Wednesday, December 2, 2020

50 Years Ago: To workers from Ireland (2020)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many of you will be concerned about what is happening in places like Belfast and Derry. You will probably support the civil rights struggle in Northern Ireland,

We too are concerned about the conditions our fellow workers in other parts of the world have to live and work under. We know that the role of the police and army is everywhere to protect private property and the existing political set-up.

When Ireland got independence in 1921 the North East part for economic reasons, was kept under British rule though given a parliament and government of its own. The government there has since armed itself with various undemocratic powers to use against its opponents. It is against these powers, and against bad housing and unemployment, that the Civil Rights people are protesting.

Protest movements are nothing new and are not confined to Northern Ireland. They exist everywhere and show that everywhere workers are discontented with some aspect of their lot. It is by promising to do something about this that politicians obtain your votes — and it is their failures that lead people to protest on the streets.

The politicians fail not because they are dishonest or incompetent but because capitalism cannot be made to work for the good of all.

If you accept this, then you will see that direct action is in the end as futile as voting for parties that stand for capitalism. You will see too the uselessness of a United Ireland as a way of solving the problems of workers in the North. This would merely be a political re-shuffle — a change of masters, we would say — that would leave unchanged the class basis of society which is the real cause of these problems. As anyone who has lived in the Irish Republic can confirm, people there face the same problems of bad housing, unemployment and insecurity (indeed this may be why you are now living here in Britain).

The lasting solution to these problems in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, Britain and the rest of the world is Socialism.
(Socialist Standard, December 1970)

US politics: what to expect from Biden and Harris (2020)

From the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard
What can we reasonably expect from the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris?
An assessment of the likely policy orientation of the new administration would ideally take into account the record of the political careers of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the sources of finance for their campaign, the appointments that Biden makes to cabinet post, and – last but not least – the political and economic circumstances in which the Biden White House will have to operate.

We do not yet know about appointments. In accordance with customary practice, some key personnel will no doubt be recycled from the Obama administration. However, we do have information about campaign finance. And from the long political careers of Biden and Harris we can learn a great deal about their attitudes and their patterns of behavior. Biden has under his belt 38 years as a senator plus two terms as Obama’s vice president. Harris has had four years as a senator; before that she was District Attorney of San Francisco for seven years and Attorney General of California for six.

A useful account of Biden’s career is provided by Branko Marcetic, a staff writer for Jacobin magazine, in his book Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden (Verso and Maple Press, 2020). In the November 2020 issue of Jacobin the same writer analyses the financing of this year’s presidential election campaigns. Another exposé is that written and published by Chris Aclixia under the self-explanatory title The Biden/Harris Ticket Is The Ultimate in Plutocracy: Screw The Little Guy.

Biden the compromiser 
Two points bear special emphasis. First, Biden has always been a great believer in bipartisanship and consensus. The leitmotif of his recent victory speech, for which he received fulsome praise from the corporate media, was his commitment to national unity and ‘healing’ after the divisiveness of the Trump presidency. Unity presupposes compromise. Biden’s compromises, however, are always with the Republicans to his right. And as the latter are much less willing than he to make concessions, ‘compromise’ generally turns out to be a euphemism for surrender.

Marcetic sums up the sorry result as follows:
‘Biden has spent his career reflexively adopting his right-wing opponents’ position as his own… He has repeatedly worked with Republicans to advance [many of] their political goals, dismantling the legacy of the New Deal in the process… Biden has got swept up in every right-wing panic of the last few decades – crime, drugs, terrorism — often going even further than Republicans in his response’ (p. 6).
This brings us to the second point. Both Biden and Harris have made major contributions to the explosion over recent decades in the size of the prison population – a phenomenon that has led many observers to call the present-day United States a ‘carceral state.’ As district and state attorney in California, Harris was keen to get even non-violent petty offenders locked up and reluctant to agree to their early release, which she opposed on the grounds that they were an important source of cheap labor for the state. But when her subordinates urged her to prosecute a crooked businessman she refused. Later he made a generous donation to her campaign fund.

Who paid the piper?
Now let’s follow the money. Who pays the piper calls the tune.

Trump versus Biden was the most expensive election ever held. The combined spending of the candidates is estimated at $14 billion – over twice the amount spent in the 2016 presidential election.

Many companies gave money to both candidates. Especially firms in the military-industrial complex. They certainly had no reason to be displeased with Trump, but they wanted to hedge their bets.

Mining corporations and the fossil fuel industries (oil, gas, coal) supported Trump. The high-tech firms in Silicon Valley supported Biden.

The financial sector – ‘Wall Street’ – backed Biden, as it had backed Obama and Hillary Clinton. The medical industry gave to Biden, presumably because he has always firmly opposed national healthcare schemes like ‘Medicare for All.’ Show business supported Biden, as did lobbying and law firms.

Overall, more billionaires gave money to Biden (150) than to Trump (108). Most small business owners supported Trump.

In the American political system, the executive branch governs not alone but in collaboration and conflict with Congress and the judiciary. The Democrats are set to retain their control over the House of Representatives, but the Senate hangs in the balance. Which party controls the Senate always has a palpable impact on the effectiveness of a presidential administration.

Whatever happens to the Senate, the Biden administration will be burdened with a conservative Supreme Court that is likely to rule radical new legislation (if there is any) unconstitutional.

We must also take into consideration budgetary and other economic constraints – some flowing directly from the current situation, others imposed by the general requirements of the capitalist system.

Thus one change that does seem likely to occur as a result of this election is the adoption of serious measures at the federal level to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control. However, similar measures already taken in states with Democratic governors have proven costly enough to jeopardize other state-funded services. The same problem will now arise in the federal government. Even if taxes on the wealthy are restored to pre-Trump levels, it is hard to imagine a fiscal situation less conducive to maintaining – let alone expanding — social provision.

Policy implications
What are the implications of all this for the policies the Biden administration is likely to pursue?

We can expect some reforms, if only for the sake of appearance, but hardly any with real substance. For example, the United States will probably rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, but there will be no Green New Deal (or at least nothing worthy of such a grand name). In the field of healthcare there may be an attempt to revive Obamacare – nothing more.

Those radicals who seek to ‘push Biden to the left’ under current circumstances have set themselves a truly Herculean task.

A Lesson from Trump (2020)

From the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The day after the outcome of the American presidential election became clear, someone wrote on our party’s Facebook page: ‘I can’t help but feel a lot happier this morning, knowing that the odious vile strange orange man has been sent packing’. There can be no doubt that, on a visceral level at least, many other workers worldwide felt a similar sense of relief that the unspeakable individual in charge of America had been dismissed from office. When I wrote to my sister-in-law the same day to wish her a happy birthday, she replied that ‘getting rid of the monster is the best possible present’. On a political level too many people were relieved, in view of the widely expressed claim that, if re-elected, Trump would have proceeded to establish some kind of dictatorship stamping on all dissent and in particular taking draconian measures, Mussolini or even Hitler style, against all ‘progressive’ forces.

Yet could this actually have happened? There is no doubt that Trump showed psychopathic traits similar to dictators like Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin – arrogant, narcissistic, bigoted, racist, authoritarian, demagogic, etc. But could he have gone ahead and taken control of the American state in the same way as former dictators have taken over their state and wreaked havoc on those who they opposed or who opposed them even to the point of genocide? Part of the answer to that lies in what actually happened in the American elections. What happened was that Trump, would-be dictator or not, was dismissed from office via that country’s democratic electoral process, in much the same way as many other leaders have often been dismissed from office in advanced capitalist democracies. The point is that the US has a well-entrenched mechanism for doing that regardless of whether the incumbent leaves quietly or, as Trump, kicking and screaming. It also has a mechanism (many mechanisms) for preventing an individual, whether deranged or loathsome or anything else, from exercising personal unrestrained power. This means that, even had the result gone the other way and Trump had strutted on as before, he could not have installed himself as the kind of ruthless dictator who rides roughshod over all opposition as Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin did and as others still do today in places where capitalist democracies have not yet – or not yet fully – emerged.

So, continuing the comparison with Mussolini and Hitler, why then were those dictators able to take over in Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s? They were able to because Italy and Germany had not at that time reached the same relatively secure level of capitalist economic and political development of countries as the US (and others such as the UK, Germany, France, Holland, Sweden, etc.) has today. Italy and Germany in that era did not have the same well-rooted system of political administration that exists today both in those countries and elsewhere and so were always a possible prey to the nationalist demagoguery of a dictator promising to cure all ills while spreading division and crushing opposition.

That same kind of demagoguery has of course echoed favourably with the over 70 million Americans who voted for Trump. And that can only be dispiriting for socialists who see as a prerequisite for the kind of society we advocate – leaderless, moneyless, wageless, frontierless and entirely democratic – the active agreement and support for that society by the majority of the world’s workers. What has happened in the US seems aeons away from that, especially as even the half of the electorate that voted for Biden were only choosing at best a ‘lesser evil’. That ‘lesser evil’, the Democrat Party, will, by the very nature of the system it is in charge of, continue to run that system in a business-as-usual way, i.e. in the profit-seeking interests of the tiny minority who monopolise the majority of the wealth. And this will continue to be the case as long as most wage and salary workers continue to have a mindset that supports, or at least acquiesces in, capitalism and the profit-seeking force that drives it.

Yet, having said that, what the example of Trump’s fall from office has shown is that in the US, as in other advanced capitalist countries, there is a well-entrenched system of democratic voting in place which, when the time comes, can be used by a socialist majority to ‘vote in’ socialism when the necessary consciousness has spread sufficiently for that to happen. And when it does, no would-be demagogue or dictator will be able to do anything to prevent the majority from making it happen.

Howard Moss

Free Meals (2020)

 From the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why not free meals for all?

That free meals for children during school breaks was ever an issue is surely a brazen example of the iniquities of capitalism.

The story ran like some synopsis for an updated staging of the musical ‘Oliver’, only it isn’t fiction. Why is it that the sixth largest economy in the world, that has borrowed, and will continue to borrow, many billions of Covid pounds, jibs at a few relatively measly millions to feed children plunged into poverty through no agency of their own?

A more pertinent question is, why should a resource that’s as vital to life as air be rationed by the ability to pay? A society that is struggling with the present pandemic to keep people breathing would not tolerate a system denying oxygen to those without the requisite bank balance.

Yet that is the logic of capitalism. Children, many of key workers on pathetically low pay who daily put themselves at risk of infection, are at the mercy of a squabble between national and local governments as to who will provide a meal a day for them.

The logic of socialism is that food will be available to freely supply the needs of everyone, adult or child. As it will be for all necessities of life. People will take what they need because they won’t have to take or hoard more, just in case. After all no one deliberately tries to breath in more air than they need.

Such will be the outcome of socially organising production to satisfy self-determined needs, rather than the capitalist need to satisfy profit taking and the restrictions on access this necessarily entails. Surprise, surprise, this option is not being promulgated in any of the media coverage of children and their inconvenient urge to eat between term times.