Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wayward in Westminster (2013)

From the July 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

For some time it has been obvious that David Cameron hates Prime Minister’s Questions and that those who have to fill in his diary must make sure he has unavoidably urgent commitments as often as possible on the fateful day leaving poor Nick Clegg to take the punishment. Not that this exposure allows Clegg to take any glory – the loutish sneers, the contemptuous laughter, the snarling of meaningless 'questions'. Even worse for him, the Deputy Prime Minister has never mastered the Cameron technique of responding to a difficult question with one of his own – very often about something completely irrelevant. This is the Honourable Members at play, enjoying their post-lunch diversion.

A recently sprouted encouragement of misbehaviour during PMQs has been Cameron's avowed determination to reform Parliament and its ways so that voters whose MP has failed to come up to scratch – perhaps by asking too many daft questions or guffawing too boisterously at an equally daft reply – can have access to a machinery which will force the deficient Member back into the real world by standing for election again. Another scheme is to make it more difficult – for Noble Lords as well as Honourable Members – to accept cash for promoting the cause of some company or pressure group. This is known as Cash For Access – lobbying ministers and the like with rewards which can bring tens of thousands of pounds dripping into the pockets of those pursued by the lobbyists. All of which is in breach of what are called The Rules of Conduct, betraying the promise that whatever influence an MP or a peer might have will be used in the interests of the people they are supposed to represent. This did not, of course, impress the Tory MP Neil Hamilton with those brown envelopes during the Nineties stuffed with cash from Harrods boss Mohammed Fayed, which introduced us to the word ‘sleaze’. When Hamilton was found out he had to resign from the front bench and was then soundly defeated by Martin Bell in the 1997 general election (his constituency is now represented by George Osborne) reducing him to earning his keep by appearing on The Weakest Link or – in the case of his wife – in the TV grovel of I'm A Celebrity...

Noble Lords
Meanwhile the scandal continues. Recently there has been the exposure of three peers – Lords Cunningham (ex-Labour minister – 'Are you suggesting £10,000 a month? Make that £12000 a month. I think we could do a deal on that'), Mackenzie (ex-police Chief Superintendent) and Laird (the Lords is 'a great place to do business'). And in the Lower House Patrick Mercer, Tory MP for Newark, was so cruelly shown up by a Panorama sting that he felt compelled to resign the Tory Whip to 'save my party from embarrassment' (not to mention his own discomfort) and to announce that he will not stand at the next election. His problem springs from being shown on the nation's TV accepting a down payment of £4000 towards a total of £24000 to promote a campaign for Fiji to be readmitted into the Commonwealth. The proposals of the bogus lobbyist included forming an All Party Parliamentary Group to press this cause, through questions in the Commons and an Early Day Motion, which was virtually written for Mercer, stating that 'there is no justification' for the islands' continued suspension. Fiji was first suspended in 2006, after being taken over by a military dictatorship. There is no evidence to support the terms of that EDM; the situation is pretty well unchanged, with all that implies in terms of democracy and human rights. Recently the International Federation of Journalists advised anyone thinking of going there as a holiday that it is 'no paradise right now'.

This is not the first time that Mercer's ingrown tendency for abrasiveness has landed him on the wrong pages of the media. But in the unforgiving game of Westminster politics, could there have been any darker motive behind his exposure? The son of a Bishop of Exeter, he went to public school and Oxford before Sandhurst and the Army where he rose to the rank of Colonel with awards for 'distinguished gallantry'. But he did not live up to a background so appealing to any Tory activist and he has not turned out to be one of Cameron's favourite underlings. In 2007 he was sacked from the post of Shadow Minister for Home Security after suggesting that there was nothing exceptional in some soldiers being called 'black bastard' and expanding on this by recollecting that among some ethnic minority soldiers he had come across a lot were 'idle and useless'.

In 2001 he supported Ian Duncan Smith in the Tory leadership contest and in 2005 he was for David Davis against Cameron. But it was unnecessary for him to develop the theme by describing Cameron as 'a despicable arse' and elaborating by telling us that he had '...never, ever come across anyone less suited to the job in my life. I would take a beggar off the streets and put him in that position rather than have Cameron. I loathe him.' These remarks were published in the People: Mercer said they had been overheard and recorded in secret. As if that would have made any difference to Cameron loyalists nursing a desire for revenge on this wayward maverick.

But however incendiary his opinions and manner of giving vent to them Mercer had kept favour with his local Tories. When he first stood in Newark in 2001 his majority was 4073; in 2010, despite all his problems and clashes with the party, it was 16,152. He now sits as an Independent. When we consider the material which is dealt with by Parliament – the endless  obsession with violence, poverty, class privilege, dishonesty – it must be concluded that there is nothing to justify the legislators taking any pride in their work or claiming to be more trustworthy and morally superior than Patrick Mercer and his noble swindlers.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Capitalism’s diminishing returns (2013)

Book Review from the March 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bleakonomics by Rob Larson. Pluto Press. 2012.

Larson has written an engaging polemic against free-market capitalism and its proponents, focusing on the role of ‘externalities’ such as environmental destruction and the inadequate consideration of these by conventional economics.

Indeed, the chapters on capitalism and the environment are amongst the strongest, making very clear –with some well-chosen examples –how the market is unable to allocate resources in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way. The Deepwater Horizon oil well explosion and spill, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (‘a Texas-sized ocean eddy saturated with minute plastic particles’) are just a couple of the externalities of capitalism that Larson highlights to useful effect.

Larson discusses class division intelligently for the most part, along with the excesses of a system that rewards the top one percent merely for their ownership of wealth, though there is a sense that he thinks a regulated capitalism wouldn’t create nearly as many problems as the private enterprise version that exists in America and has spread across much of the world.

He is more consistently effective when he discusses some of the fundamental flaws of conventional bourgeois economics, such as the theories of marginal utility and marginal productivity. An excellent chapter on ‘Economics as a Failed Science’ recounts practical research into how businesses make their decisions and illustrates that diminishing returns on the growth in productive capacity doesn’t typically happen in practice. This is important, because one of the contentions of conventional economics is that these diminishing returns limit the production of individual firms and keep these enterprises small relative to the total market. This is a key factor underpinning the notion that capitalism is based on competitive markets that respond to subtle price signals influencing the ebb and flow of new entrants to an industry.

But the research shows this doesn’t happen in practice –economies of scale are a far more important factor for companies, leading them to expand their production to secure cheaper costs per unit produced. This in turn helps create two of the most significant features of capitalism: first, the drive by companies to expand production as if there is no limit to the market for their products, which leads to overproduction and economic crisis. Then the same phenomenon also leads to the concentration of capital into fewer hands, with a resulting tendency towards oligopoly. This was illustrated in the 2007 US Economic Census, which showed that 97 per cent of cigarettes in America are produced by the four largest manufacturers, the four biggest brewers produced 90 per cent of the beer and the top four oil refining firms produced almost half the petrol and diesel.

So, on this front Marx was right again, even though Larson doesn’t mention his analysis directly. Larson does quote, tellingly, from Einstein and his analysis of the anarchy of capitalist production and focuses on the calls for ‘economic democracy’ made by the Occupy movement among others as the remedy to the problem. But what he doesn’t say is that this remedy can only take effect when the anarchy of the market and the tyranny of money and prices have been destroyed, to be replaced by common ownership and production directly for use, rather than under a ‘regulated’ capitalism.

Billy Bragg: Not Looking for a New England (2012)

From the September 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

“I never advocated the abolition of capitalism” (Billy Bragg, Radio 4, 21 April)
1984 was the year of the Miners' Strike and Billy Bragg. He identified himself with the Miners’ struggle against the Thatcher Tory government. In fact, Bragg says that Thatcher made him who he was. His album Brewing Up with Billy Bragg contained a song called The World Turned Upside Down about the Diggers and Levellers of the English Revolution of 1649 who advocated the“common treasury” of the earth, the title of the song referencing Marxist historian Christopher Hill's book.  All proceeds from Bragg's EP, Between the Wars, were donated to the Striking Miners’ Fund.

In April, the Reverend Richard Coles invited his old Red Wedge comrade, the ‘Bard of Barking’, Billy Bragg, onto his Saturday Live Radio 4 show, introducing him as “the British Left's most consistent voice”.  Bragg's consistency has been as a reformist, gradualist, and non-revolutionary voice. The Guardian (1 January last year) declared that Bragg had “an unshakeable commitment to democratic socialism”. Is the term ‘socialist’ an accurate description for this Dorsetshire denizen?

Bragg was brought up in Barking in East London, experiencing “the reality of working class experience not the theoretical” and attending Barking Abbey Comprehensive School.  He was energised by the Punk Rock explosion of the late 1970s, stating he was politicised by seeing The Clash at the Rock Against Racism carnival in Victoria Park in Hackney in 1978. The Clash were notorious for radical chic Leftist gesture politics such as wearing Red Brigade/Baader Meinhof T-shirts, and eulogising the Leftist Nicaraguan Sandinista government.

Bragg would have been better politicised if he had seen the Gang of Four confronting British Movement skinheads at Thames Poly in Woolwich in 1979. The Gang of Four were a Marxist post-punk band originating at Leeds University who were influenced by the Frankfurt School, and wrote about love, sex and leisure as fetishised commodities in capitalism, and alienated labour. In 1982, their single, I Love a Man in a Uniform, dissected war and capitalism. This song came too late for Billy Bragg because in 1981 he had joined the British Army. He had not worked out an analysis of capitalism and war and the fact that the working class do the killing and dying in capitalist wars.

After the end of the Miners’ Strike in 1985, Bragg's next campaign was Red Wedge which was a pop music collective dedicated to electing the Labour Party and getting Neil Kinnock into Downing Street.  Bragg told Coles that Red Wedge was “hardly revolutionary, it was Neil Kinnock”. Kinnock was already expelling from the Labour Party Trotskyists such as Militant and beginning the modernisation process that would eventually result in New Labour.  In 1987 Thatcher was elected for the third time.

After the 1987 election, the next stop for Billy Bragg was joining the newly formed pressure group, Charter 88, which had been set up by Liberal/SDP intellectuals. Charter 88 would eventually merge with the New Politics Network (which had evolved from Democratic Left which was, in turn, the 1991 successor to the defunctCommunist Party of Great Britain) and form the pressure group Unlock Democracy.

Barking Abbey Comprehensive School also produced Malcolm Eden and Tim Gane who formed the indie pop band, McCarthy, in 1985 who were explicitly a Marxist group that sang about socialism (Red Sleeping Beauty), the socialist commonwealth (CelestialCity), while their 1987 album, I am a Wallet, was all about capitalism and commodity fetishism in Thatcher's Britain

When McCarthy split in 1990 Tim Gane teamed up with French singer, Laetitia Sadier, to form Stereolab. Sadier told Melody Maker in 1991: “I want to change the world” and Stereolab's lyrics had a Marxist content. One song called Ping Pong in 1994 was a Marxian economic analysis of capitalism's crises. A 1992 song, Surreal Chemist, identifies the Marxist perspective of Stereolab:

“Even more than philosophers/Aiming at no less than the total transformation of man and his world/ True life embodying pleasure principle's noblest triumph/Over the cowering mendacity of bourgeois christian civilisation”.

In 2005, Bragg supported Oona King MP (New Labour, pro-Iraq war) in her election campaign in Bethnal Green and Bow in East London against the maverick Leftist, George Galloway. She was defeated.  New Labour had so abandoned the working class in East London that the far-right BNP gained seats on Barking Council.

The rise of the BNP in his native East London prompted Bragg to write his 2006 book, The Progressive Patriot, where he champions English nationalism and multiculturalism and even draws inspiration from Rudyard Kipling. (He of the British Empire and ‘the White Man's Burden’ whose propaganda egged on the slaughter of millions of the working class in the trenches of the First World War.) Bragg has no class analysis of society and writes he is “developing a narrative which explains how we all came to be here together in this place” (my emphasis) and states we now live in a “present classless society”. He does not see that the capitalist ruling class seek to convince the working class that ‘we’ is ‘the Nation’ and the Nation state is run by the capitalist class in their interests. He does not see ‘multiculturalism’ from a socialist angle, which views it a divisive because it forces the working class to identify with other groups against their class interests.

Since 2001, Bragg has stated that he is a tactical Lib-Dem voter but feels betrayed by the Lib-Dems being in the Coalition government with the Tories: “They had some positive things in their manifesto, and they seem to have abandoned the lot of 'em”.

Bragg told Reverend Coles in April that “there are no utopias, I was never that kind of revolutionary. As if I've ever called for the abolition of capitalism”. He agreed with Coles that his was “a modest programme of change, chipping away at that which is tractable”. Last year he told the Guardian:  “We're living in a post-ideological period” and that “the long shadow of Karl Marx” was over, and of the new protests he did not “care if it's called socialism”.
Steve Clayton

Further Reading:
Socialist Standard review of Billy Bragg's The Progressive Patriot

Further Listening:
Gang of Four - I Love A Man In Uniform
McCarthy - Red Sleeping Beauty
Stereolab - Ping Pong

UKIP: Are they really the BNP in blazers? (2013)

From the July 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Trafalgar Square at this year’s London May Day Rally, left wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn urged the working class to 'Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism' (although both are symptoms of capitalism) and attacked UKIP as 'the BNP in blazers'.

The main UKIP (UK Independence Party) policy is British withdrawal from the European Union. With this main platform they got 147 councillors elected in the English County Council elections in May taking 23 percent of the popular vote. This followed on from the Eastleigh by-election in February where they achieved 27.8 per cent of the vote. In March UKIP leader Nigel Farage was invited to dinner with capitalist media mogul Rupert Murdoch who later tweeted: 'Economies going nowhere. New leaders emerging on distant horizon. Stagnant Europe racked by discontent and resentment of EU. Farage reflecting opinion'.

UKIP was established in 1993 by Tories opposed to the EU Maastricht Treaty. By the 2009 European Elections UKIP had 13 MEPs, 17 per cent of the popular vote which equated to 2.5 million voters. At the General Election in 2010 they received 920,000 votes. Support for UKIP appears to be an expression of the economic insecurity after the 2008 financial crash, xenophobia, and a distrust of the political elites of the main parties. At present, however, most of the capitalist class do not favour withdrawal from the EU. Recently both Ford and BMW warned Cameron against EU exit insisting it would be 'devastating' for the British economy, and in a British Chambers of Commerce poll of 4,380 companies, 60 per cent felt exiting the EU would harm business.

The Tory Party leadership have been scathing about UKIP over the years; from Michael Howard in 2004 describing them as 'political cranks, gadflies and extremists' to Cameron in 2006 talking of 'fruitcakes and loonies – and closet racists mostly' to this year and Kenneth Clarke speaking about 'waifs and strays' and 'a collection of clowns'. Yet in a Guardian ICM Poll this May Labour were on 34 percent, Tories 28 percent and the 'clowns' of UKIP on 18 percent followed by the Lib Dems on 11 percent.

City backers
Farage has been described as a 'reactionary throwback', and his party, 'the Kippers', revere Churchill and Thatcher, want smoking back in pubs, a small state, low taxes, the end to mass, uncontrolled immigration with a points-based work permit system. UKIP's 'saloon bar politics' are anti-multiculturalism, anti-political correctness, against gay marriage which represents a traditional social conservatism that hides homophobia and misogyny. Their brand of rightwing populism wants increased police numbers, the doubling of prison places, an expansion of the armed forces and to 'no longer involve the UK in military adventurism' which seems to be a rejection of liberal interventionism. UKIP are also supporters of Climate Change denial (see Pathfinders, June issue). An unknown leading Tory referred to grass-roots Tory activists as 'mad, swivel-eyed loons', but they could be describing UKIP.

UKIP have an avowed belief in economic liberalism or laissez faire capitalism. The party is full of ex-bankers. Farage himself is former commodity broker, and UKIP want the City excluded from EU controls. They want the repeal of the EU directive on Alternative Investment Fund Managers which seeks to regulate hedge funds and private equity companies in the City. The Daily Telegraph (1 June) reported that Farage had held fund-raising dinners for City supporters and had received a five figure donation from the former chief executive of a FTSE 100 company.

UKIP propose 'tens of billions' of cuts to taxation, along with a further £77 billion of cuts to the public sector in order to reduce the deficit. The economic plans outlined by UKIP have been called into question by thee Times (29 April) which identified a '£120bn black hole' in their spending plans. On workers’ rights, UKIP want to reduce the influence of Employment Tribunals, limit unfair dismissal claims, scrap most 'equality and discrimination legislation', and limit the power of Trade Unions. UKIP argue that if private sector workers have to endure pay cuts and job losses during the economic recession we are currently experiencing then it’s only fair that public sector workers must do the same. One UKIP MEP feels that women of child-bearing age should not be employed because maternity rights were 'too draconian' for employers.

Tax policy
A discussion paper on their website citing Adam Smith and David Ricardo as a guide to their taxation policy, states:

‘Every attempt to tax wages sets in motion a “shifting” process whereby the tax finishes up as a corporate impost anyway. This phenomenon was clearly set out 220 years ago in Adam Smith’s illustration of an employee earning £100. If the state imposes a tax of 20% his pay must rise by 25% in order to re-instate the employee’s former purchasing power (£100). He must now be paid £125 so that the 20% tax leaves him with disposable earnings of £100. In practice there may be a time-lag over which purchasing power (or the basic standard of living) is restored’ (Their emphasis.

David Ricardo did indeed argue: 'Taxes on wages will raise wages, and therefore will diminish the rate of the profit of stock... a tax on wages is wholly a tax on profits'. We too have always argued that although some taxes are paid by the working class, the burden of taxation rests on the capitalists and has to be paid out of the profit accruing to them in the form of rent, interest and profit, the basis of which is the unpaid labour of the working class.

Marx too explained why abolishing taxes on wages would make no difference for wage-workers:

'If all taxes which bear on the working class were abolished root and branch, the necessary consequence would be the reduction of wages by the whole amount of taxes which today goes into them. Either the employers’ profit would rise as a direct consequence by the same quantity, or else no more than an alteration in the form of tax-collecting would have taken place. Instead of the present system, whereby the capitalist also advances, as part of the wage, the taxes which the worker has to pay, the capitalist would no longer pay them in this roundabout way, but directly to the state... For the bourgeoisie the way in which taxes are distributed and levied, and the use to which they are put are a vital question on account of its influence on trade and industry' (

UKIP believe that 'Low taxes, few regulations and small government are the recipe for a successful economy'. They want to reduce the rate of taxation on the capitalist class by replacing VAT with a Local Sales Tax, abolishing the employers’ National Insurance contributions ('the tax on jobs'), abolishing Inheritance Tax and reducing Corporation Tax. UKIP are enthusiastic supporters of the Flat Tax to replace income tax and NI. They believe that there is tax avoidance by the capitalist class because rates are too high. So everybody, whatever their income, would pay the same flat rate of personal income tax.

Rather than ‘the BNP in blazers' UKIP are loony rightwing advocates of free market capitalism.

The British National Party (BNP) are Britain's very own pseudo-Nazi party, the successor to Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. The BNP are 'state capitalist' and advocate a different brand of capitalism to UKIP. They oppose globalisation, laissez faire capitalism and economic liberalism, and want an economic nationalism (autarky) whereby industries are British-owned, a renationalisation of the utilities, subordination of the City to central government, and a greater share ownership for workers.

The BNP's 'state capitalism' has its roots in 'Strasserism', the leftwing Nazism that originated in the Nazi Party’s 25 points programme from 1920 which included the abolition of unearned income, the breaking of ‘debt interest slavery’, nationalisation of associated industries, and the division of profits in heavy industries. The Nazi Party economist Gottfried Feder advocated 'breaking the shackles of interest' and saw financial capitalism or 'Jewish finance' as opposite to productive capitalism, and at the root of societal problems not capitalism itself. The Socialist Party pointed out that this opposition to 'unearned income' was due to the fact that foreign capitalists were raking off proceeds from German industry and was a cry from the hearts of the German capitalist class. The BNP state capitalism is indeed more 'reformist eyewash'.

UKIP represent a populist rightwing capitalist reform party which is fundamentally an external faction of the Tory Party while the BNP and their quasi-Nazi state capitalism would be the wages system under new management. Both are just alternative ways to manage capitalism. A Radio 4 talking head recently said Farage was not Mussolini because he had not got the 'grandiose idea'. In that sense, UKIP are 'more Enoch Powell than Oswald Mosley' and not 'the BNP in blazers'.
Steve Clayton

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Militant Non-Marxist (1990)

Book Review from the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Unbroken Thread, the Development of Trotskyism over 40 Years. By Ted Grant, Fortress Books, London, 1989. 

This is a collection of some of the principal writings of Ted Grant, the founder of the "Revolutionary Socialist League" (more popularly known as "Militant"). The Introduction argues that in the decades since the Second World War:

“Grant has defended the method of Marxism against all kinds of alien ideas. What makes this achievement all the more remarkable is that this has been a period, for the most part, of economic upswing and political reaction ... it is to one person alone that the credit must go for the maintenance and development of Marxist theory in this most difficult period.”

This is the stuff of which legends are made, and there can be no bigger fairytale than that Grant's brand of orthodox Trotskyism has been the main bulwark against ideas "alien" to Marxism. Grant has not been single-handedly slaying the capitalist dragon in the name of Marxism. On the contrary, he is part of a political tradition that has systematically abandoned the central positions of Marxism in favour of Leninist notions about vanguards, the "transitional society", and the "workers' state". What is more, Grant has some harsh things to say about the one Marxist organisation in Britain which has refused to follow the Leninist distortion:

“If all that was required of revolutionaries was to repeat ad nauseam a few phrases and slogans taken from the great teachers of Marxism, the problem of the revolution would be simple indeed. The SPGB would be super-Marxists instead of incurable sectarians. As Trotsky remarked of the ultra-lefts, every sectarian would be a master strategist.”

Of course, the Socialist Party does not need lessons in strategy from an organisation whose members on Liverpool City Council were responsible for the issuing of 30,000 redundancy notices to local government workers a few years ago, and our crime of "sectarianism" has simply been our refusal to compromise with political parties who insist, against all the evidence, that they can operate capitalism in the interest of the working class.

As much of this book is preoccupied with analysing the failure of Labour's "gradualist" approach when in office, readers will be able to judge for themselves who has adopted the correct position when it comes to the promises of reformist movements. Grant argues that his favoured medicine of nationalisation hasn't worked because the dose wasn't large enough and that it should have been repeated more often, but as the workers in Eastern Europe are currently showing, that is not an argument likely to convince many.

The Nature of the USSR
The only part of this book really worth reading is Grant's essay "Against the Theory of State Capitalism", originally written in 1949, which is a critique of the position developed by Tony Cliff and now held by the Socialist Workers Party that Russia has been state capitalist since 1928. Grant's primary aim is to defend Trotsky's argument that Russia was a "workers' state" that had degenerated under the political control of privileged party bureaucrats. Despite the deficiency of this analysis (a "workers' state" being a contradiction in terms) Grant is able to deal quite effectively with Cliff's assertion that capitalism was restored in Russia in 1928 with Stalin's first Five Year Plan. He argues that Cliff's distinction between pre-1928 and post-1928 Russia is completely arbitrary as all the conditions for state capitalism laid down by Cliff were present in the pre-1928 period:

“If Comrade Cliff's thesis is correct, that state capitalism exists in Russia today, then he cannot avoid the conclusion that state capitalism has been in existence since the Russian Revolution and the function of the revolution itself was to introduce this state capitalist system of society. For despite his tortuous efforts to draw a line between the economic basis of Russian society before 1928 and after, the economic basis of Russian society has in fact remained unchanged . . . money, labour power, the existence of the working class, surplus value, etc, are all survivals of the old capitalist system earned over even under the regime of Lenin ... the law of value applies and must apply until there is direct access to the products by the producers.”

It only needs to be added that in Britain it was the Socialist Party that developed a Marxist analysis of Russia, recognising it as a country in which class monopoly of the means of production, together with wage labour, capital accumulation and other basic features of capitalism, have existed continuously since the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917.


1789: France’s bourgeois revolution (1989)

From the July 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Up until 1789 France was an Absolutist state ruled by a king who claimed that his total power to rule had been granted him by god. All the top posts in the army, the government, the civil service, the church and the judiciary were reserved for the members of a hereditary nobility. The population was in fact divided into three "orders" or "estates": the clergy, the nobility and the rest – over 95 per cent of course – known simply as the Third Estate.

Relics of Feudalism
The vast majority of the population – some 22 or 23 million out of a total population of 25 million – were peasants who worked and lived on the land. Very few were serfs actually tied to the land or a master. It has in fact been estimated that between 30 and 40 per cent of the land in pre-1789 France belonged to peasants. But all peasants, whether landowners, tenants or share-croppers, had to pay feudal dues in money and in kind to the lord of the manor as well as tithes, payable in kind, to the church. They were obliged to use the lord’s mill, bread oven and wine press rather than have their own and to allow him to hunt freely on their land. And they were tried and judged in a court presided over by him or his appointee for minor offences and all disputes with him or among themselves concerning land matters.

These were all survivals from feudalism, though it would be inaccurate to describe French society on the eve of the revolution as feudalism. Capitalism had long been developing there and in fact many of the lordships of the manor had been bought by rich non-nobles from the towns as an investment for the income this procured them.

Nor was the nobility any longer really feudal. By this time they had become transformed into an exclusive group which, by virtue of their noble status, enjoyed various tax exemptions and a privileged access to the top posts in the state, a fact that was particularly resented by rich people of non-noble origin – the bourgeoisie – who were to provide the leadership of the French Revolution.

This – the upper echelons of the Third Estate, or non-noble rich people – is the easiest definition that can be given of the bourgeoisie. Some were merchants, others manufacturers, still others professional people, in particular lawyers of various sorts. Below them, in the towns, were the sort of people who in Paris were known as the sansculottes, literally ""those without breeches", or people who wore trousers rather than the knee-breeches and stockings then worn by the rich and those who aped them. These were the small shopkeepers and providers of various services, the master artisans and their journeymen who one day hoped to become masters themselves. Those who were condemned to a life-time of dependence on selling their labour power for a wage to a manufacturing employer were relatively few and were concentrated in certain industries and towns. One estimate puts their number at as low as 600,000.

Obstacles to Capitalist Development
Pre-1789 France is best described as a country in which capitalism had been developing within a framework of political and social institutions inherited from feudalism, which had become an obstacle to its further development. The question that then arose was: how were these obstacles to be removed? By reform from above or by revolution from below? Some of the king’s advisers and administrators were aware of what was required. The conscious economic aims of the revolution (see inset) had in fact been worked out by a group of French Rationalist Philosophers who called themselves économistes or physiocrates. They held that there were natural laws governing the production and distribution of wealth just as there were other laws of nature and that governments should let these economic laws operate spontaneously. Hence their slogan laissez-faire which strongly influenced the similar idea put forward by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations that appeared in 1776. A number of royal officials, including ministers, had been Physiocrats, but had come up against all sorts of resistance in trying to carry out reform from above.


Aims of the 1789 Revolution

POLITICAL: To establish equality between all property-owners by abolishing the privileges enjoyed by a section only of them, the nobility. To establish a constitutional government responsible to an assembly of property-owners elected on a restricted, property franchise.

ECONOMIC: To abolish internal customs duties and establish a national market. To abolish guild and government restrictions on entry into particular trades and businesses and establish freedom of enterprise and laissez-faire. To end feudal dues and tithes levied on agricultural property; rent, interest and profit to be the only legitimate forms of non work income.


Largely as a result of its failure to reform itself, by the 1780s the royal government had got into such financial difficulties that bankruptcy threatened. To raise more taxes it was obliged to call a meeting of a feudal institution that had last met in 1614, the States General in which representatives of the three estates into which society was legally divided met to discuss the king’s demand for further taxes. In August 1788 the government announced the calling of a meeting of this States General for May 1789. In the intervening period the members of the various estates were to meet all over France to draw up a list of their grievances and demands to submit to the king. The rich members of the Third Estate of the towns used the opportunity not just to complain about the tax exemptions accorded to the clergy and the nobles and to call for a fairer sharing of the burden of taxation among the rich, noble as well as non-noble. They also demanded a Constitution that would allow the representatives of the Third Estate to dominate the States General and turn it into an assembly representing the whole "nation". This aim was openly expressed in an immensely influential pamphlet that appeared in 1789 called What is the Third Estate?, written by Abbé Sieyès. Sieyès answered the question by arguing that the Third Estate was everything; it, and it alone, constituted the nation, the nobility being nothing but useless and privileged parasites:

"The nobility truly a nation apart, but a bogus one which, lacking organs to keep it alive, clings to a real nation like those vegetable parasites which can live only on the sap of the plants that they impoverish and blight. The Church, the law, the army and the bureaucracy are four classes of public agents necessary everywhere. Why are they accused of aristocratism in France? Because the caste of nobles has usurped all the best posts, and takes them as its hereditary property. Thus it exploits them, not in the spirit of the laws of society, but to its own profit."

Thus spoke the bourgeoisie when it had a revolution to carry out.

The session of the States General was opened by the King, Louis XVI, in May 1789. The representatives of the Third Estate soon showed themselves to be in a militant mood, in June turning the States General, as planned, into a National Assembly and later into a Constituent Assembly, or a body charged with drawing up a constitution for France.

The Bourgeois Revolution
This wasn’t quite what Louis XVI and some of his advisers had intended and they began to think in terms of dissolving the Assembly. The king dismissed his reforming chief minister and troops were sent to surround Paris. Popular reaction was not long in coming. The bourgeoisie formed themselves into an armed "National Guard" while, on 14 July, the sansculotte crowds stormed the Bastille. Power in Paris passed into the hands of the armed, revolutionary bourgeoisie.

July 14 has traditionally been regarded as the date that the French Revolution, as the seizure of power by the bourgeoisie, took place. Another, perhaps better, case can be made out for 6 October of the same year. This was the date when, following a march of women, accompanied by members of the National Guard, from Paris to the royal palace at Versailles to demand bread, the king was forced to recognise the power and legitimacy of the National Assembly by accompanying it back to Paris. The old royal administration then collapsed throughout France and power at regional and local level also passed into the hands of the bourgeoisie.

In October the Constituent Assembly abolished all internal customs duties. In fact all indirect taxes were abolished. This presented the new regime with a financial problem – how to raise money to finance its activities? – that was solved by the confiscation and sale of the estates belonging to the church. Most church lands fell into the hands, not of the peasants who had been working them, but of rich bourgeois from the towns. The church was not in fact opposed to this measure as, in return, the clergy were to be maintained by the state as civil servants. But the Constituent Assembly went on to insist, not only that the priests should swear like all other civil servants an oath of allegiance to the constitution, but also that bishops should be elected in the same way that mayors and judges were going to be. This proved too much for the Pope who, in May 1791, put an anathema on the French Revolution which still influences the attitude of Catholic historians to the revolution to this day. But its importance at the time was that it meant that the bulk of the Catholic Church went over to the counter-revolution.

Representative Government for Property Owners
The Constitution was finally promulgated in 1791. It provided for France to be a constitutional monarchy, with the king as the hereditary head of the executive having the same sort of powers as the President of the USA. Although it did not remain in force for long it was a model constitution for the rule of the bourgeoisie, as the non-noble section of the property-owning class in society. Its preamble proclaimed in revolutionary terms the complete abolition of the aristocracy:

"There is no longer any nobility, nor peerage, nor hereditary distinction, nor distinctions between orders, nor feudal regime, nor hereditary justices, nor any order of knighthood …"

The Constitution also incorporated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen that had been adopted by the National Assembly in August 1789. Despite the declaration that "men are born and remain free and equal in rights", the Constitution went on to draw a distinction between "active" and "passive" citizens based on property as measured by the amount of tax paid. To be a simple voter, this was set at a relatively low level but some 40 per cent of the adult male population found themselves without the right to vote (as did all women). But this was not the only property qualification. The members of the legislative assembly were not elected directly by the voters; these latter voted for "electors" who in turn elected the deputies. There was a higher qualification to be chosen as an elector and an even higher one to be allowed to sit in the assembly.

The abolition of the distinction between noble and non-noble property owners and provision for a constitutional government responsible to an assembly of property owners elected on a restricted franchise was in fact the openly declared aim of the French Revolution from the start. It was proclaimed in the Constitution of 1791 and emerged again in 1795 to survive until Napoleon seized power in 1799. Between 1792 and 1794, however, the revolution, under the impact of both an external war and an internal civil war, was to take a more radical turn but one which turned out to be no more than a detour.

The Jacobin Dictatorship
War was declared on Austria, which had taken the side of the overthrown aristocracy, in April 1792 and in July Prussia declared war on France, leading to the invasion of the country by Austrian and Prussian troops. The King, however, continued to maintain contacts with Austria and Prussia. As the invading armies advanced on Paris popular discontent over the economic and political situation broke out, leading to the storming of the royal palace and overthrow of the king on 10 August 1792. France was not declared a Republic until September, after the defeat of the invading armies at Valmy on the road to Paris, but this date marked the effective end of the monarchy. In December Louis XVI was put on trial for treason, found guilty and executed in January 1793. Thus, as in England in 1649, a king claiming to rule by divine right found out the hard way that this was not so.

A new Constitution was drawn up putting power into the hands of a national assembly elected on the basis of universal manhood suffrage. This democratic aspect, however, remained a dead letter as the new assembly allowed one of its subcommittees, the Committee of Public Safety, to assume full powers to organise and mobilise the war effort. After another uprising in Paris at the end of May power passed into the hands of the Jacobins, the most militant section of the revolutionary bourgeoisie whose best-known leader was Maximilien Robespierre.

One of the first things that was done under the new regime was to settle the land question. A law – that of 17 July 1793 – decreed the abolition of all feudal dues without compensation. The principle of the abolition of feudal dues had been proclaimed as long ago as August 1789, but had provided for this to be done by the peasants buying these rights from the lords of the manor. Naturally the peasants were not satisfied and peasant unrest, in the form of refusal to pay and the burning of chateaux and feudal title deeds, continued. The Committee on Feudalism of the various national assemblies was in an embarrassing position because the beneficiaries of feudal rights were not all nobles but included many rich members of the Third Estate.

It was never the intention of those who carried out the French Revolution to abolish the private ownership of land or to break up the big estates of the rich and divide them among the peasants. That would have been a flagrant violation of the "rights of property" which the revolution proclaimed and, under a law passed on 18 March 1793, advocating it was in fact made an offence punishable by death. As far as the land question was concerned, the aim was to abolish the burden of feudal dues on agricultural property. This meant that ground rent was considered to be a perfectly legitimate form of income and the Committee on Feudalism tried to pass off many feudal dues as being a form of ground rent. The peasants, however, would have none of this and, through keeping up the pressure, eventually obtained the abolition of feudal dues in a revolutionary way: by their pure and simple abolition without compensation and the public burning of the title deeds which had granted them. The anarchist Kropotkin in his book on The Great French Revolution regarded this as the revolution’s main achievement.

The rule of the Jacobins is generally remembered for the Terror, though in fact its main action was the prosecution of the war and the successful repulsion of the invading armies. The two were connected since the Jacobin government had to deal with counter-revolutionaries at home working in league with the invading powers. The Terror soon developed, however, into a suppression of all opposition on the grounds of the need for absolute unity to "save the nation".

It was not just royalists, priests and other avowed counter-revolutionaries who were guillotined as traitors, but also all others who, for one reason or another, opposed the Jacobin government on some issue, from leftwing sansculotte groups like the Enragés to moderate but still revolutionary republicans like Danton. Suspicion grew that Robespierre was working to establish his own dictatorship. There was probably some truth in this as Robespierre and his supporters did believe in the necessity of a dictatorship to purge the people of aristocratic ideas and attitudes and to lead them to the Republic of small-scale property owners that they saw as the ideal society, and they did toy with the idea of the dictatorship of a single person to achieve this.

The Jacobins were in fact the Bolsheviks of the French Revolution just as the Bolsheviks were the Jacobins of the Russian Revolution. This affinity was consciously recognised by Lenin and Trotsky and is to this day by their followers, as the following from an SWP publication shows:

"The Jacobins were the only possible leadership capable of successfully defending the revolution. We should defend them against both revisionists and ‘left’ utopian critics" (Socialist Worker Review, May 1989)

A similar position is taken up by the so-called "Marxist" school of historians of the French Revolution, including their doyen Albert Soboul. Their books, and his in particular, remain worth reading but in so far as they "defend" the Jacobins are not a proper nor an adequate application of the materialist conception of history. Applied to the French Revolution, this would seek to analyse the economic factors that determined it rather than to defend or attack the political role played by some or other group or person in the course of it.

Whatever may have been Robespierre’s reasons for justifying the dictatorship of the Jacobin Committee of Public Safety, the bulk of the members of the national assembly (and indeed some members of the Committee itself) supported it as a necessity to win the war, both external and internal, and were ready to relax it once this had been achieved, as it had been by the summer of 1794. This was fatal for Robespierre who was overthrown on 27 July (9 Thermidor, according to the revolutionary calendar) and guillotined with his immediate followers the next day.

The Right to Unequal Property Ownership Re-asserted
The overthrow of Robespierre and the Jacobins marked the end of the radicalisation of the French Revolution and a return to its original aim of establishing a constitutional government by and for property owners. The only difference with 1791 was that this was now to be achieved within the framework of a Republic rather than of a constitutional monarchy. The Republican Constitution of 1795 reintroduced the property qualifications for being an "active" citizen, an "elector" and a deputy.

The Jacobins too had been defenders of the "sacred right of property". Where they differed from the Thermidorians (as those who overthrew them were called) was that they were not prepared to defend the existing degree of inequality of property ownership. For them property ought to be based on work and their ideal was a France in which every Frenchman would own his own farm or workshop and be able to maintain himself and his family out of the results of his own work without having to go out and work for wages for someone else. This ideal, which can only be described (using the term correctly for once) as "petty bourgeois", was an impossible one in the context of the capitalist society that had been developing in France, as was neatly revealed by an exchange that took place in the national assembly in September 1794, at a time when the Jacobins were still in power. After a Jacobin deputy had expounded the ideal of every Frenchman owning his own plot of land and working for himself, another deputy got up to speak on, according to the Minutes, "the material impossibility of transforming all Frenchmen into landholders and on the unfortunate consequences which in any event this transformation would bring". The deputy explained: "Because, on this hypothesis, everybody being obliged to cultivate his own field or vineyard in order to live, commerce, crafts and industry would soon be annihilated". In other words, a non-owning section of the population was needed to supply people to work for wages in capitalist commerce and industry.

But a Bourgeois Republic based on inequality and a Petty Bourgeois Republic based on equal property ownership were not the only two ideals thrown up in the course of the French Revolution. In 1795 and 1796 with Babeuf and the Conspiracy of the Equals another ideal was put forward: common ownership and the abolition of all property, buying and selling and money. The conspiracy never really had much chance of success as it was infiltrated from the start by government spies and probably most of those involved in it favoured the Jacobin ideal of a Republic of small property owners (as well as the Jacobin policy of a dictatorship, which Babeuf favoured too) rather than common ownership and the abolition of all property, but the Conspiracy has left us with a magnificent document, written by Sylvain Maréchal, which we reproduce in this issue.

Political Failure, Social Success
Those who overthrew the Jacobins – the partisans of an unashamed Bourgeois Republic based on inequality of property ownership – were unable to establish a stable regime, mainly because most property owners turned out to favour a restoration of the monarchy and, in the end, a large number of bourgeois revolutionaries, including the Abbé Sieyès who had played such a prominent propagandistic role in preparing the seizure of power by the bourgeoisie in 1789, accepted the military dictatorship of General Napoleon Bonaparte as the only way of ensuring a stable government and preventing a royalist come-back. The seizure of power by Napoleon in 1799, and his subsequent self-proclamation as Emperor in 1804, meant that from a political point of view the French Revolution was a failure: it did not succeed in establishing a "representative government" along the lines of what had been achieved in America and which had been its original declared aim. It did, however, succeed in radically transforming the social structure of France in that all the remnants of feudalism (division of society into orders, feudal rights owed to lords of the manor) and all aristocratic privilege (tax exemptions, exclusive access for nobles to the top jobs in the government, civil service, army and church) were swept away without trace, never to return.

This was a real social revolution which emancipated the peasants from feudal exactions and which freed industry from the shackles of the guild system and created a national market for its goods by removing all internal customs posts and establishing a uniform system of weights and measures. And it opened careers in the government, army and civil servants to new men, of non-noble origin.

The achievement of the French Revolution was to abolish aristocratic privilege but it maintained, and consolidated, plutocratic privilege. After the revolution it was wealth as such and no longer noble status that constituted privilege. In short, it established a capitalist state in which the only distinction between people was the purely economic class distinction between those who owned property and those who did not. It paved the way for the last class struggle in history, which can only be ended by the victory of the propertyless class and the establishment of a classless, socialist society based on the common ownership of the means of production, as envisaged before their time by Babeuf, Maréchal, Buonarotti and others involved in the Conspiracy of the Equals of 1795-6.
Adam Buick

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Iain M Banks and The Culture (2013)

From the July 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Iain [M] Banks, who died in June this year, was a precocious writer of visionary socialist science fiction. He finished his first novel, Use of Weapons, by the time he was twenty years old in 1974, but it was not until 1987 with the publication of Consider Phlebas that the world was introduced to the technologically sophisticated, resource-rich but egalitarian, free access and galaxy-spanning society of the near future known simply as The Culture.

Far removed from the bucolic, craft-industry based utopia of William Morris' News from Nowhere (1890), The Culture shares some key features, including that fact that ‘..human labour [is] restricted to something indistinguishable from play, or a hobby’ (A Few Notes on The Culture, Iain M Banks, In fact, this is true for alien partners, sentient machines and starships, which can arguably be seen as executive councils, helping with the administration of things, while at the same time, having rich and varied lives of their own. Education too is viewed as a life-long process, as opposed to the schooling familiar to Morris and us, and given that science has eliminated death and disease, one that can go on forever in an infinite universe.

Some technology today would seem like magic to Morris. Take the example of another science fiction writer, Ken Macleod, who in Night Sessions describes ‘a future where mobile phone technology is linked up to glasses which display information to the wearer’ (‘Capital, science fiction and labour’, Socialist Standard, August 2009). For Banks, this is just one of many ways in which humans can be augmented. Other fantastical developments mentioned by Banks, such as biological immortality and artificial intelligence, remain tantalisingly out of reach. But technology alone cannot bring about socialism.

For Banks the writer, socialism comes about by us reaching for the stars. The Culture is established because it is beyond the reach of Earth-bound 'power systems'. Perhaps this is why rather than seeing socialism as a real practical alternative to capitalism, he urged us shortly before he died to take another spin on the reformist misery-go-round by joining the People's Assembly Against Austerity (The Guardian, 5 February 2013, The visionary Culture series spans eleven novels and as a testament stands in stark contrast to his rather myopic political views.
Robert Stafford

Resistanbul: Confronting the Arrogance of Power (2013)

From the July 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

(from Turkey)
(the first ten days)

Understanding a society and culture that you have not grown up with is a tough call and Turkey, because of its geographical location, is surely one of the toughest of all. Trying to draw conclusions based upon European/Western perceptions and values will not benefit you one jot. Turkey is complex and contradictory and the unrest sweeping the country and centred on Taksim in Istanbul exposes the tensions of the modern Republic.

The significance of this uprising cannot be overstated. Since its foundation in 1923 Turkey has been an autocracy with an occasional flirtation with a bit of freedom. During the 1960s and 70s there was a rise in ‘revolutionary socialism’. This period ended on 1st May 1977 when hidden (and still unidentified) snipers murdered 34 leftist demonstrators in Taksim Square. Clashes between fascist and leftist groupings escalated to the verge of civil war and led to the coup of September 1980. Thousands of activists, citizens and public figures were murdered by rival factions that were being manipulated by hidden vested interests and the military that were later identified as the so-called ‘Deep State’. Thousands more faced imprisonment and torture. The coup broke up the trades union movement and banned all existing political parties. Shell political parties populated by hand-picked lackeys were formed and the constitution was re-written. To counter any resurgence of the leftists a mix of racist nationalism and Islamic conservatism was encouraged to replace the secular nationalism of the Kemalists.

Over the subsequent years harsh crack-downs on dissenters from the government line have been the trade mark of the establishment. The media as well as individuals self-censored, either to gain or retain influence or to keep their jobs. Those who bucked the party line found themselves without work or their businesses harassed. In more recent years businessmen, politicians as well as individuals would attend the mosque, cover their wives and even make pilgrimages to Mecca to demonstrate suitability for promotion or consideration for a government contract. Shackled by a corrupt and vindictive political elite, ham-strung by tolerance-free policing and the ever-present military, Turks remained cowed – until now.

The spark that has unleashed the fire-storm of rebellion was not, as many think, about the destruction of trees and Gezi Park at Taksim. It was all about the brutal, unprovoked violence of Istanbul’s notorious ‘Robo-Cops’ in clearing away some 30 peaceful protesters against the loss of one of the city’s last green, public places. Gezi Park was to be sacrificed to build yet another shopping mall to benefit government cronies. The protesters returned, their numbers doubled, and were met with heightened police violence. By day three tens of thousands of enraged citizens were fighting with police for control of Taksim Square – their square! A place of huge significance to Turks, Taksim is the very essence of what belongs to the people.

This was no longer about trees or parks, it was and is about years of repression, of police violence, about successive governments that did not listen to the people, it is about corruption and cronyism, the Kurdish issues, religious homogenisation, freedom of expression, of sexuality, rampant neo-liberal economics, the government’s support for and arming of foreign jihadis fighting against the Syrian government, freedom, democracy and, increasingly against the autocratic, micro-managing prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In the street fighting that followed the world has witnessed, through iconic photographs and videos, the scale of the state’s violence and the will of the people to resist. The world has also witnessed the dramatic moments when the police withdrew. For the first time in this the most heavily policed city in Europe they and their huge, armoured TOMAs (Public Incident Control Vehicle), had failed to break the people and the people celebrated. The sight of these monsters being chased out by a huge tracked digging machine driven by protesters was surreal.

Taksim sits on a hill and in order to protect the square and what it represents human chains thousands strong raised two metre-high barricades on every street leading to it – the only way through now is on foot or by bulldozer! Taksim has become what the people insist it will remain – their place. A place for families, for concerts and ballet, impromptu parties and discussion groups, for diversity and tolerance and unity:

‘It is also about the possibility of bridging the many fault lines of Turkey’s complex society. In the park and the square, Kurdish activists, Kemalists, Turkish nationalists, Socialists, and “Anti-capitalist Muslims” have been able to fight and celebrate together, despite occasional confrontations, which were resolved by immediate intervention of bystanders.’ (Contours of the New Republic and Signals From the Past – Kerem Öktem)

As Turkish media ignores or plays down what is happening, such coverage as does exist is focussed on Taksim. The brutal crackdown continues in cities and towns across the country as more and more citizens take courage and inspiration from Taksim and demonstrate. With mostly only social media available to get the story out, impressions can be blurred, misleading and sometimes fraudulent. That said, enough of the truth is emerging to show very clearly that Turks can, if they choose, build a different and more inclusive society based firmly on respect for the individual, freedoms of expression, conscience and speech and a determination to stand up against over-bearing government. Statements by the prime minister where he threatened to demolish the Ataturk Cultural Centre on Taksim and build a mosque, or when he accused the people on the streets of being terrorists, alcoholics, perverts, looters and worse, have only inflamed matters, brought out more protesters and hardened opposition.

So, will the protesters succeed? That is a question that only they and time will answer. That said, any prime minister who can so divide a nation and unite the street-fighting supporters of Istanbul’s three famous soccer clubs has a serious problem on his hands.

Why now? There is so much else that is contributing to numbers on the streets all over Turkey – each would make an article in its own right:

Syria is a huge concern for most Turks who regard Syrians as their brothers and sisters and this government’s support for jihadi insurgents as unforgivable.

Alevi are a mystical sect and an offshoot of Shia Islam. They have long been persecuted including in Turkey where there have been attempts to assimilate them into mainstream Sunni Islam and to impose the building of mosques in villages instead of the traditional cemevi (meeting house). Describing Turkey as 98percent Muslim may be correct but conceals the fact that Alevi form around 20percent of that.

Generals: there is intense anger, particularly amongst the secular middle classes at what they see as a vendetta against the military. Investigation of coup plotting seems to have degenerated into nothing more than mass show trials with little regard for evidence or due process.

Police in Turkey are a national force and officers are posted around the country, they therefore have no local connections or affinity with the communities they serve. They have a reputation for unrestrained methods of policing which has been well documented. There is also ample evidence that their ranks have been infiltrated by adherents of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen. It is widely believed that other followers include members of the governing party although indications are that as the prime minister has tightened his grip on political power his desire to be ‘guided’ by Gülen has declined.

Gül vs Erdoğan: splits between prime minister and president have been evident for some time. The fact that Gül and the deputy prime minister acted immediately to try and defuse the tensions in Taksim as soon as Erdoğan left the country on a working trip is evidence of differences of style and approach.

Kurds: this is a hugely complicated and divisive issue. Erdoğan and the government have been edging towards a settlement with the PKK and its leader Abdullah Öcalan that has resulted in the withdrawal of PKK fighters from Turkey into the Kurdistan Autonomous Region of Iraq. Nationalists are deeply opposed to any settlement which they see as the thin edge of a wedge that will hive off parts of Turkey into a Kurdish state. It is interesting that the largest population centre of Kurds in Turkey is Istanbul, where they settled after being driven west by 30 years of conflict. In polling carried out recently the majority of Kurds do not want an independent state – they seek recognition of their ethnicity, culture and language within Turkey. As this is being written the PKK has declared its support for the uprising.

Gerrymandering: blatant manipulation of the electoral process, buying of votes, and control of the media.

Executive Presidency: there is much opposition throughout the country, including his own party, to Erdoğan’s push for an executive presidency. If he succeeds in changing the constitution and winning a subsequent presidential election it would extend his control over the country by a possible further 10 years. Under the present constitution members of parliament are limited to three terms and presidents to two.

Anti-US sentiment of which there is a great deal is growing. When US forces were planning to use Turkey, with government support, to invade Iraq such was public anger that the government was forced to reverse course and send the US troops out of the country. As they left they needed police protection from stone-throwing citizens who bombarded their convoys.

So, who are on the streets and occupying the parks? Just about every grouping you can think of including some supporters of the governing party – from ‘Revolutionary Muslims’ and ‘Anti-Capitalist Muslims’ to those opposed to the Syrian intervention, Kurdish and Alevi activists to LGBT and civil rights campaigners, the middle classes and secularists to socialists and Kemalists and suited business types, students, academics and intellectuals to artists, performers and pop stars – you name it. Any one of those protesters could give any number of examples of what they don’t want. A very small number of groupings have articulated some very well-reasoned arguments for change and political development but they are not speaking for the movement as a whole which remains what it is – a representation of Turkey’s fractured opposition to Erdoğan. Erdoğan’s stated understanding of democracy is simply ‘put your vote in the box’ but Turks in ever-growing numbers see a huge deficit of democracy in their everyday lives.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Enough Food for Everyone (2013)

Editorial from the July 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in a world which has the potential to adequately feed, house and provide clean water and decent medical care for every single man, woman and child on Earth. The resources exist to banish material want as a problem for members of the human race. Yet millions throughout the world are malnourished, live in squalor or are actually dying of starvation or starvation-related diseases. The big question that faces the human race is what can be done about it?

Last month various pressure groups concerned with the plight of populations in the less developed countries organised a rally in Hyde Park, addressed among others by Bill Gates, to urge the leaders of the G8 countries to take action to ‘stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries.’ They seemed to imagine that if these taxes were paid to governments in Africa, South America, and Asia then the crushing burden of poverty suffered by the mass of people in those regions would begin to lift. A fresh way would be open for development, they argue. Food subsidies and health programmes would attack the deaths from malnutrition and disease. Education and housing would raise the quality of life for millions.

These things would not happen.  Even if the big companies paid more taxes to the governments of these countries this would leave the curse of world poverty intact. The beneficiaries would be amongst the ruling elites who own and control production and distribution in the debtor countries. They are the ones who through their governments would get the money but they are not poor. Amidst the poverty of the masses they live in luxury. Holding power often with brutally oppressive methods they care little for their populations. Their aim is their own self-enrichment.

There is of course a case for the populations of the advanced regions giving aid and assistance to the people in areas where infrastructures, services, means of production and distribution are poorly developed. Most people will accept this but it cannot happen under world capitalism which keeps even our ability to help others in economic shackles –or reduces it to the pathetic levels of charity. The tragic illusion of those who organised the rally is their belief that the devastating problems of world capitalism can be tackled by asking governments to re-arrange finance.

The things that are desperately needed –food, clean water, housing, sanitation, transport, medical services and so on, can only be provided by useful labour, of which there is an abundance throughout the world. Finance is part of a system which operates as a barrier to useful labour producing what people need. Useful production must be freed from the constraints of profit and class interest. Only useful labour applied through world cooperation once the Earth’s resources have become the common heritage of all can solve the problems of world poverty.

World socialism could stop the dying from hunger immediately, and provide the conditions for good health and material security for all people across the Earth within a short time. It would do this by producing goods and services directly for need.