That’s the “choice” the main and minor parties are offering at the general election.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Cross-Posted from the Vaux Populi blog
Bought a copy of The Big Issue outside Sainsbury's in Clapham High Street and found that it contained an article by David Harvey (in fact an extract from his new book The Enigma of Capital) which says some things we have long said:
Can capitalism survive the present trauma? Yes, of course. But at what cost? This question masks another. Can the capitalist class reproduce its power in the face of the raft of economic, social, political and geopolitical and environmental difficulties? Again, the answer is a resounding 'Yes it can'.
This will, however, require the mass of the people to give generously of the fruits of their labour to those in power, to surrender many of their rights and their hard-won asset values (in everything from housing to pension rights) and to suffer environmental degradations galore, to say nothing of serial reductions in their living standards which will mean starvation for many of those already struggling to survive at rock bottom.
Capitalism will never fall on its own. It will have to be pushed. The accumulation of capital will never cease. It will have to be stopped. The capitalist class will never willingly surrender its power. It will have to be dispossessed.
That's why we're contesting this election -- to urge people to organise politically to dispossess the capitalist class and establish a world society of common ownership, democratic control and production solely not profit.
It's not too late to buy this week's Big Issue. But, remember, the real big issue is whether capitalism should be allowed to continue or whether it should be replaced by socialism (not which political non-entity would make the best managing director of UKCapitalism plc).
Friday, April 16, 2010
Welcome to the 143rd of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.
We now have 1562 friends!
Quote for the week:
"I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world. " Eugene Debs, 1855 - 1926
Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!
Robert and Piers
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
No Way To Run An Economy. By Graham Turner, Pluto Press, 2009
This is the sequel to Turner’s The Credit Crunch reviewed in last April’s Socialist Standard. The book is essentially a Keynesian tome advocating quantitative easing, low interest rates and nationalisation of the banks as a way of dealing with the onset of financial crises like the most recent one.
Much that was both positive and negative about The Credit Crunch applies here too: there are some very useful graphs and statistics presented even though the general case for Keynesianism is necessarily weak. What is more interesting is that now there appears to be a partial and belated recognition of this that creeps into the analysis as the book develops. The chapter entitled ‘Structural Causes of the Recession’ in particular illustrates something of a shift in thinking to the effect that there may be something about capitalism that is fundamentally flawed in the way Marx had argued. Some of the discussion presented at this stage isn’t bad; if there is a problem it is that too much emphasis is placed on the recent decline in the share of the national product going to labour in countries like the US, meaning that allegedly consumption and profits can only be maintained in these circumstances through the extension of credit. He hedges his bets somewhat but ultimately argues that in pursuit of profits:
‘Companies are engaged in a competitive struggle, but the compression of wages will undermine the ability of consumers to buy and absorb the goods and services being produced. The contradictions with capitalism will eventually be exposed when consumers can no longer buy all the goods being produced’ (p114).This neglects the fact that, as Marx pointed out, it is more typical for the share of wages relative to profits to rise as the boom nears its peak and that the inability of the working class to buy back all that is produced is not the cause of economic crises (if that was the case capitalism would be in permanent crisis). Ironically, Turner reproduces a key passage from Volume II of Marx’s Capital to this effect in the Notes at the end of the book, but clearly hasn’t applied or understood this point when formulating his own analysis.
Indeed, a fair part of his discussion of Marxian theories of economic crises seems to have been adapted from writers like the late Chris Harman of the SWP. This is not entirely surprising given the SWP’s own attempts to integrate aspects of Keynesian ideas within a Marxist framework, such as with the permanent arms economy argument as an explanation of the post-war boom, one which Turner seems appreciative of.
In fairness, Turner is at least starting to ask the right sort of questions in this book, though a realisation that crises within capitalism are caused by the drive to accumulate profits in a competitive environment where there is no planning between enterprises but an anarchy of production instead, would lead him to a clearer and different conclusion. This is that no amount of Keynesian intervention, monetary reform or redistribution of income can prevent the market economy’s periodic slide into chaos.
The market system failed long before the present crash.It wasn't that long ago when the academic discipline of economics bestrode the world. Trying to grasp Adam Smith's invisible hand and understanding the workings of the market system was a respected profession. Economists moved even beyond markets, extending their empires laying claim to large parts of social science, as complex disciplines such as human psychology and sociology were reduced to little more than a matter of competing agents and game theory. There was a reason the recent bestseller Freakonomics was sub-titled the “hidden side of everything”.
But like the cobbler's children, running around barefoot, recent events have exposed the poverty of the economists' understanding of their very own intellectual backyard, the capitalist economy. Their advice on human nature or politics carries somewhat less authority now that appear incapable of explaining the credit crunch or why none of them saw it coming.
The assembled might of the London School of Economics – one of the intellectual powerhouses of capitalist ideology – was recently challenged on why the credit crunch occurred and why they weren't able to foresee it. Which intellectual giant issued the challenge? Who is it that so has their finger on the pulse of everyday concerns of working people?
During a visit to the LSE recently, Her Royal Highness the Queen (for it was she) took time out from her busy schedule to wade into the debate. The fact that she might not be the best guide to the money system (given her reluctance to dirty her hands carrying money round with her), and is probably an unlikely candidate for repossession order (at least until we get a socialist majority) was not considered relevant.
Of course she does have her head on every coin, which demands some respect, so on that basis the response to the Queen's query of the LSE's “high policy forum of 22 economic heavyweights” appeared to involve them (metaphorically) lowering their collective heavyweight heads in shame and muttering under their breath “there are no simple answers” (m'am). The blame for missing the credit crunch was placed on “a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people” – the wording of which suggests that with the usual modesty. they still consider themselves members of that group.
No longer permitted to demand their heads on a sharp stick, as many of her loyal subjects would wish, the Queen instead settled for asking what they would recommend to prevent the financial crisis happening again. Doubtless she was not impressed with the World Socialist Movement's advice in this respect, (abolition of the wages system, your Majesty), unless of course this was accompanied by a full return to feudalism, in which case she might presumably be swayed.
It should be said that we claim no greater ability to predict economic crashes, than the self-proclaimed “bright minds” of capitalism. (Those of you who remember that Enron executives used to call themselves “the smartest guys in the room”, and the whole banking sector seemed to consider themselves “masters of the universe” may see a pattern emerging in how capitalists have grossly inflated views of themselves, not just their investments). Our view is that crashes are inherent to the system and are inherently unpredictable. If they were predictable, investors would act accordingly and make it unpredictable again.
There is nothing wrong with trying to understand capitalism, as long as the intent is to get rid of it. If you want to study the economy to try and make it work, you might as well read tea-leaves, or – better still perhaps – the scattered intestines of sacrificed investment bankers.
So what was the recommendation of the economic intellectuals to this royal command? In a squirming, obsequious response they said they saw no merit in using existing policy mechanisms which had all clearly failed to contain the market (a revolutionary view world socialists would share). More disappointingly they instead made a tentative modest proposal of her royal highness: that it would help everyone if she were to ask her ministers for a monthly update.
They go on: “ There is a need to develop a culture of questioning, in which no assumption is accepted without scepticism and a sufficiently broad array of outcomes is considered”. This is a pretty good summary of the scientific method. Economics has always resented the “dismal science” tag thrown its way. With the admission above from its highest priests, it could be argued that economics is some way from even laying claim to being a science, dismal or otherwise.
We would agree with the economists where they warn the Queen that “it is a dangerous conceit to believe that economic cycles can be eliminated”. But the wording suggests that this is some sort of human failing rather than the inherent flaw of a system that is – it should not be forgotten – just one option available to help humanity make its most critical decisions (that is production of things humanity needs). Indeed the economists continue “if you have a series of relatively buoyant years...not only do humans get flabby, also the feeling 'we've cracked that' is all too easy to spread. It is human nature”.
So there you have it. All of you who thought over the last 10 or 20 years that “you'd cracked it”, are to blame for getting “flabby”. And besides, it’s all conveniently in your genes anyway, didn’t you know? In future we can rest assured however – the Queen is on the case now.
Over the next few years of promised increased austerity – as hospitals close, schools fall apart and houses get repossessed – let us not forget that these hucksters, chancers and charlatans are the people who claim to be in charge of capitalism. But the market failed long before it crashed. Leave decision-making to others, we are told. Leave it to the bankers and the “bright minds”. Leave it to the economists and the politicians. Leave it to the capitalists and even our own royal relic of feudalism. They all still expect you to let them make the decisions. Fortunately, year by year, fewer of us remain quite so willing.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Welcome to the 142nd of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.
We now have 1564 friends!
Tony Blair and the Chilcot inquiry
What is Real Democracy and How Do We Get It?
What’s Wrong with Using Parliament?
Quote for the week:
"Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people." Oscar Wilde (attributed)
Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!
Robert and Piers
What is Common Ownership?
Quite simply, the common ownership of the world’s resources and productive capacity is the basis for a reorganisation of society that would ensure plenty of the necessities of life for everyone on the planet – no more starving, malnourished people, no wandering homeless, no senseless deaths for the want of easily affordable medical care and medicine, no more poverty, unemployment, or inequality. How can this be so? Surely, if it were possible to eliminate these scourges we would have done it long ago. Aren’t we working on these problems anyway?
At present we live in a world where the resources of the Earth and the products made from them, the processes needed to make them, and the transportation systems to get them to you, are all owned by private individuals. A company proposes to extract resources or manufacture commodities. It needs money in order to do this. Wealthy people loan the company the necessary capital, but they don’t do it for nothing. They will expect a healthy return on their money every year of say, 10 percent, or £100 000 on every million pounds loaned. If this return is below expectations, then the lenders will withdraw their funds and look somewhere else to invest.
This puts every enterprise in a competition for capital to fund their operations and for expansion. Thus all companies must compete and strive to do whatever is necessary to create profit to pay dividends to lenders. If a company fails in this, capital will dry up and production will stop, rendering its physical assets as junk or sold at a fraction of their value, and its employees will be out of work. In other words, commodities are only produced for the purpose of profit or they are not produced at all.
The profits go to a tiny minority of big investors of capital to enhance their already vast fortunes that allow them to live in luxury while contributing no work whatsoever.
We believe that the Earth’s resources are the common heritage of all mankind and should be managed for the benefit of all. Those resources are easily abundant enough to feed, clothe, and house everyone on earth and provide medical care, education and everything else necessary to ensure a full and happy life for every one.
The establishment of common ownership would eliminate the competition for resources and for capital. It would eliminate production for profit. It would eliminate the need for states and their central governments that exist to serve today’s competitive system. It would even eliminate the need for money and trading as goods and services would be produced solely to meet the needs of humans who would have free access to those goods and services, taking them as needed. Competition would be replaced by cooperation, eliminating conflict and war and because everybody and therefore no one person or group would own the means of producing wealth, everyone would stand equal to the powers of production – no owners and non-owners, no exploiters and exploited, no employers and employed, and therefore, no classes.
Today, this is quite obviously not the case. We have constant conflict and war, vast inequality, poverty, malnutrition, starvation and deprivation amid wealth and plenty. Workers produce all the wealth in the world and perform all the work, yet are only allowed to take home a small share of that wealth to enable them to exist so they can show up at work the next day to produce more profit that goes to the already wealthy. And they are only allowed to do so at the whim of that tiny minority of owners.
Today, nobody starves or goes hungry because we lack food. Nobody is homeless because we lack building materials or builders, nobody lives in poverty because we lack wealth. People suffer theses scourges because they are unable to pay and thus realize a profit for some enterprise or other. In one fell swoop, in one simple action, production for profit could be replaced with production to satisfy the needs of all.
“If Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin were alive today, they would be leading contenders for the Nobel Prize in economics”, wrote Paul Craig Roberts, former editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan, in an article on Counterpunch last year.
“Marx”, he added in explanation, “predicted the growing misery of working people, and Lenin foresaw the subordination of the production of goods to financial capital's accumulation of profits based on the purchase and sale of paper instruments.”
Lenin first. He didn’t write much on economics but the two books he published on the subject are not too bad. Both rejected “underconsumptionism”. The first, The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899) was a refutation of the Narodnik view that capitalism could not develop in Russia because of a lack of markets. The second, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), argued that the imperialism that characterised the thirty or so years till the WWI was caused by profits in colonies being higher than at home. (The nonsense about some workers in the imperialist countries sharing in the exploitation of the colonies was only added in the introduction to the 1920 French and German editions). It was heavily based on a work, Finance Capital, A Study in the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development (1910), by the Austrian Social Democrat Rudolf Hilferding. So, if anyone deserves a Nobel Prize for analysing financial capital (at least in continental Europe) it would be Hilferding rather than Lenin.
As to Marx, he did write of the “increasing immiseration” of the working class as capitalism developed, but he did not intend this to be understood as the whole class necessarily becoming worse off materially. “Misery” included the quality of life and work and social factors such as the gap between rich and poor and not just the quantity of goods consumed. So misery could increase along with increased consumption. If Marx had meant “increasing pauperisation” (a view long supported by the old Communist Party) then he would have been proved wrong and so be out of the running for a Nobel Prize.
Even so, Roberts wrote that the working class in America is now materially worse off than it was twenty years ago:
“In this first decade of the 21st century there has been no increase in the real incomes of working Americans. There has been a sharp decline in their wealth. In the 21st century Americans have suffered two major stock market crashes and the destruction of their real estate wealth. Some studies have concluded that the real incomes of Americans, except for the financial oligarchy of the super rich, are less today than in the 1980s and even the 1970s. I have not examined these studies of family income to determine whether they are biased by the rise in divorce and percentage of single parent households. However, for the last decade it is clear that real take-home pay has declined.”The explanation he offers is “financial capital’s power to force the relocation of production for domestic markets to foreign shores. Wall Street’s pressures, including pressures from takeovers, forced American manufacturing firms to ‘increase shareholders’ earnings.’ This was done by substituting cheap foreign labor for American labor.”
There could be something in this but there’s no way of reversing it. Capital will always flow where the profits are highest. That’s its nature.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Listen to almost anyone talking on the radio or television and when pontificating on the troubles and problems of the world, they all, without exception seem to default to the ‘we’ word.
Recently Gordon Brown, although frankly it could have been any of the party leaders, explaining how ‘we’ must make sacrifices and enter a new era of austerity if 'we' are to resolve the current economic crisis. On another programme, probably Sunday Worship or a similar few minutes of escapist ministry, it appeared again as the minister chastised his congregation saying how ‘we’ must not be selfish and how ‘we’ must think of others. It is astonishingly conveniently how the term ‘we’ can be substituted for the word that seems to have escaped all those who turn the ills of the world inward on themselves or their fellow men or women. The correct word is, of course, society; or probably, to be more precise, the existing society.
We human beings are not inherently selfish; we are not inherently warlike; we would not in a natural state of affairs allow children to starve, even singly, let alone in their thousands. We would not pollute and damage our oceans in the full knowledge that within the next 30-40 years they would be almost devoid of edible fish. We would not cut down vast tracts of primary rain forests knowing that the loss of this forest will detrimentally affect the very planet we live on. We would not expend vast amounts of material and energy on the manufacture of devices whose sole purpose is to kill and maim other human beings, other ‘we's’. It is so convenient to ascribe the hard-to-face, awful and terrifying things that are perpetrated throughout the world to an abstract ‘we’. ‘We’ are not, as individuals, responsible for these ills and the sooner, when referring to what is wrong with this system, the word 'we' is dropped and replaced with ‘this society’ then perhaps all those poor people who after slogging hard at work all day and who are made to feel wretched and guilty and who are accused of contributing. through their avarice, greed and selfishness, to almost every shortcoming of this obsolete and dangerous society, the better.
If 'we' can be used to good effect it will be when 'we' realise the wonderful and great future humanity could achieve if ‘we’ united and stopped voting for left or right politics and voted for a new politics, straight ahead politics – true world socialism.