Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Iraq: liberation or occupation? (2003)

From the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
The million anti-war demonstrators who poured into London at the beginning of the year have since been proved right on a number of issues. The people in Iraq did not roll out the red carpet for the “liberating” US and British troops as they overran the country. The war did provoke more anti-Western resentment. There was never any threat to the USA. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were never the issue and so far have proven not to exist, except in the warped mind of US neo-cons and the Blair junta in Britain. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 – at last admitted by George Bush on 17 September – and neither was there any link to Al Qaeda. The US war machine is up to its neck in a mess of its own making, which worsens daily, while Bush's corporate buddies are now raking in huge profits from contracts awarded for the reconstruction of Iraq.
The killing continues
It is now six months since Bush informed us that Iraq had been liberated. If this is liberation, then what is oppression? Iraqi infrastructure is virtually non-existent, crime is out of control, and the “liberation” has turned into guerrilla war in which daily Iraqi deaths from gunfire outnumber those of the occupying forces by 20-1. Widespread resentment against US occupation is the norm. The common consensus worldwide is that the US has failed miserably in Iraq, creating only greater regional problems. Millions of Iraqis now accept that whilst Saddam might have been a tyrannical dictator, his regime did ensure relative stability.

The recent US “liberation” of Afghanistan is perhaps analogous. Since the ousting of the Taliban, unaccountable American-paid warlords have been free to rape and murder at will. People are being murdered at the rate of 100 a week. Women are still fearful to walk out without burqas. Opium production is now back to normal and every organisation reporting from Afghanistan makes the same claim – human rights abuses are greater than under the rule of the Taliban.

Indeed, the only significant US achievement in Iraq lies in the fact that the US has turned the only Arab country with no Al Qaeda base into a recruiting ground for Islamic terrorism. You could be forgiven for thinking this was part of the US game plan insofar as it provides the US with a further pretext for its “war on terror” as it currently calls its imperialist foreign policy. What an amazing feat Washington has performed. What a mess Bush now realises he has created.
A recent Washington proposal now under consideration is for the establishment of a UN multilateral military force to join U.S. occupation troops in Iraq. It would operate as a separate, parallel force with a separate command composition, but under the overall command of the US and accountable to the Pentagon. Furthermore, the arrangement would not include the US sharing authority and information with the UN or the countries providing assistance. This was in fact US practice during the Clinton administration in Somalia and Haiti, for instance.
Interestingly, when the UN Security Council opposed the US invasion of Iraq, arguing there was no reason to resort to violence, it was Bush who dismissed the UN as a mere “talking shop”. Now after starting an “illicit” war – if a war can ever be called licit – which marginalised the UN Security Council, a war that has not gone Bush's way, the US seeks the help of the Security Council to internationalise the economic and human costs of their occupation of Iraq. Perhaps Bush thinks Indian, Pakistani or Nigerian mercenaries of the United States will receive a more amicable reception in Iraq than US forces.
US, UN, same difference
One wonders whether Washington is oblivious to the recent attack on the UN base in Baghdad with the loss of 21 lives. For many Middle Eastern militants, the UN is seen as simply another branch of US imperialist foreign policy and thus a legitimate target. Back in the early 1990s, it was the UN which put in place the US-sponsored sanctions regime which wrought havoc on Iraqi society – a society recovering from a 10-year war with Iran and a murderous war with the US, Britain, France (yes) and others. Such sanctions left 500,000 Iraqi children dead from disease and malnutrition and crippled Iraq's infrastructure. More recently, it was the UN Security Council which approved the US-installed puppet government and in effect approved the occupation by opening a UN mission office to help make it successful. So any idea that the UN could carry through something the US could not is wishful thinking. UN forces would fare no better than US troops.

Clearly the Washington warmongers did not count on the post-invasion expenses they would encounter, or the number of troops they would need for the job. The US war-for-profit machine has clearly bitten off more than it can chew. Following on from the $79 billion that was released in April 2003 for the cost of the occupation of Iraq, Bush has since allocated an extra $87 billion and Vice-President, Dick Cheney, has indicated even that will not suffice. Meanwhile, in Britain, chancellor Gordon Brown is to announce a further £1 billion for the British part in the occupation next month.
Sixteen of America's 33 combat brigades are now in the quagmire of Iraq, which means that Bush's pre-emptive wars have placed 160,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Still, Bush wants to send more troops and Blair has also indicated that he is prepared to send thousands more young men and women into the cauldron of hate.
And the beneficiaries? The Iraqi people? No. So far the only ones smiling are the corporate elite close to the White House, the likes of Halliburton and Bechtel, Parsons Group and Stevedoring Services of America, which are earning billions of dollars out of the reconstruction of Iraqi society.
There was always the risk that once Saddam was removed from power extremist groups would come to the fore and make Iraq far more unstable than under Ba'athist rule. This much had been acknowledged by President Bush senior during the first Gulf War and lay behind Washington's decision not to support US-inspired revolts of the Iraqi Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. It made sound US sense to have Saddam crush these revolts mercilessly rather than have him removed and the country fragment and the region destabilise. The very forces the US feared would be unleashed following the toppling of Saddam are now on the rampage – they might have loathed Saddam, but they hate the US more. As the guerrilla war spirals, tens of millions across the world look on in despair, their worst fears confirmed.
Protests without end?
Today, well-meaning people from across Britain have again travelled to London to protest their outrage at the policies of Bush and his sidekick Blair in the pursuit of US global hegemony and the destruction created en route, particularly in Iraq. Most will believe the malaise can be sorted out within the usual channels capitalism offers – either a UN force moves in or the US and British troops come home. The former, though more likely, will only compound the problem and the latter can only leave the region further unstable, with war lords and the varying shades of the region's religions vying for political power. Whilst Bush would welcome a UN effort, a US retreat would be unthinkable.

As on previous demonstrations, placards and banners will carry myriad messages, some demanding “Bush Must Go” and “Bring the Troops Home”, with others screaming in assorted bright inks “No War for Oil” and “End the Occupation.”
Few, if any, will address the root of the problem – the capitalist system itself and its inherent and vicious competition for profits – and how the problems of capitalism can only be solved when we abolish the system itself. On previous occasions we have advised demonstrators who protest against war, without setting it in its true context, to invest in a sturdy banner. If you are opposed to war and its effects, yet are prepared to support capitalism – and many left wing groups actually are despite what they say, usually in the form of a state-run capitalism – then settle down to a life of campaigning.
While it is important that workers oppose war, it is just as important that we recognise just why armed conflicts between states break out and in whose interests wars are waged. If you think about it you'll be hard-pressed to think of a single war that did not have its roots in the desire of small elites to make profits. All wars, even small-scale conflicts – and the ongoing conflict in Iraq is no exception – tend to be fought over mineral wealth, foreign markets and areas of influence, trade routes or the strategic points from which the same can be defended.
To end war – and the need to demonstrate against each war as one war succeeds another (were you on the demos against the war in Afghanistan and before that against the war in Kosovo?) – capitalism has to be ended and replaced by a global system where the resources of the Earth have become the common heritage of all Earthpeople. That way, competition and conflict between elites over resources can give way to co-operation between peoples in different parts of the globe to use the world's resources for the benefit of all its inhabitants.
If you lend your support to a political party or organisation that fails to question the real nature of capitalist society, how our world is organised for production and how power is distributed, then you are in effect supporting a system that bred this war – and will breed future wars. We urge you to think seriously and reconsider your position. Capitalism and war and uncertainty that comes with it, or world socialism and global peace and security? Protest endlessly against each new war as it arises or campaigning for a new world of common ownership, democratic control, peace and human welfare.
From a leaflet handed out at the 27 September “Stop the War” demonstrations.

Solidarity, the Market and Marx (1973)

The following is cut and pasted from the Socialism or Your Money Back blog.

In 1972 Solidarity published under the title Workers Councils and the Economics of A Self-Managed Society a long article originally written in 1957 by Cornelius Castoriadis (Paul Cardan).This pamphlet painted a picture of factories and other workplaces being controlled by elected Workers Councils in the context of the continuation of the money-wages-profits system. Thus, in a given factory, the workers would elect a Council which would decide on the level of wages, the price of the product, the amount of profits to be re-invested, etc. This was Solidarity's conception of"socialism"; a view that the struggle today is over "decision-making authority" in society rather than over the ownership and control of the productive resources by which society lives. It was the completely impractical idea of direct workers' control of a capitalist economy.

If Solidarity had also envisaged the end of the whole money-wages-profits system this would have been socialism. But then "workers council" would have been a misnomer since socialism, being a classless society, involves the disappearance of the working class just as much as of the capitalist class. "Democratic councils" would have been a more appropriate term. A society where the means of production belong to everybody and run by democratic councils, that's socialism .

One network of former SPGB members – those based around a journal called Libertarian Communism, who were critical of the Party’s revolutionary strategy and attracted by ‘council communist’ ideas – created an organisation called Social Revolution that became involved in the Solidarity group and merged as Solidarity For Social Revolution. Some years later a number of these activists were also involved in the foundation of the Wildcat council communist group and one of its successors, Subversion.

SOYMB posts an article by an SPGB member's critique of Solidarity and Cardan as a follow up to the previous blog-post .

In 1960 a group of ex-Trotskyists calling themselves 'Socialism Re-affirmed' began to publish a journal called Agitator, changed after a few issues to Solidarity. Solidarity modelled itself on another group of ex-trotskyists in France running a journal Socialisme ou Barbarie. In 1961 Solidarity, Socialisme ou Barbarie and similar groups in Belgium and Italy published a joint manifesto entitled 'Socialism or Barbarism'.

This represented a considerable advance beyond orthodox Trotskyism. The concept of 'socialism' being established by a vanguard party mobilising the masses during an economic crisis was abandoned. Instead, declared the manifesto, it "will only be achieved through the autonomous and self-conscious activity of the working masses". Capitalism was said to have acquired the ability to iron out slumps and booms and to ensure a slow but steady rise in living standards. So, in this view, the basic contradiction of capitalism was no longer economic, but was between order-givers and order-takers. The bureaucrats who managed capitalism were always trying to reduce the workers to cogs, to treat them as objects, but the workers were always resisting this. Out of this struggle, said the manifesto, 'socialist' consciousness would arise in the form of a demand for "workers' management of production".

In fact this was how Solidarity (and the others) defined 'socialism'. In one sense they had gone beyond Trotskyism which saw 'socialism' as the management of production by a 'workers state', i.e. a State controlled by a vanguard party purporting to represent the working class. But in another sense they had not. For 'socialism' was still considered as an era of 'workers power' between capitalism and communism, as a 'transitional society' in which money, wages, prices, etc would continue to exist:
"All revenue derived from the exploitation of labour will be abolished. There will be equality of wages and pensions until it proves feasible to abolish money" (para 27).

This idea of 'equal wages' can be found in Lenin's State and Revolution and in fact Solidarity's concept of 'socialism' is taken from this pamphlet of Lenin's. The main difference being that 'workers power' was defined in terms of the government being controlled by a central assembly of factory-based Workers Councils rather than by a vanguard party.

At one time Solidarity never hesitated to say that by 'workers power' (which is still the subtitle of their journal) they meant "a Workers' Council Government", the phrase used in the 1961 introduction to the 'Socialism or Barbarism' manifesto. In the 1969 introduction, however, this was changed to "the rule of the Workers' Councils", reflecting the anarchist influence which Solidarity had in the meantime come under. Dropping the claim to stand for some kind of government did represent an advance in Solidarity's thinking. 'Workers Power' was now re-defined to mean, in the words of a basic policy statement As We See It issued in 1967, the "democratisation of society down to its very roots". Not that this made its conception of 'socialism' any clearer. When in 1972 this statement was amplified in a pamphlet As We Don't See It readers were referred for more details of Solidarity's idea of 'socialism' to another Solidarity pamphlet issued earlier that year called The Workers Councils.

This pamphlet is an edited translation of an article which originally appeared in issue No.22 of Socialisme ou Barbarie in 1957 under the title "Sur le Contenu du Socialisme" (On the content of Socialism). It is in fact a blue-print for 'workers self-management' of a market economy. Cardan (alias Chaulieu) who wrote the article is clearly in the same tradition of so-called 'market socialism' as Tito, Liberman, Ota Sik, etc, in East Europe, the main difference being that he wants such an economy to be controlled by Workers Councils while they want it controlled by a bureaucratic State (maybe in conjunction with 'workers councils').

Nobody who has read the original article can deny that Cardan was an advocate of so-called 'market socialism'. Solidarity themselves clearly found this embarrassing because they have edited out its more crude manifestations. In their introduction they apologises :
"Some will see the text as a major contribution to the perpetuation of wage slavery - because it still talks of 'wages' and doesn't call for the immediate abolition of 'money' (although clearly defining the radically different meanings these terms will acquire in the early stages of a self-managed society)" (p.4)

and, again, in a footnotes :
"All the preceding talk of ‘wages', 'prices' and 'the market' will, for instance, undoubtedly have startled a certain group of readers. We would ask them momentarily to curb their emotional responses and to try to think . rationally with us on the matter" (p. 36).

But Cardan did not speak only of 'wages', 'prices' and 'the market'. He also spoke of 'profitability' (rentabilité) and 'rate of interest’ ('taux d'intérêt'). This was evidently too much even for Solidarity's curbed emotion since these words nowhere appear in the edited translation.

It is very revealing to give some examples of the way Solidarity has toned down the 'market socialism' aspects of Cardan's original articles :

Original: shops selling to consumers (magasins de vente aux consomateurs) .
Solidarity’s version : stores distributing to consumers (p. 24).

Original: The market for consumer goods (le marché des biens de consommation).
Solidarity’s version : consumer goods (heading p. 35).

Original: This implies the existence of a real market for consumer goods (ce qui implique 1'existence d'un marché réel pour les biens de consommation).
Solidarity’s version: This implies the existence of some mechanism whereby consumer demand can genuinely make itself felt (p.35)

Original: Money, prices, Wages and value
Solidarity’s version: 'money', 'wages', 'value' (heading p. 36)..

In fact Cardan envisaged a market economy in which everybody would be paid in circulating money an equal wage with which to buy goods which would be on sale at a price equal to their value (amount of socially necessary labour embodied in them). And he as the cheek to claim that Marx also held that under Socialism goods would exchange at their values. Before going on to refute this we must draw attention to two other phrases which occur frequently in the original, namely 'gouvernement' and 'parti ouvrier socialiste' (socialist workers party), which are nowhere to be found in Solidarity's version. 'Government' becomes 'Council (of the Central Assembly of Workers Councils)', while 'socialist workers party' becomes 'libertarian socialist organisation' !

But - and this brings us on to a discussion of whether or not Marx thought socialism would be a market economy - the best change is towards the end. The original article says (of 'socialism' as a transitional society between capitalism and communism) :
"In their essence these views absolutely coincide with the ideas of Marx and Lenin on the subject. Marx only considered one kind of transitional society between capitalism and communism, which he called indifferently 'dictatorship of the proletariat' or 'lower stage of communism’ ... Lenin's view, in State and Revolution, were only, in this regard, an explanation and a defence of Marx's view against the reformists of his time" (translated from the French).

In the Solidarity pamphlet this becomes :
"In their essence these views closely co-incide with Marx's ideas on the subject. Marx only considered one kind of transitional society between capitalism and communism, which lie called indifferently 'dictatorship of the proletariat' or lower stage of communism..." (p.57)

No mention of Lenin! Which is unfair to Marx since it is with Lenin's views on this point and not with Marx's that Solidarity's position coincides ('absolutely' or 'closely', take your pick!).

For Marx never spoke of socialism as a 'transitional society' between capitalism and communism (indeed he never spoke of a 'transitional society' at all); and he did not use the phrases 'dictatorship of the proletariat' and 'lower stage of communism' indifferently. What he did do was to speak of a 'political transition period' between capitalism and 'the lower stage of communism' ; it was the words 'socialism' and 'communism' that he used indifferently. 'Socialism' as a transitional society between capitalism and communism (or socialism) characterised by 'workers power' and equal wages, which Solidarity has inherited from its Trotskyist past, was one of Lenin’s distortions of Marxism.

Marx himself always made it clear that socialism/communism, even in its lower , meant the abolition of the market ('commodity production') and, in the Poverty of Philosophy and Value, Price and Profit he specifically singled out the idea of a society of 'equal wages' for derision. For him socialism/communism was a society in which production would be democratically planned by the community (the State as a coercive instrument having disappeared immediately socialism/communism was established) solely arid directly to satisfy their needs. Writing in 1875 Marx had to concede that, in the early stages, consumption would have to be rationed (he suggested this be done by means of labour-time vouchers, but specifically said that these would no more be money than a theatre ticket was), but eventually all goods and services would be free for everybody to take according to need. Today, nearly a hundred years later, this stage could be reached very rapidly once socialism/communism had been established.

Solidarity, in advocating a self-managed market economy, is not advocating socialism at all, but some unrealistic blueprint which would never work - either because if the working class had reached the degree of consciousness needed to establish it then they would establish real socialism instead or, if they hadn't, then it would degenerate into some kind of state capitalism. However, it is significant that, as we have shown, Solidarity should feel guilty about advocating a self-managed market economy rather than a moneyless socialist society. In time maybe they'll have the intellectual honesty to repudiate their previous views on this, as they have done on the concept of a 'workers council government'.

Some members and ex-members of Solidarity have already come to do this and, faced with the dogmatism (or rather Cardan-worship) of the others on this and other issues have left. For instance, a document issued by four ex-Solidarity members in Aberdeen entitled Revolutionary Politics and the Present Situation refers to workers' self -management of production as involving “the abolition of the production of exchange values and the production of use values" (instead) . Another breakaway group The Oppositionist in its October 1972 issue, calls for the abolition of the wages system :
"The Socialist Revolution is a complex and many sided struggle to eliminate the wages system itself. We do not advocate workers control of production whilst striving to retain the market economy of capitalist production. Without the destruction of the market the ramifications of capitalism would grow stronger not weaker . . . Workers cannot control production and retain the wages system” .

Another document, issued in London, entitled a Critique of Cardan calls for the abolition of commodity production and wage labour and describes socialism as "a system where men can have full control over social wealth in common, for use, and so control their own natures” and says "it is also about a completely different kind of production; for the sake of useful consumption of the society as a whole, not for the creation of commodities”.

Unlike Solidarity these groups are coming to adopt real socialism as their aim, though in fact it was Solidarity's rejection of Marxism rather than its 'market socialism' that caused them to split off.

Solidarity has published a number of texts by Cardan critical of Marxian economics. theory of history etc, and would now no longer claim to be Marxist. Actually these weren't criticisms of Marxism but rather of the crude economic determinism that passed for Marxism in the Trotskyist and ex-Trotskyist movement. As such they were Cardan's repudiation of his own past.

At the same time Solidarity tended to move away from the view that the struggle for 'socialism' was primarily industrial and came to see it as a many-sided struggle to change all aspects - education, sex, as well as work - of social life. Apart from the fact that their aim wasn't socialism, this represented an advance on their former views which had tended to idealise the factory worker and to see the experience of factory life as the generator of 'socialist' consciousness. This was mistaken because socialism is not just an economic change; it is a total revolution in social relationships. So that movements outside the factory (such as protests against sex discrimination, war or pollution) have just as much chance, with socialist intervention, of generating socialist consciousness as the factory struggle.

Unfortunately, Solidarity's internal critics have not realised this and, regarding this change of emphasis as part of Solidarity's rejection of Marxism, have reverted to idealising the factory struggle and relegating the other struggles to a secondary status. In fact the Liverpool-based Workers Voice (though in fact not a Solidarity breakaway), with its detailed descriptions of particular factory struggles, reads like Solidarity did ten years ago - including talk of the need for a workers party and for workers to have their own state power. The Aberdeen group’s document quoted earlier states that in its view the main area of struggle remains the factory, with the implication that it is from this struggle rather than that of "movements outside the factory" (such as those against pollution or for sexual liberation) that socialist consciousness will arise. The supporters of the American journal Internationalism (now World Revolution) in this country take a similar view.

Internationalism also reverts to economic determinism in making the rise of socialist consciousness depend on an economic crisis, though they are reasonably clear on what socialism/communism is (even though they do unnecessarily distinguish the two) :
"While under capitalism use values are only the material form of exchange values, and commodities are produced for sale, under socialism production cannot be limited by the requirements of profit, of capital accumulation, but must be determined by the needs of the human community. The consumption of the working class cannot be limited by its wages or the value of its labour power, but will be determined by its needs and technical capacity of the productive apparatus which it sets in motion. The elimination of wage labor, of production based on the law of value, is not a task for some future or higher stage of socialism, but the immediate task and content of the proletarian dictatorship. It is only on this foundation that the movement towards that higher stage of communism of which Marx speaks, the stage characterised by the formulation 'to each according to his needs' can begin" (Internationalism, Political Perspectives, pp.9-10)

But all these groups still have a hazy conception of who the working class are, tending to confine it, or at least to make the most important part of it, the industrial proletariat, whereas in fact it is composed of all who depend for living on selling their ability to work, irrespective of where they work or of work they do.

The basic contradiction of capitalism is that between socialised production and class monopoly of the means of production, which manifests itself as working class discontent with its general conditions of life, not just its work experiences under capitalism, A failure to recognise this is the one great weakness of these ex-Solidarity groups. If they did, they would also realise that socialism is not just concerned with emancipating workers as workers (i.e. wealth-producers) but as human beings (i.e. as men and women). It would also give them a clearer conception of socialist society. Socialism aims not to establish "workers power" but the abolition of all classes including the working class. It is thus misleading to speak of socialism as workers ownership and control of production. In socialist society there would simply be people, free and equal men and women forming a classless community. So it would be more accurate to define socialism/communism in terms of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by and in the interest of the whole people.

Nevertheless; the emergence of these groups calling for the abolition of wage labour and commodity production once again confirms that capitalism continually throws up socialist ideas.

Adam Buick. April 1973

Take A Deep Breath (2002)

Editorial from the March 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
As technology advances it has an impact on many facets of human existence. For example, people now live a lot longer than they did, at least in the 'advanced' capitalist states where access to reasonable levels of medical care is highest. But there are some anomalies, individual trends which seem to buck the prevailing tendency. In healthcare, one of these has been the tremendous rise in cases of asthma over the last century or so.
According to the Independent on Sunday (17 February) the Westminster Hospital in London admitted its first asthmatic child in 1910, whereas today one in seven children have asthma in Britain and over five million people in the UK are currently undergoing treatment for the condition. It kills at least 1,500 people in the UK every year and costs the NHS £850 million on an annual basis.
This situation is far from unique to Britain. The story is similar in other countries, and Australia, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore fare even worse than Britain. This had led to a concerted effort from medical researchers to try and determine the cause of this tremendous rise in the number of cases.
Several theories have been put forward, some of them reinforcing one another. The most common has linked asthma with modern carpeted homes, replete with central heating. This is because this environment is an ideal breeding ground for dust mites, the droppings from which cause allergic reaction (including asthma and rhinitis) in a large proportion of the population. However, a recent study by researchers at the University of Southern California has discovered another culprit, the influence of which had long been suggested but never proven – pollution from cars.
The study compared asthma rates with pollution levels, taking into account exposure amongst children to polluted air. It found that the children most likely to develop asthmatic symptoms were those living in areas of high pollution who played sport at least three times a week (children engaged in physical activity of this type draw air into the lungs typically at a rate seventeen times the usual rate). The chief culprit is low-lying ozone, which is a poisonous form of oxygen formed when sunlight interacts with pollutants created by some factories and, crucially, the internal combustion engine. The study showed that rhesus monkeys exposed to the same levels of pollutants as Los Angeles schoolchildren developed asthmatic symptoms at a similar rate.
Those most likely to develop asthma will typically live in centrally heated and fully carpeted houses, typically with a cat or dog, have parents who smoke (and whose mother smoked during pregnancy) and crucially, will be subject to ozone pollution. Indeed, the study found that pollution was a greater cause of asthma than any of the other contributory factors.
A problem such as this is serious but it will not be reversed overnight as the factors that have gone to bring it about are fundamental to modern processes of production and distribution as they have been built up by industrial capitalism. However, the market economy has little if any incentive to do anything about this situation at all. Some of the most powerful interests in global capitalism are the oil and petroleum companies together with the car manufacturers. As yet (and probably for the foreseeable future) there is not a lot of profit to be made by the production of hydrogen cars or cars that run on electricity. Sales of internal combustion engine vehicles continue to rise across the globe and as long as that continues the owners and controllers of the means of transportation will be happy. So the internal combustion engine will stay, even if it does go a fair way towards disabling the lives of a significant and increasing proportion of the population.
Of course, a sane society would attempt to tackle the problem now, freed from the constraints of profit and the domination of vested interests. But as we live in a far from sane society it is patently not going to happen. Unfortunately, asthma is here to stay for now. And equally as unfortunately, the alternatives to its principal cause will remain as side shows on Tomorrow's World, as apparently bizarre and utopian as the notion that we could organise our affairs without profits and money.

Jeremy Flogs a Dead Horse (2015)

From the August 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Thursday 9 July, I attended a public meeting in Birkenhead Town Hall where Jeremy Corbyn delivered a speech as part of his campaign to become leader of the Labour Party. The meeting attracted some 250-300 people, male and female, young and old alike. Outside all I had seen were a handful of sellers of The Socialist and leafleters for the People’s Assembly and a Socialist Appeal campaign for ‘Red Labour’. Although I arrived with five minutes to spare, inside the vast majority were already seated. With hindsight, this was the first clue this wasn’t as independent a ‘public meeting’ as first appearances suggested. As the platform warm-up speakers progressed, it became clear that the platform were the rabble-rousers and we, the audience, were the chorus line. Our chorus? Enthusiastic applause on cue. This seemed more like a Labour members’ and trade unionists’ rally and the absence of comedian Mark Steel (who was billed) didn’t seem to matter. 

Without Mark Steel, it was altogether less humorous, with trade unionists and a Labour councillor speaking before Jeremy pushed some left-wing buttons. He was in CND, he was against austerity, he supported the trade union link with Labour and was leading the Stop the War Coalition. His tones were reminiscent of a less inspiring Tony Benn, but actually less contemporary. Corbyn had been in the Campaign for Labour Party democracy since its inception in 1970, it seemingly never occurring to him to stop flogging a dead horse. He also raised issues from his constituency in London, not something of interest to the Birkenhead audience.

His supporters were keen to talk him up, but he himself wasn’t so much, for Labour party leaders and followers this isn’t always effective. His conclusion was interrupted loudly by a lady from the Woodcraft Folk. ‘Span the world with friendship, Jeremy’, something about as inane as children’s programme My Little Pony’s slogan ‘Friendship is Magic’. Questions followed the standing ovation, but the level of support made meaningful discussion pointless, so I left early.

Stalin the God and Stalin the Gangster (1956)

Illustration by Robert Barltrop.
Editorial from the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

So the Stalin legend is ended, struck down by the hands that built it up. Three years after his death Communist Party leaders of all nationalities who fawned on him and grovelled at his feet in his lifetime, and who slobbered hysterically at his funeral, vie with each other to speak ill of their dead hero. They now make charges that he was cowardly, conceited, ignorant and stupid, cunning and brutal, and his supposedly benevolent guidance of his admiring and loving people nothing but a betrayal of Communist ideals, a bestial reign of terror under which no voice of protest could be heard and no man of integrity was safe against arbitrary execution.

One thing we must, however, not forget. If the faction that wants to belittle Stalin carries the day we may expect the anti-Stalin campaign to be as richly ornamented with new lies as was the old campaign to build up the Stalin myth. History will be re-written again with no more regard for truth.

For the venal and sycophantic second-line leaders it is a cruel dilemma. While the dictator lived the drill was simple,. Since he was all-wise, when he turned they all turned; and fell over each other to praise his every tortuous twist of policy,. But, as has happened throughout history, the dictator's death launches his  immediate circle into a bloody struggle for power, and the minor leaders and their followers suddenly have to make up their own minds which faction to support. So the British Communists are now anxiously disputing about the line they ought to follow,. This is the eventual fate of all organizations built up on leader-worship and Socialists can view their agonies with equanimity. The Communist Party has never been a force for Socialism and its disruption could only be a gain to the working class.

The way they reported the outbreak of the latest campaign against the dead Stalin is characteristic of their behaviour through the years of his rule. They always kept up the fiction that Russia, which they lyingly described as Socialist, was freely open to reporters and visiting delegations to see what they liked and tell what they saw. Yet in the issue of the Daily Worker of 17 March, 1956, when they summarised two agency reports of the string of charges levelled at Stalin by Khrushchev at the conference of the Russian Communist Party, they gave it non-commitally under the heading "Stalin: A Strange Story," and had to admit that "up to the time of going to press, no confirmation had been received of either story from the Daily Worker correspondent in Moscow, or from any Soviet news agency." But the speech was delivered as long ago as 25th February! Why did not the correspondent report it? In the first place it was delivered at a "private session." Why private? Why did the self-styled "democratic" Russian Communist Party exclude from its conference its British Communist brothers? And as other correspondents soon heard about the speech why did not the Daily Worker send on what was by then common talk in Moscow? Again what was the correspondent doing in all the years of Stalin's life never to have reported the truth about his rule?  

From one angle the British Communists' behaviour is more excusable than that of the non-Communists who visited Russia and sent back glowing report that now appear as grossly misleading. For, after all, implicit obedience to the Leader was the Communist Party's one and only article of faith. No such excuse can be made for the other visitors to Russia, including Bernard Shaw. Many of them smothered the truth for other reasons, above all out of ignorance: not understanding Socialism they needed no persuading that the monstrous State Capitalism of Russia was its opposite, Socialism.

Of course the open defenders of Capitalism will rejoice at the demolition of the Stalin legend and will use it to besmirch Socialism, but Socialists will not be dismayed. This is not a new obstacle to Socialist propaganda but one that Socialists have had to deal with throughout the years of pretence about Russia under the Communists. The harm to the Socialist movement was done at the beginning when Communists first put over the lie that the Russian regime is Socialism. And though the Labour Party will also now use the issue to discredit the Communist Party let it not be forgotten that many of the leaders of the Labour Party in the period since the Communist dictatorship was set up have also given their support to the basic falsehood of Socialism in Russia.

From now on it will become more and more obvious how right the S.P.G.B. was to see in the Communist seizure of power, not the birth of Socialism but the unfettering of the development of Capitalism in Russia. This was true when Stalin was alive and honoured and is still true now that he is dead and dishonoured. 

My Election Contest With Jeremy Corbyn (2015)

From the August 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our candidate who stood against Jeremy Corbyn in Islington North at the general election looks at his politics.

After seeing off the challenge of the Socialist Party at the general election, Jeremy Corbyn clearly feels himself invincible, taking on all -comers and challenging for the leadership of the Labour Party. To some he is the left-wing rejuvenator of true Labour values; for others, he is the lunatic left and ultimate Islington socialist.

Often at hustings in previous elections, I had found myself clearly more radical than the cautious Labour candidate, as they tried to control expectations, and put forward achievable demands. Against Jeremy Corbyn (along with a fairly radical Green candidate, and a Tory smart enough to talk to the needs of the constituency), this wasn’t the case. It would often depend on who got their turn in first, to put a radical anti-capitalist analysis of the problems of health care, housing, mental health or education.

One event illustrates this neatly. We were asked for a song that epitomised our campaign. After deciding that my own preference, Slayer’s ‘War Ensemble’, wouldn’t quite cover it, I fell back on what I knew would be most Socialist Party member’s preference: John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. As it happened, I was asked before Corbyn was, and he would have chosen the same song.

Throughout the campaign, people asked me why we were standing against Jeremy Corbyn, since ‘he is a socialist.’ I wrote a letter to the local press, pointing out that whatever he stood for, he would still a member of a party that explicitly supports capitalism. The last sentence, that a vote for Corbyn was a vote for poverty and unemployment was mysteriously excised by the paper (surely not for reasons of space). I noted several times that despite his opposition to nuclear weapons, and the fact that he would vote against it, a vote for him would (in effect) be a vote for a Labour Prime Minister committed to replacing Trident.

He clearly takes some pride in his rebellious voting record. Normally, as befits a comfortable incumbent who is certain to win, he was able to shrug off my barbs and jibes (indeed, he affably accepted that our campaign was happening and never himself asked why we were standing against him). When, however, I mentioned our Party’s democratic policy of binding mandates for delegates, he took umbrage at the idea of MPs voting as instructed. The fact that his party is not itself democratically organised does at least excuse his position.

He is certainly a passionate advocate of the needs of the poor: throughout the campaign he would come back to the notion that children should have warm dry beds to sleep in; he raised the issue of the horrific drowning of economic migrants in the Mediterranean (instead of merely focusing on local bread and butter issues); he linked mental health issues of poverty and exploitation. It was clear he knew his patch well, and, again, gazumped me by rattling off the same facts about Islington that I’d spent my time researching and learning. The problem, though, is not his analysis of the problems of capitalism, but his approach to trying to resolve them.

An example: at one hustings a very local matter came up. It was a detailed and specific question about the renovation of a council estate in Islington, and the apparent withdrawal of councillors from liaison with the tenants and their proposed designs. I hadn’t heard of the matter, even in the local press, and didn’t know the facts. My cold reading of the matter was that it was probably down to public administration law, and the nature of state property as private property of the council. Corbyn, who mercifully answered before me on this one, confirmed as much, noting that the tenants’ interests had to be balanced against the overall needs of Islington’s property estate.

When it comes down to it, he is better described as a statist, rather than a socialist (in our terms). He believes in state action: laws to reduce knife crime; public ownership of the NHS rather than private ownership; controls on rents and security of tenancy; expansion of council housing, etc.. He confirmed as much after the election, describing the Miliband manifesto as ‘basically good’. Indeed, a look at his Labour leadership campaign manifesto shows that he is far from being the frothing radical the right-wing press love to depict him as. In his response to Osborne’s July budget, he wrote: ‘I am calling for a people's quantitative easing – and asking my fellow candidates to join me in that call… The Bank of England must be given a new mandate to upgrade our economy to invest in new large scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects.’ Put another way: his leadership would be just Harold Wilson warmed up.

The real source of his radical image is his persistent stance on foreign policy. First, backing dialogue with Sinn Fein back in the 1980’s, and nowadays being at the forefront of campaigns for the Palestinians. Indeed, one clear point of attack from some within the Labour Party has been the meeting he addressed where he welcomes ‘our friends’ from Hamas and Hezbollah. When questioned about that on Channel Four news, his response was to aggressively pushback, and try and get the issue back to resolving the Israel Palestine conflict. There’s no doubt that he is a passionate advocate for peace, but also, clearly, a practical politician willing to work with the existing ruling groups, but he is clearly in hock to the dismal ideology of nationalism and national liberation.

The right wing press has gone mad over him. Some Tories, taking advantage of the Labour Party’s new open primary system of electing a leader, where anyone can pay three pounds to become a ‘Labour supporter’ (and sign a declaration that they are not a supporter of any other party) and get to vote, gleefully announced that they would join up and vote for Corbyn, because he will take the Labour Party into the wilderness for decades to come. The reality, perception aside, is that Corbyn is simply a traditional Labour MP, who puts forward the case for state intervention in a capitalist economy. The only thing he does differently, is that he believes in putting the case openly, instead of pitching to a marketing strategy in order to win power to make reforms on the quiet.

He is a decent, intelligent and committed politician, but he wouldn’t have survived in politics so long without a certain amount of steel. If he surprises everyone by winning the leadership, he could surprise the gloating smooth-faced Tory mockers by actually winning a general election. The biggest, surprise, though, would be just what a staid, unradical government it would be in reality. There would be noise, but the detail is clear, he would have to work within the possibilities of capitalism and its overall profitability. We’ve seen it before in the 1960s.

If he does triumph in the leadership election it will be because the process of installing increasingly sophisticated party and electorate management policies by the Labour leadership have run out of steam, and the desires of workers (however misinformed and locked into the logic of markets) will have forced their way into the halls of power. The media and party managers cannot paper over the lived experience of millions in this country who feel they have no voice nor control.

If he does become Prime Minister, I’ll be telling people it’s all my fault, until then, I’ll continue doing my best to stop him.
Bill Martin

A Movement for Real Change? (2004)

From the October 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
The anti-globalisation movement is probably the most widely-supported grassroots campaign in the world today. It is not just a matter of thousands attending demonstrations in cities such as Seattle and Genoa, to protest against increased commercialisation and capitalist clubs like the World Trade Organisation, only to be met with the vicious attacks of riot police. Nor is it just the meetings of the World Social Forum, held for instance in Porto Alegre and Mumbai, where people have come together to discuss what is wrong with the world and how to change it. Rather is it an amorphous grouping which includes movements for land reform in Latin America, independence for West Papua, opposition to the spread of McDonalds and Starbucks, and much more. It includes many who reject the concentration of wealth and power which currently exists, some who want fairly mild reforms of the present world system, and others who see themselves as advocating root and branch change.
As the above suggests, it is a movement that is hard to pin down and impossible to characterise in a few words pin down and impossible to characterise in a few words. A common criticism that is made, however, is that it is clearer what it opposes than what it stands for. Expressions such as ‘anti-globalisation’ and ‘anti-capitalist’ are all very well, but they clearly prompt the question: pro-what? A recent attempt to confront this issue head-on is Paul Kingsnorth’s book One No, Many Yeses (published by the Free Press). Kingsnorth spent nine months travelling (to South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, West Papua, United States, Italy), participating in protests and talking to others involved in them, trying to find out the reality of the anti-globalisation movement.
His report on his visit to South Africa will be a revelation to any who thought that the end of apartheid would automatically mean a much better deal for black South Africans. Instead, under the African National Congress government, electricity cut-offs, rent hikes and evictions have all increased, and the poor have been getting poorer. Since 1996, the ANC has adopted a ‘neo-liberal’ economic policy, involving large-scale privatisation and opening of the doors to the effects of globalisation.  Kingsnorth’s conclusion is that ‘political freedom without economic freedom is meaningless’. It is certainly true that just having the vote and an end to racist laws do not make people free, even if ‘meaningless’ is an overstatement.
The book’s title refers to the idea that there is no single answer to the problems confronting people: ‘no one system can integrate the needs of all the different people in the world, who all want different kinds of things.’ So a landless person in Brazil wants land, an opponent of corporate power in the US may want to stop the building of yet another Wal-Mart superstore, a West Papuan wants rid of the Indonesian occupation, a Zapatista in Mexico wants power to be devolved as far as possible to ground level. These demands are not incompatible as long as they apply in different places.
As for the view that the anti-globalisation movement is essentially negative, Kingsnorth relates the contribution of Lori Wallach at the 2002 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. Wallach, who has been active in exposing the WTO, claims that they are not an ‘anti’-movement, unlike their opponents:

“We’re for democracy, for diversity, for equity, for environmental health. They’re holding on to a failed status quo; they’re the antis. They are anti-democracy and anti-people. We must go forward as a movement for global justice.”
Yet even this is extraordinarily vague as to what being for democracy and equity and so on really involves, what the concrete aims are and how anyone might organise to achieve them.
The Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico are often viewed as a model of what can be achieved. While they are definitely a departure from the corruption and toadying of establishment Mexican politics, they do not offer a solution that people throughout the world should look to since their aims remain set within a framework of wage labour and government. The forces of globalisation will undermine any efforts to improve things at a national rather than a world level.
In his final chapter, Kingsnorth reflects on the movement he has been investigating, ‘a movement of people who feel cut off’. It is a revolution that is already taking place, he says, one that stands for redistribution and autonomy, one that rejects any model consisting of leaders and followers. Essentially, it is a revolution about power, concerned to wrest it from elites and decentralise it, not hand it over to new rulers. One aspect of this is a very encouraging opposition to leadership, a welcome scepticism towards the ‘old left’ in general and the SWP in particular.
The principles that Kingsnorth puts forward include: genuine democracy, as opposed to the dictatorship of markets or governments; cultural etc. diversity, as opposed to the bland forced universality of capitalism; decentralisation of decision-making, rather than its concentration; self-determination and autonomy, not passive consumption; access to common land and resources, not private control. This is promising as an initial list; but then come his proposals (not ‘half-measures’, he claims) for how to bring all this about. Abolish the WTO and IMF; constrain the global financial system; restrict the behaviour of corporations; democratise the United Nations; stop the private monopolisation of public resources such as land and water; start a global conversation about where we want the world to go. It is a time, he says, to be bold, to call for everything we want rather than gather crumbs from the table.
Unfortunately, like the movement he chronicles, he is nowhere near bold or imaginative enough. His thinking is stuck very much within the blinkers of capitalism, since plainly in his vision there will still be companies (which means private ownership of the means of production, and production for profit), banks, shares, countries and all the other paraphernalia of property society. Applying some of Kingsnorth’s ideas more consistently, however, would lead to more radical conclusions. Re-think the commons, he says: ‘Everything which provides a common good for people as a whole, should be bound in by strict rules guaranteeing public access and preventing private incursion.’
Let’s apply this to all the means of production: let them all be owned in common and used for the good of people by means of production for use. There will be no need for rules to guarantee this in a socialist society based on cooperation and democracy, where decisions are made at the most appropriate level. This is not the kind of ‘one size fits all’ solution that the anti-globalisation movement objects to, since socialism need not be exactly the same everywhere and at all times, though plainly its basic principles will not vary. And when it comes to it, all the various demands made by the movement that Kingsnorth discusses result from a single cause – the existence and spread of global capitalism – so a single solution is to be expected. That solution is socialism, the single ‘yes’ that counts.

Paul Bennett