Monday, December 14, 2015

The Last Word: Why Santa should get stuffed (1997)

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
The Last Word Column from the December 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is much to be said for abolishing Christmas. It is a festival of fake sincerity; the most dishonest season of the year. It is a time for buying what can't be afforded and selling what would not sensibly be wanted. It is a brief period of employment for obese drunks who are forced to fit into tight red uniforms and pretend to be jolly. It is a time for families to come together and realise how little they have in common but genes. It is the moment for the Arch-Parasite of Buckingham Palace to descend from her secluded palace and address the scum whose bent bodies support her and her class. It is busy season for the casualty wards, where wage slaves off the leash have bought escape through alcohol and mutilated themselves and others in metal wreckages, while the lonely attempt suicide and are dragged in sighing to be saved for another year. It is the period reserved for extra-special TV stupidity: the rĂ©gime of the faked smile, the contrived sentiment, public condescension towards crippled children, and Noel Edmonds. It is the cold season for the noses of the poor to be pressed up against windows which display goods they may not buy. On the mass-produced greetings cards there is snow; in the shop doorways they shiver and hope they will not freeze.

The religious believe that it has become too commercialised. They want to rejoice in fantasies about a messiah born of a virgin. The traders are generally indifferent to the origin of the seasonal madness; their god announces his presence each time a cash till rings. Nobody knows quite what it's all for. Vicars run jumble sales and declare that it doesn't matter if the flock believes in Jesus. Merchants flog commodities with tacky images of babies born in a manger; Dylan's "flesh-coloured Christs that glow in the dark." All is confusion and falsified joy. The perfect festival for a system built on sales and insincerity.

It probably has something to do with the end of the year and a faint hope that the new one will be better. Perhaps Christmas is the illusory prelude to a new dawn: the lazy man's route to revolution. After Christmas come the resolutions of the New Year: ritualised hopes by the self-deluded who dream of self-control.

Worse even than Christmas are those New Year parties where strangers hug each other and pretend that the haze of booze and fabrication of community will last forever. The unkissed make a grab for whatever they can get, forcing some victim into physical proximity in the name of festivity. The next morning's stench of stale whisky is already in the air; the blushes of office co-workers who will have to share a desk after an unwanted snog are being planned; the delirium of the depressed makes its dreary way as the calendar changes and Ding Dong . . . it's 1998 and nothing's changed.

So, away with all this bogus goodwill and let us say what we mean. Tell the boss to stick his Christmas dinner where the sun don't shine, because you'd rather have the money. Tell the clerical men in dresses to bugger off and put their own house in order before they have the audacity to preach to us about how to live. Tell the charity merchants to seek their own crumbs, because we want the cake which we baked and nothing less. Tell Santa to get a life and stop trying to seduce innocent children with the lure of commodities. And tell those dull, offensive, dreary carol singers that if they so much as come within a foot of your door with their chants about little Jesus meek and mild they'll be having their lukewarm stuffing in an overcrowded corridor down at the local hospital.

Despite our best efforts, Capitalism's Merry Men will do their worst. Once again the TV News will carry pictures of the homeless being given a charitable mince pie by decent people who will be forced after Christmas to throw them back on to the cold, winter streets. Once again the Vatican Godfather will ascend his balcony and rub salt into the wounds of millions who will be told that their misery is god's will. Once agin those who refuse to celebrate religious and commercial folly will be called kill-joys. Even though all that socialists want to see is a society decent and co-operative and sociable enough for there to be no need to put aside one week or one day for happiness to prevail.
Steve Coleman

Past, Present, and Future (1908)

From the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Andrew Carnegie! Pierpont Morgan! Names not without meaning to the man in the street, but, to the Socialist, symbolic of something of far deeper significance than their mention calls up in the mind of the uninitiated.

Designative of types of two distinct orders of capitalist dominators, representative of two definite eras of industrial history, they bear inconvertible witness to the truth of our scientific conclusion anent the evolutionary nature of capitalism. They are to be cherished as invaluable aids to the understanding of one of the most important lessons the workers have to learn; as raised letters to the blind, ocular demonstration to those who cannot hear.

As far as may ever be properly said  of human kind, the men they nominate are makers of a page of history incomparably more pregnant of consequences to the world than any which chronicles the activities of royal hero or military genius—ancient lights or modern. They mark an epoch.

Their story will bear repeating.

It is common knowledge that at the end of the last century Andrew carnegie was head of the largest steel rail factory in the world, an establishment with an output so vast that to state it is to court suspicion of extravagance.

Here the famous Scot had dominion over which his rule was complete; his word was law, his whim destiny, life and death his prerogative—as was shown when he had his workmen shot down by bargeloads of armed detectives.

Came Pierpont Morgan with new conception. Andrew's method of business was based on competition—the undercutting of rivals. The very essence of Morgan's system was the elimination of competition by amalgamating the powerful concerns of an industry, crushing the smaller, and then,—why then Competition had reached the end of the strife-strewn path that history had foreordained she should traverse, and is discovered taking her ease at least, sitting in peace "under her olive," suckling a sturdy son—Monopoly.

Andrew was asked to abdicate, and, like himself, refused. He would see Morgan hanged and Wall Street sink into the bowels of the earth before he would surrender his factory.

Did Andrew speak without due reflection? It would seem so, for, just as, when he declared the disgrace of dying rich, he underestimated the difficulty of becoming poor, hurling defiance at Wall Street, he depreciated the tremendous power opposed to him.

He quickly found that Morgan had control of the railways, and was therefore in a position of dominance; for without his consent not a rail could be freighted out of the vast Pittsburg steel works. He quickly found also that the new conception did not wait upon the pleasure of the master of Pittsburg; for if he would not submit to be bought out, then Wall Street would amalgamate the remnants of the industry against him and fight him out.

Here was a situation in which all Pinkerton's army could afford Andrew no assistance. Those who threatened him were no longer working men, the natural defence against whom was the levelled rifle. No weapon existed to batter the forces of the financial monarchs, so Carnegie was a beaten man. he retired from the contest—made way for the "Billion Dollar Trust."

Now great change came o'er the land. Pittsburg became a province in the empire of the Steel Trust; the seat of government was shifted to Wall Street; the sceptre had passed from the great ironmaster, acquainted with every corner of his factory, proficient in the technics of his art, supervisor of the operations of producing his commodities, into the hands of the great financier, who knew not what steel was. The position that Andrew had filled with majesty was now the place of a hireling - a mere foreman whose only princely semblance was his salary. Great powers of direction had been given to an employee, but control had passed for ever from the overseer of the productive forces, and had become vested in outsiders, whose utility or necessity the most subtle imagination fails to conceive.

Nor did the change end here. The strife of competition gave place to the peace of monopoly. In the field of steel production there was one master instead of many; in the field of steel distribution there was one seller instead of many. So peace reigned in the steel industry as it does at times in Russia under the soothing influence of the Czar's Cossacks.

All this marks an epoch in capitalism's evolution.

Not the first, be it understood, for the merchant prince was a ruler in his generation, even as the manufacturer has been in the days now slipping into history, and the financier is to be in the days which are to come.

Type of the dying past—Andrew Carnegie; type of the youthful present—Pierpont Morgan; where shall we seek a type of the yet unfulfilled future?

For it may not be doubted that the reign of this present capitalist dominator is transient, even as the others have been. That which has beginning must of necessity have end. Capitalism has not always existed, nor will. It has been revolutionary in its time, has risen against and dethroned its immediate predecessor—Feudalism: what os to dethrone it in its turn? Long since the manufacturer seized the baton of the merchant prince and pushed him from power, only to be himself thrown down in the fulness of time by the financial upstart—who is there left under the sin to unseat this last?

The prophetic finger of Science points to him who even now stands in revolutionary opposition to the regalism of the financial Molloch and his phase of capitalism. For scientific inquiry has furnished abundant evidence that through all history power has moved in the direction of economy, of adjustment to the needs of the social organism, of ultimate advantage to humanity. The manufacturer has played his useful part in production, as did the merchant prince before him in distribution, but what necessary place, in either production or distribution is filled by the financier? The final vestige of useful function has been relegated to an employee, who, however munificent his remuneration, remains a hireling.

Irony of fate—the only use the last of the capitalist rulers can have is to prepare the way for his successor. For long capitalism has been engaged in the lugubrious occupation of digging a grave: it has at length discovered that this grave is its own. For has not Pierpont Morgan himself announced that the function of his kind is to organise production in such form that it may be taken over by the community?

Capitalism is itself to be the educator of the revolution which is to shatter it to pieces. Its latest development, by separating entirely from the productive processes the owners and controllers of the means of production, is making very clear to the worker, what he could never believe before, that he alone is necessary to the creation of material wealth. Control of production, he begins to see, has passed to an order of men who can be removed without any industrial disturbance, and the growing knowledge of this fact pronounces the doom, not only of the phase of financial monarchy in capitalism, but of the capitalist system itself.

Wherefore the prophetic finger aforesaid, which must be pointing somewhere, could indicate none other than the worker as the successor of the modern capitalist. The needs of the social organism demand his rise to power, for it is impossible for that organism to continue to flourish while the vast bulk of its component cells are ill-nourished and stinted. Logic also demands that the worker become paramount, for it is the very antithesis of logic to produce goods for profit instead of for use, to have the producers hungry and unemployed because they have produced too much and glutted the market. Finally, history demands the supremacy of the worker; for why else has it provided this last of the long concatenation of changes which, starting by depriving him of the means of life as necessary condition of their perfection to such as would afford him fuller subsistence and higher existence, end by offering him once again those means of life—radiant with their added wonders of fertility, and large with the promise of still greater wonders yet to be added unto them—if he will only stretch out his hand and take them?

The transition is so easy—merely the substitution of the old property condition for that which so long has played the usurper. Private property in the means of life must go. It has dug its own grave, it remains but for the workers to push it in and cover it up decently.

Then, with common ownership of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth the sound, sure and kindly basis of all human affairs let come what will.
A. E. Jacomb

Seasonal Goodwill, Dodgy Deals and Unreliable Witnesses (2015)

The Halo Halo! Column from the December 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Jingle bells, jingle bloody bells. Yes, it’s that time of year again. A month of enforced jollity is about to be inflicted on us. And to make matters worse, The Apprentice is back on the box, that weekly display of arrogant, immature toadies stabbing each other in the back in an attempt to impress Alan Sugar and his sidekicks with their dodgy business deals.
An hour of that every week could certainly affect your mental health. You find yourself thinking; If only Marx had been a better businessman. Instead of hiding away in the British Museum reading room every day he’d have invested in a Father Christmas outfit and a false beard and got himself down to Oxford Street with a suitcase full of plastic, happy nodding worker gnomes. At £5.99 each (batteries extra) they’d have sold like hot cakes and we’d have had socialism years ago.
Fortunately, the Apprentices will have all been fired by Christmas, but as for Christmas itself, the only known ways to ensure a festive free December are to apply for a place on the Mars colonization programme or to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And the Mars mission is probably more oversubscribed than the vacancies (144,000) in the Jehovah’s Witnesses heaven.
So unless you want to spend the rest of your days reading The Watchtower, (mandatory for ‘witnesses’ to prevent them ‘falling into darkness’) you’ll just have to put up with it. Whatever you do, don’t invite them round to share your turkey. They are mad. Honestly, you’d have more fun with a paper hat, a balloon and a cracker, surrounded by screaming kids and broken toys, while attempting to plough through volume three of Capital with the Queen’s speech on the telly in the background.
What’s really irritating about them though, apart from their numerous attempts to forecast the end of the world, so far unsuccessfully, are their sanctimonious, infantile publications, The Watchtower and Awake.
Take the September issue of Awake for example. ‘A Balanced View of Money’ it promised us on the front cover. Exactly what’s needed we thought, and excitedly looked forward to reading their views on the accumulation of capital and, definitely, something on the production of absolute and of relative surplus value. But guess what? All we could find was the warning that ‘the love of money is a root to all sorts of injurious things’, and a heartbreaking account of how Daniel and his friend Thomas fell out after the car Thomas bought from Daniel broke down, and he demanded his money back.
Not what we were hoping for, but at least we learned one thing. Never buy a second-hand car from a Jehovah’s Witness.

Obituary: Don Poirier (2002)

Obituary from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are saddened to have to report the death from cancer of comrade Don Poirier of the Socialist Party of Canada at the comparatively early age of 63. Don became a socialist while still serving as an enlisted man in the Royal Canadian Navy (which shows that those who argue that members of the armed forces are immune to socialist ideas are wrong). On leaving he joined the SPC in Vancouver and soon became active as an outdoor speaker and organiser. In the mid-sixties he was a paid organiser for the SPC and the World Socialist Party of the US, touring North America in a van with socialist slogans such as “Production for Use not Profit” and “One World, One People” painted on its side. Most of his working life was spent in logging camps where he was also active as an organiser for the International Woodworkers of America. In between, he managed or owned a succession of bookshops, the last in Duncan on Vancouver Island. Don was a sturdy fighter for the cause of socialism and will be missed.

Are You a Wage Slave? (2012)

From the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most people object to being told that they are a wage-slave but why?

The notion of wage slavery, taken reasonably, is actually rather difficult to refute. The idea that we are in an entirely different social position to chattel slaves is based upon the assumption of our freedom. But this sense of freedom is an illusion which rests upon the contradiction between law and reality. The law grants us personal liberties, and we therefore have the right to make our own decisions: where to live; who to work for; or whether to work at all. But underlying this veil of freedom are the real, material, physical facts, and they run as such: you can only live where you can afford to live; you can only work for someone who will willingly employ you; and while you are under no legal obligation to work for anyone at all, you will find it a struggle to live while not doing so. The welfare state will be your (miserable) safety net, but only as long as you abide by the contract agreeing to actively seek employment.

Whether we choose the wages system or not, we are in reality bound to it, and within this system we enter into contracts with employers whereby the value we create for them is more than the value we receive in wages, and thus they make a profit through our exploitation. We are not by law bound to a single individual, but, in fact, to the capitalist class as a whole. With the acknowledgment of these simple truths, the illusive veil of freedom is dissolved, and laid bare is the reality in which we are still in chains.

Such a strong feeling of personal aversion to claims of wage slavery no doubt stems from a sense of pride. But this objection to the mere notion of wage-slavery only acts to perpetuate the reality of the condition: people’s misplaced sense of pride paradoxically serves to maintain their humiliating position. Imagine, of those chattel slaves who fought for political emancipation, if they had instead simply denied the existence of slavery. But it’s difficult to express the common sense behind, and the political importance of, the term ‘wage-slavery’ when somebody has already decided that what you’re saying is offensive.

The term ‘socialism’ has been immersed in so much bullshit that it is often necessary to revert to the basics when discussing it. Failure to properly define terms often results in being associated with an entirely different political stance, and one which is, conveniently, much easier to attack.

We do not see ourselves, as many of the Left do, as being distinct and detached from the rest of the working class (that is, all of those who work for a wage or salary), but as being part of the working class movement as a whole. In fact, we firmly hold that the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself, which means that workers do not need, and must not have, leaders in the revolution. We, like Marx, have always stood in staunch opposition to anyone that says otherwise (Lenin and his Bolshevik Party of “professional revolutionaries,” for example). In this sense, the explanation of the socialist case to other workers is a sign not of our condescending superiority but of our political equality.

Something else frequently encountered is some people’s instant feeling of outrage at someone espousing the socialist case while living in what they judge to be a more comfortable position than their own. But this acts to make their own feelings of hardship an obstacle to, rather than a catalyst for change.

This is misplaced, because it rests on the misunderstanding that socialists are people who simply whinge about capitalism and the rough hand it deals to us. What we are actually trying to express, however, is the position of workers in relation to capitalists, whatever their wage might be. The point is to show exactly what capitalism is – i.e. the exploitation of wage-labour, production for profit, a market system – in order to illustrate how it can, and why it must, be changed.

We often meet the protest, “Well what do you do to improve things?’, as though alack of effort to improve or reform capitalism somehow makes the argument less valid. But we have never claimed to be concerned with the improvement of capitalism; while acknowledging the necessity of the defensive actions of trade unionism within capitalism, the Socialist Party case is in fact openly anti-reformist. This is because no amount of adjustment to capitalism can completely eradicate the problems which are inherent within it.

We do not simply advocate a more equal, fair form of capitalism which is a little bit kinder to workers, but the abolition of capitalism altogether: that is, the abolition of private property and of the wages system, and the establishment of a society based upon the doctrine of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. Given the required nature of the revolution, i.e. carried out by the majority, all we can really do at present towards achieving this is to try to persuade other workers of its necessity. The time will come for more practical efforts towards socialism, but while the majority of workers still support capitalism we are, alas, not yet there.

But why is it that we socialists constantly have to justify ourselves? Those who are so quick to erect barriers against the spread of socialist thought should consider the question: what is it that you are defending, and in whose interest?  Capitalism is an inefficient social system which causes a catastrophic level of death and destruction on a daily basis. It is a system in which many are forced to live in poverty or die through starvation in a world of unprecedented abundance; a world capable of providing life’s necessities for all of its inhabitants. Capitalism is a miserable social order in which those who own but do not produce live parasitically off the labour of those who produce but do not own. But its continuation ultimately depends upon the continuation of workers’ consent. We have withdrawn ours and we urge you to do the same: until then, the onus for justification lies with you.