Saturday, January 31, 2009

The War in Gaza: Propaganda and Realities (2009)

The Material World column from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why has the Israeli government launched Operation “Molten Lead”?
According to Israeli propaganda, it was the only way to stop rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. Some are sceptical about this version of events. The truce negotiated with Hamas last June held for four months, they say, and could probably have been maintained and extended were it not for Israel’s military incursion on 4 November and its continuing siege of Gaza.
There is some evidence to suggest that the operation was a “war of choice,” planned well in advance for the purpose of destroying Hamas in Gaza. Israeli military historian Zeev Maoz has traced a long history of Israel using provocative measures to trigger reactions in order to create a pretext for military action (Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security and Foreign Policy, University of Michigan Press, 2006).

Another strategic war
In a previous article we drew the distinction between “resource wars” that are fought directly for control over specific resources and “strategic wars” that reflect a long-term power struggle between rival capitalist states. To take recent examples, the “mobile war” in eastern Congo was a resource war while the war in Georgia was a strategic war.

The factors underlying this war have to do both with resources and with strategic rivalry. Israel and the Palestinian factions are manoeuvring for control over offshore gas deposits. But there is also a strategic dimension that cannot be understood adequately at the local level.

Hamas is an integral part of the Islamist forces in the Moslem world. It arose as an offshoot of Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood, which now poses the main threat to the US-oriented Mubarak regime. That is a big reason why this regime, like Jordan and the Palestine Authority, more or less openly support Israel’s assault on Hamas.

Hamas also depends heavily on support from Iran. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran’s clients in Iraq, it serves as a vehicle of Iran’s effort to establish itself as the leading power in the Middle East. This helps to explain the strength of US and EU support for Israel in this war. So there is some basis to Israel’s claim that it is fighting on behalf of an international “anti-extremist” – that is, anti-Islamist and anti-Iran – coalition.

The propaganda war
As always, the physical war is combined with a propaganda war. The message is drummed into people that “we” have no choice but to defend ourselves against an enemy bent on genocide. In the Western media the word “terrorist” routinely precedes any reference to Hamas. Of course, both sides are terrorist in the sense of targeting civilians. Israel uses terror on a much larger scale than Hamas, though that is solely because it has much greater military capacity.

In principle, either side could have avoided the war by submitting to the other side’s political demands. It was a war of choice on both sides. Hamas could probably have saved “their people” from the fury of the Israeli war machine by ceding power in Gaza to the Palestine Authority. I make this point not to diminish Israel’s direct responsibility for its atrocities, but rather to highlight how little all the Palestinian as well as Israeli leaders really care about ordinary people.

Elections – a nasty trick
In demonizing Hamas the pro-Israel propagandists face a little problem. Earlier they themselves reluctantly granted Hamas a certain legitimacy in connection with its victory in the January 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council. Now they just say that Hamas seized power in a coup and delete any mention of the elections. In fact, it was the US that insisted on the elections, perhaps not anticipating the outcome.

Capitalism as a system is inherently undemocratic, because it concentrates real power in the hands of a small ruling and owning class. In general, elections may be welcomed as introducing a small element of democracy into this undemocratic system. People in Gaza, however, have been subjected to starvation, bombing, and other forms of harsh punishment in effect for having voted for candidates that the sponsors of the elections did not want. Under the circumstances, these elections were a nasty trick that had little to do with democracy.

A secular state?
It appears that Obama will make another attempt to revive the “peace process,” which is supposed to lead to a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But unless he is willing to put Israel under very strong pressure to withdraw from all the territory occupied in 1967, such a state will amount to little more than a string of ghettoes or, to use the official term, “cantons”. A two-state solution on these terms would have to be imposed by force, and it is doubtful whether the Palestine Authority is up to the job.
Yet another failure of the “peace process” could strengthen the growing trend in Palestinian opinion to accept the reality of Israel’s control over the whole of what used to be Palestine and demand citizenship rights within a single secular state. This would be equivalent to the ending of apartheid in South Africa but would not solve the problems faced by the majority of the population. Not that the emergence of such a secular state is easy to envisage at present in view of the prevalence of ethnic-supremacist, sectarian and even racist outlooks in both Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian society.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

'Is this the much heralded final crisis of capitalism?' (2009)

From the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Click image to enlarge.

D-words (2009)

The Cooking the Books column from the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

D is for Depression. And for Deflation. Two words economists and journalists tried to banish. The first they replaced by the more innocuous-sounding "recession" while the second was confined to history books. But now they are having to use them again.

The Penguin Dictionary of Economics defines "depression" as "a business cycle in which there is unemployment" and then adds:
"Only the period 1929-33 in the United Kingdom is usually referred to as a depression (see Recession)".
Well, it looks as if they may have to add "and the period 2008- ", especially as even the Bank of England has raised the spectre of “deflation”, by which they mean a period of falling money prices.

The Bank of England's remit is to keep the rate of the rise in the general price level (popularly called the rate of inflation, misleadingly since the rise in the general price level is an effect of inflation properly so called) down to 2 percent a year. The main cause of its non-stop rise since 1940 has been the overissue, or "inflation", of the currency, which has gone on incessantly since then, and which will have increased with the government's recent bail-out of the banks and attempt to spend its way out of the coming depression.

When, however, in November the Bank dramatically slashed the bank rate from 4.5 percent to 3 percent it justified this, in terms of its remit, on the ground that the members of its Monetary Policy Committee felt (actually, took a gamble or guessed) that a rise in the general price level as a result of the inflation of the currency would be outweighed by a fall in it as a result of the depression, so that it still wouldn't increase by more than 2 percent.

If there is no inflation of the currency then, in a depression, the general price level will tend to fall because paying demand falls (due to bad business conditions and to less income from employment) relative to supply (saturated markets following overproduction). This is what happened throughout the 19th century at the time that Marx was writing and, again, in the depression of the 1930s. In fact, one of the proposals that brought down the 1929 Labour government in 1931 was to cut the salaries of civil servants as well as the dole in line with falling prices. But this was not deflation in the proper sense since this is a cut-back in the issue of the currency, such as was done in 1920 when £66 million worth of currency notes were taken out of circulation and the general price level fell by 30 per cent.

Keynes in his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money that came out in 1936 offering an explanation for the depression, devoted a whole chapter to "Changes in Money-Wages". While rejecting the view of other capitalist economists that pushing wages down was the way-out of a slump, he accepted that in a slump real wages (what they can buy) would go down but argued that it was better to do this by keeping money-wages stable while allowing the general price level to rise (through inflating the currency). As he put it:
"A movement by employers to revise money-wage bargaining downward will be much more strongly resisted than a gradual and automatic lowering of real wages as a result of rising prices".
If there really is a fall in the general price level that outweighs the effects of inflation, then wages, as a price (that of workers' ability to work, or labour-power), will tend to fall too. If they didn't fall, or not as much as prices, then workers in employment would be better off since they could buy more with their money than before. Some commentators have mentioned falling money-wages as a possibility, but have not dwelt on this too long.

If it does happen, then workers will have to struggle to limit the damage, which as Keynes pointed out, they will do "more strongly" than otherwise. A time of intensified class struggle can be expected.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ready, aim . . . Press Enter (2009)

The Pathfinders column from the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

You'll know by now whether the UK retail industry's fear of the worst Christmas profits for 30 years came true or not. Hopefully workers can draw some comfort from the thought of all those skinned fat cats and broke brokers, though it's little enough comfort when you're wondering which of your children to sell to pay the stupendous gas bill this winter.

Ever ready with expensive and impractical solutions most workers will never be able to afford unless they win the Lottery, New Scientist suggests we all go off the grid (5 December). Certainly, given suitable location and a few tens of thousands of pounds, you can install your own wind, water, solar and geothermal systems and forever laugh in the face of price increases and power outages. But when you can't even afford a bit of miserable lagging in your loft, such helpful suggestions don't cut much ice off the inside of your windows.

Still, for the rich among us who matter, there's another reason for turning your stately pile into a self-sufficient domestic fortress with solar-powered electric fences and heat-seeking laser turrets. If the current economic downturn keeps going down, and the unemployment figures keep going up, you'll be wanting to do more than keep the heat in. You'll be wanting to keep the poor out.

Could things get that bad? Well, quite possibly. The world is going through a process of technological convergence which globalisation and the information revolution are making possible. In itself this might be a good thing, and would greatly assist in the establishment of global non-market socialism. But this is capitalism we're talking about, and one should never underestimate its ability to turn a triumph into a disaster.

The very fact of convergence means that not only are the world's financial systems vulnerable to cyber-attack, but so are its power systems. One concerted hack offensive could stop an entire country in its tracks and turn all its lighting and heating off. Needless to say, the rich men in their self-sufficient castles won't be bothered, but pity the poor man at his gate.

Yet surely nobody would commit such a monumental act of vandalism? Oh really? Guess again. China, it seems, have been sponsoring hacker groups for years, for the purposes of espionage and industrial sabotage against rivals, and are arguably in a position to paralyse the UK or USA (Guardian, 21 November). At a time when global trends are pointing to the decline of US unipolar dominance and the emergence of multipolar power factions, cyber-attack of this sort is not only more likely, it becomes an almost irresistible option. After all, pressing that button doesn't seem half so difficult as pressing the nuclear one. True, you may kill people through denial of service, but it's not as if you're incinerating millions.

Note Imperfect
Strange but true, a binman on his rounds found two bins stuffed with £10,000 in £10 and £20 notes, the bizarre catch being that they were all cut up into one-inch squares (BBC Online Magazine, 5 December). What was needed, explained a self-styled puzzle expert, was a scientific system to reassemble the notes, which the binman will be allowed to keep, as they have not been claimed. "When I read the story . I was very tempted to give him a call and offer my help", said the expert. We just bet he was.

Apparently note destruction is not unusual, and every year the Bank of England receives returned notes to the value of £40 million, which have been burned, water-damaged, defaced, ripped, cut, chewed or eaten. Is there some campaign of money vandalism going on that we don't know about? Be that as it may, our scientific advice to workers would be slightly different from the puzzle expert's. Why not start the New Year by cutting up all the other notes too, and not bothering to stick them together?

Balls to the Gamers
"First, you need to buy genitals. You start off with no genitals and then you buy some. These objects can do all sorts of things. You can have ones that ejaculate at the right moment." Thus Adrian Mars, technology journalist with the suitably other-worldly name, explains virtual anatomy to us.

If you're thinking of joining the throngs of people involved in that desperate exodus from reality known as 'online gaming' and you feel up for a bit of slap and tickle, you need to bear in mind that escapist virtual reality is even more capitalist than capitalism, and that what nature normally provides for free has to be bought and paid for. Still, at least you get to choose size, colour and special functions. Be warned though, this kind of cyber hanky-panky has already resulted in one real-world divorce, as Mrs Avatar 'walked' in to find Mr Avatar on the sofa with Ms Streetwalker Avatar polishing his proud purchase. But then, the aforementioned couple met and married in the first place via an online chat-room, so perhaps there is a kind of internal symmetry going on after all. When you think online gamers can't get any sillier, they do. If only all that imagination could be turned back towards the physical world, where the real balls-ups are taking place.
Paddy Shannon

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (82)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 82nd of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1429 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Obama: No real change
  • From poverty to power
  • The War in Gaza
  • Quote for the week:

    "It is more dangerous to be a great prophet or poet than to promote twenty companies for swindling simple folk out of their savings." George Bernard Shaw, Misalliance, 1910.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Banks, money and thin air (2009)

    From the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
    An urban myth is circulating on the internet that banks have been creating money out of thin air.
    Those who have seen the cult film Zeitgeist and its sequel Zeitgeist Addendum, popular amongst conspiracy theorists and others suspicious of governments and banks, will have heard recounted the argument that banks can somehow create money out of thin air by the stroke of a pen or, these days, by the touch of a computer keyboard.

    In Zeitgeist Addendum this argument is based on what is stated in an educational booklet published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Entitled Modern Money Mechanics it first came out in 1975 and has gone through several editions.

    Zeitgeist Addendum begins by describing how it thinks the Federal Reserve Bank (the “Fed”) creates money. If, it says, the government wants more money then, through the Treasury, it creates Treasury bonds which it exchanges with the Fed for currency notes of the same face value; as the government has to pay interest on the bonds this adds to the National Debt and so is “debt money”. Both the Treasury bonds and the currency notes have been created out of thin air.

    This is one way of putting it but it is misleading. It is rather the other way round in that the initiative to create more currency comes from the Federal Reserve Bank. Once it has decided that more notes are needed it asks the Treasury to print them (for which the Treasury charges). The normal way these get into circulation is by the commercial banks converting into currency some of the reserves they are obliged to lodge with the Fed. Modern Money Mechanics explains:
    “Currency held in bank vaults may be counted as legal reserves as well as deposits (reserve balances) in the Federal Reserve Banks. Both are equally acceptable in satisfaction of reserve requirements. A bank can always obtain reserve balances by sending currency to its Reserve Bank and can obtain currency by drawing on its reserve balance” (p. 4).
    In any event, both the Treasury and the Federal Reserve are part of government so we are talking about internal state accounting arrangements. It is, however, true that the new currency has been created out of nothing. Since it is not backed by gold and convertible on demand into a pre-fixed amount of gold, it is what in the US is called “fiat money”, that is, money created by a mere act of State.

    Modern Money Mechanics does not in fact have much to say about currency creation but concentrates on what it calls “money creation”. It draws a distinction between “currency” and “money”. This is explained clearly enough on the first page of the booklet where money is defined as currency plus bank accounts with a cheque or debit card; which is M1 in the jargon (“In the remainder of this booklet, ‘money’ means M1”).

    Congressman Ron Paul, from Texas, a critic of “fractional reserve banking” and advocate of a return to a gold-backed currency, has an even wider definition of “money”:
    "M3 is the best description of how quickly the Fed is creating new money and credit. Common sense tells us that a government central bank creating new money out of thin air depreciates the value of each dollar in circulation." (27 April 2006, see here).
    M3 includes other types of bank deposits and liabilities not included in M1. In claiming that all new money created by the Fed depreciates the dollar he is overstating his case. All the US currency (but, as we shall see, not bank deposits) is created “out of thin air” but an increase won’t lead to a depreciation of the dollar as long as it corresponds to an increase in the amount required by the economy for its various transactions (paying for goods and services, settling debts, paying taxes, etc). It is only currency issued in excess of this that will cause a decline in its value and so a rise in the general price level.

    Everybody accepts that cash (currency, notes and coin) is money. Some might be prepared to include cash deposited in banks as well. But Modern Money Mechanics definition of bank deposits is wider than this. It doesn’t mean just deposits by people of the money they already possess but any account for which the holder has a cheque or debit card, i.e. including credit lines granted to those who banks have lent money to (so enabling Zeitgeist to go on talking about “debt money”):
    “Checkable liabilities of banks are money. These liabilities are customers’ accounts. They increase when customers deposit currency and checks and when the proceeds of loans made by banks are credited to borrowers’ accounts” (p. 3, emphasis added).
    So, when it talks about “money creation” it is not talking about currency creation but mainly about “bank deposit” (in the above sense) creation.

    The Federal Reserve booklet goes on to explain what “fractional reserve banking” involves and how it can lead to the creation of more “money” in the sense of more bank deposits. Banks, it explains, have learned that when cash has been deposited with them they only need to keep a part (a “fraction”) of it as cash as a “reserve” to deal with likely cash withdrawals; the rest they can lend out. What this fraction is depends on the circumstances, but historically it has been around 10 percent.
    On the booklet’s definition, in making a loan a bank is “creating money” as their loans will take the form of creating a new bank deposit as a credit line which the borrower can draw on as if they had made a deposit of their own money (except they will be paying interest on it). The booklet then asks “What Limits the Amount of Money Banks Can Create” and answers that this depends on the cash reserves it has decided to hold or is required by law to keep.

    It is here that Modern Money Mechanics, by suddenly shifting from what an individual bank can do to what all banks together (“the banking system”) can, opens the way to the misinterpretation of people like Ron Paul and the makers of the Zeitgeist films that banks too can create “money” out of thin air. The booklet explains that US banks are required by law to keep a “fraction” of deposits as “reserves” in its vaults and/or a balance with the Fed, and says:
    “For example, if reserves of 20 percent were required, deposits could expand only until they were five times as large as reserves. Reserves of $10 million could support deposits of $50 million” (p. 4).
    This is a very misleading way of putting as it could suggest that if banks receive total new deposits of $10 million they can immediately proceed to make loans of four times this. This is not so, and not really what the booklet meant to suggest. What it means is that the banks can immediately lend out only four-fifths of $10 million, or $8 million, and that this circulates throughout the banking system leading in theory to new loans totalling in the end $40 million, bringing total “bank deposits” up to $50 million.

    Confusingly, the numerical examples the booklet goes on to give to illustrate this are based not on a 20 percent reserve fraction but on a 10 percent one (which is more or less what the law in the US requires for the kind of bank deposits in question). So, to take its example, if $10,000 is deposited in the banking system, initially say in one bank, that bank can make loans (create credit line bank deposits) of $9000. When it is spent this $9000 will be re-deposited in other banks which can then lend out 90 percent of this, or $8100; which in turn will be re-deposited in banks, allowing a further $7290 to be lent out, and so on, until in the end and over the period, a total of $90,000 new loans will have been made.

    This shows how the Fed can practise “fractional reserve banking” to control the amount of “money” (currency plus bank deposits) in the economy. This is done via “open market operations” as explained in a section headed “Bank Deposits – How They Expand or Contract”:
    “Let us assume that expansion in the money stock is desired by the Federal Reserve to achieve its policy objectives . . . [T]he Federal Reserve System, through its trading desk at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, buys $10,000 of Treasury bills from a dealer in US government securities. In today’s world of computerized financial transactions, the Federal Reserve Bank pays for the securities with an ‘electronic’ check drawn on itself . . . The Federal Reserve System has added $10,000 of securities to its assets, which it has paid for, in effect, by creating a liability on itself in the form of bank reserve balances” (p. 6).
    The bank from which the Treasury bills were purchased now has reserves above the 10 percent limit and so can turn the $10,000 into loans, which starts the process described above rolling, leading to an extra $90,000 bank lending.

    In theory the Fed could contract bank lending in the same way, but this has never happened. So M1 has gone up and up each year. But what about the currency in all this? It too has gone up but passively and almost automatically. With increased banking activity more currency notes are required, which banks get by converting their reserves into this and which, if it hasn’t enough notes, the Fed just asks the Treasury to print more. But this has consequences -– the depreciation of the dollar and the rise in the general price level Congressman Paul doesn’t like.

    But has the banking system really created more “money”? Only if you regard “bank deposits” as money. If you don’t, all that has been shown is that currency has circulated in that the whole process depends on the initial deposit or injection of cash being recycled as further deposits by depositors (as opposed to by banks creating a credit line). So, neither an individual bank nor the whole banking system can lend more than has been deposited with it. By the end of the process, in the example given, the first loan (out of the first deposit of $10,000) of $9000 has been used and used again for genuine deposits totalling $90,000. But all this assumes an expanding economy, since where is the money to repay the loans and the interest on them to come from without being assured of which the banks would not lend the money in the first place?

    So the banking system does not create money to lend out of thin air but can only lend out money deposited with it and then only when economic conditions permit it.

    Today, bank deposits are not the only source of what the banks lend. They also borrow on the money market (as has been highlighted by the present banking crisis). This means that their reserves are an even smaller percentage of their total loans, only about 3 percent in fact. This figure is mentioned in Zeitgeist Addendum as if this was now the “fractional reserve” and that therefore banks, or the banking system, can “create” loans of up to 33 times an initial deposit. Another silly mistake.

    If currency cranks such as the makers of the Zeitgeist films have got the wrong end of the stick about “fractional reserve banking” and imagine that it means banks, whether singly or all together, can create money or credit out of thin air this is partly the fault of the way that booklets like the one produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago try to explain it. Of course the Fed does not believe the “thin air” claim, but to refute the currency cranks it would have not only to re-iterate that no single bank receiving an additional deposit of $10,000 can forthwith loan out $90,000, but also spell out that the expansion of credit line bank deposits still depends on people making real deposits of their own, unborrowed money (whether in cash or by cheque or by bank transfer). Which would restore a sense of reality and explode the myth that banks can create loans out of thin air.
    Adam Buick

    Monday, January 26, 2009

    Five more benefits of not having money (2009)

    From the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
    We continue describing how things could be like in a socialist society, where there would be no need for money. It continues on from this article in the December 2008 issue.
    1. Environment

    Bear in mind the aim here is an excursion into the benefits of money totally disappearing from our lives; for all to have access to the necessities of life and in return to contribute their effort for the common good. Havoc has been wreaked on the environment by corporations and others with the full consent of successive governments around the world – for the acquisition of necessary resources but using unnecessarily harmful methods. Peak oil and climate change are terms on everyone's lips and the general consensus from Joe Public is that something needs to be done – and fast.

    If we remove the agents for profit (corporations and governments of the capitalist system) and engage in honest democracy of the people, by the people and for the people decisions can be made to halt damaging practices and implement methods of farming, fishing, mining, extraction, energy production, manufacturing etc. that do no harm to either man or environment. Safe working practices will be the norm. Resources can be protected and used carefully when incentive for their rape and pillage is gone. Energy usage can be reduced drastically in 1001 ways using alternative energies, building using integral insulation and energy conservation techniques, vastly reducing transport as work and societal practices change, stopping air freight of “luxury” and unnecessary goods, producing and manufacturing locally wherever feasible, etc. 

    Local communities could have the final say on resources in their area with the possibility that sometimes the resource will be deemed off-limits and so remain untouched, and if no one is prepared to work mining or tunnelling to extract a particular resource then an alternative will need to be found. With a system of no money there can be no forced labour or unacceptable working practices. Resources will be valued for what they are, not what price they can be sold for, and protection of the environment can be put firmly on the agenda as demanded by the world's majority.

    2. War and Conflict

    Envisaging this newly emerging moneyless world, it is apparent that cooperation rather than competition will be the driving force to its development and the glue that will bind communities. Having removed the profit incentive and made access to resources free, production will be for use only. There are no losers in this scenario, all are to benefit from the new world order. It's just that a tiny minority might have difficulty in coming round to see it that way. As a consequence of this totally different emphasis – freedom of access and no monetary element – it isn't difficult to accept that military forces will become redundant.

    Wars have always been about control of territory for resources and are usually promoted in the name of democracy, expansion abroad or protection of the domestic population from threat of real or manufactured enemies but which always utilise armies recruited from the mass of the population and sacrifice workers in the service of the capitalist cause. Internal conflicts involving government backed forces against “insurgents”/“freedom fighters”, breakaway independence groups/terrorists – when looked at rationally are (a) about lack of rights for certain sections of the community, groups deprived of their own self-determination; tensions deliberately fostered betweens sections of society so the elites can keep control (divide and rule) and (b) only temporarily dealt with (if at all) through force. If the causes aren't dealt with the effects are sure to reappear. Dealing with the causes, injustices, lack of access, etc. needs the pawns in the game to recognise that that is what they are and to join forces against those controlling them, putting the power of decision making into the hands of the majority and ending the reasons for future conflict.

    No need for ownership or use of war material will render a massive service to the environment, saving resources on a huge scale and stopping pollution of the planet from the harmful waste created in both their production and deployment besides avoiding millions of deaths. Saving lives could become the new unarmed forces raison d’ĂȘtre. Bodies of fit, well-trained, well-resourced, motivated men and women available to deal with the effects of natural disasters and unexpected calamities would be one of a number of ways to deploy the willing volunteers, a civil action force for true humanitarian intervention.

    3. Media and Advertising

    Media without money? In today's system we buy newspapers and magazines, a licence to watch television plus payments to a provider for umpteen other channels and subscribe to internet providers for access to the world wide web. If something arrives at your house for free, it has been paid for by advertising and advertising gets its money from services provided to businesses, and businesses get their money from customers buying the products and services. 

    Without the profit motive it would be possible to watch a film or interesting documentary uninterrupted by advertisements that always intrude at a higher level of decibels. Junk mail would be redundant; another positive for the environment. Ugly advertising hoardings crowding town spaces and roadsides would give way to more thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing additions to our visual surroundings. Many talented artists would be freed up to turn their expertise in more socially acceptable and useful directions. Media, in general, could become what the people want, not what they're told they want. Real choice, real variety, true information and not warped by an individual proprietor's view. This could be such an exciting area with much more community involvement from planning to production. Released from wage slavery and with the intellect free from worry about unemployment, housing, health care etc. etc. the capacity for individual personal development will expand considerably.

    4. Education

    In its broadest sense education is just that – individual personal development. The most fulfilled individuals are those who can reach the end of their lives knowing they have spent their time exploring to the limits the areas that most interest and motivate them. These individuals are not satisfied by or limited to an eight-hour day, they continue willingly for extended hours because they enjoy and are motivated by what it is they are doing. Conversely, of the various officially recognised systems of education available in the world today none come close to encouraging youngsters to pursue their own individually chosen path in life. Institutional education is about fitting young children to become compliant teenage students who can then be steered in one of the very limited directions on offer. This is called choice. The best time to learn anything is when the individual is motivated to do so at whatever age. The best way to learn is usually by doing – a combination of observation and practice. Sitting at a desk in a room with 20, 30, 50 or so others for several hours a day is not conducive to good learning and not conducive to producing free thinking adults, but it is a good preconditioning for adult life in a money-oriented world which requires both a compliant workforce and passive unemployed.

    To hear a nine-year old's response when asked what he would like to do when he leaves school, “Well, I'll go and get my Giro” is a shocking indictment of a system which by its very nature excludes many people. Whether in the examination system or later in the work situation, a certain percentage every year must be expected to fail. How humiliating and degrading is that? But that is how this system works; there is only room for so many to achieve.

    When the work situation changes so that all are contributing regularly to the common good by the work they perform and all are freely taking their daily needs from the common store youngsters will experience a totally different example from today's. Education will be embraced as offering ongoing opportunities for all to succeed in their chosen areas in societies which value all members regardless of their so-called IQ.

    5. Quality of Life

    In a world of money “quality” is equated with cost. A quality item costs more than a shoddy or mass produced one, e.g. Rolls Royce v a standard Ford. “Quality” chocolate costs the consumer more but doesn't give more to the grower. Quality is a term used to convey superiority and status, something better than the rest, better than the others. Unfortunately when coupled with time most families have little of it and the cost can be great. Quality of life is talked about as something desirable, to be aspired to and implies a certain level of income but, in fact, everyone has a quality of life, a comparative quality which could be measured against many different yardsticks. Most people would admit they are looking for ways to improve their own.

    In order to achieve the positive changes to be gained by the disappearance of money, power has to be taken away from the elites and placed firmly in the hands of the people. None of the proposals posed above could become reality without the will of the majority – but what is the will of the majority, the popular perception of the “system” today? Active consent for the system is generally lacking and people have allowed themselves to become resigned to it instead of opposing it, believing that there is no alternative. Surely it is within the capacity of this miracle of evolution to reason its way back from the headlong rush to condemn billions of its own to degradation and misery, whilst destroying its own habitat with the philosophy that money can solve all problems? With money gone the generally accepted meaning of “quality of life” can become a reality for all to contemplate and world citizens will be free to aspire to achieving goals worthy of humankind.
    Janet Surman

    Thursday, January 22, 2009

    Congo – The mobile phone war (2009)

    The Material World column from the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Although the peace accord of 2003 ended five years of war in other parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, fighting has continued intermittently in the eastern Kivu region. The latest bout began on October 25, when the rebel forces of Laurent Nkunda resumed their offensive, accompanied by the usual atrocities against civilians, burning villages, and floods of starving refugees. What is this war about?

    Spillover from Rwanda?
    At first sight, it looks like spillover from the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in neighbouring Rwanda. General Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi and Christian fundamentalist, says he is protecting his people from the Interahamwe, the Hutu militia that perpetrated the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and later fled over the border. He is backed by troops of the current Tutsi government of Rwanda, which the Interahamwe seeks to overthrow.

    This version is a smokescreen. Nkunda has shown much less interest in pursuing the Interahamwe than in seizing control of Kivu’s rich mineral resources – partly on behalf of Rwandan business interests, partly perhaps for his own enrichment. He exploits the memory of genocide to mobilize the Tutsis in his support and win foreign sympathy, much as Israel exploits the memory of the Holocaust for its purposes. Control over resources is also the main concern of the Congo government in Kinshasa and its armed forces.

    The most valuable minerals in the Kivu region are two metallic ores called cassiterite and coltan. These contain substances whose special properties are ideally suited to various high-tech applications. Niobium alloys are used in jet and rocket engines because they remain stable at very high temperatures, while tantalum and tin oxide are used in making electronic circuitry for devices ranging from computers to DVD players and MRI scanners. In particular, the rapidly rising demand for mobile phones has pushed up the price of coltan, fuelling the fight to control and mine its deposits. So we could call the war in eastern Congo “the mobile phone war.”
    On both sides, part of the proceeds from selling resources (through chains of middlemen) on the world market goes to finance military operations, which in turn secure access to the resources. This is an example of the “war as business” model (Material World, November 2008), which arises in this case from the weakness of state institutions in Central Africa.

    A helpless giant
    In the Congo it is especially difficult for the government to exercise sovereignty over “its” territory, which is roughly the area of Western Europe (2.34 million km2). The transportation and communications infrastructure is extremely underdeveloped; no road or rail link traverses the whole country from east to west. Under these conditions, it is quite impossible to defend borders with nine neighbours that stretch over 10,744 km.

    Neighbouring states can therefore invade Congo territory whenever they like. No fewer than seven foreign armies fought in the “civil” war that began in 1998. In the background, the old colonial powers – France, Belgium and Britain – and two players newer to the region, the United States and China, jockey for position, assiduously promoting the interests of their corporations while carefully concealing how these corporations hire private armies and fuel the conflict. All these governments, armies and corporations are after the same things, the vast resources that lie on – and especially under – Congolese soil: various metals, diamonds, uranium, potash, timber, wildlife, oil and gas, etc.

    Then there are the “peacekeeping” forces of the United Nations, even though there is no peace to keep. The real reason for their deployment is, in fact, to protect the interests of French and other foreign capital. It is this that explains the apparently odd fact that most of the “peacekeepers” are kept well away from the areas affected by the current fighting. Those who do enter the combat zone make no effort to assist relief work or protect civilians, who vent their anger by yelling and throwing stones at the UN vehicles.

    Torn apart by rival predators, there is a striking parallel between today’s Congo and another “helpless giant” – China in the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th century.

    A curse not a blessing
    In a different system of society, many resources in central Africa could be utilized for the purpose of ecologically sustainable development for the benefit of local communities. The natural products of the rainforest could be preserved and harvested for dietary and medicinal use. There is a vast potential for hydroelectricity and, of course, solar power.

    But in a capitalist world Congo’s resources have been a curse not a blessing for the overwhelming majority of its people, bringing them invasion, enslavement, starvation, war and upheaval. European capital first descended on the country in 1885 in the horrific form of the Congo Free State, a corporate state controlled personally by King Leopold II of Belgium, who made money from it by exporting rubber collected under compulsion by the indigenous people. Those who failed to meet their quotas were mutilated; those who refused to work for the conquerors were killed.

    This reign of terror, which would have done the Nazis proud, led to a population loss of some ten million (see Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost). How many people must have wished that their country had no rubber!

    In 1908 the Congo Free State gave way to the Belgian Congo, which gained formal independence in 1960. Mobutu’s kleptocracy followed in 1971 and lasted until 1997, when the recent period of upheaval began. Regimes come and go, but the ravenous extraction of resources by foreign corporations never stops.

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    Obama – No real change (2009)

    From the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Judging by the ubiquitous media-generated euphoria that greeted the Barak Obama victory in the US presidential election, you could be forgiven for thinking that the class struggle had ended in the USA. Across the globe, the world’s media intimated that this was the dawn of a new age and hundreds of millions of workers breathed a sigh of relief, convinced President Obama will now undo all the wrongdoing carried out by President Bush and generally improve the quality of their lives and the safety of the planet.

    The first thing to note, however, is that this had been the most expensive American election so far. The pooled cost of the Republican and Democratic campaigns was a cool $1 billion. The McCain camp raised $340 million whereas the Obama team secured $640 million.While Obama’s team boasted that most of their money came from small $100 and $200 donors, in truth the great bulk of his financial support came from Wall Street and the US corporate elite and was way in advance of that given to John McCain, suggesting the US capitalism plc feels its profits are best protected via Obama. The US power elite bankrolled the Obama campaign and for no other reason than that they know he will have to repay their loyalty.

    An estimated 64 percent of the US electorate turned out to vote – a record by all accounts - 62.3 million votes. The majority of the extra voters were Blacks and Latino, not only drawn to the ballot box by the longing to oust a reactionary Republican regime, or by Obama’s promise of ‘change’ but, moreover, because Obama was non–white. Socialists could only watch on and comment that this election was not a race issue, but a class issue and lament their selective amnesia. One time Secretary of State Collin Powell rose through the ranks covering up the My Lai massacre and famously presented false evidence to the UN in furtherance of the US justification for the invasion of Iraq. Consider too his successor Condoleezza Rice, the zealous maid-servant to Bush’s imperialist strategy.
    To be sure, Obama was not breaking any mould, despite his hope-fused rhetoric. The vast majority of voters, indeed workers the world over, were heartily fed up with Bush’s wars, his imperialist conquests, the US disregard for international law and the increasing pariah status this had earned America and sincerely wanted to see the back of it. The signs, however, that Obama was more of a wolf in sheep’s clothing were already there, not least in the Senate where he sanctioned every increase in funding for the Iraq war that George Bush requested.

    Furthermore, like Bush, Obama is a supporter of the death penalty. He is pro-pollutant nuclear and coal industries and, whilst the Guardian could optimistically run a headline “Obama will move to veto Bush laws” (10 November), has not mentioned eradicating repressive legislation such as the Patriot Act, homeland security, the Military Commissions Act, internet control, and wiretapping and spying on the US populace.

    It certainly looks like the Bush administration’s imperial ambitions will continue under Obama. He has already spoken about building up US military power by 20,000 troops and has declared his intention to cut troop numbers in Iraq and transfer them to a surge in Afghanistan and indeed spread war to nuclear armed Pakistan. All of this will be, as under Bush, carried out to further the interests of a profit-hungry corporate elite and veiled in pompous patriotic oratory about spreading democracy and American values and fighting the “war on terror.” Undoubtedly, Obama will soon be using the hackneyed theme of social unity to wage the class war internally and abroad on behalf of a small power elite.

    He also undertaken, to “isolate Hamas”, elected in democratic elections that were verified by an international team of observers and, picking up the baton from Bush, used his first press conference as president-elect to likewise cock a snook at the US National Intelligence Estimate and evidence presented by the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear intentions, and accused Iran of the "development of a nuclear weapon" and vowed "to prevent that from happening."

    If Obama apologists think President Obama will put a halt to the blood letting they are going to be sorely disappointed. Make no mistake; whilst the left are fond of castigating Republicans as the masters of war, the truth is that historically the Democrats have started far more wars than the GOP. More recently, under the last Democrat to hold office, President Clinton, one million Iraqis are said to have died under US enforced sanctions, 500, 000 of them children. Sorties over Iraq were flown every single day Clinton was in power. Yugoslavia was mercilessly bombed and a much needed pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was bombed on the pretext that it was manufacturing Chemical weapons, and villages in Afghanistan were flattened because Bin-Laden was presumed to be living there. And who could forget the US invasion of Somalia, with troops storming the beaches live on prime time TV!

    Who will make up the Obama administration is at the time of writing speculation, though we do know his Chief of Staff is Israeli army veteran Rahm Emanuel, popularly viewed as Likudist hawk and that his National Securtiy Adviser will be architect of the Mujahedeen Zbigniew Brzezinski.

    Not only is Obama incapable of ushering in significant change, bar a few miserly reforms, but neither is there anyone he can bring to his administration capable of bringing the change that was so promised in his election campaign for no other reason that changers do not get confirmed by the Senate. There exist quite influential interest groups – the AIPAC, the military security complex, Wall Street etc to hinder the advancement of such undesirables.

    The hope many have in Obama to implement policies that will benefit the class that matters is misplaced. His political rawness means he will be manipulated by more experienced advisers, little different from the neo-cons, maybe even key figures from the Bush administration, and pressured by a corporate elite who funded his victory to execute policies that fit in with their own agenda.

    The outcome of US elections carries one truth: namely that whichever candidate becomes president, he has but one remit once in office – to further the interests of the US corporate elite. It’s just not a feasible option for any newly elected president to entertain any idea other than guaranteeing a safe playing field for the domestic profit machine and doing what’s needed to try to ensure the US maintains its global hegemonic status.
    John Bissett

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (81)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 81st of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1434 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Five more benefits of not having money
  • Reformist dead–ends
  • Peace in Palestine
  • Coming Events:

    Tuesday 20 January, 8pm


    Chiswick Town Hall, Heathfield Terrace, W4.(nearest tube: Chiswick Park)

    Wednesday 21 January, 8.30pm


    Speaker: Vic Vanni

    Community Central Halls, 304 Maryhill Road, Glasgow.

    Saturday 24 January, 3pm to 5pm.


    Yes: Hillel Ticktin, editor of Critique; No: Adam Buick, Socialist Party.

    Hillhead Public Library, Byres Road, Glasgow. (next to Hillhead subway)

    Saturday 24 January, 12 noon to 4pm


    12pm informal chat, 1pm meal, 2pm to 4pm Discussion

    The Conservertory, back room of Rosary Tavern, Rosary Road, Norwich.

    Monday 26 January, 8.30pm


    Unicorn, Church Street, Manchester City Centre.

    Saturday 31 January, 6pm


    Socialist Party Head Office, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4.

    Quote for the week:

    "Money is a new form of slavery, and distinguishable from the old simply by the fact that it is impersonal – that there is no human relation between master and slave." Leo Tolstoy, What shall We Do Then? 1886

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Socialist Party Debate: Did Trotsky Point The Way To Socialism?

    Hat tip to Fraser for the poster.

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    A booming industry . . . even in a recession (2009)

    From the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    A recent issue of the magazine Time (14 October) highlighted the immense profits to be made in capitalism even in a trade recession. "Need to start a war? No problem. While stock markets grate and financial institutions (and even whole countries, like Iceland) teeter on bankruptcy, one global industry is still drawing plenty of high-end trades and profits: weapons."

    The article reported the case in a Paris courtroom where 42 officials went on trial for taking millions in kickbacks and organising huge arms commissions from the Angolan government during the mid-1990s. This group, which included a former French Interior minister and the son of the late French President Mitterrand, were charged with having supplied almost $800 million worth of arms to Angola, including 12 helicopters, 6 naval vessels, 150,000 shells and 170,000 mines.

    The Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos used this huge stockpile to crush the US-backed Unita rebels during Angola's devastating civil war. It is worth noting that Dos Santos is reckoned to have made millions of dollars from the transaction and that he is still in power with no prospect of a fraud trial for him.

    The source of this arms hardware was the huge stockpiles of Soviet weapons left behind when the Soviet Union collapsed.The French businessman Pierre Falcone allegedly plied Angolan officials with tens of millions of dollars – some of it stuffed in in suitcases – and deposited other sums in offshore accounts.

    You might imagine that these shady dealings having been brought to light could no longer occur, but you would be dreadfully wrong. "Researchers say arms trading has boomed in the decade since the Angolagate scandal was uncovered. That's partly due to heightened supply. As ex-Soviet republics emerged as economic actors in their own right, several countries developed national arms industries, refitting weapons from their stocks and manufacturing new weapons of their own. These industries have taken off in in recent years. Ukraine has about 6 million light weapons from Soviet stockpiles, and has modernised tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and other weaponry, says Hugh Griffiths, an expert on illicit weapons at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute."

    "It is very difficult to stop arms trafficking, because there is no control," says Griffiths, who has researched Ukraine's arsenal for the US government. Although NATO funds Ukraine to destroy its stockpiles, "the Ukrainians realize how much money they can make by selling surplus weapons," he says. In an action that broke no laws, the Ukrainians shipped about 40,000 Kalashnikov rifles to Kenya last year during the tense standoff following the country's disputed presidential election."

    As the struggle for oil and minerals intensifies inside capitalism we have rebel conflict in Chad, Sudan, Congo and elsewhere. This conflict needs weapons and so the arms trade legitimate or otherwise flourishes. In Africa and all over the world capitalism reigns supreme. The basis of capitalism is production for profit, so in its remorseless drive for profit it leads to conflict, and eventually armed conflict. It is the nature of the beast to maim and kill and all attempts to civilise it by such grandiose titled groups like the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute are doomed to failure. As the expert Hugh Griffiths himself admits – "there are plenty of arms out there - so long as you have the money to pay for it."
    Richard Donnelly

    Saturday, January 17, 2009

    Just another war? (2009)

    Editorial from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    It's understandable that the conflict in Gaza should command such worldwide attention. As well as the genuine suffering incurred (overwhelmingly on the Palestinian side) this war has had a particular resonance.

    The conflict kicked off while many people around the world were sleeping off their Christmas celebrations. The usual pious words of peace and goodwill spoken by popes, queens and presidents only a few hours earlier choked in their throats that bit sooner than normal, as the missiles from the Holy Land started to fall on Gaza, deep and crisp and even.

    But, let's not lose sight of the fact that the Gaza conflict is just one of over 20 wars underway at present. Fatalities in this conflict so far have been a small fraction of the approximately 100-300,000 direct and indirect war fatalities that capitalism can reliably promise humanity for 2009.

    War isn't some sort of exceptional occurrence for capitalism. Just as recession is an essential and unavoidable part of the economics of capitalism, rather than some sort of aberration, so war is a normal consequence of the international political tensions inherent within capitalism. The legitimate global ruling class comprises various different gangs of pirates, oligarchs, conmen, princes, dictators, and gangsters. Each of whom funds its local government or political administration to best protect its interests.

    That's not to say we shouldn't try and do anything. But for our efforts to have any success they must be based on a recognition as to the root cause that ultimately connects all these conflicts – a world owned by, and divided up between, the small global minority who live off that monopoly to the exclusion of the vast majority. The global working class is left to do the dirty work for the owning class, the employing class and the officer class - working in their factories and dying in their armies.
    It may be tempting to support the underdog and take sides with the Philistine David v Israeli Goliath. But such thinking blinds us to the real causes of what is only the latest flare up in the particularly brutal history of the Middle East.

    Israel and the region's security has strategic implications far beyond its borders. Enormous existing and potential oil wealth is present in the region as a whole. And with $4bn worth of natural gas reportedly discovered some 30 miles directly offshore from the Gaza Strip there is – for many governments around the world – definitely something worth fighting for.

    World socialists are revolted by the violence of the Gaza conflict. We condemn both sides and denounce the senseless killing of our fellow workers. History shows that in times of war, working-class interests are never served by workers throwing in their lot with nationalist or other political leaders of capitalism, whether they are well-funded like the Israeli state, or weaker like Hamas. The slaughter in Gaza underlines yet again the urgent need to work for a world without nations and nationalism, bosses and workers. Instead of a "two-state" solution, world socialists offer the "no-state" solution as the only one that can ever give the Middle East lasting peace.

    Thursday, January 8, 2009

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (80)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 80th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1430 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Education, politics and language
  • Changing the System
  • The Price of Everything
  • Coming Events:

    Saturday 10 January, 6pm


    Speaker: Jim Lawrie

    Socialist Party Head Office, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 (nearest tube: Clapham North)

    Tuesday 20 January, 8pm


    Chiswick Town Hall, Heathfield Terrace, W4.(nearest tube: Chiswick Park)

    Wednesday 21 January, 8.30pm


    Speaker: Vic Vanni

    Community Central Halls, 304 Maryhill Road, Glasgow.

    Saturday 24 January, 3pm to 5pm.


    Yes: Hillel Ticktin, editor of Critique; No: Adam Buick, Socialist Party.

    Hillhead Public Library, Byres Road, Glasgow. (next to Hillhead subway)

    Saturday 24 January, 12 noon to 4pm


    12pm informal chat, 1pm meal, 2pm to 4pm Discussion

    The Conservertory, back room of Rosary Tavern, Rosary Road, Norwich.

    Monday 26 January, 8.30pm


    Unicorn, Church Street, Manchester City Centre.

    Saturday 31 January, 6pm


    Socialist Party Head Office, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4.

    Quote for the week:

    "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children." Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953, a speech to the American Society of
    Newspaper Editors.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Friday, January 2, 2009

    Capitalism must go (2009)

    Editorial from the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    We are now in the middle of the biggest economic and financial crisis since the 1930s. In a world that has the potential to produce enough food, clothes, housing and the other amenities of life for all, factories are closing down, workers are being laid off, unemployment is growing, houses are being repossessed and people are having to tighten their belts. There are in fact already 16 million officially recorded unemployed in the EU. Outside Europe the situation is worse and people are rioting because they can't afford even the basic necessities of life.

    Capitalism in relative "good" times is bad enough, but capitalism in an economic crisis makes it plain for all to see that it is not a system geared to meeting people's needs. It’s a system based on the pursuit of profits, where the harsh economic law of "no profit, no production" prevails. It's because the headlong pursuit of profits has led to a situation where they can't make profits at the same rate as before that those who own and control the places where wealth is produced have gone on strike – refusing to allow these workplaces to be used to produce what people need, some desperately. So, as in the 1930s, it’s poverty in the midst of potential plenty again. Cutbacks in production alongside unmet needs. Why should we put up with this?

    But that's the way capitalism works, and must work. The politicians in charge of governments don't really know what to do, not that they can do much to change the situation anyway. They are just hoping that the panic measures they have taken will work. In Britain the Labour government is trying to spend its way out of the slump, but this has been tried before and has never worked. The slump will only end when conditions for profitable production have been recreated, and that requires real wages to fall and unprofitable firms to go out of business. So, there's no way that bankruptcies, cut-backs and lay-offs are going to be avoided, whatever governments do.

    What can be done? Nothing within the profit system. It can’t be mended, so it must be ended. But this is something we must do ourselves. The career politicians, with their empty promises and futile measures, can‘t do anything for us. We need to organise to bring in a new system where goods and services are produced to meet people's needs. But we can only produce what we need if we control the places where this is produced. So these must be taken out of the hands of the rich individuals, private companies and states that now control them and become the common heritage of all, under our democratic control.

    In short, socialism in its original sense (which has nothing to do with the failed state capitalism that used to exist in Russia or with what still exists in China and Cuba) as a society of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit, with goods and services available on the basis of "from each according to ability, to each according to needs".

    Why we need a theory (2008)

    From the December 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
    Towards a better understanding of the world, in order to change it.
    The world we live in is a world of contradictions. The environment is in a state of decline, yet industry continues to pump pollutants into the atmosphere whilst non-polluting technologies are neglected. Thousands starve, while food stocks remain unused. We can communicate with strangers from all around the globe, yet no-one knows their neighbour. Automation could free us from involuntary labour, yet we are chained to the machine. We live amongst vast material possibilities, yet poverty is the universal experience – not just in the narrow economic sense but also in terms of the quality of lived experience. “Never in history has there been such a glaring contrast between what could be and what actually exists” (Ken Knabb, The Joy of Revolution).

    Central to all these contradictions and reshaping all previous antagonisms is the global commodity-capitalist system. A system characterised by the production of commodities, wage labour and the market economy. A commodity is what is produced by the worker under capitalist conditions, its purpose to reproduce and enlarge capital (stored surplus value). The pursuit of ever increasing profits is the driving force behind the whole process – the fulfilment of people’s needs is a secondary and not always occurring result.

    Commodities are only available in exchange for other commodities, money being the universal commodity and measure of all others. Since all goods have been turned into commodities and access to non-commodified materials restricted, those without the means of producing anything to exchange must sell the only thing they have, their physical or mental labour-power. The logic of the market economy treats this labour like any other commodity; to be bought, sold and discarded as the market dictates. In effect the worker becomes a commodity. This transformation of living activity into an object creates an alienated or estranged world in which humankind does not recognize or fulfil itself, but is overpowered by the dead things and social relations of its own making.

    Capitalist society is therefore split into two camps, the bourgeois or capitalist class (those who own and control the means of production – the land, equipment, machinery, buildings and raw materials necessary to create the things we need and use every day) and the proletariat (those with “nothing to lose but their chains”), broadly speaking the “modern working class” including the un-employed and unemployable. However the proletariat is not to be understood as a sociological category of people in such-and-such income group and such-and-such occupations, but as a social relation of capitalism. It is all those who have little or no means of support other than selling their physical and mental labour-power. The proletariat is the only class capable of ending class society, as it produces the material conditions of its own enchainment. However, both classes are subject to the laws of the market economy – our concern is with the social relation capital not the individual capitalist – the functionaries of capitalism are more and more disposable as individuals. While the rag-wearing classical proletariat of Marx’s time has all but disappeared, at least in the developed countries, the fundamental division remains; power and wealth are becoming more rather than less concentrated under the control of a small minority. The modern proletariat is almost everyone; it is the working class which must destroy both alienated work and class.

    The “official” history of the working class’s struggle against capitalism is an inversion, what is presented as its greatest triumphs are in reality its most bitter defeats; Leninist “Communism” in the East and reformist “Socialism” in the West were both expressions of a general movement towards state-capitalism. The greatest tragedy of these times is that in the minds of the vast majority of workers the project for the dissolution of the commodity economy became associated with its exact opposite. “So the light darkened that had illuminated the world; the masses that had hailed it were left in blacker night… By usurping the name communism for its system of workers' exploitation and its policy of often cruel persecution of adversaries, it made this name, till then expression of lofty ideals, a byword, an object of aversion and hatred even among workers” (Anton Pannekoek, Workers Councils).

    Though the call for a new society was never thoroughly extinguished; small and often profoundly isolated groups and individuals arguing the case for a social reorganization to bring free access and control of the means of production into the hands of the whole of humanity. “From each according to ability, to each according too need!”

    The creation of such a society has two preconditions; firstly that technological production techniques have been sufficiently developed to be able to fulfil the material needs of the whole of society and secondly, that the majority of the population have an understanding of what needs to be done and want to carry it through. Revolutionaries are painfully aware that the first requirement has long since been reached but that the second is still far from being realized.

    If we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past it will be necessary to develop a theory of revolutionary practice, a theory which seeks to “get to the root of all things” and improve them. It is not a matter of choosing from one of the pre-existing ideologies of the old workers movement and basing our world view around it, but a matter of finding the “moment of truth” in all the theories of the past and synthesising this with our experience of the present.

    “Theory itself becomes a material force when it has seized the masses” (Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right)
    Darren Poynton