Friday, December 1, 2023

Video review: Illustrate to Educate? (2023)

Video Review from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Illustrate to Educate is the overall title of a collection of short YouTube videos which try to explain in simple terms and with the aid of colourful pencil illustrations and diagrams a wide range of ideas and topics as diverse as Buddhism, Halloween, Democracy, Easter, Climate Change, and, most recently, the Israel-Hamas conflict. The presenter of these videos, Dan Zimmerman, has been much praised for the clear and non-partisan nature of his videos (viewed by many thousands of people) and for the way he generally strives to present more than one side to a subject or an argument. We can see this confirmed in two of his recent videos, ‘What is Socialism’ and ‘Marxism Explained’. So definitely a good idea, but what about the actual content of these videos?

Well, unfortunately, the content does not always stand up to scrutiny. In the one on socialism, for example, the presenter fails to develop one of the key ‘meanings’ (in fact the original meaning) of the term itself: a co-operative, moneyless society based on common ownership. He does hint at it at the beginning by stating that socialism ‘advocates for the collective ownership and control of the means of production and distribution’. But then he veers off, suggesting that ‘socialism’ can mean all sorts of different variations of the buying and selling society that we already have. Take your pick – ‘nationalisation of industries’, ‘public-private partnerships’, ‘a planned economy’, ‘more equal’ distribution of wealth. We are then told that ‘socialism’ has been ‘implemented in various forms in countries around the world’. The examples given here are – perhaps inevitably – the state capitalist systems of the former Soviet Union, of China and of Cuba, all heralded as ‘collective ownership’ (which it isn’t) and as ‘a more co-operative approach to economic decision-making’ (which it isn’t either). But, at least, the presenter does then rightly go on to say that such regimes may create ‘loss of individual freedom’ and oppression (even while continuing to call them ‘socialist’).

So the educational value of that particular ‘Illustrate to Educate’ video is definitely open to question, given its only passing mention of the original meaning of the idea of socialism, the one originally popularised by one of its key advocates, Karl Marx. However, the opportunity to make up for this presents itself in the ‘Marxism Explained’ video in the series. And this one is certainly a lot better. In it, Dan Zimmerman correctly states Marx’s analysis that the struggle between society’s two classes, capitalists and workers, defines economic relations in capitalism and goes on to explain that, according to Marx, the imbalance in the monopoly of ownership and control of the means of production and resources by the capitalist class means that workers have little power and are often easily replaceable. He further talks about how capitalism employs social institutions such as government, education and the media to reinforce the status quo.

So far, so good. But then, unfortunately, this video too starts to go astray. For example, it refers to Marx foreseeing two stages of the development of future society, first socialism and then communism – this despite the fact that in his writings Marx makes clear that his use of the two terms is interchangeable and both mean a moneyless, wageless society based on common ownership.

The maker of the video also needs to reassess the question of the possible collapse of capitalism. He presents Marx as arguing for an inevitable collapse of capitalism either through its tendency to monopoly of ownership and consequent stifling of competition or because of the effects of the economic crises or depressions it is subject to. But nowhere in Marx is there a claim that concentration or monopoly of ownership will automatically bring with it the collapse of the capitalist system. As for crises or depressions, Marx did see them as an inherent feature of capitalism – something confirmed by history since his time – but, rather than these signalling the end of capitalism, his argument was that they would simply lead to a realignment of the existing system. Nothing, therefore, in Marx’s writings to support the view that he was in any way an ‘inevitabilist’. His argument was simply that a new social system would happen only with a conscious and democratic majority ending it to replace capitalism with socialism. Nothing in Marx either to support the view of his ideas on revolution put forward by Dan Zimmerman that a revolution will happen by an ‘enlightened vanguard’ using capitalism’s failures to seize control of the means of production and lead workers to socialism (or communism). Such an idea, common among those on the left of capitalist politics, did not originate in Marx but came much later – from Lenin and Trotsky in fact when they distorted Marx’s ideas.

In its final minute, this video does at least make clear that Marx’s vision is of a society ‘without competition, money and private property’ and one in which ‘social classes and class struggle would not exist’. But then it spoils things again by expressing the view that such a society ‘has never materialised and history suggests it is an unlikely and unworkable concept’. It has not happened so far and so never can – a lame argument to say the least.

So, despite Dan Zimmerman’s claim to present videos that are ‘objective’, with this one he is at best only part way there. It is obviously good to be presented with more than one side to an argument, as Dan Zimmerman attempts to do, but you can only be truly even-handed if you have a detailed grasp of the topic you are presenting. This involves consulting, understanding and absorbing the writings of your subject of study, and one can’t help wondering to what extent this has happened here.
Howard Moss

Cooking the Books: From Marx to Musk (2023)

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

In his interview with Rishi Sunak on 2 November Elon Musk speculated that the widespread application of AI would usher in an ‘age of abundance where any goods and services that you want, you can have’. People would only need work for ’personal satisfaction’.

Clearly, this wouldn’t be capitalism. It couldn’t be as it would mean the end of working for wages and producing goods and services to be sold. This was understood by, of all people, Jeremy Clarkson in a surprisingly perspicacious passage in his column in the Sun the following day:
‘The fact is, then, that if machines are doing all the jobs, there will be no economy. You won’t be able to buy anything because you won’t be earning anything. And there’s no point going to the government for help because that won’t have any money either. Because machines don’t pay taxes. They just spend all day making stuff. That no one can afford to buy. This means we will need a whole new economy. A whole new system where there’s no such thing as money. And that is the biggest worry of them all because no one has a clue what that might be’.
The last bit is not true. Socialists have long understood that the answer would be a society where productive resources including machines would be commonly owned and democratically controlled and used to produce wealth to directly satisfy people’s needs instead of, as now, to be sold on a market with a view to profit. In such a society there would indeed be no such thing as money.

Clarkson may not have known it but he was describing what has recently been called ‘fully automated luxury communism’. But we don’t have to wait for ‘full’ automation to bring about a society of common ownership, democratic control and production directly for use. The productive forces are already sufficiently developed for this. Making the change is now only a question of political will.

As a matter of fact years ago Marx had anticipated the points made by Musk. Writing in the late 1850s he speculated what would happen if the application of science and machinery to production led to such a high level of productivity that not only the value added by direct human labour to each unit produced was reduced to an insignificant proportion, but so was that transferred to these units from the fixed capital deployed:
‘As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. (…) With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis (‘Contradiction between the foundation of bourgeois production (value as measure) and its development. Machines etc.’, Grundrisse, chapter 14).
In other words, goods and services would be so cheap — each unit would contain so little labour, both new and that transferred by machinery, etc — that the huge amount of them that could be produced could not be priced but might as well be given away or provided free.

Marx did not expect this point to be reached — he expected that the working class would have put an end to capitalism long before — but he realised that, if it were to be, it would mean the end of capitalism. Production for sale would no longer make any sense.

A polite reply to a Jehovah’s Witness (2023)

From the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Mrs J. W.

Thank you for your leaflet and discussion about your view that the answers to today’s social problems can be found by reading the Bible.

I am a member of the World Socialist Movement. I respect those Christian groups such as yourselves who, like us socialists, refuse to participate in war, and the courage of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, together with that of the Hutterites and Amish, during wartime is well known to me.

You are correct in saying that the money is there for governments to choose what to spend it on. But they don’t really have a choice. All governments are bound to put profits, and the defence of profit-making (ie, military expenditure), before people and their needs. They cannot help but do so, since the nation-state is the executive arm of the minority who own and control the world’s resources with a view to the accumulation of capital – the capitalist class. They cannot act in any other way. While the planet’s resources are monopolised by a minority of the population, the demands of profit-making will always come before the needs of people. This is why military expenditure is a priority for governments. The capitalists of each country are obliged to maintain the threat of war in the face of the cut-throat commercial competition which is capitalism. Even though the profit-system is suicidal to the capitalists themselves, and to all of us (modern warfare, including nuclear weaponry, pollution, despoliation of the Earth, etc), while the Earth remains the property of a minority ruling class this will always be the case.

What you know as the Bible consists in fact of only a tiny number of Christian texts which were chosen out of hundreds (which were destroyed) by the established clergy of the Byzantine Empire. These men would hardly be considered Christians by you, yet you take their choice among the Christian canon as your book known as the Bible today and which you call the ‘Word of God’. While burning the books of the Christians which were unacceptable to the official Orthodox Church at the time of the Council of Nicaea, these same officials who established the Bible as it is known today also burnt the Christians whose scriptures were at odds with the state-church alliance of Byzantium. So what you call the Bible is but an altered and much tampered-with fragment of a much larger body of Christian scripture, most of which has disappeared.

But that is neither here nor there for me, since I accept nothing on authority, and if some morsels of wisdom are to be gleaned from the Bible, the same is true of other books too. It is my experience, and surely yours too, that people can see in the Bible whatever they choose to see and expound accordingly. It is in the realm of the natural world and of human society and history in which we must search for the truth, not in that of ancient mythology, nor of ancient mythology rehashed to suit today’s people and their own confused imaginings.

Very many people are opposed to the state of affairs (capitalism, by whatever name they call it) prevailing today. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t give a sou to charities, yet they do. We see them reaching into their pocket frequently. Thousands of people around the world work actively in charitable organisations, and also in ecological, political organisations, anti-war associations, Red Cross and so on. Others train arduously to be nurses and doctors, earning very little money for doing so and travelling to out-of-the-way places hoping to ease the suffering of others.

All this hardly fits with the picture painted by you of ‘self-loving’ people with no natural affection, etc. In fact, everyone points to others when questioned about the world’s ills, saying ‘I would be happy to help others and do this, and establish a world of justice and goodness, but others would obstruct it’. In other words, they all point to other people (never themselves) as the reason why ‘things will never change for the better.’ As everyone tends to do this, we end up with millions apparently willing and eager to bring about a better world, but each pointing to the rest who, they all say, would ‘obstruct’ it! The picture is not one of ‘evil’ or selfishness, but of blindness toward our collective strength and power – a sense of alienation from one another which seems to leave no option but that of apathy and a timid ‘waiting for the awful end to come’ etc, … Which serves capitalism very well indeed.

And religion (all religion) assists in this cultivation of apathy and helplessness. Not so much tiny groups like yourselves, who have very little influence, but the whole perverse doctrine of an omnipotent Supreme Being who governs the universe and who urges us (by means of religious books etc) to ‘resist our evil human nature’.

Christianity especially, with its doctrine of Original Sin (today rehashed by secular conservatives as ‘human nature’ – the myth of innate evil) tells us we are helpless in the face of the social evils we have ourselves brought about. It tells us to forget about changing society (above all to forget about expropriating our masters) and set our sights on a future paradise which ‘God’ has prepared for us after death (no wonder this suited so well the Byzantine hierarchy which established the Christian Bible as a ‘holy book’! It has suited all ruling classes ever since!).

In short, religion sustains class rule, and the evils arising from it (famine, warfare, poverty and so on) by divorcing humanity itself from the possibility of real solutions. It condemns humans to prayerful, penitent, charitable acceptance of the existing order of things, and to social and political inactivity and dependence on leaders, whether clerical or secular. Because, religion says, real change is not in the power of man, but of God – that mythical Supreme Being who has ordained things as they are and in the face of which we can but kneel, pray, and try to ease suffering while we await ’His coming’. It is not our job, says religion, to root out the cause of suffering, or to take the Earth into the hands of the majority of its human inhabitants. It is not our job, says religion, because we are, basically, evil, hateful and good-for-nothing; seduced by the serpent and redeemable only through God’s will.

What an ally religion is to the capitalist class!

What an enemy and obstruction to human emancipation and self-realisation!

I have no wish to be meek. We cannot afford to be meek. Our task must be, as members of the majority working class, to expropriate the minority who own the world’s wealth and resources in the rampant interest of profit. We must organise as a class and dispossess this minority, so that, with the Earth’s resources in the hands, democratically, of us all, a society of real co-operation, a society of free access, without nation-states, without frontiers, without wars, poverty and famine, can at last be established.

Meekness is the watchword of those who would have us meek. Of those whom superstition serves, as a useful tool, for keeping us on penitential knees.

Far from happiness being provided by religion, religion occurs where real happiness is absent. Paradise in the sky is and always has been a poor substitute for real heaven on Earth. Religion is ‘… the sigh of the oppressed creature. The opium of the people.’
Sincerely yours,
A. W.

Tomorrow’s World? (2023)

Book Review from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tomorrow’s People: the Future of Humanity in Ten Numbers. By Paul Morland. Picador £9.99.

In September we reviewed Hamish McRae’s The World in 2050, which, inter alia, makes some useful points about likely demographic changes, with ageing populations in many parts of the world but more youthful populations in Africa and India. Here Paul Morland discusses some similar issues, so we will focus on comments which differ from those made by McRae.

Improved education and literacy, particularly of women, have played a major role in reducing fertility rates. An extreme case is Singapore, where on average each woman has just one child. Many countries are becoming more like Denmark, with low fertility, very low infant mortality and long life expectancy. In the US there is a significant correlation between conservatism and high fertility, while in Israel the fertility rate is almost three children per woman. Deaths in childbirth in the US are over three times as high among black women as among white women.

Government policies can often restrict the number of children who are born, but it is much harder to achieve increased fertility rates. In China the one-child policy was relaxed in 2015 to a two-child policy, but the rate now is barely above 1.5 children per mother. It is likely that by 2050 one person in twelve in China will be over 80. The ageing population and correspondingly smaller workforce in Japan may well be behind the low rate of economic growth, and an ageing population in Russia may have contributed to its economic decline.

Migration is one way of maintaining population and reducing the impact of ageing. In Western Europe for instance, immigrants are often younger than ‘locals’, and their fertility rate comes to more or less match that of those already living in the country. Younger people are supposedly more rebellious than their elders and more likely to protest, as they are more impulsive and have fewer responsibilities.

One ongoing change relates to urbanisation, with the proportion of town dwellers in the world having passed one half a few a years ago, and likely to be around two-thirds by 2050. Urban food production can increase, with hydroponics enabling food to be grown indoors, ‘with a regulated environment and perfectly measured inputs, including LED light’. This would mean fewer herbicides and pesticides than conventional agriculture, and less need to transport food over long distances.

As an illustration of the pace of recent changes, Morland records what a taxi-driver in Indonesia said to him: ‘My dad and grandpa spent their lives crouching in the rice paddies. Driving a cab is much better than that, and now my son works in an air-conditioned office’. But what about his female relatives?

All in all, an informative and thought-provoking look at likely and possible futures, albeit without going beyond the current socio-economic system.
Paul Bennett

Tiny Tips (2023)

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

Cost of living crisis, what cost of living crisis? A new breed of uber-luxury hotels in London is breaking records with rooms costing more than £1,000 a night as wealthy visitors flock to the capital for ‘experiences’ only (a lot of) money can buy. In the Peninsula on Hyde Park Corner, a short walk from Buckingham Palace, rooms start at a kingly £1,300. Despite the startling price tag, the hotel is said to be running at full capacity (Link).

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Pfizer recently announced it would increase the U.S. list price of its patented Covid treatment nirmatrelvir-ritonavir (Paxlovid) to $1,390 for a five-day treatment course. Experts at Harvard University have estimated that the cost of producing a five-day course of nirmatrelvir-ritonavir is $1 (Link).

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‘[Scientists] created weapons under the protection of St. Seraphim of Sarov because, by the ineffable providence of God, these weapons were created in the monastery of St. Seraphim… Thanks to this power, Russia has remained independent and free, and, of course, we must all cherish this remarkable feat of our scientists, who practically saved the country, in our hearts and memories,’, Russian Orthodox Church Head Patriarch Kirill saying that Russia’s nuclear weapons saved the nation (Link).

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@CraigMurrayOrg. To be entirely plain. I have always viscerally opposed war. I have dedicated my life to conflict resolution and reconciliation. But in the coming Gaza genocide, every act of armed resistance by Hamas and Hezbollah will have my support. If that is a crime, send me back to jail (Link).

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Hamas — being a reactionary, exclusivist outfit — has a ‘post-Israel’ vision that will produce an ethnically cleansed theocratic dictatorship, in other words ‘building up yet another system of exploitation’. More, their pogromist violence against Jewish civilians is not “cathartic”, or restoring Palestinian self-respect, but instead full-on racist sadism (Link).

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More than one million children experienced the ‘most extreme form of poverty’ last year, said Sky News, according to a new report that slams such ‘horrifying levels of destitution’ as a political choice. The report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that the number of people experiencing these levels of poverty in the UK has ‘increased by 61%’ between 2019 and 2022, with 3.8 million people experiencing destitution. More than half of destitute households have a ‘weekly income of less than £85’ (Link).

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Coca-Cola has quietly scrubbed references to Hamas-supporting BLM from its website (Link).

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The founder of a Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization is voicing his support of Jan. 6 prisoners and not shying away from endorsing former President Donald Trump as ‘the best candidate we have’ (Link).

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When Shevek asks the socialists of Nio Esseia what Anarres, which they see as their ‘moon,’, means to them, they respond that every time they look up at the night sky, they are reminded that a society with no government, no police, and no economic exploitation exists and cannot be dismissed as merely a utopian fantasy (Link).

Halo Halo! (2023)

The Halo Halo! column from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Knock on door. Open to see two very smartly dressed mature ladies standing behind a smartly besuited gentleman. All smiling. Quick appraisal. Decide not Mormons because they only proselytise using males. Politely ask who they are. They offer pleasantries then straight into their sales pitch. Light slowly dawns. Ah, Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’re trying to fill their quota and sign me up. Haven’t they seen Life of Brian? Not worried about getting stoned then? Since it’s December I naughtily ask about their policies on Christmas and other Christian festivals. Aware it’s a no-go because they consider it pagan. Also ask about Easter. Wot, no pressies or chocolate Easter eggs? Even atheists say no thanks matey! Smiles become more strained.

Respond to their proffered leaflet with three copies of Questions and Answers about Socialism. After all, exchange is no robbery. Polite smiles quickly change to worried ones. He pulls back leaflet he was offering me. Exit right quickly. Socialism – the antidote to religion.

‘Witnesses believe that a “little flock” of 144,000 selected humans go to heaven, but that God will resurrect the majority (the “other sheep”) to a cleansed earth after Armageddon’ (Wikipedia). JW have eight and a half million adherents.

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On the second-largest island in the Philippines, an obscure religious movement, believed to be promoting an imminent end-of-the-world ideology, has been accused of engaging in sexual violence and forced marriage of its own members, including children. It is thought to have at least three thousand five hundred members. There are several religious groups in the Philippines that are labelled by authorities as cults (Al Jazeera 19 September).

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In November 1978, 900 Americans, adherents to the People’s Temple, died in Guyana after drinking poison at the behest of their leader, Rev Jim Jones. ‘Temple members were regularly humiliated, beaten, and blackmailed, and many were coerced or brainwashed into signing over their possessions—including their homes—to the church’ (

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In Kenya, the Pastor of the Good News International Church was said to have told followers they must starve themselves to death. Why would anyone do that? Apparently, in order to ‘meet Jesus’. The Kenyan authorities had found over four hundred bodies. The news report noted, ‘Starvation appears to have been the main cause of death, according to government autopsies, but some victims – including children – had been strangled, beaten or suffocated’ (Sky News, 18 July).

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In Britain it used to be the norm when filling in any kind of form that asked for religion to respond with C of E. It often meant … well I’m not really religious but to avoid social disapprobation I’ll go with the flow. After all, if it’s good enough for the Queen/King it’s good enough for me. But now us ‘nones’ are coming out of the closet. A 5 October AP report notes that American and Canadian ‘nones’ are, give or take, a third of the population. Japan, Israel and Uruguay are listed as high in ‘nones’. Unnamed European countries qualify too.

Obituary: Jimmy Moir (2023)

Obituary from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Edinburgh Branch are saddened to report the death of Comrade Jimmy Moir in September at the age of 85. He left school at 15 and became a socialist after reading the Socialist Standard and listening to outdoor meetings at the Mound in Edinburgh (where he was later to speak himself), joining the Party in 1968. His last job was as a road worker for the Edinburgh Corporation/Lothian Regional Council where he was a NUPE shop steward. He said he never hesitated to put at union conferences the socialist analysis of worker/capitalist class relations and their struggle. He stood for the Party at the first Scottish government elections in 1999. Radio Scotland broadcast one of the hustings debates and he cut through our opponents’ Blairite bullshit in his strong East Coast accent and railed against the poverty of the working class. Jimmy was a stalwart of the branch and at the time of his death was the branch secretary and treasurer. Comrades like him are difficult to replace.

SPGB Meetings (2023)

Party News from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Via the SPGB website:
Our general discussion meetings are held on Zoom. To connect to a Zoom meeting, click (or type the address into your browser address field). Then wait to be admitted to the meeting.

Proper Gander: Fashion Victims (2023)

The Proper Gander column from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Online clothes retailer Boohoo has found its niche as a go-to site for image-conscious teenagers and twenty-somethings looking for a bargain. Its business model is that of ‘fast fashion’: producing versions of the newest clothing trends and getting them on sale cheaply and quickly while the style is still the latest and demand is at its highest. The working practices Boohoo has adopted to achieve a speedy turnaround have attracted complaints which prompted an official review of the company and its supply chain. Published in early 2021, this found that the allegations of poor working conditions were largely true. Boohoo responded by vowing to overhaul its methods, and detailed how in its ‘Agenda For Change’ plan. An edition of BBC One’s Panorama: Boohoo’s Broken Promises aimed to show that the agenda hasn’t been followed and not much has changed.

Reporter Emma Lowther goes undercover at Boohoo’s head office in Manchester by getting a job as an admin assistant. Her colleagues’ roles are to negotiate deals with smaller companies which make and supply the togs which Boohoo flogs. She uses her hidden camera to film other staff saying they lie to suppliers about invented rival offers in order to secure the cheapest deal. And even after a contract has been agreed, Boohoo staff have later imposed further reductions to the price.

The starting point for a deal would be low anyway. Boohoo’s clothes are often made in factories across Asia where workers’ pay is lower, conditions are shoddier and methods are more polluting than usually found in Western countries. Reports of workers making clothes for Boohoo in dismal circumstances haven’t only come from outside the UK, though. Boohoo and other traders use dozens of suppliers in Leicester, whose staff have held protests for more job security and higher wages. Another undercover reporter gets a job at one supplier, MM Leicester Clothing Limited. He covertly films people being shouted at by a manager who demands that they work late on an order. The rush is due to Boohoo wanting the ‘lead’ time between when it orders its stock and when it receives it to be as short as possible.

In January 2022, Boohoo opened its own flagship factory at Thurmaston Lane in Leicester, supposedly to demonstrate the reformed practices of its ‘Agenda For Change’. Panorama suggests that Thurmaston Lane is more like a PR-friendly front, distracting from how Boohoo still favours different sources for its stock. The ‘centre of excellence’ which is Thurmaston Lane only makes 1 percent of garments sold by Boohoo, and hundreds of orders contracted from there were really made in other factories in Leicester and Morocco with lower costs and standards. Boohoo says that this doesn’t break any rules as although it has banned subcontracting within the UK since 2021, it allows contracting, which it claims is what it’s doing, as Thurmaston Lane is part of Boohoo and can therefore contract out.

Boohoo’s various tactics for securing cut-price deals from its suppliers mean that one of the brand’s dresses costs the company £4.25 each to buy in from a UK supplier. This is then sold on to consumers for £15, making a hefty profit for Boohoo’s owners. The documentary features Peter McAllister and Chris Grayer, specialists in the field of ‘ethical trading’. McAllister describes this margin as ‘completely bonkers’, while Grayer calculates that a ‘fair’ amount for Boohoo to buy each dress for would be £7.23, allowing the supplier to make 10 percent profit. Boohoo’s lawyers’ justification for the big mark-up in the cost of the dress is that its suppliers still make a profit and their staff are paid at least the minimum wage.

Boohoo’s approach has been pushed by its multi-millionaire co-founder and Executive Chairman Mahmud Khamani. Following the review of Boohoo’s practices which preceded its ‘Agenda For Change’ programme, he has meant to be getting less involved in the company’s day-to-day running. But he still has an ‘iron grip’ by sending out arrogant motivational videos to staff and personally approving all deals with suppliers. He and the other senior staff featured in the documentary share the same sad motivation: to make money by maximising the exploitation of those lower down the chain.

Lowther lasts ten weeks working in Boohoo HQ before getting sacked for making mistakes, and she’s even less likely to get a good reference now they know she’s a journalist. McAllister and Grayer say that what her footage and research has revealed is ‘unacceptable’ and ‘unethical’, flouting multiple rules and guidelines about how companies are meant to function. Regulators, along with professionals like McAllister and Grayer, want Boohoo (and, by extension, capitalism) to be run in a ‘fair’ way: decent working conditions, sufficient wages, honest trading. This utopian aim doesn’t take into account how legislation can only ever try to make exploitation less unpleasant, nor how strong the drive to cut costs and corners to maximise profits is. Boohoo has gone further than other companies with how exploitative its methods are. Its approach has worked, if measured by how in 2022 it had sales of £1.7 billion from 18 million customers. Panorama’s investigation illustrated some of the objectionable aspects of the fast fashion industry: misleading deals, appalling workplaces, forced overtime, low wages, which together enable high profits for the few. But the documentary’s findings didn’t damage Boohoo’s standing. Its share price rose a little in the days after first broadcast, suggesting that its tawdry practices fit in well with how the market operates.
Mike Foster

Pro-Palestine or Anti-War? (2023)

From the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every weekend there have been protests and demonstrations about what is happening to the population of Gaza. Water, electricity and fuel are cut off. Hospitals, schools and residential buildings are bombed. Hundreds are killed every day and many more injured. Over a million have been displaced.

Naturally people are horrified by what they see on their television screens is happening and, equally naturally, want it to stop. So do we. Despite this, most politicians will only go as far as asking for a ‘humanitarian pause’ — after which the siege, the bombings, the killings, and the destruction can continue as before.

Some of the demonstrators are openly pro-Hamas chanting ‘from the river to the sea.’ Maybe some are doing it as an act of defiance as the government and the media have called for the police to ban it. But do they realise the implications of what, literally, they calling for — an Islamic state in the whole of Palestine including what is now Israel? How could that be achieved without further massacres and misery, if only because as much 40 percent of those living there are not Muslims but Jews and Christians who are likely to resist it? In any event, it doesn’t reflect the just-stop-the- killings sentiment of most people and even most demonstrators.

Others are calling for a ‘free Palestine’, by which they mean an independent state either alongside or incorporating Israel. That might reduce the added oppression which the population of the West Bank and Gaza now suffer but it would not solve the basic problem facing workers there of being excluded from the means of living and forced by economic necessity to work for those who own them on condition of producing profits for them. Nationalism is no solution; in fact, whether it is Jewish or Palestinian, it’s part of the problem.

The protests are unobjectionable as a simple protest against the horrors of war and a simple cry that the suffering caused by an ongoing war should just stop, naive as this may be. Given capitalism and the clash of interests between the profit-taking few that is built into it, no side in a war is going to stop just because innocent people are being killed, injured, displaced or otherwise ‘collateral damage’. States fight wars to win and will always do what it takes to achieve this, despite Geneva Conventions and so-called international humanitarian law.

As socialists we object not just to particular wars but to all wars and not just to all wars but to the system that breeds them — the worldwide capitalist system of competition for profits between rival capitalist groupings and the states that protect them which brings them into conflict over sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets and investment outlets. In the present war the greater issue is who controls the oilfields in the Persian Gulf and the trade route out of it, with Israel being supported by the West to counter the threat there from Iran and Iran promoting militant Islamism to undermine Israel.

The solution in Palestine is not to establish a Palestine state nor to demolish the state of Israel. It’s not a one-state solution or a two-state solution or any sort of re-arrangement of frontiers and areas of political control. That would still leave the underlying economic system the same. It’s a worldwide system, without borders, where the Earth’s resources will have become the common heritage of all humanity and used to produce what people need rather than to make profits for the few who currently own and control them. That’s the only way to lasting peace not just in Palestine but throughout the world.
Adam Buick

Leftwing academic (2023)

Book Review from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

A How To Guide to Cosmopolitan Socialism. A Tribute to Michael Brooks. By Matthew McManus. Zero Books. 2023. 135pp.

Michael Brooks was an American talk show personality, political commentator and comedian, who died in 2020 at the age of 36. Little known in the UK and Europe, Brooks identified himself as a socialist, a Marxist humanist and an anti-capitalist and was well known for mixing political analysis with comedy and, as George Carlin before him, putting across ‘controversial’ social ideas with brio and verve.

This volume by left-wing academic Matthew McManus presents itself as a tribute to Brooks and to the ideas he was known for in his writing and public and media appearances. However, most of it contains little reference to the man or his ideas but rather puts forward McManus’s own take on history and politics. What we have in the first half of the book is a brief, and not uncompelling, history of political thought from the earliest times to the present day, taking in the Greeks and Romans, St Augustine, the early ‘liberals’ (eg, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke), Kant’s ‘pure reason’ theories, 19th century socialist ‘internationalism’, and then different kinds of modern capitalist ideology. At the same time the author discusses the relationship of that theory to social developments and events including war, slavery, religion, class division, and much else. He then presents his own theories on recent developments in capitalism, especially in the US, dividing these up into neoliberalism (seen as beginning with the free-market ideas of such figures as Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell), neoconservatism (described as ‘the ideological supplement to neoliberalism’), and then his own additional category, ‘post-modern conservatism’, ie, capitalism with an ultra-nationalist twist as under leaders like Trump and Bolsanaro.

Following this, in the final 35-page chapter of the book, entitled ‘What Would a Cosmopolitan Socialism Look Like?’, the author does place some focus on Brooks himself, in particular in a 7-page section sub-titled ‘Michael Brooks’ Cosmopolitan Socialism’. He explains that Brooks’ vision of socialism was of a world that would end ‘the division of society into contending social classes’ and in which ‘all beings should be entitled to the freedom and well-being necessary to lead a life of flourishing’. At the same time, the point is made that Brooks favoured what the author here calls ‘militant particularism’, meaning that ‘progressives’ should not hesitate to involve themselves in reformist activity, since, as he puts it, ‘it was Michael’s insistence that an injustice anywhere in the world was very much our business’. In this connection the author too advocates ‘socialist reforms’ such as ‘shortening the working week’ and calls for ‘limiting the influence of money’. Here of course we would part company both with Brooks and with the author of this book, on the grounds that involvement in reformism inevitably means putting the vision of a real socialist world, a democratic moneyless, wageless one of free access to all goods and services, on the back burner and eventually, as unfailingly happens with reformist groups and parties, losing sight of it altogether.

Here too this is precisely what seems to have happened with Brooks, for, despite the occasional references to the need for everyone to have a life of flourishing and to do away with contending social classes, there is no clear view of the democratic majority action that needs to be taken to establish such a society and indeed to the idea that it is even a feasible proposition. Instead we learn, for example, that Brooks was an admirer of Castro’s Cuba and, indeed that this tribute to Brooks ‘is intended as a quick primer on how the left can begin to think globally, even if we must continue to act locally’.

The other observation to be made about this book is that, while some of the time it uses clear, easily comprehensible language, too often it lapses into academic jargon which obscures rather than elucidates, seeming to go out of its way to make simple ideas over-complicated. To give just one example among many, to write that ‘neoconservatism is consonant with the paradigm of liberal imperialist adventurism, which includes a long genealogy of Conradian harlequins from Disraeli through Kipling and Bush’ is clearly no way to facilitate the understanding of readers. More generally, too, its theorising on the different incarnations or variations of capitalism (neoliberalism, neoconservatism, post-modern capitalism, etc) seems manifestly out of proportion to any practical differences these make to the lives of those who live under the capitalist system and to be irrelevant to the truly important question of how to replace the global system that capitalism is with a new global socialist system. Perhaps it is not surprising then that it fails to establish a clear meaning at all for ‘socialism’, with shifting notions ranging from ‘welfarism’ within capitalism, elements of social organisation within the Soviet Union, and Chile under Allende (one of various ‘socialist regimes’ mentioned).

So while there can be no argument with observations such as ‘the logic of the market precludes the socialization of resources’ and the book’s concluding call to ‘construct a shared world together as equals’, this is not matched by the author’s take on how that world is to be conceived and on the action necessary to bring it into being.
Howard Moss

Obituary: Peter Hendrie (2023)

Obituary from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are sad to announce the death of Comrade Peter Hendrie following a short illness at the age of 91. A long-standing member of Glasgow Branch, he joined the party in the 1960s along with several other workers with whom he was employed in the painting and decorating industry. They were no doubt inspired by the Robert Tressell novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, which he often referred to in conversation.

Married to Anna, they had 2 sons, 3 granddaughters and 5 great grandchildren, and he was a regular attendee at Summer School along with his son Alan. In the days when we still had outdoor propaganda meetings, Peter attended many of these: both in Glasgow and for a while during the 1980s in East Kilbride, where he also lived.

As well as undertaking secretarial and treasurer duties for the branch for many years, he was also a passionate member of the UCATT trade union and held various official roles in his local branch.

The Socialist Party has never found any need for leaders, but throughout its history it has always been fortunate to have had many outstanding members. Peter was one of those.

Glasgow Branch extend their sincere condolences to his family. He will be sadly missed.
Paul Edwards, Branch Secretary

Cooking the Books: Progress and pauperism (2023)

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

Elon Musk supports capitalism. Well, is the Pope a Catholic? In a tweet on 23 October he recommended a new book called The Capitalist Manifesto. ‘This book’, he tweeted, ‘is an excellent explanation of why capitalism is not just successful, but morally right’. We are not concerned here with the contents of the book, by Johan Norbert, subtitled ‘Why the Global Free Market Will Save the World’ — another time perhaps — but with a passage in the press release the publishers put out:
‘Marx and Engels were right when they observed in The Communist Manifesto that free markets had in a short time created greater prosperity and more technological innovation than all previous generations combined.’
Marx and Engels certainly made the second point, almost textually, writing:
‘The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together’.
But there is nothing in the Communist Manifesto about capitalism creating ‘greater prosperity.’ On the contrary. If anything, Marx and Engels went too far in the opposite direction, ending the same section:
‘The modern labourer (…) instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth’.
The complete pauperisation of the working class did not happen in the long run — at the time Marx and Engels didn’t think that capitalism was going to have a long run — but a growth in workers maintained by the Poor Law was an immediate effect of the Industrial Revolution and an accurate observation of the situation in 1848.

In exile in England in the early 1850s, Marx and Engels came to realise that they had been mistaken in believing that a working-class communist revolution had been likely in 1848. Marx settled down to studying how capitalism worked, the result being the publication of the first volume of Capital in 1867.

Nobody who has read Capital, particularly the historical parts, could claim that Marx ‘observed that free markets had … created greater prosperity’. Marx described in detail, on the basis of official government publications, the terrible working and living conditions of workers in a whole series of industries. In section 4 of chapter 25 on ‘Different Forms of the relative surplus population’, he returned to the question of ‘pauperism’.

He now no longer argued that as capitalism progressed all workers would tend to be reduced to below subsistence level, to paupers. However, he still expected that some sections of the working class would be, ‘that part of the working class which has forfeited its condition of existence (the sale of labour power), and vegetates upon public alms’; whose labour power was unsaleable because they were old, sick, disabled or industrially injured, but also because during the slump phase of the business cycle there was no demand for it.

Since capitalism needed a reserve army of labour and ‘pauperism is the hospital of the active labour-army and the dead weight of the industrial reserve army’, it ‘forms a condition of capitalist production, and of the capitalist development of wealth’.

Marx has been proved right about this. Ever since his day a section of the working class — at least 1 in 10 — has had to ‘vegetate on public alms’ (until 1948 the Poor Law, later National Assistance, then Social Security, now Universal Credit) — and will as long as capitalism lasts. Technological innovations under capitalism may have solved the problem of how to produce enough wealth for everyone but as a system it is constitutionally incapable of distributing it so that everyone’s needs are even adequately met.

Action Replay: Try and Try Again (2023)

The Action Replay column from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rugby union has nothing like the global spread or financial clout of football. But the recent Rugby World Cup had twenty countries competing in the finals (including from South America and Oceania) and a further twenty-six in the qualifying matches, with a total TV audience claimed to be near one billion.

Some games were rather one-sided, but in others Tier 2 nations, as they are known, fared pretty well against the top teams. Samoa came close to beating England, and Fiji were indeed victorious against Australia. Rugby is spreading internationally, and union is the most popular sport in Fiji. However, Tier 2 nations claim not to get enough games against Tier 1 sides, which is what they need if they are to make notable improvements.

In many countries, though, the sport is encountering difficulties. Australia did badly at the World Cup, not qualifying for the last eight for the first time. Union is well down the list as a spectator sport there, with Australian Rules Football the most popular, and rugby league, soccer and cricket all out-ranking union. Of these, only cricket is in the top ten for participant sports.

In England, too, union is facing problems. The top league, the Premiership, recently lost three of its thirteen clubs. London Irish, Wasps and Worcester have gone into administration and may go out of business altogether. Wasps had moved from London to Coventry in 2014, but this did not solve their financial problems, and they are now exploring a possible move to Kent. One estimate is that Premiership clubs in all have debts of over half a billion pounds. The loss of income caused by Covid did not help, but essentially the problem is that, since going professional in 1995, English clubs’ costs have greatly exceeded their revenue. Relying on wealthy benefactors may work for a while, but it is not a long-term solution.

In Wales, the structures for school and youth rugby have been re-organised, but that resulted in fewer and less competitive teams and fixtures. Many of the more promising players have moved to England to train and play, which in turn further weakens the domestic system.

The 2027 World Cup finals will be expanded to twenty-four teams, giving more opportunity to the lower-ranked nations. But it remains to be seen how much difference this will make to both the international game and domestically in countries where it’s struggling.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: The Middle East war: a letter to a Kiev cousin (2023)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear K,

I know that this letter won’t reach you. Only if I were to express myself in subtle allusions might such a letter pass the censorship of the State Capitalist Russian Empire. But what I have to say must be said loud and clear. You may not hear me, but others will.

At last you hold an exit permit in your hand, your ticket to the promised land. In struggling for it, you were thrown out of your job by your bureaucratic bosses, who then sent you to a labour camp for a year on a charge of parasitism. It goes without saying, as they say, that you were guilty of being without a job — innocent people are not arrested in the Soviet Union, which has no unemployment anyway — as is well known! But tomorrow you board the train for Prague — destination Jerusalem.

Who can blame you for wanting to get out? For centuries the Ukraine has been the most deeply anti-semitic area of the Empire. Even now a Jew is occasionally knifed to death in the main square of a small market town while the “honest Soviet people” and the police look on. More commonplace are the occasions when your fellow citizens — not all of them, but enough — content themselves with spitting on the ground as they pass and muttering something about the Yids.

But I must admit to being out of sympathy with some of your complaints. While recounting how your kids have been discriminated against in education and work, you bemoan that since the war the professions of Party bigwig, secret police desk-murderer and high Army officer are no longer open to Jews. But your Old Bolshevik grandfather, who fought in Trotsky’s Red Army which suppressed the White pogroms in 1919 and later perished in a Stalinist death camp — your grandfather thought that he was fighting for a society of free and equal comrades, without exploitation or oppression of any kind, in which words like soldier, police, wages, boss would have become the obscure jargon of historians. Yes, but he forgot the technical and cultural preconditions of the Communist dawn, so far removed from the realities of a backward peasant country. In the State Capitalist despotism which arose to carry through industrialisation he was for a time a key administrator. Could he have imagined your strange complaint in his youth?

When you get out, you’ll be leaving behind your sister, a convinced supporter of the Soviet system. A Party member, she thinks that the system is basically sound, a bit perverted but objectively progressive and so forth. She prefers to do her military service in a Soviet uniform, as you prefer to do yours in an Israeli uniform. And every four or five years the real thing.

Take care as you make your way to Israel. Young men and women, calling themselves Palestinian freedom fighters, may try to kidnap and shoot you. They know nothing of the Ukraine or of how you lived there. To them you are one more Zionist coming to usurp “their” land.

(From the front page article from the December 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard.)

Editorial: Last Post for capitalism? (2023)

Editorial from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month, on the 11th of November, as usual the bugles sounded the Last Post at the Menin Gate, and on Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph the wreaths were laid for all the millions who have perished in the madness of warfare. The very politicians who were laying these wreaths may have been planning for future conflicts and at a stroke of a pen be quite prepared to spend billions on new weapons of war. This is the outcome of a global economic system which divides humanity into artificial nation states.

War is generally a political means to an economic end. Most wars are fought to capture raw resources, new markets, trade routes and spheres of influence. The competitive divisive economics of this dog-eat-dog race called capitalism which exists in every nation state makes wars inevitable. That is why they regularly break out. Just look at the waste of war. Vast resources and materials are used building the weapons of war such as aircraft carriers, tanks, missiles, bombs. Thousands of highly skilled workers work to build these hideous weapons of mass destruction. Then great numbers of fit healthy young workers are put in uniforms and trained to be professional assassins in the legalised slaughter that is war.

The global economic system, the monetary/profit system of capitalism, pits worker against worker, factory against factory, business against business, and ultimately nation state against nation state. It is inefficient and destructive of the best potentialities in humankind. Yet it is now obsolete and long past its sell-by date.

There is an alternative to the anti-social destructive system which is ruining this fragile planet in the name of money/profit. It is ready and waiting, but it requires the class-conscious participation of the majority to no longer acquiesce in this outdated divisive system. It is a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by and in the interest of the whole community.

Its achievement calls for international cooperation not of the world’s bankers, but of the world’s workers. It is us, the workers, who with our combined skills and talents produce everything from a pin to an oil tanker, so let us all show our support for a world without artificial borders and frontiers which only serve to divide humanity. Beyond capitalism we can build a system based on cooperation not on ruthless competition. We could put the flags of nation states into a museum. They too serve only to divide humanity. We can then move forward to a more fair and just society where human needs and the health of the planet are the driving force. So let us all help to speed the day when this wonderful earth and its rich resources are held in common for the benefit of all humanity. Because once we decide to wave goodbye to capitalism, those bugles could sound the Last Post on war, for the last time.