Friday, December 27, 2019

Pathfinders: Meat without the bleat (2011)

The Pathfinders Column from the October 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Meat without the bleat

Panda pie anyone? How about cheetah chow mein or koala curry? The much-anticipated arrival of in-vitro synthetic meat is almost upon us, with the first artificial pork sausage now an estimated six months away (New Scientist, 3 September). Since the animals normally used for meat are those that were historically easiest to domesticate regardless of whether they were the best tasting, this could be an opportunity to get really adventurous. And, come to think of it, why stop at living animals? With the genomes of many extinct animals now in the bag or in the pipeline it should in theory be possible to serve up dodo and dinosaur too. And for the slightly perverse gourmand what about Neanderthal? We could even find out whether it’s true what they say about ‘long pig’. And all of it pain, guilt and mostly fat and resource-free, according to the hype in which it will surely be packaged. Though no lower in energy consumption than poultry or pork production, in-vitro promises to produce about a tenth of the greenhouse gases associated with beef farming and use around five percent of the water and one percent of the land. Vegetarians should be ecstatic, and meat eaters can stop worrying about ethics. Farmyard animals should be dancing in the barns for joy as the Third Meat Revolution emancipates the worldwide Doner-tariat and slaughterhouses become overgrown with weeds. Fish can swim round the mill pond rejoicing at their imminent return from the brink of extinction.

For socialists with a serious concern for world food supplies this ought to be unequivocally welcome news. Socialism, as a society of universal free access, presupposes material abundance, or at least sufficiency, and food is at the top of the critical list. Though the world could currently support around 10 billion using third world farming methods, the diet would be unenviably drab, and probably less healthy than at any time since the first development of farming. To provide the world’s population with the kind of meat diet and general variety the West is accustomed to would take between three and five planets. With this technology however, one of socialism’s most pressing problems looks well on the way to being solved.

Hard not to get excited about, surely? Well, we don’t want to piss on anyone’s mammothburger and chips, but let’s just take a moment here. Some scientists anticipate public resistance, citing a ‘yuk factor’ response as consumers react against this ‘unnatural’ technology. A thoroughly unscientific straw poll around our office’s meat-eaters revealed that, assuming general equivalence in price, two would indeed take this view, since meat ‘ought to come from real animals’, two wouldn’t care, given what goes in today’s meat products anyway, and one would be enthusiastic for ethical reasons. This suggests that though the ‘yuk factor’ is likely to be a real phenomenon, it is not universal. It may only be a temporary reaction too, since ‘artificial’ foods like quorn have grown in popularity over time. Comparisons with Europe-wide rejection of ‘unnatural’ GM foods are rather off-beam. People don’t just object to GM because it’s ‘unnatural’, whatever that means, but also because it is largely untested and untrusted technology in the hands of untrustworthy corporations, and in the case of the notorious ‘terminator gene’, blatantly used for the purpose of ruthless profit in defiance of any conceivable human interest.

One can hope that capitalism will use in-vitro technology in the best possible way to produce the best possible products, but one should add a piquant splash of cynicism to that dish. What is just as likely to emerge is something stringy, greasy and anaemic for the labouring classes while the price of ‘real’ meat rockets along with its upper class mystique. Capitalism will certainly try to wring the best possible profit from the technology, but it may be left to socialism to find the best possible use for it.


Citizens band

Socialists with their own PCs might like to consider donating some free machine time to important scientific research projects, many of which now use distributed networks of home PCs for the huge data-crunching they need.  The SETI@home project is probably the most iconic of these, the quest to find extraterrestrial intelligence that has such a remote chance of success that wags have observed they’d do better to mount a search for terrestrial intelligence instead. Now, and with more hope of useful result, the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) is requesting home help to process the data coming from radio observatories, including the soon to be built Square Kilometre Array, itself a distributed multiple-dish telescope the effective size of a continent (‘Skynet seeks to crowdsource the stars’, BBC Online, 13 September). This is exactly how we’ll do so much science in socialism too, because quite apart from the efficiency of distributed parallel data processing, distributed human participation is the whole point, the whole socialist raison d’etre. And how amazing to be directly involved in new discoveries! But did they really have to call it Skynet? Wasn’t that the name of the rogue system that took over the world and killed everyone in the film Terminator? Oooer….


Capitalism gets smart?

The University of Illinois’ Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Science recently announced a study which used millions of press articles to predict unrest in North Africa retrospectively, and which could, say the report authors, be used to predict future conflicts (‘Supercomputer predicts revolution’, BBC Online, 9 September). While the likelihood of future conflicts in capitalism is a total no-brainer, the ability to predict just when and where would clearly be of no small advantage to the world’s ruling classes. A not dissimilar claim is being made for a system which links global unrest to climatic conditions, with the observation that conflict rose in tropical countries during hot and dry El Nino periods and fell during cool and wet La Ninas, even independently of local conditions such as droughts and famines (New Scientist, 27 August). Meanwhile IBM has built a ‘cognitive’ microchip with transistor ‘synapses’ connecting wire ‘dendrites’ in imitation of a neuron cell in the brain. By connecting such chips together IBM expects to construct a supercomputer with some 10 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses (the human brain has 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses), and all in about the space of a shoebox – or a brain (New Scientist, 27 August). No doubt this paragon will also be pressed into service to fathom the complexities of capitalism and predict future wars, conflicts, slumps and civil unrest. The boundless faith some scientists have in their own gadgets is truly wondrous to behold, as is this farcical idea that they can use them to expose the hidden wires of the capitalist system. We suggest that they would probably get as good a level of predictive accuracy, and significantly better analysis, if they just shelled out £1.50 for a copy of the Socialist Standard every month.
Paddy Shannon

Letters: Gang culture (2011)

Letters to the Editors from the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gang culture

Dear Editors

David Starkey was wrong to suggest skin colour played a part in the riots (by saying Enoch Powell had been proved right), but he had a point about youths having been corrupted by a gangster culture (although the guilty gangsters aren’t the ones he had in mind).

The gang actually responsible for corrupting and inciting youths is the capitalist gang. Tax avoiders, like Sir Philip Green (who sent a £1 billion dividend offshore a few years back) are celebrated, praised and palsy-walsy with our most prominent politicians who reward their selfish immorality with peerages, knighthoods, CBEs and MBEs.

And it is these same prominent politicians who themselves have had their snouts in the expenses trough for years. It is truly galling to hear the likes of Gerald Kaufman MP asking the Prime Minister how rioters can be “reclaimed” by society, after he submitted a claim for three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60, including £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen television.

And David Cameron himself, quick to declare, regarding former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, that “everybody deserves a second chance”, shows no interest in giving second chances to those who took a pair of trainers or packet of cigarettes from riot-hit stores.

It is this hypocrisy and double standards, with one set of rules for the rich and powerful, and another set for everyone else, that creates underlying anger, bitterness and hopelessness in society which can then suddenly erupt in violent mayhem.

As long as capitalism continues, there will exist a tiny asset-owning elite pursuing ever greater piles of wealth through immoral exploitation of resources and human beings which they should never have had ownership and control of in the first place.

The most sickening criminality hasn’t been seen during the rioting, it’s been seen from the corrupt capitalist system aided by successive two-faced cheating governments.
Max Hess, 
Folkestone


Two countries

Dear editors

We actually live in two different countries.

On the one hand, we have a tiny minority of people, who own and control this land of “theirs”. On the obverse side of the coin, we have us, the vast majority whose only real possession, is our ability to labour, to use our mental and physical abilities, to earn a wage or salary.

The businesses we toil for do not belong to us. Our only interest is our salary or wage, at the end of the week or month. There ends our interest in the firms that employ us.

According to the Land Registry, 75 percent of the land mass of the UK belongs to approximately 1400 people. I am not one of them, are you? The figures on share ownership are similarly skewed, with less than 1 percent of the population owning over 99percent of all marketable shares!

We live in two different countries. For the mouth-pieces of capitalism to say “we are all in this together” is arrant lies and nonsense. Whether said by Coalition or Labour figures makes not one jot of difference to us, the majority.

They own, we do not. We labour and toil, they do not. We are leaves on the capricious winds of capitalism’s speculation, they are not. We worry about the price of food, energy, housing etc and all the fluctuations of this system, they do not.

Capitalism is not “fair” to the vast majority of us, the population of the Earth. It does not work in our interests. It subverts our nature as co-operative human beings. It and they treat us as dumb adjuncts to the productive process that affords them vast wealth and opulence, whilst at the same time, condemning us, the majority, to the stress, poverty, starvation, homelessness, misery, insecurity, etc, etc, etc, that afflicts our lives every second of everyday, of our lives.

Only a revolution in thought and understanding of this reality will serve to free us from this. Only a working together of us, the disenfranchised and powerless within the present system, capitalism, will ensure that we live in a world where we all can live in dignity, inclusion and empowerment and not in want, insecurity and fear.
Steve Colborn, 
Seaham, Co. Durham.


Politics, Poverty and Gods (2011)

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

To keep the world ticking over, it seems, God occasionally needs a little help from believers with political clout.

Although, as we are told, God is all-powerful and all-knowing and should therefore be quite capable of identifying problems and sorting them out by himself, the US Presidential hopeful Rick Perry decided recently that a couple of things needed to be brought urgently to God’s attention, namely the state of the economy, and America’s declining moral standards.

The way to go about this is, apparently, a seven-hour, 30,000-strong rally of prayer and fasting. Those attending and praying for God’s intervention to halt America’s national decline included anti-gay and anti-abortion campaigners, Christian bikers and soccer moms (whatever they are).  Gay relationships and abortion are two issues which Perry is passionate about.  “There is hope for America,” he told them all. “It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees”.

His attempts to get God’s attention have not always been particularly successful. In April, he announced a three-day vigil of prayer to end the drought in Texas. But Texas is still suffering its worst drought since 1895. Perry, however, is undeterred. Demonstrating the kind of political oratory that made America what it is he went on, “The nation that forgets God is turned into hell”.

“Father,” he pleaded, “Our heart breaks for America. We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of Government, and as a nation we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us, and for that we cry out for your forgiveness”.

How effective the praying will be in kick-starting the economy we don’t know, but as for the fasting part of the operation, well, the burger and other fast-food stands were said to have done a roaring trade. Fasting is obviously very hungry work.

Meanwhile in Somalia where the fasting is not just a voluntary stunt, Allah’s interests are being looked after by the Islamist al-Shabaab insurgent group which controls most of the southern part of the country.

As if poverty and famine were not enough for the people to cope with, al Shabaab have been carrying out amputations and stonings of alleged criminals, enforcing mosque attendance, denying that there is a famine and banning aid groups including the UN World Food Programme. Numerous humanitarian workers and local journalists have been killed.

According to the New York Times on 17 August, while this is going on tens of thousands of Somalis are dying and as much as half the food aid delivered is going missing. Al-Shabaab, though, are ensuring that the people’s morals are not corrupted by the West. They have banned the baking and eating of samosas, a local food item, because they are a Christian symbol.

Forget about religion being the heart of a heartless world. Life (and death) here must be sheer hell.
NW

Tiny Tips (2011)

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

In his first speech as president of the Worldwide Wildlife Fund UK, Prince Charles has warned that he is an “endangered species” and that so is the rest of mankind:

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YOU reduce, reuse and recycle. You turn down plastic and paper. You avoid out-of-season grapes. You do all the right things. Good. Just know that it won’t save the tuna, protect the rain forest or stop global warming. The changes necessary are so large and profound that they are beyond the reach of individual action:
[Link]

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He [John Bird] sums himself up: “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.” He remains refreshingly critical about the magazine: “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 going to dismantle it:
[Link]

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Michael Gove slackens rules on use of physical force in schools. Education secretary seeks to stem ‘erosion of adult authority’ by recruiting former male soldiers to the classroom:
[Link]

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It will take another 98 years for women executives to reach equal pay with men at the current rate, the Chartered Management Institute reports. Men are paid on average an extra £10,546, although women saw pay rises of 2.8 per cent this year compared to men’s 2.3 per cent, and women are now securing equal or higher starting salaries:

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When we decided to keep Hirohito on his Japanese throne, we winnowed down the number of Japanese war criminals to be hanged. Oddly, it was Churchill who wanted the worst of the Nazis to be executed on the spot; it was Stalin who wanted a trial. It all depends, I think, on whether criminals are our friends (Stalin at the time) or our enemies (Hitler and his fellow Nazis), whether they have their future uses (the Japanese emperor) or whether we’ll get their wealth more easily if they are out of the way (Saddam and Gaddafi ). The last two were or are wanted for killing “their own people” – in itself a strange expression since it suggests that killing people other than Iraqis or Libyans might not be so bad:
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Three hundred and fifty thousand: That’s a conservative estimate for the number of offenders with mental illness confined in America’s prisons and jails. More Americans receive mental health treatment in prisons and jails than in hospitals or treatment centers.
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Ester Abeja has experienced both physical and emotional atrocities. She was captured by Uganda’s feared rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and was forced to join them. But not before the soldiers made her kill her one-year old baby girl, by smashing her skull in, and then gang raped her:


Material World: Gold – A Strange Delusion (2011)

The Material World Column from the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

In recent years, the price of gold has soared, reaching, at the time of writing, a record high of $1,882.33 per oz.   This is something new.  Since the late 1970s and early 80s when gold prices suddenly peaked during an economic crisis the picture, until recently, has been one of slow decline.  Not any more!   The price of gold, adjusted for inflation is now nearly six times what it was a decade ago. Is there anything to which this sharp increase can be attributed . . .?

According to various sources total mined gold mined from known history to the end of 2009 amounted to approximately 165,000 tonnes (5.3 billion ounces).  At $1750 per oz (one of the high prices recorded in 2011) one tonne of gold would now be worth $56.26 million, and the total world tonnage, more than $9.2 trillion.   This figure happens to be less, much less, than the total money in the world – that’s the amount of real money both circulating and ‘in deposit’.  Add to this the fact that for many years there has been no system which ‘promised to pay the bearer on demand’ a sum of gold in return for paper money – no gold standard, in other words – the question has to be raised, what is the point of gold?

Figures provided by the World Gold Council show that in 2008 jewellery accounted for 52 percent of the world’s gold; central bank holdings and investments accounted for 34 percent; and industrial gold, 12 percent. The remaining 2 percent was unaccounted for. India is the major market for jewellery where it is prized for dowries, the bride’s price at her wedding. Being malleable, ductile and one of the least reactive elements, gold also has a wide range of industrial functions. It is found in everything from electric wiring to de-icing agents for cockpit windows.  It turns up in dentistry, photography, electronics and electromagnetic radiation technology.

As with most mining operations, there is plenty of evidence to show that from the earliest times and up to the present, gold extraction has been detrimental to human health and safety and has produced both short- and long-term environmental damage.  Gold mining affects workers, their communities, their land and their water.  Depending on the mine, the creation of one wedding ring, for example, can involve the excavation of 2.8 tonnes of earth and rock. The operation leaves behind it waste contaminated with acid and heavy metals which leach into the ground and the water system. The mining of one tonne of gold can produce 3 million tonnes of toxic waste.

Some estimates say that, in future, 50 percent of gold will come from lands inhabited by indigenous people, and the mining of it will result in the pollution and depletion of their water supply. This land is often leased cheaply to corporations which make huge profits from its exploitation but do nothing to clear up the environmental damage they create, and little or nothing of their investment brings long-term benefits to local people. The effects of gold mining on the ecosystem can be hugely detrimental.  It can kill off local fisheries by poisoning the water courses, for example.  It can cause the loss of habitat and biodiversity through cyanide and mercury contamination of the ground and water systems.  And it can lead to the early death of working people from industrial illnesses.

A study of the Zaamar Goldfield placer mine in a region of Mongolia which is home to traditional reindeer herders has shown that environmental problems could be ‘curtailed at minimum cost by sensible design and operational practices’.  It also showed that the environmental impact of a single ‘placer’ mine, usually in a river system, which employed dredging or draglines is ‘fairly limited’.  Nevertheless, the ‘cumulative impact of 20 active mines on local grazing economy will be negative long after mining has ceased.’  

In Bergama, near Izmir, Turkey, the Ovacik mine has had a turbulent history.   Here villagers have maintained a high level of public protest against the use of cyanide close to their homes and fresh water facilities. This project has passed through the administration of a number of different companies from several countries and has been stopped on various occasions by courts both in Turkey and Europe, only to start up once again. This September tours have been arranged for interested investors. With gold prices so high there is sure to be plenty of interest.

People from all around the world have their stories to tell about the extraction of gold and its effect on their health, their communities and their environment. Rarely are those stories positive – all the positives of gold mining seem to leave an area with the gold.  Capitalism and capital’s protectors use many strategies to achieve their single-minded goal of accumulation: colonialism; neo-colonialism; control of assets and raw materials through all kinds of questionable means; and finally protection of their assets and interests abroad either by proxy war or outright invasion. There has, indeed, been some recent speculation about why NATO is involved in Libya.  The country’s per capita gold stocks are small on a world scale, but it was believed until recently to be planning an African gold dinar for trading in oil and perhaps other commodities in place of the American dollar.  This has naturally worried certain circles in the West.

The point of gold? Accumulation by exploitation and speculation for profit, all fuelled by a manufactured desire for conspicuous consumption. Viewed from the perspective of a post-capitalist world, when speculation for profit will be a thing of the past, wars for acquisition of raw materials have ended and gold is recognised merely as a necessary component in manufacturing – from that perspective world stocks of gold will prove to be amply sufficient to meet the needs of production for decades if not centuries. And if ever the human race transcends its emotional or social need for baubles then the worldwide stock of jewellery can also be put to more beneficial use for humankind generally.  When eventually more gold does need to be mined it can be done with minimum impact on both people and the environment.
Janet Surman

Greasy Pole: Order… Order… (2011)

The Greasy Pole column from the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

When it comes to the Speaker of the House of Commons, whose style do you prefer? Stagnantly traditional Douglas Clifton Brown (1943-1951) and Sir Harry Hylton-Foster (1959-1965)? Knee breeches, silk stockings and silver-buckled shoes under a QC’s black silk gown with a train, mourning rosette and full-bottomed wig? Or, determinedly iconoclastic, the first woman speaker Betty Boothroyd (1992-2000) and the first Roman Catholic Michael Martin (2000-2009) who flagrantly defied precedent and dressed to assert a more approachable style? And now the holder of that intimidatingly ancient office – the sparky, abrasive, overbearing John Bercow, the first Jewish Speaker– all done up in an estate agent’s lounge suit with a High Street shirt and tie and a teacher’s classroom gown? Bercow long nursed an ambition to be Speaker and now he has let us know, in no uncertain terms, that he has arrived in the Chair.

His impatient triumphalism has been seen by some armchair psychologists as a reaction,  predictable in a taxi driver’s son from a London suburb, to being an MP in a party burbling with public school toffs. Supporting this analysis is the fact his entire political career has been mottled with an expressed inability to settle into accepting any notion that he is less than hugely superior to those who confront him. He got a First Class Degree at the University of Essex, where his professor recalls him as “…pretty stroppy … an outstanding student”. But  in spite of these talents he was able to ignore his family background as Jewish immigrants from Romania to the extent that he joined the Monday Club, becoming secretary of its Immigration and Repatriation Committee and then, when standing for the Monday Club Executive Committee, demanding a scheme of “assisted repatriation” of immigrants (rather like the British National Party today). However his ingrained tendency to fall out with any organisation of which he was a member was working and when he was 20 he left the Club. He now says he is ashamed of ever having been a member, which was “…a crazy thing for a young Jewish man to do”.

Tebbit
After graduating he was elected as chairman of the National Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) until it was disbanded in 1987 by the Party Chairman Norman Tebbit who viewed it as “too right wing”. We may well wonder how an acknowledged right wing bloodhound like Tebbit could be uneasy about any such organisation. In any case Bercow then found his political prospects revived when Tebbit appointed him Vice Chairman of the Conservative Collegiate Forum – the successor of the FCS. After a spell as a councillor for the London Borough of Lambeth and applying for the candidature of several Tory constituencies Bercow was selected to fight the ultra-safe seat of Buckingham, which he has represented since the 1997 election. As an opposition MP he was appointed as party spokesman on a number of issues which, until he more or less exhausted his options, gave him enough opportunities to display that his university professor had not misjudged his character.

In 2002 he resigned from the Front Bench after voting in defiance of a Three Line Whip on the Labour government’s Adoption and Children Act, then openly estimated that his furious boss – Ian Duncan Smith – was as likely to guide the Tories to a win at the next election as “…meeting an Eskimo in the desert”. Maintaining the momentum, he clashed with his next minister Michael Howard over taxes, immigration and Iraq. Any tolerance on Howard’s part was exhausted when Bercow confessed to agreeing with Ann Widdecombe’s notoriously adhesive suggestion that there was “…something of the night” about Howard and his leadership style. After Howard sacked him it seemed unlikely he would again be offered a place on a Tory Front Bench. The Speakership seemed an acceptable alternative but it needed quite a bit of manipulation to place himself in position to win it; to begin with he had made himself unpopular in the Commons with his persistent sneering at other Members while correcting their mistakes in grammar and syntax. For another he had ingratiated himself with the Labour Party by producing some advisory work for them. In the final round of voting for the Speaker in June 2009 Bercow defeated Sir George Young, a lofty Old Etonian personifying landed privilege, the extreme opposite of the comprehensive boy from the suburbs of North London, by 322 votes to 271. Estimates of how many Tories voted for him were at their highest about half a dozen.

Hostilities
This was an accurate forecast of what to expect from Bercow’s speakership, with so many Tory MPs restless at his apparent favouring of Labour backbenchers. Contributing to this, in November 2010 David Cameron exercised his propensity for cheap jokes with a discriminatory effort about Bercow’s diminutive stature. On his part, Bercow has made the Tory leader a special target including telling him, in proper parliamentary verbiage, to shut up – twice during one recent session of Prime Minister’s Questions leaving Cameron lost for words. In June last year a Tory backbencher called him a “stupid sanctimonious dwarf”; last July Bercow suggested that a Minister and a backbencher should “leave” the chamber: “…we can manage without you” and in January the Deputy Chairman of the 1922 Committee reminded Bercow that he is “…not fucking royalty”. These hostilities are likely to continue as Honourable Members flaunt their particular jealousies and frustrations.

Even before the first vote was cast, behaviour on both sides of the contest for the Bercow speakership did not inspire any confidence in the judgement or the motivation of those Representatives of the People at Westminster. It has given us no reason to believe that our interests – how we live, what we live on, who we live with, what the future holds for us – are safe in their hands, in their decisions on the green benches, in their gossip on the terrace and the tea-room. In the interests of organising a different, humane manner of running our affairs we must draw the conclusion from this episode, as from countless others, that we should have confidence in only ourselves.
Ivan

Russia: The Myth of Socialism (2011)

From the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
  On the 21st August this year, the 20th anniversary of the failed coup against Gorbachev by Leninist-Stalinist hardliners in the USSR, Tony Brenton, former ambassador to Russia, wrote an article in the Times headed, “The siren voices calling for a revival of Marxism ignore the tragic lessons of its past”.  We explain that what happened in Russia between 1917 and 1991 had nothing to do with Marx or with socialism or communism.
Karl Marx was not simply volunteering his name to a way of life that would exist in post-capitalist society.  Throughout his years of intensively investigating capitalism, his main purpose was to expose that system as the final form of class exploitation while demonstrating that it had created the economic potential for the establishment of universal freedom.

Both Marx and his co-worker, Frederick Engels, referred to that universal freedom as socialism or communism (two terms they used interchangeably). Marx did not attempt to draw a detailed picture of socialism.  At the time he was writing, capitalism was still a rapidly developing system, so when the working class came to abolish it, the particular level of development it had by that time achieved would have an obvious bearing on the structure of the new society. What he did show, repeatedly and with clarity, was the part played by commodity production, wage labour and money in capitalism’s process of exploitation and, thus, their necessary extirpation from life in socialism.

Mid-nineteenth-century capitalism, though a burgeoning economic system, had not economically matured to the point where Marx’s vision of a classless society where free access to needs would be the mode of distribution could be realised. Against the possibility that working class political demands might exceed the economic capacity of the system to deliver, Marx and Engels envisaged a period of working-class hegemony over the processes of production that would allow for the speedy development of production to the point where free access to need was possible.

It was a reasonable thesis in the circumstances of the time but, given its political distortion by Lenin it was to prove seriously damaging to the Marxian concept of socialism. Ironically when Lenin used this argument in 1917, the historical circumstances that had led Marx and Engels to their view no longer existed. Capitalism’s rapid development had created conditions where a majority of the working class were capable of undertaking the conscious, democratic and political action to bring about a revolutionary change in the base of society, and made the question irrelevant.

Both the economic and political basis for a revolutionary change were absent in Russia in 1917. The Russian proletariat was a small fraction of the mainly peasant population. The Bolshevik slogan was ’Peace, Land and Bread’, hardly a sophisticated slogan of socialist revolutionaries. Lenin might well have thought of Engels’s admonition that a leader gaining power in circumstances that do not permit the implementation of his principles necessarily comes into conflict with those principles. Socialism was not on the political agenda in Russia alone nor did the Bolshevik coup provoke the hoped-for social revolutions elsewhere in Western Europe.

Josef Stalin, who by an ironic inversion of the ‘Great Man’ theory of history subsequently became the Lucifer of the Left and the architect of evil in the Russian empire, wrote a pamphlet called Socialism or Anarchism in 1905 in which he correctly summed up the Marxian view of socialism:
   “Future society will be socialist society. This means, primarily, that there will be no classes in that society… [this] also means that with the ending of exploitation, commodity production and buying and selling will also be abolished…” 
Obviously material conditions in Russia in 1917 could not accommodate the establishment of socialism, so Lenin moved the goalposts, changing the Marxian objective to suit the realities existing in the country. Capital development through state monopoly was the only option open to him and the Bolshevik Party, but in a monumental act of political dishonesty that would bear heavily on the world-wide working class into the future he proclaimed that socialism was state-capitalism and a mere stage on the way to communism

So the State became the national capitalist and the Bolshevik Party the ruthless state boss enforcing a dictatorship over the workers in a frenetic effort of capital accumulation. Not only was Russia in the rigid control of a dictatorship but Lenin and the Bolshevik Party were clearly not opposed to the emergence of a single dictator; thus in a speech on the 31 March 1920 to the Ninth Congress of the Bolshevik Party, Lenin declared:
  “We are thus reiterating what was approved two years ago in an official resolution of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee! (. . .) namely, that Soviet socialist democracy and individual management and dictatorship are in no way contradictory, and that the will of a class may sometimes be carried out by a dictator, who sometimes does more alone and is frequently more necessary.” 
Many contemporary exponents of Leninism ascribe the awful saga of totalitarian rule that emerged from this sort of thinking to Stalin. Yes, Stalin did head the list of political gangsters that terrorised Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution, but it was the elitist nonsense promoted by Lenin, as evidenced above, and the undemocratic political structures established by the Bolshevik Party that created the pathway to the massive evils of Stalinism.

Unfortunately today a common rejection of socialism is based not only on the Russian experience but also on the tyranny that Leninist thinking and political strategy enforced elsewhere as ‘socialism’.
Richard Montague

War and Increased Production (1946)

From the December 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

Over a year has passed since military operations on a large scale were temporarily suspended and the economic struggle between sections of the capitalist class was resumed with renewed vigour, reinforced by the enormous speed up in productive operations by the application of war-time discoveries to peace-time production. The Conservatives and the Labour Party are at one in claiming a heartfelt desire for lasting peace, but the seeds of fresh wars are being sewn with a prodigal hand.

U.N.O.
Between the last Government and the Labour Government there is a continuity in foreign and domestic policy; support of the United Nations Organisation, an intensive drive for export trade, and a campaign for increased production per worker. At the Trade Union Congress these were also the principal issues and the Congress gave its support, even if somewhat grudgingly, to the Labour Party’s programme.

The United Nations Organisation bears a misleading title; firstly, because it is not united, and secondly, because it only includes some of the nations, many are still excluded from its charmed circle. It is completely dominated by the deliberations of four governments, England, Russia, the United States, and France, who watch each other suspiciously, spitting and scratching like angry cats most of the time; harmony is the one thing that is conspicuously absent from their conferences. Referring to the draft Peace Treaties that had so far emerged, the Manchester Guardian (10/7/46) commented: “Each one is a compromise between rival powers who openly fear and distrust each other.” Mr. Ernest Thurtle, Labour M.P. for Shoreditch, wrote in the Sunday Express (1/9/46): “Let me confess that I, along with other Labour candidates at the General Election, in stressing the importance of good relations with Russia, avowed confidently that a Labour Government would win the co-operation of the Soviet. We believed that. How wrong we were! ” Finally the News Chronicle (18/10/46) reports the following item from Washington, from the United Nations Organisation itself: "Sir John Boyd Orr, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, said here to-day that there was only a fifty-fifty chance of avoiding a third and disastrously final World War.” Thus the early operations of U.N.O. are anything but encouraging. In fact a fatalistic feeling is seeping into people’s minds that another war is inevitable; even Mr. Churchill is abandoning his flummery and returning to his anti-Russia bias, in spite of the fact that the United States, France, or some not yet obvious power, may be the next "aggressor.”

All over the world shipping lines, air lines, oil lines, spheres of influence and markets are subjects of bitter diplomatic strife between capitalists of leading and smaller countries. In these, circumstances can there be such a thing as a United Nations policy that will outlaw war? While the present organisation of society exists the answer is emphatically no, and the reason is not hard to understand as the impotent League of Nations bore witness.

The Basis of Wars.
Capitalism is a system whose roots are embedded in conflict. We have to face the fact that goods are produced to-day, under a Labour Government just as under a Conservative Government, for the sole purpose of profit; this profit is only realised when the goods are sold, and in order that they may be sold they must be marketed in competition with each other. Competition determines that goods shall be produced as cheaply as possible, and this in turn means that as much production as possible shall be extracted from the workers at as small a cost in wages as the workers are prepared to accept, which also includes obtaining raw materials from the cheapest source of supply. These conditions are the basis of wars. The hectic scramble for markets and sources of supply, as well as trade routes, culminates in war when threats and diplomatic jiggery pokery fail to give sections of the capitalists, in their internal strife, the sought-for supremacy in the limited markets of the world.

Work Hard For The Dole Queue.
The real object of the campaign for more production is to capture markets for the British capitalist, as well as increasing the profit obtained from the workers’ toil. When Mr. Eden spoke at the Metropolitan Music Hall on November 2nd, he put the capitalist outlook clearly: “We shall soon be exposed to international trade competition that may be even more serious than before the war. The sellers market will not last for ever. The only solution to these problems is to increase production per man-hour throughout British industry.” But will this solve any of the workers’ problems? In June, 1919, Sir Walter Runciman wrote in the Daily News (30/6/1919): “Now that peace is signed, the first necessity for the British Empire and for the world is to get trade going everywhere. . . . Only by a full stream of trade can the flow of goods between all peoples wipe out hunger, misery and unemployment, and probably anarchy.” The Labour Party then, as now, blindly swallowed the bait. Subsequently London was placarded with posters (some of you may remember them) displaying the faces of prominent members of the Labour Party with the phrase, in large letters, “PRODUCE MORE.” Two years later the inevitable happened; the markets were over-stocked, production slowed down, the workers had worked themselves out of jobs and “hunger, misery and unemployment” stalked the land. We have no hesitation in prophesying a similar result from the present campaign; it is a foregone conclusion. Not only will the export drive in itself help to saturate the market, but the exporting of plant and machinery will do what it has always done, help the capitalists of other lands to participate in the work of over-stocking the markets all the more rapidly. Capitalists are always exporting their own trade competition in this way, and, although they know it, the lure of profit is too much for them. When the struggle for markets has reached the peak of intensity the shadow of war becomes ominous; capitalists will not lose the privilege of reaping the results of the exploitation of workers without the resort to armed conflict, particularly as these same workers may be pursuaded to risk their lives in their masters’ battles. Terrible though the prospects of the last war were, the capitalist class of the world did not hesitate; in spite of the threat of rockets and atom bombs you may be assured that they will not hesitate next time, as the present concentration on large scale means of destruction makes clearly evident. The profit motive kills all human feelings and excuses the most fiendish brutality.

New Frauds For Old!
In 1919 the League of Nations was constituted with the avowed object of preventing war; now it is the United Nations. One of the provisions of the League was the necessity of unanimity before action could be taken; the same provision binds the action of the United Nations and the resulting futility has already been demonstrated, particularly by the actions of the Russian delegates. The United Nations has only the power of the governments that decide to hang together, and this decision is determined by the economic interests of the governments concerned; the League of Nations was in a similar position and fell to pieces when the unity dissolved into war. When different governments lined up in opposition, which neither League nor United Nations can prevent, the mighty edifice of the League collapsed like the house of cards it was. When the conflicting trade interests of capitalist sections reach a point where each is prepared to gamble on the outcome of war, all fine phrases about world unity are drowned in vituperating the other fellow for pulling the trigger. The Labour Party issued a leaflet (“The Citizen”) in September, 1933, on the back of which they said: "At this period of unrest the Labour Party affirms its unshaken belief in the policy of arbitration and in the machinery of the League of Nations.” Now, in spite of the catastrophe that overtook the world in 1939, they are backing a similar sham solution for war to the joy of the exploiters of labour.

The Only Solution.
There is only one solution to the problem of war, removal of its cause. War arises out of the private property basis of capitalism, which drives capitalist sections into conflict over the disposal of the wealth produced by the worker. This conflict will only disappear when the workers of the world take possession of the means of production and distribute products freely wherever they are needed. Then there will not be markets to fight for because buying and selling will have been abolished. Socialism is the only solution to the problem of war in the modern world.

The Slippery Slopes of Labourism (1946)

Editorial from the December 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to R. L. Stevenson, “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive." He put into words what Labour Party supporters learn in the hard way about Labour governments. They march hopefully towards their appointed goal only to discover when they reach it that it was not where they wanted to be. They ought then to stop and ask themselves whether they have been on the right road; instead they start denouncing the MacDonald or the Attlee whom they chose to lead them. It has not taken long for the cleavage to come in the ranks of the present Labour Government. In the House of Commons, on November 18th, well over a hundred Labour M.P.s— though they would not actually vote against their own Government—forcibly expressed their dislike of its foreign policy by abstaining from voting. The Government got its vote of confidence, 353 to nil, with the help of many Tory M.P.s. It is a symptom of a spreading discontent with the Labour Government, which carries on a foreign policy largely taken over from its Conservative predecessors. One Labour writer, Mr. Hannen Swaffer, claims that it is supported by millions of trade unionists. He quoted one of the Labour M.P.s as saying: “We are heading for war. We had to do something about it” (People, 17/11/46).

The failure of the “rebels" to back their condemnatory speeches with their votes was a farcical end to the revolt, and naturally the Tories jeered, but for many sincere supporters of the Labour Party it is the beginning of a tragedy, the tragedy of seeing the Government of their choice turn its back on long- proclaimed hopes and pledges.

How the minds of the Labour Ministers are working was shown by several revealing passages in their speeches, the keynote being that the fine words of pre-election programmes have little bearing on the realities of the world as it is. Prime Minister Mr. Attlee trounced the rebel Labour M.P.s and charged them with holding views “which . . . do not correspond with the facts and which are based upon profound misapprehension of the inevitable conditions under which foreign affairs are conducted ’’ (Hansard, Nov. 18th, col. 589). He defended Mr. Bevin with the plea that "he is not the slave of an abstract theory. He is a practical man of affairs seeking to get things done." This was ever the defence of the politician who won't or can't fulfil the rosy hopes he held out before entering office. Mr. Dalton, defending the Government's decision to retain conscription, put it more crudely when he begged one of the Labour rebels “not to mistake catch phrases of long ago for the realities of to-day.’’

The real tragedy, from a working-class standpoint, is that the sincere Labour supporters of both sides fail to see why the present situation was bound to arise. To the rebels it appears merely that Mr. Bevin is the wrong man with the wrong policy for Foreign Secretary. To the loyal majority, on the other hand, it appears necessary to drop impractical ideals and be realists. Neither side will face up to the stubborn fact that foreign policy is determined by the position the Labour Government occupies of trying to administer capitalism in a capitalist world.

Some of the rebels would, no doubt, like to vote in accordance with their uneasy feeling that it is wrong for a Labour Government to be in this position, but their fatal weakness is that they have not got backing in their constituencies. One loyal Labour M.P., Mr. W. Nally, took refuge behind the views, held “rightly or wrongly," of “ the average man in the average pub." It is, of course, true, as we have always maintained, that until the “average man" has been won over from his wrong ideas to Socialism, no other policy is possible than a capitalist policy.

It is not only in foreign affairs that Labour Government deeds are destroying the confidence and enthusiasm of Labour supporters. On the home front the Labour Party is in wholesale—though, as yet, not fully recognised—retreat. As long as the Labour Party has been in existence its most prominent propagandists have given lip-service to the Socialist condemnation of the capitalist system for its “profit motive." Now a changed line has been announced without any attempt being made first to get it endorsed by the members of the Labour Party. This line was defined by Mr. Herbert Morrison in a speech at Birmingham, reported in the Daily Herald (October 28th, 1946). “There is no need," he said, “to abolish the profit motive,” all that is required is to rid it of abuses. Three days later the Daily Herald told its readers that one of the reasons for the Labour Government's drive for increased production and the most economical use of labour was that these are essential “to preserve the real value of both wages and profits" (Daily Herald, 31/10/46). Many Labour voters will be astonished to learn that one of the objects of their Party is to “preserve the real value of profits." Some may ask themselves, too, how the present policy of discouraging wage increases fits in with pre-election promises and with the increase of M.P.s’ salaries from £600 to £1,000 a year in April last. They may also notice a significant exception, the increase of police pay by 15s. a week. The Home Secretary, Mr. Chuter Ede, rather indiscreetly let the cat out of that bag when he stated that he hopes the increase will produce a contented police force “to enable us to deal with the difficult circumstances which still confront us and will confront us for some months ahead” (Times, 18/11/46). A few days later one “difficult circumstance” occurred in Manchester, where the police came into conflict with bus workers out on strike.

Many other examples can be found of the widening gulf between promise and performance. In 1944 Mr. E. Bevin said that after the war “There will be . . . no fear of unemployment for several years” (People, 26/11/44). Recently we have seen Mr. Marquand’s admissions about possible industrial depressions, and Mr. Morrison’s confession that no government can guarantee full employment ” (Reynolds News, 27/10/46). Already unemployment is not far below the 400,000 mark.

Then there is the question of taxation of profits and of big incomes. Mr. Dalton, who reduced Excess Profits Tax this year by 40 per cent., also told the House of Commons, on November 18th, 1946, that he hoped gradually to diminish Surtax (the tax levied on incomes above £2,000 a year), but that the financial burden of conscription means that "Surtax will not be able to be reduced quite so rapidly as it otherwise would have been” (Hansard, 18/11/46, col. 630). On November 13th, addressing the Fabian Society, Mr. Dalton blandly threw overboard the Labour Party’s very old claim that direct taxation (income tax, etc.) is better for the workers than indirect taxation (taxes on tobacco, beer, etc). "The old idea that direct taxation is, in all circumstances, better than indirect taxation has been disproved by recent experience ” (Daily Worker, 14/11/46).

Lastly, on November 14th, Mr. Eden entertained the House of Commons by quoting from Mr. Strachey’sWhy You Should be a Socialist” (revised and republished in 1944) a sweeping condemnation of the increased production stunt that Mr. Strachey and the rest of the Government are busily preaching up and down the country. Though capitalism is now run by the Labour Party, it is just as true as when Mr. Strachey wrote it that "however hard the workers work, they will remain workers, and poor workers at that. Hard work will not make the workers any richer.”

Another group that has turned a somersault like Mr. Strachey is the Communist Party, with which he used to associate. They used to be all against the "work harder” campaign and are now all for it, and on the same day that the vote of confidence took place in the House (their two M.P.s abstaining) the Times published an interview with M. Thorez Secretary-General of the French Communist Party, in which he boasted that the French miners are now producing 15 per cent. more than before the war as a direct response to the Communist Party’s appeal. He went on to assure the readers of the Tory Times that if his Party became the Government of France they have no intention of abolishing capitalism: —
  "We repeated deliberately in our electoral campaign that we do not ask a mandate to apply a strictly Communist programme—one, that is, resting on a radical transformation of the present regime of property and of the conditions of production that flow from that. 'We have put forward a programme of national reconstruction, such as all democrats may accept, including some nationalisation, but also the support of medium and small industrial and craft undertakings, and the defence of present property against the trusts’” (Times, 18/11/46.)
The lesson to be drawn from this spectacle of British Labour Party dissension and of compromise with capitalism in Britain and France is that the whole policy of trying to operate capitalism is fallacious and full of danger for the working class. What the workers need is not Labour Party or Communist Party administration of Capitalism, but its abolition and replacement by Socialism; but that will be done only when a majority have been won over to Socialism, and the instruments for its accomplishment will not be the Labour and Communist Parties.