Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Socialists in the election (2010)

From the June 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the general election the Socialist Party stood one candidate, if only to show that we hold that a socialist-minded wage and salary working class can use the ballot box in the course of establishing socialism. Elsewhere we advocated a write-in vote for “World Socialism”.

The constituency, Vauxhall, just south of the Thames in central London, is one we had contested a number of times before. We had expected our opponents to be only the ordinary capitalist parties – Labour, Tory, LibDems and Greens – but in the event there were also candidates from the Christian Party (an attempt to introduce the US “Christian Right” here), the English Democrats (who want a separate parliament for England), the Animal Protection Party (hunt saboteurs challenging the sitting Labour MP, Kate Hoey, who is chair of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance), and Workers Power (a breakaway Trotskyist group).

We met most of these candidates in three well-attended hustings, the last one in a church near the Oval attracting up to 200 people. The Post Office distributed 56,000 of our manifestos to households in the constituency.

As the Green Party candidate said he was an ‘ecosocialist’, this meant that there were three candidates saying they stood for socialism. This provided a case study of the difference between our and their approaches. The Green Party is not of course a socialist party and does not claim to be, even if individual members such as their candidate in Vauxhall do. Basically, the Green Party stands for a return to small-scale capitalism. Their election address made the same sort of promises as the main capitalist parties, only even less realistic – a minimum wage of £8.10 an hour, a non-means tested pension of £170 a week, a million new jobs installing free insulation in “every single home” and (of course) “protect our NHS”.

The Trotskyist candidate made even wilder promises (seemingly on the basis of take what the openly capitalist parties are offering and multiply by three), such as:

  • “Create three million new jobs – tax the rich to fund a huge programme of public works.
  • £9 an hour minimum wage for all.
  • Six weeks paid holiday as a minimum for all workers.
  • Cancel mortgage interest for working people.
  • Scrap council tax – for a local wealth tax.
  • Jobs for all, funded by taxing the rich and taking over the banks
  • Benefits to be at level of minimum wage.
  • Stop fare rises – slash bus and tube prices – make it free by taxing the rich.
  • For pensions tied to average male earnings.
  • Automatic and total payment [for pensioners] of all utility bills - gas, electricity, telephone and internet connection.
  • (from The Anticapitalist Manifesto for Vauxhall)

    All of this assumes the continued existence of the rich who are to be taxed – and so the continuation of capitalism as a society where there are rich people, whose income comes from the exploitation of workers.

    We, on the other hand, argued that, as capitalism was the cause of the problems, the only way to lastingly solve them was to replace capitalism and its production for profit and wages system with socialism, a society of common ownership, democratic control, production solely for use, and distribution according to the principle ‘from each their ability, to each their needs’. We didn’t advocate any reforms to capitalism, just socialism.

    As a German group put it in a comment on the election they sent to us:
    “Even fringe left-wing parties like Respect bow to the dictates of ‘realism’ and respect private property through their demands of ‘taxation on the big corporations and the wealthy to fund public services’ – a demand which requires big corporations to make the kind of profits which can then be taxed” (See Here).
    Precisely. So, all the measures in the Trotskyist manifesto were supposed to be implemented under capitalism. Ridiculous. We doubt whether even their proposers believed this possible. In the event nobody else did either. True, we didn’t do much better but the point is: when Trotskyists with their programme of “transitional” reforms are getting the same sort of vote as us who are advocating only socialism, what’s the point of advocating reforms and not socialism? You might as well advocate taking over the bakery (and the wheatfields) rather than bigger and better crumbs.

    The result was: Hoey (Labour) 21,498; Pidgeon (LD) 10,847; Chambers (Con) 9,301; Healey (Green) 708; Navarro (English Democrats) 289; Martin (Christian) 200; Lambert (Soc) 143, Drinkall (Workers Power) 109; Kapetanos (Animal Protection) 96.

    Material World: Christian Fascism: the best response (2010)

    The Material World column from the June 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    In American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (Free Press, 2006), Chris Hedges warns of the danger presented by the section of the US political spectrum usually known as the Christian right – a danger to democracy, tolerance, science and intellectual freedom. His warning concerns not Christian revivalism in general (traditional evangelists like Billy Graham, he points out, were concerned with saving souls not politics) but a specific highly political tendency called “dominionism” that aims to establish the world empire of a reborn “Christian America”.

    Dominionist preachers like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, R.J. Rushdoony and Rod Parseley propagate their worldview through a vast array of “megachurches” and publishing houses, home schools and universities, museums and broadcasting outlets. (The programming of Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcasting Network is carried on over 6,000 television stations at home and abroad.) Theirs is a relentlessly simplistic worldview, supposedly based on the Bible as the literal Word of God, that denounces all opponents as servants of Satan and eagerly anticipates the miraculous horrors of the Apocalypse.

    The dominionists are hostile to real science and deny global warming as well as evolution. Their “Gospel of Prosperity” celebrates unbridled capitalism and extravagant consumption. A long-term aim is government based on biblical law.

    A purely American Fascism
    Hedges makes out a convincing case for regarding dominionism as a variety of totalitarianism and fascism. In certain ways, however, the dominionists differ from earlier generations of fascists in the United States, even though they too used the Christian label. Dominionist symbols are purely American; they admit to no connection with classical foreign fascisms (Italian, German etc.).

    Comparing the new Christian fascists with the Ku Klux Klan, for instance, we find that each focuses on a quite different set of enemies. They renounce hatred for blacks, Catholics and Jews – the three bugbears of WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) bigotry. Instead, they appeal to Christians across racial lines, work with Catholics on issues such as abortion and prayer in schools, and cultivate a close alliance of convenience with the Zionist religious right, despite the divergent apocalyptic expectations of the two groups. The main targets of their hostility are those they call “secular humanists” – a catch-all for all who oppose them, non-fundamentalist Christians as well as atheists and agnostics – and also Islam.

    A highly lucrative business
    How do the dominionist preachers finance their activities? Partly by fleecing their flocks, who pay a “tithe” of 10 percent of income in addition to other donations. Other money comes from sympathetic capitalists, including Amway founder Richard DeVos and beer baron Joseph Coors. Finally, the Bush Administration, with which they had close ties through the Council for National Policy, enabled them to tap federal funds for “faith-based” social service initiatives – an arrangement that Obama has left intact.

    We may reasonably doubt whether the big capitalists and politicians who support the dominionists care all that deeply about religious dogma. Their main interest presumably lies in the prospect of intensified control over and exploitation of the working class.

    Indeed, for the preachers themselves religion is, apart from anything else, a highly lucrative business. Their opulent lifestyles suggest that they divert a significant portion of the various cash flows into their own bank accounts. Evidently they have overlooked certain biblical passages – for instance, Jesus’ well-known remark about the camel who tried to pass through the eye of a needle.

    Our attitude as socialists
    The danger presented by “Christian fascism” is a real one. It threatens us as socialists at least as much as it threatens all other “servants of Satan”. Our ability to spread our ideas depends on tolerance of minority opinions. Moreover, people whose minds have been addled by belief in magic, miracles and divine texts are unlikely to be receptive to socialist ideas.

    So we cannot say: “It doesn’t matter which group of capitalists have the upper hand; they are all equally bad because they all represent capitalism.” Of course it matters.

    Faced with the threat of fascism, socialists share a certain amount of common ground with non-socialists concerned to defend democracy and science. Both, for example, seek to debunk “creationism” and explain current scientific thinking about evolution.

    However, we must not jeopardise our identity as socialists by joining broad “anti-fascist” blocs that inevitably accept the continued existence of capitalism. One reason is that as socialists we have a unique contribution to make to effective action against fascism.

    Real versus illusory community
    In his book Hedges describes how vulnerable people are recruited into dominionist churches. The target of “seduction” is someone whose history and circumstances (family breakdown, abuse, addiction, isolation, etc.) make it especially hard to bear the absence of community in capitalism. The church offers an illusion of community and the victim snatches at the bait, only later to discover, when escape has become very difficult, that he or she has paid a high price in submission for yet another illusion.

    The soil in which fascism grows is the impersonal and alienating conditions of life under capitalism, especially at times of crisis. Hedges appears to understand this. But there is a disconnect between analysis and conclusion. He calls for more determined resistance to Christian fascism, but offers no hope of a more communal way of life that might counter the emotional appeal of fascism. Only socialists, by holding out the prospect of real community, can act effectively to undermine the illusory community of fascism.

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 147

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 147th our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1568 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Unrealistic alternatives
  • Trade unionist extraordinary
  • Democracy – and ‘democracy’
  • Quote for the week:

    "Only by the propaganda of Socialism among the rank and file of the trade unions will they be made capable of understanding their position as wage slaves, and the consequent necessity for the abolition of capitalism, and not of patching it up, as advocated with monotonous persistence by the misleaders we have been dealing with. Having arrived at this understanding, the workers will recognise that their political power must be put to an infinitely better use than that of providing fat jobs for nimble-tongued tricksters, shepherds put over them by their wily masters—the achievement of their own emancipation, to wit. Then the workers will at once wrench themselves free from the strangle-hold of these Labour garroters, and hurl them to perdition together with that system of labour-exploitation of which they are part and parcel." Jack Fitzgerald, Labour Leaders and their Prey, 1909.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!
    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    The race to the bottom (2010)

    From the June 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
    Could Western corporations do without sweatshop production?
    Sweatshops are workplaces where the working conditions are extremely poor and health and safety laws are not enforced or are non-existent. News reports of fires which have killed dozens of people because fire doors were locked in sweatshop factories are not uncommon. Wages are very low, there may be bullying and intimidation, especially of anyone trying to improve conditions. Hours are long and the work itself may be very demanding and even dangerous. Sick workers cannot take time off and are penalised if they leave the factory. Sub-contractors for European, Japanese and American corporations refuse their staff breaks, monitoring the times they go to the toilet and harassing and humiliating staff. Profit comes before safety, before any quality of life the workers may have, before any idea of comfort.

    Developing countries are producing an increasing amount of the world’s manufacturing production. This is symptomatic of the new international division of labour, whereby Western countries close their factories at home, where wages rates are higher, and invest in factories in the ‘Third World’ as the labour costs are so much lower. Unfortunately for the ‘Third world’ workers, it was not undiluted joy at the prospect of having jobs and a bit of money. The labour costs might be cheaper because the cost of living is cheaper, but the wage rates can be so low that workers find it hard to survive in Thailand and Cambodia for instance.

    Western corporations used to be able to distance themselves to a certain extent from the conditions in their sub-contractors assembly plants, because of the geographical distance between, say, Britain and China. People in Britain did not necessarily realise that when they bought an item of clothing from Umbro, a British company, it was actually made in China in sweatshop conditions, conditions that would just not be acceptable in modern day Britain.

    Campaigns by Human Rights agencies, such as Oxfam and the Clean Clothes Campaign, have publicised the conditions suffered by workers in the sweatshops. Although companies may try to say that they are not responsible for the conditions of work in the firms they sub-contract out to, campaigners have appealed to the sense of fair play and compassion in consumers. Although not all consumers are worried by the idea of sweatshop conditions for the people who make their clothes, the corporations do not want a bad image in the media and have produced corporate ‘codes of conduct’ and company policies which try to improve their standing in the public eye as well as (maybe) alleviate some of the worst problems.

    How far they have managed to clean up their image or help people in sweatshops in the developing world is debatable. According to Oxfam, the ‘race to the bottom’ was inevitable as you cannot have very cheap clothes and also give your workers a decent standard of living. Although British workers also suffered from sweatshops in the past, a mixture of increased unionisation, philanthropy and labour laws helped to improve conditions for the working class.

    The question of how far can Western corporations distance themselves from sweatshop production can only really be understood by looking at the bigger picture, which is: why is the pursuit of profit, to the detriment of all the finer things in life for the working class, so all pervasive?

    The main goal in capitalism is the pursuit of profit. Profit is put before needs. This is why millions of people do not have enough to eat – they simply don’t have the money to buy food. The world is quite capable of growing enough food for everyone and more, but no money means no food for poor people. Poor people are stuck if they cannot improve their wages and conditions due to merciless capitalists, unless they either migrate legally or illegally to another better paid job in another country.
    According to philosopher Iris Marion Young, we cannot blame consumers directly for the misfortune of the sweatshop workers, but we can accept political responsibility and change the process. She said that, although many individuals are involved, from the manufacturers to the consumers, they should all play their part in improving the lot of the ‘Third World’ workers. This is unrealistic in a capitalist world. Capitalist corporations are there to make money and all we can do is alleviate the symptoms – unless we cure it completely by changing the economic system in which we live. There will always be someone who wants to make even more profit, by forcing poor conditions on the workers, or moving the factory elsewhere to where the labour laws are laxer, as happened from Mexico to China, when some macquiladoras (or assembly plants) in Mexico were closed so the capitalist corporations could find cheaper labour elsewhere. And consumers may not even know where else to buy their clothes.

    So, although Oxfam and the Clean Clothes campaign have brought the attention of the media to the practices of manufacturers, still people cannot see it for themselves ‘next door’ so are immune to the suffering. The suffering is too far away. They would help their next door neighbour but that is in close proximity. People at a distance are ‘out of sight, out of mind’. When even photos can be taken different ways, people would be overwhelmed if they did not block out some charitable appeals.

    Some people think that the third world workers can work themselves out of poverty, in the way of the ‘Asian tigers’, without realising that the odds are stacked against them and they cannot repeat the success story of say, Hong Kong. The workers are very much subjugated and repressed in these assembly plants. It is difficult to see where they could help themselves, anyone found trying to start a union is quickly out of a job.

    The Western corporations are just trying to do what they have to do in capitalism: make the biggest profit they can. If they don’t their rivals will undercut them and they will eventually go out of business or be taken over. It is a dog-eat-dog world, and whereas people have to acquire visas and passports, corporations and capital have relative ease of flows across the world. Money eases the wheels of commerce, but the migration of people can be very much resented and resisted, as in Mexico with the self-styled American Border Patrol.

    Capitalists, who make up the richest 5 percent or so in the world, may not be ‘bad’ people: they may give to charity, go to church and be kind to children and animals. But back at work, the system makes them behave in a ruthless race to make the biggest profits. If they don’t, they go under. Charities like Oxfam and the Clean Clothes Campaign are just whistling in the wind. They may dampen down the worst excesses of the capitalist profit-seeking, but they can never stop exploitation until and unless they help to usher in a world, where people are free to enjoy their lives instead of making millions for the very few rich capitalists at the top.
    Veronica Clanchy