Friday, December 2, 2016

Cooking the Books: Cashless but Not Profitless (2016)

The Cooking the Books column from the December 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘Apple’s latest ambition is to rid the world of cash’ reads the headline in the Times (20 October), reporting Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, saying ‘we would like to be a catalyst for taking cash out of the system.’ The prospect of a ‘cashless society’ has been held out before. Apple’s plan is that people should use its smartphones to pay for things instead of cash or a cheque or even a debit or credit card.
A cashless society is not the same as a moneyless society, for a reason hinted at in a turn of phrase used by Christopher Burniske, described as ‘an analyst of digital currency’:
‘Apple’s is building a payment structure where you can use all kinds of digital means to transfer value.’
Actually, transferring value is not a bad way of describing one of the functions of money, that of being a means of exchanging values.
When something is bought (and therefore sold) what is happening is that the ownership of something that has ‘value’ is being transferred from one person to another. Money is the means through which this is done. In this transaction money represents a value that is transferred from the buyer to the seller in exchange for something in principle of equal value. The buyer will normally have acquired the money by themselves having exchanged something for it.
Things that are bought and sold (Marx called them ‘commodities’) have value because they have been produced by work, their value being the amount of necessary labour embodied in them through the work of the series of workers involved in their production from start to finish. At one time money had intrinsic value itself as a product of labour, that involved in mining, transporting and refining the gold or silver and then of minting these into coins. So exchange really was an exchange of real things of equal value. This time is long past. For over a hundred years now, ‘money’ has been paper (and with the new £5 note plastic) and metal tokens for value. These still represent value even though they have no, or not much, value themselves.
Now that the electronic technology exists there is no reason why cash could not be replaced by digital money. In fact it already is to an increasing extent. It is doubtful, though, that it will ever completely replace cash. In theory it could, but a cashless society would be not be a moneyless society.  It would be a society in which cash had merely been replaced by a digital currency. It would still be a buying and selling society where goods and services were produced for sale on a market with a view to profit. It would still be a society based on the ownership of the means of wealth production by a tiny minority with the non-owning majority being forced to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary. It would still be capitalism.
But what a waste of human ingenuity and IT that could be more usefully employed to help organise the production and distribution of wealth to meet human needs in the non-market, money-free society that socialism will be. Apple’s real aim of course is not so much to help a cashless society emerge as to make a profit from selling the devices it makes and the apps to use them.

Obituary: W. Craske (1967)

Obituary from the March 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to record the passing away of another old member of the Party, W. Craske, who was in his middle sixties.

Our late comrade Craske had been ill for some time and died of a heart attack. He was buried in Brighton Crematorium on the 19th January. A number of members and friends attended the funeral, including his wife and brother who are also members of the Party and two members from London representing the Executive Committee.

W. Craske had been a member of the Party practically all his life, and will be remembered as a regular attender at Party Conferences, coming up to London from the country for the purpose. In fact he grew up in the Party. His father and mother, members of the old Battersea Branch, took part in its founding of our Party in 1904.

Craske was a conscientious objector during the first war and helped a number of members in difficulty during the second war. In the slump after the first war he was out of work and left London to go down to Sussex for a temporary job. The job became permanent and be settled in Wivelsfield Green, opening a little grocery shop as a side-line. Whilst there be did what he could to stir up interest in the Party and helped to form a group in Brighton. He and his wife also gave hospitality to visiting members. Visitors will remember his wonderful garden, for he was a keen gardener in his spare time.

It is always sad to have to record the passing of an old and staunch member. The present writer will always remember his warmth and comradely inquiries. Now all we can do is remember, and extend to his wife and relatives our sincere sympathy for their, and our, loss.

Capitalism in the Peak District (1986)

From 'The Place Where I Live' series from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Peak District in Derbyshire is an area of great scenic beauty, extending from the 2.000ft high bleak, gritstone plateau of Kinder Scout in the north to the softer, mellow limestone hills of the south. The combination of wooded countryside, meandering rivers winding through beautiful dales, and picturesque stone-built cottages in the scattered villages makes the National Park a ramblers paradise.

The accessibility of the area (it is within 50 miles of Leeds. Manchester. Stoke-on-Trent and Nottingham, and less than 20 miles from Sheffield), the attraction of the "spa-towns" of Buxton and Matlock, and the quaint custom of well-dressing draw large numbers of tourists in the summer months and it may be possible to forget, momentarily, the impoverishment of our lives that capitalism causes. But capitalism is never far away: huge quarries scar the landscape in the search of fluospar and other minerals which are used for making products as diverse as cement and jewellery.

Bakewell, often considered the capital of the Peak District, contains a high proportion of retired people. This is a reminder that the commercial interests of the surrounding industrial areas have overridden environmental and social needs, causing migration from these areas when the 40-50 years stint of wage slavery which workers have to endure is finished.

The wealthiest man in the area is the Duke of Devonshire, who owns Chatsworth House, probably the most elegant property in Britain, which is regularly invaded by tourists who pay for the privilege of seeing the luxury enjoyed by those who profit from the workers’ labour. The present Duke of Devonshire has been in the news in the last two years for selling a small part of his art collection for £6 million and for giving money to prostitutes - a slight set-back for the "pillars of society" who "safeguard the nation's morals". But the power such people have over the lives of workers, because of their wealth and the protection the state gives to them under capitalism, was demonstrated by the moving of Edensor village in 1839 by the 6th Duke of Devonshire because it spoilt his view across the east ridge of Chatsworth Park.

The Peak District and neighbouring towns feature quite prominently in classical literature: Hathersage is the Morton of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Bakewell is mentioned briefly as Lambton in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Hayfield became Clough End in Mrs. Humphrey Ward's novel David Grieve; George Eliot had local connections, her father came from Roston. near Ashbourne, and the quaint town of Wirksworth, defaced by leadmining, is the Snowfield of Adam Bede while Ashbourne is Oakbourne in the same novel.

Edward Carpenter, social reformer, writer and poet lived in Millthorpe for many years, where he wrote Towards Democracy and My Days and Dreams. His love of the simple life profoundly influenced William Morris who modelled his utopian romance News from Nowhere on Carpenter's cottage and the hospitality he received on his visits there.

The need to make a profit under capitalism has led to the cancellation of a number of bus services in the area. A number of villages have no bus services at all and others are threatened with the same fate. Some of the schools are also under threat of closure because they are too small to be run economically; the priorities of capitalism involve running an education service as cheaply as possible, particularly as trained workers are not needed in such large numbers during a recession.

The village shop is also under threat from the concentration of capital in the hands of the big chains of supermarkets and the attempts to extend trading hours, if successful, would probably be the final straw for small shopkeepers who would not be able to offer an out of hours service free from competition. Without schools, buses and shops the villages would be in danger of dying or become commuter villages, lived in by people whose work, and roots, remained in the industrial towns. The tourist trade manages to make substantial profits from the popularity of the area; Bakewell puddings, Ashbourne ginger bread, bottled spa water, postcards, books dealing with local walks, history, flora, wildlife, well-dressing and mining have all managed to separate the holiday makers from their money.

However much the Peak District manages (relatively) to be an oasis from the ugliness of industry it is never far away; Bolsover, a few miles outside of Chesterfield, has the largest smokeless fuel works in the world; Cromford had the earliest English cotton mill, established by Richard Arkwright in 1771; South Normanton, near Alfreton, was the birthplace in 1726 of Jedediah Strutt, inventor of the ribbed stocking machine.

The area has historical interest too; 1,500 Scottish soldiers were imprisoned in 1648 in St. Thomas’ church at Chapel-En-Le-Frith and many of them died from suffocation. The barbarity of the Black Hole of Calcutta incident perpetrated by Indians on British soldiers is well known but English barbarity has led to a more discreet spread of information. In 1817 the Pentrich Revolution (often incorrectly referred to as the Pentridge Revolution) was brutally put down by the state. Both incidents remind us of the cruelty that the state will resort to when protecting its interests.

Recently the area has had Liberal hearts fluttering because they were only 100 votes behind the Conservative candidate in West Derbyshire's by-election. But when I get a day off from work and walk through the dales in my walking boots bought from a chain store, eat my sandwiches bought from a profitable bakery, or stop at a pub owned by a giant brewery, I realise that whichever capitalist party wins an election it is business as usual.
Carl Pinel

The Popular Front: A False Issue (1937)

Editorial from the February 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

Three small organisations which yap at the heels of the Labour Party, the I.L.P., the Socialist League and the Communist Party have got together in a Left Wing United Front. They propose, in their manifesto, to fight for “unity within the framework of the Labour Party and the trade unions" and “a campaign to revitalize the activity and transform the policy of the Labour Movement." Their professed object is Socialism and opposition to Fascism and War. Their method is based upon the doctrine that, in order “to advance in the fight for Socialism, we must mobilise for immediate objectives, clear in their appeal and vital in the battle against reaction and Fascism." Their immediate objectives are a very modest list of reforms and wage advances, including the 40-hour week, non-contributory pensions of £1 at 60, nationalisation of the mines, paid holidays for all workers.

In the past 40 years there have been many similar efforts for unity, at least a dozen such movements could be listed. They have all been alike in their belief that unity and action for Socialism can be based upon a programme of non-Socialist “immediate objectives." They have all failed, buried alive under the double blanket of trade union officialdom and the non-Socialist outlook of the working class. This one will go the same way, and its passing should occasion no regret, for those who promote it are not doing something which will help to bring about Socialism.

They pretend that the difference between them and the Labour Party leadership is that between Socialists and reformists, but their every action shows that this is not the case. Does the Labour Party fight merely for reforms ?—so do they. Does each of the Labour M.P.s owe his seat in Parliament to his success in obtaining the votes of non-Socialists who support those reforms?—so do all the Left Wingers, Maxton, Gallacher, Cripps and the rest. Are the Labour leaders believers in the possibility of controlling capitalism as against abolishing it?—so are their rivals for office. Both groups reject the only practical policy for dealing with the problem of a non-Socialist working class, which is to preach Socialism instead of preaching immediate objectives and the reform of capitalism. In default of adopting the only sound Socialist policy, the choice before both groups narrows down to the problem of capturing the votes of a non-Socialist electorate. Whether the most hopeful method is a Lib.-Lab. alliance, a Popular Front, or a Lab.-I.L.P.-Communist Party alliance is a question of no concern to us. We judge all such methods of administering capitalism by their inevitable consequence, which is that the workers are led to believe that their miseries are no longer due to capitalism but to Socialism. For capitalism to be administered by people calling themselves Socialists, in the name of Socialism, is a crime against the Socialist movement. When Socalists take over the machinery of Government it must be for the purpose of achieving Socialism, not, as The Times (January 5th, 1937) truthfully says of Blum's Popular Front Government in France, for the purpose of reforming capitalism. Blum “ has held to his declared intention not to translate into action the doctrines of his own Socialist Party, but loyally to carry out the agreed programme of the Popular Front, for which the country had given an impressive majority."

The Labour Party in Great Britain wants to administer capitalism on the lines of its own reform programme. The new Left Wing United Front wants to follow Blum's example of a coalition because it sees there a better chance of an electoral victory. As Socialists are against the administration of capitalism in the name of Socialism, Socialists are against the Labour Party and the United Front.

Job centred (1988)

Editorial from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism hates waste but can't do without it. Given the chance it would recycle its own grandmother and sell the by-products to her next of kin; in practice it erects steel barriers against the fulfilment of need and calmly dispenses with all flesh and blood surplus to requirements. It would rather sell, exploit and accumulate capital without interruption but is obliged periodically to bow in the direction of its market Mecca, a gambling place with unlimited liability for human suffering.

Employment is a prison occupation, a strict regime of routine and rationing to which most inmates have adjusted at severe personal cost. Fear of freedom, the pressure of financial commitments and three weeks' annual parole successfully dull the imagination and ensure that a break-out does not cross the collective mind. Those suddenly released from confinement soon discover that solitary life over the wall is even more constricting, that competition for swift readmission is fierce. It is then that capitalism's much-vaunted freedom to choose is at its most obvious - if we do not like subsisting on the margins of society, it's always our privilege to lump it.

Numbers out of work rise and fall as the industrial cycle goes through its normal phases of crisis, slump, recovery and boom. In the competitive struggle which gives markets to the cheaper producer, each capitalist is trying to accumulate capital and expand his scale of operations, not just to meet a known demand but as an end in itself. Inevitably "overproduction" develops in some big markets and crisis occurs, sales decline, investment ceases to be profitable, production is cut and workers are laid off. The declining industries and falling wages bills drag down other sectors of the economy and there is depression. No policy devised by the reformist mind can affect the course of the cycle, no measure avoid the resulting suffering and insecurity.

It is the old fear of redundancy which is responsible for the new industrial discipline. While the contraction of the labour market has created a leaner, more pliant workforce, the government itself has gone to great lengths to see that those without jobs remain equally supple and on their toes. When not massaging their figures or coaxing them into chic saunas called sweatshops, it is extolling the virtue of vigorous exercise on bicycle or YTS treadmills.

Contrary to tabloid myth, the dole is not a home for overweight wideboys with "nice little earners" in the black economy (try your local Conservative Party branch) but a veritable obstacle course of stringent tests, interviews and training schemes which belie the notion that those who lose their jobs are entitled to unemployment benefit as of right. Knitting our own safety nets in mid-fall may yet appear an attractive option.

Pricing yourself back into a job can mean accepting work less stimulating and marginally more rewarding than counting dots on the living room wallpaper. "I see from your file. Mr Smith, that you had thirty years' experience in sheet metal welding. Have you ever considered a career as a fast food operative? Remuneration is fairly modest initially, but there are plenty of compensations and quite a smart uniform." Remember, too. to be flexible. "How did the interview in John O'Groats go, Mr Jones? Well, yes. but Inter-City is very much quicker these days. Beggars can't be choosers, you know. What really is the lowest wage you could consider, then?" Try always to look on the bright side. "I know there were two hundred applicants. Miss Brown, but I get the distinct impression that you're not really available for work at all. I wish I could watch Jackanory instead of sitting in this hole day in. day out." Above all. never look as old as you are. "It's unfortunate that you're not twenty years younger. Mr Green. Look, why don't you just apply for sickness benefit instead? You don't look too good anyway."

Working for wages and salaries is not living but what has to be done to live: the real thing begins outside the office or factory gate. When the means to pursue what makes the difference is further reduced by the poverty of the dole, what exactly is left? When the claimant's major decision of the week is whether to buy secondhand shoes from Oxfam or treat the children to an orange each, who dares whisper that we live in a classless and free society? If life at the bottom of the pile makes the majority quietly thankful for their lot. imagine the revulsion with which the owning class views our limited lifestyles and aspirations. For those who can afford to be idle, employment and unemployment must be indistinguishable gradations on a single dung heap. Their dole is what the majority is presently willing to accept.

When Ideologies Run Out of Ideas (2016)

From the December 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The “establishment” candidates Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush had money and media backing, but their bankrupt ideas doomed their campaigns.
The 2016 US presidential election revealed the splits within the Democratic and the Republican Parties. We witnessed the breakdown of the coalitions that each party had relied upon in past elections. As the political tendencies within both coalitions grew estranged from each other, the conventional ideology and slogans of each party became increasingly hollow and unconvincing. This new reality was revealed over the course of the primaries and the general election, as the ordinary tactics of the ‘establishment’ candidates proved not only ineffective and often completely counterproductive.

Identity crisis

At the outset of the presidential primaries, however, it seemed that only the Republican Party was facing a true identity crisis. The first sign of trouble was that well over a dozen Republican politicians declared their candidacy for the Party’s presidential nomination, reflecting the perceived weakness of the supposed frontrunner Jeb Bush. Moreover, some of these candidates had risen to prominence on the back of the so-called Tea Party movement, which rewarded politicians who aggressively challenged the ‘moderate’ Party leadership.
Yet, despite the breakdown in Party discipline and open criticism of Republican leaders, nearly all of those seeking the nomination imagined, on the basis of past primaries, that a viable candidate would have to pledge loyalty to the sacred principles of the Republican Party, such as Christian values, a belief in small government (i.e., welfare and tax cuts), faith in corporate deregulation and the free market, and blind support for overseas military adventures. Those core principles roughly correspond to some key factions within the Republican coalition: the pious Christian right, the small-government “libertarians” (‘free market’ capitalists), and the hawkish Neocons.
Those factions were already coming into severe conflict with each other years before the 2016 election. For instance, the obsession of the Christian right with issues like abortion or gay marriage, was alienating Republicans (particularly those in urban areas) who were less interested in serving God’s will than in rendering unto Caesar as little as humanly possible. The Libertarians and other true believers in small government were, in turn, vehemently opposed to the massive spending on the military and foreign wars, bringing them into sharp opposition with the Neocons and the foreign-policy establishment. And the Neocons themselves already had one foot planted in the Democratic Party, which had continued under the Obama administration the Bush-era policy of aggressive ‘regime change.’ 
Yet even while the Republican coalition was splitting along such lines, the Republican candidates stuck to the idea that it was necessary to come across as a Bible-thumping, corporation-loving Christian warmonger in order to win the nomination. The one candidate who ignored that outdated common sense was of course Donald Trump, himself a Tweet-wielding, corporation-running, Capitalist a-hole. 
Trump refused to genuflect at the altar of orthodoxy, it can be imagined, simply because it did not suit his brash showbiz persona. Whatever the case, his approach turned out to perfectly suit the public mood. And, with surprising eagerness, the rank-and-file abandoned supposedly cherished Republican beliefs in order to back a two-time divorcee from that ‘den of sin’ New York City who called for economic protectionism and stimulus spending (along with his tax cuts) and declared that the invasion of Iraq was a colossal blunder.
The willingness of Republicans to turn their backs on Party dogma in favour of the ‘straight-shooter’ Trump was a sign that the public mood was shifting dramatically. But the Democratic leadership looked on complacently, confident that the Republican primary was unfolding in a way that would benefit Clinton.
In April 2015, Democratic strategist and Clinton confidant Sydney Blumenthal suggested in an email (later released by Wikileaks) that the Clinton campaign should elevate what he called the ‘Pied Piper candidates’ (like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump) ‘so that they are “leaders of the pack and tell the press to take [them] seriously” as a way of moving “established candidates further to the right” and making the “more extreme candidates . . . actually represent the mainstream of the Republican Party.’
Under normal circumstances this may have been an astute strategy. But this time around the Democratic leaders were badly misreading the situation in concluding that only a moderate from either party was a viable candidate. The Republican leaders shared that common sense,’ but fortunately for them (in the end) they lacked the tools that the Democrats had to crush an insurgent campaign.
Thanks to the Democrats’ ‘super delegates’ and frontloaded southern primaries, not to mention a Democratic National Committee crawling with Clinton operatives, the nomination of Hillary was all but a foregone conclusion more than a year before the primaries even began.
Even the participation of Bernie Sanders in the primary seemed, at first, to play right into the typical election strategy of the Democrats. His assigned role, like Dennis Kucinich and other ‘radical’ candidates in the past, was to generate just enough interest in the election among youth, trade unionists, and others on the ‘Left’ to prevent them from deserting the Democrats for a third-party candidate. Bernie himself seemed to have no greater ambition initially than to ‘push the Party to the left,’ but to his surprise, no doubt, a powerful movement began to gather around him.
Despite all the careful preparations to keep the rabble from being roused in the election, the split between rank-and-file Democrats and the Party leaders was laid bare over the course of what became a bitter primary battle between Sanders and Clinton. As in the case of the Republicans, the election campaign was not the cause of the split, but it did make very clear to the public the deep divisions that had been papered over during the Bush and Obama years.
In fact, the fraying of the Democratic coalition was already well underway back in the 1990s under the Bill Clinton administration. The coalition had once centred on the strength of the labor unions, who could mobilize campaign workers and funds to back Democratic candidates. The steady decline of organized labor (accelerated thanks to Clinton-era policies) altered the balance of forces within the Party. Moreover, the Democratic leadership were able to take labor-union support for granted, since organized workers were hardly likely to defect to the rabidly anti-union Republican Party. Another group whose unconditional support was assumed were African Americans, who had been almost uniformly opposed to the Republicans ever since President Nixon implemented his ‘southern strategy’ of appealing to white southern workers.
This election, the Democrats also thought the Hispanic vote was in the bag, thanks to Trump’s vilification of Mexicans and obsession with building a border wall. But Obama has deported well over two million illegal immigrants during his terms in office, breaking the record of George W. Bush, which may account for why Hillary only won just over 60 percent of the Hispanic vote.
In any case, taking the votes of so many of the rank-and-file Party members and supporters for granted was premised on the singular awfulness of the Republican Party — and for a time the strategy seemed to work well enough. But an ideology that is largely negative or defensive offering few positive principles or goal — seems doomed to failure.
And the end did come in November 2016 with the defeat of the ideologically bankrupt Clinton campaign, which had smeared supporters of Trump (and Sanders!) as misogynists and racists, and even dabbled in laughable conspiracy theories suggesting sinister links between Trump and Putin.
Granted, the central ideas of the Sanders and Trump campaigns were based on a nostalgia for the good old days (that never were) — whether returning the Democratic Party to its role as the supposed party of the working class or bringing ‘greatness’ back to American somehow — but at least their slogans did challenge the status quo and create the impression of having some positive content.
It might seem that the Trump and Sanders insurgencies offer the two parties a way out of their ideological and organizational impasses. But is that the case?
Trump, certainly has taken a broad axe to the rotten planks of the old Republican platform. But his own incipient platform looks to be very shaky. For instance, how is he going to balance tax cuts with expanding the military budget and increasing spending on infrastructure as a stimulus measure? His surprising victory has brought a temporary unity (or truce) among warring factions within the Party, but no fundamental compromise is on the cards.
Meanwhile, Bernie’s supporters hope to win Party leadership from the Clintonites to implement ‘progressive’ policies. Much of their criticism of the Party establishment is on the mark, but they overlook the very basic fact that capitalism is a system of production for profit. This reality shapes policy and leaves only a limited space for the sort of reformist policies the ‘Berniecrats’ are advocating. The supporters of Sanders may be right about a strategy to win voters to the Democratic Party, but the role of the Party is not simply to win elections but to administer capitalism effectively, which is to say, ‘profitably.’ 
It is impossible to predict exactly where the Republican or Democratic Party might be headed, but if either party were to undergo a decisive split it would not be too surprising. Then again, both may very well manage to more peacefully realign themselves along different lines, in altered coalitions.
Fascinating fiasco
In any case, the 2016 election has revealed the current fault lines within those two parties and also taught us (or at least reconfirmed) a number of valuable lessons. It has become clear, for instance, that the ‘faithful’ of each party may not be as blinded by loyalty as their opponents imagine. Ultimately, each party has to gain and maintain the support of its members and of voters on the basis of ideas. Even a campaign backed by the power of money and the media can fall flat without any coherent ideology at its basis.
The obvious case example is the Clinton campaign, which enjoyed a formidable fundraising apparatus and network of media lackeys. But the mixed message of the campaign, reflecting the gap between Clinton’s words and deeds, left her vulnerable to Sanders and vanquished by Trump. The weapons the Clinton campaign wielded ended up harming her more than her opponents by exposing to the public, without much room for doubt, that she was the establishment candidate. The more money Clinton raised from her donors and the more articles published to praise her or attack her opponents, only ended up underscoring that status as the champion of the status quo.
This fascinating fiasco is highly encouraging to a socialist party. One can expect the ruling class to launch ferocious attacks against the socialist movement, starting with the media, once the movement has grown too powerful to ignore. But there is every likelihood that the effort to attack and discredit the socialist rebellion, will only contribute to its strength. It is already rather astounding that in a US presidential election, of all places, a Democratic candidate and his supporters would embrace terms like ‘socialist’ or ‘revolutionary,’ which are ordinarily used to smear a leftwing opponent. We have come a long way from the 1990s, when Democratic politicians lived in fear of being labelled ‘liberals’ by their Republican opponents.
The 2016 election campaign suggests that now is an ideal moment for socialists to boldly attack the thread-bare ideologies of bourgeois political parties and present our alternative to capitalism.