Monday, January 28, 2019

Letter: Not the Way to Socialism (2017)

Letter to the Editors from the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Not the Way to Socialism

Dear Editors

Nationalization of the means of production is nothing but state capitalism. This was what was established in the former USSR and now exists in China, Cuba and so on. It shows that the establishment of socialism through state capitalism is a fallacy; the theory already has failed. We have learned from the experience of the nationalization of the means of production there that it was bureaucratic collectivism and gulags in the name of socialism. Every moment there was a political fear in the mind of people in these so-called people’s republics. Freedom of speech was unknown under the political dictatorship. All the social product was accumulated by the political state and privileged consumption given to a tiny minority of bureaucrats. This state capitalism was wrongly called socialism.

Centralization of the means of production is nothing but a capitalist appropriation. Capitalist appropriation has been going on since the invention of the steam engine. To argue that socialism will be established through this appropriation process automatically is nothing but a simplistic misunderstanding of revolution and wrong advice to the working class. When wholesale appropriation is emerging in the world there will be frequent mass demonstrations. Maybe then some violence will occur. But we have a task, to elaborate the real socialist theory in general before the violence. Never try to seize the means of instruments, but seize the instruments of the political state.

Co-operative factories and stores, which were first advocated by Robert Owen as a way to socialism, are also a fantasy. Some people want to establish a borderless, moneyless, stateless society through the co-operative mode of production instead of the socialist mode of production. They want to achieve socialism through co-operatives and then the common ownership of the means of production. Co-operatives are nothing but another form of capitalist enterprise and production. Actually socialism means the socialization of world resources and the means of production. This is the object of socialism and the social revolution, but we cannot make a blueprint.
Gorachard Paramanik


New (?) Hope (?) For Labour (2017)

The Greasy Pole column from the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

For any enduring Labour Party hopefuls the recent death of Gerald Kaufman summoned up some of the most painful memories. Because all the obituaries for the late MP for Manchester Gorton reminded us that one of his grandest, most memorable achievements was when he ridiculed the Labour manifesto for the 1983 general election, when they were led by Michael Foot and went down to Margaret Thatcher who was still in triumph over the Falklands war, as The Longest Suicide Note In History. The Party then was offering, as a cure-all for the historically typical chaos of militant capitalism, delusions about abolishing the House of Lords and renationalising the likes of British Aerospace and the Post Office. It was no longer suffering the particular conceits of the likes of Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Shirley Williams who were gathered into the Social Democratic Party which was virtually wiped out in that election.

Crises
Now the Labour Party has all that behind them but it still offers its persistently weary ideas on matters such as unemployment, poverty, an embattled National Health Service. And it has nurtured another, equally impotent, bunch of tricksters such as Hilary Benn, Owen Smith, and Yvette Cooper. It has to be expected that from this swamp of despair there should emerge the occasional personality who offers their version of those exhausted options for what are in effect the same obdurate crises as bedevilled the authors of that infamous suicide note. The most recent of these is Sir Keir Starmer who is the MP for Holborn and St. Pancras  – who does not welcome being reminded that his success at his former job of Director of Public Prosecutions was rewarded with a knighthood. Now he is being proffered as Labour’s new hope in spite of his lack of ministerial experience.

And does his name offer anything new? Keir is among the least likely to be used by newly-doting parents. Most famously it was the middle name for the first ever Labour Member of Parliament – none other than James Keir Hardie who, apart from being leader of some striking Ayrshire coal miners was also the MP for West Ham South, and prominent in the formation of the Independent Labour Party. His mother was a nurse and his father a ships carpenter; they eventually moved to Govan where they struggled to survive on his miserly wages. When he was seven, Keir started a life of exploited employment, as a messenger boy for a steamship line, which prevented him attending school. However his father taught him enough about the life of a worker struggling in capitalism to organise a pacifist strike at the start of the First World War. He died in 1915, at the age of 59. It was in tribute to Hardie that Starmer’s parents, keen members of the Labour Party, gave him that  name –although he says that he has never actually discussed the matter with them.

Mother
Starmer’s mother has suffered for some 50 years with Still’s disease, a condition which for the past five years has prevented her speaking and  caused her to have a leg amputated. ‘She has been a massive fighter all her life. She’s been in high dependency units for as long as I can remember. It was something I grew up with. I certainly have seen the NHS from the inside’ was how Starmer has described her suffering and its effect on him. In his legal career, in 1997 he advised Helen Steel and David Morris in the infamous McLibel case brought against them by McDonalds. He was made a Queens Counsel in 2002 and then, in 2008, reached the heights of Director of Public Prosecutions. In 2005 he won a case in the House of Lords which prevented torture being used to collect evidence presented in court. He later represented to the Privy Council a number of appellants who had been sentenced to death in states in the Caribbean and Africa, which led to the abolition of that mandatory penalty in those countries.

Holborn And St. Pancras
By 1 November 2013 there did not seem a lot more Starmer could do to impress himself on the work of Public Prosecutions so he left the job. ‘Well, I’m back in private practice’ he told the BBC News ‘I’m rather enjoying having some free time and I’m considering a number if options’. One of these was concerned with the chaos and back-stabbing in the Labour Party and all those hopefuls who had so briefly toyed with the idea of winning the Leadership. In particular there was the juicy prospect of the parliamentary constituency of Holborn and St. Pancras, where the long-standing, inveterately wise-cracking Frank Dobson intended to retire. Starmer had not been hesitant in revealing his ambition: ‘Being in opposition is pants …we achieve nothing other than minor changes to what the Conservatives are doing. The only way we can change things is by being in power’’. When Holborn and St. Pancras went to the polls in the 2015 election Starmer romped home with 52.9 per cent of the votes and a majority of 17,048. It was not long before he was raised to the Shadow Cabinet covering the Home Officer Minister and then, after a brief spell among the ever-seething group of Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies, come out as Labour’s participant in the in-fighting over Brexit with all that entailed: ‘I’m really glad to be in, to have the opportunity to hold the government to account on some of the biggest decisions for probably 50 years is an incredible privilege.’

Immigration
One response to this was from Harriet Harman: ‘It’s just as well we’ve got Keir (and his) wisdom, expertise and ability to solve insoluble problems’. But the reality of this did not entirely meet with Starmer’s admirers although it might have been comforting to some UKIP theorists licking their wounds after their recent by-election disasters. In September last year He told Politico that any new pact with the rest of the EU must include ‘ . . . some control over who comes to work in the U.K.’because immigration has been ‘too high’ and that the Labour Party must support ‘. . . some change to the way freedom of movement rules operate’. So we should not be impressed by Starmer and his ‘wisdom’ as a future manager of the ‘insoluble problems’ of this property society. As a politician he offers nothing we have not already experienced, leaving us bewildered and exasperated.
Ivan

Party News (2017)

From the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

English County Council elections
The Socialist Party is standing a number of candidates in the South East in these elections, which take place on 4 May. In Kent (Folkestone), East Sussex (Lewes) and Surrey (Guildford).

Most of the work (street stalls, leafleting) will take place in April. If you would like to help contact us by letter (52 Clapham High St, SW4 7UN), phone (0207 6223811), or email (spgb@worldsocialism.org) and we will put you in touch with the local branch.

Our Revolution? Speak for Yourself Bernie! (2017)

Book Review from the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Revolution: A Future To Believe In by Bernie Sanders (Profile Books)

Bernie Sanders recently published a book outlining his agenda for transforming America. But the ‘political revolution’ he envisages leaves capitalism firmly in place.

Bernie Sanders, the self-described ‘democratic socialist’ who railed against the ‘billionaire class’ during the Democratic presidential primary, has written a book, titled Our Revolution. A promising title, which suggests he might lay out his vision for a socialist society to replace the capitalist profit system. But read the book from cover to cover and you’ll hardly find the words ‘capitalism’ or ‘socialism’—much less an explanation of their meaning.

Bernie does throw out the word ‘radical’ occasionally, but only to reassure readers that his proposals ‘are not radical ideas’. The more rational among them must wonder, though, how a revolution to uproot ‘the Establishment’ could be anything but radical, in the most literal sense of the word.

But there is no contradiction here: Bernie hasn’t the slightest intention of advocating a genuine social revolution. ‘Reasonable’ reform, not revolutionary change, is his agenda. In the book, as in his campaign speeches, he is careful to always place the adjective ‘political’ in front of the ‘revolution’ he is trying to foist on us as our own, which allows him to limit discussion to political policy reform.

Imagine how much stronger the simple title Revolution—or Revolution!—would have resounded among those sick of the status quo. But it would have been false advertising, given the book’s content, and Bernie is at least honest enough to not raise readers’ expectations that high.

What he’s not averse to doing, however, is making some outrageous claims for the benefits of his proposed reforms. In his introduction, for instance, Bernie claims that his book ‘lays out a new path for America based on principles of economic, social, racial, and environmental justice’. And he writes in the conclusion that it is possible to ‘overcome the insatiable greed that now exists and create an economy that ends poverty and provides a decent standard of living’.

Poverty-free capitalism? A society that remains capitalist but is motivated by justice, not profit? Is this the ‘future to believe in’ to which Bernie’s campaign slogan (and the book’s subtitle) is referring? I’ll believe it when I see it, Bernie, but frankly it’s very hard to imagine given capitalism’s track record and essential nature.

Bernie’s barrage of facts
Bernie’s book is divided into two parts. Part One, ‘Running for President’, presents information about his life and details his presidential campaign; while Part Two, ‘Agenda for a New America: How We Transform Our Country’, looks at pressing social problems in the United States and offers policy prescriptions.

We had hoped the book would present Bernie’s understanding of the fundamental causes of social problems, but most of it is taken up with the presentation of facts and statistics. Part Two lists many of the problems facing workers in the United States, such as poverty, income disparity, legal injustice, gender and racial discrimination, health-care inequities, unemployment, and environmental destruction. As a narrow-minded nationalist, Bernie strictly limits his discussion to the United States, but he is dealing with problems that exist, to a greater or lesser extent, in every country. These are clearly capitalist problems.

In that sense, it might seem that Bernie’s fact-bombardment could blast a few holes in the ideological bulwark of capitalism. Certainly, taken together, his statistics provide concrete evidence to support the idea that the current system must be replaced. But listing up facts about social and economic problems is not enough to threaten capitalism. Open any newspaper and you will be confronted with the problems of this system.

What truly worries the capitalist class is not simply the exposure of problems, which could hardly be concealed anyway, but when anyone starts to examine them too diligently, with an eye to locating essential causes. That path leads to the understanding that there is no solution to today’s social problems without uprooting and replacing capitalism. And Bernie Sanders, the US Senator from Vermont, is not about to travel too far down that path.

Bernie does suggest, early in the book, that he has (or once had) an interest in getting to the root of problems. He describes how joining the Young People’s Socialist League and other organisations taught him that ‘there was a cause-and-effect dynamic and an interconnectedness between all aspects of society’, and that, ‘things didn’t just happen by accident’.

But when Bernie gets around to addressing the causes of American social problems, in Part Two of his book, we see that his understanding of that ‘dynamic’ is astonishingly superficial. He is content to simply pin the blame for our social woes on the greed, corruption, and stupidity of billionaires (and their political lackeys), as if the problems of capitalism were arbitrary.

One gets no sense at all from his book that there might be deeper, systematic factors that determine the behavior of his culprits. One can’t help thinking that Bernie’s barrage of facts is necessary to conceal the poverty of his analysis. Senator Sanders seems to have regressed compared to Young Bernie, who at least knew that ‘things didn’t just happen by accident’.

There isn’t space here to present Bernie’s understanding of the ‘cause-and-effect dynamic’ for each of the problems he raises, so I will limit myself to two key issues: the deterioration of democracy and wealth and income inequality.

Drift toward oligarchy
In the first chapter of Part Two, Bernie discusses the narrowing of democracy and drift toward oligarchy in the United States. He sketches how American democracy started off as ‘revolutionary in its day’— albeit limited by ‘slavery and racism, rigid class lines, and a deeply rooted sexism’ — and was expanded over the next two centuries to become ‘more inclusive’.

This unfinished effort to ‘perfect our democracy’ has broken down in recent years, however, because ‘people of incredible wealth and power . . . want to undo the progress we have made and roll back the clock of history’. These are the ‘oligarchs’ who are ‘threatened by what ordinary people can accomplish through the democratic process’. This is Bernie’s basic view of the ‘cause’ of the deterioration of American democracy.

These oligarchs have pursued their goal of sabotaging democracy by pressuring politicians to change election laws so as to allow ‘big-money interests’ to contribute more freely to election campaigns. In particular, Bernie bemoans the ‘disastrous 5-4 Citizens United decision’ of the Supreme Court in 2010, which has allowed large corporations to spend ‘unlimited sums of money on “independent expenditures”’. The solution Bernie offers is as straightforward as the cause: We simply need to ‘pass real campaign finance reform and get big money out of politics’.

The point here is not to criticise campaign finance reform, but to draw attention to how superficially Bernie discusses democracy under capitalism. Bernie writes, for instance, that he ‘fears very much that . . . “government of the people, by the people, for the people” will perish in the United States’ due to a ‘political campaign finance system that is corrupt and increasingly controlled by billionaires and special interests’. But when did such an American government ever exist? And how could it ever exist under any class-divided social system?

Even if ‘big money’ were driven out of the electoral system, it would remain at the core of an economic system in which capitalists own the means of production and workers must hire out their labour-power to them to live. Democracy under capitalism will always be limited because of this reality, even if it does not deteriorate to the point of oligarchy.

In the same chapter, Bernie does throw out a broader and deeper definition of ‘democracy’ as ‘the right of a free people to control their destiny’. But it is just a passing remark. Perhaps he realised that examining the meaning of democracy too closely might raise awkward questions about its fundamental limits under capitalism.

Widening inequality
In the second and third chapters of Part Two, Bernie looks at the shrinking ‘middle class’ in America and growing inequality. And here again he offers the same picture of a steady progress that was suddenly upended by greed. The period after World War II, he explains, was a ‘time of enormous economic growth’ when ‘the benefits of the economy were far more equitably shared with the working families that make up the broad middle’. Although it wasn’t a ‘utopian time’, there was far less ‘income and wealth inequality’.

So how was it that progress came to an end and is now being reversed? What ‘cause-and-effect dynamic’ was at play? It’s quite simple, really: Things were improving ‘until powerful special interests started demanding a bigger and bigger slice of the pie’.

Those must have been powerfully stupid special interests, because on the previous page Bernie had just told us that, during the period of growth, ‘the rich were doing well, the middle class was expanding, and fewer people were living in poverty’. Why would the rich dare to rock that pleasure boat? Surely slightly less wealth would be acceptable in return for social harmony.

But Bernie doesn’t trouble himself with such questions, or stop to consider how capitalism is rooted in inequality, leaving him free to blithely conclude that the greed of those special interests (who pushed deregulation, free-trade agreements, and anti-union legislation) is the reason the ‘great American class, once the envy of the world’ has been in decline ever since’.

But don’t despair! Bernie has a plan to reverse this decline so that we can ‘create an economy that works for all, not just the people on top’, promising he will ‘explain how we can do that’ in his chapter, ‘Ending the Rigged Economy’. (Some may be curious, to begin with, how an ‘economy that works for all’ would still have ‘people on top’!)

The plan, after Bernie’s big build-up, is a let-down. It amounts to little more than raising the minimum wage, based on his reasoning that ‘a major reason why more than 43 million Americans are living in poverty today’ is the ‘erosion of the federal minimum wage’. So, in case you didn’t follow his reasoning, a major cause of poverty is that workers don’t have enough money. (In other breaking news: Disease may be a major cause of illness). So the solution is equally straightforward. Raising the minimum raise, Bernie writes, ‘will lift millions of Americans out of poverty, and provide a much-needed boost to our economy’.

It should go without saying (but I’ll say it for the sake of ‘Berniecrats’) that workers naturally must fight for higher wages, as well as for shorter working hours and better conditions. And the fight for a higher minimum wage is part of that struggle. This is all good. The problem with Bernie’s argument is that it portrays poverty as an arbitrary phenomenon under capitalism, resulting from lower wages (tautology!), rather than from some deeper cause.

Moreover, Bernie’s claim that raising wages will ‘boost’ the economy reflects a profound ignorance of how capitalism operates. His assumption is based on the tired old ‘under-consumption theory’, so prevalent on the Left, which states that economic stagnation and crisis can be overcome by raising wages to stimulate mass consumption. Bernie lays out the theory in its crudest form:
‘When low-wage workers have money in their pockets they spend that money in grocery stores, restaurants, and businesses throughout the country. All this new demand gives companies a reason to expand and hire more workers. This is a win-win situation for our economy. Poverty is reduced. New jobs are created. And we reduce the sky-rocketing inequality that currently exists in this country’.
This is impeccable logic, except for the fact that the motive force of capitalism is profit. While capitalists are happy for the workers of their rivals to have more money, they fiercely resist wage increases among their own workers that would reduce profit margins. Indeed, if raising wages really was such a simple, win-win solution, why on earth would capitalists shun it? Is it simply because they are greedy, amoral, and stupid? Bernie sure seems to think so.

But for all his foaming rhetoric against the ‘billionaire class’, Bernie never goes so far as to say: No more billionaires! Instead, his ‘message to them’ is that, “they can’t have it all.” But we’d have to assume that ‘they’ would still have at least a billion dollars, the bare requirement for membership in their class. Maybe it’s not ‘having it all’, literally, but for the average worker it sure as hell seems like it!

Bernie’s rhetoric against billionaires is just a distraction from the more essential causes of social problems, thereby letting capitalism (and hence the billionaires themselves!) off the hook.

It’s not about him
During Bernie’s campaign, the sight of enthusiastic workers and students at the rallies, and the unfamiliar sound of words like ‘oligarchy’ and ‘billionaire class’ in the stump speeches, made his politics appear radical. And it was indeed encouraging to see that the ‘language of class war’ could be a vote-winner among the supposedly ‘conservative’ American working class.

But now that the crowds have dispersed and his ideas are lying flat on the page, it is obvious that behind the radical-sounding rhetoric lies a politician whose aim is to reform American political policy—not transform society. Moreover, by labeling his package of reforms a ‘revolution’, and selectively attacking certain sectors of the capitalist class, Bernie is channeling the anger of budding class warriors away from the capitalist system itself.

Rather than targeting capitalism, Bernie attacks the ‘billionaire class’, Wall Street, ‘Big Pharma’, and specific companies like Walmart. He blames free-trade agreements for worsening unemployment and intensifying competition, as if those phenomena were not inherent to the profit system. And, ignoring irreconcilable class differences, Bernie (like Trump) pushes the nationalist myth that American capitalists could be convinced or coerced to look out for the interests of American workers.

Bernie’s book reveals that his politics are incapable of meeting the hopes raised by his campaign rhetoric. In his stump speeches, he was fond of saying: ‘This is not about me—it’s about all of us’. Bernie was right. The time has come for workers to leave reformists like him to their tinkering with capitalism, while we carry out our revolution.
Michael Schauerte

Support for All (2017)

From the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
A look at how capitalism treats people with disabilities.
There are various forms of disability, and plenty of room for arguments about definition. Under the Equality Act of 2010, an impairment has to be long-term (twelve months or more) and ‘substantial’ (so not trivial). The Act lays down certain ‘rights’ covering areas such as education and employment. It is all very well saying that ‘As a disabled person, you have rights to protect you from discrimination’ (gov.uk), but rights under capitalism mean very little and it is the reality of people’s situations that matters.

There are two basic approaches to characterising disability. The standard medical model sees it as something intrinsic to an individual’s condition, while the alternative social model ‘identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) that mean society is the main contributory factor in disabling people’ (Wikipedia). Under the social model, an individual’s condition only leads to them being disabled under certain societally-determined circumstances, a claim which should be borne in mind in reading what follows.

There is no doubt that, in practice, people with disabilities encounter all sorts of problems and difficulties, from accommodation to work and travel. A Guardian article (8 January) gave a number of examples relating to people in their twenties and thirties. For instance, two brothers with Duchenne muscular dystrophy live with their parents and younger sisters. Under pressure from a charity, the local council is paying for personal assistants for them, but this arrangement is shared between them both, making it very difficult for them to live separate lives. One of them would like to go to university, but cannot do so, as the financial situation means his brother would have to go with him. Another woman has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and autism, and was housed for a while in a cold and damp fifth-floor flat, where the lift hardly ever worked.

It is common to hear of those who have a choice between eating and heating, but disabled people face this even more starkly because of high heating costs. According to the charity Scope (13 January), one in four has struggled to pay their energy bills, and many are forced to use expensive pre-payment meters. People turn off their heating even though it is cold, they wear a coat indoors, they wrap themselves in a blanket, they go to bed early, and they can spend up to twice as much on energy as the average household. As the charity’s chief executive has stated, ‘Life costs more if you are disabled. Scope research shows that these costs add up to on average £550 a month, and higher energy bills play a significant part.’ Vicious cuts to benefits and arbitrary decisions to withdraw support make things even worse.

Around one-third of adults with disabilities live in low-income households, which is twice the rate for those without disabilities. This is because they are less likely to be working, with only forty percent of people who are disabled but are not lone parents being in work. Almost half the unemployed are disabled. Three and a half million adults ‘report a longstanding illness or disability which limits their activity’ (poverty.org.uk), while other sources give seven million with a disability in the UK. Such longstanding impairments are more common the less well-off people are, with poverty probably being both caused by and a cause of the disability. Globally, about one person in ten has a disability: they are disproportionately likely to be illiterate and subjected to violence.

Over the years governments have proposed various schemes to increase the number of disabled people who have jobs, but the proportion in paid work has changed very little. Furthermore, having a job does not in itself solve the problems. A blind teacher has written (Guardian, 13 February) of how he enjoyed and was good at his job, even though things like marking and keeping student records took him longer than sighted colleagues. But as the paperwork increased, he was less able to cope and became a support coordinator for disabled students. But even here the emphasis on numbers and speed and ‘efficiency’ made him appear less competent, and the workplace became ‘racked by rumour and rivalry’.

Under the law, employers have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that workers with disabilities are not seriously disadvantaged when doing their jobs. This can cover everything from installing ramps or letting people work on the ground floor to providing a special computer keyboard. But, as noted earlier, people with disabilities are less likely to be employed. Further, there is evidence that when in work they are more likely to suffer various kinds of ill-treatment, such as being subject to intimidating behaviour, having their opinions ignored or being treated unfairly.

Internet access is also much harder for people with disabilities. ‘According to the Office for National Statistics, in May 2015, 27% of disabled adults had never used the internet, compared to 11% of non-disabled adults’ (Guardian 29/06/15). Assistive computing can help disabled people use computers, and many do find the internet a great help, such as doing their weekly shop online rather than struggling round a supermarket. But the fact remains that a crucial part of communicating with government or local councils or support organisations is effectively barred to many people with a disability.

People with disabilities are not just workers but also consumers: their spending power is often referred to as the purple pound (compare the grey pound and the pink pound), and is supposedly worth well over two hundred billion pounds. Companies that ignore the needs of disabled customers may miss out on sales: ‘Three quarters of disabled people and their families have left a shop or business because of poor customer service or a lack of disability awareness’ (Business Disability Forum 03/05/16). M&S are one example of a company with a range of clothes for disabled children (not available in their shops, though).

While there have definitely been improvements in recent years, travel can still be a major problem too, especially, though not only, for people who use wheelchairs. The BBC’s Frank Gardner, who was paralysed in the legs when shot while reporting, has commented that he sometimes gets left on a plane for a while when an airbridge is not used (using one costs the airline money). In a well-publicised recent case, a woman was forced to wet herself on a train journey as there was no disabled toilet available.

If we look at things from the standpoint of the social model of disability, it would be reasonable to aim for a world where as few people as possible are disabled, or at least where as few as possible are disadvantaged because of any disability. This would be a world where production is keyed to fitting work to humans rather than the other way round, where those with special needs get the support they require, where goods and services truly meet human need. Despite the best efforts of many well-meaning people, a society based on the profit motive cannot be transformed into such a world.
Paul Bennett

Rear View: Die young (2017)

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

Die young
‘Wealth and health are intrinsically linked in the United States, with rich Americans living between 10 to 15 years longer than their poor counterparts, a study has found. A series of five papers published in the medical journal The Lancet found that a widening income gap, structural racism and mass incarceration are fuelling growing health inequalities’ (newsweek.com, 7 April). Bernie Sanders’ diagnosis cannot, for once, be faulted: ‘the USA is one of the richest countries in the world, but that reality means very little for most people because so much of that wealth is controlled by a tiny sliver of Americans’. Tragically, his treatment plan, as outlined in Our Revolution, if followed, amounts to yet another spin on the reformist misery-go-round. Dr. Marx’s observation, published 150 years ago, that ‘accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital’ remains valid. His cure is possibly best summarised as workers of the world unite!


Utopian capitalists
Dr. Butler, Director of the Adam Smith Institute, asked recently ‘Is Ayn Rand still relevant 35 years on from her death?’ This resulted in some feedback, the most outrageous example being that ‘Ayn Rand will remain relevant till the end of time for the same reason as Newton, Michelangelo, Copernicus, or any other brilliant mind who discovered eternal principles.’ One blogsite, theobjectivestandard.com (5 April), is slightly less effusive: ‘It’s great to see such a prominent thinker at such a renowned think tank recognizing the nature and importance of Rand’s ideas. I suspect that if Adam Smith and Ayn Rand were alive to see it, they would greatly appreciate this development.’ Smith would likely be horrified by the Institute which bears his name, by Rand and by capitalism today. One of his admirers was none other than Marx. Smith held that ‘labour… is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities,’ noted ‘the masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily; and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen’ and, tellingly, ‘wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many’ (Wealth of Nations, 1776).


Philosophers have only interpreted the world
Noam Chomsky is listed as one of the ten most quoted writers of all time, but the description of him as the ‘most dangerous man in the US’ has surely been Trumped. Chomsky is more cognisant of capitalism than Sanders but shares his reformism, alas. During a recent interview titled ‘Chomsky: Why Trump Is Pushing the Doomsday Clock to the Brink of Midnight’ (alternet.org, 4 April), Noam stated ‘.. a couple of years ago, the secretary-general of NATO made a formal statement explaining that the purpose of NATO in the post-Cold War world is to control global energy systems, pipelines, and sea lanes. That means it’s a global system and of course he didn’t say it, it’s an intervention force under US command, as we’ve seen in case after case.’ Whether he means Anders Fogh Rasmussen or the incumbent Jens Stoltenberg does not really matter – this is surely the first time that socialists are in agreement with Chomsky and a head of NATO.


Waiting for the last Chechen?
‘I haven’t had a single request on this issue, but if I did, I wouldn’t even consider it, Kheda Saratova, a Chechen activist who is on Kadyrov’s human rights [sic] council, told a Russian radio station. In our Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities, and do everything to make sure that this kind of person does not exist in our society’ (theguardian.com, 4 April). Examples of such primitive prejudice – in this case towards homosexual men – and practices abound. Will the lack of social progress delay the establishment of socialism? No. Developments in communications technology allow for the near instantaneous dissemination of ideas everywhere, as well as the circumvention of state censorship. Further, globalisation leads to the increasing uniformity of conditions and experiences and convergence in thinking. Socialists can use such factors in targeting our arguments.


The Market System – Bull, Bear and Black Dog (2017)

The Pathfinders Column from the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

One thing guaranteed to bring out the worst in socialists is rich people banging on about their problems, but one would have to have a heart of stone not to feel some sympathy in the recent stories of princes Harry and William speaking out about their mental health problems after the death of their mother Diana 20 years ago. The revelations were quickly joined by others from Lady Gaga and the CEO of Virgin Money until, ok we get the idea . . . money doesn’t necessarily buy you happiness. But as some wit once remarked, if you think that, try poverty.

And one thing the poor are not poor in is mental health problems. The US Centers for Disease Control 2017 survey reports that 8 million adult Americans, or 3.4 percent, have such problems (New Scientist, 17 April) however this is likely to be an order-of-magnitude underestimation, as under-reporting in this area is rife. According to a 2016 report by the charity MIND, in the UK almost half of adults (43.4 percent) think they have had a ‘diagnosable mental health condition’ during their lives, and while around 20 percent of men and 34 percent of women have had this suspicion confirmed by medical professionals (mentalhealth.org.uk), a further 30 percent said they had never consulted a doctor. This is consistent with a lack of self-reporting across all areas of mental health, possibly because people try to tough it out, or else do not understand that they are suffering from an illness which might be treated but instead believe that they are personally inadequate in some way, for which no cure exists. Women suffer more in all categories. 1 in 4 young women self-harm, an alarming statistic given that self-harm is the most reliable risk factor in subsequent suicide – 1 in 25 hospitalised self-harmers will kill themselves within 5 years. Among UK residents aged 10 or over there is currently around one suicide every two hours (2014 figures). Ironically, given that such people typically have a low or zero sense of self-worth, MIND informs us that the average cost of a suicide, in terms not just of police, hospital and funeral costs, but also of loss of total lifetime ‘output’, is £1.7 million.

Globally, according to the World Health Organisation, mental health problems that are left untreated form 13 percent of the total disease burden, and will by 2030 be the biggest cause of death. The WHO estimates that nearly half the world’s population suffer from some form of mental illness. That’s more than from cancer, heart disease or diabetes. Costs are literally incalculable, as many factors are involved. Costs to the UK economy alone are estimated at between £70–100 billion. Global costs are projected to reach $6 trillion by 2030.

What can capitalism do about any of this? It can’t abolish poverty, a well-documented cause of mental illness. To do that, it would also have to abolish the privilege and luxury of the elite. It can’t abolish its own hierarchy, another well-known cause. It can’t get rid of war, or crime. It can’t take the stress, fear and anxiety out of being a wage-slave except by abolishing wage slavery. It can’t do anything about the entire matrix of oppressions which begins with the CEO yelling at the executive and ends with the black girl kicking the cat. Capitalism is the embodiment of mental illness, a destructive society pathologically bent on chasing its own end. If it was a person, it would be hospitalised as dangerously insane. That half of the population suffer mental illness is not surprising. What is surprising is that the other half don’t, or say they don’t. But then, perhaps nobody really knows, in capitalism, what good mental health even looks like. In a society full of broken people, just managing to get through the day may be deemed ‘healthy’.

Socialism, in doing away with property society’s rules, would do away with most if not all of the environmental factors in mental illness. It’s not a magic cure-all. It can’t address chemical or genetic factors, at least not without more research. It can’t do anything about bereavement. But what it could do is give people a decent life without fear, without low status and a consequent sense of low self-worth. It could give people the support of a strong community, a sense of open possibilities and the freedom to explore them, a chance to determine their own identity and desires and to have these acknowledged and respected by others. There’s nothing magic about it. Socialism would simply stop torturing people. And if that sounds like a hopeless daydream, it’s only because you’re so used to living in a nightmare.
Paddy Shannon

Letter: Am I Class Conscious? (2017)

Letter to the Editors from the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

1. I believe my 7 billion brothers and sisters (the family of Man) should all have the same natural rights to participate in and enjoy the full benefits of civilization.

2. That this can only be possible when the means of life belong to and are democratically controlled by everyone.

3. There exists an owning class and a non-owning class whose interests are diametrically opposed. The former take the surplus product, produced by the labour of workers, which they sell to make a profit. The latter are given a wage by the former which in many cases is just enough to provide them with life’s necessities for a week. Which means they have to keep on working 5 days a week for 50 years. At which point they are too knackered to work any more, and they are given a cheap watch, a small pension, and told to piss off.

4. Neither the government nor the opposition want to change the system; because they are doing very nicely out of it, thank you very much. The system is the common hack they take turns at riding. It’s like what the country people call ‘ride and tie’. You ride a little way then I.

5. The workers of the world (in modern parlance, the 99 percent) have nothing to lose but their chains of bondage by organizing their emancipation from the owning class.

6. The owning class back in the mists of time made up laws which now mean that the resources of the Earth, the wealth of the Earth, the means of production and distribution – the Earth, in short – is the property of 1 percent of Man when it should be the common ownership of all. Every baby born today, and for all the days till the end of time on Earth, should have bestowed upon them the wealth of Earth as a birth right.

7. Capitalism is not and never will be a fair system of society. The money system doesn’t and never will work in the best interest of mankind or even a majority. It is an insane game that has one aim: To make a profit. If played to the end, it will mean destruction of humankind. The only way to win is not to play. But to instead establish a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the human race.

8. That the afore-mentioned system is the only way to give people maximum leisure time to enjoy their lives; to give free access to the best standard of goods that can be produced; to remove the threat of nuclear war; and that the increasing damage being done to the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and lands on a daily basis in the quest for profit can be reversed before it’s too late.

9. The revolution must be peaceful. Non-violent revolution is after all the best kind. By that I mean most likely to succeed.

Lee Paine, 
Manchester

Reply: 

Yes –Editors.

Heading for Trouble (2017)

Jeff Astle Gates
The Action Replay column from the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last year the Daily Telegraph (30 May) published an article on the link between football and dementia accusing the powers that run football of behaving like the notorious tobacco industry of the 1960s. It warned about its ‘scandalous’ failure to carry out research into the alleged link, in the world’s most popular sport, between heading the ball and dementia.

This issue was brought into sharp focus because it coincided with the 50th anniversary year of England’s 1966 World Cup triumph. Four of the eight surviving outfield players of England’s greatest team are suffering with significant memory problems. Ray Wilson, Martin Peters and Nobby Stiles were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in their sixties while Jack Charlton has struggled with memory loss since his late seventies. The incidence rate among the 1966 heroes was said to be ‘frightening’ but alarm was already spreading due to anecdotal evidence of the devastating stories affecting hundreds of other former footballers. John Stiles said of his father ‘It can’t be a coincidence – it seems almost to be of epidemic proportion’.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, the number of men suffering from dementia in the wider national population between the ages of 65 and 69 is one in 75 or 1.25 percent. In 2012, an inquest ruled that former England striker Jeff Astle died of an industrial disease caused by the damage to his brain from playing football but a promised joint Football Association and Professional Footballers’ Association study into the wider risks was never published.

Since that inquest, Jeff Astle’s family have been contacted by hundreds of other families with similar experiences. They have tried to work constructively with the authorities to find answers but have become exasperated and suspicious at football’s lack of action.

Dawn Astle, Jeff’s daughter, said ‘they have tried to sweep dad’s death and the verdict from an inquest under a carpet because of fear for the implications of football. I think they are terrified of what this research is going to show. For a coroner to say dad’s job killed him and then 15 years on to be no further forward is shocking, It was a landmark decision that would have had earthquake repercussions in any other industry. It feels like a huge conspiracy. It’s a disgrace no one in football wants to find out if football is a killer.’

She met representatives of the FA in 2014 and was told that they would forward research questions to FIFA. Dawn was subsequently enraged when the FA altered their terminology to say that it would ‘imminently’ put questions to FIFA. She sent an immediate email to FA chairman Greg Dyke and PFA deputy Chief Executive John Bramhall stating that the ‘lack of respect for those who have died and their families who have seen them stripped of all dignity is beyond belief’.

Dyke and the PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, replied to Dawn and a meeting was arranged with Charlotte Cowie, the FA’s head of performance medicine. Taylor said the PFA had been approached by ‘quite a number’ of former professionals with symptoms of cognitive decline. ‘I share the frustration, this does need addressing,’ said Taylor.

Pressure to do something is gathering. Dr Willie Stewart, of the University of Glasgow is the neuropathologist who examined Astle’s brain and found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a condition that can cause similar symptoms to Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or motor neurone disease but can only be diagnosed in a post-mortem. Stewart stated ‘it shouldn’t take 15 years to answer the question: Does participation in football alter your risk of dementia?’ and feels football’s authorities need to allocate a fraction of the vast sums of money they have to answer the question. ‘We have teams in the 1950s and 1960s where five or six of the players have developed dementia, said Stewart. One player perhaps would be in the odds but when you see this in team after team you have to start wondering. I’m surprised football isn’t embracing this.’

Dr Michael Grey a motor neuroscience physiologist at the University of Birmingham likens the situation to the old smoking debate. In the 1950s and 1960s, the tobacco companies were saying there is no link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, but of course we now know there is. ‘I am shocked at FIFA, the FA and the PFA. I just do not understand why they have not invested in independent research.’

Well, one answer maybe is that the governing bodies of football may think that by kicking the problem into the long grass, affected parties may just give up and go away. They may have to think again because the courts could rule that they ‘owe a duty of care to current and former players’. By doing nothing about existing problems they could end up facing similar action to the American Football authorities who have been sued for $1 billion [£684 million]. That might get them to do something if nothing else will. Money talks, in fact it never stays silent.
Kevin 

Russia 1917: As We Saw It (2017)

From the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
  In March (February under the old Russian calendar) the Tsar was overthrown. The Socialist Standard saw it as a ‘bourgeois revolution’:
The outstanding feature of the past month in the domain of public affairs is undoubtedly the “Russian Revolution”. That this is an event of some importance in the development of human society cannot be denied, but its importance is far less than, and lies mainly in an altogether different direction from that which the capitalist Press of the whole capitalist world would have us believe.

Far from it heralding the dawn of freedom in Russia, it is simply the completion of the emancipation of the capitalist class in Russia which started in the “emancipation” of the serfs some seventy years ago – in order that they might become factory slaves. The revolution’s greatest importance from the working-class view-point is that it brings the workers face to face with their final exploiters. 
(April 1917)

Perhaps the most unexpected of the changes has been the revolution in Russia. Information published here is small in quantity and only of such kind and character as the master class choose to let us know, hence caution is necessary before arriving at conclusions based upon such news as we have. One of the most significant features of the business is the speed and unanimity with which the several governments and other supporters of the capitalist system of society have hastened to praise the Russian revolution, and to offer their congratulations and advice particularly the latter to the Provisional Government and the Workers’ Committee. The common theme of all these messages is the need for the more vigorous prosecution on the part of Russia of the war against the Central Powers.  So far as can be judged from the news published here, the replies seem generally to be favourable to these promptings, though the repudiation by the Workers’ Committee of the idea of annexation of territory as a result of the war appears to have somewhat staggered the other parties, who are fighting only for liberty, righteousness, democracy, and freedom.

All the information available, both past and present, shows quite clearly that the upheaval in Russia is not a revolution of the working class, clearly seeing its slave position under the old order and setting to work in an organised fashion to emancipate itself.  Far from this is the truth, we are sorry to say. It is but another example of the capitalists using the discontent and numbers of the working class in Russia to sweep away the Feudal rules and restrictions so strongly symbolised in the Czar and the Council of Nobles, and to establish a system of government in line with modern capitalist needs and notions.
(May 1917)