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.