Friday, March 18, 2016

Imperialism and Revolution (1930)

Book Review from the June 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Imperialism and World Economy,” by N. Bukharin. Martin Lawrence. 6s.

This work was written by Bukharin in 1915, and its references to statistics are largely out of date. But the essential arguments are in the main true to-day. The development of Imperialism in its economic aspects, has been treated in many books, such as John A. Hobson’s "Export of Capital” and also his work on "Imperialism.” Bukharin’s book covers much the same ground.

The discovery of raw materials in the backward parts of the world, together with a supply of cheap labour close at hand, gave a powerful impetus to the modern capitalist and banking company to invest abroad in search of a higher rate of profit. The rapid rise of large scale machine industry enabled the manufacturers to produce more than could be sold at home and a far-flung Empire provides a ready market for the goods.

Bukharin says little of the modern development of industry in the colonial and "backward” countries, resulting in a continual shrinkage in the world market.

The growth of trusts, cartels and monopolies is well sketched by Bukharin, much of his material being gathered from Hilferding’s “Finance Capital.” Bukharin shows how war results from the struggle for markets and for sources of raw materials. The last chapter indicates how greatly Bukharin counted on a revolt of the. workers at the end of the war, but nobody who saw how easily the workers were gulled in the developed capitalist world had any grounds for believing that world revolution would result.

The Communists condemn Bukharin’s book because he does not support the idea that the system is collapsing quickly. Bukharin bitterly opposed Trotsky, Zinovief, Radek and other leaders who-built up an opposition group in Russia, but Bukharin afterwards joined the opposition himself and held that Capitalism’s "collapse” was not in sight.

The present-day "intellectuals” of Communism criticize Bukharin’s book, alleging that he ignores colonial uprisings and internal conflicts. These "slogan merchants” ignore the fact that Lenin in his introduction to the book had no fault to find with it. The colonial revolts on which Communists based their hopes are largely beginnings of a struggle for national independence on the part of native employers and their allies and are not working class struggles for emancipation.

Modern Imperialism is a developed stage of capitalism rising out of the growth of productive forces in the hands of an exploiting class and the only way it can be abolished is by the working class struggling for, and establishing, Socialism. The Colonial revolts that were going to smash Imperialism become in the long run movements to build Capitalism in "backward” lands.

The chief fault with Bukharin’s manner of writing is that his language is not simple, and he lacks the power to make his points clear and plain.
Adolph Kohn

Air Sick (1985)

From the November 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the wake of the Air India crash off Ireland, the Tristar accident in Dallas and the Japan Airline disaster, the victims lying in the makeshift mortuary of hangar no. 7 at Manchester Airport last month brought the total number of dead from air travel accidents this summer over the thousand mark.

Everyone hopes they can avoid just such a tragedy. But is luck all we have to rely on? Is our fate totally out with our control as one aviation specialist would have us believe: "God was not with that flight”? As the Chairman of the British Airline Pilots’ Association said:
. . . we have had a string of survivable accidents on all types of aircraft in which we believe the effects of smoke and fire have been critical for the people trapped in the fuselage . . .  a lot more people have died in these incidents than should have done.
(Guardian 29th August 1985)
So what factors are within our technical capacities; what safety measures are there available?

FUEL: ICI have developed a fuel additive which will prevent misting and so lessen the flammability of fuel. But to do this took seventeen years of research and ICI are waiting for funding before developing the lifesaving additive. Although undoubtedly safer, there is no guarantee that it will even be used—some airlines still use JP4 gasoline rather than the less flammable Jet A kerosene. A study by Cranfield Institute of Technology shows that, on average, five times as many passengers will be burnt to death before they can escape, if JP4 is used. JP4, though, is cheaper. (Flight International 14th September 1985)

MATERIALS: Most deaths in aircraft fires are due to the inhalation of toxic fumes from the combustion of the foam inside seats. Airlines have been slow to introduce new, safer upholstery, as regulations will require by 1987. The cost to the airline is $200 a seat, and will give passengers an extra ninety seconds to escape. Of course, even safer materials are available, but they are found only in the Space Shuttle as the cost of replacement by the airline companies is too large. (Newsnight, BBC 2, 22nd August 1985)

WEIGHT: “Every gramme of structure (is) a gramme of commercial payload lost” (The Safe Airline - J M Ramaden, 1976). Therefore light aluminium alloys are used for the aircraft body although they have very poor heat resistance. This argument has long been used by the airlines to counter the requests for more, or improved, safety equipment.

The standard Boeing 737 flight has one hundred and fourteen passengers in nineteen rows. A charter flight — like that which crashed at Manchester — packs in an extra three rows, giving three inches less of space for each person. The Air correspondent for BBC News asks,
Why were 130 of those souls crammed into seats spaced just thirty inches apart? . . . The answer, of course, is that the average passenger represents 140 lbs of high-value merchandise, and that if you can compress three additional rows of seats designed to provide comfort for one hundred and fifteen people, it means you can earn another £600 or so on a Mediterranean flight. Multiply that by ten aircraft making a couple of round trips a day during the peak summer and winter holidays, and you come out with substantial earnings approaching an additional million pounds a year. (The Listener, 5th September 1985)

So it is simply a case of the inexorable law of capitalism — payload and profits come a long way before safety. As David Vearmount of the Civil Aviation Authority said, "Airlines don’t mind applying the safety rules as long as all their competitors do so”. (Flight International, 14th September 1985) 

Considering the controversy that has surrounded the use of the emergency exits in the Manchester crash, it is important to note that British Airways are intending sealing two exits on their 747 Jumbo jets in order to increase seating capacity. (In case you had forgotten, BA are the airline that once claimed to “take more care of you”).

The risk, then, is quantified by the airline. Each passenger effectively has a price on their head — doubtless down to two decimal places. Under the facade of efficiency that is the accountants’ balance-sheets, the benefits of cost savings on cheaper fuel, or lighter planes, or more passengers is weighed against “acceptable” risks to safety:
It is on the definition of just what is an acceptable risk, however, that pilots and operators have some of their most bitter arguments, and many safety-conscious but disillusioned pilots have, perhaps unfairly, echoed Nevil Shute’s bitter comment, “of course operators are all for safety - just as long as it doesn’t cost them any money!” . . .  an airline may accept a risk, because to lessen it would put one or more particular departments over the allotted budget; while if a crash occurs, it is not the operator who foots the bill, but the insurer, (Pilot Error - A Professional Study of Contributory Factors, Ronald Aupt (Ed), 1976)
The definition of acceptable risk is rightly troublesome — whose risk is it, to fly (as passengers or crew) in a plane that could be safer? But who accepts the benefits?

The simple inequality, based on an inequality of ownership and control, explains why the interests of consumers (like the passengers flying on holiday) and of producers (like the cabin crew), are ignored in order to meet these needs of the minority class of owners, who don’t need to live on wages or salaries, and certainly don’t live for package flights to the Med once a year.

And as the bereaved families picked up their lives again, they were already being hounded by lawyers from America, who can get higher rewards — and a higher cut — from suits filed over there. One was reported to have booked into a hotel near Manchester Airport within 48 hours of the crash, fresh from a killing at Bhopal and now "ambulance-chasing” in Manchester. Definitely business as usual.
Brian Gardner 

History of anarchism (1993)

Book Review from the June 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. By Peter Marshall. Fontana. £9.99.

Peter Marshall's monumental history of anarchism from ancient Greece and ancient China to today is now available in paperback. The ideas covered—anyone opposed to the state, from whatever angle— group together people with widely divergent, not to say incompatible views: from anarcho-communists like Kropotkin who stand for common ownership and no money to anarcho-capitalists like Ayn Rand and Proudhon who want to abolish the state so as to allow the market economy free rein.

If the anarcho-communists feel confortable being grouped with these latter under a common title, we wouldn’t. Which is why we are dubious about the unindexed statement on page 495 that “some claim that the tiny Socialist Party of Great Britain is anarchist in inspiration"—even though we have always held that the state, as the public power of coercion composed of police, prisons and armed forces, will be abolished in socialism.
Adam Buick

Malcolm Xploited (1993)

From the June 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard
Hotter than 
a cross of fire 
hip refurbished 
black messiah 
hanging on 
the whitest walls 
for the biggest 
buck of all. 
                           Dave Bishop