Thursday, March 30, 2017

What Must We Do? (1990)

Editorial from the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Something is clearly wrong with the world. We exist as isolated atoms forced to compete in a rat-race to obtain money to buy what we must have to live. There is no real sense of community, because we are not a community but a class-divided society. What people get depends on how much money they have. The rich get the best that money can buy while the rest of us have to put up with what we can afford out of our wage packet or salary cheque—if we have one that is; otherwise we are even worse off.

Problems abound. People are homeless or live in substandard accommodation while building workers are unemployed and construction materials pile up. People starve in one part of the world while farmers in another are paid to take land out of food production. Every day somebody is killed in one of the wars which are always going on somewhere. The major powers have stockpiled enough weapons to destroy humanity many times over. The air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink have all been contaminated or poisoned in one way or another by the processes employed by industry and agribusiness, while global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer, resulting from these same processes, threaten humanity with an alternative sticky end to nuclear annihilation.

All these problems have a single cause; the wages-profits-money system that is capitalism under which production is in the hands of competing, profit-seeking enterprises, whether these be privately or state owned. Those concerned about these problems should be working to eliminate their cause rather than on trying to deal with the symptoms. They should be working to build up a movement to take democratic action to replace capitalism with socialism. Not the fake socialisms that have been tried by Labour governments or in Russia but socialism in its true, original sense of a democratic system of co-operation to produce goods and services solely to satisfy needs not make profits. Within this framework of common ownership and democratic control these problems can be solved once and for all for the simple reason that there will be no built-in obstacles in the way of doing so—such as the need to minimise costs so as to maximise profits.

Attempting to deal piecemeal with one of the symptoms while leaving the cause intact—which is what organisations like CND, Friends of the Earth, Shelter, Help the Aged, War on Want and the others are engaged in—can never solve the particular problem they have targetted. At best, it can only alleviate it a little, for some of the victims. At worst, it delays the solution by encouraging the illusion that the problem could be solved within the present system.

Single-issue organisations are engaged in a never-ending battle to try to limit the damage done in one particular field by the profit system. But this is like running up a downward-moving escalator where "success" consists in staying in the same position rather than slipping backwards. This is sticking- plaster politics when what is required is radical surgery.

The solution lies in establishing a system of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all the people. This is the only framework within which humans can control their own destiny instead of being dominated by some privileged elite or by the blind economic forces of the market. The technical means already exist to provide every man, woman and child on this planet with proper food, clothing, shelter, health-care and education. What stands in the way is the profit system. So let's get rid of it and achieve a world without hunger, poverty, pollution, war, oppression or exploitation—a world of co-operation, peace and plenty.

From SDP to SDP (1990)

From the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once upon a time a bunch of dull politicians had a dream. They were going to “break the mould” of British politics. They would create a "sensible" political party which would be neither left nor right, but would offer all things to all voters. They were “moderate” politicians, not "extremists". By this they meant that they would not be so fanatical as to allow principles to get in the way of their quest for power. The political "experts" had an instant love affair with these very “sensible” politicians. The BBC and ITV commentators never ceased to sing the praises of this “sensible" new party, the SDP.

The SDP won millions of votes from workers who were sick of the two main parties. Many voted for it with blind faith in its promise of something different. These gullible people were to be sorely disappointed. The SDP was just like the other parties. Last month the SDP shut up shop, buried in the rubble of its monumental promises to make politics look different. In reality, the SDP stood for the running of the capitalist system, claiming that it could run the market more efficiently than Thatcher’s Tories. The SDP was a Tory party with an arrogant doctor instead of an arrogant Prime Minister as its leader.

Writing in the Guardian on 30 May. Eric Heffer MP stated that “Labour has now become the SDP Mark 2". We shall leave Mr Heffer to state why he supports such a party while claiming to be a socialist. He might like to consult Tony Benn MP who has admitted that the recent Labour Policy Review document, upon which the next Labour manifesto will be based, is a thoroughly anti-socialist statement.

To the Socialist Party the political logic is clear: the SDP was a Tory Party Mark 2; the Labour Party is now an SDP Mark 2: it therefore follows that the Labour Party is simply another version of the Tory Party. Just as a vote to make Owen Prime Minister was no different from a vote for Thatcher, it is quite clearly the case that a vote for Kinnock is exactly the same as a vote for Thatcher. The victory of a Labour government in the next election will be a victory for the continuation of the market system—of profit before human needs.

Socialists can only be encouraged by the demise of the SDP. With that party has died the fraudulent claim that there is a cosy middle ground between naked, ruthless capitalism and the socialist alternative. Now the Labour Party—or, the “new” Labour Party as it likes to be called—is doing its utmost to revive that pernicious claim. Labour presents itself as the comforting, undisruptive, moderate party which can be trusted to look after Great Britain PLC on behalf of all the people, workers and capitalists.

Do not be deceived: there is only one way to run the profit system and that is with callous indifference to the misfortune of those who must be poor so that the capitalist class can be rich. The Kinnock mob, if they get their hands on power, will be loyal servants of the millionaire class and that will make them enemies of the wealth-producing majority.

As Owen climbs from the ruins of his own political failure he has more than a slight smile on his face. Just as one SDP is buried a new one has come to life in the form of the remodelled Labour Party. There is only one way to knock the smile off the faces of the two-headed Owen-Kinnock monster and that is for workers to refuse to squander their votes on such reformist opportunists and instead unite consciously and democratically for socialist revolution and nothing less.

Return of Labour? (1990)

Editorial from the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are memories so short? Or is that Thatcher has become so unsupportable that people will vote for anything just to get rid of her? Whatever the reason, the opinion polls confirmed by recent Labour electoral victories seem to be suggesting that another Labour government is a real possibility. 

As those who remember the Wilson and Callaghan prime ministerships of the 1960s and 1970s can testify, Labour governments have always ended up administering capitalism according to its rules. Attacks on workers as greedy wreckers for going on strike, anti-union laws, troops as strike-breakers, benefit cuts, hospital closures, unemployment, poverty and homelessness are not just features of recent Tory rule. They were features of Labour rule too—because, in the end, the capitalist profit economy forces governments to dance to its tune, by putting profits before people's needs. Capitalism controls governments, not the other way round.

Capitalism can only work as a profit system against the interests of the wage and salary earning majority. Any party which takes on responsibility for governing capitalism has sooner or later to recognise this. The Tory party always has, even when not in power. In the past Labour politicians have generally learned the hard way: by experiencing the failure of their reformist attempts, when in office, to make capitalism work other than as a system where profits come, and must come, first. Today's Labour Party, however, is no different from the Tories in recognising, even when not in office, that capitalism is a profit-driven, market-oriented economy that must be allowed to operate as such.

Just before last year's Labour Conference, John Smith, the shadow Chancellor, gave a remarkably frank television interview in which he made it absolutely plain that if Labour came to power again it would impose tough spending controls: priority would be given to restoring the profitability and competitiveness of capitalist industry. "If that means we have to postpone some of our social ambitions, then we may have to do so . . . We're all agreed that we cannot spend what we have not earned and we intend to earn it before we spend it. That will be the guiding light of the next Labour government" (BBC “On the Record”, 1 October 1989).

Since then Smith, in a bid to convince the capitalists that their interests will be safe in Labour hands, has taken this message directly to the City. Labour, he told one meeting of investment bankers, was determined to "maintain a responsible fiscal policy with prudent control over public finances, spending only as resources allow and as the economy can afford”. If resources were not available, "we have to scale down our spending” (Independent, 23 February).

So nobody should entertain the illusion that Labour will restore the cuts in spending on social and public services made under the Tories. We are being told that that will have to wait till profit levels have been restored. In the meantime, it's to be austerity as usual. Jam tomorrow, as it always is under capitalism, but never today.

Smith even said that there would be "no dashes for growth" under another Labour government. “Chancellors should be more concerned to avoid mistakes than engineer the miraculous. Economic management is largely about avoiding unnecessary shocks”. In other words, a future Labour government will aspire merely to hold the ring while capitalist businesses get on with making profits. No wonder the bankers were reported to have been impressed. This is what they were used to hearing from Tory politicians.

Smith is not just expressing a personal opinion, but official Labour policy summed up by Kinnock as "making the market economy work better than the Tories”. The “market economy" is a euphemism for capitalism, and capitalism can only work as a profit system. Making capitalism work means ensuring that priority is given to profit-making. The Tories have always understood this. Now Labour has too. Their policies have become indistinguishable from those of the Tory wets. In fact Kinnock, Smith, Hattersley and the others are Tory wets in all but name. Which means that the return of a Labour government would have even less significance than in the past. This time it would represent a mere palace revolution amongst open supporters of capitalism. Like Heseltine replacing Thatcher. Tweedledum taking over from Tweedledee.

Why capitalism must go (1991)

Editorial from the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in a world dominated by capitalism. A tiny minority—the international capitalist class—between them own and control all the major productive resources of society, the land, mines, factories, machinery, transport, media, communications, and the goods and services which these resources are capable of turning out. The task of actually producing this social wealth, however, is carried on by those on the other side of the class divide: the world working class, the vast majority who, because we are excluded from any significant ownership of the productive forces, must work for the capitalists for a wage or a salary in order to live.

The wages system is a form of rationing which limits our access to the wealth we collectively as a class have produced. In the long run our wages are eaten up in the struggle to make ends meet, which means we have to continually find or stay in employment—or stretch our meagre dole cheques—to try and support ourselves and our families.

The basic contradiction of capitalism is that whilst wealth production today is a globally inter-related activity carried out by millions of workers, who alone run society from top to bottom, the social relationships of class ownership restrict and subordinate our common social needs to the impersonal dictates of the market. With modern productive methods, such as computers and information technology, the world now has the potential to provide more than adequately for the material needs of the whole global population and to ensure a satisfying and creative life for us all. Yet if we look at the TV, listen to the radio or read a newspaper, what do we continually see?

Vast social inequality and discontent; grinding poverty alongside conspicuous plenty; thousands of our fellow humans dying daily of starvation with millions more undernourished or in refugee camps; slums and dereliction in the inner cities; the chronic wastage and misuse of resources; the never-ending human cost of the ravages of war; the devastation of communities; the turning of workers into highly efficient killing machines; the ignorance and bigotry of racial hatred and nationalism.

Throughout the history of the capitalist system attempts have been made to address these problems, but today the problems are if anything greater than ever. For example, that of people dying from hunger in one part of the world, while in another part food is stockpiled or farmers are paid not to grow it because it can't be sold profitably. Socialists say that this and the many other social problems are the inevitable consequences of production for profit instead of human need, and that only a world socialist system of society can provide the framework for solving these problems by removing their basic cause once and for all.

We put forward the revolutionary proposition that everything in and on the Earth should become the common property of the whole worlds population, without distinction of race, sex or ability; that society should be run by and in everyone’s interest; and that the production of useful wealth should be directly determined by our common social needs and freely available to all without any market mechanism. It means a society where classes no longer exist because we would all have equal access to and control over the means for satisfying our needs. It means the end of national frontiers and governments, the end of wars and social conflict, and the start of a truly global society of harmony and co-operation with all our rich human diversity.

To give money or to abolish money? (1991)

Editorial from the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are being bombarded by pleas to part with pennies and pounds. Millions are dying. Over 125,000 Bangladeshis have been killed and a staggering ten million are now homeless. The suffering defies imagination. We are asked to donate money. In Africa the famine has become greater than it was in the disastrous mid-80's. 27 million might starve to death, half of them children. So, could we send some money? The Kurds, refugees from the ruthless Iraqi dictatorship, are freezing and starving. Jeffrey Archer organises a pop concert and we are asked to give money.

Money is not the solution. Starving people cannot eat money. Money is a feature of the property system that causes poverty.

In Africa they are starving because money exists. Crops must be produced to be sold for cash. The African farmers are part of the world capitalist system which tosses them crumbs with one hand and sends in the debt collectors to recover the loans from banks with the other.The civil war in Ethiopia, which makes worse the effects of the famine, is about which group of capitalists will control which territory.

“BANGLADESH'S REAL TRAGEDY IS POVERTY”. This headline appeared in the Guardian newspaper on 3 May. Those who died in the floods did so because they had to live on the most dangerous land.The Guardian quotes Dr Allister McGregor of Bath University: “These people are the very poorest, and they take the biggest risk. It is like living next to a precipice. If there is a flood, they are the ones who pay the highest price.They are constrained by their own poverty”.

Poverty is not a natural phenomenon. It is the result of a society where a small minority own and control the resources of the Earth and the vast majority must pay to have access to what is not ours. For millions who cannot pay anything at all the consequence is abject destitution and mass deaths. They are killed by the profit system.

Earlier this year the capitalist powers went to war over the control of oil. Many millions of pounds were raised. They orchestrated one of the most logistically sophisticated movements of armed men and women in military history. The task of killing Iraqis was completed in a highly scientific fashion. But when it comes to dealing with famine and disaster such skills are conspicuously absent. The charities call for greater “political will” to help the suffering. What they do not understand is that more important than the decisions of politicians are the calculations of economists, and the fact is that feeding the starving is not profitable.

The humanitarian concern of many workers shows that we are not the heartless beings that the “human nature” myth portrays us as. In fact, most of us hate to see our fellow humans suffer. Vast amounts of money are collected by charities. This may convey the illusion that something is being done. In reality, it is a drop in an ocean of unstoppable despair. Capitalism without pitiful poverty is not on the agenda.

In a world based on production for use all of the efficiency currently dedicated to industrial profit and war can be mobilised to help those who are the victims of disasters. Of course, in a socialist world the economic necessity to live in the most dangerous areas will not exist. The national frontiers, which are part of the cause of the plight of the Kurds, will not exist. Kurds, just like any cultural group that wishes to do so, will be free to live together. But most importantly, in a society where production is for use there will be a constant check kept on how much the world is able to produce, who needs what is available and how most efficiently to distribute it. The idea of food shortages will be inconceivable.

There is a simple choice: keep capitalism and starvation will remain on the human agenda for years to come, whatever the relief efforts; or go for socialism and not a single person need ever starve again. As you watch the TV pictures of those who scream from the pain of hunger it must become obvious which is the most practical and humane way forward.

The Communist Party—It's All Over (1991)

Editorial from the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Party of Great Britain is dead—officially. The old Leninist house of illusions is closed for business. Throughout Europe the absurd myth of “the socialist countries” has been seen to be a fraud. The Russian Empire—“the socialist motherland” to those naive pseudo-communists—stands in ruins and rushes in panic towards the full embrace of the so- called free market. What point was there for the weary old CP to stay alive? Its principal illusion is exposed; its seventy-year purpose of proclaiming the existence of socialism in the state-capitalist countries of Eastern Europe has disappeared.

In the heady days after the Bolshevik coup of 1917 the CP was formed to propagate the elitist and undemocratic cause of Lenin's policy. The apparent success of the Bolsheviks and the huge claims about what was being done in Russia made the CP's appeal strong and intoxicating for the enthusiasts. Here at last, it seemed, was a party which not only talked about socialist revolution, but could point to one which had succeeded. All the British workers needed to do was to copy down the Leninist recipe.

In the excitement of those early days one thing stood out against the folly of Leninist faith. This was the voice of the Socialist Party. From day one we pointed out that the Bolshevik policy could not lead to socialism but to state capitalism. It could not lead to democracy but to the dictatorship of the vanguard. The Socialist Party did not need to wait until the years of Stalin when it was acceptable for Leftists to criticise the crimes of the Russian dictatorship—although even then the CP refused to say a word against “Comrade Stalin”, accusing the Socialist Party of being “fascists” for stating our hostility to him and his regime.

Over the years many sincere and dedicated workers’ lives have been thrown behind the CP cause. We do not deride or mock the sincerity and dedication of such workers—they thought that they had an answer. What remains of such militancy should not be allowed to evaporate into despair. Socialism has not been tried and failed. The truth is, as it always was, that socialism has yet to be tried. It is a vision of a new social system which the workers have yet to take up. The task of all socialists is to win over our fellow workers, of all lands, to the true cause of socialism: a world-wide community based on the common ownership and democratic control of everything in and on the Earth by all the inhabitants of the Earth.

The CP decided last month to fold up its tents. It is to continue as a pressure group called the Democratic Left. The shelf life of this new brand name is unlikely to be a long one. Several of the old-time Leninists refused to give up the ghost. They will continue to exist in some form or other, mouthing their Leninist cliches like monks reciting the Roman Catholic catechism.They will be the museum keepers of a dead ideology. Leninism R. I. P? No Leninism—the Red Fraud of the Twentieth Century.

The Socialist Party continues, continues its work, our principles as clear as ever. With the wars, the mass hunger, the environmental destruction and the urban decay of the profit system as our backing track, we are still singing the same tune.

No ideas please — we're followers (1992)

From the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

This has been the no-ideas election. It has been an insult to our intelligence. Whatever important right to make the working-class voice heard the Chartists of the last century were fighting for, it was not for this foul process of bribery by reform, propaganda by smear, and policy formulation by opinion poll.

But for the pitiful enthusiasts of either side—the Major minors and the pink-rosed tame Kinnockites—nobody believes for one minute that anything big divides the contestants for power. The pathetic Lib-Dems—less “preparing for power” than preparing for a dodgy deal with the highest bidder—and the half-cooked Greens with their dream of a green and pleasant capitalist land, are about as inspiring as a Heinz sponge pudding with ready-made custard.

The Communist Party, once destined to win a few hundred votes in safe Labour seats where life is so bad that Bucharest looked good, is no more, and apart from a few latter-day Leninist nuts the Left is left to cheer for Kinnock and hope that he dies painfully. The fact is that none of them, from Lamont’s lunatics to Lord Sutch and the avowed lunatics, have an idea worthy of more than three seconds’ contemplation.

If the electoral scenario has been bleak here, pity the American voters, the victims of seduction by such mindless wonders as Tsongas. Clinton, Buchanan and Bush. The only clear result so far is that most people who could vote won't, and those who do are motivated by opposition to the nonentities who are worse than whoever they have wasted their primary votes on. The prospect of a race between Bush and Clinton, assisted by multi-million dollar ad campaigns and enough balloons to give a birthday party for every starving African child, is as dull as it is wretched.

Both the British general election and the US Presidential race are cynical exercises in mass manipulation. This trickery is paid for by those who are concerned to tranquilise the political imagination of the majority. A sleeping working class, either abstaining from voting or abandoning power by voting for leaders, is an exploitable working class which represents no threat. The workers, who run society from top to bottom by producing and distributing all wealth, are many; the idlers who own and control the means of life are very, very few. This election is about ensuring that the many follow the few.

The great ideological crisis
The defenders of the profit system ought to be laughing right now. After all, do they not claim to have defeated “communism"? To be sure, the state-capitalist perversions of the profit system have been falling as fast as . . . well, as fast as British businesses, seeing as a comparison is required. And here lies the cause of the absent laughter by the profit system’s friends. How convenient it would have been for them if the bogus communist regimes had fallen at a time when capitalism was expanding—employment rising, businesses opening, banks doing well, the distinct stench of corporate corruption far away. But this is not the situation these political conmen must defend. Try as they might, it is hard for them to brush aside the tragedy of millions on the dole, record bankruptcies, house repossessions, kids begging on the streets, chaos in the NHS, BCCI, high interest rates facing workers in debt, growing racism, inner-city squalor and poll tax resentment . . . the litany of capitalist maladies is endless.

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
Yet all of the electoral contestants defend capitalism as not only a tolerable system but the best one, and not just the best but the only possible one. Vote for more of the same, they implore, all else is utopia. Even the pitiful Labourites, once the advocates of at least the tiniest of radical dreams, is now so much in love with capitalism that the Bank of England is to John Smith what a brothel is to a sailor. Where once Labour leaders would lyingly speak of some kind of an alternative to the profit system (even though it was only the sterile state-capitalist non-alternative), now Kinnock asks no more than that he may be allowed to run capitalism better than the Tories.

Not only the politicians themselves, but the commentators and the professors have run out of ideas. They are like Chekhovian caricatures, awaiting the grinding completion of history in a soon-to-come, never- to-arrive moment of stabilised capitalism.

In contradistinction to the intellectual bankruptcy of those who profess to be the ideas-people. the situation within the wider world of material reality is everywhere pregnant with contradiction and change. The rapidity with which the dramatic overthrow of the state tyrannies in Eastern Europe and throughout the Russian Empire took place is proof of the electrical current that makes history live for those with the vision to be part of it.

The mess of nationalist conflict and the virtual economic collapse that faces the new "free" states could lead to anything— except stabilised capitalism. The war in the Gulf, fought at a time when the political "experts" of capitalism told us that the world was at last safer if not safe, has left a mass of unresolved problems. In Africa, where they starve while dictators spit at democratic aspirations, the struggle for change is far from dormant. In America an economic crisis, accompanied by deep and unhealable cultural divisions, is producing the greatest collapse of confidence in US history—one which the usually conservative BBC commentator. Alistair Cooke, predicted could end in civil war.

What a time this is to be alive. Who can resist the urgency of taking a stand, offering ideas and solutions? Only the mentally strangled, suffocated by the theme tune of Neighbours and tamed into a political consciousness which will follow the crook with the best advertising slogan, can sit back in passive acquiescence. If ever the age of political valium addiction should end, when could be better than now?

But not only do all of the electoral contestants stand for more of the same old failed system; they dress up their support with the most puny of Big Ideas. Major’s Social Charter; Ashdown’s Proportional Representation; Bush’s New World Order; Clinton and Kinnock’s New Deal for America/Britain (delete as appropriate and swallow the contents in case they cause a bush fire). Nothing less exciting could be offered. Never in the course of political history has so little been offered to so many by such prats—and at a time of such possibility.
A big idea
Here is a big idea: take the whole world and everything in it and let it he owned and controlled by the people who inhabit it. Let us no longer produce for profit hut solely for use. Let us do away with money and have free and equal access to available goods and services. Let us break down every national border and have a democratic global community, organised locally, regionally and worldwide. Let us stop tormenting ourselves with the nonsense that human nature makes us useless and foolish. Let us recognise that humanity is intelligent and co-operative and capable of living in harmony.

That is the vision. It is no utopia. It is realisable. It has never been tried. It offers a solution to the madness of having a world of potential abundance while millions starve and are deprived in a thousand different ways. It is a big idea. So big in fact that the little parties of capitalism — Labour. Tory, Republican, Democrat — can only deal with it by ignoring, distorting and ridiculing it.

The most exciting and empowering aspect of this big idea (call it World Socialism—call it Gladys if the word socialism offends you) is that it can only come about when the majority whose passivity gives leaders their power stop following and start uniting consciously and democratically.

Despite all the dishonest cynicism attached to this election, we do not dislike the ballot box. On the contrary, used by conscious men and women ballot boxes can be explosive. They can reflect the growing will, and ultimately the will of the overwhelming majority, against leadership and for World Socialism. When the workers of the world use their brain boxes and the ballot boxes, the consequence will be that the age of electoral following will end and John Major can go back to the circus.
Steve Coleman