Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Voice From The Back: Growing Old Disgracefully (2005)

The Voice From The Back column from the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Growing Old Disgracefully

A feature often commented upon by historians, is that before private property societies existed the elderly of a kin, clan or tribal group were treated with great respect. Their knowledge of the terrain, animals and availability of food was invaluable to their society. How different today in modern capitalism. “The government is abandoning hundreds of thousands of elderly people to a care system that steals their dignity, denies them meaningful choice and risks endangering their health, according to a hard-hitting report out tomorrow. The report – by the country’s leading independent healthcare thinktank, the King’s Fund – concludes that funding and organisational problems are putting old people at a disadvantage compared with other recipients of care. It also says that untrained, unqualified and overstretched staff are putting them at risk.” The Observer (26 June) Let’s face it inside capitalism old-age sucks. Although all those social workers forced to make these decisions will themselves be old one day.

Moral Considerations

The growing practice of scientific journals to copyright and restrict access to scientific data without cash subscriptions has led Robert Smith, a former editor of the British Medical Journal, to raise a moral dilemma. “Making money out of restricting access to (medical) research is immoral.” The Times (2 July) In fact Mr Smith you are terribly wrong, inside capitalism it is not only moral but good business practice. Only inside a socialist society will we have unrestricted access to knowledge for every human being on earth. People dying because medical personnel couldn’t access the latest scientific knowledge would be unthinkable inside a socialist society. It is quite moral today.

The Grapes of Wrath

In any sane society an abundant harvest from the vineyards would be the cause of celebration and no doubt a little celebratory tipple. But we don’t live in a sane society, we live in capitalism where the whole purpose of production is to make a profit not satisfy a social need. “It may seem heinous to any enthusiastic bordeaux drinker, but the EU has pledged £100m under the common agricultural policy to turn 670m bottles of French and Spanish wine into industrial alcohol to help reduce a surplus caused by competition from the New World.” The Sunday Times (3 July) Inside a socialist society if we produce too much wine we’ll just have to drink it. Terrible prospect, aint it?

An Investment Opportunity
The callousness of capitalism and the cynicism of the capitalist press could hardly be summed up better than this report about the bomb carnage in London that left over 50 dead and scores wounded. “City Index, the financial spreadbetting firm, said that more than 8,000 retail investors had dived into the market on Thursday, correctly backing their hunch that share prices would quickly bounce back. Some will find profiting from horror distasteful. But many in the City applaud the resilience of capitalism.” The Sunday Times (10 July) The editors carried this story under the headline – “Investors made millions amid bombs chaos.” Could anything be more disgusting? We are talking about trauma, amputation, disfigurement and death here not an investment opportunity.

Dare To Think

“A penniless asylum seeker in London was vilified across two pages of the Daily Mail last week. No surprise there, perhaps – except that the villain in question has been dead since 1883. “Marx the Monster” was the Mail’s furious reaction to the news that thousands of Radio 4 listeners had chosen Karl Marx as their favourite thinker.” The Observer (17 July) Many people who read the works of Karl Marx realise that the popular concept that he has anything to do with Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin or Mao is nonsense, in fact that he was opposed to dictatorship and authority all his life. Start reading what Marx actually wrote and accept his challenge to think for yourself and bugger the Daily Mail.

Bombings, Bombers and a Bomb (2005)

Editorial from the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent traumatic events in London provide a poignant reminder of the depths of anger,  frustration and outrage simmering beneath the outward demeanour of many people who are leading apparently normal lives.

When such extreme acts of violence,with their tragic repercussions, happen so close to home, they understandably impinge more acutely on our consciousness  and touch us in a far more personal way. Straightaway our thoughts become crowded with the names and faces of any family or friends who might possibly have been travelling near the affected area and we anxiously seek assurance of their wellbeing.

Fortunately such barbarous occurrences remain comparatively rare in London or the other major cities of Western Europe but in some parts of the world, alas, they are an almost daily experience. Any half-decent, sensible human being quite properly deplores the invidious, misguided zeal – be it personal, political or religious – that spawns such a terrible, unreasoning thirst for bloody retribution in the name of whatever injustice or absolute truth. Political leaders, of course, waste no time in making a sanctimonious response by roundly condemning the “evil terrorists” and “brain-washed fanatics”.

Doubtless their perception of the public mood is accurate but the weasel words of politicians assuming the high moral ground are an unwelcome encroachment. They intrude upon the very real sympathy and feeling of support we reserve for the victims of such atrocities by inducing another kind of feeling altogether: one of profound nausea.

The breathtaking hypocrisy with which these serial perpetrators of ultimate, officially sanctioned, state violence, denounce those who, unofficially, pursue similar tactics – which, though horrendous, are on a far small scale – is truly stomachchurning.

They uniformly assert that only warped minds, with a callous disregard for human life, would deliberately choose to detonate bombs in an environment (such as a tube train) specifically selected to cause the most damaging effects and indiscriminately kill or injure the greatest possible number. And without giving any prior warning. And in the rush hour when the maximum number of people would be exposed.

State-approved violence has been responsible for tens of millions of deaths. The ethics of “legitimate” or “just” war have no bottom line. If there ever was such a bottom line, the saturation bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, generating the new military tactic of fire-storms, certainly plummeted below it. These raids resulted in vast numbers of victims exceeding by far any previous tally.

Sixty years ago, this month, on the 6th August 1945, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was virtually flattened – unnecessarily – by a single atomic bomb carried by a single plane. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The city of Hiroshima was specifically selected (though obviously not by warped minds with a callous disregard for human life) as a target with an environment likely to cause the most damaging effects and indiscriminately kill or injure the greatest possible number. Many of its buildings were composed of paper, wood and straw. Mock-up structures built from similar materials had earlier been erected in the Utah desert for testing incendiary potential. Also, Hiroshima had been spared any previous aerial bombardment so that the precise effects of the explosion could be determined. The bomb was dropped at 8.15 am, without prior warning. In the rush hour when the maximum number of people were exposed. The official recorded number of deaths from the bomb is 186, 940.

Pathfinders: Is Socialist Theory Scientific? (2005)

The Pathfinders Column from the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Socialist Theory Scientific?

“Nobody has yet proven that this experiment was safe,” says Marina Bay’s lawyer Alexander Molokhov, in the first day’s Moscow hearing of the amateur astrologist’s £170m lawsuit against Nasa, launched hours after the successful collision of the probe Deep Impact into the comet Tempel 1. Bay’s claim that such cosmological ‘vandalism’ has altered the world’s horoscope towards possible disaster can also not be proved false, and such lack of proof is clearly enough in the eyes of some lawyers to start proceedings these days, notwithstanding Nasa mission engineer Shadan Ardalan’s curt dismissal: “The analogy is a mosquito hitting the front of an airliner in flight. The effect is negligible.” (BBC News Online, 4 July).

The Moscow court is unlikely to be bamboozled by such chancers, but the attack on science is common enough: don’t do it unless you can prove it is safe.The problem is that science, with the usual exception of mathematics, can never actually prove anything, an apparent loophole exploited by everyone from 9/11 conspiracy theorists to neo-creationist Intelligent Design advocates. Now the law is being asked to test the assertion that astronomers can’t prove while astrologers don’t have to.

Socialists have every sympathy with scientists who find themselves under attack from unscientific prejudice and blatant opportunism, since this is not very dissimilar from our own experience. For a theory to be valid it should accord well with the facts, and offer one a way to disprove it. Thus religion and creationism are not valid scientific theories, whereas evolution and gravity are.

Socialist theory fits the first criterion, but what about the second? Is it possible to disprove it? Perhaps. If capitalism fed, clothed and looked after its people in peace and without coercion, socialism would not be disproved but it would be unnecessary. If genetic research uncovers an irreducible aggression or profit-seeking gene, socialism could be said to have been disproved. But nobody has yet found this gene, or shown any other evidence that would make socialism unviable.

 Meanwhile, like Marina Bay and her enterprising lawyer, our opponents expect us to prove everything we say while they are not obliged to provide any evidence in support of their argument, and indeed airily dismiss the very large volume of evidence against themselves.

The End of Mass Production?

A big question for socialist theorists is the matter of parts and supplies. While much of food production is likely to be localised, some highly specialised parts and accessories are not going to be generally available in the region. Global transportation would be a last and expensive resort, but what if many specialist machine components could simply be … emailed?

A new generation of 3D printers is making it possible to recreate perfect three dimensional objects from a software template which can be posted through an ordinary email server. At present the ‘ink’ is confined to wax and plaster powder so the finished models have limited durability, but work is already proceeding with fine grain steel using micro-heat welding instead of glue to hold the finished article together, and laser and water-jet cutters using emailed plans can work on heavy durable materials to make components as good as traditionally machined parts.In fact, with the rise of fabrication laboratories, or ‘fab labs’, individuals can have their own designs and specifications custommade on the spot (Scientific American, June 2005).

Once the labs have shrunk from roomsize to suitcases, we may be looking at the democratization – for a price – of the production process, or in fact, the reclaiming – within limits -of the means of production. The idea that mass production may be on its way out is not new:
“Mass production, the defining characteristic of the Second Wave economy, becomes increasingly obsolete, as firms install information intensive, often robotised manufacturing systems capable of endless, cheap variation, even customisation. The revolutionary result is, in effect, the de-massification of mass production.”  War and Anti-War – Alvin & Heidi Toffler (1993, Little, Brown and Co).
Being toffs who hang around with generals, politicians, think-tank drivers and other assorted toffs, the Tofflers are never overly concerned with how their capitalist utopia will impact on the lower orders, so they describe in perfect equanimity a Third Wave capitalism which even by today’s standards would be a catastrophe for workers, with widespread ‘oceans of poverty’ around ‘hi-tech  archipelagos’ such as California, Hong Kong or the Rhineland.

Capitalism’s development of customised production could hardly be expected to benefit the toiling masses for whom mass-production is both a treadmill and a treat factory. They would never be able to afford the luxury of individual consumer targetting. Nonetheless, the ability to micro-produce with minimal waste and distribution costs remains one of the most exciting innovations socialist society could possibly inherit, and one which it could put to very good use.
Paddy Shannon

The making of global poverty (2005)

From the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
Why is the Third World always third? Why are ‘developing countries’ still not developed, when the West is doing so well? Why are so many of them poor, and have they always been that way? Is it just their fault? A look at history reveals a different story, and one which explains the real origins of western prosperity.
It is sometimes called the Third World, though now expressions such as ‘the South’ or ‘the Majority World’ are felt to be more acceptable. Equally, ‘developing countries’ is seen as more accurate than ‘underdeveloped’. Yet whatever label is used, it cannot be denied that much of the Earth’s population endure lives of poverty and squalor, of undernourishment that often crosses into famine, of insecurity and lack of opportunity. Their lives are often brutally short, with life expectancy far below that in wealthier countries (just 37 years in Sierra Leone, for instance, against a global average of 67 years). Each year around 14 million children die in the Third World, mostly from entirely preventable diseases. But such conditions have not always existed, nor has there always been such a chasm between rich and poor parts of the world. For capitalism created, or at least exacerbated, these inequalities, by the way in which it exploited pre-capitalist societies as it was expanding across the globe in search of markets, raw materials and labour.

The slave trade, for instance, was perhaps the worst example — it can only euphemistically be called a ‘trade’. Labour supplies were needed in the new colonies, especially in the Caribbean, but the native inhabitants were not strong or healthy enough to provide this. The solution was to ship labour power from Africa, not as ‘voluntary’ immigrants but as slaves, captured in battle or purchased from local rulers, transported in appalling conditions and forced to work on plantations. British capitalism in particular benefited from the slave trade: its products and profits helped towns like Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol to develop industries such as shipbuilding, cotton processing and sugar refining, for colonies were forced to send their produce to England and forbidden to manufacture anything locally. Banks such as Barclays and Barings were set up with profits from slavery. ‘The West Indian islands’, says Eric Williams, writing of the late eighteenth century in Capitalism and Slavery, ‘became the hub of the British Empire, of immense importance to the grandeur and prosperity of England.’ And at the same time Africa was impoverished, as it was usually the youngest and fittest who were abducted, thus depopulating the land and leaving the old or infirm, who could not cultivate the farms adequately. Africa’s population scarcely grew between 1650 and 1900, while Europe’s increased fourfold.

In addition, the Third World was a source of raw materials which fed the ever-growing demands of European capitalism. Africa, for instance, supplied groundnuts, cotton and rubber (nowadays it’s diamonds, timber, oil and rare metals). Profits from all this were repatriated, leading to further development in Europe rather than in Africa. Cotton goods and soft furnishings manufactured in India were enormously popular in seventeenth-century Europe. But the cloth industries in India, Africa and elsewhere were deliberately destroyed, primarily by British capitalism, both to do away with potential rivals and to open up new markets. In one area of the Philippines, for instance, the British vice-consul deliberately forced the replacement of locally-produced textiles with machine-made British ones, and encouraged production of sugar for export. All in all, Third World industry was undermined or at least kept on a low level while western capitalism forged ahead, partly on the basis of its colonial profits. In 1830, China was responsible for 30 percent of world manufacturing output, and India for 17 percent; by 1900, these shares were down to 6 percent and under 2 percent, respectively, while over the same period Europe’s share rose from 34 percent to 63 percent.

The end of the nineteenth century saw widespread droughts and famines, the Late Victorian Holocausts of Mike Davis’ book. Though figures can only be estimates, perhaps fifty million died in China, India and Brazil alone, as food was exported to the West, and local agriculture was disrupted by a mixture of ignorance and intent. In North Africa in the 1870s, peasants were forced to sell their livestock cheap to French dealers in order to stave off starvation in the short term. In other cases new taxes that had to be paid in money were introduced, forcing peasants to become wage-labourers. While the British rulers of India were lavishly celebrating Victoria’s sixty years as queen in 1897, wheat was being exported to Britain or left to rot in railway sidings, and poorhouses were being set up to further punish the destitute. (The Socialist Party’s predecessor organisation, the Social Democratic Federation, was the only grouping that consistently protested against the suffering being inflicted on India’s peasants.)

One of the most notorious events of the Western creation of the Third World was the Scramble for Africa (which can be roughly dated 1876-1912). This took place partly for strategic reasons: Britain needed to control both the Cape of Good Hope and the Suez Canal in order to ensure access to its Indian Empire. In addition, tropical produce was being exported to Europe, and there were many raw materials available cheaply — Germany needed access to cotton, oil, cocoa and rubber, for instance. Revenue could be boosted by taking over the tax and rental income of local ‘chiefs’, and forced labour could only increase profits. King Leopold of Belgium’s exploitation of the Congo, supposedly carried out to do away with the remnants of slavery, was the most extreme example. Edmund Morel, the journalist who exposed the extent of Leopold’s scheming, described what was happening as ‘a secret society of murderers with a King for a croniman’. African rulers often gave their lands away in return for old rifles and strings of beads, or unknowingly signed a treaty in English or French that contained different provisions from that in the local language. Lord Salisbury, British Prime Minister during much of the Scramble, prided himself that Africa had been carved up with no European power firing a shot against another (and African troops employed by Europeans did much of the actual fighting against other Africans). Salisbury’s policies served the British ruling class well:
  ‘He had certainly made sure that the lion’s share of new colonies and protectorates — fifteen out of thirty — went to Britain. If his preoccupation had always been to give Britain the strategic advantage, it was fortunate for Britain that he also gave it most of Africa’s most profitable territory: the gold-mines of the Transvaal, the teeming markets of the Niger, the tea and coffee of Uganda, the cotton of Egypt and the Sudan.’ (Thomas Pakenham: The Scramble for Africa)
Thus British capitalism benefited at the same time as Africa was impoverished. All in all, it cannot be argued that underdevelopment is due to Third World countries not (yet) enjoying the benefits of capitalism, that they have missed out on development by missing out on capitalism. The truth is that their current condition is a result of the role they played in the development of capitalism. Africa and many parts of Asia and South America, were colonised, formally or informally, for the sake of the European powers, whose ruling classes grew rich on the profits of this exploitation, in addition to the surplus value they extracted from workers ‘at home’.
Paul Bennett

Wronging the Rights (2005)

Book Review from the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Ruling Asses. By Stephen Robins. Prion Books. £6.99.

The Ruling Assess will certainly make you laugh but, on the other hand, the thoughtful reader might be disturbed by the identity of the people who have provided the utterly absurd quotations that make up the book’s 216 pages.

The clue is in the sub-title: “A little book of political stupidity” and the people who have unconsciously provided the stupidities are prominent politicians; the very ‘they’ in that ubiquitous opinion that ‘they will [have to] do something about it.’

Beneath the amusing picture on the front page is a quote from the redoubtable Mr John Prescott, The Minister for Transport and current Labour Deputy Prime Minister. ‘I want to wrong that right’, says Mr Prescott. The book’s editor, Stephen Robins, in giving Prescott pride of place, so to speak, sees the obvious humour in this particular piece of asininity but, on the other hand it could be a serious comment on the vicious authoritarianism of the present Labour government.

There can be no doubt about the mental state of the man whose absolute pearls of frightening ignorance wins him top spot in this collection: George W Bush, the President of the most powerful nation on Earth and the man with control of the nuclear button. George’s father, we learn from his generous representation in this collection of absurdities, was the equal of his son in the mouthing of verbal inanities. This reduces the present great man to a sort of second generation idiot and perhaps poses the question as to why the American establishment, which boasts a ‘smart’ bomb, should afflict itself with such stupid presidents.

The collection is well indexed and the fact that the index contains 8 pages of names at 2 columns to the page means that your favourite politician is likely to be included – though, in fairness to the unique stupidities of the Bushes, father and son, it should be pointed out that they share some 124 listings in a work where, for example, the home-based political nutter, Ian Paisley, can only achieve 7.

This is a very funny book and an easy read but it frighteningly exposes the cash nexus in what passes for democracy in capitalist society where the means of winning elections is a commodity.
Richard Montague

Borrowers and Lenders (2005)

Book Review from the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Noreena Hertz: I.O.U.: The Debt Threat and Why We Must Defuse It. Harper Perennial £7.99.

Hertz is fairly well-known as a commentator on and critic of globalisation. But unlike some, she does not even make the pretence of being anti-capitalist. In her previous book The Silent Takeover, she made it clear that she was advocating another form of capitalism in contrast to a laissez-faire version that sidelined justice and democracy.

The book under review focusses on developing-country debt and its consequences, not just for the Third World but for ‘advanced’ capitalist countries too. For debt and possible defaults can lead to desperation and terrorism, environmental damage and general economic recession. During the ‘Cold War’, loans were often made for strategic reasons, to keep countries friendly, whether US loans to Latin America or Russian and Chinese lending to Africa. The collapse of Eastern European state capitalism brought a sudden end to this, with loans being called in and new lending being on much less favourable terms. Hertz gives a good account of many of the mechanisms by which lending occurs, such as the roles of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Many Western countries have export credit agencies that underwrite sales by domestic companies and step in to pay them if anything goes wrong (so much for the risks of entrepreneurship). There are even traders who buy and sell developing-country debt as if it were pork or oil, usually making vast profits in the process.

In 2004, the world’s poorest countries owed $458 billion. The consequences of this seem pretty devastating:
  “Millions of children continue to die every single year because money that could be spent on preserving their health is still being spent on debt service. Millions of children are prevented from attending school because money that could be spent on their education is still being spent on repaying debt.”
Hence the demand to ‘Drop the Debt!’, and Hertz’s proposals for deciding when debt  is illegitimate and should be cancelled, plus her suggestions of ‘new principles for borrowers and lenders’.

The problem is that all such proposals effectively accept the status quo, i.e. global capitalism. They do not even begin to address the question of why people are poor in the first place. The passage quoted above assumes that money spent on repaying debts would otherwise be used for health care and education, but there is no guarantee of this at all: governments in developing countries, like all governments, run affairs in the interests of the ruling class. In a world rooted in ownership of resources by a tiny minority of the population, poverty, famine, and lack of access to decent health care and education are inevitable. Cancelling debt (which is anyway less costly to the lenders than might at first appear) relates to just one aspect of the way in which the basic inequality of capitalism reveals itself. It does not affect underlying causes — which is why, whatever the sincerity of those who support it, it will make no contribution to ending poverty.
Paul Bennett

Cooking the Books: Putting business first (2005)

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

President George Bush II is nothing if not frank, at least on the Kyoto Treaty. Interviewed by Sir Trevor McDonald on the eve of last month’s G8 summit (ITV, 4 July) he had this to say of this treaty which aims to timidly limit carbon emissions (one of the contributory causes of the current global warming):
  “I made the decision . . . that the Kyoto treaty didn’t suit our needs. In other words, the Kyoto treaty would have wrecked our economy, if I can be blunt . . . I walked away from Kyoto because it would damage America’s economy, you bet. It would have destroyed our economy. It was a lousy deal for the American economy.”
As the head of US capitalism’s political executive, his remit is to protect and further the interests of the US capitalist class. The reason why he and his advisers decided that the Kyoto Treaty would have damaged the US economy was that America gets a higher proportion of energy from burning coal and oil than its rivals, so that any commitment to use other, more expensive sources of energy would have cost the US proportionately more than these rivals and so reduced its competitiveness vis-à-vis them.

That Kyoto would have advantaged their economies compared to America may even have been at the back of the minds of the European political leaders who promoted the treaty. If so, they miscalculated and may now find that it is their economies that are going to be disadvantaged.

In any event, while it is clear that a question which concerns the whole world such as the possible consequences of global warming can be effectively dealt with only by unified action at a world level, it is equally clear that this is not going to happen under capitalism. The different capitalist states into which the world is divided have different – and clashing – interests, such as have come to the surface over Kyoto, which they will always put first. At most, all that can happen under capitalism when a global problem arises is “much too little, much too late”.

That the leaders of the capitalist States of Europe are just as willing (if not just as frank about it) as Bush to put the interests of their capitalist class first when it comes to environmental problems was shown by a headline in the Times the following day: “Europe drops green agenda to put life back into industry”. The article reported that, under pressure from governments and from business lobbies, the European Commission has put off proposals to deal with the problem of air pollution:
“The shelving of the environment strategies marks a triumph for the British Government, which has called on the Commission to stop producing regulations that damage businesses. An impact assessment had suggested that the air-pollution strategy alone would cost between €5.9 billion and €14.9 billion a year from 2020”.
Enough said.

Letters: What about human nature? (2005)

Letters to the Editors from the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

What about human nature?

Dear Editors

Reading the article “Talk about Socialism” in July’s Socialist Standard I began to wonder in what, and how many, different ways socialists approach the argument of “human nature”.

“People are naturally lazy/greedy/aggressive”, etc. – how easily these phrases trip off the tongue, usually before the brain has been put into gear. Aren’t we all at some time, in certain circumstances, lazy, greedy, aggressive? I would suggest we are all a complex blend of “general psychological characteristics, feelings and behavioural traits” (Concise Oxford Dictionary re. Human nature).

These are some of my “human nature-an alternative view”–
  • Cooperation – currently in the majority world subsistence farmers and the like already cooperate in family groups to provide basic needs, not buying and selling but simply producing.
  • Cooperation/hospitality – many cultures in the world have a very strong family/community welfare ethos and base their daily lives on working together for the benefit of all. Most of these people live in the majority world and although they have little they share what they have (even with strangers).
  • Generosity and Compassion – from the minority world where most people’s lives are generally less harsh a large number of people willingly donate (money) on a regular basis in the hope of easing other people’s difficulties, e.g. child sponsorship, AIDS programmes, clean water programmes.
  • Compassion/Empathy – in areas/times of major/natural disasters volunteers are never lacking, nor slow to offer assistance, whether practical or monetary.
  • Giving/Sharing – huge armies of regular volunteers at home and abroad are at work to help and improve people’s lives, e.g. lifts to hospitals; shopping for the old or disabled; youth workers in clubs and sports associations; parents’ associations linked to schools, playschools etc. for better education and facilities; organizers of charity events.

Yes, a lot of this is to raise money! Because that is the system now. But these are examples of people giving time freely to organize events, bake cakes, engage in sports and other promotional events for altruistic reasons.
  • Sharing – cooperatives of consumers in local areas putting in time on a regular basis to benefit themselves and the community.
  • Cooperation – bartering systems where people swap skills-a few hours ironing for the repair of a water leak.

An observation about retired, i.e. not-working-for-money people: many will say it’s the best time of their lives and that they don’t have enough time to fit everything in. And what are they doing? They are often involved in the kind of activities they actually enjoy, taking care of the grandchildren, helping out even older folk in the community, growing vegetables, involving themselves in ongoing educational projects, having an occasional holiday. In fact, generally playing a part in the community in ways which would admirably suit a socialist society.

So, as far as things are now, in this non-socialist, totally capitalist world, yes, of course there are those who are ‘lazy’, ‘greedy’, ‘aggressive’ and I believe volumes could be and have been written by anthropologists giving perfectly good reasons for such behaviours in our concrete jungles and human zoos.

I prefer to call attention to the industriousness, generosity, and compassionate aspects of human nature.

Working together for the common good?


People can do it, people do do it – it’s all part of that wonderful diversity called Human Nature..
Janet Surman, 

Nothing has changed

Dears Editors

Twenty years ago, there was a high profile pop concert organised by the Live Aid group, to help the famine in Ethiopia. Now two decades later nothing has changed.

The Live 8 concerts addressed the effects of poverty not it causes. Unless the present social system has changed, for many more decades down the line there will be more Live Aids, more GB summits on this poor continent, and more Bonos and Bob Geldofs, yet all their cries for billions to be spent on aid are still unlikely to make more than the smallest dent in the deprivation.

Although there is criminal incompetence of Africa’s post-colonial black elites (the people who call themselves presidents, prime ministers, and in some instances kings and princes of the continent have waged war on their own people and plundered the continent’s wealth to ever bulging Bank account in Switzerland), the main problem of the continent is capitalism.

It is common knowledge that up to two-thirds of the world’s population are hungry, while millions actually die from starvation each year. Why in a world of potential plenty is so elementary a human need as food neglected for some many people?

Some would deny that we live in a world of plenty and claim that the cause of world hunger is natural scarcity. That in other words, some people starve simply because not enough food can be produced.

In the present state scientific knowledge and productive techniques, enough food could be produced adequately to feed the population of the world.

World malnutrition then is not a natural but a social problem. Its cause must be sought not in any lack of natural resources but in the way society is organised. World society everywhere rests on the basis of the resources of the world, natural and manufactured, by very rich minorities.

Rock stars or any other celebrities will not persuade the rich class to make world poverty history. It’s in fact the world market system that ruled the world. Acting like a natural force beyond human control, it has much power than any national government.

The market creates an artificial scarcity and organised waste that is responsible for poverty and hunger in the world today. The law that governs everywhere is “no profit, no production”.
Michael Ghebre, 
London NW1

Letter to Bob

Dear Editors

Below is a letter I sent to Bob Geldof.

Dear Bob,

I deeply respect your sincerity in campaigning for the end of poverty through the world. My understanding of poverty is the insufficiency of the necessities of life leading to an inability to enjoy the wealth potentially able to be created in abundance by humankind, including leisure pursuits, the arts and the basic necessities including shelter, warmth, food and water and the freedom from illness. This deprivation leads inevitably to hunger and disease. I believe that this insufficiency is largely caused by money.

As I am sure you will agree, it is important to understand that wide-scale hunger and even famine can occur when the available food supplies are not necessarily less than sufficient to feed the people they should be intended for. For example the well-known study of the 1943 Bengal Famine by Armatya Sen, which I am sure you are familiar with, showed this clearly. Other famines in recent times have occurred when there has been a sufficiency of food. Indeed food exporting from Ethiopia continued during the famine of the 1980’s.

It is also important to understand that not all the population of an area affected by hunger will go hungry. It is often what has been called ‘entitlement’ that denies access to the available food. Under the present way of ordering Society this entitlement can be determined by money or barter and not necessarily by a person’s need for food. Having money alone that would ordinarily secure enough of the basics does not always ensure sufficient access to those basics as, for example, when there is a shortage caused by ‘natural’ or human factors. Generally, as with anything else, when there is perceived to be a shortage, the ‘value’ of goods and services (including food) rises. Because of the way things are ordered it is the poorest who suffer most when the price of commodities rises. Therefore Poverty can be said to cause hunger and hunger to cause poverty, because hunger weakens resistance to disease, which in turn leads to an increasing tendency to an inability on the part of its victims to tend to their needs.

As things are presently ordered, therefore, there is an advantage to those who control the availability of essentials and who in some way or other profit from their sale to regulate the supply of goods and services anywhere in the world.

If the products of human labour and indeed the plentiful raw materials throughout the world – including Africa – were freely available to those who needed them and indeed to those who help make them available for human consumption without the intervention of money or any other limiting factor imposed by a minority of humans then there could not be need of any kind, much less catastrophes like famines. Where there were factors held to be beyond the immediate control of humankind, for example floods or droughts, then the technology presently widely available could be used to ameliorate their worst effects. Water can be transported, sea water can be desalinated, rivers can, to some extent, be contained in their capacity to cause widespread damage to the lives of people who happen to live in their flood plains.

Presently some African countries are troubled by, among other things, wars, corrupt government as well as crop failure due to drought and other factors. To some extent many other parts of the world have also been affected in similar ways over the last few centuries. The ‘debt’ that is owed by many countries in Africa and elsewhere is often at least in part due to the efforts of other countries to trade with them. With things ordered as they presently are – in other words governed by money – there is no incentive for traders with Africa or anywhere else to be ‘fair’. These traders are bound by the same rules all traders in the present system are – i.e. to maximise their profit in trading with anyone. If they were ‘fair’ they would quickly go out of business because their profits would decline.

Therefore ‘wiping out’ present debts is no guarantee of a long term solution to the poverty that has been more or less imposed on many African countries. Rather the abandoning of the money system itself by the entire world and sharing the resources of the earth in common is the only real way. Perhaps those countries that have experience in combating the worst effects of droughts could be called upon to help. There are many examples of international co-operation at present under the money system, Space Exploration to name one large one. Another example near to my home is the construction of the Thames Barrier, which utilised the expertise of the Dutch in Flood Defences, the Americans in producing heavy duty waterproof bearings for the gates, the British with their expertise in large scale steel structures, and Austrians with other necessary skills. If this can all be done now, with money as a limiting factor – imagine what could be done when the entire world is united in the will to solve the problems any other area may suffer! We could all share the skills and resources we all have in plenty for the benefit of all humanity! Imagine what kind of world that could be!
Tony Norwell, 
London SE2 

A Rare Bird (2005)

Book Review from the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Helen Macfarlane. A Feminist, Revolutionary Journalist, and Philosopher in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England. By David Black, Lexington Books, 2004. £15.

Helen Macfarlane was radicalised in Austria by the revolutions of 1848 which swept through Europe. On her return to Britain she took up revolutionary journalism under the pseudonym Howard Morton for the Chartist George Julian Harney. It was in Harney’s weekly newspaper Red Republican in 1850 that Macfarlane produced the first English translation of what became known as the Communist Manifesto. In the German original it was called Manifesto of the Communist Party but in the Red Republican its title was German Communism: Manifesto of the German Communist Party. Black is critical of this name change because the insertion of the word “German” into the title twice over “de-emphasises its internationalist thrust.” But this misses the point of the change, a reason the Red Republican seems to have understood but which is now widely misunderstood. That is, while the theoretical parts of the Manifesto have universal application the practical proposals (particularly at the end of Section 2) were put forward with Germany in mind at that time. That is why Marx and Engels later said that some parts of the Manifesto, particularly in Section 2, were obsolete (see the Preface to the German edition of 1872).

In the Red Republican version of the Manifesto, some parts are missing and others changed mainly to suit its English readership. In the 1888 English translation, supervised by Engels, the famous opening line begins: “A spectre is haunting Europe. The spectre of Communism.” But in Macfarlane’s translation this becomes: “A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe. We are haunted by a ghost. The ghost of Communism.” Black states that her use of “hobgoblin” rather than “spectre” is unfortunate, but it is possible that her English readers at that time more readily understood the hobgoblin metaphor.

Marx called Macfarlane “a rare bird” – “the only collaborator on his [Harney’s] spouting rag who had original ideas.” She was the first person to translate and explain in English the work of the German philosopher Hegel. She wrote a few other articles for the Red Republican in the 1850s but almost nothing is known of her in the years before or after. What seems certain however is that Macfarlane could be described as the first British Marxist, a generation before that term came into use.
Lew Higgins