Monday, December 29, 2008

The Conflict in Gaza

An immediate ceasefire is to be desired. The victims of conflict are always the working class who will be injured or killed, who will live in fear whilst it is ongoing, who will see the birth of even more hatred.

The real solution to the continuing carnage in Gaza and the wider area is for Palestinians and Israeli workers to understand their class position and recognise they have more in common with one another than they do with their ruling classes, be they Israeli or Hamas. Two States, One State or similar is not a solution. Zionism and other nationalisms (compounded by religious superstitions) only divide the working class.

"The workers have no country, they have a world to win" is as true a maxim today as it was in 1848. But such an internationalist position will only emerge when workers adopt the socialist position.

Within the tormented area of the struggle Arab and Jewish workers have already given evidence of where the chains rub them by the strikes that have taken place against Jewish, Arab and alien masters. These Jewish and Arab workers form the vast mass of the population of the territories involved; they are the poverty-stricken exploitable material without which neither the Jewish nor Arab capitalists and landowners, nor outside capitalists, would be able to reap their harvest of profit from those rich areas.

Industrially and commercially Jewish capitalists have been the progressive force. They have brought highly developed Western methods to a backward area, and in places have made the desert bloom. But with Western methods they have brought Western forms of wage-slavery and expanded under cover of nationalist ideals. For the Arab and Jewish worker neither Arab nor Jewish national independence will remove the mark of subservience from their brows. Their only hope of a life of comfort and security lies in joining with their brethren of other countries in a world socialist movement to overthrow capitalist domination in all its forms and establish Socialism in its place. Only a world Socialist system can remove from society the machinations of the oil and other capitalist interests that periodically turn the world into turmoil and bring greater misery to the millions of the workers.

(from an article "Palestine and its Problems", Socialist Standard, June 1948.)

The SPGB published a pamphlet in 1947 called The Racial Problem: A Socialist Analysis. (.pdf file.) It has three chapters on anti-semitism and Zionism which provide useful background information.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Is the World Slump Over Yet?

In 1994, David Perrin reviewed a book which argued that the worst had yet to come in the then present world economic crisis. 14 years later, "ring of truth" comes to mind. - Gray

The Great Reckoning by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg (Pan, London, 1994 £7.99), subtitled "How the World Will Change Before 2000", aims to be prophetic. It forsees rocketing taxes, worldwide stock market crashes, a further fall in the property market, a collapse of the welfare state, social disintegration writ large, petty nationalist squabbles and terrorism.

The odd thing is that its authors are both gung-ho supporters of the very system - capitalism - that is capable of unleashing such horror, and find no contradiction in their position. They view the economic basis of capitalism as being fundamentally unstable, yet their advice is only to those already wealthy enough to be able to use their capital to their own advantage in the coming economic crunch. No talk of revolution here.

Nevertheless, The Great Reckoning is a fairly sophisticated book, which is unusual for one that prophecies a Doomsday scenario. Central to its analysis is its prediction of a 1930s-style economic crisis from which other dangers will follow. Davidson and Rees-Mogg claim that there are two main reasons why the world capitalist economy is in for a major period of slump. One is taken from the Austrian Physicist Cesare Marchetti who has spent time analysing the penetration of innovations and products in the capitalist economy. Marchetti dispenses with price-analysis and deals only in physical quantities, claiming that the penetration of commodities into markets can be equated with the spread of living species. He has, for instance, argued that the growth and spread of motor-cars into Western Europe can be explained by the same logistic equation that describes the penetration of, say, rabbits into Australia. Ten years ago Marchetti claimed that most of the markets that provided the spur for the post-war economic boom, like motor-cars, had become saturated. This, he reasoned, would mean economic slowdown.

Economic Slowdown

Marchetti'a argument doesn't fully take into account that technological innovation is itself a spur to capitalist growth and that the "old" industries are forever being replaced by new ones - and continue to be so. If capitalism is true to its development so far, the industries supposedly at the point of market saturation today will be heard of only in history books in the future. It should also be noted that devices exist - from proverbially "reinventing the wheel" to built-in obsolescence - which ensure that the long-term growth in cars, televisions and many other lines of production continue apace. There used to be near-physical market saturation for black-and-white TVs, but did that stop growth in the market for television? - Hitachi, Sony and Ferguson are testament to the fact that it did not. The manufacturers replaced black-and-white with colour, then brought out VCRs, then replaced colour mono with colour stereo, then stereo with surround-sound. Market saturation disappeared in a flurry of pound notes and dollar bills.

In truth Davidson and Rees-Mogg have a far better argument than Marchetti's to justify their view of the major world economic slowdown. Their second, more plausible view, is that capitalism is currently drowning in an ocean of debt:

Debt cannot go on compounding faster than output forever. At the rate it expanded in the United States in the 1980s, interest payments would consume 100 per cent of GNP by the year 2015. No such thing will happen. Long before debt reaches that extreme, it will be wiped away...One way or other we expect a great reckoning. A settling of accounts. We expect the long economic boom and credit expansion that began with World War II to come to an end. The end, when it comes, will not only reveal the insolvency of many individuals and corporations, it may also bring bankruptcy to the welfare state and breakdown of authority within political economies.


There is more than a grain of truth in this. In many world economies, debt is compunding at a faster rate than income and total world indebtedness, by every yardstick that can be named, was heavier at the start of the present slump than at the beginning of any other. In the United States alone the rate of debt to national GNP is now 195 percent, compared with 120 percent before the 1929 crash.

History has demonstarted that sustainable recoveries only begin when a considerable portion of debt built-up during the boom has been liquidated. If debt liquidation is insufficient, growth will remain sluggish even when "recovery" has supposedly begun, such as at present. Davidson and Rees-Mogg estimate that the amount of debt still to be liquidated during this slump in the US is three to four trillion dollars-worth.

The extension of credit effectively delays the onset of capitalism's periodic economic crises only to make them worse when they finally occur. In all economic booms some industries over-extend their operations in the pursuit of further profits and find that they have overproduced for their particular markets. A case in point in the present slump was the commercial property sector.

Perilous Situation

While some industries get into difficultie, other sections of the owning class find that their profits are increasing. The banks, acting as intermediaries between the buyers and sellers of money capital, lend out their accumulated capital to the enterprises in difficulty to keep them going. But this cannot generally correct the fundamental disproportion in growth between the industries and uneven expansion in relation to market demand. Through knock-on effects in industry overproduction spreads and the demand for money capital rises, pushing interest rates up. In this way, the mechanisms of credit extension in the capitalist economy papers over the underlying weaknesses in the productive sphere and buys firms some breathing space before the crisis comes - and this usually comes when the demand for credit is highest and interest rates are at their peak. However, the ultimate outstanding debt increases through this process, requiring a much greater "correction" in the slump as capital assets are devalued to bring productive capacity back into line. The result is not merely an industrial slump, but a financial, banking and property crash as well, as in the 1930s.

Davidson and Rees-Mogg see this as the present outlook for world capitalism. Mounting corporate, government and personal debt has placed the world economy into its most parlous situation for decades. They are all too aware that the only way out for capitalism, sooner or later, is a financial reckoning which will bring about a growth in poverty, a reduction in social welfare programmes and possibly more armed conflict between nation states.

Their analysis of the situation ends there. There is no prescription for how the slump can be avoided - e must just let it wash over us. The authors are completely blind to how the world might be organised to avoid financial slumps, without the market mechanisms which causes them in the first place. They dismiss the Soviet Union's model of capitalist planning out of hand, as well they might, but in doing so claim that this proves socialism to be an impossible dream. Particularly crass is a chapter on the fall of the Eastern Bloc - which socialists predicted - containing the assertion that this demonstartes the failure of Marxism. Indeed, some of the cooments in this chapter, like the assertion on page 188 that workers exploit capitalists rather than the other way around, defy rational analysis and are completely at variance with the otherwise coherent account presented. But, of course, the likes of Davidson and Rees-Mogg want workers to think that there really is no alternative to capitalism, however bad it may be, and that, despite everything, workers still get a good deal out of the system. Unluckily for them some of us know different.

Dave Perrin. Socialist Standard, August 1994.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Alternative Queen's Speech

(A text to be read before the real thing on Christmas Day.)

I'm speaking to you today from Sandringham - or is it Balmoral? No matter, it is one of the big houses or palaces I own and every Christmas Day I intrude on whatever enjoyment you might be having to foist a boring speech on you which is supposed to strike a thoughtful, humane note among the celebrations. I'm sitting in a sort of study and behind me is a window which opens onto the lush estate where my house stands.

I own these places because I'm a very rich woman - in fact about the sixth wealthiest person in the world and I'm worth about £3,340 million. Although I was born into this wealth and have never known what it is like to be poor, I shall be talking to you as if I was the sort of ordinary, everyday mum you're likely to have a chat with in the bus queue or in the doctor's waiting room or at the supermarket check-out. Except that I am the mother of the nation (for my recent ancestors it was the Empire) unless Margaret Thatcher manages to take that bit over as well.So for this broadcast I compose my face into the maternal expression - calm, caring, perceptive, wise.

A lot of people seem to believe it is my speech, all thought up by me. Well I do have a say in it but it's really what the people I work for tell me to say. I'm what is called a constitutional monarch - I do what the government tell me - and if I kick over the traces I will end up like my Uncle Edward.

Whatever is in my speech the media will report it as if it's really profound, earth-shattering, historical. They'll dredge through the frigid platitudes in the hope of finding some small nugget of humour, or controversy or intelligence. Then they'll blow it up into a big headline - "Queen Says War's A Killer", that sort of thing. I don't blame them; media people are like everyone else - except those like me - they have to work for a living.

In case my speech comes over as too boring and trivial I try to touch on some real problems which you might be experiencing. Like being homeless or struggling with life in a slum or in a high rise or battling to keep up with the mortgage on a regimented semi somewhere. This is a bit of a cheek, coming from someone who owns these big houses but I can't let on about the real housing problem - like shopping at the supermarket or having to queue for the doctor it's part of the wider poverty of all who work for their living.

This being Christmas I have to say something about children, to fit in with all that schmaltz about liitle faces aglow around the tree and so on. I drop hints that childhood is not like that - about violent, broken families, drugs, crime, dead-end years in comprehensive schools. It wasn't like that for my children; they had the best of everything, their schools carefully chosen and their whole lives based on the confidence that they would never want for anything. Perhaps that's why I get so upset at all those news items about Koo Stark and so on.

I often refer to problems abroad which, I say sadly, are casting such a blight across the joys of this great Christmas festival. Like war, famine, epidemics - always easy to talk about because they are going on somewhere all the time, wiping out millions every year. I pretend they're like social quirks which would go away if the Christmas spirit- peace on earth, goodwill to all, and so on - were allowed to last all year. Some people might be awkward and ask about these problems being knit into the fabric of the social system which awards these great privileges to me and forces degradation onto you. But they're obviously suffering from a lack of Christmas spirit.

And that brings me to Christmas itself. All those singing cash registers. All that rubbish being sold. All that nonsense spouted from pulpits and in programmes like this one. I try to forget that Christmas is only a short break in the routine, year-in year-out, exploitation, poverty, conflict and insecurity which you endure and the wealth and capital accumulation which keeps me so cosy. That's what destroys people's hopes, distorts their lives, represses them, kills them. And I'm one of its most prominent figureheads.

But I mustn't go on like this. My job is to encourage the most massive diversion of your attention from reality into a circus world of noise and colour. Remember my wedding? My coronation? The jubilee? The weddings of my children? You loved them all, they made you forget where you stand in the social order, what your lives are really like. And that is what I'm supposed to do, in this Christmas Day broadcast for example.

Well it's been nice getting this off my chest - a change from the usual twaddle. Oh, there's something else... Merry Christmas Suckers.

Socialist Standard editorial, December 1988.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Is Socialism Still Relevant?

That is the title of an article by Guy Sorman in the "Comment is Free" section of Saturday's Guardian.

The article does not deal with that question at all. Instead we are (yet again) given a rehash of the confused notions of what socialism is. For example:

European socialists have failed to address the crisis cogently because of their internal divisions. Born anti-capitalist, these parties all (to greater and lesser degrees) came to accept the free market as the foundation of the economy. Moreover, since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet system, the left has lacked a clear model with which to oppose capitalism.

When any old party is labelled "socialist" and the author feels under no compulsion to define the term or why the parties he thinks are socialist, what chance any meaningful attempt to answer the question posed?

For definitions, cogent articles on the economic crisis and arguments on why socialism is relevant, make your New Year's resolution a subscription to the Socialist Standard!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

ANC & COPE want to keep you in chains

South Africa has a new political party called Congress of the People. But given that "..it is expected to adopt many of the policies pursued by the ANC government under Mbeki", COPE, as it is otherwise known, is perhaps best not described as 'new' but rather an ANC re-tread.

Whether therefore voters in the next election choose one congress or the other is moot. One can hope that the garlic & vinegar days of HIV/AIDS treatment are over and the new government will not be tempted to follow Zuma's example of HIV prevention (taking a shower after unprotected sex with an infected woman) as an excuse for abandoning effective but costly treatment with antiretrovirals. A recent study by Harvard researchers estimated that the ANC are responsible for the premature deaths of 365,000 people earlier this decade.

But is there any reason to think that that there will be no more billion $ arms deals ('dodgy' or otherwise), a reduction in the hundreds of thousands of homeless people, less xenophobia, better sanitation, etc? No. The horrors of apartheid have passed, but economically South Africa is still one of the most unequal countries in the world. Almost all the land, mines and industry remain in the same (mostly white) hands. Almost half the population lives below subsistence level. Unemployment is widespread; children scavenge on dumps and landfill sites from sunrise to sunset seven days a week. Life expectancy is falling (a drop of 13 years since 1990) as AIDS, drug-resistant TB and other diseases spread.
Little wonder then anti-aparthied activist Rassool Snyman felt compelled to state:
"They never freed us. They only took the chain from around our neck and put it on our ankles."

Zuma said recently that the ANC would be in power until Christ's second coming. In reality, this is probably a desire for a electoral system such as that in Turkmenistan where the turnout reached 93.87% in the election for 288 candidates, all of whom support the policies of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Whatever, if Mosiuoa Lekota of COPE is to be believed "Public servants now talk in whispers when they discuss COPE. They report that they risk their jobs if they are seen to befriend us. Tales of spying on each other, as under apartheid, on who attends COPE meetings, abound" and "Songs threatening or encouraging the hatred of and the killing of COPE leaders have been composed and are sung at meetings,".

True liberation for the workers of South Africa and across the world will not take place before they act consciously and democratically (i.e. without leaders) to shed the chains of wage slavery.

Monday, December 15, 2008

“Crass Keynesianism”

That’s how the German Minister of Finance, SDP member Peer Steinbrück, has described Gordon Brown’s attempt to spend Britain’s way out of the Depression that’s already started. He’s right. It is. But at least Brown is trying to carry out the policy the Labour Party, heavily influenced by Keynes, adopted at its 1944 Conference:

“If bad trade and general unemployment threatens, this means that total purchasing power is falling too low. Therefore we should at once increase expenditure, both on consumption and on development, i.e. both on consumer goods and capital goods. We should give people more money and not less, to spend. If need be we should borrow to cover government expenditure. We need not aim at balancing the budget year by year." (Full Employment and Finance Policy).

The trouble is that when the last Labour government tried this in the slump of the mid-1970s it didn’t work and the Labour Prime Minister of the time, James Callaghan, had to declare that it was no longer an option. It didn’t work either when President Mitterrand of France tried it to get France out of the slump of the early 1980s. All it led to was “stagflation” (recession + inflation) and to the devaluation of the currency (which has already begun this time here).

Brown is justifying his policy on the grounds that the money the government is spending is coming from borrowing. Not quite, according to Anatole Kaletsky, the financial journalist and commentator, writing in The Times (11 December):

“Where will the money come from? As the US Congress prepares to vote on a multibillion auto bailout and governments around the world pledge sums running into trillions to prevent a 1930s-style economic collapse, this obvious question is being asked by taxpayers and opposition politicians everywhere, from David Cameron's Tories to Trotskyites in France.

For the next year or two, the money for the British fiscal stimulus will come from the Bank of England's printing works in Dedham. In the case of the far bigger job-creation schemes and industry bailouts planned by Barack Obama, the money will come from the Washington and Fort Worth facilities of the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing, an institution rejoicing in the most succinctly descriptive internet address I have encountered: www.moneyfactory.gov.

There is nothing wrong with printing money – and plenty of it – in a period when prices are falling, property and stockmarket values are collapsing, banks are paralysed and the only assets that savers are willing to invest in are pieces of paper issued by the government.
Printing money and spending it on public works or on tax cuts, far from being profligate or imprudent in such conditions, is the only responsible thing for politicians to do. This is what Keynes demonstrated in 1936 in his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, which is one of the main reasons why there has not been a genuine depression in any capitalist economy since he published that revelatory book.”

The claim in the last sentence is very much open to question (otherwise, why the slumps of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s) and it can be doubted if Keynes really was that “crass” a Keynesian. He was, however, in favour of trying to prevent the general level of prices falling in a slump by inflating the currency. But what is not open to challenge is that “printing money – and plenty of it” has been the main cause of the non-stop rise in the general price level that has gone on in Britain since the first Keynesian budget was adopted in 1940.

Gordon Brown imagines that he’s saviour of the world, but he’s likely go down in history not only as the man who vainly boasted to have ended the boom-bust-slump cycle but as yet another leader who tried and failed to spend the way out of slump. Capitalist production will only begin expanding again when the possibilities for making a profit out of it return. For this to happen stocks must be cleared, inefficient businesses go to the wall and wages fall as a result of growing unemployment. That’s the way capitalism works and there’s nothing governments can do about it – except making matters worse, or as Marx put it, “Ignorant and mistaken bank legislation . . . can intensify this money crisis. But no kind of bank legislation can eliminate a crisis” (Capital, Volume III, chapter 30).

ALB

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The class struggles in Sark

Sark, one of the Channel Islands, was the last part of Britain to have a feudal system of government with political power in the hands of hereditary landowners. Some years ago two jumped-up capitalists, the Barclay brothers who own the Daily Telegraph, The Spectator and other press titles, moved there and financed a campaign, which went to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg, to get the old regime overturned. It was, and for the first time democratic elections to the law-making body were held on Thursday.

The rich capitalists had their own list of candidates, but they didn’t do well, with supporters of the outgoing feudal Seigneur winning a majority of the seats. Defeated at the polls, the capitalists immediately used the power that money rather than land gave them and shut down their businesses on the island to punish those who hadn‘t voted for them

Which shows that capitalist talk of “democracy” still is, as it was in the 19th century, just a way of trying to transfer political power from the old landed classes to themselves. A change of masters for the common people, just as it was in the French Revolution. But the people of Sark preferred the devil they knew to the devil they didn’t. And we can all see that capitalists believe in democracy only as long as they get their own way.

ALB

Friday, December 12, 2008

Boom and Bust

Poor old Gordon Brown. He must be thinking, when he is not saving the World (sic), the longed for PM job was not all it was cracked up to be after all.

Not only are those humourless Germans after him with regard to the present state of the economy, the Tories have been after him too. They reminded him of his oft said promise, when he was Chancellor, of Labour never returning to the boom and bust we had under the Tories.

The boom and bust attack is typical opposition talk. Britain did have recession (defined in academic terms as two consecutive quarters of decline in GDP) under the Tories lest they forget. The Tories are merely trying to make political capital from the situation.

Many years ago, I rang in to a Sky News phone in. Alas, the ever lovely Natasha Kaplinsky did not give me the chance to come back on my point to the Labour man, who was the guest.

I put it to him that capitalism is an inherently anarchic system of production and Browns statement on boom and bust was just so much spin. The politicians do not control capitalism and sooner or later the system delivers a bust.

The Tories, like Labour, do not base their views on boom and bust (of course) on the theories of Karl Marx - theories that are proving themselves of far more weight than their waffle.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Contamination Inc.

The presence of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in animal feed and pork samples from Ireland was confirmed on Saturday afternoon. This is the latest reported example of food adulteration. You do not need to have been paying close attention to the news in order to think of others, whether it is the near 300,000 children in China who became became ill as a result of consuming dairy products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. or the delightfully monikered Maggot Pete, who sold contaminated chicken from a rat-infested and sewage-ridden factory in Denby, England. But such adulteration, not to forget the related human and animal suffering, is far from new:

“In London, there are two sorts of bakers, the “full priced”, who sell bread at its
full value, and the “undersellers”, who sell it at less than its value.
The latter class comprises more than three-quarters of the total number of
bakers (cites report). The undersellers, almost without exception, sell
bread adulterated with alum, soap, pearl-ash, chalk, Derbyshire stone dust
and other similar agreeable, nourishing and wholesome ingredients (Marx
cites another report). Sir John Gordon stated before the committee of 1855
that ‘in consequence of theses adulterations, the poor man, who lives on
two pounds of bread a day, does not now get one-fourth part of nourishing
matter, let alone the deleterious effects on his health.” (Capital Vol 1
Chapter 6: The Sale and Purchase of Labour-Power, Page 278, footnote,
Penguin edition).

Simply put, adulteration = more profit and competitiveness, a
natural part of capitalism.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Lech Walesa & the Killer King

Workers in Poland including one Lech Walesa once struggled against an undemocratic, unaccountable Stalinist bureaucracy. Fast forward several decades to a scene in that country which beggars belief: the one time Solidarity leader giving a prize named after himself to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for his contribution towards "inter-faith dialogue, tolerance, peace and international cooperation", and his charity work. The goal of the €100,000/$126,500 Lech Walesa Prize is to "reward those who work for understanding and cooperation among nations in the name of freedom and the values of Solidarity".

Does the giving of this prize suggest alternate realities exist? The Saudi Arabia we know about is one where people are detained and tortured without trial, homosexuals are beheaded, adulterous women executed, trade unions and non-muslim religions are proscribed and where the death penalty awaits those alleged to be guilty of a hundred "crimes" Perhaps the prize for Orwellian doublespeak should go to Gordon Brown. Speaking of dictatorial regimes, the prime minister said: "A message should go out to anyone facing persecution, anywhere from Burma and Zimbabwe: human rights are universal and no injustice can last forever." But what are these prizes and diplomatic visits about? Peter Tatchell said of King Abdullah's first visit to the UK in 20 years (during which, of course, he was given the blood-red carpet treatment, and exchanged pleasantries with the Queen and Prime Minister): "The Killer King''s visit is about business, very big business. And under Labour, as with their Conservative predecessors, money-making trumps human rights every time." Correct. Killing is one such business interest and buisness is good. You will recall that in December 2006, the Labour government shut down a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the £40 billion al-Yamamah arms deals, which purportedly involved backhanders of £1 billion being paid to Saudi government representatives. Remember also the deal to buy 72 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter planes from Britain at a cost of almost £4.5 billion.

Needless to say, Brown, Windsor and former trade union leader Walesa are not alone in kowtowing to some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. Blair had a very close working relationship with the leader of the world's number one rogue state George W Bush. Margaret Thatcher thought the moon shone out of General Pinochet's arse. Churchill said of Hitler's coming to power: "The story of that struggle, cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy conciliate or overcome, all the authority of resistances which barred his path". And commenting on Spain in 1937, Brigadier Packenham Walsh stated "Winston says at heart he is for Franco'". Edward VIII, after giving up the throne to marry divorced American Wallace Simpson in 1937, visited Germany and met Hitler, voicing admiration for his policies. He once remarked while on a visit to the USA: "It would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler were overthrown." Another late royal parasite, the Queen Mum, once sent a copy of Mein Kampf to a friend in the pre-war years and noted: "Even a skip through gives a good idea of his obvious sincerity." And so on. Big business, profits and class privilege go hand in hand with corruption, hypocrisy and human rights abuses. True freedom, understanding and cooperation cannot exist in a world of competing nations but only in a world without countries, 'nothing to kill or die for and no religion too'.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Remember Bhopal!

On this day in 1984 thosands of people died after a cloud of gas escaped from a pesticide plant operated by a Union Carbide subsidiary in Bhopal, India. According to wikipedia the total number of related deaths is 16,000, twice that stated in this article from the Socialist Standard.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Marxist-Leninist

On this day in 1961 the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro declared "I am a Marxist-Leninist and shall be one until the end of my life." This phrase is a contradiction in terms and Socialists at the time said so. "Marxist terrorists" is another self-contradictory expression. Why? Well, Marx advocated a universal system
of common ownership and the production of goods and services solely
for use in a world system necessarily based on the widest possible
human consensus and established by conscious democratic political
action, not a Leninist vanguard. Still not convinced? Good - doubt everything, but give serious consideration to the following descriptions of Marxism and Lennism and decide for yourself whether these terms are, as Socialists contend, mutually exclusive.


Marxism

The socialist theory formulated by Marx and Engels and further developed by socialists. Marx regarded himself as having given expression, in theory, to a movement that was already going on; it was the direct product of the recognition of the class struggle and the anarchy of production in capitalist society. Socialist theory arose in opposition to capitalism, but expressed itself in terms of already existing ideas. Marx’s close collaborator, Engels, identified three intellectual trends that they were able to draw upon:

Utopian socialism (Fourier, St. Simon, Owen)
German philosophy (Hegel, the Young Hegelians)
Classical political economy (Adam Smith, David Ricardo)

Socialist theory was a critical blending together of these three tendencies in the light of the actual class struggle.
The utopian socialists provided a constructive criticism of capitalism (its private property, competitiveness, etc.) and some interesting ideas about the possibilities of socialism (dissolving the distinction between town and country, individual self-development, etc.). But, lacking an adequate understanding of the class nature of society and social change, they were unable to see socialism as anything other than an ideal society, one that could have been established at any time. What was needed was a politics that acknowledged the class struggle.

An adequate theory of society and social change is what Marx was to contribute to socialist theory, providing it with a scientific basis. Hegelian philosophy tried to explain history, law, political institutions and so on, in terms of the development of ideas. Marx inverted this method and argued that the explanation lay not in the development of ideas, but in the development of social classes and their material conditions of life. Marx’s method for studying the general process of historical change is called the materialist conception of history.

By 1844 Marx had become a socialist and had reached the conclusion that the anatomy of ‘civil society’ (i.e. capitalism) was to be sought in political economy, in economics. Marx studied the classics of British political economy, Adam Smith and particularly David Ricardo. In Ricardo’s labour theory of value the value of a commodity was said to be determined by the amount of labour used in producing it. Profits, according to some of Ricardo’s followers, represented the unpaid labour of the workers; and so it was said that workers were not paid their full value and were cheated by their employers. Marx’s version of the labour theory of value explained exploitation, not by the capitalists cheating the workers, but as the natural result of the workings of the capitalist market. Marx pointed out that what the workers sold to the capitalists was not their labour, but their labour power; workers sell their skills, but have to surrender the entire product to the employer. Workers are exploited even though we are generally paid the full value of what we have to sell. Marx produced a theory of how the capitalist economy functioned which is still broadly acceptable today.

The Socialist Party has further developed Marx’s theories, and has made plain where it disagrees with Marx. We do not endorse Marx’s ideas regarding struggles for national liberation, minimum reform programmes, labour vouchers and the lower stage of communism. On some of these points the Socialist Party does not reject what Marx advocated in his own day, but rejects their applicability to socialists now. There are other issues upon which the Socialist Party might appear to be at variance with Marx, but is in fact only disputing distortions of Marx’s thinking. For example, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is usually understood in its Leninist interpretation. Indeed, it is a tragedy of world-historical proportions that Marx has been Leninized; what is basically a method of social analysis with a view to taking informed political action by the working class, has had its name put to a state ideology of repression of the working class. Instead of being known as a tool for working class self-emancipation, we have had the abomination of ‘Marxist states’.
Undeterred by these developments, the Socialist Party has made its own contributions to socialist theory whilst combating distortions of Marx’s ideas. In the light of all the above, the three main Marxist theories can be restated as:

The political theory of class struggle
The materialist theory of history
The labour theory of value

Marxism is not only a method for criticising capitalism; it also points to the alternative. Marxism explains the importance to the working class of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use and the means for establishing it. And while it is desirable that socialist activists should acquaint themselves with the basics of Marxism, it is absolutely essential that a majority of workers have a working knowledge of how capitalism operates and what the change to socialism will mean.


Leninism.

According to Stalin, Leninism is ‘Marxism in the era of imperialism and of the proletarian revolution … Leninism is the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular’ (Foundations of Leninism, 1924). Accordingly, this ideology is often referred to as ‘Marxism-Leninism’. This, however, is a contradiction in terms: Marxism is essentially anti-Leninist. But not everything Lenin wrote is worthless; for example, his article entitled The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism (1913), contains a concise exposition of Marxism. Why, then, is Leninism objectionable? Because, for socialists, it is anti-democratic and it advocates a course of political action which can never lead to socialism.

In What Is To Be Done? (1902) Lenin said: ‘the history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness’. Lenin argued that socialist consciousness had to be brought to the working class by professional revolutionaries, drawn from the petty bourgeoisie, and organised as a vanguard party. But in 1879 Marx and Engels issued a circular in which they declared:

‘When the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle cry: The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot, therefore, co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic big bourgeois and petty bourgeois.’

Nor is this an academic point, since the history of Leninism in power shows that allowing elites to rule ‘on behalf of’ the working class is always a disaster. Working class self-emancipation necessarily precludes the role of political leadership.

In State and Revolution (1917) Lenin said that his ‘prime task is to re-establish what Marx really taught on the subject of the state’. Lenin argued that socialism is a transitional society between capitalism and full communism, in which ‘there still remains the need for a state… For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary’. Moreover, Lenin claimed that according to Marx work and wages would be guided by the ‘socialist principle’ (though in fact it comes from St Paul): ‘He who does not work shall not eat.’ (Sometimes this is reformulated as: ‘to each according to his work’.) Marx and Engels used no such ‘principle’; they made no such distinction between socialism and communism. Lenin in fact did not re-establish Marx’s position but substantially distorted it to suit the situation in which the Bolsheviks found themselves. When Stalin announced the doctrine of ‘Socialism in One Country’ (i.e. State Capitalism in Russia) he was drawing on an idea implicit in Lenin’s writings.

In State and Revolution, Lenin gave special emphasis to the concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. This phrase was sometimes used by Marx and Engels and meant working class conquest of power, which (unlike Lenin) they did not confuse with a socialist society. Engels had cited the Paris Commune of 1871 as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat, though Marx in his writings on this subject did not mention this as an example, since for him it meant conquest of state power, which the Commune was not. Nevertheless, the Commune impressed itself upon Marx and Engels for its ultra-democratic features - non-hierarchical, the use of revocable delegates, etc. Lenin, on the other hand, tended to identify democracy with a state ruled by a vanguard party. When the Bolsheviks actually gained power they centralised political power more and more in the hands of the Communist Party.

For Lenin the dictatorship of the proletariat was ‘the very essence of Marx’s teaching’ (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918). Notice, however, that Lenin’s Three Sources article - referred to above - contains no mention of the phrase or Lenin’s particular conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And for modern Leninists this concept, in Lenin’s interpretation, is central to their politics. So, for its anti-democratic elitism and its advocacy of an irrelevant transitional society misnamed ‘socialism’, in theory and in practice, Leninism deserves the hostility of workers everywhere.


Castro also stated in 1961 that "Marxism or scientific socialism has become the revolutionary movement of the working class." In this it could be said that he was not wrong just premature.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The next capitalist frontier

Over the last few centuries, one region of the planet after another has been “opened up” to capitalist plunder. Often rival capitalist powers fought over the spoils of conquest. In the 19th century they had the “scramble for Africa.” In the 21st they are scrambling to control the resources of the Arctic, which global warming and technological advance are making accessible to exploitation (Socialist Standard, September 2007).

Once the Arctic and Antarctic are brought fully under the sway of capital, what next? Won’t that be the end of the story, the closing of the last frontier? There remains space, to be sure. But won’t the costs of extracting resources and transporting them to Earth be prohibitive? So you might think.

In fact, the strategists of the six powers that now have active space programs – the United States, Russia, the European Union, China, India, and Japan – already have their sights on the commercial and military potential of the cosmos.

Helium-3
On 22 October India launched the Chandrayaan-1 satellite, and on 11 November it entered Moon orbit. One of its main tasks is to map deposits of Helium-3 (He-3). This isotope, used together with deuterium (H-2), is the optimal fuel for nuclear fusion: in particular, it minimises radioactive emissions. It is very rare on Earth – according to one estimate, only 30 kg is available – because the solar wind that carries it is blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field. The dust and rocks in the Moon’s surface layer contain millions of tonnes of the stuff.

It has been calculated that a single shuttle flight bearing a load of 25 tonnes (currently valued at $100 billion) would meet energy demand in India for several years or in the US for one year, while three flights a year would suffice for the world (Guardian, 21 October; Tribune, 23 October).

The main problem is extracting the He-3 as gas from the lunar soil. This requires heating the soil to a temperature of 800ºC. in furnaces or towers, using solar power. (Silicon for solar cells is also abundant on the Moon.) To collect enough gas for one load, it would be necessary to process 360,000 tonnes of soil. Nevertheless, technologically this is believed to be feasible; modern furnaces do actually process such huge quantities of material. Some specialists question whether it would be economically feasible to strip mine the Moon in this way.

Despite uncertainties, Indian strategists hope that the Chandrayaan-1 satellite will enable India to “stake a priority claim” on He-3 resources when lunar colonization begins (SkyNews). India’s main rivals in this field appear to be the US, which has “re-energised” its Moon program and plans to establish a manned base by 2020, and also China.

Enough for everyone?
Given the abundant supply of He-3 relative to foreseeable demand, why should India need to compete with other space powers for preferential access? Surely there is more than enough for everyone.

Yes, but some locations on the Moon’s surface are much better for mining than others. Finding the best locations is the main aim of satellite exploration.

First, the nature of the terrain will obviously matter when building bases and installations, whether operated by human workers or robots. It will be a great advantage to have water (ice) available nearby.
Second, it will be least expensive to work in areas where deposits are richest, where the smallest amount of soil has to be processed for each unit of gas extracted.

Third, reliance on solar power for soil heating (and other purposes) puts a premium on those parts of the lunar surface which are exposed to sunlight for most of the time.

These are also the warmest regions (by lunar standards). An example is the Shackleton Crater at the South Pole. India is especially interested in this area, and it is also here that the US wants to establish its base.

Militarisation of the Moon?
Certain places on the Moon are already thought of as “strategic locations.” Thus, the topography of Malapert Mountain makes it an ideal spot for a radio relay station. Near the Shackleton Crater, it enhances the strategic value of the crater area.

Considerations of this kind will become more important in the event of the Moon’s militarisation. This may happen as a result of competition for land and resources on the Moon itself. Or it may happen simply as an extension of existing military preparations: lunar stations may serve as reserve command centres for wars on Earth.

Even if international agreements are reached to constrain the process of militarisation and divide the lunar surface into zones belonging to the various space powers, military threats may arise from “dual use” technologies. Let us suppose, for instance, that instead of mining He-3 a space power decides to generate electricity on the Moon using solar cells and transmit it on microwave beams to a receiving station on Earth. The problem – under capitalism – is that these same beams may equally well be used as powerful weapons against Earth targets.

There will also be potential conflict between the space powers and other countries that for one reason or another are unable to compete in this sphere. Like the club of nuclear weapons states, the space powers may constitute themselves as an exclusive club and think up a rationale for joint efforts to thwart “space power proliferation,” that is, to prevent other countries from acquiring space capabilities. The two clubs will, of course, largely overlap.

Space programs and socialism
It is absurd for humanity to venture into the cosmos while still divided into rival states and still dominated by primitive mechanisms like capital accumulation. Even the first people in space, almost half a century ago, could see that our planet is a single fragile system.

A world socialist community will have to decide which elements of existing space programmes to retain and which to freeze or abandon. National programmes that are retained will be merged into global programmes, eliminating the wasteful duplication inherent in the competition among space powers. Ambitious programs of purely scientific interest may be deferred pending the solution of more urgent problems.
Attitudes in a socialist world toward reliance on space activities may diverge quite widely. Some people may wish to enjoy the benefits of a complex high-consumption lifestyle made possible by He-3 fuel for nuclear fusion and other off-Earth technologies. Others may prefer to avoid the irreducible risks of a space-dependent strategy and solve Earth’s problems here on Earth, at least to whatever extent this proves possible.
STEFAN
(Socialist Standard, December 2008)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Terrorism Inc.

125+ murdered in Mumbai and more today in 'terrorist' attacks from Afghanistan to Yemen. The media has focused on the latest atrocity in India and carried condemnatory comment from leaders across the globe. Interestingly, alongside promises of leaving no stone unturned in the search the perpetrators of such crimes we are reassured that it's business as usual:
"the terror attacks that rocked India's financial capital may depress stocks, dampen tourism and slow new investment, but are unlikely to inflict long-term damage on the nation's economy, analysts and business people said Thursday"
In other words, workers of the world permitting, capitalism will continue. Terrorism too. For the arms manufacturers business is good. But, of course, both sides in any conflict over trade routes, resources or areas of domination need cannon fodder. Our rulers and would-be rulers, past and present (remember the ANC, now responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands?) use the poison of nationalism and religion to cajole or force workers into killing members of their own class. One particularly powerful recruiting agent is poverty Whether it's the king's shilling or the 'terrorist' group's $$,
the only war worth fighting is the class war, and only whem a majority workers across the globe understand and accept this will be able to cast this social system and all its endemic problems into the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

“Commerce is more sovereign than the sovereign” (Karl Marx)

While the Chancellor of the Exchequer was making his pre-budget announcement based on the mere hope that recovery would begin in 2010, Gordon Brown was addressing a meeting of the employers’ organisation, the CBI. If he stuck to pre-released text of his speech he said:

“We have seen in previous recessions how a failure to take action at the start of a downturn has increased both the length and depth of the recession. That was the mistake made in the recessions of the 1980s and early 1990s. To fail to act now would be not only a failure of economic policy, but a failure of leadership” (Times, 24 October).

He was being rather selective in his choice of historical precedents. He forgot to mention what happened in the mid-1970s when the then Labour government did try, as his Labour government is trying today, to spend its was out of that recession – and failed. To such an extent that the Prime Minister James Callaghan had to confess to the 1976 Labour Party Conference:

“We used to think that you could just spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you, in all candour, that that option no longer exists and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting bigger doses of inflation into the economy, followed by higher levels of unemployment” (Times, 29 September 1976).

But Brown also forgot that an attempt was made to try the spend the way out of the 1980s recession. Not in Britain but in France, following the election as President of Labour-type reformist François Mitterrand in May 1981 and his party’s victory in the general election that followed in June. One of their election promises was to abandon the austerity approach of the previous conservative government in favour of:

“a relaunch of economic activity by an increase in the purchasing power of the most disadvantaged and so by a relaunch of consumer goods”.

Sound familiar?

And this is what they did, the first measure the new government took, in June 1981, being to increase the minimum wage, pensions, family allowance and housing benefits and to announce that 200,000 new government jobs were being created. Like Alistair Darling, the Minister of the Economy and Finance hoped to be saved by an early economic recovery:

“We are hoping to anticipate, but in a reasonable way, a recovery in the world economy”.

The world economy’s reply was to force a devaluation of the franc within four months, in October 1981. From then on it was downhill all the way. The following June the government had to devalue the franc a second time, the Prime Minister offering the pathetic explanation:

“the international recovery was not at the rendezvous”.

By October 1982 the Minister of Planning was admitting:

“We must not dream. The crisis we are going through is going to get worse”.

The Prime Minister continued with his inanities:

“The day will come when the recovery will be there”.

In December the Minister of the Economy and Finance confessed:

“It is not us who are the masters of the world. The world goes as it is, it is in the grip of forces that no one can master”.

Then after a third (yes!) devaluation in March 1983 he declared:

“We were banking on an economic growth of 3 percent, but the recovery didn’t come”.

In October 1984 the number of unemployed passed the peak of 3 million (it had only been 1.7 million when Mitterrand came into office).

This failure to shorten and lessen a slump by trying to relaunch popular spending is one of the most spectacular on record. No wonder Brown didn’t mention it.

Brown, Darling and the others may not be around to have to make the abject confessions of failure that Mitterrand’s ministers had to make. But they will have maintained Labour’s record of every Labour government leaving office with a greater number of unemployed than when they took over.

ALB

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Capitalism or Socialism

Political parties of the left, right and centre, claim to be working for the betterment of society. Because society functions in the interests of the capitalist class, it is clear that these parties are then supporting the interests of the capitalist class. History shows us that no matter what these parties say, when elected they administer capitalism in the only way it can be administered - in the interests of the capitalist class.

Each of them has their own idea of how to run capitalism, often stealing the ideas of their supposed political opposites. The reforms that they implement must reflect economic reality. If they do not, they will not get re-elected - until the next party fails to reflect that reality. There is no way that capitalism can meet the needs of the majority, but all of these parties pretend it can if only they find the right plan. None of them have any really new ideas, only rehashed reforms that have failed in the past. Voting for any of these parties is voting for capitalism, forever.

Socialists are therefore hostile, not in the sense of committing violent acts against other parties or their members, but to the ideas of those parties which support capitalism.

Late last week one more was born, the Australian Sex Party. This group might be seen as a joke or part of a campaign, but its capitalist backers are obvious enough:
"Party convenor Fiona Patten, who is head of the national adult retail and entertainment lobby group the Eros Association, said the trigger had been the government's decision to place a mandatory filter on the Internet." But we are perhaps better served by focusing on more traditional, longer established parties, such as those who competed in local and regional elections in Norway last year.

The largest of them is the Labour Party, who, after a brief flirtation with Moscow in the early twenties, embraced conventional reformism thoroughly. Remarkably, given that they have over fifty years of government experience still claim to hold 'a vision of a just world without poverty, in peace and ecological balance, where people are free and equal and have influence on the conditions affecting their lives'. Orwell lives!

The much younger, smaller, and mis-named Democrats profess to be what they are not. The thoroughly democratic Socialist Party, by way of contrast, has never had let alone wanted a leader, knowing that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership.

The Norwegian Progress Party's ideological father is Anders Lange, a campaigner for low taxes and a supporter of apartheid-era South Africa! The Socialist Party has since its inception in 1904 claimed that the establishment of a classless world 'will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex'. With regard to taxation, it is our contention that the burden of payment falls on the propertied class and profits.

The Conservative Party has as one of its policies to increase the number of policemen/women. Great! More jobs for the working class! But viewing working for a wage as a form of prostitution, the Socialist Party want a world of unemployment. And one without police or law. Marx is worth remembering here:
"The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc; and all these different lines of business, which form equally many categories of the social division of labour, develop different capacities of the human spirit, create new needs and new ways of satisfying them. Torture alone has given rise to the most ingenious mechanical inventions, and employed many honourable craftsmen in the production of its instruments."
For more on this see here.

The Christian Democrats are against abortion, and clearly have not read an essay titled "Pro-life" hypocrites. Daniel Ortega would probably vote for them if he could!

The Coast Party wants to keep all resources in Norway, along with key industries etc. in Norwegian hands. This is, of course, utterly irrelevant to the interests of the working class: wage slavery will continue whether the means of production and distribution are owned by 'natives' or not. Has the new class of native black capitalists in South Africa ended crass exploitation? No! That the Coast Party is anti-immigration should come as no surprise. For the Socialist position see here.

The Green Party have yet to learn that pollution, like war, is endemic to the profit system. This issue is addressed here.

Another minor group, the Pensioners' Party, is all in favour of prisons. UK readers may recall the soundbite tough on crime and the causes of crime. Well, as one Socialist Standard article on this subject stated: "Whichever side of the law you're on, whether you're in or out of jail, if you're poor there is one sound-bite that will always ring true: Tough on you."

Red or the Red Alliance are state capitalists who have recently absorbed the Workers' Communist Party. Much can be said about the WCP, but the Norwegian newspaper
Aftenposten's headline from the 28th August 2005 probably cannot be bettered: "They
worshiped Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot".

The Centre Party are actually a left of centre group and coalition members of the present government alongside the Labour Party and Left Socialists. The CP want, among other things, Norwegian soldiers to desist from travelling the world, meeting interesting new people and killing them. The only conflict the Socialist Party supports is the class war.

Venstre, despite their name which translates as left, are a Liberal Party and support the minimum wage. This of course means minimum wages for us - and maximum profits for them.

The Socialist Left Party, the last member of the dirty dozen, apparently want a world without class differences. Here, like their fellows reformists in the Labour Party, they are being utterly Utopian.

The dirty dozen, like political parties elsewhere, seek to con us into continuning to ride their reformist bandwagon. Workers of the world wake up and embark on the revolutionary road to a world of free access!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

NO WORK NO MONEY

No work No money
No money No food
What a life

But it was not like this yesterday Think hard
Think hard

What the world would look like
If we lived without work
To only produce and serve
Out of sympathy and compulsion
Think hard

Think hard
To differentiate between Utopia and Slavery
Before you defend your poverty

Kephas Mulenga

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Capitalism kills

Socialist Courier's latest blog concerns the growing number of people enduring malnutrition or worse in the Horn of Africa. The fact that in some ways this is not regarded as news is a tragic reminder of the futility of reformism. In a world of abundance there is no need for any to go without sufficient food. But what about the 'land of the free'? Last year nearly 700,000 children went hungry there. You can read a more detailed state-by-state report of those going hungry here. Even the Community Food Bank is considering rationing its supplies for the first time. Meanwhile, with more and more workers being killed in wars, the US military machine is hungry for fresh fodder. Starved to death or shot, for capitalism it's business as usual.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Employment is prostitution

"..A pair of British grandmothers from the Women’s Institute—a homely club that is more often associated with cooking tips—made a tour of brothels in the Netherlands, America and the Antipodes: their aim was to find which system was best for the women who worked in the business. Their top marks went to a discreet house in a suburb of Wellington—classed in New Zealand as a “small owner-operated brothel”—where two women offered their services from Mondays to Fridays. “Just like a regular job,” one of the grannies noted." The Economist, 30 October 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"You can bring a horse to water but . . ."

However much "liquidity" is supplied to banks or however much they are "recapitalized" or however low the bank rate falls, unless banks think that the capitalist firms they lend most of their money to, directly or indirectly, are going to make a profit in which they can share they're not going to lend. As they say, you can bring a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

Because of the way it had been financed the initial overproduction in the US housing sector led to a worldwide credit crunch which burst the housing bubble in other countries too. This has led to workers with mortgages having less to spend and to construction and building supplies workers being laid off and having less to spend too, which is having a knock-on effect on other industries and services which has still not yet worked its way through. As a result capitalist entreprises are reluctant to invest at the same level as before because they don't think they could sell all they produced at a profit.

Governments are desperately rushing around trying to think of ways of restoring "business confidence" but basically have no idea whether the measures they are proposing will work. They are just hoping they will. They are now adopting the very same measures which they adopted to try to get out of the slump of the mid-1970s (ie trying to spend their way out) and which they knew failed and which they abandoned, and in fact reversed, to try to deal with the slump of the 1980s. Then, the policy was to cut State spending not to increase it, as is now being proposed again.

So, both increasing and decreasing State spending have been tried to deal with slumps, and both have failed. Not surprisingly, because it's not governments that control the way the capitalist economy works. The government can't doing anything to prevent the coming slump nor, when it comes, to help recovery. Basically it will just have to sit it out and wait for capitalism to go through its normal cycle while trying not to do anything to make things worse. Governments don't control the economy as they claim (and as many believe); they can only react to what the capitalist economy throws at them and navigate by sight while keeping their fingers crossed.

Capitalism will not collapse or breakdown of its own accord. It has to be consciously done to death by political action by the class of wage and salary workers. Until the working class are moved to do this capitalism will continue to stagger from boom to slump and back again.

ALB

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Good Listener

Studs Terkel, a prolific American writer and broadcaster over several decades, died at the end October at the age of 96. His style and approach is well illustrated by the sub-title of his 1975 book “Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do”. Besides the subject of work, he dealt with leisure, family and education, culture and sub-culture. An article partly based on his writings appeared in the Socialist Standard for August 2003.

Some of Terkel’s nine thousand interviews — especially the broadcast ones — were with celebrities of various kinds. But his books were mainly about the life experiences of everyday men and women. He quoted these graphic words of an assembly-line worker: “I stand in one spot, about two or three feet area all night . . . it don’t stop. It just goes and goes. I bet there’s men who lived and died out there, never seen the end of that line.” Or again: “They give better care to that machine than they will to you . . . If that machine breaks down, there’s somebody out there to fix it right away. If I break down, I’m just pushed over to the other side till another man takes my place. The only thing they have on their mind is to keep that line running.”

Terkel also captured people’s memories of the Depression years and the Second World War. Again and again the themes of solidarity and sharing shine through amidst the destitution and suffering. A woman born in 1911 recalls the ’20s in a mining town in Illinois: “we’d go out picnics, we’d go out fishing, all families. Everything for the picnic. And then when you went to the picnic, there was no money exchanged, no commercial, everything like one big family. They’d cook a pot of mulligan stew and everybody’d share out of that. That was a picnic. Today you go on a picnic, what is it? It’s commercial. You buy your ticket, you buy your popcorn, you buy your beer. If you haven’t got a fistful of money, you haven’t got no picnic.”

As Oliver Sacks once said, “There is no one in the world who can listen like Studs Terkel.” Reading his books provides an unforgettable picture of working-class American life and shows that, contrary to what may sometimes appear, American workers are dissatisfied with their lot and more than prepared to fight for better times.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A thank you letter from our rulers

On this day in 1965 a young man immolated himself in front of UN headquarters. He said he was against wars, all wars, and took this despearate measure as a religious act. Nineteen years ago today, the Berlin Wall opened. This weekend there have been ceremonies marking 'the war to end all wars'. What do these events, as well as the recent selection of Obama, have in common? None of them have or will bring about real change, for which the capitalist class is very grateful.

Thank you, loyal subjects, for your show of support now
and all those years ago. Yes we are glad to learn
that the deal we struck when you were fresh out of
school still holds. As you know we give you enough
money to live on, raise a new generation of wage
slaves, as well as the opportunity to buy fantastic
consumer items such as the jerry built house, the car
which will poison and kill you, foreign holidays
(where you can flaunt your pride in our country) and
satellite tv to kiss that troublesome mind goodbye
(although if you are religious, this has probably
already been achieved). But, devoted supporters of
the status quo, perhaps you are concerned that not everyone shares your
cherished values. Well, if you feel this is so,
encourage them to emulate your good selves. Here are
some pointers. Do not let them remove their
blinkers. For example, in this way, they will
continue to see that stress & depression (second
biggest killers in the western world) have nothing to
do with the way we live. The depressed, homeless,
etc., are best treated on an individual basis.
Encourage them to accept their lot (be it part of
god's plan or through seeking solace in mind-numbing
satellite tv). Similarly, promote family first
values and leave politics to the politicians - phrases
such as 'that's life' and 'human nature' are adequate
explanations for war, starvation, global poverty,
pollution, etc. There are of course some people who
refuse to resign themselves to the way things are;
labels such as idealistic or utopian are appropriate
here. But should the worst happen and someone dear
to you becomes a leftie, do not worry - it is just so
much hot air. Oh, yes, whatever you
do, do not listen to dangerous fanatics who say that
instead of producing things for sale and profit, we
should produce things to satisfy our own needs. Do
not listen to the extremists who say we could and
should take control of our own lives and collectively
make our own decisions about work and play. Whatever
you do, do not think, do not debate, do not look at
the world around you, do not question, do not ask
'Why?' That definitely will not change things.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama wins

So the next President of the USA will be Barack Obama. Of course as socialists we know that he is a capitalist politician, the representative of a capitalist party, who will form a capitalist administration to govern the most powerful capitalist country in the world.

And that, as a left-of-centre politician getting support with hints of redistributing wealth to the poorer sections of society, he is going to fail, for the simple reason that capitalism simply cannot be made to work in the interest of the majority of the members of society. It is a profit-making system that can only work as such, in the interest of the tiny minority who own and control the means of production and live off the profits produced by the unpaid labour of the majority.

This said, there are two points that can be made.

First, the rapidity with which ideas can change. A few decades ago it was unthinkable that a man regarded as “black” could be elected President of the USA by an a predominantly “white” electorate. It is only about fifty years since most “blacks” in the South were allowed to vote and that segregation was ended. In some States the union of Obama’s mother and father would have been illegal. But now, under the pressure of experience, such prejudices have been abandoned by a majority of people in America. We can look forward to the time when same thing happen to the pro-capitalist prejudices still held by the majority.

Second, the much higher turn-out shows that when people judge, rightly or wrongly, that what is at stake is important they are prepared to turn out and vote. We’ve seen this before in other circumstances, even if there too the issue wasn’t really as important as the majority judged. But they thought it was, and acted on this. In other words, that voting is a way in which a change in consciousness from pro-capitalist to socialist will express itself, despite what the “anti-parliamentarists” say.

ALB

Monday, November 03, 2008

Read Sod All About It!

The Happy Page

The Sun newspaper should be no more abhorrent to Socialists than any other capitalist propaganda rag. In a spirit of intellectual equanimity I occasionally take the wretched organ along with more sober rags of the ruling elite in order to gainsay and refute the views of supporters of the profit system.

Now, as the world capitalist system moves inexorably towards another catastrophic slump it behoves the class traitor scribblers of the “popular press” to divert our attention from the problems facing us as a consequence of capitalism’s irresolvable internal contradictions.

But don’t worry - The Sun says...

“The pound crumbles, the economy tumbles and Gordon Brown finally rumbles that we are heading for the big recession.
So to take your mind off the sad economic tidings there are plenty of cheery stories scattered throughout The Sun.
And for uninterrupted fun turn to Page 20 our new Happy Page.
If you have any stories or photos that will raise British spirits why not send them to us and do your bit in the War against Gloom effort.”
(Sun, 23 October

Socialists have long understood the function of the reactionary media in the intellectual conditioning of capitalist society. The workers of the world are bombarded by propaganda on a myriad of fronts. In the last 30 years The Sun has cornered the market in combining “politics“, gambling and tits with criminal and celebrity witch hunts.

I won’t elucidate upon the contents of Page 20 of the first Happy Page The Sun published on Thursday, October 23, 2008. It certainly did not make me “Happy” and I have no compunction to promote the contents of such a craven publication on this blog.

This item is intended no more as an attack upon The Sun newspaper as it is upon the more apparently “learned” daily journals such as the Guardian, Independent or Telegraph. The point I wish to make is more general. Whilst the world working class is entering a period in which there will be a sustained, angry and possibly violent attack upon our meagre living standards and individual rights by the Ruling Class, we must challenge the “official” media at every turn.

At this time the fanciful notion that “taxpayers money” is being used to stave off Capitalist crisis is being promulgated by the mainstream media. Whilst, in reality the capitalist class is using State Funds generated on the backs of the labour of ordinary workers to salvage the remnants of the profit system and to provide them with a surplus. Right now the capitalist media are wresting all their capacity in support of the New Austerity project of the ruling elite.

Catastrophists and environmentalists of many persuasions have engaged with left-leaning liberal apologists for capitalism to argue that the Earth and world society is being destroyed by human endeavour. This Socialist maintains that nothing could be further from the truth. Meanwhile, as the “Real Economy” goes into recession and people lose their jobs, homes and belief in the future of their communities we are exhorted by The Sun to turn to page 20 and have a chortle as workers’ lives under capitalism crumble around our ears.

The reasons for the failings of capitalism, and the potential to resolve the problems caused to people under the grip of the system are often very near to the grasp of workers’ thinking, both individually and collectively. My trajectory towards Socialist consciousness began as a very young man witnessing the “shaking out” of staff at R.M. Douglas Construction Ltd of Birmingham in 1992. I saw proud middle-aged, “company” men, some with over 25 years service, cry openly as they were told they were surplus to requirements for the firm.

So, as the reality of Capitalist recession imposes itself once more on the already beleaguered working class the last thing we need to do is to read “Happy News” on Page 20 of The Sun newspaper.

What is required is an unremitting critique of the capitalist system that divides, exploits and marginalises us from our collective Humanity. That is where a Socialist consciousness is founded. In due course such an outlook will lay the basis for a new form of society in which such monstrosities as The Sun newspaper’s “Happy Page” will be recorded for posterity in the popular imagination as one of the ruling class toe-rag’s refuges of last resort.

Andy P. Davies

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Professor of Dismal Sciece

Everyone wants to know is Barack Obama a socialist? Well, one might be forgiven for thinking so judging by the two million seven hundred and ninety thousand Google results to this question! Whatever, let us suppose you really do want to know - who ya gonna call? Ask whoever you want, and keep asking but be prepared for some confusing and contradictory answers. Perhaps if you are lucky or persistent, you will come across the Crapbusters. They are attracted like flies to anything with a high BS value. A Professor of Economics answering this question about BO in the Christian Science Monitor (sic), is likely to have a Bogus Socialism value that's off the scale. Until the end of last month we were spared such an abortion of socialst understanding.

Professor Boudreaux of George Mason University considers that BO is 'not exactly' a socialist, which is rather like saying that the DPRK isn't exactly democratic. The Professor's next mistake is to say "in the classic sense of the term "Socialism" originally meant government ownership of the major means of production and finance, such as land, coal mines, steel mills, automobile factories, and banks." BS! Actually, the term ‘socialist’ is found for the first time in the Owenite Co-operative Magazine of November 1827, where it stands for a society of common ownership. Marx and Engels used the words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ interchangeably to refer to a society of common ownership.

The Professor's goes on to state that a "principal promise of socialism was to replace the alleged uncertainty of markets with the comforting certainty of a central economic plan. No more guessing what consumers will buy next year and how suppliers and rival firms will behave: everyone will be led by government's visible hand to play his and her role in an all-encompassing central plan. The "wastes" of competition, cycles of booms and busts, and the "unfairness" of unequal incomes would be tossed into history's dustbin." Buy? Rival firms? Government? Central plan? None of these are features of Socialism, which the Professor says has utterly failed. By this he must mean efforts taken by the state to control capitalism's boom & bust business cycles, which is true enough.

Invoking the ghosts of Heilbroner and Hayek does not do the Professor any favours, as their understanding of Socialism is no better than his. Similiary, by saying that the collapse of the Iron Curtain has anything to do with Socialism Bourdreaux is digging himself an even deeper hole. Some countries today, as well as the Iron Curtain dictatorships of the past, have a form of state capitalism. The main features of this system are

· State ownership of the principal means of production.
· Generalised wage labour.
· Generalised use of money and money calculation.
· A relatively free market for consumer goods in the form of agricultural products and light industrial products.
· A market for means of production which is closely monitored by the state.
· Wide-scale planning activity, allocating supplies and directing products within the sphere of heavy industry, setting production targets, fixing prices and directing the flows of capital.
· A sizeable black-market.

Later Boudreaux produces another howler: "socialism's requirement that each person behave in ways prescribed by government planners is a recipe for tyranny." We in the World Socialist Movement stick to our principles and the original meaning of socialism: common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use. What place tyranny? More BS! Wealth we are told results chiefly from risk taking and explains how Michael Dell (you might be using one of 'his' computers) became a capitalist. BS! Wealth is, by definition, a product of human labour, acting upon nature-given materials, that is capable of satisfying needs. This identifies wealth with use-value. But capitalism is a society where wealth becomes a commodity having exchange value also, and sometimes only a socially-bounded use-value that is peculiar to this society – as with nuclear weapons.

So, the really important question is not whether we have Tweedledee or Tweedledum with his finger on the nuclear button, or even if BO is full of BS, but rather if you want to side with the Professor of Dismal Science and his capitalist masters in supporting a global system in which war, waste and want are endemic or strive for its replacement with real Socialism?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Is capitalism crumbling?

Stephen Muchiri, head of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, stated recently that
"The amount of money used for the bailouts in the U.S. and Europe -- people here are saying that money is enough to feed the poor in Africa for the next three years." This estimate seems to be rather conservative as, according to this month's Socialist Standard Editorial, "The sums of money hastily committed to increase banks' liquidity and stabilise the sector would – if used to meet real human needs - ensure not one person need die of hunger for the next 23 years." Read the editorial in full and let us know what you think:

Capitalism has never had such a bad press as the last few months. Countless commentators have given more than a passing consideration to the question, will capitalism collapse? Whilst this hopeful question could be expected to emanate from excitable journalists, and from the rump of what remains of the left-wing throughout the world, it should be noted that the likes of Bill Gates and Nicolas Sarkozy have been asking similar questions.

The real challenge to capitalism however is not so much a challenge to its on-going operation – it will carry on in some shape or form regardless. The last few months are after all nothing other than a "market correction", albeit a pretty big and widespread one. Rather, the challenge to capitalism is one that is of more interest to world socialists.

For us worthwhile social change cannot come about blindly in knee-jerk reaction to events, nor in the role of passive bystanders as events unfold around us. What has become crystal clear over the last few weeks is the extent to which the experts of capitalism, the self-styled "Masters of the Universe" were flying by the seat of their silk monogrammed pants, with little idea what they were actually buying and selling.

Genuine social change will require more than just restricting executives' bonuses, or trying to improve regulation of the financial services sector, as many are calling for. Even when it is working right, even when it is booming, the market system fails miserably to do the one thing it claims as its unique selling point. Far from efficiently sending market signals between supply and demand, between producer and consumer, the market system sends confused, unreliable and skewed information.

And of course there are some areas of demand that the economic system is just not interested in even supplying – because of the low profit returns available. World hunger is one example illustrating how the market operates on the basis of profit, not human need. There can surely be few clearer signs of the priorities of capitalism than the contrast between the painfully slow progress made to address world hunger over the last few decades, and the haste with which politicians around the world have responded to the banking crisis. The sums of money hastily committed to increase banks' liquidity and stabilise the sector would – if used to meet real human needs - ensure not one person need die of hunger for the next 23 years.

Capitalism won’t collapse of its own accord. But for many millions it has never functioned to start with. Instead the market system must be dismantled intellectually, ideologically and democratically. A genuine alternative society must be agreed before capitalism can start to be dismantled in reality, with alternative mechanisms emerging to replace both the market and the state.

If we want to get rid of capitalism we will need to work at it. That's why we exist: to try and help as one small part of that massive process. If you want to help out in that process – if you want to become humanity to become a "master" of its universe – then please make contact, and the sooner we may succeed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Work is good for you - but is employment?

Project to update the estimate of the number of cancers attributable to occupational causes

An important estimate of the overall proportion of cancer attributable to occupational causes remains that put forward by Doll and Peto in 1981 in a report to the US Congress. They estimated that 4% (plausible range of uncertainty 2% to 8%) of cancer mortality was due to occupational causes. This equates to approximately 6 000 cancer deaths per year in Great Britain (plausible range 3 000 to 12 000) or 12,000 registered incident cancers (uncertainty range 6,000 to 24,000). It should be noted that the estimate includes asbestos related lung cancer and mesothelioma. Although, this estimate relates to the US over two decades ago, it remains the best overall estimate available. It is acknowledged, however, that this estimate may now be out-of-date. Consequently work is currently under contract to update and refine the estimate.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/live/index.htm

This info is only 20 years out of date.

The great crash of 1929

From 1979:

Fifty years ago, on Tuesday 29 October, the boom in the price of stocks and shares on the New York stock exchange came to an abrupt end in what has gone down in history as the Great Crash.

Stocks and shares are titles to ownership of part of a business. They entitle their owners to a percentage of the profits of that business in the form of dividends or, in the case of certain kinds of shares, fixed interest payments. In theory the price of a share reflects the value of the firm's assets. In practice it fluctuates with the firm's profit-making record and expected profits. It is this latter that introduces an element of gambling into shareholding, since the firm can never know in advance whether or not it will in actual fact make the hoped-for profits. If it doesn't then the price of its shares will fall and the shareholders will suffer a loss. If it does then the price of its shares will increase and the shareholder will receive a capital gain as well as a dividend.

A stock exchange boom is essentially a period of speculation for capital gains on rising share prices. It need have nothing whatsoever to do with the profit-making record or prospects of the firms whose shares are traded. It is enough that there is a sustained excess of buyers over sellers on the stock market. With prices continually rising, capital gains can be made simply by buying shares one day and selling them the next. A telephone call is all the effort required.

Until October 1929 there was such a boom on the New York stock exchange. Share prices were rising, and everybody expected them to go on rising. Stories of people 'getting rich quick' from buying and selling shares encouraged others to try their luck. Actually, as long as the boom continued it was not a question of luck at all but a matter of having money. If you didn't have ready cash, you could borrow the money to buy the shares. Certainly you needed some collateral, but there were cases of shares already bought on loans - and even of the shares to be bought by that loan — being accepted as collateral.

The trouble with a speculative boom of this sort is that it cannot go on for ever. Sooner or later the excess of buyers over sellers must disappear. Everybody knows this, but investors can't resist the temptation to make easy money.

The Great Crash was followed by a severe industrial depression, summarised by J.K. Galbraith in his very readable book on the subject:

“After the Great Crash came the Great Depression which lasted, with varying severity, for ten years. In 1933, Gross National Product (total production of the economy) was nearly a third less than in 1929. Not until 1937 did the physical volume of production recover to the levels of 1929, and then it promptly slipped back again. Until 1941 the dollar value of production remained below 1929. Between 1930 and 1940 only once, in 1937, did the average number unemployed during the year drop below eight million. In 1933 nearly thirteen million were out of work, or about one in every four in the labour force. In 1938 one person in five was still out of work. (The Great Crash 1929, Pelican, p. 186.)

One school of thought, the monetarists, sees the Great Crash and Great Depression as the outcome of government interference in the 'natural' workings of capitalism. According to them, the stock exchange boom and its inevitable crash were caused by the monetary policy pursued by the US government and central bank (the Federal Reserve Board). What gives monetarist explanations of this crisis, and of crises in general, a semblance of plausibility, is the fact that monetary bungling can aggravate a crisis. And there is no doubt that in the years up to 1929 the Federal Reserve Board, in pursuing a cheap money policy with easy credit and low interest rates, did encourage the stock exchange boom, and so helped make the crash all the greater when it came. A stricter monetary policy might have cut short the boom at a much earlier stage and thus prevented so great a crash, even if not a minor one, but the question is: would it also have avoided the Great Depression?

Here the answer must be no. For a slowing down of economic activity was evident in the summer of 1929, some months before the Crash (a knowledge of this must have been a factor in bringing the stock exchange boom to an end). This downturn was particularly evident in the consumer goods sector, where the firms concerned had overestimated demand and were finding themselves lumbered with excessive stocks. In other words, the depression was going to happen anyway, whether or not there had been the stock exchange boom and crash. More fundamental economic factors were at work than speculations on the stock market or the monetary bungling of the Federal Reserve Board.

An attempt to identify these fundamental economic factors using the categories of Marxian economics has been made by Sydney H. Coontz in Productive Labour and Effective Demand (1965) and by Ernest Mandel.

A depression is the result of an unbalanced growth of one sector of the economy having expanded too fast for the other sectors. Simplifying matters, the economy can be divided into two main sectors, the one producing means of production (sometimes called 'capital goods' or, more accurately, 'producer goods'), and the other producing consumer goods. The conditions for steady, balanced growth under capitalism can then be stated to be:

“The purchase of consumer goods by all the workers and capitalists engaged in producing capital goods must be equivalent to the purchases of capital goods by the capitalists engaged in producing consumer goods (including in both categories the purchases needed to expand production). The constant reproduction of these conditions of equilibrium thus requires a proportional development of the two sectors of production. The periodical occurrence of crises is to be explained only by a periodical break in this proportionality or, in other words, by an uneven development of these two sectors.” (Mandel, Marxist Economy Theory, Vol.1, p.349.)

What happened in America in the 1920s was that the producer goods sector expanded too fast for the consumer goods sector. Production and productivity increased while wages and prices remained comparatively stable. Wages did in fact rise, but the main benefits of the increase in productivity went to the capitalists in the form of increased profits. Most of these additional profits were reinvested in production (though some found their way to the New York stock exchange). It was this that led, according to figures quoted by Galbraith, to the rapid extension of the producer sector as compared with the consumer goods sector:

“During the twenties, the production of capital goods increased at an average annual rate of 6.4 per cent; nondurable consumers' goods, a category which includes such objects of mass consumption as food and clothing, increased at a rate of only 2.8 per cent.” (pp. 192-3)

An expansion of the producer goods sector at a faster rate than the consumer goods sector is not in itself a situation of disproportionate development. Indeed, it has been precisely the historical role of capitalism to build up and develop the means of production at the expense of consumption. But so-called 'production for production's sake' cannot in practice continue indefinitely, since it demands either a sustained series of new inventions and innovations or a continually expanding market for consumer goods.

The relatively full employment in America in the 1920s — unemployment was officially only 0.9 per cent in 1929 — did mean that the market for consumer goods expanded, but the falling share of wages and salaries in National Income meant that this was not going to continue. The expansion of the producer goods sector levelled off, further retracting the market for consumer goods since its workers now had less to spend. Expressed in terms of the formula for balanced growth stated above, the purchase of consumer goods by the workers (and capitalists) in the producer goods sector had come to be less than the purchase of producer goods by the capitalists in the consumer goods sector. In other words, an overcapacity had developed in the consumer goods sector, which expressed itself in an overproduction of consumer goods and the build-up of stocks. As Coontz puts it (using the language of academic economics):

“. . . stagnation in the capital goods industry, the displacement of labour in this sector, meant that worker and entrepreneurial consumption expenditures failed to rise pari passu with investment in the consumer sector. It was this disproportionality that generated the Great Depression.” (p. 154)

The Great Depression — which occurred all over the world and not just in America — was not an accident, but simply capitalism working in a normal way. It exposed capitalism for the irrational, anti-social system that it is. While millions were unemployed and reduced to bare subsistence levels, food was destroyed because it could not be sold profitably. It was in the 1930s that the Roosevelt administration introduced the notorious policy of paying farmers not to grow food, a policy accurately described by a later President, Kennedy, as 'planned underproduction'. Even in limes of boom and prosperity capitalism underproduces, but in times of depression this is even more flagrant.

The Depression eventually came to an end — with the war and preparations war.
ALB
(Socialist Standard, October 1979)