Tuesday, September 20, 2022

AUKUS-Pocus (2022)

From the September 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Back in 2016 the Australian government entered into a contract with France to supply twelve new submarines to replace its existing fleet. Towards the end of last year, they abandoned this and switched to a new plan to work with the UK and the US in building nuclear-powered subs instead. France was of course not pleased about this, and their foreign minister described it as ‘a stab in the back’.

This is not just an argument about submarines, as there is a new ‘defence’ alliance between Australia, the UK and the US, under the name of AUKUS, which is also likely to cover aircraft and other military technology. It follows from the Defence Trade Cooperation Treaties, also covering the same three countries, signed in 2007, which are intended to make trade in defence articles and ‘services’ more straightforward. These alliances are examples of mini-lateralism, which involves small numbers of countries joining hands and arms in an agreement. These are seen as easier to negotiate than larger multi-lateral agreements, and also more likely to lead to consensus among the participants.

AUKUS is particularly aimed at China, which is seen as having too much power and influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Australia is viewed as a reliable American ally, being the only country that has been involved in every war the US has fought since 1917, including Vietnam. UK industry will benefit, with contracts already having been placed with Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems, though it is not as yet clear where most of the production work would take place. But clearly it will be the US that stands to gain the most, partly just in economic terms, but also as far as global strategy and ‘security’ is concerned.

In July last year, the UK government published a policy paper ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age’. This focused on a ‘vision for 2030’, in response to, inter alia, ‘geopolitical and geoeconomic shifts, such as China’s increasing international assertiveness and the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific’. Post-Brexit ideas of a role on the world stage for the UK no doubt play a part too, with a return to the ‘east of Suez’ area after several decades. Overall, AUKUS reflects the UK’s ‘tilt to the Indo-Pacific’, as crucial to British capitalism’s economy, security and global ambition.

AUKUS must also be seen in the context of another, less formal, alliance, known as the Quad, which covers the US, Australia, India and Japan. Officially the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, this was restarted in 2017 after a hiatus, and has included military exercises. There is also the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), established in May this year, with fourteen countries participating (including the US, of course, also Australia, India and Japan, among others). Among its aims is ‘supply chain resilience’, to ensure as far as possible the availability of raw materials and other supplies.

Part of the aim of all this is to control as far as possible the vital seaway of the Malacca Strait, between Malaysian islands and Sumatra. This has for centuries been the main sea route between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and a large part of world sea-borne goods passes through it, with the extremely busy port of Singapore located there. Oil in particular is a prominent part of this trade, as the strait is part of the shortest route between the Persian Gulf and Asian markets. At its narrowest, the strait is less than two miles wide, so it is a potentially crucial bottleneck.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the agreement’s signatories were adopting an ‘obsolete cold war zero sum mentality’. In reality the Cold War has never gone away, in the sense that capitalist states still go in for alliances and military preparations, and some writers refer to the last couple of decades as the ‘Second Cold War’. AUKUS is just the largest instantiation of this. And as Ukraine and other examples show, there are real on-the-ground wars too. In a world beset by global heating and a pandemic, capitalism has plenty of other priorities.
Paul Bennett

Bird’s Eye View: Shelley: In His Way, One Of Us (2022)

The Bird’s Eye View Column from the September 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Shelley: In His Way, One Of Us

A century ago, this journal carried an article so titled (Socialist Standard, September 1922). Two centuries have passed along with generations of socialists and other workers since Percy Bysshe Shelley’s untimely demise. What would he make of the world today? There can be little doubt that for all the scientific advances made since his death he would soon realise that this world remains theirs not ours, and our ‘great awakening’ has yet to take place. Like Friedrich Engels and William Morris, he ‘… played his part in the great awakening of men, just as Marx played his, as we play ours, as all our readers can play theirs. The scientist, philosopher, and singer, age by age, so far as the development of Society would permit, have contributed to the freeing of our thoughts. They have given us ecstacy and knowledge. And the selfish ruling class cannot understand this. Ecstacy and knowledge, music and wisdom mean as little to such people as Gallipoli and Russia or work and wages. Shelley liked such people much as we do; much as G.B.S. likes roast pork and a bottle of Bass.’

‘The Rights of Universal Citizenship’

‘GBS’ was the playwright, vegetarian and teetotaller George Bernard Shaw. He is still wrongly viewed as a socialist and supported capitalist conflict (during WWI he declared ‘England is a guardian of the world’s liberty’) and in the pamphlet Fabianism and the Empire advocated the right of a capitalist state to acquire territory which it may consider backward, in the name of efficiency. He constantly beat the imperialist drum for bigger armaments; advocated a large army and military conscription. By contrast, Shelley in his Declaration of Rights stated ‘Man has no right to kill his brother, it is no excuse that he does so in uniform. He only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder’ (Article 19 , 1812).

We read: ‘Latvia’s defense ministry said on Monday that the Baltic country is bringing back its military draft to ward off a Russian attack — a move prompted by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine’ (yahoo, 11 July).

There is no doubt that Shelley would oppose conscription. And stand with the workers in Russia and Ukraine seeking to avoid working as paid murderers.
‘Danila Davydov said he left Russia within weeks of the Kremlin sending troops into Ukraine because he feared having to fight in a war he doesn’t support. The 22-year-old left St. Petersburg and is now working in Kazakhstan. “We feared President Putin would declare a mobilization and then everyone, young and old, would be called up to the army. I absolutely didn’t want to go and fight”. Davydov is among what some lawyers and rights advocates say is an increased number of young Russian men looking to avoid the country’s mandatory military service since the conflict with Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special military operation”, started in late February. That is despite the risk of facing fines or up to two years in prison. In Russia, military service is mandatory for young men aged 18 to 27’ (yahoo, 8 July).
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away’
(from Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandias, 1819).

‘There is No God’

PBS had no lack of imagination, yet it is doubtful that he could envision a world of war and want still existing when one of peace and plenty had long been possible. Even Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, would likely be shocked by the very real threat of Armageddon. The Shelleys were almost certainly spared nightmares of the MAD contrast between death by exotic weapons or stoning:
‘A 20-year-old woman in Sudan has been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, marking the first known case in the northeast African country for a decade… Iran has the world’s highest rate of execution by stoning and the Middle Eastern country regularly makes headlines for its employment of the practice, which came into force after the 1979 revolution. The Library of Congress believes that around 150 people were stoned to death in Iran between 1980 and 2009, although the reported numbers are probably lower than the actual figures’ (The Week, 14 July).
PBS by contrast thought ‘A husband and wife ought to continue so long united as they love each other. Any law which should bind them to cohabitation for one moment after the decay of their affection, would be a most intolerable tyranny, and the most unworthy of toleration’ (Queen Mab, 1813). His blasphemous freethinking got him expelled from Oxford University. And still today such thoughts can result in the death penalty in thirteen countries. For PBS, ‘Design must be proved before a designer can be inferred’ (The Necessity of Atheism, 1811). He would have been fascinated by our current understanding of human biology. We are an evolutionary hodgepodge made largely of bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea. Our eyes see less than 1 percent of the light spectrum, and retinas detach easily – even the humble shrimp has better vision. We are also fitted with sub-optimal plumbing (breathing, eating, excretory and reproductive) and, yes, programmed to die – unlike Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish.

‘The Masque of Anarchy’

We wasted the last century and unless we act, capitalism will likely lay waste to this one. So:
‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number —
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you —
Ye are many — they are few’

Cooking the Books: Fairy-tale economics (2022)

The Cooking the Books column from the September 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trussonomics – what has also been dubbed ‘fairy-tale economics’ – teaches, even preaches, that if you cut taxes on businesses, they will have more profits and so will invest more, increasing growth and average living standards.

Cancelling the increase scheduled next year in corporation tax from 19 to 25 percent and reducing employers’ National Insurance contributions will increase the amount of retained profits directly and immediately. Cutting other taxes and a corresponding amount of government spending (for instance, as floated, the reduction in the pay of public sector workers outside London and not giving out any more ‘hand-outs’ to people to help them try to cope with the soaring cost of living) would have the same effect but indirectly and over a longer period.

In recognising the importance of profits for ‘growth’, Truss is being realistic enough. Capitalism is a profit-driven system and does run on profits. Every government must take this into account and give priority to profit-making.

Where she departs from reality for fairyland is in imagining that, just because you allow capitalist enterprises to retain more of their profits, that will make them invest more. This is wrong both in theory and in the light of experience. Businesses will invest only if they think this will bring them more profit; if they don’t calculate that it will, then they won’t invest. And governments can do nothing to change that.

‘Growth’ is the increase in the amount produced in one year compared with previous years. It is conventionally measured by changes in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Most of this – over 80 percent – is consumed in the course of the year by individuals or governments. The rest is invested in expanding or replacing productive capacity. Because GDP includes replacing the wear and tear of existing buildings, machines and equipment (depreciation), the investment part is not an accurate measure of the increase in productive capacity. Net Domestic Product (NDP), which excludes this, is more accurate, the investment part of which is near to what Marx meant by the ‘capital accumulation’ – the accumulation of profits as more capital – which he saw as the driving force of capitalism rather than growth as such.

Fairy Liz imagines that, after cutting taxes on profits, she can wave her magic wand and, hey presto, enterprises will invest and the economy grow. They tried this in France in the late 70s and early 80s. It didn’t work.

According to L’Express (8 September 1979), referring to Raymond Barre who was then the centre-right (the French equivalent of the Tories, if you like) prime minister:
‘One of the prime minister’s disappointments is that the improvement in the finances and profits of enterprises has not produced the expected boom in investment. The bosses are more and more reluctant to take risks. “Give us the money”, they said, “and we will invest.” Today, with their finances in a healthy state, they add “Give us the markets”. You can’t make an ass that isn’t thirsty drink. A head of an enterprise does not buy machines without outlets for the products they make.’
Barre failed because no government can conjure up the markets on which to sell what expanding capital investment could produce. Truss will fail too for the same reason, especially as the IMF, the Bank of England and many others are predicting a world recession over the next couple of years.

If these forecasts are right, what will happen is that businesses will say ‘Thank you very much. We can use the extra profits to increase the dividends we pay our shareholders. If you want us to invest them, give us the markets’. That, the government can’t do. So, no fairy-tale ending.

Getting the betrayal in first (2022)

From the September 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘One day, it seems, Tony Blair is likely to be in Number Ten and, therefore almost certainly, will be in confrontation with public sector workers. He has, in Neil Kinnock’s rueful phrase, got his betrayal in first’ (Andrew Marr, Independent, 19 April 1995).
Marr was writing about Tony Blair when Leader of the Opposition, but he could just as well have been writing about Sir Keir Starmer today.

We can’t claim that Labour leaders have learnt nothing from the experience of the various Labour governments that there have been. Elected to power on promises to improve the lot of workers and to help trade unions achieve this, every single Labour government has ended up opposing strikes and insisting that priority be given to profit-making (some have done worse, imposing wage freezes and prosecuting strikers). In that sense they have betrayed the unions who supported them and workers who voted for them.

Starmer sees himself as the Prime Minister of a ‘government in waiting’ and knows that, in government, he too will have to resist wage demands that threaten profit-making. In sacking one of his shadow cabinet for going on a picket line without permission, he was sending out a clear message that he was fully prepared to do this.

Sharon Graham, the General Secretary of Unite, reacted by declaring that the sacking incident showed that ‘the Labour Party was becoming more and more irrelevant to working people’. But was it ever relevant? The question that should be asked is not ‘What has the Labour Party done for us’ but ‘What has the Labour Party done to us?’

Starmer is going to behave in office as previous Labour Prime Ministers have. So what did they do to us?

In 1964 after what the Labour Party called ‘thirteen years of Tory misrule’ they got in and Harold Wilson became Prime Minister. His government started by honouring some of its promises. It abolished prescription charges and a national plan was drawn up. Then an economic crisis broke out. The pound was devalued; it maintained its face-value in people’s pockets but its purchasing power diminished due to the prices of imported goods going up. Prescription charges were re-imposed and the national plan became a scrap of paper.

From then on, it was downhill all the way as these contemporary headlines illustrate (Ray Gunther was the Minister of Labour and George Brown the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs):
  • Mr Gunther Condemns Dock Move by Strikers (Times, 20 October 1964)
  • Britain’s Attitudes Outdated—Premier. Country ‘cannot afford strikes’ (Guardian, 25 February 1965)
  • Profit Motive as Test of Efficiency. Mr Brown’s Reply to Directors. “Government Not Anti-Business” (Times, 22 May 1965)
  • Wilson Hits at Rail Go-Slow (Observer, 18 July 1965)
  • Wage Restraint Vital in 1966—Premier (Financial Times, 1 January 1966)
  • Folly To Press For Big Wage Rises—Chancellor (Financial Times, 18 May 1966)
  • Ministers Hint At Permanent Pay Curb (Observer, 18 September 1966)
  • Government Embraces Profitability (Guardian, 23 November 1966)
  • Standard of Living ‘Must Fall’. Mr Gunther on Last Chance (Times, 29 March 1968)
While the need for profits was accepted, wage demands were opposed. The Labour MP, Harold Lever (later a minister and then a Lord) explained very cogently why:
‘Labour’s economic plans are not in any way geared to more nationalisation; they are directed towards increased production on the basis of the continued existence of a large private sector. Within the terms of the profit system it is not possible, in the long run, to achieve sustained increases in output without an adequate flow of profit to promote and finance them. The Labour leadership know as well as any businessman that an engine which runs on profit cannot be made to move faster without extra fuel’ (Observer, 3 April 1966).
This is still the situation today. A future Labour government under Starmer will have to work (as one under Corbyn would have had to) within the same framework of ‘the commanding heights of the economy’ being in the hands of private profit-seeking enterprises, whose necessity to make a profit must be recognised. And will be.

The Wilson Labour government was voted out of office in 1970 but Labour came back in 1974, briefly under Wilson, then under James Callaghan. The 1974-79 Labour government was just as much a disaster, provoking the notorious 1978/9 Winter of Discontent. Troops (let alone agency workers) were called out to break strikes by Glasgow refuse collectors (1975), air traffic control assistants (1977), firefighters (1977), naval dockyard workers (1978), and, finally, NHS ambulance workers (1978).

In 1979, as a reaction, the Tories under Thatcher were elected and 18 years of Tory rule followed. Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party in 1994 and immediately set about making it ‘electable’. This involved abandoning even the long-term paper commitment to changing private capitalism into state capitalism (Clause IV) and fully accepting the profit-seeking market economy. As Blair told the Financial Times (11 June, 1994):
‘We want a dynamic market economy. It is not merely that I, as it were, with hesitation acknowledge that this is the way we have to go. I say that it is positively in the public interest to have a dynamic market economy.’
Labour, under Blair, was returned to office in 1997 and, external conditions being relatively favourable, did not make such a mess of presiding over the operation of capitalism as Wilson and Callaghan had. The main reforms that the Blair Labour government introduced were constitutional rather than economic and so did not impinge on the operation of the profit-driven capitalist economy. The anti-union laws enacted under Thatcher were not repealed and are still in force today.

There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that a Starmer Labour government would be any different from previous Labour governments. The reason why these failed and ended up giving priority to profits over wages was not because its ministers were dishonest or incompetent or not resolute enough. It was because they had set themselves an impossible task. The very nature of capitalism means that it cannot work, or be made to work, in the interest of those obliged to work for wages. It is a profit-making system that can work only in the interest of the profit-takers, whose source of income is the unpaid labour of the wage-working class. Prior to the Blair government, Labour leaders had to learn this the hard way. Starmer, like Blair, knows that, for the reasons explained by Harold Lever in 1966, a future Labour government would have to let capitalism work this way. At least he is being candid about his intentions. Workers and unions should take heed.
Adam Buick

Starmer’s plan for British capitalism (2022)

From the September 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is your periodic (though unnecessary) reminder that the membership of the Labour Party elected as their leader – and thus chief spokesperson – a man who has accepted a knighthood. This speaks volumes about Keir Starmer’s attitude to the existing state of affairs, and of the political commitment and understanding of Labour Party members. He is committed to retaining and defending the existing state of society.

On 25 July this year he gave what, doubtless, his publicity team would consider a keynote speech. After the usual political lambasting of his opponents, he delivered his stunning prescription:
‘To give Britain the fresh start it needs, we need a new approach. The goal is straightforward – to maximise the contribution we all make to national prosperity. Every business, every person, every community.’
This is very much going back to the mantra of New Labour and using the state to co-ordinate and promote capitalist agendas. He also makes it clear that he is acting in the name of capitalism in general, because the problem has been:
‘The best of British business is the best in the world. But we have geared our whole economy to delivering only for those firms.’
That is, that only some capitalists are benefitting at the expense of others. This has the neat advantage of playing into the essentially apolitical attack line about Tory corruption, absent which, prosperity for all may rain down. It is also notable because it ideologically subordinates economic activity to ‘the national interest.’ As he says: ‘A strong national economy needs everyone making the best contribution they can.’ And ‘[L]ow growth countries are weaker at standing up for the national interest.’

Starmer sees it as a collective national effort, where the citizens work for ‘the nation’, but just that the citizens should be justly rewarded, and ‘hard work’ made to pay. Human freedom and treating people as ends in themselves is a long way from his imagination. So, he says:
‘To do all that we need three things: Growth. Growth. And Growth. That’s why I have told the Shadow Cabinet that every policy they bring forward will be judged by the contribution it makes to growth and productivity.’
A quick check on Wikipedia gives the following definition: ‘Economic growth can be defined as the increase or improvement in the inflation-adjusted market value of the goods and services produced by an economy over a certain period of time.’ That is, Starmer wants us to create ever more value. Above all else he is channelling the spirit of capital itself, value as the end in itself, not people; and we are all to be subordinated to that impossible voracious demand.

This is, of course, the essential social-democrat position, seeing themselves as removing the inefficiencies of the market system in order to save it and generate productivity. This saves them a lot of trouble, as they are able to argue against redistribution on the basis that a small (or even smaller) share of a bigger pie can be bigger than a bigger share of a smaller pie. It leaves them relying on the market system to generate increasingly cheap goods.

This comes with a price, though, as it centralises a certain blackmail: the owners of capital get to say that if they don’t get their profit, no-one else will get any benefits. Indeed, this claim has become a central mantra of Tory politicians of late, that social benefits depend on economic growth. In this topsy-turvy ideological world, capitalists are able to project themselves as wealth creators, who simply give out the jobs and benefits on which we all depend.

In the hands of Labour Party right-wingers, this is coupled with the liberal philosopher John Rawls’ notion:
‘That social and economic inequalities should be arranged so that “they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society” i.e. an unequal distribution of wealth or other resources can be just when it maximizes the benefit to those who have the lowest allocation of resources – the Maximin theory?’ (Link).
So, growth and wealth at the top should be encouraged and help should be targeted at the poorest. Given that without that growth they would have nothing, this allows the argument that letting some people generate huge amounts of personal wealth benefits more than the alternatives.

So Starmer, in his speech promises:
  1. ‘We will be financially responsible.
  2. We will be distinctively British.
  3. We will work in partnership with business.
  4. We will re-energise communities and spread economic power.
  5. We will refocus our investment on boosting productivity.’
Leaving aside the blithering nonsense about being distinctively British, whatever that means — that’s just branding — financial responsibility means Labour will avoid interfering with property rights, by taxing, borrowing, and using resources within capitalist rules. He even invokes the ‘magic money tree’ to emphasise that they will be responsible, and to distance himself from his predecessor. He emphasises:
‘Modern industrial strategy isn’t about growing the size of the state – it’s about what the state does.’
So, partnership means partnership with, not state direction of, business; targeted support to help businesses grow, grow, grow. Interestingly he uses the term ‘mission-driven partnership’ which is suggestive of the ideas of the economist Mariana Mazzucatto, whose work John McDonnell also referenced as a source for his economic ideas (Link).

She notes that the state is entrepreneurial, and responsible for a lot of long-term investment in the economy; and advocates mission-based projects, akin to the moon landings, where the state can focus economic activity. This is suggestive that Starmer is triangulating talking to the right, while preparing some more Brownite interventionism, but all of this is ultimately dependent upon the grace and protection of the handful of people who own the economy. Ultimately, his plan for capital is about making the system work the way it does in its own imagination. It’s an ideological fantasy exercise.
Pik Smeet

Social nature (2022)

Book Review from the September 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ultrasocial. The Evolution of Human Nature and the Quest for a Sustainable Future. By John Gowdy. Cambridge University Press. 2021. xv+165pp.

This is a book supporting the view, as many others have recently, that human nature is not an entirely fixed phenomenon but largely an expression of the material and social situation in which human beings find themselves. It draws upon a vast range of sources to show that, until, around 10,000 years ago when we started to adopt settled agriculture, human beings lived largely cooperative and egalitarian existences as hunter-gatherers with mutual aid and empathy as the social and cultural norm and without destabilising their habitats. The transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture was not, however, as the author points out, a rapid, simple or inevitable change. Rather it was a long-term, incremental process taking place for different reasons in different areas. It was ‘stumbled into’ in a sort of ‘tyranny of small decisions’ for what seemed like practical reasons at the time, but with unanticipated consequences. Yet wherever it did take serious hold, there was no going back and it inevitably led to stratified societies in which a small number controlled the surpluses that were produced and ruled over the vast majority whose lives were made poorer and less secure than before (‘Human society made a critical leap from small-scale cooperation to top-down coordination and coercion’). This led to the development of hierarchies, belief systems to support them and condition their subjects and, eventually, the states that dominate the world today with the elite few possessing most of the wealth.

But Gowdy goes even further than others in arguing that, with the advent of agriculture, human society not only broke away from its purpose of serving its individual members and groups to eventually become what it is today, but embarked on becoming an impersonal ‘superorganism’, which today we see in its most advanced form, the global market, subordinating the interests of the humans who exist under it to its own survival and furtherance. To this ‘autonomous’ superorganism he attaches the label ‘ultrasocial’, in that it operates very much like a huge colony of ants or termites in which the requirements of the whole take precedence over the individuals within it. Unlike ant and termite societies, however, the human superorganism exhibits gross social and material inequality, even if this is often justified as a necessary consequence of the ‘freedom’ of the individual in a ‘free market’. A further consequence of this, the author argues, is rapacious environmental degradation and a catastrophic loss of nature, since no group, state or individual is in a position to prevent the interest of the ‘superorganism’ from dominating and in modern capitalism that means profit is always the ultimate goal whatever the effect on the biosphere. He holds out no hope, therefore, of capitalism being able to regulate itself to prevent ongoing environmental decline and eventually disaster but does hope that such an occurrence will eventually lead to a lifestyle for the humans left after that catastrophe that is closer to the kind of society that existed for the vast majority of humankind’s 300,000 years’ history before it was put paid to by agriculture, states serving the interest of controlling elites, and capitalist production (‘the commodification of people and nature’).

Gowdy’s arguments about all this are complex, many-faceted and multi-layered and it is difficult to do justice to such a ‘grand narrative’ in a short review. So it may seem churlish to highlight certain elements that are less than convincing. But it needs to be said that, despite his pessimism about the ultimate future of humans within a system in which he sees us as trapped, like cogs in a wheel, and his reference to the futility of ‘limited measures within a business-as-usual framework’, the author does propose palliative solutions (‘ a minimal bioeconomic programme’) which he considers might show the way to at least less harsh social arrangements than exist at present and enable us, as he puts it, ‘to start down a new evolutionary path compatible with basic human needs and our place in nature’. These include, perhaps predictably, various social reforms such as guaranteed basic income, tax changes, maximum limit to income and wealth, old-age security, etc. While perhaps reflective of laudable sentiments, these, we would argue – even if they were somehow or in some form to be implemented – would clearly make little impact on the gross inequality that the profit system, portrayed so well by the author himself, inevitably brings with it. He also falls into the ‘overpopulation’ trap suggesting that the earth cannot, whatever the circumstances, sustain the current and increasing population. And he does not consider – and has perhaps never heard – the socialist remedy. We are referring here to majority political action via the ballot box to take control of the system of production and distribution of goods and services and then to operate it in a sustainable, environmentally sound way. This would have to mean harnessing the human propensity to cooperate on the basis of need not profit in a moneyless, wageless society of free access, arguably with the same kind of social relations as – if on a more secure level of technology than – the hunter-gatherer societies that Gowdy describes so graphically and admiringly, and argues ‘human nature’ is best geared to operate within.

Despite these reservations, what we have here is an important book of great insight about human nature and economic and political organisation and one which above all contests powerfully the commonly held ‘evil-human-nature’ notion, Hobbes’s infamous ‘war of all against all’. It adds to the increasing body of unequivocal evidence that ‘human nature’, though selfish, acquisitive and violent behaviour can be part of it, is not a fixed quantity and that, as the author puts it: ‘Our current predicaments are not gene-based. They have risen out of the material base of human economies and the associated cultural adaptations and supporting institutions’.
Howard Moss

No vision (2022)

Book Review from the September 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow. The Labour Party After Jeremy Corbyn. By Mike Phipps. 220 pages. OR Books, 2022.

Written by a Labour left-winger, the first part chronicles how Starmer reneged on the promises he made during the Labour leadership elections to get left-wingers to vote for him and then, under pressure from Blairites and party bureaucrats, turned on the Left, withdrawing the whip from Corbyn and reintroducing bans and proscriptions (leading to the expulsion of Ken Loach); in fact to make a complete break with the Corbyn interlude.

In the second part Phipps offers left-wingers some hope – hence the book’s title – but at local council rather than national level. He talks of ‘municipalism’, where left-wing Labour councils do something to improve the lot of the people there, a revival of the “municipal socialism” of yore, even though today local councils have much less power and are much less democratic than they used to be.

Judging by this book, the Labour Party’s left-wing is not what it used to be either. At one time they would say that they stood for ‘socialism’, even if for most of them it was state capitalism (full-scale nationalisation), but at least they envisaged socialism as a system of society. Today’s Labour left-wingers, although they still refer to themselves as socialists, no longer see socialism like this. For them, the word doesn’t exist as a noun but only as an adjective as in ‘socialist policy’, ie, particular reforms intended to benefit the workers under capitalism (if they work). In short, visionless reformists.

Phipps devotes half a dozen pages to why those who joined during the Corbyn interlude should stay in the Labour Party. His argument is basically that, if you are to have any chance of achieving the reforms you want, you need to be in a party that is in a position to form a government and implement them. He has a point – if reforms are all you want. If, however, you are looking for anything more your place is not in the Labour Party.
Adam Buick