Monday, August 10, 2015

Labour MPs in confusion (1989)

From the October 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party has always attracted a wide range of politically bewildered do-gooders and reformists. These believe that in spite of their many differences, they can all band together and run capitalism more acceptably than the Tories. In the past some, like David Owen, have decided that their ambitions would be better served by getting out and abandoning the principles they once claimed to hold. Others like Tony Benn have remained despite their out-of-step ideas, to become eccentric and embarrassing curiosities in the eyes of their more ambitious colleagues.

In his leadership acceptance speech of October 1983, Neil Kinnock attempted to forge a new unity by referring to "socialism" in the vague and misleading way that the Labour Party has often had recourse to when convenient:
Our function, our mission as socialists, is to see we gain the power to achieve that, and there is no other way but by Socialism—deliberate organisation of all the resources of humankind and talents. That is the definition of Socialism.
Such loose catch-all phrases may win standing ovations at Labour Party Conferences, but would also receive lip-service from all kinds of other capitalist politicians too.

In contrast to this, the Socialist Party has always held to a clear and precise definition of our aim, and being a democratic movement without leaders, any Socialist Party member could be relied on to explain this clear definition of socialism: a worldwide system of society in which goods and services are produced solely to satisfy human needs, not profit; which will only be possible when all the productive resources are democratically controlled, rather than at present where they are owned and controlled by private individuals or by the state on the "people's behalf". It cannot therefore be a system of buying and selling or bartering. Money will then be obsolete, as will be the need for human beings to starve while food is destroyed or allowed to rot because they cannot pay for it. This definition, of common ownership, production for use, and free access to all wealth, is expanded on throughout the journals and pamphlets of the Socialist Party.

Mixed Economy
In an effort to find out what was lift of Kinnock's so-called socialist unity after five years of his leadership, one of our members wrote to a number of Labour MPs late last year and asked for their definitions of socialism. The results were quite spectacular, confirming our suspicion of utter confusion, disagreement and bewilderment.

Both Kinnock and his right-hand man Hattersley simply sent copies of Democratic Socialist Aims and Values which at the time was the latest creation of the Labour Party's waffle factory in Walworth Road. The nearest that the pamphlet came to defining socialism was as a system of state capitalism, heavily decorated with a generous dose of liberal rhetoric. "The state', we were assured, "is an instrument for sustaining and enhancing the liberties of the whole community". "Free trade unions" would be vital to democracy; but Kinnock has been rather shy about any pledge to repeal the anti-trade union legislation of the past ten years. They trot out the old clich├ęs about "redistribution of wealth" (and this is one promise which the 1974-79 Labour government did keep—the richest ten per cent became richer!) but there is no talk of changing the basis on which wealth is produced, only a recommitment to the "mixed economy", as "there are many areas of the economy where market allocation and competition between companies . . . is essential" and "democratic socialists believe in market allocation". Next they'll be telling us that defenders of capitalism "believe in common ownership".

Tony Benn was one of several respondents who referred us to literature on the subject, in this instance a list of the many books and pamphlets he has written since 1957. He also sent the Aims and Objectives of the Campaign Group, which advocates "a steady expansion of common ownership . . . covering the commanding heights of the economy". It is clear, however, that this refers to state capitalism again, as the leaflet elsewhere speaks not of ending the state, government and law which are all parts of the profit system and of class division, but of subjecting these institutions to "fundamental reform" only. Likewise, when interviewed in the Socialist Standard in 1980, Benn upheld the Clause Four blueprint for nationalisation.

Gwyneth Dunwoody also referred us to the old chestnut of Clause Four of the Labour Party Constitution, while Dale Campbell-Savours plumped for "a collectivist approach" with a bit of "democratic accountability" on the side. His comment that "I could have spent several hours pondering in the most subtle detail exactly what I do mean by Socialism, and it might be good for me personally to do so" could well be taken to heart by many of the other respondents. Peter Shore, on the other hand, went for "a society of equals . . . to end the exploitation of man by man". He seems to have forgotten that saying that under Labour governments the exploitation of "man by man" is replaced by its opposite.

Stuart Bell sent several typed sheets, the gist of which can be summed up by his assertion that "the Labour Party believes in a mixed economy where profits are accepted but where profits are accepted but where a better use of them would be re-investment". He also showed an unfortunate lack of prescience by stating (in November 1988) that "Mikhail Gorbachov and the leader of the Chinese people . . . are seeking to democratise their socialism, to make it accountable and therefore flexible and responsive to the needs of people rather than bureaucracies". So, according to his defence of state capitalism referred to as "socialism", is the wholesale slaughter of Chinese workers part of this new "flexible" response?

Michael Foot declined to provide a definition, instead recommending various books by Aneurin Bevan, John Strachey, himself and others. Several others also found themselves more inclined towards arrogant self-publicity than to define for us what they stand for. Ken Livingstone assured us  that we would find his definition of socialism in an interview he had had with Tariq Ali. Eric Heffer complained to that to define socialism "would take a lot of time and effort" and recommended instead that we get his latest book. Likewise, Bryan Gould recommend his own book and, as a teasing taster gave us this morsel, that socialism is "a political system designed to break down the concentrations in society and to defuse power as widely as possible". There was certainly a breakdown of concentration as far as these definitions were concerned.

Bearing in mind that many of these people have been elected to power on the basis of standing for something called "socialism", their general reluctance to give a clear and practical definition of what they stand for shows a quite outstanding contempt for the people who elect them to such positions of power. Perhaps the best example of this arrogance came from Robin Cook, whose assistant wrote that "Robin Cook has asked me to thank you for writing to him, unfortunately he does not feel that he is in a position to respond to your request." You could probably get a more helpful response from the queen.

Jeremy Corbyn wrote of an absence of exploitation, respect for the natural environment, and production for need and not profit. In this last phrase, he came dangerously close to a genuine definition of socialism. But the capitalist class need not fear; production for need cannot be introduced on the basis of minority control of the means of production, whether through private enterprise or through the state control which Corbyn stands for. Tam Dalyell limply offered "a system based on the advantage of the community rather than the individual". Finally, Denis Healey (don't forget the MBE) suggested "collective control of society" with the rider that "I hope my views will be clear to you in the enclosed pamphlet". In what might be regarded as a symbolic gesture, however, there was no pamphlet enclosed.

Politically Bankrupt
Then, for some light relief, some Tory MPs were also asked the same question. Teresa Gorman and John Carlisle both felt too bound by parliamentary protocol to be able to answer correspondence from a constituent of another MP. Dame Jill Knight quoted tediously from the Universal English Dictionary about collective ownership of capital. Henry Bellingham wrote passionately about "restrictions of an individuals freedom". Leon Brittan would not offer a definition as he would prefer to leave that to those who claim to be socialists. (He seems unaware that he would have as much claim to call himself a socialist as some of the other respondents!) Finally, our member was warmly reassured by Graham Bright that "as a Conservative MP my aim is to preserve the liberties of my country and ensure its peace and prosperity".

The conclusion to this enquiry, then, must be that the Labour Party remains quite bankrupt politically. Even when invited to define socialism, the rhetoric of confusion continues to churn out. Even in their most visionary moments, these people continue to fluctuate narrowly between the limited horizons of private and state forms of capitalism. They are unable to define socialism clearly or in practical terms because they are caught up entirely in the idea of trying to run capitalism. For a clear explanation of the socialist alternative then, workers must turn to the uncompromising, principled aim of the Socialist Party and our companion parties in the World Socialist Movement.

Why not socialism now? (1998)

From the May 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why does the World Socialist Movement not get involved in social activism, in trying to do something now under capitalism?

There is an endless stream of issues under capitalism and a myriad of organizations are involved in them. These issues are clearly attractive to people and generate a huge amount of donations. For example, Greenpeace International has 2.9 million members, six ships and a $153-million budget (as of September 1996). So why don't Socialists get involved too?

Every organization has to decide what it is working for, and whether that aim is important. When the first of the parties in the World Socialist Movement was founded in 1904, it decided it was going to work for socialism.

The socialist analysis of society shows that capitalism itself is the underlying cause of most of the problems which the social activists want to solve. The social activists attack the symptoms but ignore the cause. Social activists work to reform capitalism, socialists work to eliminate capitalism: the cause of the problems.

If people eliminate the cause of the problems, the problems won't keep cropping up. Instead of trying to fix the symptoms, year in and year out, forever, people can eliminate the cause, once. Then we can all get on with living our lives in a world where solutions actually solve problems, instead of just covering up symptoms.

Emotionally difficult
This approach can be emotionally difficult. It may even mean that someone dies today, who might have been saved by social activism. A simple analogy to explain the socialist perspective.

If a pipe bursts and the water is rising on the floor, one can start bailing the water out while it continues to flow in, or one can turn the water off, and then start bailing. It may take a while to find the tap, and some valuables might be destroyed while searching, but unless the water is turned off, the water will continue to rise and bailing is rather pointless.

Socialists are not immune to the human tragedies which occur daily, by the millions, and which generate thousands of social activist groups trying to stem the tide. Socialists suffer those tragedies as severely as anyone else, but work to encourage people to find the tap and turn it off.

If the reform actions of the social activists saved everyone who might have died today, it would be harder to question their approach. But the fact is they don't even come close. After the Holocaust in the 1940s, people said "Never Again". In the 1990s, genocide was on people's minds again, for a few hours, when the atrocities in Srebrenica, Bosnia hit the front pages. Genocide didn't stop for 50 years. It continued all along in places such as East Timor, but wasn't, apparently, important enough to make the front pages. The environment promoting genocide didn't go away, and so neither did genocide.

If the social activists had solved the myriad of problems, or were even to be able to say that things were steadily improving, that would argue in favour of their approach to social activism.

But that is not the case. The reality is that the reforms which the social activists promote do not work. The social activists are not gaining much, if any, ground, and the same problems continue to appear. It is often one step forward, several steps back.

That is the reality of capitalism. Social activism cannot change that.

Or rather what most people call "social activism" can't change it. Socialists are social activists, and suggest that working to eliminate the cause of the problems is the most valuable type of social activism.

Socialists make a choice. We choose to use our time and limited funds to work to eliminate the cause of the problems. One can pick any problem and often one can find that real improvements have taken place, usually after a very long period of agitation. Rarely, if ever, has the problem disappeared, and usually other related problems have cropped up to fill the vacuum of destruction or suffering left by the "solution".

After hundreds of years of social activism, both the problems of war and poverty, which most people consider to be rather important, are still major problems and are nowhere near solution. War didn't stop in 1918 or 1945, it continues every day, somewhere in the world. The anti-war movement seems to be fading out without ending war.

The anti-poverty movement is now marginal. Eliminating war and poverty are no longer even in the realm of discussion for reformists. The reformists have failed.

Reformism has failed
Some environmentalists tell us that if the environment is destroyed all the rest won't matter. That is true enough, but there is little indication that the huge, well-funded environmental movement is making much real headway. For example, since the Rio Earth Summit, the forests of Brazil, sometimes called "the lungs of the planet", are being destroyed faster than before.

Worldwatch Institute tells us that millions of hectares of tropical and deciduous forest still disappear each year, and carbon dioxide emissions are at record highs.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently reported that major air pollutants have decreased by nearly 30 percent over the last 25 years, while the economy grew. That's good. But does anyone think that the fight for breathable air is over? It isn't, and if industry moves out of a country to get less strict (cheaper) regulations, the fight will get a lot harder.

Maurice Strong, who was Secretary General of the Rio Earth Summit, and now heads the Earth Council, says "far too few countries, companies, institutions, communities and citizens have made the choices and changes needed to advance the goals of sustainable development." Strong also tells us that 100 countries are worse off today than 15 years ago, with 1.3 billion people earning less than $1 a day.

Socialists have been saying for over 90 years that reforming capitalism won't solve the problems and we have been proven correct so far. People who say that it is too early to accept that verdict seem willing to wait another 90 years to see what has, by then, transpired.

If socialists are correct, that would mean another 90 years of war, of poverty, of economic crises, of environmental destruction. It means that and more, as the destructive capability of society increases daily. There is no even moderately compelling evidence that socialists are wrong. There is compelling evidence that socialists are right.

Socialism is what socialists want, so socialism is what they work for, not the reforms of the "social activists".

The Companion Parties of Socialism, in the World Socialist Movement, are socialist parties. They promote socialism because that is all a socialist party can promote.

If you find a "socialist" party promoting "social activism", you'll have found a non-socialist party ignoring socialism and working for reforms, not solutions.

A tiny group of socialists can't solve the world's problems; only a huge, socialist majority can do that. It is up to every individual to create that majority, and to use it to turn off the tap of capitalism, so that the problems can be solved.
Steve Szalai

Material World: Criminals in Business Suits (2012)

The Material World Column from the August 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Few of us have any real understanding of the secretive world of intelligence and undercover operations. Spy thrillers are hardly a reliable guide. But perhaps we can learn a bit from the revelations of whistleblowers – disillusioned insiders who decide to tell all and damn the consequences.

I have before me memoirs by two American whistleblowers –Susan Lindauer, Extreme Prejudice: The Terrifying Story of the Patriot Act and the Cover Ups of 9/11 and Iraq (2010) and Sibel Edmonds, Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story (2012). Both books are self-published. Which could mean either that no publisher would risk taking them or that no publisher thought them credible.

Lindauer was a CIA “asset”who represented the US in unacknowledged and therefore deniable “back-channel”communications with various governments. She negotiated an agreement with the government of Saddam Hussein that took all declared American interests into account but still failed to avert the US attack on Iraq. She says that when she blew the whistle, she was arrested on obscure charges under the Patriot Act and that while she was in prison an attempt was made to declare her insane and forcibly drug her.

Edmonds translated tapped telephone conversations from Turkish and Persian sources for the FBI. She discovered that a colleague was working for the very businessmen it was their task to monitor and says when she tried to persuade her bosses to do something about it she was fired. She was also branded a traitor by the government of her native Turkey, to which she could no longer safely return.

Pillars of society
The official mission of the FBI is to fight dangerous forms of organized crime like terrorism, money laundering and the illegal trade in narcotics, arms, nuclear components, and military and industrial secrets. The trouble for FBI agents who sincerely want to pursue this mission is that many of the criminals engaged in these activities are extremely well-connected and influential –real ‘pillars of society’. As Edmonds remarks, most of us associate global crime with gun-toting gangsters and Mafiosi. However,

“Turkish criminal networks consist mainly of respectable-looking businessmen (including top international CEOs), high-ranking military officers, diplomats, politicians and scholars.”  (p. 97)

These respectable people employ the best lobbying firms and cultivate (to put it more crudely, buy) equally respectable American public officials and Pentagon, State Department and White House bureaucrats, securing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in US government contracts for Turkish companies.

Naturally, those officials and bureaucrats do not want to receive FBI reports about the criminal activity of their partners. They made it clearly understood that even raising such delicate matters, let alone acting on them, would “irreparably damage our relations with a key ally.”

Nor did Bush Administration officials want to endanger even more lucrative relations with another “key ally”by having the connections of prominent Saudis with Islamist terrorism brought to their attention. It was much more convenient to blame Saddam.

This does not mean that nuclear non-proliferation, prevention of terrorist attacks and other declaratory goals are completely phoney. In principle, some policy makers might like to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons. And they do not relish the prospect of being blown to pieces in their plush air-conditioned offices. It is just that they do not give these issues high priority. Other things take precedence. Especially making money.

Terrorism, of course, is only a bad thing when it is directed against ‘us’. The CIA has always been happy to fund and promote terrorism against Russia and other rival powers. Sometimes terrorists escape the control of their patrons and ‘bite the hand that fed them’. This is known in the trade as blowback. 

Divided agencies
Neither of the whistleblowers gives credence to the theory that the Bush Administration actually arranged the attacks of September 11, 2001. Lindauer, however, speculates without any proof that a rogue group of US intelligence agents could have given the terrorists a helping hand by laying explosives under the Twin Towers.

In the weeks and days leading up to September 11 it wasn’t easy to discern what exactly top US officials wanted. They received warnings of imminent terror attacks from their own agents and from other governments (the French, for instance), but appeared not to heed them. How was their unresponsiveness to be interpreted? Most likely they were ‘in denial’ – their heads stuck firmly in the sand.

Some agents continued right up to the last moment to repeat the warnings and urge the adoption of countermeasures –for example, the deployment of anti-air defences on the roofs of threatened buildings. Others took a different view.

What makes such things possible is the division of intelligence agencies into numerous small groups that are isolated from one another and responsible only to the very top of the government hierarchy. When –as evidently often happens –they find themselves without clear guidance from above, they may begin to act autonomously and at cross purposes. Thus, in the run-up to the war with Iraq, some groups of agents (like the one Lindauer belonged to) were trying to avert war while others were trying to bring it about.