Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Socialism or Your Money Back (2004)

From the Socialist Party of Great Britain website:

The first issue of the Socialist Standard appeared in September 1904 as the “official organ of the Socialist Party of Great Britain”. The Socialist Party, or SPGB, had been founded in June of the same year by ex-members of the Social Democratic Federation dissatisfied with its lack of internal democracy and with its policy of pursuing reforms of capitalism instead of concentrating on campaigning for socialism.

For them, the sole aim of a socialist party ought to be Socialism, defined as a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by and in the interest of the whole community. They took the view that such a society could only be brought into being through the political action of the working class, as the class of those compelled by economic necessity to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary, when a majority of them had come to realise that they were living in an exploitative, class-divided society and that their interest lay, as the exploited class, in converting the means of production into the common property of society under the democratic control of all the people.

With this approach, and knowing that a majority of their fellow workers were not class conscious in this sense, the members of the new party saw their main task as to propagate socialist ideas amongst their fellow workers. To this end they ran street corner meetings, held public lectures, organised education classes, debated against other parties, contested elections, handed out leaflets, sold pamphlets-—and produced the Socialist Standard.

The Socialist Standard has appeared every month since September 1904, analysing contemporary political, economic and social events and expounding aspects of socialist theory such as Marxian economics and the materialist conception of history. As such its back numbers are an invaluable source of historical material about the period in which they appeared. They also provide a running commentary from a socialist point of view on the key events of the twentieth century as they happened.

Because the Socialist Standard was aimed at the average literate working man and woman—for most of its existence its main outlet was sales at public meetings—it was written in an accessible style that has been compared to popular science writing. In fact, this was essentially how its writers—all of them writing in their free time out of conviction—saw what they were doing. The articles were signed, but discreetly, as the writers were regarded as expressing the view of the party not a personal view.

To mark the centenary of its foundation and of its monthly journal, the Socialist Party is publishing this selection of articles from the Socialist Standard over the last hundred years. Only 69 of the well over ten thousand that must have appeared over the period have been chosen. A choice of what type of article to put in had to be made and it was decided that the articles should be what the Socialist Standard said at the time about the key events in the century that most people will have heard of—such as the sinking of the Titanic, the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the first Labour Government, the General Strike, to go only as far as the 1920s. The articles have been grouped by period, with a short modern introduction.

Inevitably, other types of article had to be omitted, such as basic statements of the case against capitalism or for socialism (interesting as it would have been to compare how this was expressed over the decades) and theoretical articles on aspects of socialist theory (which could have provided material for a separate book—the Socialist Standard had plenty to say on the ideas of Marx, Engels, Kautsky, Plekhanov, Rosa Luxemburg, Daniel De Leon, Lenin, Trotsky and the others as well as on anarchism and syndicalism).

Also having to be omitted are all but two of the articles, which began to appear with increasing regularity from the 1970s onward, dealing with some of the practical aspects of how a socialist society—as a democratic society and one with no buying and selling or money—could function and orient the production and distribution of wealth to meet people’s needs. Excluding such articles was a difficult decision, especially as the Socialist Party is particularly proud of the fact that one of the things we have succeeded in doing over the past hundred years has been to have kept alive the original idea of what a socialist society was to be—a classless, stateless, frontierless, wageless, moneyless society, to define it somewhat negatively, or, more positively, a world community in which the natural and industrial resources of the planet will have become the common heritage of all humanity, a democratic society in which free and equal men and women co-operate to produce the things they need to live and enjoy life, to which they have free access in accordance with the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.

A hundred years ago, when the Socialist Party was formed, there was widespread agreement that this was what Socialism meant, despite disagreements as to how to get there. Unfortunately, as a result of the failure in the intervening period of both gradualist reformism and Leninist dictatorship this is no longer the case. Reformists, who believed that capitalism could be gradually transformed through a series of social reform measures into a better society, themselves ended up being transformed into routine managers of the capitalist system. The Bolsheviks, who seized power as a minority under Lenin and Trotsky in Russia in 1917, ended up developing capitalism there in the form of a state capitalism under a one-party dictatorship. Both failures have given socialism a quite different—and unattractive—meaning: state ownership and control, even state dictatorship, which is what, as the Socialist Standard was pointing out even before both policies were tried, is more properly called state capitalism.

This has been represented as the “failure of socialism”. But socialism in its original sense has never been tried. If those who are committed to the interest of the majority class of wage and salary earners and who want a better society to replace capitalism are not to make the same mistakes of reformism and minority revolution that dominated radical thinking and action in the twentieth century, they need to return to the original idea of socialism and to the understanding that the quickest way to get there is to campaign for Socialism directly and as a matter of urgency. This book is aimed at contributing to that understanding.


May 2004

WHAT A WASTE! (1975)

From the June 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much has been written and said about the problem of waste — savings which could be achieved, environmental problems alleviated.

The solutions advanced by different factions are often valid in themselves. However, each pre-supposes the co-operation of a number of parties with different, or even conflicting interests which, under capitalism, is only possible in a very limited way. Also, it is necessary to define what we mean by waste, as savings in one respect can mean waste in another; savings on raw materials often means waste of manpower. Saving of energy may be costly in cash terms; the often invoked re-cycling leads to waste of energy and manpower. It is the intention of this article to illustrate some of these contradictions.

Mr. Giles Shaw in a debate on waste in the House of Commons on 5 April 1974 stated that in the generation of electricity from coal 40 per cent. of the heat is lost. Of every million tons of coal burnt, the equivalent of 400,0000 tons produces warm air and steam dissipated in the environment. Mr. Hugh Rossi, in the same debate, told the House that in Dusseldorf a new incinerator disposes of the refuse of 700,000 people, making a profit by the sale of steam for space heating and the use of ash for land filling.

Much was heard recently about the Friends of the Earth who collected empty pop bottles and, in protest against the bottles, not being re-cycled, dumped them on the doorstep of the firm well-known from their advertisements as "SCH . . . " Speaking at a conference War on Waste, Mr. Ron Cook, Marketing Manager of United Glass, warned that while glass can be re-used the process can result in waste of petrol, labour and energy. But in Kansas it has been found profitable to build several miles of State highway using glass waste as aggregate.

Mr. Shaw, in the previously mentioned debate, also said that, of 17 million tons [of] household waste, 85 per cent. is dumped. Indignant people write to newspapers complaining that Local Councils show little interest in their efforts to save paper etc. To them it is a straight forward issue and the complications imposed by capitalism escape them. The re-cycling of paper which could save raw materials will mean transportation, sorting and storing involving costs which sometimes outweigh the original savings. The removal of labels, adhesive tape etc. from polythene and cans, for example, may cost more than the saving on raw materials. The cost to Local Councils of doing this cannot be offset by savings achieved by manufacturers and the people who write letters would probably be the first to complain of 1p on the rates to pay for reclamation.

Excessive packaging has also come under fire, yet here the issues are often even more complicated. Many products packed in aerosol cans would be less convenient in any other way. So, if you want the product, the basic oncost of, say, 5p, is inevitable. However, to make the product stand out from those of his competitors, the manufacturer may use a special-shape can and closure. These raise the cost of packaging to between 8p and 10p. The gimmick in no way improves the product, but the customer pays the price to keep the manufacturer in business.

Often criticisms of apparently wasteful food packaging ignore the extra protection and convenience. However, here too it is true, particularly with confectionary and toiletries, that materials are often used vastly in excess of the needs of protection and distribution so that the package may shout 'Buy ME!'

In this article we have shown a few of the many-sided problems of waste under capitalism. The criticism is often levelled at the Socialist Party of Great Britain that the complexities of modern life make the workings of Socialism impossible. Here is one aspect where we can state categorically that Socialism will be easier to administer than the present system. In a world of common ownership, with the elimination of cost and profit considerations, the disposal (or reclamation) of waster, of whatever kind, will be simpler and more efficient than it is to-day.
Eva Goodman

London Meeting: 'Some Ideological Obstacles to Social Change to Socialism' (a talk by guest speaker) (2015)

A talk by Yehudi Webster (Guest speaker from the U.S.)

Sunday, 1 November at 3pm

The Socialist Party's premises,
52 Clapham High Street,
London SW4 7UN

Yehudi Webster is an associate professor of sociology at California State University, Los Angeles. He is currently teaching and lecturing at Lodz University under the auspices of the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program. His topic will be New Approaches to Black History.

Professor Webster joined California State L.A. faculty in 1984. He received a M.S. in political economy from Warsaw University, Poland, an M.A. in Soviet studies from the University of London, England, and a Ph.D. in sociology from Warwick University, England. His interests and specialisations include philosophy, reasoning in social sciences, critical thinking, gender, racial, ethnic, and human perspectives on society. He has delivered numerous keynote addresses and conducted international workshops on these subjects. He also the author of two books: Against the Multicultural Agenda: A Critical Thinking Alternative (1997) and The Racialization of America (1992).

Yehudi will address the claims that 'human nature', scarce natural resources, the necessity of money for rational allocation of resources, the collapse of the Soviet 'experiment', and the un-avoidability of violence for governance, all make socialism impossible or Utopian.

Defending Modernism? (2005)

Book Review from the May 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? by Frank Furedi, Continuum, 2004
Frank Furedi takes the opportunity in this book to rail against the modern 'cultural elite' and their 'dumbing down' of political, educational and artistic standards.He forcefully argues that an all pervading desire for 'inclusivity' leading to the flattery of interest groups - has replaced more hard-headed conceptions of scientific rigour, critical thought and above all, standards, as the driving force for decision makers in the modern world. Today, he argues, participation (or the appearance of it) is seen as the key issue, while the role of the 'intellectual', as arbiter of taste, independent critical analyst and robust generator of original ideas, has been compromised and diminished.

This is interesting and provocative, particularly as Furedi - currently Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent - is better known as the leading theoretician of the Trotskyist political current which called itself the Revolutionary Communist Party until a few years ago, notable for their annual 'Preparing For Power' conferences and their glossily superficial Living Marxism magazine. That his views now seem to have more in common with those routinely expressed in the opinion columns of the Daily Telegraph clearly isn't something he feels the need to apologise for. Strangely enough, Mick Hume, the erstwhile editor of Living Marxism (or 'LM' as it became, in a needless concession to the postmodernist culture and 'dumbing down' Furedi now ironically rails against), happens to be a broadsheet columnist spouting similar views to Furedi himself. This does nothing to diminish the prevalent view on the British left that their organisation was a rather bizarre cross between a cult and a sect with a tendency to say anything controversial if it could get them some media attention.

For all that, Furedi's book is well worth reading. He is a thought-provoking writer and something of a critic of the present 'postmodern condition', where everything seemingly has a value of some sort and banality is elevated into an art form, where science and reason are merely another perspective on the world, and where all attempts at fundamentally changing society are doomed to failure, are dangerous - or both. Here he is tilling fertile ground, and his writing is stimulating and energetic.

A large part of the book focuses on the way in which public policy in the major capitalist states is currently using 'inclusivity' and 'widening access' as bogus ways of enfranchising the disenfranchised, whether it be in political life, the arts, or Higher Education. This involves the recognition and flattery of 'identities' (ethnic, gender, sexual, national) and the promotion of the idea that everyone creates even if some of Furedi's hobby-horses lead him astray periodically.  instance, For the current agenda for 'widening access and participation' in HE is little to do with abstract social engineering but the response of successive governments to the demands of the labour market, including the demands of employers for more vocationally-focused university courses and for the creation of intermediate awards like Foundation Degrees. Indeed, this seems an odd point to need to make to someone who has spent most of his life calling himself a Marxist.

Furthermore, even if Furedi is a half-decent sociologist he is certainly not much of an educationalist, as his comments on modern methods of teaching and learning, accreditation of prior learning and other issues tend to show, for here he is unreliable and his approach lacks the type of rigour and engagement with serious study he otherwise insists on. But where Furedi's book misses the mark most noticeably is in his defence of the 'intellectual' as embodying everything that was good about Enlightenment ideals and modernist conceptions of progress. This is a partial, one-sided analysis and it is tempting to suspect that what Furedi really wants to defend is modernism, science and rationality itself against postmodernism, relativism and our seemingly irrational age.

But this has already been done by others quite recently, such as by Francis Wheen, so Furedi has cast around for a new angle that only serves to distort the picture, robbing it of clarity.

Society doesn't need a new phalanx of intellectuals at all, it needs a reaction against reaction and a confidence that humankind generally can look beyond the fragments of the postmodern condition and collectively work towards a vision of how the world ought to be.

Dave Perrin

What makes a socialist? (1996)

From the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists are not fabricated. They are people who have reached a state of understanding about the society they live in, known as capitalism, and all its attendant problems and iniquities. Out of understanding arises the desire to forge an alternative, a new society free society from poverty, oppression, war, apathy . . . So what does make a socialist? What makes a mind reject the disreputable and repugnant basis of capitalism and opt instead to follow the course of sanity and logic in committing itself to the ideal of socialism? So let's hypothesise for a moment.

Let's take the case of a young person, newly enfranchised, who in 1983 decides to vote Conservative. Within the narrow scope of capitalist thinking this may seem to be a sensible option, the Tories ostensibly being the party most likely to run the economy efficiently, with their free-market philosophy and sound business policies. Labour of course are simply out to disrupt industry and nationalise anything that isn't growing wild, and on top of that they're in the pocket of the unions.

So our new voter is quite happy with his choice, apart from one or two niggling doubts. Being a fair-minded person, he is perturbed at the great variations in the amounts of wealth that accrue to different levels of society, but of course enterprise and hard work are always rewarded.

The miners' strike
Then in 1984, comes the miners' strike, the last great showdown between organised labour and the capitalist establishment. Our voter is partisan, and condemns the reckless behaviour of the striking miners while praising the actions of the strike-breakers. The strikers have of course been duped by NUM leader Scargill's spurious claims of a few pit closures; the idea that the government had any plans for the decimation of the coal industry was of course preoposterous.

Then comes a turning point. Our voter (who let's say lives in a coal-mining area which is fully in support of the strike) is involved in a discussion about the strike between a few colleagues at work. One of the contributors, a union representative, defends the strikers against criticism regarding tactics used against the police. He points out that with the threat of pit closures the dispute differs from many others because it is an attempt to defend the livelihood of miners and their families, and to protect the communities they live in.

If there can ever be an equivalent for an atheist of "seeing the light", then this is it for our voter. he begins to realise that his support for the Conservative Party is misplaced, and to think that only the unions and the Labour Party will fight for his interests. Having diverted his thinking on to a new track, he begins to ask more and more pertinent questions, the principal one being "why do we need money?" Why indeed. It is gradually becoming clear that society isn't merely flawed, it is utterly insane and full of paradoxes. Our voter concludes that money has become a barrier to equal and free distribution of wealth. Why else would there be people starving when the EC destroys or stores food it can't sell? Why else are there unemployed builders and yet thousands of homeless people? Why are people dying of curable diseases when there are ample resources and workers to help the,?

Our voter, now turned sceptic, hasn't quite arrived at the answer to these questions, and in the meantime inquires about joining the Labour Party. Fortunately before he does so, he spots a small advertisement in the back of a magazine. The advertisement is offering free literature published by an organisation unknown to our sceptic—the Socialist Party. He replies to the ad, and is astounded to find that the ideas espoused by the Socialist Party precisely coincide with conclusions he has reached independently.

That is but one example of how a person may become a socialist. As you've probably guessed, the story is not hypothetical; it was my own experience. I thought it worth recounting here to demonstrate that even someone as dogmatic as an electronic rottweiler can grow to understand what and who is really calling the shots in our lives.

Hope and understanding
What really makes a socialist is not wool (thought wool is often applied in the visual region to deceive us), or indoctrination, or deception, or proselytisation. The making of a socialist can be attributed only to the utilisation of one of the most fundamental faculties of the human brain: the ability to reason—to ask "why?" Why do things have to be this way? And by simply asking the question, you have already partly answered it: things are the way they are not because it is unavoidable but because we, the dispossessed working class, allow them to be.
Nick Brunskill