Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Relevance of Marxian Economics Today (2014)

From the April 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Interview with Andrew Kliman, author of a number of books on Marx’s ideas.

How did you come to be interested in Marxian economics and socialism?

I was 12 years old in 1968, a moment of tremendous radical ferment, and I immediately identified with all of the forces struggling for freedom. I don’t remember whether I immediately identified with socialism, too – in the environment of the time, immediately linking the two would have been rather natural – or whether that took a bit of reading and thinking.

I used to argue with people about capitalism, and I’d be told, ‘you don’t understand supply and demand.’ I realized that was true, and a main reason why I decided to major in economics in college was to see if my views would survive confrontation with ‘the law of supply and demand.’ Eventually, I decided to go to graduate school in economics and focus on radical economics. My knowledge of Marx’s writings, on economics and in general, was still rather limited. I had tried to read Capital, but my eyes kept glazing over and I kept dozing off. But in my first year of graduate school, I took a year-long course that consisted of a close reading of the three volumes of Capital. It was quite a struggle, but slowly I began to understand and to be convinced. The irrationality and corrupt nature of the resistance to Marx’s ideas, even among ‘Marxist economists,’ and the sterile and non-revolutionary alternatives they offer, have strengthened my conviction. So have the Great Recession and its ‘new normal’ aftermath.

I don’t think of myself as a ‘Marxist economist.’ The people who trash Marx or cannibalize his work to further their own ideas and careers have appropriated the term for themselves, and they can have it, as far as I’m concerned.

In ‘The Failure of Capitalist Production’ you claim that the underlying cause of the last global economic downturn was a persistent fall in the average rate of profit which had never fully recovered since the late 1970s. Do you think the falling rate of profit is always the deciding factor in regard to economic crisis or can it be explained by other features of capitalism such as the disproportionate growth between different sectors of the economy?

I say that the fall in the rate of profit was a, not the, key underlying cause. That’s not the same thing as a ‘deciding factor.’ I think a variety of conditions need to be present in order to produce an economic downturn and financial crisis, especially ones as severe as those we’ve experienced. That was Marx’s view as well. In particular, as I stress in the book,

‘Marx’s theory holds precisely that a fall in the rate of profit leads to crises only indirectly and in a delayed manner. The fall leads first to increased speculation and the build-up of debt that cannot be repaid, and these are the immediate causes of crises. Thus, the timing of the current crisis and the sequence of events leading to it do not contradict the theory, but are fully consonant with it and lend support to it.’

Clearly, the main immediate causes of the Great Recession were the bursting of the bubble in the US housing sector and the financial crisis that resulted. But pointing to these events isn’t adequate. If they were the only problems, the economy would have rebounded smartly once the US government quelled the panic; but that was five years ago, and the malaise persists. The recession, and to some extent the financial crisis, were also the product of several other, underlying conditions. A persistent fall in the rate of profit led to sluggish investment in production, which in turn led to a rising burden of debt; and the US government responded to these conditions by throwing even more debt at them. The government policies delayed the day of reckoning, but also made the crisis worse when it finally did erupt. These underlying conditions still persist for the most part, and the future of the Euro area and Chinese economies is quite uncertain, so the malaise persists as well.

During the housing-sector bubble, home prices and financial activity grew faster than the rest of the economy. One can, if one wishes, call this ‘disproportionate growth between different sectors of the economy.’ In this specific sense, the financial crisis and recession can be characterized as a ‘disproportionality crisis’ (but only with regard to immediate causes, not longer-term, underlying ones). But since ‘disproportionality’ generally refers to something different – an imbalance between production of means of production and production of consumer goods and services– use of the term is liable to cause confusion.

What is your attitude towards those that claim government spending and/or increasing working class consumption is a way out of the crisis?

Of course, the government could borrow more, and thus provide more of a temporary boost, but there’s a definite limit to the amount by which governments, even the US government, can run up their debt before the credit market gets spooked and lenders demand so much interest in compensation that running up the debt becomes counterproductive. Even more importantly, running up the debt provides only a temporary fix. It doesn’t set off a perpetual-motion machine of economic growth. Once the stimulus money ends, the stimulus it provides ends as well – and let me emphasize that this is what standard Keynesian theory itself says.

Although underconsumptionists claim that redistribution of income from wages to profits was an underlying cause of the Great Recession, that isn’t true, at least not in the US case. Between 1970 and 2007, employees’ share of net output was stable in the corporate and total-business sectors. So was the share of output that the working class could buy with its income, ie. without going deeper into debt. (Please see my pamphlet ‘Can Income Redistribution Rescue Capitalism?’ which you reviewed in January Socialist Standard, for data and sources).  Since upward redistribution didn’t cause the crisis, it’s not plausible that downward redistribution would solve it. Moreover, any serious downward redistribution would reduce profit and thereby tend to destabilize capitalism even further. After all, profit is the fuel on which the system runs. The underconsumptionist theory of crisis denies this, it tells us that the problem is too much profit, but I think there are fatal logical flaws in that theory. I can’t go into them here, but I do so in the pamphlet and in my book.

Similarly, what is your attitude towards those that claim that banking/monetary reform can improve conditions for the working class as well as preventing future crisis?

Financial regulation, like regulation in general, has a very weak track record. Businesses and investors are always able to find ways around the regulations, and the new regulations that are drawn up are always designed to ‘fight the last war.’ Also, regulation itself can be a cause of financial crisis. One of the biggest financial crises to date, the collapse of the savings and loan (building society) industry in the 1970s and 1980s, was caused by very strict regulations on the interest that the savings and loans could pay and charge, together with the inability of ‘Keynesian’ policies to stem the spiraling inflation problem of the time.

It’s possible to set up a government-handout agency that one calls a bank, funnel borrowed  money through it, and improve conditions for the working-class in that way – temporarily and within strict limits, of course. But if we’re talking about genuine banking functions – attracting funds and lending them out –it’s not possible to turn banks into institutions that operate for the benefit of working people or that pursue public-policy objectives. The capitalist system has its own laws, economic laws that are independent of the intentions of the people who happen to be running it. State-regulated banks, and even state-run and worker-run banks, are still banks. They have to try to maximize profits, just like every other capitalist firm. If they don’t, they won’t be able to provide investors and lenders with a decent return, so the investors and lenders will go elsewhere, and the banks won’t get the funds they need to operate. They’ll fail or, at best, remain tiny, insignificant islands in the sea of profit-maximizing finance.

You have made criticisms of the view expressed by Richard D Wolff (and others) that workers co-operatives are the way to socialism (or even are socialism). Could you briefly outline your position on this issue?

This issue here is really the same one I just discussed. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about banking or some other industry. Indeed, Wolff has applied his general view to the case of banking, calling for worker-run banks which, he claims, would operate for the benefit of working people. Why? Merely because workers have different interests than regular bankers, so they would supposedly make different decisions.
But the road to bankruptcy is paved with good intentions. Worker-run banks, and cooperatives within capitalism generally, would fail or remain tiny islands if they decided to sacrifice profit in order to enhance the well-being of their members or the majority of the population. Wolff just fails to deal with this problem. The only co-operatives that can survive are the ones that operate in accordance with the laws that govern capitalism. The result, as Marx put it, is that the workers in these cooperatives become ‘their own capitalist’; they end up exploiting themselves. In order to keep the prices of their products low and remain competitive, they have to keep their pay low, speed-up production, ignore workplace safety and health issues, and so on, just like every other capitalist.

Let me emphasize that the above comments are just about co-operatives within capitalism and as a ‘way to socialism.’ I’m not objecting to co-operatives as a form or even the dominant form of organization of production within socialism.

The assumptions of neo-classical economics have increasingly come under a lot of criticism since the financial crash of 2008. This criticism seems to have made significant inroads into the main stream yet the bulk of it comes from a behavioural economics or Keynesian /post-Keynesian viewpoint. Do you think this development can be harnessed by those seeking to promote a Marxian perspective and if so in what ways?

I’ve devoted a lot of effort to fighting the suppression of Marx’s body of ideas, including the suppression of them by the Marxist and radical economists. But fighting to allow Marx’s ideas to be heard is one thing; promoting a Marxian perspective in the academic-careerist turf-battle sense is another. I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in understanding and transforming reality, and for this, openness to dialogue and to new findings and ideas – from wherever they come – is essential.

I think Hyman Minsky, a post-Keynesian, had some insightful things to say about speculative and Ponzi finance. Irving Fisher’s debt-deflation theory of business cycles is also interesting. He was a neo-classicist, but some post-Keynesians have returned to his theory. And Vernon Smith and his colleagues have done what I regard as tremendously important work in behavioral economics, on the causes of asset-price bubbles. They’ve demonstrated conclusively that misinformation and lack of information isn’t the problem.

I agree with you that mainstream economists are engaged in some genuine rethinking. I also agree that Marx’s ideas don’t play any real role in that rethinking. This lack of interest in Marx isn’t due to dogmatism, but to the fact that these economists are agents of capitalism. Their job is to try to figure out how to solve the economic crisis and how to prevent future crises or at least make them less severe. So I can’t think of a thing that Marx has to offer them. His theory of capitalist crisis isn’t about the defects of any particular set of institutions or any particular form of capitalism. It’s about defects that are inherent in every form of capitalism and are inextricable from it. So I don’t think it offers anything to people trying to alter the system while keeping it intact.

Many groups that have shared the Socialist Party’s definition of socialism as a classless, stateless and non-market society have insisted that the working class should abstain from parliamentary activity. The Socialist Party has always maintained that as the state only exists to preserve the position of the property owning minority and that as socialism can only come about through majority understanding and participation, the democratic process should be used in order to win control of parliament for the purposes of preventing the state machine from being used against the socialist majority and to ensure the transition from capitalism to socialism can proceed in as ordered a manner as possible. In what ways would you agree or disagree with this position?

I wouldn’t insist that the working class abstain from parliamentary activity. As a Marxist-Humanist, I support (sometimes critically) all genuine freedom struggles, whatever the form they happen to take at a particular moment. But in the US, where I live, they’ve taken an electoral form only rarely, for instance in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party 50 years ago. I think that’s largely true elsewhere, too. The institutionalized labor and left electoral parties, even in the best cases, have rarely been vehicles of mass self-activity; and that’s one thing I do insist on, as did the First International: ‘the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.’   

‘Property owning minority’ is too narrow – the top bureaucrats in the USSR, China, etc. haven’t been owners in the usual sense. I do agree that the state exists to preserve the capitalist system and that socialism can only come about through majority understanding and participation. However, I simply don’t see how the rest of the sentence follows from that.

Questions of logic aside, I don’t think anything can prevent the state machine from being used against the socialist majority. Governments can and will suspend our rights and ignore laws passed by parliament when push comes to shove, and they often have constitutional authority to do so. I think that what would offer the most protection against this, and the best chance for a revolution without mass bloodshed, is, first, a large majority in favor of socialism. Second, clarity about who its allies and who its enemies are – this is something that has been lacking far too often. Third, serious work to bring draftees and enlisted members of the armed forces over to the side of the people. If they decide to point their weapons in the opposite direction, that will do far more to enforce the will of the majority than parliamentary decrees can.

But getting rid of the old order is only one aspect of social transformation; the other is the creation of new social relations, rooted in a new mode of production that’s not subject to the economic laws that govern capitalism. No amount of political will, whether expressed by parliamentary or extra-parliamentary means, can bring this about. It’s not a matter of issuing directives, passing laws, or whatever. Unless and until a new mode of production is established that uproots the economic laws that govern capitalism, these laws will continue to nullify parliamentary laws, decisions of workers’ councils, and what have you.

"Ten Forty-Five" (1938)

A Short Story from the March 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

He stood in the queue, huddled close to the wall, staring broodingly in front of him.

His thin, sallow face was lowered into the upturned collar of his overcoat as protection against the cold drizzle. His hat, badly out of shape, with its brim thrust down, made his nose almost the only feature visible. His hands were stuck deep in his pockets. While most of the crowd were chattering animatedly, he stood silently, ignoring even the jostling that took place from time to time.

A raucous voice, that of a policeman, startled him out of his reverie:

"Show your cards, please; ten-thirties only!"

Those at the head of the queue began to push through the narrow door marked "Men," holding out their "Signing-on" cards for inspection. Shoving, pushing, jostling, the rest of the queue moved forward in shuffling gait.

When Sallowface had almost reached the door he stopped, and then edged to the side, holding up several men who were behind him.

"Whatcher trying to do," asked one of them, a burly, red-faced fellow, "get froo a winder?"

"That's all right," he replied, "you get in; I'm 'ten-forty-five.'"

Red-face muttered something whilst disappearing through the entrance.

Sallowface looked after him with a sneer.

"Bloody fool," he hissed almost soundlessly through clenched teeth. His thoughts continued the sneering curse.

"Typical of the lot. No ideas, no mentality, no imagination. He hated them. Hated them as much as he hated the rich, the capitalists. Perhaps more. If it wasn't for them, would he have to suffer all this misery, this poverty?

"They could change things, change the system, if they only had the brains and the guts. Ah, it made him sick! What was the good of it all? They'd never learn. Listen to them now."

"An' I think he played a better game last time out. That save he made in the second 'arf—"

"Not 'arf he didn't!"

"He's a grand player, he is—"

Sallowface cursed silently.

"Give them football," he thought, "it's all they're interested in. No idea of life, as it could be lived, as it was lived by their rulers, their masters. Leisure without worry, luxury all round, travel—"

He sighed.

"Ah, travel! How wonderful to be able to travel. To travel to lands where there was sunshine and warmth even in the winter! To escape this weather, this climate, this fog that made breathing a pain, this rain that soaked through worn-out soles and gave you perpetual colds."

"He'd have to get his shoes mended. No matter if it left them broke. He daren't risk any more colds. They were wearing him out. But where was the money coming from? His wife hadn't paid the milkman for three weeks. She'd have to give him something when he called next. But suppose this rain lasted? How could he look for work with the inside of his shoes full of water?"

His lips compressed into a thin line. Couldn't he try a "screwing-job"? He played with the idea for a while.

To get hold of a few pounds, what couldn't he do with the money! But how was he going to set about it? And where an opportunity? He dismissed the thought in disgust. He wasn't cut out for that sort of thing, anyway. He didn't have the nerve. His wife had often railed him about it.

"You, with your Socialism. That won't get you anywhere! You're supposed to have brains! Always reading those books about economics! Why don't you find out how to get some money? Do a smash-and-grab raid, like some of them! But you ain't got the pluck!"

"Bah," he thought, "what did she know about it. That sort of thing doesn't help you. You're sure to get caught. And then they mark you for life after you leave prison—."

"Prison," he shuddered inwardly, "terrible. Freedom, that's what he wanted. Freedom to live, to enjoy the good things of life. Like those parasites he'd read about in this morning's Daily E—."

"Lord and Lady —have left for Majorca. They expect to be away until next April."

What price patriotism? Buy British, eh? We'll take Britain's wealth and leave you the weather! What humbug! But how he envied them. No worry. They had security—. Security! That was it! They were secure from economic worries. The world was theirs. It belonged to them. That wonderful world, that beautiful sky, the flaming sun, the mountain air, that azure sea, all theirs, theirs to play about with. They weren't free, that sun that browned your body as you lazed about the beach for weeks and months, that air that made your lungs feel as if they'd had a spring-cleaning and gave a sparkle to your eyes and cheeks. They were as inaccessible to people like him as the wealth and leisure needed to go after them.

An uncontrollable impulse seized him. He'd put an end to himself. He couldn't go on like this, his whole existence was a hell, a hell made a thousand times worse by those maddeningly tantalising glimpses of heaven. Why didn't the others feel like that, he wondered. Were they blind to the display of wealth around them, was there not a twinge of jealousy, of envy, amongst them when luxury was flaunted before them? His own wife, even, could not conceive of life other than one limited by working-class means. Sluggish brains and blood! Only yesterday he'd shown her a picture from the Daily M—: "Lady C— saying good-bye to her little son before leaving for the West Indies on a long holiday."

Holiday from what? From the strenuous work of giving parties and dining at hotels? Wish his wife could leave the kids so easily. They were a constant source of worry, nagged her skinny in fact.

He remembered his wife when he'd first met her. Pretty she'd been. Neatly dressed, too, and full of life. Look at her now. An old coat, her cheap stockings darned. She was ageing quickly. Furrows had appeared recently on a hitherto smooth forehead. He thought of of her fondly. Memories crowded in on him, memories of her, of delightful moments. But lately she had always been in a bad temper. So difficult to approach. And nagging: he couldn't bear her nagging. It was terrible, the way she carried on. "Bloody out-of-work, that's what you are! Works two weeks in the year—."

That always made him furious. "Damn you," he would shout, "can I help it? There's no work about, you know it's slack."

"Some slack," she would reply, "getting longer every year! Can't you try something else? But you're too lazy for that. You see the children going without boots and it does not worry you a bit! What have I got from my life!"

Then she would cry, and he'd storm out of the house and tramp the streets, cursing.

"Lazy out-of-work," he would mutter, "I'll give her."

But then his temper would subside and he'd feel sorry for her. Perhaps he was getting lazy. Long stretches of unemployment made you feel like that. He didn't look forward to finding work again. He knew he should, but he didn't. He dreaded work in a way. Bound to a depressing, often insanitary workshop for ten or eleven hours a day, he hated it. Going in when the day was just beginning and finishing when the day had vanished. Slavery, that's what it was. And when he started paying everybody and buying all those necessities they'd gone without for so long, there was precious little left for an occasional luxury. And how he had to work. Piece-work, his trade was. Getting paid per output. And you had to seat and hurry your guts out to keep pace with those you were working. And then the slack season came again, before he had a chance to get clear of debt. The same old round time and again. No escape—.

But he must not let it get him. He must not let it pull him down. He'd got to keep his head up. he had a part to play, if not in the immediate future, but sooner or later the time was sure to come. Things couldn't go on like this for ever. The masses must "tumble," in the end. Poverty wasn't a necessary evil any more. No one need be poor to-day. Things could be produced in such abundance, none need go short. Why, even now, when the actual productive work was done by less than half of the population, there was what was called "Over-production."

What a farce, what a tragedy! Over-production! Millions of people had never known what it was to have even their most elementary needs satisfied—.

He pulled himself up. There he was again, thinking about Social problems, when he could not solve his own. But his own were inseparable from the lot. He knew that.

It wasn't quite satisfactory though. His wife was right. He ought to see to himself first, himself and his dependents. They came first. They were his own, individual responsibility. Why should he be concerned with the others, those dull-witted, stodgy, lethargic fools. They weren't concerned with anyone but themselves.

And when you tried to explain to them, enlighten them, they weren't even interested, thought you cranky. Why should he care then? He'd turn his back on them, blast them. They were not worth it—.

But he knew he would not do that. Once you knew, once you understood, there was no turning back. Something inside you, something stronger than your immediate material interests, drew you back into the struggle. There was a fascination about that battle for Workers' Freedom, fatal though it might be for him. No escape, it was Destiny.

His head sunk still lower, with dull eyes he stared down, his lips moving soundlessly: "It's no use—. I can't get away from it."

"Why did I ever get to know about Socialism"? he thought; "I'd have been better off without it—."

A feeling of despair settled on him. He was through, he had no more strength left to carry on—.

But he knew that when it came his turn to speak to-night at their usual street-corner meeting he would be there and mount the platform again. And then he would talk, haltingly at first, and later, when he had warmed up, he would shout to overcome the noise of the traffic.

And there he forget everything, his troubles, his wife and his children, all was forgotten, as he poured out words—, biting, flaming words; all his bitterness welled up in him. It was a glorious forgetfulness, it made him feel a different person, important—he mattered after all. He was a fighter for The Cause, the greatest cause the world had ever known. And what did he care about his poverty! Greater men than he had sacrificed themselves in the Struggle.

And who knew, perhaps The Day was not so far off, the day of Victory, of Freedom.

"Come along there, you're holding up the line," someone shouted. Mechanically he moved forward.

"Ten forty-five only; show your cards," bawled the policeman.

Sallowface disappeared slowly through the door.
Sid Rubin

Too right-wing (2001)

Book Review from the June 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reasons To Be Cheerful. By Mark Steel, Scribner, 2000.

"Shame he's a trot", was the recurring thought permeating through my mind as I read Mark Steel's otherwise pleasurable Reasons To Be Cheerful. Packed full of anecdotes and witticisms about his twenty years as a political activist, it's something any long standing Socialist Party member can relate to.

Throughout the book, Steel clearly comes across as someone who is genuinely moved by the horrors of global capitalism but unfortunately this potential socialist joined the anti-working class Socialist Workers Party which is an integral part of capitalism's left-wing.

After rejecting the Communist Party for being "too right wing", the main attraction of the SWP was that one did not have to suffer the indignation of defending the USSR as it was "state capitalist" - a theory pioneered in this country by the Socialist Party. Of course, it would be asking too much for any recognition but it is a shame that Steel's political development ended so prematurely.

From here we are taken on an amusing tour of some of the most significant political events of the last two decades of which Steel played "an extremely minor role". Highlights include getting caught up in the Brixton riot - returning to his boring office job to tell his politically uninitiated colleagues that he had got up to "nothing much" at the weekend and his recent Socialist Alliance candidature for the Greater London Assembly where he feared he would hear the words "Mark Steel - 103".

Such jollities notwithstanding, Steel continually spouts leftist poison such as equating socialism with full employment and referring to "old" labour's "socialist clause four". Not surprisingly, he does not even mention the SWP's non-existent internal democracy nor the fact that they intend to preside over a one party state. Even so, if you fancy some light political reading which gives the occasional belly laugh. you will not be disappointed.
Dave Flynn

Letter: 'Not Socialist enough' (1965)

Letter to the Editors from the September 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sirs,

Today I listened to a SPGB speaker at the Mound, Edinburgh's centre of informal political discussion. This speaker criticised and denounced the whole British Labour Party in politics as well as its whole organisation. Why? Because it is not Socialist enough, he argued.

Now, I gather from your aims, published in the Socialist Standard that you are for political as well as economic democracy. The only means of political democracy is an elective, representative house, and this means "politics" in its most common meaning.

This is the stumbling block—temporary though it is—to the progression of Socialism from the direction of the Labour Party. It is all very well for the SPGB to criticise the Labour Party but in our political democracy, Socialism must at times be suspended for reasons of political expediency. Otherwise Socialism in politics is crippled, and the day for which we struggle no nearer.

This is the reason for the Labour Party's slow, actual movement leftwards. In theory it is as Socialist as your Party, but for the fulfilment of and the progress towards the Socialist aim through the machinery of politics, its progression must be necessarily slow.

The SPGB does a great job. It must be constantly winning supporters if not members, of the Socialist cause. But it would be mistaken of you, I think, to challenge the Labour Party in politics. We must have a united British Socialist movement, for this is the quickest way to success. The SPGB's purpose should be to won members and supporters, and to influence the Labour Party policy in all its aspects. Political rivalry is the quickest, surest way to Socialist disunity—rather the quicker path of Socialist unity to our common goal.

Of course one can criticise Labour short term  and current policy, but your speaker implied that he and you disagreed with Labour's long term, overall plan. What are your views?
Fraser Grigor
Edinburgh, 10.

Of course our speaker "criticised and denounced the whole British Labour Party". Why should he do otherwise? The Labour Party is more a Socialist organisation than the Conservatives or Liberals. It seeks votes on a programme (long term and otherwise) of administering and reforming capitalism and must therefore earn our condemnation as much as the others—including those leaning "leftwards" like the so-called "communists".

If our critic thinks we are being unjust, it is up to him to produce evidence that the Labour Party is Socialist; all we can say is that we have studied the Labour Party for the well-nigh sixty years of its existence, and it is obvious that the membership have not the foggiest idea of what the word Socialism means. Mr. Grigor thinks that Socialism must be suspended at times for reasons of political expediency, which is condemnation enough of the Labour Party's activities when it is remembered what over half a century of "suspension" has meant in terms of working class misery and the horror of two enormous wars (both Labour supported).

Incidentally, it amazes us how, even after only a short dose of the present Labour administration, our correspondent can think that they have the slightest interest in a classless, moneyless world of common ownership and democratic control. Imports and exports, wages and prices, god and dollar reserves, etc.—these are their obsessions. They are in fact up to their necks in the mire of capitalism.

We are told—and how many times have we heard it—that we should not challenge the Labour Party, but try to influence its policy instead. Presumably this means we should act as a ginger group, either boring from within or nibbling from without, but for what earthly purpose? As members, we would run the risk of expulsion and either way we would earn the hostility of the Labour rank and file. Certainly we would stand no chance of swinging the organisation over to Socialism—we might just as well try our luck with The Primrose League.

Our party learned this lesson from its inception, when some of our founder members were expelled from the old Social Democratic Federation for trying to preach Socialist ideas. We saw then that a Socialist Party must be completely independent of and hostile to all other parties, and must have Socialism as its sole aim. Only in this way have we been able to keep the idea alive—not an easy task and one which has not been made any lighter by the confusion and misunderstanding caused by the Labour Party.

Socialism is the only answer to the problems of the world today and we work ceaselessly for the time when the working class of the world will unite to achieve it. Far from agreeing that it should be shelved for any reason, the need for it grows more urgent with every passing day.
Editorial Committee.

Mixed Media: The Ayn Lady (2015)

The Mixed Media Column from the August 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Ayn Lady written and performed by Emma Kilbey, with Lennard Sillevis was produced at the Oval House theatre in Kennington, South London last year. Kilbey and Sillevis play three roles each: as Barker and Larkin, 'objectivist' management consultants attempting to crack through the Russian-doll layers of Ayn Rand, also as Ayn Rand and her husband Frank O'Connor and also as Rand apostles Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. Kilbey is mesmerizing in all three roles.

Rand is notorious as the author of Atlas Shrugged which promoted her 'objectivist' philosophy which boils down to: individuals need to pursue their own self-interest and their own happiness, that is their moral duty. She was anti-altruism, anti-self sacrifice, anti-welfare, big on laissez-faire capitalism, deregulation of the markets, and zero empathy. She wrote that the individual should 'exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself' and extolled egoism as 'the virtue of selfishness.' The play shows how personal relationships suffer in the absence of empathy when Rand and Nathaniel Branden begin an open affair with the reluctant permission of their spouses. Kilbey also includes statements from Tory politicians such as Boris Johnson and former prime minister Margaret Thatcher which resonate with Ayn Rand's philosophy.

One of Rand's apostles was Alan Greenspan who would later become Chairman of the US Federal Reserve 1987 to 2006. In the 1980s Rand became the Reagan administration's 'novelist laureate', and her ideas influence today's economic world stage. The Tea Party in the USA was described by Ben McGrath in The New Yorker as a collection of 'Atlas Shruggers', and in fact according to an American survey, Atlas Shrugged was ranked second only to the Bible as a book that had most influenced their lives.

Gore Vidal in his review of Rand's book New Intellectual in Esquire in July 1961 had warned that 'the muddy depths are being stirred by new monsters and witches from the deep. Trolls walk the American night. Caesars are stirring in the Forum. There are storm warnings ahead.' Vidal dissected Rand's rancid philosophy as 'attempting to give a moral sanction to greed and self-interest, and to pull it off she must at times indulge in purest Orwellian newspeak of the 'freedom is slavery' sort. She has a great attraction for simple people who object to paying taxes, who dislike the 'welfare' state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you're dumb or incompetent that's your lookout.' Vidal concludes that Rand 'has declared war not only on Marx but on Christ' and he believes 'altruism is necessary to survival.'

Anarchist Communist Peter Kropotkin in his work Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution concluded that cooperation and mutual aid are the most important factors in the evolution of the species and the ability to survive. Kropotkin wrote 'the mutual-aid tendency in man has so remote an origin, and is so deeply interwoven with all the past evolution of the human race, that is has been maintained by mankind up to the present time, notwithstanding all vicissitudes of history.' He also writes that in The Descent of Man Darwin 'pointed out how, in numberless animal societies, the struggle between separate individuals for the means of existence disappears, how struggle is replaced by co-operation, and how that substitution results in the development of intellectual and moral faculties which secure to the species the best conditions for survival.'

For Rand the best social and economic system for realising human potential is capitalism. But as the Socialist Standard pointed out in December 2010, it is a 'not really-existing capitalism, more a utopian vision of what a free market, laissez faire future might be like if only people acted rationally and according to their own interest, and the state got off people’s backs. Marx's Capital shows that capitalism, even when it is operating perfectly well, without corruption or unnecessary state interference, must necessarily produce misery and exploitation; and that the state, far from standing in the way of free markets, was an absolutely essential tool for creating and maintaining them.'
Steve Clayton