Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Yawn in the USA (1992)

Editorial from the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

If it was not tragic it would be funny. With a mixture of anguish and amusement, socialists look on as the multi-million dollar campaigns to elect the most important political leader in the world drip down the middle of our TV screens.

The US Presidential contest is a sick, slick manipulation of what is declared to be a democratic election. To begin with, only millionaires or those backed by millionaires can afford to run televised, mass-appeal campaigns. Most US states have laws designed to prevent small parties from even being on the ballot paper: tens of thousands of nominations must be collected before you can even appeal to voters as an electoral contender. The TV networks and the press are subsumed by the petty irrelevancies of which candidate has the most extra-martial liaisons, whose wife looks cutest and which party can provide the catchiest ten-second sound bite.

The election is a farce. Rarely was this more clearly seen that at the Republican Convention when Bush and Quayle accepted their nominations; their speeches were of the emptiest rhetoric, but crowds of media men were placed in the audience to cheer at their every empty promise, laugh uproariously at their every semi-witty jest and, most sinister of all, burst into pre-arranged "spontaneous" bouts of slogan-chanting, Goodbye Gorbachev, but Stalinism is still alive and well in the Houston Astrodome.

The differences between the two big parties are negligible—more minute than ever. Like the British Labour Party, the US Democrats have adopted the view that the only way they might beat the Republicans is by kidding the voters that they are the Republicans. Bush or Clinton—who in their right mind cares? Certainly tens of millions of American workers don't, for it is anticipated that half the electorate will not vote next month.

As in Britain, liberal reformists are tempted by what they see as the lesser evil. The Nation, that journalistic symbol of wishy-washy niceness, hopes that Bush will lose, but its editorial of 14 September shows just how pathetic the case for the Democrats is: "in almost every category of capitalist economic growth—income, profit, gross domestic product, employment—Democratic administrations do better than Republican ones". As if that were a reason why workers, whose exploitation is the source of capitalist economic growth, should vote for their most efficient fleecers.

The truth is that US capitalism is in trouble, and social problems which they thought they could avoid are exploding all over the place. Vast numbers of homeless, a drug epidemic, 12 million hungry, over 20 million illiterates, riots in LA and more brewing in other deprived city areas, a multi-trillion dollar budget deficit and the collapse of welfare, huge numbers of bankruptcies. What American workers need to hear is the case for an alternative to the profit system: the case for production for use and not profit. There will be no Land of the Free until we have a world where all have free access to the abundant wealth that we can produce.

But instead of the voice of sanity, the Republicans have been infiltrated by crazy Christians, no more in possession of their reason than the Muslim fundamentalists. Their leader, and a definite Republican hopeful for 1996, is Pat Robertson who told the Convention in Houston that feminism "encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians". With God on their side these loony leaders are asking the millions to put their faith in them.

Russia Puts the Clock Back (1962)

From the June 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Before 1914 Socialism had a definite meaning, understood by all who claimed to be Socialist. It meant the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution. This was accepted by the Social Democratic Parties that were developing in different parts of the world, most of whom gave allegiance to Marxism.
In these parties there were writers who made first class theoretical contributions to Marxism. Writers such as Plechanov, Kautsky, Labriola, Lafargue, Bauer, Boudin, Luxemburg, and many others. All of these people were in the Second International along with Lenin, Trotsky, and other Bolsheviks. In fact, in those days, Lenin had a great respect for Plechanov, from whom he had learnt much, and he described Kautsky as one of the best theoreticians in the Socialist movement.
Where, however, they all came to grief was on the question of reformism. In theory they were sound, but on the practical side they were weak. Whilst advocating and writing about Socialism they also felt it incumbent upon them to take steps to try and ameliorate the conditions of the workers by having a lengthy platform of reforms. They also looked upon state ownership as a stepping stone to Socialism. This attitude attracted to the ranks of the Social Democratic Parties large numbers of people who were only interested in particular reforms, and had no real understanding of the class division in society or the Socialist objective. They gave lip service to the ideas without understanding them, or even being interested in them.
Had this been all that had happened, it might have been possible to rescue something out of the confusion, and spread sound Socialist understanding, after the 1914-1918 war. Particularly as workers everywhere, feeling that they had been betrayed, were in a ferment of discontent. But the Bolsheviks, by corruption, distortion, betrayal and mud slinging, destroyed this possibility, setting out by lies, trickery and distortion to politically, and sometimes physically, destroy all the parties and individuals who were not prepared to be abject tools of the Bolshevik dictatorship.
In the first flush of Bolshevik victory radical parties all over the world acclaimed the victory and gave them generous support, even where they had doubts on some of the methods adopted. The German Social Democratic Party, when threatened, sent to Russia the writings of Marx and Engels and other archives for safe-keeping, believing that Russia was now a budding free Socialist state where writings and documents would be safe from interference. How wrong they were!
It soon became evident that Russia was not embarked upon even a democratic society. The secret police and the concentration camp were on the way.
The mass of the Russian people knew nothing about Socialism; most of them could not even read. The peasants, who formed the bulk of the population, wanted land, and all wanted peace and bread. It was on the basis of the peace, bread and land programme that the Bolsheviks were enabled to seize power.
Treachery and Terrorism
Once in power the Bolsheviks established what they misnamed the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. In fact, it was nothing of the kind. It was not even the dictatorship of the Bolshevik party (which again they misnamed the Communist Party), but the dictatorship of a small inner group with Lenin as the guiding star. They established a system of treachery and terrorism, first against opposing elements and eventually internally against those who would not abjectly submit to the dictates of the inner circle. In the end this led to members of the inner circle trying to destroy each other. It reproduced the position in the French Revolution when one group ate another until finally Napoleon was left at the top. First Trotsky, then Kamenev, Zinoviev and Radek fell victims to the terrorism they had built up. Fortunately for him, Lenin died before he could become a victim of the system in which he was the leading actor.
Money was lavished, in spite of Russian penury, to influence elements abroad to give abject submission to the dictates of the small group of Russian dictators. Unscrupulous adventurers, with no interest whatever in Socialism, were sent abroad armed with large sums of money, for the purpose of disrupting and destroying radical movements in other countries, and building up groups that acted as foreign agents of the Russian dictatorship. The old secret police of Czarism was copied in the building up of the OGPU, which infiltrated everywhere and set friends and families against each other. Finally, all freedom of expression was killed as no one dare voice any criticism of the despotism for fear of prison, the concentration camp or execution.
In attacking all who would not give unquestioning submission to their changing tactics and ruthless suppressions, the Russian dictators twisted Marxism into its opposite. State Capitalism, which the supporters of the Second International had only looked upon as a stepping stone to Socialism, was established in Russia and declared to be Socialism—thus giving the enemies of Socialism a much desired weapon.
The Third International, which the Russian dictatorship set up for the purpose of disorganising radical parties in the West, was abandoned as soon as its aim had been accomplished
Now, in the effort to build up Socialist parties, one supreme task has been added to the rest; the need to unveil the falsity of Russian propaganda and take the name of Socialism out of the mud in which the Russian leaders and their henchmen have immersed it. And still today the supporters of the Russian dictatorship everywhere carry out the intriguing, tortuous and hypocritical policy of their mentors.
The Bolsheviks have certainly put the clock back and, in the name of Socialism, have built up one of the most ruthless Capitalist states that have ever existed. Even the forms of democracy that exist in the Western world cannot be found there.
Evidence for the duplicity and ruthless-ness of the inner Bolshevik clique in the early days is given in profusion in Angelica Balabanoff's My Life as a Rebel. She went to Russia as to the shrine of Socialism, and she became the first secretary of the Third International; but later left Russia disillusioned and broken-hearted, severing her connection with the Russian group after what she had witnessed.
Critics, enemies, and anyone who displeased the inner circle or influential members of the bureaucracy were sent to concentration camps, mostly in Siberia, where they were ill-fed, ill-clothed, and overworked in the bitter cold. Thousands died, and many more became physical wrecks. The story is a horrible one of cold-hearted ruthlessness.
Claiming that the end justified the means, however perfidious, the Russian Autocracy are now firmly establishing a typical Capitalist state, armed with the most terrible means of human destruction and threatening, whilst their alleged end has disappeared into obscurity in face of diplomatic and blackmailing manoeuvres for better trading opportunities. But they have done more damage to the movement for Socialism than even the most ruthless avowed Capitalist states. The latter proclaimed their antagonism to Socialism and could be met in the light, whereas the Russian dictatorship claims to be sponsors of Socialism and works in the dark.
Hard as the road to Socialism always was, the Russians have made it harder, and have destroyed, or driven to despair, many genuine fighters for the workers' freedom from Capitalism, even if some of these have been mistaken in their methods.
The lesson to be drawn from the Russian experience is the impossibility of a small group of leaders, with a mass of blind supporters, ushering in anything other than some form of dictatorship; certainly not Socialism, The supreme need of the workers is an understanding of Socialism, what it is and what it implies, and organising together for the sole purpose of achieving it. Finally, that Socialism is an international system which cannot be achieved in one country alone, but requires the understanding and harmonious co-operation of all the workers of the world.
Gilmac.

Jealous Guy (2012)

The Pathfinders Column from the June 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
Chemistry at school has always had a dismal reputation as the boring science, which only gets interesting when it scales down into physics or up into biology. But a recent BBC Horizon documentary on the history of materials did an excellent job of correcting this prejudice by showing how new cooking recipes have been behind some of the most revolutionary technologies, from silicon and superconductors to graphene and even silicone. But one story stood out above all for its strangeness, the story of a material called Starlite, recently also picked up by New Scientist (16 May). Take some flour, baking soda and a few other sundries, whisk them up in a food processor, then paint the white gunge onto any surface and it will magically become impervious to temperatures up to 1000 degrees Celsius. A raw egg, covered with a thin layer of the stuff and then blowtorched for three minutes, remains raw and in fact not even warm.
This white paste, called Starlite by its amateur inventor, is the most efficient heat-resisting material anyone has ever discovered, and simple to apply to any surface. Nobody is entirely sure how it works. The fact that an untrained, non-scientist working alone in his domestic kitchen was able to come up with a formula that trumps all known products from established professional labs is not even the strangest part of the story. Even more bizarre was what happened next. The inventor, Maurice Ward, refused to divulge the recipe, afraid of course that he would be stitched up by capitalist manufacturers and their sharp-suited lawyers. History is littered with stories of inventors and discoverers not getting their due and Ward was justifiably determined that that wasn’t going to happen to him. He rejected every overture and stymied every proposal, obsessed with protecting his intellectual property rights.
Well, he protected them alright. One day he dropped down dead, taking his secret recipe to the grave. To this day nobody knows what went into making Starlite. It may never be known. The world has lost a wonder material.
For socialists the lesson drawn scarcely needs spelling out. Capitalism’s obsession with ownership has in this case indisputably prevented significant technological progress. It’s no good blaming Ward’s paranoia. He had every right to be paranoid. He was the golden goose in the shark tank and he knew it. People close to him have commented that it wasn’t even about the money. Ward just couldn’t stand the idea of being taken advantage of.
In socialism, with its culture of free cooperation and sharing, there is no conception of private property ‘rights’ in the first place. While it is not strictly impossible that one scientist might try to rob the credit for another’s achievement, there would at least be no money or power incentive for doing so. Without the corporate muscle that accumulated property can muster, third parties could scarcely be bought or intimidated into silence, so it’s unlikely that any such intellectual larceny could get off the ground, much less be sustained. Ward would have got the credit in socialism, no question, and we would all have got the gain.
A quiet revolution
On a more encouraging note, the concept of free access – the complete antithesis of the property ethic described above – seems to be extending delicate tendrils beyond the parent growth of computer software into the world of higher education. Some US universities including Stanford and MIT are opening up certain online degree courses, free to all comers. Given that a Stanford degree normally costs in the region of $150,000 this is a significant step. The logic, though, is simple enough. Once the course is devised, written and put online, costs of delivery fall to zero if no interactive sessions or manual marking is required, so what’s to lose? Free online courses won’t threaten the existing market for taught courses since remote or ‘distance learning’ doesn’t suit everyone, but the idea is catching on fast and it surely can’t be long before other universities follow suit.
What is really interesting is how the cheapness and ubiquity of online delivery is ‘normalising’ the idea of free access.  The change is not so much in promoting the idea of freebie giveaways, with which the world is already familiar, but more importantly in marrying the terms ‘free’ with ‘high quality’, a concept we are certainly not used to. Free software these days is top of the range, not cheap junk written in BASIC. Free apps are as good as anything Apple still hides behind its paywalls. Free information, in the form of Wikipedia, has proven as reliable as anything in commercial online encyclopedias. So ‘free’ and ‘quality’ are no longer antonyms.
This normalisation process in turn is changing expectations, giving rise to a modified sense of entitlement. It is this sense of entitlement, not just over computer software but over all resources, which the world’s population currently lacks and which socialists say they should have. Socialist revolution won’t be caused by stirring polemic about how bad or inefficient or even immoral the existing system is. It will be caused – perhaps it is already being caused – by a changed sense of entitlement, of what ‘normal’ ought to be. People who think it is ‘normal’ to have to pay for everything will not struggle to abolish the paying system even if they themselves suffer dire poverty as a result. But change what is considered ‘normal’, so that people come to expect that if something is worth having at all then it ought to be free, and you have the stirrings of a revolutionary mindset. The Occupy movement have been helpful in focussing minds on the telling inequality statistic of 99:1 but that isn’t enough.  More exciting is the quiet development of a new social norm, in which charging money for important and socially useful things begins to be seen as selfish, distasteful and somehow increasingly old-fashioned and obstructive.

Neither Westminster Nor Brussels But World Socialism (2015)

From the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
The European Union (EU) is an institution for the economic interests of the European capitalist class, and their mantra is 'free movement of capital, goods, services and labour.' It was the European Round Table of Industrialists which included the chief executives of Daimler-Chrysler, Fiat, Nestlé, Renault, Siemens, BP, Rio Tinto and Rolls Royce who promoted further European integration in the 1980s and which led to the 1987 Single European Act.
The dominant elements of the capitalist class in Europe see an advantage in organising the economy of Europe on a continent-wide basis because the EU is an attempt to overcome the limits of developing the productive forces within Europe's nation-states. The EU comprises 28 states and 500 million people, trades as a single market with eventually a single currency, and represents one-fifth of the world’s GDP. The EU enables Europe to compete better with other global capitalist powers such as the USA, Russia, India, and China.
The EU and the EEC before it, was an attempt to move beyond war after two world wars had ravaged Europe. EEC founder Robert Schumann said 'make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible', and he proposed Franco-German co-production of coal and steel. The 1951 Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community of France, West Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The European Coal and Steel Community would lead to the European Economic Community (EEC) also known as the 'Common Market', established by the 1957 Treaty of Rome.
Social Charter
It is the concept of ‘Social Europe’ promoted by Jacques Delors (President of the European Commission 1985-95), which sections of the British capitalist class are opposed to. Delors even came to Britain to address the 1988 TUC conference where he stressed economic union must be matched by social union. The 'Social Charter', a Keynesian welfare state model based on full employment in capitalism was adopted at the 1989 European Council.
The Social Charter promoted improved living and working conditions, dialogue between management and labour, health and safety in working conditions, sex equality with regard to job opportunities and treatment at work, protection of pensioners and the unemployed, increased statutory maternity leave, a 48-hour maximum working week, and employment rights for part-time and temporary staff.
Delors and his Social Charter provoked Thatcher into her infamous Bruges speech on the future of Europe in September 1988 which would lead to the formation of the anti-EU Tory Bruges Group which would mutate into the Anti-Federalist League, and ultimately UKIP. The Thatcher Tory government refused to sign the EU Social Charter, and in October 1990 Thatcher spoke out firmly against the vision of European integration, including a 'single currency.' The capitalist class would remove Thatcher from power in November 1990. The Major Tory government signed the Maastricht Treaty on 7 February 1992 and the European Union came into effect on 1 November 1993.
A 2005 European Court of Justice decision in Pfeiffer v Deutsches Rotes Kreu is explicit about the economic relationship between capital and labour: 'the worker must be regarded as the weaker party to the employment contract and it is therefore necessary to prevent the employer being in a position to disregard the intentions of the other party to the contract or to impose on that party a restriction of his rights without him having expressly given his consent in that regard...'
Such pro-worker decisions of a boom-time capitalism are threatened because of the world capitalist recession and Euro-zone crisis which began in 2008. Since the recent capitalist crisis began, a series of decisions determined by the European Court of Justice stress that industrial action by workers violates the employer’s rights to freedom to provide services, as provided in the EU Treaty. The Court has also been intervening on the side of the capitalist class by using provisions on free movement against collective industrial action.
Split in the capitalist class
The split in the capitalist class in Britain over membership of the EU is exemplified in the main UKIP policy which is to leave the EU. UKIP leader Nigel Farage is a former City commodity broker, and UKIP want the City of London excluded from EU controls, and the repeal of an EU directive on Alternative Investment Fund Managers which seeks to regulate hedge funds/private equity companies in the City. The EU generates such political heat because it brings no advantages to some elements of the capitalist class in Britain. On 8 August 2013 the Times reported on Business for Britain which claimed to have the backing of 500 influential figures, including FTSE 100 directors and the owners of smaller businesses. These supporters include  Ian Cheshire, chief executive of Kingfisher, parent company of B&Q, Lord Wolfson, CEO of Next, John Caudwell, founder of Phones4U, Sir Rocco Forte, executive chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels, Tim Martin, chairman of pub group JD Wetherspoon, and Charlie Mullins, managing director of Pimlico Plumbers. They are all bosses of firms producing for the home market.
The majority of the capitalist class in Britain are export orientated businesses. In April 2013, the British Chambers of Commerce poll of 4,380 companies reported in Bloomberg Business Week that 18 percent felt leaving would be positive but 64 percent favoured Cameron renegotiating terms, 60 percent felt exiting would harm business, and even 23 percent wanted further EU integration. In May 2013 leading capitalists Martin Sorrel and Richard Branson opposed EU exit. Sorrell said 'Investors choose to build factories and locate their business here because of our access, not proximity to, but access to the single market.' John Cridland, Director-General of the CBI added 'the UK is best served inside a reformed EU, rather than outside with no influence. Access to the single market has also been a magnet for investment from around the world. Being part of the EU has helped to make the UK one of the leading locations for investment, in part because of our direct access to a market of more than 500 million people and an EU economy with a GDP of £9.75 trillion.' (Guardian 18 January 2014)
Away from the Nation-State
Marx and Engels identified that 'the bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country' (Manifesto of the Communist Party) The 1995 European Court of Justice decision on free movement of labour for football players known as the Bosman Ruling means football clubs can sign any number of players from EU countries. The ECJ decision was based on EU Articles 45-48 where workers have the right to move freely and work anywhere in the EU without discrimination on grounds of nationality. It is very probable that Bosman helped Manchester United win the Champions League in 1999. British football pre-Bosman found themselves at a huge disadvantage in European competitions, they could only field three foreign players per match. Only five of the thirteen players who featured in Manchester United's 1999 Champions League victory were English. Before Bosman that team could never have set foot on the pitch.
European cinema of the 1980s and 90s is another testament to the 'cosmopolitan character to production and consumption' with the popularity of French films such as DivaBetty Blue,SubwayThe Big BlueJean de FloretteManon des SourcesNikitaDelicatessen, the Three Colours trilogy, Leon, and La Haine; the Yugoslavian film When Father was Away On Business; Scandinavian films My Life as a DogBabette's Feast, and Pelle the Conqueror, and the Spanish cinema of Pedro Almodovar.
The EU established the Schengen Area where passport controls are abolished although no surprise the UK opted out of this. On 1 January 2002, the EU introduced the Esperantist-named 'Euro' as the EU currency, again Britain opted out of this. As members of the EU Britons are entitled to the European Health Insurance Card which provides free health care in EU countries.  Britain is already a semi-detached member of Europe but to exit entirely would possibly be to surrender to xenophobia and parochialism completely.
Marx in Brussels in his January 1848 speech On the Question of Free Trade said 'the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution.' Earlier, Marx had attended a free trade congress in Brussels in September 1847 for which he prepared a speech (which was never delivered). Engels wrote an account of the conference, summarising Marx's view, and a fragment of the speech dealing with protectionism has survived: 'If they (the protectionists) speak consciously and openly to the working class, then they summarise their philanthropy in the following words: It is better to be exploited by one's fellow-countrymen than by foreigners.' (The Protectionists, the Free Traders and the Working Class)
There are small benefits for some of the working class in Britain and those living abroad in the EU, other sections of the working class in Britain may benefit from leaving EU, but the majority of the working class will be unaffected by the dispute over the EU. The dispute within the British capitalist class has no class interest for workers. Whether British capitalism is in or out of the EU will make no real difference to their position as a class forced to work for a wage or a salary.
Steve Clayton