Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Out of control (2020)

Book Review from the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The End of the Megamachine. A Brief History Of A Failing Civilization by Fabian Scheidler.  (Zero books. 440 pages.)

Whilst this book could be described as a potted history of control and dissent over millennia it is much more than that. It is filled with relevant historical examples which lead to discussion of current global events and the general state of the world. None of the horrific statistics of current deaths in former colonies or empires of the West are new incidents but are merely the long continuation of what began many years ago, have increased, and have become an integral part of the ‘system’, the ‘megamachine’.

Western Christian efforts through history to control and subjugate whole populations to their beliefs continues to the present with, perhaps, a slightly altered emphasis. Now businesses have ‘mission statements’, governments ‘space missions’, and ‘the market’s radical preachers push a universalist ideology’. Structural racism today, the author suggests, comes from colonialism and empire-building which needed justification in order to subject populations to disenfranchisement and exploitation. Hence the Christian religion, along with scientists and philosophers, to declare ‘white’ superiority and exceptionalism. The author’s point here is that the colonial ‘wars’ should more correctly be referred to as genocide.

The underlying theme of the megamachine is that of the cycles of gradual development, decay, and renewed development of the economy, the military and the power of authority – but always linking current practices to earlier, similar planned events. And reminding us in different ways that ‘modern states have arisen neither for the benefit of populations, nor with their consent, but as products of physical violence.’

There are far too many threads to mention in a brief review but all are relevant to the societies we are living in today where everything is compacted and concentrated and where we are living with the results of past decisions. The post-WW2 years began ‘the rapidly accelerating species extinctions that are now threatening to escalate into one of the greatest crises in the history of life on the planet’ but as constant economic growth is an integral part of the machine then that is exactly what should have been expected and was forecast by some more than half a century ago. There is a section devoted to the ills of the current system’s approach to the environment, ecology in general, agricultural and industrial methods, the need for constant growth and the warning of what’s to follow if the decision is to carry on regardless.

A thoroughly worthwhile read with a wealth of useful and relevant information for a book of this size, plus end notes with references and several timelines relevant to the various topics. What there isn’t is a socialist view of the one and only thing to be done to stop the progress of this megamachine. Instead there is a final chapter on ‘Possibilities’ which, depending on your disposition you could either ignore or write your own.
Janet Surman

Rear View: Rashford’s missed penalty (2020)

The Rear View Column from the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rashford’s missed penalty

Oliver Twist asked for more in 1838. Many more did in 1904: ‘We are told that over 100,000 school children in London alone go breakfastless to school. For them there is little hope for a sturdy manhood. Arrest the progress of physical deterioration amongst the children through the provision of meals by the State to all school children and you will do much to strengthen the physique and stamina of the race’ (Socialist Standard, September 1904). Fast forward 116 years: ‘… UK lawmakers voted against a motion that would have extended free school meals to children over school vacations, helping to offset a growing hunger crisis in the country that has left as many as a fifth of children in households regularly beset by hunger. The vote was a disappointment for Marcus Rashford, one of England’s brightest young soccer stars…’ (time.com, 23 October). We have been used to reformists scoring own goals for two centuries. Any reforms we could win for ourselves on the basis of the capitalist system will always be circumscribed by the need to keep the capitalist system functioning. Mendacious parasites will tell you otherwise. Blair, for example, stated in 1999: ‘Our historic aim will be for ours to be the first generation to end child poverty forever, and it will take a generation. It is a twenty-year mission, but I believe it can be done.’ Twenty years later, the Daily Mirror ran this headline: ‘DWP child poverty figures a ‘national scandal’ as 4.1 million kids are hit’ (mirror.co.uk, 28 March, 2019). ‘The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. What are we aiming at, if not a society in which ‘charity’ would be unnecessary? We want a world where Scrooge, with his dividends, and Tiny Tim, with his tuberculous leg, would both be unthinkable’ (George Orwell, Tribune, 20 December 1943, published under the name ‘John Freeman’).


Che? No way!

‘Twenty left publishers from around the world release a joint edition including two essential texts by Che Guevara on the fifty-third anniversary of his assassination by the CIA in Bolivia. These texts, with insight from Aijaz Ahmad and María del Carmen Ariet García, provide us with a clear and resolute summation of Che’s spirit of conviction, scientific insights, human compassion, and unrelenting will to achieve the victory of the oppressed over the oppressors’ (thetricobtinental.org, 8 October). Compassion? ‘These people [of Cuba] you see today tell you that even if they should disappear from the face of the earth because an atomic war is unleashed in their names … they would feel completely happy and fulfilled…. ’ (part of Che’s address to the First Latin American Youth Congress in July 1959, three years before the Cuban missile crisis). ‘What I wanted to stress is that the working class is not putting forth its full effort’ (televised speech, 1961). ‘By working on the proletariat’s sense of responsibility, we hope to greatly improve the quality as well as the presentation of industrial products’ (article in Cuba Socialista, 1962). ‘The perfect revolutionary, the member of the ruling party, must work every hour and every minute of his life, during these years of very hard struggle that lie ahead of us’ (speech to textile workers, 1963). In fact, for each of Guevara’s references to the future communist society, he made at least a dozen pleas urging the Cuban workers to increase production.


Leaders get lost!

‘Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel highlighted the imprint left on the Latin American progressive forces by the victory of the Popular Unity of Chile, which brought socialist Salvador Allende to power in 1970…. The revolutionary process of the 1970s remained in Latin American history with its painful but unavoidable lessons for future revolutionary processes in our region, he assured. He also said that during his visit to the Palacio de La Moneda during his stay in Santiago de Chile, in 2013, the historical leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro, told him that there was a spirit in that place and invited him to find it. That invitation, coming from a Marxist like Fidel Castro, was totally devoid of mysticism. He was, without a doubt, calling us to review a history that still has much to teach us’ (cadenagramonte.cu, 16 October). Yes, we should learn the lessons of history. Regarding Chile, in her book Democracy and Revolution: Latin America and Socialism Today, D. L. Raby writes ‘with a president voted in by only 36 per cent of the electorate and a coalition which only briefly achieved a little more than 50 per cent (in April 1971), there was no real mandate for revolutionary change.’ And this is what Fidel said when urging Mexican businesspeople to invest in Cuba, in 1988:’We are capitalists, but state capitalists. We are not private capitalists’ (Walter Daum, 1990, The Life and Death of Stalinism). The job of revolutionary socialists, wherever they are, is to make the world socialist revolution and this boils down now to the immediate task everywhere of spreading socialist ideas among the working class.


Nuclear winter or a socialist summer?

‘The weapons, known as intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, are intended as part of a near-total replacement of the American nuclear force over the next few decades at a total cost of more than $1.2 trillion…. The nuclear modernization program was launched by the Obama administration and has been continued by President Donald Trump’ (apnews.com, 20 October).

Back to capitalist normality (2020)

Editorial from the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

In this US Presidential election, the billionaire hustler who conned millions of working-class Americans into believing that he had their interests at heart has been given his cards. In the spirit of his rather dire TV show – the Apprentice – about 74 million Americans, mainly workers, declared ‘You’re Fired!’ Unlike his contestants who stoically picked up their bags and left the building, Donald Trump has been throwing his toys out of his pram and has chucked lawsuits around alleging electoral fraud. Some fear that this may be a prelude to an attempted coup or even a civil war. It is more likely that he is performing a last bit of theatre for his supporters, showing them that he is prepared to the fight the ‘Swamp’ to the bitter end, despite rewarding some of their members with top jobs in his government and handing them a huge juicy tax cat in 2017.

We can safely say that Joe Biden will be sworn in as the next US president. Should we be celebrating? The only ones who have any real reason to celebrate are the US capitalist class. They have tired of Trump’s erratic style of government, where policies are made on the hoof without any overall strategy, and dislike the disruption in global trade caused by his trade wars. Many of them are prepared to pay higher taxes in return for this capitalist normality. Unfortunately for them, there was no Biden landslide, as had been predicted. About 70 million Americans, again mostly workers, voted for the orange conman. Perhaps some believe, despite all the evidence, that he is working on their behalf; others like his patriotic posturing, while some are attracted by the religious and social conservatism that he supposedly professes. Some even see in him a saviour from ‘communism’.

There will also be a return, or more accurately a continuation, of capitalist normality for the American working class. They will be still be living in poverty, whether relative or absolute. Homelessness will still blight many workers’ lives and many will resort to food banks. That the Democrats are unlikely to secure a majority in the Senate and that the Supreme Court is packed with conservative judges, which some pundits suggest may limit the ability of the new administration to pursue progressive policies, is beside the point. The real inhibitor is the economic system itself which prioritises profits over human needs. For this reason Biden will not be able to do much about the economic devastation that capitalism has wreaked on the Rust Belt states that provided much of the fuel for Trump’s support, and even if he is more competent in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, the capitalist infrastructure again will provide limits to what he can achieve.

There is much talk about America being deeply divided. This is true, but the real division isn’t, as the media make out, between workers who support Biden against those who support Trump, but between the capitalist class, who own and control the means of production, and the propertyless working class. To overcome this division, we need a socialist revolution not a change in who occupies the White House.