Thursday, January 9, 2020

Devastating competition (2005)

The Cooking the Books column from the January 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Russia ratified the Kyoto Protocol on the emission of greenhouse gases in October there was some rejoicing in environmentalist circles as this meant that the treaty now became binding on all the governments that had signed up to it. The environmentalists were well aware that the agreement was quite inadequate to achieve its stated purpose, but took the view that something was better than nothing.

In a socialist world, once a problem like this had been identified, the necessary remedial action could be taken rapidly. If scientists advised that greenhouse gas emissions had to be cut to avoid global overwarming and its consequences, then they would be, with the methods of energy production being changed to achieve this. It would essentially be a question of organisation, or rather of reorganisation. Everybody would have an interest in this being done, and it would be done.

But, under capitalism, while in the abstract everybody including those in charge of capitalist corporations has an interest in tackling the problem, the vested interests of capitalist corporations and governments get in the way.

Most of the excessive emissions of greenhouse gases come from burning oil and coal, but some countries depend more on this than others. They stood to be penalised vis-à-vis their competitors using other sources of energy in that their costs would rise more. So, supported by their governments, they fought against the treaty. This was the reason America refused to sign. Its government was not prepared to see its corporations rendered less competitive on the world market. And still isn’t.

But even in countries which have signed, the arguments about competitiveness still go on. At the end of October, the British government announced that it was raising the amount of carbon dioxide that factories, oil refineries and power stations in Britain could emit by 6.6 million tonnes a year for the next three years. Hardly a contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Referring to “the need to protect the competitive position of UK industry”, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett explained: “projections suggested that if we stuck with the original formula, it would have had a devastating effect on our industry” (Guardian, Times, 28 October). In other words, capitalist firms in other countries would be able to outcompete British ones through being able to keep their costs lower as a result of not having to spent so much on equipment to cut emissions.

Competition is said by supporters of capitalism to bring all sorts of benefits. Socialists can’t see any. The sad story of attempts to limit greenhouse gases shows that having production organised by separate enterprises all competing to make a profit has “devastating effects” both on the environment and on those working for them.

Party News (2005)

Party News from the January 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party will be standing a candidate in Vauxhall, in the coming general election. This is the constituency covering our Head Office in Clapham High Street and the campaign will be run by the South London, Central London and West London branches.

A programme of monthly activities (literature stalls, leaflet distribution, public meetings) is planned between now and the elections.

For details of how you can join in these activities, write to: London Election Committee, Socialist Party, 52  Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

Obituary: Paddy Boylan (2005)

Obituary from the January 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Paddy Boylan, Socialist, died aged 86 in Walsgrave Hospital, Coventry, on Sunday 24 October.

Paddy had been a member of the Socialist Party of Ireland in Dublin before emigrating to England in 1958 to work, like many others from Ireland, in the then booming car industry in Coventry. He was secretary of the Coventry Socialist Group in the early 1960s, made up largely of other Socialists who had also been forced to leave Ireland to find work.

In Paddy, Socialism has lost a lifelong advocate here in Coventry and in his native Dublin. We who had the pleasure of knowing him will miss him.

Editorial: Blunkett is guilty (2005)

Editorial from the January 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

David Blunkett is unquestionably guilty. We are not referring to all the inconsequential fuss about the ex-lover, her nanny, a visa and free rail tickets. No. The important position that Blunkett has abused is his own professed core belief in self-help which he has summed up by saying “Old Labour is the idea that you did things to people, New Labour is about enabling people to do things for themselves.”

Despite his experience of working class poverty, suffering and injustice in childhood, the political course he has followed, and is now transforming into government policies with his cabinet colleagues, in no way enables people to “do things for themselves”.

Blunkett has participated in fast-tracking British capitalism towards as much profit as possible, and because of this, New Labour has continued to “do things to people” which the minister declares he deplores. New Labour helps coerce people to work for employers who extract surplus value which is pocketed by parasitical shareholders. It restricts people from accessing goods and services with laws and enforcement, unless they’re capable of paying. It compels children to be conditioned (“educated”) into becoming the next generation of wage and salary slaves for employers to prey on. It assists in forcing upon us pollution, inequality, deprivation, stress, prostitution, drug abuse, gambling, inferior food, warfare, increased levels of cancer, corporate patenting of plant, animal and human genes and inevitable periodic economic downturns. It seeks to comprehensively pry and spy on us. It insists on imposing ID cards (or “entitlement cards” which reveals their true purpose). It makes a human being from one part of the world (the Philippines) who wants to work as a nanny in this part obtain a  permanent residency visa, or face being deported

All this is still done to us, despite Blunkett’s claim to want people free “to do things for themselves”, because his government, like any other, has no option but to put business profits before voters’ needs. As Home Secretary he has fiercely condemned the “scourge of drugs” and traffickers “making multi-million pound profits out of the misery of others”, yet he ignores the scourge of approved capitalists doing exactly the same thing. Bogus Blunkett, who said of his appointment: “As new Home Secretary I will be looking to listen and learn”, certainly won’t be listening to criticism of minority class ownership of the means of production and distribution, nor learning from history that governments don’t control capitalism — it is capitalism that controls governments.

Blunkett’s philosophy of “hand up rather than hand-out” welfarism, self-help, giving everyone an opportunity to succeed, and “participatory democracy” is worthless within capitalism where, at any stage, only a tiny few will prosper and hold sway at the expense of everyone else.

In a recent Observer (6 October) interview, the Home Secretary said “I do look back with a smile that many of the people who were in socialist societies [at Sheffield University during the 60s] ended up as being chief executive of some of our major companies. Like me I suppose”. Yes David, just like you. Corporate chiefs running the business side of British capitalism while you’re administering its political side. Still, when your cut from its profits is around £250,000 per annum with all manner of lucrative perks, grinning must be irresistible for an electoral hoodwinker working hand in glove with the boss class.

Our Message For 1944 (1944)

From the January 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

If there is one undisputed truth it is this: that the workers do not make wars, though they bear the main part of the burden of them, both in the fighting and in the miseries that flow from wars. When wars are being projected or are being fought, one of the principal aims of the rulers on both sides is to convince their working class that they have an overwhelming interest in success and the defeat of the "enemy," otherwise they might not know. They have to be told! The reason the workers have to be convinced is that no modern war is possible without the active participation of the workers. When the international working class understands the real cause of wars, the private property basis of modern society, wars will be abolished.

We are now entering upon a new year with a prophecy by Mr. Bevin ringing in our ears. Speaking in the House of Commons on December 10, he said:
  "For fifty years after the peace the nation will not be able to afford wasted manpower. If people are lost to industry through sickness or injury, be warned, 'you will have lost the war in spite of all the victories in the field.' "
(Daily Mail, 11/12/43.)
The "Mail" published it under the heading "50 Years' Labour Shortage."

If this is what so many have lost homes and lives for one could legitimately ask if the end were worth the means. But Mr. Bevin's prophecy will not fare any  better than Mr. Clynes' more modest estimate just after the last war. We were then told that it would take over 12 years to repair the wastage of the war, but in less than 18 months production had overtaken effective demand, and there were more than 2,000,000 unemployed. And it will be the same this time.

This insistence on working hard after the war, however, is becoming more and more general, and it has a very significant reason behind it. It is the same reason that lies behind the allegation that workers are getting high wages now. Capitalism is proceeding true to type. After the last war the employers forced wage reductions and Labour Leaders pleaded with the workers to work harder on the grounds that industry had been so badly hit by the war that it could not afford to pay even the relatively poor wages for which the workers asked. The wage standards of miners, railwaymen, builders and others were rapidly attacked and reduced. The miners' lock-out, leading to the “General Strike" of 1926, which left the workers almost defenceless at the mercy of the employers, was the final outcome and an example of what the workers gained from their sacrifices during the war. The employers, on the other hand, were able to accumulate enough wealth to build up large fortunes—and engage in another world war.

The same process is again foreshadowed. As soon as the war is over we will be faced with similar appeals to work harder to repair the damage of war. We will be told that workers are lazy and dirty. That it is no use giving them decent houses with bathrooms because they will keep the coal in the bath—and so forth. In fact, flimsy as present-day houses are, we are promised flimsier ones in future by a committee of the Lambeth Council who suggest that "future dwellings should be of less 'permanent' construction than those of to-day. . . . The reason they give, in their report, is that this would save money and prevent houses becoming obsolete by modern standards, although remaining structurally sound." (“Evening News," 18/12/43.)

The workers are quite obviously not lazy. When they are not working they are chasing jobs. When they are working they are ministering to the wealth of the employers. As the employers, as a class, do not work they must draw their incomes from the work of the workers. The workers are not only not dirty but it is amazing how so many can keep clean and have tidy homes when one considers their working conditions and the difficulty they have in making ends meet—even when the whole of the family are working. One of the tragedies of modern times is the spectacle of young people getting nice clothes and homes out of meagre wages and at considerable sacrifice. A society worth living in should be able to satisfy the dreams of youth without compelling them to suffer pains and penalties that embitter their later years. At the moment of writing there is an appeal coming over the wireless for contributions to a fund to aid crippled children. In savage societies the crippled were taken care of by the tribe. In modern society they depend upon the voluntary subscriptions of the poor. What a pointed condemnation of the society of our day.

The war has had far-reaching effects in many directions; much more so than the last great war. The national line-up will be vastly different from what it has been during the past century. Smuts has recently given a clear indication of this. The British Empire as an imperial unit is quite plainly a thing of the past. Although they may still form part of the same group, the Dominions are coming into their own as economic and political units. The struggle for sources of supply, spheres of influence, and markets will he profoundly affected by the new forces that the war has released; not only technical forces, but also the growth of new national units as well as the disintegration of the old.

Much more potent with meaning from the Socialist point of view is the effect the war has had upon workers. Thousands of young men and women have had an intensive scientific training in many directions associated with aircraft, wireless, chemistry and engineering. While on the one hand this education raises their intellectual standard and makes them better able to help lay the basis of a reasonable social system; on the other hand it will make them an extremely difficult problem for the capitalist when industry changes over to peace-time production and a large proportion of them becomes redundant. They will swell the resentful section of the workers who have to be placated, yet whose problems are insoluble under Capitalism. Wrestle how they will, the solutions offered by Capitalism will meet a bolder and colder reception as the worker's knowledge grows, and eventually, in spite of Beveridge plans, Education plans, and many more plans yet to be born, the workers will come to the conclusion that they must take control of their own destinies.

Capitalism has made possible an abundant production of the things we need, but its insatiable greed for profit has converted the producers into little more than beasts of burden, disease ridden and with twisted minds and bodies. It is rotten at the root and has soiled, the lives of people wherever it has raised its ugly head. But it has one merit. By bringing each section of the earth into a unified system, producing a wealth of articles for the world at large, it has prepared the ground for a new social system—Socialism—under which the means of production will be owned in common.

The future is promising for the spread of socialist ideas. The restrictions that at present hamper propaganda will have to be lifted, whatever may be the desires or intentions of our social rulers, because a pot that is left on the fire indefinitely will inevitably burst. The new year which we hare just entered should witness considerable progress towards our socialist objective, and it behoves all who sympathise with our outlook to do what they can to “shorten and lessen the birth pangs" of the new social system.