Sunday, February 5, 2023

Pathfinders: Sky high and ocean deep (2023)

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

Do we really need this? Is it sustainable? Two questions that capitalism never seriously asks. At present the only question that matters is, can we make money out of this? All other considerations currently fall outside the projected calculation matrix, as an average CEO might blandly put it. And two recent news stories offer an illustration of this.

British news media were cock-a-hoop last month to report a home-grown ‘space industry’ story with the planned horizontal launch from Newquay in Cornwall of a suite of satellites via a rocket attached to one of Mad Dick Branson’s old Virgin jumbo jets ( ‘What people have seen is a small team deliver something quite incredible’ puffed the breathless CEO of Spaceport Cornwall, speaking live from the Mission Control shed just before the mission pancaked.

What they were planning on delivering was nine shoebox-sized satellites whose various space-based functions were such that their owners were willing to shell out hefty launch fees. It’s a burgeoning market, and other space freight companies in Shetland and Sutherland in Scotland are also keen to get in on the action. If Elon Musk can send mega-rockets to the moon, they ought to be able to manage a shoebox or two. Sadly the mission to hurl yet more space junk into orbit failed on this occasion, but the heroic British pioneers won’t be deterred from making future attempts.

As of January 2022, there were an estimated 8,261 satellites orbiting the Earth, of which 42 percent are already defunct ( But that’s small potatoes compared to the ‘mega-constellations’ of miniature CubeSats being planned by firms like SpaceX and OneWeb, which intend to upchuck around 65,000 in the next few years. Space tech is ‘dual use’, i,e, civilian and military, and the key military advantages of CubeSats are cheapness (especially when launched via reusable SpaceX rockets), small size, replaceability and proliferation, making them nearly impossible for an adversary to knock out. Elon Musk’s own Starlink system is being relied on by Ukrainian forces, meaning the Tesla, Twitter and SpaceX boss is now also in the war business and with such influence that he has personally vetoed Starlink operations over Crimea (

Being nearer the ground, low-orbit off-the-peg CubeSats mean lower-latency (i.e, faster) connections than high-orbit heavy-duty satellites, while the swarm numbers mean near-comprehensive global internet coverage. A comparatively minor consideration is the predicted increase in visual ‘noise’ for astronomers ( ). But what’s sickening from a socialist perspective is that it’s not just one constellation to be shared by everyone, as would be the case in socialism, it’s multiple duplicate systems, because each competing state wants its own GPS and communications networks in space and does not want to rely on another’s satellites any more than on another’s energy supplies. One of socialism’s medium-term goals will probably be the challenge of hoovering up all this redundant and dangerous space scrap.

Meanwhile, you may be aware that the sea floors of the world are carpeted with small, potato-like polymetallic objects known as manganese nodules, first discovered in the 19th century and in July this year set to become a red-hot-button topic.

Imagine you are out for a walk in the wilds, on a break from your capitalist employment, and you happen across a huge wishing pond that is magically packed with a treasure trove of ancient gold denarii, duckets and dubloons. There is no sign saying Private Property – Keep Out. A quick check on your smartphone reveals not only that this pond doesn’t belong to anybody, but also that there is no mention of it in any statutes or local by-laws. Understandably, you’re keen to fill your boots with as much plunder as you can carry away. In fact, seeing as there are no rules, you might as well hire a mechanical digger to plough the entire pond right up, and make yourself a fortune. But as you start dialling the machine hire number, strong hands grab you by the arms and a voice says ‘Alright matey, not so fast, we were here first’.

Such is the situation with manganese nodules, found in gigantic quantities on sea beds in international waters. They are a potential bonanza for capitalist manufacturing, containing not just manganese, but also nickel, copper, iron, cobalt, titanium, silicon and aluminium among others, elements of immense importance in steel production, EV car batteries and other green tech. Average metallic content varies (15 – 30 percent), and a ballpark valuation for this content is given as $484/tonne ( The potential global supply of nodules was estimated in the 1980s at roughly 500bn tonnes. At a minimum 15 percent average metal content, one could be talking about an industry worth upwards of $36tn.

Given this, you may wonder how come the gold rush has not already started. In effect, the lack of rules has resulted in a default Hands-Off stalemate as governments and UN regulator the International Seabed Authority have stalled for 20 years over a common regulatory framework, even though a clause in the existing 2000 treaty gave them just two years to create one. Mining companies are slavering to have at the prize, and equally keen to stop each other getting a head start. Now one company, in league with the Pacific island of Nauru, has announced that, if no regulation is in place by the end of the two-year period in July, they are technically entitled to send in the submarine bulldozers, and devil take the hindmost ( A strip-mine frenzy will then ensue as the sea floors of the world, whose species, habitats and bio-environments are barely known at all, face a holocaust. The effects of this on global oceanic ecosystems together with the irrevocable loss of species and new science cannot even be guessed at. Governments, who have failed to do anything to fix climate change since the first COP in 1995, have until July to fix this. Don’t hold your breath.

This is not to say that a socialist society would never mine seabed nodules under any circumstances, any more than saying it would never launch a satellite. Humans use the resources of nature all the time, and this is an abundant source of extremely useful metals. But first it would ask the two questions we started with. It may be that in socialism we can devise green tech that does not require so much mining, or even devise acceptable social arrangements that don’t require so much green tech. But in capitalism, nobody even asks. If it’s not about the profit, it’s not part of the equation.
Paddy Shannon

Editorial: Doom and gloom? Think again (2023)

Editorial from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 2020 the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year was ‘doomscrolling’, ie, masochistically tormenting yourself with an endless diet of bad news. As several articles in this issue show, some groups tend to ‘catastrophise’ capitalism, which can only lead to a doomscrolling feedback loop.

A recently published 80-year study suggests that 50 percent of our general mood is genetic, 10 percent due to circumstances, and 40 percent within our conscious control ( Given that depressed people don’t go out and change the world, we think it’s more useful to be positive.

There are signs that attitudes are finally changing. People are starting to realise that the market system is not some innocent bystander in the environmental, economic and social chaos, it’s the cause of the chaos, and it’s making the chaos worse. Commentators like George Monbiot and Greta Thunberg make no bones about capitalism’s responsibility for climate change and species extinction. If public opinion were a court of law and capitalism in the dock, chances are it would be found guilty by a thumping majority.

On top of that, there’s a slew of new books out in the past few years proposing a life after capitalism and reviewed in this magazine, many of them practically making our case for us. We are no longer the lone voice we once were. Socialism seems to be catching on.

Things we say that used to astonish people are now generally regarded as common knowledge. It’s almost a truism to say that wars are about money or resources, not principles. It’s a mere commonplace to hear talk of rampant inequality, oligarchs and the 1 percent. Many people now agree that Labour and Tory, indeed all capitalist parties, are essentially the same. No serious person any longer denies that human-caused global warming is a real and serious threat. Even mainstream media sources now accept that China is not really communist, but actually capitalist as we said all along, and many young people are realising that ‘socialism’ isn’t the dirty word they were told it was. And now, strikes everywhere are proving that the working class has not surrendered in the class war, despite all attempts by capital to crush the resistance out of it.

We’re not there yet by any means, but there are plenty of reasons to think the global zeitgeist is shifting in our direction. And with modern technology, it’s never been easier for word to spread. So if there was ever a time to stop being negative, get off your butt and start helping to mainstream the socialist case, it’s right now, before capitalism really does do something our societies can’t survive. Create podcasts or videos for YouTube or TikTok, write leaflets or articles, put out messages or memes on Facebook and Twitter, help organise an online or local town meeting, and get someone you know to read this magazine.

Do it now. You’ve got nothing to lose. But you do have a world to win.

Those Who Fish in Troubled Waters (1945)

From the February 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1847 Marx and Engels threw the Communist Manifesto at the feet of the capitalist world.

In less than one hundred years the Socialist movement has made its voice heard and its presence felt in every country on the planet.

The manifesto commenced with the statement, “A spectre is haunting Europe”; to-day in 1944 we can say without exaggeration that the spectre is haunting the ruling class, not only of Europe, but of every land, and awakening everywhere to conscious activity the oppressed and suffering proletariat. Socialism to the capitalist class is the phantom that beckons them to their grave: to their tortured wage slaves. Socialism unfolds the glorious promise of a new and brighter life.

In a modern war the working class are so fixed by moving circumstances they are compelled to fight the enemies of their enemies; there is no escape from this until the wage slaves beeome conscious of their class position, and fully comprehend what is involved in the slogan, “Working men of all countries, unite.”

The war will undoubtedly speed up the economic development of capitalism, but will it assist us in our task of educating those who live by selling their labour-power to an understanding of what they are called upon to do ?

A letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph of December 1st which should be carefully studied by all those who are interested in the answer to the above question. The letter is headed “Wounds of Paris,” and contains among other things the following : —
“But, in France, the worst damage is invisible : it has been done to the soul of the nation. The passionate desire to get rid of the abhorred presence of the enemy has compelled the French to make use of all sorts of deceit and cheating in their relations with the aggressor. In an invaded country such foul play is perfectly legitimate, for the ethics of war widely diverge from those of peace. In war the crime of killing one’s fellowman is not only condoned but rewarded.

These normally pernicious habits, however, gradually permeate a man’s mind until they become ingrained and can, at best, only be eliminated gradually and very slowly. Men and women who, by sheer force of circumstance have grown used to violating daily the laws of human decency in their relations with the enemy are bound to resort to them in their dealings with their compatriots and their Allies. This, of course, applies particularly to the young who have never known anything better and whom it will be extremely difficult to nurse back to sanity.
—Yours, etc.,
F. Boillot, 
Member of the French Provisional Consultative Assembly, Paris.”
Socialism cannot be brought into being by a political party composed of individuals who hold the view that the end justifies the means. A society composed of men and women who consider it legitimate to lie, to cheat, and deceive each other is hardly worth while living in, as we know to our cost. The party to which we belong holds the view that it must be open and honest in all it says and does. It is heartbreaking work sometimes dealing fairly with unscrupulous opponents, but we know it is the only way to the attainment of our goal. We must make men and women into Socialists before we can bring into being a Socialist society. We have our compensation in the knowledge that what we are doing is for the lasting benefit of mankind as a whole. We can at all times reconcile our conscience with our intellect because we desire nothing for ourselves we are not prepared to allow others to obtain.

At the same time we must realise that the moral code of the exploiter is not necessarily in harmony with the interests or well being of his victim.

When we judge any action taken by a group composed of members of the wage slave fraternity we must view it from the standpoint of working class interests. The class struggle is the guide to tactics and to policy. We approve of those acts that aid in the fight against capitalism and condemn those that strengthen the power of labour’s foes. We adhere strictly to legality because, as Engels says. “We thrive on it.” The capitalist is forced from time to time to break his promises, and even the laws he is largely responsible for formulating.
“The mocking devil in his blood,
That bids him make the law he flouts
That bids him flout the law he makes.”
In Greece, France, Italy, Belgium and other countries there is at the time of writing dissatisfaction and disorder : the “liberators” are being attacked by some of those they have “freed” from the Hun—the former being accused by the latter of trying to impose a government upon them they do not want. The situation is approaching chaos.

The “communists” are reported to be very busy in these flare-ups, and there is much speculation as to whose hand they are playing. The Comintern has been dissolved, so they say; Russia is now a member of the Allies. What nation or party, then, is responsible for launching a series of activities that go so far as even to threaten civil war ? The struggle is not precipitated to attempt to establish Socialism but for the enthronement of leaders controlled by those who are pulling the strings. Greece, Egypt, Palestine and Persia are seething with intrigue, but not one of the groups involved is struggling for the common ownership of the means of life and the establishment of a system of production for use; they are all struggling for capitalist ends.

It is very enlightening to study the history of the Paris Commune of 1871. One writer described it as the rehearsal of the social revolution. The capitalist class will act to-day as they did then, should they consider it necessary. The phrase “law and order will be maintained” simply means that, unless the working class obey the decrees of their masters willingly, they will be made to do so. No ruling class anywhere will allow their workers to carry arms if there is the slightest danger of the workers using these in their own interests. Sometimes working men are forced into a position where they are compelled to fight, as in Austria some years ago : these situations develop out of conditions and the ignorance of leaders. We honour those who fall fighting honourably for what they believed to be a workers’ cause, but we deplore the circumstances which brought this about and resulted in the shedding of working-class blood. We do not hesitate, however, to denounce as criminals those individuals who take advantage of a political situation to lead workers to a bloodbath in order that those in whose employment the criminals are may benefit.

The struggle in Greece is not a direct manifestation of the class struggle. The latter is unfolding amid the confusion : out of the fermenting vat the pure spirit is being distilled.

The “communists” are accused of attempting to establish a dictatorship with their own bunch as dictators. Their opponents are trying to restore a state of things similar to that existing in Greece before the war. The proletarian wave may rise to a great height and strike a revolutionary note, but we do not think the working class in Greece will be able to obtain and retain power at the present juncture. It is true, however, that in revolution and in war men learn quickly. We are with the oppressed section, and hope a strong Socialist Party will emerge with sufficient backing to enable well informed class-conscious comrades to guide the course of events. The situation is fraught with peril. If it gets out of hand, it will be “woe to the vanquished.”

When Marx formed the First International he was asked how he and his colleagues were going to bring about ‘the social revolution’ and he replied ‘by moral and intellectual force.’ Bakunin fought Marx for the leadership. The dispute between them was in connection with the State. Bakunin took the stand that the State had to be destroyed. Marx, on the other hand, held to the view that the State had to be captured and used. Bakunin was a Jesuit—that is to say, he believed that the end justifies the means. The communists owe much more to Bakunin than to Marx. The Bolsheviks faithfully followed in the steps of Bakunin, and the tactics they adopted as a consequence enabled them to overthrow the Czar and the remnants of the feudal nobility. But such tactics are reactionary in a country where capitalism is firmly established.

In other words, a minority is unable to impose Socialism upon an unwilling and ignorant majority.

It is true the political freedom we enjoy under capitalism is limited, but it is sufficient to enable the working class to accomplish its purpose by political means in this country. We were told years ago by communists that heavy civil war was the only way of bringing into being the new social order. Here, although there may be disorder from time to time, the transition from capitalism to Socialism is likely to take place without much violence or bloodshed. With understanding, a peaceful solution is possible, and it is our duty to proceed upon peaceful lines. We keep ever before us the fact that the proletariat are enslaved because they do not understand their class position or the nature of capitalism.

Consider the position. The average working man does not even know that he sells his labour; he thinks he gets paid for his labour. If he receives what he calls a fair wage, which is at best but a bare existence, he blesses his boss and is thankful. He has not the slightest idea that he is being exploited.

Shakespeare says : —
“He that being robbed misses not that he is robbed of,
Let him not know it and he’s not robbed at all.”
How can men who ask for nothing more than work and wages abolish the wages system ? All the trade unions in this country now act in such a way as to give the impression that they have a vested interest in maintaining labour power in its present category.

It is an educational problem we have to solve. The capitalist class impose their ideas upon those they exploit; the wage slave looks at life in a similar way to his master. His conception of right and wrong is what his pastors have placed in his mind.

He knows nothing of the real history of mankind; his knowledge of history is confined to what his masters would have him believe. We cannot expect him to support us until he realises he has been hoodwinked. By honourably expounding and standing for our own principles, by conscientiously stating the truth in regard to other political parties and existing conditions, we gradually make headway. Enthusiasm for the cause and the fellowship of those who support it compensate in no small measure for the woes we struggle through. Socialism has an ennobling influence upon those who work for it; its appeal is to the best that is in them both in an intellectual and moral sense. When it leavens the whole working class movement, as it will do, we shall have done our duty ! The workers will be so conscious of their manhood and worth that they will respond to the call of history and carry out the task that is exclusively theirs.

Marx says : “Even when a society has got on the track of the laws governing its social development, it can neither clear by bold leaps nor remove by legal enactments the obstacles that stand in the path, but it can shorten the birth pangs.”

Many things happening in Britain indicate that an ever-increasing number of observant and thinking persons are beginning to see the fundamental cause of our social problems. The result will be a conscious effort in the right, direction. Human society will not perish; like every other organism, it will struggle to maintain its existence. It can only do so by adopting a higher form. We may be at the beginning of a revolutionary period—a revolutionary period is a period in which evolutionary process can be perceived.

We have perhaps built better than we knew. In less than one hundred years Socialism has transformed the outlook of the thinking section of mankind. We can await confidently the consequences of the ideas we have helped to generate and spread.

Capitalism is caught in a cleft stick: those who profit by the system are becoming ever less; those who will benefit by its overthrow are for ever increasing in numbers. When society as a whole knows where it is heading for, it won’t take long to get there.
Charles Lestor