Saturday, February 20, 2010

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2010)

Book Review from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce by Slavoj Žižek. Verso, 2009.

Has Slavoj Žižek (the superstar Slovenian “theorist”) signed a piece-work contract with Verso Books? One can’t help wondering because this slim volume brings his tally with that publisher alone to around 21 titles. This Stakhanovite output would be more impressive were it not for his notorious habit of recycling old material, like any good stand-up comedian does.

This two-chapter book is no exception: Žižek seems to have rapidly assembled it by combining his favourite quotes and theoretical hyperbole with some recent news stories from the unfolding economic crisis.

The first chapter (lamely entitled: “It’s Ideology Stupid!”) promises a “diagnosis of our predicament, outlining the utopian core of the capitalist ideology which determined both the crisis itself and our perceptions of and reactions to it.” Setting aside the question of whether ideology can determine a crisis, Žižek does at least provide some valid observations on capitalist ideology’s aims to shift the blame for a crisis away from the capitalist system itself. Yet few of his ideas strike the reader with much force of insight or novelty; and the chapter is haphazardly organized – as if Žižek’s only aim was to squeeze in as many of his treasured anecdotes as possible.

The second chapter (“The Communist Hypothesis”) lays out some of the “communist” ideas that have seasoned Žižek’s recent books. He dances around the question of how to define “communism”, however, choosing instead to locate the “set of antagonisms which generates the need for communism”.

That is at least a start, the reader might think, as it is true that communism (socialism) is not some abstract, ethical ideal, but rather the real solution to problems that cannot be resolved under capitalism. If the problems (or “antagonisms”) of capitalism are clearly explained, the nature of communism – as the solution – will in turn come into view.

But any initial hope that Žižek will eventually explain “communism” dissolves as soon as he unveils those “antagonisms,” said to be: (1) “the looming threat of an ecological catastrophe”; (2) “the inappropriateness of the notion of private property in relation to so-called “intellectual property”; (3) “the socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics)”; and (4) “the creation of new forms of apartheid, new Walls and slums” (author’s italics).

What clear image of communism can possibly emerge from such an overly specific – and basically random – list of contemporary problems?

Žižek tries to avoid getting entangled in his own antagonisms, so to speak, by asserting that the fourth one (also referred to as the separation between “the Excluded and the Included”) is “qualitatively different” from the other three, which would somehow “lose their subversive edge” without it. Of course, Žižek might have defined that key antagonism more precisely as the class division between capitalists and workers – but where’s the fun in that?

The ambiguity of the fourth antagonism allows the author to bend it to his will, in a way not possible with a clear concept like “class”. In particular, it allows Žižek to insist on the (false) distinction between “communism” and “socialism,” condemning the latter for wanting “to solve the first three antagonisms without addressing the fourth”. On that basis Žižek says that socialism is no longer the “lower-phase” of communism (as Lenin had asserted to first introduce the false distinction), but rather the “true competitor” and “greatest threat” to communism.

Given his astounding indifference to what communism actually means, it is no surprise that Žižek cannot fathom workers consciously aiming for a new form of society. The task for his brand of revolutionary is not to explain to fellow workers what communism is, why it is necessary, and how it might be achieved, but rather “to wait patiently for the (usually very brief) moment when the system openly malfunctions or collapses, have to exploit the window of opportunity, to seize power – which at that moment lies, as it were, in the street”.

Žižek insists (repeatedly) that he takes such ideas seriously – even ending the book by advising fellow intellectuals that it’s “time to get serious once again!” – but he is careful to insert just enough ambiguity and humour in his hard-as-nails Leninism to free himself from any real responsibility. Unfortunately, more than a few leftists (including the ageing “New Leftists” at Verso Books!) take Žižek’s “communist” ideas seriously, which only shows how misunderstood communism (socialism) is today.
Michael Schauerte

Beyond capitalism (2010)

From the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
Attempts to reform capitalism, whether through parliament or dictatorship, have failed. This leaves conscious majority revolution as the only way forward.
Long before capitalism had emerged as the dominant social order and imposed its exploitive social conditions on the working class that it had created there arose within the minds of human beings the dream of a life beyond mere survival. The dream of a freedom and dignity beyond that of some category of slave to a privileged hierarchy that controlled their means of life.

The triumph of capitalism and its ongoing development – what Marx referred to as the opening of the womb of social labour – gave strength and reality to the dreamer; opened new vistas of potential wealth and social development. Entirely new social relations nourished a new reality in which a literate and articulate working class would emerge to challenge their masters.

In the degrading squalor of 19th century capitalism men and women began debating the substance of their puny dreams; people became politicised to the extent of demanding some amelioration of their miserable conditions as well as an input into the political system that governed their lives. The working class had its martyrs who won for us the rights – limited and reversible – that obtain today within the politics of capital and labour.

Alternative system
By the mid-19th century the pioneers of the early socialist movement, and especially Karl Marx, had subjected capitalism to a rigorous investigation and exposed the fact that, while its role had been historically progressive and while it retained a capacity for improvement, it was now a reactionary system of social organisation. Not only was it based on the exploitation of the proletariat, the producers of all real wealth, by a minority parasite class but it had created, and must retain, a political system that stood between the working class and its social emancipation.

Marx did not draw up a detailed blueprint for a socialist society because such a detailed picture of socialism was dependent on the state of development of capitalism at the time of the perceived social revolution nor could he presume the democratic decisions of a socialist conscious majority following the conquest of power. More pertinently, by exposing the processes whereby capitalism carried out its exploitation of the working class he clearly laid down markers as to what would not exist in a socialist society.

As history rolled over into the 20th century there was a widespread understanding of the meaning of socialism among those elements of the working class who were politically aware. Large sections used the term socialism in the sense in which Marx had used them, viz: a world community in which society as a whole would own and democratically control its means of life: where money, wages and class would not exist and the principle underpinning the production and distribution of wealth would be, ‘from each according to their ability and to each in accordance with their need’.

Dissent among socialists was not about the nature of socialism but about the best way of achieving it. Unfortunately, this question created a graveyard of broken hopes and disillusionment. The story of those hopes and their failure has been well documented in this journal over the decades and it is not the purpose of this article to re-visit the arguments or draw personal blame for the events of the past.

Reform policies
There can be no doubt that the real casualty of the errors and internecine disputes of the past has been socialism itself. As just pointed out, aside from the means of its achievement, there was wide consensus among those calling themselves socialists as to the nature of socialism. At that time socialists and their organisations did not offer reform policies as an end in themselves but rather as strategies that would lead to the eventual overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. Among some parties it was even customary to post socialism as the core objective together with a panel of what were called 'Immediate Demands'.

Those who founded the Socialist Party opposed this view; we argued that our socialist objective imposed its own means of achievement; that socialism could only be brought into being and could only continue to function on the basis of its conscious acceptance by the widest possible majority of society – which meant, effectively, the working class. The task of the socialist political organisation was, therefore, to promote an understanding of socialism to the end of taking political control away from the capitalist class and instituting a system of common ownership rooted in democratic control.

The basis of our argument was that the material conditions for socialism existed now but it could only come into being when the working class had matured politically to the point where it could commit itself not only to its rights within the new society but, also, to its responsibilities. Leading the workers along the path of reform was not equipping them for their historical revolutionary role but was in fact establishing the contrary idea that capitalism could be made to function in the interests of the class it exploited.

Socialism today
Earnestly, we can say now, we wish we had been wrong in our analysis of the situation. We wish the British Labour Party and the Social Democratic parties elsewhere who made up the Second International and their myriad of Left-wing supporters had succeeded in chipping away at the fortress of capitalism, had demolished it and created a sane socialist society.

We wish that despite the lack of the material and ideological conditions for socialism in Russia in 1917 the Bolsheviks had performed a social miracle and that Russia and its satellite imitators had not become brutal totalitarian states where the case for socialism was treason.

We wish, too, that when we propagate socialism today we were not confronted with the argument that the awful things that happened in Russia (before that country abandoned state-organised capitalism in favour of a property-owning bourgeoisie) had something to do with socialism.

Similarly, we wish that the appalling record of failure, treachery and authoritarianism which has become more and more the political stock-in-trade of British Labour and kindred parties in Europe was not still perceived by some people as having some association with socialism.

On another plane, we wish that our class brethren were emancipated from the fetters of leadership and authority, an aspect of class society severely adopted and promoted by the disparate organisations of ‘the Left’. People who know what they want and how to get what they want do not need leaders. History, especially the history of our class, is littered with evidence of the treachery and deception of leaders; the very concept is a heritage from the various forms of class slavery in which mental servitude is an important social suppressant.

As someone remarked at the beginning of the French Revolution of 1789, “The great only appear great because we are on our knees; let us rise!”
Richard Montague

Friday, February 19, 2010

Capitalism and Michael Moore

Cross-posted from the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog,

Like Michael Moore’s other films, 'Capitalism: A Love Story', is brilliant in its way, hard-hitting and funny. He strips away the lies and hypocrisy of “public relations” propaganda to expose the ruthless predators who dominate our society and profit from the misery of working people.

And at the same time he makes us laugh. So far so good. It’s fairly clear what Michael Moore is against. But what he is for? He doesn’t seem to know himself, as he admits in a recent newspaper interview:
“What I'm asking for is a new economic order. I don't know how to construct that. I'm not an economist. All I ask is that it have two organising principles. Number one, that the economy is run democratically. In other words, the people have a say in how its run, not just the [wealthiest] 1 percent. And number two, that it has an ethical and moral core to it. That nothing is done without considering the ethical nature, no business decision is made without first asking the question, is this for the common good?” (Guardian, 30 January).
We too want democracy to extend to all spheres of social life. For us that’s what socialism is – the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life by the whole community. But genuine democracy will not be achieved by relying on economists or other supposed experts to design it.

By its very nature, democracy must be created by a conscious majority. Michael Moore seems to be saying that in his “new economic order” the wealthiest 1 percent will still exist, even though they will no longer have all the say. He also assumes that there are still going to be “business decisions”. But business decisions are about making money, not serving the common good. Any firm run by managers who care too much about ethics and morality will soon go bust – unless the managers get sacked first!

On one key point, he is right. If the situation he exposes so well is to change, it really does require a “new economic order”. An end to production for profit. The alternative is a society in which the means for producing what we need are owned in common and run democratically. A society in which productive activity is no longer “business” but simply cooperation to satisfy human needs.

This is much more than he offers on his website ( He says nothing there about any kind of “new order”. It’s all about campaigning for various reforms. These may well be of benefit to working people in the short term, but as they still leave capitalism in place there would always be pressure to reverse any gains made. Worst of all, and despite Michael Moore’s evident disillusionment with Obama, heurges readers to work for change through the Democratic Party – a recipe for endless failure and frustration.

One last point. Michael Moore talks only about changing things in the United States. This national focus makes it impossible even to conceive of a fundamentally new society. That’s because nowadays capitalism is a highly integrated world system and can only be replaced at the global level.

It is clear to us that society urgently needs a worldwide system upgrade…from capitalism to socialism!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 135

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 135th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1565 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Re-cycling food waste
  • Indian Earthquake: Did it really kill?
  • Money Must Go
  • Quote for the week:

    "Read the paper - humdrum

    Henley Regatta - page one

    Eat die - ho hum

    Page three - big bum

    Giving a lunatic a loaded gun.

    He walks - others run

    Thirty dead - no fun

    Foreigners feature as figures of fun

    Do something destructive chum

    Sit right down - write a letter to The Sun

    Say... 'Bring back hangin' for everyone'"

    John Cooper Clarke - 'Suspended Sentence'

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    American Public Opinion and the S-Word:Weakening of a Taboo?

    The Material World Column from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    In April 2009, interviewers working for the Rasmussen agency asked 1,000 people: ‘Which is a better system – capitalism or socialism?’ 53 percent said capitalism, 20 percent socialism, and 27 percent were not sure.

    Although ‘capitalism’ came out the clear winner, commentators were shocked that almost half the respondents failed to give the ‘correct’ response on a matter so crucial to the dominant ideology.

    ‘Capitalism’, ‘socialism’ and ‘the free market’
    The interviewers did not define ‘capitalism’ or ‘socialism’, so we are left to guess what respondents understood by these words. No doubt most of those who answered ‘socialism’ did not have a clear or accurate idea of what it means. Nevertheless, socialists can take encouragement from the evident ability of a sizeable proportion of people to resist indoctrination by the corporate media, which never have anything good to say about any kind of ‘socialism’. Even the fact that so many Americans do not react negatively to the S-word itself is significant: people who do not take fright at the word are more likely to be open to consideration of the idea.

    A clue to how Americans interpret ‘capitalism’ is found in another Rasmussen poll (May 2009). Here people were asked: ‘Is a free market economy the same as a capitalist economy?’ 35 percent replied yes, 38 percent no. This result puzzled the hired ideologists of capital, who do equate the two concepts and like to use ‘the free market’ as a euphemism for ‘capitalism’.

    Yet another poll (December 2008) asked: ‘Which is better – a free market economy or a government-managed economy?’ 70 percent preferred a ‘free market economy’ and only 15 percent a ‘government-managed economy’. This implies that there is a substantial body of people (about 17 percent) who are in favour of ‘the free market’ but against ‘capitalism’.

    In the US ‘capitalism’ is widely associated with big business and ‘the free market’ with small business. Hatred for big business commonly goes along with admiration for small business. In the frequent polls that compare the approval ratings of various occupational groups, small business owners regularly come out on top, while corporate CEOs (together with politicians) end up at the bottom.

    Those who are ‘against capitalism but for the free market’ are, perhaps, still influenced by the old populist idea of the good society as a relatively egalitarian community of small independent producers – farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, doctors, etc. This utopia has its roots in an idealised image of early rural colonial society in New England and Pennsylvania, before its transformation by industrial capitalism.

    Young people more inclined toward ‘socialism’
    The proportion of respondents who say that 'socialism¹ is a better system than 'capitalism¹ varies with gender, age, race and income. Women are slightly more likely than men to prefer 'socialism¹; people with low incomes (under $40,000 per year) more than twice as likely as people with high incomes (over $75,000); and blacks almost twice as likely as whites, with equal proportions favouring 'capitalism¹ and 'socialism¹ (31 percent each).

    Variation with age is especially striking. Proportions preferring ‘socialism’ in the older age groups (40 and over) are well below average. In the 30 – 39 age group the proportion rises to 26 percent and in the 18 – 29 age group to 33 percent (with 37 percent favouring ‘capitalism’). If we focus specifically on women aged 18 – 29, we again find an equal division of opinion: 36 percent for ‘capitalism’ and 36 percent for ‘socialism’.

    How might these very hopeful findings be explained?

    If we believe widespread stereotype, nothing needs explaining: young people are ‘naturally’ rebellious and older people ‘naturally’ conformist. In fact, this is far from always the case. Rebellious and conformist generations tend to alternate. The young rebels of the 1960s gave way to the young conformists of the 1980s. The pendulum is now swinging back. For three reasons.

    First, deteriorating economic conditions. This is the first generation of young people since the Great Depression who have no hope of maintaining, let alone improving on, their parents’ standard of living. They face a grim and uncertain future.

    Second, an increasing number of young people pay less attention to the corporate media, preferring to rely on the Internet. This exposes them to a broader range of ideas, including socialist ones.
    Finally, the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ were associated with a forbidding external enemy. Advocating them marked you out as a traitor. We protested that what we stood for was something quite different, but our voice was barely audible. We hoped that with the end of the Cold War it would become easier to spread socialist ideas. We felt disappointed that this did not seem to happen. The disappointment was premature. Attitudes do change in response to circumstances – but only when a new generation comes of age. For today’s young Americans the Cold War is ancient history.

    From the March 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
    In Material World February issue we didn’t mean to write that the poll showed that people with high incomes were more likely to be favourable to the word “socialism” than those with low but the opposite, so:
    “Women are slightly more likely than men to prefer ‘socialism’; people with low incomes (under $40,000 per year) more than twice as likely as people with high incomes (over $75,000); and blacks almost twice as likely as whites, with equal proportions favouring ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ (31 percent each).”

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    The yellow brick road to nowhere (2010)

    The Cooking the Books column from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    “In an economy where the currency is not tied to the value of gold, the central bank can simply print more and more money, to fund the expansion of the economy and of central government. Over time, that will erode the purchasing power of the currency, but as long as that happens slowly through moderate inflation, no one seems to mind.” So the Independent (2 December) reported the views of US Congressman Ron Paul who wants to abolish ‘the Fed’, the Federal Reserve, America's central bank, as well as going back to a gold-based currency.

    Paul cannot be called a currency crank. as he has a correct understanding of what causes inflation and his solution would work to stop it, if that what was wanted, even if it would be unnecessary, pointless and a waste of resources.

    Money originated as a commodity, i.e. something produced by labour that had its own value, which evolved to be the commodity that could be exchanged for any other commodity in amounts equal to the value of the other commodity. Various things have served as the money-commodity, but in the end gold and silver were almost universally adopted. Paul offered a reason: “Most people think gold is beautiful, that's why it's money. It's because it's beautiful and rare and divisible and it lasts a long time. We don't use lead.” Beauty didn’t have much to do with it, but being rare (i.e. requiring more labour to find and extract from nature, so concentrating – unlike lead – much value in a small amount), divisible (so easily coined) and long lasting did.

    As capitalism developed it was found that gold itself did not have to circulate, but that paper notes could substitute for it as long as those accepting or holding it could be sure that they could always change them for gold. Up until WWI in most countries the currency was gold coins and paper notes convertible into gold. The Great Depression of the 1930s led to the major capitalist countries abandoning this convertibility. Since then the currency nearly everywhere has been inconvertible paper notes.

    With an inconvertible paper currency, the amount of money is no longer fixed automatically by the level of economic transactions, nor is there any limit to the amount of paper currency that can be issued. It is this that Paul objects to because, if the central bank issues more paper money than the amount of gold that would otherwise be needed, then the result will be a depreciation of the currency; the paper money will come to represent a smaller amount of gold with the result that prices generally will rise.

    If Paul had his way, the Fed would no longer manage the issue of the currency. This would pass to the Treasury Department which would only be allowed to issue paper money if it had the equivalent value of gold in Fort Knox. This would be a further absurd waste of resources as much more gold would have to be mined – just to store in places like Fort Knox.

    Paul thinks that a return to a gold-based currency would eliminate crises such as in the 1930s and today. This is an illusion. There was a gold-based currency up until WWI, yet crises occurred regularly, including a Great Depression in the 1880s and a hundred years ago the same sort of banking crises as today. Capitalism goes through its boom/slump cycle whatever the currency. No monetary reform can change that.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Camus: Portrait of a 'Rebel' (1973)

    From the November 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Albert Camus was born sixty years ago this month (7 November 1913) in Algeria, the son of European working-class parents. After his father's death, his childhood was spent in one of the poorer districts of Algiers, but he was a promising student and entered the University of Algiers in 1932 to study philosophy. Two years later he joined the Communist Party, but broke with it by 1937 (at the latest). His first published work, a play, appeared in 1936, and from then on he devoted himself mainly to journalism and literature, publishing his first novel, The Stranger, in 1942, together with other plays and collections of essays. His poor health prevented him from playing an active fighting role after the outbreak of war in 1939, but Camus joined the Resistance and edited the important underground journal Combat, a job he held till 1947. In that year he also published The Plague (in which the pestilence is used as a symbol both of Nazism and of evil in general: he concludes that the way to fight it is by "doing one's job well"). A long political essay, The Rebel, appeared in 1951, followed by another novel The Fall in 1956. In 1957 Camus received the Nobel Prize for Literature: the citation stated that he had illuminated "the problems of the human conscience in our time." In January 1960 he was killed in a road accident.

    Two factors in the historical background of Camus' productive life are crucial to understanding his work. One is the Algerian "independence" movement, the other is the Cold War. It was against the backcloth of the latter, that the quarrel between Camus and the "Marxist" Jean-Paul Sartre took place. They had been friends since 1943, but became increasingly estranged from 1948 on, and the final split came with the publication of The Rebel, which coincided with the Korean War and a fierce anti-Stalinism in the West. Although Sartre had earlier condemned, for instance, Russian labour camps (and indeed published a report on them), Camus now charged him with following a Stalinist line; Sartre replied that Camus' views were irrelevant to contemporary realities, and that Frenchmen concerned with oppression should turn their attention in the first place to France's own colonial policy.

    It should be remembered at this point that Camus had been born and brought up in a French colony, though he regarded himself as a Frenchman and a European. His relationship to the non-European world is certainly an important theme of his writing (though perhaps not as overwhelmingly so as Conor Cruise O'Brien would have us believe in his stimulating book 'Camus'). There is no doubt that he took a pro-colonialist stand on the Algerian question, stating (in 1957, three years after the outbreak of war in Algeria) that he would defend his mother before he would defend justice, thus implying support for the French army's actions - an acceptance of violence which was radically at odds with the position he took up in The Rebel. And he did not live to see the eventual withdrawal of French forces and the establishment of an "independent" Algerian Republic.

    Probably the most important remark to be made about Camus is that he is a great novelist. Nevertheless, he also chose to be a political critic, and it is this aspect of' his work that is of greatest interest to Socialists. His major contribution to political thought is The Rebel, the purpose of which he describes as being "to accept the reality of today, which is logical crime, and to examine meticulously the arguments by which it is sustained; it is an attempt to understand the time I live in." He discusses the ideas of such various "rebels" as de Sade, Nietzsche, Saint-Just, Hegel, Marx and Lenin, among others, and argues that what they lack is a concept of "limits", of moderation which he sees as being central to a true rebellion in the modem world: "Moderation is not the opposite of rebellion, Rebellion in itself is moderation . . . Moderation, born of rebellion, can only live by rebellion." The main target of Camus' attacks is; 'Communism", which, in that it aspires to world empire, is thus more dangerous even than Nazism. "Revolt," he says, "has become of the alibi of new tyrants."

    In spite of this attack on what he took to be Marxism in practice, Camus writes not uncharitably of Marx himself, and makes some valid points with regard to same of Marx's "followers". He writes for example that "the Marxists who have made history" have made their revolutions "in the exact circumstances under which Marx had foreseen that a revolution could not take place." His views on Lenin are also of interest: Leninism, he says, owes as much to Bakunin as to Marx, and from the moment that Lenin formulated his theory of the vanguard party, "the proletariat no longer has a mission. It is only one powerful means, among others, in the hands of the revolutionary ascetics." Camus also deals with Lenin's The State and Revolution, which he calls "the strangest and most contradictory of pamphlets." Commenting on Lenin's remarks concerning management by the state of the "Socialist economy", Camus continues:
    "The provisional State of Marx and Engels is charged with a new mission which risks prolonging its life indefinitely. Already we can perceive the contradiction of the Stalinist regime in conflict with its official philosophy. Either this regime has realised the classless Socialist society and the maintenance of a formidable apparatus of repression is not justified in Marxist terms, or it has not realized the classless society and has therefore proved that Marxist doctrine is erroneous and, in particular, that the socialization of the means of production does not mean the disappearance of classes."
    Unhappily this reference to "socialization of the means of production" in Russia only reveals the extent of Camus' confusion about Socialism. While presumably aware that Russia in 1917, like China in 1949, was an example of "the exact circumstances under which . . . a revolution could not take place", he does not seem to doubt that Socialist society has been established somewhere. Even so, he realizes the importance of accumulation even under what he calls "collectivity", saying that the need to accumulate causes the postponement of "justice" for a later date. And at one point he writes of "a kind of state capitalism", adding that "justice and abundance" will ensue once this is "put to the service of the community" (shades of Lenin's statement that Socialism was "nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people"). All of which shows an amazing muddle-headedness and inconsistency.

    But it is in what Camus himself advocates that the shallowness of his thinking is clearest. The closing pages of The Rebel are written in a lofty but empty rhetoric which all but obscures Camus' own proposals. His main idea seems to be the relationship between means and ends:
    "Does the end justify the means? That is possible, But what will justify the end? To that question, which historic thought leaves pending, rebellion replies: the means."
    He has earlier quoted with approval Marx saying that "An end which requires unjust means is not a just end", so, to this writer at least, he appears to be arguing that provided the means are acceptable, the ends may practically be left to look after themselves. (The ends he envisaged are left unspecified : even the vaguely anarchist standpoint which Camus occasionally approaches says next to nothing about the kind of social system he believed in. He does, however, believe that "The real and inhuman excess lies in the division of labour.") The rebel, he says, can never find peace, since he can neither absolutely renounce killing and lying nor agree to kill and lie: "He knows what is good and, despite himself, does evil."

    It would be unfair to Camus to point to this last sentence as a suitable epitaph for him. Nevertheless his pro-colonialist views, his support for one of the sides in the inter-capitalist dispute known as the Cold War, and his ambivalent attitude toward the Arab population of Algeria do mark him out as a man who, and it gives us no pleasure to write this, came down on the side of the pestilence which is capitalism.
    Paul Bennett

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Dreams and nightmares (2010)

    The Cooking the Books column from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    It ended well, the article in the Morning Star of 8 December: “The dream of a moneyless, socialist society can become a reality.” Unfortunately, the rest of the article, by Gerry Gold, contradicted this.

    Gold, a supporter of the Old Labourite Labour Representation Committee, was offering a way out of the current crisis. No, he was not advocating the common ownership and democratic control of the world’s resources as the basis for going over to production directly for use instead of for profit and to distribution on the principle of “from each their ability, to each their need” instead of in response to paying demand.

    What he was advocating was some radical reforms to capitalism such as closing down the Stock Exchange and outlawing hedge funds and derivatives and “replacing the entire for-profit financial system with a not-for-profit network of socially owned financial institutions providing essential services. Many examples of these already exist – mutually owned building societies, credit unions, the Co-operative bank”.

    If there are still going to be financial institutions this is hardly making “the dream of a moneyless, socialist society” a reality. It can’t even be called a dream, just a sanitised reflection of today’s humdrum everyday existence, with the only noticeable difference being no banks on our high streets only building societies.

    Gold went on: “With the elimination of private-equity shareholding and the abolition of speculation on the money markets the techniques developed by global capitalism can be used to clear payments between enterprises within and between countries. Accounting systems can be used and further developed to be open to public scrutiny.” Then followed the passage about a moneyless society.
    Lenin used the same argument in Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, composed a month or so before the Bolsheviks seized power:
    “Capitalism has created an accounting apparatus in the shape of the banks, syndicates, postal service, consumers' societies, and office employees' unions. Without big banks socialism would be impossible. The big banks are the ‘state apparatus’ which we need to bring about socialism, and which we take ready-made from capitalism; our task here is merely to lop off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus, to make it even bigger, even more democratic, even more comprehensive. Quantity will be transformed into quality. A single State Bank, the biggest of the big, with branches in every rural district, in every factory, will constitute as much as nine-tenths of the socialist apparatus. This will be country wide book-keeping, country-wide accounting of the production and distribution of goods, this will be, so to speak, something in the nature of the skeleton of socialist society.”
    His thinking was that if there was one big State ‘Bank’ it would be possible to account for the use of resources, and their transfer between productive units, without monetary exchanges. This was the view also of those other European Social Democrats of the time who realised that socialism would be a moneyless society and who thought about how production and distribution might be organised without money.

    There may have been something in it, but it was never going to work in economically backward Russia. And it didn’t. After a period of so-called “War Communism” till 1921 when money was hardly used, it was Lenin himself who called for a return to money – and not just any old paper money, but a gold-based rouble. The Bolsheviks did retain state power, but the outcome was the nightmare of state capitalism.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 134

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 134th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1563 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Insiders and others
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  • Haiti - An Unnatural disaster
  • Quote for the week:

    "A philosopher produces ideas, a poet poems, a clergyman sermons, a professor compendia and so on. A criminal produces crimes. If we take a closer look at the connection between this latter branch of production and society as a whole, we shall rid ourselves of many prejudices. The criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this the inevitable compendium in which this same professor throws his lectures onto the general market as “commodities”." Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, 1861.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Leninists in Space (2010)

    Book Review from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Red Planets - Marxism and Science Fiction. Ed. Mark Bould & China Miéville. Pluto Press. 2009.

    Lots of people like science fiction stories, and many SF stories contain elements of Marxist ideas. Thus, the capital notion to educate and inform SF readers everywhere about the true nature and implications of what they're reading.

    Sadly, that's not what you get. One quickly learns, in the conflation of science fiction with modernism and in the conflation of modernism with political vanguardism, that this is a collection of essays by and for Leninist academics. Any pretension to a simple, lively and accessible Marxist guide for SF enthusiasts and political ingénues soon goes out the window in favour of a dense and often tedious discourse designed principally to be read, one suspects, by the other contributors. To be sure, there are some good bits, including an interesting history of utopian fiction detailing the birth of science fiction along with industrial capitalism. Curiously though, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell seem to have been airbrushed out of this history, an omission that to a non-Leninist looks a bit fishy.

    Making heavy weather of definitions (do we need a whole chapter on whether fantasy is allowed to be called SF?) the writers tell us that SF is not simply a futuristic way of presenting dark realities or bright possibilities. No, it is a 'literature of cognitive estrangement' which has two phases, one inflationary and one deflationary, which are homologous to the two sides of Marxism – 'transcendent vision' versus 'astringent demystification' (p73). Learn this, and parrot at parties.

    There are some well-aimed swipes at futurist thinkers who resolutely avoid any political thinking, for example Ray Kurzweil's ideas on the Singularity: "The whole point of Kurzweil's speculation ... is precisely to bring us to utopia without incurring the inconvenience of having to question our current social and economic arrangements" (p106). And they have issues with how the class struggle tends to be subsumed by aesthetic navel-gazing: "As actual, lived communism recedes into the past (only a Leninist could possibly write that!) it is tempting to read this shift from revolution to art as part of a retreat from real-world politics" (p201). The trouble is, this book reads like part of that retreat.

    There is a tendency to over-theorise as well, finding a Marxist message in everything or else a reactionary viewpoint under every stone, Kubrick's 'colonialism' in 2001 A Space Odyssey, for example, or the 'racist structures of the western imaginary' in The Matrix (this despite the fact that the role of Neo, the hero, was written originally for the black actor Will Smith). More significantly, the 'Two Deaths' argument posits a distinct and discrete historical period between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers, even though there is no real Marxist justification for this – it simply plays well for Leninists obsessed with supposed historical crisis points.

    It's not as if science fiction writers themselves are incapable of intelligently critiquing the genre. They do, and they do it very well. Still, an accessible Marxist critique would have been a worthwhile contribution. Instead, with a lofty and elitist presumption of familiarity, the writers ignore the opportunity to bring Marxist ideas to a new audience in favour of what often smells like a self-congratulatory exercise in exclusion. This is a shame, and it's the opposite of what science fiction writers and indeed science writers themselves set out to do, including many of those discussed in this book. Worth reading for real Marxist SF connoisseurs only, the book seems less disposed to shed light on science fiction than to shed academic respectability on Leninism, and as such will no doubt form a valuable and useful contribution to the publishing credits and departmental status of those who contributed to it.
    Paddy Shannon

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Christmas bombers (2010)

    From the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The son of a Nigerian banker wasn’t the only one on a bombing mission at Christmas.

    A Nigerian Muslim, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, thought he could contribute to solving the world’s problems by getting on an American airliner from Europe to the US. on Christmas Day 2009, and then trying to blow it up just as it approached Detroit. This appeal to violence can be (and has been) seen in many prominent figures, from Bush and Blair to the Islamist extremists. Though, curiously enough, those who plan and defend their own violence are the most vocal in denouncing violence committed by the other side. In fact both sides, in any of the disputes raging round the world at the moment, claim that their own violence is only made necessary because of the violence coming from their opponents. The truth of the matter is that capitalism produces violence as inevitably as water freezes when it gets cold enough.

    Those who start the violence off and direct it, of course, suddenly become shy and retiring when it actually has to be done. When will you hear about a radical imam, who has preached many lengthy sermons about the holy duty of jihad, and about the unimaginable happiness awaiting suicide bombers in paradise, with seventy-odd virgins each (though surely they must be running out of virgins by now?) – when will you hear about that sermonizing radical imam taking his own advice and becoming a suicide bomber himself? Probably about the same time that you hear about President Obama and Prime Minister Brown risking death by serving as private soldiers in hostile territory in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Incidentally, the regular announcement that another British soldier has “given” his life in Afghanistan is simply wrong. A soldier killed after being sent to a belligerent foreign country by the British government has not “given” his life: he has had it taken from him. He has had it stolen by a system of society that unavoidably gives rise to continuous discord and struggle, which from time to time turns into open armed conflict, resulting in combatants on both sides being awarded brief unwanted moments of celebrity as dead heroes, followed often by long-term suffering, financial and other, for their bereaved families.

    As for this Nigerian who failed to blow up the plane, and therefore failed to kill himself and 290 other passengers and crew – of assorted nationalities and religions – does this failed suicide bomber believe that when he finally dies perhaps years hence, does he believe he will then go to paradise and get say thirty-six virgins (half the full quota) for a good try? That might be thought ludicrous; but it isn’t more ludicrous than many beliefs passionately held by those who have failed to use their common sense in order to work out why exactly so many human beings (under the pressures of competing capitalist states) spend their entire existence not trying to co-operate with the rest of the human race in order to make things better for all of us, but in trying to murder other human beings.

    So Abdulmutallab has now gone on trial in the United States, charged with “trying to use a weapon of mass destruction [a bomb] aboard a U.S. aircraft”, a crime which is punishable by imprisonment for life. This underlines the reality: what you do is not counted good or bad in itself: it is held to be good or bad according to where you do it and who you do it to. All those who dropped “weapons of mass destruction”, or bombs, from US and allied aircraft on to towns and cities across Iraq, which (along with the rest of the military onslaught) resulted in the deaths of perhaps half a million Iraqis, and all those who ordered these bombardments, are regarded in the US (and its allies) as having performed a noble duty.

    Abdulmutallab came to Britain to study. He spent three years at University College, London, between 2005 and 2008. Nor was he was scraping along among the down-and-outs: his father was a banker in Nigeria. It would be interesting to hear from those who support the present system why a man who was at London’s university for three years, consorting with Britain’s academic elite, and presumably not living among the poorest of the poor, was so impressed by what he saw and experienced there that not long afterwards he turned out to be so hostile to Western society that he was found trying to murder some hundreds, a random selection, of his fellow humans.

    After living in London, Abdulmutallab went to Yemen, a territory much of which was fortunate enough to be ruled by the British for over a century up to the 1960s. Encountering the British Empire at first hand should surely have made the Yemenis allies and supporters of the British for ever, but for some reason al-Qaeda is a powerful force in the country. Since Abdulmutallab had lived both in the UK and in Yemen, the blame game started immediately. Gordon Brown grabbed valuable publicity (he has to fight an election by May, so he loses no chance of headlines) by calling an international conference to consider the “terrorist threat from Yemen”. In fact, this was hot air, even more obvious than usual: there was already going to be an international conference on Afghanistan in London on 28 January, so Gordon Brown’s new emergency summit was merely going to be held “in parallel” with this already-arranged conference. This was followed some days later by an announcement by the Yemeni Deputy Prime Minister, to the effect that Abdulmutallab had “joined al-Qaeda in London”. So each country blamed the other for driving Abdulmutallab into al-Qaeda.

    The US response to attacks by Islamic extremists was to establish a prison at Guantánamo Bay. Photos from this establishment proved so harmful to US propaganda about “American freedoms” that President Obama has promised to close it (though he has failed to keep to his declared timetable). The US authorities now believe that 20 percent of the prisoners released from Guantánamo Bay have since “turned to terrorism”. Does this mean that the US accepts that 80 percent of those released from Guantánamo Bay were not terrorists at all? The Guantánamo Bay prisoners were mostly poor Asians, seized at gunpoint, interrogated by methods that amounted to torture, and thrown into a specially unpleasant jail, built in Cuba so that its inmates would not be able to access the boasted impartiality and safeguards of the American judicial system, and held there for years in humiliating conditions without trial, so they could never find out what they were accused of and try to offer a defence. It would seem amazing that these men (never having had the chance of hearing about socialism, and however indifferent they may have been to the conflict before their incarceration) did not on release immediately fly into the welcoming arms of al-Qaeda, on the grounds that if two forces are fighting each other, then if you hate the one you have to support the other. If after all their gruesome ill-treatment by the Americans only 20 percent have actually “turned to terrorism” since their release, it implies that most of them never were terrorists.
    Alwyn Edgar

    A world without money - Les amis de 4 millions de jeunes travailleurs (1979)

    From the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard (Thanks to LibCom collective for originally posting this on their website.)
    The following article is a translation of extracts from a pamphlet published in France with the title Un monde sans argent : le communisme.

    We publish it because not only does it give a clear enough picture of future society, but it also shows what we have always held, that the spread of socialist ideas does not depend exclusively on our own efforts because capitalism itself generates the idea of socialism.

    The pamphlet was published by a group with the curious name of 'Les amis de 4 millions de jeunes travailleurs' ( the friends of the 4 million young workers ), which seems no longer to exist, at least not under this name. As far as we know, those who produced this pamphlet developed their ideas quite independently of us even though the phrase 'a world without money' is one we have used for years.

    Two further points can be made. First, by 'communism' they mean what we mean by 'socialism', i.e. the classless, moneyless, Stateless society that will immediately follow capitalism. In other words, they don't subscribe to the common Leninist distortion which has 'socialism' ( really state capitalism), with money, wages, the State, as a society existing between capitalism and communism. For us, the words 'socialism' and 'communism' are exact synonyms and thus interchangeable. Although we ourselves exclusively use 'socialism' to describe future society, we don't object to this being also described as 'communism' ( after all, this was the term Marx used ). Second, we have very serious differences with them over how to achieve socialism/communism, since they reject electoral action and expect the change-over to be inevitably violent. In fact we can go so far as to say that their tactics, if applied, would not lead to the sort of society they desire and so ably describe.

    Editorial Committee
    Socialist Standard July 1979

    Communism is the negation of capitalism. A movement produced by the development and very success of the capitalist mode of production which will end by overthrowing it and giving birth to a new kind of society. In place of a world based on the wages system and commodities must come into being a world where human activity will never again take the form of wage labour and where the products of such activity will no longer be objects of commerce.

    Communism does not overthrow capital in order to restore commodities to their original state. Commodity exchange is a link and a progress. But it is a link between antagonistic parts. It will disappear without there being a return to barter, that primitive form of exchange. Humanity will no longer be divided into opposed groups or into enterprises. It will organise itself to plan and use its common heritage and to share out duties and enjoyments. The logic of sharing will replace the logic of exchange.

    Money will disappear. It is not a neutral instrument of measurement. It is the commodity in which all other commodities are reflected.

    Gold, silver and diamonds will no longer have any value apart from that arising from their own utility. Gold can be reserved in accordance with Lenin's wish, for the construction of public lavatories.

    Marx and Engels set themselves the task of understanding the development of capitalist society. They did not concern themselves much with description of the future world such as had monopolised the efforts of the utopian socialists. But criticism of capitalism cannot be completely separated from a commitment to communism. The historical role of money and the state can only be really understood from the viewpoint of their disappearance.

    That Marx and Engels did not talk more about communist society was due, without doubt paradoxically, to the fact that this society, being less near than it is today, was more difficult to envisage, but also to the fact that it was more present in the minds of the revolutionaries of their day. When they spoke of the abolition of the wages system in the Communist Manifesto they were understood by those they were echoing. Today it is more difficult to envisage a world freed from the state and commodities because these have become omnipresent. But having become omnipresent, they have lost their historical necessity.

    Marx and Engels perhaps grasped less well than a Fourier the nature of communism as the liberation and harmonisation of the emotions. Fourier, however, does not get away from the wages system, since among other things he still wants doctors to be paid, even if according to the health of the community rather than the illnesses of their patients.

    Marx and Engels, however, were sufficiently precise to avoid responsibility for the bureaucracy and financial system of the 'communist' countries being attributed to them. According to Marx, with the coming of communism money straightaway disappears and the producers cease to exchange their products. Engels speaks of the disappearance of commodity production when socialism comes. And don't let anyone speak to us about an error of youth, as a whole rabble of marxologists has acquired the habit of doing. Our references are the Critique of the Gotha Programme and Anti-Duhring.

    What is property ? This is not so simple a question to answer. Witness the polemic between Marx and Proudhon. The latter had proposed that 'property is theft'. Proudhon well understood that property does not originate in nature. It is the product of a society where reign relationships of power, violence and the appropriation of the labour of others. It is said that property is theft, while theft is only defined with reference to property; this is to turn round in circles.

    The problem becomes more complicated when you go on from property to the abolition of property. Should all property, whether involving means of production or personal possessions, be abolished ? Should it be done selectively ? Should there be a radical break with all property and anything that resembles it ?

    Communism chooses this last proposition. It is not a question of transferring property titles but of the simple disappearance of property. In revolutionary society no-one will be able to 'use and abuse' a good because they are its owner. There will be no exceptions to this rule. Buildings, pins, plots of land will no longer belong to anyone, or if you like, they will belong to everybody. The very idea of property will rapidly be considered absurd.

    Will everything then equally belong to everybody ? Will the first-comer be able to put me out of my house, take my clothes off me or take bread from out of my mouth just because I will no longer be the owner of my house, my clothes or my food ? Certainly not; on the contrary, each person's material and emotional security will be strengthened. It is simply that it will not be the right of property that will be invoked as a protection, but directly the interest of the person concerned. Everybody will have to be able to satisfy their hunger - and be housed and clothed - at their convenience. Everybody will have to be able to live in peace.

    The right and the sentiment of property will die out in communist society because scarcity will disappear. People will no longer have to cling to an object for fear of not being able to enjoy it any more if they let go of it for a single instant.

    By what magic do you intend to bring out this fabulous era of abundance ? the bourgeois will ask ironically. There's no magic about it. We will be able to make abundance appear because it is already here under our feet. It is not a question of creating it but simply of liberating it. It is precisely capital, through submitting people and nature to its yoke for many centuries, that has made abundance a possibility. It is not that communism is suddenly going to produce abundance but that capitalism artificially maintains scarcity.

    In communist societies goods will be freely available and free of charge. The organisation of society to its very foundations will be without money.

    How can we prevent wealth being grasped by some at the expense of others ? Won't our society, after a moment of euphoria while people help themselves to existing resources, risk sliding into chaos and inequality before sinking into disorder and terror?

    In developed communist society the productive forces will be sufficient to meet needs. The frantic and neurotic desire to consume and hoard will disappear. It will be absurd to want to accumulate things : there will no longer be money to be pocketed nor wage-earners to be hired. Why accumulate tins of beans or false teeth which you won't use ?

    In this new world people will not have to constantly pay and keep accounts in order to feed themselves, travel about or amuse themselves. They will rapidly lose the habit. From this will spring a feeling of being genuinely free. People will feel at home everywhere. Not being constantly under surveillance, they won't be tempted to cheat. Why seek to lie or build up secret stocks when you are certain of being able to have your fill?

    Gradually the sentiment of property will disappear and will appear retrospectively as somewhat odd and mean. Why cling to an object or a person when the whole world is yours?

    The new people will resemble their hunting and gathering ancestors who trusted in a nature which supplied them freely and often abundantly with what they needed to live, and who had no worry for the morrow, over which in any case they had no control. For the people of tomorrow, nature will be the world they will have themselves fashioned and the abundance will be created by their own hands. They will be sure of themselves because they will have confidence in their strength and will know their limitations. They will be without worry because they will know that the morrow belongs to them. Death ? It exists. But it is pointless crying over what is inevitable. The point is to be in a position to enjoy the present moment.

    3. Democracy
    What is more beautiful than democracy : the sovereign power of the people ? As much as the term capitalism can be embarrassing, to the same extent the term democracy arouses support. Everyone is for democracy, whether it is royal or republican, bourgeois or popular. To reproach their adversaries people will call them insufficiently democratic.

    Anyone who sets themselves against democracy will at best be seen as nostalgic for absolute monarchy. In general people prefer to label them as fascists. The keenest to do so are often the marxists and marxist-leninists who forget what the founding fathers said about democracy, and who are anxious to conceal their own taste for power and dictatorship. Hypocritically, some of those who are still guiltily nostalgic for stalinism will reproach us for being stalinists.

    Democracy appears as the antithesis of capitalist despotism. Here where it is well known that a minority is in charge, one claims to oppose to them the remaining power of universal suffrage.
    In reality capitalism and democracy are partly linked. Democracy is the fig leaf of capital. Democratic values, far from being subversive, are the idealised expression of the real and less noble tendencies of capitalist society. Communists no more claim to realise the trilogy "liberty, equality, fraternity" than they do "work, family, fatherland".

    If democracy is the consort of capital, how is it that dictatorship and capitalism so often coexist ? How is it that the majority of mankind live under authoritarian regimes ? How does it come about that even in democratic countries the operation of democracy is constantly hindered?

    Democratic values and aspirations are the consequence of the solvent character of capital. They correspond to the ending of the insertion of the individual within a community and a network of fixed relations. They also correspond to the need to maintain an idealised community, to regulate conflicts, and to limit quarrels for the good of all. The minority yields to the decisions of the majority.
    Democracy is neither a simple lie nor a vulgar illusion. It draws its content from a shattered social reality for which it seems to be a reunification. Within the democratic aspiration there is a search for community, a will to respect others. But the basis on which it takes root and seeks to develop prevents this from succeeding.

    Democracy is often still too dangerous for capital or at least for certain interests in power. That is why they constantly seek to impose limits to it. With few exceptions these limits and even simple dictatorship are presented as victories of democracy itself. What tyrant doesn't claim to govern, if not by the people, then at least for the people?

    Democracy, which can seem to be a excellent means of absorbing workers struggles during periods of calm, sees itself abandoned without shame as soon as the defence of capital requires this. There are always a few intellectuals and politicians who are most surprised to find themselves so easily sacrificed on the alter of the interests of the powerful.

    Democracy and dictatorship are opposed but not unrelated forms. Since it implies the submission of the minority to the majority democracy is a form of dictatorship. While a junta of dictators may well have to resort to democratic mechanisms.

    It is sometimes forgotten that fascism, nazism and stalinism were involved in imposing on themselves both terrorist processes and regular elections. They liked to oppose the broad masses and popular justice to the handfuls of "traitors", the "unpatriotic" and those who were "anti-party".

    Communism is not the enemy of democracy because it will be the friend of dictatorship and fascism. It is the enemy of democracy because it is the enemy of politics. That said, communists are not indifferent to the regime under which they live. They prefer to fall asleep quietly in the evening without wondering whether tonight someone will come to take them from their beds and convey them to prison.

    The critique of the state must not be substituted for the critique of politics. Some take on the machinery of the state but only the better to save politics. Just as certain educationalists criticise schools in order to generalise education into all forms of social relation. For Leninists everything is political. Behind every manifestation of capital, they see an intention, a design. Capital becomes the instrument of a political project to which it is necessary to oppose another political project.
    Politics is seen as the domain of liberty, action and manoeuvre as compared to economic fate. Economy, the domain of the production of goods is dominated by necessity. Economic evolution and crises appear as natural phenomena which escape human influence.
    The left is accustomed to stressing the possibilities of politics, the right is accustomed to stress the needs of the economy. It's a false debate.

    More and more politics appears as the carbon copy of economic life. During a certain period it could play a role of compromise and alliance between social layers.
    Today the importance of politics as an intervention in the economy has increased. But at the same time the political sphere has lost its autonomy. There is only a single politics of capital which compels both left and right regardless of the specific interests of their social bases.
    While the state appears to be a more or less definable institution, politics is born and reborn from all the pores of society. Although it finds its expression in the action of a particular layer of militants and politicians, it is supported by, and finds an echo in, the behaviour of everybody. This is what gives it its strength and conveys the impression that all social solutions must be political.
    Politics follow from, and are supported, by the dissociation between decision and action, and by the separations which set individuals against one another. Politics first appear as the permanent search for power which animates men in capitalist society. Democracy and despotism seem to be the only ways of regulating problems between people. The introduction of democracy into families or couples passes for a new stage in human progress. Above all this expresses, in perhaps the least worst way, the loss of the deep unity which can unite human beings.
    Communism does not separate decision and execution. There will no longer be a division between two groups or even between two distinct moments organised into a hierarchy. People will do what they must or what they have decided to do without posing the question of whether they are a minority or a majority. These are notions which presuppose the existence of a formal community.
    The principle of unanimity reigns in the sense that those who do something will be in agreement from the start, and that the agreement provides the basis and possibility of common action. The group does not exist independently of, or prior to, the action. It is not split apart in voting to then be reunified by the submission of one part to the other. It is constituted in and by the action, and by the capacity of people to identify with and understand the point of view of others.
    It is not a matter of systematically rejecting all voting and any submission of a minority to a majority. But then these are just technical forms to which one cannot give an absolute value. It may be that the minority possesses the truth. It may be that a majority yields to a minority considering the importance of what is at stake for that minority.
    Is communism the advent of liberty ? Yes, if one understands by this that mankind will have more choice than now, that they will be able to live in agreement with their tastes.
    What we challenge is the philosophy which opposes free-will and determinism. This separation reflects the opposition of man and the world, individual and society. It expresses the rootlessness of the individual and his inability to understand his own needs in order to satisfy them. He can choose between a thousand types of work, a thousand forms of leisure, a thousand loves and be influenced in a thousand ways because nothing truly affects him. No certainty lives within him. He doubts everything and first of all himself. In doing this he is ready to support everything and often believes he has chosen it. Liberty presents itself as the philosophical garb of misery. Doubt as the expression of freedom of thought when really it signifies loss, the inability of man to situate himself in his world.
    In the course of the revolution man loses his chains but finally becomes linked simultaneously to his desires and to the necessities of the moment. He becomes passionate once again and begins to understand himself. The extraordinary climate of joy and tension within insurrections is linked to the feeling that everything is possible and at the same time that what one does must be done urgently. That one must no longer hesitate and be blown back and forth between petty tasks. Subjective and objective constraints merge together.

    Calling on Beelzebub (2010)

    Editorial from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Off Haiti the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier, enables military helicopters to transport food, water and medical supplies to people on the island who desperately need them. USAF air traffic controllers guide planes from all over the world carrying other supplies and equipment to land safely at the airport at Port-au-Prince. A US hospital ship and naval vessels from other countries wait offshore.

    Socialists are perhaps not alone in seeing the irony of organisations that normally deal in death and destruction being called in to deal with a situation caused by a Nature that has wreaked death and destruction. For armed forces are just that – bodies of trained men and women whose mission is to kill and maim people and to destroy and demolish buildings. Just as at the very same moment other military helicopters and planes from other aircraft carriers are doing in another part of the world, Afghanistan.

    Still perhaps we should at least be grateful for small mercies and not complain when, for once, the armed forces put aside their weapons and do something useful for a change. In any event it is what the people of the world want. It is clear that people all over the globe do genuinely feel for their fellow humans when they are hit by an earthquake as in Haiti or by a tsunami as in and around the Indian Ocean five years ago. They want to help and they do help in whatever small way they can. A sign that, deep down, people do consider themselves as members of a single human community, as people of the planet Earth.

    Only a callous buffoon of an American money-seeking bible preacher could say that the earthquake was an act of a god angry at the people of Haiti for some sin they are supposed to have committed. The scorn with which his claim was greeted shows how far removed we now are from the times when this would have been the standard explanation, accepted even by the victims.

    Humans are not able to prevent earthquakes but, quite apart from the fact that much that could be done to mitigate their consequences is not done for reasons of cost, a united socialist world provides a better framework than capitalism for dealing with these inevitable Acts of Nature. That today armed forces have to be (partially) diverted from their normal destructive activities to deal with these natural disasters brings out that under capitalism, with its division of the world into competing states, there is no permanent international rescue service of trained men and women, having its own helicopters, landing craft and, yes, even aircraft carriers. As there could and no doubt will be in a socialist world. Without guns of course.