Friday, March 1, 2024

Nordic socialism: is it a thing? (2024)

From the March 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Joining the Socialist Party is straightforward. You have to understand and accept the Party’s view of the system of society we live in – capitalism – and want to replace it with a different system of society – socialism. By capitalism we mean the current world system of producing goods and services for sale on the market and for profit rather than directly for use – something involving money and wages, buying and selling, a small number of humans owning most of the Earth’s resources and a vast majority of non-owners having to sell their energies for a wage or salary to survive. By socialism we mean the direct opposite of this. We mean a new world-wide system of producing goods and services cooperatively and democratically for use not profit, free access to all those goods and services and so no need for money or wages.

Socialist states? This should be pretty clear from even a cursory reading of any edition of the Socialist Standard or from looking at the wide range of information available on the Party’s website. Yet, among those interested enough to apply for membership, there are some who express the view that that there’s such a thing as ‘Nordic Socialism’, that somehow countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark or Finland, have a system of society that is different from other Western countries and that can be called ‘socialism’. This emerges in particular when applicants applying to join online fill in the website questionnaire, one of whose questions is ‘Has socialism been established in any part of the world?’. This is in no sense meant as a trick question but is simply a request for applicants to affirm that they understand that socialism is essentially a world system or it is nothing.

But what is the rationale some people find for considering the Nordic countries as somehow ‘socialist’? After all, if you’re prepared to apply to join an organisation which holds that socialism must be a world-wide system, then it should be clear that the idea of a socialist ‘country’ or ‘socialist countries’ is a contradiction in terms. Yet the ‘socialist’ label for the Nordic ‘bloc’ has clearly found a place in some people’s minds. So where does it come from?

Social democracy
Well, it isn’t that unusual to find references (confused in our view) to ‘Nordic socialism’ in both political discussion and in written sources, as a simple Google search will evidence. This arises, among some of those who put forward the idea and so contribute to its spread and acceptance, from the fact that the term ‘social democratic’, which is often used to describe Nordic societies and has connotations of benevolence, tolerance and progressiveness, is easily confused with ‘socialism’. It is true that, in terms of social development and organisation, the Nordic countries are more advanced than most. Their democratically elected governments have on the whole managed to run their market and buying and selling system more smoothly and with relatively less conflict than many other similar countries. They have managed to do this in a way that has produced profits for the class that monopolises the wealth – the capitalist class – while at the same time allowing that vast majority of workers who need to sell their energies for a wage or salary a somewhat more benign and less precarious existence than experienced elsewhere. Their relatively advanced systems of universal health care and social security reflect the need for a capitalist economy to have a relatively healthy workforce in order for the capitalist system in those countries to function as efficiently as it can.

Not that this removes in any substantial way the fundamental wealth inequality between the two classes in society – capitalists and workers -, nor indeed does it eliminate the usual ills of capitalism – poverty, unemployment, crime, nationalism (eg, current United Nations figures show one in 10 children living in poverty in Finland). But it does create a social situation that generally appears more stable and less volatile than in other advanced Western capitalist countries. Having said that, of course, in no shape or form can it be called socialism. More correctly, as someone has written, ‘the misinterpretation of the Nordic model as socialist stems from a superficial analysis of its welfare policies’ and what, in the words of another commentator, we have in reality is ‘a blend of free-market capitalism and an extensive welfare state’.

Socialism anywhere?
So if, to the question on the online joining page ‘Has socialism been established anywhere in the world?’, someone wishing to join the Socialist Party answers along the lines of ‘Yes, in the Nordic countries’, we would want to discuss that with the applicant and ask them to have a rethink in the context of what we mean by socialism. We would also want to emphasise, in order to avoid any possible misunderstanding, that we would be equally averse to the label of ‘socialism’ being applied to states of any kind, including those state capitalist dictatorships, such as Cuba, China, Vietnam or North Korea, which only too readily give themselves that name.
Howard Moss

Cooking the Books: Two questions answered (2024)

The Cooking The Books column from the March 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard
An enquirer from Vietnam has asked us (and others) a couple of questions on Marxian economics. Here they are with our reply.
1. Does the commodity value come mainly from demand, market evaluation and utility, not from labor? (explain labor theory of value v/s marginal value theorem)

A commodity (as a product of labour produced to be sold) does have to be useful to sell but its price is not related to its usefulness. Water, for instance, is more useful than gold but this is not reflected in their respective price. Nor could a commodity’s price be determined solely by the paying demand for it as supply conditions have also to be taken into account. A stable price for a commodity arises when supply and demand are equal, as Marginalist theory notes, but this tells us nothing about what that price will be. For this we need to look at what it costs to produce the commodity.

No capitalist enterprise is going to produce something to sell unless it recovers the commodity’s money cost of production plus a mark-up for profit. The cost of production to a capitalist enterprise is the labour embodied in the materials and machines the enterprise has to buy to produce it and the wages paid to those working at the final stage of its production. These wages, however, represent less labour than the labour the workers add through their work. The part of the added labour that is not paid for – the surplus value – is the source of the capitalist enterprise’s profit.

So, a commodity’s value, reflected in its price, does depend on labour. It is not quite as direct as that, though, as a commodity’s market price will not normally be an exact reflection of its value due to the averaging of the rate of profit (see the answer below to your second question) but it is still related to the labour required to produce it. Gold is more valuable than water because it needs more labour to produce it.

2. Do employers, business owners, corporation boss… (capitalist class) earn money and create profits from their efforts in marketing and managing their companies… (choose market output with great needs), from the difference in value and price of goods (increased due to consumer demand after being marketed by the boss). Therefore, the capitalist class gets rich on its own merit, not through the exploitation of surplus value by the working class (workers) and the workers’ wages are fair for their labor.

No, the source of profits is surplus value created by workers, not necessarily by the workers that a particular capitalist enterprise employs but from that created by the working class as a whole. Capitalist enterprises compete to obtain a share of this in the form of profits on the capital they have invested. Competition has brought about a situation where each capital ends up tending to make the same rate of profit through capital having moved from less profitable to more profitable fields of activity.

Some capitalist enterprises can make more profits than others depending on how astute they are in anticipating trends, cutting costs and marketing their products. To this extent, the actual profits a particular enterprise makes can reflect the knowledge and experience of its managers (these days capitalists themselves don’t normally manage their business themselves) but the source remains surplus value created by the working class. The managers can justly claim that their skills have brought in more profits, but the skill is in capturing a share of surplus value not creating it. The capitalist class as a whole does not get rich from this; in fact could not as there are losers as well as winners — some individual capitalist enterprises get more in this way but at the expense of others.

Compulsion (2024)

Book Review from the March 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mute Compulsion: A Theory of the Economic Power of Capital. By Søren Mau. University of Southern Denmark. 2019

Mau was interviewed by Jacobin in February 2023. In it he confirms the summary of his argument in the introduction to the interview, headlined ‘Capitalism Makes Everyone Bend to Its Will, Rich and Poor Alike’:
‘In his new book Mute Compulsion, Søren Mau argues that to understand and end capitalism, we need to analyze how it not only subordinates the poor to the rich but in fact exerts economic power over everyone — including capitalists themselves’ (
Mau argues that what maintains capitalist rule is not just physical force (threatened or actual) and ideology (brainwashing) but also ‘economic power’. He sees this as an impersonal form of power, an expression of the logic of capital that every market agent (not just workers but capitalists too) in capitalism is subjected to through the impersonal operation of market forces.

This of course is something we have long said and is in fact the basis of our case that capitalism cannot be reformed to work in the interest of the majority class of wage workers. Not only capitalist firms but governments too are subject to the ‘logic of capital’ enforced through market competition which dictates that priority must be given to profits and the conditions for profit-making. That reformist governments can’t escape this ‘mute compulsion’ has been confirmed time and time again.

Despite the jargon (it’s based on his PhD thesis) it’s actually quite a good read (

Oh no, another vanguard (2024)

Journal Review from the March 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

The first issue of The Communist, subtitled ‘Towards A Revolutionary Communist Party’ appeared on 24 January, the day Lenin died a hundred years ago.

A picture of Lenin appears on seven of its 16 pages. There are also articles by and about him. Trotsky gets only one mention and no picture. It is not clear on what basis they have calculated that they will do better calling themselves ‘communists’ with Lenin, hammer and sickle and the rest rather than posing as left-wing ‘socialist’ members of the Labour Party from which they were expelled – against their will – in 2021. Their paper used to be called Socialist Appeal.

Strange, because their origin is the part of the Militant Tendency that stayed in the Labour Party when the other part left and tried to steal our name but ended up being known as SPEW. Their late leader, Ted Grant, had always taught that Trotskyists should stay in the Labour Party until the revolution started as that’s where workers would, apparently, turn when they began to become more radical.

Maybe his successors feel that ‘the revolution’ is imminent. Some of the articles and headlines suggest that they might.

We are told:
‘It is becoming increasingly clear that capitalism has reached its limits … the deepening crisis of world capitalism …Under capitalism we are heading for disaster.’

‘Capitalism is in a profound crisis. Millions of workers and young people are drawing revolutionary conclusions, and are looking to the ideas of communism.’
Millions?! Nobody else seems to have noticed this and they themselves claim only 1,100 members.

The editorial ends:
‘We need a fighting communist leadership in the working class. That is what we are building.’
No thanks. The working class needs that as much as a hole in the head.

Action Replay: Hitting the spot (2024)

The Action Replay column from the March 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Darts received a great deal of publicity recently when 16-year old Luke Littler came second in the world championships, something hard to imagine in other sports. But, as always, there is a lot more to be said about the background to this.

Officially it is the Paddy Power World Darts Championship, and it’s held in front of a loud boozy crowd at Alexandra Palace. It is run by the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), a name which certainly makes clear its status as a capitalist business. The PDC emerged back in the 1990s after a dispute between a number of professional players and the British Darts Organisation. Its chair is Eddie Hearn, who also chairs Matchroom Sport, which in addition promotes golf and table tennis, among others. Mind you, there’s also a separate world championship run by the World Darts Federation.

There may be around fifty full-time professional darts players, who can make substantial earnings via prize winnings, exhibitions and sponsorship; Littler received £200,000 for second-place in the PDC championship. But many would-be professionals really struggle to make ends meet. Owen Slot (Times 23 December) spoke to a number of players at the PDC championships. One was a plumber: he ‘fixed a burst pipe and repaired a kitchen sink in the morning, then won his match in the evening’. If you’re well down the pecking order, say the world number 100, you might earn £25,000 over two years, so it’s hardly surprising that many keep their day job as well as trying to make it in darts. One man decided to return to Australia after losing in the second round, as he just could not pay the bills.

Quite apart from the meagre returns to most, darts involves a great deal of stress, with each game being a one-to-one contest, requiring masses of concentration and mental strength. No wonder so many fail to make it. As Slot says, ‘you only need to fall slightly off the edge to find yourself tumbling back to your job’.

So the darts world is almost as insecure as employment generally under capitalism.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Tory and Labourite agree (2024)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Simpletons in the Labour Party who take at its face value what the Party says about the Tories and about itself will expect the outcome to be, on the Tory side, a publicity campaign to prove that capitalism is really quite all right as it is, and, on the Labour side, a promise to end capitalism. Barbara Castle tried to comply a few months ago by asserting that Labour was the only party “committed to remove capitalism” (Times, 3rd July 1973). But the reality is quite different, as will be seen from two speeches by party leaders published in The Times and the Financial Times on 2nd February. One speech (Times) was by the Tory, Mr. Peter Walker, Secretary for Trade and Industry. The other (Financial Times) was by Mr. Edward Short, deputy leader of the Labour Party.

The interesting thing about the speeches is that most of Walker’s speech could have been put over by Short, and vice versa. The speeches have a common theme — a promise to keep capitalism but to give it a facelift. First the Tory:
“A transformation of the capitalist system in the next 25 years was forecast yesterday by Mr. Peter Walker. Secretary for Trade and Industry . . . He said that in Western Europe a big part of the system consisted of free enterprise and private capital. A dramatic period of change was beginning. In Britain, the government had done much already to transform the basis of capitalism, yet it had passed almost unnoticed.”
Now the Labourite:
“He warned that the next Labour administration must arm itself ‘to act decisively’ when any company or industry fell short of what the national interest demanded and this would involve ‘a major change in the capitalist system’.”
The two had no disagreement about the method. “Much greater public control over industry would be necessary’’ (Short). “We are doing this . . . by the power of the State — a new kind of interventionism’’ (Walker).

Both indicated that there was no intention to end capitalism, but with subtle differences of emphasis. Walker intends to make capitalism “more responsible, more responsive, and therefore stronger”, while Short said that “the assertion of control would be partly by an extension of public ownership where it was absolutely necessary . . . and by planning agreements between the Government and some of the major companies”. Lest this should sound rather too drastic, Mr Short reassured his listeners by explaining that the latter means “a system which has been very successful in France”, and that “most industrialists [are] public-spirited people who would co-operate”.

[From the article, 'Tory and Labourite agree' by Edgar Hardcastle, Socialist Standard, February 1974]

SPGB March Events (2024)

Party News from the March 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our general discussion meetings are held on Zoom. To connect to a meeting, enter in your browser. Then follow instructions on screen and wait to be admitted to the meeting.

SPGB contesting the Greater London Assembly elections (2024)

Party News from the March 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party is planning to contest two seats in the elections to the Greater London Assembly on 2 May – Camden & Barnet and Lambeth & Southwark. Together, they have an electorate of over 870,000.

The campaign – leafleting. hustings, etc – will be in April. Offers of help to or London Branch, Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 UN

George Galloway’s ‘Workers Party’ (2024)

From the March 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Rochdale by-election on 29 February was prompted by the death of the previous Member of Parliament for that constituency. From 1972 onwards the seat had a mix of Liberal and Labour MPs. Labour no doubt expected an easy win there, which they may have achieved under pressure, even though a previous Labour MP, expelled from that party and then representing Rochdale as an Independent was standing for the Reform party. Their slogan is ‘Let’s Make Britain Great’, an obvious nod to Trumpism.

Also standing was George Galloway of the Workers Party of Britain (WPB), formed in 2019 by himself. Their slogan is ‘Building a New Working Class Politics in Britain’. Galloway was a Labour Party member for thirty-six years, and while presenting himself as radically left he is essentially a Fabian.

We write this before the result of the by-election is known but the odds on Galloway winning did shorten a little after the official Labour Party candidate got himself into trouble with his own party for remarks he made.

Based on media coverage it did appear that Galloway was concentrating on canvassing support based upon his long-standing support for the Palestinian cause and his complete antagonism toward Zionism.

The WPB Manifesto says:
‘The Workers Party of Britain is a socialist party but we are not Utopian, nor are we bound by abstruse theory. We have a common-sense analysis and a practical mission. The Workers Party is committed to the redistribution of wealth and power in favour of working people’.
Not the abolition of capitalism, note, but change within capitalism.

Their Manifesto goes on to list ‘some things we can do immediately’.
‘We will immediately increase the personal tax threshold for the poorest paid, removing tax entirely from the first £21,200 of wages for two million low-paid workers, and at the same time we commit to a one-off wealth tax on all estates valued fairly at over £10 million to make a start on redressing the colossal gap between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population.’
Yup, truly revolutionary. Amongst other irrelevances to the working class:
‘Rebuild British industry… to provide useful secure jobs for all…’

‘We support campaigning to preserve the right to use cash.’

‘We will ensure working-class representation throughout the governance of the Bank of England.’
So much for the claim to be ‘a socialist party’ and the commitment ‘to offer a long-term and well-organised socialist alternative to the corrupt Labour Party…’

Despite all the firebrand rhetoric Galloway just wants to reform capitalism, which is no doubt trembling in its boots at the thought of him being a Member of Parliament.
Dave Coggan

Blogger's Update:
Galloway did indeed win last night's bye-election. 

Editorial: The coming change of office-holders (2024)

Editorial from the March 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

For those who follow what is called ‘politics’ — what goes on at Westminster — times must be interesting. The Labour leaders are expecting to become ministers before the end of the year. The Tories seem to be in meltdown. The SNP are in difficulty. The Brexit Party is reviving as Reform UK. Pro-Palestine Muslims are planning to stand candidates to take votes from Labour. Who will win or lose and where?

This is not real politics. Real politics is the perpetual conflict between the state-backed wealthy class who own and control the means of living and the majority working class who don’t. Westminster politics is a side-show about which individuals and groups of individuals get elected to parliament to run the central administrative structure of capitalism, though you wouldn’t think it was just this from the extravagant claims made about how they can also control the way the capitalist economy operates.

Both in theory and in practice, governments cannot do this. Capitalism can only work in one way: as a profit-making system in which the aim of production is to make a profit, an aim enforced on both enterprises and governments through unpredictable and uncontrollable market forces which they can do nothing about except comply with.

Westminster politics is just about individual politicians successfully climbing the greasy pole, or sliding down again, and about which group of careerists gets the juicy government jobs.

Parties have to convince people to vote for them. As part of the game, they make various promises about how they will manage the capitalist economy.

But this economy moves through continuous cycles of expansion and stagnation or contraction. If a party happens to be in office during a period of expansion it claims that this was due its policies or its competence at managing the economy. If, on the hand, it happens to be in office during a period of stagnation or contraction it claims to have been ‘blown off course’ and the opposition party blames the situation on the mistaken policies and incompetence of the governing party.

This latter is the position today with the opposition Labour Party banging on about ‘14 years of Tory misrule’. The Tories have indeed shown an obvious degree of incompetence (from a capitalist point of view) but this is not the reason why real living standards have stagnated over the period. Even if they had displayed competence this would still have happened.

It’s not the Tories that are the problem. It’s capitalism itself. And it is certainly not Labour that’s the solution — their plan to make capitalism work as they promise is destined to fail too. What is required is not a change of office-holders but a complete change of society from one based on class ownership and production for profit to one based on common ownership and production directly to meet people’s needs, from capitalism to socialism.