Thursday, February 25, 2021

Contributions (1976)

From the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

From time to time we receive articles and other features submitted by non-members. As the Socialist Standard is the organ of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, contributions are normally accepted only from members of that Party and its Companion Parties abroad. Non-members can and do contribute to the correspondence pages, of course.

So They Say: Sea Fever (1976)

The So They Say Column from the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sea Fever

The "BUY BRITISH” campaign launched recently by Mr. Peter Shore, the Trade Secretary, is making little progress in a number of fields. While Mr. Shore has little to offer but a redundant call for patriotism, the international realities of capitalist society have left him behind. The General Council of British Shipping has become concerned recently at the growth of the Russian merchant shipping industry. The Russian fleet is expanding at a relatively fast rate and coupled with heavy government subsidies, they offer reduced rates of carriage.

In a pamphlet published on the 16th January the Council concludes that the Russians are deliberately under-cutting other shipping industries in order to increase their share of the market.
  Unless checked, West European trade could come to depend increasingly on Eastern bloc transport within the next five years.
The Council therefore, representing the interests of British shipowners, have called for "Western governments” to introduce legislation which would restrict the use of Russian vessels should the owners fail to “negotiate” an agreement on how the cake is to be divided. They feel of course that the homegrown capitalist shipowner is to be preferred.

However, the British Shipper’s Council, which represents approximately 250 of the largest importers and exporters, has put the issue into perspective Their members have interests too: one of which is to take any economic advantage from a clash of interests among ship-owners.
   The council (British Shipper’s Council) acknowledges the dangers posed by the growth of the Russian merchant fleet but argues that its members cannot put national sentiment above the interest of their companies.
Daily Telegraph, 16th January 1976.
Coincidentally on the other side of the page, we have a report of Mr. Shore’s address to the British-Soviet Chamber of Commerce on 15th January. And what was he telling this hawk-eyed assembly—why, that it was “absolutely essential that Russia should place some substantial new orders with British industry quickly.” No doubt if the orders are forthcoming, Mr. Shore will advise the Russians that they must be carried in British ships.

To Heel, Fido

There has been considerable opposition in the US to the granting of landing rights for Concorde from what is termed “the environmental lobby.” Various arguments are put forward concerning noise levels, pollution and possible damage to the stratosphere ozone layer. Although these factors cannot be discounted, the real pressure is coming from the American aero-industry which sees the plane as a threat to their commercial interests. However the considerable capital tied up in the project, and the repercussions which would result from the supersonic “white elephant” being scrapped, has ensured that the government will take any and every step to over-ride the objections. The public hearing in Washington held to discuss the pros and cons of Concorde was informed rather neatly by Mr. Kaufman, the British Minister of State for Industry, that Concorde would not break international noise standards for supersonic aircraft—because no such standards exist.

It was not surprising then to find that when the President of the Heathrow Association for Control of Aircraft Noise, the Bishop of Kingston, put the view to the hearing that noise from Concorde “will cause great distress to people’s lives,” he drew some hostile comments from the official British representatives. Mr. Kaufman referred to the Bishop’s contribution as “froth and emotion;” “a kind of Monty Python sermon;” and “a kind of music hall act.” Although we are in little doubt of the Bishop’s abilities in this direction, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, felt that they could have been better employed elsewhere. Showing the extent of the usefulness of the church to the capitalist class, he asked:
  Surely, too, in his diocese there is work to be done which could fully engage his bounding energy? Is there not religious apathy to be fought, lax morality to be countered? Are there not humble homes to be visited and prayed in? Are there no hard-pressed clergy who look for help to their father-in-God? Would it not have been more useful, not to say more appropriate if he had devoted his time to spiritual matters rather than the temporal sort of sky-piloting for which I grant licences?
Daily Telegraph, 10th January 1976.

Bark, Fido

More light was thrown on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the British government during the early war years when Foreign Office papers from 1940/1 were recently examined by the Jesuit periodical, Civilta Cattolica. According to the Jesuits, the Vatican radio was under pressure from the government to broadcast anti-Nazi propaganda which was often re-transmitted by the BBC in “distorted and provocative” form. The supposed neutrality of the Vatican, coupled with the fact that the radio was directed towards 40 million Catholics, meant that it was a propaganda outlet of importance. The British and German foreign offices were engaged in a "continuing struggle” to influence the broadcasts, until, after 16 months, Pope Pius XII decided to avoid further controversy, and stopped them in April 1941.

The British Foreign Office was initially angered by the decision—Sir Robert Vansittart (then chief diplomatic adviser to the government) describing the Pope as “One of the feeblest ever.” Later, Sir Alec Randall—who had been Secretary at the British Legation to the Holy See—reflected:
   The Vatican wireless has been of the greatest service to our propaganda and we have exploited it to the full. No other neutral power would, in the face of this, have persisted so long in furnishing us with useful material and risking violent criticism from powers with which it is in ordinary diplomatic relations.
Times, 15th January 1976.

Production for Profit

Production in capitalist society takes place when the owners of the means of production expect to realize a profit from the sale of their commodities. When that expectation decreases because the market becomes “overburdened” or because demand has fallen, production is tailored accordingly. The important point is that “the market” is made up of buyers and sellers. From the market’s point of view, once a worker has spent his wages he no longer has any requirements. However real his needs may be they are not an element of “demand” in the production of those commodities which he cannot afford to buy. In short, commodities are produced for exchange, not for use.

Questioners at our meetings are sometimes surprised to learn that food is a commodity and exhibits the same characteristics as other commodities. “Isn’t food for eating?” we are asked, “No, food is for sale” is the reply. Mr. Adrien Ries, chief counsellor in the agricultural sector of the European Commission, speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference in January, highlighted the effect of production for a market:
  The demand for food is limited and not capable of huge expansion. This means that the income to farmers as a group is not capable of rapid expansion through continued increases in output. (Our emphasis)
Times, 12th January 1976.
While it has become an accepted fact that well over one half of the world’s population suffer from a lack of decent sustenance, and millions die annually as a result, here we are told that demand for food is limited. Mr. Roger Bennett, also speaking at the conference asked:
  How does one measure productivity? It can only be done by increasing profits. We have had a very good example of this in the past year with the potato producer. Nature has come along and depressed his total production to the point at which there is a shortage and has raised profits. There is a salutary lesson in all this for all of us.
There is a lesson to be learned, but not from these twisted teachers "Ah yes they might say "but within the context of capitalism, our remarks are realistic." Ah yes, but that is the point, look at the ugly realities of capitalism and then ask why such a system should continue.
Alan D'Arcy

Letters: Inflation (1976)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard


I am rather puzzled by one thing for which there may be a simple explanation. Inflation, it seems, is caused by the issue of too much inconvertible money in relation to low productivity. Yet a capitalist crisis is supposed to be caused by overproduction and a consequent recession. I realize, of course, that capitalism will supply only those goods which can be sold — not necessarily enough goods to satisfy human needs. But if there is this massive potential production it should be mopped up by the issue of more money. Then with greater purchasing power and more goods there should be more for everybody without inflation. So why inflation?
W. Walker

Before dealing with the particular question of inflation considered as means of achieving greater production it is necessary to summarize briefly the Marxist explanation of inflation. (It was described more fully in the Socialist Standard for September 1974.)

Inflation is the general rise of the price level caused by debasement of the currency. The currency is debased if inconvertible paper money is issued in an excess amount; that is to say, if there is more paper money than “the amount of gold coins of like denomination which could actually be current”. In given conditions of production and trade, and in relation to the legal definition of the unit of currency (in the nineteenth century the pound sterling was fixed by law at about one-quarter ounce of gold), a certain total amount of gold would be required as currency, representing a certain total mass of value. If the gold is replaced by inconvertible paper money and the paper money is issued in excess, prices will rise correspondingly. This has invariably happened. The average retail price level in this country now is more than eight times what it was in 1938, and by far the largest factor is debasement of the currency. With total production little more than doubled, the currency in circulation has increased from under £500 million to nearly £6,000 million.

The price level can rise or fall by moderate amounts apart from inflation, as it did in booms and depressions in the hundred years before 1914 when there was no inflation. The present world depression has kept commodity prices from rising as much as they otherwise would have done.

The idea that issuing excess paper money ought not to debase the currency because it would cause total production to increase, and the excess would be “mopped up”, is a very old one. John Law the Scottish banker-speculator set it out in detail in the eighteenth century. (See, for example, the article on John Law in the International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences.) It did not work for Law, and his private bank in France and the French state bank he organized both collapsed. It does not work now, as a look at the years 1970 to 1975 will show.

The currency circulation in 1970 was £3,101 million. It is now nearly £6,000 million. The wage and salary total for 1970 was £26,830 million. In 1975 it will have approached £60,000 million. Total consumer spending in 1970 was £31,472 million. In 1974 it increased to £51,670 million and in 1975 will probably have reached about £65,000 million.

So according to the plausible, but fallacious, inflationist theory all the conditions were set for a great boom in production and capital investment and for a fall of unemployment. What happened? Official figures of the index of industrial production for the third quarter of 1975 show it at 100: exactly the same as in 1970. According to Mr. Varley, Secretary for Industry, industrial investment this year, after allowing for price increases, “could be at its lowest level for 12 years” (Financial Times, 14th January 1976). And unemployment, which averaged 618,000 in 1970, rose to 885,000 in 1972, and fell to 631,000 in 1974, reached an average of 1,013,674 in 1975 and is expected to go higher in 1976.

There remains, of course, the one solid achievement of inflation. The retail price level rose between 1970 and December 1975 by over 100 per cent!

The idea that an inflationary price rise stimulates total production is put into proper perspective when it is realized that the total value of production in this country in the twenty years 1870 to 1890, expressed as an amount per head of the population, rose by at least as much (about 50 per cent.) as in the twenty years 1950 to 1970. In the first period the average retail price level fell. In the second period it was rising all the time.

Religion & Resources

A couple of points from the December ‘Standard’ on which I feel that you are avoiding the real questions.

The first arises out of the correspondence about religion. I think there is some confusion about the distinction between organized religion—which is certainly a social phenomenon for maintaining conformity to the system—and metaphysical or philosophical theories relating to the nature of life and the universe.

It is reasonable to refute the worship of an all- powerful God, since human problems can clearly only be solved by human beings. You are right to distinguish between materialism and idealism, but to accept the interplay between social systems and religious ideas does not absolutely disprove the possibility of existence of a “God”, in the sense of some power, force or intelligence which is beyond our comprehension.

You constantly uphold the rationality of a scientific and materialist outlook, but every scientist knows that the tiny physical size of the human brain in relation to the whole universe means that certain things must always be beyond our comprehension. Among these things you cannot dismiss the possibility of “supernatural forces”—it is entirely unreasonable and unscientific to do so.

My second point concerns the population question, which arose again in “Poverty Anonymous”. There is no known factual and scientific basis on which you can claim that the world is able to materially support any level of human population. In fact, with any given material standard of living there must obviously be a limit to the size of human population sustainable on this planet.

I accept that food production is severely repressed in the capitalist system, but this does not refute the argument but merely raises the upper limit of population, above which “over-population” will exist. Of course, this limit must be calculable by scientific methods, but until this is known you can only question the sustainable level of population and cannot deny the existence of such a limit.

Following from this you also cannot scientifically state the average standard of living which the earth can support for a given total population. It might well be that an equitable distribution of the world’s resources would necessitate a fall in the average standard of living of workers in the “developed” nations. You are merely expressing wishful thinking to imply that this would not be so. You can only express a belief until the scientifically based facts are available.
F. Ansell

Although you do not go into detail about the particular metaphysical or philosophical theories you have in mind, if they foster belief in the idea of God, they are the same theories subscribed to by organized religion, which you agree helps maintain capitalism.

Who are the scientists to whom you refer, who know that the size of our brain prevents our comprehension of certain things in the universe? What correlation is there between the size of the brain and what it is able to comprehend? Science proceeds upon the opposite assumption, that nothing is unknowable. Countless things commonplace in our lives today, were thought beyond our comprehension a hundred or so years ago.

Your attitude is not only unscientific, it is a denial of the social nature of human knowledge. No one man, or group of men comprehend the total of what is known today, but it is known to mankind as a whole.

It is not for us to disprove the existence of gods. It is for those who believe in them to prove they do exist. Likewise with your supernatural forces. Gods and other supernatural ideas were conceived by primitive men to explain things that were mysterious to them. We do not need to comprehend the universe to be able to dismiss them. We merely need to understand man’s history.

You are a one for making wild assertions and then claiming scientific knowledge as your ally. The article “Poverty Anonymous”, did not claim “that the world is able to materially support any level of human population”. Your alleged fact, that "with any given material standard of living there must obviously be a limit to the size of the human population sustainable on this planet”, is meaningless. For example primitive man who only numbered a few million spread thinly over the earth, only had the means to scratch the crudest existence from nature. His world could materially support only a tribal existence on a day-to-day basis. Today there are approximately 4000 million people which modern technology sustains at a vastly different level. Yet, when primitive man starved it was because of the physical impossibility of finding food. Today, human beings starve while mountains of food are destroyed in many parts of the world. As technology (man’s knowledge) grows so does his capacity to provide his needs.

You repeat the fallacy warned against in the article about equitable distribution meaning a fall in the standard of living in the “developed” nations. You are projecting “nations” into Socialist society, or as we said, looking for solutions within capitalism which creates problems. It is capitalism with its cost considerations and profit motive, that holds back the rational application of modern technology in the under-developed areas. Also, you forgot about the millions of poor and hungry people in a technically advanced Britain and America which the article dealt with: how do you explain them apart from the anti-human economics of capitalism?

“Standard of living”, is itself a very misleading phrase. Whose standard? That of the unemployed or the old age pensioner, or that of Paul Getty and the Duke of Edinburgh? Do you include in your standard of living, only those things your wages enable you to afford, or do you include the quality of life imposed by wider social factors? These factors must include living in a world with Hydrogen Bombs, where waste and want co-exist on a scale unsurpassed in history.

Our case is that the technical capacity for world abundance exists. You call this wishful thinking until scientifically based facts are available. We refer you to world authorities, who have carried out exhaustive scientific studies on the subject. Nutritionists like Lord Boyd Orr and Josué de Castro, also Dr. B. R. Sen and the team who produced the UNESCO publication Courier, Special Issue on Hunger (July-August 1962). One of that team, Professor Michel Michel Cépède, after assessing the facts, writes
  But this is precisely the scandalous situation of our time and one which it is useless to seek to disguise: that in a world capable of properly feeding 35,000 million human beings and containing only 3,000 million, at least 2,000 million suffer from hunger.
and he concludes,
. . . ignorance is responsible and not the ungenerosity of nature or the number of people on earth—ignorance and problems of economics.

Why not agnosticism?

Atheism is surely disbelief (not non-belief) in the existence of God. It takes the absolutist view that there is no God. It assumes implicatively that the atheist has ransacked the universe for support for his assumption.

One can only prove the non-existence of something by systematically examining the entire context in which it can logically be expected to occur. But we are confronted with a startling array of contradictions. If we don’t know what constitutes evidence how can we prove or disprove God’s existence? The context is surely universal knowledge, which as we know is expanding with the deeper insight of man and the intercourse of ideas, belief and technology.

Agnosticism, not atheism, is incontrovertible. It considers the question of whether or not God exists as irrelevant as we are not equipped with the means to arrive at a sound conclusion. Agnosticism is the simple suspension of belief and embraces two opposite tendencies: there might be a God and there might not be.

Surely what is more pertinent is to what extent and purpose the “God concept” is utilized. Christianity applies a “carrot-and-stick” policy and sanctifies capitalism. It truncates social awareness by a spurious claim to a relativistic morality. The systematic pursuit of rational evidence which is not forthcoming is to no avail but can never be a closed question. I am conscious of my conditions. I know what I want. And I know the only solution to this impasse — Socialism!
Robin Cox 

Socialists describe themselves not as atheists but as scientific materialists. Occasionally we invoke Engels’s phrase for agnosticism, “shamefaced atheism”; in Engels’s day “atheism” meant “without belief” — the meaning you attribute to “agnosticism” — but has now come to mean an active anti-god view.

We do not accept the proposition that one is disbarred from taking a standpoint without having combed the universe for evidence: it would be an excuse for never making any decision. Gathering evidence means making lists, and it is impossible to make a list without a hypothesis. Nor is the idea of having a completely open mind sustainable.

However, as the end of your letter shows you understand, Socialism is not a philosophical debate but is about society. We do not consider that we have to disprove all the supernatural beliefs of the world; our case is that these have not only social effects but social causes. Discussion of this or that god might lead to the "ask me another” conclusions you indicate, but isn’t the point.

Why does, say, the modern Scandinavian believe in Christ instead of Odin, and the modern Egyptian in Islam instead of Osiris? These changes reflect changes in the structure, and consequently the idea- systems, of society. The evidence concerning each belief is to be found not in the solar system but in the society from which the belief sprang and in which it is accepted.

Our suggestion is that you leave both “atheist” and "agnostic” as sterile words, and concentrate on “intelligent social awareness”.

A barrage of questions

I have read your specimen literature and in principle agree with you. I should like to ask some questions concerning the Party and its policy.

First, I would like to know about the structure of the Party. How is the Executive Committee elected? What are its plans for the future? I should also like to know the whereabouts of the Scottish group of “Impossibilists”, the Socialist Labour Party, if they still exist.

Although correctly condemning nationalization as state capitalism you do not specify how industry will be run in a Socialist society. Surely it should be run on a co-operative basis, if the workers themselves do not control industry then Socialism will have no more economic democracy than capitalism.

I have noticed that your Socialist philosophy is not very different from the Soviet government’s Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism 1961 in which they envisage production for use and the withering-away of the state as the ultimate stage of communism. In their set-up the party would remain “the guiding and dominating force in society”, in other words a society where through the abolition of the legal system the individual would have no protection from abuse of power by the CP’s public committees. Would the Socialist Party wish to pursue a similar role? I am an independent socialist who believes that when such groups exist we enter the realms of “power politics”.

While agreeing that the church must be disestablished and its prerogatives removed I believe that those with religious beliefs (who could also be Socialists) should be free to compete for public interest. An attempt to suppress religion by force as in the Soviet Union is anti-democratic and therefore anti-Socialist. I personally am an agnostic, having insufficient evidence on which to come to a conclusion.

Who, in a society based on production for use and free access, would decide what is to be produced and what each person will be entitled to consume? Won’t everybody want a big house and a new car, and what will happen to art treasures, architectural monuments and other “priceless” objects?

Marx declared the need for a “dictatorship of the proletariat” to prevent the capitalist class from regaining power. This anti-democratic theory provided Lenin with an excuse for the Soviet dictatorship. Does the Socialist Party see a need for establishing such a dictatorship, even for temporary purposes?

Finally, how does the Party define the term "working class”. Who is "working-class” and who isn’t? And does the Party have full-time salaried officials?
Ian Greenslade

The answers to your questions are numbered for easier reference.

1. The Party’s Executive Committee is elected each year by a ballot of the entire membership, the nominations having been made by branches.

2. Our plans for the future are to carry on propaganda for Socialism until the majority of the working class understand and want it.

3. The Socialist Labour Party has had only a sporadic existence since 1920, when a section of the membership it had went into the Communist Party.

4. Industry in Socialism will be run by the community as a whole. “Workers” as a category will no longer exist.

5. Don’t believe a word of the Russian government’s and CP’s anti-working-class nonsense. All political parties stand for class interests, including the Socialist Party which expresses the interests of the working class. When classes no longer exist, nor will parties. We have no idea of existing as a “guiding and dominating force”, or existing at all, in Socialism.

6. We make no suggestion of suppressing religion. Our case is that it will die out once people understand society and control their own lives; if any still desire it for personal consolation they will no doubt be thought of as harmless chumps. On your agnosticism, see the reply to Robin Cox.

7. “Free access” means exactly what it says: that each person will be able to take all he needs without paying or asking permission. Socialism will unfetter production and enable it to meet these needs adequately. Any decisions and choices will be made by all the people involved, in contrast with what happens under capitalism. Why do you suppose everyone will automatically “want a big house and a new car”? Big houses have largely ceased to be wanted under capitalism now that regiments of domestic servants no longer exist; but anyway, you are projecting into Socialism the way people think under capitalism.

8. The immediate change to Socialism was not economically possible in 1848, and Marx and Engels envisaged a period in which the working-class party held political power and legislated for the change. They saw the situation alter in their lifetimes, and it does not apply in the 20th century. The establishment of Socialism will be immediate.

9.  Class is relationship to the means of production. Under capitalism there are two classes only, owners and non-owners. The owners are, of course, the capitalist class. All the remainder — about nine-tenths of the population — are forced to sell their labour-power, i.e. to work for wages, to live: hence, they are the working class.

10. The Socialist Party is a voluntary organization and all its work is done by members. The various administrative jobs in it are filled by election each year; none of them is salaried. There is no position carrying prestige or special influence, or where an individual may make decisions over the heads of the membership.

Wise words 

I am just recovering from a serious illness and would ask you for your tolerance for this somewhat captious note.

For about six years before I joined the Party in 1935, and for many years after, I waited with impatience for the Socialist Standard — not only for myself but for the workers I had got interested, almost all of whom had left or escaped from an elementary school at fourteen, like the writer.

Rarely were they puzzled with the language used. The then Editorial Committee reproved me severely in my meagre list of articles for the S.S. for using the word ‘“montage” (saying they could not find it anywhere) and using the word ‘"miasma”. Reflecting now, I was guilty of pretentiousness.

Now then, in recent years and indeed in the current issue I see words used in our journal — read by ex-elementary schoolboys, at least in Glasgow — that are comparable, if not worse, with my literary crimes. E.g. “detente” — what precisely does that mean? I can guess from the context. The same goes for "embarras de richesses” — Jesus H., as the Yanks say!

A few years ago, “syndrome”, a medical term, was used in connection with Hyde Park and the Soviet Union and is nowadays used in all kinds of contexts. “Escalate”, “viable”, “meaningful discussions” are the order of the day.

If you find time, convey my views to the writers. More power to their elbows.
T. A. Mulheron 

We note your remarks carefully. Will all contributors to the Socialist Standard please pay attention to them?

L. S. Chell (Brighton): There is a distinction between vigorous criticism and abuse. In our opinion your letter does not achieve it. If you care to state your views temperately, we will reply.

From the Communist Manifesto (1976)

From the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘There are besides, eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc., that are common to all states of society. But Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis; it therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience.”

What does this accusation reduce itself to? The history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonism, antagonisms that assumed different forms in different epochs.

But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms.

The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property-relations; no wonder that its development involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Sting in the Tail: Open Letter (1992)

The Sting in the Tail column from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Open Letter

The Scorpion's Nest, 
52 Clapham High Street 
1 February 1991

Botanist and TV Personality 

Dear David,

We read how you told the annual conference of the CBI that, instead of cutting their profits, environmental care could, by using "new technologies", bring them new profits.

Bet this went down well with the manufacturers of the necessary equipment (Mr Heseltine told the conference that the market for this could be worth billions) but possibly the companies you hope will buy it weren’t quite so enthusiastic.

You see, David, capitalism is a very competitive system and every company must keep its costs down even at the expense of the environment. That's why we have pollution but maybe you knew that?

And those profits you spoke so approvingly of, they are the unpaid labour of the useful class In society. It's legal robbery, David, but perhaps you didn’t know that?

Anyway, although we enjoy your TV programmes it's obvious to us that you know more about the environment than you do about the economic laws of capitalism which make such a mess of It.

Words of Wisdom
  "The 1960s were good years for liberalism; a fair amount of money was spent on poverty programs and relatively nothing happened. Enter new leaders and new priorities. Why didn't earlier programs work? Two possibilities are open:
1. We didn't spend enough money, we didn't make sufficient creative efforts, or (and this makes any established leader jittery) we cannot solve these problems without a fundamental social and economic transformation of society; or 2. the programs failed because their recipients are inherently what they are — blaming the victims."
(Stephen Jay Gould in Ever Since Darwin Page 47.)

Dismal Johnny

The press made great play of the different style of government we could expect with the demise of Margaret Thatcher and the advent of John Major.

Mrs Thatcher, it was said, was the hard-edged, no-nonsense type of prime minister while Mr Major would prove to be a decent, compassionate man with a social conscience.

A couple of years ago Mrs Thatcher in one of her photo opportunity visits to the depressed North East of England reprimanded demonstrators and branded the unemployed as "Moaning Minnies". In January Mr Major claimed that such problems as rising unemployment and evictions were being exaggerated by "Dismal Jimmies".

His speech to Newcastle businessmen was made on 8 January. Next morning It was announced that the Ravenscraig Steel Mill In Lanarkshire was to close with the loss of 1,200 Jobs.

Doubtlessly there will be some Moaning Minnies and Dismal Jimmies among the ungrateful families of steel workers who will fall to appreciate the different styles of Thatcher and Major.

Bitter Harvest

George Bush began the year with a visit down-under during which he extolled the "warm kinship" between Americans and Australians.

But when angry Australian farmers demonstrated against US subsidies to American farmers which they claim costs them 1 billion dollars a year in lost overseas markets, the "warm kinship"rapidly cooled.

Bush told the demonstrators:
  While I don't like having to use these remedies, I will safeguard the Interests of American farmers.
The Guardian 3 January 
So free-marketeer Bush defends subsidies to American farmers while at the same time he is bitterly denouncing the EEC for subsidising Its farmers

1992 will provide the usual bumper crop of bare-faced, hypocritical politicians. That is one harvest that never falls!

Hard to Credit

The news that Canada's Labourites, the New Democratic Party, had won the provincial elections In British Columbia was interesting only because the party they ousted was the Social Credit Party.

Social Credit was a 1930's movement whose case was built around the notion that banks "create credit" by lending money they do not have. Why, they argued, shouldn't governments do the same? The resulting increase in purchasing power would bring prosperity, banish slumps, etc.

Parties holding this view sprang up all over the world but although most of them have vanished some modern books on banking and economics still peddle the nonsense that banks lend more than they have, so this unsound theory is still around and not only In Canada.

Still Clueless

Channel Four's "A Week In Politics" (22 December) had four Labour ex-cabinet ministers discussing the problems a Labour government will face if elected. Present were Tony Benn, Denis Healey, Barbara Castle and Merlyn Rees and they went at it with typical sound and fury.

Benn said Labour must "face-down" International finance and not the unions but Healey replied that "excessive union demands" must be resisted and cited some left-wing councils who wore currently doing that.

"Labour should spend its way out of recession" said Benn, but Healey rubbished this and warned that people might have to "make sacrifices". Castle claimed Labour could finance extra spending by cutting ’Tory waste" while Rees urged a return to Keynesian intervention.

So despite the lessons of decades in cabinet and over 100 years as MPs between them, the four still believe, whatever their differences, that Labour can solve capitalism's contradictions. Some people never learn.

Happy Families

The new statistical bulletin Homicide In Scotland 1986 - 90 reveals that of the 589 people accused of killing in Scotland during that period only 193 were strangers to the victims.

A further 271 were lovers, friends or acquaintances of those killed, but the other 125 comprised 45 husbands or wives, 32 sons or daughters, 23 parents, 4 brothers or sisters and 21 other relatives!

So our own families are among the most dangerous people we know and yet capitalism's apologists tell us that the nuclear family "holds together the fabric of society".

What Do We Stand For? (1992)

From the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists advocate state ownership and state control, don't they?

No. The word "socialist" has been badly distorted in the last 75 years. The main culprit was Lenin — followed by the Bolsheviks and their admirers all over the world. The Socialist Party pointed out from 1917 onwards that Russia wasn't socialist and could not be at that stage of its development. The other main advocates of state control in this country are, of course, the Labour Party.

When it suits them, they call themselves socialist; when they think it will lose them votes, they don't. One of their politicians in the past defined socialism as "whatever the Labour Party happens to be doing at the moment". In fact, there is nothing socialist about what they do.

What do socialists like yourself stand for, then?

Socialism for us is the next stage in social evolution — a far more free and ecologically responsible society which will succeed this one — if we are quick enough. Our present political/economic system threatens to ruin the planet in lire way it is going at present.

The majority of the world's population need to bring about radical democratic change without delay if we are to meet human needs, preserve the Earth's ecological balance and avoid the large-scale use of nuclear and biological weapons.

What is it that you think needs changing?

We contend that it is urgently necessary to move on to a more advanced way of organising production and distribution in society: one in keeping with the tremendous strides made by science and technology. At the moment we tend to regard "the economy" rather in the way we regard the weather; as beyond control, with its booms and slumps like summers and winters. And. as long as we leave things as they are, that’s how it operates — out of control. But it is a human-made system, a social construct. And it is now far too crude and erratic to serve a modern society's needs.

What makes you say that the economic system is crude?

Its price structure is a poor, one-dimensional tally system which ought long ago to have been superseded by much more complex and sensitive social control. Modern information systems and computing power make it feasible for anyone, anywhere in the world, to know far more about any aspect of the world's production and distribution than was even imaginable fifty years ago — and to find it out within a few minutes. This makes possible a highly sensitive and complex global network of all the production and distribution processes. And it would mean that, in place of the enormous financial structure of present society, we should have a much more qualitatively rich and socially widespread system of information and control. Everyone in a socialist society would be involved in the control, as they would in the supplying and receiving of information.

But why should you want to change an economic system that has proved itself, and been refined over two hundred years or more?

The system we live under is not simply a way of organising society's production and distribution. It is a system of accumulating wealth — in the form of land, roads, bridges, tunnels, mines, oil refineries, factories, farms, office blocks, ships — all the paraphernalia of modern high-tech society.

The significant social fact about this wealth is that it is not owned by the great majority of the population. The result is that they have little or no say in how all this wealth is used, either from a human or an ecological point of view.

One of the most worrying things is that there is little deliberate human control at all. because the accumulation of wealth — its expansion through profit and reinvestment — is the overriding force driving society. Those who try to divert it or go against it get swept aside. Most people, about 90 per cent of the population, have no means of living of their own. They have no choice but to offer themselves for work to those who do own the factories, farms, offices and so on. for wages or salaries. For about fifty of the best years of their lives this work, under someone else's control, takes the bulk of their waking hours, with perhaps another hour or two commuting to and from work. This is not freedom, but economic bondage, and cannot be anything else under the ruthless drive for profit.

Freedom to stop doing a boss's bidding and become destitute and a social outcast is not freedom at all. It is compulsion. Moreover, the fact they we offer ourselves for jobs does not mean that we shall always get them or keep them. We live the whole of our adult lives under this pressure, this insecurity.

But surely the present system provides steadily rising living standards for most people?

This ignores that the insecurity is made far worse by the fact that, periodically and inevitably, the spiral process of reinvesting profits to make yet more profits overreaches itself — the productivity of factories and farms cannot be increased fast enough to keep ahead of the increased demand for profit.

Throughout the economy, profit ceases to be sufficient to expand production and then, as has happened throughout the last two centuries and is happening now, we have what is called a recession /slump /depression/ crisis. Then wage and salary earners are thrown out of work, production is cut back; companies and individuals go bankrupt in their thousands; many of those with mortgage or hire purchase debts are unable to maintain their payments and have their homes and belongings repossessed.

Millions are prevented from working at all, while those still in work are often driven to the point of exhaustion every day. If production were cut back because people did not want or need the goods and services, that would make some sense, but that is far from being the ease. Production is cut (and must be cut in this economic system, regardless of whether people need the food or medicines or whatever) because production has ceased to be profitable.

But if state control of the economy is not the answer, what is?

We agree that attempts at state control or interference in this process usually makes it worse, as has happened in Russia and the Eastern Bloc. But, left to itself, the economic system has become hopelessly inadequate for what should be a modern, highly developed, global society.

It's like an old steam tram carried over into the age of supersonic flight. People still resist the increasing pressure to make a radical change in society, but socialists believe that until that change is made, symptoms of the incongruity will get worse; the increase in crime, the decay of inner cities, the degradation of the environment, the impoverishment of Third World countries, the recurrence of famines and disease outbreaks, the outbreaks of armed conflicts around the world, the increase in the power of states and the harshness of their regimes.

Although there is nearly always state involvement, underlying all these are economic causes. They can only be improved when we decide to dispense with economics altogether and take full social control of our production and distribution. And that will be socialism.

Socialist election campaign (1992)

Party News from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Plans to contest the Holborn and St Pancras constituency in London in the coming election are going ahead. Our comrade Richard Headicar has been appointed the candidate and a Socialist Standard sales campaign has been launched in the constituency. Further details of the campaign can be obtained from: Michael Ghebre, 169 Royal College St, London NW1 OSG (tel: 071-482 XXXX).

Meanwhile, thanks to further gratefully-received contributions from readers and collections, the amount in the Election Fund has reached £1157, well on the way towards our target of £2000 set to mount a credible campaign. Any further contributions should be sent to: Election Fund, the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High St. London SW4 7UN.

Uncommon Tragedy (1992)

From the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1968 the journal Science published an article by an American biologist, Garrett Hardin, entitled “The Tragedy of the Commons”. Its central argument, that common property leads to ecological ruin, has since become “part of the conventional wisdom in environmental studies, resource science and policy, economics, ecology and political science” (Human Ecology, No 1,1990).

Hardin did not exactly break new ground. Others had already elaborated a theory of the commons along similar lines. Nevertheless the publication of his article struck a chord at a time of growing environmental concern. It echoed the prevailing ethos of ecological pessimism articulated by the emerging environmental lobby and, more particularly, by the authoritarian anti-humanism of its neo-Malthusian wing.

Hardin set out to demonstrate the implications that different systems of property rights had for the sustainable use of natural resources. As the title of his article suggests, his main concern was with a system in which these resources were held in common (in the sense of not being monopolised by anyone).

Unrealistic model

He gave the example of a rangeland on which a population of herdsmen were able to graze their cattle without restriction. While the benefits of adding a head of cattle to his herd would accrue to the individual herdsman alone, the environmental costs of this decision would be shared by all the herdsmen. Thus, from the individual’s viewpoint, these costs would be largely “externalised”. That would encourage him as a rational economic actor to increase his herd still further—and thereby become richer—since the benefits would outweigh the private costs this entailed.

The problem, according to Hardin, was that every other herdsman would be inclined to do the same and thus, ultimately, the combined effect of their actions would be to increase the number of cattle on the commons beyond its carrying capacity. In short, common ownership of the rangeland will lead to tragedy. That the private ownership of the cattle might be equally implicated in his scenario was a point that appears to have escaped Hardin’s notice.

Some economists have tended to see the solution to this problem as something to be imposed from outside or above: leave the existing system of property rights intact but introduce measures such as cattle taxes or quotas to force herdsmen to reduce their stocking rates. An alternative approach, favoured by Hardin, is to enclose, or privatise, the commons. Private ownership, goes the argument, would compel the individual herdsman to bear the full costs of any decision to increase his herd and thus persuade him to maintain a stocking rate compatible with the sustainable use of grazing land. It would also provide the necessary incentive to upgrade pasture because the benefits of doing so would be similarly “internalised”.

Both these approaches concur on one fundamental point: there is no possibility of an internal solution to the “tragedy of the commons”. After all, if there was, there would be no reason to expect a tragedy. Yet it is precisely on this point that the theory is coming under fire.

Wherever a commons has existed it has been associated with a complex pattern of institutional rules governing a distinct community of users; unregulated open access regimes are more typical of sparsely populated frontier zones. As John Reader puts it:
  access to the commons was restricted by entitlement; use was regulated to ensure that no individual could pursue his own interest to the detriment of others. Far from bringing ruin to all, the true commons functioned to keep its exploitation within sustainable limits. (New Scientist, 8 September 1988).
There are numerous examples that bear this out, from the traditional Japanese village to Pacific island communities. Some have emerged only recently, such as the case of a number of Turkish coastal fisheries, but many contemporary examples have been in existence for hundreds of years. Indeed, it is the very persistence of the commons as an institution which testifies, in the view of some, to its inherent stability.

Carlisle Ford Runge has presented a cogent critique of Hardin’s theory (American Journal of Agricultural Economics, November 1981), in which he argues that it is not the existence of a commons that is the problem but uncertainty in the context of interdependent decision-making. Hardin assumes that the decisions reached by his herdsmen are made in isolation from one another. A more appropriate model, Runge suggests, permits communication between the parties concerned. In this way a compromise could be struck between them which results in a better outcome than would otherwise be possible.

Within actually existing pastoral societies such mutual assurance is secured through the institutionalisation of rules that allow herders to adapt their behaviour in the light of the expected behaviour of others. Once established, herders have a vested interest in maintaining such rules through the exercise of moral sanctions because of the high opportunity costs involved in finding an alternative. Group size may be an important consideration insofar as it affects the transmission of information within, and the cohesiveness of, the group.

Significantly, Hardin felt compelled to qualify his theory in his response to Reader’s article when he explained that the title of his article should have been “The tragedy of the unmanaged commons” (New Scientist, 22 October 1988). But since the commons as a rule are not unmanaged, this made the whole relevance of his theory questionable.

Land enclosures

When we look at the historical development of private property it is abundantly clear that what characterises this process above all is its coercive nature. The gradual demise of the commons in Britain from the 15th century onwards was not the result of their decline into ecological ruin. It was the deliberate result of the state’s policy of land enclosure to meet the agricultural capitalists’ demand for more land.

This same process of land enclosure is still going on in many parts of the Third World today. In the colonial era, conservationist arguments were often used to justify the appropriation of other people’s land. Communal tenure was dismissed as “primitive” and “unscientific”, and conducive to poor economic performance as well as environmental deterioration. By and large, these same attitudes continue to inform the policies of many post-colonial regimes. As Vink and Kassier point out, there are “numerous examples of livestock development projects in sub-Saharan Africa which have, implicitly or explicitly, been based on the tragedy of the commons hypothesis” (South African Journal of Economics, No 2, 1987). Such projects have sought to substitute private for communal tenure but have been “characterised by a pervading sense of failure”.

There is scant evidence to show that environmental management of rangelands has improved as a result of introducing private ownership. On the contrary, the undermining of communal institutions in the Sahel and Southern Africa has led to increased overgrazing. Land enclosures in drought-prone semi-arid areas preclude the application of traditional risk-avoidance grazing strategies involving the movement of cattle to less vulnerable areas. Moreover, the commercialisation of agriculture accompanying the spread of private tenure tends to make the private rancher vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. So, while, in theory, private tenure may induce them to maintain sustainable stocking rates by internalising their environmental costs, economic pressures often force them to disregard these costs to ensure short-term viability.

The social consequences of land enclosures have almost invariably proved calamitous. While some may benefit—usually government officials and multinational corporations—the high transaction and enforcement costs (such as stock-proof fencing) preclude most from participation in such schemes. This results in large-scale land eviction, increased inequality and rising discontent.

The small yeoman farmers evicted by the Enclosure Acts in Britain had little option but to migrate to the towns were some prospect of employment awaited them. In much of the Third World today, however, urban employment opportunities are few and far between and are declining still further under the current fad for “structural adjustment”. Many of those displaced by land enclosures tend to end up in the more ecologically marginal areas which are subsequently degraded under this strain.

Property and pollution

Despite his advocacy of private property, Hardin had to recognise its limitations where it concerned other kinds of natural resources to which—unlike his example of a rangeland—it was difficult, if not impossible, to prevent open access. As he put it. “the air and the waters surrounding us cannot be so readily fenced”.

But he saw the tragedy of the commons reappearing here in another form, as pollution, when a “rational man finds that his share of the costs of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them”. Even where privatisation on a limited scale could be introduced the basic problem would remain:
  The owner of a factory on the bank of a stream—whose property extends to the middle of the stream—often has difficulty seeing why it is not his natural right to muddy the waters flowing past his door.
For Hardin, the solution to this problem necessarily entailed some infringement of the rights of property owners. In this regard, he saw a role for the state. However, the difficulty with this approach is that, though the state may have more room for manoeuvre, it is subject to the same competitive pressures that face industry on which it depends for its tax revenue. Ironically, state enterprises are often among the worst transgressors when it comes to pollution.

Hardin’s theory of the commons is basically an attempt to vindicate the principle of private property in respect of the Earth’s resources. As such it can be shown to be both empirically suspect and theoretically unsound. In the counter-arguments it has provoked, we can glimpse the potential of a sustainable alternative to the imposed monopoly on what should be our common heritage.
Robin Cox

Monday, February 22, 2021

Socialism Now! (1992)

From the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is on the agenda — and right now. But it will not come by people putting their trust in leaders. It will be established when the vast majority of workers understand it, want it and democratically organise for it in a party which is not out to mend capitalism but to end it.

Socialism means the total abolition of capitalism. An end to private and state ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution. Production will be solely for use, with all people having free access to the common store of goods and services, instead of production for sale with a view to profit.

To win workers to organise for socialism is no small task and it is easy to be demoralised or to deceive yourself that there is an easier way to initiate the new system. But there is no alternative to the hard work being carried out by the Socialist Party — whose sole aim is socialism — and the sooner those who want socialism join us, the sooner it will be achieved.

Caught In The Act: At Issue (1992)

The Caught In The Act Column from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

At Issue

Months before polling day the 1992 general election has got under way. Along with the frantic politician’s speeches, the polls and the press conferences we are being deluged with what Tony Benn would call "ishoos" — diverting and irrelevant matter which the politicians exploit in order to undermine their opponents and suck up votes for themselves.

One such issue is the argument about whether taxes would be higher under a Labour government than under the Tories. In this argument tradition is powerful: the Conservatives have always represented themselves as the party of low taxation, fixing Labour in the voters’ minds as the avaricious collector, and profligate spender of taxes. The Labour Party, skewered on this attack, have had a hard time pointing out that it is hardly justified by the evidence and that they are as prudent and stingy about the finances of British capitalism as any Tory could be.

What both parties ignore is that the whole issue is irrelevant because the majority of people — the working class — do not effectively pay taxes and indeed can't pay them. Our income is determined by what it takes to reproduce ourselves as wage labour, whatever apparent deductions are on our wage-slips at the end of the month or week.

Taxes are a charge on the class who can afford to pay them and in whose interests they are collected — the capitalist, employing class. The state machine in all of its manifestations exists to protect and maintain the position of the capitalist class and they pay for it to do that. Workers who allow themselves to be misled about this and who vote for one capitalist party or the other on the basis of whether they will raise or lower taxes are wasting their votes and denying their own political power.


Another point at which the Tories are making some powerful attacks is the Labour Party policy towards the armed forces. Their ease here is that a Labour government, influenced by the pacifists and nuclear disarmers who infest their party membership, would reduce the British forces to impotence and so leave us undefended. This is always a popular issue — after all we need "our" soldiers, sailors and airmen to prevent the Germans, Russians, French, Japanese or whichever group happens to be the enemy at the time from pouring into this country and raping our grandmothers while they generally defile the British Way Of Life. On the other hand the Tories, their ranks thick with ex-officers, can be trusted to protect All That We Hold Dear.

Reality is rather different. As we have seen under the present government Tory ministers do not shrink from slashing back the forces to what British capitalism can afford. While Labour has done the same thing in similar circumstances, they have always made it clear that in government they are quite unmoved by the woolier opinions of their membership: they have supported every one of British capitalism’s wars and they have maintained, protected and used British forces whenever they saw this as necessary, they could not have put it any clearer than in their 1989 Policy Review: "Labour is determined that in the 1990s and beyond, Britain shall be properly defended ..."

In any case, the people who will vote about this in their millions do not have a Britain to defend; all they have is their degraded status as workers. The issue of which party will keep the larger forces should not intrude into the polling booths.


So is there no important issue? Is nothing at slake in the election? Well, as a start, we can say that whether the Labour or Tory party wins, the class structure of society will not be changed in any significant way. One effect of this will be that the inequalities in society — the existence of riches and poverty will continue to be something politicians promise to do something about.

A recent study by Inland Revenue, dealing with marketable wealth — goods which can be sold quickly as well as savings and investments — stated that in 1989 the richest ten per cent of the population owned 53 per cent — more than the other 90 per cent put together., the poorest 50 per cent owned just six per cent of the wealth. These figures will not surprise anyone who has been concerned to look behind the political sham fight to the real issues. They will come as no surprise to anyone who knows that poverty is basic to capitalism and will not be eradicated by voting for the parties who support capitalism's continuing.

New Image

In the run up to polling day the Tories have had to confront the problems of ridding themselves of the lingering image of what has been called Thatcherism. It is instructive to observe how they have set about this task. The object has been to wipe out the memory of our being subjected to the harsh but bracing winds of the market system and to convince us that we are now cossetted in the warmth and comfort of a new, caring Tory Party. It has been to replace Thatcher’s style as a strident, abrasive dictator with Major's image as the nice guy next door.

This has been done with a ruthless thoroughness of which the Tories, experienced as they are in political in-fighting, are the masters. It has been done with no regard to the fact that Thatcher's style and characteristics were once represented to us, by the very people who are now trying to eradicate them, as vitally necessary to our welfare and even our survival.

To some people — the Tories hope to a lot of voters — this will come as an easeful relief. But should we accept so easily that we can be manipulated in this way? Is a social system supportable when it requires such massive cynicism to defend its political representatives? What justifies all this investment in deceit? The answer is that elections are times when society can be up for grabs. The working class —the majority of the voters — do not have to choose between one bunch of cynical impotents and another, so that capitalism carries on. They can replace this social system with one based on human interests with all that that implies. That is the issue at the election — food for thought and for conscious political action.

Russia drops the pretence (1992)

From the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" (or Union of So-called Socialist Republics, to be more accurate) is no more. When, on 25 December, the red flag over the Kremlin was lowered for the last time, the 74-year association of Russia and “socialism” came to an end. In each of the member-states of the new Commonwealth of Independent States nationalism has replaced Leninism as the official ideology.

Socialists can only welcome the abandonment by the Russian authorities of any claim to be socialist. That claim was never justified, not under Lenin any more than under Stalin, and did uncalculable damage to the cause of genuine socialism. Now Russia can be seen as what it always was in reality: one other capitalist state in a world of capitalist states.

What has happened in Russia—the emergence of a political regime relying more on the consent of the ruled than on their coercion—was bound to happen sooner or later since a developed capitalist economy cannot be run for any length of time on police-state lines, at least not without creating serious economic difficulties.

A modern industrial economy requires an educated working class to operate it, and such a working class cannot be bullied into working efficiently. Their co-operation has to be sought, and to this end they have to be granted certain rights both at work and in society generally, such as the right to form trade unions that can bargain over wages and working conditions and the right to have a say via the ballot box in the choice of political leaders.

State capitalism
All developed capitalist countries have been forced to grant the working class such rights. So it was possible to predict that this would happen sooner or later in Russia too. but not precisely when and how. We detected the beginning of this process in Russia under Khrushchev in the late 1950s and early 1960s and it seemed then that some sort of political democracy would emerge there within a decade or so. But then came Brezhnev. And we must confess to being as surprised as anyone else at the speed with which events have moved in Russia and Eastern Europe over the past three years.

The point is that the actual course of events depends on the precise historical background and on the choices made by those involved—the ruling class and their political representatives, and the working class. Those who seized political power in Russia in 1917 used it to force the pace of capitalist development there. The state was used not only to drive the peasants off the land and into the factories, mines and construction sites (as had happened in the early stages of capitalism in England too) but also to organise the extraction of surplus value from the newly-created working class and its accumulation as more and more capital, a task which in other capitalist countries had been left to the private initiative of capitalist enterprises.

As a result the type of capitalism that emerged in Russia was one where the state was the capitalist. As the state was monopolised by a clique of Party and state officials, known in Russian as the “nomenklatura”, this made them the effective owners of the means of production, even if collectively as a body rather than as individuals, and enabled them to enjoy a privileged lifestyle.

From the point of view of Russian capitalism, this system was relatively successful in that it built up an industrial infrastructure which allowed Russia to emerge from the Second World War as the second greatest military power in the world. However, by the 1950s there were signs that it was beginning to become a drag on further capitalist development in Russia in the same way that previously the Tsarist regime had been.

An educated urban working class had emerged that could no longer be treated in the same brutal way as the dispossessed peasants who had been slave-driven into building Russia's basic industries. A section of the Russian ruling class realised this and under Khrushchev a number of reforms were made: Stalin's methods were criticised, the labour code was made less strict, and central state control was relaxed in both the economy and the field of ideas. Another section of the ruling class, however, saw where this would logically lead: to some measure of political democracy and the end of the nomenklatura system and their privileged position in society. Khrushchev was deposed in 1964 and Brezhnev took over.

Brezhnev pursued the policy of trying to carry out economic reform while leaving the political structure—the one-party state and its privileged nomenklatura—unchanged. It didn’t work. The working class in effect refused to co-operate. "They pretend to pay us. and we pretend to work", as a popular saying of the Brezhnev era put it. Industrial development and productivity continued to stagnate. It eventually became clear to the dominant elements within the Russian ruling class that the process begun under Khrushchev in the 1960s would have to be resumed if economic stagnation was not to undermine Russia’s military strength. Gorbachev was chosen in 1985 as the man to preside over this process.

Ruling class split
Glasnost (“openness”) was introduced and the working class was allowed a degree of freedom of speech such as they had never known before, not even under Khrushchev. Gorbachev and the section of the ruling class he represented wanted to use the working class against another section of the ruling class which opposed his policies and wished to retain the old political regime. It was a classic case of the working class being drawn into the political arena by one section of the ruling class to settle scores with another section, as had occurred in Britain in the 19th century when the industrial capitalists sought the support of the working class against the landed aristocracy.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that, once in the political arena, the working class were not going to settle for anything less than the complete elimination of the nomenklatura as a privileged ruling class. They didn’t know what they wanted to put in its place but they did know that they wanted the privileged Party bosses, who had exploited and duped them for so many years, off their backs. In this respect. Yeltsin who embraced this view at a relatively early stage proved to be a shrewder politician than Gorbachev who continued to believe that the old regime could be gradually phased out of existence without upsetting the nomenklatura too much.

In the event it was the stupidity of the conservative wing of the nomenklatura that precipitated events. In staging a coup in August against Gorbachev, they brought about the complete destruction of the old political system. Most of the armed forces refused to follow the putschists and Gorbachev returned to power. Within a few days the Communist Party had been banned. As this party wasn’t a party in the conventional sense of the term but the political institution which allowed the nomenklatura to control the state and maintain its privileges, this amounted to the abolition of the nomenklatura. With this act in September 1991 Russia’s political structure caught up with its economic base.

Effective power passed into the hands of Yeltsin who had been elected President of Russia in a country-wide poll (whereas Gorbachev had merely been appointed by a parliament largely composed of nomenklaturists). Yeltsin's analysis of what to do to save Russia's status as a great power in the capitalist world was more radical than anything Gorbachev was prepared to contemplate: granting independence to Russia’s colonies in the Caucasus and Central Asia as well as to the Ukraine and Belorussia.

This represents the break-up of the Soviet Union as a single political unit, but since Russia made up 90 percent of the former territory and 72 percent of the former population of the USSR it is not all that of a sacrifice. Of the 10 (11 if Georgia is included) new stales only the Ukraine (population 52 million, making it the fifth largest state in Europe after Germany, France, Britain and Italy) counts for anything and will be a serious loss if it really does go its own way. The others, all apart from Belorussia and Moldavia in Asia, are unviable statelets which will remain as dependent on Russia as France's ex-colonies in Africa have on France.

Russia may have lost its super-power status—which, in any event, was based on a military might well beyond its economic capabilities—but it remains a world power still armed with many more nuclear weapons than any of the other nuclear powers except America. Strengthened by a popular allegiance the old Soviet Union never had, Russia will eventually re-enter the world arena to compete alongside greater Germany and Japan against the currently world-dominant America. At least it won't be doing so in the name of socialism, not that that will make the capitalist world of competing stales a safer place.
Adam Buick

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The West isn't best (1992)

From the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the recent collapse of the former Soviet-dominated bloc in Eastern Europe and then of the Soviet Union itself, it could have been expected that the advocates of private-enterprise capitalism would have rejoiced at the apparent triumph of the “free market”. But despite the best efforts of some sections of the media, the celebrations have been unmistakeably muted.

Having proclaimed that the “collapse of communism" showed the strength and invincibility of Western-style capitalism, the John Majors and George Bushes of this world have rather been left with egg on their faces. For not only has the last year proved beyond doubt the manifest failure of the state- capitalist bloc in the East, it has laid bare the current economic mess of the capitalist states in the West.

Far from demonstrating the prosperity and economic superiority of the USA, Britain. Germany and Japan, the capitalist system has ushered in probably the worst slump since the Second World War. Industrial production is not just falling in Russia—it is falling in the supposedly “successful” capitalist nations too.

Why, then, has fate seemingly conspired so cruelly against the Western politicians who could now be expected to be enjoying their hour of glory? To understand this, it is necessary to understand why, for some periods at least, output and growth are able to expand in capitalist society.

In the capitalist system of production, economic growth appears in the form of the accumulation of capital, capital being a sum of values invested in the means of production with the object of creating further value. The accumulation of capital is the driving force of capitalism and crucially depends on the creation of a surplus value in the production process by the working class (that is, value created by workers in excess of that received back as wages and salaries), together with the realisation of that surplus value when the commodities that have been produced are sold on the market. Surplus value is then divided between the various sections of the owning capitalist class as ground-rent, interest and profit.

Though the capitalist class receives a privileged income because of its ownership of capital, it would be a mistake to think that this is the principal reason why capital is invested to expand production. Part of the surplus value created by the unpaid labour of the working class is of course, consumed by the capitalists in the form of luxury goods and so on, but a significant part is transformed into additional capital and is re-invested in production, to buy raw materials, plant and equipment and the working abilities of wage and salary earners.

Competition provides the general motive force for the accumulation process, and enterprises must accumulate capital as rapidly as possible if they are to survive. This involves maximising the surplus value wrung from the working class and producing commodities as cheaply as possible by increasing the productivity of labour through mechanisation, robotics and the like.

So long as capital is able to accumulate in the hands of the capitalist class, re-investment occurs and production expands. More value is created by the working class, more commodities are sold, more profits are made and the additional capital re-enters the production process and serves to expand production and output further. However, as the history of capitalism has repeatedly demonstrated, this process is in practice always interrupted sooner or later.

Points periodically arise—corresponding to the onset of an economic crisis—when the circulation and accumulation of capital is severely disrupted. Enterprises find that they have over-accumulated and over-expanded their operations for the particular market they are selling to. Commodities cannot be profitably sold and the surplus value embodied in them is unrealised. Further accumulation of capital and reinvestment in production is thus at the same time rendered both more difficult and less worthwhile.

Often, this process of “over-accumulation” occurs in industries producing consumer goods, with enterprises responding to favourable price signals flooding the market with more commodities than can be profitably sold. A halt in investment then takes place, which can spread quickly to those sectors of the economy that have been supplying these consumer goods industries with producer goods such as, say, machinery and robotics equipment, commodities not intended for consumption but for the production of other commodities.

In this way the economic crisis can become generalised and a slump can set in. At other times the drive to rapidly accumulate capital will lead to a disproportionate growth in some of the producer goods industries themselves and the economic down-turn will spread from these sectors of the economy. An over-accumulation of capital in key producer goods industries will lead to an overproduction of producer goods and the likelihood of real wage cuts for some workers and redundancy for others, this leading in turn to a fall in demand for consumer goods.

So, although the accumulation of capital provides the spur for wealth creation and growth under capitalism, capital accumulation occurring within the context of capitalism's unplanned and anarchic production process leads to key—and previously profitable industries over-expanding, causing cutbacks in production and unemployment. After a (possibly prolonged) period of stagnation, a destruction of stocks and a gradual devaluation of capital take place, helping to provide the conditions for further accumulation to take place and for a recovery from the slump

The accumulation of capital has also been at the heart of the problems being encountered in Russia which formerly operated a form of bureaucratic. centralised state-run capitalism. Once this dictatorial state capitalism had forced peasants off the land and into the factories as wage labourers earlier in the century, it proved to be a grossly inefficient basis for the further accumulation of capital.

Partly because of its in-built mechanisms for diverting capital to stagnant areas of production that should have been purged from the system, and partly because of the resistance of the working class to productivity speed-ups and other methods for increasing the rate at which surplus value was produced, the state-capitalist economies eventually stagnated. Indeed, they suffered not so much from a crisis of overproduction as a slowly-developing crisis of generalised stagnation and relative under-accumulation. Average rates of profit and the capital available for further investment fell dramatically. Countries such as Russia are now going through a painful process to restore an acceptable rate of accumulation through the destruction and devaluation of inefficient plant and machinery, with large-scale unemployment and massive real wage reductions for the working class.

The lesson from this is clear: whichever way capitalism is operated, economic crises and slumps will inevitably occur, not because of the foul-ups of politicians but because of the internal dynamic of the system itself. That is a sobering thought indeed for Yeltsin. Bush, Major and all the would-be “managers” of capitalism across the globe, as East and West, world capitalism stagnates in a deepening slump.
Dave Perrin

"Dead Right" (1992)

Cartoon from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letter: IQ tests and racism (1992)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors.

A brief (and inadequate!) response to your somewhat misleading article dealing with "intelligence testing" (‘We Are Not Inferior', Socialist Standard, November 1991).

There is a long tradition among traditional “socialists" that rejects IQ testing. Stalin banned IQ tests in 1935 on the grounds they were grounded on “bourgeois ideology"; Hitler made them illegal at the same time because of their “Jewishness”. (In numerous studies, the largest in Glasgow, Jews do significantly better than Gentiles—hardly a finding to endear the procedure to the Fuhrer!). And now, the Socialist Party has to put in its two pennies-worth, arguing that the social scientists who support the concept of IQ arc racist and anti-working class.

The racist argument just doesn’t stand up. Both Eysenck (a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany) and Jensen have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact the Japanese and Chinese, individually, whether tested in their own countries or as American immigrants, do better on blind IQ tests than do their white counterparts—but nobody accused the researchers as advocates of yellow supremacy! And, yes, they also report that literally hundreds of tests of black and white Americans have found that the former score lower (although. ironically. Jensen found that blacks perform relatively better on the more culture-loaded verbal tests!)

Likewise, the IQ advocates cannot be accused of arguing that the working class is "innately inferior”, as your writer suggests by repeated references to Herrnstein. Indeed the logic of statistical repression theory, fundamental to an understanding of Eysenck and his colleagues, is exactly the opposite to a "genetic" justification of social class division in society.

As Eysenck puts it: 
  Regression is intimately connected with social mobility. In Western societies, only one person in three retains the social class of his or her parents. The major determinant of this upward or downward movement is IQ. When we look at children of a given family, we find that the brighter ones rise in the social scale and the duller ones drop despite the same education, socio-economic status and home background . . . (Intelligence: The Battle for the Mind. Pan Books 1981, p64)
Contrary to your writer’s assertion, the overwhelming majority of psychological researchers base their theoretical work on the biological basis of human behaviour. We have all met unfortunate individuals born with damaged bodies/brains and consequently limited in their abilities. Only simplistic thought imagines that the handicapped are qualitatively different from the rest of us: we all form an extended continuum. What we are and what we may attain is determined firstly by the genes we inherit from our parents and secondly by environmental factors (especially “educational”— especially in the critical first years of life).

If we reflect upon the great number of genetically determined characteristics and potentialities that vary between major racial groups— body size and proportions, cranial shape and size, hair and eye colour, number of vertebrae. fingerprints, bone density, age when we cut teeth, blood groups, colour blindness, diabetes. depression. schizophrenia—wouldn't it be truly amazing if genetically-conditioned mental traits were a major exception?

When Karl Marx suggested for socialism the slogan "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” he was, as a disciple of Darwin, acknowledging the importance of genetic factors.

This is why IQ tests, for all their failings (and let’s be under no illusions, psychologists do not even have a universally agreed definition of the multi-dimensional construct "intelligence"!) can be a valuable tool for identifying "problems" children are likely to experience as they travel through the vital "learning years”. Knowing each individual's strong and weak attributes can help the teacher devise an appropriate learning environment.
Bob Potter 
Hove, East Sussex

Bob Potter should re-read the article in question and he will find that we did not say that all who support the use of IQ tests are racist and anti-working class. What we said was that racists have been able to use IQ tests to back up their views since the term "intelligence quotient" misleadingly suggests that what the tests measure is "innate intelligence".

Differences in IQ Test scores between so-called "racial groups" (which are in reality cultural groups) are to be explained by the groups' different opportunities to learn to do and/or by their different attitudes towards what is being tested. Thus the high scores of people from Jewish. Chinese and Japanese backgrounds is to be explained in terms of their group's particularly favourable attitude towards intellectual achievement rather than to genetic factors. Similarly. the better scores Bob Potter mentions of American Blacks on verbal tests are due to cultural factors amongst this group favouring verbal expression.

We criticised people like Jensen and Eysenck for suggesting that biological factors related to "race" were at work in such cases. Clearly different human beings do have different abilities—as is indeed implied by the old socialist slogan "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs"—and some of this at least will be due to their different individual genetic make-up. But. frankly, since our correspondent asks, no, we don't think it likely that this will be found to be linked to factors such as skin colour, head shape, blood group or big toe size.