Thursday, April 30, 2020

Imagine . . . (1983)

From the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nothing in human history is inevitable. We are not living and organising society according to any pre-ordained schemes. We are masters of our own history, not slaves of it. We can do what we choose. But you know that these are not the sort of ideas that we are encouraged to develop. On the contrary, we are encouraged to think of ourselves as slaves to the present order of things. This process of learning to believe that history has come to a halt, and that “you cannot change the way things are”, is often described as learning to “be realistic".

Where this point becomes particularly noticeable is in discussion about war. The society we live in produces war. There is a split between the minority who own and control the means of life and the majority of us who produce the wealth. A split, that is. between those who produce but do not possess and those who possess but do not produce. The economic rivalries among the wealth owners over market territories, areas rich in mineral resources and strategic locations on the trade atlas are often fought off the conference tables on the battlefields. Society based on competition and property is a war-producing society. This is the current state of affairs. We are born into a social setting where there are armies and bombs and Stock Exchanges and governments. But just because such things cluttered the world into which we were born is no reason for us to consent to them, nor believe that they are part of some “reality" which, although we can imagine it not existing, can never actually change.

Although another world war is not inevitable, if the present state of society is allowed to continue then it is a distinct possibility. The profit system is an unstable and volatile method of organising society, and armed to the back teeth as many states are, the recipe is being mixed for a nuclear exchange. Falling into the trap of regarding the way things are as largely unalterable, many commentators fortify the fallacy by using the language of inevitability.

Wintex-Cimex 83 is not a package ski tour, nor is it one of those instant relief nasal decongestants. W-C was the codename of a “paper” nuclear war game organised last month by NATO. This operation saw ministers from all over Europe frenetically telephoning each other and sending telex messages in rehearsal for a full-scale nuclear war. The fact that grown men and women are able to calmly and efficiently go through a paper rehearsal of what “on the night” would amount to a massive social carnage represents a hideous contradiction between our ability to plan and act co-operatively and what these abilities are actually being used for today.

The British Medical Association recently issued a report on the predicted state of Britain after a nuclear attack. The report paints a grim picture. Decaying corpses will litter the streets and millions of initial survivors — burnt, irradiated and starving — will die slowly and in agony. Doctors will not be able to help them and there will be no equipment or drugs to ease their deaths.
  Food stockpiles within 10-20 kilometres of an explosion could be exposed to fallout. Farm animals are sensitive to radiation. But insects and vermin are much more resistant: flies, cockroaches and rats could proliferate, spreading disease . . . survivors would face epidemics of typhoid, cholera, typhus, malaria ... a full-scale attack would result in about 38.600,000 deaths and 4,300,000 casualties. . . (The Report of the BMA Hoard of Science and Education Inquiry into the effects of Nuclear War.)
The doctors who composed this report after two years' research drew no political conclusions. But if we are capable of examining the dangers in this way then we are also capable of dismantling not only the weapons which menace us. but the social system which gives rise to them.

Apart from the socialist point of view, the responses to this issue are varied but all have the common thread of accepting the structure of society which produces the need for wars which produces the need for weapons. Peter Blaker is the Tory minister for the Armed Services. His recent response to the subversive noises about a peaceful world was to take a jab at "woolly minds in woolly hats”. If minds that desire a peaceful society and do not regard the production of bombs as a wise route to it are "woolly", one wonders what exactly predominates between the ears of Blacker? A solid lump of granite perhaps?

Another conservative with ideas to contribute to the debate about how to secure peace is Lord Hill-Norton. Admiral-of-the-Fleet Lord Hill-Norton last month proposed a plan to raise a 750,000 Dads' Army carrying their own weapons and defending the shores of England. “Defence”, remarked the Admiral, "begins at home”, which is of course something we will remember if it ever comes to the day when we have to whitewash our windows and hide under the table.

The reason organised peace movements this century, and before, have failed is that they have all consented to the power structure which creates war. War is neither democratically begun, nor democratically prosecuted. It is therefore facile to contend for wars to be fought on the terms of, say, the CND “no to cruise missiles”, or “no to trident”. These pleas, no matter from how many mouths they come, are lame. Apart from this, many of the phenomena which frighten people into CND to try and stop happening actually exist now: starvation of millions of people, lack of sanitation and hygenic water for thousands, riots, totalitarian regimes and military conflict all over the world.

As the Tory Party becomes increasingly associated with war-mongering policies and militarism there is a danger that the ideas of the Labour Party will be regarded as better and more beneficial to us. In fact the party under which the atom bomb was developed in Britain, and which recruited workers to fight for the bosses in two world wars, has not got any answers to the problem. The interests of workers and capitalists are diametrically opposed. The idea of nationalism has been supported by the ruling class because it deludes the workers into believing that within one territory. under one flag, they have a united interest with the bosses. Nationalism is divisive among workers and is used to help work up antagonism between workers from different places for them to fight the cause of their masters. Yet the Labour Party has always engaged in the promotion of nationalism. One recent example appears in the latest draft of their election campaign document, which will soon appear as part of their manifesto.
  Labour is determined that our country shall play a full part in the struggle for peace . . . Labour will pursue and win international support for policies designed to stimulate trade, investment and growth and we shall work inside the appropriate institutions to end the financial chaos which now threatens the stability of so many countries.
It is not "our” country; it is theirs — the capitalists’. In Britain the top 2 per cent own 64 per cent of the land (Inland Revenue Statistics 1980) and the top 13 per cent own 91.3 per cent of all housing. Workers of the world have no country, we only have a class. We are not interested in “stimulating trade" or “investment". We do not wish to streamline the efficiency of our own exploitation. We want a new social system. We do not want to sort out the "financial chaos” of capitalism, and try to make the system run well. This system can, by definition, never work well for us. It is working well for the bosses which keeps this system going.

We want a system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of producing wealth. From each according to ability, to each according to need. Imagine it. All developments have at one time been merely ideas or dreams scoffed at by those who did not think historically. “The sun travels around the earth . . . the earth is flat . . . man will never fly . . . man will never split the atom . . . stand on the moon . . ." History is ripe for socialism and there are clear reasons for its urgent establishment.

The voice apologising for capitalism and defending "reality" grows quieter and less confident as we give up adjusting to fit painfully in with reality and start adjusting reality to suit our self-determined needs.
Gary Jay

Letter: The rusted mirror (1983)

First edition hardback cover
Letter to the Editors from the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following letter and essay appear exactly as submitted. While we cannot agree with some of the points made, the writer's perceptiveness contrasts sharply with most of what usually passes for social criticism.
Dear Editors

Recently at my school we were set an essay to write: its theme being the good and bad aspects of the world today, with reference to The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, which we are reading at the moment. Incidentally, this book is set in the future which has reverted to the past after a nuclear holocaust — or "tribulation" as it is known in their world.

I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the posed title; writing an essay which was depressing but, I felt, true. I admit my conclusions from the essay were highly influenced from reading some copies of your magazine, which I was sent on inquiry. I was not entirely pleased with the final product, but I was definitely convinced that my principles were right.

As I am still convinced. I am sending a copy of the essay to you; I hope you enjoy reading it. I certainly enjoy reading the Socialist Standard and will continue to do so. Please accept my appreciation for being able to learn a lot from your magazine, and also for being able to quote it in my essay to strengthen my standpoint.
Yours for socialism 
Charlotte Brown (age 14)
Hatfield. Herts.


Talking about ‘The Old People”, i.e. those in our world, it is said “Nobody knows . . . where they were right and where they were mistaken”. Give your views on the good and bad aspects of our world.

I would like to begin this discussion with a comment on a quotation from The Chrysalids. In it, Uncle Axel says of the word “tribulation": "A word, a rusted mirror, reflecting nothing. It'd do the preachers good to see it for themselves. They'd not understand, but they might begin to think”.

This phrase is useful, as I believe it can be used in the context of world leaders of today; that they wish to attribute all the wrong in the world to certain phrases when really, if they could only realise that their “mirror was rusted", they would be able to be more constructive.

This is, then, my first point about a bad aspect of our world: that the people who are able to improve conditions (whether they should be in this position or not), seem to be unwilling to do so. As thousands of people in the world starve to death many politicians say that this cannot be stopped by financial aid since this would cause inflation. So thousands of people continue to starve. This sort of attitude (that of "let it be") is also present in other problems: unemployment, evil dictatorships, poverty, repression, etc. And then there is, of course, the arms race. Much negotiation seems to be impossible because of the threat of nuclear war. Millions of pounds are spent daily on weapons — the instruments of destruction — while people in the world struggle to survive, let alone manage to enjoy their natural environment.

Before I discuss the world’s problems in greater detail. I feel compelled to suggest a reason for so much of the misery present in the world. I have valiantly attempted to think of another reason for the pointless aspects of the world. None is forthcoming. I condemn world capitalism for a lot of the bad aspects of the world. This quotation, taken from a socialist publication, I feel illustrates my point well (all quotations in this essay are taken from the Socialist Standard):
  The Official Coroner’s Statistics for 1981 reported nearly 5.000 suicides in Britain that year an average of one every other hour. Of those they leave behind, in one hour, six were made redundant in Britain alone, and in the world as a whole 3,500 people starved to death.
This statement clearly shows the insanity of the world at present. I do not pretend that I am "world wise" and have experienced any of the evil things that exist in the world. But I hope that I am capable of realising their existence. Speaking of Britain specifically, here are the things which, in my view, are causing unhappiness:

Unemployment. This predicament is affecting 4½ million people in Britain in 1983 (this figure includes "housewives"). People struggle to live on the small amount given to them through social security. They struggle with boredom and frustration, ever-present in an unemployed person’s life. They struggle to remain sane and rational. They struggle to find other employment. And they struggle to stay optimistic that there is a job for them. But they struggle in vain — their lives are not self-controlled.

Employment (Yes!) and “the Rat Race”. Even people in employment have to face difficulties. Apart from having the worry that perhaps tomorrow there will not be a job for them, they are often underpaid and over worked. Jobs can be stressful physically and mentally. Many people slog at a boring job all of their lives, going from home to work, then back home again, to demand supper from the woman of the household (whether working or not) and then to collapse in front of the television — the substitute for what really should be happening to them, for example, seeing oil tycoons "living it up”, or endless advertisements for holidays in the sun. I shall give another quotation, which describes perfectly the reality of "the rat race":
  After a tiring, often frustrating and humiliating day at work and a crowded, stressful journey home, thousands of workers in Britain eat a meal at roughly the same time and flop in front of the television set. What they see and hear must not disturb their recreation this period of rest and recuperation which, together with a night's sleep, enables and encourages them to go to work tomorrow and tomorrow.
Violence. In Britain (Scotland. Wales and England. at least), there is no official war. The army trains but on this isle never has to make its practice reality. So what I am referring to here is the violent attitude of Britain. The "triumph" of the Falklands War proved that British people accepted having their money spent on weapons and death. 70 per cent of the British population, according to reliable surveys, wish capital punishment to be re-enforced in Britain. This is not limited to the death penalty — many people also believe that criminals should be publicly whipped and humiliated. One group of people stated that they thought capital punishment was justified, even if it was not a deterrent against crime. People (especially men) resort to violence towards people they know because of their frustration with themselves or, more truthfully, their situation.

Violence breaks out on the streets, be it in the form of shop burglary, muggings, rape or victimisation. Most of these acts of violence can be explained because of people being emotionally insecure, or because they need money, or because they need someone to be responsible for their own misery. Although I do not condone people acting violently, or encourage them to do so, I can understand why they are forced to do so. Because Britain is a violent nation. Whether violence is approved of (for example, in wars) or condemned (as in muggings), it is noticed.

Prejudice. Violence leads to another bad thing present in Britain: prejudice. Prejudice towards women, or men, towards white people or black people, towards Indians or Jews, towards Catholics or Protestants, towards young people or old people, towards poor people or rich people, towards clever people or stupid people. It is all bad and unjustifiable. I admit that black people often have cause to hate white people, or that the Irish people often have cause to despise the British people, but my opinion still remains the same: it should not exist. But it does exist because our society is so unfair; for it not to exist would seem odd. Some people have reason to hate their "opposite", while others do not. But whatever the prejudice, it results from the fact that someone is "better" or "worse" than yourself, and should be hated for that reason. No one seems to accept that differences do not equal "better" or "worse". Prejudice is an attitude of a capitalist doctrine.

As I have mentioned the main problems of Britain I am unable to spend so much time on the problems of the rest of the world. In most cases, problems in other countries are far, far worse than in Britain. Many nations have no system of democracy whatsoever; they have to suffer under evil dictatorships, and people are punished for possessing any views of their own. Many nations are extremely poor, and the people of these countries consistently suffer from famine and starvation. Many nations are troubled with wars of religion; religion rules their lives and often prevents them from seeing the truth. Many nations are unfair to certain groups of people; especially to women, who are still second class citizens in the majority of countries in the world.

Many nations have civil wars raging; they also have unfair imprisonment, sadistic "lawful” punishments, and torturing. Many people in the world are too ignorant to be able to alter their situation.

My conclusion from all this is that most problems have their roots embedded in certain attitudes: that being able to destroy another is more important than to be able to feed another, that people are never equal and should never be treated as such. It is an evil situation that these attitudes are so embedded. I hope that soon the rusted mirror will be able to shine, but most of all to reflect.

Are there any good points, then?
Comparatively, yes. This means that I am more fortunate than my ancestor, and that I am more fortunate than my foreign neighbour. At least I am able to give my views. No doubt some will disagree with them, but no one will be able to stop me declaring them. I am warmer now than I would have been before electricity. I am more healthy than I would have been a hundred years ago. The whole texture of living is undoubtedly richer than the past; it is also more interesting. It is the attitudes of today which are harmful.

I have a better chance of getting a job (as a girl) and of being accepted as an equal being. I am certainly more enlightened about many things than my ancestor, although not really because of education but because of the opportunity, not to only survive but also to think. Newspapers. books, television programmes and radio are all available to teach me. I always have enough food.

But what about the rest of the world? Well I believe, despite all the evil present, that modern advancements will make it easier for us to abolish evil. We can communicate with people thousands of miles away. We do have the ability, now more than ever before, to give everyone enough to eat. enough clothes, good living conditions. to make the best use of the world's resources. Why. then, when our knowledge is so exceptional, can we not use it correctly? Because of the awful attitudes about war and peace which exist. Destroy world capitalism and I believe we have destroyed the nuclear threat, poverty. starvation, violence, war. and so to a certain extent unhappiness.
  You want to eat, to live in a decent home, to be fully mobile, to enjoy the pleasures of the world — but the world refuses to let you.

Markets are trash (2020)

From the WSPUS website

I’ve never wanted to restart a year so bad in my life. We lost Kobe Bryant, Trump almost started World War Three with Iran, and now we’re living in a real-life version of Contagion that’s got us on a trajectory rivaling The Great Depression – and we’ve barely entered the second quarter. 2020 so far has been absolute garbage. On the bright side, at least this pandemic is waking people up to the fact that markets are garbage too.  

I know that many people reading this may already understand what a market is. However, watching a YouTube video of Sam Seder debating a Libertarian before writing this made me realize that I need to clarify the meaning of markets before I demonstrate precisely why they are trash. 

The almighty Google sources their meanings from the Oxford Dictionary’s website Lexico.com, which defines a market as an area or arena in which commercial dealings are conducted. 

For example, someone voluntarily calling into a radio show for free doesn’t constitute a commercial dealing since no money or commodities have been or will be exchanged. However, the host monetizing the call later does constitute a commercial dealing with the entity that distributes it, assuming that entity is different. In other words, a market only exists when a commodity is directly exchanged for another commodity, whatever happens later. The commodity most commonly exchanged is money. Markets suck for a lot of reasons, but right now I’ll focus on the contradictions between effective and notional demand and supply, as well as on profit.  

Lexico.com defines effective demand as 
 the level of demand that represents a real intention to purchase a good by people with the means to pay.
In contrast, notional demand is the demand of people who want a commodity but are unable to buy it for some reason, like not having enough money or a ban. Effective supply is the amount of a commodity furnished on the market, as opposed to notional supply, which is the amount of a commodity that would be furnished on a market if there were no market constraints, such as below-average profit margins for the commodity or a ban. 

Another critical concept is derived demand, which Lexico.com defines as 
 a demand for a commodity or service which is a consequence of the demand for something else.
A good example is Nevada governor Stephen Sisolak ordering temporary closure of all non-essential businesses in the state to curb the spread of Covid-19. The order led to lower derived demand for public transportation since fewer people are traveling to work, drink at the bar, get a haircut, and so on.  

The Covid-19 outbreak itself is an excellent example of how effective demand and supply can lead to negative results. It’s widely believed that the Covid-19 pandemic started in November of 2019 as a result of consumption of bats or pangolins sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market – a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan, China that also sold the flesh and organs of various exotic wild animals, referred to as yewei or bushmeat. The other two major coronavirus outbreaks of the past decade, MERS and SARS – of which Covid-19 is a variant – are believed to have originated in bats as well. Although no one has found evidence of anyone selling bats or pangolins at the market, Covid-19’s genetic similarity to another coronavirus found in bats (see here) suggests that it did originate with them and was most likely transmitted to humans through an intermediate animal – widely believed to be a pangolin (see here). Considering that two thirds of the first 41 people hospitalized for Covid-19 had direct exposure to the market (see here), pangolins could have been sold there — under the table, since they are a protected species. Assuming that was the case, the effective demand for yewei, which is known to have already caused two significant outbreaks this decade, met with the effective supply of yewei. Markets can incentivize the supply of dangerous goods – for instance, bombs, the only use of which is murder, or infected meat, leading to a global pandemic like the one we’re dealing with right now.  

Another excellent example of the negative results of effective demand is the impact of Covid-19 on my hometown, Las Vegas. The town’s economy revolves around the Strip, which caters mainly to tourists’ and locals’ leisure activities. The effective demand for goods and services was drastically lowered on the Strip after stay-at-home orders were issued to curb the spread of the virus, causing a domino effect. The lower effective demand for goods and services on the Strip led to lower effective demand for labor on the Strip, causing many workers employed on the Strip to be laid-off. With their derived demand for healthcare coverage and housing coming from their employment, these workers being laid-off led, in economic terms, to them losing effective demand for healthcare coverage and shelter during the pandemic. 

I give kudos to Wynn Resorts for committing to pay all their employees through mid-May, even though it may only be because it would be too expensive and time-consuming to bring all their employees back if they lay them off. Still, I haven’t heard of any other companies committing to that. 

Thank god, also, that Governor Sisolak issued a moratorium on all evictions during the pandemic. Still, he did make it clear that any unpaid rents or mortgages would have to be paid after the pandemic, essentially postponing the homelessness of many Las Vegans to a later date.  

The absurdity doesn’t end there. A resident at St. Vincent’s – the town’s homeless shelter for men, where I happened to live for about a month – was diagnosed with Covid-19. As a result, they shut the shelter down until further notice as a “safety precaution” — meaning that they wanted to avoid legal liability if other residents got sick. Now they have as many as 500 residents sleeping outside in the parking lot of Cashman Center, sectioned off into “social distancing” boxes. And this is on the same street as hotels with thousands of empty rooms, which are now only a notional supply due to the ban on non-essential business. Even if that were not the case, these homeless men would have only notional demand for these rooms that could help curb the spread of the disease among them, because they can’t afford them anyway. They are basically leaving these residents out to die, since a vaccine may not be available until at least early 2021 – a vaccine for which they may anyway have only notional demand.  

Vaccines usually take 2—5 years to be ready for market, but the urgency of the pandemic has experts hoping optimistically that it can be done in 12—18 months. The long timespan is due partly to the complexity of the vaccine development process, but in large part also to the need for funding. Over 60% of vaccine research and development funding comes from for-profit companies (see here), which was a major stumbling block in the development of vaccines for SARS and MERS. For-profit companies tend to be hesitant to invest in vaccine development since it’s much more lucrative to invest in other medications. Even if they do invest, a pandemic may pass before they can get a vaccine to market – an outcome that they see as a waste of money. Publicly funded research would be subject to the same sort of prioritization, so the only way to guarantee that we develop vaccines promptly is to remove market forces entirely.  

In a socialist society there would be no markets, because there would be no money. Since production would be for use rather than for profit, vaccine research and development would not be dependent on securing investment. It would depend only on having the necessary resources at hand. We would not stop developing a vaccine just because a pandemic has passed; we would continue to develop it, so that we would have a head start in case a future pathogen arises with a similar genetic makeup, as with SARS and Covid-19. Since there would be universal free access to all products, we would have an incentive to stockpile a buffer of supplies so we can isolate ourselves for long periods if that is necessary in order to fight a pandemic. Since healthcare would be free, anyone could get tested, use a vaccine, or get a ventilator without impediment or significant delay. Our decisions would no longer be subject to the anarchy of the market, because we would finally have achieved coordinated cooperative control over production and distribution. 
Jordan Levi

Dirty work in the Indian Ocean (1998)

From the May 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
A small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean was of such strategic importance that its whole population was expelled to make way for a military base.
The island of Mauritius, which lies about 500 miles east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, is only 40 miles from north to south and 25 miles from east to west at its widest, yet with a population of over one million is one of the most densely populated areas of the world. Formerly a French colony it was ceded to Britain in 1814.

In 1964, Mauritius was granted self-government; and in March 1968 it became fully independent, but on condition that the British government was allowed to purchase from the newly-independent colony the Chagos Archipelago, which lay 1,500 miles to the northeast, and which had been previously administered from Mauritius. This was forced upon the government of Mauritius despite a UN resolution, passed by the General Assembly in December 1965, which called on Britain “to take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius” or “violate its territorial integrity”.

Mauritius, like other islands and territories in the Indian Ocean, was all-important to Britain as well as France, South Africa and, later, the United States because of the trade routes, and particularly the Gulf oil tanker routes, possible off-shore oil deposits along the East African coast, and the monitoring of Soviet shipping and submarines. These countries were also much concerned about the spread of what they called “communist subversion” in the area, particularly among young people.

In the defence policy review of 1967, the British government decided to move the naval communications station at HMS Highflyer in Sri Lanka to the town of Vacoas in Mauritius, where it was renamed HMS Mauritius. On obtaining independence in 1968, the Mauritian government signed a defence treaty with Britain, allowing for the continued use of HMS Mauritius. In exchange, Britain trained the island’s security forces.

For most of the time since independence, Mauritius has been governed by the Labour Party either alone or in coalition with such parties as the Parti Mauricien Social Democrat (PMSD) or, later, for a short period in 1995, the Mouvement Militant Mauricien ((MMM), led by Paul Berenger.

In December 1976, the hard-line anti-British, nationalist MMM, which from 1970, had only held one seat in the Assembly, won 34 of the 70 seats, and became the largest single party. Only a rather shaky coalition of the Labour and Social Democratic parties kept the MMM from power. With the predictable collapse of this coalition, the MMM achieved power. It joined the non-aligned block of Tanzania, India, the Malagasy Republic (Madagascar) and the Seychelles; and called for the demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean. Mauritius attempted, on a number of occasions (the last time in 1991), to raise the issue of returning the islands and atolls of the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius, but without success.

But why did Britain want to retain control of Chago Archipelago? Officially named the British Indian Ocean Territory in 1965 it is the only British colony created since decolonisation after the Second World War. In 1814, because of their importance “astride the trade routes to the East”, the islands of the Chagos Archipelago were annexed by Britain, and administered as a dependency of Mauritius until 1965.

The population of the islands, when they became the British Indian Ocean Territory in 1965, was around 1,500, of whom most lived on Diego Garcia. They were the Ilois who were descended from slaves introduced to work on the small copra plantations. Most were fifth generation islanders. The new colony was given a flag, a Commissioner, a customs office and a police station. A few Royal Marines were stationed on Diego Garcia. A post office was established; and the Territory even issued its own postage stamps.

The base
In 1966, however Britain signed a “defence” agreement with the United States, leasing the British Indian Ocean Territory to America for 50 years, with an option of a further 20 years. America did not, of course, want the islands for their copra or their fish; and they did not want to establish hotels for tourists. Far from it. They particularly wanted Diego Garcia, with its huge lagoon, as an intelligence, military and naval base and, later, as a nuclear weapons depot and refuelling point for US bombers. As the British discovered in the 19th century, whoever controlled the Chagos Archipelago controlled the Indian Ocean.

There was only one problem for Britain: America required the islands without the people who lived there. Britain had to get rid of them, particularly from Diego Garcia. The evacuation, or to be more accurate, the deportation, of the Ilois began in 1965 and was finally completed before the end of 1972, despite UN articles IX and XIII which state that “no one should be subjected to arbitrary exile”. The British government assigned the job of resettling the islanders to the Chagos-Agalega Company, coconut exporters and the only employer on Diego Garcia. They were deported to Mauritius; and the last few remaining islanders were told “if you don’t leave you will not be fed”. By 1972, the US Defense Department told Congress that “the islands are virtually uninhabited, and erection of the base would thus cause no indigenous political problems”.

In December 1974, a joint UK-US memorandum stated that there is “no native population on the islands”; and a British Ministry of Defence spokesman denied that this was a deliberate misrepresentation by saying the “there is nothing in our files about inhabitants or about an evacuation”. For Britain and America, the Ilois of the British Indian Ocean Territory had become an unpeople.

In fact, they were dumped in Mauritius, in the words of a Minority Rights Group report by John Madeley, “without any workable settlement; left in abject poverty”, and given a tiny amount of compensation on condition that they renounced their rights to return to the islands. By 1980, only a very few owned any land or houses, and 40 percent still had no jobs. Not surprisingly, most still live in Mauritius in poverty.

U.S. priorities
The United States Join Chiefs-of-Staff first sought the Chagos Archipelago island of Diego Garcia as a base as early as 1959, and persuaded the British to hive off the island, and other atolls and islands in the archipelago, from Mauritius prior to independence. In order to finance the base, the US Department of Defence established a secret Polaris Trust Fund (as Britain was unable to pay for the Polaris nuclear missiles for its submarines) to pay for the leased base rights. The money from the Trust Fund was then deducted from Britain’s Polaris research and development costs, set at five percent.

The first American contingent moved on to Diego Garcia in 1971; and the first US project was to establish a naval Signals Intelligence (SIGNIT) station to monitor radio signals in the Indian Ocean. With British Royal Navy participation, a United States National Security Group monitoring station was set up in 1972. It became a “ground control” base for the US-Australian-British CLASSIC WIZARD Ocean Surveillance Satellite System network for electronic satellites. Also set up, in 1974, was a major GCHQ/NSA Signals Intelligence station. Of the facilities, Jeffrey Richelson and Desmond Ball observe: “Not only is Diego Garcia ideally situated for monitoring naval traffic in the Indian Ocean, but during the 1970s, it also acquired many functions previously performed by the NSA facility at Kagnew station, at Asmara in Ethiopia” (The Ties That Bind, Sydney, Australia, p.205), abandoned because of the civil wars raging in that part of Africa.

A second US-UK treaty, in 1972, sanctioned the “limited naval communications facility”. A US airstrip and port facilities were developed; and access to Diego Garcia was restricted to British and American military personnel and civilian construction workers. In 1976, a third treaty regularised the construction of an “anchorage, airfield, support and supply elements and ancillary services”. Aircraft using Diego Garcia have included RAF Hawker Siddely Nimrod MR2 marine reconnaissance aircraft, Lockheed P-3 Orion transport aircraft, and USAAF Boeing B-52 Stratofortress heavy bombers capable of carrying nuclear devices stored on the island. During the 1991 war against Iraq, Diego Garcia was used as a refuelling point for US bombers.

During the recent crisis, the British Indian Ocean Territory was once again an important base for military operations. Yet more dirty work in the Indian Ocean.
Peter E. Newell

50 Years Ago: Decline of the German Social Democratic Party (1983)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Long before the war the British ruling class learned how to incorporate radical politicians and labour leaders in the parties of capitalism. The German capitalists in 1918 jettisoned the Kaiser for a similar end. Fifty per cent of the German voters had registered their disillusionment and war-weariness by voting for the reform programmes of the Social Democratic Party German capitalism thereupon "digested” the SDP and watched it stabilise German capitalism in the troubled post-war years. The military and civil associates of the Imperial Kaiser humbled themselves to the upstart labour leaders because they had to have someone who could control the workers and keep them loyal to the fundamentals of capitalism. So, for fourteen years, the Social Democrats, either in coalition or in ‘‘friendly opposition” worked out their policy of bargaining for reforms as price of their support. The outcome was inevitable. They have shared the fate that has always overtaken "Labour" politicians and parties when they accept responsibility for the administration of capitalism. Discontent with the effects of capitalism cannot for ever be stifled by Labour promises of better times or apologetic assurances that things might be worse. The membership and influence of the SDP declined year by year until it has shrunk to a third of its former size. Part of the loss was picked up by the Communist Party, but in the meantime a new group has arisen, led by Hitler. At the election on March 5th he received 17,266,000 votes (43.9 per cent), and his allies, the Nationalists, received 3,132,000 (8 per cent), giving him a clear majority. The Social Democrats received 7,176,000 (18.3 per cent) and the Communists 4.845,000 (12.1 per cent).

(From an editorial “The Rise of Hitler — A Warning to the Workers”. Socialist Standard, April 1933.)

Transport 2055: the missing scenario (2006)

From the March 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 2020 a global economic slump as severe as that of the 1930s breaks out leaving millions of unemployed in all countries. By 2022 GDP in Britain has fallen by a fifth to 80 percent of its previous level. Two years later the UK banking system collapses. Power cuts had already been routine, as in Third World countries today. In the years that follow GDP continues to fall and most people, to survive, leave the cities and settle in small communities that have to be as self-sufficient as possible, bartering with other communities for what they can’t produce themselves. Some local transport is still by car but most is by bike or horse. Armed bands roam the roads between communities, and the communities have to protect themselves by equipping some of their members with Kalashnikovs. By 2043 the population of Britain has fallen from its present 60 million to only 42 million, as a result of millions migrating to other countries and millions of others dying either from sickness and disease or in armed clashes and massacres.

This is a scenario painted in a document published in January by a government thinktank, Foresight, which is attached to the Department of Trade and Industry, entitled Intelligent Infrastructure Futures: The Scenarios – Towards 2055 (www.foresight.gov.uk). It is one of the four “possible futures” described in the document prepared to inform government decisions on transport policy. The other scenarios are not so nightmarish as the one above dubbed “Tribal Trading” by the government’s futurologists. There are also “Perpetual Motion”, “Good Intentions” and “Urban Colonies”.

Perpetual Motion is a scenario based on the assumption that a viable alternative to carbon-based fuels for powering transport other than aviation has been found (in hydrogen). No restrictions on the use of personally-owned vehicles for individual transport are therefore necessary. At the same time Information and Communications Technology continues to develop, making possible “telepresencing” (a combination of videoconferencing and virtual reality to allow a virtual meeting where people are “present” as holograms), so reducing the need for business travel. ICT also allows people to be “always on”, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. “Even low-paid service workers are so used to being ‘always available’ that their holidays are no longer a real break”. As a result, already by 2020, stress is “the new obesity”. By 2050 over 90 percent of UK citizens are equipped with an electronic ID device “that does everything from advise them on entitlement to public benefits to alerting them when their children leave the school grounds”.

The Good Intentions scenario assumes that oil continues to be the main source of fuel for transport and that a Kyoto-type agreement on limiting carbon emissions is eventually signed by all countries and enforced by the threat of UN sanctions. As a result the government is forced to confront the right-to-drive car lobby and impose restrictions on the use of private cars. This is assumed to take the form of each person being allocated an individual carbon-use entitlement which can be traded for cash: “After bitter political conflicts, sometimes violent, a tough national surveillance system means that people only travel if they have sufficient carbon quotas – and these are increasingly tightly rationed”. This doesn’t just apply to driving a car. The “carbon credits smart card” is “needed by any citizen who wishes to use any kind of carbon resources, from having a shower, to driving, to eating out, to listening to a digital music system”.

The assumption underlying the Urban Colonies scenario is that the government does actually carry out the green agenda politicians are always talking about and “put clean environment practice at the heart of its economic and social policies”. Most people live and work in more compact cities than today. Car use falls and is replaced by walking, cycling and public transport. “Local electric vehicles are ubiquitous”. More food is grown locally, so reducing the need for transport. “Everything either gets recycled as a raw material for another production process, or returned, clean, to the earth or water. Every council runs its own ‘freecycle’ scheme to help people who have things they want to dispose of find a willing recipient”. In 2026 a Consumer Goods Act is passed requiring all goods to be repairable. The use of open source software is widespread and “the public Internet is used only for public messages”. The result is “a world in which the main aims of policy are to reduce energy consumption and eliminate waste”, where “corporations have retreated from the high water mark of influence they enjoyed at the end of the 20th century”.

Foresight organised a number of workshops at which their scenarios were discussed. Perpetual Motion appealed to “the business community” and the technological optimists amongst the scientists, though Good Intentions (“too much, much too late”) was seen as “in some respects the most plausible scenario”.

Surprisingly perhaps, the final outcome of Tribal Trading – decentralised “community-based schemes to grow food, with bartering and alternative currencies coming to the fore” – was not seen as unattractive by everyone. An outside futurologist is cited as claiming that some (presumably, Deep Greens) see this as having much in common with their aim of “ecocommunalism”, though of course preferring a more planned and orderly transition to it than that set out in Foresight’s scenario (though quite how the population of Britain could be reduced from 60 million to 42 million within less than forty years – by 2043 – without some enormous catastrophe is hard to see). Most workshops participants, however, saw this scenario as the least likely to happen, on the grounds that political action would be taken to avoid the event assumed to precipitate it (the sudden end of the Oil Age), even if this took the form of the “use of military force to secure additional energy supplies”.

The first two scenarios – Perpetual Motion and Good Intentions – both explicitly assume the continuation of capitalism. Mobile phones and hand-held computers linked to the Internet will have their use in any future society, but the main use Foresight envisages for them is to order and pay for goods and services; at the same time they serve as a means for firms and advertisers to keep tabs on what people are buying – and for the state to keep tabs on what they are doing. A society in which workers would be subjected to such Big Brother surveillance and be forced to be available to work 24/7 is another nightmare scenario. As is one where people have to acquire “carbon-use units” just to eat out or have a shower.

The only scenario that has any sort of attraction is Urban Colonies. But, given capitalism, this is the least likely to happen as its attractive features are precisely the ones that go against the logic of capitalism. It would still be capitalism, but a capitalism unrealistically assumed to have been tamed and humanised by taxes and government action. A capitalist world in which the main aim of policy is to reduce energy consumption and eliminate waste rather than to maximise profits? A capitalist world in which corporations have lost the influence they now have? The Internet under capitalism freed from advertising? Futurologists are allowed some flights of fancy, but this is ridiculous.

To be fair, Foresight themselves point out that this scenario “carries with it an implicit critique of market capitalism and conventional economics”. They also claim that among its “guiding spirits” might be included “the Victorian socialist, William Morris”. If Morris had to choose just between the four scenarios on offer he might well have chosen this one, but he wouldn’t have regarded it as socialism. He once asked why in a socialist society would a law against adulteration be needed since no one would then have any reason to adulterate food. Such a law only makes sense in a society based on competition for profits where some firms will always be tempted to take this short cut to profitability. Much the same could be said of the 2026 Consumer Goods Act passed to force firms to produce products that are easily repairable. Why in a socialist society would anyone want to produce something with welded or moulded parts just so that people have to get a new one if it breaks down (quite apart from wanting to make something scientifically calculated to break down earlier than it need)?

Foresight have missed out one other “possible future”: a scenario in which sometime in the course of the next fifty years a world-wide political movement sweeps away capitalism and production for profit and ushers in a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. On this basis humans are in charge of their social environment and what they decide to do can be implemented without coming up against the barriers of profit and the market or the vested interests of an entrenched propertied class.

In the field of transport, it can be imagined that a “right to mobility” is available to everyone by means of a comprehensive and efficient free public transport system and access to free public vehicles. This could involve, in an urban context, a hydrogen-powered automatic transit system, flexible and demand-responsive public vehicles which are a hybrid between buses and taxis (both as in the Urban Colonies scenario, but free), supplemented by a fleet of public self-drive vehicles for hiring without charge when needed for a specific journey or period. Under these circumstances, privately-owned vehicles for the exclusive use of one person or family would not be necessary and the congestion and pollution caused by present-day dependency on private cars for travel avoided. All this would be in the overall context of a society where production would no longer be for sale on a market with a view to profit, but for use so that only good-quality, easy-to-repair products would be made and, as a society geared to serving human welfare, clean environmental practices would be adopted as a matter of course.

This of course is only a scenario. But at least it does better than the Foresight document with its three nightmares and one non-starter.
Adam Buick

Voice From The Back: Salt In The Wound (2006)

The Voice From The Back column from the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Salt In The Wound

The capitalist class hold the working class in contempt, but they seldom display it in such an arrogant fashion. “Workers at a doomed crisp factory yesterday slammed bosses’ parting gift – a free 36p bag of low salt and fat variety. Many of the 250 staff, who will lose their jobs when the Walkers’ plant in Swansea shuts next month, blamed them” (Daily Mirror, 9 February). When executives lose their jobs they sometimes get a “golden handshake”, but this is the first time we have heard of what amounts to a “Golden Wonder” handshake.


Double Standards

In the USA at present, especially in border states, there is a great anti-immigration movement. Thus, with an election pending in Texas $30 million is being allocated to building three fences between the USA and Mexico. The trouble is, though, US capitalism needs cheap Mexican labour despite their political posturing. “Golden State Company which calls itself ‘the top fence contractor in California’ was recently caught for the second time in as many years employing illegal immigrants” (Times, 27 February).  When the fences don’t work, for workers are good at dodging, the local authorities have got to get someone to evict Mexicans from the Land of the Free, so who do they get? Mexican immigrants — they’re cheaper. “The city employs them to do it. They are paid to throw themselves off the land.” Is capitalism a crazy society, or is it just us that think so?


The Rewards Of Age

After a lifetime of toil many workers look forward to the comfort and leisure of old age. Alas, for many it is just another of capitalism’s illusions. “A third of pensioners are so poor that they cannot afford a day out or treat themselves to a meal in a pub, according to a report that paints a stark picture of retirement on a low income” (Times, 3 March). The report, published by the charity Age Concern, is entitled Just Above The Breadline and reports that many old workers are resorting to heating just one room, buying food on its sell-by-date and searching out second-hand clothes. As the Good Book says “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  But then you don’t have to worry about that, do you? Because you will never grow old. Will you?


Underhanded Censorship

The BBC often report on the government censorship that applies in the media. Only in foreign countries of course. Surely no one could imagine the BBC to be subject to government censorship. Think again. “The BBC launched a wartime purge on communists including Ewan MacColl, the folk singer and his wife Joan Littlewood, the theatre producer, documents declassified by MI5 reveal today…. From the late Thirties until the end of the Cold War, MI5 had an officer at the BBC to vet all editorial applicants, stamping the personnel records of anyone suspicious  with a distinctively shaped green tag, or ‘Christmas tree’” (Observer, 5 March).


Promises, Promises, Promises

The job of politicians is to promise things at election times and then explain later what stopped the promise from being kept, but promise things will be different next time. Here is a recent example. “Tony Blair pledged to cut the number of children living in poverty by a quarter, from 4.1 million in 1999 to 3.1 million by April 2006, as part of an ambitious three-stage drive to halve it by 2010 and eliminate the problem altogether by 2020…. new figures from the Department for Work and Pensions revealed it has fallen short by 300,000” (Guardian, 9 March). A red face for the Labour Party? Hardly. After all the 1945 Labour government promised to abolish poverty completely in its first term of office!


Ain’t What It Used To Be

“A billion just isn’t what it used to be, said Luisa Kroll, Forbes magazine’s associate editor, revealing the 20th rich list in New York” (BBC News, 10 March). It is true there are a couple of songs that claim “Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be” and “The Old Grey Mare Ain’t What She Used To Be”, but we imagine the billionaires on the latest role call won’t be grieving too much. Bill Gates ($50 billion), Warren Buffett ($42 billion) and Carlos Slim ($30 billion) can hardly be feeling nostalgic about the past.


War Is Hell — For Some

The conflict in Iraq has killed and maimed thousands, destroyed housing and made life unbearable for millions, but it is not all bad news. “British businesses have profited by at least £1.1 billion since coalition forces toppled Saddam Hussein three years ago, the first comprehensive investigation into UK corporate investment in Iraq has found” (Independent, 13 March).



Parecon or socialism? (2006)

Michael Albert
From the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
 There are few political debates currently occurring of any real significance to the majority of the world’s population. The debate concerning the nature of a post-capitalist economy ranks as the most important on the revolutionary agenda. Thus, we present recent correspondence between ourselves and the author of the book Parecon: Life After Capitalism.
The review of Parecon: Life After Capitalism, appearing in February Socialist Standard, was troubling. The review says the economic system proposed in the book called participatory economics, or parecon for short, permits profits, just not excessive profits. But in parecon there are no owners. In fact there are no classes. More, no one earns income based on ownership of any kind. There are, therefore, no profits – none.

Yes, society produces a social product. Yes, some plants produce a total value of output greater, and in some cases even much greater, than the total value of their inputs, including their labor. But, no, this does not enrich anyone associated with those plants relative to the incomes, say, of people working at plants that are far less productive. Remuneration is uncorrelated to value of output save that people must do socially valuable labor to be remunerated for labor at all. What the reviewer says about profit affecting wages, etc., in parecon, is simply about some other system . . . unless the reviewer is saying, if total output for a parecon is lower, average income is lower, which is, of course, a truism, having zero to do with profits, which don’t exist in a parecon.

The reviewer says, incredibly, that getting rid of private ownership of production, markets, top down decision making, the corporate division of labor, and remuneration for property and power, the core economic institutions of capitalism, and replacing them with self managing workers and consumers councils, balanced job complexes, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of labor, and participatory planning, the core economic institutions of parecon – is correcting political dimensions, but not economics. I doubt the reviewer read the book. It is confined to addressing economic dimensions, not the polity.

I suspect that this reviewer thinks that because in parecon there are income, wages, and valuations – prices – it must be capitalism. This marks a major confusion. A letter I received from the host periodical signed off, “Yours for a moneyless, wageless world of common ownership.” This too, is troubling.

In this world you desire to attain there is, I presume, production. Likewise, I assume you agree that people will consume. More, beyond production and consumption, is there some regulation of what is produced and in what quantity? The alternative would be that anyone can produce anything, with no concern other than that they wish to. This is nonsense, but if there is regulation of how resources, energies, and labor are allocated to generate outputs, does that regulation reflect the preferences that both producers and consumers have and especially a full valuation of the relative contribution to well being and development of different choices? If it does, then to that extent it includes “money.” The valuations are prices, albeit not necessarily as we have known them in market and centrally planned systems.

In turn, do people receive a share of the product? Obviously they must if they are to survive, much less attain their capacities. So, that being true, is there any correlation between the share one gets and what one does as one’s work? If not, anyone can take anything, in any amount, and do no work – which, of course, is absurd, since demand would exceed supply. If there is a correlation, however, then there are to that extent “wages” according to some norm, even if the correlation is due to people collectively and responsibly establishing their own incomes. In parecon, these are the reasons why there are “money” and “wages.” The task becomes having this limited money and wages, which is to say valuations and shares of income, inevitably present in any economy, in accord with our full aspirations and values.

Money – more importantly, relative valuations of products and processes – exists in a parecon, therefore, so that people might make choices in light of full and true social costs and benefits. Participatory planning facilitates the determination of true and full values as decided by the self managing population.

Wages – more importantly, shares of social product allotted to citizens – exists in a parecon so that, of course, we can all equitably benefit from the social product, and specifically so that choices regarding such things as how long people work, how hard we work, producing what items, and what we justly consume, can be determined by the population, again, in accord with true social costs and benefits and, as well, with attaining equitable outcomes and self management.

I would claim, and the book does claim, that parecon is not only a serious economy able to meet needs, develop potentials, incorporate true self management, and be not just profitless but, beyond that, classless – but is also as close to having no money and no wages as is possible without incurring immense damage. That is, it has valuations and it has income shares, like any economy, but not the pejorative aspects of either – distinguishing it from all capitalist, market, or centrally planned economies.
Michael Albert, 
ZNet / Z Magazine


Reply:
The gist of your complaint is that, contrary to the claim made in the review of your book Parecon in the February Socialist Standard, you maintain that there are no profits in parecon because “no one earns income based on ownership of any kind. There are, therefore, no profits – none”. But this is only because you have defined profit as a property income. It’s still there, however, as you admit in your second paragraph above: “. . .  some plants produce a total value of output greater, and in some cases much greater, than the total value of their inputs, including their labour”. For profit to exist – or more generally “surplus value” (rent, interest and profit) – it is not necessary that these accrue to individuals through their ownership of property. Profit is simply the difference between expenditure and income and derives from the unpaid labour of the workers. Profits therefore existed in the former state-capitalist USSR and exist in the present-day Vatican – even though there is no individual ownership.

On page 132 of your book the rate of profit appears under the guise of “benefit cost ratio”:
 Each round of planning, or iteration, yields a new set of proposed activities. Taken together, these proposals yield new data regarding the status of each good, the average consumption per person, and the average production ‘benefit cost ratio’ per firm. All this allows for calculation of new price projections and new predictions for average income and work, which in turn lead to modifications in proposals … http://www.zmag.org/books/pareconv/parefinal.htm (Chapter 8, subsection: Proceeding From One Proposal To Another)
You say the “benefit cost ratio” has nothing to do with profit because the “benefit cost ratio” will only benefit parecon society as a whole and not any individual. But as we have seen, this is based on a misunderstanding of what profit means. Moreover, you also claim on the same page in your book that:
…workers’ councils whose ratios of social benefits of their outputs to social costs of their inputs were lower than average would come under pressure to increase either efficiency or effort…
Or go bust, presumably, unless profits were redistributed from workers’ councils with above average ratios. This shows the limits of planning in “parecon”, for in their planning considerations they must maintain profit rates. And while planning might be based on past or current profit rates, profits themselves are inherently unpredictable and this may scupper plans for the future. There is also the antagonism between wages and profits. Parecon society would need to maintain a positive rate of profit or lurch into crisis. This means that workers could not push up wages to the level that stopped profits being made, and this again sets definite limits to what can be planned.

Of course production and consumption will be regulated in a socialist society. That’s an essential part of it, but this does not require recourse to money either as a means of exchange or for costing products and production. Calculation – and “costing” – in socialism will take place in kind (in tonnes of steel, kilowatt-hours of electricity, person-hours of work and so on) without having to put a monetary value on anything and everything. Socialist society will decide – through democratic discussion and from what people indicate they want by what they take from the common stores – what it needs to satisfy individual and collective consumption, and to replace and expand (if need be) the productive apparatus and then will bring together the physical and human resources to produce this. This will be done in the most technically efficient way, after taking into account good working conditions and environmental considerations.

In implementing the long-standing socialist principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”, socialist society breaks the link between work done and consumption. Rather than being “allotted” what to consume as under “parecon”, people would be able to take from the common store of wealth set aside for individual consumption what they judged they needed to live and enjoy life, irrespective of what they had contributed to production. Every able-bodied person would be expected to contribute something, but we don’t share your bleak view that, in this event, not enough would be produced to satisfy people’s needs (that “demand would exceed supply”, as you put it) – and that therefore, not just profits, but the wages system too would have to be retained as a means of both obliging people to work and of limiting their consumption. Just like under capitalism.

Hence our original description of “parecon” as “post-capitalist capitalism”, i.e. not post-capitalism at all. We would be prepared to refer to it as a “utopian blueprint for an ideal society” if you prefer.– Editors.


Rejoinder:

By any definition I have ever encountered, surpluses are not profits per se, though they may become profits under certain social relations, of course. Definitions aside, Parecon people’s income, in any case, is not correlated to output, or to revenues minus expenditures, but to effort expended in socially valued production. No class takes income based on unpaid workers labor. No one does, other than those infirm and unable to work, that is. On the other hand, society and each of its members very much benefits if the total social product per time worked and inputs used up, is more, rather than less, socially valuable.

Saying that if a firm produces things of greater social value than it uses up, that means there are profits and the system is capitalist, is, honestly, absurd. In any economy, from now until the sun burns out and beyond, one will want workplaces of humans to actually generate more worth than they use up, of course. How the social product is then dispersed among the population is a very important issue, to be sure. Doing it according to effort, having also eliminated not only private owners above workers, but a coordinator class above workers, by balancing job complexes and instituting self management, is equitable.

Our real difference is probably best encapsulated in your calling the old Soviet Union state capitalist, and my saying that since it didn’t have private owners of means of production, and it didn’t have markets, but it did have a ruling economic class composed of those monopolizing empowering tasks in the economy, it is far more sensibly called not capitalist, not socialist, but coordinatorist, after its ruling class.

I share your desire that a future desirable economy involve workers and consumers co-operatively negotiating economic activities and their distribution. That is what parecon accomplishes. Given space limits, I guess for now we just have to agree to disagree about a lot, beyond that desire, however.
Michael Albert


Reply:
It is only under capitalism that the social surplus takes the form of a monetary surplus value and, as you admit, this is what will exist in “parecon”. And this is what will be the imperative guiding and limiting its planning decisions. The institutional changes you advocate (no legal individual ownership of means of production, self-management, etc.) are inadequate reasons for claiming that capitalism has been overthrown.

We agree that the former Soviet Union did have a ruling class, but not that there were  no markets there. Even the regime’s ideologists admitted that there was “commodity-production”, i.e. production for sale, and that buying and selling relationships existed between state enterprises. While there was no individual legal ownership of the main means of production (though there was of some things: dachas, works of art, state bonds, bank accounts), these means of production were not owned by society as a whole but effectively by a class which monopolised them, via the state, and which lived a privileged life from the surplus value extracted from the wage-labour of the workers. That is why we think the best description of that and similar societies was state capitalist.

Your attitude towards the former Soviet Union is revealing in that it shows that you had nothing against the continued existence there of the key features of capitalism that are production for sale, money, wages, profits, etc but only to the fact that the economic system involving these was controlled by a privileged ruling class and not democratically by the workers. “Parecon” is thus revealed to be the idea of the economic system that existed in Russia “self-managed” by the workers. A sort of “self-managed capitalism” that could only exist on paper.

Socialism will break free from the financial bureaucracy of capitalist calculation. It will treat people as ends in themselves. It will produce directly for human needs. It will break the link between individual effort and individual consumption. That’s what all those who consider themselves to be anti-capitalist should be aiming at. – Editors.

Pathfinders: Avatar, avachange (2006)

The Pathfinders Column from the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Avatar, avachange

Anti-socialists who peddle the old saw about human nature being unchangeable ought to hang out more with the kids and play online computer games, because if they did they would soon realize just how malleable human behaviour actually is. A recent study by researchers in Palo Alto, California, took two groups of virtual reality gamers and assigned them online cartoon representations, or avatars, which were deliberately given distinct physical characteristics, shorter or taller in the first group, and uglier or prettier in the second. Then they studied the behaviour of the gamers. (New Scientist, Feb 25, p.30). Those whose avatars were taller displayed consistently more assertive and aggressive behaviour while the shorter players were more acquiescent, and in the second group, the uglier players stood farther apart than the prettier ones. A quick and informal interrogation by Pathfinders of known local players reveals that this sort of behavioural change is common knowledge among gamers and in fact accounts for much of the appeal of virtual reality gaming. If our behaviour is so easily influenced by our perception of ourselves and our virtual surroundings, it is not hard to imagine a sea-change in human behaviour occurring almost overnight if our actual material surroundings were changed, say by the abolition of private ownership. The researchers plan to run the experiment next using age as the defining characteristic. We look forward to gamers, confronted by themselves with wrinkled skin and grey hair, suddenly becoming gurus of wisdom and maturity.


RFID, RDFI, DRIF, FRIED…

News that researchers have managed to infect state of the art RFID tags with a virus (BBC Online, March 15) raises a number of disturbing issues for the security of this new technology, as well as a highly interesting question for socialist revolutionaries in the wired world of the 21st century. These electronic Radio Frequency ID tags, which give every inanimate object the ability to identify itself electronically, can now be printed on cans of beans, and even sprayed on advertising posters, so that in the supermarkets of the near future the checkout till, barcode reader and human operator will disappear and your goods will be automatically identified in the trolley, and your bank account debited, as you push your wonky-wheeled chariot through the doors and into the carpark. Such ‘smart-tagging’ of products, posters, pets and even people carries huge benefits from a capitalist point of view, and not a few benefits from a future socialist society’s point of view too (see Socialist Standard, Jan 2005), but none of this takes into account what happens when a virus introduces Factor X – the RF Identity Crisis. When all forms of hard cash have disappeared, and the circulation of money in the economy is replaced by the circulation of binary digits round a computer network, the money economy will have reached its zenith of efficiency, and its nadir of vulnerability. One smart hacker could in theory do by stealth what all the revolutionaries of history have failed to do by force – abolish price tags, wipe out bank accounts, mortgages, debts, profits, rents and fees, thus effectively ‘rebooting’ society and resetting all values at zero. The question, for socialists, is whether they could ever condone, or advocate, such a draconian step, given the chaos which would quite likely ensue. Given the organized chaos of a society which at present lets most of its members suffer appalling deprivation within a sea of riches, the answer is surely not straightforward.


More on viruses

AOL, the American internet giant, have recently been hit by a double whammy. First, according to informed sources close to Pathfinders, their endorsed anti-virus partner Macafee turned out a March upgrade to their anti-virus software which, oh dear, oops, deletes certain vital Windows DLL overlay files, which is the equivalent of removing the spark plugs from your car engine. Then, within days, the Norton group produced their anti-virus upgrade which accidentally removes, yes, you guessed it, your AOL internet software. If anti-virus companies are going to carry on doing more damage to your computer than the viruses they are supposed to catch, surely the obvious question is: why don’t they test these upgrades on virtual animals first? Remember, you saw this idea here first.


Lastly, on viruses

In case you missed this: the animals in the jungle are discussing who is the scariest of them all. ‘Me’, says the lion, and gives out a big roar. The animals shake their heads, unimpressed. ‘Me’, says the gorilla, and thumps his chest. The animals tap their paws, underwhelmed. Then the parrot lets out a sneeze, and everybody runs for miles…. You know it’s serious when the jokes start appearing.


Drugs trial + Pro-Test

The controversy over animal testing has always generated more heat than light, and the temperature has now been turned up several notches on the regulo dial by two unrelated but curious events. One is the unprecedented ‘coming out’ of pro-test students in Oxford under the name ‘Pro-Test’, instigated by a young student disgusted with anti-testers’ increasingly terrorist tactics against individuals as well as the alleged poor quality of the debate. The other is the catastrophic clinical trial of the drug TGN1412, developed by the German TeGenero biotechnology company, that left six UK volunteers in intensive care, with two of them in critical condition as this goes to press (FT.com, March 16). Early reports are suggesting that the paperwork for the trial was entirely in order and that the drug had already been extensively tested on rabbits and monkeys with no discernible adverse effects, so that it was deemed entirely safe to proceed with clinical trials in humans. What is especially interesting about this calamity is that both sides of the animal testing debate will immediately seize on it as proof of their position: the anti-testers will parade this disaster as evidence that animal testing is unable to prevent harmful drugs like Thalidomide and Seroxat, now TGN1412, from reaching humans, while pro-testers will be entirely justified in asking how many more potentially lethal drugs would have been tried on humans if animal testing had been banned outright. As with many things in science, both sides have a point, and there are no simple answers. Even in socialism, where there would be little likelihood of animal testing for non-medical purposes, eg. cosmetics (such research today account for around three quarters of testing), this debate would most probably run and run.
Paddy Shannon

More dirty work – in the Atlantic (2006)

From the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Between 1965 and 1972, the British government expelled, deported or forced out the indigenous people of the Chagos Islands, and particularly Diego Garcia, known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). This was because it had signed a “defence” agreement with the United States, leasing the islands to the US for an intelligence, military, and naval base and, later, a nuclear and fuelling depot for long-range bombers. The BIOT is located strategically in the centre of the Indian Ocean, so controlling it provides power and influence in the whole of Southern Asia and much of the Middle East. (See “Dirty Work in the Indian Ocean”, Socialist Standard, May 1998.)

History may never actually repeat itself exactly, but the present situation on the island of Ascension, midway between Africa and South America in the Atlantic Ocean, is very similar. In 1956, the British government leased to the United States Wakefield Airfield, now a top-secret base on Ascension. According to the Observer (12.02.06), it is one of the Pentagon’s most important military communications hubs; and is also used for troop deployments. Cable & Wireless and the BBC also have facilities on the island. Furthermore, Ascension is 1,000 miles off the oil-rich coast of West Africa.

About 1,100 people live on Ascension Island, some indigenous, many of them from St. Helena 750 miles to the south, and most of them British citizens. According to the Observer of the same date, after the Human Rights Act was adopted by the British government in 1998, the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, published a White Paper with the aim of bringing democracy to the island, as well as establishing a right of permanent abode, and full property rights, for all residents. Previously, although many of the islanders were born there, they were, and still are, only allowed to remain as long as they have jobs.

In 1999, the British government pledged that this would change. Following Ascension’s first general election in 2002, a local council was formed which went on to create a national park on the extinct volcano in the centre of the island. There was a plan to encourage eco-tourism to take advantage of the unique plant and seabird species, first discovered by Charles Darwin in 1844. Many of the islanders bought shops and other small businesses. But it was all to no avail.

In January this year, the Foreign Office minister, one Lord Triesman, wrote to the Islanders informing them that the government had changed its plans, and that “they would not have a right of abode or right of tenure”. They would be thrown out if necessary. Says the Observer:
  The Foreign Office is accused of covering up the true reason for its change in heart. Many blame the Pentagon for pressuring Britain. They believe the US wants to expand its military operations on the island and objected to plans to increase tourism. Washington does not want its activities to be subject to unwanted scrutiny. The west African coast has become of increasing strategic interest to the US, with discoveries of oil that have turned countries such as Equatorial Guinea into wealthy trading partners.
And Lord Triesman, who has allegedly bowed to the Pentagon’s wishes, or dictates? He is better known as David Triesman who, as a sociology student at the University of Essex in the summer term of 1968, was suspended, but was later reinstated following a student occupation of the university. And who wrote an essay, “The CIA and Student Politics”, in a Penguin Special book, Student Power, Problems, Diagnosis, Action, in which he exposed the CIA for financing and largely controlling the International Student conference and British NUS, adding: “The generation developing in this country will not want to pay mere lip service to the international struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racism; it will be in conflict with capitalism as the parent of these enemies.”

It would seem that the good Lord Triesman has since changed his mind regarding American Imperialism, the CIA and capitalism.
Peter E. Newell

More about a socialist scenario (2006)

From the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
Last month we discussed four scenarios outlined in a report by Foresight, a government thinktank, on transport over the next 50 years. We briefly described a fifth missing scenario – a socialist one, concentrating on transport. This month we add some more to a socialist scenario.
First politics. The Foresight report lists 60 “key drivers for change”. The only one that is overtly political is “Decline in power of national governments”, although “Culture of control” and “New decision-making frameworks” have political implications. Any socialist scenario has a central place for democracy, but not democracy as it is usually defined in capitalism. Socialist democracy is based on sharing in planning and decision-making, not having plans and decisions imposed on oneself or imposing them on others.

In socialism there will be no professional politicians – no one having an income from being elected. Access to goods and services will be free (made possible by the free work given to society by its members) for everybody, including individuals elected or appointed as delegates or representatives at various levels. In capitalism these levels are generally something like local, regional or global. There may well be some continuity in these levels, but as the socialist movement grows there will probably also be changes, reflecting different circumstances in different parts of the world.

Then education. The Foresight report says very little about this. Schools are mentioned as an economic resource and “the growing crisis in higher education” is noted – and that’s about it. A socialist scenario must have a great deal to say about education. Its aim will be to prepare people – participants, not consumers – to live in socialist society. There is education required to help bring about socialism as well as education as a feature of socialist society. The effort now put into socialist education is severely limited by lack of active socialists and money. Imagine what could be achieved if socialist schools, colleges, universities and distance learning projects were set up which treated capitalism critically and socialism sympathetically.

Socialists have long speculated about how education will differ in socialism as compared with capitalism. William Morris sought to narrow the differences between learning manual skills and book-learning. His pre-electronic predictions need updating, but there is also a case that education in socialism will not be as dominated by electronic gadgetry as capitalist education now is.

The way people work gets some mention in the Foresight report – “Movement away from office-based working” is one of the 60 Drivers for change. A socialist scenario has much more to say about work as a necessary, creative and satisfying activity. In socialism all the work required only to run capitalism will no longer be needed – no banking, insurance, financial services, sales and all money-related jobs will go. Harmful occupations connected with the “defence” (war) industry will be a thing of the past.

The elimination of work that keeps capitalism going will mean a vast expansion in the potential for useful work in socialism. Employment, and its flip-side unemployment, will be consigned to history. People like to do work that is useful to themselves, others and the society in which they live. Once financial coercion is removed there is no reason to suppose that there will be a shortage of volunteers. Obviously, men and women will prefer work that suits their abilities and interests, as well as the chance for change. Joy in work – in the past a privilege afforded only to the minority – will be available to all.

Lastly the media. The Foresight report does have something to say on this, but only the technical side. “Satellite location devices”, “Smart antenna” and “Increasing use of ‘telepresence’ technology” are included in the Drivers for change. A socialist scenario may well have a view on such changes. But it will also be concerned with the content of the media, how that content is decided, and the circumstances in which it is used as a means of communication, information and education.

In contemporary capitalism, as Chomsky and others have pointed out, the ideal is that each person should be alone in front of a screen, subject to what they see and hear, deprived of opportunities to discover what they really think through communication and interaction with others. In socialism the media will be democratically organised and controlled, not manipulated by political and commercial interests. No need to write programs for future media output and input. But you can be sure that it will reflect and be part of a happier and less problem-ridden world than capitalism.
Stan Parker