Monday, March 1, 2021

Blue Labour (2021)

Book Review from the March 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Despised. Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class. Paul Embery, (Polity, 2021)

This is a relatively short book but halfway through it I wondered if I could bear reading any more. Why? Well, it’s certainly not badly written or hard going. In fact it’s written in a congenially informal style that makes it easy to read and understand. But the trouble (or one of its troubles) is that it’s endlessly repetitive, simply going over the same ground time and time again, repeating the same polemic and even using the same words to express it.

What does it actually argue? Basically that the Labour Party is finished if it doesn’t manage to bring back to its fold the so-called ‘red wall’ of voters who deserted it in the Brexit referendum and in the 2019 General Election. These are the voters the author identifies as the ‘working class’ (defined as those who do ‘physical labour or work in blue-collar industries, factories, call centres, retail or frontline public services’) who have traditionally been the backbone of Labour’s support in urban Britain and from which background, as he frequently reminds us, he himself comes.

These people, Embery contends, have moved away from Labour because it has become a Party dominated by a middle-class elite hostile to traditional working-class values and favourable to globalisation, mass immigration and identity politics. According to the author, it needs to move back to embrace and represent those working-class values and only by so doing will it win back that core of traditional support and again become an electoral force. The words he uses to describe those ‘values’ are among those repeated over and over again throughout, giving this book its tiresomely repetitive feel: patriotism, tradition, custom, order, stability, flag, family, faith, identity, community, belonging.

Almost equally countless are his repetitions of a particular set of tired, hackneyed terms often used by those on the right of the capitalist political spectrum to seek to vilify their opponents: liberal wokedom, virtue signalling, identity politics, woke left, cosmopolitan elite, progressivism – or more or less any combination of these words. These are the terms he uses to denote forces he sees as standing in the way of those traditional working-class values.

Yet this book is a funny mixture. Its writer is ‘a firefighter and trade union activist’ and an adherent of so-called ‘blue Labour’. He proclaims himself ‘left-wing’ and makes it clear that he is on the side of the workers in their endeavours to improve pay and conditions. So it can be said that he recognises the struggle for a bigger share of the cake that the capitalist system creates between those who own most of the wealth and those who own little but their ability to work. But his solution is for workers to be represented by a Party, a reformed Labour Party, that tilts things in their direction and opposes the encroachments of global capital on their economic wellbeing. He proclaims himself fiercely pro-Brexit, seeing that vote as an indication that the working class (in his definition) was fed up with the ‘shackles of the EU’, with the ‘woke’ culture of Labour’s political elite, with the Party’s failure to respect workers’ traditional culture and values (patriotism, etc.) and with its embrace of ‘progressivism’, globalisation and ‘neo-liberal’ economic policies.

Some of this could be seen as well meaning, but it asks all the wrong questions and buys into a whole range of myths about class, race, the nature of government and much else. Above all it entirely misses the point about the struggle between workers and capitalists. It makes no sense to qualify as working class only those who do manual work or are in lower paid jobs. The reality, as even at one point the author comes close to recognising (but then dismisses), is that all those who sell their energies for a wage or salary are workers. They are all in the same basic position vis-à-vis their employer and all susceptible to losing their employment and so their means of living if the market determines it. No government, left, right or centre, can do much about that even if they would like to, for in the final analysis governments exist to administer the buying and selling system on behalf of the owners of capital and, even if they are able to take over some aspects of it (as suggested by Embery), they cannot control it, as has been shown time and time again by the continuous ups and downs brought about by what Marx called ‘the anarchy of the market’.

So though the author calls himself ‘a democratic socialist’ and says he wants ‘to address the injustices of the world’, his conception of how society should be run is a contradictory mishmash. He advocates a ‘strengthening of the nation state’, state control of utilities and such like, a government policy of ‘jobs for everyone’ and economic protectionism, yet at the same time he calls for internationalism, for a ‘flourishing private sector’ and insists that markets are ‘essential to the functioning of a free and democratic society’.

The author proclaims himself a socialist but would do better to look at a more meaningful conception of socialism, one that aims for a world without the market system, without buying and selling, without money or wages, and based on voluntary work, common ownership and democratic control. In such a society the narrow ‘cultural’ and class differences he sees as fundamental between people of one kind of background and another, between people of one country of origin or another, will disappear and give way to positive cultural diversity and real economic equality based on a system of from each according to ability, to each according to need.
Howard Moss

Externalities and British Chicken (2021)

From the March 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard
Externality – a consequence of an economic activity which affects other parties without this being reflected in market prices (Oxford Concise English Dictionary)
British chicken – annually the UK slaughters a billion chickens, about fifteen per person per annum. (Bureau of Investigative Journalism)
In effect an externality means acquiring something at a price lower than necessary if negative effects were to be avoided or compensated for. A few common examples include such acts as taking occupied land for other uses without agreement or full compensation; poisoning air, water or food of local inhabitants near mines, factories and industrial agricultural sites; habitat destruction for industrial use; carbon offsets by which companies in the richer countries pay for CO2 pollution caused by them by funding reforestation and similar green projects in other countries. So let’s look here at just one aspect of the UK’s involvement with some of these externalities connected to the rearing of these millions of chickens in Britain recently highlighted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The link begins between the giant corporation Cargill and a little heard of, but vast area, the Cerrado in Brazil which is being deforested at an alarming rate for the mass production of soya beans. Some 100,000 tonnes of these soya beans are used to feed those millions of British chickens each year. The Cerrado is a vast tropical savannah hugely significant for its capacity to store carbon dioxide. It is a crucial part of South America’s water system and home to many indigenous communities and endangered animals. It is an area smaller than the Amazon but has far weaker protections. Between 2008 and 2012 the rate of forest loss in the Amazon slowed by 67 percent whilst the Cerrado forest continued to disappear at an alarming rate. There, in the decade to 2018, 95,000 sq km of land was lost, 66 percent more than the Amazon which is three times its size. It now has only half of its original cover. The Cerrado region is estimated to account for 90 percent of soya-driven deforestation in Brazil. Covering more than 20 percent of Brazil’s land size it is a huge carbon sink, critical for eight of Brazil’s twelve river basins and is integral to the hydroelectric power plants producing 80 percent of Brazil’s electricity.

A Dutch NGO ‘Aidenveronment’ has confirmed vast deforestation and fires on land used or owned by Cargill suppliers in the Cerrado, and that the already huge area of monoculture soya is growing rapidly alongside land-grabs and violence.

In August 2020 a Bureau of Investigative Journalism team tracked a bulk tanker carrying soya beans from Cargill and two other companies in the region from a port near the Cerrado to Cargill’s soya plant in Liverpool. Here the beans were processed at Cargills’s soya crushing plant and from there to Cargill’s poultry feed mills in Hereford and Banbury where a mixture of the soya with wheat and other ingredients is produced. This UK Cargill facility operates under the name of Avara, a joint enterprise with British producer Faccenda. Avara supplies chickens to McDonalds, Asda, Lidl and Nando’s whilst also being the largest fresh chicken supplier to Tesco.

Annually the UK slaughters a billion chickens – about 15 per person, which accounts for about 60 percent of the UK’s imported soya consumption. Probably an externality little known or thought about?

Regarding deforestation it is possible that a UK company may have a declaration of no trade with companies involved in illegal deforestation but in this instance, and as an example, Brazil has widespread legal deforestation. Then, regarding the soya supply chain between Brazil and the UK, Cargill admit that their 2010 commitment to eliminate deforestation by 2020 has not been met, and now extends it to 2030 – which experts say is too late on the global warming agenda.

In 2006 there was a ban imposed by traders and international NGOs on felling trees in the Amazon for soya production, but no such agreement for the Cerrado. As a result, it is now beef production that drives the deforestation of the Amazon, both legal and illegal, whilst soya accounts for the fast-growing deforestation of the Cerrado.

More examples

This is just one example of the spider’s web-like tangle between a commodity and an externality. When looked at in depth it seems the globe is an extensive minefield of externalities. How much effect can just one community of the millions of communities around the world have on their own particular problem? Consider some of the many negatives experienced by local communities in wildly different circumstances and environments from the Arctic to the Sahara, east to west, north to south. Faster melting ice, increasing wild fires, severe weather problems, inundation of low lying farmland and islands, filthy air from excessive traffic, industries and coal burning for electricity causing severe health problems; rivers poisoned by industrial and agricultural waste; overuse of pesticides and herbicides especially in intensive farming causing severe species decline; massive ocean pollution, especially plastics; microplastics, heavy metals and poisonous chemicals found in urine samples in all ages of populations around the world. We are mostly steered away from knowing about such problems, let alone thinking about them, by corporations using enormous amounts of money on advertising to draw us in to the many benefits of buying, using, eating and showing off their products.

The divisions between populations around the world, whether nationalism, racism, politics, or economic status, are not natural events. They have been deliberately forged over long periods of time by the powerful sectors seeking their own interests and profits whilst creating wedges between each country’s workers. Workers forced into competition with each other to keep their share of the market, their share of employment, their chance of a decent wage and subsequently blaming the other for unfairness and inequality. So where does the responsibility lie? Do we stop eating chicken? How many more of the thousands of examples like this could be brought to our attention?

Without widespread understanding of at least some of the myriad connections – agricultural methods, global distribution chains, reporting of international agreements re carbon capture and carbon credits payments, the very structure of the capitalist system – how are all these diverse and far-flung populations supposed to understand that what they are eating, wearing, driving, buying and using could be damaging other populations, environments and the world itself?

What is desperately required is a global solution without all these conflicting and competitive issues. The vast majority of the global population share the brunt of all the basic problems as their interests are not those of the ruling elites and corporations. Those in control of the system continue to keep us in check but we the people have to wake up to the realisation that the future is in our hands.
Janet Surman

Capitalism cannot be reset (2021)

The Cooking The Books column from the March 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

After the ‘Great Reset’ was proposed last June the only people to take any notice were conspiracists who saw it as a plan by a cabal of world leaders to impose a ‘New World Order’ with the ‘plandemic’ as the first step. This is nonsense but the proposal to ‘reset’ capitalism is not much better, as is explained in the same way as we would in this extract from a podcast by Peter Joseph on 20 January (LINK).

"The great reset was put forward by Klaus Schwab, the head of the World Economic Forum, if I remember correctly. He started talking about this around the beginning of COVID-19 in early 2020. Here’s what it says on their actual website, ‘To achieve a better outcome, the world must act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions. Every country from the United States to China must participate, and every industry from oil and gas, to tech, must be transformed. In short, we need a great reset of capitalism.’ Yes, the great reset of capitalism. Which makes no sense at all since capitalism is actually the fundamental problem, affecting sustainability and all other such issues that this great reset professes to address.

I suppose it’s good to see more conversation, especially when it comes to the environment, but the very fact that the limits of debate have been set and that this is really about preserving capitalism, even though they want to create some idealized version of it called stakeholder capitalism, all this simply reveals another well-meaning pro-establishment spasm in the end. No different than all the climate conferences and biodiversity conferences that accomplish nothing because everyone refuses to look at the system structure as the actual problem, the economic system. It’s actually quite comical if you think about it, ‘We want to change the world, but not capitalism.’

And of course this notion of stakeholder capitalism is one from a long line of nonsensical, qualifying adjectives that people amend before the word capitalism to try and pretend like some sub distinction would ever make a meaningful difference. You see all over the place, crony capitalism, responsible capitalism, vulture capitalism, the social entrepreneur. My favorite is conscious capitalism, as if it ever could be given the very nature and incentives of the structure, once again. It doesn’t matter who’s in the positions. It matters what the structural incentives are.

Just to be clear here, this stakeholder capitalism is defined as ‘a system in which corporations are oriented to serve the interests of all their stakeholders. Among the key stakeholders are consumers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, and local communities. Under this system, a company’s purpose is to create long-term value and not to maximize profits, and enhance shareholder value at the cost of other stakeholder groups.’ I’m not even going to address the insurmountable idealism in that vague description other than to say, you can never take the core incentive out of the system if the system remains in any respect or form. It is nonsensical to say that somehow corporations are going to orient themselves respecting everybody in this kind of stakeholder environment and the ecosystem without maximization of profit and hence, exploitation. You can’t have capitalism without exploitation and profit and hence, exploitation. If those things are removed, then you’re in a completely different system by default.

So this great reset thing is just another spasm, a well-meaning joke, a ploy in fact to sort of pretend like we can make capitalism better when all empirical evidence shows that we cannot.

50 Years Ago: Marxism in Chile? (2021)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Salvador Allende is not the first president of Chile to proclaim himself a revolutionary. When Allende’s predecessor, the Christian Democrat Frei, was elected in 1964 he pledged himself to a ‘revolution in liberty’. Two years later found him sending in the army to break a strike in the copper mines; eight people were killed. As Fidel Castro rather neatly put it: ‘He promised revolution without blood and has given blood without revolution.’

Like Allende, Frei was elected on the strength of his promises to solve two basic problems. Firstly the concentration of land in the hands of a few vastly wealthy families while 350,000 peasants have no land at all. And secondly the domination of Chile’s economy by foreign (mainly American) capital, which is held to be responsible for the chronic unemployment in the country (currently running at about 7 percent) and the destitution of a large section of the population (one half of all families live on less than thirty dollars a month).

(…)

Allende’s Chile, just like any other country operating within the world capitalist economy, will have to compete on the international markets to sell its products. The prices of its commodities can be made competitive only by Chile keeping abreast of world developments in industrial innovation, by constantly reinvesting in new plant — by constantly accumulating capital. And this can be done only by Chile’s industries — whether nationalised or not — pumping surplus value out of the working class. That these ‘external coercive laws’ are continuing to operate was made quite clear in a radio speech by the new President when he announced that daily production of coal is to be stepped up from 3,800 tons to 4,700 tons — and then called on the miners to make sacrifices so that Chile’s coal can be sold at competitive prices on the world market.

Because the popular front government is responsible for Chile’s capitalist economy, inevitably it is being brought into conflict with the workers and peasants. Already there have been several strikes, some involving the occupation of factories, both in the capital Santiago and in the provinces. In December 1970 telephone workers in Santiago took over the central telephone building and held some hostages, calling for the immediate introduction of new salary scales which the government said it would introduce in time. In the same month three thousand municipal workers stopped work for 48 hours after demanding pay rises which the ‘Communist’ Minister of Finance refused, while fifteen thousand administrative workers were on strike too.
(Socialist Standard, March 1971)

Resistance is not enough (2021)

Editorial from the March 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

A decade has passed since a tidal wave of revolt swept across the Middle East and North Africa washing away autocratic regimes in its wake. That this happened seemed to have not only taken the local dictators by surprise, but also the rest of the world. And yet it should not have done. After years of state repression combined with economic hardship that had been made worse by the 2008 financial crisis, working people had had enough and rose up to fight for political democracy. High unemployment, especially among young workers, and poor economic prospects were the tinderbox. The suicide of a street seller in Tunisia was the spark.

We can see similar dynamics recently working themselves out in Russia and Myanmar. In January, Alexey Navalny, a long-time opponent of Putin, returned to Russia after being treated for nerve agent poisoning in Berlin. He was arrested and imprisoned on a charge of violating his parole conditions relating to a suspended sentence he received in 2014 for embezzlement. This sparked rallies and protests across Russia. Some have descended into violence as the police cracked down heavily on the demonstrators.

On 1st February in Myanmar, the military, after alleging that voter fraud had helped the National League of Democracy (Aung San Suu Kyi’s party) to secure a landslide victory in the November 2020 general election, deposed and detained the elected civilian rulers, including Suu Kyi, and declared direct military rule for one year. In response mass protests have erupted, which have elicited a severe crackdown by the police and the military. Public servants, health workers, teachers and other workers have gone on strike in an attempt to end military rule and restore civilian government.

What is common to these protests is the deteriorating living standards suffered by workers which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and popular disenchantment with the corrupt capitalist rulers who have been accumulating greater amounts of wealth. We can only sympathise with these workers struggling to obtain democratic rights. However, we believe it would be a mistake for them to put their trust in political leaders such Navalny and Aung San Suu Kyi. Notwithstanding their particular flaws – Navalny is a Russian nationalist and harbours anti-immigrant positions, and Suu Kyi, while in power, has defended the state persecution of the Rohingya Muslims – they are both committed to upholding the capitalist system which is the source of workers’ social problems. They would be overseeing the exploitation of the working class.

Sadly, the uprising of the Arab Spring ten years ago did not bring about democracy for the workers. With the possible exception of Tunisia, autocratic dictatorships still prevail in the region. This does not mean that workers should give up the political fight. On the contrary, we urge workers to fight not just for political democracy but for a fundamental change in how we organise society. What is needed is a class-conscious working class to organise globally to capture political power democratically to rid the planet of capitalism and establish genuine socialism, a worldwide society without national borders, money or social classes, where everyone can participate equally and enjoy free access to social wealth.

Voice From The Back: Come Clean, Queenie (2009)

The Voice From The Back Column from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Come Clean, Queenie

  “Voice-recognition lie detectors are to be used by two Welsh councils in an attempt to crack down on benefit fraud. People in Flintshire and the Vale of Glamorgan on housing and council tax support will have their speech patterns analysed when claims are reviewed. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is piloting the 12-month scheme in 18 local authorities across Wales and England. However, some critics claim it could deter genuine claimants. Benefits cheats cost the UK taxpayer an estimated £400m a year. A pilot scheme was initially introduced among seven English councils, but has been extended and includes Wales for the first time. Details were announced as part of the Welfare Reform Bill during the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday.” (BBC News, 4 December) This will be hailed by all supporters of capitalism as an excellent wheeze to foil impoverished claimants, but what will happen when the Queen phones up for an increase on her benefits in the civil list? Presumably the lie detector will be switched off for non-impoverished claimants.


A Suicidal Society

 Workers are often told how lucky they are to be workers instead of capitalists, but capitalists themselves don’t believe that piece of nonsense. With the downturn in the capitalist market place many capitalists face the prospect of losing their privileged class position and finding themselves in the ranks of the working class. The prospect is so awful that some of them can’t face it and commit suicide. “Kirk Stephenson, the 47-year-old New Zealand-born chief operating officer at the private equity firm Olivant, died instantly when he was hit by a train at Taplow station in Buckinghamshire, on September 25 last year. A jury returned a verdict of suicide. …Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, 65, a French financier, locked the door of his New York office last month, swallowed sleeping pills and slashed his wrists with a craft knife. … Paulo Sergio Silva, 36, a trader for the brookerage arm of the Brazilian banking giant Itau, shot himself in the chest during the afternoon trading session in San Paulo’s commodities and futures exchange in an apparent suicide attempt in November. … One of Europe’s most influential industry magnates has thrown himself in front of a train after his business empire began to crumble. Adolf Merckle, the 74-year-old head of a conglomerate that employs thousands in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, killed himself on Monday.” (Times, 7 January)


Production For Use

We are all used to “letters to the editor” in the national press that deal in crass trivialities, so it was a great pleasure when we came across this exceptionally perceptive letter. “Music as product placement is certainly a dismal vision (The sullying of our songs, 16 December). But the old business model for music inside capitalism is nothing to feel nostalgic about. John Harris suggests that downloading makes music worthless. No, just priceless! If everything (not just downloads) was free it all might actually be valued that bit better. I suggest we should embrace the concept of production for use, by raising our horizons beyond just the digital world to – in the words of John Lennon – imagine no possessions. Brian Gardner, Glasgow” (Guardian, 19 December)


Desperate Times

With the US automobile industry in recession many desperate ideas are being considered – the Keynesian notion of government intervention – the increase of pensions and welfare payments to stimulate demand, but here is the most extraordinary “solution” of all – prayer! “Pentecostal Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, who shared the sanctuary’s wide altar with three gleaming sport utility vehicles, closed his sermon by leading the choir and congregants in a boisterous rendition of the gospel singer Myrna Summers’s “We’re Gonna Make It” as hundreds of worshipers who work in the automotive industry — union assemblers, executives, car salesmen — gathered six deep around the altar to have their foreheads anointed with consecrated oil. While Congress debated aid to the foundering Detroit automakers Sunday, many here whose future hinges on the decision turned to prayer. Outside the Corpus Christi Catholic Church, a sign beckoned passers-by inside to hear about “God’s bailout plan”. (New York Times, 7 December) The sad truth is that despite the desperate prayers of Detroit workers capitalism is a system based on slumps and booms and no amount of hymn singing is going to save their jobs.



Pathfinders: Darwin in the pink (2009)

The Pathfinders Column from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Darwin in the pink

It seems fitting, in the year of Darwinius Laudatus, that the new incumbent of the White House is stuffing his team with scientists and proclaiming that science is top of the agenda again. Well, it won’t bring on socialism, but at least those who seemed obsessed with visions of a new religious Inquisition in the West can stop worrying for the moment. Nature too is sticking two fingers up at creationists who have problems struggling with the facts of life, by recently producing two entirely new species that, as they say, you couldn’t even make up. One, a bizarre pink iguana, happens to live on the one Galapagos island Darwin didn’t manage to visit  The other is a mirror-eyed spook-fish in the deep ocean with an entirely novel means of discerning sharp images using light reflector arrays (New Scientist, 10 January). Advocates of Intelligent Design will easily explain pink iguanas (God was having a camp day) but in the case of the highly complex mirror mechanism, the obvious question would be: why did our Intelligent Designer not do things the easy way and just have the fish live somewhere it could see by normal means? Recent footage has also emerged of a unique venomous mammal, the Hispaniolan solenodon, suspected of being the last surviving relic of a branch of mammalia with a very uncuddly characteristic. Will ID supporters kindly explain why The Creator can’t seem to make up his mind, and keeps producing hybrid experiments that look suspiciously random and unplanned? Whatever next, a mammal that lays eggs?


Biofuels at bedrock in ratings

Speaking of random and unplanned, capitalism can usually be relied on to filter out all the smart solutions and pick the dumbest, amid a fanfare of speeches about innovation and progress. It seems hardly a moment since biofuels were the ingenious answer to everyone’s oil crisis. Now a new study suggests that they are the worst possible way of dealing with the problem, even taking coal or nuclear power into account (SciDev, Biofuels bottom of the heap in impact study, 7 January)

Why so popular a solution then?  Because it was cheap, the land was already in cultivation for something else, and it was a zero-tech, zero investment changeover. Wind power comes out best, which is perhaps no surprise. If we were to plant wind turbines in every government meeting room in the world, we could probably get all our energy for free.


Free is cheaper

Now where have we heard that one before? It’s nice to see that the digerati are still plugging the idea that because costs are heading towards zero soon everything will be free, citing such free services as Google by way of example. Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, is the latest to put this no-longer-very-revolutionary idea in his new book Free: the Future of a Radical Price (BBC Radio 4, In Business, 8 January). Of course, he means everything digital will be free. About the real world of food, clothing and heating he has no comment to make. No doubt it will comfort the refugees of Darfur that they can access free pictures of food whenever they like.  What Anderson and his colleagues could usefully do is extrapolate from their own cosily self-absorbed cyberworld to ask what socialists ask – couldn’t we do the same thing for tins of beans as terabytes? After all, production costs in material goods also have a tendency to fall over time. Besides, there is also the question of what you mean by free. Users don’t pay to use Google, but two Google searches are as carbon heavy as boiling a kettle, and the global IT industry produces as much greenhouse gas as the global airline industry (BBC Online,  ‘Carbon cost’ of Google revealed, 12 January).


PC I-Plod

One thing which is patently becoming less rather than more free is the matter of civil liberties, with police being encouraged by a new European directive to spend more time hacking into the public’s private computers (BBC Online, Police ‘encouraged’ to hack more, 5 January). Not that it will do them much good. Even if your firewall doesn’t keep them out, they probably couldn’t use the information anyway because they have no way to prove they didn’t put it there themselves. That’s if they don’t lose the information first. Anyone paranoid enough to believe that Big Brother has already arrived will feel a heartwarming glow at the latest in a long line of government security boobs. When the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit was shut down and replaced by the Serious Organised Crime Agency in 2006, the government did not bother to keep the old NHTCU webname and it was bought by a German company. However, the government forgot to mention this to anyone, so whenever any agency including the BBC attempted to tip off the government about suspected cyber-fraud or other criminal japes, they were in fact sending this potentially explosive information to a private commercial enterprise (New Scientist, 3 January).
Paddy Shannon

Letter: God on our side? (2009)

Letter to the Editors from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

Having just read with interest the article God and the Market (November’s Socialist Standard) I felt that socialists may like to hear my views and opinions.

As an adult, I made the conscious decision to be baptised. That was ten years ago, and ever since then I have struggled with my faith because of the blatant hypocrisy that we all know exists within the Church. Indeed, Robert Tressell’s portrayal of the Church in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is, in my opinion, not too much of an exaggeration. Jesus Christ and his disciples spoke very plainly about the familial relationship of all people under our parent God, the requirement for “Children of God” to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), to shun riches (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13; Acts 8:20; 1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5) and to care for all people (1 Corinthians 13; 1 John 4:7-21). Such is the true Christian faith: it does not seek the division of humanity in any way. True Christian faith, I believe, is socialist.

But Church practice is very different from the way it should be, as you all know. The Church, the faithful bride of Christ, has unwittingly embraced capitalism and is unable (or its leaders are unwilling) to escape from its grasp. These leaders, among other things, commit “daylight robbery” by sending out “tax-collectors” with bright shining plates during each act of worship to take money from their “beloved” flocks, and they celebrate (or, as they say, “Remember”) the inhumanity of war and support future killing among siblings, even going as far as “blessing” destructive weapons (e.g. battleships). At the heart of each spiritual community is the local church, and how many local churches resemble market places? How would Jesus react to such things (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; John 2:13-16)?

To be fair there are groups within the Church who do remain faithful. These include the Pax Christi movement, Tearfund and the Mothers’ Union. But unfortunately, the humanity of such groups as these is hidden within the shadows of the Church’s capitalist image within the world.

From its earliest beginnings, the Church applied the pious practice of lending without adding interest. But it wasn’t long before Church authorities saw this practice as “bad for business”. In the same way, I wander how long it will be before the greed of Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury and the Anglican Bishop Wallace Benn of Lewes (who claimed that the credit crunch is God’s punishment for society’s obsession with money (Premier Radio News, 29th October 2008)) resurfaces and they change their minds.
Paul Boyce, 
Lincoln


Reply: 
We agree that what evidence there is seems to show that the first christians practised a form of what Kautsky in his Foundations of Christianity called “a communism in articles of consumption”, but it also shows that they were more interested in the world “to come”, which they believed to be imminent, than in changing the corrupt (as they saw it) world in which they lived. The case for socialism, as the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, is a secular doctrine based on the facts of the situation today and not on quotations from the sacred texts of one particular religion,
 – Editors.