Friday, July 31, 2009

An industrial estate as it might be

Originally posted on the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog
Where I live, in a relatively quiet back-water in SW Turkey, there is one particular pointer to how I think things might be. I'm not suggesting that it's an example of socialism in practice, but I do believe it is an example of one way a socialist society might organise one particular sector of its activities on a local level – small industrial manufacture, repair and supply.

OK! Let's take a walk around my local Industrial Area (Sanayi Sitesi in Turkish) which meets the needs of a town of 25,000 and of the dozens of villages scattered about its administrative area. It consists of 5 back-to-back rows of small workshops that adds up to about 200 individual businesses each employing between 1 and 5 people. These units are rented from the local council for a very moderate sum which provides area services; road paving, cleaning, rubbish disposal, etc. It is sited on the edge of the town, close enough to be convenient but far enough from the centre that its activities are not an inconvenience. It is not a pretty place but it is fit for purpose, and in common with other sites around the country it takes industrial workplaces out of “normal” streets and concentrates them in one area.
Here you will find carpenters, blacksmiths/metal-bashers, glaziers, auto mechanics (2 and 4 wheels, tractors, trucks, buses, you name it), boat-builders, fibre-glassers, marine engineers, refrigeration engineers, agricultural engineers, irrigation system fitters, the list goes on. Mixed in with these producers and service providers are the various wholesalers of everything from timber and laminated chipboard to steel stockists, suppliers of bits for every major manufacturer of anything that runs on fossil fuels, stockists of tools and specialised equipment, plastic pipes and bits and bobs.
No repair or fabrication workshop ever needs to burden itself with stock because within a couple of hundred metres there will be a stockist. Larger or less common items can be got by cargo from anywhere in the country within 2 days. On the outskirts are the recyclers of metal, glass, plastic, etc. Brewers of tea, the staple drink, have their cubby-holes scattered around with orders relayed via a cat's cradle of wires from baby alarms. Vendors of locally produced snacks push their 3-wheeled carts complete with glass display cabinet around the area bellowing their wares. There is even a small cafeteria and a barber's shop.
Individual businesses cooperate and network to meet their customers' needs. For example, I always have the same engineer work on my car, but he is a motor engineer and if there is something outside of his expertise he will summon a specialist in that area to do the work whilst retaining full responsibility to ensure the job is properly done and the price is fair.
During school holidays there will be lots of young people around the place doing real work experience that also brings in some much needed income to their families. Before you flinch and mutter about child labour and exploitation I need to explain; in every case that I've witnessed these young people work by shadowing an experienced adult. They are not used to fetch and carry, get the tea, carry out repetitive chores, etc.; they are not patronised in any way, they are learning and they are treated and spoken to as one adult to another. It reminds me of Ron Cook's vision in Yes! Utopia where people move in and out of education or work to suit their particular needs/desires at that particular point in their lives. I can visualise it working in this environment. Learn what you need when you need it rather than the conveyor belt system that is the lot of those “fortunate” enough to get a state education where it is available. That is not to say that there is no exploitation here, people in Turkey are at the mercy of the same system and subject to the same pressures as workers anywhere else with people working long hours for relatively little pay
Conserving resources
So, there you have a broad pen-picture of how the place looks; with socialism areas like this wouldn't have to labour under the constraints that money presently places on them. There would be more trees and why not gardeners to tend some beautiful flower beds? The rainwater drains would work better – no, the rainwater drains would work! – and those ugly electricity poles and wires could go. Nevertheless, these places do have a significant beneficial impact on the environment, even allowing for the spilt oil and other noxious stuff around. How so? Because here, as well as in so many other “under-developed countries”, having a throw-away mentality is not an option. Here, if it can be repaired or recycled then it is. Here, there are still craftsmen who can make the part that will save an item from being scrapped.
I had a very practical lesson not long after moving here 12 years ago. I had shipped my old side-by-side fridge/freezer here because it still worked despite its age and it was convenient. That first summer in heat it was never designed to cope with it had a heart attack and died and I asked a Turkish friend's help as I tried to make some arrangements to replace it. “Why are you throwing it away?” he asked, whilst calling a local refrigeration engineer. This engineer has repaired and upgraded this battered old fridge several times and it is now functioning better than when it was new nearly 30 years ago. Until I came to live here it had never occurred to me that it could be cheaper to repair something than throw it away and buy new. When all you have seen is a mass-consumerist, throw-away, built-in obsolescence, Granny Smiths from Chile, 1 beefsteak tomato (from Holland) for 59 pence society, that is understandable.
I'm pretty sure that if I brought some of you here to tour my local industrial area to illustrate my points you would look askance. After all, the place does appear to be pretty “undeveloped world” when compared with the sanitised and health and safety at workified European industrial parks. But, what I am talking about is the seed corn of an idea of how we might tackle some things in a socialist future. Work areas would be attractive with pleasantly designed buildings where craftsmen would contribute their skills to their community and pass them on to others who wanted to acquire them. They would be safe places to work and safe too for the environment because there would be no financial or profit motive to compromise or cut corners. The same lack of financial pressure would drive up quality and durability bringing pleasure to the users and profiting (in the right sense) once again the environment.
Socialism is about striving always to find the highest common denominator, not the lowest. Work areas could become real centres for each community regardless of that community's size. There could be recreation facilities and places of education, learning and experimentation would naturally combine there as learning new skills and acquiring knowledge becomes a life-long practice instead of a one shot, hit or miss chance to become another bit of fodder for the factory, shop or office. They really would become places where work ceases to be a grind and instead becomes part of the pleasure of living a fulfilling life where everything and everyone is valued not for the surplus value they can generate but for the varied contributions they can make to the communities that make up our future socialist world.
In truth, our communities could be like that now, but where's the profit in that?
Alan Fenn

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (105)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 105th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1521 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Patents and the suppression of inventions
  • Is technology to blame?
  • Ending child slavery
  • Quote for the week:

    "The capitalist system of society instills within its youthful members aspirations for "success" and an unflagging ambition to climb the somewhat elusive ladder of fame and fortune to achieve comfort, riches and security. The seeds of ambition are subtly imbedded during early school years by false propaganda that benumbs and misleads the mind when it is too immature to be discerning and too enthusiastic to be realistic." Samuel Leight, World Without Wages, 1980

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Are You A Socialist? (2004)

    From the December 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Do you ever get the feeling that something isn't right with the world? Although you can't quite put your finger on it, you instinctively know that life shouldn't be the unending uphill struggle to make ends meet while coping with stress and a job that provides little interest or stimulation? The very fact that you're reading the Socialist Standard suggests that you're looking for answers to questions about the way we live and that you already have serious doubts about the things the media and politicians tell us. So what does being a socialist mean?

    Adopting a socialist view means looking at the world from a class perspective instead of a national one. It is understanding how and in whose interest today's world is organised, envisaging how a socialist society can be established, and appreciating how socialism will improve people's lives. Socialism has nothing to do with organising capitalism as many, including the Labour Party, have erroneously asserted and nor is it a description of the regimes in the former Soviet Union, China or various other countries that have adulterated the word to describe state capitalism. Fundamentally, being a socialist means realising that no amount of government reform or attempt at improvement can resolve our problems because their root cause lies in society's economic base, and that working people must themselves, without leaders, organise to end capitalism and replace it with a new and different society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, with production solely for use not profit.

    Class society
    The source of the problems working people face today is the minority, or class, ownership of the means of life. The small minority who own the companies and corporations that control the factories, mines and raw materials live by harvesting the profit from wage or salary earners employed to produce goods and services for sale on the market. The market dictates 'what' and 'how much' is produced because the things we need to live are produced to meet what is called 'effective demand', meaning not actual demand but only 'demand' backed by the money needed to purchase. So unless we have money to buy goods we cannot have them. Productive activity is not organised to satisfy people's actual needs or wants but to generate profit for the owning class.

    So life today means we have to cope with all kinds of deprivation and pressures resulting from an artificial scarcity resulting from the pursuit of profit. It means finding money to pay the rent or the mortgage or to buy food. It means anxiety over mounting debt and fear of losing our job in the next reorganisation. It means an unreliable health service, a stressful transport system, and relentless pressure from every direction to buy and consume more. Life is a treadmill, where worry and stress are an everyday part of existence, symptomatic of a world where we have no control and in which we feel isolated and estranged from a society that functions to make profit.

    From a global perspective, production for profit has an even greater consequence. It means a world where people starve yet plenty can be produced to feed all, where millions seek work while factories lie idle, where poverty and deprivation exist alongside technologies that could produce an abundance of life's necessities, where people suffer or die while medicines are stockpiled. The list of contradictions is endless, but however barbaric this seems it all makes perfect sense when we grasp the truth that profit is more important than human welfare. People suffer because there is not enough profit in ending their suffering. Investment is made only where sufficient profit is assured, regardless of the human needs that go unmet.

    Most of us have been seduced by a false notion that minority ownership of the means of production and distribution is 'natural', and have not yet grasped the fact that while the owning class needs working people we don't need the owners. Capitalism is organised from top to bottom by ordinary wage and salary earners, who make all the goods we need to live and operate all the services we depend on. And yet it is the non-productive parasitic owning class who grow wealthy on our labour and live lives freed from material worries. For them luxuries and infinite choice, for us cut-price bargains, poor quality, stress and worry. We spend a lifetime struggling to overcome hardships but unselfishly reward the owners with a life of opulence and plenty.

    The owning class are aided and abetted in their task by governments that consciously work against our interest. Government and the state exist to perpetuate class dominance, and to create a continuous flow of healthy, educated, trained and obedient workers and to provide an infrastructure that caters for profit making. They deceitfully tell us that wars must be fought to defend 'democracy' or end 'injustice' or for some other high-sounding ideal, ignoring the fact that in reality wars are caused by the owning class attempting to protect or expand their markets, spheres of influence or simply to plunder raw materials. Politics and government is the art of giving the appearance of enacting policy that will benefit working people while actually pursuing interests that benefit the owning class. Sometimes, of course, certain policies do incidentally benefit working people. But their prime motivation is never a desire to make life better and if such policies are examined closely, it soon becomes apparent whose interests are really being served.

    But just being critical of capitalism is not enough. The problems it causes will not cure themselves. Socialists know that capitalism cannot be reformed to serve human needs and are therefore hostile to all political parties that falsely claim to be able to do this. The source of our deprivation and anxiety lies in man-made structures and can be eliminated only by men and women understanding their condition and combining together to replace capitalism with socialism. A global society – one so inhuman as to place people's welfare at the bottom of its priorities – can only be globally replaced. Socialism is the root and branch replacement of capitalism throughout the world where national boundaries and the concept of nations will disappear.

    Socialism is an immediately realisable society which will replace minority ownership with the common ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth, which will be democratically organised by the whole human community. Production will be for use and not for sale on the market to make profit. Productive capacity, freed from the constraint of profit, will be utilised to produce an abundance of life's necessities for no better reason than to satisfy people's needs and wants. Markets, exchange and money will all be abolished. Instead all will have free access to the things that have been collectively produced by human society. The free access to life's necessities will be irrespective of whether people have actually participated in the productive process or not, since work will be voluntary and without compulsion. In capitalist society work is seen as synonymous with employment, but once this link has been severed and wage slavery abolished there is no reason to assume that work will be not only a biological necessity but also an enjoyable and creative experience.

    Socialists understand that, to abolish capitalism, working people, without leaders, must win control of political power. But capturing political power requires political organisation and a political party to serve as a vehicle to express a socialist majority. The Socialist Party in Britain (together with its companion parties in other countries) has as its objective the establishing of socialism. It offers itself to serve as a instrument which working people can utilise within the electoral system to vote a socialist majority into local government and parliament. Having democratically won control of political power and neutralised the power of the state, working people need to take but a single action: the abolition of class society and its replacement with the common ownership of the means of production and distribution. The abolition of capitalism and the end of the class struggle will also signal the demise of the Socialist Party itself, for, having served its purpose, its continued existence will be meaningless.

    Socialism can only come about when a majority of working people want it. This necessarily involves breaking with the mindset induced by society's class structure, a difficult but not impossible task. The owning class has created social institutions that express class dominance and society has become infused with habits and customs that reflect the values of the owning class. Without our knowing, our beliefs have been artificially constructed by capitalist society, and our social consciousness, our assumptions and ideas have all been subtly moulded to reflect that society's economic base. We have been instilled with slanted values, conventions and concepts continuously reinforced by education, religion, entertainment, advertising and the media that all prepare us for a life of class, profit and wage slavery. We accept authority without question and have assimilated a view that society is 'good' and 'fixed', a frame of mind that makes it very difficult to envisage change and an alternative society.
    As a result, many dismiss socialism as a 'good idea' but claim it will never happen. But why should this be so? Nothing is forever 'fixed.' Class society and government rest almost solely on opinion and when a majority of working people armed with socialist understanding demand change we will be unstoppable. Likewise, many claim no interest in politics, but to genuinely feel this is to abandon any concern in one's own welfare, a notion that serves our masters well by keeping working people obedient and placid.

    Socialists have seen through these myths. Socialists within the Socialist Party assist in dispelling society's illusions and aid working people to comprehend capitalism by exposing society's abominations and spreading socialist understanding. The Socialist Party has no leaders or secrets, is democratically organised, and meetings are open to everyone.

    So isn't it time to break free of the deceptions, to acknowledge the reality and to join the struggle for socialism? The choice is simple. You can either watch helplessly as the world's problems intensify and threaten the very existence of humanity or join the movement to end capitalism and build socialism. If you're a socialist your place is in the Socialist Party. There is no middle course.
    Steve Trott

    Cartoon Karl (2009)

    From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Taro Aso, the current Prime Minister of Japan, is widely known to be a fan of “manga”. His love of comic books seems quite genuine (although it may be related to his notorious inability to read even some of the more basic Japanese kanji characters). Setting aside whatever personal reasons he may have, however, it is clear that Aso loves manga for practical political reasons as well, as he is convinced that it can contribute to an expansion in Japan’s “soft power.” Aso has clearly stated a hope that manga will assist Japanese diplomacy by raising what he calls the “brand image” of Japan, particularly in those Asian countries where people’s memories have been branded by the experience of Japanese colonial rule.

    The problem for Aso is that not every manga published today conforms to the hollow “cool Japan” marketing image that he is peddling. Around two years ago, for instance, one top-selling manga was a version of a 1920s “proletarian novel” written by the Communist author Takiji Kobayashi, which depicted the harsh life of workers at the time and exposed nationalistic ideology. And now, to Aso’s dismay I suspect, there is also a manga version of Marx’s Capital available in Japan.

    This new manga, published by East Press last December, comes in two pocket size volumes. Volume one presents a fictional tale of a young man named Robin, who is first seen in the marketplace selling cheese that his father produces on his small farm. Against the wishes of his father, who is a sort of anti-capitalist curmudgeon, Robin accepts the financial backing of a smooth venture capitalist named Daniel (who resembles a young Mick Jagger) to go into the cheese business on a large scale.

    The rest of the story depicts how Robin, once he has become a capitalist, must follow the logic of capital, ruthlessly seeking to raise productivity, even it means squeezing his workers dry; and how the workers begin to rebel against their servile position as wage slaves. Instead of an overly simplistic tale of heroes and villains, the story makes it quite clear that the characters are forced to act in accordance with the nature of the capitalist system. However sympathetic Robin might be as an individual, and however pure his (initial) intentions, he ends up acting as a capitalist must act to remain a capitalist.

    The second volume concentrates more on the actual content of Capital, particularly the first few chapters where the labour theory of value and the all-important concept of surplus-value are presented; and Marx and Engels appear to explain those and other points. At the same time, the example of Robin’s cheese factory is again referred to as a way to clarify how capitalists go about trying to squeeze out more surplus-value as a means of increasing their own profits and driving competitors out of business. On the first page of this second volume, where the cast of characters is introduced, it is clearly stated that, “Within capitalist society lurks an insatiable monster” – and the reader soon discovers that this monster is the insane pursuit of profit that drives capitalism forward.

    One might quibble with certain aspects of the books, including what seems to be an idealization of small-scale producers (like Robin’s father), but on the whole both succeed in clarifying the most-important aspects of the capitalist system in a vivid way that even young readers can understand.
    Currently the manga is only available in Japanese; but the publication generated a number of newspaper reports in the UK and elsewhere, and there is some possibility that it will eventually be translated into English.
    Michael Schauerte