Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The real thing (1987)

Editorial from the September 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

America was first sighted through a fog by a discerning Viking, who refused to let his crew go ashore and turned his prow out to sea. A thousand years and billions of hamburgers on, who is to say he didn't set a fine example? For the nation that gave us chewing gum, Nixon, muzak and Hiroshima has been relentlessly creating the world in its image to ensure that we all have a nice day, like it or not.

In a society at war with itself and its perceived enemies, everyone must try to outdo their neighbour and since no one is to be trusted completely, human traits like modesty, honesty and generosity are luxuries for display by losers only. Success is its own justification. The axioms underlying all that frenetic activity are miserably negative: fear and insecurity are the best generators of wealth; earning a living is life enhancing; people will always want to kill other people on a mass scale, god's attitude to wrong is the same since Adam; the rest of the world needs faster food and better insurance. And since what everybody must want is more—of anything-the gospel of market forces infest every waking minute: somebody, somewhere, will sell you exactly what you don't need to fill the void in your life or anaesthetise that pain. The precise cost of human and supernatural endeavour, from cancer care to eternal salvation in the loving arms of Jesus, is measured and weighed to guarantee a healthy bottom line. It's one small step back for man, but a giant leap for market penetration.

As not even force is permitted to subvert the power of money, those who claim to represent the free world have to learn to speak with permanently forked tongues, to elevate hypocrisy to the level of science. Meaningless abstractions—right, wrong, justice, truth—straighten the necessary twists of foreign policy, so that the dictatorships are allies when it suits, notional democracy is demanded when it doesn't, and former enemies are welcome if it pays. From the Indian Wars to El Salvador, America has been on the side of "right". What it arrogantly calls "the developing world" has a free choice: the attentions of the CIA or Kentucky Fried Chicken and the cherished principles of free trade—here's a dime, we keep a dollar. And if at times it begins to look as if life itself is a communist conspiracy, rest assured they have the antidote for sale on the never-never.

But have all these dreams and images which pour into Western living rooms clouded our judgement, leaving us unable to distinguish between reality and appearance? Is American life experienced only at the extremes? Well, what we can say for sure is that only six out of ten is able to read about capitalism's daily traumas; that the world's great art is appreciated only in the nation's bank vaults; that babies are now born singing the Stars and Strips and clutching pocket calculators; that just 9,000 rapes and 70,000 serious assaults occurred in the country's classrooms last year, an improvement on casualty figures for an average year of the Vietnam war. And although one child under 16 is shot on Detroit's streets every day, only 34 died last year. People with no food on their table, but a lot of forks and knives have to cut something.

The philosophy of do-it-yourself even extends to civilian defence. Guardian Angels patrol the subways and sidewalks, photographed and fingerprinted and carrying solid canes or fondling heavy metal wrenches. Nobody's going to snatch their wallets! New weapons supermarkets have sprung up, offering fetching arrays of ice picks, drills and ball pens with whip handles. Some devices were banned by the courts; others accepted. CD in some areas has become obligatory, like jury service, and they seem to know exactly where to look, who to follow and how hard to strike without killing the prey. CD freaks can become national heroes overnight.

Those with faith in an American change of heart over what is called arms control should remember that cosmetics are a national obsession. The Pentagon still believes that a general nuclear war can be limited, could be won, and therefore may be protracted. Its present arms procurement programme favours weapons which open up new areas of major military competition to make us all sleep soundly in our beds. If, then, we are due for more summitry and paper waving, it has to do with economics and places in history, with the competitive weakness of the national economy and the challenge of European and Japanese capitalism. Merely temporary restraints on a policy that must be written in stone.

Across the world the great majority of wage and salary earners strive to overcome anxiety, boredom and dreariness, most of them too busy earning a living to live much themselves. An alternative to caddying their time away is not on the agenda and just watching the players has become a major recreation. In America, the pace may be faster, the sense of unease stronger, the casualties heavier, and the deceptions and obscenities on a grander scale; but the malaise has the same roots in an essentially inhuman economic system. Republican and Democrat politicians are about to go to great pains, and spend millions of dollars, to persuade voters that their lives can be different if they exchange a President with a neck that flaps in the wind while the hair keeps its shape, for one with a smooth gullet and standard coiffure.

Down the pit (1982)

From the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

For many people the symbol of the worker is a coal miner. The man who goes down the pit takes with him the image of the beleaguered proletariat, and comes back up plastered with dust and defiance looking even more so. It's hard, dirty and dangerous work: it fosters resentment, producing the "them" and "us" attitude between the employers and employees. Its history goes back centuries, to the days when men, women and children dug the coal with bare hands in 20-hour shifts, living and dying like troglodytes—all for a pittance.

This powerful image produces intensely felt solidarity among miners who often live in isolated communities and express their consciousness in traditional ways: chapel, singing, club drinking, brass banding, rugby, football and strikes. As the pay of miners has gone up the wages league table, the source of miners' resentment is popularly felt to have disappeared: for the days of child labour are long gone and the stunted, semi-crippled men with "buttons down the back" (permanent scabs from continual banging of vertebrae on low overhead beams) described by Orwell in the 1930s, have gone too.

The road to Hell
What's it really like down a mine? I was recently offered a place in a party visiting Silverdale Deep in Staffordshire. A chance to compare the image with reality was too good to miss. People are encouraged to go down the pit, it's a public relations exercise for the employers—and for the employees, it turned out.

In the pit canteen we were met by two men, symbols of "them and us". Them was a mining engineer in charge down at the face for that shift; he was smooth, knowledgeable and authoritative about mining output per man/shift, the efficiency of Silverdale compared to other pits and all the technicalities of coal getting. Us was the coal face shop steward for that shift; he was a craggy, old Potteries boy, brimful with frightening tales of disaster at the pit, who insisted that we all swig our pint mugs of tea and cram as much bread and marge as we could into ourselves, to survive the trip.

We were kitted out with hard hats and head lights, connected to belt-hung wet-cell batteries: then we strode with trepidation to the pit head. The cage plunged a thousand sickening feet in a few seconds and then stopped so swiftly that I thought my skull would burst.

Stepping out of the cage my image of a coal mine collapsed. For the brightly illuminated main gallery was not black, but white. Lime is plastered everywhere near the foot of the shaft, in an effort to lay the dust that peppers you in blasts of warm and cold air. We trudged out of the whiteness and into the blackness for 500 yards, with Them in front, and Us behind. Then we came to a downward-sloping conveyor belt. Us took over here. He demonstrated how to pitch yourself safely onto the man-ride at ten-yard intervals. We did, and rode another thousand feet down into the pit. Them caught the visitors at the end of the man-ride, but Us disdained his help and stepped off deftly. We walked another 500 yards along a maze of narrowing tunnels, in a strangely smelling stream, towards a distant noise that grew to a roar.

Into Hell
"It's an Anderson-Boyes mark ten coal-cutter", screamed Them in my ear, as Us spat tobacco juice into the dust cloud around the beast. Half an hour we spent at the face and that was the only  conversation possible. But we looked and wondered. A traction motor the size of a rhinoceros, attached to a circular saw as big as an elephant, lumbered along a railway bed and knocked lumps of coal the size of settees off the face, through jets of water and arc lamps, down a gallery not much wider or higher than a Nissen hut.

It was too much to take in all at once, so I staggered to the end of the face for a rest and to leak away the tea, suddenly realising why the stream had smelt so. "Yer might at least piss away from us!", bawled a voice. Peering into the gloom I saw a line of boots sticking out of the catacombs. Part of the shift were on a tea break and were munching at the contents of their snap tins. "First time down, eh, kid?" he yelled, "bleedin' awful, ennit? Goo on back in there, or you'll miss the best bit!"

At the face the machine was stopped briefly, as Them, Us and others crawled over it, making adjustments and panting through their masks. They finished resetting and, at a curt nod from Them, Us carefully positioned all visitors on a raised catwalk. Them walked down the face pulling a series of hydraulic levers. Then the entire coal-cutter, rails, catwalk, pillars and roof slid forward two yards—followed by an earthquake, as the now unsupported world behind us came tumbling down and the coal-cutter took out lumps like motor cars in a new pass along the face.

Capitalist pigs
As we left, a man yelled, "tell 'em up there what it's like down 'ere!" We tramped in stunned silence to the manride and gratefully flopped onto it. The rollers massage your body as you rumble upwards and I was nearly asleep when something tapped my foot. It was Us; he'd crawled up to talk. "Of course", he shouted, "This ain't a proper way to run a pit. They do it right in Russia. They've 'ad their revolution. Done away with the capitalists. That's what we oughter do!" For a moment I was dumbstruck. It was like something out of a really bad novel. The "old bolshevik" trying to convert the "middle class intelligentsia", two and a half thousand feet underground! For that was how he saw himself and me. The I remembered that I was a socialist and launched the counter-argument at him in the only language the noise permitted. "No! Russia's no bloody good! Neither is violent insurrection, it only gets workers killed. Nationalisation is a fraud! What's the difference between a private capitalist pig and a state capitalist pig?" We argued all the way up to the pit head, until, stepping out of the cage into the fresh air, all the visitors started to cough up black phlegm.

After a change of clothes, a wash and a gargle, we trooped into the pit canteen, to drink an incredible amount of tea and have a de-briefing. Pneumoconiosis and silicosis were on all the visitors' minds, as we contemplated what two hours down the pit had done to our lungs. "We only get the odd pneumo", said Us, "it's like trench feet, a matter of morale. If the men could get the pay and conditions they want and the management would only cooperate, it would disappear altogether". At this Them demurred: "If the men would only wear their masks all the time, there would be no more silicosis", he said. Someone pointed out that the only time Them had worn his mask was when adjusting the coal-cutter, and even then he had to take it off to shout orders. A lady visitor went to the heart of the matter when she said "This isn't work that anyone should do for mere money". "Too right", said Us. "The mines should belong to the miners, the ships to the sailors, the trains to the engine drivers. All industry should be run for the public good". At this Them got quite heated and made a speech about the need for profitability in the private and public sectors. It was obvious that the two of them had been doing this for years, because Us rescued the de-briefing with a tale of humorous disaster. Then we went home, I coughed up coal dust for a fortnight.

The world for the workers
Well reader, where do you stand? Which side are you on? Are you for Them or for Us? What's a fair wage for a man's working lifetime down the pit? Can you quantify discomfort for the face worker? Should it be more or less than that of the deep-sea trawlerman? One thing is certain—this side of capitalism there is no solution. But, on the other side, beyond the garbled dream of the shop steward, there is, for the taking, a socialist world. A society without "them and us", without  public or private ownership, without buying and selling, wages and jobs; where everyone, including miners, will have free access to the wealth created. Only the harmony of that society could adequately compensate for such toil—if it were necessary. To be sure, the solidarity of the miners has never risen to the level of socialist class consciousness, but how much of a push would it need to make it do so? Just a few thousand socialists explaining the difference between "the mine for the miners" and "the world for the workers".
B K McNeeney



Capitalism or Socialism? (1998)

From the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party is the only party whose sole object is the replacement of the present social, economic and political system (capitalism) with a fundamentally different system (socialism). Socialists are men and women who understand and work for such a change in society.

Capitalism has existed for only the last four or five centuries. During that time it has spread from parts of Europe to every corner of the world. There are still pockets of previous forms of society-feudalism, tribalism, even slavery-but they are steadily being squeezed out by the incursions of capitalism. The roots of socialism may be traced to ideas first formulated in ancient civilisations, but as the abolition of class and private property society it has remained an ideal and not an activity. Indeed, it is only in the last hundred years or so that the material conditions for the establishment of socialism as a world society have been developed, making it a practical alternative to capitalism.

One of the basic features of capitalism is that the means of wealth production and distribution (land, factories, offices, transport, etc) are owned by individuals, private or public corporations or the state. The various forms of ownership have evolved and become more complex within capitalism. False claims have been made that, because certain industries have been "nationalised" or whole countries governed by regimes with the label socialist or communist, therefore socialism has been introduced. This is not the case; such reforms of capitalism change only its surface features, not its basic substance.

With capitalism goods and services are produced for sale in a market with a view to profit. Where it is not feasible to form a market or seek a profit, goods and services may be provided "freely" at the point of consumption. While some capitalist production is to meet human needs at a price, capitalist advertising creates wants that the market can then satisfy. With socialism production will be directly to meet human need, each person or group determining their own reasonable needs in a social context. There will be no buying or selling and no calculated exchange, but plenty of giving and taking.

Capitalism requires that access to goods and services be by "effective" or "economic" demand-generally, no cash, no carry. Exceptionally the state or local authority provides "benefits" in cash or kind, and charitable organisations give other handouts. Socialist society will mean free access, although some collective action may need to be taken in the few cases where access that is too free could result in harm to the individual or the community.

The profit system requires a class of owners of the means of wealth production and a much larger class of non-owners. The one class represents "capital" and the other "labour". Of course this is the system in its crudest manifestation: in practice it has evolved very sophisticated forms of exploitation and presentation. Society is said to be composed of three or more classes, such as upper, middle and working. Workers may be given a "stake" in capitalism through ownership of small packets of shares. Socialism rejects the idea and the practice of opposed classes consisting of owners and non-owners. All persons will stand equally in relation to the means of wealth production in socialism.

Allied to the two-class division into owners and non-owners in capitalism is the two-class division into employers and employees. Again there are subtleties: employers may be individuals, corporations or the state; employees may be in employment, seeking it or retired from it. The self-employed are a marginal group. With socialism there will be no employment; work will be done on the basis of its product being needed, not because an employer can make a profit by "supplying" it.

The key market in capitalism is the labour market, where workers are forced to earn their living by selling their labour power to an employer. With socialism markets, like money, will be unnecessary and disappear.

Capitalism requires much work to be done that serves no useful purpose and is necessary only to keep the profit system going. Activities such as banking, insurance, selling, preparing for and making war, are only a few of many examples. Estimates of the proportion of current work that is necessary only to capitalism vary from 50 to 90 percent. With socialism no useless or harmful work need be done, although no doubt some people will choose to do things that others will see as without purpose. Artistic and creative endeavours may be expected to flourish, no longer confined and distorted by the profit motive.

Co-operation not competition
Capitalism requires individuals to compete with each other in various ways. It fosters a culture of winners and losers. Businesses compete with each other for the biggest possible share of the market-winners sometimes capture the whole of a market. Workers have to compete for jobs, the losers being the unemployed. Capitalist sport asserts that winning isn't the main thing-it's the only thing. By contrast socialism emphasises co-operation. While some forms of enjoyable and developmental competition may well continue (such as games and tests of skill and knowledge) no "losers" will be deprived of decent living conditions or be excluded from benefits that society can provide.

Today society tends to be divided into a few leaders and many followers. The shepherds need the sheep and the sheep need the shepherd. Whether in the workplace, the political arena, the media, or elsewhere, the powerless majority defer to the powerful minority. In socialist society people will no doubt continue to vary in their abilities, strengths and characters-differences will be valued but not exaggerated. It may be useful for some individuals to take highly specialised roles, but they won't become permanent or powerful leaders.

Capitalist organisations are mostly hierarchical, consisting of a few people at the top who give orders and the many lower down or at the bottom who take them. Communication is usually top down. Socialist organisations will be mostly lateral, meaning that all participants will work according to a democratically agreed plan. Communication will be free-flowing, not one-way.

Politics today involves the mass of the electorate choosing at periodic intervals professional politicians as representatives who will govern them for the next few years. With socialism delegates will play an important part. Wide-ranging issues affecting large numbers of people will be fully discussed and decisions democratically taken. Local issues will require less formality and decisions can be based on trust. People will not be governed; things will be administered.

The capitalist world is divided into nation states, some independent, others overtly combined into blocs for some purposes. Enmity is built into the capitalist structure. There are trade wars, preparation for hot wars, and actual hot wars. While some supporters of capitalism pay lip-service to the idea of a world community (and some services, such as weather forecasting, are already organised on a world-wide basis) it is only with socialism that there will be a meaningful world community, with different but non-conflicting cultures.

Education today is aimed at different ability groups. But, more significantly, it is separated into a superior kind for the elite and a basic kind for the mass. Elite education means higher staff-student ratios, better equipment and facilities, but above all the instilling of a belief that a class-divided society is the natural order of things. Mass education is starved of resources and aims to turn out productive but docile wage-slaves and consumers. By contrast, education in socialism will have no narrow class-dividing purpose. It will aim to develop the talents and interests of all. Initially socialist education will help to solve world problems of ignorance, poverty, environmental degradation, and so on. We can only speculate on how later education will enable the further development and progress of the human race.

Today crime is a big problem. But most of it is to do with private property. To keep the buying and selling system going, people are encouraged to want more and more things. But they are often not able to get the necessary money legally. So it's not surprising that some of them break the law by stealing. Since doing this on a large scale would seriously endanger the profit system, there has to be a complex apparatus of police, law courts, prisons and the rest. The abolition of private property would not necessarily mean the abolition of all we could call crime, but certainly a large part of it. Even if the occasional murder still takes place, the person committing it will merit treatment and support rather than the punitive measures usually imposed today.

One consequence of capitalism that has become increasingly prominent in recent years is the many ways in which the pursuit of profit has resulted in damage to the environment. Some of the main forms of damage are air and water pollution, acid rain, deforestation, and global warming. Socialists welcome the attention that "greens" have drawn to the problem, but disagree with those among them who believe that the problems can be solved within capitalism or who want to go back to a pre-industrial era. In a socialist world high priority will be given to repairing the damage that the profit system has caused to the environment. Production solely for use and access according to need will be in the context of using the world's natural and other resources in careful and sustainable ways.

The World Socialist Movement brings together men and women who have a committed, closely argued and well researched case against capitalism and some idea of at least the fundamentals of the system that will replace it. None of us knows exactly what the future will bring. But we do know that we can help to shape that future by putting the achievement of socialism, rather than reforms of capitalism, at the top of the agenda.
Stan Parker

CAPITALISM

  • The most developed form of class society
  • Private (including state) ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution
  • Production for profit
  • Access by economic demand (payment, with some handouts)
  • Basically two classes: those who own and don't own the means of wealth production
  • Employment (employers, employees, unemployed and retired)
  • Markets (buying and selling) for most things, including labour
  • Activities necessary to support the profit system (banking, insurance, salespeople, etc)
  • Emphasis on competition
  • Leaders and followers
  • Mostly hierarchical organisation (giving and taking orders)
  • Periodic elections to choose professional politicians
  • Government of persons
  • Nation states, wars, armed forces
  • Education for elites and for masses
  • Crime (mostly property), a legal system to uphold private property rights
  • Environmental problems (pollution, depletion of natural resources, etc) caused by profit seeking


SOCIALISM

  • A form of society without classes and class property
  • Common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution
  • Production to meet human need
  • Free access, each determining their own needs (in social context)
  • No classes: all persons stand equally in relation to the means of wealth production
  • Work (all those fit enough volunteer services as preferred and needed)
  • No buying, selling or exchange (only giving and taking)
  • No wasteful activities necessary only to support capitalism (banking, insurance, salespeople, etc)
  • Emphasis on co-operation
  • Participants
  • Mostly lateral organisation
  • Elections as required to choose delegates
  • Administration of things
  • No nation states, wars, armed forces
  • Education for all
  • No property crime, any residual crime (e.g. murder) dealt with humanely
  • No environmental problems caused by profit seeking

2014 - Year of Xenophobia? (2014)

Editorial from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

From one point of view the prospects for 2014 don’t look good. The elections to the European Parliament in May threaten to become a festival of xenophobia as the main parties try to outbid UKIP by being as, if not more, anti-foreigner than them. August will see the ceremonies to mark the outbreak of the First World War. These, too, threaten to become a celebration of nationalism, with prominent historians already arguing that it was a justifiable war which Britain deserved to win.

This means that this year, in addition to our usual activity of putting across the case for socialism, we will have to step up the socialist case against nationalism and war.

The phrase ‘Nation-State’ itself assumes that the states into which the world is divided are the political expression of pre-existing ‘nations’. In fact, it’s the other way round. It is the ‘nation’ that is the creation of the state. States inculcate into their subjects the idea that they form a community with a common interest and that the state represents that interest. The result is that people come to refer to themselves and other subjects of the same state as ‘we’ and ‘us’.

Socialists do not speak of ‘we’ and ‘us’ in relation to so-called ‘Nation-States’ in which they happen to have been born or live. We know that, in every state, there are two classes with opposed interests: the class of those who own and control the means of production and the rest, the vast majority, who do not and, to live, have to sell their mental and physical energies to those who do for a wage or a salary.

Wars are not fought between ‘nations’ but between states, and states represent the interest of their ruling, owning class. Wars arise out of the conflict of economics between states, representing the owning class within them, over sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets, investment outlets and strategic areas to protect these. The slaughter of the First World War  was no exception.

Nationalism is used by states to win support – and cannon fodder – for wars. But it can prove counter-productive if it escapes from state control, as it risks doing over the question of Europe. The interest of the dominant section of the capitalist class in Britain is that Britain should stay in the EU so as to have free access to the European ‘single market’, but a large segment of public opinion is opposed to this on nationalist grounds which UKIP is exploiting.

Throughout the year, then, we will be insisting that wage and salary workers in one state have the same basic interest as their counterparts in other states. We are all members of the world working class and have a common interest in working together to establish a world without frontiers in which the resources of the globe will have become the common heritage of all the people of the world and used for the benefit of all.