Thursday, January 2, 2014

Party News: Marx supports the Socialist Party - it's official (1987)

From the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx was responsible for a recent donation of £500 to the Socialist Party. The explanation for this posthumous and politically sound generosity is as follows.

The great-grandfather of one of our Branch members was a personal friend of Marx, and the family has had in its possession for some time a letter which Marx wrote to him. It was recently auctioned, and fetched a staggering £13,000 (yes, thirteen thousand pounds), which was shared amongst the family. This enabled our member to make the donation.

Keen students of the law of value will wish to know that the family did not have to pay capital gains tax on this sale. This is because the letter had always been in their possession, and in any case the "value" of the letter had reduced since its contents had already been published. Had they not been, the original letter would have fetched much more.

So if you hear noises coming from the direction of Highgate Cemetery, it won't be another group of émigrés trying to blow up Marx's gravestone. It will be the author of the labour theory of value guffawing at the thought of the delayed productivity of his own labour and the good use to which it is now being put.
K. Graham

Holiday postscript (1981)

From the February 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Long before Christianity a festive break during the dark, cold winter months helped people to get through the most trying time of the year. To replace celebration of the winter solstice, early Christians decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on 25 December; historically incorrect, but necessary to combat the appeal of the heathen jollifications.

Whatever the excuse, the holiday is over. We have had our parties—probably eaten and drunk a bit too much, certainly spent more money than we meant or could afford and, thankfully, waved goodbye to relatives and friends whom we genuinely welcomed at the start of the holidays. Listening to the radio on New Year's Day, one particular thought came uppermost. Money—"vast profits" to quote the narrator in Woman's Hour—are made, particularly during the season of "Peace and Goodwill"—from belligerence. 

The Daily Telegraph, in a number of pre-Christmas items, mentioned that in spite of—or perhaps because of—unemployment and the "difficult times" people seemed determined to enjoy the holiday; toy shops were doing a good trade, and by far the most successfully selling lines were guns, soldiers and war games.

Supermarketing of 21 November reviewed the snacks market, which has grown from 85 million in 1970 to an estimated 450 million in 1980. 70 per cent of all snacks are eaten by children, although the purchasing is split 50/50 between parents and children. With such vast sums at stake, it is vital for manufacturers to "get their sums right" when launching new products, and it seems Smith's have done it again with their "Battle Bags". Their research team went out with over two dozen concepts like space, sport and war, but Frank Richardson, their marketing manager, said:
We have always believed that there is no long term mileage to be gained by associating our products with current crazes . . . We were therefore seeking a subject which . . . would have long-term appeal. War won hands down and so we decided to introduce Battle Tanks and Fighter Planes under the overall umbrella of the Battle Bags name.
The programme which started off this train of thought dealt with the huge success of computer games. Addicts and psychologists who were interviewed stated that the main appeal was that, to play successfully, one really had to stretch one's mind/ Concentration and involvement is such that they often found themselves shaking with nervous tension after a game. Apparently the most successful game is Space Wars, and it is ironic that the inventors of this, as well as the other games, are Japanese, who still commemorate in most dramatic fashion the horrific happenings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

However, let us end on a optimistic note. These computer games were originally invented to train space pilots in manipulation and navigation of their craft. The representative of one of the manufacturers foresaw games being produced which could be used to plan agriculture and the best use of resources, especially in under-developed countries. Used in this way, they would not only stimulate the mind, but help a socialist society to organise best use of the world's resources for the good of the world's community.
Eva Goodman

Where Mandela Failed (2014)

From the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

No one can accuse Nelson Mandela of not having the courage of his convictions. Twenty-seven years in prison for campaigning to replace the repulsive apartheid regime with a non-racial political democracy is sufficient proof that he had. Yet, although this was eventually achieved, it did not improve the economic lot of the vast majority of black South Africans, another of his aims.

At his trial for treason in 1964 along with other leaders of the ANC, Mandela declared that he was a ‘socialist’. This simply meant that he shared the views of other ‘national liberation’ leaders of the time such as Nkrumah and Arafat who were grateful for the support of the state capitalist regime in Russia and admired its economic system. After the collapse of Russian state capitalism Mandela’s ‘socialism’, as that of the ANC, was reduced to a commitment to government intervention to try to improve people’s standard of living, the classic reformist position.

As the first President of post-apartheid South Africa from 1994 to 1999, Mandela tried to implement this but came up against capitalism and its economic laws and vested interests. He found himself the head of a government that had to operate within the confines of capitalism, but no government can make capitalism work in the interest of the majority. He was therefore forced to govern on its terms. Which are that priority has to be given to profit-making and that anything that goes against this, such as taxing profits to pay for social reforms, risks provoking an economic slowdown and yet more unemployment and misery.

Mandela had to let the big mining corporations operate as usual. They too had in fact been opposed to apartheid as it was impeding the normal operation of capitalism in South Africa. They wanted, and got, a non-racial capitalism. Capitalist firms don’t care about the background of their workers, only that they produce profits for them. In South Africa they didn’t like being legally forced to employ an underperforming white worker at higher pay when more competent and cheaper non-whites were available.

It wasn’t just the mining corporations that benefitted from the end of apartheid. So did non-white business and professional people who, as the ‘black bourgeoisie, were integrated into the ruling class and its benefits and privileges. Far be it from us to underestimate the psychological and practical benefits of the abolition of separate facilities for ‘Blanke’ and ‘Nie Blanke’ for those who were its victims, but the fact remains that the end of apartheid has not benefitted the mass of South Africans economically. But that’s because it was replaced by a non-racial capitalism and capitalism in whatever form was never going to work to help them.

So, in this sense Mandela failed. He did not, however, succumb to the corruption of a Nkrumah or an Arafat (not to mention the present South African president Zuma). But that proves the point. Not even a saint can make capitalism work other than as a profit-making system in which profits have to take priority over people. Reformist governments fail, not because their members are corrupt or sell-outs or incompetent or not determined enough but because they have set themselves the impossible task of trying to make capitalism work in the interests of the majority. As Mandela found out, no doubt to his disappointment.
Adam Buick