Sunday, September 25, 2016

Japan and socialism (1988)

Book Review from the November 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Kilt and the Kimono by Ian S. Williamson (The Book Guild, £10.50)

How deceptive appearances can be! This book, with its banal title and dust jacket, looks extremely unpromising yet is packed with valuable information about Japan as well as containing more socialist arguments than any book published for years.

Ian Williamson is a Scot who has lived and taught in Japan. He is an ex-member and longtime supporter of the Socialist Party and what he has set out to do in this book is to explain Japanese society, with its unique culture and customs, through its history and to dispel the myths and prejudices which most people in the west have about Japan.

Ever since the end of the second world war many western writers and commentators, particularly American, have been trying to explain the complexities of Japanese society by using western standards as their guide They have assumed that the lifestyle, morality, values and even physical appearance of people in the west are the correct ones and criticise the Japanese for not measuring up. Williamson rejects this idealistic approach and easily demolishes the claims made by the "experts" that the Japanese are especially militaristic, conformist and subservient by pointing to the existence at one time or another of all of these traits in the west.

Nevertheless many Japanese attitudes do differ greatly from those held in the west. According to Williamson there is a much greater emphasis placed on the importance of group activity and decision making as opposed to western individualism; there is little or no interest in the concept of life after death or any metaphysical thought, and there is not the clear-cut distinction which most western people make between work and leisure or art and nature, but Williamson shows how all these differences and more can be understood through looking at Japan's history Why, for instance, is politeness such a feature of Japanese life?
In old Japan people were required to sit, sleep, eat, dress and greet each other in a certain manner according to their social position In fact what they ate and how they dressed was severely laid down by law. Anyone who violated the law or rules of etiquette in the days of the Samurai was severely dealt with. To touch a superior, or even to sit in any other than the prescribed way in his presence resulted in a painful reminder that proper behaviour must be observed.
So observing the correct form of behaviour has become an ingrained characteristic of the Japanese which has persisted to this day.

History also explains why Japanese workers apparently show such loyalty to their employers. Because aspects of feudal relations have persisted into modem capitalism in Japan a paternalistic, hierarchical system is still strongly entrenched. This means that besides the guarantee of a job for life for many workers, seniority is very important for promotion prospects. Workers who have invested a number of years in a company know they would have to start at the bottom again if they were to leave and get a job elsewhere, so they tend to stay put and make a virtue out of necessity by being loyal to "their" company.

No opportunity is missed by the author to put across socialist ideas. Our views on class, leadership, war, crime, human nature, nationalism, etc. are featured throughout the book. So besides giving workers here the opportunity to learn about Japan. Ian Williamson has, more importantly, provided Japanese workers with an excellent introduction to socialism. They just might be able to read elsewhere as sound a condemnation of capitalism as the one he provides but where else will they see this description of socialism?
A classless system, where goods are produced for use. not for sale, and because there will be no buying or selling so there will be no need for money, banks, insurance companies, salesmen, ticket collectors, cash-register operators, stock brokers and all the rest of the cumbersome junk and paraphernalia which involves people in soul destroying, non-productive, non-creative activity so necessary in capitalist society. 
And to round things off the Socialist Party and its companion parties are mentioned as the advocates of such a system of society!
Vic Vanni

Poorest of the poor? (1988)

Book Review from the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

James Painter. Guatemala: False Hope, False Freedom. Latin American Bureau (London 1987)

In his preface to this volume Rigoberta Menchú, a Guatemalan peasant leader, writes about the majority of Guatemalan people not having "the opportunity to develop and live like human beings". This study examines the reasons that opportunity does not exist and suggests ways in which it might be achieved. To exist in Guatemala is to live in a country of violent repression, hunger and poverty. The country is a stark contrast between a minority living in luxury amid widespread destitution. The armed forces exist to defend wealth and privilege and aid in the repression which ensures their continuation. The emergence of a democratic government under the presidency of Vinicio Cerezo would appear to offer little comfort to any but the privileged minority.

Painter confronts the failure of the Christian Democratic Party, elected in January 1986. to offer any possibility of change. In a country rich in fertile land, oil and mineral deposits it must be questioned why "only a very small percentage of the Guatemalan population does not suffer from the ravages of poverty". The present government may have inherited a dire set of circumstances in which, according to the Government State Planning Council at the end of 1985, as many as 86 per cent of families lived below the official poverty line, yet not even a modest programme of reforms has been suggested. Guatemala has the worst infant mortality rate in Central America with intestinal infections, influenza, pneumonia, measles and whooping cough being major killers; adequate nutrition, vaccination. a proper sewerage and water system would greatly reduce those figures. That may give little comfort in a nation in which 25 per cent of male deaths occurred as a result of political or common violence in the early 1980s. Guatemala's priorities lie elsewhere with spending on health at a minimum but with ever-increasing spending on defence, security and, more recently, debt repayments. The author sees Guatemala's problems as a
direct result of an unbridled "free market" economic system that puts wealth into the hands of a powerful and privileged few and increases the poverty of the many.
To understand Guatemala's poverty it is necessary to examine the economic system which is its creator. This is a country in which, according to the Ministry of the Economy in the early 1980s, 83 per cent of the rural population received 35 per cent of rural income while two per cent received 40 per cent of it. Agricultural wages are desperately low. Labourers are not the consumers of an agriculture whose products arc exported to the rich industrial nations. Food products for the Guatemalan diet have tended to stagnate causing greater reliance on expensive imported food stuffs. According to USAID there are as many as three million acres of idle land, found mostly in the large private estates: 
Decisions about what to grow were made on the basis of private gain, and enough food was only granted to those who had sufficient income or land to afford it.
At the same time any attempt to organise trade unions or co-operatives among workers and peasants has been met by violent repression.

The author suggests a programme of reforms to combat Guatemala's poverty. These include agrarian reform, nationalisation and a more "equitable" reproportioning of the tax burden. Such reforms would merely tamper with a system which exists to perpetuate privilege at the expense of the majority. Reforms are a limited reaction, nevertheless even a suggestion of reform invites the label of "communist subversive" and risks disappearance or death.

Political and economic control of Guatemala lies in the hands of the Guatemalan elite, the security forces and a number of mainly US transnationals and banks. The involvement of the armed forces as an integral component of the economy has escalated since the 1960s. The army has interests in as many as 40 semi-autonomous state enterprises. It controls the ironically named Military Social Welfare Institute which owns its own bank, El Banco de Ejercito. Painter points out that while army involvement in the economy is not unusual in Central America, in Guatemala the officers have "acquired an unparalleled notoriety for . . . corruption, voracity and entrepreneurial zeal". The military has effective economic and managerial control of AVIATECA. the national airline, TAM, military air transport, the main Aurora international airport, GUATEL, the public telecommunications system INDE, the state-owned electricity company, its own television stations as well as such institutions as BANVI (National Housing Bank). DIGESA (Agricultural Services Agency) and INTECAP (Technical Training Institute).

The Christian Democratic Party advocates a policy of "communitarianism" in which, theoretically. individuals are fulfilled through "personalism and the common good". In practice the party has operated in the interests of the dominant power groups with little consideration for the needs of the majority: the rights of private property are sacred and not to be tampered with. Cerezo is on record as saying that the party would not pursue reforms as this would be "disastrous for the economy and provoke capital flight" and so the Christian Democratic Party maintains the status quo. The party endorses the rights of the dominant trinity of interests, private business, the military and US transnationals and. equally as important, is accepted and tolerated by those interests. This adds poignancy to Eduardo Galeano’s observation that in Guatemala elections are "a joke on the people who have nothing and decide nothing" Repression still continues and during 1986 the Guatemalan Commission for Human Rights based in Mexico said that there were 126 politically related disappearances and 463 extra-judicial assassinations.

Cerezo's policies are not untypical of the 1980s. He has sought to reduce inflation by printing less money. He has sought economic growth through offering incentives to the private sector and stimulating foreign capital investment. He has also sought foreign aid to supplement the need for foreign exchange and to regularise the balance of payments crisis. In this he is consistent with IMF thinking. Meanwhile, wages were cut by 16.7 per cent between January and September of Cerezo's first year in office.
For the majority the future offers little: 
the removal of the structural causes that create the gross inequalities, the wrenching poverty and the horrendous human rights violations seems even more remote.
Painter argues for a programme of giving land to the peasants and reforming the tax system but the call for reforms fails to recognise that the structural causes of poverty must themselves be removed if the majority are to have access to the wealth they have created. Painter argues that what minor reforms have been applied "can be nothing more than palliatives" but does not recognise that his large scale reforms are themselves at best palliatives. This may seem a bleak vision but it is a direct consequence of a nation committed to a system in which the profits of the few are pursued regardless of the consequences for the majority.
Philip Bentley

A Tale of Two Parties (1964)

From the February 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once upon a time there were two Communist Parties. One was in Great Britain and was called the Communist Party of Great Britain: CPGB for short. The other was in New Zealand and was called the Communist Party of New Zealand: CPNZ for short. Ordinary simple people could see no difference between the two parties. But one day while they were watching their flocks they saw three wise men coming from the East, from Peking. The wise men said there was a difference. One was “revisionist” or bad; the other was “revolutionary” or good. So the simple people tried to guess what this could be. They knew the CPGB was nationalistic for they had read in a pamphlet on the Common Market:
Members of Parliament should be told in no uncertain terms that they were not elected to sell out British trade interests and British independence.
But they knew that the CPNZ was nationalistic, too, for it said it stood for “New Zealand Socialism.” One of its pamphlets, What Will Socialist New Zealand be like? said.
In every way our Socialism will start on a one hundred per cent. New Zealand basis. It will bear the trade mark of our very adaptable and resourceful people— “Well Made, New Zealand! ’’ 
and the simple people laughed when they read:
We have produced athletes like Lovelock, Halberg and Snell, who can take on the world's best and beat them hollow. Our All Blacks are feared throughout the Rugby world.
For a moment they thought that a “revolutionary” Party supported the All Blacks while a “revisionist” Party supported the British Lions. But the wise men said no.

Then they remembered that the CPGB wanted a Labour Party government and a few Communist Party M.P.’s. Perhaps this was the difference, they thought, perhaps the CPNZ is against its Labour Party. When they remembered that the leader of the Labour Party in New Zealand had once said, “there is no place today for what used to be known as the class struggle," they were certain. The CPNZ must be “revolutionary” because it opposed the Labour Party. But they were wrong. For someone told them that in People's Voice, the CPNZ’s journal, they had read:
Our policy is to work for the return of Communist M.P.’s to Parliament and in electorates where no Communists arc standing we will support the return of the Labour candidate to defeat the National candidate. (6.11.63).
Now they were at a loss. What could this difference be? And then they notice something. They noticed that whenever there was a recession the CPGB used to say that trade with Russia was the answer while the CPNZ used to say that trade with China was. At first they thought that there was nothing here. After all, they said, Great Britain is nearer to Russia than to China and New Zealand is nearer to China than to Russia. But then they found that Russia and China were quarreling and that the CPNZ again thought that China was best. Then they understood. What makes a Party “revolutionary" or “revisionist" is not whether it is internationalist or nationalist, not whether it opposes or supports the Labour Parties, but whether it supports China or not. How wise these wise men were, they thought. And the wise men agreed.

The Chairman of the wise men then said, “Yes, we are wise. We don't care what the home policy of a Communist Party is so long as it backs our foreign policy. You see, we don't really care about theory. We are just using it to win support for our foreign policy in Communist Parties which are hostile to us. I will be frank. Our dispute with Russia is not one of ‘revolutionaries' and ‘revisionists.’ It is a sordid and cynical struggle between two States." (Thunderous applause and cheers. Standing ovation).

The simple people went away a little wiser.
Adam Buick

Cappuccino, Skiffle and Spaghetti (1957)

From the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fifty or sixty years ago this writer’s grandfather spent six out of seven evenings a week in a public house. And most working men did the same. Today, many pubs, are almost empty from Monday to Saturday. This is partly due to the fact that more men stay at home, watching the T.V., listening to the radio or reading, and partly due to a change in drinking habits.

What, then, do we drink today when we don’t drink beer? And where do we go?

Coffee Bars
Millions of gallons of tea are drunk in restaurants and roadside cafés. And soft drinks like “coke” and milk shakes are sold in the now declining milk bars. But neither the roadside caff nor the milk bar can take the place of the pub. The public house was—and to a lesser extent still is—a meeting place for working men, and women, after a day’s work. But neither the café nor the milk bar can be that, though many milk bars and some restaurants boast of a juke box. The milk bar, with its high chrome stools and numerous mirrors, is no place for social drinking.

But during the last few years a new kind of place— with “ atmosphere’’—has come into being. It is the Espresso coffee bar.

About five years ago an Italian dentist who came to Britain, so we are told, to sell mouth-mirrors, so hated British coffee that he introduced Espresso coffee machines, which, by steam pressure, pump water through ground coffee to make a fresh cup of coffee for each cup. When the coffee is topped with the foam of milk heated by steam, it is called Cappuccino. Within a year, hundreds of Espresso coffee bars had sprung up in London arid elsewhere.

In most coffee bars the lights are low—very low; the walls are covered with Piccasso-like murals, and the waitresses lode like Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield! And all for ninepence a cup! This was the place that a fellow and his girl friend could sit in for hours on end— for a few shillings. But the coffee house proprietors soon found that coffee on its own or with the occasional gateau did not bring in the profits that they expected. Groups of working-class teenagers drinking possibly two or three cups of Cappuccino in an evening was of little use to them.

New and different clients had to be catered for. Coffee and gateau was not enough.

Spaghetti and Steak
A number of Espresso coffee bars began to add spaghetti to their menus; some came into existence as restaurants and coffee bars. Some are now licensed, and sell both coffee and spirits.

Another coffee bar “gimmick" is the skiffle group—three, four or more “musicians,” playing guitars, homemade string basses, etc., and singing, with pseudo-American accents, folk songs of Tennessee and the Deep South. A cover charge is made for such entertainment.

At present, Espresso coffee bars—plus spaghetti, steak, brandy and skiffle—are booming, but to a large extent they are changing. At first the Bloomsbury “intellectuals"and the Bohemians with their sandals and corduroy trousers frequented them, and then later the more typical working-class youngsters, but now many coffee bars cater exclusively for the upper-income types; others are squeezing the poorer group out with their three cups of coffee per evening.

Espresso is becoming bourgeois. Earls Court moves into Mayfair.
Peter E. Newell

The cult of leadership (1999)

Editorial from the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
The cult of leadership
In 1997 Britain emerged from the dark days of Tory rule, liberated by the Labour Party—their path to victory illuminated by the dazzling smile and radiant glow of sincerity from Tony Blair, who promised "Things Can Only Get Better!" If only the People would trust him to lead them. It was He, and He alone, with his charm and iron-willed leadership, that brought victory to the Labour Party. It was He, and He alone, who could save Britain. It was He, and He alone, who was fit to give us leadership.
The Cult of Tony was born!
And the members of the Labour Party, from the knockers-on-doors to the MPs in Westminster, to the people who owed their very jobs to Tony, saw how He and He alone brought them victory. And they believed. They believed it was Tony what won it, they believed that Tony could do it, they believed they owed it all to Leadership. And they looked out into the darkness in the world, the places where Tony's light—alas!—did not and could not shine, and they knew what was the one thing needful.

The Cult of Leadership was born!
MORE LEADERS! More leaders was the answer. Wherever the darkness of poverty, inefficiency, despair and degradation existed in the Land, leaders were the solution. Things can get better, things must get better, but only if the resolute will of a Leader can be brought to them. But, how to find these great leaders? How to bring the resolute will to bear? Then, the London Bells spoke, and all became clear: new elections were needed.

The Cult of Elected Mayors was born!
Don't quite buy it? Well, neither do we. It seems a nice idea—everything running smoothly, no hassles, no delays, no backroom haggling or party politicking, simply One Man charging through the wilderness solving problems at a stroke. It is, though, just a fantasy. Leaders spend a lot of time, money and effort, trying to persuade us that someone, someone at least, is in control, and that we have some real control in our own lives, through (of course) them.

The truth is that no elected politician can control the market—which operates for the private gain of a tiny number of owners. As long as the market exists we cannot have control of our own lives, run things in our own, and our own communities' interests, because that would threaten the profits of the tiny few. Leaders can't change that. Only we can, by acting together, without leaders, to end the whole profit-driven, market system.

Questions—and the answer (1992)

From the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the last issue of the Socialist Standard, in an article directed at people who are too young to have a vote, we raised three questions that we thought our young readers might like to consider. We also suggested that they might like to pass the questions on to their teachers or clergymen, their Member of Parliament, leaders of the political parties, and others of that respectable fraternity who give credence to the idea that there’s not a lot wrong with our world that can not be put right with a dollop of sensible planning.

We also advised our young readers that we would contribute answers to our questions in this issue.

The questions were:

1. Governments of different political parties, Tory, Liberal or Labour, governments of the Right, the Left and the Centre, come and go in different countries. But all the basic problems remain despite the fact that political parties achieve power on the basis of their electoral claims to be able to solve these problems. Why is this?

2. In this country—indeed throughout all countries—homelessness and slum dwelling is a permanent feature of life. At the same time, there are vast numbers of workers, skilled in the various aspects of building construction unemployed. Why are building and construction workers idle when millions of people desperately need decent homes?

3. In every country, poverty, in one or more of its forms, exists. Some 15 million children (averaging about 42,000 every single day) die every year of hunger and hunger-related diseases. At the same time, massive amounts of foodstuffs are dumped or stored— much of it until it goes rotten—and governments deliberately restrict food production. Why do you think this is?

Why politicians fail
The answer to Question 1 is that all political parties, with the exception of those within the World Socialist Movement, contest election on the grounds that they are able to run the existing system better than all the others. Such a claim must be underpinned by the arrogant notion that they have got something that none of the others have, or ever had! They are elected on this basis, because the electorate believe that they have the skills, the honesty, sincerity or whatever other quality is required to put things right. As the question states, they always fail.

It is not the fault of the politicians and their parties that they fail; on the contrary, it is the fault of the capitalist system, the buying-and-selling system, which the parties, whatever they call themselves, choose to organise and administer. Capitalism is firmly rooted in the exploitation of the working majority by a parasitic minority. Its function is not to produce goods and services for the use of society as a whole but only to produce these things if, and when, they ensure a profit for the capitalists.

The basic problems that the politicians fail to solve arise inevitably out of the contradictions of capitalism. They are problems peculiar to capitalism and, as such, are ineradicable while that system lasts. That is why the World Socialist Movement does not campaign on its ability to solve problems like poverty, unemployment, crime etc but, uniquely, calls on the working class to organise for the democratic overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism.

Why needs are not met
The answers to Questions 2 and 3 are implied in the foregoing but to demonstrate our point we will take a brief look at the socialist alternative to capitalism, where not only would the problems set out in 2 and 3 not exist but where, along with the other myriad problems of capitalism, they could not exist. Socialism, as proposed by the World Socialist Movement, is defined in our Object as:
a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the. whole community.
In the world envisaged in this definition. every human being on Earth would have the opportunity to co-operate in the production and distribution of wealth and, again, every human being would have free and equal access to the means to satisfy their needs whether or not they had co-operated in production. Obviously, if enough people declined to partake in the productive processes it would be impossible for everyone to avail themselves of the things they need. That is why socialism can only be built upon the conscious democratic decision of a majority of socialists and why the fullest democratic control would have to prevail in a socialist society.

All people engaged in the wasteful functions that now exist in the world of capitalism, functions like selling, banking, insurance, armed forces, advertising and marketing, together with the unemployed, on the dole and on the stock exchange, would be available to help in the task of producing and distributing. Obviously, in such circumstances, where things like “investment” and “cost” would no longer exist, problems such as slums and homelessness could be quickly corrected.

Whereas today the purpose of food production is the maximization of profits without regard to the damage caused to the land and the prospects for future generations, in socialism the primary consideration will be producing enough food for ail in a manner consistent with the preservation of the land. The concept of socialism is wholly inconsistent with the idea of poverty or hunger for any minority on Earth however small that minority might be.

Today, it is a relatively small number of human beings who perform the work of providing essential goods and services; the rest of the working class, as we have noted, are engaged in functions that are meaningless outside the wasteful world of capitalism. It follows that, in socialism, the task of producing all the goods and services required by humanity can be accomplished with comparatively little effort. That which we now call employment—workers working for wages—will have ended with the abolition of capitalism so, effectively, there can be no unemployment.

Obviously, in a wageless, moneyless world where people freely avail themselves of their needs and are not required to work long hours for protracted periods of their lives, there will be much time for leisure. Speculating on how human beings might use that leisure, in a frontierless world where transport and accommodation, like everything else is free, might well be a further question worth discussing.
Richard Montague