Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Black Hole of Calcutta (1943)

From the December 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

What might be termed the sequel to the historical incident we know by the above term has been, and is being written in the blood of thousands of starving, pestilence-stricken Indian workers and peasants of Bengal. Daily references in the newspapers to the famine in India have provided grim evidence of the ghastly scenes enacted on the streets of Calcutta by actors unable to choose the part they wish to play. Stories have been related of children being sold for a handful of rice, and of skeletons of men and women feeding on jungle roots and leaves. Figures of the death rate show it to have increased to nearly four times the normal average. The whole tragedy is graphically epitomised by the Calcutta Statesman which said:-
  “Thousands of emaciated destitutes still roam the streets in the ceaseless quest for food, scouring dustbins and devouring rotten remains of castaway food and fruit. Rickety children clutching imploringly the tattered garments barely covering the bones of their mothers are seen in all quarters of the city.” (Quoted in Manchester Guardian Weekly, October 15, 1943.)
Famine has always been a factor to reckon with in the economy of India, and has usually meant suffering for large sections of the population. It is commonly understood that a famine means a shortage of food owing to the natural failure of crops, but what is not generally recognised is that the character of the famine, and the way in which it affects the people, varies with the type of society in which it occurs. To the middle of the nineteenth century famines in India were localized in the area in which there was a shortage of crop, and meant an appalling lack of food in that area and of employment. Even if one had money there was no food to be brought, and the general solution was to migrate to areas where food was available. From about 1850, however, capitalism, under the tutelage of the British, became superimposed on the old Indian feudal economy at an ever quickening rate, with an ever greater intensity. With the spreading of capitalism the growth of industrialisation, the development of the plantation and factory system, the production of goods for sale came more and more into evidence. Concurrently with this development the means of transport and communication were vastly increased and extended. Hence, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it became relatively easy to shift quantities of foodstuffs into famine-stricken areas, and a change in the general character of Indian famines took place. They now meant, not so much an appalling lack of food as high scarcity prices and lack of employment, and whilst the growth of the means of communication lessened the danger of local famines, it tended to widen the area where high prices would prevail.

Thus the famine, from being a calamity of the natural order, turned into a calamity of the social order, aggravating the sufferings inflicted on the poorer sections of the population, notably the peasants, the landless day-labourer, and the growing urban working class.

It is true that in the area most affected by the recent famine, Bengal, Bombay, and Madras, there has been some destruction of crops due to natural causes, but at the same time there have been good crops in other provinces. In the reports that have arrived in this country there is a general insistence that the catastrophe has not come about because of any basic natural shortage, but because such deficits in supply as did exist have been taken advantage of by hoarders and speculators. The loss of the Burma rice crop, excessive inflation, and general economic dislocation (all factors arising out of the war), and natural shortages in certain districts, all tended to encourage the farmers and merchants to hold on to their stocks in order to get still higher prices and greater profits when they did at last decide to sell.

This was the position as early as January 15, 1943, when in the Manchester Guardian Weekly it was reported that “price control has never been rigorously enforced, except against small retailers. The impression is widespread that there are considerable stocks which would be brought out if price control was removed and this would relieve the shortage until next harvest.” The same issue of the paper also stated that black markets flourished everywhere.

After seven months had elapsed the same paper wrote as follows (August 13, 1943):-
  “The Government of India’s Food Member did not deny last week the allegation that men in authority have obstructed the Government’s measures to bring relief to the masses. The Food Secretary on Sunday admitted that Sind had made enormous profits through the sale of surplus wheat and rice. Lack of foresight, the toleration of profiteers, and the fear of alienating certain favoured sections like the landlords, have created the food crisis.”
Whilst we learn on the one hand of the fear of alienating certain favoured sections of the property owning class, we learn that there was no such fear during the period of alienating those sections of the population with little or no property. Side by side with the blackest of black markets, dealing in the very life-blood of the poverty-stricken masses, there were “long queues of hungry workers waiting all night outside Government controlled grain shops in places like Bombay.” (Manchester Guardian Weekly, January 15, 1943)

Investigations conducted by Calcutta University have revealed that 50 per cent of the families of destitutes have been broken up, and that 47 per cent are landless labourers, 25 per cent small cultivators, 6 per cent town beggars, and the remainder unclassified.

Such evidence as this throws into bold relief the fact that it is the propertyless who suffer and die, whilst the propertied reap excess profits and get all they want in the black markets.

The Indian scene, in normal times, is a picture of a vast mass of humanity living in the grip of abysmal poverty. Utter destitution resulting in a prolonged death through starvation, or a quicker death through mal-nutritional diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera and typhoid, is the lot of Indian workers and peasants. What then must be their lot when the price of the food they require for a bare existence soars far and away above their means? What can they do but wait for death to claim them, their bony hands held out imploringly for food, on the pavements of the second largest and one of the “most prosperous” cities in the British Empire! In other parts of the same empire the granaries of Australia and Canada are full to overflowing with the wheat that would bring succour to those in need. The problem, however, according to Mr. Amery (Secretary for India), speaking in the House of Commons, October 12, 1943, was “entirely one of shipping, and has to be judged in the light of all the other urgent needs of the Allied Nations.” Yet the Allied Nations are producing ships faster than they have ever been produced before in the history of mankind, and the USA is able to boast of a production of 15,000 naval ships of all dimensions in the past three years.

Well might the reader at this point exclaim, “This is madness!”

No, reader, this is not madness—simply another example of the ever present anarchy in CAPITALISM, the economic system of society that holds the world enslaved.

An economic system that is based on the ownership of the means of life by the few, and the exclusion of the means of life from the many. Only under capitalism is it possible for conditions to arise where hoarders, speculators, and black marketeers of every nationality can flourish on the one hand, and be the social complement of starvation, unemployment, squalor, disease and poverty on the other.

Only with the abolition of this private property basis of society and its replacement by the ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution by the whole of humanity, can humanity solve the evils with which it is confronted.

This is the job, the only worth-while job, of the working class. Not only the working class of this country, but of the working class of the world acting in unison. No longer must they acquiesce in the retention of a system which condemns great numbers of men and women to exist like a seething mass of gentils beneath a rotten, stinking piece of meat. Just as the meat is a condition of existence of the gentils, so is capitalism a condition of existence of the working class. It must be removed, and with it will go all class divisions.

This can only be done by a working class conscious of the cause of its troubles, desirous of solving them, and with knowledge of the solution. Even in the case of the Indian working class the solution to their problems is the same as ours. It does not lie in the substitution of one kind of capitalism for another. It does not lie in the substitution of a native Indian master class in place of the British Raj; their fellow countrymen are among their most ruthless exploiters. In common with the rest of the workers of the world, their solution lies in the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life – the establishment of SOCIALISM. Along this road alone, however tiresome may be the journey and however many pitfalls may be on the way, lies the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
N. S.

Lights Up (1944)

From the December 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The writing is on the wall. Victory for the Anglo-American capitalist class and defeat for its German counterpart. Once more the Governments of France, Belgium, Holland are about to return after four years in London, presumably controlling the underground movements in their respective countries. Queens are returning from Canada, and Kings and Princes are polishing their buttons and medals, and shaking the moth-balls from their best uniforms, ready for the victory parade. At this stage one could ask what it was in the first place that induced them to leave, but that would create a certain awkwardness, to say the least. Besides, who are we to doubt the bravery of the ruling class?

Older members of the working class, with not too short memories, will remember the victory parades of the last war—the military displays, the victory balls, bands playing, flags waving, etc., etc. Perhaps, too, they will remember the days of the General Strike and the slump years of the late twenties and early thirties, when the ruling class made wholesale onslaughts on their standard of living—the dole queues, the hunger marches, the means test.

This was the interlude between the two world wars, and even to the most obtuse members of the working class it must have been painfully obvious that there were two classes in society, and that they (the working class) were to have all the pleasures and thrills which accompany job-seeking, bringing up a family, paying rent, and in general keeping the proverbial wolf from the door. For the capitalist class there was roulette at Monte Carlo, a bungalow on the Riviera, the playground of Nice, a trip to the Mediterranean or Florida.

Sun-chasing has been a popular pastime with our masters. In latter years several of these places have proved just a bit too warm, so they have had to content themselves with a shooting lodge in Scotland, a fishing trip on the lochs, or maybe a few racehorses.

The contrast between the classes is so striking that one constantly wonders why it is that the most useful section in society, the working class, don't set about the job of finding a solution to the problem—that most peculiar problem of poverty in the midst of plenty. This social phenomenon has its roots in the capitalist system of production, and will persist as long as capitalism persists. Sooner or later the workers will tackle this state of affairs, and we feel sure of the result. A social system which breeds slums, disease, malnutrition, poverty and war must go, and capitalism as such cannot possibly survive without the acquiescence of that overwhelming majority—the working class. No doubt its demise would come much quicker were it not for the existence of reformist organisations, who, even granting them the best possible intentions, do no more than cloud the issue and generally land up either hand in glove with the capitalist class or else go out of existence.

The black-out has been replaced by dim-out. but we are very much afraid that when the lights finally go up they will illuminate the same old sombre surroundings, the filthy poverty for the wage slave, the wealth and opulence for the capitalist parasite. To prophesy in detail is both foolish and dangerous and would avail nothing, but we in the Socialist Party of Great Britain are not posing as political Isaiahs when we say that the transition from war to peace will not be the smooth running affair that our politicians, and planners fondly imagine. The working class have been subjected to all sorts of controls and anti-working class legislation. These they have accepted with little or no demur. They have watched the formation of new political groups, the political chicanery of others—life-long enemies drinking each others toasts and becoming friends and bed-mates.

The trend of events plus the attendant inconsistencies and contradictions of capitalism at war has given the worker food for thought, sharpened his political wits, and in general made him more wary. Consequently the task of changing the wartime harness for the peacetime chains isn't going to be an easy one. and the apostles of the status quo and "the good clean healthy competition” school are going to have a. few spanners in their planning mechanism before this delicate operation is over.

Without being unduly optimistic, we regard this as a healthy sign because workers who are critical of existing conditions will be more receptive to the Socialist idea; and will ultimately join with the S.P.G.B. in working for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. In the meantime our advice to workers of all lands remains unaltered. Comrades, arm yourselves with the most potent of all weapons—Socialist knowledge.
Jim D'Arcy

Ireland's Civil War (1969)

Book Review from the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ireland’s Civil War, by Calton Younger. (Muller 50/-.)

Calton Younger gives here a detailed and factual account of the events which finally erupted in a cruel and merciless civil war.

Probably his greatest failing is the identifying of the years from the 1916 Easter Rising to the civil war in 1922 with “revolution'’ and, as he suggests, the inevitability of civil war after “revolution". This may be true of “bloody revolutions" but there was hardly anything revolutionary about the 1916 Rising. James Connolly was the only one of the insurgent leaders who was acquainted with revolutionary ideas but he erroneously believed that an Irish republic and socialist society were compatible, and this, together with the fact that he was an influential leader, probably accounts for why he involved himself in a purely capitalist venture.

The British Government's policy of staggering the executions of the 1916 leaders over a number of days is classed by the author as sheer stupidity. Younger fails to see it as the desperate effort of a ruling class to stamp out dissension from imperialist rule for of course, an independent Ireland would have been a weakness in British defence strategy in the war. The depths to which Lloyd-George, Churchill and the other cabinet ministers were willing to go, were manifest when they sent the dreaded Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries into Ireland to stamp out the raging guerilla war. The I.R.A. could distinguish between British troops and civilians but the British troops, just like the Americans in Vietnam today, often could not distinguish between rebels and other people: when in counter-reprisals they vehemently ravished whole villages and murdered innocent people. This situation was temporarily halted in 1921 when a truce was agreed upon due to pressure inside and outside Westminster.

The negotiations in London (which followed the short-lived peace) between the Irish plenipotentiaries and leading Cabinet Ministers; the reaction of the Republicans to the terms of the Treaty and the civil war that ensued because of the split in the ranks of I.RA, are all described. Various accounts of incidents are given by still-living I.R.A. veterans and much use is made of recently released Cabinet documents. Most of the book tells a sordid story. It should be read by Scottish and Welsh nationalists because it exposes the degradations which the venom of nationalism can lead to.
Patrick Garvey

Green Reform or Socialist Revolution: a discussion between Jonathan Porritt and the Socialist Party (1987)

From the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
This is an edited transcript of an interview between representatives of the Socialist Party and Jonathon Porritt, Director of Friends of the Earth.
Socialist Standard: Can I begin by saying that the Socialist Party, which we’re representing, differs from other political parties and organisations on what you call the left, by advocating something different: a non market society, a society of free access to goods and services. with production for use and not for profit. Now a number of things you're on record as saying ring a fair number of bells with people in the Socialist Party and people who are sympathetic with the Socialist case. For example, you're on record as saying that you favour the transition from production for profit to production for need. Now how do you envisage this can come about within the context of a society based on buying and selling and wages and salaries? The Socialist Party wants that as well, it wants production for need, but we don't think this is possible within the context of a society where you've got a means of exchange, where you've got buying and selling, where you've got the need built into it — regardless of the will of individuals — to make profit.

Jonathon Porritt: It depends what level you're talking about. If you're talking about an improvement in the existing situation, which is what essentially Friends of the Earth is talking about, it is quite conceivable to imagine patching the system up and improving it and making it more responsive to environmental considerations, so that the appalling damage that's being done and the appalling waste and the abuse of people and earth is mitigated. ameliorated. At that level, one can argue quite conventionally about the ways in which the existing system can be adapted or reformed to do a slightly better job than it's doing now. At another level, which concerned me most before I came to Friends of the Earth, the level of deep Green politics rather than light Green politics, which is what we here at Friends of the Earth are primarily about — at that deeper level, there isn't any way of fudging with this existing system. It is not amenable to reform in such a way and to such a degree as to allow for fundamental ecological priorities to come to fruition.

Socialist Standard: What follows from that, then, if you say it's not amenable to reform?

Jonathon Porritt: What follows from that is that the system absolutely has to go. The nub of it for us, for me as a Green, is that the productivist system that we have now, the system that depends upon an expansion of the process of production and consumption as a good thing in itself but is primarily geared towards exchange rather than anything else, as a way of generating "wealth' — that system is not compatible with a finite planet and it doesn't matter how often technology steps in and seems to persuade us that we can overcome some of this finite nature. It doesn't matter how many times one resource seems to substitute for another if one is running short. It doesn't matter how often there seems to be a technological fix that persuades us that we human beings don't have to change our ways. Ultimately, the nub of the reality for Greens is that we have only a certain resource base to use; you can either use that resource base to promote the kind of appallingly inequitable and destructive system that we have now. or you use the resource base to meet the needs of all people on earth.

Socialist Standard: What stands in the way of our doing that then?

Jonathon Porritt
Jonathon Porritt: So much that I can't help but sometimes get depressed. What stands immediately in the way in terms of political perceptions and political realities is a very strong feeling that we have, and I suspect that you may have, that there isn't a great deal to differentiate between what is on offer from the Labour Party and what is on offer from the other parties. This is largely because their area of autonomous operation within the existing international and economic order is tiny and it doesn't actually matter very much whether they talk about wider distribution of ownership in this country, or whether they talk about more production for need in this country. They are still locked into an international economic order which demands of all its participants that the resources they have at their disposal, both human and physical, are converted into a form of wealth that is not directly geared to meeting needs, but is directly geared towards creating profits. When I read the learned and wise, so-called radical, words of opposition parties in this country — not your party, I agree, but the people who call themselves the opposition in this country nowhere is there a perception that they are the slaves of that system, as much as the Conservatives are the willing protagonists of the system. That is a very, very important point of principle for me as a Green. Therefore, to end this point, when one talks about production for use or production for need, it is far more than what it has become in the Labour Party. To them it is essentially a bit of history, which needs to be trotted out from time to time because that is the way many of the ideas in the Labour Party develop, but it is not a meaningful concept when you actually look at the Labour Party's economic and industrial policies.

Socialist Standard: But we've been saying that a revolutionary change is the only way to solve the problems that arise under capitalism since 1904 and movement after movement, reform campaign after reform campaign, has arisen over those years. If in fact attention had been paid to the fundamentals, then maybe we'd be nearer a solution.

Jonathon Porritt: I don't dispute that. I'm fairly well aware of that and obviously I live with that reality day to day myself. To answer the question from a personal point of view, I would not myself dismiss the work of people who are in the reform area as worthless. But I also know the forces that we're up against and I know that we cannot sit around waiting for a Green society to happen, or indeed pit ourselves against some of those forces, unless we are at the same time attempting to do something about the most pressing problems that we're up against at the moment. And there are a very large number of people involved in reformist work of one kind or another which does not rule out awareness on their part, and a commitment on their part, to an extremely radical change in the system But their perception is — and this is a question of personal judgement — that their energy and their efforts are, given the existing status quo, better used, in the short and medium term, on doing that kind of work, rather than on committing themselves to a political revolution as you call it, which, a lot of people have come to accept, will never come about in this country. Unless, that is, there is some desperate, juddering, ghastly collapse of the system. that brings people head-on against reality.

Ideology of Money
Socialist Standard: But even so. revolution is conceived in people's minds normally as a change of government. Now in relation to this, if I can come back to something which you said a little bit earlier, what it seems to me you said is that there's an ideology which embraces all the well-known political parties whether right or left. This is an ideology of growth: they're locked into this international economic system and there's no way out of it for them. Can I ask you about an ideology that is equally all-embracing? That is the ideology that we've got to base our relationships, personal and economic, on money, on this money-bound mode of thinking, the idea that we need a society in which buying and selling is paramount, a society in which we've got to work for wages, in which there have got to be employees and employers. It seems to me that this is a super-ideology which in a way goes far deeper than the ideology of growth. What would be your reaction to the suggestion that we should do away with the ideology of buying and selling and working for wages, as well as the ideology of growth?

Jonathon Porritt: The idea of wages, and the notion that every working person has a price, as it were, or a monetized value, is something which I personally do not find a lot of sympathy with. If you look at the way in which work patterns are emerging in the future, there is just as much of a potential for a complete revolution in work attitudes, and what work is all about, as there is for a tightening of the existing capitalist system.

Socialist Standard: How close are the trade unions to recognising that? Do you say you've moved a little bit nearer or there's a little more sympathy within trade union circles to Greens?

Jonathan Porritt: I've got no false expectations there. When it's a question of wages, salaries etc. then my feeling is that there is scope for a tremendously exciting shift in attitudes, so that work ceases to be the debased way in which people assess someone's merit or someone's value in society merely according to how much they can earn. And work becomes again what I have always felt it should be — probably from a hopelessly old-fashioned point of view — an essential part of the way in which a human being expresses his or her ability to serve other people, to enrich their lives, to improve their community and so on. You can't talk about Green attitudes towards employment and the economy unless that shift of attitudes towards work is at the back of it. On the question of buying and selling things: I don't feel confident enough about how alternatives to that might come about to argue that as part of Green politics. We would have to look very carefully at barter economies and the way in which they developed up until the point where local scale markets developed, quite organically, in a quite different way from what "the market" means today (which is a real non-word — it isn't a market at all).

Socialist Standard: Can I interrupt to say we're not talking about barter; what we're talking about is production directly for use.

Jonathon Porritt: Ah. but then you're coming back to something that I think we have already agreed on — the concept that the resources of a society could be so geared that they were primarily directed at meeting need rather than creating money through salaries or wages, or creating surplus through profits or whatever else it might be. Now that is a different way of looking at it, but money might still be involved.

A Society of Free Access
Socialist Standard: Well, what is the objection to free access to what is produced, without the intermediary of money, or barter? Money is simply a sophisticated form of barter. If one excludes barter altogether either in the form of goods or of money, what is the objection to people producing what they need in the quantities that they need and simply taking those things as necessary? The objection people often put — that people arc naturally greedy — I presume would not be put by people in the Green movement because it would be quite a damning one. Our argument is that people are made greedy by the circumstances in which they find themselves. But what's the objection to that kind of arrangement?

Jonathon Porritt: The objection, which I'm sure you've encountered just as often as we have, is your interpretation of need and the extent to which one person's interpretation of need might be another person's interpretation of greed or simple want, rather than need. A lot of work in the Green movement, particularly in terms of international economics and developing world economics, has gone into the whole definition of need. How can you use that word with any sense of it being applicable objectively to every person in a country, let alone to every country on this earth? How can one actually use that word as an absolute standard, where you can lay down what a person's needs are?

Socialist Standard: We're talking about self-determined need. I don't think you can talk about it in any other way. because you can't lay down what somebody else's needs are.

Jonathon Porritt: But are you talking about that? Because I honestly feel that that's questionable.

Socialist Standard: Yes. that is our conception, that that is the proper basis of human society meeting needs.

Jonathon Porritt: Right, but then your point about human nature becomes not only important, but all-important. Unless one is able to see human nature as a totally different potentiality from what it is now. It would be fine if, expressed and articulated in a different society with a different set of values and a different set of priorities, human nature allowed for self-determined need to flourish as a principle. But then I would have to put it to you — and this is, I feel, more on the basis of ten years' experience as a teacher, rather than three years' experience as Director of Friends of the Earth — the reality of it is that every single one of the major shaping influences in our society at the moment, from top to bottom, tends to reinforce a concept of need which is not self-determined, which is culturally and socially determined in the most destructive way. destructive both of human dignity and of the planet.

Class Society
Socialist Standard: We hold that the shaping influences can be lumped together as the influences emanating from one class — those people who take the decisions that production shall proceed on the basis of profit. So it is that class which shapes ideas and therefore we see a class-divided society. It's not a social or an emotional thing. It's a rational analysis and until that class, who are in a position of power and can determine what production is undertaken and so on, and until that social system with that kind of minority authority is altered, nothing will change.

Jonathon Porritt: I don't hold to that view, and I personally believe that some of the things that are holding back a change in the nature of the debate, the political debate in this country, are the way in which we get hooked on the class issue before we are able to move through to what I consider to be the real issue, which is that of who holds power. I don't share your perception that the only people who hold power in our society are those from a certain class and that they use that power permanently to keep other people disempowered. From my perception of it, from the perception of an ecologist, there is no justification for that theory when one looks at patterns of damage and the ways in which different economies, left and right, are able to put people into positions of power in such a way that they use that power against the interests of the majority of people and against the interests of the planet. When you look at the power base in Eastern Europe, it's obviously structured in a different way than it is in the West, but it shares so many points in common that although you may not be able to spot a class system emerging in quite the same sense . . .

Socialist Standard: Oh, but we do.

Jonathon Porritt: I would have some difficulty about that. 1 would call it a caste system, rather than class. I would say you're using the concept of class in an inaccurate way. What you're talking about is those who are allowed in these different political systems to dominate others through the power that they have and through their capacity to disempower others. That I would share with you; I don't actually believe that that's any longer the sole prerogative of any one class. And if you look at this country, at the extent to which not just the upper classes are involved in this continued oppression of people but others, other people who don't necessarily fit into that category, one has to raise the notion that the so-called leaders of the working class have actually done as much to destroy the potential for a genuine liberation of politics in this country as the so-called leaders of the upper classes.

Socialist Standard: Trade union leaders are in the business of maintaining the price of labour, as an element in the capitalist system, so of course they're locked into the system as well.

Jonathon Porritt: But if the word class means anything, one would have to say that they feel an affinity with that class of people. Now that's why to a certain extent your own analysis may be suggesting that we may need to move beyond the very simplistic way in which class is used as a concept in British politics, and get back to the thing that underlies class, underlies privilege, caste, all the rest of it, whatever the determinant may be that puts one person in power over another, and get back to that issue of power.

Socialist Standard: Can I say that we argue that a class is a group of people that has economic interests in common, and therefore we define the owning class, the capitalist class if you like, as those who own and/or control the means of production. And in Britain you've got maybe 10 per cent of the population who are in the position of being able to survive without having to work, because they have the means to do so through dividends or whatever other unearned forms of income come to them. In Russia the situation is not one of people owning in a legal way but in a de facto way, of controlling the means of production and in so doing having privileges which in effect make them into an owning class, into a capitalist class, even if they're not called that

An Alternative Value System
Socialist Standard: But perhaps I could come back briefly to one thing you said earlier, and that was basically "the world's in a mess", that people's values are on the whole fairly negative, and people are being encouraged to move in directions which all ecologically-minded people would deprecate, and this comes from values which we'd essentially be against. Now what we'd advocate would be a society of self-determined need. Now if at present what we've got is a society where people aren't capable of determining their own needs because of the pressures upon them, surely the logical answer to that is for those who are in favour of a society of self-determined need to advocate that. They should do as much as possible to make people see that it would be in their interest and in the interest of the community as a whole to have that kind of society, rather than the kind of society we've got at present where people are at one another's throats and encouraged to have values which are not in their own individual interests and not in the social interest.

Jonathon Porritt: I couldn't agree with you more, but what lies behind your question is the suggestion that unless you're doing that full time everything else which you do is going to be second-best. Now I wouldn't agree with that because I feel very strongly that there are so many different ways in which one can encourage people to come to that perception. I don't believe that the only way in which you can do that is by beating them over the head with a different political ideology. And I actually believe that there may be many more indirect ways of eroding that value system, by holding it up to inspection so that people begin to question whether or not it's any longer valid for them. And that's what I meant when I said that Friends of the Earth is not just a reformist organisation, not just a single-issue campaigning pressure group, but actually has a deeper goal behind it. namely to suggest that today's environmental problems are symptoms of a system that is suffering a profound breakdown or malaise, and that system is in the state of crisis it's in because of the values that dominate our society. As an ecologist, one is then able to touch upon alternative value systems, which would give greater priority to things like: concepts of inter-generational equity, how one generation is responsible for the well-being of the next by the use that it makes of the resources available to us; how one can talk about the distribution of wealth North and South, not just in a charitable syndrome. i.e. we owe them more because we're rich and they're poor, but in terms of the way in which the earth's wealth has been ripped away from them by us and is still being done so, so much to their detriment that it's now impossible for many of those countries even to contemplate the beginnings of a sustainable future. And all of those ways of talking about equity and justice, which start from ecological underpinning, and yet still lead through to the same point that you started out at, namely that today's value system is both immoral and unsustainable — that is something that Friends of the Earth can do.

I'm sure that one of the things we would have in common is a grave concern about the level of political debate in this country, which in my opinion is a source of genuine despair. So many people see it as a kind of abstract thing up there, "let the politicians get on with it, it's nothing to do with us, well live our life" — that is a real problem.

But you're quite right to call organisations like Friends of the Earth to book and say, How can what you do be more effective than going out there and pitching the challenge absolutely directly and not in the faintly mealy-mouthed way — which I would acknowledge — that we sometimes use. I wouldn't necessarily defend our line to the hilt, but I would say, from our experience, that it is a question of finding the most effective way of reaching different kinds of people

Reform or Revolution?
Socialist Standard: Many people have said to us: we agree with your ideas, and we think as a long term goal they're very laudable, and we want to work towards them. At the same time, there are lots of other things that need to be done in the meantime, and we're going to do those as well. In other words we re going to engage in 50/50 activity — 50 per cent reform, short-term activity, 50 per cent long-term, revolutionary activity. In actual practice, what happens is that within a very short time those people are thoroughly, 100 per cent engaged in the reform activity because it takes all their time and all their energies, and the long-term revolutionary activity gets completely forgotten. The German SPD Party once had these revolutionary aims of the abolition of the wages system and a society of free access; they were finally removed but these date back to the end of the nineteenth century; people in the nineteenth century actually had these ideas. So the reason why we in the Socialist Party say. No, we've got to keep our ideas in clear, logical focus is that otherwise they get lost completely. Not only do we not advance the idea of Socialism as a wageless, moneyless society, a marketless society. with self-determined needs, but we actually put it back; there's not even anybody there to put the case.

Jonathon Porritt: I'm certainly not critical of you and indeed the party for the position that it takes there. I've always said this, that there is a need for that kind of expression, a very important need. What I'm trying to put to you is that it's a bit of a vicious circle because you are dependent upon so many people making that their priority that the thing assumes a different status in society, it assumes a different level of credibility. Until that threshold is reached, an awful lot of us say. "Yes. but it isn't possible psychologically and personally endlessly to go on re-motivating, re-committing, spending literally 18 hours of every single day of the year putting one's heart and soul into doing the kind of thing you're doing. You must have attainable, shorter-term goals than the longer-term revolutionary change. I couldn't have gone on much longer in the Green Party, at the level of involvement I had there, because there wasn't any short-term achievable goal; it was all very much pitched at the same level that you're talking about. I'm still obviously very committed to the goals and the ideals of the Green Party, and I feel I'm still working for those goals and ideals by working here. Everything I do here, however short-term, reformist, opportunistic. and pragmatic it may sometimes be, I justify because all of the shorter-term things that we do I see as very humble, but nonetheless extremely important, steps on the path towards achieving that broader, more revolutionary framework.

Socialist Standard: And the things that in a revolutionised society would be done as a matter of course, without having to apply pressure to achieve them.

Jonathon Porritt: Precisely. But it's become impossible for me to work in any other way, because of the pain that we cause by so abusing each other and so abusing the earth, that we're incapable of seeing how different it could be. I can't claim any major revolutionary breakthroughs in Friends of the Earth over the last three years, but I can claim on behalf of the organisation some small improvement in things that would otherwise be worse than they are. And I personally feel that's better than not having done it. It's not much of a difference — I don't deny it. In terms of moving the world forward to some of those goals that we might have in common, I don't have any pretensions that I've achieved very much over the last three years.

Socialist Standard: We'd argue that this vicious circle does exist, and unless we break out of it by a sufficient number of people espousing the more long distance course, we're always going to be in a position where people say, 'Well I'll do something else in the meantime', and we'll never reach the position where the thing can really take off.

Jonathon Porritt: I agree. I can't get through that one myself. I'm not being despairing or fatalistic about it, but I can't deny the reality of what you're saying. I can't actually see a solution to it.
Howard Moss
Pat Wilson