Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Voice From The Back: Too Much Month At The End Of The Money (2009)

The Voice From The Back Column from the November 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Too Much Month At The End Of The Money

  When reporting poverty in the world the international media often assume that it is a condition that exists only in Africa or Asia but here is an example of its very real existence in the so-called developed world. “Nearly 60 per cent of Canadians would have trouble paying the bills if their paycheque was delayed by one week, a new poll suggests. The Canadian Payroll Association survey says not only are the majority of Canadians living paycheque-to-paycheque, but they have little ability to put money away for their retirement. The survey, released Monday, said 59 per cent of Canadians would have trouble making ends meet if they missed a paycheque.” (Canadian Press, 14 September) This paycheque-to-paycheque existence is the norm for most members of the world’s working class irrespective of where they live.

Famine and Feast

  Capitalism is a social system that produces all sorts of contradictions. Tremendous technical advances should mean a better society but inside capitalism it leads to better ways to maim, kill and destroy. Improvements in the production of food should lead to a happier world but it produces exactly the opposite. “The number of hungry people will pass 1 billion this year for the first time, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) said, adding that it is facing a serious budget shortfall.” (Yahoo News, 16 September) While a million human beings suffer starvation producers of food are destroying it to force up prices. “An emergency meeting over the collapse in the price of milk will be held by Europe’s agriculture ministers. The crisis talks have been convened by Sweden as farmers in mainland Europe continue their ‘milk strike’, dumping hundreds of thousands of litres of milk on farmland…. In an attempt to end the milk lakes and butter mountains, the European Commission is unwinding its dairy support system.” (Times, 24 September) Butter mountains and milk lakes while a billion starve – capitalism has certainly outlived its usefulness.

Up in Smoke

  Every day in the newspapers and on the TV we are confronted by earnest politicians who assure us that they are doing everything possible to lessen the prospects of another nuclear horror story like Hiroshima or Nagasaki. A great deal of concern is being shown by these politicians as to whether Iran has a nuclear bomb. This concern seems a trifle ludicrous when the USA has 9,400 nuclear warheads and Russia has 13,000 of them. In fact when they are being frank, as the writer of this newspaper report is, they know that nuclear disarmament is an impossibility inside capitalism. “Later this month United Nations inspectors will visit Iran’s secret nuclear facility near Qom to find out if the Islamic republic is about to become the world’s tenth nuclear power. Whatever they find, the world already has enough nuclear weapons to destroy every single nation on the planet. With approximately 23,000 warheads, there is enough deadly material for 2.3 million blasts the size of Hiroshima. … The world is committed to nuclear disarmament in principle, in practice it will never happen.” (Times, 6 October)

Onward Christian Bankers

  Banking, insurance companies and the myriad financial off-shoots that make up the City of London are central to the running of modern capitalism. They produce nothing of course but then neither do the industrial capitalist class. It is probably a bit unfair to say the City produces nothing. It certainly produces nothing useful, but it certainly produces hypocrisy in large doses. “As bankers last month began gearing up for a bumper bonus season, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican church, bemoaned their lack of repentance. “We haven’t heard people saying, ‘Well, actually, no, we got it wrong and the whole fundamental principle on which we worked was unreal, empty’,” Mr Williams told bankers in September. Such rhetoric echoes that of Lord Turner over the summer, when the chairman of the Financial Services Authority spoke in moralistic terms about the need for banking to become ‘socially useful’ again. Hector Sants, his chief executive, has even explained his move to a regulatory job in terms of a sense of Christian ‘duty’ to give something back to society after a 30-year career in money-making.” (Financial Times, 7 October) We expect Archbishops to utter hypocritical nonsense, after all it is their stock in trade, but when financiers rant on about “Christian duty” and banking becoming “socially useful” it is a bit hard to bear. Speed the day when banks and other financial institutes are part of the unlamented history of capitalism along with all its apologists, both religious and secular.

The Ire Of The Irate Itinerant (2009)

From the November 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letter: Getting from here (2009)

Letter to the Editors from the November 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

  There are good reasons to welcome Rod Shaw’s thoughts on the changeover to socialism (‘The penny drops’, August). One is that attempts so far by socialists to foresee “how the change came” have been far from brilliant. William Morris’s scenario of a Trafalgar Square massacre leading to a popular uprising, etc in News From Nowhere may have been believable when he wrote it in 1890 but is today utterly incredible. The Party’s pamphlet Socialism as a Practical Alternative predicts millions of socialists preparing “programmes of action for immediate implementation once the movement has gained control of the powers and machinery of governments.”

  A second reason for seriously considering Rod’s piece—even if we don’t agree with all of it—is that it is imaginative and inspiring. It combats the negativity of those who claim that socialism is idealistic and against human nature, those who say “It’s a nice idea but…”

  Rod doesn’t underestimate the importance of “taking control of the state machinery from those in power”. But he recognises that socialism, like capitalism, is a whole and complete system: “Well before any official declaration was made, people had started to do what was needed to begin creating the new world.”

  When today we join the Socialist Party we join the world socialist movement; we withdraw support for capitalism even though we have to live in it for the time being; we take the first few faltering steps towards building the socialist future. A few hundred of us make no impression on the dominance of capitalism; a few thousand of us will begin to make an impression. As our numbers grow we will infiltrate and revolutionise the media, the educational bodies, the workplaces, the arts, cultural, scientific, leisure and other worlds.

The hard part is to get from here to the beginning of there…

  In “As Things Are Now” (September) Rod foresees what socialism will be like in just a few ways. We can all find some of what he says likely and acceptable and some unlikely and doubtful. The main thing is that as more of us give up supporting capitalism and start building a socialist world we shall put some flesh on the bones of common ownership, democratic control, production for use and free access.
Stan Parker, 
London SW9

Conspiraloons (2009)

Book Review from the November 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History. By David Aaronovitch, published by Jonathan Cape, 2009

  Perhaps the most disastrous of all conspiracy theories is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This is largely based on a book written by a Parisian lawyer in the 1860s as a satire on Napoleon III. It was altered later in the nineteenth century by a Russian secret policeman to depict a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. The man who popularised the Protocols around the world was the capitalist Henry Ford. Published by Ford’s publishing house in the 1920s (along with other anti-semitic literature), subsidised with five million dollars, it sold half a million copies in the US alone. After mounting complaints about his anti-semitism Ford recanted and apologised, but Adolf Hitler saw him as a hero and the Protocols formed the basis of his world-view in his manifesto Mein Kampf. The rest, as they say, is history. Aaronovitch thoroughly demolishes this conspiracy theory, as he does with the alleged conspiracies in Stalin’s show trials, McCarthyism, the deaths of President Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Diana, the story underpinning Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (in a chapter entitled “Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Holy Shit”), the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon (in which some claim the Bush government were complicit) and more besides.

  Aaronovitch argues that belief in conspiracy theories is harmful since it “distorts our view of history and therefore of the present” and can lead to disastrous decisions. He detects a pattern in which conspiracy theories are “formulated by the politically defeated and taken up by the socially defeated”. Conspiracies become an excuse to explain away a  movement’s own inherent weaknesses or unpopularity by attributing blame to a ruthless enemy. Aaronovitch claims that capitalism is not the cause of conspiracy theories since “[s]tate ownership in Russia was no guarantee against the most fabulous of conspiracy theories”. But this mistakenly assumes that state ownership is incompatible with capitalism. When President Bush effectively nationalised some financial institutions in last year’s “credit crunch” this was done for the benefit of American capitalism as a whole. In any case, capitalism’s continued existence does not require a conspiracy or a conspiracy theory. All it requires is the support, or more likely acquiescence, of the overwhelming majority in their own exploitation.
Lewis Higgins

Boom and bust (2009)

Book Review from the November 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Trouble with Capitalism.  By Harry Shutt, Zed books.

  It is easy to see why the publishers have re-issued this book that first came out in 1998 – in it Shutt argued that a devaluation of capital assets could not be avoided for ever and that when it eventually did happen it would take the form of a big crash.

  Mat Little, who interviewed Shutt for Red Pepper this January, summarised what Shutt sees as the contradiction of capitalism that leads to recurring business cycles of boom and bust:
“According to Marx, capitalism is a system of accumulation. Profits are made but can’t all be consumed by owners. Extra profits need to be recycled through the market. ‘The only way you can successfully recycle them is to either expand your existing business or diversify into another business,’ says Shutt. ‘It all depends on the ultimate consumer, consuming more and more. It has to grow, growth is built in.’ The problem is that as profits are invested into the market, generating more profits that in turn have to be reinvested, production expands until it reaches a level that can no longer be absorbed by consumers. The market is glutted, and recession results. But the destruction of capital and jobs creates pent-up demand for the whole process to begin again in time. That, in brief, is the business cycle.” (
Although Shutt does not write as a Marxist, this is one of the explanations of the capitalist business cycle put forward by some in the Marxist tradition. It implies that all capitalist crises are caused by the overexpansion (in relation to paying demand) of the sector producing consumer goods. But while the crash of 1929 can be explained in this way, the history of capitalism shows that the overexpansion of any key sector or industry can provoke a contraction of production through a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy.

  Shutt explains the 25-year period of expansion after the end of WW2 in terms of the satisfaction of the market for affordable consumer durables and the end of this post-war boom as a result of the slowing down of this market. Capitalist enterprises were thus, he says, left with a ‘mountain of cash’, profits which could not be re-invested in expanding production, which he also describes as a ‘capital glut’ in the sense of an oversupply of  investible funds.

  What would normally happen in  such a situation is that, in accordance with the law of supply and demand, capital would be devalued; which a crisis would bring about, so restoring the rate of profit (because this is calculated as profit divided by the value of capital). Only, according to Shutt, this did not happen on any large scale in 1974 because the authorities (governments and central banks) took steps to try to stop this, by facilitating the channelling of the surplus of investible funds into non-productive activities such as lending to consumers or speculation on the stock exchange or in property:
“This massive flow of funds – which is not being allowed, as would be dictated by traditional capitalist rationale, to self-destruct through the natural operation of the business cycle – has to find an outlet in more or less speculative forms of investment.” (p. 179)
Writing in 1998 Shutt saw the various financial crises till then – the stock market crash of 1987, the Mexican debt crisis of 1994-95, the financial problems of the Asian ‘tiger economies’ in 1997 – as signs that this was not sustainable and as harbingers of  the Big Crash to come. Now, with the bursting of the dotcom bubble in between, he sees the Crash of 2008 as the expected big one:
“What the prolonged amassing of this huge surplus of capital cum fraud-driven credit bubble, means, according to Shutt, is the inevitable crash – the inexorable end of the business cycle – is going to be far more severe that it would otherwise have been. ‘I think we are looking at negative growth, for an absolute minimum of two or three years and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s five or ten. That would be a depression,’ he says.” (Red Pepper interview).
Since our failure to foresee the post-war boom with our prediction that WW2 would most likely be followed by a slump, just as after WW1, we have tended to be wary of making such predictions ourselves. So, we will just record this as the opinion of one person who has studied the matter.
Adam Buick

Tiny (URL) Tips (2009)

The Tiny Tips column from the November 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

 Who would have thought a wee little packet of fake blood could threaten to unravel an entire culture. But so great is the threat of the “Artificial Virginity Hymen” — a kit that helps women fake their virginity — that prominent Egyptian conservatives are calling for an all-out ban. Not only that, they are also demanding the exile of anyone who traffics it.

“What creationists believe about human origins we get from the Bible,” said David Menton an acclaimed anatomist and also a creationist. “The creation of the world takes place on page one of the Bible. If you throw out the first page of the Bible you might as well throw out the whole thing. If you can’t live with the first page then pitch out the remaining thousand pages.”

The gap between wealthiest 10 percent and the rest of America is worse than at any time on record. Two thirds of all income gains from 2002-7 went to the top 1 percent. The Walton family alone is worth more than the bottom 100 million Americans combined. Wal-Mart is a major player in the “dead peasants insurance” game; it’s alleged that dead peasant insurance payouts are used for executive bonuses:
[Dead Link.]

Amnesty International has highlighted a case of a man facing execution in Texas. The human rights group has revealed a Texas man faces execution after jurors at his trial consulted the Bible when deliberating his fate:
[Dead Link.]

  Israel is making preparations to carry out military attacks in Iran after December, a French magazine reported overnight Wednesday:
[Dead Link.]

That Haiti needs the attention cannot be overstated. Unemployment hovers at around 70 percent, experts
say, and over half of the population lives in extreme poverty. Violence broke out in June as students demanded an increase in the minimum wage to $5 from $1.75 — which were daily rates, not hourly ones. Haiti’s extremely low labor costs, comparable to those in Bangladesh, make it so appealing:

When the Berlin Wall crumbled, East Germans imagined a life of freedom where consumer goods were abundant and hardships would fade. Ten years later, a remarkable 51% say they were happier with communism. About the same time a new Russian proverb was born: “Everything the Communists said about Communism was a lie, but everything they said about Capitalism turned out to be the truth.”
[Dead Link.]

We are fast approaching the time of the next great battle over evolution. The Neo-creationists will be corporations, and they will argue that they could not possibly be descended from human beings…The rape case of Jamie Leigh Jones was just a logical step forward in the long-standing Republican effort to lock Americans out of the nation’s courthouses, an effort undertaken on behalf of corporate supremacy. A woman is gang-raped by her fellow employees at government contractor KBR. The company says her contract prohibits her from seeking justice in court.
[Dead Link.]

50 Years Ago: The Darwin Centenary (2009)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

As this month is the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, a book that raised a storm in its day, we are devoting considerable space in this issue to Darwinism and its relation to Marxism, particularly as Marx published the first section of his main work the same year.

  Darwinism is an outlook based upon certain fundamental propositions put forward by Charles Darwin, just as Marxism is an outlook based upon certain fundamental propositions put forward by Karl Marx. Books by both of them were published in 1859 which clearly stated their fundamental propositions, and each devoted the rest of his life to accumulating facts in support of the theories that had been put forward. In both instances their theories have been enriched and qualified in certain directions by subsequent investigation, but in neither instance has the accuracy of their fundamental propositions been affected.

  Just as Darwin brought order into biological investigation, so Marx brought order into social investigations. Darwin demonstrated that living forms evolve and Marx demonstrated that social forms evolve.


  In the early years of the Socialist Party of Great Britain the Darwin controversy was still at white heat. We accepted his theory of evolution and had to defend it from the platforms and in our literature. Now the antagonists have fled the field, the evolutionary theory is generally accepted, and the various religious denominations, which used to be its bitterest opponents, are trying their hardest to digest it into their deluding creeds, just as the economists and historians are trying to digest and demoralize Marxism.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, November 1959)