Friday, July 24, 2020

A so-called socialist in parliament (2006)

From the July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
Respect MP George Galloway, backed by the SWP, is a counter-example of how a lone Socialist MP should behave.
George Galloway is a corrupt and corrupting man.  Not corrupt in the sense in which a good capitalist would understand – grubbing for money in brown envelopes, a wide boy with an eye for the main chance when the price is right.  His success in the libel courts, which only understand the pecuniary corruption which is such a threat to capitalists’ profits, underlines this.  His corruption is one of a sort more familiar to the workers’ movement: a man giddy on success and status born from his ability to be at the centre of things.

The US Senate enquiry – in which he displayed his prolixity with sufficient robustness and deftness as to be able to have scored a victory by speaking truth to power and rebutting their slanderous lies – proved the point despite all his bluster.  The outcome of their enquiry was not that he had trousered cash corruptly obtained from the Oil For Food Programme set up by the UN under the Iraq sanctions regime – no matter how much they wanted that to be the outcome and the press trumpeted that likely outcome.  The truth was subtler than that.  It revealed how Galloway’s Mariam Appeal had been funded chiefly by a man called Fawaz Zuriekat – who was in all likelihood (according to the Senate investigation) a recipient of such theft.

Whether Galloway knew this or not is irrelevant.  As he rightly notes, the rest of the cash came from a handful of Saudi princes and potentates; but therein lies the real truth of his corruption.  Everything he is now is based on the success and prominence the Mariam Appeal won for him – it made his reputation as an opponent of the siege and attack on Iraq; but that appeal was funded by powerful capitalists with vested anti-working class interests in the Middle East and beyond.

The effect of this can be clearly seen in his parliamentary behaviour.  At the best of time a notoriously lax MP (he famously managed to miss a key vote on the terrorism act that the Government only won by one vote); however, when he does raise questions they almost always relate to Israel and the government’s behaviour towards it.  His primary purpose is to be a cheerleader for the ruling class in the Arab world against the ruling class in Britain and America – presumably in the name of some sort of  anti-imperialism, a doctrine long used by capitalists in relatively weak countries to try and pursue their ends.

The indication of his worthlessness was on 8 May when he secured an adjournment debate.  This is an opportunity open under parliamentary procedure for all MPs to be able to make speeches and have a reply from a government Minister on the subject of their choosing, lasting about 40 minutes all told.   The MP, who maintains that the fall of the Soviet Union was the saddest day of his life and whose biographies still refer to him as a socialist, chose to spend his nearly two thousand words in a fifteen-minute speech not on attacking capitalism, revealing its brutalities and its failure.

Instead, true to his egomaniacal form, he chose to discuss press regulation and call upon the government to make “thorough caps on media ownership, especially ownership by foreign billionaires whose loyalty is certainly not to this country.”  He dwelt extensively on how beset and abused he himself was by the media, as a basis for this call for a reform.  This, apparently, is the tribune of the working class, the voice of the oppressed majority – a so-called socialist in parliament.

What a Socialist could do
As the Socialist Standard has demonstrated for over a hundred years, two thousand words is plenty to incisively damn capitalism and point the way towards socialism.  The condition of the working class is such that it would be easy to find detailed cases and generally observable trends that need and deserve the light of day – ignored by the mainstream parties in their open support of capitalism.  The endless sophistries from their own mouths are meat enough for socialist attack. 

Galloway, however, is a living confirmation of the Socialist Party’s case of avoiding leadership and leaders in our movement.  The SWP and its Respect front are tied to this man and his spurious reputation.

Obviously, he is not the first.  The Communist Party had MPs in Parliament – even the trotskyist Militant Tendency managed to claim some MPs as their own in the 1980’s.   Usually, they were part of a minority of one, unable to make any real effect on the proceedings of Parliament.

The Socialist Party, though, maintains its intention to send delegates to parliament.  Not as leaders, but as servants of the cause – with a specific job to do.  The very minimum we could expect of a small number of socialist MPs is that they use the resources of parliament to uncover as much detail and information as they can about what is happening under capitalism to the working class.  The machinery of government collects vast reams of data in the course of its daily business, but data is worthless unless it is put into context and turned into information.

They could add to this by using the weapon of the parliamentary question, to try and force the government to give up more information and to ensure that it has an incentive to collect the relevant data in order to be able to answer such questions.  This would have the added advantage of giving the opportunity of getting our agenda onto the television and other media.

Whilst the votes of a small handful of MPs may not matter overall, their voices also would carry weight – and socialists in parliament would be able to put the case for socialism alongside defending the interests of the working class in their day to day struggle – such as during any major strikes or the like.  This would allow us to expose the sitting MPs of the capitalist parties and assist workers in rallying to the cause of their class – a platform from which to speak to the whole world.

Moreover, we would use whatever votes we would have while a minority to vote in the interests of the working class.  This would not be something for the still small conscience of our delegates but a matter for our movement to decide and instruct them upon – a means of being grit in the parliamentary machine as well as one of demonstrating our greater democratic legitimacy.  The growth of the socialist movement is the advance of the working class movement.  Until such time as the movement is able to take control of the whole of society, we will push for our common interests.  Not with some plan of making capitalism work for us, or with a set of reforms in mind but as a mill stone round the neck of capital.

The case for socialism rests on the understanding of the workers.  The working class’s support is needed for the ongoing existence of capitalism.  Once we understand our real interest and begin to consciously organise to get it no leader or deceiver is going to be able to deflect us from our course, and the days of the likes of Galloway will be numbered.   Until then the workers get the leaders and representatives they choose and deserve.  The job of socialists here and now if to promote the case for using our party as a weapon in the class struggle.  We don’t need to be in parliament to demonstrate how worthless Galloway and his followers are to the workers’ movement. 

Going to Parliament is not the act of good boys but of rebels fighting canny.
Pik Smeet

Time for capitalism to go (2006)

From the July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Up until the time when capitalism had created the potential for the establishment of a truly socially democratic society it had, despite its awful costs in terms of human misery, been a progressive system.  Inevitably, like earlier social systems, class interest, and the power and influence to enforce that interests, makes it resistant to change and inevitably it became a reactionary, anti-social system.

But its rules and its values predominate in our world establishing their own social morality and we cannot judge capitalists by the social morality of an equitable system predicated on human need when such a system does not yet exist.  Indeed the nature of capitalism, its response to competition, its compulsion for expansion and its imperative for profit, gives it a dynamic beyond the control of either those who profit from it or those who suffer under it. 

The capitalist class does not seek to create things like unemployment as a punishment on the working class – after all its profits ensue from the wealth created by employed workers.  The capitalist class does not want wars and the colossal costs which are a burden on taxation which, in turn, is a charge on the surplus value accruing to the capitalist class.  The capitalist class does not want crime (other than the ‘legal’ variety it itself perpetrates!) which, like armaments and wars, are a charge on capital. Capitalism would be a more secure and socially restful system without the multiplicity of evils it creates but its nature precludes human control even by the capitalists or their political agents and within itself it is a system of fiercely conflicting interests.

Political unanimity within the capitalist class is limited to the need to protect its class interests.  Individual capitalists might feel constrained towards some charity or amelioration of some facet of a situation the system creates but such a response to social ‘conscience’ does not question the values and the priorities of the system itself and certainly the capitalist class, like their historical predecessors, are hostile to the idea of revolutionary change.  That change – again, like previous socially revolutionary changes – must be the work, and, thus, the politics, of those on whom capitalist exploitation is based: the working class.

Even if they wanted to – which of course they don’t – the capitalists could not institute the next phase in the social evolution of human society.  That job is the task of the working class, not because of its ‘moral’ superiority but because of its overwhelming numerical superiority and its historic imperative.

Foot soldiers
Previous social revolutions have occurred when the political and economic basis of a new phase of social evolution have matured in the womb of the old society and the means used has been the physical overthrow of the dominant class by the class representing the new phase for which history has prepared it.

The situation that determines the means of social revolution in modern capitalism is, however, markedly different in several respects to that of earlier societies and earlier revolutions.  The purpose of these latter was to overthrow an existing minority class and replace it with another minority class in order that the new class could establish political conditions that would facilitate a new mode of production.  The chattel slave and the feudal slave may each in turn have been the foot soldiers of revolution but only the conditions of their slavery was changed.

There is now no further minority class interests pressing the norms and social structures of capitalism for new relations in the mode of production and the working class can not turn the system on its head and carry through a revolution that would allow it to exploit the relatively small capitalist class!

At this stage we should define in general terms – because it is only thus it can be defined – what we mean by the working class.  We mean all those who in order to live are obliged to sell their physical or mental abilities to an employer for a wage, salary or commission.  Within that context there is a great variety of income but the common denominator is the compulsion to be and to remain a hired hand.  Conversely, a capitalist can be defined as someone who can live by profit, rent or interest and who works only if he or she wishes to do so.  Again, as with the working class, there is a great variety of income within the capitalist class and there are occasional situations that do not lend themselves to this form of categorisation but it is the only form of general classification that fits the situation as it is.

Capitalism made production social; now history imposes on the working class the task of making distribution social which is the sole means by which the myriad problems of society can be resolved.  It is this change to social distribution that establishes socialism and the politics governing the revolutionary role of the working class in bringing about this change is not only conditioned by the nature of the change itself but distinct from all previous revolutionary changes in the social organisation of society.

End of buying and selling
This can best be appreciated by an understanding of what socialism involves.  Briefly, socialism will be a system of society in which the means of life, the entire productive and distributive resources, will be owned and democratically controlled by society as a whole on the principle of “from each according to their ability and to each in accordance with their self-determined need” The establishment of that principle will mean that the wages system will be ended as will buying and selling and, hence the need for money as a means of exchange.

It needs little thought to appreciate all the wasteful functions that capitalism’s buying and selling world makes necessary.  Hundreds of millions of people are currently occupied in jobs and in entire industries that would disappear with the ending of the marketing system.  Similarly, with the ending of competition for markets, resources and areas of strategic interest, the cause of wars would no longer exist; armed forces and the vast and wasteful array of weaponry these employ would be redundant.  Equally, in a world of free access to needs most crimes would disappear along with the personnel on both sides of that industry.

Whereas in capitalist society the ending of hundreds of millions of jobs would be ruinous, in socialism the freed workers could be absorbed into the workforce ensuring firstly that the social infrastructure needed to end the appalling poverty that currently afflicts the lives of billions of people throughout the world could be speedily ended.  Thereafter, they would augment the workforce to lighten the burden of producing the goods and services needed in their communities and elsewhere.

It will be obvious that the society here envisaged could only be established and maintained on the broadest voluntary human co-operation.  Once established it will create, like all other forms of social organisation its own social conventions affecting human behaviour.  Initially, the ‘politics’ of its revolutionary establishment
will require the endorsement of the overwhelming majority organised consciously within the general ambience of a political movement.
Richard Montague

50 Years Ago: Cat out of the bag (2006)

The 50 Years Ago Column from the July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Upton Sinclair once wrote than “even Von Papen had to tell the truth sometimes, if only to rest his mind.” The saying applies to all politicians. The time comes when even the most diplomatic will blurt out the real motives of the British ruling class.

For example, Sir Anthony Eden. At Norwich recently he said:
  “The United Kingdom’s vital interest in Cyprus is not confined to its N.A.T.O. aspect. Our country’s industrial life and that of Western Europe depends to-day, and must depend for many years to come, on oil supplies from the Middle East. If ever our oil resources were in peril, we would be compelled to defend them. The facilities we need in Cyprus are part of that defence. We cannot, therefore, accept any doubt about their availability.” (The Times, 2.6.56).
The Prime Minister here admits that British capitalism’s need to protect its profits-which it could not do without oil supplies-comes before the promise which Britain has made, as a member of the United Nations, to uphold the principle of self-government. Socialists have been saying for a long time that capitalism always puts profits before principle, but it is not often that a politician as eminent as Sir Anthony Eden confirms it so explicitly.

(From an article by Alwyn Edgar, Socialist Standard, July 1956)