Friday, June 30, 2023

Get rid of politicians? (2023)

From the May 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Taxpayers fund radical anti-election lobby group’ read the shock horror headline in the Times (12 April). It was an article by two journalists about the Sortition Foundation that campaigns (as you might have guessed if you were familiar with the meaning of the word ‘sortition’) for political decisions to be made by people chosen by lot rather than by elections. This is something that is accepted by governments for at least advising them on some matters. Such ‘citizens’ assemblies’ are chosen by lot in the same sort of way that juries are in court cases. It was also practised in Ancient Athens. As such, it has as much democratic legitimacy as elections, despite what the article suggests.

The Sortition Foundation wants MPs to be chosen in this way. Which would of course eliminate the professional politician. A book by one of the Foundation’s founders, Brett Hennig, is called The End of Politicians. Naturally this wouldn’t be welcomed by the politicians. The journalists pointed out to one of the stupidest MPs, failed Tory leader Sir Ian Duncan Smith, that the foundation had been paid by the government to organise some citizens’ assemblies and got him to protest:
‘How could they award contracts and pay money over to such an organisation that wants to get rid of politicians?’
Getting rid of politicians might be considered a good idea by many. Being a career politician is a particularly unsavoury profession — trading on problems that people face and making a career out of making pie-crust promises to solve them. However, getting rid of them won’t solve those problems.

The Sortition Foundation argues that getting rid of politicians would make for better decision-making. ‘By removing elections’, one of its researchers is quoted as writing, ‘we remove the need for our representatives to court those with wealth and resources’. It wouldn’t, however, remove those with wealth and resources or their need to court political decision-makers.

The Foundation is assuming that in present-day society there is a common interest that a national citizens’ assembly — a ‘House of Citizens’ — would be better able to identify. But, under capitalism, there is no common social interest. Capitalism is a society divided into two basic classes — those who own the places where the wealth of society is produced and the rest who can only get a living by selling their ability to work for a wage or salary— with antagonistic and irreconcilable interests. In addition, different sections of the owning class have different and conflicting interests. MPs chosen by lot would still be subject to lobbying and influence by these sections and would not be able to overcome the antagonism of interests between the owners and the wage-working majority. Capitalist economic reality would give them no choice but to take decisions that gave priority to profit making and taking.

Choosing MPs by election is a better system for capitalism. It enables the support for differing sections of the owning class to be measured and for the section with the most support to have its way. As long as capitalism is in existence, it is also better from the socialist point of view since it enables the socialist movement to send its delegates to the law-making assembly that is the key to controlling political power. Sortition would get in the way of this as there is no guarantee that a Parliament chosen by lot would reflect the degree of support for socialism amongst the population or a majority for socialism.

This said, in socialism, where there would be a common social interest, there would be a wide opportunity to fill some posts by lot, maybe entire local councils, as one aspect of the participatory democracy that will be an essential part of socialism. But under capitalism it wouldn’t, and couldn’t, work as intended.

Pathfinders: Ad Astra (2023)

The Pathfinders Column from the May 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

What with rocketing bills, mortgages, interest rates and general life stress, most people last month very likely paid no attention to the fact that the European Space Agency launched a satellite to visit the planetary system of Jupiter (

The assembled scientists and officials all jumped up and down and hugged each other as the Juice satellite launched successfully and later phoned home to say it had unfurled its 98 square yards of solar panels. They were obviously pleased that their collective investment of time, effort and £1.4bn had not blown up. ‘But I do have to remind everyone, there’s still a long way to go’, the ESA Director General pointed out. Well indeed. Jupiter is a long way, especially for a craft with only the power of a domestic microwave oven, and which has to travel by an extremely circuitous 8.5-year and 4.1 billion-mile route around the inner planets before being slung out to the gas giant in 2031.

But it’s not the gas giant itself that they’re interested in. The Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (Juice) is off to take a close look at Jupiter’s moons, specifically Europa, Callisto and Ganymede, the three little buggers that got Galileo into such bad odour with the Church back in 1610. If there’s life anywhere out there in the solar system, scientists think, it’s likely to be beneath the icy crusts of these moons. Juice is just the first step. Nasa is sending its Clipper satellite to Europa next year. After that there’s the question of a lander, and lastly something that’s capable of drilling through perhaps tens of miles of ice crust. Below that ice, Europa is believed to have an ocean 60 miles deep, ten times the depth of any ocean on Earth, despite only being one quarter its size. That means a relatively small rocky core that could be easily squeezed, scrunched and heated by the massive gravity of Jupiter, with the possibility of volcanic vents generating a rich chemical soup that might be the origin of life, as they are thought to have been on Earth.

There’s a lot of ‘mights’ and ‘perhapses’ in that paragraph, as there will be with any leading-edge scientific endeavour. What would it mean to find living organisms on one of these moons? In one sense, not a lot. It would make no difference to people’s lives on Earth, beyond being an interesting talking point in pubs or over dinner. Nobody is hoping for anything more than amino acids or micro-organisms at best, and certainly not little green frogmen or intelligent squid. But still, it would be the greatest scientific discovery of all time, proof that life on Earth wasn’t some singular anomaly in the universe, and strong evidence that, as most scientists already assume, our galaxy must be teeming with life. If you can find two separate instances of life orbiting one star in a galaxy containing 100 billion stars, and in a universe now thought to contain of up to 20 trillion galaxies, the concept of extraterrestrial zoology becomes a no-brainer.

All that would surely change humanity’s perception of itself in the cosmos. Instead of ‘us and them’ meaning competing nationalities, ethnic groups, gender identities or even warring social classes, we could have a sense of terrestrial unity for the first time, ‘us’ being all life on Earth, and ‘them’ being all life on other planets.

But before we get too starry-eyed and visionary, there is the ugly fact that we still live in capitalism, an astoundingly divisive and destructive economic system in which most humans are reduced to virtual slavery in the service of a rich and idle super-elite, and which relentlessly exploits global resources even at the risk of turning the planet into a toxic lifeless desert. Never mind what we humans think or feel about the cosmos, what does the logic of our present social system dictate?

The logic of capitalism is to exploit for profit whatever it can get its hands on. If it can get its hands on life on other moons or planets, it will treat it with the same wanton rapaciousness as it treats everything on Earth.

Humans will try to prevent it, of course. There will be moratoriums, new Outer Space Treaties, and an agreed respect for the ‘rights’ of extraterrestrial organisms. But if the potential for profit exists, the moratoriums will be ignored, the treaties broken, the respect disregarded. By hook or by crook, capitalist logic will be exported, virus-like, to new worlds and virgin environments to wreak its mindless havoc.

We have to stop that from happening, before any potential micro-organism is discovered on Europa or Ganymede. Humans on Earth must first put their own house in order. We have a responsibility, as intelligent custodians of our planet, to make sure that the destructive behaviour of our present class-divided society can never infect any other planet. We need to turn our social system upside down, and learn to operate sustainably as an egalitarian global community that collectively and sensibly manages its planetary resources, where things are made for direct use and not to be sold as commodities in a money system, and where the future belongs to all humanity instead of being slowly strangled by a parasitical property-owning elite. The only alternative to a money system is a non-money system. The only alternative to capitalism is post-capitalist common ownership. It’s not just a starry-eyed ambition, it’s a real scientific necessity. As Carl Sagan famously said, ‘If we are willing to contemplate nuclear war and the wholesale destruction of our emerging global society, should we not also be willing to contemplate a wholesale restructuring of our societies?’ The time to launch that restructuring is right now, before we launch any more spaceships.
Paddy Shannon

Homes for People, not Profits (2023)

Party News from the May 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our election manifesto for the local elections in Folkestone.

If you ever need to see the brutal reality of capitalism at work, look no further than the new apartment blocks being built along Folkestone seafront.

According to a County Council report, parts of both the Harbour and Central wards of Folkestone are among the 10 percent most deprived areas of England*, so how many residents do you think will be able to afford the multi-million-pound apartments now being constructed in their front yard?

How many Folkestone residents got any real say in what the development would look like?

Of course, we already know the answer to those questions.

Like everything in the capitalist world we live in, profit is the only driving force. The only purpose in building homes under capitalism is that somebody somewhere makes a big fat profit. So despite the real housing needs of local residents, these apartments are not built for them.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands for the common and democratic ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth in a global community without borders.

This means all of us will actually own the Folkestone Seafront. When we control the resources of the Earth – from the farms to the mines and quarries – nothing will stop us building the best quality houses, with real community participation, for the people that need them. Access to these houses and apartments will be free according to our real needs.

If we own everything, why do you need money?

Extend that to food production, clean energy, clean rivers and oceans. When we own the world, we will ensure that we live in harmony with nature. Taking what we need to live well and not destroying the planet in the name of profit.

That is why we are asking for your vote. We cannot fix the problems of poverty and conflict within capitalism. And that is why we stand for a world free from borders, free from wars over markets and trade routes – a world where our fellow humans are no longer forced to risk their lives to seek a dignified life.

This is a revolution. A world revolution. And it has to start somewhere – so why not Folkestone on Thursday, 4th May?

Bird’s Eye View: Howlers (2023)

The Bird’s Eye View Column from the May 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard


‘Marx partnered with Lenin to launch the Communist movement…’ (American Greatness, 1 March). Lenin was 12 when Marx died and they never met! Worse still, we are told ‘Communism [is] ‘A system, devised by Karl Marx, in which the state controls virtually all economic activity. Private property is outlawed and income inequality is reduced. The theory is idealistic; in practice, communist regimes have been highly authoritarian.’ The Economist‘s definition of socialism is equally inaccurate: ‘… Socialists believe in some forms of collective ownership but not the near-complete abolition of the private sector imposed under communism. They will attempt to redistribute wealth through taxes on the rich and welfare for the poor, but not to eliminate all income differentials’ (The A to Z of Economics). This is somewhat surprising considering the same source is cited not unfavourably by Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852)! Even the Association of Mature American Citizens, a self-described ‘vigorously conservative’ United States-based advocacy organization and interest group, know that the terms communism and socialism are ‘…typically used interchangeably by Marxists’ (AMAC, 11 March). A far better A to Z of economic terms, from ‘abundance’ to ‘zero-growth’, ‘ is available here.

Territorial Pissings

The entry for Lenin in that A to Z concludes:
‘When he died from a stroke in January 1924, most of the main feudal obstacles to capitalist development had been removed, together with all effective political opposition. With his concepts of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and the leading role of the vanguard party, and a transitional society of ‘socialism’, Lenin distorted Marxism and thereby severely damaged the development of a socialist movement. Indeed, Leninism continues to pose a real obstacle to the achievement of socialism.’
Bibek Sen in an obituary titled Marxist Economist Of Global Fame Dr. Paresh Chattopadhyay Is No More (The Arabian Post) writes along similar lines: ‘We were fed with Leninist ideas of two stages of communism, of workers’ inability to change the society, of state capitalism as Marx’s Socialism. Paresh opened our eyes that Leninism is a complete vulgarisation of Marx’. By contrast, Harsh Thakor’s obituary in Countercurrents (10 March) gets it completely wrong berating Chattopadhyay as he ‘…completely relegated the great advances in Socialist production through collectivisation in Russia, Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution in China, the reasons for the defeat of Fascist forces by USSR in World War 2, the democratic form of power contrived in the Soviets and Communes or how encirclement of imperialist countries or penetration of counter revolutionaries, made it all the more imperative for the vanguard party to exercise its power. He failed to diagnose the symmetrical developments of the teachings of Marx, Lenin and Mao or how they were an integral part of each other’. An echo of Radio Moscow from the time of the state-capitalist USSR.

The lapdogs of bourgeois society

Mao, like Lenin before him, hastened the development of capitalism. He stated in 1949 ‘China must utilize all the factors of urban and rural capitalism that are beneficial and not harmful to the national economy and the people’s livelihood, and we must unite with the national bourgeoisie in common struggle. Our present policy is to regulate capitalism, not to destroy it’ (On The People’s Democratic Dictatorship). That wages have increased since Mao’s day is not in doubt. The 1 percent in China and the US, unlike the vast majority of us, are doing very nicely: ‘The Chinese Communist Party is thought to have more than 80 billionaire delegates as part of its ranks this year’ (Daily Express, 15 March). ‘Xi’s government has cracked down on young people who apply Marxist analysis too critically to abuses of labour allowed under China’s system of state capitalism’ (Financial Times, 28 June 2022). Capitalist hallmarks, such as class society, commodity production, profit motive, exploitation of wage labour, markets, etc., are found in China as they are worldwide. By contrast, the socialism Marx envisaged involved ‘abolition of buying and selling, of the bourgeois conditions of production’ (Communist Manifesto, 1848).

Barking up the wrong tree

‘Sanders new book It’s OK To Be Angry About Capitalism reads like Marx and Engels’ 1848 Communist Manifesto. The only difference is that in their manifesto, Marx and Engels clearly underline the positive role that capitalism played throughout history. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, doesn’t have a single good word to say about capitalism and – here he resembles Marx and Engels – calls for a working-class revolution to raze the capitalist system to the ground’ (American Thinker, 10 March).

Hardly! The status quo is safe – Sanders is all bark and no bite. Defining what ‘democratic socialism’ means to him, Sanders said:
‘I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down. I do believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America, companies that create jobs here, rather than companies that are shutting down in America and increasing their profits by exploiting low-wage labor abroad’ (Slate, 15 November 2015).
The American Marxist Daniel De Leon would have identified Sanders as a reformist lapdog!
‘As a poodle may have his hair cut long or his hair cut short, as he may be trimmed with pink ribbons or with blue ribbons, yet he remains the same old poodle, so capitalism may be trimmed with factory laws, tenement laws, divorce laws and gambling laws, but it remains the same old capitalism. These “humanitarian parts” are only trimming the poodle. Socialism, one and inseparable with its “anti-rent and anti-capital parts,” means to get rid of the poodle’ (The Daily People, 2 November 1908).

What concerns you? (2023)

From the May 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is a society obsessed with ‘growth’, which had a practical economic purpose at the close of the Middle Ages, but which today can be destructively anachronistic, and since it threatens the future of ourselves and of all fellow beings on Earth, it is understandable that there should be concern. Even if most are not aware that capitalism is the root cause today of ecological and biological destruction and endangerment, the concern of so many involved in activism of this or that kind is proof in itself that the myth of inherent human evil is nonsense. The trouble is that vast majority are imbued with a sense of helplessness.

People are appalled by famine, by poverty, by war, by pollution, by rampant curable disease, by violence of every kind, by the holocaust against fellow animals. Charities prosper as a result, as good people throw money at the situation — which in the end resolves nothing. Most who give money to charity too are imbued with passivity, hoping ‘leaders’ or ‘experts’ will do what needs to be done, and not knowing what that is. Such is the fear of taking destiny into one`s hands — while a capitalist ideology of ‘selfishness’, though disproven by the average person`s generosity in giving, has convinced them that co-operation to get something achieved is out of the question. ‘Other people don`t care; only me; and I can`t do anything about it.’

What concerns this or that person most?

Pollution and ecological catastrophe? The accumulation of capital is the priority of capitalism. To survive in the capitalist marketplace costs must be cut and profits maximised. Promises and projects to check global destruction are up against capitalism’s main goal. You want to end destruction whilst keeping intact a system which necessitates destruction and cannot do otherwise? Capitalism is by definition a system of growth — and can no more stop growing than a malignant tumour can.

Famine? Famine is as unavoidable under capitalism as it is solvable by world socialism. In a world which can easily feed the entire population many times over, the capitalists are obliged to burn tons of food they cannot sell — leaving millions to starve amid abundance.

War? You want to end war but keep the system which produces modern war intact? Built into capitalism is a competitive struggle between rival capitalists and states supporting them over markets, mineral resources, trade routes, investment outlets, and strategic areas to protect these. Capitalism rules the capitalists, not the other way around. They too would rather not be blown up, but they are constrained by their own system, from which war is inseparable.

Unemployment? Capitalism’s boom and slump cycle makes periodic unemployment necessary. The only way to be rid of unemployment is to abolish employment — ie, abolish the wages system. Produce for use, not profit, and have free access for each to their needs, with the instruments of production available to everyone.

Animal ‘rights’? The exploitation of fellow animals is just too profitable for capitalism. You want to end this exploitation but keep the system of universal exploitation intact?

Racism? Sexism? Nationalism? A humanity at war with itself is what defines a class society such as capitalism, under which the worker is alienated from their work. Alienated from one another as we are from the forces of production, we seek scapegoats, believe in myths, devour our pleasures, hate the world. You want to resolve this alienation while keeping intact the system which causes it?

The alternative
We can have socialism, with industry, with technology, with all the comforts and bounty our history has made possible. We cannot go back, but we can go forward, either sanely or insanely. The latter is sadly the case at the present time, and will remain so while we sit passively, hoping ‘they’ — our capitalist masters — will ‘do something about it.’ They cannot. But we must.

It is time for the last ruling class to be toppled and absorbed by the rest of humanity. Then will a humanity that is finally in control of its own destiny consciously make decisions for its present and future.

The individual can then finally blossom, and the human race regain its place in nature — with all our fellow beings who, together with us, live upon and represent planet Earth.

In socialism the obstacle to the fulfilling of needs – the money economy – would be gone, so no one need go without.

Without the obstacle of money, necessary work which is now hindered through lack of money could go ahead, whether it is getting people fed, giving them what they need, projects of conservation, repairing damage caused by capitalism – what today charities and other organisations struggle with because of the obstacle of money.

Bearing in mind that socialism will only come about when a majority want it, then that majority would make it work. We would not be dealing with a helpless population waiting upon ‘government’ to do things for them, as is the case today, but with an active population knowing and enjoying the fact of themselves being society and of society belonging to them all.

Within socialism production and distribution will be organised to directly to meet needs, with most people happy and wanting to fulfil themselves by contributing their abilities and strengths for the common good, with all enjoying the respect of others for what they do. The labour time involved for each in satisfying the needs of a free society would be a fraction of what it is under wage-slavery, where one is exploited to create surplus value for a minority and where one has no stake in society as a whole. That would all be gone. In the same way as today people enjoy working in their garden or on their allotment, or creating art and doing fulfilling work of all kinds, so in socialism the whole world would be your ‘garden’. All society would be your family. You wouldn’t need money because everything would be free.

There would no longer be the dichotomy of alienation that we have today, with ‘me and my family on one side of a wall, beyond which is the ugly world outside that is the rest of society.’ The social animosity that is today’s existence for most under capitalism would be gone. A majority social revolution will have been made with majority enthusiasm, participation, and consciousness of kinship. The present ‘strangers versus what is mine’ would be gone.

Capitalism has us believing if people had free access to stores there would be a mad free-for-all brawl, with people madly grabbing loads of stuff they don’t need, stuffing themselves with food until they are throwing up, charging into houses to grab everything from each other, and ending up at each others’ throats. This is the myth put out by our rulers that, without them to hold us in check, we are all ravenous imbeciles. Then, how to explain all the co-operative voluntary work that people do even today?

With technology likewise emancipated, global needs can be fulfilled as well as regional ones, with regional ‘councils’ of people co-operating to meet needs over distances, getting together to enact projects, and – with technology freed from monetary restraints – even explorations beyond this planet.
A. W.

Capitalism is not 'human nature' (2023)

From the May 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is not humanity’s natural condition but is a comparatively recent product of social and economic evolution. Just as the whole of human existence occupies but the last split-second of the history of life on Earth, so the entire history of class society, from priest-kingships through chattel slavery, through feudalism to capitalism occupies but the merest final split-second of human history. Far from being the expression of innate ‘human nature’, capitalism occupies the merest final two centuries – four at a stretch – of the entire history of class society.

For around 300,000 years, modern humans lived in a condition of communism, at one with themselves and with the Earth. Humans could not have survived without co-operation and mutual aid. Myths of paradise, of gardens of Eden, of golden ages have lived on, reflecting a vague awareness that ‘something had changed’ in humans` relationship with one another and with the natural world around them.

Unable to analyse this ‘loss’ scientifically and socio-historically until the nineteenth century with the coming of scientific socialist thought, the best among humans up until then could only imagine the process religiously and in terms of utopia.

Up to now humans have made their history unconsciously and have struggled to make sense of it. The scientific socio-historical explanation is there now for them to see – yet most do not, because capitalism and reliance upon others to solve problems and think about things for them has conditioned them in passivity.

Neither is capitalism a ‘conspiracy’. Capitalism, and class societies as a whole, do by definition encourage ‘conspiratorial’ behaviour, but they are historically, not ‘conspiratorially’, produced. It is the product of history, not of some plot. It entertains the myth of an evil human nature (Original Sin rehashed for the modern age.) The cut-throat values of capitalism have us believing in a human cut-throat nature in which everyone is a potential conspirator, a potential thief, a potential brigand. Thus a brigand`s ideology leads them to see fellow beings as brigands, to be held in check.

Socialism restores, on the basis of modern technology, the classless and ruler-less relationships of the original communist condition of humanity.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Cooking the Books: ‘Woke capitalism’: a contradiction? (2023)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘DeSantis and other prominent Republicans blame ‘woke’ politics for Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse instead of bankers miscalibrating risk’ was the headline in the Business Insider (14 March).

The claim is that the bank neglected maximising profits by promoting diversity and other ‘ethical’ issues like protecting the environment and so went under. There is no evidence for this, but attacking not just the Democratic administration for ‘wokery’ but capitalist corporations as well has become part of Republican politics.

In an opinion column in the New York Times (2 December) Jamelle Bouie examined why Republicans were criticising capitalist corporations when they have traditionally been staunch defenders of capitalism and advised, in the words of the title of his article, ‘Before he takes on “Woke Capitalism”, Ron DeSantis should read his Karl Marx’.

Bouie paraphrased the passage in the Communist Manifesto where Marx (and Engels) pointed out:
‘Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…’
He commented that, while Marx was writing here about pre-capitalist social and economic arrangements, this could be taken as a general tendency of capitalism and that capitalism tends to also dissolve the sort of conservative and reactionary attitudes and values defended by the likes of DeSantis. However:
‘There are even two competing impulses within the larger system: a drive to dissolve and erode the barriers between wage earners until they form a single undifferentiated mass and a drive to preserve and reinforce those same barriers to divide workers and stymie the development of class consciousness on their part.’
There is certainly a drive under capitalism for employers to be interested in the quality only of the labour-power they purchase, irrespective of the sex, skin colour, language, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, etc. of the bearer. What employers want is an efficient worker and for the pool from which to draw efficient workers to be as wide as possible. This drive works to end all discrimination on the basis of characteristics that are irrelevant from the point of view of working efficiency. In this sense, the logic of capitalism could be said to be ‘woke’.

The second drive has certainly, historically, been a feature of capitalism, sometimes to prevent trade union consciousness though more to promote nationalism. Politically, capitalism is divided into competing states whose ruling class seeks to inculcate and maintain in its subjects a sense of being a nation with a common interest different from other nations. Nationalism, then, is also a feature of capitalism. But this is a drive to divide workers of different states rather than to divide workers within a particular state; it is not necessarily incompatible with the first drive.

Because the first of the two drives Bouie identifies is the stronger DeSantis and the others are on to a loser. On the other hand, there is nothing inherently anti-capitalist or revolutionary in campaigns against discrimination as is sometimes claimed (more in the past than now). That doesn’t mean that such campaigns are not worth it, merely that they are not anti-capitalist. Capitalism and being woke are not incompatible.

Material World: Travesty on the high seas (2023)

The Material World column from the May 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The high seas — the sea beyond the territorial waters of coastal states — and the seabed beneath them, belong to nobody. They are in effect a ‘global commons’, available in theory to everybody, but in practice only to private or state capitalist enterprises in pursuit of profits. Given capitalism, what happens is a classic example of the so-called ‘tragedy of the commons’ that has been advanced against socialism. This argues that, if there were common ownership, the individual common-owners would use it in their own self-interest to the eventual detriment of the overall interest of all of them, as fishers over-fish today. With free access to what they needed, people would grab what they could and the system would break down.

This has never happened to any historical commons since the common-owners have always followed rules, often customary, to avoid this. Under capitalism, however, the result is indeed the ‘travesty of the commons’. Capitalist enterprises do behave as presumed and put their particular short-term profits before the longer-term general interest of all of them. The high seas are a commons, but one currently effectively commonly-owned by all the capitalist states of the world. Somewhat belatedly (it was in 1970 that President Nixon proposed making the resources of the sea bed, in his words, ‘the common heritage of mankind’ – the capitalist states have realised that it is in the general interest of all of them to lay down some rules. The timid result is a Treaty, agreed to at the end of March, to protect the biodiversity of the high seas.

It is not common ownership as such — the absence of property rights — that has been the problem but no ownership rights within the context of the capitalist economic system. Common ownership — the whole Earth, land and seas, as a global commons — is in fact the only framework within which global environmental problems can be rationally and lastingly dealt with. But this has to be common ownership by the whole of humanity, not all capitalist states.

All over the world production is in the hands of business enterprises of one form or another – some private, some state-owned, some mixed (it doesn’t matter which) – all competing to sell their products at a profit. All of them aim to maximise their profits. This is not the result of the greed of the owners or managers, as some suggest, but an economic necessity imposed by the forces of the market. If a business does not make a profit, then it goes out of business. ‘Make a profit or die’ is the economics of capitalism.

Under the competitive pressures of the market, businesses only take into account their own narrow financial interest, ignoring wider social and ecological considerations. All they look to is their own balance sheet and in particular the bottom line which shows whether or not they have made a profit and how much.

The whole of production, from the methods employed to the choice of what to produce, is distorted by this drive to make and accumulate profits. The result is an economic system governed by irrational market forces which compel decision-makers, however selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste.

All these problems of pollution and the environment can be traced back to the fact that today production is carried on for profit, not to meet human needs. It is the profit system that is to blame. It, not the absence of property rights, is behind the high seas being a capitalist free-for-all. So, if we are going to solve these problems, it is the profit system that must go.

We have to restore to production its original and natural aim of providing things to directly satisfy human needs. But we can’t do this unless we are in a position to control production and we can’t do that unless the means of production – land, industry and natural resources – stop being the private property of individuals and states.

There should be no private property or territorial rights over any part of the globe. The Earth and its natural and industrial resources should not belong to anybody – not to individuals, not to corporations, not to states. They should simply be there to be used by human beings to satisfy their needs. Naturally there will have to be rules and procedures governing their use, just as there have been in all historical commons.

What is involved is the disappearance of the whole idea of property and its replacement by the idea of access and use. Use in accordance with democratically agreed procedures. Common ownership is the same thing as no ownership — the high seas are a commons because nobody owns them.

Private property and territorial rights over any part of the planet need to be abolished as the only basis on which the human species can organise production – our relationship with nature – in an ecologically acceptable way. The Earth as the common property of the whole of humanity.
Adam Buick

Life and Times: Winners and losers (2023)

The Life and Times column from the May 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘I was drunk when I wrote the messages below and I apologize for the troll-like nature of my comments’, wrote Pete from Texas, USA, after filling in the Socialist Party’s online membership questionnaire and receiving a reply from me. I was impressed by his confession and therefore happy to carry on the conversation with him and respond to the further, apparently sober comments he was now making.

Previously he had written such things as ‘socialist experiments end with a substantial portion of the population sent off to death camps’, ‘ the idea of no one being in charge and no money, and free goods and services means no wealth will be generated’ and ‘the party is a direct competitor to religion, as it takes a profound level of religious belief and suspension of rational capacity to convince yourself you actually believe what you say you believe and, when a Christian tells me that they believe Jesus ACTUALLY walked on water, I see the same glossy eyed intellectual vapidity I see when a socialist blathers on about the idiocy of your platform.’ Strong and some of it pretty insulting stuff, even if written in an alcoholic haze. However, having apologised and said he appreciated the far more respectful way in which his points had been answered, Pete then went on to make, in several exchanges – and respectfully this time – a number of further points.

He made no bones about the fact that he was a supporter of capitalism, especially of the ‘Nordic’ type, since he saw it as ‘capable of producing innovation and improving quality of life for the vast majority of the population’. With regard to the moneyless, wageless world system that we view as socialism, he did not see how ‘a relatively modern society can exist without money and with free goods and services’, since how would we know what needed to be produced and how that would be organised? And what if people wanted more than could be produced? So he wondered whether we were proposing a return to ‘a pre-technology society … working together in small groups, sharing with each other, having a leader that was chosen due to respect and ability’. He asked further: ‘How would the democratic process work in a moneyless, wageless, marketless society?’ And he also stuck by the idea in his previous message that ‘USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan, China’s Great Leap Forward, The Killing Fields of Cambodia, etc have to be regarded as examples of socialism’ and ‘resulted in the MOST extreme humanitarian disasters of the 20th century’. He went on: ‘My argument is that when such systems are implemented, reality very quickly proves that they don’t work. But the people involved are religious zealots to the cause and as such refuse to believe that their theory is the cause of the failure…In the end, the Marxists put on their own version of the Spanish Inquisition.’

In response to these entirely pertinent questions, I first made it clear that, while we might agree that ‘Nordic-style capitalism’ is arguably relatively benign as the system goes, it’s still based on money, buying and selling and the market and so has absolutely nothing whatever to do with what we are advocating. Nor were we advocating ‘living off the land’. In fact, we saw socialism as a world that would use the advanced technology developed by capitalism to give a decent comfortable life to everyone – something that capitalism fails to do. This would be possible because production would not be based on the profit imperative as at present but on human need, which would cut out much of the wastefulness of capitalism (administration of the money system, competitive production, weapons of war, etc.) as well as eliminating the insecurity of working for a wage to stay alive, the need to compete with our fellow human beings in myriad ways and the enmity between peoples living in different parts of the planet.

But what if, as Pete had conjectured, more people wanted a Ferrari or a Rolls-Royce than could be produced to go round? My answer to this was that, while in socialism you would be able to take freely what was reasonably necessary for a comfortable existence, you couldn’t have absolutely anything you happened to want just because you wanted it. And especially you couldn’t have something that society considered essential to its own fundamental collective wellbeing, where there wasn’t enough of it for free personal access. And this led me on to the essentially democratic nature of socialism. If it was clear that there was a social need for a scarce product or service to allow society to operate smoothly, efficiently and in the collective interest, then a democratic decision might be taken not to make it available for personal use. How would this be enforced? Well, socialism will be a free-access society but it won’t be a society without rules – democratically agreed ones – and also therefore the means of enforcing those rules (no doubt at the most benign level possible). On the matter of how ‘demand’ will be determined, I made no bones about the fact that this was a big question and I referred Pete to Chapters 4 and 5 of our pamphlet Socialism as a Practical Alternative. But I made the point that, first and foremost, demand will be real demand based on need not, as now, on ability to pay.

Finally, on to the question of so-called ‘past examples’ of socialism, the way I put it was that I don’t know what I’d need to do to convince Pete that Pol Pot, Mao Zedong and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan were as far away as they could possibly be from the moneyless, stateless society of free access that for us was socialism. I went on (perhaps a little rudely): ‘Look. Hitler called himself a socialist (a national socialist, ie, Nazi) and surely you wouldn’t somehow want to tar us with that brush? If you’re just looking at labels, you could of course. But if what’s in the bottle is piss, even if the label says whisky, you know it’s not.’

A further exchange between us got on to America’s ‘gun culture’ of which Pete was a moderate advocate with the argument that there should be as few restrictions as possible on people’s behaviour. My reply was that, in a sane society, it would just seem mind-blowing for a person to carry around a weapon which, if something went wrong in the mind of that person, could be used to cause lethal mayhem. But that was when our discussion seemed to peter out. And I somehow don’t think Pete is going to become a member of the World Socialist Movement any time soon. You win some, you lose some.
Howard Moss

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Cooking the Books: Greedflation? (2023)

The Cooking the Books column from the June 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Lone voice on inflation grows louder’ was the headline in the Times (8 May), ‘A star economist says the key is not to raise interest rates but to target corporate greed’. The star in question is Isabella Weber who, according to the article, has made an ‘important contribution to the study of how companies’ pricing power is forcing up inflation, a phenomenon that has been dubbed “greedflation”’.

The article continues :
‘Weber prefers to use the term “sellers’ inflation” to describe how the shock of a global energy crisis and supply shortages during the pandemic led companies to pass on costs to consumers and make inflation a “generalised” feature of the economy. This in turn led to workers asking for more pay, she says’.
In other words, she is neatly turning the tables on those who blame workers for setting off a ‘wages-prices spiral’ and saying that, on the contrary, it is companies that set off a ‘prices-wages’ spiral by putting up prices to make more profit.

But this is not a new theory. It’s been the standard left-wing theory of inflation since the 1950s, including by some Marxist economists – Paul Mattick Jnr, for instance. This is how he explained the rise in the general price level in the late 1970s:
‘Businesses defended their bottom lines by raising prices; workers fought for higher wages to defend their standard of living, usually more slowly than the price increases to which they were reacting. Prices increased throughout the economy as different business sectors struggled to make others pay the costs of the debt: the dread stimulus-induced inflation’ (
Tempting as it is to blame capitalist businesses for causing a ‘generalised’ rise in prices, businesses are no more able to do this than workers are. Inflation, properly understood as a rise in the general price level, can only be caused by a depreciation of the currency due to too much money being issued. Individual prices can rise for other reasons (as recently due to the global energy price shock and supply chain shortages) but this is not the same as a rise in prices generally. Once monetary inflation has started, the price of what both businesses and workers sell will go up, creating the illusion that one (take your pick) caused the other whereas they are both caused by a third factor.

It is not clear from the article whether Weber is arguing that ‘greedflation’ was the cause of past rising prices or just of what’s happening currently, but the Socialist Standard dealt in October 1972 with the theory that inflation is due to greed. Referring to the abnormal rise in prices since 1939 we said:
‘Most of the so-called explanations take the form of blaming some group or other for being “greedy”; bankers, or manufacturers, or retailers or trade unionists. It is an explanation that a glance at certain facts will show to be nonsense. Did the copper companies reduce their prices by 40 per cent in 1971 because they had suddenly become less greedy? Between 1948 and 1968 prices rose by 100 per cent in Britain, but only by half that amount in America and Switzerland: are the British twice as greedy?’ 
Business can’t increase prices at will to increase profits. Sellers fix their price according to what they judge the market will bear. That’s the limit of their ‘pricing power’. Sometimes they are able to increase their price but they can’t control the conditions that enable them to. Causing ‘inflation’ is a charge to which capitalist corporations can justifiably plead not guilty.

Swearing (2023)

From the June 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

7-ish am on 6 May. I awoke to a cascade of royal drivel gushing from my radio. At that moment one of the most beneficial technological innovations was the ‘OFF’ button (preceded by an appropriate invective).

Before my censorship of the impartial BBC there was a report that Canterbury had recanted. The Archbishop was no longer going to invite the goggling masses to do verbal homage to their newly anointed king by swearing allegiance before God and the TV.

The previous day, in an interview, a friend, confidant and biographer insisted the monarch had no wish for anyone to pay such formalised respects except, perhaps, as a joke. Not much of a stand-up routine in my opinion.

However, the nation need not be struck dumb when the moment in the coronation ceremony came as there would be an invitation by the Anglican head prelate for viewers to join in with the declaration, ‘God save King Charles’. Who then would be dumb?

To voice such a sentiment is at least a tacit acceptance of inferiority, of subjection, of being a subject of the crown. The Lords will still be called upon to pay homage, binding them closer to the monarch than the vassals excluded from direct attendance.

This recognition of divine right to rule does not, of course, confer arbitrary powers upon the King. While he may well still consider himself answerable to a divinity, the engines of the state through which crown power is actually exercised are answerable, ultimately to capital.

The notion of inviting the nation to express its loyalty through swearing an oath of allegiance is an indication that a liberal bourgeois democracy is by no means a society of equals. Perhaps it would have been a too blatant expression of inequality which led to it being substantially toned down.

Whether Charles lll was in favour of it or not is beside the point. It is a demonstration of the careful and meticulous management of public perception by which capitalism ultimately maintains its ideological hold.

There may well be further demonstrations by republicans, vexed at having an unelected head of state foisted upon the nation. While there is no pretence of democracy by having a monarch chosen by birth not the ballot box, election does not substantially change the role of a head of state.

A president may be able to serve only a fixed term, but that merely means that the person in office changes regularly, not the office. Nor is there any compelling evidence that suffrage guarantees meritocratic excellence. The example of the USA shows financial clout not ability is the determining factor in selecting an incumbent for the White House.

Nor does America demonstrate any significant social egalitarianism for all its rejection of monarchy and formal aristocracy. Can there be any doubt that the nation is in thrall to the lords of capital even if they don’t grant them such formal titles.

The swearing of allegiance, right hand earnestly pressed to the heart, is certainly a feature of American pomp and circumstance. The form of address may be Mr. President rather than your majesty, but the effect is the same.

The swearing of oaths has an honourable working class pedigree. In the early days of British industrial capitalism workers responded to their harsh conditions through trade union organisation. This was duly criminalised by the Combination Acts of 1799/1800.

Workers continued to organise, but as a response to illegality and a need for secrecy an oath of allegiance to the union and its fellow members was often required, a condition known as being twisted in.

Following the repeal, in the 1820s, of those pernicious acts workers began to further develop their organisations. However, the use of oaths of allegiance did not immediately disappear. Worker solidarity and the seriousness of their unions were on occasion emphasised through formal ceremony.

An initiation into membership could involve an individual being blindfolded and required to swear an oath of loyalty before a skeleton painting, a reminder of mortality and the seriousness of the undertaking.

It was for such a procedure the Tolpuddle Martyrs were convicted under the Unlawful Oaths Act, 1797, originally passed in reaction to naval mutinies at Spithead and Nore. The use of oaths obviously depends on who is swearing them and for what purpose.

The crown and its agents are not so enamoured of oaths taken for the purpose of reinforcing working class solidarity. Such, it seems, trespasses upon the royal prerogative designed to ensure everyone accepts society as it is organised and each person’s relationship with the status quo.

Reflecting on the coronation there was a brief radio interview with a woman who’d been honoured for her charity work and was an invited guest at the Westminster service. Her reaction was along the lines that it was marvellous that someone like her, a commoner (her word), had been able to attend.

Actually being there might well have required her to join in repeating the oath of allegiance which essentially confirms her status. Indeed, all who did verbal homage affirmed the notion that one person is elevated over all others.

For socialists, attitudes such as this represent a serious obstacle to the pursuit of socialism. Those who were not fascinated by the carefully stage-managed spectacle are still influenced by it. Thankful for another bank holiday, as if there should be gratitude for the grace and favour of being granted a day off from work.

Even the ones who consciously opposed the coronation such as members of ‘Republic’ are focusing attention on the monarch or the possibility of an alternative essentially fulfilling the same role. Whereas pledging allegiance to a monarch or president doesn’t address the basic issue.

That is, the achievement of a society free of social hierarchy and based instead on everyone contributing to society according to ability, thereby creating the conditions in which everybody’s self-determined needs can be met.

This will only happen if and when the vast majority get up, actually or metaphorically, off their knees and stride towards their consciously created future – socialism.
Dave Alton

Radical Enough? (2023)

Book Review from the June 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Extinction. A Radical History. By Ashley Dawson. OR Books. 2022. 171pp.

In this expanded edition of a book first published in 2016, Ashley Dawson provides an excellent and accessible analysis of how human beings have tended to use and abuse the biosphere over the whole of their history and how in particular this has accelerated and come to a critical head in the last 200 years. He compellingly outlines to us how, in this most recent period, the capitalist system with its relentless drive for economic growth and profit has swiftly taken over the planet and increasingly devastated both its flora and fauna without thought of balanced development or survival of the natural world. The result, the author argues, is that the process of extinction has been speeded up to the point that it may be impossible to stop it happening. A prime example he cites is the catastrophic insect population crash in the economically advanced world over the last few decades which is having dire knock-on effects for animal survival as a whole and for the entire natural environment. Another is the halving of the number of wild animals in the world over the last 40 years, elimination of them now running at the rate of a hundred species a day. ‘Viewed in terms of sheer quantity’, as he puts it, ‘life on this planet is being liquidated at unprecedented rates’. He leaves us in no doubt about how capitalism’s quest for continuous growth is stripping ‘the world of its diversity and fecundity …thereby threatening the planetary environment as a whole’.

The stark choice we face, according to the author, is what he calls ‘radical political transformation or deepening mass extinction’. But what does this transformation consist of? Not, he tells us, so-called ‘green capitalism’, whereby the current system seeks to reform itself via ‘conservation’ measures of one kind or another. Such measures, we are told ‘can never be more than a paltry bandage over a gaping wound’. In this he aligns with the trenchant argument against ‘deep green’ reforms to be found in the recently published Bright Green Lies which states: ‘Instead of a movement to save the planet, we have a movement to continue its destruction’ (reviewed in our January issue). And since, he goes on, nothing in human nature prevents people cooperating to bring in a society based on ‘genuine social connection and engagement’, we can transform society so as to remove capitalism’s pressure on people (both workers and capitalists) to compete with one another, thereby exerting impossible pressure on the environment. He delves too into how the ceaseless race for accumulation and expansion as capitalists and their countries are set against one another in the drive to produce endless commodities not only leads to ruination of the environment but also brings never-ending military conflict and physical destruction and displacement of people (‘capital’s death-dealing reign’, as the author calls it).

All fine and incontrovertible so far. But what must be called into question is the actual content of the ‘radical political transformation’ that is proposed. Having kicked out the idea of a conservation programme within capitalism to rescue the environment, the author calls for ‘a program of degrowth for the Global North’ with the aim of somehow benefitting workers in the poorer countries of the capitalist world (‘the Global South). The unfortunate implication here is that workers in the advanced capitalist countries are already doing well enough. And there is also a prescription that ‘the rich in Global South countries must rein in their consumption’. But how all this is going to happen we are not told. Not, presumably, by a majority of the world’s workers taking democratic political action to transform the system of buying and selling, money and wages into a different system of voluntary cooperation for production and distribution and free access to all goods and services on a global level, something that is never mentioned. Instead the author recommends a ‘financial transactions tax of the type proposed by James Tobin’ (a ‘Robin Hood tax’), which we are told, would ‘generate billions of dollars to help people conserve hotspots of global diversity’. And, of course, there is that old chestnut of those advocating reform of capitalism – universal basic income (here called ‘universal guaranteed income’). These are all of course fine thoughts, but, coming after an all-out, fully justified and admirably argued attack on capitalism and its workings, what we have in effect is not a proposal to dispense with the system of buying and selling (which is what capitalism is), but ways of trying to make it work in a different, more benign way. And this after being assured that capitalism can’t be reformed, since its very nature is antithetical to human and environmental wellbeing and must be got rid of.

Right at the end of this book, in musing on what kind of end we wish capitalism to have, the author states: ‘Capitalism is not eternal; it is a specific economic system grounded in a set of historically particular economic arrangements and social values’. This, as much else in this book, is undeniable, but if there is to be an end to capitalism, as we fervently hope there will be, it cannot be via reforms or rearrangements – no matter how well intended – of its details or its organisation. It really does need to be made extinct – 100 percent.
Howard Moss

Material World: Food, another banking failure (2023)

The Material World Column from the June 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Figures from the British Retail Consortium show an increase in the cost of food which is impacting the standard of living on many; especially the low paid and those on fixed incomes. Aren’t the majority of the British working class low paid these day?

‘Food inflation accelerated to 15.7% in April, up from 15.0% in March. This is above the 3-month average rate of 15.1%, and is the highest inflation rate in the food category on record.

Fresh Food inflation accelerated in April, to 17.8%, up from 17.0% in March. This is above the 3-month average rate of 17.0% and is the highest inflation rate in the fresh food category on record.

Ambient Food inflation accelerated to 12.9% in April, up from 12.4% in March. This is above the 3-month average rate of 12.5% and is the fastest rate of increase in the ambient food category on record’ (

Sticking plaster
How many food banks are there in the UK? How many people use food banks? How many food parcels are distributed? Do the statistics quoted below surprise you? Have you of necessity been, or are presently, a food bank user? Should those residing in a country with the wealth of the UK be forced to live with food poverty? What is the solution to permanently eradicating food poverty and poverty and inequality completely?

‘In 2022, the Trussell Trust operated 1,400 food banks in the UK. It has been estimated that there are a further 1,172 independent food banks in the UK. This takes the number of food banks operating in the UK to around 2,500.

In March 2023, data from the Food Standard Agency’s ‘Consumer Insight Tracker’ suggested that 13% of participants had used a food bank or food charity at least once in the last month. This was down slightly from the 15% figure of March 2022’ (

In its end of year report the Trussell Trust reports the following:
‘Close to 3 million emergency food parcels were distributed by food banks in the Trussell Trust network in the past 12 months — the most parcels ever distributed by the network in a year. Food banks in the Trussell Trust network saw the highest ever levels of need, even more than during the peak of the pandemic, as more people found their incomes did not cover the cost of essentials like heating and food. Between April 2022 and March 2023, the number of people that used a food bank for the first time was 760,000’ (
December 2022 was the busiest month on record for food banks in the Trussell Trust network, with a food parcel being distributed every 8 seconds.

The Trussell Trust mission statement says: ‘We know it takes more than food to end hunger. That’s why we launched our five-year strategic plan. We know our goal to end the need for food banks is ambitious, but by working Together for Change, we believe it is achievable. We’re calling on the UK government to ensure Universal Credit covers essential costs such as food, travel and household bills. By acting together with one voice, we are incredibly powerful. We are a movement of thousands of people who believe that no one should have to use a food bank. We need a long-term commitment that the social security system will always protect people from needing a food bank, which means ensuring people can afford the essentials we all need. Together we can call for a more just society where everyone has enough for the essentials.’

Whilst casting no aspersions on those involved with charities, formally or informally, it must be obvious that five year plans, good intentions and a desire to make things better are insufficient. Treating a major trauma injury with a sticking plaster doesn’t work.

Charities, a growth industry

‘There is one industry that continues to grow in Britain today – the Charity Industry. In 1991 there were 98,000 charities registered in Britain, today there are 153,000. The number of paid charity workers is now 569,000. Figures from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, quoted in the Observer Magazine (4 April [2004]). When one considers the legion of unpaid charity workers that pursue you from door-to-door to shopping centres it can be seen that this is truly a major industry. But if workers are supposed to be getting better off, why does capitalism need more charities?’ (Socialist Standard, May 2004).

‘There were approximately 168,850 registered charities in England and Wales as of 2023. Between 2000 and 2007 the number of charities increased by around 10,000, before the 2008 global recession culled the number of charities by the same number in just two years. Since 2011, the number of charities in England and Wales has recovered to levels seen just prior to the financial crash’ (

Gov.UK statistics for 2020/2021 (Community Life Survey) provide the following information:

‘62% of respondents (approximately 28 million people in England) have volunteered in any way in the last 12 months, and 41% (approximately 19 million people in England) at least once a month.

63% (approximately 29 million people in England) of respondents said they had given to charitable causes in the last 4 weeks. This is a decrease from 2019/20 where it was measured at 75% and the lowest proportion recorded in the CLS.

Formal volunteering at least once a month in the past 12 months decreased in 2020/21 (17%) from 2019/20 (23%), the lowest that it has been recorded in the CLS.

Informal volunteering at least once a month in the past 12 months increased in 2020/21 (33%) from 2019/20 (28%), the highest that it has been recorded in the CLS’ (

It is a long given argument against real socialism that removing the cash incentive from people would mean that nothing would get done. This has been disproved time and time again. Within capitalism, people not only do unpaid volunteer work, but also all other kinds of things, for no monetary reward, for all kinds of reasons. The human nature is inherently selfish argument is an erroneous one.

To return to the question posed at the beginning: should those residing in a country with the wealth of the UK be forced to live with food poverty? A resounding ‘No’ and it would, or should, be hard to find anyone who would argue with that.

What is the solution to permanently eradicating food poverty and poverty and inequality completely? It’s what we in the Socialist Party have been putting forward for over a hundred years – the replacement of capitalism with a money-free, wage-free, class-free society where goods are produced for use, not profit. Abolish charity. Abolish capitalism. You owe it to yourselves.
Dave Coggan

Cooking the Books: Are nurses exploited? (2023)

The Cooking the Books column from the June 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most of the recent and ongoing strikes are in the so-called ‘public sector’, by those working for the government at national or local level or for semi-state bodies such as the health service or schools and universities. The work they do is not sold but is a service provided by the state. They are not producing for profit; how then can they be said to be exploited?

If you work for a private (or state) enterprise producing something concrete that is sold, it is fairly easy to see that you are being exploited in the sense of being legally deprived of a part of what you produce.

But what about those employed by the state to do work that is not sold?

The first thing to note is that such employees are in the same basic position as any other worker. The means of production being monopolised by a tiny section only of the population, everybody else is driven by economic necessity to find an employer to get money to buy what they need to live. Workers get a living by working for wages, irrespective of who that employer is.

Wages are a price, the price of something that is being bought and sold. The textbooks say that this is ‘labour’, or the work done for the employer. In fact, however, it is the employee’s capacity to work, what Marx’s translators called ‘labour-power’. What it describes is the capacity a human has to use their physical and mental energy to perform a particular type of work.

Some people who work do sell their ‘labour’ in the sense of the product of their work — the self-employed; what their clients are paying for is the price of their work. But this is not the case with employees. They are selling their capacity to work and their employer is paying the price of this, not that of their work. This price — wages — depends on what it costs to produce it: the cost of the food, clothes, housing, travel, entertainment and training needed to keep them fit to work at their particular trade or profession; in short, on what is called ‘the cost of living’. Wages reflect this cost and are not the same as the work done for an employer. In fact, the work done to produce what workers consume is less than the work they perform while working for an employer.

A part, therefore, of their ‘labour’ is not paid for. In the case of those producing something for sale this is profits, realised when the product is sold. In the case of those working for the state or semi-state bodies this unpaid labour means that the service is being provided cheaper than otherwise. The state or semi-state employer seeks to provide its particular service as cheaply as possible; in other words, to maximise the amount of unpaid labour extracted from their employees. After all, the money they spend comes from taxes that ultimately fall on the profits of capitalist businesses and doing this reduces that.

If employees were being paid for their work — what they do in the course of their time at work — there would be nothing left for the employer’s profit. In the case of state and semi-state employees they would have to be paid much more than they are, much more than they need to create their labour-power.

Workers in the ‘public sector’, like that of their fellow workers in the profit-seeking ‘private sector’, also perform unpaid labour for their employer even if it is not monetised as profit.

So, yes, nurses too are economically exploited as they perform unpaid as well as paid work for their employer.

Obituary: Malcolm MacKay (2023)

Obituary from the June 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Glasgow branch regret to have to communicate that comrade Malcolm MacKay has died at the age of 56. He had been ill recently. As a teenager in the 1980s he got involved with the youth section of the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party and for a time was editor of their youth paper in Scotland. It didn’t take him long to see through the idea of a vanguard party leading the workers though, sometime later joining the Socialist Party. He was active in the branch locally as well as contributing the occasional article for publication.

Exhibition Review: Fitton for Purpose (2023)

Dinner Carrier’s Parade
From the June 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most readers will never have heard of Sam Fitton, but if you had lived in Oldham a century ago, or perhaps more recently than that, he would have been a well-known name. He was a cartoonist, poet and humorist, among other things, having originally been a mill worker. This year is the centenary of his death at the age of just 54, and he is remembered in an exhibition ‘Finding the Funny’ at Gallery Oldham, on till 17 June (for a review dealing with Oldham in the same period and mentioning him, see the January 2014 Socialist Standard).

Fitton’s poetry was written in the local dialect, part of a revival of interest in non-standard varieties of English, evidenced by the founding of the Lancashire Authors’ Association in Rochdale in 1909. His friend Ammon Wrigley is even commemorated by a statue in the Uppermill district of Saddleworth, now in the Borough of Oldham, but part of Yorkshire in Wrigley’s day. Fitton’s poem ‘My Owd Case Clock’ – about a grandfather clock – gives an idea of his wit, his use of language and his attention to social issues (available at Here are some lines:
When little Bill were born, th’ owd clock
Seemed fain to have one moor to th’ flock,
But while it smiled it little knew
His mother wouldna’ live it through;
It watched ‘em lay her in her shroud
An’ somehow didna’ tick so loud
His cartoons (for which see were often accompanied by poems. They covered a range of topics, from the tyranny of having to get up at five o’clock in the morning in order to be at work by six, to the custom of family members (often schoolchildren) bringing a hot meal to the workers at lunchtime. One dealt with how those who did not join any of the various unions could be cold-shouldered, whether in the crowd at a football match or in the pub. He depicted shuttle-kissing, whereby weavers (mostly women) used their mouths to pull thread through the eye of a shuttle. It was unpopular and was eventually shown to be responsible for the transmission of diseases such as tuberculosis, but it was not banned in Lancashire until 1952. Yet he seems not to have taken it too seriously, as one cartoon features a weaver called Matilda who turns down an advance from a fellow-worker by saying, ‘I’d rather kiss a shuttle than a face like thine!’

One cartoon from 1911 asks what would happen ‘If the peers had to work’. But, in an example with contemporary relevance, another from the same year unfortunately states ‘God save the king’, with reference to the coronation of George V.

The cotton industry in Oldham and more widely is long gone, with China and India between them now responsible for forty percent of the global production of cotton yarn and cloth. In 2015, though, a renovated mill in Dukinfield was used for spinning cotton, for the first time in the UK in over thirty years.
Paul Bennett

Proper Gander: send in the crowns (2023)

The Proper Gander TV column from the June 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Both of May’s big events were marked by corny rituals, ridiculous costumes and celebrating a country’s figurehead, with the hype cranked up high. While the Eurovision Song Contest comes around every year, there’s a longer gap between coronations. Over the seven decades since the last one, the reach of the media has grown in ways which those who huddled round a small black-and-white screen in 1953 could scarcely have imagined. Then, as now, the TV coverage of the coronation shows us that its pomp and pageantry is a world away from the difficulties endured by the vast majority. Whether the coronation is seen as an affront or a temporary escape from rising prices and struggling public services depends on our individual point of view.

The point of view pushed by the mainstream media was that Charles’ crowning should bolster a sense of pride not just in the monarchy but in the country’s ability to ‘put on a do’ when so much else isn’t running well. The latter also applies to Eurovision, and another similarity between the two events was the central role of the BBC. The corporation had the monopoly over footage filmed in Westminster Abbey during the coronation ceremony, with an agreement that they would be paid royalties (as it were) by other broadcasters using it. As reported by the Guardian on 5 May, this arrangement was made murkier by the coverage being produced by BBC Studios, a for-profit arm of the corporation, with ultimate say over what could be shown decreed by the royal household. On the day, this was communicated to broadcasters every five minutes, with some parts of the ritual vetoed beforehand, such as Charles being greased up with ‘holy oil’. The National Union of Journalists, in particular, was concerned ‘that a public event, paid for by the people and televised for them to be able to pay their respects should be censored in even a small way’. The BBC’s coverage wouldn’t have been much different without these restrictions, though, as it was overseen by Clare Popplewell, whose favour with The Firm was shown by her being appointed as a commander of the Royal Victorian Order following her work on televising 2022’s platinum jubilee.

This explains why the BBC gave only the briefest mentions of the anti-royalist protests, whereas Sky News, for example, gave them more airtime in its own reports. Otherwise, Sky News’ commentary aimed for the stateliness of the BBC’s, throwing in predictably bland phrases such as that Charles is ‘fulfilling his destiny’ and that the ceremony is ‘both ancient and modern’. Anyone tuning in to GB News would have had Nigel Farage and David Starkey for company, lapping up all the tradition. Later, on his Tonight programme, Mark Dolan hosted a ‘coronation party’ for a panel of pundits wide-eyed with enthusiasm for the royals. He talked about the spectacle in sycophantic superlatives, while against protester ‘numpties’ he said that ‘our day’ was an advert for ‘modern Britain’, adding that if the republicans win we would only get a faceless public servant as a figurehead, such as ‘president Gary Lineker’. GB News’ coverage had levels of tackiness you at least wouldn’t get on the BBC.

Channel 4’s coverage was less reverent, with a package of programmes on its website including documentaries reminding us about Diana’s death and Prince Andrew’s incriminating interview with Emily Maitlis, the latter to be the subject of an upcoming drama from Netflix. Sitcom The Windsors’ coronation special saw the event relocated on the cheap to Slough’s Holiday Lodge Express and Charles abdicating. For all its cheekiness, The Windsors ended up with the family reconciled on the Buckingham Palace balcony and the crowd below rejecting a ‘fiscally responsible, slimmed down monarchy to suit these straitened times’ for one that’s ‘full on’. Like all Channel 4’s output, it wasn’t as radical as it would have us believe.

ITV’s coverage has the honour of the most complained about programme of the year so far, following actor Adjoa Andoh saying ‘there is a bit of me that has gone from the rich diversity of the Abbey to the terribly white balcony’. She was perhaps forgetting that in the real world, the nobility isn’t going to be as diverse as that imagined in her show Bridgerton.

A short piece broadcast on Al Jazeera pointed out that jewels used in the ceremonial trinkets brought out for the coronation are a product of the state’s colonial background, including the slave trade. ‘Their king is a symbol of our bitter past which unfortunately translates into our very difficult present’, according to Everisto Benyera of the University of South Africa. Otherwise, the commentary on Al Jazeera was drier and less involved, with historian Linda Porter saying that while the pageantry is something people ‘can be pleased with’, it may not have a wide impact on ‘national pride’. There’s a contradiction in trying to make people feel part of an institution which is outside them. This applies not just to the British monarchy, but to any monarchy, including that of Qatar, whose state funds Al Jazeera.

The various broadcasters’ coronation coverage differed in tone according to their niche in the market, although they still relied on the ‘money shot’ footage from inside Westminster Abbey controlled and sold by the royals and the BBC. For all the mainstream media’s efforts to present the coronation as something for everyone to rally around, within a day there were calls from leaders of commonwealth countries in the Caribbean to ditch the monarchy, and complaints that the police were too keen to use their new powers to arrest protesters. The coronation has exposed tensions in society as much as its glossy spectacle has been a distraction.
Mike Foster