Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Levellers (2010)

From the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

After his visits to Iceland in the 1870s, William Morris concluded that ‘the most grinding poverty is a trifling evil compared with the inequality of classes’. Where life was hard, there was little alternative to all being poor, but where some people were far richer and more powerful than others, that was far worse, since it was so unnecessary and deleterious. The consequences of inequality have recently been set out at length in The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (published by Penguin, and reviewed in the Socialist Standard for June 2009). The authors have established a website (The Equality Trust), which is aimed at ‘the widest public and political understanding of the harm caused by inequality’.

The book’s subtitle, Why Equality is Better for Everyone, suggests the main thrust of its argument. The authors begin by discussing the relation between economic growth and standard of living on the one hand, and life expectancy and happiness on the other. As might be predicted, a low standard of living in a country means low life expectancy (fifty years or less), and an increase in per capita income means people living longer (to over seventy years). But there comes a point at which the relationship disappears, and the wealthiest countries (such as the USA and Norway) do not have greater life expectancy than the rather less rich (like Greece and Germany). A similar point holds for the proportion of people who describe themselves as ‘quite happy’ or ‘very happy’: the first stages of economic growth lead to people being happier but those in the richest countries are no happier than those in the slightly less rich.

But things are different when comparisons are made within one country. In the US, for instance, those living in better-off areas do live longer than those in poorer areas. And for a whole set of health and social problems, Wilkinson and Pickett use a very wide range of data to argue that the more unequal countries have more of the problems. The rates for mental illness, to take one example, are far higher in the US and UK than in less unequal countries such as Germany and Japan.

In addition to mental illness, the problems covered are: levels of trust, life expectancy and infant mortality, obesity, children’s educational performance, teenage births, homicides, imprisonment rates and social mobility. For thirty ‘advanced’ capitalist countries, the level of inequality is measured by the ratio of the income of the top to the bottom 20 percent (so the top includes many slightly better-off workers). To compare inequality across US states, they use a more complex measure called the Gini coefficient. In each case, they do not just record the correlation between inequality and the extent of the problem, but also discuss why such a correlation should hold. And countries tend to perform badly on all the measures if they do badly on one:
“If…a country does badly on health, you can predict with some confidence that it will also imprison a large proportion of its population, have more teenage pregnancies, lower literacy scores, more obesity, worse mental health, and so on.”
Let’s look more closely at some of the problems. The level of trust is measured by how many people agreed with the statement ‘most people can be trusted’. In Portugal only 10 percent agreed (!), in Sweden 66 percent. The proportion in the US who agree has fallen from 60 percent in 1960 to under 40 percent in 2004. It is quite a commentary on the nature of capitalism that so many people do not trust others. As Wilkinson and Pickett say, ‘High levels of trust mean that people feel secure, they have less to worry about, they see others as co-operative rather than competitive.’ And inequality causes lack of trust, rather than vice versa.

As for obesity, a greater proportion of adults and children are overweight in more unequal countries, and this correlation is stronger for women than for men. Lack of exercise and reliance on fast food are the main causes here, and unemployment also tends to lead to weight gain. A more tentative argument is that people suffering from stress respond to food by accumulating fat around their middle as well as by comfort eating. It had not previously occurred to me that Socialism would drastically reduce the extent of obesity, but maybe it will.

In the case of violence, the general argument is that it is in most cases triggered by humiliation and loss of face when people feel they are disrespected or looked down on. Shame and lack of social status (in terms of education, income, housing, etc) can make us all resentful, even if relatively few will react with violence. And ‘increased inequality ups the stakes in the competition for status: status matters even more’. Many research studies have shown that violent crime (especially homicides and assaults) is positively linked with inequality. In the US, 72 percent of juvenile murderers grew up in homes without fathers, as family breakdown leads to inter-generational cycles of violence.

In the book’s final part, Wilkinson and Pickett set out their ideas for ‘a better society’. Some of the general points here are perfectly fine, such as recognition of the importance of friendship and mutual help: ‘human beings have a unique potential to be each other’s best source of co-operation, learning, love and assistance of every kind’. From a long-term historical point of view, the current highly unequal societies are exceptional, since the vast majority of humans have lived in extremely egalitarian societies.

What they argue for, of course, is a more equal kind of social system, in the belief that this will improve the quality of life for all. However, they stand not for Socialism, but for a less unequal form of capitalism. There are different roads to greater equality, say the authors, but they all need to address the basic cause of inequality, the institutions that employ us. So the solution they advocate is for employees to own and control the companies that employ them. Workers might then vote for the chief executive to earn ten times the average wage (thus reducing but not eliminating inequality).

Yet this leaves the wages-prices-profit system of capitalism untouched. Most people will still have to work for wages, companies will still have to make a profit, workers will lose their jobs when the company can no longer make a profit from their labour power, the environment will still be desecrated in the search for cheap raw materials and higher profits. The waste of capitalism, with its banks and credit cards and accountants and ticket-collectors, will remain, as will the causes of wars.

It is clear that slightly less unequal versions of capitalism are possible, but also that they do not put an end to social problems, as even the more egalitarian versions still have them. It will take a socialist society to do away with the grotesque inequalities of capitalism and its inherent problems.
Paul Bennett

Who needs leaders? (1992)

From the September 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

In July several members of the local Camden branch attended the SWP annual "Marxism" event which brings together thousands of workers for a series of lectures and debates. We felt this would be a good opportunity to discuss the Socialist Party's politics and opposition to the SWP.
During the day we had a literature stall and distributed copies of the Socialist Standard and other Socialist Party literature. We also handed out 400 copies of a leaflet detailing our criticism of the SWP.
Before distributing the leaflet we wondered if its content and tone might elicit a hostile response from SWP members. However, when challenged as to the truth of the statements they were not denied and were even endorsed by one or two SWP members who fully approved of the authoritarian nature of their party, with its central committee meetings in private, issuing orders to its followers in the branches.
Other workers we spoke to were less happy with this dictatorial arrogance and gave a favourable response to our ideas on democratic organization with its emphasis on total accountability and absence of leaders.
As a propaganda exercise we felt the day was successful and we were encouraged by the positive response from many workers to the Socialist Party's case. The next step will be to convince them of the need to join with socialists to organise democratically for socialism. We can then tell the central committees with their self-appointed leaders that they are not required. 
Below is the text of our leaflet.

Nearly everyone attending this event agrees that capitalism stinks. The world needs to be changed and that won't be done by the Labour Party. What we want is a world for the workers.

To get a decent world we need to organise for it. The organisers of this event say that they are revolutionary socialists. But there are some questions you should ask them:
What is socialist about joining a party which has a minority who are leaders and a majority who are merely the rank and file followers?
What is revolutionary about supporting the Labour Party everytime there is an election?
Why do these so-called socialists accept Lenin's view that workers are too stupid to bring about socialism themselves and must be led to revolution by reform-advocating intellectual leaders?
Why are meetings of the SWP's leaders closed to the public—and to members who aren't leaders?
Why should you join a party which orders its members about like a religious sect, even forbidding them to speak to certain opponents?
What is the point of rejecting authoritarian Tory liars and then jumping into bed with authoritarian Leninist manipulators?
We in the Socialist Party are hostile to the politics of the SWP. We reject its vanguardism, its worshipping of dead Russian rulers, its dogmatic Trotskyist religion and, above all, its contempt for democratic debate. Our opposition is not just another sectarian squabble whereby one leftist group claims to be a better leader than the other. We are not leaders. We are not looking for followers. Unless workers understand, want and organise for socialism it is not going to happen.

We urge you to ask the questions listed above to the organisers of this event. Ask and keep on asking until they give you satisfactory answers.

We invite you to find out more about the Socialist Party by writing to us an requesting some free socialist literature which is not Leninist or reformist, but is Marxist and revolutionary. You have nothing to lose by seeing what we have to say. Unless, of course, you are ready to be fitted with political blinkers—in which case, have a good time this week.

Capital as power (2015)

Book Review from the May 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

'The 1% and the Rest of Us - A Political Economy of Dominant Ownership', by Tim Di Muzio. Zed Books.
This is a curate’s egg.  The historical parts are good as is the definition of ‘the 1%’ as the dominant owners of income-yielding assets. Even ‘capital as power’, as an alternative to the concepts of capital as physical instruments of production (orthodox economics) and of capital as accumulated surplus value (Marx), has some descriptive merit.  Capitalist firms can be seen as trying ‘to redistribute more money to themselves than their counterparts, who are trying to do the same thing.’  Which means that all capitalist firms are in effect competing against each other for profits not against just those in the same branch of activity.
But the bad part is really bad. Di Muzio has swallowed hook, line and sinker the view that banks literally create money ‘out of thin air’, a phrase he repeatedly uses.  We are asked to believe that, when banks make a loan it is not out of money they have or can acquire, they just create it out of nothing and then charge interest on it. He offers this as an explanation as to why prices keep rising since, according to him, when a business has taken out a loan from a bank it has to increase the price of what it is selling to cover the interest it has to pay the bank. He also thinks that because ‘there is not enough money in the economy for workers to purchase goods and services they produce, there is a constant demand for interest-bearing credit’. But, as we always point out when confronted with such ‘underconsumptionist’ views, what the workers can’t buy the capitalists can or could.
This is the purest currency crankism in its crudest form, which not even Positive Money (who he mentions favourably) subscribes to. He even proudly boasts that this is what he teaches his students at the University of Wollongong in Australia who start their course thinking (correctly, in fact) that banks can’t lend more than they have or can acquire. His only saving grace on this is a passage in which he writes that ‘it is unclear whether Marx understood’ that banks create money out of thin air. Well, for the record, Marx did not make that mistake.
Logically with his views, Di Muzio lists as the most important demand that ‘the party of the 99%’ he envisages (not a bad idea in itself) is ‘monetary reform’ to replace ‘money as debt’ by a government bank simply printing money as ‘democratically decided’ is needed.  An unnecessary and worthless reform as well as a harmful diversion from what such a party should really aim at: the expropriation of the 1% and the rest of the owning class by making the Earth’s resources the common heritage of all humanity.
Adam Buick

Are We Practical? (1932)

From the March 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Certain critics have asked why we do not organise a mass resistance of the workers against the wage-cuts of the National Government. Socialist propaganda is all very well, they say, but what are we doing in the meantime whilst workers' standard of living is being mercilessly attacked?

The question is a curious one. Which workers are we to organise? The workers who voted the National Government into power, or the workers who supported the equally non-Socialistic Labour Party? And how are we to organise politically uninstructed workers who can easily be stampeded into a panic by the capitalist press?

In the first place, we are a political party with a definite political object. As workers and members of trade unions we must be opposed to all wage-cuts, but as Socialists and members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain we go further. We are opposed to the biggest cut of all—the profit cut—which robs the workers all the time of the bulk of the wealth they produce. This meantime question sounds quite sensible till you look at it closely. It depends entirely upon the workers whether there shall be a meantime and how long that meantime will be. In the meantime the capitalist class hold political power and they are therefore masters of the situation. Moreover, if it is possible to reform the present system of society in the interests of the working class, there is no need for Socialism. But experience has proven that to be impossible. In spite of all the reforms of the three biggest parties, the conditions of the workers steadily worsen.

Thirty years ago we were told the same story by the Labour Party, the I.L.P., S.D.P., and other bodies. Our method of achieving Socialism by educating the workers in Socialist principles would, they said, take centuries. They had a better and quicker way. They would give the workers reforms and higher wages, and win their support in that way. Socialism would be with us in no time. Perhaps! The Labour Party can now number its adherents by the million, but is it truly a menace to the existing order of society? Are the workers beginning to take an intelligent interest in Socialism as a result of all these years of the Labour Party's political activity? No. They are still struggling blindly and vainly. They are still being led like sheep down the blind alley of social reform and "direct action," by the "intelligent minorities" who pose as their saviours. One can understand from the following the reasons for the Labour Party collapse.

In a letter to the New Leader (October 12th, 1928), Dr. Alfred Salter, Labour M.P. and member of the I.L.P., frankly admitted that there is not a single constituency in the country where there a majority of convinced Socialist electors. He said :-
We have plenty of districts, such as Bermondsey, where there is an overwhelming Labour majority, but it is a sheer delusion to think that the greater number of these people understand what we mean by Socialism. They neither understand it nor want it. (Our Italics.)
Labour majorities are not so "overwhelming" now, and the electors in these constituencies who return Labour candidates to Parliament are not, and cannot be, Socialists, for the self-evident reason that the Labour Party has never advocated Socialism. MacDonald, Henderson and Co. have in practice served the interest of the Master Class by confusing the minds of the workers. They have made them believe that Socialism is State charity, more doles, more pensions, better prisons, health insurance and family allowances, Lansbury Lidos, and, of course, we must not forget to mention Mr. Lansbury's proposed tarpaulin doss-houses in the parks. These things are not Socialism. Socialism is a system of society in which the means of life are owned in common. Socialism implies the social ownership of all the things necessary to maintain life, the land, railways, factories, etc., to be democratically controlled and used in the interest of the whole of society. Now, you workers who voted for the Labour Party and imagined you were voting for Socialism, what have you to say? You are disillusioned and bewildered, but remember that all the time you were voting for the retention of capitalism—and your poverty. The Labour Government failed, but the Object and Declaration of Principles on the back page of The Socialist Standard still hold good. The Labour Government failed because it tried to solve working-class problems within the existing framework of society. They quickly discovered that it was not possible to administer capitalism in the interests of the working class. They boasted before taking office that they had in hand schemes of development which would provide work for tens of thousands of workers. These schemes were put into operation, but at the same time capitalism was displacing hundreds of thousands of workers, due to worsening trade depression and wage-saving machinery. During the life of the last Labour Government unemployment mounted to a record figure.

Yet the solution to the "problem" of unemployment is really quite simple. After all, what is unemployment? It is the inability of the worker to sell the only thing he possesses—his working energies, his labour-power. Unemployment is, therefore, the outcome of wage-slavery. Wage-slavery can only exist in a society where there are two classes, employers and employed; an owning class that produces nothing, and a propertyless class that produces wealth. Once the necessity to seek an employer is abolished, this so-called problem vanishes into thin air. In order to achieve this, we must first abolish the private property basis of society, and there will no longer be any classes; no capitalist class and no working class, no employers and no employed, no profits and no wages; hence, no unemployment, because there will be no employment.

This private ownership of the means of life is the cause not merely of unemployment, but of the general poverty condition of the workers, whether in work or out of work, and the fruits of poverty, disease, prostitution and crime.

Neither the Labour Party nor any other reform party can protect you against the evils of the capitalist system, because they do not understand and are not prepared to remove the fundamental cause of these evils—capitalism. They will promise you the sun, the moon and the stars, but they do not give you the only remedy for your poverty—Socialism. Their reforms are useless to solve the main poverty problem, because you cannot have capitalism without its effects. You cannot have a commercial system without the laws of commerce. You cannot have capitalism without the inevitable concentration of wealth into a few hands and the formation of huge international trusts and combines. You cannot have capitalism without a propertyless class of wealth-producers and the accumulation of misery and degradation for them. No reform can prevent the present system from developing according to the laws governing its existence.

At this point, fellow-workers, you will perhaps ask if we consider all reforms to be bad in their effects. Is there no room for improvement in working-class conditions within the present system? The answer is that the capitalists have power, and it is they who decide to give or to withhold reforms, not in your interest, but in their own. We are opposed to the policy of devoting energies to the struggle for reforms, instead of devoting them to the struggle for Socialism. In any event the growth of a strong Socialist movement would do more to make the capitalists yield concessions than all the efforts of the reformers.

When the workers become Socialists and have won political power from the hands of their masters, they will not use it merely to modify a few of the effects of their slavery, but to end it. Questions such as Free Trade or Protection are of no concern to the workers. They are faced with exactly the same problems all over the capitalist world. Their misery and poverty are international. Protection does not safeguard their jobs or their wages. Whether it is in tariff countries like Germany and the United States, or Free Trade countries such as England has been, the same features of capitalism exist. Increased power to make goods alongside unemployment. Side by side with the developing power to produce wealth there is more intense poverty. The application of science to industry is not used to make the lives of the workers more comfortable, but to increase the profits of the capitalist owners. Every new machine is a weapon against the workers. So long as the worker's labour-power is an article of merchandise like cheese or tin—that is, so long as he remains a wage-earner—no reform can give him security and comfort. So long as the means of life are in private hands and the motive for production is profit, the more wealth the workers are able to produce, the less will be their portion, and the harder they work, the sooner they will be out of work.

If all the time, money and trouble spent on the advocacy of reforms had been devoted to Socialist propaganda, the workers would now occupy a much stronger position. Capitalism cannot be reformed without at the same time being strengthened. The reform parties are but deluding the workers with the foolish and futile hope that their problems can be solved inside the present system of society. They serve the interest of the capitalist class by hiding from the workers the cause of their poverty. Every reform in the programmes of these parties that is likely to be put into operation would not materially alter the condition of the workers or endanger the capitalists. Not one of them touches the fundamental cause of working-class poverty. They can be safely supported by non-Socialists and anti-Socialists. The support won by these parties is not support for Socialism, and must be essentially limited by the limited nature of their programmes.

Study Socialism, organise in the Socialist Party to abolish the system that enslaves you, and establish a new system of society in which the men and women who produce and distribute wealth shall have free and equal access to the means of life.

Past praying for (1988)

Film Review from the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Prayer For the Dying has been disowned by both the film's director, Mike Hodges, and actor, Mickey Rourke. They have demanded that their names be removed from the credits and have embarked on a counter-publicity campaign. If this had been on the grounds that it is a lousy film, then I would have been in total sympathy with them and even have suggested that they be joined by the other two "stars" in the film - Alan Bates and Bob Hoskins. In fact they were protesting about cuts made to the film on the instructions of the producers which, they argue, had resulted in all the politics being taken out.

The film was originally intended to be a thriller scripted by Jack Higgins. Mickey Rourke was to play the part of a repentant IRA gunman on the run in England. But, while in Ireland researching his role, Rourke became enamoured of the republican cause. As a result, with the co-operation of the director, the film became a more overtly political thriller with several long monologues in favour of the IRA being written into the script. The producers objected. They removed the political speeches and cut out all the Irish scenes except the opening one - in which a bomb intended for the army blows up a school bus and leads to Rourke's subsequent soul-searching.

The result is a pig's ear of a film. It is badly acted - Alan Bates as the London funeral director-cum-gangster would have been hilarious if this was supposed to be a comedy. And who can have possibly believed that Bob Hoskins could ever be convincing as a Roman Catholic priest (albeit one who learned some useful things to do to would-be assailants while in the SAS)? The plot is totally unconvincing. The repentant Rourke in hiding in London agrees to commit just one more murder in return for a passport and passage to America. This times it's on behalf of gangster, Alan Bates. The shooting is witnessed by the priest (Hoskins) and, as a result, Rourke becomes a regular visitor to his church. Here he meets that stereotype "innocent young girl who can soften the hardest of hearts". In this case she is the blind organ-playing niece of the priest. From this point on the film degenerates from poor, if unintentional, comedy to utter farce. Not only that, it is mawkishly sentimental. It's true that there is not a lot of politics in this film, but then there's not a lot of anything else either.
Janie Percy-Smith

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Notes From Islington. (1909)

From the December 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Islington is indubitably the home of labour quacks: all sorts and conditions of men eager to secure a seat on the Borough Council were put forward by the different organisations.

Besides the "Municipal Reformers" and "Progressives" with the usual programmes and disputes between them as to whether the rates had or had not been reduced 1¾d, in the £, we had what is known as the Progressive Labour Party, which s the local decoy duck for the Liberal Party. One of its most prominent members was once in the I.L.P., but as that organisation was always supporting the Liberal Party, he concluded, so he tell us. that the only logical attitude an I.L.P.'er could adopt was to leave that body and join the Liberals. Then there was the Islington Labour Party, the I.L.P. and the S.D.P. In the Upper Holloway Ward the last two ran conjointly, the latter issuing leaflets explaining that the rates and taxes did not affect the workers and the former leaflets advocating a half rate on empty houses. At a meeting in the Caledonian Road Baths, convened by the I.L.P. and Islington Labour Party, a speaker advocated a 5% tax on London ground rents to "ease the rates for the people." At the same meeting Mr. Keir Hardie said he "still clung to his faith in Jesus Christ" and "they must in God's name work and vote for labour candidates." The Islington Labour Party agreed to withdraw from St. Peter's Ward (in which the S.D.P. had six candidates) on condition that the latter abstained from contesting the Highbury Ward. So anxious were the Islington Labour Party to secure a seat on the Council that one of their prominent members—Mr. Copeland—asked the Liberals to allocate half the number of seats declared vacant to the Labour Party.

It was left to the Islington Branch S.P.G.B. to inculcate into the minds of the workers the principles of Socialism. We arranged a week's mission to place before the working class the Socialist position, and urged them to abstain from voting. The first night two good meetings were held, but rain prevented further meetings until Friday, when we had a fine meeting at Highbury Corner. It was on Saturday evening the strength of the Party in the neighbourhood was felt. Just prior to opening our meeting at Highbury Corner the Islington Labour Party arrived with band and banners. Several speeches were made from a cart, but not a single educational sentence was uttered. Nothing but sentimental twaddle was heard. After about fifteen minutes they departed, amid cries of "labour fakers," "labour bleeders." Commencing our meeting about 8, we had from the outset an audience of several hundreds, who listened to our speakers with marked attention. Presently we were disturbed by the arrival of a van containing the Progressive Labour Party's candidates, one of whom instructed the driver to drive right into our audience. Some of the comrades immediately seized the horse and backed the van, and the P.L.P. candidate came very near being precipitated in a most undignified manner into the gutter. Ten minutes convinced them that Highbury Corner that evening was no place for them, and as they were about to leave us in possession of that spot, one of their candidates, Mr. Roberts, again gave instructions to drive right on to our platform. But our audience, by this time numbering about a thousand, seized the van, and but for the timely interference of the police the result might have been disastrous to the P.L.P. candidate. Vociferous cheers were given for Socialism.

A good collection was taken and about 70 Socialist Standards disposed of. 

Our indoor propaganda meetings have been even more successful than we dared anticipate, the hall being packed on each occasion, and undoubtedly they will prove a means of enlarging our ever-increasing membership.

On November 6th the Social and Dance in aid of the Party Organ Guarantee Fund was held, and once again success was ours. The array of talent with which the audience were delighted was the best we have ever had, and as a result of the evening;s entertainment the Fund will be augmented by about £3. Three hundred copies of the November issue of the "S.S. have been disposed of this month.
H. A. Young

Tomorrow's Enemies (2003)

From the May 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
Since the emergence of a recognisably modern Europe after the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 international relations have been based on the political sovereignty of states in which war became the politically-motivated use of force by generally recognised authorities. Wars between dynastic states became wars between nation states. Wars of state formation and consolidation were replaced by wars of unification and of imperial conquest.
In an era of European global expansion built on the technological and military superiority of industrial capitalism, clashes also occurred between Europeans and the indigenous populations they conquered. For more than two hundred years wars between expanding European states were motivated by economic necessity driven by the need for access to markets, exploitable populations, and sources of raw materials. The growth of European (or “Western”) influence was carried out with a sense of civilising mission and justified with ideas of racial superiority.
The carnage of the First World War called the whole project into question. For the next ninety years the existence of state systems and their international relations were debated largely in terms of ideology. They were interpreted as titanic struggles firstly “against fascism” while the Soviet Union built its own brand of state capitalism, and in the post-World War II period “against communism”. The European withdrawals from direct rule over former colonial territory in the face of indigenous nationalist movements after 1945 were interpreted ideologically as wars of “national liberation”.The centrally planned economy version of capitalism eventually succumbed to its more efficient liberal free-market variety. The implosion of the Soviet Union was greeted with joy among the NATO allies and we were promised a golden age in which to spend the “peace dividend.” Spending on armaments by the major powers actually declined. However the euphoria was soon dissipated and the world was confronted with wars of disintegrating states, and continuing wars in the not quite and the not yet states.
It has become increasingly difficult for politicians and others to explain these conflicts as having anything to do with high ideals such as defending democracy. Increasingly the more perceptive observers and commentators are labelling the “small wars” of Africa and Asia as “wars of oil and diamonds”, and those of Latin America as “drug wars” characterising them as piratical acts carried out in states incapable of enforcing the rule of a centralised authority. Even so-called “peaceful” Europe had its own backyard war in the Balkans as tensions previously held in check by Cold War priorities erupted into bloody armed conflict.
End of History?
Two influential interpretations of what is happening in the post-post-cold war world have appeared since 1989. They attempt to set the boundaries within which political debate takes place and try to avoid political questions some might find upsetting regarding the true nature of present-day society.

Commenting in 1989 on the end of the Cold War Francis Fukuyama, a policy planner in the US State Department, identified a feeling abroad “that something very fundamental has happened in world history.” He characterised this as “the Triumph of the West”, a situation in which economic and political liberalism having first seen off Absolutism and Fascism had finally seen the end of Marxism-Leninism. The Soviet Union was disintegrating and this demonstrated “The total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” It was, he said, “the end of history as such” (Francis Fukuyama: 'The End of History?' The National Interest. Summer 1989 pages 3 - 18).
Oh sure, stuff would still actually happen but what had been reached was the endpoint in mankind's ideological evolution. The ideals of the French and American Revolutions had triumphed, their theoretical truth “is absolute and cannot be improved on.” The failure of “Marxism” he said was in large part a “failure to understand that the roots of economic behaviour lie in the realm of consciousness and culture.” Consciousness he said “is cause and not effect” and went on to argue for the “autonomous power” of ideas. For Fukuyama it is ideas and not interests which drive historic change, which seems to imply that we have had capitalism simply because some thought it a good idea.
Further he argued that “the class issue has actually been successfully resolved in the West” and that the roots of present inequalities are not to be found in the legal and social structures of society which are fundamentally egalitarian and moderately redistributive. The problem is not the form of society as “with the cultural and social characteristics of the groups that make it up.” These groups are themselves a legacy from the pre-modern period. This, it will be noted, is a classic piece of blame the victim excuse-making which makes the poor responsible for their poverty. It is a popular view in some circles as it fits in well with the prevailing capitalist apologetics. It represents the triumph of individualism over collective action.
And where the West had led the world would follow. Fukuyama pointed to post-1945 Japan's transition from fascism and government intervention to being a political and economic beacon of light fostering free enterprise economic liberalism in Asia, and in particular to China. He could identify no serious challenges from e.g. nationalism or religious fundamentalism, Western consumerism and the human need to be valued as an individual were too powerful to be resisted anywhere for long. True, the Third World was still mired in history and will in his view be “a terrain of conflict for many years to come.” In addition the Soviet Union was not likely to join the developed nations of the West as open societies “at any time in the foreseeable future.”
This was of course written prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall but reading it now one is reminded of the Astronomer Royal who said in 1957 that manned space flight was “impossible”, and we wonder if the State Department now thinks they were getting their money's worth.
The problem with this approach is that it is mistaken as to what constitutes history and historical agency, as to what that brings about major historical change. For Fukuyama it is economic and scientific developments and their culmination in the fulfilling of an abstract idea of “human freedom”.
Absent from his account is the collective political action by human beings in pursuit of their interests. By his account human actors on the stage of history are expected to accept their allotted roles. The contradiction between production which is collective and ownership which is private is ignored. The consequent class domination and exploitation seem not to enter the picture. And what happens when capitalism continues to fail to meet real human needs? For all its prodigious productive capacity capitalism only produces what can be sold at a profit leaving the many hundreds, if not thousands of millions in varying degrees of poverty and insecurity. Surrounded by a plethora of consumer goods many in “the West” appear to suffer what the American poet Randal Jarell called “A sad heart in the Supermarket.”
Clash of civilisations?
With the supposed “death of ideology” and the emergence of a post-modern world a new rationale for arms spending and a new bogeyman had to be found. One was not long in coming. A heavyweight journal, read mainly by academics and policy makers, published an article outlining the thoughts Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington on the matter. ('The Clash of Civilisations?' Foreign Affairs Summer 1993).

The collapse of the former Soviet Union and the emergence of a multi-polar world dominated by the USA as the only superpower was not in his view the end of history but rather it heralded a return to traditional rivalries. The divisions of the post-cold war world will, he said, be cultural ones between civilisations. He identified eight or so based mainly on religious systems of thought. Clashes between nations will be replaced by clashes between nations and groups of different civilisations. Civilisations have as their most important determining characteristic not history, language, tradition or culture but religion. Except for micro-level clashes over the control of adjacent territory the clashes of civilisations will not be concerned with the protection and promotion of vital interests so much as with the advancement of particular political and religious values.
But even here he is inconsistent. Among “civilisations” are four non-religious classifications: “Western” (by which he seems to mean Northwest European Protestant, and possibly Catholic, and their North American and Old Commonwealth descendants) “Latin American” (also mainly Christian but with an admixture of African and indigenous peoples), “Japanese” and “possibly African”. Another oddity is his hiving off of one group of Christians, the “Slavic-Orthodox” (possibly because they are for him not “real” Christians, and possibly because of their “ethnic” roots they are not “really” Europeans either?). On the other hand he seems willing to lump together all of those of the Islamic faith Arabs, Africans, and Indonesians alike while ignoring the important divide between Sunnis and Shiites. And he ignores the major clashes both between and within Islamic states (Iraq against Iran as an example of the first and the breakaway of East Pakistan to form Bangladesh an example of the second).
Civilisations have, he says, existed for far longer than nation states as organising principles. As economic modernisation and social change erode long-standing local identities, civilisations are left as the largest possible identifying principle. They will replace ideologies such as liberalism, free enterprise, fascism, communism etc. as belief systems around which alliances can be formed and enemies identified and demonised. Conflicts will in future occur “along the cultural fault lines” separating the world's eight or so civilisations from one another and will become the dominant form of conflicts in the world with the ever present danger of escalation to a global level.
Huntington's analysis does not of course explain the many wars started within his proposed “civilisations” – those of Christian Europe or Confucian China for example – nor those regions where different civilisations co-exist relatively amicably for long periods.
For those of us too dim to see exactly where he is going, he identifies Islam as the new (old) enemy as a continuation of the “centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam [which] is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent.” Ignoring the British conquest of part of South Asia (partly Muslim and partly Hindu), its occupation with France of areas of the Middle East and North Africa (almost entirely Muslim in faith), and the Dutch empire in Indonesia (also largely Muslim), Huntington has the gall to warn his readers that “Islam has bloody borders.”
He gives as an example the war in the Balkans which followed the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. This area occupied the supposed “fault line” between the (Christian) Habsburg Empire and the (Muslim and Orthodox) Ottoman Empire. (Remember that for Huntington the Greek Orthodox is not “really” Christian.) But while the wars of Yugoslav succession were fought between and by people who happened to identify themselves as Orthodox or Catholic or Muslim or “Communist”, that is not why Yugoslavia broke up. This conflict had powerful economic motives and arose over the division of incomes and revenues between provinces having differing degrees of economic development.
Historically the proclaimed identities of the Balkan contestants were worked out by academics and intellectuals and in the main imposed on the populations by nationalists. These identities were subsequently manipulated by political elites when it suited their agendas. Bosnia fell victim to a land grab by two other Yugoslav provinces which prompted the intervention by NATO forces to “restore peace”. Turkey, a member of NATO, and the only one with a common border with the former Soviet Union against whom NATO was formed, while nominally a secular state, has a population the majority of whom identify themselves as Muslim.
What then is Huntington's agenda?
Huntington puts forward what he calls his “plausible hypothesis” warning that the economic and military strength of the “non-western” civilisations will increase relative to that of “the West”. This new situation “will require the West to maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its interests in relation to these civilisations” [emphasis added]. It will not go unnoticed that this thesis fits perfectly with the need to re-demonise the populations of the Middle East for example as Arab, Iranian, Islamic and “other”. What it does is provide a “respectable” theoretical justification for the continuation of the warfare state that can be repeated ad nauseum in the popular media.

Huntingdon's thesis can be shown to be flawed on a number of other grounds, the chief of which is that for at least the past two centuries the modern world has been organised around the exploitation of wage labour. No matter what the political, religious, or ideological label reads the principal economic drive has been the production of wealth for sale on the market in the hope of profit. Capitalism is now by far the dominant mode of wealth production throughout the globe. It is the needs of capitalist economies that drive a state's foreign policy as its relations with other capitalist states.
Conflict over access to and control of vital resources by competing nations have for the past one hundred years been rendered respectable by the cloak of capitalist ideology. They are no longer capable of being so masked. And as Margaret Thatcher observed, the end of the Cold War and the subsequent reduction of the threat of nuclear conflagration between the two super-powers has made the world much safer for conventional warfare as a tool of international relations.
Gwynn Thomas

The King-Makers of King Street (1949)

From the February 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Communists of an older generation took pride in being aggressively anti-religious and anti-Monarchist. Their more unprincipled successors think it smarter to let nothing stand in the way of the business of catching votes: hence the presence of non-party guinea-pigs on the Editorial Board of the Daily Worker, among them the Dean of Canterbury. If the old brigade like to stick to materialism and republicanism they amy, but one must not neglect opportunities of gaining the support—and the donations—of the Christians and the monarchists. So while the Daily Worker scoffs at the doings of royalty and pleases some readers by giving only five lines to the christening of the baby Prince Charles, the Dean, speaking in New York has a different line:
"It might very well be that Princess Elizabeth's son will become king of a Communist England.
"Eventually we will arrive at Communism.
"It is possible for Communism to exist in England without doing away with the rule of the King." (Reynolds News, 12/12/48.) 

Why Beveridge reorganized poverty (1992)

From the December 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fifty years ago this month the Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services by Sir William Beveridge was published to widespread acclaim. Supporters of all the pro-capitalist political parties hailed the Report as the basis for a restructured and improved social provision for the working class after the war against Germany had been won. According to the veteran Communist campaigner Willie Gallagher there was no mistaking the attitude of the British population to the plan. He told the House of Commons:
The trade union movement wants the Beveridge Plan, the Co-operative movement wants it, the Labour Party wants it, the Communist Party wants it, and the Liberals and a section of the Tory Party want it. It is clear that the great masses of the people, as represented by these forces, want the plan.
In retrospect it may seem ironic that those on capitalism's extreme left-wing, as well as its more mainstream defenders, should have been so enamoured with the Beveridge Report. Their reformist enthusiasm certainly overlooked the fact that one of its express aims was to increase productivity and encourage the working class to concentrate on the war effort while holding out the vague hope of better conditions to come, echoing Lloyd George's 1918 "land fit for heroes to live in" homily.

While the Labour and Communist Parties jostled for a reformist advantage over the Beveridge Report, the Socialist Party analyzed the purpose and nature of the Beveridge proposals in a pamphlet called Beveridge Re-Organises Poverty. This pamphlet quoted the Tory MP Quentin Hogg (now Lord Hailsham) and his advice on the necessity of social reform within capitalism—"if you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution"—and suggested that the Beveridge recommendations were best judged in the light of the wave of working class discontent which followed the 1914-18 war, which the capitalist class and their political representatives feared might be repeated.

Poor relief
The actual content of the Report and the proposals it put forward for social reform were, as the Times put it, "moderate enough to disarm any charge of indulgence" (2 December 1942). In large part the reforms aimed at providing an efficient working framework for the replacement of the unbalanced and disparate system of poor relief previously in existence in Britain. In fact a familiar claim of Beveridge at the time was that his proposals would be cheaper to administer than the previous arrangements. As he put it in his Report:  
Social insurance and the allied services, as they exist today, are conducted by a complex of disconnected administrative organs, proceeding on different principles, doing invaluable service but at a cost in money and trouble and anomalous treatment of identical problems for which there is no justification. (p. 6, emphasis added).
Many of Beveridge's proposals were already effectively in force for a significant number of workers, but the Report recommended the introduction of a unified, comprehensive and contributory scheme to cover the loss of employment, disablement, sickness and old age. An enlargement of medical benefits and treatments was proposed, as was a plan for non-contributory allowances to be paid by the state to parents with dependent children.

This latter scheme was criticized in another Socialist Party pamphlet called Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis, which demonstrated how Beveridge's proposed Family Allowances would be of principle benefit to the employing class, not the wage and salary earners, allowing employers to make-across-the-board wage reductions as wages had previously had to take account of the entire cost of the maintenance and reproduction of workers and their families, even though the majority of workers at the time had no dependent children to provide for. The Family Allowances plan was a scheme based on targetting provision on those workers actually with children. Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis explained: 
wages must provide not only an existence for the workers himself, but also enable him to rear future generations of wage workers to take his place. It is quite logical therefore from a capitalist point of view to raise objection to a condition which in a large number of cases provides wages "adequate" to maintain children for those who in fact possess no children.
Poor get poorer
In outlining the case for universal state benefits and health care, the Beveridge Report was undoubtedly of some benefit to sections of the working class who, for one reason or another, had found themselves outside the existing schemes of provision. But as the case of Family Allowances demonstrated some of the gains for the working class were more apparent than real.

As the Socialist Party was able to predict, the recommendations of Beveridge and, for that matter, the modifications that have been made to the various branches of the welfare state in the last 50 years, have not succeeded in solving the poverty problem. Particularly since the end of the post-war boom in Britain in the late 1960s, the problems of poverty and income inequality have accelerated. To confound the prediction of some supporters of capitalism (and some so-called Marxists too) that the tendency of state-assisted capitalist development is to make the rich relatively poorer and the poor progressively richer, the numbers of those in relative and absolute poverty have increased in Britain, America and a number of other leading industrialized countries. Moreover, this phenomenon currently shows no sign of being reversed, despite the attentions of the reformers.

Part of the explanation for this lies in the way in which state benefits have periodically failed to keep pace with rises in the general price level, and the systematic way in which entitlements like unemployment benefit and income support have been allowed to fall as a proportion of the average wage. In 1979 a married claimant in Britain qualified for 35 percent of average earnings, but by 1990 this was down to 27 percent. In the same period of time the number of unemployed men means-tested rose from just under half to three-quarters. The break between pensions and earnings meant that a single pensioner received only £46.90 a week instead of £58.65 and a married couple £75.10 instead of £94.05. Meanwhile in the US, an unemployed New York woman with two children receives one third less in real terms than in 1972 (Sunday Times, 6 September).

In the year 1990-1 the government spent £77 billion on health and social security, 42 percent of general government expenditure. For the current financial year 1992-3 the total is likely to be about £100 billion, necessitating the present large increases in the government's Public Sector Borrowing Requirement. With the increasing demands placed on the health service and the additional burdens placed on social security expenditure during the slump, pressure to cut back in government spending is intensifying.

Sticking plaster
As the 1942 proposals of Beveridge indicated, and experience has subsequently proved, expenditure on the welfare state can never really serve as anything more than a sticking plaster on capitalism's poverty problems. The capitalist system leaves little room for sentiment and its driving concerns of profitability and capital accumulation impinge on the effectiveness of the welfare state, as they impinge on everything else. The health services and social security have to be paid for ultimately out of the profits of the capitalist class, generally via taxation (the burden of which in the last analysis falls on the bosses) or borrowing.

The need to keep health and social security expenditure in check does not therefore come about because of the blind malice or hatred of politicians but because of the need to keep the amount of profit taken off the capitalists as low as possible. The spectre of a declining rate of profit after tax—restricting future investment in the profit-making sectors of the economy—is not something the capitalist class are simply going to sit back and accept. This was demonstrated by the rise of so-called "Thatcherism" in Britain and other industrialized countries in the 1980s. whose overt mission (not altogether successfully carried out) was to reduce borrowing and the proportion of the capitalists' accumulated wealth taken through tax. This, indeed, was the same mission undertaken by the last Labour government after its initial attempts to expand the economy through Keynesian economic policies ended in chaos.

Today, with the world in the midst of another economic crisis, and with future attacks on the welfare state developed since Beveridge, we can confidently re-assert our initial analysis of 50 years ago, to the effect that Beveridge represented not the "new world of hope" set out by the reformers, but a "re-distribution of misery". That misery remains and will do so as long as capitalism and its insane priorities continue to carry all before it.
Dave Perrin

Who Are The Wreckers? (2002)

From the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

It may be an unjustified slur on an honourable, selfless profession but it is said that there are barristers who, if they become aware that they don't have a case to put to a court, will resort to abusing their opponent. The hope is that this tactic will succeed in the absence of solid evidence because it may unsettle the other barrister, who was expecting everyone to play by the rules; it may confuse the jury so that they acquit a defendant who is plainly guilty; and it may hide the fact that the abusing barrister does not have anything pertinent to say. Of course, in the process the barrister may be exposed as a pathetic trickster, a manipulator of words and responses , which could lose them their professional standing but as the situation is desperate the risk is considered worth taking.

It is definitely not an unjustified slur to say that this strategy is often used by governments, when they are faced with the emergency of explaining away their failure to run the country as they had promised when they were campaigning for election. In that situation it is easier and more sensible – in the sense that it is less likely to lose votes – to divert responsibility onto a convenient scapegoat or to abuse opponents, who may then be inflated into figures of enormous menace.

It is not necessary to look far to find examples. Strikers (unless they are in another country, like Solidarity in Poland in the 1980s) are never popular with governments; they are more likely to be labelled as selfish disrupters of the communal well-being. When the Tube drivers of London come out they are attacked for forcing other workers to endure a journey to work even more stressful than usual. Well, there would be no point in a strike which was not disruptive in some way but the same misery is caused when the companies cut services, or cancel trains because the whole system is groaning under a burden of insufficient investment. These are experiences which reduce commuting workers to impotent rage at the very mention of names like Railtrack, Virgin, Arriva. But the companies are not considered to be threats to civilised society; instead they are prudent protectors of financial stability. Which – whatever it does to the passengers – is reassuring to the shareholders.

A group of workers who were subjected to some of the most savage criticism were the coal miners. who have now ceased to exist as a potent industrial force. In their heyday miners were able to strike effectively because they were united and they produced something which was vital to the rest of industry. For that very reason coal strikes were denounced for ruthlessly holding the nation to ransom, denying coal to homes and industries which needed it. In fact the miners were simply applying their industrial. Any protests about this were written off as the ignorant ravings of someone who simply did not understand the economic necessity for an industry to be competitive – to be profitable.

A side-product of a government searching for a scapegoat is that its members may come to believe their own propaganda, which can lead to distressing cases of paranoia. The Wilson government of 1966, for example, showed clear symptoms of this when they were confronted by the seamen's strike in May of that year. By the standards which were applied in such disputes, the seamen had a strong case but they were effectively demanding a 17 percent pay rise when the government's “voluntary” incomes policy was trying to limit rises to 3.5 percent. That, according to Richard Crossman, who was then a Cabinet minister, was what prevented the dispute being settled:
“we could have a settlement at any time, since the owners were ready to put up the cash: it was the government that was preventing the settlement because of the prices and incomes policy.”

Politically motivated
As the strike took hold it became apparent that it was not to have the dire consequences the government had predicted. What was clear, however, was that Wilson was set on smashing the National Union of Seamen. Denis Healey told the Cabinet that “Much as we would like to have a problem to solve, we haven't got one”. But Wilson behaved as if civilised society would come crashing down about Downing Street unless stern action was taken. From the depths of his paranoia he dredged up the infamous phrase about “a tightly knit group of politically motivated men” (which many people must have thought was a pretty accurate description of his own government) plotting to undermine all the work he had invested in making British capitalism everlastingly stable and prosperous and so awarding us all a life of easy prosperity. In the end the strike was settled through a kind of compromise, which did breach the government's incomes policy.

For his ready, sound-biting abuse of anyone who questions his policies Tony Blair is a worthy successor to Harold Wilson. “The forces of conservatism” was how he once described anyone brave enough to question whether his government should be so ready to throw overboard so much of what his party once (probably when Blair joined it) called its principles. A more recent example is in the opposition to the government's avowed intention to privatise, to some degree or other, important industries or services which have been under state control. We can remember when Labour supporters would argue endlessly that state control was the one and only method of taming capitalism into an ordered, controllable humane system which could then be transformed into socialism. This was not just an economic argument but a moral one as well – that state control served people better because its motivation was communal benefit rather than minority profit. But one of the premises of New Labour was that a programme of state control was a vote loser (they did not also say that it would upset many of the super-rich who they intended to persuade into backing them with lashings of money).

Blair has fought a long battle over this ground. In July 1999 he stated his agreement with those who perceive state concerns as a kind of sheltered environment for the unambitious and obstructive:
“People in the public sector are more rooted in the concept that 'if it's always been done this way, it must always be done this way' than any group of people that I've ever come across. You try getting change in the public sector and public services – I bear the scars on my back after two years in government.”

There might be more force in that argument if there were not so many examples of private industry whose operations fit in with Ted Heath's “unacceptable face of capitalism”. Railtrack, for example, has gained an enduring reputation for the lives which have been lost because of its pursuit of profit before passenger safety. Robert Maxwell's Mirror Group Newspapers was an organisation which stole (in the illegal sense) large sums of money, including an awful lot from its pensioners. The privatised British Airways and Consignia, which succeeded the Post Office, are losing money and cutting catastrophic numbers of workers as a result. Whether an industry or a service operates in what might be called an efficient way is not determined by whether or not it is state controlled or private but by other factors, usually beyond its control.

This is not say that we should accept the arguments of the nostalgics who perceive state control as a moral bulwark against private industry's greed and corruption. The coal miners, for example, did not find the monolithic National Coal Board easier to negotiate with than a bunch of fragmented private owners. A lot of penal reformers raged against the privatising of prisons, on the grounds that it was immoral to make profit out of punishing people by locking them up. But these same reformers could be relied on to denounce the shortcomings – the brutality, the primitive facilities, the aimlessness and corruption – of state prisons. The reports of one Chief Inspector of Prisons after another were notable for their bitter criticism of places like Wandsworth prison and Feltham Young Offenders Institution. Words like “unacceptable”, “corrosive”, “brutal” litter these reports.

But these are facts, which are not useful to anyone who argues on the basis of prejudice or deceit. When Blair rants about “wreckers” he is really appealing to a bewildered electorate's appetite for a scapegoat who will allow them to believe that it is still worthwhile to bother about political affairs. It is fair to ask, not only who are the “wreckers” but what they are supposed to have “wrecked”. It is apparent that many voters have stopped supporting New Labour because they cannot appreciate that it has constructed anything worth wrecking; they perceive life since 1997 as little, if any, different from how it was under the Tories. They see the same old poverty, crime, queues to get into the NHS, government sleaze and political muggings. At a recent away day at Chequers for ministers an “adviser” said: “It's no use pretending everything is lovely. There are some things in people's lives which are terrible.” This is not why millions of people voted for Blair's government in 1997. To them he must be the ultimate wrecker because he has destroyed their optimism, false as it was, that a political party can run capitalism differently. Perhaps now, instead of apathy, they might show some authentic optimism by using their own talents to run society for themselves.

Inside Left (1988)

Book Review from the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Inside Left: The Story So Far. Derek Hatton (Bloomsbury, 1988, £3.95)

Any reader expecting to find incisive, political analysis within the 174 pages of this book will be disappointed. Anyone looking for an unbiased factual record of the events in Liverpool during the period when a majority Labour council was controlled by the Militant Tendency should seek elsewhere. Early in the book Derek Hatton tells how he almost became an actor. It is the misfortune of the working class of Liverpool that Hatton did not take up that profession, but became instead a member of a politically dishonest group of opportunists, the Revolutionary Socialist League, also known as Militant Tendency. Hatton himself displays all the traits of the professional politician - selective memory of past events and a constant desire to be shown in the best possible light. What this book chronicles is the rise of an arrogant, ruthless, self-interested careerist. For all Hatton's rhetoric about class interests, on the evidence presented here one can only come to the conclusion that Hatton would have done very well in the present Conservative Party.

Hatton purports to show how a gallant group of "socialists" engaged in a fight against capitalism, were defeated by the actions of reactionary servants of the ruling class - the Government and the Labour Party. In fact the book actually shows up the hypocrisy of those who seek to impose "socialism" from above. The political philosophy described by Hatton bears as much resemblance to socialism as Barbara Cartland does to literature.

"When the history books are written for the 1980s the names of Militant and Derek Hatton will be right there, alongside those of Kinnock and Thatcher", Hatton writes. When the working class finally achieves emancipation from the domination of capitalist class then Hatton, Militant et al. will be consigned to the dustbin of history where they belong.
Dave Coogan

Hogwash (1988)

Film Review from the February 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the first wave of European colonialism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Christian missionaries were often used as the advance guard of conquering armies. They first tried to cow the natives with religion and the bible and, if that didn't work, they sent in the guns to coerce them into submitting to their new European masters.

The Mission is set during the time of the Spanish and Portuguese conquest of South America. It is about a group of Jesuits who establish missions in the South American jungle, win the trust of the local Indian population only to see them massacred by the advancing troops as a result of a deal between Spain and Portugal to parcel up the land between them. The film's intention is not to show the role that missionaries played in the conquest of South America -  the Jesuits are presented as being on the side of the Indians. In fact the film's story-line is weak; it is little more than a vehicle for the stars -  Jeremy Irons who plays the dedicated Jesuit father and Robert de Niro as a repentant mercenary slave-trader turned Jesuit - and for some truly magnificent camera work. The plot is pathetic but the cinematography is fantastic. It is worth going to see the film for the magnificent pictures of waterfalls, rivers and jungles. But don't get taken in by the sentimental hogwash of brave Jesuits fighting to defend the Indians from the colonial armies. Christian missionaries must bear part of the burden of guilt for the brutal suppression of the Indian population in South America even of they themselves did sometimes get caught in the crossfire.
Janie Percy-Smith

Friday, May 29, 2015

Same Old Shaw (1943)

From the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Daily Herald for March 10, Mr. George Bernard Shaw presented a lengthy article on the subject of Marx, entitled, "What would Marx say about Beveridge?"

His answer to his own question (for what it is worth) is that "if he were alive now he would probably denounce Sir William Beveridge as a rascally appeaser, trying to ransom capitalism for another spell by his Report" — and though that is precisely what Sir William is doing, Sir William is not a rascal.

We are not bothered by literary speculations as to what Marx would have done, or said. The only reason Mr. Bernard Shaw writes such things is because it helps to perpetuate the myth that he is the bold, daring, revolutionary thinker who has "applied" Marx to British conditions. In this article, as in the "biography" by Mr. Hesketh Pearson ("Bernard Shaw," Collins, 1942) this legend is again dished up.

Marx "made another man of me"; "Marx's torpedo hit it [the 19th century] between wind and water and blew the golden lid of hell"; BUT—Marx's "dialectic of historical materialism belongs to the days when Tyndall startled the word by declaring that he saw in matter the promise and potency of all forms of life," (Shaw's metaphysics belong to the days of Methuselah, as we shall see), and "now we know that Marx's attempts to measure value by abstract labour-power, when he should have measured it by abstract desirability and his treatment of both as mathematical constants, instead of as variables, can only lead to nonsense and bankruptcy."

It's quite simple, Marx's own teachings—Historical materialism, the Labour Theory of Value and the Class Struggle are bankrupt  nonsense—but Marx himself was the greatest figure of the 19th century, because he made a new man of Mr. George Bernard Shaw. The "Fabian Essays," which Shaw edited, had nothing whatever to do with Socialism (Marxism). They were pure and simple Social Reform, which G.B.S. in the same article declares the capitalists turned (when published in his programme, "A Plan of Campaign for Labour") to their own account, thus producing the new form of capitalism called Fascism or Nationalism—Nazi for short, in Germany. This is perfectly true—very well known to Socialists—that the sure, certain way to Fascism is via a Fabian, Labour-reformist Government trying to administer capitalism under the false colours of Labourist "Socialism" and driving the workers, disgusted, into the arms of "leaders."

Incidentally, it was very well known to the I.L.P. politicians too. "Wheatley (Labour Health Minister) pointed out that the country was passing through one of its periodical cycles of depression. Within the capitalist system reduction in the standard of life would be inevitable. Wages would fall and the social services would be restricted. Did a Labour Government wish to be responsible for such things> It would necessarily become so if it administered Capitalism. Much better that it should throw the responsibility for the evils of capitalism on the Conservative and Liberal parties." (Page 198, "Inside the Left," Fenner Brockway.) Brockway and W. J. Brown actually proposed that the I.L.P. members of Parliament should resign before the resignation of the Second Labour Government; Brockway's one regret being that they did not.

The problem is how to saddle all this on to Marx. It turns out according to Shaw that the experience of Russia showed that "Marxian tactics broke down ruinously in Russia, and had to be replaced by Fabian ones." The real man in Russia is not Marx—but Sidney Webb. Lenin's new economic policy was Sidney's inevitability of gradualness. Here we might agree with G.B.S. Had he read THE SOCIALIST STANDARD  in 1917-18 or 1920, he would have been aware of the impossibility of Socialism in Russia then, instead of being taken in by it, and signing all those silly Communist statements, after his visit to Moscow.

We would have been interested if G.B.S. had shown us how the capitalists could use Marx's writings to establish Fascism. like they did his and Webb's (Fabian State-Control). Instead, all he does is to urge that all the extracts from Marx dealing with Dialectical Materialism and Economics should be cut of the new "Lawrence and Wishart" edition, leaving only the polemics like the "Eighteenth Brumaire."

His conclusion is that "Marxian strategy is all right, but what Marxian idolatry and bigotry can do without Fabian tactics may be learnt from Fenner Brockway's history entitled 'Inside the Left.'" The History of the I.L.P. "is a heartbreaking record," he says, but it is staggering that Shaw, who claimes to have read the book, can accuse Brockway, who in the course of 340 pages, betrays not the slightest inkling in Marx, of "Marxian bigotry." Brockway's effort is a tiresome lament that the I.L.P. did not know how to kick itself clear of the Labour Party's troubles quickly enough. Listen to this "Marxian idolator"—Brockway :—
The establishment of a revolutionary Socialist Party can be attempted in one of two ways. A few theoreticians can lay down a watertight programme and invite those who agree with it to join: this is the method of the Trotskyists and the Fourth International has remained in a vacuum. Only a party which already has its roots in the working-class movement can evolve, grow, to the revolutionary position by thought applied to experience, by learning its lessons from mistakes, by discussion, by the study of the history of the movement in other countries, and by a sincere and constant effort to find the right way. This second has been the method of the I.L.P. (P.237.)
Which is like saying a few draughtsmen can draw up blue-prints of an aeroplane, but we prefer to tie a pair of wings on you (the workers) and push you off the nearest cliff; we, the leaders, will then learn by "our mistakes."The statement is a typical piece of Brockway's political trickery—"thought applied to experience" IS political theory. His failure to grasp these elementary essentials has led Shaw into writing the stupid letters, published by Brockway, supporting the I.L.P. Not that this matters, as he has also supported everybody else, except the S.P.G.B.

The fact is, as Shaw himself says, his object has always been to "irritate and startle." If you do not say a thing in an irritating way, you may just as well not say it at all, since nobody will trouble themselves about anything, that does not trouble them. ("Bernard Shaw," p. 106.) This is what "poor bankrupt Marx" would have called tautology.

Shaw has nearly always been wrong, as when he said the last war would last 30 years; and advised "Turn up the lights" in this one, in 1939. His simple plan has been to startle the capitalists, by kidding the workers that he is a reckless revolutionary. Nothing is further from the truth; in fact, he is a quiet conventional respectable bourgeois, most apprehensive of the ideas of Karl Marx—a Fabian.

Fenner Brockway tells how at the Finsbury Branch of the I.L.P. in Goswell Road in 1906. Bernard Shaw came to speak one evening.

"The question I put was this: Mr. Shaw, we are young, and want to make the best use of our lives. What is your advice? The answer came in a flash, 'Find out what the Life-Force is making for and make for it, too." How many times have I used that in perorations to Socialist (?) speeches,' says Brockway. ("Inside the Left," p. 22.)

Dear Mr. Shaw, much as we appreciate the third act of "Man and Superman," we still cannot allow your Nietschean "Life Force" (Shavian for "God") to substitute Marx's driving force of social evolution—the tool of production. Perhaps Brockway took your advice, and chased the "will o' the wisp"; we see the motor of evolution in the strong right arm of the working class.

Mr. Pearson, Shaw's biographer, recounts how, in 1915, Eugen Sandow, the physical culturist, tried to entice Shaw as a pupil. Shaw said, "You misunderstand my case; I have you seen you supporting on your magnificent chest twenty men, two grand pianos and a couple of elephants, and I have no doubt you can train me to do the same, but my object as to pianos and elephants is to keep them off my chest, not to heap them on to it." ("Bernard Shaw," p. 317.) The Socialist worker's object as to parasites is to dump them off his chest, by the aid of Karl Marx, not heap them on to it, even when they include Fabian literary elephants like Bernard Shaw.

Pathfinders: Immaculate conceptions (2015)

The Pathfinders Column from the May 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

What’s been happening lately with the people from Occupy, UK Uncut and the rest of the rebellious ‘noughties’ crowd? Whatever activity there is has sunk below the media horizon and therefore dropped off the political agenda, while the restless radical pool continues to evolve into new forms and outgrowths, clustering, merging and diffusing in ways that seem more organic than organised. The big splashes in the morning papers have given way to a grey drizzly afternoon of self-doubt, boredom and endless questions.

What is one to do with a world ‘absolutely in thrall to capitalism’, where most radical groups ‘coalesce around a hollow capitalist meliorism’ or else focus on the bogus rhetoric of having no leaders at the expense of any real strategy, democratic oversight or ability to adapt to changing circumstances?

Thus speaks Novara Media, an ‘outgrowth’ of this very milieu and a sort of alternative online news service cum political analysis show aimed at the young radical, non-state anticapitalist sector. Its founders are a likeable and highly articulate pair of young postgrads/postdocs by the name of Aaron Bastani and James Butler, and five minutes of their quick-fire patter is enough to make your head spin.

What does Bastani say about non-state communist strategy in the 21st century? That the 20th century of mass one-way communication was the great outlier and that today’s pathways of communication through disparate and affinity-based back-channels is more akin to the 18th century. What does Butler say about the activist’s disavowal of theory? He explains that doers are always suspicious of thinkers: ‘there’s a history of people thinking that thinking means that one should be in charge of things and lead things, and movements led by thinkers and intellectuals is [sic] always a bad thing and tends to lead to paranoia and narcissism and overidentification’. They observe that protest should be offensive not defensive because defensive strategies become conservative and ‘fail to stake a claim on the future’, and they make clear that ‘people argue about political power needing to be purified, but it doesn’t, it needs to be overthrown’. Butler adds poignantly ‘we have been losing for so long that we’ve forgotten to ask how do we win, and what would winning look like?’

Well, what would winning look like for Novara Media? It would look like something called fully automated luxury communism (FALC). The argument is simple enough. Machines are taking all the jobs, so the future should be one of luxury and leisure. People have said this before but Messrs B&B don’t make the elementary mistake of thinking that this will happen without a revolution to overthrow the powerful elites. What’s appealing about their argument is that it emphasises what you can have tomorrow rather than what you have to put up with today. Communism for them is a glittering prize and an orgy of abundance, not an exercise in hair-shirt asceticism.

Do they mean non-state communism the same way we do? Oddly, Bastani mentions a ‘living wage’, which doesn’t fit the picture. Wages and money presuppose property relations and markets, which inevitably give rise to states. Leaving that to one side, are they anyway overegging the pudding? When talking about post-scarcity socialism we tend to talk about sufficiencies, not luxury. We do sometimes speculate about shortages in the short term as farmers switch from cash crops to subsistence, the ‘bottom billion’ are prioritised for food and healthcare, and the world productive system learns to readjust. Is it realistic and in fact responsible to promise luxury as standard?

As is common with future-gazers, Novara may have been seduced by their own vision. One only has to recall the utopian predictions of early advocates of nuclear power to remember that technology is always rosiest at dawn.

When considering anything to do with automation, indeed any machinery, one shouldn’t ignore that unwritten rule of the universe, Sod’s Law. If it can go wrong, it probably will, and just when you least expect it.

People who can only afford to drive old cars will have noticed that the more sophisticated the technology, the more unfixable and often disastrous it is when it ages and breaks down. It may be that the rate of development of complex systems always outstrips our ability to diagnose failures within those systems or, in the vernacular, we’re too clever for our own good. Why might this be so? Because as you add new features, sensors, cruise controllers, drop-down displays and so forth in arithmetical fashion into a closed network, the number of potential failures and multiple-node failures tends to increase in geometrical fashion.

In the immaculate world of the futuretopians, nothing ever goes wrong and everything always works at its optimum. If you ask what happens when the system breaks you get the response given out about the Titanic and Chernobyl: ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got a system to cover that’. There is just now a debate in airline circles about whether to develop fully-automated planes without pilots, controlled just by their on-board computers. This is how capitalism drives technology - the purpose is simply that the airlines would save a pilot’s wage. Would socialists be interested in this too? Opponents will point out that a driverless car which fails can just stop, whereas a driverless plane that fails has no good outcome.

How much complexity is too much? What is so endearing about clunky, old-fashioned, non-electronic cars is that there’s not so much to go wrong, and not much you couldn’t fix yourself given a shed, a few tools and a basic grounding in car maintenance. Socialism would have production plants and factories for the sake of economy of scale, but not to the exclusion of local, small-scale production and maintenance.

Socialist production, being non-market and not for profit, would work quite differently from the capitalist market process. If you’re giving up your time to build a bus, a power station or a piano, you don’t want to have to put in further work repairing it, nor create work for others by making it difficult to repair. You would use standardised and recyclable parts which could be swapped out easily. You would not bother adding features which looked impressive but didn’t do anything. You would only use quality components, not cheap ones intended to fail. And you’d keep it simple. But simple doesn’t have to mean plain, or plain ugly. Taking a cue from William Morris we could stipulate that beautiful things should be useful, and useful things should be beautiful.

Fully automated luxury communism is a vision based on two assumptions, that people want luxury and that they hate work. We suggest that neither of these is correct. Sufficiency is sufficient for security, and security is what people really want, not to live like Roman emperors, even if today capitalism makes people fantasise about getting stuff for the sake of having stuff. Second, there is the obvious fact that labour, even quite hard manual labour, can be a huge pleasure when freely and cooperatively engaged in. If that were not so there would be no art, no hobbies, and no sport. Full automation, where machines do everything, is probably more a fantasy of capitalism’s stressed-out wage-slaves than a healthy aspiration of free people. And let’s remember to ask, what if it breaks down?

Novara is keen to stress that their ideas are negotiable and do not come fully formed and fixed. It is a fact to gladden the hearts of socialists that people like Butler and Bastani are out there keeping revolutionary ideas alive and fresh, but when concocting revolutionary recipes we would always counsel a pinch of salt.
Paddy Shannon