Sunday, March 29, 2020

Aspect: A Question of Class (1970)

The Aspect column from the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ask any reasonably literate but otherwise typical Lefty for his appraisal of the class structure of capitalist society and he will probably inform you that there are two classes in society — the working class and the capitalist class. There is even a reasonably good chance that he will be able to recite Marx’s definition of these from the Communist Manifesto :
 By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage-labour. By proletariat, the class of modern wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour-power in order to live. [1]
But give him a couple of minutes more and he will no doubt be at least neck deep in the regular assortment of complex arguments about the relative roles of the working class and the middle class/petty bourgeoisie/salariat which collectively represent his grand design for the socialist revolution.

In other words, nearly all left-wing groups exhibit a very definite schizophrenia on the question of social classes. At an abstract, intellectual level they will adhere to the Marxian position, but for all practical purposes (that is for deciding their overall strategy and their day to day tactics) they rely on an entirely different analysis of society. As an illustration of this we could refer to the ways in which such organisations reacted to the upheaval in France in May 1968. They all argued that this episode had an enormous significance not just because millions of ‘workers' showed their dissatisfaction and contempt for Gaullisme through strikes and demonstrations but also because “many sections of French society followed the lead of the workers — footballers, office workers, customs men, hotel workers . . .” [2]

Ideas such as these are as dangerous as they are confused. Not only do they lead to a completely false assessment of what constitutes the socialist revolution but they also serve to reinforce the divisive pressure which capitalism is bound to exert on its workers, They encourage the already widespread belief that wage earners in different sectors belong to different social classes and therefore do not have identical interests — a myth which as much as any other helps to keep capitalism secure. By way of contrast, the Marxist approach of the Socialist Party of Great Britain offers a means of uniting workers around an understanding that all “wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour-power in order to live” are members of the working class and therefore have a common interest in getting rid of capitalism.

Perhaps we can clarify this by taking a group of workers regarded by most people as impeccably ‘middle class’ and showing how they arc exploited. The dental profesion is particularly interesting in this respect because not only are they a relatively small body of workers on whom a considerable amount of data has recently been published but also because they are in the uncommon position of having been ground down into working directly for wages within the last generation. Up till roughly twenty years ago dentists in Britain really were self-employed people. But the transfer of most dental surgeons to the National Health Service in the immediate post-war years meant that they were now nearly all employed by the state. (Out of 15.000 dentists in Britain in 1967 only 500 were estimated to still be working in private practices).

Like many other workers, dental surgeons in the general dental services are paid on a piece rate system. There is a complex mechanism for fixing these rates but basically it amount to the government periodically laying down a target annual net income for the average dentist, providing he works a specified number of hours per year. The Dental Rates Study Group then draws up a set of fees designed to produce average earnings at the target level. This method of payment has been described by many dentists as the ‘treadmill system’ "for, as more treatment is carried out each year by dentists working faster or more efficiently than previously with the help of technological changes, the scale for that treatment will fall, or at least not be increased to the extent that it might." [3] To give an example of how this works in practice we could mention that the fee being paid for a single surface amalgam filling in the mid-sixties (13s.6d) was less than it had been ten years previously (15s.). How this affects the individual dentist was well summed up in the report just quoted:
  The system is such that income is in fact related to the total number of courses [of treatment] an individual practitioner undertakes since the more the profession accomplishes, the lower the income per course. Thus if an individual dentist maintains only a constant performance his income falls. [4]
The pressures acting on this group of workers over the last twenty years have given rise to enormous increases in productivity— and an equally enormous upsurge in the rate of exploitation. The total number of courses of treatment carried out in the general dental services by roughly the same number of dentists throughout has more than doubled since 1949, while the cost to the government of providing this treatment has fallen from more than £5m. to around the £2m. mark (at constant 1949 price levels).

The ways in which dentists react to this situation are no different from those of other workers. Two recent surveys on the attitudes of dentists towards their wages and working conditions [5] showed that 55 per cent objected to the long hours they were forced to work to maintain their incomes, a similar percentage found the pace of the work gruelling, and 78 per cent disliked the restrictions placed on their work by their method of employment. Despite these sort of data, however, many left-wingers would object that although it might be possible by these means to demonstrate that objectively groups like dental surgeons are members of the working class, subjectively they remain intransigently capitalist minded. Such sections, they would say, can be “integrated into the system, to monopoly capital” by the relatively high wages and other benefits which (according to the Leninist theory of imperialism) capitalism can use to buy off parts of the working class in the most advanced countries. And as evidence of the overriding capitalist ideology of professional workers like dentists they would point to the fact that they do not consider themselves working class. Perhaps more than anyone else they differentiate between their own status and that of manual workers and other lower paid strata.

But objections such as these can be shown to be sociologically quite naive. The conviction that higher paid workers can be bribed into accepting capitalism by the level of their salaries rests on the assumption that in their attitude towards society they will be predominantly motivated by money or material rewards. If this were the case, it would be clearly shown in their work motivation. Such a theory has a very long pedigree, but at the same time has very little else to recommend it. As Tom Lupton, the professor of industrial sociology at the Manchester Business School, has put it:
  It is easy to fall into the error of supposing that because the desire for money is by common consent a compelling motive for working that it is also the overriding motive. Work is a social activity, that is it involves the worker in relationships with others. If the worker is faced with a decision whether to attempt to maximise income or to sacrifice possible gains for the sake of establishing or maintaining satisfying relationships with his workmates, he might well choose the latter course. [6]
Researchers like Lupton arrived at these conclusions mainly by studying the working behaviour of piece rate workers in factories. Research into the motivating factors for dentists has given results almost identical to those for other piece rate workers. Thus a recent survey carrying the question ‘What are the things you like most about your work?’ elicited the following responses:

These sort of figures, then, do not give a very impressive backing to the contention that higher paid workers like dentists arc primarily concerned with the defence of their supposedly privileged position and must therefore be considered as being distinct from the bulk of the working class. But, for all that, it does remain true that white collar workers (and among them the example we have been using of the dental profession) generally do regard themselves as different from industrial workers. But, of course, this is not a one way process. Blue collar workers reciprocate with similar prejudices about non-industrial workers, regarding them as ‘middle class’ and so on. It is quite illogical to use the common left-wing argument that subjectively white collar workers are outside the working class because they do not identify themselves with their fellow workers. Exactly the same stricture can be applied to blue collar workers.

An unbreakable sense of working class solidarity can only spread at the same rate as socialist understanding develops among all sections oft he workers. The Socialist Party constantly attempts to foster this unity in its work of analysing capitalism and its class structure and presenting the socialist alternative to present society. On the other hand, the divisive activity of the Left is entirely symptomatic of their slovenly attitude to Marxist theory. Almost to a man they are committed to ‘leading the working class’. A hard task indeed when they don’t even know what the working class is!
John Crump

[1.] The Communist Manifesto. SPGB, 1948. p. 60
[2.] Socialist Worker. June, 1968
[3.] The Dental Service. London, 1969. p. 20
[4.] Ibid. p. 27
[5.] British Dental Journal. September, 1969. p. 222
[6.] Industrial Society. Penguin. 1968. p. 297
[7.] Adapted from BDJ. September, 1969 p. 222

Socialism and Planning (1970)

From the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism will be a planned society. For the first time in human history man will have not only extensive control over his physical environment but also — more importantly — control over his own social relations. With the ownership of the means of production vested in the community, and under its democratic control, we will be able to produce goods and services directly to satisfy human needs, without the intervention of the market or any means of exchange. People will freely determine, and take, what they need to live and to enjoy life. Information regarding the types and quantities of goods required will be fed back, either direct to the places of production or possibly to some control communications agency. Those people in the particular production units concerned will then decide, on the basis of the existing level of technology, how best to arrange their affairs so that the necessary goods may be supplied. The problems which a Socialist society will face will be of a purely technical and administrative nature, without the complications of capitalism involving wage bargaining, investment, buying and selling, insurance, banking, etc. The government over people will give way to the administration of things.

Because Socialism is a planned society however, it is not to be thought that conversely all planning means Socialism. Socialist planning means Socialism. Socialist planning is by and for the community; capitalist ‘planning’ is a futile attempt to regulate the market in the interests of profit and those who live off profit. Capitalist society, far from having a community of interests, is firmly based on an irreconcilable antagonism of interests between owner and non-owners of the means of production — the capitalist and working classes. Attempts at planning by the State, where they are not laughed at, are feared by the working-class and rightly so. The coercive state machine will not exist inside Socialism, for the class division in society having been abolished there will no longer be any function for it to perform.

The confused association of any kind of planning with the object of Socialists is particularly dangerous in the field of "Town Planning” where the state, both nationally and locally, is playing increasingly extensive roles. Many town planners, it is true, have a genuine desire to arrange matters for the benefit of all, but they are working with an established set of priorities over which they have little influence. Inevitably profits are taken into account first, so that in deciding on the retention or phasing out of villages and towns, or the construction of transport systems, what is "reasonable” and "practical” often conflicts with human happiness. The sad fact is that people who suffer directly from such moves, because they accept capitalism, are forced to accept its priorities, or at least the terms in which any discussion of priorities is to take place. Thus a natural beauty spot cannot generally be saved from the intrusion of overhead electricity pylons, merely because it is beautiful. It would usually have to be proved that the profits made from, say, tourism were enough to cover the extra cost of excavation for underground cables. More often than not where people do protest against the designs of the planners they are accused of being selfish, holding up "progress" or not being concerned for the “general good”, which the fluent town planner is all too able at claiming to represent.

There are those of course who point to the "irrational” objections made to much town development, which they claim would be as much a problem in Socialism as under capitalism: East Enders preferring London slum life to New Town conditions for instance, or the inhabitants of a small decaying mining village preferring their present life to that in a large modern housing estate. These objections however are only irrational if one accepts the myth that rising material consumption in the form of an extra bathroom, television set, etc. is the panacea for human satisfaction. It is here that the two sides of planning show themselves to be in conflict. For it is the inability to plan for the economic and social security of people, that makes them reluctant to accept the benefits of town planning. Both the East Enders and the mining villagers have established a degree of community through long contact, and common suffering which has bound them into a force capable of withstanding some of the pressures of capitalism. A bathroom and central heating are no compensation for the loss of this to the atomised existence of the big city dwellers.

Only Socialism is capable of solving this problem, by enabling people to have control over their own lives, with democratic organisation of the productive process, geared to satisfying human need. To take a simple illustration, if in Socialism it would take less materials and human effort to have one large town instead of two smaller communities, if the people concerned preferred the second arrangement, then that would be the course pursued. There is no question here of which would attract and retain industry, for in both cases industry would be under the control of the community, and would consequently be sited in accordance with their needs and not the needs of a privileged minority for profit as to-day.
M. Ballard

Who are the Democrats? (1970)

From the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism cannot be established until and unless a majority of the class of wage and salary earners want and understand it. Most workers now support capitalism so the immediate task of socialists is to convince other workers that they are wrong to support capitalism and to persuade them that Socialism is the only solution to the problems they face. All that now prevents the establishment of Socialism is this lack of socialist understanding among the working class, and such understanding can only come about as a result of the successful propaganda activities of a socialist party. The best conditions for socialist propaganda and for the growth of socialist understanding is the limited political democracy of capitalism. This is the main reason why the Socialist Party of Great Britain has always stressed the importance both to the socialist movement and to the working class of the freedom to express ideas.

The classic statement of our case against the suppression of opinion appeared in the Socialist Standard in February 1941 in an editorial on the banning of the Daily Worker the previous month.
  True to our basic principle we do not support suppression of opinion, however false we believe that opinion to be. We have always thought and always said that the activities of the Communist Party have been a continual menace to the Socialist movement and the interests of the workers . . . All the same the S.P.G.B. is opposed to suppression of opinion. In our view the way to counter any kind of propaganda, and in the long run the only way, is to meet it in the open in unfettered discussion. We are entitled to add that we practise what we preach and have always thrown open our platform to our opponents.
We stand by this today and still open our platform to all our opponents to state their case against Socialism. However, some of our opponents take exception to our debating other of our opponents. The ragbag of assorted trotskyists, maoists, castroists, etc, etc., known as “the left" have taken us to task for opposing in public debate racialist parties like the National Front and Mosley’s Union Movement. And not only do they criticise us for this, but they have tried to prevent us doing it.

Most of their arguments for doing this can be traced back to the mistaken theory of fascism concocted by the Comintern in the 1930’s in order to further the foreign interests of state capitalist Russia. In 1935 the Russian government began to work through the League of Nations for an alliance with Britain and France against Germany, Italy and Japan. The role the overseas “communist” parties were to play was to win support of workers in Britain and France for an alliance with Russia. This, however, had to be justified in pseudo-Marxist terms. Hence the theory that fascism served the interests of the “most reactionary” sections of finance capital. This paved the way for an alliance with “less reactionary” capitalist parties (and States) against the fascists.

The singling out of the fascists for special opposition using methods (like breaking up meetings and threats of physical violence) not used against other capitalist parties is thus a left-over from the pre-war foreign policy of the rulers of state capitalist Russia. It amounts to a policy of compromise with capitalism. It encourages illusions about ‘‘the lesser evil”, thus pointing to a policy of support for one capitalist party against another.

1942 edition
The analysis of what fascism was and how to combat it made by the Socialist Party of Great Britain was naturally different from that of the Russian government:
  Fascism does not exist in the blue of the heavens: like every other social phenomenon, it is related to, and has its origin in, a social background. And that background is the democratic capitalism that “popular fronters” and other exponents of working class compromise with capitalism, wish to administer. That capitalism inevitably gives rise to working class problems has already been mentioned: but with equal inevitability it also gives rise to problems of a specifically capitalist nature, such as maintaining the profitability of production; securing new, and retaining old markets; the necessity of forging “national unity" when faced with war with rival capitalist groups, etc. And it is precisely in an attempt to solve these problems that the ruling class has recourse to Fascism. That these problems can be permanently solved is precluded by the nature of the capitalist system itself; but that will not prevent the capitalists from making the attempt where no other means will serve. Fascism, then, is a political form best adapted to meet the needs of certain contemporary capitalist states. 
   As long as the working class supports capitalism and capitalist policies, it will be tempted ultimately to give its support to that policy best calculated to meet the political and economic needs of capitalism—even though that policy may be fascist. 
  Democracy for the working class can only be consolidated and extended to the extent that the working class adopts a socialist standpoint. To renounce Socialism so that democracy may be defended, means ultimately the renunciation of both Socialism and democracy (Questions of the Day, 1942 edition).
The way to oppose fascism then was to continue to campaign for Socialism. To do otherwise, to abandon Socialist propaganda for mere anti-fascism, was dangerous for, as we pointed out, ‘‘provided the ‘fascist menace' is real, the formation of a bloc of non-socialist antifascists does not impede the advance of Fascism, but if anything, serves to expedite its progress".

Of course fascism is not a threat in Britain today, but if it were the policy of those who try to stop us putting up a socialist opposition to racialist and fascist parties would be helping it on. Besides, many of ‘‘the left” are themselves advocates and defenders of dictatorship ; they aim to seize power and set up a state capitalist dictatorship in Britain along the lines of those they support in Russia or China or Cuba or Yugoslavia or Algeria or Egypt, etc. etc. But even though they, like the fascists, are a threat to democracy we still say they should be allowed to express their obnoxious views and we are equally prepared to debate them as we are the National Front and the Union Movement.

Coronavirus crisis. When, if ever, will a vaccine be widely available? (2020)

From the World Socialist Party of the United States website

There would seem to be good prospects for safe and effective vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

First, numerous teams of scientists are working in parallel, applying diverse approaches to the problem. According to Dr. Stanley Plotkin, inventor of the rubella vaccine, [1] at least forty possible vaccines are already under development. Besides European and North American biotech companies, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese companies are now in the race. China alone is developing nine potential vaccines.

In addition, the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is funding several research efforts by non-commercial organizations. [2] Non-commercial projects are of special value, because they are not bound by the commercial secrecy that impedes cooperation among scientists working for different companies.

The Boston-based company Moderna has already begun a first-phase clinical trial of an RNA vaccine – a new type – on human subjects. [3]

Second, the evidence so far indicates that the virus is slow to mutate. Genetic differences among the strains that have emerged in different countries are slight. This greatly simplifies the task. Any vaccines developed to protect against the virus in its current forms will probably remain potent for a considerable period.  

Third, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is new but not completely new. It bears some similarity to other coronaviruses and especially to the SARS coronavirus of 2002—2003 (this is why it is labeled as SARS No. 2) and also to the MERS coronavirus of 2012—2014. This family resemblance to viruses that have already been studied facilitates the search for a vaccine. [4]  

Squandered advantage
However, much of the advantage that this family resemblance could have given was squandered when research into SARS and MERS was discontinued after the corresponding epidemics ended. In particular, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi and her team at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development developed early vaccines against SARS and MERS but in 2016 were unable to obtain funding to conduct clinical trials. Such trials that would have given a head start to current work on a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Researchers would already have some idea of how humans react to one class of possible vaccines against members of the SARS family of coronaviruses. [5]

Why then was ‘no one interested’ in funding trials of these vaccines? Presumably, funders saw little if any point in developing vaccines against viruses that had apparently disappeared and seemed unlikely to return. That attitude would have reflected not only a poor understanding of the science but also a narrowness of vision typical of a profit-driven society, in which decision makers see no palpable advantage in contributing to a broadly conceived research program. 

It is precisely such a program that we humans need in our present predicament. To quote another scientist [6]:   
  We need coordinated research, worldwide, on virus illnesses, to be prepared for the next mutation. It will be impossible to cover all possible variants, but we would be much closer to a new mutation than we are now.
This makes good sense. A socialist world community would do it that way. But is such a high degree of global coordination feasible in a world of competing producers and rival nation-states?

Delay, delay
The time needed from the start of research on a new vaccine until it is marketed is commonly estimated as 12—18 months, although many commentators say that it could easily take two years and some give an upper limit of three years or even longer. Dr. Plotkin recalls that ‘it took at least five years before a vaccine [for rubella] was on the market’ and adds: ‘We cannot afford to have that kind of delay in an emergency like this one.’ He urges companies to ‘go into superaction’ immediately, with a view to having a vaccine available in the event of a second wave of the pandemic next winter – that is, within about 8 months. 

One major reason why the process takes so long is the number and duration of the clinical trials required to get a vaccine licensed by regulatory agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration. The official purpose of licensing is to ensure the safety and efficacy of drugs and vaccines. In practice, the FDA was long ago ‘captured’ by the companies it is supposed to regulate, with most of the scientists who sit on its advisory committees dependent on those companies. [7] FDA decisions therefore tend to reflect the interests of the companies that have the most political clout at the time.  

Monopolization and extortion
Another recommendation made by Dr. Plotkin is that the FDA should license not one but several vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, ‘because if we need millions of doses a single manufacturer will not be able to make enough for the world.’ This too makes good sense. Or at least it would if production were carried on to satisfy human needs. However, we live under a global system in which production is for profit. 

How then does a company that develops and produces vaccines act in order to maximize its profit? It seeks to monopolize the market for a vaccine against a specific disease by ensuring that its vaccine – and its vaccine alone! – is licensed. Then it applies for a patent on its vaccine – another significant cause of delay. Monopolization sets the scene for extortion. The company sells its vaccine at an exorbitant price that makes it unaffordable to most of those who need it.   

How many times this has happened in the past! A few years ago, for instance, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, one of the committees that advises the British National Health Service, recommended that a new vaccine against Meningitis B manufactured by Novartis NOT be made available to all children in the UK, even though this terrible disease afflicts 1,870 people per year. It was ‘highly unlikely to be cost effective’ – in other words, it was too expensive.[8] And this in a country that for over seven decades now has had what ‘progressive’ Americans politicians call ‘Medicare for All’! Vaccines against the scourge of viral hepatitis are likewise too expensive for large-scale use. [9] 

Indeed, there has already been an attempt to monopolize a future SARS-CoV-2 vaccine – one that does not yet even exist. In mid-March, the German press reported that the Trump Administration was trying to secure exclusive rights to any vaccine created by the German pharmaceutical company CureVac. Research and development would then be moved to the United States and the vaccine made available only in the United States. [10]
Stephen Shenfield


 [1] Interviewed here.

 [2] As of March 21, six projects. See

 [4] See the article by researchers at La Jolla Institute for Immunology in the March 16 online issue of Cell, Host and Microbe.

[5] See here. For a detailed assessment and references to articles by members of the Bottazzi team, see comments by pharmaceutical engineer Christopher C. VanLang on the question-and-answer website  

 [6] Physicist Cees J.M. Lanting on the question-and-answer website

 [7] This includes scientists directly employed by companies, scientists working for them on contract, and the many university scientists who depend on corporate money to fund their research. In fact, there are so few genuinely independent scientists that the FDA would be unable to rely mainly on them even if its leading officials wished to do so. 

 [8] 10% of victims die, while many survivors become deaf or blind or have to have limbs amputated (The Independent, July 24, 2013; Daily Mail, August 24, 2013). 

 [9] Vaccines exist for types A and B of this disease. See here. For a discussion of the availability of vaccines in underdeveloped countries, see here.

 [10] The Washington Post, March 16. 

Principles of Socialism (1970)

From the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is a world-wide social system in which the means of production will belong in common to mankind and will be controlled by them for their own benefit. Production will be carried on solely to satisfy human needs. The wages system, buying and selling and money will disappear. In their place the principle "from each his best, to each his need” will operate.

Socialism can only be achieved by political means. At present the capitalists are able to keep their privileged position because they control political power. To free themselves from wage-slavery workers must therefore organise into a political party whose aim is to win political power and to use it to replace capitalism by Socialism.

Socialism can only be achieved by a socialist class. Until workers want and understand Socialism, it is impossible. Thus only conscious, majority, political action can achieve Socialism. Minority action, whether on the industrial or political fields, cannot. The way to political power lies through the ballot box. A socialist working class can use the vote to win power just as today they use it to hand over power to the capitalists. A Socialist party can have only one aim: Socialism. For a socialist party to seek support on the basis of a reform programme can only lead to compromise with capitalism.

To free themselves from wage-slavery workers need no leaders. Leaders only flourish on the ignorance of their followers. Once workers understand their interests and know that they want Socialism, they require no leaders. All they require is political organisation.

Trade unions arise out of the class struggle that goes on under capitalism between workers and capitalists. They will be necessary and useful as long as capitalism lasts. However trade unions have their limitations. They cannot be used to overthrow capitalism. Only conscious political action can do this.
There is no Socialism in Russia or China.

In these countries the workers are still exploited by a privileged minority through the wages system. Workers there have no trade union or political rights. The system in Russia and China is state capitalism, not Socialism. Government ownership of industries is not Socialism either. It too is state capitalism.

Socialists are opposed to all wars. Workers have no interest in fighting in wars since all wars are fought over the markets, trade routes and sources of raw materials of rival capitalist groups.

Socialists are opposed to nationalism. Workers have no country save on paper. Workers all over the world have a common interest in achieving Socialism. Nationalism is a device used to get workers to support their masters in peace and war.

Socialists are materialists and are opposed to religion which has always been a prop to class society.

Money for Biafra (1970)

From the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Amid the welter of publicity given to the amount and extent of the aid offered by various states to Nigeria, the information contained in the share prices quoted above has been overlooked by many people in the emotion-charged atmosphere generated by the mass media. All the aforementioned companies have large interests in and/or around the territory claimed by secessionist Biafra. It is worthwhile here to point out that if the economic advantages (mainly Oil) had not been situated where they were, there would have been no secession, leastways, not by the Igbo tribe.

As soon as markets opened after the formal surrender was announced, there was steady buying of these shares. This would seem to imply that concern for the situation in Nigeria is not solely based on humanitarian considerations. Which indeed it isn’t.

Before the outbreak of war, Nigeria was rapidly joining the top ten oil-producing countries. Up until the attempted secession, the total oil output of the country was 582,000 barrels per day (bpd) which brought in an annual income of £100,000,000. Last year, even with the war raging around them, the oil companies managed to extract 550,000 bpd, and experts calculated that this figure would have been half as much again (775,000) if production had not been disrupted by the fighting.

The oil in Nigeria has two great advantages over other oil supplies, which make it such a highly desirable commodity. Production is so situated as to be able to supply the whole of Western Europe and America, without the necessity of rounding the Cape of Good Hope the economic significance of which needs no explanation. The other great advantage lies in the chemical constitution of the oil. It is relatively free of sulphur, and is in great demand for its pollution-free qualities.

Now that the fighting had ceased, it is expected by oil production experts that within a short time, Nigeria will be producing 1,000,000 bpd, which will raise the country to the status of eighth position in the league of oil production. To facilitate the attainment of this status. Shell/ BP were granted safe access to their oilfields (by the federal authorities) in the spring of 1969 to implement a programme of repair and expansion, the cost of which was £52,000,000. Shell BP are expecting to boost their own production to 500,000 bpd shortly. This target will be achieved with the aid of an offshore tanker terminal. with the capacity to receive oil pumped direct from the oilfields at a rate of 350,000 bpd.

SAFRAP, the French state-firm, was producing 41,000 bpd prior to the outbreak of war, but it is extremely doubtful if they will be allowed to resume production after supporting the losing side.
J. T. S.

Where is Russia going? (1970)

Book Review from the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dilemmas of Change in Soviet Politics, ed. by Z. Brzezinski. (Columbia University Press. 27s.)

This book is a collection of articles on the future of Russia’s political system that first appeared in the American propaganda magazine Problems of Communism.

The American government has discovered an effective propaganda weapon in using what can loosely be called Marxist ideas to criticise Russian society. Not that any of the contributors to this book would call themselves Marxists, but the method they apply — basically an economic interpretation of politics—is one which Marx pioneered.

Though none of them use the term "state capitalism” (which is a little surprising), all of them realise that Russia is not a classless society but one where a privileged group rule over the mass of the people.

The basic premise which all the contributors seem to share is that, as one of them puts it, "a modern economy can mature only in some sort of democratic political system”. Russia’s political system of totalitarian one-party rule has, they argue, got out of line with its modernised industrial system. Sooner or later political change must come; the question is how? Will the ruling party be able to reform itself so that it becomes a forum for conflicting ideas and interest groups? Or will it be overthrown in a popular uprising or a military coup?

Making predictions about Russia’s future has always been risky, but one thing is certain: capitalism will continue there in one form or another until the workers organise to convert the means of production from the class monopoly of a privileged few into the common property of the whole community.
Adam Buick

Letter: Without conflict? (1970)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Comrades,

An article in the January Socialist Standard concludes: "Socialism . . .  will be a society . . . without conflict." I fear that may play into the hands of those who accuse us of planning to construct a "perfect society."

Though of course Socialism will eliminate economic and military conflict, the word "conflict" does have a broader usage. Socialism will not, for instance, abolish conflict of opinions, tastes or personalities.

Yours for Socialism,
D. R. Steele
(Birmingham Branch)

Pathfinders: Fully automated luxury . . . capitalism (2019)

The Pathfinders Column from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

This issue looks at some models of post-capitalist society that might sound futuristic – until you realise how fast capitalism is already moving. From extraction to manufacturing, distribution and retail, changes are taking place at a startling rate as industry, sensor technology and artificial intelligence converge in a process that’s become known as the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0.

Let’s start at the outlets, where people shop. That’s probably where you’ll have noticed a difference. If you’re still adjusting to the novelty of contactless card payments, you might not be quite ready for Asda’s new ‘Scan and Go’ hand scanners. You use these to scan barcodes yourself as you go along, automatically totting up your basket items and your spend and saving you time at the check-out queue. This is part of a huge global trend towards cashless and cashierless retail, but hand scanners are just the clunky overture to the main performance. Walmart and Microsoft are working on ‘Grab and Go’ stores similar to Amazon Go ‘Just walk out’ stores where you just pick up stuff and leave, the whole transaction worked out invisibly by a combination of tech that might include smartphone, QR codes, RFID tags, or (in China anyway) face recognition. One company is developing a ‘nanostore’, which is a container-sized walk-in 24/7 retail pod which unlocks when you flash your phone, uses shelf sensors to register what groceries you pick up, and automatically debits your account before locking up on exit, no doubt having invited you by name to have a nice evening and to call again soon.

Smart retail is still at an early stage, but the cost and time savings to business owners hardly need to be laboured. Amazon Go has plans to open 3,000 stores in the next few years, and sector investment has tripled since 2017. The convenience to consumers, however, is more nuanced. 24/7 accessibility sounds impressive, but not many people are likely to want to buy bread, socks or rawl-plugs at 4 am. Meanwhile, people who enjoy some human interaction in their day and don’t like to be railroaded won’t necessarily appreciate cashierless retail, which is essentially about the speed of throughput. Perhaps the appeal is more psychological. Smart retail emulates the socialist obliteration of the money transaction. It feels like it’s free, even though you know it isn’t. Perhaps in turn that helps you feel like you’re free, even though you know you aren’t. With a feel-good rush of dopamine and no price labels in sight, you’ll be keen to keep spending. You’ll be what capitalism wants you to be – a consumer junkie.

So what’s happening at the back-end, to supply the junkies with their junk? To begin with, the traditional capital and labour-intensive extractive industries are getting an AI makeover. Seismic surveying using delicate sensor equipment allows firms to zero in on likely deposits in a fraction of the time, cost and labour of older methods, while computerised drilling operations keep accuracy and efficiency optimal while increasing yield and reducing health and safety risks. Advances in robotics and autonomous ‘intelligent’ machines are widely expected to develop extraction methodology to planet-plundering perfection.

Meanwhile, the factory production line is being refitted for 5G as sensors are placed on every physical component to report on its condition and failure potential. The aggregation of this mass of data creates a ‘digital twin’ of the entire plant so that a human, or perhaps an AI, can oversee the entire production flow and anticipate weaknesses or failures before they even occur, maintaining throughput and cutting expensive downtime and service interventions. It can also run virtual tests and experiments on alternative process configurations without incurring real costs or risking damage. Where spare parts are needed they can often be 3D-printed on site or close by, further reducing costs. Smart manufacturing also involves engineering flexibility into the productive system to achieve ‘mass customisation’, i.e. goods personalised for the customer but at mass-production standards of cost and reliability.

At the same time, distribution is being revolutionised by autonomous road transport vehicles and also by ‘last-mile delivery’ technology which includes delivery robots, drones and even smart front doors, which open a panel to accept packages.

It goes without saying that none of this matters if you don’t have money to spend and you don’t constitute ‘effective demand’. But it does show how capitalism is using technology to engineer the inefficiencies (including the people) out of the productive process. It is fully automated luxury capitalism – driven by profit, of course, but entirely amenable to full-scale socialist adoption.

Meanwhile, what happens to the workers displaced by machines? According to the World Economic Forum, 50 per cent of workplace jobs will be done by machines by 2025, up from 29 per cent today. All the low-end, low-skilled jobs are disappearing, and future employability is likely to involve running faster and faster just to stand still. The WEF says that workers will on average need 101 days of retraining by 2022. Workers know which way the wind is blowing, and are desperate to get this training, even if it means paying for it themselves. A 2016 survey of 19,000 young workers across 25 countries showed that 95 per cent would be willing to pay for their own up-skilling. This must be music to the ears of bosses, of course.

To make money, capitalism panders to the needs and desires of the paying customer, ignoring as far as inhumanly possible various externalities including the needs and desires of the working employee. The paradox is at that customer and employee are frequently the same person. Thus the peculiar dualistic experience of modern workers, pampered at the weekend and punished in the week. The more stressed and desperate we become, the more we need our booze and bling and big TVs. We are locked in a cycle of abuse and excess, addicted to our luxury fixes and paying for them with poverty and slavery.

Technology is just a tool. We can let capitalism use it against us and in total disregard for the environment, or we can take it away from its elite owners and start using it democratically and sustainably across the world. We don’t have to fully automate socialism if we don’t want to, because too much leisure might become stultifying, but it’s good to know we have technological options.
Paddy Shannon

We Want The Bakery (2019)

From the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our approach to the European elections was the same as our approach to national elections, which is that we would take our seats if elected, but we would use it as a platform or tribune to advocate solely for socialism.

The limited freedom of movement that the EU has afforded some workers is one of the few benefits of EU membership for ordinary people; but let’s also remember that the EU is preventing freedom of movement elsewhere, effectively drowning refugees in the Mediterranean. The question of who ‘we’ (i.e. capitalists) will find to exploit if EU workers are not here is not our concern as socialists representing the working class. We want a world without any exploitation.

What exists today is a limited political democracy (although elections are massively subverted by donations and vested interests). But there’s no economic democracy: we must all work for an employer who will exploit us, or we will starve. And no democracy in distribution – 8 men have as much wealth as half the world’s population. So we need a truly democratic society where ordinary people control production and distribution.

We are a party with a fully democratic structure that reflects the kind of society we want – no leader, run by members, no personality cult.

We have no intention of trying to reform capitalism, an approach that cannot work. We don’t advocate a mere ‘reorganisation of poverty’. We live right now in a society of potential abundance. Therefore we don’t need a system of rationing, which is all that a money system is. We need to unlock the wealth that is being kept from us and use it to transform society.

We don’t want crumbs, we want the bakery.

Half the World (2019)

Book Review from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order by Bruno Maçães Penguin £9.99.

The boundary between Europe and Asia is not clearly marked, unlike those between other continents, so it is hardly surprising that people have long referred to a ‘supercontinent’ termed Eurasia. Nor is it surprising that a region which contains Japan, China, India, Russia and the European Union is likely to play a crucial strategic and economic role in future years. So the general point of this book, written by a former Portuguese politician, is not very original, but it does contain some interesting specific discussions, partly based on a six-month journey that Maçães took around parts of Eurasia in 2015–16.

Events in Ukraine have increased tensions between Russia and the West, leading Russia to closer ties with China, as an export market and a source of investment. Russia will supply natural gas to​ China for a period of thirty years, and the construction of the pipeline has begun. Rather than war being the continuation of politics, as Clausewitz claimed, now ‘Pipelines are the continuation of war by other means’.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative naturally receives a lot of attention here, but there are also references to potential problems. So India’s participation is in doubt, on the grounds of unsustainable debt burdens being created. Things have become more problematic recently, with India not attending the project’s summit meeting held this April, and many calling for less reliance on coal and less emphasis on China as the sole mover behind the Belt and Road. Yet it is also intended to expand the project, with plans in Russia and China for an ‘Ice Silk Road’ across the Arctic, which would give China an alternative sea route to Western Europe and the Atlantic.

Russia is the moving force behind the Eurasian Economic Union, formed in 2015, aimed at free trade and compatible regulations. Its other members are Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia (which, under Russian pressure, abandoned any intentions to join the European Union). As for India, it could become a considerable naval power, helping to defend massive infrastructure undertakings along the Indian Ocean coastline to facilitate trade between India and China.

On his trip round parts of Eurasia, Maçães visited Yiwu, a city two hours by train south from Shanghai. Traders come there from Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa to purchase Chinese goods. It is a big market for toys, among other things, with around 100,000 stalls in total, and has a direct train connection to Madrid. He talked to a Chinese woman and her Indian husband, who met at the market and now sell glass hardware; their daughter is ‘a product of Indian and Chinese collaboration’.
Paul Bennett

When Profit Is All (2019)

From the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Urban-Rural Imbalance?

Current global facts and figures on the urban-rural divide reveal disturbing numbers of people in both urban and rural locations living in desperate situations. The capitalist agenda is to profit from whatever scheme is dreamed up and implemented without regard for the externalities which, in this case, are people. There are plans being implemented around the world to remove millions of individuals from millions of acres of productive farmland, to empty the land of people in favour of huge agribusiness projects which can reap significant profits for corporations from mono-crops using vastly reduced labour numbers and, therefore, costs.

The typical plan is to move those uprooted into, or more often to the edge of, ever-expanding towns and cities as cheap labour. The plan may work well for the owners, the companies and their shareholders, but what of the disenfranchised, the millions uprooted and forced into unknown environments where they have no useful skills, how well does it work for them? They are being forced there ostensibly to work in construction, manufacturing and the service sector but it has become obvious that there is a huge insufficiency of employment available for the massive numbers and consequently millions of those displaced live in abject poverty.

This is exactly what the World Bank had directed India to do in 1996. It wanted India to move 400 million people from rural to urban areas by 2015. These are ‘agricultural refugees’ swarming into the cities looking for menial jobs. It is primarily through this decision that over the years, in addition to more or less static farm incomes, public sector investments in agriculture were also kept low, hovering between 0.3 to 0.5 percent of GDP during the period 2011 to 2017. Total investments, both public and private, have also been declining steadily – from 3.1 percent of GDP in 2011-12 to 2.2 percent in 2016-17. Compare this with the tax concessions being given to industry, which is in the region of 5 percent of GDP. Agriculture, which employs 50 percent of the country’s population, has simply been starved of public sector investments in order to achieve the desired results.

The Indian Congress has now admitted that direct income support is urgently required to lift the poorest of the poor from abject poverty, these poorest being a large proportion of small and marginal farmers. The Economic Survey 2016 revealed the average income of farming families in 17 states of India, approximately half the country, is about £220 per annum, less than £20 per month (for perspective this is similar to the amount granted to defence service employees and also to officers of the Supreme Court as their laundry allowance). For some international comparison, average domestic support per farmer, country by country: US $60,586, Canada $16,562, Japan $10,149, EU $6,762, China $863, Brazil $345, India $227.

With regard to India as one example, a quote from a British colonial administrator, Lord Metcalfe, in 1830, is illustrative: ‘Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down but the village community remains the same. It is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence’. His idea was that to control India the British would need to undermine this independence of the rural majority – which they did. And following independence India’s subsequent leaders continued on this path of control and subservience through several generations to the present. The current Prime Minister Modi has announced that India is one of the most ‘business friendly’ countries in the world (India is now in compliance with World Bank directives on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ and ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’). When we see terms like these we are looking at capitalist-framed initiatives and minimal research shows that both of these directives promote environment-destroying policies, have little regard for local populations, and are based on global free market principles.

Many environmentalists from around the world will be aware of the horrifying numbers of farmers’ deaths in India from suicide, something in the region of 400,000 over the recent 20 years – 20,000 every year. The most significant reason being overwhelming debt. And, in fact, the government declined to publish the number of deaths for the last two years.

In addition to the numbers of farmers being displaced, in April of this year international environmental organisations appealed to India’s Supreme Court and UN organisations to prevent forced evictions of millions of Indian’s forest dwellers from their traditional, ancestral lands.

Health or Wealth?

Farming worldwide has, especially in the last four decades, become more and more of a burden for individual farmers around the globe, who are always under pressure for reasons out of their control. Studies on the harm done to the environment and the contamination of water, earth and consequently food – are these to be ignored too because profit comes first?

As new studies continue to point to a direct link between the widely-used glyphosate herbicide and various forms of cancer, the agribusiness lobby fights relentlessly to ignore or discredit evidence of damage to humans and other entities. Bayer AG, which now owns Monsanto, is currently facing something in the order of 11,000 cases in US courts brought by individuals claiming serious health effects from exposure to the chemical glyphosate found in the herbicide Roundup. Several recent cases have found in favour of the plaintiffs who have been awarded millions and even billions of dollars in compensation.

In a long-term animal study several years ago by a French team headed by Eric Seralini it was demonstrated that even ultra-low levels of glyphosate herbicides cause non-alcoholic liver disease. The levels rats were exposed to, per kg of body weight, were far lower than what is allowed in the US food supply. According to the Mayo Clinic currently, after four decades or more of pervasive use of glyphosate, 100 million – one in three Americans – now have liver disease. These diagnoses are in some individuals as young as 8 years old.
“The jury saw for themselves internal company documents demonstrating that, from day one, Monsanto has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe,” an attorney for the couple, R. Brent Wisner, said in a statement sent to CBS News. “Instead of investing in sound science, they invested millions in attacking science that threatened their business agenda.” Source: CBS News link
While most attention is understandably drawn to the human effects of exposure to glyphosate, the most widely-used agriculture chemical in the world today, independent scientists are beginning to look at another alarming effect of the agrochemical– its effect on essential soil nutrients. In a study of the health of soils in the EU, the online journal found that the effects of spraying glyphosate on the major crops in European agriculture is having disastrous consequences on soil health.

Scientists at Austria’s University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna showed that casting activity of earthworms had nearly disappeared from the surface of farmland within three weeks of glyphosate application. Casting, being the process of worms pushing fertile soils to the surface as they burrow, is vital for healthy soil and plant nutrition. A study at Holland’s Wageningen University of topsoil samples from more than 300 soil sites across the EU found that 83 percent of the soils contained one or more pesticide residues. Evidence of soil experts is increasingly revealing clear links between the use of pesticides such as glyphosate and dramatic drops in soil fertility and the collapse of microbe systems essential to healthy soil. Worms are one of the most essential. It’s well-established that earthworms play a vital role in healthy soil nutrients. Soils lacking these are soils that deprive us of the essentials we need for healthy diets. This is a pandemic problem of soil depletion emerging globally over the past four decades, notably the same time frame that use of pesticides and herbicides has exploded worldwide. Earthworms are beneficial as they enhance soil nutrient cycling and enhance other beneficial soil micro-organisms, and the concentration of large quantities of nutrients easily assimilated by plants. In addition to its effects on earthworms it has also been established that glyphosate can kill specific fungi and bacteria that plants need to suck up nutrients.

While average yields of major grains such as rice, wheat and maize have more than doubled since 1960, the use of glyphosate-based herbicides has risen 15-20 fold. Glyphosate is the base chemical component for some 750 different brands of herbicide worldwide in addition to Monsanto-Bayer’s Roundup. Glyphosate residues have been found in tap water, orange juice, children’s urine, breast milk, snacks, beer, wine, cereals, eggs, oatmeal, wheat products, and most conventional foods tested. Since the Monsanto Roundup patent expired it is clear that regulatory bodies in the US, EU and China (which now produces more glyphosate than Monsanto) among others, are ignoring the various dangers which have been proved.

Capitalism’s Miseries

In January the Oakland Institute sounded the alarm on the latest attack by the World Bank on poor and indigenous people around the world. The World Bank’s Scheme to Privatize the Commons details how the Bank’s prescribed reforms, via a new land indicator in the Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) project, promotes large-scale land acquisitions and the expansion of agribusinesses in the developing world. This new indicator is now a key element of the larger EBA project, which dictates pro-business reforms that governments should conduct in the agricultural sector. Initiated as a pilot in 38 countries in 2017, the land indicator is expected to be expanded to 80 countries in 2019. The project is funded by US and UK governments and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The EBA’s main recommendations to governments include formalising private property rights, easing the sale and lease of land for commercial use, systematising the sale of public land by auction to the highest bidder, and improving procedures for expropriation. Countries are scored on how well they implement the Bank’s policy advice. The scores then help determine the volume of aid money and foreign investment they receive.

Amidst flaws detailed in the report is the Bank’s prescription to developing countries’ governments, particularly in Africa, to transfer public lands with ‘potential economic value’ to private, commercial use, so that the land can be put to its supposed ‘best use’. Claiming that low-income countries do not manage public land in an effective manner, the Bank pushes for the privatization of public land as the way forward. This ignores the fact that millions of rural poor live and work on these lands, which are essential for their livelihoods while representing ancestral assets with deep social and cultural significance. It also ignores the basic fact that these small farmers have more than fulfilled the needs of the population for generations and it is the principles of capitalism that is being upset by them.

French think tank Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) has shown that agro-ecological farming alone has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Europe by 47 per cent and thereby keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees. Another important factor revealed shows that a transition from intensive farming to agro-ecological farming will bring down pesticides consumption by 380,000 tonnes per year in Europe alone. What could that figure be globally?

Most climate mitigation studies point to more crop intensification which means a hyper-intensive farming system leading to more toxic soils, more water mining resulting in more empty aquifers, and more contamination of the food chain. This methodology was behind the launch of the ‘New Vision for Agriculture’ at the World Economic Forum 2009 aiming at increasing food production by 20 percent, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, and reducing rural poverty by 20 percent every decade. The list of companies ready to initiate the ‘New Vision for Agriculture’ clearly shows that this ‘new vision’ is simply another version of the ‘old vision’ – capitalist necessity for profit. Included in the list are Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and Yara International.

Chemical or Ecological?

The UN-sponsored TEEB initiative – The Economics of Ecosystems and  Biodiversity – for agriculture and food, has in its latest study warned of a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions emanating from farming practices, from cutting down forests to make land available for cultivation to food waste dumped in landfills, accounting for between 47 to 51 percent of global gas emissions. Contrary to the ‘New Vision for Agriculture’ the IDDRI study mentioned above addresses these problems with the aim of eliminating them.

Returning to India new studies investigating the relationship between intensive agriculture and organic farming with regard to climate change and crop yield have revealed some interesting truths, contrary to many earlier claims by transnational corporations. A major initiative was launched when village elders in Punnukula village in Khamam district of Andhra Pradesh came together more than 15 years ago to stop the use of chemical pesticides. This local initiative led to the introduction of Non-Pesticides Management (NPM) under the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) expanding to 3.6 million acres without the use of pesticides.

Following local enthusiasm and acceptance by the state, Andhra Pradesh launched Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) aiming to bring non-chemical agriculture to its nearly 6 million farmers by the end of the year 2024. Just one year after the introduction of Zero Budget Natural Farming a study by Azim Premji University showed that crop yields in fact had gone up from 11 to 79 percent – 11 percent in rice and the highest, 79 percent, in aubergine.

The challenges both facing and threatening the vast majority of the global population stem from the totally encompassing capitalist system. The questions to be asked are crucial for the well-being of the planet, from plankton to human. How shall we approach the challenges of global warming? Should populations be forced to move from their homes? Can we accept being poisoned by what we eat and drink? These and other issues all require answers. We have a single answer to them all – the solution is socialism.
Janet Surman