Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Passing Comments: Unsolicited Testimonial to Mr. Gaitskell (1951)

The Passing Comments Column from the October 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unsolicited Testimonial to Mr. Gaitskell

When 1 was reading in a public library, a lady next to me reading the Daily Telegraph approved so much of what she read that she had to unburden herself immediately; and 1 was the nearest person. I haven’t checked on all her facts, but the substance of what she said was this:

“Thank goodness someone’s talking sense at last—Mr. Gaitskell is saying they ought to give the workers bonus shares if the work is going well. Now that’s what I’ve always said—I had some shares in the South Metropolitan Gas Co. during the war and they used to give the workers bonus shares and it always kept them satisfied—they never had a strike all during the war! That’s just what I’ve always said—keep the workers contented and you won’t get any trouble. And I see Mr. Gaitskell has been saying we shouldn’t have any more taxation on the important people—the people with capital and the people who provide work. Because if you tax them they’re not going to stay in this country are they? And if they go how should we get on?—because they provide all the work.”

I feel sure that Mr. Gaitskell will be glad to know that, although he may not be very popular with the trade unions, his proposals have drawn forth the admiration of at least one shareholder.

* * *

State Capitalism

As the nationalised industries continue to publish each year their reports, showing how much interest has been paid to people who are called (for some reason unknown) “ex”-shareholders, it should become obvious to the most fervent nationalises that whatever nationalisation is or is not. it is not Socialism, and that the workers in nationalised industries cannot be said, by any stretch of the imagination, to be either the owners or the controllers of their industries. These facts, which the Socialist Party has been trying to propagate for the last half-century, have at fast reached the edges of that bastion of ignorance, the Labour Party. Among the first to make a public recantation is a Labour M.P., Fred Longden, who has just published a book of essays.

* * *

Lucrative Stockholding

In it he says that nationalisation “does not disturb the present social order.” It “does not dislocate the pyramid-like build of society. Its horizontal classes and perpendicular grades and castes remain intact with greater security than ever. Stockholding is sounder and more lucrative. Management rests in the hands of a Board that is more distant from the worker and consumer than ever. This is ’democracy’ with a very remote control. It is not Socialism.” (“The Proletarian Heritage,” quoted in Reynolds News, 12.8.51.)

With your last sentence, Mr. Longden, we couldn’t agree more. But what a pity it is that you have spent your political life in the Labour movement working to bring about that state of affairs you now so justly criticise. Still, we don’t want to harp too much on your past misdeeds. If you really want to bring about a Socialist society, you can still join with all the other people who want to do so. Apply at your nearest branch of the Socialist Party.

* * *

Never Say Die

Mr. Longden has at least been honest enough to admit that he was wrong, now that it is clear beyond any possibility of doubt that nationalisation is not Socialism. But there are others who are incorrigible —chief among them being the Stalinists. With them the evidence counts for nothing. Theoretical argument, practical demonstration, both leave them cold. Ignoring the experience of the coalminers, the gasworkers, the railwaymen, the Daily Worker continues to cheer on nationalisation projects wherever they appear. In Persia, a nationalisation demonstration evoked the approving comment, “Smallest hint of government weakness in face of imperialist pressure brings the crowds out to show the people’s determination to force oil nationalisation through” (11.7.51). And when the secretary of the “Northern Rhodesian African Congress” demands the nationalisation of the Northern Rhodesian copper mines, the Daily Worker headlines it “Africans want copper mines” (23.7.51). The Africans may want the copper mines. But if they do, they’re certainly going a queer way about it.

* * *

It’s What Yon Wanted

Even when trade unionists see that nationalisation has left them exactly where they were before, any attacks they make on the new state-directors, any claims they bring forward for higher pay, are greeted with a reproachful “well, you wanted nationalisation yourself.” The head of the British Electricity Authority, Lord Citrine, went along to the annual conference of the Amalgamated Engineering Union recently, berated those delegates who had attacked the B.E.A. administration, and ended up by appealing to “the trade unions, which were really responsible for bringing about nationalisation, to ‘give us a little help occasionally, and perhaps a little more charity when public utterances are made’.” (Daily Herald, 22.6.51.) And the trade unions cannot deny the charge that they helped to bring about nationalisation.

* * *

Labour “ Socialism ” in Action

From the Daily Herald (2.8.51): “The fall in share values, following Mr. Gaitskell's announcement a week ago that dividends are to be limited, is only one-third of their rise during the past three and a half months. With that statement the Chancellor of the Exchequer torpedoed a half-hearted Tory attack in the Commons yesterday.” But what an interesting commentary it makes on Mr. Gaitskell’s claim to be a Socialist when he publicly boasts that he isn’t half as hard on the shareholders, on those who live on the labour of others, as his opponents make out. In fact the Stock Exchange, despite the loud cries of anguish which were heard in Lombard Street when the slight dividend restriction was first announced, soon came to see what a mild measure it was. Even the small drop in share values which actually took place was not long-lived. Two and a half weeks after the original announcement the Sunday Express (12.8.51) said: “All but one-tenth of the losses has been regained. And from the way things are going it won’t be long before the remaining tenth is made good.”

Which, in practice, amounts to another vote of confidence by the shareholders in the Labour Government.

* * *


Another of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s remarks during the Commons debate on August 1st was this: “Figures of the distribution of property do not bear out any suggestion that ordinary shares are held in large quantities by the poorer section of the community.”

This must rank as the understatement of the month.

* * *

How to Fight Wars—1

From the Daily Graphic (24.7.51): “At Verdun in 1916 Petain flung back the German hordes with a scornful 'Ils ne passeront pas ’ (they shall not pass). Nor did they, although half a million men died round the shell-torn forts in five months.” Half a million men died, but not Petain, who became a General largely on the strength of that battle. (And if it was Petain who “flung back the German hordes,” what were all these other Frenchmen doing there?) Petain survived the men under his command for thirty-five years, dying at the age of ninety-five.

* * *

How to Fight Wars—2

General Kurt Student, formerly supreme commander of Hitler’s airborne troops, wrote an article in the Sunday Express last May 27th. He said: “ For me, as commander of the German airborne troops, the Battle of Crete in 1941 carries bitter memories. I miscalculated when I suggested this attack, which resulted in the loss of so many valuable parachutists that it meant the end of the German airborne landing forces, which I had created.” Many parachutists were lost. But modern war has its compensations. General Student is still with us. And ten years after his miscalculations at Crete, the General is still fit enough to write articles for the papers.
Alwyn Edgar

SPGB Meetings (1951)

Party News from the October 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx Against Keynes (1951)

Book Review from the October 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx Against Keynes," by John Eaton. Price 3/6. 1951.

This book is published by Lawrence & Wishart— a fact which leads us. after many bitter experiences, to expect that though Mr. Eaton may start off with Marx, before long he will end up with V. I. Lenin, “Socialist” countries, colonial “liberation” movements, “Moscow the workers’ citadel,” old Uncle Joe Stalin and all. And so it does, in fact, turn out.

It is particularly interesting in this case, however, since, in criticising Keynes and his admittedly capitalist economic theories, Mr. Eaton uses arguments and sentences, even whole paragraphs, which speak just as loudly against the present practice in Soviet Russia. Let us look at one or two examples.

On page 16, we find Mr. Eaton saying this: “The adherents of bourgeois theory do not in their day-to-day policies look towards the ending of wage-slavery; they do not see in the wage-profit relationship the source of crisis and all the incalculable consequences that stem from it throughout the capitalist world. Socialism becomes therefore only a matter of talk. In practice, the policies of these people aim only at easing the chafing of the workers’ chains and to ensure ‘the feeding of the slave in his slavery.’ But Capitalism in the period of its general crisis is less and less able to do even this except for exceptional and fleeting periods.”

We could hardly find anywhere a more accurate indictment of the Soviet system: everything fits: the contrast between theory and practice, the lip-service to Socialism combined with the capitalist practices of wage-labour, profits and general exploitation, it’s all there. “They do not in their day-to-day policies look towards the ending of wage-slavery.” Too true, Mr. Eaton, too true!

And there is more to come. On page 72, we find him saying this: “In the period of monopoly Capitalism, the capitalist State no longer ‘holds the ring’ for the capitalist class as a whole, but is subordinated to the most powerful sections of the capitalist class, namely, the monopoly capitalists, who seek to use the State to advance their own economic interests.”

“This section of the capitalists no longer opposes State-interference in the economic sphere, but on the contrary, is continually requiring the State to take action on its behalf, to salvage its profits, to protect its ‘spheres of influence,’ etc., etc.” In Soviet Russia, this process has been completed. The monopoly capitalists and the State have become one. Let us go on to the next page (p. 73) and see what Lenin has to say about monopoly capitalism and State. (“ V. I. Lenin; State and Revolution”: 1917.):
“The imperialist war has greatly accelerated and intensified the process of transformation of monopoly Capitalism into State-monopoly Capitalism. The monstrous oppression of the masses of the toilers by the State—which is becoming merged more and more with the all-powerful capitalist combines—is becoming ever more monstrous.”
And there speaks a man who knows. He ought to know. He helped considerably in the process of making it more monstrous! For in Soviet Russia, where every great industry is a monopoly, run to make a profit, using wage-workers, Capitalism has found in the State a happy and safe resting-ground, where interest comes in as regularly as clockwork, where there are no troubles with labour to cause loss of time through strikes and so forth (unrest in the Soviet labour force is always caused by Trotskyite-Fascist-Imperialist-Wall Street agents—and we know what to do with them! Heil, Joe), and where workers are made more and more productive with the help of the State propaganda machine. It may not be a Workers’ Paradise—but it certainly is a rich man’s Paradise! As far as the workers are concerned,  Lenin’s words must sound very sharply and very much to the point, if they have ears to hear.

Time after time Eaton swings into the same line, that the British Labour Government (and indeed the greater part of the British Labour Movement) says it is socialist, and then goes off and plays the capitalist game. And time after time his criticisms come back like a boomerang and smite him hip and thigh. On page 65, for example, he laughs to scorn the “ Socialism” of Douglas Jay and Clement Attlee and its “claim to be socialistic.” He says that the “whole point” about it is that "it preserves the production relations of Capitalism." He is apparently unable to see this is also the case in the Soviet Fatherland, so tenderly watched over by Big Brother Stalin. What are wage-labour, capital investment, buying and selling, and all the rest, if not the “ production relations of Capitalism ”?

This combination of clear-sightedness with blindness is quite startling at times. On page 23 we find the following: “One may here be pardoned for asking under what circumstances wages may go up. They cannot, according to capitalist theory, go up in a seller’s market because that inflates prices, nor in a buyer’s market because high wage costs would put the capitalists out of the competitive race. They cannot go up when profits are low, because the capitalists must be left some profit margins; they cannot go up when profits are high because something must be put to reserves to safeguard the future.”

“In short, such theory proves that wages must never go upland this, if nothing else, it proves itself a truly capitalist theory.” Quite true. Very nice. But doesn’t Mr. Eaton see that this is always true of wages? That they are always kept down as near the physical minimum as possible? That they are never raised without a fight, or the threat of a fight? Doesn’t he see that that’s a permanent characteristic of Capitalism, whether in England, America, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia or wherever it finds itself? Only three pages before, he has quoted Marx on surplus value! He quotes the very passage where Marx says that the division of the total product of industry, the determination of its profit, “is only settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labour, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction. The matter resolves itself into a question of the respective powers of the combatants.” Eaton adds that “ In 1949, for example, the capitalists got £3,055 million in profits and the workers £4,280 million in wages; but there is no eternal law that says the division must be just that and no other.”

We do not appear to have any figures for 1949 for the Soviet Union, but it must be obvious that the same sort of division took place there. The Russian workers are wage-workers, just the same as we are. They are exploited by Capitalism, just the same as we are. The only difference is, their propertied people are in a stronger position than ours are. They have the full and direct backing of the State, with all its coercive machinery, both physical and mental.

But still Mr. Eaton turns his blind eye. And we begin to wonder. We begin to wonder whether he really can’t see the similarity between Labour Britain and Soviet Russia, between Keynesian theory and Soviet practice.

We begin to wonder whether the eye really is blind—or whether his invocations of Marx and imprecations on Keynes are not just so much verbiage thrown up like a smoke-screen, to hide his real intention of bemusing any workers who may read his book into the belief that Marxism and the Soviet Union have some link, some actual connection. And this suspicion is borne out by his frequent references to the Happy Fatherland. He says, for example (p. 89), that the 1914—18 War was an “armed conflict between the great capitalist powers in the course of which one of their number was overthrown and the first Socialist State was established.”

By what feat of legerdemain Socialism can be established in one country—Socialism, which is of its very essence an international system—he does not inform us. Neither does he tell us how in a semi-feudal system Socialism could have been established—Socialism, which has as its prerequisite the full development of the productive forces of Capitalism. He does not tell us, in fact, how the impossible was achieved—for the very simple reason that it was not achieved! But he goes on quite happily (on pages 22 and 53—4, for example) to assume that Russia is socialist, that Russia’s allies are socialist—and that Socialism is the opposite of Capitalism! He can’t have it both ways. Either Russia is capitalist, and has similar productive relations and similar interests with other capitalist countries at a similar level of development, or else it is socialist. But we have shown that it isn’t socialist—compare the definition of Socialism at the head of the Declaration of Principles of the S.P.G.B.—so it must be capitalist. “But it calls itself socialist.” Very well. Memo: when a supporter of the Russian national interest (e.g., a member or supporter of the Communist Party) says “ Socialism,” what he means is “Capitalism,” Russian State Capitalism. “But it is opposed to Capitalism.” No. Not Capitalism. Capitalists. And particularly rival capitalists! In the same sense, Lord Nuffield, or General Motors, are against capitalists. They are brought to a position of opposition by the economic forces that make them what they are. And in just the same way, Russia, Joe Stalin or no Joe Stalin, is brought to a position of opposition to other capitalist countries by the very forces that make it impossible to establish Socialism in one country.

And so it goes on. We have not the space to expose all Mr. Eaton’s false arguments and misleading tricks of the pen. He descends at times to the lowest level of verbiage, as (p. 11)—“The workers, inspired by the Russian Revolution, had Socialism in their hearts "! And then surprises us by a piece of honesty (or a slip of the pen) as (p. 44)—"In short, he (Keynes) is not a Bolshevik defending wages, but simply an exponent of 'novel measures ’ defending Capitalism.” A fine distinction, Mr. Eaton, a very fine distinction.

In spite of all this, Mr. Eaton’s criticisms of Keynes are both clear and valid. He shows that Keynesian theories are completely insufficient to do what they profess to do, namely, make Capitalism work smoothly and prevent unemployment. He shows, too, that the Labour movement is evidencing a tendency to get on to the Keynesian bandwagon. For these reasons, the book is worth reading, at least for those who want a handy introduction to Keynes’ theories (the section on Keynes, from the bottom of page 33 to the top of page 52, is all that one really wants to read) and the bearing on them of the Marxian conception of surplus value and the accumulation of capital. It is written on a very simple level.

For those who can sort out the wheat from the chaff, there is some matter in the book to warrant a perusal. For the uninstructed reader, it is a dangerous quagmire.
J. C. Rowan

Delegate Meeting (1951)

Party News from the October 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Delegate Meeting which was held on Saturday and Sunday, September 1st and 2nd, was adjourned, as a considerable amount of work was still to be dealt with. It was agreed by the Delegates that the Executive Committee should consider the advisability of holding a Meeting of Party Members to further discuss Parliamentary activity, and it has been decided to hold the adjourned Delegate Meeting and the Party meeting on Saturday and Sunday, October 6th and 7th. Unfortunately Conway Hall is not available but the Holborn Hall, Grays Inn Road, has been booked.

The resumed Delegate meeting will be held on Saturday afternoon, 6th, from 2 p.m., in the Small Holborn Hall, and Sunday morning 11 a.m., 7th October, in the large Holborn Hall. The Meeting of Party Members will be held in the large Hall from 2 p.m. on the Sunday afternoon. Branches and Members have already been advised, but this is an additional reminder.

Bloomsbury Branch has commenced its weekly discussion meetings after branch business on Thursdays at the North Room, Conway Hall. The subjects being dealt with during October are 11th, Development of Political Thought—H. Young; 18th, Painting—C. Devereux; Oct. 25th and November 1st—Housing. October 4th meeting will be held in the Small Conway Hall—E. Hardy will speak on "High Prices and No Prices.” This meeting commences at 7.30 p.m.
Phyllis Howard

Voice From The Back: Polluting for profit (2002)

The Voice From The Back Column from the October 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Polluting for profit

The major problems of pollution are caused by the excessive burning of fossil fuels, everyone except the coal and oil lobby agrees. There are alternatives such as wind and solar power; so why aren’t they being developed at the same rate as fossil fuel usage? Simple really. “At present wind power costs between 1.9 and 3.1p a unit, while solar is more than 20p. Conventional generated power sells for between l.1p and 1.3p.” Observer (25 August). Inside a socialist society we won’t be polluting the earth if we have an alternative, but then we would not be producing wealth to make a handful rich but to satisfy human need.

DIY hanging

Clive Fairweather, the outgoing HM Inspector for prisons in Scotland had some figures on suicides in prison that might cheer the “hang-’em, flog-’em” brigade but should chill any compassionate human being. Think of the despair that lies behind a young man taking his own life. Another indictment of the inhumanity of capitalism. “Mr Fairweather told his audience that in the eight years he had been chief inspector of prisons, 170 prisoners had died, yet between 1900 and 1963, only 35 were executed by hanging. 'Bring back hanging? It’s DIY hanging at eight times the rate these days, for our young in prison', he said.” Herald (4 September).

The close circuit society

In the Guardian of 7 September there was a supplement on surveillance in Britain today. It was pretty scary stuff and shows how capitalism is becoming more and more restrictive . “From the moment a worker logs on in the morning to the moment they shut down at night, corporate information *technology departments can watch each and every action they make — which keys they press, which websites they visit, what emails they receive and send . . . Security procedures such as swipe cards on entrances also allow detailed following of employees — if management wants to — of how much time is spent in which parts of a building and, in some workplaces, with cards required for entry to workplace toilets.”

Exporting destruction

As the US and UK leaders claim an attack on Iraq is justified because that country has stocks of “mass destruction weapons” it is worthwhile noting where Iraq was obtaining these weapons from. Surprise, surprise, from the US and the UK. “Reports by the US Senate’s committee on banking, housing and urban affairs — which oversees American export policy — reveal that the US under the successive administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Snr. sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile germs and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992, as well as germs similar to tuberculosis and pneumonia . . . Classified US Defence Department documents also seen by the Sunday Herald show that Britain sold Iraq the drug pralidoxin, an antidote to nerve gas, in March 1992, after the end of the Gulf war. Pralidoxin can be reverse engineered to create nerve gas.” Sunday Herald (8 September).

The Voice of America?

Ann Coulter, an American journalist and broadcaster has written a book “Slander” containing outrageous right wing views. It is subtitled “Liberal Lies About The American Right” In her column in the National Review she put forward her solution to the Middle East problem, quoted in the Sunday Herald Magazine (8 September): “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Voice of America?, let’s hope not; though her book does currently top the New York [Times]  bestsellers list.

Oxfam’s solution to famine

Have you ever given money to Oxfam for them to help out by distributing food during some famine? If so, you may well be surprised by the following news item: "British charity Oxfam today launched a 'coffee rescue plan' urging political and business leaders to destroy surplus stocks and guarantee a fair price for farmers" (Guardian, 19 September).

Oxfam's original name was the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief but it later branched out into being a reformist campaigning organisation, working within the context of capitalism. We have always argued that those who set out to reform capitalism end up accepting its logic. This latest episode proves this point up to the hilt. Capitalism periodically produces crises where "too much" food\ has been produced, a crisis of plenty amidst poverty. It solves such crises) not by distributing the plenty to the poor (that would be against its logic and undermine profits), but by destroying the plenty. This has been a classic illustration of the socialist case against capitalism: that it is a system of production for profit rather than to satisfy human needs. Now OXFAM, an organisation set up to try to distribute a bit of the plenty to some of the poor, has come round to the capitalist solution: destroy the food! Remember that next time they shake a collection tin under your nose.

Editorial: Yet another war for oil? (2002)

Editorial from the October 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again, in an attempt to protect Western control over Middle East oil supplies, the titular head of US corporate capitalism, George W Bush, has presented the world with the vision of well-known bogey-man Saddam Hussein building up weapons of mass destruction.

No doubt, in this world where “might is right”, the Iraq regime would like to arm itself, just like any other state, with the most destructive weapons it can afford, and it would not be at all surprising that it was trying to develop them. In Iraq’s case this would be so as to be able to throw its weight around more in the Middle East. But this is precisely America’s aim too. Hence the clash of interests. Bush and Blair want the Saddam regime out of the way because they see it as a threat to Western capitalism’s continued domination of the Middle East and its oilfields. It’s as simple as that. For them too, might is right, as they are itching to prove.

Some of America’s allies are not convinced that a war with Iraq won’t endanger rather than protect their oil supplies or political stability. Aware of this, Bush is now pursuing his campaign via the UN, clearly hoping that Iraq’s failure to comply with requests from UN weapons inspectors will provide the pretext he needs to justify an attack upon Iraq. He cites Iraq’s refusal to comply with UN resolutions as evidence of Saddam’s contempt for the world. Yet that US ally, Israel, is in breach of as many UN resolutions as the errant Iraq. And the US itself has refused to accept a ruling from the International Court of Justice condemning its “unlawful use of force” during its terrorist war against Nicaragua, and for which it was also ordered to pay substantial reparations. Dismissing that particular ruling and refusing to pay, the US went on to intensify that assault.

That the US is concerned with the chemical facilities Iraq might have is understandable. Saddam certainly has the technological know-how. It came courtesy of the US when they sponsored Saddam in his war with Iran. Back in 1994, the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs produced a report entitled U.S. Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual Use Exports to Iraq and their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War. It concluded:
“The United States provided the Government of Iraq with ‘dual use’ licensed materials which assisted in the development of Iraqi chemical, biological, and missile-system programs, including: chemical warfare agent precursors; chemical warfare agent production facility plans and technical drawings…chemical warhead filling equipment; biological warfare related materials; missile fabrication equipment; and, missile-system guidance equipment”.
We can further observe that the country with the biggest nuclear arsenal on Earth and the biggest stockpile of chemical weapons, and which has a proven track record of having used them, is the United States. Clearly, America doesn’t object to the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction as such. It just wants it and its allies to have a monopoly of them, not in the interests of world peace but in the interests of its world domination.

There can be no other reason for the US obsession with Iraq than continuing control of Middle East oils supplies. What remains imprecise is the US game plan: to use Iraq as a springboard to capture Iran and thus secure a shorter and cheaper route to Gulf ports for Caspian oil, or maybe to get a tighter grip on Saudi oil lest there be an Islamic fundamentalist blowback resulting from the “war on terror”? You don’t think so? Then ask yourself if there’d there be so much US concern if the Middle East just supplied dates.

Someone who has seen through the current charade is Mo Mowlam, once a member of Blair’s cabinet, who has written:
“This whole affair has nothing to do with a threat from Iraq – there isn’t one. It has nothing to do with the war against terrorism or with morality. Saddam Hussein is obviously an evil man, but when we were selling arms to him to keep the Iranians in check he was the same evil man he is today. He was a pawn then and he is a pawn now. In the same way he served Western interests then, he is now the distraction for the sleight of hand to protect the West’s supply of oil” (Guardian, 5 September).
Capitalism is a war-prone society in that built-in to it is perpetual conflict between rival states over markets, raw material sources, trade routes and investment outlets, for the profit-seeking capitalist corporations they exist to protect. You can’t have capitalism without wars, the threat of war and preparations for war.

So if you’re just demonstrating against war, then take our advice and invest in a sturdy anti-war banner, for if you are prepared to oppose war without opposing the very system that gives rise to it, then you’ll be demonstrating for quite some time to come. Alternatively you can join the movement which believes that to end wars we must first put an end capitalism. An uphill struggle? Less than campaigning to end war against the backdrop of the profit system.

We must unite to establish a world community without frontiers where all the resources of the planet would be at the disposal of all the people of the planet. Then we could use them to end world poverty, hunger and preventable disease once and for all and rapidly move towards applying the principle “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”, ensuring that no man, woman or child anywhere on Earth goes without adequate food, clothing, shelter or other amenities. A world where wars and weapons of mass destruction would be things of the past. This can be done. So let’s do it.

Another futile Earth Summit (2002)

From the October 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

The findings of a survey carried out by YouGov in the wake of the recent Earth Summit and published in the Observer (8 September) revealed that seven out of ten people think that the Johannesburg Earth Summit has made almost no difference to the future of the planet. And only one in 500 believes that the controversial £40 million meeting attended by leaders from more than 100 countries, with 60,000 participants, will make the world ‘a lot better’. This, of course, came as no surprise. In the run-up to the Summit, activists the world over had expressed little or no confidence that it would be noted for achieving anything tangible. And if developments since the 1992 Rio Summit were anything to go by, few were holding out for anything worth celebrating.

As the Summit closed, the UN, the British government and many world-wide delegations articulated their surprise that non-governmental groups had come away from the Summit feeling angered and cheated. Oxfam, for instance, had commented that the Summit had been a triumph for greed and a tragedy for people. Friends of the Earth remarked: Do not believe government spin doctors who claim success for this Summit. It is by any objective test a failure. And Christian Aid said: The overall winner of this Summit has been big business. It has triumphed in its bid to avoid any legally-binding regulation on its behaviour.

Yet more empty promises
The final text of the Programme of Implementation agreed upon at Johannesburg after nine days of deliberations contained but two new and explicit targets. The summit agreed to halve the number of people without sanitation (about 1.2 billion) by 2015 and agreed to plans to provide clean water for half of those without it. In other words, even by 2015 there will still be millions of people without sanitation or clean water.

With growing concern now about the destruction wrought on of the Earth’s life-support system, the bumbling negotiations were billed as being to map out a plan for reducing poverty and protecting bio-diversity. All they could agree on was to aim to reduce the loss of biodiversity by 2010 and to increase funding and technical resources to developing countries as well as to strengthen forest law and to merely reduce not stop illegal logging. The Summit acknowledged that poverty and environmental degradation are linked and further adopted the aim of halving the 1.2 billion who exist on less that $1 per day. Another paragraph considered over-fishing, and thus the depletion of a main protein source for many living in coastal areas. Here the Summit only agreed to restore, where possible, the world’s fish stocks by 2015 and merely to urge attention on marine pollution and the establishment of protected areas by 2010.

Back in 1992 at the Rio Summit, the world’s wealthier countries pledged to greatly increase their development aid to poorer countries to 0.7 percent of GNP. This was never achieved. Indeed, prior to the Summit, across the industrialised world it stood at 0.22 percent. What did the Johannesburg Summit do? It promised to urge the developed countries . . . to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 percent of GNP as official development assistance. This would appear a step back – a promise is suddenly demoted to a promise to urge – and is perhaps an admission by the promise-makers, and the urgers, that promises are there to be broken. The US delegation, in particular, blocked all proposals involving regulating multinational corporations or dedicating significant new funds to so-called sustainable development.

The only outcome of the negotiations on sustainable consumption – the Holy Grail of the summit – was agreement to develop an action programme within 10 years, to publish indicators that evaluate progress and to give shoppers instructive eco-labels. The Summit failed in its proclaimed mission of setting definite targets and a timetable for increasing the use of renewable energies. Paragraph 19(e) watered down the Kyoto Protocol to combat climatic change by promoting clean fossil fuels. This said, the Kyoto Protocol was given a little more legitimacy with Russia and Canada promising to ratify it.

So, there was little or nothing to applaud at this Summit. The world’s leaders – and there were many on show – simply recommitted themselves to agreements they had already committed themselves to elsewhere. It was an affirmation by the global executive of capitalism that the Programme of Implementation should have carried the subtitle: Sorry, but there’s profits to be had.

Big corporate interests
In the past ten years, the real change has been the even more prominent role in negotiations given to business, predominantly multinational corporations. As never before, corporations are centre stage, with governments backing their interests. It was just naïve of the NGOs to imagine that the Summit was ever going to decide on a regulatory framework to try to make that the activities of corporations serve the interests of those in greatest need.

Entirely predictably, all that happened was that, with the blessing of the UN, multi-nationals negotiated a number of partnership agreements – quite simply voluntary commitments by corporations to respect the environment and protect human rights. But in an increasingly globalised world, where there are mega-profits to be made, and wherever these profits will come into conflict with environmental and human rights issues, any directors not seen to have profits forefront in their minds will be shown the door pretty damned quick. Thus, such promises are in truth not worth the paper they are written on. Insane? Yes. But this is actually capitalism functioning efficiently.

The relevance of the meeting was perhaps best revealed by the absence of George W Bush who, despite massive international lobbying for him to attend, decided that a war with Iraq was more important. This was understandable considering the numerous oil giants and weapons manufacturers he is indebted to, and not least because his advisers were all too aware he would have been heading for the mother of all heckling bouts and would undoubtedly have proved an embarrassment to the US delegation. Moreover, as US Capitalism plc was aware, they were going to get their way anyway at Johannesburg, so why send Dubya who was more valuable at home beating the war drum?

The debating aside, this was a meeting at which US Secretary of State Colin Powell was booed and jeered by US environmental campaigners and by many delegates and at which Tony Blair was lambasted from the speaker’s platform by Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and the Namibian president Sam Nujoma as an interfering colonialist.

Were he not such an arrogant, murderous, hypocritical and corrupt agent of capital, Mugabe’s five minute bluster could have been applauded as sound socialist criticism. Apart from his much publicised anti-Blair broadside he angrily declared:
“The programme of action we set for ourselves at Rio has not only been unfulfilled but it has also been ignored, sidelined and replaced by a half-baked unilateral agenda of globalisation in the service of big corporate interests. The focus here is profit, not the poor; the process is globalisation, not sustainable development, while the objective is exploitation, not liberation.”
Mugabe was, for once, right.

Bearing in mind that previous world summits – and there have been several in recent years, all analysed in this journal – have been subordinated to the interests of big business and have consequently proved to be a waste of time in so far as addressing the problems of the planet was concerned, is it any wonder that not only NGOs, but the wider public have little faith in them? You would have to be very naïve to imagine that profit-driven corporations in a world subject to intense world market competitive pressures would, or could, be forced by the UN, take care of the planet in a responsible manner.

We can perhaps salvage one thing from Johannesburg that will serve the interests of humanity, and that is the fact – reinforced by this Summit – that capitalism cannot be trusted to run the world in the interests of humanity; that governments, including the UN which is made up of governments, serve the interests of profit first and that, if we are ever to take control of this planet and run it in the real interests of its inhabitants, then we must do so ourselves, without leaders and with a view to establishing a global system of society in which production is freed from the constraints of profit and in which each person will have free access to the benefits of civilisation.
John Bissett

Earth Summits – a record of failure (2002)

From the October 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

The record of Earth summits prior to Johannesburg can be summed up in four words: high hopes, poor results. The first such summit took place in Stockholm in 1972, following the first Earth Day centred in New York in 1970. The 1970s became known by optimistic environmental reformers as the Decade of the Environment. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was set up to co-ordinate and manage federal pollution control programmes. Much legislation was passed setting out standards for the reduction of air and water pollution, but the industrial polluters did not disappear.

When President Carter introduced tougher dumping regulations there was a big increase in illegal midnight dumpings, and exporting toxic waste to the Third World became a sudden growth industry. The Earth Day celebrated the modest and mostly temporary environmental gains that had been made. The following year the incoming Reagan administration packed the EPA with environmental lobbyists and lawyers whose chief function was to dismantle environmental legislation or to make it ineffective.

In 1987 delegates from twenty-three industrialised countries met in Montreal and agreed to phase out the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by 1999. The US was keenest because it had a virtual monopoly on the production of substitutes. The other countries wanted time to catch up on the technology. But many of them refused to sign, on the grounds that they couldn’t afford the substitutes (estimated to be at least three times as expensive).

It was the same story with carbon dioxide emissions. Those countries with above average dependence on coal and oil-fired power stations, led by the US, dragged their feet. Paying for filters or building other types of power stations would have raised their costs and put them at a disadvantage in competing with other countries on world markets. So any treaty on global warming that might have emerged would have been an inadequate compromise between rival capitalist states, full of loopholes and get-out clauses to protect vested interests.

The second Earth summit was held in Rio in 1992. Here a blueprint was drawn up for reversing the growing environmental damage to the planet and for narrowing the gap between richer and poorer nations and people in the twenty-first century. The leaders solemnly pledged themselves to implement Agenda 21, a document that had much to say about how environmental protection and economic development had to go hand in hand, but, as Fred Pearce recently remarked in the Independent (31 August), said next to nothing about combating the real impediments of money and politics.

The optimism generated by the Rio Summit soon faded as the problems, far from being solved, went on growing. Global warming continued to increase (eight of the hottest ten years recorded have been since 1992), topsoil continued to be lost (nearly a third of the world’s land area is degraded and at risk of becoming desert), forests continued to be felled and species to become extinct.

Richer countries failed to fulfil their promise to provide aid to help poorer ones change course and develop in a more sustainable manner. Wealth owners in the richer countries have enjoyed a bonanza since Rio, with the world economy growing by more than a third to $42 trillion (£27,600 billion). But aid to poorer countries did not just fail to rise – it fell like a stone. Between the Rio Summit and the millennium, aid dropped by more than a quarter in real terms. Every developed country except Denmark cut it. Instead it was Third World debt that rose – by a third to $2.5 trillion (£1,600 billion).

Five years ago there was another Earth summit, this time in New York. It was only ever going to be a re-enactment of the Rio Summit. The delegates from the world’s leading nations failed to agree on new targets for carbon dioxide emissions. The Rio delegates had agreed to return to pre-1990 CO2 levels by the end of the decade. But between 1992 and 1997 such emissions had in fact spiralled and went on doing so. The industrialised countries were as usual the worst perpetrators.

The Rio guidelines to protect the world’s forests were not adhered to, with about 10m hectares of forest vanishing every year, accompanied by the loss of about 130,000 species of life. At Rio the industrialised countries had agreed to increase their proportion of overseas aid to 0.7 percent of GDP. What happened was that aid fell by 20 percent between 1992 and 1995. In that period global poverty had increased, with the poorest 20 percent of the world’s people sharing less than 1.1 percent of global income, compared with 2.3 percent in 1960.

The Rio Summit had pledged $125 billion a year in aid initiatives for projects aimed at helping the environment. Few have been carried out and some have resulted in human misery. In Uganda, for instance, 35,000 inhabitants of the Kabale forest region were forcibly ejected from their homes in order that tourism could be encouraged and the forests protected. Those who resisted were either shot or burned alive in their homes.

In the five years between the Rio and New York summits the world’s fishing grounds were further depleted. The whole ecosystem faced, and still faces, an increased threat from oil and gas companies who are now exploiting the deeper oceans in their endless pursuit of profit. The day after the New York Summit closed the Guardian reported that it had ended in a shambles with no clear agreement on its main goals of new aid for developing countries or protecting forests.

Then later in 1997 came the Climatic Change Conference in Kyoto, Japan. A protocol was adopted which set specific targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. The targets varied from country to country. In March 2001, to the dismay of the international community, the US administration announced that it would not implement the protocol on the grounds that it is not the right tool to deal with the challenge of climate change at a global level.

As an alternative the Bush administration proposed a cap and trade system that would set limits for emissions of three major air pollutants – but not carbon dioxide. Whereas Kyoto set out mandatory reductions, under the Bush plan permits would be assigned for each ton of pollution. By cutting emissions, firms would be able to trade these permits with other businesses. The European Union estimated that the Bush plan would allow the US to actually increase emissions by up to 33 percent.

World condemnation of the US proposal followed and was unanimous. No one has the right to declare Kyoto dead, declared Sweden’s Environment Minister. President Bush was unrepentant: I appreciate your point of view, but this is the American position because it’s right for America. Right for America should in fact be interpreted as right for American business interests. America, however, is not the only culprit in the process of environmental degradation – just the currently most powerful and with the greatest corporate interests to protect.

The idea of a world meeting to discuss world problems is not in itself wrong. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is a recognition that problems such as environmental degradation, global warming, the hole in the ozone layer, world hunger, poverty, ill-health and ignorance are global problems that can only be tackled by action on a world-scale. The problem is that under capitalism, with its built-in competitive struggle for profits, the necessary unity of purpose and co-operative action is impossible to achieve. Under capitalism the most that can possibly emerge from such meetings are trade-offs between competing sectional interests.

Only when capitalism has gone and the resources of the Earth have become the common heritage of all humanity can a meeting of representatives from all parts of the world be a success in terms both of being able to decide the urgent action needed and of being to implement it quickly and effectively.
Stan Parker

Letters: Socialism as a practical solution (2002)

Letters to the Editors from the October 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism as a practical solution

Dear Editors,

Socialism won’t change the human condition – did anyone even say that it would?

I am convinced of the case for socialism, but I am not utopian. I don’t believe in human perfectibility or a state of ideal political-social perfection. What I do think is that socialist economy would free up our human abilities to find solutions to our most pressing concerns. It is this freeing-up of resources, of capacity to concentrate on working for and towards what we want, rather than for a profit system for individuals that makes me know that socialist economic organisation is a better way for all of us on the planet than blindly accepting a capitalist global economy as dominant.

I think that this simple key message of abolishing money, or the need to work to earn money being replaced by working for and thinking about what we want wins the argument; it wins the argument with those who haven’t questioned capitalist organisation of society or of their parts in perpetuating it; it wins the minds of anyone who chooses to go away and think – and that is most human beings; it wins the minds of those who are fed up with the stresses imposed by working conditions geared to piling up money, or simply getting money to pay for things. For all of us concerned with the degradation of our lived-in environments by noise and air pollution and by oppressiveness of global capitalist corporations, there is the argument that removing the link between money and work will, or could leave us free to address these matters. They will not be dealt with half as effectively by any of the social-democratic parties under a capitalist organisation.

It has got to be a continuing part of Socialist Party philosophy that we seek to reach socialist organisation through peaceable, democratic, consensual ways; we must reject violence. We may feel very angry and we may well understand violence coming about as a result of frustration and feelings of powerlessness, but it is important that we do not condone violence; we must distance ourselves and dissociate ourselves with the destructive and negative.

For me, the breaking of the link between money and work would certainly enable the space and time for us to think about and address the roots of violence, ab-use (physical, sexual, emotional) in our selves as human beings.

Far from being utopian, socialism may simply be the next step for the survival of the human species.
Philip Hutchinson, 

Marx and economics

Dear Editors,

I purchased, and enjoyed, amongst others the pamphlet Marxism Revisited and Some Aspects of Marxian Economics. Now, thankfully, my understanding of economics isn’t all that strong, but I could just about follow what you were saying there. But could I just ask you to explain about socially necessary labour. I understand, that according to Marx, the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour that is contained in it. But I always understood that this concept was no longer academically respectable. How can socialists still believe in this concept today?

In the Marxism Revisited pamphlet you talk of being opposed to all wars. Which is fine to take a principled stand but how could a socialist stand back and not take a stand in the Spanish Civil War or, in, what the Russians rightly call The Great Patriotic War, WWII. Surely socialists should have (did) support the Republic and should have been against fascism in WWII.

I just want to know how you could be opposed to the Republic fighting against Franco? Back then socialists should have urged Britain to join forces with the Spanish government instead of turning their backs and worse, by allowing the Italians and Germans to police the waters around Spain on the pretext to stop supplies to Franco. They damn well helped him!

That all said, I have enjoyed what I read, particularly the Market System Must Go. But there I detected a nostalgia for the Gold Standard, surely not!
Steven Johnston, 

Regarding socially necessary labour time (and the labour theory of value of which it is a key component) we do not really care whether it is academically respectable or not. Most concepts and theories which are academically respectable at some point – especially in the arts and social sciences – are not necessarily those which will stand the test of time. Indeed, academic respectability in these fields is largely a transient phenomenon which is far more reflective of ideological developments within capitalist society than it is of anything else.

Few disciplines demonstrate this more transparently than economics. Theories taken for granted thirty or forty years ago (the wholly beneficial effects of the Keynesian multiplier, the use of interest rates as a policy instrument for Balance of Payments control, the Phillips Curve, etc) are now oddities only to be found in textbooks of economic history. Much of monetarist theory (and even more recently, neo-classical theory) has been going the same way.

The ultimate test of any economic theory is whether it is able, over time, to accurately account for what happens in the real world. We contend that Marxian economics has been able to do this in a way none of the other theories have as the fashion for them has waxed and waned.

For over a century now, conventional economic theory has been unable to even remotely explain something as essential to the market economy as the prices at which various commodities sell. Demand and supply tells us why strawberries at local convenience stores are selling at £1.50 a punnet this week as opposed to £1.30 last week but it certainly doesn’t explain why a bicycle persistently costs more to buy than a strawberry, a car persistently costs many times more to buy than a bicycle and an oil tanker several more times again than a car. How could it?

Conventional demand and supply theory as found in modern economics textbooks certainly helps to explain short-term price movements for commodities, but to say that demand and supply determines commodity prices as a whole is like saying that the fluctuations of the waves on the sea determines the depths of the ocean.

The labour theory of value, with its concept of socially necessary labour time, is the only explanation that fits: commodities tend to exchange in certain value relationships because of the amount of labour time it takes to produce them from start to finish. It is around this value that prices tend to fluctuate, as influenced by demand and supply. You will no doubt have read in our pamphlets that because the labour theory of value also points to the fact that workers are exploited in capitalist society, giving unpaid labour (surplus value) to the capitalists when they produce commodities for them, it is a theory that the supporters of capitalism are happy to try and bury.

We might also add that it is through applying the labour theory of value that Marxian socialists have been able to explain the economic phenomenon of inflation which has beset the capitalist world since the Second World War. Our pamphlet The Market System Must Go – Why Reformism Doesn’t Work has more detail on this and other applications of Marxian economics, though we should add that we certainly have no nostalgia for the Gold Standard. While this had both advantages and disadvantages to the capitalists as an international trading system, we as revolutionary socialists are interested in the abolition of all the defining characteristics of the capitalist economy (wages, capital, prices, money, etc) including the paraphernalia of international trade.

Finally, you raise the issue of the Second World War and its precursor in Spain. The socialist position is that that worst thing the working class can do politically is put its class enemies in control of the machinery of government and the armed forces, as sooner or later they will be used against them. Both sides in the Spanish Civil War and both sides in the Second World War were pro-capitalist and anti-working class and socialists would not – and did not – support a capitalist government of either complexion. Socialists would of course prefer to operate under conditions of limited bourgeois political democracy than outright fascism and political dictatorship but history demonstrates that even elementary political democracy in capitalism cannot be defended through wars (for one thing, that is never their purpose – not in Iraq now, nor as in western Europe then).

If illustration of this is needed, how grateful the Spanish working class (including those elements struggling towards taking up socialist positions) must have been when the side of democracy won the war in 1945 . . . and then proceeded to protect and nurture the Franco dictatorship in Spain and the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal. They must have been almost as delirious as those freed from the yoke of the Nazi tyranny in Germany were when they were subsequently delivered into the hands of one of the worst police states in history (the mis-named German Democratic Republic) by those friends of the workers and arch-democrats themselves, F. D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.

Greasy Pole: The way they tell ’em (2002)

The Greasy Pole column from the October 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

One year into his leadership of the Conservative Party, how is Iain Duncan Smith to be assessed? There is unlikely to be any point in asking people at large because so few have noticed him. But what about his own party? They may well feel that the traditional “could do better” does not apply because, no matter how pathetic his showing in the jungle world of politics it is clear that Duncan Smith could not improve on it. And if the leader is so little known what can be said about his team of shadow ministers? David Davis, the man he appointed party chairman, gained some transient prominence as a week-end member of the SAS, which means that on Saturdays and Sundays he can kill with his bare hands. In spite of such spasmodic power he showed some unsoldierly sentiments – like envy. Somewhat peeved at being passed over for the leadership Davis turned his back on all those comfortable theories about loyalty being the Tories’ secret weapon and conspired to unseat Duncan Smith. Unluckily for him he did this without a soldier’s due regard for camouflage; Duncan Smith observed it all from his bunker and promptly reduced Davis to the ranks.

The humiliation of Davis is not the only sign that Duncan Smith is getting desperate. Is there no policy, no day-to-day issue, he could exploit to get some favourable publicity? In one ill-advised venture he suddenly claimed that the Tory Party would stand up for vulnerable people. The names at Lloyds, currency dealers and property speculators, all anxious about the remorseless daily slide on the Stock Exchange, may have thought Duncan Smith had some good news in store for them. In fact the poor man was only trying to steal a few votes by promising to take special care of anyone struggling to get by on the lower slopes of poverty – the sick, the benefit claimants, the elderly – who qualify in the Tory lexicon as vulnerable (but who have learned to be wary of Tory politicians bearing gifts). So of course nobody with any sense took any notice of what Duncan Smith said, except to apply it as a measure of his desperation.

Another attempt to convince us that he has radically changed his party was the decision to keep party leaders off the platform at this year’s annual conference, banishing them to a place among the lower orders in the body of the hall. Now this was serious. A seat on the conference platform is not just a privilege. It is an assertion of rank, of being one of the elite. It means exposure to the blissful publicity of the TV cameras, being beamed into a million homes leading the applause in the obligatory standing ovations. For the very privileged few it means dosing the audience with great dollops of platitudes, half-truths and tantrums which in combination are called a great speech.

An example of the power of a presence on the platform was at the conference in 1991. On the Tuesday of the conference Margaret Thatcher fumed and smouldered in her hotel room, still smarting from the men in grey suits wheedling her out of the job of prime minister. Watching the proceedings on TV she muttered and moaned about the treachery and impotence of the new leaders; none of them were any good, John Major, for one, was all vanity. On the following day she took her revenge. Dressed to the nines in true Tory blue and displaying her finest jewellery she left for the conference. “I’m not going to make a speech,” she promised, to widespread relief, “I’ll just go there.” And “go there” was what she did, taking her place on the platform, which was enough to provoke an ovation from the floor which the leaders she despised had difficulty in bringing to a halt.

Well she was accustomed to holding a favoured place on the platform, to making the kind of speeches so loved by the Tory grass roots that they were a kind of punctuation in her reign over the party. She was accustomed to politically challenged Tories hanging adoringly on her every word, cheering themselves hoarse at every jingoistic allusion and roaring with laughter at every joke, no matter how feeble. They loved it in 1983 when she told them, revelling in her Falklands triumph, that “the spirit of the South Atlantic is the spirit that made Great Britain great”. They brayed with laughter in 1980, when she was under enormous pressure from people who were misled into a belief that governments are able to control the economy, and defied them with these words:

To those watching with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase “the U-turn”, I have only one thing to say. “You turn if you want to. The lady is not for turning.”

That leaden-footed attempt at humour was not Thatcher’s work but that of Ronnie Millar, one of her speech-writers. In fact none of her conference speeches were hers; putting them together was a long, tortuous process and not the spontaneous, heartfelt declaration the conference members assumed it to be. To begin with Thatcher and her staff would spend several months collecting a file of ideas and reports of the speeches of other people. During the summer, as the conference drew near, she asked for contributions from her ministers, sympathetic journalists, advisers and the like. All of this was drawn together at Chequers on the weekend before the conference; draft sections of the proposed speech – sometimes as many as twelve – and big files of background material were laid out on a table and put together. With pieces written to link up the sections she at last had a speech to send the members into raptures. (Not that that had anything to do with the content of the speech; they would have cheered almost anything she said.) Spontaneous it was not – and in any case it was finally read from an autocue.

An essential of Tory conferences (although it is not always achieved) is a show of loyalty. Behind the scenes it is rather different. The leaders usually get only one chance in the limelight and they must use it to assert and defend their standing in the party; otherwise there are always plenty of hopefuls eager to challenge for a place at the top. So every speaker needs at some time to attack the Labour Party and the LibDems, with painfully heavy-handed jokes intended to stay in the members’ minds for when the next leadership election comes along. Naturally this can lead to some outrageous clowning. At Brighton in 1957 Lord Hailsham, who was then party chairman, attracted the kind of publicity most politicians would shun by appearing on the beach in the early morning wearing a gruesomely baggy pair of swimming trunks and skipping across the pebbles for a swim. By coincidence this juvenile behaviour was witnessed by a number of newspaper hacks – not people usually known for standing on a cold beach in the first light of day – who kindly arranged for Hailsham’s photograph to appear in the press the next day. On the following morning, perhaps stimulated by the media attention, Hailsham seized the chairman’s bell and began to shake it violently into a crescendo of sound while he boomed out a warning about the impending doom of the Labour Party. It was buffoonery of the highest order and the members obediently leapt to their feet, stamping and cheering.

Heseltine and Hamilton
A similar rapture greeted Michael Heseltine’s 1975 attack on the Labour Party, suitably acted out on stage, as “. . .a one-legged army limping away from the storm they have created. Left, left-left, left . . .” Even opponents of the Labour Party might have regarded such clowning as an excuse for a convincing argument but it did Heseltine’s career no harm and to the end of his days as a leader he was a favourite of the conference. And then there was Neil “Cash For Questions” Hamilton, whose conference speech celebrated the fact that Heseltine, who was his boss at the Department of Trade and Industry, had given him the job of overseeing the drive for deregulation. Hamilton’s climax had the audience applauding wildly as he symbolically ripped up piles of paper (none of it, it is to be hoped, brown envelopes from Harrods). Heseltine, in blissful ignorance of the future, described this episode as Hamilton’s “greatest political triumph”. Well there weren’t many others, were there?

An appropriate end to these examples of the unpleasant, if typical, episodes in the history of the mindless jamborees which are Tory conferences is Portillo’s raving about the SAS in 1995. Even by the abysmal standards of capitalist politics Portillo must have been extremely stupid, or desperate for attention, to have so much as considered such a speech, which caused enduring damage to his prospects. Ted Heath rumblingly denounced it as a speech which “. . . hit new heights of offensiveness”. But then Heath was by no means a darling of the conference. In 1988, after he had attacked the Tory Eurosceptics, he was a victim of a blatant piece of manipulation by the party officials, who changed the order of speaking so that Jonathan “Sword Of Truth” Aitken was put up to reply, contemptuously adapting Heath’s own phrase to describe him as “the unacceptable face of Conservatism”. It was not long before Aitken himself became unacceptable as a minister, as an MP, as a bearer of truth.

A Passing Drunk
In 1984 at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where the top Tory brass were staying for the conference, a bomb came close to wiping out much of the government, including Thatcher herself. Among the injured taken to hospital was a man who was clearly not of their class – he had none of the arrogance and the cynicism which are so essential to survival in the world of capitalist politics. So it was assumed that he was the hotel porter and the great and the good of the party came to patronisingly shake his hand and graciously thank and congratulate him for his courage. It is to be hoped that he made a speedy recovery from whatever he was in hospital for because he was in fact a nameless drunk who happened to be passing the hotel when the bomb went off and could not remember why he had been there. The episode was an appropriate comment on the party conferences, for their separation from the real world of analysing and solving society’s problems, for their ignorance of what they actually are or how they came to be there or where they are supposed to be going, driven by the intoxication of power. And making the most of it, before the rest catch on.

“A lame duck” (2002)

From the October 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the date for the World Summit on Sustainable Development drew nearer, the UN advised participants not to be seen to be extravagant during the Summit since about 13 million people were facing starvation in the immediate environment of the venue. Kofi Annan’s plea was unnecessary, not just because those millions would still starve (they have always starved) but also because the conferees would not see their normal lifestyles as extravagant and so would not heed the advice. On the other hand, it was important because it reveals the hypocrisy of Annan, the UN and their masters in the big business community. So even before delegates started arriving the whole world was told, in the warning Annan gave, that the summit was just another forum to disseminate lies and lip service.

Like any other phenomenon, the money-based system is not static. It has to continue to change its rules and methods of operation. The world summit in Johannesburg was one such example of the ongoing trend in the development of capitalism. On the face of it, however, it was a conference designed to bridge the widening chasm between the North and the South, a conference aimed at seeking solutions to environmental pollution. But in reality the Summit was nothing other than a business breakfast meeting; a market place where the owners of the means of living and their cronies met and discussed how to enhance their business in the form of loans and investments. It was organized by the world class business executives through their main agent – the UN – with the sole aim of increasing the scope and area of trade and commerce. The capitalists would then enhance their objective of concentrating capital.

Victor Menotti of International Forum on Globalisation wrote the following in his book Exporting Enron Environmentalism: The Bush Vision for Johannesburg:
“The Bush vision for Johannesburg shows more strategic foresight than almost anything the unilateralist, free trader has proposed in any international arena to date. What has been revealed on the road to Johannesburg is a grand plan to permanently incapacitate the United Nations as an institution to meaningfully address the twin crises of global poverty and ecological decline.”
It is not surprising therefore, that at the end of the party on 4 September the Heinrich Boll Foundation summed up the summit thus:
“The Johannesburg World Summit has ended. Governments deliberated on their declarations and the Johannesburg Action Plan; developing countries fought for market access and increased foreign aid; the United States blocked meaningful targets and timetables; and NGOs feared that not even the achievements of the Rio Summit ten years ago would be reaffirmed” (
The Summit also provided a deep insight into the role and therefore the position of the corporate media in the class war. Paid to do the dirty public relations work, most of the journalists instead of exposing the hypocrisy of the powers-that-be merely trumpet what they’ve been fed to publicise. Of course the mention of certain obvious instances and events were unavoidable like the booing and heckling of the US delegation and the presence of anti-capitalist demonstrators. But even here only scant journalism was applied. Months before the meeting, groups with vested interest created channels through which the media would be guided as to what aspects of the deliberations should be highlighted. Websites were opened by these groups and lots of biased but very subtle information could be accessed by the media and NGOs. Through out the summit a group called Sustainable Development Issues Network (SDIN) held ‘daily NGOs strategy discussions’ in Johannesburg. Their co-ordinators worked very hard adding content, news and event links to the SDIN issue pages. In fact they encouraged and urged journalists to “use the links as a resource” (http: //

But perhaps the aspect of the conference that interests us socialists most was the presence there of the ubiquitous anti-capitalists. This Summit, organised to enhance the capitalist caste’s dominion over the rest of mankind, only succeeded in drawing attention to the rising hatred of the masses against the stinking hypocrisy in the status quo. Many thousands of protesters, including victims of the Union Carbide disaster in India in 1984, converged in Johannesburg from all over the world. They made a loud noise throughout the summit. They even embarrassed the world policeman that the US has turned itself into by rudely interrupting Colin Powell’s speech. However, these anti-capitalists run the risk of being seen as agents provocateurs since their actions lack direction thus rendering their objectives truncated and meaningless. It is not enough to hate or speak against the inhuman capitalist system. It is much more important to articulate an alternative to it, an antidote to the malaise. And this is where the anti-capitalists are handicapped. They make all that noise only to appeal like the Shakespearean Shylock to the insatiable capitalists to have mercy on the masses. This is no solution.

If the anti-capitalists had pondered over the outcome of the Rio Summit a decade ago from a scientific and genuinely people-centred considerations, they would have gone further than begging our unwilling capitalist group to have pity. Ten years after the Agenda 21 was adopted, the situation of the environment has only travelled from bad to worse. Sustainable development remains an empty slogan eluding everyone. The masses continue to experience an alarming rate of marginalisation. The anti-capitalists have failed to ask themselves why the US and other powers have openly refused to accept the Kyoto Protocol on environmental pollution. If they had asked themselves, they would have realized that where money and profits are concerned people and environment are secondary, nay expendable.

Another fact that people generally failed to understand is that tackling individual issues such as environment; health; education; terrorism; wars; hunger; etc will lead no one anywhere. There is one fundamental cause that runs through all problems that face mankind – the ownership of the main resources of the world. Here we are talking about the tools with which wealth is produced: factories, land, transport and communications, etc. When only a few people control these, as is the case now, they use every vile means to maintain their stranglehold over them even if it means destroying the environment and by extension the masses. They can never listen to appeals; they only know their profits. A profit-oriented system can never be made to work otherwise; it is impossible to reform it to benefit the masses. The best bet for mankind, therefore, is to do away with such relations of minority ownership and replace it with a common ownership which will lead to a democratic way of managing these resources in the interests of mankind as a whole.

“A damp squib” (2002)

From the October 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

The docility of the world population has contributed greatly to keeping intact the increasingly unequal, barbaric and rapacious society that is global capitalism. Because people believe there is no alternative to capitalism, it keeps on existing while the reformists in the EU, UN, AU, World Bank and so on seek to distract us from such an alternative by pretending they can manage capitalism in the interests of everyone. In reality, capitalism can only ever be run in the interest of the tiny minority which effectively owns the world’s means of wealth production.

In a society based on the profit motive what has been achieved as a result of the efforts of these reformists? We see before us a polluted planet, war, rampant poverty and the exploitation of the majority. Such problems show no sign of abating. It is against this background of persistent failure that international representatives of the capitalist class have periodically sought to organise summits to address the issue of development. One such was the recent Earth Summit held in South Africa which attracted some 60,000 delegates from the around the world but which proved to be a huge let-down to those nations hungry for development.

Truly, this World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) ended up a damp squib. It was simply a 10-day event of misleading the world with vacuous statements of good intent while the needs of the planet and the global poor continue to play second fiddle to the interests of global capital.

The pre-summit arrangement was to focus on a global plan to tackle problems like AIDS, depleted fish stocks and so on as well as finding ways of providing help for the Third World to have clean water and to halve poverty by 2015. Considering the US position on environmental issues, it was a pity that the US president G.W. Bush didn’t bother to avail himself of this opportunity to explain his position. Instead he sent a representative, Colin Powell, who also happened to arrive late and at a time when other leaders were leaving.

America is generally acknowledged to be the world’s worst polluter. It is all too apparent that this, the richest country on the planet is quite unwilling to make a solid commitment to fight such pollution or ease the poverty of billions of people and promote environmental conservation. Instead it decided to concentrate on what it calls its “war on terrorism”, in particular its threat to launch a military attack against Baghdad. It was for reasons such as this that the summit ended up such a hopeless shambles. Whatever commitments on paper there may have been to bring about sustainable development, these were blunted and rendered ineffectual by the divergent and conflicting interests of different capitalist groupings. Not that it would have made much difference had those commitments been sincerely meant; there are other reasons why sustainable development has not been able to take off which have little to do with the lack of political will on the part of capitalist governments. After all millions of people go to bed hungry for no other reason than that it is simply not profitable to feed them.

True to form, this summit lost sight of what it was meant to be about and ended up as an excuse for political grandstanding. While US Secretary of State, Colin Powell was booed and barracked after remarks about the famine in Southern Africa and Blair hit back at Mugabe for his remarks about Britain, the war of words steadily escalated. The divisions amongst the global capitalists seemed as pronounced as ever just as their system seems no less incapable of offering practical solutions to the very problems it continues to generate. In short it is a case of business as usual.
Bigboy Musemwa