Sunday, August 28, 2022

Progress in Australia. (1928)

Party News from the October 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have just received word from our comrades of the Socialist Party of Australia that the movement is making good progress there.

The headquarters of the Party are in Melbourne, and they are now forming a branch in Sydney. Like ourselves, they are beset with financial troubles owing to the unemployment and poverty of their members and the vast distances between districts. However, in spite of this, they hope soon to have their manifesto out and also a paper of their own published shortly.

We appeal to any of our sympathisers in Australia to get in touch with this new party, also to any of our readers who may know of those in Australia likely to be interested. Let them have all the assistance that can be given in membership and finance, so that they can rapidly build up a strong party for Socialism in Australia.

The wave of real Socialist development is gathering force, and it may not be long before the workers throughout the world will see that, in spite of the selling out of “Labour leaders” and the dragging of the name of Socialism in the mire of Reform and the bog of opportunism, it yet holds a message of hope for the dispossessed when its basic principles are understood and acted upon.

We wish our Australian comrades rapid and solid progress, and promise them any assistance we can give to aid them in their struggle.

The plain case for Socialism. (1928)

From the October 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Socialism Possible?
Do you say it is impossible? But the steam engine, the ocean liner and the aeroplane were impossible until they became work accomplished. If everybody had accepted the assertion that such things were impossible they would have remained so. And similarly if all working people were to accept the oft-repeated statement that Socialism is impossible it would remain so.

The capitalist and, the people he pays to write and speak for him, assert that Socialism is impossible. But this is to be expected as capitalism means to the capitalist the continuance of his present easy and luxurious mode of living while Socialism signifies the end of it. One cannot expect the doomed to welcome the gravedigger. Socialism only has a message for the working-class because, from a narrow point of view, it is they who will benefit by it. Socialism means the taking from the rich of the power to exploit the poor—from the idlers of the power to live on the backs of the workers. One cannot expect the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds or the Monds to do other than oppose Socialism and urge upon workers its impossibility.

Capital is not necessary.
What arguments are brought forward to bolster up the case for “impossibility”? Once upon a time it was urged that individualism must have free-play, that it was only human nature for each man to fight for his own hand. But since that day the mammoth trust has come into existence, and poison gas has been invented, so the individualism argument has been conveniently forgotten. Nowadays more attention is paid to the plea that capital is necessary, but unfortunately the definitions of capital vary to suit the times. We need not worry for the moment about the correct definition of capital, we can take them on their own ground and show the poorness of their case. If by capital it is intended to signify large works, gigantic machinery, huge pieces of land, then it is sufficient to point out, in the words of the old song, “we all came into the world with nothing” and that no one has supreme authority to give anyone else the “Right” to any land or anything else. The land was once free to the whole human race of the time; sections of people from time to time have acquired more and more of it for their own private use by one dodge or another. In England during the last few centuries millions of acres have been stolen from the people under the “Enclosure” system by those who had control of political power. All the factories and machinery have been built and made by the hands of working people who have been deprived of the things they have made. Because fortune decrees that a man shall be born into the owning class does that confer upon him a natural “Right” that he shall therefore own? Is it not rather a social “Right” determined by the general agreement that “it shall be so”? Which can be set aside at a moment’s notice by the general agreement that “it shall not be so any longer.” All so-called “Rights” depend upon the general agreement of the mass of the people; there are neither natural nor super-natural “Rights.” A king is a king because the majority of people have decided to look upon him as such—he is not born with a crown growing out of his head !

As people working together have produced the factories and machinery of the past under the domination of capitalism, they can do likewise in the future under the free institutions of Socialism. This disposes of the myth based on the alleged necessity of Capital for the carrying on of industry in the future.

If we take the argument that capital is money and industry will be unable to get on without it, the reply is easier still.

No money under Socialism.
We can take, as illustration, the case of the much eulogised early pioneers who cut their way through the trackless forests of uncivilised parts. They felled trees, built cabins, trapped and trained animals and provided for their elementary needs for months and years without the need of a penny piece, and for a reason that is obvious after a few moments’ thought. If the production and distribution of the world’s goods were on a Socialist basis then matters would be so arranged that the quantities of goods required at a specified point would be sent there. For instance when an army was equipped for the “front” supplies were accumulated and despatched to various points to meet their needs—the individual soldier did not pay for his food, clothing, etc. Thus those who were making pottery would have supplies of the things they needed sent to them and their “pots” would be despatched to the places requiring them; and so on over the whole field of world production, assuming, of course, that, as now, different localities specialised in particular productions.

Money is only necessary in a society where there is private ownership and trading and therefore some common means needed in which to assess the values of diverse articles in order to facilitate exchanges. Where common property exists there is no exchange of goods but an equitable distribution on the basis of needs—as a mother distributes food to her children at the table—and therefore neither the necessity nor the room for money in any form except as an ornament or a relic of the ugly past.

The Socialist Appeal.
In a few words, under Socialism the production and distribution of wealth would be organised on a scientific basis with the object of providing for each member of society the least amount of labour, the best conditions of labour, and the greatest amount of leisure—which latter he could employ in whatever work or play suited him. By this means, and only by this means, will unemployment, poverty and other economic evils that we suffer to-day disappear never to return.

This is the aim of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. But to achieve this end we must first obtain possession of Political Power, the power centred in England in the Parliament at Westminster. We are pushing forward the work of adopting prospective candidates for Parliament, but are sadly hampered by the paucity of our financial resources. We have opened a Parliamentary Fund to meet this need, but it is not growing as fast as it should. The hungry mouths will not be filled until Socialism is here. There is only one Party in this country taking the road that leads to Socialism, and that Party is the S.P. of G.B. Until the majority of workers are with us, and until we have a majority of delegates knocking at the doors of Parliament, the road to the new world is blocked.

Subscriptions to our Parliamentary Fund will be a considerable assistance on the way.

Rationalisation or Socialism. (1928)

From the October 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

The capitalist system of society is based upon the private ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution, by a minority of the population. The majority of the population, being property-less, are compelled to offer their services for sale to the capitalists, and receive in return sufficient to enable them to live and keep on working. Only the working class engage in the work necessary to production, but the wealth that results from the workers’ labour-power belongs to the capitalists, and therefore the system is an excellent one—for the capitalists.

This being so, any proposals which have for their object the smoother working of the present system should be welcomed— by the capitalists.

The system is essentially a competitive one, and though the capitalists’ interests are identical as against working-class interests, they are not identical in the struggle to secure the greater proportion of the profit accruing from the workers’ labour-power. This results in a tremendous waste. In most industries there is more plant and machinery in being than is necessary to produce sufficient to supply the markets; consequently many works are on short time, not working to their full capacity, or are actually closed down.

Thoroughly up-to-date and efficient methods of production exist side by side with inefficient, almost obsolete, methods.

These facts are fairly obvious, and attempts are being made to meet the problem, but we are concerned about it being clearly understood whose problem it is.

To increase the difference between the total wealth the workers produce and the amount they receive in the form of wages has always been the object of the capitalists, and what is referred to as rationalisation is only a phase of that estimable object.

In an article in the Daily Herald (August 24th), Mr. Citrine attempts to justify the action of the T.U.C. in acting in conjunction with a group of employers to secure “the maximum efficiency of labour with the minimum of effort,” to avoid “waste of raw materials and power” and “unnecessary transport, burdensome financial charges, and the useless interposition of middlemen.” As the General Council of the T.U.C. is supposed to represent the interests of the wage workers, it was up to Mr. Citrine to demonstrate that the object of these proposals is not to increase the difference between total wages and total profits.

Instead of doing this he proceeds to ignore the class division in society and indulge in vague talk about the “community,” and increasing the standard of living of the “people.”

As the article was a reply to a previous one by Mr. Hicks, he brings forward evidence to show that his attitude is quite in accordance with Trade Union policy both here and abroad, instancing a report published by the T.U.C. and the Labour Party in 1924 on the Waste of Capitalism, which, as he says, “was, in effect, a demand for the rational organisation of industry.” He also points out that the German Trade Union movement took the initiative in demanding the institution of Rationalisation in 1926.

To be able to give evidence of other suicidal policies is regarded as sufficient justification of the present one. We have some indication of how Rationalisation works in Germany in an article in the Manchester Guardian Industrial Relations Supplement (30/11/27), by C. W. Guillebaud. One of the “concessions” to the workers is the institution of Works Councils, on which both workers and employers sit; and the writer points out that
“One most significant feature of the development of the Works Councils has been the great decline in the number of those willing to submit themselves for election or re-election. . . . The chief causes of this tendency are, first, the power of employers to get rid of Works Councillors, . . . despite the protective provisions of the Act.”
It should be obvious that a worker with orthodox views will be a useful man for the employers, but one who realises the direct cleavage of interests between the two sides, and says so, will be given his cards and shown the gate.

Although the Trade Unions arose from the antagonism of interests between the property-owning employers and the property-less wage workers, they frequently function in the interests of the capitalists. The railway workers’ unions have recently successfully negotiated a 2½ per cent. reduction in their members’ wages, without the trouble and expense of a lock-out. While having a clear idea of the purpose of “rationalisation,” it is necessary to point out to the self-styled “left-wingers” that it is not something to be fought separately. At the annual conference of the National Minority Movement, Mr. Harry Pollitt moved a resolution which declared that “the chief issue before the working class was to fight Rationalisation” (Daily Herald, August 27).

Certain phrases seem to knock these shallow pates off their balance; “Mondism” and “Imperialism” are manifestations of capitalism. One is reminded of 1914, when the counterparts of the present left-wingers considered it “progressive” to fight against Prussianism.

The opening paragraph of this article being correct, the only problem the workers need concern themselves about is their non-possession of the means of wealth production, the solution of which is in their own hands, by organising as a class, politically, to take possession of them. The Socialist Party is the only organisation which concentrates the workers’ attention on that problem. Labour right-wingers, who urge the workers to take an interest in their masters’ problems, and left-wingers, who urge them to attack separate features of capitalism, are equally side-tracking them from the thing that matters.
J. L.

The Rear View: Iran – a capitalist, theocratic dictatorship (2020)

The Rear View Column from the August 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Iran – a capitalist, theocratic dictatorship

Apparently, ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran’s blending of religion and Marxist negation of private property means that beneath its veneer of turbans, veils, mosques and prayers, it is a totalitarianism that shares much with Communist and Socialist states like the Soviet Union or current day Venezuela: Orwellian exploitation of workers in the name of the worker, repression of all basic rights, severe loss of livelihood, a kleptocratic class that maintains regime survival, and all manner of lies to sustain the myth of a just, egalitarian society battling the evil, capitalist West. Like in other anti-capitalist states, workers in Iran are prohibited from organizing. The assumption is that a Godly, Marxist state has elevated the “mostazafin,” or the downtrodden in whose name the revolution was waged, and is always and already providing for all. The regime pummels propaganda to maintain the myth of economic liberation but the truth is that Iranian workers are routinely denied wages, lack benefits, are forced into exploitative contracts and suffer from dangerous work conditions’ (, 27 June). This, save for the undoubted class division and mass suffering, is the kind of arrant nonsense which socialists encounter all too frequently in a propaganda version of Wack-A-Mole, and have challenged relentlessly for over one hundred years. Going back in time, ‘A Joker’s Conception of Socialism’ (Socialist Standard, December 1918) concerned drivel spouted on the subject by Winston Churchill.

 We in the World Socialist Movement are not dogmatic masochists: we stick to our principles and the original meaning of socialism – common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use – because our socialist theory consistently provides an insightful analysis of the contradictions of capitalism, because of the repeated failure of the alternatives put into practice, and because the prospect of socialism as the meeting of our real needs provides the motivation. Occasionally, however, we find articles written by non-socialists which directly or otherwise support our case, such as those below.

One human race

‘Medical science has long been used for the consolidation of power rather than for solidarity with the oppressed. We see how Black mothers are blamed for their own mortality in childbirth and how starkly high rates of COVID death in Black communities are preposterously misattributed to differences in hormone receptors or clotting factors; all the while letting racism off the hook. We wish to remind fellow physicians that medical science has never been objective. It has never existed in a vacuum; there have and will always be social, political and legal ramifications of our work. Our assessments may be employed in criminal justice cases; our toxicology screens may have profound effects on the livelihood of patients; our diagnoses may perpetuate sexist and racist stereotypes. Our lack of ill intent cannot be our alibi—we must be accountable for not just our work but also how it is used, lest our medicine becomes the very weapon that harms. Medicine requires inclusion of the social context of disease in order to uphold its sacred oath of doing no harm. If we focus only on molecular pathways and neglect to articulate the role of structural inequities—of racism—in our country, our reports on the causes of death and injury in our patients will erase the roles of their oppressors’ (, 6 June). Here we can only quibble with Dr Ann Crawford-Roberts’ use of the phrase ‘our country’. Workers have no country: ‘Study Shows Richest 0.00025% Owns More Wealth Than Bottom 150 Million Americans’ (Common Dreams, 10 February, 2019).

Capitalism is THE pandemic

‘Once again, the U.S. is undergoing a media-driven COVID-19 scare after a “spike” in infections. But as we noted earlier this week, the number of cases depends on the amount of testing. The key gauge to watch is deaths. They’ve been falling since April, and there’s strong reason to believe they’re lower than the official count suggests. The dreaded Wuhan virus is no doubt a nasty bug, worthy of our vigilance and ongoing concern. That said, its virulence, as measured by the daily number of deaths, appears to be waning, as the chart with this piece, courtesy of the COVID-19 Tracking Project of the Atlantic, clearly shows. The average number of daily COVID-19 deaths on a weekly basis has fallen from a peak of just over 2,000 to 700 or so. That’s a roughly 65% decline’ ( 25 June). The phrase lies, damned lies and statistics springs to mind here, but perhaps Dr Marx’s favourite – doubt everything – is more apposite, particularly where mainstream media is concerned.

Pathfinders: Dust to Dust (2020)

The Pathfinders Column from the August 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Below that thin layer comprising the delicate organism known as the soil is a planet as lifeless as the moon’, wrote Jacks and Whyte in The Rape of the Earth: A World Survey Of Soil Erosion (1939). Soil erosion was big news in the 1930s, when rapacious farming created a dust bowl that blew ‘black blizzards’ across America from the Great Plains to New Mexico. Since then farming techniques have become less rudimentary, yet what has capitalism really learned about managing the environment? Mainly how to double down on exploiting it, and never mind the downstream consequences.

A new documentary about the future of agriculture entitled ‘The Need to Grow’ starts with the shocking report that there is only 60 years’ worth of farmable soil left on Earth, because it is being turned to flyaway dust by pesticides, herbicides, deforestation and mono-cropping. This 60-year figure hangs over the entire documentary like the shadow of the Apocalypse as a succession of hands-on experts tell us that we need to act now by individually growing what we can, even if it’s only a basil plant in a window box.

What does the viewer take away from all this? From a British point of view, all the yes-we-can positive vibes and skyscraping kale plants are being produced by tanned farmers in sun-drenched Californian plots, and one wonders how upbeat they would be if faced with a small damp yard in the back-to-backs of Lancashire. True, they showcase some pretty clever stacking systems to get the best out of a small space, but most workers probably couldn’t afford the upscale garden-centre prices.

And who are they kidding with this window box stuff anyway? The overwhelming requirement for any sustainable crop is space. Botanist James Wong quotes an estate agent survey saying that the average UK garden is around 3.7 square meters (although this is a dubious figure given what estate agents are wont to call a ‘garden’). With 3.7 m2, a top gardening expert growing the best all-round food crop (potatoes) in ideal conditions could only produce enough calories to last five days. To last a year would require 266m2, which is about the size of an allotment (New Scientist, 15 April).

If the solutions look a tad unrealistic to the average plant-challenged suburbanite, what about the premise, that there’s only 60 years’ worth of planetary soil left? Well, this figure has an interesting history. Back in 2010 a Sydney professor suggested a 60-year deadline based on estimated rates of UK soil erosion, but it was an off-the-cuff speculation about the UK only (Telegraph, 3 February 2010). Then in 2014 a small study looking at back gardens and allotments in Sheffield found that, not very surprisingly, allotment soil was significantly healthier than heavily-worked local farmland. Farmers Weekly reported the lead scientist as saying ‘With a growing population to feed, and the nutrients in our soil in sharp decline, we may soon see an agricultural crisis.’ Fair comment perhaps, but FW printed the story under the banner headline ‘Only 100 harvests left in UK farm soils, scientists warn’. Where was the quote mentioning this 100-year calculation in the body of the story? There wasn’t one (Farmers Weekly, 21 October 2014). In fact the study never made this claim, or anything resembling it. FW seems to have invented it

Other journalists with deadlines ran with the story, doubtless without checking or even reading the original, and pretty soon the 100-year figure found itself being extrapolated to the entire world, as if conditions in Sheffield somehow prevailed from the Amazon to Alaska. Less than two months after the FW story a top official of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation was already trimming the 100-year figure down to a more headline-grabbing 60 years, but without citing a source (Reuters, 5 December 2014). Not to be outdone, and possibly in a bid to grab some personal column inches, UK environment secretary Michael Gove astonished audiences by ratcheting Doomsday down to a mere 30 years, citing the Sheffield study as sole evidence (Guardian, 24 October 2017).

What happened to the axiom ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’? It looks like nobody, including the makers of ‘The Need to Grow’, bothered to put in any spadework on research. Except for James Wong, that is, who spent 8 hours digging through academic publications looking for the 100-year calculation, or indeed any calculation, thereafter consulting a number of soil scientists who told him that no such calculation existed and would be impossible to derive anyway (New Scientist, 8 May 2019).

Why would anyone produce a major documentary narrated by a Hollywood star and not check basic facts? It would surely be too cynical to point to the $20 DVD price or the avalanche of sales spam you get once you’ve signed up to watch the film. More likely they believed the formula: worst threat equals highest motivation. That’s debatable, but it’s also dishonest and counter-productive, because if people think they’ve been misled by bogus facts, they’re quite likely dismiss the problem.

And soil destruction really is a problem regardless of deadline, as Wong and every soil scientist is keen to point out. Few things illustrate the existential stupidity of capitalism like its destruction of the very means to grow food. Ancient societies like the Sumerians wiped themselves out through soil destruction, so it’s not as if we’re unaware of the problem. John Seymour, quoting Jacks and Whyte above, made this clear decades ago: ‘If the soil goes we all go: let there be absolutely no doubt about that. There is no future for our species if we destroy the soil’ (Changing Lifestyles, 1991).

But in capitalism nobody is listening. Individual growers have to decide between protecting their income or protecting the environment, and altruism doesn’t pay the bills. Mono-cropping, pesticides and deforestation do pay the bills, with catastrophic and unsustainable effects on the planet’s soils. The profit system is incapable of altering course or stopping. But the human race can stop it, by taking the planet into common ownership and managing it sustainably. If we don’t, we risk a global tragedy of the commons that could be everybody’s funeral.
Paddy Shannon

If not now, then when? (2020)

From the August 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The days pass by now in a strangely routine way — I rise early, turn on the radio and whilst having breakfast listen to the news; now, as each and every day, entirely filled with Covid-19. I then set about my work. I am a sculptor, so what little work I did have has now evaporated, along with any income (the arts are not really that important in a society where beauty has little value). Life has become a little like the one experienced by the character played by Bill Murray in the 1993 film Groundhog Day.

In the early days of the pandemic, I, like many people in that peculiar British way, drew humour from the awful truth of the virus, and jokes about the lack of toilet paper did the rounds on social media. The actual reality had not, perhaps, hit home. Also, (and this was widely discussed, particularly in those early days) there was the universal awareness by people of which jobs really were important and necessary to allow society to function in a meaningful and efficient way — refuse collectors, shop workers, delivery drivers, bus drivers, farm labourers and, of course, care workers and nurses. Ironically, all were notably workers with the lowest pay scales (and also jobs that were looked down on by many people). People even came out of their houses to ‘clap for our carers’ — a gesture heartily supported by the government, who seemed to experience an odd case of amnesia when it came to remembering how, a few years previously, they had treated the nurses who could not afford to live near the hospitals where they worked and were forced to resort to food banks, or Jeremy Hunt’s jack-booted handling of the junior doctors’ requests. As the conversations between people developed during April, it was not unusual for them to reflect on the possibility and likelihood of a ‘new form of society’ that would rise, phoenix-like, from the smouldering pile of post-pandemic ashes. Lots of people were finding life less stressful (although, it should be said, not those who were confined in flats with an abusive partner or whose lives meant that the lockdown just exacerbated an already dire existence), with no need for urgency or frantic meeting of deadlines, and were beginning to question whether the media’s often-used ‘return to normal’ phrase was appropriate. Was where we were and how we were living before ‘normal’ at all?

Slowly and inexorably, society was, due to the pressure and dictates of the virus, moving towards a new way of living; people were organising themselves, very rapidly, into caring communities, displaying selfless generosity and acting locally. Hours were spent by individuals making PPE items for health workers, or providing meals for delivery drivers. Freed from the constraints of daily toil and exploitation, the real human traits began to emerge. Far from lazing around, work and contribution towards a happy and functioning society was becoming the ‘new normal’. So surely, one would think, if not now, then when would humanity reflect on the manner in which capitalism functions, and realise that nothing we do requires the physical existence of money, let alone a system predicated on profit and ever-growing destruction of resources, the environment and people. I must admit that I felt the time was perfect; all the indicators were there — it only needed people to reflect and think for a moment. It did not need a revolution, just a simple change of perception — an epiphany moment when people realise that ‘this cannot and need not go on’ and, more importantly, understand what to put in its place.

So, why then are we where we are now — nearly four months on? The initial talk has, it seems, settled into a state of ennui. The media has relentlessly bombarded us with promises of ‘relaxing lockdown rules’ and ‘returning to normal’. Of course we all know (and it doesn’t take an economist to figure this out) serious economic malaise will follow very soon if workers are not working and businesses are not trading and ‘growing’. Therefore, and despite the fact that there is no cure or vaccine, the governments worldwide are desperate, largely regardless of the risk to workers’ lives, to get people back to work. The economy has, once again, triumphed over the needs of the people.

So, with no fundamental change in the dangers imposed by the virus, queues stretch for miles outside Primark, KFC, Homebase, Starbucks, Sports Direct and dozens of other faceless commodity outlets as lockdown is relaxed and the public are being encouraged to spend their cash on ‘non-essential’ items, is there any chance of change? Sadly, things aren’t looking hopeful; the power of a capitalist society to engineer the way the majority of people think is so powerful — the belief that buying the latest item of shoddily made tat will somehow make you a better, happier or more fulfilled person seems now to be ‘hard-wired’ into the masses.

‘Socialism? That’s just utopia!’, to which we reply — have you actually checked out the meaning of utopia?
Glenn Morris

Material World: War drums in the China Sea (2020)

The Material World column from the August 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism continually creates the conditions for confrontations between countries concerning the control of resources and trade routes. Socialists never tire of pointing out that the primary function of military power in capitalism is to protect and expand control over resources, markets and transport routes on behalf of the capitalist class of the country concerned.

America’s ‘deputy sheriff’ in the South Pacific, Australia, is significantly beefing up its armed forces, increasing military spending by $270 billion over the next ten years. Australia is set to acquire 200 long-range aircraft-launched anti-ship missiles and other capabilities to deter future conflicts. It will also invest in developing a hypersonic missile defence system. There is a $50 billion future submarine project and a $7 billion underwater surveillance network to detect submarines approaching Australia’s coast.

In July, the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, two US aircraft carriers, conducted naval exercises aimed at demonstrating its superior naval capabilities over China. The United States accused China of intimidating its South East Asian neighbours. The United States declare that freedom of maritime navigation is an issue of ‘national interest’ and for another country to challenge America is to effectively declare war upon the United States, which is exactly what China appears to be doing in the South China Sea, a resource-rich and highly contested waterway. The loyal camp-follower of the US, the UK, has also periodically sent its warships into the contested waters to protect ‘freedom of navigation’.

While those aircraft carriers were on patrol, China engaged in its own military drills near the disputed Paracel Islands. China is constructing its second aircraft carrier and also investing heavily in submarines, to be equipped in the future with ‘carrier-killer’ ballistic missiles.

Armament imports by Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia have all increased and much of the weapon types being purchased are for a potential sea war. The acquisition of such sophisticated weapons indicates two things: first, that South East Asian nations are wary of China’s intentions and secondly, they are tooling up for a possible war.

Aside from China’s claim of sovereignty, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea, a busy sea lane with a third of the world’s shipping passing through various straits and choke points carrying $3 trillion of trade, while half the world’s fishing boats operate in its waters as well as there being a number of the region’s undersea internet cables. The oil en route to East Asia through the South China Sea is many times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal. The energy supplies for South Korea, Japan and Taiwan as well as China come through the South China Sea.

They also all seek to exploit the extensive oil and gas reserves which exist. Oil reserves of billions of barrels and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas remain to be tapped. Technological advances mean countries are able to drill for oil far from shore, making it economically crucial to control as much off-shore territory as possible. This expansion of oil exploration and drilling in the South China Sea has raised the stakes and looks likely to escalate sovereignty disputes.

This is not to mention another rivalry over territorial waters brewing between China and Japan over claims to some uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The dispute is actually also about the natural gas resources. We indeed should be gravely concerned over the possibility of war between China on one hand, and other rival claimant states in the South and East China Seas on the other.

What happens when there is no housing market? (2020)

From the August 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Decent, functional and even beautiful living accommodation is unarguably one of humanity’s prime needs. It is the one prime need in fact that, more than any other, save food and water, is vitally conducive to harmonious and pleasant living at all. Conversely, the lack of it is almost always a cause of misery, meanness and domestic strife. The question of housing allocation in a socialist society is therefore by no means a novel one, and has been discussed and debated for a very long time. That old Fabian fraud George Bernard Shaw, for example, once said that he was often asked who would live in the big house on the hill in this socialist society of his, and Bernard Shaw’s ever-ready response was ‘The same as now, whoever can afford to live there will’.

We beg to differ. All of what we say below notwithstanding, if there is one certain fact concerning life in a future socialist society that we can predict, it’s that how much money you have will most definitely not be the deciding criterion that determines where you live. There won’t be any money for a start – bits of colourful paper, or, more so these days, numbers on a computer screen, that denote how deserving you are of living decently as a human being.

Shaw’s solution to capitalism’s housing problem, like that of the other 56 pseudo-brands of ‘socialism’, was simply an ill-thought out version of reformed capitalism, inexorably welded to and determined and dictated by the market for houses. In socialism, there won’t be any market for houses. Shaw’s ‘solution’ was, bizarrely, simply predicated on the continuing existence of the very cause of the housing problem in the first place.

But, to be fair to him as much as possible, Shaw’s non-solution of reforming capitalism in such a way as to solve the housing problem, has been practically everybody else’s non-solution too. Long before Shaw was preaching his illogical nonsense, one of the pioneers of socialist ideas, the co-author and life-long friend of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, wrote a short series of articles entitled The Housing Question. Engels was writing in the mid-Victorian period, a time when the ‘success‘ of British capitalism was at its height and yet, a time also, when the housing conditions of the working class were especially miserable, unspeakably wretched and degrading. Needless to say, then as now, all manner of reformist nostrums were proposed by a whole range of political activists; from followers of the French anarchist Proudhon, who advocated that every worker within existing capitalism should have their own little private property dwelling, bought on the ‘never, never’, to representatives of the capitalists themselves, with their ‘factory-provided houses’ abominations. These, needless-to-say, were not only factory-provided, but factory-owned and job dependent, with all of the horrors of job loss and consequent eviction that were entailed. Indeed, in criticising these proposed multi-various reforms, Engels’ work is almost entirely devoted to dealing with the ways and means of how not to solve the housing question.

Not a problem of housing
As a matter of fact, as Engels explained repeatedly, the real issue is not at all a ‘housing’ problem – that is, a shortage of labour power or a dearth of nature-given materials that are necessary to provide everyone in society with housing accommodation commensurate with their needs – but a capitalism problem. Deal with the real issue of capitalism’s general diktat of production for profit, and the housing question, like every other misnamed ‘problem’ in capitalism, will solve itself. It is the only concrete solution to the problem of lack of housing, the inferior quality of housing and the location of housing. If there is any other solution, apart from the common ownership of resources proposed by the Socialist Party, it has never been revealed. All we hear today, from Housing Associations, charities and political parties are mere echoes of the ideas and social quackery that Engels exposed and lambasted as absurd nonsense 150 years ago.

Having stated the general solution to the housing ‘problem’ we are invariably questioned as to how the solution of common ownership will work in practice. Socialist society will undoubtedly require administration at a local level, a regional level and even a world-wide level. How this administration is organised and functions will be a matter for the inhabitants of socialism. What decisions these socialist bodies take, and how they will be implemented and even enforced if necessary, will be entirely up to them. That goes without saying. Although we refrain from crystal ball-gazing, we can, of course, make some general points as to what might happen in regard to housing provision in socialism. There are two things, we would imagine, a socialist society will want to deal with immediately. The first is the homeless problem.

For the first time ever, a problem that has been grappled with constantly in all modern societies, that has been discussed ad nauseam, fought over, lied about, written about endlessly, and thousands of charities and other organisations have done to death for as long as capitalism has existed , will at last be capable of solution. The administrative bodies in a socialist society will know best at the time how to do this.

The second task will be to look at the existing occupied housing stock, its condition and the needs of its occupiers, with a view to rehousing those in the worst of circumstances immediately. Again, decisions will need to be taken by socialism’s representative bodies over how best to implement this aim.

As a party, we have never claimed to be in possession of ready-made solutions for each and every question that the future socialist society will need to take up. Nor would it be sensible or desirable for us to do so. In regard to housing alone, the actual considerations and requirements are seemingly inexhaustible. The production and transportation of bricks, copper piping, slates, sand, cement, glass, wooden batons, joists and fencing, to name but a few of the most obvious that spring to mind, are each a major operation in themselves. Plumbers, electricians, roofers, bricklayers, joiners, glaziers and gardeners, will all need to be coordinated. Further, surveying, land availability, planning, road traffic considerations, amenities provision, public transport, again to name only those that readily spring to mind, give an additional idea of the complexities involved. It is absurd to suggest that we living today should make concrete plans for all this.

Likewise, the number of people involved in existing professions that are tied economically (and are mostly useless, with little or no connection to the actual construction of buildings) to housing in capitalism, that will be unleashed by socialism’s construction for use economy, run into the tens of millions. Our pamphlet From Capitalism to Socialism, lists over 70 of these professions themselves. And that’s only in regard to housing. The number of people engaged in useless jobs in capitalism generally and not connected with housing but who would be available to be deployed in that area where required is astronomical.

We don’t know
How will socialist society allocate Shaw’s big house on the hill? Our answer is, and can only be, we have no blueprint. It will be up to the inhabitants of socialism to decide ‘who gets what’. More importantly, even if such a question is legitimate, it certainly has no significant bearing on the case for socialism that we argue in the present.

However, such questions can be useful in one sense, for they highlight the chief difficulty of prediction: why should we assume that the social norms of today will be exactly those of the future? Certainly, there is no reason to believe that the attitudes of those living in an entirely different type of society will be exactly the same as today. To expect the norms of life in capitalism as it exists now to remain exactly the same as when there are, for example, a billion socialists, is naive enough. To expect a socialist society to be, in the first place, established on the notions and ideas of capitalism, and even more unlikely, remain completely static, is patently absurd and flies in the face of all past human experience.

Is it likely that people in a future socialist society will have the same desires, concerns, views, needs, aspirations or requirements that we find so ‘natural’ and indispensable in capitalism today? No matter how rigid and seemingly set in stone they appear now, it is absolutely certain that our present concerns for property ownership, for big houses, for big cars, for the baubles and trinkets so beloved of capitalism’s apologists, and in a nutshell, a concern for ‘who gets what’, will be simply looked upon with astonishment and incredulity and, eventually, intense curiosity.

Is such a belief in the possibility of such a profound change taking place idealistic or utopian? The history of a mere couple of decades or so tells us no. Not even the imaginative genius of Oscar Wilde could have ever dreamed of such an utterly unimaginable event as two men getting married – to each other! Think about that and consider the extraordinary change in attitude that has taken place in such a short historical time span, so that, apart from a small minority of religious bigots, no one bats an eyelid at what once was, barely yesterday in historical terms, such an inconceivable proposition as to be simply dismissed out of hand by practically every human being on the planet. Yet now it is widespread and the ‘norm’.

But to speculate, perhaps, in the immediate aftermath of the transition from capitalism to socialism, as a start, the inhabitants of socialism will decide, after making adequate provision for the existing occupants, to agree a list of the 500 (1000? 2000? 5000?) biggest and most beautiful private dwelling buildings in a metropolis such as London. Perhaps they will then decide to convert 100 into havens for the mentally ill, 100 into centres for the care and healing of victims of sexual abuse, 100 into centres for the study and treatment of those suffering from seemingly uncontrollable and socially harmful sexual urges, and 100 into recuperation centres for those suffering the effects of being incarcerated under capitalism for crimes against property.

Perhaps also, in an advanced socialist society of 20 years standing, when most or all of these problems have been eradicated, the majority of the very same buildings will, one by one, be simply left to run themselves as examples of by-gone notions of desirable (or even undesirable) architecture, with accommodation upstairs for those who want to preserve and protect them. The point is, we simply cannot predict what will happen.

How will socialist society come into ‘possession’ of these buildings? Again, we don’t know. Is it possible that they will be simply requisitioned for the use of everyone? Absolutely. After all, to describe the matter bluntly, the capitalist revolutions of the past were to privatise the earth and everything in it and on it, to proclaim the rights of private property and to convert it into the ownership of a few.

A socialist revolution will be aimed at taking the property back we have created, taking it out of the hands of a parasitic few and to place it at the disposal of society. That is what a socialist revolution is.

How the inhabitants of a future socialist society will act, what their priorities will be, and what is important and desirable for them, can be safely left to them to decide.

What happens to an insignificant number of ‘more desirable than others’ buildings is only one aspect of the matter, and by far the least important. The question of housing provision in general, both now – as in the lack of it – and the potential that socialism will undoubtedly open up, is far more important.

To make glib, possibly well-intentioned – though usually ultimately utterly futile – proposals to deal with housing problems in capitalism’s restrictive profit-driven market for houses is one thing; to deal with the necessity to provide healthy, decent, and even – a purely subjective opinion, of course, beautiful – living accommodation in socialism’s production for use on the basis of a free access economic system, is quite another.

We would make it abundantly clear again, in any discussion of how a socialist society will deal with the general allocation of housing, that we cannot speak for a future society in regard to what decisions will be necessary in the construction or location or provision or allocation of housing – any more so than we can on the future prospects for harmonicas or hairnets.

Our only concern at present is to drive home the necessity for the one over-riding solution to the problems of capitalism and that is socialism. This will create the only possible basis for solving the so-called housing problem. And this, as we say repeatedly, for the simple reason that it isn’t a problem at all, but merely a consequence of the artificial scarcity in housing created by capitalism’s disgraceful and disgusting inherent drive for profit. Socialism will unleash the tremendous construction capability necessary so that we can begin practical steps towards not only solving issues like homelessness and slum-dwelling, but constructing beautiful housing accommodation – we are, after all, admirers of the ideas of the early Marxist William Morris – so as to meet the self-defined needs of every human being.
Nigel McCullough