Wednesday, May 10, 2017

For A Democratic World

Editorial from the Spring 1985 issue of the World Socialist

The world today is divided into 140 or so states, each with its own flag, its own Head of State, its own government, its own nationalism and above all, since institutionalised violence is the essence of the state, its own armed forces. Only a minority of these states even pretend to be democratic. The rest are dictatorships of one kind or another in which the ruling minority uses the most vile means, including torture and murder (as documented by organisations such as Amnesty International), to preserve its power and privileges. We refer here not only to the host of military dictatorships in Asia, Africa and Latin America but also to the state capitalist countries like Russia and China where the privileged ruling classes have reached the depths of cynicism with their claim to have established a classless socialist society.

Even the “democratic” states are only democratic in the limited sense of allowing their subjects a say from time to time in the choice of the personnel to fill certain important posts on the administrative side of the state. This is not to say that universal suffrage, the right to express and propagate dissenting views from the ruling ideology, the right to organise and to go on strike are not of vital importance. They are and nobody needs to tell us that they had to be achieved by years of struggle against the direct ancestors of the present ruling class, but in themselves they do not amount to anything like democracy in its full sense of a society run by and in the interest of the whole people.

Freedom to cry ''exploitation” from the roof tops does not in itself abolish exploitation; indeed it can be used to give the impression that exploitation no longer exists, as is done by defenders of capitalism in countries like the United States, Britain and Canada. According to them the populations of these and other countries with the same kind of political regime form national communities with a common interest and elections there are about choosing the men and women to administer the common affairs of these communities in the interest of the whole population. This claim is as false as that of the ruling class in Russia to be the mere servants of the community in a classless society of equals. It ignores the fact that society, even in the so-called democratic countries, is divided into antagonistic classes.

Throughout the world, in all countries irrespective of their political regime, the means for producing and distributing wealth are monopolised, either privately as individuals and companies or collectively through the state, by a minority class. As a result the rest of the population of any country are economically dependent on the monopolising minority, being obliged to sell their mental and physical energies to them for a wage or salary far below the value of the wealth they produce and which the minority appropriate. Wherever a class is deprived of the fruits of its labour exploitation exists, and it exists just as much in the United States, Britain and Canada as it does in Chile, Russia or South Africa.

As they take place in class-divided societies, elections in the 'democratic countries” are not about choosing delegates to run social affairs in the common interest; they are about choosing the men and women who are to run affairs in the interest of the minority class which monopolises the means of life. The task of those elected is to use the powers of the state machine to further the interests at home and abroad of the capitalist class of the country concerned. At home this involves maintaining "law and order”, upholding the established social order where the law grants the members of the minority capitalist class property rights in the means of production; the interests of the capitalist minority must be protected against the "enemy within", i.e. against the majority class of wage and salary earners wherever they take action to defend their living standards, by strikes and other forms of industrial action, against the ever present downward pressures exerted by capital. Abroad it involves protecting and furthering the commercial interests of the capitalist minority over markets, sources of raw materials, trade routes and investment outlets by the threatened and if need be the actual use of armed force. To this end each state has to arm its forces with the most destructive and most devastating weapons it can afford. Hence the arms race, continual local wars and the ever present threat of another world war.

Elections, such as those which took place last year in the United States, Canada and Australia, are thus about who shall fill the top posts in the state and run affairs in the interest of the established capitalist class. The choice that is offered is not really a choice at all since the main parties involved all stand for the same system. This is obvious in the case of America where the Republican and Democratic parties are openly mere rival gangs of political place-hunters, but is also the case in countries like Britain, Australia and New Zealand where one of the contending parties claims to represent the interests of the working class. Experience over the years of “Labour" governments shows that in practice they are just as anti-working class as any government formed by openly pro-capitalist parties. This is inevitable since the capitalist system can only function in one way: as a profit-making system in the interest of the profit-taking class. No government could change this economic law of present-day class society. On the contrary, all governments are obliged to abide by it and apply it whatever their original intentions might have been.

Politics in these countries is a game of ins and outs remote from the lives of ordinary people who, even though they participate in this game by exercising a “choice” when given the opportunity, generally do so without illusions since they know by experience that it makes very little difference to their everyday lives which party—which particular gang of place-hunters—wins. Politics is seen, and presented, as a sort of never-ending TV serial in which various media-puffed personalities vie with each other for power and place. No wonder most people don’t want too much to do with “politics". This is how it is today, but it need not always be so. When socialist understanding has spread sufficiently amongst the majority wage and salary earning class in these countries elections can be turned against the minority capitalist class. But until this happens the spectacle will go on and the use to which democratic forms are put will remain a farce that is an insult to the intelligence of thinking men and women.

So throughout the world, state power is exercised for the benefit of minorities, even if this power is sometimes exercised by people who have been chosen by the exploited majority class living in the country concerned. It could not be otherwise since state power and minority rule are inextricably linked: states exist precisely to uphold and protect minority rule and privilege, To create a truly democratic world the people of the world must take democratic political action to abolish all the states into which the world is currently divided, along with all the privileged classes whose interests they serve, and establish in their place a global classless community with a democratic unarmed world administration. Only then will we be able to talk of democracy. Only then will have been created the framework within which can be solved once and for all manifestly world problems such as disarmament and the threat of war, pollution and the plundering of non-renewable resources, and mass hunger, disease and ignorance,

Banking for Food (2017)

From the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Food banks are one of the most obvious examples of the extent of poverty, and more and more people have been using them. In the six months to September last year, the Trussell Trust, which operates a large number of food banks throughout Britain, handed out three-day food parcels to over half a million people, an increase over the same period in 2015. There are also more food banks in operation now than ever before. Many of the hungry are in fuel poverty too, and some food banks have even begun to give out tampons, as some women were using newspapers or handkerchiefs when they could not afford proper sanitary products.
Clearly, poverty is the reason why people resort to food banks to feed themselves and their families, but specifically two out of five who went to Trussell Trust operations cited delays in receiving benefits or changes to benefits as causing them to go there. A DWP spokesperson stated, ‘Reasons for food bank use are complex so it’s misleading to link them to any one issue’ (Telegraph online, 08/11/16). Individual cases vary, of course, but talk of ‘complex reasons’ just serves to muddy the water. To put it plainly, it is poverty and the inability to make ends meet that drive people to food banks.
In 2014 the Mail on Sunday ran a typically nasty story claiming that people could get vouchers for food banks without ID or checks and just by telling sob stories. Moreover, many of those who used the food banks were asylum seekers! This exemplifies the capitalist propaganda machine: focussing on a tiny number who supposedly ‘abuse’ the system rather than the widespread poverty that makes the system necessary, just as allegedly-dishonest welfare recipients are publicised in order to undermine the whole system and so humiliate, discourage and harass those who have genuine claims.
In 2015, 391 people in the UK died from malnutrition or hunger-related causes, and there were 746 admissions to hospital on grounds of malnutrition. There seem to be no reliable figures for the extent of hunger in Britain, but the increase in children starting school under weight and the rise in use of food banks suggest that the situation is bad and getting worse. One volunteer reported on some painfully thin people who attended one food bank: ‘There were people who had not eaten that day or the day before, or who had walked for two hours to get there, because paying for a return bus journey was out of the question’ (Guardian online, 29 January).
What is usually claimed to be the world’s first food bank was started in Arizona in 1967. In the US 42 million people still face hunger now, including nearly thirteen million children and five million seniors ( That is roughly one person in eight, which shows graphically why food banks are still badly needed.
One in nine of the world’s population – that’s 800 million people – do not have enough to eat, and nearly three million children die each year from hunger-related causes. According to the Global Foodbanking Network (, households and nations suffer from food insecurity, ‘conditions where people do not have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food’. The GFN is currently aiming to raise $1m ‘to provide nutritious meals to eight million people facing hunger by the end of 2018’; but this is barely a drop in the ocean of what is needed.
Food banks are a classic case of dealing with the symptoms, not the cause. But the need for food banks and the increasing demands on them show very clearly that capitalism cannot provide a decent and secure life for everybody, despite the potential to produce more than enough of food and other goods. 
Paul Bennett

Why capitalism cannot serve human needs

Editorial from the Winter 1984 issue of the World Socialist

It is an undeniable fact that throughout its history capitalism has been unable to meet the needs of the world's population. It has not done so in the past, it does not do so now, and it is not going to do so in the future.

We are interested in the needs of the community. Capitalism does provide for, and more than provides for, the needs of those who are rich enough to buy all they want. Nor are we interested in the total production achieved under capitalism, but only with that part that meets human needs. We are not interested for instance in armaments production, the vast allocations of resources and labour throughout the world given to the military. Tanks, guns, nuclear weaponry and their delivery systems do not contribute to meeting human needs as socialists understand them. We are interested in production which provides for life and not for the destruction of life.

Over one hundred years ago Marx wrote that "it is not a fact that too many necessities of life are produced in proportion to the existing population. The reverse is true. Not enough is produced to satisfy the wants of the great mass decently and humanely" (Capital, Vol III).

In modem terms, what is meant by providing for needs "decently and humanely" can be put in the form of a question. Does capitalism produce everywhere in the world enough good quality food, clothing, housing, water and sewage systems, energy for heating and lighting, health services and education facilities, books, radio and TV services, entertainment, means of travel recreation and so on? The answer is emphatically that it does not.

In the chapter from which the above statement was taken, Marx was dealing with the confusion which existed then, and still exists now, about the fact that periodically capitalism enters depressions in which it is found that some commodities have been "overproduced". But, as Marx showed, overproduction of a commodity for its particular market has nothing to do with the important question about whether capitalism produces enough to meet the needs of the great mass of the world’s population.

Frederick Engels put the position well in a letter he wrote in 1865:
Too little is produced, that is the cause of the whole thing. But why is too little produced? Not because the limits of production are exhausted. No—but because the limits of production are determined not by the number of empty bellies but by the number of purchasers able to buy and pay.
This is still the case. At the present time not only are productive resources not being used, but production is being cut back. In spite of the need for more food, the US and European governments are restricting food production because of limited market capacity for sales at a profit.

This difference between overproduction for the market and insufficient production for human needs demonstrates the contradictory way in which capitalism operates. When farms or industries have overproduced for their particular markets and have accumulated unsold stocks, it is precisely at that point that the ability of workers to buy decreases because of unemployment.

There are still many people who think that the appearance of unsold commodities is evidence that capitalism does produce enough to meet all needs. This is not only factually untrue but it would be a contradiction of the basic principle on which capitalist production is carried on.

In every country throughout the world, including the state capitalist countries of Russia and China, companies and governments own and monopolise means of production and distribution such as land, factories, shops, transport, communication systems, and so on. They employ workers to produce commodities to be sold in the market for profit. Selling at a profit is what the whole economic arrangement is all about. When, periodically, some industries find that they have produced more than can be sold in their particular markets at a profit, their reaction is immediate. They don't go on producing goods which they cannot sell. They curtail production and stand off workers they no longer need.

Capitalism does not go on producing commodities which it knows it cannot sell at a profit. The many millions of unemployed throughout the world are unemployed because they cannot be employed at a profit. Even at peak production during market booms capitalism never produces enough for the whole population, and in the recurrent market depressions it produces still less.

An accumulation of unsold products means that those who control them have a number of options. They can hold them at some expense until the market recovers. They can sell them at cut rates in order to get cash. In some cases they will be destroyed. There is one exception to these options about accumulated unsold stocks. World capitalism is not just a collection of industrial and trading organisations. It is also, of necessity, a collection of armed capitalist states with overriding political and military objectives. Governments, for political and military reasons, promote the production of some commodities beyond the demand of the market and accumulate stockpiles of petrol, food and strategically important metals. They do this because they are in constant conflict with each other over the acquisition and defence of sources of raw materials, trade routes and markets.

It is true that capitalism has greatly increased mankind's powers of production, but this has not been for the object of providing for human needs The economic stimulus has been profit and the accumulation of capital, and though these increased powers of production exist they are not available for the benefit of mankind. Quite apart from armaments production, they have been dissipated by the creation of a vast number of unproductive employments such as finance and banking which are essential to a profit system but which would be completely unnecessary in socialism which would be concerned with useful work producing useful goods and services.

Throughout the world today we find that powers of production are not being used to anything like their full capacity. Even in relation to existing market possibilities there is at the present time unused productive capacity in almost every line of commodity production.

The structure of capitalism and the way it operates always prohibits the full use of productive capacity. For a very short time at the peak of a market boom it is sometimes used to its full extent, but this can never last. But in any event such productive capacity as exists under capitalism is never in relation to the needs of the population. It is fixed at a level in relation to market capacity for the object of selling goods at a profit and this remains far below what would be required to meet the needs of the whole population.

Capitalist production is regulated by its own economic laws and cannot be controlled by any policy of so-called economic management. Nor is this position affected by the political complexion of particular governments, who for the most part remain in the powerless position of having to react to economic conditions which they cannot control. The conscious direction of production for human needs is only possible with the establishment of socialist society on the basis of common ownership, democratic control and production for use.

The Inseparables — War and Capitalism

Cover art by George Meddemmen.
From the April 1984 issue of the World Socialist

When the late President Yuri V. Andropov of the Soviet Union invited an 11-year-old American schoolgirl to visit the USSR after she had written to him in the spring of 1983 asking if he would “vote to have a war or not", even the most gullible might suspect a propaganda ploy, this one somewhat reminiscent of former President Carter's publicized encounters with the perplexed youth of America, including on one occasion his own daughter.

Andropov's guest claimed that if they were to ever meet, she would ask him: “Do you promise me the Soviet Union will never start a war?"

"The Americans are not going to start a war, either. So why are we still making all these bombs and pointing them at each other?"

Certainly there is nothing wrong with children confronting the supporters of American and Russian capitalism with such probing, pertinent questions—but where are the answers? Also, it might be construed as indicative of a somewhat strained, parlous political relationship existing between the two major powers when such publicity tactics are used, which inveigle the innocent into the quagmire of deception and international intrigue, related to matters of war.

The socialist position regarding war holds that, (1) Capitalism is the cause of war in the modem world. (2) Wars are inevitable under capitalism and the conditions that give rise to them are inherent within the system, and (3) All wars are fought over the interests of the capitalist class and we are unutterably opposed to ail of them without reservations of any kind.

While politicians throughout the world all claim to seek peace, abhor war and lament their occurrence, their reformist policies fail abysmally in securing their professed objective. War is rampant on a global scale. According to a survey conducted by the US News & World Report, July 11, 1983, 40 countries are presently involved in hostilities that have claimed as many as 5 million lives.

These conflicts are prosecuted with so-called conventional weapons forming an inescapable continuous pattern of human destruction. True, wars preceded capitalism, but war in the current era is the result of the private property relationships of the existing order of society and the causes of war are tied to the economics of capitalism. These forces are beyond the control of parties leaders and “United Nations", otherwise wars would not materialize—virtually on a day-to-day basis.

Policies and negotiations between the various capitalist states attempt, in most instances to avoid war if this is at all possible and to only regard them as a last resort should all else fail. The continuous proliferation of war proves beyond reasonable doubt that all efforts to prevent war within capitalism are doomed to fail.

Since the advent of the atomic bomb, towards the end of World War Two, the major powers have indulged in a massive and unceasing arms build-up that has stockpiled nuclear weapons, based upon the philosophy of either mutual deterrence or a potential first strike capability. I suggest these two alternatives because the actual intentions of governments, and the specifics of their negotiations, are always shrouded in secrecy—we are by no means living in an open society. Therefore, it is quite conceivable that governments have under consideration, from time to time, the practicality of exercising a nuclear "first strike" should they evaluate the overall circumstances to assure them a "victory" that would offset contemplated losses. This occurred when the US made their pre-emptive, atomic attack against Japan.

Preparations for war therefore, or for speculative avoidance of war, have been divided between the two arsenals of so-called conventional weaponry and those of the thermo-nuclear variety. To date, conventional warfare has prevailed and the dreaded holocaust avoided, although Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be regarded as full-dress rehearsals in miniscule form of what the future might have to hold. War, consequently, has not been avoided only total human annihilation — so far, that is!

There is, most unfortunately, an ominous fallacy in the approach to the problems of war in general and the potential nuclear horror in particular, that is pervasive in the thinking of all those who support the continuation of the present system, especially among the politicians and reformist parties that strive for viable solutions. Their energies are directed along technological, strategical and militaristic lines whereas the problem is one deep-rooted within the economics of capitalism. Wars originate from social factors that are the outcome of the manner in which a given society conducts its affairs and they require a social solution not a technological one.

Preparation for war, or armament build-ups claiming lo be "defense" measures that will preclude war, or negotiations between powers on specific nuclear devices and their geographic placements or curtailments, or "freeze" programmes, or the unending debates on various types of nuclear devices, or the pros and cons of conventional weaponry as compared to nuclear, germ and chemical monstrosities, or so-called super-weapons, or satellites in space, or a lawful mutual “spy" system, are all measures that do not in any way come to grips with the core of the situation. They are primarily technological approaches to war. but what is needed is a social solution to a social problem—all else is futility, fraught with terrible danger lo mankind and unnecessary procrastination particularly when a practical solution awaits recognition.

Governments can never be expected to research solutions that will in any way threaten either their status or the system that they are appointed to protect and upheld. They therefore have no real alternative but to proceed along the technological courses that produce the bottomless pits of a never-ending arms build-up.

President Reagan in his "Star Wars" speech of March 23.1983. proposed the development of space-based missile-defense systems that would have the capability of destroying enemy missiles in flight. With euphoric rhetoric he urged: “Let us turn to the very strengths n technology that spawned our great industrial base, and that have given us the quality ol life we enjoy today". This "quality of life" it should be remembered embraces the wars, not to mention the numerous other social problems.

Herein lies the terrible danger of the duly elected leaders' seemingly, but not in actuality. oblivious to the real economic causes of war, offering their impotent remedies and receiving political acquiescence from their supporters, allowing the madness of the present system to continue.

The late Russian leader, Ardropov, whose alma mater was the notorious KGB, responded to Reagan's anti-missile plans as an “insane" and "extremely perilous" strategy aimed at rendering the Soviet Union helpless to US nuclear attack. Simon Ramo, one of the developers of the inter-continental ballistic missile, asked: Who says that this technique will be used only to knock out missiles in the sky? If it's such a good technique, why not use it to knock out things on the ground?” (Quoted in Los Angeles Times, supplement on the Military-Industrial Complex, July 10, 1983.)

In other words, just because a government describes its weaponry as "defensive" it invariably is regarded as quite the opposite by its opponents. Reagan’s proposal, in fact, was just another rehash of the old delusion that a supreme weapon can be discovered that will intimidate, subdue or conquer the enemy. However, "supreme weapons” in due course have a way of being duplicated, circumvented or eventually surpassed.

Reformist attitudes to war have not prevented stockpiles of nuclear and allied weapons of gigantic proportions that continue to grow incessantly. In addition to the major countries that already possess nuclear arms, Argentina, Brazil. Pakistan. Israel and South Africa top the list of potential new nuclear powers— perhaps already having the actual capability. The United States in May 1983 was reported to have 2,011 intercontinental missiles and bombers with 9,681 warheads; the Soviet Union 2,480 of these “strategic launchers", with 8,781 warheads. [Arizona Daily Star, May 13, 1983) The same Associated Press report staled that the United Slates plans to deploy 464 ground-launched cruise missiles and 108 Pershing 2 ballistic missiles in Western Europe. The Soviets have a similar number of SS-20s and other medium-range missiles, all but 100 or so within striking distance of Western Europe.

The US News & World Report in an article dated December 6, 1982 stated that six nations have nearly 43.000 atomic weapons—the US, Russia, Britain, France, China and India. The Report further states that “Scientists estimate that if all the nuclear weapons in the world were detonated, the force would equal 10 trillion tons of nuclear explosive power."

Has saturation point been reached? By no means, for on July 13, 1983 the US Senate authorized $130 million for the production o' a new generation of nerve-gas bombs and artillery shells. At the same time the Senate was working on a bill that would authorize $4.5 billion for development and production of the MX which is the latest intercontinental ballistic missile proposed for the US arsenal. Another provision of the bill is for the construction of the B-1 bomber at a cost of $6.2 billion. And so it goes on.

The Los Angeles Times on July 10. 1983 published a 16 page supplement entitled “Servants or Masters? Revisiting the Military-Industrial Complex", on which a team of reporters and editors had worked for four months. The report refers to President Reagan's plans for an unprecedented five-year, $1.8 trillion expansion of defense spending. It states that more than 30 per cent of the country’s mathematicians work somewhere in the military-industrial complex, along with 25 per cent of the country’s physicists, 47 per cent of aero-astronautic engineers and 11 per cent of the computer programmers. Referring to California the report claims that one of every eight Californians with a job works, directly or indirectly for the military-industrial complex.

If one takes into consideration the millions of men and women employed in the production of armaments and allied occupations, it would be reasonable to suppose that n order to protect their jobs workers would be sorely tempted to rationalise political support for the arms build-up, until of course such times as they acquire a genuine, socialist opposition to a system that not only economically enslaves them but subtly entraps them into producing instruments of human destruction.

The dreadful tragedy of current wars, together with the awesome possibility of worse things to come, will not be removed by reformism, vacuous protests or dependence upon armed might, governments or leaders. The working class have a formidable task confronting them of self-education towards the scientific grasp of their problems. They alone hold the key to the future and each ore of us has a part to play in the process

When artificial borders between countries no longer exist, when the sole purpose of production and distribution is to satisfy the needs of humanity with no concern for profit, trade or barter, when classes have vanished because each person owns in common with their fellows the means for producing and distributing wealth with free unfettered access to ail goods and services, all of the conditions that cause war will have been finally and irrevocably removed. 

Furnaces throughout the world will become the recipients of a colossal amount of scrap metal—a fitting tribute to the long-awaited commencement of social sanity.
Samuel Leight