Thursday, October 30, 2014

Party Notes. (1904)

From the September 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

That there is a good field for a sound Socialist party in this country is evident. The Socialist Party has been in existence barely three months, but the effect of the propaganda has already made itself felt.

Thirteen branches have been formed, and over twenty open-air meetings are held each Sunday, besides several others during the week.

Not alone have we secured a footing in the Metropolis, but enquiries have come in from various other parts of the country. Many of those who sought information have since joined the ranks.

The lack of an organ to give expression to our views has evidently hampered our work of teaching Socialism as the only way out of wage-slavery. But now that The Socialist Standard has been unfurled our task will be considerably facilitated.

The importance of the Party press as an instrument of propaganda cannot be over estimated, and comrades will see to it that The Socialist Standard is put into the hands of the working class.

At each propaganda meeting the Chairman should direct the attention of the audience to our organ—a paper written, published and paid for by the working class—and the comrade selling the paper should ask those who purchase copies to become subscribers. Then sample copies could be left at the houses in a given street in a suitable neighbourhood, and a call made say a week afterwards to ascertain results.

Comrades should not fear disappointment: Socialists are to be found in most unexpected quarters. By this method a good circulation can be kept up, and many new members secured to the Party.
Branches should see that a copy of our paper is supplied to each public library in their districts, and thus bring the organ and the Party under the notice of persons who may otherwise remain ignorant of the existence of either.

Arrangements are being made for the formation of Branches in Clerkenwell, Tottenham, and Ilford. Will members in these districts, and readers desirous of joining, communicate with me?

I shall also be glad to hear from readers in Coventry, Isle of Wight, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Oxford, Liverpool, Manchester, Rochester and Treharris regarding the establishment of branches in their respective localities.

Comrades, the watch-word is "Onward."
C. Lehane

A Design For Life (2004)

From the September 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
Compared to most modern magazines and journals, the first Socialist Standard was huge, measuring a full 15-1/8” by 10” (38.4 cm by 25.5 cm). It was printed by Jacomb Brothers at their shop in Stratford, east London. A.E. Jacomb, the socialist half of the brothers, was one of the founder members, responsible for not only meeting the Party’s printing needs but also for much other behind-the-scenes organisation. The banner at the top of the Standard’s front page was configured in trendy art nouveau lettering. The price was just one penny for eight pages.
    
For the first few years perhaps the most noticeable things about the Standard were the full pages of ‘Party Notes’ and verbatim reports of Party meetings. The SS – as it used to called for short until this was abandoned, for obvious reasons – therefore could function as a kind of newsletter for members, helping create the esprit de corps which has been a feature of the Party ever since. Noticeable also, although never numerous, were the adverts. Perhaps the most interesting of these was for The Stores at 127 York Road, Battersea, purchases at which would render funds to the Party. In this the influence of the Party’s parent body, the Social Democratic Federation, with its boot works and bazaars, can be traced. The most familiar of the early features was ‘A Look Round’, a short items column partly based on newspaper snippets; a tradition which has been carried on over the decades in columns like ‘Notes By the Way’ and ‘The Passing Show’, and still evident in the current ‘Voice From the Back’.
    
In March 1908 a new pictorial banner was introduced. This was designed by F.C. Watts, a woodcarver by trade, and depicted a rising sun surmounted, slightly awkwardly, by the Party’s globe emblem. This little sketch summed up the exhilarating prospect of a “speedy termination” to capitalism which then seemed so likely. By this time many of the early features, such as the adverts, had vanished and ‘Party Notes’ was much reduced, to be banished to the back page to dwell with the branch directory, notices of meetings and the Declaration of Principles (which has appeared in every single issue of the Standard).

Subtle changes
The outbreak of the First World War did not immediately bring any major changes, although with many Party members ‘on the run’ before long, or just dropped out of activity, filling the Standard became a tough job. Towards the end of the war paper rationing brought a reduction of pages from eight to four, and the pages themselves reduced in size in September 1918. This new slimmed down Standard in cheap paper lacked the exuberant pre-war banner, bearing instead a plain title in gothic script (incidentally very similar to the contemporary appearance of Justice, the SDF paper). This was more fitting for the sober Party which emerged from the war. With the new look came also the snapping of ties to Jacomb Bros and a connection made instead with R.E. Taylor and Son of Banner Street. This was to be a long relationship which lasted from 1921 until 1966.
    
By the beginning of the 1930s the SPGB was growing rapidly, largely as a result of the Depression. Whether or not it was because the end again seemed nigh for capitalism, the pre-war socialist sunrise returned in September 1932. Accompanying this was a new innovation – a list of contents – a useful feature which has been present for the vast majority of the period since. The Edwardian-era symbolism must have seemed quaint and anachronistic even then, for within a year a new banner with plain serif letters was introduced and which possessed a spikiness which seemed suited for a party with all barbs out in defence of Marxism against the pseudo-socialist pretences of Labour and the CPGB.
    
Further changes came in 1939 with a completely new look, influenced by modernist advertising and design techniques. With its bold typefaces, bright-looking yellow covers, and well-spaced layout, this was in many ways an apogee for the Standard. It was, however, fairly short-lived. The outbreak of the Second World War instantly stripped off the Standard’s yellow shirt and paper shortages soon put paid to the rest of the fandoodle. Indeed, by mid-1942 the Standard was an eight-page propaganda sheet, tightly written in a tiny typeface.

Although ‘peace’ brought an increase in page numbers, the Standard stayed utilitarian in visage throughout the late 1940s. War-time problems, such as the destruction by bombing of the type and articles of the January 1941 issue, and power stoppages during the fuel crisis of early 1947, meant bringing out the Standard was at times a struggle, but it still came out regularly throughout the decade.

From organ to journal
Despite a few innovations, such as the introduction of cartoons, drawn by Robert Coster (Barltrop) in 1953, the Socialist Standard in the 1950s was a rather conservative looking periodical and by the end of the decade it was obvious that the design needed some attention and fresh input. This was an especially vital and pressing problem given the increasing difficulty of holding outdoor meetings, which up until this time had been the Party’s most important propaganda method. Therefore in 1959 the Standard was revamped, the first edition in May being ready for a big push during the Hackney and Bethnal Green election campaigns. As well as a spacious layout and a new banner, the introduction of photographs greatly modernised its appearance (and it became a “journal” rather than the faintly obscene “organ” it had previously been). The changes inaugurated a great period of almost constant experimentation in the design of the Standard which lasted throughout the 1960s. The new wave culminated in 1967-68 with a series of excellent covers professionally designed by Lionel Selwyn, who was responsible for the layout during this decade.
    
The early- to mid-1970s in contrast saw the Standard slip back to a more conservative look, even with a return to 1950s-type cartoons and non-pictorial covers for a time. But towards the end of the 1970s the it once again improved in appearance, culminating in yet another makeover in June 1979, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the Party. With internal pictures, a professional layout and an adjustment to true A4 size, this defined what became the ‘80s layout, with – by the mid-80s – a highly professional design, with innovative typefaces and striking front covers together with increased use of specialist columns, most notably the TV Review.
    
From the beginning of the 90s, typesetting – or rather typing to diskette – was taken over by Party members, thereby reducing production costs. In fact, for a period the Standard was also printed at the Party’s Head office from plates prepared by an outside firm. Further format alterations came in 1994 when the design and printing was taken over by Nigel McCullough from Belfast, who introduced a very slick and distinctive look for the Standard. The layout and design is still done by Party members. The turn of the century saw the appearance of an on-line version, at www.worldsocialism.org/spgb, where an increasing number read it, and the introduction of Peter Rigg’s ever apposite cartoon “Free Lunch”.
    
Today, the Socialist Standard has the distinction of being the longest running party political journal in the country. Despite world wars, depression, recession and slump, it has appeared every month without fail for 100 years. For an ordinary publication this would be a matter for self-congratulation. For ourselves, however, such longevity is to be regretted as we would rather have seen socialism established long since. However, we shall continue until the job is done – and a visually appealing and combative Socialist Standard can only aid us in that process.
Keith Scholey

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Did Communism Collapse? (2001)

From the August 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Ten years ago this month Gorbachev was nearly relieved of power in a coup. It is ten years since those heady days of tanks in Moscow, Yeltsin in “The White House”, Yeltsin giving a speech on a tank, and workers fighting for democracy—although they didn't know what else they wanted, only that it shouldn't be the CPSU. The coup collapsed and the USSR eventually went with the perpetrators into historical oblivion. The western media greeted these events, which they have never given any indication of understanding how and why the happened, with hysteria: capitalism had won; we had reached the end of history; there was a New World Order; and socialism, communism and Marxism were dead.
It is unlikely that the media will do anything but repeat their tiresome “death of communism” mantra. It is also unlikely that they will analyse why August 1991 happened, despite having ten years to think about it. So let's look at their claim that “communism” collapsed in the USSR via a linguistical route.
The CPSU leaders never claimed that Soviet Russia was “communist”; they described their country as being “socialist”. Socialism, for them, was to be a period which was preparing communism. So straightaway the media's claim is at odds with the old Soviet leaders' own pronouncements.
Logically, then, they should have said that “socialism” had collapsed. This is, of course, not a nice thing to admit, since then “communism” could hardly be said to be dead, nor that history was at an end, since the New World Order could still be replaced by a Newer (Communist) World Order. So was it socialism that collapsed? Such a claim would have created new problems for the media pundits. The left-wing have not all supported the USSR; indeed non-socialist writers have also questioned the socialist credentials of Soviet Russia.
In Leninist theory, the state machine has to be smashed through insurrection and the economy nationalised under the auspices of workers' councils, but in reality under the vanguard party's political dictatorship. This is termed “the workers' state” or “socialism”. When Stalin began to eradicate all opposition, Trotsky developed the theory of the “degenerate workers' state”. He argued that the Soviet economy was basically socialist but that a party bureaucracy had smashed workers' control.
A section of the Trotskyist movement, later to be today's SWP, found this view so ridiculous that they said Stalin had restored capitalism to the USSR. This “restoration-of-capitalism” view was to appear again in two guises. After Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khruschev became General Secretary. The Chinese Communist Party (under Mao) began to openly attack the CPSU as “reformists”¸ who were overseeing the restoration of capitalism. When Mao died, Enhver Hoxha (the Albanian dictator) said that capitalism had been restored under Khruschev and the new revisionist Chinese leaders.
It gets more bewildering. Lenin said that they were creating state capitalism in Russia as a necessary step forward; in addition he added, for complete maxi-confusion, that “socialism” was nothing but state capitalism made to benefit the people. The non-Leninist tradition was quick to point out that he was saying the same thing as Social Democrats, only that he thought the means to gain state power should be different. (Paul Mattick, in Marx and Keynes, analyses this quite nicely.) So there you have it: the founder of the USSR called black white. Fans of Douglas Adams will instantly recall the theological argument for the non-existence of God from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which ends up with Man getting knocked down at a zebra crossing.
How did this all arise? 1848—the publication of The Communist Manifesto; 1875—Marx's The Critique of the Gotha Programme; 1917—Lenin's The State and Revolution. Engels explained that he and Marx had to call their 1848 manifesto “Communist” in order to avoid being confused or associated with various movements calling themselves “socialist”. Engels and Marx, otherwise, used the words interchangeably. InThe Critique Marx said that there would be two phases in communism – a “lower” and a “higher” phase, the lower phase rationing goods via labour vouchers (which aren't money). It was Lenin in 1917 who claimed that the lower phase of communism was commonly called socialism; which completely falsified the facts.
We in the Socialist Party have always insisted that socialism and communism are two words which differ in the same way as spade and shovel, i.e. not at all. We were also pretty clear in saying the Bolshevik coup d'état heralded the real onset of Russia's capitalist development, not the creation of socialism/communism. So what is the Marxist definition of socialism? A world-wide society based upon common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the world society. There will be no nations, states, commodity production, buying and selling, money or classes. Production will be based on the principle of: “from each according to their ability, to each according to their self-defined needs”.
So read this August's newspapers with a touch of salt; Marxism and Communism died in 1991? Certainly not!
Graham C. Taylor

Friday, October 24, 2014

Imagining a Socialist Society (3) (2013)

From the February 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
The third, concluding part of our series on the possibilities of socialism.
Socialist society will inherit a number of problems from capitalism. So we must take some account of the prospect and estimates of likely changes in the near future as a result of climate change and a post-peak oil world society.
Inherited problems
On peak oil there seems to be pretty well a consensus now, worldwide, that we have a mounting problem on our hands and a marathon task ahead to sort out the problem. However, the biggest stumbling block is the manner in which the subject is presented to us –again, always in terms of money costs. We already have the technical know-how, and when scientists and technicians and engineers are finally freed from the constraints of the current system of having to make a profit at every step, there really is no doubt that they can come up with even more fantastic inventions than we can currently dream about. The solutions we are being offered are lack-lustre and extremely limited, only taking into account those who can pay. Are we drilling for oil and gas and mining for coal because of the positive benefits they confer? Are we building more and wider roads and increasing air travel for increased ease and convenience for travellers? Are we chopping down forests to plant palm plantations and using other crops for biofuels instead of for food because feeding people is more important than feeding engines? No!
The reason for trying to extract oil from way under the seabed –with all those risks involved to the environment –and from the filthy polluting tar sands is simply that it is profitable. Coal is even more harmful to human health but still profitable. Burning fossil fuels could go on for some little time yet with the various beneficiaries wheeling and dealing about the most profitable ways to prolong the despoliation of the planet and the negative effects to human health. We know we have much better methods already in our hands and hosts of people chomping at the bit to get started in putting these new technologies into practice on a very large scale at the household and industrial level. Many would have chosen to have done it years ago if it weren't for the prohibitive monetary cost. Clean electricity from sun, wind, wave and tides. Geothermal energy. Oil left in the ground or reserved for crucial manufacturing and extracted with care. Buildings constructed to use minimal energy and have minimal impact on the environment.
Similarly with transport. What we need is a system that doesn't require households to have one or more cars because the public transport system is so abysmal and work arrangements chaotically organised –read ‘organised to maximise profit’. Roads and airways are not the most efficient way of moving either people or goods. Presently they are huge polluters and the bane of many people's lives. We could take a holistic approach and could use clean electricity from renewable sources to provide an integrated transport system for people, products and industry. Recycling will be undertaken as a matter of course in every possible area. Materials, being our storehouse for the future, will be valued for their worth to our ongoing wellbeing; they will not be wasted by an obsolescence-mentality but used wisely, aesthetically and carefully in line with our philosophy.
Externalities, the negative aspects of transactions which have to be kept off the balance sheets in case they impact on profit margins –effluent in waterways, emissions dangerous to animal and plant life, the dumping of toxic waste on land and in the sea, any despoliation of our habitat and disregard for the conditions in which people live and work in relation to these externalities –will become an integral part of the planning equation, to be taken account of in full on the balance sheet of the common good.
Food and Farming
Farming methods will be adopted according to health benefits, not wealth benefits, and satisfying genuine hunger, not hunger for profits. For instance, how will the current water inequalities be resolved around the world? Water is vital to life, it's vital to agriculture and manufacturing and it's needed in both urban and rural environments. Right now agriculture is losing the price war for water.
On an international scale we now find countries making deals with other countries to grow the whole or the bulk of their grain crop because the water they save by not growing it domestically is more profitable used elsewhere. For others their own water shortage problems are relieved –never mind if the local populations of the grower nation have to go short or be put off their land and out of their homes for this exchange.
There is huge wastage of water with some countries' current irrigation methods, poor infrastructure, and old or outdated technology in some industries. There is also a billion dollar business selling bottled water at up to a thousand times the cost of water from the tap with how many thousands of gallons wasted in the process? Crazy! With shrinking aquifers and glaciers, and fertile land sinking below rising sea levels, water is seen only as a vital resource with an ever-increasing price tag. With the profit motive removed from the equation things will be managed very differently.
In the likely future, demographics will probably shift a great deal, but we shall be in a position to totally rethink the use of the global water supply and consider every stage from aquifers, dams, irrigation methods, industrial use and domestic consumption. Water and the infrastructure required will be considered in minute detail as to how best to use, reuse, conserve and generally value it as a basic necessity of all life –one of everyone's fundamental requirements.
Also within agriculture we shall be reassessing the relative values of different methods of producing our food. We shall be free to look at the results of studies knowing that there is no hidden agenda or biased information. It is well known that the United Nations Millennium goal of reducing extreme poverty by half by 2015 is failing miserably. Hunger, illiteracy and disease are still growing year on year. What actually isacceptable poverty or tolerable poverty anyway?Poverty at any level is pretty grim, surely?
When we have the correct, unambiguous facts in front of us decisions can be made unemotionally about land use. Chemical fertiliser or natural manure and traditional methods? Monocrops or mixed farms? Grain for food or fuel? Grain for humans or animals?
What's so important about grain? This depends on how you see the future. It depends on whether you consider it more important to use it for human food, for animal food or for transport fuel. It impacts on how you view population forecasts or global warming warnings and it depends to a certain extent on where you live in the world.

Surely it makes more sense in general to reduce food miles –to re-localise agriculture for everyone's benefit? By doing so huge savings will be made in fuel and energy use. Certainly in the period of social reorganisation whilst we are investing our human energies into appropriate infrastructure we can cut emissions drastically and restore food security and control to local communities, always remembering decisions will be made locally. On the global scale we will move right away from decisions imposed and implemented by world financial authorities and transnational corporations in favour of working for the common good. Respect will automatically be conferred to local knowledge and traditional methods, understanding that the objective will be to satisfy food, fibre, fuel and other needs, not monetary goals.
As to demographics, one proven positive knock-on effect of education for girls, especially, as recorded in places such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and some African countries is that in communities where the girls have the opportunity and encouragement to go to school they then grow up to marry later, have fewer children and the numbers of both maternal and infant deaths decline.
Statistics also show that more stable family conditions, e.g. security of food and income raises people to a different level of security where it isn't seen as linked to a large brood of children. The security of free access in a socialist society will fulfill that role. In these terms it is possible to see that population levels will decline because of mass conscious choice, relieving some of the pressures foreseen as a result of climate change.
Healthcare and Education
Socialism will involve life without healthcare budgets; waiting lists will be made history; there will be no treatment denial; there will be access to healthcare from prenatal to death, with preventive medicine recognised as the core of a healthy society; known cures such as for malaria will be available universally; unencumbered research into cures for diseases like multiple sclerosis will take place; unhampered individual choice and access to contraception, abortion, rehabilitation therapy, respite care and, where appropriate assisted suicide, will be the norm.
Basic schooling would take a huge shift away from the narrow confines of a rigid, test-based curriculum. Endless possibilities would be available from an early age to stimulate children. No financial budget means more 'educators, facilitators, trainers, coaches, mentors' etc. to guide young and old through a much wider educational experience. Learning is better stimulated through a holistic and experiential approach and would be available on demand at all life stages.
In Conclusion
Imagining a socialist society entails the following: we imagine many pluralist, co-operative, non-competitive, non-combative communities around the world, linked by their common goals of creating space for free thought, wider vision, acceptance of the other and tolerance of minority issues. We imagine a balance between 'back to nature' and 'into the future boldly', philosophically embracing both healthy body and healthy, enquiring mind. The process of developing this, the only viable alternative society to the market economy, will come from the local and familiar at community level from all the many diverse regions of the world, as all are recognised and welcomed into the free association as valuable parts of the whole. We imagine societies of individuals having vanquished the oppressive capitalist system at last and having satisfied basic needs, now conscious of their higher human faculties and aware of their role in the environment, focused on being all they can be.
Janet Surman

Thursday, October 23, 2014

After the bomb . . . (1984)

Editorial from the December 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Business As Usual" was a particularly apposite phrase for Margaret Thatcher to use after she and her ministers had survived the bombing of their hotel at Brighton, for that was the slogan commonly displayed outside shops after an air raid during the last war. The message then was that, apart from a few gaps in the buildings and in human lives, capitalism would carry on. Nobody could expect to go into the shops and take possession of anything unless they could pay for it. Business—the buying and selling of wealth—would be as usual.

It would have been no different if the bombers had succeeded in wiping out all the Tory ministers in the hotel. A couple of days after the event Michael Havers, the Attorney General, outlined what would then have happened. Havers' job in the government is to ensure that the property laws of capitalism are operating as smoothly as possible and that the privileges of the ruling class are as secure as they can be made. To anyone who is concerned that things should continue in that way, he had a reassuring message.

To begin with the leadership of the government would have quickly been assumed by the deputy prime minister, whose first job would have been to rustle up another government. Quite a few hopeful politicians would have found themselves catapulted abruptly onto the Front Bench. Some of the people discarded by Thatcher — Gilmour? Prior? Pym? — may have been rapidly restored to favour. All of them would have described their unexpected elevation as a selfless response to a call to duty in the nation's hour of need, without thought for the peril to themselves . . . 

The Tories would then have got down to electing a replacement for Thatcher. As he is a peer, Whitelaw would probably have stood aside from this contest, enabling front runners like Howe and Heseltine to battle it out. This would not have been an edifying spectacle; the battles within the Conservative Party are not fought as publicly as those within the Labour Party but they are no more gentle affairs for that. With the dust barely settled over the ruin of the Grand, the infighting would have begun. Politics, as well as business, as usual.

The chosen leader would have paid a visit to the queen, for the fictional ritual of her asking the leader to form a government for her approval. There would be a kissing of hands, a waving of swords, a making of speeches and the new government would have been in their seats. They would not have been looking to make the revolution. There would still be a privileged, owning minority living off the employment of the deprived, non-owning majority. Exploitation would have remained the stuff of life for tens of millions of people in this country — exploitation, poverty, slums, illness, stress, access to only inferior goods. All wealth would be produced in the cause of profit; everything would have its price, even things which are essential to human life and the legal and penal machinery would still be there to make sure that everyone conformed to the rights, restrictions and laws of property society. It would have been — as it had been, as it still is — Business As Usual.

But of course there would have been some changes, apart from the gap in the Brighton seafront. Wiping out most of the cabinet in a guerrilla bomb is unlikely to have blown a hole in the government's electoral standing. Certainly, it would have united the Conservative Party at large, which has recently been showing some signs of dissent over the plight of British capitalism, solidly behind the new leaders. There is no evidence that Tory popularity has suffered through unemployment, through their regular postponements, sine 1979, of the great day of prosperity, through the murder of Argentinian and British workers in the Falklands, through the pressures of the coal strike. Indeed, it is likely that what has been called the Falklands factor — an upsurge of mindless patriotism —and the Scargill factor — a distortion of reality to the enduring benefit of the ruling class — have proved to be vote-winners for the Tories. To have added a Brighton factor could have won them even more votes, made them even more secure in power. Perhaps Thatcher will succeed in her declared aim of a third term of power, of becoming the grandmother of British politics.

And if the Tories are more secure in power, what then? One reaction to guerrilla attacks in the past has been a backlash assault on civil liberties — partly through panic, partly through an assuagement of working-class prejudice and hysteria. The Birmingham bombs were an example of this, resulting in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, whose draconian powers were pushed through by a Labour government. The arguments used to support that Act — that what liberties the workers have should be restricted in the cause of resisting the guerrillas — have been used to justify many a ruthless dictatorship.

The perils of supporting a guerrilla movement can easily be obscured by the movement's reputation for romantic, clandestine brigandry. But organisations which aim to make their way through violence cannot be democratic. They must be built on a paramilitary structure which entails command, discipline and the brutalising which ensures that orders are obeyed without question. If they are illegal — as is usually the case — they must also be secret, with the knowledge of their plans and operations confined to an elite few.

These are not the characteristics of a socialist movement. At their most successful, the IRA can bring only a trivial readjustment of capitalism — the substitution of one style of coercive state for another. Socialism, by contrast, will be a stateless society in which human beings all over the world will co-operate for the communal good. The achievement of that society must be the democratic, conscious act of the world's working class and they will not need violence or coercion to introduce the fist age of human freedom, unity and abundance.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

World hunger: why Harry Chapin failed (2004)

From the October 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the annals of popular music, Harry Chapin’s name is not one that particularly stands out. For starters, a couple of decades have elapsed since his untimely demise and besides, his twelve albums, according to biographer Peter M. Coan, typically gained the ‘anonymity’ of 250,000 sales; no way in the multi-million league of contemporaries Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Elton John. Chapin himself could muster a wry smile at his sobriquet, “Harry Who?”

   
In truth, Chapin’s music was never designed to be ‘popular’ in the first place. Not for him the trite, maudlin, ‘boy-meets-girl’ mush of mainstream pop. His lyrics were literary, emotional, packed with detailed imagery and ironic twists; his melodies haunting and poignant. And furthermore, it’s generally acknowledged that Chapin could never quite capture on vinyl the warmth, empathy and rapport generated in his live performance. He was a dynamic, ebullient, larger-than-life character, devoutly teetotal and devoutly anti-drugs; virtues somewhat nullified by his being also devoutly promiscuous. He adored his audiences; his audiences adored him.
   
Chapin’s recordings did nevertheless enjoy some successes. Cat’s in the Cradle from his 1974 Verities and Balderdash album was a US number one hit single. Several others, Taxi and W.O.L.D managed to loiter in the Top 40 charts and What Made America Famous became the theme for the film The Great Divide. Additionally, All my Life’s a Circle rode high in the British Top 10 despite the best efforts of the covering group, the unspeakable New Seekers, to render it unlistenable. Briefly, he was amongst the hottest of America’s musical property, earning around $2 million per annum.
   
Born in New York City in 1942, Chapin was a relatively late arrival on the music scene, releasing his first album Heads and Tails just prior to his 30th birthday. His earlier career as a film-maker had taken him in 1969 to Ethiopia and it was there that he first encountered the issue of World Hunger. In 1974, a more mature and reflective Chapin again addressed himself to the hunger issue, taking the view that his relative fame and high earnings conferred an obligation to ‘do good’, to ‘improve society’ , to ‘benefit humanity’.
   
The recent Bob Dylan and George Harrison Bangladeshi hunger concert had raised $400,000 and Chapin quickly realised not only the total inadequacy of this sum in relation to the scale of the problem in question, but also the futility of such one-off gestures. Henceforth indeed, he would rail against what he called the “event psychosis” of American culture and was openly scathing of celebrities who, with motives clearly more to do with advancement than altruism, would latch themselves on to these affairs. Chapin instead sought to identify the root causes of hunger and to this end he affiliated with the Institute for Food and Development Policy, more commonly known as Food First.

Food First
Food First had been founded with the proclaimed aims of highlighting those selfsame ‘root’ causes and establishing food as a fundamental human ‘right’. As sincere and well-intentioned an organisation as it undoubtedly is, an examination of its website (www.foodfirst.org) and in particular its “12 Myths about Hunger”, makes frustrating reading. In brief summary, it rightly observes that “abundance not scarcity best describes the World’s food supply”; many of the “most hungry” countries are in fact net exporters of food. Nobody need starve.

   
Similarly, those perennial old chestnuts, Nature and Overpopulation are discounted as significant factors in world hunger. In the former, “human-made” forces such as deprivation of land by the “powerful few”, low pay and debt are cited as responsible, whilst in the latter, abundance juxtaposes with hunger even in sparsely populated countries like Nigeria and Brazil. Again, poverty is the governing factor. Those with money eat; those without, don’t.
   
Foreign ‘aid’ is exposed for the lie it is, operating directly against the hungry. Official government aid serves to impose advantageous trading arrangements and to arm and reinforce repressive régimes. Humanitarian aid, a mere five percent of the total anyway, helps enrich grain companies in the donor countries, undercuts local food production and frequently fails even to reach its intended recipients.
   
And the culprits in all of this? – the aforementioned “powerful few” – large landowners who “leave fertile land idle”, multinational corporations, World Bank, governments who “obstruct progress”, the “tightly-concentrated distribution of economic power”, a society that places “economic efficiency over compassion”.
   
In all but name they are describing aspects of the insidious, everyday workings of the capitalist system, but do they recognise it as such; do they draw any conclusions? On the contrary, they eulogise the Market’s “marvellous efficiencies”, arguing that it requires only a wider dispersion of purchasing power to enable it to work towards the elimination of hunger. And how will this dispersion be achieved? Through “genuine tax, credit and land reform”, and by (somehow) curtailing the unlimited private accumulation and unbridled use of wealth-producing property. Food First, sadly, presents as an outfit totally imprisoned by capitalism’s mind-set.
   
Having boarded, as it were, this rudderless, leaky vessel, Chapin set off, at full steam, on a voyage of campaigns, fund-raising and lobbying. He founded his own resource organisation, World Hunger Year (WHY), pretty much along the lines of Food First, financing it personally through a series of benefit concerts that would continue for the remaining years of his life.
   
Aside from the global issue, Chapin was outraged to learn that 25 million of his compatriots suffered malnutrition, that one quarter of all tins of pet food were purchased by impoverished elderly Americans and of an instance where institutionalised youngsters had supplemented their meagre diet with paint peelings, contracting lead poisoning in the process.
   
To highlight this, he organised a Congressional vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner co-sponsored by Senator Hubert Humphrey and Representative Tom Downey (both doubtless delighted to add a bit of “compassion” to their political CVs), and subsequently berated his motherland in the autobiographical 14-minute epic, There Only was one Choice:

Step right up Young Lady,Your two hundred birthdays make you old if not senile,And we see the symptoms there in your rigor mortis smile,With your old folks eating dog food and your children eating paint,While the pirates own the flag and sell us sermons on restraint.

Chapin persistently lobbied Congress, making a gruelling series of visits to Washington DC, becoming sufficiently well-known and informed to testify, successfully, before the House Committee on Oilseed and Rice, on a bill to outlaw price-fixing by growers.

   
Following this, he focused on a bigger prize – a Presidential Commission on Domestic and International Hunger. This was actually set up in February 1978, but thereafter it was all downhill. The Commission’s 20 members had initial difficulty even agreeing that hunger and poverty were actually linked and its final report in October 1980 was an assortment of palliatives and platitudes; that token increases in non-military aid be made and encouragement given to “self-reliant growth” and “a more equitable distribution of land . . . etc”. Carter’s Commission had been, in reality, a sop; a buy-off, much akin to Nixon’s previous 1969 effort.
   
After the election of Reagan, Chapin tried to woo fresh backers in the new Republican-dominated Congress, performing a May 1981 benefit to publicise the legislation and attempt to lobby it into law. The situation was, however, truly forlorn and with his own rather horrendous death, aged 38, a couple of months later in a Jericho, New York road accident it really was the end; the final nail in the coffin, metaphorically – and literally.

Vainly striving
It would be reprehensible to sneer at Chapin, at Food First, at the myriad worldwide charities and organisations all vainly striving to address and redress the countless oppressions and outrages that abound. Such activity is testimony to the highly social nature of the human species even in that most unpropitious, cut-throat of environments – capitalist society.

   
In the course of history, various socio-economic systems have, for many centuries at a time, prevailed. Primitive tribalism gave way to classical slave-based society which in turn was superseded by feudalism before it was itself supplanted by capitalism some 300 years ago. Capitalism is, therefore, a relatively recent incursion into human affairs. It features ownership of the means of living – the land, factories, etc. by a tiny parasite minority, the capitalist class – Food First’s “powerful few” – and production for profit rather than the fulfilment of need.
   
As a system, it did serve the vital function of developing society’s potential productive capacity to a level at which global need could be satisfied. This role was however accomplished around a century ago and capitalism, as is manifestly obvious, has since been a constraining influence upon further human advancement. To accept that it is here to stay is to demonstrate not only a slavish mentality but an ignorance of historical reality. Contrary to what “thinkers” like Francis Fukuyama and his ilk would have us believe, history has not ended. How could it? Have the clocks ceased to tick?
   
Food First and the others have yet to grasp that their own activities, however benign, in helping offset the privations that are the inevitable consequence of capitalism, actually serve to prolong the very conditions they seek to alleviate. Capitalism can only function in one way – the inexorable pursuit of profit. Large landowners do not wantonly “leave fertile land idle” nor governments gratuitously “obstruct progress”. In specific, transitory circumstances where adequate profits cannot be realised, then crops will not be grown (or alternatively, be stockpiled or destroyed), and governments, as the agents of the dominant class, simply help facilitate this process. The plain incontrovertible truth is that there is but one root cause of world hunger and that is capitalism.
   
Thankfully, an altogether grander option is available. Try this for size – a truly democratic, classless, moneyless, global society in which the consumption of food would not be a ‘right’, (which requires both a bestower and a recipient), but an act as spontaneous and natural as the drawing of breath; a society in which access to clothing, housing, transport, leisure, all the requirements for the leading of a full and fruitful life would be freely and instantly available; a society of communal ownership, liberated from exploitation, from alienation, from tyranny both terrestrial and celestial.
   
And the downside, the catch, the ‘small print’ to this seemingly fabulous arrangement? Simply that the members of that society contribute their sundry energies and skills to the common pot; or as Karl Marx succinctly put it, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. In short, a socialist society.
   
For this to become reality requires only that the overwhelming bulk of the majority working class recognise both its practicability and its achievability; that as they currently run society from top to bottom in the capitalist minority’s interest, then they could equally be running it in everyone’s interest and take the necessary political action to bring it all about. Humans are, after all, naturally gregarious, industrious and co-operative creatures.
   
Harry Chapin exemplified this. Heart firmly pinned to his sleeve, he responded in the best and only way he knew to the obscenity that is world hunger. Ever-generous both with his time and his wallet he was, in Coan’s words, “almost broke” at the time of his death. It is tragic that he was never able to make that leap of the imagination (or take the short single step through the Looking Glass), to realise that however much the capitalist system is tinkered with, it cannot be made to operate for the benefit of humanity at large. Lock, stock and barrel, it has to go.
   
Chapin will, notwithstanding, be quietly remembered not only for his fine musical legacy but also as a caring, committed and courageous figure. He could have made one helluva Socialist.

Andrew Armitage

Monday, October 20, 2014

Imagining a Socialist Society (2) (2013)

From the January 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
We continue the series, this time looking at work.
All around the world, in the environment of capitalism, most people consider themselves ‘lucky’ to be ‘in work’; ‘lucky’ to have the means to support themselves and their families; ‘lucky’ not to be one of those discarded as surplus to requirements. More thought is given to the remuneration for work done and the security of job tenure than to any concept of stimulation, satisfaction, fulfilment or contribution to the community – let alone to the collective aims of society.


In considering the difference likely within a socialist environment of voluntary work and free access we can begin to overturn these long-held values and explore the vastly wider possibilities of work being done for its intrinsic value and for its worth to society, unburdening all from the yoke of wage slavery and enabling each and everyone to extend their horizons in setting out to achieve their full, self-determined human potential.
Developing useful work
There is much work done today both formally and informally which will need to continue. That which is socially useful now, whether recognised as legal or informal or black market, will continue to be useful. There will be no antagonisms or fissures in society caused by protectionism or disagreements about who's taking whose work. The change will be that of ownership – everything will be owned in common and the best people to organise the running and functioning of workplaces will be those who understand and have experience of their particular discipline. In other words, the people who do the work now, but who will have become free from former constraints and are now able to determine different goals and outcomes.
Decision-making will be focused on benefits to society in general. Economy will relate to use of materials and reduction of waste. Doing and thinking, hands and head, will both be vital components in our socialist system – and as socialist consciousness will have grown to the point of enabling the change, so too the understanding and acceptance that all contributors to our new society are valuable. What are currently perceived as inequalities by some but as earned rights by others (reflected today in differences in pay scale, bonuses, holiday entitlement, pension) will be viewed quite differently. As we would wish to have our contributions recognised as worthy so too will we value the wide-ranging contributions of others.
All work that is paid now that is considered useful and beneficial to society will continue. Those now unemployed or underemployed will be welcomed into the world of free association as extra hands and heads. Likewise, work that is now undertaken voluntarily will continue to be useful and advantageous. The voluntary sector will bring forward many who already have well-developed social consciousness – previously having recognised the inequalities in society and the lack of access or opportunity afforded to others. Voluntary work after all is just another mode of occupation which currently fills many gaps deliberately left unfilled because they are a burden on the economy; where people are left needy according to the whims of the market and are rescued to some degree from their difficulty by people working for the common good.
What will become redundant because unnecessary in our society of free association will be the damaging, parasitical elements of current employment 'opportunities'. In a world of voluntary work and free access a sizeable portion of worldwide population will be freed up from spurious 'pseudo work', work that contributes nothing necessary, positive, useful or aesthetic to society. Work which simply moves money around or protects money and the moving of money around or incarcerates those who choose to defy the rules of the system by helping themselves to what, in the capitalist system, is perceived to be against societal norms. Instead they will have the opportunity to contribute positively to the aspirations of society as a whole. However, we can't simply denigrate those who work in these areas for doing so now. They, too, need employment in today's system and are merely doing what they have been groomed to do to fit into a niche deemed desirable and necessary. But what a huge number of individuals will be released from what will be looked back on as an era of useless, worthless bondage to money. Released to be themselves; to become useful, valued members of their communities to which they can now add real value.
Eliminating Waste
Waste of labour power, waste of resources, waste of time, waste of potential, there is so much unnecessary waste! One of our aims will surely be to eliminate waste of all kinds. Current waste levels, acceptable, even necessary to an extent in capitalism can be turned on their head in a socialist society which would redirect labour to useful, productive and creative occupations. All use and reuse of materials will be carefully assessed as to their most advantageous and least harmful outcomes. Work in general will be carried out in comfortable, healthy environments using the most appropriate technology where it's a positive requirement and always with the opportunity and options for creative work left open. Not accepting the requirement of growth per se, the aim will be conservation and the achievement of a steady state with the philosophy of 'do no harm' – to animal, vegetable or mineral.
Quality goods will replace the obsolescence culture and whole new looks at transport, energy and infrastructure will bring about a truly sustainable approach. Fulfilment of individual goals other than consumption; development of the wider human faculties and societies working together for common social and environmental benefits will be the modus operandi. This is part of Marx's ‘association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’. Also, as Marx pointed out, in socialism production is a question solely of planning and organisation in which producers do not exchange their products. All of us will be in effect involved in voluntary social work following a plan or plans endorsed by (most) of us. We will acknowledge the free association of producers, facilitators, transporters, administrators, caterers, carers, trainers, artists, educators, cleaners, entertainers, engineers etc, etc, all as necessary, indispensable cogs in a wheel – we each will play our part in keeping it turning and oiled for the benefit of all.             
Although we will all participate in the work to be done we shall presumably see many changes in the structure and demographics of work. One very simple example – just look at rush-hour traffic around any large town, anywhere in the world. Thousands of cars rushing or more likely crawling to get to their destinations. Most with a sole occupant. Travelling many miles in opposite directions in the morning and still travelling many miles in opposite directions in the evening upon return.
Does a plumber or an installer of alarms really have to travel several hours to do useful work? Isn't it possible that someone on the doorstep can perform such a function? Actually, will we need any alarm systems installed anyway? (Well, maybe fire alarms or other life-saving or life-enhancing systems.) It's the crazy job market that dictates where and how far people will travel. Imagine how much more efficient the whole caboodle will be in socialism – massive human energy savings, by vastly reducing travel miles (and fuel and emissions savings while we work on reducing these speedily to as close to nil as possible).
How much more pleasant and rewarding the whole work experience will become with easy access to the workplace meaning a less stressful day for a start – and a finish. With a fully integrated public transport system in place, cities could be restored, converted, transformed, even to be places in which it would be pleasant to live, clean and with expanses of green areas, woods, communal gardens, even agricultural areas. Gone will be the inglorious mix of slums and gated communities. Cities will become places worthy of living in when we've stopped seeking efficiency in money terms for every single thing and given back people the ownership of their communities and substituted the attitude of the best outcomes for people and planet in every situation.
The policies over the last few decades which have resulted in the demographics of rural and urban communities being totally changed, making it impossible for many to make a living in the rural areas and coercing them into cities and continuing poverty can be overturned with the will of the people. And when much of urban work will have become redundant, society as a whole will be free to choose the kinds of environments they wish to live in. In many parts of the world there will surely be a huge, voluntary shift back to the land, creating thriving, coherent communities with localised services.
Short-termism and consumerism as we have come to know them will be replaced by an understanding of the consequences of ignoring externalities. Capitalist corporations now largely ignore externalities; they don't factor the negatives into their equations. Cleaning up their mess whether in air, ground or water robs them of their profits; these costs in human health and environmental problems are not their concern. Individuals, being captives of the current system, are almost powerless to be in any way effective against the mighty machine. Whether adding hourly to the ever-growing mountains of plastic waste or depriving other communities of their potable water for us to be persuaded that bottled water is best, or propping up child labour through purchases of shoes and clothing, or simply putting petrol in the car – the system pretty well dictates what our choices must be. Whether as worker, consumer, tourist or activist we are obliged to choose only from what's on offer – and a choice that doesn't embody our principles is no choice at all.

Concludes next month with a discussion of other aspects of a socialist society such as food, healthcare and education.
Janet Surman

Mixed Media: 'Marx in Soho', & 'Richard Hamilton at the Tate Modern

The Mixed Media Column from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
Marx in Soho
Marx in Soho, the 1995 one-man play by Howard Zinn was recently produced at the Marx Library in London directed by Sergio Amigo and starring Daniel Kelly as Marx. Zinn portrays 'Marx as few people knew him, as a family man, struggling to support his wife and children' in a 'fantasy' where Marx returns but due to a bureaucratic error not to Soho, London where he lived, but to Soho in New York City. Marx has returned 'to clear my name!'

Zinn drew on insights into Marx's private life in Yvonne Kapp's biography of Eleanor Marx. Marx speaks of life in Soho: 'we were living in London. Jenny and I and the little ones. Plus two dogs, three cats, and two birds. Barely living. A flat on Dean Street, near where they dumped the city's sewage.' Marx speaks about his favourite daughter Eleanor, 'a precociously brilliant child' nicknamed 'Tussy' who is 'a revolutionary at the age of eight', plays chess with 'the Moor' (the family nickname for Marx 'because of my dark complexion'), drinks, smokes, and is enamoured of the Irish struggle which she learned from Lizzie Burns.
Marx is very witty: 'Marx is dead! Well I am … and I am not. That's dialectics for you', 'Understand one thing – I'm not a Marxist. I said that once to Pieper and he almost croaked' and 'My Ricardo! You pawned my Ricardo!' Zinn invents a visit to his home by the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, no record of such a visit exists although they had met in Paris in 1844. Bakunin was an irrepressible revolutionary who arrived in London in 1861 at Alexander Herzen's home, bursting into the drawing-room where the family was having supper. 'What! Are you sitting down eating oysters! Well! Tell me the news. What is happening, and where?!'
Zinn portrays 'Marx angry that his theories had been so distorted as to stand for Stalinist cruelties and to rescue Marx from those who now gloated over the triumph of capitalism.' Zinn concludes the play with Marx proclaiming we should be 'using the incredible wealth of the earth for human beings. Give people what they need: food, medicine, clean air, pure water, trees and grass, pleasant homes to live in, some hours of work, more hours of leisure. Don't ask who deserves it. Every human being deserves it.'
Marx in Soho is highly recommended for socialist theatre-goers: 'Look at it this way. It is the second coming. Christ couldn't make it, so Marx came...'
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Richard Hamilton at the Tate Modern
There was a major retrospective of the work of Richard Hamilton at the Tate Modern in 2014. He is acknowledged as the inventor of 'Pop Art' which he described as 'popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business.'

The exhibition reconstructs his installation Fun House, originally shown as part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s 1956 show This Is Tomorrow. It incorporates film, music, distorted architecture, op art and Hollywood film imagery and pin-ups such as Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Monroe, and Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet. It is an homage to 'Americana', as well as a celebration of the new youth and 'pop' culture of 1950s capitalism.
In his 1956 collage Just What is it that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? Hamilton has a muscle-man provocatively holding a lolly with the word POP and a woman with bare breasts wearing a lampshade hat, surrounded by emblems of the affluence of 1950s capitalism from a vacuum cleaner to a large canned ham. Capitalism is portrayed as 'cool', it was riding high in its 'golden age' of the post-war economic boom, the reformists believed capitalism could work in the interests of the working class, and Macmillan proclaimed 'people have never had it so good.' Hamilton particularly admired the German electrical company Braun and its Chief Design Officer Dieter Rams whose 'consumer products came to occupy a place in my heart and consciousness that Mont Sainte-Victoire did in Cézannes', and in 1964 he began to base works on Braun's marketing images.
After the failure of Keynesian capitalism in the 1970s, Hamilton was horrified by the 1980s capitalist restructuring under Thatcher, and the reintroduction of unfettered free market capitalism. His 1984 installation Treatment Room is inspired by the bleak, clinical style of the capitalist state reflected in the DHSS office or NHS hospital waiting room. A TV monitor where the X-ray machine would be repeats footage of Thatcher from the 1983 Tory Party Conference. His War Games (1991-92) used TV news footage of the 1991 Gulf War which portrayed the war as a sport for viewers and reminds us of the BBC Newsnight coverage with Peter Snow's sandpit and models. Later Hamilton portrays 'war criminal' Tony Blair as a gun-toting cowboy against a backdrop of military inferno in Shock and Awe (2010).
The Hamilton retrospective has some salutary lessons: you cannot 'reform' capitalism to work in the interests of the working class, and war is endemic to capitalism due to competition between capitalist groups for raw materials such as oil in the Middle East.
Steve Clayton

Imagining a Socialist Society (1)

From the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
First of a three-part series, beginning with reorganising society after capitalism.
Regarding the possibility of whether and under what circumstances socialism could replace capitalism, Marx wrote of two prerequisites:
(1)  a clear understanding of socialist principles with an unambiguous desire to put them into practice; and
(2)  an advanced industrial economy so that free access is technically possible.
As far as the latter is concerned, there's a broad consensus that there's no problem that couldn't be dealt with now, once we've collectively reached the former. The political ignorance of many of the working class has to be the major challenge.
Preparing for change
More and more people are recognising that the capitalist monetary solution is not viable for a sustainable world and it is here that we can see the schisms in society becoming deeper. If we look at these schisms through a different lens from the one we are regularly directed towards, we can see that the basic problems aren't actually between 'rich and poor' countries, or even between different levels of earners within countries, that is, not between the producers, the workers, the citizens.  Those situations, those schisms, have been manufactured to keep divisions between us. When we come together, we become dangerous –a threat to the established system.
The bigger schism, the real antagonism, is the one between power and the people. What stands out more and more is that:
(1) the capitalist class, through the global corporations (manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, agribusinesses and financial institutions) have dominance over governments, the very institutions that constituents might believe are there to serve the constituents' interests; and
(2) how weak governments are in responding - in fact how complicit they are. (Even a cursory glance at the revolving-door principle reveals the extent of the complicity worldwide.)
The people may fight back, strike or demonstrate, as they did in Seattle's WTO meeting in 1999, at the climate meeting in Copenhagen last December, and more recently in Greece, Ireland, Romania, Spain and other countries, following the ramifications of cut-backs in public spending.  People take so much and then, as they reach the final straw, they are compelled one way or another to seek to get their voices heard. By whom? By those who are supposed to be working in the best interests of their societies: their governments.  Why don't more people get the irony?
Placebos are offered and sometimes accepted, sometimes imposed, but these placebos are always finance-based, always describing how much a project will cost in monetary terms or how much can be saved if we cut this or delay that. Never are they based on the needs of people. 
Reorganising society
Science and technology –scientists and technologists or technicians –have in their hands the knowledge and the wherewithal to take humanity in any direction they choose to take, but like the rest of us they are constrained by the system we live in. They are not directed by the wishes, needs and aims of society as a whole but have to follow the logic of their master, the market.
Everything becomes possible when the tools are in the right hands, the hands of the producers. It becomes a matter of organisation to bring in the new society. There is plenty of work to be done to achieve the satisfaction of everyone's basic needs, but is deliberately left undone as the profit motive dictates. It takes a fundamental shift of emphasis away from the dictates of a small minority to the wishes and needs of the overwhelming majority.
This requires that majority populations worldwide capture the state apparatus politically in order to restructure social decision-making and administration according to their plan. A plan of a totally democratic system, from whose broadest possible base decisions will pass through the structure, representing the widest possible views. Once the motivation for cronyism and corruption is removed by majority will, the best groups of people (best in terms of most fitted to whatever the particular task) could be occupied for the common good in all areas. This bottom-up, proactive, participatory democracy would be used at all levels: local, regional and world. It's difficult to find other expressions away from the hierarchical ones we're so bound up in; the idea here is simply a logistical one, but this particular pyramid definitely has its power at the base with delegates elected to carry forward the message and speak for the whole community.
To attain the stage where the full development of creative human potential is widely recognised as being the goal of life for human beings: this is the change we need. Not achieving parity or possessions, or even getting out of poverty or beating hunger. We have to have a vision far beyond this stage, to see beyond the intellectual paucity that drives current day society to crave the material above the cerebral or philosophical, favouring or craving things above thoughts and ideas. Ending poverty, hunger, treatable diseases and enabling all to have adequate living conditions – all this goes without saying; these goals are all part of what is to be achieved in the period of social reorganisation and will be planned for in full consultation with local communities.
Once decided democratically that we are heading for a socialist world it becomes a much simpler matter. Quite how this will happen is open to conjecture. As expressed on numerous occasions, we have no blueprint. Depriving the capitalist class of the state and its functionaries is the first objective. Once the decision is made, then it becomes a matter of organisation.
Suffice it to say there will have been a period of planning and co-ordination by mass organisations in work places, in neighbourhoods, in educational establishments, in organisations with international links and in civic organisations, which will culminate in the collective and proactive decision of the people to take control over the direction of their lives immediately and for the future. The decision to turn their backs on the system that has failed them over and over in favour of one for which they are ready to work to make happen, ready to work to continue its progress and which will work for them, not against them. With ever-increasing numbers, discussion and debate will have begun to determine the direction of the path to be taken.
No money barrier
It just seems such obvious common sense to consider the cost of everything in human terms instead of putting a price ticket on it. To place the role of social, political, environmental and whatever other decisions firmly with the people, with no need for a pointless monetary budget (the inputs need only be manpower and resources). This will be the biggest shift of emphasis in the change from capitalism to socialism –with far-reaching effects and benefits for both people and planet.
What a much simpler life we could have with this bizarre third element removed from all equations! Why complicate what could be a perfectly simple arrangement? Why tolerate a third element that only confuses and complicates every issue.
Take, for instance, a project to plant trees on a massive scale worldwide – to prevent soil erosion, to sequester carbon, for water retention, to meet the need for fuel-wood etc. –what is taken into account is the cost of billions of seedlings, the cost of mobilising hundreds of thousands of people to do the work, and the cost of paying people not to farm where the land is erodible, where many of the trees would be planted –the total calculated in billions of dollars.
Now you could say the outcomes would be beneficial for many people, ensuring the continuance of farming, better air quality, reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere, preservation of water tables, etc. But surely the simplest, easiest solution –if we recognise it's advisable to plant such numbers of trees –is to mobilise people to collect seeds and grow them, to take cuttings to strike and then plant them on. We would need to know when and how many people to mobilise in which areas, and how many tools would need to be supplied. These are the numbers we need to count. People working in their local communities for the benefit of all, recognising that everyone can't have direct access to the best soil but that all can share the produce from it and also share the indirect benefits of the tree planting initiative.
It's this middle element, money, and the problems arising from it, that prove to be such a difficult concept for many people. In any transaction, and at each and every exchange, it is what's given to and taken from it (i.e. money) that is essential in the capitalist system but absolutely superfluous to what's needed in a system built on communities' needs. What we must get folk to see is that if I work and you work and everyone else works without the complication of money, what will change is there will be no extraction of profit via the surplus labour because all of the labour will be voluntarily contributed. All products and services from our shared labour will benefit the new society as a whole through our system of common ownership and free access. As far as buying and selling is concerned, this exchange will be redundant when we willingly share our common assets, our heads and our hands. What a relief it will be!
Next month: how work will change in a socialist society
Janet Surman