Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Case for Socialism (1991)

From the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is capitalism?
Capitalism is a system based on the ownership and control of the means for producing and distributing goods and services (the land, mines, industries, and communications) by a section, only, of society which thus forms a privileged class who have economic interests in common. The rest of us, in exchange for wages or salaries, produce and distribute wealth in the form of commodities for sale with a view to profit on the markets of the world. We are properly termed the "working class”. Our function and reason for existence under capitalism is to work to produce surplus value (the difference between the value of the wealth we produce and the value of our wages or salaries). We, also, have economic interests in common, which are inevitably in conflict with those of the capitalist class.

How does capitalism work?
In modern capitalist countries, such as Britain, less than 5 per cent of the population make up the owning, capitalist class. These people have no need to work for a wage or salary in order to live.

Most people, the rest of us who work — or seek work — in offices as well as in industry, are in the working class, whether we admit it or not. Our work produces all the wealth of capitalist society, some of which we receive in the form of our pay-packets and social services, to maintain us as a work-force and to reproduce and replace us in the future. The rest of the wealth we produce goes to the owners of the means of living as profits for the maintenance and expansion of capital and the payment of rent and interest — and for their consumption as a privileged class.

From the struggle to maximise profits, nationally and internationally, arises the horror of mass starvation amidst potential abundance, war and the threat of war, as well as ecological disasters never before envisaged.

What is socialism?
Socialism is a proposed world commonwealth based on the possession in common of the means for producing the things necessary for the existence of us all. This will abolish exploitation and oppression of all kind. Goods and services will be produced and made available solely for the satisfaction of human needs; not for exchange nor for sale for profit. This means the end of buying, selling, money, prices, wages, and banks.

What about state ownership?
There will be no state or government-controlled businesses in socialism, because there will be no state or government — or businesses. State ownership (nationalisation) is simply another form of capitalism. When the state takes over (as with the railways and other industries in Britain and elsewhere) it does so in the interests of some or all of the minority capitalist class; certainly not to benefit us, the working class.

Russia, Cuba, China and Albania are all examples of state capitalism, where the political elite determines the allocation of the wealth produced for profit by the wage working majority, most of which, as in all the capitalist world, goes to capital accumulation.

State ownership leaves the class-ownership basis of capitalism unchanged, benefiting some capitalists (and political bureaucrats) at the expense of some others. Class-ownership, the profit motive and the wage-slavery system will all go into the Museum of History when we in our majority decide, democratically and politically, to replace capitalism with socialism.

So you want a world without money, borders, governments and armies?
Yes, why not?

We have to pay for the things we need to live and enjoy life because they do not belong to us. These can be freely available for people to take according to their own self-defined needs when the means of life are owned by all.

The world is divided by frontiers into well over a hundred different states, all competing against each other, and all armed with the most destructive weapons of war they can afford while the basic needs of millions go unmet. We could have a world community without frontiers in which all that is in and on the Earth has become the common heritage of all humanity, irrespective of language, culture or place of origin.

Governments always represent the interests of the rich and powerful and have armies to enforce law and order at home and to pursue commercial and business interests abroad. We could have a real democracy in which everyone has an equal say in the ways things are run and co-operates to carry out what has been decided.

How can this socialist society be brought about?
Socialism can only be established by the conscious democratic political action of the majority; which means by the working class since we are the overwhelming majority. We gain the least from capitalism and would gain the most from socialism.

As a society in which all goods and services are produced and made available freely by voluntary, co-operative work, socialism has to be established by the actions of a motivated majority, fully aware of what is involved and their responsibilities in the matter. It cannot be imposed by dictatorship nor legislated into being by some enlightened minority.

But can't capitalism be reformed?
Yes, but not so as to work in the interests of the majority, the working class. It is a system which can operate only for the benefit of the owning, capitalist class. Every party, no matter if Left, Right or Centre, which tries to run capitalism is inevitably brought into conflict with the working class. In the conflict of interests inseparable from capitalism governments cannot represent working class interests.

What about improvements which benefit the working class?
We are not opposed to improvements within capitalism. We support working class trade union action to get what can be got out of the system, while making clear that no concessions can change the working class position as the under-class. We also stress the importance of the institutions of political democracy, since it is by gaining control of these that socialism, which alone can solve working class problems, may be achieved.

Not all reforms are of benefit to the working class. Those that are adopted by governments are aimed at maintaining the economic existence, political stability, and domination of the capitalist class. As a party whose only aim is socialism, we cannot advocate reforms. We are not concerned with patching up capitalism, but with its abolition.

Why aren't you in the Labour Party?
Given the ideas we hold about the nature of society, its problems and their solution, how could we? The Labour Party has never stood for socialism and today openly proclaims its aim to be to try to manage capitalism better than the Tories.

People who belong to the Labour Party do so because they accept and wish to further that aim.

To support or belong to the Labour Party would mean the abandonment of our principles, and ultimately the abandonment of the struggle for socialism in favour of futile attempts to patch up capitalism and make it work in the interest of die exploited majority.


If you have any other questions about socialism you are welcome to write to us at: 
The Socialist Party 
52 Clapham High Street 
London SW4 7UN 
We will be delighted to hear from you and can assure you of a prompt reply.

Caught In The Act: Chequered career (1991)

The Caught In The Act Column from the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chequered career
All things considered, there must have been some sense of relief in Ribble Valley that their new MP managed to find his way to the Houses of Parliament and make his maiden speech. There should remain, however, some anxiety about whether he will sit on the right benches, and vote as he is supposed to. We mention this because Mike Carr, the Liberal Democrat winner in that famous by-election, has had what can politely be called a chequered career — so chequered, in fact, that a little confusion over his political whereabouts is only to be expected. And let us hope the confusion is not so extensive that he will have problems finding his way home when the House has risen, for during the election his party made much of his being the local candidate (it was reported that one leaflet mentioned this 20 times) when in fact he lives outside the constituency.

It was no accident, that where Carr lives became inflated into a major issue in the election, for local Tories were unhappy about the fact that their candidate comes from Wales. Of course the Liberal Democrats know that such matters are irrelevant and they know that no party could be expected to put up only candidates who are native to the constituency where they are standing. They harped on about Carr’s origins because they are willing to exploit any false argument and stimulate any bigotry if it will win votes. There have been many examples of them trying such disreputable tactics and while it is true that all capitalist parties play this cynical game it should be remembered that the Liberal Democrats have always claimed to be above it. They have asserted that they are the party of moderation, the one which faces all issues honestly and does not play the party game. Their tactics in Ribble Valley expose these claims as shown and encourage us to wonder what trickery they would stoop to if they ever thought they had a real prospect of power.

Confusion
Carr’s campaign as the local man was largely based on his four years as a councillor on the District Council — not, however, as a Liberal but a Conservative. In the early 1980s he decided to put his mis-spent political youth behind him and changed to the SDP, widely regarded as the thinking person's Tory Party. When David Owen announced the abandonment of his great crusade to break the mould of British politics Carr switched sides again, to the Liberal Democrats and contested two elections for them before his recent triumph.

Of course some of his opponents — not to mention his supporters — might be amused by Carr’s apparent inability in sorting out what he thinks and where he stands (according to The Guardian he had to admit at one press conference that he didn’t know what the Liberal Democrat industrial policy is) but there is another way of looking at it. As there is no fundamental difference between the. Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties — and precious little superficial difference as well — there is bound to be some confusion over which one to support. With a bit of luck, and having tried some of the others, a political punter can settle on a party whose star is in the ascendant — like the Liberal Democrats in Ribblc Valley — but whichever one is chosen makes no difference. Elections at present offer no real choice, only a list of people all standing for the same thing. So there is a kind of gruesome logic about swopping, as Mike Carr has, from one ideologically bankrupt party to another.

But what, you might ask, about the voters? Well if they were ever to cotton on to the reality of this desception they would begin to vote for the kind of mould breaking so authentic as not be dreamed of by the likes of confused, tenacious, victorious Mike Carr.

Words, Words, Words . . .
In war the first casually is the dictionary, as words are abused and distorted and invented, or eliminated with the ferocity of a cruise missile. One of this column's favourite characters during the Gulf War was the official US military spokesman there, whose cropped hair, crazy eyes and innovative vocabulary said more about how the war was fought — and why — than any learned analysis. Day after day this man in his camouflage suit told us about "assets" (Allied forces, weapons and so on); "hostile elements" (hostile forces like the Iraqis); "target rich environment" (Iraq); "collateral" — as in damage or casualties (buildings destroyed and civilians killed off target) and so on.

Encouraged, the media came up with a word of their own for the way the news was being handed to them — to sanitise. Although apparently intended to expose monstrous euphemisms, the word was itself a euphemism fit to blank out all the others. What really happened was a massive, organised, official operation to suppress the truth and replace it with lies. This was a cruel war, fought to establish control over an area for its mineral resources and its strategic position. It was sanitised to persuade workers once again to participate in slaughtering each other in the interests of their exploiters.

In this the Labour Party played its disreputable part with enthusiasm. With only a few minor reservations Kinnock gave the government his whole-hearted support: ". . . outstanding speeches . . . a statesman in opposition . . . " was how Labour MP Jack Ashley grovellingly described his leader’s grovelling to the government. The official Labour Party statement called for the war to achieve "the ending of regional superpower status for Iraq and for every other country in the region".

This was the reason for the war — to assert control over the area by the superpowers of world capitalism. The Labour Party supported the war because they support capitalism and because they knew that to oppose it would seriously damage their chances of winning the next election.

Verbal Missile
So Kinnock, forgetting those days of his annual photo-opportunity at CND's Easter March, fired off verbal missiles against Iraq from the comfort and safety of the House of Commons. He should not be proud of the part he played to sanitise the war, to persuade the workers of Britain that it was all — the incinerated Iraqi soldiers, the battered cities, the terrified children of Baghdad — in the good cause of the triumph of British capitalism and the election of Neil Kinnock to occupancy of Number Ten.
Ivan

After the Slaughter . . . (1991)

From the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

A terrible pall of acrid smoke hangs over the city. Noise! Nowhere to shelter from the noise; the noise of the explosions in the air, the noise of the 2000 kilogramme missiles. The voice of the reporter had said they were so accurately aimed that they could hit a garage door. There would be few garage doors left—and few people alive within a quarter mile of each exploding door.

Noise! Buildings crumbling, crushing human bodies; men, women and children. The small sounds of screams and sobbing—the noises we humans make in terror—blotted out by the exploding anti-aircraft shells and the screech of the multi-billion dollar technology that has been scrupulously devised to destroy lives and property. Mothers' boys, trained with the precision of surgeons, fly these things and will be called heroes—but not by their victims.

Fire, adding its terrible consuming roar to the awful cacophony of terror, laps at homes, at the unpaid-for paraphernalia of living that brings joy and sorrow even to these we are told are our enemies—our enemies deserving of this. Here is hell! Hell where human flesh adds its stench to the untreated sewage that the fantastic flying technology spreads on the streets. Hell, where people who look like us, feel like us, weep like us and die like us, are marginal counters in this orgy of absolute desolation that is happening because people in power have clashed over interests that have no bearing on the lives of those who are dying—or, even, on the lives of those who are killing them.

Who is visiting this terror on these people? Who is responsible for the war—murder of all these innocent men, women and children? Well . . . actually . . . all this, we are told, is the work of the world’s peace-keeping body, the United Nations Organisation!

Throughout the world we watch. Television has created a grand amphitheatre in which this drama of destruction can be played out before an audience that must be even greater, surely, than that which watched last year’s World Cup. My daughter’s child says "turn if off, Grandad”. As I flick the remote control she says, with precocious discernment, "I wouldn't love my daddy if he was killing people!” Channel Three is telling us that the clergy are organising prayers for those involved in the killing. Over to Channel One where the local news tells us that some IRA idiot had put a parcel bomb on a bridge and had been roundly condemned by both the clergy and a government Minister.

How do you tell a child?
The child is too wise to be given excuses. How do you tell a child that in the world where, hopefully, she will become an adult there are things called fighting forces which exist to kill people and destroy property. In every country, as surely as there is a piece of coloured cloth to represent the way the people are supposed to be different, there are fighting forces—men and women trained to kill and destroy. The very young could not understand that: only after we have been "educated", trained and conditioned in the values of capitalism and its divisive nationalism, does the notion that it is reasonable to train to kill one another become acceptable.

But this fighting force transcends those of a nation; this, we are told, is the greatest force ever assembled. Its weaponry is staggering and, had its cost been applied to the things that human beings really need, every country in the world would have first-rate hospitals and no one would be denied, or have to wait for, treatment; in addition, the housing problems of all the nation-states that make up this force, could have been solved, their infrastructural problems removed and the 15 million children who die worldwide every year, because their parents cannot afford to buy them nourishment, need not have died.

Truly, what it has cost to create this greatest of fighting forces is staggering beyond the imagination, and its capacity for killing and maiming human beings and its power to destroy wealth is so great that it beggars the sick minds of its creators.

What was it all about? Was it about the fact that millions of people in our world are dying from lack of food? That even more millions have their lives made utterly miserable by poverty? No, no! of course not! Wouldn’t it be silly to cause such upset over trivialities like the suffering of ordinary mortals?

Unnecessary poverty may afflict the greater part of the world’s population; millions may die of hunger and more millions may be homeless. Millions of children may go blind every year because the few pence needed for the treatment of each is not available and because those who own the world’s wealth are under an inexorable compulsion to use it for further capital accumulation. But these are not the sort of things that moves the United Nations or causes world mobilisation.

Rambo image
The UN was stirred by the fact that a tyrannical regime in Iraq, a state created by the oldest of the imperial powers, Britain and France, and nurtured politically and militarily by all the so-called “Great Powers", had over-run another tyrannical slate, similarly created on its borders. George Bush, the Texan oilman, whose oil interests temporarily reside with his son while he acts for his class as President of the USA, along with Baker, his colleague in politics and business, were both outraged. Economically, America was alarmed by the threat to their Middle East oil supplies and, politically, there were those in the Bush administration, including Bush himself, who saw the opportunity of beating the Iraqi dictator as a means of restoring the Rambo image which is the cultural fare in much of the United States and which had been shattered by the killing proficiency and endurance of the ill-equipped Viet Cong in Vietnam.

Since state capitalism in eastern Europe broke down under the weight of an inefficient, parasitical bureaucracy and a monumentally expensive military machine, those innocents who think wars are caused by conflicts between good and evil were hopeful that a new era of peace was dawning. Ironically, it was the threat of peace, or more specifically the lack of a threat from the Soviet Union, that allowed Bush and his war-mongering cohorts to railroad the UN into taking a stand against the Iraqi ruling class. Had the Cold War still been in operation Bush might have blustered but there would have been no Operation Desert Storm. Equally, had the US not marshalled support for action against Iraq, no other nation would, or could, have initiated the slaughter which has just ended in the Gulf.

Hi—jacked
Effectively, America, followed obediently by Britain, hi-jacked the United Nations. Like pouring petrol on a fire, they enhanced the prospects for the next round of Middle East conflict by using massive bribes of sophisticated military weaponry to Arab states, such as the dictator Assad’s Syria and Egypt, and, of course, the ruthlessly belligerent Zionist state of Israel. With Russia neutralized and the countries of western Europe anxious not to accentuate differences on the run-up to negotiations for greater Common Market political unity, the UN Security Council was in the political pocket of the US.

Wise and sincere people have put great store by the UN. Unfortunately for their theories, it was taken hostage by bribery and corruption and had its proclaimed role of a peace-keeping body reversed into that of one of the most ruthless destructive machines the world has ever known.

After more than a month of bombing and killing, the lying thug Saddam Hussein indicated that he was prepared to accept a Russian peace proposal that urged him to comply with the principal UN Resolution demanding the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Bush broke off entertaining his rich friends at his week-end retreat to give a demonstration of viciousness on television: as self-appointed commander of the UN forces, he decreed that there would be no let-up. and his military commanders responded by a frenetic upgrading of bombing raids on Baghdad and Basra.

Within forty-eight hours even the ruthless Saddam Hussein was forced to admit defeat. Up to this time the number of Iraqi casualties was unknown: what is known is that as the Iraqis retreated in disorder out of Kuwait and across southern Iraq, throwing away their arms and seizing any form of transport they could get their hands on. The American commanders of the world's "peace-keeping" force released the most brutal and unnecessary attacks that accounted for the slaughter of thousands of fleeing Iraqis.

The cost
The cost of the slaughter, seen predictably in financial accounting terms, is provisionally put at up to $100 billion plus a roughly equivalent amount for the destruction in Kuwait and unknown billions for the massive destruction of the industrial and commercial infrastructure of Iraq. Additionally, there is the $20 billion's worth of arms that it is admitted America, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait used to bribe Middle Eastern Arab states into supporting their cause in the UN and in the killing itself.

In defeating Iraq the Anglo-American military caucus lost some 50 personnel from all causes, mostly accidents. Current estimates of Iraqi casualties are provisionally estimated at between 75,000 and 85,000. Peace-keeping, it seems, is not economical with human lives.

Such fantastic wealth; such vile slaughter of human beings; such utterly appalling destruction! Such a compelling argument in favour of abolishing an obscene social organisation that, in the words of one of its most disgusting upholders, George Bush, "requires each generation to pay a price for freedom”.
Richard Montague

Ecology and revolution (1991)

From the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The world ecological crisis is on such a scale that many workers believe environmentalism has superceded the need for class struggle. “A genuine redistribution of power", says Jonathan Porritt, “can no longer be simplistically interpreted in terms of setting class against class . . .  the need to serve the general interest of humanity now transcends any such old-world divisiveness" (Seeing Green). Given the seriousness of the crisis it is hardly surprising that such a view has a widespread appeal in the Green movement. Nevertheless it is a naive analysis which socialists totally reject. Why?

The most common argument used to hack up the claim that human beings have overstretched the Earth’s ability to sustain us is that there are simply too many people. David Icke’s view is typical. ”Humankind has a choice to make. We can be sensible and limit our numbers voluntarily or we can go on until nature does it for us with disease and hunger and the time isn't too far off’ (It Doesn't Have To Be Like This).

There is nothing new in this. Parson Malthus was spouting his own brand of naturalistic determinism nearly two hundred years ago. In his Essay on the Principle of Population Malthus argued that food production increases over fixed periods in proportion to the arithmetic series 1. 2. 3. 4. 5, . . . while population increases over fixed periods by the geometric scries 1, 2. 4. 8. 16 . . .

Fortunately for us. Malthus’s apocalyptic vision had not an iota of scientific validity. His theory, like those of his modern-day followers, is completely arbitrary. The facts refute it. Since Malthus’s time food production has grown considerably faster than population and there is more than enough to go round. The figures bear this out. The surplus world grain stockpile in 1988 was 360 million tonnes—36 greater than the estimated 10 million tonne grain shortfall for all of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1987-88 crop year. To feed the 15 million children who starve each year would require just 3.6 million tonnes of grain, a mere 1 percent of the world’s stockpile (Susan George, Ill Fares the Land).

Famine remains of course, but its causes are social, not ecological. People do not starve for lack of food under capitalism, they starve for lack of money to buy it.

Benefits of technology
A close second to population growth in the Greens' litany of fear is industrialisation. “The Industrial Revolution”, says Icke. “was a change in human activity unprecedented in history and it has brought about an equally unprecedented threat to life on Earth”. There is no doubt that the development of the factory system has blighted the lives of millions. In The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels chronicled the living hell of workers in the mid-nineteenth century industrial towns. And today the smog masks worn in Tokyo and Mexico City are symbols of the stinking and poisonous reality that is modern industry.

But there is another side of the story. Industry has brought many of the things that we now take for granted in the home: electric light and cooking and warmth, telephones, washing machines, fridges and vacuum cleaners. Modern transport and telecommunications have widened the experiences of millions, rescuing men and women from "the idiocy of rural life". New printing processes, radio and television make accessible books, music and art that were once the privilege of a few.

All these things and more are the products of "industrialism” and are not to be despised for it. The crux of the matter is this. Just as no-one should have to go hungry today when we have the ability to produce more than enough food, so has capitalism by developing industry and technology brought us to the point where we have the potential to solve the age-old needs for warmth and shelter.

Yet the Greens oppose large-scale industry and argue instead for the dismantling of the world economy, replacing it with small, localised, self-sufficient output. In naive disregard for the economic necessities of capitalism, Icke wants to see “a change to smaller companies and an end to the present trend of a few giants swallowing up the rest and controlling local markets". He fails to see that the concentration of production under capitalism is not an optional extra; it is part of the very dynamic of the system. As Marx pointed out that:
 The battle of competition is fought by the cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities . . . depends on the productivity of labour, and this depends upon the scale of production. Therefore the larger capitals beat the smaller. (Capital, Vol I. Chapter 25. section 2).
From their “forest clearing" called Europe, many Greens would deny the benefits of technology to others. Their smug Eurocentric argument is that Third world countries “must find ways of gradually delinking their economics from those of the developed world” (Jonathan Porritt). In reality the current level of world production depends on there being a world division of labour. It is this ever-increasing socialisation of labour that makes the world socialisation of ownership— socialism—an ever more realisable goal. It is only with this social ownership and control of the means of production that we can start talking about employing materials and methods of production that are ecologically acceptable. Until then, production will be governed by blind economic laws which impose their own priorities.

But the Greens oppose socialism with their utopian dreams of de-industrialization under capitalism. They want to cut down the size of the means of production while leaving the relations of production intact.

Mysticism versus Marxism
By considering ecological problems in isolation from the basic contradictions of capitalism, the Greens fall inevitably into the trap of presenting them as above classes and independent of the society we live in. Humanity itself gets the blame, not the social system. Relief is sought in anthropological solutions: the need to change people, their beliefs, morals, education and the like. Theodore Roszak expresses this view in his book Person/Planet The Creative Disintegration of Industrial Society, saying that “a militant class-consciousness would politicise the personality out of existence". He adds later that “a new human identity requires a politics that has outgrown the modern infatuation with science and industrial necessity”. He does not explain what he means and refers only to the need for a “spiritual dimension of life".

This concern with an inner world of personality marks a failure to understand the indissoluble links between the individual and society, and the fact that only social revolution is the key to real individual freedom through liberation from economic coercion.

Roszak's “adventure of self-discovery through to its planet-saving purposes" may have a romantic appeal to the Greens. But as Marx pointed out:
  It is ridiculous to long for a return to that original fullness as it is to believe that the present complete emptiness must be permanent. The bourgeois view has never been more than the opposite of that Romantic view, and so the romantic view will accompany it as a justified opposite till its blessed end. (Grundrisse, Notebook 1).
We do not have to kneel down before nature like the sun-worshippers of old or the Gaia mystics of today. Action can and must be taken to save the planet. The requirements are familiar enough and embrace, amongst others, the following: use of renewable energy sources and the conservation of non-renewable ones, agricultural practices that preserve the fertility of the soil, emission controls combined with tree-planting to take up the carbon gases, use of non-polluting technology to transform materials, and the manufacture of solid goods without built-in obsolescence. Sufficient technical knowledge and scientific understanding of the laws of nature exist now to make these things, and more, a real possibility. What we lack is the social framework which would allow them to be carried out.

The Greens fail to understand that it is the economic necessities of capitalism that make it impossible to establish a sustainable relationship between human society and the rest of nature.

Theirs is essentially a static and superficial vision of the universe. They see no further than the surface appearance of things. Famine to the Greens means simply too many people. Pollution comes from industrial processes so they conclude that industrialism is the enemy. They fail to locate the real problem in the blind economic laws of a social system that is driving us on to the edge of irreversible ecological disaster. No wonder all they have to offer is a futile programme of reforms.

The socialist vision is not static. Engels’s observation that “motion is the mode of existence of all matter” is a major tenet of the Marxist guide to action. Human activity has always changed the environment and will continue to do so. There is no going back to some pre-industrial golden- age.

Looming ecological catastrophe makes more urgent the necessity of socialism. Workers have no choice but to expropriate the capitalist class and plan production for need not profit. Only then can we start to organise production in an ecologically acceptable way. Only then will we manage nature and control changes in our relationships to it through an understanding of its laws and the unfettered ability to apply them.
John Dunn

Engels on Ecology (1991)

From the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region: they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons

. . .

Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature—but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.

And, in fact, with every day that passes we are learning to understand these laws more correctly, and getting to know both the more immediate and the more remote consequences of our interference with the traditional course of nature. In particular, after the mighty advances of natural science in the present century, we are more and more getting to know, and hence to control, even the more remote natural consequences at least of our more ordinary productive activities. But the more this happens, the more will men not only feel, but also know, their unity with nature, and thus the more impossible will become the senseless and anti-natural idea of a contradiction between mind and matter, man and nature, soul and body, such as arose in Europe after the decline of classic antiquity and which obtained its highest elaboration in Christianity.

But if it has already required the labour of thousands of years for us to learn to some extent to calculate the more remote natural consequences of our actions aiming at production, it has been still more difficult in regard to the more remote social consequences of these actions . . . But even in this sphere, by long and often cruel experience, and by collecting and analysing the historical material, we are gradually learning to get a clear view of the indirect, more remote, social effects of our productive activity, and so the possibility is afforded us of mastering and controlling these effects as well.

To carry out this control requires something more than mere knowledge. It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production, and with it our whole contemporary social order."
Frederick Engels: The Dialectics of Nature (First English Edition. 1940. pp 291-294)

Renegade socialist (1991)

Book Review from the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Politics of James Connolly. By Kieran Allen. Pluto Press, £9.95.

James Connolly has always been an enigma. How did someone who at the time was the General Secretary of the ITGWU, Ireland’s leading trade union, and who a few years previously had been a revolutionary socialist who had participated in the so-called “impossibilist (anti-reformist) revolt” in the SDF in Britain that led to the formation of the SLP in 1903 (which he joined) and the SPGB in 1904—how did such a person end up being shot by the British state for being one of the leaders of an armed uprising to establish a capitalist Republic in Ireland, so entering into the pantheon of Irish “national heroes”?

This book by a leading Socialist Worker member in Ireland does not provide the answer, but it does show the extent to which the SWP’s position on Ireland ("critical support for the IRA”) is mistaken.

According to Allen, Connolly was right to have participated in the Easter 1916 “rising” alongside the Irish Republicans; his mistake was to have done so as a republican rather than as a socialist, which wouldn’t have happened had he concentrated in the pre-war years on “building a party” rather than a trying to build a syndicalist trade union and a broad-church, reformist Labour Party in Ireland. This, of course, is the usual Trotskyist line of explaining why things went wrong by the absence of a vanguard party.

In so far as Connolly was still a socialist in 1916 (which is very much open to doubt), by taking part in an insurrection aimed at establishing an independent capitalist government in Ireland he betrayed the cause of international socialism. To the extent that the Irish Republicans had any views on how society should be organised they endorsed those of Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein, who argued in favour of protection for nascent Irish capitalist industry and for the establishment of an Irish merchant marine and an Irish stock exchange. All these were eventually achieved either under Griffith himself or later under one of Connolly’s fellow putschists De Valera—without the working class in Ireland benefitting in any way.
Adam Buick

Between the Lines: The Art Attack (1991)

The Between the Lines column from the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have come to the end of a sickeningly stage-managed war. It was all a performance of ghastly hypocrisy and what is worst about it is that the TV war was but a dress rehearsal for a bigger military production yet to come.

The Labour Party spent the war seeking to appear patriotic. Kinnock went into a permanent Cenotaph mode: solemn voice and pseudo-Thatcher Britishness. Labour loyalists, whose long-term duty is to pretend to themselves and others that their leader stands for something decent, must have turned their sets off throughout The Gulf War Show in which the Kinnockite puppets danced to the dirge of the national anthem.

This disgusting Labourite Toryism is but the culmination of a decade in which the British Left has virtually collapsed. Their claim to stand for an alternative, which was never genuine when it was stated with vigour, is now hardly stated at all. The British Left is an unburied corpse. Kinnock is a Bob Hawke in waiting, the CP is full of Stalinist geriatrics and Young Liberal types, the SWP is full of anachronistic insurrectionists preaching a Leninist dogma which is not worth the paper on which it is written. Apart from the Socialist Party, it is hard to think of any claimants to the role of a genuine political opposition to capitalism. That, it seems, is pretty well beyond dispute.

But the 1980s has not been a period of complete quiescence from those who dissent from the pernicious priorities of the profit system. If so-called Thatcherism was the shrill cry of apparently victorious money men. the vitality of the dissenting arts has been the lively chorus of discontentment that things have gone as they have.

The Late Show (BBC2, 11.15pm, 11 March) took a look at what it called "Culture in the Eighties". It served as a reminder that amid all the sell-outs of the political radicals who caved in under the pressure of a packaged Iron Lady, there have been some quite remarkable writers who have shown the way. The programme showed excerpts from such great works as Boys From The Black Stuff and Pravda. It interviewed David Lodge, whose Nice Work showed the prostitution of academic minds to business agendas.

Also interviewed were Trevor Griffiths (perhaps one of the finest British playwrights of the last twenty years) whose Comedians can be seen as the definite text out of which Ben Elton and Harry "Loadsamoney" Enfield have emerged as serious social critics; Griffiths' Bill Brand, which ought to be repeated every two years in case Labour voters should forget its message, was a series about the futile reformism of Labour MPs that was more piercing than most Marxist lectures could hope to be.

The writers of the Eighties were a significant force in the struggle against Capital's intensification of its exploitative assault on Wage Labour. The likes of Griffiths, Howard Brenton, David Edgar, David Hare, Caryl Churchill and David Leland did more to point out the contradictions of capitalism than the pathetic Westminster leftist lobby fodder could ever do.

What was interesting is that most of these plays started out on television. Great though theatrical attacks on the system such as Brenton's The Churchill Play or Brenton and Ali's Moscow Gold have been, these were seen by but a few people, most of whom agreed with the writers before they went to see the plays. It might be the case that in Moscow or Leningrad a great critic of the system like Mikhail Shatrov can have queues forming outside the theatres to see his latest offering, but in Britain the medium for the art attack must be the TV screen — or, perhaps these days, cinema and video releases.

The days of lefty worker-actors performing The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in trade-union halls and expecting the world to change are over. (I read recently Ewan MacColl's historical account of the Workers' Theatre Movement of the 1930s and was really depressed by the artistic emptiness and woodenness of what was evidently a very enthusiastic and inspired enterprise. Putting on bad plays does not make socialists).

Of course, socialists are not under illusions about the artistic militancy of the last ten years. Yes, there has been some fine writing, but it is noticeable that most of it was in the early Eighties. As the decade went on demoralisation set in. TV companies (increasingly independent, commercial ones) became more nervous and, as The Late Show pointed out, the earlier attacking drama gave way to rather hysterical works about the fear of the nuclear state — Edge of Darkness is one of the better examples of this rather defeatist genre.

Another reason not to have illusions is that most of the plays which comprise this Eighties' artistic resistance were only attacking aspects of capitalism. That is all a play can do; it is a revolutionary party which must grasp both the bull and the horns. Sometimes the radical writers of the Eighties did not quite understand what this system is that they were attacking. The rather supercilious literary critic, D.J. Taylor, was interviewed on the programme and seemed to be dismissive of the extent to which socially critical plays have made any difference. In his book, A Vain Conceit, Taylor suggests that the failure of the radical writers to have as much literary power as they would like is "that writers have lost the ability to describe and define the society of which they are part". (P. 33)

This is where the need for socialist writers becomes clear: we need to be able to shine the spotlight on the capitalist stage on which this whole social farce is being played out.
Steve Coleman

50 Years Ago: Bernard Shaw on Socialism (1991)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Emrys Hughes, editor of Forward. . . . for years has told the workers that nationalisation or State capitalism is Socialism. Indeed, it is highly probable that Mr. Hughes is one of those in the Labour Party who told Churchill that he was supporting Socialism just after the last war. when Churchill was reported to have spoken in favour of nationalisation of the railways Mr. Hughes is certainly a bad guide and Shaw is even worse. Writing in the Sunday Despatch (March 9th, 1941), under the head "The Amazing Winston Churchill”, Shaw discovers that Ramsay MacDonald was at one time a "revolutionary Socialist”, and praises Mussolini and Hitler (along with Lenin and the ex- Kaiser) for their contempt of the Parliamentary system and for the "revolutionary socialist changes" they brought about.

The truth is that Shaw, whatever merit he possesses in other directions, and in spite of much pertinent criticism of capitalism, is a most untrustworthy guide to Socialism. Before Mr. Hughes again advises anyone to take Shaw's advice on Socialism, or on Hitler, he should take to heart the following statement made by Shaw in an interview given to the Sunday Referee (October 2nd. 1938):-
  You know what I think of Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini—two highly capable revolutionary and proletarian leaders, who are giving their people as big a dose of Socialism as they can stand.
It looks as if Shaw's answer to the question “Is Hitler a Socialist?" would be: "Yes he is, he is a Socialist like Churchill, Lenin, the Kaiser, and Ramsay MacDonald".
(From an article "Is Bernard Shaw a Judge of Socialism?". Socialist Standard, April 1941.)

Sting in the Tail: Competition Humbug (1991)

The Sting in the Tail column from the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Competition Humbug
Every Chairman and Director of every company will insist that competition is essential, indeed, is a sacred principle of capitalism.

But look at this: several top companies in the concrete business, Tarmac, Redland and RMC among them, have just been convicted of having 65 secret deals to keep concrete prices high.

The same situation exists in every industry. During the last few years 60 glass companies, including the largest, Pilkington, operated a price-fixing racket; 66 private bus operators colluded to avoid competing with one another, while ICI, BP and Shell did likewise in plastics. The list is endless.

Yes, they will all agree that competition is essential — for everyone else, but not for them.


Spare a Tear
Yet another left-wing firebrand has mellowed somewhat. Eric Heffer MP, recalls that when he first entered parliament he thought it was like "a great church which practised ancestor worship". (The Guardian, 20 February).

Now that he may be forced to retire through ill-health, he will "miss the place", especially "the friends . . . from all sides of the House". Tories too? Certainly, indeed he even admired Enoch Powell who could whip-up a bit of racial hatred.

Above all, he will miss "the great debates", or, put another way, those bawling sessions which often degenerate into near-riots, and is
  ". . . glad that Churchill insisted that the Chamber be restored exactly as it was . . . with the seats facing each other, like choir stalls. It gives an intimacy . . ."
Isn't that touching?

So remember, the next time some Labour MPs follow Heffer’s example by singing "The Red Flag" in parliament or mucking around with the mace, it doesn’t follow that they don't fondly embrace the hoary Institutions of what has been called "the best private club in the world".


Opportunism Knocks
Gorby's attempt to boost his waning status through his Gulf "peace" initiative had Labour leader Neil Kinnock worried.

Delaying the ground attack, he fretted, might encourage Saddam to regroup his forces and
  he feared a hold-up in military action could give Iraq a wrong signal, possibly prolong the war and causing more loss of life.
ITV's Oracle (22 February)
Once he was Kinnock the left-wing firebrand, then he became a "Statesman", now he's a military strategist.

The opportunist tradition set by all previous Labour leaders is obviously safe in Kinnock's hands.


War for Freedom?
After the cessation of hostilities in the Gulf many newspapers went well over the top with claims such as "Kuwait City is freed". Anything approaching freedom in that city has a long way to go, whether ruled by an Iraqi or Kuwaiti dictator.

The Anti-Slavery International recently reported a case of how the Kuwaiti ruling clique treated their workers in London, never mind Kuwait City.
  Alice, a Filipino domestic who said she worked for Kuwait's ruling al-Sabah family, said: "I was forced to sleep on the floor between the bedroom and the bathroom. I had to wear a bell so they could call for me at any time.
  I worked from 6am to 2am each day. They fed me their left-overs and used to kick me at night, on their way to the bathroom.
  They kept my passport".
  The 29-year-old woman, who was too frightened to give her full name, said she ran away after an attempt to rape her. At the time she was so thin from lack of food she escaped by crawling through a cat flap.
The Independent (7 March)

Super Sports Event?
One of the less publicised aspects of the Gulf War was the way hundreds of US companies poured their products free of charge into the area for the US troops. Behind this apparent generosity there is a sordid economic reality.
  The ferocious soft-drink war is the sub-text of the larger better known conflict. "Anyone who helps someone out there is making a friend for life" according to Coke, and no doubt the same logic is driving the other US companies sponsoring the war effort — 1,127 had signed up before a shot was fired.
The Independent (17 February)
The view of the marketing people on war is worth noting:
  "One tries to associate a product with an experience", says David Stewart, a US marketing expert. "War is a particularly intensive experience. War alone is not attractive, but there are aspects which are. There are heroes. There’s style, magnanimity . . . It's like a super sport event".
This view of war contrasts sharply with what actually happens in these hellish conflicts as reported in the same newspaper on 28 February 1991:
  "Don't be surprised", the man said, "I had two neighbours who the Iraqis thought were in the resistance. So they pushed them into drains, closed the grill, poured petrol on them and set them on fire. Their families buried them later — you can't leave bodies in drains."
War as a super sports event is typical of the sick morality of the capitalist system.


Praise me Blame them
It is an old political ploy for politicians to claim the praise if anything ever works out well in capitalism (a rare event); and it is equally part of the strategy that if anything goes wrong ( a not unknown occurrence) to blame someone else. But Kenneth Clarke, Secretary of State for Education and Science, has probably overplayed that much used ruse.

On the same day he was pointing the finger of blame in two different directions as reported in The Independent on 7 March.
  Politicians often have louder voices than scientists, Sir David Phillips, chairman of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils (ABRC) told the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. Kenneth Clarke, Secretary of State for Education and Science, has insisted that scientists cannot blame him for the current financial crisis. He says he is acting on the advice of the ABRC.
   Leaks suggest that the ABRC this year recommended spending at least £50m more on science than was allocated.
Brought to task on declining reading standards at primary schools he was equally blameless according to him:
  He startled members of the Commons Select Committee on Education who are investigating claims of a decline in reading in English primary schools by telling them: "I won’t take responsibility for things that are utterly beyond my control." Mr Clarke Insisted:"Today's schools are the best resourced we have ever had", and went on to criticise some local education authorities for "extravagance and incompetence".
It will be interesting to see if at the next General Election Clarke is talking about "things that are utterly beyond my control" or has resorted to the usual arrogant electioneering pose of all his kind.

Election Results (1970)

Party News from the August 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The result of the election of the two seats contested by the Socialist Party of Great Britain in the general election on 18 June was :

CLAPHAM
Skelton (C)       16,593
Pitt (Lab)         13,473
Thwaites(L)       2.982
Simkins (Soc)       220
Boaks(Ind)             80

HORNSEY
Rossi (C)           21,434
Pestell (Lab)      17,645
Brass (L)              3,755
Morris (Comm)      624
Grant (Soc)             156

The Socialist Party also contested a local by-election in the Town Hall ward of Haringey Borough Council on 4 June. The result was: Carnell (Lab) 1.234. Painter (C) 1,146, Buick (Soc) 11.

Food Production: The World Can Feed Us All (1970)

From the August 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The main function of food is to provide the human body with energy. This it does in chemical form. This chemical energy is converted into mechanical work and into heat (to maintain body temperature). What a human being needs can be worked out in energy terms and the unit generally used to measure this is the “calorie” (or, more correctly, the kilocalorie). Many people don’t realise that this is a unit of energy, equally applicable in physics as in biology.

Depending on his age, sex, work and climate a person’s calorie needs can be worked out. If he is not getting these calories then he is underfed and can properly be regarded as “starving”.

But calories are not all that a person’s food must give him. It must also provide the various substances the body needs to develop and function properly especially proteins, vitamins and various minerals (like iron, calcium, iodine).

The bulk of people’s food is taken in the form of carbohydrates (starches, sugars) and fats. The carbohydrates, which come from corn, rice, potatoes, are cheap. Which is one reason why they are the staple diet of most people. The fats provide more calories and come from eating meats and some vegetables.

They say that you could in theory live without carbohydrates and fats; the same does not go for proteins, however. Protein-foods also provide calories (which is why they could replace carbohydrates and fats) but their main role is in supplying certain essential ingredients to the body to grow and to renew itself. The trouble is that proteins are found in the more expensive foods. Thus malnutrition arising from protein deficiency is fairly widespread. Malnutrition can also be caused by a deficiency of vitamins and minerals.

You often hear it said that “two-thirds of the world are starving”. That all depends on what you mean by starving. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates “that up to half of the population of the world continues to suffer from under-nutrition and malnutrition in varying decrees” (1963). But is malnutrition, as opposed to under-nutrition, properly called “starvation”? To most people starvation means not getting enough food, being almost at death’s door. If two-thirds of the world were starving in this sense then the world’s population ought to be going down as they die off. It is safer to say that up to half the world’s population is either underfed and/or badly fed. Estimates of those actually underfed put the figure at about 10 to 15 per cent; the half being made up by cases of malnutrition mainly from protein deficiency.

Faced with these terrible figures people say its the result of ignorance or of too many people or of not enough land to grow food on. In fact this problem is caused by none of these. All this human suffering is unnecessary and could be rapidly ended given the necessary changes in the structure of society.

That the natural resources of the earth and the knowledge and machines of its people are sufficient to provide an abundance of foodstuffs is a well-established fact. Listen to Professor Clark, formerly of the Agricultural Economics Research Institute of Oxford University:
  The purpose of this article is to consider whether the earth’s resources, if properly developed, would yield material goods sufficient to provide, a satisfactory livelihood for the whole human race. Although it is not usual to state one’s conclusion at the beginning, in this case it can be stated without qualification. The material resources of the world would easily suffice to make such provision, not only for the whole human race as it now is, but also for any conceivable expansion of our numbers which is likely to occur for a very long time. Whatever was the case in the past, we can certainly say now that, with modern scientific and technical knowledge, the fact that so many people fall short of satisfactory livelihood must be blamed entirely upon human shortcomings, not upon the inadequacies of nature (“The Earth Can Feed its People”, Christian Responsibility and World Poverty. A Catholic Viewpoint).
Prof. Clark is a Catholic and an opponent of birth control, but even supporters of birth control as one way to solve capitalism’s current food problems agree on this. N. W. Pirie, of the Rothamsted Experimental Station, writes in his recent book Resources: Conventional and Novel (reviewed, Socialist Standard, September, 1969) of the possibilities of increasing food production by the further application of conventional agriculture:
  At many points there is great scope for further research, but the vigorous application of existing knowledge on a worldwide scale could increase immensely the amount of food produced. The extent of the possible increase is a matter of opinion. But only a very cautious prophet would predict less than a doubling.
In 1963 the F.A.O. published Possibilities of Increasing World Food Production, a region-by-region survey of food producing potential, and declared that “it is clear that world potentials for increasing food production are very substantial indeed”. This conclusion is all the more impressive since the FAO openly assumes that food will continue to be produced for sale and traded on the world market (a great restriction on production).

It is perhaps worth running through what are these conventional methods that could be vigorously applied: (1) Cultivating more land; (2) Irrigation; (3) Better varieties of crops; (4) Use of fertilizers; (5) Use of weed killers and pesticides.

All these techniques could be further applied as soon as Socialism were established in order to increase food production immediately by a substantial amount.

Developments in agriculture are not the only ones that can allow food production to be increased. It is often said that although the food can be produced in America, Europe, Australia, the facilities for transporting it to the people who need it either don’t exist or are quite inadequate. The ports of India are said to be so overcrowded that it would be physically impossible to transport more food there. There are said to be no roads to the places where people are starving so that the food would have to be carried by porters over long distances. This may well be true but there are transportation techniques which are also not vigorously applied. When there is a war on, the logistics sections of the armed forces overcome such problems and the Indo-China war has shown that the USAF can build temporary air fields in the middle of the jungle in a very short time.

Besides the more vigorous application of conventional methods of agriculture, further research could lead to the discovery of new methods by which food production could be increased.

Food, as we saw, is energy in chemical form and, if really necessary, essential foodstuffs could be produced synthetically toy industrial processes. In the last world war, Germany had a factory producing artificial fats. Vitamins and minerals are already produced industrially. Research into ways of manufacturing proteins is also going on, as newspaper stories about food from oil and coal show.

Then there is the sea, a vast source of untapped food potential, especially of protein-rich foods. As far as obtaining food from the sea is concerned mankind is still largely in the hunting and gathering stage from which on land we developed millions of years ago. Very little farming of the sea is done as yet. Two scientists, writing in the April 1969 issue of World Health (WHO), estimate:
  If the sea’s resources were used rationally, an acre of its surface could produce twice as much protein-rich food as an acre of high-class pasture. . . . According to estimates made by the oceanographer Professor L. Zenkevitch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the productive capacity of the sea is more than a thousand times that of the arable land area.
Half the world is inadequately fed despite the existence of the resources to provide the food they need in abundance, not because of overpopulation nor because of nature but because of the capitalist system of production for profit on the basis of the class ownership of the means of production.
Adam Buick

World Mineral Resources: Enough to Last (1970)

From the August 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Until the rise of capitalism as a source of energy mankind was mainly dependent upon wood which was also a major raw material. Today wood has been replaced by minerals as the major source of energy and for many of its uses as a raw material.

The development of industrial societies in the capitalist era is directly related to the expansion in the exploitation of the world’s mineral resources and there has emerged a significant correlation between the consumption of energy per head per annum and the Gross National Product per head per annum in any country. Countries with the highest energy consumption per head turn out higher values of product per head, and they tend to be large consumers of the non-energy minerals.

Capitalism’s need to form more capital, its drive for profit and a lower cost of production of minerals has often led to an irrational exploitation of mineral resources, and a constant search for alternatives. Flooded mines, collapsed workings, underground explosions and fires has made the future of some deposits difficult. Thousands of workers have lost their lives or had their bodies maimed just to meet the need of capital.

In the past coal, and more recently oil, has been the base for economic growth in the industrial countries. Since 1880 there has been an almost thirtyfold increase in the world’s production of commercial sources of energy. Although oil is now more important than coal the world output of the latter continues to rise because under-developed countries find its exploitation technically more feasible. As industrial development becomes more widespread throughout the world, and as population increases, the demand for energy will become greater.

One estimate of demand is that by the year 2000, compared with 1960, the population will have doubled and energy consumption will have risen five times.(1) Population forecasts can be said to be well informed guesses, and as consumption under capitalism depends upon the vagaries of the market and the extent to which such competition results in physical conflict, such an estimate can only be very tentative.

Nevertheless increases in consumption are historically obvious and present trends have at times caused concern about the ability to meet future energy needs.

The reserves of coal deposits are easier to prove than those of oil. The reserves of both change because of technical developments and new discoveries, which are both likely to be more significant in the future. For example although undoubtedly the most likely areas to contain minerals have been surveyed, only 20 per cent of the U.S.A. has been mapped geologically. (2)

One estimate of coal reserves maintains that even if coal supplied all energy needs up to the year 2000 there would still be enough coal for another 100 years at the level of consumption expected to be prevailing at the end of this century. (3)

Because oil reserves are never really proved until commercial exploitation takes place estimates vary widely. (4) Undoubtedly new techniques will increase the percentage of oil taken from existing fields, and although recently the extent of proven reserves has not kept pace with output this may be a reflection of the opposite situation in the twenty years after the war when there was not a fuel “glut” as there is at present.

It would appear that fossil fuels are likely to supply the world’s energy for many years to come for hydro-electrical power is of small importance outside a few countries and as yet solar radiation, an almost inexhaustible supply of energy, is technically limited to minor uses. Nuclear power with the development of the Advanced Gas-cooled reactor and the Fast Breeder reactor will be of more importance in the future despite the vast projects necessary and the doubts about the supply of high quality ores.

A similar situation exists for the non-fuel minerals. Some advanced countries have exhausted their better deposits of iron, copper, lead, zinc and other ores. Fears of shortage of the non-fuel minerals are largely a reflection of the fact that more ores have been extracted from ‘the earth since 1900 than in the entire period of man’s history before that date.

The total demand for minerals of all kinds is increasing as new uses are constantly being found for minerals already important to man as well as for those of little importance in the past. For example although steel output is constantly rising it is being replaced for many uses by aluminium and pre-stressed concrete.

The two world wars have played a significant part in depleting the non-fuel mineral reserves of Western Europe and America. Nevertheless discoveries elsewhere in the world are being exploited. The post war fears of shortages are being overcome by modern survey methods, i.e. electromagnetic surveying from the air and geochemistry aiding the discovery of vast new deposits in isolated backward areas of the world.

Despite increasing exploitation of the world’s mineral resources it is now becoming recognised that they never will be exhausted. Advances in technology permits exploitation of leaner ores and also creates new resources.

The fears of shortage of supply of all minerals is in reality a reflection of capitalism in which production for sale causes periodic gluts and shortages which are accentuated by political division. The needs of the market may dictate that mineral resources be exploited in a manner that is not technically the best. The British coal industry in the last century and the American oil industry in the early years of this century provide good examples.

Capitalist society accentuates the demand for minerals in a manner that a sane society would think ludicrous. The production of battleships, locks, cash registers, bombs and thousands of other articles designed to protect or secure property, or if only of commercial use, are wasteful of mineral resources.

If there were fears of world shortages of minerals it would be doubly criminal to use them in the production of articles to kill, to restrict the freedom of, and to assist the exploitation of man by man. But capitalism cannot be doubly indicted for its technology has amply demonstrated that man need not fear a shortage of mineral resources for hundreds of years to come.
Ken Knight


1. SEARL, M. F. Report to the. U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

2. FEISS, J. W. Technology & Economic Development. Ch. Minerals.

3. AVERETT, P. U.S. Geological Survey.

4. SCHURR, S. H. Technology & Economic Development. Ch. Energy.

World Administration: A Framework for Socialism? (1970)

From the August 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

World government is an idea most people understand. Indeed, if science fiction books and comics are anything to go by, most people expect it to come sooner or later. Even though people expect world organisation to take the form either of a world dictatorship or of a federation of national governments they are still treating the world as one unit. This is a way of thinking we Socialists want to encourage. We do not stand for world government (we are opposed to governments everywhere) but for, to adapt a phrase, a world administration of things — the planned production and distribution of wealth on a world scale to meet human needs.

We have always understood the change-over from capitalist government to socialist administration to involve the capture ‘by a socialist-minded working class of the various national governments of the world to be followed by the dismantling of the coercive features of the old government machines but the retention, in adapted form, of some of the non-coercive technical functions now exercised by governments. In Britain, for instance, some of the functions of the Ministry of Transport or the Post Office might be retained insofar as they concern the technical side of communications.

Equally this could be done on the international scene. There is not as yet (if ever there is, which is unlikely) a world government but there is the United Nations Organisation a body which has in primitive form some of the features of this and which the advocates of world government want to see developed further. Just as on the national scale some of the institutions of the capitalist government machine could be adapted and used as part of the new socialist administration, so on the world scale could some of the institutions of the UN.

The UN was set up by the victorious powers in the second world war at a conference in San Francisco in 1945. Socialists have no illusions about the UN; we know full well that the expressive phrase that used to be used of the League of Nations — “the League of Bandits” — applies equally to the UN. It is a league of the various governments of the world at which most ruling classes are represented (the most notable exceptions being those of West Germany, Japan and state capitalist China). It is a body which serves the interests of the big powers, and especially America. It is only with their support, not to say their manoeuvring, that its meagre coercive powers, its so-called peace-keeping force, are used.

However the UN is more than the Security Council, its talking-shop General Assembly and its troops in blue helmets. It also has an Economic and Social Committee to which are responsible a number of bodies known as the “specialized agencies of the UN”. Most people are familiar with some of these without perhaps knowing they had anything to do with the UN — the FAO, WHO, ILO, IMF and World Bank, to name a few. These agencies are concerned with gathering information and giving advice in their respective fields, though some of them play a vital regulatory role as well.

Nine of these agencies could perhaps be adapted to play a part in the socialist administration of the world. They fall into two categories: those needed even in a capitalist world to regulate international communications (a further proof that we do have one world now under capitalism) and those which are essentially world advisory and statistical services in various fields.

Into the first category come:
  1. The International Telecommunications Union, originally set up in 1865 to ensure an orderly telecommunications network.
  2. The Universal Postal Union (1874), set up to ensure the orderly distribution throughout the world of letters and parcels.
  3. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulates international air traffic allowing regular scheduled flights; it also promotes standardised technical equipment.
  4. The Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation (IMCO) plays a similar role with regard to ocean shipping.
  5. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) gathers and disseminates information on the world’s weather.

These organisations could play a basically similar role in world socialist society. Their significance for Socialist propaganda today is that they show that capitalism itself is already a world system and that it has to set up certain world organisations to deal with matters that can only be dealt with on a world scale.

The other bodies, besides collecting and disseminating information, are also involved in the economic development (albeit under capitalist conditions) of the so-called backward parts of the world:
6. The International Labour Organisation (1LO) deals with working conditions and training.
7. The United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) deals mainly with education and eradicating illiteracy.
8. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
9. The World Health Organisation (WHO) deals mainly with health hazards.
In addition there is one other relevant UN body, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is concerned with the peaceful uses of atomic energy, but also has a political role insofar as it aims to preserve the monopoly of nuclear weapons of the big three powers (sometimes called preventing the spread of nuclear weapons).

In the UN, then, there are ten bodies concerned with postal services, communications, air transport, ocean shipping, the weather, labour, education, agriculture and health which could form the basis of institutions for controlling these matters on a world scale in socialist society.

It is true that none of these bodies is involved in the actual production of wealth and that the more directly economic UN bodies — the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs — are more concerned with finance and commerce (which would have no place in Socialism). But some of the information which even these have gathered could be useful for planning production on a world scale to meet human needs. Planning in a socialist society, remember, will be essentially a statistical exercise, correlating estimated human needs with known world resources.

In the specialized agencies of the UN (and in the administrative networks of the growing number of trans-national corporations) the basic framework for a world administration already exists. It only remains for the workers of the world to realise this and to organise to take it over for the benefit of all mankind.
Adam Buick

Who Wants To Pick This Bone? (2012)

The Greasy Pole column from the October 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Grateful as we are to our guardians in Westminster who labour mightily to protect and nurture us we should not overlook that they also have human needs. Like a flexibly regulated system of claiming for incurred expenses. Like meeting the demands of flamboyant media producers to expose themselves to the nation’s reverential scrutiny. Like their need to relax the tensions of relentlessly legislating by giving way to laughter in the Chamber where their talents are displayed- laughter as a kind of therapy for them, side to side erupting in a booming, orgasmic release. Luckily there are in that august setting some who have a reputation for their skills in stimulating such pleasure. When any of these rise to their feet with the words “Thank you, Mister Speaker” they are not expressing gratitude for the opportunity to mouth yet another gabble of platitudes and evasions but are giving notice of the release to follow from their words. This is considered to be a useful, constructive way for Members of Parliament to spend their time.

Pleasing the Wife
The constituency of Wellingborough, Rushden and Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire is represented in the House of Commons by the Conservative Peter Bone, who can be relied on to entertain the Commons in the style to which they are accustomed by opening his contributions to their proceedings with mention of his wife: “This morning at the breakfast table Mrs. Bone was saying . . .” or perhaps “It would be a great help to my wife and the Bone household if . . .” Mysteriously, this reduces the MPs to frantic laughter, as Bone asks David Cameron to rule out any more contributions to a Eurozone bail-out or to agree that it is necessary to maintain the laws against blasphemy and blasphemous libel or to denounce gay marriage as “completely nuts” (a particular preoccupation of his; last month he strongly objected to Nick Clegg naming those with such views as “bigots”). Amid the hilarity David Cameron, perhaps wriggling on the hook in Prime Minister’s Questions, is able to get his share of laughter by a smoothly suggestive reply: “A very big part of my life is spent trying to give pleasure to Mrs. Bone” or “I wish my wife was easy to please as Mrs. Bone”.

From behind this screen of sickening drivel it may be difficult for Mrs. Bone to get herself noticed. She works as Mr. Bone’s Executive Secretary (at a top-end £40,000 a year) in which she rates herself “a one-woman focus group” who “listens to people on the ground” (which seems to include only those who agree with her). Mrs. Bone has political ambitions of her own, which were disappointed when her application to stand as the Conservative candidate for election as the local Police Commissioner was rejected on the emphatic terms that she “did not display a sufficiently developed understanding of what the job would entail and did not have a sufficiently clear vision of what she might do if elected” (requirements which might rule out her husband as well as a whole clutch of MPs). But the disappointed candidate was not put off; this, she sulked, was “bully-boy behaviour . . .  the party grandees wanted to get at Peter through me”. It might have been expected that the next step for her would be to resign from this collection of bullying exponents of the tactical underhand were it not that capitalist politics, with its competing ambitions and need to deny reality, does not operate with such consistent honesty.

Speeches
And “consistent” Is not a word to be readily associated with this pair of wedded Tories.  Peter Bone’s first experience of trying to be an MP was encouraging for him when, standing in Islwyn against the hapless Labour leader Neil Kinnock, he recorded the highest ever Tory vote there. However he did not come up to this promise in subsequent elections in Pudsey and Wellingborough because he lost to swings notably worse, for his party, than the national trend. In fact when, in 2005, he eventually won at Wellingborough it was by 687 votes – a swing of only 2.9 per cent when the national swing was 3.1 per cent. Perhaps there was a message in this about him personally and his voter- averse style (in 1995 the Daily Mirror condemned him as “the meanest boss in Britain” in response to him paying a 17 year-old trainee 87 pence an hour). In action in the Commons, he was rated as a prolific speaker but in case this gave the wrong impression he was one of three who, according to The Times, “boost their ratings on the internet by saying very little, very often” with an example of one contribution of only three short sentences which was about the postmaster of the tiny Northamptonshire civic parish of Little Irchester. He is on record as describing the NHS as something which “would not be out of place in Stalin’s Russia” and for opposing regulations designed to give equal rights in goods and services to gay people. He could not have been surprised when, earlier this year, Tory MPs ejected him from the Executive of their mouthpiece, the 1922 Committee.

Trafficking 
In February he opened a Commons debate on human trafficking – among the cruellest, most ruthless of crimes estimated to generate $82 billion a year, almost as much as arms dealing and drug smuggling. It is, in other words, typical of the capitalist system – savage and inhuman as it is driven by the all-dominant motive for profit and the abuse and waste of human life. It was inconsistent with this reality for Bone to offer the argument that an independent National Rapporteur – such as there is in Holland – would be more effective in keeping a check on the problem than the present slapdash system. Significantly he also supported his case on financial grounds: “ . . . it would do all the things we want at a fraction of the cost”. Peter Bone is one among many who claim an ability to manipulate a significant change in this horror. But in fact he is only likely to find a place in history as a feeble joker.
Ivan