Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Eastern Europe (1991)

Pamphlet Review from the November 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
We asked a reader in New Zealand to review our new pamphlet on the collapse of the state-capitalist regimes in Eastern Europe.
“Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”. The opening words of Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte could appropriately be applied to the abortive Soviet coup and its aftermath in relationship to the first coup d’etat by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

History seems to repeat itself as Hegel and Marx observed but both knew that there’s no going back. The momentous events in the Soviet Union are the final death knell for the myth of "communism" or “socialism" in the eastern bloc—the twentieth century’s greatest lie— and for those who promoted and perpetuated that lie.

The facts are that socialism has never existed in the eastern bloc—what does or did exist is a system of bureaucratic state capitalism. It is this system which is undergoing an economic and social convulsion as it inevitably intermeshes itself with the world market.

There is a school of thought prevalent in the West which maintains that the bureaucratic class which has run the Soviet Union, China and the others has been “authoritarian”, “repressive” even “corrupt" and "dishonest” and yet has believed unreservedly in these bureaucratic claims to have created socialism. Needless to say, such an ideology has been actively encouraged because it has uniquely suited the political interests of the ruling élites in both the private capitalist west and the state capitalist east.

The state ideology of the state capitalist world, so-called “Marxism-Leninism”, is principally based on Lenin's distortion of Marx, springing from the historically backward conditions Lenin and the Bolsheviks found themselves in at the collapse of Tsarist Russia. Ideologically Lenin's break with Marx centres on Lenin's contention that the socialist revolution could take place in a backward country and be led by a conspiratorial vanguard. It is clear from hindsight that this elitism was derived more from the French bourgeois revolution and the indigenous Russian Narodnik tradition than from the ideas of Marx or Engels.

Another less obvious but more insidious Leninist distortion of Marx was Lenin's invention of a distinction between "socialism" and “communism” whereas Marx, Engels and the other 19th century Social Democrats used the terms synonymously along with “social democracy” to describe the classless, moneyless, post-capitalist world society. Lenin used “socialism" to describe the state economic monopoly of the Soviet regime (and the political monopoly of the Bolshevik Party), while “communism" as the ultimate classless moneyless society was relegated to an ever-receding future—as Soviet theoreticians continued to do almost up to the present day.

Inside the Soviet Union until his death in 1923 the doctrine of Leninism was courageously opposed by the Bolsheviks' former Russian Social Democrat comrade Julius Martov from a rigorous classical Marxian position. In continental Europe this classical Marxian tradition was eventually overwhelmed by the new orthodoxy of “Marxism-Leninism” and by the great repression of fascism. But it has never been entirely extinguished and has persisted as an underground stream in Western thought, periodically surfacing in the writings of Martov, Rühle, Luxemburg, Pannekoek, Bordiga, Reich and Rubel.

In the vast English-speaking world this classical Marxian tradition has been kept alive by the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its like-thinking companion parties. In Australia and New Zealand classical Marxism was nurtured, not in the ivory towers and studies of the professional philosophers and intellectuals but rather in the ship’s forecastles and in the donkey-rooms of waterside workers.

The Socialist Party's state capitalist critique of the Soviet Union and China has been at times extremely unpopular (even physically dangerous) but it has been consistently held virtually from 1918. Time has proven it to be correct.

The publication of a booklet analysing events in the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Eastern bloc is therefore appropriate and timely. Anyone wanting to work out what is going on in the former USSR, what is behind glasnost and perestroika, and to see the problems of the collapsing Soviet economy analysed from a Marxian standpoint should study this booklet.

The work’s academic value would be increased in my view with a reference section of source material and a list of authors at the back of the book. It would also have been useful to see a chapter devoted to the political differences and forces represented by Gorbachev and Yeltsin. And I would have liked to have seen a chapter on Julius Martov whose insistence that Russia would eventually have to go through a bourgeois-democratic revolution is finally being vindicated.

The last word then to Martov: “More than ever convinced that the genuine state power of the toilers must be founded on the principle of democracy, Martov moved a resolution which called for the reactivation of the Soviet constitution and its further democratisation, which he spelled out in some detail. When Sosnovsky interjected, ‘This, comrades. was last year’s declaration’. as if to suggest that Martov’s demands were already out of date, Martov replied, amidst general uproar: ‘Last year’s and for all time!’ (quoted in Martov by Israel Getzler, Melbourne. 1976)
Michael Lee

Merchants of Death (1991)

From the January 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Latest Pentagon estimates of casualties which would follow an assault on Iraqi forces in Kuwait have now risen to at least 50,000 dead and five times that number injured.

Iraqi forces are now dug in behind two defensive lines inside the Kuwaiti border, with tanks buried in up to two feet of sand and extensive trench systems supported by mines, artillery and formidable anti-aircraft arrays. But these forces did not just appear from the desert sands. They were supplied to the dictator Saddam Hussein by 30 countries, and the three biggest were all permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia, France and China. Others included Sweden and Switzerland, North Korea and South Africa.

The world system of arms production is driven by two main factors: the economic imperative to maintain industrial capacity perceived as strategically vital but commercially obsolete, and the buying of “friends” to protect trade routes, sources of raw materials and markets. The arming of Iraq – which began in earnest during the war with Iran – demonstrates the complete uselessness of programmes designed to control the arms trade by treaties. These are useless since they take no account of the incessant rivalries which arise from the anarchic global state system. When Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980 most military experts predicted the conflict would be very brief as both sides would run out of armaments within a fortnight. Instead there were well over a million casualties, and this sheer volume of firepower was only sustained by arms-producing countries competing with each other to supply weapons to both sides.

Who armed Iraq
Iraq does not have much of a military industry of its own. During the war its main suppliers were France and Russia. The principle motive of the Russian supply effort was to secure the state’s strategic interests in a region vital for raw materials but otherwise dominated by the West.

Russia supplied the bulk of the 2,250 T54’s and T55’s which now form the backbone of the armoured forces ranged against the USSR’s own marines. During the Iran/Iraq war Russia supplied £5.55 million–worth of military exports, including Tupolev bombers, Sukhoi and MIG fighters and Frog and Scud B missiles. Russia is also responsible for one of the biggest military threats now posed by Iraq in the event of a war — a long-range missile attack on oil installations using the 815km range Al’ Abbas surface-to-surface missile, one of two ballistic missiles developed by Iraqi engineers from the Russian Scud B. Loaded with chemical weapons, it is also within range of Tel Aviv in Israel, which Saddam has vowed to take down with him if he is forced into war.

In the case of France, the motive was both commercial and strategic. The French arms industry – like its UK counterpart – is not a commercially viable proposition, but is considered essential to protect the state’s long-term interests. It has to sell its production on world markets to survive domestically. The Iran/lraq war proved a boon for the French armaments industry. Sales to Iraq topped $5.6 billion, or 40 per cent of arms exports for the period of the war, including 328 Dassault Mirage fighters and 848 Exocet missiles which were used to devastating effect against Iran’s Karg Island oil installations.

Now the monster partly created by France has turned on its creators. France is considered a weak link in the military front line, with its pilots faced by Iraqi Force pilots in French Mirages, trained in France on French missile systems. One French Air Force officer was reported as stating that “in some cases Iraqi equipment could be even better. They know our battle methods and have tried them out against the Iranians”.

The British Connection
As for the smaller players in building up the Iraqi war machine, British salesmen have not been left too much in the shade. Although the British government had a policy of only selling “non-lethal” hardware, this was a fig-leaf which was soon exposed. In 1982, International Military Services Ltd, a company wholly owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), was given permission to repair British-made Chieftain tanks captured by Iraq from Iran (and now in the Iraqi front line facing British troops across no-man’s-land). Three years later 300 military landrovers worth £3 million and a large quantity of radar equipment said to be worth much more were sold to Iraq to “balance” the export of ships to Iran.

According to the Financial Times (31 March 1983) contracts for £250 million – worth of “defence related but non-lethal equipment” were signed in 1983, and in 1984 80 Iraqi Air Force pilots were trained at Specialist Flight Training Ltd of Carlisle. Iraq was on the MOD list of countries who received training from the armed forces or at MOD establishments every year of the war, and in 1986 a five-strong Iraqi delegation led by Director of Armaments and Supplies, Major-General Ibrahim Hammadi, attended the British Army Equipment Exhibition at Aldershot.

British firms also had a hand in building up Iraq’s chemical weapon capability. In 1981, with the active support of the MOD’s Defence Sales Organisation (now the Defence Export Services Organisation) Primary Medical Aid Ltd of Fareham, Hampshire, sold 10,000 chemical protection kits to Iraq, in a deal worth $500,000. Such kits are essential protection for people employed in the manufacture of chemicals or the filling of shells, and this order was approved in spite of specific legislation — the Export of Goods (Control) Order  which prohibits the export of nuclear, biological and chemical warfare protective clothing.

This trade continued after the war with Iran was over. Seven months after the ceasefire 13 British companies, including British Aerospace, Racal and GEC, exhibited at the first Baghdad International Exhibition for military production. BAe shortly afterwards announced a £300 million deal for 50 Hawk aircraft and a local production line in Iraq. This was finally vetoed by the British government despite fierce opposition from the MOD and Department of Trade and Industry. They argued – quite validly – that if BAe did not get the order, then another country equally desperate to maintain a military aircraft capability, such as France, most certainly would.

This is, of course, precisely what did happen, with the Dassault/Dornier Alpha jet leaping to the front of the race to rearm a regime which had just been savaged by Amnesty International for torturing and gassing its own people. Interestingly, Iraq also demonstrated a touching example of the truly international nature of the arms production industry by displaying at the Baghdad fair a French Mirage fitted with Russian missiles, and a Russian transport plane with French and British radar.

British companies have also been active, often with the covert support of the military-industrial bureaucracy, in building up Iraq’s indigenous arms production industry. The Supergun fiasco is the latest example. Of particular interest here is that the MOD and DTI both knew about the barrel sections — masquerading as pipes — fully two years ago, yet still granted export licences. Could this have anything to do with the fact that the Defence Export Secretariat — the MOD’s own arms export promotion agency — is an integral part of the “neutral” government body vetting arms exports, the Defence Exports Secretariat?

Despite the Supergun fiasco, as late as July last year — one month before Iraq invaded Kuwait — the newly-appointed British military attaché to Baghdad, Col A. J. Dobson, invited British firms wishing to do business with the Iraqi regime to a cosy briefing on the local opportunities for profitable trade.

Customs officers are now investigating Microwave Modules Ltd of Aintree, Liverpool over the sale to Iraq in December 1988 of surveillance equipment and remote controlled “spy in the sky” aircraft. In its defence the company has claimed that the DTI has always been aware of its dealings and has given them its tacit approval.

So much, then, for the major suppliers of Iraq. But there is also the increasing number of developing countries which are pulling themselves into industrialisation through building up defence industries which also must export or die. Two particular cases in point are China and Brazil, both of whom exhibited at the 1989 Baghdad arms fair.

Following the introduction of the Four Modernisations, the Chinese army has come under pressure to justify itself commercially by finding foreign markets for its military hardware. The effect of this has been a shift towards the familiar commercial/strategic imperatives which have traditionally guided Russian and Western arms suppliers.

During the Iran/Iraq war, China sold between $8-10 billion-worth of arms to both sides, and in July 1988 Deng Xiaoping was forced to admit that freelance marketeering to the Middle East by various military commanders was getting out of hand.

In the case of Brazil, arms production was driven by the same imperatives as the Chinese — to establish a viable domestic armaments industry through foreign sales and to pay back massive foreign currency debts. Production now includes fighter aircraft, helicopters, missiles, armoured vehicles and military avionics, Brazil is now the leading exporter of wheeled armoured personnel carriers to the Middle East. It has been a key supplier of rocket launchers, missiles and howitzers. Thus is exposed the hypocrisy of the United Front of All Peace-loving Nations against the Evil Dictator Saddam Hussein. These same regimes which now claim the moral high ground are the very same ones which have spent the last ten years at least arming his regime.

America too does not escape the charges of hypocrisy. When it looked as if Iraq might lose to Iran in the later stages of the Gulf war, the CIA supplied Iraq with military intelligence from satellite pictures of Iranian troop movements. Peace-loving Germany was the biggest suppliers of equipment subsequently used to fabricate chemical weapons factories.

Although the Iraqi gold-mine appears temporarily exhausted, the constant conflict generated by inter-state competition continues to open up new doors of opportunity for the sellers of arms. Last September the Bush administration made moves to supply Saudi Arabia with $20 billion-worth of military hardware, although this has now been scaled down to around $7 billion. Some wags on Capitol Hill have already dubbed it Outdoor Relief for the US arms industry. Not to be outdone, Israel has now put in a bid for “balancing” military aid, and so the endless militarisation of the Gulf continues.

British Aerospace meanwhile has compensated for its disappointments in Iraq with a huge deal to sell Tornado fighters to Saudi Arabia, although this might be threatened by the US offer. In anticipation of further fat profits the value of BAe shares has already increased by 10 per cent over this half-year, with defence accounting for 76 percent of the group’s trading profits.

Not far behind BAe was French defence minister Chevènement peddling the wares of his own aerospace industry .Visiting Saudi Arabia last August he baldly announced that France “would take advantage of the Gulf crisis to pursue arms deals with the kingdom . . . ”
Andrew Thomas

Myth and Reality (1991)

From the March 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

There have been countless examples of the official myth-machine working hard to mislead the working class about war, telling us that war is glorious and that right and justice is always on our side. This deliberately calculated deception is based on the fear that if the truth about war—its causes, nature, effect and whose interests it is fought in—were to be publicised the workers’ enthusiasm for it would be less than complete and there would be no-one to do the fighting and to make the weapons and ammunition.

Capitalism's crises and conflicts are a continuing horror and this is a good time to read Clive Ponting’s book 1940: Myth and Reality which lifts a small corner on a hugely sordid deception. As the civil servant whose concern for the truth over the sinking of the Belgrano was so embarrassing that he had to be charged with (although later acquitted of) offences under the Official Secrets Act. Clive Ponting needs no introduction.

Winston Churchill described the year 1940 as Britain's “finest hour". According to the mythology that was the year when a country united and inspired by the brilliant, defiant speeches of their great leader resolved to fight for every beach, field, street and house against an invasion from the super-efficient German military machine which, having crushed the French, was in preparation across the English Channel. It was the year when the British Expeditionary Force was let down by their allies and had to fight a glorious retreat to Dunkirk where they were lifted from the beaches by a fleet of small British boats manned by week-end sailors. It was the year when the Battle of Britain was won by a brilliantly-led RAF which inflicted crippling losses on the Luftwaffe. It was the year when stubborn British courage so impressed the Americans that Churchill's friend and ally, President Roosevelt, eagerly gave as much aid as he legally could to the British war effort. And so on.

But it didn't happen like that. In 1940 the British government were by no means united in a resolve to fight to the bitter end; in fact, they were secretly exploring the possibilities of a negotiated peace with Germany. The German military machine was a ramshackle affair which depended largely on horses for its transport. As the BEF withdrew towards Dunkirk the British government did not tell the French of their evacuation plans—in fact they slyly encouraged the French and the Belgians to sacrifice themselves in rearguard actions; as the British commanders’ chief-of-staff put it, ”we don't give a bugger for the Belgians".

One of the war's great romantic stories was of the armada of small boats with their volunteer crews chugging across to Dunkirk. What actually happened was that volunteers were not called for until almost three-quarters of the BEF had been evacuated; two-thirds of the force were taken by Royal Navy ships straight off the quay in the harbour and the little boats picked up only about eight percent of the total. The withdrawal and evacuation were chaotic, as the British troops stole from the local people and were inclined to shoot anyone who was so much as suspected of being a spy. In breach of the Geneva Convention British troops were using dumdum bullets, in reprisal for which unpublicised act the SS performed a well-publicised killing of 170 British prisoners. Discipline broke down among the evacuating troops, with officers deserting their men and other ranks throwing their rifles and equipment out of train windows when they got back to England. Heroic it was not: in private Churchill told his colleagues that it was the worst military defeat for centuries.

The RAF's success in the Battle of Britain owed a great deal to mistaken and inconsistent German tactics. At times the RAF was close to breaking point but was relieved by Goering senselessly switching the Luftwaffe’s point of attack. Casualty figures on both sides were hugely distorted by the British with the RAF losses understated by 15 percent and the Luftwaffe’s overstated by 62 percent. On September 15—the crucial day, now Battle of Britain day—the British claimed that 185 German aircraft had been destroyed when the true figure was 60. What really stopped a German invasion was the English Channel and the fact that the German navy could not have protected an invasion fleet.

America’s attitude towards the war was not fashioned by any “special relationship” with Britain but by a long-standing ambition of their ruling class to undermine British world influence and in particular to dismantle the system of Imperial Preference which obstructed American industry's access to some enticing markets. Aid came to Britain from America grudgingly and with stringent conditions. Many British assets overseas had to be sold to pay for American aid and were snapped up by American firms for knock-down prices. In typical style Roosevelt told one of his cabinet that this was “milking the British financial cow which had plenty of milk at one time but which has now become about dry". By the end of the war the cow was wretchedly emaciated while America, whose industrial and military power had been crucial in the Allied victory, was a dominant world power.

While this was going on the British working class were deflected from reality by a relentless stream of lies and false promises. In this great exercise in deception Churchill’s speeches were supposed to be valuable for their inspiring defiance but at the time many of his colleagues did not rate them highly. His more rousing speeches were made in the Commons; some which were broadcast—including the famous pledge “ . . . we shall fight on the beaches . . ." —were not delivered by Churchill but in an imitation of his voice by an actor called Norman Shelley, who also played Larry the Lamb in Children’s Hour.
Ivan

End of the road (1991)

From the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Hungarian uprising of 1956 is generally considered to mark a watershed in the history of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Although the CPGB lost about one quarter of its members—from 33,095 in February 1956 to 26,742 by February 1957—a decline had been evident from the early 1950’s as a result of the “cold war” and the waning of the comparative popularity which had been achieved during the Second World War as anti-fascists.

Like all other minor parties, the CPGB had difficulty making progress within the British electoral system which favours the two major parties. But in the 1966 election the Communist Party candidates could only obtain 3 per cent of the votes in the seats they contested compared with 1945 when they obtained two MP’s (Willie Gallagher and Phil Piratin) and Harry Pollitt, their general secretary, nearly unseated the sitting MP at Rhondda East

Eurocommunism
In 1956 when Pollitt retired, the CPGB had to come to terms not only with the Hungarian uprising but also with Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin and the “Cult of personality” and the growing conflict between Russia and China. Its 1977 programme sought an alliance of all sorts of reformist groups and sectional interests including consumer groups and Scottish and Welsh nationalists. This new strategy, coupled with the end of uncritical support for Russia, came to be known as “Eurocommunism”.

In the mid-1970’s the CPGB started to show divisions within its ranks over trade union strategy. In a pamphlet entitled Advanced Capitalism and Backward Socialism Bill Warren and Mike Prior demonstrated their ignorance of Marxist theory by arguing that inflation was related to wage militancy. The arguments raged over the next few years: the hardliners who had remained within the Party to fight for a return to traditional methods, and the Eurocommunists disagreed violently over trade union strategy. When Tony Lane wrote an article in Marxism Today (the Party’s theoretical journal founded in 1957 which adopted a more and more trendy stance after the appointment of Martin Jacques as editor in 1978) criticising shop stewards, Mick Costello, the CPGB’s industrial organiser, was incensed and replied with an article in the Morning Star (as the Daily Worker had been renamed in 1966), for which he was sacked and replaced by Peter Carter, a former official of UCATT, the building workers union.

During the 1985 miners’ strike the gulf between the different wings of the CPGB widened. For the first time the Party actually lost members during a campaign. Criticism of the miners’ strike, and Arthur Scargill’s leadership in particular, came from Marxism Today and Peter Carter wrote a deeply critical pamphlet of Scargill’s leadership which was suppressed for the sake of unity. Scargill, a former member of the YCL national committee in the late 1950’s, was deeply resentful of the “line” taken by Marxism Today and accused Carter of compromising with the class enemy and vilifying the NUM.

Morning Star
The group around the Morning Star has been in conflict with the CPGB since 1981 when the conference criticised the paper for failing to give sufficient prominence to the 1977 programme. This group sees the traditional emphasis on the working class and industrial strength in the trade unions as the correct way forward. Eurocommunism is seen as a liberal fad which should be dropped.

In 1983 the 38th congress of the CPGB voted to dismiss Tony Chater, the editor and David Whitfield, the assistant editor, by 155 votes to 92. They refused to relinquish their posts. In June of the following year the paper’s shareholders voted to support Chater and Whitfield in defiance of the Eurocommunist leadership. The Morning Star is not owned by the CPGB. When its forerunner, the Daily Worker was founded in 1930, an independent co-operative, the People’s Press Printing Society, was set up to avoid accusations that the paper was simply a mouthpiece for Communist Party policy. Now this strategy rebounded with a vengeance.

Following the special congress in May 1985 the Eurocommunist leadership carried out a systematic purge of borough committees, branches and industrial organisations. In less than two years 3,000 members were expelled or left because they were demoralised. Industrial stalwarts such as Ken Gill, president of TASS (now joint general secretary of MSF), Bert Ramelson and Mick Costello, former CPGB industrial organisers, and Derek Robinson, the shop steward who made news after he was sacked by Michael Edwardes at British Leyland’s Longbridge plant, were all expelled.

It is rather surprising that with all the purges and demoralisation the Morning Star group did not break away and form the Communist Party of Britain until 1988. This party is centred around the Morning Star, with Mike Hicks, an executive member of Sogat, as its general secretary and Derek Robinson as its industrial organiser. It rejects Stalinism but supports Russia, though not unconditionally. Chater had criticised the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Last year the CPGB still had about 6,000 members but its bases in the trade unions had been badly damaged. In addition Marxism Today, with a circulation of 10,000 is likely to be sold off soon. In January 1990 Nina Temple had the unenviable job of taking over from Gordon McLennan as general secretary of the CPGB. She soon stated the CPGB might be disbanded and form a club within the Labour Party. Last month the Party’s executive committee announced the end of the Communist Party and its transformation into an amorphous group to be known as the “Democratic Left”.

Disbandment was the only course open to the CPGB. It had lost all credibility. From a party of 46,000 members [56,000 members]  and two MP’s in its heyday and 60 full time workers—a much higher ratio than either the Labour or Conservative parties—it had shrunk to a rump of an organisation that only polled 0.8 per cent of the votes in each constituency that it contested.

Historians may lament the demise of the CPGB but workers should not. The CPGB has stood for every shabby compromise, has mislead generations of sincere workers, has been vanguardist, conspiratorial, undemocratic and dishonest. It has purported to oppose capitalism whilst supporting state capitalism. It has criticised imperialism whilst condoning and defending Russian imperialism. [It has supported nationalism and at times even xenophobia.] And, worst of all, by posing as Marxist it set back the cause of socialism by several decades.
Carl Pinel

Money Screws You Up (1991)

From the July 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard



In the sphere of ideas one of the more fruitful results of May 1968 was the spread, in France and elsewhere, of the criticism of the commodity as representing the reduction of useful things to objects of commerce and of social and personal relationships to commercial ones. With commodity production, work ceases to be the creative activity of people producing needed useful things and becomes mere labour turning out articles of commerce for sale on a market. People cease to be related to each other as members of a community, whether democratic or hierarchical, and become mere economic units related to each other only through money as buyers and sellers of some object or other of commerce.

This criticism of the extreme commercialisation of society that capitalism involves goes back to the beginning of the 19th century and to the Romantic tradition that then came into being as a reaction to the ravages of emerging industrial capitalism. Already in 1840 Thomas Carlyle was denouncing the situation where “cash payment has become the sole nexus of man to man”. In France in the 1960s and 1970s this sort of criticism of capitalism was expressed in particular by the Situationists who gave a prominent place to the passive consumption of commodities as a feature of the “spectacular society” they were denouncing. The commodity was considered as something undesirable that ought to be done away with.

But what exactly is a commodity? A commodity is, basically, a product of labour and nature that has been produced with a view to being sold. It is, in other words, an object of commerce, an item of wealth that is bought and sold. A commodity is not simply a useful thing, some part of nature transformed so as to be capable of satisfying some human need. It is this, but this is not its essential characteristic.

The essential characteristic of a commodity is that it is a part of nature that has been transformed primarily with a view to being exchanged for some other product. An item of wealth produced for this purpose acquires, in addition to what might be called its natural usefulness, or use-value, an exchange value which is the amount of other commodities that it can exchange for. Commodity-production gives rise to money, prices and buying and selling, and achieves its highest form in capitalism where literally everything can, and generally does, become an object of commerce.

Consumer society
Ironically, or at least it may appear so to some, this criticism of capitalism was provoked, not by capitalist conditions of primary poverty and destitution but by the prolonged period of capitalist prosperity that eventually followed the last world war.

Post-war reconstruction and the expansion of world markets led to full employment and, as a consequence, to rising living standards for wage and salary workers. That workers became materially better off over this period is a fact that cannot be denied. A majority did acquire a whole range of consumer durables that are now taken for granted but which before the war were luxuries enjoyed only by the rich, such things as fridges, washing machines, televisions and of course cars. People were also able to build up savings, go on holidays abroad, and more and more of them to acquire their own house. All this would have been unthinkable before the war and no doubt goes a long way towards explaining why people have accepted capitalism over the last forty years, particularly as the “socialist” alternative appeared to be represented by the Russian state capitalist empire where it was evident that ordinary workers were much worse off.

Defenders of capitalism were able to present their system as a “consumer society” geared to providing an ever-rising standard of living for ordinary people. Critics, however, began to point to the social costs of such a growth-oriented, market society. These criticisms are neatly summed up in the titles of three books written by Vance Packard, an American journalist, in the late 1950s: The Hidden Persuaders (1957), The Status Seekers (1959) and The Waste Makers (1960).

The first was a description of the methods employed by advertisers to try and manipulate people into buying things by using brainwashing techniques derived from psychology. The second, perhaps the weakest, described how people strove to acquire consumer goods as much as a status symbol as for their usefulness, while the third exposed how manufacturers employed techniques such as planned obsolescence to maintain the market for their goods.

Packard was an investigative journalist rather than a social philosopher but in his books are to be found all the themes that have been developed at a more philosophical and theoretical level by others, particularly in continental Europe and those in its tradition like Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm. For example, the theme that in capitalism the needs which the market is supposed to be geared to meeting are not our real needs but artificial ones created by capitalist manipulation of our psychology, and the theme that a growth-oriented society involves a waste of resources and an unbalanced relationship with the rest of nature.

Such a theory of the commodity provided the basis for a modern criticism of capitalist society. The needs which a commodity is supposed to satisfy are denounced as false needs. The advertising required to create these false needs is denounced for commercialising society and turning it into one huge marketplace. And the consumption of materials and energy to produce the goods to satisfy these false needs is denounced as waste placing an intolerable burden on nature.

This theory does have some attraction, even some substance, but when the question of what sort of society should replace capitalism arises, as it has to, weaknesses appear. Nearly all of the exponents of the theory, while certainly critical of the market-motivated, growth-oriented society that is capitalism, and indeed providing some trenchant criticisms of it, turn out to be in favour of retaining some degree of commodity production and exchange.

Truly human society
One example is Jeremy Seabrook. In The Myth of the Market, published last year, he powerfully criticises the spread of market values for “leading to social disintegration in the West, and in the Third World to the destruction of indigenous cultures that are the only surviving examples of how people can truly live in harmony with their environment”. Only he then ends lamely by denying that the way-out is to get rid of the market and the production of useful things as commodities:
“The issue is not so much one of going ‘beyond’ the market economy, but rather of reducing it to a minimal, functional level in our lives, putting it in its (necessary) place” (page 33).
Another example is the Canadian writer William Leiss in his book The Limits to Satisfaction, subtitled “On Needs and Commodities”, that was first published in 1976. After criticising capitalism for inciting insatiable needs, he speaks only about the “limitation of the sphere of commodity exchange” (British edition, page 116) and of the need to “lessen the importance of commodities as factors in the satisfaction of human needs” (page 122):
“There is nothing inherently evil in commodities and market exchanges as such, and there is no reason to believe that it would be desirable to extirpate them completely. There is cause for concern only when commodity exchange tends to become the exclusive mode for the satisfaction of needs” (page 117).
Such observations show Leiss to be a superficial critic of the commodity. Clearly, his objection is not to the exchange-value aspect of the commodity as a product of labour and nature that has become an object of commerce, but merely to the fact that, in his view, most commodities have now ceased to be real use-values since they are being produced to satisfy manipulated needs. Abolish this aspect of the modern commodity and, for him, commodity production and exchange become acceptable.

What critics like Leiss of the commodity as an expression of false needs have overlooked is that there is another reason for doing away with commodity production and exchange: that this will end the domination of production by blindly-operating economic laws which impose the accumulation of exchange-value as the primary objective of production.

Wherever wealth is produced for sale on a market – wherever, that is, there is commodity-production – economic forces are unleashed which come to dominate production and orient it away from satisfying people’s needs. The operation of these laws means that production is not subject to human control, with the result that it is not human values that are paramount in society, but market values, commercial values, the cash nexus.

If a truly human society is to be created where we can relate to each other as members of a real community instead of as isolated atoms colliding on the market place, then the commodity-form must disappear completely. This is not a question, as Leiss suggests, of the “extirpation” of commodity-production, money and buying and selling as things that are “inherently evil”, of using coercive means to prevent commodity exchange from taking place; what is involved is creating the conditions (common ownership of productive resources by the whole community) in which it has no sense. The death of the commodity will be the beginning of a truly human society existing in harmony with the rest of nature.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: Quick changes by the Communist Party (1991)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

A few quotations from publications and speeches of the Communist Party of Great Britain:—
September, 1939.  "The Communist Party supports the war, believing it to be a just war which should be supported by the whole working class and all friends of democracy in Britain."—("How to Win the War", by Harry Pollitt. published by the Communist Party.)
October, 1939. “We are against the continuance of the war. We demand that negotiations be immediately opened for the establishment of peace in Europe.”—(Daily Worker, October 4th, 1939.)
November, 1939. “This is an Imperialist war. like the war of 1914. It is a sordid exploiters' war of rival millionaire groups, using the workers as their pawns in their struggle for world domination, for markets, colonies and profits, for the oppression of peoples. This is a war to which no worker in any country can give support.”— (Mr. Palme Dutt, "Why this War?" published by Communist Party, November. 1939. Page 12)
(. . .)
June 24th, 1941. "In view of the war that has been launched against the Soviet Union, it may be said that in a very short space of time there will be a considerable shifting of attitude. I am not the only one who will do the shifting . . . ."— (Mr. W. Gallacher, House of Commons. June 24th. Hansard, Column 985.)
June 26th, 1941. "Declaring that the Communist Party of Great Britain now stands for full co-operation with the Government in the defeat of the common foe. Mr. William Gallacher. Britain’s only Communist M.P., explained yesterday the new turn in his party's policy. (Daily Telegraph. June 27th. 1941.)
“I admit we have called this a ‘monstrous Imperialist war’, but when there is an attack against the vanguard of the working class, the working class in every country must unite.’’—(W, Gallacher. reported in Daily Telegraph. June 27th. 1941.) 
(“Notes By The Way”, Socialist Standard, July 1941.) 

Letters: Militant's future (1991)

Letters to the Editors from the September 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Militant’s future
Dear Editors,

After the Walton by-election in Liverpool and the defeat of the "Real" Labour candidate is Militant ready for further confrontations and political battles all over the country? Now, with many of its members soon to be expelled from the Labour Party and any base or foothold to be broken up or removed, is Militant willing to acknowledge it has only one option? To create and start as a national political party and campaign on the streets and through the media for votes from the public and fight for power through elections, local and national.

Militant has no alternative and can only fight for its political life through the ballot box and use its members to do the work, as the Labour and Liberal parties do. Militant can go nowhere now. but has to start to campaign on its own and seek support from the British public.

It could, as it did in Liverpool, seek help and support from the WRP and SWP but I doubt these would move so far themselves as to amalgamate with Militant to form a “new” party, e.g. "Militant Socialist Labour Party”.
Andrew Melville
Leicester

Reply:
We agree that there is a crying need for the Labour Party to be challenged at the polls all over the country by real socialist candidates. But we don’t think that Militant is at all qualified to perform this role; nor do we think that they want to challenge the Labour Party nationally.

As Trotskyists they stand for state capitalism not real socialism. 'They want an economy where we would all be employees of the state and where the state would be controlled by an elite of political manipulators like themselves (and the WRP. SWP, etc). So, even if they did form a new party to oppose Labour, this would not be a socialist party. But there is nothing to suggest that this is what they want to do or what they will do. They know that outside the special circumstances of Liverpool their vote would be numbered in hundreds not thousands and that outside the Labour Party they would have no influence.

So what they will try to do now is to stay in the Labour Party taking even more precautions not to be caught breaking its rules. The Labour leaders, on the other hand, will resort to ever more underhand methods (secret photographs. tape recordings, moles, etc) to root them out. This sordid battle of intrigue and deceit between two sets of political manipulators is of no concern to workers generally, except insofar as it exposes both of them as unworthy of their support.

In any event there is no need to form a "new socialist party" since a genuine socialist party has been in existence in this country since 1904. We have opposed the Labour Party since its foundation on the grounds that it has been a party of capitalist reform not a socialist party. At every general election since 1945, and on other occasions such as by-elections and local council elections, we have stood against Labour (and the other capitalist parties) offering workers a chance to vote for the genuine socialist alternative.

We plan to do so again in the coming general election but for this to happen on an increasing scale, as our correspondent rightly wants, those who have become convinced of the need to establish, by democratic means, a socialist society of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit will need to join us to ensure that it does.
Editors.


Marx and socialism
Dear Editors,

I am writing this letter to seek clarification about the socialist ideology. I heard from your representative at Hyde Park about the recent change in economic policies of Eastern Europe/USSR where it was said that the economic policies of Lenin were based on “State Capitalism” instead of “Socialism”. Hence socialism cannot be blamed for such failure. Socialist Party Leaflet No 4 (What about Eastern Europe?) was distributed in order to support the speaker's arguments. But today (25 July) I heard on ITV news that the manifesto given by Marx in 1848 contained “state-run economy" instead of a “society based on common ownership" where “there will be no profits, no wages and no exploitation".

On the basis of the information given by the ITV, I understand that either Marx believed in state capitalism or the idea of socialism preached by you is different from Marx's ideas. I would appreciate if you would please send me your comments on the socialist economic policies.
K. N.
London SW7

Reply:
We too heard ITV News claim that Marx advocated a “state-run economy" quoting the 1848 Communist Manifesto as evidence. It is true that at the end of the second part this manifesto did contain a list of immediate revolutionary measures which included setting up a state bank, nationalising transport and communications and extending state-owned factories, and so which might legitimately be described as “state capitalist”.

These were measures which Marx believed socialists would have needed to implement had they come to power in 1848 (a most unlikely event even if at the time Marx and Engels believed otherwise, mistakenly as they later admitted). Marx judged—this time rightly— that the productive forces were not sufficiently developed in 1848 to permit the immediate establishment of socialism as a society of common ownership with no profits and no wages. He saw these measures as a way "to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible" and so bring nearer the time when full socialism could be established.

Marx never saw socialism itself as being a state-run economy but. on the contrary, as he puts it elsewhere in the Communist Manifesto as one where "the public power will lose its political character" and involving "the conversion of the functions of the state into a mere superintendence of production" as well as the "abolition of buying and selling" and of “the wages system".

Besides, when they reprinted the manifesto in 1872 Marx and Engels wrote in an introduction that, because historical circumstances had changed since 1848, “no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II . . . this programme has in some details become antiquated". Well, if it was antiquated in 1872 it has long since become completely fossilized! So it is a distortion typical of the capitalist media to portray this as evidence that Marx's aim was a state-run economy, i. e. state capitalism. This was merely something he advocated, briefly, in 1848 and then only to deal with a problem which no longer exists, since the productive forces have long been developed to permit the immediate and direct establishment of socialism as a classless, stateless, moneyless society just as soon as a majority want it.
Editors.

Recent Socialist Activities (1991)

Party News from the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

A hundred people attended the Socialist Party meeting in Conway Hall, Central London. on 3 September on recent events in the Soviet Union at which the speakers exposed the twin lies that "the socialist countries” had been socialist and “the free world” free. The Socialist Party had been the one organisation in this country' which had consistently opposed the view that Russia had had anything to do with socialism; capitalism had never been abolished in Russia but had been developed there under the Bolshevik dictators Lenin and Stalin in the form of a state-run capitalism; this state capitalism was now giving way to a more market-directed type of capitalism, and now everyone could see that Russia was capitalist; our position had been completely vindicated.

Opposition came from a group of Leninists who distributed a leaflet headed "Stalinism was the Gravedigger of the October Revolution" which spoke of "the shining example of workers' revolution which 1917 still represents" when, allegedly, the working class took power "under the political leadership of its class party". This whitewash of Lenin and defence of the Bolshevik coup was not well received by the assembled workers.

The first meeting in the new series of Central London Sunday afternoon meetings got off to a good start on 8 September when over 30 people filled the meeting room in Dick Sheppard House, Euston, to hear the opening talk on "Why We Need to Change Society". Details of this month’s subjects can be found on the Meetings Page of this issue.

50 Years Ago: Mr. Keynes Goes to the Bank 
of England (1991)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The news that Mr. J. M. Keynes, the “rebel against financial orthodoxy”, has become a director of the Bank of England and may in due course become governor when Mr. Montagu Norman retires, inspires great hopes among his admirers in the Labour Party, but it will not cause even the slightest flutter among Socialists. His admirers may congratulate themselves because he opposed the return to the gold standard in 1925 and advocated "unorthodox" proposals such as a managed currency and State control of interest rates, but they should remember his own words: "My trouble has been that orthodoxy has always caught up with me”. In other words, his quarrel with the administrators of capitalist finance has always been at bottom that they did not know their job properly, and should take some tips from him. He has never been concerned with our job of getting rid of capitalism.
(From Socialist Standard, October 1941.)

Sting in the Tail: 30 Wasted Years (1991)

The Sting in the Tail column from the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

30 Wasted Years
The Labour Party is often described as "the mass party of the working class" yet the national membership of its youth wing, the Young Socialists, is now only 350.

When the YS was formed 30 years ago various Trotskyist groups moved in to control it. Recently it has been dominated by Militant but in earlier days It was Keep Left, another group of Trots who were dominant

This Trotskyist influence has been such an embarrassment to the Labour Party that it will probably be glad when the YS finally dies.

So it's goodbye to those bear-garden conferences where the YS passed all those resolutions denouncing the party leaders along with just about every bit of Labour Party policy.

And what did all the rebelliousness mean? Absolutely nothing. Indeed many YS are now staid Labour Party officials, councillors and even MPs, the same kind of people they once spent so much time attacking. It would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic.


Shop Steward's Dream
Tommy is a typical shop steward we know. When he speaks about "bread and butter" issues like overtime, sick pay and holidays he makes good sense, but on most other subjects he is a fount of prejudice and ignorance.

Prejudice? Jews are his pet hate although the Arabs ran them close during the Gulf war and you should hear him on about "Darkies"! By the way, Tommy always votes Labour.

Ignorance? The other day he was on about health -
  The rich aren't any healthier than us. You're either born with good health or you aren't. Money doesn't come into it.
Of course the left-wing with their absurdly idealised view of shop stewards would see Tommy as part of the "industrial vanguard in the struggle against capitalism".

But Tommy’s ideas are little different from those of most other workers or even shop stewards. His vision of a better world goes no further than society as it is but with more job security, a few pence extra on the hourly rate and Neil Kinnock in Downing Street


You Dirty Rat
Alastair Cooke, in his "Letter from America", (Radio 4) told an interesting story about the mayor of New York who, faced with a massive deficit, announced the probable slashing of public spending (surprise, surprise).

Among the possible casualties could be the sanitation department, which could result, according to experts, in an increase in the rat population of one million.

The mayor, who is either a shrewd vote-catcher or very naive, came up with what he undoubtedly thought was a unique proposal. He invited the "ordinary" people to come and tell him the solution to the city's problems. So for one week they queued up outside his office to lay it on him.

However, since there have been no reported cries of "Eureka" or the hip equivalent emanating from the inner sanctum, we can safely assume that none of the queuing hopefuls came up with the only solution; the abolition of the buying and selling system. All of which must have come as a relief to the capitalist class, not to mention the rats.


Caring Capitalism
Nowadays when capitalism is widely regarded as the altruistic saviour of mankind it comes as a pleasant surprise when someone sees it in its true colours.

Writing in The Independent (5 September) Suzanne Moore observes that while Gerald Ratner honestly described the cheap jewellery his shops sell as "crap", Anita Roddick of the Body Shop wraps her products in a haze of mysticism, 1960’s idealism and 1980's green awareness. By using her products you can, apparently, be healthier and do some ecological good at the same time.

Suzanne Moore sees Anita Roddick's guff as part of the growing trend to portray 1990's capitalism as a marriage of material values and spiritual good. Believe that, she says, and ". . . you'll believe that capitalism really can be "caring." and warns that behind this newer, softer, gentler-on-the-skin approach "business Is still basically about buying and selling."

She is mistaken, however, In thinking that — "any idea of a genuine alternative to capitalism is collapsing."

Socialists propose that capitalism be replaced by a classless, moneyless, worldwide society of production for use. Now, Suzanne Moore that really would be a genuine alternative, wouldn’t it?


Cold Comfort
The thermal underwear company Damart in conjunction with the organisation Help the Aged recently produced a little leaflet entitled Hypothermia - The Chilling Facts.

Chilling facts indeed; the leaflet points out that compared with the number of summer time deaths an extra 40,000 elderly persons will die in a mild winter and in a harsh winter this will rise to 80,000.

In a section entitled So, Who Is At Risk? it has this to say:
  We know that two groups of older people are particularly 'at risk'. They are the very elderly — from late seventies onwards — who are more likely, because of the ageing process, to have low body temperatures.
  And they are the pensioners who receive supplementary benefits — studies show that they are more likely to be living alone, less likely to have central heating, less likely to use electric blankets and more likely to be underweight — all these factors can lead to a lower body temperature.
Among the proposed solutions to the problem the leaflet lists warm clothing, adequate domestic heating systems and a better diet. All of which isn't much consolation for those who are on supplementary benefit. The fact is that it is poor people who are dying from hypothermia.

It is not more legislation or better hand-outs the elderly poor need. What they must have if this scandalous state of affairs is to be ended is World Socialism.

That is the only society in which everyone young and elderly can have unrestricted access to all the food, clothing and heating that society can provide.


A Racist Utopia?
There Is a sunny utopia called Oranla. Scores of workers have gone there on the promise of a better life and hundreds more are expected soon.

In case any reader is tempted to follow them we should explain that Orania is a small "white homeland" in South Africa. It is owned by some rich Afrikaners who have ejected all the black people and imported unemployed white South Africans to do the menial jobs previously done by the blacks.

These white workers now complain that, besides being underpaid, their bosses, regard them as "white kaffirs"-
  "We can’t even sit down and have a smoke break or a chat. It's just work, work and more work all day long"
The Sunday Times (1 September) 
The bosses answer to this is a familiar one — there is no room for laziness in creating the new white nation. The Sunday Times says of Orania -
  It has a lot of appeal for blue-collar workers who have the most to lose from the new South Africa but what they don't realise is that they are going to have to do for the well-off, upper-class Afrikaners what the blacks used to do. A system of servitude based on race is being replaced by one based on class.

Reformism (1991)

Book Review from the November 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Left Unraveled. Social Democracy and the New Left Challenge in Britain and West Germany. By Thomas A. Koelble. Duke University Press, 1991.

This is a study by an American academic of what happened to the “social democrats” in the British Labour Party and the German SPD in the 1980's. Koelble describes how in Britain some of them eventually left to form the SDP while in Germany they retained control of the party machine at the price of a few policy concessions.

But what is ’’social democracy"? According to Koelble it is the view which
  accepts capitalism as a desirable economic system, aims to gradually improve the economic position of workers by providing welfare policies (health, education, social security, old age pensions, unemployment benefits), and by so doing alleviating the inequalities and unevenesses of unbridled capitalism.
On this definition, the British SDP may have disappeared without trace, but Social Democracy is alive and well and in complete control of the Labour Party. And, if it comes to power again, it will fail to deliver the promised goods as miserably as it did the last time in the 1970s—which led to the reaction Koelble analyses in this book.
Adam Buick

Sting in the Tail: Same Old Story (1991)

The Sting in the Tail column from the November 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Same Old Story
Ever since Eastern Europe ditched state capitalism those western "think-tanks", such as the Adam Smith Institute, have rushed to advise the politicians and the emerging capitalist class of each country on how to set up free-market economies.

But the emerging trade unions in these countries need advice too, and officials of one of Estonia's unions have been in Scotland to learn from the TGWU how to negotiate with the employers.

This is very necessary because Estonia's workers never had any negotiating rights with the old "communist" bosses, and according to the union's chairman there is still no legislation in Estonia for collective bargaining:
  Problems were solved often as a form of gentleman's agreement with the managers of the various Industries.
Glasgow Herald (8 October) 
Of course these "problems" are capitalism's inevitable disputes over wages and conditions, and once Estonia's employers get themselves organised and western businesses move in then the workers will learn that although a "gentleman's agreement" is very nice their own unity and resolve is much more reliable.


A Bargain is Struck
David Murray is boss of Murray International Metals and chairman of Glasgow Rangers Football Club.

As well as owning homes in Edinburgh and Jersey and a 143 acre "weekend" estate in the Borders, he has bought a mansion in an exclusive part of Auckland, New Zealand, for "a bargain £1.5 million" (Scottish Sunday Mail 8 September)

Alas, Murray's plan to use the place as a conference centre has been rejected because of opposition from his well-heeled neighbours. Murray's response to this Is "Some people don't seem to want job creation".

This view is typical of all capitalists. Their profit-making schemes, no matter how anti-social, are always justified on the grounds that some workers get a job.

And Murray's view is shared by most workers. When they hear of plans to build a military base, nuclear power station or airport on their doorstep, instead of condemning these as health hazards or eyesores which will lessen their quality of life, they welcome them because "they bring jobs".

So capitalists and most workers are agreed that the former should get the wealth and the latter the chance to produce it.


There is a Santa
Remember when we were kids how we would tell Santa what we wanted him to bring us for Xmas? And remember how seldom Santa delivered?

Kids' stuff, yes, but millions of “grown-ups" still have the childish belief that another Santa in the form of a political party will, once elected, bring them security, well-paid jobs and better housing with good health and education thrown in.

Fellow workers, It should be obvious by now that it is not in the power of political parties to gift you these things. Belief in Santa Is for kids — or even for our masters since you generously make them a present of everything they have.


Pop Shop (1)
Many young workers imagine that pop music is about having fun. They can identify with a pop idol who seems to represent the opposite of their dull work-a-day life.

Alas, it is just another illusion of capitalism. In the Education Guardian (22 October) Robert Leedham quotes one expert on how a pop idol is manufactured.
  "I'd go for a solo girl singer", says Adele Nazedar of Rhythm King records. "They're the easiest to promote. All the pop comics like to have girls on the cover because they sell more copies. You've got to understand that pop is a commodity; people want a decent return on their Investment".

Ashes to Ashes
California's Forest Lawn Cemetery is a very famous bone yard indeed. A million tourists a year tramp round the grounds to rubber neck at the graves of film stars like Clark Gable and Bette Davis. It was the subject of Evelyn Waugh's novel "The Loved One." It is very famous but It seems it may also be very crooked.

A former employee's charges about the business procedures of the cemetery are being investigated by state officials. These charges include — human remains routinely discarded in garbage bags and unburned remains flushed down drains. That there well may be substance to these charges is given credence with the recent discovery of one corpse's ashes being found in a battered cardboard box on a Los Angeles freeway.

In order to make a profit capitalist concerns are always cutting corners and cheapening production, so is it really so surprising that Forest Lawn Cemetery is cutting the cost of destruction to make a few more bucks?


It’s Not Decent
"Decency" is what any politician must have today and John Major has got it.

The Guardian recently told us:
  Mr Major's greatest asset is his visible decency . . . he is a genuine human being. 
Why? Because Major intends "restoring the public services" when that awful Thatcher woman had "ran them into the ground".

Possibly The Guardian has forgotten how during the Thatcher years Major's "decency" always allowed him to support legislation which heaped misery on many people — the "social fund", for example.

Then there's Major's 100% backing for the mass murder committed by the American and British armed forces in Iraq. Where was "decency" there?

Yes, John Mayor is a softly-spoken man who loves cricket and who may well restore public services (especially if there are votes in doing It), but he is also a man who totally supports capitalism with all its inhuman consequences and is happy to preside over it. That's not our idea of "decency". Is it yours?


Forgive Them, Mother
In these days of civil war in Yugoslavia, world hunger, homelessness and all those other unimportant issues it is heartening to see that Tory MPs can identify the burning issues of the day.

In the House of Commons, Ian Taylor (Esher) protested about the use of certain phrases by Church of England parsons.
  He added: "These prayers refer to God as 'Our Mother and Father'. Curates who are themselves confused about bi-sexuallty should not try to confuse the congregations as to whether Jesus was a hermaphrodite."
The Guardian (22 October) 
He urged that offending vicars should be fined £1 each time they used such a phrase. His colleague Michael Allan (Selby) thinks this isn't going far enough. He wants to bring criminal charges!
 "The liturgy of the Church of England is approved by parliament. It would be unlawful to make any unauthorised liturgical change of gender.
  In this respect, I think the restraint of the law Is even more potent than pay restraint"

Pop Shop (2)
In a recent case in the High Court David Levine, who is suing the Dally Mirror for syndication money due him for a story he provided about Boy George and alleged heroin use, claimed that the pop star "threatened to kill him"

Mr Levine's lawyer claimed that his client had given the story to the Dally Mirror because "he had seen what heroin had done to some of his friends and hoped Boy George, whom he knew, would be pulled up sharply if his alleged heroin abuse was exposed In the popular press."

This selfless social behaviour would be a little easier to credit if It had not been revealed that he had Initially asked for £40,000 but claimed he agreed on £15,00 plus £6,000 syndication fees.

Sheer Hard Slog (1991)

From the December 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Illustration by Peter Rigg.

The Poverties of Capitalism (1991)

From the December 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
A reader has sent us the following observations arising from a recent trip to India and Australia.
Last year I had the misfortune to be offered employment. I say “misfortune" since, in common with most workers, I had little or no choice over the terms of my contract or the social consequences of my labour. I had the "choice" of taking up employment or being in the dole queue. In fact, once offered a post, I didn’t even have those options, since if I rejected the offer I would no longer be eligible for dole money.

In October last year I took time off from my post in order to go travelling to various countries around the world with a friend. Our first destination was Bombay in India, where the friend of a friend who put us up was lucky enough to be a multi-millionaire. It would have been impossible from any political standpoint not be be taken aback by the absolute difference of conditions faced in daily life by our host as against the vast majority of his fellow humans in the surrounding city. The abject poverty of the many would make the standard of living of the average British worker seem like a Utopian dream. When I asked my host how he felt about all the abject poverty surrounding him, he explained it in one word: “overpopulation".

Further on in my travels in India I frequently heard this explanation for the prevailing conditions of the majority. However, this time it was the ordinary people themselves explaining their plight. After hearing it so many times that I almost believed it myself, I stood outside this “argument of the senses” to exercise my brain in order to analyse the validity of blaming overpopulation as the cause of poverty. I call it the "argument of the senses”, since if one merely sees all the people on the street starving, one would be forgiven for assuming it’s because there are simply too many people to feed. Under capitalism, of course, this is the case, but that is only if one accepts as unalterable the doctrine of the present system that goods are only produced with the object of making a profit, regardless of human needs. These people are starving because they can’t afford to buy enough food and so there is no profit in producing it for them, not because there are too many people in India. After all, I had just experienced the abundance of my capitalist host and he was certainly not suffering the consequences of some "overpopulation”.

Later on in my trip I arrived in Australia, where I spent five months or so. Not surprisingly, in a country roughly the size of the United States, minus Alaska, with a population of only about 17 million, overpopulation was not used as the scapegoat for poverty in the way it had been in India. In Australia there are wide open spaces where one won’t see any sign of human habitation, and not just in desert areas.

Riches and poverty
According to the theorists of overpopulation, I should not have been able to find any poverty in Australia, but, of course, this was not the case. Poverty is inevitable when the peoples of the world are divided into two classes: those who own the means of production and those who must sell their labour power in order to live. But poverty, like richness, is a relative term and cannot be determined by any given amount of wealth. I may earn £10,000 this year, and even £50,000 next year, but still be living in poverty. This is because poverty relates to the proportion of wealth available to the individual as against that created by society as a whole. My £50,000 would certainly be an increase on the £10,000 of the previous year, but, as any major share-holder in a multi-national company would tell you. £50,000 per annum is still abject poverty.

So back to my experiences in Australia. Obviously, under the definition of poverty outlined above, most Australians are living in poverty. To illustrate the point about poverty not being defined by any fixed sum of wealth, whether it be measured in pecuniary terms or in terms of choice, experience, creativity or whatever, I will take the Aboriginal population as a whole. Under capitalism most aboriginals certainly live in poverty. Even people who wish to define poverty through welfare handouts would be forced to concede this fact. However, if we were able to travel back in time to before the European conquest of the continent, we would find the aboriginal population living outside the clutches of poverty. Certainly in physical, material terms they might be considered better off now than before, but in terms of their share of what society could, at that time, produce, they are now much poorer. Before European conquest, they enjoyed free access to everything that their society could provide.

The tragedy of our age is that although we, as inhabitants of this planet, could live much more comfortably and fearlessly than the undiscovered aboriginals ever did, relatively we live much more impoverished lives. Instead, in our “enlightened age”, so-called educated people of no doubt good intention, debate the "biological reasons” why alcohol makes aboriginals dissatisfied with their lot, or why they can’t adapt to the advantages of capitalism. Ask any capitalist to adapt to the advantages of being a worker in capitalism and they will show the same “biological” frailties as any aboriginal.

Eventually, of course, all good things in capitalism are forced to come to an end. My money ran dry and I was forced to return to England in order to sell my labour power once more. However, nine months is a long time in capitalism. “Circumstances beyond our control” prevented my employer from offering me what I had been led to believe was a certain promotion. The recession had deepened.
J. C.

Free! I'm Free! (1991)

From the December 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Illustration by Peter Rigg.

Land monopolists (1991)

Book Review from the December 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now The Synthesis: Capitalism, Socialism and the New Social Contract. Edited by Richard Noyes. Shepheard-Walwyn. £14.95.

This collection of articles by a number of British, US and Dutch writers is an application of the ideas of Henry George to today’s world. George, a contemporary of Marx and Engels, argued that the existence of exclusive private property rights over land distorted the workings of laissez-faire capitalism. Abolish private property in land by taxing away its value and capitalism would work for the mutual benefit of capitalists and workers.

Ground rent is indeed a deduction from the surplus value that capitalist firms extract from their workers, but its payment to the state as taxes rather than to land monopolists like the Duke of Westminster, Harry Hyams, Gerald Ronson and the Queen would only benefit the capitalists and not the working class.

For a short while in the 19th century Georgism was a radical doctrine that enjoyed considerable, if misplaced, working class support. Today, as one of the authors documents, Georgist infiltrators have had some influence on the thinking of the Green Party whose “Community Ground Rent" is the tax on land values that George advocated. But Georgism, in preaching that there is nothing wrong with laissez-faire capitalism as such and that “everything would be alright if ground rent were paid to the state", as Marx summed up George’s views (in a letter to Sorge, 20 June 1881), fits in very well with the free-marketeerism that enjoyed a passing revival in the 1980s. Indeed, this seems to be the general point this book seeks to make.
Adam Buick