Sunday, October 19, 2014

Letter from Jamaica (1979)

From the January 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jamaica is at a cross road in political development. Just two years after since Manley's massive victory at the polls, the political atmosphere here is tense. Can his government last out its allocated five years? This is the kind of question many people are asking; the majority who ask don't think they can.

In 1974 Manley declared himself and his party 'democratic socialist.' Overnight socialism became a household word, particularly it became the language of the suffering poor. The speeches poured out from government ministers on their "socialist" policies. land distribution, setting up of cooperatives, establishment of food farms, passing a minimum wage law, ownership of the Bauxite industry, and various other reforms.

Since 1976 there have been widespread layoffs, swelling the ranks of the unemployed to something approaching 40 per cent of the work force. There has also been an increased exodus of skilled people, and capital, although the Government have set up an elaborate intelligence unit to prevent this. Foreign exchange is scare, resulting in constant shortages of essential items and a flourishing black market. To speak of "high" prices in Jamaica today is a polite understatement.

On the political front the main opposition party, the Jamaican Labour Party, has been very active. They have to be, seeing that there are so many issues. Their main contention however is their consistent stand for Electoral Reform. They have boycotted all by-elections since local government elections in early 1977, and have recently threatened to start a campaign of civil disobedience to dramatise their position. The JLP claim that they were robbed of victory in the 1976 general election by a massive, island wide, campaign of bogus voting. At present a commission is investigating government corruption, and the opposition is hoping to prove that the government used the state of emergency they imposed in June 1976 to lock up key opposition members thus causing their election defeat.

Violence, and violent crime, is very much a part of the Jamaican scene now. There is a dangerous army of gunmen who carry out daring heists anywhere that money is handled. Shoot-outs between cops and robbers have sent scores of youth on both sides to an early grave. Young people have learned their lesson well in this Caribbean paradise. If you don't have anything you are nothing. They are out to get something whatever the price, one way or another.

Jamaicans, like workers all over the world, take politicians too seriously and pay little interest to politics itself.
George Dolphy

New Internationalist: Forty Years On (2013)

First issue of New Internationalist.
From the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
The magazine, New Internationalist, was first published in March 1973. Since then it has presented a lot of interesting material on global development, inequality, powerlessness and so on, and has found space over the years to include a number of letters from Socialists.
The fortieth anniversary edition published an article from its founding editor Peter Adamson, dealing with what progress there had been over four decades and accompanied by a page of statistics comparing some aspects of society in 1970 and 2010. As he notes, the first issues of the magazine were suffused by ‘the spirit of the times … overwhelmingly one of optimism’. Living standards in the UK were rising, abortion had been legalised and homosexuality decriminalised. Furthermore, many former colonies had become independent, and ‘we expected the war on want to be won.'
Over the forty years surveyed, there were many changes for the better. Life expectancy had increased from 56 to 70 globally, and from 43 to 59 in the least developed countries. Mortality rates for under-fives had decreased from 139 per thousand live births globally in 1970 to 57 in 2010; in the least developed countries, the reduction had been from 240 to 110; and in the industrialised countries from 24 to just six per thousand.
Adamson notes that ‘a great leap forward has been made towards meeting basic human needs,’ yet ‘the very poorest have often been excluded from the great gains that have been made.' Thus in Sierra Leone, life expectancy had gone up from 34 to a mere 47, and in sub-Saharan Africa almost one child in eight still dies before their fifth birthday. And want has clearly not been conquered.
Fortieth Anniversary Issue.
Above all, though, it is inequality that has become more severe over time. Measuring this is difficult, but between 1976 and 2010 average income in low-income economies increased proportionally less than that in industrialised countries. Moreover, the share of the richest one per cent of the population is far greater now than back in the 1970s. Adamson suggests that ‘progress’ be measured by looking at the lives of the lowest quintile in a country (the poorest 20 per cent, also known as Q1).
So despite the valiant efforts of many sincere and committed people, global inequalities of wealth and power remain major problems. This is without mentioning the onslaught on the environment or the destruction caused by war. Our solution: not to improve the lives of Q1 but create a world where such notions are meaningless, where everyone shares in the wealth produced co-operatively and has equal control over their lives. This cannot be done overnight, but in a Socialist world it could be achieved very quickly.
Paul Bennett

"The struggle" (1983)

Book Review from the December 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rethinking Socialism: A Theory for a Better Practice, Gavin Kitching (Metheun)

The title of Gavin Kitching's book would allude more accurately to its contents, if instead it were titled Rethinking Capitalism. This is a miserable book of appalling ignorance which most seriously ignores any sensible idea of what socialism is and therefore any sensible way of achieving it.

It has been suggested that one of the reasons capitalism lasts is that people on "the left" and particularly the Labour Party, keep trying to patch it up and make it work. This book is just such a set of suggestions. Kitching points out that "left wing" politics and trade union occupy a negative position, and this is seen by many people as being destructive. He says for example that strikes and  the chaos they can bring with them, particularly in a position where workers face mass unemployment are futile and easily construed by a hostile media as irresponsible and damaging to the "community".

There is nothing new in this. Workers are forced, under capitalism, to fight the same battles over and over again without resolving issues, and inevitably this aggravates chaos. It has been a great pity that those who formed the Labour Party at the turn of the century did not take heed of this when they pursued the false idea that socialism could be advanced within the economic framework of capitalism. Nor is there any excuse now for Kitching experiencing the belated revelation that "If the bosses don't have the money, they can't pay, can they? If they are making losses, they must lay off, mustn't they? Yes they must".

What is the logic of this in terms of the establishment of socialism? Gavin Kitching should learn from the Socialist Party the arguments which outline the political limitations of social reform which follow from the economic limitations of capitalism in general. If he comes to understand this he will have the weaknesses of working class action within capitalism in clearer perspective.

This is not a question of "rethinking socialism". For him it must be a question of abandoning the fallacious premises on which the Labour Party is based. The Socialist Party always had it right, and it is a question of learning what the Socialist Party has said. The predictive accuracy of socialist theory has been vindicated by experience on every important aspect of social problems and this includes the complete failure of the Labour Party.

To speak of the limitations of working class action is to lay this down only within the productive relations of capitalism. Outside this, the working class has immense power. This is the practical responsibility and the power to change society. Workers already run the apparatus of production, produce goods and maintain services, but they do it for the capitalist's profit. The straightforward issue which should be kept crystal clear is that socialism is nothing less than the working class taking over the entire apparatus of production and the earth's resources and organising production solely for need.

On the basis of common ownership and production for use socialism could immediately find the freedom to expand all its activities in response to need.

Gavin Kitching's response to the present depression and the difficulties that workers face rests on the retention of capitalism and on this basis he suggests a formula for what he terms "pre-emptive unionism". This amounts to workers foreseeing that certain branches of industry could get into difficulties and then co-operating with the employers to work for the smoothest economic adjustments in exchange for concessions including, for example, high redundancy payments, retraining schemes, housing and removal allowances, capital grants for the setting up of new industries, workers' delegates on boards of directors, some control of over management appointments, profit sharing schemes. This is the message of despair which provides as much hope as would advice to the condemned man that he should help organise his own execution in exchange for an "easier" time.

The re-organisation of capitalist industry under the blind dictates of the market and profitability is not a working class issue, and is the surest guarantee of continuing social problems. For the workers to concede continued ownership and control of the means of life to the capitalists spells out disaster.

While Gavin Kitching's book is useless as a work of practical socialist politics it does provide some evidence of the actual political role of the Labour Party. He is committed to what he sees as "the evolutionary and gradualist perspective", which is a euphemism for the abandonment of socialism. He is also committed to the "social and political struggle" which centres on "continuous social conflict".

Capitalism inevitably produces conflict but socialism is not a commitment to "continuous social conflict". On the contrary, socialism is the practical solution to social problems which envisages the speediest end to social conflict. The means by which a majority of socialists could end capitalism and organise society for need are more straightforward and practical than any of Kitching's recipes for continuous conflict.

So is the lure of the Labour Party partly the lure of this "struggle"? Is this struggle so blindly pursued; and is its object so lost in obscurity and mystification that it has become an end in itself? It is hardly imaginable that Labour Party confusion about what socialism means could be further compounded. however, Gavin Kitching contributes this book as an effort to do so. Inevitably he returns to the hopeless negativism from which he apparently first set out to escape - back to the treadmill of self-repeating "struggle".

Do the activists of the Labour Party avoid useful knowledge and shrink from the responsibility of solving problems because they prefer "the struggle" and the negative sectarianism of the broad Labour Church? If so, there will be a ready demand for this book.
Pieter Lawrence