Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The War in Cyprus (1974)

From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Futile bloody slaughter” said a man on a bus in the nineteen-thirties; and the point of the recollection is not the succinctness of his phrase but the fact that one can’t remember, now, which war he meant – Abyssinia, China, Spain, another outbreak in Arabia or India, or what. The capitalist world as it was, is now, and as long as it remains shall be. Eleven months ago, the Middle East; now, Cyprus. It was the scene of violent struggles in the ‘fifties, and last month war broke out again there with the major nations circling round.

Before the 1914-18 war Cyprus was Turkish territory, as it had been for 340 years, but occupied and administered by Britain; and Britain was, by treaty, to support Turkey against Russia. The war made Russia an ally and Turkey an enemy. The British government annexed Cyprus and offered to give it to Greece on condition of the latter’s helping in the war. It was declined and in 1925 Cyprus formally became what it had been in effect since 1878, a British colony.

The Greek nationalist agitation for enosis (i.e. union) broke out in 1931. It was suspended during the war, when Cypriot troops were part of the Allied armies, and resumed not long after it. The Atlantic Charter of 1941, a set of wartime humbug-platitudes, laid down the principle of self-determination for “all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live”, but in 1947 the British government ruled out any change of status for Cyprus. In a plebiscite in 1950 the Cypriots – of whom Greeks form four-fifths – voted overwhelmingly for union with Greece.

From 1954, with Archbishop Makarios as leader of the Greek population, the guerrilla organization EOKA waged war on British rule. A military governor was appointed by the British government, and in 1956 Makarios was deported. Besides the EOKA campaign, Turkish Cypriot nationalists pressed claims for a partition of the island and fought the Greeks. The “solution” of 1960 was a constitution in which Greeks and Turks shared in government – no enosis, no partition; Greece and Turkey stationed token forces there; and Britain retained sovereign rights in certain areas for military purposes. Near-war again in 1963, and shells and bloodshed in 1974.

Why is Cyprus important to Britain and other world powers? Its economy, apart from some minerals and a lot of cheap wine, is insignificant. But in the Middle Ages Cyprus was a vital entrepôt for commerce with the east, and every trading state established stations and bought trading rights there. In the 19th and 20th centuries it has remained a vital strategic point. Disraeli in 1878 wanted it as a link in a scheme to defend British interests in India; Eden in 1956 declared that the possession of a British base in Cyprus was necessary to protect British and West European oil supplies.

Changes in sovereignty and political alignment in the Middle East have made the need still more pressing. Part of the Greek argument after Greece joined NATO in 1951 was that if Cyprus were joined to Greece, Britain and her allies could still have bases there. The instability of Greek government has made that an unreliable prospect (indeed, the case for enosis once collapsed in the face of a threatened Communist takeover in Greece). Instead, the British government in the ‘fifties made it a policy to involve Turkey and, according to The Guardian of 15th August, is said by Greece to have assisted the Turks again now.

The policies of the other powers are likewise equivocal. While the usual pious sentiments about morality and peace are uttered, the American representative Dr. Kissinger’s reported line is that “the ‘geo-strategic’ position of Turkey makes it an inevitable political first choice”; the Russian government was said to be tacitly siding with Turkey but likely to transfer support to Greece. Not much about anyone’s “national honour” in that.

Nor can such an absurd consideration figure in the politics of capitalism. All wars are economic ones. Ultimately they are over markets, the life-blood of each nation’s capitalism. They are rarely directly so, today – the last major war fought openly for world markets was the 1914-18 one; their common sources are the trade-routes and strategic points which are keys to the nations’ economic interests. And the treaties and balances are never maintained because the pursuit of those interests must disturb them continually. Capitalism makes war hang over us all, all the time.

While Turkey and Greece fight for advantages and pickings from the others’ need for Cyprus, their peasants and workers remain poverty-stricken. Futile bloody slaughter, indeed: capitalism lives, and the workers die. Stop it. Stop your nationalism, and your support for this wretched system – quickly!
Robert Barltrop

Confucius, Lin Piao and the CCP (1974)

From the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lin Piao is dead and in disgrace. Confucius who died a couple of thousand years earlier is getting the treatment reserved for high-ranking renegades — scapegoats of the Chinese “Communist” Party. In recent months such publications as Peking Review and China Reconstructs have devoted much space to debunking these former “great men”. It seems that Confucius was in his day a spokesman for the rulers of a chattel-slave society, that is, he was a reactionary. The accusation against Lin Piao is that he tried to restore capitalism. Therefore in the context of present-day “Socialist” China he was (when alive) a reactionary.

All good stuff no doubt for those people who accept that “Socialism” exists, that there is a “Communist” party in control, that renegades have wormed their way into positions of power and only the vigilance of Mao and the followers of his thought are rendering them harmless. However, the Socialist Party of Great Britain does not accept these claims. The outpourings of denunciations and supposed analysis serve more to confuse than to explain. Nevertheless, enough is let out of the bag to expose this so-called Communist Party and the society it administers.

Confucius (551 - 479B.C.) could not prevent social change taking place. What the supporters of the government of China must explain is: why an attack on a philosophy that was reactionary 2,400 years ago was only launched after more than twenty years of “Communist” party government. One attempt at justification occurred in an article in Peking Review 26th July 1974 describing how some workers had studied the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels again since the campaign to criticise Confucius and Lin Piao started. They quote the Manifesto as follows:
  “The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas” 
and go on to say
  “They [the workers] discussed this in terms of China’s reality. They said that the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution . . . is a great political revolution carried out by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and other exploiting classes under conditions of socialism. . . . It is also a deep-going criticism of the doctrines of Confucius . .”
China’s reality does indeed have exploitation, and therefore cannot be Socialist. What we are not told is how the worker students of Marx squared their conclusions with the following passage which comes a few lines before.
  “When people speak of ideas that revolutionise society, they do but express the fact, that within the old society, the elements of a new one have been created, and that the dissolution of the old ideas keeps even pace with the dissolution of the old conditions of existence.”
In the reality of China there developed in the period leading up to 1949 a nationalistic, anti-imperialist anti-landlord ideology that subsequently served the “communists” in implementing their land reforms and state control of industry to carry out the capitalist revolution. There was and still is a vast amount of catching up (with other countries) to do so that the pace of development has been hectic. To quote the Communist Manifesto :
  “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices are swept away, all new formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.”
Although dealing with the capitalism Marx and Engels knew in their youth it can serve as a fine summary of events in China over recent years.

Much of this propaganda has been aimed at working people with reminders of the horrors of life before “liberation”. Peking Review 19 July 1974 has articles on the subject with special reference to Tibet. One writer, a former serf, described how the serf-owners had the power to inflict such punishment as the cutting-off of ears, tongues and hands. Another article describes how, “tens of thousands of former serfs and slaves are now the region’s first generation of industrial workers operating industrial machines.”

In the May issue of China Reconstructs there is a picture, illustrating an article on “Wuhan Steel Works”, of a crowd watching a veteran worker “showing where a landlords dog bit him when he was begging for food in the old society and furiously denounces the attempt of the Lin-Piao anti-Party clique to restore capitalism”. The articles described how the histories of 144 labouring families were collected and entered into two account books. “One listed the stories of blood and tears under the oppression and exploitation of the old society. The other recorded examples of their happiness in the new society.” The first was to warn against Lin Piao’s reactionary' policy and the second in praise of Mao’s line. It would seem that this contrasting the unhappy past with the present could mean that workers need reminding that things could be worse and there can be no let-up in the drive to modernize industry and increase production. In the above case it was reported that production had increased. So that this was maybe no more than a stratagem of the Chinese equivalent of the industrial relations expert trying to motivate workers to greater efforts. The above excerpts show that what they fear seems more like a return to feudalism rather than capitalism which has not yet been overthrown.

The Chinese “Communist” Party set out to develop and control capitalism, and now claim to have set up a Socialist society. Socialism will come sure enough, but in spite of them. What any student of Marxian economics would recognise as an emerging capitalist state was described as “People’s Democratic Dictatorship” and when the state had gained control of the greater part of industry and agriculture it was supposed to have carried out the transition to Socialism. A state of affairs where, on their own admission, classes and the class struggle still exist.

This is not a harmless deception as capitalist society can only work against the interests of the working class and any government trying to run it must come into conflict with the workers. Part of any government’s armoury of weapons in this conflict are arguments designed to get workers to make sacrifices for the mythical nation and warn them of the dangers to the workers of wanting more of the wealth which they produce. Although there may be power struggles taking place in the top ranks of the government, the Lin Piao-Confucius campaign is also a weapon in the class war against the workers. Once workers become aware of their class status they will see through the deceits and come to understand that a class-less society cannot be brought to them from above. They will then form their own Socialist party in opposition to those who at present administer their exploitation.

The Socialist Party has consistently argued, that the party aiming at the emancipation of the working class can play no part in the government of Capitalism; they must continue building up support for Socialism. How little the claim that the “people are in power”, means can be judged by the remarks made by Mao Tse-tung to Edgar Snow in 1960. He said that China was being run by 800 Party members who had joined at or before the time of the 1927 massacres of the “Communists” (biographical notes p.512 of 1973 Pelican edition of Red Star Over China). Here was the élite of élites with decades of devotion to the cause behind them, yet the renegades were still in their midst. Lin Piao is but one of them. He went over to the Communists in 1927 at the age of 19 from the Nationalist Army in which he was a Colonel. He rose high in the ranks of the army and the party. He was credited with the compiling of the little red book of quotations from Chairman Mao for use in the army which became a world wide best seller. The 1969 new party constitution named him “Mao’s close comrade in arms and successor”. Yet Chou En-lai in his Report to the Tenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China (August 1973) claimed :- “Lin Piao, this Bourgeois careerist, conspirator and double-dealer engaged in machinations within our Party not for one decade but for several decades” (p. 13 Documents of 10th Congress, Foreign Languages Press, Peking).

It is a strange sort of party that puts up with such behaviour for so long. On p.16 we are told: “socialist society covers a considerably long historical period . . . there are classes, class contradictions and class struggle . . . Lin Piaos will appear again.” Not only have they put up with it, they expect more of it. If what was said about Lin Piao is any guide, members who are now considered beyond reproach are hard at their double-dealing machinations.

The Chinese “Communist” Party having pursued the national liberation of China are, despite their protestations to the contrary, nothing but a party of capitalism. They have taken the terminology of Socialism and used it to disguise the State capitalism they administer. The “Thoughts of Mao” may serve them now, but such is the dynamic of capitalism that they will “become antiquated before they can ossify” and become redundant like "the ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions” of Confucius.
Joe Carter

Socialist Candidate's Address (1974)

From the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many of you will be asking why The Socialist Party of Great Britain is standing in this constituency in this election — why we should be intruding in the battle between the big political parties and complicating what seems a simple choice between Labour and Conservative, or perhaps Liberal.

You will be going to vote in the belief that your cross on the ballot paper will have some influence in improving our lives, or at least in protecting our living standards. This is understandable — but on what do you base your belief ?

The other parties are bidding for your vote with programmes which may seem to offer some hope of easing, or even abolishing, many of the problems of this country and of the world. Millions of people find these programmes attractive enough to vote for one or other of them. The Socialist Party of Great Britain argues that none of them stands up to examination.

For example, recent elections have been dominated by promises to deal with economic crises — balance of payment problems, inflation, unemployment and so on. Yet these crises keep bursting upon the scene and as fast as the promises are made they are discredited by events.

Yet again; every government comes into power pledged to abolish slums and to eliminate the housing problem. They seem to have it all worked out, with their declarations of intent and their statistics. The result, according to Shelter, is that “today’s housing crisis is a disgrace to any civilised society.”

All the other parties offer plans designed to make war a thing of the past. They ring the changes on appeasement, resistance, diplomatic initiatives. In spite of all these plans the world scrapes through a succession of wars — Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, the Middle East, Cyprus — with the threat of nuclear conflagration hanging over our heads.

It is true that at times some problems are alleviated or even suppressed, but this is only for others to take their place. For example; we are told that our lives have been improved by the development of productive techniques, but we are also faced with the fact that these very developments pollute our environment to such an extent that they may present a threat almost as great as a nuclear war.

Why do other political parties fail ? Why are their promises so ineffective? What causes the problems of the world? The Socialist Party of Great Britain urge you to examine the social system we live under — capitalism.

This is a society based on the private ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution. Private ownership at once divides society into two classes — the owning, or capitalist class and the deprived, or working class. It is the working class who suffer poverty and all it means in terms of bad housing, inadequate medical services, sub-standard food and so on. Capitalism is a society of competition which splits the world into rival nations and power blocs and is the direct cause of modern war.

What Must Be Done?
The Socialist Party of Great Britain puts forward the alternative society. Socialism will be a society in which the whole of humanity, without distinction of race or sex, will own in common all we use to make and distribute wealth. Common ownership means a society without classes, without privileges, without different standards of consumption. In Socialist society everyone will have free access to the world’s wealth and will stand equally in that respect.

Socialism will produce its wealth for human use instead of for sale. This will make it a society of cooperation instead of competition. There will be no frontiers to divide the world’s people. Socialism will be one world, with one people working together for the common wealth.

Socialism will be an efficient world, in contrast to capitalism, where waste and shoddiness are profitable. For the first time, men and women in Socialism will realise their capabilities to the full. Socialism will produce an abundance and at only one standard — the best we are capable of.

Is It All A Dream? How Do We Get Socialism?
The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not another collection of leaders telling you to trust us and promising you almost anything for the sake of winning your vote. No leader can give you Socialism, no clever politician can pull you by the nose into the new society. Neither will it happen by accident.

Socialism must be your work; it needs a conscious political act by the mass of the people, opting for the new society in full knowledge of what it is. It comes to this — only if you understand Socialism and want it, vote for the Socialist candidate.

And that is why The Socialist Party of Great Britain are here in Hampstead at this election We are a political party, hostile to all others, including those phoney revolutionaries of the Left — the Communist Party, International Marxist Group, International Socialists, Workers Revolutionary Party, etc. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is different — we are the political instrument to be used by the working class to transform the world from a chaos of deprivation and strife into an order of abundance and harmony. Your vote is important, to you and to society, because it expresses your choice between the two.

Material World: Venezuela – failure of reformism not socialism (2018)

The Material World Column from the October 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

In our August issue [September issue] we challenged those leftists who still cling to the belief that the Sandinistas in Nicaragua represent a progressive ideology. Many of those same left-wingers also continue to support and sympathise with the Maduro government in Venezuela and are excusing the authoritarian excesses that are taking place. They are reluctant to forget Hugo Chavez, and how he invested part of Venezuela’s oil wealth into social benefits for poor people that resulted in his popularity.

So, to explain the failure of his successors to continue this, they place blame for the current collapse of civil society elsewhere. American imperialist interference is said to be the culprit for the destabilisation of the Venezuela government by conspiring with the right-wing to overthrow Maduro by creating conditions for the breakdown of the economy. The USA has indeed imposed sanctions on Venezuela with this aim, and many Venezuelan businesses did divert their stocks to more profitable markets leaving shop shelves empty. But there is more to it than that. Chavez’s social policy was based on the rents from oil production remaining high. When oil prices fell, this could not continue and recourse to the printing press and price controls has resulted in shortages, inflation and unemployment, causing discontent.

Venezuela’s economic crisis and virtual collapse began a few years ago when rapidly falling oil prices meant that Chavez’s policy of subsidising the poor could not continue. The attempt to do so has transformed Venezuela into a humanitarian catastrophe which has turned the world’s media spotlight on the economic chaos and the dire conditions of the people there.

It has been reported that because of the high prices and shortages of food, in 2017 Venezuelans lost on average 11 kilograms (24 lbs) in body weight last year, nicknamed the ‘Maduro Diet’. UN Commission for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani says that 87 percent of the population is now affected by poverty:
‘The human rights situation of the people of Venezuela is dismal. When a box of blood pressure pills costs more than the monthly minimum salary and baby milk formula costs more than two months’ wages – but protesting against such an impossible situation can land you in jail – the extreme injustice of it all is stark’.
Unemployment has reached 30 percent. The IMF predicts that Venezuela’s inflation rate may well hit one million percent by the end of 2018. The situation has grown into a refugee crisis for Venezuela’s neighbours.

The UN has said that more than 7 percent – 2.3 million – of Venezuela’s population has left the country since 2015 to escape political violence and severe shortages of food and medicines. More than a million of them have crossed into Colombia since 2015. About half a million Venezuelan citizens have entered Ecuador since January. That is nearly 10 times the number of migrants and refugees who attempted to cross the Mediterranean into Europe over the same period. Ecuador has declared a state of emergency in its northern provinces. This year 117,000 have claimed political asylum in Brazil. Up to 45,000 Venezuelans have crossed the narrow straits to Trinidad and Tobago. Many other countries have imposed strict entry restrictions.

According to UN Refugee Agency spokesperson William Spindler:
‘The exodus of Venezuelans from the country is one of Latin America’s largest mass-population movements in history. Many of the Venezuelans are moving on foot, in an odyssey of days and even weeks in precarious conditions. Many run out of resources to continue their journey, and left destitute are forced to live rough in public parks and resort to begging and other negative coping mechanism in order to meet their daily needs’. He added that ‘xenophobic reactions to the exodus have been noted in some quarters.’
Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez said the figures had been inflated by ‘enemy countries’ trying to justify a military intervention. Maduro has put the number at ‘no more than 600,000 in the last two years.’

Capitalism cannot be made to work in the permanent interest of the workers, even though there can be some temporary respite with pro-worker reforms. When the price of oil fell these temporary benefits in Venezuela could not be sustained. In the end, the economic laws of capitalism asserted themselves. The problem is that left-wingers never learn from history. They discover what they believe are shortcuts to socialism but which ultimately lead to disillusionment. It is the same mistake they repeat over and over again, resulting in our fellow-workers swinging back and forth like a pendulum from left-to-right and right-to-left.

What is most disappointing for socialists, aside from the despair and misery of our fellow-workers, are the left wingers who argued that Venezuelan Chavismo was somehow the path to ‘socialism’ (actually state capitalism, relying on oil rents). Such claims merely offer ammunition for the pro-capitalist apologists to say ‘Look at what’s happening in Venezuela – that is socialism for you’. But it wasn’t.

Editorial: Administering poverty (2001)

Editorial from the February 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Charity demands that we don’t draw any connections between the declining vote in Labour strongholds, the looming election, and the Labour government’s latest announcement of plans to deal with the inner cities. £130 million (already announced) are to be directed towards “community” schemes.

Apparently, what the inner cities need is more leadership—Labour’s cult of middle management rolls on. Officers will be appointed to “represent” local communities, and guide public spending in the area, to ensure that centrally-set targets are met. Clearly, the poverty and poor conditions on these estates are solely down to an administrative oversight. These officers will not be elected, indeed the already existing local councils seem to be being by-passed by this scheme.

Blair pitched this plan as a redefinition of the relationship between the state and communities, calling upon volunteers to come forward and to take responsibility for their communities, which the government will then support, rather than lead. This won him plaudits from co-operativists and Liberals. The by-passing, however, of any semblance of democracy shows what this redefinition means: the state will act like corporate management approving projects as it sees fit, and power and appointments will flow from the top down. And spending will remain under strict government control.

In the aftermath of the Damilola Taylor murder, ministers wrung their hands at the breakdown of community, and media commentators harped on about what could be done to help these poor estates. No one talked about abolishing poverty. No-one talked about ending the root cause of the soul-destroying conditions of the estates. The poor will always be with us, it seems. The politicians and commentators just accepted, and thus condoned, that poverty would continue to exist.

Forty years on from the beginning of the project of “slum clearances”, when high-minded city planners thought it would be a good idea to house people in towers coloured suicide-grey, the problems continue to exist, and the ideal of abolishing poverty has been quietly dropped. All we are left with is Labour’s ongoing attempts to administer poverty. At least that way, they can be seen to do something.

Poverty is the direct and necessary result of the way the capitalist system works, and nothing can be done to end poverty, so long as the capitalist system remains accepted as the first premise for action. If these communities truly want to help themselves, they will need to begin organising to end capitalism once and for all.

Terrorism versus terrorism (2001)

From the October 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Usama bin Laden’s photograph has been splashed across every newspaper front page in the world. He has replaced Saddam Hussein as the World’s No. 1 Mad Man. Already there is a $10 million price on his head. George W Bush has spoken of the old Wild West wanted posters and how bin Laden’s name is now on one. But who is bin Laden and how did he come to prominence?

Usama bin Laden is a billionaire Islamic fundamentalist, former US ally and protégé, who fronts a terrorist organisation whose fighters were trained and financed by the CIA during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. The US, in fact, were arming groups like the notorious Mujahedin a full six months before the Russian invasion of December 1979 and it is estimated that at the Russian withdrawal, US aid to them totalled $5 billion (this monetary support for some seven fundamentalist and extremist groups beginning after 1980 when Reagan quadrupled the CIA budget to £36 billion). Even after the Russian withdrawal, the US still supported the Mujahedin, though more covertly now and through Pakistan’s version of the CIA, the ISI. What they were—and still are—up to is perhaps best revealed in the words of Jimmy Carter’s adviser Zbigniev Brzezinski who described Afghanistan at the time as “the greatest chessboard”.

Most favoured status
The Islamic zealots the US are prepared to annihilate in Afghanistan were afforded most favoured status during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Under the Carter administration and beginning in 1980, they were trained in their thousands at the CIA’s Camp Peary and at the ex-army base at Harvey Point in Carolina; by the Green Berets at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and indeed by the SAS in Scotland. They would go on to be trained at Fort A.P. Hill, just off the Washington-Richmond interstate highway, and at Camp Picket in Virginia by Green Berets and US Navy SEALS. This was not simply “basic” training. They were trained in over 60 deadly skills, including the use of sophisticated fuses, timers and explosives, remote control devices for land mines, incendiary devices and the use of automatic weapons with armour-piercing shells. Thus the US went about supporting a ten-year long Jihad in the hope of preventing Russian state capitalism expanding its empire in central Asia southwards towards the Indian Ocean.

Following the car bomb attack at the World Trade Centre eight years ago, four of those arrested and charged with the attack were found to be linked to bin Ladens’s al-Qaeda organisation and amongst those trained by the US (Robert Fox, New York’s regional FBI director revealed this in a TV interview in 1993). When the US attacked bin Laden’s bases near the village of Khost in Afghanistan (along with the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory) following attacks on US embassies in Africa, they could do so with pin point accuracy for the CIA had planned and designed them.

The US is now reaping the bitter harvest of its foreign policy which used Islamic fundamentalism as a puppet in its perennial game of globo-political profit-making. For years it courted some of the most dangerous, conservative and fanatical followers of Islam, but the capitalist globalisation process, which the US has pursued obsessively, has served to make political Islam more reactionary in defence of its own culture and strategic interests.

Covert terrorism
Whilst the world is outraged at the terrorist attacks on the USA mainland, it must be remembered that the US has been conducting and supporting just as deadly covert acts of terrorism around the globe for 50 years. For instance, the US and Britain supported Suharto’s military coup in Indonesia in 1966, which resulted in the deaths of 600,000 mainly ethnic Chinese supporters of the Indonesian “Communist” Party, the PKI. And it was the US who toppled (also on an 11 September) the elected Allende government in Chile which resulted in thousands of deaths and countless disappearances. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and massacred 17,500, this act of terror was supported by the US.

Since 1945 the US has toppled some 30 governments and supported every dictator imaginable (Pol Pot, Mobuto, Amin, Marcos, Papa Doc Duvalier and Saddam Hussein) whilst seriously interfering in the domestic affairs of almost 70 countries.

In recent years the US has devastated Iraq in continuous bombing raids – even for using radar to scan airspace from which its air force is excluded. During the 40-day Gulf War, US planes dropped 177 million pounds of explosives on Iraq – the greatest aerial bombardment in history. It has imposed sanctions on Iraq that have resulted in the deaths of perhaps two million people and bombed Iraq in defence of the Kurds from the same air bases Turkey has used to bomb Kurdish villages. In the wake of the Gulf War, the US mercilessly attacked a retreating Iraqi army on the Basra road and quite literally fried to death 60,000 ill-equipped, ill-trained soldiers, the vast majority never wanting any part in the conflict in the first place. Two weeks ago, the US and Britain again joined hands in a bombing raid on Iraq. It wasn’t even reported in most Western newspapers. And where is the three-minutes’ silence for the 500,000 Iraqi children who have died of hunger and disease as a result of US sanctions in the past 10 years – a figure which Madeleine Albright described recently as “a price worth paying”?

There was of course a time when the US couldn’t help Iraq enough. During the Iran-Iraq war, the US gave its full blessing to Iraqi atrocities, even supplying Iraq with the chemical weapons it used on the small town of Halabjah in 1988 with the loss of 5,000 innocent lives. Indeed, in 1987 when Iraq attacked the USS Stark, killing 37 servicemen, there was no US response as the White House was keen at the time that Iraq got the upper hand in its war with Iran so as weaken Iran’s threat to the West’s oil supplies.

The US has launched attacks upon Libya, Somalia and Grenada, propped up right wing tendencies in Panama, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Colombia. In Africa it supported the gangster Savimbi as he tried to make Angola more hellish for its impoverished millions, adopted a policy of “constructive engagement” with South Africa’s apartheid machine and was all to willing to shoulder up with South Africa in its war with the frontline states. In the Middle East it has propped up despotic regimes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf whilst at the same time backing Israel. This year alone Israel is receiving $6 in free US aid, in direct contravention of Congress rulings. During the retaliatory raids following the attacks on the US embassies in Africa, the US fired 70 cruise missiles into Afghanistan and killed many thousands in Sudan (a true figure is not available because the US blocked the proposed UN inquiry). The US ruling class’s catalogue of shame is indeed a deep one and we can only begin to scratch at its surface

Appalling losses of life
Whilst the 11 September attack resulted in an appalling loss of innocent life which no sane person could condone, the wonder is that the US has escaped the attention of terrorists for so long. For the poignant truth is that there are millions who have been murdered defeated, demoralised, impoverished and crushed by the US ruling class and its allies and who could well have turned to the pathos of terrorism as a means of evening up the score. Who knows the number of US-created Frankensteins walking the world, prepared to destroy the life of their master? This is not to suggest the US “deserves” to be bombed, but hints at the number of enemies the US ruling class has created in pursuit of global domination, forever trying to carve out larger chunks of the world on behalf of its corporate elite.

If we set this terrorist attack in a wider context, however, the loss of life in New York and Washington, whilst horrendous, is by no means the worst there has been. For instance, we can’t realistically comprehend the horror of the dying days of World War Two when, in one night alone, 100,000 died in a 1000-bomber raid on Dresden. If we make a comparison to the present, is it not an atrocity that 40,000 children die of starvation each day? Is it not a most heinous crime when 1,000 children die each hour of preventable disease (these are UNICEF statistics) and do we not find sickening the thought that twice that number of women die or suffer disability during pregnancy because of a lack of simple remedies or medical attention? We are speaking here of a Hiroshima a day which never gets reported, which is taken as accepted because it is so much a part of our way of life in capitalist society. Where is the 25-page newspaper pull-out that accompanies the recent WHO revelation that more people died of starvation in the last two years than were killed in two world wars?

Whilst we gasp in disbelief at the deaths of 5,000 workers in the biggest terrorist attack in history, it is worth pausing and remembering that the US, Britain, France, China and Russia have between them thousands of nuclear weapons capable of destroying the planet a hundred times over. Any one of these war-heads is indeed capable of creating death and destruction on a scale that would make the attack in question look like a playground firecracker. Where are the protests at this arsenal of destruction?

This in no way diminishes the fact that there has been an enormous loss of life in the USA. Those lying dead beneath the rubble in New York are our fellow workers—make no mistake about it—members of the working class, murdered whilst they were being exploited. Whilst we are revolted, as socialists we certainly do not crave the comfort of revenge. We take a more considered view.

Western leaders have claimed the attack to be an assault on civilisation. But what is this civilisation that has been attacked, where 600 million have no home, where 800 million are chronically malnourished, where 1 billion have no access to clean water? What is this civilisation where three individuals have more wealth than the combined income of the world’s 48 poorest nations? How can we defend a “civilisation” where food is destroyed to keep prices high and scientists employed on weapons programmes whilst children die of preventable disease?

Since the attacks on New York and Washington, The US and British media has become a history exclusion zone, feeding only the whipped-up contagion of patriotism, whilst flag-waving and the repetitious singing of anthems trigger, in Pavlovian fashion, a national epidemic of jingoism, the only cure for which is reprisals. The dominant view is that extremists the world over are intent on destroying democracy and western civilisation – a near sighted perspective which washes well with a news-hungry audience whose knowledge of US foreign policy and basic international affairs makes it impossible for them to separate reality from distortion.

US Vice President Dick Cheney has demanded bin Laden’s head on a platter whilst his liege, Bush, informs the world that the US will not only target terrorists but those who harbour terrorists. The popular vision now is of US F-16’s and stealth bombers leaving US bases in Diego Garcia, Incilirik and from the carriers of the 5th and 6th fleets in the Middle East, their mission to level the breeding ground of Islamic terrorism – Afghanistan and any other states suspected of wittingly giving them refuge.

For the belligerent Bush, a war-monger long before his ascendancy to the White House, the terrorist attacks on mainland USA must be a blessing in disguise, providing Republican hawks and their bellicose corporate backers with a prime pretext with which to reinforce US hegemonic credentials and perhaps forge ahead with a costly National Missile Defense System now that the reality has struck home that the USA, or rather its profit-mongers and military machine, are loathed around the world.

The attacks on the US will perhaps serve to show Republican hawks the futility of this proposal. These hijacked planes could well have flown into nuclear power stations or bases containing US stockpiles of biological weapons (the US is the world’s biggest stockpiler of such weapons). They may well have carried small nuclear devices. The most sophisticated missile defence system imaginable simply cannot be programmed to read the mind of a religious fanatic incensed with the notion that his death (and those of 10,000 infidels with him) is a passport to heaven.

Bush may well speak of the terrorism the US faces from Islamic fundamentalism, but what about the global threat from US fundamentalism? Since coming to power, Bush has helped scupper the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on emissions and all but wiped his presidential backside on the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. His attitude to treaties and conventions suggests he has already declared war on the planet and that US foreign policy will continue as before and with one aim – to ensure the 21st Century is another “American Century”.

Bush claims that this is the first war of the 21st Century but it is just one battle in a larger war that began in 1945 with the US determined to control the world’s resources, and there is more than ample evidence to prove this. More importantly, though, The entire episode serves to show the insanity of the system we live in, and the desperate need to wrest control of our planet away from the madmen before it is indeed too late. In the 20th century, some 220 million lost their lives in wars, in conflicts over trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets, mineral wealth and the strategic points from which the same can be defended or in other words, in the name of profit.

The solution to the ongoing insanity, we insist, remains the same. There is one world and we exist as one people in need of each other and with the same basic needs. There is far more that unites us than can ever divide us along cultural, nationalistic or religious lines. Together we can create a civilisation worth living in, but before that happens we need the conscious Cupertino of ordinary people across the world, united in one common cause – to create a world in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation, a world without borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders and a world in which production is at last freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the good of humanity – socialism.

J. K. Galbraith: a radical Keynesian (2006)

From the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
An economist who remained loyal to the end to the discredited view that government intervention can make capitalism work in the interest of the majority.
John Kenneth (‘J.K.’) Galbraith, who has died at the age of 97, was probably – after John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman – the most famous economist of the twentieth century. For decades he argued against the dominance of the free market economy in favour of a reformed and humanised capitalism which could be made more equitable and tolerable by government intervention.

A Canadian by birth, he became part of a group of Keynesian supporters at Harvard University in the US that included Paul Samuelson and James Tobin. Galbraith’s career at Harvard led him to become Professor of Economics and something of a radical disciple of the Keynesian belief that poverty and inequality in capitalism – and the related phenomenon of the boom and slump trade cycle – could be reformed away by well-informed and -intentioned governments. From the 1950s onwards he was to write a number of books, all penned in a popular and readable style, which challenged popular misconceptions about society and the economy. In particular, his books The Great Crash: 1929 (1955), The Affluent Society (1958), The New Industrial State (1967), Economics and the Public Purpose (1974) and The Nature of Mass Poverty (1979) established him as a leading commentator on developments within the capitalist economy and a critic of many prevailing orthodoxies.

Galbraith liked to see himself as a rebel and an outsider, which was true up to a point. For a short time in the early 1960s, though, he served as the US Ambassador to India under John F. Kennedy, and was later an advisor to L.B.Johnson and other Western politicians (including, in a critical and somewhat ad hoc capacity, current UK Chancellor Gordon Brown). His pre-occupations were with aspects of the capitalist system that critical thinkers found most dysfunctional: its tendency to promote economic growth (in terms of capital accumulation) at all costs; its inability to address profound issues of wealth inequality; and the tendency for the concentration of capital and the growth of monopoly, in particular, to undermine the more idealistic free market notions of ‘consumer sovereignty’ within capitalism.

Crises and slumps
Arguably Galbraith’s finest work was his historical account – and critique – of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent prolonged trade depression. In many respects, his work serves as a warning to those who feel that capitalism naturally tends towards an equilibrium state of rising productivity and steady growth. What Galbraith detailed was the circumstances in which arguably the greatest trade depression the world has ever known came to develop and cause such widespread misery.

Although Galbraith over-emphasised the actions of the US government and the Federal Reserve banks, his underlying assessment of the crash was a sound one. He argued that it was caused in large part by the market-driven over-expansion of the producer goods sector of the economy (the sector producing factory machinery, steel, etc for industry) in comparison to the consumer goods sector during the preceding boom years. This had meant in practice that in the competitive drive to accumulate capital, profits were re-invested to expand productive capacity at a disproportionate rate: far more so than was justified given the fall at the time in the share of wages and salaries in National Income. It was this over-expansion of the producer goods sector which led to the production of consumer goods in excess of available market demand and the subsequent downturn in the economy.

Galbraith was affected quite profoundly at an intellectual level by the 1930s slump, as were many others who became attracted to Keynesian economics. Indeed, Galbraith was at the forefront of those who ridiculed the view that, if left to its own devices, the capitalist market economy would naturally tend towards an equilibrium state of steady growth and full employment and that it was somehow government intervention that prevented markets from working properly. Galbraith’s view, which he was to explore in different respects in his published books, was just the opposite.

For Galbraith, the ‘classical’ economists and the so-called monetarists who resurrected some of their views from the 1970s onwards posited an idealised version of the market economy that was as over-simplified as it was driven by a defence of privilege. Galbraith wittily deconstructed many of the economic models on which it rested, highlighting issues such as monopoly, price-fixing, imperfect information and the various possible influences exerted not just by abstract ‘producers’ and ‘consumers’ but by advertisers, suppliers and trade unions too. In the days before corporate scandals such as Enron, he recognised that corporations do not always carry on their activities for the benefit of investors like shareholders, and that the natural growth of large corporations within capitalism sometimes led to practices within organisations which were designed to benefit those who internally controlled them first and foremost.

In many respects, it was in his critique of wider capitalist society that Galbraith was on his strongest ground, recognising imperfections in the system that others willed away. One of his most famous remarks was that “the modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest ever exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness”. His withering critique of Arthur Laffer’s theory of how lowering income tax on the rich would increase government revenue, and of the illusory benefits of ‘trickle down economics’ was a prime example. And in arguably his most famous work, The Affluent Society, he took up a critique of the way in which capitalist enterprises try to ensure their expansion by manufacturing artificial ‘wants’ through advertising and other means. While this owed something to an earlier analysis by Thorstein Veblen, it was nevertheless considered subversive and hotly disputed at the time.

Keynesian economics
Whatever insights Galbraith developed into the workings of capitalism and despite his attacks on its most vigorous defenders, he was hampered by two key, related aspects of his approach. First, his unremitting adherence to Keynesian economic theory and second, his inability to be able to countenance anything that went beyond a reform of capitalism.

Galbraith’s view was that where capitalism failed (and he acknowledged that it failed frequently) it was the duty of governments and the ‘public sector’ generally to step in, whether in terms of economic management, regulatory frameworks for corporations, or measures designed to assist the ‘underclass’ of unemployed and unemployables. A consistent thread in all his writings was an overly-optimistic and exaggerated view of the ways in which capitalism can be reformed so as take power and wealth away from the rich and give it to the poor. His views on this had been influenced by his experiences as an economist and civil servant in the wartime Roosevelt administration. Then he had been put in charge of price controls in a period where, due to the central direction needed because of the war effort, the US was the nearest it has ever come to having a ‘command’ style economy. As unemployment and inflation were both low at the time, Galbraith saw this as confirmation of the powers Keynesian ‘demand management’ techniques possessed in dealing with the inefficiency and inequality of unfettered capitalism.

When the economy returned to ‘normal’ in the decades after the war, the supposed benefits of the Keynesian approach soon proved elusive, not just in the US but in other countries too where his advice was sought. And even when the radical Keynesian approach was given explicit government backing and was implemented with some enthusiasm (on the grounds that the patient hadn’t previously been receiving a high enough dosage of the medicine), the results were not encouraging. This was the case across much of Western Europe as well as the US, where prices began to rise alongside increased unemployment.

One of the most notable examples of radical Keynesian failure was in the UK, where in the first two to three years of the Labour government of 1974-9, state regulatory measures generally were increased, a prices and incomes policy was instituted, state borrowing rose to pay for increased government capital expenditure, and the tax system was restructured to disproportionally hit those on the highest incomes. But the result was a near doubling of unemployment and annual price rises at nearly 27 per cent (the latter mainly caused by an over-issue of paper currency not convertible into gold, which became the ubiquitous outcome of the type of lax monetary policy favoured by radical Keynesians).

In this respect, Galbraith is likely to be remembered as an economist who was far more adept at criticising the indefensible than he was at promoting a workable alternative to it. Indeed, it was precisely the failure of his type of Keynesian approach which heralded the return from the 1970s onwards of the free market economic orthodoxy he detested, championed by his sparring partners like Milton Friedman.

Missed opportunity
Unfortunately, the political economist who had a rounded explanation of why the free market does not work, and whose theories indicated why reform of capitalism in the guise of Keynesian economics would be no more successful, was not someone Galbraith was ever attracted towards or studied really seriously: Karl Marx. While Galbraith was capable of making pithy and apposite comments about the Soviet Union – “under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite” – he never seemed to get too far past the popular prejudice against Marx existing in much of US academia. That so-called ‘Russian communism’ was in reality an extensive and dictatorial form of the type of planned state-run capitalism that he otherwise had a penchant for, in particular seemed to escape him.

In the rather lazy fashion of other American academics he was wont to attribute to Marx views which were distorted interpretations of his theories, such as that capitalism would somehow collapse because of the long-run tendency of the rate of profit to fall, or that the working class in capitalism was condemned to endure conditions of ever increasing misery. This was a shame, because although capitalism is so complex and anarchic that no one individual can attain a perfect insight into it, Marx came a lot nearer than most. The great body of his work still stands the test of time, and far more so than that of either the apologists for the free market or Keynesian interventionists like Galbraith himself.

While Galbraith thought that certain types of capitalism (particularly free-market capitalism) were highly problematic, Marx took a rather different view. This was that it was capitalism itself that was the problem because it was fundamentally based on the pursuit of profit before human needs, was at root anarchic and uncontrollable, and was characterised by class division and an antagonistic system of income distribution that could not be planned or wished away.

It is interesting to look back on the 97 years of Galbraith’s life, and to reflect on the capitalist trade cycle, inflation, the concentration of capital, the nature of commodity production and much more that he addressed. Marx provided a framework that could successfully account for these phenomena while at the same time demonstrating why capitalism can never be reformed so as to run in the interests of the vast majority of its inhabitants. These were insights that Galbraith flirted with but no more, and this was to the detriment of his otherwise urbane and pithy analysis, and most certainly to the detriment of those who lived under the governments he advised.
Dave Perrin

'Vote For Them But . . . ' (1974)

From the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The publicity organizers of the International Socialists certainly know how to produce an election poster to catch everyone’s eyes. Their technique is so simple too, even the most politically apathetic passer-by cannot fail to notice a poster designed to produce a laugh. ‘Defeat the Tories’ it cries, ‘Vote Labour, but no to social contract’. ‘Vote Labour, but’ indeed! It’s a bit different from the usual IS rubbish of ‘Vote Labour, then . . .’ (and then kick them out and put us in their place.)

Unfortunately it has a slight flaw. No-one seems to have told the IS that there is no provision on a voting slips for ‘buts’. How convenient it would be if there was, but there is not, there are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it at all. If you vote Labour you get Labour, you get continued uncontrollable capitalism, you get futile reformism, you get nothing for the future of the working class, and you get nowhere towards Socialism. And whether you get social contract or not is totally irrelevant.

No matter how sincerely a Labour government wishes to protect the interests of the workers, no matter how benignly they impose their unwanted ‘leadership’ upon us, they can do nothing other than be puppets of the economic forces of capitalism. It makes no difference whether Tory or Labour govern, the real power is that of the capitalist system and only its replacement by a genuine Socialist society will do.

When will International Socialists realise the futility of ‘Vote Labour’, and when will they realise that Socialism will only be achieved when we have awakened the social consciousness of the working class throughout the world? Socialism will be won by struggling to free the minds of the workers from their capitalist bonds, and never by putting in a Labour government and then trying to overthrow it by violently accentuating the evils of capitalism.
David Roberts