Sunday, September 17, 2023

One-party rule in Japan at an end? (2007)

From the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
Politics in Japan has reached a turning point—or a dead end—with the crushing defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party in the upper-house election on 29 July.
The Liberal Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, lost the majority it had held in the upper house (along with its coalition partner the New Komei Party), so that now it is controlled by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Many within the LDP have called for Abe to resign, which is customary after such a major defeat, but as of mid-August he is still holding on to power. Whatever Abe’s destiny, however, the election result seems to herald the beginning of the end of what has essentially been a system of one-party rule since the LDP was formed in 1955.

There is no shortage of reasons for the defeat suffered by the LDP. First and foremost, there was the scandal involving the pension system. It was revealed in May that some 50 million pension records had been lost. This means that people who regularly paid into the system are at risk of being shortchanged on their pension benefits. With a huge percentage of Japan’s population at or nearing retirement age, it is easy to understand why this scandal has alienated so many people from the LDP.

There were also the scandals involving cabinet members, including the illegal funding of political activities and the usual LDP “verbal gaffes.” Two members of Abe’s cabinet resigned and the minister of agriculture, who was under fire for a funding scandal, committed suicide. Incredibly, the new agricultural minister was implicated in a similar funding scandal and resigned immediately after the election defeat.

While these scandals seem to have been the direct cause of the LDP’s defeat, there are long-term political and social changes that have gradually eroded the party’s power and contributed to the unpopularity of Prime Minister Abe. One trend, which has been much commented on in the press, is the increasing “social divide” between the richer rich and poorer poor. Among the have-nots the impression is that the “structural reforms” implemented by the LDP, starting with Abe’s predecessor Koizumi, have only worsened their lives.

The divide between rich and poor corresponds to a growing disparity between the more affluent cities and the economically depressed rural areas. Traditionally the LDP has depended on votes in the rural districts, and repaid this support with the agricultural protectionism and large-scale public works projects that are the two pillars of the local economies. These policies have become difficult to maintain, given the ballooning government debt and need to form free-trade agreements, not to mention the public opposition to wasteful government spending on unnecessary roads and dams. The LDP has tinkered with reform, including the promotion of decentralization of government administration, and this has already eaten away at its base of support. One of the most striking aspects of the election result, for example, is that the DPJ was able to win seats in rural districts that up to now have been impregnable LDP strongholds.

Abe hoped that a revival of nationalism could help to conceal or bridge the divisions between rich and poor, and between urban and rural Japan. He raised the creepy goal of creating what he calls a “beautiful country.” Abe thought this could be achieved through such efforts as revising the Constitution to eliminate its pacifist clause, whitewashing history so students can “take pride” in their country, and advancing a more interventionist foreign policy in tandem with the US.

But even here Abe has had little luck. One problem is that his campaign to turn back the clock to the 1930s began just as the US was demonstrating to the world the limitations of hairy-chested jingoism. Many people in Japan—even capitalists—must have wondered whether it was a good idea to adopt the George W. Bush approach to winning friends and influencing people. The two-headed quagmire in the Middle East has also forced the US to take a less belligerent stance towards North Korea; a move that caught the Abe government off guard and complicated the effort to use the fear of North Korea to bolster the revival of nationalism.

There has also been hostility towards Abe because the public feels as if it has been “sold a bill of goods” by the LDP. Japanese voters provided overwhelming support to Prime Minister Koizumi when he posed as a renegade hell-bent on overturning the status quo within his own party, resulting in the LDP regaining a firm majority in both houses of parliament. But Koizumi’s hand-picked successor, Shinzo Abe, used that power to push through reactionary legislation with little public support, fill his cabinet with political cronies, and even bring back to the LDP some members that Koizumi had expelled for opposing his “structural reforms.” The general feeling among the public is that it was a very bad idea, indeed, to have handed the LDP a blank check.

Finally, there is the problem of Abe himself, who clearly lacks the essential political skill of lying in a convincing manner. The charismatic Koizumi might have been to talk his way out of at least some of the problems listed above, creating a useful distraction or two, but Abe has proved quite incapable of charming the public.

Probably the least significant factor behind the LDP’s defeat was the opposition Democratic Party. The general consensus is that people were voting against the LDP, not for the DPJ. Given the numerous problems facing Abe’s party just outlined, the DPJ had to do little more than criticize the LDP’s handling of those problems and offer some vague solutions.

Under its new leader Ichiro Ozawa, the election campaign of the DPJ emphasized the growing gap between the “winners” and “losers” in society and made the claim that it could implement policies that would improve the standard of life for common people. In its election manifesto, the DPJ raises the goal of “creating a nation where people can live their lives free of anxiety” and “putting people’s lives first.”

How the DPJ intends to deliver on this promise, under an economic system of production for profit, is a complete mystery.

And even the more concrete “pledges” and “proposals” listed in the DPJ manifesto are unlikely to ever see the full light of day. The party offers three pledges: to resolve the pension problem, increase subsidies for childrearing (to deal with the low birth rate), and providing greater support for farmers. All three require lots and lots of yen, which the government does not have or would prefer to use in more capital-friendly ways.

The DPJ election manifesto includes seven proposals as well: (1) protect jobs and rectify social disparities, (2) solve the shortage of doctors and improve healthcare, (3) eliminate administrative waste, (4) advance the decentralization of government, (5) support small and medium size businesses, (6) take a leading role in environmental protection, (7) adopt a new approach to foreign policy.

The first two require increased spending, while any savings from the third and fourth proposals will mean job losses for government workers and economic hardships for the provinces. The next proposal, to help out the “little guy” (=small capital), would also require increased expenditures and run directly counter to the interests of the big-time capitalists who run the show. The sixth proposal is an empty promise, as long as capitalism, with its anarchical money-chasing, remains firmly in place.

Even the final proposal on foreign policy, which is one of Ozawa’s primary obsessions, will be difficult to achieve because Japan is so closely intertwined militaristically with the US, to which it has outsourced its foreign policy for the past sixty years. Ozawa has stated that the DPJ would use its new power to oppose the extension of the Antiterrorism Law, under which Japan has supported the US wars of aggression in the Middle East. It will be interesting to see if he follows through on this promise, given the heavy pressure already being exerted on the DPJ by the US since the election. The DPJ itself is split over this issue, as reflected in its manifesto, which states that, “a strong and equal Japan-US relationship based on mutual trust” is the “foundation of Japan’s foreign relations,” while in the very next sentence calling for the “immediate end of the dispatch of Self-Defence Forces (=Japanese army) to Iraq.” If the DPJ can stand up to the pressure from the US, they are certain to gain tremendous public support, but unless there is a real alternative to the current foreign policy, Japanese capitalists may decide to stay aboard the USS Hubris.

The promises, pledges, and proposals of the DPJ are not only difficult (and at times impossible) to achieve, they present a false image of that political party. In the election campaign, the DPJ emphasized a liberal, people-friendly image, but a brief look at the history of the party and its members reveals how similar its outlook is to that of the LDP. Many of the big players in the party, including Ozawa, got their start in the LDP prior to the formation of the DPJ in 1998.

Ozawa rose as high as the Secretary General of the LDP, in 1989. But he found himself on the losing end of a factional struggle, and in 1993 decided to strike out on his own, forming the Japan Renewal Party. The next decade saw Ozawa in a number of other small parties. Far from steadfastly opposing the LDP, however, Ozawa’s Liberal Party formed a coalition with the LDP and was even negotiating with Prime Minister Obuchi to return to the fold. When opposition in the LDP blocked this political merger, Ozawa tried his luck with the DPJ, dissolving the Liberal Party within it in 2003. Ozawa is clearly is an opportunistic politician who does not offer a fundamental break with LDP politics, not to mention that he is wholly faithful to the capitalist system.

If the DPJ represents a step forward for politics in Japan, it is only in the sense of contributing to an understanding that capitalist political parties are fundamentally the same, quite unable to deliver on their sweet-sounding campaign promises. Some may still be holding out the hope that the DPJ will set Japan on the right path, but they are sure to be disappointed. It is the role of socialists to prevent their disappointment from resulting in impotent despair, by showing where the real problems lie and offering a solution.

What’s left?
But the “left” in Japan is not offering a critique of capitalism or pointing the way beyond it.

During elections, the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) makes its presence felt. Even in the smallest towns JCP posters and politicians can be seen. This might give a tourist the impression that there is great interest in socialism in Japan today. In fact, however, the election campaign of the JCP makes no mention of socialism. The primary issues for the JCP are the defence of the current “pacifist” Constitution and the quixotic goal of achieving something called “capitalism with rules” through Keynesian economic policies. And the same approach characterizes the politics of the Social Democratic Party (Japan), which includes remnants of the now defunct Socialist Party.

To borrow the old comparison, the reformist politics of the JCP and SDP are like treating a patient’s symptoms, without paying much attention to the disease. For example, JCP leader Kazuo Shii, in comments made to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club on 3 July, raised the party’s slogan of ending poverty, proposing the following three measures: (1) Oppose regressive taxes (residential tax, consumption tax); (2) enhance social services; (3) enforce work regulations. Not a word about how poverty is endemic to capitalism itself, as a society where production is for profit and profit arises from the exploitation of labour.

No matter how well intentioned, the politics of the JCP and SDP generate the illusion that capitalism can change its stripes. Perhaps in the short-term this will win them some votes, but neither party is offering a solution to problems people in Japan and throughout the world face. And until a genuine socialist party does emerge, Japanese politics — and society — will be stuck in an impasse.
Michael Schauerte

Too much hot air (2007)

From the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

A week may be a long time in politics, but it seems that ten years is not enough for capitalism to take action against climate change. Since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol little substantial has been done to address the problem.

It is almost universally agreed that global warming is brought about by an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. These gases trap heat and so lead to a rise in the planet’s temperature. The consequences are varied and not fully predictable, but might include water shortages, a fall in crop yields, rise in sea levels and the wiping out of many species.

It’s not yet too late to do something about it. Some degree of further global warming is already guaranteed by existing and near-future amounts of the greenhouse gases, but if a reduction in their emission is achieved then warming can be controlled and its worst effects avoided. George Monbiot’s book Heat is an extended attempt to show that carbon emissions in Britain could be cut by 90 percent. Various methods are described, such as the introduction of a micro-generation system, the use of gas-fired power stations, and an end to flying.

Monbiot argues that the climate change denial industry has managed to delay effective action. This industry is a mixed bag of lobby groups and websites, many of which receive funding from ExxonMobil, a giant corporation which makes most of its profits from oil and therefore stands to lose out if global warming is tackled seriously. Philip Morris, the tobacco company, was among the first to fund the denial industry.

Clearly companies whose business involves the production of greenhouse gases are going to fight tooth and nail against moves to constrain them. Capitalists in general will take a similar line if they feel attempts to combat global warming will reduce their profits. Governments, which — after all — represent capitalist interests will jump in on their side. All talk of global or governmental responses to climate change has to take these harsh realities into account.

In his book The Weather Makers Tim Flannery writes:
“The transition to a carbon-free economy is eminently achievable because we have all the technology we need to do so. It is only a lack of understanding and the pessimism and confusion generated by special interest groups that is stopping us from going forward.”
Flannery claims that international action to prevent damage to the atmosphere is possible and has indeed occurred in the past. In 1987 the Montreal Protocol successfully limited the emission of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These destroy the ozone layer, which blocks lethal ultra-violet radiation reaching the earth. Once the dangers inherent in CFCs were realised, production of them was phased out, and now the ozone layer is recovering.

The problem is that the parallels between the Montreal Protocol and the Kyoto Protocol, which is intended to reduce carbon emissions, are not close enough. CFCs were used in spraycans, some cleaning agents, and so on, and consequently they were nowhere near as important or central to capitalist production as the generation of power and energy, which are basically where greenhouse gases are output. It’s not just a matter of the ‘special interest groups’ to which Flannery refers, but of the drastic disruption to capitalist industry — and hence to profits — that would be involved. Even though the Kyoto-envisaged reductions are nowhere near what is really needed, even these milk-and-water provisions are unlikely to be adopted.

So it isn’t primarily confusion and lack of understanding that militate against capitalism taking serious steps to limit global warming. It’s the central role of the profit motive. And that’s why it will take a socialist society before these and other environmental problems can be tackled — and humanity live in true harmony with our home planet.
Paul Bennett

Politics of Apathy (2007)

Book Review from the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why We Hate Politics. Colin Hay. Polity Press.

Colin Hay is a Professor of Political Analysis and has produced a book typical of the academic genre – tightly argued and well referenced if somewhat dense, and at times, abstract. His main focus is that politics is ‘an increasingly dirty word’ and he sets out to examine why.

In fairness, some of the information he presents is rather good, especially in the earlier chapters where he looks at trends in political participation within the major developed states of the world, identifying and seeking to explain declines in voter turnout, falling membership of political parties and prevalent attitudes towards democracy and participation as sampled in opinion polls. He notes that somewhat paradoxically, just as traditional political participation has declined in recent decades, so have attitudes towards democracy as a form of running society improved, with less anti-democratic sentiment than in earlier times. This seems to be because while parliamentary democracy may not be perfect, any known, established alternatives to it (e.g. dictatorship from the far left or right) have proved to be even less attractive propositions.

While just over three-quarters of people in Britain consider democracy to be the ‘best form of government’ this means – rather worryingly – that nearly a quarter would prefer something else (e.g. dictatorship), but this is one of the highest levels of anti-democratic sentiment still existing in the Western world, in distinction to the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Japan, for instance, where pro-democracy sentiments are almost universal.

Rather like a bourgeois economist, Hay examines contemporary attitudes towards politics and political participation in terms of demand and supply. He argues that most writers examining this problem have focused principally on the demand side of this equation, in that they have been content to analyse the declining ‘demand for political goods’ amongst the electorate as manifested in voter turnout, political party membership and so on. When turnout declines the blame is apportioned to the voters, not the purveyors of political goods and services like the politicians and spin-doctors, who seem content to market themselves as competing branded versions of essentially the same product.

He argues that this issue of political supply – and the problems associated with it – has largely been ignored. The supply side essentially constitutes ‘changes in the content of the appeals that the parties make to potential voters’ and ‘changes in the capacity of national-level governments to deliver genuine political choice to voters’. Interestingly, unwitting support for this ‘supply-side’ view of political decline comes from the politicians themselves, who seem increasingly keen to abdicate responsibility for the running of society and for the political choices involved in this. In this respect, Hay’s piece de resistance is a quote from Blair’s old lieutenant, former Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Lord Falconer:
‘What governs our approach is a clear desire to place power where it should be: increasingly not with politicians, but with those best fitted in different ways to deploy it. Interest rates are not set by politicians in the Treasury, but by the Bank of England. Minimum wages are not determined by the Department of Trade and Industry, but by the Low Pay Commission . . . this depoliticisation of key decision-making is a vital element in bringing power closer to the people.’
While Hay seems to imply that this is a dereliction of duty by politicians that has led to even more cynicism from the public, it is just as much an admission of their practical failure to create worthwhile change or improvement through active intervention. After all, if there’s little or nothing you can do, then why not (under the guise of being ‘democratic’) effectively hand over the supposed ‘powers’ concerned to someone else? Then they can, at least, take any blame that is due from a weary and sceptical public.
Dave Perrin

Life of an anarchist (2007)

Book Review from the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Anarchist Geographer: An Introduction to the Life of Peter Kropotkin. Brian Morris (Genge Press, 2007. £8)

This is a short (100 page), readable biography of the anarchist writer Peter Kropotkin. Born a prince in 1842, he became an anti-Tsarist revolutionary for which he was arrested and imprisoned in 1874. Two years later he managed to escape and left Russia, not to return again till the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917. He died there in 1922.

Before he became a revolutionary he had been involved in original geographical research in Siberia and had been elected a member of the Russian Geological Society. In exile he earned a living as a scientific journalist and writer. Hence the title of Morris’s book. One series of his scientific writings was later published as Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution, which became a socialist classic, opposing the Social Darwinists who saw the struggle for existence as the only factor.

In the 1870s when Kropotkin first became active in revolutionary and working class politics in the West – in Switzerland – almost all those involved, including those who were later to describe themselves as “anarchists”, called themselves “socialists”. So did Kropotkin, though he preferred to call himself a “communist” to distinguish himself from those who wanted “from each according to ability, to each according to work done” from those like him who wanted “to each according to needs”.

Kropotkin has been accused of (or credited with, if you prefer) creating a distinct (anti-) political philosophy called “anarchism” which embraced anybody who was against “the State”, even if they weren’t socialists/communists. In fact, this includes vociferous anti-socialists like the followers of Stirner, Thoreau or Tucker (individualist anarchists) or Proudhon (market anarchists).

Quite why Kropotkin felt – and why some modern anarchists still feel – some sort of affinity with these open anti-socialists is difficult to understand. But then anarchists do make the mistake of seeing the state, rather than capitalism, as the cause of workers’ problems, whereas the state is a consequence of economically-divided class societies.

Kropotkin wasn’t consistently anti-state anyway. When WW1 broke out he immediately supported France (and Britain) against Germany, on the grounds that the German state was the greater evil.
Adam Buick

The single issue (2007)

From the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
The futility of the ever-increasing single issue campaigns is clear for all to see. Could it be because they are being reactive rather than proactive?
Who can’t relate to the feeling that life, sometimes, bogs you down? Every day many tasks, chores, activities lie waiting to be taken care of, from getting up to going to bed again. Food to be prepared, children to be readied for school, laundry to be organized, the car to be refuelled or put in for service and all before arriving at work for another stimulating day adding to the coffers of the wealthy. Issues there range from the state of the toilet facilities, whether there is flexibility in the flexi-time to who’ll get the next promotion and who the chop. Home alone to an empty flat or home to a house filled with family, stopping to shop on the way, there are still all manner of jobs lined up waiting their turn, defiant in their refusal to just go away. The garden, the grass, the dog, the shower head that keeps falling off the wall; better put the rubbish out, but what rubbish – black bin, green bin, blue box or paper collection? Freshly prepared evening meal, micro-waved dinner or take-away followed by a well-deserved rest – oh, better just sort out that unpaid bill, answer a few emails and return a phone call, help with homework, wash up, maybe get it done before the news starts,—-and so on till bedtime.

Life is full of these single issues; eating, work, health, education, transport, recreation, shopping – for food, clothes, household needs. Single issues, each a part of the big picture, a part of life, the parts constituting a whole. What we choose as the parts and how we put them together probably defines our character in large part. It’s not what’s thrown at you but how you react to what’s thrown at you that reveals your personality. Being proactive rather than reactive will mean being better organized and more in control of one’s time, resources and emotions; however, proactive or reactive, issues are what make up our days, years, whole lives. Most of us will prioritise, knowing that ultimately all will need to be dealt with; some can be passed over lightly or shared or delayed, others, more pressing, will receive our urgent attention.

Our cerebral life would find little to exercise it within the confines of daily life as just described but there is the much wider swathe of issues out there engaging those who are in contact with their conscience. So-called political issues. Single issues.
Poverty: North/South, rich/poor, majority world/minority world, aid, IMF, World Bank, transnationals.

Immigration: problems for asylum seekers and refugees, unequal opportunities for people of different nationalities raising issues of racism, nationalism and xenophobia.

Health: HIV aids, malaria, lack of sufficient potable water and many-tiered systems for access to health treatment.

War: anti-war, anti-nuclear, arms sales and despoliation, depleted uranium and mines.

Women’s Rights: Children’s Rights: Labour Issues: Agro-business and Big Pharma.

Anti-Globalisation: free trade anomalies, farm subsidies, land rights.

Trafficking: involving traffickers, carriers, users, and addicts. Contraband includes drugs, arms, children, women, body parts, animal parts and diamonds.

Natural Resources: oil, coal, aluminium, gold, water, uranium, all with connected environmental problems. Qualified people from Least Developed Countries transferring to richest countries and out-sourcing of jobs to cheapest labour wherever it is, further impoverishing the poor.

Wealth: transferred from poor world to rich world and from rich world to off-shore tax havens.
There are many people who work full time on their chosen most important issue for years. There are many more the world over who volunteer part time endeavouring to make a difference on one or more of these never-ending single issues. These are good people, believing they have something to offer, wanting to make the world a better place, wanting to create a level playing field. So, why is it that there are now more of them than ever before in history, trying to reverse the march of ever-widening divisions? If what they were doing was working there would be need for less of them, there would be positive indications from statistics, not year on year reports of increasing anomalies. The futility of the ever-increasing single issue campaigns is clear for all to see. Could it be because they are being reactive rather than proactive? Could it be that their perceptions of these issues as ‘single’ issues is working against them?

As in life, it isn’t possible to be involved with all these issues separately. As with life’s issues, the single ‘political’ issues add up to the whole. What is required is a philosophy, a way of life that addresses the sum total of all the issues, large and small. Democracy could be the short answer to all these and other issues. Democracy, not of the voting candidates in or out every 4 or 5 years on spurious promises variety, but simply the democracy of supporting delegates who are charged with upholding truly democratic principles to continue strengthening community welfare worldwide.

Socialism is the natural umbrella for humanity, the vast majority of which desires a peaceful world. All the single issues are seen by socialists as effects, the cause of which is capitalism. Effects can be ameliorated but it is better to eliminate the cause and prevent the effects returning. Once the decision is made by the majority to press forward to cooperative life in a peaceful world based upon the common ownership of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community people will be in place who have the knowledge, skills and passion to bring reality to their long-held dreams of solutions to each single issue, in full recognition that theirs is just one small but significant part of an entity much greater than the sum of its parts.
Janet Surman

Faith no more (2007)

From the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

News in Review: What do they stand for? (1963)

The News in Review column from the September 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

What do they stand for?

It is obviously time for somebody to remind the nuclear disarmament movement what they are supposed to stand for.

Remember the days when, they only inscribed upon their banners slogans about banning the bomb? When they appealed that everyone, regardless of their political views, could co-operate in the appeal to save us from nuclear destruction? When they trotted out tame Tories (in much the same way as the Tories trot out tame trade unionists) to try to prove this point?

You do remember? Well, forget it.

The recent demonstrations organised by the Committee of 100 against bad housing, and against the Greek government, show that the unilateralists are going the same way as the other reformist organisations which have sprung up full of fire, have had their day and have vanished.

This process has followed a familiar, wearisome pattern. As unilateralism has failed to have any impact upon that great mass of working class votes which so faithfully support capitalism, the movement has found itself confronted with a choice.

It could have stuck to its original purpose and declined quickly into the ranks of the organisations whose objects may sound very desirable, but have no relevance to the needs of capitalism. Or like any other reformist group, it could have looked out for fresh fields to exploit.

This is what the unilateralists have done, which is not to say that their new preoccupation with issues like democracy in Greece will win them any more support than they gained from advocating banning the bomb. Here, once again, is evidence that, even on their own terms, reformist organisations are seldom logical.

It was not from any notion of superiority, nor any wish to detach ourselves from the problems of capitalism (if that were possible) that we said from the beginning that the nuclear disarmament movement would go the same way as the rest. We have seen so much of this in the past. There is no satisfaction now in seeing our forecast proved correct.

Because as each reformist movement rises and dies, it absorbs the energies and the enthusiasm of the very people who should be working for the new social order which will settle the things they fear and dislike once and for all.

Rachman, a scapegoat

As a scapegoat, Peter Rachman had just about everything. Fat. Balding. Property speculator. Keeping women. Just the man, in fact, to vent a little spleen on if you have been kicked out of your house or if you envy somebody else’s ability to buy feminine favours.

And a scapegoat Rachman has been made, not least by the Labour Party in their transparently clever attempt to win votes by using what they know of Rachman's affairs to attack the Rent Act.

So perhaps a word or two to put Rachman in his place will not come amiss.

First of all, it is nonsense to suggest that it was the Rent Act which gave Rachman his chance. As the papers have pointed out, the heavy glove boys operated against precisely the people who were still protected under the Act.

What Rachman did was to exploit the loopholes in the housing laws and to hide his transactions in a maze of legal complications. This is something which will happen, provided it is profitable, whether there is a Rent Act or not.

Capitalism has always been interested in the cost of housing, because working class rents can have an explosive effect upon wages and upon an election. The shady operator knows that it can often be very remunerative to probe for the weak spots in the law and when he has found them to exploit them to the full.

If Rachman had not cast his shadow in the field of properly speculation he may well have made his pile in some other way. Or indeed, if Rachman had never lived there would have been somebody else to do exactly the same sort of unsavoury deal.

In any case, was not Rachman, in a way, one of capitalism’s heroes? A penniless refugee who became a self-made man of riches? Who is to say that, if his gamble on the oilfields in the North had come off, he may not have become a nationally respected man, his racketeering days forgotten, and ended his life with a title?

Why not? It has happened before.

If the Rachman story is sordid, if it shows up a sort of human behaviour which is unpleasant, if it evokes some of the most regrettable of human reactions—it is only typical of capitalist society itself.

Criminal waste

The trains which, packed to suffocation, are pulling out of the big cities, and the roads to the coast wedged tight with traffic, tell us that holiday time is here and with it one of capitalism’s silly seasons.

High summer is the time when all sorts of fruit and salad is liable to be produced in such abundance that the price falls to the point when it becomes economical for the farmers to plough the stuff back into the ground or leave it rotting on the trees.

But now here is another, even sillier, example of the waste which the profit motive brings with it—one which need not happen only at the height of summer.

The Times of July 31st last reported that Cerebos Ltd., of Hartlepool, plans to dump a hundred tons of meat and fish paste into the sea because they are changing the shapes of their jars.

Hartlepool is in the stricken North-East; perhaps some of the unemployed up there would not say no to a few free jars of fish paste. Or perhaps the stuff might help out with some of the underfed children of the world.

Never mind. Presumably some accountant somewhere has worked out that it will be cheaper for Cerebos to sink the pastes. Just like any other company, they have to keep a close eye on their balance sheet.

Silly is too mild a word to describe the social system which not only allows the criminal waste of the world’s resources but actually, at times, requires and encourages it.

Mail Train robbery

The two-and-a-half million pound mail train robbery was audacious and glamorous enough to have come from the pen of the most imaginative crime fiction writer.

In that, it was typical of a recent strengthening trend in crime. The big, well planned robbery is becoming increasingly profitable for the crooks and so more and more of a headache for the police.

This is hardly surprising. The existence of private property elevates money into the key to a secure life. The moneyed man is always the privileged man and he does his best to make sure that he keeps both the money and the privileges.

There are plenty of such privileged— and honoured—men whose wealth has been amassed from the exploitation of the other class in society. Or perhaps they inherited it from their ancestors’ historical equivalent of the Cheddington hold-up.

This sort of wealth is respectable—it has come from what has been well called legal robbery, which conforms to capitalism's needs and so its moralities.

Robbery, forgery, embezzlement, and so on, do not conform and the men who try to get rich by practising them are anything but honoured.

Be that as it may, crime is inevitable as long as capitalism lasts; offences against property make up die overwhelming majority of crimes today. Capitalism without crime, in fact, is simply impossible.

Ironically, it is capitalism itself which asks for some of its crime. Do not the armed forces, so essential to capitalism, encourage just the sort of knowledge and the mental attitudes which are useful in a desperate, quick-fire robbery?

The driver of the Cheddington train said that one of the gang advised him to keep quiet because there were some “right bastards” there. Well, it is the “right bastard” who makes an excellent Commando or bomber pilot.

All of this is not to justify nor to condone the criminal. Indeed, any one who tried to take away from the Cheddington gang any of the money they have stolen would soon find that, in their own unmistakeable way, they are as firm in their support of property rights as any bank boardroom.

Capitalism is an unpleasant social system and crime is only one of its many excrescences.

Yugoslavia today: “Socialist Federal Republic” (1963)

From the September 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

In April this year Yugoslavia declared itself a ‘'Socialist Federal Republic" under a new constitution. The constitution proclaimed the “abolition of wage-labour relations” and declared that the economic system was “based on relations between people acting as free and equal producers and creators, whose work serves exclusively to satisfy their personal and common needs." The constitution contains the usual Stalinist distortions of Marxism, namely, the allegedly Socialist slogan “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work " as the principle of distribution, the false division between Socialism and Communism, the continued existence of buying and selling under “Socialism” and finally, the League of Communists, the name of the Yugoslav Communist Party since 1957, as the “prime mover” in the construction of Socialism. Marxists, however, do not judge a country by its formal constitution. On the contrary they examine the actual social relations obtaining in that country. Such an examination of Yugoslav society exposes the hollowness of its Socialist pretensions and reveals that capitalism continues to flourish there.

Yugoslavia is a totalitarian state. Most of the people are in the mass organisations typical of such states—in Yugoslavia the Socialist Alliance and the People’s Youth. Marshal Tito appears as a very important person. Youth brigades sing songs to Tito i Partija and his picture adorns the wall of every shop and public place. Still it would be going too' far to label him as a personal dictator. Power in Yugoslavia is in the hands of a small clique (which performs the functions of a capitalist class) of which Tito is just one member.

Nor would it be fair to say that there is widespread opposition to the regime. Certainly in peasant areas people can be found who are against the government. This is hardly surprising since the expressed intention of the government is to modernise the country and to sweep aside out-dated institutions and ideas.

Yugoslavia is a popular dictatorship, that is, a dictatorship enjoying the support of most of the people. In recent years, however, the Yugoslav rulers have learned the lesson which the ruling classes of the developed countries learned long ago: that in order to run the State efficiently so that exploitation can continue in peace the procedure of government must be such that the opinions of the people can be heard and taken into account. Accordingly we find talk about developing "Socialist democracy” and “social self-management.” This is not all talk. People really are being allowed to take part in the running of the administration. But there’s nothing Socialist about it. Yugoslavia’s “Socialist” democracy is something less than the non-party local government which exists in the less industrialised parts of this country. Circumstances are compelling the Yugoslav rulers to democratise their government. But the emergence of the limited political democracy that prevails in the more developed countries of Europe is still a long way off.

What has happened in Yugoslavia is a world-wide phenomenon. Throughout the world totalitarian state capitalism is the form under which many of the backward areas are developing. This is because in these countries the native bourgeoisie is so weak that the state has to take over their traditional role, which is the accumulation of capital. This type of state is in fact more capitalist than the capitalists themselves. Those in charge know where they wish to go and use the state machine consciously to destroy the old society and its ideas and to spread capitalist relations as rapidly as possible throughout the area under their control. Needless to say they do not put it in this way and so we have a varied collection of “Socialisms” throughout the world ranging from “royal” Socialism to allegedly Marxist Socialism. Yugoslavia is one of these countries.

Socialists have never denied the role which capitalism plays in economic development. We have always said that the role of capitalism is to develop the means of production to the point when Socialism and production for use become possible. On a world scale capitalism has long since done this; from this point of view it is now a reactionary social system standing in the way of social progress. Nevertheless, in backward countries it continues to play this role. It removes thousands from the limitations of rural life, educating them and preparing them for life in industrial society. All this must be accepted by Socialists. However, when we say that the spread of education and the elimination of regional differences have been made in Yugoslavia we do not attribute these to Socialism, but to Capitalism.

Yugoslavia is still largely an agricultural country as about 50 per cent. of the population work on the land. Capitalist development, however, continues to break up the old village economy. This is not without its problems. As capitalism develops, the young from the countryside move to the towns seeking jobs. But the jobs are not always there. Hence unemployment, which is currently a problem in Yugoslavia despite the fact that the new constitution guarantees “the right to work and the freedom to work.” In 1962 the unemployed numbered 236,000 (7 per cent.); others seeks work in West Germany. (See Table.)

Yugoslavia has the same percentage of the population at work in agriculture as Russia, but in some ways is ahead, particularly in the development of the free market. Up till 1950 the Yugoslav economy was run on the same lines as is the Russian today. The state fixed the quantity and quality of the goods of each enterprise, who should supply the raw materials and at what prices, the prices of the products and their buyers, etc. This type of state capitalism is resorted to in times of extreme shortage or of national effort as for war or of rapid industrialisation. However, if too prolonged, it tends to become inefficient. This is being discovered in Russia today.

Yugoslavia began decentralisation in 1950. This took the form of developing a free market. Not completely free, but with the state only intervening to set general targets—the system which exists in some developed countries of West Europe in fact.

“Workers’ control” was introduced at the same time as the ending of the state-directed economy. Indeed, it was part of the same process. The importance of “workers' control” in Yugoslavia lies not in its formal arrangements but in its economic role. It was introduced as part of a plan to make Yugoslav capitalist industry more efficient. Its function was and still is to provide an incentive for workers to work harder. The workers’ councils play a similar role to co-partnership schemes in this and other countries. Many students of the Yugoslav system overlook this efficiency aspect and talk enthusiastically about economic democracy. This is a serious mistake as it misses the very reason why the workers’ councils were set up.

Capitalist industries if they are to survive must become more and more efficient. Time-work and equal wages do not provide a sufficient incentive to work hard. Hence piecework, profit-sharing, bonuses, co-partnership and various other incentive schemes. In Yugoslavia the equivalent is the rigid implementation of the principle of distribution according to work. This principle is adhered to strictly and any departure from it is condemned as “non-Socialist.” The workers councils have some say in deciding how the income of the enterprise in which they work should be distributed—but they must share it in accordance with the principle of distribution according to work done. The harder a worker works the more he gets. Herein lies the incentive. Tito has specifically said that this principle is the best way “of thwarting tendencies towards a levelling out of earnings, and other negative manifestations.” The plain fact of the matter is that equal wages would be bad for productivity.

Of course, the rulers deny that the workers’ councils are only a method of increasing productivity. They talk about "the liberation of human labour” and the like. All this is so much nonsense and it is surprising that many of those who are not taken in when supporters of co-partnership in this country refer to their plan as “a possible advance in civilisation” are deceived when the Yugoslav rulers do the same.

Under capitalism the workers must strive to obtain as high standard of living as possible. The experience of the workers’ councils in Yugoslavia shows that these councils are no substitute for free trade unions. Certainly their formal institution is unobjectionable. The workers in an enterprise elect a Council which is ultimately responsible for the general running of the enterprise. The Council in its turn elects a Managing Board. The Director who is responsible for the day-to-day running of the enterprise is appointed by a joint commission of the Workers’ Council and the local administration concerned. In this light the workers’ councils must be seen as the counterparts of joint production councils and such other frauds in the West.

The working class in Yugoslavia has no free trade unions and the workers’ councils are no substitute. For should the workers decide to use the councils to increase their incomes without a corresponding increase in productivity the government trade unions step in denouncing, in the words of one of their leaders, the “small-owner mentality" and other ”backward” influences which make the workers think of exerting "a stronger pressure on the increase of personal incomes." The principle of no pay rise unless there is an increase in productivity, which our own rulers are trying to impose on us. is rigidly implemented in Yugoslavia.

In time the working class in Yugoslavia must come to realise its class position and will take steps to end it. Unfortunately this seems a long way off yet. What is important at the moment is that workers outside Yugoslavia should not be deceived by its Socialist pretensions. Yugoslavia is not a Socialist country. The working class there are still exploited for the purpose of capital accumulation. Those in charge of this accumulation are the ruling class. Let this be understood.
Adam Buick

Branch News (1963)

Party News from the September 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

In London, for the first time in the Party’s history, a Rally is being arranged in Trafalgar Square on Sunday, 15th September at 3.30 pm. Permission from the authorities has been granted and therefore all that remains to ensure success is the greatest support from every comrade who can possibly get to the Square on that day. The Propaganda Committee is holding a meeting of Committees and Branch Organisers and special arrangements for literature sales are being made. This occasion can be made really worthwhile, and one hundred per cent support from every member will help it to be so.

The Delegate Meeting is being held at Head Office on Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday, October 5th and 6th—a weekend to note in diaries. Paddington Branch have booked Hampstead Town Hall for a propaganda meeting on October 21st. Full details in the October Standard.

Our comrade Joe McGuinness is working hard for Socialism whilst at the same time working for his living. He is hoping to start a group in East Essex. Details under Groups on page 134.

West London Branch (ex-Ealing) have settled down well in their new meeting place and are looking forward to a very busy winter season of lectures, discussions, and film shows. We hope to publish details of the first meetings in next month’s Standard.

Glasgow Branch are enjoying their most successful outdoor season for may years. They are holding four meetings a week in Glasgow and two in Edinburgh. A feature of this summer's outdoor activity has been the success of the Sunday afternoon meetings at the new stance at Kent Street. This stance is in the middle of Glasgow's Sunday Market Place—the Barrowlands. The audience is usually between 100 and 200 and literature sales have been especially encouraging. The branch are also preparing for the forthcoming General Election in the Woodside Constituency and preparing a series of posters dealing with various aspects of the Party’s case to be displayed in Woodside prior to the election.

The event which has engendered the most enthusiasm from Glasgow members, however, is the recent acquisition of rented premises in Berkeley Street. This was made possible by the donation of £50 from a Canadian comrade who recently visited Glasgow. The premises are a three apartment basement flat which the Glasgow comrades are transforming from a slum into very attractive headquarters for Socialist activity. The Monday evening branch meetings are now held in the new branch rooms and education classes are due to start there at the beginning of October. It is also hoped to run a weekly discussion group very shortly. It is felt in Glasgow that branch rooms are essential for organisational and propaganda work and their lack until recently has held back our drive for better propagation of the Party’s case. News of Glasgow branch activity in regard to indoor meetings, classes, etc., will appear in next month’s Standard.
Phyllis Howard

Finance and Industry: The end of the publican (1963)

The Finance and Industry Column from the September 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The end of the publican

Reference was made in these columns recently to the concentration of the brewing industry in a smaller number of large firms. According lo the Evening Standard (6/8/63) the process is continuing and taking new forms. One of these is that as the big firms find they can make more profit by having the public- houses run by their own paid managers, they are more and more getting rid of the houses run by tenants, as leases fall in. Some experts are forecasting a big fall in the number of publicans who run their own business, and those who remain are finding their freedom of action more restricted. Having been tied in respect of the brands of beer they could sell, they are now finding themselves limited in their choice of wines and spirits, and even cigarettes and mineral waters. The Evening Standard City Editor thinks that the big brewers, who launched their own brand of gin in opposition to the existing brands, will follow this up by producing their own brand of whisky.

He thinks the disappearance of the “free” publican a matter for regret and a positive danger, but does not explain how the all-round powerful drive concentration in industry and trade is to be halted. Governments may promise to turn back the clock by legislation, but capitalism has a habit of largely ignoring it. It was not only the Conservatives who said they were opposed to any form of monopoly, but there was a time when the Labour Party, too, wanted a large number of small capitalists in preference to a small number of large ones.

In any event it seems that the British worker to whom the Conservatives promised “full personal freedom and power of initiative” isn't going to be allowed to exercise it in his choice of pubs, beers, whisky, etc., quite apart from the limiting factor of his ability to pay.

Down with money

As a small by-product of the £2½ million train robbery the Daily Mail in its issue of August 10 had a full-length leader with the caption “Down with Money.” How bold and refreshing? Nothing of the kind: just the usual inanities of the newspaper editorial mind. The theme was that the robbers of the mail train would find it very exhausting trying to spend so much money and would soon discover that “ money is a nuisance and a bother.” So why not abolish it altogether!

After that daring promise of an idea came the flat triviality of the actual scheme: “Why do we not become a credit card nation, and free everyone from the necessity of carrying bulky pockets full of paper? ”

This, according to the leader writer, would save us all a lot of trouble. No money changing hands and being transported about or locked up in safes. Just Bank of England Computers giving everyone a statement each week of what they had spent and what they had left. All accounts would be settled by cheque. The writer conceded that we might still need a few metal discs for slot machines. “But for the rest let us just sign our names and give our numbers for everything from bus tickets to bingo games. ’ 

We may pause for a moment to contemplate the spectacle of millions of busy shoppers, and travellers signing their names and giving their numbers at shop counters, in buses, ticket offices, etc., and may well wonder whether they would consider it any less tedious than handing out notes and coin.

But there is a catch that the writer overlooked. His brain child all began with the £2½ million train haul and he closed on the note that “there would never again be another train robbery.” But if he thinks that as credit cards come in the opportunity for theft goes out he has overlooked not only the possibility of signing someone else's name and number but also of stealing or forging credit cards.

But let us invite the writer in the Mail to give his mind to a really bold and constructive idea. Let him ask himself why bullion, coins, notes, cheques and credit cards are in use at all; whose interest they serve; and whether they are really necessary?

The theoretical justification for the continuance of a monetary system is that it enables those who lawfully possess goods to sell them, and use the money to buy whatever they choose, when and where they choose. Seemingly a very admirable and convenient arrangement (even if it does get upset much and often by robberies). But it serves to mask the realities of production and distribution which from the point of view of the majority of the population are far from admirable. How do the lawful possessors of (the products of the factories, workshops, farms, and so on, come to be in that position? Because they have laboured to produce what they own and sell? Not at all. Just the opposite in fact. The one undeniable feature of the world we live in is that wage and salary earners who are employed to produce the goods are never the owners of them after production. The owners and the non-producers, simply by virtue of the fact that they are already the owners of the factories, either directly or as shareholders.

So the money arrangements are merely the cover for the legalised exploitation of the mass of the. population, serving primarily the interests of the owning class.

Of course, it needs boldness of thought to consider the fruitful possibility of all the people of the world simply producing what all need, and distributing it directly, without any monetary arrangements (and newspaper leader writers are notoriously timid, and fearful of thought) but having made a small start could not the leader writer of the Mail be induced persevere?

Wage restraint

Mr. Harold Wilson has shown candour in saying again, as he has said before, that any future Labour Government will count on the trade unions accepting wage restraint as part of a policy of restraint of profits, rents, etc. Amid some mild expressions of approval or disapproval, Mr. Hill, general secretary of the Boilermakers Society, got into the headlines by declaring his emphatic opposition to any form of wage restraint. So the battle commences: Hill versus Wilson. And how will the issue be settled? Shall we end with wage restraint or without wage restraint? The answer is that, so long as we have wages, the efforts by workers to push them up and by employers (backed by governments) to push them down will continue: nothing will be settled.

The trouble is that those who argue for and those who argue against wage restraint are not really arguing about whether it should exist or not, but only whether its existence should be admitted in words.

Take Mr. Hill, for example. If, correctly reported, he does not want any form of wage restraint and presumably thinks that if a declaration of “ no restraint” is made, the situation will be different. But, of course, it will be altered hardly at all. For years, indeed for generations, and long before a Labour Government invented the term “wage restraint” to describe its policy, there have been workers and trade unions which have demanded higher wages, and fought bitterly by strikes to get them: and have never got the wages they demanded and thought they ought to have. They have not been restrained by the words “ wage restraint,” but by the resistance of the employers and the power of the government—in the last resort, military power.

What has Mr. Hill to say about his own Union. He has never accepted wage restraint, but he has repeatedly had to accept the fact that his Union members could not get the wages they were asking for. What has Mr. Hill done about it? He has done what he could, but that did not include getting rid of the fact of wage restraint.

As remarked earlier, this is bound to last as long as the wages system lasts, and most people, including apparently Mr. Hill, unfortunately will not get round to recognising that the wages system could and should be got rid of along with the rest of capitalism.

The role of gold

In an address to the Transvaal and Orange Free State Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg recently, the President, Mr. P. H. Anderson, reviewed the prospects of gold mining in South Africa. He stated that in the last 15 years output has more than doubled. It reached a record of 25 million ounces in 1962, and the first five months of 1963 showed a further 10 per cent. increase, but with the exhaustion of mines and in spite of the development of new areas it may now have reached its peak. Employment in the mines has begun to fail from the 1961 peak of 40,000 Europeans and 400,000 Bantu.

The working profit from the gold mines in 1962 was £123 million with a further £21 million from uranium, and dividends of £55 million.

One of the factors stimulating gold production and profits was the devaluation of the pound sterling in 1949, and the South African gold interests have for years kept up incessant propaganda for a general devaluation of world currencies, including, above all, the American dollar. In spite of repeated assurances by the American government that they have no intention of doing this, Mr. Anderson states that a number of South African mines are continuing in operation, though making losses, in the hope that devaluation will sooner or later come to their aid.

As is the way with all vested interests looking for means to increase their own profits, the South African gold interests, backed by a number of economists, argue that it is in the interest of world trade in general, and in particular that it would help the “West” against “Communism,” meaning by the latter the Russian government.

One of the counter arguments from the United States has always been that revaluing the dollar from its present rate of 35 dollars to an ounce of gold to some higher figure (50 dollars is often mentioned in the propaganda) would help the Russian Government since Russian gold stocks would automatically be worth more dollars in the world market.

It has often been claimed that Russian gold production is only second to that of South Africa and rising rapidly (a figure of over 17 million ounces was claimed in 1958). But some of the gold experts outside Russia have been sceptical about Russian output and the size of its gold reserves.

“Lombard” in the Financial Times has recently mentioned various estimates of Russian output, but dismisses them all as no more than “ intelligent guesswork.” But, he claims, if total output and stocks of gold in Russia are not known, what is known is that since the early nineteen fifties Russian gold has been coming into the world market at the rate of something under 7 million ounces a year.

His conclusion is that this figure probably represents something approaching total output and that the supposed enormous gold reserves of the Russian government are mythical—unless the Russian government, like the South Africans, is also waiting for the day when the American government devalues the dollar in terms of gold.

For Socialists it has its own lessons. In spite of the nonsensical forecasts of some alleged experts that the devaluation of the Pound in 1932 would be the end of gold, it still plays its old role in capitalist international transactions, just as much for capitalist Russia as for the rest of the capitalist world.
Edgar Hardcastle