Tuesday, May 31, 2022

50 Years Ago: Socialism and Social Reforms (1981)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party will not barter its support for any promise of reform. For, no matter whether these promises are made sincerely or not, we know that the immediate need of our class is emancipation, which can only be achieved through the establishment of Socialism. Our interests are opposed to the interests of all sections of the master-class without distinction; whether bankers or industrialists, landlords or commercial magnates, all participate in the fruits of our enslavement. All will unite, in the last resort, in defence of the system by which they live.

For the party of the working class, one course alone is open, and that involves unceasing hostility to all parties, no matter what their plea, who lend their aid to the administration of the existing social order and thus contribute, consciously or otherwise, to its maintenance. Our object is its overthrow, and to us political power is useless for any other purpose. With these facts clearly in mind, and conscious that economic development is our unshakable and inseparable ally, we call upon the workers of this country to muster under our banner.

(From the article, Socialism and Social Reforms, by Eric Boden, May 1931 Socialist Standard.)

Voice From The Back: The culture of competition (1998)

The Voice From The Back Column from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The culture of competition

Buy low. Sell high. That’s what we’re teaching our kids in school today. The Stock Market game has blasted its way into the classroom. Budding Buffets as young as eight can now learn what drives Wall Street—money and lots of it. “We can teach them that their main goal is to buy and sell stock,” says Ted Young, the game’s creator and maths teacher at Centralia Junior High School in Illinois. Students play the roles of 20 buyers, four brokers and a banker-policeman-tax collector. According to Young, the kids love the broker job as they get a kick out of seeing their friends profiting and their enemies losing. Stock prices are posted on computers and when the bell sounds, trading begins. “The kids will push and shove and run to get to make trades on hot stock,” says Young. “That’s when the police officer comes in. Tempers can flare. Kids get in fights.”

The culture of failure

In the business world, low survival rates are a serious issue. One in three firms fails before its third anniversary.

The culture of negligence

The shortage of information technology skills is reaching critical proportions. Despite large cash rewards there are more than 50,000 vacancies in the UK, forcing companies to look abroad for staff. The startling figures emerge from research by recruitment agency, Elan Computing, which has offices in Europe, the Pacific rim and the US. All the above are from Financial Mail on Sunday, 30 August.

The culture of expansion

Current [world] population trends are likely to put 700 million young people into the labour market in the next 10 years—more than the work force of the developed world in 1990. This could greatly increase developing countries’ wealth, but it will also expose them more to the effects of economic crises. The International Labour Organisation estimates that one billion jobs will be needed for these people and to cut existing unemployment. Guardian, 3 September.

The culture of poverty

Deprivation, unemployment and low literacy levels make Britain one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the West, a United Nations report said today. Britain was ranked just 14th—behind countries such as Germany, Japan and Australia in the Human Development Report poverty index. Across the globe, the gap between rich and poor was growing with one-fifth of the population consuming 86 percent of the world’s goods and services, the report said. And in Britain, more than a fifth of adults were considered functionally illiterate while 13.5 percent were living below the recognised level of the poverty line. Evening Mail, 9 September.

Force v force

British Transport Police has won the contract to keep law and order on the new £145 million Midland Metro tram system. The force faced stiff opposition from West Midlands Police for the job of policing the 12-mile route which will run from Wolverhampton to Birmingham. The West Midlands force believed it should get the job because it was better equipped in terms of infrastructure and manpower. But Metro bosses decided the job should go to British Transport Police, chiefly because of their long history of policing Britain’s railway network. Evening Mail, 9 September.

Another utopian

Yesterday saw a lull in the turbulence rocking the world’s financial markets. No one knows whether this is temporary or whether it heralds the end of the extraordinary bull market of the past decade. Either way it may prove to be the high water mark of international financial laissez faire. There is a growing realisation that something must be done to tame the free flight of short-term capital that has destabilised economies from Thailand a year ago to Russia now. Guardian, 3 September.

Profits v wages—as usual

“The strength of the pound is working against us in terms of profitability and it is well know we are looking for savings,” Mr Stephenson [director of design and engineering at Rover] said. “Times are tough and certain areas are having to make cutbacks, but because we cannot get all the skilled engineers we need I have taken the unprecedented step of asking those engineers we do have to work a couple of extra hours a week without pay. I am pleased to say that the response has been very positive—saving the company thousands of pounds in man hours per week.” Evening Mail, 5 September.

If I were a rich man

We all know that Bill Gates is the world’s richest man, valued at about $50bn (£31bn). But did you know that the United Nations says he alone could therefore afford the $40bn needed to achieve and maintain universal access to basic education and healthcare, safe water and basic sanitation? Do we need any more proof that capitalism has failed?  Back page, Computer Weekly, 17 September).

Editorial: Enter the Clowns – Stage Left (1998)

Editorial from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the Labour Party circus continues its UK tour in Blackpool it has been able to showcase old favourites not seen under the spotlights for years. First out – stumbling from the old performers entrance – comes the TUC pantomime horse, fresh from a run at the Tribune Theatre. Dazed and confused, it provides endless laughter as the front section tries to go in a completely different direction to the back, in the end falling over itself to please.

Cross-eyed and aimless, it is hampered in its attempt to find the New performers entrance by the clowns, who enter stage Left. Led by Mr Benn, the clowns (Red Ken, Northern Arthur, Tony Trot and Ted Trot) desperately try to climb on top of the pantomime horse, the better to steer it in their chosen direction. But the pantomime horse is so stubborn and confused it never listens to a word they say. “Demand the 35 hour week now!” yells, Arthur, reciting one of his favourite comedy lines – but all the pantomime horse does in response is a big comedy steaming mess in all the sawdust on the floor. How the children – who have never seen it before – laugh uproariously!

But the clowns – who have played to many packed audiences in the past – aren’t finished yet. Mr Benn and the boys rush out to the wings where they pick up big red fire buckets, full of water to throw at the horse so it might come to its senses. In the mad scramble to reach it first, they try to barge one another out of the way. Tony and Ted, now too old for such antics, stand and scream like maniacs at one another. How stark raving mad they appear to everyone – but harmless with it! By now Ken, who is nearer to the slumbering pantomime horse than the others, manages to throw his fire bucket full of water all over it, so as to wake it up. But the bucket is not full of water – it is full of confetti! At this point the other clowns hit Ken over the head with comedy mallets until the big red fire engine arrives and takes them all away, bells ringing and horn tooting.

The audience was delighted – for them it was a real trip down memory lane. So successful was the performance that it is going to be restaged next year and probably the year after that too, with some new clowns called Liz and Mark. The owners of the circus, Mr Blair and Mr Mandelson, said they were happy with how things turned out as it probably meant that profits would be up, all in all, especially for Mr Sainsbury who did the catering.

The only sad note was the man at the back who left disgruntled, saying that it was the same performance they had been trotting out years ago and that it hadn’t even been funny then.

Won’t – or can’t? (1998)

From the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
Does the globalisation of capital mean that national governments are powerless to control capitalism or is it just that they don’t want to?
Now they tell us. When Siemens closed its semiconductors factory in North Tyneside Peter Mandelson, newly appointed as Trade and Industry Secretary, declared: “This is a product of global changes, which are completely outside our ability to control” (Soapbox, Sunday Sun, 16 August). A month later when Fujitsu announced the closure of its factory in his own constituency nearby, Blair “admitted that the Government could do little about the ‘twists and turns’ of world markets” (Times, 17 September).

For once, Mandelson is telling the truth. The government is powerless to change world market conditions. Far from governments being able to control economic conditions, it’s the other way round: governments have to tailor their policies to fit in with global economic conditions. As the moment these conditions are difficult in that competition is much fiercer than it was until the early 1970s when the world market was expanding much faster than has been since. Governments have had to take this into account and bow to world market pressures to keep costs down by cutting back on their social spending. They have had no choice. To paraphrase a mad woman who was a Prime Minister in Britain in the 1980s, you can’t buck the world market.

There are some who disagree with this—the anti-Labour Left, amongst whom are to be found some of the most incorrigible defenders of reformist political action. They think you can buck the world market. According to them, it’s just a question of political will and mass pressure

As Robin Clapp put it in an article entitled “Global Myths” in Militant’s theoretical journal:
“National governments do have the power to maintain welfare systems, vary taxes and interest rates and set economic priorities. The problem today is that capitalist governments don’t want to resist international capital, not that they are incapable of it” (Socialism Today, April 1996).
The view is echoed by the SWP. In a review, entitled “No Place Like Home”, of a book that challenged the extent and consequences of the globalisation of capital (Globalisation in Question by Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson), Chris Harman argued that radical action within a national framework could still overcome world market pressures:
“Capital may be able to shrug off attempts by government to control it using the limited techniques of ‘Keynesianism’ and social democratic intervention. But it can be challenged successfully by those prepared to take much more radical action—the sort of action open only to those who base themselves on the mass mobilisation of its workers” (Socialist Review, May 1996).
Harman may have been talking about trade union struggles as well as about reformist movements to put pressure on governments but, contrary to what he implies, trade unions have even less power to “successfully challenge” world market forces than governments. Not only have there not been any reforms, as improvements for workers brought about by government action, since the early 1970s, but all the big trade union battles in recent years have been purely defensive. Indeed, many such battles-Wapping, the Miners, P&O cross-channel ferries, the Liverpool Dockers—have ended in defeat. We are not saying that workers should not engage in such defensive, rearguard actions—there is some room to stop conditions worsening as much as the bosses would like or try on—but they should be recognised as such, as precisely battles to stop things getting worse, retreats imposed by current world market conditions.

That’s more like it
However, there does not seem to be unanimity within these organisations as to whether, and to what extent, capitalism in it current depressed sate can offer reforms.

Tony Saunois, of the secretariat of Militant’s international body the “Committee for a Workers International”, has put a somewhat different position from Clapp:
“The influence of the world market currently determines the policies pursued in each country. No country has been able to escape its influence. It has been one factor which has prevented the implementation of reformist policies. This is likely to be the case in the short to medium term.”
” . . . the decisive feature is the dominance of the world market. This has rendered the application of distinct and separate polices within national boundaries impossible for any length of time. This is especially the case for policies of a reformist or left reformist character”.
And, after giving the example of the failure of the Mitterand government in France in the early 1980s and of a left-wing coalition in Venezuela in the 1990s:
“These examples illustrate the domination of the world economy and show that the material basis which allowed capitalism to implement lasting reforms in the post Second World War decades no longer exists. Temporary concessions may be given by a government threatened with massive social explosions. However, they will rapidly be taken away again because of the limitations of the resources of capitalism” (The Future for Socialism, second printing, January 1997).
This is a position we can endorse, indeed have been putting forward ourselves.

Similarly in the SWP, Peter Green (who wrote a passable pamphlet for them on The World Crisis of the 1980s) in a letter to Socialist Review (June 1996):
“We are now in a world where all talk of national reformism is fantasy—which was not true in 1945 or 1914. International socialism really is the only hope for us all.”
If international (or, as we would prefer, world) socialism is the only hope for us all—as it is—then the logical conclusion is that what we should be doing is campaigning in favour of this, not to try to pressurise governments to “maintain welfare systems, vary taxes and interest rates and set economic priorities”.
Adam Buick

Letters: Super-nurses (1998)

Letters to the Editors from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard


Dear Editors,

Being a student nurse I had spent the day looking after nine seriously ill patients, together with a junior staff nurse and part-time nursing auxiliary. Most of the patients required help to perform the basic activities of living, some in the terminal stages of illness. Just dealing with the urinary and faecal incontinence was a full-time job,. With the best will in the world, we tried to get basic care completed and to a large degree we somehow managed, needing the ability to do three things at once. Or did we? Struggling to get basic care completed leaves no room for the so-called “holistic” approach required by the models of nursing. The gap between theory and practice is measured in light years.

After a mentally and physically exhausting day I arrive home to be told that Tony Blair is going to introduce the concept of the super nurse. The concept is flawed and ignores the real problems in the NHS. Nurses are not angels or super, just workers seeking meaningful work, doing a job that helps to care for people. a caring attitude that is exploited to get nurses to do as much as possible for as little as possible. The clinical grading system already means that a few nurses are paid higher rtes of pay than the average nurse and it is the higher grades that are now being made redundant at my present hospital, because the Hospital Trust is in the red. If any NHS Trusts can afford the super-nurse it will represent a desirable post for the few and help pit nurse against nurse in the competition of who can achieve the most unpaid overtime or least amount of sickness.

The UKCC code of conduct for nurses requires that they serve the interests of society, to do this nurses need socialism not super status.

Nothing but the truth

Dear Editors,

Herewith is a short piece which I wrote when serving with the West Midlands Police in the early 80s. I have been prompted to send it to you as the result of reading the short story by Heather Ball in September’s issue of the Socialist Standard.

It was whilst serving with the police that I came to the conclusion that it is the values upon which society is based which creates world-wide dishonesty. The world revolves on dishonesty.

Before giving evidence at any judicial proceedings it is practice to take the Oath or make a sworn affirmation, thereby promising to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in the name of God, Allah or any other mystical omnipotence that you have been conditioned to have faith in. a sworn affirmation amounts to much the same thing except that the “almighty” is not brought into it.

Having completed this solemn and apparently sincere ritual all that remains to be done, so you might think, is to relate your evidence to the Court as honestly as you can recall . . . but, it doesn’t end there. Having given evidence the witness is then invariably subjected to a verbal flailing form a highly trained advocate with the sole purpose of proving that the witness has, wholly or in part, told anything but the truth. This so called cross-examination has the full backing of the Court and effectively reduces the value of the Oath/affirmation to something akin to the scribblings to be found in most public toilets.

Regardless of any promise to tell the truth the fact remains that the honesty of a witness is not enhanced one jot in the eyes of the Court by taking the Oath. If any value at all was placed on this ritual then there would be no need for the demeaning Court scenes where highly educated and articulate lawyers seek to prove that some hapless (though possibly truthful) witness is telling porkies.

If you or I should be so naïve as to believe that all witnesses, some witnesses or just a few witnesses tell the truth or, are expected to tell the truth, despite having taken the Oath/affirmation, then the procedure in our Courts confirm beyond all reasonable doubt that such a belief is just wishful thinking. So why take the Oath? It certainly doesn’t do anything to elicit the truth and what is more no one expects it to . . . and so the Oath/affirmation is without value and meaningless. Additionally it reduces any concept you might have of God to something less than a scab on a donkey’s ear and the holy scripture might just as well be a pile of second-hand comics.
John Phazey, 
Sutton Coldfield


Dear Editors,

Dave Alton (September Socialist Standard) was far too lenient to Barry Goldwater.

In the first place, the word “libertarian” is a gross misnomer for those who advocate capitalism without a welfare state or government intervention in the economy, and we should not use it uncritically. What they actually stand for is slavery—wage slavery. As Dave says, “there can be no liberty to defend until humanity is liberated from capitalism”.

Secondly, Dave claims that Goldwater’s opposition to welfare spending involved “detesting the concept of people becoming dependent upon the state”. Leaving aside the point that most capitalist who spout this stuff are more than happy to accept state subsidies for themselves when they’re available, the fact is that such campaigns are basically designed to cut taxes and so keep up profits. Goldwater of course wasn't opposed to workers being dependent on selling their labour power.
Paul Bennett, 

"Will that be all, Sir" (1998)

From the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Rude Health? (1998)

TV Review from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Britain is a place of warm beer and sandwiches, lazy days on the village green watching cricket, a place of order and conformity. At least that s what John Major reckoned. But in doing so he reckoned without the stars of Rude Britannia (Channel 4,10pm, Thurs 15 October).These were some of Britain's rudest people who were counterposed to those who deplore the behaviour and openly hanker after a return to the rose-tinted past.

That Britain was ever the kind of place John Major thought it was is open to dispute — what is clearer is that whatever level standards of behaviour were in the past, there has been a serious decline since. When Major said he aimed to build a society “at ease with itself” he was stating a political intention he was never remotely going to be able to fulfil. And so it has turned out — if this programme is anything to go by Britain is a more competitive, selfish and inconsiderate society than it ever has been.

This was illustrated time after time via the filmed behaviour of those who just couldn't give a monkey’s about anybody but themselves. One or two of them were not only prepared to admit this when questioned, they were actually proud of it. One who showed no lack of remorse was the man who parked in the disabled parking spot at a supermarket when there were scores of other places free. When challenged about it by a disabled woman it turned out the gentleman in question was none other than an officer of Her Majesty's constabulary. His response was not to admit his culpability and mutter something about “being in a rush” as most probably would, but to insist that he had not violated any road traffic laws!

Happy days are here again
Then there was the guy in Accrington who went about his business with total disregard for everyone else, whether he was driving his car or just walking around the shopping precinct. His most revealing response to questions about his attitude was to comment that “I am too fast for Accrington”. In truth, here was a poor sap, convinced that he was among the movers and shakers of society, a child of Thatcher and son of Satan, who thought that the most effective way to exercise his muscle was to barge past old ladies in the high street and knock them over. Needless to say, the reality behind the image was revealing — a man in a poorly paid job with little self esteem who wanted to make himself appear bigger than he was. When asked by the interviewer “if you are too fast for Accrington, then why don’t you just leave?” he had no cocksure reply to utter, in fact no answer of any kind at all. To give an answer would have been to reveal that he did not live life to the Max. This was a man who, in reality, lived life in the bus lane.

While it would be wrong to assume that the kind of anti-social behaviour exhibited by individuals in this programme is already widespread as such, it is undoubtedly in the process of becoming so. That this should be the case is not surprising. John Major was doomed to failure in his attempt to halt the slide because he failed to recognise that, first and foremost, it is the market system itself which promotes such types of behaviour and engenders such anti-social attitudes. There is no compelling evidence to suggest that humans are born to be rude, aggressive and anti-social. On the contrary, it is human sociability which is the primary reason why our species has been the most successful on the planet—humans, unlike other animals, are generally able to plan and organise our affairs in a conscious manner, ensuring long-term stability. But the economic, social and political structures created by humans in various circumstances influence human behaviour in turn, and if social systems develop in a manner which promote competition and individualism (as say, a result of natural or artificial scarcity in relation to wants) then humans will adapt their behaviour and attitudes accordingly.

Any society — like the market system — which is based on division, competition and rampant individualism, and then sustained by the creation of generation gaps and the spread of atomised, isolated thinking and behaviour, is going to produce the sort of anti-social attitudes illustrated in Rude Britannia. So it is the ultimate irony for all the Colonel Blimps of this world that the system they admire so much — capitalism — is what has done so much to undermine many of the values they hold dear, values which arose in a different sort society to that which now exists.

But why should a rational thinker want to turn the clock back? The future could be far brighter than any rose-tinted view of the past could allow if the working class grasped the importance of collective action and the necessity of solidarity and class organisation. For the only way to overturn the “every man for himself” culture eating away at the heart of society is in the forging of a united struggle — a united struggle against the system which is currently pitting worker against worker in one of the shabbiest episodes it has yet conjured up in its extremely shabby history.
Dave Perrin

World View: Nothing new to report (1998)

From the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two recently published reports make compelling reading for those who think capitalism is a fair and efficient system of global organisation and provide undeniable evidence, if ever it was needed, that the case for world socialism is as pressing now as it ever has been.

Coming within one month of each other, the UN Human Development Report 1998 and the Living Planet Report from the World Wide Fund for Nature, the New Economics Foundation and the World Monitoring Centre, paint anything but a picture of a world run on rational lines.

Launching the Living Planet Report on October 1st, Nick Mabey of the WWF announced that “time is running out for us to change the way we live if we are to leave further generations a living planet . . . we knew it was bad, but until we did this report we did not realise how bad”. (Guardian, 2 October).

The report he speaks of points out that since 1970, humans have destroyed more than 30 percent of the natural world, the UNHDR claiming that this has happened because of “consumption increasing six-fold in the last 20 years, doubling in the last 10”. (Guardian, 9 September).

Over-consumption lies at the heart of both reports, which are critical of the lip service paid by governments to the notion of sustainable development.

While the Living Planet Report points out that CO2 emissions have doubled since 1960, and to a level now exceeding the natural world’s ability to absorb them, the UNHDR reveals that the burning of fossil fuel has in fact quadrupled since 1950, with the wealthiest one-fifth of the world’s population accounting for 50 percent of this. The poorest one-fifth account for only 3 percent of CO2 emissions, yet countries like Bangladesh and Egypt pay the highest price for the global warming CO2 helps produce—rising sea levels with the loss of homes and livelihoods.

Both reports point out that for the first time one of the most serious problems that faces us is a depletion in the world’s fresh water reserves, with fresh water eco-systems declining at the rate of 6 percent per annum While 50 percent of all fresh water supplies are monopolised by humans, three-fifths of the developing world’s 4.4 billion population have no safe drinking water.

The reports find that wood and paper consumption have increased by two-thirds since 1960—with little or no sustainable management of forests—and that the marine catch has quadrupled in this period, with one-quarter of fish stocks now depleted and a further 44 percent fished at their biological level.

The UNHDR claims that global inequality increases apace with 20 percent of the world’s population consuming 86 percent of the earth’s natural resources. To emphasise this discrepancy, the report reveals that a child born in New York or London will consume, pollute or waste more in a lifetime than 50 children born in the developing world. Meanwhile, the Living Planet report says that the average American or Japanese consumes 10 times more of the earth’s resources than the average Bangladeshi. The UN report also lists the latest figures on world wealth distribution. The world’s wealthiest 225 people now have combined wealth equivalent to that of the poorest 47 percent of the global population, while the world’s three richest people have assets that exceed the combined GDP of the world’s 48 least developed countries.

It further estimates that “the additional cost of achieving and maintaining universal access to basic education for all, basic health care for all and adequate food…water…sanitation for all is roughly $40 bn per year…(a figure which is)…less than 4 percent of the wealth of the 3 richest”. (Guardian, 9 September).

As could have been anticipated, the reports’ suggested remedies to redress the above fall well within the category socialists term reformism, amounting to the same battle cries of the well-meaning, though less well informed, without visible results for decades.

It is perhaps a forgone conclusion that such statistics will not fair any better in the years ahead, and we may well wonder how long their compilers will juggle with them before they conclude capitalism can’t be tinkered with in our interests.

Instead of producing volumes of such statistics each year, which on the face of it are only of any use in the armoury of the socialist, wouldn’t it be wiser if the “experts” decided to work out how much better the world would be if we freed production from the artificial constraints of profit, and organised production in a rational and sustainable manner and to the benefit of all. Or would these same experts fear they would be labelled socialist and their reports taken less seriously?
John Bissett

World View: Repression—in exile (1998)

From the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The past couple of years have been a somewhat turbulent time for Tibetan refugee communities, Tibetan Buddhism in general, and for those who idealise the Dalai Lama. Far from fulfilling his fantasy status as some sort of “saintly” icon, the Dalai Lama has followed what can be seen as a political programme of repression not that dissimilar to that of the Chinese state, from which so many have fled.

In 1996 he announced a ban on the worship of a Buddhist deity called Dorje Shugden, declaring somewhat vaguely that he had discovered Shugden to be a “Chinese” spirit who was somehow physically threatening both his own life and the future of Tibet. He declared this ban not only in his capacity as a “spiritual leader”, but as head of a government-in-exile. For the Dalai Lama is the supreme head (unelected) of a state; albeit a state-in-waiting (Tibet) that is based in Dharamsala in northern India. It has a sizeable state machine; a parliament, cabinet, government departments, and most notably a Security Bureau. To fund this a tax is levied on all Tibetan refugees, non-payment of which results in official loss of “citizenship”. On the question of democracy, when the Vice President of the Tibetan parliament was asked if any political decision could conceivably be taken in opposition to the Dalai Lama he answered, “no, not possible”.

Those refusing to accept the ban on Shugden have accordingly been labelled as enemies of the state and Chinese agents and, in reference to Tibet’s provision at paper constitution, the government-in-exile has declared that, “concepts like democracy . . . are empty when it comes to the well-being of the Dalai Lama and the common cause of Tibet”. The lengths to which the Dalai Lama would be prepared to go to maintain his authority were hinted at in an interview in 1997 where he stated:
“If . . . there was only one learned Lama . . . alive, a person whose death would cause the whole of Tibet to lose all hope of keeping its Buddhist way of life, then it is conceivable that in order to protect that one person it might be justified for one or ten enemies to be eliminated . . .”
No prizes for guessing who and what is being referred to here then—and so much for peace and love.

The resulting “justified” actions taken against those refusing to comply with the deity ban have included the dismissal of all such dissidents from government employment and the report that the residents of at least one monastery were “persuaded” to sign forms in support of the ban by the presence of Indian state police. Some 300 cases of house arrest, destruction of personal property, and harassment by Dalai Lama supporters have been reported, including one case of a family being forced from their home by a large crowd, which petrol bombed and ransacked their house. In addition posters denouncing religious dissidents have become commonplace in Tibetan exile communities. These notices generally include the name, address and photo of the particular “enemy of the state” and the schools their children attend. It is little wonder that some have become refugees all over again.

The Dalai Lama recently helped promote the products of the Apple computer company under the advertising slogan “Think Different”, which is interesting when compared with an official statement of his that warns: “If you can think by yourselves it is good . . . it will not be good if we have to knock on your doors.”

Tibetans, both under Chinese rule and the rule of “their” government-in-exile, face a choice in common with the exploited majority everywhere: conformity imposed by gods and masters or the struggle for real freedom presented by socialists.
Ben Malcolm

Greasy Pole: Mad Tories and Englishmen (1998)

The Greasy Pole column from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wonder boy William Hague is off on his travels. His mission—to reassure the Tory faithful, still in a state of shock after the events of May 1997, that there is a flicker of life in the party, that it is not yet time to switch off the bleeping machine by the bedside and tip toe out of the room. It has not been the Tories in just this country, who have received this message from the Intensive Care Unit. None of them, it seems, wherever they are, will be safe from a visit from their floundering leader. Recently, for example, Hague went to see what the Tories in exile in Marbella think about him, the party and life in general.

Now Marbella has something of a reputation as a resort attractive to certain English people not just for the sun, the paella and the sangria but because it was preferable to stay there than to go back to England and help the police with their enquiries. Whether that has fostered an unusually abrasive view of the world, or whether it is too generous an exposure to gin and sunshine, it seems that Marbella harbours some especially mad and unpleasant supporters of our William. Some of them were chillingly free with their opinions to the Guardian last month. Scottish people are “tight bastards” who should be made to “pay their own taxes”. Criminals should be tied “to a post in the middle of Wembley before a match and (birched) in front of the crowd”. English is a place with “wogs pouring in” (during the early 1980s about 150,000 British people “poured” into Spain to settle there. A lot of them formed groups like Conservatives Abroad in Marbella).

The message Hague carried on his tour was that the Tories are now a listening party. The days when they surged on regardless—he says—of what anyone thought of them are over. Come and meet me. Tell me what you think. I will listen. There is, of course, no reason to suppose that he will be surprised to hear the opinions of the Marbella Tories because such views have been popular in the party—would regularly provoke a storm of applause at their conferences—for a long time. The interesting point, though, is why Hague has only recently become aware of the need to listen to what might be called the grass roots. What was he doing about governmental complacency when he was a minister? Why did it take a disastrous election result to persuade him that such things needed to change? The answers to these questions are too obvious to need spelling out here.

Of course one of Hague’s problems is to convince the people he is listening to that there is any real difference between the conservative and Labour parties. This has become especially difficult since Blair’s government carried on roughly where Major’s left off. Even symbolically the parties are coming to resemble each other more and more. At their conferences this year they both abandoned their traditional platform colour scheme in favour of multi-coloured shapes and panels (Labour’s to show that they are the party of modern technology, changed colour according to the speaker.) Hague announced that he was scrapping the party’s torch of liberty logo—perhaps cursing that Labour had already pinched the red rose of England. So alike are the two parties that Gordon Brown has accused Hague of repeatedly using the phrase “the British way” when Brown had already flogged it to death in a speech.

The Real World
Soon it may be so difficult to tell the two apart that we shall have to rely on things like Hague’s wife having fair hair while Cherie Blair’s hair is black. Like Hague having very little hair while Blair has enough to re-arrange the styling according to whether he is in tough-decision-making mode or “I’m a pretty straight guy” mode. But we may rely on it that the show battles—the mock-indignant press releases about the other’s tricks, the MPs braying and hooting at the knockabout of Prime Minister’s question time, the relentless denunciation of the other side’s incompetence, dishonesty and cynicism, will go on its meaningless way.

Meanwhile in the real world capitalism is bracing itself for another recession. In the Far East, South America and Russia the system is showing itself at its chaotic worst. In this country the immediate prospect is of a serious slump. The Governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George, has been warning that banks will be hard hit by huge losses from their investments in industries affected by the slump.

Somewhere else in the real world the statisticians at the Department of Social Security have reported that even before the effects of the approaching slump are felt, the condition of those in the severest poverty does not improve. In 1997 there were 24 percent of the population living below the official poverty line of less than half the average income. In the event of a slump the lot of these people will get worse and their numbers will swell as more and more workers fall deeper and deeper into poverty.

We have already seen how Blair’s government—and before them how the governments of Thatcher and Major—react to this kind of situation. They do not inform us that capitalism is a system beyond human control, which inflicts the sufferings of poverty on its people as a matter of routine. Instead they care about things like the so-called dependency culture—which does not mean the ruling class depending on exploiting the rest of us to maintain their privileged position in society but a supposed addiction among unemployed workers to living on a starvation income.

They do not hark back to their many promises to control the economy, through a few meetings at Number Ten and the stroke of the Chancellor’s pen, so that poverty becomes a thing of the past. So they do not confess that they are powerless to do anything, in any real sense, about capitalism and are in fact reduced to floundering about in futile reactions to its procession of crises. They do not, in other words, tell us that to support them is a waste of our power to change society in a fundamental and permanent way and that we should immediately stop voting for them and instead trust in our own ability.

This is not the message Blair gives out and it was not passed on by Hague to those seriously deluded Tories in Marbella. On the Costa de Sol, as elsewhere, fantasy rules.

The incompatibles (1998)

Pamphlet Review from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism and Religion. By F. A. Ridley. Rational Socialist League, 70 Chestnut Lane, Amersham. 40 pages.

This is a reprint, updated by the author before he died in 1994, of a pamphlet originally published in 1948.

On religion, it takes up a basically similar position to ours, derived from Marx: that religion is an expression of human alienation, of the fact that humans are not in control of their destiny but are the playthings of uncontrollable, impersonal economic and social forces and resort to religion to console themselves and to try to make sense of this. This is why, as Ridley puts it in a criticism of bourgeois non-political rationalists and freethinkers, “no amount of merely expository or destructive criticism—useful and necessary as such criticism is in itself—can finally destroy religion; only the coming of international socialism can do that, by abolishing the social antagonisms which necessitate its existence”.

On socialism, however, Ridley is not so clear. Since he was a member of the old Independent Labour Party (ILP) who hob-nobbed with Trotskyists this is not surprising and explains his reference to that contradiction in terms a “workers state” existing in socialism.

He mentions our 1910 pamphlet Socialism and Religion which he says relied too much on Herbert Spencer’s ghost theory of the origin of religion according to which the first gods represented the imagined spirits of dead heroes as they appeared in the dreams of their followers (fair enough). He also mentions a pamphlet, Christianity and Socialism, published by an SPGB member, Horace Jarvis, in the 1970s. This was published privately, partly because a pamphlet on religion was not considered by us to be a priority but also because it was more oriented towards textual criticism of the bible than a deeper Marxist analysis of the social and historical origins and role of the Christian religion. Even so, some Socialists have always liked that sort of thing. Jarvis, incidentally, before he joined the Socialist Party, had been a member of the Communist Party’s front organisation, the League of Atheists, but left the CP when they dissolved this body so as to be able to attract religious support for the Popular Front policy they adopted in the second half of the 1930s.
Adam Buick

Bourgeois revolutionaries (1998)

Book Review from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The French Revolution. Edited by Gary Kates. Routledge, 1998

“Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Napoleon, the heroes as well as the parties and the masses of the old French Revolution, performed the task of their time in Roman costume and with Roman phrases, the task of unchaining and setting up modern bourgeois society.” (Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).

On the night of 4 August 1789 the newly triumphant French National Assembly issued a decree formally abolishing feudalism. The process of building a bourgeois (capitalist) society in France has been documented by the influential French academic historians Albert Mathiez (1874-1932), George Lefebvre (1874-1959) and Albert Soboul (1914-1982). They were also very public members of the French Communist Party, and in due course this provoked a “revisionist” challenge from liberal and conservative ideologists. This collection of essays provides further proof, if it were needed, that the study of history is not just about interpreting the past but part of a struggle for the sort of future people want.

For liberals, Alfred Cobban (1901-1968) argued that the revolution had an early constructive phase, but efforts to create a liberal capitalist constitution were overcome by violence. The conservative François Furet (1927-1997) emphasised the role of political ideas, especially those of Rousseau, upsetting the natural order of things. A central concern of these “revisionist” challenges has been what they saw as the dominance of Marxism in interpreting the French revolution and its relevance for the modern world. Marx drew attention (see quote above) to the way the French revolutionaries referred to ancient Rome, as a mask for their tawdry bourgeois objectives. It provided the revolutionaries with: “…the self-deceptions that they needed in order to conceal from themselves the bourgeois limitations of the content of their struggles and to keep their passion at the height of the great historical tragedy”.

The French Stalinist historians, following Lenin and the Bolsheviks, drew an explicit parallel between the French Jacobins and the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 Russia. In 1920 Albert Mathiez wrote:
“Jacobinism and Bolshevism are two dictatorships born of civil war and of war, two class dictatorships operating through the same means: terror, requisitioning and taxes; and having, in the last resort, the same goal: the transformation of society and not only of the Russian or French society, but of the universal society.”
The Jacobins under Robespierre’s leadership, and the Bolsheviks with Lenin’s leadership, acted in the belief that their small elites represented the real will of the people, even though they were not accountable to them. The French revolution, of course, was the classic bourgeois revolution. Robespierre and the Jacobins employed the means and objectives appropriate for such a revolution. The Russian revolution, as Matthiez unwittingly revealed, used the same methods for the same goal: a capitalist revolution. The Bolsheviks abolished feudalism and constructed a society based on wage labour and capital, but under state control. This, historically, is the bourgeois role of Bolshevism.
Lew Higgins

The Truman Show (1998)

Film Review from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998)

Truman Burbank is a happily married insurance salesman living in Seahaven, an island town in middle America. A regular guy, you might think, leading an ordinary, uneventful life. He jabbers to himself in the bathroom mirror, his neighbours smile benignly at him as he goes off to work.

But the audience is soon made aware that all is not well with Truman, even before he realises it. A cutaway shows us that everything in his life is being dictated by an unseen director to actors through earpieces, while five thousand cameras track his every movement. Truman’s whole life is a television soap in which he is the only unknowing participant.

Truman’s world, really just a giant TV studio, literally starts to fall apart. A piece of lighting crashes at his feet. More poignantly his father, who as a child he had seen drown, re-appears as a dosser in the street, before being dragged away. He yearns for a girl—in fact an extra who broke out of the programme’s strict plan—who he once fell in love with, before she, too, is led away from him.

As he gradually realises the scale of his predicament, Truman’s unease turns to paranoia and then to righteous anger. The audience is torn between laughing at some really funny scenes (Truman is acted by Jim Carrey, hitherto best known as a zany comedian) and moving cameos of a manipulated man struggling to “get a life”.

The critics loved this film and so did I. They summed it up in various ways—a satire on television, a moving statement about the human condition, a plea for freedom, an off-beat studio confection, a black comedy. To some extent, it is all of those things. But for me the Daily Telegraph‘s critic’s judgment was surprisingly more profound: a “penetrating critique of contemporary society . . . This is a world entirely of artifice, in which everything is for sale”.

The Truman Show vividly illustrates and confirms everything Marx wrote about alienation, although he could not have foreseen the detailed forms it would take. Truman himself is forcibly separated from a truly human life and society in a particularly cruel way, being an unwanted child adopted by a corporation. But all the thousands of bit-part players, extras and studio workers are also exploited—they sell themselves to the “project”, in this case the profit-seeking televising of Seahaven. The megalomaniac director is a metaphor for the ruling class, ostensibly running the whole show but himself a highly-paid executive of some national if not multinational corporation.
Stan Parker

Voice From The Back: Capitalist profits (1998)

The Voice From The Back Column from the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalist profits

From December 1, when the second stage of this year’s pay award is implemented, a D-grade staff nurse will earn a basic of between £12,855 and £14,705. Starting salaries for teachers are £14,500 and for police constables £15,500. Guardian, 6 August.

Full Marx!

Karl Marx’s theories may not be much appreciated in police forces, but his observation that under capitalism everything eventually becomes a commodity may strike a few chords in the Los Angeles police department: it is registering its initials LAPD as a trademark. Guardian, 6 August.

Value for money

Barbara [Corcoran] says that in Manhattan, where she lives, her annual £45,000 investment in her looks is de rigeur. There, she says, “looking good is more important than being good . . .” “People judge you down to the tiniest detail, the cut of your suit shoulder, the size of the pearl in your earring, even how you apply your make up.” Express, 20 July.

This secret society

Gun Mart, a magazine for shooters, has a particular concern about the confiscation of the majority of private hand guns following the Dunblane massacre. In its August issue it draws attention to the fact that the police report on Thomas Hamilton, made to the Procurator Fiscal before the mass shooting of the school children, will not be put into the Library of the House of Commons. In fact, Lord Cullen, for the government, has recommended that a 100 year closure be placed upon this and related documents. Not even most war secrets are suppressed for this long. What are they hiding? Gross negligence is one possibility. A real excuse for the banning of guns is another.

Political starvation

“The country’s [Sudan’s] 15-year civil, war has uprooted millions. The UN World Food Programme predicted the food emergency last September. But a worsening drought, lack of interest in the international community, widespread fighting and a ban on relief flights by the Sudanese government have resulted in a much worse crisis today . . . people are dying, at an average of 50 a day in Wau, one of the hardest hit areas.” Catherine Bertini, Executive Director, UN World Food Programme.

Feelgood factor 1

Keith Bradley, Professor of international management at the Open University Business School was doing his bit for the class struggle in the Financial Mail on Sunday, 16 August. He said, “Chief secretary to the Treasury Stephen Byers touched a raw nerve last week when he hit out at ‘greedy’ power and water bosses whose massive pay rises of up to 70 percent fuel anger amongst ordinary workers. But while fat cats are easily pilloried, there is little doubt that huge pay disparities are here to stay. Indeed, the rich are likely to get richer-and deservedly so . . . In today’s world there is a massive difference between winning and coming second. Nearly winning a legal battle, nearly scoring a goal, or nearly completing a business deal are all worlds apart from actually achieving these things.”

Feelgood factor 2

Earlier this year, when he was anticipating, and perhaps trying to influence, the Labour government’s budget, Martin Taylor, chief executive of Barclays Bank, told the Commons social security Select Committee that the working families tax credit (WFTC), which was expected to replace the in-work family credit, would have “important psychological effects on the way people feel about work”. Delivered through the pay packet rather than the benefits system, it would change the attitudes to living on welfare by associating state aid with work, said Mr Taylor. “If welfare to work succeeds, and I expect it will, there are going to be a lot more people in relatively low paid jobs . . .” “It’s important that they should feel good about that and that society as a whole should feel good.” Mr Taylor was doing his bit for the class war—on behalf of his class.

Feelbad factor

In May, the Boston Sheraton hotel in Massachusetts had to pay $200,000 (£120,000) in a lawsuit in which employees said they were videotaped in a changing room, and a California trucking firm’s employees discovered a video camera in the men’s toilet. Every aspect of employment becomes disputed territory in the class war.

Pollute and be damned

Asbestos pollution is one of the biggest environmental health problems in the world, according to the Johannesburg Star, and South Africa is the global epicentre of asbestos-related disease (ARD), in particular mesothelioma, which is a cancer related specifically to asbestos exposure. It was estimated that 30 to 40 percent of people who worked in SA’s asbestos mines for more than 20 years developed ARD. A study of the town of Mafefe in Northern Province revealed that half the adult population of 12,000 had ARD.

Editorial: Will America be next? (1998)

Editorial from the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Capitalism is falling apart at the seams”—this apocalyptic statement from no other than George Soros, the international financier who broke the pound in 1992. This is a relative piece of honesty from our ruling elite who have so far done their damnedest to play down the severity of the global economic crisis. From the “quality” broadsheets to the television news-you have to look long and hard to find any serious coverage of the most newsworthy story of the day.

South East Asia, Russia and now Latin America are all in trouble and the only thing keeping the world economy going has been the bull market in the US—or so the “experts” tell us. What is interesting is the way each country or region is treated separately from each other as if what we are really facing is an aggregate of “local” problems the sum total of which adds up to a “global” problem. It is precisely this, which makes Soros’s honesty so refreshing yet frightening at the same time.

America, which has been growing for most of this decade is set to slow down. The “new paradigm” theory which argued that the US could grow forever will soon be proved demonstrably false-the only question is to what extent will the US crash?

The US has been attempting to get Japan to reslate its economy because Japan is considered to be the “motor” economy of South East Asia. But as we know Japan’s banking system is very nearly insolvent and its room for manoeuvre is extremely restricted. If the crisis in this region pulls Hong Kong and China down—the US fears that the cheaper exports from a lower exchange rate will put intolerable pressure on the dollar and the already glutted markets of the world will have to deal with even more cheap produce seriously undermining the US balance of payments. Couple this with a financial meltdown, you will have not just the rise of protectionism but a potential global trade war.

Finally, the US dominated IMF has nearly run out of money so its capacity to act as “lender of the last resort” and bail out any more countries is almost at an end. Even if more funds are found to re-capitalise Russia, what about the next time or the time after that? What about if America’s stock market bubble bursts and this leads to what one US economist called “the biggest depression since 1945”! The British and US stock markets have both now fallen about 15 percent in recent weeks. Who could now take a bet on capitalism?

Boom goes bust in Asia (1998)

From the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
Thirty countries covering a quarter of the world’s population are officially in recession. Even defenders of capitalism are now compelled to use the term “world economic crisis”.
It had to happen. Given the chronic state of overcapacity and potential overproduction in relation to the market in all the key sectors of global industry—electronics, computers, vehicle production, pharmaceuticals, shipbuilding, steel—the boom in Asia had to come to an end sooner or later. It already had in Japan, by far the biggest economy in the region and in fact the second biggest in the world after the US. Now the rest of East Asia—Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and other so-called tiger economies—has followed.

It is difficult to believe that at the beginning of the decade Kinnock, when leader of the Labour Party, went into the 1992 general election holding up the Japanese model of incestuous government-corporation partnership as the way forward for Britain. Those who pointed to the relatively rapid rate of capital accumulation in East Asia to deny the socialist contention that world capitalism has been in a depressive state since the end of the post-war boom in the early 1970s have also had their come-uppance. Marx was right. They were wrong. There can be no such thing as a permanent boom. That’s only a dream peddled by smooth-talking politicians and ageing Keynesian professors.

Marx was right
Marx, the first person to provide a convincing analysis of how the capitalist economic system worked, concluded that, whereas capital accumulation—or economic growth, if you like—was a key feature of capitalism, this did not take place smoothly. Capital accumulation proceeds by fits and starts, periods of relatively rapid growth being followed by periods of contraction and stagnation. The graph of long-term growth under capitalism is not a straight line moving up from left to right but a jagged line with peaks and troughs, with each peak normally higher than the previous one. Marx argued that this cyclical pattern of growth was not just accidental but was inevitable under capitalism—it was the way capitalism functioned and developed, its “law of motion” as he put it—with each period of rapid growth ending in a slump and each slump preparing the conditions for the next round of growth.

The history of capitalism since Marx’s day has amply proved the validity of this analysis. In order to maintain or increase their share of the market and realise the surplus value embodied in their products, capitalist firms are compelled by competition to reduce their costs by improving their productivity, in particular by the introduction of more productive machines. This leads to an increase in overall productive capacity. During the period of recovery that follows a slump this poses no problem as the market is beginning to recover and expand again.

However, as the competitive pressures to increase productive capacity continue, the point is eventually reached when productive capacity in a key industry or group of industries comes to outstrip the market demand for its products. At this point a crisis of overproduction breaks out. As profits fall, production is cut back, workers are laid off and, through the knock-on effect on other industries, the market shrinks, so inaugurating the period of slump. During the slump, the least productive machines are taken out of production and capital is depreciated or simply written off. This purge of under-productive machinery and over-valued capital eventually creates the conditions which allow capitalist growth to recommence, so beginning the boom-slump cycle again.

This is how capitalism has developed and continues to develop, only now that (as Marx foresaw) capitalism is a global system the periods of rapid growth and purging slumps also occur on a world scale. The big slump of the 1930s was a world phenomenon, as was the post-war boom of the 1950s and 1960s which ended in the early 1970s. So of course is the current world economic and financial crisis.

Mad money
Just because the 1930s slump was preceded by the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, some people jump to the conclusion that it is financial crashes that cause slumps. Actually, it’s the other way round: financial crashes usually reflect the situation in the underlying real world of economic activity. Where they occur this is a sign that something has already gone wrong in the real world, that, to be precise, productive capacity and production has come to outstrip market demand or is threatening to. As J. K. Galbraith showed in his book The Great Crash, this is what happened towards the end of the 1920s; when the gamblers on the stock exchange realised that overproduction was occurring they tried to convert their paper wealth into real wealth and provoked a crash. The slump followed but as a result of the preceding overproduction not of the stock market crash, which at most only exacerbated the economic crisis.

It’s the same today in Asia. The financial crisis there is a reflection of the fact that stock exchange and foreign currency gamblers have realised that the countries of East Asia have expanded their productive capacities beyond market demand. This has been obvious for a few years in the case of Japan where overproduction has led to full-scale recession with lay-offs and factory closures. But Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the others were in the same situation of potential overproduction since a significant part of their growth had been in the same industries which Japan had overexpanded: car and other vehicle production, and electronics and computer hardware.

The reason why governments and central bankers in Europe and North America are so worried about the financial crisis in Asia is that their own real economies are in the same state of potential overproduction as the Asian countries and that this could provoke a financial crash in their countries too. The king is naked here as well.

So far they have managed to avoid this though current indications are not good. Even if these countries avoid a full-scale crash this does not mean that they also have to power to avoid an economic slowdown or downturn. Such slowdowns and downturns can occur without a financial crash. Indeed this to an extent is what has already happened. Since the early 1970s the world economy has been in a period of slow growth, punctuated by falls in production from time to time. This is a reflection of the a lower rate of profit and of the unresolved problem of productive capacity having outstripped market demand in key technologically advanced industries such as aerospace, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and computers.

One consequence of this period of slow growth is that significant amounts of profits are not being reinvested in production but, instead, are being held in liquid form and invested in financial assets with the aim of making as large a short-term profit in as short a time as possible. All the multinational corporations and other big companies now have treasury departments engaged in financial speculation of one form or another whether on the stock exchange, the bond market, currency transactions, commodity markets or dodgy hedges such as derivatives. In France in recent years many major companies have even set up or taken over banks for just this purpose.

This extra demand for financial assets, deriving from non-reinvested profits, has driven up their price, so creating the anomalous situation of a stock exchange boom in what is essentially a depressed economy. Nothing could illustrate more clearly how divorced is the world of finance from the world of reality. Most of the financial transactions that take place on the world scale today are not investments of productive capital—are not used to set up factories or to buy machinery, equipment or raw materials—but are to buy and sell shares or bonds or foreign currencies or commodity futures or property or failing companies to asset strip them.

Such purely financial transactions are utterly unproductive, even from a capitalist point of view. Not only do they not result in the production of a single extra item of wealth but they don’t even increase the amount of surplus value available for sharing amongst the various sections of the capitalist class. It’s a zero-sum game. As socialists have always maintained, stock exchanges are places where capitalists gamble and try to cheat each other with a view to acquiring as large a mass as possible of the surplus value that has already been produced by and robbed from the workforce.

Rising share prices—and despite dramatic falls from time to time, there has been a steady long-term rise in the share price indexes of most stock exchanges—do not represent an increase in real wealth. They merely amount to a rise in the book value of the real wealth-the productive capital of the companies in question-that shares are supposed to represent. It’s a rise in paper values not real value. When a share goes up in price this means that you can get more for it if you sell it. If you don’t sell your shares all it means is that their book value has gone up, but if everybody or even large numbers tried to realise this book value by selling their shares, the real situation would soon reassert itself. The price would fall, bringing down the book value of the corresponding productive capital to its real value.

Is the Big One coming?
Even some supporters of capitalism, among them the arch-speculator George Soros himself, have begun to express concern about where the parasitic and volatile nature of global finance capital may lead the world. At a congressional hearing in Washington on 15 September Soros even spoke of the danger of the “disintegration of the global capitalist system”. We have always been cautious in predicting a 1930s-scale slump, but if even supporters of capitalism are discussing this as a serious possibility who are we to insist that they’re wrong?

One thing is certain, though. Until the problem—for capitalism—of excess productive capacity and potential overproduction in relation to market possibilities is resolved, there can be no return to any period of rapid economic growth as in the post-war boom when growth rates were twice the maximum that has obtained in any of the already industrialised countries since the early 1970s. But the only way this problem can be resolved is by a bigger slump than we have yet seen since the war in which the system would be purged of its excess productive capacity and overvalued capital.

If this does not happen, then global capitalism will continue in its present state of slow growth against a background of high unemployment and declining welfare provisions, staggering on from financial crisis to financial crisis and from mini-boom to mini-slump. Can this really be the end of history?
Adam Buick

Greasy Pole: Sex, lies and leadership (1998)

The Greasy Pole column from the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

What was remarkable about the Monica Lewinsky affair was not that Clinton had what he called a “not appropriate” relationship with here, nor that he then lied about it but that there are people—so many people—who profess to be surprised, shocked, outraged by his behaviour.

It does not have to be said, that Clinton is not the first politician to be exposed in this way and obviously he will not be the last. The sexual and political conditioning of capitalism work in combination to encourage relationships based on a recognition that, in the words of Henry Kissinger (who, it was said, knew what he was talking about) power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. This was put in another way by Antonia Sanchez, who experienced—whether she enjoyed it or not is another matter—a lot of attention over her affair with David Mellor, which did so much to undermine the Tories’ Back To Basics campaign. Ms Sanchez explained Mellor’s attraction for her by reference to his influence; he could, she said, “make things happen”. This influence—power would be a better word in the case of the President of America—is given to political leaders by the workers who vote for them, who surrender their own power to change human society to a few people mandated to keep the social system in being. There are so many elements in this for what is called the misuse of this power that the abnormal becomes the normal—the misuse becomes an appropriate use of the power. So we had all those Tory sleaze merchants and their hypocrisy about personal morality. So we had John Kennedy; so we have Bill Clinton.

Of course it would have been more than remarkable if Clinton had, from the first day of his exposure, told the truth and owned up to the affair. Because part of the job of a politician is to tell lies. (When they don’t in the House of Commons—or rather when they are caught out doing it—they describe it as “misleading the House”.) all their promises, which amount to an assurance that they can control, capitalism so that it stops being an anarchic, human-destructive social system and becomes an ordered, beneficial one instead, are lies. When the promises become discredited they try to cover it all up with more lies; they blame the depredations of greedy workers or foreign speculators or mad dictators in faraway countries ...

Imagine, if we can, the speech a political leader would need to make in order to tell the truth, in order to confess to their impotence and to the deceptions they have practised to hide it. Imagine, as well, how this suicide statement would be received by the workers who had voted for the leader. Millions of people vote for capitalism because they think their leaders are not impotent and don’t tell lies.That is why the same people who were so eager to denounce Clinton over his deceptions in the Lewinsky affair were falling over themselves in their eagerness to believe him when he said the American missiles recently sent into Sudan had destroyed a factory making material to be used in biological warfare and not pharmaceutical products.

This raises the question of what kind of leader the working class would like to have ruling over them—and what kind they think they get. “Strong” leadership is usually one of the most popular kinds—except that the “strong” leaders always have to be on your side and not on your adversary’s. For example foreign leaders like Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein are famous for, among other things, a certain lack of tolerance of opposition. In fact anyone who opposed them was usually killed—and you can’t get much stronger then that. But for some reason such leaders are always known as madmen, or megalomaniacs or some such description when all they are doing is taking the theory of strong leadership to its logical end.

A Guardian/ICM Opinion poll published on 8 September assessed how strong—or rather “tough”—the voters rate Tony Blair. The prime minister will not go down in history as one of those leaders who has his opponents executed but he does give them quite a rough time, which gives him the reputation of being tough. So there would have been some dismay at Labour headquarters to see that Blair’s toughness rating has fallen from 57 percent in 1997 to 42 percent today. It is difficult to know what Blair was doing in August and September last year to justify a reputation for toughness, which he is not doing now. The only thing that comes to mind is his intervention over the funeral arrangements for Princess Diana— forcing her family to have a big public event, making sure that flags were flown at half-mast, that sort of thing. And of course coming up with the wheeze of calling a neurotic parasite the “people’s princess”.

If all the verbiage about leadership— about the lies, hypocrisy, toughness and weakness—sounds like nonsense that is because that is what it is. No leader, whatever their character and style, has been able to make any significant impression on the problems and the deficiencies of capitalism. That is why today tough, decisive Tony Blair confronts the same situation as weak and dithering John Major. Bill Clinton’s campaign to save his presidency was centred on the fact that as president he had the job of running American capitalism, beside which personal sexual difficulties are insignificant. Another way of putting that is that the working class should ignore such irrelevant issues and concentrate on the fact that they can themselves change society, without leaders of any kind.

World View: The world crisis spreads (1998)

From the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The dominoes are falling all around: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Russia, and now Latin America. “On Wednesday, Colombia became the first Latin American country in the region to devalue its currency following weeks of intensive pressure, sparking a slide in bond and stock markets in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina. Venezuela, whose currency has been under intense pressure for weeks, launched an immediate round of public spending cuts” (Observer, 6 September).

Venezuela is particularly vulnerable at the present time. It is one of the world’s leading oil producers; it also has vast deposits of iron ore and gold, much of which including other mineral resources have yet to be explored. Twenty years ago, when the price of oil plummeted on the international exchange, Venezuela suffered mass unemployment as well as inflation. In 1988, the price of oil went down further; and in February 1989, the government introduced austerity measures which severely cut working-class incomes. The result was mass rioting, which caused millions of dollars in property damage and the loss of 300 lives.

The 1990s, therefore, opened with Venezuela teetering on the edge of total instability. On February 2 1992, a faction of middle-rank officers tried to overthrow the government in a coup. The army, however, backed the President and soon regained control. On 27 November the same year, another coup was attempted, this time by junior officers of the air force; again it was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, many people wanted change, if only to end the cycle of corruption and instability.

In January I 994, Venezuela’s second largest bank, the Banco Latino, collapsed, and the government had to nationalise it. It had to pump in two billion dollars to cover its losses.The government began an enquiry, but the bank’s assets had been relocated overseas, and it proved almost impossible to get the money back. This caused panic among depositors, and most tried to withdraw their money without success. The effect was to undermine the economy and drain Venezuela’s already dwindling cash reserves. The Venezuelan economy has never really recovered.

What of the working class? It can only get worse for them. And they have always existed in poverty. Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, is a huge city of modern high rise buildings, mixed with many building which are in desperate need of repair. But even the people who live in these dilapidated apartments are “lucky” compared with the people who reside in the ranchos ringing the city, and in the mountains around the city. They only have run-down shacks. As in most of the world, the majority of the people in Caracas are poor.

The present, and the future, is indeed grim unless the workers of Venezuela, as elsewhere, rouse themselves and organise for the replacement of the present system by a new world-wide system of production for use and the satisfaction of individual and social needs. There really is no viable alternative.
Peter E. Newell