Saturday, July 11, 2015

Here we go again (1987)

From the December 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The "socialist" conference in Chesterfield attracted considerable media attention. Tony Benn called it a gathering of the widest range of socialists since the First World War. 1,800 delegates were at the conference, including members of the SWP, WRP. RCP. Militant and the Labour Party. Convened by people from the Conference of Socialist Economists and the Socialist Society, described by one newspaper as "intellectuals", its aim - that discussion would take place on papers prepared for the conference - was unfulfilled. The reason was largely the determination of Trotskyist groups to use the occasion to state their own position and to indulge in a recruitment drive. The leader column of the Guardian described the conference as "a collection of attitude takers, discredited failures and sectarian anti-Labour activists".

Ron Todd's docker is hardly likely to have been impressed by the petty squabbling and misleading drivel emanating from Chesterfield. Whilst the conference may have fed the already fevered minds of Sun and Daily Express leader writers, this circus had nothing to do with furthering socialism. Ken Livingstone delivered what passed for an intelligent analysis of the crisis in capitalism and its imminent collapse - to be replaced by state capitalism with guess who in charge of it. His stand-up comic routine may have appealed to those who still believe that a socialist revolution occurred in Russia in 1917 but not even a newt would believe in his version of a "new socialist order". 

The Guardian report stated, "Notably absent, however, were the Euro-Communists and, of course, the Labour soft left". There was a more notable absence from Chesterfield: The Socialist Party of Great Britain: the only socialist party in this country which has eschewed deluding the working class into believing that capitalism can reformed in their interest. We were absent because we have no common cause with futile reformists, gathered together in earnest discussion of how to re-arrange capitalism while telling the workers that it is socialism.

Why politicians tell lies (1994)

Editorial from the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

It appears that politicians have never been so distrusted. Their reputation for integrity is zero. Sincerity was never a virtue of that occupation but now, what was once seen as a possible credibility gap has become a great gulf between what they say and the truth. According to a recent Gallup Poll 90 percent of the electorate think that politicians cannot open their mouths without telling lies.

Of course, there is nothing new about politicians making promises which they know they cannot deliver. There is nothing new about governments lying to the public. As lying goes, the present government is only an average performer yet another recent poll shows that John Major, as Prime Minister, has the lowest ratings since polls began. Why is he, and politicians generally, attracting this special contempt?

The Tory government has certainly lost contact with reality. With the social fabric crumbling around them they still think they are building a better society. After 14 years in office, having been driven by a latter-day fervour for the free market, they are now exhausted. They have run out of ideas, are in the grip of failure and have nowhere to go. They cannot see the truth let alone tell it.

Neither does the Labour Party present an alternative. Having abandoned its traditional but illusory claim to be the party of change and having openly dedicated itself to the running of capitalism, it is now speaking the same jaded language as the Tories.

These things are true but they are not an explanation for the apparent dishonesty of politicians. We need to ask further questions about more deeply-rooted causes. The answers show that the public should never have trusted politicians in the first place. The lesson is, trust a capitalist politician and you deserve all you get. Unfortunately, when naive trust turns to disillusion and contempt, by itself this is not enough.

It should always be obvious that politicians want power, which they never get by telling the truth. They function in a world of make-believe in which what they say they can do has almost no connection with real possibilities. In this world of political illusions they pretend that in power they can control events. The reality is that governments spend most of their time reacting to events which they cannot control. No government has ever been able to control the economic conditions of the market system but at the same time no politician has ever gained power by declaring the truth of that fact.

Politicians run the profit system for the benefit of a minority but they do it amidst the widespread belief that they run it in the interests of the whole community. This is the great deception which is the main source of the lies of politicians and governments. Is it not surprising them that the majority of people are alienated not just from politicians but the entire political process.

So, what must be done? As voters we must clean up our own act. We must take on our own powers of responsibility and action. We must stop electing career politicians to run a system which is against our interests. This means using our powers to establish a society which is organized solely and directly for the needs of the whole community through common ownership, democratic control and voluntary cooperation. This will provide an open democracy in which we will be free to make decisions about what must be done whilst at the same time having the powers of action to carry out those decisions. It is only on this basis that a truly democratic administration can work with integrity of purpose simply as one part of the different functions of society.

This will replace the tawdry operation of the capitalist state with its false hopes and broken promises, and its secrecy, deceptions and lies masking its real role as the enforcer of privileged class interests.

Stateless in Capitalism (2015)

The Material World Column from the July 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Having a nationality is something so natural that people rarely stop to think about what life would be like without it. Stateless people have no nationality and are not accepted as citizens by any country. With no ID, they are deprived of basic rights and vulnerable to exploitation and human traffickers. Stateless people have no rights to the basics most people take for granted such as health-care, education and employment. They cannot travel, open bank accounts, buy a house or car, or even get married. The current tragedy taking place with the Rohingya refugees has at its root cause with the Burmese government’s refusal to acknowledge the Rohingya as citizens (they even dispute the actual term, insisting they be called Bengali).
A stateless person is someone who is not considered as a national by any state. Being stateless means individuals have no legal identity, no passport, no vote, and few or no opportunities to get an education. Without documents, it is impossible to register marriage, so family life is affected. Travelling is difficult, and simple things like opening a bank account or getting a driving licence are impossible. Many find themselves stuck in a legal limbo, and can find themselves facing detention and destitution, unable to work formally, living at the margins of society. The stateless often face insoluble problems over property rights or the custody of children. They live in constant fear of being expelled from a country or sometimes resort to fleeing and split up their families in a desperate attempt to resolve their children’s statelessness. In 27 countries women are denied the right to pass on their nationality to their children on an equal basis as men.
At least 10 million people worldwide have no nationality. Thailand is home to more than 500,000 stateless people in its population of nearly 70 million. The Dominican Republic in 2013 applied new nationality criteria retroactively and affected the nationality status of tens of thousands of people of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic. While in Europe, Estonia and Latvia, ex-Soviet Union republics, have some 91,000 and 267,000 stateless people respectively.
For generations, Roma families living in mahalas (neighbourhoods) in the Balkans have passed down their houses to relatives through informal means. It is uncommon for these inheritances to be properly registered or to have official legal titles. These same families often forgo registering the birth of a child with local authorities, as the cost of obtaining a birth certificate can be prohibitive. Without official identification documents or legal claims to their property, Roma families in the region are at increased risk of statelessness. The problem only worsened with the decades of conflict that have plagued the Balkans. The Roma now living in refugee camps can neither prove their previous legal residence in Kosovo nor meet the necessary requirements to obtain citizenship in Montenegro.
The UNHCR believes a stateless baby is born every 10 minutes.
We should contrast the persecution of the poor stateless person with the luxury and liberty of the elite group of the world’s voluntary stateless super-rich. They transcend geographical boundaries to purchase properties in major cities across the globe. With few ties to specific countries, these individuals lead nomadic, season-driven lives. Their choice of where to live at any one time is based on climate, their children’s education, tax constraints or which of their friends they want to lunch with on any particular day. This global lifestyle has led to the stateless super-rich buying a larger portion of the world’s most expensive homes as they look to park their wealth in perceived havens. They own multiple properties, usually consisting of two in their country of principal residence, one in a global city such as London, Paris or New York, and a holiday home by the beach or perhaps in the mountains.
‘The more money you have, the more rootless you become because everything is possible,’ says Jeremy Davidson, a property consultant. ‘I have clients who wake up in the morning and say, ‘Let’s go to Venice for lunch.’ If you’ve got that sort of money the world becomes a very small place. They tend to have a diminished sense of place, of where their roots are,’ he told the Financial Times (28 April, 2012).
The World Socialist Movement stands opposed to the nation-state and advocates a world in which everyone will be ‘stateless’ but that has nothing in common with statelessness under capitalism as described above. While states exist all workers living in one, whether citizens, stateless or citizens of another state, are fellow workers who should treat each other and be treated as the same.
To emancipate ourselves, we, the working class must come to realise that we have no country and come together to engage in a world-wide class struggle against the capitalist class.

Heroine and Victim (1975)

Book Review from the April 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Before and After Stalin, by Aino Kuusinen. Michael Joseph, £3.50

The days of my youth were spent mainly in Moscow, the throbbing heart of Revolutionary Russia.

In those days, a few years after the revolution, we frequently saw, though always in the background, at the huge "Comintern" building, or more often at the notorious "Lux" hotel (where we all lived) a stunningly beautiful young woman, who made most of the film stars and sex-symbols look like catsmeat; ash-blond hair, blue eyes, cream-and-roses complexion. "Who's that?" we would enquire, eagerly agog with male curiosity. "Oh! that!" was the reply. "That's Otto Kuusinen's wife." And who, you may well ask, is Otto Kuusinen?

Otto Kuusinen, dear reader, was the supreme Stalinist toady. General Secretary of the Executive of the Communist International from its inception in 1919 till Stalin killed it in 1936. The shadow behind every intrigue and plot to destroy rivals, whether Trotsky or his own native erstwhile comrade Karl Manner; who never put his own signature to a document but always had a front-man to carry the can. Indeed the ultimate intriguer, who watches his wife endure eighteen years in Stalin's labour camps, who refused to utter a word when his own son was imprisoned and shot, and whose daughter only escaped Dracula Stalin by luck; during all of which he kept dead silent. The only "foreign communist" who made it to the Vice-Presidency of the Soviet Union and the eventual membership of the holy of holies, the Polit-Bureau of the Party: after all the others had been shot.

This book Before and After Stalin by Aina Kuusinen his life unwittingly tells his story.

In 1930 she was sent by her old man (as secretary of the Comintern) to America to help the gang at the head of the American Communist Party to nobble the funds and buildings of the Finnish Immigrant Workers' Clubs. It never succeeded and she eventually refused to do it. Returning to Moscow she was amazed to be ordered to Tokyo to establish herself as a Soviet agent.

There she encountered the most notorious double agent of all time, Richard Sorge, the villain who worked for Stalin while reporting to Hitler as Tokyo correspondent of the Frankfurter Zeitung. Sorge actually telegraphed advance information of the German invasion to Stalin, who in his conceit ignored it.

Her book is all the more impressive for its forbearance and toleration. So far from denouncing, she tries to "explain" him and his actions, by references to the political environment in which he worked. She calmly records endless interrogation and indignities. She was slung in a cell in the dreaded Lubyanka prison; the top torturers of the NKVD gave up after long interrogations [failed] to make her sign phoney "confessions".

At the age of seventy, she describes how she was finally "rehabilitated" after Stalin's death, released and arrived back in Moscow without money, adequate clothing, identity cards, job, food or shelter. She wrote to the General Secretary of the Communist Party walked into the office with the letter and was told to wait outside on the pavement, in the depths of a Moscow winter.

Her book carries the ring of truth. It is an inspiration for generations to come, who will one day break the chains of the foul Russian Bolsheviks' dictatorship.

Necessity and Freedom (1959)

From the October 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

THE ETHICS OF MARXISM (5) (See Parts 123 & 4)

The bourgeois prejudice sees Marxism as a philosophy of iron necessitarianism; hence as a negation of freedom. The bourgeois prejudice prizes freedom and holds it to be among the rarest blooms of civilization. Asked to define freedom it may feel that such technical matters can be taken care of by the pundits and philosophers. From its own empirical standpoint, freedom is not so much something to be abstractly defined but concretely enjoyed.

Freedom and Society
The bourgeois prejudice, while it may talk of the need of social organisation, sees it nevertheless as a restraint upon the freedom of the individual, i.e., the bourgeois individual. Not being a Marxist the bourgeois individual fails to comprehend that the very social organisation which he regards as a restriction of free activity is the sole source of the freedom he possesses.

"Man is not born free" even though Rousseau has told him so. Freedom is something which men acquire and they only acquire it in and through there human organisation—society. Such freedom may not be absolute freedom—whatever philosophers mean by that—but within the context of human organisation it has inexhaustible possibilities for further development. For man there is no other freedom but through society—but it is enough.

If freedom means—and this is the only valid meaning once can give to freedom—the ability to bring about the ends man desires, what as distinct from the animal world enables them to effect this? The answer lies in their economic production. An economic production, quantitatively and qualitatively different from any animal economy. It is not the case that man is merely a productive animal among other productive animals, but that his production is social production, i.e., his labour has always involved cooperation with others of his kind.

Human labour is the fundamental condition for human existence. As Marx has it, it is: —
A process going on between man and nature, a process in which man through his own activities, initiates, regulates and controls the material reaction between himself and nature. He confronts nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, heads and hands, the natural forces of the body, in order to appropriate nature's production in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops the powers that slumber within him, and subjects them to his own control.
It is not merely that man's labour is collective labour, but a special co-ordinated labour carried out in cooperation with others of his kind. It is an activity both premeditated and planned. Thus man is able to produce his own conditions of life, and so produce his own history. Man, then, is different from other animals because he produces differently.

It was through this collective and coordinated labour process that speech—the practical form of human consciousness—developed as a means of communication in answer to the growing complexities of economic production. It was through this process of social labour that there came into being the rules of social organisation—ethics. Just as it was the need of greater manipulation of the material environment, in order to achieve greater advances in social organsation and production that science became an essential department of human activity. It is then through his economic production that man has been able to extend his inherited social knowledge, widen his social horizon, and produce the facilities for so doing. Herein lies man's freedom. The price of freedom has not been "unceasing vigilance" but unceasing economic production.

It is through his economic production that man has come to understand the nature of causality, i.e., in order to bring about certain consequences, he must know the conditions necessary for their successful fulfilment. Hence it is only by his greater understanding of the interconnection of processes and the laws which regulate them that he is able to more freely bring about the ends he desires. Causality is the consciousness of necessity, and the greater his grasp of the nature of necessity the greater is man's freedom to act in a planned and purposeful way. Had man been a creature passively reacting to his external environment he could never have grasped the nature of causality—necessity—nor freedom. Freedom is not as the bourgeois prejudice see it, the progressive realisation of an abstract idea but the progressive development of the means of life and socialisation of production.

The Bourgeois Prejudice and Freedom
But how does the bourgeois prejudice understand freedom? Through a knowledge of necessity? The answer is no. While the bourgeois prejudice may admit that the operation of the forces of production is subject to law and organisation, it confines it to the mere technological level. The bourgeois prejudice fails to see that the bourgeois economy is subject to laws and a determinative organisation. And that right across its version of freedom, necessity is writ large. Its philosophers and pundits may discuss the nature of freedom till the cows come home, but they never seriously attempt to locate the source from which bourgeois freedom, in fact all freedom stems—society. They may talk about the need of human values, but never see that bourgeois freedom is a class-conditioned freedom which falls far short of a truly human freedom. This is because its own social organisation is rooted in the class ownership of the productive forces and it is this which determines the level of existence both quantitatively and qualitatively for the vast mass of non-owners.

The crux of bourgeois freedom is its power to exploit and secure the unpaid labour by its ownership of the agencies of production. From this freedom all other freedom flow.

Bourgeois freedom exists in a system subject to laws and compulsions. Its own class conditioned character makes it necessary to produce not for the purpose of satisfying human needs but for securing the production and reproduction of surplus value on an over-expanding scale. This is the basic law of present production, the overriding necessity which must be obeyed if bourgeois freedom and privilege is to continue. Thus the class character of freedom means the freedom of the few and the unfreedom of the many.

The Limits of Bourgeois Freedom
But is the bourgeois himself really free? The answer is that he cannot be, because he himself lives in an unfree world. He cannot escape the consequences of the social set up which gives him his freedom. What is more, as the present order moves on, his own freedom becomes more restricted. More and more he is controlled by the world market, more and more does the need of ever-greater capital accumulation become more urgent. And across his world ever lies the shadow of future slumps, future war, and universal slaughter. Thus in a world of class antagonism, national and racial hatreds, "freedom" is forced to seek strange bed fellows. No doubt the bourgeois individual would like freedom from these things. But because he is unaware of the nature of the necessity from which his freedom stems he does not know where such freedom may be found. He thus, remains imprisoned in his narrow cell of class liberty.

The very necessity of the social system which produces the class freedom for the few produces at the same time the class unfreedom of the many. But the iron compulsion of capitalism which give freedom of a sort to the bourgeois deny access to a fuller life for the proletariat. Men, because they are men and not automatons, will chafe against the restrictions which prevent a fuller and freer life. And it is in their struggle and desire for a free and fuller life that the vast majority discover bourgeois freedom and a truly human freedom to be irreconcilable. But this will mean the abolition of private property institutions and free access by all to the productive forces. A social state of affairs in which man is no longer a mere unit carrying out the orders of others, but where each one has an equal role in furthering the common aim which he himself takes part in forming. But it is not enough for the many to desire freedom. They will have to grasp the nature of necessity wherein their unfreedom lies. Not to know this means that their desire for freedom will remain unfulfilled.

Marxism a Denial of Fatalism
Contrary to the bourgeois notion of freedom which sees it as personal liberty inhibited by social structures, the Marxist sees freedom as a choice based upon an objective appraisal of the data of a given situation. Only when events and processes are not known are we subject to iron determinism. Where knowledge of these matters is available then and only then are we free to follow a course of action dependent on the relevant information. To successfully carry out what one can do one must also know what one cannot do. It is when we know what is necessary that our purpose becomes effective and that is freedom. Not to know what is necessary in a given situation is unfreedom. When we think correctly we act correctly and only to that extent is man free. Thus in a scientific experiment or a surgical operation one cannot choose willy-nilly what to do. There are things that must be done and must not be done. In fact, if both are to be successful they must be governed by the objective facts of the situation. It is only by strictly conforming to what is necessary to be done can the aim and purpose in either case become effective. The more ignorant one is of the nature of causality, i.e., the necessity, the more important and determined one is. Effective action means then that we must have knowledge of the laws which operate in a given plane of reference. This does not mean we are independent of the determining circumstances out of which ideas and action arise, but it does mean that unless we understand the objective pattern of what is determined our thought and action will be non-effective.

The bourgeois prejudice does at times liken freedom to the jungle. Everybody does what is best for himself, although the bourgeois economy has government, bureaucracy and the armed forces to see that the jungle does not get out of hand. But the inhabitants of the jungle are not free. They know nothing of causality—necessity—and hence nothing of freedom. They cannot mutually cooperate and reap the advantages of a division of labour. They can only instinctively conform to the law of the jungle if they are to survive.

Only men can be free, And only the class which is now unfree can establish a freedom which is truly human — even though bourgeois individuals may come to associate themselves with the aims of the working class. But this unfree class must free itself from the ideology of bourgeois freedom and see the necessity of establishing a classless society and with it a classless freedom.

Man the measure of all things
Marxism does not believe in absolute free will or absolute determinism. Free will versus determinism is a bourgeois metaphysic it can dispense with. Neither does it hold to some simple, cause-effect relation. It sees nature—men's needs—society as a process of causal interaction. Along with Marx and Engels they hold the view that man is the responsible agent in all social change. It is man that wills even though he is born into a situation which is unwilled by him. But he must be informed of the objective milieu in which he finds himself. Only then can he act effectively on events and by changing them, change himself.

Men are not mere creatures of determinism, economic or otherwise. Because the only permanent thing about morality is man's demand for the better which itself is redetermined according to time and place. Man—and here we refer to unfree "class man" in the given social context—will always make fresh demands in the world and upon himself and thus produce the conditions necessary for his human needs. Men and ideas as we have said are the sole instrument for initiating social change. For any change to be effective, however, relevant knowledge of events is indispensable. The "must" and the "ought"—necessity and freedom—do not exist in a polarised anatagonism, but are indissoluble aspects of social reality. The charge against Marxism, posed by its critics, of fatalism and termed by them the "inevitability dilemma" thus falls to the ground.

Both in belief and action Marxism is a humanism. And it is the Marxist who seeks a world where truly human values prevail. Marxism sees man as a product of a social complex and at the same time as the producer of a more conscious society. This is the heart and essence of the Marxist ethic. In religious fantasy God made man the centre of the universe. In material fact capitalism has alienated him from it. Marxism shows how in a truly human sense man can yet become that.

We would remind Mr. Taylor, the author of the pamphlet Is Marxism a Humanism? that Marxism is not merely a method of expounding humanism. but a way of achieving it. As such it challenges more than favourable comparison with any other set of contemporary values.
Ted Wilmott

Big Brother (2011)

Book Review from the December 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
The No-Nonsense Guide to Global Surveillance. By Robin Tudge. New Internationalist.

My first thoughts on finishing this book were: not for the paranoid.  Although this journal has covered the issue of global surveillance in the past, Trudge takes us deeper, and into a world in which our every movement is monitored, if not via CCTVs, then via our online activity, whether it be on Facebook or Google (where every word searched is stored and matched to the searcher’s ISP address), or our shopping, banking and travelling preferences and our activity in the workplace. Moreover, this information, whether in private hands, gleaned by the state, by social networks or by social welfare, is shared and converged between corporations and other states on a  scale that beggars belief, and all ostensibly rationalised on the grounds that it is in all our interests.

Our governments, corporations and even social network sites such as Facebook are unremittingly urging us to pass on to them ever more information about us. They simply can’t get enough on us. Tudge informs us that data about the average Briton, for example, is on about 700 databases – and asks “who can name even ten of those databases?”.

For some time, just to take one example of the problem,  there has existed ECHELON, a global communications network, spying on us from land, sea, air and space, “intercepting every phone call, email, fax, telex or message sent…and fed through computers for keywords, and supercomputers for converting speech into text…sifting text for keywords that are flagged up.”  

ECHELON, however, is not just about monitoring us, the potentially revolutionary masses. It is “also used for commercial interest, to earn its way in the world and to profit its backers.” Tudge reports how one Euro MP has claimed: “European businesses have lost over 20 billion Euros due to ECHELON’s interceptions being used to pip the competition – as when McDonnell-Douglas scooped a $6 billion deal with the Saudis over the French and Airbus, while Raytheon muscled in with a share of a £1.3 billion radar deal between Brazil and a French radar company.”

It is, however, in the post-9/11 era that we have seen a huge growth in surveillance. In a  world in which governments are wont to tell us they are fighting for our freedoms, the most effective means of winning consent for repressive laws, the suspension of human rights (eg, habeas corpus) and increased surveillance, is to scare us into acceptance, to create a global society in which we are all under suspicion from boyfriends, men in beards and absolutely anyone boarding an aeroplane.

Indeed, former MI5 chief, Stella Rimington, accused MPs of  “frightening people” so as to pass laws to interfere with their privacy and civil liberties, achieving “precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a  police state.”  An example of this was when the British government used its presidency of the EU to produce a report entitled Liberty and Security: Striking The Right Balance, effectively a manifesto demanding a range of new EU-wide surveillance measures.

There is a lot of ground covering the technology of control in this short book, from the first use of fingerprints in ancient Babylon and by Chinese bureaucrats to authenticate clay tablets and seals on documents, right up to the present and ongoing debate about the need for biometric ID cards. The author is not hesitant in pointing out just whose interests are really at stake. As he observes: “Progress in this field [biometrics] as in many others is not defined by proficiency, but by profit. Despite the economic downturn, the global biometric market is expected to grow at an annual rate of  18% between 2010 and 2012”. So, not only do our masters get to monitor us, but the very practice brings them profit.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has patented wireless sensors which, when linked to computers, monitor workers’ heart rate, respiration rate, temperature, facial movements and brain signals. “When conjoined with workers’ psychological profiles and data on their weight, age and health, managers could be remotely informed of levels of frustration or stress and help or dismiss accordingly.”

The desire of an elite to make a profit at the expense of the majority and the need to make sure the workers do not get in the way of those profits, is really at the heart of the global surveillance society,  and this the author continually draws our attention to. Our governments, and the corporations they serve as the executive for, are indeed very much concerned about security – but it’s theirs not ours, the continuing security of a elite whose power is derived from their class position. They do not see advances in technology as a means to benefit humanity, but as a means to tighten their control over us.

John Bissett