Thursday, September 28, 2023

The crisis: an open letter to trade unionists (2009)

From the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow Workers,

 Capitalism is once again in the middle of one of its periodic economic crises, this time a bigger one than in the recent past. And, as usual, we are the victims. This crisis has been caused, as all capitalist crises are, by the uncontrollable pursuit of profits that drives the capitalist economy.

 With all capitalist businesses chasing profits, one sector of the economy inevitably overexpands in relation to what it can sell. This time it was the US house-building sector. Its overexpansion had an immediate effect on the banking sector which, in its chase after profits, had been engaging in dubious practices. This in turn had a knock-on effect on other sectors and is still working its way through the economy. Which is where we are today, with closed factories and rising unemployment alongside unmet needs.

 Unemployment in Britain is expected to reach 3 million, maybe even before the end of the year. Faced with this economic tsunami, the government has been helpless. They have bailed-out the banks but, apart from that, all they have done is to print more money, but this won’t get production going again. It will just stoke up inflation for later. It looks as if this Labour government will end like all previous Labour governments – leaving office with more unemployed than when they took over. So showing once again that governments can’t control the way capitalism works.

 The capitalist economy will eventually recover but of its own accord, not because of anything the government might do. And not without first putting the working class through many more months of additional misery.

 Recovery will only come when the rate of profit is restored. Which employers are actively seeking to bring about by imposing wage freezes, even wage cuts, watering down pension schemes, and anything else they can think of to reduce their labour costs. Some have even had the cheek to ask their employees to work for nothing. Meanwhile both the Labour government and the Tory opposition are insisting that public sector workers will have to suffer too.

 Workers should fight back. But the crisis has shifted the balance of forces even more in favour of employers. In the best of circumstances, when production is expanding and there is a labour shortage, unions have to work hard to get wages to go up a bit more than inflation. Now, with falling production and rising unemployment, unions can only try to put a brake on the downward slide, only try to stop things getting worse, .

 Ask yourself this: Why should we have to fight the same battles over and over again? Is this the only future? Yes, within the context of the capitalist system of production for profit, it is. But capitalism is not the only possible way of organising the production and distribution of the things we need. There is an alternative.

 Workers can and should organise to end capitalism which forces them to work for wages to live. We should organise to replace it with a system based on producing the things we need simply because we need them and not to make a profit. Production for use, not production for profit. But we can’t control what is produced unless we also own and control the means of production. In short, we need socialism, the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.

 To achieve this, workers need to take political action. We need to organise not just in trade unions but also as a political party with socialism as its aim and policy. This the Labour Party never was, even though it was originally set up and financed by the trade unions. Its policy was to work for reforms within capitalism. Labour governments did bring in some reforms, but they were never able to make capitalism work in the interests of workers. That’s just not possible. All of them ended up merely managing capitalism and in the only way it can ever be – as a profit-making system in the interests of those who live off profits extracted from the unpaid labour of wage and salary workers. Instead of Labour changing capitalism, capitalism has changed Labour into the miserable band of self-seeking apologists for capitalism that everybody today can see they are. It’s high time the unions stop financing this capitalist party, as some have already done.

 Some are suggesting that, now that existing Labour Party has failed, the unions should set up a new Labour party. That would be a mistake. Labour reformism has failed once and it would fail again. So, let’s not go down that road a second time. Let’s learn the lesson of history that no government can manipulate capitalism to ensure permanent full employment and steadily rising wages, the TUC’s illusion (and not only theirs) of a radiant future. Which, even if possible, would still leave the exploitation of wage-labour for profit on which capitalism is based.

 No, what is needed is, as we said, a party with socialism as its aim and policy, an instrument workers can use to win control of political power with a view to ending capitalist ownership and the wages system and to bring in the common ownership of the means of production so that these can be used to meet people’s needs in accordance with the principle “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

Socialism is still the hope of humanity. Let’s work for it.

The Executive Committee,
The Socialist Party of Great Britain.
August 2009

Oil or democracy, what do you think? (2009)

From the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
Our rulers tell us they are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for democracy. Not true.
In June 2009 in Afghanistan a group of heavily armed (with US weaponry) and masked Afghan thugs forced their way into the office of a Provincial Prosecutor and demanded that a detained prisoner be handed over to them. The Prosecutor refused and as the thugs became more threatening he called for the police. When the Provincial Police Chief along with the head of CID and other police arrived there was an escalation in the confrontation that culminated in the deaths of the chief of police, the head of CID and a number of others. The assailants fled the building and “vanished”.

Investigations led the police to a US Special Forces camp outside the town where US officers initially denied any knowledge of the incident or the perpetrators. Following several days of intense and very public pressure from the US installed puppet president, and former vice-president of Unocal (Union Oil Company), Hamid Kharzai, some 40 so-called “contractors” were eventually handed over to Afghani custody. (Kharzai, accused by the US of failing to run a tight enough ship, is not currently “flavour of the month”). The US Army and Special Forces washed their hands and denied any responsibility for these “civilians”.

Were these rogue elements outside of US control? History as well as current practice in Iraq make this unlikely. The US (and UK to a lesser extent) has a real penchant for creating, training and fully equipping foreign “special units”. From Nicaragua, where they called them “Contras”, to Colombia and most other Central and South American countries whose military officers were trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia and who then went on to direct regular or irregular units that waged war against the supposed enemies of freedom and democracy; in Iraq they are called the Iraqi Special Operations Forces. In every case local people call them Death Squads.

As the occupation of Afghanistan drags on and the body count climbs inexorably the pressure on President Obama to stick with his oft stated plans of increased reliance on Special Forces, and to get results, will mount; the recent appointment of General Stanley McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan is a clear signpost in this direction. McChrystal was head of Joint Special Operations Command 2003-2008, he was also commander of US Special Operations Forces in Iraq for 5 years.

So, with Obama offering “Change we can believe in”, how does the future bode for Afghanis as the US and NATO bring peace, stability and good governance to their poor, benighted country? The occupation of Iraq offers a likely blueprint:

As Baghdad fell in early 2003 US Green Berets began a project at a facility in Jordan. There they trained young Iraqis with no prior military experience and moulded them into a Special Forces soldier’s wet dream; a covert, deadly, elite brigade, fully kitted out with state of the art equipment, a brigade that could operate indefinitely under US command and unaccountable to any Iraqi ministry.

The head of the ISOF project is US General Trombitas, a 30-year veteran of Special Forces training teams in Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala. Trombitas claims to be “very proud of what was done in El Salvador” where special forces/death squads trained by him and others killed more than 50,000 civilians. In Guatemala some US trained special forces took part in the killing of around 140,000 people. In Colombia special forces/death squads now form the backbone of the country’s para-military police.

The ISOF, or the “Dirty Brigade” as they refer to themselves is, in reality, a covert all-Iraqi brigade of 9 battalions that is an integral part of the US military with US personnel embedded at every level of the command structure. It weeds out “unsympathetic” or “suspect” elements from wherever its own fully integrated intelligence units fingers them and that includes the Iraqi military, police, civil service and governing and opposition political parties. No one in Iraq is off-limits to them:

“All these guys want to do is go out and kill bad guys all day. These guys are shit-hot. They are just as good as we are. We trained ’em. They are just like us. They use the same weapons. They walk like Americans.” – Lt. Col. Roger Carstens, at the time a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, quoted by Shane Bauer, “Iraq’s New Death Squad”, The Nation, 3 June).

ISOF operations usually take place without any coordination with local security forces whose members are considered suspect. When police or army units show up in response to gunfire they are often targeted. Local commanders admit to turning away because if they intervene, report abuses or serious crimes by ISOF personnel they and their families are targeted. This US-created monster operates above and beyond any law. At present it answers to its master in the same way that the Taliban once answered to the ISS in Pakistan, Hamas was once supported by Israel and the Afghan war-lords once danced to the tune of the US dollar. How long beyond the supposed draw down of US forces will it be before the Iraqis at the head of this modern day SS assert their ruthless power and assassinate all in their path to seizing total control?

Iraq has something the US wants – oil and long-term strategic bases; what about Afghanistan? A suppressed and cooperative Afghanistan is strategically vital to the US goal of bypassing Russia by piping gas and oil from the Caspian region through Pakistan to the sea. Originally they were very happy to do business with the Taliban government, it was considered stable and pragmatic; then came 9-11 and even the grasping, venal oil barons baulked at the probable public back-lash from doing business with those who were “with the terrorists”.

So, today – Iraq; tomorrow – Afghanistan; and the day after tomorrow? If I were a Pakistani I’d be afraid, I’d be very afraid.

Policy has changed little, the means of achieving policy goals has changed little but it has become much more sophisticated.

Corporate state politician 
Obama has delivered speeches around the world extolling the virtues of his new US policy of respect and tolerance for others – former enemies stand and cheer his every word. The contrast between words and deeds is plain to see for those who will take the trouble to look beyond the rhetoric. “Fine words butter no parsnips!” As the front-man of Corporate America, and in recognition of how thinly stretched its forces are, Obama is presently speaking of friendship, trust, respect, tolerance and cooperation whilst at the same time clearly wielding the big stick of consequences should anyone fail to recognise or respect the US’s manifest Divine Destiny. US foreign policy is not about furthering US interests to benefit its citizens it is about furthering US corporate interests to benefit its elite – very different from its publicly stated objective. To say that Obama came to “power” in the US is a misnomer, power is bedded within the “Corporate State” yet his electoral propaganda of “Change we can believe in”, his apparent charm and chalk and cheese difference from Bush has millions around the world believing that the universe is a better place for his being elected – it is no different.

Despite the world economic crisis capitalism is not weakened, it can still fund its institutions and fulfil the fantasies of the elite, it can still fund its imperialist wars and it can still fund its formidable forces. We moan that we are not being paid enough to forge the chains and then cooperate in putting the shackles on our own ankles by voting for the myth that is the latest slick marketing ploy coming from the mouth of the newest political product of Corporate State Inc (or Plc). There has been no change!

Obama wrote a best-selling book called Audacity of Hope. I, for one, dare to hope but my hope lies not in some charismatic, middle-of-the-road corporate state politician. My hope lies in the set of principles that defines socialism and guides my vision of a future world. My hope lies in my belief in basic human decency and our shared humanity. We are the ancestors of those unborn – believing in false dreams will not bring about change for them. Shuffling paper or our feet will not further our objectives. Doing nothing or having a “they got us into this mess, they can get us out” attitude is, quite simply, not an option. Change will come when enough people decide that enough is enough. When enough people have done enough of the right things.

 We need the world to be free of hunger, discrimination and fear. We need it to be free of thugs and mercenaries acting in the name of unrepresentative regimes. Should we wait for socialism or should we each do what we can as individuals? I know what my gut tells me. But until enough of “us” do enough of the one thing of which each of us is capable – sharing our vision and what we believe in; until we make a lot more socialists – any difference will be transitory. To bring real and lasting change for the benefit of all, the world needs socialism. Is that too audacious to hope for?
Alan Fenn

Sources: Shane Bauer “Iraq’s New Death Squad”, The Nation, 3 June (Link). Dahr Jamail, “The Dirty War”, Mideast Dispatches, 9 July (Link).

Nazism – the ultimate evil? (2009)

From the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
Everything undertaken in the regimes called Nazi, or fascist, finds its parallel in the capitalism of other areas.
Capitalism stinks. It stinks of corpses. The millions starved to death, dead of preventable diseases, killed in war, worked to death: and the myriad mundane vicissitudes of class life, beaten to death in the petty squabbles of humans thrown together against their will, coughing out their final days with coaldust on their lungs or dying of lung cancer from tobacco, promoted to children, killing them in old age, ending with the suicide of those who can no longer stand the ruin that capitalism makes of a modern life.

For those of us who remain amongst the living, capitalism is a constant trial, mocked gleefully in the soap operas that, like fairground mirrors, reflect the ugly truth of our existence, misshapen and distorted. Rather than simple poverty, capitalism runs the full gamut of a life with a void at its centre: poverty of the underweight, poverty of the overweight, poverty of the deluded in their temples, poverty of the disillusioned who bear the absurdity of life lived not even for another, but for a number, a bank account, in more or less terror for their sanity.

I say all this to put my next statement into context. Nazism is not a special, nasty kind of capitalism. Everything undertaken in the regimes called Nazi, or fascist, finds its parallel in the capitalism of other areas, whether the ‘free world’ or the ‘communist’. As Captain Willard said in Apocalypse Now, of Vietnam, “charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets in the Indy 500”. It’s capitalism with a black shirt on.

In case there’s still resistance to this notion, consider the rivers of blood that European powers – amongst which we should really number the United States – waded through in the Americas, treading a bloody trail from sea to shining sea, exploiting and murdering all those in their path. Or the British Empire, whether addicting millions to opium or starving them to death through either discipline or incompetence. The supposedly communist, in both Russia and China, starving millions of their own people in famines both intentional and accidental. Millions have been worked to death in slave conditions within capitalism, from the plantations of the Americas, through the Gulags of Stalin, to the Nazi work camps. Today, of course, the whole world is a work camp, with the barbed wire replaced by immigration control and the richer parts of the West and other parts as gated communities.

So when I say that Nazism is no different to capitalism generally, I am not exonerating Nazism. I am damning capitalism. I am damning the Stalinists who still claim ‘at least we defeated fascism’ as their sole claim to fame – while Stalin killed more than Hitler ever did. The so-called liberal democracies claim that they could never go to war, and their forces are only for defence: yet they have slaughtered their way across the globe on the flimsiest of pretexts, such as the sinking of the USS Maine leading to the Spanish-American War in the late 19th century – a purely imperialist grab against a weakened Spain, fulfilling the Monroe Doctrine just as closely as the Nazis with their Lebensraum. Other incidents, such as the Gulf of Tonkin, are now known to have been ruses; there is no need to enter into vast conspiracy theories to say that a disproportional response is no different to a war of aggression. At least ironically, one could credit mad dictators with honesty; the drive to profit inherent in all capitalist regimes, in them is closer to the surface and less buried in doubletalk.

In fact, one can measure the bankruptcy of a political position fairly accurately by the need to resort to ‘we’re better than the Nazis’ as an excuse. It means that their wages are 5 percent better, they kill 7 percent less civilians, their press is 13 percent less prone to lies and censorship; but they still force their citizens to work, they still murder for profit, they still lie to keep ‘their’ workers in line.

Racism, for example, is not some special product of a diseased ideology. It is a basic part of state building in the early stages, reused at those times when international trade is low and protectionism, coupled with aggressive or military action, becomes a state priority. There is not a magic race ogre that leads people, Pied Piper fashion, down the road to bigotry: in class society it is a well-travelled highway.

In short, capitalism is a thing that should fill us with disgust and revulsion. To pick and choose isolated moments of its history and claim that they are the true evil is to attempt to rescue the whole, like Bolsheviks bickering over whether the charnel house that was Russia in the 1930s would have been better or worse with Trotsky or Stalin at the helm: or, really, like any US presidential election, for the rest of the world. Kennedy or Nixon? Carter or Reagan? Every one of these men has been prepared to turn the world into a radioactive cinder, yet people still debate their relative merits.

We have had a century and more of capitalists trying to bolster their pathetic reputations by showing how much better their labour camp is than that run by those next door. Whether it’s Nazis, Bolsheviks, Maoists, or Prussians, Russians and the Inscrutable East, every single one of these societies has been built on the energies, the lost hopes, and the bones of workers, both at home and abroad. To single out any one of these as the one root of evil is to try to whitewash capitalism itself, to deny that there is evil at the very root of our whole world.

This is why socialists oppose all capitalism, and refuse to take sides. We recognise that some circumstances are better than others, but none are worth a drop of workers’ blood, especially not when all of our energies should be turned towards rooting out capitalism as a system. We do not set up fascism against capitalism – we set up capitalism against socialism. Join us in the real human crusade.

A Post-Conflict World (2009)

From the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Imagine a world without war
Focus on conflict; spiralling to encompass more and more areas of the world; bringing “terror” into all cities east, west, north, south; wreaking chaos on whole countries; creating friction between different sections of the population — between people who previously had no reason to be suspicious or fearful of the other. This is what those in power around the world would subject us to and in this they are having no small success.

Now focus on how it could be if the majority of the world’s people were to have their say, and imagine a world without conflict following a transformation in thinking. A transformation in thinking that comes about through the realisation and understanding by individuals who alone or in small numbers have little influence over what they can achieve against the powers of a state but when working together for common aims can bring the power to the people where it belongs. Not military power. Not economic power. Decision-making power.

States, i.e. governments, (or even small sections of government) have the prerogative of violence. All means are in their control and they allow themselves the sole right to use violence, to use police and armed forces against whomever they label as enemies, as a threat to the state or as a threat to national security. The citizenry can’t be a party to the details. In fact even discussing making them a party to the details in itself will be heralded as risking national security further and giving them the excuse to restrict us even more. But, imagine gradually more and more people, seeking an egalitarian and peaceful society, protesting at their government’s armed interventions in other countries, as for example today in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And more and more daring to protest at the level of violence at home perpetrated by the authorities towards citizens on the streets. More letters written to more newspapers and to representatives of the people at all levels; more emails flashing around the globe to encourage others to get involved; more websites and blogs to which people can add their name to show dissidence; more meetings and demonstrations displaying withdrawal of support by the masses for their so-called leaders. Bertrand Russell told CND many years ago, “If all those who disapprove of government policy were to join massive demonstrations of civil disobedience they could render government folly impossible.” It’s not impossible to believe that numbers could become such that members of the forces of repression and armed aggression decide that they will no longer act against fellow citizens or against citizens of another nation. Significant numbers have already spoken out against such aggression, more of them beginning to feel the pressure of society, a society of which they are a part, (not apart from!) a society made up of their friends, family members, school mates, neighbours, a society whose interests they are supposedly engaged in defending. In the case of civil disturbances, strikes and demonstrations they will now join ranks with their own masses preventing repression at home and opposing interference in the destinies of other societies which conversely have no argument with them.

Imagine the power falling away from those who have used it recklessly around the world and into the hands of this majority seeking an egalitarian and peaceful society. Imagine the armed forces, now under the democratic control of the people, committed to securing all weapons, armaments, vehicles, planes, helicopters, ships, submarines, war materiel of all kinds including factories and depots; securing them from any further use whilst and until they can be dismantled, recycled or made safe.

 Are people to stand by passively observing societies descend into the dystopian dissolution that many see as inevitable or shall they stand up together against aggression in all its manifestations in a process of struggle and achievement? Imagine this amazing specimen of revolution, this fantastic human organism, coming together at last to realise its full potential – for what the preamble to the UN Declaration of Human Rights refers to as dignity and worth, freedom, justice and peace.

As Edward Said has written, “There is always the possibility of another social model.”
Janet Surman

As things are now (2009)

From the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
The third part  of “Then and Now – how we live and how we used to live”.  What life might be like after socialism has been established.

Link to Part 2. 

The world has certainly changed a lot in these last few decades, to an extent that I wouldn’t have thought possible had I not lived through it all. During the final stages of capitalist society, the past was often spoken of as a golden age which people looked back to with nostalgia. Well, not any more. I speak for the vast majority in heartily wishing the past good riddance.

 Take houses. In comparison with the old wreck of a building my family and I choose to live in, with its leaky drains and crumbling brickwork, the homes that have been built or modified recently are marvels of comfort, efficiency and safety. They are earthquake-proof and built well away from flood-prone areas. The sanitary blocks and most of the kitchen appliances in the new communal living centres are virtually maintenance-free. Even so, once in a while any dwelling place needs sprucing up. Of course they are all common property, like every other major resource; so whoever is there at the time just gets out the cleaning equipment and gets on with it. Fifteen minutes and the job’s done.

 We could move into one of these new places if we wanted but actually, the house we live in is just a base. Quite a lot of the time I am elsewhere, helping on forest renewal or food growing projects in different parts of the world. My partner usually comes with me and joins in with the child mentoring activities of whatever locality we are in.

 Many different social patterns are emerging and the dwellings being built reflect them. There are still many conventional houses and flats for people who prefer the old family-style arrangement, but there has been a huge growth in communal hotel-like accommodation, some catered, some self-catering, in campsite and kibbutz-style arrangements and in staffed care homes for the infirm and disabled.

 There’s nothing to stop you from trying out any type of accommodation, subject to availability of course, but that is rarely a problem. Some people are constantly on the move and never stay in the same place for very long. Being frequent travellers, we experience all types of living styles ourselves and I must say that in the larger communities sometimes it’s very hard, if not impossible, to know whose children are whose or where one family begins and another ends. But the children all appear well-fed and well looked after.

 The more primitive tribal communities are flourishing again, now there is no threat of their lives being swamped by the economic monster – they may choose to carry on living in their traditional ways, but of course they too have access to all the food and medical care they need.

 Local infrastructure is more or less self-administering; every community has its own food stores and growing areas, transport pools, maintenance depots and medical centres, with experts always on hand to sort out emergencies or the more tricky jobs. If you want food you just take what you need and record what you’ve taken so it can be re-stocked. While they are at it, most people have a general look at what else may be running short and make sure that’s recorded too. And these places are kept tidy – nobody would dream of walking out and leaving them in a mess. They belong to us, after all.

 Today we take for granted that we use our energies for contributing to and improving the common lot and hence our own lives in the process. The very idea of being paid sums of money for what we do is absurd. We do what is necessary to keep society working as we want it to work, we do it voluntarily and mostly we enjoy it because those repetitive, unproductive tasks that have not been automated are shared amongst an abundant and self-defining group of volunteers. Indeed, the sharp distinction that existed in money-based society between work and leisure is now almost non-existent since the vast majority of tasks and projects that occupy us are intrinsically worthwhile and enjoyable. Of course, some aren’t – but when did the prospect of an unpleasant job deter anyone from rolling their sleeves up and getting on with it if it was necessary? Compared with the mind-numbingly dull and dirty jobs people had to put up with in capitalist society, they are a drop in the ocean.

 We are used to being able to enquire on a regular basis what work is needed, whether it be in our particular locality or hundreds of miles away, registering our availability and suitability in terms of experience and qualifications, then turning up if and when required and getting on with it. We can do several different jobs at once, some may be long-term, some may last only a few hours. We can register with a competence agency to train and qualify for a variety of specialised jobs and if our more expert peers deem us suitable, we can be drivers one day and teachers the next. In fact very few people choose to stick exclusively to the same type of work for any length of time. There again – I know a doctor who does a 60-hour week and loves every minute.

 There is a worldwide resources database which records such things as global stocks of food and other essential goods. Areas of temporary shortage are quickly identified and production is then geared up to meet it. Where possible this is done locally, otherwise the food and goods are moved to the areas that need them as quickly and efficiently as possible: no import duties, no demands for payment, no unnecessary delays.

 I hope it goes without saying that the potential impact on the environment of the goods and machines we produce is assessed very carefully such that pollution and wastage of energy and resources are kept to a minimum. Nothing is wrapped in redundant packaging; where possible everything is made from recyclable material, and all factories and modes of transport emit virtually no toxic exhaust fumes. The days of smelly, polluting mill chimneys and petrol and diesel engines are over. It’s still a bit too early to say but the signs are that the damage done to the environment by advanced capitalist society will almost completely be reversed in time.

 We do have “possessions”: our homes, though strictly speaking communal property, effectively belong to us as individuals or groups because there is no reason for anyone else to wish to eject us, and, of course, we have personal effects; but, unless they have personal significance for us, we see no need to take them with us when we move, since similar items for our use will be available wherever we decide to go. There is no trauma at the loss of such articles, no need to claim monetary compensation, and, since they are available to all, the notion of theft is simply absurd. Of course, if you are someone’s guest, you don’t just help yourself to their food or goods, you wait to be asked – but that’s just common courtesy.

 And because there is no pressure to change for the sake of change, or to buy to make someone else rich, things are built to last, at the highest quality, and nobody feels the need to constantly replace them for something better or different.

 The first generation to be born into a world free of money, leaders and national divisions is now grown up. They have a totally different outlook on life and could no more think of reverting to a money-based existence than our early 21st century forebears could have gone back to that even more rigidly structured period known as the middle ages…but I must say I can’t understand some of these young kids even when they talk slowly – and as for what passes for music these days, I really do give up. Some things never change.
Rod Shaw

Tolpuddle 2009 (2009)

Party News from the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

In July we had the Tolpuddle Rally in sunny Dorset. Tolpuddle is little village near Dorchester, where, in days gone by, six agricultural labourers were transported to Australia for having the temerity to organise a union to protect their wages. Different unions still turn out today to commemorate the beginning of the trade union movement, under the auspices of the TUC. The Socialist Party has been attending for a good thirty years or more and this year’s was great, as the weather was very kind to us, not raining, not too hot.

Various comrades and sympathisers turned out to ensure a successful weekend of selling, to the tune of £59 literature and £56 for promotional goods. We gave away dozens of Socialist balloons to (usually) happy and grateful children — and dozens of leaflets to their parents! The parade was bigger than ever. Billy Bragg sang songs, there were stalls aplenty and thousands of people. One comrade suggested we should have a socialist camp next year with a banner.

Although there were some doubts that we would be able to manage two stalls as we put lots of free back issues of the Standard on one of the stalls and by the end of the weekend, most of them had gone, so this ‘freebie’ stall actually worked really well. All in all, a pleasant, good natured rally that everyone enjoyed and a valuable outlet for our ideas — we hope to see even more comrades and friends there next year. 
Veronica Clanchy

Cooking the Books: A salaried economy, no thanks (2009)

The Cooking the Books column from the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

“ From the hawkers, rickshaw drivers and shoe shiners on the streets of downtown Jakarta to the cash-in-hand car mechanics, cleaners and nannies in the smart neighbourhoods of London, the underground economy is booming”, said the Times (24 April) commenting on a report that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had just published. Entitled Is Informal Normal?, the report estimated, according the Times, that in the world “a record 1.8 billion workers are employed in underground activities, compared with 1.2 billion in the formal sector”.

Actually, “underground activities” is inaccurate. The term preferred by the OECD is “informal” by which they mean buying and selling activities that are not declared to the tax or social security authorities. In developed capitalists such undeclared economic activities are “underground” but are only marginal. In other parts of the world, however, – India, Indonesia, most of Latin America, Asia and Africa in fact – they amount to over 50 percent. This is mainly because they don’t have to be declared. In a chapter on “Informal Employment and Promoting the Transition to a Salaried Economy” an earlier OECD report explained:
“In less-developed non-OECD countries, statistical estimates usually include purely informal work, which is unregistered but not hidden because there is no effective requirement for it to be declared. Formal employment with payment of tax and social security contributions becomes an ‘island’ in a large ‘sea’ of informal work. The formal sector may still account for over 50% of GDP – due to its higher relative productivity – suggesting that the benefits from a longer-term transition to a salaried economy through progressive expansion of the sector can be large” (Link).
A “salaried economy”? As one where most paid work is done by people paid a wage by an employer to do it, it’s another name for a capitalist economy since capitalism is based, precisely, on waged labour. The rickshaw drivers and shoe-shiners of Jakarta are not wage-workers. They are workers in that they work and provide a use-value, for which they are paid. But what they get from selling their service is only enough to allow them to cover the costs of being able to keep on working. They don’t produce a surplus over and above this and so don’t contribute anything towards economic development, i.e. capital accumulation.

What difference would it make if instead of selling their service directly to the customers, they were to become employees of a rickshaw or a shoe shining company? They would still be doing exactly the same work as before and getting more or less the same money. The difference is that employers are not philanthropists. They only employ someone if there’s something in it for them – if they can end up with more money than they had invested in buying the materials and hiring workers. In other words, if they made a profit on their capital.

Marx explained that the source of this profit is the unpaid labour of the employees; they not only transfer the value of their own upkeep to the product but also a further amount for which they are not paid and which belongs to the employer. This extra value is new value, most of which is accumulated as new capital. The OECD wants to turn rickshaw drivers, shoe shiners and the like in countries where informal work is currently high into salaried wage-slaves because this is what the capitalist development they favour involves. As socialists, we stand for the “Abolition of the Salaried Economy”.

Globalization (2009)

Book Review from the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Globalization in Question. By Paul Hirst, Grahame Thompson and Simon Bromley. Polity Press, 2009

Globalization is one of the key concepts of our time, accepted by both the right and left as the cornerstone of their analysis of the international economy. In both political and academic discussions, the assumption is often made that globalization of the past few decades is a qualitatively new stage in the development of international capitalism; that integration of national economies into the international economy is an inevitable process to which national governments are largely powerless. This book challenges these notions.

The authors, using detailed evidence, argue for the following conclusions. The present highly internationalised economy is not unprecedented. In some respects, the current globalized economy has only recently become as open and integrated as the regime that prevailed from 1870 to 1914. Genuinely transnational companies are relatively rare. Most companies are based nationally and trade regionally or multinationally on the strength of a major national location. There is no major trend towards the growth of truly global companies. Foreign direct investment is still highly concentrated among the advanced industrial economies, and the Third World remains marginal in both investment and trade. The emergence of India and particularly China has disrupted this picture, though it has not significantly shifted the centre of gravity from the already advanced countries. Investment, trade and financial flows are concentrated in the Triad of Europe, Japan/East Asia and North America, and this dominance seems set to continue. Supranational regionalization (e.g. European Union, North American Free Trade Agreement, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) is a trend that is possibly stronger than that of globalization. The major economic powers, centred on the G8 with China and India, have the capacity, especially if they coordinate policy, to exert powerful governance pressures over financial markets and other economic tendencies. Global markets are therefore by no means beyond regulation and control, though this will be limited by the divergent interests of states and their ruling elites.

The authors show some awareness of the historical development of capitalism, though they view this largely as the history of technological innovation. As the above shows, the emphasis in this book is on the institutional arrangements (social, economic and political) and their interrelationships within capitalism, with no real comprehension of the underlying dynamic of capitalism. As a result they do not explain that it is the competitive accumulation of profits which is the driving force of capitalism’s inherent tendency towards globalization.
Lew Higgins

What's best for British capitalism . . . (2009)

Book Review from the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Globalisation Laid Bare. Lessons in International Business. Industry and Parliament Trust. 2009. £11.99.

The Industry and Parliament Trust is a body set up to promote “mutual understanding between the UK Parliament and the worlds of business, industry and commerce” and this is their take on globalisation. Introduced by Sir Richard Branson, it is a collection of short articles by various other capitalists and their academic and political supporters.

The contributors main concerns seem to be how to avoid protectionism re-emerging in the current crisis and how to accommodate to China as an emerging industrial and commercial power. The contributors from the three main parties (Vince Cable, Alan Duncan and Baron Mandelson) all say the same thing – “down with protectionism” and “keep liberalising world trade” – reflecting their common perception of what is in the best interest of British capitalism.

The only dissenters are “Indian ecofeminist” Vandana Shiva and Clare Short.
Adam Buick

The Rise and Fall of State Capitalist Dictatorships (2009)

Book Review from the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Rise and Fall of Communism. By Archie Brown. Bodley Head. 2009. £25.

Archie Brown, an Oxford professor and expert in the subject, begins by defining his terms. By Communism (with a capital C) he means what existed in Russia and 14 other countries and which still exists in varying degrees today in five of them (China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba and Laos), characterised by the monopolisation of power by a Communist party, organised on rigidly hierarchical lines and severely disciplined, the state ownership of the main means of production and a top-down command economy. By communism (with a small c) he means the “self-governing, stateless, co-operative society” which the Communist parties proclaimed as their long-term aim – and which was Marx’s aim too (and also our, only and immediate, aim, even if we prefer to call it socialism).

Taking this into account, this 700-page tome is an objective account of the coming into being, history and demise in Europe of Communist (what we’d call state capitalist) regimes which he sees as the salient fact of the 20th century. Unfortunately for us genuine communists, apart from the suffering imposed on the workers of the countries concerned, this dragged the name of communism (with a small c) through the mud, so making the task of spreading the idea of a stateless, classless, moneyless society as the alternative to capitalism all the more difficult.
Adam Buick

Past Tense Publications (2009)

Book Review from the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rare doings at Camberwell and Muzak to my ears, Past Tense £1.50 and £1 respectively (p&p 50p for one item, 80p for two) from Past Tense, c/o 56a infoshop, 56 Crampton Street, London SE17 (cheques to A. Hodson)

Muzak to my ears, the history of canned music, as well as a commentary on its present use, is a welcome reminder of how capitalism penetrates every facet of our lives, perverting and twisting human behaviour to its own sick requirements. Like all Past Tense publications, it is exceptionally reasonably priced and well-presented, as well being informative and novel. The author is fortunately by no means trite enough to suggest a “solution”, merely stating the facts and leaving the reader to reach their own conclusions. I think you know ours. Rare doings in Camberwell is a local radical history production. It is very wide ranging in its scope, and if there is no mention of the real radicals – social revolutionaries – that is because such are rare birds anywhere.

SPGB Meetings (2009)

Party News from the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

50 Years Ago: The Inhumanity of War (2009)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
All modern wars are the outcome of economic clashes within Capitalism. As this month is the twentieth anniversary of the outbreak of the last world war, the effects of which are still with us, most of the articles in this issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD concern the Socialist attitude to war.
War can solve no working class problem. It cuts across the fundamental identity of interest of the workers of the world, setting sections of this class at enmity with each other in the interests of sections of the capitalist class.

War elevates force into the position of arbiter in place of the common human desire for mutual peace and happiness. Its effect is wholly evil. It depraves all the participants by forcing them to concentrate upon the best methods of producing misery and of annihilating each other.

War elevates lying, cheating, disabling and murdering opponents into virtues, confers distinctions upon those who practise these means most successfully.

Young men and women, in their most impressionable years, have the vile methods of warfare impressed upon them so thoroughly that they lose a balanced outlook on life and are impregnated with the idea that force, with all its baseness, and not reason is the final solution in all problems.

Socialism is completely opposed to war and to what war represents. At the same time it is the only solution to the conditions that breed war. It is a new form of society in which the people of the world will work harmoniously together for their mutual benefit, for there will be neither privilege nor property to cause enmity.

No coercion will be needed in Socialism because each will gain from co-operating harmoniously with his fellows. But it is a new social system that demands understanding of its implications from those who seek to establish it.

With the establishment of Socialism war will disappear and humanity will have taken the first step out of the jungle.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, September 1959)

Running Commentary: More royal drivel (1983)

The Running Commentary column from the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

More royal drivel

The Police Federation is a strange body, dedicated as it is to improving relationships between the police and the people the police coerce through in-depth research into social problems. This learned lot were recently addressed by one of the world's great experts on psychology, youth delinquency and social pressures — which can only mean the Prince of Wales.

This typically unproductive member of the ruling class thinks that young "offenders'' — youths who break the laws which protect useless parasites in their privilege — have “icy and unfeeling’’ attitudes towards the elderly and would benefit from a spell of Army discipline. (The Army is another strange body, whose profession is to destroy things and kill people).

Of course the Prince is no fool and he had ready some evidence to back up his theories — after all, his audience consisted largely of Chief Constables who are famous for their persistent hunger for dispassionate, scientific research.

The “evidence” consisted of what the Prince saw — or thought he saw — when he visited some courses run by the Army last year, when about 2,000 youngsters put themselves through some risks and exertions. The Prince decided that they had "benefitted immeasurably” from it all.

Jolly good. But as a contribution to research it was useless because those young people were not delinquents, they did not come from slums and they had volunteered to go on the courses as a possible way of getting a job. It would have been a very different matter, if the courses had been filled with restless young offenders from places like Toxteth and Lambeth, sentenced by some pompous magistrate to find their true character dangling at the end of a rope on a rock face.

There is in fact some evidence, which the Prince did not use, about the effects of this kind of regime, in the “short, sharp shock” Detention Centres (now Youth Custody Centres), where youngsters are pushed by a variety of nasty methods beyond what they think are their physical and emotional limits. This evidence does not support the theory that such harsh discipline breeds humane responses. The “success” rate (the proportion of inmates who are frightened out of further offences) of this type of “treatment” is notably low. Perhaps this is because nothing a Detention Centre can do can be worse than living in the slums of Liverpool, Manchester or London.

It is to be expected that parasites like the Prince should be keen that the people whose work keeps him in privilege should be disciplined into accepting their inferior social standing. It is to be expected that the forces of coercion, in the persons of Chief Constables, should applaud his vacuous drooling on the matter. But the subjects of it all — the working class — should react with anger and contempt and a resolve to end such a miserable, decadent society.

Bad connection

The trade unions and the Labour Party are in high fever about the looming menace of Norman Tebbit and his threat to place a garrotte on the unions and in particular to make it more difficult for them to pump money into the Labour Party.

No one who has a concern for working class interests and for a healthy, effective trade union movement will object to plans to sever the ties between the unions and the Labour Party. By such standards — not to mention those of democracy within the unions — there is much to be said for substituting the “contracting in” procedure, by which any union member who wants to contribute to Labour Party funds must declare so, for “contracting out”, by which the contribution is taken from the member unless they say otherwise.

The present excitement springs from the popular fallacy that it is only Tory governments who wage war on the unions while Labour governments live in unbroken peace with them. The 1945-51 Labour government was constantly in conflict with trade unionists, especially with "unofficial” strikers — strikers who couldn't get their Labour-Party-dominated union to support them.

The Wilson government also fought the unions, in one famous strike denouncing the seamen as misled by a group of “politically motivated” wreckers. That government, after years of struggle over pay and conditions, tried to draw up legislation with which Tebbit would have found no fault, but Barbara Castle's anti-union proposals in In Place of Strife were too much for even the most obsequious of union leaders and they had to be shelved. The Callaghan government made their name by breaking the firemen's strike with troops in their Green Goddesses, for the battles with the pickets in the Winter of Discontent and for its ministers urging workers to break through picket lines.

Unions must clash with any government, whether Labour or Tory, because they stand — at least when the unions are doing their job — on opposite sides of the class struggle. The unions should represent the interests of the workers, and the government the interests of the capitalists, in the struggles on the industrial field.

The Labour Party have always cynically exploited their trade union connection to help them get into power. If, after all that recent history has taught them, the unions still go along with this they will find again, and to their cost, how mistaken they are. With friends like the Labour Party they hardly need enemies like Norman Tebbit.

Sick note

Poor David Steel, meaning well but so grievously misunderstood.

Some sections of the Alliance had serious doubts about him during the election, with people like Cyril Smith grumbling that he was hogging too much of the limelight and Steel expressing some rattiness with his supporters for their lack of involvement. It seemed to be coming to a head when the leader announced abruptly that he was taking himself off for a long rest. How could a capitalist party survive, asked bewildered Liberals, without a leader to sort out its knotty problems of compromise and deceit, to hand down decisions on policy and action for the mass of the party to obediently carry out?

But then relief for them. Steel was not mad or disintegrating but only struck down by the sort of virus which lurks about waiting to infect politicians who are exhausted by the effort of battling for the votes of the deluded supporters of capitalism.

Steel's illness was said to be making him tired and depressed so that his problems seemed insurmountable. At which point it is reasonable to question the nature of this illness, which has the effect of stimulating such an insight into reality. For the Liberal leader’s problems, like those of Thatcher and whoever replaces Foot, are insurmountable.

All leaders confront the difficulty of first persuading enough workers that theirs is the likeliest method of running British capitalism, that they have a unique ability to bring in an age of unprecedented peace and plenty. If that propaganda succeeds, and the leader passes through the door of Number Ten, they are faced with the further problem of hoping and praying that they will be lucky enough for their term of office to coincide with one of capitalism’s upswings, which they can claim credit for and so appear to keep their election promises.

Some leaders — like Harold Macmillan — have quite a long run of luck before they are exposed to a downswing. None of them are able to control the cycle of boom and slump, or notably to mitigate the effects; such basic elements of the capitalist system are out of their control. Capitalism works through its own laws and takes little account of the electoral needs of politicians.

That is reality. Perhaps Steel, at some blinding moment, glimpsed it and saw what was in store for him if he ever made the top. Enough to make him sick as a politician.

Labour's past (1983)

From the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every sensible delegate to this year's Labour Party conference will include in their luggage some long, sharp knives so that they can participate in a not-very-fraternal bout of blood-letting known as Taking Stock. In fact, stock is something the Labour Party need to take all too often for their own comfort but in 1983 they are under unusual pressure. No delegate can be in any doubt about the gravity of their situation and just in case there are any lingering optimists making their way to Brighton next month the leaders of the party are writing warnings like this, from Roy Hattersley:
For the Labour Party to succeed (perhaps even to survive as a major party of government) the long hard climb back to popularity and power has to begin at once . . . . Unless we swiftly demonstrate both our will and power to win in 1988, the Liberal-Social Democrat Alliance will successfully pose as the real alternative to Thatcherite Conservatism (Guardian 8 August 1983).
Everyone knows that people like Hattersley are gloomy about Labour’s crushing defeat in June, which diminished his ambition from Prime Minister to a columnist in Punch. Groggily, his party now contemplate the fact that they have not lost so conclusively since 1931, when MacDonald’s National government was returned with a majority of over 7 million votes, sweeping almost every former Labour minister out of Parliament. Since those (for them) calamitous days the Labour Party have worked hard to convince themselves that it could not happen again.

Michael Foot has paid the penalty for losing the election, hustled into retirement and likely to disappear almost without trace. If he had won it would have been very different; he would have been Labour’s hero and apart from anything else would have had a number of desirable jobs to distribute among faithful friends and followers. Now, his role in Labour’s future seems to be to make appearances at those empty emotional rallies of the faithful where the reality of both past and present is so distorted that eventually the same misguided view can be taken of the future. At such events, almost anything is possible; Foot may well become, like many a Labour politician since 1931, an aged conscience of the party to help them both forget what has happened and to believe that it will not happen again. Much hope is being invested in Foot’s successor as leader, whoever he may be, and in the prospect of a “dream ticket" — a leader and a deputy whose reputations and talents are such that between them they are able to assuage the prejudices and frustrations of all sections of the party. So that if one can’t pull off a particular deception, the other can.

It will be quite unprecedented, if Labour’s stock-taking is anything other than the familiar exercise in evasion and reassurance. There may be some criticism of their election manifesto, either on the grounds that it was not attractive enough or that it was too antagonistic. The party leadership might have expected a battering except that Foot and Healey have prudently taken their leave. A lot of hard things will be spoken about Labour’s organisation and their election machine, much of it in the conviction that it was nothing more than a matter of bad communication which left the voters in ignorance of the delights of living under another Labour government. Saatchi and Saatchi may prick up their ears at resolutions like this, from Oldham: "The Labour Party is sadly lacking in the modern techniques of organisation, administration, communication, advertising and public relations and even within a very limited budget much more effective action could be taken in the business of winning votes”.

It will not, then, be an enquiry into Labour’s basic nature as a party of capitalism, its appalling history and its dismal prospects but into why they lost the election — why didn’t they get their turn at trying to run the affairs of the British capitalist class? Some of the brainier delegates may agree with New Society (26 May 1983) which thought that the “skilled" workers who are buying council houses and installing central heating and video machines have decided that a Labour government could not be trusted to defend what they think of as their affluence. It is, of course, not only “skilled” workers who get it wrong about their class position under capitalism; sometimes they are compelled to get it rather nearer correct, when they take part in unpopular strikes which get some scathing publicity. If Labour’s enquiry comes up with some sort of an answer their next step will be to fashion a programme to attract the disaffected voters back. It won’t particularly matter what is in the programme: in any case it can all be forgotten soon after the election. The important question is — will it help in that “business of winning votes"?

We shall have to endure again the spectacle of those boring irrelevancies — the left wing and the right — parading their differences as if these are matters fundamental to working class interests. The left are already blaming the defeat on defective leadership. "The only hope", shrieked Tribune “is that in the autumn elections for the National Executive Committee and the Shadow Cabinet, the tired, ideologically impoverished, obsessive men and women who have led the Labour Party to the brink of ruin will be swept away for ever”. The right are less optimistic; they don’t think in terms of Labour’s problems being solved "for ever”, nor that they need ideologically wealthy people in the leadership. What they are sure about is that the party have lately been showing suicidal tendencies, like conference opting for unilateralism, like the confusion over Militant, like the hungrily-publicised blunders of Ken Livingstone.

But left and right are agreed on one thing; there is nothing fundamentally at fault with the Labour Party. Both wings think that it is possible to control capitalism and to make the system work in the interests of the majority and that Labour is the party best fitted to do this, even if they call it socialism. They both think that capitalism produces war, famine, poverty, by accident; it could be a benign, peaceful, abundant society provided there are one or two adjustments to the personalities and the programmes of the Labour Party. So at the election, when the working class might have voted for socialism. Labour’s left and right wings were hard at work inviting them to vote as if they were brainless, forgetting Labour’s wretched history, ignoring those ideologically impoverished leaders. In this cause Neil Kinnock nearly lost his famous Welsh voice and Denis Healey cheerfully allowed his equally famous, luxuriant eyebrows to be experimentally tugged at by children whose parents, he hoped, would thereby be persuaded to vote for the party of Ken Livingstone.

These unsavoury antics are what is actually meant by “the business of winning votes” and the Labour Party know all about it because they have been at it for a very long time. At their 1930 conference — the year when unemployment averaged 16 per cent of the total employees, almost 2 million people — Prime Minister MacDonald assured the delegates that they were ". . . moving, as it were, in a great eternal ocean of surge towards righteousness, towards fair play, towards honesty . . ." A year later MacDonald’s own personal surge had carried him into leadership of a coalition government with the Liberals and the hated Tories. This government moved promptly in the direction of fair play by protecting the interests of the British ruling class by cutting unemployment benefit below its already miserly level. The Liberal leader, Herbert Samuel, particularly wanted MacDonald to be Prime Minister; the workers, he thought, could more easily be persuaded to accept unpalatable measures from a Labour government. There was little difficulty in getting MacDonald to agree that he was the man for the job: "Tomorrow." he cheerfully assured the Tebbit-like Philip Snowden. “Every duchess in London will be wanting to kiss me".

These were the events which led to the Labour Party being annihilated at the 1931 election and to them taking stock at their conference the following year. They quickly decided that there was nothing basically amiss with their party: “The events of last year,” said Charles Trevelyan, who had been MacDonald's Minister of Education, "Were a great shock to this party in its confidence in men. but there is no shock to its confidence in itself . . .’’ The problem was that too much power had been given to too few men — in particular to one man. the hated (although not by duchesses) MacDonald. The delegates were properly impressed and passed a resolution moved by Trevelyan that a future Labour government should immediately promulgate “. . . definite socialist legislation . . .” and should “. . . stand or fall in the House of Commons on the principles in which it has faith”.

At the 1933 conference another critic of MacDonald emerged into prominence, in the diminutive and reticent figure of J.R. Clynes, who had been Home Secretary and who again was quite clear on the reasons for the 1929/31 Labour government’s dismal collapse: "Never again should any one leader of the party be empowered singly to use his personal authority, and himself alone choose his cabinet or appoint his ministers”. Clynes was recommending a proposal by Labour’s NEC that a future Labour Prime Minister should select ministers only after consulting and acting in conjunction with the other party leaders. The delegates were predictably in favour of this; they seemed to be unaware that this was in fact the method used by MacDonald and Clynes did not tell them, although he himself had come to be Home Secretary in this way. Under the impression that they were making some triumphant, significant change, the conference left things as they were. The next time Labour came to office. in 1945, Attlee simply ignored the whole thing and chose the ministers he wanted.

There is no reason to believe, in 1983, that Labour Party members are any likelier to grasp reality than were those who were so readily deceived by Trevelyan and Clynes. The plain fact is that, such is Labour’s recent record and present condition. the working class are unlikely to consider them a possible administration of British capitalism. It is not permissible for the Labour Party to avoid all responsibility for this. They cannot blame it all onto poor, bookish, bumbling Foot or the reptiles of Fleet Street or the diabolical smoothies Saatchi and Saatchi. They have persistently argued, in opposition to the case for socialism, that there is no need to campaign for workers to understand and consciously oppose capitalism; for them the important thing has been to win votes by whatever method. This has left untouched — indeed it has usually stimulated — the support which the working class give to the capitalist social system; the Labour Party have overlooked the fact that workers who are so ignorant of their class interests that they will vote for capitalism under a Labour government will at other times opt for capitalism under the Tories, unemployment and the Falklands notwithstanding.

A useful enquiry into the Labour Party would expose its ideological poverty. It would denounce Labour's theory, held to so stubbornly through all the evidence of history, that by a policy of opportunism and duplicity capitalism can be reformed out of its essential character. The facts speak for themselves, through the fog of self-delusion which will be the Labour Party conference. After decades of compromise and deceit, of cynical grubbing in the business of winning votes, the Labour Party has made such progress that the Tories are back stronger than ever and Labour are back at 1931.

Vote for yourself for a change . . . (1983)

From the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The capitalist system is fundamentally undemocratic: it does not run in accordance with the wishes and needs of the majority, but to satisfy the material interests of the small minority who accumulate rent, interest and profits. In Britain, capital ownership is confined to a very small minority: not only does one per cent of the population own more of the accumulated wealth than the poorest eighty per cent put together, but they have access to areas of power, information, communication and luxury goods and services which are not within the price range of the vast majority. Three quarters of all daily newspapers in Britain are owned by just three massive companies. The statistics of inequality are similar throughout the capitalist world; indeed, there are countries in Africa and South America where the ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution are in the hands of a few powerful families who, between them, determine the destinies of millions of human subjects.

It is nonsensical to speak of genuine democracy within a capitalist world when the vast majority of people — the working class, who do not own capital, but must live by selling our labour power for a wage or salary — is excluded from control over the resources and productive machinery of the earth. The workers have never been consulted as to who will own and control the vast multinational companies; there are no referenda called before the commencement of trade wars in which thousands of workers’ lives are wasted; the editorship of the Guardian or The Nine O’clock News has never been a matter for working class election; the millions who are starving in a world of potential abundance were never asked to cast a vote for malnutrition.

The workers run capitalist production and distribution from top to bottom but have no ownership or control. The minority, who live in affluence on the backs of the wealth producers, are in no position to determine precisely how capitalism will run. They are, of course, entitled to ensure that decisions made are socially beneficial to themselves rather than the workers, w'hose economic interests are diametrically opposite, but they are not able to plan the system with any accuracy. Capital, as a social force, is uncontrollable even by the capitalist class. For example, most capitalists would love to have a society where there was no war, no unemployment and no working class discontent. The anarchy of the profit system does not allow the bosses to govern the system: it governs them. So. capitalism is undemocratic not only because the majority class of people is alienated from the means of living, but also because it is impossible to plan capitalism on the basis of democratic decisions for the market, with its profit priorities, is a dictator which cannot be controlled by votes.

The only way to establish human control over society is to create socialism, which will be a democratic world society based on common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution. Once we have done away with classes, markets and profits we will be able to take hold of this global village called the world and run it in direct accordance with democratically expressed human needs. The way that socialism will be organised will have to be decided consciously and democratically by the working class at the time of the establishment of the new system: we in the Socialist Party of Great Britain are unable to lay down blueprints for the next stage of social evolution. We can, however, make some comments about the advantages of worldwide socialist democracy.

Firstly, the new system would enable humanity to collect and use information on a global basis. At the moment countries duplicate the storing of necessary information about production and distribution; they often spend their time trying to mislead trade competitors as to what the real situation is or keeping secret knowledge which could make world production much more efficient in relation to human needs. World information authorities which exist at the moment, often under the auspices of the United Nations, are often ignored by governments because the statistical possibilities publicised by such bodies all too frequently are in conflict with the market capacities of capitalism. So, in a world socialist society there would be worldwide collection and storage of information relating to production and distribution. Such information could be handled with case by the computer technology which has already been invented, but which is presently used for the useless purposes of military communication and world trade.

Secondly, socialist society will utilise the information technology which has been developed within capitalism in order to allow every human being to have a say in matters which they feel to be important. Of course, not every person in a socialist society will want to be involved in every decision; democracy does not mean that all people must contribute to all decisions made by society, but that all people will be able to do so. On hearing this, the opponent of socialism has often asked whether it will be the case that every human being in a democratic socialist society is going to meet together in Wembley Stadium and put up their hands for or against a particular proposition. We would doubt very much whether four billion people are going to fit into Wembley Stadium — and we doubt even more whether the inhabitants of Peking or Mexico City will know the nearest tube station to Wembley! Of course, those who present such an objection are hopelessly caught up within the primitive thinking of capitalism which only allows them to envisage democracy in terms of some sort of grand tribal ritual. Society now has technology to enable human beings to sit in their homes and buy food from the local supermarket by pushing a button; business conferences are held with executive managers sitting in front of television cameras in London, Tokyo, New York and Moscow. These modern means of communication must be placed at the disposal of the whole community, who will make decisions on all the available evidence. Such decision-making will sometimes involve the entire world population but. needless to say, it will not require four billion people to decide whether to build a dual carriageway on the stretch of motorway between Hexham and Newcastle.

Thirdly, socialism will create a democracy where those who disagree with the majority will be free, within the confines of implementing the majority decision, to live in accordance with their own desires. It is quite possible that upon the establishment of socialist society there will be some people — perhaps millions — who are religious: they would be able freely to indulge in their primitive superstitions. Under capitalism, to be a nonconformist is to face problems ranging from psychological persecution to capital punishment; socialism will depend on the right of men and women to assert their individuality, but will require them to remember at all times that democracy is the only workable alternative to tyranny.

Democratic political action
There are two accusations which are often thrown at socialists: one is that we are Utopians who want to create a society of perfection; the other is that we are undemocratic and seek to impose our aims on a society which does not want it.

Socialism was only a Utopian proposition when it was detached from the concept of democratic change. The old Utopians, like Owen. Fourier and Saint-Simon wanted the new system, but imagined that it could exist without a socialist community to run it. It is only when a majority of the world’s workers understand and want socialism that it becomes a practicable proposition. The new system will not be free from problems but — and this is the essential qualification — a socially conscious world community will be infinitely more capable of dealing with those problems than is the present working class which is alienated from real social power. The socialist proposition depends entirely on the capacity of men and women to think consciously and to act responsibly. That is why, when the defenders of capitalism have been defeated in discussion on every single aspect of their outdated social system, as they invariably are, they always resort to the final argument of the anti-socialist: It's Against Human Nature. Of course, if they were correct and humanity was incapable of mass consciousness there would be no possibility of creating a democratic society. Curiously enough, many of the historically paralysed minds which assert confidently that humans are incapable of running society for ourselves insist that they are convinced democrats. We have all met the opponent of socialism who is sure that he or she would be quite capable of acting consciously within a democratic world society, but you'll never get everyone else to behave so intelligently. Capitalism's ideology of anti-democracy is based on the myth of inherent inequality; once workers realise that what they can understand, want and do others can also we will be ready to make our move to the next stage in history.

Do socialists seek to impose our aims on an unsuspecting majority? Alas, we could carry on insisting that socialism can only be established democratically until Ronald Reagan's hair turns grey; there will always be someone who will not believe us. Opponents of socialism will point to the Bolshevik revolution and to those anti-democrats who support its tactics today and, quite correctly, conclude that such socialism has nothing to do with democracy; it simply changes one ruling class for another. We go further and say that such so-called socialism has nothing to do with either socialism or democracy. It is nonsensical to imagine that you can impose social liberation on a majority of people who are content with the system of exploitation, oppression and misery. The socialist task is to take the discontent which capitalism inevitably engenders within the working class and to educate the discontented to reject the system which is the cause of their social problems and to establish socialism. Of course, capitalism is an undemocratic system and therefore socialist persuasion and education is made very difficult by the virtual monopoly by the capitalist minority over the means of education and communication. But we have on our side a valuable weapon: the experience of the working class which does not conform to the false ideas thrown out by the capitalist propaganda machine.

There will be no socialist revolution without socialists. The socialist revolution, unlike all those before it which have depended on the substitution of one ruling minority for another, will require a conscious majority. But it requires more than that: there can be no socialism without democratic political action. What form will that action take? Where democratic elections are held, workers will need to use our votes, not to elect the representatives of capitalism, but to elect delegates whose sole mandate will be to transfer the legal ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution from the minority to the whole community, without any distinctions of race or sex. Of course, capitalism's elections are never going to be completely democratic, but they are sufficient barometers of social consciousness to be used by the working class for the purpose of capturing political power. In those countries where democratic elections do not exist socialists must use their energies to create such institutions, either by putting pressure on the state or — perhaps — by setting up their own rival democratic institutions which the ruling class will be unable to ignore. In Britain, however, the political task of socialists is to capture power by means of the democracy of the ballot box; the fact that the ballot boxes are under the legal control of the capitalist class does not deny their validity as an instrument of revolution, any more than the potentiality of a blade to cut one’s throat denies its usefulness as an instrument for shaving.

Those who claim to be democrats and support the undemocratic system of capitalism are no more democrats than the Russian dictatorship is socialist. Democracy, in its fullest and most exciting sense, has yet to be tried by the inhabitants of our society. At the moment, to want power is considered a greedy and rather unpleasant aim; that is understandable, because power under capitalism means power to deny power to the majority. Socialists want power to produce what we need to survive, to live in comfort and to be free. Let those who stand against us tremble: the democratic revolution will not go away as long as men and women have brains in our heads. 
Steve Coleman