Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Action Replay: Remarkable Behaviour (2012)

Arthur Wharton.
The Action Replay column from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

We’ll not comment on the recent developments in football: one Premier League player suspended for eight matches after being found guilty of racist remarks to an opposing player, one facing a criminal charge, and another apparently being racially abused by a spectator. But there’s no doubt that racism has been a problem in sport, and continues to be so. Athletes, administrators, commentators, spectators – any can be responsible for racist views, language and actions.

In the past racism in sport went well beyond name-calling. US baseball operated a de facto ban on black players till as late as 1946. It was sometimes described as a gentlemen’s agreement, and this was not an ironic use of ‘gentleman’. In apartheid-era South Africa, rugby union was essentially a game for Afrikaners, while football was the game played by the black population.

In this connection it is instructive to look back at the career of Arthur Wharton, born in Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast) in 1865. He came to England in 1882, broke the 100-yards world sprint record, played professional cricket and then played professional football for Rotherham and Sheffield United (he is often claimed to have been the world’s first black professional footballer). But he never enjoyed any kind of fame, and after retiring from sport worked as a miner, dying in poverty in 1930.

Such experiences might make a few phrases uttered in the heat of a match seem like small beer. And it’s hardly original to say that sport simply reflects the wider society. But there’s clearly still a long way to go in overcoming racist ideas.
Paul Bennett

Editorial: SNP Hypocrisy (2012)

Editorial from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Politicians on both sides of the border are getting worked up over a referendum on Scottish independence and the media are encouraging the rest of us to get involved. But why should we?

It is of no concern to workers in Scotland whether they are governed from London or by a separate independent government in Edinburgh. This is because the cause of the problems they face is the capitalist economic system of production for profit, not the form of government. And the capitalist economic system would continue to exist in a politically independent Scotland.

The only people to benefit from Scottish independence would be the local politicians, who would be able to award themselves grander titles and grander salaries. For workers on these islands there is a precedent in Ireland, which broke away from the UK in 1922. Can anyone claim that this has made any difference to the position of workers there?

In Scotland’s case not even the local capitalists would benefit. An independent Scotland would have no choice but to stay in the EU and so could not erect tariff walls to protect its capitalists as the Irish government did for a while to try to protect the fledgling capitalist class there.

The fuss, however, does illustrate two general political points. First, about how referendums can be manipulated to try to get the result the organisers want. Wily politician that he is, SNP leader Alex Salmond knows that if the vote is a straight yes or no on independence, the chances are that he will lose. So he wants to put two questions to the electorate,. One on independence. The other on increased powers for the Scottish Parliament, which he knows would have a better chance of being carried. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has made the same calculation and so is seeking to impose a vote on independence only.

The second point is about the relationship between declared goal and immediate aims. It’s a question that concerned the pre-WWI Social Democratic movement too. As well as having socialism as their ‘maximum’ programme they had a ‘minimum’ programme of reforms to be achieved under capitalism. As a result their support came to be built up on the basis of these reforms rather than socialism, and they ended up becoming, in practice, capitalist reform parties, with socialism as a mere desirable long-term aim. Eventually that was dropped too.

The SNP has got itself into a similar situation. Its long-term aim on paper may be Scottish independence but it has built up its electoral support on the basis of being a better administrator of political affairs in Scotland than the Labour Party. Its voters will not have voted for it because they want Scottish independence – which is why Salmond lacks the courage of his convictions.

We don’t want or care about Scottish independence (any more than we care or support a “United Kingdom” or an “independent Britain”) so it’s not our business to advise those who really want this how to best go about getting it. But we do want world socialism and do know that the way to further this cause is to advocate it and it alone and not seek support on any ‘minimum’ programme of reforms.

That way, support for a socialist political party will be support for socialism and not for something less. When a majority for this has evolved, socialists would have no fear of a referendum on the single question of “Capitalism or Socialism?” and would not want, would in fact indignantly reject, a fall-back, second question on, “Do you want a reformed capitalism?” Unlike Salmond, we’d say bring it on.

50 Years Ago: Homeless in London (2012)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last November, the Press and the politicians suddenly noticed that in London the number of homeless families was increasing.

The London County Council Housing Department estimates that within a year the number of homeless will grow from the present 3,000 to 5,000, perhaps more. Every week there are about 45 families seeking temporary accommodation. The Council is only able to fix up about 36 a week with permanent shelter.

Since the war 30,000 homeless families have been provided with temporary shelter by the L.C.C. In 1957 there were 280 homeless families in L.C.C. centres. Between 1958 and 1960 the number fluctuated between 410 and 435, and in November, 1961, it rose to 641.

Social workers who cannot understand why this should happen have persuaded the L.C.C. to appoint a committee of enquiry into the problem, and are awaiting its findings. They take the view that it will soon be impossible for anybody to live in London, except as a Council tenant, if he is earning less than £18 per week.

Who are the homeless?

They are not the aged, infirm, or the so-called problem families who are attended to quite separately. They are the young working men and women who, if they had their own accommodation, would be ordinary working men and women like most Londoners. The husbands work, mainly in unskilled jobs, and earn an average of £10 or £12 per week.

(. . .)

If we look a little deeper than the Press and politicians, the first thing to be noted is the age of the problem. In fact, it goes back to the beginning of modern capitalism. Many writers have exposed it in the past, all the reformist political parties and politicians have at some time stated that they had a solution to the problem. Still it persists.

It is a strange thing how all these well-intentioned people overlook one thing. The investigators have all commented on the fact that these homeless families all live on low wages so it is the families with low incomes who are liable to be homeless. The rent is too high, the income is too low; they cannot afford, or to use the jargon of the market, they do not constitute an effective demand. Poverty is the word, and the present increase in the number of homeless in London is due to just that. The whole question of housing or lack of it, not only in London, but throughout the world, is part of the problem of poverty.

(Article by R.A., Socialist Standard, February 1962.)

Action Replay: Pass the Port (2012)

The Action Replay column from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

If war is the continuation of politics by other means, then international sport can be a form of politics too. National sports teams are often used to increase a country’s prestige and influence or to make some political point.

Probably the most notorious example was the ‘cricket test’ proposed by Norman Tebbit in 1990, and supposedly failed by many British people of Asian descent. So someone whose family was from Pakistan might support Pakistan against England (even if they supported England when they played, say, Australia). It was never quite clear what this was meant to show, apart from Tebbit’s own nastiness.

In fact, a closer look at the concept of a national team can tell us quite a bit about the notions of nationalism and patriotism. Bahrain, for instance, has acquired a set of Olympic-class athletes by granting citizenship (and plenty of money too, no doubt) to established stars from elsewhere (such as Morocco and Ethiopia). Switching national allegiance for sporting reasons is not exactly rare, and even the current England cricket team (strictly, England and Wales) contains a number of players who started out as South Africans.

Even when the country was split between East and West, a combined German team competed at some Olympic Games. Ireland is represented on a thirty-two county basis in hockey and rugby union, but Northern Ireland and the Republic go their separate ways in other sports. The North competes alongside England, Scotland and Wales in football, for instance, and at the Commonwealth Games, but not at the Olympics, where a combined Great Britain team takes part.  

So the concept of ‘nation’ in international sport is pretty fluid. Not that any of this stops nationalists claiming that sporting success for ‘their’ country shows how superior its people are.
Paul Bennett

Cooking the Books: Clueless (2012)

The Cooking the Books column from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the first things George Osborne did on becoming Chancellor in May 2010 was to headhunt a whizz-kid economic forecaster to head a new Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). For Osborne’s 2010 budget the OBR forecast that GDP would grow by 2.3 percent in 2011. It also made forecasts for the years up to 2015. We commented in this column in August 2010:
  Long-term predictions are even less reliable. Even so, the OBR has indulged in this, predicting (and we record the figures for future reference) that in 2012 growth will be 2.8 percent, in 2013 2.9 percent, and 2.7 percent in 2014 and 2015. This is not worth the paper it’s written on. It’s like the Met Office predicting a barbecue summer in two years time.
In his Autumn Statement on 29 November Osborne revealed that the OBR had gone back to the drawing board and come up with some new figures:
  They expect GDP in Britain to grow this year by 0.9% – and by 0.7% next year. They then forecast 2.1% growth in 2013, 2.7% in 2014, followed by 3% in 2015 and 3% again in 2016.
Given the unpredictable nature of capitalism, the chances are that the figures for the years after 2012 will turn out to be just as wrong.

The day after the Autumn Statement, there was a one-day public sector general strike. For the occasion, the Morning Star, which is close to the “Communist Party of Britain” (the nearest thing to the old “Communist” Party), brought out a special, free edition. It contained an article by Jerry Jones, the economic expert of the Morning Star and CPB, which revealed that those at the opposite end of the political spectrum to Osborne are just as clueless.

The CPB claims to be Marxist but Jones’s analysis was not based on Marx’s view that what drives the capitalist economy is investment by capitalist enterprises in search of profit. He argues that, on the contrary, capitalism is motivated by “economic demand” as if it were a system geared to what people want to buy; and that the current economic crisis is not a lack of profits but a lack of paying demand.

From this faulty analysis his faulty conclusion follows: that the state should invest in new productive activities, so putting money into workers’ pockets and increasing economic demand that way. This is Keynes rather than Marx, but where’s the state to get the money to invest? Easy:
  The fact is that governments could simply tell their central bank – the Bank of England in Britain’s case – to print the money or its electronic equivalent and hand it over to the government to invest.
Jones himself then poses the question: “But doesn’t ‘printing money’ cause inflation?” He answers “No” on the grounds that the “true cause” of inflation is not “too much money floating around” but is “always insufficient supply, or investment, to meet growing economic demand.”

But, in the end, this is the same thing. The price of any good will go up if the paying demand for it exceeds its supply but, since paying demand is generated in production, the only way that total demand can come to exceed total supply (Jones’s assumption) is by it being inflated by the government “printing more money” (more accurately, printing more money than the economy needs).

The inflationary policy advocated by Jones might temporarily induce some increased production but would eventually lead to “stagflation”, as it did when tried in the slump of the mid-1970s. The Morning Star’s Keynesian reformism is not a viable alternative. Only socialism is.

Editorial: Neither London nor Brussels, but World Socialism (2012)

Editorial from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

No wealth is produced in The City. It is a place where the proceeds of working-class exploitation transformed into rights to a property income are the subject of trading, speculation and gambling. Around this has grown up a whole range of “financial services” – wheelers and dealers of one kind or another – vying for a share. In short, it is entirely parasitic on those parts of the world economy where wealth is actually produced by those working there.

So – apart from the fact that the Conservative Party has always been committed to defending the interests of The City, going back to the time when it was the place through which the loot plundered from the British Empire was channelled – why did Cameron make such a fuss about defending The City “from Europe” and expect people to think that this was a good thing? After all, is not The City the habitat of the same bankers that the media has been vilifying since 2008? It is, but they’ve got him over a barrel just as they had the previous Labour Government.

According to the Times (12 December), the financial services sector (not just The City) makes up ten percent of UK GDP and contributed £53 billion as taxes for the upkeep of the government. In addition, The City achieved a “trade surplus” of £36.4 billion, a measure of how much surplus value produced in the rest of the world it sucks in. Clearly, The City is an important part of the British capitalist economy which no government can ignore. But The City is not the only section of the capitalist class.

There are also the businesses producing for export. It was precisely to further their interests by gaining them free access to a wider European market that Britain joined the “Common Market” in the first place. They still benefit from the single market with its common standards and regulations and do not want Britain to withdraw from the European Union. To placate them, Cameron has had to make it clear that the government has no intention of doing so.

He did win the plaudits of his backwoodsmen, the Eurosceptics, but they represent small businesses producing for the home market (and financed by some bigger businesses in the same position). They want a referendum on withdrawal, which they expect to win. It is precisely because they could well do so that no government is going to hold one. They are not there to govern on behalf of small businesses but of Big Business.

This is a dispute between different sections of the same capitalist class which should be left to them to settle for themselves. No working class interest is involved. We don’t care whether or not there is a referendum on the matter and, if there is, wouldn’t take part in it except to write “World Socialism” across the ballot paper. As socialists we refuse to pander to petty nationalism but work to promote a world without frontiers where the Earth’s resources have become the common heritage of all.

Need to end capitalism (2012)

Book Review from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

What every environmentalist needs to know about capitalism. By Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster. Monthly Review Press. 2011.

Overall the book contains a very good analysis of the causes of the world’s environmental problems which it is claimed are largely attributable to the global economic system of capitalism. Bearing in mind the book is aimed at environmental activists and those concerned with the problems associated with global warming, climate change and the general degradation of the state of the planet, the authors are spot on with this early statement: ‘It’s essential to break with a system based on a single motive – the perpetual accumulation of capital and hence economic growth without end.’  

The chapters unfold neatly revealing the depths of inequality between rich and poor, individually and collectively, including the relative size of their ecological footprints. A clear case is presented as to the illogicality of an expectation that capitalism can be organised a different way to be made ‘green.’  The growth imperative of capitalism is explained and linked to its antagonism to the health of our environment in that what’s good for economic growth is bad for the environment and vice versa. The wide spread of capitalism’s ever expanding reach and resultant damage is comprehensively covered, including the imperialism of land grab, resource wars, water as an urgent resource problem, the exploitation of aquifers adding to annual sea level rise, damage as a result of careless but deliberate exploitation and externalities in their many guises. How appropriately the authors suggest amending the well known phrase, ‘the tragedy of the commons’ to ‘the tragedy of the private exploitation of the commons.’

When it comes to how we should deal with the causes and what is promoted to achieve the break with the system based on the perpetual accumulation of capital and economic growth without end, however, things take a turn for the worse. The final chapter is a disappointing list of rules, regulations, what could, should and must be done to put people and the environment before profit.  It’s disappointing because these demands are all reformist based. Having read this far it must now be plain for readers to see that without first dismantling the very economic system that the authors have so successfully discredited right up to the final chapter there is no way that anything will change for the better, neither for people nor for the environment. Capitalism has been reformed many times and in many different ways and still it continues to progressively worsen the environment. If socialism is to be achieved it has to mean much more than transitional reforms to a democratically planned economy.
Janet Surman

Marketing crap (2012)

Book Review from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Born to Run. By Christopher McDougall. Profile Books.

Hundreds of scientists recently convened in London to untangle half a century of sports and leisure propaganda that more supportive shoes are better. Running is one of the most natural things human beings can do; it is as good for you as long periods of sitting are bad for you. It is as vital to our sustainability as a species as is breathing, eating and reproduction. Christopher McDougall was puzzled, then, to learn from podiatrists that recreational running is blighted by injury. His research led him to write this best-seller which spawned the movement that is challenging the supportive shoe orthodoxy. The journalist for Men’s Health tells the tale of his time with the Tarahumara tribe from Mexico.

“In Tarahumara land, there was no crime, war or theft … Fifty-year-olds could outrun teenagers, and eighty-year-old great-granddads could hike marathon distances up mountainsides. Their cancer rates were barely detectable.” They did no stretching or warming up, partied all night and got drunk on beer the night before a race. The races could last two days.  Some runners could do 300 miles or 12 full marathons back to back. When the Tarahumara were introduced to Leadville 100 mile Ultramarathon in Colorado in 1993, they revolutionised ultra-running and broke records, a 52 year-old Tarahumara runner finished first, a 46 year-old Tarahumara runner finished second.

The barefoot movement that the book has spawned simply contends that supportive shoes encourage unhealthy habits. These include heel strikes rather than toe strikes, and pronation which causes knee injury.  The book stops short of asking why the lucrative trainer industry has ignored or suppressed this evidence and sells bad running shoes. The answer is that some scientific studies and research is in the interests of capital to sponsor, and other studies are not. As cultural theorists such as the Frankfurt School have observed, the culture industry does not just fail to meet needs, it actually creates false needs and artificial desires too.

Since the co-founder of Nike (and champion sports coach) Bill Bowerman liked to claim responsibility for the popularity of recreational running with the publication of Jogging in 1962 then the industry ought to be responsible even on its own terms. Eventually even Bowerman concluded Nike were “distributing a lot of crap” in order to “make money”.

Although the scientific consensus now is inconclusive, trainer companies have already started selling shoes with minimal support to simulate the effect of going barefoot. So in the trainer industry, just as in capitalism generally, no crises are permanent, just unnecessarily wasteful and extremely destructive.

Parliament and Power (1954)

From the December 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently the I.L.P. published a pamphlet “The Way To Workers’ Control,” which is a reprint of chapter 6, section II., of the book “Workers’ Councils ” by Anton Pannekoek. In an introduction the I.L.P. states:—” This pamphlet is necessary as an antidote for those who have stressed the importance of the Parliamentary struggle. It is important to remind M.P.s who believe that their power rests on a mathematical majority of seats that real power exists outside Parliament (and the courts, as Sir Hartley Shawcross found when he tried to prosecute the dockers in February, 1951).” They also state:— “We believe that the tasks of a political party today do not preclude Parliamentary action. It is our view and, we believe, that of the author, that Socialist policy should not be determined by Parliamentary expediency ...”

There is also a new journal, “Revolt,” published by so-called Marxist Groups, which is putting forward old ideas which have helped to mislead the working class in the past.

We therefore once again have to refute the idea that Socialism can be established before the understanding and acceptance of it by the majority of the workers. Despite all the defeats, hardship and bloodshed experienced by workers in trying to oppose the powers of the State machine by force, these so-called Marxist Groups are once again advocating methods which, if put in effect, could only lead to further defeats. Despite all the experience they have to draw upon, they appear to have learned nothing from the errors of the Anarchists and Communist Parties.

The S.P.G.B. has since its foundation stressed the need for the working class to organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government in order that the machinery of government, including the armed forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation. The importance of Parliament as the centre of power is dealt with in our pamphlet “Questions of the Day.

What does the I.L.P. mean by the statement “That Socialist policy should not be determined by Parliamentary expediency?” Gaining control of Parliament to introduce Socialism is not Parliamentary expediency. When we of the S.P.G.B. have contested an election we have always put the Socialist case. We have always requested the working class not to vote for the Socialist candidate unless they understand and accepted Socialism. It is the I.L.P. whose election campaigns are determined by Parliamentary expediency, it is the I.L.P. which fails to put the Socialist case to the electors, it is the I.L.P. which puts forward what they believe to be vote catching reforms only to find that the majority of the workers believe that the Labour Party is more likely to obtain these reforms. The I.L.P. is wrong in stating that real power exists outside Parliament.

Power and the Law
Clearly the strongest power in the State, wherever it resides, cannot be limited by law or anything else, since otherwise it would not be the strongest. Parliamentary sovereignty in Britain means that the validity of an Act of Parliament cannot be called in question in any court of law. There is no legal limit to the power of Parliament in Great Britain and consequently no court of law can ever declare, as can an American court with an Act of Congress, that an Act of Parliament is unconstitutional and therefore cannot be enforced.

Sir H. Shawcross, as the Attorney General in the last Labour Government, did not fail in his attempt to prosecute the dockers, because the power of the courts was greater than that of Parliament, but because he was in too much of a hurry. The Labour Government could have changed the law, it had a majority in the House of Commons, but it was bound by previous laws which it had not changed. The Labour Government knew that if they did change the law it would have to bear the consequences in the next general election.

E. S. Heffer, writing in issue No. 2 of the paper Revolt, states: “The lessons of the 1926 General Strike must be learned. During that revolutionary upsurge, the workers created their own embryonic State organs, when the Trades Councils were in varying degrees transformed into Councils of Action. Parliament, as such, was powerless, and it was only the reformist spinelessness of the leadership of the T.U.C. and the Labour Party that led to defeat.”

This is nonsense. Parliament was not powerless, it still controlled the posse, it controlled the armed forces and, as many workers found, was prepared to use all the powers of the State to defeat the General Strike. Talk of defeat because of the leaders of the T.U.C. and the Labour Party, is an old, old story. Who elected these leaders? Who supported them after the defeat? The fact that the working class had the need of leaders showed that they did not know what to do but were prepared to follow leaders. It is, too, in odd explanation to give that the all-powerful upsurge of the workers was too weak to overcome a handful of leaders.

Up to the present the mass of the workers have lacked political knowledge and have voted for people instead of principles. The members of the so-called Marxist Group and people with similar ideas on “revolutionary action ” have never grown up, they are like children playing at revolution and no doubt enjoying themselves for a time, then, when things go wrong they blame the leaders.

With regard to Parliamentary action Marx and Engels had no doubt about the position as the two following quotations show.
  “The working classes will have learned by experience that no lasting benefit whatever can be obtained for them by others but that they must obtain it themselves by conquering, first of all. political power. They must see now that under no circumstances have they any guarantee for bettering their social position unless by universal suffrage which would enable them to send a majority of working men in the House of Commons (“The Ten Hours Question” by F. Engels).”
   “But universal suffrage is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat form the large majority of the population, where, in a long, though underground, civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of its position as a class, and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants, but landlords, industrial Capitalists (farmers) and hired labourers. The carrying of universal suffrage in England would, therefore, be a far more Socialist measure than anything which has been honoured with that name on the Continent.
   “Its inevitable result here is the political supremacy of the working class.”
From an article by K. Marx on the Chartists, New York Tribune, August 25th, 1852, Marx was too optimistic as to how the workers would use their votes. Unfortunately the workers had not a clear consciousness of their position as a class. They still have not. But at least Marx and Engels recognised the necessity of capturing the political machinery and the necessity of gaining a majority in the House of Commons. This is something the members of the so-called Marxists Groups have yet to learn. No doubt they recognise that the majority of the workers would not elect their candidates if they contested an election. But the answer is not to belittle the powers of Parliament but to propagate Socialism. This is the method of the S.P.G.B. We know that once the majority understand and accept Socialism the powers of government will soon be conquered by the working class.
D. W. Lock