Thursday, February 8, 2024

Voice From The Back: Lady Bountiful’s cast-offs (2001)

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

Lady Bountiful’s cast-offs

The working class are used to being insulted and patronised but the Labour government’s latest scheme to deal with the plight of the unemployed smacks of a “noblesse oblige” arrogance unsurpassed since Victorian times. “Female celebrities are queueing up to give their cast-off designer clothes to unemployed women to wear at job interviews. Potential employers are not too sure about the scheme in which they will be facing job applicants from Liverpool, Doncaster and London wearing Cherie Blair’s Paco Rabane trouser suit, Elizabeth Hurley’s scarlet Versace heels or a grey suit formerly worn by the Duchess of York . . . Tessa Jowell, the Employment Minister is backing the idea and has donated a jacket. Mo Mowlam will follow suit.” Times, 10 November.

Art s(m)ells

“Art today serves no socially worthwhile purpose. It’s an extravagant waste of money. Yes, people die from hunger and poverty every minute, and no work of art has ever done anything to save the world. Cloaca [his machine on exhibition in Antwerp’s Muhka Museum] if fed only our finest cuisine by people who can probably only afford a sandwich for lunch. The end product is both art and yet something we all produce ourselves every day. In a sense we’re all artists” visitors have to hold their noses and staff have gone on strike because of the foul smell, yet, according to the report in Scotland on Sunday, 29 October, . . . “the machine’s daily discharge of 200 grams is bottled, signed and sold for no less than £1000 a time.”

Capitalism is lethal

In this country, one in five girls aged between 13 and 25 has made a suicide attempt (a figure which echoes the findings of American research). More young British men—some 2,000 a year—now die by their own hand than by any other single cause except for car accidents. You magazine, 19 November.

You have been warned

Greg Dyke, boss of the BBC, has recently appointed Jeff Randall to be the BBC’s first business editor. According to Randall, he intends to be consulted on every programme dealing with business. So how did this self-confessed admirer of Rupert Murdoch and former City editor and associate editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times land this influential post? “In May he wrote an article about the BBC’s business coverage that attracted the attention of Greg Dyke. It included the assertion: ‘Running through the Corporation, from top to bottom, like the word Blackpool through a stick of rock, is a liberal agenda set by patronising, middle class, guilt-ridden do-gooders who dominate its corridors.” The article’s pay-off was just as likely to endear him to his new colleagues: ‘It’s about time he looked at the Corporation’s institutionalised bias against free enterprise wealth-creators and did something about it.” Times, 10 November.

Dam worrying

A report this week by the Chartered Insurance Institute on the impact of climate change in Britain is sure to cause alarm. Professor David Crichton of Middlesex University, who helped write the report, said yesterday: “Climate change will lead to an increased risk of dam failure. About half the 2,500 large dams have earth embankments, most of them constructed before heavy soil compaction equipment was available.” He also said that he was concerned at the secrecy surrounding the way that they were maintained. The report will say: “The thoroughness of inspection depends almost entirely on how much the dam owner is prepared to pay and the results are never published, not even to local authority emergency planning offices or the emergency services.”

Bullying, USA

One in six people has experienced some form of workplace bullying by a co-worker or superior, according to the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying, which started a two-day conference yesterday at Suffolk University Law School to bring to light the problem and look for a way to help . . . [R]eports of bullying are on the rise, in part due to the rising awareness of the problem and the profit demands of the new economy. “More of us work in investment-driven workplaces, and many see that as a license to be cruel to employees and do so with impunity,” Gary Namie explained. “What’s more, usually they’re promoted for it.” Berkshire Eagle, 28 October.

Hopping mad

A hopping landmine that can leap up to 10m into the air and fill gaps left by minefield clearance operations is being developed by the American military. With a powerful piston-driven foot, ultrasonic sensors and radios, the self-righting mines will be able to detect the distance to neighbouring mines and sense when some are missing. The remaining mines will then be able to hop around to once more form a regular pattern covering the original minefield area. military chiefs have asked that this be accomplished within ten seconds. Western Australian, 30 September.

Evolutionary pseudo-psychology (2001)

From the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Is competition, leadership, aggression, possessiveness, and social and sexual inequality inevitable? Are they part of our biologically-determined human nature?
Socialists have seen it all before. First it was the Social Darwinists, then it was the Nazis, then in the 1960s books appeared with such titles as The Territorial Imperative, On Aggression and The Naked Ape, then there was sociobiology, now there’s “evolutionary psychology”. All put over the same basic message: competition, leadership, aggression, possessiveness, social and sexual inequality are inevitable; you can never have a society without them as they’re part of biologically-determined human nature.

In reply, socialists have pointed out that the people concerned were not writing as competent scientists but as ideologists serving privileged interests and/or pandering to popular prejudice. In fact the real scientific evidence proved the opposite: humans were of course the product of biological evolution but their particular evolutionary inheritance in the form of a complex brain allowed them to learn and live out a great variety of different behaviour patterns; one key feature of human biological nature was precisely this capacity for flexible behaviour, the capacity to adapt human behaviour to cope with the challenges presented by the natural and the social environments which humans had to live in. Humans can be competitive, aggressive, possessive, etc but we can also be—and are—co-operative, friendly and sharing. Groups of humans have lived in conditions of social equality in the past and so could do so again.

The basic position of the so-called evolutionary psychologists is put by one of their gurus, Steven Pinker, in his book, How The Mind Works:
“For ninety-nine percent of human existence, people lived as foragers in small nomadic herds. Our brains are adapted to that long-vanished way of life, not to brand-new agricultural and industrial civilisations. They are not wired to cope with anonymous crowds, schooling, written language, government, police, courts, armies, modern medicine, formal social institutions, high technology, and other newcomers to the human experience”
If this figure of 99 percent is meant to be taken literally, and assuming that human societies practising agriculture first came into being 10,000 years ago, the “people” Pinker is talking about would be those living about 1 million years ago. These were certainly members of the genus homo, but of the long-extinct species homo erectus rather than our own species homo sapiens. In fact modern humans are generally regarded as not having evolved until some 100,000 or perhaps 150,000 years ago.

The argument is not that the human brain is not a biological adaptation that better fitted humans for surviving, but whether this adaptation was just best for living as foragers on the African savannah or whether it was a more general capacity to adjust to whatever environment humans found themselves living in.

The fact that even homo erectus left Africa to settle and survive in different environments suggests the latter. This is strengthened by the fact that the evolutionary psychologists have failed to come up with any credible theory as to how complicated behaviour patterns such as they speak of could be governed by genes. For that’s what their argument amounts to—that the behaviour pattern appropriate to a foraging life on the African savannah somehow got imprinted on the brains of the species that immediately preceded us and which we modern humans have inherited through our (and their) genes. In fact, it amounts to a revival, with regard to mental characteristics, of the long-discredited theory that acquired characteristics can be inherited.

As a number of contributors to Alas, Poor Darwin. Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (ed. Hilary and Steven Rose, Jonathan Cape) show, this is not how the brain works. It has long been known that the 18th century materialist view such as that of Robert Owen of the mind as a blank sheet on which the environment can imprint anything is wrong; the brain plays a much more active role in the learning process. We also know, thanks to recent advances in genetics and neuroscience, that some capacities (such as the ability to distinguish faces or to tell distance and perspective) correspond to certain parts of the brain. It is this that the evolutionary psychologists—and others who believe that complex behaviour patterns are innate and that there is, for instance, a gene for aggression or for homosexuality—latch on to, but what they ignore is that the brain is not fully “wired up” (to use one of their favourite metaphors) at birth but that this “wiring up” is a process that takes place as we grow up and learn and in fact continues throughout our lives. We are not born with pre-programmed patterns of behaviour. We learn how to behave after we are born (indeed, this starts while we are still in the womb) and in so doing “programme” or “wire up”, or whatever metaphor you want to use, our brains. We are animals that are capable of adopting a great variety of behaviour patterns. The nature of our brain allows us, as participants in a particular system of society, to “programme” ourselves, in ways that neuroscience is beginning to understand in more detail, for living in that society.

This means that it is just as natural for us humans to live in a society with written language, formal social institutions and high technology as on the African savannah. If Pinker and his followers really believe that they are better adapted genetically to living on the African savannah than in contemporary capitalism or future socialist society then there is an easy way to test this: dump them naked in East Africa and see whether or not the “basic instincts” they suppose themselves to have allow them to survive better there than in Boston or Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, Alas, Poor Darwin cannot be recommended as a fully effective presentation of the case against evolutionary psychology. Some of the contributors do set out cogently enough the points made in the previous paragraphs but, unfortunately, some of the other “arguments against evolutionary psychology” are trivial or wrong. For instance, the first contributor merely criticises the form in which evolutionary psychologists present their arguments while the second (a raving postmodernist) criticises not just biological determinism but all determinisms including therefore social determinisms such as the materialist conception of history. Even Steven Rose himself questions the reasonable assumption—in fact the only reasonable assumption of evolutionary psychology—that humans won’t have changed genetically since we modern humans first evolved some 100,000 years ago. And a contribution from a physical anthropologist is a glaring omission.. Someone like Richard Leakey could have delivered a knock-out blow against the evolutionary psychologists in the first round.
Adam Buick

Hunting, Gathering and Co-operating (2001)

From the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Is a change in the basis of society from one of minority class ownership to one of common ownership against human nature?
Are human beings naturally lazy, aggressive, hostile to one another? Or are we by nature friendly and co-operative, ready to help others when they are in trouble and share what we have with them? Or alternatively, does it make little or no sense to say that we are anything very specific “by nature”, since the society and culture we live in play a great part in determining how we behave? Questions like these have been around for centuries, and they are important for the socialist case, for if people are bound to behave aggressively and take more than their fair share, then a socialist society, based on equality and co-operation, is presumably impossible.

The questions we raised above are part of the debate on human nature. One recent academic contribution to these issues is the theory of evolutionary psychology, which attempts to apply Darwin’s way of explaining biological evolution to human behaviour and psychology. Darwin’s theory of natural selection explains how organisms change by adapting to their environment and so becoming more fitted to survive and reproduce. Evolutionary psychology uses the same kinds of arguments in attempting to account for human behaviour and the nature of the human mind which underlies this behaviour. In the words of leading evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, in his book How the Mind Works:
“The mind is organized into modules or mental organs, each with a specialized design that makes it an expert in one arena of interaction with the world. The modules’ basic logic is specified by our genetic program. Their operation was shaped by natural selection to solve the problems of the hunting and gathering life led by our ancestors in most of our evolutionary history.”
This, to take one of Pinker’s own examples, according to evolutionary psychology our disgust at unpleasant food is not due to any innate dislike for particular tastes. Rather, it would be an adaptation that emerged as a safety device: we don’t eat things unless we are pretty sure that they are unlikely to harm us; thus we stand a good chance of avoiding foodstuffs that may well be poisonous—an invaluable trait in a world where humans relied on hunting and gathering but were surrounded by masses of potentially toxic plants and animals.

Hunting and gathering (sometimes known as foraging) is the way that humans lived for 90 percent of our species’ time on earth. People lived in smallish tribes, moving frequently from place to place, gathering wild plants and hunting animals. Money did not exist, nor did any form of government, and there was no distinction between rich and poor. The rise of settled agriculture about ten thousand years ago put an end to hunting-gathering communities in most parts of the world, though some are still just about surviving nowadays.

A lot would seem to rest, then, if the evolutionary psychologists are right, on the nature of hunting-gathering society: if it was essentially peaceful and based on sharing, then the human brain and mind would have evolved to fit in with a peaceful way of doing things, whereas if hunter-gatherers were often violent, then (on the evolutionary psychologists’ view, anyway) our minds are adapted to survive in a violent world. Let’s quote Pinker again, as he makes the political issues here quite explicit:
“One of the fondest beliefs of many intellectuals is that there are cultures out there where everybody shares freely. Marx and Engels thought that preliterate peoples represented a first stage in the evolution of civilization called primitive communism, whose maxim was ‘From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’ . . .
Foraging peoples, to be sure, really do share with non-relatives, but not out of indiscriminate largesse or a commitment to socialist principles. The data from anthropology show that sharing is driven by cost-benefit analyses and a careful mental ledger for reciprocation. People share when it would be suicidal not to . . . warfare itself is a major fact of life for foraging tribes. Many intellectuals believe that primitive warfare is rare, mild and ritualized, or at least was so until the noble savages were contaminated by contact with Westerners. But this is romantic nonsense. War has always been hell.”
Most work in evolutionary psychology takes a similar view, that hunting-gathering society was built around—or at least marked by—power and aggression, and that therefore the human mind has evolved along lines designed to enable us to cope with power and aggression.

More recently, however, an alternative has begun to emerge within evolutionary psychology itself. Andrew Whiten of St Andrews University has argued that egalitarianism, sharing and lack of domination were the most prominent features in hunter-gatherer societies, and that it is this is that lies behind human psychological evolution. In papers such as “The evolution of deep social mind in humans” and “Egalitarianism and Machiavellian intelligence in human evolution” (the latter co-written with David Erdal) he has presented a very different picture from that offered by most evolutionary psychologists. At a recent conference in Edinburgh, Whiten argued that our ancestors evolved through sharing and co-operation in line with socialist ideals, a claim that was even noticed in the press (Times, 19 August). Let’s look a little more closely at his ideas.

Examination of a wide range of studies of present-day hunter-gatherers shows that they share food, especially meat, and that this sharing takes place even when food is scarce. This sharing, Erdal and Whiten argue, occurs because it reduces the risk for all individuals, enabling them to get by on unlucky days, secure in the knowledge that some time soon they are likely to be successful in their own hunting. Sharing means that nobody has priority of access to food, and this ties in with the fact that hunter-gatherer societies lack any kind of dominance or rank. There are no permanent leaders, and anyone who has ambitions for dominance is ridiculed or ostracised. Co-operation extends beyond food-sharing and countering would-be chiefs, as it also involves co-ordination, such as the organisation of hunting expeditions and care for the sick.

Non-human primates (chimps and gorillas) do have dominance hierarchies, so the human capacity for egalitarianism is an evolutionary innovation. According to Whiten possibly people who put time and effort into trying to dominate others found they had less time to devote to foraging and enjoyable leisure pursuits, so the would-be leaders discovered that they were living less well than their more co-operative colleagues. This last part is speculative, but it does help to emphasise the point that humans are different from our closest non-human relatives, so that it is quite invalid to argue that whatever holds for chimps must be valid for people too.

So what does Whiten’s work have to say about the prospects for socialism? The answer is: not necessarily very much. It would be nice if we could conclude that human characteristics, as they have evolved over the millennia, have made us “naturally” egalitarian and co-operative. But what matters is not whether people are naturally like this or not. More important is whether our behaviour, influenced as it is not just by our evolutionary heritage but also by the social conditions we live in and our cultural response to these conditions, can fit in with the idea of a co-operative and egalitarian socialist society. Even under capitalism people often share and work together. Hunter-gatherer societies also show that people can live in a co-operative way, without bosses or governments. It might be nice to bolster this by claiming that humans’ long egalitarian heritage means that we are better adapted to sharing than to competing, but this extra, and more speculative, argument is not really essential.

We may conclude that humans are not condemned to be endlessly competitive or selfish, and that socialism is not contrary to human nature.
Paul Bennett

What is this money thing? (2001)

From the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Below is a report of how members of a society which had evolved beyond primitive communism but still retained some of its features and attitudes reacted to their first contact with the money economy.
The Treatment and Customs of the Governor’s House at Botany Bay as told by Tongan Chief Páloo Máta Moinga and his Wife, Fataféhi to Finow King of Tonga and Chief Filimóëátoo. Recorded by William Mariner, Resident of the Islands for 4 years, to John Martin M.D. Author of “The Natives of Tongan Islands”. Published 1818:

“The first thing he and his wife had to do, when they arrived at the Governor’s House, where they went to reside, was to sweep out a large court yard, and clean down a great pair of stairs; in vain they endeavoured to explain, that in their own country they were chiefs, and, being accustomed to be waited on, were quite unused to such employments: their expostulations were taken no notice of, and work they must, at first their life was so uncomfortable, that they wished to die; no one seemed to protect them; all the houses were shut against them; if they saw anybody eating, they were not invited to partake: nothing was to be got without money, of which they could not comprehend the value, nor how this same money was to be obtained in any quantity; if they asked for it nobody would give them any, unless they worked for it, and then it was so small in quantity, that they could not get one-tenth part of what they wanted with it.

One day, whilst sauntering about, the chief fixed his eyes upon the cook’s shop, and, seeing several people enter, and others again, coming out with victuals, he made sure they were sharing out food, according to the old Tongan fashion, and in he went, glad enough of the occasion, expecting to get some pork; after waiting sometime, with anxiety to be helped to his share, the master of the shop asked him what he wanted, and, being answered in an unknown language straightaway kicked him out taking him for a thief, that only wanted an opportunity to steal.

Thus, he said even being a chief did not prevent him being used ill for when he told them he was a chief, they gave him to understand, that money made a man a chief, after a time, however, he acknowledged that he got better used in proportion as he became acquainted with the customs and language, he expressed his astonishment at the perseverance with which white people worked from morning till night, to get money: he could not conceive how they were able to endure so much labour.

After having heard this account, Finow asked several questions regarding the nature of money: what is it made of?—is it like iron? can it be fashioned like iron into various useful instruments? If not why cannot people procure what they want in the way of barter?—but where is money to be got?—if it be made, then every man ought to spend his time in making money; that when he got plenty, he may be able afterwards to obtain whatever else he wants.

In answer to the last observation, Mr Mariner replied that the material of which money was made was very scarce and difficult to be got, and that only chiefs and great men could procure readily a large quantity of it; and this either by being inheritors of plantations or houses, which they allowed others to have, for paying so much tribute in money every year; or by their public services; or by paying small sums of money for things when they were in plenty, and afterwards letting others have them for larger sums, when they were scarce: and as to the lower classes of people they worked hard, and got paid by their employers in small quantities of money, as the reward for their labour: &c. That the King was the only person that was allowed to make (to coin) money, and that he put his mark upon all that he made, that it might known to be true; that no person could readily procure the material of which it was made, without paying money for it; and if contrary to the taboo of the King, he turned this material into money, he would scarcely have made as much as he had given for it.

Mr Mariner was then going on to shew the conveniences of money as a medium of exchange, when Filimóëátoo interrupted him, saying to Finow, I understand how it is:- money is less cumbersome than goods, and it is very convenient for a man to exchange away his goods for money; which, at any other time he can exchange again for the same or other goods that he may want; whereas the goods themselves may perhaps spoil by keeping (particularly if provisions) but the money he supposed would not spoil; and although it was of no true value itself, yet being scarce and difficult to be got without giving something useful and really valuable for it, it was imagined to be of value; and if everybody considered it so, and would readily give their goods for it, he did not see but what it was a sort of real value to all who possessed it, as long as their neighbours chose to take it in the same way. Mr Mariner found he could not give a better explanation, he therefore told Filimóëátoo that his notion of the nature of money was a just one.

After a pause of some length, Finow replied that the explanation did not satisfy him. He still thought it a foolish thing that people should place a value on money, when they either could not or would not apply it to any useful (physical) purpose: if, said he it were made of iron, and could be converted into knives, axes, and chisels, there would be some sense in placing a value on it; but as it is I see none: if man he added, has more yams than he wants, let him exchange some of them away for pork or gnatoo (cloth); certainly money is much handier, and more convenient, but then as it will not spoil by being kept, people will store it up, instead of sharing it out, as a chief ought to do, and thus become selfish; whereas, if provision were the principal property of a man, and it ought to be, as being both the most useful and the most necessary, he could not store it up, for it would spoil, and so he would be obliged to either exchange it away for something else useful, or share it out with his neighbours, and inferior chiefs and dependants for nothing. He concluded by saying ‘I understand now very well what it is that makes the Papalangis (Europeans) so selfish; it is the money!’ When Mr Mariner informed Finow that dollars were money, he was greatly surprised, having always taken them for Páänga (a kind of bear used in one of their games, they supposed dollars to be used among us for a similar purpose), and things of little value; and he was exceedingly sorry he had not secured all the dollars out of the ship Port au Prince before he had ordered her to be burnt: I had always thought said he, that your ship belonged to some poor fellow, perhaps King George’s cook (at these islands a cook is considered one of the lowest of mankind in point of rank); for Captain Cook’s ship which belonged to the King, had plenty of beads, axes, and looking glasses on board, whilst yours had nothing but iron hoops, oil, skins and twelve thousand Páänga as I thought: but if every one of these was money, your ship must have belonged to a very great chief indeed.”

Two leaflets from the Ukraine (2001)

Blogger's Note:
Blogger's Notes, as a rule, are usually appended to the bottom of an article or a review but unfortunately this is a special case where they have to be pinned to the top of the page.

A wee bit awkward this one, but as the blog is primarily concerned with ensuring that all of the Socialist Standard is online, this has to be included. To cut a long story short the International Young Workers was a fictitious organisation that was set up by members of the Ukrainian and Russian sections of the Committee for a Workers' International (the Militant Tendency's International) to scam political organisations in the West out of funds — and maybe also for their own personal amusement. (Hoodwinking supposedly arrogant Westerners who thought to throw their political nets eastwards to gather up groups under the umbrella of various Internationals.)

Posing as a small group sympathetic to our politics they put out feelers via email and it eventually led to a couple of SPGBers (Danny Lambert and Vincent Otter) visiting the Ukraine, with a return trip being organised in which a 'Semyon Shevchenko' visited Britain, addressing the SPGB's Annual Conference, and formally establishing the  IYW as the World Socialist Party of the Ukraine, a section of the World Socialist Movement. 

In the summer of 2003 we got wind of this being an elaborate scam perpetrated against ourselves and about 10 other political groups, and we took steps to expose the fraud. It turned out that 'Semyon Shevchenko' was in fact a political operator by the name of Oleg Vernyk and he was one of the main leaders of this group and its schemes. It was an embarrassment all round — including for the Committee for the Workers' International — who promptly expelled their Ukrainian and Russian sections. Vernyk's still around, still politicking, and if you search his name on the internet, you'll will find a greyer and older version of the man I met in the early 2000s.

This is just a brief and truncated version of events. There are copious documents online where all the groups scammed have their say, and where the revelation of the scam is played out in real time. (Just type in 'Ukrainian scam + SPGB' into your search engine of choice and fill your boots.) 

I can laugh at it now looking back but it was punch to the guts at the time. We dealt with the Ukrainian group in good faith — as I'm sure did the other groups scammed — and that good faith was taken advantage of.  It happens in life, political or otherwise. (Barltrop mentions similar type attempted political scams in The Monument.) 

I heard on the grapevine that Alexander Payne has bought the film rights to the story, and as long as Paul Giamatti isn't cast to play me — he's too tall — I'm fine with that. (Disregard this last line. Total bullshit.)

Party News from the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
We publish below the English translation (by them from Ukrainian) of two leaflets distributed recently in Kiev, the first to coincide with the anti-IMF demonstrations in Prague in September and the second in November on the 83rd anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia.
Your living conditions are extremely hard and become worse and worse. Average month wage of Kiev worker is $US30 and student scholarship is $US4. At the same time minimal level for live is $US120. Even in accordance with official data unemployment level amounts now about 40 percent amongst people with ages up to 30 years. The level of infant mortality increased in 3.4 times only during last 6 years. This list of disasters may be endlessly continued. From the other hand, bourgeoisie has extremely rich houses, cars, goods etc on the expense of your exploitation for receiving more surplus value. Undoubtedly, IMF/WTO is terrible fruit of capitalism. But we are opposite such methods of struggle. Why? Where is alternative? Why different strikes, pickets and other actions are always unsuccessful? Bourgeois class doesn’t give us even small concessions without a fight. It’s impossible to solve separate problems without solving the main problem. Capitalists are interested in receiving the most possible used value of your labour power, so they’ve never help us, on the contrary, exploitation under capitalism will only increase. It’s economical law of capitalism. So, the capitalism is cause of all our problems, not his separate institutions like IMF/WTO. Only system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of society as a whole—the SOCIALISM, not reform of capitalism, which is impossible, is the solution of all our problems. So, our common task is consistent and resolute struggle for establish the socialism. If you want to know more about socialism—contact us. International Young Workers.

Different kinds of “leftists” say to you that Russian “Revolution” in 1917 was socialist and proletarian, that it opened the road to real Socialism or even Communism. But is it true? Let’s see. Bolshevik minority declared that the policy of Marx and Engels is out of date. Lenin and Trotsky are worshipped as the pathfinders of a shorter and easier road to Communism. By this way they refused from democracy, socialist education of working masses, support of socialist-thinking workers, both Russian and all-world etc. These denunciations by the Bolshevik leaders are quite understandable if we realise that only the minority in Russia are Communists. In February 1917 party included only 40,000 members on the society of 180 million members. In this way Bolshevik’s rule was the rule of overwhelming minority, which with the help of violence and authoritarian dictatorship conducted their power over the people.

We state that because of a large anti-Socialist peasantry and vast untrained population, Russia was a long way from Socialism. Lenin admitted this by saying: “Reality says that State Capitalism would be a step forward for us; if we were able to bring about State Capitalism in a short time it would be a victory for us”. But if we are to copy Bolshevist policy in other countries we should have to demand State Capitalism, which is not a step to Socialism in advanced capitalist countries. All of us know how much disasters State Capitalism in USSR brought to workers. Therefore Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyist etc. slogans like “back to USSR”, “Long live the proletarian revolution 1917”, “Lenin is always alive” etc. are not the socialist and have nothing common with tasks of socialist movement of Ukraine and the entire world.

So, we consider that the 83rd anniversary of Russian “Revolution” in 1917 is the serious cause to think about the experience, that workers class received during these years. Only system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of society as a whole—the SOCIALISM is the solution of all our problems. Capitalism does not operate in the interest of the majority, and can never be reformed so that it does. Until we finally abolish wage labor, we workers will never be free. So, our common task is consistent and resolute struggle for establish the socialism.

If you want to know more about socialism–contact us.

International Young Workers

Letter: Capitalism’s twofold lie (2001)

Letter to the Editors from the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism’s twofold lie

Dear Editors,

At the heart of the capitalist economy was, is and always will be deception. Since capitalist production is based on selling for profit, and not to simply satisfy demand, it relies on two such deceptions for each and every exchange of goods or services. In the first place, in order to sell a quantity of products sufficient to overcome the material cost of production, provide for future expansion of production, and to place profit in the pocket of the owner, it is necessary to sell as many products to as many people as possible.

Unfortunately for the owner of said means of production, the product is at no time needed or desired by all the potential customers needed to satisfy this sales requirement. So it falls on the producers to make as many people as possible believe that they need the product, should ignore any other competitor’s offering and purchase the product immediately. Here we encounter the first lie. Since all of the producer’s goals rest in the success of this lie, modern producers enlist the aid of an advertising juggernaut that will stop at nothing to achieve their aim: to make you believe that their client’s product is absolutely vital to your happiness, success or esteem. One cannot doubt the success of advertising in the advancement of the first lie—you need only to look at the people around you, festooned with the latest brand-name styles, falling over each other to be the first in line for the Next Big Thing, and spouting inane jingles and catchphrases designed to securely place the product image in the back of every dollar-spending head.

If it were sufficient to merely dupe you into purchasing the product against your better judgement by convincing you of the overwhelming advantages of your newly-acquired possession, it would be bad enough. However, the producer, in order to maximize his gain, must again deceive you, the poor consumer, as to the value of the product. This second lie is much more subtle than the first. If advertising in modern times could be equated to the repeated bludgeoning of the consumer into submission, pricing would be much more akin to a stab in the back. The producer is placed in a precarious position: charge too little, and you don’t satisfy your profit margin, charge too much and your advertising was all for naught as the customer walks out the door. Enter markups, price discrimination, collusion and so on.

One cannot dispute the success with which capitalism has mastered the twofold lie. Consumers continue to fall for it with every purchase. People would rather pay over $100 dollars to take a family of four to a baseball game instead of buying a weeks worth of groceries. They pay $18 for CDs which cost $1.50 to produce. They pay $35,000 for a four-wheel drive death trap and drive it while talking on their cell phones. No wonder we can’t pick a president! As holidays become more commercialized, advertising becomes more and more obnoxious and pervasive, and life becomes the stuff we do between trends, one must wonder if we will ever wake up and just stop believing the lie!
Tony Pink, 
USA (by email)

News: Vauxhall closes at Luton, Fishing quotas (2001)

From the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Vauxhall closes at Luton

General Motors’ plan to close its Vauxhall plant in Luton is a devastating blow to the workers involved. Many will be thrown on the scrap heap without hope of ever working again – poverty being their lot.

Despite all the howls of shock, surprise and indignation from certain sections of the bourgeois media, this did not just come out of the blue. It is part and parcel of GM’s rationalization programme to cut production capacity in Europe and North America by 10 percent in an industry which is suffering from chronic overcapacity, ie there is a glut of cars on the market. GM, of course, are not the only ones. We are all too familiar with the tales of woe from Rover (Longbridge), Ford (Dagenham) and South Korea’s Daewoo.

The overall context of all this is the current crisis of capitalism and the increasing concentration of capital into fewer and fewer hands. The last couple of years has seen a wave of mergers and ‘alliances’ in the automobile industry the result of which is that five companies (GM, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Toyota and Volkswagen) account for more than two thirds of global car sales.

Such action has failed to prevent sagging profits. GM lost $l8lm in Europe in the third quarter, which is expected to double in the final three months of last year, according to the Economist.

The Economist also says that as such profit reports have damaged GM’s share price “by rolling together a bunch of radical announcements, GM hopes to show Wall Street that it is serious about bringing its problem children to heel”. The class struggle has not gone away.

Let’s not forget that the working class has also had to endure belt-tightening and ‘social partnership’ (‘we’re both on the same side now’). The workers at Vauxhall in Luton increased productivity and ditched militancy, and their reward was to be sacked for producing too many cars. In short, they have worked themselves out of a job!

The only way to make any sense of this madness is via Marxian economics. Overproduction is a natural part of capitalism’s accumulation cycle, not its antithesis as pro-capitalist economists like to argue. In their competitive search for profit and market share, capitalists over-invest, only to find later that the market is not as big as they first thought.

The bourgeois media hacks may refer to this phenomena, but they cannot place it in any coherent theoretical framework, which is why it is mentioned in the same breath as peripheral things such as fluctuating exchange rates and monetary/fiscal policy. No reformist solution can he found to the madness of capitalism, while the central contradicdon of capitalism remains ie that between socialised production and class monopoly of the means of production.

Fishing quotas

The “invisible Hand” of the market has proved its efficiency once again. On 15 December, EU ministers agreed to heavily reduce fishing quotas within European waters to combat over-fishing. This hasty action takes place after fishing stocks have steadily fallen since records began in 1963. There are reckoned to be 70,000 tonnes of cod in a sea where, in 1970, there were 250,000. The cuts represent the biggest reduction in the EU since the quota system began. The allowable catch of cod in the North Sea has been reduced by some 40 percent, down to 48,600 tonnes per year, and catch of hake has been reduced from 226,000 tonnes per year to just 42,000 tonnes.

Despite having reduced fish stocks to below half the level scientists reckon necessary to ensure recovery of the species, the partisans of business resent having to ease their exploitation of fish. Elliot Morley, British Fisheries Minister, boasted that he had managed to mitigate the scale of the cuts, saying he had saved “£20 million” worth of catch for British fishermen. Meanwhile, industry representatives complained that the cuts were too severe. Representatives of chippies maintain that old fashioned cod ‘n’ chips is not threatened.

So that’s all right then.

It's what we've always said . . . (2001)

From the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

From How the stock market really works by Leo Gough:
"To develop the capacity to discriminate, you must allow yourself to be exposed to new and different ideas that may conflict with what you already know, or what you are constantly being told on radio and television."