Sunday, January 19, 2020

Material World: The Vote in Hong Kong (2020)

The Material World Column from the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Momentous events are taking place around the world where many discontented workers – Chile, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq, to name a few – are now confronting the status quo governments and demanding change. One of those protest movements because of the importance it has to the world economy and global politics is what taking place in Hong Kong, where there has been a sustained campaign for more democracy, although such calls are now being supplanted with more radical demands. Some consider that the Chinese authorities are acting with restraint considering their past history in the brutal and bloody suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy encampment or the totalitarian internment of the Uighurs. But Hong Kong’s importance is a vital financial centre for the Chinese economy and the justified fear of causing a deeper recession deters any military intervention.

After weeks of street demonstrations, which at times escalated into violence against the police and symbols of the state authorities, routine district council elections in November offered an opportunity for people to express their views and attitudes. Unlike Hong Kong’s Legislative Council which is composed of 70 members not all elected by the public, headed by Carrie Lam, who also is not elected by a popular vote but a form of electoral college, which appoints her 29-strong Executive Council to run Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region of the Republic of China, under the ‘one country, two systems’ constitution where it is in charge of Hong Kong’s internal affairs.

The territory’s district councils in the past have held little political power and mainly deal with neighbourhood issues such as bus routes, no parking laws and rubbish collection. Previously they were not organs of political power, but more like administrative parish councils, allocating budgets for local projects. This all changed when people sought to express their democratic will.

Pro-democracy candidates won close to 60 percent of the total vote, but achieved a landslide in terms of seats – 347 of the 452 (76 percent of the seats) – because of the first-past-the-post system, taking control of at least 17 of the city’s 18 district councils. A record 71 percent of Hong Kong’s 4.1 million registered voters cast their ballot, well exceeding the 47 percent turnout in the district council elections four years ago. Pro-Beijing candidates won 60 seats (13 percent seats with 40 percent vote), losing all but one of the 298 seats they won in the previous election of four years ago. Chinese state media blame the losses upon violence and intimidation by the pro-democracy activists rather than a genuine reflection of people dissatisfaction with the current political system they live under.

When the Industrial Workers of the World chose to drop its commitment to the political electoral process in 1908, James Connolly, at that time a Socialist Labor Party of America speaker, remarked that it would not be possible to stop workers from exercising their vote. Connolly later explained: ‘He fights, and he votes; he votes and he fights. He may not always, he does not always, vote right; nor yet does he always fight when and as he should…’

Although the Socialist Party has irreconcilable differences with Connolly on his nationalism, on this point we share a similar sentiment.

The electoral victory of the pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong is confirmation of his and our contention that, when a mass movement mobilises and where the opportunity to vote exists, the movement will use the ballot box. The sensible strategy for the social change to socialism can be expected to similar: mass organization and mobilisation outside parliament plus the vote. We say that elections can, and should be, transformed into a means of emancipation

Those pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong who are resorting to violence can’t win against the armed might of the Chinese State and will be crushed. The only chance of winning they had was mass demonstrations backed by public opinion. If they abandon that strategy, the Hong Kong democracy movement is doomed. The overwhelming solidarity vote for them legitimises the will of the people who no longer can be dismissed as an unrepresentative minority of hooligans and rioters.

When the time comes the socialist majority can be expected to use the ballot box since it will be the obvious thing to do, and nobody will be able to prevent them or persuade them not to. At that time it will be the anti-electoralists who will be irrelevant. As socialists, we do not regard the vote in itself as sufficient to emancipate humanity. But we do recognise that it provides by far the best conditions for the development and success of the socialist movement. It can be used to legitimise the revolutionary act by signalling that a majority of ordinary people fully understand and want to effect that change.

Las Vegas: Everyone’s a Loser (2020)

From the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Las Vegas is Spanish for The Meadows. A settlement was established there in 1905. Before that it was just an oasis in the Mojave Desert.

Nothing strange about an oasis in the desert. A well with water for the weary traveller and his camels. Trees to shade them from the hot sun while they rest. I see it in my mind’s eye.

‘Hold on there, mate Camels?’

Joe Zentner tells us that ‘Bactrian camels were imported from Manchuria to San Francisco in 1860 and put to work as pack animals in Nevada’ (‘The Desert Camel Experiment: Camels in America’s Southwest’ Link).

True, the experiment was not a great success. Camels are suited to soft sandy terrain. Much of the Mojave consists of ‘desert pavement’ with sharp-edged rocks that cut the poor creatures’ feet. Camels are not long-suffering beasts of burden. When in pain they kick you and spit at you. The camel drivers didn’t like that.

Anyway, those days are long gone. By 2018 the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area was home to 2,227,000 people. It also had over 42 million visitors. In the middle of the desert.

Local aquifers provide a mere tenth of the metropolitan area’s drinking water. The rest is taken from Lake Mead, which even though fed by the Colorado River is shrinking fast. The city government wants to build a pipeline to pump in water from three valleys in Utah. Opponents of the scheme say that the pipeline would turn the valleys into dustbowls.

As for the sun, it is hotter than ever. Las Vegas has a few trees, but the cooling effect of their shade is outweighed by the ‘heat island’ effect of its concrete and asphalt. Daytime temperatures remain above 100°Fahrenheit (38C) throughout the summer. On some days the thermometer goes over 110° (43C), the official record being 117° (47C) reached on June 20, 2017.

All temperatures higher than that of human blood (98.4°F/36.8C) endanger human life and health. Most people are able to live in Las Vegas only thanks to air conditioning, which gives further impetus to global warming.

But what about building workers and others who have to work outdoors? Starting shifts at the crack of dawn and ending by noon provides only partial protection. How do the homeless cope? Residents of homeless shelters, pushed out into the heat for most of the day? Where do they get the large amount of fluid they need to drink every hour so that they can perspire, cool their bodies, and survive? The hotels and restaurants don’t want them hanging around.

The fastest-warming city
And it gets hotter every year. Las Vegas is the fastest-warming city in the United States. Its average temperature has risen by 5.8°F since 1970. The corresponding figure for the country as a whole is 2.5°F.

What are the sources of the livelihood of these 2.2 million people in the middle of the desert? How do they pay for all the goods that have to be shipped in for their consumption?

Agriculture? In the middle of the desert? What would they farm? Cacti?

Fishing? Forestry? In the middle of the desert?

Mining? Are there valuable minerals in the desert?

Gold and silver used to be mined in the area, but that came to an end long ago. The Techatticup mine in Eldorado Canyon closed in 1942.

Manufacturing? Do they make anything?


Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice said on her journey through Wonderland.

Their livelihood comes from gambling, tourism, and entertainment. That explains why they get so many visitors.

But the tourists come mainly for the gambling. Without the gambling there would be few tourists to pack into hotels, restaurants, museums, bars, and brothels or entertain with shows and concerts.

The pivot of Las Vegas’ economy is gambling. The city has over 100 of the largest casinos in the United States.

What is gambling? Without delving into technical details, we can say that gambling is a set of deceptive games of chance used to transfer money from a large number of ‘losers’ to a much smaller number of ‘winners’ – the main winner by far always being the owner of the gambling establishment. In 2013, according to a study conducted at the University of Las Vegas, the 23 largest casinos (the study ignored the others) pocketed over $5 billion of their visitors’ money.

Sinister ways
Why do people gamble so much?

Julian Crowley has detailed ‘ten sinister ways casinos keep you gambling’. They include:

  • additional oxygen pumped in to keep you awake;
  • ‘psychedelic’ carpets with garish patterns and clashing colors, also to stop you dozing off;
  • ‘mild, looping’ background music for its hypnotic effect;
  • food and drink served to you (often without charge) right at the gambling table;
  • no clocks to remind you of the passage of time;
  • no windows to remind you of the world outside;
  • slot machines that convey subliminal messages.
  • Last but not least, it is deliberately made difficult and time-consuming to exchange your remaining chips for cash and find the way out of the maze-like floor layout.
But the main reason why people gamble is that the casinos encourage them to focus on the tiny chance of winning rather than on the much higher probability of losing. They are misled by frequent ‘near wins’ and paltry wins. Flashing lights ‘give you the impression that winning is constant and all around you.’ When someone is allowed to have a big win a huge fuss is made and there is lots of publicity, but security staff intervene if anyone tries to film people who are losing.

It is true that gamblers may enjoy the experience of gambling even when they are losing, even though there is photographic evidence of individuals in front of slot machines or at the gaming table who are clearly in great distress. It’s also doubtful whether pleasure taken in the process of gambling, where it exists, often outweighs the distress felt later, when the gambler realises just how much money he or she has lost – money that could and should have been spent on other things. Gamblers risk loss of their homes, breakup of their families, bankruptcy, even suicide.

A social ‘bad’
Gambling then makes no net contribution to human welfare. On balance, it is a social ‘bad’ rather than a social ‘good.’ As gambling is the raison d’ĂȘtre of Las Vegas – the only reason why this big city exists in the middle of the desert – it would be better for human well-being if Las Vegas were to become once more what it was before 1905 – an unsettled green oasis.

In a socialist society the city of Las Vegas will in all likelihood be abandoned. Because it is in a place where it makes no sense for people to live. The local flora and fauna are adapted to the desert environment. People are not. In past ages no one would have dreamt of living here. It was a place to take refreshment, rest a while, and travel on.

The city of Las Vegas will be abandoned in a socialist society also because in such a society gambling will not exist. Gambling will not exist because people will feel no urge to gamble, for they will have free access to whatever they need. Money itself will not exist.

That does not, of course, mean that no one ever does anything worthwhile in Las Vegas. There is surely fantastic music being made there. Great tacos too. The music and the tacos will continue to be made in a socialist society. But not in the middle of the desert.

This Land Is Their Land (2020)

Book Review from the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Brett Christophers: The New Enclosure: the Appropriation of Public Land In Neoliberal Britain. Verso £11.99.

The original enclosures took place in England from around the sixteenth century and led to much agricultural land coming under the exclusive control of large landowners. Here Brett Christophers examines a process in some ways comparable, which has essentially happened since Thatcher came to power in 1979: public land (a terminology we will return to below) has been sold to private companies. This has resulted in remarkably little protest or press coverage, perhaps in part because it has been carried out piecemeal, unlike big privatisations such as British Gas or the railways.

It is difficult to be absolutely certain, given the poor quality of record-keeping, but perhaps as much as £400bn worth of land has been privatised. Most of this (roughly a million hectares) has been land owned by local government, such as council estates and school playing-fields. This constitutes around 60 percent of land owned by local authorities, about twice the proportion of central government land that has been sold; this latter includes land belonging to the NHS, the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Defence.

The sell-offs provided funds for government coffers, of course, but privatisation was also justified on the basis that there was lots of supposedly surplus land in the hands of both local and central government. Selling this would make it available for private developers to build homes, offices and so on. But what counted as surplus was never properly defined, and the proportion of vacant land was probably even greater in the private sector. House-building corporations own plenty of developable land, but it is not always profitable for them to build on it. One survey of a hundred sites that had been sold found that just two per cent of the homes planned to be built there had actually been completed. Instead, the companies go in for land-banking, hoarding land so as to keep house prices high.

Christophers provides a very thorough analysis of the history, motivations and consequences of land privatisation. He is aware that the concept of public land needs clarifying, and he defines it as ‘land owned by public bodies’. It is not the same as common land, which implies right of public access and use, whoever owns it, and still forms about five per cent of the British land mass. But public land is emphatically not the people’s land, any more than the National Coal Board or British Gas were owned by the people.

There are relatively few reformist proposals about land. The Labour Party manifesto for last year’s election made no reference to land nationalisation, and only said it would review the possibility of a land value tax. Christophers ends by supporting the idea of community land trusts, involving community ownership on a non-profit basis, though these can still involve the private sector. Instead, the earth should be, as Gerrard Winstanley argued, ‘a common treasury for all’.
Paul Bennett

Cooking the Books: The Lib Dem vision for capitalism (2020)

The Cooking the Books column from the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the election the Lib Dems tried to position themselves as ‘the party of business’, to replace the Tories as the main party of the dominant section of the British capitalist class. This would be a return to their heyday in the nineteenth century when this is what they were.

Their delusional leader (she thought she would be the next prime minister), Jo Swinson, told the annual conference of the bosses’ union, the CBI, in November that the Lib Dems were the ‘natural party of business’ (Liberal Democratic Voice, 18 November) because they supported business’s continued frictionless access to the EU single market. A few days earlier, the party’s deputy leader, Sir Ed Davey, had said that ‘a Lib Dem administration would be a “government of business”’.

The Party’s former leader, Sir Vince Cable, had already, while still leader, nailed the Lib Dems’ yellow colours to the capitalist mast:
  ‘Capitalism is being questioned in Britain more intensely than for decades. Some want to destroy it. Others believe that it is the only economic system which works, but want to reform it. I am in the latter camp’ (City AM, 14 May).
Davey, who was introducing the party’s policy on climate change, said that the Lib Dems’ policy on this was to ‘decarbonise capitalism’; in other words, to keep capitalism and to try to solve the climate crisis within it and its investment in production for profit.

This was an idea he had announced earlier in the year in an article in Liberal Democrat Voice (28 May). It was a plan to persuade City of London speculators that investment in green measures could and would be profitable:
  ‘Yet the great news is clean, high returning investments exist. (…) [B]y decarbonising capitalism, we won’t be just solving the climate emergency, we will be helping pensioners switch out of increasingly risky carbon assets into much safer climate-friendly investments. Regrettably, the political leadership for this historic reform of capitalism is absent. Bogged down in climate unfriendly Brexit, the Conservatives are just making things worse. And Corbyn’s Labour just wants to destroy capitalism. (…) With a Coalition of the Willing in Parliament and the City – people who get the urgency, the risks of inaction and the sheer scale of the challenge – we could supercharge the switch into green capitalism and wind down the fossil fuel threat.’
In passing, he’s being a bit unfair here in accusing Labour of wanting to destroy capitalism. They too, just want to reform it, only in a different way.

Davey went on to describe the Lib Dems’ vision of a ‘brighter future’:
  ‘There will of course be a maze of overly complex regulations to cut through – but it must not detract from this vision to rebuild the City as a global centre for sustainable capitalism, where the needs of the planet and people have to come first.’
Not just a ‘green capitalism’ but a green City of London! It makes you wonder what planet he’s living on. But then, all reformists suffer from the delusion that capitalism can be reformed to have some other priority than profit, though not all of them think that the stock exchange could be.

Measuring general wellbeing – how and why? (2011)

From the January 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
Capitalism sells GNP and some of its supporters now want to measure GWB. Socialism will promote only GWB.
Studies of happiness have a long history. Aristotle wrote about happiness as human flourishing and purpose to life, as opposed to the modern concept of hedonism as the simple pursuit of pleasure.

Prime minister Cameron is trying to get the concept of general wellbeing up and running even in the midst of public service cuts and soaring living costs. He is sticking to a policy commitment he made while still in opposition in 2006: ‘It’s time we admitted that there is more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but in GWB – general wellbeing’, adding ‘Wellbeing can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships. Improving our society’s sense of wellbeing is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times’ (Times, 22 May 2006).

The Office for National Statistics will decide on the wording of the questions to be put in the General Household Survey starting in April. Its head, Lil Matheson, said in a BBC Radio 4 interview that she preferred the wider concept of wellbeing to that of happiness. Writing in the Guardian (15 November), Allegra Stratton thought that, in addition to questions on happiness, the survey is likely to include ‘How much purpose does your life have?’ and ‘Are men and women treated fairly in the workplace and home?’

We have good reason to be suspicious about why the government should put money into measuring people’s wellbeing in circumstances that are far from improving their actual wellbeing. We may recall the line of crucified men in Monty Python’s Life of Brian happily singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!’

It would be no surprise to find many members of the general public expressing fairly high levels of wellbeing. But any such survey results would need to be interpreted with care. Studies of job satisfaction have found that up to 80 percent of workers say they are very or fairly satisfied with their job. But their ‘satisfaction’ is often based on a belief that their chances of finding something better are small or nil, so it’s a good idea to make the best of the job they’ve got.

In socialism there may well be surveys of public opinion, including questions on wellbeing. Such research would be part of organising production and distribution of goods and services only for need, not profit. Questions on wellbeing would emphasise making things better for people, not making people feel better about things.
Stan Parker

Born with a silver spoon in your mouth or born in Sin? (2011)

The Halo Halo! column from the January 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers of the ‘Standard’ are probably not too bothered about the notion of being ‘born in sin’. To others though this can be a problem. Not least, you might suppose, because even those who warn us about the dangers of it – the various priests, parsons, rabbis and mullahs etc, have never been able to reach an agreement about the precise nature of sin. The various Gods, apparently, are offended by anything from people eating the wrong food or dressing in the wrong way to facing the wrong compass point when saying their prayers. Fortunately Iain Duncan Smith has now been able to step in to clarify matters and explain to us what sin is.

Duncan Smith is not only the Work and Pensions Secretary, he is also a practicing Roman Catholic and has previously informed us that “religion is integral to everything I do”. He also holds the view that many of the problems of poverty have a “spiritual base”. Now either this man is just talking out of his ‘spiritual base’, or he knows something the rest of us don’t.

During a BBC radio Today programme in November, commenting on Tory plans to take away benefits to the unemployed who fail to accept a job offer, he explained the problem of people refusing to take unsuitable, or poorly paid work. “Surely,” he said, “that’s a sin.”

If he’s right that’s good news. Well um, sort of. It depends on whether you hold the same religious beliefs as Iain Duncan Smith. Look at it this way. The penalty for failing to accept a job offer will be the loss of the £64 a week Jobseeker’s Allowance for three months. If you do it again you will lose it for six months. And for a third offence you lose it for three years.

Now if you compare that with what Christianity previously told us was the penalty for sin you can see how beneficial and merciful the Tory plans will be. According to the Pope, the Born Again mob and numerous other fundamentalists, the penalty for sin is to spend eternity in Hell, screaming in agony and being prodded back into the brimstone by the Devil.

Be honest now, Three years starvation for you and your family in this life, or eternity in hell in the next. Which would you prefer?

Whether Iain Duncan Smith has done his theological homework on this though is perhaps questionable. A quick check of catholic theology on Google throws up a few more sins that are so serious that they “cry to heaven for vengeance”. They include the oppression of the poor (Exodus 2:23) and defrauding workers of their wages (James 5:4). Are the Tories moving in mysterious ways here?

Sheridan no socialist (2011)

From the January 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
 “Sheridan told he faces years in prison for lies about sex and socialism”, so ran one newspaper headline the day after a jury found the former MSP guilty of perjury (Times, 24 December).
We don’t know, or care, if he told lies about his sex life to get at a scandal rag that was trying to entrap him. It’s only the political aspect of the case that interests us, and it’s true that, as a reformist politician, he had certainly told lies about socialism. But this is the first time we have heard of this being a crime punishable by imprisonment. If it was, the prisons would be full of journalists, politicians and academics. Of course the Times – like the News of the World, owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch – was merely trying to discredit socialism.

Sheridan was a Trotskyist, originally of the Militant Tendency variety, and although he could not doubt explain why the USSR had been a “degenerate workers state” or why some common or garden reform was a “transitional demand” and so a stepping stone to “socialism”, he was not that kind of Trotskyist.

Trotskyists, being Leninists, hold that workers are incapable of evolving beyond a “trade union consciousness” (defined by Lenin as “the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.”). So, according to them, putting the straight socialist case for common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit to workers is to cast pearls before swine.

Instead, according to Trotskyists, what must be put before workers are demands that the government introduce this or that reform within capitalism. Getting workers to support such “transitional demands” is the only way they calculate they can get the mass support which, when the government fails to respond, can be used to catapult their vanguard party to power. But this requires people on the ground who are capable of winning a personal following. Normally, the Trotskyist gurus who direct their organisation from the shadows, are not up to this. They require front men. As it happens, Militant has been rather successful in this, with Derek Hatton in Liverpool, Joe Higgins at the moment in Dublin, and Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow.

Sheridan first came to prominence in the anti-Poll Tax campaign of the 1980s when he, along with the rest of the Militant Tendency, was still boring from within the Labour Party. Sheridan earned a reputation for being an indefatigable fighter, defending non-payers before the courts and himself getting a six-month sentence for contempt of court.

The trouble, from the point of view of the Trotskyist gurus in the background, is that such front men have, because of their following, a degree of independence and can prove difficult to control. Which is what happened in Sheridan’s case. When Kinnock clamped down on Militant – Sheridan himself was expelled from the Labour Party in 1989 – the group’s leaders didn’t want to change their tactics. They wanted to continue boring from within the Labour Party, in accordance with the argument they had used for years, that when the workers began to move against capitalism this would begin as a swing to the left by the Labour Party, so that’s where the vanguard cadres should be. Sheridan and most others disagreed. They wanted to form an independent party, opposed to Labour. They won out and a new party called “Militant Labour” was formed (the minority are still somewhere in the Labour Party, so deeply buried as to be invisible). In Scotland this became, in 1998, the “Socialist Socialist Party” with Sheridan as leader. It departed from traditional Trotskyism by embracing the idea of Scottish independence which of course is quite irrelevant from a working class and socialist perspective.

In 1999 Sheridan was elected a member of the Scottish Parliament. He was re-elected in 2003 with 5 other SSP members. This was the heyday of “Scottish socialism” (more properly, Tartan leftwing reformism). Under other circumstances they might have held the balance of power and given parliamentary support in exchange for some reforms to an SNP government. But it was not to be. In 2004 the News of the World published allegations about Sheridan’s sex life. He (apparently) told the SSP executive that there was some truth in them but that he was going to deny them. A majority disagreed and he eventually resigned as leader and, after winning a libel case against the Murdoch scandal-rag, left the SSP to form a new party, “Solidarity Scotland’s Socialist Movement”. In the 2007 elections to the Scottish Parliament both parties were wiped out,

Neither of them stood for socialism, only for reforms of capitalism and an independent Scotland (i.e. an independent capitalist republic like southern Ireland). Solidarity’s founding statement, for instance, declared that it was “a socialist movement that fights for the redistribution of wealth from big business and the millionaires to working class people and their families.” It does do this, but this has nothing to do with socialism, which is not about the redistribution of wealth within capitalism but about the common ownership of the means of wealth production.

Following the end of his career as an MSP Sheridan has only been involved in minor-league reformist politics, standing for Bob Crow’s petty nationalist “No2 Europe” list in the 2009 European elections and for the Militant/SWP TUSC in last year’s general election (the Militant and SWP Trotskyists, despite reservations about his views on Scottish independence, had followed him out of the SSP into Solidarity). On both occasions he stood on a reformist platform, a series of demands that the government must do this or not to do that which would have left capitalism, and its problems, intact.
Adam Buick

Human development (2011)

Michael A. Lebowitz
Book Review from the January 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Path to Human Development: capitalism or socialism? By Michael Lebowitz, from the Socialist Interventions Pamphlet Series. Monthly Review Press., April 2009 Free download

This pamphlet, written to support educational and political discussions in trade unions, communal councils and political formations, particularly in Venezuela, was prepared for collective rather than individual readers with the specific purpose of ‘encouraging collective struggle against capitalism and for socialism’.

Lebowitz lays down some of the basics of the whats and whys of human development. The obvious prerequisites to any human development are the satisfaction of basic needs and the recognition that each individual’s self-development should be self-defined.

He compares the ‘vicious circle of capitalism’ with the ‘virtuous circle of socialism.’ Capitalism – people separated from the means of production with needs to be fulfilled having to sell their labour power in competition with others, thereby entering into capitalist production which gives them the need to consume but limited means to do so, locking them into a never-ending vicious circle. A vicious circle that is expanding all the while because capitalism requires growth and must generate new needs for consumption.

Socialism – in which producers enter into an association to produce for the needs of society and in so doing expand their capacities as rich human beings. So here we have producers who recognise the value of unity, cooperation and interdependence increasing the circle voluntarily, driven by the logic of human development with no limits – ‘except the full development of all human potential’.

The pamphlet is an attempt to raise socialist consciousness and, in Lebowitz’s own words, “It is important that we live the revolutionary process as a great organism and not as a vanguard atop a complacent mass”. Our hope is that workers around the world, and not just in Venezuela, take this advice seriously. If they did, a useful next step might be to remove populist reformists such as Chavez from office, and replace him with recallable delegates from their own ranks.
Janet Surman

A Correction

From the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard 

In our review of Michael Lebowitz’s book, The Path to Human Development: capitalism or socialism?, in last month’s Socialist Standard, we attributed to him the passage “it is important that we live the revolutionary process as a great organism and not as a vanguard atop a complacent mass”. In drawing our attention to the fact that he did not write this, Michael Lebowitz said that “the phrase itself doesn’t embarrass me as I reject the vanguard party (but not leadership as such) as it is understood”. He added: “Incidentally, let me recommend to you and your comrades my new book, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (Monthly Review, 2010), which explores much more deeply the themes posed in The Path. As for the vanguard question, I’m taking that up right now in the book I’m working on (The Conductor and the Conducted), which explores what I call ‘vanguard relations of production.’”

In fact the passage was a quote from a review of his book by Ivan Drury in the Canadian Trotskyist paper Socialist Voice. We apologise to him and are pleased to make this correction.

50 Years Ago: Footballers’ Strike (2011)

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

To many of the schoolboys who scuff out the toes of their shoes kicking an old tennis ball around a council school playground, the life of a professional footballer is a glamorous dream.
In fact, there is of course room at the top for only a very few, very good, footballers. These men can make a sumptuous living at the game. The rest have a hard time of it, on unremarkable pay and often under conditions of employment which an industrial trade union would not tolerate. Most footballers are looking for another job in their thirties, with little prospect of doing much better than a salesman or a shopkeeper. No professional player may publish a statement about the game without first having it vetted by his club—his employer.

The Professional Footballers’ Association has asked to have the “slave” transfer system changed to abolish the ceiling on wages and to secure a share of a transfer fee for the player involved in the deal. To enforce these demands, the P.F.A. have threatened to call a strike. The bigger clubs can more easily afford to grant the players’ demands, and foresee that to do so would help to defend their high position at the expense of the dingier clubs, many of which are already in deficit. It is, therefore, in the lower divisions that resistance to the P.F.A. is strongest.

Indignant fans, outraged players, angry club officials, have all had their say. Nobody, so far, has regretted that capitalist society makes a business of football and that the game is played, not for amusement and entertainment, but for investment. Like all the other superficially plausible criticisms of capitalism, the grumblings about the footballers’ lot are as wide of the mark as a fourth division centre forward.

(From News in Review, Socialist Standard, January 1961).