Monday, April 30, 2007

Charity versus Equity

From the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back

Just before Christmas last year a letter arrived from Action Aid citing a number of manifestations of the iniquities of global capitalism. The letter was an appeal for funds, specifically for the 'Global Campaign for Education' to 'make sure the governments of the world keep their promise to provide free primary education for all by 2015.'

Action Aid stressed that a donation isn't a hand-out or an imposed solution but a project that puts power, decision-making and responsibility back into the hands of a whole community. In fact the appeal had a letter within the letter. Two teenage Guineans appealing by letter for the world's poorest people to the people of Europe, wanting to give their message of a life of poverty in Africa, believing that the people of Europe could bring a solution. All they wanted was education, the key they believed to a better life in their home country. They said that because their families were poor the choice was between food and education. In attempting to carry their letter to Europe (believing their oral message may not reach its destination) they both perished in the undercarriage of the plane in which they'd stowed away, but their message did arrive in Brussels International Airport with their dead 14 and 15 year old bodies.

The main points of their letter were wishing to seek help with the development of Africa; help to fight poverty; and to bring war to an end in Africa. (Guinea, with a population of about 9 million, shares borders with Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau and has had to contend with tens of thousands of refugees and numerous cross-border incursions in the last decade.) Finally, 'however, our greatest need is education.'

No doubt Action Aid and other charities, through generous donations, are able to make a dent in alleviating some of the pressing problems affecting impoverished societies in Africa and other areas of the world, but these can only be dents because they don't aim to change the system to one that can continue to support all societies in an equitable and sustainable manner.

Appropriate development such as desired by local communities, poverty elimination, an end to war everywhere and universal lifelong education are some of the fundamental principles of socialism as are power, decision-making and responsibility to be firmly in the hands of the people.

Certainly, support and compassion are needed meantime, but just imagine teams of people like these already established with logistics skills, people on the ground experienced in organising, a worldwide workforce empathetic to the importance of working for and with the community for common goals, at the time when the majority of the world's people - in Africa, in Europe, in Asia and the Americas - are intent on working together with the sole aim of establishing a socialist world for the benefit of all, with no hindrance of class, race, colour, religion or wealth.

What better tribute could we give to these two courageous youths and to the thousands of others dying daily from malnutrition and preventable and curable diseases than to double our efforts at bringing about an end to the horrific, inhumane system called capitalism and replacing it with one based upon common ownership and democratic control by and in the interest of the whole community?
Janet Surman

Sunday, April 29, 2007

China: primitive accumulation of capital (2007)

From the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is not able to develop until, in addition to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few people, there were also vast numbers of men and women free to sell their mental and physical energies, their labour power, for wages, and "free" from other means of obtaining a living such as the ownership of land. This, according to Karl Marx, was — and is — the primitive accumulation of capital. Peasants in England, Scotland, in continental Europe and, later, elsewhere were forced off the land and herded into factories. Today, we witness a similar situation in China and its so-called autonomous province of Tibet. Feudalism, even pre-feudalism and compradore capitalism, is being replaced by full-blooded capitalism known to the West for a century.

Until the 1980s, 80 percent of the Chinese labour force worked on the land. They were an enormous source of exploitable labour. During the last quarter of a century, however, millions of peasants have, by force, harassment or the promise (bait) of a better life, migrated to the ever-expanding cities of the People's Republic of China. For a few, life has indeed improved, even if they have become exploited wage slaves. But for most?

According to Amnesty International (reported in the West Australian, 3 March), millions of Chinese workers who have moved from the countryside to serve the country's expansion are "overworked, underpaid, denied access to health care, education for their children, and even the right to live permanently in the cities which use their labour," and are treated as an underclass. Continues the Amnesty report:

"They are forced to work long stretches of overtime, often denied time off when sick, and labour under hazardous conditions for paltry wages. As well as being exploited by employers, migrant families face discriminatory government regulations in almost every area of daily life."

They are, says the West Australian, easily exploited by unscrupulous bosses, many of whom withhold their wages, knowing, in the end, the workers will simply be forced to return home. Indeed, conditions in China today often parallel those chronicled by Marx and Engels in 19th century Britain. Conditions in the coal mines are particularly bad, with as many as 5,000 miners dying, and thousands more injured, every year in the cities, workers are herded into "shanty towns" or squalid apartments. According to the report, most workers in China "lack free trade union representation in their factories and restaurants, often working 14-hour days, 30 days a month . . ."

Strikes are illegal. But, as we know, they, as well as riots and even mass revolts, have occurred throughout the history of the People's Republic of China. The class struggle is alive and well! Meanwhile, a very rich minority of capitalists, of whom many are or were Communist Party functionaries, and factory managers, have emerged in China during the last 20 years or so. One such capitalist Yan Jiehe, is said to be worth more than £850 million.
Peter E Newell

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Child Slavery and the Chocolate Factory

From the blog, Socialist Banner

The BBC is reporting that child labour, in fact, near enough actual slavery, remains an unresolved problem in the Ivory Coast, the world's biggest cocoa producer.

A 2002 report by the industry body, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, put the number of children working in dangerous conditions in cocoa in West Africa at 284,000 in 2002, 200,000 of them in Ivory Coast. Many children on cocoa farms don't get to school, some exchange their childhood for work, a roof over their head and a meal a day. Others have been sent by their parents into virtual slavery, suffering beatings and abuse. Progress in eradicating child labour has been slow.

Naturally not very particularly good news for the chocolate manufacturers in the more developed countries. There can be no worse PR for a chocolate company than news that children in West Africa - the source for the bulk of the world's cocoa - are being forced to pick beans used to make chocolate for the children in the West.

A voluntary industry initiative, called the Harkin-Engel protocol, was set up in 2001. Its initial aim was to have a system in place to monitor labour conditions on cocoa farms by July 2005. That deadline shifted has now towards a 2008 deadline to monitor labour conditions in 50% of farms in Ghana, the world's number two producer, and neighbouring in Ivory Coast.

Mme. Amouan Acquah, the government official responsible for child labour issues in Ivory Coast, makes the excuse that "We are in a state of war. We cannot make such guarantees." Yet with or without war, Ivory Coast's cocoa has always made it to the world market. Critics say that if the cocoa can get to market even in times of conflict, then it should also be possible to monitor labour conditions on the farm.

Mme Acquah points out "The issue at the heart of this [child labour] is poverty."

In the words of cocoa farmer Eugene Djedje "No one is obliged to send a child to school. If you don't have money you don't go."

Some major companies that knowingly use chocolate produced by slave labor:
- Hersheys
- M&M/Mars
- Nestle
- Ben & Jerry's
- Kraft
- Toblerone
- Hauser Chocolates

Alan Johnstone

The “nine eleven truth” movement by John Moeller

From issue 3/110 of the newspaper, Solidarity, which is produced by the British Trotskyist organisation, the Alliance for Workers Liberty.

A meeting in the Casa, the former headquarters of striking dockworkers in Liverpool. Nowadays it is the usual location for left wing events in town. The hall is so crowded that some listeners have to stay outside in the corridor. It might be triple the size of a normal lefty audience. Who has attracted this many people? It's Mr David Shayler.

Shayler used to work as a spy for the British Security Service, until he discovered that his employer doesn't stick to the usual official ideals of liberal democracy (the branch he worked for tried to kill the Libyan leader Gaddafi with a car bomb). Shocked, Shaylor quit his job and told some professional secrets to the media, which led to his temporary imprisonment.

Generalising his own experience with the intelligence services, Shayler was one of the prominent figures who claimed after 11 September 2001 that the attacks on the World Trade Centre were not caused by Islamist extremists, but by the Americans themselves, namely by the CIA.

Conspiracy theories of these type have become very popular all over the world during recent years. A whole movement has emerged - in the UK too - called the "nine eleven truth" groups , investigating what is "going on" behind the scenes of events like 9/11.

When you listen to their discussions two typical features of the conspiracy theorists become very obvious: the presumption of an idée fixe, which has to be justified afterwards; and a highly selective perception, which takes everything in account which is likely to give evidence for that idea and ignores everything which contradicts it.

"We mustn't let ourselves be divided", insists Mrs Annie Machon, David Shayler's co-defendent and former colleague, "no matter what in particular one or another believes to have happened on 9/11, the important thing is that we all agree that the official version cannot be true."

To prove their case the "truth activists" adapt rather bizarre theories, which are far more unlikely than the official version. David Shayler, for instance, claims that what we have seen flying into the WTC were not real aeroplanes, but mere holograms, projected into the sky to cheat us.

Why do people believe in this stuff? And, an even more basic question, why are they so keen on speculating about unlikely "truth" about an event which happened thousands of miles away and had little direct impact on their lives?

Shayler explains his motive: "Our democracy is in danger . . . the spies have become so all-powerful that they're already controlling even our elected members of parliament. If we won't stand up and act, this will lead to a totalitarian rule of one kind or another." This alarmist statement expresses an idealistic view about liberal democracy which is very common among the "truth movement": Elected representatives are there to carry out the will of the people and to look after their well being, aren't they? If our needs and desires are neglected by those representatives the only explanation is that there must be someone who secretly prevents them from doing their job - either by cheating, or by corrupting them.

In fact, they are doing their job quite well. The function of states in the capitalist world market is to provide convenient conditions for investors and to protect property. If they don't do so, they will fail in the competition against other states. Thus, whether they like it or not, democratic rulers have to organise the effective use of their electors' labour for the accumulation of capital, with all the negative effects this causes.

The trick of bourgeois democracy is that it also encourages people to participate in the discussion on the improvement of their own exploitation! This has proved to be much more effective than dictatorial rule - at least in wealthy countries which can afford to distribute some benefits to workers for their participation.

Are the conspiracy-searching activists basically democratic idealists who have gone mad, driven round the bend by elected governments who do the opposite to what they expected? That's part of the explanation. However, where does this idealism comes from" There are elements within the milieu who don't hesitate to cheer on even the most barbaric Islamist actions, if they are directed against the American empire and the alleged conspiracy behind it. That is nihilism not idealism.

The element of truth which underlies the "nine eleven truth" movement is that, as they say, we really don't have the sovereignty over our own lives. But we don't need a secret plot to explain that alienation.

It is more productive to think about the alarm clock that interrupts your dreams in the morning and forces you to work; or the boredom and stress of wage labour which steals your time and energy; or the permanent threat of personal failure in competition which undermines your mental and physical health; the exclusion of both material wealth and the satisfaction of participating in the productive co-operation of society while you are unemployed; the security service men who prevent you from taking what you desire in shops and warehouses. And so on...

The majority of people don't have control over their lives because they are detached from the means of production and have to sell their labour-power as a commodity. There have been times in history when this insight has been relatively widespread among working-class people, impelling them to organise themselves collectively to improve their living conditions or even to do away with the system of wage labour.

But we live in a time of defeat of working class organisations. That has led to atomisation, isolation and therefore impotence of the individual. It has become increasingly difficult for people to imagine how to fight collectively for their interests.

The situation has made a whole leftist milieu ready to adapt conspiracy theories of Shayler's type: a struggle against the imaginary evil of a world wide conspiracy becomes the substitute for the struggle against the real evils which occur in everyday life in capitalist society.

The total absence of economic questions in the debate at the Casa was one of the most conspicuous details of the evening. "You must speak to your neighbours, your colleagues, your family members", urged Mrs. Machon, "to make them aware of the lies they are telling on TV about 9/11!". Well, it's all right to communicate with the people around you - but why start a conversation on such an odd topic rather than on questions which affect your lives directly?

If the "nine eleven truth" groups were simply a movement of concerned citizens observing the intelligence services and accusing the bourgeois state when it violates its own laws and ideals, there wouldn't be much to oppose. But they are something different.

Their conspiracy theories claim to give an exclusive insight in the hidden causes for all the evils of the world. In doing so, they lead attention systematically away from the most important immediate antagonisms. They spare people the possibility of confrontation with the powerful and the risk of failure.

This worldview is attractive and hermetic, and hard to criticise. This type of thought is not, as it has been argued, a first step to becoming more conscious and critical about the problems of society, but the opposite: it is a kind of collective psychosis which increasingly detaches people from reality.

The fact that a meeting of the lunatic "nine eleven truth" sect takes place in the location where struggling dockers used to meet a decade ago, is a horrible indication of the lamentable state of the British left of today.
John Moeller

Cooking the Books: Underlying cause (2007)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 23 March 2005 an explosion and fire occurred at the BP-owned oil refinery in Texas City. Fifteen workers were killed and 170 injured. The US Chemical and Safety Hazard Investigation Board decided that, on this occasion, it would investigate not just the technical causes of the explosion - which valve was left open, who left it open, which alarm wasn't working, and the like - but also "the underlying and significant cultural, human factors and organizational causes of the disaster that have a greater impact".

The result was a report two years later which the Times (21 March) headlined "Watchdog points finger at cost cuts in damning verdict on BP. Budget pressures behind refinery fire. Top management knew of problems".

BP had acquired the refinery when it took over Amoco in 1988. Following this, BP's chief executive, Sir John Browne, set a target for all its plants of reducing fixed costs in the year 1999-2000 by 25 percent. These are costs other than labour and materials and consist mainly of buildings and equipment including the costs of maintaining them. "In 2002", the report discovered, "BP engineers proposed connecting the Isom blowdown drum system to a flare but BP chose a less expensive option". The refinery manager "ruled against the investment and stated in an e-mail: 'Bank the savings in 99.999 per cent of the cases'".

The Chemical Safety Board's report concluded: "Cost-cutting and budget pressures from BP Group executive managers impaired process safety performance at Texas City".

To go beyond the technical reasons for the explosion and investigate other factors was a step in the right direction. But not far enough. The Board only looked for "the underlying and significant cultural, human factors and organizational causes" within BP. But why stop there? Why not ask what pressures BP's top executives were under to behave in the way they did?

If the Board had done this, they would have to have taken into account the declaration issued on the occasion of the BP take-over of Amoco in 1998:

"The managements of BP and Amoco already have a shared financial philosophy. The targets our companies have previously set are very similar - powerful annual earnings growth, a strongly-competitive return on capital, and dividends in line with underlying earnings" (see article, BP-Amoco Merger).

And also that, at the time, the price of oil was low, meaning that the main way to keep up profits would be by cutting costs rather than increasing sales. And that in fact it was to face what Sir John called in the same statement the "fierce" competition on the energy market that was behind the take-over. And, further, that takeovers involve an expenditure of money which has to be raised one way or another. And that raising this added further pressure to save money and - "in 99.999 per cent of the cases" – bank it.

The cost-cutting exercise was successful - in the middle of it Sir John was elevated to be Lord Browne of Madingley for services to industry - as recorded by the Times financial columnist Carl Mortished:

"In 2000 BP boasted that it had generated $2 billion in cost-savings, and then, in 2001, Lord Browne of Madingley announced a further $2 billion in 'performance improvements'. By the end of 2002 a further billion dollars was pulled out of the hat and the BP chief executive announced a programme of $2 billion stock repurchases. The cashflows were being delivered in places such as Texas City".

Friday, April 27, 2007

Joe Hill: songwriter to the working class (2000)

From the October 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Eighty-five years ago, on 19 November 1915, Joe Hill, a rootless, unassuming migratory worker and member of the IWW, was executed by a five-man firing squad in the prison yard of Utah State Penitentiary for the alleged murder of a Salt Lake City grocer and his son in January 1914. Though the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence was used to convict Hill, his guilt still remains a matter of controversy and should not really concern us here.

The facts themselves are pretty much straightforward. On the night of 10 January 1914 one John Morrison, a former policeman, and his two sons, Aveling and Merlin, were closing their store when two men wearing red bandannas forced their way in shouting "we've got you now." The commotion that followed resulted in the deaths of Morrison and his son Aveling and the wounding of one of the intruders, shot by Aveling.

Five miles away and two hours later, Joe Hill turned up at the office of Dr F N McHugh bleeding from a bullet wound in the chest. Hill informed the doctor before being treated and driven to the Eselius household (known IWW activists) that he had sustained the injury in an argument over a woman. McHugh then informed the police of the visit and agreed to take part in Hill's capture. Three days later, McHugh turned up at the Eselius household to check on Hill's wound, drugging him in the process. Once Hill was drowsy, the police burst in, shot him in the hand and arrested him.

Although Hill's trial was a long way off, the police and press had already found him guilty of the murders. Only 10 days after his arrest, the Mormon-controlled press began a series of articles vilifying Hill, lambasting his songs as "inflammatory" and "sacrilegious" and mounting a panic campaign about the IWW menace to Salt Lake City, a campaign that would continue right up to the trial date five months later and right on through it.

From the offset, the trial itself made a mockery of the US judicial system. None of the witnesses, including Merlin Morrison, only yards away when the incident took place, identified Hill as the assassin. No evidence suggested Hill had ever met Morrison or had a grievance against him. The gun McHugh claimed to have seen at his surgery was never recovered and the bullet that allegedly passed through Hill's body whilst in the store was never found.

Hill had maintained that he had been shot whilst his hands were raised above his head and this seemed to fit with the evidence presented to the court that the hole in his coat was four inches lower than the bullet hole in his back. As no money had been stolen during the incident, no motive could be established and no concern was given to the fact that 12 other men had been arrested before Hill in relation to the crime or to the report that that same evening another four men had suffered bullet wounds in Salt Lake City.

Hill's obstinacy and refusal to answer questions during the trial did not help his case. Feeling under no obligation to explain his injury in detail, other than maintaining it was the result of a feud over a woman, he insisted upon the principle that he was innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, Hill fired his defence team, citing their incompetence in cross-examining witnesses and failing to object to leading questions from the District Attorney. Only days before the jury found Hill guilty did a leading labour lawyer, O N Hilton step in, but to little avail. The death sentence was passed.

During his 22 months in prison, Hill kept himself busy writing articles, poems and the songs that had already made him a popular figure. Outside, the campaign to free Hill involved workers the world over, attracted tens of thousands of letters, petitions and resolutions. And whilst the IWW were only too happy to fully back the campaign, Hill objected to his lawyer: "I cannot expect my friends to starve themselves in order to save my life".

The labour movement was not alone in backing the Hill campaign, for it went on to involve the Committee of Californian Women, Virginia Snow Stephen, the daughter of the president of the Mormons (who was later thrown out of university for her pains) and the Swedish ambassador to the US. The acting US Secretary of State urged a reprieve and twice President Wilson asked Governor William Spry of Utah to reconsider the case.

Spry was having none of it, the stay of executions and appeals to the parole board were to no avail. Spry was himself a leading Mormon and had vowed at the time his political clique ousted the right-wing anti-Mormon American Party in 1913 "to sweep out lawless elements, whether they be corrupt businessmen or IWW agitators". The same Spry had broken a strike by Western Federation of Mineworkers and allowed the Utah Copper Company to import strike-breakers and to hire an army of gunmen to guard them.

Spry was all too aware that it was the IWW that had upset Utah's ruling elite by organising workers in the employ of the Utah Construction Company in which the Mormon community had hefty financial interests. In June 1913, the IWW had organised a strike among 1500 workers on the UTC's Denver Rio Grande railroad. The company hired scab labour but railwaymen helped keep them at bay by demanding IWW membership. Eventually the company was forced to yield, prompting one official to retort that "before the end of the year, every single IWW will be run out of the state". With police co-operation, gunmen were deputised, IWW meetings violently broken up and their speakers arrested and jailed on charges of "inciting to riot".

Len De Caux, in The Living Spirit of the Wobblies (1978), summed up the mood of the times in Utah, describing how "an employer-based clerical-rightist regime dominated politics, press and courts. It blamed the IWW both for stirring up workers against bosses and for its radical irreverence towards established convention". Hill's lawyer commented: "the main thing the state had on Hill was that he was an IWW and therefore sure to be guilty. Hill tried to keep the IWW out of it [the trial] . . . but the press fastened it upon him".

Hill was never a leader or an organiser as such for the IWW. He was largely uneducated, never drank or smoked and was not known to the police prior to his arrest. He was however an activist and the author of many a song that the community he lived in at the time of his arrest would have found nauseating. In his three years as an activist for the IWW he had taken part in the 1910 San Pedro dock workers' strike, the San Diego Free Speech campaign, the abortive "revolution" in Tia Juana intended to make California into a commune and fought alongside the rebels in the Mexican Revolution of 1911. This was enough to ensure his guilt, regardless of the evidence presented at his trial.

Despite the death sentence hanging over him, Hill remained cheerful and calm until the end, embarrassed by the campaign to save him. Just before his death he wrote a brief letter to leading IWW organiser Big Bill Haywood: "Goodbye, Bill, I die a true rebel. Don't waste any time mourning. Organise!" As was customary in Utah, condemned prisoners were given a chance to choose their method of execution. Hill chose the firing squad. Legend has it that strapped into his chair, Hill even denied his executioners the chance of giving the order to fire, shouting the command himself.

Thirty thousand people attended his funeral in Chicago, after which his ashes were placed into small envelopes and scattered to the winds in every state of the union and all over the world on May Day 1916. Of his funeral, the Desert Evening News reported: "No creed or religion found a place at the service. There were no prayers and no hymns, but there was a mighty chorus of voices singing songs written by Hill". A reporter on the same paper asked: "What kind of man is this, whose death is celebrated with songs of revolt and who has at his bier more mourners than any prince or potentate?"

The answer was simple. There was nothing "great" about Hill. He was a man of simple tastes, a member of the working class with an ingrained hatred of the system that impoverished the lives of his fellows, but with a unique ability to condense the arguments against injustice into songs which changed the words of well-known Christian tunes. Moreover, he stood as a symbol of the lengths the master class would go to silence those bent on helping win the world for the workers.

For 85 years workers the world over have song the songs of Hill, whether it be Casey Jones the Union Scab, The Preacher and the Slave or Dump the Bosses off Your Back. As the ballyhoo of the US presidential election reaches its peak it is as well to remember that workers in America too have made a contribution to the movement to bury the profit system for ever.
John Bissett

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An A to Z of Marxism (V to Z)

NOTE TO THE READER: This text was written in the 1980s. Hence, suggested further reading is rooted in books of that period. Parts of this text was originally published in the now defunct Irish magazine, Socialist View, in the late 1980s.

This dictionary is intended as a reference-companion for the socialist. It is aimed particularly at the newcomer to the socialist movement who may be unfamiliar with socialist terminology.

Our approach has been to combine brevity with clarity, as far as possible, with cross-referencing and a guide to further reading at the end of most entries.We have been selective.

We have concentrated on those words and ideas that are relevant to the case for socialism. In addition, there are many biographical entries of individuals and organisations of interest to the socialist movement. The inclusion of any of these should not necessarily be understood as an endorsement of their ideas and practices. Likewise, many entries have suggestions for further reading but the views expressed in these books are not necessarily the same as those of the socialist movement.

It will be obvious that there are some errors, omissions and unworthy inclusions. We make no claim to comprehensive, final and definitive truth. This dictionary can and should be better. We therefore invite suggestions and constructive criticisms for use in future editions of this dictionary.

A to E can be accessed here.
F to J can be accessed here.
K to O can be accessed here.
P to R can be accessed here.
S to U can be accessed here.

Value. Commodities are the products of human labour in an exchange economy and it is this which give them their value. Value is a social relation that expresses itself in exchange as exchange value. Value is measured by socially necessary labour-time; price is the monetary expression of value. (See also LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE.)
Mohun, S., Debates in Value Theory, 1994.

Vanguard. In the Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx and Engels wrote of the communists' understanding of 'the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate results of the proletarian movement', which they conceived as 'the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority'.
This is to be contrasted with Lenin's view. Although there is more than one version of the party to be found in Lenin's writings, all of them envisage a centralised vanguard leading the working class. In his What is to be Done? (1902), Lenin argued that class-consciousness had to be brought to the workers 'from without' by professional revolutionaries organised as a vanguard, as a body capable of leading the working class to 'socialism'. Because workers on their own can only develop trade union consciousness, on this view, self-emancipation is impossible. (See also BOLSHEVISM; LEADERSHIP; LENINISM.)

Violence. A new world society of democratic voluntary co-operation can only be established by democratic voluntary co-operation. By its very description, such a society cannot be imposed nor could people be led into it. Unlike Leninist and other left-wing groups who advocate violence because they rely on minority support, socialists rely on the legitimacy conferred by majority understanding, support and participation. And this is why it is reasonable to suppose that this process will be peaceful. However, socialists are not pacifists. Should an anti-democratic minority try to impose its will on a majority-expressed decision for socialism then the majority can defend themselves with force, if necessary. (See also DEMOCRACY.)

Wages. A wage or a salary is the price of the human commodity labour power, the capacity to work. Because the workers are compelled to work for their employers for a duration of time, being exploited, the wages system is literally a form of slavery and the working class are wage slaves. (See also EXPLOITTION; LABOUR POWER.)

War. Capitalism is the cause of the rivalries that led to war in the modern world. In general, these struggles between states and within states are over property. Specifically, it is competition over markets, sources of raw materials, energy supplies, trade routes, exploitable populations and areas of strategic importance. Within each state in the world there is a conflict of interests over social priorities. But all over the world there are conflicts of interest between states which lead to war when other means fail.
Of course wars took place in class societies before capitalism existed. These wars, however, can generally be attributed to the absolute shortages of the past. In our own age the problem is a different one. Now the means exist for producing enough to supply the needs of all. With international capitalism, however, we have the problem of artificial scarcity created by the capitalist form of production. Social production takes place for profit, not directly for human need. It is this global system of competitive accumulation that creates the rivalry that leads to war. (See also VIOLENCE.)

Webb, Beatrice (1858-1943) and Sidney (1859-1947). As prominent members of the Fabian Society both were involved in the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee (1900) which, in 1906, became the Labour Party. In 1918 the Labour Party adopted a constitution (rejected in 1995) which was mostly written by Sidney. More well-known in their own time for their researches in social and economic history, the main intellectual influence on Beatrice came from Herbert Spencer, whereas Sidney was more influenced by Jeremy Bentham.
They both had a very poor opinion of the working class. Beatrice wrote:
We do not have faith in the "average sensual man", we do not believe that he can do much more than describe his grievances, we do not think that he can prescribe the remedies… We wish to introduce the professional expert (Our Partnership, 1948).

Welfare state. In 1942 the Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services by Sir William Beveridge was published to widespread acclaim. All the main political parties hailed the Report as the basis for a restructured and improved social provision for the working class after the war against Germany had been won. The Socialist Party analysed the purpose and nature of the Beveridge proposals in a pamphlet called Beveridge Re-Organises Poverty. This pamphlet quoted the Tory MP Quentin Hogg (later Lord Hailsham) and his advice on the necessity of social reform within capitalism - 'if you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution' - and suggested that the Beveridge recommendations were best judged in the light of the wave of working class discontent which followed the 1914-18 war, which the capitalist class and their political representatives feared might be repeated.
The actual content of the Report and the proposals it put forward for social reform were, as the Times put it, 'moderate enough to disarm any charge of indulgence' (2 December 1942). In large part the reforms aimed at providing an efficient working framework for the replacement of the unbalanced and disparate system of poor relief previously in existence in Britain. In fact a familiar claim of Beveridge at the time was that his proposals would be cheaper to administer than the previous arrangements. As he put it in his Report:
Social insurance and the allied services, as they exist today, are conducted by a complex of disconnected administrative organs, proceeding on different principles, doing invaluable service but at a cost in money and trouble and anomalous treatment of identical problems for which there is no justification (page 6, emphasis added).
Many of Beveridge's proposals were already effectively in force for a significant number of workers, but the Report recommended the introduction of a unified, comprehensive and contributory scheme to cover loss of employment, disablement, sickness and old age. An enlargement of medical benefits and treatments was proposed, as was a plan for non-contributory allowances to be paid by the state to parents with dependent children.
This latter scheme was criticised in another Socialist Party pamphlet called Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis, which demonstrated how Beveridge's proposed Family Allowances would be of principal benefit to the employing class, not the wage and salary earners. This scheme would allow employers to make across-the-board wage reductions as wages had previously had to take account of the entire cost of the maintenance and reproduction of workers and their families, even though the majority of workers at the time had no dependent children to provide for. The Family Allowances plan was a scheme based on targeting provision on those workers actually with children. Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis explained:
wages must provide not only an existence for the worker himself, but also enable him to rear future generations of wage workers to take his place. It is quite logical therefore from a capitalist point of view to raise objection to a condition which in a large number of cases provides wages "adequate" to maintain children for those who in fact possess no children.
In outlining the case for universal state benefits and health care, the Beveridge Report was undoubtedly of some benefit to sections of the working class who, for one reason or another, had found themselves outside the existing scheme of provision. But as the case of Family Allowances demonstrated some of the gains for the working class were more apparent than real.
As the Socialist Party was able to predict, the recommendations of Beveridge and, for that matter, the modifications that have been made to the various branches of the welfare state in the past 50 years, have not succeeded in solving the poverty problem. Particularly since the end of the post-war boom in the late 1960s (the 'golden age' of capitalism?), the problems of poverty and income inequality have accelerated. The health services and social security have to be paid for ultimately out of the profits of the capitalist class, generally via taxation (the burden of which in the last analysis falls on the bosses) or borrowing. In an increasingly competitive and crisis-ridden global economy, the welfare state becomes a luxury they cannot afford. (See also REFORMISM.)
Thane, P., The Foundations of the Welfare State, 1982.

Workers' councils. Advocated by some left-wingers as the means to fight capitalism, overthrow it, and establish and administer socialist society. Workers' councils, comprised of delegates from workplaces to co-ordinate the struggle, are to be distinguished from Works' Councils. The latter are currently being sponsored by the European Union, as a means to 'industrial democracy', by encouraging workers to be more competitive and productive in conjunction with their bosses. (See also DEMOCRACY.)
Bricaner, S., Pannekoek and the Workers' Councils, 1978.

Working class. All those who are excluded from the ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution and depend for their existence on wages and salaries or incomes derived from them. In Britain this is over 90% of the population, the remainder being mostly the capitalist class - those who live on unearned income derived from their ownership of land and invested capital.
As shorthand, Socialists sometimes refer to the working class as wage slaves or wage and salary earners. This, however, is a way of bringing out the importance of wage labour for capitalism, and is not a value judgement by Socialists on the worth or importance of the people involved. The life-blood of this system is the pumping of surplus value out of wage labour. But in fact employees constitute only about half the total number of the working class. Of necessity, there are many roles within the working class that are needed to facilitate the reproduction cycle of labour power, such as schoolchildren, housewives, pensioners and so on. The whole working class is involved in creating, maintaining and reproducing labour power. For the benefit of the capitalist class. (See also CAPITALIST CLASS; CLASS.)
Thompson, E.P., The Making of the English Working Class, 1968.

Zero growth. Capitalism is primarily an economic system of competitive capital accumulation out of the surplus value produced by wage labour. As a system it must continually accumulate or go into crisis. Consequently, human needs and the needs of our natural environment take second place to this imperative. The result is waste, pollution, environmental degradation and unmet needs on a global scale. The ecologist's dream of a sustainable 'zero growth' within capitalism will always remain just that, a dream.
However, on the new basis of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use, socialist society will be able to sustain a stable and sympathetic relationship with nature. After clearing up the mess left by capitalism and a possible initial increase in production to eliminate poverty, production can be expected to settle down and level off at a level sufficient to provide for human and environmental needs. (See also ECOLOGY; NEEDS; SOCIALISM.)
Pepper, D., Modern Environmentalism: An Introduction, 1996.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Child poverty increases again under New Labour

Latest post from the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back

Back in 1965, when the Child Poverty Action Group was formed, there were 500,000 children living in poverty. The Labour Party said at the time that the organisation would fold within a year because they would eradicate child poverty within the next 12 months.

Replying to a letter from the CPAG on 20th January 2006, Tony Blair confidently wrote: "I can promise you that we share your ambition to make child poverty history in our country. It is why we have publicly said we want to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it completely by 2020." What is nauseating about this is that Blair is telling the CPAG, who in 1965 complained that there were officially half a million children in poverty, that by 2010 he will halve child poverty - ie. slash the number of impoverished children from 3.4 million to 1.7 million (in Jan 2006 child poverty stood at 3.4 million).

Today The Guardian reports that child poverty now stands at 3.8 million!! 42 years after Labour promised to end child poverty, the problem officially is almost seven times as worse!!

Of course, come May 3rd, Blair and co will continue to depend on working class historical amnesia to carry them through, confident their lies and betrayals and rampant hypocrisy will be concealed by surfeit of promises for the future and pathetic excuses for past failings. Incidentally, if you do suffer from political amnesia, try clicking on this remedy: LABOUR SLEAZE
John Bissett

What liberation? (1998)

Book Review from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mother Courage: Letters from Mothers in Poverty at the End of the Century. edited by Christine Gowdridge, A. Susan Williams and Margaret Wynn. Penguin 1997.

The Maternity Alliance was founded in 1980 to campaign for improvements in the lives of parents and babies in Britain. In its policy document, "Maternity into the twenty first century", the Alliance states, "We believe not only in the right of women to choose where and how to give birth, but, most importantly, in the need to address the economic and social factors which . . . determine women's experience of pregnancy and the health of the baby."

Mother Courage, published in association with the Maternity Alliance, is a collection of letters written by mothers whose struggle against poverty in their daily lives undermines the work of bearing and raising their children. It mirrors a similar publication by the Women's Co-operation Guild 1915, Maternity: Letters from Working Women, and is overtly political in its intent. In the introduction by Ann Oakley, the changes and continuities in the lives of mothers in poverty over the intervening period are chronicled. The question is posed, but remains unanswered, "Why is it still necessary, over 80 years later, to collect together and publicise women's accounts in this way. Surely the situation of mothers is vastly different now?"

Clearly there have been real improvements, particularly in the area of maternal and child health following the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948. But there is also something much more fundamental going on than mere deficiencies in the welfare state when it still has to be stated as an aim for the next century that "no baby should be born poor" (Maternity Alliance policy document).

Nonetheless this is an important book that gives voice to those mothers whose welfare is systematically neglected and about whom our society is silent, except in condemnation. Their poverty is one of bare subsistence on means-tested benefits, or of being trapped into low paid, insecure part-time work. They are frequently without the financial, practical or emotional support from the father of their children, and many face domestic violence.

Submerged beneath the political rhetoric of the family as the moral heart of society (and motherhood as its lynchpin), they sustain their hopes and fears with more courage than most. The book bears the following dedication from Brecht's 1940 play, Mother Courage: "Poor folk got to have courage . . . Mere fact they bring kids into world shows they got courage." Remember these mothers when next you hear the claim that women have been liberated.
Helen Roberts

This (Capitalist) Sporting Life (1998)

From the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

There was sport before capitalism and there will no doubt be sport after capitalism. Here we discuss three questions. What does the profit system do to this thing called sport? What are the pros and cons of the way we "do" sport today? And what will sport be like when we replace capitalism with socialism?

It is a truism - if not a cliche - that sport today is big business, at least in the economically developed parts of the world. Like all capitalist businesses, sport is one in which profit seeking is the spur.

Take football for example. Huge sums of money change hands around the spectacle of 22 men chasing and kicking a piece of leather. There are admission charges to grounds, the buying and selling of players (sometimes for millions of pounds), the "merchand-ising" of items of clothing and other paraphernalia to the faithful fans, the money gambled on the results of matches (out of which the pools promoters, the bookmakers and the government take a hefty slice). The shares of the big football clubs are marketed on the stock exchange.

The process is similar, with some differences of detail, in other sports around the world. In 1996 two megacapitalists, Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch, joined forces to launch a "super league" of Australian rugby football. As with World Series cricket, the target was pay-TV The previously free-to-air broadcasts were turned into paid-for commodities.

Reforming sport
Not all sport is useful to capitalism. And sometimes sport has to be reformed to make it amenable to the profit-seeking process. Originally, football was a very unorganised, rough and wild "folk game" between village teams of different sizes and with no fixed pitch boundaries. Only in the nineteenth century was it adapted for mass consumption.

Organised and commercialised sport helps to train a "docile" labour force. It encourages an acceptance of the kind of work discipline demanded by capitalist production. Ellis Cashmore. in his Making Sense of Sport, has a splendid cartoon in which a factory time-keeper is shown back-to-back with a referee, stop-watch in hand.

Hard work is urged in both competitive sport and employment. Sport both expresses and reinforces "qualities" that have counterparts in society at large. Aggressive individualism, ruthless competitive-ness. elitism, nationalism: all these are today regarded as admirable.

Writers on the social function of sport offer hypotheses about why it is so popular. Why do some people follow sport with much the same zeal and commitment as active churchgoers follow religion? Sport, it is suggested, has become a substitute for religion because it supplies the follower with a meaningful cause, an emblematic focus, a sense of allegiance and belonging.

Consuming sport
Perhaps the most notable feature of modern sport is that, while it is bought and sold rather like any other commodity or service, it is most like entertainment or showbusiness. In terms of preparing workers to be consumers not only of things but also of status-quo ways of thinking, the marriage of sport and television has a lot to answer for.

So what of sport in socialist society? One thing we can say for certain is that it will be engaged in for its own sake and not for money. We can all have our own ideas about what sports we would like to take part in or watch. The provision of facilities and events will be decided democratically. Competition will probably continue to play a part in some sports. But we can be fairly certain that there will be a red card for anyone who praises the mantra "Winning isn't the main thing? it's the only thing."
Stan Parker

Socialism in the 21st Century

The following piece, written by the late Pieter Lawrence, is the final chapter of his work, 'Practical Socialism - Its Principles and Methods'.

In the words of Pieter himself the work sought to: " . . . liberate the idea of socialism from the immense accumulation of ideological baggage that has become its burden. By stripping this away we should reveal the core simplicity and practicality of socialism. I believe the argument is overwhelmingly made that by applying these principles and methods the world community could solve its deep and seemingly intractable problems."

Link to Chapter 11.

Chapter 12

Socialism in the 21st Century

It has been said that the Capitalist system digs its own grave; it does not! The only way it will be consigned to history is when a majority of people take political action to end it. But what the capitalist system does do, and has no choice about it, is develop a material basis for what could be a new socialist society. These developments are in the global fields of production, distribution, administration and communications. They bring with them the possibility of a different world system with a good life for all people in conditions of peace, cooperation and well being. Paradoxically, these possibilities are driven by the economic forces of the world market system.

Here, we have the great contradiction of modern life. Developments which can be seen as opening up an exciting future for humanity, are in fact propelled by monetary gain and the exploitative policies of great power structures. The economic forces that advance these possibilities are the very forces that stop them being realised. As a consequence, we have a widening gap between the lives we could have and the lives we have got. Instead of one world, one people, we have exploitation, war and poverty. It is truly said, never has there been so much misery whilst the means of creating a better world are so near to hand.

The only reasonable stance a socialist can take is one of criticism and dissociation from the activities of multi national corporations and the economic/military policies of rival capitalist nations. But because the actions of these power structures dominate public discussion, the position of socialist criticism is one of alienation from every day politics; this can lead to alienation from society in general. It brings with it the problem of how to maintain a distance from what is happening in the mainstream of economic and political life, whilst at the same time engaging with developments which hold great potential for a better world.

The answer to this question for the 21st Century is that the socialist analysis of social problems and their causes should be continuously upheld and developed. This clarifies what is happening in the world of economics and politics from the point of view of working people. It searches out the causes of problems and is a pointer to solutions. Without this socialist criticism, clear understanding would be lost, leaving only the ideological fog of state obfuscation which conceals the real interests and motives of dominant power groups.

However, in the developed circumstances of our modern age, criticism is not enough. Given that, globally, we now have to hand the material means of running a world socialist society, Its arguments should be expanded. These should now move forward from the negativity of criticism to the positive work of proposing ways in which a socialist society could be organised.

The method of this positive work is itself a product of development. The great advances we can work with are in the fields of global production, distribution, communications, decision making and administration. As has been outlined, our method is one of identifying the existing parts of this world organisation that could serve the needs of the whole community in a socialist society. Having identified these parts, the work then becomes a question of how they could function together on a social basis of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for need. As a result, the politics of socialism moves from mere criticism to engagement with social, economic and political development. At the same time it sheds its traditional baggage of utopian, sectarian and anarchist tendencies; it becomes the constructive work of practical socialism.

With any significant growth of the World Socialist Movement, proposals will tend to be formalised as an agreed programme of action to be activated with the capture of political control. This positive set of proposals would be in sharp contrast with the poverty of the backward looking ideas that at present can see nothing beyond the management of the capitalist system.

The Background of Practical Socialism
The realisation of progressive ideas can never exceed the practical possibilities given by a particular stage of development. It is in the light of this that practical socialism can be understood as a product of the dynamic change that has been the nature of capitalism over the past two hundred years. Even from its beginning, forward looking thinkers were talking about socialism and publishing pamphlets and books setting out their ideas. However, we do have to say that they were well ahead of their times, which means that their ideas stood no chance of being realised in practice. This applies not just to the utopians of the early 19th Century but also to Marx and Engels. Under the heading "The Myth of Nationalisation" we considered the contribution to socialist ideas in The Communist Manifesto, in 1848. This most influential pamphlet, understandably, but also unfortunately, set out a revolutionary programme based mainly on a policy of nationalisation. We may say "understandably" because in 1848 the capitalist system was in an early stage and at that time, had not yet developed the material basis for a new society.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, however, socialist criticism made a great leap forward and this went together with the many changes that marked the second half of the 19th Century. This was at a time when many workers had won the vote, the trade union movement had gained in strength and organisation and when the idea of socialism was being widely discussed amongst the many political parties and groups that were looking forward to the establishment of a new society. It is worth repeating the issues involved in the burning question of reform or revolution because its consequences are with us today.

Those who took a 'gradualist' view believed that a new society could only be introduced gradually through programmes of reform. For this, the all important strategy was to capture political control through the ballot box and to form a working class government. It was assumed that such a government would be not just in political control but also economic control. Then, through legislation on such problems as housing, health care and education and pensions, living standards for working people would be raised. Such a government, working in close collaboration with the trade unions, would be able to raise the level of wages for all working people. At the same time, through the nationalisation of industry, and through corporation tax, inheritance tax and death duties, the owning class of capitalists would be removed from all sectors of production and taxed out of existence.

This political programme, which we can describe as the reformist road to socialism, captured the minds of most activists in the Labour Movement. With the founding of the Labour Party in 1906 and the rapid spread of its influence throughout the country, it was this programme that filled manifestos and leaflets, wherever the party was organised. It was believed that the single, all important condition for the success of this programme was the formation of a working class government.

However, the gradualist or reformist way forward was not the only programme being debated. Others took a different view which argued that the condition for the establishment of socialism was not simply the capture of political power. To be successful, political control had to be supported by a majority of socialists, that is, by a majority of people who fully understood the meaning of socialism together with what would be involved in the change from capitalism to socialism. In this view it was held that unless this majority of socialists was achieved, capitalism would continue. The campaigning that arose from this was directed at raising socialist consciousness through meetings, leaflets, pamphlets and a socialist journal. It was also argued that the best way to defend worker's interests within capitalism was to build up a strong, principled socialist movement. Two years before the Labour Party was founded, these were the ideas of those who formed The Socialist Party of Gt Britain in 1904. As former members of the Social Democratic Federation they had become deeply dissatisfied with its increasingly reformist policies. Given their socialist analysis of problems and their commitment to organise unswervingly for a new society based on common ownership, democratic control and production solely for needs, circumstances gave them no option but to form the new Party.

To their great credit, in 1904, the founder members of the Socialist Party of Gt Britain did something that neither Marx nor Engels had ever done, or perhaps had never had an opportunity to do. They based their criticism of the reformist way forward not primarily on political theory but on economic theory. This was a crucial difference between what came to be the reformist policy and the revolutionary policy. The reformists began with a political objective which was the capture of political power. The members of the SPGB began with an economic analysis of the capitalist system which set out the limitations of political action within capitalism and therefore the need for a revolutionary change. They understood that no government, however well intentioned, or given to revolutionary aspiration, could direct the course of capitalist economic development simply by the application of political hopes. They argued that the mechanics of the market system are driven by economic laws which are inherent in the system and which are not susceptible to ideological direction or government control. It was accepted that politics could make a marginal difference but ultimately, economic factors would be decisive in setting a framework of constraints on what governments and therefore society can do. In this view, production is both regulated and limited by what can be distributed as commodities for sale at a profit in the markets. The idea that class ownership and the profit system could be subjected to gradual abolished through reform change was an illusion.

It was this application of economic theory to politics that not only defined the limitations of political action within the capitalist system, it clarified the question of reform or revolution. It meant that socialism could not be introduced gradually by reform but only as a result of conscious political action by a majority of socialists. At the time this was deemed by the reformist school to be "impossible."

In retrospect, the stand taken in 1904 by the members of the Socialist Party of Gt Britain was fully justified and we may say this not just with hindsight. Their development of socialist criticism led to a body of theory that came to have predictive value. This has been a most important contribution which is yet to be recognised. If we look back over the 20th Century since 1904 we find that they predicted not just the failure of reform programmes to change society but the long sequence of raised hopes, failure and disillusion that was its continuing political history. They predicted the failure of the Bolshevik revolution stating that society in Russia would develop into a system of state capitalism. This is exactly what happened. They predicted the failure of Labour and Social Democratic Parties throughout Europe to use nationalisation as a means of re-constructing society. Later on, by applying the same method, they predicted the failure of Keynsian policies which were designed to set the capitalist system on a course of steady expansion without the destructive affects of the boom/slump cycle. This record of accurate prediction and principled campaigning can be read in many pamphlets, books and particularly in the columns of the monthly journal, "The Socialist Standard" which has been produced without fail since September 1904.

It is now sad to observe the abandonment of socialist aspiration and principle amongst labour and social democratic parties across the world. Having set out in 1906 on a brave new road of great social change, at the time of writing a Labour Government is in the process of introducing gambling casinos and is now wholly committed to managing the capitalist system. This was always inherent in their mistaken belief that the nature of capitalist society could be abolished through programmes of reform. The only gradualism that took place has been their gradual absorption within the politics of capitalism.

To be generous to those who followed this course we could say they became the victims of a seductive but politically deadly process. Because it is impossible for the capitalist system to serve the interests of the whole community it constantly throws up issues that demand action by those who are socially concerned and by many people who think of themselves as socialists. The great danger in being diverted from campaigning for socialism into campaigns to "Ban the Bomb", "End the poll tax", "Stop the War in Iraq", "Cancel Poor Nation's Debt," etc., etc., is that this becomes not just a diversion but an end in itself. Inevitably, it becomes a campaign for an "improved" kind of Capitalism. It is in this process of campaigning for a different or a reformed form of capitalism that the work for socialism tends to become lost. Those who in the past felt that action should be limited to making capitalism a better system, have contributed, albeit unwittingly, to the present state of things. A sane society cannot be postponed without accepting the consequences of the postponement.

It is inherent in the capitalist system that it generates discontent and protest but it has also been unfortunate that the long history of protest has been empty of political action that could end the system. Inevitably, the causes of problems are left intact and lead on to a further need for protest. This reduces protest to political theatre in which each demonstration helps to set a stage for further demonstration. Though the scripts may vary and the actors may change the message is the same, "we demand that governments do this, that or the other!" The spectacle of thousands, demanding that governments act on their behalf is a most reassuring signal to those in power that their positions of control are secure. Repeated demonstrations do little more than confirm the continuity of the system. It is in this sense that mostly, protest is a permanent feature of the status quo. The point should be to change society not to appeal to the doubtful better nature of its power structures.

Having attended demonstrations over many years I was also present when the European Social Forum demonstrated in Trafalgar Square in October 2004. On that day thousands of supporters, having marched through London, demonstrated in angry protest, mainly against the war in Iraq. But anyone with a sound socialist view and a memory of many such demonstrations would have been depressed by the superficial sloganeering and the displays of futile anger which came from the platform and which stood not the slightest chance of making a difference. Speaker after speaker from various groups, some in opposition to each other, demanded a world of "Peace, Security and Justice for All."

But if we listen to politicians either in government or in so called "opposition", we find that they also represent their aims under such slogans as "Peace, Security and Justice for All." It is a slogan much beloved of the Prime Minister of Britain and the President of the United States. So here we have protestors sharing the same meaningless language as those in power and to whom they seem so vigorously opposed. Instead of clearly defined objectives argued in clear and consistent language we have the politics of linguistic fog in which communication and reasoned debate is difficult if not impossible.

In 1904, the work that clarified the question of revolution or reform was not widely accepted. Instead, in increasing numbers, working people gave their support to reformist policies and in particular, those of the Labour Party. Consequently, socialist analysis and criticism became not only a criticism of the capitalist system, it also became a criticism of the activities of most working people. However true may have been its analysis of problems, the political action required for their solution and the building of a better world, it nevertheless failed to become an influence in the every day thinking of the majority of people. There it has remained, in a state of isolation from the main stream of day to day politics and surviving as a mostly ignored light of hope in a world of ongoing disaster.

Engagement With Change
To move socialist ideas to the centre of popular politics they must be developed as a positive and practical alternative to the present system, argued in association with forward looking change. As has been emphasised, we live in a world of rapid change which includes the world of ideas. This means that the differences between socialist ideas and popular politics are neither static nor fixed in time. Sadly, not all developments in ideas are progressive. It would appear that the consensual body of ideas which make up popular culture moves sometimes forward but sometimes backwards in cycles. The present lurch towards extreme religious nationalism, neo conservatism and the politics of hate is regressive and can only bring more misery. But this is not the whole story. However divided the world may seem to be, all people share common needs which can only be served, ultimately by cooperation. These needs arise from our human make up, are expressed in the best ways to live, and are inescapable. They rise above national divisions or differences of race, culture and language. Throughout the world, all people share a common need to live in peace and material security and to be at friendly ease with their communities and with other peoples in other countries.

Under the clamour of conflict and the divisive politics that prevent people of all countries from coming together as a united humanity there is the unspoken voice of a common need which is always present. Whilst the oft shouted slogan of "peace, security and justice" may lack systematic thought and down the years has been empty of any practical means of bringing change, it does express a yearning for a different and better world. So when socialists argue for a world of cooperation organised solely for needs, in which all citizens will stand in equal relation with each other, this does express the universal interests of all people; it is therefore true for all time.

These conditions of life are only possible in a socialist society. This means that whilst socialist ideas may seem, on the present face of things, to be estranged from popular politics, they are in harmony with the real hopes of all people. It is when socialist ideas become the conscious political expression of these hopes that socialism will become an irresistible force for change.We live in a time when change brings more disillusion than hope. This is in great contrast to the outlook of many in Victorian times. For example, then, Karl Marx seemed very hopeful of the revolutionary possibilities of change. He said in the Communist Manifesto:
"Modern industry has established the world market… This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land…. The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all newly formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."

It is possible that Marx was somewhat carried away by his own magnificent prose, but what comes through from this passage is the sense of excitement that both he and Frederick Engels felt about the great changes that were taking place in their day. Others too, seeing the great advances in knowledge in every branch of science and technology, which brought increased powers of production and the promise of an end to poverty, were optimistic that social problems would be solved. They did not foresee that technology would be applied to weapons of mass destruction with the result that the 20th Century inflicted more killings than in any previous century. They did not foresee that between 1975 and the year 2000, the number of starving people would double from 450 million to 820 million.

However, the fact still remains that although society, for reasons we have outlined, has been unable to use the great advances in science and technology for the solution of social problems, since the 19th Century, as we have also emphasised, development has not only continued, it has gathered pace and now represents an immense accumulation of our powers of production and social organisation. It is this fact than now provides opportunities to be more positively engaged with modern development. When we say that capitalism has established the basis of socialist society it means we have a structure of world production; we have the communications; we have abundant labour with every necessary skill and talent; we have decision making bodies; we have means of administration at local, regional and world levels; all of which could be swiftly adapted, re-organised and developed so as to concentrate all these resources on providing directly for needs. It is the work of practical socialism to propose how these basic means of life could be combined in the practical organisation of democratic decision making, administration and production in socialism.

In the past, lack of social development meant that socialist arguments had a difficulty in proceeding beyond economic analysis and political criticism. This was well expressed by Frederick Engels in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific where, in criticising the utopian thinkers he said, "The solution of the social problems, which as yet lay hidden in undeveloped economic conditions, the Utopians attempted to evolve out of the human brain." Now of course, almost 150 years further on, the solution of social problems is no longer hidden in undeveloped conditions. On the contrary, the material means of solving problems are all around us. In the developed conditions of modern global capitalism, whilst critical analysis constitutes the theoretical basis of socialist argument, it is now a starting point from which we should set out how socialism could be organised using the methods that have been outlined.

Practical Socialism as a Political Campaign
In this volume, the chapters headed "Democratic Organisation", "Organisation of Production", "Information, Planning and Decision Making", and "Advantages of Production Solely for Use", have suggested ways in which the work on Practical socialism can be developed. The proposals outlined in these chapters should in no way be taken as narrowly prescriptive or in any way the last words on either the method or content of Practical socialism. These demonstrate the methods of the work and are put forward simply as proposals in the ordinary meaning of the word; to offer for consideration or acceptance. The aim is to suggest that the campaign for socialism should now take a more positive direction which could bring it closer to the centre stage of popular politics.

Despite the fact that many thousands of people in such organisations as OXFAM are battling against worsening problems with their efforts bringing little success, the indignation they feel and their willingness to act is a most important signpost towards a better world. Socialists do not hold a monopoly on social concern but share the hopes and intentions of thousands in many organisations. The work on Practical socialism would draw their attention more directly to the need to alter the present economic and political framework which is so destructive of their efforts. This again would project what concerned people in many voluntary organisations are trying to do into a different social context in which their work would be more successful. This would urge that action to solve such problems as world hunger must include action to bring about a society where individuals and communities will be able to act more effectively. The action to solve problems and the work of creating the conditions in which they can be solved, cannot be separated; these go together.

Given a socialist movement that was growing on the basis of its campaigns for Practical socialism, there would be no question of demonstrations "demanding", from a position of weakness, that governments take action to deal with this or that problem. There would of course be demonstrations but only to demonstrate, from a position of gathering strength, a democratic movement with developing plans for a new society; plans that could be activated with the capture of political control. This would demonstrate the beginnings of socialist organisation within the heart of capitalism.

The Scale of the Task
The challenge of building a new world society may appear to be a daunting task. Indeed, it would involve great change and a re-organisation of the way we live. However, when we speak of a "new world society", the word "new" should be qualified because there would be nothing in socialist society that would be outside age old human experience. In this sense very little would be new.

Socialism will depend on voluntary cooperation and there would be nothing new about this. Cooperation is a vital part of any society, even capitalism. Looking back to the long period of the Palaeolithic it was through social cooperation that humanity emerged as modern man. Countless generations of early people could only survive in groups based on cooperation and in doing so we became a social, thinking, tool making species with increased powers of providing the means of life. In looking forward to a society organised through cooperation we do not imagine anything new, on the contrary, we recall age old relationships which have always been in harmony with our basic human make up. It is for this reason that every person is capable of cooperating with others to the benefit of all. Cooperation is not simply a moral choice, it is a relationship that enhances our lives and is in every person's material interest. In setting out the practical ways in which society could be organised through cooperation we are proposing that cooperation be brought back to the activity that matters most, that is, in the entire organisation of our lives.

The need for cooperation is also a response to the growing contradictions that arise from the hot house pace of technical development which the market system can never freely use for the benefit of people; the economic forces that drive technology forward prevent us from using it to solve problems. At our present stage of advanced technology we have a potential for abundance which is in contrast with the economics of scarcity on which the market system depends. As this gap between possible production and actual production widens, the capitalist system becomes more anachronistic, a straight jacket on our powers of action and historically redundant. The campaign for practical socialism will find growing support from these deepening failures of the capitalist system.

Finally, we come to the name of socialism itself. From its use by well intentioned social reformers to cynical dictators such as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot, it has been a tragic story that the word has suffered misuse, confusion and distortion. But there is no intention here to in any way denigrate the activities of millions of concerned people for whom socialism meant an end to privilege and exploitation, and in place of these evils, the building of a new world. There can be no doubt that generations of working people who were moved by their own problems and by their indignation at the plight of others, dedicated their political lives to a vision of a better society; for reasons stated they did not achieve their aims.

Now is a time for looking at the past, learning from its mistakes and for carrying the hopes of past activists forward in a more effective, sound way. The fact that the capitalist system is stronger and more extensive than ever is disappointing by it should also give fresh impetus to the work for socialism. We now have the advantage of global development in all spheres of life, enabling us to propose practical ways it could be organised.

This has the prospect of creating a body of political ideas, based on socialist principles and the methods of practical socialism, presented more in the every day language of description rather than the higher abstractions of socialist theory. Instead of the aims of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use being asserted as great abstract concepts, practical socialism translates them into what they could mean in the every day lives of people. This not only makes the meaning of socialism more readily understood it projects life styles with which people can identify. It gives individuals a view of their greater possibilities, seeing themselves not just in the dreary, problem ridden role of wage or salary workers in a world in which they have little say, but as people in cooperation in a society organised solely for the well being of all citizens.

This would also make it clear that the values of a socialist society would centre on freedom. Common ownership will mean the freedom to place production and resources at the disposal of the whole community; democratic control will mean freedom for every person to relate to others on equal terms when making social decisions; production solely for use will mean the freedom to use production directly for needs. Above all, its social relations will empower every person with the freedom to control their own lives, to decide on what skills to have and what part to play in the community's programmes of action. This will be the freedom of self determined individuality.

The appeal of freedom extends to more than those whose loyalties are to radical politics. It appeals to all those, of whatever political complexion, who value freedom of choice, responsibility and the interests of the whole community. In this sense, although socialism has to be clearly defined and systematically argued as a distinct political choice, it rises above the traditional political differences that have existed between radical, conservative and liberal views. The various creeds that divide people into separate parties can be seen as motivated by aims which have many things in common.

To argue and organise for a world in which each person would be responsible for their own lives and by working in cooperation, for the lives of other citizens; a world where this is made possible by the use of all resources, solely and directly for the interests of communities, is not an objective that should runs counter to the basic hopes of anyone. Whilst a work on politics cannot avoid the use of political labels it is all too often the case that labels act as a barrier to communication. I would therefore ask any reader of this work to look beyond its unavoidable labels and to simply consider its proposals, and its supportive arguments, strictly on their practical merits in terms of the world it seeks to establish.

Just as these proposals for a changed world are argued as a response to needs that are universal, so are they in accord with the basic hopes and aims of all reasonable people, who may at present, appear to be divided by separate political identities. In this view, the ideas that could unite humanity in a changed society are the ideas that could unite a majority of people in working for it.

A better world need not wait on future events. Even as individuals, one way of participating in a better world is to work for it. The more people that work for it the better the world shall be.
Pieter Lawrence

Monday, April 23, 2007

Markets, Monopoly and War (1985)

Book Review from the July 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

A new edition of Rudolf Hilferding's Finance Capital: A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development has been published in a new translation and with a useful introduction and notes by Tom Bottomore (Routledge and Kegan Paul). It provides an opportunity to consider whether the theories advanced by Hilferding and others have been confirmed in the years since the work was first published in 1910.

Towards the end of the 19th century there was a growing tendency towards the formation of trusts and combines associated with what came to be known as imperialism. Among the other books on the subject there were J.A. Hobson's Imperialism (1902) and his earlier Evolution of Modern Capitalism, Lenin's Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism and L.B. Boudin's Socialism and War (1916). Later on J.M. Keynes had something to say about it in his General Theory (1936). Hobson held that monopolistic industries restrict output in the home market, in order to raise prices and profits, and therefore have to seek foreign outlets for investment and markets. For this purpose they get governments to colonise foreign territories (Evolution of Modern Capitalism, page 26). Lenin made use of Hobson for his own Imperialism, and gave high praise to much of his works. Keynes saw in Hobson many features of his own theories set out in the General Theory.

Hobson, unlike Lenin but like Keynes, offered a remedy:
If the whole gain of improved economies passed, either to the workers in wages or to large bodies of investors in dividends, the expansion of demand in the home market would be so great as to give full employment to the productive forces of concentrated capitalism, and there would be no self-accumulating masses of profit . . . demanding external employment.

Keynes (in Chapter 24) saw "the competitive struggle for markets" as a predominant factor in "the economic causes of war". But, said Keynes, if governments followed Keynesian policies to increase demand at home and thus maintain full employment, the competitive struggle for markets as a main cause of war, would disappear.

Lenin and Hilferding gave detailed accounts of the supposedly unstoppable growth of monopoly in industry and banking but carried it much further, crediting the banks with dominating industry and the cartels with fixing prices and dividing up world markets among themselves. Lenin wrote: "Cartels become one of the foundations of the whole economic life. Capitalism has been transformed into imperialism." Hilferding wrote: "An ever-increasing proportion of the capital used in industry is finance capital, capital at the disposition of the banks which is used by the industrialists" (page 225). Lenin quoted and endorsed this. Hilferding (page 368) said that it was only necessary to take over six large Berlin banks to take possession of "the most important spheres of large-scale industry". It is worth noticing that in the depression of the 1930s most of the big German banks collapsed, or almost did so, along with the industrial companies in which the banks' money was tied up. Among other forecasts made by Lenin was that because of the dominance of finance capital "there was a decrease in the importance of the Stock Exchange".

Some social-democrats, including Kautsky, thought that the end result would be "a single world monopoly . . . a universal trust", followed by socialism. Hilferding thought that this single world monopoly was "thinkable economically, although socially and politically such a state appears unrealisable, for the antagonism of interests . . . would necessarily bring about its collapse". But Hilferding (page 343) thought that world cartels would result in "longer ... periods of prosperity" and shorter depressions. The long depression of the 1930s and the long depression since 1979 belie this.

It was Boudin in his Socialism and War who put in its most crude form the theory on imperialism and war. He argued (like Hobson and others) that the turning point was the replacement of such industries as textiles by iron and steel. He wrote (page 64):
Modern imperialism ... is the expression of the economic fact that iron and steel have taken the place of textiles as the leading industry of capitalism, and imperialism means war. Textiles, therefore mean peace, iron and steel - war.

The argument was that exports of textiles and similar consumer goods are paid for at once but iron and steel exported to build railways, factories, ports and so on are long-term investments needing the protection provided by the home government turning importing countries into colonies. Boudin's theory to explain competition for markets (page 55) was:
The basis of all capitalist industrial development is the fact that the working class produces not only more than it consumes, but more than society as a whole consumes.

Therefore, said Boudin, developed countries cannot find markets inside the capitalist world but only on the fringes of capitalism, first in primitive agriculture at home and, when that too is developed, only in the countries not yet developed. These countries themselves develop and have to seek non-existent markets for their "surplus" products.

It is only necessary to look at what actually takes place to see that Boudin's theory is demonstrably false. The working class do not produce more than society itself consumes. Or rather, they alternately produce more than society currently consumes and then less than society currently consumes. At the onset of a depression stocks pile up of the goods some industries have overproduced for their markets but later on, as recovery begins, stocks run down again, as they did early in 1985. In 1983 British exports totalled 60,534m pounds sterling. According to Boudin this was all "surplus" to demand in the home market. Who then bought the 65,993m pounds sterling of imports that were sold in this country? In the same year, 77 per cent of British exports went to countries officially classified as "developed countries" which Boudin said was impossible. Hilferding, Lenin and Hobson all failed to allow for the sectional divisions of interest in the capitalist class. Hilferding treated the monopolist industries as representing a united capitalist class.

Certainly the export industries have an interest in getting the government to promote exports. But most capitalists have no such interest. British exports represent under a third of total production; for America and Russia about 10 per cent of total production. At their conference last year the Confederation of British Industries defeated an executive resolution calling on the government to lower the exchange rate of the pound in order to promote exports. The industries making profit by selling imports in the home market, and the industries buying cheap imports rather than pay more for home products, want the exchange rate to be higher, not lower.

At a time when the Thatcher government was declaring that they wanted the pound exchange rate not to fall but to rise, and asking Reagan to help bring it about, the Financial Times published an article (14 January 1985) with the title "Industry Delighted At Fall Of Pound". It was true only of export industries not having to import raw materials, but in the article there were examples of industries having to import materials which wanted the pound exchange rate to rise and not to fall. The British Steel Corporation told the Financial Times that "every one cent decline in the value of sterling costs us 4 million pounds sterling".

The failure to recognise sectional capitalist interests applies particularly to monopoly, which raises selling prices and consequently profits for the monopolies and is viewed very differently by the rest of the capitalists, who object to being held to ransom. In the 19th century British government policy towards monopoly was to protect the interests of the rest of the capitalist class by nationalisation, as with telegraphs and telephones. Frederick Engels put the same view in his Socialism, Utopian and Scientific: " nation will put up with production conducted by trusts, with so barefaced an exploitation of the country by a small band of dividend-mongers". The same idea was behind the Tory railway nationalisation Act of 1844. It gave the government power to take over the railways and was used as a threat of what would happen if the railway companies continued to use their monopoly to the detriment of the rest of the capitalist class.

But in America the method used was to control monopoly by the Anti-Trust Laws, which have resulted in heavy fines and sometimes imprisonment. American Telephone and Telegraph, controllers of the near-monopoly Bell telephone system and described as the largest and richest corporation in the world, has recently fallen foul of the law and has been broken up into separate organisations, all open to competition. In Britain, the Tory government has gone over to the American system. Along with partial de-nationalisation the Telecommunication services have lost their monopoly and been thrown open to competition. The same applies to bus services. British governments long ago halted further amalgamation of the big commercial banks who now face competition from the development of ordinary banking services by the building societies, the Trustee Savings Bank and others. How far this process will go remains to be seen, but the belief of Hilferding and Lenin that competition was dead, has been disproved.

It is equally clear that Boudin and Keynes were wrong in their belief that the competitive struggle for markets results from an inbuilt deficiency of demand in the home market. The profit motive behind the search for overseas markets by the export capitalists is no different from the profit motive behind the home producers for the home market, and the import capitalists.

What then are the causes of international conflicts of interest and war? Some, but not many, wars are fought over markets. For example the opium wars, when British traders were able to get the government to go to war to compel China to allow the import of opium. In the modern world, markets take second place to strategic issues. The conflict between America and European countries on the one side and Russia on the other illustrates the point. It is not Russia but Japan, America's ally which has flooded American and European markets with their cheaper products. The point was put in proper perspective by Professor Edwin Cannan in 1915:
"Commercial interests seem to me to appear in international quarrels simply as a cover for strategic interests. Where there are not supposed to be divergent strategic interests, no amount of divergent or supposedly divergent commercial interests produces either war or preparations for war" (An Economist's Protest, page 26).

This exactly fits the relationship between America and Japan because the latter is held to be strategically so important to America's control of the Pacific against Russia. The most frequent cause of conflict and war is the effort of national sections of capitalism to obtain control of needed overseas sources of food and other materials and to protect transport routes. Petrol products have bulked large in this century. It has not been competition by oil producing countries to sell their oil that has threatened war but the importing countries' need to have dependable supplies. Two years ago, America threatened military action if the Middle East oil producing countries organised an embargo on exports to America and Europe.

Discussing the question Engels, in a letter dated 27 October 1890, pointed out that it was the search for gold which led the Portuguese to Africa, and it was not exports to India but imports from India which led to the conquest of India by the Portuguese, Dutch and English between 1500 and 1800: "Nobody dreamed of exporting anything there". Exports came later.

Lenin made a valid point in his Imperialism about some annexationist wars. He wrote that sometimes the powers try to annexe regions "not so much for their own direct advantage as to weaken an adversary and undermine its hegemony". Lenin and Hilferding both saw the growth of monopoly and its resulting wars as a prelude to socialism, and insisted that socialism was the only answer. But Hilferding found himself acting as Finance Minister in a German coalition government, trying vainly to solve the problems of German capitalism. And Lenin's "socialism" has resulted in Russia becoming a capitalist super-power.

Lenin saw "the export of capital" as the hallmark of capitalism's highest stage. It is interesting to note the role now played by Russia. The Statesman's Year Book, 1962 had this to say:
After the second world war the USSR has become one of the biggest creditor countries in the world. Between 1955 and January 1961 economic aid in the form of 2 per cent and 2? per cent loans, has been advanced for over 520 industrial and agricultural enterprises in socialist countries.

This foreign loan policy has continued since 1961.
Edgar Hardcastle

More of Edgar Hardcastle's article from the Socialist Standard can be accessed at his page at the Marxist Internet Archive.