Saturday, January 18, 2014

World Without Wages (1982)

Book Review from the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a rare treat to review a book that claims to be about socialism which is not bursting with misconceptions and illusions. Samuel Leight's World Without Wages is not only readable (which contrasts sharply with those academic "Marxist" tracts written in language that only the initiated can comprehend), but it is full of the kind of basic socialist arguments which every open-minded worker will want to know about. There are fifty chapters and two hundred and twenty-nine pages, so it is possible to read the book in stages, absorbing the case for socialism bit by bit.

Samuel Leight is a member of the World Socialist Party of the United States, a companion party of the SPGB. World Without Money is based on talks given by him on KTUC radio station in Tucson, Arizona. From the first page the writer loses no time in providing the basic message:
Visualise with us a completely different economic, world-wide system of society. Within this system all the means of production and distribution that exist on the face of the earth will be owned and democratically controlled by the whole of society. Each person will stand in exactly the same economic relationship to the instruments for producing and distributing wealth. There will be no class owning and there will be no non-owning class—it will be a classless society. Goods and services will be produced and distributed solely for use and not for profit. People will contribute according to their individual ability, taking from society according to their needs. This means literally free access to whatever they require. Visualise then a system in which there will be no means of exchange, no money, no barter. A system wherein there will be no capitalist class paying wages, with no employers or employees. Such a system cannot operate in one country, as no one country is economically self-sufficient; nor can it be inaugurated until the vast majority understand its economic and social implications.
Recognising that socialism is "possibly the most abused, misused, misunderstood term in the English language", Leight makes no assumptions about his readers' acquaintance with the terms he is using; the socialist case is explained with the kind of clarity that only a real desire to communicate can achieve. Academic writers on the Left—especially those of the New Left Review type—often deter working class intellectual interest by the use of pretentious jargon. By contrast, Leight's approach is that of classical, down-to-earth Marxism—Marxism according to Marx, not Lenin, Trotsky, Mao or Mugabe. The class struggle, recognition of which is the basis of the socialist movement, is clearly explained:
In a society wherein the vast majority are non-owners of wealth production and distribution and a minority are the owners, a conflict of interest must exist . . .  We acknowledge the absolute necessity of Trade Unions under capitalism, and we support the active participation of workers within the Trade Union movement in their attempts to safeguard, and improve, their wage levels and working conditions. At the same time we also fully realise the limitations of the Trade Unions . . . We are the sole advocates of the highest expression of the class struggle on the political field—the demand for the abolition of class society, together with the class struggle, through the establishment of socialism.
The key to capitalism's "closely guarded secret"—the appropriation of surplus value by the capitalist class—is well brought out in Chapter 22 on The Wages System:
Most workers spend a lifetime blissfully unaware of the fact that as a class they are being legally robbed when they produce values equal to their pay cheques, but then continue producing excess values for the bosses. 
There are chapters on war, human nature, Russian state capitalism, nationalisation, racism, ecology, charity, leadership, and the materialist conception of history—as well as chapters dealing with recent events in American labour history. Were this writer not a committed socialist he would have been convinced to become one by reading Samuel Leight's book. World Without Wages is distributed in Britain by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and costs £3.50, including postage and packing. Don't just buy a copy for yourself; buy one for your best friend and another for your worst enemy.
Steve Coleman 

Argh! The Movie (2013)

Film Review from the World Socialist Party of the United States website

March 16, 2013
Well, I just had to do it: go see this movie everyone was talking about. Let’s just say that Argo has more in common with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream than with Jason and the Argonauts searching for the golden fleece. The film features a fake movie (“Argo”) “produced” by the Central Intelligence Agency to rescue six U.S. nationals from the Canadian embassy in Teheran when the overthrown Shah of Iran, himself devilishly imposed on the Iranians by the U.S., was granted asylum in the United States. Hollywood producers were enlisted in an effort to make the pseudo-film “look real” to the enraged bazaaris who had put “Islamic Republics” on the political map.

This had to be the ultimate irony for a capitalism that has come to rely on Big Lies and Newspeak: to be invoking the semblance of make-believe fiction (the nonexistent movie Argo) in the cause of a simulated lie required by the intricacies of realpolitik, which itself resolutely excludes any concern with what really goes on in society. Argo is based on “real” events. But the spectacle of the CIA immersing itself in Hollywood hijinks reminds us of how grotesquely unreal the thought processes of the capitalist class really are.

At different points we hear a voice-over of what sounds like a running Aljazeera commentary on the “Great Satan’s” foreign policy, enunciated by a woman in clear and correct American English (with albeit a trace Arab accent). The points scored in these voice-overs are criticisms well known to all Lefties. Plainly, the producers wanted the audience to grasp the real political implications of the action; they were not presenting a Disneyfied adventure sealed off in a social vacuum. Which is remarkable in a film that manifestly glorifies the CIA as a sort of collective Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme.

So the fake movie “Argo” embedded in the “real” movie Argo is homologous to the play within the play “Pyramus and Thisbe” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, maintaining all the while an arm’s-length relation with a tenuously sensed real world in which capital, wages and class struggle, yes, do exist out there somewhere, but in a weirdly inverted way. You catch yourself wondering why this is such a cliff-hanger. The very real drama of the daily struggle that capitalists have reduced life to appears in the movie like so many googly-eyed tourists peering in through the glass walls of an aquarium.

Looming over this whole nefarious, psychotic maze stalks the specter of an organization that trains killers and torturers (the U.S. government), and globally promotes the interests of capital centered around the fairy tale of (U.S.) national security. Wherever it can attack efforts by the working class to organize itself, it does, often by remote control in a dismally repetitive pattern. (“Argo” was coincidentally “produced” in 1979 under the same benevolent Carter Administration that both laid the basis in El Salvador for the Reagan Administration’s bloody fairy tales and “intervened” in Afghanistan, materially contributing to the emergence of al Qaeda.) Innernashnal Commanism was out to git us. No time to waste! The Tough had to get going.

The CIA is deeply implicated in all this myth-making machinery, so it is no surprise that one of its operatives should have ingeniously suggested “producing” a fake movie in a moment of “real” crisis in Iran. At the Company they don’t fool around: they are no strangers to the vicious, the lethal and the ugly. The politic bow-ties upstairs are as good at hiring thugs as generals are supposed to be at setting up episodes of calculated mass murder. Argo lights up a sordid episode that fueled what must have been a heart-pounding experience for all of its participants. A good story, sure — but why must we have to stand on our heads to make sense of it?

The producers thankfully give the audience a chance to swim back up to get a lungful of reality when they show us a moment of celebration occurring at the end, with CIA personnel (presumably at their headquarters in Langley, Virginia) jumping up and down, high-fiving each other like scientists at Mission Control cheering a successful Mars landing. So now the Agency can get back to its Usual Business of knifing opposition movements in the back, maybe? Or of improving on the truth, or taking down the concept of “intelligence” out back in the alley?

The question all this begs is, of course, why governments do such things in the first place. But while the answer ought to be as plain as the nose on your face — that this is the road they must take to defend the interests of capital — spectacle and drama seem to be the decisive factors in shaping what we call “public opinion.” The sad fact is that the world’s working class has lost its way in the confusing hallucinations of a global capitalism that courts its victims’ political approval even as it clobbers them economically.

Yet when you leave the theater, if you tune in to the distant rumbles of global warming that persistently chatter like some sort of Langoliers at the fringes of your sense of reality, you might justifiably begin to doubt at least pieces of Capital’s Big Lie. Should it finally come to pass that a general consensus arises, that not just the capitalist class but capital itself bears the responsibility for triggering an age of ecological surprises, it is fascinating to speculate how society might receive capital’s cold-blooded refusal to shoulder that responsibility. Could a moment of truth perhaps be approaching, in which the capitalists figuratively get their heads handed to them on a platter, reminiscent of the French landed aristocracy that warm June day in 1789? For one of the truths of history is that increasingly tiny and powerful economic √©lites do not make good survival decisions for the rest of us. Once the ice caps disappear, our future will be indisputably on the line.

So, you want a gripping story? Try imagining a socialist revolution on a world scale following capital’s quasi-tragic attempts to break lances with Mother Nature.

What About the Roma? (2014)

From the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you believe UKIP by the time you read this millions of Romanians and Bulgarians will have arrived in Britain, many of them Roma. This is nonsense of course, but who are the Roma?.

Nazi genocide was not limited to the Jewish population. An estimated 800,000 Roma were murdered in Nazi-occupied Europe, an episode that has come to be known in the Romani language as the Porraimos (the ‘devouring’), or Romani holocaust. When Hitler started his ethnic cleansing of the gypsies he inherited elaborate discriminatory legislation specifically designed to keep the gypsies away. Germany had anti-gypsy laws since the end of the 19th century. During the early days of Nazism, existing anti-gypsy measures were strengthened and led to mass sterilisation and murder.

The history of the Roma (more commonly called gypsies) in Europe is a tragic one. Migrating from northern India to Europe in the eleventh century, most Roma live today in eastern and central Europe, particularly in Romania and Bulgaria, with many large communities in other European countries. In the parts of the Ottoman Empire today located in modern-day Romania, they have endured persecution and enslavement at the hands of landowners and clergy since the Middle Ages, being emancipated from slavery only in the mid-nineteenth century. The Romanian author Mircea Cartarescu described a life of misery:
’For centuries they could be bought and sold, families were torn apart, children taken from their mothers, women separated from their men. The young women were generally raped by their owners and the 'flock of crows', as they were called, was the target of general contempt and discrimination. One of the voivodes, or provincial governors, used to have them climb trees and then shot them down with arrows. He called it crow-hunting. Tied to one place and kept like animals, the gypsies multiplied more quickly in the Romanian principalities than anywhere else in Europe. Therefore we only have ourselves to blame for creating the gypsy problem. It is our historical guilt... We are appalled when other countries perceive us as a nation of criminals, but we see the gypsies in exactly the same way.’
After the Second World War in ’communist’ eastern Europe, the state set about targeting Roma, with social policies aimed to settle them forcibly and to eradicate ’anti-social traits’. Despite efforts to socially engineer their assimilation, the vast majority of Roma remained marginalised and discriminated against by both state and society. Anti-Roma racism across Europe has remained rampant. In many countries, segregation in schooling and housing is still a fact of life, social attitudes towards Roma are poisonous and pogroms are not unknown. Negative social attitudes and disastrous state policies toward the Roma has resulted in the reinforcement of the very conditions that contribute to their continued marginalisation, including low literacy levels, poverty, poor housing, poor health and low life expectancy. Throughout Europe reports of violence against the Roma have increased significantly, particularly in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, where extremist and openly racist groups and political parties are gaining in popularity.

There are an estimated million Roma in Hungary, making up one tenth of the population. During the Communist Party rule, social policies encouraged large families and those with three children or more were virtually guaranteed an unconditional mortgage loan. Such financial incentives allowed many Roma to build their own homes. But since the collapse of the former state capitalist system, Hungarians receive less than 50 dollars per child and with the slow Hungarian economy, many Roma are struggling to find work and feed their large families. The previous ’Communist’ regime refused to regard the gypsies as a minority, but as a social problem - undisciplined proletarians who needed to be forced into the same mould as the rest. They were accordingly given poor-quality worker housing with those very cheap mortgages, and obliged to toil, like everybody else. The regime didn't want them to get more education because they needed cheap unskilled labour. But when that system abruptly collapsed in 1989 the Communists' uneconomic factories and plants closed down. It was the unskilled workers at the bottom – the Roma in particular – who were left high and dry. Roma unemployment shot up from 15 percent to 85 percent in two years.

In the absence of work there was now welfare. Milking the system became a survival strategy. A Roma family would live off welfare, which arrives on the fifth of the month. By the money would run out, so they would run up credit at the local shop, and the men of the family would get a few days' casual work, building walls, fixing roofs, in the neighbourhood. But with the financial crisis, credit stopped and people stopped spending money and the work dried up. For the Roma the economic crisis has driven them to the wall, perhaps a bit more than for the rest of us. With increasing poverty amongst the Roma in Eastern Europe, it is hardly surprising that families travel to other countries in order to find work.

Throughout their history the Roma have had good reason to be mistrustful of authorities, and have survived at the absolute margins of society. Europe's roughly 10 million Roma remain the poorest of the poor, often migrating abroad in search of work. In several eastern European countries there is a war against the Roma. There are marches against them. Self-proclaimed vigilantes bully and threaten them. Walls are built around the sections of town where they live. Their houses are set on fire. They are forced out of their homes and sometimes brutally murdered. Almost everywhere, the authorities have stood aside. In 1993, after three Roma in the Romanian village of Hadareni were lynched with the involvement of the police, the government, in its official explanation, expressed understanding for the ’anger of the villagers’.

These and events since has prompted tens of thousands of them, primarily from Romania and Bulgaria, to head west. Roma refugees have come to Italy, France, UK, and to Germany. In the western European countries they work for a couple of euros an hour doing cleaning, construction, or they beg. Some steal. For many, it is more than they could have ever imagined in their home countries. Those who fight for Roma rights make the argument that those who head to the West are as much political refugees as they are economic ones.

The Roma suffer threefold prejudice in the UK. Firstly because they are gypsies, secondly because they are often asylum seekers or refugees and thirdly because many are Romanian. The Roma are easy scapegoats. They're at the bottom of society and have no effective political lobby. In 2012 the European Parliament had only one member of Roma origin. 90,000 to 120,000 Roma are estimated to be in the UK, a fraction of the one million gypsies who live in France and Germany. Next year, the quotas which let EU countries limit the number of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants crossing their borders will be lifted. Britain wants to deter them from crossing the Channel and is financing an anti-migrant ad campaign in those countries. Suspicions have been raised that what the UK Government really fears – but dares not say publicly – is the mass migration of Roma.

It is not difficult to believe that the government's very public stance against eastern European (aka Roma) immigration is fuelled largely by a desire to appeal to the populist vote and is a demagogic tactic aimed at seducing the far right. Each year we are reminded by the government of the day to remember the Jewish Holocaust, yet the Roma Devouring stays forgotten. August the 2nd is the Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, marking the start of the liquidation by the Nazis of the ’gypsy’ camp at Auschwitz. The silence of British politicians was deafening. Our rulers have a long history of camouflaging the failures of capitalism, particularly in times of economic slump, by seeking out scapegoats.