Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Slavery and slavery (2007)

Editorial from the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

This month low-key ceremonies are taking place to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. Slavery continued, with imported slaves replaced by plantation-bred ones, and was not abolished till 1833. It continued for a further 30 or so years in the Southern States of the USA.

By slavery in this context is meant “chattel slavery”, where humans were owned as the legal property of other humans just like any other movable property. It had been widespread in Ancient Greece and Rome where some slaves were used as domestics but the great bulk were put to work in agriculture and mining. As they were themselves the property of their masters so was the product of their labour. In other words, they were exploited by having what they produced taken from them. This was again the situation on the sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations of North and South America and the West Indies from the 16th to the 19th century.

Early capitalism benefited from the slave trade not only because it stimulated world trade generally but also because it contributed to the primitive accumulation of capital that was later invested in industrial production. But chattel slavery was not a suitable form of labour exploitation for capitalism. Which was why, in the end, it was abolished.

Capitalist factory-owners needed a flexible labour force and a reserve of workers they could draw on in times of expansion and who could be discarded in times of slump. They did not want to own their workers, precisely because they wanted, when business took a downturn, to be free of any obligation to maintain them as they would have had to with chattel slaves. They favoured “free” labour. They were only interested in buying their workers’ ability to work for a limited period.

“Free” labour meant more than that the worker was just not a chattel slave. It meant that he or she was also not tied to the land either as a peasant or a serf. It means that the only productive resource they own is their ability to work, their labour-power, which they are “free” to sell to some capitalist employer or other.

But capitalists are not philanthropists. They only buy labour-power if they think they can make a profit from using it. Karl Marx was the first to point out that while the capitalist paid the worker the full value of what the worker sold – that the wage  bargain was a commercial contract in which like any other equal value was exchanged for equal value – the wage worker was nevertheless exploited just as much as the chattel slave was.

The explanation lay in the fact that there is a difference between the value of what the workers sold – their labour-power – and the higher value of what they produced. Having purchased the worker’s labour-power the capitalist employer was just as legally entitled to the product of the exercise of that labour power as the slave-owner had been to the product of his chattel slaves.

The early working class in the first decades of the 19th century didn’t need Marx to tell them what this meant. They realised that they too were slaves robbed of the product of their labour. It it was they who coined the term “wage-slavery”, not to describe the fact that they were paid low wages but that they had to work for wages at all. It was they, too, who raised the slogan “Abolition of the Wages System”.

Chattel slavery was abolished in the British Empire over 170 years ago, but slavery still continued – and continues – in the form of wage slavery. Socialists are modern-day Abolitionists. We want the wage-workers of the world to act to abolish their slavery. To organise to make the means of wealth production – the land, farms, farms, warehouses, means of transport and communication, etc – the common property of the whole of society, so that one group of humans will no longer be dependent on another to live and no group will be able to appropriate the labour of another. A world without slavery in any form.

Party News (2007)

Party News from the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 30 and 31 January Comrade Miller of Central London Branch gave two talks hosted by the Edinburgh and Glasgow branches, respectively. Both talks were on the subject of intellectual property and Free Software. The Edinburgh talk was attended by about 15 people, over half of them first-time visitors. Many of the visitors were avid users and developers of Free Software, and the talk was followed by a long and generally positive discussion. The Glasgow talk also had a similar-sized audience, with two visitors.

Comrade Miller began the talk by introducing and comparing the concepts of physical property and intellectual property (IP), explaining how the law treats them much the same despite the fact that IP requires practically no labour to reproduce and does not spoil or wear out. The primary purpose of laws preventing people from copying music, software, literature, and other information, then, is to effect an artificial scarcity which helps secure profits for IP owners.

Comrade Miller explained how independent software developers, angry with the restrictions imposed by commercial IP owners, began to voluntarily license their software copyrights under terms which guaranteed that the software would always be free for others to use, study, copy, and modify. Since most new software is created by refining and combining existing pieces of software, this licensing scheme essentially returned control of the means of production of software to the community.

The Free Software licencing scheme has since been popularised and adapted to other forms of IP, most notably artwork and literature. Comrade Miller examined as a case study Wikipedia, a large online encyclopaedia which is collaboratively edited by thousands of volunteers from all over the world. The facts that editors contribute voluntarily and without compensation, and that the project operates in a largely democratic fashion without a government, serve to refute the common anti-socialist argument that people will not work and cooperate without coercion.

Though Wikipedia and other free content projects are not socialism, they are illustrative of how certain aspects of socialism could operate. If the artificial scarcity capitalism imposes on physical resources were abolished, as free licensing has done with certain informational resources, then what would be left to stop us from running the whole world through voluntary labour and free access?

Venture or vulture (2007)

The Cooking The Books column from the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to the GMB and T&G unions, the Sainsbury supermarket chain is under threat. It’s reported that the Sainsbury family – including former Labour minister and Labour Party bank-roller, Lord Sainsbury – want to withdraw their capital and that  “venture capitalists” are grouping to buy them out. That’s what they call themselves. Others have different names for them. A GMB official called them “plunderers” while one from the T&G said they “do not create wealth; they extract it for their shareholders” (Times, February). A German minister once called them “locusts”. Other choice descriptions are “corporate raiders”, “predators”, “vultures” and “asset strippers”. 

Socialists apply some of these descriptions to all capitalists, but what have these particular kind of capitalists done to earn such epithets even from non-socialists?

Basically, they borrow money to set up a short-term fund (usually for 5 to 7 years) which they invest in other companies either to start them up or take them over. The venture capitalists then run the business  hoping to make enough money over the period to pay a higher than normal rate of interest to those who put up the money and to make a profit over and over this for themselves. Rates of up to 40 percent a year have been mentioned.

The immediate effect on the business they take over is that its indebtedness increases. Ordinary shareholders only have to be paid a dividend if the directors think enough profit is being made. Lenders have to be paid interest irrespective of whether or not the company makes a profit. Venture capitalists are in effect agents for lenders who take over running the company to ensure that these get their pound of flesh and over a relatively short period of time Then they move on to the next company.

It is easy to see why the unions don’t like this since the main means venture capitalists use to increase the short-term profits they are after is to hive off or close down the less profitable sections of the business with resultant job losses, so as to concentrate on the most profitable ones. The screws are then tightened on the remaining workforce to extract more work – and surplus value – from them than before.

The unions have promised an “ultimate showdown” with any venture capitalists that might assume control of Sainsbury’s. It is not evident that they have the industrial clout to organise and sustain the sort of strike this implies. More probably this is just a bluff to try to deter the venture capitalists from proceeding. The unions are also lobbying to end the tax concession on the money that venture capitalists borrow; in this they have the support of some ordinary capitalists who feel discriminated against when it comes to taking over other companies.

In the end, nothing much is likely to be done about “venture capitalism”. After all, from capitalism’s point of view, they are not doing anything wrong. In fact, they are only doing what comes naturally to capitalists: trying to make the biggest profit they can.

This land is your land (or maybe not) (2007)

Book Review from the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
Author Kevin Cahill is wrong. Wider landowning is not the answer as we are excluded from ownership of the means of production in general not just land
So you’ve paid off your mortgage and now you own your house and the land on which it stands. No, you don’t — the land still belongs to the queen, who is the sole legal owner of land in the United Kingdom. So-called freeholds are actually leases from the Crown. This is one of many startling facts revealed by Kevin Cahill in Who Owns the [World] (published by Mainstream at the end of last year).

In fact the queen also owns all the land in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and a number of other Commonwealth countries. In all, according to Cahill, she owns well over six billion acres (one-sixth of the earth’s land surface), making her by far the largest landowner on the planet. She’s not the only monarch who claims ultimate ownership of their country’s land, and various kings, sultans and sheikhs make up the rest of the list of the largest landowners. Countries without kings or queens may still operate on a comparable principle: in Ireland the state is the sole owner of land.

When there is no such system of legal ownership by a monarch or state, there can still be massive landholdings. The Catholic church, for instance, is the second-largest  landowner in New York, and the other big religions are pretty wealthy too. Although they are in theory just tenants of the queen, the British aristocracy own plenty of land — around a billion euros’ worth in the case of the Dukes of Atholl and Westminster. The biggest landowner in the US is Ted Turner of CNN fame, though other individuals or families have more valuable holdings as the land is in richer areas. Fewer than one-fiftieth of one percent of the population of Europe (77,000 people) own 5 percent of the farmland and receive massive subsidies from the government.

At the same time, all this massive concentration of landownership is largely concealed from the general public. Few countries have comprehensive, accurate and easily available land registries, so it is difficult, if not impossible, to discover who owns what. A comprehensive account for the UK (then including the whole of Ireland) was published in 1872-6, as The Return of the Owners of Land. At that time, 96 percent of the population, over 27 million people, owned no land at all, while a third of a million owned more than an acre. Nothing of comparable scope has been published since then. But in 2006, Cahill argues, only 30 percent owned nothing, while 70 percent had a stake in land, i.e. a home. This is one of the themes of his book, the way in which private home-ownership has increased and so made most people relatively prosperous.

If Cahill had simply compiled and organised a mass of information about landownership throughout the world, his book would still have been a most useful work of reference. And there’s no doubt that that is what it is. If you want to find out, say, the largest landowners in Estonia, this is the place to look (it’s the Estonian state, a Finnish milk cooperative and IKEA). However, the book is far more than that: it is also written in support of a particular analysis of capitalism and a programme for change. The argument, basically, is that enabling people to own land and a home outright, with a proper free market in land, will lead to ‘universal prosperity’. Further, it ‘creates the essential condition for the universalisation and democratisation of capital.’ The claims here need to be assessed very critically.

For a start, what difference does it really make if in the last analysis the queen owns the land your house is on, supposedly making you and everyone else serfs rather than free individuals? In Britain the government can no longer legally seize land in the name of the Crown, but in theory the queen could sell Canada (just as Russia sold Alaska to the US in 1867). However, converting land to be genuine private property of its owner rather than something held on a kind of sufferance from the monarch would have not the slightest impact on workers’ daily lives. Those who now really owned a bit of land would still have to work for a living, just as they do now, and just as those in rented accommodation have to under any system.

Furthermore, home-ownership, whether true ownership or via Crown lease, is not all that it’s cracked up to be. It does not in itself remove a person’s status as a wage worker, and a mortgage is an enormous burden on most workers (witness the number of repossessions). Cahill asserts that increased home ownership leads to increased prosperity, but he never considers that the causality might be the other way round, that higher wages might lead to more workers owning their homes. In fact, from a comparative viewpoint, there seems to be no necessary connection here at all: his figures for owner-occupation in Europe show that Ireland, Spain and Greece have the highest rates (over 70 percent), while Sweden, Germany and France are at or just under 50 percent. Cahill’s bizarre description of Ireland as ‘the most advanced capitalist country on earth’ only makes sense on the basis of a very odd idea of how to measure such advancement.

He also goes wrong in describing a home as ‘capital’: the house you live in is not used for investment or productive purposes. And there is no such thing as a right to shelter, nor any point in putting such a ‘right’ in a country’s constitution. What matters is the effective ability to buy or rent a house or flat, not some abstract unenforceable ‘right’.

Much of this book is directed at landowners, complaining about the kind of subsidies they get from the taxpayer, which means other members of the ruling class. The capitalists think that landowners are unproductive and merely monopolise something which is in short supply and can therefore receive massively high rents, which are a drain on the capitalists’ profits. The idea of taxing land values as a way of hitting landowners and cutting taxes on other capitalists has been around for many years and was recently revived as a way to ‘make the New Labour project actually work’ (Ashley Seager, Guardian, 8 January). Socialists have always refused to take sides in debates about how the capitalist class distribute the paying of tax among themselves.

Cahill’s pro-capitalist views are clear from a throw-away remark about the unions having been out of control and needing to be tamed by Thatcher. He does at one point come close to seeing the real problem, when he writes that poverty is caused by exclusion, specifically by exclusion from ownership and use of, and access to, land. However, there is an extra step (or giant stride) which needs to be taken, to realise that this exclusion must be seen in terms of workers being excluded from ownership and access in the means of production in general, not just land but also factories, offices, shops, warehouses, etc. It would be unreasonable in the extreme to think that one book, written by one individual, could have assembled information about the ownership of all this as well as the land. But increasing home ownership and letting people own land directly will make no impression on the capitalist class’s monopoly of the means of production, and that is what needs to be done away with.
Paul Bennett

Burberry applies the law of profit (2007)

From the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
Last September Burberry announced that its Treorchy factory was no longer viable and would close this March with the loss of 309 jobs
Until the summer of 2006, it is probably true to say that the village of Treorchy was little known outside Wales – except to devoted enthusiasts of Welsh male voice choirs. Nestling in the shadow of steep and rocky hills, the village lies at the head of the Rhondda Valley and is typical of the abandoned communities that were originally established to mine the now worked-out coal of the South Wales valleys.

The Rhondda Valley is today an area of demoralising deprivation, characterised by dire poverty, poor housing and a drug problem that is almost out of control. Many of Treorchy’s ageing 8,000 strong community have chronic health and anxiety conditions. Unemployment is abnormally high and such local jobs as exist, mainly in retail, are difficult to come by. The village has one large employer of note – the factory owned by the iconic brand name Burberry.

Burberry was established in the middle of the nineteenth century when its founder Thomas Burberry invented a method of waterproofing cloth, which he called gabardine. Since the 1980s the company has successfully expanded the brand into a variety of luxury and fashion goods, including clothing, sportswear, watches, and perfumes and has enjoyed rapid international growth. Burberry’s first half results to September 2006 showed an increase in the company’s turnover of 10 percent to nearly £400 million and an increase in operating profit of 7 percent to £84 million. (burberryplc.com, 14 November 2006 .) The employees of Burberry in Treorchy had every reason to feel assured – after all, it had been their sacrifices that had contributed to the company’s startling success. But the events that were about to unfold showed their confidence had been seriously misplaced.

At the beginning of September Burberry announced that its Treorchy factory was no longer viable and that it would close in March 2007 with the loss of 309 jobs. The company said that rising costs could no longer be recovered by raising worker productivity and that skill shortages and a decline in the local supplier network meant that the factory no longer had a future. Burberry had been the community’s main employer for generations, and its workers, many of whom had been employed for 40 years, were stunned. Their union, the GMB, had received no warning of the closure or of company plans to transfer the production of designer polo shirts to China.

Outraged Burberry workers and their union organised themselves to resist the closure. While public protests against factory closures are not new, what was different about this campaign was its success in turning the threat of closure into a public relations battle that rapidly mobilised public opinion. They lobbied politicians and successfully sought the support of celebrities to keep the issue in the public eye to shame the company into reconsidering and to persuade customers not to buy the its products. The campaign quickly became a public debate about whether a successful company hailed as a British icon and already enjoying healthy profits should simply be ‘allowed’ to pack up and abandon a small community.

Burberry is heavily dependent on the sales of its goods in other countries. In these countries the company has always marketed itself as a quintessentially ‘British’ brand, an appeal that has been summed up by the journalist Janet Street-Porter with the words, ‘To many, Burberry is just as British as the Union Jack’. Burberry workers and politicians have endeavoured to exploit this connection to argue that if the company’s success is so dependent on its ‘Britishness’, then it has an obligation to take care of its workers in Britain and treat them ‘fairly.’ Such appeals to economic patriotism have invoked issues of corporate accountability and nurtured a view amongst politicians that, while this type of behaviour may be expected from ‘foreign’ companies, this does not mean it is acceptable from a British employer.

The support from celebrity figures, many representative of the kind of people who have the money to buy the Burberry brand, has been an important factor in keeping the closure in the news. Amongst those who have offered their support – promoting their ‘Welsh credentials’ and enhancing their own public image in the process – are Bryn Terfel, Emma Thompson, and actor Ioan Gruffudd, who until recently modelled Burberry fashionware. More recently the tax exile entertainer Tom Jones, who hasn’t lived in Wales for decades, has added his support and Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson has also lent his name to the campaign. Other objectors include the Prince of Wales and interestingly the Church of England, which has investments in the company and has written to Burberry questioning its proposals to close its factory. There is no evidence, however that, as a shareholder in the company, the Church is offering to forgo its dividend if Burberry keeps its factory open.

The politicians – with an eye on this May’s Welsh National Assembly elections – have also been trumpeting their support for the stricken workforce. In October last year Leighton Andrews, Assembly Member for Rhondda, put a ‘Statement of Opinion’ to the Welsh Assembly deploring the closure, and Rhondda MP Chris Bryant put down an Early Day Motion at Westminster calling for Burberry to reconsider its decision.

In November 2006 the workers gained further publicity by staging a public protest outside the company’s prestige New Bond Street store in London. After he had seen which way the wind was blowing, muted criticism also came from Wales and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, who said such an ‘iconic British brand’ should not be made abroad.

The public relations battle continued in January 2007, when Burberry chairman John Peace and its chief executive Angela Ahrendts were called before the Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee to give evidence to its inquiry on globalisation. This intervention followed criticism of Burberry bosses over the insensitivity of Christmas bonuses given to its Treorchy workers – a Burberry scarf and a £30 voucher to spend in its stores. As well as this, Chris Bryant MP is urging Parliament to revoke Burberry’s Royal Warrant if the company proceeds with the closure, asserting that these should only go to British companies with a ‘fair employment policy’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/6305703.stm). The issue has even gone to the European Parliament, MEP Jill Evans saying, ‘I will be calling for corporate social responsibility to be made legally binding’ (South Wales Echo, 9 January 007). It is hard, however, to see these activities as other than cynical and meaningless gestures designed to placate disgruntled voters who are threatening to give Labour politicians in Wales a rough ride in May.

Burberry, for its part, has continued to resolutely defend its ‘Britishness’, recently saying, ‘We are proud of our British heritage and we continue to design and manufacture in the UK’ (Observer, January). The company has been keen to point out that after the closure it will still employ some 2,000 workers at its Castleford and Rotherham factories in Yorkshire. Its third quarter results for 2006 (announced in January 2007), show, furthermore, that the high profile campaign against the brand has done little to dent sales and profitability. Chief executive Ahrendts said, ‘This outstanding quarter has been led by Burberry’s strong retail performance,’ prompting broker Merrill Lynch to hail the company as ‘one of the most promising stories in the sector’ leading to forecasts that Burberry revenue could exceed the £1 bn mark by March 2009 (www.yorkshiretoday. co.uk, January). Burberry’s management appears to have correctly calculated that the bad publicity arising from the closure of its Treorchy factory would not arrest rising sales and profitability. This is because Burberry is a brand that is aimed almost exclusively at an elite of shoppers who mainly live in other countries. Its products are outside the purchasing power of the average working class shopper and the company has nothing to fear from a boycott by workers on the minimum wage, including those employed at its British factories.

The anticipated closure of the factory bringing the prospect of hardship, misery and trauma to Treorchy should of course be condemned, not only in South Wales but everywhere where workers daily suffer a similar fate. But however well meaning and sincere this condemnation, it is not enough, and cannot alter the mechanisms that make such events an accepted part of the economic system in which we live.

The workers at Burberry are engaged in a battle against capital, which like workers everywhere they ultimately cannot win. Employment is created only when there is an expectation that the goods produced by workers will realise profit when sold on the market. Profit comes from the employment of working people and continued employment is dependent on continued profitability. Capital investment follows profitability, which means that if profitability cannot be maintained or the prospect of greater profit arises elsewhere, then the jobs upon which wage and salary earners are reliant will be terminated.

Like many other successful brand names, Burberry is looking to divest itself of its traditional productive workforce and, through sub-contracting mechanisms, to have the actual production of its goods take place in Asian sweatshops. Although labour costs represents a minimal proportion of its total costs, every penny saved in the production of its goods means a penny added to profits and more importantly improves the company’s attractiveness for future investment.

In capitalism such decisions are inevitable because profit is more important than people’s welfare. Decisions must be taken without regard for the social consequences or for patriotism, which amounts to a misguided notion that as a British registered company Burberry should have some allegiance to the country where it was established or where many of its employees live. The fact that Wales already suffers dire poverty and that comparable jobs will be virtually impossible to find is of no consequence on the balance sheet, where the only consideration can be the bottom line. Companies have but one goal – the maximisation of profits for their shareholders.

The proposed Burberry closure shows how the interests of wage and salary earners are everywhere diametrically opposed to the interests of the owners of the means of production. But it also shows something about capitalist politicians. The politicians do not condemn Burberry for exploiting the workforce that is the source of the company’s rising profits. Nor do they condemn a system that brings prosperity to the few by perpetuating the poverty and insecurity of the many, by reducing wage and salary earners to conditions not much better than slavery, and whose very wellbeing is dependent on how successfully they can be exploited. Legally binding ‘corporate social responsibility’ that would restrict a company’s ‘flexibility’ will not be allowed to happen because this would effect capital accumulation and lead directly to a migration of capital to other less restrictive and more profitable parts of the world.

The experiences of the Burberry workers have happened time and again in the past and will be repeated time and again in the future, for as long as the working class believes that there is no alternative to the capitalist economic system. Working people everywhere would do well to reflect on the fact that capitalism cannot operate in any other way and is incapable of being reformed to do so.
Steve Trott

Who caused global warming? (2007)

From the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Global warming is caused by mankind, is here to stay and is getting worse, leading scientists have concluded”.
So the Times (3 February) summarised the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued at the beginning of February. As the IPCC is made up of hundreds of scientists from all over the world, specialists in the field, its findings are fairly authoritative.

However, blaming “mankind” in general for causing the problem is misleading since this suggests that people have deliberately chosen to engage in the activities that have led and are still leading to global warming. Whereas this is not the case. Most humans performing these are just carrying out the orders of those organising them while these latter are in turn constrained to act in the way they do by the economic laws of the capitalist system that currently dominates the world.

Capitalism is the impersonal process of the accumulation of capital out of the surplus value produced by the wageworking class and involves competition to transform this surplus value into money by selling the products in which it is embodied. This battle is won by those enterprises that can sell their products at the lowest price due to their employment of more productive methods. This investment in new productive methods depends on making enough profits (converting enough surplus value into money). So, capitalism is the pursuit of profits to accumulate as more capital. Such “growth” is built into it and cannot be stopped. If ever it was, the whole system would seize up and there’d by massive worldwide unemployment.

It is capitalism that has forced some humans to organise and order other humans to burn fossil fuels, cut down tropical forests, etc because this is cheaper and more competitive than the alternatives. So, the real conclusion of the IPCC report is that, to the extent that it is “anthropogenic” (as they put in scientific language) rather than caused by solar radiation, volcanic activity or some other force outside human control, “global warming is caused by capitalism”.

Six storylines
The IPPC report (Summary for Policymakers at www.ipcc.ch/SPM2feb07.pdf) offers six scenarios, or “storylines”, of what could happen by the year 2100. All of them assume the continuation of capitalism. Given this assumption, however, four of the scenarios can be dismissed as unrealistic in that they are incompatible with the way capitalism works. Two of them are those favoured by Greens and assume, respectively, that “the underlying theme is self-reliance and preservation of local identities” (which the report labels A2) or that “the emphasis is on local solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability” (B2); both imply a slower rate of capital accumulation than hitherto (and also a slower decline in the rate of population growth). A third (B1) assumes a “rapid change in economic structures toward a service and information economy, with reductions in material intensity and the introduction of clean and resource efficient technologies. The emphasis is on global solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability, including improved equity”. But this just isn’t going to happen under capitalism and would require the establishment of a world socialist system to be applied.

The fourth unrealistic scenario (A1T) envisages “a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies” but where the technological emphasis is on “non-fossil energy sources”. What’s unrealistic about this is not the first part – which is likely, if not so “rapid” as assumed (see later) – but the second, i.e.,the early abandoning of the use of fossil fuels to generate energy. Fossil fuels are currently cheaper than the alternatives, and will be for a while, and so will continue to be used for as long as this is the case. The two remaining scenarios share the assumption of the fourth about economic growth and the introduction of new technologies but assume that the technological emphasis will be “fossil intensive” (A1F1) (the present situation) or “a balance across all [energy] sources” (A1B). The latter seems the more likely, if only because as fossil fuels become rarer their price will rise relatively to non-fossilsources so making the latter relatively cheaper.

The IPCC report gives a “best estimate” for the likely rise in world surface temperature by 2100 compared with the 1980-1999 average for each of the six scenarios (see Table). As can be seen, the best in terms of lowest temperature rise is B1 (1.8 degrees Centigrade). The worst is A1F1 (4 degrees Centigrade). The one that an understanding of the way capitalism works suggests is the most likely (A1B) gives a rise of 2.8 degrees Centigrade. It is interesting to note that the two localist, Green scenarios come out badly at 3.4 and 2.4 degrees Centigrade respectively. “Think globally, act locally” doesn’t seem such a good idea after all.

A 2.8 degrees Centigrade rise in average temperature is going to cause many problems – melting ice-caps, rising sea-levels, droughts, migrations – which capitalism, because it is divided politically into competing states, will be unable to tackle rationally; in fact, in some cases they are likely to lead to wars. These problems could only be tackled successfully within the framework of a world socialist system where there would no longer be armed states or frontiers but a global administration able to take effective global action.

Saved by a slump?
Ironically, the only thing that may save the world from the problems that a 2.8 degrees Centigrade rise would cause is that the economic growth and technological innovation will not be as rapid as the IPCC report assumes. Economic growth (the accumulation of capital) is the general trend of capitalism – in fact that’s what it’s all been about – but, although the long-term trend is upward, the graph of this growth is by no means a steady, continuous line. Due to the uncontrolled and uncontrollable, anarchic nature of capitalist production, the accumulation of capital proceeds by fits and starts so that the graph is rather a series of peaks and troughs with each succeeding peak normally higher than the previous one.

The assumption that there will be no world economic slump or prolonged period of stagnation between now and 2100 is quite unrealistic. Given capitalism, something like this is bound to happen during this period, so that the use of fossil fuels won’t be as rapid as this IPCC’s scenario assumes. So, perhaps, global temperatures won’t rise so much either. But the fact that the accumulation of capital won’t be as rapid as assumed is hardly a reason for retaining capitalism and would not be offered as one by its supporters.

What is required to stabilise the rise in temperature is a worldwide political and social revolution to end capitalism and put “mankind” in full charge of its interaction with the rest of nature (production). Which can only be done on the basis of the Earth’s natural and industrial resources becoming the common heritage of all Humanity.
Adam Buick

Red Rhymes (2007)

Book Review from the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bob Dixon: Make Capitalism History: Poems and Other Communications, Artery Publications £4.50. (available from 38 Pembroke Road, Bromley, Kent, BR1 2RU)

Socialists have made rather little use of poetry as a way of putting our ideas over, so a book of poems (and a few prose pieces) with such a title is at least eye-catching. Dixon is in fact an old hand at political poetry, and one of his previous books was reviewed in the Socialist Standard for May 2000.

The present volume contains some decent stuff: ‘War is of widows, of woe and of weeping . . . war is not glory, not  glinting gold medals.’ A nice deceit depicts ‘colladeral’ as a disease which originated in a US military establishment. A poem titled ‘Demockracy’ contrasts anti-war demonstrators with the lack of those with banners saying ‘WE WANT WAR!’ or ‘POLLUTION IS FUN!’.

Yet there are a couple of problems. One may be gleaned from the title: there is no vision at all of what to replace capitalism with. Another is a tendency to apportion blame in the wrong quarters. The final poem in the book is called ‘To the parents of British soldiers killed in Iraq’, castigating them for not stopping their children from enlisting, and concluding, ‘I cannot extend my sympathy to you.’ This is misplaced — British generals, politicians and rulers more generally should be criticised, not the victims and their relatives.
Paul Bennett

Is Ian Paisley a socialist? (2007)

The Cooking The Books column from the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not often that the business pages of the capitalist press refer to socialism. Past experience suggests that when they do they make fools of themselves. A recent article in the Times ( 9 January) by Tim Hames confirmed this. “Northern Ireland”, he wrote, “is in danger of replacing sectarianism with socialism”.

If only this were true. Unfortunately socialism (common ownership,democratic control, production for use not profit, distribution according to needs) is not on the agenda there and in any event couldn’t be since socialism cannot be established just in one country let alone one province.

But this is not what Hames had in mind. After pointing out that state spending represents 60 percent of all spending in Northern Ireland, he went on: “The Rev Paisley and Mr McGuinness will find little difficulty making common cause in asking for ever larger public spending to be showered, equitably, on their constituencies”.

While it is true that politics in Northern Ireland is characterised by what on the continent of Europe is known as “clientelism” – where different politicians appeal to a different group of identified “clients” on the basis of getting material benefits for them in particular – Hames is wrong in thinking government spending and subsidies on and for the poorer sections of society is socialism. If it did then the Reverend Inane Paisley, with his client basis of poor Protestants, would indeed be a socialist. An absurd conclusion which is proof that the original proposition is wrong in accordance with the principle of logic the Ancient Romans used to call reductio ad absurdum.

Government spending on measures to help the poor has nothing to do with socialism. That’s reformism not socialism. At most Paisley is a reformist, even a “leftwing” reformist compared with the UK Labour Party which used to take up this position (now it cuts back on benefits for the poor).

But if Paisley isn’t a socialist, what about President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela? He features on the business pages more than Paisley. Following his re-election as President in December, Chavez announced plans to (re-)nationalise telecom and power companies in Venezuela. Horrified, the Times (9 January) declared: “Mr Chavez begins his third termtomorrow, promising to complete what he calls  Venezuela’s Socialist Revolution of the 21st century”.

More people would find it easier to regard Chavez as a socialist than Paisley, but this is based on another misconception about socialism – that it means government ownership. If this was socialism then all sorts of people just as unlikely as Paisley would be socialists.

Capitalist governments everywhere, whatever their political colour, whether political dictatorships or political democracies, whether “rightwing” or leftwing”, have had recourse to nationalisation. Very early on socialists, basing themselves on the experience of Imperial Germany under Bismarck, identified this as state capitalism since with government ownership the workers remained exploited and bossed. The 70-year experience of Russia under the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks confirmed this, as did the experience of the nationalisations carried out by the postwar Labour government in Britain.

Nationalisation – government ownership of industry – is state capitalism because it leaves all the essential features of capitalism intact: production for sale with a view to profit, surplus value produced by wage worker, monetary calculation. Only the management changes, from private capitalists or their appointees to state bureaucrats.

Chavez’s renationalisation programme is no different. His “Socialist Revolution of the 21st Century” is the State Capitalism of the 20th Century all over again.

Greasy Pole: If John were Prime Minister (2007)

The Greasy Pole column from the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
Withdraw British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and scrap Trident,” promises John
When the SWP’s wish is granted and Phoney Blair finally goes, there will be a Labour Party election to replace him as Leader by Gordon Brown, the dour son of a Presbyterian minister who wants us all to display the Union Jack on Empire Day or whatever he proposes to call its replacement. But he’s not going to get a free run. There are, apparently, still some people in the Labour Party who consider themselves socialists.

Last year, soon after Blair announced that he’d be stepping down, they selected a champion to do battle with Brown: one John McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington in West London and chair of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs.

They have prepared leaflets, stickers and videos and are currently trying to recruit people to join the Labour Party just so they can vote for him. “I am campaigning,” he says, “for a Labour Party which puts people before profit, defends jobs and services, and supports peace over war. Join me.”

Until the 1990s this is what Labour used to say when not in office but what they never did when they were elected. John (as we’ve been invited to call him) doesn’t seem to have understood why. He seems to think that the putting of profits before people, cutting jobs and services and supporting war rather than peace which all Labour governments have always done were just mistaken policy choices, rather than something imposed on any government charged, as all governments are, with running the political affairs of a capitalist country in the interest of its capitalists.

All governments have to put profits before people because capitalism, the system within which they have to work, runs on them. They are what makes it go round. If profits are not given priority then problems begin to appear. Capitalist firms don’t have enough incentive to go on investing at the same or a higher level and unemployment and relocation to other countries result.

John’s opponent, Gordon, has understood perfectly well that, where you have production in the hands of profit-seeking businesses, to keep production going you’ve got allow these businesses to make profits. As he told an “Enterprise Conference” in 2005: “My message today – and my mission in government – is that Britain should be not only the most stable environment but the most attractive location to do business and to create new businesses . . . We will continue to look at the business tax regime so that we can provide the best possible incentives for investment in wealth creation and rewards for success.” (Times, 4 February 2005)

It is this understanding that businesses must be allowed to do what they exist to do and seek and make profits as “rewards for success” that makes Gordon a far more suitable chief administrator of British Capitalism PLC than John with his illusion that under capitalism people can be put before profit.

Once you’ve given yourself the “mission” – actually, faced up to the realities of governing capitalism – of seeking to create the best conditions for profit-seeking businesses to operate and flourish, the rest follows.

John wants to “defend jobs”, but that’s not the way capitalism works. Competition means that there are losers as well as winners. While the latter enjoy the “rewards for success” in the form of higher profits, the losers suffer the penalty of failure in the form of lower or no profits. Losing firms have either to cut back on production or go out of business altogether or be taken over by more ruthless competitors. In whichever case, the result is job losses. John doesn’t say how he would prevent this but we can guess that it would be either by subsidising loss-making businesses or by trying to protect them from foreign competition behind tariff walls.

This could be done (after Britain had first withdrawn from the EU and the World Trade Organisation) but, now that capitalism is more global than ever before, the results would be disastrous for the economy of any country whose government tried them. There’d be an economic slump and mass unemployment.

It’s the same with the reforms John is promising. “I will increase the Basic State Pension to £114 a week and immediately restore the link to earnings”. “I will introduce a Real Living Minimum Wage of at least £7 an hour”. The only chance of these figures being attained is if there’s an inflation of the currency – highly likely under a left wing Labour government – leading to an increase in the general price level.

If they were to be attained by taxing profits to pay for them, this would be a disincentive for businesses to invest. In fact, it is because he doesn’t want to do this that Brown, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been seeking to reduce taxes on profits. Which is why he and the present Labour government have been cutting back on public services of every sort, from local libraries, post offices and sports facilities to hospital wards and care for the aged.

A leftwing Labour government would, John promises, “withdraw British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and scrap Trident”. It is now clear that the Bush and Blair governments made a big mistake, in terms of their aim of ensuring secure and reliable oil supplies for capitalist industry in the West, in invading Iraq. They have made matters worse and are now desperately seeking an exit strategy that will minimise the advantage they have given to Iran, their main rival for hegemony over the Middle East.

John, however, thinks that British capitalism need not be concerned about oil supplies from the Middle East or anywhere else. If I were PM, he says, “I will implement a green energy policy based on renewable power sources”. Easier said than done, given that British capitalism depends on burning fossil fuels for 90 percent of its energy and that (in fact, because) renewable power sources are more expensive. If Britain under John opted to just use wind power, tidal power, hydro power, etc this would so raise production costs generally as to render practically all UK-produced goods completely uncompetitive on the world market and we’d be back to mass unemployment.

John government would have the power to “scrap Trident” nuclear weapons but this would be tantamount to deciding to relegate British capitalism from a second to a third rate power. We don’t know who John is going to appoint as his Foreign Secretary – Jeremy Corbyn, perhaps – but whoever it is will have to realise the worst nightmare of another one-time Labour leftwing firebrand, Nye Bevan, of going naked into the Conference chamber. As Frederick the Great of Prussia, who knew a thing or two about these things, put it, “diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments”.

In short, John and his colleagues are not living on this planet. They have a quite unrealistic programme that, if implemented, would lead to economic chaos and mass unemployment. The only thing that could be said in their favour is that it is not really meant to be implemented. That it’s just a harmless list of pious wishes. So, no John, we shan’t be joining the Labour Party just to vote for you. What would be the point? We have seen the past and it doesn’t work.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: the Unification of Europe (2007)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

The MacMillan Government, with the general support of the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress, is going ahead with the scheme to associate Britain with a European free trade area that is being built up round a separate, more closely integrated “common market” of Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

The six countries in the “common market” aim by stages to abolish customs barriers and free movements of labour and capital within the area. The larger “free trade area” is a sort of half-way house to full integration; in particular British food production and imports would continue to be on the basis of preference for Commonwealth countries.

The motive for the decision of the Government to go in is the powerful one that British industry cannot afford to keep out. When the European “common market” area is formed, with a protected market of 50 million people,thus enabling mass production industries to operate on a scale that will justify the necessary enormous investments of capital, British manufacturers fear that they will be undercut, not only in Europe, but in world markets; for the 50 million population of Britain is far too small a market to serve as foundation for modernised industry.

For British Capitalism it is a question of getting into the European group or being crushed by the three great production areas that will then exist, America, Russia and United Europe.
(Editorial, Socialist Standard, March 1957