Monday, December 4, 2023

Liberating Women's Lib (1979)

From the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The fact of women's oppression in many eras and in many places is undeniable; the determination of the ‘women’s movement’ to end this oppression is understandable; but their specific aims are much more dubious. They make their views known in many spheres with various demands: 24-hour nurseries, abortion on demand, wages for housework, freedom for women to work in manual trades, to name a few. None of these reforms is worth fighting for within the framework of capitalism, for even if they are achieved they could not radically alter the position of women as members of the working class, any more than reformist action will genuinely improve the position of any other oppressed group. Black people, children, the disabled, the old, for example, all have pressure groups devoting their energies to reforms which will supposedly alleviate their particular problems.

The futility of such reformist aims can be demonstrated by taking a look at some recent examples of women’s liberation campaigns taken to their logical conclusions. One such is the question of prostitution. Recently, at a well-attended meeting at Central Hall, Westminster, baronesses, MPs, and leading figures in the women’s movement shared a platform with prostitutes fighting for recognition of their right to sell their bodies freely without harassment from the police. This was followed by the first national meeting of PROS, which is campaigning to end the imprisonment of prostitutes, to abolish the offences of loitering and soliciting for the purpose of prostitution and to stop the use of the term ‘common prostitute’ in legal proceedings. They also want to “get more street women involved on a regular basis so that they are taking the initiatives and finding a voice for themselves. That is where real change will come from" (our italics) (Guardian, October 9, 1979). Just how such reforms could make any appreciable difference to the life of a prostitute is hard to imagine. Nearly all prostitutes are driven into their trade by poverty and no matter how many reforms are enacted this will not change. Yet we have the spectacle of ‘liberated’ women seriously suggesting that removing a few restrictions and harassments will enable prostitutes to ply their trade with dignity and honour.

Another example of the absurdity of certain women’s campaigns relates to the ‘inferior’ position of women in the armed forces. Here we are expected to struggle for equal “rights” of women to fight and kill alongside men, and unfavourable comparison is made between the British armed forces, where women may only perform auxiliary duties, and the armed forces of Israel and the USA, where they are entitled to undertake full combat duty. In other words “liberated” women should be calling for the right to kill their fellow workers (men and women alike) in other countries an example of emancipation at which the mind can only reel.

Similarly, the fact that only one per cent of bank managers and two per cent of chartered accountants are women (Observer, 23 September 1979) must reflect the subordinate position of women. But are we to demand that these professions, which exist merely to service capitalism, should henceforth employ equal numbers of men and women? If, overnight, 50 per cent of bank managers and accountants were women, capitalism would be exactly the same and socialism no nearer. Even with total equality in the labour market women will remain wage-slaves, like men.

It is mistaken to assume that men, because their pay is generally higher, and because hitherto they have done some jobs to the exclusion of women, and because they usually go out to work for most of their adult lives, therefore have something that is worth striving for. The serried rows of clerks, factory hands, salesmen, plumbers no more have jobs which are intrinsically satisfying than housework and childcare are intrinsically stultifying. This is not to say that women are better off staying at home but it is a warning that exchanging one situation for another is not an act of liberation. The main, if not only reason most members of the working class—male and female—go out to work is for the small brown envelope they receive on Fridays; and it confers not dignity but humiliation that their worth as human beings should be so narrowly defined. The fact that many men have misconceptions about their role in society and their relationship with women does not warrant either wholesale hostility to them nor the belief that equality with men within capitalism will lead to emancipation.

Another example of women tying themselves in knots in furtherance of their cause is the support given by some sections of the women's movement to Margaret Thatcher: simply by virtue of her sex we were encouraged to vote for her, what she might or might not do in power being apparently of secondary importance. Although some of those who took up this position before the election have now repented, there are those even now who cling to this absurd notion; the writer of a letter to Spare Rib (July 1979), although abhorring the Tory Party, writes, “But when I read or hear the words ‘the Prime Minister was present. She said . . . ’ I am filled with a deep, half-incredulous satisfaction”. Another example of equal irrelevance to women’s real interests, is the decision by the Swedish Parliament to make “the monarch’s first-born child rather than the first male child heir to the throne” (Guardian, 8 November 1979), thus disinheriting the young prince in favour of his elder sister. Big deal.

There are many other areas where women seek to remove petty restrictions and barriers which make no real difference at all, and yet they are hailed as some kind of achievement. We learn, for example, that American Catholics may remove ‘sexist language’ from prayers; apparently sexist “language in liturgy has been a target of feminist groups”, so now a revised prayer instead of reading Christ’s blood is “shed for you and for all men” would read “shed for you and for all” (Guardian. 25 October 1979). Now there's something to make us feel better.

Women are rightly disgusted by blatantly sexual advertisements which display their bodies to sell products, but although putting stickers on these posters to express their outrage will make some women feel better, it will have little effect. The capitalists must sell their products in order to realise their profits, and they will use whatever means they find most effective to do so. Furthermore, men are just as degraded by the macho, he-men advertisements also used to sell products, or the “It’s a Man’s Life in the Army” type of approach used to incite workers to kill other workers on behalf of their masters. But what about the television advertisements which, in the pre-Christmas period, aim to inspire in children a crazy lust for worthless toys? Even if an organisation such as Affirm—"a feminist alliance against ads, articles and images that exploit women” were to succeed in its aims “to abolish all sexism in the media” (Spare Rib. July 1978), where would that leave us? Advertising would still be there, capitalism would be intact. Protesting about any of these advertisements is useless without tackling the underlying cause.

The most positive thing to emerge from the women’s movement will be the active involvement of large numbers women in questioning their role in society. Let us hope it is not too long before they turn their attention to a more constructive approach to the problems which face us all, men and women.

The Family Way (1979)

From the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The position of women in society is one of the most significant examples of social, political and economic subordination; various major social movements have arisen committed to changing this situation, ranging from the Liberal feminism of the Suffragettes to the biological determinism of one of the current supporters of “Women's Liberation”. Women as a group share a common oppression for three main reasons: firstly, as potential child-bearers they lack the power of completely determining when and in what circumstances they will bear children; secondly, right across the class structure women are found in subordinate positions in economic and political organisations; lastly, women are socialised and educated to take a domestic role and to be attractive to men rather than to be part of economic activity outside the family.

In all capitalist economies there is a difference in power, income, status and responsibility which operates against women and turns them into a disadvantaged group. (Women are obviously also disadvantaged in other forms of society too. but in this article attention is focussed on capitalism). It is to the property relations of capitalism that we must look in order to explain this all-pervasive inferiority of women. Women's condition is an historically changing aspect of the material situation — the division of labour has developed from division based on sex. natural predisposition, physical strength and so on to a formal institutional division firmly based on the ownership of property. The structure of the present-day family and the role women play within it and in society at large, have been determined by past developments in the organisation of production and will continue to change in response to future changes in capitalism until eventually they are transformed in socialist society.

The transition period from feudalism of capitalism was a crucial one in this long process of change — the lives of women were inevitably profoundly affected. Engels pointed out that the monogamous family had come into being as a result of economic development. In The Origin of the Family. Private Property and the State, he writes “Monogamy was the first form of the family not founded on natural but on economic conditions, viz: the victory of private property over primitive and natural collectivism”. He goes on to elaborate on the change for women that these larger changes involved:
“Supremacy of the man in the family and generations of children that could be his offspring alone and were destined to be the heirs of his wealth — these were openly avowed by the Greeks to be the sole object of monogamy . . . Monogamy then does by no means enter history as reconciliation of man and wife, and still less as the highest form of marriage. On the contrary, it enters as the subjugation of one sex by the other".
The transition in Britain, from feudalism to capitalism destroyed and undermined many relations in the old society, not least of which was the structure of the family. Out of the upheaval were to come the bourgeois proletarian family. Under feudalism, land had been the immediate source of life for rich and poor alike — men and women had lived in predominantly self-sufficient rural households. The feudal family was the unit of production and women played an important and acknowledged role in the survival of the household. However, by the 1640s there were an estimated half million workers who had been ‘freed from the soil’ and their lack of property became the basis for the accumulation of wealth by the growing capitalist class. In Manifesto of the Communist Party Marx and Engels wrote 
“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his '‘natural superiors’ and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest. than callous ‘cash payment’ . . . (It) has torn away from the family its sentimental veil and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” 
The landless poor, their ranks swollen by dispossessed and unemployed craftsmen and tradesmen, were forced to rely entirely on selling their labour power. As a result a new family structure came into being, and many women found their lives profoundly altered. They could no longer combine child-bearing and rearing with their work: without land they could not contribute in the same way to their families’ livelihood. The family, in fact, ceased to be the basic economic unit and wives became dependent to a far greater extent on their husbands. Many peasant women became financial liabilities to their menfolk and the family was undermined as an institution.

Just as the lives of the peasant women were changing as the proletarian family was forced into existence, so too the growing affluence of the bourgeoisie meant that they developed a lifestyle and a family structure appropriate to their new economic roles. As the division of labour became more complex and specialised, the successful craftsman or tradesman hired others to work for him: his wife tended to withdraw from her previous activities in the workshop and she became increasingly confined to the home. The roles of husband and wife became more specifically differentiated and the home ceased to be a productive part of the community. “The external world of work became the sphere of the man exclusively. The internal world of the family and the household was the proper business of the women . . . Not to work, for the women of the middling people became the mark of class superiority at the very moment when their men were establishing work as the criterion of dignity and worth” (Women, Resistance and Revolution, Sheila Rowbotham). The administration of the household lost its public character and women were excluded from participation in social production.

Thus, as feudalism gave way to capitalism women's lives changed radically and they found themselves increasingly at a disadvantage in the new organisation of industry. The process was a continuing one, affecting different groups of women in very different ways. For some the separation of the workplace from the home reduced their productivity and limited their role. For others, the introduction of a new machine excluded them from production, or alternatively their position in the guilds and crafts organisations was weakened sufficiently to drive them out, and trades which had been reserved for women were taken over by men. Yet other women moved out of the search for work outside the home altogether and into leisure and domestic isolation. “Modern industry in overturning the economical foundation on which was based the traditional family and the family labour corresponding to it. had also loosened all traditional family ties” (Marx. Capital. Vol.l)

Women’s position in society and their role within the family have changed greatly in the past 400 years, and they will continue to change as capitalism itself develops. However, so long as capitalism remains, the exploitation of women will also remain Not until we establish a system of society based upon common ownership and democratic control of the means of production will everyone — both women and men — be able to realise their full potential.

Gender myths (1979)

From the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many words have been written to explain, justify or rationalise women's social inferiority as against men. There are those like racists with their particular prejudice, who have claimed that this social inferiority is a direct reflection of women's biological inferiority. For example, it has been said that the average brain size in women tends to be smaller than that of men, the inference being that women are less intelligent. It is true that the brain of the female sex in homo sapiens tends to be smaller than in the male, but then the whole morphological structure tends to be smaller in the female than in the male — something known in scientific jargon as sexual dimorphism. The Neanderthal human, who preceded — and was for a time a contemporary of—homo sapiens, had an average brain size of 1,4550 cc. or 100 cc larger than the modern human. However there have been few, if any, attempts to claim that Neanderthal people therefore must have been more intelligent than homo sapiens.

There can be no doubt that the social position of women is closely bound up with the emergence of private property relations and class society. Lewis H. Morgan who, together with Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, can be said to be the founders of social anthropology, was the first to discover this connection. His claim was that people living in those stages of human development which he called savagery and barbarism, had social organisation democratic in character. They practised communism in living and operated a matriarchal kinship structure, in contrast to institutionalaliscd private property and territorial government which. Morgan claimed, had evolved from primitive society. He was able to show that the patriarchal and monogamian type of families had not always existed — a complete break from the theory of original sin and the idea that primitive people were the result of degeneration from previous civilisation.

Morgan’s works greatly upset the academics of contemporary society. While Morgan put no special emphasis on the social position of women in primitive society, in the much more free society he described the implication was that women were not oppressed as in civilised periods. Much of what he claimed for primitive society is substantiated by modern anthropology.

However, it must be remembered that the peoples he studied were organised in tribal society and were not primitive in the prehistoric sense as understood by modern anthropologists in their studies of hunter gatherer bands. For example, Elman R. Service, who has made a close study of hunter gatherer peoples still existing in various parts of the world, and who are the closest approximation of early homo sapiens society of 40,000 years ago, says this in his book The Hunters:
Food gathering is the major enterprise of course, but more than that, it is a direct confrontation of man with nature. That is to say, there are no specialised groups who get their food by buying it from, the producer or exchanging services for it in some way. There is no full-time specialisation of labour other than the domestic age and sex divisions that are found in any family. Among hunting-gathering peoples this division of labour is simply that men do the hunting, at least the kind of hunting that takes them any distance from the camp. Women, probably because of the relative confinement of bearing and rearing children, are left to forage near the camp for vegetable foods and such small game as can be easily caught. But this does not mean that men's hunting is necessarily of greater economic importance than women's work.
Service calculates that in aboriginal Australia, even on the northern coast where game and fish are abundant, vegetables make up 70/80 per cent of the people's diet—collected, of course, by women. Woman’s work is important: most hunting-gathering populations could not be maintained without it. On the other hand, they can, and do, go for long periods without meat hunted by men. Only the Eskimos live by hunting and fishing alone, and Eskimo women do most of the fishing.

The question now arises: why was it that the oppression of women by men took place at all? In spite of its shortcomings, the probable explanation for this is that contained in Engels' The Origin of the Family Private Property and the State based, as it is, on the concept of historical materialism and with much use of the researches carried out by Morgan. 

Needless to say, this explanation has been, and still is, rejected by most of the supporters of that epitome of all private property societies, capitalism — and by sonic of those who are interested in what is constantly referred to as “the liberation of women”. One such is Simone de Beauvoir who, in her work The Second Sex, says:
. . . On the same grounds it is impossible to deduce the oppression of woman from the institution of private property. Here again the inadequacy of Engels' point of view is obvious. He saw clearly that woman’s muscular weakness became the real point of inferiority only in its relation to the bronze and iron tool; but he did not see that the limitations of her capacity for labour constituted in themselves a concrete disadvantage only in a certain perspective . . . 
Instead, she implies as a metaphysical explanation:
Thus it is that man’s interest in his property becomes an intelligible relation. But we see that man's interest cannot be explained through the tool alone: we must grasp in its entirety the attitude of man wielding the tool, an attitude that implies an ontological substructure, a foundation in the nature of his being
It is not surprising that someone with these ideas can write the following passage in relation to the aspirations of women:
I have pointed out in the introduction how different women's situation is, particularly on account of the community of life and interests which entails here solidarity with man — and also because he finds in her an accomplice: no desire for revolution dwells within her, nor any thought of her own disappearance as a sex — all she asks is that aspects of sexual differentiation be abolished.
In other words, let capitalism remain providing women are not discriminated against. If the determining factor in women's inferior standing is an existentialist one and is not linked to the rise of private property relations and class society, why did women allow it to happen? If the special oppression of women is not a necessary corollary — as de Beauvoir suggests — why was it that the agitation for woman’s liberation had to wait for the 20th century?

During the 20th century there has been much anthropological field work and study of the cultural diversity — and similarity — of various peoples in different parts of the world, with the emphasis on the differences. Margaret Mead, in her book Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, describes her study of three tribes living in New Guinea; the Arapesh, the Mundugumor and the Tchambuli;
We have now considered in detail the approved personalities of each sex among the primitive peoples. We found the Arapesh—both men and women displaying a personality that out of our historically limited preoccupations, we would call maternal in its parental aspects and feminine in its sexual aspects. We found men as well as women trained to be cooperative, unaggressive, responsive to the needs and demands of others. We found no idea that sex was a powerful driving force either for men or for women. In marked contrast to these attitudes, we found among the Mundugumor that both men and women developed as ruthless aggressive positively sexed individuals, with the maternal cherishing aspects of personality at a minimum. Both men and women approximated to a personality type that we in our culture would find only in an undisciplined and very violent male. Neither the Arapesh nor the Mundugumor profit by a contrast between the sexes. The Arapesh ideal is the mild responsive man married to the mild responsive woman: the Mundugumor ideal is the violent aggressive man married to the violent aggressive woman. In the third tribe, the Tchambuli, we found a genuine reversal of the sex attitudes of our own culture, with the woman the dominant impersonal managing partner, the man the less responsible and the emotionally dependent person. These three situations suggest, then, a very definite conclusion. If those temperamental attitudes which we have traditionally regarded as feminine, such as passivity, responsiveness and a willingness to cherish children — can so easily be set up as the masculine pattern in one tribe and in another be outlawed for the majority of women as well as for the majority of men, we no longer have any basis for regarding such aspects of behaviour as sex-linked. And this conclusion becomes even stronger when we consider the actual reversal in Tchambuli of the position of dominance of the two sexes, in spite of the existence of formal patrilineal institutions.
Whatever the other conclusions or speculations one can draw from this, one thing is certain. It show's that human society is capable of a variety of behavioural patterns, and that the so-called masculine and feminine characteristics are not based on fundamental sex differences, but reflect the cultural conditioning of their societies. The question could be posed here, what are the crucial factors which determine the cultural conditioning? It would seem that these studies go some way to support the implication of Simone de Beauvoir of an ontological explanation, and to invalidate the universal approach of Morgan in his insistence that “The history of the human race is one in source, one in experience, one in progress.” However, what has to be taken into account is that all of these studies have been carried out with peoples living in tribal society where private property relations had already developed to a considerable extent, as indeed were Morgan’s, and should not be regarded as examples of the hunter-gatherer society of prehistoric people of some 40,000-50.000 years ago. As E. R. Service points out in his introduction to The Hunters “All the hunting gathering societies listed above have certain characteristics in common that serve to set them apart from tribal and other higher levels of society.”

As mentioned earlier, the hunter-gathering peoples studied by Service and others are the nearest approximation to the society of primitive humanity. There is no substantial evidence whatever to suggest that ownership aggression or the domination of one sex by the other has any part either with the hunter-gatherer peoples living, or in the society of primitive peoples of prehistoric times.

The agitation for women’s liberation is a phenomenon of modern capitalism. The oppression of women by men only arises in those societies where the form of marriage and the family is patriarchal or monogamian. and is associated with private property relations of an advanced kind. The problem is only recognised after the possibility of its solution has become apparent.

The social problems engendered by capitalist society, which dominates the whole world, cut across all speculation, all special pleading. The liberation of women is inextricably bound up with the liberation of the whole of humanity. Capitalism exploits its working class regardless of their sex. The question to-day is not just the emancipation of women, but the emancipation of the working class, regardless of sex.
Harry Walters

SPGB Meetings (1979)

Party News from the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Voice From The Back: The benefits of globalisation (2001)

The Voice From The Back Column from the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

The benefits of globalisation
“America’s steel industry is in a mess; only a week ago, a veteran foundry, Bethlehem Steel followed two dozen of its brethren into Chapter 11 bankruptcy . . . The company blamed its plight on a tide of cheap imports and this week Pittsburgh-based US Steel announced third-quarter losses of $23 million. …. President Bush in June announced he would take action under section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, an obscure law that permits global safeguards to industry. Unlike anti-dumping measures which require proof of unfairness, section 201 permits the erection of tariff barriers to provide temporary relief from import competition.” (Times, 24 October)
So, behind all it’s bombast about free trade and the benefits of competition, the US government reveals yet again a truism about capitalism. Capitalists are in favour of free trade when they are winning but against it when their competitors are winning.

It’s a dog’s life

Something of the madness of capitalism in general and post-disaster New York in particular can be gauged from Chris Ayres’s Wall Street Diary in the Times (25 October).
“A bomb-sniffing dog can take as much as $2,500 (£1,760) back to his kennel for a 16 hour shift. With the dogs working seven days a week, this adds up to an impressive $912,500 per year.”
A great deal more money than the wages of the heroic New York firemen who perished in that recent disaster, or indeed, for that matter, any of our readers.

It ain’t half hot, mum

In this column in May we reported that British police forces were interested in the development of an American crowd control vehicle that zapped demonstrators with microwaves. The good news for control freaks everywhere is that the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in New Mexico have recently completed tests.
“The Air Force now wants to use this Active Denial Technology (ADT), which it says is non-lethal, for peacekeeping or riot control at “relatively low range” – possibly from low-flying aircraft. … AFRL says that the 3 millimetre wavelength radiation penetrates only 0.3 millimetres into the skin, rapidly heating the surface above the 45 degrees C pain threshold. At 50 degrees C, they say the pain reflex makes people pull away automatically in less than a second – it’s said to feel like fleetingly touching a hot light bulb. Someone would have to stay in the beam for 250 seconds before it burnt the skin, the lab says, giving ‘ample margin between intolerable pain and causing a burn'” (New Scientist, 29 October).
Wow, is this tempting, or what, for repressive regimes everywhere? Burn, baby, burn.

Gerry in Wonderland

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” A similar disdain for language would seem to be shared by Lewis Carroll’s character in Alice in Wonderland and Gerry Adams.
“Mr Adams said, ‘The IRA is not a terrorist organisation. The name terrorist is bandied about willy-nilly. Clearly what happened in the USA recently was a terrorist act where civilians were deliberately targeted. In any war terrible things were done. In my view the IRA has never deliberately targeted civilians'”.

Pressed on whether the IRA had never placed bombs in shopping districts he said, “Well, it depends, it depends, you see.” He then added: “It’s quite academic.” The Herald (6 November)
Not really all that academic though if your kid has been blown up by some mad zealot, is it, Gerry?

A strange democracy

In an apparently surprising turnaround Michael Bloomberg was elected Mayor of New York last month. Surprising in that he was standing as a Republican in a city where five out of six voters are registered Democrats. Surprising also in that until about a year ago he was a Democrat. He has had no previous political experience Blatantly he only became a Republican to stand for mayor and used the campaign slogan “A leader not a politician.”

His 51 percent share of the vote becomes less surprising however, when you realise that Mr Bloomberg is a billiomaire and spent a staggering $60 million on his campaign. In other words he bought the office of Mayor of New York. A strange “democracy” indeed.

Praising Karl Marx

Socialists are used to the works of Karl Marx being dismissed or ignored by capitalism’s academics, so it is a pleasant change to read on page 166 of Steve Jones’s Almost Like A Whale a brief compliment to Marx:
“Karl Marx got it (as usual) more or less right: ‘what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality’. His statement brings out the pragmatic nature of evolution, in a hive or anywhere else. Bee society has no plans.”

From rats to riches

A short news item from  Rio de Janeiro speaks volumes about the ingenuity of the working class and the madness of capitalism. “Rats in the Brazilian city outnumber human beings ten to one and people are being offered about £1.30 for every 2lb of dead rat found. Officials are using poison and will collect carcasses – despite fears that poor people will begin rearing the rodents.” (Times, 10 November).

Editorial: Recession closing in (2001)

Editorial from the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

The events of 11 September have had many repercussions – foremost amongst them being a deepening of the financial insecurity pervading much of the world economy. Nowhere has this been exemplified more than in the major industrialised states at the heart of the capitalist system.

After the terrorist attacks stock markets across the world began to plummet. In the UK the FTSE 100 lost nearly six percent in a day (one of its biggest losses ever) and at its lowest point was nearly 30 percent down on its high of nearly a year ago. This was mirrored by similar falls in the Dow Jones Index in the US, the Nikkei in Japan, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong and other stock markets across Europe, the Pacific and South America. Most have since recovered at least part of their losses caused by the initial panic but their continuing fragility mirrors the fragility of the ‘real economy’ of which the stock markets are largely a reflection.

Indeed, if this supposed fragility of the ‘real’ economy was once in question, it cannot be any longer. In November unemployment in the UK started to rise, impelled by no less than 123,000 job losses in manufacturing in the last year. In recent weeks, BP, the Prudential insurance company, Rolls Royce and Waterford Wedgewood have been amongst those that have announced plans to slash thousands of jobs. On mainland Europe the story has been similar: French telecoms giant Alcatel has cut 10,000 jobs across the continent, Deutsche Bank 4,500 and Europe’s second largest travel operator, Thomas Cook, has started shedding over 2,500 jobs Europe-wide.

In the United States the numbers signing up for unemployment benefits has risen to the second highest in ten years on the back of severe job losses across the hi-tech sector and in those industries (such as airlines) most badly hit by 11 September. These have had a sizeable impact with companies like Boeing, Motorola and Merrill Lynch cutting back their operations across the globe. The US Federal Reserve has warned in its ‘Beige Book’ report that economic activity in the US is now “sharply reduced” and most analysts are expecting further cutbacks in output and sharp rises in unemployment.

The situation in the Pacific Rim is little better. Indeed, in the “engine room” of the Far East – Japan – things are, if anything, even worse. In early November the Japanese government went on the record as admitting that the economy was probably in its worst state for 20 years and the Bank of Japan has since downgraded further its own assessment of the economy in the light of falling consumer spending and increased job losses (Financial Times, 19 November). To give but one example, Matsushita, the largest consumer electronics manufacturer in the world for much of the last fifty years (producing brands such as Panasonic, JVC and Technics), has predicted that it will be £1.5 billion in the red by the end of the fiscal year and is cutting at least 8,000 jobs as a result of the weak domestic economy and contracting export markets.

Boom goes bust 
The onset of recession across the developed world should really come as no surprise – in the capitalist economy bust inevitably follows boom just as night follows day. It would be fair to say that currently even the more astute of the various business analysts and journalists who are paid to monitor developments in the markets have noticed this. Many realise that all they can really do is talk about softening the blow and mitigating the worst effects of the downturn.

Because the capitalist economy is orientated to making profits and as the expansion of the competing enterprises in the economy is not regulated and harmonious, the over-expansion of some sectors, a process which has a knock-on effect to the economy as a whole, is always a danger – and periodically a reality. This is what appears to be happening now. The industries that expanded so rapidly during the boom of the mid to late nineties, such as those involved in the ‘dot com’ and telecommunications revolution, have expanded far too quickly for market demand and the consequences have been severe. Sales have fallen, production has had to be cut back, debts have mounted and jobs have been slashed as companies get into serious difficulties, in some cases going bankrupt.

A key factor in this is that capitalism’s financial apparatus is largely built on confidence that transactions will be smooth and payments will be met. When this confidence in the efficiency of trade and commerce starts to ebb then things can take spectacular – and serious – turns for the worse. The erosion of financial confidence is one of the ways in which a downturn in one sector – or country – can spread to others.

If the word ‘globalisation’ means anything in the era of the Multi National Corporation, it is surely that the world economy has now become so inter-related that the worsening of a company’s financial position in one country can lead to them shedding jobs in another. This is what currently seems to be happening across the industrialised world and illustrates why so many of the so-called ‘solutions’ to economic downturns in the past (import controls, Keynesian ‘pump-priming’ economics, etc) are now more transparently useless than they ever were.

Who’s afraid of the WTO? (2001)

From the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
The World Trade Organisation represents the interests of the capitalist class and is a product of the lessons they have learned for protecting their system
The World Trade Organisation is not to blame. Capitalism is. Although the WTO has emblazoned itself in everyone’s consciousness as the unacceptable face of globalisation – indeed as the secretive cabal directing the insidious movements of world finance – what it really represents is a trend as old as capitalism itself, and the continuation of old policies under a new name.

Capitalists are not oblivious to their own interest in preventing their system crumbling. The WTO and its associated world infrastructure is directly related to lessons they have learnt throughout the history of wars and disasters that the market has inflicted on the human race in the past century.

In the 1930s, national governments relied on the free trade in gold to regulate the relative value of their currencies, and structure international transactions. Capitalism’s tendency towards disharmonious movement and uneven economic growth meant that gold tended to concentrate into the hands of a handful of states (America possessed up to 60 percent of the world’s monetary gold at one point), leaving others (such as Germany) desperately short of the means of international trade. This imbalance in trading power led directly to the conditions which prompted the second world war, and devastated almost the entire continent of Europe.

Determined to avoid this situation happening again, the dominant capitalist powers met after the war, to construct an effective international machinery to enable trade to progress between states smoothly. The Bretton-Woods agreement, as devised largely by J M Keynes, sought to regulate international capital movements.

Likewise, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were created to ensure nations avoided suffering the same bankruptcy as Germany effectively endured in the 1920s. It was envisaged that these institutions would be joined by an International Trade Organisation, to lay-down the rules by which trade would be governed. This institution was, however, vetoed by the US at the Havana conference in 1947.

Unworkable system 
What stood in place of the ITO was the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which came into force in 1948, and was based on the unobjectionable sections of the Havana Charter. Over time, GATT proved to be unworkable, with inadequate enforcement procedures, unclear rules and the rigidities of consensual agreement systems.

Thus, at the Uruguay round of GATT negotiations which ended in 1993, the World Trade Organisation was agreed upon, as a “superior” successor. The Uruguay round significantly expanded the scope of the international agreement’s remits, bringing agriculture, services and intellectual property within its field of competence, as well as seriously reducing tariffs and other protective measures allowed. This lead to an almost immediate increase in the volume of international transactions: according to the Eurostat Yearbook 2000 external investment by European Union states increased by almost 500 percent from 1995 -1999.

This is simply part of an on-going trend within the development of the market system. As trade progresses, so too does standardisation of the rules and groundwork. In the early nineteenth century England, for example, a merchant would have had to know how to reconcile his Durham pecks with his Dorset grains and his Norfolk drams, when selling goods by weight. Likewise, each town would have its own time (relative to its distance in minutes from Greenwich). These times and weights formed the legal framework for trade in each of these districts, and formed a burdensome cost to any business trying to operate across them.

In time, the need to concentrate capital, and increase the area and scope of the circulation of commodities meant that such discrepancies between local authorities were overcome. Usually, this meant over-ruling them through the authority of the centralised state, and enforcing a uniform set of rules across the whole economic zone. This tendency for the concentration of capital continues, and the same problem manifests itself in differences of trade regulations between nation-states, although this time there is no central authority powerful enough to completely over-rule them and impose its standards.

The reasons for the increasing concentration of capital lie, essentially, in the methods by which labour is exploited by capital. When a commodity is produced the capitalist calculates its cost of production (the cost of goods that went into it, plus labour), and then adds a profit mark up roughly in line with the expected rate of profit of their rivals. This average rate of profit applies regardless of the amount of value added by the specific production process involved, but, rather, the total value added across the whole economy.

What this means is that industries which involve a large input by labour (i.e. which add a lot of value) lose out because the average profit mark-up is less than the value they add. This means that this added value is transferred into the profits of industries which are less labour intensive. It is, therefore a competitive advantage for capitalists to increase the ratio of productive capital to labour (known as the organic composition of capital). With this increase comes an extension of the productive capacity in an industry, with capacity being taken up by fewer and fewer production units.

Alongside this concentration of capital is the increase in the transportation capacity of society. Technological advances in transport continue apace with productive capacity, meaning that, in general, the circulation of commodities and trade can increase faster than the productivity of society (more goods to transport multiplied by a faster rate of moving them). This is born out by the chart below from the WTO

In each period the rate of increase in trade is greater than the rate of increase in output of merchandise. One of the most significant details, however, if the massive increase in trade in 1990-2000, in a period in which merchandise output actually fell compared to the previous period. The effects of the inauguration of the WTO can be seen in this increase. It is an increase in excess of the usual growth in trade, and thus represents an exceptional occurrence.

The motivation for this spurt in trade may well lie in the observable decline in productive output across the whole chart. The rate of output growth is under half that of 1963-1973. Capitalists, misled by theories which see value as being created rather than realised by trade, treat trade as a good in itself, and think that by increasing the circulation of goods they will be able to dig themselves out of the profitability hole indicated by the drop in output growth. Alongside this is the temptation to exploit the differences in national and regional rates of profit to try and realise an exceptionally high profit.

What this means is, effectively, that through increased trade capitalists are attempting to rip each other off, as a result of their incapacity to exploit the workers enough. Through increasing trade competition, they are effectively increasing the scramble for a share of the total global production of surplus value. This can also be seen in the increase in currency speculation and finance capital movements around the world. Since these forms of activities are entirely unproductive they represent a mere redistribution of booty among the thieves.

This tendency can also be observed in the decision to open up services to international competition. Although British ministers maintain fervently that this does not mean the WTO will force privatisations upon countries, the fact is that International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment programmes usually force countries to attempt to decrease the size of their state sector, paving the way for firms from advanced capitalist countries to take over these services and sweat profits out of the workers there. It represents another way of opening up otherwise marginalised sources of surplus value to be taken back to the industrialised core.

Vast areas of the world, the “post-colonial” zones are still dedicated to low value yielding primary products such as mono-crop agriculture and mining. Most of the increased trade remains between the industrialised manufacturing centres. The top five exporting states (EU, US, Japan, Canada, China) represent 53.2 percent of the world export market (according to WTO figures), whereas the top four importers take a 54 percent share between each other. The EU and the US both import considerably more than they export, and represent a substantial lucrative market to access.

This imbalance of trade between the core and the periphery indicates the way in which the idea that opening up free trade will benefit poor nations and assist in their development is flawed. The sheer economic clout of the big capitalist states means they can bully and force other states into letting them have their way. As George Monbiot noted in his Guardian column (6 November) one WTO delegate from a poor state saying “If I speak out too strongly, the U.S. will phone my minister. They will twist the story and say that I am embarrassing the United States. My Government will not even ask, ‘What did he say?’ they would just send me a ticket tomorrow”.

Such raw power means that whatever formal equality of the rules, they will still be used to serve the ends of the dominant states. Each national capitalist class seeks to protect its position and its investments, and is exceedingly unwilling to relinquish control of the state force which props up its power. The dominant policy is currently to pursue mutual capital interpenetration, and thus prevent losing control of their national economy at home, whilst having sufficient hostage capital to deter expropriation abroad. Whilst the times are good this policy is tolerable, but come a time of crisis each group will seek to save their own skins first and foremost. Should America sink into deep recession, it may decide to put a stop to the raiders taking a share of its profits, and throw the barriers back up.

Certainly, so long as world society depends first and foremost upon competing capitalist groups vying for profits, it will be subject to the anarchy of capitalist self-interest, and any world body will be subordinated to the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of these groups. So long as capitalism remains any world body will be used as a potential tool for exploitation and robbery. The only genuine way to move forward to a world human community is by the abolition of sectional national élite interest, and the creation of a world human interest of common ownership of the worlds wealth, so that we can end the horrendous divisions the property system has created.
Pik Smeet

Tobin tax – what a joke (2001)

From the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
The call for a Tobin tax – a tax on financial transactions – is not “anti-capitalist”, as some in the “anti-globalisation movement” seem to think
It is all very well being against something but if this is to be anything more than permanently protesting against some never-ending problem you’ve got to be for something too. Most of those who organise the “anti-capitalist” and “anti-globalisation” protest demonstrations don’t seem to have thought it through this far, and those that have show themselves not to be against capitalism. What they are against is what some of them call “neo-liberalism” – by which they mean the return of laissez-faire economic policies. What they are for is to go back to a more regulated capitalism. They merely want states to intervene to try to control capitalism, to make it more human, to suppress what they see as its worst excesses.

A case in point is the French-based organisation, with branches in many other countries, ATTAC whose vice-president is Susan George, author of such readable and informative books as How The Other Half Dies and A Fate Worse Than Debt. Their hobby horse is a call for the so-called “Tobin Tax”, as is reflected in their full name: “Association for a Tax on financial Transactions and for Aid to Citizens”.

James Tobin was (actually, he’s still alive) an American Keynesian economist who, after the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement on exchange rates collapsed in 1971 when America floated the dollar, proposed a tax on currency transactions as a way of reducing speculation. Here’s how he has recently described his proposal:
“This tax aimed to limit exchange rate fluctuations. The idea is simple: on each operation a minimum levy is made equivalent to, say, 0.5 percent of the transaction. Enough to put off speculators. For many investors place their money for very short periods in currencies. If this money is suddenly withdrawn from the market, countries have to raise their interest rates considerably so that their currencies remain attractive. But high interest rates are often catastrophic for the internal economy, as the crises which hit Mexico, South East Asia and Russia in the 1990s show. The Tobin tax would give back some margin for manoeuvre to the central banks of small countries to fight against the tyranny of financial markets” (interview with Der Spiegel, reproduced in Le Monde, 11 September 2001).
Tobin got the idea from Keynes who had suggested a national tax on internal financial speculation as one of his reforms to get out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The idea was to encourage money-capital to be invested productively instead of being used for unproductive speculation. Tobin was given a Nobel Prize for Economics in 1981 (not that this is worth much in academic terms; it’s little more than a monetary prize), but no government took up his proposal. In fact, for it to work, all governments would have to take it up. That was why he suggested it should be paid to the World Bank or the IMF.

The Bretton Woods agreement had laid down fixed rates of exchange between currencies, in particular with the dollar which in turn was tied to a fixed amount of gold ($35 an ounce). Devaluations and revaluations were allowed; in fact that is what a “devaluation” was: a formal downward change in a currency’s fixed rate of exchange with other currencies. This system collapsed at the beginning of the 1970s when the Nixon administration announced that the US was no longer prepared to exchange gold at $35 an ounce. So began the present period of floating exchange rates.

Today, the rate of exchange of a state’s currency is determined by market forces: the demand for it in relation to the desire to sell it, which in turn depends essentially on a state’s balance of trade. The more it exports the higher will be the demand from foreigners to buy it (to pay for the exports) while the higher its imports the more will be the supply for sale as importers sell it for foreign currencies (to pay for the imports). This is not to say that states don’t try to maintain a more or less stable rate of exchange. They do, but their only weapons now are short-term interest rates or getting their central bank (and/or some other central bank or banks) to buy and sell their own currency. But these are not always that effective as was demonstrated by Britain’s ignominious exit from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992 under pressure from speculators led by George Soros.

The collapse of Bretton Woods coincided with the last years of the long post-war boom, and was in fact a sign that it was coming to an end. When the boom did end, or rather, fizzled out corporations found themselves with large “cash mountains” made up of money they would normally have re-invested but which they didn’t because it was no longer profitable to do so. This money thus became available for currency and other forms of financial speculation.

Essentially, speculation is the use of money-capital, not to invest in the production of new wealth and new surplus value, but unproductively to try and swindle other capitalists’ out of their past profits. It’s a zero-sum game in which the total amount of profits remains the same but merely gets redistributed differently amongst capitalists depending on their speculative skills.

The statistics show that most international monetary transactions are now of this nature. Production of course continues and has even been increasing slowly if in fits and starts, so some international transactions are linked to productive activity – transfer of capital to be invested in productive activity in some other country, payments for exports or imports, etc. But these are only a fraction of the total, estimated at less than 10 percent.

Just like Keynes in the 1930s on a national scale, some members of ATTAC today look at this internationally and conclude naively that, if somehow you could discourage speculation, the money tied up in it would then be reinvested in production instead, so reducing unemployment. But this is to get things the wrong way round; there is so much money available for speculation because there are not enough profitable investment outlets. Even if speculation was made less profitable by, for instance, the imposition of a Tobin Tax this would not increase productive investment. To do that you would have to increase the rate of profit or expand markets, but that’s not something that can be done by any tax.

The horse wouldn’t drink
What would happen would be the same as happened in Japan over interest rates. The government there thought that what has been discouraging investment was not low profit prospects but too high interest rates. So they reduced short-term interest rates to zero – but nothing happened. They learned the hard way that you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Japanese capitalists hadn’t been not investing because of high interest rates but because of low profit prospects. Similarly, capitalists have been speculating rather than investing productively, not because the gains to be had from speculation are too high but because the gains to be had from productive investment are too low.

Actually, ATTAC are not agreed on why they want to impose an international tax on currency transactions. Some want to do this to encourage productive investment and so employment (on the mistaken arguments above). Others want to use the revenue to help the so-called Third World; which, of course, assumes that speculation should continue as the cow to be milked for this purpose. Susan George has explained the arguments here:
“One of the aspects of this tax is to slow down speculation, i.e. making money with money without passing via an exchange of commodities. It could build up a mass of money to help essentially the citizens of the South since it is there that the needs are. At the moment, there is a debate within ATTAC about whether we want a high tax to stop speculation or, on the contrary, a less high one to restrain speculation while building up this financial aid to the citizen. Personally, I prefer the second option” (Le Soir, 24 September).
It is for this reason that you find different rates being mentioned in ATTAC literature from 0.01 percent to 0.1 percent to the 0.5 percent that Tobin himself suggested (but he wanted to stop speculation and was not particularly concerned how the money raised was used).

George’s preference for a low rate, to raise money to spend in the Third World, is in accordance with ATTAC’s main declared aim, but it involves calling people on to the streets not to denounce capitalist exploitation, but to demand a minimal tax on the financial transactions in which capitalists try to swindle each other out of the proceeds of their past exploitation of the working class. It really is one of the most pathetic reform proposals for which people have ever been called upon to demonstrate for. Of course, people are right to protest against the deal capitalism is meting out to the poor in the capitalistically-underdeveloped parts of the world, but the Tobin tax is not going to help them in the least, even if the political will and technical means to implement it could be found.

Tobin was – and still is – an unrepentant Keynesian. Despite the fact that the main result of implementing Keynesian policies was a 30-40 year period of permanent inflation, Susan George and ATTAC are essentially “global Keynesians”, people who want to apply on a global scale Keynes’s ideas on how to make capitalism work better. George in fact has openly called for the adoption of Keynesian policies. As she put it in the Le Soir interview we have already quoted:
“Our leaders must be more serious and move towards Keynesian solutions, as was the case after the Second World War. We need a Marshall Plan for the environment, for reducing inequalities in the world and particularly in the South”.
“We don’t expect le grand soir [a derogatory French term meaning “the Revolution”], but a more democratic type of economy. The market will have its place, but not all the place”.
What ATTAC, and their equivalents in this country, the campaigning non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Oxfam, the World Development Movement, Christian Aid, etc (not that some of them are all that “non-governmental”, given the grants they get from the state), want is to retain the world market economy but to try to control it for the benefit of humanity, to humanise it. Their hearts may be in the right place but this is to display an incredible lack of vision as well as an appalling ignorance of the way capitalism works, and has to work.

Capitalism operates according to the rules of “no profit, no production” and “can’t pay, can’t have” and, as the world market system, is what is responsible for the desperate plight of most of the world’s population. Before anything lasting and constructive can be done about this, capitalism has to go. The productive resources of the Earth have to become the common heritage of all humanity, so that production can be directed to meeting people’s needs – all people’s needs – instead of to making profits.
Adam Buick

Greasy Pole: Blair backs down (2001)

The Greasy Pole column from the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

On a battlefield it is called a strategic retreat – conceding ground to make it easier to defend what is left, to conserve an army’s strength, to regroup for an effective counter-attack. Sometimes it means giving up ground which has been won in an attack which has in fact left the attacker crucially exposed to the enemy. But in the long run it is worthwhile – as any soldier who spent time harried by German observation and bombardment in the Ypres salient in World War One would have agreed.

The same principle can apply in the battlefield of politics. In a recent attack, which turned out to be strategically something of a mistake, on working class conditions the Blair government announced an intention to charge people who apply to Employment Tribunals for compensation alleging unfair dismissal, discriminatory practice at work or whatever. The plan was to introduce a charge for an application and then another (in the low hundreds of pounds) for a hearing of the case. This was, the government assured us, a necessary reform “a new, modest charging regime . . . to reduce the cost burden to the taxpayer” was how a Downing Street press release described it. Perhaps it was assumed that all those workers who are misled into a belief that they are “taxpayers” would have been so beguiled by such smooth assurances that the proposals would have been able to slip past like troops silently infiltrating enemy positions.

If that were the case, what the government had overlooked was that there are too many “taxpayers” applying to the Tribunals – about 130,000 a year at present – to allow the charges to go through unnoticed. In fact the Tribunals get more and more attractive; over the past ten years applications have increased threefold. It was predictable that there would be an outcry of protest: “contrary to the principles of the Human Rights Act and the principle of free, fair and open access to justice” was how TGWU General Secretary Bill Morris put it. Some Labour MPs were so impressed by the fervour of the opposition that they daringly considered doing the equivalent of deserting from the front line – voting against the proposals.

Of course the Blair government is well accustomed to shrugging off protests about their anti-working class policies – like the 1916 generals in their chateaux who were able to ignore the casualty figures and the battered soldiers at Ypres. But on this occasion there were other considerations to be put into the balance. The TUC conference was due to begin a few days later, when Blair was expected to have to face a barrage of wrath on the issue and on others such as the financing of hospitals, schools, transport systems. In the overall cause of strengthening the government’s position it was decided to make a strategic retreat, giving way and not imposing the charges – of which more later. In the end, of course, the destruction of the World Trade Center overrode all other matters and Blair was allowed to escape unbothered by any criticism.

Employment Tribunals evolved from Industrial Tribunals, created by the Wilson government’s Industrial Training Act of 1964, which was greeted as a great step forward in the protection of workers’ rights. It was also seen as the dawn of an age of sanity in industrial relations when, instead of rushing into conflict in the form of a strike or a lock-out, both sides would thrash out their problems in civilised negotiation. This, we were told, was how they did it in other countries, where as a result productivity was higher and there was wider prosperity. It sounded suspiciously too good to be true and that was how it turned out.

The Tribunals’ scope was originally a lot less than it is today, restricted to cases relating to assessment to training levy, entitlement to redundancy pay (the Wilson government’s plans for a more “flexible” work force in an age of “technological expansion” envisaged a lot of “redundancies” in which workers would be uprooted from their jobs and their homes) and disputes over a failure to provide a written statement of conditions of employment. Since then the Tribunals have become more complex, expanding into disputes over “unfair” dismissal, equal pay, discrimination over gender, race and disability. In 1987 there were 29,000 claims referred to the Tribunals; ten years later there were 80,000 and in 2000 it topped 100,000.

Until the Blair government came up with their proposals there was no basic charge to any applicant but for the other side – the employers – it could be an expensive business. For them the average cost of defending a case demanding 27 hours of management time was £2,000. (The proposed charges were estimated to save the employers some £70 million). The employers also complained that the Tribunals’ set up they gave the applicants an advantage, a situation no self-respecting, profit hungry employer would tolerate without a struggle.

The informal style of the Tribunals encouraged applications; it also fostered the impression that applicants could put their case themselves, without a lawyer speaking for them – although this is something the growing complexity of employment laws may change. But employers – especially the larger companies and government agencies – are more likely to engage a lawyer, which for them could be cheaper than drawing up a case and presenting it themselves. Overall this puts a rather different perspective on the fantasy about irresponsible and disgruntled workers being allowed to obstruct the work of the Tribunals with frivolous applications which cost them nothing.

In hard reality the employment dice always have to be loaded against the workers. The employer/employee relationship cannot be between equals because it is the employer who controls a worker’s access to their only means of getting a living. If for any reason an employer does not wish to allow a worker the opportunity to be exploited they can simply deny it. This is what happens when trade falls off and goods cannot be sold or when there are more than the market can absorb so that it is not profitable to produce them. At such times the illusions of “fair” employment, of “unfair” dismissal, of workers’ “rights”, are exposed for what they are. If a sacked worker can persuade a Tribunal that they have been “unfairly” dismissed it is clearly in their immediate interests to make the experience as painless financially as they can. In that sense the Employment Tribunals have their uses. But in no way can they upset, or even affect, the basic reality of working class employment and all it means in terms of exploitation and poverty.

This reality may also be asserted in the government’s response to the protests against imposing charges on applicants. The motivation for the charges was to save money for the employers by encouraging (or perhaps forcing) applicants to settle their dispute through ACAS arbitration. That motivation is still there, which probably means that the charges have been postponed rather than scrapped. This is a well-used tactic in such situations. To give a recent example, a few years ago the government provoked a huge outcry when they proposed to close down the coal mines. To widespread surprise protesters sprang out onto the streets from the unlikeliest places – like leafy Tory strongholds in the Home Counties. The response of the government, in the person of the minister Michael Heseltine, was to announce that the closures had been called off – and then, when the protests had died down and other crises were monopolising attention, to reinstate them. We all know what then happened to the coal mines – and to the miners who thought they had won their case.

That was an example of a strategic retreat and the government were able to plan it and execute it and in the process to deceive the protesters because as representatives of the employers they hold a superior position. That is a basic fact of life under capitalism with its class monopoly of the means of living. It is a reality unaffected by agencies like the Employment Tribunals which the ever-hopeful queue of applicants would do well to remember.

Letters :The war goes on (2001)

Letters to the Editors from the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

The war goes on

Dear Editors,

The action of terrorists on America’s twin towers and Pentagon on 11 September and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan by the USA and its allies is proof (if any was necessary) that there is no civilisation or democracy in this world.

As he accepted his Presidential nomination in 1988, George Bush (senior) had this to say, “This has been called the American century because in it we were the dominant force for good in the world. Now we are on the verge of a new century, and what country’s name will it bear? I say it will be anther American century.” However, there is one world and we exist as one people in need of each other and with the same basic needs.

As long as we live under the market system, the conditions that give rise to wars will always exist. War in the modern world has the potential for destruction of the whole human race. The working class – the propertyless majority – have no interest at stake in supporting any war at any time for any reason. Terrorism will only go with the collapse of capitalism and the coming of a new era – socialism.

It is clear that any solution resulting from violence or confrontation is not lasting. It is only through peaceful means that we can develop better understanding between peoples. Though lies and “spin” may deceive people temporarily and the use of force may control human beings physically, it is only through proper understanding, fairness and mutual respect that they can be genuinely satisfied and creative.

Human beings are capable of co-operating – the development of the human race has depended upon it. There are numerous examples of selfless behaviour and kindliness. But a system motivated by the quest for profit is bound to be competitive and ruthless. Otherwise how and why would people who are kind and caring support and even take part in deliberately causing death and destruction to strangers they have never met? The wheels of capitalism are oiled by human blood.

There are no bombs or bullets that select the guilty and spare the innocent. The pacifist is just as likely to get killed as the soldier. This is what is happening in Afghanistan and in all parts of the world that are ravaged by war. Though human life cannot be recovered, the energy and resources that are being put into the destruction of Afghanistan could be used to rebuild the destroyed twin towers. Destroying life and wealth in Afghanistan is not a solution – it will only aggravate the situation. Two wrongs cannot make a right. The USA is using misfortune to show the world its military might, using equipment sold to destroy human life elsewhere.

Socialists can only continue with propagating our case against capitalism. Sometimes we have to be careful not to provoke the sword of ignorance purposelessly. But to give up, to concede defeat, would be to allow the present disastrous and insane system to triumph.

To quote the words of a great scientist, Albert Einstein, “The significant problems we face cannot be resolved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
Justus Weijagye, 

The Bilderberg Group

Dear Editors

Just a short comment on the clarification on p. 18 of the November Socialist Standard.

The Bilderberg group may be “semi-mythological”, but there’s no doubt that such groupings do exist. For instance, in Captive State, George Monbiot discusses the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), an association of the bosses of forty-six of the biggest companies in Europe. They have long advocated the creation of a single market in Western Europe, and called for the improvement of transport links – including the building of the Channel Tunnel. The ERT does not control governments, but it certainly influences them.
Paul Bennett, 

Cold as charity (2001)

From the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
A brief look at the Guardian’s recent ‘Giving List’
The Guardian (5 November) issued a supplement entitled “The Giving List” detailing which companies in Britain gave most and least to charity. It comes as no surprise that business donated £0.68bn whilst the general public gave £4.3bn. The business of business is making money, after all – not giving it away.

Charity is big business in Britain with over 180,000 registered charities, but compared to the US it is petty stuff. In the US last year charities grossed $200bn. Foundations gave 12 percent, corporation 5.3 percent. Why such generosity? Well, it is not as great as it seems. Corporate giving was only 1.2 percent of pre-tax profits and on examination the apparent generosity has ulterior motives. In 1889 Andrew Carnegie, robber baron and philanthropist wrote in his essay Wealth, on the need for charity:
“The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and the poor in harmonious relationships.”
More up-to-date though, the writer Mark Dowie in his recently published book American Foundations, An Investigative History says:
“The sad facts is that a majority of America’s 50,000 or so private foundations are mindless lawyer-ridden tax dodges that accomplish little beyond the transfer of riches to already wealthy institutions.” 
“Some capitalists do value private philanthropy because it creates countervailing force against socialism, others because it quells social unrest.”
Having quoted earlier that arch-hypocrite and exploiter Andrew Carnegie let us end with the words of Oscar Wilde, from a socialist perspective the definitive words on charity:
“They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not the solution; it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.”
To give or not to give? 
Among all the league tables and the sport of naming and shaming there is a comparative newcomer – the Giving List. In the US since 1996 a league table known as the Slate 60 of the top American philanthropists has been published on the internet. An earlier list of Millionaire Givers ran into legal problems of confidentially and has not been published since 1994. The Guardian‘s Giving List offering us an insight into the generous and the stingy among the top corporations quoted on the London stock exchange.

Much effort is devoted to giving capitalism an acceptable face. A new industry has grown up around the idea and the practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Better to give back to the victims part of the proceeds of exploiting them than to be too greedy and to get a bad name.

It seems there are two views among supporters of capitalism about the best way to run it and secure its future. We may call these views hard-line and soft-line, although those terms are rarely used by the protagonists. The hard-liners date themselves back to Adam Smith, with extensions to his “invisible hand” by such as Margaret Thatcher, Milton Friedman and lesser-known luminaries in the “new liberalism”.

The basic proposition of the hard-liners is that the business of business is making money, not employing people or giving them charity. The task of companies is to maximise profit for their owners, the shareholders. Appeals for companies to feel responsibility for the welfare of other “stakeholders” – their employees, the local community, the environment—can only detract from the bottom line. It is argued that widespread adoption of CSR would undermine the foundations of the market economy.

The advocates of the CSR – the soft-liners – don’t want to abolish the market economy. They want to make it stronger by giving it a better image. Their basic motive is still the promotion of “wealth creation” – capitalist code for profit-making. Digby Jones, writing on behalf of the CBI, is frank about this: “Actions that affect beneficially on society create an environment where people feel safer, and this helps business” (Guardian, 6 November).

Socialists don’t take sides in any conflict between those who want “business” to accept more CSR and those who don’t. CSR is just one among many ways of reforming capitalism. Time and energy spent on discussing the pros and cons of CSR is, from a socialist point of view, wasted and deserves to be put in the dustbin of failed reforms alongside nationalisation, public-private partnership, “fairer” taxation, and so on.

But there is one thing about CSR that can be of use to socialists. The practice of social responsibility is at best an “add on” within capitalism (the system is more recognisable for its social irresponsibility). With socialism, social responsibility – concern for those doing the work, the local community, the environment – won’t be an “add on” to the system – it will be a central feature of it. With the pursuit of profit and the subservience of workers to capital off the agenda, we shall be responsible for the kind of world we want to build and live in.

Human capacity (2001)

Book Review from the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Becoming Human. Evolution and Human Uniqueness by Ian Tattersall, OUP, 2001.

Like all the other life-forms on this planet, we humans are the product of a process of evolution from earlier life-forms. Our immediate ancestors will have been ape-like animals which had evolved to walk upright. The fossil record suggests that there will have been many species of such animals, from one line of which we are descended. All the other lines not only became extinct but left no descendants either. The last of these other types of Homo to go extinct were the Neanderthals, a mere (in evolutionary time) 27,000 years ago.

All this is described by Tattersall, who is the curator of the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in this paperback edition of a book that was first published in 1998. According to him, although there was no predetermined course of evolution leading to us as the “highest form” of life, there is a feature that distinguishes us from all other life-forms—the capacity for symbolic thought, i.e. the ability to generate and manipulate complex abstract symbols (words naming parts of our environment and relationships between them). This allows us not just to react to the external world but to refashion it. This of course is tied up with language and it is what makes us unique. It has enabled us to develop technologies that have changed both the rest of nature and the societies in which we live.

Tattersall speaks of “human capacity” (as opposed to “human nature”) and clashes with those, such as the sociobiologists and the evolutionary psychologists, who have a very narrow view of this capacity, seeing it as being severely limited by our genes. But, Tattersall points out, while our genes can’t be ignored “they only intervene in our behaviours in an indirect way, by programming the development of our brains”. Therefore, “if we are to understand the complexities of our behaviour, it is to our brains, not directly to our genes, that we have to look”.

When we do this then, we can add, we find that our brains allow us, as a species, to adopt – and, as prehistory and history bear out, we have in fact adopted – a great variety of different behaviours depending on the natural, economic and social environments we have found ourselves in. So, contrary to the biological determinists of various hues, “human nature” is not a barrier to socialism. On the contrary, our biologically evolved and inherited “human capacity” will allow us to live in a socialist society.

Tattersall has his own particular theory of how our brains developed, which is not accepted by all anthropologists and palaeontologists. He suggests that the ability to think abstractly, and to express such thoughts vocally, arose for other reasons than directly to be able to do these, for instance perhaps as a result of the mental images involved in fashioning tools, in one line of Homo which only later exploited this capacity. Hence his view that the Neanderthals did not use symbolic language.

This is a neat refutation of the views of those who claim that our brains only evolved for life on the open grasslands of East Africa and that therefore we have “stone age minds” which make it difficult for us to live under capitalism let alone in a socialist society. In any event, Tattersall points out, the idea that the brains of us modern humans (Homo sapiens) evolved out of living in a single environment has been overstated. During the time that the various different species of Homo evolved, and all except the line that led to us became extinct, the natural environment was unstable. The Earth cooled and warmed and cooled again, shifting patterns of vegetation even in East Africa. “It is out of this ecologically and geographically unstable world that our ancestors ultimately arose,” concludes Tattersall. “The widely cited notion of a monolithic ‘ancestral environment’ that, through our genetic heritage, still conditions our behavior today is simply untenable”.
Adam Buick