Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Production Solely For Use (1942)

From the September 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

A writer signing himself "Pep" has an article called "Production for Profit—or Use" in "Everybody's Weekly" (August 8th, 1942). He challenges what he believes to be the Socialist case and argues that there is not and cannot be anything else but production for profit—"no one at any time does anything whatever except for profit." It is necessary to emphasise the point that Pep's attack is on what he believes is the Socialist case, for he has neglected to state correctly what is the Socialist. Here is a passage which shows Pe's line of argument:—
I seem to have heard  . . . an orator declaring that the production of goods for profit was a root cause of industrial unrest if not for our defeat in Libya. He asserted that, according to the gospel of Marx, production should be for use. He pictured a greedy horde of plutocrats driving gentlemen called the workers into factories where they were sweated—not in order to make article of use in English homes, but to make profits for the obese owners of vested interests . . .
I objected to the picture because I hold it to be untrue that we who work are driven anywhere. We are, maybe, enticed by pay envelopes , bonuses, pensions and advancement, but we are not yet goaded on by whips or scorpions to produce profits for the rich. And as for ourselves, no one at any time does anything whatever except for profit.
Pep arrives at his curious conclusion by attaching to the word profit not one understandable meaning, but several different meanings: all of them wrong. In one place he appears to use the word to mean wages, and talks of a carpenter making a chair for profit; whereas it is characteristic of capitalism that carpenters, like other workers, live not on profits but on wages. Elsewhere he employs the term in a sense peculiar to himself. He writes:—
Who would make a hay rake except for use? On the other hand, who would dream of making it except for immediate profit—a profit which will be translated during the coming winter into terms of milk, cream, butter and cheese.
Here, it will be seen, he is using the word profit to mean exactly the same as use. He could more sensibly have written in place of his second sentence—
Who would dream of making it except for immediate use—a use which will be translated during the coming winter into terms of milk, cream, butter and cheese.
It is in this curious way that Pep sets out to enlighten the readers of "Everybody's Weekly."

If we now state the Socialist case as it really is we can begin to enlighten Pep. What the Socialist ways is that under capitalism production is carried on for the profit of the owners of the means of production, though the usefulness of the products is not in question, and that under Socialism  it will be carried on solely for use—note the word solely. As Pep questions the Socialist explanation we can perhaps make things clearer to him by referring to some statements in his own article.

It will be noticed, for example, that in the passage quoted above Pep makes use of the phrase, "We who work." Thus does the truth slip out in the most surprising places, for by singling out "we who work," Pep is disclosing that even he recognises the existence of some others who do not have to work. In the same passage he notes that "we who work" are enticed by "pay envelopes." So "we who work" receive "pay envelopes," which again differentiates us from some other persons who receive incomes from the ownership of property. The remark made by Pep is that the workers, far from being driven by whips or scorpions to produce profits for the rich, "are enticed by pay envelopes." He does not, it will be noticed, go so far as to deny that profits are produced for the rich, and he does not try to explain why it is that carpenters and other producers of useful articles should be content to produce profits for others. Can Pep really be so ignorant of the world in which he lives that he has never noticed how much more persuasive than whips and scorpions is the goad of starvation, or the semi-starvation of unemployment pay? Yet Pep must truly be ignorant for he has not noticed the existence in peace time of unemployment, of millions of men and women who cannot be "enticed by pay envelopes" because nobody will offer them the opportunity. If Pep were to make a few inquiries he would discover that this occurs, not because the workers are unwilling to produce useful articles, or because nobody is in need of useful articles, but because those who own and control the means of production and distribution cannot see the prospect of profit and therefore forbid the workers to work. In that situation Pep's imaginary carpenter "who prefers to make things for profit, especially his own," is in a very sad case—solely because of capitalism, which is a system of society in which production depends on the prospect of profit for the capitalist.
Edgar Hardcastle

Breakdown At The Hague Part 1 of 3 (2001)

From the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
The international conference on global warming broke down with no agreement
Last month the International Conference on global warming held at The Hague broke down. Predictably, there was no agreement. Instead, it finished with a slanging match between some of the delegates over who was to blame. After all-night talks a bleary-eyed John Prescott suggested that the delegate from France, Dominique Voynet, had been unable to keep up with the detailed arguments, whilst she in return suggested that Prescott was an "unreconstructed male chauvinist". There seems to be a tradition of abuse at these events. In 1993, a similar conference in London broke up with the Norwegian delegate calling the British Minister for the Environment, John Gummer, a "drittsekk" ("shitbag"). No less depressing than the thought of a serious world problem out of control is the fact that it is in the hands of such politicians. The truth is that from the beginning, the Conference at The Hague, like all such conferences, was incompetent to deal with the problem.
Evidence mounts
For some time the quality of the science behind the idea of global warming, climatic change and the part played by human activity, has had its critics but the evidence is mounting. To quote the Economist of 18 November, "Now, however, the science has become clearer and most new evidence confirms that global warming should be taken seriously. The forthcoming report by the UN's Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of the world's top climate scientists (including prominent dissenters), concludes that man's actions have "contributed substantially to the observed warming over the last 50 years."

This confirms many earlier warnings. For example, in 1984, a report from the National Science Foundation, Washington, Global Energy Futures and CO2, Induced Climate Change said "Accurate records of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere kept over the past 34 years show that concentrations have increased (8 percent) from 315 parts per million in 1958 to 340 parts per million in 1982." Since 1982, hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases have been further released into the atmosphere.
The anger of the Norwegian delegate at the 1993 London Conference was provoked by the British government having reneged on its promise to reduce carbon emissions. This was seen to result in extensive destruction of the soils, forests, and lakes of Scandinavia, caused by acid rain. Aquatic life in 17,000 lakes in south-west Sweden had been wiped out or seriously damaged. In the 1980s the British government had come under pressure to reduce the carbon emissions from its power stations by 30 percent. This would have included the fitting of flue gas desulphurisation equipment to power stations which were throwing up millions of tonnes of sulphur dioxide. It refused to go ahead because the 30 percent reduction would have cost £l billion. At the time, the British Government was struggling to get out of a deep slump in which there were almost 4 million unemployed. It was not in a position to add £1 billion pounds to its energy costs.
This underlines the basic cause of pollution and global warming and the reasons why International Conferences on the subject tend to break up in failure and recrimination or, subsequently, why governments find it difficult to carry out the commitments they have given.
Who's going to bear the burden?
On the face of it the problems of pollution, global warming and climate change may appear to be technical problems. But this is wrong. Although the Hague Conference was attended by hundreds of technical experts, the important arguments about what can or what cannot be done were about money and costs. The arguments were about the strategies of the various states who were at the Conference to defend their economic interests. A blatant example of this was reported in the Economist: " . . . the big oil producing countries are, in a flight of fancy, demanding compensation for the harm they will suffer from lost oil sales; they are trying to block the Kyoto process as a conspiracy to damage their economies".

Kyoto accords
The Kyoto accord of 1997 was an agreement amongst the developed nations to cut the release of greenhouse gases by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008/12. Since then, most countries have increased their pollutants and in America these have soared. The parties to the Kyoto accord also ". . . agreed that cutting emissions might be so expensive that the treaty should allow countries innovative, flexible approaches to reduce compliance costs".

In practice, being "innovative" and "flexible" has resulted in a series of complex proposals which appear to be more designed to confuse the issues and avoid commitments rather then fulfil them. For example, America, Australia, Canada and Japan, all of which are now increasing their greenhouse gases, have proposed they be allowed to plant vast amounts of trees in the developing world and count the carbon dioxide absorbed against their own emissions. This was seen as evasive and was described as "a con-trick". It was mainly this sort of recrimination that brought the conference at The Hague to an end when it was meant to monitor progress and up-date the targets set at Kyoto. One consequence is that the "Kyoto Accord" is in ruins.
Empty rhetoric
The various conferences on pollution have failed to make any significant progress and it could be said that they are mere forums for empty rhetoric, intended to put a public relations gloss on government actions which in reality are making the problems worse. It would be difficult to argue against this. However, the fact that these are international discussions does recognise one important thing. They accept that the problems are global, and that global consensus is required for action on a global scale. What dooms them to failure is the fact that they take place in a world that is divided into rival capitalist states which are in economic competition with each other. This makes global consensus impossible and rules out effective global action. The pressures to keep down costs and protect profits means that the technology for reducing pollution is either ignored or applied in a minimal token way.

Need for global framework
Even where the science may not be complete a precautionary principle should apply. It is reckless to gamble with an existing balance of natural systems on which all life depends. The basic cause of pollution is the capitalist system. The problem is out of control because the economic constraints of the system prevent the problems being solved. A sane society would simply consider the technical options available. Then, following democratic decisions on the actions to be taken would do what was necessary to achieve the solutions. This rational procedure is impossible in the mad world of capitalism. The plain fact is, before we can work within natural systems in a non-destructive way we must first create a society in which we can all co-operate with each other.

The problems of world pollution are technical, economic and political but the important question that emerges is this: how do we establish a society in which all people are able to co-operate to provide a good life for each other whilst looking after our shared home in space? The freedom to do this can only be achieved through the relationships of socialism. Every person has the ability to co-operate with others and every person has a vital interest in creating the new world in which co-operation can flourish. Leaving the problems to capitalist politicians and their conferences such as the fiasco at The Hague can only be a recipe for disaster.
With the end of the market system, people in socialism would enjoy great advantages in solving the problems of pollution and environmental degradation. There would be no difficulty in establishing a World Energy Organisation that would be able to assess the problems from a global point of view without the barriers of national divisions. It would be able to recommend technical solutions arising from all the natural advantages of the planet and its use as a single productive unit. Socialism would also be able to save on resources by eventually reducing production levels.
End of competition
By concentrating its labour resources economically on the real needs of people socialism would be able to stop vast numbers of wasteful and destructive jobs that are only necessary in a profit system. With the end of economic competition, socialism would not be bound to use the least costly methods of production, many of which are destructive of the environment. Whilst a fall in capitalist production because of recession creates chaos and immense problems of misery and social dislocation, communities in socialism would eventually be able to bring about a fall in production without any such problems. A further article will examine these options more closely.
Pieter Lawrence

The Lessons of Madrid (2004)

Editorial from the April 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
The explosions in Madrid have brought home the truth about the so-called War on Terror
The victims, workers of eleven different nations, had their lives blinked out of existence by the simple deadly efficiency of modern chemical explosives carefully applied to devastate the complex systems upon which modern humans rely for survival.  Their assassins had been able to move freely in their midst to unleash their chaos and carnage.
In his speech following the bombings, Tony Blair was forced to admit that such atrocities cannot be prevented.  In modern industrialised society, too many people are moving and crowding together to control.  Explosives are too small and concealable.  He went on, that alone in history, the likely perpetrators ─ Al Qaeda, or their sympathisers ─ are immune to reason and rationale and that they cannot be defeated except by main force.
The likes of the trotskyist Paul Foot see terrorism as “the weapon of the weak”.  To many leftists, weakness and being the underdog is ennobling.  Indeed, John Pilger and Tariq Ali, whilst professing to be in favour of  “Stopping the War” actually are fully in favour of it, only they favour the side that now uses bombs to kill crowds of Iraqi workers with the same sort of technology as murdered the Madrid workers.  They support the “Resistance”. They support it because America is big and powerful, so it must use the vicious weapons of the weak, to defeat the great power that is immune to reason and cannot be defeated except by main force.
Of course, weakness is not of itself ennobling, still less does it make its possessor deserving of support.  The perpetrators of many of the atrocities of modern terrorist war are not the starvelings from the slums, the children struggling beneath the occupying soldier's boot.  Osama Bin Laden is a Saudi Arabian capitalist ─ waging war on his homeland's government and its American backers.  His followers are college-educated professionals, usually from well-off families, the aspirant ruling classes of Middle Eastern states.
They would use the same weapons all ruling classes have historically used to climb to power ─ brute force, mayhem and murder.  That the resources they possess to do this with are small does not change that underlying intent
They seek to use their weapons to maximum effect: imposing costs, in terms of chaos, fear, disruption and increased security, on their foes - chiefly the American government and its allies - to the point at which they will find the cost too great to continue with their current policies.
Those governments themselves, of course, have a tremendous abundance of the sort of means of destruction which the terrorists deployed in Madrid.  They have themselves, with a year, used those resources for terrorist purposes - or for “Shock and Awe” as they termed it.  They too have slaughtered workers in pursuit of their ends.
Of course, the politicians that run those governments try to make out that they are different to the terrorists, they have values.  They did not target civilians deliberately though they did unleash destructive power in the full knowledge that “bystanders” would die.
The truth of Madrid is that there is no essential difference, that the victims of that bomb were as equally human as those dead Iraqis as the bombs that killed them were equally bombs.   As human as the deluded workers who form the potential supporters that the terrorists are trying to win to their cause.  They died amidst the pass and fell of warring powers, even if those powers are “asymmetric”.
While Blair would attempt to cover this truth with his call for everyone to take the side of the tiger against the fleas, socialists declare that the only way for the workers to defend themselves against the prospect of the permanent threat of obliteration is to wage war against the very causes of the conflict - the division of the world into property.
Our weapons though, are not those of destruction.  The workers are the force of creation, and can build a better world.  The truth and the message of Madrid is that the war on terror must be transformed into a battle between the free association of producers, versus the nihilistic battalions of destruction.

Cheapness At a Price (2015)

The Proper Gander Column from the December 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Supermarket Chain Aldi opened its first British store as long ago as 1990, but it took the recent economic downturn for it to grow into the booming profit-factory we know today. Like Poundland and Primark, Aldi found its strength in an economic climate where we’ve got less disposable income, and have turned to the shops which are flogging things at the lowest prices. Aldi now has 600 stores in Britain, with plans to double this number in the next five years. Meanwhile, comparatively upmarket Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are closing branches and shelving plans to open more.

Suspicious of how this growth has been achieved, Channel 4’s documentary strand Dispatches went undercover in Aldi’s Supermarket Secrets. Two reporters wearing hidden cameras get jobs as new recruits to Aldi’s army, hoping to find out about its ‘dynamic business model’.

Despite the show’s title promising secrets, Aldi’s strategy is familiar. Punters are drawn in by cheap prices, which are possible through strict cost cutting elsewhere in the business. Obviously, it’s Aldi’s workforce which has to deal with the pressures to increase efficiency and productivity. The employee handbook lists their various time targets, such as scanning 1,200 items through the till each hour, or one every three seconds. A training video tells staff that ‘you dictate the speed of the transaction, not the customer’.

The pace that shelves are stacked is also set by targets, which employees try to meet by chucking loaves of bread into place and climbing on shelves because it’s quicker than fetching a ladder. The speed that workers have to work means that corners are cut and health and safety policies aren’t followed. Three quarters of Aldi’s staff said they had health and safety concerns in a union survey.

Workplace targets tend to be unrealistic in any business, as they are set by managers without enough experience or empathy with how things are on the ground. The higher up in an organisation someone is, the further they are removed from the practicalities they make decisions about. What senior managers can see clearer is the drive to make money.

Even though Aldi says that from 2016 it will pay better wages than any other retailer, staff have been expected to be at work fifteen minutes before their shift starts, which over a year translates as a week of unpaid labour. This is illegal, although, of course, it’s considered acceptable for workers not to be paid back the wealth they create  which is creamed off as profits. Aldi’s owners recently enjoyed profits of £260.3million in the UK, but this comes at a cost to its staff.
Mike Foster

Editorial: Neither God nor State (2015)

Editorial from the December 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

Paris, 13 November 2015. Yet another atrocity in the name of religion. A deliberate attempt to kill as many innocent people as possible, at a pop concert, an international football match, and at random in the streets. Of course there was a political motive behind it. It was as President Hollande said, an act of war.

The ‘Islamic State’, which governs parts of Syria and Iraq, to which the perpetrators owed allegiance and on whose behalf they carried out the atrocity, is at war with various ordinary capitalist states – Syria, Iraq, the United States, Russia, Britain and of course France as well as others.

Deliberately targeting civilians is against the Geneva Convention but not, apparently, against sharia law nor (if you are on the winning side) against realpolitik, as Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki show. Once a war starts in the end anything goes because, if a state loses, then even the life of its rulers is at stake, let alone their position as rulers or the economic interests of its capitalists.

We are dealing, then, with a war atrocity, and wars arise from capitalism. They occur when, in the competition between states for sources of raw material, trade routes, markets, investment outlets and strategic points and areas to protect and acquire these, the rulers of a capitalist state feel that their ‘vital interests’ are at stake and that they have more to lose by not going to war.

In the Middle East what’s at stake is who controls its oil resources and the routes by which the oil reaches the rest of the world. The US and its allies (‘the West’) have been determined to control this and largely do, but this control has always been challenged by local elites. During the Cold War period these used secular nationalism to win mass support, but in 1979 Iran set a new trend, which has since become dominant, by exploiting religion instead. So, anti-Western feeling there, expressing the interests of local elites, now takes the form of militant Islam.

In 2002 President George W Bush denounced Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an ‘axis of evil’. The US State Department quickly added Cuba, Libya and Syria. These all became targets for ‘regime change’. The first to undergo this was Iraq, then Libya, with disastrous results in both cases. Syria was to be the third. This attempt has had an even worse result. Playing the Sunni Muslim card, financed and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has created a monster that has taken the already extreme version of Islam imposed in Saudi Arabia to an even further extreme, wanting to go back to the 8th century and employing the barbarous methods of that time to get there.

The reaction in France to the atrocity has been to treat it as an attack on the ‘French nation’ whereas it was more accurately an attack on the French state. The result has been a reinforcement of French nationalism and of the false ‘sacred union’ between workers and the ruling class. Yet atrocities committed in the name of the nationalism of so-called ‘nation-states’ are less than those of religion only because these have not been around for so long.

The anarchist Bakunin raised the slogan ‘Neither God, nor Master’.  Adapting it as our response to the Paris atrocity: Neither God, nor State, but Humanity.