Wednesday, June 15, 2022

An open letter to the workers of the world (2004)

From the May 2004 issue of the World Socialist newsletter

The world we live in is one that is fraught with contradictions. Some 800 million of our fellow humans are chronically malnourished and at least 1.2 billion will, on any one day, go without food.

At the same time, the governments of the world destroy of vast amounts of food to keep prices high. They stockpile food until it rots and pay farmers to take land out of production. Why? Because the laws of supply and demand insist that you cannot eat unless they can make money from it.

600 million people are homeless, many sleeping on the streets, yet there is no shortage of vacant buildings and certainly no shortage of building materials. Again, we find that the market not only dictates who does and does not eat, but who does and does not have a home.

Over one billion have no access to clean water, while its growing scarcity will cause many wars this coming century. Meanwhile, the technology exists to desalinate millions of gallons each day and to set up treatment plants capable of cleaning the dirtiest water. However, there is not much profit in selling something which covers five-sixth’s of the planet, so the investment never comes.

Millions of children die each year of curable diseases, we still await breakthroughs in medical science. But there are literally thousands of scientists around the world employed in weapons programs – paid by their respective governments to devise new methods of murder, including germ warfare.

The list is as endless as it is insane. At every turn we see how capitalism destroys us physically and emotionally. At every turn we come smack up against the law of our age – “can’t pay, can’t have”. At every turn we find capitalism infecting all it comes into contact with.

Capitalism has enabled some fantastic technological feats. Demands of war sparked a race for rocket technology that has explored the furthest limits of the solar system. The search for oil and other resources has plumbed the deepest oceans and map out the ocean beds. We can split the atom, map the human genome, and perform amazing organ transplants. Nothing, it seems, is beyond us. Our capabilities are awe-inspiring. Sadly, in spite of the technology at our disposal, the never-ending demand for profits means that we have entered the 21st century with us every social ill that plagued the previous century. War, hunger, poverty, disease, and homelessness are still with us, and are rooted in the way we continue to organize our society. The irony is we are already capable of solving the major problems that face us. And we have been capable of solving them for quite some time – just not within capitalism.

Over 20 years ago, the World Health Organization announced that the ability existed to feed a world population twelve times its (then) size. However, the requirements of profit everywhere act as a stumbling block not only to the full use of the productive forces, but also to the full and unhindered use of science and technology in the service of humanity.

Socialists long ago realized that the problems we face are in fact social problems, because they have their roots in the way our world is organized for the production of profit, not need.

When you think about it,you’ll be hard pressed to find any aspect of our lives that is not subordinated to the requirements of profit. And this is the case the world over.

What is to be done?
If this is the case, then what can we do about it? Real socialists believe the only way forward lies in abolishing the money/wages/profit system that we know as capitalism and establishing a world of free access to the benefits of human knowledge. Then can we assert control over our own destiny, where we can enjoy a world in which there is no waste, pollution, want or war.

Since 1904, the World Socialist Movement has been advocating the establishment of such a system: a global society based upon the common and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing the things people need to live.

We advocate a world without borders, social classes, leaders, governments and armies. A world without money or wages, exchange, buying and selling. Where people can give freely of their abilities and take according to their own self-defined needs. A global system in which each person has a free and democratic say in how their world is run.

Human nature no barrier
Many people agree that such a world should be a beautiful place to live in. But they believe that “human nature” will always be a barrier, because humans are “by nature” greedy, selfish and aggressive. It is apparent what they are describing is not innate human nature, but behavior exhibited under particular circumstances. A human behavior shaped by the kind of system people are brought up in. Nobody is born as a racist or a patriot, as a bigot or with a belief in gods. Nobody is born a murderer, a robber or a rapist, and our alleged greed for money is no more a function of the natural human thought process than were slavery or witch burning.

The ideas of working people have been usually been acquired secondhand, passed down from the ruling class above us. Because the class which owns and controls the productive process, they also control the society’s intellectual life. Anti-social behavior is influenced by social circumstances at any given time, i.e., when we are poor, depressed, lonely, angry and frustrated.

Those who produce the world’s wealth are given educations which makes free-thought difficult. Our upbringings conditions us to accept without question the ideas of our “leaders”, bosses and superiors. The education system is geared to perpetuate the rule of an elite, insofar as it never encourages children to question and take issue with the status quo.

We believe that humans are by nature cooperative. For example look when communities are faced with the disasters, our humanity shines through and we “pull together” and cooperate to get through. There are millions of cases of people donating their blood and organs to complete strangers, sacrificing their lives for others, of people giving countless hours of their free time to charitable work – all of this without financial incentive.

Today, world capitalism threatens the human race with extinction. The reason this obnoxious system survives is because we accept it. Rest assured, no gene inclines us to defend the profit system.

Socialism hasn’t been tried
Many tell us that socialism has been tried and has failed. They then point to the former Soviet Union, to China, Cuba, etc., etc. But what was passed off as socialism was in fact state capitalism. A glance at these countries reveals they never abolished the wage system. Workers were exploited to support ruling classes and and those rulers outlawed dissent. They produced only profitable to do so, traded according to the dictates of international capital and were prepared to go to war to defend their economic interests.

Moreover it was believed that socialism could be established by force and that socialism could exist in one country. The Bolsheviks maintained that the revolution could only be carried out by a minority vanguard party and that workers were unable to understand the case for change.

Since 1904, our movement has maintained that socialism, like capitalism, can only exist on a global scale. Socialism will only come about when a majority of the world’s people want it and are prepared to organize for it peacefully and democratically. No vanguard can establish socialism – as Marx said: “the
emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself”.

We can do it
Agreeing with Marx, the WSM believes that there are two classes in society – the working class and the capitalist class, each determined by its relationship to the means of living. The capitalist class own and control the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, and live as parasites off profits, rent and interest. The working class, own little more than our ability to sell our physical and mental abilities to the highest bidder.

The working class runs the world and it is important to grasp this fact. It is we who fish the oceans and tend the forests and till the land and plantations. It is we who build the cities and railroads, the bridges and roads, the docks and airports. It is we who staff the hospitals and schools,who empty the bins and go down the sewers. It is workers who produce everything society needs and provides all of its services.

The capitalists and their governments have no monopoly on our skills and abilities. These belong to us. Most inventions and improvements are the result of those who do the actual work thinking up easier ways of completing a task. The result of ideas being passed down, each one improving the techniques of the previous generations. If those who work so much in a world hobbled by the profit motive, then how much more are we capable of providing in a world free from profits?

Capitalism must go
We must admit that capitalism has raised some potentials of humanity. It is now quite possible to provide a comfortable living for every human on the planet. But if we follow the capitalist trajectory, we’re in for some pretty troublesome times.

But capitalism is a barrier to the fair and needed use of the world’s productive forces. In a world of potential abundance, profit imposes widespread artificial scarcity. Billions of humans are consigned to a life of abject poverty, whilst millions more live lives filled with uncertainty.

Our ability to imagine has brought us from the days when our ancestors chipped away at the first tools. Is it really such a huge leap of the imagination to envision a social system that can take over from the capitalist order?

Do we really need leaders deciding our lives for us? Do we need governments administering our lives when what is needed is the administration of the things? Must every decision be decided by what is the most profitable? Many don’t think so and have mobilized to confront what they perceive as major problems with capitalism.

There has been a worldwide backlash against globalization, corporate power and other iniquities of capitalism. Everywhere where the world’s elite have assembled, they have been met with protests that have attracted hundreds of thousands. Demonstrations in Seattle, etc. have fueled ongoing debate on the nature of capitalism. And thousands of articles have been published that explore the alternatives offered by the anti-globalisation movement.

It is now clear is that the anti-globalisation movement cannot replace capitalism with any real alternative social system. It simply is a loose coalition of different groups, each pursuing their own agenda. Some the reform of international institutions. Others call for fairer trading conditions. All, however, fail to address the root cause of the problems of capitalism.

Capitalism cannot be reformed in the interests of the world’s billions, because reform does not address the basic contradiction between profit and need. Governments cannot be depended upon because they only act as an executive of capitalism. An expansion of democracy, while welcome, makes little difference if candidates can only offer variations on the same policies.

Capitalism must be abolished if we as a species are to thrive. No amount of reform, however great, will work. Change must be global and irreversible. It must involve all of us. We need to erase borders and frontiers; to abolish states and governments and false concepts of nationalism. We need to abolish our money systems, and with it buying, selling and exchange. And in place of this we need to establish a different global social system – a society in which there is common ownership and true democratic control of the Earth’s natural and industrial resources. A society where the everyday things we need to live in comfort are produced and distributed freely and for no other reason than that they are needed. Socialism.

It is not an utopian fantasy to suggest we can live in such a world. We certainly have the know-how. All that is missing is the will – the desire for change that can make that advance possible; a belief in ourselves as masters of our own destiny; a belief that it is possible to fashion a world in our own interests.

Socialists build that new world, by building the understanding of what Socialism will be like. And we need your help. Socialism needs your writing, organizing and artistic skills. Please join us.

Blogger's Note:
A version of this article also appeared in the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard. I'm not altogether sure which is the original version.

Frank Girard: In Memorial (2004)

Obituary from the April 2004 issue of the World Socialist newsletter

. . . I was deeply saddened to hear last month of the passing of Frank Girard, the long time editor of the publication. Frank stopped publishing the Discussion Bulletin in July 2003 citing his age and the increasing importance of the internet, which he felt made publications like the Discussion Bulletin less and less relevant. He planned continued involvement in the socialist movement. His death at 77 is a felt loss to his many friends and comrades.

Frank worked as a machine operator and later a high school English teacher, but more important was his membership from the 1940s on in the Socialist Labor Party, the organization of followers of American socialist leader Daniel De Leon. Frank ran for political office several times in Michigan, but argued he was "running against capitalism." Unsurprisingly, he was never elected.

In the early 1980s, as part of a seemingly endless series of schisms in the SLP, Frank was expelled from the party along with much of the Grand Rapids section (in 1991 he published a short history of the party along with another former Socialist Labor Party member Ben Perry). In 1983, Frank began to publish the Discussion Bulletin.

The Discussion Bulletin was unlike many other socialist publications in that it was simply a forum for discussion. Its contents were, aside from Frank's editorial remarks and occasional contributions, entirely from its readership. It was also a model of regularity for socialist publications, appearing every two months like clockwork for twenty years. Frank's other strength was that he was genuinely committed to discussion and debate in what he called the non-market socialist sector, in which he included De Leonists, World Socialists, council and left communists, and class struggle anarchists among others. Throughout its existence the Discussion Bulletin featured, unedited, contributions from all of the above sectors. And although he never completely broke with De Leonist politics and all its incumbent weaknesses, but which had played such an important role in his life, Frank was also prepared to learn from discussion, and admit when he was wrong. Frank was a non-sectarian in the best sense of the word . . .

The cessation of publication by the Discussion Bulletin left a hole. Frank's passing leaves a much larger one.
Neil F. /Red & Black Notes

Real Therapy (2004)

A Short Story from the April 2004 issue of the World Socialist newsletter

Please, psychotherapist, I am tired of talking, talking, talking about my problems, about my narcissistic father, and about my feelings. What I want is to have more fun in my life. What I want is to take off some time to see the world. What I want is to be sitting in your chair telling you for a change what would really make a change!

For a start, it gets really depressing living in this world. You cant turn on the damn TV without hearing about more people dying in wars abroad and in our inner cities, about kids cruising their territories guns in hand waiting to blow the brains of other kids in the wrong place at the wrong time, about young women too young to even know about sex prostituting themselves or getting raped by their step-fathers. You can’t even go for a walk without smelling foul rivers too filthy to fish in and without guiltily admiring gorgeous sunsets painted by the refractions of light in poisonous gas. And that doesn’t even touch upon how depressing it is to go to work let alone just sit in traffic going to work. Who can rest from the year of working in weekly chunks of two days each, and annual chunks of two weeks each?

Who would not be sad? Who would not get anxious? Who would not feel angry? Who would not find it really hard to concentrate, to focus in class, to keep your mind on the job, who would really be brimming with joy? I mean, joy comes in little places in the modern world, doesn't it? We look for fun in our sex lives (although the stress of society reduced to couples raising the worlds children can take a toll on that sex life), in escapist movies and video games, in lucky getaways for a few hours or days from the congestion of the city and the congestion of our lives. But that is the whole point, isn't it? We try to find meaning and joy elsewhere , in a splitting off of our life, not in the entity of the life itself. And here you are teaching me to cope better with all this crap. And there what can you do, therapist? I mean, here you are trying to change my feelings, as though they were disconnected from my being. If life is depressing, violent, disturbing, imposed, ordered, priced, frightening, lonely, then why are you trying to change me, and not change how we live?

And yet, my life is not much different from yours. We live in the same city, we eat the same food, we visit the same parks, our kids go to the same schools, we read the same papers. Yet here I am sitting in front of you. I am talking to you because you got a degree in therapy. You studied psychology, social work, counseling.You are allowing me to bathe in your understanding and your empathy at a price. Would you be as empathic for free? Would you work with me to make this a better world or would you simply give advice and your listening time for the price the insurance company is willing to pay? How empathic can it really be if this is your job ?

Psychotherapist, what I really want you cant really give, can you? I want freedom. I want to feel that this neighborhood is really mine. I want a world in which there are no wars, no prices, no people bossing me around, no children dying for lack of food, no traffic jams, no junk food, no boxes they call homes, no homeless, no lack of anything for lack of money.

I don't want to think different, feel different; I want to stay just the way I am until the world is better. And when the world is better, then maybe I wont have to feel this way again.
Dr. Who, 

The Time for Socialism is Now . . . (2004)

From the April 2004 issue of the World Socialist newsletter

When our ancestors left the safety and security of the trees for the vagaries of the plains, they were embarking on a long, subconscious, and often painful journey to attain mastery over the earth's resources. The goal of countless millennia of sweat and endeavour, was to create a system of production so vast and efficient that it could satisfy the material needs of all mankind. The method used to achieve this goal was a series of modes of production, each succeeding the last as a natural improvement until it became obsolete and a barrier to further development and gave way to new forces and relations of production.

The primitive beings first arriving on the plains developed co-operation, speech and a culture to set those forces in motion. Their communistic way of life produced a stable, egalitarian society of harmony, but its daily search for the means of life left little time for progress. Tool refinement and the new use of materials were painfully slow and communication of ideas to outside groups was virtually non-existent. Mastery over grasses and animals heralded the age of agriculture and the division of labour so the few were able to produce all the food and the many were freed up to accelerate advances in tool technology and uses, in building, crafts and cultural institutions. This new way of life also produced wealth in the form of a surplus, creating classes of men for the first time - those who took hold of the wealth, the exploiting class, and the producers, the exploited class. Towns, cities and empires arose and with it the need for free labour to carry out the many tasks of society and to build the massive public works projects. As the great empires rose and fell, each greater and more wide-spread than the last, culminating in the Roman empire, the impediments, or fetters, as Marx says, of the slave system began to hold progress back. The break up of the final slave empire, brought the new system, the feudal system and a settled agrarian life. The exploiting aristocracy, the holders of land, had the exploited class, the peasants at their disposal, and a new mode of production was in place. As knowledge and skills developed further, and ever- increasing amounts of wealth found their expression in the growing mercantilism, the aristocrats came into conflict with these new owners of wealth. The ensuing struggle for the control of parliament in England, and the ability to maintain the laws that upheld the old system or create new laws to usher in a new era, was eventually won by the holders of capital, the bourgeoisie, and thus the capitalist mode of production came into being. The industrial revolution, establishing the factory system, and the simultaneous harnessing of science to its purpose, brought fantastic increases in productive capacity.

Each system has produced improvements in the production of the means of life, and all, except primitive communism, have brought relations of production that engendered a class system. Now that capitalism has spread almost entirely over the earth and brought an abundance of goods, we have, for the first time, arrived at a state where everyone's needs can be satisfied. Incredibly, they are not. Today, among an abundance of goods and the capacity to complete the job started by our distant ancestors, we have millions dying of starvation, the effects of malnutrition, easily curable diseases and the majority of our planet living in poverty and insecurity. There can be only one reason for this apparent contradiction. The profit system itself has become a fetter to the ultimate goal of providing for all. The profit motive stands in the way of alleviating all human misery. The profit system prevents the natural, worldwide progress that would occur if workers were free to pursue their natural abilities and share their knowledge. In short, profit bars the way to the next, higher level of production. Fellow workers, the time has come for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of production and the social distribution of the wealth produced, by, and in the interests of, all the people. The time has come to complete our journey

Here’s Capitalism . . . (2004)

From the March 2004 issue of the World Socialist newsletter

The area of Mid Hudson valley in upstate New York where I make my home is rural, scenic, and beautiful. There is precious little industry, so most jobs are low paying, service jobs because we do have a strip with Mc Donalds, Wal-Mart and their ilk. Recently, tourists have been coming, so restaurants, antique stores, and other services have followed. Unfortunately, we also have a quarry with enough limestone, which if extracted 24/7, would produce the makings of cement for the next 100 years. The previous owners of a now defunct cement plant were Canadian and the name ST. Lawrence Cement is still used although the company was gobbles up by a giant Swiss banking and corporate conglomerate. They plan to build an enormous new plant mile from out only sizable population center (8,000), which will be bigger than the town itself. It will spew toxic dust out of an 800 ft. stack with will create a 6 mile plume. Three schools, a hospital, and few senior residential facilities are with a mile radius.

The corporation has been floating folksy ads and passing out wads of money to churches and town boards, giving away bumper stickers and running carnivals with free hotdogs and kiddie rides. They also lie. The workers who will suffer most from this monstrosity have been convinced that it will bring jobs. There will be one job. Because the plant is so hi-tech (but not high enough to meet Swiss environment standards), only 35 workers will be needed. Thirty-four of them will be transferred from an old plant about 30 miles away which will close. There is a local opposition group ( without which the project would already be up and running. It is presently traveling through the bureaucracy of New York State, money in hand. This is truly capitalism in action.
Upstate NY

Borders- Who needs them? (2004)

From the March 2004 issue of the World Socialist newsletter

The Spanish word for a national border is La Frontera. Often these arbitrary partitions are emphasized with different types of walls meant to keep people out. Some contemporary examples are, for instance, the now toppled Berlin W all, and the current wall Israel is in the process of building in order to divide Palestinians and Israelis.

The border that divides the U.S.A. and Mexico also contains sections of wall and fence at different points along La Frontera. In spite of those walls and numerous trigger-happy law enforcement agencies that patrol them, thousands of Latinos risk life and limb each year to cross into the US.

The compulsion is simple. It hinges on economics and the struggle to survive. If the economic tables were turned, US citizens would do the same thing. Human beings will, after all, brave many dangers in order to make a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

Each year, however, hundreds are killed trying to make this arduous journey. Some are shot to death, but many more die from exposure trying to cross the desert lands in the region.

A recent news story in Primer Impacto showed the section of the wall in Tijuana Mexico. It had coffins nailed to it, and each coffin had the number of people who had perished for each year inscribed on the lid, 340 in 2002, 400 in 2003. A sad reminder of mans' inhumanity to man.

We often hear of illegals supposedly taking jobs from native-born workers, or that they steal medical and educational services at tax payers expense. Sometimes we even hear the idea being tossed about of amnesty for illegals. These are preposterous notions, for why should any person be denied the right to be able to work, to be educated, or have access to medical services? By what right or reason can amnesty be granted a human being of this earth who is a natural component of it anyway?

Only the system that puts profits before human life creates these arbitrary partitions and all of their life- threatening lunacies.

We could easily do away with these boundaries though, by abolishing the capitalist system that gives rise and legitimacy to them, and replacing it with socialism. The democratic ownership and administration of the means of production and the free access to all goods and services would mean an end to nation states, borders, poverty, war, and pollution. It would amount to a true amnesty for everyone on the planet. People could then travel and live anywhere they wanted without having to risk their life to do it. Such travel would only be motivated by the individual desire, however, and would not be coerced by an inhumane anti-human economic system.

Lets work for a world without borders.
Gulf Coast Red (TX)

Chicken Little Politics? (2004)

From the March 2004 issue of the World Socialist newsletter

I am addicted to reading political journals of all stripes, left, right and center, as well as socialist. As I came to the positions of the World Socialist Movement, I began reading left newspapers with a new understanding. I now see a nearly constant hysterical pitch- Doom is coming! Fascism! Economic Collapse!! Environmental Degradation!!! Repent sinners, the end is near, join our vanguard, coalition and/or the affinity group and save the world through action, action, action . . .

But is the left (which is distinct from socialism) advocating practical action or perpetual motion? There have been plenty of perpetual motion machines invented, and they are as successful as the left has been, doomed to entropy. In racing around posing countless reforms, transitional demands, desperate for any contact with the working class, the left has forgotten what it is they thought they wanted in the first place.

Instead of seeing that the revolution will come from a profound change in social consciousness, they substitute adrenaline headlines to try and scare folks into party activities, which aim for reforms, which they think will slowly raise consciousness. But the problem is that working for reforms can succeed only if we don’t talk about, or at best downplay, talking about the “s” word.

A friend of mine in my union is active in a post-trotskyist group that does many good union activities in the US and Canada. They teach workers how to take back their unions, fight the boss on the shop floor, etc. For 30 years they done very good, practical, day-to-day union work. My friend has told me that some founders, after all these years of working for these reforms for the workers, have confessed to him they are disappointed that they never, ever, get to talk about their ‘socialism’.

Likewise the doddering Communist Party USA acts as the loyal left wing of the Democratic Party. Both parties are active in much practical work, have lots of followers. But when the need for socialism gets left behind, what is the practical consequence? You maintain capitalism and the problems you are trying to stop.

Throughout the 100 years of the existence of the World Socialist Movement, we have refused to play the game of chicken little politics. In the 1930s, when the left from Social-democrats to anarchists were hysterically calling that the economy was about to collapse, and that would be the end of capitalism, we said no, while the economy may or may not collapse, that doesn’t mean that capitalism will. Then and now we will tell you that there may or may not be fascism around the bend, and environmental collapse may occur or maybe the lions will sleep with the lambs.

We’re socialists, not fortune tellers, what we do know is that capitalism is based on the exploitation of workers. As workers understand that, become conscious, we will have the ability to create a new world free of the inhuman demands of a system driven by profits.

Eugene Debs once said, “It's better to ask for what you want and not get it, than ask for what you don’t want and get it.” If you really want socialism, join the World Socialist Party. Ask for what you do want.
F.N. Brill

Rear View: Capitalism is the disease (2021)

The Rear View Column from the December 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is the disease

Socialists have long argued that war, poverty and much pestilence are caused by capitalism. ‘It has led to the deaths of millions of people, sickened hundreds of millions and dramatically changed the lives of almost every person on the planet’ (, 30 October). Indeed, but Matt Ridley’s article concerns the origin of Covid-19 rather than the urgent need to establish a post-capitalist world. More than a year after the latest pandemic began, PETA Asia investigators visited live-animal markets in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, and Sri Lanka. Everything is for sale, dead or alive: bats, monkeys, civet cats, and other animals are sold as food or to be used in traditional medicine, in entertainment, or in other ways. ‘Carcasses were displayed on blood-streaked countertops, and both live animals and raw flesh were handled without gloves. These markets are cesspools of filth… Most scientists are convinced that the coronavirus originated in a live-animal market in China, where animals of a wide range of species are sold alongside dead animals and produce’ (PETAUK, 13 April). Ridley provides a note of caution: ‘…despite testing markets, farms and no fewer than 80,000 animal samples spanning dozens of species across China, no evidence has emerged for a similar chain of early ‘zoonotic’ infections — transmitted from animals to humans — in SARS-CoV-2. Hundreds of samples taken from animal carcasses at the market have all tested negative for any trace of the virus’, and he concludes ‘we can but hope the truth will — one day — come out.’ Nearly 5 million deaths due to Covid-19 have been confirmed worldwide. Given that the knowledge and resources exist to reduce the number of epidemics and minimise the possibility of them becoming pandemics, the vast majority of these deaths can be considered premature. The author of Animal Farm, George Orwell, commenting on the genesis of this work, stated: ‘I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.’ This is the truth workers across the world should focus on.

Charity begins at work

The dreadful scenes at Kabul airport in early August would not have looked out of place in the horror film World War Z. Now, months after then-President Ashraf Ghani fled, there is a war between the zombies of the Taliban and the zombies of Islamic State. Whoever wins, we lose. ‘Afghanistan’s Taliban government is pressing for the release of billions of dollars of central bank reserves as the drought-stricken nation faces a cash crunch, mass starvation and a new migration crisis’ (, 29 October). Every 17 hours a billionaire is created, and every 17 hours 17,000 people die from hunger. World Food Programme executive director David Beasley is calling upon US billionaires to give just 0.36 percent of the increase in their collective wealth since the start of the pandemic to help prevent 42 million people from starving to death. The capitalist class is ‘…charitable out of self-interest; it gives nothing outright, but regards its gifts as a business matter, and makes a deal with the poor saying: “If I spend this much upon benevolent institutions, I thereby purchase the right not to be troubled any further, and you are bound thereby to stay in your dusky holes and not to irritate my tender nerves by exposing your misery. You shall despair as before, but you shall despair unseen, this I require, this I purchase with my subscription of twenty pounds for the infirmary! ”’ (Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1844). Such chutzpah – the capitalists exploit us and then place themselves before the world as mighty benefactors of humanity when they give back a mere fraction of the wealth generated by our class.

Only zombies need leaders

‘Mr Lobanov says the KPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] has been trapped by Kremlin design into a predetermined place within the existing system and, unless it moves more decisively into the streets to stage more convincing forms of peaceful resistance – as happened when millions of Russians protested against election fraud a decade ago – it will lose relevance with Russian voters. In fact, within the KPRF some members have lamented a too-passive reaction by leader Gennady Zyuganov to the results, and are pushing against their leaders’ “business as usual” relations with authorities’ (, 26 October). Zyuganov, KPRF leader since 1993, said in a radio interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid, that ‘the main slogan of communism – “He who does not work shall not eat” – is written in the Apostle Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians found in the New Testament. “We need to study the Bible,” Zyuganov concluded’ (Moscow Times, 2 September). ‘He who does not work shall not eat.’ Compare this biblically-inspired Leninist distortion with the real thing: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ (Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha programme, 1875). Also, the vanguardist Lenin again: ‘If socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see socialism for at least five hundred years’ (from a speech in November 1918 quoted by John Reed in Ten Days that Shook the World), compared with early socialist Flora Tristan: ‘the emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class itself’.

Letter: What are the means of production? (2021)

Letter to the Editors from the December 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

The review of my book Socialism for Soloists (October) is — overall — informative and fair. It is correct that the socialism the book defends allows people the freedom to buy and sell stuff and to agree to work for others at a wage.

I don’t think it is correct to say that soloists are libertarians. Libertarians are wedded to an expansive idea of appropriation and are indifferent to the consequences of property accumulation (whether by ‘initial appropriation’ or by transactional exchanges). I would rather say that soloists are liberals in the John-Stuart-Mill sense: there are limits to what governments may justly do, and people are entitled to be free of unconsented-to restraints except where others would be wronged.

Of course, on my account, ‘market socialism’ is not an oxymoron. Capitalism is a system in which the means of production are privately owned, and those who are not capitalists are faced with the choice of accepting a wage, begging, or starving.

In a socialist society, the means of production are the joint property of everyone, but other things may or may not be privately owned. In a liberal socialist society, things other than the means of production may become private property —my bicycle, my penknife, my laptop, for example.

The review characterizes my definition of the means of production as ‘peculiar.’ I would rather say that it is a definition implicit in the socialist tradition (I attach a paper defending it). Socialists who object to the very idea of private property need not take care to define what the term means, but (as I argue in the paper) other socialists should.
Bill Edmundson

We agree. Terms, especially in this context ‘the means of production’ need to be carefully defined. We have read your article on the subject (which was also the basis of one of the chapters in your book) and still say that a definition which excludes land and includes banks and online retailers is peculiar.

Land in the broad sense of natural resources is clearly an essential element in production. Production means humans transforming through their work materials that come from or originally came from nature into something they use (or ‘wealth’). Neither banking nor selling do this and so can’t be included in the category ‘means of production.’ Neither of them create any new wealth.

In your paper you criticise various definitions of the term which you characterise as Marxist. Marx himself, in his published works, was very careful to define the terms he used. In chapter 7 of Capital he examined ‘the labour process or the production of use-values’ and concluded:
‘If we examine the whole process from the point of view of its result, the product, it is plain that both the instruments and the subject of labour, are means of production, and that the labour itself is productive labour.’ (The ‘subject of labour’ being materials that originally came from nature and which humans using instruments fashion into ‘use-values’.)
This is why our Declaration of Principles (drawn up in 1904) defines socialism as ‘a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community’.

It may seem redundant to refer to both ‘means’ and ‘instruments’ of production since instruments are also means of production, but it brings out that it is not only instruments that are to be commonly owned but also the subject of work, ie, natural resources.

This definition applies not just to capitalism but to any human society, including the earliest forms. An instrument of production is anything humans use to transform materials from nature into something they use and so, yes, does include simple tools.

Socialism doesn’t mean the common ownership of all instruments of production, not of people’s hand tools and garden implements (still less of their personal possessions), but only of those instruments that are, and have to be, socially (or, as you put it, severally) operated – large-scale plant and machinery, transport, energy, communications – and which are the means by which present-day society lives. What is to be commonly owned are those means which under capitalism function as ‘capital’, ie, are used not simply to produce more wealth but to produce more with a view to profit.

Socialism is not so much the common ownership of the socially operated means of production as their non-ownership; they won’t belong to anyone but will simply be there to be used. Common ownership is not the same as state ownership since the state is just as much a sectional (and so ‘private’) owner as a corporation. Common ownership precludes buying and selling as these are transactions between separate owners. In socialism not just the socially operated means of production but also what they are used to produce will be commonly owned; the only question then is how to distribute this, not how to sell it.

Your definition starts at the wrong end by deciding what should be commonly owned and then defining only these as ‘means of production’, excluding any which you consider should remain privately owned. That your definition still envisages the continuation of a capitalist economy, albeit in a rather unrealistic collectivised form, is shown by your inclusion of banks and online retailing as means of production. These can only be considered as necessary to production where there is production for the market even though they are not necessary for production as such. Also, they could only be state or co-operatively owned, neither of which is common ownership by and in the interest of the whole community.

Pathfinders: The Theory of Everything (2021)

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

In one lesser-known corner of the BBC website is a section called Ideas, in which is a lovely little 5-minute video featuring theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, on the subject of string theory, a proposed ‘theory of everything’. The video represents elementary ‘particles’ in Pythagorean terms as strings vibrating at different pitches, or musical notes. It’s a nice idea, well presented and accessible. But Kaku also offers a thought-provoking postscript, which is that physics gets simpler the deeper you go.

This rather skates over the awkward detail that string theory only works if space has ten dimensions instead of three. But nonetheless, the basic insight is valid, and not just for sciences.

The same could be said of the world around us. On the surface, it can be baffling, an impenetrable complexity of problems and pressures that seem to contradict each other, with ideas and echo chambers and political speeches swirling and blowing about in all directions to add to the confusion. Small wonder that political activists are tempted to focus on just one small, definable element in all this.

For socialists though, it gets simpler the deeper you go. At lower levels, there are no single issues. Everything is connected. Everything is interdependent. All forces and forms of oppression are interlinked. Drill down, and the more the trace lines converge until you realise that things that seemed to have nothing to do with each other, like for example climate change and violence against women, or big-corporation tax avoidance and what’s on the telly tonight, are in fact aspects of the same phenomenon.

At the very deepest level lies a strange contradiction. And it has to do with possession.

To put this in context, we’re all familiar with the idea of sharing. Humans are great at sharing. Sharing is fun, it saves individual labour and resources, it’s excellent for your mental health, for your relationships and your social life, and it’s been a fantastic collective survival strategy. Anthropologists say that for nine-tenths of the time modern humans have existed – around 300,000 years – communal sharing has been the norm. But in the last fraction of that time something changed. Hoarding arose, also known as private property, because of material scarcity caused by growing populations, or rather, by growing populations outstripping the pace of productive technology. Humans are not devils but we’re not angels either. When there’s enough, we share. When there isn’t, we’re driven to hoard, fight and create hierarchies. In other words, scarcity leads to ‘bad’ behaviours. It led to property societies, and they led to capitalism.

Today technology has more than caught up with material scarcity, and in fact exceeded our wildest dreams. The average person in a developed country has access to information and resources that were unimaginable a few decades ago. The global population is still growing in some areas, but the trend is stabilising or reversing wherever material standards of living have improved. The Food and Agricultural Organisation says there is already enough food to feed everyone in the world, and that’s with its current wasteful big-ag methods and bio-crops.

In short, we have the means for material sufficiency, meaning that we can release ourselves from all the ‘bad behaviours’ imposed on us by scarcity, and do what we always used to do, live communally by sharing the work and the world’s resources. In effect, we can make everything free, and get rid of prices, rents, mortgages, bills and wages, and all the problems that go with them.

We can do this, but we haven’t yet, and that’s the central contradiction. We’ve come to believe, via subliminal or overt messaging, that private property and its money tokens are really the hallmark of true civilisation, that they are an ‘inalienable right’, an integral part of our freedom, as natural as breathing.

The fact that a tiny few are allowed to be stupendously rich amid a global ocean of poverty and squalor should be astonishing but is treated as normal and unremarkable. The only thing that excites complaint is that some of them don’t pay their taxes. The messaging tells us that the rich ‘create wealth’, and that they deserve their wealth because, unlike us workers, they worked hard for it. It says that we don’t deserve to be equals anyway, we’re shiftless and violent and need to be ruled – just look at all the cop shows on TV!

Where does this messaging come from? From the other side of the class war, the side of the rich. They don’t really create wealth – us workers do that – but they do manufacture a relentless and effective self-justifying propaganda which they drip-feed to us via their politicians and their entertainment media.

Somehow, without us even noticing, the idea of living communally and sharing has been reframed as an impossible utopia advocated by idiots which would never work because of something with no scientific basis known as ‘human nature’. The vast ages of human communal living are systematically airbrushed out of our collective memory. Capitalism, or something like it, is said to have existed forever. If you want an alternative, treat yourself to the ghastly experiment of soviet-style totalitarianism.

And so, from this central contradiction, emerge the myriad contradictions in which everyone today is enmeshed. We submit to the laws of capitalist markets and prices which make our lives a misery. We despair about climate change while accepting the endless race for profits which is ruining the planet. We suffer constant economic insecurity and mental health problems, and assume it’s our own fault. We fight each other in murderous wars on behalf of the rich, and in bitter social wars over race and gender identities. We see everything that humans value, even love and sex, marketed as commodities. We see the hatred, jealousy and rage of the powerless. We see endemic violence against women. We forget our social and hospitable traditions and wallow in nationalist xenophobia and fear of the ‘other’.

And all because we permit the private ownership of things that humans collectively need. Once a desperate expedient in the face of scarcity, hoarding has now outlived its time. Yet in a supreme irony, capitalism destroys food and goods in order to artificially maintain scarcity and keep prices high.

Billionaire Warren Buffet once remarked that there is a class war, and that his side, the rich side, are winning it. And they’ll go on winning it until we, the vast majority of workers, resolve to end it once and for all. It is in the common interest of humanity and the planet to live cooperatively and share communally. We can do that best by organising peacefully and democratically to abolish the ‘right’ of anyone to privately hoard what we all need. That, if you like, is the socialist ‘theory of everything’, and it’s as basic as it gets.
Paddy Shannon