Monday, September 4, 2023

Cooking the Books: Digital pound, what’s that? (2023)

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

‘New deputy governor will oversee project to mint digital pound’, was how the Times (2 August) reported the appointment of Sarah Breeden as a deputy governor of the Bank of England. Here’s the Bank’s description of what is envisaged:
‘The digital pound would be a new type of money issued by the Bank of England for everyone to use for day-to-day spending. You would be able to use it in-store or online to make payments. This type of money is known as a central bank digital currency (CBDC). […] The digital pound would be denominated in sterling and its value would be stable, just like banknotes. £10 in digital pounds would always have the same value as a £10 banknote. […] The digital pound would be like an electronic version of the banknotes issued by the Bank of England. […] The way that you would access digital pounds would be through a digital wallet that would be provided by a private company’ (Digital Pound ).
The press statement issued by the Treasury and the Bank in February announcing a consultation on the subject explained that the Bank would provide the infrastructure in the form of a ‘core ledger’; the private companies would offer people digital wallets through smartphones or smart cards (tinyurl.com/4nkjxvpt).

Money, as Marx pointed out in section 4 of chapter 1 of Capital on ‘The Fetishism of Commodities’, is not a physical thing but the expression of a social relation. He wrote of ‘a definite social relation between men that assumes… the fantastic form of a relation between things’. The relation between people he had in mind was between producers of different articles for sale who could only be brought into relation with each other via the market, which required a means of exchange. Today this includes the relation between buyers and sellers of labour power.

The physical thing in which this social relation is expressed can, and has, varied. In pre-capitalist times it had been, among other things, cows and cowrie shells but historically the most important form that money has taken has been the precious metals gold and silver. However, even these haven’t expressed money for many years now, having been replaced by intrinsically valueless paper notes and cheap metal coins issued by the state. We are currently in a period where these are being increasingly replaced by a computer code. The coming of central bank digital money would complete this change in the form (though not the substance) of money.

You can see the logic, from a capitalist point of view, of doing something like this. Payments these days are increasingly made electronically anyway, by transfers to and between banks. However, the ‘libertarian’ right are up in arms about it. Soon after the government’s announcement Nigel Farage tweeted on 7 February: ‘Central Bank Digital Currencies will give the state total control over our lives. This must be resisted’. In the recent by-elections, the Reform Party, the successor to the Brexit Party, promised to ‘oppose a cashless society and central bank digital currency’ while Piers Corbyn shouted ‘KEEP CASH!’ Yet another conspiracy theory.

The government is saying that the new form of money would not replace cash but that notes and coins would continue to be issued. What it would replace is bank transfers. Which would make it even clearer that banks only circulate money. They don’t create it. Only a central bank like the Bank of England can do that.

The socialist retort to Piers Corbyn might be ‘Smash Cash’, or, rather, change the social relation of which money is an expression by making productive resources commonly owned and democratically controlled. Money would then vanish into thin air.

Checkmate? (2023)

Book Review from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism’s Endgame. By Mark Hayes, Phillip Sutton and Lars Torvaldsson. Old Moles Collective. 2023.

This is by three writers who stand in the Left Communist tradition, the main organisations of which in the UK are the International Communist Current and the Communist Workers Organisation. They tend to agree with us that socialism or communism means a society of common ownership and free access to wealth without wages, prices, markets etc and also oppose reformism, state capitalism, nationalism and so on. Both groups are very small and they have a tendency (particularly the ICC) to express themselves using difficult, abstract terminology that found its height during the Third International period. It doesn’t make for an easy read and it’s equally easy to come to the conclusion that their minuscule size is as much to do with their inability to move beyond archaic language and formulas as it is about the substance of their political ideas.

Interestingly, this book seems to be an attempt to move a little beyond their established political positions and draws on the ideas of both groups while indicating that their previous formulations might be in need of some revision. Left Communists (like many Trotskyists) tend towards catastrophising – capitalism is forever in its death throws because of its internal contradictions and all that remains is for the proletariat to raise its combat to the level that the vanguard party can guide the revolution towards communism – indeed this is one of their key points of difference with the SPGB. The ICC has long held the view of Rosa Luxemburg that capitalism cannot meaningfully expand once it has integrated all the previously non-capitalist areas of the world economy (such as peasant economies) because in ‘pure capitalism’ the workers and capitalists combined are unable to buy back all the products of industry. This means external markets are necessary and once these have been exhausted then capitalism will enter a period of glutted markets and permanent crisis (said to have been around the time of the First World War). The authors dismiss this erroneous theory as we have done, as it simply does not correspond with the facts – and as we have demonstrated previously, it is also flawed at a theoretical level. They also take issue with the alternative theory adopted by the CWO and originally developed by Grossman and Mattick that the falling rate of profit (and eventually, falling mass of profit) due to technological innovation is the key reason why capitalism is fatally flawed, leading to the need to purge excess capital from the system in destructive wars.

To the credit of the authors, they are at least living in the real world when they realise there is a need to account for capitalism’s massive and continued expansion in recent decades and that it has not plunged humanity, as predicted, into another barbarous world war (though periodic economic crises and more localised wars have continued). They note that the genuine globalisation of capitalism (markets, financial superstructures, the labour market, etc) has underpinned periodically strong growth rates. They also note the massive and related expansion of energy usage, which has risen exponentially since the 1950s and led to a mass of climate change issues.

Indeed, it is here, more than in the pure economics, that they seem to locate capitalism’s potential ‘endgame’, as the competitive drive to accumulate profit leads to ever more environmental destruction. These sections of the book are good and worth reading. This comes with a caveat though – like many of those in the broad Marxist tradition that may be seen to be developing or applying ideas in a slightly different way, there’s a sense that they feel the need to justify everything they write with near constant reference to dead Germans and Russians. This, for instance, leads to endless poring over Marx’s German Ideology, Capital, Communist Manifesto and other texts – the sections where they have more obviously extended their reading a little beyond this tend to be the best. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the Marxist method – we sit in that tradition ourselves of course – but it’s not entirely helpful if it turns into the political equivalent of an autistic tic.

There is another caveat too. We would agree with them that capitalism is a decadent social system in that it has long outlived its usefulness. By this we mean that by creating an interconnected world-wide division of labour and raising the forces of production to unparalleled heights, capitalism has created the conditions of mass sufficiency necessary for the construction of a socialist society to replace it. The last chapter of the book is called ‘Imagining the Future’ and it could reasonably be expected that the contents would be reflected by the title, but it is a disappointing chapter and a missed opportunity, being mainly philosophical meanderings about the revolutionary process and the ‘realm of freedom’ beyond the ‘realm of necessity’. There is nothing about the recent growth of the Fully Automated Luxury Communism idea, and certainly nothing on how 3D printing, digitalisation or even AI can help underpin a society of sufficiency and free access, which seems odd. However, the authors do say another, follow-up volume is being prepared, on ‘the nature and perspective of communism’. We just hope they put down the German Ideology for a minute, reflect on their more recent reading and let their imaginations take over for a while.
DAP

Material World: Emptying the ocean with a teaspoon (2023)

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

We learn from the Guardian about a food programme aimed at primary school children in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Seventeen percent of the Kenyan population, over nine million people, live in extreme poverty (worldpoverty.io/map ).

From the article: ‘According to Save The Children, 26% of children in Kenya are living with stunted growth due to malnutrition’ (tinyurl.com/w949dmee).

A Kenyan ‘not for profit’ organisation involved in helping to provide four hundred thousand meals a day to 225 primary schools and young child development centres in Nairobi states, on its website, the obvious truth that hungry children cannot learn properly and can’t grow healthily.

Their solution? To improve educational outcomes through the provision of nutritious food.

This Kenyan charity is to be commended, within limits, in concentrating on the single aim of feeding hungry children. Many charities express their aims, or visions, as being bringing about positive changes but none of them involve the replacement of capitalism. The legendary Greek hero, Hercules, was tasked with twelve ‘impossible’ labours. The task of cleaning out the Augean stables would seem the most relevant one to that of ‘cleaning up post-capitalism’. Not an impossible undertaking as there will millions of people across the world involved in accomplishing that.

In contrast to the Kenyan charity, Lankelly Chase with £130 million in assets is planning on divesting itself of that amount because the people who run it are having a crisis of conscience. The organisation gives £13 million a year toward ‘hundreds of charities operating in areas such as social, racial and climate justice’.

They claim: ‘We will make space to reimagine how wealth, capital and social justice can co-exist in the service of all life, now and for future generations’ (tinyurl.com/4ramn7wf). Is that ‘wealth’ as used by Adam Smith, national income? By ‘capital’ do they mean the asset-owning class, the minority who continue to exploit the majority?

What’s this organisation’s aim, is it to persuade the former class to be nicer all round and give out a few more bob from their ill-gotten gains? Will a promise be made in return to persuade the rest of us not to instigate a revolution?

The term ‘jam tomorrow’ comes to mind. At the present time a vast number of people can’t even afford margarine.

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological condition – over time those held captive by a group or individuals begin to identify with the purpose of their captors. Capitalism would appear to have successfully indoctrinated many into that frame of mind.

Would it be stretching a point to infer the same of recipients of charity? Whether being fed in Africa or being given food parcels in a rich economy where social ills should be better able to be alleviated, there is a sense of ‘thank goodness for X because I don’t know how I would manage if it wasn’t for so and so’.

To quote Dylan Thomas, the response should not be one of grateful subservience but one of ‘Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light’.

Some might argue that given the ongoing present conditions, not just in the UK, but across the world of devastating rises in the cost of food, housing and many other commodities, charities are more welcome than ever before.

There are people who now find themselves dependent upon charity when that wasn’t previously necessary. Whilst capitalism exists the moral dilemma of those who find they have no option but to accept such largesse, providing they don’t fall into the category of the ‘undeserving poor’, is conditioned by the instinct of survival irrespective of the sources from whence it comes. However, that doesn’t mean being grateful, being appreciative, being thankful or singing the praises of charities necessarily.

Those Stockholm Syndrome devotees of religious fairytales may point to the biblical comment that the poor are always with us. Ergo, it’s an insoluble problem. One religion demands that once personal wealth goes above a certain amount then two and a half percent of it must be paid toward charitable relief of the poor and the orphans. With the number of adherents it has, that must work out to a very tidy sum every year. Given how long it must have been collecting, has it achieved a successful resolution of the problem? Answers on a postcard.

Lankelly Chase tell us, ‘We are striving for a world healed by justice, equity and inclusion by challenging existing systems and creating the conditions for much healthier systems to emerge.’

Oh dear. Not to doubt the sincerity of those running this charity but the naivety is unbelievable. Our refusal to endorse charities being taken as read in this case, one cannot help thinking that the £130m might do more good if transferred to those providing meals for hungry children in Africa.

But when that money was used up, what then? Would the number of people living in extreme poverty be reduced? Would children stop going hungry?

Perhaps the millions might be donated to the Socialist Party, if legal, which entity, be assured, would put it to very good use in accelerating the ‘conditions for much healthier systems to emerge’. Only one emergent system is necessary. Alternatively, if they would like advice as to how to participate in the aim of replacing capitalism with socialism it will be immediately forthcoming.

Socialism, you know it makes sense!
Dave Coggan

Migration – what is the problem? (2023)

From the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

There has been migration for as long as there have been people. Firstly moving from Africa and spreading over the entire world. Not that it is a peculiarly human trait. Come autumn or spring, some birds migrate considerable distances. There are herd animals with a tendency to move en masse.

However, anyone thinking migration is a novel phenomenon and a recent political problem could be forgiven considering how it’s being portrayed by sensationalist media and desperate politicians. A veritable armada of small boats swarming across the English Channel, or so it would seem.

‘Johnny Foreigner’ is single-mindedly intent on accessing public services having never paid a penny towards them, expecting to be housed and receive benefits. That is when not undertaking devious criminal schemes, or bringing extensive extended families to join them in enjoying such largesse.

With a general election pending both Tory and Labour Parties have identified this emotive issue as a major potential vote winner, or loser. Each vies with the other to demonstrate how they alone can tackle this problem. There is the nub of the issue. Migrants are not people with problems, they are deemed to be the problem. And problems must have solutions, though it is doubtful if either party would claim to have the final solution. Although there is a discomforting resonance whenever politicians specifically identify a particular group of people as being alien.

Capitalism has used this sense of the lesser other from its outset. Taking early advantage of that notion led to brutal forced migration from Africa in the slave trade, with enterprising traders shipping involuntary human cargo to the money-making plantations of the ‘New World’. A deliberate movement of people to generate profits, the capital that financially fuelled the industrial revolution.

It might be objected that slaves are not the same as migrants in that they were transported against their will. But how many people become migrants undertaking the perilous, and too often fatal, sea journeys from choice? War, abject poverty and famine are drivers of people who are uprooted with little or no control over their journey.

Those early days of capitalist industry in Britain saw the enclosure of rural land creating a mass migration from the countryside to the new industrial urban centres, where labour was required. There was no consultative process, just the financial imperative. Undoubtedly, in the initial stages there were men who had to leave their families in the village while they went to the towns.

Eventually those men would send for their families to join them. Such movement would have been no simple task in the absence of organised transportation. Later, many descendants of those families would relocate to the Americas and the antipodes, driven again by desperation. Some went against their will as transported criminals.

Even economic migration within national boundaries led, on occasion to conflict. For example, in 1832 a strike by miners at Friars Goose in Gateshead was met with the eviction of the miners and their families from their colliery tied cottages. This was to accommodate lead miners, who’d been impoverished by their declining industry, who were migrating to the expanding coalfields. Because it suited the mine owners, this migration was welcomed by them, while the locals were forced aside by use of the local militia from Newcastle.

It requires a little genealogical research for those who identify their families as belonging to a particular former industrial area in the north of England, for example, to find antecedents, going back only a few generations, who came from the then rural south. The growing interest in genealogy has led to many taking DNA tests to establish their familial origins. It is common enough to meet people claiming blood-ties to Scandinavia, Northern Germany, Ireland and Wales, often with unexpected influences from much further afield.

It seems we are all descendants of foreigners, not that those Viking and Saxon forebears would have thought of themselves in such terms. Movement of people was commonplace and there were no nations to identify with.

All too frequently there are news reports of another small boat foundering in the Channel during an attempt to cross over from France that ends in disaster. For a brief moment the drowned become men, women and children, rather than simply migrants. There may be a momentary reduction in belligerence towards those promoted to victims, while the antagonism is refocused on villainous people-smugglers making money out of human misery.

Asylum traders, like slave traders before them, are of course simply motivated by money. As are the manufacturers of the wholly unsuitable inflatables used as makeshift ferries. As, also, are the politicians of various stripes who soon return to ranting on about the unacceptable cost of migrants coming to ‘our’ country.

The accommodation of migrants, it is insisted, must be as basic and unwelcoming as possible to act as a deterrent to others. This begs the question as to how dreadful must accommodation become to be a more effective deterrent than the prospect of being launched in an overcrowded rubber dinghy into the world’s busiest and turbulent shipping lane with the very real possibility of drowning?

Politicians continue to trade their quack solutions to the ever-present migrant situation. Repurpose army camps? Use hotels, a nice little earner for hoteliers? Or perhaps take an idea from history and anchor a few prison hulks, sorry barges, around the coast.

If migrants are so ungrateful as to object, they can always take the reported advice of Lee Anderson, deputy Tory chair: ‘If they don’t like the barges, they can fuck off back to France.’

What if the small boats were luxury yachts carrying super-rich traders in the wealth created for them by workers? These economic migrants, in the sense of being wealthy enough to sail from country to country as they will, would certainly be welcomed.

However, those referred to pejoratively as economic migrants are classed as being even less worthy of acceptance than those fleeing war and political repression. Yet, the common cause of their distress is capitalism. War is the most belligerent expression of that fundamental characteristic of capitalism, competition. Politics, whether totalitarian or democratic, ultimately serves capitalists’ interests, the need to ensure profitability.

Meanwhile those workers who cannot serve the ceaseless pursuit of profit of their home country’s capitalist class, become economically surplus. Migration in search of the wherewithal to live then becomes the driving necessity.

The ‘migration problem’ has a solution; abolish capitalism. Then everyone can make a valued contribution to society, local, regional and internationally. And in return their self-defined needs will be met.In socialism people can travel freely and safely, as and when they choose. Or stay put around where they are born if they wish. The choice is straightforward, continue ad infinitum to have migrants fleeing war, famine, repression and poverty, all of which will persist as long as capitalism is allowed to persist. Alternatively, sink capitalism and promote socialism as the world’s common destination.
Dave Alton

The labour army wants YOU! (2023)

From the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

An 1890 poem by Rudyard Kipling, Tommy, (from the slang for a soldier, Tommy Atkins), tells of the contempt held toward the working class member of the Army by the civilian population. Until that is, they were required to go off and fight some war on behalf of British capitalism. It’s reasonable to assume that economic circumstances drove a lot of Tommies into the armed forces.

Herbert Kitchener was the Secretary of State for War during the 1914-1918 one (he drowned in 1916). Initially, the armed forces were able to swell their numbers with volunteers, but as time passed and large numbers of young working-class men were being led like lambs to the slaughter on the battlefields of France and beyond it was necessary to introduce conscription in 1916. Probably Kitchener is most well known for the recruiting poster in which he stares out whilst pointing at the viewer: Kitchener Wants You!

The present Conservative Member of Parliament for Chingford and Woodford Green appears to fancy himself as another Kitchener. Iain Duncan Smith’s not exhorting the working class via a poster. He’s aiming at the industrial reserve army of labour, more specifically, those who through disabilities and sickness of various kinds are physically unable to be waged/salaried wage slaves. Smith used an Op-ed in The Sun headlined, ‘We must get thousands of people on long term sickness back into work for the sake of the economy – here’s how’.

Data from the Department of Work and Pensions analysed by the Centre for Social Justice suggests there are some 1.6 million more claimants since 2020, costing the state around £13 billion more in welfare benefits. Reducing this number by getting more people back into work will help the government find the room it needs to invest in public services and reduce the tax burden (tinyurl.com/3etumu43). What Smith wants is to lessen the tax burden for capitalists.

Smith’s predecessor in that constituency, also a Conservative, was a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government. Norman Tebbit was, in a similar vein, fond of bashing the unemployed. Tebbit said the unemployed should get on their bikes and go look for work and get a job as his father had in the thirties.

Writing in Liverpool’s favourite tabloid, and in a very similar vein, Piers Morgan targeted ‘work-shy wastrels’: ‘Official UK unemployment numbers are at a near-record low of just under 4%. Yet staggeringly, a quarter of the people of working age – that’s over 10 million – don’t currently have a paid job. That includes students and carers, but it also includes vast numbers of people claiming to be sick and disabled and living off government handouts, or who’ve just taken early retirement. Add the enormous number of people on some form of benefits – estimated at over 5 million, many of whom are clearly gaming the easy life system – and Britain’s become a nation of shamefully unhealthy, entitled, couch potatoes. No wonder a recent poll had the UK being No1 in the world for having citizens who would most want to quit their jobs and do nothing if money was no issue.’

Note the ‘gaming’ and its inference that they are perpetuating a fraud of some kind. Has Morgan ever tried living off unemployment pay, or a basic state pension?

‘How the hell has it come to this? We’ve always been a country of ambitious and industrious grafters who’ve taken pride in putting a shift in’ (tinyurl.com/bdwdxsfu). Ha, the delusions of the well-heeled!

And there’s more! In a Bloomberg podcast, on 19 May, with Guy Hands, the billionaire chairman of a large private equity company, said, ‘I look at the UK and see that, in 2030, Poland will be wealthier than we are. In 2040, we will be the poor man in Europe’.

He opines, ‘the UK should not have left the EU, as the country needs rule of law and consistency, but not a single politician is talking about going back.’ He lamented that ‘Brexit has essentially thrown the country back 50 years, to the 1970s, a decade that is widely remembered as a time of crisis, with skyrocketing inflation, high unemployment, strikes and power cuts.’

‘Since the UK left the European Union, it has been competing on the world stage, but the country’s current laws are not suitable for the new environment.’

Now that the UK is out of the EU, the British government could take a radical approach and change some of its laws, Hands said, citing the country’s ‘extraordinarily complex’ labour laws that are a ‘nightmare’ compared to other European countries.

Nightmare labour laws! Perhaps capitalists would prefer a throwback to nineteenth century industrial relations?

We, the majority, would prefer socialism.
Dave Coggan

Chile during and after Salvador Allende (2023)

From the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

September 11 marks 50 years since the violent death of the elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, in 1973, and the overthrowing of his government by a military coup backed by the CIA, establishing a brutal dictatorship presided over by General Augusto Pinochet. This caused the death of thousands of Chilean workers, students, union leaders, political activists, and many were incarcerated, ‘disappeared’, and tortured via electric shock, sexual abuse, beating and waterboarding.

The election and death of President Allende took place in the middle of the Cold War and the struggles for world hegemony between the USA and the Soviet Union and the influence of Cuba in Latin America. Chile was hemmed in by several conservative and military dictatorships in the region backed by the USA government who also protected the economic interest of the US capitalist class, along with the internal ruling class. There was also a huge economic crisis facing Chilean capitalism.

The objective of the US government was to avoid another enclave like Cuba on its own backyard since Cuba had a heavy political influence in Latin America, and the Cuban government had diplomatic, commercial, and military relations with the Soviet Union, and was backing guerrillas in several Latin American countries.

The government of Chile called itself socialist in the same way that the Cuban government called itself socialist or Marxist-Leninist, and Fidel Castro was a close ally of the Chilean government. Moreover, Castro himself visited Chile in 1970 in the middle of the social upheaval caused by miners’ strikes.

The government of Chile proclaimed the so-called ‘Chilean path to socialism’, as Cuba also had proclaimed the Cuban road to socialism. The reality is that neither one of them were establishing a socialist society, but state capitalism as in the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea. The basic principles of a capitalist society were retained, including wage slavery, production for profits and the domination of a state apparatus over the working class.

Allende was elected in 1970 with the support of a coalition of leftist political parties known as the Popular Unity, obtaining one third of the votes with a narrow margin of 36.2 percent over Jorge Alessandri, the former president of Chile who obtained 34.9 percent, and the Christian Social Democrats who got 27.8 percent. As such, Allende was not elected by a majority of votes but, according to the Chilean constitution of the time, if no presidential candidate obtained a majority of the popular vote, Congress would choose one of the two candidates with the highest number of votes as the winner, and the decision was effectively made by the Christian Social Democrats which approved his nomination as president of Chile.

Social reforms
The government of Allende, immediately after his nomination as President, initiated various social-democratic reforms for the Chilean working class, and the nationalization of large industries such as copper, iron, coal, cement and large extensions of land, the creation of a health and medical program, a food program, and education for the poor. All those reforms were described as the Chilean path to socialism, but in reality, they were reforms made for and within the context of a capitalist society, and they would not have turned Chile into a socialist society run in the name of the workers. Instead, the economic reforms would have established a state-capitalist system of production administered by the state, the same process that took place in Cuba in 1960.

They established diplomatic and commercial relations with countries on which the US had placed embargos and commercial blockades, such as Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea, and several African and Asian countries, and they also became a member of the Non-Aligned countries movement (Third World). They developed a relationship with the Soviet Union but their relations with the US were not of the same order as the previous conservative government who had openly aligned with the US capitalist class. The nationalization of several US corporations created further friction with them.

Strikes
From the very beginning of the Allende government, thousands of mine workers in different parts of the country went on strike for high wages and better working conditions, as their real wages had gone down due to high levels of inflation. The response of the Allende government was to send in the military and police to reprimand them and tell them to make sacrifices to produce for the so-called homeland. Fidel Castro regarded the workers as reactionaries and counter revolutionaries, demagogues, agitators and agents of US imperialism. The Left, instead of supporting the workers, supported the so-called socialist government; the Communist Party which was part of the Popular Unity also supported the actions taken by the military and the police against the workers, and the strikes continued spreading to others sectors of the working class including the transport workers.

The Popular Unity government was obliged to incorporate the military as part of the state administrative apparatus, under the name Popular Army. But the Popular Unity government was no longer able to run an economy based on state control of the means of production, and had weak support. The military duly took the opportunity to execute a bloody coup d’├ętat, and Allende either shot himself or was assassinated.

The Pinochet dictatorship
The subsequent conservative government of Augusto Pinochet (which the leftists often call fascist) lasted for a period of 16 years, and all reforms implemented during the government of Allende were reversed and most sectors of the economy were privatized including workers’ pensions. This is what the leftists wrongly call neo-liberalism, though the reality is probably in some ways more in line with monetarism. The reversal of all those Allende reforms is a clear indication that reforms implemented by leaders can also be reversed, they are not permanent, and sometimes those reforms are implemented in order to try to pacify the working class. There is certainly no guarantee they will succeed, as Allende’s didn’t.

Chile since Pinochet
In 1988 a plebiscite was held and the majority of the Chileans workers voted for the removal of the presidency and dictatorship of Pinochet, and a new election subsequently took place. A Christian Democrat president was elected, and several legal actions brought against Pinochet and the military. He was indicted and placed under house arrest where he died, but the military kept the power of the state and its agencies, despite the fact that various presidents, governments and Congresses from different political tendencies were elected including social democrats and leftists. None of them were able to resolve the underlying problems of the people.

The present government of Boric was elected with a coalition of ‘Communists’ and ‘Socialists’ offering many promises for workers and for women. A new constitution was put to the vote and rejected by the electorate, including the indigenous Mapuches. The government of Boric knew in advance that the new proposal was most likely going to be rejected and they arguably wanted it to be rejected because they knew that most of the constitutional clauses were not going to be implemented due to the fact that the right-wing faction controls the Congress and was not going to allow any drastic economic and political changes.

The case of Chile is a clear indication that the problems facing the working class cannot be resolved by left-wing or right-wing governments and that the problems are not the leaders, political parties, fascism, neoliberalism, or other political tendencies, or the exact implementation of reforms – the real underlying problem, whatever the regime, is capitalism.
MF.

The singularity of a socialist revolution (2023)

From the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to the Left there have been multiple socialist revolutions. Or, more precisely, there have been many political dramas that are claimed by both the Left and by the protagonists involved to have been socialist in nature. A great pantheon of heroes has been created to satisfy the Left’s desperate need for messianic figures which include such individuals as Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Castro, Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela, Hugo Chavez and even the likes of Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin! One thing most of these have in common is failure but can we consider all or any of them to be socialists? We can say that the socialism of Marx and Luxemburg was profoundly different in nature from the political structures favoured, and in some cases created, by the others in the list. Fifty years ago this month is the anniversary of the ‘martyrdom’ of another great hero of the Left – Salvador Allende. Perhaps by considering his ideology and activity we can further explore the profound political divide between his (and the Left’s) notion of a socialist revolution and that of Marx before the subsequent evolution of the theories of ‘state socialism’, Bolshevism and reformism.

The ‘Socialist Party of Chile’ was formed in 1933 as an attempt to unite the various groups that identified as ‘socialist’. Like so many Leftist ‘broad churches’ it was plagued by division and disagreement but by 1967 it had embraced the oxymoron of Marxism/Leninism with its de-rigueur ‘central committee’. Allende managed to get himself elected as president in 1970 through his popularity with wider leftist movements and the formation of a ‘Popular Unity’ coalition. In this way he believed he could create socialism by nationalising the major industries of Chile. Why he believed this, as the Left still do, is primarily down to the influence of the Bolshevik coup of 1917 in Russia. Lenin had transformed Marx’s view, that nationalisation was a good way to accelerate the productive forces and so make socialism possible, into a perverse form of socialism itself. Capitalism was in its infancy in Russia and Lenin knew that there was no chance of creating the mass consciousness and productive forces needed for a socialist revolution so he created the concept of a vanguard who could lead the masses to ‘communism’ via an intermediate stage he called socialism. In the absence of a full understanding of Marxian politics this became the ideological orthodoxy of the Left, showing a callous disregard for the misery and suffering it had caused in Russia and emphasising an unprincipled greed for power that Bolshevism represented. Thus the scene was set for yet another ill-fated episode in the long political tragedy that was state capitalism.

Although we cannot see into the mind of anyone it is quite possible that Salvador Allende was primarily motivated by a real concern for the poor and oppressed among his people, but what we can identify with certainty are the reasons for his failure: calling an economy and society socialist when it is based on wage labour and capital, even when the means of production are owned by the state, is politically incoherent at best and downright duplicitous at worst; socialism can never be created in one country alone since it inherits the global structure that capitalism has instigated and which makes socialism possible; without majority mass consciousness socialism cannot be imposed by any elite, however well intentioned they may be. There can only be one global socialist revolution (in contrast to the Socialist Party of Chile’s Bolshevik-inspired piecemeal concept of a Confederacy of Socialist Republics) and any claim that there have been and will be many socialist revolutions is born of political naivety, egotistical hubris or an opportunist lust for power.

The failure of the Allende regime was inevitable since any kind of capitalism is subject to the same global economic pressures that ensure that the exploitation of labour for profit is foremost. Those who claim that it would have survived without the interference and ideological hostility of the USA are missing the point that state capitalism is just as bad, if not worse in many respects, as is ‘free-market’ capitalism from the perspective of the exploited masses. The moral outrage that masquerades as ‘realpolitik’ among the Left is in reality a mixture of contempt for the intelligence and potential of the working class combined with an elitist idealism which can only be described as bourgeois. They cannot conceive of a moneyless, stateless democratic global society and so they believe no one else can – certainly not the uneducated masses. The Marxian understanding of social revolution is not concerned with the changing identities of governments who attempt to facilitate or control capitalism but with the emergence of a mass consciousness that will replace production for profit with production for need.

It cannot be doubted that the subsequent dictatorship regime led by General Augusto Pinochet and supported by the CIA was a nightmare for the Chilean people. While capitalism lasts there will always be malicious empires like that of the USA whose job it is to destabilise and destroy any regimes that are considered to be against their imperialist interests. While visiting the UK in 1998 Pinochet was arrested on charges of genocide and the British people had to witness his stomach-churning and grotesque defence by Thatcher and his subsequent release from house arrest by Labour’s Jack Straw. Allende was a courageous individual but, in the end, like his fellow Leftists who have achieved power, he changed nothing.
Wez.

Goo (2023)

From the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Twenty years ago, in 2003, our new and glorious King warned us of the potential of a ‘grey goo’ catastrophe, from new technological and social developments running out of control and devouring the planet.

How right he was.
The modern period has been characterised by massive structures. Physical, economic, and social structures. There were the massive engineering projects of the advancing capitalist age, building railways, dams, factories, and megastructures, finally outshining the Egyptians and their pyramids. Then the great power blocs of Entente, Alliance, and Axis, fielding armies that finally surpassed those of Alexander and Genghis Khan, and ending with the stasis of NATO versus the Soviet Union, where the whole world was threatened with annihilation from a general nuclear exchange. And socially there has been the erection of Democracy, as a temple of classless worship, an ever-expanding sphere where the rich and the indigent supposedly had the same access: the same access to information with the BBC, and press regulation: the same access to physical citizenship via palliatives and doles, above all the NHS; to education via free schools and university tuition even for the working class; political equality via the franchise, regulated by the Electoral Commission. Over all this stood a civil service that was no respecter of persons, administering the whole system, and a broad political consensus between all political parties and classes that this was a Good Thing and should continue.

Respectable working class
One of the most important structures resulting from this was the respectable working class. A class with reforming, not radical chains, that voted Labour but looked down on subversive ideas. The class that fought for a fair day’s wage, not the abolition of the wages system, that traded its birthright for a mess of pottage consisting of an 8-hour working day, a manageable mortgage, and pensioned retirement.

The other blocs also had their different systems, and similar social contracts, explicit or implicit, as to the relationship of worker to capital, and of capital to the state. While each bloc would berate the others as to their barbarity, in practice within the limits of available wealth and level of development their structures were remarkably similar. Free market, mixed, or state capital were points on a scale.

Now of course what is order for the spider is chaos for the fly. Those outside of the blocs, or who fell through the gaps of the system, were fair game. A corporation could outflank a minimum wage and other controls by setting up shop in the global South, or by employing transient labour, or underpaying women (stamping out child labour, within the state’s confines, was a universal boast). Imperialism abroad became neo-imperialism, its victims now crushed under debt rather than the boot heel. All’s fair, and you can work yourself out of poverty. Supposedly.

It was in Britain that all this first fell. New class war economic experiments, first tried out in post-coup Chile, were brought to these shores by an insurgent Conservative government in 1979. A convenient military victory provided the political capital for a triumphant second election, while a manifesto to swing the pendulum in the other direction was described as ‘the longest suicide note in history’. Across the 1980s, while the rest of what was rather optimistically called civilisation continued its sclerotic social compromise, the moles burrowed under, waging war at all points at home and abroad with no purpose but chaos that would fell the existing order, bringing more profit to capital and thus less to labour, while destroying the international order and baring the Soviet’s throats to their gnawing teeth. In the decades since the fall of the Soviets, their tunnelling has borne fruit, and structure after structure has come crashing down.

This is the grey goo that we were warned about. Describing it as an intelligent system is something of a reach: it is entirely instinctive, yet assimilates an entire society, destroying its existing systems, and turns it into a formless slurry that can be consumed for a profit. The career and pension is a distant dream, as is housing or even feeding your children. Voting is under attack at the polls, but far more importantly the recent campaign to define almost any and all social democracy as antisemitic has turned the BBC, the media bulwark against the billionaire media barons, into a firehose of servile bullshit.

There is no democracy without debate. Education standards are now those of the psychotic billionaire hobbyists who purchase academies. Our foreign policy is no longer part of the NATO structure, with a legacy of Empire structure, but chasing the Americans’ heels to hear their commands of the day, in the new US-UKA ‘alliance’. And the social fabric of imperialism has broken down: where the city was supposed to shower its brutal trading wealth onto the country from above, as a substitute for native manufactures, now the Square Mile acts as a jet engine firing the misery of billions towards the bank accounts of hedge-fund billionaires at supersonic speeds, bypassing the North which is scheduled for managed demolition. And recently of course we had the ultimate political Punch and Judy show, of the Truss ‘administration’, along with the first budget to open with the line ‘Everybody be cool, this is a robbery’. A man who seemed to be wholly owned by Crispin Odey, a currency speculator, wrote a budget that put billions in the pockets of the likes of Crispin Odey through currency and bond market speculation, while we all suffer, and no-one can talk about it because the first structure to be dissolved was our own backbones. As someone once said, the British are finally going to find out how it feels to be ruled by the British.

Reasons to be cheerful? 
As Ash from Alien might say to the working class facing this onslaught, ‘You have my sympathies’. But from a revolutionary perspective there are possibilities. The problem is, the Western working class had succumbed to victory disease. The social contract was the social stasis, that stopped anything from moving. Workers had systems, such as (but not only) unions, to maintain their position as a class of capital, rather than being a revolutionary class. Their chains were reformist chains, and a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work seemed a logical demand for the working class, and they rightly looked askance at the dangerous nutters that wanted to pull it all down. At the same time the capitalists of various persuasions were locked into sclerotic and inefficient systems that gave them an average rate of profit and kept them from the guillotine, and they could at least take pride in the empire-building nature of their enlightened taxes.

But now this is going. Out with a working class who do not directly own capital but do have rights and privileges, pensions funded on the stock market, are consulted, are offered routes out of their class however tenuous and individual, in short are a class of capital. Their party is the Labour Party, as subordinate and loyal partners of the manufacturers in their battle against landowners and financiers, and those members of the working class who drifted further leftwards so often had reasons other than their class position, whether personal, quixotic, hobbyist, or just falling through the cracks. Through the classic period of capital, revolutionary politics has not, arguably, been economic but millenarian and historical class politics. But now that working class is becoming a memory. The revolutionary proletariat is not just about the people who work. The proletariat is not a class so much as the dissolution of all classes: and workers are, in these last days of capital, once again proletarian. In times of madness, the nutters are finally the voice of sanity they should always have been.

Lenin asked, ‘What is to be done?’ – this is the question posed by the vanguard of the organised working class in capitalism. It is a question that demands order, an end to the chaos, the fly trying to take over the spider’s web or at the very least come to a modus vivendi with the spider. And it is a cry that has socialism of a particular kind as its object, the ‘socialism’ of increasing wages and regulated working days and pensions and swimming pools.

The cry of the proletariat, the dissolution of all classes, is different. Its cry is ‘I am nothing and should be everything!’ As Durruti said:
‘We have always lived in slums and holes in the wall. We will know how to accommodate ourselves for a while. For you must not forget that we can also build. It is we who built these palaces and cities, here in Spain and America and everywhere. We, the workers. We can build others to take their place. And better ones. We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing in this minute.’
A world of goo is the legacy of Capital, as the fabled scorpion that stung the frog mid-river, not due to its advantage but due to its nature. It is a world that the established working class must fear, and is warned against. But it is a world that the proletariat can rule without any instruction from a vanguard or obedience to an overseer, every step better than their last, and a world so debased that no treasured structures need to be preserved. As even the American bulwark falters into farce, a ringmaster lashing out at the lions that have seen their military failure and now are coming to see them less as tormentor and more as meat, threatening world nuclear war to obscure the corruption on a single corrupt scion’s laptop but more just to seek oblivion over their inevitable decomposition: the international nature of the working class starts to make more practical, rather than oratorial, sense.

A world of ruins, not just of the physical but the political, the religious, the economic, where all that is solid melts into air, is a world where the proletariat can survive and flourish but the bourgeois worker cannot: to survive collapse, to survive shame, and prosper, you must become a cockroach, and the prideful cannot make the transition. A world of goo is a world of possibilities, but the working class must first go under the yoke of shame; fortunately, our capitalists are lashing us in that direction. But then, in some ways capitalists have always been the better Marxists.
Hobgoblin.

Tiny Tips (2023)

The Tiny Tips column from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

A video has captured the dramatic moment a £300,000 Roll-Royce was hoisted up to a penthouse on request of a billionaire in China. The luxurious Rolls-Royce Ghost was sent up to the 44th floor of a high-rise building after the wealthy businessman decided he wanted his car parked on his balcony (tinyurl.com/3ytvh63e).

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Eswatini heads to the polls soon, with elections scheduled for September. But there’s nothing remotely democratic in prospect. The country remains ruled by King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, who presides over Eswatini with an iron fist. Mswati dissolved parliament on 11 July, confident there’s little chance of people who disagree with him winning (tinyurl.com/msbaae72).


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‘Legislative protections remain weak across the continent,’ the researchers who collated the results of the survey said in a response to questions. In ‘Somalia, Somaliland, Mauritania and Northern Nigeria homosexuality can be punishable by death,’ they said (tinyurl.com/4buzjv55).


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Disadvantaged Britons are dying 10 years sooner than their wealthier compatriots – victims of what’s become known as the ‘shit life syndrome’ – a life marked by poor living conditions, disease and addiction. The documentary profiles people who have a job but can still afford nothing – from Blackpool in the west, to Ashton-under-Lyne and Cumbria, on the border with Scotland (tinyurl.com/3scyx5a6).

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A Labour government in the UK under Starmer will bring no significant changes in economic or foreign policy and will make no difference whatsoever to the lives of working class people (tinyurl.com/4hw9pey3).

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When I spoke to Cohen [co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream], the group’s primary donor, according to Fritz, he echoed the ad’s key points, saying U.S. arms manufacturers saw NATO’s expansion as a ‘financial bonanza.’ ‘In the end, money won,’ he said with a resigned tone. ’And today, not only are they providing weapons to all the new NATO countries, but they’re providing weapons to Ukraine.’ I told Cohen I could understand his opposition to the war and follow his critique of U.S. foreign policy, but I couldn’t grasp how he could take a position that put him in the same corner as a government that is bombing civilians. He refused to be drawn in. ‘I’m not supporting Russia, I’m not supporting Ukraine,’ he said. ‘I’m supporting negotiations to end the war instead of providing more weapons to continue the war’ (tinyurl.com/2p827284).

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The federal minimum wage in the United States would be $42 an hour today if it rose at the same pace as Wall Street bonuses in recent decades. But it hasn’t. Monday marks 14 years since the last federal minimum wage increase—the longest stretch without a boost since the late 1930s, when the national wage floor was first established. Since 2009, the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour, pay that’s currently not liveable in any state in the US (tinyurl.com/35jebfkm).


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The implication of Kennedy’s statement is that the [Covid-19] disease is a biological weapon created by Chinese researchers and Jewish American scientists to kill Christians (bit.ly/44PAouB).