Saturday, February 20, 2016

Material World: Socialism Seeks Well-being For All (2016)

The Material World Column from the February 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Globally, close to 450 million people have mental health disorders, with most living in developing countries. Many are shut away or locked up. Few are ever treated. There simply isn’t enough money in poor countries. And those fortunate to get to a hospital are not likely to get the attention they need because there are too few doctors and nurses. Mental illness has lingered near the bottom of health priorities, well behind threats like malaria, measles and HIV. According to the World Health Organization, most countries in Africa, if they have a dedicated budget for mental health care at all, devote an average of less than 1 percent of their health spending to the problem, compared with 6 to 12 percent in the wealthy countries of the West. At last count, Liberia had just one practising psychiatrist. Niger had three, Togo four and Benin seven. Sierra Leone had none. It is the families of people with mental illnesses who bear the overwhelming costs of care. Physical restraint and chaining the patient is often a last resort for desperate families who cannot control a loved one in the grip of psychosis.

Religious belief is strong in this part of the world and the pastors preach that, through them, God can heal almost any ailment — especially ones thought to be essentially spiritual, like psychosis. Religious camps become makeshift psychiatric wards, with prayer as the only intervention. In Ghana, Human Rights Watch in 2012 visited eight prayer camps. Nearly all the residents were chained by their ankles to trees in open compounds, where they slept, urinated and defecated, and bathed. None of the camps employed a qualified medical or psychiatric practitioner.

‘We try to talk people out of going to the camps,’ said Dr. Simliwa Kolou Valentin Dassa, Togo’s director of mental health services, ‘but we cannot tell them to stop if there’s no alternative.’

Superstitious beliefs abound in Morocco, about good and bad genies (‘jnun’) capable of affecting one's daily life. At the Bouya Omar mausoleum followers claim the mentally ill are healed by the saint's supernatural powers. The saint's modern-day followers profit handsomely from the money paid for healing and mediating between the ‘patients’ and the jnun believed to have possessed them, in rituals aimed at casting out the evil spirits. Rights groups allege gross mistreatment of those taken there and say hundreds of people have been kept in chains, sometimes starved and beaten, making the place a by-word for cruelty.

Chadhas suffered many years of civil wars which have left many traumatised and with an enormous need for psychiatric help. The majority of Chadians view illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia as having a spiritual, rather than a medical cause. Many believe in the existence of witchcraft and curses. The only psychiatrist, Dr Egip Bolsane, working in the country has his work cut out to convince patients their issues are medical, rather than spiritual.

‘Public opinion here thinks that it means something is really wrong in your head, it might be because you're possessed. We need to demystify the more or less diabolical image of psychiatry.’

In Indonesia the term ‘pasung’ refers to the physical restraint or confinement of ‘crazy people’. Most rural districts in Indonesia have no mental health service. It is families that are responsible for preventing harm to others and to the ill person. When affordable treatment was offered almost all patients and families accepted the treatment. The abuse of human rights that ‘pasung’ represents is not a product of the callousness or ignorance of families and communities, or by refusal to accept psychiatric treatment, but can be correctly attributed to the lack of basic mental health services. In the end, the only effective strategy for eradicating the practice is to ensure that families and communities have access to such services.

However,  in the developed Western countries where such services do exist the treatment of the mental ill is far from satisfactory. In the 1960s the mentally ill were generally liberated from institutionalisation of the old-style lunatic asylums, based on the twin hopes of community mental health care and antipsychotic drugs. Anti-psychotics are effective when well prescribed, but need expert supervision to prevent side-effects and the community mental health clinics meant to safeguard people with mental illness within the community never materialised. Hundreds of thousands of people with mental health problems have subsequently been sent to prison. Worldwide, several million prisoners probably have serious mental disorders.

Capitalism is not a society that cares about the well-being of its members and the mentally unwell are the victims of a sick social system.

A Question of definition (4) - socialism/communism (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is the name we give to the new society we wish to see the working class establish, defined in our Object as “a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community”.

Actually, at the time our Party was founded in 1904, socialism was not the generally used name for the society Socialists wanted to see established. Even the early issues of the Socialist Standard referred to future society as "the co-operative commonwealth” (an Owenite phrase which is expressive enough), the "social republic” (from the French revolutionary tradition) and "socialist society”. The word socialism referred rather to the body of theory which criticised capitalism and argued for a new society based on common ownership and democratic control. This is the sense in the title Socialism, Utopian and Scientific (given by Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue to the extracts from Engels’ Anti-Dühring which he translated into French and published as a separate pamphlet in 1880) and in the old sub-title of our companion journal the Western Socialist: "journal of scientific socialism in the Western hemisphere’’. It is of course a natural transition from socialism as the name of the doctrine to socialism as the name of the application of the doctrine, viz. the new society to be established. Nowadays the original situation is reversed: we use socialism almost exclusively to refer to the system of society and virtually only in the phrase “scientific socialism” to refer to the doctrine.

Socialism and socialist originated in both Britain and France in the 1820s and 1830s. In Britain, where it was popularised by Owen and the Owenites, it was used to describe a doctrine which favoured co-operation instead of the competitive individualism of capitalism. In France it had more the sense of a doctrine favouring reforms in the interest of the poor. Communism, on the other hand, originated in French in the 1840s as the name of the doctrine of those descended from Babeuf’s 1796 Conspiracy of the Equals who favoured the seizure of power in an insurrection in order to introduce genuine “equality” through abolishing private property. The German League of the Just also supported this doctrine and in 1847 changed its name to the Communist League, for which Marx and Engels wrote the famous manifesto of 1848.

Thus, in 1848, as Engels explained in a preface he wrote to the Communist Manifesto in 1888, communism was what Williams calls the “harder” word:
We could not have called it a socialist manifesto. In 1847, Socialism was a middle-class movement, Communism a working-class movement. Socialism was, on the continent at least, respectable; Communism was the very opposite.
Clearly since in 1880 Engels was prepared to have his doctrine described by Lafargue as socialism a change must have occurred in between.

Williams suggests that in the 1880s in English socialism was the harder term because it, in whatever form, envisaged some reorganization of society as a whole while communism tended to be associated with small- scale experiments in common property, or “community of goods”, as in a number of agricultural colonies established in America (equivalents of today’s kibbutzim). There is some truth in this, but it is not as simple as that. The “community of goods” and “levelling” associated with the word communism were looked on with more horror by the capitalist class than the social reforms in favour of the poor associated with the word socialism. Thus when Sir William Harcourt, the Liberal politician, who served as Home Secretary and later as Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated in the late 1880s "we are all socialists now” he did not mean that “we are all in favour of a community of goods”! And it is no accident that William Morris in the 1880s, when he wished to contrast his views with the reformism of the Fabians, chose to call himself a communist. Some anarchists such as Kropotkin were also at this time describing their aim as “free communism” in contrast to the State capitalism (which they misleadingly called “State socialism”) favoured by most of those who called themselves socialists.

"State socialism”, again, was a term used to describe measures taken by the State to try to aid the poor. The word socialism unfortunately in widespread usage has never lost its association with reforms and reformism. Hence Labour and similar parties in other parts of the world describe themselves and are described as “socialist”. This does not deter us from insisting that our use, to describe someone who works for a new society based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, is not only the more adequate definition but also the more historically justified: those who introduced the word into English, the Owenites, favoured a co-operative commonwealth rather than reform of capitalism.

The word communism (which Marx preferred as the word to describe future society) has suffered a fate just as bad, if not worse. It has come to be associated with the State capitalist police dictatorships in Russia, China and other such countries. This goes back to a decision of the Bolsheviks in 1918 to change the name of their party from Social Democratic to Communist Party. They did this to distinguish themselves from the Social Democratic parties of the rest of Europe which had so shamefully betrayed the working class over the war. From then on communist has been used to describe supporters of Russia, inaccurately since it is not communism in its original sense of common ownership that they stand for but state capitalism.

Williams is quite wrong when he states that in the period 1880-1914 communism was used “as a description of an ultimate form, which would be achieved after passing through socialism”. This dates from after 1917 and was an innovation introduced by Lenin. Before then the only person to make such a distinction was William Morris but this was not taken up by anyone else in the Social Democratic or Socialist movements. It is true that the reformist Ramsay MacDonald in his book The Socialist Movement (1910) distinguishes communism from socialism, but as alternative and not successive societies and, as we have noted, this was a distinction made also by some anarchists. It is interesting that MacDonald distinguishes the two societies, as Lenin was to do, by the method of distribution: under “socialism” consumer goods would be distributed in accordance with work done, under “communism” according to needs.

Lenin’s innovation (to use a neutral term) was to make “socialism” and "communism” thus defined successive societies after the abolition of capitalism and to attribute this view to Marx (a gross distortion since Marx made no such distinction: he only distinguished a “first phase” of “communist society” when there would still have to be some restrictions on individual consumption—a reasonable assumption for 1875 but outdated today— from a “higher phase” when the principle “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” would apply, but these were phases of the same society based on common ownership and democratic control and not successive, separate societies).

As far as we are concerned, socialism and communism are exact synonyms, alternative names to describe the future society we wish to see established and defined in our Object. We don't object to this being described as communism and us as communists but in practice we only use the words socialism and socialist.
Adam Buick