Saturday, June 1, 2019

Eurospeech: Brexit Statement (2019)

From the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Socialist Party stood a list in the South East Region in last month’s elections to the European Parliament. Our list obtained 3,505 votes. Here is the address of one of our candidates, Mike Foster, to a husting in Banbury.
Our viewpoint is different to those of other parties, in that we’re neutral on the issue of Britain staying in or leaving the European Union. This is because either option doesn’t work in the best interests of the vast majority of people. Whether laws are made in Westminster or Brussels, they’re still made to try and manage a social system which is inherently divisive and wasteful. And whether it’s easier or harder for companies in Britain to trade with those in Europe, that trade will still push most wealth towards the elite. So, a vote for the Socialist Party is a vote to say that you’ve had enough not only of the Brexit debate, but also the system as a whole.

The overwhelming majority of us –well over 90 per cent – don’t own much in the big scheme of things and can only get what we can afford through our wages, savings or state subsidies. If we’re able to find employment, we get our money by selling our time and our abilities to an employer. But collectively, we don’t get back out all that we put in. According to Oxfam, 82 per cent of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest 1 per cent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth. The elite who own the world’s organisations cream off a profit or a surplus for themselves by exploiting the rest of us. So, many of us end up in unfulfilling jobs for organisations which we have little real input into how they’re run.

The elite’s economic power is backed up by political power. States, and blocs such as the European Union, exist to try and manage the status quo. This doesn’t mean that they have control over the economy, though. Market forces fluctuate between growth and slump regardless of what politicians and corporate strategists of any nationality or political stance want. Instead, they’re more likely to be playing catch-up and trying to keep things financially viable in a shaky economy. This applies whether we’re in or out of Europe, or whether the company we work for is British, German, Japanese or based wherever.

We in the Socialist Party don’t think that this system can be changed to work in the interests of most of us because it’s structured to put the majority at a disadvantage. Reforms or increased public spending may help some people in the short-term. But these measures, however well-intentioned, only last as long as they’re financially viable or politically acceptable. The needs and wishes of the majority of people, or the environment, aren’t as important as the economy.

Leaving the EU won’t solve problems such as poverty or climate change, nor would they have been solved if we’d voted to remain. In fact, the whole Brexit debate is a distraction from society’s more fundamental problems, and along the way has stirred up divisions such as xenophobia and racism. The Socialist Party says that these issues have to be addressed at their source. This means changing from a social system with the means to produce and distribute wealth owned by a minority, to one where those resources and facilities are owned and managed by everyone in common. Then, goods would be produced and services would be run directly for anyone who wants them, without the dictates of the economic market. This doesn’t mean that resources would be squandered. Our present society is much more wasteful, not only in its exploitation of the environment, but also in the effort and energy used up by the bureaucracy of pushing money around. The new world we advocate would be able to manage our natural resources in a sustainable way, as the waste and short-term profitability which lead to environmental damage wouldn’t be there.

The only legitimate and practical way this could be achieved is by the vast majority organising together, democratically. This would mean a much broader and more inclusive style of democracy than we’re used to today. Different democratic organisations or procedures would apply in different circumstances, rather than having leaders or groups with more authority than others. It would be a society based on voluntary, co-operative work, with decisions and responsibilities agreed through everyone involved having an equal say.

So, the Socialist Party says that we should aim for a different kind of society, rather than trying to patch up this one, in or out of the EU. We’re not advocating ways of navigating the withdrawal deal, nor saying that we should have remained. A vote for the Socialist Party is a vote to say that you’re fed up with the divisive system we’re living under, and want a free and equal world instead.
Mike Foster


50 Years Ago: Opt for Socialism (2019)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day this year saw what the press claimed was ‘Britain’s largest and most sporadic political strike since 1926’. The Communist Party congratulated ‘the hundreds of thousands of workers’ who were downing tools and Socialist Worker (IS) was so confident that ‘this May Day’s political strike confirms a willingness to struggle’ that they wanted it to ‘mark the start of the fight for workers’ power’. But the Revolutionary Socialist Students’ Federation didn’t think it was as simple as that; first, we had to decide whether we were witnessing merely ‘a massive rise of Trade Union consciousness’ or was there instead ‘some glimmer of systematic revolutionary politics emerging from the militancy’.

Reading this sort of comment you could have been forgiven for not noticing, at a time when trade unions and the right to strike are being openly threatened by the Labour government, less than one per cent of the labour force was prepared to stop work for a single day. Even in those areas where a relatively high proportion of workers turned out (Sheffield, for example, with 10,000 or 4 per cent of the workforce on strike) the marches and demonstrations were poorly attended. In Sheffield 500 men and women gathered at the City Hall to listen to Labour MP Norman Atkinson calling for different policies from the government; in Manchester perhaps a similar number marched to the Labour Party’s headquarters; in Hull (with 3,000 dockers out) about 20 made the effort to demonstrate.

The facts, then, argue quite plainly that — such is the lack of even trade union consciousness among the vast majority of workers — they will accept some form of Industrial Relations Bill. In fact, Labour and Tories both recognise anti-strike legislation as a vote winner with the working class and vie with each other in portraying strikers as bloody-minded wreckers intent on sabotaging industrial output.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, June 1969)

Dear Theresa . . . (2019)

From the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Theresa,

At last, you have a clear timetable for your exit! You’ll soon be off through the revolving door to pastures new, where your distinguished service to the capitalist class will no doubt be generously rewarded. But apart from a few lucrative board appointments what else? Maybe a memoir? Although I would wait a while in order to exploit the public’s short memory. Some of your predecessors have secured lucrative speaking engagements, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. After all, what would you talk about? I’m not sure Brexit will pull in the punters.

Another important matter to consider is your valedictory speech. I hope the fiction that you unfolded outside the doors of Number 10 on 24 May was just a prelude to something more realistic. Perhaps in the main event to come, you could dispense with such Alice in Wonderland utterances of: ‘having striven for a country that works not just for the privileged few but for everyone’ and introduce a little honesty. [Check Wikipedia if you are not sure of the meaning of this word].

Anyway, I thought I would provide you with a little help in this difficult endeavour by highlighting a few of your main achievements. You could add your own points to mine and turn it into a quiz, ranking them in order of how strongly they correlated with the upward movement of hubby’s investment fund.

You have been an incredible champion of austerity; a sleight of hand characterised by multi-billion pound cuts in wages and social provision for the poor and even bigger giveaways to the rich; at the last count resulting in 120,000 deaths which have been termed ‘economic murder’. You have privatised large swathes of public services to enrich your corporate cronies at the expense of working-class people who are left with a rump of degraded social provision. In partnership with the US regime, you have continued the imperialist rampage of war, torture and assorted violence against largely defenceless countries; the onslaught on Yemen being a perfect example which, amongst other dire consequences, has caused the death of 85,000 children through starvation.

You have played a key role in hastening the planet’s spiral into a death spin by systematically dismantling the modest protections put in place by the Climate Change Act 2008, whilst disingenuously crowing about the UK as the world leader on climate protection. You have rendered the notion of personal privacy meaningless by massively expanding surveillance. You have trampled over justice; epitomised recently by the ignominious exit of Julian Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy and his incarceration in Belmarsh maximum security prison. You have built mega-prisons for UK citizens and concentration camps for refugees, or else deported them back to the countries from which they have fled persecution. On the party political front, you have had staggering success in rehabilitating the reputation of David Cameron. It is no longer tenable for anyone to claim that he has been the worst Prime Minister in 200 years. And you will soon hand the baton to your bosom buddy Boris to lead a strong and stable Tory government.

Enjoy your quiz!

Yours sincerely,

P.S. I’ve enclosed a couple of packs of tissues as I thought you might be running low.

P.P.S. I think this is an opportune moment for us to make a clean break and cease this turgid correspondence. Less depressing for both of us!
Tim Hart

A World of Abundance (2019)

Editorial from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a lot of chatter about artificial intelligence and robots replacing workers in the workplace. Not everyone shares the anxiety about the potential threat of massive job losses. Some see this as an opportunity to bring about a different society where robots can perform all the menial jobs leaving humans free to pursue their hobbies and interests and lead a more fulfilling life. They are advocates of what is known as Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC).

Their argument is that developments in technology have created the possibility of a ‘post-scarcity’ society, where there will be abundance for all. They understand that present-day capitalist society cannot deliver this, as production is limited by what can be sold profitably, and that a fundamental change in society is required. One that provides for human needs rather than the profits for the few

However, we are not in agreement with everything they say. In a Guardian article (18 May 2015) Aaron Bastani, a prominent advocate of FALC, calls for ‘ a 10- or 12-hour working week’ and ‘a guaranteed social wage’, which implies that work will still be defined by employment and a monetary system would continue to exist. In socialism, however, work would be freed from the restrictions of wage labour and everyone would have free access to what they need and money would be redundant. It is only under capitalism where we are compelled to make profits for an employer that work becomes drudgery.

It is not just in the last few years that technological developments have made possible a society of abundance. This potential was achieved sometime in the early years of the twentieth- century when the world market was established.

The FALC advocates also seem to confuse abundance with luxury. Bastani calls for ‘Cartier for everyone, MontBlanc for the masses and Chloe for all’. (‘Britain Doesn’t Need More Austerity, It Needs Luxury Communism’, 12 June 2015, www.vice.com). For us, abundance is where everyone can live a fulfilling life free from poverty, not that they will necessarily own a Cartier watch. Under capitalism, people who can afford it acquire these luxury items so as to flaunt their superior status. In a society of genuine social equality, this will make no sense.

In the 1970s there were similar fears that the introduction of the microchip would create mass unemployment. In fact, this did not happen as the new computer technology brought forth new skills. Computer programmers were required to write the computer software and engineers were needed to maintain the hardware. Likewise, the new robots will need skilled workers to program and maintain them, though the extent of this is still debated along with the net effect on unemployment and part-time employment. Increases in unemployment so far have mainly been due to market conditions, rather than the application of new technology.

Bastani, who claims to be influenced by Marx, should know that capitalism cannot replace all human labour with machines. Robots and computers cannot create surplus value, from which profit is derived. Only human labour can.

It is encouraging that, after all the years when it has been accepted that there is no alternative to free market capitalism, groups and individuals are discussing possible alternatives, and in the process have rescued the terms communism and socialism from their toxic association with the state capitalist dictatorships.