Thursday, February 11, 2016

Capitalism Means Conflict (1997)

Editorial from the September 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Despite the genuine euphoria over the peace processes in the Middle East and Northern Ireland in recent years the killing continues and the conflicts remain. Socialists have always maintained that the idea of a peaceful capitalism can never amount to much more than a hollow promise and little that has happened since the Downing Street Declaration or the Oslo Accords of 1993 has changed this fundamental truth.

Behind all their talk about peaceful negotiations and settlements nobody should be fooled about the real characteristics of organisations like the IRA or PLO. These terrorist groups who have waged merciless war on the working class will stop at little or nothing to achieve their aims—the creation of new nation-states with themselves at the helm.

In the Middle East, the PLO and other Arab nationalist groups have been severely weakened since the break-up of the Soviet Union (their major benefactor). With the parallel re-emergence of Israeli "hawks’' in Tel Aviv this has contributed to the break-down of the Oslo settlement when Israel ceded some powers to Palestine in the occupied territories in the "land-for-peacc” deal. In turn, this has fuelled the development of more militant Islamic groups like Hezbollah and Hamas whose predilection for using violence to achieve their ends—as in July's brutal bombing in Jerusalem—has even eclipsed that of the PLO itself, now for the moment posing as a "respectable" organisation dedicated to peace and democracy.

The situation in Northern Ireland is not dissimilar.The ending of the IRA ceasefire in February 1996 occurred because the peace process was going nowhere. As in the Middle East, the antagonists have aims which are mutually exclusive and almost every pose they strike is a tactical (rather than principled) one. If this is doubted does anyone, for instance, really believe that the IRA bombers and Loyalist gunmen are going to throw in the political towel without any progress towards achieving their wholly divergent aims? And, for that matter, just as the PLO's financial crisis focused its attempts to achieve some breathing space for itself, does anybody seriously think that the restoration of the IRA ceasefire and Clinton's decision to allow open Sinn Fein fund-raising in the US are not linked?

"Fudge” or compromise deals in Northern Ireland, just like in the Israel/Palestine situation, are only able to provide such momentary breathing space for the antagonists or else possibly “buy off” one or both side’s leaders in an attempt to mobilise them behind constitutional politics and capitalist democracy. When this happens—again like in the Middle East—it only serves to increase the power and significance of those even more hardline groups who openly deride constitutional politics.

It is for this reason among others that such “peace processes” usually emerge as the basis for future conflict (as peace settlements invariably have in capitalist history). Peace in Ireland and the Middle East is not impossible, but so long as capitalism remains, with its divisions, aggression and competition over artificially scarce resources, then nationalism and its bedfellow of international terrorism will not be far behind any peace deal. Socialists can therefore say without any hesitation that there can be only one way to achieve lasting peace across this planet and that means an organised retreat from nationalism in all its forms and an escalation of the struggle for global working class emancipation.

A Glastonbury Tale (1997)

Party News from the August 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Camping is not really meant to be enjoyable, but rather more like horror films, a sort of cathartic process from which you only really derive benefit at the end. Camping explains why you work the rest of the year to keep a bloody roof over your head. It’s to remind you of what it was really like to live in an Iron Age village and thank god you don't have to. It's the townie’s quick fix, paganism for a weekend, nature-loving all the way to Monday. And it enables every camper to think themselves rugged and outdoorsy, before returning to the ruddy indoors again. And during this ritual self-denial the last thing you expect to do is argue politics.

Glastonbury in a sea of mud is a funny place to be putting the socialist case. For one thing, everyone looks stoned on something, even the coppers. No-one has slept or washed in days and the toilets hum louder than the stage PA system. The myriad colourful stalls are selling, selling, selling at a furious rate while the punters are drinking, drinking, being sick and drinking at no less a pace. But over in the "Green Fields" a different, more sober air obtains. There is a healing field, for the "cosmic" set, and a Green Futures field for the more down-to-earth groups with ecologically-oriented proposals to make about the future, or else nostalgia-oriented proposals dredged up out of the past.

In this latter camp we find the Green Anarchists. Clearly a camping enthusiast, their representative informs us that they are opposed to all modern technology and factory production methods, and looks forward to a society of small self-sufficient farming groups whose every article is handmade by the community. This is interesting, for we note that the gentleman is wearing not only machine-made clothing from head-to-toe. but also spectacles. To the suggestion that he is condemning himself to a life of walking around bollock-naked and banging into trees he is impervious, and responds that he hopes to rely on his friends to guide him from place-to-place. Later they eat baked beans for tea. out of a tin. Using a machine-made tin-opener, naturally.

Another stall reminds us that This Land is Our Land, as in the Woody Guthrie song, but turns out to be a co-op land-reform venture whose most rebellious suggestion appears to be that you hire a good solicitor when buying your acreage. There are lifestylists galore in this most hip of hippy nests, and many too hip to have an opinion.

But not a sign of the Leninists, or the left in general. This inexplicable delight is due apparently to the anarchist leanings of the organisers, who have little sympathy for the authoritarian and leadership ideas which are an almost universal feature of such groups.

Over four days people stream past our stall, and turn, caught in the eddies of others who have stopped at a signboard, paused to write graffiti on our blackboard. We might have fifteen or twenty people in front of the stall, talking, arguing, swapping jokes or experiences, some puzzled and some intrigued by what they seem to see as a controversial statement. Abolish the money and property system? Think what you like, but no-one else is doing or saying that, either in this field or any other. What does it mean? Is it barter-systems they're after? Surely not. but what then? How would it work? What about lazy people? What about the rich? It can’t be serious.They can’t be for real.

And yet we were there, with a site at the biggest party in the world. They had to take us seriously, and many of them were smiling as they talked, and many were nodding agreement. We may have stood there with wet feet at times, craving the home comforts, but the conversations we had were heart-warming, and that gave us comfort aplenty.

Someone said in a tent: Just imagine if these 150.000 people decided they wanted to stay here for ever, well, they could do it, couldn't they? People smiled. We are suggesting something similar, but on a larger scale. Festivals may be a form of escapism, but sometimes when people escape it is when they are able to look around themselves and see a little further than usual. And when that happens, some funny ideas are bound to come out. We were lucky to be there. We made an impact. And this is just the beginning.
P. J. Shannon


Book Review from the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Art, An Enemy of the People by Roger L. Taylor (Harvester Press 1978)

Last month the professors of fantasy returned to their State-funded studies in universities throughout the country. The scholars of literature and art; the men and women whose wisdom is based upon an intimate awareness of the motives of non-existent characters in unimportant novels, poems and plays. One’s reputation is based upon a detailed understanding of paintings that have no meaning to the ordinary person; another is respected for his analysis of an ancient Icelandic epic poem; yet another has written the definitive work on the meaning of the pauses in Pinter’s plays.

What have these “experts” got to offer the majority of people? Very little indeed. Literary scholarship and appreciation under capitalism has always been the preserve of an √©lite. Those who have no compulsion to enter the process of producing wealth spend their time engaging in superior social pursuits which they choose to call Art. The working class is generally excluded from artistic fulfilment because we lack the time, money, education and experience. The ruling class control social culture by owning the production of Art—and by controlling social culture they do much to maintain the workers in a position of political ignorance.

In an age when the mass of humanity commonly faces so many socially produced evils can we afford to divert our mental energies towards such considerations as currently dominate the world of artistic scholarship? In a badly written, but interestingly argued, book called Art, An Enemy Of The People (published in the Harvester Philosophy Now series), Roger L. Taylor has argued that the function of art is one of class domination and aesthetic scholars are responsible for illusions about art which give ordinary people an unjustified sense of inferiority. The book costs £3.50 and should be compulsory reading for trainee editors; if you make your way through the muddled exposition you will find much that is worth considering:
The bourgeoisie as a whole is not fulfilled by Capitalist society. The growth of applied science, the increase in mechanisation, the objective of production being the accumulation of profits, the fragmentation and dehumanising aspects of the production process . . .  all add up, within the bourgeoisie itself, to an impulse to deny, escape from, or compensate for the economic base upon which bourgeois, material security is dependent . . . the social need to make something out of the “cultural life” is not some mythical quality of human-ness expressing itself in the midst of bourgeois dehumanisation, but rather the expression of culturally conditioned expectations. Art, as we know it now, is the result of these various processes working themselves out (pp. 46-7).
You will also find much that is confused and confusing:
In the Third World Marxism is a number of things. It is terrorism, bombs, sporadic violence, guerrilla warfare, as well as being infiltration by the larger Communist powers, involving, as it does, things like liaisons between local capitalists and Moscow so as to expel the influence of American capital. Marxism is, also, and this is the main thing that it is, the history of the various societies referred to as Communist both by themselves and by Western, capitalist societies. The reality of Marxism in the modern world is, then, many sided.
The nonsense which finds its way into Taylor’s book need not prevent us from answering the question which the book seriously poses: Is Art an enemy of the people or can we envisage a society in which art will perform a healthy function for the majority of people?

Taylor says that art can only flourish where human existence is not socially harmonious. This view can be compared with William Morris’s contention that true art can only exist when it is social, and that socialism
. . . will give an opportunity for the new birth of art, which is now being crushed to death by the moneybags of competitive commerce (Art, Labour and Socialism).
Taylor certainly has a point if he is saying that the study of, and participation in, social art on the part of members of the working class is likely to inhibit political consciousness. By fantasising about unreal characters in unreal situations workers are less likely to perceive genuine social contradictions. When you are at school it is considered “cultured” and “classy” to talk at length about the rather dull plays of the sixteenth century court lackey, Shakespeare; to talk at length about Z Cars is considered “uncultured”; to talk about why the majority of kids don’t have enough money to spend is not only “uncultured” but “ill-mannered”. Anyone who has been to the theatre will have witnessed crowds of usually well-paid workers (those who imagine themselves to be middle class) talking in phoney accents about matters of characterisation and plot that are of no consequence to anybody. Can we afford to be complacent that, people’s minds are so diverted in a society which is so in need of change? The plays that they are watching and discussing usually have little social significance. We are entitled to criticise those who make such effort to blend in with the culture of capitalism for not using their energies to a more positive end. Taylor is probably right that the illusions, fantasies, prejudices and pretentiousness of Art is an enemy of the mass of the people in capitalist society. This reviewer takes with much seriousness Taylor’s advice that “Art is a value the masses should resist, not just ignore” (p. 155).

But Taylor’s arguments become unstuck when he claims that art will have no role when the ruling class no longer exists. Taylor’s failure to understand the need for socialised art must result from the fact that he clearly understands little about social history and less about socialism. The socialist, William Morris — whom Taylor strangely does not refer to in his book — did understand the meaning of socialism and thus recognised that in socialist society creative labour would be the highest form of art. When all members of society own and control the means of producing art there will be a synthesis of social productive activity and art which presently stand in antithesis to one another.

It is because Taylor fails to see the possibility of such a synthesis — a failure shared by all non-socialist critics of capitalist culture — that he cannot understand that art, like all other social features, is subject to historical development. The weakness of Morris is that he too occasionally succumbed to a romanticised perception of culture which led him to believe that true art, arising from a socialised environment, could be found in pre-capitalist forms of property society.

The only relevant role for art in modern capitalism is as the voice of social revolutionaries. Considerations of art in separation from the historical study of society is what professional literary scholars exist for. They have no ideas to offer to society which are relevant beyond the works of art that they spend their time studying; the class war rarely intrudes into the lives of the fictional “characters” with whom they are concerned just as the majority of the world’s population rarely intrudes into the exclusive confines in which they dwell. Masters of the values of fantasy, they are blind to the objective laws of society: are we too bold to predict that such “scholarship” will one day be behind us?
Steve Coleman

Miracles Made to Order (2016)

The Halo Halo! column from the February 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘Second miracle puts Mother Teresa on path to sainthood’ said the article in the Guardian (18 December). Well, that was lucky wasn’t it? They’ve been keeping their fingers crossed hoping for that second miracle, needed for her to become a saint, ever since she died and the first one took place.
But she did have a few critics. The article noted that a 2013 report carried out by researchers at the Universities of Montreal and Ottawa criticised her ‘rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce’. It also noted that ‘the vast majority of patients who visited Mother Teresa’s mission for the dying had hoped to find doctors to treat them, but instead found unhygienic conditions, a shortage of care and no painkillers’.
So what did these miracles entail? Well, the Vatican isn’t giving too many details of the second one. All they’re telling us is that an unnamed Brazilian man was unexpectedly cured from brain tumours after his priest prayed for Mother Teresa’s intervention with God. And they surely wouldn’t lie about a thing like that, would they?
We do have a few more details of the first miracle, although the late journalist Christopher Hitchens, who looked into it, was not entirely convinced. ‘A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of Mother Teresa, which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumour. Her physician, Dr Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn’t have a cancerous tumour in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine’, he wrote in 2003.
‘Surely any respectable Catholic cringes with shame at the obviousness of the fakery’ he added.
What, then, are the requirements of a genuine, kosher, Catholic approved miracle? Fortunately we can consult the online Catholic Encyclopedia for an explanation of such arcane theological matters.
‘In analysing the difference between the extraordinary character of the miracle and the ordinary course of nature, the Fathers of the Church and theologians employ the terms above, contrary to,and outside nature’ they inform us. ‘Every miracle is not of necessity contrary to nature for there are miracles above or outside nature’. And they helpfully point out ‘The term contrary to nature does not mean ‘unnatural’ in the sense of producing discord and confusion. The forces of nature differ in power and are in constant interaction. This produces interferences and counteractions of forces’.
Well, they can’t be accused of trying to baffle us with science. You couldn’t imagine a more unscientific load of claptrap. This is like being baffled with pure, unadulterated bullshit.
Cicero, the ancient Roman lawyer who had looked into this hogwash, even before Christianity came along, explained it much more simply – ‘There are no miracles. What was incapable of happening never happened, and what was capable of happening is not a miracle’.

Malthus, Ricardo & Marx (1972)

Book Reviews from the January 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, by Ricardo with introduction by R. M. Hartwell. 40p.
An Essay on The Principles of Population, by Malthus with introduction by Anthony Flew. 36p.

The introductions to both these books claim that there has been a revival of interest in these early works. Both of them quote Keynes, but from opposite points of view. Flew quotes Keynes’ observation that the “almost total obliteration of Malthus’ line of approach and the complete domination of Ricardo’s for a period of a hundred years has been a disaster to the progress of economics”, while Hartwell points out that Keynes was writing against the background of the heavy unemployment of the nineteen thirties, and that since then economists have become increasingly interested in problems of “growth analysis” and this has led to a revival of interest in Ricardo’s analysis and especially in his attempt “to integrate the theory of distribution into a model of long-term change”.
So the wheel has turned a full cycle, and Ricardo’s stocks are high once again, and comment on his work frequent and complimentary.
So the conflict between Malthus and Ricardo in their lifetime is to be fought all over again by their respective backers.

Marx made many criticisms of Ricardo but regarded him (and Adam Smith) as the best exponents of "classical economy”. In particular Marx showed the inadequacy of Ricardo’s treatment of value and surplus value. On the theory of value Ricardo got into a dead end through failure to distinguish between labour and labour power. Engels summarised this in his introduction to Capital Volume II. (This and earlier formulations of a theory of value were dealt with in the Socialist Standard July 1934).

Marx and Engels were much less impressed by Malthus—Flew calls their reaction “apoplectic” (A very useful collection of their views will be found in R. L. Meek’s Marx and Engels on Malthus) Flew attacks Meek on the ground that he “speaks throughout in his Moscow’s Voice”. The criticism is valid to this extent, that Meek treats state-capitalist Russia as if it were socialist and argues that what Marx wrote about the laws of population under capitalism do not apply there.

Flew’s attack on Meek and Russia as if he were attacking Marx and Engels is therefore misdirected. Meek quotes the letter Engels wrote to Kautsky in 1881 about possible population problems in a socialist society, which contained the following:
There is, of course, the abstract possibility that the number of people will become so great that limits will have to be set to their increase. But if at some stage communist society finds itself obliged to regulate the production of human beings, just as it has already come to regulate the production of things, it will be precisely this society, and this society alone, which can carry this out without difficulty. It does not seem to me that it would be at all difficult in such a society to achieve by planning a result which has already been produced spontaneously, without planning, in France and lower Austria. At any rate, it is for the people in the communist society themselves to decide whether, when, and how this is to be done, and what means they wish to employ for the purpose. I do not feel called upon to make proposals or give them advice about it. These people in any case, will surely not be any less intelligent than we are.
It should be noted in the reproduction of Ricardo that in Hartwell’s introduction Professor Cannan and Professor Wicksteed are repeatedly referred to as Cannon and Wickstead. 
Edgar Hardcastle

The Party in Wales (1964)

From the September 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The story of political and industrial activity in South Wales is bound up with the twin products of iron and coal on which, until quite recently, practically the whole population depended. Hence the pattern of life has revolved around, and reflected, these two industries.

Although iron-smelting came first, it was largely conducted in small, isolated pockets. The advent of the Steam Age and the coming of the steamship and the railways gave a terrific impetus to coal-mining. The coalfields became the battleground and graveyard for future generations of the working class. As the army of proletarians marched in, and the verdant green of the Rhondda began to bleed with the wounds of countless coal drifts, a new epoch commenced. It set the stage for the novelist , playwright, and poet; an eloquent √©lite who dramatized to the world the lot of the S. Wales miner. Time, and the harsh reality of expanding capitalism, was to weld this army into one of common suffering-battalions with “immediate demands,” but with no knowledge of the only course which could end their problems.

And so these workers, who figuratively still carried the clay of their peasant ancestry on their boots, argued, pleaded— and fought—for elementary existence. With passionate doggedness they built their chapels and trade union lodges. Just as they discussed theology and poetry in the one, so they wrestled with politics and economics in the other. The vision of the ‘‘Sweet By and By” was an exciting prospect.

In those early “Frontier Days" charlatanism and sincerity jostled each other in the valleys teeming with a population density higher than anywhere else in the British Isles. Marxism vied with Methodism, hymns were sung at the coalface, and Darwinism was studied by the light of midnight oil. Christ and The Miners' Charter stalked the narrow townships. Even today, men talk of the Red Rhondda. “Not a penny off the pay. Not a minute on the day” floated out on the lodge banners—and men were locked out, speeded up and sacked. “Our Jimmy” became champion of the world —and workers lined up for bread and marg. Great novels and hymns were written, choirs sung on the lawns of Royalty and in the homes of the rich up and down the land—and women wailed in unison at the pitheads for their entombed men-folk.

Such conditions provided well-fertilized soil for the growth of leaders—not your college-bred variety either (not at first, anyhow), though later on the little railways stations that stretched like beads on a string along the valley bottoms were choked with the “Singing Welsh”— “Sending our boy off to the London Labour College.” “Then watch out! ” They were a motley crowd, these leaders and would-be leaders. Some were confessed Atheists, like Aneurin Bevan, whilst others were the respectable, God-fearing type like Mabon, who later became a saint to be remembered by future generations. And through it all, nothing really changed.

And so the years passed, years of feverish political and industrial agitation, years of courtship from all sides and from numerous factions, both “spiritual” and earthy. ILP, Syndicalist, “Communist ” and “ Latter-Day ” Nationalists and Religious Revivalists. Men like Evan Roberts preached tolerance and forgiveness all round between the miner and his boss—thousands followed his advice and the mineowners slept better at nights.

“Then “To Wales—the gift of a son.’ This saviour came into the valley like a fiery prophet, became Member of Parliament with an army of coal and steel workers at his back. He stormed the citadel of Westminster, proclaiming that his “Socialism” was taken from the bible. His chief argument for nationalization was that it would guarantee a supply of coal for the British Navy in time of war. And through it all, nothing really changed. Two great wars came and went, which brought only more exploitation—and death—for the sons of the valleys. At the present time, labour leaders in S. Wales assure us in their writings and public utterances that private enterprise will exist under the next Labour Government! Nothing is going to change. They're telling us!

So much for the background brief as it is—of industrial Wales, a story of skirmishes and day to day struggle. What of today? We have said that nothing has really changed. By that we mean, nothing has changed the fundamental position of the working class as wage-slaves. The coal mines have had a face lift and the motor car is a common possession. Pretty houses have, here and there, replaced the dingy rows of miners’ cottages and there is running water on tap.

The workers of S. Wales and the valleys are living in a state of near ecstatic illusion; an illusion broken from time to time by the same old troubles—speeding up, strikes and closures. Industry has now spread along the Glamorganshire coast-line where we have the biggest steel-producing mills in Europe. Recently, after a month's strike, Port Talbot was changed from a Welsh Klondyke to a ghost town where Salvation Army vans dished out “Christian Aid.” When things are going well our children get scooters and enough food. They also drink large quantities of milk contaminated with a higher degree of Strontium 90 than anywhere else in Britain, the present level being three times as high as it was in 1958.

It is against such a background that the Socialist Party in S. Wales has to work. The material to hand is no better, no worse, than anywhere else. At the moment there is a branch of the Party operating in the Swansea area. Recently local elections were in full swing and members were approached regarding our non-participation. We were asked whether we were really interested in standing; whether we were “practical politically conscious.” The answer to both questions is “yes.” Our aim is to let people know the principles for which we stand. To do this means building-up a strong core of Socialists. We can then challenge and defeat the ignorance and apathy which is rife. We can go forward as a whole, pushing out and up into those battle-scarred valleys bearing the one message that counts “Y Bobl yn Union—y Byd yn Un! ’’—One World, One People!
W. Brain

Sixty years on (1964)

Editorial from the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was on June 12th, 1904, that a hundred odd men and women, at a meeting in London, formed the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

We do not intend to let the sixtieth anniversary of our foundation pass unnoticed—but neither shall we celebrate in the manner so popular with other political parties. We shall not arrange any great banquets (they would be a flop if we did) or balls (dancing has never been one of our strong points) or any of the other events which are notable only for their false glitter and pompous self- congratulation.

We regard our sixtieth birthday as an occasion for reviewing the work we have done, and the contributions we have made to the international Socialist movement; for intensifying our propaganda both written and spoken; and for planning more work to occupy the busy years ahead.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain came into existence without premises, a journal, literature or funds. Its founder members were derided on all sides as “Impossibilists” who would soon go out of existence. In some way the new party was a very feeble infant but it had a powerful heart—Socialist principles and understanding—the like of which no other organisation possessed.

It was that heart which brought our party through its first, anxious months. It conceived and nurtured the Socialist Standard and it built and expanded the Socialist Party into what it is today—an established revolutionary organisation with its own permanent headquarters in London, its own monthly journal, companion parties in a number of other countries and a library of pamphlets the consistency and correctness of which we feel entitled to take pleasure in.

That strong heart brought the idea of Socialism through the persecution of the First World War, through the black days of the rise of Fascism in Europe and through the battering of 1939/45. It has always been a heart which has beaten true. The members who make up the Socialist Party today have exactly the same principles and understanding as did the gallant few who set out on their seemingly impossible task so long ago.

In September this year the Socialist Standard too will be sixty years old. We shall mark the event with a special issue, which will review in some detail the history of our party.

For the moment, let it be enough to put on record our admiration for the comrades who took on unflinchingly the hardest job the Socialist movement will probably ever have to face—its own foundation. And let us declare that we who are the Socialist Party in the nineteen sixties will carry on the work.

We shall uphold the principles which were formulated, for the first time as a consistent whole, sixty years ago. We shall continue to be an independent, democratic, political party which maintains that Socialism can only come as a result of majority understanding. A party which has no leaders, which opposes all capitalist wars and is hostile to all other political organisations.

And lastly, a party which stands for Socialism; a social system in which the things which man uses to make and to distribute his wealth are owned by the whole of mankind, in which the barriers of race and colour are recognised for the falsities which they are and in which man is truly free.