Monday, February 27, 2017

Global Tyranny (2000)

Book Review from the May 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Your Money or Your Life! the Tyranny of Global Finance by Eric Toussaint, translated by Raghu Krishnan, Pluto Press, 1999.

This is a potentially useful resource for socialists' campaign of educating the working class about how they are being exploited. It provides an analysis of the "globalisation of capital", and how this has enabled the largest industrial groups and financial investors to operate "with the least possible number of restrictions as far as labour laws and social conventions were concerned". Toussaint provides a useful introduction in which he outlines his 45 "theses" which are enlarged upon in the body of the text. These cover the workings and the consequences of the process from "1: massive impoverishment on a global scale" through to 42: "globalisation hastening environmental decline", and conclude with the need for alternatives, in particular 44: "satisfying human needs" and 45: "rethinking a project for emancipation".

Of course, much has already been written on such matters as Third World Debt, the role of financial institutions including the World Bank and the IMF, and the human suffering resulting from unfair trade and Structural Adjustment Programmes. But this book is a less irritating read for socialists because it uses the language of the class struggle, for example, in thesis 43 referring to "the global offensive of capital against labour", and in 26 stating that the repayment of foreign and domestic debt "has been a tremendous mechanism for transferring the [surplus] wealth created by the workers to capitalists". Toussaint evidently considers himself to be a socialist, dedicating the book to Ernest Mandel and sharing Marx's belief that "the emancipation of the oppressed can only be achieved by the oppressed themselves".

However, there are errors in the book in terms of the socialist analysis of capitalism. For example, Toussaint refers to debt repayments coming out of tax revenues, "which largely come from working people". This is odd given that in the Glossary he defines surplus value as "what remains of the social product once the reproduction of the workforce is assured and its maintenance costs covered". Logically these subsistence costs must be the money actually received by the workers, hence net of tax, and so tax revenues must, in effect, come from the capitalists' share of the spoils. A much more serious error lies in the kind of solution Toussaint proposes. He lists alternatives to the current situation headed by reforms to the handling of Third World Debt. He asserts that the "tyranny" of financial markets can be "disciplined", "if governments decide to do so". He puts his faith in "the wealth of social movements" succeeding in resisting globalisation. How can Toussaint reconcile this trust in reformist measures which only capitalists or their state servants can bring about with his recognition of the unavoidable responsibility of the oppressed for their own emancipation?

One welcome theme of the book is Toussaint's account of the effects of globalisation on the environment. In particular, he recognises that the so-called "Green Revolution" was "carried out to the detriment of communal lands, has led to severe impoverishment of biodiversity, an increase in plant diseases and soil exhaustion". He cites the well-known environmental and social activist Vandana Shiva as seeing that, far from saving India from famine, as is claimed by the World Bank, the Green Revolution was "part of the plunder and exploitation of the peasantry for the benefit of trade and industry". In a socialist society the traditional knowledge and expertise held by small communities will be respected, especially where this relates to local ecology and sustainable systems of land use, and hence priority given to local decision-making over whatever has to be delegated to wider regional or global democratic control.

How much more interesting it is looking forward to the future socialist society than indulging in wishful thinking about how the current economy might be reformed to mitigate its worst effects. However, to be fair to Toussaint, he devotes only ten per cent of the pages of his book to these alternatives, and damns capitalism so powerfully in the rest, that it may be that he intends the reader to draw their own conclusion: that the only solution is to scrap it altogether.
Chris Marsh

Early Bordiga and Electoral Activity (2017)

Amadeo Bordiga
From the February 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
The second part of our series on the views of Amadeo Bordiga up to the 1917 Russian revolution.
In March and April 1913, the magazine Avanguardia published a series of articles by Bordiga entitled 'For the Theoretical Conception of Socialism'. In them he expressed his political vision.
'We should not be philosophers but men of action… the proletariat is still in search of its programme and it will not find it permanently until after a long series of struggles and inevitable mistakes committed in action. (….) We have a programme de facto: the abolition of private property and of the wages system. We have to pay attention to the deceits of bourgeois thought and in particular to idealist forms that seek to distract the attention of the proletariat from the economic problems that it seeks to resolve with the violent suppression of their domination.’
If, on the one hand, this is a Marxist revolutionary position, on the other hand it has a strong taste of anarchist actionism. In a further Avanguardia article, in July 1913, Bordiga commented both on the recently translated book Revolutionary Socialism by the French revolutionary syndicalists Charles Albert and Jean Duchène and on an editorial on it by Mussolini in Avanti, the newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI).  According to Bordiga, the anarchists and syndicalists were too often criticized from the reformist point of view, that is, for rejecting legal revolution in favour of violence. Instead, for him, the shortcomings of the anarchist and syndicalist movements were in how they wanted to reach their revolutionary aim; the anarchists were too abstract and the syndicalists were too simplistic in believing that the unions would be sufficient to achieve everything.
Bordiga disagreed with the authors that Marxism was a fatalistic doctrine. On the parliamentary tactic, a key element of what would become Bordiga's future thought on the question can be discerned in this article. He agreed with criticism of the justifications the anarchists gave for abstentionism. On the other hand, he accepted Albert and Duchène's criticism that parliamentary action would suffocate any other activity, commenting that ‘it cannot be denied that the facts seem to prove that’. But for him, at this time, it was a question of whether parliamentary and electoral activity was of use or not for the maximum programme of socialism. A few years later his answer was to be that it was not, with the same justification for this given by Albert and Duchène. It was from this that his abstentionism originated.
In November 1913 Bordiga discussed the elections that had just taken place:
'It is, in fact, undisputable that the conquests of Socialism, from the maximum to the immediate, must be a product of the large masses, which form a collective consciousness of their own interests and of their own future. The large masses must be convinced that, to guarantee and effectively materialize those conquests, they should not abdicate their safety into the hands of a few executives; they should also not ask for help of any kind from the economically opposing class. The Socialist Party must nurture and spread this collective consciousness… Nobody can deny the truthfulness of the observation that a man obliged to do manual labour is inclined to delegate to others, to the intellectuals, the management and therefore the control of social life. Even nearly conscious masses tend to entrust the achievement of whatever aim they have to a man or a few men, whom they follow too blindly… We want to deduce from it that, in the current conditions, any form of class action – not only the elections, but also syndicalist action and even street uprisings – present the risk that the masses will give up actual control of their own interests and entrust it to a given number of “leaders”.'
So at this time Bordiga favoured participation in elections as an opportunity for propagandising but at the same time he was concerned that elections could be used as a way for an intellectual elite to take control of the workers’ movement. He already foresaw how easy it was for electoral activity to degenerate into mere vote-catching, 'to lose any aim which was not the numerical outcome’.
At the XIV National Congress of the PSI in Ancona in April 1914, Bordiga gave the leadership’s political report and also a report on the Southern question. He spoke on the Party’s tactic in 'administrative elections', i.e. elections to local and regional councils. He was for a policy of absolute intransigence against any type of coalition with bourgeois parties in the South as well as elsewhere in Italy, against the so-called blockists (blocchisti) who favoured electoral alliances with other parties. Despite the special conditions of the South of Italy, Bordiga invited the PSI to approach the question of the local and regional elections with the same political line everywhere on Italy, and ‘to make socialist municipalities a weapon against the capitalist and bourgeois State’.
On 7 June 1914, to commemorate the Albertinian Statute (the constitutional charter of the Italian monarchy), republicans and anarchists in Ancona organized a demonstration where a large crowd gathered. The gendarmerie opened fire on the crowd killing three people. Workers all over Italy reacted to this violent act with street demonstrations. The reformist leaders of the union, the General Labour Confederation (CgdL) were obliged to proclaim a mass strike. Writing in the 1960s Bordiga commented on what he regarded as a typical conclusion to an insurrection in Italian history:
'... on 12 June when state power and the bourgeoisie were in trouble, the CGdL provided them one of its countless services; it ordered the end of the mass strike. It was straight from the anarchist and Sorelian syndicalist tradition, according to which the Union has the function of direct and violent action and the party the legal one.'
Though he never wrote about it, Bordiga’s involvement in this action had personal consequences for him. He was dismissed from the State Railways where he worked as an engineer for taking part in a demonstration in Naples. He had published a short note in Il Socialista on 25 June in which he extended greetings to the rioters in the name of the Neapolitan Section of the PSI.
When in his article 'Democracy and Socialism' Bordiga stated that socialism 'established itself as the solemn condemnation of the historical failure of the democratic formula, and of the deceits that this contains’ he was referring to bourgeois democracy.  He wrote that democracy (i.e. bourgeois democracy) 'sees in the representative system the means to solve any problem of collective interest; we see in it the mask of a social oligarchy that uses the deceit of political equality in order to keep the workers oppressed’. In a key passage in this series of articles he wrote about what socialism means:
'… socialism means thinking that today, based on an examination of the existing economic and social conditions, a class action is possible, which aims to destroy capitalism and substitute it with a new social order. Acting as socialists means to seek to spread the consciousness of such a possibility in an ever growing number of proletarians and with the greatest simultaneity possible in all countries and nations. Whoever, even if they recognize that the destruction of capitalism is a good thing, does not think that this is the moment to act but believes that it is better to first solve other problems, is not a socialist.'
In this series of articles Bordiga continued to support the ‘municipalist’ thesis that workers should aim to win control of municipalities through elections, close to the argument of Mussolini in Avanti. At this point, for Bordiga, while what might be able to be achieved for workers at the municipal level should not be ignored, the role of the party remained one of propaganda, proselytism and preparation for the final clash of classes.
CESCO
(Next month: Bordiga and the First World War)
The first article in this series can be read at the following link.


Revolution in France (1969)

Book Review from the January 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marxism in Modern France by George Lichtheim. Columbia UP 20s.

France has provided many of the names well-known in the social democratic and anarchist movements: Saint-Simon. Proudhoun, Blanqui, Guesde, Jaurès, Sorel. Before the first world war the antics of reformists like Jaurès made the workers suspicious of parliamentary politics, a suspicion which expressed itself as Syndicalism, the view that the workers could only project their interests by direct action and the general strike leading to a regime of industrial unions.

After the war the bulk of the syndicalist workers backed the newly-formed Communist Party as they believed that Russia really was a soviet union and, of course, Leninism, with its conspiratorial vanguards and armed uprisings, fitted in well with the views of Blanqui. Today the Communist Party is a mass party, essentially reformist, but with a pseudo-revolutionary ideology. Its militants, however, are still influenced by syndicalism; hence their support for occupying the factories in 1968 as well as 1936.

Marx held that Socialism would be the outcome of the class struggle between the workers and the capitalists which would end with the workers winning political power and using it to convert the means of production into the common property of society as a whole. This view was inherited, in grossly distorted forms, by the Communists (PCF) and the Social Democrats (SFIO)who both saw themselves as expressions of the workers’ class struggle for Socialism.

In recent years they have had to face a crisis of theory: workers no longer seem interested in appeals to class and talk of revolution. Some have concluded that industrial workers are now played out as a revolutionary force and that Marx was wrong. The SFIO, characteristically, turned instead to the technocrats interested in extending state control, while the PCF always held in effect that the vanguard party, rather than the workers, would establish “socialism” (read “state capitalism”).

Lichtheim’s book, republished recently as a paperback, discusses both these views and those of their critics in what is a useful guide to French political thought.
Adam Buick



A hop picking (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Over the past four years, like so many other students pressed to the financial limits by a government which apparently no longer values the “good investment" of a university education in political ignorance. I have been forced to sell my labour power in my vacations. One of the least edifying of the available occupations I have experienced is the ritualistic September exploitation of hop picking that this summer (as last) economic survival forced me into taking.

Hop production in England has in recent years been in decline largely thanks to the competition of the mechanised American industry and the ravages of the hop disease wilt, which has destroyed thousands of acres and forced many a poor hop farmer into early retirement in any of a number of tax havens. At a rough estimate around three hundred farms grow hops in England today, mainly concentrated in Hereford, Worcester and, of course, Kent. The farm where I worked was a moderate concern at around 300 acres, about 85 of which were set aside for hops.

Despite recent problems, hops are perhaps the most valuable crop a farmer can grow on his available land and large profits are still made on the backs of exploited hop pickers. Indeed, what better proof of the labour theory of value is there than agricultural production, for what value has a rotten, unharvested crop?

Hop farms, like all farms, tend to stay in the hands of the same families and as a result vast fortunes have been amassed, especially by those families who were in the industry during the boom years of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when hops were picked by hand, pickers were paid at most one (old) penny a bushel (a bushel is worth around £40 today) and workers were housed in sheds designed for animals and had to provide their own food. Some improvements have been made since then. As early as the nineteen thirties George Orwell was reporting such notable improvements as fresh straw to sleep on and a pay rate of two (old) pennies a bushel.

However, changes in the actual production of hops in the latter part of this century and consequently in the structuring of the labour process, have been massive. The invention and adoption of BRUFF hop picking machines in the 1940s and 1950s has reduced the number of pickers required from hundreds to dozens and the introduction of hybrid strands of hops has meant that less have been required to flavour even the increasing quantities of beer demanded.

The typical hop farm today has split production into three discernible processes: the picking and gathering of hops in the "yard” or field: the loading and sorting of hops on the hop-picking machine at the main farm buildings; and kiln work — the kiln being the place where the picked hops are dried, pressed and baled (packaged).

At each stage of production there is a group of workers with a foreman working long shifts. Many farms still work the old twelve hour shift, though the more enterprising have adopted 24 hour picking with two shifts - a response to American productive methods. The farm where I worked had two eight hour shifts: 6am to 3pm and 3pm to 1am. This compromise was probably worked out on the logic that with longer hours it would be a toss-up as to which would collapse first, the hop pickers or the archaic hop picking machine.

The jobs in the hop yard are probably the most strenuous. A gang of four men and a tractor driver cut down the hop vines for the tractor driver to take back to the workers at the machine. In most places this work is still done by men with sickles although the technology to eliminate this menial work has existed for many years.

One of the four men stands in a tower attached to the back of the tractor (called the “crow's nest") and cuts the hop plant away from the wire work on which it grows at the top, around ten feet up. while another worker walks ahead cutting the plants away at the bottom. The tractor is driven slowly through the middle of the row while the remaining two workers load the hop bines onto the tractor trailer. When four tractors are working in tandem the work is continuous, but so long as the weather stays fairly warm and dry it can be enjoyable. However since the advent of night shift work the opportunities for getting cold, wet and miserable have been greatly increased, as has the prospect of serious injury as the night shift is carried out in the totally inadequate lighting of a simple torch attached to the back of the tractor. Industrial injuries increase in number each year but very few workers sue for damages (excluding a few students) for most will have to find work on the same farm the next year. Our boss found it extremely amusing that we were "short handed" when the worker in the crow's nest lost his finger in an accident.

Working on the hop picking machine is among the most boring experiences known. After the hops are deposited at the machine by the tractor driver, it is the job of three workers to load the heavy ten foot hop bines into the large metal hooks of the machine. Once the machine is in motion these hooks feed the machine constantly. With the regular supply of hops from the yard, the work for these three workers is thus both back-breaking and mind-numbing.

The hops are fed through various cutters, choppers and strimmers until reaching the open stage of the machine where two or three women workers sort the leaves missed by the machine from the hop fruit itself. It is a far from pleasant atmosphere, working with the steaming mass of rotting debris which is belched out as surplus by the hop machine directly behind them. The picked hops then travel along a long conveyor belt into the kiln to be dried, pressed and boiled.

Four men work in the kiln which, at my place of work, was a three-levelled building seemingly never below 90°C in temperature. The job of one of these men, the binman, is to fill 12 feet square bins with the hops emerging from the moving conveyor. Once the hops are levelled in the bins they are ready to be pushed into the kiln itself and dried. The drying process seems full of mystique and is usually entrusted to three workers close to the farming family. One more experienced worker is designated "hop man" and makes most of the decisions as to how long the hops should be heated and how many should be heated in one kiln. The three kilnsmen work two shifts a day and actually sleep in the kiln in order to be available at any time of the day or night. Their main tasks are to collect the dried hops on the second level, to feed them through a pressing machine and to sew them into square bales (packages), ready to be sold to the brewery.

Of the two shifts of workers, the student contingent made up most of one entire shift. Students are very popular among farmers as in the majority of cases they don't have to pay employers’ insurance contributions. The student workers are housed in rickety, cold caravans on the farm and are fed (mainly potatoes) in the farmhouse. For both these delights a worker's wage is docked over £3 a day. Very few of the students had any conception of how they were being exploited, most of them this year being local public school boys who thought it rather good fun to rough it for three weeks. The second shift of local agricultural workers understandably looked on the student shift with considerable suspicion and dislike.

Despite these facts most agricultural labourers, while they may dislike the farmer and his family passively accept the agricultural hierarchy as it stands. In fact, with the average agricultural worker's wage being around £51 a week in normal times, most of them welcome and are grateful for the marginally less intense exploitation of hop picking.

Despite the general air of passive acceptance of a rotten and self-limiting system, in my second week of work one spark of light pierced the ideological gloom. I was talking to some of the machine workers about the need for them to join unions when one worker, a former hop farm manager recently made redundant by an alliance of families, turned on me. virtually shouting, "what we need is a revolution, not bloody trade unions". I later handed him a copy of the Socialist Standard but I felt he knew through his own experience all he needed to know, without any help from me or anyone else. How long can it be before the mass of super- exploited agricultural workers like him achieve this realisation too?
Captain Swing

War—what it means and why (1992)

From the August 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

A figure based on statistics for civilians killed in military conflicts throughout the world between the years 1900 and 1990 is a staggering 115,119,000. This estimate given in World Social and Military Expenditures 1991 produced by World Priorities (Box 25140, Washington DC, 2000. USA) is on the low side since it does not take into account the wars of 60 minor nations.

Further, these statistics can only hint at the millions left orphaned and widowed and those who die from the famine and disease that invariably follows war. And we can only gasp in disbelief at the damage done to high-productive arable land, at the loss forever of mineral resources and at the effects of pollution, caused by these wars.

Governments and leaders who instigate wars have become masters of military rhetoric, for they can send millions to their deaths using such excuses as patriotism, religion and democracy. Even in our own century these have been the alleged causes of wars.

Socialists, however, recognise that we live in a world of capitalist domination in which the drive for profit comes before other concerns, and that wars are in reality fought over trade routes (Suez), areas of domination (the two world wars) and mineral resources (Gulf War).

If the recent Gulf War was fought to “defend democracy", then why did $9 billion find its way into Saddam’s hands between 1984 and 1989? Why didn't America retaliate when the USS Stark was attacked by Iraq in 1987 with the loss of 37 US lives, or when Saddam gassed 2000 Kurds in Halabja in 1988?

The Gulf War was fought for several capitalist-oriented reasons: to stabilize the world oil market, to protect Americas strategic imperialist interests in the Middle East and, as Simon Tisdall observed recently in the Guardian (20 May), “Bush also quickly realised that here was a crisis that might be blamed on him: hence the overwhelming magnitude of his response”.

War today means huge profits for sections of big business. For instance, “three quarters of Britain's biggest companies help to support oppressive regimes” (Guardian, 17 May). Between 1985 and 1989, US firms made $52.8 billion from arms exports (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook 1991), while at home British tank manufacturers Vickers bid for orders worth $2.5 billion. As well as this, governments sell military knowledge. Between the years 1979 and 1990 "Britain provided military training for 110 countries . . . Training in Cambodia included sabotage and mine-laying courses" (Guardian, 15 January).

The capitalist system of profit before need is fraught with contradictions. Six times as much public money in the world is spent on weapons research than on health research programmes (World Social and Military Priorities 1987-9). And in the Third World there are slightly over 8 soldiers for every one doctor, in spite of the fact that “the chance of dying from social neglect, malnutrition and preventable disease is 33 times greater than dying from war” (Ruth Leger Sivard, World Social and Military Expenditures, World Priorities, 1989).

During the 80s, NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries provided 89 percent of Third World arms. This has done nothing to bring peace, stability and prosperity, "only chaos and carnage to the very peasants whose sweat and toil earn Africa the foreign exchange to buy these weapons" (New Internationalist, July 1991).

The death of over 115 million people in the interests of profit is proof that the need for world socialism has never been more pressing. War is competition for profit writ large, the continuation of business by other means. It is not enough for the capitalists that the workers must suffer from continual exploitation, earning only enough to keep them in a fit mental and physical state in order to accrue more profits for their "masters". What adds injury to insult is when the workers are conned into fighting workers of other nations suffering under the same exploitative system—all for the right to be exploited by the more affluent victor. The working class has in reality only one enemy: the capitalist system.
John Bissett

The Silliness of Bernard Shaw and the Webbs (1956)

From the July 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reynolds News (10 June, 1956), in the course of publishing condensed extracts from “Beatrice Webb’s Diaries 1924-1932,” had the following about Beatrice’s disapproval of Bernard Shaw for his admiration of Mussolini:—
  "October 21st 1927. G. B. S. has created something of sensation; be has gone out of his way to certify to the excellence of Mussolini's dictatorship—to its superiority over political democracy as experienced in Britain and other countries. . . .  G. B. S. fortified in his admiration of Mussolini by spending eight weeks and £600 in a luxurious hotel at Stresa; in continuous and flattering interviews with Fascist officials of charming personality and considerable attainments . . ."
 "From the published correspondence in the English Press and still more from a private correspondence with Adler, it appears that G. B. S. puts forward the Mussolini regime as the New Model which all other countries ought to follow!"
Of course later on, in the second world war, Shaw hedged about his admiration for the Italian dictator, but in the meantime the Webbs had made the pilgrimage to Moscow, fallen for the same blandishments and published their massively misguided book “Soviet Communism—a new Civilisation." One of its unintentionally humorous chapters is that on "Is Stalin a Dictator?" “Sometimes it is asserted,” they wrote (second edition, 1937, page 431), “ that, whereas the form may be otherwise, the fact is that, whilst the Communist Party controls the whole administration, the Party itself, and thus indirectly the whole State, is governed by the will of a single person, Josef Stalin.”

They hastened to point out (doubtless remembering their earlier disapproval of Shaw and Mussolini) that Stalin, unlike Mussolini and Hitler, was “not invested by law with any authority over his fellow-citizens. . . .  He is, in fact, only the General Secretary of the Party... ." 

In their solemn-silly way they concluded that there wasn’t any truth in the stories about Stalin!
  "We have given particular attention to this point, collecting all the available evidence, and noting artfully the inferences to be drawn from the experience of the past eight years (1926-1934). We do not think that the Party is governed by the will of a single person; or that Stalin is the sort of person to claim or desire such a position. He has himself very explicitly denied any such personal dictatorship in terms which, whether or not he is credited with sincerity certainly accord with our own impression of the facts."
How Stalin must have laughed up his sleeve at such simplicity; and how his “reformed” successors must laugh at the simplicity of the Webb’s successors.

Of course the biggest deception of the Webbs’ book—a deception still being practised by Stalin’s heirs—was that Russian dictatorship-ridden State capitalism was a “new civilisation." It deserves that title as much as did Mussolini's Italy deserve Shaw’s belief in h as a New Model.
Edgar Hardcastle