Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Steps to a New World (2019)

Book Review from the April 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Walkaway’. By Cory Doctorow (Head of Zeus £8.99)

In the not-too-distant future, a form of 3D printing has made post-scarcity possible, so plenty of goods can be produced with very little labour. Some workers are still needed (police, for instance), and there is a small class of super-rich, referred to as zottas, the 0.001 percent. But many people, who the money economy has no use for, choose to walk away and live their own lives, adopting a gift economy based on people contributing what they can (‘Everything freely given, nothing sought in return’).

There are many nice touches. The opening scene is set in a ‘Communist party’, at which there is free beer. Money is described as the problem, something which ‘only works if there isn’t enough to go around’, and economists are likened to astrologers. The whole walkaway set-up is based on co-operation, with people pitching in where possible. Even asking someone if you can help means deferring to their authority: ‘If you want to work, do something’.

Standard capitalist society is known as ‘default’, and there is a memorable description of capitalists: a so-called job creator is really ‘someone who figures out how to threaten you with starvation unless you do something you don’t want to do.’ They are naturally not happy with the ideas and reality of the walkaways and, without giving away too much of the plot, make various attempts to undermine and wipe out those who have walked away. These often fail, though, as many of the rent-a-cops brought in to do the dirty work turn out to know at least some of the walkaways and so abandon their weapons. This is on the basis of the theory of six degrees of separation, that we are all connected to each other by a small number of steps.

It may be unavoidable, but much of the dialogue reads like political speeches rather than the way people actually talk to each other. Still, this is a thought-provoking look at a way of life built on rather different principles.
Paul Bennett

Pamphlet Review: ‘The Magic Money Myth – A Guide to Banking’ (2019)

Pamphlet Review from the April 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Magic Money Myth. A Guide to Banking’. The Socialist Party. 30 pages.

Since the Crash of 2008, blamed rightly or wrongly on the banks, there has been a renewed interest in how the banking system works, and not just among regulators. At the Occupy Camps that sprung up in 2011 this was a major topic of discussion as those there looked for an alternative to capitalism, at least in its present form. Leaflets circulated reviving money theories of yesteryear and criticising ‘fractional reserve banking’. The Green Party too discussed the matter and committed itself on paper to the theory that banks can create money out of thin air. Money theories and denunciations of ‘banksters’ are all over the internet and get a hearing from those trying to understand why the present economic system doesn’t work in the interest of the majority.

Some of these theories are just plain wrong, factually mistaken about what banks do and can do. All assume that banking or monetary reform can improve the position of the majority class of wage and salary workers. But it can’t as these problems arise from the capitalist system of minority ownership of the means of life and production for the market and profit rather than to meet people’s needs. Monetary reform is a red herring sending in the wrong direction people who are looking for a way out of capitalism. If implemented it would not solve the problems that the majority face as it leaves their cause unchanged.

In this pamphlet we set out, as part of explaining how the capitalist economic system works, to expose factual errors about what banking is and how banks work. There is nothing especially bad about banks compared with other profit-seeking capitalist enterprises. They are merely in a different line of business. Banks are not the cause of the problems that the majority class face. It’s capitalism and its production for profit. The way-out is not to reform banks or the monetary system but to abolish capitalism and replace it with a socialist society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. There would then be production directly to meet people’s needs and distribution in accordance with the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs,” and banks and money would be redundant.

Price £4 including postage. Send cheque, made out to “The Socialist Party of Great Britain”, to 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN. Or order and pay online at: Magic Money Myth

Two Minutes to Midnight (2019)

From the April 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the 1980s I was not alone in having recurring nightmares of a nuclear Armageddon which might leave the survivors envying the dead. The Cold War upheld a doctrine of ‘mutually assured destruction’ (MAD) as a fragile protection against the use of weapons which would kill many millions of people. The government issued a booklet, Protect And Survive, giving chilling advice about how to act when the time for nuclear conflict came, and CND responded with ‘Protest And Survive’. The film, When The Wind Blows, based on Raymond Briggs’ book (and featuring music from David Bowie, amongst others) was a moving and powerful satire on the fear we lived with. The women of Greenham Common camped by the RAF base there in protest at its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Some of us voiced the view then, as now, that the terrifying drive toward war was a basic feature of the form of society which exists, and could only be dealt with by changing the basis of society.

That view was almost universally mocked by the pragmatists who prefer piecemeal reform. As a result, here we are, forty years later, and the threats facing humanity are even worse. The Trump administration has withdrawn from the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987 to limit nuclear proliferation, opening the possibility of a new arms race and the prospect of the US preparing for war with China. Against this background, Theresa May’s Defence Secretary, a hideous caricature of a war-monger in the form of former fireplace salesman Gavin Williamson, declared an intention to send warships to frighten China. Unsurprisingly, days later, China indicated it was pulling out of trade talks with Britain. So much for the Brexiteers’ diplomacy in wooing new trading partners to replace Europe.

In February last year, this same Gavin Williamson dined with Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of a former Putin minister, in exchange for £30,000 to Tory funds. Brexit, says Williamson, ‘has brought us to a great moment in our history’, when we must be ready to deploy ‘hard power’ against those who ‘flout international law’. In addition he wants to build two British military bases, one in Asia and the other ‘in the Caribbean’. They are to ‘strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality and increase our mass’. This little weasel is in the worst tradition of jingoistic speechifying to send innocent millions to their deaths. He wants to ‘enhance our lethality’. What a shameful blot on the face of humanity he is.

Talking of lethality, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists states in its longstanding and highly respected ‘Doomsday Clock’ report for 2019: ‘Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention. These major threats—nuclear weapons and climate change—were exacerbated this past year by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger.’ Since 1947 they have calculated the level of risk of nuclear apocalypse, and set a nominal clock each year, on which midnight represents peak danger, and midday would be safety. They now put this clock at two minutes to midnight, the closest it has ever been. The report is written by a panel of the world’s most senior and accomplished scientists and analysts across all fields, the height of intelligent expertise, and this is their collective conclusion.
Clifford Slapper

Enough Food for All (2014)

Book Review from the July 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Paul McMahon: Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food. Profile £8.99.

This volume contains a great deal of solid information about the production and distribution of food, from the origins of agriculture to the massive price rises in 2007 and the current global dominance of the food industry by four multinational trading corporations.

McMahon makes it clear that, although one human in eight goes hungry each year, enough food is grown today to feed over nine billion people, the projected population by 2050. To increase what is available for human consumption, food waste can be reduced, and cereals used to feed people rather than animals. Much more land can be brought under cultivation (albeit requiring a lot of effort in many cases), and in particular crop yields can be dramatically increased. In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, the amount of food produced could be at least doubled, were it not for such things as lack of knowledge, lack of access to technology and dysfunctional markets. As he says, ‘the problems are made by humans, not nature’.

Food production is subject to the vagaries of the weather and climate change in a way that is not the case with other products. Thus the area around the Black Sea (parts of Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan) has become a major supplier of grain, but its climate is more variable than that of North America: a heatwave there in 2010 decimated the harvest. What this shows is the extent to which food supplies are becoming globalised, with shortfalls in one area being made up by increased production elsewhere.

Another safeguard against poor harvests is the maintenance of food reserves, but even these are used as geopolitical weapons. Thus China is estimated to hold three-quarters of the world’s reserves of rice and maize (though the exact amount is a state secret). China is in fact now the biggest single importer of American agricultural products, and US food exporting is becoming more and more geared to this export trade, with railways being built so that enormously-long goods trains can transport soybeans and maize to the Pacific coast for shipping to China.

Here is how McMahon describes a framework for solving the earth’s food problems: ‘Imagine that there are no borders, no economic disparities, no unequal power relationships within society. Instead, pretend that the planet is a single system that can be optimally managed to deliver food and other services for humanity.’ He sees this as a ‘fantasy world’, but in fact it is not so different from how socialism could be organised to address food and other issues.
Paul Bennett

The Condition of the Working Class in Zimbabwe (2014)

From the July 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
Extracts from two communications we have received from workers there.
Workers of Zimbabwe are sheep without a shepherd as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has been hijacked by politicians. The majority of workers have no meaningful salaries but the ZCTU is paralysed. Most employers including the Chinese continue unleashing unfair labour practices but the ZCTU is taking no action in bringing this unfairness to an end. In 2013, the government announced that it was not going to offer its workers any salary increment due to an allegedly unsustainable wage bill and the ZCTU never even raised a finger. It is alleged that diamond companies were not remitting part of their proceeds to the Treasury as required by the law of the land and the ZCTU is derisive yet workers who are hard-hit by the imposed sanctions expect better leadership. Sadly most workers earn meagre salaries below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL). In a nutshell, it is clear that these trade unions are simply defensive organizations of the working class with the limited role of protecting wages and working conditions and it is by the ZCTU’s empty actions that its effectiveness ought to be judged.

On another note, President Mugabe was shocked to note that there is a clique of fat cats gobbling hefty salaries and earning more than him in the economically troubled Zimbabwe at the expense of the majority workers. Following this, media revelations triggered public outrage and revealed that some top bosses were earning obscene salaries and allowances while the economy remains stuck in the doldrums. Imagine during these hard times in Zimbabwe, there is a top executive – now forced to quit – who was earning a whopping US$535,000 gross salary per month, comprising US$230,000 basic salary and US$305,499 in benefits. Imagine during these hard times in Zimbabwe there is a top executive – now suspended – who was earning a basic salary of US$27,000, which ballooned to US$44,000 with perks that included a monthly allowance of US$3,000 and an additional US$2,500 for his personal staff. Imagine that during these hard times in Zimbabwe there is a top executive fetching home about US$147,000 in house repairs and maintenance allowances with total benefits gobbling about US$210,000 excluding salary. That’s US$147,000 in house and maintenance allowance while most workers earns below the Poverty Data Line! It boggles the mind that most struggling parastatals and local authorities are awarding their managers fat salaries while unable to pay their workers for months.

Despite the fact most parastatals used to contribute 40 percent to the local GDP, they now have turned into loss-making entities. For this reason, the cabinet some time ago moved to impose a limit to salaries for chief executive officers and top managers of parastatals, public enterprises and local authorities at an interim maximum total pay package of about US$6000 per month. This move has also raised the issue of the need for a comprehensive framework to govern the remuneration of public office bearers and managers of state owned enterprises as done in other countries. The gluttonous act by top bosses of raking in huge salaries at a time when public entities are operating in serious debt resulting in their failure to pay workers and meet their service delivery mandates is socially and economically indefensible.

However, after a number of months and in vain, cabinet has not implemented the move to trim excessive salaries earned by chief executive officers (CEOs) of state owned enterprises. A bruising bout appears to be in the offing with some local authorities having already indicated that they would ignore the government’s directive saying the order was against the country’s labour laws. They insist they won’t agree with cabinet’s move to cap salaries as they stand guided by the country’s constitution and labour laws.

Concurrently, there is dilapidated service delivery in most urban and rural authorities for the bulk of the revenue being collected from residents is being exhausted on salaries. These fat cat salaries have raised eye brows and have created a deepened divide between rich and poor. Although government has endeavoured to put in place a corporate governance and remuneration policy framework to give guidelines on how parastatals and local authorities should remunerate their executives it is a vain attempt as the top bosses are still raking fat salaries into their coffers. That proposed framework would give birth to a body that would democratically and transparently provide independent assessment and recommendations on the remunerations and conditions of service for public office bearers including top managers of state enterprises.

Up to now, cabinet has gone quiet on implementing this issue of making sure that salaries for top bosses of state run parastatals and local authorities should not exceed US$6000 per month. As capitalism is on the side of the minority top bosses, government will simply find the easy way out by shelving the issue. This is because the fat cats concerned, who are not even providing meaningful services to the public or economic benefits to the country, are aware that once this remuneration policy is put in place, their chance to sit back and milk public enterprises through mismanagement and corruption will be over. Despite President Mugabe’s recent reiteration on the stance on corruption and hefty salaries it has become an uphill task for the government to effect the proposed salary framework which would see about US$2 million being saved annually if implemented. Despite all these efforts, workers still remain in the cold.

In fact, capitalism cannot be moulded to operate in the interests of the working class as is very evident by the events in Zimbabwe.
Bigboy Musemwa


The first lot of venturers to the continent were Christian missionaries, empire and wealth hunters.  The current equally selfish ruling elite will as usual blame the plight of the Yirira on the ‘negligent racist colonial regime’, as if they (current leadership) did not adopt the same cruel, selfish and self-glory-seeking mentality, exaggerating their role in the struggle to overthrow the exploitative colonial system. As if they did not instead adopt it and indeed worsened it; much worse than the colonial leaders: the colonialists had to prove to have some substantial wealth acquired before getting into the legislature; our self-proclaiming ‘messiahs’ from colonial exploiters are exploiting the followers much worse. They use just political clout/rhetoric (hollow promises) then abuse donor and public funds to enrich only the ruling elite and their relatives, loot and share spoils with (former) colonial exploiters like the Sam Levis, Bill Irvines, Thomas Meikles, Rautenbachs etc, even allocating them diamond fields, platinum fields, gold fields etc.

The best that people such as the Yirira can benefit (if minerals are found around their home) is the ‘generosity’ of leadership to relocate them, as if the leadership ‘moulded’ the relocation site. All in all what it now proves is that our leaders were only bitter because the colonialists denied them from participating in the splendour (looting from the public and donor coffers, abuse of power) overall, in religion – politics – general system (socio-economic). What has changed is the complexion of leaders, the imperial system is further entrenched and the so-called opposition groups are for the same selfish imperial system socio-economic (just different sides of the same – worthless – Zimbabwe banknotes), vying to abuse the powers that the current crop are abusing. For instance, did we not have thousands of homeless people in Zim while our president and recent prime minister built/refurbished extra palaces/castles in Borrowdale, Highlands, Pleasure Mountains (Mount Pleasant) apart from already existing plush residencies? And that in 2008 many of us had our funds frozen by RBZ decree, courtesy of Governor Gono, and endorsed by central government (during the period of limited withdrawals the elite were allowed to withdraw as much as they wanted), but with no redress to the non-elite.

You will find that given the Zim population and the Zim bounty of nature, our poverty is not a result of scarcity of basic necessities. It is the direct result of downright selfishness: please note: despite claims by African leaders and claiming to be revolutionaries, they have all been won back by imperialism.
Godwin Hatitye

Ukraine: The Illusion of ‘Social Slogans’ (2014)

From the July 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ukraine is now in the throes of full-scale civil war.

On one side – the ‘Maidan’ movement, the new government it brought to power in Kiev, the European and American backers of that government and (behind the scenes) the Western-oriented business magnates or ‘oligarchs’.

On the other side – the resistance movement known as the ‘Anti-Maidan’, a collection of armed groups in the country’s eastern regions (which are also fighting one another), the Russian government with its secret services and the Russia-oriented oligarchs.

Both the Maidan and the Anti-Maidan are basically nationalist movements (Ukrainian nationalist in one case, Russian nationalist in the other). Both feed on ethnic hatred. Both are willing to massacre unarmed civilians identified with the other side. They fight for the interests of different sections of Ukraine’s capitalist class. They have nothing to offer working people except further suffering, bloodshed and privation, perhaps even famine.

Leftists in Ukraine and abroad look for redeeming features in these ‘grassroots’ movements, which they hope might overcome ethnic and regional divisions and merge into a single movement of popular protest against common ills. Some find grounds for hope in the Maidan, others in the Anti-Maidan, yet others in both.

There are indeed some themes common to both movements, such as outrage at pervasive corruption and hostility to oligarchs. But on the whole the negative aspects outweigh the positive ones, and there are no signs of this changing in the immediately foreseeable future.    

It is in this context that we present an article from the internet blog of a Ukrainian anarchist who criticizes the illusions of many leftists about the anti-Maidan. Although we do not agree completely with all his formulations, his general perspective is consistent with our own. 

The Illusion of ‘Social Slogans’ – Alexander Volodarsky

Like religious believers who discern the face of Christ in a dog’s backside, a piece of pizza or a bloodstain on a wall, some leftists have discovered a ‘social agenda’ in the Anti-Maidan…

For a left-wing intellectual to believe in a new October Revolution, he has to be shown a Real Worker. The dirtier and the more stupid the better, because in his imagination a Real Worker is always dirty, smelly, covered in scabs, and of course stupid (an intelligent worker awakens an inferiority complex in the left-wing ‘intellectual’). In this respect the left-wing populist is no different from the social racist who stigmatizes the ‘common herd’. The philistines of left and right share the same prejudices…

So the dirtier, the more stupid and the more illiterate the ‘worker’ the more inclined is the left-wing intellectual to believe in his authenticity. But for some that is not enough – red flags are needed to dispel their doubts… It does not matter to them that throughout the world the red flag is used not only by progressive but also by reactionary organisations and sects. It does not matter to them that for many of those who love Soviet symbols those symbols represent a powerful state and empire – and no more. It does not matter to them that nostalgia for Soviet times is not a dream of stateless communism but myth-overlaid memories of familiar rituals, stable rations, shiny missiles and a ‘strong hand’.

But if even the red rags held aloft by the devotees of empire fail to convince the skeptic, then the next argument concerns Social Slogans. The stereotypical worker, covered in dirt, with a red rag and joyfully supporting ‘social slogans’ – there is a picture to gladden all but the hardest of left-wing hearts.

Let us consider what sort of slogans ring out at Anti-Maidan demonstrations. Ritual curses aimed at the oligarchs? Everyone curses the oligarchs – leftists curse them, rightists curse them, liberals and fascists curse them, their own venal journalists curse them. Finally, they curse one another. Hatred for ‘the oligarchs’ is a safe outlet for any social discontent. Does it pose a threat to the oligarchs? Not especially. Does it pose a threat to the capitalist system? No – in fact, it bolsters the system. It is a classical corporative, fascist technique – to divert the energy of an emerging workers’ movement away from criticism of capitalism as a system to criticism of individual ‘fat cats’. The result is either the replacement of one set of oligarchs by another or the strengthening of the state. Neither of these results brings the victory of the workers’ revolution any closer: capitalism as a system remains unchanged.

Let us pass on to the second empty demand – nationalisation. This too is a favorite for everyone from Trotskyists (what sort of Trotskyists would it be without fantasies of ‘nationalisation under workers’ control’?) to neo-Nazis (for whom it means something altogether different, something like Hitler’s ‘Aryanisation of the economy’). For many leftists ‘nationalisation’ is such a fetish that you only have to say the word and they lose all capacity for critical thinking. Is it really so hard to grasp that ‘nationalisation’ in a capitalist state that retains the system of wage labour will not improve the lives of working people but merely replace the individual capitalist by a collective capitalist consisting of state bureaucrats? But leftists continue to copy the recipes of ‘real socialism’ despite the fundamental changes that have occurred since then in both the economic and the political situation.

One of the victories of the Anti-Maidan movement in Kharkov, besides the beating up of defenseless people, is considered to be the inclusion in its programme of ‘prohibition of the exploitation of others’ labour’. That sounds very progressive. But a consistent interpretation of ‘prohibition of exploitation’ must mean ‘prohibition of wage labour’. Does the ‘Kharkov Republic’ intend to prohibit wage labour and transfer the means of production into the hands of the workers? There is no movement in this direction, even at the level of declarations. There are no strikes in the factories; there are no seizures of enterprises; the trade union cells are silent and new ones are not being formed. So by ‘prohibition of exploitation’ the people who signed off on this point meant not a revolutionary change in relations of production but the prohibition of forcing people to overwork or to work without pay and enforcement of the labour norms specified in various legal codes. Prohibition of exploitation is a beautiful soap bubble that has no real political content in the context of the Anti-Maidan movement. Now the Ukrainian Stalinists have something to show their Western colleagues when they next ask for money for their ‘revolution against the fascist junta’ [in Kiev] – a splendid sham achievement for sham revolutionaries.

There are three kinds of social demands: reformist, revolutionary and populist. Reformists try to change the system without encroaching on its foundations, by means of gradual transformations and compromises (among Ukrainian leftists this path was chosen by the Left Opposition). Revolutionary leftists see the solution to the problem in a basic change in the rules of play (in Ukraine only the anarchists consistently take this position).

As for populists, they do not propose solutions. Their goal is to appeal to potential voters with beautiful phrases. A populist can be inconsistent: it does not matter how often he contradicts himself, as in any case his programme is not meant to be implemented. He can therefore parasitise either on revolutionary or on reformist rhetoric. A classic case was the programme of the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party. Leftists who are enthused with ‘the people’ and social slogans should recall this ‘socialist workers’’ party with its red flag, appeals to ‘the people’ and unique social agenda. My impression is that were this party to appear again today it would certainly obtain the ‘critical support’ of the ‘broad non-sectarian left’.

Source: (in Russian); original posted on April 14, translated by Stefan

Voice From The Back: The Decline Of Religion (2014)

The  Voice From The Back column from the July 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Decline Of Religion
The fall of religious influence is so great that a grass-roots movement in 2009, the Future for Religious Heritage took shape in 2011 as a network of groups from more than 30 countries, dedicated to finding ways to keep churches, synagogues and other religious buildings open, if not for services, then for other uses. ‘Perhaps nowhere is the plight of churches more stark than in the Netherlands, where about 1,000 Catholic churches – about two-thirds of the country – are due to be shut down by 2025, a reorganization forced by a steady drop in attendance, baptisms and weddings. Those were the figures given by Cardinal Willem Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, in a report delivered to Pope Francis last December’ (New York Times, 2 June). Religion has always been a barrier to socialism so no tears here on learning churches are closing.

National Health Disserve
We have all seen TV hospital dramas where we have applauded the wonderful treatment available to the patients, but this hardly squares up to the reality. For instance, patients who had to spend a night on trolleys at a Glasgow hospital have received letters of apology. ‘Several people at the Victoria Infirmary were left on trolleys on Monday night. ……. A total of 17 planned operations were cancelled and 50 patients were found care home placements to free up beds. The BBC has been told the Victoria Infirmary even ran out of blankets and pillows, after admissions increased by 24%’ (BBC News, 4 June). Of all the shortcomings of capitalism the treatment of sick workers must be one of the worst.

Morals, Money And Swiss Bank Accounts
One of the appeals to many workers of the Roman Catholic Church is that body’s apparent disgust at the financial dishonesty of many aspects of capitalism, but behind this apparent disgust is another story. Pope Francis’s battle to clean up the Vatican’s scandal-mired bank, the Institute of Religious Works (IoR), has entered a new stage, with his removal of the entire board of the Holy City’s financial watchdog. ‘Among the recent scandals, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a former senior Vatican accountant who had close ties to the IoR, is currently on trial accused of plotting to smuggle millions of dollars into Italy from Switzerland in order to help rich friends lower their tax bills. Investigators believe he used his two IoR accounts as overseas slush funds’ (Independent, 5 June).

Powerless And Pathetic
Fresh evidence that the government will fail to hit its child goals has emerged in a report showing 3.5 million are expected to be in absolute poverty in Britain in 2020 almost five times as many as the target. ‘The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said the absolute child poverty goal was “simply unattainable” and that this was on course to be the first decade since records began in 1961 not to see a fall in absolute child poverty’ (Guardian, 9 June). Governments like to portray themselves as masters of capitalism, in fact they are but the so-called organisers of a profit motive system that cannot be organised.

Old Nick In The Middle East
Many theories have been put forward to explain the conflicts that have affected the Middle East but his holiness has come up with a different one. The Pope blamed the Devil for the conflict in the Middle East as he hosted the Israeli and Palestinian presidents for a unprecedented “prayer for peace” in the Vatican garden. ‘In remarks prepared for the ceremony Pope Francis said: “More than once we have been on the verge of peace, but the evil one has succeeded in blocking it. It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new journey’ (Times, 9 June). All this time socialists have been blaming capitalism for modern wars while his holiness has come up with a much simpler answer.

A Strange Sort Of Recovery
Politicians and the national media proclaim it in banner headlines. Britain is on the road to an economic recovery. The Office for National Statistics said that employment figures had surged by 345,000, the largest quarterly rise since records began in 1971 and drove unemployment down to a five-year low. There is one aspect of this surge in employment figures that politicians are a little less likely to boast about though. ‘However, pay fell below inflation. Average annual wage growth dropped to 0.7 per cent in the three months to April, less than half the 1.8 per cent rate at which prices are rising’ (Times, 12 June). It is an economic recovery for the owning class. More workers to exploit, less unemployment money to fork out – but for the working class it is a drop in real wages.

Spanish miners (2014)

Book Review from the July 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Resistencia Minera, photographs by Javier Bauluz and Marcos Martinez. The Durham Miners’ Association, 2012, 56 pages, £20.

This exquisite photographic volume by Javier Bauluz and Marcos Martinez is supported by the Spanish Miners’ Solidarity Committee UK, the NUM, the Durham Miners’ Association, the National Justice for Mineworkers Campaign and the anti-fascist organisation Hope not Hate. These organisations, working closely together during the 2012 strike in Spain, collected and sent €33,400 to the Spanish miners’ unions in solidarity with the striking miners and their families.

On 30 May 2012, Spanish miners’ unions called an indefinite strike to force the country’s government to negotiate over an immediate 63 percent cut in aid to the coal industry. The photographic booklet documents the 65 days of the strike by the 9,000 miners in Asturias, Leon and Aragon. The Spanish state deployed the Guardia Civil to the coal mining valleys of Asturias where on a daily basis they used tear gas, baton charges, and rubber bullets against striking coalminers, who resorted to using stones, nuts, bolts, slingshots and fireworks issued from home-made rocket launchers. The photographs portray the roadblocks, pitched battles in pit villages, rallies, demonstrations, the march on Madrid which is all reminiscent of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike in Britain. John Cunningham of the Spanish Miners Solidarity Committee wrote that the ‘NUM owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Spanish trade unions and particularly the miners for their solidarity and financial support in 1984-85.’ In 2012 a Spanish coal miner said ‘this is not the first time miners have fought for all workers.’

We look forward to the day when the Spanish coalminers inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword ‘Abolicion del sistema de salarios’ .
Steve Clayton

50 Years Ago: Faversham (2014)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

In one by election after another the Labour Party continues to notch up successes.

As each result is declared, both sides set their statisticians to work to show the voting figures in the most favourable light for them.

A Devizes sends the Tories into raptures—the dark night, they croon, is passing and brighter days are ahead. A Faversham puts the Labour Party back onto its hopeful feet, sets its mouth watering again at the prospect of power which, they think, is almost theirs.

A lot of this enthusiasm is inspired by the theory that nothing succeeds like success, that a big vote in one election begets an even bigger one at a later poll. That is why a party only rarely admits to having taken a beating in a fair and square fight. There is always some aspect of the poll which, selected and perhaps exaggerated, can take the edge off a defeat, and they play this up for all they are worth.

At Faversham the Tories showed their disappointment by dropping their beaten candidate, Mrs. Olsen. From the reports which came from the constituency, Mrs. Olsen did not seem to offer a very effective counter to the Labour candidate’s earnestly sympathetic appearance, which apparently impressed a lot of voters as sincere.

Mrs. Olsen tried to blow up Nationalisation as an issue, while Labour’s Mr. Boston was playing upon the elector’s preoccupation with food prices, rates and unemployment. In a constituency where the workless are something of a problem, the Labour line proved the better vote catcher.

(from ‘The News in Review’, Socialist Standard, July 1964)

Have you heard what’s in the Stars? (2014)

The Halo Halo! column from the July 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Preparations, it seems, are already well under way to ensure that before we foul this planet up completely, we are able to abandon ship and bugger off to colonise Mars.

According to a report in the Independent (2 June) more than 200,000 people have so far applied to be on the first one-way trip (no return flights will be possible) and a privately funded ‘Mars One’ mission intends to land the initial batch of 20 onto the planet by 2025. (Where the temperature is minus 60C and the atmosphere has so little oxygen that it cannot be breathed).

One of the candidates to make it through the first part of the selection process is Sarah, 30, an accountant from Inverness. ‘I want to dispel the myth that accountants are dull’ she says, and adds ‘I find myself waking up every morning thinking there must be more to life’. Yes, Sarah, most members of the working class feel exactly the same way, but hopefully we can still sort the problems out on this planet. Starting again from scratch on Mars seems a bit extreme.

We must admit that we haven’t given a great deal of thought to what skills will be most useful on Mars, Sarah, but just forgetting the temperature and lack of oxygen for a minute; if you think your accountancy expertise to tot up your fellow colonists savings and sort out their tax returns will be very much in demand, being thought dull may be the least of your problems.

‘The first inhabitants will decide how to organise themselves politically, after studying different social structures on Earth’ says the Independent. Exactly which social structures they have in mind they don’t say, but imagine the problems the first settlers will face if they try to set up a system based on private ownership, and using money and a market system.

Will they take a supply of sterling, euros, or dollars or will they manufacture their own Mars money? (Perhaps instead of taking gold bars to base the system on, they could use Mars bars?). But more importantly, how will they decide which bits of the planet are owned by which people? Will they employ each other and pay each other wages to do the work? Who will do the dirty jobs? Which ones will be the bosses and which the workers, and how will that decision be made? Will they set up borders, and armies and police forces to keep each other in order? And if they discover oil, or gold, or diamonds, or potatoes (which would be much more useful) who will they belong to? It sounds so bloody unworkable you wonder why we ever tried it here.

And as if these problems were not enough, the Independent assumes that they will also need a heavenly input. ‘Religious activity and beliefs will be a matter of individual choice’ they say. Perhaps Mars is a bit closer to heaven than we are here on Earth, but why they need to throw this spiritual spanner into the works we can only guess.

As far as we know there is no intelligent life out there, so let’s just hope that there are no less-than-intelligent Martian Holy-Joes with a little green Martian god and a prayer book of their own. Imagine having to convince the locals that they now also need some Martian mullahs, Martian rabbis, and Martian parsons.

If that didn’t bugger the whole project up the establishment of a Martian capitalist system certainly would.

Why the Profit System Must Go (2014)

From the August 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Millions of people no longer bother voting since nothing changes. And nothing ever changes because, no matter who gets elected, those given power always leave capitalism to continue.

If you seriously want to see an end to unemployment, long working hours for inadequate pay, a rapidly deteriorating health service, zero-hour contracts, insufficient decent housing for those who need it, grotesque inequality, the rising cost of living, insufficient and unaffordable nursing homes for the elderly, and numerous other economy-based problems, then you have to get rid of capitalism. Capitalism enables a tiny few to own all the vital assets (natural resources, factories, power stations, transport systems etc) which provide all the food, goods and services we need. And through this ownership — and with assistance from politicians bought with big party ‘donations’ and personal bungs — this capitalist elite are able to profit by forcing everyone to buy from them, even though it is working people (forced to toil for a wage) who do the actual labour.

Production within a real socialist economy will be carried out solely to meet needs. Money will then be obsolete, since when we all collectively own what we produce, everything produced is ours, and you don’t have to buy what’s already yours. There will then be free access to what is needed. This socialist system has never existed anywhere before.

Work within moneyless socialism will be far easier, since without production for profit, there will be no unemployment (or employers). Additionally, millions of people currently doing fundamentally unproductive money-related work (banking, insurance, sales, accountancy, welfare benefits, taxation, cash manufacturing etc) will also then be available to contribute something of real benefit to society. The capitalist demand on people to work as hard and long as possible, in order to maximise their profits, will be gone forever.
Max Hess

Obituary: Richard Montague (2014)

Obituary from the August 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with great sadness that we have to announce the recent death of our comrade Richard Montague in Belfast only a few days before his 89th birthday.

Richard was political from a very young age. As a boy he found himself in the Republican Movement, and, at the age of 16, he also found himself in jail – or as he always referred to it, ‘Chokey’ – for a short spell. He soon became disillusioned with nationalism. When he looked at the problems that affected the vast majority of the working class in every country, he realised that nationalism, and concern for artificial borders between people, held no solutions and he quickly turned against it. One of his favourite stories was how, when he left the Republican Movement, he was proud that he’d taken 4 or 5 people out of the IRA with him.

Richard came across the SPGB when he was working in London. He vividly recalled sometime later how, after reading some of the Party’s literature on the big questions of the day, his first thought was ‘where have these people been hiding?’

In finding the Socialist Party, Richard had found his political home for the rest of his life, and the Socialist Party had found one of its most stalwart, most articulate, most enthusiastic, most liked, most respected and most admired members. During the coming decades the sheer ability of the man was revealed: writing, speaking, debating, organising, letters to newspapers, electioneering, answering correspondence – even printing Party literature! Richard bought and trained himself to run an old duplicator, turning out leaflets and makeshift pamphlets in the days when that was no small feat. When he wasn’t physically active, he was talking socialism. With him, the personal was indeed always the political and vice versa.

When he was a young man, Richard kept company with some local Trotskyists – though he was never a member of any of their groups. The question of socialism was bound up at the time with the question of what existed in Russia. Richard knew instinctively that he was opposed to what existed in Russia, for he naturally detested anything based on coercion, or leadership or hero worship. And besides, he knew his Marx well enough not to be taken in by bogus Leninist claims.

Richard didn’t hide his views on religion. At the age of 13 he was able to embarrass his would-be teachers, the Christian Brothers, by explaining back to them the absurdity of their own nonsense. .

Richard soon became a contributor to the Socialist Standard. Writing was in his blood, he loved to write and he was certainly one of the best writers the Socialist Standard ever had in my opinion – and we have had some great writers over the years. His articles on Irish history have been praised by many. A history of the Party published in 1975 by a non-member rightly states that anyone wanting to get an understanding of what was called ‘The Irish Question’ would do well to read Richard’s articles. The Party’s stock pamphlet on Ireland entitled Ireland, Past, Present and Future was written by Richard and his novel, Frank Faces of the Dead, was a story about the troubles. Published at the height of the conflict, nothing sums up Richard’s hatred for violence and division within the working class better than the dedication he wrote for his book. It was dedicated to all the victims of the troubles – including the British soldier, IRA member, protestant paramilitary, RUC member and UDR member.

Not only was Richard a fantastic writer – and he wrote great poetry and short stories just as he wrote articles and pamphlets and books – but he was an avid reader too. His knowledge of literature was extensive and would easily put any professor of the subject to shame. He effortlessly connected numerous writers to politics and his own socialist views. Joyce, Wilde, Shaw, Marx, Shelley, Keats, Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam, to name but a few - Richard had them all at hand and could quote them all.

His knowledge of Shelley’s poetry in particular was second to none and he could quote huge swathes of it, for he loved Shelley. The Mask of Anarchy, a poem Shelley wrote in protest against state violence, was a particular favourite and Richard knew it by heart. And he didn’t just recite it. Indeed, he sometimes claimed that Shelley was the true originator of many ideas accredited to Karl Marx.

Socialists don’t follow leaders, and we don’t give much credence to what’s called the great man theory of history. But we do recognise the worth of a person as an individual. Richard was one of the worthiest of individuals.
Nigel McCullough