Monday, September 22, 2014

The ghost of Jaurès laid (1916)

From the October 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

M. Jaurès, the Blatchford of France was assassinated just previous to the outbreak of the European war. At a recent Socialist (!) congress held in Paris, a minority, composed presumably of anti-militarists, claimed that had Jaurès lived he would have been on their side and against the war. Lt. Paul Hyacinthe Loyson, advertised in the ''Daily Chronicle" as "a prominent French Socialist," tells them and us, that "it is a cheap and easy game to lay claim thus to a corpse that cannot speak."

The genuine Socialist will not take sides in this body-snatching quarrel. Jaurès' influence with large sections of the French workers is claimed by the advocates of two philosophies with little to choose between them. England possesses faithful facsimiles of both. We have the anti-militarists of the I.L.P., who are anti-militarists among other things, and may be Socialists when Socialism is too strong for them to resist it. We have, too, the "Socialist" Patriots like Lieut. Loyson and—according to the evidence he furnishes—Jaurès and the majority of French Socialists.

Lieut. Loyson's evidence is most convincing. The anti-war party of the I.L.P. might just as well lay claim to Robert Blatchford as the "Zimmerwaldians" try to appropriate the ghost of Jaurès. The latter, only a year before his death, "consecrated a book of 560 pages to the study of the best means for a democracy of waging war. A strange anti-militarist, forsooth, this theoretician of the art of fighting." We agree with Loyson, he is entitled to the corpse., and all that goes with it. As a Socialist Party we do not even seek a share in the possession of it. We not only deny the truth of Loyson’s claim that Jaurès was "the leader of international Socialism all the world over and its 'living; torch;'" we deny emphatically that he was a Socialist even. You ask for proof—permit Lieut. Loyson, who so readily supplied the evidence that discomfited the Zimmerwaldians, to provide the material that will lay the ghost he himself has raised.

"Jaurès," he says, "was, in fact, a great-realist who threw the purple mantle of his oratory only over ideas that were healthy and well-muscled. Hence he always held that a whole could only be made up of its parts and that without nations there could be no International."

There is plenty of evidence in Loyson's adulatory article, and in the writings of M. Jaurès, to convict him (Jaurès) of having been anti-Socialist. But I select the above because it is novel and supremely childish, coming from one represented as a "living torch" with none but "well-muscled ideas."

The scientists and philosophers, ancient ant modern, who have been really great, have in the setting out of their systems, been often compelled to begin with simple definitions of terms and things for the sake of clearness. That Marx commenced his analysis of the capitalist system of society by defining and analysing commodity. Euclid laid down at the outset postulates and axioms, and one of the latter was that "the whole is greater than the part." Unfortunately, few people get much further than the axioms or definitions of any science; that doe not prevent them having the greatest respect for those who have gone farther. Those who like Jaurès and Loyson, have made it their business to mislead the workers, know that an assumption of scientific knowledge gleaned from the very first pages of really great works, make a first-'class impression on the minds of the ignorant. A neat phrase conveying an questionable truth, purloined from Euclid, Darwin, or Marx, is not only impressive, not only does it give safe foothold for the mind for a space, but it imparts weight to the trash that follows, and the recipient will doubt his judgment rather than hesitate to swallow  what is claimed as an obvious deduction. It may be "cheap and easy to lay claim to a corpse," but it is not less "cheap and easy" to intersperse scientific commonplaces, cheek by jowl with false economics and capitalist shibboleths, in order to throw dust in the eyes of the workers.

"A whole can only be made up of its parts" is merely a variation of Euclid's axiom that "'The whole is greater than the part," and "without nations there could be no international" is one of the "healthy and well-muscled ideas" over which "the great realist threw the purple mantle of his oratory." Such unsophisticated and shallow reasoning—excuse the compliment—would scarcely seem worthy of notice were it not for the implication it carries. Without nations there can be no international, therefore nations are necessary—they must be preserved, that the international may not die— that false and contemptible international that writes the parasitic labour decoys in common discussion for their mutual interests; that rotten international where they exchange their experiences, their successes and vicissitudes in the despicable game of bluffing the workers.

"Without nations there could be no inter-national." In other words, without capitalism there could be no Socialism, or Socialist movement ; without classes there could be no class war; unless a small class own the means of wealth production and enslave the larger class, there can be no struggle of the slaves for emancipation, and so we might go on. Is it the struggle we want? Do we pray for the class war? Is the international—even the real international—our goal? No, Socialism, the common ownership and democratic control of all the means of life, is the objective of the Socialist. The international, when we get it, is only a means to the end. It is forced upon us because the workers will see the need for it. The ruling class will use all manner of excuses to keep the working class divided; the International Socialist movement will brush the ruling class aside like chaff. For the Socialist movement tramples down national boundaries, recognises the common link between the workers of every land— their poverty and slavery indicts the ruling-class as a robber class, establishes the fact, that poverty need not exist, that slavery can be abolished by the workers themselves, and that the quarrels of the ruling class are of no concern to the working class. 

The working class of the world have a common bond that transcends every tie of race or nationality—their urgent need for emancipation. What matters the name of the country of your birth, if you are a slave in that country? What tie is it that links you to the lordly capitalist ? You are chained to his machines, in his factories and workshops, and driven by the whip of hunger to produce wealth for him while you sink deeper into poverty. You are the robbed, he is the robber; you are the slave, he is the master. A bond of shame, a tie that is a degradation to every wage-slave, is the only nexus between classes, and patriotism is the acceptance and approval of the bond.

Capitalism in its ruthless and brutal progress breeds workers of less consequence than machines, and treats them with far less consideration. The greater the progress of capitalism is, the deeper is the poverty of the workers, the more widespread their suffering, and the more intense their anarchic struggles for existence. Their ever-increasing efficiency intensifies the struggle. Yet all that the ruling class can suggest, nay command, is more efficiency, greater efforts, and sterner self-sacrifice in the interests of trade, and loyalty to them in their scramble for the lion's share in the markets of the world.

In every land the dominant class holds sway over the lives of the workers, moving them like pawns over the chess-board of civilization. From the slum to the factory, from the factory to the battlefield with the workhouse for the huffed. The dominant class wages scientific war against the workers. It maintains the necessary physical force to break down their strikes for higher wages, and with callous irony calls it "preserving order." It provides for an army of priests to lie about the "divine purpose of the Almighty God" in creating rich and poor—the first to be charitable and the second to be patient -while, their only god is gold. The dominant class enlists from the ranks of the workers themselves all the gifted traitors who can fashion themselves into the semblance of respectable labour leaders, entrusting them with the task of educating the workers in the way they should go for Christ's sake and capitalism.

Yet, in the midst of this hellish turmoil of capitalist oppression and anarchy, when starving millions only fail to strive for Socialism because of their ignorance, "Socialism's living torch," with academic calm and dignity, assures the workers that "without nations there can be no international!" Nations first, internationalism second—and impotent: that was Jaurès' conception. As the power of nationalism to grip the minds of the worker rises, so Socialism fades. But when the warm rays of Socialist enlightenment and knowledge illumine their minds with the promise of freedom and social well-being, their hands will clasp across national boundaries, and their feet will tread them into the past. In that day the capitalist will "beat the bounds" in vain, the workers will know that boundaries and nations have no meaning or significance for them. These two, nationalism and international Socialism (and there can be no Socialism that is not international) are opposite as the poles, as antagonistic as fire and water. When patriotism and Socialism enter the worker's mind, patriotism will be quenched or Socialism will evaporate. The Socialist patriot is as impossible as the Christian Socialist. If he is loyal to the class that exploits him, he is a traitor to his own class. If he recognises and is true to his class interest, the class war will engage all his free time and energy; and he will laugh to scorn the hypocritical vaporings about the rights of small or big nations, seeing only in every nation a large or small group of capitalists—his own class being spread over the world, like an upper strata of the earth's crust, for each group to claim and exploit.

The real international will be built up on the facts of Socialism The universal recognition of these facts will mean the linking up of the world's workers in opposition to the capitalist class. That class will practice nationalism and preach patriotism just so long as it serves to obscure the class struggle and keep the workers divided. When they have to face an enlightened and united working class, they themselves will stamp out every boundary in their urgent need for cohesion and strength to meet the workers' onward march. Imagine in that day, if you can, the members of the International Socialist Movement seriously discussing the proposition that "without nations there can be no international." Such a proposition has no place in the Socialist philosophy. It is mere kindergarten babble to the Socialist. But to the anti-Socialist it serves as a premise on which to build his case for the loyalty of the workers to their exploiters. Jaurès and Loyson have both used it in that way, thereby proclaiming themselves anti-Socialist. The Socialist does not care a rap whether the capitalist class divide the earth among themselves by rivers and seas, or by the lines of latitude and longitude. What concerns him, is the class ownership, which he works and organises to abolish.
F. Foan

Paying for air – why not? (2007)

From the April 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Introductory note. As a researcher, I am swamped by a constant stream of Working Papers, Discussion Papers, Position Papers, Occasional Papers and Miscellaneous Papers that all sorts of schools, networks, institutes, foundations, and centres are kind enough to send my way. Most of them go straight on a pile for later transfer to the green recycle bin, but now and then one catches my eye. I was so impressed by the sheer brilliance of this “Thought Paper” by a junior economist at the Centre for Research, Analysis and Policy (CRAP) that I decided to share it with readers of the Socialist Standard. The author wishes to remain anonymous. — Stefan
Optimal efficiency in the use of any resource requires the functioning of an effective market in that resource. Everyone (that is, everyone who matters) accepts this thesis in principle, but proposals to put the principle into practice still run up against irrational fears and prejudices, hidebound attitudes, and vague moral reservations. This applies especially to the still controversial issue of establishing and regulating a market in air.
That no doubt explains why the published literature on air marketisation and privatisation is so scanty, although these topics have been the object of lively discussion among economic policy specialists, and not only at our centre.  And yet, as people are beginning to realise, the air in the Earth’s atmosphere is a limited resource like any other.

If its use is to be rationalised, the consumption of air must be subject to the discipline of the market. As in the case of wood, water or any other resource, free access to air is a flagrant invitation to profligacy and waste. Studies by physiologists in several countries have revealed that surprisingly large proportions of individuals breathe more deeply and/or at more frequent intervals than strictly necessary for adequate body maintenance.
Many of these irresponsible “free riders” encourage their children to follow their own bad example. Indeed, there are even misguided physicians who in deference to the latest health fad promote “deep breathing” practices among their patients. In the past, the purely technical difficulties of controlling air consumption confined discussion of air markets to the realm of futurological speculation.
Thus, the writer Herbert George Wells, in a story that has for some reason been considered “dystopian,” imagined a future in which the majority of the population live and work underground and, in addition to rent, pay private companies to ventilate their quarters. If they fall into arrears with their air payments the air supply is turned off until the next tenant resumes payment.
Recent developments in pharmacology give reason to hope that in the not too distant future it will be feasible to control air consumption above ground. In the most plausible scenario, a legally mandated annual dose of a paralytic agent makes respiration impossible without subsequent weekly injection of an antidote, the market in which serves as a proxy air market. Of course, the first dose of the paralytic agent has to be combined with the first dose of the antidote; it is only from the second dose that the consumer starts to pay for the antidote – that is, for air access.
The right to sell the antidote to different sections of the population could be sold at auction to the highest bidders.  Those who feel that such an arrangement is morally repugnant usually justify their stance in terms of the naive idea that a person’s access to a vital necessity like air should not depend on how much money he or she has. Presumably it is acceptable to regulate access to luxuries by means of money, but not access to the necessities of life. But this idea makes no sense in the real world. Consider what absurd conclusions would follow if we applied it consistently.
It would mean that there should be free access to food just because we have moral qualms about people starving to death. It would mean that there should be free access to housing, heating, and warm clothing just because we shrink from the sight of people freezing to death in the winter cold. It would mean that there should be free access to medical care just because we feel people should not die for lack of the money to get treated. After all, besides breathing, people need to eat and drink, keep warm, and so on. To be sure, asphyxiation is a quicker way to die than most. But that makes it more humane, not less.
What has this sort of fuzzy thinking got to do with economic rationality?

Lenin as Philosopher (2003)

Book Review from the July 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lenin as Philosopher. By Anton Pannekoek. Edited by L. B. Richey. Marquette University, Milwaukee.
This is a republication of Pannekoek's classic 1938 analysis of Leninism as a non-Marxist theory, the ideology of the development of capitalism in Russia in the form of state-capitalism. This edition is for professional philosophers and students of philosophy and has notes and a lengthy introduction (half as long as the work itself).
In his introduction, Richey takes up a pro-Lenin and anti-Pannekoek stance, criticising Pannekoek for adhering to a philosophy of science not that much different from conventional science (that knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is the ordering and description, a symbolic representation, of empirical evidence obtained through the senses). It is true that Pannekoek was a practising scientist--an astronomer in fact who ended his career as professor of astronomy at the University of Leyden in Holland--who did not reject the empirical approach and did not regard science as a "bourgeois ideology".
It is also true that, in the controversy within the Marxist tradition, as to whether dialectics exists in nature or is just a mental construct, Pannekoek, following Dietzgen, took up the latter view. While he regarded the external world of phenomena as an interconnected and ever-changing whole (two "dialectical" features), he did not see contradiction (a third such feature) as a characteristic, let alone the motor of change, of this world. For him, contradiction was a mental phenomenon resulting from the paradox that the human mind, to make sense of this world in order to better survive in it, has to mentally isolate parts of it and treat them as if they were separate entities whereas in fact they remain inseparable parts of the whole.
As this controversy does not have any bearing on everyday arguments for socialism (it doesn't come up much in pub conversations, except amongst socialists) it is not one that the Socialist Party has felt the need to take a position on. But, if we were forced to choose, we would incline to the Pannekoek/Dietzgen view, on the grounds that while it is clear that social development takes place through internal contradiction (the class struggle within class societies) – this is a verified description on the basis of the facts – it has not been confirmed that change in the physical world is driven by internal contradiction. On the contrary, the most adequate theory of biological evolution is that it took place in response to changing external factors.
In any event, whatever criticisms may be made of Pannekoek's approach, to treat Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism as a serious contribution to the philosophy of science, as Richey does, is ridiculous. As anyone who has tried to read it knows, it is just a rant against some of Lenin's opponents within the Bolshevik Party in 1908 who he accuses, quite unjustly (but quite typically), of harbouring or condoning religious views just because they rejected his crude and untenable view that the mind merely reflects and photographs (as opposed to mentally reconstructs) the external world. Pannekoek, while of course himself a materialist and a non-believer, interprets the priority Lenin gave to the anti-religious struggle in Russia as evidence that the coming revolution there was to be a bourgeois revolution as in France in 1789 and that Leninism was the ideology of this revolution. Lenin as the Voltaire of Russia's revolution to capitalism.