Saturday, August 5, 2023

A "Done & Dusted" catch up special

Another backlog of "done & dusted" Socialist Standards from the blog. I'll try to be better next month . . . promise.

May 2023's "Done & Dusted"

Voice From The Back: The arrogance of the capitalist class (2010)

The Voice From The Back Column from the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

The arrogance of the capitalist class

In a society wherein children are trying to survive on a dollar a day the obscene wealth of the owning class and their flaunting of their riches has recently shown a particularly obnoxious example. “A bidder has agreed to pay $2.63 million for a steak lunch with the billionaire investor Warren Buffett in a charity auction held on eBay Inc’s website. The highest bid in the 11th annual auction topped the previous record $2.11 million paid in 2008 by Zhao Danyang, a Hong Kong investor. Wealth manager Salida Capital Corp of Toronto won with a $1.68 million bid in 2009.” (Reuters, 11 June) Millions of dollars spent on lunching with a billionaire while millions of children starve, do you need any other reason to get rid of capitalism?

What recession?

As the British government announces massive cuts to deal with the economic recession it is interesting to note that recession or not the owning class still manage to spare a few coppers for their art collections. “Last week was one of the biggest ever in the world of London’s art auctions, with the recession failing to stop records being broken at the Impressionist/Modern evening sales at both Sotheby’s (22 June) and Christie’s (23 June)” (Observer, 27 June)  A Picasso went for over £34 million, a Manet for over £22 million and a Klimt for just under £19 million. It is nice to see that our betters are not letting an economic downturn affect their appreciation of artistic merit.

Let ‘em fly copters

The arrogance of the Russian ruling elite is prodigious but even by their standards this takes a bit of beating. “As Moscow residents sweltered in an unprecedented traffic snarl-up, the governor of the region around Moscow offered an unusual solution on Friday: buy a helicopter. ‘I fly in a helicopter. (You) should also buy helicopters instead of cars – then you do not need roads,’ Moscow Region governor Boris Gromov told journalists, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.” (Yahoo News, 2 July) This crass statement brings to mind Marie Antoinette’s reputed statement on hearing that the lower orders were rioting because of the lack of bread “Let them eat cake”. In Marie’s defence she probably never said such a thing, but Boris did and he should remember Marie’s fate.

The silent spillage

The Press and TV have given great prominence to the oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico but very little has been reported about the oil disasters that continue to plague Nigeria.” A series of spills, some of them the responsibility of the American multinational ExxonMobil, have been polluting the Niger delta for five decades. One estimate says the amount spilled in the region over nearly 50 years totals 10.5 million barrels. That is more than five times the worst estimate of the spillage so far from the Deepwater Horizon leak in the Gulf. Yet despite the pollution, illness and poverty caused by the ongoing leaks in Nigeria, they rarely make the international headlines. And there has been no high-profile effort to correct the situation.” (First Post, 17 June) The spillage on the USA’s shores may be more news-worthy but the pollution in Nigeria is just as deadly. It is just another example of how in its quest for more and more profits the capitalist system pays little regard to human health or happiness.

Stop Moaning. Work Harder

Next time you complain to your boss about being exploited let us hope he doesn’t read this piece of nonsense. “People who make their colleagues miserable by constantly moaning at work may actually be suffering from a mental illness, a study suggests. According to researchers in Germany, they are suffering from a new condition called post-traumatic embitterment disorder. …The findings are based on a two-year study of 21 people by researchers at the University of Berlin.” (BBC News, 20 June) Presumably the “researchers” didn’t moan or complain and no one mentioned to them that research that only used 21 people is hardly convincing. Here’s to the day when more and more of us “suffer” from post traumatic embitterment disorder. The researchers may call it a mental disorder – we call it good sense.

Material World: Waste and Want: Grapes of Wrath revisited (2010)

The Material World column from the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his famous novel The Grapes of Wrath (Chapter 25), John Steinbeck described how food was destroyed during the Great Depression:
“Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people come for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be. How would they buy oranges if they could drive out and pick them up? And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges… A million people hungry, needing the fruit – and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains.
And the smell of rot fills the country.
Burn coffee for fuel in the ships… Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from fishing them out [with nets]. Slaughter the pigs and bury them…
And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates – died of malnutrition – because the food must be forced to rot.”
A few more facts. In 1933 alone, the US federal government bought 6 million hogs and destroyed them. Vast quantities of milk were poured down the sewers. 25 million acres of crops (the area of a square with sides 200 miles long) were ploughed under. In Brazil, 69 million bags of coffee, equivalent to two years’ output, were destroyed. All to keep up prices.

What about this time round?

The current depression is the deepest since that of the 1930s, and its end is not yet in sight. As real wages continue to fall and austerity measures bite harder, more and more goods will remain unsold. Falling prices and profits are already leading to scenes reminiscent of those portrayed by Steinbeck.

Leaving strawberries to rot
In March reports appeared that Florida strawberry growers, faced with a flooded market and a sharp collapse in wholesale prices, were leaving huge tracts to rot in the fields. Most of these farmers did not allow people in to pick fruit for themselves. They were afraid that cucumbers and other new crops they were planting between the rows might be harmed.

Not only the strawberries went to waste but also the water used to grow them. Cultivation of the wasted strawberries drained the groundwater and caused local water shortages.

Bulldozing houses
There have been reports from around the United States of the destruction of houses, many of them newly built. Most foreclosed houses can no longer be sold at auction, even for prices as low as $500. They end up in the hands of banks that see no medium-term prospect of reselling them and conclude that the cheapest solution is to tear them down. This happens not only to individual houses but often to whole streets. In May 2009, a bank decided to bulldoze an almost finished housing complex in California rather than spend the few hundred thousand dollars needed to complete it.

Meanwhile the ranks of the homeless continue to swell. They are in desperate need of housing but generate no “effective demand”.

Slashing clothes and shoes
In early January, The New York Times ran a story about two major retail chains, H&M and Wal-Mart, throwing out unsold clothes in trash bags. First they are made unwearable: employees are told to slash garments, slice holes in shoes, cut sleeves off coats, fingers off gloves, etc..

The response to this article included internet testimony from ex-employees of other large stores, revealing how widespread these practices now are.
Cheryl: “I worked at Dillards for several years. They do the same thing. Their logic was that if they donated it [to charity] people would try to bring it back to exchange for other merchandise.”

Martha: “Yeah, I used to work at a store where they would rip the bed sheets, blankets and pillow cases if they couldn’t sell them, then throw them away… I thought it was dumb. I wanted to take it and donate it, but they didn’t let me.”

Nat: “I used to work for H&M and hated to cut the clothing [that] I knew we could have given away to those who needed it. We destroyed EVERYTHING and I found it so stupid. It was such a waste and sad!”

Maryliz: “This just makes me sick. How terrible, especially right now with people freezing to death. They could have been saved if they had sufficient warm clothing. Shame on the companies that do this.”

Maggie: “I got so mad that my managers wouldn’t box up [unsold food] and take it to shelters that I called corporate headquarters… They wouldn’t let the food be donated! Some blather about how that would devalue the brand, because people would just go to that shelter to eat the food instead of coming and paying for it.”
The vintage Steinbeck finishes Chapter 25 with the passage that gives his book its title:
“In the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
There is ample cause for wrath. But wrath is not enough. The managers who got Maggie so angry have to act as they do. (Otherwise they won’t remain managers.) They have to pursue the commercial logic of maximising profit or minimising loss. The idea of giving people what they need, simply because they need it, is inconsistent with this logic. It expresses a different, human logic, which will come into its own once we reorganize society on a different, human basis.     

Marx and the Ideology of Darwin (2010)

From the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
Marx admired Darwin’s work but was critical of some of the conclusions drawn from it. The second of our three-part article on Marx and Engels and Darwin .
In Marx’s initial enthusiastic reading of The Origin of Species he had written to both Engels (19 December 1860) and Lassalle (16 January 1861) that it “contains the natural-history foundation of our viewpoint” and that “it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle.” What could he have meant by these comments? He was certainly not saying that the Darwinian process applied to human society. After all, Marx had spent nigh on 20 years grappling with trying to understand social processes and arriving at the “guiding thread” of his materialist conception. It is unlikely that in the 18 months separating what he wrote in the famous 1859 Preface and his reading of Darwin’s Origin that he would have jettisoned his own hard won approach and replaced it with Darwin’s. So what was the connection with Darwin? It is unlikely to have been Darwin’s Malthusianism, as anything smacking of Malthus would have been contemptible to Marx. Perhaps a closer look at what Darwin meant by the phrase “struggle for existence” may help.

Darwin made clear in The Origin that he used this phrase in a metaphoric sense to cover a wide range of situations:
“I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphoric sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny. Two canine animals in time of dearth, may be truly said to struggle with each other which shall get the food and live. But a plant on the edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the drought, though more properly it should be said to be dependent on the moisture.”
(Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 1859; Penguin edition 1968, p.116.)
“Hence, as more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life.” (ibid., p.117.)
This “large and metaphoric” meaning of the phrase “struggle for existence” includes more than the Hobbesian “war of all against all” or of “nature red in tooth and claw” of Tennyson, and refers to the necessity of all biological species to obtain their means of survival and reproduction from their interaction with the environment they inhabit, and that different biological forms have different kinds of interaction with their surroundings. Human beings, too, have to confront this problem of obtaining their conditions of existence. Indeed, in The German Ideology (1845) in which Marx and Engels first formulated their materialist conception, they state:
“The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions of their life, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way.

The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus, the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature. Of course, we cannot here go either into the actual physical nature of man, or into the natural conditions in which man finds himself – geological, oro-hydrographical, climatic and so on. All historical writing must set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men.” (Marx and Engels, Collected Works, volume 5, p. 31.)
In this process of obtaining their conditions of existence humans in particular construct and use tools as instruments of production, but so too, to a lesser degree, do other animals. Far more important for animals in this was the specialised development of parts of their body. And it was this aspect of Darwin’s “epoch-making work” (Capital, volume 1, Penguin edition, 1976, p. 461, note 6) that Marx referred to in the only comments published during his lifetime, and then only as footnotes in Capital, volume 1:
“Darwin has directed attention to the history of natural technology, i.e., the formation of organs of plants and animals, which serve as the instruments of production for sustaining their life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man in society, of organs that are the material basis of every particular organisation of society, deserve equal attention? And would not such a history be easier to compile, since, as Vico says, human history differs from natural history in that we have made the former, but not the latter. Technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations. . . . The weaknesses of the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism which excludes the historical process, are immediately evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions expressed by their spokesmen whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their own speciality.” (Capital, volume 1, Penguin edition, 1976, pp. 493-494, note 4.)
Throughout his work, Marx always made a distinction between natural history and human history, and the difference between animals and humans in their relationship to their conditions of existence. Again in the German Ideology, he and Engels had written of this:
“[Men] themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.” ( p. 31.)
As soon as human beings start to produce their means of subsistence they must enter into certain kinds of relations of production, and these are not nature-determined as they are with other species. The earliest humans may have started out with nature given conditions, but the evolution of their biological structures made it both possible and necessary for them to move beyond this. This aspect of human beings was beyond Darwin’s viewpoint; he could not move beyond natural history.

Although Marx appreciated the scientific significance of The Origin, his critical perspective brought to the fore some of Darwin’s ideological assumptions, especially when applied to human society and the use made to justify capitalism as “natural.” In one of his last letter in which he mentions Darwin, writing to Laura and Paul Lafargue (15 February 1869) he wrote:
“Darwin is led by the struggle for life in English society – the competition of all with all, bellum ominum contra omnes – to discover competition […] as the ruling law of ‘bestial’ and vegetative life. The Darwinian, conversely, considers this a conclusive reason for human society never to emancipate itself from its bestiality.”
Marx’s interest in Darwin did not extend beyond The Origin, and there is no evidence that he read The Descent of Man or any other of Darwin’s works. However, there is no doubt that he appreciated Darwin’s “epoch-making work” and held Darwin in high regard. This is made clear when he sent Darwin, on 25 September1873, an inscribed copy of the second German edition of Capital: “Mr Charles Darwin on the part of his sincere admirer Karl Marx.”

Darwin (1 October 1873) sent a typically courteous but non-committal reply, and the majority of the pages remain uncut in Darwin’s library. And since the mid-1970s the myth that Marx wished to dedicate volume 2 of Capital to Darwin has been laid to rest.

On the same day he sent his inscribed copy to Darwin, Marx also sent one to Herbert Spencer, another giant of 19th century thought, perhaps even more widely read by others than even Darwin. But apart from the long forgotten Italian criminologist, Enrico Ferri, who wrote Socialism and Positivism (1894; English edition 1905), who else has attempted a Darwin-Spencer-Marx link up?
Ed Blewitt

Next month (concluding article): Had Engels read Darwin’s The Descent of Man? The first part appeared in the June issue.

Letters: Withering away of money? (2010)

Letters to the Editors from the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Withering away of money?

Dear Editors,

Responding to Max Hess’s article ‘Capitalist Money Madness’ (Socialist Standard, May) a suggestion. Perhaps, a way a Socialist government (if there ever was one ) could bring about a moneyless economy is to print the stuff in abundance and pay it out in salaries and wages. Everyone would be employed in goods and services and use money to buy whatever they needed, or thought they needed. Meanwhile, everyone would be working to produce and provide the goods and services but no one would ever be without enough dosh to ‘purchase’ whatever they wanted because they would have access to as much of the stuff that they wanted.

Of course, in no time at all there’d be run-away inflation but it wouldn’t matter if there were no money markets, exchange and financial institutions, there’d be no capitalist institutions because there would be nothing for them to do. As Max says, also no need for police, military, bankers, lawyers, prisons and prison officers  … a whole swathe of jobs related to money, it’s use and misuse.

People would soon realize that money isn’t necessary to maintain an economy. It’s just a method used by a profit system that was perhaps necessary in times past but now no longer appropriate, needed or wanted. They’d only need to continue doing what they always did do…work and consume without the need to use paper and metal tokens to do it.

If other capitalist countries wanted to trade with Britain we’d provide them with goods and services in exchange for what we needed of theirs. Their workers would soon see what ours have got up to and would bring about the same change in their countries. When people see that they don’t need money to maintain their standards of living and even raise them to heights only ever dreamed of they’d wonder why it was never thought of before.

Then they’d realize the great thievery that had been perpetrated upon them for centuries and resolve to never again allow capitalism to raise its fanged head again. Then, and only then, would a truly international common global economy evolve. Then, and only then, would mankind advance to the utopian world dreamt of by our ancestors .

Of course, things wouldn’t run smoothly at first but society by its very nature is a moral system and just as today layabouts and petty thieves are disdained and rejected, so too in a sane socialist system dissenters would have no argument and find it hard going to feel self respect and acceptance.

Am I right or am I right ?
Leo Aliferis (by email)

You’re right that when people realise they don’t need money to maintain a very good standard of living, they’ll wonder why it was never thought of before. But that awareness can’t be achieved through a leftwing ‘socialist government’, which would have campaigned for, and been elected to, supervise capitalism — not abolish it.

In the highly unlikely event that such a government, led by a Trotskyist-style vanguard, sabotaged the profit-wages-money system by deliberately bringing about hyperinflation and economic chaos, the population would neither expect nor want this. All voters would then focus on is the ensuing financial turmoil and they’d be extremely alarmed by what was happening and they’d throw that government out of office at the earliest opportunity. Deliberately subjecting a pro-money population to economic chaos, as a means of supposedly leading them to socialist awareness, is doomed to fail.

Whereas, if a clear majority of the electorate vote for moneyless real socialism, because they have come to understand what it is and consciously want this system instead of capitalism, then there’d be no need to continue with a means of exchange. They would already “realize that money isn’t necessary to maintain an economy”. And after a clear majority of people have voted for real socialism in a general election, then plans and preparations to bring this about can be acted upon immediately without any widespread rejection and resistance that would be associated with trying to impose it on an unready and averse population from above.

Given the dire condition clapped-out capitalism is now in, and that we’re heading for a prolonged period of additional working class suffering and misery, mainstream party politicians will be trying harder than ever to dupe people into believing that money management offers the answer to alleviating and solving these capitalism-caused problems. They’ll want people submissively accepting worsening state-funded services. They’ll want those without jobs submissively accepting any low-paid work they are offered. They’ll want those with jobs submissively accepting pay restraint and cuts. They’ll want people turning against supposedly less-deserving recipients of welfare benefits.

We need to get people to completely reject this bogus capitalist agenda that managing money better is in our best interests. It isn’t. Abolishing money, and the capitalist system that requires it, is in our best interests.

We are not “all in this together”, as Cameron farcically states. Capitalists and their political stooges are in it for as much as they can get out of it. Everyone else is required to keep the pig trough as full as possible.  – Editors.

Declining rate of profit?

Dear Editors

The July edition of your journal contains a brief review of my recently published book Global Capitalism in Crisis: Karl Marx and the Decay of the Profit System. Although the book treats a great many issues of interest to socialists, the reviewer chose to focus on just one theoretical issue that I treat at some length in the book, namely, the specification of the wage bill of socially necessary unproductive labour (SNUL – in commerce, finance and the state) as a component of “constant capital” rather than as a part of surplus value or variable capital.

The reviewer is right to suggest that this approach is important to my analysis of the current global slump as rooted in the on-going displacement of living, productive labour from production (what Marx called a rising “organic composition of capital”).However he or she implies that my empirical measurement of constant capital in the Marxian ratios for the average rate of profit and the organic composition of capital includes the costs associated with unproductive labour. This is not the case, as such costs are assimilated by me to the flow of constant capital rather than to the “capital advanced,” i.e. to the constant capital stock. The magnitude of the constant capital flows does not enter into the measurement of either the average rate of profit or the organic composition of capital.

The main effect of treating SNUL costs as a component of the constant capital flow is that it removes these costs from the measurement of either aggregate surplus-value or aggregate variable capital, thereby allowing for more accurate measurements of Marx’s key quantitative ratios. In my view, the assimilation of SNUL costs to surplus value or to variable capital (or to both) has been a key stumbling block in empirically evaluating Marx’s law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit and to recognizing the centrality of this law to the dynamics of capital accumulation in the era of capital’s decay.
Murray E.G. Smith (by email)

We certainly accept that some of Marx’s writings on productive and unproductive labour are open to interpretation and were not fully worked out (e.g. the treatment of this issue is rather different in the Appendix of Volume I of Capital called ‘The Results of the Immediate Process of Production’ compared to the chapter in Volume 2 on ‘The Costs of Circulation’).

However, we get a strong sense that you are effectively redefining the rate of profit formula so that it might more easily show what you seek to prove and what others have failed to prove before you (that there is a pronounced and statistically observable long-term tendency for the rate of profit to fall in capitalism that will lead to the system’s demise).

This attempt seems divorced from some of the realities of capitalism and misses much of what has underpinned political and economic debate in recent decades: namely that it is the rate of profit after tax that is key for investment decisions and that governments have been in a desperate struggle to the reduce the tax-take from profits for years. Indeed, taxes themselves are ultimately a burden on capital – from surplus value – as therefore is the state machine funded by them, and this is the important point we seek to emphasise. – Editors.

Capital – difficult?

Dear Editors

I’m all for anything that widens the attention to Marx. But is Capital really difficult – “most give up by chapter 3”, these “undeniable difficulties” referred to (Socialist Standard, July, Book Reviews), have I missed something? Marx himself does indeed say in the introduction that, excepting the subsections of chapter 1, the reader will have no reason to complain that it is difficult to understand – to learn anything new will have to be willing to do something on their own account.

After the materialist conception of history, commodity production, the source of profit or surplus value, the add-ons of absolute and relative surplus value and the simple relationships between constant capital, variable capital, surplus value, etc, Capital is a straightforward read and after about half way it broadens out into history, philosophy, sociology and wanders through all sorts of interesting perspectives.

I’m trying to think where the “difficulties” are, have I made assumptions where I should have found more meaning? To say that Capital is difficult must already put up a deterrent to would-be readers. But there are none that are not overcome by a few moments’ thought. But maybe it’s because today, if information is not transmitted by TV or DVDs and reading is only for trash newspapers and novels, that no one now simply lies back with a book, such as Capital, for just the sake of a good read. A good read is where you take your time, think about what’s on the page, even leave it for a while, come back to it, read it through, then read in parts picked either at random or of particular interest.

With a book like Capital, you can play with it, pick up on the secret of primary accumulation or the swindle of the national debt or the conditions of the working class in medieval times or contemporary times and so on.

I’ve just returned to Capital after thinking again about “most give up before chapter 3”. Well, even if that’s true, having got that far the basics are covered and the rest expands on that basis.

Please don’t continue this idea that Marx is difficult, it’s less difficult than a cookery recipe or flat-pack instructions. It’s a good read just taken as that but the explanations and ideas that come off the page are even now mind-blowing and change your own conception and perspective of the world around you. It applies not only to its time but to current events and explains these.

And if I want to know how much land the “free” peasants were entitled to, and how even that and the common was thieved off them in later times, it’s a history book in its own right. So where’s the problem, please explain.
Stuart Gibson, 

The “undeniable difficulties” of the early chapters of Capital are so undeniable that, as you say, Marx felt it necessary to warn his readers of them in the introduction to his great work. William Morris, hardly an intellectual sluggard, said the book caused him “agonies of confusion of the brain”. But the difficulties are mostly over by the end of the third chapter, and the rest of Capital is, we agree, fairly straightforward but rewarding reading – Editors.

Civil Rights Movement

Dear editors

In the March issue, Andrew Armitage described the Civil Rights Movement (CrM) in the US as a “good cause” (in quotation marks). In the June issue, Roy Beat called this attitude “sectarian” because the CrM was “more than just a good cause”. Andrew Armitage responded in July that “socialists recognize the serious limitations” of the CrM in “at best only aspiring to parity” with white workers.

In the decades between reconstruction and the CrM black people in the South were helpless in the face of constant humiliation and terror. Any who might have taken an interest in revolutionary ideas would have been tarred and feathered or lynched as “uppity niggers”. So the “limitations” of the CrM were real but could hardly have been avoided.

This exemplifies the point that 
the struggle for democratic rights 
is an essential precondition of the struggle for socialism. In broad historical perspective, they are two stages in a single struggle for social equality. From this point of view, 
it is indeed sectarian to belittle the progress achieved by the Civil Rights Movement.
Stephen Shenfield, USA

Land Grab: win-win or win-lose? (2010)

From the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
Corporate self-regulation or total system change?
Following the recent growing interest in land acquisition and investment in land around the world for which there are no binding regulations and also, apparently, no agreement by private industry as to whether or how to adopt voluntary self-regulation, the World Bank with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Institute for Food and Development, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) convened a meeting to discuss this issue. Titled ‘Principles for responsible agricultural investment that respects rights, livelihoods and resources’ the discussion notes from the September/October 2009 meeting were published in January.

A set of seven principles was drawn up highlighting the main risks, which were perceived to be displacement of populations and undermining or negating existing rights. The first two principles were concerned mainly with not jeopardising existing land rights and ensuring that food security would not be threatened in the targeted areas.

Two more principles were focussed on transparency at all stages of the process when accessing land or other resources, to ensure that all stakeholders would be kept within the information loop. Consultation and participation were to be such that all those materially affected should be consulted and agreements from consultations would be recorded and enforced.

The remaining principles were concerned with ‘responsible’ investing, respect for rule of law, use of industry best practice and to balance returns for shareholders with significant positive outcomes for the host nation. Both social and environmental sustainability were considered important, with the need for environmental impact studies written in and the recognition that there should be no negative impacts on local populations.

In conclusion it was noted that agreement had been reached that a set of principles was necessary and that the seven drawn up were the right ones.

Response by UN Special Rapporteur
This proposed voluntary code was responded to on 26 April at a high level session of UNCTAD and the Commission on Investment Enterprise and Development in Geneva by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter. He is independent of any government or organisation and reports to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. His response was lengthy and apprehensive especially with regard to item five on the agenda – Investment in the agricultural sector with a view to building productive capacities – concerning the seven principles above. ‘I am worried,’ he began before going on to expound his many reasons. In a number of areas he felt that the focus was wrong, that it should be on rural development and increased incomes, not on boosting production, He referred to the ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1970s when food production increased per capita by 9 percent in South Asia 1970-1990 but the increase of hungry people was also 9 percent and in South America in the same period food production per capita increased 8 percent but the hungry increased by 19 percent.

Another concern was that with agricultural investment there was a tendency to antagonise groups of farmers who are involved in different kinds of farming, especially the small land owners who, although generally more productive, can in no way compete with the bigger mechanised farms. A further worry came from knowledge of earlier projects when land rights had been violated in investments in plantations for fuel crops, dams, tourism and large scale infrastructure projects.

His conclusion: ‘We cannot afford more dispossessed, greater inequalities, more leaving the land because it has become unviable – pastoralists to lose access to grazing, fishers cut off from their fishing grounds, forest destruction or fencing in for carbon sequestration.’

The World Bank’s and their associates’ statement and principles all sound quite reasonable if we are able to lay aside cynicism for a fleeting moment. However, if it is as trustworthy and dependable as it appears to be – transparent, fair, considerate of all parties etc etc – why does Olivier De Schutter feel the need to report that he is worried and to further expand on the principles and explain where they can go wrong? Remember the original principles were an attempt to provide merely a voluntary code to which De Schutter was compelled to call for added regulation or more careful wording, discerning the probability of win-lose scenarios.

Note there was no discussion of binding the principles in law, merely a suggestion that respecting any current laws would be favourable. The very fact that it is considered necessary to implement a (voluntary) code of conduct implies that previously (and currently as this code of conduct has not yet been agreed) dubious practices have been rife. We have to conclude that it is not the need for voluntary or mandatory regulations to protect what may be vulnerable, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, that are required but the removal of each and every agent that causes these vulnerabilities.

Few people are naïve enough in the 21st century to believe that investor agencies, corporate, financial or whatever, are altruistic in their dealings with the (mostly) developing countries being discussed in their absence. We recognise that their first consideration will be the timescale of the profit potential. Maybe the following response can throw some light onto a better way to deal with this matter if we are to be serious about focussing on benefits rather than profits. The way to make it possible for all possible third parties to benefit materially in exchange for a signature is to eliminate the profit motive. This is also the sure fire way to ensure that any outside agencies are there to assist positively rather than to profit personally. The guarantee that all communities around the world will be empowered to organise their own affairs according to their own self-determined aspirations will come from the rejection of the capitalist system in favour of a world socialist system; from the democratic decision of a majority world population desirous of a world of free association and access.

(World Bank guidelines and De Schutter’s response originally sourced from
Janet Surman

Conversation with a hairdresser’s assistant (2010)

A Short Story from the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the 1930s Wilhelm Reich, perhaps best known as the author of The Sexual Revolution, developed the theory that it was possible to explain the basic concepts of Marxian economics without employing complicated economic terms and arguments. As an example of his attempt at this, we publish below, for the first time in English translation, an article he wrote in 1935 under his pseudonym of Ernst Parell for the Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie (vol 2, No 1) he published in exile in Denmark.

Assistant: Style or a simple haircut?

Customer: A haircut please but square not round.


Assistant: What do you think of present times?

Customer: Terrible. Where will it lead to?

Assistant: The hooligans are going to cut each other’s throats and we’ll get the worst of it whoever wins, whether the Communists or the Nazis. They’re as bad as each other.

Customer: Perhaps you’re right. I can’t understand politics.

Assistant: I’m glad I’ve got a job and am making ends meet. As for the rest, all I want is to live in peace.

Customer: May I ask how much you in fact earn?

Assistant: 100 marks a month.

Customer: Can you live on that?

Assistant: Just about. I’d like to get married but it’ll take a long time until my fiancée and me have saved up enough to be able to rent a flat. I’ve been working ten years in this place and I’ve not saved up enough yet.

Customer: What’s your boss like?

Assistant: He’s a very nice person. Sometimes he’s a bit moody, but I get on fairly well with him.

Customer: How many customers do you deal with a day?

Assistant: 10 to 15. On Saturdays it’s more.

Customer: So that means that 15 customers pay 15 marks into the business. OK, but you only get 3.50 marks a day. What happens to the rest?

Assistant: You’ve not taken into account the expenses of our business. Lighting, telephone, insurance, instruments, rent, they eat up quite a bit.

Customer: I’d be interested how much.

Assistant: (thinks awhile) Well I suppose at least 8 marks.

Customer: OK, but that still leaves about 9-10 marks.

Assistant: Yes, but the business must make a surplus since the boss takes a great risk. For example, on some days there are fewer customers, or in bad times.

Customer: Does that mean that you get more when business is booming?

Assistant: No, why should I? I’m on a regular income.

Customer: I don’t understand. When you work more you don’t get paid more? And of the amount you earn on average for the boss keeps a fund for bad times?

Assistant: You’re quite right.

Customer: If I understand you correctly, you produce after subtracting all costs about 10 to 12 marks for him per day and of this you receive 3 to 3.50 marks. And if times become permanently bad for the business he’ll sack you, in which case the reserve fund is of no use to you. So what in fact does he use this money for?

Assistant: Well, for example the boss has to acquire modern machines. At present we’re replacing the hand clippers by electric ones.

Customer: What does that mean?

Assistant (surprised): What, you don’t understand that? It’s quite simple. Now I can deal with 10 customers a day, afterwards I’ll be able to deal with 20 because the cutting will be much faster.

Customer: And each one of these 20 will be paying 1 mark as before. And you, how much will you get then?

Assistant (even more surprised): Naturally, I’ll continue to get my 100 marks.

Customer: Excuse my being so inquisitive, I’m getting a bit lost and am rather amazed. With the new improved machines you’ll be earning 20 marks for, him but you yourself will continue to receive only 3.50. That means the surplus has grown from 8 to about 13? Where does the money go?

Assistant: (scratches his head) Actually, you’re right. That’s a good question but, you know, I get so tired from working that I don’t have much energy to think. I’m happy if I can rest and keep my job. You know next week 2 out of my 5 workmates are being made redundant and I have to ensure that I’m not sacked too.

Customer: It must be pretty bad to stand 10 hours a day in the shop – what about holidays?

Assistant: Oh yes. I get a fortnight every year, but the others also go on holiday and when they do I have to do more work. And now the boss is going away for 2 months.

Customer: Where does he get the money to stay away for so long?

Assistant: He has a villa in Dahlen.

Customer: Oh. How come?

Assistant: Well he’s owned this business for 30 years now.

Customer: I see. Does he work?

Assistant: Oh no, only sometimes he helps out. But it’s a successful business.

Customer: Listen. I don’t understand anything about such things but it seems to me that his villa and his summer holidays are paid by the 8 or 13 marks which you earn for his “business surplus”.

Assistant: Oh I don’t think so. But perhaps you’re right, it is odd. I’d like to talk to you sometime about this. You talk a lot of common sense.

In this conversation no political word has been mentioned, but this hairdresser’s assistant has developed the theory of surplus value, rationalisation and unemployment from the experiences of his own life. And over and above this he has developed a confidence in the “customer”. You don’t need to teach him about what rationalisation or exploitation is, he has described these himself. What he lacks is the understanding of the link between his knowledge about his work and surplus labour with the villa of the entrepreneur. Nor is he at all conscious of the fact that he identifies with his boss. And he is completely unable to see the connection between politics, which he is against and afraid of, and his everyday life. At this point it will be easy to make him conscious of this because it is contained in what he himself has said and experienced; all that has to be done is to develop it.
Ernst Parell

Tiny Tips (2010)

The Tiny Tips column from the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

“This is a system of the elite, by the elite and for the elite,” said Riyaz Hussain Naqvi, a retired government official who worked in tax collection for 38 years. “It is a skewed system in which the poor man subsidizes the rich man.” The problem starts at the top. The average worth of Pakistani members of Parliament is $900,000, with its richest member topping $37 million. “It’s a very good country for the rich man. Chauffeurs, servants, big houses. The question is, who is suffering? The common man.” :

#    #    #    #

The anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders, whose Freedom party (PVV) won 24 seats and third place in the Dutch national election last month, says he is forming international alliances to launch branches of his Islamophobic party across the Western world. Almost 1.5m Dutch people voted for the PVV in June. “The message, ‘stop Islam, defend freedom’, is a message that’s not only important for the Netherlands but for the whole free Western world.”
[Dead Link.]

#    #    #    #

The United Nations estimates that each year 5,000 mostly Muslim women and girls are shot, stoned, strangled, stabled, burned, or smothered by family members with the intention of cleansing shame from the family’s name. While most of these crimes occur in the Middle East and South Asia, immigration is taking them around the globe.

#    #    #    #

Fears are growing for the fate of thousands of young girls in rural Mauritania, where campaigners say the cruel practice of force-feeding young girls for marriage is making a significant comeback since a military junta took over the West African country. Aminetou Mint Ely, a women’s rights campaigner, said girls as young as five were still being subjected to the tradition of leblouh every year. The practice sees them tortured into swallowing gargantuan amounts of food and liquid - and consuming their vomit if they reject it.

#    #    #    #

As 14-year-old Nguyen Hoang Anh was being branded with hot irons, had solvents poured in his wounds and had his teeth pulled out with pliers, those who heard him ignored his cries. In most countries, suspicions of any kind of child abuse, let alone such a horrific case, would rouse a small army of social workers and police. Vietnam, however, has no such public system and only loose laws protecting children and other vulnerable people. “We don’t consider beating a child to be violence against children,” concedes Nguyen Hai Huu, director of the Ministry for Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs’ child-protection unit.
[Dead Link.]

#    #    #    #

An Indian court has ruled that Hindu gods cannot deal in stocks and shares, reports said Saturday, after an application for trading accounts to be set up in their names. Two judges at the Bombay High Court on Friday rejected a petition from a private religious trust to open accounts in the names of five deities, including the revered elephant-headed god, Ganesha. “Trading in shares on the stock market requires certain skills and expertise and to expect this from deities would not be proper,” judges P.B. Majumdar and Rajendra Sawant said, according to Indian newspapers.
[Dead Link.]

Politics in Zambia (2010)

From the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Democracy is an all-encompassing word used to describe the political state of modern times. More or less democracy describes a political state in which fully fledged parliamentary legality flourishes and political parties come to power through the ballot box. The art of constitutional government as we know and practice it in Zambia is derived from British colonialism (parliamentary democracy). But parliamentary democracy is not a static condition – political constitutions have been revised in Africa day in and day out to suit respective political parties that may happen to be in power. In Zambia the ruling MMD has been experimenting to revise the current political constitution, in a move aimed to make it impossible for opposition leader Michael Sala to stand for the 2011 presidential election.

It is the case in Zambia today that the methods of political change are fraught with many difficulties – chief among these is the regional fragmentation of voting patterns, i.e. people still vote on tribal allegiances. Zambian politics is heavily influenced by political charisma. The first president Dr. Kenneth Kaunda was a charismatic leader and still remained a flamboyant personality. Charismatic politicians have a propensity to capture public worship either through making articulate speeches or wearing fine suits. Both Kaunda and Chiluba had a gift of making inspiring speeches and a flair for clean and smart clothes. Chiluba is said to have possessed two hundred pairs of shoes worth hundreds of dollars per pair.

Both Kaunda and Chiluba had the gift to foresee what the masses’ feelings were and used to take advantage of a given moment by seemingly voicing those feelings. And it became very problematic for many ordinary Zambians to rally behind the late president Levy Mwanawasa, who lacked a magnetic personality and was a poor speech-maker. Indeed, the current president, Rupiah Banda lacks a political flair for publicity and lacks a flair for speech making.

Freedom for expression in Zambia has been conceived in wrong terms. It has meant incessant political criticism of ruling government in methods likely to provoke political violence. We in the WSM abhor the methods of political criticism that is spearheaded by the PF and UPND because they border on intimidating certain individuals instead of offering an alternative system against the existing status quo (capitalism). Political demagogy by itself is not an antidote to unemployment and inflation. The problems of human rights, gender equality and freedom of expression will not exist in socialism because a socialist will entail the actual embodiment of political and gender emancipation.

The failure of any political party in England to win an outright parliamentary majority during the May general election was resolved in an amicable manner with the Conservatives and Liberals forming a coalition government. In most African countries such an election result would have given rise to political violence.
Kephas Mulenga

Obituary: Friedrich Vogt (2010)

Obituary from the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

We were sad to learn of the sudden death, at the age of 88, of Comrade Frriedrich Vogt in Vienna.  He was one of a group of trade unionists and former members of the Austrian Social Democratic party that broke away in 1959 and eventually, in 1966, through contact with Comrade Rudolf Frank there, came to accept the object and declaration of principles of the World Socialist Movement.

As there was already a registered “Socialist Party” in Austria, the new group was named Bund Demokratischer Sozialisten (League of Democratic Socialists). Members addressed each other as “Genosse/Genossin” rather than as “Kamerad” as this was associated with the Austrian Communist Party.

Although they held informal discussion meetings, the members’ main activity was the production and distribution of their newspaper format journal Internationales Freie Wort (International Free Word). Although they had a list of subscribers, canvassing was by far the main method of sale. On my only visit I took part in this. Up and down the stairs of apartment blocks was certainly amongst the hardest work I have done for Socialism!

Unfortunately, as members aged and became physically less able they could not keep up with this strenuous work and publication of the IFW ceased.

During the war Friedrich was conscripted into the German Army to fight on the Russian Frant but was soon sent back as unsuitable because of his behaviour. He attended our Conference just once and told me how much he enjoyed meeting members here, some of whom kept in touch. We have lost a friend as well as a comrade and the companion parties a staunch and tireless worker for Socialism.
Eva Goodman