Saturday, December 28, 2019

From WAGs to Riches (2011)

The Proper Gander column from the September 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Watching a BBC3 documentary and expecting it to give you a deep insight into capitalist society is like going into a sweet shop hoping to get a three-course meal. In both cases, you end up with something sugary and gaudy instead of nourishing. Cherry’s Cash Dilemmas was therefore like a bag of liquorice allsorts. It was the latest show from Cherry Healey, the unthinking-person’s investigative journalist. She spent a day each with five women who have different kinds of relationship with money. WAG wannabe Esma believes that “it’s the man’s job to bring in the money and the woman’s job to look nice”, and by ‘nice’ she means being bronzed and vajazzled. Amanda made her fortune inventing and selling potties but was too busy making money from other people’s children to be around her own kids. ‘Freegan’ Katharine avoids spending money by raiding bin bags, looking for food needlessly thrown away by caf├ęs and takeaways. Claire struggles to feed her family of nine on wages of £150 a week. And Birgit went from the Hollywood high life to a council flat in London, and feels that ‘karma’ has caught up with her.

Presumably it was assumed that the viewers would have the attention span of an amnesiac goldfish, as the programme only spent ten minutes with each interviewee. But behind the hyperactive editing and Cherry’s wide-eyed zeal were some interesting observations about how people feel about money. In particular, the show revealed a correlation between how much someone fetishises money and how self-absorbed and irritating they are. Katharine, Claire and Birgit have learnt, unfortunately the hard way, that money is less important than fulfilling, warm relationships. And they have become kinder and more thoughtful as a result. But Esma and Amanda, who have allowed their alienation to take them over, just come across as tanned robots with bling. Whether or not money can buy you happiness, the love of money only seems to buy you shallowness.
Mike Foster

50 Years Ago: Little Budget (2011)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many big-time financial editors applauded Mr. Selwyn Lloyd’s second attempt at producing a Budget for 1961/2. Here, they said, was the strong medicine which was needed to sort out our troubles once and for all.

This was the sort of comment which greeted Mr. Butler’s autumn Budget in 1957, when Bank Rate last went up to seven per cent. It is what is always being said about the so-called remedies for the economic and financial crises of capitalism.

The trouble this time, said Fleet Street, is that we are all living too well. Agricultural workers, who are getting by on an average wage of £10 11s. a week and local government employees who are somehow making do on an average of £10 16s a week, must have been very surprised to hear that nowadays their life is one long spree of opulence.

Whatever measures successive Chancellors may impose, the economy keeps on staggering from boom to recession, from expansion to retrenchment. One budget (often at election time) knocks a couple of pennies off beer, a couple of shillings off income tax. Another puts them back on, or onto something else.

The workers end up where they started, with a personal budget which is very finely balanced, often on a tight-rope supplied by the hire purchase companies. Yet they keep their faith with capitalism — if they blame anything, it is the planners, or their plans. But capitalism — unplannable, chaotic, unbudgetable — is always doing its best to teach them better.

(from News in Review, Socialist Standard, September 1961)

Rear View: Principled hostility (2019)

The Rear View Column from the July 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Principled hostility

Socialists are opposed to capitalism and its parties, Left, Right or in between. From our Declaration of Principles: ‘That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.’ We have as a Party, since our inception in 1904, been maligned, misunderstood, occasionally praised but more often than not just ignored. The conservative news site recently drew attention to our Twitter feed in an article titled ‘Stephen King and writer of HBO series get ‘Chernobyl’d’ by Dan Bongino when they make the show about Trump’ (31 May). Such attention is very rare, however. Ironically, it is often those praising ‘socialism’ who do just as much damage as its opponents: Andre Vltchek, author of ‘Europe in irreversible decay, UE [sic] elections are proof of it!’ (, 1 June) is just one example.

Tweeting for socialism or the status quo

@OfficialSPGB takes @dbongino to task for tweeting ‘Why do Hollywood elitists continue to publicly humiliate themselves on Twitter? Chernobyl was a failure of socialism (where the govt controls the means of production), the exact opposite of the Trump deregulation and tax cut agenda.’ We replied ‘You persist in trying to keep the lie going that socialism is “where the govt controls the means of production”. The truth (not that you’re interested in that, obviously) is that socialism is where THE PEOPLE own and control the means of production. The USSR had state capitalism.’ Tom Tillison, author of the BPR piece in question, is incredulous. Yes, the Bolshevik coup d’etat of November 1917 hastened the development of capitalism there, not socialism. Lenin admitted such, and we made our position clear as early as August 1918 in ‘The Revolution in Russia – Where It Fails.’ Reading the BPR article could leave one with the impression that the ‘West’ has no record of nuclear accidents! There are currently 454 operable civil nuclear reactors around the world, with a further 54 under construction. Given worldwide capitalism’s concern for profits over people, further ‘accidents’ are inevitable.

Workers have no country

Vltchek, who recently toured seven EU countries, described as ‘decaying. . . even collapsing,‘ and met some of the people there, adds: ‘What I did not witness, was hope, or enthusiasm. There was no optimism. No healthy and productive exchange of ideas, or profound debate; something I am so used to in China, Russia or Venezuela, just confusion, apathy and decay everywhere. And hate for those countries that are better, more human, more advanced, and full of socialist enthusiasm.’ At one point even North Korea gets a favourable mention: ‘ On both sides of the Atlantic, the establishment is in panic. Their world is in crises, and the ‘crises’ arrived mainly because several great countries, including China, Russia, Iran, but also South Africa, Turkey, Venezuela, DPRK and the Philippines, are openly refusing to play in accordance with the script drawn in Washington, London and Paris.’ And his remedy: ‘ Let us [put] the people of Russia first … China first! And, Asia, Africa, Latin America first!’

Unite for socialism

Lenin wrote tellingly of Russia in 1918: ‘reality says that state capitalism would be a step forward for us; if we were able to bring about state capitalism in a short time it would be a victory for us’ (The Chief Tasks of Our Time). In his Report of an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan (1927), Mao admitted that the coming revolution would not be socialist: ‘To overthrow these feudal forces is the real objective of the revolution’. Iran is a theocratic dictatorship – Hell on Earth for scientific materialists! – and North Korea a family-run cult cum kleptocracy. ‘Maduro recognizes Venezuela is still a capitalist-based economy . . .’ (Popular Resistance newsletter, 27 May, 2018). Capitalist hallmarks, such as class society, commodity production, profit motive, exploitation of wage labour, markets, etc., are found worldwide. If you are of the Left, Right or in between and do not believe the capitalist stooge Vltchek, any of his anti-working class heroes, or us consider Thatcher: ‘there is only one economic system in the world, and that is capitalism. The difference lies in whether the capital is in the hands of the state or whether the greater part of it is in the hands of people outside of state control’ (House of Commons speech, 24 November, 1976).

Pathfinders: The Parthian Torpedo (2019)

The Pathfinders column from the July 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘I’ve never seen a politician that didn’t look better looking back,’ as Lee Marvin might have sung, and thus with the benefit of distance posterity may come to view former PM Theresa May more kindly than people do at present, especially if she is replaced by the unspeakable Boorish Johnson. May spent her last days in office frantically legacy-building, living up to her old Cabinet nickname of ‘the submarine’ by launching a few ticking torpedoes before retiring to dry dock in the back benches. One of these was a £27 billion cash boost for the education budget, which her successor will have to pay or else look bad by wriggling out of (Sunday Telegraph, 16 June).

But £27 billion is nothing compared with her Parthian shot par excellence, which will stuff not only her immediate successor, but several successors after that, as well as every political leader in virtually every country in the world for the next 30 years.

In short, she decided to adopt the desperately-ambitious recommendations of the UK Climate Change Committee and formally commit the UK to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Pause a moment to consider with amused schadenfreude the behind-the-scenes panic and pandemonium this announcement must have caused. The mandarins of the British state have no idea how to enforce this commitment, but they do know there is no chance whatever of doing so without resorting to extreme and probably unpopular measures. Somehow, for a start, they have to get the rich employers on side and persuade them to bear the extra costs of reducing industrial and commercial emissions to net zero, while still managing to remain competitive with players on the international market who are facing no such costs. Then there is the problem of upgrading the aged and inefficient housing stock with insulation and heat exchangers when neither state nor most private householders can afford it, while also telling the population to turn down their thermostats and wear extra jumpers in winter. The new runway at Heathrow will surely have to be cancelled, and people persuaded against foreign holidays in favour of camping or caravanning at home. Then there’s your filthy fossil car, your fat-making sugar and meat diet, your cheap fashionista clothes shipped over in containers from fire traps in Bangladesh – you name it, you’ll probably be told to stop doing it.

Good, you might be thinking. We can’t beat climate change without making a few personal sacrifices. But here’s the thing – who’s going to make the Duke of Westminster turn his damn thermostat down? Who’s going to legislate the rich into painful personal sacrifices equivalent to those being forced on workers? Who’s going to take their private golf courses off them, or cancel their champagne and truffle banquets or stop their Lear jet flights to exclusive private resorts? Nobody, that’s who, because governments don’t get to tell the rich what to do. If anything it’s the other way round. The rich are all for reducing emissions, as long as they’re somebody else’s emissions. Knowing this, just how cooperative are workers likely to be?

And personal privations aside, what is the likelihood of all the competing ruling elites of the world forming a grand environmental alliance and sharing the eye-watering costs of a shift to net-zero, without sooner or later one or more of them succumbing to the lure of the fast buck and reneging on the deal? Capitalism is about making money and the rich are more devoted to that objective than they ever are to cooperating with each other, even for the sake of the common good.

The brilliance of Theresa’s coup is that, unlike David Cameron, she gets to look heroic as she dumps this monumental task on the table and then runs off through a cornfield. Whoever succeeds her, even the Bullingdon Bozo, will probably not want to go down in history as the one who ‘did a Trump’ and backed out of the most ambitious climate commitment made anywhere to date. More likely now is that the other world leaders will be eyeing each other nervously, wondering who is going to be next to try to carve their name into the history books. Now the precedent has been set. Call it the Thunberg factor, but populations will be in riotous mood should politicians not be seen to answer the net-zero call, even if those same populations are not necessarily clear about the personal implications.

The only realistic way out for May’s successors, and for capitalism, is to sign up to the draconian commitment in principle and ignore it in practice. But will they keep getting away with that? People already don’t believe anything politicians say. A recent survey suggests that only 6 percent of the population believe that politicians understand their concerns (Guardian, 16 June). Back in 2010 a similar poll found that only 7 percent rated politicians’ honesty as high and 58 percent rated it low or very low, while a more recent survey in 2016 suggested that 25 percent of the population thought robots would make better politicians than humans. Socialists have a better idea. Abolish politicians along with the rich and manage the world democratically. Then you’d see an effective climate policy.

Change My View
Somebody who should lift your spirits a little is Kal Turnbull, the young man from the Scottish Highlands who at the age of 17 set out to combat all the ranting hate and abuse of polarised social media with one simple and ingenious idea. Aware of his own parochial background and limited knowledge, he set up a Reddit channel called Change My View, where users post genuinely-held ideas or beliefs on any subject and then invite other people to come forward with rational arguments for changing this view. What’s needed, he thinks, is to ‘reframe our relationship to being wrong. It’s not necessarily a negative thing. It doesn’t have to be a humiliating thing. It’s a chance to lose some ignorance, and perhaps gain some insight’.

Don’t you just love this guy? If only the rest of us workers had this kind of unprepossessing honesty and intellectual integrity, we’d sort out the world’s toxic obsession with capitalism in short order. Of course it’s slightly disappointing to learn that he’s now trying to monetise the whole idea, but hey ho, that’s capitalism for you.
Paddy Shannon

Make them (and us) Redundant (2019)

From the July 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Redundancy for All
If you cast your mind back, at Christmas the Queen sat in her golden chair, in a gold encrusted room, in front of her golden piano, and had the gall to suggest that the 100th anniversary of an air force which has bombed countless civilians, as well as fellow workers in uniform (they were mostly compelled to wear) was something worth celebrating. This was while prattling on about ‘faith and charity’, yet how many of us were left wondering just how many lives had been lost due to her governments’ vicious welfare cuts and austerity measures?

And speaking of faith and charity, every time the multi-millionaire ‘Saint Bono of Ireland’ snaps his fingers another child dies of hunger or starvation in Africa. This is while the church he follows drowns itself in riches – and the Pope sits on his throne in his palatial residence in the Vatican city state, with his golden sceptres and crowns piously praying for the poor, while desperately trying to deal with the fall out of, oh so many, paedophile priests, and the Vatican Bank rakes in the pennies, pounds, euros, pesos, plus any number of other currencies dumped on collection plates globally by the deluded poor, in the vain hope of ‘the meek’ inheriting anything, let alone the world! While at the same time they are told to: work all day, live on hay, and you’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

That’s not to say that any of the other countless organised religions and churches of the world fare any better in the truth, justice, humility or humanity stakes.

We apologise for discomforting the discombobulated – but this is no time for mealy mouthed platitudes – not while the poor, dispossessed, and downtrodden are demonised by the maniacal, mass media machine as workshy layabouts and scroungers, and hurried off this mortal coil, by either enduring a shortened lifetime of poverty and illness, wondering where the money for next week’s rent, or tomorrow’s dinner is coming from. Or by being subjected to being bombed in the name of democracy by the world’s regional superpowers or their despotic allies, in search of oil, new raw materials and markets or the simple lust for ever greater power, and or, territory.

We were also informed recently, by the UN, that we have 12 years to stop escalating global warming or face ever-increasing, ever-hastening, environmental degradation. There is much debate as to exactly how bad this catastrophe is or will get, but not much is likely to change given climate change deniers, capitalism’s past record on effectively solving the problem, national state rivalries and competition, and the recent climate change conference in Poland being sponsored by coal boards and its halls and rooms, being filled by coal, of all things (COP24 – the 24th such conference!). It seems the best we can expect is continued rising sea levels, more stormy weather, more forest fires, more droughts, and more desertification, which will seem certain to disrupt the lives of millions.

At first sight, to the casual observer, it may seem that these things are unconnected and unfixable, but do not fall into easy despair, and throw up your hands in apparent helplessness, at all this needless death, and wanton destruction.

The simple fact of the matter is, there is one reason, and cause behind all of it, and it can be fixed – but only with your conscious understanding – and participatory help.

We are taught from birth that ‘our country’ and its people are superior to all other nations and their inhabitants, and that if only we all stopped being negative and hyper-critical, and worked together for ‘the common good’ then ‘our country’ can become great again and a new fairer dawn will be just around the corner. Funny how it never materialises, and we’re still left in the dark and fed a constant diet of ideological bullshit!

That simple reason and cause is our masters’ rapacious greed and lust for power, i.e. capitalism. Whether that be the naked private capitalism of the UK, USA, and Western nations, or the cloaked and hidden state capitalism of China, Cuba, Venezuela, the former Soviet Union etc (those countries which demonstrably falsely call and called themselves communist/socialist).

Capitalism today is the global politico-economic system. Nothing is produced under capitalism unless it realises a profit. The bottom line is all. The capitalist mode of production breaks all human relationships, alienates us from ourselves, the environment we are embedded within, and require for our survival – capitalism has only one requirement – all other considerations are moot. It seeks only to create more capital, whatever the cost, to reproduce itself without limit, or end, no matter the real social costs to humanity, or the planet.

The simple solution to this problem is a truly democratic society – a society of production for human (environmental and planetary) need not profit and greed, a leaderless, classless, stateless, society of equals, consciously working together in harmony as one people, Homo sapiens sapiens (forgetting the lies of ‘race’ and religious strife and division etc we were indoctrinated with at school, and are exposed to daily by the mass media machine). A participatory democracy of economic and political equals where no-one holds power over any other, by force, or by economic compulsion.

We don’t demand ‘jobs for all’ or a minimum, or even maximum wage – the continuation of a gilded sparkly wage-slavery, with incremental steps towards a brighter future that will never arrive. We have no such paucity of vision or ambition.

Instead, we demand the end of wage slavery and redundancy for all!

Make the bread-heads and greed-heads, the ‘1 percenters’ who own and unjustifiably control, the vast majority of the world’s wealth, and resources, for their personal gratification, a phenomenon from the past too (the true vampiric scroungers who live by exploiting the planet and its people).

Do not support capitalist parties, with their false rhetoric, false promises, and demonstrably false agendas for ‘a brighter better tomorrow’ and help make them redundant.

Support no capitalist institution or ideology. Instead support yourself and your right to do useful pleasing work, of real social, and personal value.

Help us make the need for a socialist party redundant and fight for a real future for ourselves. For the environment we are embedded within. For a revolutionary system change, with no false promises, or hidden agendas.

Voice From the Back: Orwell and Human Nature (2011)

The Voice From the Back column from the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Orwell and Human Nature 

When we say that socialism is a society where everybody will work to the best of their ability and take according to their needs – a society without ownership, wages or prices – we are taken to task for our naivety. What about human nature we are asked? We have always explained our position with illustrations from history, but it is unlikely that we could improve on this argument advanced by the writer George Orwell nearly 70 years ago. “The proper answer, it seems to me, is that this argument belongs to the Stone Age. It presupposes that material goods will always be desperately scarce . . . but there is no reason for thinking that the greed for mere wealth is a permanent human characteristic. We are selfish in economic matters because we all live in terror of poverty but when a commodity is not scarce, no one tries to grab more than his fair share of it. No one tries to make a corner in air, for instance. The millionaire as well as the beggar is content with just so much air as he can breathe.” (Tribune, 21 July 1944.)  Inside a socialist society where we can produce an abundance of food clothing and shelter the notion of human nature will indeed seem like something out of the Stone Age.  

Dr. Doom and Dr. Marx

You don’t often hear of university professors praising Marx or a business journal reporting it, but we must give credit where credit is due. “Economist Nouriel “Dr. Doom” Roubini, the New York University professor who four years ago accurately predicted the global financial crisis, said one of economist, Karl Marx’s critiques of capitalism is playing itself out in the current global financial crisis. …”Karl Marx had it right,” Roubini said in an interview with “At some point capitalism can self-destroy itself. That’s because you can not keep on shifting income from labor to capital without not having an excess capacity and a lack of aggregate demand. We thought that markets work. They are not working.” (International Business Times, 13 August.) Being a university economic professor he couldn’t get it all correct of course. Marx never claimed that capitalism would “self-destroy itself”. That destruction can only come about by the action of the working class.

A Billion Dollar Deal

The conflict in Libya has proved to be very profitable for the British oil firm Vitol which has supplied fuel and associated products to the rebels and traded oil on their behalf. The deal is estimated to be worth about $1 billion. “The deal with Vitol was said to have been masterminded by Alan Duncan, the former oil trader turned junior minister, who has close business links to the oil firm and was previously a director of one of its subsidiaries. Mr Duncan’s private office received funding from the head of Vitol before the general election. Ian Taylor, the company’s chief executive and a friend of Mr Duncan, has given more than £200,000 to the Conservatives. Vitol is thought to be the only oil firm to have traded with the rebels during the Libyan conflict. Oil industry sources said that other firms including BP, Shell and Glencore had not been approached over the deal. One well-placed source said this was “very surprising” because other companies would have been keen to be involved.” (Daily Telegraph, 1 September) The other firms are unhappy with the deal and questions are likely to be raised in parliament. Enquiries are likely to be about how political donors were given the business, but no one will query the accepted fact that war and military conflict is an excellent business opportunity.

Government Paymasters

Legislation by the government to allow house building on previously designated green areas has aroused opposition, but the background to the proposals is likely to cause even more resentment. “Dozens of property firms have given a total of £3.3 million to the party over the past three years, including large gifts from companies seeking to develop rural land. Developers are also paying thousands of pounds for access to senior Tories through the Conservative Property Forum, a club of elite donors which sets up breakfast meetings to discuss planning and property issues. The disclosures are likely to provoke a new “cash-for-access” row and will give rise to fears that planning policies could have been influenced by powerful figures from the property industry.” (Daily Telegraph, 10 September) The newspaper’s fears about “powerful figures” influencing the government seem somewhat naive. The whole purpose of legislation inside capitalism is to accommodate the wishes of the owning class.