Saturday, May 9, 2020

Material World: Rare Earth Metals and the Not-So-Clean Energy Economy (2011)

The Material World Column from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The extraction, transport and burning of fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – are directly responsible for widespread environmental devastation. The struggle over control of these resources has also long been a major cause of international conflict.

But let’s look to the future. The shift to a “clean energy economy” based on solar, wind and other renewable power sources has finally begun. True, it is too slow and too late to avert some disasters arising from climate change. All the same, surely there is reason to hope that renewable energy will eventually bring us relief from war and pollution?      

Not necessarily. Sun, wind and tides are hardly in short supply, but there are certain areas where conditions are best for harnessing their power. It is conceivable that conflict will arise over control of these areas.

Rare earths
A more immediate issue concerns some of the material resources required to generate renewable energy and produce machines that run on such energy. In particular, our masters are currently very worried about ensuring adequate and stable supplies of the 17 elements known as “rare earth metals”. Due to their special properties, these metals have numerous crucial uses in high-tech industrial, medical, scientific, military and computer equipment. Their “clean energy” applications include the manufacture of magnets for wind turbines, energy-efficient fluorescent lamps, and batteries for hybrid and electric cars.

The metallic elements themselves are not all that rare in the planet’s crust, but they are highly dispersed. It is the soils (earths) containing concentrated mineral ores that are relatively rare, though they have been found in several parts of the world, such as South Africa, India, Vietnam, Australia and North America. Currently, however, China has a near-monopoly on the extraction of rare earth metals, controlling about 95 percent of global supply – and for certain elements over 99 percent.

Potential for conflict
In September 2010, China suspended exports of rare earth metals to Japan after a Chinese trawler fishing in disputed waters in the East China Sea collided with Japanese Coast Guard vessels and its captain was detained. He was soon released and exports resumed. The incident prompted hack Paul Krugman to castigate China as a dangerous and irresponsible “rogue economic superpower” (New York Times, Oct. 17).

More significant is the long-term trend for China to place increasingly strict limits on exports of rare earth metals to all countries. In 2009 it became known that the Chinese government was planning to ban exports of five especially rare elements altogether. Under strong pressure from Western governments and corporations, the ban was replaced by annual quotas.

Despite the accusations that China is exploiting its near-monopoly to bully other countries, its main reason for restricting exports is probably a desire to give priority to satisfying rapidly rising domestic demand, fuelled by China’s own technological development. The US and other countries have responded to the situation by urgently exploring and developing alternative sources of supply. Nevertheless, there is clearly a growing potential here for international conflict (whether involving China or not), especially as the shift to the “clean energy economy” gathers pace.

Toxic sludge
The mining and processing of rare earths is an extremely dirty process. Refining them to extract pure metals requires the use of toxic acids. Ores are often radioactive due to the presence of uranium and thorium. The disposal of toxic waste is an enormous problem.  

Almost half (45 percent) of the current world output of rare earth metals comes from a mine in the town of Baotou Obo, part of the larger mining district of Baotou in Inner Mongolia. Baotou is right on the Yellow River, on which much of North China depends for water. The Baotou section of the river is already contaminated with copper, lead, zinc and cadmium (Fan Qingyun et al., Chemical Speciation and Bioavailability, June 2008).

The waste from the rare earth metal mine in Baotou Obo – a radioactive sludge laced with toxic compounds – is pumped into a reservoir (10 square kilometers in area) surrounded by an earthen embankment. If (when?) there is an accident similar to what happened in October 2010 in Hungary, where another reservoir of toxic sludge burst its banks, this mass of poisonous goo will engulf local residents and pour into the Yellow River, further enriching its chemical composition.

Not so clean
On close examination, therefore, the “clean energy economy” turns out to be not so clean after all. Renewable energy may still be a big improvement on fossil fuels, but in itself it will solve neither the problem of war nor that of environmental devastation.

What will be the policy of socialist society regarding the use of rare earth metals? What will be done with the waste? Or will people somehow manage without these substances?

Socialism will mitigate the problem in a number of ways. Less material will be required because there will be no built-in obsolescence: equipment will be made to last for very long periods. And, of course, there will be no production of military equipment. Without the imperative to maximise profits, much higher priority can be given to protecting the environment.

Yet mitigating a problem is not the same as solving it. What if the supply of a certain material is essential to the satisfaction of human needs, but no technical means can be found of extracting it without serious harm to the environment? Even the people of socialist society are likely to find themselves facing hard choices.

Profiting from ill-health (2011)

From the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
The coalition government’s plan to allow more profit-seeking enterprises to provide health care has stirred up controversy and opposition. But despite the NHS huge profits have long been made out of health provision.
In 2002 it was estimated that the joint profits of $35.9 billion amassed by the ten pharmaceutical companies that featured in the Fortune 500 were $2.2 billion more than the profits of all the other 490 businesses put together. So there’s plenty of money in drug-dealing. Here’s what some of the top dealers pocketed in earnings in 2007 (source FiercePharma):

1. Miles White – Abbott – $33.4m
2. Fred Hassan – Schering-Plough – $30.1m
3. Bill Weldon – Johnson & Johnson – $25.1m
4. Bob Essner – Wyeth – $24.1m
5. Robert Parkinson – Baxter – $17.6m

The sale of drugs has a relatively short history when it’s compared to our own history. For tens of thousands of years we experimented with the raw materials that are freely found in nature and form the basis of the modern day pharmaceutical industry. It is recorded that pharmacists in Baghdad opened the first pharmacy in 754. This spread throughout the Islamic world and into feudal Europe. As capitalism developed out of feudalism so too did the health business. By the early 20th century the strong had been gradually eradicating the weak leaving the nucleus of today’s most powerful pharmaceutical companies.

The mass production of drugs arose from the discovery of insulin in the 1920s and later of penicillin. Wealth, through surplus value, was accumulating in to the hands of the capitalists who owned and controlled these companies. Trade was well on its way to becoming global, and capitalists in Europe and North America must have realised that they had found their own gold mines.

The minor companies that entered the market were continuously swallowed by the major ones via mutually beneficial partnerships, corporate buyouts, mergers and takeovers. The City as ever eased the way, greasing its own palm in the process, so that the global manufacture of drugs is now dominated by a handful of cartels.

IMS Health (7 September 2009) estimates that the value of the global pharmaceutical market in 2010 is expected to exceed $825 billion, and is expected to expand to $975+ billion by 2013. Capitalism’s drug dealers will salivate in anticipation. Only the naive and the ideologically handicapped believe that trade under capitalism is not synonymous with corruption. Once money enters into any transaction, principles, no matter how well-meaning, get undermined. And the drug trade is no exception.

Theft: Israeli bio-technology company Nogdan Immunochemicals Ltd patented a technology that can almost immediately detect any current disease and forecast the probability of disease in the future. The sharks circled Nogdan in September 1995, through the agency of Biosite and Epimmune. And, with the active complicity of an Israeli attorney and two leading academics, conspired to steal the patent. They went on to sign deals with the top drug cartels such as Monsanto, Novartis, Merck and Co., Searle GD, Elan, Pharmacia, Human Genome Sciences, IDM, and others, for the use of the patent. Billions of dollars in profits have already been generated by these companies. And it has been estimated that over the next ten years hundreds of billions of dollars more will be added to their balance sheets (

Bribery: Remember the scare stories that flooded the media in 2008/09 about H1N1; a global flu influenza. A report published by the British Medical Journal, reveals the hidden links that made the World Health Organisation [WHO] declare H1N1 a pandemic. The result was billions of dollars in profits for vaccine manufacturers. “Several key advisors who urged the WHO to declare a pandemic received direct financial compensation from the very same vaccine manufacturers who received a windfall of profits from the pandemic announcement… All the kickbacks were swept under the table” …the “ WHO somehow didn’t think it was important to let the world know that it was receiving policy advice from individuals who stood to make millions of dollars when a pandemic was declared” (

Murder: “During the meningitis epidemic in Niger in 1995, over 50,000 people were inoculated with fake vaccines, received as a gift from a country which thought they were safe. The exercise resulted in 2,500 deaths. Of the one million deaths that occur from malaria annually, as many as 200,000 would be avoidable if the medicines available were effective, of good quality and used correctly” (WHO, 2003 FS 275).

On 9 March 1983, a Peter Lumley, spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), was pleased to inform Guardian readers “that drug companies now average a 22 per cent rate of return from the NHS”. Twenty plus years later that figure has hardly fluctuated. Between 1988 and 2008 according to; Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community, England: Statistics for 1998 to 2008. Prescription items increased by almost two thirds. In 1998, the net ingredient cost of all prescriptions dispensed was £4,701.5 million. In 2008 The net ingredient cost of all prescriptions dispensed was £8,325.5 million.

Unsurprisingly, Daily Telegraph readers discovered in 2004 that “The Royal College of General Practitioners has accused drug companies of ‘disease-mongering’ in order to boost sales… says the pharmaceutical industry is taking the National Health Service to the brink of collapse by encouraging unnecessary prescribing of costly drugs  . . . The college lists hypertension, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression as examples of common conditions that, in mild forms, are often inappropriately treated with drugs” (29 August 2004).

Conflicts emerged when Richard Ley, a spokesman for the ABPI, said: “It seems odd for this criticism to come from the Royal College of all organisations, because a decision on when and how to treat a patient is the doctor’s.” And the conflict continues according to the same article: “Some observers are also worried about “hard-sell” methods applied to general practice. Last year, a survey of 1,000 GPs published in the British Medical Journal found that those who saw drugs-company representatives at least once a week were more likely to prescribe drugs that were not needed.”

Then there’s the Observer (29 June 2003) quoting Glasgow GP Des Spence who “had started an advisory post, which meant he influenced prescribing practices for half a dozen local practices, when he started receiving invitations to meetings abroad, ‘endless’ lunches and dinners and offers of substantial fees for lectures and chairmanships – and felt he was finally getting the recognition he deserved. That is until his wife made him realise that he was ‘just being used and manipulated by big pharma, that it was the patients they were interested in, not me’.” He underlined this by claiming that “GPs who see drug reps at least once a week are more likely to prescribe drugs for conditions that will probably clear up on their own”.

Even if your GP has the best of intentions and closes the surgery door to the drug rep (pusher) the drug cartels still influence events, the Observer reported, because: “around half of postgraduate education for doctors is funded by industry. And around two-thirds of clinical trials in Britain are funded by the pharmaceutical Industry. A new study shows that such research is four times more likely to be biased in favour of the product belonging to the sponsors than independent studies . . . Equally worrying, medical experts featured in press coverage of the latest pharmaceutical breakthrough or disaster could well have been ‘recruited and trained as opinion leaders to speak on behalf of the sponsoring company.’ says the BMJ.”

The state has devised new roles for doctors in line with their ideological aims. In March last year Yvette Cooper, then Work and Pensions Secretary under the Labour government, notified us that more than 500 doctors are to be mobilised to assess whether the 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit are capable of work. That’s 500 doctors removed from the work that they swore by the Hippocratic oath to undertake. And later in the year that the Coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill will allow doctors to take control of a huge slice of the NHS health budget in England, which for 2010-11 is forecast to be just under £110bn. A bait that will have the drug cartels smiling confidently. Or perhaps it is being too cynical to ask a couple of pertinent questions as Michele Bohan did in evidence to a parliamentary committee in February 2011:
  “Why is £80 billion pounds of public money to be handed over to GPs with no experience of commissioning health services and why are GP’s to be awarded cash bonuses for running the consortia?”
  “How are we to prevent unscrupulous companies like United Healthcare (an American firm bidding to run services here) – which has been fined millions of pounds over a number of years for defrauding the American healthcare system doing the same thing here in the UK? Their offences involved ‘cheating patients out of money‘, ‘denying treatment’ and ‘overcharging’”. (LINK)
Good questions Michele, but don’t expect a lucid answer.

Here’s a tip for survival under capitalism borne out of experience: don’t get ill. Unemployment is one quick way to penury. But getting ill compounds that situation. In 1989 Dr Iona Heath, a North London GP drew attention to capitalism’s ultimate answer to the problem of ill-health: “How can we escape the logical conclusion of the market-place that for the elderly and the chronically sick the most economic solution is death.” (quoted Socialist Standard, January 1990).

So would healthcare be any different if socialism were established? Yes it would. Why? Because from day one money would disappear. And that means the market would cease to exist. Take one or two minutes out and just think how the non-existence of wages, profits and budgets would change the present situation. Then think about the end of the hierarchies that dominate healthcare at present. No more capitalist ponces, and no more layers of useless bureaucrats skimming their share of the kitty.     
Instead healthcare would be conceived and administered, democratically by us, the people who brought socialism about. Globally, doctors, nurses, scientists and everyone at present involved in healthcare at the human level would act as guides. Informing people as to where healthcare is capable of going once the artificial barriers of money had been eliminated. It’s up to you. Use your imagination and join us. Or sit back on your sofa and hope that you don’t get ill.
Andy Matthews

Production Values: the laptop (2011)

The Production Values Column from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
A sideways glance at capitalism through some of its products.  This month: the laptop. 
One of the more vociferous cheerleaders for capitalism and the wonders of the market system (though he seems to have been a bit quieter on that score in recent years) is Thomas L Friedman. Most famously he is the author of the spurious Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention. This is the theory that no countries which both have a branch of McDonalds have been at war. (That this unlikely theory has – on numerous occasions – in fact been found to be false does not seem to have caused him to review the theory).

In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman exalted in the very piece of equipment he was typing his book on. His laptop then, was held up as the epitome of all that is wonderful about capitalism. After all, it comprised hundreds of different parts and sub-components – themselves the product of highly complex production processes and resources from five continents – all magically transported around the world and assembled together in a dozen countries before finally pitching up at his local store when he went to buy it to write his latest masterpiece.

The laptop I am writing on however is no less amazing. While opposed to capitalism, we socialists shouldn’t be afraid of acknowledging how massively complex, sophisticated and impressive is global production and distribution inside capitalism. Indeed it is thanks to the increase in the productive forces of capitalism that we can even consider socialism and production for use to be a practicable next step is human social organisation.

Many ideological defenders of capitalism (and not just Friedman) extol the wonders of the market system as it (apparently) enables all the right bits and pieces to be brought together with just the right timing, to be assembled and placed onto the store shelves. Indeed many members of the working class – who otherwise may have no real enthusiasm for capitalism itself – can feel daunted by the argument of socialists that we should do away with the market system as a means for matching supply with demand.

Of course this fear is to a large part a consequence of the great big convenient untruth that has underpinned debates about capitalism and socialism for almost a century now: specifically that the centralised planning of the Soviet Union is the only alternative to the market system, and somehow has something to do with socialism.

In fact, World Socialists have no time for central committees or 5-year plans. We are opposed to the market system whether it is supposedly “free” or restricted, and whether it is regulated or not. In many ways socialism will be far more responsive to real human needs and genuine preferences. Production decision-making inside socialism – both qualitative (ie how will this be produced?) and quantitative (how much?) – will be far less centralised than the soviet version of capitalism and arguably even “western” capitalism.

We would argue that we can retain much of the (apparently) chaotic, networked decentralised production decisions that are present within capitalism. We should not be daunted by the complexities of industrial production. We can do away with the overarching profit logic of the market, and at the same time have confidence that individual human beings will still express their self-defined needs by going to the local store and taking what they want without the rationing system of money and price. And thereby they – not some planning committee – will enable the dauntingly complex production arrangements that end up in the laptop I am writing this on. Rather than a tribute to the mysterious work of some “invisible hand”, the laptop – like so many products – is a testament to the ingenuity of real, co-operative human hands.

Next month: we shine a light on the crazy world of diamonds

Putting the Heart into a Heartless World (2011)

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

Socialists understand why people accept religious ideas. What can be hard to understand though is the irrationality of some of the beliefs, or what they will do to back them up.

The idea of sin for example. As far as Christianity is concerned we are all sinners. By design. We’re born with it, whether we want it or not. We were created, apparently, by a god who wants us to be good, yet programmes us with ‘original sin’ at birth.  It’s all to do with Adam and Eve eating that apple in the Garden of Eden.

(But if god is all-knowing he must have known that Eve was going to eat the bloody apple – even before he created her. Why didn’t he create her with a bit more will-power?)

When it comes to wacky irrationality though, few are more irrational than Terry Jones in Florida. Jones is the Christian pastor, you remember, who put a Koran on trial in his church. After an eight minute hearing he found it guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to be executed – by being burnt. He has announced his plans to put the prophet Mohammed (who died in 632 AD) on trial next.

The outcome of this (at the time of writing) was that after 2 days of rioting in Afghanistan by Moslems who, in protest of Jones antics, decided to take revenge on Westerners, more than 20 innocent people have been killed (2 by beheading) and numerous more injured. Hopefully the Christian and the Islamic gods will be satisfied with the blood sacrifices made to them so far.

On a happier note it’s recently been announced that a thorn from Jesus Christ’s crown held at Stoneyhurst College (a Jesuit Boarding school in Lancashire) whose previous owners include King Louis IX of France and Mary Queen of Scots is to be displayed at the British Museum.

We know it’s a genuine thorn because according to the Catholic Encyclopaedia “two holy thorns are at present venerated, the one at St. Michaels Church in Ghent, the other at Stonyhurst College both professing, upon what seems quite satisfactory evidence, to be the thorn given by Mary Queen of Scots to Thomas Percy Earl of Northumberland”.

“Quite satisfactory evidence” you see. You can’t argue with that.

The thorn from Stoneyhurst College, which is displayed in its own casket, comes complete with a string of pearls (also once owned by Mary Queen of Scots) entwined around it – well you understand, it’s not just any old thorn –  will be on display at the British Museum from 23 June until 9 October.

If you are unable to get there you may like to console yourself by taking advantage of The Socialist Party’s special offer.  Anyone taking out a subscription to the Socialist Standard this month will be entitled to a free whisker from Karl Marx’s beard. Like the Catholics and their thorn, we “profess upon what seems quite satisfactory evidence” that our supply of Charlie’s whiskers are genuine.

Crisis? What crisis? (2011)

From the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is no crisis. That deserves to be said twice. There is no crisis. What happened in Japan was a crisis. Haiti was a crisis. What we have is a failure of mathematics – the mathematics of greed.

We as a society have never been so productive, and we have never had such wealth available to us, as we have today. Our ability to produce has grown faster even than is needed to provide for longer and happier lives.

Think what has supposedly caused this crisis. Too much was produced. In particular, too many houses were produced for poor Americans. We had not yet produced enough for our whole community, but we were doing well – all too well.

What happened? Building workers were stopped from building. People living in good houses were thrown out of them, and the houses left to become derelict. Across the world, workers who were producing wealth for their communities were stopped from doing so, by being thrown out of work; and then we were all forced to live on less.

Why would something so crazy happen? Because production is not for use, it is for a profit. No work is allowed to take place, no houses can be lived in, no food and drink can be consumed, before first one person makes a profit out of another person’s work. The basic matter of producing wealth and consuming it is interrupted until first those who claim to own what we all have made in the past, can profit from what we all make now. We are bought and sold: but whereas once we were bought and sold for a lifetime, now it is by the hour.

As workers we all, if we are lucky, have enough to live on, to tide us over when we are ill or unemployed, and to provide some care for when we can no longer work. That is all. Some are more comfortable; some live on far less, or are crushed by debt. And this brings us to the point: indebtedness. What we produce as a community is taken from us and held by a few. Since we do not own the means to support ourselves, we have to work for these people, in effect paying off the loan of the very things that we and our forebears made. We are like indentured workers, who contract a large debt and are left paying it off for years, decades, except in our case it is our entire lives.

As for students – students are getting indentured servitude for real. Many will retire before ever paying off their debts incurred before even starting work. Slave-owners across the ages would applaud such an ingenious scheme.

The answer to this is twofold. Firstly, as trade unionists, we must resist any attempt to make their problem, our problem. We are able to produce quite handily for ourselves; if the equations of capitalism – the trade in our lives – no longer make sense, then that is a matter for the economists. Our demand here remains a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work – that means at the very minimum the maintenance of pensions as they stand and yearly increases in wages at a minimum in line with RPI – along with compensation for the years of restraint that we have had. At all levels, the workplace, the national negotiating bodies, even government, we should turn round and say that we are producing very well, thank you very much, there is no real crisis, and they should put their house in order at their own expense, not ours.

Secondly, we should take this as an object lesson. There is no fairness here, only the war of a small group of people against the entire community to control all of its wealth and keep us poor unless we do as we are told and hand over the large part of what we produce to them for their own entertainment and to keep us further indebted in the future. It is not a government that needs to be overthrown; it is a new and refined system of slavery, where we are bought and sold by the hour because of the fact that we do not own the things we produce.

All of this will happen again, and again, and again: debt is to us what shackles are to the slave. Capitalism must be abolished, in order for us to do the simplest of things which is to produce and consume in our communities, free from fear and free from exploitation. The equations that hold us in thrall must be overthrown in our minds, and then we must overthrow those who keep us in those mental chains. That doesn’t just mean a new capitalist government, no matter how well-intentioned: it’s not ‘a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’. It’s the abolition of the wages system, not in the future, but now; we already produce more than the capitalists can handle, and we can do far more for ourselves. They need us. We don’t need them.

What is capitalism? (2011)

From the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some people associate capitalism just with the sort of financial wheeling and dealing that goes on in places like Wall Street and the City of London. Others – supporters as well as critics – see it as private enterprise and a so-called free market as markets free from state interference and regulation. In fact, this is probably the most widespread definition of capitalism.

The trouble with this definition is that it means that capitalism has never existed or has only existed as a policy or policy objective (ironically, to be implemented by the state). But markets have never existed without state intervention.  Capitalism finally triumphed only through state intervention and is maintained by this. Capitalism and the state go together, they are not opposites.

Capitalism is more than financial dealings, a government policy or private enterprise or legal private ownership or private enterprise. It’s a way of producing and distributing wealth which has two key, defining features.

First, that the actual production of wealth is carried out by people hired to do this for a wage or a salary. Capitalism is production by wage-labour. (Which already presupposes a division of society into those who own and control the means of production and the rest of us who don’t.) Another name for capitalism is that it’s the wages system.

Second, capitalism is not just a system of production for sale on a market. It is a system of sale on a market with a view to profit. It’s the profit system.

Capitalism is the wages-and-profits system.

It’s the pursuit of profits by separate competing enterprises that drives the capitalist economy, but this is not just to provide the owning class with a privileged lifestyle. Not even mainly. The economic forces unleashed by the competitive struggle for profits mean that, if they are to stay in the race for profits, capitalist enterprises must invest most of their profits in new, more up-to-date and modern productive equipment so as to try to keep their costs equal to or below those of their rivals.

So, most profits have to be accumulated as more capital. This is why capitalism was originally called capitalism. It’s a system of capital accumulation out of profits made by exploiting wage-labour, an impersonal economic mechanism that in the end is not controlled by anyone (not even capitalists) and is in fact uncontrollable.

Jottings. (1921)

The Jottings Column from the June 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Thames Police Court magistrate believes that the unemployment dole is destroying the morals of the working section of the community. In charging a man for being drunk on the dole, he described it as a scandal and an outrage, and was astonished that decent industrial people (there are such, then !) should permit it to go on. "Really, I wonder that anyone works at all." Apart from the silliness of the remark (since someone must work before doles can be paid) he apparently conveniently forgets that there is, at any rate, one section which does not believe in working—never did and never will—the members of which are maintained on the doles (large ones, too!) they succeed in squeezing out of those who do work, and whose right to appropriate and misuse is not questioned outside the Socialist movement. That same class employs magistrates and others to interpret so-called justice in their own interests. They are the real unemployed.

*       *      *

Mr. Havelock Wilson told a meeting of seamen at Hull the other day that nationalisation was the surest way to slavery. The surest way is to accept without complaint the conditions imposed upon us by another class holding the reins of power and at the same time support the existence of such conditions by voting this class into power, generally with the approval and assistance of "leaders" such as Havelock Wilson.

That condition has long since been reached. We are in the throes of slavery now, not on the way to it, as Mr. Wilson suggests.
"In all big questions it was the duty of the leaders of trade unions to consult the members before taking action. If they did not do so and the workmen submitted to degrading and abominable dictation they deserved to be slaves."
This sounds brave, but coming from Wilson we can estimate its value at once, and that is— nothing. Has not he himself posed as a leader ready to lead the workers anywhere but on the right track? And where is there a greater would-be dictator if anybody took any notice of him? He did not hesitate to support that nationalised institution known as the British Army when it suited his purposes to do so, in spite of the "degrading and abominable dictation" attached to it. All along he has definitely supported the master class, therefore the workers can have no use for him. They can emancipate themselves without the assistance of leaders, and when they have reached a period of full enlightenment due to the spreading of a knowledge of what Socialism is, they will act upon that knowledge and leave the would-be leaders where they belong—in the discard.

 *       *      *

If what Judge Rutherford of New York says comes true, there will apparently soon be no need for Socialism. According to the learned gentleman it seems that in 1925 the world will undergo a complete transformation. No one need die unless he chooses ; there will be no necessity to work, no hunger, no poverty, no unhappiness. Bald men will grow new hair ; toothless gums will be filled with new teeth, and men and women will renew their youth and for ever become beautiful. And all because of a perfect food which will be discovered, and which will nourish and sustain everybody for ever. Altogether it will be a glorious condition of existence due to a process which will be revealed in due course by the Lord—if he does not forget.

*       *      *

After reading the above it occured to me that an item like this ought to command the attention of those members of the House of Commons such as J. H. Thomas, John Hodge, Henderson and Roberts, who have just attached their names to a memorial, along with about a hundred other anti-Socialists, urging the Minister of Health to publish and distribute leaflets "which would spread information about healthy, nutritious and economical foods" for the working class. No doubt Judge Rutherford, who appears to be in touch with the old gentleman who usually gets the blame for creating this ball of misery and madness, would gladly supply them with details in advance which would help to solve their difficulties.

*       *      *

Overheard in the workmen's tram the other morning:
  Is this a free country ?—Undoubtedly.—Who says so?—Those who own it.—Who is it free to ?—Those who own it.—How about the workers?—Being slaves, they only count as such.—Have they no rights?—None whatever.—Not even the right to work ?—Not even that. —How came one class to have all the rights?—The workers made them a present of them and re-affirm it at every General Election.—Then they are in chains !—Absolutely.—Well, then, haven't I the right to get up and say so ?—You have not.—Not even to speak the truth ?—Not even to speak the truth. A man got fined the other day for getting up in Hyde Park and speaking what he declared was the truth.— Then what can be done—Nothing but keep pegging away at them with Socialist knowledge. It is the only instrument that will knock off the chains and shift the rights from one side to the other.
Tom Sala

Communist Consistency. (1921)

From the June 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘The Communist, April 20th, 1921:
  (Page 2.) “ . . . let us also emphasise the fact that those who come into the real working-class International must come prepared to concentrate on industrial organisation and the freeing of the workers, leaving political and social questions to fall into their proper place for attention after the Revolution.” 
  (Page 3.) “The Communist Party . . . will conduct an unflinching campaign against the power of capitalism; and relentlessly strive by industrial organisation, agitation, and revolutionary political and parliamentary action to urge the working class on towards revolution.”
Same paper, same date:
Report of Chairman’s address to Manchester Conference.
  “ . . . the chairman stated the attitude of the Party to be in opposition to all other Labour organisations.”
This is the same Communist Party which applied for and was refused permission to affiliate to the National Labour Party. It still allows its branches to affiliate locally, has members on Borough Councils who were elected as Labour men and are still members of local Labour parties and has taken joint electorial action with these bodies.

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This “party of the workers” proposes to teach “the smallholders and farmers  . . . that the Revolution comes as their friend and to relieve them of the unendurable burden of landlordism.” It considers that “the mischievous land nationalisation policy of the (agricultural) unions must be fought and overcome in favour of a policy of socialisation without compensation” (Agrarian Question, p. 7.) It also supports the nationalisation of the mines.” (Communist, 2nd April, 1921.)

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The “Marxist” Communist Party on wages

The Workers’ Dreadnought’, 19th March:
“A Marxian American gives his viewpoint.”
“If too great a proportion of the workers are employed, the effect is to temporarily bring about a crisis of unemployment. Wages continue to rise until they actually catch up with or pass the increases in the cost of living . . . As soon as the increasing wages seriously reduce or threaten to destroy his (the employer’s) profits he closes down his plant.”
The Communist’, 19th February:
  “For generations the trade unions have been attempting to improve the status of their members by increased money wages. This has proved futile. Every nominal increase conceded to-day is filched back to-morrow by an even greater advance in the cost of living.”
Asked if this meant that the Communist Party accepted the view that “employers can at will raise the price of their goods to the buyer,” Mr. Francis Meynell, Editor of the Communist, replied (28th February:
  “Because we say that every nominal increase conceded to-day is filched back to-morrow by an even greater advance in the cost of living we do not mean, as we do not say, that this must be so. If the selfishness of the Capitalist class could be destroyed, or that class destroyed itself, probably an easier task, one could happen without the other.”
So now we know all about it.

The capitalist, being selfish, can put up his prices and to whatever extent he chooses, so presumably he doesn’t mind giving increased wages. He also resists increases until he can no longer do so and then closes down. Also in the Communist Millennium, supposing the capitalists have been rendered unselfish, we shall be able to get higher wages without higher prices, but should they be obdurate they will be destroyed and replaced, I suppose, by unselfish Communists.

The real gem of the reply is the concluding paragraph, which refers the enquirer to Wage-Labour and Capital and Value, Price and Profit for further information !

When this interesting correspondence was followed up Mr. Meynell wrote this (March 16th):
  “I was foolish enough to think that your first letter was a genuine enquiry out of a desire for information. As it was no more than a trap for my time and temper, I refuse to put either of them any more at your disposal.”
If Mr. Meynell ever does change his mind and decide to answer will he please tell me too if bad tempers, like “selfishness,” will debar entrance to the promised land.
Edgar Hardcastle

To All Exploited. (1921)

From the June 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard
  We have received from an Austrian Comrade the following ‘Call to the Workers of Austria’ issued by the Austrian Communist Party. It will be observed that it is in marked contrast to the utterances of the British Communists – eds.
On the 24th April you will choose your representatives for the Provisional Parliament. The Conservatives and the Nationalists are appealing for your votes – parties which, under the cloak of Christianity and Nationalism, are working for the moneybags of the industrial magnates, the landlords and the big estate proprietors.

You, the exploited, are the overwhelming majority. And yet the exploiters have the power and dominate you ! Wherein lies their power ?

It is rooted in their ownership of the greater part of the land, of the forests, the mines, the factories, the railroads – in one word, in their ownership of the means of life.

It is maintained through their control of and command over the armed forces, the police, the gendarmes, the Courts, and the whole coercive machinery, with which they keep you down.

It is rooted in their ability – thanks to their command over Church and School, Press and Platform – to stupefy you.

It is rooted, finally, in your allowing yourselves to be befogged and mocked by their sham democracy.

They have given you the right to vote, but the right to the sources of wealth, the right to the mines, to the factories, to the great estates, to the forests, they keep for themselves.

Yours the voting power; theirs the wealth, the profits; such is their democracy – a democracy of exploiters !

Never will the exploiters willingly renounce their mines, their factories, their large estates, and their forests !

Never will they voluntarily decide on such a renunciation !

Never will they peaceably acquiesce in such a measure and reform !

Every law made in that Parliament is destined to serve the interests of the exploiters only ! To you they throw a few bones, some crumbs, in order to hide their policy of roguery.

And the Social Democrats ?  They demand from them somewhat bigger – crumbs; they praise Socialism to you in fine phrase, but the mines, the factories, the large estates – they leave to the bloodsuckers ! Take an example.

Your sick dear ones are dying. No hospital, no nursing home to be found in the land for your sick children, your mothers, your infirm old people. The Social Democrats know all this. But they tell you: the country has no money; patience, patience, patience !

Open your eyes, ye poor and downtrodden ! Look to the Semmering ! Can you see there the great hotels and sanatoriums ? Can you see on the mountain slopes the hundreds of magnificent villas ? There they live, those who suck million profits out of the arduous toil of your busy hands ! There the drones live a life of ease and pleasure !

Away with the exploiters ! Away with the drones of life !

In with your sick children, your sick mothers, your infirm old people !

Do you think that this parliament will ever put down such laws ? Never, never ! Neither would the Social Democrats if they had the majority there. In fact, they already had the majority in the old Assembly ! And yet you have remained the exploited ! This Parliament has been created by the exploiters; it can have no other policy but that of a party of exploiters ! Those who tell you different are swindlers, or they deceive themselves and you. And yet –


We Communists want to show you, on every question or measure which comes before that House for consideration, that the Conservatives and the Nationalists care for nothing except the moneybags of the exploiters. We want to show you that they deceive you at every turn, that the very crumbs they throw at you are merely so much dust in your eyes, and – that the Social Democrats are favouring this policy of exploitation.

We want to show you, by practical example, that only an administration can be of any real USE TO YOU wherein the exploiters have nothing to say and nothing to decide – in a word, from which the exploiters have been driven once and for all.

But only as a majority will a Council of the REVOLUTIONARY working class – elected into the present Parliament by really class-conscious workers – be able to snatch the power from the exploiters and place at your disposal the army, the gendarms, the legal machinery, the administration , the school and the press.

Only such a Council of the REVOLUTIONARY workers will be able to take from the exploiters the mines, the factories, the large estates, the forests, the railways, and the ships, and place them in YOUR HANDS – in the hands of those who work – that they may wield them for the benefit of the whole community instead of for the benefit of a few idlers.

Only a Socialist Government will lay the foundations for a community of workers, by first  of all breaking the opposition of the exploiters and holding them down until their acquiescence in the new order of things has been secured and assured.

Only by sending men into this Parliament who will have no other aim but the ABOLOTION OF THE WHOLE SYSTEM OF PRIVATE PROPERTY IN THE MEANS OF LIFE, will your interests be served, and will you be able to organise production on a new basis, in the interest of all who work, evolving order out of chaos, and bringing about a social order wherein poverty, privilege, and oppression will find no place, and wherein all may lead a full, free, and joyous existence.

Workers in field and factory, Workers of all grades, if you want to free yourselves from the oppression of capitalism, then you must break the power of the exploiters by common revolutionary action !

Victorious revolutionary action presupposes a CLASS-CONSCIOUS working class. You will therefore have to remove the blinkers from your eyes ! It is for the purpose of making you see, in order to expose the daily practices in the political arena – the lies, the deceit, the humbug, and the misleading ways and intricacies of this sham democracy – that we want to get into this Assembly. To this end preliminarily






Reason and Practicability. (1921)

From the June 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article under the heading "Miners' Dilemma" the "Pall Mall and Globe" of March 23rd says:

"We shall know tom-morrow whether the disposition of the Miners' Executive to admit an infusion of reason and practicabiliy into their counsels is shared by the wider delegate body of the industry."

"Reason and practicability" to the Editor of the "Pall Mall" and the class he serves means the lowest possible wages upon which the miners can subsist. But that which drives the miners to fight is the experiences of their past struggles to live on the wages paid to them ; therefore when confronted with the drastic reductions which the coal owners offer they have no alternative to refusal to accept such terms.

They are then locked out.

These are the facts and "perception of consequences" which the miners visualise, an abnormal cut at wages, a lowering of the standard of life for themselves and their families.

The present writer has had many years experience of mining and miners, and knows the horrible and brutalising conditions under which mining people live. Surrounded by dreary and grimy pit mounds, living in an atmosphere of coal dust, which necessitates, in order to keep the home clean, continuous drudgery by the women folk, the effect on the miner's family cannot be expected to be other than degrading.

As the "Pall Mall" does not circulate among the working class the editorial seeker of "facts" no doubt feels safe in saying that "the wages of every industry must depend upon the price which the world will pay for its products."

Leaving for the moment the question of wages and prices, we have here the admission that the products of nations are placed on the world's markets for sale, and incidentally that the "community" is merely an "also ran."

When the working class fully realise that under capitalism products circulate through exchange on the world's markets, and that the capitalist national groups who own these products compete group against group, they will see how futile it is merely to organise for resistance to the effects of such competition. Instead they will organise internationally as a class for the purpose of taking possession of the political machinery, and use the political weapon to place society on a basis of social ownership and production for use.

The British coal owners, finding themselves up against severe competition from the U.S.A. and German coal owners, make their onslaught on the miners' wages.

Now the country that contains the group which is the most efficiently organised, uses up-to-date methods and machinery, is the country which competes most successfully with other countries.

Lower wages need not necessarily be paid, for wages in the U.S.A. coalfields are higher than in Britain, and the latter is at the present time beaten out of the market.

This is due to the application by the American group, of scientific methods, and the equipment of the mines with machinery for the coal face; and more accessible seams are an important factor.

There can be no doubt that in face of the American and German competition wholesale prices must fall and therefore one can see the reason of the British coal owners' agitation. Having neglected for years to improve their methods, because during those years they were assured of a market, they now wish to lay the blame on the miners by accusations in speeches and writings that "ca'canny" is practiced, whereas the facts are altogether the opposite.

Many men have been put to work at the more difficult seams, and many others have been working on extensions and explorations, for during the time the mines were controlled by the Government profits were assured and therefore there was no incentive for the mine owners to have the mines worked for output alone.

The editor of the "Pall Mall" tells us that the miner's occupation is "one of the best paid and most leisurely trades in the country." The effect of their leisure in the pits is seen when they get home, when they are utterly unable to keep awake, and fall asleep in their chairs, and often on the floor.

The laborious nature of the miners' work has been admitted by Mr. S. Tate, of the Institute of Mining Engineers, who said in the Mining Engineers' Journal (12.2.16) : "In future it would be necessary that coal getting must be made easy, either by altering the methods or system of work or by installing machinery to do the strenuous part of the coal hewers' duty."

Doctor Haldane, addressing the same body, said (8.6 18) : "As coal mining is a strenuons occupation, it is natural that colliers should go into some other occupation when they reach a certain age."

It should be quite evident to a thinking member of the working class that the "Pall Mall" editor with many others is merely voicing the views of these who pay him.

The master class are quite prepared to use the present world crisis for the purpose of beating down the standard of living of the working class ; they wish to be prepared for the time when the surplus stocks have been sold off, and to begin the next booming period of trade and profit-reaping with cheapened labour-power.

However, the Socialist points out to the miner and other members of the working class that the aim of our class must be the abolition of the capitalist system, and the erection in its place of a system of society based on the common ownership of the instruments and means of wealth production and distribution. When that is accomplished there will be an end to all class struggles, because there will be an end to classes, and mankind will arise from the evil dreams of the past to the realisation of a sane, noble and free existence.
J. M. D.

The Insecurity Council (1996)

From the May 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is it irony, or just plain coincidence, that the world’s top five arms suppliers (USA, Britain, France, China and Russia) just happen to be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council? Indeed, does this fact not make a mockery of any pretensions they have of providing the world with "security"?

Just how secure the world really is can be judged by the further fact that there have been over 300 conflicts since the establishment the UN Security Council after World War Two, and that 30 still rage and that more are threatened. 

During the years 1990 to 1993 inclusive, a period when the world should have been enjoying the fruits of the “peace dividend", the five members managed to sell the developing world alone $45,568 million-worth of weapons.

If anything, the "peace dividend" was a huge joke, for arms sales are as much a part of global capitalism's set-up now as they ever were—a fact highlighted by the arms build-up in south-eastAsia. Between 1992 and 1995, Taiwan placed order for 150 F-J6s from the US. six La Fayette frigates and 60 Mirage 2000s from France. Malaysia purchased 18 MiG 29s, eight F-16s and 12 British Hawk fighters. Determined not to be left out of the arms build-up Singapore ordered 18 F-16s. Thailand ordered 16 of the same and Britain sold 24 Hawks to Indonesia. With the smell of profit wafting about the South China Sea, the Chinese bought a licence to produce Su 27 interceptors from Russia for $2 billion, on condition they would not be used against Russia. The ink was hardly dry on the agreement when Vietnam put in an order for 6 new Chinese Su 27s.

Hardly surprising, then, that the International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm has discovered that 25 percent of all weapons exports end up in south-east Asia—the vast bulk provided by the five permanent members of the Security Council. We’re talking mega-bucks here. Defence spending by just seven south Asian countries (Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand) grew from $49 billion in 1983 to $85 billion in 1993. As 1995 closed, the figure had rocketed to $ 130 billion.

No doubt this means a slap on the back and drinks ail round for those ministers responsible for such arms deals—an achievement Mrs Thatcher was wont to refer to as "batting for Britain".

February found Michael Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, trying to hit a six in the former Yugoslavia. With the UN preparing to lift an arms embargo under the Dayton peace accord, and with the Scott Report still making headline news back home, Rifkind was prostrating himself in front of the Slovenian prime minister, Janez Drnovsck, in Ljubljana, trying to redirect an Israel-bound defence contract to Britain—a contract worth £35 million. Rifkind’s justification was that as a prospective NATO member, Slovenia should have British-made equipment that could meet alliance “standards".

A month later and corks were popping at GEC as they prepared to finalise a £5 billion arms deal to supply the United Arab Emirates with a "super-intelligent" weapons system. Two days later, on 20 March, the Guardian reported that Britain, France and the US were submitting final proposals for a deal worth $5 billion to provide the UAE with 80 state-of-the-art fighters. Some statistician had even whipped out his pocket calculator and worked out that the deal was costing the UAE $120,000 to defend each “square kilometre of semi-arid desert”.

That same day, recovering from the deafening rattle of sabres from across the Formosa Straits, Taiwan announced that it wanted to buy $4.8 billion-worth of new US weaponry. Thus a member of the Security Council was prepared to arm a country, not even a member of the UN, against a fellow Security Council member.

The idea of "security”, it would seem, is anathema to everything that capitalism is geared towards—profit.

Perhaps then, the "Insecurity Council” would be a more fitting title for the UN's five most important members, as “peace" is merely preparation for war under capitalism. Fifty million killed in wars since the foundation of the UN are testament to this.
John Bissett

50 Years Ago: Workers’ Control?? (1996)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Trade Disputes Act is to go. Hurrah! The workers have wrenched from the Capitalists one of then vilest weapons. Just a minute, there’s a catch in this Here it is, in the words of Sir Hartley Shawcross. Opening the debate for the Government in the House of Commons on February 12th, he pointed out that: “ . . . In any case the pre-1927 law gave ample powers for dealing with strikes."

Speaking of the proposal to allow Civil Servants to belong to Trade Unions to which outside workers belong and to be affiliated to the T.U.C. he said:
  "I take this opportunity of making it quite clear that thus Government, as an employer, would feel itself completely free to take disciplinary action when any strike situation which might develop demanded it "
That's nor all—this “workers’ Government" has a duty to perform—duty to whom? Could it be to the Employers? 
 "But that is not to say that it is not the duty of the Government to deal with any strike that may arise. That is a duty the present Government will loyally discharge." (Our italics) 
Now we know Thanks for those kind words, Comrade Sir Hartley

(All quotations from News Chronicle, 13/2/46.)

(From Socialist Standard, May 1946)

Society, Ideas & Nature (1996)

From the May 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
Although most people these days would admit to being concerned about the state of the planet we live on it is remarkable how little the destructive tendencies of the profit system are blamed for causing environmental damage. Yet it should be impossible for us to ignore the fact that our relationship to our environment, and the effect we have on it, is governed entirely by the kind of society we live in.
In contrast to idealist theories of history, historical materialism holds that the development of ideas is mainly explicable in terms of the prevailing “mode of production”. This should not be seen as “economic determinism”; it does not mean ideas simply spring from economic conditions like mushrooms from a compost heap. Indeed, at any point in time one will probably find an array of ideas on any subject. What causes some of these to take root and spread while others are passed over or allowed to wither on the vine? According to historical materialism, a key factor, but by no means the only factor, in this social selection of ideas is the economic one. Thus, the precise origins of an idea is less important than its utility for society and its mode of production in particular.

But what is a “mode of production”? This has two aspects—the “forces of production”, and the “relations of production” as constituted by the form of ownership of the means of living. With the emergence of private property and the state several thousand years ago these relations became differentiated into antagonistic class relationships. As ownership of the means of living became concentrated in the hands of a small minority, this minority began to live off the labour of others, using the state as its means of coercion. The particular form this economic exploitation took allows us to distinguish one mode of production from another. Thus, in the relatively short history of private property society we can identify a succession of such modes: chattel slavery', feudalism and capitalism.

According to Marx, the relations of production tend to reflect the level of technological progress. However, as the productive forces develop within a particular mode of production they eventually come into conflict with, are “fettered” by, its relations of production. This conflict expresses itself as an intensification of class struggle between the exploiting class which has a vested interest in maintaining these relations and a new class whose interests lie with the further development of the productive forces (and hence the revolutionary' overthrow of those relations which block that development). The resolution of that conflict occurs when the latter class finally succeeds in capturing the state and using it to usher in the new mode of production.

Every established order tends to project an image of itself as being tunelessly grounded in nature, thereby implying change is “unnatural”. As a social order is defined by its class structure, this projection is bound up with the need for a ruling class to perpetuate the existing relations of production through which it dominates society. Such dominance is hegemonic: it is based on the acquiescence of the exploited majority rather than just crude force. Although the “objective” interests of most people should lead them to change society, they tend to accept the ruling class idea that society cannot, and should not, change. As Marx points out “the class which is the dominant material force in society is at the same time its dominant intellectual force” (German Ideology).

Yet despite the enormous power a ruling class wields through its control over the means of disseminating ideas, change is inescapable. In this respect, the development of the productive forces exerts a subversive influence, breaking the mould of long-established ideas. Indeed, insofar as technology mediates our relationship with nature, technological change can alter our perception of “nature” and hence society.

Ideas on nature under feudalism
We can see this in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. The dominant metaphor of nature up until the early modem era was an organismic one. Nature was viewed as a living organism. Its manifold parts, including humankind, were held to be fundamentally interdependent and constituting an integrated whole. Such a concept fitted in with tire close organic ties most people had with the land and with the nature of the society in which they lived. Nature was seen in essentially teleological terms; everything was designed for a purpose which supposedly emanated from God. That purpose was to benefit humankind. This anthropocentric view of nature was nevertheless couched in religious terms whereby nature was seen as a “book” through which God’s plan was revealed.

“Physico-theology”, or the religious study of nature, was the means by which one could discover what God had in store for humankind. Since God was seen as a benevolent creator the world he created was essentially good, so to act in a way that conflicted with his design was wrong. Thus the notion that the universe was designed as a Great Chain of Being in which everything was interconnected was not simply an attempt to understand how it functioned; it was a moral statement which had implications not only for the behaviour of human beings towards each other but also for their treatment of nature.

On the other hand, the Christian belief contained in the Book of Genesis that God made man “in his own image” and enjoined him to “subdue the earth” has been interpreted as sanctioning a domineering attitude to nature. A leading exponent of this view is Lynn White who argued in a famous essay that a traditional Christian arrogance towards nature and the driving out of pagan animistic religions is what led to our present ecological crisis. According to him, “since the roots of our trouble are largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious” (The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis).

But this “idealist” interpretation of history does not stand up to scrutiny. There is considerable evidence of environmental destruction on a large scale in the Ancient World pre-dating Christianity which can in fact be linked to the emergence of class-based forms of social organisation.

A more telling argument against White’s thesis is that it does not explain why some aspects in the Christian worldview emphasising harmony with nature became less influential in the early modern era while the theme of dominating nature came to be increasingly asserted. The latter was in fact connected with a marked increase in productive activities such as mining, deforestation and draining marshes which in turn were related to the growth of a capitalist market and scientific progress. The “tension between technological development in the world of action and the controlling organic images in the world of the mind had become too great. The old structures were incompatible with the new activities” (Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature, p.2).

Rise of capitalism
The rise of capitalism undermined the old static order of feudalism in which everyone “knew their place” by bringing about increased mobility. Land enclosures and agricultural improvements resulted in the removal of labourers from the land and their transformation into an urban proletariat, no longer in intimate contact with nature’s rhythms. Furthermore, the commodification of labour power went hand-in-hand with commodification of nature itself. As Marx put it, “the mode of perceiving nature under the rule of private property is a real contempt for, and a practical degradation of, nature”.

This change in perception was reinforced by scientific developments. The Copernican revolution in astronomy which shattered the Medieval view that the earth was the centre of the universe, the growing awareness of hitherto unknown biological organisms (many of which did not appear to serve any useful purpose for humankind) in the wake of the Voyages of Discovery and the invention of the microscope, and the dawning realisation that fossils were the remains of now-extinct species, all served to undermine the old anthropocentric view of a world designed by God for the good of humankind. Such developments did not occur in a vacuum but in response to the specific needs of an emerging capitalist economy.

However, organicism was to re-surface in the shape of the Romantic Movement of the 19th century—a philosophical and aesthetic reaction to the depredations of industrial capitalism which sought solace in spiritual communion with nature. This idealisation of nature was dealt a blow by the Darwinian Revolution which represented nature as an arena of struggle in which only the fittest survived—in some respects a mirror image of the competitive ethos of Victorian capitalism—but out of Darwinism was to emerge the science of ecology.

The development of science under capitalism proved to be a double-edged sword. In a remarkable passage Engels noted that for all our claims to have “conquered nature”, it lends to take its revenge on us, thus reminding us that “we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people” but “belong to nature, and exist in its midst”:
  “After the mighty advances of natural science in the present century, we are more and more placed in a position where we can get to know, and hence to control, even the more remote natural consequences of our most ordinary productive activities. But the more this happens, the more will men not only feel, but know themselves to be one with nature, and thus the more impossible will become the senseless and anti-natural idea of a contradiction between mind and matter, man and nature, soul and body" (Dialectics of Nature).
Today, we can once again find evidence of organicism in the modem environmental movement. While this has been viewed as a positive development it does have its negative side: it can lend itself to authoritarian, even fascistic, forms of social organisation. It can also lead to a misplaced and irrational opposition to science for allegedly displacing a sentimental attachment to nature by an objective analysis of it; and its tendency to deify nature, to blame humankind-in-the-abstract for our ecological crisis, rather than the society we live in, can only cripple our ability to tackle that crisis.

Now when our planet is threatened as never before, the need to change society has never been so great. Only by altering our relationship with one another can w'e hope to transform our relationship with nature of which we are an inextricable part.
Robin Cox