Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What is capitalism?

"If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire." George Monbiot

"Capitalism is the natural system of humanity, it's all these small businesses and people coming together to compete. Everyone gets the amount of money they deserve because they've earned it, or if you're poor it's because you're lazy and if you're rich it's because you've earned it. The system works perfectly. It grows as long as the government stays out of the way; technology is just going to make the system better. And it's the only way to organise a society that's not going to be living in caves and rubbing two sticks together."

That's the catechism of those hopeless apologists who support the status quo and advocate the unreal laissez-faire philosophy of no governmental interference with business (as if they are not dependent on governmental interference!), a balanced budget, lower taxes, encourage private enterprise, etc. The libertarian/propertarian desire to eliminate merely the big capitalist is a dead-end, for the small capitalist is continually growing and expanding into the large capitalist.

The guiding principle of capitalism is competition, to make profit out of one’s fellows, and to grow richer than one’s fellows, at the expense of one’s fellows.
Only by buying the worker’s labor power can the capitalist make profits. Workers produce more than what the capitalist pays them in wages and benefits. This is the basis of exploitation of the workers. What the workers produce over and beyond the socially necessary labor for keeping themselves and their families alive and working is surplus value. Surplus value is the only source of profits and is ripped off by the capitalists.
Within the work-place rules a rigid dictatorship where the men and women are transformed into a cogs of the machine, where labour becomes wage-slavery. Outside the workplace economic chaos prevails and people are ruled by prices which they cannot control and by the wild forces of the market of which they can be only victims. It is only through the anarchic fluctuations of supply and demand, booms and bankruptcies, that society “decides” and “plans” its production .

Capitalism is tremendously wasteful and destructive of men, goods, energy, land. The ultimate destiny of all useful goods is to be consumed. Yet under capitalism goods are not produced to be consumed, but for profit, and if a greater profit can be made by destroying the goods, the destruction takes place.

As capitalism develops, larger and larger factories are built, thousands of labourers co-operate in the production of a single article, yet the article does not belong to them but to the owner of the means of production. The laborers are merely paid wages for the use of their labour power, wages which constantly grow less and less in proportion to the total product. Simultaneously the owner of the industries becomes progressively more divorced from the productive process. As small partnerships become big corporations or are driven out of business by the trusts and monopolies, the original entrepreneurs and organisers become mere dividend-takers. The corporation also develops, becomes more and more a public utility. The state begins to take a hand, and to run the industry. The former individual owner has now become a purely parasitic hanger-on.
The greater the productivity of labour, and the greater the amount of production, the greater becomes the surplus product in the hands of the owners, the greater the need for markets, the greater, therefore, the competition among the capitalists, the greater the relative lowering of the wages of the workers, the larger the army of unemployed and paupers, the more vigourous the drive for foreign markets and colonies for exploitation, and the more violent the military struggles to control the world. The greater the internationalisation of markets, the greater the need to have a military machine to defend the market interests, the greater grow the oppressive burdens of the state apparatus, the greater grows the necessity to transform the whole nation into an armed, ruthless, chauvinistic state,
Capitalism sucks the blood of workers and feeds off humanity like a leech.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Price of Profit

Yesterday was Workers Memorial Day when we highlight the bloody toll capitalism inflicts upon us.
In New Zealand a coal mining company, Pike River Coal, was found guilty of nine health and safety violations over a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
A government investigation found the company ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had accumulated to explosive levels in the mine and it was exposing miners to unacceptable risks as it strove to meet financial targets. Each of the charges comes with a maximum penalty of 250,000 New Zealand dollars ($211,000). But since the company is bankrupt, just who will pay the penalty?

Former chief executive Peter Whittall has pleaded not guilty to 12 charges. His case has yet to be heard.

We Are All Leaders

These are not times for reform and tweaking the system. Capitalism is in the process of destroying the Earth. The Socialist Party knows that no leaders are going to pull the workers into socialism. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. Mainstream politics cannot comprehend the absence of leaders in the movement and that it is not a weakness but a strength, testifying to our determination not to be followers.

Forget about looking for leaders. What we need is a movement that rises from the people and empowers ourselves. People need to stop looking up, and start looking around. There is an old adage, if the people lead, the leaders will follow. People need organisations, and people need to come together. But by self-organisation from the root, you will find that you have got no leaders - and do not want them because you do not lead them.

A leader may say “all that our organisation has gained is because of me”. But it is not so. It is not because a leader persuades the government to be nice, but because the actions of mass movements force the government to give back some of what has been taken from us.

Leaders, indeed, will sometimes pretend that they know best and that the movement depends on them. But they can do this only by with-holding knowledge and denying power from others. This is why it is important to make organisations as democratic as possible. The individual leader substitutes for and holds back the capacities of the 'led'. If we rely on one leader, or a group of leaders we are putting ourselves in a vulnerable position because we can easily be misled. Nor is there a leadership to be bought off. A leader comes to symbolise an organisation's cause and projects it on to one individual that his or her reputation and personality comes to represent and embody the cause.

The working class have nothing to gain and everything to lose by relying on leaders.

Leadership is one of those problematic words that needs qualifying. When we say "don’t follow leaders" we mean by this something very specific - a narrow political sense of the term - to denote the idea of surrendering power to an individual or group to change society on our behalf. We are not promoting the false idea that socialism is about "making everyone equal" in their endowments, abilities and so on. There will always exist those who will be better orators or write more lucidly than others.

Structure doesn't necessarily mean a leader. The best examples of organisation historically can be found in the trade union and labour movement at its best. Take, for example, the structures of trade union branches. These are a product of a long tradition of members debating, agreeing and renewing clear, transparent written rules that create a framework of mutual accountability, self-discipline and individual responsibility. They are there on paper, the responsibility of every member, to be used, contested and, once agreed, followed. That is not to deny that apathy and inertia can set in; the rules become a barrier to creative thinking and change; officials become corrupt or complacent. Yet the rules and basic principles remain, always available.

A socialist party must be a party of no compromise. Its mission is to point the way to the goal and it refuses to leave the main road the side-tracked that lead into the swamp of reformism. Nor does a socialist party advocate violence in the labor movement because it knows the capitalist class has the advantage. It is not cowardice but common sense and it is not heroism that makes a fool rock a boat in deep water, it is idiocy.

The capitalist class can gerry-mander elections, miscount and steal votes, plus resort to a thousand and one other political tricks, but such is simply to tamper with a thermometer, it cannot change the temperature. And the temperature is the organised power of the working class.

Power to no one, and to every one!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Scotland's Slave Traders

Socialist Courier has previously drawn attention to Scotland’s role in the slave trade and the fortunes made from it, here and here .
Ian Bell in the Herald reminds us again of that dark period of Scotland’s history.
Richard Oswald trafficked at least 13,000 Africans, although he never set foot on their continent. By the time he bought Auchincruive House and 100,000 acres in Ayrshire in 1764, he was worth £500,000, "roughly equivalent" to $68 million (about £44m).

The mercantile class got rich twice over: despite fortunes made from stolen lives, they were quick to demand compensation when slavery was ended in 1833. Britain's government decided that £20m, a staggering sum, could be raised. Glasgow's slave traders got £400,000 – in modern terms, hundreds of millions.

30% of Jamaican plantations were run by Scots. Few realise that the behaviour of Scots busy getting rich in the slave-holders' empire was actually worse – routinely worse – than the worst of the America’s South cottonocracy. In the British West Indies, only 670,000 survived from two million imported.

Not all the slaves in the 18th century were black. In fact, in Barbados at one point 21,700 of 25,000 held were white. A great many of them, then and afterwards, were Scots who happened to be poor, homeless or political nuisances. Rounding them up and selling them off, especially after the '45, was routine. In the language of the time, and for obvious reasons, these were "redlegs".

To-day, the International Labour Organisation calculates that 126 million children around the world labour in a state of bonded servitude. .

Rich And Arrogant

The arrogance of the extremely wealthy knows no limits. You would think as their wealth comes from the exploitation of the working class they would try and keep their obscene accumulation of surplus value a secret. Not a bit of it. "Britain is now the home of nearly 10 times as many billionaires as we featured in the first Sunday Times Rich List, published in 1989. Their collective wealth and that of all of this year's 1,000 richest has now reached nearly £450bn, the highest on record." (Sunday Times, 21 April )RD

to Bee or not to Bee

Has the Scottish rural affairs minister, Richard Lochhead , fallen victim to the chemical pesticide industry’s vigourous and vociferous lobbying effort against a ban on neonicotinoids. Surely not.

Forget his sympathetic rhetoric about supporting the precautionary principle. A two-year moratorium on stopping the use of this type of pesticide, waiting until the stock-pile of pesticides is used up means two more years of damage to bees and their hives.

Can we expect better from an independent Scotland? Or will it be business as usual for the multinationals?

The class struggle

The strike has long been labour's most powerful weapon. Strikes put pressure on the employer - which needs the employees' labour to run the business - to agree to employees' demands for fair wages and working conditions. Strikes are also a public form of expression. Seeing picket lines in front of a workplace sends a message to the employer, to the public and to the workers themselves. It says that the workers stand together to fight for decent working conditions and that their dispute with the employer is so important that they are willing to lose pay to fight for a fair workplace. It tells the public and other workers that they might not want to patronise, or work for, the employer unless changes are made. Strikes build solidarity among the workers and help them maintain their resolve under the severe pressure of losing income while on strike. Strikes are also an expression of control by the workers, who may feel that the employer treats them as if they were nothing more than a live form of raw materials - human resource.

But against the power of capitalism, strikes by the trades unions are no longer the potent weapon they once were and the political futility of the Labour Party is obvious to all. It could not act (and cannot act) otherwise as a representative of capitalism. The result is that during the last decades the condition of workers has grown steadily worse.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Socialist Challenge

Masses of the people are being ruined by Big Business and their millionaires. Poverty, unemployment and insecurity threatens the majority. There is no need for a single worker to be overworked or in dread of losing his or her job; no reason why an unemployed worker should lack the necessaries of life. All over the world millions of workers are coming to realise these facts and to see that nothing except the existence of capitalism prevents them building up for themselves a decent and stable world. Everywhere the workers are becoming less and less willing to put up with an entirely unnecessary state of deprivation. They are showing themselves more and more determined to insist upon their right to food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families. But to get this, capitalism must be overthrown. To get this, is only possible by the building socialism.

When the fight for their interests has reached the stage when capitalism is being overthrown, then, in order to do it, and in the doing of it, workers will create the required organisations necessary for this purpose. In the moment of need that will arise when the workers are getting ready to take over power, the working class will create its own instruments to hold and maintain its political power. Socialism, that co-operative commonwealth, which has been the aim of generations of working-class will attain its full meaning and realisation with the ending of capitalist rule. The needs of all will be met, and new needs and pleasures now denied to the working class will be created and satisfied by a socialist organisation of production. We have to-day ample resources for producing all the things we need. Moreover, the workers will naturally produce far better and more willingly under their own management than they do now. For the first time workers will know that greater productivity will no longer be a threat to their livelihood but will make it possible to raise the whole standard of living and shorten the hours of labour.

Capitalism is founded upon production for profit. Socialism is based upon production for use. If the owners of the means of production and distribution fail to make a profit, it is in their power to cease production or distribution and the world’s workers may starve.The owners of the means of production and distribution dictate the terms upon which the world may use that machinery. The Socialist Party calls upon fellow workers to join in the overthrow of capitalism by capturing the powers of government and transferring the ownership of the world from capitalism to socialism. With the power of our votes it is within our power to accomplish our own emancipation without the need of physical force.

Still Auld Reekie

The number of Edinburgh streets affected by transport pollution has increased.

There are now an additional six miles of streets that have been deemed officially polluted in the capital. Tourist areas Princes Street, George Street, most of the Royal Mile and the Grassmarket are all now included. Gorgie Road, London Road and some of Easter Road also make up the additional six miles of polluted streets.

Dr Richard Dixon, Friends of the Earth Scotland's director, said: "Pollution from cars, vans, buses and lorries are still making the capital's air bad for our health...”

Friday, April 26, 2013

What's On The Other Side?

To those workers in Britain bored out of their skull by party political speeches on TV here is a word of consolation. It could be worse you could live in Russia. 'Vladimir Putin doled out parenting advice, mused on the difficulty of pork imports and compared the struggle for happiness to a massive drinking bout, in another of the marathon question and answer sessions that have become a hallmark of his authoritarian rule. Sitting in a shiny studio peopled with uniformed soldiers, athletes, doctors and more, a heavily bronzed Putin held forth for four hours and 47 minutes, beating his previous record by 15 minutes.' (Guardian, 26 April) Can you imagine the boredom of Cameron or Milliband spouting for over four hours? RD

Democratic Production

Socialism, a society based upon the planned organisation of production for use by means of the common ownership and the democratic control of the means of production. If, however, production were carried on for use, to satisfy the needs of the people, the question immediately arises: Who is to determine what is useful and what would satisfy these needs? Will that be decided exclusively by a small board of government planners? A technocratic elite? Both would make for the benevolent regimentation of the people “for their own good.” No matter how high-minded and wise they might be, they could not plan production for the needs of the people.

Production for use, by its very nature, demands constant consultation of the people, constant control and direction by the people. The democratically-adopted decisions of the people would guide the course of production and distribution. Democratic control of the means of production and distribution would have to be exercised by the people to see to it that their decision is being appropriately carried out. The continual extension and expnsion of democracy, is therefore an indispensable necessity for socialist society. Production for use is aimed at satisfying the needs of society and of freeing all the people from class rule including that of “experts.”

Many will say “It would be a good thing to have socialism; but it is only an ideal which cannot be realised in practice.” But socialism is not a utopian ideal, a blueprint for society that exists in the minds of some people. Capitalism itself has provided the social force capable of building the new society. Every social system changes ceaselessly, and, ultimately, having fulfilled its mission, passes away. The capitalist industrial forces are now making for socialism, preparing the way for it, and sooner or later it is sure to come. The seeds of the socialist society are already growing right in the soil of capitalist society itself. One of the results of capitalist development is that production is already carried on socially. The only important thing that has not been socialised is the ownership and the appropriation of the products of industry. These remain private. The capitalist owns the tools he does not use; the worker uses the tools he does not own. The working class alone made the tools; the working class alone can use them, and the working class must, therefore, own them.

People will no longer be the slave of the machine. The machine will serve people. Every increase in productivity would bring with it two things: an increase in the things required for the need, comfort and even luxury of all; and an increase in everyone’s leisure time, to devote to the free cultural and intellectual development of humankind. Humanity will not live primarily to work; he will work primarily to live. There are capitalist experts who declare that industry, properly organised, can produce the necessities of life for all in a working day of four hours or less. Organised on a socialist basis, even this figure could be reduced. As the necessities and comforts of life become increasingly abundant, and the differences between physical and mental labour, and the divide between town and country are eliminated. A planned organized society, efficiently utilising our present productive equipment and the better equipment to come, could easily assure abundance to all. In return, society could confidently expect every person to contribute their best voluntarily.

To be a socialist, merely means to be conscious of its necessity, to make others conscious of it, and to work in an organised manner for its realisation. The workers must be taught to unite and vote together as a class in support of a genuine socialist party, a party that represents them as a class, and when they do this the government will pass into their hands and capitalism will fall; private/state ownership will give way to social ownership, and production for profit to production for use; the wage system will disappear, and with it the ignorance and poverty, misery and crime that wage-slavery breeds; and a new era will dawn.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Deadly Profit Motive

Capitalism is a ruthless system and one that puts profit before anything else - including human life. 'Hundreds of garment workers employed in factories that supplied high-street shops in the west, including Primark, the discount clothing store, are feared dead after an eight-storey building collapsed on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, on Wednesday. Officials said the death toll had topped 160 by Thursday morning and 2,000 people had been rescued from the ruins.' (Guardian, 25 April) Dilara Begum, a garment worker who survived the accident, said workers had been ordered to leave after a crack appeared in the wall of the building on Tuesday but on Wednesday morning supervisors had told them to return to work, saying the building had been inspected and declared safe. "We didn't want to go in but the supervisors threatened to dock pay if we didn't return to work," she told the Guardian. RD

Europe In Disarray

Capitalism is often hailed as the most efficient way to run modern society, but recent unemployment figures from Spain show what a waste of human resources it is. 'Spain's unemployment rate soared to a new record of 27.2% of the workforce in the first quarter of 2013, according to official figures. The total number of unemployed people in Spain has now passed the six million figure, although the rate of the increase has slowed.' (BBC News, 25 April) These unemployment figures are mirrored in other European countries and illustrate what a wasteful society capitalism is. RD

Marx and Engels on Ireland

Marx (and Engels) supported Irish nationalism and the Socialist Party’s position on Scottish independence is often criticised by those on the Left who claim to be Marxists because we ignore that fact. But to be a Marxist means, to apply the Marxian analysis to continually changing social conditions Too many so-called socialists are reluctant to apply the Marxist materialist conception of history in their thinking.
Indeed, Marx did support Irish independence, we do not dispute it, but he did so primarily because he thought it would hasten the completion of the democratisation of the British state. At the time the bourgeois democratic victory over feudalism was far from complete even in Britain, and on the continent of Europe what progress had been made was continually threatened by three great feudal powers, Russia, Austria and Prussia. In these circumstances Marx considered it necessary to support not only direct moves to extend political democracy but also moves which he felt would weaken the feudal powers of Europe. For instance, he supported Polish independence as a means of weakening Tsarist Russia and for similar reasons he opposed Slav independence movements which he believed would strengthen backward Russia (so he simultaneously supported and opposed the right of national self-determination).

His support for Irish independence was for it would weaken the position of the English landed aristocracy. The English landed aristocracy still enjoyed considerable political power. The majority of the working class were still vote-less, there were not yet secret ballots, the House of Lords could still reject any Bill it objected to as long as it was not financial.

As he put it in a letter dated 9 April,1870:
"Ireland is the bulwark of the English landed aristocracy. The exploitation of that country is not only one of the main sources of the aristocracy’s material welfare; it is its greatest moral strength. It, in fact, represents the domination of England over Ireland. Ireland is therefore the great means by which the English aristocracy maintains its domination in England itself. If, on the other hand, the English army and police were to withdraw from Ireland tomorrow, you would at once have an agrarian revolution there. But the overthrow of the English aristocracy in Ireland involves as a necessary consequence its overthrow in England. And this would fulfil the preliminary condition for the proletarian revolution in England"

Marx may well have been right about the effect of Irish independence in 1870. Since the English landlords only retained their power to exploit the Irish peasants by force of British arms, a British withdrawal from Ireland could well have led to their expropriation. But this was never put to the test and the Irish land question was solved in quite a different way even before Ireland got independence. The series of Land Purchase Acts introduced between 1885 and 1903 enabled the government to buy out the Anglo-Irish landowners and then lend the peasants the money to buy their farms. By 1921 Ireland was largely a country of peasant proprietors. In the meantime the political power of the English landed aristocracy had finally been broken by a series of reform measures .What this meant was that by the time Ireland was about to get independence after the first world war, the changes Marx had expected it to bring—land reform in Ireland and a weakening of aristocratic power in England—had already been brought about by other means. His particular case for supporting Irish independence was thus no longer relevant. Besides, the first world war destroyed the three great European feudal powers—Russia, Austria and Prussia—so making it unnecessary for socialists to support moves to weaken them.

In fact, once industrial capitalist powers had come to dominate the world, and once a workable political democracy had been established in those states, then the task of socialists was to advocate socialism alone, rather than democratic and social reforms that might make the establishment of socialism easier. This is the position the SPGB adopted .

Marx’s strategy on Ireland was concerned with furthering the establishment of political democracy in England. Marx realised that the struggle of the Irish Nationalists for Home Rule was bound to help the evolution in Britain of political democracy because both struggles were directed against: the same class enemy, the English landed aristocracy. It was not an anticipation of the Leninist theory of imperialism according to which independence for colonies will help precipitate a socialist revolution in the imperialist countries, though it is sometimes misunderstood to be this. Marx clearly wrote of independence for Ireland helping to overthrow the remnants of feudalism not capitalism itself in England. Both he and Engels knew full well that, in the political conditions then existing, socialism was not an immediate issue either in Ireland or in England.

Engels, stated clearly that socialism was not an issue in the Irish Question:-
"A purely socialist movement cannot be expected in Ireland for a considerable time. People there want first of all to become peasants owning a plot of land, and after they have achieved that mortgages will appear on the scene and they will be ruined once more. But this should not prevent us from seeking to help them to get rid of their landlords, that is, to pass from semi-feudal conditions to capitalist conditions" (Interview, 20 September 1888, New Yorker Volkszeitung)

But as an aside, Engels did recognise the primacy of political action over insurrection.The Fenian, O’Donovan Rossa,was elected (only to be disqualified), and Engels wrote to Marx:
"The election in Tipperary is an event. It forces the Fenians out of empty conspiracy and the fabrication of plots into a path of action, which, even if legal in appearance, is still far more revolutionary than what they have been doing since the failure of their insurrection" (29 November, 1869).

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Still a mean city

Glasgow has been ranked as the UK's most violent area in a new report.

The city had the highest rates of homicides and violent crime. The study, which looked at 10 areas, described it as "the least peaceful major urban centre", with London and Belfast in second and third place.

In 2012 there were 2.7 homicides per 100,000 people in Glasgow. This compared to a 1.67 per 100,000 in London and a rate of 1.0 across the UK as a whole. However, in 2007 Glasgow's homicide rate was much higher at about 4.5.

The study said continuing problems with gangs and knife crime contributed to Glasgow's rating. Describing the city as one of the poorest areas in the UK, it said there was a strong link between crime and poverty. Scotland had the highest homicide rate of any of the four UK nations, as well as the highest violent crime rate, at more than 1,500 per 100,000 people, the report said.

West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire were the most violent areas after Glasgow.

The rise of the soup kitchen

In 2004 the Trussell Trust, a Christian charity, operated just one UK food bank. Today there are more than 300. In Scotland there are 15, with another 15 opening soon. The numbers receiving emergency food from the charity have increased from less than 6000 to more than 14,000 in a single year.

29% of the Trussell Trust's Scottish clients have been caught short by delays in their benefits and another 15% have been hit by benefit changes. There is worse to come as changes such as the bedroom tax kick in and as prices continue to rise faster than pay and benefits.

21st Century "Progress"

Workers are often told by the media that they are lucky to be alive in 2013. Think of how awful it was to be a worker in Victorian times and be glad you live in the enlightened 21st century we are told, but is this an example of progress? 'More than 350,000 people turned to food banks for help last year, almost triple the number who received food aid in the previous year and 100,000 more than anticipated, according to the UK's biggest food crisis charity. The Trussell Trust said the dramatic increase in the use of its food banks was set to continue in the coming months as poorer families struggle financially as a result of the government's welfare reforms.' (Guardian, 24 April) RD

Dublin Uprising

After one week of fighting, the 1916 Dublin Uprising was bloodily suppressed. Lacking any real basis of support, the insurgents did not have the slightest chance of victory. Connolly was wrong when he thought that it would ignite the class movement in Europe. The idea that any group of workers can be incited into action by heroic example and martydom is a false one. Only when the conditions for struggle actually exist, only when the majority of people are prepared to do battle and make enormous sacrifices, can a revolution movement take place. Many of those who advocate the false tactics of the barricades and street-fighting today draw, in part, their inspiration from the Easter rising. If they removed their blindfolds they would discover that the actual experience of the rising proved the futility of such action. The conditions for revolution action expressly did not exist in 1916. They did not exist in Ireland and they did not exist in Europe. In Ireland, the IRB and the Citizen Army were only a handful in number. As a self-avowed Marxist, Connolly forgot that it will take the working class to change society, not a handful of individuals to do it for them

Connolly used his charismatic authority as a party leader, and a trade union organiser, to drag his men behind him. He ignored criticism from the other leaders of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union because his sights were set on action, no matter how futile. A large section of the of the workers’ movement was destroyed and into the vacuum stepped in bourgeois opportunists ready to lavish praise Connolly, in order to divert the working class struggle. It was made all the more easier because Connolly had not fought for a workers’ demands on the question of hours of work, of wages, of factory conditions, and of the ownership of the land and industry but a purely nationalist proclamation.

Those who advocate alliances between the workers’ organisations and pro-capitalist political parties on the basis of Connolly’s participation in the 1916 rising should heed the consequences. Connolly himself ignored his own advice. On January 22, 1916 he made a statement which many in the Left in Scotland who hang on to the coat-tails of the pro-independent nationalists should understand to-day: “The labour movement is like no other movement. Its strength lies in being like no other movement. It is never so strong as when it stands alone.” At the turn of the century the French socialist leader, Millerand, accepted a position in the French cabinet. Connolly denounced this betrayal, on the basis that a workers’ party should “accept no government position which it cannot conquer through its own strength at the ballot box”. He denounced Millerand’s stand by saying that “what good Millerand may have done is claimed for the credit of the bourgeois republican government: what evil the cabinet has done reflects back on the reputation of the socialist parties. Heads they win, tails we lose.”

Post-war Ireland saw the Limerick Soviet in the south and, in the north, the Belfast 40-Hour Strike where “Bolsheviks and Sinn Feiners” were leading astray many“good loyalist protestants” to the dismay of the Orange Lodge, where the composition of the strike committee was a majority of Protestant, but the chairman was a Catholic. Sectarianism was being challenged. Working class militancy had entered the Shankill Road and Sandy Row. The National Union of Railwaymen in a resolution at a conference in Belfast stated:“without complete unity amongst the working classes, (we should not allow either religious or political differences to prevent their emancipation) which can be achieved through a great international brotherhood the world over, no satisfactory progress could be made.”

Instead of a Connolly to seize the opportunity for working class unity and solidarity, we had De Valera declaring “Labour must wait”, the interests of the nation must come first (read “the interests of the capitalists”). It was to be national unity, not class unity. By pressing their interests the workers were said to be “endangering” the unity of the republican forces! On the land where the tenants were seizing the estates only to find themselves held back by Sinn Fein and the IRA, who even went to the lengths of carrying out evictions in order to break the back of the land-seizure movement.

The labour movement and working-class unity were the real victims of the 1916 Dublin Rising by subordinating their class interests to the nationalist interests of the capitalist.

See also SOYMB blog

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lazy Workers?

The present coalition government is concerned about high unemployment figures and all sorts of solutions have been proposed. One of the daftest notions in circulation is that workers are just too lazy, but this news item contradicts that idea. 'A new Tesco store has been swamped with 4,300 applications for just 150 jobs in the latest example of Britain's desperate job market. There were almost 30 applicants for each job at the supermarket in Rowner, near Gosport, in Hampshire, which is due to open in May. Due to the overwhelming response, Tesco asked 826 to attend an interview after applicants filled in answer a series of questions online.' (Daily Mail, 23 April) RD

Greedy Workers?

One of the fallacies peddled by supporters of capitalism is that the working class are greedy and lazy. The recent research by the hotel chain Travelodge seems to deny this. 'Three quarters of British employees spend an extra ten unpaid hours at work each week giving businesses a £142 million boost. Many staff would also be willing to miss a family holiday or a child's school play to manage their workload, according to a study of 2,000 workers in 12 cities across the UK.' (Times, 22 April) RD

Who owns scotland?

Sixteen people own 10% of Scotland's land.

Too much of the Highlands remains stuck in a sporting monoculture where deer, grouse and salmon take precedence over the possibility of more diverse forms of land use.

We are all chiefs

In the previous post Socialist Courier discussed the democracy of Greece but the Iroquois tribes, before its social relations were shaped by the European colonisers, were according to Engels, perhaps even more democratic than the Greeks."There cannot be any poor or needy--the communal household and the gens know their responsibility toward the old, the sick, and those disabled in war. There is no place yet for slaves, nor, as a rule, for the subjugation of other tribes" wrote Engels.

Marx and Engels used much of the field research of the early anthropologist, Lewis Henry Morgan.
The status of women in communal societies like the Iroquois' was far higher than in class societies that followed. Among the Iroquois, a woman could dissolve her marriage simply by placing her husband's belongings outside the household door. As Gary B. Nash notes in his fascinating study of early America, Red, White, and Black: "Thus power was shared between the sexes and the European idea of male dominancy and female subordination in all things was conspicuously absent in Iroquois society."

Children in Iroquois society, while taught the cultural heritage of their people and solidarity with the tribe, were also taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh punishment on children; they did not insist on early weaning or early toilet training, but gradually allowed the child to learn self-care.

In the villages of the Iroquois, land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunting was done together, and the catch was divided among the members of the village. Houses were considered common property and were shared by several families. The concept of private ownership of land and homes was foreign to the Iroquois. A French Jesuit priest who encountered them in the 1650s wrote:
"No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers.. . . Their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common."

A tribal council existed for the common affairs of the tribe. It was composed of all the chiefs of the different clans, who were genuinely representative because they could be deposed at any time. It held its deliberations in public, surrounded by the other members of the tribe, who had the right to join freely in the discussion and to make their views heard. The decision rested with the council. As a rule, everyone was given a hearing who asked for it; the women could also have their views expressed by a speaker of their own choice. Among the Iroquois the final decision had to be unanimous.The tribal council was responsible especially for the handling of relations with other tribes; it received and sent embassies, declared war and made peace. If war broke out, it was generally carried on by volunteers. In principle, every tribe was considered to be in a state of war with every other tribe with which it had not expressly concluded a treaty of peace. Military expeditions against such enemies were generally organized by prominent individual warriors; they held a war-dance, and whoever joined in the dance announced thereby his participation in the expedition. The column was at once formed, and started off. The defense of the tribal territory when attacked was also generally carried out by volunteers. The departure and return of such columns were always an occasion of public festivities. The consent of the tribal council was not required for such expeditions, and was neither asked nor given. These war parties are seldom large; the most important expeditions of the Indians, even to great distances, were undertaken with insignificant forces. If several such parties united for operations on a large scale, each was under the orders only of its own leader. Unity in the plan of campaign was secured well or ill by a council of these leaders.

Gary Nash describes Iroquois culture:
“No laws and ordinances, sheriffs and constables, judges and juries, or courts or jails-the apparatus of authority in European societies-were to be found in the northeast woodlands prior to European arrival. Yet boundaries of acceptable behavior were firmly set. Though priding themselves on the autonomous individual, the Iroquois maintained a strict sense of right and wrong.... He who stole another's food or acted cowardly in war was "shamed" by his people and ostracized from their company until he had atoned for his actions and demonstrated to their satisfaction that he had morally purified himself.”

Workers United

Scab is the number one worst thing one we can call a fellow worker, and we need to be very careful how we use it. It is the worst thing that can be said about a fellow worker, akin to "traitor." It does not mean non-union worker.

Poor workers from other countries are not scabs, they are our fellow workers. Only when they actually cross a picket line are they scabs. And when the strike is over, they stop being scabs and we need to get back to trying to organise them.

Migrant workers are our fellow workers, exploited by capitalists in both multinational corporations and in domestically-owned businesses. They are not crossing picket lines and we never can fall into divide and rule arguments advanced by those whose interests are served when we are divided by colour, by gender, by ability, by sexual preference, by country of birth. United we fight, divided we crawl!

Our enemies are not our fellow workers that are being exploited, our enemies are the ones that are destroying our incomes, endangering our lives through the elimination of health and safety legislation, those that insist that "we" cannot compete against workers who are being grossly exploited due to low wages and bad working conditions. It is not workers overseas that are responsible for the destruction of jobs and cuts in incomes and benefits. That is those who are in power both economically and those that serve their interests politically and mainstream economists who sole role is to provide the justifications for the destruction of the social welfare state and workers conditions of work and income standards. Do not fall for divide and rule!

One of the reasons why the labour movement collapsed was because workers decided that they were "partners" with their employers and the "foreign workers" were their enemy. As a result, the company "negotiated" one give-back after another, stuffed it all into their pockets--then moved all the factories anyway.

The unions should have remembered what the word "solidarity" means. The entire idea of a nation-based labor movement is now outmoded, ineffective and obsolete. In a corporate world, we must instead become company-based rather than geographically-based. In a world made up of multi-national companies who owe loyalty to no government and have no nation, there simply is no such thing anymore as an “American worker” or a “Chinese worker” or a “Somali worker”. There are only “Ford workers” or “Honda workers” or “British Petroleum workers”—and they all do the same work for the same employer and have the same interests, whether their factory happens to be located in Tennessee, Tibet or Timbuktu. And if a Ford worker in Detroit gets X dollars an hour to do a job, then a Ford worker in China or Thailand had better be getting the same X dollars an hour for doing the same job—because if he's not, then guess where the factory will be going?

It’s an lesson that the unions ignored. Instead of organizing all Ford or steel workers across the world to face their common employer, the unions have ignored foreign employees completely or even treated them as enemies; instead of raising the foreign wages to match ours. What the labour movement must do is to follow the companies wherever they go, to any country, and organize all the workers there. One company, one union, one contract, one wage scale—no matter where you are. That cannot happen until workers give up their attachment to outdated nationalism. The only way the corporate bosses can be beaten is if all their workers stick together, organise together, and fight together, no matter what country they happen to be located in. That is what “solidarity” means.

It used to be that “workers of the world, unite!” was just an aspirational political slogan. Today, it is our survival strategy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Democratic Centralism - Generals looking for privates.

Socialist Courier previously discussed the concept of democracy. Those familiar with the Left will no doubt come across claims that the Trotskyist and Leninist political groups exercise a form of democracy called “democratic centralism”

Socialism’s crisis is a crisis in the meaning of socialism. Many label themselves “socialist” in one sense or another; but there has never been a time as now when the label was less informative. The range of conflicting and incompatible ideas that call themselves socialist is wider than ever.The nearest thing to a common content of the various “socialisms” is a negative: anti-capitalism. But even anti-capitalism holds less and less of a meaning in most cases.

Nowhere else than on the Left is the term “-ism” more extensively and frequently used. We are asked to adhere not only to anarchism, or syndicalism, or socialism, or communism, but also to Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, Luxemburgism, and a host of much lesser theorists’ “isms”.
Throughout the history of socialist movements and ideas, the fundamental divide is between Socialism-from-Above to be handed down to the grateful masses in one form or another, and Socialism-from-Below holding the view view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of the working class, reaching out for freedom with their own hands. The vanguard party and democratic centralism - are nowhere to be found in Marx, while the third, dictatorship of the proletariat, had an entirely different meaning to Marx than the Leninist interpretation.
The name “bolshevik” originated in a controversy between various factions within the Russian Social-Democratic Party meeting in convention in 1903. The word “bolshevik” (from “Bolshe”, meaning more) meant one of the majority, as distinct from the word “Menshevik” (from “menshe”, meaning less), meaning one of the minority. At the convention, however, the majority of the delegates, were later called “mensheviks”, while the minority styled themselves “bolsheviks.” This incongruous situation came about accidentally when, for a short time, the Jewish Socialist Bund boycotted the convention leaving the rump convention, for the moment with the minority in control. This moment was enough for the minority under Lenin, to seize the name “majority men” or "bolsheviks” and brand the real majority as “mensheviks” or “minority men.”

Thus the name “bolshevik” was a trick, a trick of propaganda and political maneuvering, having little to do with the truth of the situation. “Bolshevik” was simply term used by Lenin to give the impression that the majority of the members were with him for all time. He had “won” the Party. This was, of course, a lie. And how strange it seems that Lenin, the man of “principle” should deal with numbers not principles.

The leaders of the Russian Social Democrats (such as Pleckanov, Lenin, Martov, Axelrod, and Trotsky,) were practically all intellectuals who had to leave Russia to live in other countries of Europe. The discussions among the leaders were held abroad, and there was great difficulty for others living in Russia to find their way to the gatherings or conventions. Among the leaders in exile, democratic discussion was taken for granted, but in the Bolshevik faction, once the leaders had decided, the rest back in Russia had to carry out the decisions. The statements issued by the emigre center was the law! If you didn’t like it you could leave the Party!

It was Lenin’s contention that the working class, through its independent development, could achieve a trade union consciousness, but only a vanguard party, composed of professional revolutionists completely identified and fused with the working class, could imbue it with a socialist consciousness and make it aware of its great historic mission. In his pamphlets Lenin outlined the organizational steps necessary to be taken in order to achieve this kind of organization. He wanted a vanguard party closely connected with the masses, but hierarchically organized, with definite bodies, committees, and a program to which all members adhered, and which they actively carried out. The party was to be headed by a central committee which was responsible to the party congress, with the political leadership in the hands of the editorial board of the central party organ, which board could organize and reorganize the units of the party, admit or reject members, and make all political decisions.

The premise of Lenin’s democratic centralism was based on the following reasoning: revolutionaries needed not a mere parliamentary organization but a party of action which direct a vanguard of activists tied to the revolutionary masses. The party should be an elite body of professional revolutionists dedicating their lives to the cause and carrying out their decisions with iron discipline. No task too small; no sacrifice too great. Such a party cannot be built from the bottom up but only from the top down. First, the leadership would show the way, formulating the program and policies, educating the people, and working out the strategy and tactics. The more advanced dedicated workers would join such a party and carry out the decisions. A degree of discussion might be permitted but, once a decision was made, unity in action and stern discipline was insisted on. In the Russia of Lenin’s time, under the despotism of the Czar’s police, political activity had to be carried out secretly so full democracy by the rank and file membership was practically impossible to attain.

Within Russia where the class struggles became more intense, and real battles were raging in the strikes and demonstrations these exiles had very little experience in strategy and tactics to be the actual leaders in these events. They could analyse the over-all political significance of the events and bring their views to the international socialist conventions, but the militants in the field had to develop their own initiative, ingenuity, and judgment to carry on the best they could. Once the Russian Revolution, was underway the democratic tendencies expressed itself and everywhere there were meetings, discussions, voting. In the Soviets there was voting on all the vital issues of the day, on programmes set up by leaders of rival parties fighting for power. In this type of situation the advantage rested with the Bolsheviks who, under Lenin, had long advocated a centralist party.

In 1902 “democratic” centralism had been advocated because of Czarist terror and the secret police, but in 1917 it was advocated because of the needs of the civil war. In the civil war the power of the leadership was strengthened. The “ideal of ‘democratic centralism’ suffered further reverses, for in effect the power within both the government and the Party became concentrated in the hands of Lenin and the immediate retinue of Bolshevik leaders who did not openly disagree with him and carried out his wishes. The dictatorship (or rule) of the proletariat (or rule of the workers) gave way to the dictatorship of the party, the dictatorship of the party to the dictatorship of the executive committee, the dictatorship of the committee to the dictatorship of “the leader.” Supposed “democratic” centralism had turned to into simple “centralism”. Many of todays’s vanguard parties go at great lengths about centralism, but are unsurprisingly rather silent about democracy.

“Democratic” centralism, as developed by the Bolsheviks was a Russian product, adapted for Russian conditions, as the Bolsheviks themselves. Rosa Luxemburg described Lenin’s conception of organisation thus: ‘the Central Committee is everything whereas the real party is only its appendage, a mindless mass which moves mechanically on the orders of the leader like the army exercising on the parade ground” It can be added that although everyone marches in step, the orders are usually wrong.

Democratic centralism poses as a form of inner party democracy, but it is really just a hierarchy by which each member of a party (ultimately of a society) is subordinate to a higher member until one reaches the all-powerful party central committee and its Chairman/General Secretary. This is a totally undemocratic procedure, which puts the leadership above criticism, even if it is not above reproach. It is a bankrupt, corrupt method of internal operations for a political organisation. You have no voice in such a party. The practice of Trotskyist-Leninist parties is that the Central Committee unilaterally sets policy for the entire organization, and their authority reigns.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is a party of no leaders or, if you will, every member is a leader. Our directly elected Executive Committee is only a “house-keeping” committee for the day-to-day running of the Party (our General Secretary is little better than general dogs-body!). The EC has no power to decide policy. It doesn't even have the authority to submit resolutions to conference. Only branches can do that. Nor does conference decide - only a postal referendum poll of our individual members provides the mandate for Party decisions.

The Scottish Capitalist Class get 58% Richer

This year’s Sunday Times UK rich list, which includes a total of 78 people from Scotland in its top 1,000, the most to feature in a decade. There are now six billionaires from north of the Border on the list, one more than in 2012. £21bn of wealth has been accrued by the top 100 millionaires.

Scotland’s rich are getting richer as the rest of Scots continues to struggle economically. The most affluent Scots saw their personal wealth soar by up to 58 per cent.

Highland Spring owner Mahdi al-Tajir is still Scotland’s richest man, and the 44th wealthiest in the UK, now boasting a fortune of £1,656 million up £56 million on 2012.

Banffshire distiller William Grant remain in second place on the list with family wealth totalling £1,400 million.

Sir Ian Wood’s, former chairman of Aberdeen-based Wood group, personal wealth now stands at £1,200m.

Ian Coxon, the rich list editor, said: “The 2013 rich list shows that business is booming in Scotland from Aberdeen to Ayr.”

Yup, capitalism is okay for some while we all face rising bills and less income to pay them.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ca' Canny

The Libcom website has an interesting working class history article on the Glasgow dockers "ca' canny" go slow campaign of 1889.

To break strikes the employers regularly brought in scabs from other cities. Workers had to devise another industrial struggle strategy.

Socialism and Social Democracy

What is democracy? We can do no better than use the familiar explanation “It is the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

When the Athenians talked about demokratia, “rule by the people” (the d√™mos) they did not just mean the election of “representatives”, to rule on behalf of the electors, but actual, direct rule by every citizen. An Assembly, which actually took decisions, voted on all major issues, passed laws and voted on foreign policy. When it met, about once a week, every citizen could have his say, speaking for as long as he liked – until people got bored with his speech and pulled him off the platform.

From the study of history it is found that the public assembly of all the citizens made all important decisions. They organized the administration of the state, appointed officials and kept check on them. The public assembly of all the citizens was the government. The vast majority of officials were chosen by lot which amounted to putting names into a hat and appointing the ones whose names came out. Not only did the Athenians choose all officials by lot, they limited their time of service. When a man had served once, as a general rule, he was excluded from serving again because they believed in rotation, everybody taking his turn to administer the state. The Athenian assembly appointed a council of 500 to be responsible for the day-to-day administration of the city and the carrying out of decisions. Athens had very few permanent functionaries. They preferred to appoint special boards of citizens. Each of these boards had its own very carefully defined remit and were co-ordinated and overseen by the council.

Politics was not the activity of your spare time, nor the activity of experts paid specially to do it. A person who did not take part in politics was an idiotes, from which we get our modern word idiot. How would today’s politicians feel if it was suggested that any worker selected at random could do the work that they were doing, and that it should not be treated as career but yet that was the guiding principle of Greek democracy, one of the greatest civilization the world has known. (Albeit one where women and slaves were not given the same accord as the free male citizens.)

Nor was the democratic system something that arose and was established overnight. Like our own world Greece possessed a landed aristocracy who dominated the economy and held all the important positions of government. For example, rich and powerful noblemen, for centuries, controlled a body known as the Areopagus that held all the powers and which later were transferred to the council. The magistrates in the courts were a similar body of aristocrats who functioned from above with enormous powers such as modern magistrates and modern judges have. The merchants made a bid for power. Democracy had to be won and protected. The struggle was continuous. The old aristocratic class and some of the wealthy made attempts to destroy the democratic constitution and institute the rule of the privileged. They sometimes had temporary success but were always ultimately defeated. In the end, the democracy was defeated by foreign invasion and not from the inside.
Naturally some detested the system, particularly the intellectuals. Plato, Aristotle and Socrates thought that government should be by experts and not by the common people. To-day similar philosophers claim large modern communities are unsuitable for such a form of government and there is a need for a professional bureaucracy. Yet the fundamental belief of our justice system is the jury-system, men and women selected from the electoral roll to hear the arguments for and against and decide upon the important issue of innocence and guilt of another person which at one time could be a matter of life and death.

In to-day’s society, democracy is a fraud in the sense that it uses democratic forms to frustrate genuine democratic control from below. Marx described the United States as “the model country of the democratic swindle” not because there was less democracy but for precisely the opposite reason. The fact that the US had developed the formal structure of the constitutional republic which meant that its ruling class had also developed the art of keeping the expression of popular opinion within acceptable channels, satisfactory to its own class interests with a plethora of clever electoral rules devised to insert a manipulative factor into the forms of a more or less universal suffrage, beginning with the American Constitution, then the “Jim Crow” laws and by currently controlling a media system which permits the buying of public opinion.
Where there is democracy, there is inevitably insecurity for the capitalist ruling class. True democracy places power with people and in such circumstances the few who hold power become threatened. The “threats” to elite interests from the possibility of true democracy has always required to be neutralised by using educational institutions, religion , public relations and advertising agencies and , of course, all the various means of mass media, press, radio, tv and film. Political, economic, and cultural agencies all are employed to defend the principle of privilege. All have been used to protect the power of the wealthy from the potential of popular democracy. Modern democracy gives to the worker the right to choose his master. Yet the threat of democracy remains a constant, persistent and a pervasive danger to the capitalist class.

In socialism the task of organising and running production and the involvement in administering communities will be looked upon as those who lived in ancient Athens saw it, a necessary and important part of work, a part of everyday life. In fact, there will be no politics in the modern sense in that there will be no institution separate from the rest of social life. We should recall that the term “social democracy” was once an alternative name for socialism and socialists were at one time called “social-democrats”.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Chartist Tour of Scotland

Robert Gammage was a Chartist activist and is best known for his History of the Chartist Movement, published in 1854. In 1843 he embarked on a speaking tour of Scotland, lecturing in many small towns. It makes an interesting read and an insight into the history of the working class in Scotland.

'Recollections of a Chartist'

Now I was about to go to Scotland —
“Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood."

I walked to Annan, a little town about half way between Carlisle and Dumfries, and addressed a well attended open air meeting, and I was congratulated at the close on my lecture and its reception. I stayed at an inn, at that time the principal inn in the town. I had but rarely seen such a 'spread' for supper as was set before me, brought on one of those old-fashioned mahogany trays which I had indeed seen in my boyhood, but never supped off. There was meat in abundance, bread and cheese, and a jug of 'good Scotch ale.' I slept well, a pretty good sign of a quiet conscience. Macbeth might murder sleep, but I did not, nor did sleep murder me, for I felt all alive on the following morning, and breakfasted on pre-served salmon and fresh egges . And what, it may be asked; did you pay for all this? I need not be ashamed to own it, seeing that I paid all that was charged, and that was the sum of 2s.! When I offered the servant a little gratuity for cleaning my boots, it was with evident reluctance that she received it. What think you of that, travellers of these faster days?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tough At The Top?

Rich Ricci, head of Barclays' investment bank has been made redundant. Unlike members of the working class who suffer this fate this is not a financial blow to him. He "earned" £44 million in 2010. If he doesn't find another post this year he will still receive his £700,00 annual salary. He has other consolations. 'Less than a month ago, Mr Ricci pocketed an £18 million windfall, selling 5.7 million shares received as part of annual bonus and long-term incentive schemes.' (Times, 19 April) He is estimated to have a personal fortune of £100 million so redundancy is hardly a shattering blow. RD

No Profit - No research - No Cures

Resistant to existing antibiotics, superbug-related infections worldwide result in thousands of deaths each year—an estimated 99,000 in the U.S. MRSA kills an estimated 19,000 people every year in the U.S., compared with the 17,000 who die from AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"We are in a crisis situation," said Dr. Cesar Arias, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Health Science Center. "The World Health Organization says this is one of the top three health threats to the world in this century, and I can't argue with that," said Arias, who has researched and written extensively on superbugs.

Dr. G. Richard Olds, dean of the school of medicine at the University of California-Riverside, explains "Pharmaceutical companies like to push drugs in advertising to make money, and a patient often thinks if a doctor doesn't prescribe antibiotics he's a bad doctor," Olds said. "But the medical profession has to be precise when it comes to handing out drugs—we have to use them appropriately and for the right reasons,"

So the the world scientists are being mobilised to tackle the problem...ummm...no. Quite the opposite.

"We have a clear case of too many antibiotics being used and not enough new ones in the system to fight these bacteria," according to Alan Christianson, a specialist in naturopathic medicine. "We haven't had any new antibiotics in the pipeline over the past 10 years, and it takes time to get one in, so we're way behind the curve on this."
 The large drugmakers Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have said publicly that they have reduced or stopped research funding for new antibiotics, citing the costs. Developing more expensive drugs, such as one for HIV, is better for returns.

"These firms want to know that they will make an antibiotic that will work economically, and there is no guarantee," Christianson said. "There's a lot of trial and error to find the right one. There's really no money in antibiotics."

Over-population? Too Many People?

In 2011, the United Nations population division predicted a global population of 10.1 billion by 2100, an increase of nearly 50 percent from the earth's current population of 7 billion. But a new study out of Spain suggests those estimates may be way off—we're talking several billion people off.

Scientists at the Autonomous University of Madrid and CEU-San Pablo University say their estimates,  shows global population peaking in 2050 slightly above eight billion, and then falling back to 6.2 billion by the end of the century, the same as the total world population back in 2000.

The Danger of State Capitalism

In an earlier post we discussed nationalisation, it is worth going into such an economy where the state is the main owner.

Socialists envisage a society in which there will be no classes and no state. Many on the Left, including Lenin, have regarded state capitalism as a stage on the way to socialism. They view it as a necessary transitional stage. But history has the grave dangers of state capitalism.

State capitalism concentrates an overwhelming power in the hands of the State, and places workers completely at the mercy of the State. The State is not in the hands of the working-class but an all-mighty bureaucracy.

Under private capitalism in a democratic State the government has no substantial direct income. It raises revenue and makes expenditure by the authorisation of Parliament. This gives to Parliament a degree of control over the executive.

Under state capitalism, the government derives its income automatically from the economic enterprises of the State. It thus has a tendency to free itself from parliamentary control, to become the master of Parliament and to turn the MPs into obedient civil servants.
The State, as the owner of banking industry, agriculture and transport etc becomes the universal employer, the universal landlord. It controls everything on which the fate and happiness of the individual citizen depend.

The worker is dependent upon and at the mercy of the State as regards his or her employment, housing, food, education, transport and leisure facilities. This enormous power of the State over the individual strengthens tendencies towards a dictatorship. The right to organise in trade unions and to strike under State capitalism is even more essential than under private capitalism.

State capitalism does not solve any of the outstanding problems. It does not abolish crises, the classes, the wage system. Under state capitalism there is production of commodities for sale, not production for use. There still remains the rationing of prices and the limits on the purchasing power of wages.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Personal Memories

When i first joined the SPGB in 1971 Edinbugh branch in fair weather held two outdoor meetings at the Mound on Sundays. 30 years after those, the influence still existed. During a casual chat during tea break a co-worker recalled listening to a socialist at the Mound telling the audience that the dummies in the shop-windows along Princes St were better dressed that most of them - so who were the real dummies? My colleague concluded "I felt slightly insulted because i thought i was a dapper dresser but looking back now, damn it,  if he was right!"

The branch i joined reflected the alternative counter-culture that prevailed at the time, students, "hippies" and bikers probably out-numbered actual members with steady employment. At times the branch appeared polarised betwen the druggies and the drunks. I was a school-boy back then when i first came in contact with the the SPGB. The other political group that first Sunday evening at the Mound was the International Marxist Group so i went home with a Red Mole and Socialist Standard. Fortunately the Standard advertised a SPGB propaganda push called 7 Days For Socialism so i had the opportunity of hearing a series of speakers discussing all aspects of socialism and although not 100% conversant with the entire party case in the beginning, after a few branch meetings i was convinced enough by the basics to formally join.

During my time i dare say the membership rose to about 50 with many sympathisers outside the Party and we were perhaps the most active political party in the city. The SWP were still called the International Socialists and still mostlyuniversity-based. The Workers Revolutionary Party (then, the Socialist Labour League) had the reputation of being more a cult with their control of its members. Militant were still invisible amongst their membership of the Labout Party and still demanding, as now, the nationalisation of the 400 leading companies.

The branch held our Monday weekly branch meetings at the "FreeGardeners", on Picardy Place which were usually a lively affair where the weekly EC minutes were dissected and the current issue of the Socialist Standard vigourously critiqued. It is sad that the branch minutes have been lost. The Socialist Standard sold were in their hundreds by a combination of street selling at the east-end of Princes St at the "Welly-boot", the Duke of Wellington statue, and during the Friday and Saturday evenings pub crawls where many regular customers anticipated each new issue. The tactic of selling in the pubs led to many boozy discussions, with inebriated members engaging in political and philosophy discourses that contributed to many a person's socialist education as different view-points and recommended reading were exchanged.

The branch tried to return to earlier public speaking places that were permitted by the city bye-laws, the Meadows and Portobello prom, with no success. An attempt of an open-air meeting at Portobello led to a confrontation with one of the local youth gangs that were prevalent in those days. As some of the gang menacingly advanced, they were quite unprepared for the intervention of a relatively new one member of the branch, a ex-Para Regiment, who demonstrated to the gang the power of a punch, rather than the punch-line

The branch, much to the dismay of the local council who held a file on our activities, was also highly visible. Each public meeting meant a new poster to advertise the date and venue that led to evenings of illicit fly-posting, often leading to police chases and occasioanlly police apprehension. Luckily with no prosecutions. Countless posters were pasted to walls in all manner of locations. They often remained stuck up for a long time as adverts for the party. Edinburgh branch was particularly fortunate in possessing some fine artists who produced a series of striking silk-screen posters. One visiting comrade from America i recall remarking that when he arrived in the city and saw the number of SPGB posters it seemed as if he was in Peking during Cultural Revolution which was symbolised by its wall-posters.

The 60s and 70s were a time of re-appraisal for the working class as a whole as class struggle developed different manifestations. Women and gay liberation, claimant unions. A time of wild-cat unofficial strikes and work-ins. Lifestyle politics was an influence and some began to believe the party was too traditional and old-fashioned, failing to reflect the times or effectively express the new demands of the working class. The Trotskyists and CPers had their Lenin and we had our John Lennon. Within the party several members became associated with libertarian communism, a vague synthesis of Marxism and anarchism. One party wag labelled it libertine communism - perhaps with some justification! This need to explore new political approaches resulted in me not being a member of the SPGB for 20 years. The world changed, so did the Party and so did I.

As one IWW/anarchist comrade who knows the party well once said to me, "Its amazing just how many SPGBers re-join". Perhaps it is that the Socialist Party's principles outlive particular personalities. It may be argued that some opportunites in the past may have been missed but the Socialist Party analysis stands the test of time. The challenge to communicate and express socialist ideas will always remain a debating point among SPGB members but now there is ample means to do so within the party through our internet discussion lists.

Alan Johnstone (Aljo)

The Co-Op Cop Out

“We are private companies that work in the same market as everybody else. We are exposed to the same conditions as our competitors.” - Mondrag√≥n’s human-resources chief

Many regard the co-operative movement as being in some way linked up with socialism. Socialists have come to realise that co-operatives cannot be used as a means for establishing socialism and that they only flourish to the extent that they can be successfully accommodated within capitalism.

The idea of the workers’ co-operative has flourished since the early days of the labour movement and has been seen by many as a possible alternative to nationalisation. The originators of the co-operative movement saw it as a movement that would eventually out-compete and replace ordinary capitalist businesses, leading to the coming of “the Co-operative Commonwealth” (which is an alternative name for socialism occasionally used by both Karl Marx and the Socialist Party). The co-ops would constitute, as it were, little oases in the desert of capitalism. They anticipated that the movement would grow until finally the workers would have achieved their emancipation. Essentially, each community would own its own means and instruments of production and each member of a community would work to produce what had been agreed was needed and in return would be issued with a note certifying for how many hours he had worked; he could then use this note to obtain from the community's stock of consumer goods any product or products which had taken the same number of hours to produce. (G.D.H. Cole was another who proposed a variant, that he called “Guild Socialism”. Although Cole’s blueprint did provide for close links between consumers and producers which could be interpreted as “production directly for use”, it still envisaged the continuation of finance, prices and incomes. It was to come into being through the guilds eventually out-competing capitalist industries in the marketplace)

Because co-operatives have to compete with ordinary capitalist businesses on the same terms as them, so they are subject to the same competitive pressures, to keep costs down and to to maximise the difference between sales revenue and costs (called “profits” in ordinary businesses, but “surplus” by the co-op). The co-operative movement was out-competed and is now trying to survive on the margins as a niche for “ethical” consumers and savers, leaving the great bulk of production, distribution and banking in the hands of ordinary profit-seeking businesses. Co-operatives did not provide a real solution to the workers' situation as it was incapable of providing an answer in the interests of all workers. At no time did it question the capitalist production relationships - it questions only superficial features (monopolies, competition, etc.).
Whether or not a place of work takes the form of a workers’ co-operative can have no bearing whatsoever on the pressures which compel it to meet the economic conditions for its existence. Nor do the details of how it run its affairs matter. It can be a kibbutz or a co-operative taking decisions collectively; it can be a monastery producing fortified wine; it can be a conventional business; in whatever way they are internally structured, authoritarian or democratic, and in whatever scale they may operate, as a part of social production they can only operate within the pattern of capitalist buying and selling.

In what way does the ownership of the factory by the employees differ from ownership by a capitalist? A co-op has to buy its raw materials on the market, along with every other company. It does not get steel, oil, copper, coal, any cheaper because it is owned by its employees. In buying in its machinery, equipment, materials, premises, transport etc., and in paying its rates etc, any unit, including any workers’ co-operative, must pay all these costs. How could any imagined “socialistic” unit operate without power supplies? In its application of socialist principles in production and consumption, is it going to persuade the utility companies to provide supplies free?

In addition to this income, the individuals working in the unit must have income to cover personal living costs such as rent or mortgage repayments, food, clothes, leisure activities, and so on and on. This is inescapable. Regardless of their make-up, production or service co-ops can only continue their existence whilst they are economically viable; that is, where income exceeds expenditure. If expenditure exceeds income, then inevitably they disappear.

A co-op has to sell its products on the market, along with every other company. It does not get higher prices for its goods because it is owned by its employees. It has to compete with every other manufacturer in terms of price, delivery dates, quality etc. In order to compete over any length of time, a co-op will have to invest in new plant and equipment. To do this it will require a large amount of capital. If this is obtained by borrowing, then the co-op will have to convince the banks that it is a viable and profitable concern, run along good business lines. It will be under even greater pressure to prove that it is viable just because it is a different sort of enterprise. Of course, it may decide to raise the capital needed for investment out of the profits. Inside the factory, there are no owners other than the workers. But they buy goods at the same price as other capitalist concerns. They sell goods at the same price as other capitalist firms. They compete flat out with other capitalist firms. If they are to make enough surplus to re-invest, or to convince the banks they are good for a big loan, how are they to do it?They are in a trap. Either they sack some of their fellows; or they increase their own intensity of work; or they take a wage cut. Elected workers’ councils would be in exactly the same position of having to lay off staff, if there is no market for the goods they produce.

Whichever avenue they choose, their decision has two effects. Firstly they have attacked their own living standards. Secondly, they are acting as an unconscious argument in the hands of other bosses against their work-forces. If an employer in another factory is faced with a demand for, say, a wage rise, he will immediately reply that he can’t afford it and point to a worker co-operative and say: ‘they work for less than you are demanding. It seems a perfectly reasonable wage to them, with no boss, why are you demanding from me more?’ The capitalist has been provided with an excellent propaganda weapon against his own employee demands as a way of mitigating the class struggle and persuading workers that they have an interest in accepting ‘realistic’ (i.e. lower) wages. Co-ops exhibit the exact same vices as capitalist firms.
The logic of capitalism dooms the efforts of those who seek co-operatives. The co-operative movement cannot solve the basic economic problems of the workers as a whole, or even of the co-operative societies' own members. Where it was a success it was merely the success of essentially capitalist undertakings. There is a tendency for worker co-ops to resemble more and more over time the conventional capitalist business model and the case of Mondragon - the largest worker co-op conglomerate in the world - would seem to bear this out. It has grown and has departed more and more from its original egalitarian principles and Mondragon has been noted for employing heavy hand tactics against its own two-tier workforce.

Co-operatives can only ever involve a minority of workers, and the more they are integrated into the capitalist economy and its profit- seeking, the more their members will have to discipline and pressurise themselves in the way the old bosses did - what is known as "self-managed exploitation". The fact is that there is no way out for workers within the capitalist system. At most co-operatives can only make their situation a little less unbearable. We cannot self-manage capitalism in our own interests and the only way we can really live without exploitation is by abolishing capitalism.

The worker cannot claim ownership and control of the mine or the factory because these are huge production organisations, part of a wider interlinked network and cannot be divided into separate pieces. This is the reason why socialists demand common ownership of the means of production – the land, factories, railway, etc. To suit collective work, collective property. The big issues are not decided “on the shop floor”, to use a militant phrase much loved by advocates of “self management”. There should be collective ownership and collective control of what is collectively produced.

Let us now bury capitalism

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Is Socialism? It is not nationalisation

“It was our lifelong dream coming true. It was a utopia. We were for it 100 per cent. What celebrations there were! The industry which had broken generations of miners was ours at last.”

On the 1st January 1947 miners took an unofficial holiday. The red flag was hoisted over the pits and the miners social clubs rang to choruses of the workers’ anthems of the Red Flag and the Internationale. The euphoria did not last.

Nationalisation (or in some cases municipalisation), is sometimes called “state socialism”, but more accurately it amounts to a form of state capitalism. The Post Office, would serve as an example of a “socialist” public service or the National Health Service. Or the BBC. But in the past we have had coal mines, the railways, the electricity and gas networks and tele-communications all owned by the state. Nationalisation has been wrongly equated with socialism. State ownership does not mean socialism. Nationalisation is a complete distortion of the idea of common ownership. The Labour Government has not only performed an essential service for British capitalism but at the same time has been able to hold in check the class aspirations of the British workers by representing such measure as the beginnings of socialism. So-called socialists demnding the re-nationalisation of the privatised industries and the new fresh nationalisations of key parts of the economy are committing an old fraud. Nationalisation does not facilitate the revolutionary task and are state-capitalist measures, not socialist ones.

At the dawn of capitalism, when the individual factory was usually quite small, it was normal for the capitalist to fill all three functions of ownership: he owned it, controlled it (in the sense of making all the operative decisions on the policy on the firm) and personally managed it. Today, in all the big corporations, ownership by shareholders is usually divorced from control by the big financial or and both are far removed from management which is exercised by (highly paid) salaried managerial employees. Private enterprise has become less private, less enterprising. Instead of the image of the self-confident businessman, owning his own factory, we now have the giant, impersonal monopolies, reliant on state contracts or subsidies. So what the form of ownership is not the decisive question; what matters are the interests in which industry is being run. Instead of individual ownership, the capitalist class as a whole owned the railways, the mines and energy producers.

Nationalised industries are said to be for the profit of the community but they are for the benefit the capitalist class and when they no longer serve that function, they are privatised. Certain industries, delivered up to the greed of private companies, become instruments for the exploitation of other sections of the capitalist class, and so powerful they grow that they disturb the whole bourgeois system. Capitalism is forced to make attempts to overcome its own anarchy of production if it is to continue to survive under modern conditions. The first attempts in this direction are represented by the organisation of cartels and trusts; later the direct intervention of the state become increasingly necessary. On the world market, state control is needed by the capitalist, in order to render the national industries better able to compete. While many saw nationalisation as a step towards the socialist planned economy it was merely the natural consequence of the modernisation of the out-of-date industries by the capitalist state in order to render British capitalist industry as a whole more able to compete. The whole reason for the nationalisation measures of the Labour Government 1945-51 was that the recovery of the whole economy would have been endangered without cheaper access to transport and fuel.

Naturally the whole process of state control over industry remains in the hands of the capitalist class and its representatives. In Britain the management of the nationalised industries stayed in the hands of much the same people who ran them previously—plus a number of loyal labour lieutenants of capitalism who were rewarded for services rendered with jobs. By December, 1949 of 131 names listed by Mr. Attlee on central nationalised boards, sixty-one also held directorships in private companies, twenty-three were knights, nine were lords, and three were generals. It may not be altogether unfair to suggest that their devotion to the socialist idea was not primary. In such a state-controlled economy the profit motive—the fundamental cause of capitalist crises—naturally remains untouched. In fact the control itself exists solely for the maintenance and the increase of profits.

In capitalist society a private industry only becomes a State service in order to better serve the interest of the bourgeoisie. We witnessed that with the state take-over of the failed banks of Northen Rock, Royal Bank of Scotland and the Halifax Bank of Scotland to preserve the integrity of the financial sector as a whole. Nationalising the banks have been instrumental in maintaining the class structure of British society. It was a nationalisation which feathered the bed of the capitalists and the banking oligarchs remained safe in their beds. The capitalist bank nationalisations is the clearest proof that capitalists are prepared to concede formal ownership of the means of production to the state provided that it is in what they call ’the national interest’ (i.e. in the interests of their class as a whole, as represented by their state). Ownership is a secondary matter; there are all kinds of private, collective and state forms of ownership - what is important is the class reality which lies behind these legal arrangements in that the capitalist class is still in power and in control of its capitalist state.

State employees, like workers in private employment, strike and engage in a struggle with the exploiters. Even if the new state owners desired to improve the lot of those employed would they be able to do so? The work-places of the state and municipality are prisons quite as bad as private workshops, if not worse. But those “revolutionaries” will have to mount guard over the general interests of society served by the socialised industries, and in particular over the interests of those directly engaged in them. The state ownership of the Post Office in this country since the 18th century has meant neither improved conditions for the post office workers, nor any advantage to the working class as a whole. We witnessed the same despotic rule and saw that those who worked most and hardest would still get the least remuneration.

There is no question of syndicalism or “guild socialism”: each factory and work-place will not be owned by its own workers. They will be “owned” by the working class collectively. Nor will the question of competition (and conflicts) between various factories arise through a system of “”market socialism.”

Surely, today, nobody believes that thanks to a British Rail or a National Coal Board, we will reach the New Jerusalem. We have learned from the political failures of the past just how disastrous the idea is that socialism can be established over time by a “working class government” through nationalisation and state control. Yet nationalisation under workers’ control is the now the cry being raised in some quarters but it is a call for the working class to undertake the management of their own exploitation.

Within this model wage labour would still function and it follows that so too would capital. Capital accumulation out of surplus value would be the overriding imperative of this system. At the end of the day what we have is just another class-based society parading as one in which the means of production are purportedly publically-owned but actually owned by the state-apparatus. It is the Left’s mistaken belief mistaken belief that “socialism” is simply a change in administration and so if nationalisation gives the appearence of worker-control it must be well down the road to socialism.

Although they left no detailed blueprint of a socialist society, the viewpoint of Marx and Engels, was that socialism would be a new mode of social production that would in essence be an “association of free and equal producers", not a system where the administrator of production and distribution would be the state, but rather the producers and consumers themselves to whom these functions of ownership and control would fall. The path to socialism is not through nationalisation, public corporations or even trade union control, but through a fundamental change in class relations. Socialism is rule by the working people. They will decide how socialism is to work. This was how Marx defined socialism. To-day there is no difficulty whatever in creating wealth far in excess of our requirements and the motto, “From each according to ability, to each according to needs,” now ceases to be utopian and becomes a reality.