Tuesday, January 29, 2019

An American Professor Looks at Marx (1947)

Book Review from the August 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

A book which has gone the rounds is Professor Schumpeter’sCapitalism, Socialism and Democracy.” Discursively spread over 375 pages its criticism of Marx is superficial indeed, at times, almost trivial. Professorially patronising he blue-pencils and underscores Marx after the manner of a tutor ploughing an exercise.

On p.11 Marx loses heavily on his percentages for not calling the Materialist Conception of History the economic interpretation of history, the Professor’s correction being that it is no more materialistic than Hegel’s views, and is compatible with any religious or metaphysical interpretation of the world.

Various forms of an economic interpretation have been advanced by thinkers such as Adam Smith, Sismondi, Thorold Rogers, etc. Unlike Marx, however, they did not regard man’s economic activity as the outcome of certain indispensable social productive relationships into which men are born but as the result of the behaviour of an abstract economic man. Thus the economic factor assumed by some thinkers to be the self-regulating principle of social life, is itself nothing more than a mere manifestation of eternal human attributes. In this way the real concrete productive conditions of social life are dissolved and reconstituted into the mere appearance of an underlying mental process. History is thus treated on an ideological level and the economic interpretation of it is but a species of social idealism. This presumably is Schumpeter's version of Historical Materialism.

Marx, rejecting ideas as the primary factor in social evolution (while showing the part they played in modifying the main trends of economic development), did not, as had his predecessors, the mechanical materialists, make man the victim of economic fatalism or the passive instrument of external Nature. For Marx, a dynamic relationship existed between them. Man by his social labour is integrated into Nature and in transforming it to meet his needs transforms himself. This progressive adaptation by man of the natural force to meet his needs under a given social and economic organisation, constitutes the primary role in social evolution. Man’s social labour since the passing of communal society has assumed different forms of class ownership resulting in inevitable class struggles.

Marx's method is then a materialistic, scientific one, which views social origin and development as a material process in a world of material processes. For the Marxist there can be no a priori ideas or eternal concepts, only laws, theories, etc., which are approximated to a concrete historical situation.

Says Schumpeter (p.19) there are more plausible social classifications than Marx’s division of capitalism into two classes, i.e., capitalist class and working class. Schumpeter, however, fails to produce even one, plausible or otherwise. Now, for Marx history has shown the emergence of different class systems, each phase of the historical process being characterised by a transformation of the productive forces operated by a new productive class, whose interests were bound up in these economic changes. As a result an opposition grows up between these new expanding productive forces and the old social organisation based on and adapted to an earlier mode of production. A new set of social relations becomes necessary if these new economic needs are to be adequately fulfilled. Class antagonism is rooted then in the relationship in which different classes stand to each other and constitutes the basic motive-force for effecting the transformation of different stages of historical development.

Now Capitalism is a class system—the last in a stage of historical procession which divorces the labourer from his productive instruments and converts his working energies into a commodity, labour-power. Marx sought in these class relationships the key to the understanding of the laws of capitalist society. He was thus able to penetrate beyond the superficial analysis of exchange relations in a "free market” with its belief in profit as being something derived from a creative attribute of capital itself and was able to show the real source of this category of capitalist class income, an income derived from the class monopoly of the means of production which enabled the capitalist to appropriate the difference between the value of the workers’ labour-power (his wages) and the total value of the product he produces. This mutually antagonistic character of class incomes, i.e., profits and wages, reveals conflicting class.interests. The capitalist class thus has an interest in perpetuating the institutions of a class society which maintains the working class in a dependent position. Likewise the workers have a corresponding interest in abolishing a system based upon such property rights. This makes nonsense of Schumpeter's assertion (p.19) that the normal relationship between the classes is one of co-operation and even harmony. One, of course, is at liberty to divide society into all kinds of social groups, but the principle of class division as enunciated by Marx is the only one which effectively lays bare the social mechanism whereby profits are extracted, wages regulated, the accumulation of capital extended and the conditions for a new social order determined.

Schumpeter seems no better informed on Marx’s Labour Theory of Value. On p.25 we are told that by eliminating natural agents from his Labour Theory Marx deprived them of their proper place in the process of production and distribution. This betrays utter confusion of thought in respect of Marx’s views. A theory of value which included natural agents as determinants of value would not be a labour theory of value, whatever else it might be. Now for Marx, labour was the crucial productive force of human society, be it slave-labour, serf-labour or wage-labour. As such it is man’s productive energy (as distinct from these natural agents) which is the prime cause for originating all increases and changes in forms of wealth production that have occurred at various historical stages. The form of wealth assumed by capitalism is not typical of all societies but the outcome of certain historical circumstances. Value then is a social relationship in contrast to natural processes and is therefore a quality of human activity. If the value of an article of wealth is to be expressed as a definite objective quantity and as such capable of entering into relationship with others of its kind, i.e., have exchange value, then clearly value must be directly related to the output of this human activity in terms of the expenditure of human brain, muscle and nerve under given socially organised conditions of production. Value, then, is the subject matter of economics, just as the properties of natural agents—in so far as they are useful and necessary for productive purposes—are a matter for investigation by the natural sciences, e.g., physics, chemistry, etc. The using up of human energies in a productively organised fashion and its division by Marx into units of socially necessary labour hours, i.e., an hour of average working intensity normal to the requirements and technique of industry, constitute the cause and unit of value to which varying price movements can be referred.

Marx was thus able to show that profit arises not from selling an article above its value—but at its value—the cost of the social labour contained in it. The value of the worker’s labour-power represents only part of the total labour expended by him in production. The other part, appropriated by the capitalist, is unpaid labour. In selling the article at its value the latter is able to pocket the difference in the shape of surplus value. As Marx says, in “Value Price and Profit," if you cannot explain profits on the supposition that commodities are sold at their value, then you cannot explain profits at all.

Schumpeter dismisses the Theory of Surplus Value on the ground that you cannot produce workmanlike machines according to national cost calculations (p.27). He admits (p.29) that capitalism is in a state of constant technical revolution. He fails, however, to see the connection between this and the purpose it fulfils of securing a supply of labour-power adequate for the requirements of progressive capitalist accumulation. To achieve this the workers must produce more surplus value by becoming more productive; hence the introduction of new inventions, labour-saving machinery, etc. This means that a greater part of capital will be devoted to purchasing these means and henceforth a given unit of capital will offer less employment to wage workers. The workers who are displaced by this constant process of capitalist production thus form a surplus working population surplus that is, to the requirements of capitalism. Should, however, an acceleration in production be such as to warrant additional supplies of labour-power then this surplus population becomes a source of recruitment for the capitalist. With the decline in profit-anticipation a productive slackening takes place. Accumulation of capital is curtailed and the industrial reserve army consequently grows greater. Thus the expansion and contraction of employment is but a corollary and consequence of the expansion and contraction of the productive forces of capitalism. Schumpeter talks vaguely of surplus-value being produced in an un-Marxian way (p.24) but fails to show how this is done.

Schumpeter's contention (p.21) is that expanding capitalist production in the Marxian sense would lead to such increases in the demand for labour-power, and hence the price of labour-power, that profits would be swallowed up. Actually any increase in the price of labour-power beyond a certain point in a particular industry would further increase the capitalist tendency towards labour-saving devices and at the same time the threat to profit-anticipation would lead to a decline in capital investment in that industry. This would lead to increased redundancy of workers and so restore a condition of the labour market favourable to the capitalist. By this double process capitalism regulates wages according to the requirements of a profit-making economy.

Schumpeter says Marx based his theory of value on the assumption of a capitalism in perfect equilibrium (p.24). What Marx actually did in volume I of "Capital" was to make a number of simplifying assumptions in order to present a clear picture of the essential relationship existing between capitalist and worker in a process of simple commodity production, in order to demonstrate that the law of value was the guiding principle underlying a class system based on production for profit. Apart from purely theoretical considerations, but as a matter of practical judgment upon which all theories, hypotheses, and first approximations must be finally judged, Marx's theory alone provides an accurate and dynamic picture of the nature of capitalist development, viz., concentration and centralisation of capital, poverty, unemployment, crises and wars. Moreover, productive time-charts and speed-up processes for reducing the labour-time spent on commodities and thus reducing their value confirm in the real world of capitalist production the practical validity of Marx's Labour Theory of Value.

Schumpeter's own remedy for the evils of capitalism is more capitalism—he calls it Socialism. The workers not controlling the productive forces will, of course, be a dependent class and continue to produce surplus-value. Indeed he tells us that democracy is likely to turn out to be more of a sham under Socialism than it was under Capitalism (p.302). Pathetically he tries to assure us that wages and profits will not, under his scheme, be really wages and profits. The result Is ludicrous. In short, Schumpeter's scheme is only a highly rationalised anti-democratic capitalism which he dubs “Socialism" but which is merely his own term for describing Fascism.
Ted Wilmott

What Price Racialism? (1947)

From the August 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following instructive news item appeared in the Evening News (July 5th, 1947).
  "Mr. Winston Churchill has joined the 'rebels.' He is the first Englishman to be elected a member of the Society of the Cincinnati organisation of descendants of American Revolutionary Army Officers. He qualifies through his maternal great-great-grandfather."
Thus a direct descendant of the aristocratic and unimpeachable House of Marlborough has descended, on his mother’s side, from a family that fought strenuously against Britain, finally helping to cut the connection and establish a new and opposing “nation” which may one day be engaged in a life and death struggle with Britain. What other nation, totalitarian or democratic, has also absorbed blood into it from the same source we do not know, nor do we know the blood mixture that has joined the original stream from outside sources in the course of time. Further than that we do not know the derivation of the great-great-grandfather on the maternal side; the same, of course, applies to the great-grandfather and the grandfather; all is swathed in mystery.

Even in this one instance how complicated the question has become? Now apply the same reasoning to the whole of the English aristocracy who boast of their lineage, and who are noted for their generosity in bestowing titles upon wealthy wives of lowly origin, and it will be appreciated what nonsense racialism really is.

To cap this modern mixture of blood kindred let us reflect upon the effect of the idea contained in the well-known proverb, “It is a wise child that knows its own father,” as well as the influence of the progeny of the past favours of royalty, and we add complication to complication. The blood of what murky ancestry may roll full billowed through the veins of aristocracy? What applies to them applies to all of us; which shows how farcical is the basis of all claims to racial purity.
Gilmac

Notes by the Way: Blood and Coal (1947)

The Notes by the Way Column from the August 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blood and Coal
The Centralia Coal Company, charged with wilful neglect in connexion with the death of 111 miners by reason of an explosion in one of its mines on March 25 last, was fined $1,000 to-day in the county court at Nashville, Illinois. The penalty was the maximum provided by law. (Times, 9/7/47). .
(1,000 dollars is about £250).


Frederick Engels and Manchester
  “It is an excellent suggestion which was made in the Manchester City Council yesterday, that the city's new block of flats in Hulme should bear the name of Engels House. Of all the eminent people who have made Manchester their home it could well be argued that Engels had most influenced the course of history, both by his own writing and by his alliance with Karl Marx.” (From an editorial in the Manchester Guardian, 3/7/47).
What Manchester thought of Engels when he was alive and what Engels would now think of the City Council, is another story.


The Independence of Small Nations after the War to Make Them Safe
The Manchester Guardian makes the following comment on the position of East European countries “persuaded” by Russia not to attend the Paris Conference of the West European States.
  “There is no pretence that pressure has not been applied, and in the cases of Czechoslovakia and Finland it has been ostentatious; their Governments have suffered a public humiliation. The West will have only sympathy with the plight of these countries and regret that they have 'slipped into the position of subordinate countries deprived of their independence.' Their hopes of rebirth as free democracies have been disappointed and they now bitterly realise that they have exchanged a German overlordship for a Russian." (Manchester Guardian, 12/7/47).

"Payment by Results"
Many trade unions have fought for years against the introduction of systems of payment by results. It has remained for a trade union Minister of Labour in a Labour Government to encourage such systems. Mr. George Isaacs, Minister of Labour, declared in the House of Commons on July 8th, 1947: “We are asking industry to examine methods of payment by results and to adopt them wherever possible." (Manchester Guardian, 9/7/47).

When it is possible for the employers to lengthen hours of work that is normally the method used by them to extract more work from the workers. With restrictions of hours under the Factory Acts the same purpose was served by going over to systems of payment by results. At the present time the Government is encouraging the introduction of double day-shifts and if, as is proposed, the two shifts are restricted to the period between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., the hours on each shift will be eight a day less half-an-hour for meals and it will normally be confined to five days a week according to the recommendation of the Committee on the Double Day Shift System. Hence the renewed demand for systems of payment by results. Another factor at the present time is the relatively small amount of unemployment. When unemployment is heavy the threat of the sack is the principle goad to keep the workers working at full pressure. Now that that pressure is for the time being weakened another has to be found and the Labour Government finds it.

And if that is not sufficient Lord Hyndley, in the newly nationalised coal industry, threatens another. Speaking of unofficial strikes at the Conference of the National Union of Mineworkens he said:—
   “It is our intention . . .  to deal rigorously with all flagrant cases . . . To re-introduce prosecution under the law would be a most unpalatable decision to the Board, but failing a real alternative there will be no other course open to us." (Times, 10/7/47).

The Profits “Fallacy"
Speaking at a dinner of the Federation of Property Owners on February 5th Sir John Anderson "gave warnings against the fallacy which led to the ‘ widespread belief ’ that there were large resources still to be tapped for the benefits of labour." (Daily Telegraph, 6/2/47).

On April 27th, in the Observer, the City Editor wrote at length to explain away the increase of profits of Imperial Chemical Industries from £4,770,062 in 1945, to £7,171,109 in 1946. He explained that £1,700,000 of the increase was due to unnecessarily large provision having been made for taxation in previous years, and he showed that while I.C.I.’s expenditure on wages and salaries in 1946 was £30,500,000 its net profit (excluding the £1,700,000) was only £5,900,000.

Perhaps he would now like to try his hand with the Monsanto Chemical Co. Their prospectus (Daily Telegraph, 12/5/47) when raising new capital showed that their 1946 profits before charging Income Tax were £426,000 and the number of workers employed is 1,500. This shows a profit of £284 a year per worker employed —about £5 10s. 0d. a week. The company's 5s. shares now stand at over £3.


Nationalisation of Railways In Southern Rhodesia
Southern Rhodesia has an anti-Labour Party government, the United Party being in power with 23 seats against the seven seats held by the Labour Party In opposition. Its railway system is privately owned, the British South Africa Company having a controlling interest.

The Southern Rhodesian government has just raised £32,000,000 in London for the purpose of acquiring the share capital of the railway company.

Yet there are still Labour supporters who imagine that nationalisation was invented by their party and is something designed to benefit the workers. The capitalists were nationalising, when they deemed it to be in their interest as a class, before the Labour Party had been born.


Our Country
The following, under the heading "Village for Sale," appeared in the Daily Herald (1/7/47).
  "Another English village is likely, I hear, to be offered for sale complete. It is Woolstone, one of the loveliest little villages of Berkshire, tucked into an elm-planted fold in the downs below the White Horse . . .
   "Woolstone belongs to the Misses Butler, who live there. They seek a purchaser who will keep the village intact and unspoiled,"
Edgar Hardcastle

The Review Column: Petrol Price War (1967)

The Review Column from the April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Petrol Price War
Esso started the latest battle in the petrol price war because they were afraid of the competition they were meeting from the cut-price companies like Jet, Curfew and Heron.

At the moment these firms have about ten per cent of the British market; they are growing fast and one forecast sees them holding almost thirty per cent by 1970.

It was clearly time for quick action; Esso took it after a detailed review of the market Their decision was a close secret; a BP Shell executive confessed that the first his firm heard of it was when they read their newspapers.

The all round price reduction which has followed was inevitable. Esso's big rivals could not be left out and the cut price firms were bound to try to keep their advantage

It was also inevitable that this should be greeted as an example of the benefits of competition, as if the results of a commercial war are always lower prices and as if these give any permanent advantages to the working class.

In fact the petrol firms are the last examples which supporters of capitalism should give as proof of the benefits of competition

In terms of human effort and social welfare, is it efficient to have two stations opposite each other, both selling basically the same commodity but vying with each other in the colour and shape of their pumps, in the glamour of their forecourt attendants, in the colour and number of the stamps they give away, and in the sheer stupidity of their sales gimmicks?

What advantage did anyone, apart from Esso shareholders. get from the Tiger In Your Tank campaign? Does society progress a little each time a Regent station adorns a rear windscreen with those plastic bullet-holes?

In many ways, the oil industry shows how ingenious man can be. It also shows how capitalism restricts him, and how it wastes so much of what he achieves.


Wasted Wealth
Everyone knows what they did to the coffee in Brazil; someone even wrote a funny song about it.

We are all accustomed by now to hearing about all sorts of food being destroyed because it could not fetch what is called an “economic" price on the market.

In pursuit of the all-important economic price they have burnt coffee. They have ploughed in vegetables, tipped milk down pit shafts, stored wheat in unemployed ships.

This sort of waste is not confined to foodstuffs. Industry will often stockpile its products, or simply stop making them, if the market is not right.

The contortions which capitalism goes through to satisfy its economic priorities can seem amusing, especially when the pens of reporters or song writers get busy on them.

Last February, for example, the Italian police started burning 57 million postage stamps, some of them rare and valuable. Keen philatelists might beat their foreheads in frustration at this news, so engagingly reported as another example of Italian whimsy.

But the reason for the stamps being burnt was that the Italian government was afraid that to release them would have devastated the world philatelic market.

A more complicated example is the case of the Drinks Down the Sink. British European Airways have issued a stern reminder to their cabin staff that all partly finished bottles of drink served on their aircraft must be poured away at the end of each trip.

Not that there is anything wrong with the stuff. It is just that to bring back part-bottles breaks Customs regulations, which have been painstakingly built up over the years to stop something so sensible as the free movement of the world’s wealth.

Some day the working class will stop laughing at capitalism’s contortions and realise at whose expense the joke is being made.


Labour Pains
It is by no means impossible that Harold Wilson’s famous castigation of his critics in the Labour Party as “dogs” was another piece of Wilsonian tactics.

The phrase itself, carefully leaked, with all the accompanying comments about licenses, was bound to be seized on by news-thirsty journalists and to be worked to death in all its canine variations.

This gave Wilson the headlines again, for day after day as the M.P.s under his whip answered back in the same doggy simile.

But this is no time for clever speeches and articles. The Labour Party is facing another of its many crises and. as the recent by-elections have shown, its support is falling away. Said The Guardian of March 6:
  The high promise on which it was elected in 1964 and re-elected in 1966 is not being fulfilled.
This may cause some disappointment in the Labour Party, especially in its so-called Left Wing, and among less committed circles such as The Guardian, which have supported Labour for some years, in fact since the Macmillan government started going downhill.

Yet surprise is the last thing anyone should feel. We have had plenty of experience of Labour government and we should know by now that each time its “high promise” is unfulfilled. The only surprise is that anyone, anywhere, still believes in it.

It was this knowledge, and not prophetic insight, which caused the Socialist Standard of November 1964 to greet the new Labour government with these words: 
  They say that they intend to give “strong” government and to carry out their full programme. They are confident now. Let them remember this when the time comes for apologies and excuses.
That time is now. This is not the first occasion Labour Party supporters have writhed in frustration. Now let them remember.

Vietnam: A Tragedy? (1967)

From the April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The word tragedy is firmly linked to the name of Vietnam, so that it is almost impossible to hear one without the other. Everyone seems agreed that the war there is regrettable and unnecessary but nobody seems able to stop it.

Harold Wilson mournfully tells us that the only thing needed for the success of his recent joint peace move with Kosygin was a gesture of trust from one side or the other. U Thant, when he was talking last year about resigning the Secretaryship of UNO, bemoaned ". . . the tragic error of relying on force and military means in a deceptive pursuit of peace,” and the United States Ambassador to UNO, Arthur Goldberg, readily agreed — “We . . . do not believe that force and military means are good arbiters of international dispute.” Which was all very well, were it not for the fact that the USA was busily using just those means at the time.

The anti-war lobby in the United States take heart from the many prominent politicians who are critics of America's policy, and especially from Senator Robert Kennedy, who keeps popping up with schemes to end the bombing of the North and to start peace talks with Hanoi. Some American observers think this is all part of a Kennedy campaign for the Presidency in 1972 and perhaps they are right; way back when he was Attorney General in the government which was running the Vietnam war he took a different attitude: “We are going to win in Vietnam. We will remain until we do.”

Vietnam has been suffering for a long time. An article in the Manchester Guardian (20.4.54) opened with the words, “The prolonged tragedy now being played out in lndo-China is neither simple nor morally clear cut.” At that time, of course, it was the French who were fighting to keep their hold on the place, with the same sense of hopelessness as the Americans now experience. In the introduction to Jules Roy’s The Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Neil Sheehan compares the two situations:
  Nine years alter the disaster at Dienbienphu had ended more than eighty years of French rule in lndo-China. much remained unchanged. The French generals and diplomats had departed . . . But they had been followed by American generals and diplomats who suffered, or were about to suffer, the same fate for similar reasons.
Vietnam is not unique in being regaided as an accident, a tragic mistake. But if it is, why is this apparent only to journalists, to protesters and to ambitious, out of office politicians? Why is it that the men in government, whoever they are, make so many such mistakes, so consistently? Why is the world apparently so accident-prone? To answer, these questions we can do worse than consider Vietnam, and why it has added its name to capitalism's long list of “tragedies”.

The French first appeared in any force on the lndo-China scene in 1771, when their soldiers helped Gia Long, heir to the King of Cochin China, put down the Tay Son Rebellion. This was followed in 1787 by a treaty between Gia Long and Louis XVI, the negotiations for which were helped along by the Almighty in the person of the Bishop of Adran, Pigneau de Behaine.

Cochin China was taken into French protectorate in 1867 and Tonking and Annam (the coastal province) in 1884. The Annamese gave the French a certain amount of trouble. In 1873 Paris had to send a military force when the merchant Jean Dupuis ran into opposition to his efforts to open the Red River to commerce and in 1882 another expedition, and later a war, was employed to break Annam's political links with China.

By the twentieth century the dust had settled and lndo-China was firmly under French control. The French military and civil authorities ran the same sort of paternal repression which later came under the spotlight in Algeria. lndo-China was an outlet for investment; trade and commerce was mainly in the hands of the Europeans — especially, of course, the French — and the Chinese. In 1922, between 250* and 300* million francs were invested in private French industries there. The French parliament granted the privilege of issuing currency notes to the Bank of lndo-China, which was itself a profitable source of investment for French capital.

lndo-China had some valuable raw materials. About a million tons of anthracite came each year from the mines at Hongay and Dongtrien, supplying the industry which was developing in the Red River delta. There were about 62,500 acres of rubber plantations, as well as some zinc and phosphates.

The colony was also a market for French industry. There was a reciprocal duty-free arrangement with France but this worked to the advantage of the French. Indo-China’s main export was rice, whereas France sent it manufactured goods. In 1925, for example, 53 per cent of lndo-China's imports came from France; in money terms this came to 760* million francs, while trade in the opposite direction amounted to 612 million francs. (*All currency amounts in these two paragraphs are at 1925 values.)

lndo-China, then, made a cosy picture of colonialism, typical of its time. But inevitably there grew up a nationalist movement, preaching that there was little hope of the country shaking off its agricultural economy and developing its industries under French rule, and arguing that the resources and the workers of lndo-China should be exploited by a native ruling class.

This propaganda had its appeal; while the French soldiers and merchants and their ladies were lording it and trying to forget their workaday worries in the cabarets and bars in Saigon and Hanoi, the nationalist movement was gathering strength. In particular a strange, slight man with a ragged goatee beard was travelling and talking. He visited many European countries, including Moscow and London, where he is said to have been a kitchen boy at the Carlton Hotel. He was, of course, at some time in prison. His name was Ho Chi Minh.

The Second World War gave the nationalists their chance. The Japanese, in their lunge down to Singapore, occupied lndo-China and ran the country with the help of the Vichy French authorities under the Emperor Bao Dai. The nationalists carried on an underground struggle and in 1941, at a congress in China convened by Ho Chi Minh, the organisation known as the Vietminh was formed. At the time this was purely an independence movement, although the Communists were prominent in it. Its name is an abbreviation of the Vietnamese for League for the Independence of Vietnam. But the fact that the Vietminh was fighting the Japanese meant that the Allies gave it their support — with the result later recorded in the appropriate volume of the Official History of the Second World War.
   . . . there were few countries in which the British and their Allies did not also seek to raise the forces of nationalism against the Japanese . . .
  In fact all parties, friend and foe alike, were vigorously engaged in whipping up nationalist enthusiasm.
   It was hardly a matter for surprise, therefore, that when the Allies re-entered Burma, Indonesia and Indo-China, they found a nationalism that was a very different force from that which they had known before the war. (British Military Administration in the Far East, 1943-46).
In March 1945 the Japanese interned the French authorities in Indo-China. In August the Vietminh took over and declared the country an independent republic; Bao Dai became Ho Chi Minh’s political adviser. The Vietnamese nationalists suffered the usual dissensions and into this confused situation, in September, the first British occupation troops arrived at Saigon. With some help from the Japanese army they carried out their mission to “restore order” and shortly afterwards a French force finished the job in a short, brutal action.

The Vietminh, however, was not beaten. There followed a number of complicated conferences, at one of which the French actually agreed to recognise “the Democratic Republic of Vietnam” as a “Free state within the Indo-Chinese Federation” which sounded like surrender, except that nobody was sure exactly what it meant and Paris was not going to help make it any clearer. On both sides, there were those who would now be known as hawks; French admiral D’Argenlieu impatiently wondered why “. . . when France has such a fine expeditionary force in Indo-China her leaders should prefer to negotiate.”

He need not have worried. In a few months matters were brought to a head by a dispute over Customs control. A French cruiser bombarded Haiphong, killing about six thousand Vietnamese. In December 1946 the Vietminh in turn attacked, massacring French civilians in Hanoi, Vietnam’s first peace time war had started.

For eight long years this dragged on, with the French steadily losing and finally suffering a decisive defeat at Dun Bien Phu. This was part of the painful recognition forced upon the French ruling class after the war, that they were no longer a world power of any consequence. France had not been able to fight the war against the once despised Vietminh alone; in 1950 they asked for American aid and from then on the United States bore the war's financial burden, contributing to France an annual average of $500 million. But even this could not prevent Dien Bien Phu and the French went to Geneva in 1954 virtually suing for peace.

In July 1954 the Geneva Agreement, which was going to bring peace to Vietnam, (Anthony Eden, as he then was, got a knighthood for his part in it) was signed. In reality, it was just another of capitalism’s sour jokes, designed to redraw the battle lines and to give each side a breather before the next round.

The Agreement divided Vietnam roughly at the Seventeenth Parallel. North of this line went to the Vietminh; south of it to the nationalists who had fought for the French in the war and who proceeded to set up a series of American supported puppet governments. The Agreement laid it down that elections were to be held in Vietnam in July 1956 — “In order to ensure that sufficient progress in the restoration of peace has been made . . .” The elections did not, of course, happen.

The Agreement prohibited the introduction into Vietnam of “. . . troop reinforcements . . . additional military personnel . . . new military bases . . . reinforcements in the form of all types of arms, munitions, and other war material . . .” But in November that year the American General (he was officially “Ambassador”) Collins arrived at Saigon declaring “I have come to Vietnam to bring every possible aid to the government of Diem and to his government only.” Collins also announced that a United States Military Mission (officially “advisers”) would instruct the Vietnamese army.

This signalled the fact that the Americans had openly taken over from the French. This time it was against the guerillas — the Vietcong — who were continuing the war by gnawing away at South Vietnam and who by 1961 held about a quarter of the countryside. There is no reason to doubt the American conviction that the guerillas were receiving aid from North Vietnam. Just like their French predecessors, the Americans found the enemy tough, well trained and armed. But this time there would be no surrender and so began the process known under the typically ugly name of escalation.

Almost desperately, the Americans have tried to stem the flood with more and more troops and with increasingly ferocious bombardment; from the air with high explosive, rockets and napalm and now from the sea with shellfire. They have pushed the bombing line further and further north until Hanoi itself is under fire. Each step has been excused with the argument that earlier, less ruthless measures have failed. But the Vietcong are still gnawing.

The United States, then, are in the same sort of trap as the French. Washington is pumping tens of millions of dollars into Vietnam, as well as their men. There are now 415,000 American troops there, compared with 215,000 a year ago. The Pentagon recently estimated that 100,000 of these may well be killed during this year.

This massive effort has not had the results expected of it. In May 1962, US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara said “Every quantitative measurement we have shows we’re winning this war.” But in January this year he testified to a Senate committee that “The bombing of North Vietnam has not reduced and will not significantly reduce the level of infiltration to the South.” (Guardian 21/2/67).

So what can Washington do? Present policy seems to be based on the reasoning that to admit defeat will also surrender Cambodia, Laos and Thailand to a hostile power. It would open the gateway into Malaya and thence into the very heart of America’s sphere of control in South East Asia. For Johnson, Vietnam is just as much a sticking point in a long process of retreat as Suez was for Eden in 1956.

This interpretation need not be correct. China is an old enemy of Vietnam and, to get its valuable resources — its anthracite, phosphates, chromite — would doubtless be prepared to repeat the invasions of the fifteenth century. Perhaps the Vietnamese will end up fighting them once more; not the only irony of the situation is that peace with America might make Ho Chi Minh one of Washington’s staunchest allies.

And if there is not peace? U Thant has forecast a “prolonged and bloody conflict” and this seems to be the likeliest outcome of the immediate future. The Americans will step up their effort, the fighting and the bombardment will become more intense. Perhaps it will go a stage higher in escalation, and bring in nuclear weapons. The official propagandists, will tell us that this is all being done to save humanity — an assurance which will not be readily accepted by the people who suffer under the bullets and the blasts and the unimaginable horrors of napalm.

Vietnam is not a tragedy. Nor is it a mistake, those who say that it is, whether they protest or not, are trying to excuse the inexcusable. They are trying to prove that capitalism’s wars need not happen — that they are the result of wrong judgments or moral lapses. The whole point of this pretence is that, if we accept it, we also accept that wars can be prevented simply by finding cleverer, or more morally sensitive, leaders. There is then no need to get rid of capitalism.

The melancholy history of capitalism, of its World Wars and of its smaller conflicts like Korea, Algeria and Vietnam, provides the evidence which exposes this pretence. There is small hope for the world, while society regards its problems as tragedies. Capitalism is full of international conflicts. When has it made a comedy of them?
Ivan

Finance and Industry: Housing: What is the Problem? (1967)

The Finance and Industry Column from the April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unlike the other parties, the Socialist Party of Great Britain does not claim to be able to control interest rates or rents or house prices or rates. We make no promises on housing — or on any other issue for that matter — because we know that within the framework of private property society there is no solution to the problem. It would be dishonest and foolish of us to pretend otherwise.

It is easy to make promises, as the other parties do, but to honour them is another matter. Governments, national and local, do not have the control over economic forces they like to think they have. Take the factors affecting the rate of house-building, for instance: the price of land, finance, materials and labour-power, to mention only a few. Only people who are confident they can control all these factors should make claims about how many houses they will build. Otherwise they are just cruel confidence tricksters.

Lets take an example: interest rates. Interest is the price paid for the loan of money. But finance for house buying or building is not the only demand on savings. There are many more, all competing. Thus when, in response to the international situation, the Bank Rate is raised this exerts an upward pressure on all interest rates. It would be a bold man who would claim to be able to control the world economy. Yet this claim is implicit in many of the promises we hear at election times. Such people should heed the fate of Mr. Three Per Cent — George Brown.

How British industry fares on the world market is a most important factor limiting what the British government can do. And we all know that, as a result of the defeats sustained by British industry on the world market, the Labour government has had to shelve its expensive social reform schemes and has had to cut our standard of living — and so also, of course, our already limited liability to afford good housing.

Housing certainly is neglected. But is this really a housing problem? Surely, as far as the production of sound houses for everybody is concerned there is no problem. The materials for this exist together with the architects and building workers. What stands in the way, then? Why, in a world of potential plenty, is a basic human need like shelter so neglected? The answer is simple: most people cannot afford decent housing. And. if people can't afford comfortable houses, then, in accordance with the laws of the market no such accommodation will he built for them.

No builder is going to put up houses he can't sell. In stead perhaps the government may step in to provide cheap, utility housing. This problem of how to meet an unprofitable basic need in a society based on profit is one which the other parties have grappled with for decades. Yet still the problem remains. And so do the promises. The Socialist Standard will offer a prize to anyone who can guess which candidate, of which party made this promise at which election: Vote for X "because he is in favour of providing better housing accommodation for the workers at a reasonable rent”.

Our standard of housing, like the whole of our standard of living, is rationed by the size of our wage packet or of our salary cheque. Our wage or salary is a price and. as such, is fixed by the workings of the market. The price of the mental and physical energies which we sell to our employer is fixed, roughly, by what it costs to keep us in efficient working order.

So we’re in a vicious circle: our standard of housing depends on our income and our income depends on what it costs to keep us alive. This is why in housing, as in everything else, we get at best only the minimum comforts. This is how it will be, and must be, as long as the means of production are the property of a few for whom the rest of us must work for a wage or salary.

A sanely organised human community would give priority to meeting its needs of food, clothing and shelter. If production were carried on solely and directly to meet people's wants then there could be no problem in housing. But production for use is only possible when society controls production. Which demands that the means for producing wealth belong to the whole community.

Our Poverty Exposed
We don’t really need figures to tell us at what level we have to exist despite a world of potential plenty. Yet figures, especially official government statistics, are useful in showing the extent of our lack of means or poverty. The latest annual report of the Board of Inland Revenue (Command 3200, HMSO, 24s) has, for the first time since 1962, a table showing “Estimated Total Net Wealth by Size in Great Britain” compiled from death duty returns. The year is 1965.

So, official statistics show: A mere 12,000 people, each owning over £200,000, own more wealth than 7,298,000 people each with less than £1,000. 84 out of 100 people own less than £5,000 — and all you have to reach this figure is, say, own a house. The remaining 16 own nearly twice as much as these 84 put together.

And, as we saw, in last month’s Socialist Standard, these figures are likely to underestimate the real concentration of ownership of wealth.

On incomes, you only need £2,000 to be assessed for surtax. Yet only 338,000 taxpayers came in this category in the year 1964-65. And for this year the number of “millionaires”, that is, people with an income of over £100,000 a year, increased by 32 over the previous year to 138. If you care to work it out £100,000 is probably more than you will earn in a lifetime.
Adam Buick

Hendrik de Man (1967)

Book Review from the April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Beyond Marxism – The Faith and Works of Hendrik de Man’, by Peter Dodge. Martins Nijhoff (The Hague). 29.70 Guilders (about 56/-)

The American author of this book, now Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, believes that de Man’s once considerable reputation in the Belgian, German and other Labour Party and trade union movements, has been undeservedly obscured by the odium which fell on him during and after the last war. It is Peter Dodge’s hope to revive interest in what he regards as De Man’s important contribution to Socialist thought.

It is difficult now to recall the standing De Man had in the nineteen thirties, even in certain circles in Britain, where he was much less well known than on the Continent. When he published his Psychology of Socialism, acclaimed by Hermann Keyserling as “the most significant work in socialist world literature since Marx’s Capital,” it received various degrees of praise in the Manchester Guardian, the New Statesman, the ILP New Leader and from Alexander Gray in the Economic Journal (September 1929).

Of course, the fact that De Man was criticising what was popularly regarded as Marxism and proclaiming himself a reformist no doubt helps to explain the reception the book had among the reformists, who were gratified to find one who had called himself a Marxist declaring that “Vulgar Marxism is a living error; pure Marxism is a dead truth”.

Henri de Man (Hendrik is the Flemish form) was born in a well-to-do family in Antwerp in 1885. As a youngster he was (like William Morris, who had some influence on his views) shocked by the ugliness and callousness of capitalism and by the indifference of money-making capitalists to the architectural and artistic works of the Middle Ages. Like Morris, he saw that the life of the workers was not only poverty stricken but degraded by the work they had to do and by the conditions under which they lived. De Man threw himself into movements of protest and rebellion; trade union, ‘Young Socialist’, Flemish Nationalism, anti-conscription. He broke away from his disapproving family, joined the Belgian Labour Party (Parti Ouvrier Belge), worked on the German Social Democrat paper the Leipziger Volkszeitung where he became friendly with Kautsky, Franz Mehring, Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and others. By this time he was a declared Marxist and opposed Bernstein’s revisionism. He spent a year in England, where he joined the Social Democratic Federation and helped in the campaigns at Shoreditch in two general elections in 1910.

It was, however, the “Marxist” Social Democratic Party in Germany which drew his greatest admiration and confidence. Like many others who had put their trust in that hollow movement and the equally hollow Second International, he was shattered in 1914 when those organisations collapsed and the erstwhile international comrades sided with their respective governments. De Man’s own anti-war attitude dissolved in face of the German invasion of Belgium and he volunteered for the army in August 1914, assuring himself with the hope that the military defeat of Germany would lead to a Socialist revolution.

Later on he was to regard his support of the 1914 war as a “desertion of principle” which he was determined to avoid in future. With the onset of World War II De Man urged the Belgian Labour Party to adopt an attitude of “neutralism”, and when Belgium was occupied by German troops and De Man was convinced of German victory over the Allied powers, he actively associated with King Leopold II in co-operating with the German authorities. This was, however, not entirely a question of accepting the facts of the situation for in 1941 (on May Day) he delivered a speech containing the following: ―
   I recognise that National Socialism represents the German form of Socialism and I recommend collaboration with Germany within the framework of a United Europe and a general Socialist revolution. But I am not a National Socialist, for the simple reason that I am not German, but Flemish and Belgian.
Quite obviously, De Man had lost whatever insight he had once had into the nature of Socialism and the struggle against capitalism. In rejecting the German Social Democratic Party’s emasculated version of Marxism in favour of something he thought better (his own theories) he had ended up by seeing Socialism in German capitalist Nazism, just as he had also seen Socialism in Stalinist Russian State capitalism ― a delusion he shared with his Communist and Labour Party denouncers.

What then were De Man’s theories which were supposed to have revolutionised Socialist thought and thrown Marx and Marxism into the dead past? Essentially it was Keynesism. Faced with the depression of the thirties, which De Man regarded as a breakdown of industrial capitalism and the emergence of domination by finance-capital, the old trade union and reformist struggles seemed to him to serve no further purpose. What he thought was needed was planned capitalism based on a mixture of private enterprise and nationalisation, and government control of credit to secure full employment. It involved active trade union and Labour Party participation with the government. He got the Belgian Labour Party to endorse his plan.

How this works and where it leads we can see around UK in Britain to-day, in the spectacle of the Wilson government totally unable to alter the essential features of capitalism and locked in struggle with the growingly resentful trade unions.

De Man was influenced by the late G. D. H. Cole, as well as by Keynes and in 1933 he and Cole published, through the New Fabian Research Bureau, a pamphlet, Planned Socialism, outlining the plan and recommending it to the British Labour Party.

De Man was in truth a sort of continental Cole, showing the same facility for dressing up old reformist notions as new revolutionary discoveries. As for Marx, it is noteworthy that De Man rarely criticised Marx’s works at source, always concentrating his attacks on the distorted, popularised versions.

He claimed that Marx was wrong about class consciousness and nationalism and he instanced in support of his view, that workers failed to show international class solidarity or even solidarity with each other inside national frontiers. But Marx was well aware of this and foresaw it; the most that can be charged against Marx is that he expected the workers to learn the lessons of experience more quickly than has been proved by events. But there is still no other way.

Basically De Man did not believe in the capacity of the working class eventually to emancipate itself ― for him it would be a question of leadership and government by the “intellectuals”.

He did some useful work as in his study of the workers’ attitude to their jobs (published in English by George Allen and Unwin in 1929 as Joy In Labour) and in his criticism of workers who ape the values and vices of the capitalists; but the idea that De Man has rendered obsolete the invaluable work of Marx is an illusion.

Mr. Dodge has done his job admirably ― but it will not restore De Manism to life.
Edgar Hardcastle

Marx's attitude to war (1967)

Adam Ciołkosz
Book Review from the April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx and the Polish Insurrection of 1863 by Adam Ciokosz, Polish Review. Vol X, No. 4, 1966, New York.

The theory of the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain is based on Marxism: Marxian economics, the theory of the class struggle and the materialist conception of history. Marx supported wars. The Socialist Party does not. How is this contradiction to be explained? Is the Socialist Party unMarxist or was Marx inconsistent? One of the dangers of dogmatism, of going by quotations, is that the historical context is lost. Mid-nineteenth century Europe was a different place from the modern world. Marx’s support for wars and nationalist insurrections must be seen against the background of Europe a hundred years ago. In this essay Adam Ciolkosz, an exiled Polish Social Democrat, throws some light on this subject.

Socialism grew out of the European revolutionary democratic movement which the French Revolution had triggered off. Marx and Engels, in Germany in 1848. had played an active part in this movement and they shared many of its assumptions.

Scientific Socialism holds that Socialism is only possible on the basis of large-scale industry as developed by capitalism. However, at this time. Europe was in danger of being dominated by powerful feudal forces — the Holy Alliance of Russia, Prussia and Austria. The soldiers of these powers had already been used to crush uprisings in Italy, Hungary, Poland and Germany. Marx felt that in these circumstances there was a very real danger that Europe might be overrun by these feudal powers, particularly Russia, thus putting off the social revolution for decades. (Note that Marx did not hold to any automatic, mechanical development from feudalism through capitalism to Socialism. He thought that feudalism might dominate Europe, for a time at least, even after the coming of capitalism in western Europe.) This fear of Tsarist Russia explains Marx’s support of the Franco-British side in the Crimean War and also of Polish nationalism. Ciolkosz quotes Marx:
  Moscow is the mainstay on which rests the despotic rule of the Hohenzollern dynasty and of its feudal vassals . . .  Hence Prussia is not a barrier against Moscow but its instrument designed in advance for the invasion of France and the subjugation of Germany . . . Europe has therefore one of two choices to take. Either an Asiatic barbarism led by the Muscovites will descend upon it like an avalanche, or it must restore Poland and in this way separate itself from Asia by twenty million heroes, also gaining time to carry out its social transformation.
Ciolkosz adds. “The Polish nation, then was supposed to be a shield against Moscow for revolutionary Europe.”

The job of Socialists is to work for the spread of Socialist understanding among the working class. This is not done by suggesting that “defensive” wars should be supported by workers, nor by confusing the interests of the working class and bourgeoisie. It was a mistake for the Socialist pioneers to entangle themselves in the international power struggles between the capitalist class and feudal nobility. Apart from anything else, they provided an opportunity for the leaders of the social-democratic parties, when they supported the slaughter of the First World War, to claim that they were following a precedent set by Marx and Engels. This made the task of the SPGB all the more difficult when we sought to explain that there were no interests at stake which could justify the shedding of one drop of working class blood.

Marx’s position on war was thus mistaken. Looked at in the context of the historical conditions of the nineteenth century, it is understandable how he arrived at this point of view. But, although we can see the reasons for his error, this makes it no less a mistake.

As it happened the feudal powers did not overrun Europe. They grew weaker and were destroyed completely as a result of the First World War. By the turn of the century capitalism had conquered the world and there was no danger of a feudal reaction. All wars were now purely capitalist, disputes between rival imperialist powers. The task of Socialists was quite clear: to struggle uncompromisingly and consistently for the establishment of Socialism throughout the world.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: The Overthrow of Russian Czarism (1967)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

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.
[From the Socialist Standard April 1917 .]

Gaspers: What’s wrong with the Labour Party . . .? (1967)

From the April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard
  • What’s wrong with the Labour Party . . .?  (The Guardian 6.3.67).
  • Who is Harold Wilson ? (Leading Article in The Economist).
  • “There is no essential distinction between peaceful nuclear explosions and those of nuclear weapons” (Unanimous opinion of Committee of Nuclear experts, Geneva. March 9, 1967).
  • “One of the government’s main strokes of luck in the past couple of years has been the buoyancy of world trade (Wm. Davis, The Guardian March 9, 1967).
  • “I am a Conservative, but I support this Labour Government”. (Lord Thomson, reported in The Guardian March 8. 1967).
  • "The economy of this nation has to be put right . . . with a measure of harsh government.” (Labour Minister Ray Gunter, to the Scottish T.U.C. 11167.)
  • “Even if I as Chancellor did nothing, this growth in the economy would continue— this month, this week”. (Mr. Callaghan- interviewed on B.B.G “Panorama” 13.167.)

Rear View: Parasites there (2017)

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

Parasites there
‘Overall, India is home to 264,300 millionaires. From that group of wealthy people 6,740 are classified as UHNWIs. Between 2015 and 2016, the country witnessed a 12% increase in its UHNWI population; over the next decade, this group is expected to grow by 150%. On average, every UNHWI in India owns more than three houses’ (qz.com, 1 March). Capitalism is a social system long past its sell-by-date. In a socialist world there will be neither poor nor rich, and the estimated 78 million homeless people, including 11 million street children (2013 figures), in India will, as throughout the world, be provided with essentials such as accommodation, food, medicine, clean water, sanitation and transport. All that is required is for a majority of us to make it so.


Parasites everywhere
‘The biggest concern among ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) – those with $30 million (£24.2 million) or more in net assets – is how they are going to preserve their vast fortunes, make more money, and who will take over their empires when they die. That is according to the results of the Wealth Report 2017 by luxury property agents Knight Frank, which surveyed 900 private bankers and wealth advisors representing more than 10,000 clients across the globe and a combined wealth of around $2 trillion’ (businessinsider.com, 1 March). We can assume that such concerns dominated the thoughts of the 100+ billionaires at state capitalist China’s recent annual parliamentary session. Our concern should be the making of socialists. William Morris put it well: ‘one man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman; two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand?’ (Art Under Plutocracy, 1883).


Real education is for life
Once upon a time, in university toilets it was possible to read ‘sociology degrees – please take one’ scrawled over paper dispensers. Nowadays, it is the turn of another subject. ‘Graduates with psychology degrees from British universities overwhelmingly feel like the three years they spent at university was not worth it in terms of the benefits it gave them later in life. That’s according to the latest research from salary benchmarking site Emolument. Emolument surveyed 1,800 professionals in its network to ask them whether or not they see the degree they studied as worthwhile for their adult life’ (theguardian.com, 3 March). Psychology and sociology will both continue to be taught in a socialist world, but subjects such as business science, economics, law, political geography and theology will be flushed down the pan along with emoluments!


Reformist treadmill
‘I have always tried to stand up for my principles – I was a conscientious objector when I became due for national service in 1949. But it wasn’t until the 1955 general election that I did anything about it’ (the Guardian, 3 March). And this is where we part company with Bunny Easton, who seems to have been a professional protester for most of his 86 years. He started protesting at council rent increases in the 1950s, joined the Suez and Cuba demonstrations, and more recently those against NHS cuts and Trump. This old Communist Party (d. 1991) member may well have been inspired by their 1929 manifesto in which they state ‘the struggle for reforms in the present period leads to revolution’. Nearly 90 years later the struggle for reforms – many of them the same futile demands – still leads to nothing but the continuation of the capitalist system. Unsurprisingly, neither this nor the Communist Party’s horrid history (Stalin, 1956 & 1968….) is mentioned.           


Trumping The Donald
Melania Trump has suggested that Americans who lose their healthcare shouldn’t be too worried because they can just turn to the healing properties of nature. Touring a children’s hospital recently she said: ‘I am a passionate believer in integrating and interpreting nature’s elements into our daily lives to create a warm, nurturing and positive environment. I believe that these same natural benefits can be instrumental to enhancing the health and well-being of all children’ (trofire.com, 2 March). This nonsense smacks of former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh’s  promotion of herbal ‘remedies’ for the treatment of HIV and AIDS, and South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki’s support for vinegar instead of antiretroviral drugs.






50 Years Ago: Vietnam – A Tragedy? (2017)

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

The word tragedy is firmly linked to the name of Vietnam, so that it is almost impossible to hear one without the other. Everyone seems agreed that the war there is regrettable and unnecessary but nobody seems able to stop it.

Harold Wilson mournfully tells us that the only thing needed for the success of his recent joint peace move with Kosygin was a gesture of trust from one side or the other. U Thant, when he was talking last year about resigning the Secretaryship of UNO, bemoaned “ . . . the tragic error of relying on force and military means in a deceptive pursuit of peace,” and the United States Ambassador to UNO, Arthur Goldberg, readily agreed—”We …do not believe that force and military means are good arbiters of international dispute.” Which was all very well, were it not for the fact that the USA was busily using just those means at the time. (. . .)

Vietnam is not a tragedy. Nor is it a mistake. Those who say that it is, whether they protest or not, are trying to excuse the inexcusable. They are trying to prove that capitalism’s wars need not happen—that they are the result of wrong judgements or moral lapses. The whole point of this pretence is that, if we accept it, we also accept that wars can be prevented simply by finding cleverer, or more morally sensitive, leaders. There is then no need to get rid of capitalism.

The melancholy history of capitalism, of its World Wars and of its smaller conflicts like Korea, Algeria and Vietnam, provides the evidence which exposes this pretence. There is small hope for the world, while society regards its problems as tragedies. Capitalism is full of international conflicts. When has it made a comedy of them?

(From article by Ivan, Socialist Standard, April 1967)

Letter from Zambia (2017)

From the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Barely a month after President Lungu swore his new-look cabinet into office in September last year the country was hit by a sudden hike in pump prices. A litre of petrol jumped up to K13.70 from K11.50 and diesel is now selling at K11.50 from K8.70 a litre. The rise in fuel prices has translated into a rise in other prices – especially mealie-meal which shot up from K75 per 25kg bag of breakfast to Kl10.

Subsidies on fuel were removed by the late President Michael Sata way back in 2012 in order to disadvantage fuel vendors who were deemed the main beneficiaries. But the removal of subsidies on fuel in particular gave rise to unanticipated economic and social problems.

The fight against corruption
During the past years President Lungu has been blamed among other things for having been too silent on corruption. The President announced during the inauguration speech that he was going to stamp out corruption from the PF. The first victim of the fight against corruption was the former Minister of Broadcasting and Information, Mr. Chishimba Kambwili, who was recently dismissed on allegations of corruption.

Back in 2012 the late President Sata had cautioned the anti-corruption Commission against investigating and indicting serving cabinet ministers. It is alleged that Chishimba Kambwili, the most outspoken and versatile of politicians, has amassed large amounts of wealth. It has been revealed that Kambwili recently purchased a fleet of thirty articulated trucks worth billions of kwacha. It is also on record that he owns a construction company that has failed to complete the construction of clinics and schools despite having been paid in full by the government.

In Zambia most cabinet ministers and members of parliament own private enterprises that are awarded tenders to supply building materials, food to hospitals and uniforms for nurses and police offices etc. It is also on record that the government has been in most cases failing to pay private contractors on time – hence the failure to complete public projects. The fight against corruption is in most cases a sterile political tactic as most ministers who have been indicted for corruption have not yet been imprisoned. People were not surprised when President Lungu recently announced that he was forgoing 50 percent of his salary as a contribution towards national development.

Tribalism at the helm
During the presentation of his inauguration speech on 11 September President Lungu went on to assure the people of Zambia that he was going to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to find out who was behind an ethnic fracas that look place in Namwala when a mob of Tonga tribesmen descended upon some Bemba-speaking residents, ransacking their homes and evicting them . This was after it was announced that PF president Lungu had won the elections. It was an expression of political dissatisfaction and UPND leader Hichilema had disputed the election results. President Lungu had defeated Hichilema by a slim margin of 100,530 votes during an election that has left Zambia divided in terms of political and tribal loyalties. Regional tribalism in Zambia today is perceived to be a cultural, traditional and political antagonism between those who voted for the PF and UPND respectively.

Ever since he succeeded the late Anderson Mazoka as president of the UPND in 2005 Hichilema has been championing tribalism by parading himself as a political spokesman of the Tonga tribe. The UPND leader is renowned for promoting, organizing and inciting political hooliganism during election campaigns. It is Hichilema who has been spearheading the culture of political and ethnic antagonism (defined as tribalism) between the Tonga, Lozi and Bemba tribes. The UPND alleges that the Tonga tribe in particular has been politically marginalized ever since the dawn of political pluralism.

The veteran Zambian politician and member of the UPND Daniel Mukombwe even went to the extent of advocating the rotation of the presidency between the Tonga, Lozi and Bemba tribes every four years. The reluctance of Hichilema to accept the results of the 11 August presidential election gave vent to heightened feelings of ethnic and political marginalization among UPND supporters throughout Zambia.

Conclusion
Because Zambia is officially a Christian nation, the extent to which Christianity is helping to restrain ethnic and tribal prejudice needs to be appreciated. The moral and ethnic value of Christianity blends well with the PF slogan of ‘One Zambia One Nation’ which is visible among the street vendors who congest Chisokone Avenue in Kitwe town centre and who seem little affected by the hike of fuel and mealie meal prices.

The Labour movement in Zambia seems to be a long way from awakening class political struggle in that the trade unions play a minor role in the day-to-day social problems facing the working class. Because the social and economic problems Zambia is experiencing originate from capitalism, they cannot be resolved from within the social and economic programme implemented by government. Social poverty is here to stay.
Kephas Mulenga