Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Beyond the Cutbacks (2011)

Editorial from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s simple really. Your wage or salary is the money necessary to reproduce your ability to work. Your pension is your wage or salary deferred until you retire. Concerns over the effect of increasing life expectancy – sometimes described as a “burden” – are only a smokescreen. We need to be clear. Lowering pension levels and raising the retirement age are cuts in real pay.

Pensions are a transfer payment from the profits of the capitalist class, which come from what workers as a whole produce. That there is at present a “problem” once more proves that the market economy is incapable of going beyond the limits of the wages system. It cannot adequately provide for the needs of the class that produces and distributes all the wealth in the first place.

Advances gained from the increased productivity of our labour – including an increased lifespan – are being clawed back by capital to its advantage, pushing the burden from the capitalists onto the workers.

The capitalist class encourages us to see their interests and problems as ours. As a result we find our lives opened up to the chaos and uncontrollable insanity of the market. The market system cannot provide any security for us in the long run, which is why we need to turn the current struggle over wages, salaries, and pensions into a politically organised movement for a society based upon the direct satisfaction of human needs.

It is encouraging to see the fight-back. The gains made by wage and salary workers on pay, pensions and other related issues have not, after all, been granted by benevolent governments or employers. They had to be fought for. If those gains are to be defended, democratic and unified action by workers is necessary. If governments and employers win on pensions and wages they will try it again with something else.

Nevertheless, important as activity of this sort is today it still does not get to the crux of the question.

The Socialist Party urges all workers to consider their position. As workers we have to strike because they are wage slaves to the capitalist class who buy our lives by the week or by the month. So, besides making the greatest possible use of trade unions, we ask for recognition that even at their best such action cannot bring permanent security or end poverty. No strike can overcome the power of the market. In the end the logic of capitalism will always win out.

While trade union activity, including strike action, is necessary as long as capitalism lasts it can’t work miracles. There can be no lasting solution to the problems the market economy creates within the market system itself. Austerity and insecurity in a world of potential plenty is always the lot of the working class. In addition to trade union action socialist political action is needed on the basis of a clear understanding and awareness of our class interests.

Unions cannot make revolutions. Only the working class themselves can do that, through clear, democratic, determined political action.

Reform is no answer.

The single, simple fact we urge working people to recognise is that capitalism generates problems it is incapable of solving. The remedy – the only remedy – is to consciously end the property system that divides and oppresses us.

Pathfinders: Bones of Contention (2011)

The Pathfinders Column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bones of Contention
You’ll often find that socialists take a special interest in history and the ancient past. It’s something to do with taking the ‘long view’.  But you don’t have to be a socialist (or 6 years old) to be interested in dinosaurs, and with today’s computer generated images (CGI), it’s all a lot more fun than it ever used to be. The BBC’s new series Planet Dinosaur uses the kind of Hollywood-style special effects that made its 1999 Walking With Dinosaurs such a success. New technology and new discoveries have added hugely to the knowledge about dinosaurs in recent years, and the show’s star attraction will no doubt be the representation of feathered dinosaurs, until very recently the subject of heated controversy.

In the 1999 series too many unqualified assertions were made about dinosaur behaviour which could only have been guesses. This time the BBC has been careful to back up claims with evidence, letting the viewer follow the chain of reasoning, and making proper distinctions between fact and conjecture.

Yet still there’s a propaganda gloss on the scientific process, as if the audience somehow wouldn’t buy the real thing. The obsession with carnivorous monsters, and heavy repetition of words like ‘killer’ and ‘deadly hunter’, seem to assume the audience is on a five-second boredom timer and can only be motivated by blood and guts (ie that we are 6 years old). There is a curious moment when, in magisterial tones, we are informed that the fearsomely spiked tail of a stegosaurus is known as a ‘thagomiser’. What they don’t tell us is that this term started life as a joke by Gary Larson, in whose Far Side cartoon the caveman professor explains to the class that it is named ‘after the late Thag Simmons’. The Smithsonian Institute, having a sense of humour and no prior name of its own, promptly adopted Larson’s term, which is now semi-official. Joke names abound in science, but the BBC seems to disapprove.

What’s even more interesting than feathered dinosaurs is the row that scientists have been having about them. Consider the archaeoraptor debacle. When this fossil turned up from China in 1999, National Geographic reported that it was the missing link between birds and dinosaurs. This elicited a furious response from the Smithsonian which, losing its sense of humour for once, accused the magazine of reaching ‘an all-time low for engaging in sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism’.  Why were they so upset? First, the link between dinosaurs and birds was at that time highly speculative; second, the article had preceded the scientific paper into print, meaning that according to the rule of precedent the rightful naming of the species had been effectively filched by the magazine; third, a term like ‘proto-feather’ committed the teleological fallacy, as if genes had a sense of predestination; fourth, the fossil had been illegally exported and should not have been touched by any reputable institution anyway.

Embarrassingly, the fossil turned out to be a fake, a fact that National Geographic might have learned if it hadn’t been in such a fever to publish. The story was reported with glee by the creationist lobby, ever desperate to find leverage. Though the dinosaur-bird link has since been established, the real scandal that came to light was not only the rampant trade in illegal and stolen fossils but the large numbers of forgeries that were appearing on the international market, mainly from unregulated China. The trade in fossils continues unabated, to the continued frustration of real knowledge, as much of the traffic is destined for the private collections of the rich and is thus unavailable for study.

You don’t have to be a 6 year old to like dinosaurs, but you do have to be a socialist to understand a world where people will steal and fake old fossils for the sake of a few dollars or yuan.  ‘Archaeoraptor’, by the way, means ‘old robber’.


E=MC3?
It’s something when you go down the pub or the supermarket and everyone’s talking Einstein. But it happened recently after a world headline splash that some CERN physicists had sent some neutrinos on a faster-than-light trip through an Italian mountain. Not that anybody could make any sense of the story, not even the expert commentators. Assuming it wasn’t a mistake, either it was possible to travel faster than light, in which case the standard model of physics was in trouble, or the neutrinos were somehow skipping out the side window of another dimension and back in again, in which case the standard model of physics was still in trouble. Cosmology is in big trouble anyway, as 97 percent of the universe is officially missing (dark matter, dark energy) and large chunks supposedly keep disappearing (dark flow). And the quantum theorists are ready to string themselves up too, not having had a sniff of a decent theory in 30 years. Could life get any worse for physicists? Well, let them take a lesson from socialists. We’re optimists. We look forward to the day when everybody down the pub is talking Marx. That’s when the standard model of capitalism will be in serious trouble.


Finding fault among the fault finders
Where there’s blame there’s a claim, so now they’re prosecuting scientists for not predicting an earthquake (www.nytimes.com/2011/10/04/science/04quake.html). This seems a tad unfair since nobody is suing the bankers for not predicting a global economic disaster, even though they helped cause it.

“No one expected to be told the exact time of the quake”, said one plaintiff, “We just wanted to be warned that we were sitting on a bomb.”

You would have thought that 400 tremors in the previous 6 months would be a sizeable clue, and that only a lit and sparking fuse leading directly up into the rectal cavity could give greater cause for alarm. But you’d be wrong, because the local seismic survey team reported that the risk was still low. This low risk was however translated by local officials into ‘no risk’, a prediction which turned out to be spectacularly wrong, and the writs started landing before the masonry had finished falling. The problem was that people wanted a categorical yes or no statement, and the fact that you can’t expect that kind of answer from a seismologist somehow got lost in the ensuing uproar.

People have strange ideas about science. Half the time they hate it and don’t believe a word of it, the rest of the time they seem to think it is capable of performing miracles. A bit like how people see capitalist politicians, come to think of it. It seems inconceivable that any law court would really convict the scientists, but if they do then presumably we can all start suing the Met Office every time the rain ruins our washing.
Paddy Shannon

What is Wrong With Using Parliament? (2011)

From the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
 The anarchist paper Black Flag recently reviewed our pamphlet on this under the title “We use it as a Dung Market”. We reply.
It seems ironic that the review should start with a romantic nod in the direction of William Morris when one of the things that Morris is well known for was his passion for “making Socialists”, something that the Socialist Party is rightly or wrongly often simplistically ridiculed for.

In essence, Morris’s socialist “propagandising” was about making sure that there was a strong body of socialists who had a good understanding of the workings of capitalism and a clear understanding of the components of a society in contrast to it. He happened to call this socialism, as we do, and it rested on the view that there needed to be a mass of opinion in favour of it as a classless, stateless, moneyless society.

If people start to believe in the possibility of a future society beyond the market and the state then it seems sensible that they should cover all bases and rob any ounce of legitimacy that the capitalist class (including leftist would-be managers with their own statist dreams) will try to bestow upon themselves. The icing on the cake is that we don’t allow them that privilege and that we should go into in parliament as rebels. Of course this implies a mass of anti-capitalist opinion outside parliament of which those elected would be the mandated delegates.

The anarcho-communist Alexander Berkman once pointed out that:
  ‘Our social institutions are founded on certain ideas and as long as these are generally believed, the institutions built on them are safe. Government remains strong because people think political authority and legal compulsion necessary. Capitalism will continue as long as such an economic system is considered adequate and just. The weakening of the ideas which support the evil and oppressive present-day conditions means the ultimate breakdown of government and capitalism.’
In other words, the big holding power that capitalism in more “developed” countries has over many is in people’s heads in that the majority believe that there is no alternative or/and that they are “free” and living in a “democratic” society. It is precisely in the countries that have a semblance of democracy that seem to be the most stable in capitalist terms, for the reasons stated by Berkman above. So if that’s the case, what’s wrong with using the platform offered by parliament to call their bluff about being democratic?

The common objection to this raised by anarchists is the “corrupting effects of politics”. If that’s a problem then anarchists wouldn’t be able to trust their own mandated recallable delegates either, since such delegates is what we propose when we seek the platform of parliament to further articulate that desire for a society free from capital and the state and ultimately capture those powers that could be used against us. And if who controls the state is not important then why are so many anarchists concerned about the BNP getting hold of it?

The Socialist Party doesn’t have a blueprint for how a future society may come about but isn’t it wise to minimise as much as possible the risk of violence that states which, if left at the disposal of those who currently control them via their own “delegates”, could more easily deploy against the development of a new society?

Any process that has as its aim the revolutionary transformation of society has to have a future vision as a realisable possibility. This has to increasingly gain ground by being articulated in workplaces, the community, shops, pubs, in the arts and culture in general. As that future society gains ground as a tangible possibility then the conversation, discussion and plans will be increasingly enthused about how best to organise and adapt in all areas to meet society’s needs.

What’s the best way to help this process? Should we go down the route of fetishising every struggle going as, according to many on the left, struggle in itself is going to magically transform the consciousness of those involved into hardened revolutionaries? But if struggle alone is supposed to incrementally revolutionise us all then what’s the reason why so many workers who’ve gone through a lot of struggle, the miners, construction workers and others, have not reached radical conclusions but sometimes very reactionary ones such as “British jobs for British workers”?

To focus on explaining the root cause of society’s problems rather than tinker around with the edges (symptoms) is one of the most important reasons for an organisation like the Socialist Party to exist. That’s why we think it important not to spend endless amounts of time campaigning as a party to try to deal with the inevitable aspects of what capitalism throws at us as workers.

Anyone would think from reading the review that all our members do is campaign to persuade people to resort to the ballot box .The conception that the review has of the Socialist Party supposedly thinking that strikes are a “diversion” is a complete red herring. What fairy tale was that whisked up from? Strikes are an inevitable part of the class war that workers can sometimes utilise to defend or improve their working conditions or rates of pay. Our members are involved in these as workers. What’s wrong thinking that all these things don’t necessarily lead to revolution? Surely if they did then, with all the struggles on the economic front that the working class is forced to engage in every day since it came into existence, we should already be there in the review’s (for want of a better term) “councillist utopia”?

This rosy view of the working class doesn’t accord with reality. Most workplaces in the developed world are not one big “comradely experience” although most people are pretty decent despite the competitive environments they find themselves in. In the UK for example it’s the “Service Sector” that accounts for 73 per cent of GDP. I have worked in it and wonder why the reviewer has not been able to see what I see. Low pay, poorly unionised, competitive and non-stop, target-driven bullshit for many. Hierarchies built-in all over the place, where managers believe they’ve got a better deal than other workers who they generally view as their subordinates, and where often in return the other workers have respect or/and fear of the “higher ups”. In many cases the view is that the way to improve one’s position is done not as a class but as a rat in the rat race up the ladder. The effect is that the higher up the worker goes, the more they are forced to compromise and conform and get those beneath them to do the same.

Try openly putting across revolutionary or even militant ideas in workplaces like this (and many typically are) and you will be seen as “different” by your fellow workers who generally have very reactionary ideas in their heads. There’s also the problem of all the informal hierarchies that are there as well as the real ones. Ever seen The Office? It’s a brilliant example of this kind of behaviour. Once the bosses get an idea that there may be a “real revolutionary” in their midst, one that can’t easily be compromised that is, then they’ll soon “come up” with a “plausible” reason to get rid of them.

In addition, the figures for part-time work, temporary contracts and self-employment pose severe problems with the various “down tools” scenarios. And what about the unemployed, those on benefits, the retired or those dependent on partners or parents who may well go along with the way things are?

Those pushing papers around in the world of academia or those working out how to push some product onto the “consumer”? What clout do they or will they have if just tied down to a concept of revolution as a purely economic struggle?

What was probably most offensive about the review is the final paragraph where the reviewer sites the Socialist Party “slap bang in the middle of the Marxist vanguard groups whose characteristics it shares – authoritarian structure, party chauvinism and so on”. One of the reasons I joined the Socialist Party was because I didn’t like the de facto personality-dominated politics that often crept into groups that deemed themselves to be “anarchist”, with little or no structure to get the “personalities” to come down from their privileged positions. In this respect at least, I felt that the Socialist Party was actually more “anarchist” than the anarchists! An important part of my “anarchism” meant allowing for the widest conception of democracy possible to suit the needs of society.

The Socialist Party is merely a tool to be used by those who want socialism and who think that organising democratically is more important than seeing yourself as bigger than the society that you want to inhabit and think it important to have a voice for the possibility of a future that is so often buried.

Ultimately, what socialist conscious workers decide to do will be for them to decide. If they decide that parliament is an irrelevance then they will ignore it. On the other hand, if they see that to ignore it could be dangerous and also that it has potential, then they will make use of that potential.
Stair


Rowan Williams v New (and old) Atheism (2011)

The Halo Halo! column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

You almost have to feel sorry for the Archbishop of Cant. It seems that the Church of England is on its knees. With declining attendance, internal disagreement about God’s wishes regarding women and gays becoming bishops, and clergy defecting to the Catholics he has the job of holding the whole circus together and trying to present it as a credible organisation with something useful to say.

Back in February, in response to a report highlighting the problems the Church faces in trying to convince us to take it seriously, he put much of the blame on what he calls ‘new atheism’. How this differs from old atheism he didn’t say but presumably he was referring to the numerous books published recently attacking the antiquated beliefs that he and his cronies expect us to accept. What was needed, he said, was for the clergy to be more vocal in countering the arguments put by such writers as Dawkins and Hitchens.

Unfortunately he didn’t give any suggestions as to the kind of counter-arguments he expects them to use against the flood of rationalism and science that they face so it’s difficult to imagine exactly what he has in mind. He certainly didn’t volunteer to step in himself and debate against Dawkins on the question of ‘Evolution or Creationism?’ That would be worth hearing.

Maybe he’s busy behind the scenes praying for some undeniable evidence that the story of Adam and Eve and the talking serpent IS true, that the earth really IS only a few thousand years old, and that Noah DID collect together two elephants, two aardvarks, two duck-billed platypus, two orangutans, two hippopotami, etc, etc, etc, and take them all for a ride in his ark.

To be fair to the Archbishop and his mates though, it’s unlikely that many of them believe this tosh any more than we do. And it must be difficult to keep a straight face when they have to mention it. But that’s the problem they are saddled with. Rowan Williams can hardly turn round now and say, “Sorry folks, it’s just a load of old cobblers we’ve been using to remind you of your place in a class divided society”.  Well, he could; but he’s not going to. He may like to be seen as an affable old leftie but he’s certainly no socialist.

As for ‘new’ atheist Richard Dawkins, well, as a scientist and academic he is of course concerned that such unscientific nonsense as ‘intelligent design’ is being taught in schools. And while we agree with him, from a socialist point of view the problem is much deeper.

It’s all very well to point out the lack of logic in religious beliefs, but religion is not simply a jumble of confused ideas. It is a powerful weapon in the hands of the capitalist class. It divides us and blinds us to the class action that is required to overcome the menace of capitalism.

Religion is the ideological expression of a long-gone world and its ancient social conditions, a world of superstition, slavery and little education. Far from providing an answer to today’s problems, it tells us to put our faith in the supernatural hopes of a past age. Instead of uniting us as a class we are to become meek and mild, and to submit to the whims of an ancient god that was dreamt up in the bronze age.
Nick White

Tiny Tips (2011)

The Tiny Tips column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jenny Nicholson is tired of hearing how the poor are poor because they make poor choices. Let’s see what kind of choices you make when it’s your turn to be flattened by the economy. That’s the idea behind Spent, an online game Nicholson created to challenge popular misconceptions about poverty. Play it at www.playspent.org.

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Some children in the North [of China] live ferally: they are known as kotjebi, or “fluttering swallows”, and roam in packs. When they cannot steal in the markets, they eat dead dogs and rotten food (reportedly chewing toothpaste in the belief that it prevents food poisoning).

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A typical prize for a children’s contest might be a backpack, a lunchbox or maybe some toys. But not in Somalia. Over the weekend, a Somali radio station run by the Shabab, the most powerful Islamist  militant group in the war-ravaged country, held an awards ceremony to honor children who were experts at Shabab trivia and at reciting the Koran . The prizes? Fully automatic assault rifles and live hand grenades.
[LINK]

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What makes individual stockbrokers blow billions in financial markets with criminal trading schemes? According to a new study conducted at a Swiss university, it may be because share traders behave  more recklessly and are more manipulative than psychopaths:
[LINK]

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A Saudi Arabian ministry statement carried by the state news agency, SPA, stated that Abdul Hamid al-Fakki “practiced witchcraft and sorcery,” which are illegal under Saudi Arabia’s Islamic sharia law. Al-Fakki was beheaded in the western city of Medina on Monday, the interior ministry announced:

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Mr. Daisey’s trip to Shenzhen, China, where he posed as a wealthy businessman to infiltrate factories where Apple products and other electronics are made. He says he witnessed inhumane conditions and interviewed workers outside of factories who said they were as young as 12.
   ‘What was shocking to me was the level of dehumanization built into the systems that have been put into place by American corporations in collusion with suppliers…… There’s a hunger in very controlling companies like Apple to create planned obsolescences sooner rather than later, so it will become more and more difficult to stay functional’:
[LINK]

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Eight in 10 British workers are overweight or living with long-term illnesses that limit their productivity, according to early findings of a 25-year study of people’s wellbeing:
[LINK]

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Tobacco companies knew that cigarettes contained a radioactive substance called polonium-210, but hid that knowledge from the public for over four decades, a new study of historical documents revealed:
[LINK]

Is 20 Years of the Big Issue Something To Shout About? (2011)

From the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
  This September saw The Big Issue magazine ‘celebrate’ 20 years of trying to tackle homeless issues.
The Big Issue was started back in 1991 by Gordon Roddick (husband of Body Shop owner Anita) and John Bird (not the John Bird of TV comedy Bremner, Bird and Fortune) who was himself a victim of homelessness when young. Its initial aims were to help the homeless by allowing them to help themselves. The basic concept of the magazine is simple: a homeless person is given 5 copies to start for free. They sell these for £2 each and can then buy further copies from the magazine for £1 each, re-selling for £2 and keeping the difference. In time the vendor can eventually build up for themselves a small client base and earn reasonable enough money to eventually get themselves set up in a home of their own, thus ‘solving’ the homeless crisis one person at a time. For some this method indeed works and there have been many successful vendors over time. However as a wider solution to the housing and homeless crisis, this kind of work-for-your-supper thinking is really a very poor quality sticking plaster over a wide, gaping wound and is fundamentally flawed.

Homelessness is a complex issue. For every homeless person there is a raft of interrelated reasons why they may be in that situation. Some are simple: loss of housing through relationship breakdowns, inability to pay for housing, drink, drugs, mental health issues, abuse and domestic violence. For some, all they really need is a house or flat. For others, more complex social help is required from specialists perhaps in drink and drug rehabilitation, or social workers to support individuals through crises. In fairness to the Big Issue, they never set out to deal with these problems, although the later founded Big Issue Foundation has tried to expand its approach.

Many of the issues homeless people face are centred around their ability to pay for their accommodation and to maintain those payments. Whether buying or renting, housing takes a disproportionate amount of income and in recent years has sailed close to the maximum 30% as recommended by most financial experts as a percentage of income. These costs coupled with spiralling food and fuel expenditure, mean the ability to maintain housing is getting increasingly harder for many families. Loss of a job, reduction in working hours or wages can have a devastating impact and can often result in homelessness. Exact figures for homelessness are difficult to obtain due to the transient nature of the people involved, the various bodies doing research and the changing way the government classifies homelessness. However, as a rule of thumb, in times of economic downturn the number of homeless persons increases exponentially. No amount of charity, magazine sales or campaigning will alter the root cause of the problem and the profit driven nature of housing.

So in 20 years how has the Big Issue helped with solving the problems of homelessness? According to their own website:
 The Big Issue is a business solution to a social problem, demonstrating that an organisation can succeed whilst being simultaneously driven by commercial aims and social objectives. It has helped thousands of individuals to regain control of their lives and has simultaneously altered public perceptions of homeless people (http://www.bigissue.com/History_34.php)
No doubt on an individual basis the Big Issue has helped some of the thousands it has had contact with to be able to better their own situations, but in the bigger picture it, like so many other homeless charities, is unable to achieve anything of real and lasting value. There was a huge homeless problem 20 years ago in the UK and there is still one now. Unless capitalism is swept away, there will still be one in 20 years time.

Under capitalism, housing, like everything else, is a commodity to be bought and sold on the market. For those unable to afford it, homelessness is the only option unless bailed out by limited council and state help or charitable donations. These are not solving the problem, merely at best reducing some of its ill effects. Business has no interest in solving social problems, contrary to the statement by the Big Issue. Its goal, always, is profit. If housing was fairly distributed according to need rather than via a market, then the problem of homelessness would disappear and there would be no need for such ‘social entrepreneurship’ as lauded by the Big Issue and similar organisations.

A telling quote comes from John Bird himself:
  I am a self appointed grandee of the poor. I am one of them who got out and got into a position to help, so I will mollycoddle Lord Mandleson, Cameron, Blair, and Brown, anyone if it helps. I don’t want to read The Big Issue and read how miserable it is living under capitalism. I want to know what you’re going to do about it, how you’re going to dismantle it (Independent, 5 September).
In socialism, a society based on people’s needs not profit, housing like everything else would be free and open to all. The masses of empty homes would not stay empty because people couldn’t afford to live in them anymore. Homelessness will be a thing of the past and consigned to history, and with it will be the well-intentioned but ultimately self-perpetuating charities. Hopefully in another 20 years there will be no need for a ‘celebration’ of the continuing need for charity.
David Humphries

Where Will It End? (2011)

From the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Occupy movement is a sign of spreading unrest.
Just last month ago we asked in our editorial whether we were beginning to see the “red shoots” of recovery in the class struggle. At the time, the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) had just called for joint industrial action, street protests and a campaign of civil disobedience, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had warned that America and Europe were facing the worst jobs crisis since the 1930s and an ‘explosion of social unrest’. We said then that there was no way of predicting with any confidence whether this expected ‘explosion’ would go off, or turn out to be a damp squib, depending, as it did and does, on what millions of people think and decide to do.

Since we wrote those words, you’d have to be a dour cynic indeed not to be heartened and encouraged by world events. Truly has it been said that there are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen. It’s hard to believe that in just one year we have seen a series of democratic uprisings across the Middle East and north Africa threaten or topple dictatorships; strikes and increasingly militant protests against austerity in Greece and across Europe; strikes, demonstrations and riots across Britain; and mass protests and occupations against anti-union legislation in Wisconsin, USA, to name just the most obvious and inspiring examples.

And then, in September of this year, the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters and the activist group Anonymous announced an occupation of Wall Street. The bourgeoisie – along with the older, more senile, battle-weary ranks of class warriors and socialists – barely had time for the sneers to settle on their faces before the ‘anarchism as usual’ action had morphed into what some commentators are already calling the most significant populist movement of the left since the 1930s. On Wall Street, a decade happened in just a few weeks, and a small activist action exploded into an ever-growing movement that the mainstream media and ruling-class establishment eventually and reluctantly decided it could no longer ignore.

Ignoring it didn’t work, and neither did a rapid police attempt to suppress it with violence. Every attempt to silence and repress the Occupy Wall Street movement – including mass arrests and rioting cops pepper-spraying young girls – merely led to new waves of support. More and more workers from all kinds of backgrounds – nurses, sacked cleaners, doctors, serving and former soldiers, unemployed graduates, poor youth from the city’s most impoverished districts, even sympathetic Wall Street traders – have poured into New York’s financial district to see what’s happening, listen to talks, take part in democratically organised general assemblies to plan actions and decide upon demands (if any), and generally build solidarity, communication, and mutual aid. (For informative news reports, see the Democracy Now channel at www.democracynow.org.) The example in Wall Street soon spread throughout the country, and there are now copycat occupations in Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Wisconsin, and many others, and attempts to repeat the success are spreading around the world, soon to arrive in London and the rest of Britain.     

With what result? Well, of course, no one but fake Cassandras and Nostradamuses know. It may be that the whole thing will have fizzled out before this journal hits your doorstep. Or perhaps the movement will turn lamely reformist and be bought off. Perhaps, like the civil rights movement, it will prove not at all lame, even if reformist, and win some essential gains for our class. Or perhaps even, if some of the more radical demands and ideas put up on the Occupy movement’s websites become reality, we will see a genuine anti-capitalist movement develop worldwide. These are exciting times.

The key, of course, will be whether the protest movement can involve the rest of the working class and organise to take democratic control of the whole of social life, including winning control of  the powers of government. With the potential for the Occupy movement spreading to this country and a nationwide day of action, including strikes, on 30 November, organised by the TUC, these are days of precious opportunity for the working class in Britain. It’s time, as the poet Shelley once put it, to rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number. We have a life to win.
Stuart Watkins

All Keynesians now? (2011)

Book Review from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Political Economy of Development. Edited by Bayliss, Fine and Van Waeyenberge (Pluto Press) 2011

The subject of this book is the World Bank. Along with the International Monetary Fund, it was created by a UN conference at Bretton Woods USA in 1944. The original purpose of the Bank was to encourage post-war investment for reconstruction and development by making loans to governments. The Bank, based in Washington, went on to develop financial aid packages for the less developed countries around the world. Critics complained that this aid was conditional on accepting the ‘Washington Consensus’ on the need for implementing neo-liberal ideology – deregulation of markets, privatisation and a reduced role for the state. Since 1998 this has been replaced by the ‘Post-Washington Consensus’ in which the Bank promotes the market through state intervention. As the authors explain, ‘neo-liberalism has never been short of state intervention’. What is new, they argue, is the state-sponsored expansion of private financial institutions and services over the last three decades.

This book challenges the neo-liberal assumptions which still guide the Bank, and they provide detailed evidence of its failures. But what is the alternative? The authors pose the rhetorical question ‘Are we all Keynesians once more?’ with the clear implication that it is the only alternative. However, this conclusion lacks historical perspective. Keynesian economics (after the economist JM Keynes) is basically the belief that governments should intervene in the economy to spend their way out of trouble, and its failure to solve the problems of capitalism led to its replacement by faith in the market in the 1980s. (In practice, governments – even those who have formally repudiated Keynesianism – have intervened to prop-up their markets when necessary; especially in the current recession.) Neo-liberal faith in the market was bound to end in disillusion, but that does not vindicate an equally misplaced faith in Keynesian economics. Keynesianism and neo-liberalism are merely two policies for running capitalism.
Lew Higgins

Djanogly – One Of The Family (2011)

The Greasy Pole Column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Around that legendary city of Nottingham there is a name which is very difficult to avoid and even more difficult to forget. Djanogly. There is, for example, the Djanogly City Academy, previously the Technology College. Then there are the University Djanogly Gallery and Lecture Theatre and a Djanogly playground. Even more splendidly we might come across the Sir Harry and Lady Djanogly Learning Resource Centre – a daringly circular building on an island platform. All this reminds us that the said Sir Harry, apart from owning the largest collection of Lowry paintings in the world, has also been an habitual sponsor of technology and learning and if we ask how he can afford this we need to know only that he has interests in, apart from anything else, the massively famous textile company Coats Viyella (now Coats plc), which he is said to have founded. Another family investment has been their son Jonathan who, after an unexciting academic experience, qualified as a solicitor and is now a partner in the corporate department of a city law firm as well as the Conservative MP for Huntingdon – one of the safest seats in the country previously represented by Prime Minister John Major, who is a close personal friend of Sir Harry.

Millionaire
The Djanogly family fortune is put at £300 million; Jonathan is himself a millionaire, recording shareholdings in companies including Imperial Tobacco and BP. However it has not all been unyielding happiness for among the rural bliss of Huntingdon there has been mutinous gossip on the theme that Sir Harry’s close bonds with John Major may have allowed some subtle arm-twisting to ensure that his son was selected to stand for the Tories after Major gave up. Any such resentment could not have been soothed by the new MP’s subsequent rapid rise up the Greasy Pole, in opposition and government, until Cameron’s victory in 2010 saw him blossom into Under-Secretary of State at the Justice Department, dealing with matters including legal aid, family justice and the law courts.

But at some stage – there were quite a few incidents to explain it – the dizzying rise and rise of Djanogly stalled. Perhaps it was when, as one source of information has it, he caused local opinion to sour to the extent of describing him as “lazy, with no political convictions or beliefs”. Or when one leading party member, possibly nostalgic for the battles between John Major and his Eurosceptic bastards, thought that he “works very hard not to give an opinion… nobody knows where he stands on anything. He is a wet fish…” and again he was damned for winning the candidature because “…party members voted for him as a favour to John Major. He has been a disaster and we need to deselect him”. With which the local “Ditch Djanogly” Facebook campaign, whose membership included the “estranged” son of a Tory big-wig, will heartily agree. In his own defence Djanogly can give examples of his performing with very adequate energy and commitment, except that this was not always on matters and in a style likely to justify the approval of the Huntingdon Tories.

Expenses
There was, as a start, the scandal of his expense claims in which, along the green benches, he was not alone. Djanogly had claimed something over £77,000 on his “second home” in Cambridgeshire while giving his main home as in London. This claim entailed a certain adjustment of the facts, because that £3.7 million Maida Vale home is owned, or rather held in trust, by his parents who allowed him to live there rent free. Then there was the sum of £4,936 to install a set of automatic gates at his home in Alconbury, which he said were needed to keep him safe from animal rights campaigners protesting at his links with the notoriously animal-testing Huntingdon Life Sciences. Gardening costs accounted for £400 a month, two digital TV boxes £846…

And then there was the item which attracted the most intensive media scrutiny – his claim for over £13,000 for students described as cleaners for his constituency home, although it emerged that one of them was an au pair who advertised herself as such and spent most of her time in their London home or on holiday with them, looking after their children and waiting on visitors at constituency events. Under pressure from the exposure of his breaches of the rules on expenses, Djanogly had to repay £25,000 while local party members were angry that he – a Minister of Justice – had lied to them.

Their Honourable Member’s response to this was to employ, at a cost of £5,000, private detectives who worked their well-honed deceptive skills to trick Djanogly’s most serious critics (who included his constituency agent) to reveal their identity. And any energy he had to spare from this subterfuge he devoted to pushing through the Commons a Bill which, by slashing legal aid entitlement and changing the procedures in cases of claims for damages after accidents and the like, promises effectively to benefit the insurance industry by as much as hundreds of millions of pounds. Djanogly did not seem to be embarrassed by being likely to profit from this as a partner in his family’s underwriting firm – although, seven days after the matter was publicised in the Guardian, he moved his shares in the Djanogly Family LLP to a “blind trust”. Just another incident in the political career of Jonathan Djanogly, with its ripples of confusion, doubt and outrage among even his closest supporters, to put his parliamentary future in serious doubt. By even the accustomed standards, it has been a sad and sterile affair, nurturing the myths of capitalist politics – that privilege and charity are proper and adequate adjustments to enduring poverty, that society’s rulers wheedle into power over us on the pledge that the outcome will be to our benefit when it will remorselessly aggravate the damage and repression we already know so well.
Ivan

10 Years of the "Peoples" Republic (1959)

From the December 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and is probably as good a time as any to review the events of the past decade. For ten years the 650 million population of the largest country in the world has gone through an amazing process watched with intense interest by many millions particularly of other oriental people.

China has been somewhat of a mystery to Westerners A land of cheap labour, widespread and constantly recurring famines and civil wars, with a society that seemed in a stale of perpetual arrested development and a written and spoken language that usually proved an effective barrier to understanding.

But in 1949. the Communist Party of China won the civil war against the Nationalist Party and seized control of the reins of government, to the horror of the God-fearing and the respectable. Since then, the sleeping giant that was China seems to have woken up, and hardly a week goes by without this country coming into the news and sometimes making the headlines. But this is a process that has crept up, in typical old-time Chinese style, by stealth and almost without notice, although it has a background of tremendous growth and change.

But many people wonder what the Chinese workers themselves think of living under “communism” and whether, in fact. China really has a new system of society.

What Happened
In Chinese agriculture, which employs more people than any other occupation, the tempo of development has been rapid. There have been great technical improvements in irrigation, in deep ploughing, soil improvement, pest control, use of chemical fertilisers, farm machinery and specialisation in high-yielding crops, such as rice, corn and potatoes. The productivity in rice in 1949 was 1,668 lbs. per acre; by 1958 it had increased to an estimated 3,000 lbs., whilst the productivity in cotton during the same period rose from 143 lbs. to an estimated 300 lbs. per acre. State investment in agriculture rose from U.S.$389 million in 1952 to U.S.$892 million in 1958.

There has also been, it is said, an improvement in the standard of living of the agricultural worker which the government proudly proclaims as one of the ways that Communism works for the benefit of the under-privileged. With the improvements claimed for the Western worker here is usually a snag — things are not always what they seem. So with the Chinese agricultural worker. He has to work nearly twice as many days in the year for his increased standard of living—from 172 days for a full- time agricultural worker (Dr. Lossing Buck’s survey in the 1920's) to around 300 days at the present time. But this is not all. Through the organisation of the communes (of which more later) about 100 million women in the country districts are said to have been released from household chores to become wage-slaves.

To cure any impression that they may be living in the very lap of luxury, it should be noted that the staple diet of rice, as well us cotton (used for practically all forms of clothing) are still both rationed.

Development of Agrarian Communities
The changes that are going on are not all of a technical nature. In education, for instance, primary enrolment increased from 24 million in 1949 to 86 million (estimated) in 1958. and there has also been a heavy increase in the number of higher standard students of agriculture as well as research workers.

The vast changes have been preceded by widespread social reforms which have removed many obstacles, such as the irrational land system, superstitious practices and the previously inferior position of peasant women. The domination of the landlord-gentry and the power of the patriarchal heads of the village, have been reduced.

There have also been far-reaching changes in the organisation of the countryside. These started with mutual-aid teams whereby the peasants—those die-hard independent individualists were induced to perform the main work on their farms in groups working together. The peasant still owned his own land and the produce from it. This form of organisation was the thin end of the wedge and led to further development. Then followed various forms of farming, such as co-operative producers' societies and collective farms. In some, the peasants pooled their land and implements and were credited with their value and with their labour. The crops were shared out on that basis. The peasants could withdraw if they wished.

As time went on these organisations developed until the peasant was not much more than a shareholder in a large community farm without the option of withdrawal. These changes, incidentally, eased the task of tax collecting and governmental control.

The Communes
The present form of agrarian organisation is the commune, which the Peking Government have the effrontery to describe as the transition stage from Socialism to Communism. An analysis of the organisation of the communes shows how worthless and misleading is the claim and reminds one of the somewhat parallel claim by the British Labour Party that capitalism plus the reforms they propose makes Socialism.

The commune is now the basic unit for agrarian China and averages from 10,000 to 40,000 members. The commune has centralised control and unified management and engages in all spheres of activity, including industry, agriculture, forestry, credit, public health, communications and military training. Communal kitchens and nurseries release the women for wage-labour. Even private garden plots are taken over along with the peasants’ farms. Payment is purely by wage on a variety of “piece-work plus bonus” system. Thus, almost at a stroke has the peasant of China been converted into a wage-labourer—as much a member of the working-class as any Western man-in- the-street, despite the fact that the government confuses the issue by describing these community sweat-shops as Communism.

The Peking government (reported in The Far Eastern Economic Review, December 4th, 1958), requires each commune member to be “obedient, enthusiastic, overfulfil production quotas, struggle against evil personalities and practices, think progressively and work at least 28 days per month.” What a lot they expect for a handful of rice and a bowl of chop-suey! Moreover, there will only be one employer in the country districts and that will be the commune management. Under these conditions the boss has very much the whip hand and the worker has to jump to it, for if he falls foul of his boss there is no other to offer him a job. In his spare time, military duties are prescribed.

It is in the use of bonuses and rewards that the commune leadership can exert the greatest control. 80 per cent. of the basic wage of each member will be paid him directly, but 20 per cent. will be withheld, to be returned only in the event of outstanding performance. A worker who fails to display the proper “enthusiasm” or is lax or fails to work the requisite number of days, not only loses this 20 per cent. already withheld, but runs the risk of being demoted to a lower wage grade or of having further wages deducted.

According to one commune’s draft regulations “the distribution of income shall be based on the principle of ensuring high speed in expanded production.” While the regulations call for increased wages as the rate of production goes up, the regulations prescribe not only that the rate of wage increase must be slower than the rate of increase in production, but also that when living standards reach the level of “well-to-do middle peasants” the rate of wage increase should be reduced so as to leave more for the development of industry.

Industry
The expansion of industry in the past ten years is almost as marked as the changes in agriculture. According to official claims, steel production has increased fifty fold since 1949—from 158,000 tons in 1949 to 8 million tons in 1958. The annual pre-war production of 35 million tons of coal had increased to 270 million tons in 1958; and the reserves are vast. In mid 1958 the Vice-Minister of Geology claimed that China ranks first in the world in reserves of many important minerals and metals. China is now successfully exporting machinery (in addition to many other products) in competition with other capitalist countries.

The working-class standard of living during the ten years under review has certainly been rising, but not so quickly as their output. From this we must except the vast numbers in labour camps whose plight horrified some of the Labour Party M.P.s when they visited China a few years ago. Those victims work at a killing speed in slave conditions.

China is entering the ranks as a great industrial country with all that that implies.
Frank Offord.

To be concluded.

Is Your ticket really necessary? (1959)

From the December 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 25th September, 1825, an exciting event linked the neighbouring towns of Stockton and Darlington, in the North of England. The first steam-driven train, with Stephenson himself at the controls, puffed triumphantly along between the two towns, at the amazing speed of thirty miles an hour. This was the opening of railway travel in Great Britain, which has since passed through the early rivalry of the small companies for passenger and goods traffic, and the amalgamations into the four large companies, until today we have the vast, nationalised British Railways.

Landmark
An early example of the harsh competition was the defeat of the Great Western’s application for Parliamentary sanction for their line to Bristol. This was the work of a rival group with interests in a line from London to Southampton. There were the races to the West Country, and the famous Battle of the Gauges, which lasted until 1892, when the Great Western admitted defeat. Brunel’s 7 ft. gauge had all the technical advantages, but it was more expensive to lay than the standard track. That was why it never spread beyond the Great Western—and was eventually dropped. Many of these battles were ended when the combatants joined forces, as happened so often during the 19th and early 20th century.

1959 is another landmark in the history of British railway locomotive production. A few months ago the last steam locomotive passed from the works at Crewe, and now diesel and electric power will be taking the place of steam. This is part of British Railways' large-scale modernisation programme, involving the electrification of long stretches of line, rebuilding bridges and platforms and erecting overhead cables. An important part of this programme entails strengthening rails and sleeper beds, for some of the new locomotives can travel at 90 miles an hour and the permanent way must be able to stand the increased stress. Let us hope that the modernisation schemes do not cut too fine a safety margin. We can all remember railway accidents which have been caused by inadequate safety measures; recently the writer spoke to a signalman who works a 12-hour shift in a busy box on the London to Holyhead Irish Mail route. It was, he said, at times “a bit too much” for him.

The importance of the railway network to the British ruling class forces a higher degree of safety in their operation than perhaps applies in other spheres of commodity production. Railway accidents are generally followed by courts of inquiry, which often expose the excessive working hours, inadequate rest and poor health of workers such as signalmen, who sometimes carry too much responsibility for really safe working. Always undermining the safety margins is the factor of cost, impossible to eliminate so long as profit is the spur to production.

Cardboard Empire
Of course, there is no need to worry about the lack of safety if you cannot afford a ticket, for without this you will not be allowed on to the train. This vast cardboard empire, with its attendant army of human automatons selling, clipping and snooping, is a typical example of the waste of capitalist society. One of the snoopers’ jobs is to see that nobody travels a class above his tickets that nobody who has paid a fare entitling him to a grimy second-class seat, steals into a first-class compartment like those on the Master Cutler—the business man’s train to Sheffield. Such contrasts, we know, are inherent in capitalist society. But the point is that, despite the euphemistic tags of “public” and “social” services, which are applied to nationalised transport, travel is still for sale—at so much per mile. And the ambition of the railways, as ever, is the accumulation of capital.

What of the men who have spent the best years of their lives building and operating the vast railway network of Great Britain? Are they to be found living “first class” in the twilight of their lives? Are they enjoying the fruits of their past labours? Alas, such is not the case. Read the Liverpool Echo (7.8.59):-
  Superannuated railway workers in the South of England are joining forces with their North Wales colleagues in the fight to secure better pensions . . .  to see what can be done on a national scale for those elderly people who are living on small fixed incomes.
Such is the lot of the cast-offs of capitalism.

What we really need is a railway system which is operated for our use, instead of for the profit of some company or State bondholders. A railway which travels at a speed dictated by safety, comfort and pleasure, and not by the mad rush of commercial interests. We can only get that when all of society’s wealth is freely available to the people of the world. When the workers who have designed, built and operated the railways and all other wealth, decide to take social possession of their social product. Then we can eliminate not merely the class symbols on the carriages but every evidence of privilege and waste, which produces the shoddy along with the best. We shall never again hear, “Tickets, please!” Mankind will have taken a real step forward in its social travels.
G. R. Russell