Friday, February 5, 2021

Letter: Papal Bull (2011)

Letter to the Editors from the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Papal Bull

Dear Editors

I was disappointed that the article in response to the Pope’s visit (‘Against Religion’, Socialist Standard, November ) failed to address the reasons why his attack on secularism and atheism was objectionable. The article was introduced as a reply to the Pope’s assault, but it really consisted of a generic dismissal of Christianity.

The arguments put forward are not solid or up-to-date. The Vatican has never presented the bible as its main evidence for the existence of God, and does not hold that it contains infallible history or geology – there are no “Biblical accounts of the Earth’s age”.

You write that the bible is full of contradictions, which isn’t criticism. The bible is a compendium of books written over 1600 years by dozens of different authors in a similar number of styles and genres – no-one claims it is (or could be) consistent.

The article makes fair points, but like a lot of attacks on Christianity it beats the Church over the head with a stick it didn’t make – typically refuting claims that no-one is making and calling non-existent dogmas nonsense.

I would have rather seen the Pope’s mantra of blaming relativism turned on his own subculture. The Catholic Church twists and adapts its form and content to suit the age and defend its power – the Vatican was only mildly embarrassed when one of its priests became dictator of Slovakia, but at least in the 1930s the Church was openly Fascist.

We can easily dismiss the Pope and his visit in 2010 as irrelevant. We can do the same for the Royal Wedding this year. But the fact remains that thousands of people will be engaged by these events and by the messages they give out. A critical socialist response needs to be incisive and to the point – generic and dismissive doesn’t cut it.
Eddie Jarvis (by email)

You are correct. The article was a criticism of christianity generally and not of the dogmas of the Roman Catholic church in particular or of the arrogant, superstitious (he believes in miracles) and deluded (he thinks he’s gods representative on Earth) man who heads it. His particular sect might not place much store in the stories of the bible but lots of other christian sects do. They think the bible is literally true and also that it is consistent – as you would have thought would those who think its authors were inspired by god when they wrote it.  –  Editors

Pathfinders: The final frontier (2011)

The Pathfinders Column from the February 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

A row has blown up between the US Congress and Nasa over people-carriers. Congress is insisting that Nasa stick to its plan of developing a rocket capable of taking manned missions beyond low earth orbit by 2016, which Nasa sniffily says it can’t do (New Scientist, 22 Jan). Presumably Congress doesn’t want Richard Branson or SpaceX to corner the space tourism market but the warring parties seem to have overlooked what the US Air Force is up to. The military has just lobbed a highly classified 13 tonne satellite into space aboard a Delta IV rocket (BBC News, 21 Jan) and could presumably be modified to do the same thing for a crewed spacecraft. This is the second huge satellite sent up by a Delta rocket in the past three months on behalf of the National Reconnaissance Office, which reports to the CIA and the Department of Defense. The NRO are of course keeping zipped about the payloads but surveillance is the most likely purpose.

Congress is also doubtless embarrassed that Uncle Sam is having to rely on Russian rockets to get its own and the European Space Agency’s astronauts up to the International Space Station (ISS), now that the space shuttle fleet has been all but mothballed. Once considered a lunatic folly and, at around $160bn, estimated to be the most expensive object ever constructed, the ISS has survived cuts, shuttle disasters, air leaks, meteorite punctures and bad press to acquire an almost iconic status. In space technology, anything that actually works for longer than 6 months tends to do that, like Hubble and the Mars Rover. The Italian astronauts currently cooped up in this flying garage are texting, twittering, Facebooking and doing live TV interviews, while some genuinely useful science is also being done in the microgravity conditions.

In defiance of the recession, the space business is booming, due largely to satellite broadcast services like BSkyB. UK space companies are reported to have a turnover of £7.5bn with a 15 percent annual rise in employment (BBC News Online, 8 November 2010). With this kind of growth potential the UK government has now decided to get in on the act and start to sever its highly expensive commitments to the European Space Agency, the French and German dominated group which co-manages the ISS. This April, the UK Space Agency will be inaugurated with its own £200m annual budget, around one fifth of the space budgets of France and Germany. Meanwhile the European Commission has announced that the Galileo project, a 30-satellite GPS system for the EU, will cost around ?5bn, just one day after a senior Galileo contractor was sacked for calling the whole project ‘a stupid idea’ (BBC Online, 18 January).

Why stupid? Well, the sky is getting pretty crowded these days, with approximately 3,000 satellites in orbit. That they don’t crash into each other too often is due to the vast ranges of these orbits, although two satellites the size of small cars did pile into each other at 27,000 miles per hour in February 2009. The US Space Surveillance Network is still trying to find all the pieces, on top of the 8,000 other pieces of junk they are tracking, all of them barrelling around the globe at 13 times the speed of a bullet.

The question a socialist would ask would be: do we need all these satellites, given that most of them do pretty much the same thing? Well, we don’t, but the various competing sections of the ruling class do. The Navstar satellites that make up America’s GPS system are controlled by the military, giving the US a huge advantage in any future power-plays as well as wars. First to break the GPS dependence was Russia, with its Glonass system, then the US tried to stop the EU developing Galileo. Now every country that can buy or borrow the technology is lofting its own satellites and GPS systems into space, for fear of being shut out by enemies or simply by trade competition. In January China announced development of its own Beidou Navigation System. India meanwhile has sent up 7 satellites and would have sent up another one last month but the rocket blew up. 52 countries currently have payloads in orbit and the rockets just can’t go up fast enough.

Of course the various countries are talking about making their GPS systems compatible so they can share, but that’s not what they’re up there for. Any future war without satellite navigation and surveillance is unwinnable, as Iraq found out twice. Even Belarus, Colombia and Iran have their own satellites. Ominously, both the USA and China have in recent years used surface missiles to shoot down their own satellites, but rockets will only reach so far. Those in medium to high earth orbit would require space-based technology, possibly lasers, which would have to be pretty hefty, possibly requiring a heavy lift rocket like the Delta IV.

On the positive side, a former SpaceX engineer has started a fund to buy a comms satellite from a bankrupt firm and plant it in geostationary orbit where developing countries can use it (New Scientist, 22 January). argues that internet access is a human right, but more pragmatically points out that since India is now bringing out a $12 laptop there is no great reason why everybody can’t get online. So far the fund has raised $30,000, which wouldn’t pay for a rocket’s spark plug. Funny that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, now valued at $50bn, hasn’t thought of buying himself some popularity by putting up the cash. In socialism, it hardly needs saying, there would be no issue here. Press a button, move satellite, end of.
Paddy Shannon

Production Values: bottled water (2011)

The Production Values Column from the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
   A sideways glance at capitalism through some of its products.  This month: bottled water 
It may come as a surprise to younger readers to learn that water hasn’t always come from the supermarket in plastic bottles. There was apparently a time when you could drink it pretty much for free, straight out of the tap. Just as if it fell out of the sky!

But that was in the bad old days. Before consumers wised up and demanded that all those empty spaces waiting on supermarket shelves were filled with rows of different brands of bottled water. Petitions, campaigns and protests demanding new beverage “experiences” finally forced manufacturers and retailers in the 1980s to relent and meet consumer demands for water filtered through Corsican volcanic rock, carved from ancient arctic glaciers or condensed from mountain clouds in Fiji. (These high-end products are of course in the minority. Most products, despite the iceberg or mountain stream on the label come via a tap in an industrial estate, across from an abattoir, just off the M6).

To think that there was a time when we used to think there was just water! H2O our science teachers used to call it, which does scant justice to the range of minerals, fizz and flavourings that can now be pumped into this “pure” product. None of which appears to make much real difference, it has to be said. According to the Observer, one blind tasting panel praised a particular water’s ‘fresh, sweet, lemony aroma’ only to inform them it came from a tap in a Birmingham public toilet. Taking the piss surely.

Under capitalism there is nothing new under the sun. Not even rain. The market wasn’t of course responding to a real demand so much as completely creating that demand. Perrier and Evian are hardly even an example of capitalism’s supposed dynamic inventiveness, more a case of “old wine in new bottles”.

Humans need water. But capitalism doesn’t need humans – unless they can be employed or sold to. So because they are too poor, 3,000 children die each day from diseases caught through drinking tainted supplies. Their mistake? – to be born not as capitalists, nor even as consumers under the market system. In some regions wars are fought over which capitalist controls the water. Every time a borehole is dug a common resource is sucked up, enclosed and sold back to us. Does capitalism think we will swallow anything? Clear as.

Next month: We look at “the best a man can get”. A cure for cancer?! Of course not, we’re just looking at the razor blade.

Greasy Pole: Nothing New In Old And Sad (2011)

The Greasy Pole column from the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Oldham and Saddleworth – or, for those living in the wrong part of it, Old and Sad – is a parliamentary constituency in Manchester with an electoral history such that it has accrued a reputation – again, depending on where someone might live in it – of renown or notoriety. Even before the recent by-election the votes revealed acute political entanglement compounded of poverty, crime, racism, riots… All three major parties have won the seat during the last 20 years and it provided the first case in almost a century in which the campaigning was brutal enough to cause an elected MP – Phil Woolas – to be turfed out, leading to the recent by-election. In 1995 an authentic Socialist – a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain – stood. The 46 votes cast for him were a sensible measure of the electors’ readiness to misuse their political power by preferring the usual rag-bag of reformist sterility.

Poverty and Sickness
The constituency make-up is varied, from Saddleworth’s relative affluence to the social and racial mix of Oldham with its crowded terraces. Oldham is rated as 33rd among the country’s most deprived areas, with five of its wards among the worst 10 percent. The 1998 unemployment rate among ethnic minorities bore no relation to their proportionate presence. The grim link between poverty and sickness yields a death rate almost one third above the national average. From this noxious soil erupted the riots in May 2001 – the worst of their kind in the United Kingdom for fifteen years. In a history of consistently bitter electioneering 2010 was only the most recent example. Labour’s 1995 campaign was managed by Peter Mandelson, whose style was later excused by Woolas: “Peter may be a bastard but at least he’s our bastard.” The campaign of the then successful LibDem Chris Davies was guiltily excused by their future leader Charles Kennedy: “By-election hand-to hand electoral combat can throw up trenchant exchanges and tricky campaign behaviour. In days gone by I have experienced the occasional sharp intake of breath where some of my own side’s literature has been involved.”

Tory and LibDem
It might have been expected, as an opening to the Age of the New Politics, that the January by-election would have encouraged something fresh and novel from the candidates. Well, no. The Tory candidate, Oldham-born Kashif Ali, a “self-made” (however that is interpreted) local barrister signed a “clean politics” pledge but this excursion into stunning naiveté did not impress the other two principal candidates – or the electorate. His vote fell from 11773 in May, when he was a close third, to 4481, leaving him a long was behind the LibDem. There was a popular rumour that the Tory leadership had Ali running a quiet campaign, in case too high a vote for him would embarrass Nick Clegg: this was fiercely denied by the Tories, as if such back-stabbing would be foreign to all they stood for. LibDem Elwyn Watkins (whose polling day mail shot referred to him as just “Elwyn” without mentioning his party) presented himself to the people of Old and Sad as: “…unlike some career politicians (did he mean Cameron and Clegg?) I have worked in the real world…I was taught the value of hard work, discipline and sticking with it…I’ve been made redundant twice – I know what it’s like.” He had made enough money to bankroll his candidature – and the legal challenge to Woolas – in something called “turning factories round”, including four years as “business analyst and financial adviser” to a Saudi Arabian sheik. And what about the embarrassment of that pledge he signed to oppose the rise in tuition fees? “If I had been elected in May I too would have had to compromise. I would go with the coalition and vote for it.” Unable to benefit enough by Woolas’s fall, or perhaps to escape being tainted by his party’s reputation for broken promises, his vote in second place was down by some 3000.

Labour Choice 
The Labour Party chose Debbie Abrahams, who in the Colne Valley constituency in May came third with a vote falling from 17536 to 14589. She has had a career as a health professional, including five years as chair of the Oldham Primary Care Trust – a job she resigned from in 2006, in protest at what the Labour government were doing to the NHS: “I have seen a steady stream of national policies introduced…which threaten these values and the future of a NHS that is equitable and free at the point for need… ”  was how she announced this at a large Keep A NHS Public rally. But this does not mean she cannot “compromise” as dourly as any LibDems; now she blankets whatever doubts she has about her party and its policies by meaningless drivel about it being “…important that the real issues and concerns of people in the borough are not lost during this election campaign…” Asked about Woolas, she merely said she felt sorry for him, that he had “paid the price for what he had done”.

The voters seem to have agreed with this, as the Labour vote held firm and Abrahams won and to have been angered by hearing from the Tories and LibDems – as they once heard from the Labour government – that the current problems of British capitalism are rooted in their slacking in superfluous jobs for high wages or living in luxurious homes on welfare benefits. Even if some of them may be among the 2000 local authority workers who will be sacked as the local authority make their expenditure cuts. There is nothing new in this – nothing new in the stress with the deprivation nor in the victims’ misguided response to it all as they divide their support among an unremarkably hopeless coalition of wanglers.

Witch side are you on? (2011)

The Halo Halo! column from the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard 

It’s always strange when, after conversion from one religion to another, someone says “I was born a Christian” (or Muslim, or whatever), “but I’ve converted to Hinduism/Judaism/The Celestial Flying Teapot” or whatever it is. Of course, none of us is born Christian or Muslim or anything else. We’re born with no knowledge or beliefs in any god. In fact we’re all born into a state of atheism.

If someone ‘born’ into a religion – any religion – suddenly became aware of the fact that by some freak occurrence it was the wrong god they had been born with, and they had to convert to another one, surely God only has himself to blame. These gods certainly move in mysterious ways.

There’s been a bit of juggling from one deity to another in the news lately. The strangest case by far must be that of Christine O’Donnell the ‘Tea Party’ candidate for a seat in the US Senate. After apparently being brought up as a God-fearing Christian her faith in Jesus was shaken. “I dabbled into witchcraft,” she admitted. “One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar.” Maybe she once wrote to Santa but mistakenly sent the letter to Satan. We’ll never know.

However, by the time the midterm elections were under way she had found Jesus again. After reassuring the American public that “I’m not a witch” she went on to explain to them the truth about (amongst numerous other things) Evolution, Socialism and Masturbation.

“Evolution is a myth. Why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?”

“America is now a Socialist economy. The definition of a Socialist economy is when 50% or more of your economy is dependent on the federal government”.

And her views on masturbation were numerous and detailed. Hardly the sort of thing sensitive readers of the ‘Standard’ want to hear. Well OK then, just one  – “Masturbation is a form of adultery.” Do you think she’s been doing it wrong?

As someone once pointed out. “The trouble with political jokes is that they sometimes get elected.” This one didn’t.

Back in the UK Lauren Booth, an English language Iranian TV channel journalist, and Tony Blair’s step-sister in law, spent most of October hogging the headlines with her conversion to Islam. “Almost unnoticed to me, when praying for the last year, I had been saying ‘Dear Allah’ instead of  ‘Dear God’, she informed readers of the Guardian while complaining about the ‘screams of faux horror’ from her fellow columnists. In fact they were mostly screams of laughter at the latest antics from Blair’s extended family.

Tony himself, of course, famously recently undertook a religious conversion when he decided to become a Roman Catholic and nipped off to Rome with Cherie for an audience with the Pope. Imagine being a fly on the wall at his first confession when he was asked about his role in the Iraq war.

It must be confusing now in the Blair household. “Hide the pork pies and the communion wine, Lauren’s coming round”. Fortunately Roman Catholicism and Islam do have one thing in common. Both are dominated by old men wearing long black dresses. Maybe that’s the attraction.

Tiny Tips (2011)

The Tiny Tips column from the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Sofia Whitcombe began her day with the startling realization that she might not be exactly who she thought she was. “My whole life, I thought I was a Capricorn,” the 25-year-old New York publicist said. “Now I’m a Sagittarius? I don’t feel like a Sagittarius!” Countless people were astonished by the “news” in Monday’s Star Tribune in which Minneapolis astronomy instructor Parke Kunkle affirmed that the Earth’s “wobble” has shifted the zodiac signs.

The buzz has raced across the Web like a shooting star. Some people seemed angry. “I believe it’s a zodiac scam,” said Jose Arce, 38, from Fort Lee, N.J., who runs a body shop. “I’ve known myself to be a Sagittarius, I believe, since I was born. So to come up now with some new sign? It’s unacceptable!”

A bluefin tuna fetched a record 32.49m yen (£254,000) today at the first auction of the year at Tsukiji market in Tokyo, but the fish’s growing popularity across Asia has raised fears it will soon be fished into commercial extinction. The 342kg tuna easily beat the previous record, set exactly 10 years ago when a 202kg fish fetched 20.2m yen. Market officials are accustomed to seeing prices rise during the new year auction at Tsukiji, the world’s biggest fish market, but today’s winning bid was unexpected:

Catholics who receive communion at Sunday mass believe the sacred wafer they swallow contains the body of Christ. New York health officials have warned the parishioners of a Long Island church that the wafers they received on Christmas Day may have also contained hepatitis:

Everyone curses the taxman, but Romanian witches angry about having to pay up for the first time are planning to use cat excrement and dead dogs to cast spells on the president and government today. Also among Romania’s newest taxpayers are fortune tellers – but they probably should have seen it coming:

Men and women have been banned from shaking hands in a district of Somalia controlled by the Islamist group al-Shabab. Under the ban imposed in the southern town of Jowhar, men and women who are not related are also barred from walking together or chatting in public. The BBC’s Mohamed Moalimuu in Mogadishu says the penalty would probably be a public flogging:

Using an expanded definition of poverty, the U.S. Census Bureau said it determined that 15.7 percent of Americans — 47.8 million — live in poverty:

An unrepentant banker (2011)

From the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard 
Bankers’ bonuses: who’s to blame for the greed?
Bob Diamond, Barclays bank’s chief executive, and one of Europe’s highest-paid bosses, last month faced a grilling from the Treasury Select Committee, a cross-party body appointed by the House of Commons. Those expecting a replay of previous confrontations between MPs and bankers – in February 2009, for example, when the bankers said they were ‘profoundly sorry’ for their role in the financial crisis – were to be disappointed.

Diamond was unrepentant. In answer to questions from MPs, he said it was about time that unfair public criticism ‘moved on’ so bankers could stop apologising and get back to business as usual. MPs wanted to know if Diamond was going to show ‘restraint’ on bonuses this year (no), refuse his own bonus (probably not), act more responsibly and increase lending to business (impossible to do both), accept personal liability for the failing of institutions (no) and if he was ‘grateful’ to ‘the taxpayer’, ie, the state, for bailing out the financial system and keeping him and his whole industry in business (grudgingly, and after much evasion, yes. In other words, reading between the lines, no). 

Diamond’s performance added fuel to the fire of the ongoing bankers’ bonus controversy. Ministers in the present government, while campaigning for power, said they were determined to do something about the arrogance and excessive wealth of the bankers. And to be fair, they are doing something. In fact, as Will Hutton puts it in The Observer (16 January), compared with Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, business secretary Vince Cable and chancellor George Osborne are ‘fire-breathing radicals’, clamping down on tax avoidance, taxing bank profits, setting targets for bank lending, regulating hedge funds and contemplating more banking reform and regulation. But so far, they are being relatively timid about bankers’ bonuses. Why? Now that they have taken power, they, in common with all governments, accept the reality of capital accumulation and their role in it. And that means not doing anything that will frighten the financiers too much.

Capitalists united – and divided
That remains true even in the face of an increasingly numerous opposition. After all, as Hutton says, the issue of bankers’ bonuses is uniting everyone in outrage – ‘from captains of industry bewildered how top bankers can earn so much more than they do to the newly unemployed who wonder what they have done to deserve poverty and hardship while the moneymen pocket millions’. That the state bailouts have poured into the pockets of private individuals, and the poorest and most vulnerable will be left to pay the price in terms of job losses, benefit cuts, and reduced levels of social services and so on, we have already stated (see Socialist Standard, passim). But how come we are also seeing criticism from captains of industry and government ministers and the business press and so on? Not so long ago, bankers could rely on them being ‘intensely relaxed’ about such matters. Why now so increasingly angry and vocal?

Partly it is a fear of social unrest and breakdown. It also reflects divisions within the capitalist class. As a class, the capitalists are united by the need to promote the conditions necessary for investment and business activity. For that, they need, for example, a supply of compliant and affordable labour, a state willing and able to provide socially necessary infrastructure, a financial system to facilitate the processes of capital accumulation, a vibrant consumer market, and so on. On issues such as these, capitalists stand united. But the capitalist also finds himself in competition with his comrades. Capitalists have differing needs and interests depending on exactly how they get their hands on the spoils of exploitation – whether as landlord, financier, industrialist, retailer or state official, for example. In the usual course of things, this is just the stuff of competition, of ‘business as usual’, the undertow of everyday life. But when crisis hits, everything breaks to the surface. As Marx puts it (in Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 15):
  ‘So long as things go well, competition effects an operating fraternity of the capitalist class […] so that each shares in the common loot in proportion to the size of his respective investment. But as soon as it is no longer a question of sharing profits, but of sharing losses, everyone tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and to shove it off upon another. The class, as such, must inevitably lose. How much the individual capitalist must bear of the loss, ie, to what extent he must share in it at all, is decided by strength and cunning, and competition then becomes a fight among hostile brothers. The antagonism between each individual capitalist’s interests and those of the capitalist class as a whole, then comes to the surface…’
Who wins out in this struggle is not simply a reflection of factional power, as the Marxist academic David Harvey points out (The Limits To Capital, Chapter 7). The existence of surplus value (profit) in money form is ‘the most adequate form of capital’, which means that ‘the moneyed interest enriches itself at the cost of the industrial interest in the course of [a] crisis’ (Marx). This, then, helps us understand the row about bankers’ bonuses. It’s a row about which class, or which fraction of a class, is going to be landed with the costs of the crisis. We see, therefore, that Marxian theory is not esoteric mumbo-jumbo or outdated rubbish, as often claimed, but a powerful explanation for what is actually going on in the real world. If you understand Marxian theory, bankers’ multi-billion-pound bonuses and the row surrounding them no longer look so much like an insane aberration, but a logical consequence of social and economic structure. Bankers are enriching themselves at the expense of industry and workers? Well, OK, that’s what we would expect to happen…

What is to be done?
The question is what is to be done about it. As Harvey says, however the class struggle eventually plays out, however the losses of the crisis are finally distributed between factions of the capitalist class, and between the working and capitalist classes, and whatever the power struggle that ensues, the necessary result will be the destruction of value (closure of workplaces, the laying off of workers, destruction of surpluses, defaulting on debt, cutting of state services, and so on) so that a new round of capitalist accumulation can begin. This is totally irrational and insane from the point of view of human needs, but inevitable and logical from the point of view of capital accumulation.

The film-maker Charles Ferguson, whose investigative documentary Inside Job exposes the delusions and deeds of the bankers during the course of the crisis, says that, ‘Those responsible [for the crisis] blame the system. Or they blame the bubble caused by irresponsible borrowers.  Some of them blame low interest rates. In a grim way, it’s actually amusing to watch them blame anyone except themselves’ (Evening Standard, 17 January). The film-maker’s contempt for those who line their pockets and profit from social disaster is justified. But actually, in a sense, it’s the bankers who have got it right. It is the system that is to blame. And we should indeed ‘move on’ – from blaming capitalists who are as much at the mercy of the system as the rest of us, to an understanding of the world we live in and how it works. Politically, that means moving from a demand for ‘regime change’ to one for ‘system change’.
Stuart Watkins

Capitalism’s crisis of legitimacy (2011)

From the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard 
Capitalism’s current crisis is not just economic and financial.
The recent worldwide recession has led not only to an economic crisis, but also a crisis of political legitimacy for the global system of capitalism. In Britain the ruling elite and in particular the coalition government are attempting to side-step this fact by claiming that “we’re all in it together.” Of course in some ways we are, the impending state spending cuts and inevitable redundancies and reduction in public services to vulnerable people being imposed by these hard-boiled public schoolboys will obviously affect those of us in the working class far more than the small minority of capitalists. The narrative from central government is that swingeing cuts in borrowing and public spending need to be enacted, in order to restore profitability to UK Capitalism plc.

And so in this allegedly different political landscape, we hear new terminology and concepts such as ‘The Big Society’, ‘The New Localism’, an increased role for ‘Civil Society’, ‘Ethical Consumerism’ and of capitalism’s concern for the ‘The Environment’.

Are these recent, reformist style trends evidence of the state’s attempt to mask the realities of a class-divided society? Over the next few years, what other coping strategies will the capitalist class use to try to find some stability for their system? How can individuals and the working class as a whole respond to this in a way which will best reflect our interests? What sort of future do we want to see?

Possibly the most profound trend that is now emerging and rapidly advancing is not necessarily the recent decline in profitability of the wages system of production, but a decline rather in the confidence of the ruling class to convince us of the validity of their system. It seems the legitimisation crisis transcends the sphere of domestic capitalist politics and extends to the spheres of religion, nationhood and the state, liberal democracy and the most basic tenets of human liberty.

Thatcher’s mantras
When Thatcher was Prime Minister in the 1980s she endlessly repeated the slogan “There is no alternative” (shortened as TINA). In economics, politics and political economy, it came to mean that there was no alternative to the status quo of their economic system and economic liberalism. It is still the main slogan of economic liberalism, arguing that free markets, free trade, and capitalist globalisation are the only way in which modern societies can go, as any deviation from their doctrine is certain to lead to disaster. Thatcher’s affinity for the phrase led to the author Claire Berlinski choosing it as the title for her biography of the former Prime Minister.

In the early nineties, Francis Fukuyama wrote a book named The End of History and the Last Man, which in a similar strain argued that liberal democracy had triumphed over so-called communism, actually authoritarian state capitalism, and the historical struggle between competing political systems within capitalism was over, though apparently there could still be future events. This trend dovetailed into a political fashion for “Rugged Individualism”. Indeed, Thatcher in her third term of office regularly claimed “There is no such thing as society.”

Change of rhetoric
Today, far from Thatcher’s ‘There is No Alternative’ rhetoric, we now get an apologetic, “We’re All in this Together” from our so-called leaders.

We now have an offer from the state for us to be part of the “Big Society”. At first sight this apparently bold initiative at rolling back the state may seem appealing. But strip it to its core and one suspects other motives.

In a speech in Liverpool on 19 July to re-launch what critics say is a vague idea, the still newish Con-Dem Coalition Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that what he terms “the Big Society” is at the heart of his policy agenda:
  “We need to create communities with oomph! Neighbourhoods who are in charge of their own destiny, who feel if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them.”
And with one eye on the detailed government spending cuts that were to be announced in October, Cameron insisted his attempt to revive community action was driven by “great passion” rather than the need to save money:
  “It is not a cover for anything. This would be a great agenda whether we were having to cut public spending or whether we were increasing public spending.
“This is not about trying to save money, it is about trying to have a bigger, better society.”
I wonder how many people really believe him.

And while all that and far more is going on, we as apparently individual, and certainly individuated, citizens are micro-managed keenly by armies of state officials in terms of our health, personal habits, children and domestic waste disposal. We are implored to consume ethically and to be mindful of our Environmental Impact and Carbon Footprints.

It seems capitalism in the coming decade is likely to be a miserabilist, reactionary affair in which personal responsibility and self-reliance is propounded as the dominant ethos within society. Is this the future we want?

This scenario could be so very different. How can we reach for the sort of world many people long to see, a world in which poverty, hunger, war and ruination of the quality of life for the majority of people can be abolished? That means going beyond capitalism to a society in which things like money, nation states, official government and production for profit are abolished.

“Capitalism is only unbeatable as long as everybody thinks it is. As soon as everybody thinks it is finished, then it will be finished. We therefore need to keep in touch with what other people are really thinking. And we need to explain, tirelessly, where the only viable future for the Human race lies – in that post-capitalist society of common ownership of the world. It is impossible to be neutral in this struggle.” (Ron Cook, Yes, Utopia!)
Andy P Davies