Saturday, January 16, 2021

The cuts – let’s make capitalism redundant (2011)

From the January 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard 
We have been forewarned. It is going to get worse; worse than it was – and for most it was never good; worse than it is now.
A deep unease haunts the land; a sense of foreboding as politicians, the media and the man next door talk of The Cuts and the impending cuts. Something is drastically wrong. Tens of thousands of people who thought they had secure employment have been made redundant and more going every day. The houses that people have on hire-purchase from building societies are in many cases worth less than what is owed on them. The state ‘benefits’ that guaranteed a mean living are being eroded, and the authoritative voices solemnly proclaim that it is going to get progressively worse.

Some two decades ago the gurus of capitalism, its politicians, and its experts, were telling us that capitalism reigned supreme. Dr Francis Fukuyama, for example, who backed Obama for the US Presidency and earlier advised the Bush administration, put it thus:
  “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy and the final form of human government.”
Victims of their own propaganda, people like Fukuyama saw the ending of state capitalism in the totalitarian Russian empire as clearing the way for the untrammelled hegemony of American style neo-liberalism. The benign attempts of the European Left to economically sanitise capitalism by political regulation had failed; the flawed conception of the state as the national capitalist, as in so-called communist countries, was in disarray. The savants of capitalist wisdom could confidently predict that history had played its final hand and that the future was a vibrant, prosperous capitalism where ‘boom’ and ‘bust’ would be words of the past and we’d all live happily ever after.

Now that future has come crashing down, as it does periodically and inevitably since the inception of capitalism. If there is a quality unique to the present crisis it must be the clarity in which it exposes the system itself as being fatally defective and incapable of furthering human development. There can be no doubt about the awful realities of the crisis. They are grim and terrible and they are now the stuff of politics across the board. There is absolutely no escape within the economic imperatives of capitalism from the problems that the current crisis will impose on the working class into the future. Nor is there any audible voice from within the main political parties suggesting even consideration of an alternative way of organising the vital affairs of society. On the contrary, the largely illusionary differences between Left and Right is simply now about the degree of pain that should be inflicted over time on the working class. The Tories and the power-lusting leadership of the Lib-Dems would concentrate the pain into a short period while the Labour Party would impose the pain over a longer period of time

The “nation’s” debt. 
So political debate is now about the amount of time the alleged recovery should take, otherwise there is unanimity about the inevitability of the need for ‘cuts’. The suggestion is that ‘we’ as a ‘nation’ are living on borrowed money. That every fourth pound that the ’nation’ now spends has to be borrowed from international investment agencies which will become exponentially richer on the proceeds of ‘our’ accelerating poverty. That the ‘nation’s’ debt has got out of hand and we will all have to restrict our spending for the foreseeable future.

There can be no argument about it. Given the way our political and economic system works ‘the nation’ – whether the UK, Ireland, Germany, the US, et al – is in grave financial difficulty. The various ‘nations’ are the component parts of an intricate world economic system and those living within each of the component parts are going to be adversely affected one way or the other.

For members of the working class that means that generally they will be expected to do without more than they were doing without previously; a more restricted standard of living, a financially crippled health service and the ending of access to third level education. The lot of members of the capitalist class is less predictable; for some the crisis will provide opportunities to acquire bargain assets from the economic casualities of their less-fortunate class brethren; for others it might impact on the rate of their wealth accumulation; and there will be those who will be joining the working class and become impoverished celebrities.

Whereas, in the past, politics was about politicians and their parties telling us how they were going to improve our living standards, today politics is about the pace and duration of the cuts that are going to bite into our lives in the future: the political Right, abetted by the craven Centre, thinks the pain of economic retrenchment should be fully applied now; the Left argues that less pain over an extended period is preferable. But the ubiquitous watchword is that it is going to be painful!

Endorsing capitalism 
There can be no doubting that the immediate future is perilous for the working class and requires a serious approach. Getting the placards out, shouting slogans and having a futile punch-up with cops divides us and gives succour to our enemies – especially so when the slogans offer no real alternatives to the system that gave rise to our problem in the first place.

We have to recognise that it is the working class that politically endorses capitalism in elections and it is only the working class that can abolish that system in conditions that will allow for the establishment of socialism. That statement requires recognition of the limitations of bourgeois democracy but such limitations do not alter the fact that without the conscious democratic consent of the working class real social democracy is out of the question.

The cuts are not the result of any change in our potential to produce wealth and there is plainly urgent human need for vibrant wealth production. That such wealth production in any form of society is the result of human mental and physical labour power being applied to nature-given resources is clearly obvious and both these factors remain as they were before the advent of the present crisis. Unfortunately capitalism adds another predominating factor into the simple wealth-producing equation: capital investment on the promise of profit. Today capitalism controls our means of life by its ownership of those means and only allows production of our human needs in conditions likely to produce profit for the owning class. Socialism will make our means of life the common property of society as a whole thus abolishing ownership and that factor in the present wealth-producing equation that puts greed before need. Political reformers on the Left might protest that immediate organising for Socialism does nothing to alleviate the current problems of capitalism but if they accept that these problems are an effect of capitalism they must surely accept that the logical way to remove an effect is to remove its cause.
Richard Montague

Between hands and heart (2011)

Film Review from the January 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927, re-release 2010)

Since its 1927 release, we have only been able to see an abridged version of Metropolis, one of cinema’s definitive visions of the future. The scenes cut, largely because they were thought to confuse American audiences, have since become a film holy grail. So the discovery of a near-complete copy of Metropolis in an Argentine archive was met with justified excitement.

Metropolis is a city of skyscrapers, crowded roads and hedonistic dance halls. Underground, its workers power the city in long, painful shifts. They are given hope by Maria, a preacher, and Freder, the ruler’s son who is sympathetic to their predicament. Metropolis’ ruler orders the creation of a robot replica of Maria so it can impersonate her and cause discord among the workers. Instead, it leads the workers to revolt and attack the city’s power station.

There is almost half an hour of ‘new’ material, including a sub-plot which expands the reasons behind the robot’s appearance. The rediscovered scenes are easy to spot, as even restoration hasn’t been able to improve their picture quality. Despite this, Metropolis’ design work still looks stunning, even when competing against modern computer-generated imagery. But although we get a good look at the city, we don’t learn enough about how this society is arranged. A class struggle is evident, with the elite enjoying the products of the workers’ labour. But the system is criticised because its rulers indulge in the seven deadly sins, rather than because they exploit the workers. And these workers are only portrayed as obedient, whether they’re carrying out their monotonous jobs, listening to Maria’s soppy sermons, or, as a mob following the robot. It turns out these workers don’t really want revolution or even reform, just ‘mediation’ with their bosses. The film’s message – stated very explicitly – is “the mediator between head and hands must be the heart”, with ‘head’ representing the ruling class and ‘hands’ being the workers.

The ‘heart’ turns out to be the ruler’s son. So, the film doesn’t even advocate a ‘trade union consciousness’, just a more amiable figurehead for the elite.

Director Lang thought Metropolis was “silly and stupid”, and the blame for its patronising story is now placed on his then-wife, Thea von Harbou. Her views were made clearer by her later enthusiastic support for the Nazis. So, watch Metropolis for its amazing visuals, not its politics.
Mike Foster