Monday, December 20, 2010

Inside the Socialist Party of Canada

Cross-posted from the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog

From the online magazine Digital Journal.

Some believe that the recent financial meltdown was caused by free markets and capitalism, which has drawn many people to look at the alternative: Socialism. The Socialist Party of Canada wants to define what socialism really means.

At several demonstrations in Toronto, this journalist has come across a lot of members of the Socialist and Communist Parties of Canada. The representatives hand out information on certain events occurring and their stance on the issue. It was time to finally speak with the party and understand their points of view.

The Socialist Party of Canada (SPC) distinguishes itself from the left-leaning parties, such as the Liberal Party, the Green Party and the New Democratic Party, by not representing the “capitalist class” and not being “managers of the capitalist system.”

On Thursday, Digital Journal had the opportunity to speak with Socialist Party of Canada representative and content contributor to the publication journal Imagine, John Ayers, to discuss the idea of socialism, what the party’s views are in terms of foreign policy and the current political establishment and system.

According to dictionary.com, socialism is defined as: “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.

However, Ayers feels that socialism and communism have been misunderstood due to the media and various governments around the world that call themselves socialists but do not represent the idea or have the vaguest notion of what it actually is.

About the party
The first Socialist Party of Canada began in 1904 and ended in 1925. The second SPC began in 1931 and continues to this day and is part of the World Socialist Movement.
We have an idea, which when implemented by the majority worldwide, will end all war, all poverty, all inequality and provide everybody with the needs they have.” said Ayers. “Capitalism can’t do that, which is obvious right now.

Even though the party does not have the proper funds to operate on a level as the main political parties, Ayers says that the party is mainly operating on an educational basis by publishing brochures, pamphlets and other methods to get out the proper information.

“Our electoral system is based on whoever has got the most money wins and we have to a lot of money, we don’t have a lot of money,” notes Ayers. “Right now we’re basically an educational phase.”

What will happen if the SPC gets elected? First the voters must understand what their view of socialism is. Ayers calls the ideology of the SPC as “scientific socialism” as they study the work of Karl Marx and use his economic theory as a basis of socialism but “don’t take his work as gospel.”

Socialism and ideas
The quintessential question is then: What is socialism? Ayers explains the following:
Socialism is a society based on the common ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth. Managed democratically in the interest of all mankind. That necessarily means an end to the class system, to money, to employment, to wages and necessarily means a society based on voluntary labour and free access for everybody to all goods produced. It is a production for use and not for profit.”

Ayers adds that this idea has never been practiced and certainly the Green Party, NDP and those who say they are socialists are not because they don’t have the same idea of socialism and communism due to their attempts of trying to be popular and “putting a happy face on capitalism.”

If elected, the SPC would use parliament and legislative powers to end the private property and state systems. In place of it, voluntary labour would be implemented and power would be given to local and production councils, which would be democratically elected and ultimately be the foundation of socialism.
Most of the stuff won over the past 50 years are disappearing such as the health care system, proper wages, etc.,” notes Ayers. “The only thing we promote is establishing a socialist society. Promoting capitalism can never work and benefit the working class.

Foreign policy and war
Remembrance Day was on Thursday and it was only fitting to understand the party’s stance on Canada’s foreign policy and war. Ayers says the party’s foreign policy would be to “join the hands with socialist parties around the world,” which would result in no war and nothing to fight over because “wars are fought over economics.”

War, according to Ayers, is a struggle between two capitalist classes and their attempt to gain control over strategic and trade routes. However, in the end, says Ayers, “humans don’t need wars” because we’re the ones who get killed and “it solves nothing.”
Once we’ve established socialism,” says Ayers, “all of this is gone. The military complexes are gone.

The current state and can the government change?
According to Ayers, ultimately nothing is going to change. The SPC representative cites Toronto mayor-elect Rob Ford as an example because he is someone who is not going to change the system but ran on a campaign promise of ending the gravy train and changing the corrupt city hall.
In the end, says Ayers, the municipal government is going to get bigger and make union workers poorer. Although one public official can “tweak” little things in government, if you want real change then you have to “remove it entirely” in order to have a “society that is viable, equitable and worth living in.”

The current system does not give people freedom or the freedom to travel: “If you don’t have money for a bus ticket, you can’t go anywhere. But people with billions of dollars can travel anywhere and have their voices heard easily.”

It’s the system itself that creates war, poverty and global warming,” says Ayers. “The government, managers of capitalists, have done absolutely nothing.”

Ireland’s recession (2010)

From the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
The only flourishing industry in Ireland now seems to be economic punditry.
A fellow socialist recently sent me an economic article critiquing the contrasting financial approaches of the various governments in Europe to the current crisis. It wasn’t the first article that I’ve read on this subject! Ever since the storm broke in autumn 2008, the media in Ireland has filled the airwaves/newspaper pages with an endless procession of economists commenting on various aspects of Ireland’s severe economic situation and either second guessing the government’s decisions on various policy matters or attempting to persuade the people that they have much cleverer solutions to ‘our’ problems. Part of my weariness with all this analysis stems from the fact that as a socialist I know booms and slumps are an inevitable part of the economic operation of capitalism and there was clearly an unsustainable boom occurring in Ireland over the years 2004 to 2008. So now we have the consequent contraction which is just going to have to be endured as long as capitalism governs our lives.
In fact, the only flourishing industry in Ireland now seems to be economic punditry and whether you open a magazine, turn on the TV, listen to the radio or surf the net for news, you won’t have long to wait until you encounter the predictions of economists mainly drawn from either academia or the financial institutions or on some rare occasions, the trade unions. Because Ireland’s situation is deemed so critical, we even have Nobel prize winning economists from the United States commenting on us, while just a few years ago we wouldn’t have merited any attention from them as they’d probably have been pre-occupied with China.
In fact one popular media economist, David McWilliams, currently has a travelling roadshow where he tours the country, filling halls and theatres with his views. As the publicity blurb for his ridiculous ‘Outsiders’ tour goes “McWilliams believes Ireland’s political and social divide is not so much about rich and poor, young and old, urban and rural, but about Insiders and Outsiders”. This strange mixture of showbiz and economics has climaxed in a ‘Kilkenomics’ festival held in Kilkenny in late November where stand up comedy will be interspersed with economic analysis. On its website one of the topics listed for discussion is to be ’23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism’. As the man said, you couldn’t make it up!
What’s tiresome about all the contributors to this public debate, is that in spite of furious argument over some superficial points, essentially they’re all singing from the same hymn sheet. Corrective action is needed to deal with Ireland’s soaring debt and it’s only the time scale (whether it should be over 4 or 6 years) and the areas of public spending to be excluded from cuts (such as old age pension) that are in contention. It is now anticipated that a general election is only months away and it’s noticeable that the main opposition parties have moderated their criticism of the government’s budget approach; they know full well that room for manoeuvre is extremely limited and if elected (which seems very probable at the moment) they will be implementing the hair-shirt budgets over the next four years.
To give some background, it now seems accepted that whatever reality lay behind the Celtic Tiger had by about 2003/2004 been replaced by an old-fashioned, foundation-less credit boom based on the expectation that property (both residential and commercial) was destined to appreciate at a significant level beyond any other type of investment. This led to a frenzy of construction, some clearly insane even to non-socialists, where perfectly functioning warehouses, hotels and office blocks were demolished so their footprint could be used for even more profitable apartment blocks and fancier hotels.
By 2006 the unsustainability of what was happening began to be widely commented upon in everyday life though this didn’t seem to flag any warning bells with Brian Cowan, the then minister of finance, subsequently promoted to Taoiseach (Prime Minister). The crash has highlighted a structural weakness in Irish politics whereby that opaque interaction between the politicians and leading business people (particularly property developers) masked the rationale for economic decisions. By 2008, a huge proportion of Irish government revenue was attributable, directly or indirectly, to the construction sector in terms of which has now all but vanished. This has left an almost twenty billion euro gap between the government’s annual income and expenditure. The problem has been exacerbated by the government’s initial decision to give a very wide ranging guarantee to all the main banks’ creditors. As the scale of loses (fifty billion and counting) has turned out to be much greater than anticipated, this has increased Ireland’s need to borrow. Whether the government naively underestimated the risks from this banking strategy or was responding to the pressing needs of some well-connected business people has been hotly debated since.
The predominant response to date in Ireland has been a fearful resignation rather than any outright ‘resistance’ as has intermittently been seen in the strikes and demonstrations of France and Greece. Partly this is due to an apathy to the potential power of real politics, that has been engendered amongst great swathes of the electorate, resulting from so many broken promises by reformist parties over the years. Unemployment has risen sharply and emigration as a social phenomenon has returned. A reduction in living standards is seen as inevitable in the medium term. There has been a deliberate divide and rule strategy employed by the ruling class with a vociferous campaign, championed by the media outlets controlled by the media tycoons Tony O’Reilly and Denis O’Brien, waged against public sector worker to separate them from private sector employees.
That is not to say that people are not angry about the situation and the heavy penalties and burdens they are now expected to bear as a result of reckless and profligate activities of bankers and developers. What is perceived to be most galling is how when the senior executives in many financial institutions knew that the balloon was going up, they negotiated or arranged legally watertight generous exit packages for themselves, without a care for the consequences to the mass of the people. It certainly has raised questions about the ‘fairness’ of the system which is a clearly welcome development for socialists. Of course some of the discontent is mis-directed, with talk of betrayal by the government, when the recession is an inevitable part of the capitalist cycle albeit in this exacerbated by the greed and incompetence of the local ruling class.
The power of capitalism over people has never been more nakedly exposed. The government’s daily mantra is the need to restore confidence in Ireland’s position to ‘the market’ when we know ‘the market’ is fundamentally that very small number of people who control multi-billion financial investment decisions. So each government action is quantified as to whether it has reassured the markets (which we’re constantly told is a good thing) or has caused uncertainty (‘a very bad thing’) as the more uncertain the markets are, the greater the interest rate Ireland must pay on the loans it needs to raise. The fact that it’s naturally in the market’s interest to either doubt, or at least feign doubt, about Ireland’s economic outlook in order to justify higher loan charges is never commented upon which shows the whole deal is really a gigantic scam. Perceived wisdom is that it should be easier to make socialists in a recession when the shortcomings of capitalism are more evident. This capitalist recession will eventually end and the Irish economy at some time in the future will inevitably return to growth. If there are more socialists in Ireland at that future time, then at least one positive outcome will have resulted from this sorry and preventable mess.
Kevin Cronin

How I became a socialist (1976)

From the September 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have received the following from a reader of Varldssocialism in Sweden and publish it for the similarity between experiences of pseudo-revolutionary organisations there and in Britain.
In the early sixties a « radical » consciousness arose among some of the students in the industrialized countries. The Cuban revolution had taken place and the struggles in South Vietnam escalated. The Berlin wall was built. From the late fifties, I had more or less been attracted by the idea of « the dictatorship of the proletariat » and sympathized with Russia and the other « socialist » countries. I accepted all catchwords uncritically and started subscribing to propaganda magazines from these countries. I sympathized with the Communist Party of Sweden and subscribed to My Dag (New Day), the party’s newspaper. Encouraged by a workmate, I became a party member at the beginning of 1962. Since no theoretical studies were pursued in the party at that time, the majority of the membership were profoundly ignorant theoretically. Perhaps one would have remained ignorant even if studies had been pursued. Everything told by the party leadership was accepted, and naturally one thought it was awfully « revolutionary » to distribute reformist election propaganda before every election. The party encouraged the membership to participate in the pacifist Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, and many of us took part in the Campaign’s Whitsun marches.

For a time I was also a member of the party’s youth league, Democratic Youth, who mostly pottered with hobbies and boycotts against South African goods. I belonged to the more inactive members in the party, at least at the beginning. Gradually I undertook the task to collect the members’ subscriptions in a dwelling-house area. On May Day we always would march in the demonstrations of the Social-Democrats and the Trade Union Federation. I travelled as a tourist to all European « socialist countries » except Albania. To the so-called Baltic- Sea Week in Eastern Germany I travelled several times, and I thought it was awfully remarkable. And what did I learn? Not a jot! In the mid-sixties, the antagonism between the two « communist » giants Russia and China had been sharpened. Throughout the world new « communist parties » were founded, which supported China and her European ally, Albania. In 1966 the so-called cultural revolution was introduced in China. I began to think it was good that the people over there fiercely attacked the domestic bureaucrats and also the bureaucracy and « revisionism » in Russia and other « Communist » countries. But since I was still ignorant, I swallowed the Chinese party’s lies about Lenin’s and Stalin’s Russia as a real socialist example.

Shortly after the party’s change of name to Left Party Communists at their congress in 1967, I resigned my membership. Instead I joined the Communist League Marxist-Leninist (KFML), a Maoist organization that was founded at their midsummer conference the same year. Now I regarded myself as a real revolutionary. I participated in so-called Marxist studies, which among other things consisted in learning to rattle off a lot of Mao Tse tung quotations by heart. I went about about selling Ghiston (The Spark) and Marxistiskt Forum (Marxist Forum), periodical of the KFML. I undertook the task as cashier and secretary of a local branch. Later I also joined the Swedish Clarte League, a Maoist students’ league, and the United NLF Groups, supporters of Viet Cong.

In May 68, students and workers revolted in France. This even influenced young people in other countries. Here in Sweden the so-called occupation of the Students’ Association building in Stockholm took place. Within KFML, Clarté League and the NLF movement an opposition had emerged during the spring, partly the « rebel movement » and partly the so-called appelianism. The « rebel movement » was strongly influenced by the Chinese cultural revolution, and was a spontaneous reaction to the stalinist bureaucracy within KFML, Clarté League and the NLF movement. They developed into a kind of fanatical, religious sect, where they tortured each other and read aloud from the red book of Mao Tsetung quotations. After a couple of months their movement was dissolved.

Appelianism derived from the Communist Working Circle, a Maoist group in Denmark. Its chairman is Gotfred Appel. Their « theory » is that the capitalists in Europe and North America take super profits from the countries of the third world and use these profits to bribe « their » workers. Therefore they thought that postering with reform struggle was to waste time. Instead one should try to induce the workers in North America and Europe to support national « liberation movements » in the third world thereby they would become class-conscious and be secured on the side of Leninism, they hoped.

Since I was still equally ignorant, I thought this sounded reasonable and left KFML, Clarté League and the nfl movement at the beginning of 1969. Now I had at last learned something, namely that reform struggle could not be something for a socialist organization to potter with. In late summer 1971 a number of persons broke away from one of the appelianist organizations and formed the Manifesto Group. They started publishing a journal called Hammaren och Skaran (Hammer and Sickle), which also appeared in English. The group I belonged to, mostly consisted of older ex-members of the Communist Workers’ League of Sweden, which had been founded in 1956 by a group that broke away from the Communist Party. It ceased to exist in the mid-sixties.

As a result of personal antagonism, our group broke with the other two appelianist groups and started a close co-operation with the newly formed Manifesto Group. We studied some material from the Progressive Labor Party, an American organization which had broken with Maoism but still clung firmly to Stalinism. They now claimed that capitalism had been « re-established » in China. Further they rightly claimed that the NLF of South Vietnam did not fight for anything but capitalism. Otherwise, they were incorrigible reformists. We also read Gorter, Pannekoek, Ruehle, Mattick, Kollontay and Others.

At the beginning of 1973 we got in touch with Varldssocialism (World Socialism) and read some SPGB material. We agreed with much of what SPGB said, but opposed parliamentarism. We had been influenced by the Dutch and German left communists, who in the twenties fiercely criticised Lenin’s policy. We had now approached some sort of council-communist outlook, the foremost characteristic of which is anti-parliamentarianism and advocacy of workers’ councils. However, we soon relinquished the council idea, and began to question organizations and programs on the whole. At this point the majority of our group broke with the Manifesto Group which was now charged with « syndicalism » and « anarchism ». However I myself left the « appelianist » group and joigned the Manifesto Group, which was soon dissolved and stopped publishing Hammer and Sickle. Instead we began to publish a series of pamphlets, which formostly carried situationnist, but also council-communist stuff. Some titles we also publish in english.

We now almost understood what socialism (communism) really meant. We understood that the Russian, Chinese and all other revolutions in reality had been capitalist. We also understood that a socialist revolution could only be worldwide. However, later the « organization » even began to question Marxism and claimed that conceptions like socialism and revolution were meaningless. They also claim that the class conception is meaningless and that- the working class will never carry socialism through. They mean that every individual should instead concentrate upon trying to get out as much enjoyment as possible from life. I agree with this, but capitalism sets up very limited bounds to how much « enjoyment » people can reach.

I think their view is a manifestation of defeatism, therefore I have now stopped working for this group. I have changed my mind concerning parliamentarism, and now sympathize entirely with the World Socialist Movement, the only movement that stands for SOCIALISM, the abolition of the wages system! I now understand that neither social-democracy, Leninism-Maoism-Stalinism, Trotskyism, Appelianism, Anarchism, Syndicalism or Situationism can be an alternative to capitalism. After fifteen years of ideological confusion, I now understand what socialism really means and hope to be make a contribution for it.
Y.E.H.