Sunday, June 5, 2016

Opposites and the Man at the Bar (2016)

From the June 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Whilst enjoying a beverage at my local pub an acquaintance came up to the bar where I was seated and ordered a beer. He glanced at me and said: ‘You know there are two kinds of people in the world; those who sit at the bar and those who stand’. I can’t remember the rest of what he said because my thoughts had turned to the question: why are dualities so attractive to us in our understanding of the world?
Once you attempt to name the most commonly used examples of this rhetorical device it quickly becomes apparent that there are hundreds and possibly thousands of them. To name but a few: Good & Evil, Day & Night, Rich & Poor, Old & New, Mind & Body, Masculine & Feminine, Up & Down, Life & Death, Something & Nothing etc., etc. I’m not sure if this dualistic perspective is ubiquitous to humanity and its languages or if it is mainly a European linguistic phenomena but its investigation in terms of the philosophical/political implications within it are surely worth investigating. Is a dualistic analysis just an example of lazy intellectual stereotyping or is it of value within a polemical discourse?
There is, as I’ve said, an inexhaustible reservoir of examples of this kind of description but perhaps if we pick just four of those most often found within political debate then we can deconstruct them to assess their efficacy or otherwise: Love & Hate, Left & Right, Progressive & Reactionary and Chaos & Structure.
Love and Hate
Love & Hate can be important in all areas of life including politics since our culture emphasises the emotions as essential to an authentic relationship with others and the world (if you don’t feel it, it isn’t real). As with most dualities there is an implicit value-judgement that separates the two components. In this example love is invariably thought to be superior to hate. This moral asymmetry can be shown as rather superficial since the hatred of cruelty and injustice can be seen as positive emotions just as the love of money and power can be seen negatively.
By referring to yet another duality, that of positive and negative, we seem in danger of being able to describe one duality only with reference to another. If this is indeed the case then we would end up with a series of Russian dolls and be unable to resolve the meaning and so the efficacy of the categories would remain in doubt. Let’s try again with the second example of Left & Right.
Left and Right
When applied to politics it seems to have its origin during the French Revolution when the radicals sat to the left of the chairman of the Assembly and the more conservative elements sat to the right. This political designation has become ubiquitous ever since, representing a spectrum that all ideologies are squeezed into. The ends of this spectrum are conceived of as extremes (Fascism & Communism) and those in the ‘centre’ are regarded as ‘moderates’. But any serious analysis of the 20th century reveals that Russian ‘communism’ and German Fascism were equally as authoritarian and murderous and that there was certainly no profound ideological distinction. That Fascism might represent a degenerate stage of capitalism whereas Russian ‘communism’ represented capitalism in its formative Russian context suggests an analysis that relies on an understanding of history rather than the ideological dualism of Left & Right. Ideologies inevitably seek to rationalise events and cannot be used to explain or predict them. Again we have morphed into the territory of another dualism: Progressive & Reactionary, which is our next category.
Progressive and Reactionary
This example also implies a moral distinction but only courtesy of a belief in the progressive nature of human development. Without that we are left with a ‘human nature’ that is fixed and therefore excludes the possibility of redemption – condemning us to make the same mistakes repeatedly and forever. But this description, at least, does not possess the absolutes that we associate with Good & Evil, Love & Hate, or even Left & Right. The relationship between the two elements of progressive & reactionary are obviously historically closely associated.
A belief in human progress implies that we build on what we already have or had. They are mutually interdependent which, in retrospect we can see, all dualities are. Without their opposite they become meaningless. It is within this dynamic relationship that we find any analysis at its most productive. We have deconstructed the moral absolutes into opposing abstracts that create new ideas which take their place within a dialectical polemic. Without a belief in progression this would become merely moral relativism but given the guiding principles of social justice and political equality it becomes its antithesis.
Chaos and Structure
Our last example is surely one of the most profound. The need for structure and the fear of chaos is connected with our most primal need – survival. Living within the cultural and technological environment we have created means the need for social cohesion is vital (even though this is enforced through coercion and fear within capitalism). Any serious threat to this causes anxiety and it is this fear that is played upon by reactionary ideologies.
The portrayal of any new conception of social organisation as leading to chaos is a very powerful emotional component of conservative propaganda. That capitalism was born in the bloody chaos of the ‘bourgeois revolutions’ is conveniently forgotten. That social revolution does represent a period of uncertainty is undeniable but then so is the continuous instability of today’s global financial system and the crises and wars it produces – a kind of institutionalised chaos where only the parasitic minority are protected from its effects.
Dualities in themselves remain a simplistic ideological device that restricts thought. It is only when their components are conceived of as mutually dependent within a continuing process of interpretation that they become transparent and useful. The difference between a man who sits at the bar and a man who stands is much less important than the quality of beverage that he consumes and his subsequent dualistic relationship with himself (mind & body) and, of course, with gravity. 

Why do we become Socialists? (1951)

From the January 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has often been suggested to us by our opponents that socialists constitute a group (though they emphasize it is a microscopic one) apart from the rest of society. The path has been made easy for propagating this idea because it is one of the few points on which they are unanimous. They are all prepared to agree that to work for socialism is out of the question as far as that famous nonentity, the average man-in-the-street is concerned.

Even those among our critics who claim that socialism is their ultimate aim insist that other so-called practical measures must come first These always take the form of actual or proposed alterations to certain unpopular features of the present system, whilst leaving untouched the basis which determines these features.

This economic basis of ownership and control of the means of production by a privileged few, and wage-labour by the majority, defies all the efforts of politicians to abolish poverty, war and other social ills. To the extent that their reformist measures gain misguided support from the working class capitalism is strengthened by virtue of the lack of interest shown in its supersession by socialism.

It must not be thought that we insist upon the understanding of socialism, as a necessary pre-requisite to its establishment, for the sake of being academic or exclusive. If we could have achieved our object by other means we should have adopted them long ago.

We hold that it is just as necessary to show why the ideas and policies of our opponents fail to solve social problems as it is to explain the socialist solution. We do not under-estimate the factors which work against die spread of socialist ideas, but we maintain that these factors arise out of contemporary conditions and lose their potency as the workers become conscious of the source of their troubles. Disregard of this is evidenced by the claim that wage-workers will never agree to work in a society in which no wages are paid.. The fact that they will lose all the disadvantages, such as enforced unemployment, as well as the dubious advantages of the wages system, is completely ignored.

To socialists it is not only the keeping of an idle class in luxury that is irksome about employment. A cogent objection is the large number of unproductive jobs—advertising, insurance, banking, soldiering, in fact every activity which produces nothing useful, and is often positively harmful to mankind.

The only reason for all this is one which is never mentioned except by socialists. It is simply to keep the present system going—to separate the workers as a whole from the products of their labour, to determine their meagre ration of the world’s wealth, and to get them to fight their master's battles over possession of the remainder.

The development of the techniques of production means that an ever-decreasing proportion of the worker's time need be spent in producing and distributing a given amount of wealth. It is reasonable to suppose that there will be an increasing tendency to question the burdensome complexity of life at present. Even assuming that the majority of people were content with their conditions of work the consequences of producing goods which cannot be sold are disastrous. Recurring unemployment and war and perpetual poverty in relation to what they produce is the lot of those who do not live by owning the means of production.

Those members of the working class who are rather less gluttonous for punishment than their fellows are thus impelled to seek the cause of their unhappy condition. Unfortunately most of them find it easier to blame individuals or sets of individuals, such as Stalin or the Jews, probably because scapegoats are easy to hurl abuse at, and relieve outraged feelings.

It is becoming increasingly apparent, however, that most of what is said to-day about Stalin is merely a re-hash of what was said about Hitler not so long ago. Similarly the substitution of a gentile for a jewish boss does not make the sack any more acceptable to the worker.

In time all such prejudices will cancel each other out. The idea will be grasped that it is the social system itself, in which the majority acquiesce, that is the root of the trouble. Inseparable from this will be the understanding that new social relations will replace the present capitalist ones.

One of the biggest obstacles to the acceptance of socialist ideas is the under-estimation of the influence of environment on all thoughts and conduct. Most of us, joining the party did not have nearly as clear an understanding of socialism as we have since gained. It may be compared to learning French. More progress can often be made in a week by living in France than in a year by studying textbooks. In the same way, points that present difficulties to those who are accustomed only to contemporary capitalist ideas find the socialist case hard to accept, until mental barriers of prejudice and conservatism are removed.

It is on the whole true to say that the ideas of men evolve slowly, but eventually society is more or less quickly revolutionized. Although the spread of socialist knowledge may appear to be slow, the development of the present world set-up must eventually lead to a point when all other “ practical" cures for our social ills will have been tried and failed.

There are contradictions within capitalism itself which tend to become greater and are not capable of being resolved, except by a fundamental change. The contradiction of poverty in the midst of actual or potential plenty is still with us, despite the efforts of reformist politicians of all parties. Capitalism decrees that the workers receive on average just sufficient to keep them in working order from week to week (or month to month).

Our opponents often point out individual exceptions to it, such as the occasional worker who makes good by thrift or industry. They forget that these comparatively fortunate ones are counterbalanced by some who cannot even afford enough food to keep their families from illness. That a few workers can escape into the capitalist class (the football pools are a “ popular" way) does not make any difference to those who have to continue the struggle along on £5 or £6 a week. The capitalists naturally seek to maintain their dominance and employ members of the working class—journalists, script writers, teachers, to do most of the routine work connected with stuffing the “right” ideas into the workers’ heads. Capitalism not only gives us poverty, but a way of looking at it so that it appears to become, as Mr. Morrison would put it, not-poverty.

Nevertheless many of the false notions of men about past and present society are being displaced by the growth of all branches of scientific knowledge. This must lead to a realisation of the opportunities of a better life opened up, but held back by ignorance of how to achieve it.

To non-socialists there appears to be no practical alternative to capitalism, but it must be emphasised that this is only so because of the acceptance of its institutions by the majority of those outside the socialist parties of the world. These institutions—private property, money, wage-labour, etc.,—are not permanent features of human life. They evolved from other forms such as primitive communism, and chattel slave-labour. There is no reason to doubt that from them will evolve a new set in keeping with the new basis of society, i.e. common ownership of the means of production.

It is up to you at present outside the party to join us in the work of bringing Socialism into being—no special attributes, virtues or sacrifices are necessary.

One thing we would particularly ask of you. Do not make objections to socialism which rest upon projecting present conditions into the future. When we first heard the socialist case most of us looked for all the possible snags. We found that there are none except in the minds of non-socialists, who mostly do not connect the necessity of changing the present system with the solution of their common problems.

We are confident that the failure of all other political parties to make any worthwhile improvement in the condition of the exploited masses will lead the latter to the realisation that the answer—socialism—lies in nobody’s hands but their own. What we, as a party, do is to propagate the knowledge of how it can be brought about. We are certain that man, having come so far since descending from the trees, will continue the conquest of his environment, and will not find the achievement of socialism beyond his powers.
Stan Parker

Dictatorship of the proletariat (1979)

A Letter From Europe from the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

As expected, the French Communist Party voted at its XXIII Congress in Paris in May to remove the reference to ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ from its rule-book. This was a foregone conclusion, since the Party leader, Georges Marchais, had announced two years ago that this would be happening. The only opposition came from a small group around the overrated philosopher Louis Althusser and from die-hard Stalinists like Jeannette Vermeesch, widow of former Party leader, Maurice Thorez.

‘Dictatorship of the proletariat’ was indeed a phrase used by Marx, but never with the meaning the PCF has given it. Marx always insisted that socialism could only be established by political action; in other words, that in order to establish socialism, the working class should gain control of the machinery of government and use it to force the capitalist class to give up its ownership of the means of production. In his private letters and notes he sometimes referred to this use of political power by the working class to abolish capitalism as the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.

Both words are obscure and derive from Ancient Rome. Under the constitution of the Roman Republic there was provision for one of the magistrates in times of crisis to be nominated dictator, which meant that he was invested with plenary powers to deal with the situation. Proletarii was the word used to describe the poor Roman citizens who were regarded as contributing nothing to the State but children (in Latin proles means ‘offspring’).

These two words were introduced into modern political terminology at the time of the French Revolution, the leaders and thinkers of which modelled themselves on the Ancient Roman Republic. The Jacobins were in favour of a ‘dictatorship’ by a minority of revolutionaries to crush the resistance of the nobility. The term proletaire came into use to describe ordinary, poor people. Both terms were inherited by the political descendants of the extreme French revolutionaries in the nineteenth century, including the utopian communists from whom Marx learned part of his socialism.

Marx, however, used the word proletariat in a more precise fashion, not to mean just poor people generally but only those who worked for wages: the working class. The ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was thus, for him, the exercise of political power by the working class in their own interest. This Marx equated with a complete political democracy in which the working class — the majority in capitalist society — would rule. His references to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ all show that he understood it to be the exercise of political power by the working class within a democratic framework.

We ourselves have never used the phrase ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in our everyday propaganda. This is not because we do not agree with Marx that the working class should take democratic political action to establish socialism, but because the phrase is obscure and misleading. We have always preferred to express the same concept by the use of phrases like ‘the capture of political power’ and ‘the conquest of the powers of government’ which are more easily understandable.

In speaking of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ rather than simply of a ‘revolutionary dictatorship’, Marx made a decisive break with the Jacobin tradition. The idea of ‘dictatorship’ was given a democratic content, since the plenary political power it implied was to be exercised by the majority class in society and not by some revolutionary minority.

By the turn of the nineteenth century Jacobin ideas has almost died out in France but were enjoying a revival in Russia, a country whose political and social system had many of the features of France’s ancien regime. Here the idea of a minority revolutionary dictatorship had an attraction for the anti- Tsarist revolutionaries, including some of those who considered themselves Marxists. Among the latter was Lenin, who carried this idea over into the Social Democratic movement.

Lenin was in favour of the Russian Social Democrats being organised as a ‘vanguard party’ whose task would be to lead the workers, peasants and oppressed nationalities of Russia against the Tsarist regime. The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 was carried out in just this way — and it resulted in the establishment not of Marx’s ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, a working class democracy, but in the revolutionary dictatorship of the Bolshevik minority. Since the economic and political conditions of Russia did not permit the establishment of socialism the Bolsheviks had no choice but to develop capitalism in Russia (largely in the form of ‘state capitalism’, as Lenin himself described it). But since capitalism cannot be run in the interests of the working class, the Bolshevik dictatorship soon became a dictatorship not just against the nobility, the capitalists and richer peasants but also a dictatorship over the working class: the trade unions were taken over by the government, strikes were banned, protests were suppressed and protestors sent to labour camps.

Unfortunately, this was not evident to a section of the war-weary and discontented working class of Western Europe. To them Russia was what it proclaimed itself to be: a 'workers' republic’ which showed the way for the workers of other countries. The Bolshevik government exploited this sympathy to split the Social Democratic parties in the West and set up ‘Communist’ parties based on Bolshevik ideology.

In France in 1920 a majority of the delegates to the Social Democrats’ Congress at Tours voted to go over to Bolshevism and set up the Parti Communiste Francais. The new PCF was committed to Bolshevik ideology, including the idea that it as the self-styled ‘vanguard of the working class' would exercise a revolutionary dictatorship. By a strange irony of history, the Jacobin idea of minority dictatorship, which had been rejected by Marx and which had almost died out in France, was reintroduced there by way of backward Russia. This time, however, it was called the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. It was with this Jacobin, Leninist sense that the phrase was introduced into the rule-book of the PCF.

Now it has been removed. Which is not such a bad thing, since, first, it had no right to be there in the first place, and second, its being there added to the already great enough confusion surrounding the phrase.
Adam Buick (Luxemburg)

"A Still, Small Voice" (1975)

From the July 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

There has never been, such a non-issue as the Common Market Referendum. One assumes it will have been already forgotten by the time this piece sees the light of print. However, much as I have tried to avoid this abysmal nonsense, I accidentally heard a bit on the BBC in the small hours worth remarking on. The speaker was that horny-handed, r-dwopping son of toil Roy Jenkins, Home Secretary, son of a miner who found the royal road out of the pits and clearly taught Roy a thing or two. (A very usual story, of course.)

This pro-market man was saying, somewhere in darkest Manchester, in unctuous tones: “Those who oppose the market never tell us: What alternative is there?”

Now before Das Kapital there was Das Bible and somewhere in that less scientific work, we are told that the voice of god is not in the earthquake or the thunder but in a still, small voice. This came to my mind when in response to that clearly rhetorical question I heard a still, small voice from the back of the hall: “Socialism.” It was the voice of the SPGB. Because none of the myriad frauds who call themselves socialists (including Jenkins) would dream of saying that Socialism is the answer to society’s ills. They busy themselves with every quack nostrum to fit every issue and never even think of Socialism as a here-and-now solution. Only an SPGBer or supporter could come up with the startling idea: Socialism is the answer.

And what did Jenkins say to that? About the only thing he could — that an interrupter of a speech was not a democrat, etc. which got him a bit of cheap applause, and had the additional merit of evading the point.

Jenkins would not even think that his use of the term “interrupter” to refer to one who dares to answer a question he himself poses is the negation of democracy. (How can he think at all, his brains clearly being in his r’s?) Nevertheless, the still, small voice was undoubtedly encouraging. I fancy its owner will read this tribute. And that some among the radio listeners will have had food for thought.

On the same day there was something more about Socialism — all the pundits forever talking about it, but never the slightest sign that anyone knows a damn thing. This was in an advert, in The Guardian plugging The New Statesman. The advert, was for an article by Paul Johnson, former editor of the paper, and the advert, itself is now produced:
Trade unionism is killing socialism in Britain and it is time socialists did something about it. The essence of socialism is not its method but its universality. It teaches that the wealth of society should be administered in the interests of all. It is not a programme for industrial workers or any particular group of workers. It is not a programme for any class. It does not believe in classes. It is against sectional interests which organise themselves to exploit the rest of the community. Socialism expresses the essential unity and common humanity of society.
Now Paul Johnson is a quite amiable idiot (unlike his successor as editor, Crossman) and gibberish like the above has enabled him to get hold of a goodly share of “the wealth of society”, to the extent of its being worth a para, in The Observer describing his two houses etc. recently. But can anyone make head or tail of the jumble above? The SPGB's description of Socialism in the Declaration of Principles has appeared in every issue of our journal since it was first formulated by socialist workers long before most of us were born. When our clear and ringing tones are compared with the New Statesman mixture of the impossible and the incomprehensible are we, with our still-too-small voice, not entitled to feel proud?

The first sentence of the NS advert, is breathtaking in itself. If the unions are killing Socialism, it can only be because Socialism is alive. That is a simple proposition which would appeal to Dr. Johnson, about whom his ludicrous namesake recently wrote a bestseller. But Paul could not have seen the obvious. He cannot believe that we have Socialism already — even the NS can’t be that daft. Anyway, he seems to have heard that Socialism will have no classes. He obviously knows that that doesn’t apply in Wilson’s England.

For the benefit of our ignorant pundit, the position on trade unions that real Socialists have always advocated is perfectly clear. They perform a necessary function within the capitalist system by enabling the workers to resist exploitation as much as possible by fighting the battle of wages and conditions — a never-ending struggle. (They do not exist to eliminate exploitation, of course, because that’s what employment is all about.) It is not only ludicrous to talk about the unions killing Socialism. It would be equally stupid to envisage them killing capitalism. That is not their purpose (nor are most trade unionists Socialists as yet). Capitalism is ripe for the killing indeed. But the deed will be done only by an organized majority of working-class Socialists. If these Johnsons would only read the Socialist Standard they would be less likely to display their ignorance, and do less damage to the cause of Socialism.
L. E. Weidberg

Correspondence (1923)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sirs,

Could you please answer these questions below, in order to clear up a great deal of misunderstanding?
  1. When is the value of a commodity determined?
  2. Can additional value be added to the commodity in the process of distribution?
  3. Has distribution any determining factor in the value of a commodity?

Sid Felperin

A commodity is a useful article produced for exchange. It is the result of the application of human energy to the material provided by nature. Its value {a social relation) depends upon the amount of labour required to reproduce such an article in a given society under certain given physical and social conditions.

All the labour necessary to obtain the raw material, work it up into the product required for consumption, and transport it to the point where such products are necessary for consumption, adds value. Coal produced for the needs of London is of greater value in London than in, say, Newcastle, its source of production. But labour used up in transporting coal from its source in Newcastle to London and then back to Newcastle for consumption would add no value to the coal.

Articles so produced are bought and sold upon the market. The market is the sphere of the circulation of commodities. In this circulating process no value is added to the product. The necessary storing, accounting, advertising and such matter are expenses of circulation but do not increase the value of articles as they come upon the market with their values already determined.

The fact that some articles sell above and others below their values, and that here and there one capitalist may gain an advantage over another are matters we cannot enter into here, but they do not affect the general position that the value of an article depends upon its cost of reproduction in human energy.

Expenses of circulation such as those mentioned above are generally included under the heading, “Overhead Expenses” by capitalist concerns. Such expenses are paid out of the surplus value obtained in production.

The above brief explanation will clear the way for the answers to our questioner.

The value of an article is already determined when it comes upon the market for sale. The subsequent expenses of circulation are not productive expenses, and hence not value producing.

If by “distribution" is meant the transport of an article from its source of production to the place where consumption requires it, then value is added in such distribution. But if by “distribution” is meant the transport of articles to a spot where it is more profitable to dispose of them, then no value is added in such distribution. In the latter case the question is one of circulation which has already been dealt with.

The answer to the third question is contained in the answer to the first and second.

Alcohol accounting (1991)

From the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recent TV documentaries on Australia’s ABC have shown the scientific evidence of severe damage to the brain and other organs caused by alcohol abuse. There is no doubt that it is a very serious problem affecting a significant portion of the population.

It would be nice to think that this concern about the effects of excessive alcohol consumption was motivated by humanitarian feelings for the wretchedness of ruined lives. However, it doesn’t require much digging to reveal the real concerns of the nation’s accountants and politicians—it is costing a great deal of money in lost lives, hospital bills, social security payments, property damage and lost production.

Who has to pay for this? Ultimately it costs the class whose income is derived from their ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth; for the size of the tax bill is a major factor affecting the profitability of their businesses. The Melbourne Age (10 July 1990) ran an article confirming that, as usual, human lives and misery have been debased and alienated by measuring them in terms of money:
Mr Staples [Federal Minister for Aged, Family and Health Services] says a conservative estimate of the yearly cost of alcohol and associated problems to the community is $5 billion. (The Royal Australian College of Physicians puts the figure at between $5 and S12 billion).
Of course the owners of the breweries and liquor and hotel outlets are against any moves to reduce alcohol consumption, while the owners of other businesses are unimpressed with having to pay for the damage caused by alcohol abuse. Who said the capitalist class are united?

The capitalist class are anxious not to overdo the anti-alcohol-abuse campaign. After all alcohol helps keep the workers sedated between working and sleeping. Can’t have the workers doing too much serious thinking—they might just wake up to the whole rotten system and throw it out!

Drug abuse is a direct result of the system of society we live in. Not only is there profit to be made out of supplying the drugs be they legal or otherwise, there is also a willingness to “get out of it” on drugs by many. Is it any wonder that people want to “escape” from their unhappiness which is a result of alienation from the means to life? Poverty, wage-slavery, powerlessness, menial and repetitive work, and the whole sick social environment of capitalism will grind down the most resilient of people.

Drug abuse and the human suffering it causes will not go away while the conditions which are its cause remain. Capitalism will not go away until the majority of us have become convinced of the urgent need for its immediate abolition and replacement with the only alternative—free access socialism.

Green Politics explained (1990)

Book Review from the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

It Doesn’t Have To Be Like This. By David Icke, (Green Print)

In this book, David Icke, Green party speaker and TV "personality", sets out to explain the basics of “Green politics”. In so doing, he includes quite a lot of useful, though not startlingly original, material on topics such as the horrors of factory farming and the wastefulness of capitalism. The patronizing tone in which much of the book is written, however, detracts from its intended impact.

Yet there is much here that can be seen as encouraging, given that the Green Party are now supported by a sizeable proportion of workers. For instance. Icke argues that the Tories. Labour and Liberal Democrats are all basically the same, that causes should be attacked, not symptoms, and that the profit motive takes priority over human needs. He makes the point that green ideas concern not just the environment but virtually everything about the way humans live and how we abuse or protect our planet and its other inhabitants:
Tethered pigs and nuclear weapons may not seem to have any connection whatsoever, but they have Both are created by the same state of mind.
This passage, however, also suggests where Icke goes wrong.

He writes as if the real problem were "a state of mind", as if things could be solved just by thinking differently and changing our behaviour accordingly. He does claim that the real enemy is. as he calls it, "the system", but he describes this as:
a form of economic thinking that sees the profit figure at the bottom of the balance sheet every year as the only measurement of success.
His solution is to stress other aspects of production besides profit, especially the environmental impact. The tax system will be manipulated to make it cheaper for companies to protect, rather than poison, the environment. He describes this as "turning the present system on its head", but like all reformers he is just proposing minor adjustments and ignoring the fact that capitalism must have profits and will get them however it can, no matter what the legislators say. This need for profit cannot be evaded by passing laws saying that other things are more important: it can only be ended by doing away with capitalism. For all their self-proclaimed radicalism. Icke and the Greens show no appreciation of this point at all.

Nor do they understand the class nature of society, and they assume its continuation. They propose a Basic Income for everyone, whether employed or not, to cover essential living costs. Large companies would be discouraged by a tax based on company size, while the United Nations will monitor the activities of multinationals. Icke offers a eulogy for Nicaragua, which looks even less convincing since the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas.

This book accurately reflects green politics, in combining a growing awareness of some of the consequences of capitalism with muddled and petty reformist policies.
Paul Bennett

Green capitalism (1990)

Book Review from the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Green Capitalists: How Industry Can Make Money—and Protect the Environment. By John Elkington and Tom Burke. (Victor Gollancz.)

John Elkington and Tom Burke, both involved in environmental pressure groups and public relations work for large corporations, have written a book which documents. industrial sector by industrial sector. the way in which capitalism, driven by the necessity to make profit and expand capital, has systematically despoiled and polluted the environment and harmed the health and lives of workers, either at their place of work or where they live.

The book, for example, contains a lengthy section on the accident at the Bhopal chemical plant in India in 1984 in which 2000 people were killed and tens of thousands severely gassed. We are told how the head of the company tried to place the blame on the Indian government for letting workers live in and around the plant. "It could never happen here," he told a Congressional Committee convened to look at the implications for the United States. But it did. when just a few days later a chemical cloud leaked from the company’s factory in Institute, West Virginia. injuring 135 workers. Then there is the honest and candid reply from a Corporate Executive at Fords, who, on being asked his views on environmental pollution replied that his only concern was “To make money, screw everything else. This is a profit-making system, boy, the rest is frills”. We are also given detailed reports from health organisations and other similar bodies like the US Economic Development Commission who showed that “some 2500 Californians will die from cancer each year over the next decade because of their exposure to toxic chemicals".

These facts and figures only add force to the socialist argument that the many social problems facing workers today, including pollution, stem from our subservient class position as propertyless wage-salary earners owning nothing but our ability to work, which they must sell to an employer in order to live. Capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class in the production process and exists only to make profit and accumulate capital. Workers have no control over pollution, locally or globally, while the state exists only to further the interests of the capitalist class, taking action only when their general or particular interests warrant it. Yet nowhere in their book do Elkington and Burke discuss or come to terms with this social reality: they show little understanding of the economics of capitalism, are ignorant of how or why profit is produced, and are quiescent on the subject of class and minority property ownership, and the relationship of these factors to the problem of pollution.

Instead, the authors offer a Ten-Point Plan of environmental reforms which they believe capitalists can incorporate into their production processes in the interests of the whole of society without endangering rates of profit. It is this poverty of thought which is the most lamentable aspect of the book.

Capitalists only adopt new technologies, working methods or products when it is profitable to do so, not because the existing ones happen to be polluting the planet or killing workers. As socialists, we have always argued the need for workers to take conscious political action to create the framework of common ownership and democratic control of the means and methods of production and distribution, as the only way in which the social problems like pollution can be tackled. It is sheer folly to believe capitalists will adopt an environmental 'Ten-Point Plan' if their competitors elsewhere in the world market do not. What would shareholders say to a board of directors which introduced costly anti-pollution machinery or practices if it meant that the company lost its competitive edge and market as a result? Some American capitalists have already pointed this out, as the authors grudgingly admit:
Faced with a growing number of increasingly protracted environmental conflicts, hardline American industrialists have often called for the removal of environmental safeguards altogether, arguing that, in the final analysis, it is a question of America's Economy or America's Environment' (p.159).
And then, as if to drive this point home, the authors cite a recent survey of 4000 US chemical companies who estimated that if they adopted the latest practicable technology:
it would cost 139 million dollars, cutting profitability by about 9 per cent causing four plant closures and destroying 261 jobs. If, on the other hand, these companies were forced to go for the ultimate, in the form of the best available technology. the cost would be around 677 million dollars profits would be cut by a third, 20 plants would be forced to close and nearly 10.000 jobs would be lost (p.210).
A society which was not constrained by private property, commodity production and buying and selling would use as a matter of course the best possible technology at hand to ensure the safety of those working in the plants and the protection of the natural environment. Social cost would be the deciding factor, not commercial cost. Capitalism is unable to do this and Elkington and Burke, unlike the Corporate Executive from Fords, are themselves green to believe otherwise.
Richard Lloyd

Whatever Happened To Political Drama? (2016)

The TV Review column from the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The phrase ‘cops ‘n’ frocks’ has been used to sum up the current state of British TV drama, with its lazy reliance on crime (Happy Valley, Silent Witness etc.) and the past (Call The Midwife, Downton Abbey). The range of dramas has narrowed considerably from previous decades, and the idea of televised drama being used to voice radical political ideas or critique social trends is sadly now more old-fashioned than a cathode ray tube.

From the 1960s, many plays found their homes in anthology series, a format which is as obsolete as political drama itself. Theatre 625 (1964–1968) featured dramatisations of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and works by George Orwell, August Strindberg and Franz Kafka. More widely remembered are The Wednesday Play (1964–1970) and its successor, Play For Today (1970–1984). Their emphasis was on original screenplays rather than adaptations, and therefore they concentrated on more immediate issues which otherwise might not have received much public attention. Around 600 plays were produced in these three BBC series, many of which were lost when their tapes were wiped in the belief that they had exhausted their economic potential. Notable productions include two plays about homelessness written by Jeremy Sandford, who slept rough as part of his research: Cathy Come Home (1966) showed a young family’s downward spiral into homelessness, while Edna The Inebriate Woman (1971) followed a woman’s life on the streets and in hostels, prison and a psychiatric hospital. The Spongers (1978) showed the devastating effects of welfare cuts on services for disabled people. The Black Stuff (1980) by Alan Bleasdale told the story of five Liverpudlian tarmac layers whose struggles with unemployment were subsequently described in its sequel series The Boys From The Blackstuff (1982).

As well as Bleasdale and Sandford, other prominent film-makers included director Ken Loach, producer Tony Garnett and writer Jim Allen. Outside the anthology strands, Loach worked with them on The Rank And File (1971), based on the Pilkington Glass strike which took place in a climate of trade union leaders being seen as too close to a government proposing laws against unofficial strikes, Days Of Hope (1975), which followed a family in the years after the First World War, and The Price Of Coal (1977) about a Yorkshire colliery community.

These plays are remembered as being ‘gritty’, focusing on hardship and aiming for realism by being filmed as if they were documentaries. However, the anthology format allowed for differing styles and messages, and even Ken Loach made an offbeat musical for The Wednesday Play. Other BBC series were thought experiments offering ‘what if…’ scenarios about possible drastic changes to society. Doomwatch (1970–1972) was set in a fictional government department which investigated threats from scientific developments, such as genetic engineering and behaviour modification. Distrust of the notion of scientific progress runs through Doomwatch like words in a stick of rock. ‘Progress’ has connotations of continual improvements, but science exists in a changing political and social context which shapes how it develops. In this series, politicians and scientists are depicted as secretive, self-serving and blinkered, suppressing awareness of unwanted side effects to further their own interests. Survivors (1975–1977) used the starting point of a pandemic wiping out most of the population to explore themes of replacing capitalist institutions, communal living and self-sufficiency. These dramas are less overtly political, perhaps because they aren’t based in real situations. The scenario described in nuclear war dramas The War Game (1965) and Threads (1984) fortunately hasn’t happened either, although these plays clearly criticised real-life government policies about preparing for and supposedly coping with armageddon.

Even children’s programmes occasionally tackled serious matters without talking down to their audience. Noah’s Castle (1980) was set in a near future where rocketing inflation leads to scarcity of basic commodities. The school-based Grange Hill (1978-2008) examined issues such as drug addiction and bullying as well as criticising the effects of funding cuts to education.

By the mid-‘80s, Grange Hill became less vocal about government education policies and Play For Today had had its day. Television drama was no longer a place to consciously voice political ideas, and instead the emphasis shifted to discussing more personal issues through soap operas such as EastEnders and Brookside. Soaps are more about juggling characters’ relationships than ideas, so the format doesn’t lend itself to exploring the impact of political and economic forces.

The mid-‘90s saw the final flowering of political TV drama. By this time, the documentary style of previous decades was going out of fashion, although the sense of anger remained. Cardiac Arrest (1994–1996) was a serial based on the experiences of writer Jed Mercurio when he worked in hospital. He describes a health service where staff have to rely on cynicism and cutting corners to cope with the hierarchies and impossible workloads. Our Friends In The North (1996) was Peter Flannery’s ‘state of the nation’ play, spanning thirty years in the lives of four people shaped by changing housing policy, police corruption and the miners’ strike. The plot of Alan Bleasdale’s GBH (1992) echoed events in the early ‘80s when Militant influenced the Labour Party and Liverpool city council. The other political dramas of the 1990s also had their roots in previous decades; Tony Garnett was an executive producer of Cardiac Arrest, and attempts to bring Our Friends In The North to the screen began since it was performed as a stage play in 1982.

All these plays passionately examine how people with little power or influence react to wider economic and political forces. They tend to be from a left-wing, rather than a revolutionary viewpoint, but still present experiences and situations from which we can draw our own conclusions. Why is television no longer an outlet for this kind of expression? These days, the BBC doesn’t want to alienate the government in case this leads to further funding cuts. It places more weight than it used to on its supposed ‘impartiality’. Any programme which presents a different viewpoint to acceptance of the status quo would be seen as ‘partial’, and therefore would not be produced. Even documentaries which expose injustices and corruption presuppose that the basic set-up of society is sound. This doesn’t mean that successors of Loach, Garnett, Allen and the others are clamouring to make political dramas and getting knocked back by conservative TV executives. What few successors they have probably realise that it’s not even worth trying.
Mike Foster


From the April 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard


Mr. W. J. Brown, Independent M.P. for Rugby, who writes a political column in the Evening Standard has added a further page to his curious history. In the issue for February 20th, 1947, he declared that one good thing that may come out of the crisis is that it will teach us to have done with shibboleths and get down to dealing with the situation. His line is that “ the great issue for years ahead is not Socialism but Survival. Nothing but an immense increase in production will save us.” If we fail to do this, says Mr. Brown, there will be a "general crisis” and the economy cuts imposed after the last war and in 1931 "will be nothing to the retrenchments we shall be compelled to make then. They may well involve a reduction in our already inadequate standard of life of 30 or 40 per cent.”

First let us look at the labels Mr. Brown has worn over the years. Now he is Independent, before that for a very brief span he endorsed Mosley’s New Party (before Mosley went Fascist), and before that he was a Labour M.P. until he resigned from the Labour Party in disgust.

In the beginning he called himself a Socialist, by which he meant that he subscribed to the Labour Party programme. In 1931 he resigned from the Labour Party on the ground that the Labour Government instead of being a Socialist Party had determined "that its role was to be that of the Caretaker of Capitalism.” (“My Political Position.” W. J. Brown, 1931.) Mr. Brown objected to this role as he had also objected to the ‘‘economy cuts” of 1931. Declaring “I am a Socialist,” he warned us that “unless the next Labour Government goes all out for Socialism, it will fail.” It must “have done with petty tinkering:,” and must "risk all in the effort to chancre the order of society.” 

Very strangely, in view of the above demand, he signed at about the same time or a little earlier, the Mosley New Party Manifesto which, it was said, he had helped to draft, and which ruled out Socialism for just the same kind of reason as that given now bv Mr. Brown in his Evening Standard article. It said that "Questions of the ultimate goal of society are excluded by the very urgency of the problem which confronts us,” and went on to appeal to employers and workers  (as again does his present article) to get together to "meet the emergency by common effort.”

Finally, in 1941 (‘‘What Have I to Lose?”) he renounced his early claim to be a Socialist: "In earlier days I described myself as a Socialist. Except in a very generalised sense, I should hesitate to so describe myself today.”

It will be seen that Mr. Brown is very hard to please. When the 1931 crisis (caused by Capitalism) was gathering, he wanted the Labour Government to risk all for Socialism and not be a Caretaker of the Capitalist system. Now that there is another Labour Government and another crisis, he demands that Socialism be ruled out for years ahead. He can hardly deny that the present Government is trying to be a caretaker for Capitalism, but now he wants it to be a more careful caretaker.

So much for Mr. Brown’s uncertain views over the years; hut what of the policy itself?

If we do not take care of capitalism, we are warned that our standard of living will drop 30 or 40 per cent. In 1931 (in the anti-MacDonald phase, not the New Party phase), Mr. Brown was preaching the necessity of Socialism and the uselessness of caretaking. Mr. J. R. MacDonald, who rejected Mr. Brown’s advice, decided to go in for caretaking in a thorough way as Prime Minister of the Coalition Government with the Tories. What was the result? Wages and unemployment benefit were cut and unemployment rose to nearly 2,500,000. What possible reason can Mr. Brown advance for supposing that more of the same kind of caretaking will have a different result? The only difference we can see is that Mr. Brown has changed sides, but important though that may seem to Mr. Brown, it does not alter the nature of the Capitalist system, which breeds War, Want and Crises, no matter what Government is in charge.

Years ago a critic of the Socialist Party of Great Britain told us that it would be a good thing if we supported Mr. Brown. If we had we would certainly have been tied un in some pretty knots; and what sort of progress would have been or will be made by the workers if they all supported Mr. Brown? They would have wasted a quarter of a century getting periodic bouts of aggravated hardship in crises, on top of the continuing hardships of Capitalism in its “prosperous” times, and all Mr. Brown can now offer is the choice between “our already inadequate standard of life ” and 30 or 40 per cent, less even than that. What a prospect! and what a blind guide!

The history of the past 25 years, and the history of Mr. Brown strengthen the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s conviction that for the workers of this and all other countries the only cure for the evils of Capitalism is to get rid of it, including the form known as State Capitalism that the present caretakers believe to be an improvement, and which we find no more attractive than, as it happens, does Mr. Brown.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letter: The Vote or Twitter? (2016)

Letter to the Editors from the June 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Dear Editors
Here’s a polemical question for the readers of Socialist Standard: 'Do we now have more power as consumers, texters, and members of the Twitteratti, than we have as mere voters?’
We know that our so-called leaders and their camp followers in the political chatteratti are increasingly out of touch and that Napoleon’s dictum ‘the people are just three hot meals away from revolution’ has never been more apt. You only need to substitute the words pay-day loan, mortgage re-payment, zero-hours contract, health emergency, or pension crisis. And there you have it –life in contemporary Britain for millions of people.
We even have a new social type –the superfluous graduate, someone with no future who works in a dystopian culture where you practically need a degree to be an employee in a shoe shop. There is now a tidal wave of tertiary educated youth enslaved by student debt, stuck in a never-ending series of McJobs –with low wages, poor conditions, short-term, temporary contracts, no pensions, no benefits, no security, and next to no job satisfaction. This group knows full well that it’s only the sons and daughters of the privileged 1 percent who can take on those unpaid internships which lead to secure, well-paid, fulfilling careers. Unpaid internships are also a great deal for the bosses. Unlike the old-time slave owners they don’t even need to house, feed, or clothe their workers!
The 99 percent also understand that the concept of social mobility is dead and that many of them will be the first generation in their family’s history to be less prosperous, less contented, less healthy, and die younger than their parents.
When will the electorate collectively realize that they have no more choice in our political leaders than in our selection of baked bean brands? We can only buy what’s placed on the supermarket shelf. Or, in the case of our dysfunctional voting system, the candidates who are shortlisted for the rest of us by the corporations, the media, and the 1 percenters.
The old joke that if democracy really changed anything they wouldn’t allow it, has never held more meaning – we pretend to vote and they pretend to govern. Have political parties been reduced to useful tools which the political establishment then use to shape the proletariat? If the Right is the hammer, then has the Left just become an anvil?
If so, is the game up for democracy and what will the coming revolution look like for the remaining 99 percent in the age of the internet? Won’t political parties become increasingly irrelevant and eventually redundant if our only real power comes via our functions as consumers, texters, and members of the online Twitteratti? Please note – I’m not saying this is a good thing – but just a reality of the human condition in the age of new technology.
If so, then it’s obvious, to have real power we must simply stop feeding the beast. The only fear for the corporate plutocracy is the disruption that would ensue if we simply stopped consuming en mass and paralyzed the economic system. Their worst nightmare is a text message that goes viral and calls for a boycott of a particular company or product. Imagine if millions of people stopped banking at RBS, ceased filling their petrol tanks at Shell, or refused to buy Coca-Cola – if only for a few weeks.
Think this could never happen? Wrong, it’s already happening! Using the website a customer of Verizon Wireless organized an online petition garnering over 165,000 signatures which within hours forced the company to back down on its plans to introduce a $2 ‘convenience’charge for the rip-off ‘privilege’of paying bills by phone or online. A similar ploy received over 300,000 supporters and defeated Bank of America’s avaricious scam for a $5 usage fee for credit cards.
This is just the beginning –consumers have barely begun to flex their internet muscles. If there is a political manifesto for today it must read: ‘We the people simply demand a sharing of the wealth, a sustainable economy which preserves the environment, the dissolution of central power, a guarantee of personal freedoms, and an end to corrupt corporate power elites’.
TED NEWCOMEN (by email from USA)

The saying 'if democracy really changed anything they wouldn't allow it' is indeed old, but that doesn't make it true. It does, however, reflect the experienced fact that 'changing governments changes nothing' but this is not the fault of political democracy. It is because governments govern in the context of capitalism and capitalism can never be made to work in the interest of the majority as it is based on minority ownership and production for their profit. To blame political democracy when capitalism is the real culprit is to make the mistake many voters in Germany did in the 1930s when they voted the Nazis into power.
The saying is also wrong in suggesting that political democracy is something that the ruling class can choose to allow or not. Universal suffrage is something that the majority had to struggle for against the ruling class and which they had to impose on them and so which our rulers can't just turn off or on at will. They have since learned to adapt to it and how to manipulate it and they now find it a useful way to chose governments to run things on their behalf and also to bring an air of legitimacy to their rule. All the same, it remains a gain for the majority class of wage and salary workers and a weapon they can use to dislodge the ruling class.
We have nothing against twitter and other social media. No doubt they will play their part in spreading the idea of a classless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources as the only practicable alternative to capitalism. But, while they may be able to organise a campaign to get some capitalist corporation to reverse some maybe ill-judged decision, they will not be able to get them to stop seeking profits, even less to get the owning class – those you call the '1 percenters' – to give up their ownership rights. That will have to be imposed on them and the best way to do this is through political action – by an informed majority winning control of political power and using this to declare all property rights and all corporations null and void. In fact, this is the only way that a framework can be created within which the problems you list facing members of the excluded majority can be constructively tackled and lastingly ended.
You ask us to consider what would happen if millions stopped banking with one particular bank or refused to buy one particular brand of fizzy drink. We ask you to consider what would happen if millions stopped voting for pro-capitalist politicians and used the power the vote gives them to elect instead delegates mandated to use political power to end capitalism and usher in socialism Editors.