Thursday, January 17, 2019

Rear View: The Mosquito Knows (2017)

The Rear View Column from the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Mosquito Knows
‘Ambrosia: This Startup Will Give You Blood Transfusions From Young People to Reverse the Aging Process. It Only Costs $8,000’ [£6275] (newsweek.com, 9 June). Only rich over 35s seeking the elixir of youth need apply. But such developments come as no surprise to socialists who have long understood capitalism’s voracious nature and how it seeks ever new ways to drain what it can out of the working class. Marx noted in Capital volume 1, chapter 10, section 1: ‘Capital is dead labour which, vampire like, lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks’. Production for profit rather than need has resulted in the untimely deaths of millions through war and want, but for the system to continue it must avoid eradicating its source of unpaid surplus value. Indeed, the introduction of welfare payments and improvements in healthcare etc. are primarily in the interest of the parasite, not the host.


A rich reformist
Joining the parasitical 1 percent is difficult for those not belonging to families who have had our blood in the bank for generations. But one who has managed to climb the greasy pole recently is none other than Bernie Sanders. cnbc.com (6 June) reveals that he ‘had a surprisingly good financial year in 2016’ as he supplemented his annual income of $200,000 [£157,000] – a paltry sum, ‘making him one of the least wealthy senators’ – with $858,750 [£674,000] from book royalties . We reviewed Our Revolution in the April edition of this journal, and  berniesanders.com where he states ‘the issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time, and it is the great political issue of our time’. Our objection to him is not that he is rich, but that he is a reformist not a socialist.. The World Socialist Movement does not exclude capitalists from membership. Had Frederick Engels and William Morris lived long enough and demonstrated agreement with our Declaration of Principles, they would have been welcomed into our newly formed Party.


Here, there, everywhere
Capitalism exists throughout the world. We recently tweeted: Socialism has NOTHING to do with Venezuela, the Soviet Union, North Korea, China etc. That is a LIE capitalists and politicians want you to believe as it keeps them rich and powerful. Wherever there is a privileged elite in control of waged workers there is a capitalist economy. Socialism means a society with NO ruling class. Elites are found everywhere, including Angola. There the majority of our class exist on less than $2 (£1.60) a day and 90 percent of Luanda’s population must do so in slums. Yet the Angolan President’s son just spent £440,000 on a set of photographs. Daddy’s fortune ‘has been estimated at US $20 billion, which would put him among the world’s 50 richest people….José Eduardo dos Santos has not spared any effort in ensuring that his legacy continues through his family. The most famous of his children is businesswoman Isabel Dos Santos, 44, the only female billionaire in Africa. As well as being president of the Administrative Council of the state oil company Sonangol, she has investments in various multinationals, from banks to telecommunications, totalling a fortune of US $3 billion’ (globalvoices.org, 4 June).


Another old elitist
Socialists know that Simon Sebag Montefiore is a lousy historian (we reviewed his Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar in March 2006), so imagine the surprise when Catherine Merridale’s Lenin on the Train (2016), described by him as ‘the superb, funny, fascinating story of Lenin’s trans-European rail journey to power and how it shook the world ‘ (standard.co.uk, 17 November 2016), provides this gem. ‘But it was Lenin himself who made it clear that the Bolsheviks would reject democratic values.’ He ‘had not traveled back to join a coalition,’ Merridale writes according to the review of her book in the New York Times, but ‘to undermine the provisional government and establish a dictatorship in the name of the proletariat. It was Lenin who instituted severe censorship, established one-party rule and resorted to terror against his political enemies. Stalin took these measures to further extremes for his own sinister purposes.’  (nytimes.com, 9 June).


SPGB Summer School: The Environment (2017)

Party News from the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard




Summer School 2017
21st - 23rd July
Fircroft College,
Birmingham 

These days, concerns about the environment tend to get pushed into the background by issues like Brexit, Trump’s presidency and ongoing austerity measures. But climate change, pollution and extinctions don’t go away just because the headlines are filled with other events. 2016 was the warmest year on record, with implications for sea levels and habitats; more and more waste is produced for future generations to deal with, and many hundreds of species continue to become extinct every year.

Legislation places some restrictions on the use of dangerous materials, hunting and waste disposal, for example. However, legislators can only work within a system which is structured to safeguard the interests of the wealthy elite, rather than everyone. And of course laws don’t always prevent environmentally-damaging methods from being used if they save or make money. Capitalism turns the natural world into a resource to be exploited for a profit.

The Socialist Party argues that the environment can only be managed responsibly if society as a whole is managed co-operatively and in everyone’s interests. If our industries and services were owned and run in common, then we would be able to produce what we need and want in the most reasonable, sustainable way.

Our weekend of talks and discussions looks at the current state of the environment, and its prospects for the future we make for it.

Talks and Events include:
  • Glenn Morris: Destroying the Hand that Feed Us - Why Capitalism Cannot Solve Our Environmental Problems. A talk on the case for a new society which works alongside nature instead of destroying it.
  • Janet Surman: World Military versus The Global Environment. War is one of the most profitable arms of capitalism. We investigate the negative impacts of militarism on the global environment.
  • Paddy Shannon: The Vegans Are Coming! Attitudes to meat production and consumption are changing. This session explores the various arguments with a view to clarifying what our position as socialists ought to be.
  • Carla Dee: One World, Our World - A Quiz. What do you know about climate change, the natural world and urban environments? Test your knowledge here.
  • Brian Gardner: Socialism saves the World! How quickly could Socialised Production Resolve Climate Change? How will economic decisions be made in the absence of the market and will production for use save the planet in time?
The event will also include a bookstall, and exhibition about the SPGB's approach to environmental issues over the decades and an exclusive publication.

Don’t Read This Unless You Believe That Our World is in Need of Urgent Change (2017)

From the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Imagine this:
  • A world without buying and selling.
  • A world without classes.
  • A world without borders.
  • A world without money.
  • A world where  ‘real’  democracy and mutual cooperation can flourish and grow.

These are the cornerstones of ‘real’ socialism.  Obviously, that doesn’t describe the pseudo-socialism of Corbyn, Sanders, Chavez, et al.  Or, to the disingenuous activities of the hotchpotch of  Trotskyist/Leninist groups who also masquerade as socialists. If you want to escape from dead-end politics then you will need to think outside of the miasma of capitalist thought and consider what the World Socialist Movement proposes.

You will have to overcome a psychological barrier.  A barrier constructed over many decades that has taught you that any change from the market system is not possible. Well, it is. Ours is a battle of Ideas. Once our ideas take root they will become unstoppable. All it takes is that the campaign for ‘real’ socialism generates enough momentum for us to begin to organise for the change that will become inevitable once a majority of people demand it.

So what is the World Socialist Movement?  It is the umbrella organisation of a number of Socialist Parties throughout the world dedicated to establishing ‘real’ socialism.  The Socialist Party of Great Britain [SPGB] is one of those parties. The SPGB held its inaugural meeting in June 1904. Uniquely, the founding members drew up a historical document that formed the basis of our movement—then and now.  ‘The Declaration of Principles’ unequivocally describes what we stand for. We have no leaders—only sheep need leaders. All decisions are arrived at democratically by the whole membership. Transparency is inbuilt.

It’s not just socialists that are repulsed by the hypocrisy, lies and self-seeking of capitalism’s elite. Poverty, hunger, wars and environmental destruction are intrinsic to the market system. As is the extreme wealth of the few at the expense of the many. Reforms, charity, and appeals to the gods have not, and cannot change its fundamental base. Sticking plasters don’t work. Only major surgery will. The World Socialist Movement exists to complete one task. And that is to abolish capitalism through democratic means. 

Human beings are unique. We can imagine something and make it a reality.  Socialism proposes a world for all and not just for the few. Where the present, and future generations, can live in peaceful, mutual cooperation. But, we need help to achieve it.

50 Years Ago: Middle East War – the Aftermath (2017)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Middle East War must be seen in perspective. Firstly, it is only the latest in a long line of comparatively minor wars since the world was carved up anew by the victorious Allies in 1945. It has been a common feature of most of the so-called settlements which followed the Second World War, that they succeeded only in making new trouble spots, new tensions, new provocations. The creation of Israel is no exception to this.

A war in the Middle East is more, of course, than a number of minor powers in conflict. Always behind the scenes the big power blocs are operating, supporting one side or the other with arms and military advice, with aid and loans, as part of a larger and more menacing clash of interests. Thus the Egyptian army in the latest war was equipped largely with Russian weapons, the Israeli with British and French.

The reasons for this interest by the world powers in the Middle East is clear. The area is vital to them, for its oilfields and its strategic position astride the trade routes to Australia and the Far East. The complexities of the mass feudal sheikdoms which rule over a large part of the area, complicated  by  the  building  of modern  capitalism in Israel and Egypt, have made the task of keeping a diplo­matic balance there a very delicate one.

(….)

The Israeli working class were convinced that their interests lay in taking up arms against the Arabs, and in this they were supported by countless Jewish workers abroad. Some of them went even further, attaching great importance to the capture of the ancient shrines and religious symbols of Jerusalem. Here is evidence that the Israeli working class have all the delusions which are so necessary to the continuance of capitalism.

Experience, and a knowledge of capitalism, should have taught them differently. The wars of capitalism are fought to settle the disputes of its ruling classes; no working class interests are at stake in them. The problems of the Israeli workers are the same as those of workers all over the world, and they will not be solved in a war. Their interests are the same as those of the workers of Egypt, and of every other capitalist country—to unite for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.

[from Editorial on the ‘Six-Day War’, Socialist Standard, July 1967]

Back to Basic (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a speech at Harvard University, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called for everyone to be paid a basic income by the state, whether working or not (i paper, 27 May). This was one of the Green Party’s promises in the recent general election. The ‘Parti Socialiste’ candidate in the French presidential elections, Benoît Hamon, favoured it too. As has Italian Autonomist Toni Negri.

Its various advocates offer different reasons. Zuckerberg wants to give people some free time to think up new ideas. The Green Party wants a pilot scheme to see if it would be cheaper than current income support. Hamon saw it as an answer to the fall in paying demand caused by the growing unemployment which he anticipates robotisation will bring. Negri sees it as a demand around which all critics and victims of capitalism – the employed, the unemployed, women – can unite in a way they cannot around sectional trade union demands for higher wages.

All of them envisage it being introduced within the context of the capitalist economic system of production for sale on a market with a view to profit. And that’s the rub. It is all very well proposing reforms to capitalism involving the government spending more but, since governments produce nothing, where is the money to come from? In theory the government could simply print it but that would lead to Zimbabwe or Venezuela-style inflation. It would have to come from taxes, but even taxes on wages are ultimately passed on to employers. So the money would have to come out of their profits. But profits are what make the capitalist economic system go round. Less profit means less investment. There are limits to how much a government can increase taxes without provoking an economic slowdown or downturn.

As if to answer Zuckerberg, the OECD, an intergovernmental organisation of the richest capitalist countries, published at the same time a study of the effect of introducing a basic income in four countries (Britain, France, Italy and Finland) on the assumption that taxes are not increased and that the amount of cash payments currently going to all those below retirement age were evenly divided among them.

The OECD concluded that the basic income that everyone would receive would be well below the poverty line (as the minimum to which governments at the moment guarantee to make up the income of the poor) in each of the four countries. It added: ‘Any basic income at “a socially and politically meaningful level” would require additional spending on benefits and therefore higher taxes to finance this’ (Times, 29 May).

If everyone below retirement age was paid only a basic income equal to their country’s poverty line, the OECD found that in Italy and Finland the government would actually pay less in total on payments to those under retirement age than it now does; which means that some of them would receive a drastic cut in their payments, in particular those who have taken early retirement. So much, then, for Negri’s suggestion that UBI is a demand that could unite all victims of capitalism.

The OECD report neglected one other drawback – that a basic income paid to those in work would amount to a wage subsidy for their employers. Wages tend to gravitate around a level that is enough to enable the workers to buy the things they need to maintain their particular working skills. If the government provided them with some of the money in the form of a basic income then the employers would no longer have to; wages would tend to sink by an amount equal to the basic income.

So, all in all, not even a desirable, let alone a practicable, reform.

Road-map to Socialism (2017)

From the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
  • ‘Win the battle of democracy’
  • ‘Do away with private property’
  • ‘Abolish the wages system altogether’
  • Achieve abundance for all and inscribe on the banners:
  • From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs!

Capture parliaments by electing majority socialist MPs (actually Socialist delegates) mandated to pronounce: Annulment of all property and territorial rights whereby all that is on and in the Earth becomes the common heritage of the whole humanity.
  • Socialists are not against persons, but against capitalism.
  • Socialism has never and nowhere been tried at all.
  • When it will be done, it will have to be established worldwide.

World socialism can be established only in a peaceful and democratic way, by means of collective understanding, numbers and organization of the working class. However, if any minority group obstructs initiation of socialism, socialists will be entitled to use force to counter it. But force does not necessarily mean violence. Working class force, or power, is born out of the union of knowledge based on the materialist conception of history and an independent organization of the working class. It is numbers, understanding and solidarity that constitute its real force. The working class is the majority – 95 percent of the population. It is only the working class who perform all work in capitalism. Therefore its power is not violent.

Winning elections does not weaken the argument for using this power, applying force, in the event of obstruction; rather it strengthens it. On the other hand,  applying force against an elected government, without taking the first step of declaring the legal defeat of capitalism through its own constitution, is not only futile, but also undermines the fact that it is the class-conscious working class that is the majority. 

To win the battle of democracy, after understanding what we are going to do, where the danger lies, what and why socialism, has a double advantage: (a) we can show that there is a majority for socialism by sending a majority of delegates (not merely representatives) to the parliament, and (b) in case there be any attempt from any corner to block this mandate, the socialist majority has the legitimacy to use other means. This tactic of social change via democratic means is free from violence and certain.

Arriving at the majority and, with it, instead of reforming capitalism and running its administration socialists will get set about its abolition; they will not accept any administrative posts of capitalist society before arriving at the position of its abolition. The task of socialist delegates is not to help run the capitalist governing process, but to incapacitate the process itself, to facilitate the abolition of capitalism by the immense majority of socialists. Because, socialists neither support nor oppose the reforms of capitalism. Their only and immediate aim is to establish socialism.

Without informed majority participation in order to reach at a democratic decision in the interest of all the conception of vote and democracy is meaningless. We need participatory democracy.

Socialists do not place any trust political leaders, since the existence of leaders means the existence of followers and both remaining drowned in political ignorance. Leader/follower relation is anti-democratic. Organization and leadership are not the same thing; there can be organization without leadership. Leadership is not necessary when an organization is democratic. The immense majority of people of society can create socialism consciously in their own interest and with their own initiative.

A socialist party does not require a leader, socialists are all equals.

The World Socialist Party has organization, but no leadership. This organization is carrying on political class struggle as a vigilant guard of one most appropriate and pertinent explanation first put forward by the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904.

In Marxian conception ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ are synonymous. Marx and Engels  used the two terms alternatively to mean the same thing –  post-revolutionary participatory democratic socialist administration of things – affairs of life – in lieu of the   capitalist administration of men. In Marx’s view the principle of communism or socialism is: From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.

Terrorism: What is the Truth? (2017)

From the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

It would be unfeeling not to be saddened and outraged by the Manchester and London terror attacks, or to have no sympathy for those who knew the victims. But what are we to make of the reaction to it? The traditional laying of flowers and paying of respect to the dead is one thing, and you would expect an expression of solidarity, but holding hands and singing does nothing of itself to dig down toward the causes of terrorism and the solutions to it. How can people find out the motivations and machinations behind war and terrorism? How can the public find out the truth about who is supporting, arming and supplying Islamic State, when there is little or no transparency between government and the public, and when the mainstream media hardly bothers to address these issues?

Trade Wars
‘We stand together’ said the Prime Minister; but if the public knew what she knows then they would likely refuse to stand with her. Not that we see the political parties standing together. After the expression of condolences, and the platitudes, they immediately break into open argument, live, and in public. What we see is division and factionalism. The establishment, either wilfully or through ignorance, would never go so far as to admit that the protection of trade and profit is what really drives war and military intervention in the Middle East. We socialists believe that capitalism is the root cause of war, terrorism, poverty, and all of the major social ills that plague mankind. That is why we want to get rid of it.

Radicalisation
It is clear that governments are attempting to deal with the terror situation by only addressing the symptoms. Radicalisation is not a cause of terrorism, but both a  symptom of it, and a method to inflict it. The insistence of focusing on de-radicalisation programmes won’t do much to help. Behind those that the government mistakenly describes as having ‘become radicalised’, are whole nations of people that have become ‘radicalised’ as they’ve watched their families being blown to smithereens and their countries destroyed by air strikes. People became ‘radicalised’ as soon as the first bombs fell on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on Syria. Of course, it isn’t just as simple as that. The conflicts in the Middle East have a long and complex history, but there is a kind of group denial by Western governments that the terror attacks here are in any way a result of Western foreign policy in the Middle East.

When the Leader of the Opposition suggests that British foreign policy may be playing a role in causing terrorism here in Britain, he (and anyone else who states a similar view), is slated by the government and the mainstream media. The Home Secretary’s reaction to this suggestion was to state categorically that there was no connection between British foreign policy and the Manchester bombing. And over at the BBC, the typical reaction from news correspondents to this kind of suggestion was, ‘cannot compute’. Perhaps the government’s view is that that the existence of  Islamic State is simply down to the Devil himself; and that they just happen to be particularly successful at persuading vulnerable people. Their line on this is, “Nothing to do with us, nothing to see here”.

Fake views, fake news
To kill the debate says everything about the government’s position, and given that the sale of arms has long been an important part of British foreign policy, they certainly wouldn’t compromise the relationship with, say, the Saudi Royal Family, by asking awkward questions about the alleged support and encouragement of terrorism by the Saudi government. These allegations are skirted around by the mainstream media; and if there is evidence out there which would prove the allegations, then the  Establishment will put up fierce opposition to those attempting to uncover it. But it is acceptable for western governments and mainstream media to turn allegation into fact, as with ‘Russian hacking’, but, of course, this cannot apply when it comes to their friends in the Middle East. The double standard sticks out like a sore thumb.

‘The Dove’
All wars are commercial wars. There is no humanitarian war, but governments do their best to persuade the public that we are fighting them, and for our own good. The record-breaking, corruption ridden Al-Yamamah (Arabic: the Dove) arms deal of 1985 between the UK and Saudi Arabia still has elements in it that are yet to be completed. The latest tragi-comedy is that the ‘deal-maker-in-chief’, President Trump, wants to bring peace to the Middle East by signing a new record-breaking, $350bn-over-10 years arms deal with the Saudis. Is it true that UK-made cluster bombs are currently being used by the Saudi-led coalition in the conflict in Yemen? Or are they just relics of old conflicts, as the Saudi government claims? We will probably never find out. The less that people know, the less chance of them questioning the present situation; and so it is that the reaction to the terrorist attacks here will probably remain the same, and the cycle will continue.

The truth is in there
The lack of transparency in government inevitably results in the degradation of democracy, and it is more than a little sickening to see the ‘leaders of the free world’ stand up after terrorist atrocities and state that we stand together to protect  democracy, or freedom of speech, or western values, or anything else that they can co-opt and misappropriate in order to  serve the purposes of capitalism and the capitalist class. This isn’t just social observation or commentary. War, poverty, misery, terrorism – as socialists we find it impossible to imagine that these would exist in a socialist society. We cannot state that there would never be conflicts, but these are most likely to be local, and easily and peaceably resolved.

If, by some fantastic occurrence, a truth serum was to become mixed into the water at the next G7 summit, then the revelations thereof from these renowned leaders of the free world might bring their democracy crashing down around them.
NM

Rear View: From cradle to grave (2017)

The Rear View Column from the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

From cradle to grave
Given that there is one preventable child death every four seconds, the current media obsession with Charlie Gard, an 11-month-old baby with a fatal genetic disorder, is odd but perhaps unsurprising. Offers of help have come from far and wide, even above: the Pope has been in contact with the god responsible for all our suffering. Returning to reality, we read ‘when doctors and nurses at the Vatican’s showcase children’s hospital complained in 2014 that corners were being cut and medical protocols ignored, the Vatican responded by ordering up a secret in-house investigation. The diagnosis: The original mission of “the pope’s hospital” had been lost and was “today more aimed at profit than on caring for children”’ (washingtonpost.com, 3 July).

The lot of workers towards the end of their adult lives is also bleak: ‘one in three nursing homes “not safe”. Inspectors failed more than a third of England’s 4,000 nursing homes on safety, says the Care Quality Commission watchdog, adding that the findings from its new, tougher inspection system were “completely unacceptable”. Failures included errors with medication, a lack of staff and patients not getting enough to eat and drink’ (theweek.co.uk, 6 July).


The reformist seesaw
‘As rallies across the country have demanded an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, one state is reducing its legal lowest rate. Missouri is rolling back its minimum wage from $10 to $7.70. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, in office since January, is allowing a bill passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature to become law on Aug. 28 without his signature’ (dailycaller.com, 6 July). Over 150 years ago Marx wrote: ”instead of the conservative motto, A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, Abolition of the wage system’ (Value, Price, and Profit). Workers of the world wake up!


Zombies of the world unite!
The G20 summit took place recently in Hamburg alongside an imaginative protest by hundreds of zombies calling for us to ‘wake up!’ ‘The mud-crusted zombie figures were meant to be a symbol for “a society that has lost faith in solidarity and in which the individual struggles only for his own advance,” according to 1000 Gestalten’s official website. The act of shedding these costumes during the performance signified the idea that change can start with just one person. “We cannot wait for change to emerge from the world’s most powerful people, but we must now show all of us politically and socially responsible,” a speaker of the collective declared in an official statement’ (popsugar.com, 6 July). Correct. The revolutionary change that socialists strive for cannot come from above, from leaders, but only as a result of the majority understanding the need for and acting to bring about a world of free access and production for use.


Oh No…Not Again!
‘The long struggle for pro-independence groups to separate Biafra from Nigeria is gathering pace, 50 years after a brutal civil war over a successionist rebellion. Now, it’s mainly young activists from southeastern Nigeria, also known as Igboland, that are demanding separation’ (aljazerra.com, 5 July).
The war lasted over two and a half years and more than one million people lost their lives. The Socialist Party did not support either side, holding that the peasant farmers and workers had no interest in the capitalist rivalries within Nigeria over the control of oil production or the bloody intervention of France, the Soviet Union and United Kingdom, amongst others.


Pissing off patriots
‘Emily Lance received online threats of murder and rape after posting the video during Independence Day celebrations…Ms Lance is seen standing over a toilet on which a US flag is draped, and urinating on it with the aid of a device that allows women to do so standing up. She captioned it with: “F*** your nationalism. F*** your country. F*** your stupid f****** flag” ‘(bbc.com, 6 July) . This woman is correct. Nationalism and attendant flag waving/worship are barriers to the establishment of a stateless world commonwealth. Workers create all the wealth in the world, but do so for the benefit of a tiny class of parasites. In the USA, the top 0.1 percent of the population has as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Lance concludes: ‘What don’t you people understand? You’re celebrating freedom while damning me for doing the same. You can’t have it both ways.”

Greece: the Road to Bailoutistan (2017)

Book Review from the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his new book, Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment, Yanis Varoufakis sets out to portray himself as the political outsider who more than spoke truth to power: he stood up to power, and earned its scorn. He details his period as the Greek Minister of Finance as he tried to negotiate a write-down on Greece’s unsustainable debt, and an end to the practice of extend and pretend: his characterisation of the previous two bailouts from the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (known collectively as the Troika) which gave Greece more debt, turned it into a debtor colony (he names it Bailoutistan), and pretended that it could ever hope to pay the debt back.

Throughout, though, he reveals himself as a form of insider, a member of the international financial and academic set, with ‘good friends’ in major institutions throughout the world, including Lord Norman Lamont. He even had prior for working as an advisor for PASOK, the leftist Greek party that held political hegemony there for so long. He was, however, not a member of Syriza, and not part of the Eurogroup club of time-served politicians.

Like most politicians’ memoirs, though, he does go out of his way on point-scoring and dredging up old wounds. He claims Alexis Tsipras went and learnt to speak English on his advice; he recounts the reason why he turned up on British news in a tight couture shirt (he was travelling at short notice, and an aide was sent to buy him a shirt as he had no luggage); a vital document was not sent to the Eurogroup in time to be considered, and apparently this was deliberate political sabotage by a rival he claims was in hock to the Greek oligarchs.

The biggest betrayal was he says was that of Tsipras: they had an express agreement, Varoufakis claims, that they would stay the course. He gives us the game theory behind his strategy with the Troika: Varoufakis wanted a write-down on the value of the Greek debt, and a smaller required budget surplus to service, to allow some room for Greece to start growing again. He theorised that only a credible threat to default on some Eurogroup bonds, and thus destabilise the currency, would lead to that agreement. By his account, the refusal to sign up to a third bailout depended on being willing to issue the threat. In the end, Tsipras refused to issue the threat (in his review of this book, journalist Paul Mason suggests Tsipras backed down rather than risk civil war).

Varoufakis hung on to his post, trying to carry through some of his other reforms to tax collection and public spending. Tsipras launched the famous Greek referendum, to which the people replied “Oxi!” to a third bailout. Varoufakis reveals that Syriza players were secretly hoping for a yes vote, enabling them to back down and accept the bailout. At that point, Varoufakis resigned.

The book is useful on revealing the state of international institutions and Greek banks. Here’s how Varoufakis describes the deep corruption in Greek finance (worth quoting at length):
  ‘Here’s how our two bankers – let’s call them Aris and Zorba – did it.
  Aris’ family founded offshore companies, to which Zorba agreed secretly to lend without guarantees the millions that Aris’ bank needed. Why such generosity towards a competitor? Because Aris and Zorba were sitting under the same proverbial oak. Desperate to raise money for his own bank, Zorba agreed the loan on condition that Aris’ bank lent a similar amount to Zorba’s family’s offshore outfits. Aris’ and Zorba’s families then used money from their offshore accounts to buy new shares in their own banks, thus fulfilling the regulator’s requirements that new capital be raised and thereby qualifying for the real money that the poor taxpayer was borrowing from the troika.
   … they ended up owing nothing to anyone. Both sets of loans … were written off soon after being granted and transferred to the banks’ long list of non-performing loans….
  …An even more outrageous trick was employed: in addition to millions from Zorba’s bank, the Aris family’s offshore companies also borrowed millions from Aris’ own bank. These loans were also written off as unserviceable or non-performing, or were used to buy office space that was resold to other parties only to be leased back by the bank or sold to it at inflated prices. The newly conjured up funds, or ‘profits’ would be used to buy new shares in the bank, keeping up the pretence that investors were injecting private capital into them.’
This is nothing less than institutional corruption and financial fraud. This, seemingly, didn’t just apply to Greece, as executives at Barclays have recently been accused of a similar money-go-round with their bailout loan from Qatar.

Something similar happened with what the European Central Bank concocted to enable Greece to make a €3.5 billion repayment. It was literally a case of a central bank creating money, but money for the sake of money, nothing useful is bought with all this effort, except to the political right to keep Greece subservient to its creditors (of course, as is made clear above, this pretend money creation is only possible with the political connivance of the state’s central bank which is the only type of bank that really can just issue as much money as it wants).

That is the central lesson of this book: Varoufakis’ position would have been sensible in any business, but this wasn’t business. It was politics. He recounts talking to Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Finance Minister and apparent Eminence grise of the Eurogroup, who seemed to believe that there was no alternative to but to continue what he was doing, and impose extreme austerity on Greece. Varoufakis tells of how many people, individually, expressed sympathy, but in practice, stuck to the organisation line in any committee or in public. Interestingly, the only person to come out with praise was Emanuel Macron, then working in the French finance ministry. He apparently backed Varoufakis’ ideas, which may be significant for the coming years.

The need for the Eurogroup to have credibility internationally, to maintain the line that debts cannot be written down or off, that economic union, ultimately means political union to avoid such destabilisation, meant it had to pursue the only policy it had. In the end Syriza complied, after Greece was subject to a medieval siege that saw essential drug supplies cut off (including insulin and thyroxin) and a humanitarian crisis ensued.

Varoufakis describes how the institutions gave him the run-around: not letting him know who or where the decision-makers were; treating any speech by him as if they were listening to ‘the Swedish National Anthem’; and releasing misleading briefings to the press about events at meetings (there were no proper minutes, but Varoufakis recorded them secretly). The EU, he says, is likely to give Britain the same treatment during the Brexit talks.

His book is a warm and witty account of a period of significant turbulence in a country of 10 million, with a government prepared to try and stand up to the financial power structures of the world. It is also a story of their failure to achieve even limited reform and compassion for the people of Greece. What they were asking for hardly amounted to revolution, but was an attempt to shore up capitalism. Sometimes, the system just works against itself.
Pik Smeet

What Labour Governments End Up Doing: A Reminder (2017)

From the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

As many seem to imagine that a Labour government under Corbyn could be different, we reprint an article on the 1964-70 Wilson Labour government. Since there is an even smaller state-capitalist sector now than in those days, Lord Lever’s comments towards the end are even more pertinent. At the end, just substitute “Corbyn” for “Kinnock”.
"As in all recent elections . . .  [the Labour Party] played down any claim to stand, as a socialist party, for a radically different form of society . . . it asked the voters to say that it could administer the mixed economy and welfare state better than the Conservatives".
No, this is not David Butler's comment on the next year's general election but on that of 1959. In the event, the voters judged that the Tories could run capitalism better than Labour. But after a further five years of Tory rule they changed their minds and in October 1964 a Labour government under Harold Wilson came into office.

The 1964 Wilson government was elected on a programme of ending the "stop-go" of what they called "Thirteen Years of Tory Misrule". This was a reference to what happened every four or five years during the 50s and 60s when a boom led to a balance of payments crisis by sucking in imports, to which the government responded by measures to damp down demand. Actually this was a reflection, at the level of government policy, of the minor cycles that capitalism continued to go through during the prolonged period of capitalist expansion that followed the war. In any event, Labour promised to replace "stop-go" by "planned and sustained economic growth".

A Labour government, George Brown had declared in January 1963, would cure unemployment "instantly" (Observer, 27 January 1963). James Callaghan explained how in more detail:
Our first priority will be to make British industry GO, and to make it efficient. We shall ask industrialists, trade unionists, and economists at all levels to help us create a National Industrial Development Plan. This plan will set expanding targets for industry; will collect and analyse information about costs, export possibilities, profit margins; and will reconcile production with demand . . . The plan will aim for a large increase in the output of our factories each year—produced more efficiently than before. (Daily Sketch, 11 February 1963).
After Labour's victory in October of the following year, Brown became Minister of Economic Affairs and Callaghan Chancellor of the Exchequer. Ray Gunther, a former leader of the railway clerks union, was appointed Minister of Labour, Brown's job was to draw up the promised National Plan; which he duly did, unveiling at a ceremony in September 1965. It provided for total output to rise by 25 percent by 1970, a growth rate twice as fast as the percent a year that had taken place under the Tories.

The plan never got off the ground. As early as November 1964 a balance of payments crisis developed with a run on sterling. By July 1965 this had become so serious that Callaghan was forced to curb government spending. After announcing cuts in existing expenditure, he went on "we shall also have to defer some of the desirable social reforms we had hoped to do in the immediate future" (Times, 28 July 1965). Although Labour won an increased majority in the election held in March 1966, in November 1967 they were forced to devalue the pound and impose even tougher austerity; prescription charges which they had abolished on coming to power were restored at a higher rate. And growth never did attain anything near the planned 4 percent. Contemporary newspaper headlines (see box) tell their own story:

  • Mr Gunther Condemns Dock Move by Strikers (Times, 20 October 1964) 
  • Wilson Warns of More Tough and Unpopular Measures Ahead (Sunday Times, 24 February 1965)
  • Wilson's TV Attack on Clock-Watching (Telegraph, 25 February 1965)
  • Britain's Attitudes Outdated—Premier. Country "cannot afford strikes" (Guardian, 25 February 1965)
  • Profit Motive as Test of Efficiency. Mr Brown's Reply to Directors. "Government Not Anti-Business" (Times, 22 May 1965)
  • Wilson Hits at Rail Go-Slow (Observer, 18 July 1965)
  • Spending Cut to Suit Nation's Pocket. Chancellor Curbs Council Mortgages, HP, Building. £100m of Defence Next Year: Social Reforms Deferred (Times, 28 July 1965)
  • "Squeeze" Delays School Building Six Months (Telegraph, 26 August 1965)
  • Brown Wants Strong Powers to Back Incomes Policy (Financial Times, 21 December 1965)
  • Wage Restraint Vital in 1966—Premier (Financial Times, 1 January 1966)
  • Folly To Press For Big Wage Rises—Chancellor (Financial Times, 18 May 1966)
  • Sackings Better Than Short-Time, Says Gunther (Sunday Telegraph, 18 September 1966)
  • Ministers Hint At Permanent Pay Curb (Observer, 18 September 1966)
  • Government Embraces Profitability (Guardian, 23 November 1966)
  • Local Authority Spending Must be Cut—Greenwood (Financial Times, 21 December 1966)
  • Government Justified in Demanding Sacrifices—PM (Financial Times, 1 May 1966)
  • Hint of Change in Social Aid. Mr Gunther on "Means Test" (Times, 21 August 1967)
  • Emergency Powers Ready (Financial Times, 21 October 1967)
  • Prescription Charges Essential—Crossman (Financial Times, 29 January 1968)
  • Standard of Living "Must Fall". Mr Gunther on Last Chance (Times, 29 March 1968)
By 1970 the working class had had enough and Labour was booted out. By its own standards the Wilson Labour government of 1964-70 was an utter failure. It didn't deliver sustained growth and social progress; instead it ended up restraining wages and cutting social services, and it left office with unemployment at its highest for thirty years.

Why do Labour governments fail way? The first thing to notice is that there is nothing special about Labour governments in this respect. Tory governments do the same. In fact all governments do. It is just that Labour's failures are more resounding in that the Labour Party was formed as a trade union party committed to trying to improve conditions for the working class while nobody expects the Tories, as the party of the ruling class and the rich, to behave any differently.

Dismal record
The basic reason for the failure of the Wilson government's attempt to plan a steady expansion of output, so as to keep unemployment down and provide expanding social services, was that his government was a government of capitalism, and capitalism is a profit-making system under which what and how much is produced is determined by considerations of relatively short-term profitability. Ministers and civil servants may draw up grandiose plans for a steady expansion of production, but those in charge of firms react to market conditions not paper plans. If, as happened under Wilson in the 60s, they judge that they will not be able to sell the extra output at a profit then they won't produce it.

Labour has only ever challenged capitalism verbally, and then only sparingly. In practice, when in power, it has always accepted capitalism and capitalism's economic priorities: that, since capitalism runs on profits, profits must be allowed tor be made, and must be maintained if necessary at the expense of wages and salaries

A number of Labour leaders have been quite open about this. Harold Lever, who then an MP (now he's a Lord) and chairman of the Labour Party's economic and financial committee and later a cabinet Minister, writing just after Labour had won the 1966 election, declared in terms which the present leaders of the Labour Party would wholeheartedly endorse:
'Labour's economic plans are not in any way geared to nationalisation; they are directed towards increased production on the basis of the continued existence of a large private sector. Within the terms of a profit system it is not possible, in the long run, to achieve sustained increases in output without an adequate flow of profit to promote and finance them. The Labour leadership knows as well as any businessman that an engine which runs on profit cannot be made to move faster without extra fuel. So, though profits may be squeezed temporarily by taxation and Government price policy, they must and will, over a longer period, increase significantly even if not proportionately to increased production' (Observer, 3 April 1966).
Since profits are needed to fuel the engine of capitalism, one of the tasks of any (and every) government of capitalism is to ensure that the flow of profits is not threatened by strikes and wage demands. In short, one of the jobs of managing capitalism is to try to ensure that the working class does not demand, and does not get, too much. This is why Labour governments, as managers of capitalism, always end up attacking the working class in the same way as the Tories do.

Whenever profits have been threatened, as by a failure of exports to sell well enough or by an economic downturn, Labour governments have reacted by restraining and freezing wages and by postponing and cutting back on social reforms. This is not because they are incompetent or dishonest or traitors but because that is what managing capitalism involves. Anybody who takes on this responsibility has to do this, just as Wilson had to and as Kinnock will if ever he gets the chance.

(Socialist Standard, December 1991)

The Mad Cow Disease of India (2017)

The Material World Column from the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nation-states require symbols and slogans to promote patriotism. Often the identification is a religious one. India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government under Prime Minister Modi has been described as a Hindutva regime proclaiming India as a Hindu country. The move of the Modi government on 26 May to impose a ban on the sale of cows and buffaloes for slaughter at animal markets across India was a populist move aimed at gaining support from the Hindu majority. It is well-known that the cow is a sacred animal in India but beef is consumed by many and beef is on the menu of many Indian citizens including a substantial section of Hindus as well, many Dalits, for instance. 42 percent of the Indian population are Dalits, Muslims, Adivasis, Christians and Sikhs. None of these populations are particularly put off by the consumption of meat, with some of these populations regularly including beef in their diet. This is not a situation of militant vegetarians against flesh-eaters but partially an anti-Muslim and partially casteist political agenda.

Haryana police started collecting samples of biryani sold in Mewat district, the state’s only Muslim-dominated district. In Haryana, cow protection laws are among the toughest. Yogi Adityanath who became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh has begun a crackdown on illegal abattoirs. The Gujarat Assembly on 31 March, passed a new law on cow-slaughter. Anybody involved in this would be awarded life sentence. Next day, in order to outdo Vijay Rupani, Chief Minister of Gujarat, the Chief Minister of Chattisgarh, Raman Singh, announced that anybody found doing it would be hanged. These two Chief Ministers, if they are serious in revering ‘mother cow’, must ask the BJP to begin this process in Goa, Manipur, Arunachal and other states where despite RSS/BJP governments beef is officially available. Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Lakshadweep also have no legislation against the slaughter and consumption of beef.

On 5 April, Pehlu Khan a dairy farmer was beaten to death. He was the latest murder victim of the cow protector vigilantes. Previously, on 28 September 2015, a mob lynched Mohamad Akhlaq on the charge that he had killed a calf. In December 2015 a migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh was shot dead by a ‘cow protection vigilante’ team. In Karnataka, Praveen Poojary, a driver who was transporting cows died after he was attacked by a right-wing Hindutva group called Hindu Jagrana Vedike. His co-worker Akshay Devadiga is in hospital after suffering serious injuries. More than a dozen people were killed and attacked by cow vigilantes in different parts of the country.

The Hindu so-called upper castes will not touch the carcass and the Dalits are forced to clear or handle it and when they do, they are mercilessly beaten up in the name of self-appointed ‘Bhartiya Gau Rakshak Samiti’ (Cow Protection Organisation), a neo-nationalist federation of cow protector movements in India. Dalits who constitute one-sixth of India’s population, some 170 million people, live a precarious existence, shunned by much of Indian society because of their rank as ‘untouchables’ at the bottom of India’s caste system. Dalits are discriminated against, denied access to land and basic resources, forced to work in degrading conditions, and routinely abused at the hands of police and dominant caste groups that enjoy the state’s protection. Four young Dalit men were stripped, tied to a car and flogged in Una in Gujarat after wrongly being accused of cow slaughter. The men were, in fact, skinning a dead cow, an exacting and poorly-paid job that lower castes are forced to perform.

The implications of this ban will adversely affect small farmers. Dairy farmers no longer wish to own large herds of cattle, knowing that when the animals age there will be no resale value for them and they will have to bear the burden of taking care of them for many years after their milking-life is over.  A cow lives for 20-25 years, but provides milk only for 10 years.

Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in an open letter wrote ‘Meat is the primary source of protein for millions of poor and ordinary people in this country (780 million of whom live in deprivation). People of all faiths consume meat in our country, not just the minorities. Once the prohibition comes into effect it will not only deprive them of adequate nutrition, but also prevent the availability of raw material for the leather industry.’ The leather industry is valued at $17.8 billion and serves India’s footwear manufacturers but also provides ingredients for India’s extensive pharmaceutical industry.

The Students Federation of India and other organisations have held beef festivals, where they cooked beef and then shared their food in public, highlighting among other facts that the decimation of the beef industry renders many people jobless.

Modi and the BJP want to keep the cow at the centre of politics so as to maintain a hold of power by challenging India’s secular constitution on behalf of his Hindu extremist supporters (we decline to say fundamentalist because there is no generally accepted religious scripture or canon in Hinduism to be fundamental towards).
ALJO

50 Years Ago: Zilliacus (2017)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Konni Zilliacus, who died last month, was the Left winger to end all Left wingers. The only man who was in step; the persistent thorn in his leaders’ sides; Labour’s unsleeping conscience. So they said.

Zilliacus had many disagreements with his party, especially on its foreign policy. He was one of those Labour M.P.s who found to their astonishment after the victory in 1945 that Bevin handled foreign affairs very much as they had expected a Tory Foreign Secretary to.

He was in almost all the rebel movements and eventually he paid for this, with expulsion. What Wilson has called “dog licences” were as necessary then as they are now; Zilliacus could not get back into Parliament until he had given the Labour leadership the necessary assurances about his future conduct, and they had accepted him into the fold once more.

Zilliacus was a prime example of what are called honest politicians. Perhaps we can accept this—although he never took his disagreements with Labour to the extent of resigning, nor did he come back on his own terms—but the fact is that such men are dangerous.

The so-called Left wingers encourage the idea that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Labour Party, that its only fault is a temporary deviation from the straight and narrow path, that a change of leadership is all that is needed to put everything right again.

No one will ever know how many futile votes this idea has won for Labour. No one will ever know the extent of the confusion and the cynicism it has caused.

What we do know is that the problems of capitalism are as acute as ever and that the political ignorance and apathy which supports the system is still there, encouraged by the Labour Party, by its members honest and dishonest, its leaders and its rebels.

[from ‘Review’, Socialist Standard, August 1967]

Rear View: On the road to nowhere (2017)

The Rear View Column from the September 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the road to nowhere
Two academics list some actual and proposed responses to the ‘refugee and migrant crisis’, which include international summits – seven in 2016 alone – and an island between Italy and Tunisia, before advancing their own: ‘a set of loosely-connected self-governing units we call “Refugia”, brought into being mainly by refugees and displaced people themselves, with some support from sympathisers’ (theconversation.com, 7 August). They see Refugia as ‘a utopian solution to the crisis of mass displacement’. The Oxford dons are correct about one thing – their proposal is Utopian, but not a solution: creating more countries in a world where competition between them can result in war (one reason for the ‘crisis’ in the first place) and leaving the real culprit, capitalism, intact will fail. In a socialist world of production for use not profit, there will be no more refugees seeking escape from war and want. The only borders will be natural ones and citizens will be free to migrate where they want.


October 1968 
Another dead end
The actor Mark Rylance asks ‘who can remember the dreadful battles of the First World War commemorated recently without remembering that World War One was meant to be the end of war?’ and wonders ‘when will we stop this madness?’ before imploring us to join Stop the War. STW was formed following the September 11 attacks of 2001. The sponsors involved include some past Labour MPs and Jeremy Corbyn plus the dead hand of the Socialist Workers Party. Left wing groups are selective about the wars they oppose and have come out in favour of dictatorships e.g. North Vietnam if such are under attack from the West. By contrast, the Socialist Party has the unique record of opposing both world wars, in fact all wars other than the class war since its formation in 1904. Wars are not fought in our interest and are not worth the shedding of a single drop of working class blood. We make our opposition to capitalism, its wars and other attendant ‘problems’ clear. Here is one example from the front cover of the October 1968 edition of our Journal: VIETCONG, NO! MAO, NO! CHE, NO! SOCIALISM, YES!


Silk roads
‘”If the Chinese gain control of the Donglang region, they will hold a commanding position in the Chumbi Valley and would gain the ability to essentially cut off India’s access to the north-eastern states in case of a conflict,” says The Diplomat. Border skirmishes were once a common occurrence along the 2,520-mile frontier zone, the most notable of which was the month-long Sino-Indian War of 1962 (theweek.co.uk, 7 August). The ongoing tension between these countries is of no surprise to socialists. The expanding sphere of influence of capitalist China started before 1962 and spread to Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos and Tibet. These days, Chinese capitalist interests extend into Eurasian and African regions through the Belt and Road Initiative. Other competing Asian states such as India and Japan seek similar expansion of their interests and for the time being are working together on an alternative Silk Road.


Streets paved with gold?
‘Could gold finally have a purpose? New research says it could help in the fight against cancer’ (cnbc.com, 7 August). Sultan Erdogan has, it is rumoured, gold-plated toilet seats in his gigantic 1,150 room palace. Tens of thousands of tonnes of it collect dust in vaults throughout the world. But we do not need to turn to Thomas More’s Utopia, where bathroom fixtures are made of gold, to find other uses for this metal. Contrary to what the article suggests, there are various, established medicinal uses for gold and the metal is also employed in other fields including electronics, dentistry and photography The vast stockpiles of gold in a socialist world would likely mean an end to its extraction through mining and, consequently, associated pollution and fatalities.


Revolutionary road
This road is unique in that you cannot be lead there. Should a majority of us come to understand and desire socialism we will be able to explain to the next generation, any visiting aliens or cryogenically unfrozen humans – probably capitalists – that ‘People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy.’ Actually, that is what Captain Picard says in the year 2364. A socialist world of free access and production for use has been possible since the last century. Let us not wait until the 24th.

From The UN To Anarchism (2017)

The Proper Gander column from the September 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

In recent years, the BBC has developed an interesting sideline in polemics: broadcasters like Adam Curtis, Dominic Sandbrook and Simon Amstell have appeared on our screens presenting their original interpretations of society’s changing cultural and economic trends. Refreshing as it is to see thoughtful critiques of capitalism on the telly, alternatives are rarely discussed. So, it’s a nice surprise to see an anarchist get an hour of screen time to make his case, in Accidental Anarchist: Life Without Government, part of BBC4’s Storyville strand, as well as in one of Newsnight’s video podcasts.

Why this particular anarchist has been able to get his views on the Beeb is the career path which led to his viewpoint. Carne Ross began work in the government’s Foreign Office in 1989, with the optimism that came with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Between 1998 and 2002 he was the UK state’s expert on Iraq at the UN Security Council, where he negotiated on issues such as weapons inspections and sanctions, and took pride in being a ‘ferocious negotiator’. Ross says that the effect the economic sanctions on Iraq had on the Iraqi people was just ‘paper suffering’ to the UN because of its distance from those affected. Noticing the divide between governments and the majority led him to doubt the whole system’s effectiveness. His trust in the state was finally lost after the death of Dr David Kelly, the expert on biological warfare and UN weapons inspector who, according to Ross ‘was driven to suicide by the disgraceful campaign of vilification by [Tony] Blair’s officials after he was revealed as the source of a BBC story that the Number Ten ‘dossier’ alleging the threat from Iraq had been considerably exaggerated’ (www.carneross.com). Ross resigned his job in the Foreign Office in 2004 after giving then-secret evidence to the inquiry into the Iraq war. He told it that at no time did the government judge that Iraq held ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which posed a threat to the UK, despite what we were told. He says that the public was lied to over the reasons for going to war, and this is ‘the worst thing any government can possibly do’. He now feels ashamed of how he acted in his previous life.

Ross’ journey to anarchism is unexpected because he’s managed to change his mindset away from the acceptance of the system which is encouraged and needed by those working at that level for the state. His role allowed him to see first-hand how governments act, so in a way he was better placed than many to see the system’s faults. Far from being the ‘accidental’ anarchist of the show’s title, he has thought about what he’s experienced and reached a perfectly reasonable interpretation.

Ross tells us that he grew up to believe the economy works like a machine, complicated but understandable, and now believes that society is too complex to fully comprehend, let alone control. He even finds a government minister – Rory Stewart OBE – who admits that politicians don’t have nearly as much power over our economic and political system as most people assume. Because of this, Ross argues, our framework of leadership isn’t tenable. Instead, he says, ‘No-one should have power over another. People should govern themselves’ (LINK).

As proof that self-organisation can work better for everyone, Ross gives some examples of where people have worked together in a more equitable and effective way. Members of Occupy New York used their experience in planning and organising to co-ordinate aid for victims of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy more efficiently than the government’s efforts. And in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, the community arranged support for survivors quicker than the state. It shouldn’t take a disaster to make people come together, although other attempts at greater co-operation and self-organisation have developed in difficult circumstances. Rojava, an area of northern Syria, is run according to the political ideology of Abdullah Ocalan, a leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who was inspired by anarchist Murray Bookchin. While hierarchies still exist there, people living in Rojava are able to directly contribute to decisions affecting their community, and there is more gender equality and less sectarianism than elsewhere in the region.

According to Ross, the peak of anarchism was in 1930s Spain, before it was crushed by Stalin’s forces and Franco’s fascists won the Spanish Civil War. He says that anarchist ideals live on there now, such as in the town of Marinaleda in Andalucia, where the populace occupied land and buildings and established a farming co-operative with many municipal tasks organised together. Of course, these and any other examples have to work within capitalism. Ross doesn’t seem to see this as much of a setback, and cites ‘worker owned co-operatives like John Lewis’ (ibid) and the Brazilian city of Porto Allegre, where the population has had input into funding decisions which improved public services, as examples of where ideals of self-organisation have flourished. While he’s surely overstating how radical John Lewis and the other examples are, he’s more on the ball when he adds wryly that the shabbier a group’s assembly room is, the more democratic it will be.

Ross favours a ‘gentle revolution [which] should begin with direct democracy’ (ibid) in workplaces and the community. This would involve worker-run groups, which could then join up to manage larger-scale projects. He suggests that these groups would be more legitimate than politicians, and therefore would replace them. Whether governments would allow themselves to be shunted out in this way isn’t considered here. As Ross worked within the state, he should realise it won’t just offer to relinquish its power. The same applies to corporations: how realistic is it for co-operatives to out-perform them without adopting more cut-throat strategies to remain competitive? Unfortunately, the programme doesn’t go into detail about how far Ross thinks his examples of self-organisation can go towards replacing capitalism itself. However, they demonstrate that people can work together co-operatively and equally, and this is certainly a step towards revolution.
Mike Foster

Are You Happy With the Way Things Are? (2017)

From the September 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

With austerity, inequality, war, environmental problems, the rise of so-called populism? But are you also struggling to find some response that will do more than just repeat the efforts of previous decades, which have led to this mess?

We think there is an effective response to the current situation. One that doesn’t just deal with small changes to the present system, so leaving the underlying causes untouched. One that really gets to the root of what is wrong, that truly addresses inequality, poverty, war and the rest.

In a sense, what is needed is very simple: make the resources of the planet the common property of the world’s people. Ensure that they are controlled democratically and used to meet human need. Let people have free access to what has been produced. Enable people to have proper control over their lives. Avoid all the waste of resources that goes with the money system (banks, insurance, credit cards and so on). Grow food and build houses because people want them, not in order to make a profit.

In the Socialist Party we call such a set-up socialism. This means a classless society where there is no division between the rich and powerful on one hand and the great majority of the population on the other. It means a society with no state or government, since these exist to defend the interest of the rulers. It means a world with no countries or borders. It means a world where people work together for the common good, not for the interests of a small class of owners.

Socialism is in complete contrast to all forms of capitalism, which necessarily involve class ownership, production for profit, the wages system, and varying degrees of poverty and insecurity. Capitalism cannot be made to work in the interests of the vast majority, which is why socialists do not advocate reforms of the present system.

Don’t be misled by labels. What we stand for has no connection with what the Labour Party and the Left advocate; state ownership is state capitalism, not socialism. Nor does it have any connection with the system that existed or exists in the USSR, North Korea and so on; these are particularly authoritarian versions of state capitalism.

The only solution is a revolution in the economic basis of society carried out by an overwhelming majority, who want and understand socialism. If this idea interests you, get in touch with the Socialist Party and learn more about our ideas.

Crime and Capital (2017)

From the September 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Any community has to have an agreed set of principles concerning the behaviour of its members. As a social species we depend on each other to exist. Our interaction, therefore, provides the cohesion necessary for our survival. Historically these rational principles of behaviour have been subverted by the powerful to serve their needs. In a class-divided society these principles are used to rationalise the wealth and power of the minority. Socialists recognise this and exhibit the relevant contempt for the implicit hypocrisy in trying to rationalise rules that enforce inequality and the social injustice that it represents.

Rational rules of behaviour have been replaced by laws that are enforced by the state. But there still have to be definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour within any community and, given the anachronistic political structures of capitalism, how should a socialist approach this anarchy of social rights and duties? We have to live within this sick culture but should we respect and internalise any of its laws and rules; do we have the right to reject them all as merely exercises in bourgeois hypocrisy?

It may be claimed that since the state has the power to enforce the law and its constraints upon socialists that it is of no importance how they feel about it. Socialists are realists and, unlike liberals, we do not loudly articulate a sense of personal injustice when it is our time to suffer the consequences of a system that speaks of justice whilst imposing its antithesis. What is important to us is that when the great majority individually encounter the ‘justice system’ and its failures, inadequacies and hypocrisies that they should understand the manifest underlying political realities which this represents rather than simply rely on accusations of corruption or incompetence regarding individual members of this system.

Some attempt to legitimise ‘The Law’ in terms of democracy. They claim that our ‘representatives’ in parliament only legislate in the name of their voters and if this is rejected by the wider community then they will be removed in the next election. What is ignored within this idealistic portrayal of the contemporary political structure is the obvious fact that it is the system itself (of which parliament is a vital component) that is the cause of the very injustices it attempts to legislate against. Happily socialists do not have to resort to the silly quasi-religious theories of a violent and greedy ‘human nature’ to understand crime; we know that where institutionalised inequality, and the consequent innumerable injustices this maintains, exists so will individual ‘immorality’ and criminality. That we can subvert parliament by sending socialists there as delegates of mass consciousness to destroy it will represent one of the greatest moments in political history.

It may come as quite a surprise to many that the ‘justice system’ represents injustice to socialists. In the hope of deterring the usual dismissal of this perspective, which typically involves references to our so-called utopian dream of a ‘perfect society’ or, as mentioned earlier, some half-baked theory of a destructive element within ‘human nature’, let us take a cold hard look at some of the realities of the symbiotic nature of the relationship between the justice system and the criminals it persecutes. Without criminal activity there would be little or no need for today’s lawyers, judges, court functionaries, silly wig makers, police, police cars, forensic scientists, prisons, police dogs, cell cleaners, justice software, police radio technology, specialist helicopters… the list is endless. That the state finances a great percentage of all this is testament to how desperate the ruling class is to hold onto their wealth and power. It is a grotesque spectacle to perceive how the state feeds parasitically on the criminals it creates.

And what are some of the laws that all of this effort and expense go into imposing; arbitrary and irrational prohibition of some stimulants, strike breaking, enforcing homelessness (evictions), prosecuting the poor for illegal benefit claims, persecuting ‘illegal immigrants’, breaking up demonstrations, enforcing traffic violations, curtailing rights of access, arresting the hungry for ‘shoplifting’ and the weary and dispossessed for ‘vagrancy’. But, I hear you ask, what of the violent bullies of organised crime and the fear and corruption they create? Can no one take moral responsibility for their own actions? If we accept the stupidity and injustice of the activities of the state listed above can we allow it some credibility for opposing so-called organised crime? We might be able to understand violent crime in its capitalist cultural context but can we ever accept that its perpetrators are not morally culpable?

At this point some readers will become aware that we are entering the philosophical realm; specifically the timeless debate between the proponents of determinism and those who believe in ‘free will’. Philosophy has the ability to both inspire and intimidate; we read the works of the great minds that have pondered on such questions with a mixture of awe and frustration. Frustration because there seems to be no definitive answer; we may reach personal conclusions but these cannot be subjected to scientific experiments which will decide which hypothesis is correct. Socialists are committed materialists and this implies a belief in a level of determinism. As already described we think that criminality exists primarily because of the capitalist culture of institutionalised social injustice – in short, it is because of the way society is organised.

But can we really just shake our heads with sadness when the likes of Hitler and Stalin are put on trial by history? We all need the guilty to be made to recognise their responsibility for the cruelty and subsequent suffering that they have been complicit in creating. Not to punish in the name of revenge but to impose consequences for acts that the community deplores. We know that the two individuals mentioned could not have committed the crimes they did without the complicity of thousands, sometimes millions of others. We are also aware that such mass complicity is a product of a terribly sick human political culture but we need to insist on individual moral culpability. Why? Because the answer: ‘I did what I did because I was ordered to’ cannot excuse the individual of responsibility. No healthy human community can function with such an immature moral vacuum at its heart. Does this imply that by imposing moral values on society we are forced to live an illusion? This is an uncomfortable situation for socialists because we pride ourselves on our realism; but not to grant individuals a level of moral integrity seems to dehumanise them. It’s hard to retain compassion for others (and yourself) if you regard our species as merely deterministic machines.

Will socialism be able to resolve or ‘bring to a synthesis’ (as we Marxists would say) this profound social contradiction? It is an intriguing possibility; but don’t wait until that inevitable day comes when you or someone you love finds themselves a victim of crime before you contemplate these questions. Such things are not just esoteric philosophical distractions; they are at the heart of who you are and what kind of society you wish to live within. Join us in our revolutionary activity which alone can transform justice from an intellectual aspiration into a political reality.
Wez