Friday, January 16, 2015

Government or Democracy? (2001)

From the May 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Should we vote in a new government? Or should we link up with the struggle to usher in a democratic society?
We are being asked to elect a new government through what is said to be a democratic process. It is true that the vote, together with other hard-won rights such as the rights of assembly, political organisation and free expression, are most important. But can the act of electing a government result in a democratic society?
To govern is to direct, control and to rule with authority. Operating as the state this is what governments do. But to say that democracy is merely the act of electing a government to rule over us cannot be right because democracy should include all people in deciding how we live and what we do as a community. Democracy means the absence of privilege, making our decisions from a position of equality. Democracy means that we should live in a completely open society with unrestricted access to the information relevant to social issues. It means that we should have the powers to act on our decisions, because without such powers decisions are useless. So, be it Labour, Liberal, Tory or rule by any other kind of government, how does the operation of the state measure up to what socialists argue should be a democratic society?
For socialists the rule of government can never be democratic. Though it may include some incidental functions arising from the needs of people the main work of the state is the running of class-divided society; a system of economic exploitation. In the main governments work for a privileged section of society. They make the laws which protect the property rights of a minority who own and control natural resources, industry, manufacture and transport. These are the means of life on which we all depend but most of us have no say in how they are used. Behind Parliament governments operate in secret. They are part of the division of the world into rival capitalist states. With the back-up of their armed forces they pursue national capitalist interests. Though the politicians who run it may be elected, the state is the opposite of democracy
Production is owned and controlled by companies, some of them multinational corporations with massive economic power making the decisions on what should be produced for the markets for sale at a profit. Through corporate authority they decide how goods should be produced and the conditions in which work is done. Again, this is the opposite of democracy
Real democracy

So, how would democracy be fulfilled in socialism? This requires the abolition of the state and its replacement by a system of democratic administration. This can only work from a basis of common ownership and production solely for use. Common ownership means that all people throughout the world will stand in equal relationship with each other. This will be an association of all men and women making the decisions and co-operating to produce goods and organise communities in their mutual interests.

The democratic organisation of all people as citizens of the world would need to operate through different scales of social co-operation. Locally, in town or country, we would be involved with our parish or neighbourhood. Even now, there are many thousands of men and women throughout the country who work voluntarily on parish and district councils and in town neighbourhoods for the benefit of their communities. But these efforts would be greatly enhanced by the freedoms of a society run entirely through voluntary co-operation.
Such local organisation would be in the context of regional co-operation which could operate by adapting the structures of present national governments. Whilst some departments such as Inland Revenue and the Treasury, which are essential to the state would be abolished, others like Agriculture and the Environment could have an important job to do, especially in the early days of socialism. Such structures - adapted to the needs of socialist society - could be part of regional councils and would assist in the work of implementing the decisions of regional populations.
During the early days of socialism it is likely that the organisation of world co-operation would need to take place through a world council. Because the things we need now are produced and distributed through a world structure of production, and because its present capitalist nature has brought about immense problems, action to solve them would be required on a world scale, For example, it would be a priority to set up an ecologically benign world energy system as soon as possible. Similarly, the countless millions of people suffering from hunger and desperate poverty would need a considerable increase in food production. For this work the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN would at last be able to use its expertise and knowledge of world conditions to help with solving the problems of malnutrition. Again, to begin with, people in socialism would face a huge task in providing every person with secure and comfortable housing. This would call upon the efforts of communities throughout the world, especially in those regions where means of production were well developed. Such world projects could be co-ordinated through appropriate departments of a world council.
When we propose different scales of social co-operation such as local, regional and world scales, this is not a question of there being a hierarchy with power located at any central point. What we anticipate is both an integrated and flexible system of democratic organisation which could be adapted for action to solve any problem in any of these scales. This simply takes into account that some problems and the action to solve them arise from local issues and this also extends to the regional and world spheres.
Carrying out decisions

Crucial to the question of democracy is not just the ability to make decisions about what to do but also the powers of action to carry out those decisions. For many years, capitalist politicians seeking office have promised to solve the housing problem together with the problems of poverty, unemployment, pollution, crime, the health service and many more. They have failed because in fact they seek to run a system driven by profit, which imposes severe economic limitations on what can be done and which as a result cannot be rationally controlled. This makes a mockery of the idea of democracy. But with the abolition of the market system, communities in socialism will not only be able to make free and democratic decisions about what needs to be done they will also be free to use their resources to achieve those aims.

The apologies that we hear almost every day from capitalist politicians that they lack the money resources to solve problems indicates how completely the fetishism of money has distorted their thinking. In fact problems are not solved with money resources. They are solved by people using their labour, skills and the necessary materials and there is in fact an abundance of these material resources. But it will take the relations of common ownership to release them for the needs of communities and this will also mean that communities will be free to decide democratically how best to use those resources.
The corporate authorities or managerial systems which now dictate how production units such as factories or services should be run would be replaced. Small units could be run by regular meetings of all the workers. In the cases of large organisations these could be run by elected committees accountable to the people working in them. In this way, democratic practice would apply not just to the important policy decisions that would steer the main direction of development, it would extend to the day-to-day activities of the work place.
But democracy would not be confined to the serious work of production and the running of the work place. People in socialism will be free to create sporting and other cultural festivals. The entertainment of visitors from other parts of the world would bring diversity and richness to local life. The possibilities for decision making and the planning and enjoyment of such events are endless.
Socialism opens up a great range of new possibilities. With the populations of all countries co-operating as one people, working together in their common interests whilst celebrating their cultural differences and joining in democratically deciding a new future, the prospects can only be seen as exciting. What a contrast with the dreary prospects of electing yet another capitalist government and giving a further lease of life for an out-dated capitalist state.
Pieter Lawrence

Trotskyism (1985)

Book Review from the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Stalinist Legacy, edited by Tariq Ali, Penguin, £4.95

My heart sank on seeing over five hundred closely-printed pages on such a well-worn topic as Stalinism. Having persevered to the end of all twenty chapters, I can only say that my misgivings were well-founded: the view that the horrors of recent Russian history have been essentially due to the shortcomings of one man is developed here at great length and in a depressingly turgid style.

Things start badly, with Tariq Ali's introduction claiming that the book provides "a Marxist critique of Stalinism", when in fact it adopts a purely Trotskyist perspective. Ali's dismissal of the Marxist thesis that Russia is state capitalist is utterly dishonest. He claims that virtually everyone who sought to categorise Russia as neither socialist nor post-capitalist (as state capitalism or bureaucratic collectivism) "ultimately ended up as an apologist for capitalism". The fact that this is true of people like James Burnham apparently gives Ali an excuse to ignore the only consistent analysis of Russia as state capitalist—that put forward by the Socialist Party for the last sixty-five years.

One of the chapters is an essay by Trotsky in which he also attempts to counter the view that Russia is state capitalist. Again, the argument is mere sleight of hand: since the Russian system us supposedly progressive, and the kind of capitalist state'ism found in Fascist Italy and Germany is reactionary, therefore Russia cannot be state capitalist. This blithely ignores the existence there of wage labour, commodity production and class struggle.

Perhaps the worst contribution is Marcel Liebman's "Was Lenin a Stalinist?" This aims to justify the Bolsheviks' dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, in which they formed a minority. Liebman sees all electoral procedures as paralysing social progress: "The revolutionary is a bad voter, and the voter a poor revolutionary". This just reflects Leninists' belief in their own ability to lead and manipulate ordinary working people.

The book is not completely worthless. It contains in full Khrushchev's Secret Speech to the 1956 Russian Party Congress, the one which launched "de-Stalinisation", and there are interesting selections on Albania and Czechoslovakia. There is even a bit of light relief: leading left-wing economist Ernest Mandel proclaims, presumably in all seriousness, that "it is difficult to define closely what socialism is"! Don't worry, we'll be sending him a copy of the Socialist Standard.
Paul Bennett

CND and SPGB (1963)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

You claim in your April issue that CND's main fault lies in the fact that its members "are concerned with removing evils in isolation". I am pleased to tell you that the rank and file of the Campaign, unlike the "respectable" CND bureaucracy, seems to be in the process of realising more and more that nuclear weapons cannot be separated from politics and the fight for socialism. The folly of viewing the H-bomb as an isolated issue will, I am sure, be demonstrated finally in the overwhelming defeat of INDEC's candidate at Twickenham. The identity of war with capitalism has long been clear to those who are both CND supporters and members of the Socialist wing of the Labour Party. I know that the SPGB has little time for the Labour Party, and I imagine that you will consider it against your interests to publish a letter from somebody who favours membership of that organisation, but the fact remains that there are socialists in the Labour Party whose ideals are precisely the same as your own. Personally I think that this country will become socialist by the Labour Party becoming socialist, which seems far more likely than the SPGB forming the Government.

Although the reforms of a Labour Government will not, of course, bring socialism, nor will grinding the workers down, or starving them, one can fight for alleviation of the most immediate and harmful social problems, such as unemployment or the threat of nuclear war, yet still have socialism as one's long term goal. I hope you will not deny that the working class will be better off under a Labour Government even though capitalist society remains, and in the particular fight against nuclear weapons, which are the greatest danger to the human race, socialists in the Labour Party are able to enlist the help of many left-reformists, I fear that if we must wait for the SPGB to come to power and for Britain to become socialist before we can disarm, then there is every likelihood of our destruction. If you print this letter I shall be interested to read your answer.

 Richard D. Condon
Exeter College, Oxford.

This is not the first—nor will it be the last—time we have heard the complaint that an organisation's rank and file are sincere, convinced socialists who are being frustrated by reactionary, "respectable" leaders (although it is interesting to hear this from a member of CND, which was once supposed to the non-respectable organisation!) But if there are so many socialists in CND, why are their convictions never reflected by their leadership? Why, indeed, do they have leaders at att? It is one of the hallmarks of a socialist that he rejects leadership.

Mr. Condon can make what he likes of the big defeat which seems to be the prospect of the INDEC candidate at Twickenham. In fact any such candidate will fail simply because the working class continue to oppose the policies of CND; they still want British capitalism to have the most powerful armaments it can get. CND's lack of electoral appeal is most clearly acknowledged by the many Labour MPs who, although they support the Campaign, do not risk losing their seats by standing as pure unilateralist candidates.

If there are members of the Labour Party whose "ideals are precisely the same" as ours, why are they not members of the SPGB? Why do they remain in a party which is committed to running British capitalism? Mr. Condon does not think that the Labour Party will get socialism by reforms; but they have nothing else to offer apart from reforms, all of which leave capitalism intact and viable.

It is true that starving people are no more likely to be interested in Socialism than are the well fed. Mr. Condon uses this as a justification for a policy of reforms. Yet the facts say that reforms do nothing to alleviate the problems of capitalism. Despite all the reformers' efforts, problems like poverty, unemployment and war are still clouds over our lives. World Refugee Year, for example, was an attempt to reform the refugee problem. But at the end of that year there were more refugees in the world than there had been at the beginning. It will be interesting to see what effect the current Freedom from Hunger Campaign has on the level of malnutrition and starvation in the world.

In fact, the only effective reform would be to abolish capitalism altogether. To compromise on this—to support reforms while professing Socialism as a "long term goal"—is to support capitalism and therefore to cease to be a Socialist.

Will the working class be better off under a Labour Government? The last Labour administration persistently fought the working class on the issue of wages and did their best to hold wages down. They ruthlessly crushed strikes. They unhesitatingly went into the Korean War. They started making the nuclear armaments which Mr. Condon now wants to ban.

Perhaps Socialism is a long way off. What is certain is they it will not be helped by people like Mr. Condon, who support capitalist organisations like CND and the Labour Party. These organisations have spread an enormous load of confusion about Socialism among the working class. Mr. Condon is himself confused; he talks about "the SPGB forming the government" and about waiting for "the SPGB to come to power" and "for Britain to become Socialist". Socialism will not happen just in Britain or any other one part of the world; it will be an international social system. And it will not have governments and state machines and all the other coercive organs of capitalism. Thus the SPGB will never come to power, never form a government. When Socialism is established we shall cease to exist as a political party.

One final point. We are pleased to receive, and to publish, Mr. Condon's letter. We welcome criticism and discussion of the case of Socialism from all our opponents. We hope that many more of them will write to us.

The War in Gaza (2015)

From the January 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
The concluding part of our series on capitalism’s ongoing wars
The Israeli-Palestine war in Gaza last year was yet another round of fighting in a conflict that began in 1948 when the state of Israel was established. The Palestinians have no chance whatsoever of militarily overcoming Israel. Israel's economic might with its GDP of around $110 billion overshadows the Palestinian GDP of $4.2 billion.
In the 50-day military operation by Israel against the Palestinian people in Gaza in July to September 2014, 2,199 Gazans were killed, 70 percent of them civilians, 10,895 were wounded and 65,000 people left homeless. A third of hospitals were destroyed or damaged. Mufeed al-Hasayneh, Minister of Public Works, said Israel's offensive on Gaza has caused over $5 billion of damage to homes and infrastructure. Some 10,000 homes have been completely destroyed, and 30,000 homes partially destroyed. In Shujaiyya, where some 110,000 people live, 60 percent of the homes were completely destroyed (Ma'an News Agency, 5 August 2014). The tunnels between Gaza and Egypt which were bringing $700 million into Gaza's economy through goods or services were destroyed by bombing.
Israel destroyed 134 Gazan factories, and bombed Gaza's main power station. Without power to run treatment plants, untreated sewage was dumped directly into the Mediterranean Sea contaminating fish and sickening fishermen. The Food and Agriculture Organization reported that extensive damage to Gaza's agricultural sector had 'forced farmers and herders to abandon their lands and has paralysed fishing activities, bringing local food production to a halt and severely affecting livelihoods.' Losses among Gaza's fishing sector were estimated at 234.6 tons, or about 9.3 percent of the yearly catch. Farming gives a livelihood to 19,000 Gazans, while 6,000 people work in livestock raising and 3,600 in the fishing industry. The Israeli military also killed cows and camels. The FAO report went on to say 'The recent fighting has resulted in substantial direct damage to Gaza's 17,000 hectares of crop lands as well as much of its agricultural infrastructure, including greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal farms, fodder stocks and fishing boats' (Ma'an News Agency, 16 August 2014). Gaza factory owner Mohammad al-Telbani said 'This is a war on our economy' (Guardian, 22 August 2014).
Capitalist development
Palestinian capitalist development in Gaza is fettered by the Israeli state. The Gaza Strip was occupied by Israel from 1967 until 2005 but has been under siege by Israel since then. Gaza has a population of 1.8 million Palestinians, and over half of these are children who live in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The Israeli blockade means the borders and airspace are controlled by Israel so that foodstuffs, building materials, fuel and medical supplies have to be brought in via tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. Even livestock is transported through these tunnels. The fishing industry is restricted to within 3 km of land and thus 85 percent of its fishing waters are inaccessible due to Israeli imposed restrictions. As for farmland 35 percent of Gaza's farmland is inaccessible, and farmers are unable to get pesticides, fertilizers needed for their crops or permits from the Israeli government to export what they manage to produce.
Even the historical symbol of the Levant, the olive tree, has come under attack from the Israeli state. Thousands of olive trees have been cut down, devastating the Palestinian economy, and some of the ancient trees are dug up and transported to Israel and abroad for sale. The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights reports that 'since 1967 Israeli authorities have uprooted or destroyed more than one and a half million trees, 70 percent of which were olive trees, the staple crop of Palestinian rural communities' (Middle East Monitor, 2010). Olives are the lifeblood of Palestinian agriculture, almost the only crop which grows on the stony hillsides of the West Bank without irrigation. Palestinian agriculture and people have always depended on the water of lakes and springs in the fertile hills of the West Bank as well as the Jordan river. Since 1967, these water sources have been taken into the control of Israel, which has drained lakes near Tiberias and rerouted the Jordan river to take the water to Israel. One of the results is the drying up of the Dead Sea. Palestinians are now having to buy back their water from settlements and Israeli companies.
The founders of the Israeli state in 1948 forced into exile about 800,000 Palestinian people in what is known as the 'Al-Naqba' or 'catastrophe' which was compounded in 1967 when a further 325,000 Palestinians became refugees. The 1948 UN Resolution 194 states Palestinians have the right to return to their homes. Today over 6 million Palestinians live as refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom still live in overcrowded refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Emma Goldman in her 1938 work On Zionism identified 'Zionism as the dream of capitalist Jewry the world over for a Jewish State with all its trimmings, such as Government, laws, police, militarism and the rest. In other words, a Jewish State machinery to protect the privileges of the few against the many.' The founders of Israel sought to expel as much of the Arab majority as they could and make their profits by creating an almost all-Jewish working class in the mistaken belief 'it is better to be exploited by one's fellow countrymen' (Marx 1848). Israel is the most economically and socially developed capitalist nation state in the Middle East with a large working class. It is a bourgeois democracy but also a sectarian state. Israeli capitalism not only exploits the Jewish working class but also a Palestinian working class and migrant labour. Palestinians in the state of Israel comprise 20 percent of the population and face discrimination, and are considered to be second class citizens because the very definition of a Jewish state excludes them.
According to the OECD '21 percent of Israelis live in poverty, the highest among developed countries that are part of the OECD' (Haaretz, 15 May 2013). At the bottom of the economic pyramid are the African migrants from Eritrea and the Sudan who cannot legally work but are used as cheap labour in hotel, restaurant and cleaning companies, and when arrested are put in detention centres such as the one in the Negev desert. Next there are the Bedouin Arabs who live in unrecognized villages unconnected to water and electricity systems. The 2005 National Insurance Institute reported that 52 percent of Palestinians in Israel lived below the poverty line as opposed to 16 percent of Jewish Israelis, and unemployment averages more than 50 percent for Palestinians (Sawt el-Amel: The Laborer's Voice, 2006). In 2011, the average monthly salary of Ashkenazi Jews was 33 percent above the average, whereas the monthly salary for urban Palestinian citizens was the exact opposite: 33 percent below the average (Oligarchy in the Holy Land, 3 December 2013).
The Palestinian struggle for their own capitalist state was controlled for decades by Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which are bourgeois, secular, 'leftist' Pan-Arab nationalists but they came to a dead end after years of conflict with the Israeli state. In the 1990s Fatah collaborated with the Israeli government which would lead to the rise of Hamas in Gaza. Essentially the Palestinian Authority controlled by Fatah could not meet the basic economic needs of the Palestinian people, and this led to the success of Hamas in the Gazan elections of 2006.
Hamas, also a bourgeois nationalist organization, was established in 1987, and proposes an Islamist capitalist Palestinian state based on a 1947 Palestine. Hamas is an abbreviation for 'Islamic resistance movement' but also means 'force and bravery' and has its origins in the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Hamas are not only anti-Zionist but also anti-Semitic, and are trying to bridge the divide that separated Palestinian nationalism and Islamism, a twin track policy of a national liberation struggle and a jihad which aims 'to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine' (Covenant of the Hamas, 1988). Hamas are wealthy because they have rich backers from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states such as Qatar.
The Palestinian working class are organized in the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) which is a Fatah organization that has not had any elections since 1981. The rise of the
Federation of Independent and Democratic Trade Unions & Workers' Committees in Palestine, representing workers in independent, democratically-elected unions and workers' committees across the West Bank and Gaza has threatened the Fatah PGFTU. After a protest outside the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza in 2005, the PGFTU asked the Palestinian security services to investigate the Independent Workers' Committees Federation and the Democracy and Workers' Rights Center.
The split in the Palestinian bourgeoisie between Fatah and Hamas suits the Israeli state but in April 2014 Israel became very angry at the reconciliation deal agreed between Fatah and Hamas, and threatened to withhold tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Was the offensive against Gaza last year an Israeli attempt to sabotage the deal between Hamas and Fatah, to isolate Hamas and punish Fatah for the rapprochement? But even Fatah entered the conflict in July 2014 with missiles launched against Israel by Fatah in the West Bank. Amin Maqboul, Secretary-General of Fatah's Revolutionary Council said Palestinians were united against the Israeli assault: 'We all know that the main Israeli goal has been to break up the national unity reconciliation. We will respond by strengthening our unity and reconciliation' (Palestine Pulse, 10 July 2014). Israel's anger was evident when it said 'The moderate Palestinian leadership has shown its true colours. It sides with the terrorists, not with Israel' (Arutz Sheva, 16 July 2014).
After the war last summer, in September 2014 Fatah and Hamas reached an agreement that would turn over the civil administration of Gaza immediately to officials of a Palestinian unity government which would attempt to ease the long blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt and open the way to reconstruction of Gaza. Jibril Rajoub, a senior official in Fatah announced 'Fatah and Hamas have reached a comprehensive agreement for the unity government to return to the Gaza Strip' (Al-Arabiya, 25 September 2014).
Nationalism divides
Both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism hold back the growth of class consciousness among the working class in Israel and Palestine but something extraordinary occurred in the summer of 2011 during the social justice protests in Israel inspired by the 'Arab Spring.' In Israel there was an increasing public awareness of the minority ownership of the economy developing. For instance,  in 2009 Israel’s central bank stated in its annual report that 'some twenty business groups, nearly all of family nature and structured in a pronounced pyramid form, continue to control a large proportion of public firms (some 25 per cent of firms listed for trading) and about half of market share' (Renewal: A journal of social democracy, January 2012).
The summer 2011 social justice protests that erupted helped unite the Jewish and Palestinian working class in Israel.  Jewish working class activists signed a covenant of cooperation with the Palestinian activists and they chanted mixed Hebrew and Arabic renditions of slogans from Tahrir Square. Arab writer Odeh Bisharat addressed a meeting of 300,000 people and announced that the struggle for social justice has always been the struggle of the Arab community, and the people shouted 'Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies' (The New Significance, 17 August 2011). For a brief time that summer the Israeli and Palestinian working class saw itself as a class.
Emma Goldman claimed the origin of the Arab-Israeli war stemmed from the fact that 'the Arab feudal lords had sold the land to the Jews without the knowledge of the Arab people.'
Goldman concluded that 'the land should belong to those who till the soil', in other words, the Jewish and Palestinian working class regardless of religion and national identity in a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control.
Steve Clayton