Saturday, December 1, 2018

Observations: Capitalism for sale (1988)

The Observations Column from the December 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Prior to the privatisation of British Steel, the Shares Information Office sent me a letter inviting me to participate in the return of BSC to the private sector. I had been targeted as a likely share buyer because I had previously, in my pre-socialist days, been seduced into laying out money for British Telecom shares. I had subsequently become one of the 900,000 who, between November 1984 and March 1987, disposed of their BT shares. Like many others I discovered that the benefits of popular capitalism applied only to those who already owned the means of production and distribution. To discover whether you belong to the working class or the capitalist class, give up your job and see how long you can afford to live on the dividends from a few shares in British Gas, British Telecom and British Airways.

Founded in 1860 in the heart of the Black Country to manufacture wrought-iron tubes and fittings, the steel works expanded and amalgamated until, in the mid 1960s. it employed over two thousand people and covered an area of forty-nine acres. We lived in a row of terraced houses belonging to the steel company. The amenities were rather basic. Across the yard we had a brewhouse-cum-coalhouse. and an outside lav. Our house was directly opposite the main gates. Close enough to tumble out of bed and be at work when the bull hooted the starting time. My dad spent all his working life in the steel industry. They gave him a gold watch. It was, I supposed, inevitable that I would follow in my dad's footsteps. I well remember that callow but cocky youth who, in the mid sixties, became a wage slave for the first time.

One thing my dad couldn't stand was a bragger. The glossy sales brochure produced by BSC to market its sale gloatingly describes its success as a capitalist enterprise. Potential share buyers are regaled with smug facts and figures relating how within eight years the workforce has been reduced by two-thirds. Great joy surrounds the announcements of improved employee production and reduced employee costs. "Our priority is to develop an informed, motivated and skilled workforce." we are told; By which they mean that they are fully committed to ensure that their employees continue to produce for profit, not for need.

Nationalised or privatised, it makes no difference to workers blue collar, white collar, shop floor or management. Their position remains that of wage/salary slaves forced to sell their labour power in order to live. Despite the glossy brochures and the promise that a few shares give workers some sort of control over their livelihood, the basic wage labour/capital relationship remains unaltered.

Which would you prefer — a gold watch as a "thank you" for a lifetime spent creating wealth for the minority property-owning class, or a classless, moneyless, wageless society where goods are produced for need, not profit. Don't buy capitalism. Take up your option on socialism.
Dave Coggan

Observations: Carry on motoring (1988)

The Observations Column from the December 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

If there are any members of the working class still under the impression that capitalists operate for the benefit of us all and that making profits is purely incidental, then they should hear what a Mr Tom Farmer has to say on the subject. Farmer is Chairman of Kwik-Fit Holdings, the multi-million pound company which fits tyres, exhausts and batteries.
I would like about half an inch of snow [this winter], just enough to flatten the batteries, and not too much to stop people getting out in their cars. (Times, 21 September)
When interviewed. Mr Farmer complained that the previous mild winter had cost the company about one million pounds in profits. It seems that as a result they were only £9.8 million for the six months ending August 1988.

So, if your battery goes flat this winter, or your exhaust rusts through, or the MOT Inspector is not satisfied with the tread on your tyres — at least you will know that Kwik-Fit and their shareholders will be happy. And should a flat battery result in your having to walk home in Mr Farmer's preferred half inch in snow, you may like to ponder on the fact that 9.8 million pound coins, placed in a row. would extend for just over 135 miles — just to give you some idea.
John Moore

Observations: Wimps or shrimps (1988)

The Observations Column from the December 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Washington DC there are now more than 5,000 jobs on offer. They include the Cabinet, executive officers, top people at the various agencies; ambassadors and judgeships. US attorneys and federal marshalls. Less prominent, but escaping Congress vetting, there are executive officers and 1,404 other government jobs, senior executive service members and 1,646 other grades.

However, you need not apply; you don't have the right qualifications even if you could muster the fare. In this instance qualifications do not mean academic achievement or previous experience but either the amount the applicants — or their parents — contributed to the newly elected President's campaign coffers or other favours done to help the new incumbent of the White House. You could say that at least in the United States, unlike in many even more obviously corrupt regimes.

But the election of a new President has wider repercussions in the US capital. The social scene changes; the Hollywood-style entertainment given by the ex-B actor and outgoing President is not that of either Bush or Dukakis. The impact of the new President will be felt by the whole Washington social scene as "society" apes the habits, likes and dislikes affected by him and his First Lady. Quoting Aram Bakshian. one of Reagan's — and recently Bush's — speechwriters, the Sunday Mirror of 17 October tells us that with Dukakis a "pseudo-prole" fashion of sweaters. ethnic clothes and leather patches will replace present glitzy fashions, whereas under Bush Country Club and “class and old money" will be the thing. Top restaurants will win or lose as Presidential preference will be faithfully aped. Under Bush sophisticated bistros will prosper; Dukakis' image would have brought prosperity to "homely" restaurants (with very unhomely prices!).

Ironically one of the jibes made against socialist society is that there would be a sameness about everyone. Yet here we have — more obviously projected than elsewhere — the cream of society in God's Own Country preparing slavishly to imitate the habits, clothes and manners of their President.
Eva Goodman

The Crumbling Empire (1989)

From the December 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
Have you heard the cheers from East Berlin
Where the wage slaves think they're freed?
Yes, free’ to join NATO and the IMF
And go where accountants lead 
The Leninist fraud has been exposed
State capitalism's been a big flop
So out with food queues and in with dole queues
And let rouble millionaires rise to the top 
In starved and Polluted Poland
There's a new band but an old tune being played
Last year's prisoners are now the bosses
And ruthless so that debts can be paid 
The hypocrites sing of Liberty
At last, Communism's out for the count
But the Kremlin has as much to do with communism
As the Vatican with the Sermon on the Mount 
Yes, the workers have shown they can change things
Loud sighs come from Lenin’s tomb
A spectre is haunting state capitalism
Let it spread to all other markets soon 
So it’s bye-bye to the Bolshevik bootboys
The gulags are all up for sale
Hurrah for Big Mac and Burger King,
The Glasnost Building Society and the Daily Mail.
The Russian Empire is falling to pieces. The Berlin Wall has collapsed into the hated memory that all dividing borders deserve; in Poland the Communist Party has ignominiously lost power; in Hungary the Communists are so unpopular that they have had to change their name to disguise themselves; the Baltic states are seeking independence from centralised cultural dictatorship; the hated Bulgarian dictator, Zhivkov, has been forced to resign after thirty-five years in unelected control: even in Moscow crowds of workers have demonstrated outside the hated KGB headquarters. What once tried to sell itself as the dictatorship of the proletariat has been seen as a detested prison, enslaving the workers of Eastern Europe.

Socialists are pleased to see the demise of empires: not just the Russian one — there is an American Empire as well, as British foreign policy has all too clearly reflected in recent decades. We are told that what is happening in Eastern Europe is the death of socialism. What ignorant nonsense! Eastern Europe has never been socialist. (It has not even described itself as communist, claiming that it was leading up to such a future stage.) It has suited defenders of Western, mainly private capitalism, to label these police states as socialism. What better way of showing socialism as something to be avoided and resisted? There have been foolish Leftists and pseudo-communists who have made themselves ridiculous by trying to defend the East European states in the name of socialism. The Socialist Party rejected such nonsense from the start. Not once have we given credence to the claim that there are “socialist countries'' in Eastern Europe - or in China, Cuba, Tanzania or anywhere else. These are state-capitalist nations. Socialists oppose them.

Opposed as we are to these phoney "socialist states", we are not for even half a moment going to indulge in the mockery of logic which says that states which oppose these dictatorships are The Free World. There is no such thing as a free capitalist world. Capitalism is inherently unfree. Just as the Polish "Communists" used force to defeat the Silesian miners, so did the British Tories in their fight with the mine workers. In West Germany, where neo-Nazi politicians rise to power on the basis of widespread poverty and frustration, there is precious little freedom for the unemployed or homeless — less still if you are a Turkish "guest-worker'' or a citizenless gypsy. How dare those who preside over the profit system in the Western nations call themselves the defenders of freedom! If what they offer is freedom, then the workers need to become unfree. As the opening lines of this article suggest, freedom means more than the chance to eat fast-food and join the queue for the dole — just like the “liberated" Western wage slaves.

There will be no freedom until wage slavery has been abolished. There can be no cheering over breaches in the Berlin Wall until all national barriers are torn down. There is no future for the working class in a re-unified Germany, any more than there is in a divided one. If the rapid changes of recent weeks demonstrate one thing it is that what once seemed unlikely — impossible, utopian — can happen.
Steve Coleman

Crucified workers (1989)

From the December 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ruben Enaaje did not enjoy his Easter week-end. The 28- year-old sign painter was nailed to a cross on Good Friday to thank god for his sufvival after a fall from the third floor of a building. He also wanted to ask for an end to his family's poverty, and vowed to be crucified twelve years in a row. The nails were driven in by doctors and the volunteer sent to hospital after hanging for a few minutes.

For the first time this year, the Philippine Department of Tourism donated P20,000 for the crosses and costumes. The crucifixions are an annual tourist attraction which earn the government loads of money, which is used to pay workers to smash picket lines and kill shop stewards. This keeps wages down and ensures a supply of workers to be crucified next year.
(Source: Malaya and Philippine Daily Inquirer, 25 March.)

Don’t be a soldier (1990)

From the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Despite the odds, Kriss Akabusi has made it. Abandoned by his parents at an early age, first fostered and then brought up in a children’s home, at 16 he was on the streets without home, job or money. That's when he saw the Army recruitment poster. By joining he was promised adventure and guaranteed clothing, shelter, food and money in his pocket. He didn't take long to make up his mind; he became a boy soldier.

Kriss got his adventure and his fortune seems made. As soon as his ability to sprint became apparent, army facilities and training were available to him; a successful sportsman is worth a thousand recruiting posters. Nowadays he spends little time square-bashing and is reaping the acclaim and rewards his medals and UK record bring him. His story, of course, is the exception, not the rule. However, it does explain the phenomenon of tearful families every so often bidding farewell to their men going off to fight the wars of their masters. The majority enlisted seeing no further than the propaganda promising high adventure, training, security and good pay. Even combat exercises are portrayed as “grown-up play".

Armed forces exist to protect the interests of each nation's capitalist class. To this end members of the armed forces are trained to kill and be killed and will be called upon to do so. They are not employed for the benefit of their health, nor are they given "something for nothing". If people the world over stopped to think about that before joining up, we would no longer see these tearful scenes on our television screens. While successful, Kriss Akabusi will escape that fate only because he is of greater value to the army as a living example of the life and opportunities they claim to sell. Rambo is fiction: very few would join on a slogan of "Kill or be killed". A gold medal and world record holder is much more likely to persuade.
Eva Goodman

Turgid Philosopher (1990)

Book Review from the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Althusser and Feminism by Alison Assiter. (Pluto Press. £17.50.)

Who cares what Althusser has to say about feminism or, for that matter, what feminists have to say about Althusser? Had the French philosopher, Louis Althusser, never written a word, socialist thought would be none the poorer.

Like many books which claim to illuminate the hidden meanings of Marxist thinking. the pages are filled with references to the “esteemed" theoretical interpreters of Marx. Do these academic Marxologists not care that Marx urged philosophers to become actively involved to change the world rather than merely interpret the word? The turgid volumes of these Althusserian and anti-Althusserian commentators, whose outpourings are referred to by Assiter as "the literature", have played no role in stimulating working-class understanding of the need for socialism. They have played with Marx's ideas.

It is a pity that philosophers who want to offer abstruse language and cleverly-formulated abstract propositions as signs of their own brightness do not stick to writing about Aristotle or Descartes: at least that would keep them out of the way of the real struggle. Professional academics tend to prove themselves by taking relatively difficult ideas and making them appear incomprehensible. For example, take Marx's view that the forces of production tend to determine the relations of production. Here is Assiter explaining Althusser's description of "the relation between the various levels in the structure":
How are we to understand these relations? The answer, surely, is by referring to the Spinozist conception of causality. Economic and non-economic practices will be related, not by means of Humean or Liebnizean causality, but by Spinozist "metonymic" causality, (p.26).
Bet you'd never looked at it that way before! This book is full of such tortuously expressed utterances.

As for the analysis—insofar as it begins to emerge after two or three readings of what is a sadly disorganised book—there are some good bits (such as Chapter Three on 'Needs and Production' which lays the foundation for a worthwhile study of how needs are determined) and some others which reflect poor thinking. Why is the working class referred to as "the working classes"? (p.35). There is only one. Why does the back cover say that the book deals, amongst others, with Foucault— who did have something stimulating to say for himself—but there is no mention of him in the text or even the index? Why does Assiter state that “since the forces of production were insufficiently developed, socialism could not have come about in Russia in 1917"? (pp.43-4). Surely Assiter knows that even had they been so developed. socialism in one country was out of the question. Anyway, the overwhelming majority of Russians lacked any socialist consciousness. To the book's credit, it includes a satisfactory definition of socialism as a social system in which "people will have free access to all that is produced: they will be able to take what they want or need from the available wealth" (p.52). The writer does not say whether she favours this objective and is prepared to do anything practical to bring it about.
Steve Coleman

Obituary: John Perryman (1990)

Obituary from the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with regret that we have to record the death of John Perryman who failed to recover from a cycling accident.

John joined the Party in 1948 and he worked hard for the Party from then on. Regular at his branch his quiet cheerful manner always made visitors welcome. He was frequently to be seen at a street corner at some N. Herts small town near Stevenage selling the Socialist Standard.

Always happy on his cycle, prior to his retirement John and his wife Eunice cycled to Turkey and back. No doubt spreading socialist knowledge whenever possible. He was a skilled carpenter who completely rebuilt his derelict lock cottage near Taunton, that became his retirement home, where members were made most welcome by John and Eunice, A week before his fatal accident John finished a complete structural renewal of the water-mill next to his cottage.

His consistent commitment to socialism was an example to all members. He will be greatly missed. All his comrades extend to his wife and three daughters condolences and sympathy on their bereavement.

News From Austria (1990)

Party News from the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The new situation in Europe will surely give us much to do in the foreseeable future. What we have said for so many years has been proved clearly. No trace of socialism in the "Communist” empire. With all the weapons of bloody suppression, the "communists" tried to pretend their state capitalism was the non plus ultra. Now the house of lies falls apart and the inheritance of poverty of mind and in material things is exposed. It seems as though international capitalism has triumphed: “socialism” is at an end and the market economy has triumphed! However the facts throughout the world show there is nothing for the profit system to celebrate. Do they want to celebrate the unseen masses of corpses, ruins and millions of people wounded in body and mind for which the profit system has been responsible this century? Not a day goes by which does not prove that it is not possible for capitalism to produce anything else.

We have just had elections in Austria. As all the parties stand for capitalism, we called for the return of blank ballot papers. It is interesting to note that ever more people oppose the existing parties. In Vienna where there used to be a 90 per cent vote for the main parties. 31 per cent either spoilt their ballot papers or did not vote all all. The SPO lost 121,000 votes. Only because the other major party, the Volkspartei, lost even more votes was it possible for the SPO to remain the strongest party.

The SPO will shortly change its name from "Sozialistische Partei" to "Sozial- demokratische Partei". "Socialism" is no longer "in” in the Party of bankers and millionaires! Still, we must not be unfair . . . a change of name will not make the lies they propagate any less!
Bund Demokratischer Sozialisten, 

The Starvation in Somalia (1992)

Editorial from the December 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nobody can fail to be moved by the pictures and accounts of people starving in Somalia. It really is an obscene crime against humanity that people should be dying of starvation in a world which is not only capable of producing enough to feed everybody but even has enough food stockpiled to stop it straightaway. As the Observer reported on 30 August:
Britain has enough wheat and barley lying unused in its grain stores to feed the entire Somalian nation for more than a year.
 At one single centre—on a disused RAF base near Kidderminster in Worcestershire—there are four huge warehouses stuffed with enough grain to supply the stricken war-torn nation for a month.
   One of these warehouses is said to be so full that it is virtually impossible to open its large steel doors. Yet in Somalia, hundreds of people—mostly children—are dying daily.
  The Kidderminster grain mountain is part of a total of 568,000 tonnes housed in Britain—in turn part of 19.6 million tonnes of wheat and barley kept in EC warehouses.
  This massive surplus could feed Somalia—which needs 40,000 tonnes of food aid per month for its starving people—for more than 40 years.
In a sane world, one geared to meeting human needs and serving human welfare, stopping people in Somalia dying of starvation would be a question purely of logistics. Organising to transport the food from where it is stockpiled to Somalia.

But of course we are not living in a sane world. We are living in a world dominated by market forces. And it is their inability to operate in the human interest that has caused the problem in the first place and is now preventing it being solved in the simplest, most direct way.

People are starving in Somalia not because there is not enough food in the world to feed them. They are starving because they lack the means to make their demand—or rather, their absolute need—for food effective. They lack either money to buy food or access to land to grow their own. Those in Somalia who do have these things are not starving.

Those with money in Somalia can, and do, have access to food—the television has shown pictures of well-stocked markets, sometimes with starving people lying on the other side of the street. We mention this not to belittle the extent of the obscene situation in Somalia but to underline the point that famines only affect those whose access to money or land has collapsed for some reason. Famines are a social not a natural phenomenon.

Protecting the market for food in Somalia is in fact a key factor shaping the so-called “food aid” policies of governments and the UN. They know that to make available for free distribution anything but minimal amounts of food per starving person would be to undermine local markets and local market-oriented production, leading to more people coming to lose their access rights to food. And of course they are right. Given the market system this is exactly what would happen. So, quite apart from financial cost considerations, they deliberately limit the amount of free food they supply.

This is what we mean when we say that it is market forces that are preventing the immediate starvation in Somalia being solved in the way that it would be, almost literally overnight, in a sane society, one that would have to be based on the common ownership of resources: transporting the food from the warehouses of Europe to the towns and villages of Somalia.

But what of the long term? Could starvation be averted after the warehouses of Europe and North America had been emptied to feed the starving in Somalia and other parts of the world? In other words, could the planet produce enough to adequately feed the whole world’s population on a permanent, continuing basis?

Professor Vulimiri Ramalingaswami, who is chairman of the World Health Organisation’s medical research committee, is in no doubt that it can. “We have the ability as a world to produce enough food for everyone”, he told a meeting in Geneva in August. “We need to devise mechanisms so these fruits can reach those in greatest need” (Guardian, 18 August).

Professor Ramalingaswami is to chair a conference in Rome this month that the WHO is organising jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organisation. The FAO and the WHO are apparently thinking in terms of a “world crusade to end famine deaths”. Something like this is indeed what is required: a crash programme to increase world food production and distribute it on a free, non-market basis to where it is needed. But it is not going to happen. For the same reason that the warehouses of Europe are not going to be emptied to immediately stop the starvation in Somalia. It would undermine the market.

Not this time the local markets in some famine-stricken part of the world, but the world markets for wheat, maize, rice and other world commodities. As long as all things are produced for sale on a market with a view to making a profit, food is never going to be produced to feed people who can’t pay for it. As long, in other words, as food remains a commodity people will starve and Somalias will continue to happen.

An Open Letter to Arthur Scargill (1995)

From the December 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Arthur,

So at last you’ve come to see through the Labour Party. You now realise that it’s indistinguishable from the Democrats in the United States and the Liberals here in England. In other words, that it’s a left-of-centre party of capitalist reform not a party committed, if only on paper, to furthering the interests of the working class. All its leaders want is to have a go at running capitalism which they say they can do better than the Tories. What took you so long? Still, better late than never.

To give you credit, you arc prepared to go one step beyond Tony Benn. He openly admits that the Labour Party is not a socialist party and never has been, but has said he’ll never leave it. From which we must conclude that he thinks there is a need for a left-of-centre party of capitalist reform and that this is more important than the need for a genuine socialist party. If that’s his view, then he’s welcome to it. Anyway, he’s always been more of an old-fashioned radical democrat than a real socialist, so perhaps his place is in the modem equivalent of the old Liberal Party.

But, you, you are calling for a new Socialist Labour Party to be set up to oppose Labour at the next election. (We suppose you are aware of the historical significance of the name “Socialist Labour Party” but are prepared to run the risk of being mistakenly taken as seeking to revive Daniel De Leon’s confused “socialist industrial unionism”.) If you actually go ahead with this, you will show yourself to be a man of principle compared with other left-wingers, and some amusement will be had from the problem this will cause the Trotskyists and their policy of “Vote Labour till Doomsday”.

We agree with the need for a genuine socialist party, but insist that this should be on a sound basis, namely a clear definition of what Socialism is and a clear refusal to advocate reforms of capitalism. This is where our doubts about your project come in.

What do you mean by Socialism? Although you once told an incredulous David Frost that you stood for a moneyless society, we suspect that you mean nationalisation and state control—in other words, state capitalism. The fact that over the years you gave uncritical support to the regimes in Russia and eastern Europe (remember how you refused to support the Polish miners when they went on strike in 1980 and 1981 and how they returned the compliment, by producing coal for export to Britain, when the British miners went on strike in 1984 and 1985?) heightens this suspicion.

If it is still your view that Russia under Stalin, Khruschev and Brezhnev was socialist and that this is your model for Socialism, you don’t need to form a new party. You might as well join the Communist Party of Britain who still bring out the Morning Star. But, as we suppose you arc well aware, you wouldn’t get much popular support for anything like that, and rightly so. If you have changed your mind about the Russian and the other former state-capitalist regimes in eastern Europe once being socialist, you should come out and state so publicly and unambiguously.

As to reforms, we know you will favour your proposed new party advocating these. We can make a good guess at what they’ll be: higher pensions, more spending on hospitals, schools and housing instead of on war planes and warships. Nice, if you could get this, but you can’t. It’s all been tried before, without lasting success. As you yourself once said: “History is littered with abortive attempts to reform capitalism. You cannot reform this system out of existence. What we need is a complete and utter change of society.” We couldn’t agree more, so why will your new party be wasting its time advocating reforms, i.e. trying to reform capitalism?

We are not saying that workers shouldn’t try to get the best they can out of capitalism, but that’s the job of trade unions and other similar organisations, not of a socialist political party. In our view, the job of a socialist party is to advocate “a complete and utter change of society” to socialism and nothing but this.

History shows that a party that advocates reforms inevitably becomes the prisoner of its reform-minded supporters and eventually ends up giving only lip-service to the socialist transformation of society. Why do you think that instead of the Labour Party gradually changing capitalism, as some of its members once used to want, the opposite has happened and capitalism has gradually changed the Labour Party—into what it is today and which you feel is no longer worthy of support? Why make the same mistake again ?

So, Arthur, before you do this, we hope you won’t think it is presumptuous of us if we suggest you read the enclosed pamphlet From Capitalism to Socialism. There you will find set out the ease against capitalism and the ease for organising on sound, socialist lines. If you find yourself convinced by the arguments then you can abandon your project of re-founding the Labour Party and apply to join the already-existing Socialist Party.
Yours for Socialism,
Standard Socialist.

Fight War Not Wars (1996)

The TV Review column from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The proliferation of TV programmes about war and the military in recent months is enough to make one wonder whether this is a conscious attempt by the TV authorities to satiate the appetites of those who have become so twisted by capitalist society that violence is a way of life. Whatever, their latest offering—(BBC2, Mondays 7 pm, starting 11 November) —was an appalling example of the genre.

All the tricks used by bourgeois historians to account for—and justify—war were present in abundance. What was lacking was hard-headed analysis that actually fitted the facts. Frankly, when a large part of the historical analysis proffered in a series is given by such professional reactionaries as Norman Stone and Niall Ferguson, you know where the programme-makers’ priorities are likely to lie at the very start. The fact that the series started on Armistice Day, when the patriots and nationalists of the British Legion organise a two minutes' silence to remember the past crimes of the British ruling class, only served to confirm this impression. 1914-18, still ongoing at the time of going to press, is a series for dewey- eyed old soldiers who still proudly parade the pieces of metal they were given to put on their chest for killing people in other countries just like themselves for nothing that had anything to do with either of them.

As even the Guardian's TV critic admitted, the attempt to explain the cause of the First World War in this programme was woeful. For those who believe in some sort of innate German militarism it will have served to confirm their prejudices. but the real reason for the war—Germany’s late entrance into the imperialist scramble and its desire, along with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to extend its economic influence—was almost entirely ignored. Instead we were treated to stereotypical commentaries on the German ‘‘national character" and portraits of the great leaders of the day, presumably on the grounds that this was likely to prove insightful into the whole affair. We were informed, for instance, that the Russian Tsar was ‘'puny" and that—most fascinating and importantly of all— the French Socialist Party leader Jean Jaurès had a rather wide back, "rather like that of a peasant". The only mildly noteworthy fact to be mentioned in all of this for anybody who wasn't already aware of it was the Black Nobility link between the various royal houses ostensibly involved in the war—the Kaiser, for example, was both Queen Victoria's grandson and the cousin of Tsar Nicolas II.

Reformist betrayal
The programme's obsession with Jaurès was particularly odd and its only apparent virtue was that it fitted in with the Great Man Theory of History so beloved by bourgeois historians past and present. According to this programme, Jaurès's assassination just before the outbreak of the war was a significant event which broke any likely resistance from the working class to the conflict. This is, at best, sheer fantasy. The International Socialist Bureau (Second International) had long signalled its willingness to take sides if war came. Indeed, as early as 1896 the ISB had signalled its belief in the primacy of national interests over class interests when a resolution was passed supporting the right to "national self- determination". Allied with this, most of the leaders of the Second International were prepared to support a "defensive” war. It therefore was no surprise at all in 1914 when the French Socialist Party supported France's war on its German aggressor, or that the largest nominally socialist party in the world, the German SPD, supported its own ruling class in its ‘defensive’ war against backward, semi-feudal Russia. In Britain, Henry Hyndman's British Socialist Party and Keir Hardie's Independent Labour Party both took sides with the British capitalists, while the Socialist Labour Party wavered before coming out against the conflict.

It is very unlikely indeed, given all that has already been noted about it, that 1914-18 will mention that the only political organisation in Britain to unequivocally oppose the war was the Socialist Party, making plain the real economic causes of the conflict. And if it continues with its theme that WWI was a battle between peace-loving and democratic Britain against German militarism and autocracy we might like to remind them of what real socialists were saying at the time about that most benevolent of social groupings, the British ruling class, when all the fake socialists rallied to their flag:
    This Government, the ‘defenders of freedom, the upholders of justice and right", endorsed martial law, the denial of all liberty and the firing on defenceless crowds in South Africa, batoned 700 men in Dublin, turned out the military against YOU at Belfast, Llanelly, Leith, the Rhondda Valley and elsewhere; they callously refused to give underfed children sufficient food; they mock with pretty words but cynical, brutal inaction, the condition of the ever growing army of unemployed; they have sanctioned wholesale imprisonment, exile and butchery in India, Persia, Egypt and the New Hebrides, and allied themselves with the infamies perpetrated in Russia and Japan: in a word they reek with lying pretence and self-satisfied pharasaism, for in very truth, they are the ever willing tools of autocracy, capitalism and class rule everywhere." (SPGB leaflet. The Call of the Patriot, February 1916)
Dave Perrin

50 Years Ago: Law and Order in the U.S.A. (2018)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you saw it only on television and stayed off the streets, the political situation in the United States this year seemed like a second-rate circus which had suddenly and dramatically risen in entertainment value. The star performers—Humphrey, Nixon and Wallace—were clowns at best, whose acts included the usual inane platitudes, empty promises, perpetual smiles, and abysmal ignorance of the system they defended. At worst, they were not clowns, but surrealist weasels, one of whom was seeking the power to provoke and crush insurrections, to fill the concentration camps which have already been constructed here under the McCarran Act, to complete the extermination of the Vietnamese, to bring on a chemical, biological, and/or atomic world war, and to turn the circus into a chamber of horrors whose only audience would be the eskimos lucky enough to survive the epidemics of anthracis and tularemia.

The theme of all three performers was the same: change “our” military strategy in Vietnam and do something about law and order. Many U.S. “radicals” have been thoroughly shaken by Wallace’s success among white workers, recalling that the Nazis succeeded with a similar combination of racist chauvinism and pretended hostility to big business. And indeed, his aggressive, anti-intellectual appeals to the racism and bigotry of his supporters are frightening to hear. But the actual policies that Nixon is (or Humphrey would have been) likely to adopt are no less frightening.

We should be grateful, in one way, that “law and order” became such a strident campaign issue in the election, because it gives us a chance to expose the primary aim of government. That aim is to protect the social order of capitalism. Government is the agency which maintains the control of the capitalist class over their property and their workers. It is essential to grasp the fact that a given form of government is the result of a particular social order, not the cause. Otherwise we cannot understand the true function of elections, and we cannot understand politics. Instead we will approach politics the way most workers do, and waste our time in futile and meaningless debate over the personalities of individual candidates.

(From article by a member of the WSP of the US, Socialist Standard, December 1968)

Cooking the Books: Fukuyama goes reformist (2018)

The Cooking the Books column from the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Francis Fukuyama interview: ‘Socialism ought to come back’ was the perhaps surprising title of an article in the New Statesman (17 October). Could the man who notoriously proclaimed that the ‘end of history’ was a liberal market economy with liberal political institutions have really said that? Not in so many words. Asked by George Eaton, the editor, for his view of ‘the resurgence of the socialist left in the UK and the US’, Fukuyama replied reasonably that ‘it all depends on what you mean by socialism.’ If you mean ‘ownership of the means of production,’ he said, ‘I don’t think that’s going to work.’ And went on:
‘If you mean redistributive programmes that try to redress this big imbalance in both incomes and wealth that has emerged then, yes, I think not only can it come back, it ought to come back.’
But that is not what socialism means. Socialism is the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and involves the abolition of production for the market in favour of production directly to satisfy people’s needs.

What Fukuyama was endorsing was the old Left programme to redistribute income and wealth from the rich to the non-rich. This is rather at variance with what he wrote in 1992 in The End of History and the Last Man where, comparing it with planning to develop capitalism by states in East Asia, he wrote:
‘The Left’s preferred kind of planning, with its intervention on behalf of the victims of capitalism, has historically had much more ambiguous economic results’(chapter 9).
Indeed it has and there is no reason to think that this will change. Increasing the consumption of ‘the victims of capitalism’ does not work in the end because it goes against the logic of capitalism which requires that priority be given to profit-making. Hence its ‘ambiguous’ economic result. In this instance the Fukuyama of 1992 had a better understanding than the Fukuyama of 2018. The fact is capitalism can never be made to work in the interest of its victims, the majority class of wage and salary workers.

In the interview Fukuyama also had something to say about Marx:
‘At this juncture, it seems to me that certain things Karl Marx said are turning out to be true. He talked about the crisis of overproduction … that workers would be impoverished and there would be insufficient demand.’
While Marx did speak of crises of overproduction he did not think that they were caused by insufficient paying demand from workers. He pointed out that, on the contrary, ‘crises are always prepared by a period in which wages generally rise, and the working class actually does receive a greater share of the annual production destined for consumption’ (Capital, Volume 2, chapter 20, section 4). For him, crises of overproduction arose from the anarchy of production built into capitalism that led some businesses, in their competitive pursuit of profits, producing more than the market demand for their products and to this having a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy.

Even in his 1992 book Fukuyama was not that hostile to Marx since he saw him as a fellow Hegelian who held that history moved towards an ‘end’ (in the sense of an aim rather than a stop). His criticism of Marx was that the end of history was capitalism not communism.

In the interview he also referred to ‘China’s state capitalist model’ but that’s par for the course these days.

Editorial: The vote and its misuse (2018)

Editorial from the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

The general election in Britain a hundred years ago this month was significant in a number of ways.

It was the first election to the House of Commons in which some (most but not all) women were allowed to vote and stand as a candidate. It was also the first parliamentary election in which all men had the vote, the belated achievement of the Chartist aim set out in 1838. In the war that had just ended, now presented as a war to preserve democracy, there was the ironic situation of soldiers supposedly fighting for this who didn’t have the vote (at least a third of them) lobbing shells at soldiers on the other side who did. But then, as we explained in last month’s editorial, the war was not about democracy but about conflicting imperialist aims.

Only one woman was elected – Constance Markievicz – but as she was a Sinn Feiner she did not take up her seat at Westminster but met with the other Sinn Fein MPs in Dublin in January 1919 to proclaim themselves the parliament of the Irish Republic (to be marked in Ireland by patriotic centenary celebrations next month). The IRA claimed legitimacy for its various bombing campaigns over the years on the basis that it had a mandate from the Sinn Fein MPs elected to the British Parliament in 1918, preposterously even up to eighty years later. To this day Sinn Fein MPs refuse to take their seats at Westminster as this would involve taking an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. That’s their choice though we have always said that this farcical act should not prevent a socialist MP taking their seat.

The result of the election was a landslide victory (outside Ireland) for supporters of the war-time Coalition led by Lloyd George, which the Socialist Standard of the time described as an ‘imperialist victory’. An election in France in November 1919 was to produce a similar result with a decisive victory for the war-time government – the Union sacrée – under Clemenceau. Even in Germany in elections in January 1919, with an 83 percent turnout only 5 percent voted for the breakaway Independent Social Democrats, the only party to employ an anti-capitalist rhetoric. Women there, too, were able to vote for the first time but most voted for the conservative Catholic and Protestant parties.

So Lenin was clearly (unfortunately) wrong in proclaiming that an epoch of world revolution had opened up after the end of the World War, his justification for the Bolsheviks seizing power in the name of socialism in a country that had none of its preconditions. But at least he recognised that socialism had to be world-wide.

The other lesson is that the vote is a weapon and like all weapons can be misused as well as used properly. In 1918 and 1919 workers in Europe, not to mention the United States, misused the vote to continue with capitalism and in Britain and France to return war-mongers to power. The Chartist pioneers must have been turning in their graves. In view of how the vote has been used since they still will be.