Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pensioners And Penury

With the present government thinking up new ways to cut welfare benefits a new target has arisen. Politicians are starting to talk about cutting benefits for elderly workers and getting a lot of support from the media. Free TV licences for the over 75s, free bus travel and winter fuel assistance are amongst their targets. So who are these "wealthy" pensioners? 'According to Age Concern, more than 1.7 million pensioners live below the poverty line, with incomes of less than £215 a week; more than 26 per cent of pensioner couples have less than £1,500 in savings between them.' (Times, 26 June) The same newspaper reports that according to the charity BAPEN, more than 1.3 million over-70s suffer or at risk from malnutrition. Hardly "wealthy" is it? RD

The Socialist Party case for democracy

People talk incessantly about “The System”. “The System is bad”, “The System must be changed”. “Vote for me, because I am going to change The System”. What system, exactly?

The original theory of democracy envisaged popular participation in the running of affairs, what is called "participatory democracy". This is the sort of democracy the Socialist Party of Great Britain favour but we know the most we will get under capitalism is the right to vote, under more-or-less fair conditions, for who shall control political power— a minimalist form of democracy that at least provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians. This  form of politics is an effective antidote to bureaucratism, radical in the sense that it is not simply concentrating on the issue of democracy but upon the whole concept of leadership. Socialism is not the result of blind faith, followers, or, by the same token, vanguards and leaders. Nothing is more repugnant to socialism than clever strategisms and conspiratorial tactics. Socialism is not possible without socialists.

Loan Sharks and Pay Day Lenders

It is estimated that 165,000 households in Britain use illegal money lenders and that many thousands are in serious debt to them. The borrowers are people with a bad credit history or who cannot manage their finances or whose income is very low. The current recession is blamed for the squeeze on people’s incomes and state benefits are rarely enough to fill the gap. In extreme cases, parents resort to stealing food.

The poor are fertile territory for doorstep lenders. If you are desperate and the kids haven’t eaten for three days, a person coming to the door and offering a loan seems like the Messiah. In fact, they are a pack of wolves.

Demands for action against loan sharks led to the establishment of official Illegal Money Lending Teams which operate across the country. They claim to have secured 222 prosecutions, assisted 19,000 victims and secured prison sentences on perpetrators totalling 150 years.

Debra Wilson wanted to buy a computer for her daughter as a Christmas present. The cost was £350 so she borrowed £500 from a money lender, accepting that there would be “a bit of interest” added to the repayments. A few days later, the lender said he wanted £750 in return, payable the following month. Mrs Wilson could not meet the terms and took out further loans, increasing her debt. At one point she was paying more than £2,000 a month and over seven years the lender charged her a total of £88,000, sometimes accompanying demands with threats of physical violence.

In Newcastle Crown Court, Judge John Evans told Robert Reynolds, Mrs Wilson’s lender: “You are a loan shark, a person without a conscience. Your behaviour was beneath contempt. Reynolds admitted a charge of harassment with intent to commit violence and received a suspended prison sentence.

The supposed legal sector of pay day loans is little better. For Wonga and other "legal loan sharks" it is a £2bn business. One million families are being forced to take out payday loans every month as they struggle to meet the rising cost of living, new research reveals today. A poll for Which?, the consumer organisation, shows that nearly 400,000 of them use the high-cost loans to pay for essentials such as food and fuel, while 240,000 need the money to pay off existing credit. Half of the people who take out payday loans find they can't cover the cost of repayments – which can attract interest rates of more than 5,000% – which means they are forced to take out new credit and spiral further into debt.

The poll by Which? found that 4 per cent of people, equivalent to one million households in the UK, said they had taken out a payday loan in the last month. Some 38 per cent of people who do so use them to pay for food and fuel, while 24 per cent repay existing payday loans. A total of 79 per cent of people, about 38.5 million adults, use some form of credit, while 44 per cent are worried about their household level of debt.

Seven in ten of payday loan users regret taking out credit in the past, while 49 per cent found they couldn't meet the high cost of payments, and 28 per cent said that, while they don't like being in debt, they saw it as a necessary part of their life. While the repayments and interest on a month-long loan may be initially small, borrowers get into trouble when they cannot pay back on time, or have to roll over the credit. What starts off as a small amount can spiral into tens of thousands of pounds.

Until Tomorrow

A 1961 sci-fi short story from the archives of the Socialist Party of Canada 

"The destruction was so near complete that plant and animal life crept back over the earth slowly. The soil itself was to a great extent polluted by the fall-out. But that portion of humanity which escaped was truly fit, and brought with it memories, and a resolve never to repeat the fatal mistake of society divided against itself."

The speaker was Hubert Brodkin, venerable sage and keeper of the archives; the time, the year 1000 A.H. (after the holocaust); the place, Entrada Island, large western neighbor of a country once called Kanata. Professor Brodkin's listeners, several thousand in number, were gathered on the sea-shore and along the sandy estuaries of two great rivers; yet so near perfect was his voice transmitter that all could have heard had he spoken in a whisper. Behind them lay a lush land and all shared in common those things commonly used. There was plenty for all, with no rich, no poor, a fulfillment of the dreams of ancient dreamers called "Utopians," whose very names were forgotten.

"Warnings of the impending catastrophe," continued the professor, "were given about the year 1950, in what was then referred to as the 'Christian Era.' But the great mass of people were indifferent, and left all vital matters to those few who held them in complete subjection and who were spoken of as "experts." The particular economic and social period was described variously as 'Rugged Individualism,' 'Democracy,' and 'A Way of Life.' Five per cent of the population came into control of ninety-five per cent of the world's wealth, and so well did they command communication and silence opposition that the major portion of mankind was thought-controlled. It was a time of hand-clapping, of slogans, catch-words and phrases. Imitation came to be regarded as talent. Mouth-gurgling passed for music. From talking and thinking alike people began to look alike, to resemble in certain measure a famous dummy of the time called 'Mortimer Snerd.' And so tractable had they become that the dominant few, drunk with power and greediness could play with them as an angler plays with a hooked fish. This mass inertia tempted the world's dictators to lead it on into events so terrible that today's descriptions are dumb. People and records went down to destruction together, and what little I can tell you was passed on mainly by word of mouth from those few who survived to their descendants."

Here, onward, Professor Brodkin's style of speech became broken now and then by a slangy idiom echoing, so to speak, out of some forgotten time with which he alone seemed in tune:

"The circus began in this section of the earth after a number of sailing ships unloaded their razzle-dazzle biped freight. They struck a wild land inhabited by Primitives. Each ship's company consisted of a small number of Grabbers and a large quota of Goofs. The Grabbers were OK, they were wise cookies. The Goofs were everything else. Unlike Mother Hubbard, they were at once both poor and lacking in ambition. So long as they could eat, sleep, and breathe air in and out they were satisfied. The Grabbers sicked the Goofs onto the Primitives. The Goofs advanced in three columns. Some members of the first unit rode horses. Others bore guns, powder, and lead. Such gentry were described in a future time as 'Liberators.' Their combined attack appalled the Primitives who fought back as best they could with stone hatchets, bows and arrows. The front section of the second column carried a huge white cross on which the skeleton of a man was spread — this terrorized the Primitives. Now followed closely a group clad in long black coats, and carrying large books in their hands — these hypnotized the Primitives and softened 'em up for the third company. These sweet-scented gentlemen lugged kegs and jugs filled with a fiery fluid which sent the blood racing through the natives' veins, causing them to dance and whoop 'er up in wild fashion.

"Ground had now been broken for the Grabbers, who arrived plentifully supplied with mouse-traps, miscellaneous trinkets, and muskets made of cast-iron that later were to burst in the natives' faces. The Grabbers had an eye on four-footed animal skins in the possession of the Primitives. Spaniards called the procedure 'Negocio,' Englishmen dubbed it 'Business Incentive,' which term in after years was to ripen into 'Free Enterprise.'

"When the process of skinning the Primitives who had skinned the quadrupeds was well advanced and both were all but exterminated, the Grabbers divided the country amongst themselves, drove stakes and built fences around their allotments, then posted signs proclaiming this land is the private property of Grabber So-and-So and trespassers will be severely dealt with by virtue of 'Constituted Authority.' This latter sounded awesome to the Goofs, and since it was printed in large capitals they had not the temerity to question matters; especially when a number of the bigger Goofs were dressed in uniforms, armed, and sworn to obey the rules laid down by Constituted Authority.

"A 'Culture' period now followed in which the Goofs were taught to sing patriotic songs, and told how lucky they were to be living in Kanata. It was driven home to them how badly the Grabbers of other lands treated their Goofs.

"Then, when the landless, propertyless Goofs had no alternative, they made a deal with their overlords by which they (the Goofs) could live on the lands and do all the work, cut the timber, build the houses, grow the crops, raise cattle, build dams, factories, power plants; in brief, do everything necessary to keep the Grabbers in clover.

"The society developing out of this lopsided partnership became finally an insane mechanism in which the parts operated against the whole. Each family of Goofs desired the elimination of its neighbor. Each group hoped for the misfortune of other groups. Everywhere, individual interest took precedence over public good. The lawyer wanted litigations, particularly among the rich. The physician wanted sickness — he would be ruined if everybody died without disease. The military man wanted wars that would carry off half his comrades and secure him promotion; the undertaker wanted burials; farmers wanted famine to double, or treble the price of grain; the architect, carpenter and mason wanted conflagrations. It was truly each against all. The era was described by a noted philosopher, Bertram Dresser, as 'Graboofia.' Indeed it is to Dr. Dresser that we are indebted for much of the information handed down. And it all added up to a survival of the slickest.

"This charming result was affected by the Goofs surrendering to the Grabbers at the point of production their entire product, and receiving wages sufficient merely to restore the energy to work. Surplus values retained by the Grabbers had to be sold in order to provide them with profit, ease and luxury. Fully half the Goofs were now put to advertising and unloading the loot. But due to a world wide expansion of technology the Grabber gangs of most lands had surpluses to sell. Markets shrunk and rivalry between the great robber groups grew bitter. In the frantic search for trade they ferreted out all potential customers. It was at this point that propaganda ran rife and military build up sky-rocketed. It was a carnival of name-calling; when interests clashed the other fellow became a 'Red,' a 'Black,' a 'Blue,' or a 'Communist.' Each Grabber group would trot out some new weapon, expecting all opposition to collapse in fear; but instead, some one of them would come up with an even newer and better instrument of destruction. More than half the Goofs' labours were devoted to this end.

"From early youth Kanatan Goofs had been taught that one of their number could whip any six foreigners. Was not this well proven by that affair with the Primitives? True, the Goofs had stuck knives on the ends of their guns to avoid getting too close to the enemy with his short knife; but all's fair when glory is to be won!

"As to the Grabbers, they never intended to do any fighting, and had hideouts for themselves prepared in advance. And they planned all along to instruct their principal servants to prepare, in the name of Constituted Authority, documents ordering the Goofs to advance against their foreign counterparts whose own Grabbers had been designated as enemies. So powerful and so few in numbers had the world's Grabbers become, they could start and stop isolated wars at any time without those who fought knowing who was responsible. Surviving Goofs, returning victorious were rewarded with medals and cement monuments. and 'Remembrance' days. And they were a long time complacent. They believed the few in control of the earth were fearful of launching an all out chemical and germ war lest they themselves perish in the process.

"Step by step, many Goofs began to realize the sheer lunacy of Graboofia. They visualized a tomorrow, with a way of life where each against all had given way to a world of one for all and all for one. They realized they outnumbered the Grabbers 1000 to 1 and had the power to change the world, if they had the determination.

"But an effective job of head-fixing had been accomplished by the authorities through their control of the powerful means of spreading ideas; the schools, the church, the newspapers, the movies, the television. Those Goofs striving to change the world were pictured as enemies of individualism, free enterprise, liberty and democracy. Yet there were signs of rumbling and a growing awareness of a better tomorrow. Then somewhere, some one committed a 'hostile' act, and the terrible, indiscriminate destruction broke out. Unbelievable secret devices of death came out of concealment. Millions of men, women, and children were killed or maimed, blinded and rendered insane. A creeping death enveloped the entire earth. Almost everything wilted before it. Some of the people found refuge in caverns, others in sheltered nooks near sea-level. Communication, except the more primitive kinds and the printed word were lost as survivors slipped backward toward savagery. But the story of mankind before the holocaust (thanks to story-tellers like Dr. Dresser) was not lost completely, nor was the belief that some tomorrow would bring forth a fuller life."

As the professor's voice died away the Islanders rose slowly from the sands and headed homeward. The disappearing sun, seeming also content had painted the horizon a rosy red and bridged the sea-water with a streak of light which now retreated swiftly with the seconds, like the flashing smile of some departing guest — departed until tomorrow.


Trotting after Trotsky

Socialist Courier has recently posted a number of articles on Leninism. Its equally evil twin, Trotskyism,  should not be overlooked.

"Permanent Revolution"

Trotsky acquired the phrase from Marx’s writings and very much like Lenin and his use of “dictatorship of the proletariat” from Marx, applied it in such a way that it was not originally intended to be used by Marx.

Marx first used the phrase in the following passage from The Holy Family, 1845 He wrote:

 “Napoleon represented the last battle of revolutionary terror against the bourgeois society which had been proclaimed by this same Revolution, and against its policy. Napoleon, of course, already discerned the essence of the modern state; he understood that it is based on the unhampered development of bourgeois society, on the free movement of private interest, etc. He decided to recognise and protect this basis. He was no terrorist with his head in the clouds. Yet at the same time he still regarded the state as an end in itself and civil life only as a treasurer and his subordinate which must have no will of its own. He perfected the Terror by substituting permanent war for permanent revolution. He fed the egoism of the French nation to complete satiety but demanded also the sacrifice of bourgeois business, enjoyments, wealth, etc., whenever this was required by the political aim of conquest. If he despotically suppressed the liberalism of bourgeois society — the political idealism of its daily practice — he showed no more consideration for its essential material interests, trade and industry, whenever they conflicted with his political interests. …. Paris exchange- brokers forced him by means of an artificially created famine to delay the opening of the Russian campaign by nearly two months and thus to launch it too late in the year.”

In this passage, Marx says that Napoleon prevented the 'bourgeois revolution' in France from becoming fulfilled: that is, he prevented bourgeois political forces from achieving a total expression of their interests. According to Marx, he did this by suppressing the 'liberalism of bourgeois society'; and he did it because he saw 'the state as an end in itself', a value which supported his 'political aim of conquest'. Thus, he substituted 'permanent war for permanent revolution'. The final two sentences, however, show that the bourgeoisie did not give up hope, but continued to pursue their interests. This tells us that, for Marx, 'permanent revolution' involves a revolutionary class (in this case, the bourgeoisie) continuing to push for, and achieve, its interests despite the political dominance of actors with opposing interests.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

No more war - No more armies

Parades, medal ceremonies and fly-pasts over three Scottish cities are being held to mark Armed Forces Day. The main celebrations centre on Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Inverness, Perth and Aberdeen on Saturday, with other events around the country. The UK's fifth Armed Forces Day is being held to show support and appreciation for the armed services.

 One must be quite starry-eyed, in fact, delusional, to see war as the humanitarian instrument of peace.

The United Kingdom  decides whether or not to wage war according to the chances of succeeding and to their own assessment of their strategic, political and economic interests. And once a war is begun, they want to win at all costs. It makes no sense to ask them to carry out only good interventions, against genuine villains, using gentle methods that spare civilians and innocent bystanders.  It makes no sense to ask them to protect but not to bomb, because armies function by shooting and bombing. Those who say “support our troops” serve to neutralise any peace or anti-war movement. Opposition is attacked as “support for dictators”, another “Munich appeasement”, or “the crime of indifference”.

The problem is that every war is justified by a massive propaganda effort which is based on demonising the enemy. To-days Armed Forces Day actually canonises the combatants.

 When the media announce that a massacre is imminent, we hear at times that action is “urgent” to save the alleged future victims, and time cannot be lost making sure of the facts. This may be true when a house is on fire, but such urgency regarding other countries ignores the manipulation of information and just plain error and confusion that dominate foreign news coverage. The slightest mistake by the anti-war movement will be endlessly used against us, whereas all the lies of the pro-war propaganda are soon forgotten. The “we must do something” brushes aside any serious reflection as to what might be done instead of military intervention.

We've always had wars. Humans are a warring species. Without an army to defend us, someone will always try to conquer us." How often is this heard to make it acceptable to encourage people to engage in killing?

 Some people declare that human nature makes peace impossible, that war is built into our genes. They point to research by evolutionary biologists that indicates our closest genetic relatives, the chimpanzees, make war. Therefore war must be part of our heredity. It's true that in certain situations chimpanzees do raid neighboring colonies and kill other chimps. Those studies on killer apes got enormous publicity because they implied that war is hardwired into human nature. Most scientists didn't draw those conclusions from the evidence, but the mass media kept reinforcing that message. Further research, however, led to a key discovery: The chimps who invaded their neighbors were suffering from shrinking territory and food sources. They were struggling for survival. Groups with adequate resources didn't raid other colonies. The aggression wasn't a behavioral constant but was caused by the stress they were under. Their genes gave them the capacity for violence, but the stress factor had to be there to trigger it into combat. This new research showed that war is not inevitable but rather a function of the stress a society is under. Our biological nature doesn't force us to war, it just gives us the potential for it. Without stress to provoke it, violence can remain one of the many unexpressed capacities our human evolution has given us.

Our society has a deeply entrenched assumption that stress is essential to life. Many of our social and economic structures are based on conflict. Capitalism's need for continually expanding profits generates stress in all of us. We've been indoctrinated to think this is normal and natural, but it's really pathological. It damages life in ways we can barely perceive because they're so built into us. We don't have to live this way. We can reduce the stress humanity suffers under. We can create a society that meets human needs and distributes the world's resources according to those needs. We can live at peace with one another. But that's going to take basic changes.

These changes threaten the power holders of our society. Since capitalism is a predatory social and economic system, predatory personalities rise to power. They view the world through a lens of aggression. But it's not merely a view. They really are surrounded by enemies. So they believe this false axiom they are propagating that wars are inevitable. In the past their predecessors defended their power by propagating other nonsense: kings had a divine right to rule over us, blacks were inferior to whites, women should obey men. We've outgrown those humbugs, and we can outgrow this one.

Let us cease celebrating war.

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 4)

Revolution or Putsch?

The insurrection that gave power to the Bolsheviks was strictly speaking the work of the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. The Bolsheviks used this more subtle approach of disguising its seizure of power as an assumption of power by the Congress of Soviets and it was through the organ of the Military Revolutionary Council, NOT the Soviet. The storming of the Winter Palace, was not done by a mass of politically aware workers, but by a few hundred pro-Bolshevik soldiers. Trotsky admitted that the insurrection was planned by the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, of which he was the chair and which had a Bolshevik majority. Trotsky describes how this Committee took its orders directly from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. So, although the soviets had played a part in overthrowing Tsarism and opposing the Kerensky government, the events of 7 November were a Bolshevik take-over. Were the mass of the Petrograd workers conciously involved in deciding on the revolution? No. On the morning of 7 November the workers of Petrograd woke up to find that in the night the Bolshevik Party had assumed power, the Bolsheviks had carried out a revolution while they were asleep.

The MRC was set up by the Soviet on the basis of defending Petrograd because it was rumoured of another potential Kornilov plot or an imminent invading German army . It was not set up on the basis that it would overthrow the provisional government.But then, under the pretext of organising the military defence of Petrograd from this phantom invading German army, Trotsky at the head of the Petrograd Soviet's Military Revolutionary Committee, took over the garrison unit by unit, through a system of commissars, first securing vital points like the train stations and telegraph office, then finally taking the Winter Palace.

"...even when the compromisers were in power, in the Petrograd Soviet, that the Soviet examined or amended decisions of the government. This was, as it were, part of the constitution under the regime named after Kerensky. When we Bolshevists got the upper hand in the Petrograd Soviet we only went on with the system of double power and widened its application. We took it on ourselves to revise the order sending the troops to the front, and so we disguised the actual fact of the insurrection of the Petrograd garrison under the tradition and precedents and technique of the constitutional duplication of authority” - Trotsky - Lessons of October

The explicit purpose was to present the 3rd Congress of Soviets opening the next morning with a fait accompli . Lenin was sure that only this way would the support of the Congress for immediate soviet power be assured.Once it had happened, workers and soldiers were enthusiastic. And they were part of making it happen, insofar as they obeyed the orders of the MRC. But it would be misleading to say that it was carried out by the proletariat organised in soviets as such. Were non-Bolshevik proletarians in District soviets aware this was coming? No. Were the Left-SR participants in the MRC ? No. Were even the moderate wing of leading Bolshviks supportive? No.This is not to say that Petrograd workers and soldiers didn't support the idea of a soviet government. They did. But that doesn't mean that they were conciously involved in the decision to go through with the October events in order to arrive at such a government.

The total lack of opposition to the Bolsheviks and the absence of support for the Provisional Government reflected the sympathies of the workers. The Provisional Government was utterly discredited, and Bolshevism's reactionary aspect had not been revealed. Support for the action came rushing in after the event from the Soviet of Petrograd Trade Unions and the All-Russian Soviet of Factory Committees amongst others. The factory committees rallied to the Bolsheviks because the latter appeared to support the workers' aspirations. The majority of the members of the Petrograd Soviet were in favour of the overthrow of the Kerensky government, but did this mean they were in favour of the installation of a Bolshevik government. What they were in favour of was a coalition government formed by all the "workers" parties, ie the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs and others. This was in fact favoured by many within the Bolshevik Party itself, but they were over-ruled by Lenin's determination to seize power for the Bolshevik party alone. In other words, it wasn't the overthrow as such of the Kerensky government but its replacement by a Bolshevik government under Lenin. There was no mandate from the soviets for this, which was why Lenin went to great pains to disguise his party's coup as the formation of a soviet government, which it wasn't. Once they got governmental power the Bolsheviks sidelined the soviets almost straightaway. The soviets were always considered as a cover to secure Bolshevik power.

While they claimed that this was a spontaneous seizure of power by the workers, what can be seen is that it was timed to occur before the Soviet Congress could convene, and so guaranteeing Bolshevik supremacy in the soviets and little chance for a free democratic vote on the form any new government should take. It can be plausibly assumed that if the Soviet Congress had had a free vote, the Bolsheviks would have had to share power with their arch-rivals the Mensheviks. Martov called forward a resolution demanding that the Bolsheviks form a coalition government with other left-wing parties. The resolution was about to receive almost complete endorsement from the soviet representatives thus showing that the representatives in the soviet did NOT believe in all power to the Bolsheviks but then the majority of SR and Menshevik delegates unadvisedly left the congress in protest over the Bolshevik coup giving the Bolsheviks a majority of those who remained. (We can also speculate it was possible that Lenin himself could have been kept out of office due to the mistrust that many of the Mensheviks and other anti-Tsarist revolutionaries justly held him in.)

On October 25th, the presidium was elected on the basis of 14 Bolsheviks, 7 Social-Revolutionaries, three Mensheviks and one Internationalist. The Bolsheviks then trooped out their worker-candidates Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev and so on. When it came to forming a government, Kamenev read out a Bolshevik Central Committee proposal for a Soviet of People's Commissars, whereby "control over the activities of the government is vested in the Congress of Soviets and its Central Executive Committee". Seven Bolsheviks from the party's central committee were nominated, and thus Lenin and Trotsky came to sit at the top. The "workers' government" was now composed of professional revolutionaries and members of the intelligensia ranging from the aristocratic, like Chicherin, to the bureaucratic, like Lenin and Kollontai, via the landed bourgeois (Smilga), the commercial bourgeois (Yoffe) and the higher industrial bourgeois (Pyatakov). These were the sort of people who were used to being a ruling class. The management of production by the workers was one of the goals of the struggle, proclaimed by the Military Revolutionary Committee on 25 October 1917. That same day, the Second Congress of the Soviets solemnly approved the decision to establish workers control while specifying, however, that this meant controlling the capitalists and not confiscating their factories.

The Bolsheviks effectively re-defined "proletarian power" to mean the power of the party whose ideology was believed a priori to represent workers interests. "Who is to seize the power? That is now of no importance. Let the Military Revolutionary Committee take it, or 'some other institution', which will declare that it will surrender the power only to the genuine representatives of the interests of the people.''

Not "the people", not the "representatives of the people", but "the genuine representatives of the interests of the people" and that would be, of course, the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin.

Substitution of the party for the class. A take-over, not a revolution.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Year of Revolution?

We watch on our television and read about it in our newspapers. Mass protests the world over. It began a few years ago in Spain, then there was the Arab Spring, on to Greece against austerity and from there to the Wall St and St Pauls Occupy movement. Now it is taking place in Turkey and Brasil. Sadly, however,  it is not enough to have millions  of demonstrators on the streets.

That's no basis upon which to build socialism as we understand it We argue that socialism should be set up and run through the consent and cooperation of an overwhelming majority of the world's population. Above all the working class must have a clear understanding of what socialism entails and what methods are effective in overthrowing capitalism. A grasp of socialist principles by the vast majority of the workers is a minimal condition for going forward to socialism. The socialist revolution can only be democratic, in the sense of both being what the majority of people want and of being carried out by democratic methods of organisation and action.

The Paris Commune of 1871 where French workers actually created organisations of mass control which challenged the old system for a brief space of time. The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, when workers and peasants developed similar structures of direct workers' control such as the workers councils and factory committees (the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 eventually destroyed this, and ushered in a system of state capitalism). Similarly, in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the workers set up workers' councils when they took on their so-called "communist" oppressors. During the May of 1968 in France, workplaces and universities were taken over and in many cases run in a way that is of immense inspiration to socialists. 

What happened on these occasions? Certainly they were not socialist revolutions, as some claim. But they were significant in the history of the struggles of our class. They are significant because the sort of people who dismiss the possibility of revolutionary upheavals were dismissing it shortly before these events blew up in their faces. No one is in any position to dismiss the prospect of revolution who has not carefully examined these movements. In none of these cases was a socialist revolution achieved, but in each case there was a fundamental interruption of the ruling order and the appearance of new forms and conceptions of everyday life. To ignore them because of their failure is to miss the point. Individual revolts are bound to fail until they are accompanied by a widespread and growing—and ultimately worldwide—socialist consciousness. Marx's analysis shows that the socialist revolution must be world-wide and cannot be achieved in one country alone. Because capitalism has become a world-wide system the society to replace it must also be world-wide. Class emancipation must mean the "freeing of the whole of society from exploitation, oppression and class struggle . . ." 

What these examples show is that real change can be brought about by workers. Socialism is not a utopian dream. It is an ever-present undercurrent in working class practice and at times they erupt without warning, sparked off by something as mundane as protecting some trees or protesting a bus fare rise.  That these revolts do not go farther is hardly surprising. What is inspiring is that they went as far as they did.  99 percent of the socialist revolution consists of imbuing our class with the confidence and ambition to succeed, and a revulsion of living as wage slaves whether pampered or ill-fed: once we have this our numbers will carry the day. The capacity for producing abundance has been  been increased to a vast degree, yet people are still idle,  poverty stricken, homeless and starving, while the machinery of production is misused or neglected. This must change. This will change. This, the 21st century, can be the true century of revolution, of true socialist revolution. A socialist revolution, a democratic revolution without leaders, is an urgent necessity. 

The Poverty Gap

Politicians love to paint a picture of steadily improving living standards, but it is a complete illusion as a recent report has revealed. 'Living costs have risen 25% in the past five years and placed an "unprecedented" financial burden on the poor, a report has found. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said rising costs of childcare and energy, coupled with stagnating wages and benefit cuts, has created a widening poverty gap.' (BBC News, 28 June) RD

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 3)

What should be be considered when discussing the October Revolution is how the rapid time-table of the Bolsheviks revealed they had no intention of having workers' rule but only party rule and exposes the misrepresentations of the Leninists and Trotskyists.

"... just four days after seizing power, the Bolshevik Council of People's Commissars (CPC or Sovnarkom) "unilaterally arrogated to itself legislative power simply by promulgating a decree to this effect. This was, effectively, a Bolshevik coup d'etat that made clear the government's (and party's) pre-eminence over the soviets and their executive organ. Increasingly, the Bolsheviks relied upon the appointment from above of commissars with plenipotentiary powers, and they split up and reconstituted fractious Soviets and intimidated political opponents." [Neil Harding, Leninism, p. 253] ...the Bolsheviks immediately created a power above the soviets in the form of the CPC. Lenin's argument in The State and Revolution that, like the Paris Commune, the workers' state would be based on a fusion of executive and administrative functions in the hands of the workers' delegates did not last one night. In reality, the Bolshevik party was the real power in "soviet" Russia. ...." From Anarchism FAQ

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Free Access Movement

A study of history shows that from the earliest recorded times to the present, human society has had a process of change, now slow and gradual, now violent and dramatic, during which the existence of classes with opposing interests has been revealed. A fundamental Marxian position is that class struggle is the motor that drives change. Built into capitalism is a class struggle between those who own the means of wealth production and those who don't. These classes struggle for the control of society, for the power to govern society in their own interests.

What has taken place over the last few years of workers spontaneously resisting the State is indeed heartening. In the last couple of weeks and past few days we have witnessed workers in cities of Turkey and Brasil acting in their class interests.

The socialist revolution may start from some street protests spreading to the whole of the working class. Which leads to the importance of who controls the state. At the moment, this is in the hands of people favourable to the continuation of capitalism, itself a reflection of the fact that most workers too don't see any alternative to capitalism. The state, therefore, upholds legal private property rights. The end of capitalism can only come as a result of a consciously socialist political movement winning control of political power with a view to abolishing all capitalist property rights and ushering in the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. The preconditions for ending capitalism are a majority socialist consciousness and workers democratically self-organised in a large-scale socialist party. Neither of which, unfortunately, exist. There is no way that an anti-capitalist social order can be constructed without seizing state power, radically transforming it the constitutional and institutional framework that currently supports private property. To ignore the state is a ridiculous and dangerous idea for any anti-capitalist movement to accept.

All Right For Some

We are constantly being told that we are living in an economic downturn and we should all be prepared to cut our costs during this crisis, but according to the chief executive of Harrods this does not apply to the luxury side of retailing. 'Michael Ward, chief executive of the Qatari-owned retailer, has shrugged off fears of a downturn in demand for luxury goods, pledging to make the Knightsbridge department store more expensive and upmarket. ...... Speaking at the British Retail Consortium symposium, Mr Ward said that the average amount spent at Harrods had nearly doubled since the onset of the financial crisis.' (Times, 26 June) Mr Ward went on to illustrate how they sold more exquisite skins and diamond-encrusted iPad covers but also more modestly sold shirts at £75 and sweaters for £1,000. Some members of the owning class seem to be managing despite the financial downturn. RD

A Heartless Society

If you are a member of the owning class you can enjoy the best of everything. Food, clothing, shelter, education and health care of the best available are all yours.  However if you are a member of the working class you can only afford the cheap and the shoddy as this news item illustrates. 'Overflowing NHS emergency wards means desperately ill treated in cupboards and corridors. ..... Scores are feared to have lost their lives or suffered serious harm. One patient left in a hallway for two hours without appropriate treatment died after having a heart attack.' (Sunday Express, 23 June) RD

Buying your place in the team

Macclesfield Town is offering a place in its team for 20,000 pounds. The successful applicant will get to play for ten minutes. 

Could it catch on? 

The Hearts full first team made up of those paying to get it out of debt. The Pars, too? 

Dundee - the city's culture is deprivation

More than a quarter of Dundee children are living in poverty, according to latest figures. In some areas of the city, one in three youngsters are below the poverty line as parents struggle to feed their families.
The East End has 36% of kids classified as being in poverty, while Lochee and the North East of the city both have 30%. On average across the city, 26% of children are poverty-stricken — more than one in four. Coldside has 29% of children suffering, while Maryfield has 28% and Strathmartine 27%. The lowest figure for a Dundee ward was the well-off Broughty Ferry, at 7%
Mary Kinninmonth, director of Dundee Citizens Advice Bureau, said that some parents in the city were forced to make the choice between heating and food. She said: “There are people who often don’t eat properly themselves, to make sure they can feed their children. “Sometimes it is a stark choice between heating and eating."
John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said problems were expected to rise with changes to the benefits systems and Dundee would suffer more than elsewhere.
Dundee is aspiring to be the 2017 City of Culture. 
Dundee wants to be the 2017 City of Culture
Dundee wants to be the 2017 City of Culture

Home security?

Just a single percentage point rise in interest rates would be enough to force nearly 10% mortgage-holders to take drastic action so they could afford debt payments, such as cut essential spending or earn more income (for example, by working longer hours or a second job ) in order to afford their debt payments the Bank of England has warned – while a two point increase could affect those holding around 20% of mortgage debt.

Bank Deputy Governor Paul Tucker said: "If interest rates were to rise without an improvement in income, the debt servicing burden would increase."

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 2)

An article on the  Libcom website called “The Soviet State myths and realities 1917-21“ is well worth quoting at length

"The history of the Russian Revolution as told in Soviet textbooks takes place in two phases: the rising of the masses against tsarist oppression, then against Kerensky's bourgeois democracy, engendered a process of radicalization of which the Bolsheviks were both inspirers and spokesmen, preparing the ground for the second phase of the revolution, October 1917. In other words, the communists perceive an historical and theoretical continuity between the autonomous origins of the councils and the Leninist theory of the State, a view which is held even by the anti-Stalinist Marxist-Leninists.

This misrepresentation of the true course of events was essential in order to paper over the divergences between the masses and Bolshevik policy insofar as the Bolsheviks claimed, and still do claim, to incarnate the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was vital to create harmony between Party and masses. But this version of the history of the Russian Revolution contains a double mystification. On the one hand, there was not one type of soviet, but two quite distinct types. The first made its appearance in Russia in 1905, and we find traces of it up to May 1907. These were councils that had arisen spontaneously out of the January-February 1905 strike. We may say that these soviets largely expressed the self-action of the Russian proletariat. Then there were the Russian soviets of 1917, followed by their central European counterparts. In Russia, at least, their emergence was supervised, provoked even, by all those bustling around the revolution in one capacity or another: politicians, trade unionists, journalists, adventurers and demagogues...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The world class struggle

Is there a commonality between the Spanish Indigados, the Occupy Movement, hosts of other social protests from Israel to Greece, and now showing itself in Turkey and Brasil?

The current economic and social crisis is certainly a deep one and is driving capitalist states and capitalist companies towards some desperate measures to try and stabilise the system and restore (and where possible) increase real profit levels. But this is not to assume that particular capitalist governments or companies are stuck with only one set of inflexible policies. The problem is that isolated struggles by workers in the context of intense capitalist competition will give the capitalists more abillity to offload any gains made by one sector onto other workers The generalisation of struggle will make that harder for them to achieve this and can potentially push back the austerity measures accross a wider front at least on a temporary basis.

Alexander Berkman, the author of the ABC of Anarchism, put it "Capitalism will continue as long as such an economic system is considered adequate and just".

 Until people see through it capitalism will continue to stagger on from economic crisis to war to ecological crisis. To simply denounce finance capitalism as the main enemy is to side with industrial capital in the struggle between the two over how much each is to get of the wealth produced by the worker class. When we challenge capitalism, we challenge it all or we do not challenge it at all.

Can crisis, in certain circumstances provide an accelerant to the class struggle? And what will motivate the working class to overthrow capitalism if not the crisis of the latter? For decades self-proclaimed "Marxists" (especially Trotskyists) fetishised the word "crisis", and describe every economic downturn and political turn of events as the "crisis of capitalism" or even prophesising the "inevitable" end of capitalism. It’s proposed that in a crisis, the closer we are to revolution. The worse conditions become - the more politicised and inclined to take direct action the populace become. Some communists welcome the economic crisis of capitalism and claim there is no perspective of revolution without it. Some of those "Marxists" say "Bring on the crisis" because for the working class things will not be able to continue as before. It is argued that without some form of crisis there's no reason at all for the proletariat to revolt.

 As long as capitalism can offer us palliatives (or at least the illusions of them) to soothe our exploitation, the system will survive It is argued that crises opens up the possibility of revolution, even if it doesn't guarantee it. But without crisis there is no possibility whatsoever. There unfortunately won't be a perspective of revolution with it, either. Genuine socialists prefer that working class living standards aren't severely cut. How do we agitate workers around this issue? "Cheers for the crisis"!! Most of the vanguard Left seems to be basing all of its activity around either recruiting workers into their particular party, or upon the vague hope that the working class will engage in some kind of spontaneous communist revolution. Wishing the massive impacts of a massive economic crisis/recession upon people's lives just in the hope that their fringe ideas will get picked up and perhaps adhered to by a handful of additional people, the contempt that it shows for humanity is disdainful. It also lays bare the complete and utter impotence of said movements in the first place. This overly optimistic wish fulfilment mixed with its crude utopian determinism does no justice to Marx.

Historically, it hasn't shown crises capable of producing anything that is favourable to the process of implementing a sustainable social and economic system that could both eclipse and be more progressive than the current form of organising society. The track records of crises are such that they have not produced a lasting positive effect on any attempts to eclipse the current method of organising society. We've seen countless crises since the birth of capitalism, all of which the effects of have been disproportionaly visited upon those who can least afford to bear those consequences, and none of which have ended up leaving the position of class struggle or even progressive social democratic politics in an enhanced position after the event, maybe for blips of time, but in the long run, crisis have been kinder to capitalism than they have to us - and those going into a crisis with power will invariably come out of the other end of it in a far better position than those who went into it with less power. Anyone who had a realistic view of the implications of the coming crisis relating to the environment, resources, food and population pressures would not be so gleeful in their wishing those effects upon an already downtrodden working class. Crisis in the main are useful to capitalism. Capitalism needs crisis to continually move onto the next stage and it is odd that those who are supposedly against capitalism wish for things that will help capitalism to reassert itself even wider and deeper than it currently is.

Socialists will not bring consciousness to the working class from the outside but awareness will be developed in the workers' struggles to defend itself against the inevitable intensification of the attacks against it. There's nothing inevitable about this and if the working class cannot rise to the occasion overall, it gets defeated. The economic crisis (like war, etc.) can provide a stimulus for class struggle, but this is not always the case. In some circumstances it can demoralise the class or, even if the class struggles it can be dragged onto bourgeois terrain like the strikers in France in the 30s who supported leftist governments and marched under the national flag. Despite the considerable militancy, the class struggle was contained. What can happen is that the working class could be beat down more than it already has been in the previous decades. The working class is mostly under the sway of bourgeois ideology, is not organised even into class fighting organisations, and therefore is presently unable to threaten the bourgeoisie's power. The Great Depression produced no revolutionary upsurge and the appalling conditions of workers in the 3rd world haven't automatically led to social revolution in those countries either. We can perhaps even expect to see reactionary ideology make a resurgence amongst the working class, in the midst of any coming crisis. If the working class is not already prepared it will be divided and defeated. That is not appealing prospect.

Economic crisis and increasing misery for the working class doesn't necessarily and inevitably lead to revolution. Relying upon the effects of the crisis seems to be the lazy way to try and approach social change, scrap all the groundwork and hope the crisis does it for you. While it is argued that downturns make people angry and more susceptible to revolutionary ideas, the opposite may be true. It may be downturns just lead to despair, fatalism, acceptance of misery and cynicism to things getting better. Upturns in the economy make revolution more likely because it is the human condition never to be satisfied and when you've got the job, house, wages, car and all the mod cons then you want more - security, control over your own life which can only be got by workers ownership and control of our own work, residents ownership of their own homes and individuals control over our lives, all of which can only be got by way of socialist revolution.

When crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That is our basic function: to develop alternatives, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable. The best we can hope for is to use this as an opportunity to re-group, in order to get the working class in a stronger position to start from when the boom returns. All we can do is to try to negotiate the best terms possible and try to resist as effectively as we can the increased downward pressures on wages and working conditions (for which we need collective organisation and action, even within the existing trade unions). As to what revolutionaries can do, at the moment being so small a minority, we can't do much more than keep on arguing that the only way-out is to replace capitalism by a system based on common ownership (instead of class ownership) and production solely for use (instead of production for profit) and to keep on urging workers to self-organise themselves democratically to bring this social revolution about

The whole point of class struggle is about winning gains, making our lives better, getting better conditions at work, at home and in society, things that the bulk of the population can easily measure in terms of the direct affect on their day to day lives. We are not going to get much support for our ideas if we come out with argument like "well your living standards may well have declined, your worse off now than when we started, and we haven't gained anything in terms of changing the incredibly unjust system of organising society, but just look at the enormous gains we've made in terms of the class struggle" - the whole point is to win real tangible gains that in turn can bolster people and show it can be done, thus allowing momentum to build, more people won over to a critical analysis of the society they live in, more ideas developed for such a time that when the crisis does come so that the right ideas are lying around, in sufficient depth and breadth, that they can be picked up and used, and some good made out of a crisis. But until that time comes it's just pissing against the wind. Struggles should be aimed towards achieving real gains for the sake of those gains or delivering 'an increased confidence, autonomy, initiative,participation, solidarity, egalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses', but all of these are a means to and end and that end should be measurable in terms of improvements in our lives. Workers benefit from their struggles in terms of learning how to organise, discovering their collective power, etc.

Like it or not but capitalism did deliver huge increases in the standards of living over various phases, take the post-war golden age of the Welfare State for example. Capitalism in the social democratic era brought about a flourishing of consumer capitalism. The intention of this was not to increase conditions and the general living conditions of the working class, but it was a means to an end for capitalism to accumulate more, and as we know capital will do anything if it means being able to accumulate more, so from that point of view capitalism was happy to, and indeed was required to, deliver a vast increase in living standards and quality of life compared with previous periods of history. In order for it to do this it meant wreaking havoc in other areas and storing up problems for the future, but the bottom line was that the general conditions of the working class have improved under capitalism. You could argue however that conditions have just improved because time has moved on and those improvements would have been seen in any method of organising society, but that would be indulging in what-if's. A substantial amount of the demands of early reformists and the like have actually been delivered. It is it's galling to perhaps admit these things but it does help if you want change, to actually know where you are before embarking on any activity, practical or theoretical, aimed at bringing about that change.

Marx said in the Holy Family:-
"Not in vain does it go through the stern but steeling school of labour. It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat, at the moment regards as its aim. It is a question of what the proletariat is, and what, in accordance with this being, it will historically be compelled to do. Its aim and historical action is visibly and irrevocably foreshadowed in its own life situation as well as in the whole organization of bourgeois society today."

Consciousness is something that workers has to acquire, even if it does not want to.

The liberation of our class will only come about when we, the class ourselves, for ourselves, do the hard work of organising, which needs that we class conscious workers doing the equally hard work of convincing our fellow workers. At the end of the day, as pro-revolutionaries, it is not in our interest to try and save capitalism but rather to destroy it and to encourage current struggles to develop on an independent, self-organised, class basis and extend across national boundaries which may well give rise to an escalation of the social crisis and starts to challenge capitalism as a whole from a position of some class strength. Only the self-organisation of the proletariat contains the potential to defend its own interests both in the short-term economic and the longer term political. A working class that can't defend itself is also a working class that is incapable of making a revolution.

Marx wrote "Philosophers have only tried to understand the world. The point is to change it."
The IWW sang "Don't moan, Organise!"

Fact of the Day

Almost two million retired adults in the UK have less disposable income than the average 11 year-old, according to a report. 

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 1)

The SPGB view expressed repeatedly is socialism could not be established in backward isolated Russian conditions where the majority neither understood nor desired socialism. The takeover of political power by the Bolsheviks obliged them to adapt their programme to those undeveloped conditions and make continual concessions to the capitalist world around them. In the absence of world socialist revolution there was only one road forward for semi-feudal Russia, the capitalist road , and it was the role of the Bolsheviks to develop industry through state ownership and the forced accumulation of capital . The SPGB would classify the Russian Revolution as a bourgeoise revolution without the bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged to do what had not been fully done previously, i.e. develop capitalism. The Bolsheviks performed the task of setting Russian capitalism on its feet .

"No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room within it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society" - Marx

The Bolsheviks, however, thought it possible for an active minority, representing the aspirations of the workers, to gain political power before the capitalist revolution itself had been completed. But what would happen if such a minority gained a political victory over the capitalist classes? In those circumstances, the minority become merely the tools of the capitalist class, which has not been virile enough to gain or hold power. Such a minority finds itself in the position of having to develop and run capitalism for a class unable, at the time, to do it successfully itself. In running capitalism, the minority will be compelled to use its power to keep the working class in its wage-slave position. The SPGB argument is that the material conditions in Russia meant the development of capitialism, which the Bolsheviks were unable to avoid. In fact, they became its agents .

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Patients are not Widgets

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland, hit at the NHS Trusts.

 "We now see health boards talking about 'their' patients, almost implying that the doctors it employs or contracts with are mere technicians in the pursuit of their corporate aim. What an insult to those of us who came into medicine to treat patients to the best of their ability." He said: "Bean counting and clinical direction by managers with top-down politically-inspired targets are not compatible with relationships founded on trust between physician and patient. Patients are not widgets and I get upset when they are treated as such, and when I am considered a mere tool within a corporate design. This slavish addiction to an ethos of corporatism and managerialism has led to doctors, nurses and other clinicians becoming progressively disempowered." He added: "What I want to see for my successors in the NHS is a return to what is at the heart of laudable patient safety and quality initiatives - the centrality of the patient and his or her relationship with their doctor, nurse or therapist,"

Imperialism: Plague on both houses

The Left-wing have just not been interested in any criticism of what has become a dogma in their circles: that socialists are duty-bound to support struggles for "national liberation". The "revolutionary" Left simply "trot" out the old anti-imperialism position of supporting the weaker country against imperialist aggression which refuses any real class analysis of war.

Lenin wrote a pamphlet which he entitled Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In it he argued that, through a process which had been completed by the turn of the century, capitalism had changed its character. Industrial capital and bank capital had merged into finance capital, and competitive capitalism had given way to monopoly capitalism in which trusts, cartels and other monopolistic arrangements had come to dominate production. Faced with falling profits from investments at home, these monopolies were under economic pressure to export capital and invest it in the economically backward parts of the world where higher than normal profits could be made. Hence, Lenin went on, the struggle by the most advanced industrial countries to secure colonies where such "super-profits" could be made. When, after 1917, Lenin became the head of the Bolshevik regime in Russia the theory was expanded to argue that the imperialist countries were exploiting the whole population of the backward areas they controlled and that even a section of the working class in the imperialist countries benefited from the super—profits made from the imperialist exploitation of these countries in the form of social reforms and higher wages, Lenin argued that imperialism was in part a conscious strategy to buy off the working classes in the imperialist countries. His evidence consists of one quote from arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes , and one from Engels to the effect that the workers of England "merrily share the feast" of its colonies.

Firstly his analysis is out of date when applied to the current situation. Perhaps more importantly Lenin's theory of imperialism Lenin's theory of imperialism pitted the working class of undeveloped countries against that of the developed ones. It led to upholding national interest against class interest. Lenin's position was not a mistake. The “labour aristocracy” theory had the political purpose of enabling the Bolsheviks to argue for the workers in the colonies to form united fronts with their local ruling classes against Imperialism. This in turn had the aim of dividing the working class internationally, and turning it into cannon fodder for capitalist war. Lenin's expanded theory made the struggle in the world not one between an international working class and an international capitalist class, but between imperialist and anti—imperialist states. The international class struggle which socialism preached was replaced by a doctrine which preached an international struggle between states.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The choice is ours to make

Marx’s motto was to “Doubt everything”.

In an age where the internet provides us with unlimited access to the direct sources there appears to be no limits to the misunderstanding and distortion of Marx. In books and articles there is continuous reference to Marx, attacking him from all sides for claims that he never made. Many critiques basically accuses Marx of a economic determinism which makes men puppets in the hands of economic forces and the Materialist Conception of History interpreted as economic determinism is found in a collection of Marx’s critics.

Marx’s approach to history is explained in his Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and in the Communist Manifesto. Marx’s scientific method was to proceed by simplifying concrete and complex manifestations into an abstraction, which becomes less and less complex until reaching the simplest conception. Then, by systematically adding complicating factors there is a return journey towards empirical reality. Marx was a believer in abstraction, systematic analysis, and successive approximations to a reality too complex to grasp directly. “Scientific socialism” was not so much the argument itself but the means by which the argument was first thought out and the habitual mode of thinking of the individual which was both open-minded and sceptical, willing to embrace or drop an idea depending on the evidence, willing to change the theory if the evidence demands it.

People makes their own history. Nobody has everything predetermined for him or her. That is not Marxism. The Material Conception of History does not deny the influence of ideas and it sets out to explain where ideas come from, as against those idealists who say that ideas have an independent existence, and are the primary cause of social change. Marx presented a theory of social change that locates the ultimate causes of change within the material and economic conditions of life that we have to examine the underlying economic factors. This does not commit Marx to a form of economic determinism which falsely argues that only the economics is of significance, nor does it mean that he denied the importance of ideas in social change but it does mean to understand the complexity of any society, to understand the complex pattern of development of that society, then an understanding of its economic development is crucial to an understanding of its politics, its culture and its social development.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Food for thought

Who's to blame for this sorry state of affairs in Bangaldesh? The New,York Times (26/05/13) comes up with the answer – we are because of our hunger for cheap clothing. Others have blamed the greedy clothing retailers. No one yet that I have seen has targeted the capitalist mode of production because the retailers are absolutely doing the right thing for maximizing profit. That's what they are there for and their investors are quite happy with it.
The 'World Section' of "The Toronto Star" of April 27th. 2013, contained the encouraging news that many of the poor farmers in Guerrero State, Mexico, are waging a successful war against drug-fueled crime. Prior to January, this part of Mexico had one of the highest murder rates in the world, until residents declared they had had enough and organized into vigilante armies. They donned masks, picked up weapons, hunted down criminals and put them on trial before the community. They now claim that crime is down 95% showing what community action can do. Now they need to get rid of the other problem that creates the crime in the first place – capitalism. John Ayers

Why hunger and famine?

" As a member of Oxfam's humanitarian support team, I can be deployed globally at short notice. My job is to provide short-term leadership or support in emergencies or humanitarian situations. From last October, I have been based in West Africa as the senior humanitarian adviser for the Sahel region - Mauritania, Mali and Niger...The food crisis was widely perceived in the media to relate to food shortages which then caused widespread hunger and malnutrition...Although this played an important role at a local level, it wasn't the main cause as the following example illustrates. During the crisis, Niger was still exporting food and staple cereals were available in the markets. The problem, however, was the poorest and most vulnerable people hadn't produced enough grain to survive and couldn't afford to buy it in the markets. Once people run out of money they turn to "coping strategies", for instance getting into debt or selling off their assets including their valuable animals....For the poorest people who are vulnerable to food crisis, the main problem is access to food, not availability of food - food is usually available but they can't get it..." - Scottish Oxfam worker David Crawford

Famines are not inevitable and they do not happen in isolation from the rest of the world. A drought is a natural event. Mass starvation is not. They are the consequence of human decision-making. Public indifference will only be dispelled when the media begin to explain, carefully and accurately, how and why famine occurs.

There was no shortage of food in the world. Thats a verifiable fact. The causes of hunger and  famine have little to do with a shortage of food. The real problem is elsewhere. Capitalists are not interested in production to benefit the peoples of the world. They are interested only in profits. Despite the hunger and famine in dozens of countries it is not profitable to feed starving peoples if they cannot pay for food.  Thus we recognize that despite every humanitarian declaration of rights it is legal for any individual to be deprived of food and left to die of hunger. If the economists were honest that would even say that this is the general condition of society and capitalists are obliged to starve people. Without exaggeration, it can be seen that the whole of our current society supports the legality of famine. It is a crime to be without money and it is  punishable by the death penalty. The struggle to rid the world of famine starts not with the begging bowl and pleas for pity, but by breaking the criminal conspiracy of  capitalism.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Food for thought

 In the article "The Real Cost of T-shirts" (Toronto Star, 25/05/13), author, Hasnain Kazim, reveals that the cost of a polo shirt sold by Mango stores in London is $46 while Mango pays just $4.45 to the producers in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh. Danish brand Jack's sells shirts for $32.66 and pays $5.08 to the producer. Minimum monthly wage in Bangladesh is $38 per month. Hourly cost of making garments in Bangladesh is 32 cents, and in China, $1.44. That's the reason China is outsourcing work to Bangladesh. Bangladesh will outsource work to the anthills of Africa were costs are two jars of honey per day for ten million workers ants! Some bloody system! John Ayers

Fact of the Day

In "1066: The Year of the Conquest" historian David Howarth notes that the average 11th century British serf worked one day a week to pay for his house, the land that he fed himself off of, his access to his lord's wood for heating fuel, and a host of other provisions, including a barrel of beer for him and his neighbor on each Saints day.

The Peoples Assembly and Left Unity

No one is going to hand workers socialism on a silver platter...least of all the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Workers have been fighting year after year, and needing better organization and class unity more than ever.  The gravity of the situation confronting people with austerity cut backs is such as to require the fullest solidarity, the utmost measure of unity among all sections of the trade union movement.  “Unity is Strength” is the most basic lesson of working class struggle.  If our class, as a whole, does not fight the only ones who gain are the capitalists.

This is the reason for the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity taking place in London today. Trade-unionists supported by an assortment of left-wingers hope to provide an alternative to the cuts in living standards being imposed upon the working class.

Has it a chance?

 While union members must understand the strength of unity they must also realise their weakness in the economic field against the power of the employers, then it will turn to the facts of its situation for a solution and find that the way lies through organisation for control of the political power. Not until that is assured can the workers own the means of life and operate them for their own benefit. When that lesson is learnt the day of socialism will be dawning. The sentiment of solidarity must be embodied in practical organisation based, not upon the mere transient necessity for wage claims, but upon the permanent need of the workers for the abolition of the wages system. To that end the workers must organise as a class, not merely industrially, for the capture of supreme power as represented by the political machine.

The left-wing, despite referring to themselves as “socialists” have no confidence in the workers to win through. They tell us, socialism will come eventually someday – presumably, when we are all dead and gone. By this, they mean the job falls not to them but to others sometime in the future. There is no logic to this whatsoever. For the world is ready now and painfully waiting – how is socialism to ever come in the future when we are never to explain it to people here and now?

The left-wing  put forward a whole series of reformist demands that on paper might seem to be appealing. The only problem is that there is no plan to actually achieve these demands - for the reason that they are pretend demands. Trotsky himself called these kind of demands "transitional demands" - the idea being to look at everybody else's demands and make bigger demands so they sound great. Occasionally they might achieve a demand which will make them seem sincere, however the idea isn't to achieve these demands - it is to not achieve them! This is the Troskyists' grand master plan to make workers dissatisfied, so the latter will become revolutionary and flock behind their political leadership. In other words the workers are to be the infantry led by the Trotskyist generals. The left-wing have real aims quite different to the reform programme they peddle. In this, they are being as dishonest as any other politician, from the left or right. The ultimate result of this is disillusionment with the possibility of radical change.

If all their proposed reforms were adopted – nationalisation, the multitude of changes in the tax system, defence budget cuts, etc., we’d still be living in a money-driven, buying and selling economy, still working for wages and salaries, still insecure, being hired and fired, in short, in capitalism. The demand for reforms will often only succeed if it can be reconciled with the profit-making needs of the system. In other words, the reform will often be turned to the benefit of the capitalist class at the expense of any working class gain. The aim of the left-wing has always been to establish state capitalism, the profit system planned centrally by a miracle-performing state. The source of the wealth would still be the surplus value wrung from the working class. Lacking an honest revolutionary stance for a new society, the left-wing becomes caught in a pointless and frustrating circular battle with an economic system that is based on exploitation. As long as the accumulation of capital takes precedence, either in the hands of the individual capitalist or state institutions, the primary concern of exploitation of labour and making profit will take precedence over the concerns of human need.

Some say to Socialist Party members“Don't split the Left. We are all working for the same goal, so why don't you join us? We can get strength through unity.”
What we are not told is what basis there can be for unity. It is not the wish of the SPGB to be separate for the sake of being so. But are socialists supposed to unite with those who want to reform and administer capitalism? Are we to unite with those who claim socialism can be established by a well meaning leadership without a class-conscious working class? Do we unite with those who see socialism as a system based on state control and state ownership of industry? Revolutionaries must reject this appeal if they are to remain revolutionaries. If there is no common ground upon which agreement can be reached then there can be no unity. Our analysis of the left-wing is not based upon some narrow sectarianism—it's based upon principle. We do not, nor have we ever, supported capitalist parties, especially those that dress up in revolutionary garb in order to hoodwink the workers. The left-wing is an expression of all the political mistakes made by the working class last century—from the Labour Party to the Soviet Union. We do not doubt that well-meaning individuals get caught up in such chicanery for no other reason than a desire to see a better world. However, sentiment can never be a substitute. However, a socialist organisation will get nowhere without a firm grasp of democracy, sound Marxist principle, a disdain to conceal its socialist objective, and a membership in full possession of the facts about current society and the revolutionary alternative. Unlike the Left we openly advocate common ownership and democratic control.

We have seen a century of cruelly extinguished hopes of those who heaped praise upon the state-capitalist hell-holes which posed as "socialist states" which pseudo-socialists promoted. We have witnessed a system which has persistently spat the hope of humane capitalism back in the face of its advocates. The progressive enthusiasm of millions has been stamped out in this way. How different it could have been if all that work which has gone into trying to reform capitalism had gone into struggling to abolish it ? Historically, reform activities have dissipated the earnest energies of so-called socialists from doing any socialist work, whatsoever. The need for reforms is an all-time job. The Socialist Party is not going to do anything for the working class except to arouse their fervor, determination and enthusiasm for socialist objectives. Working-class understanding is at a very low ebb, therefore the membership in the Socialist Party's strength in numbers is puny. Apart from the feeble voices of the Socialist Party, the great mass of the workers are not exposed to socialist fundamentals. Nevertheless, the greatest teacher of all is experience. Eventually, all the groping and mistaken diversions into futile efforts of reforming and administering capitalism will run their course. People learn from their mistakes. Necessity is the latent strength of socialism. Truth and science are on the side of socialism. Socialism is no fanciful utopia, but the crying need of the times; and that we, as socialists, are catalytic agents, acting on our fellow workers and all others to do something about it as speedily as possible, the triggering agent that transforms majority ideas from bourgeois into revolutionary ones. The seeming failures, the disappointments and discouragements, the slow growth, only indicate that socialist work is not an easy task. What makes socialist work stirring and inspiring is not that there are short cuts, but that there is nothing else worth trying.

Some members of other organisations have the best of intentions, but good intentions do not change the nature of those organisations. Those “socialist" activists have claimed impressive “successes” and “victories” in every field except one. History have proven beyond any shadow of doubt that they have not remotely convinced the workers of the need for socialism. From their activities carried on in the name of socialism, the one thing conspicuous by its absence has been any mention of the socialist case. The efforts of these “socialist" activists has been geared to an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable contradictions of capitalism.

The Socialist Party is not on "The Left". There is no such manipulation or dishonesty. We have always been opponents of nationalisation. We do not advocate that the working class should experience the disillusionment of yet another Labour government to realise that it would be once again anti-working class in praactice. It is interesting to note how small the memberships of the other so-called revolutionary parties are. It makes a shambles of the misconception that the Socialist Party is small because of our procedures or lack of participation in "the struggle", or our "unsound" or that favourite criticism for being “dogmatic and sectarian” that we lost members and influence. This is a historic and social phenomenon. The myriad parties of the Left all have serious declines in membership. It can be ascribed to a public's apathy that arises when high hopes raised by social reform programs only lead to disillusionment. Many of the Left persist in claiming that the masses require "revolutionary" leadership , yet we can see from the present spontaneous struggles of the Arab Spring, The Occupy Movement and the Spanish indignados, in Turkey and in Brazil that protest and resistance does not require political party leadership of a vanguard.

The Socialist Party does not minimise the necessity or importance of the workers keeping up the struggle to maintain wage-levels and resisting cuts, etc. If they always yielded to the demands of their exploiters without resistance they would not be worth their salt, nor be fit for waging the class struggle to put an end to exploitation. We full-heartedly support trade unions offering joint co-ordinated action to defend their members. Successes through such actions as striking and protests may well encourage other workers to stand up for their rights more but the reality remains that the workers' strength is determined by their position within the capitalist economy, and their victories will always be partial ones within the market system. Only by looking to the political situation, the reality of class ownership and power within capitalism, and organising to make themselves a party to the political battle in the name of common ownership for their mutual needs, will a general gain come to workers, and an end to these sectional battles. Otherwise, the ultimate result of the strikes will be the need to strike or demonstrate again in the future.The never-ending treadmill of the class struggle. Workers can never win the class struggle while it is confined simply to the level of trade union militancy. It requires to be transformed into socialist consciousness.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Wasteful Society

Recent figures released by the UK Trade & Investment's Defence and Security Organisation illustrate just how wasteful capitalist society has become. 'The statistics show that defence exports surged by 62 per cent to £8.8 billion last year, easily outstripping growth in the global defence market of 45 per cent. A large chunk of the expansion is down to two deals struck by BAE Systems - a £1.6 billion sale of Hawk training jets to Saudi Arabia and a £2.5 billion order for 20 Typhoon and Hawk aircraft placed by the Omani Ministry of Defence.' (Times, 20 June) This manufacture of death machines is worldwide with Britain only producing about a fifth of the global total and ranking second to the USA. RD

Political Posturing

Politicians love making grandiose claims that have nothing to do with reality and the president of the USA came up with a wild one recently. 'President Obama used the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate yesterday to urge Russia to leave the Cold War behind by agreeing to a one-third reduction in its nuclear arsenal.' (Times, 20 June) The USA has 7,700 nuclear warheads and Russia has 8,5000, so a one-third reduction would still leave enough nuclear warheads to burn the world to a crisp. RD

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