Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Marx and the Sunday Times (1963)

From the November 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some readers of the George Schwartz column in the Sunday Times of September 15th will have been surprised to see a headline “But Marx didn’t say so” and still more surprised at the opening paragraph:
“The process of enlightenment goes on apace, and at such a pace that one is apt to be bedazzled. I say this somewhat ruefully because an article in the current number of the Economica on “Marxian Value Reconsidered” almost persuades me to become a Marxian.”
Schwartz quoted extensively from the article in question to show, among other things, that Marx never believed capitalism would collapse through breakdown in a crisis; on the contrary, as Marx himself put it: “There are no permanent crises,” and that Marx did not accept a theory of general over-production.

“The trouble arises,” says Schwartz, in his paraphrase of Marx, “because the economy does not progress evenly. The very dynamism of capitalist enterprise brings about miscalculations and disproportionalities. The respective equilibriums of the various lines of production are constantly being disturbed and the conflict periodically leads to a crises which necessitates a transformation of the system.”

At this point Mr. Schwartz draws back from his passing feeling of affinity with Marx and offers to discuss amicably with the ghost of Karl the problem of seeking corrective action for capitalism’s maladjustments.

The article from which Schwartz quotes is by Thomas Sowell of Rutgers University USA, and in the August issue of Economica (London School of Economics, 10s) Sowell sets out to explain (with numerous quotations and references to sources) the meaning of Marx’s law of value and its place in the general framework of his analysis of capitalism, and to show how Marx’s approach to economics differed from that of other economists. Sowell also examines Marx’s views on crises and disposes of some common misconceptions-to the surprise of Mr. Schwartz. It may surprise both Sowell and Schwartz to know that recognition of the wrongness of the “collapse” theories is not new for the SPGB. In the 1932 crisis, for example, in a short pamphlet “Why capitalism will not collapse,” earlier crises were examined and the conclusion drawn:
. . . there is no simple way out of capitalism by leaving the system to collapse of its own accord. Until a sufficient number of workers are prepared to organize politically for the conscious purpose of ending capitalism, that system will stagger on indefinitely from one crisis to another.
At that time leaders of the ILP and the Communist Party were hysterically proclaiming the imminent collapse of capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Party News (1981)

Party News from the September 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

To relieve the awful boredom of the day of the Great Yawn, Wednesday 29 July, members of Glasgow branch of the SPGB arranged an outdoor meeting at our regular venue, Royal Exchange Square, under the title, "The Royal Wedding—Who Cares?—We Don't!"

While the majority of the audience were sane people seeking escape from the dose of undiluted royal nuptials poured out by press, radio and TV, unfortunately there was also present a sick but sizeable minority of "loyalists". The members of this latter group, although obviously present as an organised gang, were either too shy or ashamed to say which organisation they belonged to or, to judge by their behaviour, which institution they had escaped from. However, their insistence on accompanying our speaker's opening remarks with a tuneless rendition of God Save the Queen, their ignorant assertion that we were catholics, associates of the IRA and "baby-murderers", all provided fairly obvious clues to their provenance; there is surely only one organisation whose members assume that all its opponents are catholics. This undemocratic mob of protestant hooligans, literally howling with rage, spent the next half hour demonstrating their declared intention to break up the meeting.

The most articulate statement expressed was, "What this country really needs is a strong right-wing government that will clear out all the papes and darkies and leave it for the protestants". This of course from one of their intellectual heavyweights who unfortunately must have skipped Sunday- school on the day they were told about the missionaries; otherwise he would have known that just like sone "whiteys", some "darkies" are a bit unclear in unclear in the head and have the misfortune to be protestants too.

During all the chorus of abuse and physical threats the SPGB speaker presented the socialist case firmly but reasonably. His patience was exhausted, however, when the ravers in the audience came down again with another serious attack of the god savers' blues and, in the interest of both good order and musical good taste, he brought the meeting to a close.

This may seem to have been simply another victory for ignorance over reason, but we derive some cheer from the knowledge that the majority of the forty or so people in the audience, having read our poster, wished to know more about our views and had deliberately chosen to attend the meeting rather than waste time at home or in the pub watching the nonsense of the wedding. Most of them remained till the end despite the undemocratic behaviour of the loyalists, whose noise in fact attracted people who might otherwise have passed us by. So, if victory at all, it was not a very famous one, even tinier than that historical non-event that the Orangemen celebrate so noisily when the British summer overheats their brains.

There is a tragedy in the above episode; not the fact that our meeting was briefer than intended, but that ordinary working men, in every other way just like ourselves, sharing our poverty and hardships, should be so blinded by irrational prejudices that they fail to see that it is capitalism, not the pape/protestant/darky/whitey next door, which is the source of their problems and that the only sane solution is socialism, not shooting, assaulting or deporting fellow workers.

There are of course many established institutions in capitalism—the press, radio, TV, schools, universities, churches—part of whose resources are dedicated to reinforcing those prejudices that divide workers. It may seem then that the SPGB is a puny weapon with which to oppose such powerful and manipulative instruments; but what we have going for us is a force much more potent than either our own little organisation or the head-fixing apparatus of the establishment. That is the power of ideas generated by capitalism itself. For no matter how its PR men and women try to dress it up, the system is beyond the control even of the owning class in whose interest it operates and it is in the long run impossible to conceal the anti-social nature of capitalism from the working class, at whose expense and by whose acquiescence alone its continuance is possible.
Campbell McEwen

Cost-effective Schooling (1987)

Editorial from the November 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The "new realism of the enterprise culture", that fashionable phrase from capitalism's shabby intellectual boutique, has been fairly slow to catch on among the nation's professional educators, who are presently suffering a collective hangover from the excessively optimistic and surreal Sixties, when comprehensive schooling, egalitarianism and "letting it all hang out" were in vogue. The incompatibility of these ideals with the needs of modern capitalism has ensured that it has all been stuffed firmly back in again with a vengeance. Not content with cutting educational budgets to the bone, or amputating whole limbs infected with pink irritants like sociology, the government is now adroitly laying at the teacher's door some of society's uglier manifestations, from glue sniffing to granny bashing. And since the natural remedy for such ills is an injection of healthy competition, that nice Mr Baker stayed behind after school one day and wrote a curriculum designed to produce an endless chain of midget entrepreneurs, all constantly tested for quality and equally at hone with isosceles triangles, mating habits of sticklebacks, Shakespeare's sonnets . . . For good measure, parental "choice" is to be extended by fostering greater competition between schools that no self-respecting member of the ruling class would let his char ladies near, let alone any offspring.

The liberal intelligentsia has responded to these measures with indignant shouts of "philistine". Backs against the wall and hands on heads, they argue that the disinterested pursuit of knowledge has long-term economic as well as social benefits for capitalism, that the withdrawal of funds from non-vocational courses is a short-sighted policy and an attack on the traditional values for which higher education, in particular, has always stood. It is a variant on the defence employed by what is called the "arts community", who complain vehemently about cuts in their funding and maintain that investment in "culture" is good for Britain and a boon to the Exchequer, as well as the stamp of a civilised society. Pleading their case in capitalism's terms is unlikely to move those who hold the purse-strings, however, since adjectives such as lean, utilitarian and cheap represent the quintessence of realism in what we are daily reminded is a fiercely competitive world.

In one sense, then, logic is on the side of those who now wield the knife. The main and self-evident function of schooling ("education" is a blatant misnomer) is the sorting out of the young into the social slots they will occupy in adult life. The schooling system is required to become more and more a super-streaming system, constantly shifting its students into channels where their past performance suggests they belong, treating people and knowledge in the way capitalism's technological world treats everything: as if it could be processed. The big lie is that opportunities are equal, that everyone gets on by dependence on their own abilities and will to succeed. If the products of public schools brush shoulders in the City with sons of East End lorry drivers, it is still likely to be as one opens a car door for the other. The best that's wanted for little Johnny or Tracy is a world and class away from the privileged life of the elite who, when they hear the word "culture", simply reach for their cheque books.

What we are not suggesting is that changes in the organisation of schooling in a class society can bring no benefits for the majority, or that the dominant ideology is consciously imposed from above on all social institutions. The ethos and values of capitalism permeate all aspects of our waking lives and a complex network of factors determine whether they are digested whole, chewed over or rejected altogether. An individual teacher may well be concerned with what children learn, but he or she is one face in a world of "right-thinking" people and school systems record only the marks children get. Individuals will differ in their ability, talent and determination in any society, but it is equally obvious that social background and schooling determine whether and how much they will be paid for the sale of their physical or intellectual powers, which in turn will largely determine where they can live, with whom they associate, and the rest of their life style. Exceptions merely confirm the rule.

The selective function of schools implies losers as well as winners and, increasingly, selection is for life; attempts to disguise this reality are destined to failure (comprehensive schools did their poor best and need not try harder). What employers are demanding are precisely the qualities that today's public schools are inculcating - a more technically qualified and disciplined workforce; which is why we are seeing attempts to force state schools to follow in their footsteps, to remove the distinction between education and training, and accept that schooling needs to operate on a more cost-effective basis. All this may not be new, but the difference this time is that the government appears willing to give them more of what they want.

What is not new and cannot change is the essential nature of capitalism. Schools take into compulsory custody millions of innocent children, dull their imaginations as best they can, force them to suck up quantities of secondhand information, qualify some for entry into other institutions, and commit the rest to a lifetime of servitude and hard labour. In a conveyor belt world dominated by competition  they can operate in no other way.

Material World: Greenland - To Modernize or Not? (2015)

The Material World Column from the February 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

For much of human history, capitalism was not humanity's economic system. For 95 percent of human history, primitive communism was the economic system, hunter-gatherer communities without classes, sharing wealth communally. Various pockets of primitive communism still live on around the world and one example is the traditional Inuit communalism. We should, however, think twice about using such a pejorative term as ‘primitive’. How could people last for thousands of years in the most inhospitable climate on Earth if they aren’t geniuses? The Inuit figured out how to turn bones into tools, how to turn skin into warm clothing, how to feed their families for generations. They have learned to adapt to nature which has allowed them to thrive for centuries.

In American Nations, Colin Woodard describes the Inuit culture and lifestyle. Most tribal land in the far north is owned in common under a form of title that prevents it from ever being sold to an individual or exploited in such a way that diminishes its value to future generations. There is no private property, although an individual family has three personal possessions: a tent, coverings and a sled. Everyone is allowed to responsibly use the people’s shared land, but it is thought the height of absurdity that any one person should ‘own’ it. Inuits still hunt, fish and gather and the food plus the implements associated with them are generally regarded as common property. If a hunter kills a seal, it’s handed over to whoever needs it. Villages have communal larders that anyone can access — free of charge or accounting — because food cannot belong to one person. It is the Inuit custom that you should never thank someone for food ‘Up in our country we are human!’ said the hunter. ‘And since we are human we help each other. We don't like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today you may get tomorrow.’

Alliances between non-relatives are formed and maintained through gift giving and the showing of respect. An example of this is the often repeated but rarely understood offering of a man’s wife. It is a form of gift giving where a head of household offers the opportunity of sex with the most valued adult woman of his household. The woman has the power to refuse, in which case respect will be through a different gift. Community ties are strengthened during the winter months, because individuals would not be able to survive the long harsh winter without the help of others. Throughout the winter, there is a continuous series of communal feasts. After large animals are caught, such as whales and walrus, the entire district is invited to the feast. In Labrador, Greenland and throughout the central regions, when the resources of a house have surpassed the ‘normal’ living standards, this wealth must be re-distributed to poorer individuals. If the tribe engages in a commercial enterprise, the proceeds belong to everyone.

Today global warming is unlocking potentially lucrative revenues from natural resources under Greenland's seabed and icecap, which according to international experts is home to large oil and gas deposits as well as other minerals. Do you go on trying to preserve what is left of the old Arctic hunting and fishing culture, although it’s already so damaged and discouraged that it has contributed to the highest suicide rate on the planet (one in five Greenlanders tries to commit suicide at some point in their lives)? Or do you seek salvation in modernisation and economic growth (while keeping your language and what you can of your culture)?

One of the party founders of Inuit Ataqatigiit (Community of the People) has opted for the former. ‘If you want to become rich, it comes at a price,’ says Aqqaluk Lynge who didn't want to pay that price, and under the Inuit Ataqatigiit administration (2009-2013) all mining was banned in Greenland. Apart from the environmental costs of large-scale mining operations, Lynge said, the many thousands of foreign workers they would bring in would have a devastating impact on what is already a very fragile Greenlandic culture.

The Prime Minister who took over in April 2013, Aleqa Hammond of the Siumut (Forward) party, chooses the latter. She thinks modernisation has gone too far to turn back and it is better to gamble on solving the current social problems (like suicide) by enabling everybody to live modern, prosperous lives. The Siumut government has issued more than 120 licences for mining and petro-chemical projects including a huge $2.5 billion open-cast iron-ore mine that would produce 15 million tonnes a year.

Few Greenlandic Inuit have the skills or inclination to acquire senior jobs in all these enterprises, and most will not want the hard, dirty, dangerous jobs of the workers in the mines and on the rigs. The rampant alcoholism and drug use, and the suicides that plague the Greenlanders are unlikely to be cured by throwing money at them as compensation for a life without meaning and the eventual extinction of their communal traditions.

Action Replay: The ‘Absurd’ Goalkeeper (2015)

The Action Replay Column from the February 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his youth the French writer Albert Camus (1913-1960) played in goal for Racing Universitaire d'Alger (RUA) junior team from 1928 to 1930 (he was born and brought up in Algeria which was then part of France). They won both the North African Champions Cup and the North African Cup twice each in the 1930s. It was the sense of team spirit, fraternity, and common purpose that appealed to him but any aspirations to a career in football disappeared when he contracted tuberculosis when he was seventeen.

During the Second World War Camus joined the French Resistance cell Combat, which published an underground newspaper of the same name. He became the paper's editor in 1943 and continued to edit it after the war until 1947. It was a leftwing paper but critical of the Communist Party. He began to frequent the caf├ęs in the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris where Sartre and other French intellectuals used to gather but his criticism of the Communist Party did not win him friends there.

His rejection of the Communist Party's doctrine was strongly expressed in the Rebel published in 1951, a philosophical analysis of rebellion and revolution. This brought about a final split with Sartre. Despite this, Camus has continued to be categorised as an 'existentialist' but he rejected this description and felt that because we lived in an absurd world, he would be better described as an ‘absurdist’

When he was asked in the 1950s by a sports magazine for a few words regarding his time with the RUA, his said that 'what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA'. he was referring to the sort of simplistic morality he wrote about in his early essays, the principle of sticking up for your friends, of valuing bravery and fair-play which still survives in the amateur game.