Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Proud Distinction (1904)

From the September 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

Adulteration is a legitimate form of competition.”—John Bright.

The proud distinction of having beaten all previous records in the fine art of butter adulteration probably belongs to a Burnley grocer, who succeeded in selling as butter a composition in which there was only 1 per cent of the genuine products of milk. All the rest was "foreign fat.” There were previous convictions, and he has had to pay heavily for his final proficiency. A contemporary referring to the case cannot help asking “Why the 1 per cent.?” Is it chemistry or is it conscience which demands it ? —“The Co-operative News.”

Capitalism and Food: Consuming Hunger (2018)

From the September 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under capitalism, we recognise a huge mistake among those wanting to see changes for the better — not that positive changes are undesirable but simply that tinkering with a mechanism (or machine) that has been invented or created erroneously can't be the best way to fix the problem. Anyone drawn to the idea and principles of socialism will not be looking to 'fix' any problem caused by capitalism, whether technological, scientific, or whatever, but will be wanting and seeking, because it's obviously necessary if the planet is to remain a viable planet for survival, the end of capitalism.

 There are currently about 7,500,000,000 inhabitants of this one small planet Earth — a world we supposedly share — although some slices are considerably larger than others. The rifts we can observe around the world manifest themselves in many contrasting ways — differences of thinking both locally and globally, between urban and rural, between generations, rich and poor, oppressed and oppressors — because of how various versions of a system have been implemented and developed over the generations.

 The history of London's sewerage system beginning in mid-nineteenth century is a case in point. Before the population reached nearly 4 million, night soil was collected and carted out to nearby farms and plots, recycling natural fertiliser to enrich the growing food. The natural way, done since time immemorial and still continued on large parts of the planet today. But as the city grew and encroached further on the countryside it became unviable to continue with this system and so began the gradual fouling of the city's water system by the sewers leading from all parts of the city into the Thames, containing not just faeces but all manner of waste including toxic run-off and emissions from factories. Within a few short years the river lost its fish, especially its salmon, and the poisoning of the water saw several cholera epidemics over the years killing thousands, both poor and rich, and the smell was often so bad that Parliament would take a few days off until the weather cooled down somewhat. Time went by and the 'fix' was to dredge a section of the river, to send the filth further away from a populous area. Not to cure the problem but to pass it on and export the technology worldwide.

 Globally there are millions of small farmers who currently still do farm the natural, organic way. La Via Campesina, founded in South America and now spreading around the planet, and in India millions of individual farmers of small plots produce food this way and whilst they are productive they are also fighting an ongoing battle with the huge transnational agricultural companies whose priorities are profit and growth. Governments are onside with the multinationals and are doing their utmost to reallocate the land and drive millions more onto the fringes of mega-cities to scratch a living as best they can.

 Now, why aren't more people aware of this rift, vast as it is? I suggest it is as a result of another enormous rift in societies the world over — urbanisation. It has been happening for generations at different rates in different parts of the world. But why? Simple personal choice or some other force? Whether the closing of the commons in England some centuries ago or the current acquisition of land in South America, Asia and the like by government decree and international land grab, most individuals and families will move to urban environments for the hope and the chance of work after being deliberately deprived of their livelihood.  

 One example, described by Devinder Sharma and quoted by Colin Todhunter who writes extensively about India and agriculture, tells it as it is:
    'India is on a fast track to bring agriculture under corporate control … Amending the existing laws on land acquisition, water resources, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and food processing, the government is in overdrive to usher in contract farming and encourage organized retail. This is exactly as per the advice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the international financial institutes.'
 Todhunter has also pointed out that, in return for up to £90 billion in loans in the 1990s India was instructed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies and run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange. According to the World Bank’s lending report, based on data compiled up to 2015, India was easily the largest recipient of its loans in the history of the institution. To push through the programme, hundreds of millions are to be shifted out of agriculture.

 These facts, this knowledge, these truths must be understood in order to convince enough people globally just what the food system has become within the global capitalist system and just what it is doing to our soil. It is poisoning it and degrading it of nutrients and therefore poisoning and degrading  our food — and that includes all our food from vegetables, grain and fruit to our beer and wine, and all things made from them, processed and manufactured. And what is it doing to many of its people around the world if not negating their existence?

 How vital it is to present this case especially to those who are far removed from any food production, ie farms, orchards, rivers. I recall two generations ago a child of 3 years old being taken from an inner London borough to live on the edge of a village in the Kent countryside and his reaction to a walk on a wet day along the edge of a muddy ploughed field, 'erghhh, shit, shit!' It may seem so obvious but growing numbers have been separated from this for so long their awareness has been lost to such things. Milk and eggs come from the supermarket, not from cows and hens.

 Herbicides, pesticides, seed provenance, genetically modified organisms, contaminated water, chemical-laden soil, animals in unnatural conditions and filled with hormones, antibiotics, fish from highly contaminated rivers and seas full of plastics – there are numerous studies across continents revealing the levels of chemical contamination in our blood and urine. It seems no-one can expect to be without some level of contamination from what we eat and drink however hard one tries.

 When food has to be sold for profit what is the chance of finding the healthiest food from natural soil?

 This, too, has to be understood. 'Free Markets', the neo-liberal concept, which are anything but free for consumers, mean the freedom for huge corporations to do what they want, how they want, produce what and where they want, import and export whilst, at the same time, evading tax obligations and transferring profits to offshore havens. Plus they are allowed to freely pass on externalities to society in general and the public can freely inhale contaminated air and drink contaminated water and eat poisoned food. They pay with dirty environments and poor health. 'Free Markets' are global. Sad to say, we have all become victims of faux-globalisation. What some of us meant by globalisation before the term was stolen was, in fact, a huge positive indicating a return to the global commons, cooperation not destruction.

 The problems caused by capitalism because of this mechanism of 'externalities', passing on the negatives to society to clear up and deal with (or suffer the consequences), were/are not accidental in the main, just part and parcel of capitalism's policies. It cannot be denied now that the carbon footprint of the rich nations are excessively more than the planet can bear. It's also obvious that if we continue as now we simply hasten the demise of the global environment and humanity. There is no fix. Our task is to explain the world order, explain and change.  Socialism has no borders. It is essentially global. It cannot be otherwise. There are no fixes and no national solutions. 

 The People's Agreement adopted in Cochabamba a few years ago expresses the sentiment very well:
   ‘Humanity confronts a great dilemma: to continue on the path of capitalism, depredation, and death, or to choose the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.
    It is imperative that we forge a new system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings.
   And for there to be balance with nature, there must first be equity among human beings.’
Janet Surman

Obituary: Florrie Evans (1984)

Obituary from the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Florrie Evans, who died recently in her eighties, was best known for her work behind the scenes at Head Office. Under the Rules of the Party, all branches must receive written reports of the weekly proceedings of the Executive Committee. They also receive Agendas and reports of Annual Conference and Delegate Meetings. This facility has been extended to members of Central Branch, Groups and Parties overseas. In addition there are many special reports and other documents to be typed and circulated. It could not be otherwise in a democratic organisation such as the SPGB, where the fullest information about all aspects of the Party's work must be readily available to the membership. This entails a tremendous amount of clerical work which is not very glamorous, perhaps even dull. Unlike speakers or writers, such clerical labours go largely unnoticed, and if anything are taken for granted.

Until recently Florrie, among others, devoted herself to this work with faultless efficiency. Among other jobs she was assistant General Secretary, and held the post for some years. She was also secretary of the Camden branch until a few months before her death, typing and duplicating the numerous statements, some of them quite lengthy, which the branch circulated throughout the Party.

The Party simply could not function efficiently without comrades such as Florrie. We owe her a debt of gratitude for her 50 years of total dedication to our Movement. We can only repay her by working harder to achieve our objective—socialism.
Jim D'Arcy

A Mirror for Socialism (1985)

Book Review from the September 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gilbert Rozman: A Mirror for Socialism: Soviet Criticisms of China. Tauris. £24.50 

In 1960, after some years of increasingly bitter argument, Russia and China put an end to their alliance and became openly antagonistic. The border dispute between them eventually broke out into actual fighting, and their "foreign policies" went in very different directions. The ruling class in each country had to justify the way in which a former staunch ally had become an implacable enemy. Chinese writers spoke of Russia as "social-imperialist" and "state capitalist", though without fully exploring the implications of this latter expression. Russian writings on China are the subject of Rozman's book, the main thesis of which is that these writings are as much concerned with Russia as with China

Nearly all the work surveyed is available only in Russian. It is aimed, then, not at a world audience but at educated Russians, and so tends to focus on aspects of society which are most meaningful to them. Charges that China is bureaucratic, over-centralised and militaristic no doubt strike a chord in the hearts of many Russian readers. Given the impossibility of discussing shortcomings of Russian society in the official media, polemics on China provide an opportunity for coded discussion of how things can go wrong in an allegedly socialist society.

Rozman in fact discerns two main groups of writers, based at different research centres. The orthodox group emphasise centralism and a strong "Communist" Party, and reject any material incentives or further expansion of the private economic sector. The "reform" group are more interesting, partly because their work on China is more detailed and better researched. But in addition it is possible to extract from their writings a kind of agenda for reform in Russia, involving: defence of individual rights, no forced collectivisation, far less censorship, emphasis on merit in appointments to important posts, and a scaling-down of military expenditure. This programme is hardly going to have the current rulers quaking in their fur-lined boots.

Another interesting point which emerges from Rozman's discussion is how similar Russian criticisms of China are to Western "anti-communist" criticisms of Russia. So it may be a bit disconcerting to read Russian attacks on China as dictatorial, exploitative and totalitarian, but these labels are not in the least original.

The content of the Russian criticisms are mostly pretty predictable and unilluminating. One point worth mentioning concerns the Cultural Revolution of the late sixties (which the Russian writers all see as an unmitigated disaster). One writer claims that China's "national bourgeoisie" (descended from the pre-1949 private capitalists) benefited from the Cultural Revolution in that their wealth was left untouched and they were not subjected to the same kind of violence as many workers and peasants. Since Mao's death, the ex-capitalists have had more property returned to them and have generally done very nicely.

Of course, none of the Russian critics go so far as to claim that China is a state capitalist country. In view of the obvious similarities between Russia and China, this would be just the kind of revelation that the Russian ruling class do not want the mirror to produce.
Paul Bennett

How to defeat apartheid (1986)

Editorial from the September 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The fundamental need of the world capitalist class is to exploit the wealth-producing working class. They are empowered to legally rob us (for they make the laws) and that robbery is the source of all profit. The worker is to the capitalist not a fellow human being but a wage slave to be used until every drop of profit is squeezed out. It is within the context of that ruthless social system that apartheid must be comprehended.

Apartheid is legalised and politically organised racism. It is a legacy of the colonial ideology of the European plunderers who traversed a planet looking for resources to appropriate and humans to enslave economically. The essential feature of apartheid is that the white people of European descent (Dutch Afrikaaners and British) are inherently superior to the black people of African origin. Biologically, anthropologically. genetically and historically there is not a scrap of evidence in support of this racist mythology The defender of apartheid is intellectually as ignorant as socially arrogant.

Racism has been of considerable use to the South African ruling class. They have used it as a means of monopolising power in southern Africa to the exclusion of the African majority. No black worker has the free right to vote, to assemble freely, to oppose racism openly or to travel without restriction beyond the confines of the slum reservations. The gross evils of apartheid have been chronicled fully, especially of late, and there can surely be no worker with eyes to see and ears to hear who is not aware of the atrocities which have been perpetrated in the name of superior white civilisation.

So, what is to be done about apartheid? Before addressing that question. let us consider who it is that must do it. There are two classes in society — the robbers and the robbed and there can be no collaboration between them. At present the robber class — the international capitalists — have turned against apartheid. They have done so firstly because such overt tyranny is bringing them into disrepute and the capitalists do not like excessive.,Nazi-style class rule: they prefer it to be done more subtly. Secondly, the very high profits made by apartheid's capitalists contrast with those of other capitalists who have to deal with trade union organised labour, so many capitalists resent the advantage of their racist competitors and want to move in on the South African market. Thirdly, and most importantly, the majority of capitalists are economic rationalists and do not favour institutionalised racism: they wish to exploit any worker of any colour in any place and do not want to waste opportunities to profit from black skills and energies because of obsolete racist barriers. The multinational Anglo-American Corporation, which makes huge profits out of South Africa's valuable mineral resources, has held this view for several years. So the international capitalists are putting pressure on the apartheid ruling class to put their house in order. This is not a moral attack against racism (capitalism knows no morals which cannot earn dividends) but one based on the needs of their system.

Economic sanctions against South Africa have been called for. This means that capitalists are being asked to boycott trade with the apartheid capitalists and if sanctions are imposed by governments it will be illegal to do business with South Africa in certain fields. Thatcher, with all the disingenuity of a fellow-travelling racist, says that she opposes government-imposed sanctions but will allow "voluntary" sanctions. This, she says with a straight face, is because she does not want to hurt the black South Africans. Thatcher's opponents in the administration of British capitalism (Kinnock. Owen and the rest) insist that the government must impose sanctions. Interestingly, many of the loudest voices who are now crying with indignation about the need for sanctions did absolutely nothing to impose them against racist South Africa during their course of the last Labour government. Sanctions were imposed in the 1960s when what was then Rhodesia persisted in its racist administration of capitalism. The tactic failed. The failure reflected the hard fact that governments cannot control the market: if there are profits to be made the capitalists will find a way of breaking sanction laws. It must be added that companies like Lonrho which did so were never taken to court by the then Labour government. and there is evidence that sanctions were evaded with the knowledge, if not the collusion, of that government.

It is unlikely that sanctions against South Africa would have much effect. For example capitalists in India, formally committed to sanctions, can simply export commodities to Sri Lanka from where they can easily be reexported to South Africa. Nominally independent countries like Zimbabwe, which is in fact dominated to a great extent by multinational capital, could easily be used by British or US companies to trade with South Africa. The capitalists have their own economic incentives to replace apartheid with a system of exploitation in accordance with international norms but it is foolish to trust the bosses to fight racism and we would be limited in our aim if "business as usual" was all we could wish to achieve.

This returns us to the question: what is to be done about apartheid? The answer is that the struggle against apartheid cannot be separated from the struggle for the emancipation of workers everywhere. This does not depend on the summits of ruling class sloganisers but on the active and conscious political movement of workers ourselves, divided neither by colour or country.

The power of South African capital depends on the weakness of workers in that country. The organisational efforts of our fellow workers in COSATU (many of them now in prison) are worth much more than the praise of nationalist would-be rulers. In South Africa as elsewhere, the demand for political rights must be in opposition to any new ruling elite. Workers in South Africa will learn to reject the limits of the system. They will see that while production for profit remains (under private or state supervision) there will be no end to oppression, that only the defeat of capitalism will end the basic problems of all workers.

The division in South Africa is not simply racial: there are plenty of poor white wage slaves, just as there are black capitalists elsewhere in Africa. Colour is neither the problem nor the solution. Class is the problem — establishing a classless, propertyless, stateless system of society is the practical solution. To reform capitalism is not enough: to build Brixtons for South African workers instead of Sowetos is simply to exchange one condition of poverty for another. The wealth producers have suffered for too long: we do not want better, but only the best. In order to achieve that we must disarm our rulers politically — deny them the right to coerce us — and dispossess them economically — deny them the right to legally rob us. That is revolutionary socialism and united under its aim our brothers and sisters in South Africa, with workers everywhere, will win.

A Tired Formula (2018)

Book Review from the September 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why Bad Governments Happen to Good People. By Danny Katch (Haymarket Books, 2017.)

This is the follow-up by US satirist Danny Katch to his Socialism . . . Seriously. It is trailed as a ‘sharp-witted indictment of our broken political system and a vision for a socialist alternative that is truly by and for the people’.

This is half-true in that it is indeed perceptive and funny in parts and recognises well enough many of the issues facing a Trump-led America, issues that are replicated to varying degrees in other countries too. But the vision is blurred and is ultimately a prospectus for a state-run capitalism that aims to build on the popular support generated by Bernie Sanders, but which could be expressed through the creation of workers’ councils or soviets. This, of course, is really the tired old formula of the Bolshevik coup in Russia of 1917, a formula more long-lived than Angel Delight or Pot Noodles but ultimately less successful than either.

The problem with this political approach has essentially been twofold. Firstly, the idea that the socialist revolution can be created by a minority vanguard party of professional revolutionaries that can lead the masses to the promised land (though it is noticeable Katch goes a little light on this in full realisation that talk of people power and democratic action is likely to resonate more with his target market). 

Secondly, that what is advanced as ‘socialism’ is really a set of radical reforms of capitalism that the vanguard leadership know can never be enacted within the existing system, and which they hope will then pave the way for mass unrest and their minority coup. This then can bring about the dictatorship of the vanguard party running a nationalised ‘siege’ economy. 

Sadly, as history has shown on many occasions, there’s nothing remotely funny about that at all . . . and the anti-Trump forces in the US would have to be desperate indeed to even consider it.
Dave Perrin