Wednesday, November 14, 2018

European elections (1989)

Party News from the August 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

As announced in our June issue, our Newcastle Branch fielded a candidate in the Tyne and Wear constituency in the recent elections to the European Parliament. In view of the large size of the constituency, covering 8 parliamentary constituencies and including Gateshead. Sunderland and Jarrow as well as Newcastle, with a total electorate of over 500,000, the branch found that the election received enhanced media coverage so that a reasonable amount of publicity was achieved on local radio, in the local press and on local television. In addition, nearly 80,000 copies of the manifesto were delivered free by the Post Office

The result was Abstentionists 348,953; Labour 126,682; Tory 30,902; Green 18.107; SLD 6.101; Socialist 919.

Where Are the Greens Going? (1989)

From the August 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even if turns out to be a mere flash in the pan, the result of the Euro-elections in Britain were rather remarkable. The Green Party polled some 2.3 million votes (one in seven of those who bothered to vote), overtaking the SLD (or whatever the Liberals are now called) and even pushing Labour into third place in six constituencies.  This is the first time that a party to the “left”, in conventional terms, of the Labour Party has been able to make such a breakthrough, even if it can be doubted whether most of its voters saw themselves as voting for a radical alternative to Labour.

That the Greens have a far more radical programme than Labour is not open to any doubt. While Labour now openly stands for trying to run the profit system better than the Tories, the Green Party has as its long-term aim the establishment of what it calls a “Sustainable Society”. This it defines in its basic policy document Manifesto for a Sustainable Society as one in which “all constituents of the environment all activities under human control” are maintained in balance through not “using resources faster than they can be replaced, nor creating effects or products which cannot be assimilated indefinitely by the environment”. Such a society could only function, the Green Party says, “within an interlocking system of small communities each as self-sufficient as possible in the necessities of life and in its own management”, in which these “small, relatively self-sufficient, self-governing communities can coexist harmoniously within the framework of a greater nation and the World as a whole”.

In a recent debate with the Socialist Party, the Green Party candidate for the London West Euro-constituency put it this way:
   The Green Party . . . offers the concept of non-polluting, sustainable, human-scale communities. No one looking for more than they need. No one striving for more than they need. No one striving for more and more to dress up their lives. Why should they? A real community knows what it needs. It looks after its own and it cares for the people around it. The success of its neighbours is part of its own success. The success of its own broad reason is part of the success of each smaller part. And knowing how every community intermeshes within the world, each community will want success for each other, throughout the world.
  We see a Europe of Regions where each region is built as sustainable human-scale communities, each more or less self-sufficient, each taking no more than it needs. Trade is almost unknown. The economy is run on sustainable lines. We see a Europe of regions where we have broken the power of the multinationals and set the agenda for all the Continent. We see a Europe of Regions that will be joined by the rest of the world.” (Jeremy Hywel-Davies, 5 May 1999).
So, what is being proposed is the abolition both of the world market, with the competition for resources and sales it engenders, and of existing centralised states, and their replacement by a worldwide network of smaller human communities providing for their own needs. This is a proposition so radically different from the profit-oriented national market economy Labour espouses that one Labour MEP, Carole Tongue, was moved to remark that it was “reminiscent of the visions of some early 19th century French socialists” (New Ground No 16, Winter 1987/8), not that the Labour Party knows anything about socialism.

Important Questions
Although it would only be in the context of a socialist world that a worldwide network of decentralised, self-reliant communities could be established (not that this is necessarily the form socialism will take, though it is a form that has been favoured by some socialists, William Morris for instance), socialism is not in fact the right word since the Green Party and nearly all Green thinkers and writers see buying and selling as continuing within the smaller self-reliant communities they advocate (Murray Bookchin is one notable exception). Nevertheless, for a party committed to such a radically different conception of how society should be run to make a political breakthrough can only raise the level of political debate. Questions such as how can we free production from the tyranny of the world market, what are our needs, are smaller-scale human communities self-sufficient in basic needs desirable and possible, by what can we replace centralised states—these are the sort of questions that we would prefer to see people discussing rather than such irrelevant trivialities as should Britain join the EMS or would Kinnock make a good Prime Minister.

There is, however, the key question of how to get from here to there. The Green Party is committed to a gradualist, reformist strategy: seeking support on the basis of a programme of environmentalist reforms for the election of a Green Party government that would take steps to reduce Britain’s dependence on the world market (by imposing import controls, discouraging exports).

Such a strategy won’t work as the experience of the Labour Party has shown. The case of the Labour Party is relevant here in that they too originally set out to impose on capitalism something—in their case, social measures in favour of the working class—that was contrary to its nature as a profit-driven system. The Greens are also setting out to impose on capitalism something that is incompatible with its nature and, if their electoral support were to grow sufficiently to allow them to form the government, they would sooner or later come up against this restraint and learn that they could not proceed except at the expense of provoking an economic crisis, as inevitably happens when governments try to make the profit system work other than as a profit system, which would undermine their electoral support. Green government would then be faced with the choice of compromising with the system or abdicating. If the experience of Labour is anything to go by, they (or most of them) will compromise, justifying this on the grounds that a Green government of capitalism will at least be better than a Tory one.

Reform versus Radical Change
A gap between the aims of Green Party activists and their voters is already evident. Very few of their voters in the Euro-elections will have voted for their long-term aim of abolishing the world market and centralised states; most won’t even have voted for their programme of environmentalist reforms but simply used the occasion to express a justified concern about food contamination and pollution generally.

The Greens are facing the same choice of strategy as did the first socialists in Britain at the end of the 19th century: to build up support on the basis of the maximum programme of fundamental social change and remain small till people have become convinced of the need for the change in question or to build up support on the basis of reforms within the system and grow faster but at the price of abandoning the maximum programme or relegating it to a vague remote, non-operational long-term objective.

This dilemma is recognised by some Greens and, interestingly, the same language is being used to categorise the two competing (mutually exclusive, in fact) strategies as came into use in the socialist movement. In their recent book The Coming of the Greens Jonathon Porritt and David Winner distinguished between environmentalists (or “light greens”) and radical greens (or “dark greens”). Environmentalism, they say, “is essentially a reformist movement, based on the premise that industrialism can be perfected, or at least improved, to the point where it no longer endangers the environment”. They add that “probably about 95 percent of the uses of the word ‘green’ fit into this category”, as, we would add, do 95 percent of Green Party voters. As to the others:
  By virtue of being so far removed from power, there has always been an irrepressible streak of utopianism within the Green Party. A good thing too, some would say, in a visionless age. But this utopianism has a tendency to degenerate into ‘impossibilism’, manifested in a series of green-prints for the future which seem oblivious of where we are starting from in the present.
If, or more probably as, the Greens continue their present strategy of building up support for environmentalist reforms within the system rather than for their longer-term aims, then the original members can be expected to be pushed aside by aspiring Centrist politicians, from within their own ranks as well as deserters from the moribund Liberals, and derided as “fundamentalists”, “utopians” and “impossibilists”. Then the vision of a radically different world to today’s will be thrown overboard and we’ll be back to discussing whether Britain should join the EMS . . . Alternatively, Greens who want a radical transformation of the world can stick to their principles but come to realise, as Socialists have done, that a sustainable society can only be achieved within the context of a world in which all the Earth’s resources, natural and industrial, have become the common heritage, under democratic control at local, regional and world level, of all humanity.
Adam Buick

Personal Growth or Social Revolution? (1989)

From the August 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Open a few Sunday colour supplements and you’re likely to see a mention of some variety of “Personal Growth”. Look at the notices on the wall in most health food shops, or look in the back of city’s listing magazines and you’ll see adverts for this or that new approach. This term has come to refer to a whole variety of psychotherapies, holistic health methods, mystical approaches and self-improvement techniques. You may also see it referred to as “humanistic psychology”, “the human potential movement”, or “the growth movement”. If we were to make a rough and ready list of the sorts of things that might be included under these banners, we could start with encounter groups, meditation, natural health food approaches, Gestalt therapy, massage, and rebirthing. We also get approaches mixing religion and therapy such as “Zencounter” or “Zenanalysis”. Many of these approaches have become very popular, and are big money-spinners in the United States.

Changing the individual
So what are the common themes behind all these various ways to personal growth? At the risk of lumping together a lot of approaches whose practitioners hate each other, we could say that all of them aim to increase the individual’s ability to live life to the full and experience the world. They’re often concerned with emotions rather than our intellect. As Fritz Perls said, “Don’t think, feel. Lose your mind and come to your senses”.

Most writers in this area concentrate on the need for individuals to become more at ease with themselves. All of them argue that the so-called “normal” way that we live our lives today is frustrating and unsatisfying; and that we only fulfil a small part of our potential. Some writers blame this on the social system. For example:
    We are aggressive, compulsive and individualistic because these traits make us easily exploitable as workers and citizens (C. Steiner Scripts People Live).
   We have created a system that divides society and produces institutions to frustrate individual needs. At the same time, ideologies are created to justify this arrangement and to ensure that it will continue (A. Janov Prisoners of Pain).
To this extent, socialists would share their view that the world as it is now doesn’t offer most people the chance to grow and develop and agree with a more flexible approach to human nature than the “Original Sin” notions of Thatcher and her cronies. Where we differ from those involved in personal growth is how to radically improve the world.

For example, it can’t be stressed enough how personal growth writers see changing the individual as the main way forward. For example, here’s Carl Rogers talking about how the world will change:
  I see the revolution as coming not in some great organized movement, not in gun carrying armies with banners, not in manifestoes and declarations but through the emergence of a new kind of person, thrusting upwards through the dying, yellow, putrefying leaves and talks of our fading institutions (Carl Rogers on Personal Power).
Even more bold is Marilyn Ferguson:
   The great shuddering irrevocable shift overtaking us is not a new political or philosophical system. It is a new mind (The Aquarian Conspiracy)
Over and over again you see the same themes. The new society will come about through people undergoing change individually. Once enough people have changed radically enough, a new society will spontaneously evolve which will reflect the healthy characteristics of these new persons.

Changing Society
Well, what’s wrong with that? Don’t socialists want people to change before we can hope to bring socialism into existence.

Well yes, but we see changing present-day society as rather different. To get socialism you need a majority of workers in the world who are clear beforehand of how they see a new society working. But personal growth writers are prepared to accept that big improvements can be brought about in the way people relate without radically changing society first. For example, Carl Rogers describes how person-centred approaches to management radically improved the experience of individuals in firms. A “happy” by-product of this was increased productivity and profits! Even worse, here’s Ferguson again: “The military, with its guaranteed financial base, has more opportunity to fund innovation than any other institution”.

The innovation that the military funds has more to do with deadly nerve gases and neutron bombs than peaceful development of individuals. Of course, the military might use its resources for the common good to relieve starvation and destroy its weapons, in the same way that President Bush might join the Socialist Party tomorrow. Neither is at all likely, though.

The problem with a lot of writing about personal growth and how it’s supposed to bring about social transformation is that changing the person often becomes a lot more important than changing society. Once you’ve been through some sort of personal growth you may well feel that you’re living in a different world. Unfortunately it’s only your perception of the world that’s changed. Capitalism works pretty much the same whatever psychic self-improvement we may undergo.

Capitalism is a world economic system, it isn’t just a scatter of individuals with hang-ups. You can’t explain the way it works by looking at the individual characters of its component members. For example, social class exists. Rupert Murdoch and a Mexican peasant will still live in a different world even if they punch pillows or play trust games together in the same men’s group. Billionaires will live in the midst of the destitute as long as our social priorities are determined by profit and private property. Attempting to get rid of human misery by giving people psychotherapy is like trying to cure cholera by treating each individual case. It may help a few people, but in the long run it’s far better to clean up the water supply, or in the case of society, end capitalism.

Unless we change the whole obscene system, there will always be serious limits to what “enlightened” individuals can achieve when they try to humanize its consequences. Socialists argue that unless you change the way that things are produced and distributed, social problems will always come up however mature, feeling or laid-back we all are.

As long as things are produced to make a profit, the poor will stay poor, work will be boring and arduous, states will go to war to win economic influence, and valuable resources will be used up persuading us to buy things we don’t want or need. It is a system which gives rise to these problems, not our personal inadequacies. Any system based on private property and money is too inflexible to ever meet fully people’s needs.

Nice but naive
Now supporters of personal growth would get very angry at this point if they weren’t so laid-back. They’d say, “it’s all very well talking about some pie-in-the-sky socialism, but what about now? Let’s change ourselves and those around us, and that’ll change society in a much more solid way. If you fix the shape of the new society too strictly then you won’t be flexible enough to new possibilities”. The trouble is though, unless you’re clear on the sort of society you want, you can end up being pulled in a variety of ways.

Clare and Thompson sum up this dilemma for those going through personal growth:
  Which direction should I take? Should I try to imitate Jesus or Henry Ford or Lenin? Should I try to make money or retreat from the market place? Should I go back to sleep? (Let’s Talk About Me).
It would be nice (but naive) to believe that we were all on the same side, and that people who went through personal growth all came to want to work towards the same exciting and liberating society that we do. However, approaches like Sensitivity Training and Transaction Analysis have been used in the military and large corporations such as IBM and Honeywell (now called Bull). Some growth practitioners have seen the way forward as small businesses. Others have disappeared into communes and co-operatives. The sheer diversity of approaches shows that there’s no hard and fast rule. President Bush might not work towards bringing about a moneyless society even after he’s had personal growth!

None of this is to deny the value of personal growth; it certainly helps some people feel better. What it can’t do is change the society in which it is embedded unless it starts to talk about a revolution in social relations. At the moment, it seems more likely that its ideas will be used for harassed executives looking for greater “personal effectiveness”, and more importantly, better profits for their paymasters.

Unless you challenge the basis of capitalism your ideas will be incorporated into the very society that you set out to revolutionize. The term “personal growth” has become flexible enough to mean pretty well anything, and it is a truly helpless approach when confronted with a world of starvation and war. As one bank executive quoted by Marilyn Ferguson is reported to have said after the awakening of his staff through personal growth seminars: “For my money, these soul searchers are our future”.
Keith Aubrey

To New Readers (1989)

From the August 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

We believe that you share our concern for the well-being of people in our society, and perhaps, for the welfare of Earth itself and all its dependants. We write as members of a long-established independent democratic movement which seeks by persuasion and worlds-wide peaceful political organisation to transform our present society into one fit for humankind.

The problems of our world cannot be solved within the existing structures of production and government. Our world is divided into national areas dominated by class minorities in each country, which, either by private or corporate ownership or by state bureaucratic parties monopolize the means of production.

These ruling classes and their political representatives, by reason of a combination of historical circumstances, governmental, military and ideological control or influence, are able to keep the majority of the world’s population in subjection. In the decisive areas of the world this domination takes the form of people being denied access to the means of living except on the basis of working for a wage or salary. In the major countries of the world, the people who, in the widest sense, produce what we need to live, are wage-slaves.

Dominated by Capitalism
Our access to food, clothing, shelter and other needs is rationed by money. Even professional persons and those running small businesses are dominated by the system under which we live: capitalism. It is a world-system based upon the class monopoly of the means of production where things are produced and services rendered as commodities for sale at a profit. Labour-power also is a commodity; its price is what we receive as a wage or salary.

Each enterprise or grouping of capitalism, in competition with others in the market, must strive to increase the profit surplus which it makes after the investment of capital. If it fails to achieve sufficient profit to re-invest in new machinery and techniques it will lose out to more powerful groupings or nations.

Russia, China, Yugoslavia, Cuba and all other mis-called “socialist” regimes in Eastern Europe and elsewhere are part of this competitive process over markets, trade-routes, raw materials, strategic points and exploitable populations. These regimes are more accurately described as being “state-capitalist”: today, under internal and external pressures, some seek more efficient means of exploiting their wage-slaves. The Socialist Party right from the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917 has been aware that what transpired was not the establishment of, nor a development of a socialistic society. We have always made clear our opposition to Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism and all similar undemocratic vanguard movements.

Appalling Destruction
The class interests, values and drive for profit of the world-system have been the underlying reasons for the unprecedented destruction of life and resources throughout this century. This appalling process, made worse by new forms of pollution, including the spread of artificial radio-activity and the cutting-down of the rain forests, to say nothing of the possible effects of secret weapons, the existence of which it is reasonable to assume. This uncontrolled madness will continue unless we take the necessary democratic action to transform our way of life throughout the planet.

We believe that socialism can only be brought about by an overwhelming majority of the population, a majority which understands why capitalism must be replaced by socialism. If we are to bring into being production solely for use, where needs are self-determined, we must have a clear idea of how such a society could be established, organised and sustained. We must also ensure that the values and methods of the World Socialist Movement are fully consistent with its aims.

Socialism is a new world society where the means of production are commonly owned and where governments and systems of exchange, whether barter or money, have been replaced by democratic administration at local, regional and world levels: a society where there could be decentralized co-ordination of production with free access according to need. Information about how socialism could be organised is available in our pamphlet Socialism As A Practical Alternative.

Organise for a Better Life
Why have previous attempts to build a better world failed? In our view the terrible events of the twentieth century are in part a consequence of the fact that most of those who sought to ameliorate the lot of the majority had no clear alternative distinct from some form of the system of nations, of wage labour and capital, of money, prices, profits, of buying and selling. They had no clear understanding of the dynamics of capitalism. They had illusions about the politics of gradualism or insurrection or about revolutionary vanguards and state-capitalism. They clung to their illusions in the face of the facts of Labour administrations of capitalism or of the brutal dictatorships in the “East” over the workers. As a result of their unsound theories these “practical” men and women diverted the enthusiasm, unselfish devotion and energies of millions into political blind alleys. The advances that have been made are largely those made by workers themselves in producing in greater quantities and in organising to obtain more of the products. However, while capitalism is allowed to exist gains made are not necessarily permanent.

When confronted by the programme of socialism, “left-wing” reformists (apart from seldom being in favour of it) always pose the question: “What do we do in the meantime?” — never waking up to the fact that the appalling present is the “meantime” which their political activities, in opposition to the vigorous pursuit of socialism helped to bring into being. In any event, the attitude of genuine socialists is not one of passivity, awaiting a socialist millennium, it is one of active informed organisation for a better way of life.

Building a Strong Socialist Movement
The more reformists abandon their illusions and inadequate activities, seek to understand the nature of genuine socialism and play their part in building a strong World Socialist Movement, the more effective we can be against capitalism now, prior to an early transformation of society. Such a movement, with the clear objective of taking the means of production out of the hands of a minority and making them the common property of society, would become much more influential than the present parties of the “Left”.

Today many aware of past political errors, propose different approaches to the problems of humankind. They put forward schemes which though rightly concerned with holistic, ecologically benign, locally democratic, “human scale” production are still seen as being within the framework of money, wages, prices and profit. These proposals are attractive to a new political generation, which, failing to identify correctly the process responsible for our major problems, are likely to become a new wave of reformists.

The above comments, of course, are large generalisations, needing further elucidation and discussion. We hope that we have been able to interest you in our ideas and look forward to hearing from you or seeing you at one of our meetings.