Saturday, May 31, 2008

Boris who? (2008)

From the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Does the election of a Tory mayor of London mean the end of civilisation as we know it?

I came back from attending the London elections count on the 2nd of May, to find the following letter on my welcome mat, from a Labour Party member of my acquaintance.
Dear Pik, 
As I write, Tories overhead are taking over my city. Otherwise civilised people, with a knowledge of Beethoven and Shakespeare, are trying to enact Tory policies. I am currently cowering in my cellar, with my Grandad’s old steel helmet on my head, and a phrase book of how to speak Tory. I have stockpiled on bully beef and powdered egg, and with my knife tied to a broomstick I am prepared to last out the rule of Boris Karloff – or whatever his name is. 
I remember our conversations, in those now far-off days of Labour rule, in which the sun always seemed to shine. You said, if I recall, that Boris is just a saloon bar bore – heartland Tory who believes in small government and just letting the rich get on with running their lives. Just look, you said, at his housing policy, he wants to end the requirement to have 50 percent affordable housing (and no, I still don’t know what “affordable” actually means in practice, nor for whom they are supposed to be affordable) on all new building projects. Instead he promised to “work with the boroughs” in order to build the same 55,000 such new homes. In other words, he was going to allow Tory boroughs to refuse to allow low cost housing in their halcyon areas that might attract the likes who might vote Labour. Likewise his promise to promote building that won’t spoil existing views – protect the rich and drive the poor into already ugly ghettoes. 
I know I’ve spent the last few years talking up Labour’s increase in policing, and how that has cut crime. You said that crime always falls while the economy grows, and showed me graphs and stuff to prove it (do you always carry those round in your pocket?); but Boris wants to cut the cost of policing, while at the same time putting more police on the tubes and buses. He wants to cut and cut taxes, and the expensive part of the mayoral budget is the police part. I know you said “how can Boris be tough on crime if there isn’t plenty of crime to be tough on”, and I agree that the Tories do try to have it both ways, but I was shocked when you said “look, the root cause of crime is free enterprise – so long as there are profits to be made, and entrepreneurs ready to enter the crime market, there will be blood.” How can you say such things when, under Labour, free enterprise has brought us such prosperity? 
I know Ken Livingstone almost said as much, blaming the rise of teenage violent crime on his success in smashing the drugs networks (apparently, he reckons, with their foot soldiers in prison, the drugs barons just started recruiting a new generation). But, really, how could you possibly equate the likes of Shell or BAE with a bunch of violent hoodlums using violence to make money? 
So what that Karloff will surround himself with are advisers he can delegate to – just like the way he ran the right-wing rag The Spectator. So, you reckon, that means that they’ll ensure that he stays within the law, and doesn’t do anything so disastrous that the profit of the people who own London will be threatened. Most of what will change will be the mood music from city hall – even if it will be the harsh sounds of the right-wing dog whistle. 
You’ll miss Ken now he’s gone. He fought for a living wage in London £7.20 an hour, the European decency threshold. He won awards for equal opportunities – the most gay friendly workplace in the country and using the London Development agency to promote Black and Minority Ethnicity businesses. OK, a lot of that was compliance with national law, so Boris will hardly be unable to undo it all, but he will say mean things, and upset a lot of people – you just watch. 
I mean, you said, “Livingstone hasn’t got rid of poverty, and can’t – he’s consciously working within the capitalist system. Look at his arguments over the Public Private Partnership – he wasn’t against capitalist finance, he just thought the state should borrow on the open market, and pay profits in the form of interest on that debt.” 
And you said “he didn’t use his position to call for radical change, instead he used machiavellian tactics to hold on to power while working behind the scenes to secure his basis of support That’s why he lost, he just strung workers along with a few paltry promises – and when a better snake oil salesman came along, they buggered off and voted for him instead. Selling promises isn’t democracy, it’s the politics of the market place, and Ken was just out-entreprenuered by Karloff.” 
So, you reckon Ken lost because the workers preferred what the Tories had on offer and wanted that. I don’t believe it, I think their minds were warped by the Evening Standard using mind rays or something. How could they possibly want to vote for someone who will allow them to drive gas guzzling cars, opposes a 24 hour freedom pass for pensioners and who will doubtless cut back on free bus travel for school kids? 
Next you’ll be telling me that the fact that the BNP won a seat isn’t a cause for concern. I know what you’ll say, that they just got one of the seats that went to UKIP at the last election (the Tories got the other), and so that just means that the anti-immigration rightwing majority on the GLA will be maintained (yes, I know the fact that under PR the right predominated previously shows that there is mass support for such views in London, and that Karloff’s victory is just a reflection of this). 
Of course, the three seats for the Liberals make them decisive, but given that they’ve tacked onto the cost cutting message of the Tories, and ran on a platform of tax cuts they’ll back the Tories on crucial votes to try and woo the latter’s supporters. At least you and I agree on this, that the Lib-Dems are yellow Tories, people who just can’t admit to themselves that they are Tories. 
But the BNP are fascists – I know, they’re mostly ageing suburban cockney’s who are deeply confused. What was that you were telling me about the BNPer you overheard talking about why he believed his “mixed race” grandson that he was raising should be allowed into the BNP (despite understanding the need to “protect the species”)? I know “its irrational” and that they’re clinging to this sense of identity. Of course, the Tory party has long contained such people, and if the workers come to believe such nonsense there’s nothing we could do to stop them. 
Except, you were there when we both heard Frank Dobson MP suggesting we should just change the electoral rules to keep the BNP out. That seems fair to me – these people are opposed to democracy anyway, so we need to take away their votes in order to save voting. After all, if we can point to the BNP we can persuade people to vote for us to keep them out. I know you keep saying that unless we give people something to be for, and actively try to change their minds, then the BNP is what you get. I know that Brown shamelessly pandered to their prejudices with the slogan “British jobs for British workers” that the BNP then prominently displayed on their election material. But trying to change people’s minds is a way to lose elections, unless we tell them what they want to hear, we’ll never get to get into government and enact our programme.
So, the “socialism” you talk about sounds lovely. It’s a great idea, but no-one will ever go for it. In the meanwhile we’ve got to try and run capitalism as it exists. We don’t have time for changing minds, for education, for the hard slog of building up a clear line of advance, we just need to adjust how we sell our product better. Brown will try and make out that he has gifts to give the electors in return for their votes, and if we overcome this mid-term blip, then, at least, we might hang on, or at least deny the Tories a majority.
Anyway, I must go now, I think I heard Tories trying to sniff me out. I’ll come out of my bunker when its safe, until then, here’s a record of me chanting “Boris, Boris, Boris, out, out, out.” Hey, back to the good old days under the Tories, stormy meetings, out on the streets. We can do it all again!
L. P. Hack.
Pik Smeet

Post-Modernist Monsters (2000)

Book Review from the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Crass Art and Other Pre Post-Modernist Monsters. By Gee Vaucher. (AK Press, Existencil Press, 1999). 104 pp.)

Gee Vaucher is the artist who worked with the inspirational anarchist music group Crass, producing the striking artwork that accompanied their sonic wake-up call. She also produced plenty of cracking stuff before and after Crass, and produced and illustrated an irregular publication called International Anthem.

As commented on in the foreword to this collection (referring to the title), Gee Vaucher is a pre- (or non-) "post-modernist" artist in that she visibly strives to present a beauty and a meaning in human existence. And, as with the searingly political musical assault of CRASS, her work also seeks to expose the horror of the global system we live under, and show that there is an alternative. Shoulder shrugging is not an option.

"She pulls us apart and puts us together in such a way as to shake us up and wake us up." This is a pretty good description of how Gee Vaucher's artwork works, and works so effectively. Her most overtly social-political stuff uses the method of creating collages—i.e. rearrangements of images from a wide variety of sources (usually from the mass media and advertising) to produce new and confrontational compositions. Anyone with a few Crass records at home will be familiar with this technique. Maybe it's so effective because it takes the images we are bombarded with every day of our lives (politicians, religious symbols, war, consumption), rips them up and makes them into something unfamiliar that is also a comment on the reality we can all recognise. In the words of Pablo Picasso (quoted by Gee Vaucher): "At its best, art is a lie that helps us realise the truth, at its worst, it is a confirmation of the lies that we inherit".

She also uses her great abilities to produce hyper-realistic paintings of her collages, and also combines the two. These works also have the effect of forcefully questioning life in the hideous circus of world capitalism. Her more personal work, often abstract, while less explicitly "political", is also very interesting in its exploration of human experience.

In short, this is surely what good art is all about. In the words of Crass: "Mickey Mouse fuck off".
Ben Malcolm

Misery for the 'Middle Class'

From the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back.

Under the headline ‘Epidemic of debt spreads to Britain’s middle class’, Jill Insley, writing in the Observer (18 May), notes that a decade of cheap credit is now causing problems for once relatively well-off people; and that debt advice agencies are being swamped by demands for help from a new type of customer--‘the cash-strapped middle income family’. Like many other commentators, she refers to such people as belong to the ‘middle class’.

As the cost of credit rises, and fixed-rate mortgages end, ‘middle class’ borrowers are turning to such charities as Community Money Advice and, where they exist, the Citizens Advice Bureaux. In such towns and cities as Cambridge, Horsham and Tunbridge Wells, where there is no Citizens Advice Bureau, Community Money Advice report that they are ‘seeing a new type of client’: teachers, police and ‘service sector workers’, many of them struggling with mortgages, secured loans and credit card debts. Most were already financially stretched, but have been ‘pushed over the edge by dearer credit, and big increases in food and utility costs’.

Insley cites a television producer with an annual income of £70,000, an IT support consultant with an annual income of £28,500, and a retired bank manager now with an income of £40,000, of whom all have debits of between £25,000 and £110,000. Another couple, who between them earn £48,500 a year, have a mortgage, six credit cards, two secured loans and debts of almost £200,000.

Most of these people, and many millions more, generally imagine that they belong, not to the working class, but to some mythical middle class, often because many of them have salaries in excess of the average. Such ideas are of course also peddled by the media, on the radio, TV and in the newspapers. It is only when capitalism’s ‘good times’ give way to the inevitable downturns that the so-called middle class are forced to realise, often in debt and also sometimes unemployed, that in reality they have but little or no ownership in the means of life, or even their ‘own’ home. To use an old socialist phrase, they are propertyless proletarians; wage and salary slaves, just like bus drivers, refuse collectors or shop assistants.

Hopefully, more of them will realise this and seek a solution to their poverty, and never-ending struggle to make ends meet; of ending the present production-for-profit, capitalist society and organising for a world of common ownership of the means of life. Middle class, they ain't!

Peter E. Newell

Friday, May 30, 2008

Know your enemy (2008)

Editorial from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is everywhere these days. Turn on the TV or open a paper and “capitalism” is being talked about. And not just one capitalism – so many different types! There’s turbo-capitalism, free market capitalism, selfish capitalism, crony capitalism, natural capitalism, laissez-faire capitalism, Chinese capitalism, state capitalism, and even disaster capitalism.

The fact that the media are increasingly calling a spade a spade in terms of the actual words they use is a positive development to be accepted. It’s good to know your enemy and it helps if you can call it by its real name.

But that’s not to say all these different types of “capitalism” don’t themselves sow confusion. World socialists would argue that while the outward appearance of an economic system may vary from region to region or over time, at the level which matters, it all comes down to the same thing. So what is the level that matters and what does it all come down to?

We would argue that an economic system should be judged on how it produces and distributes wealth to its members. All round the world we see cast-iron evidence that – whatever the supposed form of capitalism practiced locally – capitalism itself is a system that is failing the vast majority.

In the more mature capitalist areas useless goods are increasingly produced that workers have to be persuaded to buy; in younger capitalist regions humans starve in their thousands because their suffering is invisible to the logic of the profit system. It makes no difference whether there is a King or a President on the banknote, it’s still capitalism, and the banknote is the part of the unnecessary rationing system.

So what does capitalism all come down to ? In a nutshell capitalism is about wealth being produced for sale on a market with a view to ensuring a profit for the owner of the capital invested in the production process (e.g. wages). All supposed “forms” of capitalism must comply with this rule to make profit. That profit may be partially hidden in a nationalised industry or obscure within the workings of a co-operative enterprise, it makes no difference. The economic system as a whole must carry on making a profit. If it does not, then investment stops and production stops, and individual businesses go to the wall. For states with significant state capitalist enterprises, the reality may be held off for some time but ultimately that state itself may become bankrupt.

What we have then is global capitalism arranged worldwide to satisfy the needs of the small minority who live in various degrees of luxury, off the unearned labour of the large majority, who live in various degrees of poverty. We do not for a second deny that in terms of standard of living there are enormous differences between workers globally.But that difference (caused by centuries of unequal development across the globe) in access to wealth is insignificant compared to the gulf between the employing class and the employed class living literally yards away from each other, whether in Lagos or London.

So forget the various versions of capitalism. Don’t waste time trying to work out where selfish capitalism becomes unselfish capitalism, or where turbo capitalism stops and laissez-faire starts. Look beyond the label: the problem lies with capitalism itself.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (48)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 48th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1252 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Success
  • A Socialist reads the koran
  • Indian Earthquake: Did it really kill?
  • This week's top quote:

    "The poor complain; they always do, But that's just idle chatter. Our system brings rewards to all, At least to all who matter." From Globalisation by Gerald Helleiner.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Sunday, May 25, 2008

    Labour embraces militarism

    From the Socialist Party of Great Britain blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back:

    At one time - a long, long time ago now - the Labour Party used to project itself, and was even seen as, the party of peace. The present series of Labour government, having committed British troops to two unpopular wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) is now seen by many as the party of war. Far from being ashamed of this, the Labour Party is revelling in it. According to a report in the London Times (20 May):
    "A Bank Holiday to celebrate the work of the Armed Forces is under consideration by the Government as part of a drive to improve relations between the military and the public. Legislation is also to be introduced to make it a criminal offence to discriminate against military personnel in Service dress or combat fatigues. This is an attempt to encourage members of the Armed Forces to wear their uniforms in public as often as possible. Anyone who physically attacks a serviceman or servicewoman in uniform will also be charged with an "aggravated offence", to underline the seriousness now attached to the well-being and security of Armed Forces personnel when in the public eye.
    The recommendations are in an official report, National Recognition of Our Armed Forces, drawn up by Quentin Davies, the MP and former Tory defence spokesman, who switched to Labour in June last year. He was asked by Gordon Brown to investigate ways of improving the relationship between the military and the civilian public ( . . .)
    Bob Ainsworth, the Armed Forces Minister, confirmed that the government had accepted all the recommendations in the report."
    This is a logical enough position for any government of capitalism to take. The armed forces don't exist just for decorative purposes. They exist to allow a country to have some credibility and clout in the rivalry built-in to capitalism between all capitalist states over sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets, investment outlets and strategic points and areas to protect these. Normally this involves peaceful diplomatic negotiations but always against a background of threats, direct or understood. Sometimes it involves sabre-rattling. But sometimes it involves war, the organised use of force to kill and destroy. In any event, an effective fighting force is a valuable thing to have in a world where might is right.
    Although governments can ignore "public opinion" over going to war (as the Blair government did over Iraq), hoping to win people over once it's started, they'd like to have this support from the start. One way to achieve this is to glorify the armed forces and present them as heroes doing their duty to defend the rest of us.
    But it is equally logical for Socialists to reject and combat such militarist propaganda because we don't want workers to kill workers from other countries in pursuit of capitalist interests. We want the members of the armed forces to be seen for what they really are: trained hired killers for the ruling, capitalist class.
    It is not clear whether the Labour government's planned Bill to encourage militarism will mean that in future it will be a crime to make this point.
    Adam Buick

    Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (47)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 47th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1253 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Coughing up cash
  • If This Be Treason . . .
  • Blast from the past!: 'Smash Cash'
  • This week's top quote:

    "That's just a lie we tell poor people to keep them from rioting in the streets." Gabrielle Solis in Desperate Housewives, [In response to the claim that money can't buy happiness.]

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Monday, May 19, 2008

    Britain: An “Endemic Surveillance Society” (2008)

    From the May 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The control freaks in power who would monitor our every movement, conversation and transaction have had a busy time of late.

    This year began with Privacy International, a London based human rights group and watchdog on surveillance and privacy, reporting that Britain and the US are in the lowest category when it comes to privacy and state intrusion into our lives. Greece, Romania and Canada had the best privacy records of 47 countries surveyed by Privacy International. Malaysia, Russia and China were ranked worst.

    And there has been a constant stream, in the daily press and on radical websites, of reports of new and advancing methods in surveillance technology.

    On 23 February, BBC Online reported that the Home Office had rejected calls by the police to introduce a mandatory DNA database of all UK citizens, arguing that the suggestion “would raise significant practical and ethical issues.”

    Already there are 4.5 million people in Britain on the DNA database, earning Britain the ominous title of the most DNA profiled country on the planet. Since 2004, the data on everyone arrested for a recordable offence (all but the most minor of offences) has remained on the system regardless of their age, the seriousness of their alleged offence, and whether or not they were prosecuted. In countless cases, if you go to court and you’re found totally innocent, they still have your DNA, a profile of your personal genetic make-up.

    Not enough, say the police who, to highlight their case, point to recent solved murders thanks to the national DNA database. Right-wing reactionaries have backed police calls for such a database, citing the hackneyed argument that if you’re doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. Which misses the point by a mile.

    There’s nothing radical at the moment in the government resisting police pressure for a DNA database. They simply realise it will be one huge palaver to get DNA samples from almost 6o million people, a lot of whom will kick off big time were they to be threatened with penalties for failing to comply. Just how do you get a DNA profile on every human in Britain? For the moment they are biding their time until they come up with a better way to get around this.

    So if you’re thinking that here is the British government defending our civil liberties, forget it. They're still after their surveillance society. The Guardian (23 February) for instance, told us that:
    “Passengers travelling between EU countries or taking domestic flights would have to hand over a mass of personal information, including their mobile phone numbers and credit card details, as part of a new package of security measures being demanded by the British government. The data would be stored for 13 years and used to 'profile' suspects.”
    One thing few us were aware of was that last summer the EU made a deal with the US Dept. of Homeland Security to provide Washington with 19 pieces of information on all passengers between Europe and the USA, including credit card details and mobile phone numbers.

    Not enough, says the British government, who want the system extended to sea and rail travel, to domestic flights and those between EU countries. And is the reactionary British Labour government the only one in Europe to argue for this measure? Yes! Twenty-seven member states were questioned on whether the system should be extended for “more general public policy purposes”, aside from the alleged ‘war on terror’ and crime, and only Britain put its thumbs up. Britain further wants the authority to exchange the information gleaned, your most personal details, with third parties outside the EU.

    The Daily Telegraph (7 March) reported:
    “All British citizens will have their fingerprints and photographs registered on a national ID database within 10 years under plans outlined by the Government”.
    The Government announced that a national ID card, carrying 49 pieces of information about us, will be phased in within two years and that millions of workers in “sensitive jobs”, like teachers, carers and health workers, will be among the first to have their most personal details stored on to the national identity register.

    The first unfortunates to be targeted will be foreign nationals working in Britain and who will possibly be issued with cards from this November. Then, next year, they predict that the first British citizens will be enrolled beginning with some airport staff, power station employees and people working on the London Olympics site.

    The Daily Mail (11 March) reported that some one-and-a-half-million 10 to 18-year-olds will have had their genetic profiles stored by this time next year, which strengthened arguments that the Government is moving towards a DNA database of all British adults "by stealth".
    “Since 2004 police have had the power to take DNA samples from anyone over the age of ten who is arrested, regardless of whether they are later charged, convicted, or found to be innocent….But analysis by the campaign groups Action on Rights for Children and Genewatch has found that the figure conceals a far larger DNA-gathering operation, since the profiles of juveniles who have since turned 18 are no longer counted in the official total.”
    Earlier, the Independent (17 February) informed us that schools will be very much preparing kids for life in the police state, where cops have increasing powers. An article on knife crime in schools commenced:
    “Parents will be told that they must allow their children to be searched at any time within school premises if they want to get them into the schools of their choice, under new plans to rid Britain's classrooms of the scourge of knives.
    The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, will put the battle against illegal weapons at the top of her agenda when she unveils her Tackling Violence Action Plan tomorrow. The blueprint for tackling knife-related violence will include a radical move to give police hundreds of metal detectors to catch young people carrying hidden weapons in schools, clubs and pubs.”

    Three days later the Independent reported that teachers had backed the introduction of metal detectors in schools:
    “Although the initiative carries disturbing echoes of some US cities, where high-school pupils are routinely scanned for weapons, head teachers said it could help to tackle violence in high-crime areas. Metal detectors are still relatively rare and hugely controversial in US schools, but they have been used, particularly in rougher inner-city neighbourhoods, for at least 20 years with some success.”
    This is a disturbing vision of the future. Not only does your kid get to be fingerprinted at school, as now, their details stored and their having to have their dabs scanned before even getting a school meal (as was done by stealth at my son’s comprehensive school, without the prior knowledge of parents) but they will face spot searches, yanked from class to be frisked by some over-zealous teacher, as well as having to go through metal detectors.

    How long before kids are urged to report to staff on any subversive comment heard at home, being rewarded with a medal when they do? If you’re aiming on implementing a total surveillance society, then what better way than to start with kids and acclimatise them to incessant surveillance from an early age.

    And if you can target kids, who are all too ready to accept the ‘wisdom’ of their elders and superiors, and who are in no position to object, then why not also target another section of society who have fewer rights – prisoners – who can be conned into having their movements monitored if they think its will result in a non-custodial sentence?

    Less that two weeks after Privacy International announced that Britain was an “endemic surveillance society” we had the Independent on Sunday (13 January) reporting with a front page headline: “Prisoners to be chipped like dogs”. All that was missing was the subheading: Welcome to the police state Britain.
    "In a bid to implement home curfews on the more ‘errant’ members of our society and to create more space in Britain’s overcrowded jails, ministers have come up with plans to implant ‘machine-readable microchips’ beneath the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme.
    The system is already in place for dogs and cats, cattle, cars and airport luggage, for instance, so it was really only a matter of time before someone came up with the bright idea of using ‘spychips’ on humans. Said one senior minister: “We have wanted to take advantage of this technology for several years, because it seems a sensible solution to the problems we are facing in this area…We have looked at it and gone back to it and worried about the practicalities and the ethics, but when you look at the challenges facing the criminal justice system, it's time has come.”

    So much then for the battle cry of the Labour Party when it came to power: “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” The latest move is tantamount to admitting Labour policies have failed, that crime cannot be controlled within the context of capitalism and that class inequality will forever throw up a “criminal element”.
    The Independent observed:
    “More than 17,000 individuals, including criminals and suspects released on bail, are subject to electronic monitoring at any one time, under curfews requiring them to stay at home up to 12 hours a day. But official figures reveal that almost 2,000 offenders a year escape monitoring by tampering with ankle tags or tearing them off. Curfew breaches rose from 11,435 in 2005 to 43,843 in 2006 – up 283 per cent. The monitoring system, which relies on mobile-phone technology, can fail if the network crashes.”
    The idea now is for offenders to have tags, consisting of a toughened glass capsule holding a computer chip, injected into the back of the arm with a hypodermic needle.

    It goes without saying that human rights campaigners should be the first to expostulate. Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti commented: “If the Home Office doesn't understand why implanting a chip in someone is worse than an ankle bracelet, they don't need a human-rights lawyer; they need a common-sense bypass.”

    Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: “This is the sort of daft idea that comes up from the department every now and then, but tagging people in the same way we tag our pets cannot be the way ahead. Treating people like pieces of meat does not seem to represent an improvement in the system to me.”

    One company plans deeper implants that could vibrate, electroshock the implantee, broadcast a message, or serve as a microphone to transmit conversations. What is being proposed, then, in some quarters is the tasering of offenders, via satellite, from outer-space. Step outside the confines of your curfew area and ZAP! How long before we find Gordon Brown and Co. contemplating the idea of each and every one of us carrying a vein deep implant, with defenders of the idea regurgitating the old line: “if you’re doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about?”

    Consumer privacy expert Liz McIntyre said: “Some folks might foolishly discount all of these downsides and futuristic nightmares since the tagging is proposed for criminals like rapists and murderers. The rest of us could be next.”

    Most workers are totally oblivious to the creeping surveillance society, the full police state, where people with powerful interests to defend can track us 24-7. It is done so slowly, so subtly, that the majority of people don’t realise what is going on. Indeed, many who are cognisant of future surveillance proposals believe it is harmless and is done with their best interests at heart – so wise are our leaders. Little by little, workers are becoming acclimatised to the Big Brother Society, in which they will have your DNA, your fingerprints your credit card details… everything… Everything will eventually be known about everyone.

    They’re telling us all that we are not to be trusted - none of us – and that we need to be surveilled constantly and that it is all in our own interests, for the good of society. They want our genetic profiles logged, our financial transactions, our medical history, and our telephone, email and web-surfing habits catalogued and shared with security agencies all over the world. Well, trust is a two-way thing, so why should we trust them one inch?
    John Bissett

    Saturday, May 17, 2008

    Anarchy for the UK? (1999)

    TV review from the May 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

    BBC2's Counterblast series aims to provide a forum for unconventional, and often anti-establishment, ideas. The programme of 13 April was devoted to the anti-monarchist views of Chris Lowe. It proved to be both unconventional and anti-establishment in equal measure, giving Lowe a wide degree of control over the programme's content, which, in addition to interviews with the usual assortment of trendy left-wing academics and journalists, included coverage of some of the more extreme views of the radical fringe of the republican movement in Britain. Rarely in the history of British TV can a programme have been commissioned which ended with a call for the murder of the entire Royal Family.

    But who exactly was it who should have issued such a battlecry? Step forward Ian Bone, founder of the violent anarchist group Class War. This organisation, dealt with at length in these pages on previous occasions, officially gave up the ghost some time ago, though some of its warring factions continue to claim its mantle, albeit posthumously (this is presumably why they all wear black). Bone—as well as Lowe, the programme's maker—has now set up an anarchist front organisation called The Movement Against the Monarchy. This is similar in most respects to other organisations and fronts set up by Class War such as Stop the City, concentrating on periodic and highly provocative marches through sensitive areas of the capital. Counterblast showed The Movement Against the Monarchy marching through the streets of central London on their way to Buckingham Palace, replete with black flags, with marchers dressed up as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and others carrying a guillotine. No monarchs, it has to be said, were assassinated that day but it was all good, clean fun.

    Johnny Rotten, that erstwhile purveyor of anarchy in the UK, once famously stated that there is nothing wrong with the Tory Party except the people who are in it. With the republican movement in Britain that statement has a certain analogous relevance and Counterblast demonstrated this beyond all reasonable doubt. It would seem that most of the people actively engaged in the republican struggle in Britain seem to be either chi-chi metropolitan intellectuals who haven't 'arrived' until they've set up their own think-tank, or wild-eyed rabble-rousers from the lumpen proletariat intent on kicking some arse in an attempt to assuage their personality disorders. Needless to say, the vast majority of republicans in Britain—i.e. those who never get asked to star in TV programmes like this—fit neither category.

    God Save the Queen?
    It is of course true that getting rid of the monarchy is a Good Thing. Even the market-loving, capitalism-cradling Americans can see that (our transatlantic cousins, naturally, preferring their monarchs to rule over some other poor bastard so they can come over and take photographs). But as the Americans have actually proved, not having a monarchy solves little by itself. If anything it gives further legs to the lie that in capitalist society all are equal before the God of the market and that there are no real class distinctions. Perversely, perhaps—and as Chris Lowe and Ian Bone clearly demonstrated—the Royal Family in the UK is the feature of British society that probably generates more class hatred than any other. It is a symbol of all that is wrong with capitalist society and should naturally go along with it—but in a process of genuine, democratic revolution which neither replaces one figurehead with another (as the academics would like) nor glories in "class violence" just for the sake of kicking the shit out of our oppressors without having a clue as to what to do next.

    Socialists oppose the monarchy because in many ways it embodies the things we despise: the unfettered triumph of wealth and heredity; the existence of opulence amid squalor; the victory of idleness over creativity; and the festering legacy of the anti-democratic principle. When it comes to abolishing the institutions of class privilege, socialists take a militant and principled stand, and that is a stand unencumbered by learned think-tanks or provocatively dangled nooses, by the facile desire for a President or the tragi-comic clamour for the guillotine. This is because socialists are aware above all else that the monarchy is little more than a farcical side-show in the corporate extravaganza now conquering the globe in the name of the market. The monarchy is not "the enemy": it is but one tiny fragment of it. As socialists we don't waste our time pursuing such a narrow single-issue campaign which would bring little if any practical benefit to the working class within capitalism. Capitalism can well do without the monarchy and does just that across most of the globe, including the parts wracked by the worst inequality and suffering. What it can't do without is a compliant, docile working class which is tied economically and ideologically to the market system. And it is only this class—the working class—which is capable of realising that abolishing the laugh-a-minute royals can be only one small part of a much wider and more serious process: social revolution carried out by the majority in the interests of that majority.
    Dave Perrin

    Friday, May 16, 2008

    Controlling the past (2008)

    Book Review from the May 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The Battle for China’s Past By Mobo Gao. (Pluto Press)

    Whoever controls the past controls the future was one of Big Brother’s slogans in George Orwell’s 1984. This point is illustrated in this book on Chinese politics and recent history.

    Gao’s theme is that the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) under the leadership of Mao Zedong was beneficial to most Chinese, even though it is now described in China as ‘ten years of catastrophe’. The official denigration of Mao and the Cultural Revolution serves the purposes of those who now govern China and wish to set themselves apart from the China of the 50s and 60s. Mao was right to describe Deng Xiaoping as a ‘capitalist roader’, as Deng’s views became dominant after Mao’s death and led to the present triumph of ‘neoliberalism’. In contrast, many Chinese — especially the poorest or those living outside the big cities — look back on the Cultural Revolution as the good old days. Numerous internet sites contain defences of Mao’s time as boss.

    Along the way, Gao lays into the Chang and Halliday biography of Mao (see the Socialist Standard for September 2005), describing it as a disaster, full of dodgy references, mis-use of sources and complete representations. Equally, the memoir by Li Zhisui, who represented himself as Mao’s personal doctor, contains many fraudulent claims.

    Beyond relatively easy targets such as these, however, Gao’s attempts to rehabilitate Mao and Maoist policies are not very convincing. The Great Leap Forward (1958–60) created a famine that led to large numbers of deaths. There seems to be little justification for the Chang-Halliday claim that Mao murdered 38 million people, but even the lowest estimates of the death toll put it at several million. And it is not much of an excuse to say that Mao was not the only government leader responsible for the disaster.

    The Cultural Revolution itself is treated in a very rosy glow. Supposedly it was originally intended to teach ‘Communist’ Party officials an ideological lesson but got out of hand, with physical violence often being used against officials and their family members. It’s at best misleading to say that there was ‘unprecedented freedom of association and freedom of expression’ at the time without referring to those who suffered from exercising these so-called freedoms. For instance, Gao mentions Yang Xiguang of the Shengwulian organisation, but without mentioning that he spent ten years in prison from 1968 for ‘counter-revolutionary activity’.

    In defending Mao and the Cultural Revolution against their present critics, Gao is also attacking developments in China since Mao died, especially since the ‘reforms’ began in 1978. He argues that China is, or is becoming, a capitalist country, on three grounds. One is the alleged deterioration of the position of workers and the undeniable growth of inequality. The second is the spread of privatisation, and the third is the extent to which the Chinese economy is run by transnational capitalist firms. But none of these relates to the mode of production: wage labour and commodity production have increased in scope since 1978, and indeed since 1949, but they are not new. China was state capitalist under Mao and is increasingly private capitalist now.
    Paul Bennett

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (46)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 46th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1241 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • The Fetishism of Money
  • Dude, where's my revolution?
  • What causes world poverty?
  • This week's top quote:

    "When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion." Voltaire, Letter to Mme. d'Épinal, Ferney (1760).

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Monday, May 12, 2008

    James Connolly Commemoration, 1949

    From the archives. 
    The following is the text of a leaflet that dates from 1949, and was produced by the Dublin Socialist Group for distribution at events organised in the city to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the execution of James Connolly. 
    The socialists who made up the Dublin Socialist Group later helped form the World Socialist Party of Ireland.
    May the 15th, 1949 – thirty-three years after his death which you now commemorate, and less than thirty-three days after the roar of guns ushered in “The Republic of Ireland”. What relationship is there between these two events? That is the question which, on this day, it is only fitting that you should ask yourselves. Once a year you can march through the streets in your thousands to commemorate his death yet every other day of the year your actions – your very ideas – are, apparently, in violent conflict with all that the man lived for. Is that an unwarranted assumption? Emphatically, we reply: NO. The truth remains the truth, however unpalatable it may be.

    We have not the least desire to advance any claim to James Connolly, nor do we consider ourselves the especial inheritors of all of his ideas. But to-day, when everybody acclaims him and sings his praise, we think it very necessary to re-state the simple but vital fact, namely, that JAMES CONNOLLY WAS OF THE WORKING CLASS. His ideas are not, and never will be, the sole preserve, nor in the custody, of any particular section BUT THE WORKING CLASS. Here it is as well to recall – when many are clamouring to bask in the light of the but recently-discovered glory of Connolly – that his ideas were vehemently denounced, and his very person attacked, by the representatives of those interests who, to-day, so anxiously press their claim to his name. We would not be so much concerned at this were it not for the fact that the workers have been “taken in” by these spurious claims. You, fellow-workers, have been duped; for you have supported political parties which have acted in the interests of any and every class in and out of this county but the working class. And you have supported them and placed them in power mainly on the strength of their nationalism and Republicanism. You, who now march to-day in memory of James Connolly, have you forgotten his “Labour in Irish History”? Have you forgotten the thoughts he put on paper in order that you might the better be able to wage your struggle against a social system which condemns you to poverty and insecurity? We think you have forgotten. At the cost of remembering the symbolic moment of his death in a national struggle you’ve forgotten the toiling years of his life on behalf of the working class. Connolly didn’t struggle, and write and speak, and organise, in order that the workers might adhere to this or that Republican constitutional formula; no, not for that. There was no James Connolly if such a man did not desire and work to change the world, not its paper constitutions.

    And you, fellow-workers, who, in your Trade Unions and political parties stoutly maintain that you strive to follow in his footsteps, do you direct your efforts towards changing the world? Evidence that you do is certainly very much lacking; for on every occasion you’ve entered the polling-booth you’ve either returned you out-going set of masters or merely changed them for a new set. Not yet have you evinced any great desire to get rid of the master class AS A WHOLE. And that, simply, is what is meant by “changing the world”.

    FELLOW-WORKERS ! As you may march, as you may stand at the meeting-place, to-day, why not summarise your present position in your own mind – after twenty-seven years of native government, and after twenty-seven days of “The Republic of Ireland”? Line up your wage-packet (assuming you’re not one of “the 75,000”) alongside the cost-of-living figure: which is higher? Dwell a little on the plight of the thousands “living” in the tenements – that is, of course, if you happen to be blessed (!) with a suburban (!!) “working class house”. Recall the thousands who are unemployed (if you’re not one of them, of course), and remember they’re the ever-present threat of capitalism which hangs over your head – you may join their ranks to-morrow. Again, tuberculosis and other medically-classified poverty diseases are capitalism’s constant threat to the health and happiness of your children. And topping these and the other social evils you know only too well the experience is the threat of another capitalist war – yes, another, and promising to be everything (and much more) that all the previous wars of history weren’t together.

    That is the real world you live in. Say – if you wish – that you reside in a portion of that world known as “The Republic of Ireland”. So what? Does that alter your position one bit? Of course not. And that world, reflected in the capitalist system of that country and the conditions of the Irish working class, surely deserves to go. And it will go WHEN THE WORKING CLASS WILLS IT. If James Connolly can be said to have left a message for the working class, it is this: THE WORKING CLASS MUST ACHIEVE ITS EMANCIPATION ITSELF AND IT CAN ONLY DO SO THROUGH THE ABOLITION OF THE CAPITALIST SOCIAL SYSTEM.

    We are not given to lip-service, and much (judicious) quoting of Connolly, but the following, we think, is by no means out of place, and we especially commend it, on this particular occasion, to those who – to put it bluntly – have made a good thing out of such practices.
    “Ireland as distinct from her people is nothing to me; and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for ‘Ireland’ and yet can pass unmoved through our streets and witness all the wrong and suffering and the shame and the degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland: AYE, WROUGHT BY IRISHMEN UPON IRISH MEN AND WOMEN without burning to end it, is a fraud and a liar in his heart, no matter how he loves that combination of chemical elements he is pleased to call ‘Ireland’”. [From Connolly's 1900 article, 'The Coming Generation'.]
    Fellow-workers, there is but one way to really commemorate Connolly, and all those – whoever and wherever they may been – who have fought and died for and on behalf of the world’s workers, and that is by striving to abolish capitalism and establish SOCIALISM, THE COMMON OWNERSHIP AND DEMOCRATIC CONTROL OF THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION (the factories, mills, mines, railways, etc.), BY AND IN THE INTERESTS OF THE WHOLE OF THE COMMUNITY WITHOUT ANY DISTINCTION WHATSOEVER. By devoting your time and energy to the achieving of such an aim you will be truly commemorating Connolly and all those of his kind every day.

    (c/o 33 Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin).
    Meetings every Sunday at the above address, commencing 8 p.m. Questions and discussion at all meetings. Socialist literature available.
    To-night – Sunday, 15th May – “The Need for a Socialist Party”.


    Sunday, May 11, 2008

    1968 Revisited: the classic that failed to start

    May 2008 Socialist Standard

  • Food security

  • Regular Columns

  • Pathfinders Look down there, and tell me
    what you see...

  • Cooking the Books 1 Are prices real?

  • Cooking the Books 2 Anyone for coal?

  • Material World Iraq: Violence without end or purpose?

  • Pieces Together Good News For Some

  • Greasy Pole Winners and losers: One law for the poor, and another for MPs.

  • 50 Years Ago To busmen—and others

  • Main Articles

  • 1968 Recalled A reprint of what the Socialist Standard said on some of the events of 1968.

  • The Revolution that wasn't What might have happened if, forty years ago, workers in France had taken over the factories and tried to keep production going.

  • Bubble Troubles The intoxicating US housing boom has come to an end. Now the economic hangover has arrived.

  • Who wants a referendum on Europe? The argument about a referendum over the EU Treaty is not about democracy, but about politicians trying to control decision-making.

  • How they decided to have (and keep) the Bomb We look at what a collection of declassified official documents reveal about the nuclear weapons policy of successive British governments, Labour and Tory.

  • Britain: An "Endemic Surveillance Society" The control freaks in power who would monitor our every movement, conversation and transaction have had a busy time of late.

  • Ire of the Irate Itinerant Cartoon strip

  • Letters, Reviews & Meetings

  • Letters to the Editor: 'More Basic Income'

  • Book Reviews: 'Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System.' By Boris Kagarlitsky.; 'The Battle for China's Past' By Mobo Gao

  • Socialist Party Meetings: Norwich, Salisbury, Birmingham, Glasgow

  • Voice From The Back

  • The Gap Widens; Double Standards; American Illusions; This is Progress?; A Grim Future

  • Friday, May 9, 2008

    1968 and all what?

    1968 and all that

    The Socialist Party will have a stall at the 1968 and all that International Conference and Bookfair, which takes place next Saturday, 10 May and which will be held at Conway Hall in Central London.

    The Socialist Party will also be holding a meeting at the Conference on the subject of France in '68.

    Was there really a revolutionary situation in France in May 68?

    Speaker: Adam Buick

    Room: Artists Room

    Time: 3pm

    How close was France to a socialist revolution? (1968)

    From the July 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

    One of the most amusing reports to come out of France during the recent unrest was of one panic-stricken capitalist, convinced that his class was about to be expropriated, who loaded his car with over £1 million in cash and made a dash for the Swiss border. But his terror, ridiculous in retrospect, was matched by a corresponding euphoria in left-wing circles. Anyone accustomed to thinking along Bolshevik or anarchist lines was convinced that "a revolutionary situation" had developed and, in Britain at any rate, there were several groups declaring that the socialist revolution had started. Already May 1968 is part of the mythology of the left and there is a generally accepted explanation of why the agitation seeped away and why the strikers drifted back to work. The French workers are supposed to have been ripe for revolution and all that was missing was "a large revolutionary organisation capable of giving direction to the demands of the working class".

    This raises the whole question of what constitutes a socialist revolution. The Socialist Party of Great Britain argues that it is not enough to have thousands of demonstrators on the streets or even millions of workers occupying the factories. Above all the working class must have a clear understanding of what Socialism entails and what methods are effective in overthrowing capitalism. A grasp of socialist principles by the vast majority of the workers is a minimal condition for going forward to Socialism and no party, no matter how religiously it follows the Bolshevik tradition, can substitute for this.

    If this is accepted, then we can estimate how close France came to a socialist revolution by taking a look at the demands which the workers advanced during the period of upheaval. Most prominent were the usual claims for higher wages, better working conditions, shorter hours and security of employment. (There are between two and three million workers on the minimum wage level of less than £8 a week and at least four million earning under £11 a week.) Such demands have the full support of the Socialist Party--but we must emphasise that there is nothing revolutionary about them. In fact, the wage increases that have been secured need to be put in perspective. They seem to be averaging out to a general rise of about 13 per cent (on the basis of a 10 per cent all-round increase and a 3 per cent rise in the minimum wage) but this needs to be set against the fact that nominal wages have been rising by 6 per cent annually over the last few years anyway. Although these increases will naturally cut into profits, the international capitalist class hastened to reassure itself that the outcome would be far from a disaster As the Economics Editor of the Sunday Times put it:
    "The pay settlement will not be wholly adverse for France's economy. The big increase in the minimum wage will help send the poorer French firms to the wall, releasing workers for the big, profitable ones--which pay well above the minimum."
    Yet the strikers did not restrict their demands simply to these issues. At numerous plants there were calls for "a radical change in the power structure" and for "participation of the workers in the running of the factory". A leader of Force Ouvriere (the social democratic trade union federation) pointed out his members were agitating for "genuine workers' participation in the policy of industry" and a senior Renault shop steward came out for nationalisation of key sectors of the economy, including all the car firms, the chemical industry and the banks. Understandably, demands such as these were greeted with rapturous delight by all those who imagine Socialism as a system of nationalisation under workers' control; but the Socialist Party rejects this view. For socialists nationalisation, whatever its trimmings, is nothing more than state capitalism. The policy of workers' control does not pose threat to the capitalist system as long as those workers are still committed to capitalism and have not understood the socialist alternative. That this was the case in France is made clear by the fact that even the most extreme elements, such as Cohn-Bendit, went no further than the old utopian demand for equal wages. Who was urging the abolition of the wages system and an end to the market economy? For this reason, we cannot accept the claims of one young activist in St. Nazaire:
    "The long-term outlook is uncertain, but not hopeless. On one tier, there are the traditional union claims, which must be met immediately. On another, the government and the regime itself are in question. There is the challenge of capitalist society, of social orders based on private property."
    Obviously there was a challenge to the government and the Gaullist regime but capitalism remained secure throughout.

    For all that, the Socialist Party recognises that there are vital lessons to be drawn from the recent struggles of the French workers. One of the most important is the complete bankruptcy of the "communist" parties, as demonstrated by the PCF. Another striking feature was the way in which the factories and universities were organised while the employers and authorities were temporarily eliminated. Although there was no production during the strikes, all the factory services had to be maintained. At the Renault plant at Billancourt, for example, the factory hospital was still functioning, the firemen and security officers had to keep patrolling, food had to be prepared—and so on. Even more impressive was the Sorbonne, with the students in control. A hospital service, treating those injured in the riots, was centred on the Medical Faculty and it was estimated that a daily average of 10,000 posters and hand-outs were being produced by the Fine Arts School. Yet all of this was done by unpaid, voluntary labour, by people cooperating for a common purpose. Too much should not be made of this (we are not suggesting it represented "socialism in action") but it does at least disprove the often-heard objection to a socialist society that, if the coercive pressures of the wages system were removed, nothing but chaos would result.

    Another important aspect was the role of the police and armed forces. Although vast publicity was given to the brutality of the CRS, there was less on the discontent which was building up among the ordinary police forces over their use as government thugs. Already by May 18 there were reports from the police unions of "extreme tension" in the forces. Some of the police were also adopting the tactics of the strikers themselves. An article in the Times mentioned that the branch dealing with intelligence on student activity had been deliberately depriving the government of information about student leaders in support of an expenses claim! This indicates that the majority of those who make up the police and armed forces are subjected to the general pressures which act on all working men and women.

    As for the army, General Fourquet—the Chief of Staff—made it clear that it would obey any constitutionally elected government—even a "communist" one. Whether Fourquet and the general meant this or not is largely immaterial for, when we are in a position to establish Socialism, the bulk of the armed forces (as with the rest of the working class) will be socialists and will understand that their interest lies not in fighting their fellow workers but in freeing mankind as a whole by stripping the capitalist class of its wealth.

    If there were a working class committed to Socialism in France the correct method of achieving political power would be to fight the general election on a revolutionary programme, without any reforms to attract support from non-socialists. In fact, the first stage in a socialist revolution is for the vast majority of the working class to use their votes as class weapons. This would represent the transfer of political power to the working class. We adopt this position not because we are mesmerised by legality and not because we overlook the cynical and two-faced double-dealing which the capitalists will no doubt resort to. We say, however, that a majority of socialist delegates voted into the national assembly or parliament would use political power to coordinate the measures needed to overthrow the capitalist system. Any minority which was inclined to waver would have second thoughts about taking on such a socialist majority which was in a position to wield the state power.

    But since the workers in France are still convinced that capitalism is the only viable social system, the immediate task must be for genuine socialists to concentrate their efforts on spreading socialist ideas among the working class. For this purpose an independent socialist party, which does not compromise its principles or dissipate its activity in attempts to reform capitalism, is indispensable.
    John Crump

    The Revolution that wasn’t (2008)

    From the May 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
    What might have happened if, forty years ago, workers in France had taken over the factories and tried to keep production going.
    1968 saw an outbreak of protest in various parts of the World. Much of it was very violent and the main thrust of this protest was in France and in America, where a longer-term campaign was being pursued. To a lesser extent, again, some of them very violent, demonstrations took place in Germany and in this country.

    No doubt there were some links between these various protests but it was also true that the background in each country was very different. For example, in America there was the civil rights movement being organised by blacks, and of course there was no element of this in what was happening here or in France. The civil rights movement was beginning to find its feet in Northern Ireland; here again, the background was different with its strong element of catholic/protestant conflict.

    In Europe, many of the main activists were Trotskyists or anarchists. In America the hippy movement was much stronger than it was here. One common feature was the protest against the Vietnam War and this was linked with the opposition to nuclear weapons. So if we are to remember 1968 as a year of world wide protest and demonstrations, we must also acknowledge that these were not the actions of a world-wide coherent movement; these events erupted at the same time as a result of different and widely dispersed elements. In retrospect, perhaps the spontaneity of these events gave them their immediate strength, but the lack of any cohesion was their longer-term weakness.

    In some ways, the ideas which were coming forward were very welcome, especially ideas being produced by the hippy movement which were a reaction to the soul-destroying life of wage slavery with its pursuit of material things. I remember reading a book by Jack Kerouac in which he railed against what he called the ‘white furniture’ culture. By this he meant that people were selling their human soul in order to acquire refrigerators, washing machines and these sorts of objects on which they mistakenly focused all their hopes for happiness.

    Well, of course you could only agree with this outlook, and it was very welcome to see these ideas being popularised. What was slightly irritating was that these ideas were being put forward as if they were some sort of revelation. In fact socialists had been talking about this for years. Since the 1950s we’d had access to the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of Marx, and we’d been talking about the alienation of man in practical contexts. We had been talking about the “sterility of the consumer culture” for years and arguing that individual self-realisation could only be achieved on a basis of common ownership, and where you had people working in direct cooperation with each other to provide for each other’s needs.

    The trouble was that Jack Kerouac hadn’t been reading the Economic Manuscripts of 1844, he had been reading some ancient Buddhist manuscripts. So, this very useful development of ideas was diverted into some regurgitated version of Buddhism, flower power and the drugs scene.

    Socialists like myself had been active for years throughout the 1950s and what we had suffered from was a most appalling complacency. We couldn’t get a meeting or a debate; there was almost no interest in politics; the social aspirations of people seemed to have become totally trivialised. People only seemed to be concerned about buying a television or a second hand car on hire purchase.

    So when there were various stirrings, first perhaps with CND, events in Hungary and the Suez crisis, we were able to feel that people did care after all, Of course as these were able to gather momentum during the 1960s this brought about a very changed situation and it was most welcome. Against this it has to be said that there was disappointment as we say this healthy indignation being diverted into lines of action which we argued would be unproductive.

    One of the ideas being pursued by many activists in the 1960s was the aim of workers’ control. A lot of people still believe that we can achieve an advance towards socialism as a result of workers taking over their places of work, the factories etc., bringing them under their control and operating them in their own interests.

    It’s quite true that in 1968, in France, at one point, over 9 million workers were on strike: industry was at a standstill and hundreds of factories had been occupied by strikers. Some people thought that industry in France was on the brink of being taken over by the workers. In fact this was not the case. For one thing, although it was in the minds of Trotskyist activists, it was not in the minds of the trade unions in France to establish a system of workers’ control. They took over the factories, and others went on strike, so as to press their demands for wage increases and other improvements in conditions. When these demands were largely met, they resumed normal working.

    Another reason why industry in France was not on the brink of being taken over by the workers is of course that the forces of the state would never have allowed them to do it. There was the usual heroic talk about smashing the state, but the workers had no intention of smashing the state and even if they did have that intention they would have failed.

    It has to be said that in all the violent confrontations which took place between demonstrators and the various police groups, even in France, the force of the state was only used minimally. You had the very vicious CIS—the special riot police—but the armed forces in their tens of thousands, with all the firepower at their disposal, were always in reserve and not brought into use.

    At the time, the activists said that the reason for the failure had been the failure of the mass of workers to support the objective of workers’ control. So they came out of it still believing that their theory of revolution had not been tested - many people still believing in the theory today.

    What if . . .
    So its useful to consider what would have happened if, for example, the Renault car factories had been taken over by the workers who worked in them.

    What we assume here is a situation where theoretically, the wage labour/capital relationship operating in the Renault car company would have altered and become a kind of workers’ cooperative, with all the affairs of this car production unit under the control of the workers.

    There is of course no question here that this has happened as a result of a decision by a socialist majority to capture political control and enact the common ownership of all means of production. There has been no social decision to abolish the market and to establish direct cooperation between people in producing goods directly for the needs of the community, with no exchange of any kind and therefore no use of money. What we have assumed, in line with the objectives of the main activists in France in 1968, is that workers have succeeded in taking over the Renault car company together with many other factories.

    The present Prime Minister of France (Michel Rocard) was a left wing activist in 1968 and a little later on he said this about workers’ control:
    “We must aim at self management, that is, the management of factories by the workers themselves… Workers control can only be imposed in strikes where the balance of forces is overwhelming, that is to say, where the unity of the workers is strongest.”
    So we’ve assumed that these workers have successfully confronted the forces of the state and imposed this workers control, which is “the management of the factories by the workers themselves.”
    The market would still be operating and these workers would be selling the cars which they put together in the factories and the sale of these cars would give them an income which would enable them to live, to support their families, to buy the food, to pay the rent and the mortgage and all the other costs involved in living in a market system. They would have a lot of other costs as well. Renault cars are not simply made in Renault car factories. In fact, in the main, these factories are only the places of final assembly. Of all the labour required for the production of a Renault are only a small proportion is supplied in these factories where the final assembly takes place. If the car industry in France is anything like British car production, Renault would have hundreds of sub-contractors supplying components.

    You only have to think of the materials in cars—various metals such as copper, aluminium and steel, glass, paints, plastics, rubber, to realise that the different kinds of labour required for the production of a car are dispersed throughout a world wide network of productive links. You’ve got copper mining in Zambia, the mining of iron ore in Australia, the plastics pre-suppose the world oil industry, the paints, the world chemical industry, rubber from Malaysia, allocations of energy and world transport. Car production is social production and by that we mean production organised on a world scale.

    What this means for these workers in France who have taken over factories where final assembly takes place is that they are the sellers of cars but they also constitute a massive market, a market for all the worked-up materials and components which they have to buy in.

    These workers will be in competition with other car manufacturers—Fiat in Italy—Volkswagen in Germany—Nissan in Japan—Volvo in Sweden—General Motors in America—Ford and BMC in Britain. So in order to maintain their livelihoods they will be in intense competition with these other companies, trying to sell as many cars as possible and trying to capture a bigger share of the market at the expense of the capitalists and workers in other sections of the world car industry.

    They would have to maintain rigorous efficiency in line with the efficiency of these other companies. In any situation where their costs were disproportionately high resulting in relatively higher prices they would lose sales and there would have to economise and perhaps some workers would have to go. Where there was overproduction in relation to market capacity again there would have to be cutbacks. They could not go on incurring the accumulating costs of producing cars which they could not sell. It would then be a matter of them democratically deciding which of them is going to be out of a job.

    However, for the moment we are not concerned with the realistic possibilities, we’re assuming that these workers find themselves in a situation where the market for cars goes on expanding. This being the case they will face the problem of financing expanded production so as to take advantage of it. Perhaps they will raise the capital on the share market. This of course is impossible. No bank or any investor would dream of investing in an outfit which had seized the capital funds of a company.

    Functionaries of capital
    You can of course see where all this is heading. In the impossible circumstances where these workers have been able to expropriate a company like Renault—and succeeded in managing for their own gain as distinct from the previous owners—they would be responding to the same economic pressures faced by the previous capitalist board of directors. They would be acting as the functionaries of capital; different personalities maybe but exactly the same economic role.

    What we’ve actually been describing is a set of mechanisms by which the capitalist structure of production maintains itself as an exclusive capitalist structure. Goods are produced throughout a world wide division of labour organised in different production units. The process through which this structure maintains itself as an exclusively capitalist structure is a process of constant economic selection. Whether or not a particular production unit can continue to exist as part of the structure is constantly tested and is determined by the economic viability of the unit.

    In every day terms this is matter of income against expenditure. If income exceeds expenditure then the unit can continue to form a part of the whole structure. Conversely, if expenditure exceeds income then it must disappear from the scene.

    This process of economic selection may be temporarily upset by the traumas of political or industrial upheaval. In a period of chaos, you may get a change of the people in power. But when production and distribution re-commences, as sooner or later it must, the economic forces of capitalism are immediately brought back into play, so that daily book keeping, cost effectiveness, and the irresistible pressure to sustain income over expenditure again act to maintain production as a capitalist structure.
    The particular ways in which a production unit is organised makes no difference whatsoever to this process of economic selection, It can be the usual capitalist company, it can be a so-called workers cooperative under workers’ control. It can be a monastery producing herbs or honey for sale.

    The decision-making procedures can be authoritarian or democratic, it makes no difference to the fact that whatever the production unit is, in order to exist it must be economically viable. This is the process of economic selection by which the present structure of production is maintained as an exclusively capitalist structure.

    The idea that workers cooperatives under workers’ control is socialism or is in any way a step towards socialism is an illusion.

    Bringing the subject back to 1968 when these arguments were much more in the air of course members of the Socialist Party were encouraged by the fact that a lot of action was taking place. But at the same time there was great disappointment that all this protest was being diverted into this useless activity based on the objective of workers’ control.

    The only practical way to get a change from capitalism to socialism is to have a majority of socialists acting democratically to capture control of the state and then from this position of control, to remove the capitalist features from social production through the enactment of common ownership.
    Pieter Lawrence (from a talk given in May 1988)

    Thursday, May 8, 2008

    Capitalism in the 21st Century

    Edinburgh - Glasgow Socialist Party Day School

    Saturday 10 May, 1pm to 5pm

    Community Central Hall, 304 Maryhill Road, Glasgow

    Why Capitalism Can’t Go Green (1.00pm till 2.15 pm)
    Speaker: Paul Bennett (Manchester Branch)

    Capitalism is simply unable to run on green lines, as its motive force is expansion and domination, with no thought for the consequences for the people or the environment. In this talk Paul Bennett, Manchester Branch,will argue that capitalism is unable to cope with the ecological challenges that lie ahead, from global warming,to depletion of resources.

    Some writing on this subject
    Pepper Standard Bennett Eco-socialism

    The Tyranny of copyright (2.15pm - 3.45 pm)
    Speaker: Tristan Miller (Central London Branch)

    Tristan Miller, Central London Branch looks at copyright laws and recent attempts to have ideas free to all by developments in the internet. The internet was devised as free for all to access but capitalism fears this development in the 21st century and has tried to restrict free access.

    Some more writing on this subject
    Chomsky Miller

    Another Century of War (3.45pm till 5.00 pm)
    Speaker: Gwynn Thomas (South London Branch)

    The new century opened with the promise of a "peace dividend".Tensions between the Super-powers had relaxed and the risk of interstate war seemed to have receeded only to be replaced by an increasing number of wars within states.Wars in which 90% of the casualties are civilians and 80% of those are women and children. Of the 50 major conflicts fought during the 1990's small arms were the weapons of choice in 46 of them.

    Gwynn Thomas, South London Branch, will argue that these are wars on the cheap.
    Some writing on war
    Orwell Thomas War

    Each speaker will speak for 30 minutes. The rest of the session will be devoted to questions and discussion.

    Free tea, coffee and light refreshments will be available throughout the afternoon.

    Admission free, all welcome.