Thursday, March 26, 2015

Scrap Capitalism (2014)

From the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is time to forever scrap forever this cock-eyed system that takes from the poor and  gives to the rich; that preaches austerity for the 95 percent whilst the elite get yet richer; where millionaire leaders shed crocodile tears over poverty as they live in luxury. Somehow it has been sold to us that this is usual – moreover it is the only way to organise society, and it is good and healthy. You could not make it up.

We could share all the world. Scrap capitalism, abolish the monetary system and suddenly the playing field is not so uneven. We will not have achieved utopia but many of the idiocies of the current system will have gone: life will not be quite so problematic. No longer would the accountant who finds havens for the rich to hide their wealth to avoid tax earn a thousand times more than the carers looking after the health of your old aunt – because there would no longer be wages. No more wages slavery, just imagine. You’d be able to do what you do and be able to take what you need.

You will no doubt be told it’s mad and totally unachievable. But think what would have been said about the internet or triple heart bypass surgery 50 years ago. Human beings are incredibly intelligent – just look at how much and how quickly we can achieve things when we set our minds to it – and we in the Socialist Party are simply saying the world can be organised in a more intelligent way. It cannot be seen as either intelligent or necessary that most of the wealth of the world is given to so few.

All the other parties offer you some variant of what we have already – possibly a few more checks and balances. Sadly history shows that, whatever the government, the rich come out on top. We are here to say it need not be like this.
Howard Pilott

Never mind the ballots (2015)

Book Review from the February 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box'. Edited by Philip Cowley and Robert Ford. Biteback Publishing. £14.99
With the General Election fast approaching, expect a slew of books on this theme. Subtitled ‘50 Things You Need to Know About British Elections’, this is one of the first. The chapters are short (typically four or five pages) and are written in an accessible style by a variety of UK political scientists and polling gurus. Many of the familiar names are there: Rallings and Thrasher, John Curtice, David Denver et al.
Chapters range from analyzing tactical voting, identifying who really votes UKIP, the influence of social class on voting, and why ethnic minorities still tend to vote Labour. There is lots of interest here, though it is a shame the publishers decided they had to try to spice things up further by including some embarrassingly weak chapters by staff at YouGov about sex and politics (eg the alleged sexual preferences and fantasies of different party supporters).
Many of the arguments put forward build on previous research projects like the British Election Study that have uncovered an increasingly complex range of voting behaviour in the UK. This includes large numbers of people voting for split tickets, ie voting for different parties on the same election day, such as when a General Election and local elections coincide. It also involves a decline in voting based on class factors as defined by the sociologists, though with a noticeable rise in recent decades of geographical alignment behind parties – most obviously Labour in Wales, Scotland and the North of England, and the Tories in the South and East. This geographical ‘flocking together’ occurs even when social class, housing and other factors have been accounted for. Interestingly, it would also appear that the prevailing underpinning values of voters in Wales and Scotland, for instance, are not that different on most issues to those of people in parts of the UK that tend to vote Conservative.
In sociological terms, the voters with the most traditional ‘working class’ profiles tend now to disproportionately vote UKIP when they vote at all (with a particular concentration of UKIP support among elderly white men who are – or were – blue-collar workers who had left school at 16 or younger). By contrast, Labour now gets almost as much support in percentage terms from the top fifth of income earners in society as it does from the bottom fifth. Indeed, this finding was reflected in surveys at the last couple of general elections where it was found that Labour attracted noticeably more support from readers of the Financial Times than it did of the Express, with the Labour percentage of FT readers being not too far below those of the Sun.
In many ways it appears that considerable numbers of voters are now shopping in the proverbial postmodern supermarket where parties appear like clothes brands that are either trusted or tarnished. What perhaps doesn’t come out as strongly here as it might though is that this is not just a reflection of voters clustering towards the political centre, but of parties doing this too. Indeed, arguably the most noticeable change in politics in recent decades is that managerialism has replaced political ideology or argument – parties now make little attempt to convince people of a distinctive view. Instead, like a good salesman who can build rapport with clients by ‘mirroring’ their body language and speech patterns, parties compete on broadly the same ideological ground but try to convince electors that they are personally more trustworthy, effective and professional than their competition.
If this is all rather depressing, there are actually glimpses of hope here too. Political attitudes can often change in generational waves and the chapter on changing attitudes to race in the UK is a case in point. Here Danny Dorling discusses ‘when racism stopped being normal, but no-one noticed’. He shows that the percentage of electors who would be opposed to someone in their family marrying a person from another ethic group has declined from around 55 per cent in the 1980s to about 25 per cent today as the older generations where these views were most prevalent have now died off, and with very few of the younger generation now holding these types of beliefs. This trend has been mirrored in other countries like the US and is one indicator among many that people in the main Western democracies may still be economically conservative, but are more socially liberal – and in some ways enlightened – than they have ever been before.
DAP


Monday, March 23, 2015

Summer School 2015: New Perspectives on Socialism (2015)

From the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
The principles of revolutionary socialism were formed over a hundred years ago. Then,  capitalist growth was being fuelled by the technological and logistical developments   following the Industrial Revolution. Since then, the history of capitalism has been marked by economic peaks and troughs, two World Wars, the rise and fall of state capitalism, massive advances in science, and widespread shifts in culture and beliefs. The Socialist Party of Great Britain argues that its original principles are still valid despite all these changes. This is because the basic structure of capitalism persists, regardless of  differences in the way it is organised.
But is this right? Has society changed so much that class structure and the role of the state are significantly different now compared to previous centuries? What effects have these changes had on class consciousness and the likelihood of revolution? And how should revolutionary socialists respond through their theory and activity? It’s always healthy to re-examine our beliefs, to see if they still apply to our ever-changing world. This weekend of talks and discussion will be an opportunity to take a fresh look at several important aspects of the socialist viewpoint.
Full residential cost (including accommodation and meals Friday  evening to Sunday afternoon) is £80. The concessionary rate is £40. Day visitors are welcome, but please book in advance. To book a place, send a cheque (payable to the Socialist Party of Great Britain) to Summer School, Sutton Farm, Aldborough, Boroughbridge, York, YO51 9ER, or book online through the QR code or athttp://spgb.net/summerschool2015.
E-mail enquiries to spgbschool@yahoo.co.uk

A Capitalist Tax Scam? Good Lord (2015)

The Halo Halo! Column from the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Just as the deadline for articles for the Standard looms and we start to panic, realising there is nothing newsworthy on the religious front to write about – it’s been over a week since the last human sacrifice to Allah, and we’ve not had a decent miracle from Jesus for ages, we remember the golden rule: have faith and the Lord will provide.
And he has done. The good Lord whom we have to thank for this month’s article is Lord Stephen Green. The Reverend Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint in fact who as well as being a C of E vicar, a Tory member of the House of Lords, current Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Chairman of the HSBC group from 2006 to 2010, and former chair of HSBC’s private bank in Switzerland whose clients included arms dealers, diamond smugglers and drugs runners, and which is now being investigated for tax irregularities in numerous countries, and who has inconveniently found himself at the centre of the scandal. And, oh yes, he’s also the author of a book on morality.
There’s nothing new about those who want to ram their morality down our throats finding themselves up to their dog collars in financial irregularities of course. Before the Rev Lord Green hit the headlines we had the Rev Paul Flowers, the drug-fuelled ‘crystal Methodist’, who also allegedly had an expensive weakness for rent-boys (one claimed Flowers ‘paid him £500 per night but still owes £1,000’) and who almost brought the Co-op bank to its knees.
On a lighter note, there was also a group of C of E vicars some years ago who, although they had complete faith in god, obviously didn’t altogether trust him as an employer and decided they needed the protection of a Trade Union. The one they joined was MSF, whose initials stood for ‘Manufacturing, Science and Finance’. We were pleased to see our fellow workers getting themselves unionised, but puzzled at their chosen union and wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time asking if, as their employment had nothing to do with manufacturing or science, could we assume the main interest was finance. We didn’t get a reply.
But back to the Rev Lord Green’s book on morality – Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World. Here, for the benefit of any Socialist Standard readers wishing to be guided by the Rev Lord Green’s words of wisdom are a few extracts to steer you through any moral dilemmas you may have in managing your finances.
‘There will always be those who have not merely more than others’ he informs us. Some will have ‘more than they could conceivably need.’ And we can simply ‘shrug our shoulders’, or ‘we can hear the still, small voice of conscience’. This ‘reminds us – if we listen – that something is owed by the affluent. And a debt not paid is a debtor who is guilty’.
‘As individuals’ he assures us ‘we do not govern our behaviour simply by what is allowed by law or regulation. We have our own codes of conduct, and hold ourselves accountable’. And where in big companies does this responsibility begin? ‘With their boards, of course. There is no other task they have which is more important’ the former HSBC chairman assures us.
With such honesty and wisdom as this from our moral superiors how can we, or indeed, the banking system and the capitalists running the show possibly go wrong?
NW

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mixed Media: William Morris and His Legacy - Anarchy and Beauty (2015)

The Mixed Media Column from the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
The William Morris exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London was curated by Fiona McCarthy, author of William Morris: A Life for Our Time where she describes Morris's politics as 'Marxism with visionary libertarianism.'
For socialists, the exhibition contains a cornucopia of delights, and fleshes out what WB Yeats wrote in The Trembling of the Veil: 'I cannot remember who first brought me to the old stable beside Kelmscott House, William Morris's house at Hammersmith, and to the debates held there upon Sunday evenings, by the Socialist League. I was soon of the little group who had supper with Morris afterwards. I met at these suppers very constantly Walter Crane, Emery Walker, in association with Cobden-Sanderson, the printer of many fine books, and less constantly Bernard Shaw, and perhaps once or twice Hyndman the socialist and the anarchist Prince Kropotkin. There, too, one always met certain more or less educated workmen, rough of speech and manner, with a conviction to meet every turn.'
The portrait William Morris by GF Watts gives Morris a Dionysian quality, of which Yeatswrote 'a reproduction of his portrait by Watts hangs over my mantelpiece... its grave wide-open eyes, like the eyes of some dreaming beast... while the broad vigorous body suggests a mind that has no need of the intellect to remain sane.' When Morris lay dying one of his doctors diagnosed his fatal illness as ‘simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men.'
Of special interest is the Gold tooled binding of William Morris's copy of Marx's Le Capital. Morris started to read Marx in 1883 and by 1884 'the book 'had been worn to loose sections by his own constant study of it' and had to be rebound. It is always a pleasure to see the Hammersmith Socialist Society red banner which dates from Morris's departure from the Socialist League to form the Hammersmith Socialist Society in 1890.
Roger Fry's Edward Carpenter is a portrait of the gay socialist who was a comrade of Morris in the SDF, and later joined Morris, Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling in the Socialist League. Carpenter advocated free love, women's emancipation, and linked gay emancipation with social transformation. Carpenter lived openly with a working class lover near Sheffield for 30 years.
The oil painting of anarchist communist Prince Peter Kropotkin by Nellie Heath was commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society in recognition of Kropotkin's scientific achievements. Oscar Wilde described Kropotkin as 'a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ' (De Profundis).Significantly for socialists, Kropotkin concluded in The Wages System: 'a society that has seized upon all social wealth, and has plainly announced that all have a right to this wealth, whatever may be the part they have taken in creating it in the past, will be obliged to give up all ideas of wages, either in money or in labour notes.'
Bernard Partridge's portrait of Bernard Shaw reminds us that Lenin was right when he described Shaw as 'a good man fallen among Fabians' (Six Weeks in Russia, Arthur Ransome). Shaw was on the point of joining the Marxist SDF but instead joined the Fabian Society. Shaw's The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism was republished in 1937 and Hardy in the Socialist Standard wrote that Shaw's views were ‘essentially utopian – that there will be money incomes under socialism, and that the capitalist foundation can be made to support a socialist system of society.'
The iconic Gilman photograph gelatin silver print of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas is featured in the exhibition. Unlike Shaw, Wilde understood socialism, and under the influence of Kropotkin he wrote in The Soul of Man Under Socialism 'with the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live.'
Socialist women comrades of Morris are featured in the exhibition such as the pencil drawing ofEleanor Marx by Grace Black. In The Woman Question Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling identified that ‘the position of woman rests on an economic basis’ with ‘no solution in the present condition of society’ but in socialism ‘the woman will no longer be the man's slave but his equal.' The carbon print of Annie Besant by Herbert Rose Barrand portrays the author of the 1888 articleWhite Slavery in London which described conditions of work in the Bryant & May match factory in London's East End and led to the successful London Match Girls strike.
William Morris and His Legacy: Anarchy and Beauty is to be recommended if only to give modern audiences an introduction to socialist ideas. As Morris wrote 'Our business... is the making of Socialists, i.e. convincing people that Socialism is good for them and is possible. When we have enough people of that way of thinking, they will find out what action is necessary for putting their principles in practice. Therefore, I say, make Socialists. We Socialists can do nothing else that is useful' (Commonweal 15 November 1890).
Steve Clayton

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Flawed fairy tales (2000)

Theatre Review from the April 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
Honk, The Ugly Duckling. National Theatre.
I was about fourteen when I first went to the theatre. It was 1945 and we went to see Aladdin at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. I remember the occasion vividly. After the dark, dank dullness of war, the theatre was ablaze with light and colour, and from the moment the band started to play I was enthralled. Of course it helped that periodically half a dozen high-stepping chorus girls would appear, with legs clad in shimmering silk that seemed to go on forever, and invite my intense, admiring gaze. The heroine was wistfully beautiful, the adults simply differentiated by dress, facial expression and body language as either good, bad or comic, and I was quickly lost in the excitement, the glamour, the giddy pleasure of it all, all these people on stage, real people not film stars, performing for us. I wanted it to go on forever.
Two years ago, when our eldest grandson was four, we took him to the theatre. It was not a success. He was too young (and probably too impressionable). The first appearance of Stinky Poo was enough. With rolling eyes and malevolent chuckle, Stinky Poo quickly had Tom hiding under his seat and after the interval he refused to return. Last year was much successful. Tom had seen a video of The Snowman and knew what to expect, but we were a long way from the stage and the impact of the live show was much reduced. Then last week we took him to the National Theatre to Hans Andersen's fairy story about the ugly duckling who turns into a swan, sat him near to the stage and watched and waited. Tom sat in rapt attention, eyes aglow, lost in . . . who knows what? And yesterday, in traditional theatrical fashion, he wanted to reprise the occasion. So my partner and Tom went through the plot and linked it to the twenty-odd scenes that are mentioned in the programme, and their associated songs. He says he wants to go again.
When I was a child there was little theatre for children, but now that children are significant consumers the market has responded accordingly. There are stories especially written for children to which "adults maybe admitted if accompanied by a child", small touring companies specialising in children's theatre, and lots of shows which, like films released under a "universal" certificate, are presumed to be suitable for both adults and children.
Honk is such a show. The National claim that it is suitable for anyone over six, but I'm not so sure. Certainly anyone over six would have no difficulty following the story, but on the other hand they certainly couldn't follow a script which contains many lines with clear adults-only significance. Most films, TV shows, books and theatre are of this kind. The demands of selling the product to a large audience mean that minority interests have to be sacrificed. The script for Honk is arguably less convincing than it might have been, because in trying to ensure wide appeal the writers have come up with something that satisfies neither children nor adults. But then this is how capitalism works. It's not the needs of people that matter, but the profits of the manufacturer.
It's easy to empathise with the ugly duckling. The emotions surrounding the duckling's experience—the insults, the abuse, the threat of physical assault—are not difficult to identify with. The duckling is despised because he is different. Hans Christian Andersen suffered a similar fate. "Gawky, dreamy, pale, weak, disliking the company and games of other boys, Andersen was relentlessly humiliated and bullied for much of his childhood." (Tim Goodwin, 1999.) Others are similarly despised and disparaged because of their colour, or sexual orientation, or beliefs, or accent, or whatever.
On another level, the duckling's world—the place where he is hatched and the farm where he hides—are metaphors for the hierarchical, bourgeois society with which Andersen was only too familiar; not least because he was at the bottom of the pile. As such Andersen's fairy story is based on a substantial social critique. The pity is that it is flawed.
The ugly duckling is eventually transformed into a swan, the implication being that it is to nature that we must look to if we are to know our destiny, and "that inborn qualities are more important than upbringing". However, The Ugly Duckling was written in 1842, long before the importance of environment on human growth and development had been empirically demonstrated. It must be doubtful whether Andersen would have written a similar tale today. After all it's one thing to write a fairy story which sees the lives of farmyard animals in human terms, and quite another to go on believing in the 21st century that nature is the significant determinant of human behaviour. Now that is a fairy story. An unhelpful, anti-working class fairy story, because it denies the possibility of change. No wonder the capitalist establishment is happy to feed Honk to children of all ages.
Michael Gill

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Algebra of Revolution (1998)

Book Review from the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Algebra of Revolution. The Dialectic and the Classical Marxist Tradition. By John Rees. Routledge. £14.99.

We in the Socialist Party have always had a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards "dialectics" mainly because of the use that was made of it by the old Communist Party to justify its policy zigzags on the grounds that "progress proceeds through contradictions". On the other hand, it was a term used by Marx and Engels.

The concept was first introduced by the German philosopher Hegel who died in 1831. This was as part of his religious view of the world. However, shorn of the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo Hegel surrounded it with, dialectics means that, in analysing the world and society, you start from the basis that nothing has an independent, separate existence of its own but is an inter-related and interdependent part of some greater whole (ultimately the whole universe) which is in a process of constant change.

This is a fairly widespread view today (sometimes called "holism") and can even be said to have been incorporated into mainstream scientific method. "Holism", however, is only partly the same as "dialectics" as dialectics brings in another factor: contradiction. Hence Rees's definition that it is "an internally contradictory totality in a constant process of change".

Hegel was, in philosophical terms, an Idealist who saw social systems as being a reflection of the "spirit of the age" as he called the dominant ideas of the people living in them. Applying his theory to the development of society, he argued that social change came about as a result of internal contradictions within the "spirit of the age" leading to people developing a new such spirit and a corresponding new system of society.

Marx took over this idea of social development through contradiction but, as he himself once put it, he turned Hegel upside down (or rather put him back on his feet again) by making the basis of society, not the "spirit of the age" but "the way in which people are organised to produce society's means of life"; as this changed-through the internal contradiction of conflict between classes with antagonistic interests-so did the social system.

This of course is the materialist conception of history which Marx and Engels first worked out in 1844-45 in some notebooks published after their deaths as The German Ideology and which Marx summarised in the 1859 Preface to his A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy.

Rees's discussion of the influence of Hegel's ideas and terminology on Marx and Engels is competent enough. As to the others, our criticism would be of his selection of those to include in "the classical Marxist tradition". As a leading member of the SWP Rees is not in this tradition himself. Anyone who adheres to Lenin's theory of the vanguard party-which is such a fundamental departure from Marx's own view both of the intellectual capabilities of the working class and of how workers should organise to establish socialism-puts themselves outside the Marxist tradition. They are Leninists not Marxists.

This means that the last of those discussed by Rees to come into the Marxist tradition were Rosa Luxemburg (who Rees specifically criticises for not supporting a vanguard party) and Karl Kautsky. If the book had lived up to its sub-title, Lenin, Trotsky, Lukacs and Gramsci (the last two thinkers constructed convoluted philosophical defences of the supposed need for a vanguard party) would have been replaced by Joseph Dietzgen (who was the first to use the term "dialectical materialism"), Antonio Labriola, (whose Essays in the Materialist Conception of History only gets a brief mention because Trotsky happened to have read it) and Anton Pannekoek (author of brilliant criticism of Lenin called Lenin As Philosopher which Rees dismisses in a footnote). All three had interesting and relevant-and different-things to say about dialectics.
Adam Buick

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Scarce Resources (2015)

Book Review from the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir: Scarcity: The True Cost of Not Having Enough. Penguin £9.99

Scarcity is defined here as ‘having less than you feel you need’. This is applied not just to material goods and services but also to time-management and, less obviously, to dieting and loneliness. The basic idea is that scarcity can take over your mind, sometimes leading to a focus on an up-coming deadline that makes you more effective. But more often it can reduce our mental capacity, what the authors call our bandwidth, making it hard to take proper account of other matters. So if you are really busy, you may focus on urgent tasks, neglecting those that are important but not so urgent. And poverty may lead you to forget to take your medication.

The Socialist Standard is not a journal about how to deal with your to-do list or how to keep to a diet, so let’s focus on the book’s remarks on poverty. Mullainathan and Shafir argue that ‘the reason the poor borrow is poverty itself’. You might think that you don’t need the combined efforts of a Professor of Economics and a Professor of Psychology to tell you that, but in fact it is not quite as mundane as it appears. The point is that borrowing (often at high rates of interest) is not caused by predatory lenders, financial ineptitude or a common tendency to think about the immediate future rather than the long term. Poor farmers or market traders, in Africa or India for instance, borrow in order to tide them over periods when they have less income or bigger expenses, since they do not have enough financial slack to cope with shocks to their budget.

Various solutions are offered to these and other problems of scarcity. Give or lend people money at the right time to avoid problems with insufficient financial slack. Reduce the chance of people taking out ruinous payday loans by showing them the cost in dollars rather than in abstract interest rates. Or get employers to provide advances on wages.

But what is missing in all this is any real understanding of the causes of poverty. Mullainathan and Shafir note that half the children in the world live below the global poverty line, and that half the children in the United States will at some point be on food stamps. But they simply do not mention exploitation, the extent of inequality, the wealth of the super-rich or the feasibility of growing enough food for all. A proper study of scarcity requires rather more depth than is shown here. 
Paul Bennett

Monday, March 9, 2015

THE DAY IS COMING (1944)

Book Review from the November 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The above is the title of a book by William Cameron (MacMillan, New York). It is the story of a craftsman who commenced work in the 'eighties. The story finishes just before the outbreak of the present war. The book is divided into three periods: the first is concerned with the establishment of the Arts and Crafts Guild in the East End of London; the second describes the transfer and establishment of the Guild in the beautiful little old town of Westencote in the Cotswold Hills, where it flourished for ten years and then collapsed, killed by commercial competition: the third period covers the privations of the craftsman and his family back in London, and the way he climbed up to comfort again.

It is the life of a man singularly fortunate in the beginning who, immersed in the early crafts revival and in an almost self-contained community, loses contact with the world until he reaches middle age. Then, on the dissolution of the craft community, he returns to face the pitiless world of capitalist competition and cheap production into which he has difficulty fitting. He sinks for a time into despair, passes through the horrors of a great war, loses his treasured possessions, loses his faith in the possibility of social change, and, finally, accepts and fits into a cheap and nasty world for the sake of economic security. As an escape from the things that he hates, he builds himself a dream world of his own which goes back to mediaeval times. Into this world he retires in his leisure moments, letting the world of reality go by and accepting all its evil manifestations with an "of course and of course." In his old age the ominous rumblings that herald the impending catastrophe of 1939 set him searching for a safe place to live in the country, and he goes back to Westencote. But the town has become almost unrecognisable. The motor car, the aeroplane and the jerrybuilder have swept away the beauty he used to enjoy. The reaction drives him to the bottle, and in a drunken dream on the hillside above the town he is revisited by William Morris and the old circle of craftsmen, who show him a vision of the hell to which civilisation is heading, reproach him for his supineness, and urge him to take up again the struggle for social change lest the people, and their capacity for beauty and happiness, sink to utter destruction. Waking, he makes the great decision that converts him to a man again. 

Reading this book brings back to the mind memories that crowd of times long since gone by. The vigorous and youthful 'nineties, the beginning of the new century with its hopes and promise. 1914 and the shattering of a world; the hansom cab, the motor car, and the aeroplane; dreams, enthusiasms, and the starkness of reality. The author has told his story well, and his vivid descriptions of the East End, its people and its ways are excellent. So also are the criticisms of society, social movements and social products which are threaded through the book—sometimes with gentleness, sometimes with savagery, and sometimes with cynicism. It is a pity that nearly all the characters he has chosen to make these criticisms are the less cultured working men, thus giving some support to a false idea of the intellectual capacity of workers, which will inspire in some readers a sympathetic and patronising pity.

We would like to have given some representative selections from the book, but our restricted space will not permit it. We will, however, give one extract from the first few pages as a specimen.

The story opens with an account of a meeting held by the Socialist League on a foggy November night in 1887 in the East End. A beer crate is set up in the market place in the midst of fish, whelk, tomato, cabbage and old clothes stalls, and the meeting is accompanied by drunken brawls and the stall-holders shouting their wares. William Morris is the speaker, and his audience consists of a few poverty-stricken and decrepit people of the neighbourhood. To these people Morris addresses burning words, of which the following is an extract:-
France is arming and Germany arming! The whole civilised world rumbles with the threat of war on the most monstrous scale of modern times! At this period of crisis, this is the message of the Socialist League to the working men of England: Turn a deaf ear to the recruiting sergeant! Refuse to be dressed up in red and taught to form a part of the modern killing-machine for the honour and glory of a country which gives you only a dog's share of many kicks and few halfpence!
There are many other meetings, lectures and conversations in which Morris and others of his group express in forthright language their condemnation of present society and their propaganda in favour of a new social order from which poverty and ugliness will be banished. A social order in which the things that are made will be useful and beautiful and the makers will work happily because they will find joy in their work. One of the main threads woven into the story is a hatred of ugly, scamped, and shoddy work.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain appears in a few places in the story, and there are quotations from our principles and our 1914 War Manifesto. We are sorry that its chosen representatives should belong to the less cultured group to which we have already referred. They drop their aitches, put them in where they don't belong, and express themselves in language that does not suggest great reading. This does not convey a correct impression. The early members of the Party were bent on building a higher form of society and made great efforts under difficult circumstances to acquire as much culture as they could in all directions because they wished to be worthy of a place in the society they intended to build. A few of those active in the early days were Watts (a carver), Fitzgerald (a bricklayer), Anderson (a house-painter), Elrick (a civil servant), Gray (a railway clerk), Jacomb (a compositor), Kent (a commercial traveller), and Lehane ( we forget what he was except a wild Irishman!). Some of these men were genuine craftsmen. They did not use the pronunciation of Oxford or Earls Court, but plain, accurate and forcible English, and their aspirates were in the right place!

A further criticism we would make concerns certain remarks that could have been left out without marring the pictures of a character or an event—in fact, in places the picture would have been strengthened without them. We will give an illustration of what we mean.

When the Westencote community collapsed and the craftsman realised a dream had vanished and he would have to go back to the old grind, he packed up and then went for a walk up the hill for a last look back at the little own.
"He was glad May wasn't with him—or the children. He wanted no one. He sank down on the grass, and peered down into the great valley below. At that moment, if the most beautiful woman in the world had been lying naked with him in that lonely spot, he might have thrust her aside as a nuisance.
"'Might,' he thought with a grin, as he saw once again the bodies of the girls and women with whom he had shared adventures since his marriage." (Page 328.)
Imagine a man who has just seen the bottom fall out of his world having thought to spare such a grin. Curse, foam at the mouth, shake his fists at the sky—yes, but a sly leer? We cannot imagine it.

Again, after the birth of the craftsman's child, another craftsman said to him, referring to the former's wife :—
"She's a good cow, Arthur; just like my ol' missis. . . . A woman, Arthur, ought to be a good, well-fed cow. If she ain't—why, then, she's udderly useless!" (Page 294.)
Does it sound credible that a member of the Socialist League would talk like this at a time when woman's position in society was a burning question? 

For some peculiar reason, modern novelists who aspire to "Leftishness" feel that they must indulge in his kind of thing. Perhaps they fear a charge of squeamishness, or they are staking a claim for popularity: When it was necessary to shock the reader there was some ground for it, but modern readers are past shocking. Fortunately, Cameron has not allowed much of this to creep in, but we wish he had kept it out of this type of book altogether, as it is a blemish here and brings the reader up with a nasty jerk.

We make these criticisms because the book was well worth doing, is well done, and is well worth reading. It is a vivid and authentic picture of a vital section of the life of the last fifty years. It should stand the ravages of time.
Gilmac.





Saving Greek Capitalism (2015)

The Cooking the Books Column from the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

The new Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has been variously described as a Marxist tinged with Keynes or a Keynesian tinged with Marx. He certainly has a knowledge of Marx.

A blog item of his from 4 April 2012, entitled ‘On Keynes, Marx and the value of models at a time of Crisis’, showed that he recognises that Marx advanced a theory that capitalism could recover from any economic crisis because these eventually created the conditions for a recovery.
‘What Marx did was to take the model of capitalism that had the most kudos in his time (i.e. the theories of Adam Smith and David Ricardo) and show that, by their own criteria, and under the force of their own assumptions, even the most efficient, most competitive, corruption-free capitalism would, unavoidably generate crises. To show this, Marx strove to demonstrate that, even if all profits were automatically saved, capitalism would periodically fall in deep holes of its own making.’
However, Varoufakis went on to claim:
‘There is something important missing in Marx’s analysis of crashes and crises. What? The possibility that, when the ‘faeces hits the fan’, and some monumental, as opposed to run-of-the-mill, Crash occurs (as it did in 1929 and then again in 2008), capitalists will simply fail to play the game that Marx said they will. What game is that? Of investing in capital goods, production, labour, every penny they have accumulated as a result of past and present profits.’
But Marx did not make this distinction between ‘run-of-the-mill’ and ‘monumental’ crises. It might take longer but capitalism could still recover from a Crash with a capital C. Capitalism could always get out of the holes it periodically dug for itself -- and will until its gravediggers come along to bury it.

According to Yaroufakis, Keynes
‘instinctively understood something important about capitalism that Marx did not allow himself to dwell upon: that when capitalism digs a hole and then falls into it, it is perfectly capable of failing to climb out again. You see, the difference between Keynes and Marx was that Keynes believed in capitalism; he thought of it a little like Churchill thought of democracy (a terrible form of government but the best of all available alternatives). In fact, Keynes was eager to save capitalism from itself; to identify faults in its functioning and fix them so as to prevent crises from turning into implosions with the capacity to undermine its long term future. Marx, on the other hand, had an agenda for transcending capitalism (socialism, he called the ‘next’, more developed, phase)’.
Because he doesn’t think that the economic and political conditions during a big crisis are good for a socialist transformation of society, he argues that Keynes’s policy recipes should be tried to save capitalism from collapse so as to buy time for more favourable conditions for a changeover to socialism to emerge.

This won’t work. Surprisingly, Yaroufakis himself admitted this when he wrote in the same blog:
‘Marx was right: capitalism cannot be civilised by means of some benevolent government that applies the right dosage of fiscal and monetary policy at the right time.’
Another economics professor, who is advising the Syriza government, even understands what socialism involves:
‘The transition from capitalism to communism is necessarily related to the abolition of value form, i.e. money and commodity, and the form of enterprise’ (John Milios, The Critique of Political Economy as a Critique of the Left, Thesseis #101, 2007).
It’s not going to make any difference, though. The Syriza government won’t be able to civilise capitalism even if saves Greek capitalism.

Dulwich Hamlet F. C. and Ultras (2015)

The Action Replay Column from the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dulwich Hamlet F. C. are a non-league football team who play less than twenty minutes away from the head office of the Socialist Party in South London.

Vice magazine described them thus: ‘London's Left-Wing Utopian Non-League Ultras Are Reclaiming Football’ in the rather sensationalist title of their article (January 5). Ultras are football fans known for fanatical support and devotion to their club, primarily existing in Italian football. Ultras may use smoke flares, banners, wave flags, get involved in fanzines or instigate chants and songs at matches.

Like most, if not all, non-league clubs – at Dulwich, ticket prices are much more affordable than Premier League clubs. The fans at Dulwich call themselves the Rabble and, although the club has played since 1893, more recently some of the fans have been involved in creating a particular culture around the club.

Although the club is currently owned by a private company, the Hadley Property Group, a group of keen fans called ‘Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust’ seeks full or partial supporter/ community ownership of the club. The club culture commits to combating the prevalent homophobia in football, and the club’s players wore rainbow laces to this effect (the first non-league club to do so). The fans even publish their own website (dulwichhamlet.org), regular podcast ‘Forward the Hamlet’ and fanzine ‘The Moral Victory’ edited by Louis Daly.

A smaller group of fans, distinct from the Rabble, call themselves ‘the Comfast chapter’. The Comfast chapter, as with non-league Clapton F. C. ultras in North London, are more akin to famously left-wing ultras following F. C. St. Pauli in Germany. The Comfast chapter have slogans such as ‘Communism is inevitable’. Robert Molloy-Vaughan who runs Comfast was involved in a podcast called ‘This is Deep Play’ which was against commercialisation of football but described this as ‘For Future Football’ as opposed to the more negative ‘Against Modern Football’ slogan. However, Molloy-Vaughan does also write ‘football is actually a deeply flawed way of expressing yourself politically… [its] oppositional nature means you have guaranteed swathes ready to disagree with you no matter what you say, for tribal reasons.’
DJW

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The capitalist state (1999)

From the June 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
The state is based on minority rule. It was set up and exists in opposition to the majority and so can never be truly democratic.
The current state is owned and run by the kleptocratic class of capitalists, a tiny proportion of the population. Thus their state is predicated upon an opposition between the desire of the masses and the will of their clique. Their state is set up against the majority, because they can never be a majority. Their ideas, thinking, and tactics, are all those of a tiny minority. Could you ever imagine a counter-demonstration by capitalists: men in sharp pin-stripe suits converging on Trafalgar Square, chanting through loud-hailers "They say fight back, we say cut back! Tax the poor and make them pay!" It would never happen. It is not, and cannot ever be their way of making politics.
One of the ways in which the capitalists have managed to control the vast network of offices and bureaucracies that is the modern state has been through ensuring that most of the jobs are not up for democratic election. This has been managed through the power of appointment, and through the Public Appointments Unit (formerly Bureau), which was in fact secret until 1975. Before then, it had vetted and selected those "eligible" to serve as appointees of the state. This effectively meant that office-holders could be moulded to suit the requirements of the state and its masters. Cold War ideology strengthened this selection process, through using the threat of enemy "agents" as an internal control device (just as, on the other side, Stalin used "petit-bourgeois" and "Trotskyite" "traitors".) 
Unelected appointees
Nowadays, as a result of the Nolan Committee, the Public Appointments Unit publishes lists of appointees and selected details about them. A quick glance at the statistics suffices to show the scale of the operation. The Department of Social Security has 3,689 appointees listed by the PAU, the Department of Trade and Industry has 632, all of them placed upon committees or planning groups with significant powers over many people. Whether the appointments are paid or unpaid, they still carry a deal of responsibility, power and status with them, such that many wish to find themselves in such positions; thus not only can a government select the people that run the country. They can use this capacity to buy servility and toadying from such as want those posts.

The ultimate expression of this power of patronage and status, is the entire honours system, with the House of Lords at its apex, as was recently pointed out by those few MPs in parliament with a genuine commitment to democracy, when they proposed an Amendment to the Lord's Bill to have an elected second chamber. This debate is sure to show the real intents of the vast majority of power-seekers, when they vote to allow the government to retain the power of patronage to appoint people to the Lords. Tony Blair has already shown his zeal in using such powers of patronage, elevating Simon and Sainsbury so that he could have them in his government, and employing Lord Jenkins to conduct the commission into Proportional Representation. The existence of a non-elected second chamber means that only a minority of Parliament are elected; the ending of hereditary peerage appears to be more about ensuring that future governments can exercise power and patronage over the second chamber, rather than any genuine concern for democracy.
The way in which power is exercised through the executive's patronage, rather than through the democratic control of either parliament or the electorate, was brought out in an article in a recent issue of Private Eye (22 January), entitled "Return of the Whigs—or How the SDP (defunct) and Lib Dems (17 percent of the vote) got into Government". It featured a diagram, showing the relationships between several past and present members of the Lib Dems/SDP, (including Lord Jenkins) and how they all had privileged access to Whitehall, via Peter Mandelson, and a particularly powerful lobbying firm. This illustrates the direction of "the Blair Project", of using his Prime Minister's power of patronage to elevate people of like political opinions into positions of power, and side-line his reliance upon the elected party in Parliament. This tendency alone keeps power concentrated into the hands of a tiny few.
Elite selection
The campaigning leftwing journalist John Pilger has written about another feature of undemocratic practice in the existing state in his New Statesman column (16 October, 13 November, 27 November, 8 January). He discussed "The Successor Generation", a social networking group established by (among others) Rupert Murdoch, Sir James Goldsmith, Howard J. Pew (a right wing oil millionaire) and the Institute for Policy Research (founded by William Casey, a former head of the CIA). The aim of the group being (according to Ronald Reagan who presided over the 1983 launch at the Oval Office) "to have [Britain and America] work together on defence and security issues". Its foundation was due to the rising distrust of NATO in Britain among Labourite members, and its aim was to include the up and coming stars, the leaders of the future, among its "alumni".

Five members of Blair's original cabinet were alumni of the Successor Generation: George Robertson (now Defence Secretary, toadyingly supporting the Atlanticist line on attacks in Iraq and anywhere else that displeases America); Mo Mowlam (Northern Ireland Secretary, and Blair's Campaign manager for the Labour leadership contest); Peter Mandelson (formerly Blair's right hand man, and Minister for everything); Baroness Symons (Foreign Office Minister, up to her neck in the Sandline affair); Chris Smith (Culture Secretary) together with Jonathon Powell (Blair's Chief of Staff). All of these now powerful people were wined and dined by the Successor Generation, and made contacts there. It is not just politicians that are alumni, a number of BBC journalists, including Newsnight's Evan Davis, attend Successor Generation functions.
To highlight the Successor Generation is not to cry conspiracy theory, or allege corruption. Indeed, those that attend scoff at any idea that they may be being influenced by these little soirées. The point is, however, that it provides a framework, deliberately constructed, so that people who are going to be "the leaders of the future" (a highly undemocratic concept from the start) can network, form bonds and an identity, and get to know each other on a personal level, be friends. Evan Davies, to reject that any notion it is a sinister organisation, pointed out that British Airways back it and that this was a "respectable company". This is precisely the mind-set the organisation wishes to promote: that this is all just the harmless socialising provided by the rich and powerful, whose intent is benign. What once was accomplished solely through Eton and Oxbridge and other institutions of class privilege now has to be remade through private funding of millionaires—elite creation.
The involvement of William Casey with the Successor Generation hints at another form of elite control in the capitalist state, the secret agencies. The CIA currently has a budget of some $28 billion, a small fraction of which was able to be diverted to help the Successor Generation and like organisations in US client states. Likewise, the British secret services have long been a means of watching and controlling the political scene. MI5 agents have been implicated in the funding of fascist groups and Loyalist terrorists. Being secret, beyond accountability, and being powerful, they can form a state within a state, to unsubtly correct things when the usual systems of power run out of the elite's control.
Will of the majority
All of this goes to show how desperately the kleptocratic masters in this country try to keep mass involvement and democracy out, so that only the fig-leaf of parliamentary democracy exists to cover it over and give the state a semblance of democracy. It has been thus ever since the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, and the institution of the Bank of England and the National Debt, which combined to exercise control over the state (a role now performed by the IMF). Where once in a feudal state the warrior class kept power through warlike duties, the capitalist class exercises power in their state through ownership of money. The working class, likewise, must exercise its power through its sole asset—its work, and its collectivity. The tiny elite collectively own the state through money, the working class must take control of the state through democracy.

The form of the capitalist state is inherently predicated upon minority rule, and to re-create such a state as part of the workers' revolution would be to re-create minority rule. The one-man rule and dictatorship of the Soviet Union was not what Marx understood by the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat". For him this simply meant the dominance of the working class, the unequivocal, absoluteness of telling the capitalists "NO! that is no longer your factory!", "NO! Your money is now worthless!", an action that must be carried out by the will of the vast majority.
Since workers are only workers by dint of their positioned opposition to capital, and the masses only masses by dint of their opposition to an elite, the instant the working class performs that revolution, abolishes the minority state, abolishes capital, it abolishes itself as a class, and all classes along with it. Creating a new state upon the same lines as the capitalist state would only result in re-creating a ruling elite; which is precisely what happened in Russia. The working class is the agent of socialism not because of some objective superiority, or because of economic power, but because it is the class that undoes class—the negation of class and so of the state.
In a socialist world the whole population would be the state—so the state as such would cease to exist, replaced with the free, co-operative, democratic association of human beings. Hence the battle cry of socialists is "to convert the ballot box from a means of fraud into a means of liberation", and not to perpetuate the fraud of the democratic state in the name of a so-called "workers' state" ruling over the real individual lives of real members of the working class.
Pik Smeet

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Marx's Basic Theory (1998)

From the February 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
Karl Marx and Friederich Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto 150 years ago. In this article we look at the basic theoretical position that Marx developed.
Any analysis of society and its problems must, according to Marx, start in an examination of its processes of production. All human societies have to be concerned, before anything else, with the production and distribution of the means of life. By using tools and instruments to effect changes in nature, humans are able to satisfy their material and other needs through productive labour. It is this activity which Marx saw as being at the base of all societies.
Before humans can do almost anything at all they must satisfy certain basic needs, they must feed, clothe and house themselves. Production is "the first premise of all human existence . . . men must be in a position to live in order to be able to 'make history'" (The German Ideology).This approach, called by Marx and Engels the Materialist Conception of History or historical materialism, was for Marx, as he put it in his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, the "guiding thread" in his political studies.
Because humans produce their own means of life the means available to them to do so determines their level of existence. These are what Marx called the "productive forces" of society. The productive forces consist of means of production, and labour power. Means of production include tools, machinery, premises and infrastructure ("the means of labour"-what humans work with) and raw material ("the objects of labour"-what humans work on). Labour power (which enables them to work with means of production) includes strength, skill, knowledge and inventiveness.
It is the level of development of productive forces, and the way in which society organises their operation, which marks out the different stages of human development. It is "the multitude of productive forces accessible to men" which, Marx says, "determines the nature of society" (The German Ideology).
Marx took for granted that human beings are inventive and are continually improving the productive forces, and will not voluntarily give up advantages gained in the field of productive activity. This is the evidence of history. Productive advance is independent of the social form production takes. It is improvements in technology, improvements in the ability of human beings to win a living from nature, which cumulatively result in major changes in society. As an analogy we may take the invention of gunpowder making the reorganisation of armies necessary in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Marx had discovered that throughout history changes in the productive forces of society had made it necessary to radically change the organisation of human society. As a result of changes in the productive forces the economic structure of society (the "relations of production") had to change to accommodate the new situation. Because they were standing in the way of further development the old production relations had to make way for new ones.
Production relations
Production relations are of two kinds. Firstly there are those pertaining to ownership by persons, either individually or collectively, of productive forces. These regulate and control access to, and use of, the means of production. Secondly, relationships that structure the labour process but which are not that process. These depend on which type of ownership relations dominate a given society. In turn they regulate and control what is produced and when, in what quantities, and for what purpose. The economic structure of feudal society, for example, had to be changed because it had developed within it means of production that were being hampered from further development by the way that that society produced and exchanged wealth. The feudal relations of property "became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder" (Communist Manifesto). It was at this point that feudalism gave way to capitalism.
Marx believed capitalism had reached a similar stage in its expansion of the productive forces. They could not be further developed without plunging world society into periodic crises of overproduction. "The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them" (Communist Manifesto). The production relations of capitalism had to be replaced by new production relations, namely common ownership of the productive forces-communism (or socialism). Private ownership (that is property in the means of production) which still regulates and controls access to, and use of, the means of production has become "a fetter". They are operated in the interest of profit-making only, and not simply to satisfy human needs. In terms of technological knowledge the means to produce abundance now exists. Capitalism has solved the problem of production, but it cannot solve the problem of distribution. More and more can be produced with less and less labour. There is a "monstrous disproportion between the labour time applied, and its product". As has happened in the past social relations must change to accommodate expanding productive capability.
This was the conclusion reached by Marx and outlined in a passage in the Preface to his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in 1859. It explained his views on the development of human society:
In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general.
It appears from this passage that historical materialism is deterministic in at least the following senses:
1. Human beings cannot develop apart from society, and as material production is social they enter into social relations that are "given" by society.
2. That the society in which people live is the outcome of historical development and is by implication changeable.
3. The economic structure of society depends on the stage to which the productive forces have developed, and by implication cannot be changed by individual acts of will that ignore or try to circumvent these stages.
4. That the ideas of society are "conditioned" by the mode of production.
5. That changes in the economic structure that is the base (the "real foundation") of society give rise to changes in the "superstructure" and to changed ideas about how society should be structured.
From capitalism to socialism
Marx's analysis revealed that developments in the productive forces of society are working in favour of change. Marx showed that capitalism had outlived its social usefulness. It had fulfilled its historic role-that of developing the productive forces to such a point that it was both feasible and desirable to end class society and exploitation. It had compelled "all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production . . . to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image" (Communist Manifesto). Capitalism itself was producing the conditions for its own destruction by implementing changes that constantly increase productive capacities on a world scale. But it is unable to cope rationally with the productive resources of the planet and is constantly lurching from crisis to crisis. In other words the "material productive forces of society [are] in conflict with the existing relations of production" (Preface to A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy).
Marx's analysis shows that the socialist revolution must be world-wide and cannot be achieved in one country alone. Because capitalism has become a world-wide system the society to replace it must also be world-wide. Class emancipation must mean the "freeing of the whole of society from exploitation, oppression and class struggle . . ." (Engels's Preface to 1883 German edition of Communist Manifesto). Capitalism has made abundance a possibility, and made workable the "Communistic abolition of buying and selling . . . the moment when labour can no longer be converted into capital, money or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolised" (Communist Manifesto). As we in the Socialist Party predicted at the time of the Bolshevik insurrection it was not possible to have a socialist revolution in those countries in which capitalism had not yet fully developed and then to wait for the rest of the world to join in. The Bolsheviks had no possibility of introducing socialism. There is no "short cut" that can be implemented by a minority "vanguard" on behalf of the working class.
The change from capitalism to socialism requires the deliberate actions of men and women-it is not an automatic or mechanistic process. The task must be carried out democratically by those whose interests are most involved and who have the most to gain: that is, the working class. Changes to the economic structure of society have to be brought about through action on the political field. The owners of the means of production must be dispossessed by those who must first " . . . win the battle of democracy" (Communist Manifesto).
Before it is possible to have socialism a majority of the working class must understand what needs to be done. To be successful the socialist movement must be "the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority" (Communist Manifesto). In addition to the struggle over wages and conditions at work, the working class has to contest with the owners of the means of production on the political field in order to change the economic structure. It must "thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act . . . and the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish" (Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific).
Marx's "guiding thread" had led him through his studies to the conclusion that capitalism had brought into being a class that would be able to free itself from exploitation without having to rely on leaders to do it for them. "We cannot therefore co-operate", said Marx, in a criticism of Leninism before its time "with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must first be freed from above" (Letters to Bebel, Liebknecht and others, September 1879).
Gwynn Thomas

Socialism: Keeping it in the Human Family

From the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

The most common rebuttal of socialist society is that it is impossible to achieve because ‘you can't change human nature.’ Some people think that socialism sounds great but will never work in practice. They say it would only work in a world with perfect people. However, not only has ‘human nature’ changed many times in the past but there is no such thing as a static human nature. We are products of our environment, particularly of the wealth-producing system in which we live. People living under feudalism are motivated by feudal motives and think them natural and fixed, just as people living under capitalism are motivated by capitalist motives and mistakenly think those natural and fixed.

Many people fall back on this human nature argument. Unfortunately for them, the argument supports our position. Human beings lived for 200,000 years communally, and as recently as the 19th century in North America, Native Americans lived that way. They shared pretty much everything. It’s natural for us to do so. It’s natural for us to work together for the betterment of the family, the neighbourhood, the tribe, cooperatively. We evolved in that way, knowing we needed each other to survive and then building from there. The vast majority of us do not want to rule over others. We want to get along and live in harmony and cooperate with our fellows.

The monetary system doesn’t work. Money has outlived its role. Every human transaction is tainted by the influence of money. We are shackled to it, deprived of our liberty. It is not money we really need. We cannot eat money, or build houses with it. The money, private property and the exchange economy is just a hindrance. Socialism envisages a worldwide social system where the resources are considered the heritage of all the inhabitants of this planet. It’s not a utopian dream, it’s just a possible direction for society to take. It is the next step in the evolution and development of society, if we want it to be. Money and barter were required in times of scarcity. Today we live in abundance. There is enough on this globe (despite what the nay-sayers claim) for all to thrive – and what’s more – sustainably. We now have the knowledge and technology to provide easily for all human need. There is no shortage of land, food, building materials or the capacity to produce the things we need. There is plenty for all, for the benefit of all.

Socialism is feasible. We all know this first hand. A family operates as a form of socialism. From each of us come goods and services according to our abilities. To each of us, those goods and services are provided according to need. One or both parents go to work and provide the wherewithal to keep house. The children do not do outside work yet eat well every day. Everybody shares the domestic chores the best they can, everyone pitches in, does their bit. Parents bring home food and share it out equally. They strive to make sure each child is given his or her equal share of clothing, gifts for their birthdays and Christmas. Family members look after one another, taking care of each other when sick, and caring for frail elderly grandparents. The system works. Families also help out other families by simply being good neighbours. When we invite friends over, we share the meal, offering the guest first pick, the most generous portions, the choicest cuts and we don’t charge prices for it. Nor do we ration our advice and wisdom according to who can afford it. At work, throughout the day, we work cooperatively with our co-workers. We give of ourselves, our knowledge, sharing our skills, without asking for money in return, expecting nothing more than a ‘thank you’. So why don't we apply these rules to society at large? In fact, in various forms we have. Free access to health care for all via the NHS. Free primary and secondary school education. Free access to parks and. This is natural for the vast majority of us.

If you still need to be convinced and want to see an example of socialism in action, simply visit your local public library. Anyone can use the public library for free. Anyone can go to the library, browse its books, use their computers, check out its CDs, all for free. It is a community resource of many dimensions. The library is somewhere to go when there’s nowhere else to go. Marx had nothing against public libraries, having sat in the reading room of the British Library doing his research. Even an avowed capitalist such as Andrew Carnegie couldn’t deny the social benefit of libraries and used his philanthropy to build them. Use of the public library is not means-tested. No one is making a profit.  It provides a social good that cannot be measured in pounds and pence. The same model can be applied to every aspect of society. The library shows people on a daily basis that there is another way to do things besides relying on the private-owned for-profit capitalist market. Libraries are a model that must scare those powerful men and women who cannot abide the idea of a common public good not built on a profit model. Libraries are highly subversive. Perhaps that is why they are endeavouring to shut as many as possible down and a reason why we should resist these closures.

In the world socialist ‘family’ we will still have planning, a list of ‘household chores’ requiring to be done to achieve social justice and prevent ecological catastrophe. But it doesn’t have to be centrally planned by Big Brother. We do this locally, primarily. Local control, with integration into larger areas; neighbourhoods, towns, districts, regions and the world as a whole. As we get further away from the local, the planning becomes more and more generalised, with specifics left up to local economies. Within the plan, or more accurately, the plethora of linked plans basic questions are asked and answered. How can we grow the widest range of crops in a sustainable fashion? How can we have the widest range of foods in a sustainable fashion? How can we do all of this and treat animals in a humane, compassionate manner? How to make sure our water supply is always safe and clean? Does the product serve the social good? Is the product environmentally safe? Is it safe for individuals, for the young, the elderly? Is it sustainable? Does it work and play well with others, with other locales, different regions, and the planet as a whole? Do we actually need it? Broad guidelines create the umbrella, the boundaries, the general goals and pathways and all localities are represented in all other bounded areas. Localities are then free to implement the specifics according to what works for them, as long as these also fit in holistically with the rest of the communities. One family pulling together. And that one family owns the means of production. As in, all of us, together.
ALJO

Friday, March 6, 2015

SO NEAR AND YET SO FAR (1913)

From the December 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Saturday, November 29th, Capt. G. V. W. Lushington took Winston Churchill up in an aeroplane: on the following Wednesday he was killed. The accident might have happened at a much more opportune moment.