Friday, October 31, 2014

The Great War - the Class War

We cannot predict the future. It is not easy to foretell what will bring about a fundamental change in the world situation. But, one thing is sure, we do have good reason to be pessimistic. For every mainstream film that is angry and trying to communicate hope and vision, like Hunger Games or Elysium, there are a hundred that reaffirm that there is no alternative.

A danger exists that we will soon find ourselves living on a planet unable to sustain peoples’ continued existence on it. It has long been the perspective of socialists that the capitalist drive for profit and the narrow framework of the nation-state system are the two greatest barriers to the ability of humans to live efficiently and harmoniously with their natural environment. We argue it is not over-population, a shortage of resources  or economic growth in and of itself that has placed humanity’s existence in jeopardy. It is therefore of the greatest importance that workers in defense of our natural resources from capitalist exploitation and plunder take up the fight for socialism. Capitalism creates the conditions and forces for the socialist movement: the necessary technical basis, science and the working class itself. That is its major contribution to social progress. It also provokes the working class into action and is the involuntary promoter of the class struggle.  The Socialist Party, nevertheless does not accept a fatalist faith that capitalist contradictions will “automatically” create revolutionary consciousness. Capitalism creates the working class and depends upon it, as a parasite depends upon its host. Yet it cannot satisfy the demands or solve the problems of the working force it exploits and oppresses. Even in good times workers display their discontent and protest against insecurity by strikes and similar demonstrations. One of the paramount functions of a socialist party is to educate the working class to its conditions of emancipation.  “to impart to the now oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretic expression of the proletarian movement, scientific socialism.” (Engels: Socialism, Utopian and Scientific). The Socialist Party  teaches that the revolution against capitalism and the socialist reconstruction of the old world can be accomplished only through conscious, collective action by the workers themselves. A political moovement capable of handling such a colossal task cannot arise spontaneously or haphazardly; it has to be continuously, consistently and consciously built. It is impossible to stumble blindly into a successful revolution. It will have to be organised and directed by people  that have at their command all the theory, knowledge, resources, and lessons accumulated by the world working class. Its know-how and organisation in politics and action must  surpass that of our class enemies.

A socialism worthy of its name means a substantial and sustained rise in the living standards of the people up to levels beyond those attained by capitalism. It means the establishment of free and democratic control by the workers themselves. Anti-capitalist revolution has to be viewed and understood in its entirety, not in bits and pieces. Despite its occasional glacier-like motion, its defeats or retreats in this or that area, the revolutionary process unfolds step by step, sometimes leap by leap, according to its own independent rhythm. This world revolution of the working people holds everything in its grip and, directly or indirectly, decisively affects the destinies of every one on this planet. Much confusion and perplexity has been provoked among socialists by the fact that the progress of the anti-capitalist forces has been so erratic and uneven. This may run counter to our personal desires but it conforms to historical precedent. History does not provide any examples of a smooth and harmonious replacement of one universal social structure by another. Quite the contrary. A zigzag path of world revolution will emerge. Nationalism and patriotism turned out to be stronger than internationalism. Yet, here and there, scattered through the world, are stalwart socialists and working-class militants who possess the knowledge and hold conviction enough not to place confidence in the invincibility of capitalism or to undervalue the potential of the working-class. The labour movement draws its inexhaustible strength from the indispensable part it plays as the principal force of production, the creator of all wealth and profit. It enhances that strength by its growing industrial organization, by its political formations, by its cohesiveness and solidarity in struggle, by its developing awareness of itself as a decisive social power. The most significant fact about the ups and downs of the workers’movement has not been its defeats but its  ability to learn from these attacks, to recuperate from their effects, move forward and gain new ground.

What is socialism/communism? look around at the many  useful institutions established by many or by the whole people in common. The RNLI, for instance, to save and shelter shipwrecked persons. In ordinary life everybody cares for oneself, but people also unite for a common, social purpose. Experience teaches that in doing so they do admirably well; every one of them who will reflect a little must confess that his own welfare is greatly advanced by such institutions of common usefulness. What would people be without public roads etc.; that is, such as are built and instituted at the cost of the community for common use? We could mention here a thousand other things to demonstrate these  institutions are examples of socialism/communism, the principle of the common interests of society. In everyday life everybody looks out for his own interest, even at the cost of his fellow-men; here egoism is dominant. What does the usurer care for the victims of his avarice? What do the speculating swindlers care for the fate of the shareholders after their hard-earned savings are gone? A businessman who should show any consideration for the welfare of his fellow-man in his transactions would be become a laughing-stock. Egoism rules supreme. Everybody thinks of his own welfare, and does not care whether by doing so he destroys the welfare of others.  In spite of this prevalence of self-interest, the common interest of mankind is gaining ground. More and more people unite to form more and more associations, the activity of  the community is extending its influence over more and more objects.

The late capitalist experience is one of alienation, from ourselves, our work, those around us. Forced to live in competition with our fellow workers we feel vulnerable, insecure, precarious, unfulfilled by our roles of producer/consumer. There has been a change. Capitalism demands the workers body but is uninterested in their mind or ‘soul’, or their thoughts or  relationships.  21st century work  demands all of the worker leaving her or him without a meaningful life outside of work. There is no chance to find meaning in community, in our unions or social clubs for the modern worker is drained of all energies and goes home to watch TV, and get ready for tomorrow. No wonder mental health problems continue to rise.  Many people know intuitively that they are living in an alienating wasteland decorated with  technological toys and trinkets but have never heard that something else is possible. We need to be organising and communicating, encouraging each other to explore the possibility of living life based on community, co-operation, egalitarianism, so that even if we don’t see the end of capitalism we will have an alternative model for our own lives.

Let Them Drown

The recent report that the Italian navy operation, Mare Nostrum, has saved the lives of 150,000 migrants and refugees so far this year but despite their best efforts more than 3,000 have died. You would imagine the desperate plight of workers crossing the Mediterranean in dangerous boats seeking employment in Europe would meet with world-wide sympathy, but that is not the view of the British government. 'A Home Office minister has urged that emergency rescue operations of drowning migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean "be stopped at the earliest possible opportunity" despite being told his approach amounted to "a barbaric abandonment of British values". The unrepentant immigration minister, James Brokenshire was defending in public for the first time the decision taken by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to refuse to support future search and rescue of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean in rickety unseaworthy boats.' (Guardian, 30 October) RD

Wow, 50p A Week

The government is considering cutting the value of the main employment and support allowance (ESA) sickness benefit by as much as £30 so that it is effectively worth the same as jobseeker's allowance, internal documents seen by the BBC suggest. 'New claimants, judged to be capable of work with appropriate support, could be given just 50p more per week than people on jobseeker's allowance (JSA). .... George Osborne, the chancellor, has said he is seeking a £12bn cut in the welfare bill, and has so far identified a quarter of these cuts mainly through freezing the value of most benefits for two years.' (Guardian, 30 October) Whenever a government has financial problems its first response is always to cut welfare payments. RD

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The SPGB - Educate, Agitate, Organise

If we seek progress in finding the right strategy for the transition to the better world we aspire towards, then it is necessary first to correct any mistakes in our understanding of the present situation and, in general, create clarity about the matters being discussed. If the various trends in the workers’ movement at the end still disagree, then we shall at least know on which points exactly we disagree. That too would be some progress in the discussion. When two or more groups participate in a strategy discussion, then one logical assumption is that they share a common goal for it is nonsensical to search for a common strategy for different goals. No socialist seeks differences. If the differences exist, they are real. If you continue to go down the wrong road, at a certain point something happens.  A revolution from the left statists? A revolution from the right? Is it violence followed by state violence?  Or will it be a sudden decision by a critical mass of people that they are not going to take it anymore? Capitalism is and always has been deeply antagonistic to participatory democracy. Capitalism wants a political order subservient to the needs of the economy.

 The words the Socialist Party uses are very clear so it is actually the contents of our writings, not the way we express ourselves that is the problem because for the 99%, unfortunately, it is still inconceivable that they must abolish capitalism. When faced with this incontrovertible fact what do we do then? Do we  change our goals, give up our convictions? Do we then hide inconvenient facts, saying only acceptable messages, against our conviction, in order to appeal to the majority? Or do we strive to be noncommittal and say vague generalisations and truisms that cannot put anybody off like your typical politician. Do our calls for more radical goals actually harm social and environmental movements? Is the time is not ripe yet for them? Are people not intelligent or mature enough yet to receive our case for revolution?

The Socialist Party thinks everybody in the world should be fully informed about the dire situation humanity and the Earth are in today and thinks all people are capable enough of understanding the basic truths of this situation. Our task as political activists is to present them to the people. The goals some call “too” radical are actually absolute necessities. In the times we are living in, it is necessary to tell the truth, no matter how unpalatable they may be. People are not little children from whom you must hide inconvenient facts. It is necessary, if need be, to become unpopular rather than succumbing to the common ground of accepting the status quo.  It is the Socialist Party’s duty to honestly criticise the majority, even if the political price to be paid for that be high. In practical life, for just living, we are compelled to make many compromises. Let us not make compromises even in our thinking and expressing our thoughts. We may safely say that no ideal path has yet been found that guarantees success in our efforts to achieve our goals. We can also safely say that whatever path we take, it would be full of difficulties and pain. However, it has been seen in the history of mankind that we humans are also capable of being inspired by ideals and values. There are 1001 reasons to be pessimistic. But we are not dead yet. So let us go on trying.

Regarding the possibility of whether and under what circumstances socialism could replace capitalism, Marx wrote of two prerequisites:
(1)  a clear understanding of socialist principles with an unambiguous desire to put them into practice; and
(2)  an advanced industrial economy so that free access is technically possible.
As far as (2) is concerned, there's a broad consensus that there's no problem that couldn't be dealt with now, once we've collectively reached (1). The political ignorance of many of the working class has to be the major challenge.

More and more people are recognising that the capitalist monetary solution is not viable for a sustainable world and it is here that we can see the schisms in society becoming deeper. People take so much and then, as they reach the final straw, they are compelled one way or another to seek to get their voices heard. We have to have a vision to see beyond the intellectual paucity that drives current day society. Ending poverty, hunger and enabling all to have adequate living conditions these goals are all part of what is to be achieved in the period of social reorganisation and will be planned for in full consultation with local communities. Once decided democratically that we are heading for a socialist world it becomes a much simpler matter. Quite how this will happen is open to conjecture. As expressed on numerous occasions, we have no blueprint. Depriving the capitalist class of the state and its functionaries is the first objective. Once the decision is made, then it becomes a matter of organisation. Suffice it to say there will have been a period of planning and co-ordination by mass organisations in work places, in neighbourhoods, in educational establishments, in organisations with international links and in civic organisations, which will culminate in the collective and proactive decision of the people to take control over the direction of their lives immediately and for the future. With ever-increasing numbers, discussion and debate will have begun to determine the direction of the path to be taken. Democracy and majority decision-making must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of socialist society itself.

 There is of course a perpetual tension between theory and practice that no political organisation, whether liberal, Marxist or anarchist, gets right all the time. Anyone who thinks that socialists are intellectuals, academics or armchair philosophers would be pleasantly surprised at the disdain with which these ideas – far removed from anything actually to do with working class experience - are viewed overall.

As far back as 1792 the London Corresponding Society argued for the alternative to a system where they were completely cast out from an influence upon political power and one of the objectives of the London Corresponding Society expressed at the trial of one of its members was:
"To enlighten the people; to show the people the reason, the ground of all their complaints and sufferings, when a man works hard for thirteen or fourteen hours a day the week through and is not able to maintain his family. That is what I understand of it: to show the people the ground of this: why they are not able."

Five decades later Julian Harney, editor of The Red Republican, wrote in 1850:
"It is not any amelioration of the conditions of the most miserable that will satisfy us; it is justice to all that we demand. It is not the mere improvement of the social life of our class that we seek; but the abolition of classes and the destruction of those wicked distinctions which have divided the human race into princes and paupers, landlords and labourers, masters and slaves. It is not any patching and cobbling of the present system we aspire to accomplish; but the annihilation of the system and the substitution, in its stead, of an order of things in which all shall labour and all shall enjoy, and the happiness of each guarantee the welfare of the entire community."

 In his Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth, William Thompson who had never read Marx; never heard of Marx - wrote:
"The idle possessor of the inanimate instruments of production not only secures to himself by their possession as much enjoyment as the most diligent and skilful of the real efficient producers but in proportion to the amount of his accumulation, by whatever means acquired, he procures ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times as much of the articles of wealth, the products of labour, the means of enjoyment as the utmost labour of such efficient producers can procure for them."

What is important is that those words in many respects sum up what the Socialist Party today stands for and their ideas  lives on in the thinking of the Socialist Party. We see the socialist revolution as changing away from divide and rule, fear and hate, to connecting to each other, see ourselves as basically sharing and reaching for the same goals such as peace and harmony with nature - it is a revolution of attitude that will lead to political  change.

Justice In Action

Capitalism is a thoroughly disgusting social system. It produces wars, world hunger and crime, but surely this is one of most disgusting crimes of all. 'Child sexual exploitation has become a "social norm" within some areas of Greater Manchester, according to the author of a report ordered after the Rochdale grooming case. It said girls in uniform were regularly stopped by men outside schools. Inquiry chairwoman Ann Coffey MP said the "prevailing public attitude" blamed children, leading to 1,000 convictions from 13,000 cases over six years.' (BBC News, 30 October) So much for capitalism's super duper police and law courts! RD

A Strange Sort Of Democracy

It used to be that leaders from the two major US political parties, Republican and Democratic, controlled the money and devised the electoral strategy, but thanks to legislation and Supreme Court decisions over the past 12 years, this has changed entirely. The power of political parties ebbed, while outside groups and individuals have been given new freedom to buy seats at the game. This is particularly true of marginal contests. 'As a result, money has flooded into the Tarheel State. At this point more than $106m has been spent on the race, easily breaking the record of $77.3m for the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race. Outside groups have poured in the lion's share, with more than $76m (also a record). That dwarfs the amount raised by Ms Hagen ($22m) and Mr Tillis ($9.1m).' (BBC News, 30 October) So much for US claims about being a democracy - not only do the owning class own the means of production and distribution they heavily influence the voting system. RD

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Goal is Revolution, Not Reform

New studies about the warming of the planet and the risk of massive release of methane from the Arctic are worse than originally thought.

The warmongers of the Wall Street tell us there is not enough money for social services , for adequate health care or a decent education system. They tell us we must cut back. Yet there is plenty of money for their wars, and plenty of profits for the rich. The military-industrial complex garners extraordinary rates of profit. According to a study by financial advisory firm Morgan Stanley, shares in the major US arms manufacturers have risen 27,699% over the past fifty years versus 6,777% for the broader market. In the past three years alone, arms corporation Lockheed Martin has returned 149% to their investors, Raytheon 124% and Grumman 114%.

Most people are clearly aware that the main cause of climate change, which is destroying the planet, is profit motivated. Yet many environmental organizations and activists ignore the wars that kill people while they pollute the planet. They are naturally joined given that the main cause of these miseries is the same: Profit, power and greed; and the consequences are the same: death and suffering for humanity all other species. Bolivian President Evo Morales says about the causes in his “10 Commandments to Save the Planet, Humankind and Life”:

“There is no worse aggression against Mother Earth and her children than war. War destroys life. Nothing and nobody can escape war. Those who fight suffer as much as those who remain without food just to feed the war. Land and biodiversity suffer. Thus, the environment will never be the same after a war. Wars are the greatest waste of life and natural resources...We know that in order to cure Mother Earth it is necessary to be conscientious that this disease has a name: the global capitalist system...It is the logic of the capitalist system that is destroying the planet…the endless logic of consumption, of using war as an instrument to obtain markets and appropriate markets and natural resources...”

A study made by Oil Change International, written by Nikki Reisch and Steve Kretzmannfocuses on the damage to Iraq in the first five years of war (2003-08).
1) Projected total US spending on the Iraq war could cover all of the global investments in renewable power generation that are needed between now and 2030 in order to halt current warming trends.
2) The war is responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) since March 2003. To put this in perspective: CO2 released by the war to date equals the emissions from putting 25 million more cars on the road in the US this year. If the war was ranked as a country in terms of emissions, it would emit more CO2 each year than 139 of the world’s nations do annually. The CIA reported in its 2006 Factbook that only 35 countries consume more oil per day than does the Pentagon.

As Chomsky always says, if you want the real information, read the financial pages. Business MUST have accurate, true information or they will lose money.

President Erdogan of Turkey questioned the motives of the anti-Isis allies and accused them of meddling in the region's affairs for the past century. "Do you think they come for peace, with their planes and their missiles?" he asked an audience at Marmara University, Istambul. "No," he said. "They do it to get the petrol wells under their control." (Times, 14 October)

The Carter Doctrine as espoused by Zbigniew Brzezinski
"Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault  on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an  assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military

Chomsky’s summary of all this is:
“Maintaining a hold on political power and enhancing US control of the world’s primary energy sources are major steps toward the twin goals that have been declared with considerable clarity: to institutionalize a radical restructuring of domestic society that will roll back the progressive reforms of a century, and to establish an imperial grand strategy of world domination.”

In Kuwait, Syria, Iraq and Libya, of course, it is oil and also natural gas that underlay and still underlies the conflicts. In the Ukraine natural gas supplies lurk in the background.  The Russians who hold one of the largest reserves of natural gas in the world and much concern is about its pipeline routes to Europe.. The  confrontation in the South China Sea between China and its neighbors, Vietnam and the Philippines, is a dispute over actual ownership of energy resources.

 According to information from China’s Ministry of Trade, by March 2011, when the Libyan  military operation began, there were 75 major Chinese companies operating in  the countryand they had concluded $18 billion in contracts. All that investment disappeared with Gadhaffi’s overthrow.

The ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq have seized oil refineries to advance their cause. They and every fighting force in the world understands that oil is power - political power, that is.  Oil-smuggling operations involving millions of barrels have recently been uncovered.
The oil comes from wells and refineries that ISIS has taken over inside northern Iraq and northern Syria, and until very recently it was easy to smuggle it into this quiet part of southern Turkey. One reason is that cheap, smuggled oil is a much-prized commodity in Turkey, where oil is so expensive that it almost doesn't matter who is selling it, even if it's your enemy. ISIS' oil sales probably makes between $1 million and $2 million per day.

About one-third of the more than 1000 organizations involved in the climate actions  around the world Among the better known groups are: La Via Campesina, ATTAC (France), and Global Justice Alliance (US)  agreed to a declaration on the causes and solutions “Climate change is the result of an unjust economic system and to deal with the crisis, we must address the root causes and change the system. There will be no going back from the climate chaos if we do not fight for real solutions and do nothing to confront and challenge the inaction of our governments’ policy-making being hijacked by polluting corporations. It is crucial for us to unify and strengthen our economic, social and environmental struggles and focus our energies on changing the capitalist system.”

Let us in the Socialist Party be very clear about this. It is not a matter of changing capitalism to a better version of itself but changing the whole edifice of capitalism to a completely different economic system - socialism. Reforms that tinker with capitalism, prolonging it and  it is time now to push for a genuine revolution.

Adapted from this article

Capitalism In Action

Such is the nature of capitalism in the UK today that the 5.2 million workers in low-paid jobs may be envied by this group of bank workers. 'Lloyds Banking Group has confirmed 9,000 job losses and the net closure of 150 branches over the next three years. The latest job losses - representing about 10% of its workforce - come on top of 43,000 cuts made since 2008.' (BBC News, 28 October) Don't talk to these workers about economic recovery!   RD

A Recovery For Some

The UK government is very fond at the moment of boasting how they have solved the economic crisis. They claim that the economic deficit has been reduced and that unemployment figures have improved. However there is one aspect of the so-called recovery that they keep quiet about. 'The number of people working in low-paid jobs has hit a record of 5.2 million, according to a report by the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank, which found that the number of people earning less than two thirds of the median hourly rate of £7.69 had risen by 250,000 last year.' (Times, 27 October) So while members of the owning class reap in the profits many workers find themselves worse off.  RD 

1% OWN 50% - 50% OWN 1%

Those who fight against capitalism must not settle for reforming a system that is as broken as it is dangerous. Any viable, transformative struggle needs a bold democratic vision; durable, longstanding organizations and strategies that make politics revolutionary. Corporate interests are powerful lobbying groups and as such have control of the major seats of political power and the commanding institutions necessary to insure that the deeply anti-democratic state rules in the interests of the few while exploiting and repressing the many.  The ruling class no longer care about the social contract and make no concessions in their ruthless pursuits of power and profits.  The decisions that shape all aspects of the commanding institutions of society are made largely in private, behind closed doors by the anonymous financial elite, corporate CEOs, rich bankers, and other almost unassailable leaders of the military-industrial complex.

A recent Princeton University study analyzed policy initiatives passed from 1981 to 2002 and concluded that the United States had become an oligarchy where power is effectively wielded by "the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military."  People participate willingly in their own oppression, often out of deep insecurity about their freedom and the future. Even as markets causes increased misery, the political and social consensus remains in place, suggesting that the economic system needs to be challenged by  consciousness, ideas, language and values.

Poverty, joblessness and low-wage work has produced among many  the ongoing fear of a life of perpetual misery and an ongoing struggle simply to survive. Insecurity and the climate is fed daily by endless moral panics, whether it is immigrants flooding the country, ISIS terrorists blowing up neighorhood malls or Ebola spreading like The Plague and Black Death. Such conditions more often than not produce withdrawal, insecurity, paranoia and cynicism rather than rebellion. All social problems are now defined as a problem faulty character and a deficient sense of individual responsibility.

Valuable resources and wealth are extracted from the commons in order to maximize the profits of the rich while the public is treated to a range of distractions and diversions. A predatory and commodified culture turns violence into entertainment, aggression into a video game and domestic violence into celebration of masculinity. Meanwhile, the real violence used by the state against poor people of color, women, immigrants and low-income youth barely gets mentioned. The rich get more powerful just as the working class sink into economic and existential despair and young people are saddled with the prospect of a future of low-skill jobs and a limited sense of dignity and hope.  Personal freedom is reduced to consumerism and self-interest becomes the only guiding principle for living one's life.

If capitalism is not addressed as a system of social relations it will continue to diminish the capacities and possibilities of people to move beyond the necessity of mere subsistence and survival. Capitalist power and politics leads to cynicism and despair. In order to fully participate in exercising some control over the myriad forces that shape their daily lives our rulers’ authoritarianism has to be challenged and overcome. It is crucial that people in all their various social movements unite to reclaim democracy as a central element in fashioning a radical imagination.  Democracy entails a challenge to private property.  Democracy is not compatible with capitalism but is congruent with socialism in which the wealth, resources and benefits of a social order are shared in an equitable and just manner. Genuine social democracy enables all members of the community to participate in the decisions and institutions that shape their lives.

Any viable struggle must acknowledge that if the current mode of production and its economic  domination needs to change. Such a struggle will not emerge out of protests and demonstrations but out of a vision that what is required is transformative social revolution. We must re-radicalize our labor traditions. If our old language has grown stale we should re-vitalise it with new vocabularies. We need to inspire a vision of real change, starting with ourselves. It is bout the self-education of workers to understand the nature of both capitalism and socialism, so that, armed with this understanding, we ourselves can carry out the political act of our own emancipation.  Opportunist leadership is based on lack of understanding among the workers. Our fight with capitalism must go beyond the nationalist rhetoric of union leaders. It must spread across countries. Capitalism is a WORLDWIDE problem.

 “There’s always a class war going on.... The business classes are very class-conscious—they’re constantly fighting a bitter class war to improve their power and diminish opposition..."We don’t use the term “working class” here because it’s a taboo term. You’re supposed to say “middle class,” because it helps diminish the understanding that there’s a class war going on...” Noam Chomsky explains.

He goes on, “...Unions had the slogan, “solidarity,” even though they may not have lived up to it. And that’s what really counts: solidarity, mutual aid, care for one another and so on....Market systems don’t offer common goods; they offer private consumption. If you want a subway, you’re going to have to get together with other people and make a collective decision. Otherwise, it’s simply not an option within the market system...”

Chomsky recognises that things can change for the better. “Each time labor has been attacked...popular efforts were able to reconstitute it. That can happen again. It’s not going to be easy. There are institutional barriers, ideological barriers, cultural barriers...getting people not to think in terms of their own interests, let alone the interest of communities and the class they’re part of. Overcoming that takes a lot of work. I don’t think it’s impossible, but it’s not going to happen easily... in all societies, the most brutal, the most free, the governed can be controlled by control of opinion. If you can con trol their attitudes and beliefs and separate them from one another and so on, then they won’t rise up and overthrow you....but people don’t have to submit to it. You can see through it and struggle against it.”

The poorer - the sicker

A Scottish government report covering a 15-year-period from 1997 to 2012 revealed that hospital admissions for heart attacks were three times higher in poorer areas than in the least deprived areas. The report said the admission rate for heart attacks in the most deprived areas had increased by 45% since 2007 and by 15% in the last year. Deaths from heart disease are about five times more likely in Scotland's worst-off areas, compared with its most affluent communities.

 Cancer is more common in deprived parts of the country. Those aged 45-74 who are diagnosed with the disease in deprived areas are also more than twice as likely to die.

The rate of  alcohol-related admissions in the most deprived areas is around eight times higher than in areas of low deprivation.

Deaths in the poorest areas of the country were more than three times as common as in the most affluent in 2012.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said "At the root this is an issue of income inequality - we need a shift in emphasis from dealing with the consequences to tackling the underlying causes, such as ending poverty, fair wages, supporting families and improving our physical and social environments."

Andrew Fraser, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland, said: Measures such as the ban on smoking in public places and minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol are likely to be effective, as would further regulation of the food industry. However, many of the most important causes of inequalities relate to taxation, welfare provision, education and opportunities for good work.

"As the impact of current welfare and tax changes come to fruition, competition for less-skilled jobs tightens, and as in-work poverty continues to rise, these factors may well increase health inequalities in the coming years.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

The SPGB and the Anti-Statists

The Socialist Party calls for a revolution without leaders to abolish the wages system and we are therefore implacably opposed to Leninism and its concept of a centralised vanguard to lead the working class.

 In our view the working class must organise consciously and politically first, for the conquest of the powers of government, before it can convert private property in the means of production into common property. Our reasoning goes like this. We want the majority in society (workers of all kinds) to take over and run the means of production in the interest of all. However, at the moment these are in the hands of a minority of the population whose ownership and control of them is backed up and enforced by the State.

The State stands as an obstacle between the useful majority and the means of production because it is at present controlled by the minority owning class. They control the state, not by some conspiracy, but with the consent or acquiescence of the majority of the population, a consent which expresses itself in everyday attitudes towards rich people, leaders, nationalism, money and, at election times, in voting for parties which support class ownership. In fact it is such majority support expressed through elections that gives their control of the state legitimacy. In other words, the minority rule with the assent of the majority, which gives them political control. The first step towards taking over the means of production, therefore, must be to take over control of the state, and the easiest way to do this is via elections. But elections are merely a technique, a method. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the useful majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority; they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule - they must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control. We simply argue that it is quite possible, and highly desirable, for a large majority to establish socialism without bloodshed. The more violence is involved, the more likely the revolution is to fail outright, or be blown sideways into a new minority dictatorship. Far better, if only to minimise the risk of violence, to organise to win a majority in parliament, not to form a government, of course , but to end capitalism and dismantle the State.

There are those who describe themselves as class-struggle anarcho-communists, who as their name suggests, are anarchists who are also communists, standing for common ownership without buying and selling, in accordance with the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. They are more or less for what we choose to call socialism.  So long as there are revolutionaries out there with the energy to act and the will to think, we want to talk to them. The difference between us is not the same as our hostility to the opponents of socialism but upon a difference on  the question of the better way to achieve it. No-one can be exactly sure which form the revolutionary process will take and it may well involve some of the things some anarchist point to. However, we in the Socialist Party believe that the potential use of parliament as part of a revolutionary process may prove vitally important in neutralising the ruling class's hold on state power. For us, this is the most effective way of abolishing the state and thus ushering in the revolutionary society. We emphasise mass democratic political action by a majority of the global working class which may well involve socialist delegates being sent to parliaments as the best means for attaining world socialism, while the class struggle anarchist’s predominant view is the revolutionary process is more in terms of community/worker resistance and direct action through the likes of strikes and mass disobedience. However, nevertheless, some of their views seem remarkably similar to those of the Socialist Party.
“Anarchist communism would depend on mass involvement. This is both to release everyone's inventiveness and ideas and to prevent the formation of some sort of elite. Two forms of organisation are crucial in this context. The first is regular mass meetings of communities and workers, to ensure that full discussion and participation in matters affecting a locality could be achieved. The second is federation, as many issues need a broader perspective than the local. Federalism would run through successive bands—local, district, regional, international—to take decisions appropriate to that band” [The Anarchist Federation’s ‘Against Parliament. For Anarchism’.]

We hold that the means have to prefigure the end but reached this conclusion from a quite different starting point: that of democracy in the proper sense. Democracy means, literally, the rule or power of the people, i.e. popular participation in decision-making. It allows various ways of reaching a decision but, in the end, if consensus cannot be obtained, it has to come to a vote; in which case the majority view prevails. Democracy does not mean that all decisions have to made at general assemblies of all concerned or by referendum; it is compatible with certain decisions being delegated to committees and councils as long as the members of these bodies are responsible to those who (s)elected them.

Socialism is a society based on the common ownership of the means of life but, since something cannot be said to be commonly owned if some have a privileged or exclusive say in how it is used, common ownership means that every member of society has to have an equal say. If there wasn't such democratic control there wouldn't be common ownership, so there wouldn't be socialism.  Democratic control is not an optional extra of socialism. It is its very essence. This being so, socialism cannot be imposed against the will or without the consent and participation of the majority. It simply cannot be established for the majority by some vanguard or enlightened minority. That is our case against all forms of Leninism. 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. No minority revolution can lead to socialism, not even one that destroys the state (our case against certain anarchists) - and of course socialism will involve the disappearance of the state as a coercive institution serving the interests of a minority. Hence our conclusion that the movement to establish socialism, and the methods it employs, must "prefigure" the democratic nature of socialism.

Anarchists admit that not all decisions can be made by general assemblies or referendum, they get round this by saying that "delegation" is acceptable. But any attempted distinction between "representative" (bad) and "delegate" (good) is just playing with words. The SPGB's anti-reformism, allied with our insistence on gaining control of the machinery of government through the ballot box, goes beyond the  simplistic equation of reformism with electoral activity and revolution with anti-parliamentarism.

The Socialist Party maintains (as a fact, and not because we like it) that the great majority of workers have no wish for socialism, nor possess an understanding of it. Because of prevailing traditional ideas, most workers see capitalism as the only practicable method of running society. We also realise that we face a difficult struggle considering the stranglehold the ruling class have over the ideas held by the working class. We face powerful weapons wielded by the State which operate from the day we enter this world until the day we leave it. Insurrectionists would fail in any attempt to overthrow the capitalist system while the masses are still conditioned in this way. Workers in conflict with management may often counterpose their own conceptions and ideas of how production should be organised but these conceptions and ideas are equally capitalist in character. The number of workers who understand the need for doing away with production for sale and profit, remains very tiny. Socialist understanding does not drop out of heaven like the holy ghost, in the space of a few hours.

 A number of Leftists who claim to be communist insist that the class struggle alone will be the basis for the change without the need for education by an external 'elite', by which they mean, in this instance, the Socialist Party. Our problem is a movement that thinks that 'material circumstances' talk to humans. Whilst it retains that philosophy, it won't take the necessary steps to build a conscious workers' movement, because it believes that ideas, propaganda and education are not the basis of the change. Whilst we keep pretending that consciousness emerges from material circumstances, we will continue to be irrelevant. Those of us who have become socialists/communists are just members of the working class arguing the case for socialism with our fellow workers. We are not an elite from outside the working class, not even those of us who have got together in a separate organisation to do this more effectively.
What in fact we are doing is trying to ensure that hearing the argument for socialism is part of the "experience" of the working class since (as all of us here know) there is no such thing as experience without thought. So the Trotskyists (and others) are wrong to argue that the working class can learn to be against capitalism through mere struggle or by the experience of failure to achieve some reform without them also hearing the case for socialism argued. Which they reject as casting pearls before swine. Socialists are no more than workers who argue for Communism/Socialism. They cannot be an 'elite' who 'know' better, but simply a group of workers who hold another opinion out, for the consideration of the wider class. If the wider class say they prefer capitalism, the wider class are 'correct'. There is no route allowing the 'knowing elite' to compel the class to 'understand the truth'. The class always 'knows best' what its interests are. If we can't persuade the class otherwise about their interests, then we are wrong. Simple. We are not an external elite, but a group of workers who have 'got it wrong' in the opinion of the majority of workers.
They believe that if they have the theory (which the workers don't need to be cognisant of) and push workers to have 'experiences' driven by a theory which is provided for them by this 'knowing' elite, then the unconscious workers will then develop the correct consciousness after their experiences. It's bollocks, of course. If workers 'fight for higher wages', and lose, they don't conclude that they should get rid of wages, but that since the bosses have the power to set wages, and that workers need higher wages (as the 'knowing' elite have told them, thus the need for their 'struggle'), then they need to cosy up to the all-powerful bosses, and their bosses' ideas. Thus, 'low wages are caused by immigrants'. "Everybody knows that!".
Struggle without conscious theory is not only scientific nonsense, but is nothing to do with workers developing their consciousness, and realising, prior to their own struggle, that they need to destroy the wage system. If workers can't grapple with theory and make democratic decisions based upon their understanding, then workers really can't run the world.

 Many class-struggle anarchists take the view that  revolutionary goals emerge from industrial or social struggles. If any form of "struggle" intensifies, it is welcomed  as a sign of "rising consciousness" (even if often the workers involved are just as conservative in their ideas as they were before). If the "struggle" escalates even further, this is now seen as a "revolutionary situation," and in such situations the actions of determined activists, usually a minority of  the participants, are thought to be decisive. It is argued either that the workers really do want a revolution, but this desire is "inarticulated" (even "instinctive"!) Or else it is admitted that they have no such aim, but the claim is made that in certain circumstances they will be forced by necessity to adopt the revolutionary course.  Emma Goldman declared, in an essay entitled “Minorities versus Majorities”, that “the living, vital truth of social and economic well-being will become a reality only through the zeal, courage, the non-compromising determination of intelligent minorities, and not through the mass”. These views are often defended with the statement that people learn by experience. In an economic recession with mass unemployment, socialists will recognise this as a consequence of the anarchic capitalist market. However, born-again fundamentalist christians will conclude that lack of righteousness and prevalence of sin among the population has brought divine  retribution. While common-or-garden reformists will believe that incompetence or  abnormal circumstances are responsible. Meanwhile, the extreme right-wing fascists and the left wing will put the blame on “finance capitalists" and attack political democracy and demand better leadership. Most workers, sadly,  will probably decide that "their” country has been too soft on too many immigrants, idle benefit scroungers and commie-led trade unions wreckers. These ideas will largely determine the way they act and vote. Naturally, experiences spark off changes in ideas, but until the possibility of socialism has become widely known and discussed, there is no hope for the emergence of mass socialist understanding. When two explanatory systems compete in people's minds, then events may decide which is adopted. But given the present near-monopoly of capitalist ideas, it is impossible for the minds of millions to wake up to socialism until there is a sizeable socialist movement spelling out the arguments for social revolution.  Those anarchists who seriously believe the people in struggle do draw conclusions which are fundamentally socialist in content, not that they occasionally do, nor that they might do, but that they always and must do,  must explain if this were the case why we shouldn’t have achieved socialism long ago.

In fact,  experience does not lead of itself to a specific conclusion. If a group of people are subjected to a similar experience, they may draw a variety of conclusions about it: the decisive factor will be the system of ideas they have formed before the experience. If we are to appreciate how the revolution in ideas (a necessary precondition of the social revolution) will occur, we must first rid ourselves of the simplistic fallacy that people change their minds only when they burn their fingers. We have to win the battle of ideas, and the test of the winning is a vote.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The SPGB and the State

The state is a coercive institution standing above the rest of society and a product of the division of society into antagonistic economic classes. Once these classes are abolished through the common ownership of productive resources, then the state will become redundant; its coercive features will be dismantled and its useful administrative functions merged into the democratic structure of classless society. This was a position of Marxists. Marx wrote at the height of his controversy with the anarchist Bakunin in 1874:
"All Socialists understand by 'anarchy' this: the aim of the proletarian movement, the abolition of classes, once achieved, the power of the State, which serves to keep the great producing majority under the yoke of a small exploiting minority, will disappear and the functions of government will be transformed into simple administrative functions" (Conspectus of Bakunin's 'Statism and anarchy').

 During the brief period when it would be getting used to abolish classes Marx thought it should be thoroughly democratic, with mandated and recallable delegates. This, for instance, is what Marx write about the Paris Commune of 1871 which he then described (somewhat inaccurately, as he later conceded) as a government of the working class", i.e. having the form the state should take while being used by the working class to abolish classes:
"The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms  . . . Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible at all times revocable agent of the Commune. So were the official of all other branches of the Administration . . . Like the rest of public servants, magistrates and judges were to be elective, responsive and revocable"

The popular conception of the state is that of a kind of neutral pendulum which can be swung in different directions in accordance with the philosophy of the dominant political party. In other words, that the degree of authority which the state institutions wield, the levels and methods of coercion and oppression which these institutions employ in practising this authority, and whether this authority is put to "good" or "bad" purposes (e.g. whether it is used to inaugurate or maintain a "Welfare State" or a police state dictatorship) is determined by the aims and aspirations, or indeed, sometimes even by the personalities within the party which constitutes the government. To a certain extent this is true. Outwardly, the modern state takes many different forms, and is coercive and oppressive to varying degrees. The totalitarian state, whether of the "left" or "right", is undoubtedly more oppressive than the "democratic state" in as much as those who control it (regardless of how they came to do so) have to rely more heavily on the services of the police and army, the political allegiance of its "officials" and subjugation of its citizens.

To view the state merely as a passive, autonomous body, ready to be put to the service of "good" or "bad", to be steered in the "right" or "wrong" direction or to be manipulated at will by political philanthropists for the benefit of the population, or by tyrants for the benefit of themselves, is to imagine that the state exists in a kind of social and political void. It is to accept the assertion that the state (i.e. the armed forces, police, legal system, civil service, etc.) acts in isolation, uninfluenced by the social conditions and social relations within which it operates. No matter what its form, or how its government is chosen, the state does not, and can not, act in isolation. It is a machine for the domination of one class by another, an instrument of class rule, and therefore can not be neutral, passive or independent.

Irrespective of whether a government in capitalism is democratically elected or not, or whether it describes itself as Conservative or Communist, Social Democratic or Socialist, Labour or Liberal or whatever it is in office to run capitalism. Consequently, regardless of any good or bad intentions its members may or may not have had, it has no choice but to act against the interests of the working class, by wielding the forces of the state in the interests of capital.

Within each national segment of capitalism, the apparatus of the state, at every level, is staffed by personnel charged with the maintenance of the capitalist social order. This personnel comprises the police, army and navy, judiciary and legal system, prison staff, civil service and the "education" system, each in its turn, playing a part in making sure the working class constitutes a docile, indoctrinated and exploitable army of wage labour for the capitalists to feed off. "Ah!" protest the apologists of capitalism, "but they all play their part in maintaining law and order and ensuring that we can all sleep peacefully in our beds at night." Indeed they do maintain "Law and order", but what do these cherished words mean in practice?

Law and order means preserving stability in a society based upon class ownership of the means of life. It means people living on the streets of cities in every country in the world, because capitalism can't provide houses for them. It means houses remain empty because it is "unlawful" for people to occupy them. It means that people throughout the world go hungry and cold because it is "unlawful" for them to take food and heating materials from the shops and stores. Law and order means the right of a minority class of parasites to monopolise the resources of the earth, and legally to rob and exploit the rest of the human race. A society based upon production for profit requires a police force because it produces criminals, by forcing people to steal, rob and kill in order to live or in order to "prove themselves" in its jungle of social and political madness. The construction and building of armies and navies, far from being capitalism's anathema, are its life blood, because it is a system divided into national segments, the capitalists of which are in constant conflict, a conflict which inevitably breaks out from time to time in open violence, over markets, resources, land and cheap labour forces from which they can wring their profits. Capitalism needs "Law and order" to survive because it is riddled with contradictions and insoluble problems. It has long outlived its usefulness in the history of the human race and should be replaced with something new — socialism.

The establishment of world socialism will involve the abolition of the state, but this must be achieved by first gaining control of the entire powers and machinery of governments, including the armed forces. The practical question involved in this is that the socialist majority must be in a position to implement its object. It must be in a position to control events, which means being in a position to enact the common ownership of the means of production, and to ensure that society is completely transformed on this basis. At the centre of capitalist class power is their control of the forces of the state, therefore this must be taken out of their hands. he operation of the entire capitalist system arises from the antagonistic relations between capital and labour, and this determines not only commodity production for profit but also the function of the state in enforcing these class relations. It therefore follows that with the establishment of a classless, socialist society, the state will be redundant, and the machinery of government will be converted for the purposes of useful, democratic administration. This position will be established with the socialist capture of political control. The capture of political control by the World Socialist Movement will establish the position whereby socialist delegates will be in control of the machinery of governments at local and national level throughout the world. Their first action will be to implement the common ownership of the means of production. Classes will thus be abolished and a classless community come into being.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Leaderless Socialist Party

One myth is that leaders can create democracy and prosperity while those who want it need do no more than cheer from the sidelines and drop the equivalent of blank cheques into the ballot box. As if liberation can be achieved while the minds of the liberated are still chained to the illusions of class society. As if the mighty are high for any reason but that the meek are holding them upon their shoulders. A leader cannot lead unless there are followers to follow. ou cannot be a socialist and have a leader. You cannot be a socialist and be a leader. Socialism means self-emancipation of the working class by the working class. Only when a majority of workers understand and want it will socialism be a practical possibility. It is all a question of consciousness allied with democratic political action.

 There exists an assumption is that without leaders, there can be no civilisation. Our contention is the opposite. Leaders, and the followers who create them, are holding us back from any real global civilisation. Each of us can be our own leader. The greatest command is that over oneself. Our capitalist world, controlled by a few rich people and their minions, has done its level best to school out of us the very things which make us such a great species in the first place--initiative, experimentation, imagination, diversity. The leaders we are asked to support, and sometimes choose between, are a myth, created and maintained by--leaders. They are poor examples of honesty, integrity, even of humanity. They are not interested in truth, justice, or any of the grand notions they spout about. They exist, have always existed, will always exist, for one purpose only: to line their own pockets and empty yours. They are parasites on the social body, unwanted, unnecessary and destructive. To follow leaders is to hand over your heart on a platter, with knife and fork attached. It is an admission of defeat, acceptance that you are inadequate, in and of yourself. It is an act of submission and indeed an act of cowardice unworthy of the human animal.

The world is obsessed by leaders and leadership. The Socialist Party has never had time for leaders, pariularly those who aim to come into the working class political movement and get socialism on our behalf. Labour leaders, to say the least, are useless to the workers in their conflict with the capitalist class. An organisation whose members have no desire to control affairs for themselves, and therefore hands over the management to certain individuals, by so doing gives them the opportunity to use that organisation to obtain any object they may have in view. And judging by the past actions of these leaders their purpose seems to be always the same, that is, to earn a reward from the capitalist by betraying the workers whose interest they are supposed to safeguard. The shameful way in which the workers have been betrayed should surely force them to consider a method by which their organisation can be made proof against the undermining operations of such traitors.

To appear on a public platform for the Socialist Party or to regularly write articles for the Socialist Standard is usually enough for some  to appoint you the leader—in spite of indignant protests and denials. The Socialist Party even has a General Secretary so isn't that a leader? The Socialist Party has no leaders in fact or theory. Socialism wouldn't operate that way and neither do we. All decisions are made by common vote, all administration is above-board and open to inspection, and all work is voluntary. None of us is perfect, and that's why democracy works better than le adership. Mistakes by one person are not disasters for the many. Private interests don't count. Power doesn't exist. Socialists are their own leaders, and they follow nobody but themselves. The Socialist Party is a leader-less political party where its executive committee is solely for housekeeping administrative duties and cannot determine policy or even submit resolutions to conference (and all the EC minutes available for public scrutiny access on the web as proof of our commitment to openness and democracy). All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership. Even our General Secretary has no position of power or authority over any other member. Despite some very charismatic writers and speakers in the past, no individual personality has held undue influence over the the Socialist Party..

 William Lovett, the London Working Men's Association’s first secretary, renounced all leaders in the early 19th century:
“The masses, in their political organisations, were taught to look up to "Great Men" (or to men professing "greatness") rather than to great Principles. We wished therefore to establish a political school of self-instruction among them, in which they should accustom themselves to examine great social and political principles, and by their publicity and free discussion, help to form a sound and healthful public opinion throughout the country...We have not wished, neither do we desire to be, Leaders, as we believe that the principles we advocate have been retarded, injured or betrayed by Leadership, more than by the open hostility of opponents. Leadership too often generates confiding bigotry, or political indifference on the one hand, or selfish ambition, on the other.
The principles WE advocate are those of the peoples' happiness, and for these to be justly established, each man must Know and feel his Rights and Duties. He must be prepared to guard the one; and perform the other with cheerfulness. And if Nature has given to one Man superior faculties, to express or execute the general wish, he only performs his Duty at the Mandate of his bretheren; he is therefore the "Leader" of none, but the equal of ALL.”

The dubious and unprovable proposition that most human beings are "natural" followers and that leaders are, therefore, essential is a claim serving only the convenience of those who wish to lead. Indeed, such evidence that does exist would surely elicit the conclusion that the absence of leaders, far from creating chaos is a prerequisite to end it. Because we are a democratic Party all our meetings are open and our propaganda meetings organised to allow open debate. To this end visitors are given ample opportunity and encouragement to ask questions or state an opposing view. To refuse to follow leaders is a liberating step, one which the working class has yet to take. When we realise that the post-scarcity world can be run very efficiently and healthily by democratic co-operation, that our own lives would be vastly better without states, governments, police, and all the trappings of leadership, we will collectively be in a position to make that step. And then we will see a revolution unprecedented in history. Working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership. Even if it could be conceived of a leader-ridden working class displacing the capitalist class from power such an immature class would be helpless to undertake the responsibilities of democratic socialist society. Socialism could not work with people unwilling or unable to think for themselves, to take responsibility, or to co-operate, but fortunately it doesn't have to. Human beings are better than that. We can think, and we can co-operate, and we don't need the Right to tell us we're unworthy and worthless, nor do we need rescuing by some "heroic" and entirely disreputable vanguard of the Left.

It is NOT the party’s task to lead the workers in struggle or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, tenants’ associations or whatever, because we believe that class conscious workers and socialists are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. For the Trotskyist Leninist Left, all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, neighbourhood community struggles, etc.), whereas for us, the Party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles, a tail to be wagged by the dog.

The Socialist Party is like no other political party in Britain. It is made up of people who have joined together because we want to get rid of the profit system and establish real socialism. Our aim is to persuade others to become socialist and act for themselves, organizing democratically and without leaders, to bring about the kind of society that we advocate. We reject the idea that people can be led into socialism. Socialism will not be established by good leaders but by thinking men, women and children. There can be no socialism without socialists.

Eugene Debs, a Socialist Party of America, presidential candidate but never ever a member of of its executive committee, once said“I never had much faith in leaders. I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week. If you go to the city of Washington, and you examine the pages of the Congressional Directory, you will find that almost all of those corporation lawyers and cowardly politicians, members of Congress, and mis-representatives of the masses — you will find that almost all of them claim, in glowing terms, that they have risen from the ranks to places of eminence and distinction. I am very glad I cannot make that claim for myself. I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.”

And another time he said :-

“I am not a labor leader. I don’t want you to follow me or anyone else. If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out.”

Fact of the Day

220,000 Scots children languish in poverty; nearly 180,000 families are trapped on social housing waiting lists and one in five workers are paid below the living wage, forced to earn their poverty. Another 120,000 Scots are on zero-hour contracts, denied security or basic rights like pensions and paid leave.

“...the tradition of working people in the UK uniting against their common enemies – today, bankers, tax dodgers and poverty-pay firms stripping workers of rights and security – must surely be strengthened...” Owen Jones

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Socialist Demands

Meet the Socialist Party

There is something seriously wrong with the world we all live in.  We in the Socialist Party are organised to remove the causes of those problems. Tinkering with the many local and global problems achieves little if anything.  It is first necessary to get a clear idea of what the problems are.  The world is at present divided up into some 190 countries - some large some small - but no matter where you go you will find common features. These features never change:

1. Everywhere you go most things have a price.
2. Everywhere you go the vast majority of people will be working for wages or salaries. It’s true that there are a still a few areas which practice a subsistence economy but they are small and getting smaller.
3. The majority of the world’s population are engaged in the cash economy. In order to live the majority of the world’s population have to sell their ability to work for a wage or a salary.
4. Conversely everywhere you go there will be a small proportion of the population whose function in society is to buy that ability to work and exploit it. Now they are able to do this because they own and control the means of existence – the land, the mines, the factories and offices, the means of transport, and so on – all the things that human beings have developed and perfected over the past millennia in order to gain a living from nature.
5. Everywhere you go wealth is produced to be sold. Everywhere the motive behind wealth production is the hope and intention of making a profit.

And that in a nutshell is capitalism - class ownership and the profit motive.  Capitalism cannot be humanised, cannot even be slowed down. It will grind its own remorseless way until we organise to replace it with socialism. In the class struggle it is not only what you are against but what you are for that counts. Workers who advocate capital accumulation and production for profit are in the end just as welcome to the capitalist class as members of the √©lite itself, provided they realize on which side their bread is buttered. That working-class movements should have poured so much of their energy into securing approval from the master class to administer its system only testifies to general obtuseness on the part of the workers themselves in regard to their own material interests. Workers whose organizations do not act in accordance with a conscious and deliberate interpretation of these interests are in the end no better than spineless lackeys; they are not really free individuals. Having made their peace with profit, they cannot thereafter produce any organizations uniquely their own - even though there is not a recognizable capitalist to be found in their ranks.

You cannot embark upon the path to socialism unless you know what socialism means. Sincere individuals are swept up by movements such as Occupy; but these movements have no substance and are not acting with a clear understanding of the nature of the problems. The Socialist Party proposal involves the taking back of what was in the past ours anyway. We propose a return to shared ownership of the Earth and its resources.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that civilisation was invented by a man who put a fence around a piece of land saying in effect "This is mine" and who then managed to persuade the rest of humanity that he had exclusive right to dispose of it as he wished. Capitalism has roots in just such a massive historical theft - a theft involving enclosures and land clearances across whole continents and the physical enslavement of millions. If you really want to change the world it is that social arrangement that has to be changed. The poor are poor because they are denied full and free access to the means of life. The present owners allow us to operate the means of production only so long as it is profitable to them. We live on their terms.

Consider this. Across the globe there are literally hundreds of thousands of campaigns and protest groups and many more charities, some small, some enormous, all pursuing tens of thousands of issues, and their work involves many millions of sincere workers who care passionately about their individual causes and give their free time to support them unquestioningly. Many will have campaigned on some single issue for years on end with no visible result; others will have celebrated minor victories and then joined another campaign groups, spurred on by that initial success.

And, considering the above, two things stand out: firstly, that many of the problems around us are rooted in the way our society is organised for production, and are problems we have been capable of solving for quite some time, though never within the confines of a profit-driven market system; secondly, that if all of these well meaning people had have directed all their energy - all those tens of billions of human labour hours expended on their myriad single issues - to the task of overthrowing the system that creates a great deal of the problems around us, then none of us would be here today. Instead we would have established a world without borders, without waste or want or war, in which we would all have free access to the benefits of civilisation with problem solving devoid of the artificial constraints of the profit system.

We say to our campaigning and protesting political activists don’t repeat the mistakes of the past;
don’t fritter away your efforts chasing an impossible goal; don’t fall into the easy trap of only treating outcomes. Take up the challenge of organising to remove the causes. Socialism alone, offers a way of escape from the insecurity and penury and misery that result from the robbery of the working class. Nothing else will avail. We want control of the machinery of government, national and local, because that is essential to the achievement of Socialism. This is our reason for contesting elections. We do not invite workers to vote for our candidates because of the possibility of getting "something now" on either local councils or in Parliament, but because we cannot afford to leave this machinery in the hands of the capitalist class.

 Every aspect of our lives is subordinated to the requirements of profit - from the moment you brush your teeth in the morning with the toothpaste you saw advertised on TV until you crawl into your bed at night. Pick up a newspaper and try locating any problem reported there outside of our "cant pay - cant have system". Crime, the health service, poverty, drug abuse, hunger, disease, homelessness, unemployment, war, insecurity - the list is endless. All attract their campaign groups, all struggling to address these problems, and all of these problems arising because of the inefficient and archaic way we organise our world for production. You've got it! Were unlike any other group here today out to reform capitalism, who beg governments to be just a little less horrid, who ask our masters to throw us a few more crumbs from the bread we bake. We are not into the politics of compromise and we certainly are not prepared to be satisfied with crumbs. We demand the whole bakery! Plus the wheatfields!

We urge you to stop belittling yourself by making the same age-old demands of the master class. Hope is not, however, enough. A century of hope has produced nothing but more capitalist misery and failed reformist efforts. Only organisation for socialism will do. The working class must organise not to reform capitalism but to abolish it . Join us in campaigning for a system of society where there are no leaders, no classes, no states or governments, no borders, no force or coercion; a world where the earth's natural and industrial resources are commonly owned and democratically controlled and where production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used to the benefit of all; a world of free access to the necessaries of life. Wouldn't such a campaign movement not only address the real root of every campaign and protest currently being waged?  The choice is yours - the struggle for world socialism and an end to our real problems or a lifetime attached to the 'pick-your-cause' brigade and the certainty you will be retracing your footsteps here today in years to come. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Introducing socialism

As a world system organised to satisfy human needs socialism can only be conceived as universal. The socialist speaks of common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community. The whole community is simply every person on earth. The days of national politics are long since ended as a useful framework of political action. We live today in a world of potential abundance. Yet, while millions are in want and many starve. Commonsense would suggest that to derive full benefit for all from worldwide production, it should be owned and controlled by all humanity; that it should belong in common to all mankind and be controlled by them to satisfy their own needs. By production solely for human need we mean direct co-operation between people in producing goods and maintaining services directly for need. This requires the abolition of the market, including that for labour power in socialism, production would not begin with an economic exchange of labour time for wages and salaries, but would arise as social co-operation in direct response to community requirements. Free access by the community to available goods and services would replace the present restricted access to goods based on buying and selling, and the use of money as a means of exchange. This is what socialism means and the Socialist Party has consistently held this as its sole object.

In a socialist society, for the first time ever, the global communication network - which capitalism itself has built up and which socialism will develop even further - will be used to ensure that everyone can have an input into the decisions which affect their lives on a global, regional and local basis. A united humanity, sharing a world of common interests, would also share world administration. This is the socialist alternative to the way that capitalism divides the planet into rival states and sets people against each other.

In socialism, for the first time, local communities will be free to make decisions about the development of their areas. With the release of productive resources solely for needs, for the first time they will enjoy real powers to act on those decisions. These would be decisions about local services such as health, education and transport, public facilities such as parks, libraries, leisure centres and sports grounds; local housing, the siting of production units, management of farming, care of the local environment, cultural events, and so on. The principle determining the practice of local democracy would be that decisions affecting just local populations would be made by them and not for them by any larger or outside body.

Nor will people in socialism be just concerned about whether a piece of local land should be used for housing, growing food, a cricket pitch or left as it is. People will  be engaged with issues affecting them which extend far beyond their local areas. So, as well as being citizens of their parish or district they would also be citizens of the world with all the opportunities for, and responsibilities of decision making and action in every sphere of life. As well as the face-to-face contacts of our daily lives participating in local affairs, at the same time we would be involved with all other people in world issues and events of every kind.

Socialism will begin with its delegates being in control of national and local governments and from this point the role of these bodies as part of a state machine will be replaced by democratic organisation operating solely for the needs of communities. It follows that all the socially-useful parts of the previous state machine will be continued. At the local level these include planning, education, health and transport developments, etc. Socialism is a society shaped by the free actions of all people.

To move socialist ideas to the centre of popular politics they must be developed as a positive and practical alternative to the present system, argued in association with forward looking change. As has been emphasised, we live in a world of rapid change which includes the world of ideas. This means that the differences between socialist ideas and popular politics are neither static nor fixed in time. Sadly, not all developments in ideas are progressive. It would appear that the consensual body of ideas which make up popular culture moves sometimes forward but sometimes backwards in cycles. The present lurch towards extreme religious nationalism, conservatism and the politics of hate is regressive and can only bring more misery. But this is not the whole story. However divided the world may seem to be, all people share common needs which can only be served, ultimately by cooperation. These needs arise from our human make up, are expressed in the best ways to live, and are inescapable. They rise above national divisions or differences of race, culture and language. Throughout the world, all people share a common need to live in peace and material security and to be at friendly ease with their communities and with other peoples in other countries.

Under the clamour of conflict and the divisive politics that prevent people of all countries from coming together as a united humanity there is the unspoken voice of a common need which is always present. Whilst the oft shouted slogan of "peace, security and justice" may lack systematic thought and down the years has been empty of any practical means of bringing change, it does express a yearning for a different and better world. So when socialists argue for a world of cooperation organised solely for needs, in which all citizens will stand in equal relation with each other, this does express the universal interests of all people; it is therefore true for all time. These conditions of life are only possible in a socialist society. This means that whilst socialist ideas may seem, on the present face of things, to be estranged from popular politics, they are in harmony with the real hopes of all people. It is when socialist ideas become the conscious political expression of these hopes that socialism will become an irresistible force for change. We live in a time when change brings more disillusion than hope.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Who Owns the North Pole (part 76)

The U.S. will assume leadership of the international Arctic Council this week. The Arctic Council consists of representatives from eight countries—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States—plus permanent participants representing indigenous peoples.  For environmentalists, by opening U.S. Arctic waters to oil drilling leases, the Obama Administration hasn't instilled confidence in its stewardship of the complex and swiftly changing ecosystem. A Clean Air Task Force report, "The Last Climate Frontier" said "For climate change, the Arctic is the lynchpin—the future of the Arctic will determine the future of all coastal communities, from Miami to Norfolk to Shanghai."  Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies," told Environment & Energy. "Climate change and the policies around climate change have different meanings to each of the eight Arctic members."

Russia "is engaging in large-scale militarization of the Arctic, a vast area coveted by itself and its four neighbors: Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark," the Guardian reported Tuesday. "Such moves may bring back the atmosphere of the cold war, when the region was the focus of US and NATO attention, as they were convinced that it would be a launchpad for nuclear strikes."

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti said  that Russia will complete deployment of military units on its territory along the Arctic circle by the end of 2014.ITAR-TASS, another state news agency, reported that Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said "this is fundamental, large-scale work." According to RIA Novosti “Over the past few years, Russia has been pressing ahead with efforts aimed at the development of its Arctic territories, including hydrocarbon production and development of the Northern Sea Route, which is gaining importance as an alternative to traditional routes from Europe to Asia. A number of political, economic and military measures have been taken to protect Russia’s interests in the Arctic amid NATO’s increased focus on the region. In April, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would build a unified network of military facilities on its Arctic territories to host troops, advanced warships and aircraft as part of a plan to boost protection of the country’s interests and borders in the region.”

Russian officials are especially wary of NATO interests in the area. "We firmly believe that there are no problems in the Arctic which demand NATO participation," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a public lecture.. despite Russia's own military build-up.

Meanwhile, Canada, which laid claim to the North Pole last year, has recently tested unmanned ground vehicles and drones near its facility in Nunavut, the northern-most permanently inhabited place in the world.

Getting to know the SPGB

Our experience is that, when people first hear us saying we stand for socialism, most take us to be standing for "state ownership and rule by a socialist party".  What we mean by "common ownership" doesn't mean state ownership; the state represents only a section of society. At present the ownership of the productive resources by which society lives is divided up among separate individuals and institutions (firms, states, even co-operatives). Common ownership is the opposite of this situation: it means the absence of any such sectional control over access to and use of productive resources. With common ownership, what is produced, as well as the means to produce it, is commonly owned, so that it does not need to be sold. It, too, is simply there, to be distributed to where it is needed, whether this be another workplace for further transformation into a finished product or a distribution centre to which people can come and take what they need. Common ownership means the disappearance of buying and selling and so also money, markets, banks, wages, profits and the rest.

With common ownership, nobody or no institution exercises exclusive ownership rights over resources; it is, in effect a condition of "no ownership". Such resources are simply there at the disposal of all the members of society as a whole, to be used in accordance with their decisions. To make such decisions—i.e., to exercise democratic control—the members of society need to set in place procedures which allow every member of society the chance to have an equal say in the way things are run. Although this can be envisaged as involving "direct democracy" in neighbourhoods and workplaces, for wider decisions it would also have to involve "indirect" democracy via elected delegates. If such procedures for exercising "democratic control" did not exist, then it would not be possible to talk about "common ownership" either, since, in that case, ownership of the means of production would be in the hands of those who did have the power to make the decisions about how to use productive resources.

Democratic control is not an optional extra of socialism. It is its very essence. This being so, socialism cannot be imposed against the will or without the consent and participation of the vast majority. It simply cannot be established for the majority by some vanguard or enlightened minority. That is our case against all forms of Leninism. 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. No minority revolution can lead to socialism, not even one that destroys the state (our case against certain anarchists) - and of course socialism will involve the disappearance of the state as a coercive institution serving the interests of a minority. Hence our conclusion that the movement to establish socialism, and the methods it employs, must "prefigure" the democratic nature of socialism. So, for us "common ownership" and "democratic control" of the means of production by all the people are one and the same thing; they are in the end just two ways of describing the same situation.

 The Socialist Party does not advocate violence and thus we are labelled as sterile or 'theoretical' armchair revolutionaries. But we are not Quakers, and do not rule out the need for violence under all circumstances. We simply argue that it is quite possible, and highly desirable, for a large majority to establish socialism without bloodshed. The more violence is involved, the more likely the revolution is to fail outright, or be blown sideways into a new minority dictatorship.

How to further the revolutionary process? We wish we knew. The Socialist Party has consistently struggled to be heard for almost a century, and continues to struggle. Our venerable age however is no cause to be smug. So long as there are revolutionaries out there with the energy to act and the will to think, we want to talk to them. Clause 7 of our principles does commit the SPGB to "there can only be one socialist party" in any country in the sense of only one party aiming at the winning of control of political power by the working class to establish socialism. How could there be more than one socialist party in any country trying to win political power for socialism? It just doesn't make sense. If this situation were to arise then unity and fusion would be the order of the day.

Also in Clause 7 of our Declarations of Principles there is what is called our hostility clause,"to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist" which is certainly unique and even within the Socialist Party it has always been subject to regular debate. Concerning the hostility clause, it is one issue that can justifiably put down to the 19th century social democrat roots of our party since it stems from the early members experience of the Social Democratic Federation and the Socialist League. William Morris together with Aveling, Eleanor Marx, Belfort Bax and other members of the SDF, resigned and issued a statement giving their reasons, for "a body independent of the Social Democratic Federation". Yet they added : "We have therefore set on foot an independent organisation, the Socialist League, with no intention of acting in hostility to the Social Democratic Federation”which some saw as a weakness and an accommodation with a reformist party. When the Socialist Party was formed, its members made certain that they would make clear their opposition to all other parties (such as the SDF) who advocated palliatives, not socialism. Given the context when it was drawn up that the early members envisaged the party developing fairly rapidly into a mass party, not remaining the small educational group that it has done up to the present, what it says is that when the working class form a socialist party this party is not going to do any election or parliamentary deals with any other political party, either to get elected or to get reforms. Basically, the hostility clause applies to political parties, organisations aiming at winning control of political power. In fact, in the eyes of those who drew it up, it was about the attitude that a mass socialist party (such as along the lines of the German Social Democratic Party was then seen to be albeit with its warts and all ) should take towards other political parties.

Importantly, the hostility clause doesn't mean that we are hostile to everything and everybody outside the party. There are a whole range of non-socialist organisations out there, ranging from trade unions to community associations to which we are not opposed. Clause 7 does not mean that if you are not in the Socialist Party you are automatically anti-socialist". Of course, there are, and always, have been socialists outside the party in the sense of people who want to see established, like us, a classless, stateless, wageless, moneyless society based on common ownership and democratic control with production solely for use not profit. The party has in fact always recognised this, right from the start, seeing some other groups as socialists with a mistaken view of how to get there. Clearly, such people and such groups are not in the same category as openly pro-capitalist groups. What about some of the anarchists, the original SLP? Of course there are socialists outside our party, and some of them are organised in different groups, some (like us) even calling themselves a "party". That doesn't mean that we are not opposed to the organisations they have formed, but we are not opposed to them because we think they represent some section of the capitalist class. We are opposed to them because we disagree with their proposed method of getting rid of capitalism rather than because of the hostility clause. That opposition doesn't have to go as far as hostility. Our attitude to them is to try to convince them that the tactic they propose to get socialism is mistaken and to join with us in building up a strong socialist party. Of course, if we think that the tactic they advocate (such as minority action or armed uprising or a general strike by non-socialists) is dangerous to the working-class interest then we say so and oppose them. We are opposed to them because we disagree with what they are proposing the working class should do to get socialism -- and, of course, the opposite is the case too, they are opposed to what we propose. We agree to disagree. Comradely disagreements. We cannot see any alternative to the present situation of each of us going our own way, putting forward our respective proposals for working-class action to get socialism and, while criticising each other's proposals, not challenging each other's socialist credentials. In the end, anyway, it's the working class itself who will decide what to do. For the moment, "our sector", "the thin red line", is condemned to remain an amorphous current. At a later stage, when more and more people are coming to want socialism, a mass socialist movement will emerge to dwarf all the small groups and grouplets that exist today. If this situation were to arise then unity and fusion would be the order of the day.

In the meantime, the best thing we can do, is to carry on campaigning for a world community based on the common ownership and democratic control of the Earth's natural and industrial resources in the interests of all humanity. We in the Socialist Party will continue to propose that this be established by democratic, majority political action. Other groups will no doubt continue to propose your own way to get there. And, in the end, we'll see which proposal the majority working class takes up. When the socialist idea catches on we'll then have our united movement .