Friday, November 20, 2009

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 124

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 124th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1547 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Out of control
  • Conspiraloons
  • Free is cheaper
  • Quote for the week:

    "Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims." Harry Patch, WWI Veteran.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Defending modernism?

    Book Review from the May 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Frank Furedi: Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? (Continuum)

    Frank Furedi takes the opportunity in this book to rail against the modern 'cultural elite' and their 'dumbing down'of political, educational and artistic standards.He forcefully argues that an all pervading desire for 'inclusivity' leading to the flattery of interest groups - has replaced more hard-headed conceptions of scientific rigour, critical thought and above all, standards, as the driving force for decisionmakers in the modern world. Today, he argues, participation (or the appearance of it) is seen as the key issue, while the role of the 'intellectual', as arbiter of taste, independent critical analyst and robust generator of original ideas, has been compromised and diminished.

    This is interesting and provocative, particularly as Furedi - currently Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent - is better known as the leading theoretician of the Trotskyist political current which called itself the Revolutionary Communist Party until a few years ago, notable for their annual 'Preparing For Power' conferences and their glossily superficial Living Marxism magazine. That his views now seem to have more in common with those routinely expressed in the opinion columns of the Daily Telegraph clearly isn't something he feels the need to apologise for. Strangely enough, Mick Hume, the erstwhile editor of Living Marxism (or 'LM' as it became, in a needless concession to the postmodernist culture and 'dumbing down' Furedi now ironically rails against), happens to be a broadsheet columnist spouting similar views to Furedi himself. This does nothing to diminish the prevalent view on the British left that their organisation was a rather bizarre cross between a cult and a sect with a tendency to say anything controversial if it could get them some media attention.

    For all that, Furedi's book is well worth reading. He is a thought-provoking writer and something of a critic of the present 'postmodern condition', where everything seemingly has a value of some sort and banality is elevated into an art form, where science and reason are merely another perspective on the world, and where all attempts at fundamentally changing society are doomed to failure, are dangerous - or both. Here he is tilling fertile ground, and his writing is stimulating and energetic.

    A large part of the book focuses on the way in which public policy in the major capitalist states is currently using 'inclusivity' and 'widening access' as bogus ways of enfranchising the disenfranchised, whether it be in political life, the arts, or Higher Education. This involves the recognition and flattery of 'identities' (ethnic, gender, sexual, national) and the promotion of the idea that everyone creates even if some of Furedi's hobby-horses lead him astray periodically. instance, For the current agenda for 'widening access and participation' in HE is little to do with abstract social engineering but the response of successive governments to the demands of the labour market, including the demands of employers for more vocationally-focused university courses and for the creation of intermediate awards like Foundation Degrees. Indeed, this seems an odd point to need to make to someone who has spent most of his life calling himself a Marxist.

    Furthermore, even if Furedi is a half-decent sociologist he is certainly not much of an educationalist, as his comments on modern methods of teaching and learning, accreditation of prior learning and other issues tend to show, for here he is unreliable and his approach lacks the type of rigour and engagement with serious study he otherwise insists on. But where Furedi's book misses the mark most noticeably is in his defence of the 'intellectual' as embodying everything that was good about Enlightenment ideals and modernist conceptions of progress. This is a partial, one-sided analysis and it is tempting to suspect that what Furedi really wants to defend is modernism, science and rationality itself against postmodernism, relativism and our seemingly irrational age.

    But this has already been done by others quite recently, such as by Francis Wheen, so Furedi has cast around for a new angle that only serves to distort the picture, robbing it of clarity.

    Society doesn't need a new phalanx of intellectuals at all, it needs a reaction against reaction and a confidence that humankind generally can look beyond the fragments of the postmodern condition and collectively work towards a vision of how the world ought to be.


    Out of control

    The Cooking the Books column from the November 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Some people are looking to China as the motor that will pull world capitalism out of its current slump. This ignores the fact that China’s double-digit rates of growth were led by exports, in large part to America and Europe. When these parts of the world entered the slump China, too, was affected. As the London Times reported last year (17 October):

    “In the northern Chinese port of Quinhuandao, a dark mountain formed by nearly nine million tonnes of surplus coal soars from the dockside. By the end of the next week, the famous storage area – a dirty barometer of Chinese industrial demand – could be completely full of unwanted fossil fuel . . . [T]hose swelling piles of surplus coal, which is used for most of China’s electricity generation, indicate falls in demand for energy, a key measure of economic activity.”

    In response the Chinese government decided to try to spend its way out. Some 4 trillion (a million million) yuan of stimulus money was injected into the economy, mainly in the form of lending by the State banks. But things didn’t turn out as planned. Most of the money was used to expand productive capacity without regard for the chances of selling the extra output (though some seems to have gone to fund a property and stock exchange bubble). In an article headlined “Beijing moves to halt growth juggernaut as supply starts to run away from demand” (1 October), Times Asia business correspondent, Leo Lewis, reported:

    “China's State Council calculates that the impact of this year's 140 billion yuan (£13 billion) investment spree in steel mills will be to lift overall national production capacity some 40 per cent above the country's entire annual demand. The same dynamics reportedly apply to cement ( . . .) The astronomical levels of corporate investment, warn senior economists, place the booming Chinese economy at increased risk of a sudden collapse in growth.”

    So, the brakes are being applied:

    “The Government of China has launched an attack on overcapacity in its heavy industries with a series of stinging curbs on new factories, smelting plants and port-building projects. (…) In the absence of such controls, said the statement from the Chinese Cabinet, ‘it will be hard to prevent vicious market competition and to increase economic benefits, and this could result in facility closures, layoffs and increases in banks' bad assets.’”

    It’s the same old story of headlong capitalist expansion, financed in this case by government funding, leading in the end to overcapacity and overproduction in relation to market demand. The Chinese government’s attempt to spend its way out of the slump is risking the very thing they were trying to overcome: “a sudden collapse in growth”.

    Which goes to show that governments can’t control the way capitalism works and that, if they try, the chances are they’ll make things worse. Capitalism is an uncontrollable economic system that gets its way in the end, one way or the other.

    To buy, or not to buy? (2002)

    From the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

    A hundred people go into a supermarket, stick all the things they need in their trolleys, and at the checkout the cashier asks each one: “Do you want to pay or take these for free?” Given that choice, how many would choose to hand over payment? Five? Three? Less? Anyone claiming most would opt to part with their money is clearly an idiot.

    Of course, under capitalism, the choice not to pay for goods and services produced by waged employment does not exist. The store's shareholders pay for their supermarkets' construction, rents, electricity, products on the shelves, adverts, employees' incomes etc, and they want back their costs plus as much profit as the market will allow. The same goes for other businesses.

    That people will avoid paying for their needs, given the choice, is obvious. Money matters, and if you can freely choose to go home with a week's shopping buckshee with no chance of any retribution whatsoever, who wouldn't? What about when you're expected to pay, but avoid doing so?

    The record industry's recent efforts to prevent people obtaining free singles and albums by shutting down Napster's pioneering internet file-sharing facility, while introducing new paid-for music services, has so far failed miserably. Those denied free digital downloads from Napster have instead switched to more elusive net services like Gnutella, Aimster and Morpheus, and saved their money.

    For defying society's laws, millions are called “pirates”, “thieves” and “cheats”. Accusations that big record companies also engage in thievery by cheating workers and music fans to grossly reward big shareholders can be ignored since this piracy is “legitimate” within today's economic system. Eventually, business measures, state legislation and enforcement in defence of capitalist property rights, markets and profits will probably crush this determined “dot.communism”.

    Fare dodging, TV licence shunning, vehicle tax evasion. If people can get away without paying, they will. But why merely settle for endless conflict, just occasionally 'getting away' from restrictive and iniquitous laws unbeatable as long as capitalism exists, or alternatively compliantly paying up zombie-style, when we possess the power to be rid of them permanently?

    If we want and enjoy having goods and services for free, there's only one obstacle – capitalism. If we choose to replace it with socialism, free access to whatever we need becomes reality. People don't have to buy goods and services when they directly own and control the means of producing them. Analogously, by collectively owning the bakery you own the bread, cakes and biscuits too, with the unrestricted ability to produce as much as is required.

    Would people work co-operatively to produce the goods and services this moneyless free-access socialist society needed, in a similar way that a hundred million or so internet users are presently working together to provide and share free music? Or, conscious of the differences between the capitalist present and a socialist future, would they choose to continue working and living within the money-wages-profit system, where incomes for most are insufficient to meet needs; involve a longer, harder, exploitative working week just so profits can be extracted from labour to sate the owning class's greed and selfishness; involve constant annoyance, time-wasting and worry from money-related mortgages, debts, bills, income tax returns, welfare benefit form filling, price comparing, insurance selecting, utility switching, queuing to pay, burglaries, car thefts etc; inadequate health care and public transport; environmental destruction and pollution; endless food scandals; political sleaze; terrorism and warfare?

    The choice is as difficult as deciding whether to pay or not at a supermarket checkout
    Max Hess