revolutionary vanguard. That's no basis upon which to build a fair and democratic society. No, the only way that socialism as we understand it could be set up and run is through the consent and cooperation of an overwhelming majority of the world's population. And the only way we will know once there is such a majority is when it says so via the ballot. It is then, and only then, that we will know that the time is ripe for socialist revolution. It is then that we can start dismantling the coercive machinery of government and start taking control of the things we need to make society function in our own interests.

    Capitalism cannot meet the needs of the majority of the people in the world. It does not today, and it never can, no matter how much well-meaning politicians might try to make it. Rather, we are asking you to understand and agree with our analysis of why the world is the way it is today, and why the entire world-wide system of capitalism needs to be replaced with socialism.
    Tristan Miller

    The rise and fall of money

    From the September 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Many people mistakenly believe that money has always existed and that it therefore always will. We explain why money is out of date.

    Many people think that money has always existed and therefore it always will. Wrong.

    Human beings have lived on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years without using money. When they were hungry, they ate. When they were thirsty, they drank. Whatever was available to anyone was available to everyone.

    It wasn't paradise, because food was scarce, and growing communities were eventually forced by this scarcity into a competitive struggle for life.

    First came the invention of agriculture, and the consequent need to defend the land, or property, on which crops were grown.

    Although this gave communities more stability and growth, agriculture and animal husbandry could not by themselves supply everything which they needed to develop as cultures. For this they needed to associate with other communities and pool their resources. But in the new culture of property there was never again to be such freedom to take whatever was available.

    And so began the exchange of products known as trade. And although some quite advanced bronze age societies managed to trade very well by using barter (e.g. the Egyptians), it was a supremely awkward way to conduct transactions. With the advent of the Iron Age, cheap metal was for the first time plentiful, and coinage was slowly introduced to facilitate the trading process.

    Civilisation has since grown up on the back of this trade, whose sophistication was made possible by the invention of money. To the modern mind therefore, civilisation relies on money. This is a misunderstanding. In fact, it is only trade which relies on money. Civilisation relies on distribution of material goods certainly, but distribution is not the same thing as trade, just as give is not the same thing as sell. Modern industrial society has given us the means to free ourselves forever from that scarcity which has always dogged our forebears. Money is no longer a necessity or logical feature of society, and only a tiny minority benefit from its presence.

    In history, many things become out of date, like the steam engine or quill pens. Money is about to join them.

    Money today

    Money is indispensable to the capitalist system, but this system is not indispensable to human society. Money as a universal means of exchange represents capital. The possessing of money enables the buyer to acquire goods and services (commodities) and the seller to dispose of goods and services. The key resource that is bought and sold is human labour power—the ability to transform initial wealth (resources, raw material, etc) into more wealth.

    We live in a society where almost everything is bought and sold. That which you need to live is a commodity, you must buy it from someone who will make (or at least expect) a profit out of selling to you. It is our passport to existence in capitalism. Not only does the movement of products from producer to consumer come to be mediated by money, but the value of a product comes to be judged not in human terms but in terms of a sum of money.

    The key to the rise of continuation of the capitalist system is the ability of members of the capitalist class (owners of means of wealth production and distribution) to buy the working abilities of members of the working class. They combine that labour with capital resulting in commodities that can be sold for more than it costs in total to produce them.

    A high proportion of employment in capitalism consists of handling money in some way. There are hundreds of occupations that would not exist in a society that had no need for money: they range from accountants, bank and insurance staff, salespeople, wages clerks to name only some of the more numerous occupations. Tangible products needed only in a money system include bank notes and coins, account books and invoices, meters, safes and many others.

    Capitalism as a market system means that the normal method of getting what you need is to pay for it. The normal way for members of the capitalist class to get money is to invest their capital to produce rent, interest, dividends or profit. The normal way for workers to get money is to sell their labour power for wages, salaries, commission or fees. If they are unable to find employment they depend on state or other handouts. The result is poverty in the midst of potential plenty—actual plenty only for the privileged minority.

    Socialism: a moneyless society

    Socialism means a world society based on production solely for use, not profit. It will be a classless society, in which everyone will be able to participate democratically in decisions about the use of the world's resources, each producing according to their ability and each taking from the common store according to their needs.

    In such a society there can be no money—or, more precisely, no need for money. Money is only needed when people possess, and most do not.

    Imagine that all the things you need are owned and held in common. There is no need to buy food from anyone—it is common property. There are no rent or mortgages to pay because land and buildings belong to all of us. There is no need to buy anything from any other person because society has done away with the absurd division between the owning minority (the capitalists) and the non-owning majority (the workers).

    In a socialist world monetary calculation won't be necessary. The alternative to monetary calculation based on exchange-value is calculation based on use values. Decisions apart from purely personal ones of preference or interest will be made after weighing the real advantages and disadvantages and real costs of alternatives in particular circumstances.

    The ending of the money system will mean at the same time the ending of war, economic crises, unemployment, poverty and persecution—all of which are consequences of that system.

    The revolutionary change that is needed is not possible unless a majority of people understand and want it. We do not imagine all humankind's problems can be solved at a stroke.

    Reforms of the present system fail because the problems multiply and recur. It will take time to eliminate hunger, malnutrition, disease and ignorance from the world.

    But the enormous liberation of mental and physical energies from the shackles of the money system will ensure that real human progress is made.

    Stan Parker

    Tuesday, December 29, 2009

    Wages and exploitation (1998)

    From the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Exploitation is the fundamental economic process underpinning all class societies. As its form has undergone change so too has the form of class society itself. In feudal society, for example, exploitation took the form of the serf having to work several days each week on the manorial estate, the proceeds of such labour going entirely to the manorial lord. In Marxist terms, this represented surplus labour as distinct from the necessary labour which the serf expended on producing his or her own means of subsistence during the other days of the week. In other words, there was a clear-cut time division of the working week which readily exposed the exploitative nature of feudal society.

    In capitalism, workers also perform surplus labour but as Marx points out in Volume I of Capital "this fact is not directly visible" as the "money-relation conceals the uncompensated labour of the wage labourer". Lacking the means to provide for ourselves (which even the feudal serf had in the form of a small plot of land and access to pasture) we have to sell our working abilities—our labour power—to the capitalist owners of the means of production in return for a wage (or salary). Having purchased our labour power, the capitalists then require us to work for them.

    In the course of working for them we produce a greater value in the form of the commodities we create than the value of the wages we receive. Out of this "surplus value", the capitalists obtain an income to support a lavish lifestyle but, more importantly, the necessary new capital to reinvest in their business enterprises. Indeed, the need to accumulate capital out of surplus value is the driving force of capitalism. It stems from the economic competition between enterprises which compels each enterprise to increase their market competitiveness or succumb to superior competition and go bankrupt. So, increasing the amount of capital at their disposal to invest in more productive technologies means increasing the amount of surplus value extracted from their workforce which in turn means, among other things, holding down their costs, including their labour costs—our wages!

    As workers, we are exploited by virtue of the fact that we produce—and indeed must produce—surplus value for the capitalists to appropriate and use for their own ends. Unlike the feudal serf however, our necessary labour (the labour required to produce a value equivalent to our wage or salary) and our surplus labour (the labour required to produce surplus value) are not discontinuous in time but simultaneous—the point that Marx was driving at. This concept of exploitation is very different from the more popular version which equates exploitation with workers being paid low wages or being harshly treated by their employers. In our view, even if we were paid high wages and were relatively well treated, we would still be exploited. Exploitation, in other words, is something which is built into the very nature of the employment relation itself which implies the division of society into employers/owners and employees/non-owners and all this entails.

    Nor do we advocate equal wages for all. That would in any case be impossible to achieve. Since wages are the monetary expression of the value of labour power and since it costs more to produce and maintain the labour power of a skilled worker than an unskilled worker, this is bound to be reflected in the different wages each receives. In short, labour power being a commodity, its price (our wages) must reflect on average the amount of socially necessary labour time (or value) embodied in it.

    In socialism, however, labour power will no longer be a commodity to be bought and sold on a market. Indeed, the employment relationship as such would no longer exist by virtue of the fact that the means of production will have become the common property of society. Individuals will voluntarily contribute to the production of wealth and freely take what they require from the wealth thus produced.
    Robin Cox

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 129

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 129th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1561 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Capitalism and Climate Change
  • Intervention USA
  • Banks and the crisis
  • Quote for the week:

    "Common sense, in so far as it exists, is all for the bourgeoisie. Nonsense is the privilege of the aristocracy. The worries of the world are for the common people." George Jean Nathan, 1882 - 1958.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Sunday, December 27, 2009

    Capitalism and food security – an oxymoron

    From the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Food security for all the people of the world will only be possible whem the profit motive is taken out of food supply.

    It's official! Now more than one billion people are hungry and in desperate need of food aid according to the World Food Programme. To meet this need $6.7 billion will be required this year alone (of which less than half has been raised so far). $6.7 billion equates to less than 0.01 percent of that heaped on the needy banks and corporations during the recent and ongoing financial crisis.

    But help is at hand, at least for Africa's hungry millions, in the form of a New Green Revolution courtesy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Or is it? According to Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez and Annie Shattuck in 'Ending Africa's Hunger' (The Nation, September 21), “the conventional wisdom is wrong. Food output per person is as high as it has ever been, suggesting that hunger isn't a problem of production so much as one of distribution.” A leaked internal strategy document statement from the Gates Foundation stated, “over time this (strategy) will require some degree of mobility and a lower percentage of total employment involved in direct agricultural production.” The foundation claims that peasants will head for the cities “because there are a lot of them who don't want to be farmers” and “people make their own choices.” The translation from Newspeak reads like this: agribusiness will expand and drive more peasant farmers from the land, disenfranchising them and forcing them to seek employment elsewhere for economic reasons.

    Outlining proposals which are largely in opposition to the development strategies of the Gates foundation is the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) whose 2500 page report was completed after 400 scientists spent four years researching the subject. They concluded that the present system of food production and the way food is traded round the world has led to a highly unequal distribution of benefits and serious adverse ecological effects and was now contributing to climate change. Science and technology should be targeted towards raising yields but also protecting soils, waters and forests. Robert Watson, director of the IAASTD and chief scientist at the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said, “Business as usual will hurt the poor. It will not work.” More of their conclusions found that there was little role for GM foods as it is practised now, that the short answer to whether transgenic crops can feed the world is no and that the global rush to biofuels was not sustainable. One response to this report from a group of eight international environmental and consumer groups was, “this is a sobering account of the failure of industrial farming. Small-scale farmers and ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis and meet the needs of communities.”

    Some of the negative aspects and results of current farming practices widely available in the public domain and cited in this international group's response include bio-energy, bio-technology, climate change and trade and markets. One argument could be that some uses of bio-energy and some applications of bio-technology may be useful, however trade and markets only take into consideration profit and, therefore, climate change will continue unabated.

    The big question is how to move from a model in which everyone recognises the profit imperative whether they love it or hate it; profit on a large scale or small, profit from agribusiness or market stall, from pure accumulation to simple survival, from the greedy to the needy, profit which favours minority over majority in all areas. Everyone recognises it but far fewer question the possibility, the sense, the imperative of implementing a different model, not a few reforms here and there to give temporary help to this sector or that, but one which takes into consideration the needs, aspirations, ideas and ideals of the many rather than the few.

    Who produces the food anyway? Farmers do. And what are farmers saying about their position, as middlemen between consumers and profiteers? La Via Campesina is a “peasants' international” movement, politically pluralist and non-aligned, in 56 countries across 5 continents which came about in response to the global offensive against the countryside. Farmers from North and South united to confront agribusiness whose industrialisation removed the link of consumer to farmer. More than simply trying to defend their economic interests they advocate the right of people to define their own agricultural and food policy. Their list of demands includes safe, nutritious food in sufficient quantity for all, opposition to WTO, World Bank and IMF policies, opposition to displacement and urbanisation of small farmers and guaranteed input into formulating agricultural policies.

    Farmers around the world tell of plummeting incomes and higher overheads in both rich and poor world, of farm closures, bankruptcies and suicides whilst financial pages boast of bigger and better profits for the industrial agricultural corporations. Farmers seek a solution which allows them to continue farming with input and policies emanating from them, the producers, not to the dictates of large corporations. This aim is understandable but, generally what they demand is increased subsidies or a watering-down of aggressive policies and trade deals, a redressing of their situation into one which is more economically viable and favourable to them.

    Who does the consuming and what are they saying? Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now! speaks for many when he writes that “people are realising over the last 60 years that the ownership of our food supply has been consolidated into the hands of a few powerful multinational corporations,” that “the abundance of 'cheap' food comes at a high cost to society, to individual rights and to our collective future. The industrialisation of food in America has had fundamental health, environmental and economic consequences that can no longer be ignored. By placing a high value on cheap food Americans have unwittingly allowed corporate agribusiness to outsource the true cost of production onto society. The result has been the pollution of our nation's rivers and streams, damage to citizens' health and a severe breakdown in our nation's rural communities where small farmers have been pushed off the land.”

    Food production should be about meeting the self-defined needs of people, not a profit-motivated venture for corporations, agribusinesses and their boards and shareholders. Food security is about meeting the dietary needs of all people, at all times, enabling them to live a healthy life and not to be constantly in fear of the vagaries of the market. Only by addressing the monetary element, by coming to terms with the absolute necessity of removing it and any profit motive from the food supply will farmers, consumers and all the peoples of the world have the security of knowing that sufficient food is available to all, at all times and in all situations. Food security for all the world's citizens is just not possible in a capitalist system. Prove me otherwise.

    Janet Surman

    Thursday, December 24, 2009

    Xmas eve at the grotto (1986)

    From the December 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard


    "Hello little boy, climb onto my knee and tell me what you would like for Xmas. A BMX bike? A computer? Or perhaps you'd like something more traditional like a train set?"

    "Well actually Santa, what I'd really like is a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth".

    "Hee hee, well, er, how about a nice Action Man instead hmmm?"

    "But I don't like playing with dolls".

    "Dolls? Dolls! Action Man isn't a doll. He's a real live, or rather real imitation live, bucho macho man. Why he's got muscles on his nostrils; he comes complete with all action SAS uniform, guns, grenades, knives, the lot. And for a little extra you can have a complete change of outfit. There's the riot-cops' gear with a super long club for clobbering pickets. Nothing namby-pamby about Action Man".

    "Well, I still think that it's a doll, and anyway I don't fancy all that simulated violence".

    "Hmm, okay then, how about something more sedate like the game of Monopoly?"

    "But I want to abolish money".

    "Okay, okay, look here's a good one. Hangman".

    "What's that about then?"

    "Eh, let me see. Oh yes, it's rather like one of those interminable game shows that are never off the telly. What happens is this: your opponent makes up a word which you have got to find out by guessing the letters one by one. Every time you guess wrong, that's another step up to the gallows. If you guess wrong too many times then your man is hanged, hee, hee hee".

    "It's a bit reactionary isn't it?"

    "Well, it is only a symbolic hanging you know. I mean they don't actually hang anyone . . . Wait a minute, these television producers are always looking for new ideas for telly shows, this could be the break I've been waiting for. Hey kid, how would you like to hold the throne for five minutes until I call my agent? . . . "

    "Hey Santa, I'm not finished yet".

    "What? Oh okay, another half an hour and I'll be on my break anyway. Right, where were we?"

    "You were asking me what I wanted for Xmas and I've been trying to tell you that what I'd really like is to have socialism".

    "Listen you little Commie runt, how would you like me to jam this plastic pixie right down your . . . Ulp! here comes my boss. Quick - give me a big smile. C'mon you can do better than that. Wider, that's it. Now wave to him and I'll let go of your nuts. Phew! there he goes into Santa's workshop. Boy are Santa's helpers in for a shock. Now look son, let's be reasonable, there's a big queue forming. After all, if they all thought like you, well, where would we be?"

    "In a happy sane society".

    "I knew you were a pervert. Look son give me a break. I'm not really Santa Claus you know. I'm actually an out of work actor between engagements and I can tell you it's not easy sitting here all day like a white haired ventriloquist".

    "Couldn't you get some work in television then?"

    "If only I could. I did once manage to get a walk-on part in a soap opera or to be more accurate it was a sit-down part".

    "What part did you play?"

    (Sigh) "Santa Claus".

    "Listen, socialism won't have Santa Claus, nor for that matter will there be such a thing as Xmas".

    "But that would mean that I'd be out of a job".

    "Everyone would be out of a job, at least in the sense that there would no longer be employment which is what people really mean when they talk about work. Since there will no longer be employers and employed, people will be free to do the kind of work they really enjoy doing and that includes acting, because people will still want to be entertained".

    "Good grief, it's as if a veil has been lifted from my eyes, everything is so cleas now . . . "

    "You're overacting".

    "Sorry, was it so obvious? I studied the Method you know. Anyway, I'm going to do something positive for a change, and to begin with I'll remove this stupid wig. There, I've done it. What a great feeling. Now I think I'll burn the wig. Hee hee".

    "You mean that you've grasped the concept that I've been explaining as easily as that?"

    "Of course dear boy, it's so simple that even a seven year old could grasp it".

    "Well I'm certainly relieved to hear you say that".

    "Oh, why?"

    "Because now you can explain it to that long line of howling kids. Merry Xmas".

    Tone


    On a witty festive note, I'd also like to point you in the direction of S. J Perelman's "Waiting for Sanity', which has been reproduced on the excellent Scottish blog, The Socialist Courier.



    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    How I got to be a socialist

    From the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    “… I came to know about ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ but always preferred ‘our’.”

    At the age of 5 I had never heard the word “socialist”, but something happened on my first day at school that suggested I was one. My mother sent me off with a packed lunch. “How was your lunch?” she asked. “I liked the sandwich but I have the banana to Greta.” “Why on earth did you do that? It was your banana.” Puzzled, I said that she had asked for it, so her need must have been greater than mine. After that episode I came to know about ‘mine’ and ‘thine’, but always preferred ‘our’.

    I first met the Socialist Party at its platform at Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park. The socialist message was powerful stuff, erudite but put across in a controversial way. It was 1945, the year the war ended and Labour won the election. It did so on a programme of reforms, and because of a widespread feeling that it was time for a change, of administration but not of the system.

    I remember questioning a Labour candidate at the 1950 election about his attitude to socialism. Anticipating Sir Humphrey waffle by a couple of decades, the candidate said something like: “Socialism? Yes, in the fullness of time, when conditions are ripe, at the appropriate moment, all things considered—but first we must elect a Labour government.”

    There were two main things that attracted me to what the Socialist Party—or the SPGB as it was then widely known—was saying. One was that it presented incontrovertible evidence that the Labour Party, in or out of power, supported capitalism in more or less the same way that the Conservative Party did. The other was that capitalism, with all its problems of inequality, boom and bust, war, the priority of profit over need is not inevitable. It can be replaced by a better system—socialism—when a majority of people decide to do so.

    Revolution isn’t just a matter of destroying capitalism—the new system has to be put in its place. This poses a problem for the Socialist Party. Socialism isn’t something that can be promised to be introduced after the next election. All the other parties don’t want electors to understand and want revolutionary change—they offer only minor revisions of the same basic system and insist that if you don’t choose one of them you are wasting your vote. You are not. You don’t have to choose the least of two or more evils. You can take the long view and choose to help build the kind of world you really want.

    My introduction to socialist ideas included trying to get to grips with the writings of classic socialists. Frankly, I found much of Marx hard going, though I liked his inspirational “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (despite its sexist language).

    For me the outstanding socialist book was and is William Morris’s News from Nowhere. I don’t agree with everything in it. I'm no fan of 14th-century costume, and I certainly don’t think his forecast of “How the change came” is remotely likely (a Trafalgar Square massacre, a Committee of Public Safety, general strike, etc.).

    However, Nowhere is of great value in painting a picture of what the future can be in terms of how people treat and relate to each other. Today there is giving and taking, but only within our economic and political system based on buying and selling. Morris shows how changing that system to socialism will extend the scope of giving and taking from family and small-group life to society as a whole.

    Stan Parker

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    Freedom from profit (2001)

    From the August 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The final pages of Engels's pamphlet, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, project a future for human kind that is bursting with optimism. Written in 1877, it foresees a time in socialism when all the economic constraints on our human powers will have been finally thrown off and we shall at last be free to relate to each other in a truly human way. Some of the language may now seem dated, for example, depicting “man” as the conscious “lord of Nature”. Nevertheless, his ideas were eloquently expressed and inspiring:
    “Man's own social organisation, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by Nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. Only from that time will man himself, more and more consciously, make his own history . . . It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”
    Engels summarised the development of the powers of production and the changes in social relationships which accompanied it. He was in no doubt that the productive powers, in 1877, were sufficient to make socialism a possibility:
    “The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialised production (socialism), an existence not only sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties – this possibility is now for the first time here, but it is here.”
    This was expressed with great confidence but could it be that the optimism of Engels's outlook had led him to some exaggeration?

    Since then, beyond even the wildest dreams of Engels, productive powers have further expanded but these are still only in proportion with the capacity of markets for the sales of goods. Market capacity is always much less than the amount that would be required for needs. This means that to solve the desperate problems of poverty and to raise the living standards of every person throughout the world, even taking into account the elimination of waste, people in socialism would have to increase means of production of every kind together with goods for consumption.

    There could, of course, be no such thing as absolute freedom from necessity. More than most Engels recognised that the work of providing for needs is an eternal nature-imposed necessity and is basic to all forms of society. What Engels was talking about was freedom from the necessity to submit to the way the profit system is organised. Workers need money to live and can only do so by selling their working skills to an employer. This compels workers to submit to the work arrangements which are dictated by the capitalist system.

    This is the capitalist division of labour. It does not arise primarily from the needs of people, it is determined by the drive for profit and capital accumulation. It does not work in the interests of producers, it works in the interests of the privileged minority who own and control the means of life. It does, of course, include the production of useful goods and services for consumption. All societies must do this; it happened even under slavery and feudalism. But in the modern system of wage slavery, although a precise figure would be difficult to assess, we can say that at least half the number of people who work for wages or salaries do jobs that have got nothing to do with real human needs.

    In fact, in this mad system, many millions of people in armaments industries throughout the world are producing the means of killing other human beings whilst more millions in armies and other military services, are trained and prepared to use these weapons. In the wars and civil strife of the 20th century, all caused by the state rivalries and other conflicts of the capitalist system, more people killed each other than during any previous century. This required allocations of labour and materials on a vast scale. It was humanity in a prolonged mode of self-destruct with the division of labour organised as a gigantic death machine.

    Otherwise, many jobs required by the capitalist division of labour are boring and meaningless. The list is long and includes the hours spent every day by workers at the checkout tills in supermarkets. The work of millions of people in insurance, finance and banking administer corporate accounts, interest, invoices, costings, contracts, wage accounts, all mostly involved with the movement of money. Many of these jobs are well paid, providing perhaps for a bigger mortgage, and thus strengthening the bonds that tie the employee to the corporation.

    Within factories the technical division of labour splits up the work process into detailed parts that are worked in repetition, sometimes at a speed governed by the production line. This de-humanises work by reducing the men and women doing it to extensions of the machine.

    Because the capitalist division of labour works as an extended system of exploitation each production unit or office is run according to the disciplines of corporate authority with the employer having the power of dismissal. It is fraught with stress and insecurity. Having control, and as a strategy for maximising its profits, a company may decide to switch production to a different location or a downturn in the market may cause shut down. In either case workers may be dismissed in great numbers.

    Breaking the shackles
    It was against this oppressive state of things that in 1877 Engels's looked forward to a society shaped by the free actions of all people. The difference now is that is that the capitalist system has spread across the world with a division of labour that has dissipated the gains in technology throughout new fields of waste, pollution and the death-producing industries of the military. This has intensified the contradiction between the potentially liberating powers of useful production and the way it remains shackled to the objectives of capitalism.

    But these shackles would be so easy to break. We are now in a time when throughout the world people could share an abundance of energy, skill and creative talent but it is only in socialism that these could flourish in freedom and co-operation. With common ownership, to begin with, these resources would be concentrated on sorting out the mess left by capitalist society, to stop pollution, to make sure everyone was well fed and well housed with good medical services and the means of enjoying life. This means that in working for these objectives socialism would be bound to expand useful production and this will require a division of labour given by the available technology and materials. This will be determined by practical necessity and there can be no guarantee that some jobs will not be boring. But with no economic pressures on work arrangements and every means of increasing automated methods, such jobs would be reduced to a minimum or shared out.

    But even if some of the work may be routine it will never be meaningless. It will always serve needs or be part of progress in solving problems. Work itself is an important need and is most rewarding when done in co-operation with others and when it is in the interests of those doing it This places less emphasis on what work does and more on the relationships within which it is done. In socialism it would result from a freedom to choose how to live, to decide what the priorities of action should be and an ability to organise production so as to achieve these objectives. But this is denied by the oppressive forces that determine the capitalist division of labour.

    Instead of the pressures that force people to sell their working skills to an employer, people in socialism will work as a voluntary expression of their relationship with others. Needs will replace the drive for profits and the dictates of the market in deciding what must be done. Instead of the authoritarian control imposed by boards of directors and their corporate managers, production units will be run democratically by the people working in them. Instead of the state and its government of people, in socialism, people will contribute to the policy decisions made democratically by the community and their work will be a response to those decisions.

    In 1877 Engels set out this great challenge – the need to build a new society that would combine the knowledge and the productive powers that had been achieved in his day with all the best qualities of co-operation. For too long the challenge has been neglected and the consequences of not taking it up have been tragic and immense.
    Pieter Lawrence

    Full House (2009)


    Book Review from the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Sarah Glynn, ed: Where the Other Half Lives: Lower Income Housing in a Neoliberal World. Pluto Press

    Social housing (also known by various other names, especially council housing) has generally been aimed at workers on below-average incomes, though its extent has varied from country to country. This book studies the effects on social housing of the implementation of ‘neoliberal’ policies, which involve the partial dismantling of the welfare state and of Keynesian government initiatives. Its particular strength is its coverage of developments in a number of countries.
    In the UK the 1890 Housing Act made it easier for local authorities to build and manage houses, though these were still expected to make a profit. A further act of 1919 allowed for government subsidies but was seen as a temporary measure in the immediate post-war period. It was not until the mid-twenties that a major programme of building council houses began. Social housing has generally been regarded as subordinate to the private sector, and as too expensive for the very poorest, who were forced into privately-rented slums. Housing associations may have started as self-help organisations, but are now just part of the whole housing industry.

    Social housing has been more widespread in Scotland than in England, and once housed over half the population. Stock transfers and demolitions, however, have drastically reduced this figure. A chapter on the recent situation in Dundee notes that only one-fifth of houses there are currently council-owned, there is a backlog of over six thousand homes, and only two hundred new council homes are built each year.

    The proportion of home ownership in France is considerably lower than in Britain. In 2008, more than one million French people were classed as homeless and over two million as poorly housed, with six million at risk of losing their homes for one reason or another. As might be expected, the US has never had more than a marginal role for social housing. Under neoliberalism, even this has been scaled back, with houses demolished and tenants given vouchers that can be accepted by private landlords, but inevitably private rents are driven up and people are forced to live further out in cities.
    Of course there have been various forms of resistance, such as rent strikes and the tent cities set up in Paris and other French towns. Sadly, these can do little to alter the fact that under capitalism, whatever the role of social housing and the state, decent and secure housing is unavailable to large numbers of workers. Neither Keynesian nor neoliberal policies can deliver good-quality affordable homes. And a lot of council housing is shoddy and badly-designed.

    In our review copy one batch of pages was bound upside-down. Possibly an unintended comment on the topsy-turvy priorities of housing under capitalism.
    Paul Bennett

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 128

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 128th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1565 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Free is Good
  • This year’s Nobel Prize for Economics
  • Debating the 'S-Word'
  • Quote for the week:

    "The Agrarian law, or the partitioning of land, was the spontaneous demand of some unprincipled soldiers, of some towns moved more by their instinct than by reason. We reach for something more sublime and more just: the common good or the community of goods! No more individual property in land: the land belongs to no one. We demand, we want, the common enjoyment of the fruits of the land: the fruits belong to all." Gracchus Babeuf and the Conspiracy of the Equals, Manifesto of the Equals, 1796.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    A plea for human survivaI (1962)


    Book Review from the November 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

    This is a brilliant, powerful, bitter book.

    The military machine is one of capitalism's ugliest children. Ugly not only because it is a killer machine, but also because of the discipline, stupidity and wastefulness which its killer motive compels it to have. Some workers glory in these things. They never forget their days in the Forces; they join ex-servicemen's associations, parade in their campaign medals, perpetuate the slang they learned in the Nissen huts.

    Catch-22 looks at all this with the searing eye of remorseless satire. Colonel Cathcart commands a squadron of American bombers based on a small Mediterranean island. He is the sort of man the medal-janglers love; military bearing, tough on the outside, contemptuous of weaklings. Contemptuous, too, of Yossarian. Although the Colonel never actually flies on any of them, he is always ready to volunteer his men for the most dangerous raids on schedule. And he persistently increases the number of missions they must carry out before they are allowed to go home.

    Yossarian - the hero (if that is the right word) of the book - is a bombardier who is afraid of being killed or wounded for the simple reason that he enjoys the sensations of living. He knows nothing and does not care about the causes and motives of the war. He only knows that he is scared stiff all the time he is in the air and he is not reluctant to show it. Anybody who wants to fight, he thinks, is crazy. He discovers, in fact, that the Army thinks so as well. But:
    "There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. "That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed. "It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed. "
    In a world gone mad with drums and bugles and medals and guns, Yossarian openly and persistently pleads for human survival, As persistently he is asked, "What if everyone thought like you?" and has his answer ready: "Then I'd be a damn fool to think any other way, wouldn't I?" He has seen through war and through religion and is aghast at the struggle human beings go through to exist. A psychiatrist screams at him:
    "You're antagonistic to the idea of being robbed, exploited, degraded, humiliated or deceived. Misery depresses you. Ignorance depresses you. Persecution depresses you. Violence depresses you. Slums depress you. Greed depresses you. Crime depresses you. Corruption depresses you. You know, it wouldn't surprise me if you're a manic-depressive!"
    Let's keep the book in perspective. Joseph Heller is another of the people who, without being Socialists, can compose impressive indictments of capitalism. He is a writer of enormous impact, who constructs and times his sentences to perfection. He can make us laugh and he can grip us horrified with sensitive, compulsive prose. His description of Yossarian brooding through Rome, watching human behaviour decay all around him, will haunt us for a long time. All in all he makes the post-war wave of British novelists, with their startling discovery that a lot of people under capitalism have to work for their living and that in their spare time they sometimes get drunk and have illicit sexual relations, look pretty sick.

    Because Heller goes for the lies and hypocrisy which are used in such abundance to sustain capitalism's wars:
    "Men went mad and were rewarded with medals, All over the world, boys on every side of the bomb Line were laying down their lives for what they had been told was their country, and no one seemed to mind, least of all the boys who were laying down their young lives. There was no end in sight."
    At the moment, Catch 22 is sweeping the United States, where cars carry window-stickers which say "Better Yossarian Than Rotarian." Nobody need think, because of that, that if capitalism throws up another world war the people who have laughed at, been moved by, and agreed with Heller's book will not turn the required mental somersault and join up with a will. We know now that working class ignorance runs that deep.

    For all that, Catch-22 deserves to be read and to find its place among the books which stand out against the lie that war is romantic and glorious and necessary but which say unmistakably that the people have nothing to gain from war and that war is sordid and obscene and futile.
    Ivan

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 127

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 127

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 127th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1563 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Too Good to be True
  • Banks, who needs them?
  • GB Shaw as a Guide to Socialism
  • Quote for the week:

    "Those who busy themselves with State-Socialism, that is to say, those who demand the nationalisation or municipalisation of certain services, do not trouble at all about the lot of the workers engaged in them; but even admitting that they sought to improve the lot of those employed would they be able to do so? If they can, let them begin by improving the conditions of the underpaid workers in the Post Office, in the State tobacco factories, railways and State ironworks. The workshops of the State and municipality are prisons quite as bad as private workshops, if not worse."
    Paul Lafargue, Socialism and Nationalisation, 1882.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    Debating the “S-Word” (2009)

    From the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
    Is any word more over-used and misunderstood today than “socialism”?
    In the United States, the “S-word” appears in almost every other sentence uttered by Republicans, who depict the Democratic Party as marching – or at least creeping – towards socialism.
    “Socialist” has replaced “liberal” in their vocabulary as an insult to hurl at political opponents, while the meaning remains unchanged as a term to indicate an advocate of government intervention in production and the social infrastructure.
    Everything from Keynsianism to Communism (= state capitalism) falls under this blanket definition, which means that Republicans must feel terribly outnumbered by their socialist foes. If Republicans didn’t seem to relish that paranoid feeling, which certainly helps to rally the Party faithful, we could point out to them that socialists are in fact a rather rare breed at this point in time. Although that would also require explaining how our concept of socialism has nothing in common with their understanding of the term.
    Of course, if the distortion of socialism were limited to the world of Republican ideologues it would hardly matter – as their ideas are not taken all that seriously, even by themselves. But the fact is that many of the supposed proponents of socialism share that same mistaken view of what socialism means.
    The controversy between the pro- and anti-socialists is just a sterile debate over the extent to which the government should “intervene” in the capitalist economy – with neither side advocating or even fathoming a post-capitalist society.
    One recent example of how both sides share a common misassumption was a debate on the website of the New York Times regarding the topic: “What is Socialism in 2009?” This mouthpiece of the capitalist class solicited the opinions of a small number of supposed experts, for the most part university professors.
    Without exception, these reputable figures shared the notion that “socialism” fundamentally concerns an economic system in which the government plays a key role in production. Following this line of thought, any aspect of society involving government intervention, regulation or management can be described as “socialistic”. This allowed those experts to attach that adjective to everything from public health care and education to highways and the armed forces. Stretched to this point, the concept of socialism loses all meaning – it is used to describe too much and ends up elucidating nothing.
    Some participants in the on-line debate did try to offer a more essential definition of socialism as “public ownership and/or control of the major means of production (mines, mills, factories, etc.) for the benefit of the public at large” or “central economic planning and public ownership of the means of production”. But even those more precise definitions are basically descriptions of state capitalist systems – not any sort of post-capitalist society that exists beyond production for profit.
    None of the debate participants describe socialism as a money-free society where production is democratically organised to meet human needs, displacing today’s production for the market. Nor did anyone even suggest that the state would have no room to exist in that class-free society of the future.
    There are simply no points in common between our conception of socialism and the view of socialism that currently prevails – and with regard to the role of the state the views are in fact polar opposites.
    Some might argue, then, that we should let the reformists and reactionaries twist around the word “socialism” to their heart’s content, while choosing a different term to describe the new society we are aiming to realise – some word less marked by confusion.
    Karl Marx used the word “Association” to indicate the society he envisaged as replacing capitalism. And this term is useful in terms of emphasizing how the members of that society will freely enter into production relations with each other to produce social wealth. One obvious drawback, not to be overlooked, is that it would be rather awkward to describe oneself as “Associator” or “Associatist”.
    But even if the World Socialist Movement comes up with the perfect word to replace “socialism” it would not necessarily bring us any closer to our ultimate goal, for our task as socialists is to convince our fellow workers that capitalism has got to go and that there is in fact an alternative. One word alone, no matter how well chosen, cannot accomplish all of that. The key point is the concept or content of the future society as the solution to the social problems we face under capitalism, not the word used to indicate that new mode of production.
    It may very well happen that a word other than socialism emerges out of the movement for the new money-free society. And it would be absurd in that situation to be a word-fetishist who clings to the word “socialism” as if it were the principle or concept itself.
    But it is also quite possible that the growth of the revolutionary movement will breathe new life into the word socialism, freeing it from the connotations it has been burdened with by those who cannot see beyond capitalism.
    The task is the same in either case: revealing the limits and contradictions of capitalism and explaining how socialism (or whatever it may one day be called) resolves the problems that are irresolvable as long as that capitalist system prevails.
    It is certainly annoying that the word “socialism” is almost invariably misused today, but the current over-use of the term may bring unexpected results, even encouraging the curious to begin pondering what a truly post-capitalist society could look like.
    Michael Schauerte

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    The World Around You

    From the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Someone employs you, and you work for them, and they control a big part of your waking hours.

    Look around you at the world you live in. You may live in a scenic but desperately dull village, or in a lively but overcrowded city. You travel to your work, which is a mixture of routine and interest, and you enjoy a drink and a laugh with your work colleagues. Or you stay at home, concentrating on housework and childcare. Or you wish you could find a job but there are far more people searching for work than there are jobs. Most of the time you have enough money to keep your head above water and take a holiday once a year. But you know that your job is not all that secure, and a couple of your neighbours have been sacked in the last few months, as a result of the recession, and you realise that the same fate might await you or your partner.

    You read the paper and watch the TV news, so you are well aware of the problems in the outside world. In fact, there seems to be little other than problems, from companies going bust and workers being laid off, to wars and riots and floods and electoral chicanery. At least, you think to yourself, it’s not as bad here as it is there (where ‘there’ might be any number of countries). You know that things are bad, but you’re too busy with work and family to do much about it, and in any case you don’t really have much idea as to what can be done. Putting a different political party in power doesn’t appear to make much difference, and maybe none at all. Some of the people you work with blame immigrants, or Muslims, or scroungers, or the unions, but you appreciate that these are just scapegoats, latched on to by those who want a simple fix but have no real clue what’s going on.

    One weekend you have the chance to reflect a bit on your life, and to consider what’s wrong with the world. There are many good things in your life, especially your partner and the rest of your family, and you value your friends. Yet you’re worried about your future: will you still have a job in five or ten years’ time, will you still be able to afford a holiday and new clothes and furniture, might you even lose your home if things really take a turn for the worse? The internet, cheap flights, high-definition TV, these are all very well, but they aren’t really what make someone happy, because you just don’t feel in control of your life and your future.

    Then you start to look at things in a wider perspective. You come to realise that most people manage to battle through the day, to get through their dull jobs and accept what their boss says while silently telling him or her to get lost. They look forward to their two weeks’ holiday and their time off at Christmas, in the knowledge that job cuts and a pay freeze may be round the corner. You soon accept that most people are unhappy with a great deal about their lives, and you start to wonder why this might be.

    First you think about work and employment, and you discover that these aren’t quite the same. You enjoy the voluntary work you do at a local sports club, and get a lot of satisfaction from it, yet you don’t feel the same way about the job that brings in your wages. That’s basically what it is, a job to earn money. Once you had visions of a worthwhile career, but now you see that it just means working ever harder and accepting more responsibility and never truly being in charge of your work time. Others may have it worse – in jobs that are physically unpleasant and even dangerous – but yours is unrewarding except in financial terms, and even the pay isn’t as good as you were promised. Someone employs you, and you work for them, and they control so much of your waking hours. It’s not so much your manager as the big boss and other shareholders who own the company and take the profits. They, you decide, are the people who benefit from your labours.

    Then you start thinking about your time outside the hours of work, where you spend the money you’ve worked so hard for. You’re still paying off your mortgage and it takes a big chunk of your monthly cheque, but at least you aren’t in negative equity or about to have your home repossessed. It would only take a month or two of unemployment, though, to leave you and your family in a very difficult situation. You become aware, too, that many people have real housing problems: their place is overcrowded or unsanitary, or they are homeless or sleeping on a friend’s sofa. But on your journey into work you see building sites that have closed down, as there is no way the houses and flats will be sold in the recession. And you realise that there is something drastically wrong when people are homeless or living in slums yet others who could be building homes for them are on the dole. The idea of profit rears its head again, and you see that houses and flats are built to make a profit for someone, rather than to provide places to live.

    And profits seem to govern many other areas of life too. Cheap food at the supermarket is there not because anyone wants to buy it but because that’s all some can afford to buy and cheap stuff is the only way that a profit can be made by selling to the poorest. A light begins to go on in your head, and you can see that much of what is produced is poor quality, intended to be sold cheaply and still bring in a profit, so it’s often dangerous as well as shoddy.

    Then you start to wonder about who benefits from the profits made as a result of all this labour and production. You already know about millionaires and heiresses and the landed aristocracy, and now you see that they are the ones who benefit. With their multi-room mansions, private jets and luxury yachts, they don’t suffer from the same problems that you and your friends and relations do. You haven’t quite worked out how they got rich, but you’re sure that it didn’t happen through their own hard work: nobody can work that hard, and your own parents worked hard all their lives and ended up with very little.

    And other countries are no different, not in important respects anyway. Things vary a bit of course, but there are still problems of poverty and homelessness, while a few live very nicely, thank you. On your holidays abroad you’ve seen that the same problems as here exist more or less everywhere. And some parts of the world are far worse off, with famines and wars and heaven knows what. You aren’t sure of all the facts, but you’ve heard that even famine-stricken countries usually produce plenty of food, it’s just that the poor can’t afford to buy it, so it’s mostly exported. And wars often seem to be fought in areas with rich or potentially rich natural resources, and you wonder if that’s the real reason for them taking place.

    All in all, you have come to see that the world is dominated by profit, and that a relatively small number of people, the owners, benefit in terms of wealth and power. The way things are run, you decide, needs to be changed. You think about it a bit and, while you don’t have anything like a full-scale plan in your mind, you do have some general ideas about how things should be arranged. There shouldn’t be this division into the rich and everyone else, and people should not have to be employed by others. It might even be like the sports club where you help out: everybody mucks in and contributes in their own way, without there being a boss or wages. You still don’t have a proper notion of what should replace what exists now, but the more you think about it, the more you become convinced that some new way of organising the world would be a big step forward.

    Then one day, outside your local library, you see someone selling the Socialist Standard

    Paul Bennett

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    The advance of capitalism

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

    The advance of capitalism throughout Europe proved to be a disaster to all the old institutions of feudalism. The feudal landlord was displaced by a capitalist one. The once all-powerful land owners were now to be rivalled for power by the merchants and industrialists of modern capitalism. In a series of epoch making changes in Britain we had the Enclosure Acts and the Highland Clearances. In many places centuries old villages were replaced by sheep enclosures as agricultural labourers were forced into the growing towns and cities of capitalism to seek a pitiful existence. It’s what Marx described inCapital in 1867 as the "so-called primitive accumulation". As he so aptly put it: "The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil, is the basis of the whole process." It is still going on in parts of the world.

    Primitive accumulation

    A recent Channel 4 programme entitled Unreported World, Peru: Blood and Oil, depicted the bloodshed and military violence that has accompanied the Peruvian government’s decision to auction off large parts of the Amazon countryside that has been used for thousands of years by the indigenous people. "For the first time isolated indigenous groups are uniting to fight the government's plans to auction off 75% of the Amazon - which accounts for nearly two thirds of the country's territory - to oil, gas and mining companies. ... These would allow companies to bypass indigenous communities to obtain permits for exploration and extraction of natural resources, logging and the building of hydroelectric dams." (London Times, 9 October).

    In another part of the Amazon region capitalism’s lust for profit was carried to an even more awful extreme – the complete destruction of the Akuntsu people. A once proud group of several hundred now have only five survivors. "Much of the Akuntsus' story is – for obvious reasons – undocumented. For millennia, they lived in obscurity, deep in the rainforest of Rondonia state, a remote region of western Brazil near the Bolivian border. They hunted wild pig, agoutis and tapir, and had small gardens in their villages, where they would grow manioc (or cassava) and corn. Then, in the 1980s, their death warrant was effectively signed: farmers and loggers were invited to begin exploring the region, cutting roads deep into the forest, and turning the once verdant wilderness into lucrative soya fields and cattle ranches. ... The only way to prevent the government finding out about this indigenous community was to wipe them off the map. At some point, believed to be around 1990, scores of Akuntsu were massacred at a site roughly five hours' drive from the town of Vilhena. Only seven members of the tribe escaped, retreating deeper into the wilderness to survive." (Independent, 13 October)

    Ruthless system

    The recent speed-up of the development of capitalism inside China has also led to even more misery for the working population of that part of the world. In an effort to compete with more established industrial nations the Chinese owning class have ruthlessly swept aside small peasant-like production for the mass production of modern capitalism. The resultant displacing of labourers and the mammoth increase in water and air pollution has led to a near catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.

    The World Bank recently estimated that China has experienced an annual industrial growth of 10 percent over the last 25 years, and reckoned the number of deaths from pollution alone in 2007 as 760,000. To grasp an inkling of this social disaster it is probably better to look at two local horror stories than quote mere statistics.

    "The residents of Shuangqiao village say that their homes are now nothing but places in which to wait for death. In the paddy fields surrounding this small community in Hunan province, southern China, the rice is neglected and strewn with weeds. The vegetable plots stand empty, stripped of the green beans and cabbages that were grown as cash crops. Underfoot, the earth has been poisoned to a depth of 20cm (8in). The water in the wells is undrinkable. Tragedies like this – the legacy of China's rush to get rich – are all too common. Yesterday more than 600 children in Shaanxi province were found to be suffering from lead poisoning caused by a nearby lead and zinc smelter. The plight of Shuangqiao, however where three people have died and 509 are sick from poisoning by the heavy metals cadmium and indium, produced by a nearby factory, has drawn wide-spread attention since residents took to the internet to air their grievances." (London Times, 15 August)

    What lies behind this seemingly callous action by the owning class on their own national working population? It cannot be mere coincidence that the price of indium soared from $600 (£360) a kilogram in 2003 to $1,000 by 2006. China now meets 30 per cent of world demand and at its peak the Xianghe factory produced 300 kg of indium a month. Capitalism is an insatiable monster as far as profits are concerned. Human misery is of no concern where the profit motive reigns supreme.

    One farmer's plight summed up the hopelessness of the situation when he was told by officials that his land would be unusable for 60 years but that he could grow non-edible crops such as cotton or trees to clean the soil. "Farmer Yang has abandoned hope, "It's the children, the children," he lamented. "We want our children to have a future. We have to leave."

    RD

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    On modern life (Eric Fromm )


    From the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

  • “Capitalistic society is based on the principle of political freedom on the one hand, and of the market as the regulator of all economic, hence social, relations, on the other. The commodity market determines the conditions under which commodities are exchanged, the labour market regulates the acquisition and sale of labour. Both useful things and useful energy and skill are transformed into commodities which are exchanged without the use of force and without fraud under the conditions of the market.”
  • “Modern capitalism needs men who cooperate smoothly and in large numbers; who want to consume more and more; and whose tastes are standardized and can be easily influenced and anticipated. It needs men who feel free and independent, not subject to any authority or principle or conscience—yet willing to be commanded, to do what is expected of them, to fit into the social machine without friction; who can be guided without force, led without leaders, prompted without aim—except the one to make good, to be on the move, to function, to go ahead.
    What is the outcome? Modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions. Human relations are essentially those of alienated automatons, each basing his security on staying close to the herd, and not being different in thought, feeling or action.”
  • “Man becomes a ‘nine to fiver,’ he is part of the labour force, or the bureaucratic force of clerks and managers. He has little initiative, his tasks are prescribed by the organization of the work; there is even little difference between those high up on the ladder and those on the bottom. They all perform tasks prescribed by the whole structure of the organization, at a prescribed speed, and in a prescribed manner. Even the feelings are prescribed: cheerfulness, tolerance, reliability, ambition, and an ability to get along with everybody without friction.”
  • “From birth to death, from Monday to Monday, from morning to evening – all activities are reutilised and prefabricated. How should a man caught in this net of routine not forget that he is a man, a unique individual, one who is given only this one chance of living, with hopes and disappointments, with sorrow and fear, with the long for love and the dread of the nothing and of separateness?”
  • “In the modern work process of a clerk, the worker on the endless belt, little is left of this uniting quality of work. The worker becomes an appendix to the machine or to the bureaucratic organization.”
  • (from The Art of Loving, 1956)

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Pieces Together

    From the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    CAPITALIST PARADOX

    "Scientists and development experts across the globe are racing to increase food production by 50 percent over the next two decades to feed the world’s growing population, yet many doubt their chances despite a broad consensus that enough land, water and expertise exist. The number of hungry people in the world rose to 1.02 billion this year, or nearly one in seven people, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, despite a 12-year concentrated effort to cut the number. The global financial recession added at least 100 million people by depriving them of the means to buy enough food, but the numbers were inching up even before the crisis, the United Nations noted in a report last week. “The way we manage the global agriculture and food security system doesn’t work,” said Kostas G. Stamoulis, a senior economist at the organization. “There is this paradox of increasing global food production, even in developing countries, yet there is hunger.” (New York Times, 22 October)

    DRUG PUSHERS PAY OFF

    "Could you imagine how much money you would have to have to be able to spend $609,000 a day? What would you expect to receive for that amount of money? Who has that kind of money to spend, especially during a “recession”? According to the latest issue of Time magazine, in the first 6 months of this year, the pharmaceutical industry spent about $609,000 a day to influence lawmakers. Can you imagine the financial payoff they must expect to get to be able to spend that kind of money. This does not include all the money they spend on advertising as well. The drug industry has 1,228 registered lobbyists. This equals 2.3 lobbyists for every member of congress. Obviously, the pharmaceutical industry does not want to be left out of the current healthcare reform debate and are willing to pay handsomely to make sure they aren’t. The return on that investment has already been considerable. As drug lobbyist Jim Greenwood says, “we’ve done very well.” (Dr Brian's Blog, 26 October)

    ALL RIGHT FOR SOME

    "As workers up and down the UK sat at home last week worrying about whether they would still have a job in a month's time, a raucous crowd of hedge fund managers and investment bankers at the Whisky Mist nightclub in Mayfair pulled yet more vodka out of their huge ice bucket and called for the waiter to bring another bottle of Dom Perignon, served with a sparkler. ...In London nightspots last week, the City's finest were spending with a swagger. ...As City workers once again prepare for corporate excess, and investment banks such as Goldman Sachs get ready to pay record bonuses, new bars, restaurants and nightclubs are springing up around the office tower blocks in the City and Canary Wharf to feed demand." (Observer, 1 November)

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    Market analyst

    Book Review from the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Why not socialism? By G. A. Cohen. Princeton University Press, 2009

    This pocket-size 83-page book is easy to read and it’s easy to agree with some of what the author writes. But it’s hard to see him as he no doubt saw himself (he died in August just before the book came out): someone who understands the different between capitalism and socialism.

    First the positive things in the book. These mostly centre around Cohen’s critical remarks about some aspects of capitalism: “I give as little service as I can in exchange for as much service as I can get: I want to buy cheap and sell dear”. And although he favours market ‘socialism’ he does recognise how similar it is to market capitalism: “exchange under market socialism is no less market exchange than it is under capitalism”.

    Now the longer list of things to disagree with: “it is a familiar socialist policy to insist on equality of both income and hours of work”. No, that isn’t a socialist policy. In socialism there won’t be (money) incomes or insistence that we all work the same hours.

    Cohen claims that socialism is infeasible “even if people are, or could become, in the right culture, sufficiently generous, we do not know how to harness that generosity: we do not know how, through appropriate rules and stimuli, to make generosity turn the wheels of the economy”. In socialism we shall treat each other as fellow humans not as commodities. It has nothing to do with harnessing generosity or turning the wheels of the economy.

    “Market socialism does not fully satisfy socialist standards of distributive justice, but it scores far better by those standards than market capitalism does, and is therefore an eminently worthwhile project, from a socialist point of view.” No, it isn’t.

    To sum up, Cohen writes of “We socialists.” But he should really say “We ‘market socialists’ who muddy the water about what socialism means…”

    Stan Parker