Thursday, April 30, 2015

Squeeze the Rich? (2015)

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

‘Tax the Rich’ is a popular slogan on the populist Left. ‘For progressive tax on rich corporations and individuals and an end to tax avoidance’ is one of the promises in the Trotskyist front organisation TUSC’s election manifesto. Further down the pyramid at constituency level this is simplified to ‘Stop the cuts: tax the super-rich’ and ‘Tax the 1%’.  Another Left populist candidate, Nick Long, standing for the Lewisham People Before Profit party, wrote to the Morning Star (4 February):

‘Taxing the super rich and getting tax-dodging corporations to pay their taxes can bring about an end to austerity.’

But would it? Could it . . ?

The rich, especially the super-rich, can certainly afford to pay more tax. Even the arguments put by their apologists don’t deny this. They concentrate on arguing that they shouldn’t be taxed too much, that if they were they’d move abroad or would no longer be prepared to work for capitalist firms in Britain. This would happen to some extent but confirms that capitalism is a world system and that any solution to the problem is not to be found at national level.  But the fact remains that the rich are rich enough to pay more tax out of their huge incomes and piles of accumulated wealth.

Would making them pay more tax end austerity? Austerity is the government cutting back on its spending so as to reduce the burden of taxation on profits in a slump as a way to help a profit-led recovery (the only way a recovery can come about). Increasing taxes on ‘rich corporations and individuals’ would allow the government not to have to cut its spending so much, but if more than a one-off would prove to be counter-productive.

The incomes of the rich come in the end, one way or the other, out of profits. Not all of it is spent on conspicuous consumption (in fact that’s against the logic of capital accumulation, which is what capitalism is all about). Most is saved and so comes to be re-invested in production to make further profits, a part of which will provide their future unearned incomes.

So taxing the rich is in the end a tax on profits. This is obvious in the case of taxes on ‘rich corporations’.  Corporation tax used to be called ‘profits tax’ and that’s what it still is: a direct tax on profits. As capitalism is a profit-driven system anything that reduces profits or makes profit-making more difficult will bring about an economic downturn. In a slump, as at present, it would delay any recovery.

Since you can’t tax the rich unless the rich continue to exist and continue to draw a taxable unearned income, i.e. unless capitalism continues to exist, TUSC and the other Left populists who chant ‘Tax the Rich’ are proposing the old failed reformist policy that the Labour Party used to espouse of redistributing income from profits to workers, but not even to try to improve workers’ conditions but merely to try to stop them getting worse.

It won’t work. In promoting the idea that it could, they are peddling the same sort of empty and unrealisable promises as the conventional politicians. The fact is that capitalism cannot be reformed to work in the interests of the wage and salary-earning working class and their dependents. The only way out is to replace capitalism – with its division into rich and the rest – altogether.

Coalition Politics (2015)

Editorial from the May 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Lib Dems have come up with a seemingly perfect alibi for the notorious betrayal of their promise to abolish the tuition fees that the previous Labour government had imposed:  that they were in a coalition government and this meant that they had to give up some of their promised policies in order to reach an accommodation with their partners in government.

Now that coalition governments seem to be the order of the day this is a get-out-of-jail card that all parties can play. And seemed to have been preparing to do so.  At least this is what was suggested by  the increasing extravagance of their promises as the election campaign went on. They seemed to know they would have a ready-made excuse for not honouring them.

Using the need to compromise with coalition partners as an alibi, however, is not one that will hold up. Most election promises cannot be honoured even if there is a single party government with a decent majority. That’s because they are promises to make capitalism work in a way that it simply cannot be made to.

An adequately funded NHS and affordable housing are examples. Such reforms cost money, money that can only come in the end, in however roundabout a way, from profits. But profits are the life-blood of the capitalist economic system. Which is why they have to be given priority over meeting people’s needs adequately. And why governments always end up according this priority, despite what they may have promised.

The only way a government could, for instance, get more affordable houses built (apart, that is, by giving people more money to spend,  but nobody would believe any party that promised that) would be to subsidise this. Houses are built by profit-seeking companies and these are not going to invest in building houses to sell to people who cannot afford to buy them. Left to themselves, they invest in building houses for people  who can afford them; these days, upmarket  houses and flats for the better off, whether bought to live in, rent out or leave empty as a speculative financial asset.

The money to subsidise affordable housing – or an adequate health service or reducing inequality or eliminating child poverty or any of the other laudable promises we heard – would have to come either out of taxation, which will ultimately fall on profits, or from borrowing from the rich, which will incur legally-binding interest charges which will have to be paid out of taxation.

Any government which reduced take-home profits in this way to promote a better life for people would provoke an economic slowdown. Which would create other problems for people. It’s a lose-lose situation but one that is built-in to capitalism.

Coalition politics won’t end this. All it will do is provide parties with another specious excuse for not honouring promises which can’t be honoured anyway. Just wait and see.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Body Parts (2015)

The Material World Column from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
In capitalism, anything can be sold for a profit, including human beings. The sickening trades in humans whether as bonded labour or sex slaves is still prevalent. Selling body parts is now a normal everyday business. Organs Watch conservatively estimates that at least 10,000 kidneys are sold each year and generates an illicit profit of around a billion dollars a year. Organ trafficking is the commercialisation of medicine: more transplants mean more profit. Everything that is happening is a ‘donation’, but in real life, it is selling and buying.
This buying and selling transplant organs is illegal almost everywhere yet the trade persists, as a result of two major flaws in the transplant system, according to experts. First, the law does not prohibit anyone from billing for the services involved in transplanting organs. This provides doctors and hospitals with a financial incentive to perform transplants, while the costs of the organ are absorbed into the larger transaction and easily hidden from view. The second flaw is the practice of making organ donation anonymous. You can buy an organ without knowing where it came from, and it thus becomes mere tissue rather than part of a human being. Anonymity does not merely dehumanise donors; it also endangers them by making it easier for buyers and brokers to escape accountability for deaths and injuries.
The organ trade follows a clear pattern: rich people buy the organs, and poor people sell them. Organ trafficking depends on several factors. One is people in distress. They are economically disadvantaged. On the demand side are people who could die if they don't receive an organ transplant. Then there are the well-connected organ brokers, who arrange the deals between sellers and buyers. Well-equipped clinics and medical staff are needed. Unlike other forms of trafficking, the organ trade unites the respectable from the highest levels of society, such as laboratory technicians and the surgeons with the disreputable of the lowest strata of society – con-men and criminals, those brutal enforcers who make sure that ‘willing’ sellers actually lie on the operating table once it is realised by them what is actually entailed and they begin to understand how they have been cheated.
Few are informed or educated enough to give consent. They do not comprehend the seriousness of the surgery or what they are likely to face in respect to the possible incapacity to resume their normally physically demanding jobs. Organ brokers have told them the fairy tale of ‘the sleeping kidney’: one kidney sleeps, the other kidney works, so people don’t need two kidneys. Doctors wake up the sleeping kidney and take away the old kidney to give it to the recipient. Those selling their kidneys often receive more invasive surgery than necessary because buyers want to avoid extra expense. Many donors will have unnecessarily long scars of about 15 to 20 inches on their bodies, not knowing that if the brokers or recipients paid just a little bit more, the surgeons could have used laparoscopic surgery, which requires an incision as small as 3 or 4 inches.
Doctors say a kidney operation is a routine procedure; it saves a life and there is no harm to the donors. The whole recruitment of donors is a package of deception, manipulating the uneducated poor. The middlemen beyond taking large profits, encourage the trade by assuring buyers that the transaction is conducted ethically and that the medical benefits justify what would otherwise be seen as exploitation.
‘The crimes are covered up,’ Scott Carney writes in his book The Red Market ‘in a veil of altruistic ideals.’ Carney estimates he is personally worth $250,000 if he was sold for body parts. ‘. . . bodies are unquestionably commodities . . . As a product, bodies aren't assembled new in factories filled with sterile suited workers; rather they are harvested like used cars at scrap markets. Before you can write a check and pick up human tissue, someone needs to transform it from a tiny piece of humanity into something with a market value . . .’
There are those who will say ‘so what?’ And in a world where money can buy anything, and everything is fair game for profit-makers, what's to stop people from turning human parts into another commodity? In a world that is governed by the principle of supply and demand, where those with money can buy anything, the inevitable result is a world in which rich recipients look for markets where they can buy body parts. The sad reality is that some poor person somewhere in the world will be forced to sell.
Capitalism can indeed be described as being vampire-like, sucking the life out of the poor, imagery often used by Marx.
ALJO

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Let’s Stand Together for a Better World (2015)

From the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ever felt voting was a waste of time?

Usually, this is true, because the big parties support the current system. They change a few laws, shift money around; but in the end profits always come first and those on top stay on top.

Is this the only way?  We can put space probes onto comets, restore sight to the blind and perform triple heart bypass operations:  we have the brains to sort out a better system, one where we will be producing to satisfy people’s needs not for profit, where no one has to live in poverty while an elite are wealthy beyond imagining.

The Socialist Party believes in a society of cooperation, in helping each other, not exploiting our neighbours. We believe that power should be shared, not  in the hands of a greedy few.

Who controls how much you are paid, where you work, when you work or even if you work? Who decides how much it costs you to live where you are? You probably have almost no say in any of these issues which have a big effect on you. But what can you do about it?

Those who benefit from the present system would have you believe there is no alternative. It helps them if you believe it – although it does nothing for you.

You don’t have to believe you are powerless.  If you choose not to support this any more and vote socialist you will be one of an increasing number questioning the system.  You will be signalling your consent to a world cooperative society where wealth is produced and owned in common and freely shared according to need. A truly democratic society where decisions are made for the common good rather than for the gain of vested business interests. Where you have as much say as the next person regardless of position in life or occupation.

We have seen the world over that when an idea has the support of the majority of the population, nothing can stop it. To send a signal that you want this, vote for the Socialist Party candidate, and then come and join us, not to mend the current system but to build a movement strong enough to end it.

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The Socialist Party will be standing ten candidates in the coming general election, more than we have ever put up before. Half a million leaflets will be distributed in total in the chosen constituencies, which are:

Brighton Kemptown: Jacqueline Shodeke

Brighton Pavilion: Howard Pilott

Canterbury: Robert Cox

Easington: Steve Colborn

Folkestone & Hythe: Andy Thomas

Islington North: Bill Martin

Oxford East: Kevin Parkin

Oxford West & Abingdon: Mike Foster

Swansea West: Brian Johnson

Vauxhall: Danny Lambert

If you wish to help out in the campaign email us at spgb@worldsocialism.org or phone 02076223811 or text (only) 07732831192. We will put you in touch with the local branch election committee.

If you wish to help financially please make any cheque out to “The Socialist Party of Great Britain” and send to 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN. Alternatively, you can use paypal (go to our website http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/ and scroll down to the bottom).  Electoral law compels us to check and record any donations of over £50 but not for those of £50 or less.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Obituary: Dick Donnelly (2015)

Obituary from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many members of the World Socialist Movement will be saddened by the passing of Dick Donnelly. For 58 years he was a speaker, organiser and writer for the Socialist Party of Great Britain and was contributing to the Socialist Standard to the very end, including last month’s ‘Voice from the Back’ column.

He was only a teenager when he was introduced to socialism by the family lodger who was, luckily for us, a Party member, and when Dick finished National Service in 1957 he joined the Party. This was at a time when the Party and Glasgow Branch were at a low ebb. After WW2 public interest in politics had never been greater but during the post-war reconstruction the public's interest in politics eventually turned into apathy.

However, Dick's determination not only revived the Party in Glasgow but he helped get it involved in more activity than ever before. Three parliamentary and numerous city council elections were contested, huge amounts of Party literature were sold door to door, far more outdoor and indoor meetings were held and Dick was the driving force behind it all.

He soon became a first-class speaker, especially outdoors where he was in his element. Even people who may not have been much interested in politics came to hear him because they liked his quick wit and caustic humour. Dick was as much an entertainer as a propagandist and his wit gave him the ability to drub hecklers, especially political opponents. An example of this was at an outdoor meeting in Glasgow when a large number of aggressive Communists were in the audience. Dick ridiculed and exposed their Party and its hypocrisy to such an extent that by the end of the meeting the aggression had turned into sullen silence.

During the 1960s and 70s Dick's speaking made him so well known in Glasgow that people recognised him in streets and pubs. It was the same in Edinburgh where he had often spoken at meetings at The Mound. This was a large open space in the very heart of the city and was Edinburgh's equivalent of Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park in London. Dick addressed big crowds at The Mound, especially during the Edinburgh Festival when many overseas visitors could hear the case for socialism and it always got a sympathetic hearing. He made a big enough impression to be interviewed at The Mound for BBC TV and when it was screened Dick performed like a seasoned professional.

Dick spoke at meetings the length and breadth of Britain. Nowhere was too far and he even travelled from Glasgow to the deepest south west of England to represent the Party in a debate with a local MP. Dick’s entire political life was devoted to the Socialist Party and he talked about socialism wherever he could, even in his British Rail workplace where he made many friends and even a few Party members. He always kept in close touch with them and they were affectionately  known as ‘The Railway Children’; a large number of them were present at the funeral.

Over the years Dick also visited comrades in New Zealand, Australia, America and attended the founding in Calcutta of our Companion Party in India. He just couldn't stop doing what he could for the World Socialist Movement.

The SPGB has never had any use for leaders, but what it has always had are members who made outstanding contributions to the Party and Dick Donnelly was certainly among them. His passing has left a huge gap in our ranks and he will be a hard act to follow. We extend our deepest condolences to his daughters Paula and Laura.
V.V.

There’s a General Election Coming (2015)

Editorial from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

There will soon be a General Election in Britain. We predict now with complete certainty that the Conservatives, Labour, Liberals, UKIP, etc, and the Green Party, will all be standing on programmes of keeping – not ending – capitalism. They will each dress it up differently, they will each claim to have different priorities, values, intentions and even policies.

But whichever ones succeed in getting the power they seek, they will not really be in control. Their actions will be determined by the needs of the market system which they accept, support, endorse and seek to run. The market system which exists to protect and increase the power and wealth of a tiny minority.

Ask any of them about a world without the capitalist system which is at the root of all of our problems, and they will cry in chorus, ‘no! it’s utopian! not possible! not now! maybe in a thousand years! we need to work within the system! we can change and improve it from within!’They have been saying this for a couple of hundred years and, not surprisingly, this system therefore still exists, with all the same problems it has always generated.

If you do not support this insane system of global destruction and poverty then do not vote for any of these politicians pretending to be able to tame the beast. The solution is production for need, not profit. Common ownership of productive resources, not private or state ownership. Genuine democracy, not the token democracy of one vote twice a decade between versions of the same sick joke.

At the heart of all our problems is the fact that a tiny handful of under 1 percent own and control all of the world's productive resources. It is run for them. None of these parties, including the Greens, Labour, Liberals, UKIP, etc as well as Conservatives, has the slightest intention of ending that fact or even discussing it. We therefore have to laugh at them all with the derision they deserve and take steps to organise for a better future.