Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Why society is falling apart (1997)

From the May 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
Dave Perrin continues the series of articles describing why capitalism is a reactionary, decadent social system ripe for overthrow.
Socialists contend that capitalism is a politically decadent and obsolete social system, wracked by periodic world crises, constant warfare and characterised by unprecedented inequality and exploitation. Having brought about a huge development in the forces of production unparalleled in human history, it has proved itself incapable of utilising its vast resources and technologies properly. Capitalism’s method of distribution is in open rebellion to the vast productive forces built up over the last two centuries, because the market and the profit motive are no longer a stimulus to progress as they once were, but a barrier and fetter.

The market economy has carried out its historic mission of providing the technical conditions for the establishment of a new, higher, social order based on common ownership, democratic control and production for use. Indeed, scarcity should no longer be a problem for the human species: free access to wealth can replace the fetter of the money system and its outdated categories of profits and wages, so that human needs, desires and potentialities can at last be fulfilled in a world of material abundance. But until the working class of wage and salary earners organises itself to put an end to the absurdities of the market economy, capitalism will continue, and the owning class will reap the benefit.

The twentieth century has been an era of growth in global inequality, of world economic crises and world wars, and yet capitalism continues to stagger on even though the basis for its continued existence — working class support — is undermined more and more by the dynamic of capitalist development. Nothing provides a better example of this than the development of capitalism in the industrialised countries over the last 30 years or so.

Surplus value
The most significant economic phenomenon in the major capitalist economies in recent decades has been the decline in the number of workers directly producing surplus value (rent, interest and profit) for the capitalist class, together with the massive and concomitant growth in the number of unproductive workers and expenditure in the economy. In a country like Britain those engaged in manufacturing production — where the vast bulk of wealth and profits are created — has halved during the last 30 years so that today barely 4.5 million work in manufacturing. This is not a phenomenon exceptional to Britain, and it has led to a massive attempt by the capitalist class to increase the rate at which the remaining workers creating surplus value are exploited. It has not, however, entirely succeeded.

While workers are more heavily exploited than ever before, giving more and more unpaid labour to their bosses, profit rates are barely two thirds of what they were in the 1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s for the major capitalist powers. What is worse is that the burden of necessary unproductive expenditures has at the same time risen in nearly all capitalist states with higher welfare bills, huge demands on state pensions and rising state expenditure generally — expenditure which in the last analysis has to be financed from profits. The result has been a massive squeeze not just on the ‘headline’ rate of profit, but the real rate of profit after tax. Privatisation of state concerns eased the pressure of this problem for a while in the 80’s, but in most states including Britain that is a temporary tactic which is already worn out. The economic significance of this trend has been profound and it is a phenomenon which has in many ways dominated economic thinking and policy making since the early 1970’s whether on tax or health service expenditure.

But its importance for the capitalist system and the workers who suffer under it has not been purely economic at a social level capitalism is now in serious crisis and it is this squeeze on profit rates which has played a more important part than anything else in bringing this situation about.

Social decadence
The drive to maintain an adequate rate of profit has increasingly led to a situation where money and commercial considerations have intruded into more and more human activities. Far from capitalism extending sectors of the economy where goods and services are given away free e.g. in health care or transport, the market economy has spread its tentacles everywhere. There is barely a human activity, good or service left which does not now have a price. Everything has become a commodity and the bottom line revolves around cost and profit

A whole host of reformers from the Labour Party to the Trotskyist movement have been proven wrong about the ability of the capitalist state to provide resources based on need rather than ability to pay. The ultimate source of all state finance is surplus value, and when profit rates fall during economic crises and when the burden on profits rises in the form of added demands on the state to ease poverty, unemployment and provide health care, then commercialisation and cutbacks proliferate.

When forces like these are unleashed — as they have been across the world over the last 30 years or so — they have profound social consequences. In particular, the social and moral codes which developed alongside the rise of the capitalist class during the system’s ascendancy have been undermined. The nuclear family, the bourgeois work ethic and the sanctity of private property have all taken a battering under pressure from the rampant and ruthless individualism unleashed by the market itself. For any system of society to survive and prosper it needs its own codes and regulations of behaviour, but those that developed within bourgeois society are now being ceaselessly undermined by the market, the profit motive and rampant competition, yet another example of the contradictions of the capitalist system.

No sector of society appears more worried by this phenomenon than the capitalist class. Capitalism the world over is in economic and social crisis to varying degrees and yet all their old so-called ‘solutions’ are played out — state intervention, nationalisation, Keynesian economies, monetarism, protectionism … it is a long list. Today the capitalist class has nowhere to go except market forces, market forces and more market forces. And yet it is these very same market forces — the only ‘solution’ the system comprehends — which are undermining the entire social cohesion of bourgeois society. Every other columnist in the serious newspapers sings from the same hymn sheet — “society is falling apart — what can be done?”

At present, society is in deadlock. The capitalist class have no perspective to offer society other than even more of that which is causing the problems. And for its part the working class has been unable to implement its own historic solution to the contradictions of capitalist society – socialism. The result of this situation on the political field is a form of political stalemate, and on the social level the descent of capitalism not just into the type of political decadence already discussed, but a very real social decadence too. Society does indeed seem to be rotting on its feet, and nobody has been able to do anything to stop it.

This putrefying of capitalism’s social basis and codes has taken on a number of forms, all of which are symptomatic of a society which is, to paraphrase, “ill at ease with itself”. Here are some of the most obvious manifestations of capitalism’s social decadence:

  • the ongoing break-up of community relationships and the atomisation of the individual. This has been particularly characterised by the development of a competitive “every man for himself” type culture as the dominant one in society, and by the appearance and consolidation of seemingly unbridgeable generation gaps.
  • the massive explosions of crime and drug taking, phenomena which were once peripheral or isolated in pockets, but which are now generalised throughout the market economy. Even in ‘tranquil’ Britain the official crime rate has more than doubled in the last 15 years alone, and drug culture and youth culture are now virtually synonymous.
  • the increases in violence and social disorder, spurred on by the horror and violence infecting the media (especially for children), and the re-appearance — generally for the first time since capitalism’s turbulent infancy — of mass rioting on a regular basis. The worst of these riots, such as in Los Angeles, have turned major cities at the heart of capitalism into uncontrollable war zones.
  • the continuing, if not increasing political vacuity of the capitalist class which has been mirrored in the rise of a nihilistic “no future” culture among large sections of young dispossessed workers who see no progress and no hope beyond their pint glass or next ‘hit’.
  • the massive corruption of capitalism’s political apparatus, which is particularly evident in Britain with the succession of ‘sleaze’ scandals, but which is in fact a feature of the modern nation state virtually across the globe, from the US to France to Japan (let alone in Africa or Latin America).
  • the revival of religious fundamentalism, creationism and the spread of mystical and millenarian sects, this being based on a loss of confidence in science and human progress together with a general rejection of rational thought and problem solving.
  • and lastly, though certainly not least, heightened nationalism, racism and inter-ethnic violence, engendered and encouraged by the rampant competition eating away at the social fabric of society.

It is in these ways that capitalism is undermining the principles and continued existence of collective life. Social decadence has eventually followed on from political decadence and all the signs are that it will continue and probably deepen, for there are few if any forces or tendencies within capitalism operating in the opposite direction. Filling the prisons is no long-term solution on many grounds, not least of which is cost, and no government following this line has yet really succeeded in reversing the process which the market has started. None of the TV evangelising by Tony Blair or political appeals to “family values” are likely to succeed either as the very continued existence of capitalism and the forces it has unleashed make that near impossible. Appealing to some sort of higher morality or set of values within the context of the market is clutching at straws, a long way from a considered and practical response to the problem. If the social decadence infecting society is to be overturned it has to be tackled at source — and that means the abolition of the market and the poisonous relationships which spring from it.
Dave Perrin

World View: In the name of profit (1997)

From the May 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism seems to induce in people a "problem fatigue", a condition in which the myriad problems facing humanity result in an indifference born of an overexposure to shock reports and nightmare scenarios — a condition which leaves the sufferer with the opinion that nothing he or she can do can help matters and that sooner or later all will turn out right.

In a society in which most of us are taught self-contempt and distrust our own intelligence, this is hardly surprising. After all, capitalism depends for its continued survival on suppressing ideas that conflict with those that sustain it. So naturally the master class would rather we turned a blind eye to their excesses, even at the risk of some future calamity.

The publication of three recent environmental reports — reports that suggest global catastrophe is on the horizon — would appear to confirm this. Remember the Worldwatch Institute back in 1990 giving us just 40 years. 12,000 days, to make the transition to “an environmentally stable society" or else? Exactly.

In January of this year the Worldwatch Institute produced another report entitled State of the World. The statistics they quote are alarming: western governments spend $500 billion each year subsidising the destruction of oceans, the atmosphere and land. $100 billion of this goes to power stations that worsen global warming, $300 billion goes to the encouragement of destructive farming and overgrazing and $50 billion to overfishing.

A following report by the Panel on Sustainable Development, a government advisory body set up by John Major five years ago. attacks the British government for spending £20 billion on environmentally damaging industry, energy and agricultural grants, and over in Nairobi the UN Environmental Agency reported that almost three billion people will face water shortages within 50 years.

The latter also reported that if present policies remain unchecked, within the same time period some 36 countries will face flooding with the displacement of 100 million people; that in Africa, land twelve times the size of Britain is moderately to severely degraded; that 86 percent of Europe's coastal ecosystems are at risk.

The industrial North, which contains only 20 percent of the world's population, uses 85 percent of the world's natural resources, 75 percent of the world’s energy, consumes 85 percent of the world's food and in return produces 65 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases and 95 percent of the world’s toxic waste.

These figures not only suggest a growing disparity between the North and poorer South, but also help lay the blame for the environmental crisis on the doorstep of capitalism.

If you waiver on this point then contemplate a few facts gleaned from other sources:

  • An average US citizen consumes 12,000 tons of coal a year — an Ethiopian 551 lb.
  • Fuel used by the US army alone produces more toxic waste than the entire UK.
  • An inspector could visit a piece of industrially contaminated land in Holland every day for 1,640 years.
  • Supplying solar-powered electricity to one billion people in poorer developed countries could be carried out with six percent of annual military expenditure in one year.
  • Non-biodegradable plastic used in Western Europe in one year would outweigh a line of Eiffel Towers 32 km long.

At every turn we find that the drive for profit impoverishes the lives of countless millions and threatens to turn the world into a ginormous cess pit. Even the smallest chance to spread their festering tentacles forces the multinationals —who control 40 percent of world trade — to seek shorter returns on capital and to ignore long-term investment for the future, always to the detriment of the environment they operate in where production costs are cut to an absolute minimum.

Everywhere, from the melting icepacks of Antarctica to the oil-choked rivers of Nigeria, from the radiated no-go areas of the Nevada desert to the smog that hovers above Athens, we find evidence of a world facing catastrophe in the name of profit.

Governments may well introduce laws and implement plans to curb the assault on the environment — for instance introducing legislation on CFC emissions — and organisations may well campaign against the likes of Shell and Texaco. None is really addressing the problem the world faces at present. At best they can only palliate some aspect of the problem on a precarious and temporary basis. They most certainly cannot turn capitalism into some environmentally friendly society.

We are faced, on the one hand, with the reality that capitalism is incapable of solving one single social problem facing humanity, never mind the environmental one. while on the other confronted with the sad and terrible irony that the only problems we face are those we are already capable of solving.

We are more than capable of running our world on solar power, of feeding a world population twice the present size and housing and clothing every person on the planet, providing them with health care and education.

It is not enough to leave environmental control to governments or to hope that big business will sooner or later see sense and turn to environmentally friendlier production methods. To do so is to misunderstand what the capitalist mode of production is all about. If we care at all about the world we live in, if we are to meet our needs in an environmentally acceptable way, then we must be in a position to control production — to consciously control our interaction with the rest of nature — and the only basis on which this can be done is the common ownership of the means of production, by and in the interests of all people and the world they live in.
John Bissett

Irish neutrality — a scrap of paper (1997)

From the May 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
Sometime this year or next year, the Irish people can expect a constitutional referendum on the issue of neutrality.
The need for a referendum has been sparked by the possibility of the Republic of Ireland either joining the "Partnership for Peace" or some form of common European defence network. The debate has only really commenced and as it can be expected to be rancorous the government is possibly relieved that it will be settled by a popular vote and not a government decision. It follows a recent pattern in Ireland whereby divisive social issues are dealt with by referenda, avoiding the need for politicians to openly commit themselves.

The issue of Europe producing a political controversy is unusual in Ireland where, unlike Britain, there has been no large-scale Euro-scepticism. However the possible dropping of neutrality is perceived to involve an irreversible change in Irish national sovereignty and hence evokes a visceral response from Irish nationalists. To the socialist, the whole question of neutrality exposes a great deal of the stale cant in capitalist politics and confusion within society about the true meaning of "national sovereignty" and the origin of war.

Isolationist Ireland
Irish neutrality has become to many of its supporters a key part of the distinct identity of the modern Republic of Ireland. In fact the successful Sinn Fein independence movement of 1921 was in large part fuelled by opposition to the threat of London extending conscription to Ireland in 1917. The avoidance of Irishmen being sent abroad to fight in foreign wars at the behest of the colonial power was claimed as one of the major advantages stemming from independence.

The identification of neutrality with Irish freedom was further strengthened by the government's policy during World War Two of remaining aloof from the conflict. The country’s non-belligerent status, while not unanimously approved of, was welcomed by a clear majority of the people, eager to avoid the waste of modern war. Memories of the struggle against Britain were too recent to allow Ireland to join the Allies, and apart from a fringe element within the IRA. there was no appetite for collaboration with Nazi Germany.

In World War Two neutrality conveniently coincided with pragmatic politics but a more opportunistic attitude to the principle itself was revealed in 1949. Ireland was approached to join NATO, expressed an interest but in return wanted Britain to end partition and arrange reunification with Northern Ireland. The proposed deal in effect fell through and Ireland passed through the Cold War era as a member of no military alliance. It is true to say that, whatever the original reasons, the passage of time has meant that neutrality is now regarded as an honourable principle of Irish foreign policy by many people. Thus, although not constitutionally enshrined, it is accepted that any significant changes to it would require a referendum.

While the debate is in its early days the opposing sides have started to take shape. Against any change in the current status of neutrality are the nationalist/traditional wing of the Fianna Fail party, an assortment of left wing groups and leftist elements within the Labour Party and Democratic Left, the Greens. Sinn Fein and what can be generally termed as Irish Irelanders holding to the founders’ original ideal of an independent isolationist Irish state. The assorted nature of this nascent coalition can be seen by noting that Fianna Fail, the largest party in Ireland, are currently in opposition while both the Labour Party and Democratic Left form part of the current coalition government. The constituents of such a widely disparate group have obviously differing motives for their position but in the final analysis they all believe in national sovereignty and have a gut suspicion of trans-national institutions. On the pro side of the debate are the modern Irish "establishment", in the loose sense of the word. Euro-enthusiasts and of course the army which anticipates that an expanded rôle for it will deliver more funding and prestige.

Disappointing debate
To date — from a socialist perspective — the debate has been quite disappointing in its content. Those against closer defence co-operation with Europe say weakening Ireland’s neutrality is in effect an inevitable pro-war strategy and they make valid, though in this context somewhat irrelevant points, about the pernicious effects of the European armaments industries in the developing world and the use of nuclear weapons. They also complain loudly about the future possibility of Irish people being conscripted into a European army, seemingly unaware or indifferent to the fact that at the moment Irish workers can be peremptorily conscripted into the Irish army. On the other side those in favour of joining some NATO-based system say maintaining neutrality will leave Ireland isolated and open to the charge of “free-loading" on western security arrangements. They make clearly erroneous counter-arguments that a united European defence network would have averted the protracted debacle in Yugoslavia and will in the future provide "stability" for the continent.

Socialists oppose both camps who promulgate empty and useless platitudes about being opposed to war while seeking futile measures to avoid its occurrence. Unlike these groups, we are able to draw on a long and principled history, backing up our claims of complete opposition to all conflicts between nation states; this is because we recognise that war is an inevitable feature of the market economy no matter how it is configured. Socialists eschew a nationalistic line as we are as much opposed to workers being conscripted into "their" own armies and fighting for "their” countries as being conscripted into and fighting for anybody else’s.

Neither do we have a legalistic or altruistic view of a policy of national neutrality. As shown with Belgium in 1914. Holland in 1940 or Cambodia in 1970,  protestations of neutrality are no protection if a large power decides that strategic military necessity means invasion of a neutral bystander. When the war needs of any power require intervention, which in a class-based society means the needs of the ruling élite, then they will do so.

Irrespective of the wishes of the majority of the world’s people, wars will, inevitably occur as long as our planet is divided into rival economic units and blocs. Debating the pros and cons of neutrality while passively accepting that the world will continue to be segregated into competitive class-based societies is in the long run a futile exercise. A more gainful approach is to recognise that if we can build and live in a world where the causes of armed conflict no longer exist then neutrality debates, along with war. will become part of our curious history.
Kevin Cronin

These Foolish Things: All capitalists now? (1997)

The Scavenger column from the May 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

All capitalists now?

The controversial Welsh water and electricity company Hyder wants to flush out 50,000 small shareholders because they are too expensive to deal with. The company is spending £150,000 on Project Shrink to persuade the investors to sell their shares. It hopes to save £40,000 a year on printing and distributing annual reports and dealing with dividend payments . . . Other water and electricity companies are understood to be planning to follow Hyder's example and purge share registers of small but expensive shareholders. 
(Financial Mail on Sunday. 23 February.)

Competition? Not likely!

After 18 months of haggling, the giant De Beers organisation is about to reassert its iron grip on the $50 billion world diamond market . . .  For nearly two years Russia has been trying to circumvent De Beers’ near monopoly on the market. Producers in Australia, Angola, and possibly from the nascent Canadian diamond industry are already doing so. But now Russia's President Boris Yeltsin is poised to sign a new agreement to sell the bulk of its diamond production exclusively through De Beers’ Central Selling Organisation. Two-thirds of the world's diamonds reach the market through the controversial cartel . . . De Beers spends $200 million annually reinforcing the image of diamonds around the world. 
(Financial Mail on Sunday, 23 February.)

Of course

When George Soros speaks, the world’s markets listen. This time, though, they may not believe what they hear. Mr Soros is proclaiming that capitalism and its system of speculative trading — the same system that has brought him billions — has supplanted Communism as the principle threat to freedom . . . "I have made a study of the international Financial markets, and yet I now feel that the untrammelled intensification of laissez-faire capitalism and the spread of market values into all areas of life is endangering our open and democratic society." 
(Independent, 17 January.)

Wealth versus ecology

Kuwait, Iran and other oil producing countries are demanding financial compensation from the industrialised world for loss of revenue if any new action is taken to curb global warming.
(Guardian, 20 February.)

Poor health

In an article co-written by Professor Andrew Haines of the Royal Free Hospital. Dr Smith [editor of the British Medical Journal] said wealth was the single most important driver of health world wide, even more important than smoking. The authors said: "We are beginning to understand that, for developed countries, relative poverty — having an income substantially below the mean for that society — is a more important influence on health than absolute poverty (lacking the basic means to live)." They said things are getting worse, not better, with the gap between rich and poor tending to widen between and within countries — with inevitable effects on health. 
(Herald, 21 February.)

Business is war!

Letting your colleagues train with the Reserve Forces doesn't just contribute to the country's defence. It also develops qualities of leadership, motivation and initiative in your staff that are vital in helping to drive business forward . . .THE VOLUNTEER RESERVE FORCES. BRITAIN'S BEST KNOWN BUSINESS SECRET. Issued by the National Employers Liaison Committee on behalf of the Territorial Army and the Volunteer Reserves of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force.

The Scavenger

Letters: Is socialism against human nature? (1997)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is socialism against human nature?

Dear Editors,

I have been reading the Socialist Standard for a year now and I find myself in not inconsiderable agreement with most of the views expressed in it. I have a question regarding the relation between our ideals and some fashionable trends in science and philosophy nowadays. It's a familiar question, but for me a most important one. So far I have not found a satisfactory answer in the Socialist Standard, but this may be due to my own negligence.

As you know from many publications, neo-Darwinism holds that human beings, just like all other beings, are determined to fight for everything that enhances their own well-being, but not for things that don't. Conservatives and liberals use this idea to defend their economic principles.

On the other hand, we think that a socialist society will only come about as a result of people's determination to take as much as they need, and to contribute as much as they can. But neo-Darwinism says that, generally speaking, people will never be prepared to act in this way. Indeed, it believes that the inclinations of some people (such as the members of the Socialist Party) to act as real socialists must be explained in terms of underlying drives and goals that cohere with neo- Darwinism philosophy. Compare with the thought that altruists arc really egoists in a more sophisticated way.

So it seems that, if neo-Darwinism is right, socialism must be wrong. Or do they not contradict each other? What do you think? It will not be sufficient to answer that current attitudes will change once we will have changed our institutions and our educational system. For neo-Darwinism will counter you by saying that institutional and educational change could not possibly change our genes. If neo-Darwinism is right, do we therefore have to change our own biological constitution in the process to socialism? This is where things become really interesting. Please enlighten me.
Dirk Boecxx, 
London SE23

If those you call "neo-Darwinians” hold that humans are prepared to struggle for everything that enhances their own well-being but not for a society where people contribute as much as they can and take according to their needs then they are being inconsistent.

This is because such a society would enhance people's individual well-being. Socialism does not require people to be altruists acting against their own self-interest. Socialism is in people’s self- interest. It is certainly not against it.

What those who claim that there is something in our genes that would prevent humans living in a socialist society are in effect saying is that humans are genetically programmed to behave against their best interest. Which is absurd.

So their argument is logically flawed but it is also factually wrong. There is no evidence that human behaviour is genetically determined. In humans genes don't govern complex social behaviour patterns like greed or, for that matter, generosity; they only govern physical characteristics like hair colour or a prospensity to develop certain diseases.

Human behaviour is distinguished from that of all other animals precisely by its high degree of flexibility and adaptability. In so far as the genetic make-up of the members of the species homo sapiens governs our behaviour it is through allowing it to be flexible.

Further, we are — again, biologically — social animals. We live in societies and could not develop on our own as lone individual or family units as some animals do. For instance, speech and all that this enables us to do that other animals can't — construct cultures and civilisations — is a social product and can only be acquired in and through society.

Both speech and the physical ability to speak could only have evolved through co-operation in an animal group that was capable of practising co-operation. Without this ability to co-operate the human species would never have evolved. Which is why some anthropologists see co-operation rather than the struggle of each against all as being the characteristic human behaviour pattern.

You ask for evidence of all this. Read The Evolution of Culture by Leslie A. White or any book by the anthropologist Ashley Montagu. Read sensible Darwinians such as Stephen J. Gould. And for a thorough refutation of the view that human behaviour patterns are governed by particular genes read the collective work Not In Our Genes (by Steven Rose. R.C. Lewonkin and Leon J. Kamin).

Finally, when Desmond Morris. Robert Ardrey. Konrad Lorenz and the others were peddling these ideas, the Socialist Standard published a number of articles refuting them. If you—or anyone else—are interested in them copies arc still available.


Dear Editors,

The article "The Kurdish Question" was excellent (Socialist Standard, January). But how does maximizing "trade union and democratic rights" become a "springboard" for attaining socialism?

I though that was what the World Socialism Movement was for. Otherwise it sounds like capitalist reformist politics to me.
Thomas Alpine, 
Grand Rapids, 
Michigan, USA

We have always said that the best framework for the growth of the majority socialist understanding needed before socialism can be established is political democracy, limited and distorted though it must be under capitalism.

We have also always said, following on from this, that socialists in countries where political democracy docs not exist should campaign for this as well as for socialism. This is not reformism because such socialists would not be campaigning for capitalist political democracy as an end in itself with their own reform programme for achieving power nor would we envisage them joining with non-socialists to campaign for this in these countries. What we envisage is socialists — such as any hypothetical Kurdish-speaking socialists in Turkey, Iraq. Iran or Syria — campaigning independently for this at the same time as campaigning for socialism. Certainly they cannot campaign for setting up a Kurdish State and still be regarded as socialists. That's what we’d call capitalist reformist politics.

Reallocating resources

Dear Editors,

The Rev. John Papworth who described stealing from a supermarket as a reallocation of resources has done a great service in drawing our attention to the nature of society, and how our concepts of behaviour and morality are related to our material circumstances.

While stealing may be regarded as immoral according to Christian teaching, there is much greater immorality in our economy in that it allocates resources in accordance with profit rather than need. It is understandable that a person with little or no monetary resources is tempted to steal in order satisfy his or her needs.

In a different, alternative kind of society, where people would have the freedom of access to the wealth produced, taking what you want would not be regarded as stealing and would, therefore, not be regarded as immoral.
George Pearson, 
London SW20

What would Michael Howard. Jack Straw and all the other defenders of capitalist morality and legality make of the following news item sent us by a reader in Canada?

A court dismissed shoplifting charges against a woman who admitted stealing food to feed her children, based its ruling on a turn-of-the-century law favouring the needy. 
Supermarkets where the theft occurred said they would appeal the decision by a court in Poitiers. 320 kilometres southwest of Paris. 
Annick Grippon, 36, admitted shoplifting meat and sausages on several occasions to feed her three-year-old son and teenage daughter. 
Her lawyer, Philippe Brottier, found a nearly century-old "state of need" defence used by courts to dismiss cases against hungry citizens who stole bread.
(Times Colonist, 2 March)

Militant Dishonesty (1997)

From the February 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
After the Labour Party, which for years was infiltrated by Trotskyists pretending to be bona fide members, we in the Socialist Party are the latest victims of Trotskyist dishonesty.
One of the Trotskyists groups, Militant, has decided to call itself “Socialist Party” and to put up candidates for elections under this name, despite the fact that we have been using this name for over 90 years.

This is the name we used on the ballot paper at the last general election (when Militant was campaigning for the laughable objective of “Labour to Power on a Socialist Programme!”), in the 1994 European elections, and in the Littleborough and Saddleworth parliamentary by-election in 1995 as well as in various local council elections and a council by-election in Lambeth last year. It is also the name under which we will be standing 5 candidates (in Glasgow, London, Jarrow, Easington and Livingston) in this year’s general election.

We contest Militant’s right to use this name, on two grounds. First, it is the name we use and one political group cannot simply come along and take the name used by another, long-standing and well-established, political party. This is an elementary democratic principle. To work properly, political democracy depends on people being able to make an informed choice, one condition of which is that different political organisations should be distinguished by separate names. Nobody is likely to confuse our policies and those of a Trotskyist organisation, but when a Trotskyist organisation uses the same name as us there is bound to be some confusion, so undermining the democratic process (not that Trotskyists, as Leninists, will be concerned about that).

Secondly of course, Trotskyists aren’t socialists anyway. But who are Militant and where did they come from?

Who are Militant?
In the 1940s three Trotskyists arrived in Britain: Tony Cliff (from Palestine), Ted Grant (from South Africa) and Gerry Healy (from Ireland). Each was destined to become the guru of one of the three main Trotskyist sects that were to emerge in Britain.

For a while all three worked together as members of the same organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Party, which existed for a few years after the War as an independent Trotskyist party. Then they went their separate ways, except in so far as all three of them joined the Labour Party.

Cliff, who had come to accept the view that Russia was state capitalist, started a paper that later become International Socialism, and a group that is now the SWP. Healy and Grant stuck with the Trotskyist dogma that Russia, even under Stalin, was a “Workers’ State” albeit a “degenerate” one, but they fell out over some obscure question of “tactics”. Healy started a group which eventually became the Socialist Labour League and then the Workers Revolutionary Party. Grant ran a paper called Socialist Fight which was forever praising the supposed achievements of Russia’s “planned economy” but still managed to attract a following amongst young Labourites on Mersey-side. It later changed its name to Militant.

Until 1968 all three groups pursued the Trotskyist tactic of boring from within the Labour Party known as “entryism”. By far the most successful was Healy who managed to capture the Labour Party’s youth section, the Young Socialists, and their paper Keep Left.

After 1968, and the students’ revolt and general strike in France which convinced them that they no longer needed the Labour Party as an intermediary to “make contact with the working class”, both Healy and Cliff withdrew their followers from the Labour Party and eventually set up their own parties and put up candidates against Labour (Cliff only briefly, Healy with money from Colonel Gaddafi).

Grant, however, decided to hang on inside the Labour Party where he now had a virtual monopoly of the Trotskyist franchise. In one sense this was a shrewd move and in the ’80s he was to be even more successful in infiltrating Labour than Healy had been in the ’60s.

Grant’s group, ostensibly just another pro-Labour paper like Tribune but in reality an undercover vanguard party named the Revolutionary Socialist League organised on strict Bolshevik lines, virtually captured Liverpool Labour Party (Derek Hatton has been their best-known member) and managed to get two of their members, Terry Fields and Dave Nellist, elected as Labour MPs. From the mid-80s the Labour machine counter-attacked. Grant and his followers were booted out of the Labour Party and Fields and Nellist were de-selected.

Militant was now on its own, in what it had up till then regarded as the political wilderness. What to do? Was political life possible outside the Labour Party? Grant himself didn’t think so and was for carrying on with “entryism” and trying to get back into the Labour Party clandestinely. Most of the other leaders regarded this as pointless; they were outside the Labour Party and would have to make the best of a bad job by acting as an independent organisation even if still telling people to vote Labour.

Grant was eventually expelled at the beginning of 1992 and yet another Trotskyist sect was born. Militant changed its (public) name from Militant to Militant Labour. The tactic was adopted of putting up candidates against Labour at local council elections and by-elections, with some success in that one or two were elected councillors, in Glasgow and Liverpool.

When Scargill left the Labour Party last year and set up his “Socialist Labour Party”, to an outsider it might have seemed obvious that Militant Labour and the Scargill Labour Party should join together—after all, both of them had the same policy, militant Labourism—but this was to overlook the fact that Scargill was a Stalinist who was determined that his party should not be infiltrated and perhaps taken over by some Trotskyist group (not that this has prevented some of the lesser Trotskyist sects having a go).

Talks between Scargill and Militant did take place but broke down, so Militant decided to set up a rival Old Labour party of its own. But what name to call it? Apparently, there were three options, Militant Labour Party, Militant Socialist Party and Socialist Party.

The name “Socialist Party” of course wasn’t free as the leaders of Militant were well aware. Being part of it themselves, they are not ignorant of the minority political scene in Britain and have seen us selling the Socialist Standard (“journal of the Socialist Party”) at the same demonstrations and on the same street corners as they sell Militant. Their leaders have been aware of our existence since their foundation and we have engaged them in formal debate and long intervened at their meetings in opposition.

We have used the name 'Socialist Party' for over 90 years.
This, however, did not stop Militant’s leadership recommending “Socialist Party” as the preferred option to a special conference held at the end of last November. According to the report in Militant (6 December), there was some opposition. Although 71.4 percent of delegates voted for, 24.8 percent voted for “Militant Socialist Party” and 3 percent for “Militant Labour”.

So, an element of confusion has been introduced onto the British political scene: there are now two organisations calling themselves Socialist Party and two organisations putting up candidates at elections under this name. This is entirely the fault of a dishonest and cynical move by Militant to try to hijack the name used by an already-existing political organisation.

Naturally, we will oppose this move in every way we can but we are obliged to issue a warning to our sympathisers and others who know us: look twice before buying any pamphlet bearing the name “Socialist Party”; if you find it praising pre-Yeltsin Russia’s “planned economy” or advocating fantastic reforms of capitalism then (obviously) it is not published by us but will be the usual Trotskyist nonsense. If you go to a meeting advertised as by the “Socialist Party” and the speaker advocates a “£6 minimum wage” or “Nationalise the Top 200 Monopolies” or that “the TUC call a General Strike Now” you will know you have been misled; stand up and say that the speaker is a fraud for pretending to be speaking on behalf of the Socialist Party.

Labourism with knobs on
But quite apart from the dishonesty of trying to steal our name, Militant does not stand for socialism It stands for state capitalism as its long-term aim while campaigning in the present for mostly impracticable reforms of capitalism.

There is a twisted logic to their campaigning for impracticable reforms. As followers of Lenin, Trotskyists hold that workers are incapable of directly understanding socialist ideas; at most, they can only acquire a “trade union consciousness” which reflects itself on the political field as support for reformist Labour Party-type politics. In these circumstances to campaign directly for socialism (as we in the real Socialist Party do) would be to cast pearls before swine, mere “abstract propagandism”. Instead, what a “vanguard party” must do is to try to use this workers’ reformist discontent as a battering ram to overthrow the government and seize power for themselves as Lenin and the Bolsheviks had done in Russia in November 1917.

Trotsky recommended that this be done by offering workers reforms (called “transitional demands”) which the vanguard party knows perfectly well can’t be obtained under capitalism, in the expectation that when these reforms are not granted the workers will turn against the government and support a Trotskyist coup d’état.

This of course is pure science-fiction politics that is only likely to come true on the planet Zanussi but (fortunately) not on planet Earth. Imagine what a Trotskyist dictatorship would be like; not too different from a Stalinist one, we would suppose.

In the context of the electoralist tactic that Militant has now adopted, “transitional demands” translate as extravagant election promises of reforms to be achieved under capitalism, bait offered to the mass of worker-electors who are still perceived of as not being able to move beyond a reformist, Labourist consciousness.

At election times, Militant Labour appears as a super-reformist party, promising the same sort of reforms as Labour only bigger and better ones. Thus, if Labour promises a minimum wage of £3 an hour, Militant Labour promises one of £6. If Labour promises to increase spending on education and the health service by 10 percent, Militant Labour promises to increase it by 50 percent. If Labour promises the highest achievable level of employment, Militant promises full employment, and so on. In other words, there is no attempt to combat reformist illusions within the working class (the illusion that capitalism can be reformed to work in their interest); just the opposite in fact, such illusions are encouraged and magnified.

Militant, by accommodating itself to this attitude instead of campaigning to change it, is encouraging workers to believe that their problems can be solved within capitalism if only those they elect as local councillors and MPs were more demanding and more determined.

It is in fact on this basis that Militant’s local councillors have been elected: as militant Labourists, as people who some traditional Labour voters feel will sincerely fight for the reforms that New Labour under Blair has abandoned. “Militant Labour”, the name under which they were elected, was an entirely accurate description as what those who elected them wanted was someone to fight in a more militant way for Labour’s traditional aims.

Militant’s Ideal World
Militant would deny this charge of encouraging reformism—of in fact being militant reformists—by pointing out that they do say that capitalism can never work in the workers’ interests. This is so, but by “capitalism” they only mean competitive, private enterprise capitalism, to which their alternative is planned, state-run capitalism not socialism.

Last year Militant (22 March) carried an article headed “Fighting for our ideal world” which ended:
“Militant Labour demands:
  • An end to slave labour schemes;
  • £6 per hour minimum wage;
  • The right to join a recognised trade union”
Hardly an inspiring ideal (and this was in an article aimed at young people!). Normally, it is true, Militant’s “ideal” is not quite as crass as this but the principle is the same. In 1995, at the time the Labour Party was preparing to ditch Clause 4, Militant brought out a pamphlet called What is Socialism? in which they declared:
  “Militant Labour believes it is possible to achieve a minimum wage, full employment, good education and health services. Homelessness can be a thing of the past. We can end inequality and poverty. “
  “But we would also need an economy which produces more than it does today and produced different things: for example, fewer office blocks and more houses at affordable prices or rents, fewer-weapons and more public transport”.
This ideal world of higher wages and affordable prices is to be achieved by nationalising all “the major companies and financial institutions”.

Such wholesale nationalisation would not be socialism which is based on the common (as opposed to state) ownership and democratic control of productive resources, with goods and services being produced and distributed directly to satisfy people’s needs with the disappearance of wages, prices, pensions, banks, money and all the other products of a buying-and-selling society such as capitalism.

Militant’s “ideal society” turns out to be a state capitalism in which a government, supposedly ruling on behalf of the working class (but in reality controlled by and for the benefit of the leaders of the vanguard party), tries to plan the wages-profits-money system and make it work in the interest of all.

They give Cuba, and previously Russia, as an example of the sort of “planned”, “non-capitalist” economy they have in mind (“Can Cuba Survive!”, Militant, 22 March 1996), not as a perfect example but as a sufficiently successful example to back up their claim that a nationalised, planned economy of the kind they propose can work. But both Cuba and pre-Yeltsin Russia had state-capitalist, not non-capitalist, economies. Neither the Russian nor the Cuban revolution “overthrew capitalism”, as Militant claims. What they did was to change the personnel of the privileged class that was to preside over the accumulation of capital in these countries, from private capitalists and outside imperialists to a Party élite of state bureaucrats. That Militant see the economic system in Cuba and what used to exist in Russia as a model for what should replace capitalism confirms that they too stand for state capitalism.

But state capitalism is no more in the interest of the working class than is private capitalism. It still retains the wages system, under which people have to sell their mental and physical energies to an employer to get the money to buy the things they need to live. But where the wages system exists so does economic exploitation, since workers are always paid as wages less than the value of the work they do; the rest (Marx called it surplus value) is creamed off by their employers, whether a private individual, a company or a state enterprise, and redistributed as the privileged income of shareholders and/or state bureaucrats.

The Trotskyist proposal to nationalise all major industries and financial institutions and turn us all into state employees does not end the wages system; it merely changes who employs us (where, that is, we are not already government employees of one sort or another) and changes those who live off our work from private shareholders to state bureaucrats.

So Trotskyists like Militant are not even on the same wavelength as Socialists. It is not a question of us and them having the same aim but a different method of getting there—us, democratic political action by a democratically-organised and consciously socialist majority; them, a minority-led insurrection without majority socialist understanding. Their aim is quite different from ours. We want socialism and the abolition of the wages system; they want state capitalism with all of us being paid by the state.

In other words, even if we had some other name such as a World Socialist Party they would still have no justification for calling themselves “Socialist Party”. If they had been honest (but that’s science-fiction politics again) they would have changed their name to SCP or State Capitalist Party or, if that was felt to be too explicit, simply to “Trotskyist Party”.
Adam Buick