Thursday, December 5, 2019

Material World: The Enclosure of the Sea (2019)

The Material World Column from the December 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

The oceans remain the last unexplored region of the Earth. But the recent advances in technology and knowledge are pushing back the boundaries so that humans via capitalism are now within sight of opening up yet another part of the planet to exploit. However, the availability of resources has given rise to new international quarrels about how to divide up the spoils of the seas. Disputes over territorial limits of national waters are now commonplace.

We are accustomed to the concept of land-grabbing by corporations but now it has expanded to capturing the possession of the assets of the ocean, stealing resources and denying local fishing communities access. A report has been published by the Transnational Institute (TNI) which is a research and advocacy organisation.

It defines ocean grabbing as a ‘major process of enclosure of the world’s oceans and fisheries resources, including marine, coastal and inland fisheries. Ocean grabbing is occurring mainly through policies, laws, and practices that are (re)defining and (re)allocating access, use and control of fisheries resources away from small-scale fisher-folk and their communities, and often with little concern for the adverse environmental consequences… Another important driver of ocean grabbing is the increasing demand and the increasing scarcity of resources and new technologies that enable the extraction of resources in formerly inaccessible areas…’

Global fish stocks that feed hundreds of millions of people are dwindling and it is explained by some that ‘Overfishing is… an example of the ‘tragedy of the commons’. Advocates of this theory assume that because there is no owner and so resources are freely accessible to all, it leads to abuse of those resources in the short-term disregarding the longer-term welfare. The ‘tragedy of the commons’ however takes place within the context of capitalism which is a system based on individual self-interest rather than to manage resources as the collective heritage of communities and this leaves the commons vulnerable to private interests. Thus, the TNI report explains it would be more correct to speak of the ‘tragedy of the private exploitation of the commons’ which undermines sustainable traditional management practices.

An earlier 2014 report by the TNI, on Ocean Grabbing shows how the rise of market-based fishing policies that favour large-scale aqua-industries is systematically dispossessing fishing communities of the means to livelihood. The report cites examples of luxury beach-resorts in Sri Lanka where fishers can no longer get to the coast, the destruction of mangrove areas in Ecuador to promote export-oriented shrimp aquaculture that has destroyed fishing habitats, and the dramatic rise of Rights Based Fishery (RBF) policies that have handed over large tracts of ocean to industrial fishing companies in Europe, Canada and elsewhere.

India’s coastline is more than 7,500 km long, and about 3.5 million people make a living from fishing and related activities. There are more than 3,000 fishing villages along the coast. Changes to India’s Coastal Regulation Zone rules in 2017 have lifted the ban on land reclamation for commercial purposes. Fishers say the changes will lead to environmental damage, displace coastal communities and hurt the livelihoods of millions who depend on the sea for their survival. ‘The coastal lands are ours by tradition. The state plans to take them away with this law,’ said Rajhans Tapke, ‘Our land will be lost, our access to the sea will be affected, our catch will be affected. How will we live? … We protect the sea, the coast, the marine life; now our lives, our livelihoods are threatened because they want to give our land to movie stars and wealthy people who want sea views and beach sports’ (LINK).

Only when we reach a rational economic system where the wellbeing of all is the guiding principle and we are no longer subjected to the blind market forces of capitalism can the natural resources of the land and oceans be used to benefit all of humanity. Only socialism goes further than pious hopes and wishful thinking that our planet is not going to be abused in pursuit of profit.

Lexiteers: Left meets Right (2019)

From the December 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard
We look at those on the left – the Lexiteers – who campaign for Britain to leave the EU.
Brexit left?
In all the hullaballoo over whether workers in the United Kingdom should be exploited within the European Union or exploited outside of the European Union, it is often overlooked that it is not only right-wing cranks who are extolling the virtues of Brexit.

There was, and remains, a considerable ‘Lexit’ chorus, chipping their two pennyworth into the debate (and part of the reason they are overlooked is that the millionaires backing the right-wing version of Brexit chipped in their two millionworth).

Of course, they’ve been there since the beginning. When Harold Wilson’s Labour government tried to take the UK into the EU (then the European Economic Community (EEC)), the Labour Party was substantially split.

Joining the EEC was seen as joining a rich man’s club, with some leftists suggesting alignment with the former Empire (by then rebranded as the Commonwealth), and some even angling towards alignment with the state capitalist economies in COMECON. There was a recognition that capital concentration was being constrained within national boundaries.

Tony Benn voiced worries that membership of the EEC would disrupt the Whitehall departmental balance of power, giving undue prominence to the Foreign Office over others. However, behind all such concerns, there was ultimately a rump patriotic being expressed.

Basic nationalism
The New Left historian E.P. Thompson saw the move into Europe as an attempt to undermine and escape from the relatively unified working class in Britain. Even such a class line, though, was often tinged with a basic nationalism. Indeed, Ted Grant writing for the Militant Tendency was a shining example of this:
  ‘On capitalist policies and methods there can only be suffering and privation for the working class. ‘No to the EEC’ must be linked with the struggle for a socialist plan of production in Britain. The taking over of the 250 monopolies, banks and insurance companies, with compensation on the basis of need only would be the first step. Then a monopoly of foreign trade would be established. On this basis the road would be cleared for an appeal to the workers of Europe and the world. A continental plan of production, with a democratic socialist Britain, ending the scarecrow of Stalinist Totalitarianism would open the road to the underdeveloped world. A Socialist United States of Europe would be the first step to a Socialist World’
Arguably, part of this is developed from a reading of one line in the Communist Manifesto ‘Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national’ perhaps neglecting the continuation ‘though not in the bourgeois sense of the word’.

Such positioning was also helped by the fact that it was the Tories that first mooted joining the EEC, it would be natural for the left to reflexively shy away from a project associated with their brand rivals. This became an article of faith for the Labour left, especially within the Campaign Group (hence Corbyn’s basic oppositional position to the EU). The converse was also true, and under the Blair years, support for the EU became a position Blairites could use to position themselves against the left in their own party and against what was then known as the Eurosceptic right. It even had the virtue of presenting itself as an intrinsically internationalist position. Hence the Labour Party became a predominantly pro-EU party, such that whatever ‘Lexiteers’ took part in the Brexit referendum, they were drowned out.

It should be noted that in the 2016 referendum campaign, it was the slightly strange Kate Hoey, far, far from being a Labour leftist who was the face and vote of Labour within the official Leave campaign, allowing herself to be pictured sailing down the Thames with Nigel Farage. The Labour Leave group itself was largely made up of the old Labour right, rather than its left.

Brexity noises
That didn’t mean that the likes of Arthur Scargill’s rump ‘Socialist Labour Party’ weren’t out in the woods making Brexity screeching noises. ‘Left leave’ were supported by the Communist Party, SWP and the SWP break-away Counterfire. Their propaganda focussed on the EU as an undemocratic neo-liberal club. The same could be said of the UK by groups campaigning for independence for Yorkshire and Cornwall, but logical consistency is not the point. As usual, doubtless, such an organisation was more about building recruits for their own parties than a consistent position. All their complaints about the EU would still exist if the UK leaves, and walking away would be abandoning fellow workers who are in the continuity EU.

Len McCluskey
The most prominent Lexiteer has been Len McCluskey. As the general secretary of Unite he has been the biggest voice for Leave in the Labour movement, and the one with the most clout. Calling for ‘Brexit on our terms’, these terms amount to what has become the Labour Party position, to leave with retention of protected guaranteed workers’ rights, a customs union and access to the single market and ‘For the ending of austerity, and a proactive strategy of investment in public services to mitigate the impact of Brexit. The principle of well-funded, publicly owned and freely accessible public services must be central to this strategy’ (LINK).

It is perhaps unsurprising that the culmination of the left’s flirtation with Brexit was the various leftists who have joined the Brexit Party, as instanced in particular by Claire Fox, now an MEP for the party. This is less surprising than it first sounds. Fox is one of the members of the former ‘Revolutionary Communist Party’ clustered around Spiked! magazine, that in the 80s turned away from traditional leftism and towards a form of libertarianism and contrarianism (a path also trod by the late unlamented Christopher Hitchens).

It has proved an effective way of getting attention as pundits, since their left pose gets themthrough the balance door, to eventually talk right. In 2018, the Guardian journalist George Monbiot uncovered that Spiked! had received $300,000 from the Koch brothers foundation (7 December, 2018). The Koch brothers’ money is notoriously used to further oligarchic billionaire ends in US politics. The Spiked! crowd maintain the money was for ‘free speech’ events (and opposing no-platform and defending free speech is a core part of the Spiked libertarianism).

Fox maintains that she stood as ‘a democrat, a supporter of liberty, agency and sovereignty,’ noting the RCP was a long time ago. She also maintains the core of her vote was ‘solid Labour voters’ including trade union officials. We can only take at face value her claims that her positions are genuine and not providing pinkwash to the Brexit Party (though that is hard to reconcile with the known public positions of the Party’s founder and leader Nigel Farage).

There remains an anti-establishment kick to the Brexit movement, a reflex that says if only we stood alone, things could be so much different. Into that void is projected all sorts of fantasies of an authentic British democracy, freed from the binding rules of treaties. Left and right alike see opportunity in that space. The reality is that the integration in practice of the UK with the EU means the scope for independent action will be constrained for the foreseeable future.

The lesson of Ireland is obvious, which broke away politically from the UK, but which still found itself economically close to Britain for decades. Even today, it is the part of the EU most threatened by Brexit. The fantasy that a breakaway country can rework itself and spread to the world is pernicious and persistent: any real change can only come from a movement that is international in form and practice.

To refuse to deal with the reality of the need for an international perspective leaves the workers at the mercy of the patriotic pretenders who will cloak the failings in the flag.
Pik Smeet

Manifestos: The Socialist Alternative (2019)

Party News from the December 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard


What is this election about?

The wide view
Our world contains massive resources – raw materials, systems of manufacture, communications technology, sophisticated transport. Enough to give everyone a comfortable and fulfilling life.

It’s also beset by perennial problems – wars, never-ending poverty, economic and other kinds of insecurity. The profit motive of society means that life is becoming more and more commercialised and people are increasingly isolated from one another with drug abuse and mental illness on the increase. Capitalism – and governments – are proving incapable of dealing with climate change and other threats to the environment. The standard of living may have risen for some but the quality of life deteriorates.

Why don’t we change our world so that we can have the benefit of the resources without the problems?

How can we do that?
   We can do that by holding the world’s resources in common and using them directly to serve everyone’s needs instead of just producing ad nauseam to create ever greater profits for a tiny minority. This is genuine socialism – a moneyless society of free access to goods and services. Forget about the other uses of the word.

So, we vote you in and you create this wonderful world for us. How can we trust you to do that?
   You can’t and neither can we. The new society we’re putting forward can only be created when a majority of people like you actively decide to do it. You can use us, the Socialist Party, as an instrument of the democratic revolution we are advocating, but you yourselves must be in control of what happens.

But isn’t this all fantasy politics? People are too selfish to put everything at risk for the sake of pie in the sky?
  Stick to the case you know best – yourself. Are you too selfish to realise that your on interests (as well as those of the people around you) can be advanced by making an alliance with others and pursuing joint interests? Are you sufficiently open-minded to consider alternatives to our present social arrangements? If you want to prove you can do this, one way is to take advantage of the free subscription to our journal, the Socialist Standard, offered on this leaflet.

Hasn’t socialism been tried and shown not to work?
   No. Small political minorities have tried concentrating resources in the hands of the state, but that has just continued the profit system in another, often more oppressive, form. That isn’t socialism. Instead we are talking about a world where we all democratically decide how to use those resources directly for our own mutual benefit and in a way which minimises the impact on the environment.

  This is all a long-way off. In the meantime shouldn’t ‘progressive’ organisations sink their differences, defend working people against attacks on their living standards and eventually work towards a socialist society?
It’s true that we all have to live in the here and now, but how far off the socialist society we advocate is depends on when people are prepared to take democratic action (i.e. vote) to establish it. More than a century of attempts to reform capitalism have shown that none of its major problems can be removed. So it’s clear that if we do nothing about socialism ‘in the meantime’, the meantime lasts forever. And we are putting off perhaps for all time the greatest advance that human society could ever make.

So does this election matter? Does Brexit matter?
  This election is about one way or another of organising the profit system, capitalism, so it doesn’t matter which of the major parties is elected. Nothing will change. Brexit is a small detail in that system, so it doesn’t matter that an arrangement has been made to manipulate that detail in the interests of the tiny minority who hold most of the wealth. What does matter is how many voters understand the case we are putting for a real social upgrade – a world community without states or frontiers based on participatory democracy – and show their preference for that by casting their vote for the Socialist Party candidate, Brian Johnson.

We are talking about a society of material abundance, without buying and selling, where everyone has access to what they need without the rationing system called money.

We are talking about a rational and sustainable society where people are the Earth’s custodians, not its destroyers, where they contribute the knowledge, skills and effort to maintain it.

This is a system that will make 21st century capitalism look like the Dark Ages. Hardly anyone dares conceive of a society after capitalism, so powewrful is its hold on the collective mind. But we do and that is why we are putting the debate out into the open.

Capitalism will do all it can to discredit the idea of world socialism. Don’t let it succeed. Take a first step by voting for our candidate, Brian Johnson.


Profit or Needs, not Leave or Remain, is the real issue

This election, we’re told, is about Brexit. Whether ‘we’ will be richer or poorer, freer or more subservient if we stay in or leave the European Union, with or without a deal.

But does anyone seriously expect that Leaving or Remaining will end child poverty? Homelessness and food banks? Collapsing health and social services? Unemployment – or the mass insecurity of zero-hour-contracts? War and forced migration? The destruction of the Earth’s wildlife and natural resources? The threat of disastrous climate change?

The Brexit ‘debate’ simply obscures the real issue: a failed economic system where nothing is produced unless a profit can be made from it. Where human needs are everywhere subject to the inhuman demands of market forces. And this system will continue to rule our lives whether our new leaders are based in Brussels or London, Belfast or Edinburgh.

The Socialist Party stands for putting an end to this profit system. For replacing it with a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the world’s natural and industrial resources.

We live in a world of potential plenty, where we could meet our needs by freely cooperating on the basis of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.’ There is no need for anyone anywhere in the world to go without what they need to live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life. What prevents this is the ownership of resources today by a privileged few and production for sale with the aim of making a profit.

 The parties committed to running the market system – and that includes the Labour Party and the Greens – are making empty promises. A vote for them is a wasted vote as this system operates on the basis that making profits must always come before meeting needs, whatever those in government might want or have promised.

We are standing here to give you a chance to show that you reject the profit-driven market system and want a classless society of equal men and women geared to directly satisfying people’s needs.

To show this, vote for the  Socialist Party candidate, Andy Thomas, and then come and join us, not to mend the present system but to bring a movement strong enough to end it.

Write The Socialist Party, 74 Linden Crescent, Folkestone, Kent CT19 5SB

How you can help
South Wales branch will be holding an election stall on Saturday 7 December from 1 pm to 3pm in Queen Street (Newport road end) in central Cardiff. There will also be leafletting elsewhere in the constituency. More information and offers of help contact Richard Botterill, election agent, at

Kent and Sussex branch will be meeting on Sunday 1 December from 2pm in The Muggleton Inn (Wetherspoon), 8 High Street, Maidstone, ME14 1 HJ (first floor) to discuss the campaign. Offers of help with leafletting and other activities in Folkestone: email or write to The Socialist Party, 74 Linden Crescent, Folkestone, Kent CT19 5SB.

The Socialist Party also has leaflets for distribution outside the two constituencies saying that socialists will be casting a write-in vote for «World Socialism». Copies for distribution available from or write to the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN or phone 020 7622 3811.

Voice From The Back: Pollution And Capitalism (2011)

The Voice From The Back Column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pollution And Capitalism

In their mad demand for profit the capitalist class are polluting our world more and more. “Ozone loss over the Arctic this year was so severe that for the first time it could be called an ‘ozone hole’ like the Antarctic one, scientists report.  . . . Ozone-destroying chemicals originate in substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that came into use late last century in appliances including refrigerators and fire extinguishers.  . . .  The ozone layer blocks ultraviolet-B rays from the Sun, which can cause skin cancer and other medical conditions.” (BBC News, 3 October) On the face of it a scientific report on the BBC may not appear to mean that much to you, until your child develops skin cancer or some other awful medical condition. It will mean a lot then.

The Sick Society

Inside capitalism everything has a price. If you can afford it you can get the best food, clothing, housing and entertainment. Conversely if you don’t have the money you have to do with the cheap, the shoddy and the second-rate. Regretfully this applies to health-care too. “Half of hospitals ‘failing to feed elderly patients properly’. Staff forgetting to give food and water, while dignified care is lacking at 40% of hospitals, Care Quality Commission says. … The figures for England, compiled from reports published over the summer, will be officially released next week by the CQC. At Sandwell general hospital inspectors found serious issues with nutrition, especially for people who needed help with eating. Staff did not check whether patients had eaten and did not keep track of their fluid intake. One nurse said: ‘Sometimes I am the only staff member to feed on the ward. How can I feed all these people? Sometimes by the time I get to the last bay, either the food is cold or it has been taken away.’” (Guardian, 8 October) They call it the National Health Service: the national ill-health service would be more accurate.

From Dream To Nightmare

As they near retirement age many workers console themselves with the notion that they will at last be free from money worries, but recent research may lead them to reconsider their dreams of rocking-chair contentment. “Research published today suggests that many people with private pensions will be as much as 30 per cent worse off compared with those with similar savings who finished work in 2008, because of a combination of tumbling stock markets and interest rates at a record low. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accountants, said those facing retirement this year would be left ‘between a rock and a hard place’, forced to consider putting off claiming a pension until market conditions improve.” (Daily Telegraph, 8 October) Even after a lifetime of work and money anxiety capitalism still holds no respite for many workers.

Empty Promises

Politicians vie with each other in claiming that they can solve capitalism’s boom and burst cycle of trade. Beyond their empty boasts there is a reality that they dare not recognise in their bombastic promises. It is that booms and bursts are the way capitalism operates and politicians are powerless to do anything about it. A recent survey by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows what the future is likely to be. “Falling incomes will mean the biggest drop for middle-income families since the 1970s, says a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The IFS forecasts two years ‘dominated by a large decline’ in incomes, pushing 600,000 more children into poverty. By 2013 there will be 3.1 million children in poverty in the UK, according to the IFS projections.” (BBC News, 11 October) All the politicians can do is make empty promises while we suffer empty pockets.

Skint But Not Poor

For centuries politicians, philanthropists and social observers have tried to solve the problem of the poor, but poverty has remained despite their best efforts. Now, however, a so-called think-tank has ridden to the rescue. “One of Britain’s foremost think-tanks wants to ban the phrases ‘poor people’ and ‘the poor’ to describe those in poverty, claiming they amount to discrimination akin to racism and sexism. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says politicians and members of the public are guilty of ‘povertyism’, an unacknowledged form of prejudice which stigmatises deprived people.” (Sunday Times, 9 October) The findings of this think-tank must be a great consolation to those workers who find themselves unemployed, homeless and desperate. They may be skint but they are not poor. Thanks very much JRF!