Saturday, November 18, 2023

Socialist Principles: An Overview (1989)

From issue 6 of the World Socialist Review

Membership in the World Socialist Party of the United States requires an understanding of and agreement with what we consider to be the basics of scientific socialism. We have always been convinced that a worldwide system based upon production for use, rather than for sale on a market, requires that a majority of the population be socialist in attitude. Events since the establishment of the World Socialist Movement have, we maintain, proved the validity of this judgment. In our opinion, if you agree, generally, with the following statements, you are a socialist and belong with us.

1. Capitalism, even with reforms, cannot function in the interests of the working class. Capitalism, by its very nature, requires continual “reforms”; yet reforms cannot alter the basic relationship of wage-labor and capital and would not be considered, to begin with, if their legislation would lead to disturbing this relationship. Reforms, in other words, are designed to make capitalism more palatable to the working class by holding out the false hope of an improvement in their condition. To whatever extent they afford improvement, reforms benefit the capitalist class, not the working class.

2. To establish socialism the working class must must gain control of the powers of government through their political organization. It is by virtue of its control of state power that the capitalist class is able to perpetuate its system. State power gives control of the main avenues of education and propaganda—either directly or indirectly—and of the armed forces that frequently and efficiently crush ill-conceived working class attempts at violent opposition. The one way it is possible in a highly developed capitalism to oust the capitalist class from its ownership and control over the means of production and distribution is to first strip it of its control over the state. Once this is accomplished the state will be converted from a government over people to administration of the affairs of man. The World Socialist Party of the United States advocates the ballot, and no other method, as a means of abolishing capitalism.

3. Members of the World Socialist Party do not support—either directly or indirectly—members of any other political party. It is always possible, even if difficult in some instances, to vote for world socialism by writing in the name of the Party and a member for a particular legislative office. Our main task, however, is to make socialists and not to advocate use of the ballot for anything short of socialism.

4. The World Socialist Party rejects the theory of leadership. Neither individual “great” personalities nor “revolutionary vanguards” can bring the world one day closer to socialism. The emancipation of the working class “must be the work of the working class itself.” Educators to explain socialism, yes! Administrators to carry out the will of the majority of the membership, yes! But leaders or ‘Vanguards,” never!

5. There is an irreconcilable conflict between scientific socialism and religion. Socialists reject religion for two main reasons: (a) Religion divides the universe into spiritual and physical realms and all religions offer their adherents relief from their earthly problems through some form of appeal to the spiritual. Socialists see the cause of the problems that wrack mankind as material and political. We see the solution as one involving material and political, not spiritual, means, (b) Religions ally themselves with the institutions of class society. Particular religious organizations and leaders may, and frequently do, rebel against what they deem injustice, even suffering imprisonment and worse for their efforts. But they seek their solutions within the framework of the system socialists aim to abolish. One cannot understand the development of social evolution by resorting to religious ideas.

6. The system of society in Russia, China and in all of the other so-called socialist or communist countries is state capitalism. Goods and services, in those countries, as in avowedly capitalist lands, are produced for sale on a market with a view to profit and not, primarily, for use. The placing of industry under the control of the state in no way alters the basic relationships of wage labor and capital. The working class remains a class of wage slaves. The class that controls the state remains a parasitical, surplus-value eating class.

7. Trade unionism is the means by which wage workers organize to “bargain collectively” in order that they might sell their labor power at the best possible price, and to try to improve working conditions. The unorganized have no economic weapon with which to resist the attempts of capital to beat down their standards. But unions must work within the framework of capitalism. They are useful, then, to but a limited extent. They can do nothing toward lessening unemployment for example. In fact, they encourage employers to introduce more efficient methods in order to overcome added costs of higher wages and thereby hasten and increase unemployment. More and more the tendency of industry is toward a greater mass of production with fewer employees. Unions must by their very nature, encourage such development although they are also known, occasionally, to resist this natural trend through what employers like to call “featherbedding.” As Marx put it: instead of the conservative motto, “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” the workers ought to inscribe upon their banner “abolition of the wages system.” 

Socialist Scholars Conference (1989)

From issue 6 of the World Socialist Review

Held at the City University of New York at the beginning of April (which this writer attended), it was impressive enough in terms of the range of subjects it covered, the number of persons attending it and the breadth of representation of the sponsors and participants. The closest thing to it I can think of (and which I have never been to) is an annual event in France sponsored by the Trotskyist Lutte Ouvridro (Workers’Struggle), in which everyone who’s anyone on the left shows up.

It was, on the face of it, a welcome opportunity to discuss ideas and events in a relatively open atmosphere, though in practice, it frequently turned into a war of fixed positions between competing points of view. It also represented an occasion for networking (establishing contacts with other organizations) and generally a pretty good place to find source materials.

Organized by the CUNY Democratic Socialists’ Club and centered nominally on the theme, “Two Centuries of Revolution: 1789-1989," the Conference was used regularly and methodically by the DSs to get in some Marx-bashing; I couldn't be sure how well attended those workshops were, since they were all the same dreary variations on the topic, "Isn’t Marxism dead yet?" which did not help them to seem any more interesting.

Two panels which I did attend—one called “Is Capitalism Entering a New Stage?” sponsored by Monthly Review, featuring Paul Sweezy, Samir Amin and Beatrix Campbell, and the other on “Black Workers and Class Consciousness"—were at least on more provocative subjects. (Sweezy believes the answer to the question is "no”: capitalism is locked on a course of continued stagnation.) The panel on class consciousness among black workers brought forth the usual round of analyses and ended by leaving the impression that black workers are neither more nor less class conscious than any other sectors of the working class in the United States—though racism and systematic underemployment can generate extra obstacles to socialist understanding for blacks.

Had we (the Boston group) made inquiries early enough, we could at least have had adequate time to decide whether or not we wanted to pay for and man a literature booth at the Conference. We should definitely set up a booth there next year; it would give some very good exposure to socialist ideas. If we can demonstrate expertise in some field, it is even possible we could sponsor a panel or workshop of our own at future conferences, assuming there is a show of interest in it from comrades.
Ron Elbert

The Rear View: Everything’s for sale (2020)

The Rear View Column from the November 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Everything’s for sale

This is the title of a ‘…shocking film on the privatization of American public lands. “We’ve arrived at a moment,” Herring says in the film, “where we are going to decide whether we’re going to keep the birthright and the legacy of our public lands [system] or whether we simply want to unleash the forces of industry and live in a world where everything is for sale.” In other words, the November elections could determine the fate of many of the most iconic and cherished ecosystems in the US, from national forests to wildlife refuges’ (theguardian.com, 25 September). This month’s election in the US has not changed anything: capitalism continues and everything remains for sale. The National Trust’s 2,480 km2 of land – with its 1,300 kilometres of coast, 500+ historic houses, castles, ancient and industrial monuments, gardens, parks and nature reserves — might be seen as inalienable, yet Parliament can override this. If capitalism really wants something then wildlife, natural beauty, peace and quiet, or anything else, will take second place.


50s-era landfill?

There is one for sale in Wilmington, North Carolina.’The Town paid $25 for the land, and used it to house hurricane debris and trash. The only thing that now stands between the Beach and a $1.05 million sale is a snafu involving an N.C. contractor and state regulators, who disagreed on how much it should cost to clean the former landfill’ (portcitydaily.com, 25 September). In fact, capitalism does put a value on a summer’s day. And on a work of art. On a mosque. A social system which works by profit, whose wheels are lubricated by money, must put a price on everything. It bruises many sensitivities in the process, but capitalism can work in only one way.


Recycled condoms?

‘Police in Vietnam have busted a factory that took recycling one step too far. Some 345,000 used condoms were seized from the factory near Ho Chi Minh city, where they had been boiled, reshaped with a wooden phallus, and packaged for resale, Reuters reports. According to state media, the 34-year-old woman who owned the factory said it had received a “monthly input of used condoms from an unknown person.” Health officials said the recycled rubbers posed an “extreme health risk” to users, reports the AP. The factory was raided after a tip from a local resident. Police said the factory owner told them she was paid 17 cents per kilogram of recycled condoms. She has been detained and authorities are seeking other people involved in the operation’ (newser.com, 25 September).


Escape from Covid-19?

(i) for the gullible 99 percent. According to Dr. Vikas Mishra, ‘People are happily wearing these cards and moving around in crowded places which exposes them to the infection. Believing that any unverified and untested product would save one from the virus is foolishness and also exposes people to the danger of catching the infection…’ (news18.com, 21 September). Apparently, medical ‘. . . stores are earning a handsome amount and owners say these cards are selling like hot cakes.’

(ii) for the 1 percent. ‘Starting an overseas holiday with two weeks quarantine may not sound deeply appealing, but a tour operator says well-heeled clients are prepared to do it. Both National and Act party border control policies would allow foreign tourists to stay in privately managed isolation facilities that met strict rules… The package, including two weeks in an isolation facility, would cost $15,000 to $20,000 per person, and she said if up to 700 people were allowed in over the coming summer, they would generate $10m to $15m in tourism income…’ (stuff.co.nz, 22 September).


Eternal life?

‘The super-rich are already living the best lives. Now they’re trying to make those lives last forever with a wide array of weird and wonderful ideas from the fringes of science… Ambrosia is one of three outfits looking at experimental “vampire” blood transfusions that put the blood of young people into the veins of oldies. According to commercial finance experts ABC Finance, the cost of the trials currently ranges from £6,000 to about £215,000. The technique has worked well in mice, although as yet there are no positive results from human trials’ (dailystar.co.uk, 19 September). Such developments come as no surprise to socialists who have long understood capitalism’s voracious nature and how it seeks ever new ways to drain what it can out of the working class. Marx noted: ‘Capital is dead labour which, vampire like, lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks’ (Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 10). Capitalism causes pollution, war and want, but for the system to continue it must avoid eradicating its source of unpaid surplus value. Indeed, the introduction of basic healthcare, welfare payments and even parks is primarily in the interest of the parasite, not the host.


Moneyless moonshine?

‘Work with us. Do not believe those who tell you any political party, or any “reformers” or any special legislation, can do away with crimes that are only the result of our whole system of society to-day. If you would do away with these crimes, you must do away with their cause. Help us. Help us to save not only yourselves, men and women; not only your little children. Help us also to save the very criminals, who now “drain your sweat and drink your blood.” Come to us. Join hands with us; and hand in hand, heart to heart with us, labour in this great cause. Never forget that when once the people will there is no gainsaying them. Once you rise “in unvanquishable number,” you are many, they — your enemies — “are few” ‘ (Eleanor Marx-Aveling, The Commonweal, August 1885).

Pathfinders: Burning rain (2020)

The Pathfinders Column from the November 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

In September the UK Defence Secretary was forced to issue a public denial that the military was proposing to get rid of its stock of 227 Challenger 2 tanks, right after a government review suggested that very thing (BBC News, 12 September). True-blue nationalists, in love with the idea of rolling over foreigners in 60-ton behemoths, were understandably upset at the prospect. But the truth is that the Challenger is outgunned and obsolete, several times over. The larger truth is that the tank itself is an obsolete concept in an age of armour-busting drones and long-range missiles.

Actually, most of Britain’s war capability is obsolete, insofar as it exists at all. Years of budget cuts have reduced personnel and equipment to a fraction of their former strength. The air force has dropped to 119 fighters from 850 in 1989 (dailym.ai/33NmVFN). The British navy has scrapped all its jets, and seen its warship fleet decline from over 900 warships in 1944 to 115 by the time of the Falklands war and now to around 24 (bit.ly/2ZTUN2F). In 2010 it was still patrolling Somali waters on a pirate hunt, now it can barely patrol UK waters, and has completely withdrawn from the South Atlantic, thus rendering the original Falklands slaughter even more absurd. In 2014 Russia parked an armed cruiser off the coast of Scotland, causing red faces at the Admiralty, as the navy’s only available warship was at Portsmouth. Later that year, in the Islamic State crisis, the US and France sent aircraft carriers to the region, but Britain had just sold its last carrier for scrap and just had to look on like the poor relation.

Since then Britain’s splashed out £6bn on two new carriers, contracted by Blair’s boom-time Labour government, which Cameron’s later Tory austerity government couldn’t wriggle out of. But as the BBC reported in June this year with unintentional comedy, ‘The National Audit Office highlighted concerns over missing key elements such as aircraft and support ships’ (bbc.in/32LRbS2). What is the point of buying an aircraft carrier when you don’t have any aircraft to carry, you ask? Well quite. But carriers are a mark of prestige and the entry price to the top diplomatic table. If you don’t have them, goes the thinking, Johnny Foreigner can bowl all sorts of low balls while you’re stuck in the pavilion. Witness China, which had to back down ignominiously, after sabre-rattling at Taiwan in 1996, when the US sent two carrier battle groups to the Taiwan Strait. But since then China has been building anti-ship ballistic missiles that can sink a carrier from 1200 nautical miles away, which makes the UK’s new purchases look even more like shiny white elephants, especially as it doesn’t have the sailors to keep both of them at sea simultaneously and only plans to buy enough F35 fighters for one of them (bit.ly/2RH4Jbc).

As so often with today’s political and geopolitical scenarios, TV’s Yes Minister got there first in the 1980s, on that occasion over the question of buying Trident to replace Polaris missiles. ‘Trident is beautiful,’ declaims Humphrey Appleby, ‘it’s the nuclear missile that Harrods would sell. Of course we don’t need it, but you could say that about anything at Harrods’ (youtu.be/XyJh3qKjSMk). The purpose of British defence policy, he explains for the benefit of the na├»ve, is not to defend Britain, because that’s impossible, but only to make British people believe that Britain is defended (youtu.be/9KId-GgDcGk). The only thing anyone knows about weaponry is that it’s ridiculously expensive, so it must be good, and that goes double for aircraft carriers. England’s NHS budget is £133bn, after all, so £6bn for a bit of nationalistic feel good therapy doesn’t seem so extravagant.

But war has changed. For one thing, it is increasingly asynchronous, and heavy conventional weaponry is not much use against a guerrilla enemy you can’t see. For another, AI is starting to replace people, and can now defeat top fighter pilots in aerial dogfights (New Scientist, 25 August). Meanwhile in dark fetid corners, state-backed spooks continue to nibble away at each other’s cyber security systems. But neither AI nor hackers can do anything without communications, which is why the key arena is now space. Satellites have become the de-facto battlefield weapon, not only for precision-guided munitions but for most other ground-support operations, including knowing where the other side is and what it’s doing. Who wields the big stick on Earth is whoever’s got a sat-nav system in space. Today there are four navigational satellite systems in orbit, America’s GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, China’s BeiDou and the EU’s Galileo. Britain sank a lot of cash into Galileo before being unceremoniously booted out of the partnership because of Brexit, thus scoring a massive own goal the Brexiteers certainly didn’t see coming. Other systems are emerging for India and Japan, and more will follow. The idea of everyone sharing one single system for peaceful purposes is of course silly idealistic nonsense in a world of competitive markets.

Capitalism increasingly relies on satellites for all its communications and financial transactions. Today there are around 2,600 in orbit, but this is set to increase by at least an order of magnitude as more countries and corporations heft their hardware aloft. SpaceX alone plans to put around 42,000 satellites into orbit, in order to provide global internet access. Pretty soon astronomers will barely be able to see for space junk as everyone and his dog scrambles to join the thousand-mile-high club.

In light of all this it’s obvious that if you want to take down a country, you need to take out its satellites, thus a war in space looks ever more likely. The US has since 2010 been experimenting with an uncrewed reusable space plane, the Boeing US X-37B, running highly secretive space flights of up to two years’ duration. India launched a prototype in 2016, and the Chinese recently launched their own secret space plane from a space port in the Gobi Desert (Nasa, 4 September). What are these uncrewed space planes for? That’s anybody’s guess, but military would be a good bet. Whoever has planes patrolling space has their boot on the neck of potential enemies. When the shooting starts, the satellites will be the shooting stars.

In a post-scarcity society of common ownership there won’t be any reason to fight wars, but in capitalism, war is the logical extension of normal business operations. The technology changes, war doesn’t. Generations grew up in the shadow of the atomic bomb, but the next war might be over even faster than it takes for an ICBM to cross a continent. You won’t see it, you won’t hear it. It’ll just be a power cut. It won’t seem like a catastrophe, nothing that spells a return to the middle ages. You’ll just go outside to ask the neighbours what the hell’s going on, and then stare in wonder at a sky full of burning rain.
Paddy Shannon


Blogger's Note:
Via the SPGB website, a couple of comments arising out of the article.

sshenfield
NOVEMBER 1, 2020 AT 5:38 PM

Very illuminating article. Could you please explain what the ‘burning rain’ is? Space junk falling to earth? Do you think that an exchange targeting communications satellites would trigger nuclear war?


PJShannon
NOVEMBER 2, 2020 AT 11:42 AM

Hi Stephen,

yes, it seemed to me an apt way to describe a whole bunch of satellites disintegrating in the upper atmosphere. Whether a space war would go nuclear is the big question of course. I suppose it depends on who’s involved and how it escalates. The big players (Russia & USA with roughly 7,000 warheads each in 2017, more than 20 times what any other country has) would be unlikely to attack each other as the MAD principle still applies, but space planes could certainly be used against lesser players like Iran, which put up a military satellite in April this year. On some measures the most likely nuclear flashpoint is India and Pakistan, but this is not likely to start in space as India dominates in space tech while Pakistan has relied on China to launch its own satellites. North Korea is something of a wildcard, but has no long-range delivery capability nor any satellite fleet, but has made a number of satellite launch attempts which have been branded as covert ICBM tests. But the more hardware goes up there, the more countries have to lose in a space war and the bigger the potential for a nuclear showdown.