Saturday, September 18, 2021

Accumulate, accumulate! (2021)

The Cooking the Books column from the September 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article in the Times (14 July) David Smith, Economics Editor of the Sunday Times, mentions that he is revising a book of his which has a chapter on Marx:
‘Marx, you may recall, thought he had pinned down what drives capitalists. As he put it: “Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets . . . Accumulate for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake.” By accumulation, Marx meant investment and that the tendency of capitalists to over-invest condemned them to a future of declining profits and, ultimately, the fundamental crisis of capitalism.’
This is accurate enough until the word ‘investment’. After that it’s wrong.

Marx certainly thought that investment to make profits (most re-invested in expanding productive capacity, hence ‘the accumulation of capital’) was the driving force of capitalism. In a boom, capitalists in some key industry tend to ‘over-invest’, resulting in overproduction in relation to its market; this has a knock-on effect on other industries, causing a general slump in production. But this is not the end of the road for capitalism. It is a phase of the boom/slump cycle that is part of the way the capitalist system works. Slump conditions, by eventually restoring profitability (as by the clearance of stock, depreciation of capital, low interest rates, lower real wages), pave the way for a recovery leading to a boom, and the cycle repeats itself.

What is ironic about Smith’s criticism is that Marx would have agreed with the article’s heading ‘Without investment the recovery we’re seeing is built on sand’ precisely because he saw investment (for profit) as the driving force of capitalism.

In writing ‘the tendency of capitalists to over-invest condemned them to a future of declining profits’, Smith is presumably referring to what Marx called, in chapter 13 of Volume 3 of Capital, ‘the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’ (often miscalled, by opponents and some supporters of Marx, ‘the law of the falling rate of profit’).

Marx’s point here was that as capital accumulation proceeded there was a tendency for a greater and greater proportion of new capital to be invested in plant and machinery relative to labour power, whose application in production was the only source of surplus value and so of profits.

Marx called the ratio of surplus value to labour power purchased (the amount of profit produced per worker) ‘the rate of exploitation’. The rate of profit was the ratio of profit to total capital. If the rate of exploitation remains constant, it follows mathematically that, when production becomes more and more ‘capital intensive’, then the rate of profit will fall – because the amount of profit comes to be related to a larger and larger amount of capital.

In practice, however, the rate of exploitation does not remain constant but increases; in which case the rate of profit does not necessarily fall. It depends on how the rate of exploitation moves. It was because there was no way of predicting this that Marx spoke of the fall in the rate of profit being a tendency rather than an iron law.

Smith is confusing the rate of profit with the amount of profit. Marx pointed out that it was possible for the amount of profits to increase even if the rate fell. In fact this is what he expected to happen as capital accumulation meant that more workers were employed and so more profits were produced. He even called this a ’law’, writing ‘this double-edged law of a decrease in the rate of profit and a simultaneous increase in the absolute mass of profit arising from the same causes’ (his emphasis).

Smith is mistaken, then, in saying Marx expected capitalism to end in a ‘fundamental crisis’ due to fewer and fewer profits being made.

Between The Lines (2021)

The Proper Gander column from the September 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Michaella McCollum, when aged 19, left her home in rural Northern Ireland for the flashy bars and clubs of Ibiza. She soon found that its clubbing culture was fuelled not only by booze, but also by drugs, especially cocaine, traded openly but illegally. Michaella met ‘a really easy going’ man and, while at a party on an LSD trip, agreed to pick up a package for him which she realised contained drugs. The following morning she was sent off to Barcelona on the Spanish mainland, where she was surprised to find that she and another woman, Melissa Reid, would be travelling on to Lima under the guise of being tourists. Text messages from one of the gang she was now involved with aimed to reassure her and distract her from how much she had lost control. The two women collected the package from their contact, which turned out to be 11 kilos of cocaine disguised as sachets of porridge. As Michaella said, ‘if you think taking coke is a rush, try walking a million quid’s worth of the stuff into an international airport’. Nervously lugging heavy suitcases across the concourse drew the attention of the security guards, and the two were caught.

BBC Three’s documentary series High: Confessions Of An Ibiza Drug Mule told Michaella’s story, with a caption at the start of each episode describing it as ‘based on the testimony of a convicted drug smuggler’. Alongside Michaella detailing what happened, the series included dramatisations and interviews with lawyers, journalists and people involved in drug trafficking, although Melissa presumably chose not to take part.

The police didn’t believe the women’s story that they had been coerced into smuggling the drugs, and they were locked in a grim cell to await their trial. The media latched on to the story, dubbing the women the ‘Peru Two’, and reporters flew out to South America, one even posing as Michaella’s boyfriend to get to see her in jail. At their trial they admitted they were complicit in order to get a lighter sentence, which was set at six years and eight months imprisonment after a plea bargain. A reporter from the Belfast Telegraph, Patricia Devlin, said that the ‘public mood’ changed after the women confessed they knew what they were doing. The ‘Peru Two’ then became a silly season story, jokey memes, and a target for criticism.

They were sent to Ancón 2, a crowded, oppressive maximum-security prison north of Lima; ‘everything about it was toxic’ said Michaella. To try and make her time there more bearable, she learnt some Spanish, worked in the jail’s salon and was voted in as her block’s representative. She made enough money from prison work to afford the bribes to bring her parole court date forward and get the necessary proofs towards it. Her release was granted after almost three years behind bars, and Melissa was able to leave soon afterwards. Michaella says that her story is a lesson for others, and the documentary ends on an uplifting note about learning and growing, with appropriately rousing music.

In framing what happened as a personal journey, the documentary tries to turn the wider issues into incidental details along the way. Money is really a main player of the story. Michaella herself said she was motivated by financial gain, although what she was promised was much, much less than what the higher-up dealers make. According to lawyer Alexandro Tirelli, the cocaine business in Ibiza alone involves up to half a million Euros each day. This is why the cartel wouldn’t have been too concerned at losing even the 11kg the ‘Peru Two’ were found with, as to them, this was only a small amount. That the women were easily captured suggests that it was expected, acting as a useful distraction while larger amounts of drugs were smuggled through. The women were manipulated by the cartel throughout, after being identified as impressionable and groomed in a calculated, well-rehearsed way, still under implied threats when in prison. They were used as a means to make money, which happens in mainstream employment, of course, the difference being that here, the methods used are more extreme due to the high financial stakes and the drugs industry’s illegality. So the other main player in this story is the legal system which the industry has to work around, embodied by the judges, lawyers and police, and with Ancón 2 as its squalid end-point for those convicted.

The law is also shaped by money, especially in how a case’s outcome can depend on how much the defendant can pay out. The legal framework is there to protect the state’s interests, and limit the wealth and power of cartels competing with the elite. Drug laws aren’t officially presented to us like that, though, being instead supposedly there to protect the public against the risks of drugs, dangers which are amplified by their being manufactured in secret, and likely diluted with other substances to reduce costs. Even if drugs were made legal, as they have been to varying extents elsewhere, their production would still be driven by maximising profits for whoever owns the means to make them in bulk, and capitalism’s pressures would still push some people into problematic use. Both the money system and the legal system, as integral parts of capitalism, have shaped the drug industry and drug culture into the dark, seedy scene which Michaella and Melissa fell victim to.
Mike Foster

A Novel Workplace (2021)

Book Review from the September 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Employees: a Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century. By Olga Raven. Lolli £12.99. (Translated from Danish by Martin Aitken)

The workplace in question is a spaceship, with a crew of humans and humanoids, which has travelled far from Earth and is orbiting the planet New Discovery. Some peculiar objects from the planet have been taken onboard, objects with strange fragrances and which are given unofficial names, such as ‘the Gift’ and ‘the Half-Naked Bean’.

The novel begins with a statement by a committee that interviewed the employees, which is full of management-speak, such as how the impact of the mysterious objects ‘might be said to precipitate reduction or enhancement of performance’, so ‘illuminating their specific consequences for production’.

Gradually the reader discovers why the committee exists and what the reactions of the workers have been. This applies to both humans and humanoids, and it is not always obvious to which category an individual belongs (‘Does it say in your files what I am?’, asks one interviewee). One humanoid says they were ‘made for work’, and cannot understand how a human could be more than their work, yet a human says their job means everything to them. One human misses shopping back on Earth, while another wants to hold a child in their arms again, and a third is grateful for being able to spend time with a hologram of their son. One humanoid feels sad, and one human prefers to spend time with the humanoids. Another interviewee (human? humanoid?) begins to feel disloyal towards the organisation behind the voyage: ‘it pains me because there’s no place for me other than inside the organisation’.

A central theme of the book, then, is the role and importance of work in a person’s life, in a setting where it seems there is little else to do other than work. Humans and humanoids become harder to distinguish, even though they stop talking to each other. One worker notes that it takes twenty years to produce a capable human employee, and a lot can ‘go wrong’ in that time, whereas it takes just two years to produce a humanoid worker. Humanoid bodies are more valuable than human ones, being more durable and open to software updates.

The organisation’s board of directors is primarily concerned to preserve the ship and its cargo, especially the weird objects, and it turns out that the directors are themselves humanoid, though this was not conveyed to the human crew, as they would be likely to react more positively to fellow humans.

All in all, an interesting if difficult reflection on such topics as the role of work, what makes someone human, what activities other than work are needed. Not a socialist science fiction novel, but one with noteworthy comments on some aspects of capitalism (even though that word is not used).
Paul Bennett

What use are politicians? (2021)

From the September 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are lucky in the West, there’s no denying it. We don’t have a war to face, we’re not slaves, we’re not starving, our kids get an education, public health, a choice of food, a measure of security and comfort.

But are we having a good time? Are any of us? Many of us don’t have jobs, or careers, or prospects. Those of us who do work are forced into the regimentation of the workplace, of bosses, of time-sheets and production quotas, reports, key performance indicators, the nine to five, the bills, the mortgage, the stress. Our kids are now being made to work harder and from a younger age to become skilled and employable. Kids of five are now being given homework.

We live in the world of capitalism, and everybody knows that capitalism is not perfect, that it has problems. Everybody knows that what we have to try to do is fix the problems That’s why we vote for politicians. They’re supposed to be fixing it for us.

Capitalism is like a car that’s permanently on blocks, with some politician underneath it and another one in the bonnet, shaking his head saying ‘Oh dear oh dear, that looks bad, that does.’ But what can you do? Capitalism may not be perfect but it’s the only thing we have and after all it does work, sort of.

‘Sort of’? We have the most technologically advanced society that’s ever existed. But when it comes to doing something useful like feeding the people in it, or limiting pollution and global warming, we can only manage ‘sort of.’

Politicians talk about this problem or that issue – within capitalism. The real reason why politicians all sound the same, and why people find it so hard to be interested in politics, is that they all have this same frame of reference. If you question capitalism itself you automatically put yourself outside that frame of reference, and that’s when the politics of capitalism suddenly becomes meaningless to you.

The experts in charge of decision-making are not ‘expert’ at all. No more than you are. You keep paying the bills but the car never gets fixed.

Summer School Report (2021)

Party News from the September 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party’s Summer Schools have been held at Fircroft College in Birmingham for many years, although last year the pandemic shifted the event online. So it was with both relief and eagerness that we were able to return to Fircroft in August for a weekend around the theme ‘After The Revolution: Life In A Socialist World’. Just over thirty of us made the journey to Brum, both regulars and new faces, party members and others interested in socialism.

The event included five sessions, starting on the Friday evening with Richard Field, who in his thought-provoking talk ‘Socialist Recipes’, considered some of the freedoms which will come in a socialist society where everyone has equal access to goods and services. The following morning, Glenn Morris discussed William Morris’ novel set in a post-capitalist society, News From Nowhere, ending his talk with a well-received update he had written, a conversation looking back on the struggles of living in capitalism. The topic of utopias and science fiction was continued by Leon Rozanov, who asked what ideas about a socialist future can be found in works such as Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Walden Two by B F Skinner, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, and the series set in the ‘Noon Universe’ by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. For Saturday evening’s session, Carla Dee ran a fun workshop where we could use our imaginations to design the kind of socialist town or high street we would like to see, with features such as free 3D printer booths and communal allotments. Paddy Shannon rounded off the weekend by asking us to consider an alternative model of democratic decision-making, based not on elected representatives but opting-in to decide on whatever issues we can relate to. Each of the talks was followed by plenty of lively and thoughtful discussion. As the first ‘hybrid meeting’ for the Socialist Party, the talks were broadcast live through the Discord platform, allowing those who couldn’t make it to Birmingham (some in other countries and continents) to take part. Recordings of the talks are now available on our website.

Between the sessions, there was plenty of time to explore the venue’s gardens, browse the bookstall, read the event’s publication and look at the exhibition on what the Party has said about a future socialist society over the decades. In particular, the weekend was also a great opportunity to catch up with friends and comrades who we haven’t been able to see in person for much too long. After other meetings, we have to make the journey back home or, more recently, just switch off our computers. Being a residential event, Summer School lets us chat over a meal or while sitting in the lounge until the small hours, with only a short amble to our rooms afterwards. And Fircroft College is an ideal setting, with excellent facilities and catering, and a timely ethos of reducing its impact on the environment. When the event came to a close on Sunday, we left with happy memories of an enjoyable weekend in good company. Plans have already begun for next year’s Summer School, with Fircroft booked for 19th – 21st August.

Summer School 2021 recordings are here.

50 Years Ago: China and America (2021)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

After more than twenty years of waging a propaganda war against each other and working up suspicions and hatred among their respective working classes, the American and Chinese mobster politicians are to seek some kind of reconciliation.

To those numbered in their millions all over the world, who mouthed and continue to mouth the slogans of Chinese capitalism denouncing ‘American imperialism’, and equally to all those who mouthed the phrases of American capitalism denouncing ‘Chinese expansionism’, it must seem as bewildering as were the Catholic church to suddenly get together with the League of Militant Atheists. After mountains of vitriolic propaganda, oceans of hate and the widespread belief that a real and unbridgeable ideological chasm separates the two sides, what explanation can there be for such a momentous reversal of attitudes?

Such about-faces are far from unheard of in the double-dealing world of lies and hypocrisy which is capitalism. Stalin and the Bolshevik heads of Soviet capitalism got together with Nazi Germany and, after denouncing the war as imperialist, wound up on the side of British and American imperialism against their former Nazi friends.

Conversely, Churchill who had spent twenty-five years denouncing the Soviet regime as a ‘cancerous growth’, wound up as head of British capitalism, supporting Soviet state-capitalism against Hitler and Mussolini (whom he had formerly admired).

Russia and China are capitalist countries, whose foreign policies, quests for world markets, world investments and military power only make sense when seen as part of the world-wide rivalry that characterises capitalism everywhere. (….)

Regardless of the public face they show, Russia, China and America will watch each other very closely. They are each in the same game for what they can get. The fact that friendly relations may exist for a time between each of them, should delude nobody. Trade does not mean trust. They will continue to spy on each other. Investments do not receive peace. They will each maintain their nuclear and other weapons.

Only the working class can get rid of this system of mutual suspicion, rivalry and war. This will involve establishing a world community where trade and investments and military force will have no place. Neither will the cynicism and hypocrisy of politicians.

(Socialist Standard, September 1971)

Divide and Rule (2021)

Editorial from the September 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

No one can deny that many young workers are having a tougher time of it. Many see their future prospects fading and find themselves in low-paid positions or on zero-hours contracts. With the relentless rise in property prices, even relatively well-paid young workers are priced out of the property market and have to make do with paying extortionate rents. Those who have been through the higher education system are facing crippling debts. In the current pandemic, many have lost their jobs in the hospitality sector.

It is no wonder that young workers feel that the economic system is rigged against them. This has given some capitalist media commentators the opportunity to pit the younger generation against the older one. While ‘Generation Rent’ struggles to pay their rents, the baby boomers, who own property, bask in their rising values. The older generations benefited from free further education which was taken away by a Labour government run by baby boomers in the 1990s. The Conservative/ LibDem Coalition government of 2010-2015 tripled student tuition fees while also introducing a triple lock on old age pensions, where the state pension would rise each year either by the inflation rate, average wage growth, or 2.5 percent, whichever was the highest. To top it all, in 2016, the vote to leave the European Union, supported disproportionately by older voters, deprived younger workers of access to job opportunities in the EU job market and the Erasmus Programme, an EU student exchange programme.

Simon Heffer in the Sunday Telegraph (‘Natural Justice demands an end to the triple lock’, 1 August) states that due to the pandemic, earnings could rise by 8 percent next year and that this would create an increase of £3 billion in the annual tax bill to pay for the rise in the state pension necessitated by the triple lock, He then argues that it would be young people, with their own financial struggles, who would have to shoulder this burden. So, for the sake of fairness, the triple lock should be scrapped. In fact, the tax burden falls not on the working class, (whether old or young), but on the capitalist class. The suspicion here is that this is where Heffer’s concern really lies. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian (‘The pension triple-lock is an insult to the UK’s young people’, 1 July) makes similar arguments for abolishing the triple lock on pensions, but, unlike Heffer, acknowledges there are poor pensioners, who, she believes, should receive higher pension credits.

These divide and rule tactics draw attention away from the real cause of young peoples’ woes, which is not the selfishness of older people hogging society’s wealth, but from their position as workers in the capitalist system itself. The children and grandchildren of capitalists, such as Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet, do not face the same problems as mentioned above. Capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class who produce the wealth of the privileged minority owning class, which leaves them in relative or absolute poverty. It also generates economic crises, such as the 2008-2009 downturn, which disproportionately affects younger workers, especially those who have just left school or university. Workers of all ages have an interest in abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Brexit And Exports (2021)

The Proper Gander Column from the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard
 

The pandemic has understandably pushed Brexit out of the limelight recently. But an edition of BBC One’s Panorama reminded us that the issue drags on, and has impacted on how many businesses which export overseas run. Brexit: Six Months On follows several ‘UK businesses at the sharp end of Brexit’ and how they have managed through top-down changes to the market they have to operate within.

One common complaint is the burgeoning bureaucracy now involved in transporting commodities to Europe. For Loch Fyne Seafarms, a shellfish business in west Scotland, one delivery to a European Union country used to involve one delivery note, whereas now there are over 80 pages of tiresome forms which take hours to complete. ‘Paperwork, paperwork. It’s just madness. It’s so much a waste of paper, a waste of time, a waste to the environment, a waste to cost’ says managing director Jamie McMillan. One piece of required admin is a ‘transit declaration’, a messy procedure involving umpteen reference numbers from umpteen different databases. Another food exporter featured in the programme, Creative Nature, faced headaches from other Brexit-related regulations. A planned delivery to Malta got delayed for months while they argued that their vegan snack bars don’t need the same certification as animal products, and then while they added mandatory new labelling to all their Europe-bound stocks. An estimate from before Britain left the EU said that all this kind of knotty red tape would cost British-based businesses £7.5 billion a year. As well as costs taken up by the time taken to plough through additional admin, firms have also had to pay out for customs fees and health certificates when exporting to Europe. For Jamie McMillan these are equivalent to tariff costs which Boris Johnson boasted wouldn’t be part of his ‘jumbo’ Brexit deal. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to financial pressures from increased costs (compounded by the pandemic), lacking the resources and capital which allow larger companies a little more security. In time, it’s likely that protocols will change so that costs are reduced, because costs eat into profits. Ultimately, Brexit means a shift in the markets so that some profits end up going to different capitalists than they otherwise would have. Along the way, the weakest businesses will go bust, wrecking the livelihoods of their staff, although the documentary doesn’t cover businesses cut off by ‘the sharp end of Brexit’.

The new complications and costs of exporting to EU countries have meant that many British companies have found that it’s easier and more lucrative to transport goods elsewhere, or they have needed to do this to survive. Loch Fyne Seafarms stopped exporting to Europe altogether and instead switched to places such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Similarly, Creative Nature decided to concentrate on the Middle East and American markets. It might sound counter-intuitive for it to be more worthwhile to export thousands of miles further, especially considering the additional pollution caused by moving shellfish or snack bars halfway round the world to places which could probably produce them anyway. But the market isn’t driven by what’s practical or sustainable, nor by genuine needs and wants, but by whatever’s more profitable.

Concert equipment transporters Stagetruck fell foul of new rules restricting how they can operate overseas. Lorries registered in the UK can no longer make more than two drop-offs in Europe, causing a problem because their business supports musicians on tour across multiple venues. To get round the change, Stagetruck built a new base in Holland for their lorries to be registered from, and then had to arrange Irish driving licences for their British drivers so they could travel around Europe. Lynas Foodservice, also featured in the documentary, is based in Northern Ireland, which is still part of the European Single Market and therefore subject to specific rules complicating how they deal with British companies. Its managing director Andrew Lynas says that nowadays it seems easier to attend a trade show in France than one in England. The convoluted way which these and other firms have had to manoeuvre around the system highlights its absurdity. The root of the problem here isn’t Brexit, but rather in nation states and the way that they divide up people. Legislation, policies and procedures formalise and normalise this, clogging up our lives and alienating us from others. Panorama: Brexit: Six Months On doesn’t reach this conclusion, of course, its analysis not looking deeply into capitalism’s workings, and certainly not beyond them.

The programme includes the views of a few economists, such as Julian Jessop of the Institute of Economic Affairs. An optimist about Brexit, he claims that shocks to the economy can have a positive impact if they make businesses think about doing things in a fresh way. In other words: treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen, which could be one of the guiding principles of capitalism itself. All that businesses can do is try to adapt to different circumstances, not having any say over what the legislators decide, nor, more fundamentally, any control over market forces. And this is the case whether or not Britain is part of Europe.
Mike Foster

Misleading title (2021)

Book Review from the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wageless Life. A Manifesto for a Future beyond Capitalism. By Ian G.R. Shaw and Marv Waterstone. University of Minnesota Press, 2020. 131pp.

People who advocate a moneyless, wageless society of free access to all goods and services, as members of the Socialist Party do, would be likely to see in the title of this book an expression of support for this idea and expect to find in it details of how life in that ‘wageless’ society would be organised. However, the first few pages would make them aware, and perhaps disappointed, that this is not what is meant by the title. They would realise that ‘wageless life’ is not a way of describing the basis on which a post-capitalist society would be organised, but rather a reference to what the authors perceive as an ongoing development within capitalism, that is its inability to offer its populations wages to enable them to live.

That contention is neatly summed up by the book’s statement that ‘we live in a world sculpted by money but populated by the moneyless’ and is repeated in various different ways time after time throughout its pages. This wageless-ness of people due to their being surplus to capitalism’s requirements is seen as having begun seriously in the 1970s and as having intensified over the decades since, especially with the increased power of finance capital (so-called ‘financialisation’), so that now, we are told, ‘workers bounce between short-term jobs, zero-hours contracts, and other forms of induced precarity’ and most face ‘a jobless future’. As the authors see it: ‘Some of us are virtual paupers’, other are actualized paupers – but pauperism is our shared condition of oppression.’

Some may see this as an over-dramatic statement of the reality of advanced capitalism. Certainly other anti-capitalist commentators have taken different views of the effects of automation on the job market and the lifestyles of its wage workers. It should also be borne in mind that, even if the current development of capitalism may seem to be inevitably leading to long-run technological unemployment or at least wage stagnation and a proliferation of ‘bad jobs’, capitalism in its history has gone through numerous phases and crises and on the whole has managed, even if in an extremely uneven and irregular way, to actually improve living standards and conditions for large numbers of its wage slaves. In other words, current ‘trends’ are not necessarily long-term ones.

None of this however takes anything away from the authors’ thesis that we are ‘fundamentally pauperized under capital’, a system they characterise as ‘a war of profit against life on earth’. In capitalism we all scramble to sell our energies, ‘under conditions of duress and unfreedom’, as the authors put it, being denied our ability to control how we work, and so suffering an alienation that separates us ‘from the material conditions that enable humans to flourish’. They are undeniably correct to say that ‘we sell our time – our existence on planet earth – to somebody else, leading to a global division between those who sell their time and those who buy it’. And, among all this is their observation – especially striking and pertinent in view of the recent sporting events in Europe – that ‘distraction technologies and the entertainment industry sell us meaningless thrills to patch over the pain’. Their picture of modern capitalism is completed by a number of powerfully expressed reflections on the effects of capitalism on human psychology such as that ‘the keystone of capitalist realism remains the utter worship of paid work’, that capitalism ‘thrives on producing docile subjects who are alienated from their surroundings’ and that ‘we live in a society that prizes the most psychotic impulses of humanity: greed, violence and reckless individualism’.

All this constitutes a withering and irrefutable indictment of capitalism, which inevitably leads to a rallying cry from the authors for a different kind of society from the one existing today. Early on in this book they quote approvingly David Harvey’s statement from his Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism that ‘automation and artificial intelligence now provide us with abundant means to achieve the Marxian dream of freedom beyond the realm of necessity’ and tell us that ‘reversing the toxicity of the market economy has never been more urgent: to create alternative worlds animated by the ancient spirit of reciprocity, redistribution, and autonomy’. But what precise form will these ‘alternative worlds’ take? In this connection the authors refer to André Gorz’s Reclaiming Work: Beyond the Wage-Based Society and his advocacy of ‘a culture-based society and multi-activity for everyone’, in which ‘work would occupy a much less important role in everyday life’ and ‘people would then be free to pursue other interests, either individually or in concert with others’. They declare the need for ‘rejection of hierarchy and authoritarianism, and a belief in collective self-management’. They talk about ‘decolonizing our minds of the entrenched common sense of what constitutes meaningful work and its connection to happiness, identity and self-worth’. They advocate the ‘right’ to movement across the planet, and a share in its resources’. And in the penultimate chapter entitled ‘Alter-Worlds: A Manifesto’, they stress the need to move away from seeing the objective of work as ‘earning enough to buy commodities’ to ‘working for the world’ and, in the words of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Commonwealth, ‘fostering the expansion of our powers to think and create, to generate images and social relationships, to communicate and cooperate’.

To achieve all this, the authors argue, we need an ‘alter-politics’. The trouble is that, apart from abstractions such as ‘inventing a new economy that de-economizes exchange’ and the need to ‘threaten the capitalist system with mass demobilization’, to ‘build autonomous spaces’ and to ‘fight for the commons’, the authors do not seriously present what they themselves state as a necessity, i.e. ‘a credible and coherent alternative to capitalism’. They do not seem to contemplate that wageless, money-free economy which is readily achievable and can be voted into being if enough of us want it and in which democratic associations and women and men will engage in voluntary work and have free access to whatever goods and services they need because the whole society will then collectively own and control all the resources that provide these. In that society the whole nature of work will have changed, just in fact as Shaw and Waterstone advocate, since there will no longer be exploitation. People will no longer have to do jobs they hate because they need money — they will be able to do work they want to do and enjoy. And if there are some jobs that are less popular, there is no reason why more automation and the use of robotics could not take care of this. People will cooperate to do the work that makes society function and they will make decisions democratically – in workplaces, in their local communities, in their regions and, with some policy decisions, even globally. Above all there will be no more top-down control by leaders and governments and no more money controlling people’s lives, wasting so much of our time and energy and causing so many of the problems so eloquently detailed and analysed by the authors of this powerful and stinging critique of the capitalist system. This kind of society is precisely one that promises the ‘new social relations, new modes of economic existence and new collective worlds’ that the authors argue we should dare to imagine. So we would invite them to go a step further than they themselves dare to in their book and help to promote this vision of a society advocated by the Socialist Party and well described by another writer, Aaron Benanav, in his Automation and the Future of Work. He describes it as one in which ‘everyone can go to the social storehouses and service centres to get what they need’ and in which for most people it will be ‘the first time in their lives that they could enter truly voluntary agreements – without the gun to their heads of a pervasive material insecurity’.
Howard Moss

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

From Eyes to Isopoints (2021)

Book Review from the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

How to Argue With a Racist: History, Science, Race and Reality. By Adam Rutherford. Weidenfeld & Nicholson £8.99.

Rutherford defines racism as ‘a prejudice concerning ancestral descent that can result in discriminatory action’, and his book is an extended argument against racist ideas. Race exists, he says, because it is a social construct, but its lack of scientific validity is illustrated by the fact that racists cannot even agree on how many races there are. The concept of race was invented during the era of European exploration and exploitation, as a way of justifying the mistreatment of subject people.

The first chapter deals with the complex interactions between genes and inheritance. Even standard schoolbook examples such as red hair and eye colour are far more complex than they appear, and a child can in fact have any colour eyes, whatever the combination of their parents’ eyes. Over the millennia humans have moved around a great deal, and, as one example of the consequences, a small number of white Yorkshiremen have Y chromosomes most commonly found in countries such as Guinea-Bissau, a gene flow that may date back to Roman Britain. Homo sapiens originated in Africa, and pale skin is an adaptation via natural selection to exposure to a weaker sun in northern regions. But even then there is no simple correlation between skin colour and latitude, and there were diverse skin colours well before the human dispersal from Africa.

Going backwards in time, family trees frequently intersect, and the genetic ‘isopoint’ is the time when the whole population is the ancestor of the entire population today. For Europe the isopoint is the tenth century CE, so all Europeans are related in this way. As Rutherford says, ‘every Nazi has Jewish ancestors’. True ‘indigenous Brits’ lived here a million years ago, and were not sapiens. There is ‘no such thing as racial purity’.

A discussion of links between ancestry and athletic and other kinds of ability is interesting. Long-distance running was once dominated by Finns, but now the medal-winners are largely from specific areas of Ethiopia and Kenya. This seems to be explicable by a combination of lean body shape and a culture of running, not some supposed racial advantage. Most classical musicians are white, while most jazz musicians are black, and this is clearly due to cultural traditions. Intelligence is not a single thing, so measuring it by a single IQ score is not sensible, and IQ tests are culturally biased.

Rutherford’s book gives a clear and well-argued account of the fallacies of racist ideas. However, it is unfortunate that some of the works mentioned in the text are not included in the list of references. Also that it is necessary to deduct 26 or so from the page numbers stated in the index in order to find the actual discussion of the terms in question.
Paul Bennett

Obituary: Robert Vallar (2021)

Obituary from the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

ROBERT VALLAR (20 July 1920 – 9 June 2021)

Born over 100 years ago, Robert Vallar was a remarkable man. To his family he was dad or grandpa, to a selected group of others he was Comrade Vallar, but to everyone else who knew him – friends, customers and acquaintances – he was simply Bert.

The son of Prince Vallar and Margaret Collis, Bert had a younger brother, Stephen and a younger sister Hetty. Growing up in a loving family in the 1920s and thirties Bert saw at first hand the massive inequality, economic hardship, political turmoil and social deprivation capitalism created.

Influenced by his family and what he saw around him, in his youth Bert began to look to socialism as a way of creating a better society and way of life for everyone.

A highly intelligent person and a gifted artist Bert entered Glasgow School of Art in 1938. However, the start of the Second World War the following year saw him moving to Ireland to live with relatives. As someone with strong socialist beliefs and pacifist principles Bert fully recognised the futility of becoming cannon fodder in what was essentially a war between opposing capitalist systems.

While living in Ireland Bert gained citizenship and an Irish passport through his Irish connection. While he was in Ireland he met Teresa O’Neill. They married in 1944 and had three children: Joyce, Lorraine and Brendan; five grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren.

After the war Bert joined his father Prince, then Scotland’s preeminent tattoo artist, in his studio at 404 Argyle Street, taking over when his father died in 1947. Over the years he developed an increasingly useful side-line in supplying professional photographers with mounts, albums and photo frames.

In 1965 Bert closed the studio and moved to new premises in York Street to concentrate on developing and expanding his new business – supplying professional photographers and manufacturing and selling picture frames. Bert continued to work full time well into his eighties.

These core values and the economic and social deprivation that he saw growing up led Bert to want to change the world he and others were forced to live in under the yoke of capitalism. In 1943 he joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain. He remained a member for the rest of his life, constantly developing and enhancing his understanding and knowledge of how our economy and society really works. For many years he was one of the key members of the party’s Glasgow Branch. An accomplished public speaker Bert conducted public meetings and membership drives across the city right up until the 1970s. Bert stood as the party’s Parliamentary candidate for the Glasgow Woodside constituency on three occasions in the 1960s. For Bert and his family the annual Mayday meetings in Glasgow, to which he usually invited comrades from the Party’s London Branch, were one of the highlights of the year.

His wife, Teresa died in 1994 and he is survived by his two daughters and son, his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

(From the eulogy delivered at his funeral).

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Voice From The Back: Censorship (2000)

The Voice From The Back Column from the August 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Censorship 

One of capitalism’s inherent contradictions/conflicts is being sharpened to killing point by the rapid development of the Internet: that of freedom of information versus privacy. Our freedom as individuals to find out facts about commercial companies and government is counterbalanced by their freedom to find out (and share) facts about us. “An entire new technical architecture to facilitate e-commerce is being created . . . ready to be grafted on to the older, libertarian architecture of the net. And therein lies the danger . . . the values implicit in the architecture of this new layer will be radically different from those implicit in the old one. The key difference will be that the new layer will use the technical facilities of the old layer to eliminate anonymity and erode privacy . . . Within such an architecture, the practice of anonymous reading—one of the great bulwarks of intellectual freedom—could be rendered impossible, at least in relation to online documents.” Index on Censorship, March.


Pirates 

Hundreds of merchant seaman are attacked, and several killed, by pirates each year as hard-pressed shipping companies cut back on staff and security. The wave of modern piracy has grown threefold over the past decade, leaving Britain’s merchant seamen feeling let down by the Government and their employers . . . Seamen and maritime experts blame the economics of shipping . . . Cargoes such as oil, sugar or aluminium bars are easily unloaded and their origins disguised in Far Eastern ports, notably China. Financial losses are covered by insurers. Financial Mail on Sunday, 11 June.


Blood money 

When this Labour Government was returned to power an inexplicable euphoria seemed to grip the British media. Supporters of Labour were soon delighting in religious-type mantras: “Education, education, education,” “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” Perhaps the most unrealistic piece of garbage was the news that the British Foreign Office was overturning centuries of ruthless cynicism and adopting an “ethical foreign policy”. What is the reality behind this sham? “Officials from dozens of the world’s most repressive regimes have been invited by the Government to view and buy high-powered military equipment at Farnborough Air Show next month. Many will have a significant proportion of the expenses of their trips paid by taxpayers the UK defence Export Sales Organisation” (Observer, 11 June). So welcome Indonesia, Pakistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and any other repressive dictatorship—come and buy. Ignore the nonsense of “ethics”; that is only cant produced for the gullible. After all, the arms trade is worth £5 billion a year to British capitalism.


TV Times 

So it’s no surprise that new research from the University of Essex shows that in the last 30 years, the average person has gained only 20 minutes’ extra free time each day. That’s about a TV half-hour. So what are you going to send that extra leisure time watching? TV Times, 15-21 April.


The cold facts 

Capitalism is a cruel social system. Based as it is on the profit motive, we expect it to ignore social needs if they conflict with that of profit. All workers suffer from its madness, but the old and the infirm seem to be its worst victims: “Lord Whitty, Environment minister, said yesterday that an estimated 4.3 million households in England were living in cold, damp and health-hazardous conditions. Around 30,000 winter deaths, mainly among elderly or disabled people and children, are linked with ‘fuel poverty’.” Times, 10 June.


The dignity of labour? 

An article in the Times (7 June) reveals just how widespread the Big Brother role is today: “All the same, it is worth remembering that if you are working on a computer (and who isn’t these days?) then keeping tabs on what you are up to is an easy matter for an employer—and it doesn’t stop at monitoring Internet use or snooping at e-mail. Did you know that, in addition, seven out of ten employers routinely watch their staff through CCTV systems and/or covert surveillance systems? Even if you are not caught on camera pinching anything from the stationery cupboard, advanced in technology mean that your company can still monitor what you are up to. Computer programmes are available that will log your every key stroke—including the time, frequency and speed. That means your boss can glean a complete picture of your productivity, work rate and the amount of time you spend away from the keyboard.” And to think that George Orwell’s 1984 used to be looked upon as a work of science fantasy.



Analysing the subtext (2000)

Theatre Review from the August 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Country by Martin Crimp, Royal Court Theatre,
Fires Were Started directed by Humphrey Jennings and
Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten. The Aldeburgh Festival.

Peter Hall argues in Exposed By The Mask that “without Beckett, the way would not have been clear for Pinter . . .” And it seemed to me whilst watching Martin Crimp’s The Country at the Royal Court, that without Harold Pinter there would have been no Martin Crimp.

We are in familiar country. It is a land rich in desire and despair. “Who is the comatosed woman Richard has found on the roadside? Why has he brought her into his house? Exactly who is telling the truth?” the dialogue is clipped and staccato, and filled with menacing silences. Clearly all is not as it seems, and we are challenged to see through and beneath the words. What is really going on? As with Pinter we are confronted by the neurotic and the psychotic. Alienation and malevolence abound. The one character who seems honest and straightforward is deceived, abused and finally disempowered. Welcome to the 21st century.

No doubt those who find such theatre valid and significant would argue that the drama of Crimp, like that of Pinter and Beckett, challenges “naturalism”, and in doing so “gives the stage back to our imagination”. But there is a difficulty. Pinter and Crimp whilst challenging “naturalism” nevertheless seem to suggest that their work is rooted, albeit metaphorically, in reality. And no doubt it is. the difficulty is that the reality of the world of Pinter and Crimp is robustly selective. It is populated by people who are consistently malevolent: where to show even a mite of concern for someone is to be seen as being weak, and to invite abuse. It is a world which is so unambiguously nasty, as to have little contact with everyday experience other than in some fevered nightmare.

The Country paints a picture of people and their behaviour which is light yeas away from the of Fires Were Started, the wonderful dramatised documentary made by Humphrey Jennings in 1941/42. The film records a day in the life of a National Fire Service unit involved in fighting the London Blitz. In it Jennings shows us a group of unique individuals—ordinary men and women—working together in a team “dedicated to public service, bravery and sacrifice”. It too is selective—necessarily so given that it was produced by the Crown Film Unit in the middle of the Second World War. It was made to boost morale, to offer role models, to aid the successful prosecution of the war. As such it makes no mention of desertion, the “black market”, the continuing disparities between the rich and the poor, etc. It’s selectivity makes it, knowingly and unashamedly, propaganda. But I wonder? Could we also see The Country in this way? Arguably it, too, could be seen as an exercise in persuasion, in deliberate distortion. And which class might benefit from the selectivities that are evident in the subtext? Isn’t a fraternal, co-operative, democratic and just society less likely if people can be persuaded that malevolence is the norm?

And selective responses abound in critical commentaries of Benjamin Britten’s great opera Peter Grimes. At Aldeburgh I noted the way in which Philip Reed’s introduction in the festival booklet and the commentary in the programme both maintain that Britten had a natural empathy with Peter Grimes, because like Grimes he was an outsider. And why was Britten an outsider? Because he was a homosexual. Oh, yes, he was also a pacifist, but the latter is added as a kind of afterthought. It is Britten’s homosexuality which is identified as the major determinant of his empathy with Grimes.

I’m not surprised that commentators want to see Britten in this light. It’s all very convenient. It allows people to see Peter Grimes and to tut tut about the way in which foolish people in the 1940s—when the opera was written—almost drove Britten to write about an outsider, because he was a homosexual. Now, of course we see homophobia as unacceptable. Now we are enlightened and imaginative, and we shake our heads both at the behaviour of the people who drove Grimes to commit suicide, and society’s attitude to Benjamin Britten. And we deceive ourselves.

Certainly people disapproved of Britten’s homosexuality, but they disapproved even more of his pacifism. This is what drove Britten to travel to the USA at the end of 1939, not his homosexuality. Britten was fleeing from the war and all that went with it. To pretend otherwise may be convenient, but it is also wrong. And most people probably still object to his pacifism. So we have commentators writing contemporary history so that it chimes with contemporary prejudices. As ever the subtext is fascinating.
Michael Gill

The Mother of the Nation (2000)

TV Review from the August 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Only those locked deep down in the dungeons of the remotest castles in the land could to be unaware that this month sees the one hundredth birthday of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. As a prelude to the festivities planned, Channel Four showed a documentary on 10 July called The Real Queen Mother. The programme title alone was an interesting one as it rather implied that the old dear that has been occupying our television screens and the front pages of the tabloids for years is an impostor. Unfortunately, this was not the case and the commemorative tea-towel makers and mug purveyors can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Whatever else could be said about it, it would be unfair to suggest that this programme was a hagiography of the Queen Mother, merely detailing her various charitable acts and her courageous long-term battle against errant trout bones. The programme clearly attempted to steer a course between portrait and exposé, and for the most part reasonably successfully. Some revealing snippets certainly emerged though by and large they were just that—snippets. Throughout there was a sense that the programme’s makers were soft-peddling on the more interesting lines of enquiry open to them lest they go too far in an exposé of someone who is, in some senses at least, an extremely private person.

The programme was effectively constructed and conducted on the type of terrain occupied by the Queen Mother herself. By way of example, her relationship with her husband was never mentioned in ordinary, everyday terms, or indeed as a relationship at all, it was always referred to as a “romance”, even though the programme’s makers were able to demonstrate that this “romance” was a lot more earthy and complicated than the fairy-tale myth the Queen Mother has propagated from day one. Similarly, though the programme was able to outline the vindictive and mean-spirited streak which has been a pronounced part of the Queen Mother’s character all her adult life, it was always referred to euphemistically. The Queen Mother can never be labelled “vindictive”, apparently, even by Channel Four—although that is what she is—so instead she was described as “determined” and “steely” in the manner of second rate job interviewees who insist on turning their “negatives” into “positives” at every available opportunity.

Bring on the Hun 
If the programme performed one important service it was in its enunciation of the Queen Mother’s deeply held convictions and prejudices to an audience who, by and large, may have been unaware of them. There was reference to her adoring support for those two most popular Prime Ministers of the twentieth century, Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher; to her ingrained racism and belief that dark-skinned colonials are unable to run their own affairs without the benevolent, guiding hand of the white man; to her conviction that immigration should have been halted years ago, and many other prejudices besides. She is, apparently, still unable to refer to German people without calling them “the Hun”.

The one other fascinating thing to come out of the programme was the prominent place the Queen Mother holds in the history of spin-doctoring (and this without having conducted a single press interview since 1923). It is difficult to see how any potential candidates for the BNP like the Queen Mum could ever hope to achieve her consistently high poll ratings. Peter Mandelson certainly has nothing on her, from her use of newsreel during the war when she posed amongst the rubble of Buck House’s back garden just like she’d emerged from a two-up-two-down in Stepney (when actually she spent every night during the Blitz out of London at Windsor Castle), to her invention of the royal walkabout replete with gloves for glad-handing and the ever-present patronising grimace. And like all good spin-doctors and manipulators throughout history she bears grudges, builds up jealousies and pursues vendettas like there is no tomorrow, from Mrs Wallis Simpson to Lady Diana Spencer.

The Queen Mother always seeks to temper her hauteur and obvious distance from the masses with a deliberate cultivation of the image that underneath all the pomp and ceremony she is “just one of us”. This myth was exploded by a couple of interviewees who had been close to her for years and who remarked on the fact that her extravagance and lavish lifestyle is greater than that of any other royal (and that in itself is saying something). It was a pity that this wasn’t brought out more than it was—it would no doubt have been very illuminating to see what it takes to keep Her Royal Highness pampered day in day out while the rest of us eke our time away eating MacCrap and chips.

It some respects then, Channel Four pulled its punches when compiling this documentary, which is a shame, because the more the truth about one of the ruling class’s biggest fairy-tales emerges, the easier it will be for the really useful people in society to cast aside their adoration for leaders and bamboozlers of all sorts wherever they may be found—whether in parliament, in palaces, or in the case of the Queen Mother for much of the time, running up the world’s biggest overdraft at the races.

Sometime ago a reader wrote in to the Guardian’s “Notes and Queries” column to ask who Riley was and what was so good about the life they lived. The only answer must surely be that Riley is a metaphor—a metaphor applicable like no other to the woman who was born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon at a disputed location in August 1900 and whose life as the world’s most successful parasite has been an unparalleled inspiration to the ruling class and their sycophants ever since.
Dave Perrin

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Letters: Introducing the WSM (2000)

Letters to the Editors from the August 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Introducing the WSM

Dear Editors,

Thank you very much for Introducing the World Socialist Movement and the accompanying literature you sent in response to my e-mail. Having read through it, it seems that our goals and assessments of the global situation are virtually identical.

I was pleased to see that you tackle the “human nature” argument in the “Objections to Socialism Answered” section of the booklet. It’s an argument I’ve come up against on numerous occasions and I have some thoughts of my own on what “human nature” is (as distinct from “animal nature”, derived from the genetic imperative to breed);
  • We’re gregarious; humanity is obviously a social species
  • We’re sentient; not to say that all animals aren’t, but we know for a fact that humans are capable of complex abstract analyses
  • We’re communicative; we’ve developed intricate languages to express our thoughts and feelings to each other
  • We’re compassionate; our capacity to empathise with others is nothing short of amazing and is surely the key to our unity and social order. Why would we do things to others that we wouldn’t want done to us? If our so-called “leaders” rediscovered their empathy, imagine the impact on their treatment of refugees and their policies allowing people to starve while food rots in warehouses. (Have you ever noticed, whenever “our” politicians are asked “why don’t we just ship our food surpluses to the people who need it?”, they always seem to reply “it’s not that simple”? It is that simple—people are dying . . .)
If the above points are true, why on earth would they present a barrier to socialism? If anything, they suggest that we’d be good at it. It’s not like we’re stupid—if we can do capitalism, we can do socialism and we’d all be a lot better off for it, I’m sure. Even our former plutocrats would learn to live in a world where human achievement in science and technology were unfettered by competition, profit margin and political expediency.
Phil Salter, 
Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs


Limited LETS

Dear Editors,

Like some other members of the Socialist Party, I am also a member of a local LETS group so my curiosity was aroused on coming across the article on LETS by Kaz in the July issue. Though interesting and informative, I did not find its line of argument altogether convincing.

Kaz appears to lump LETS together with various other “reformist schemes” which he condemns not so much because they are inherently ineffectual but because of the (unrealisable) “hope attached to them by often desperate members of the working class”. “Alternative currencies,” argues Kaz, “like experimental communities and a dozen other half-baked schemes have been tried before, more than once, as a solution to the problems of capitalism and each time have been found wanting.” There are two points I would like to make in response.

Firstly, it would be quite wrong to brand LETS as a “reformist” type of activity for it is no more reformist than, for example, trade unionism. By “reformism”, the Socialist Party means, quite specifically, policies enacted by the state which seek (futilely) to modify the economic behaviour of the capitalist system in such a way as to eliminate or alleviate certain problems that are inextricably part of that very system itself. In no sense does LETS fit this definition.

For one thing, it is simply a form of mutual aid at the grassroots level. Essentially, it does not involve the state at all—even if, sometimes (for example, in the USA) the state may choose to involve itself for its own reasons by providing funding for some LETS-type organisation. But this does not mean such organisation should be shunned anymore than we should shun trade unions because of their formal links with the Labour Party. For another, LETS constitute a particular kind of micro-economy qualitative different and separate from the capitalist macro-economy—the real focus or object of reformist activity. LETS are an essentially non-exploitative, egalitarian and voluntaristic arrangement which, like Marx’s “labour-time” vouchers, do not involve the use of money at all—one of the defining features of a capitalist economy.

Secondly, as a socialist I have no illusions that LETS offer any real solution to the problems of capitalism. Indeed, I doubt whether many members of the LETS movement would think any differently. LETS are essentially a way of coping with life under capitalism and are particularly beneficial for people on a low income, like myself, or the unemployed. Moreover, the range of activities involved is vastly more expansive and diverse than the caricature that Kaz paints (“giving lifts to old lades and trading organic lentils”). My local LETS group, for example, publishes a fairly substantial directory each year which lists literally hundreds of different kinds of services (and goods) offered or requested—from plumbing and house painting to holiday accommodation and computer repairs—which enables our members to a limited extent to circumvent the capitalist money-based economy to meet our own personal needs. Granted this is never going to be more that a rather limited circumvention but, for someone like myself, it is by no means insignificant.

It is highly regrettable that the title of Kaz’s article (“LETS not make the same mistakes again”) should convey the impression that workers should not become involved in LETS groups. This is emphatically not the view of the Socialist Party and it would be utter folly if it ever were to become that. LETS do not represent an alternative to the absolutely essential task of organising politically to establish socialism and just because enthusiasts like Dave Boyle entertain fantasies about what can be achieved through the LETS movement, this does not mean that we should then proceed to shoot down in flames the very idea of LETS itself.

The significance of LETS to the working class is not that they will provide any real and lasting solution to the problems we face under capitalism; it is that they offer a practical instance of what Kaz rightly calls a “form of voluntary labour for the good of the community, surely the basis of work in socialism”. If they, along with experimental communities etc. have been “found wanting” in this respect then so too, it has to be said, has the purely “propagandistic” or political approach adopted by the Socialist Party. For after nearly a hundred years of consistently applying this approach we have unfortunately made very little discernible progress.

The answer is surely not to reject one approach in favour of the other but to embrace both. While it is not the business of the Socialist Party to directly involve itself (in a practical sense) in the development of the LETS movement, it will certainly benefit by adopting a more explicitly sympathetic approach to this movement. Yes, let us recognise its limitations but let us also recognise that by involving ourselves as individuals in this movement we can each help in a small way to nudge the consciousness of our fellow workers in the direction we desire.
Robin Cox, 
Redruth, Cornwall


Reply: 
We don’t presume to tell workers (including our own members) what strategy to adopt to survive under capitalism—beyond, that is, urging them to fight back against downward pressures via trade unions, tenants associations and the like. So if people want to join LETS schemes, we have no objection. Our criticism of them (as of trade unions) is that they are not the solution—there is no solution to workers’ problems within capitalism—nor are they somehow “stepping stones to Socialism”. When people make such claims as Dave Boyle did in his book on Funny Money we criticise them. LETS schemes are not socialist or a step towards socialism. They are, as you put it, “essentially a way of coping with life under capitalism”.
Editors.