Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Warning — this system is dangerous (1971)

From the December 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Peter Simple, the columnist who plugs a consistently comfortable, almost invulnerable, reactionary line in the Daily Telegraph, has often turned his acid pen against the people who sought to prove with their statistics and experiments and surveys that cigarette smoking is a factor in causing death by lung cancer. It was not simply a matter of an individual’s right to puff his way into an early grave if he wanted; to Simple, smoking was part of the slow, feudalistic way of life which he imagines (and it is only imagination) was once lived by the people of this country.

So any fan of the column must have turned to it with trembling hands, after the most recent anti-smoking report from the Royal College of Physicians. Sure enough, there was a passage on the report. But at the end of an unusually mild attack, Peter Simple had to confess himself baffled by it all; why did they attack smoking? Why? Why? It was all rather disappointing, especially as it showed that the columnist had not read even the press reports of the document, some of which quoted the vital reason for it all: 
Government and Parliament must decide between an easy source of revenue and the preservation of the lives, health and productive capacity of the people they serve. 
Now what this quotation from the report indicates is that we have here a case just like many which have gone before. “Productive capacity” is vital to industry, to employers; since it depends upon the lives and health of the producers then any employer who keeps the most casual eye on his profits must start to worry if he has reason to think that the lives and health of his employees are being threatened.

The only chance of a large, official campaign against smoking was that there would be enough evidence that it was damaging the profits of the employers. The evidence about the possible effects of it on health has been there for a long time; the crucial point is when it is likely that there are also effects on productive capacity, or profits, or some other aspect of the worker/employee relationship. It was the same with the Clean Air Acts and with the measures aimed against noise, pollution and the like. It is the same, still, with the countless combined eyesores and threats to safety such as the coal tips in South Wales, where the “economic” case for removal is not officially considered to have been made out four years after Aberfan.

We can approach this point from another direction, by looking at one of the report’s ideas to persuade people to stop smoking. This was to print on all packets a warning of the possible effect of smoking. This has already been put into practice and nobody can now draw out a cigarette without being confronted with the awful words "Warning — smoking can damage your health”. This may or may not be an effective idea; there is a case that the words of warning might only go to make the smoke more enjoyable, spicing it with thrills of guilt and danger.

But the main point is that it is surprising that this technique should be confined to cigarettes. An average of something like twenty people are killed on the roads every day, but nobody has yet suggested daubing the doors of all road vehicles with the words “Caution — this machine is potentially lethal.” And while we are on the subject of death, what are they doing, allowing all those advertisements for the armed forces and none of them with a warning that the forces’ job is to train killers to protect the interests of their master class?

And what about the other, innumerable, ways in which capitalism, in the name of profit and the rights of a privileged society, simply murders people? We are thinking here not so much of the quick, easily identifiable death like the road accident and the battle but the slow erosion of life — the coal miner with his lungs gradually filling up with dust; the asbestos worker with a horrible death in prospect; and all of us, whoever we are and wherever we live or work, who are subject to the atmosphere which is foully polluted because at present capitalism thinks it is cheaper to pump its muck into the air than to find other ways of dealing with it.

Every factory, then, every mine, every aircraft, almost everything which capitalism uses in the march of its profit-based activity, should have some sort of warning on it, shouting out the damage which it does to us — and the reason it happens. Food which is devitalised and adulterated to make it more easily marketable should carry a label telling us what has happened to it and what is likely to happen to us if we consume it. The homes we live in should have a notice on their door, telling us that they are inferior buildings which are uncomfortable and cramped and are full of dangers to health and life (the home is at present the biggest killer of all — it is all done, they say, by “accident”.)

Then there are the health hazards which are even less identifiable, which are insidious but none the less deadly. These are often matters of pressure upon us, matters of the sheer struggle to live, to survive, to get to and from work, to keep out of debt, to raise children, to hold a job. Sometimes it is even a matter of finding somewhere to live. Not so long ago, there was a case in the Appeal Court in which nine homeless families who were squatting in some houses owned by the Southwark Borough Council were ordered to move out. There was no doubt about the desperate plight of these people; the council’s man in court said their conditions were “heart rending”. But the judges did their job; one of them summed it up with the words:
It must be in the interests of law and order to protect the title of property such as these.
Yet at the same time the judges were also saying how sorry they were for the squatters. They were using words like “deepest sympathy” and “deep depression and oppression”. Unusual perhaps for words like that to come down from the bench; but if that was how the judges felt, how did the situation affect the squatters? How much of their health, their life, was simply worn away by a desperate plight which had to stay like that to protect the title of property?

But of course such situations can only be known to a certain social type. The inferior standards of living, the life without privilege, without security, without comfort, is the life of the worker. He is the person who has to struggle and who is never far from the razor edge, if not actually balanced on it or indeed toppled off it. He is the person whose health and life suffer because he is simply not permitted, by his social station, to live free. He must be suppressed and degraded; he must accept second, third, fourth best. And it makes no difference, that he is in the majority and that he makes up all the socially useful people in society.

What it amounts to is that capitalism should wear one great big label, warning everyone of what it is doing to them. It should tell them that it is a system in which only a few have the opportunity to live like human beings and they do this on the backs of the many. It should tell them that it is a society where everything we need is made so that a minority can profit by it, which means that all our welfares and lives are under continual assault and in constant danger. It should tell us that all the health hazards and all the tensions can be ascribed to the basic inhumanity and craziness of capitalism.

All members of the working class should have these labels, and they should have them from the day they are born because it is from then that the assault of capitalism upon them begins in earnest. And it carries on until they are in their graves.
Ivan

50 Years Ago: Russia’s New Economic Policy (1971)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why this new change of policy? Larin’s explanation is worth noting. A decree had been issued in November 1918 under which —
Trading in the products of domestic craft and small private industry remained free both for individuals and for the co-operative societies . . . But here we met with political reasons which paralysed our policy in practice — and these reasons must be sought for, not amongst the peasantry, and not amongst the workers. The town bourgeoisie itself simply refused to trade and refused to carry on its small undertakings. The laws remained, but the stores and workshops became empty, as the owners would not any longer risk their capital under the Bolsheviks. (Labour Monthly, November 1921.)
Larin’s explanation, however, is to some extent contradicted by Lenin. In the weekly edition of the Manchester Guardian, for 11 November, is a report of a speech by Lenin, taken from two communist papers—the Berlin Novy Pont and the Riga Novy Mir. According to this report Lenin stated that
their economic policy during the first period assumed the possibility of passing directly from the old economic system to the State control of production and to distribution on a communist basis.
It will be seen that this statement contradicts Larin’s claims, while further on Lenin, after referring to their being compelled to wage civil war, continues :- 
Under the influence of this state of things and of the desperate situation in which the Republic then was, under the influence of other circumstances of which this is not the time to speak, we made a blunder; we decided to pass immediately to communist production and distribution.
Despite the contradictions between Larin and Lenin, they are both agreed upon the fundamental fact—namely, that it was impossible to establish Socialism in Russia to-day, and that, therefore they must allow capitalism to operate, beginning with small industry and trading. Surely a striking tribute to Marx. 

[From an article The Force of Conditions, by Jack Fitzgerald, Socialist Standard, December 1921].

SPGB Lectures and Special Meetings (1971)

Party News from the December 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Life and Times: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (2022)

The Life and Times column from the December 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

A group of us recently did some leafleting in my part of the world. We were putting a leaflet through people’s doors entitled ‘A Different Way of Looking at Things’. It suggested that, though the word ‘socialism’ might conjure up ideas the recipients did not share, if they took up the leaflet’s invitation to click on its QR code and look at the Socialist Party’s website, they might find the ideas we were putting across sensible and attractive.

At one house, just as I was about to put a leaflet through the letter box, an elderly man came out and took the leaflet from me. He glanced at it and said: ‘The trouble with you lot is that all you see is what’s bad, you just don’t see the good things. You don’t see how much things have improved since I was a kid. You don’t know how lucky you are’. I told him I understood what he was saying but thought it would still be useful for him to read the leaflet and, if he could, to look at the website. But going on to the next house, what he had said started to give me food for thought, since I couldn’t deny that at a very basic level he was right. Most people’s standard of living is definitely higher than it was, say, in the 1930s, 40s or 50s. Most people have a lot more of the everyday things that make life more comfortable now compared to then.

The Good
And there have been a lot of what might be called ‘social’ improvements too. I’d recently read, for example, that the Championship football team, Watford, had players of 10 different nationalities in their team. It’s surely a step forward for people from so many different backgrounds to be cooperating as a team and idolised by the team’s largely British supporters. I’d also just listened to an episode of ‘Desert Island Discs’ with ‘The Repair Shop’ man, Jay Blades, talking movingly about the open, unabated and taken-for-granted racism he suffered as a boy – something dramatically less in evidence now. Again a famous footballer has recently been on trial for allegedly exercising ‘coercive control’ over his partner, a trial that would have been unimaginable in the 40s, 50s or 60s. And, just recently too, ecclesiastical child abuse from the 1960s and 70s has been exposed rather than ignored as it would have been in the past. And there is today, as never in the early lives of many receiving our leaflet, widespread and open coverage of LGBT matters. Who could have imagined all these things?

And yet, and yet … Well, there are also so many things which are not right in the world around us and which could not exist in the world of common ownership and free access that socialists advocate and want to see.

The Bad
In Britain today, for example, according to a recent Money Advice Trust report, people are skipping meals ‘just to keep the lights on’, and around 20 percent of adults, or 10.8m people, are behind on one or more household bills. A survey by Opinium found that 5.6m people have gone without food in the last months as a result of the cost of living crisis, nearly 8m have ‘sold a personal or household item to help cover bills’, and there has been a massive increase in the number of people forced to use food banks.

In the USA, the most economically advanced country in the world, 3.5m people are homeless, while 18.6 million homes stand vacant, and the number of Americans dying while homeless has risen dramatically (by 77 percent) in recent years from a variety of causes, but many just succumbing to the cold. The situation is even worse in less ‘advanced’ parts of the world. In Nigeria, for example, 82m people live on less than a dollar a day, and in Lebanon electricity, clean water, medicine and fuel are in short supply and the currency has lost 90 percent of its value with inflation in triple digits and more than 80 percent of the country’s population living below the poverty line.

The Ugly
But small beer this compared with the suffering in Yemen, where, according to the UN, 8 years of civil war have killed over 150,000 people, with more than 227,000 others having died as a result of famine and lack of healthcare facilities. Then there’s the drought in Somalia where the BBC News website reported that ‘young children are dying in growing numbers’ and told harrowing stories of suffering in which almost two-thirds of young children and pregnant women were suffering from acute malnutrition with the food situation being aggravated by a complex war between the militant Islamist group, al-Shabab, and the government. A 32-year-old mother of four living in a camp is quoted as saying: ‘No water, no food, a hopeless life. Above all, my children are starving. They are on the verge of death. Unless they get some food, I’m afraid they will die.’

More broadly, as reported by a network of charities from 75 countries in an open letter to coincide with the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York, in the world as a whole ‘1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing (slum conditions) and 100 million are unhoused, a full third of the human population does not have reliable drinking water… and a staggering 345 million people are now experiencing acute hunger, a number that has more than doubled since 2019’. And all this without going into the ongoing and unpredictable effects of climate change, the persistence of deadly diseases such as Covid 19, and the untold terror and suffering caused by wars such as the one in Ukraine.

The Alternative
One of the signatories to the charities’ letter mentioned above, Mohanna Ahmed Ali Eljabaly of the Yemen Family Care Association, wrote: ‘It is abysmal that with all the technology in agriculture and harvesting techniques today we are still talking about famine in the 21st century.’ Though that is absolutely true, the charities’ proposed solution (‘Those with the power and money to change this must come together to better respond to current crises and prevent and prepare for future ones’), is a hopeless one. While the techniques and resources are indeed available to prevent famine and satisfy all reasonable needs, in the profit-driven society (capitalism) that exists throughout the world today, human welfare can never be a priority. In the socialist society of free access based on the principle of ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’ which we urgently need, any failure of crops, for example, through drought or any such natural calamity will be dealt with by food being made available to those who need it where they need it rather than people being left to die horrific deaths from starvation.

I could not of course say all this to my interlocutor on the doorstep, but I suppose I could hope that he clicked on the leaflet’s QR code and read all about it in the Socialist Standard.
Howard Moss

Pathfinders: The Baby Bust (2022)

The Pathfinders Column from the December 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The existential crisis of global warming as well as rocketing inequality have made many people start to question the viability of capitalism as never before. But you still hear some dismissing the idea of post-capitalist common ownership with the time-honoured objection that ‘there are too many people.’

There’s sometimes a suspicious whiff of racism or Nazi-style eugenics about this argument, but it’s not hard to see why people might innocently believe it, particularly in the crowded urban environments most people inhabit nowadays, and particularly if they remember China’s infamous one-child policy, and Indira Ghandi’s even more infamous forced sterilisation programme in India. Ever since the 1970s (or indeed Malthus in the 1800s) people have been banging the drum of doom about an impending population catastrophe. It’s been a staple trope of Hollywood movies from Soylent Green (1973) to Avengers Infinity War (2018). And last month, to great fanfare and only 11 years after passing the 7 billion milestone, the world passed the 8 billion mark, with the population still increasing at around 3 people per second, at least according to the population clock at bit.ly/2UKMS7c.

But it’s not rising everywhere. Indeed, it’s not rising almost anywhere. If you look at the 20 largest populations on the clock, India is the only one visibly ticking upwards. China isn’t moving. The USA isn’t moving. Globally, almost all populations outside sub-Saharan Africa are either stable or in decline, with fertility rates generally well below replacement levels. At current rates, China’s population, along with that of Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and most European countries, is set to halve by 2100. Japan is ‘super-ageing’, with the oldest median age, 48, in history. Latvia is worried that it’s running out of Latvians (bit.ly/3hPBvr0 ). Instead of a baby boom, the future looks more like a baby bust. In July this year the UN downwardly revised its 2019 projection of 11 billion and rising by 2100 to a peak by 2080 and declining by 2100 (bit.ly/3TMMbUx), while other studies suggest a peak by 2070 (bit.ly/3tVZO9D ). One HSBC economist, following the work of two Canadian demographers, is even predicting a peak in 2040, declining to 4 billion by 2100 (bit.ly/3ApdoG2).

What’s happened to overturn the received wisdom of decades, if not centuries? There are lots of reasons, including more women in the labour market choosing to delay parenthood, high housing costs, high childcare costs, and understandable insecurity about the future. But the two main global drivers of falling birth rates are better female education, which leads to better prospects and more independence for women, and female access to contraceptives. Regardless of income, wherever women gain control of their own fertility, the birth rate declines, giving the lie to that old saw about poor people deliberately breeding children as insurance policies for old age. Where these drivers are not present, as in sub-Saharan Muslim countries where girls do not go to school and men don’t allow them to use contraception and won’t use it themselves, you see dramatic population increases.

Capitalist states regard declining populations not with enthusiasm but with alarm, because low birth rates combined with longer lifespans mean a relative reduction in the young workforce and hence a reduction in profits, combined with an increasing burden of ‘economically inactive’ old people who constitute a considerable cost to profits, via government taxation. Immigration would in theory solve the problem but has been made politically toxic, so many countries have instead adopted what are called ‘pro-natalist’ policies, involving financial and other incentives to have more babies. In France they give the woman a medal. In Iran they give the man a promotion at work, or a zero-interest loan (yhoo.it/3TKfPtA). But such state intervention to increase the birth rate would only yield very long-term results, and is anyway thought to be much harder, and more expensive, than intervention to reduce it, because of the need to incentivise young couples to take on the considerable extra financial cost and loss of personal freedoms. In the UK, the Child Poverty Action Group’s November 2022 estimate of the cost of raising a child to age 18 is £160,000 for couples and £200,000 for lone parents (bit.ly/3E8zbCU).

You might suppose that a smaller population would be better for the planet at least. But many environmentalists now realise that population is not the barrier to sustainable living that many imagine (bit.ly/3g8r1CJ). Rather it’s resource usage that makes the difference. One 2020 study of the global farming system concluded that the present food production system could only sustainably feed 3.4 billion people, but that with certain key changes, particularly in reducing meat consumption and food waste, and being smarter about choices of crops, that could be increased to 10 billion (bit.ly/3gfEbO0 ). Overall, resource use is wealth related, with the carbon emissions of the richest 1 percent being more than double the emissions of the poorest 50 percent (bit.ly/3Of1Tqk).

It might upset an anti-abortionist, but it’s axiomatic to a socialist that the only person with the right to say whether or not a woman has a baby is the woman herself. In a socialist society, money and patriarchal power dynamics would not exist to restrict that woman’s ability to determine her own fertility. If the global population fell as a result, which the evidence suggests could well be the case, what would be the result? Not a crisis of care for the old, because care in socialism would be a matter of communal aid, not taxable profits. The world would simply scale down production to suit what was required. And productive work doesn’t require the labour it used to. As a recent Wired podcast pointed out, ‘we can do more today with fewer workers than at any other time in history’. Might the population rise, perhaps because of zero financial costs and because socialism offers a life worth being born into? Possibly, but even socialism couldn’t socialise the child-bearing process, so the physical costs to women would likely be the limiting factor. In either case, if the need for social debate did arise, it would at least be done in the open, without competing sectional or state interests intervening to weaponise it.
Paddy Shannon

A note to a friend (2022)

From the December 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

I am rather hoping that anyone reading this article does not share the views contained within, at least at the outset. If they do, then perhaps they might be persuaded to take a different, and perhaps more challenging, view of how society could be organised. So, with this in mind, whether you are inclined to vote Conservative, SNP, Labour, Green, Liberal or indeed any party that believes that capitalism can be made to work in the interests of people and society, then I wish to share my thoughts with you as a friend, a fellow human being and someone who, if we met by chance, would chat about our families, interests and worries in much the same manner as most friends do.

Friends, at least close friends, tend to share problems – the concern I feel at the moment (and it is increasing year on year) is that I am beginning to lose hope for humanity and society in general. It is rather a ‘dangerous’ state of mind to share with others as they tend to immediately categorise you as a depressive or ‘miserable’ or the new media moniker ‘doomer’ and, to be frank, they probably feel uncomfortable in your company – and who can blame them? Often, and this phrase is conveniently trotted out, they say ‘you’ve got to have hope or what’s the point of living?’. Well, I absolutely love life, but that’s just the point – right now, I feel I am living a life of sorts but being denied the life that I, and I should say every other person in the world, including you, should be living. By most standards my life (or existence) is comfortable enough so perhaps you might think I should be thankful for what I have, but thankful to whom? Society in the past (at least since agrarian times) has allowed those in power – I guess by dint of wealth, armies and the power of religious doctrines – to gain control over the majority of people. The form of society has, to some extent, changed, but this still holds true: in fact, now far fewer powerful and wealthy individuals control the entire world society. Incidentally, and I felt this was a good time to mention this, those that are ‘controlled’ and who are forced by dint of circumstance to obey society’s rules are referred to as ‘workers’ a bit like an insect colony and clearly indicating that another (much smaller) group of people are not ‘workers’ – why should that be? Why do not all human beings co-operate for the general well-being of society as a whole? Yes, work will have to be done obviously, but people could be doctors, artists or scientists as well as other useful pursuits, but they would be called ‘people’, not ‘workers’.

So why am I feeling a loss of hope? Well, and I hope this doesn’t make me sound too arrogant, but I genuinely believe I know the answer (and I should point out that I am not for one minute claiming that this was my idea) – in fact, there are others that share these ideas for a solution but, as I mentioned, I want to share them with you and not them. But, being confident that you have the answer doesn’t mean that others will agree with you – on the contrary, when I have discussed these ideas, even with people close to me, they can get very agitated even aggressive at times. To be fair, very few people are comfortable with change and when one suggests that the awful things that are hardwired into current society (or to be specific capitalism) could become a thing of the past, they give you a look, either of pity or they immediately spring to defend our current way of living, because not to do so means discarding a lifetime of conditioned thought, whether through schooling, media or by indoctrination through the workplace and clearly they are uncomfortable with this prospect.

Another reaction – when the person says ‘Oh, that’s utopia or just pie in the sky’ is quite odd really, particularly when, on occasion, the very same person will agree that warfare, starvation and homelessness (to name just a few of capitalism ’s ills) are dreadful, but still vigorously defend the very system that spawns such abominations. In fact, in the most recent copy of Resurgence, Jonathan Porritt stated that for society to change entirely (i.e a new world order) was, to quote, ‘Cloud cuckoo land’. Well, for what it’s worth, my opinion is that to think that capitalism can be made to work is cloud cuckoo land on steroids.

Before sharing my solution with you – and I use the term somewhat guardedly as the longer the car- crash that is capitalism goes on, the more difficult it will be to set a form of recovery in motion – I need to open up a little. I mentioned earlier my feelings of hopelessness and despair: I have thought about this in considerable depth and, I have to be honest, it comes down to a complete inability to understand why so many people, the vast majority actually, believe that our current system can be reformed, altered, tinkered with or somehow adjusted and thereby be made to work in the interests of humanity, the environment and the other species with which we share the planet. To me, the problem always demands the same answer – get rid of capitalism. So why do we not dispose of it?

Well, if there is one amazing thing about capitalism, it is its astonishing ability to ‘self-reinforce’ or to put it another way, to brainwash people into thinking that it is the only game in town. It is, in my opinion, a system that defies logic in as much as it is killing the very people who, with absolute enthusiasm, support and nourish it.

Please allow me to share some examples of things that send me head into my hands and question my sanity …

In July, BBC news reported that America’s Joe Biden flew to Saudia Arabia to persuade Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to produce more oil. This news item followed an extreme and ‘unprecedented’ weather warning which, with temperatures expected to exceed 40˚C in the UK, will lead to many deaths as people are unable to cope with the heat. Scientists tell us (and have been doing so for years) it is a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels. I can honestly say that not a day goes by when the BBC news does not contain an item which, in any sane society, would give rise to immediate and serious concern and trigger action to address the consequences (often major climate-related issues), and that is not then followed by some item of trivia such as a ‘celebrity’ divorce case for example; both are given equal weight and often the ‘divorce case’ more. This was exactly what happened on the Today programme on July 12, when Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency stated on air that ‘the biodiversity crisis joins the climate crisis as an existential threat to our survival …’. This was followed by coverage of back-stabbing Tory tales as the candidates began the fiasco of bad-mouthing their opponents in the race for leadership of the party, none of whom has made any commitment to addressing the climate or any other existential threat. Incidentally, the biodiversity issue was not mentioned again that day and I could not find it on the BBC website – obviously not that important.

The subject of mental health has, however, over the last few years, occupied regular coverage in the media. As someone in my mid-sixties, I don’t remember this at all in the past – one would hear about people suffering with mental illness, but certainly not at the level it seems to be happening now. The young seem to be particularly badly affected, and who can blame them? I have to be honest here and admit to really struggling with this myself, to the extent that on occasions sleep becomes a welcome escape from the world and the idea of waking up becomes less and less appealing. Some have suggested that I might be suffering from depression; I am utterly convinced that this is not the case, although I do feel despair, anger and an absolute feeling of helplessness at having to bear witness to the horrific destruction of our very means of survival as a species that is being wrought day in, day out when, so easily, it could all be changed; it doesn’t even need a violent revolution – just a simple understanding and belief by the majority of the world’s population that capitalism needs to be ended. But it seems my feelings of being alone, apart from a very small number of other people who share these views, continue to feed the sense that perhaps I have been unfortunate enough to have been born into a species incapable of organising itself in a manner that does not put profit and the power of a tiny group before its own well-being – let alone that of the environment.

Maybe I’m being over-sensitive, maybe I should share that sense of confidence and optimism voiced by some that somehow it will all be fine – but I don’t, even leaving aside the awful spectre of climate breakdown now playing out before our very eyes alongside whether someone should have had a party or not. Should a society be comfortable with homelessness, extreme poverty or the plundering of the Earth’s resources in the pursuit of profit? Indeed, can any society call itself ‘civilised’ if it needs charitable organisations set up to address these issues? Most of us, I imagine, feel that subtle sense of personal guilt, usually reinforced by the sad and plaintive tone of voice employed by the ‘celebrity’, when asked on the Radio 4 Appeal to give a fiver for some poor child to help give it education/medicine/water/clothes – it’s not dissimilar to our religious leaders (who are also given a platform on the BBC) whose ‘Thought for the day’ usually points out that ‘we’ are responsible (personally that is) for various destructive ills, and that by believing in the supernatural these ills will miraculously disappear. There’s never a mention of what is actually causing all these awful things to happen, and thus, once more, to the listening public it becomes the ‘norm’ and ‘human nature’.

I realise that by sharing these thoughts, unlike in a conversation, a reply cannot be given. I apologise for that and in all honesty, I want someone to give me a reason to have hope when all the evidence I see around me incontrovertibly confirms anything but a hopeful outlook. I expect you are thinking ‘but what about all the people who are doing good things?’ or ‘change has to come slowly and we can only do what we can in our own small way’ – when I hear these sentiments again and again (and I have for the last 50 years), I do wonder why I bother trying to suggest that a new world order could be created almost immediately; a society where there are no leaders, no money and where all produce, whether food, clothes, houses, medicine, infrastructure, furniture and all other things produced by human effort are made freely available to those that need them, and are of a standard that will last and be of the best that the designer and maker can produce, and as a result be proud of. Just imagine a society when money, an ‘economy’, profit and everlasting ‘growth’ were things of the past – can you imagine this? If profit was no longer a motive (or to be more accurate an essential force) driving the creative species that is our human race then, we could, with absolute certainty, make these things history which, in time, we as caring people would shudder to think ever existed.

Warfare
There would no longer be ‘countries’ to fight over, or more specifically the wealth or trade routes contained within their borders. Instead, there would be different regions where people chose to live, happy with their links to the land and proud of the knowledge and skills particular to that place. Neither would they or anyone else be forced into killing their fellow humans in the interest of a money class or ‘for their country’.

Slavery (yes, it does still exist)
Who would feel the need to force someone to travel miles to work for some criminal employer if ‘employment’ ceased to exist? All of us would work by sharing more menial work with other personal skills that we felt best able to do to contribute to the well-being of society as a whole.

Hunger
Ask yourself why people are hungry now in this society. Is there enough food to feed all people – yes. So why do they starve then? The simple two answers are:

Farmers do not grow food for people to eat. Before you get defensive here, I remember as a child seeing reports of heaps of cauliflowers at the side of fields being covered with kerosene to make them inedible. There had been a glut and so they had been dumped as they could not be sold at a profit, and so people had started helping themselves. Remember, profit comes before hungry people. There have been countless similar occurrences since – pigs recently.

Starving people can’t afford food. If food was produced for people to eat, no one need go without. It would be wonderful if farmers grew food for people to eat but they don’t, they grow food for profit – even the organic vegetables at the ‘farmer’s markets’.

Homelessness
Homes would cease to be investments or stand empty next to people begging on the streets. There would be no need for poorly designed houses crammed cheek by jowl to make the most profit out of a small, often unsuitable space and no need to fell beautiful trees to make room for the last ‘executive’ house. Would everyone want a palace? Well, would you? Would you not feel a little odd having a place with 20 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms and 4 kitchens? Would such a ‘house’ be better suited for those who desire a more communal life? Perhaps artists, or others with a shared interest. Anyway, think of all the housework you would have to do. After all, servants would also be a thing of the past.

Species decline and climate breakdown 
It is true that ridding society of the dreadful legacies of capitalism and the profit motive would, in some cases, be impossible. Extinct creatures cannot be brought back, rainforests or glaciers cannot be replaced, but one could reasonably hope for some sort of recovery; there would no longer be the need to put profit before the environment (which happens now). No more would the ‘economy’ take preference over acres and acres of ancient woodland to shave a few minutes off a train journey and to provide jobs. Goods would be made to last and not to fail and thus massively reduce waste – possibly entirely.

Crime
It is unlikely that in any form of society anti-social behaviour would cease to exist entirely, but I would suggest that the vast proportion of ‘criminal acts’ involve property or the taking of someone’s money in one form or another, eg scamming, people trafficking, burglary, fraud, poaching would cease. In a society where goods were made freely available for use, how could one steal?

Poverty
Need I say more? If there was no money there would be no poverty. The list could go on. There are so many parts of our current manner of organising society that are dreadful, whilst at the same time totally unnecessary. Humans do not have to live this way. Can we change? If the majority of people, which is how things are right now, believe that an ‘economy’, profit and the money system is the only way and can be reformed, and thus benefit all humanity, then please tell me how. No past reforms have worked – everything is getting worse, not better. Should we, or can we, just let an abstract idea continue to play out before our eyes while we sit and witness the destruction of beauty and the last vestiges of what makes our planet such a wonderful place? Surely we are more than that. Surely we are now at a time when we can truly cooperate with each other – all people – and share with absolute equality the wonder and wealth of the world. Are we really not able to do this? Many people have said that it will take an apocalypse to bring about world change. That does seem an awful thing to contemplate – countries on fire, trees dying in their millions, people fleeing countries desperate to find safety, people dying in their thousands of starvation, vast areas of the world becoming uninhabitable and children and civilians being blown limb from limb as their fellow human beings unleash unimaginable horrors with weapons of war. Yes, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that … Well, I did say I had the answer, arrogant maybe, but it’s quite simple really … you. And if that sounds accusatory, I apologise, it isn’t; it’s just that I can’t change society on my own.
Glenn Morris

Just stop being manipulative (2022)

From the December 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blocking roads, throwing paint at buildings, gluing themselves to paintings, what’s it all about? It’s all in the title. Just Stop Oil. In other words, keep capitalism but just stop extracting and using oil. In itself, it’s a completely unrealistic proposition. Even socialist society would have to use some oil for some purposes, even if not to burn on a massive scale to generate electricity or to power trains and planes and cars, vans and lorries. It is essential as a lubricant and can be used to make other products such as plastics, paints and ointments. But under capitalism, taken literally the demand to stop extracting it is way off the scale of unachievable demands.

Capitalist production is not production with the rational aim of meeting human needs. It is uncontrollable production by separate, competing enterprises for sale with a view to profit. The battle of competition is won by those which can keep their costs the lowest, not lastingly by cutting corners but by using the cheapest suitable materials and by installing new machines or adopting new methods of production that reduce the cost per unit of what the enterprise is selling.

At the moment oil is the cheapest practical source of energy, when burned, for powering transport, whether by land, air or sea, and transport is essential for getting goods to market and workers to work. If oil was stopped today from being used for transport, society would literally grind to a halt; millions would die. Nor is any government going to adopt this on its own as currently available alternatives are either not scaled up sufficiently, nor reliable, or would increase costs massively and render enterprises operating in and from its territory completely uncompetitive.

It could be that those behind Just Stop Oil are demanding the maximum in order to get something less such as a more rapid transition to alternatives. That might well be why some look on their campaign with some sympathy. On the other hand, it could just be a tactic to get people to demand something that the campaign’s initiators know to be unrealistic and that when their followers realise this they will turn to demanding something more radical than just stopping the extraction of oil. This wouldn’t be the end of capitalism since those behind the campaign have explicitly rejected such talk. It is more likely to be questioning ‘industrial civilisation’ and returning to a ‘simpler’ way of life, to an imagined earlier stage of production for the market when this was to meet local needs.

But we know that the leaders of the campaign are more manipulative than this. The campaign was planned before the war in Ukraine when there was an expectation that no more licences would be granted to drill for oil in the North Sea. The leaders’ declared aim was to demand something they thought was going to be achieved anyway and to pass this off as a victory for the campaign, so as to build up the confidence of its activist foot soldiers and gain more of them and reach the figure they consider enough to bring about a change that will stop and reverse global warming.

They have declared that figure to be around 3 percent of the population engaging in non-violent civil disobedience. Roger Hallam, the group’s chief strategist if not leader, has been quoted as saying: ‘You can basically save the next generation with 2 per cent of the American population mobilised, engaged in an intense intra-relationship between high-level disruption and intense mobilisation… If you don’t upset people enough, then nothing happens’ (Times, 24 October).

Something has happened. The government has brought in a new law to deal with Just Stop Oil’s tactics, adding to the state’s arsenal of repressive laws. But this, too, will be part of the group’s leaders’ strategy to attract more activist followers, this time from those who object to non-violent protestors being jailed. Grist for the mill to reach the 2 or 3 percent. As if such a small number could impose its will on the majority or even win majority sympathy. Not even minority insurrectionists believe that.
Adam Buick

GB News and Gary’s Economics (2022)

From the December 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

A recent slot for the Socialist Party on a GB News chat show (bit.ly/3Umo53W) revealed an interesting thing about what socialists are up against: not only do people not agree on what socialism is, they don’t agree on what capitalism is either. So when we’re arguing with a pro-capitalist, we should not make the mistake of thinking that we know what they’re defending, or that even they know what they’re defending. They might be talking about something else entirely.

The pro-capitalist on the show seemed to be arguing that the less-developed, 19th century ‘small-business’ economy was ‘real’ capitalism, in which the population supposedly shared in the general wealth and welfare to a far greater degree than today, when the world has been taken over by a hideous monster known as ‘corporatism’. As if to emphasise how terrible our modern corporate affliction is, he was perhaps tempted to overegg the pudding in relation to the Victorian incarnation of the profit system. Incredibly, he even summed up the conditions of workers in that age of slums, workhouses, TB, cholera and child labour as ‘they’d never had it so good’.

Which all goes to show, as regular readers know very well, the importance of precise definitions. It’s such second nature to us that it comes as a surprise to find that other people don’t operate that way. ‘Socialism’ in many people’s minds is just this cloudy amorphous notion that can easily mean anything to anyone. And apparently ‘capitalism’ too can mean anything.

For the record, you can see our definition of socialism in the Declaration of Principles, on page 23 of this issue, or on the website here (bit.ly/3Umo2Fi). And equally for the record, here is our definition of capitalism: a system of society based on the production of wealth for sale on a market for a profit. Things that are produced for sale are called commodities. Other societies had commodities, but their economies weren’t based on commodity production. Other societies produced things (of course they did), but those things weren’t produced primarily for sale so they weren’t commodities. Other societies had markets, but the markets weren’t the main reason for the production.

From this clear and straightforward definition it follows that any society which is based on production for sale on a market is a capitalist country, regardless of what that society might say about itself, eg. North Korea, Venezuela, etc. Many other consequences can also be logically derived, including the drive for perpetual growth, the super-concentration of capital, wildly increasing inequality, the tightening stranglehold of the rich on the machinery of power and propaganda, national and world wars, and global environmental devastation. Without that core definition, the architecture of economics falls apart into a miasma of vagueness and a tendency to discuss each issue in isolation, as if it was unrelated to the others.

An example of this kind of vagueness was evident in a recent Novara Media video (bit.ly/3TkQJBo) where Aaron Bastani, author of Fully Automated Luxury Communism (reviewed here – bit.ly/3UlGI8m) and sporting a funky MarxTM t-shirt, interviewed hip street economist Gary Stevenson, whose own YouTube channel Gary’s Economics (bit.ly/3tdDtE8) has been getting a lot of favourable attention lately, including from mainstream media.

Stevenson is a likeable, articulate and clearly passionate man who, having previously made a pile as a former top Citibank trader, is now on a mission to explain to ‘ordinary working-class people’ why it is that they are getting poorer while the rich are getting richer, and that, contrary to what they themselves pontificate about, ‘economics experts’ in universities and in the media don’t know or indeed care why this is. His jargon-free and swear-word rich elucidations of interest rates, inflation, gilt trading and national deficits feel like a breath of fresh air. He is motivated by an obviously sincere conviction that the poor are allowing themselves to be impoverished mainly because they don’t understand how economics works, which to an extent is self-evidently true, even if his trader’s take on it is not the same as ours.

One of his arguments is that governments make a fatal mistake simply handing money to the rich without having any means to tax it back again. This is a rather more sophisticated argument than the morally-motivated populist Tax-the-Rich agenda we’ve seen from groups like Occupy or individuals like US Democrat Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. He’s quite right to point out that governments in general struggle to get money back from the rich through tax. Indeed that’s why governments rely largely on stealth-taxing the rich indirectly through the wages they pay to workers. He wants to tax them directly, though, because even though some flight of capital might occur, landed assets don’t move, and those assets can be taxed regardless of who owns them. Would the working class benefit if the state taxed the rich a lot more? In the short term perhaps in some ways through more public spending, but not in any way that would significantly transform their lot in life as wage slaves. And the rich would fight such taxes with every influence they can muster, because quite apart from financial considerations, big taxes make for a big state and they don’t want a state that’s rich and powerful enough to keep siphoning off their profits and interfering with their dodgy dealings.

So what’s the vagueness referred to earlier? Bastani, possibly somewhat overwhelmed by Stevenson’s charisma and fast-talking economic chops, seemed rather to have forgotten to get to the nub of what, for a Marxist, the conversation really ought to have been about. At one point Stevenson almost invites him to, when he says that, where he comes from in Ilford, people’s idea of capitalism is that’s it’s supposed to be a fair system where hard work, thrift and merit are ultimately rewarded, and they can’t understand why this doesn’t seem to happen in reality. That should have been the moment to nail down definitions, to identify exactly what capitalism was, and thereby to confront the question that was waiting all along like the elephant in the room – never mind trying to fix the unfixable, Gary, why don’t we talk about superseding the capitalist system itself, and having a society with no rich and poor, and no inequality in the first place?
Paddy Shannon

Material World: Pillaged and plundered for green capitalism (2022)

The Material World column from the December 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

COP27 in Egypt is done and dusted, promises doomed to be disappointments much to the dismay of the eternal optimists in the ecology movement. However, there are deeper problems for those who seek a new sustainable future of renewable energy.

Many have yet to come to understand that for new technologies to act as substitutes for fossil fuel, lithium, cobalt and other rare metals and minerals that you have never heard of are required. Transitioning to clean energy will lead to a huge expansion in mining for them. The World Bank estimates an additional 3 billion tons of minerals and metals will be needed for wind, solar and geothermal power generation and energy storage.

White Gold
‘Lithium and rare earths are already replacing gas and oil at the heart of our economy… So we have to avoid falling into the same dependency as with oil and gas’, explained European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen (bit.ly/3Ulz1i5).

On 14 September, she announced the European Critical Raw Materials Act, aimed at securing a sustainable supply of critical raw materials for Europe to lessen its dependency on other suppliers

With just five countries controlling 90 percent of world lithium production, the International Energy Agency calls it a ‘quasi-monopoly’ situation.

Since 2015, production volumes of lithium, known as ‘white gold’, have tripled worldwide, reaching 100,000 tonnes per year in 2021, and expected to increase sevenfold by 2030. At the European level, about 35 times more lithium will be needed in 2050 than today. A single electric vehicle battery requires 63 kilograms of lithium carbonate, so 16 vehicles need just over a metric ton.

Olivier Vidal, a geologist and director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said ‘This will certainly create tensions in the coming years, with expected increases in costs and, possibly, supply difficulties. So, there is a real strategic and sovereignty issue for states’ (bit.ly/3sSjGtI).

Mining projects often face public protest. Lithium extraction ‘produces considerable volumes of waste that must then be stored. The waste can also lead to water or air pollution,’ explained Vidal. Today, this pollution already exists, but in other countries, far from our eyes.

Dirty Cobalt
Cobalt’s use in electronic semiconductors, circuits and lithium-ion rechargeable batteries makes it critical to the global economy and ‘green’ technology. Besides renewable energy storage, cobalt is used in powerful magnets found in wind turbines and as an additive to improve biogas production.

Whereas a phone contains just thousandths of a gram of cobalt, an electric vehicle battery has pounds of the metal. Tesla’s ambition to produce 20 million electric vehicles a year in 2030 will require two times the present global annual supply.

The Congo is referred to as ‘the Saudi Arabia of cobalt’ as it supplies almost three quarters of the world’s cobalt from often hazardous, and exploitative working conditions akin to modern slavery, involving forced labour, debt bondage, human trafficking and child labour.

Those who promote renewable energy technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and electric batteries risk damaging ecosystems and harming local communities in the extraction of raw materials. Hopes of a low-carbon economy may well replicate the destruction of the environment caused by the fossil-fuel industry. The threat of resource wars does not disappear. It has already been suggested that the 2019 coup overthrowing Bolivia’s former president, Evo Morales, was motivated by competition between countries for its lithium supplies.

Do these problems lead to the conclusion that socialism will fail to be sustainable? An alternative, described as ‘green lithium’ exists. Unlike extraction from rocks or salt deserts, which function like traditional mines, ‘green lithium is produced from geothermal sources, with an extraction method similar to that of a well. However, the technique presently remains too expensive to be considered at a commercial level(bbc.in/3SRSAND).

Also, since lithium batteries are a relatively new development, recycling is not keeping pace yet. But by 2035, electric vehicle batteries will be coming to the end of their life and therefore will be recycled. According to the studies, 40 to 75 percent of the EU’s lithium needs could be met through recycling by 2050 reducing environmental damage.

All this means that rivalry between capitalists and countries for control of the source and deposits of those elements will continue unabated. Mining corporations will carry on looting the land, with the customary civil strife and proxy wars taking place. Our message to those aspiring to a new green future is that nothing changes if the system doesn’t change, too.
ALJO

Bird’s Eye View: Going Nowhere (2022)

The Bird’s Eye View Column from the December 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Going Nowhere

‘It was once home to some of the world’s most celebrated radicals and changemakers including Karl Marx, Charles Dickens and Nelson Mandela, but now the Royal Society of Arts has become the centre of a bitter battle over trade union recognition. Nearly half the workforce below senior manager level at the 270-year-old charity’s headquarters in central London have joined the Independent Workers’ union of Great Britain, with most staff, in and outside the IWGB, backing unionisation. But the RSA’s executive team led by new chief executive Andy Haldane, a former chief economist at the Bank of England and government levelling-up adviser, has refused three times to voluntarily recognise the union, which would give the workers’ elected representatives the ability to negotiate pay and conditions’ (Guardian, 9 October).

Should we really be surprised? There are clues in the RSA’s charitable status and its full name: The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Another clue is provided by reading the list of recipients of the Society’s Albert Medal. Scientists feature prominently, but the list is also peppered with parasites including Prince Albert’s wife, their eldest son, two great grandsons, QE2, etc., plus Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts and Winston Churchill. The obvious odd one out, and more deserving than most of the gong given in recognition of the ‘creativity and innovation of those that work to tackle some of the world’s intractable problems’ is Peter Tatchell. For him solving such problems requires us to:
‘Be sceptical, question authority, be a rebel. Do not conform and don’t be ordinary. Remember, all human progress is the result of far-sighted people challenging orthodoxy, tradition and rich, powerful, vested interests. Be daring, show imagination, take risks. Fight against the greatest human rights violation of all: free market capitalism, which has created a world divided into rich and poor, where hundreds of millions of people are malnourished, homeless, without clean drinking water and dying from hunger and preventable diseases. Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream about what the world could be – then help make it happen (Honorary doctorate acceptance speech, 26 July 2010).
Hear our debate with him at bit.ly/3Cy11HN.


Tatchell again

‘It is quite evident that the Soviet system today represents the exact opposite of almost everything that the left in the West is striving for – obsessive state secrecy rather than freedom of information, centralised bureaucratic control instead of devolved decision making and public accountability, total state power over the individual as opposed to inalienable civil liberties, authoritarian economic management rather than trade union freedom and industrial democracy, and a government-manipulated media instead of greater diversity and choice in news and information sources’ (Democratic Defence. London, GMP Publishers. p. 36, 1994).

He is not alone here. Writing seventy years earlier, Sylvia Pankhurst observed:
‘The Russian workers remain wage slaves, and very poor ones, working, not from free will, but under compulsion of economic need, and kept in their subordinate position by a State coercion which is more pronounced than in the countries where the workers have not recently shown their capacity to rebel with effect’ (Workers’ Dreadnought, 1924, bit.ly/3SZ7kLD).
If Albert gongs were given posthumously, Sylvia would likely be the odd one out. Meanwhile, ‘Singer and actress Beverly Knight (MBE!) will star as suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst in highly anticipated musical Sylvia at The Old Vic theatre. Following its first appearance as a work-in-progress show at the famous London venue in 2018, Sylvia will return for a limited run from January 27 to April 1 2023. The funk, soul and hip-hop musical tells the story of Pankhurst and her daughter Sylvia, played by Sharon Rose. It was originally commissioned to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 and the end of the First World War’ (Express & Star, 6 October). Sylvia’s mother and sister, Emmeline and Christabel, were supporters of militarism and empire, urged women to aid industrial production and encouraged young men to fight. They became prominent figures in the infamous white feather movement, which was composed of women who handed out white feathers, considered a symbol of cowardice, to men not in uniform during WW1 in order to shame them into enlisting. We can only guess as to which issues will be skirted over or distorted.


We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill

Further examples of inappropriately named and/or awarded gongs abound. The Nobel Peace Prize list is littered with them. Abiy Ahmed Ali, the prime minister of Ethiopia since 2 April 2018 won the 2019 Prize for his work in ending the 20-year post-war territorial stalemate between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Yet as early as January 2021 Simon Tisdall of the Guardian wrote that the gong should be returned as:
‘Despite Abiy’s claims that the war is over and no civilians have been harmed, sporadic fighting continues, an analyst familiar with government thinking said. Thousands of people have died, about 50,000 have fled to Sudan, and many are homeless, sheltering in caves. Intentional artillery attacks have destroyed hospitals and health centres in an echo of the Syrian war, the analyst said. Meeting this month in Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, aid workers complained Ethiopia’s government was still hindering relief efforts and demanded full access. “People are dying of starvation. In Adwa, people are dying while they are sleeping. [It’s] the same in other zones,” a regional administrator, Berhane Gebretsadik, was quoted as saying. But there has been scant response from Addis Ababa’.
This year’s recipient is the Ukraine-based Center for Civil Liberties, headed by Oleksandra Matvichuk. Shortly before the award in an interview with The Intercept she stated, ‘WHAT WE NEED TODAY IS WEAPONS’ (sic) (7 October).

Letters: Your website article (2022)

Letters to the Editors from the December 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Your website article

I am in what would be considered ‘the working class.’

Socialism obviously makes slaves of the working class with no hope of generational advancement or prosperity, the degree of socialism and communism practised yields a proportional level of poverty and oppression. Arrogant, self-righteous people want to act like the daddy of the working class, who they treat as children in these systems.

People who promote socialism and communism always seem to think somehow that they’re going to be part of the decision-making and power-wielding club in the socialist system, rather than oppressed by it. That’s because they are delusional in their self-righteousness and think of themselves as somehow special.

Neither of these world views is a friend to the working class.

Your website article claiming socialism is power to the working class is total horse-shit.

Socialism centralizes power and wealth in the hands of far fewer than free-market capitalism ever has.

You guys are either blind, woefully ignorant, or actually malevolent. Grow the hell up.
Ian Young


Reply:
Are you sure you have been looking at our website and not one with a similar name?

We ask because, unfortunately, there are quite a few who call themselves socialist who do see themselves as an elite aiming to seize power and rule supposedly on behalf of the working class. They really do see themselves, as you say, as a ‘decision-making and power-wielding club’ and that is how they have acted where they have seized power as in Russia, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.

That might be an excuse for your hostility to anyone calling themselves a ‘socialist’ but not for not having read our website carefully, if in fact you read it at all.

We have always made it clear that socialism, properly understood, means a society of freedom and co-operation where the state will cease to exist. It will be based on the common ownership and democratic control of society’s resources, with production directly for use not profit and access to wealth according to needs. It can only be established democratically once a majority have come to want it. No minority – no elite, whether elected or self-appointed – can establish socialism, still less impose it on a majority who don’t want it.

What you have taken to be socialism – what the elites claiming to be socialist have established – has not in fact been socialism at all, but a variety of class-divided capitalist society in which the working class have remained oppressed and exploited wage slaves. The correct name for what they established is ‘state capitalism’ with the minority elite, having previously proclaimed itself as the so-called ‘vanguard of the working class,’ as the new ruling, exploiting class.

This kind of state capitalism has been put into practice only in relatively economically backward countries to industrialise and to catch up with the developed capitalist countries of western Europe and North America. This has involved driving peasants off the land and into the factories, under conditions that rival those of the early days of ‘free market capitalism’ when it went through the same process of the primitive accumulation of capital.

You seem to be seeing so-called ‘free market’ capitalism through rose-tinted glasses, exaggerating the ‘hope of generational advancement and prosperity’ that exists under it and downplaying the extent to which it concentrates ‘power and wealth in the hands of a few’.

Statistics consistently show that social mobility is not as extensive as it is made out to be. The government has even had to set up a Commission to try to deal with the problem. In any event, what we are talking about here is an ‘advance’ from one section of the working class to another, from blue collar to white collar. When it comes to mobility from the working class to the capitalist class, there is scarcely any; the rich have remained rich and become richer.

Capitalism, whether private or state, is based on the ownership and control by a minority of the resources by which society lives. This puts this minority in a position of power and privilege and compels the rest to seek a living by going out onto the labour market to try to sell their working skills to some employer for a wage or salary. How workers live is rationed by the size of their pay slip which is never going to be much more than what’s needed to create and maintain their particular working skill and sometimes not even that.

By its very nature, capitalism can never provide the majority wage-working class with the full life that the level reached by modern technology makes possible. This can only happen when the ownership and control of society’s productive resources have been taken out of the hands of the privileged minority – whether private capitalists or political elite – and transferred to society as a whole, to be run democratically in the interest of all. Socialism in the proper sense of the term.
Editors


Spycatching

Dear Comrades

The excellent article Spycatchers in the November Socialist Standard called to mind an episode at the Party’s Bristol branch years ago in the 1980s. We were delighted to have a new visitor to branch meetings, even though he never said anything and just seemed to spend his time observing members very carefully. Eventually, I suggested to another branch member that perhaps we might drop some subtle hints about wondering if the visitor was there on Special Branch duty.

At the next meeting, ignoring any hints or subtlety, the other branch member said ‘Hey Larry, are you a copper?’ What is interesting is that the visitor didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no. In fact, he didn’t say anything. He just pulled out his wallet and showed us a photograph of his younger self in police uniform. After that, he didn’t come to any more branch meetings. Draw your own conclusions.
Keith Graham

Cooking the Books: Rating the Bank Rate (2022)

The Cooking the Books column from the December 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Bank Rate has gone up to 3 percent. What does it mean? As the rate which the Bank of England charges or pays the high street banks, it affects the rate that these charge or pay their customers. Those who borrow from them will have to pay more and those who save with them will be paid more on their savings (the first much more quickly than the second).

The Bank of England makes a wider claim. According to its website, this is ‘how changes in Bank Rate affect the economy’:
‘A change in Bank Rate affects how much people spend. And how much people spend overall influences how much things cost. So if we change Bank Rate we can influence prices and inflation. We aim to keep inflation at 2% – this is the target set by the Government (…) Overall, we know that if we lower interest rates, this tends to increase spending and if we raise rates this tends to reduce spending’ (BoE as at 7 November 2022).
The theory is then that if the Bank Rate goes up, people will spend less; a higher interest rate means that those trapped into a mortgage have to pay more to their bank or building society and so have less to spend on other things, the same goes for credit cards; and, since the interest paid on savings goes up, people are attracted to save more and so have less to spend. The overall result will be less spending on consumer goods and services, which is expected to reduce the rate at which their price goes up.

But does it work? Could it work? By ‘inflation’ they mean a rise in the consumer prices index which is a measure of how the prices of a typical basket of goods and services bought by a typical consumer change. So, the claim is that a change in the rate of interest can change the way the economy works by increasing or decreasing the overall amount people spend on buying consumer goods and services.

This might make some sense if the purpose of capitalist production was simply to meet the paying demand of consumers, but it isn’t. It’s to make and accumulate profits to be re-invested as more capital. What drives the economy is what businesses invest, not what consumers spend. This primarily depends on the rate of profit rather than the rate of interest, and that is not something that the Bank of England can affect. Small businesses, dependent on modest bank loans, may be influenced by a change in the Bank Rate in the same sort of way that consumers are supposed to be, but Big Business is typically not.

Big Business is, if anything, more interested in the prices of producer goods, intermediate goods such as materials, parts and energy, used in the production of other goods, which the Bank of England doesn’t even claim to be trying to affect. In fact, the level of consumption is more affected by the level of business investment than it is by the Bank Rate since when business is booming consumption goes up and when there’s a slump it goes down.

Nor does there seem to be much evidence that changes in the Bank Rate do have the intended effect on consumption. In his 22 October blog Michael Roberts quotes a study which concludes: ‘It is difficult, however, to find empirical evidence that households do indeed raise or lower consumption by a significant amount when interest rates change.’ But, even if they did, it is difficult to see how this would affect the general price level. The Bank of England could only do that by inflating the basic money supply.

Can there be ‘non-reformist’ reforms? (2022)

Book Review from the December 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Against Borders. The Case For Abolition by Gracie Mae Bradley and Luke De Noronha (Verso, 2022)

The recent furore caused by a Tory politician referring to migrants entering the UK as ‘an invasion’ has brought to the fore the whole question of borders and ‘bordering’. Most people of course take for granted the idea that borders are natural and permanent, that we are all ‘citizens’ of a certain state, which gives us the right to live and work there and also to keep out citizens of other states who may be considered unwanted or undesirable for one reason or another. Few question the idea that a state needs to have borders, often well-policed ones, to enable such exclusion to take place. Disregard of such borders by people from outside seeking to enter provokes vexation or hostility among many and is easily used as part of a political party’s agenda to court support and popularity.

Life for migrants
Those from outside who do manage to get in by irregular means are subjected to a rigorous process of ‘assessment’ before a decision is taken on whether they are ‘genuine’ refugees or asylum seekers who might be in peril if they returned to their home country, or whether they are just ‘trying it on’, ie, attempting to gain entrance simply for economic or other reasons deemed non-legitimate. Anyone who has been involved with trying to assist asylum seekers knows just how precarious an existence they lead in the period of their assessment, sometimes lasting a number of years. They live a life on the edge not knowing from one day to the next whether or when they will suddenly be taken to a detention centre to face deportation to a place where their life may be in danger.

On the positive side, this prompts a significant number of people to come forward and assist these individuals in a practical way and to show them fellow feeling and humanity. And there are others who in a sense go further and seek to make the case more generally against the use and very existence of borders as a way of excluding people and putting barriers in the way of their seeking other and hopefully better lives. An example of this mainly with reference to the US was the 2021 book by Todd Miller, Build Bridges Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders (recently reviewed in this journal) and now, focused on the UK, we have Against Borders. The Case For Abolition by Gracie Mae Bradley and Luke De Noronha (Verso, 2022).

Borders and the nation state
Both these books present a powerful set of arguments against the nation state, the system it supports and the suffering it causes, even if neither takes the arguments further by advocating in a specific way not just the abolition of borders and states but, as the Socialist Party does, of money, wages and the whole of the profit system. This is a pity because they are all pieces of the same intricate jigsaw that make up the capitalist system.

There are, however, points in their book in which Bradley and De Noronha seem fully conscious of this. They advocate, for example, ‘transformation of the conditions to which borders are a response’, ‘a world without borders’ without ‘the false promises of race and nations’, and abolition of ‘the nation-state system’. They also say that they are for ‘rejecting the dreary and paralysing politics of reformism’. But, at the same time their practical recommendations remain on the level of working for certain kinds of reforms within the current system, which they label ‘non-reformist reforms’, and for ‘government policies that are less bad’. They take this ‘non-reformist reform’ formulation from the French writer and theorist AndrĂ© Gorz, who, in the 1960s, argued for ‘revolutionary reformism’, ie, seeing some types of reforms as being both of immediate benefit to workers and at the same time somehow laying the ground for revolutionary change (he was an early advocate of the so-called ‘guaranteed basic income’). Like Gorz, they see fights for these reforms as ‘trials of strength’, small wins which would allow movements to build power and momentum. They state that ‘the task of distinguishing these ‘non-reformist reforms’ from reformist ones is vital, while also, however, admitting that there can be a fine line between the two.

‘Non-reformist’ reforms
What are the ‘non-reformist reforms’ around border control that these writers say we should now aim for as a prelude to a world in which borders are abolished? Examples they give are: equal access for refugees and asylum seekers ‘to essential goods and services’ and ‘labour rights and protections’ regardless of immigration status; an end to deportation for ‘foreign’ offenders found guilty of crimes; an end to Home Office policing of refugees and asylum seekers; fewer resources expended on immigration control. All this as a prelude to aiming for something more, a world in which everyone has the freedom to move and to stay – something which we can only applaud.

However the obvious comment that these ‘non-reformist’ proposals prompt is not that, perhaps with much effort, lobbying and the rest, they are impossible to achieve but that, even if they were achieved and this made a significant difference to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, they would do nothing to address the wider imperative of abolishing the borders between nation states which the authors rightly see as controlling and defining people and fuelling nationalistic and racial divisions. Nor would they do anything to remedy the widely differing levels of access to the necessities of life that make capitalism a profoundly unequal society. What they certainly would do is take up a massive amount of time and energy on the part of those campaigning and almost certainly distract attention from the fundamental task of replacing a society dedicated to profit to one based on the satisfaction of needs. Also, though there is of course no denying that certain reforms can be beneficial to migrants and to workers generally, it is also the case that, just as one government may decide to bring them in, another may decide to revoke them and so take us back to square one.

System change not reforms
So reforms, even if labelled ‘non-reformist’ (or, as some may call them, ‘progressive’), cannot resolve the basic contradictions of a system organised for the benefit of a wealth-owning minority not for the majority who have to sell their energies to an employer for a wage or salary. Indeed reforms may even serve to perpetuate that system by lending it temporary respectability and acceptance in the sense that it may seem that improvements are being made and that should be enough. Of course it is not enough and it may easily make those involved in such activity lose sight of – and so actually impede – the essential socialist objective of a moneyless, leaderless world society of voluntary cooperative work, free access to all goods and services and truly democratic organisation. Why prolong the agony?
Howard Moss