Sunday, November 30, 2014

Conflict And Its Cause

Now that China has become a major economic power, it needs powerful armed forces (to match other super powers) to protect and further its economic interests and ambitions. Recently released statistics show that China spends $188 billion annually on the military, second only to that of the US. This is pushing other Asian countries to increase their 'defense' spending. Viet Nam's budget has increased 83% in the last five years, Japan's $48 billion budget is the biggest ever, expanding its main coast guard fleet from forty-one vessels to three hundred and eighty-nine. Its proximity to China and Russia is driving the spending. The capitalist class in every country needs access to raw materials and markets to gain its share of the profits. Conflict and war are inevitable at some point, as we have seen many times in the past. John Ayers.

Nuclear Weapons Renewal

Thought we were getting safer as the cold war ended and nuclear weapons arsenals would be de-commissioned? Think again – the US for one is ramping up nuclear weapon production to replace the aging stockpile. A sprawling, state-of-the-art plant in Missouri has thousands of employees working on nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. This comes under a president who made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy. Capitalism needs to show who is boss when it comes to discussion of treaties. It is an antagonistic system that can never change. John Ayers.

A Crazy Society

Ever wondered how the owning class spend their leisure time? After all they can't spend all their time counting their money. They have teams of accountants, financiers and lawyers for that purpose. 'A 600-year-old silk tapestry from the Ming dynasty has sold for £28 million, a world record for a work of Chinese art and four times its estimate. ..... The artwork was sold at Christie's of Hong Kong in a bidding war that lasted 22 minutes. The hammer fell in favour of Liu Yigian, a billionaire business man.' (Times, 27 November) A pleasant day out bidding at Christie's spending millions of pounds while millions of workers try to survive on $2 a day. Capitalism is crazy! RD

Time to stop sitting on the fence

All around us we see a terrible spectacle of decay, desperation and social squalor. The SPGB is the only party that places the responsibility for this situation where it really belongs -- on the capitalist system. At the root of all the problems of modern society—inequality, poverty, war, disease—is a social and economic system, capitalism, in which everything is subordinated to the interests of a tiny elite. If this system cannot provide the basic needs of the great majority -- and it cannot -- then it has failed and must be replaced. The alternative to capitalism is socialism: the reorganisation of all economic life under the democratic control of the working class, to serve social needs, not profit. Every socialist has surely indulged in speculation about an ideal society from time to time. The realities of our own society certainly encourage such flights of fancy. But they should not be considered entirely fanciful: without imaginative thinking, it is quite impossible to see how the world might be changed for the better.

The idea of socialism is dead as the dodo we are told by our so-called betters. Anyone who imagines a different system of social organisation is an impractical dreamer.  Capitalism is the best economic system possible albeit with a few snags, we are told. But isn't the age of workers' revolutions over, is the chorus.  They tell us all this talk about the working class is old stuff, more appropriate to the nineteenth century than today.  Even many on the left of the political spectrum have come to believe so.  They argue that the hope for liberation from below is a charming but hopeless, even dangerous, dream; or that the working class is bought off and reactionary, if it has not disappeared altogether. Class politics has gone and now it is all about identity politics. As unrepentant socialists, we maintain that capitalism, is going the way of the dodo, not socialism. Our kind of socialism - stayed committed to the cause of the working class, refusing to rely upon leaders for answers or guidance. Some politicians imagine that imposing new taxes and instituting new financial regulations, establishing new welfare reforms will fix the social crisis.  But the cause is much deeper than bad policy or poor decisions, and will not be solved by tinkering around the edges. The paradox of reformism is it's not the way to win reforms, especially in periods of capitalist crisis, when the system's ability to absorb demands is minimal. Any possible social gains can only be won through the collective action of working people and without such pressure from below, the election of well-intentioned politicos is basically meaningless. We don't object to reformism because it advocates reforms, but because it has such a sorry record for obtaining them.  We have no callous desire to "bring the system down" by letting people starve, as is sometimes attributed to revolutionaries.  On the contrary, we aim to show people that by organizing and struggling, they can sometimes win, without relying upon undependable political leaders or union officials.

Many distortions of socialist theory arose from mistaken hopes that socialism could be created in societies of material scarcity, industrial underdevelopment and even in peasant societies where the working class barely existed. Equally futile has been the illusion that socialists could gradually alter the capitalist system through a process of government reforms. Many reservations that people have about socialism are the result of a perfectly healthy revulsion against the monstrosities and absurdities which have masqueraded as "socialism".  Around the world, states ruled by single parties and dictatorial autocrats draped themselves with the trappings of Marxism.  Minuscule left-wing groups announced themselves "the vanguard" of the working class, stifling democratic norms justified as "democratic centralism".  In the absence of revolutionary prospects, a tiny minority on the left have acted out infantile, self-indulgent nihilistic acts of rage while many more have habitually resorted to professional lobbying and other reformist political styles that don't challenge people to act on their own behalf.

The revolutionary potential of the working class has been demonstrated many times. United States history is full of examples of militant workers and radicals in struggle, from the Knights of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World to the 1930s sit-down strikes of the CIO.  World history, too, reveals the revolutionary potential of workers and the oppressed: workers' councils in the aftermath of World War I up to  the May 1968 occupations in France. We could go on citing events.

We have an insane system of contradictions. Wealth is everywhere yet millions find no work and the hungry rummage through dumpsters outside well-stocked supermarkets. A system obsessed with acquisition denies basic sustenance to millions.  An economical system that worships growth rushes leaves the Earth an environmental wasteland. It is hard to believe, but there is a method to this madness: it lies in the basic dynamics of capitalist society, which is organised for profit above all else. At fault is not a calculating conspiracy of greedy bankers or rapacious corporate investors but the very driving force of capitalism: this relentless pursuit of private profit. Capitalism is a generalised regime of commodity production characterized by market exchange, including the purchase and sale of labour power.  Production under capitalism is organized for private profit, which is extracted from workers' labour and realised in the sale of goods at the highest allowable price.  This system of social and property relations works to benefit a ruling class made up of owners, financiers, merchants and executives who control key institutions of production and exchange: banks, insurance companies, stock exchanges, service concerns such as airlines and trucking, extractive industries such as coal and oil, and manufacturers and distributors of commodities like cars, computers and toothpaste.  This ruling class appropriates the surplus of the value created by the working class - the majority of us, whose living comes not from owning capital but from working for those who do. By virtue of its dominant social position the ruling class has a common and basic interest in defending private property and maximizing profit rates.  But it is not a giant conspiracy.  Sometimes real differences emerge in its ranks.  Sectors of capital clash over appropriate measures for the maintenance of profit rates, and they enter into political contest by underwriting different candidates in elections and lobbying for different public policy measures.  Precisely through the open expression of such differences, consensus is established within the dominant class.

Occasionally, capital has also been checked from below by a legacy of popular struggle carried out by working people.  Working class struggles have resulted in historic gains: the eight hour day, workplace safety regulation, legal recognition of unions, public education.  Such reforms are important, but they will always be temporary and precarious, vulnerable to being revoked so long as capital rules.

We seek to replace capitalism - which by its nature produces oppression and exploitation - with a new society, a socialist democracy confident in purpose and open to new ideas, vigorous and self-critical, free and cooperative, humane and ecological. Socialism means genuine social equality, on a world scale. Socialism means the extension of democracy to the foundation of all of society: the economic process. Socialists believe that equality, community and economic democracy can only be achieved by a system of common ownership of the means of production and distribution.

Socialism is not a gift to be given to the working class. It must be fought for and won by the working class itself. Socialists have always spoken of the working class as the key political force. The working class must urgently turn to the building of its own political party. Although to many people the prospect of a revived socialist movement seems but a pipe dream, capitalism is showing its impracticality and obsolescence in a host of ways at this very moment.  A rebirth of socialism is possible, just as periods of calm in the past have been interrupted by resurgences of radicalism.

The Socialist Party upholds fundamental socialist principles. No other political party represents the working class. The Socialist Party uncompromisingly defends the interests of the overwhelming majority of people: the working men and women, whose productive labour creates the wealth of society. Our party will fight for the socialist principle that production should be organised democratically to serve the needs of the working class, not to satisfy the rapacious hunger of the bankers, corporate CEOs and Stock Exchange speculators for profit. No one can pretend to have a sure formula for how to overturn the existing order and build a new one.  But we are confident that the struggle for a different society will have to begin with the rejection of elitist, condescending, top-down varieties of socialism.  It is time for socialism from below. Socialism from below is a vision of a new world, based on one central conviction: that human beings can construct a society without exploitation and oppression through, and only through, the maximum extension of democratic control. Socialism will be won by people on their own, together, in collective and democratic action.  We seek a revolution that is constantly self-renewing, even as a new society is constructed which facilitates and encourages radical democracy. Democratic planning and control of the productive process will be exercised through mass representative institutions, based on the shop-floor and workplace and extending to community organisations as well.

Modern technology have created the potential for sustainable abundance, but only if rationality is the basis for their use rather than private profit and class rule. Conserving and recycling resources, growing food without poisonous additives, clean and efficient mass transportation. The realm for culture and imagination, relaxation and leisure, self-expression and education. The emancipation of humanity from capitalism will only come about when workers act on their own behalf.  It cannot be achieved through any shortcut, though many have been tried. Socialism won't solve your personal problems or bring you eternal peace.  It won't even give you ready-made answers to every political and social question. The main reason to join a socialist organization is to work toward socialism.  The abolition of class rule and establishment of economic democracy will not come about unless there are socialists organised to push for it and to win others to the cause. Through debate and analysis, socialists help one another understand what's happening in the country and the world and how best to face the challenges that working people confront, sharing experiences and drawing inspiration and lessons from each other, generating and spreading ideas. Under capitalism, most of the key institutions, schools, churches, TV, radio, movies - exclude, ignore or caricature revolutionary views.  Only a visible socialist party with resources make the alternative to capitalism known. Membership in a socialist movement complements your practical and does compete with your activism, nor drag you into sectarian irrelevance, or hold you prisoner to rigid schemes inappropriate to the world around you. With all of the pressures put on radicals to conform and to remain focused on our goal, it's a lot easier to remain true to our principles when wehave comrades to turn to for mutual support in morale and introduce fresh thinking.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

No Problems For Some

While workers are anxiously trying to keep up with rising costs and low increases in pay, there's no such problem at the other end of the scale. Two former vice presidents of the Pan-Am games committee left after less than four years on the job and managed to win severance payments of over $300,000. John Ayers.

Political Nonsense

POLITICAL NONSENSE                                       
One of the notions beloved by politicians is that they can control capitalism, although Ian Duncan's recent efforts should disabuse them of that idea. His idea was to replace six of the existing seven means-tested benefits covering unemployment, housing and children by an all-embracing Universal Credit. According to him it would all be in place by 2017, but The Times' journalists Phillip Collins recently exposed its failures. 'On its original prospectus , one million people should by now be receiving UC. The actual number 17,850 in a pilot project in Ashton-under-Lyne. A completion date of 2017 has been put back to 2020. The DWP (Ian Duncan) has already been upbraided for writing of £40 million in failed IT software and £91 million in other assets. The projected cost so far is £500 million.' (Times, 28 November) RD

Mother Of The Free?

Misguided workers can often be spotted in a nationalistic frenzy singing "Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of Free", but recent official figures have shown that this is a complete farce.'As many as 13,000 people in Britain are being held in conditions of slavery, four times the number previously thought, it has been revealed. In what is said to be the first scientific estimate of the scale of modern slavery in the UK, the Home Office has said the number of victims last year was between 10,000 and 13,000. They include women forced into prostitution, domestic staff and workers in fields, factories and fishing boats.' (Daily Telegraph, 29 November) RD

Socialists for a free society

“The affairs of the world are ordered in accordance with orthodox opinions. If anyone did not think in accordance with these he soon discovered this fact for himself. Owen saw that in the world a small class of people were possessed of a great abundance and superfluity of the things that are produced by work. He saw also that a very great number--in fact the majority of the people--lived on the verge of want; and that a smaller but still very large number lived lives of semi-starvation from the cradle to the grave; while a yet smaller but still very great number actually died of hunger, or, maddened by privation, killed themselves and their children in order to put a period to their misery. And strangest of all--in his opinion--he saw that people who enjoyed abundance of the things that are made by work, were the people who did Nothing: and that the others, who lived in want or died of hunger, were the people who worked. And seeing all this he thought that it was wrong, that the system that produced such results was rotten and should be altered. And he had sought out and eagerly read the writings of those who thought they knew how it might be done.” - Excerpt from 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist

Class society is based on scarcity. Capitalism has brought forth the technology and world market that, for the first time in human history, make possible the elimination of scarcity and the creation of an abundance of all human necessities. However, that potential remains trapped by capitalism’s private ownership of the means of production and its sole pursuit of private profit. The principal aim of the socialist revolution will be to redirect economic production toward providing an abundance of all human needs, thus paving the way for the dissolution of class divisions and the development of a peaceful, harmonious society in which humanity can realize its true potential. The Socialist Party rejects reformism, the belief that socialism can be the result of parliamentary or other legal reform rather than a revolution that will destroy the old capitalist state. Eduard Bernstein argued that workers could gradually win more and more rights and improvements from the state until capitalism becomes socialism. Rosa Luxemburg demolished this theory in her work ‘Reform or Revolution’.

It is the very essence of socialism that the system is based upon a conscious and democratic planning of production, made possible by the abolition of private property of the means of the production? That co-operation and planning would replace the anarchy of the market. Waste, destruction and exploitation are the ultimate outcomes of the market economy and production for profit. The market develops and ‘regulates’ the economy through booms and slumps. A socialist economy would for the first time give people, as producers and users, the chance to control every step of production, take initiatives and experiment without being strangled by profit-driven competition. This, together with research and testing, would make possible an economy based on equality and in harmony with nature. Why would people produce poor quality goods when they are producing to meet their own (and others) needs? Virtually everybody, if given the choice, would prefer to work at jobs where the main motivations are to produce goods and services that improve the quality of life of the society, to help others, and to provide themselves with meaningful and satisfying work.

The revolutionary's task is to educate and teach the people that they can and must accomplish their own emancipation. The Socialist Party cannot describe in detail what every nut and bolt of socialist system would look like. That might appear rather pretentious; most of it would evolve through trial and error anyway; the important thing is that the foundation — the crucial factors in making the important decisions — would rest on people's welfare and the common good coming before profit. Humankind's desperate need to halt environmental degradation regularly runs contrary to the profit motive. We see in the worker the potential for building a completely new world, based around satisfying the interests and the needs of the people. If we can agree that it is up to the people themselves to choose how they'll be organised. Ultimately, when the organized workers’ movement have prepared themselves for the overthrow of capitalism and the State , it will be up to them to decide what form the new society will take. The most important part about our revolution is that the decision is in the hands of those effected by them -- that it is the people, themselves, who are organising society to fit themselves. This is the essential characteristic of a real, socialist revolution. We can theorise all that we want, but when the people are ready to overthrow economic and political authority, capitalism and the state, then they will be ready to design and build their new world
Bolshevism has been a blight on the working class movement. But recent years have seen an important tendency not only to recognise Russia as state capitalist but also to question Bolshevik methods and the theories from which they are derived. When socialists say that we need a revolution, we too are calling for a very big change. But we are not using the word as a sales gimmick. In the sort of world we want there will be no private or government ownership, no money, no state and no armies. You must agree that this kind of sweeping change would indeed deserve the name “revolution.”

The word socialism implies a complete revolution in the internal workings of the capitalist system. Social reform proposes nothing of the kind.  Reforms serve two important purposes. (1) They keep the worker in a better working condition. (2) They bolster and patch up the evils of capitalism. Many reformers serve as the Judas goats who deliver the sheep to slaughter.

We need a revolution because the world’s most terrible problems, such as war, poverty and loneliness, cannot be solved any other way. Reformers, social workers, charitable individuals, priests and other well-meaning folk, have all failed. By now most of them realise they will never actually solve the problems they are tackling. They are like nurses on a battlefield: all they can do is to keep slapping on the bandages and hope that somehow the slaughter will stop. And to many of them occurs the agonising thought that they are helping to keep it going.

Every society has its stabilising platitudes, along with more or less universally accepted codes of conduct and belief, but that does not mean they cannot be changed if they are called into question strongly enough. For the moment, however, the workers continue to accept the “rules of the game”. It is quite all right to put on a uniform and kill thousands of little boys and girls with bombs and napalm or sanctions, but perfectly hateful to kill one child.

If revolution is the only answer, why can’t people see that this is so? The difference of "what is possible” and “what is possible in capitalism" which people can't see, or choose to ignore, and go on pretending there's no such a thing, is like a kind of political schizophrenia. They simultaneously assume food is both produced to sell and to satisfy hunger. Why can't they see the contradiction? Because they are educated not to see it. The brainwashing we get at school, on television and in the news, papers tells us that things are getting better all the time, that it is good to be patriotic, that everything hinges on “our” balance of payments, that we have a duty to work harder, that the sweet life is within our reach.

But the most effective indoctrination does not come through the mass media. It comes from our family, friends and workmates. We all desperately need the acceptance and approval of other people, at 1east some other people. In the homes, factories, offices, pubs, bingo halls and shops these words are uttered thousands of times a day: “You can’t change human nature.” “Just look after number one.” “Why don’t they go back where they came from?” “Britain’s going to the dogs.” These are ritual statements. The people who make them don’t want to discuss them, have probably never speculated that they might be wrong.

Many workers can clearly see the vast gulf between the pampered minority who own the world, and the rest of us, the propertyless wage-slaves. But they think the way out is merely their own individual advancement, not a social revolution. Obviously there is nothing wrong with a person’s wishing to move up within capitalism: it is inevitable that workers will want to do so. But rags to riches stories are rare: that is why they make headlines.

Despite all the ideological cul-de-sacs, capitalism goes on sowing the seeds of its own-destruction. To function efficiently capitalism demands healthy, educated slaves, workers trained to think clearly and critically. Around the world we have seen the growth of protest movements. We have also seen a great deal of disillusionment and despair. Russell Brand’s popularity is a sign that many thoughtful people are casting around for an answer. The workers will increasingly see how deeply entrenched are the causes of their misery. Patching up, tinkering and minor adjustments will in the years ahead seem more and more futile. The crying need for root and branch change will be obvious to ever greater numbers. As the socialist movement’s size grows, its ability to spread its ideas will also grow. Faced with the spread of this determined, uncompromising movement, with its withering contempt for stock idols like “the national interest,” the promises of our rulers will become even wilder. To stem the socialist tide the capitalist parties will sink their differences and draw closer together, much as religions do today in the face of the world avalanche of atheism. Reforms now derided as Utopian will be two a penny - in an attempt to fob off the workers. Perhaps, for example, capitalism will provide various free services, on the understanding that this is “the beginning” of a free society, but socialists will not be fooled. Finally the time will come when a majority of workers, in the majority of countries, will send their delegates into the parliaments of the world, thus taking control of the state. From then on production will cease to be organised at the dictate of profits. Instead, the principle will prevail that things will be produced to satisfy needs.

There will no longer be any patents, so all workplaces will have access to the most advanced technical processes. There will no longer be any banks, stock exchanges, wages offices, advertising agencies, and although some of the workers previously in these fields will continue to be concerned with statistics relating to production and distribution, hundreds of millions will be released for house-building, food production and other rapidly-expanding sectors. Resources and manpower invested in armaments and the arms race will be switched to the satisfying of human needs. Tackling destitution will not be given the ludicrous low priority now awarded but instead be given the top priority that is now offered to “national defence”. In fact, since socialism will grow directly out of capitalism, the present organisational machinery of the armed forces could be used for this end, since they are the best thing capitalism has developed for moving men and materials fast.

Socialism will be a planned society, not in the sense of an authoritarian state but as Engels put it: “The seizure of the means of production by society puts an end to commodity production, and therewith to the domination of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by conscious organisation on a planned basis . . . The conditions of existence forming man’s environment, Which up to now have dominated man, at this point pass under the dominion and control of man, who now for the first time becomes the real conscious master of nature, because and in so far as he has become master of his own social organisation . . . It is humanity’s leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom.”

Friday, November 28, 2014

For a World Without Borders

The large-scale movement of people has a long history. Migration has always been high on the agenda of the ruling classes, particularly in the core capitalist economies, as they have sought to balance the need for migrant workers to fuel expansionary periods of capitalism against picking up the bill for reproducing and maintaining these workers. The use of migrant workers also allows the receiver country to externalise the costs of renewing the labour force. The state uses migrant workers to fill gaps in the labour market but does not pay any of the costs of them or their families settling. Migrant workers play a distinct role in capitalism both as a “reserve army of labour” and as a means of raising the rate of exploitation for some employers will try to employ migrant workers even when indigenous workers are available because they assume that migrants’ status will make them easier to exploit. There is nothing new about the idea of a reserve army of labour. In 1845 Federick Engels wrote, “English manufacture must have, at all times save the brief periods of highest prosperity, an unemployed reserve army of labour, in order to produce the masses of goods required by the market in the liveliest months”. Under capitalism, immigration will always be a tool of the capitalists to maximise their profits. This has not always taken the form of encouraging freer movement. Sometimes it has meant the opposite. For example, in Capital, Karl Marx refers to the Lancashire cotton manufacturers successfully preventing starving cotton workers from emigrating to the colonies, to keep them as a ‘reserve army of labour’ and thereby hold down wages.

Migrant workers are especially useful as part of the reserve army of labour because they can quickly be expelled. The use of migrant workers is inextricably linked to the agenda of increasing labour “flexibility”. In the UK the supply of migrant workers from outside the European Union is turned on and off like a tap to provide flexible, seasonal, low cost labour. With the free movement of labour within the EU the stop-cocks to control the flow of workers has proved more difficult to turn. One section of the ruling class does not benefit from migrant workers and therefore does not want to bear the costs, while another section has been keen to defend the benefits of immigration. These tensions between different capitalists, with different labour market needs, creates difficulties for states as they attempt to manage migration. The capitalist world market developed in a contradictory fashion, from the nation state. At some stages, the importance for capitalism of ‘freedom of trade’ was to the fore. At others, the importance of national barriers. Today the productive forces have long outgrown nation states, and yet still remain partially constrained by them. Capitalism’s attitude to migration reflects this contradiction. This split was evident in the example of two reports. A Home Office report, citing the support of the Institute of Directors and British Chambers of Commerce, puts a strong case against linking immigration to depressed wages or increased unemployment. Another study tells yet another story, concluding that immigration has a positive effect on the wages of higher paid workers but lowers the wages for those in lower paid jobs. While there is pressure on the wages of the worst paid workers, it is not the case that migrant workers are responsible for this. The drive for “flexibility” and lower wages goes back much further than the arrival of workers from Eastern Europe. Privatisation, outsourcing and subcontracting have intensified competition over the past two decades in industries such as cleaning and other badly paid service sector jobs as well as construction. Undoubtedly, though, some employers in individual factories and workplaces have sought to employ migrant workers on poorer pay and conditions of service.

The existence of migrant workers offers the possibility of divide and rule, bosses have not always been successful in their unbridled exploitation of migrant workers. It is worth recounting a dispute in Sweden when Latvian workers were brought in to refurbish a school by the subcontractor on 9 euros an hour, rather than the nationally agreed 15 euros. The Swedish Byggnads union picketed the site and drew accusations of xenophobia from bosses and the Latvian government. The response of the Swedish union was not to demand “Swedish jobs for Swedish workers”, but to place a full statement in the leading Latvian newspaper inviting workers coming to Sweden to join the trade union. Solidarity between workers is not automatic AND the existence of separate racial and ethnic groups could lead to either unity or fragmentation, depending on the role played by workers associations. The disputes in the UK construction industry and in oil refineries in January 2009, under the slogan of “British Jobs For British Workers”, were a salutary lesson in the importance of uniting indigenous and migrant workers, and of the role of trade unions. While it is true that some sectors are dominated by these migrant workers, for instance in agriculture and food processing, they are also employed alongside British workers as bus drivers and on building sites. Where Polish workers have been in organised workplaces they have been on strike alongside British workers.

We should we see migrants in the way that employers do, as simply units of production:They don’t only migrate to work. The categories – asylum seeker refugee, economic migrant, long-stay tourist, family member, business visitor, student - merge one into one another, and people impose their own wishes on the system. All of them, apart from the very rich, need some means of material support, but this is not necessarily the only reason why they move, or stay. Capitalism is a system based on divide and rule, and successive governments in Britain have resorted to xenophobia to try to set workers against one another. Workers are rightly fearful of the attacks on their working conditions and standards of living  but the danger is that migrant workers will be used as scapegoats. It is crucial for socialists to argue that blame does not lie with migrant workers. The imposition of austerity across Europe has created cut-throat competition, which is compounded by a capitalist system with anarchy at its heart. History shows that migrant and indigenous workers can fight alongside each other for a better world and can win. As socialist internationalists we argue for the end of borders. A socialist one world would be one without passports, much less detention centres and deportations. It would also be a world without what is described as ‘push’ factors pressurising people to move to different countries: war, environmental disaster and poverty. A democratic socialist world plan of production would be able to harness the enormous science and technique created by capitalism, and the world’s natural resources, to meet the needs of the population in every part of the world. Those deciding to move to other parts of the world would therefore do so out of genuine choice.

While Tory and Labour Party politician talk ‘tough’ on immigration there can be no question of socialists supporting anything that would make it impossible for Polish, Romanian or any other workers to migrate to and remain in the UK. No capitalist government can implemented completely open borders, which would be too politically destabilising for them to contemplate. Capitalism is not capable of overcoming the limits of the nation state. Only by fighting for a world socialism is it possible to overcome the barriers of the nation state and to create a world without borders.

Genetic Damage in Jadugora, India

The town of Jadugora, India, supplies most of the country's uranium needs. There, the ore is mined, refined into yellow cake, and sent to the nuclear fuel complex in Hyderbad. There, the tallow cake is converted into uranium oxide, processed into nuclear fuel, and sent to one of India's two dozen nuclear reactors. Uranium is at the center of India's energy ambitions. Coal reserves are limited and gas and hydro are considered unreliable. If the monsoon season is weak, hydro- power output drops and energy experts say nuclear power is cheaper then coal. Exposure to uranium and the difficulty of getting it without bringing up two dozen other radioactive materials that are far more dangerous than uranium, have taken their toll on the people of Jadugora. Many children cannot walk, or hold anything. They can't even feed themselves, bathe or use the toilet. Children with birth deformities live on every street in the town. There are many young women who have had miscarriages and men and women who have died from cancer. Long- term exposure to radiation can cause genetic damage so that future generations can suffer the effects. This shows conclusively that as long as the needs of capitalism, i.e., profits, are satisfied, people's well- being does not matter. John Ayers.

Distorted Values

Bill Clinton is credited with bringing his family back from the edge of bankruptcy. How, by hard work? Not on your nellie. In seven days he gave speeches to corporate executives in Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and the Czech republic and was paid $1.4 million. In fact, since 2001 when he left the White House to January 2013, he has made $104 million for 542 speeches. Lots of talking, maybe, but less of value than a day in the factory and a hundred times more lucrative. Hilary's standard fee is $200,000. Values are distorted in capitalism. (Toronto Star, June 28.) John Ayers.

We still have the dream of socialism

Many on the left lack a vision of a fundamentally different society. Utopia is a whole narrative of profound change in the lives we lead involving our work, leisure, bodies and relationship to nature. Where are the utopian responses to everyday alienation - the lives we would lead if we were free from alienated exploitative labour. Where is the socialist imagination we so desperately require.

Marx's acknowledged at the 1872 Hague Congress that socialism could be voted in, precluding a revolutionary cataclysm. But workers of the world didn't unite but became more divided by nationalism when workers wrapped themselves around their various flags and capitalism developed reformist coping mechanisms such as the welfare state, as a temporary respite. People though are now again more open to socialist ideas.

Socialism is an economic system in which the means of production are commonly owned and controlled co-operatively. As a form of social organisation, socialism is based on co-operative social relations and self-management. Socialist economies are based upon production for use and the direct allocation of economic inputs to satisfy economic demands and human needs (use value); accounting is based on physical quantities of resources, some physical magnitude, or a direct measure of labour-time.

Marx and Engels believed the consciousness of those who earn a wage or salary (the "working class" in the Marxist sense) would be molded by their "conditions" of "wage-slavery", leading to a tendency to seek their freedom or "emancipation" by throwing off the capitalist ownership of society. For Marx and Engels, conditions determine consciousness and ending the role of the capitalist class leads eventually to a classless society in which the state would wither away.

Marx argued that the material productive forces brought into existence by capitalism predicated a cooperative society since production had become a mass social, collective activity of the working class to create commodities but with private ownership (the relations of production or property relations). This conflict between collective effort in large factories and private ownership would bring about a conscious desire in the working class to establish collective ownership commensurate with the collective efforts their daily experience. Socialism cannot exist without a change in consciousness resulting in a new fraternal attitude toward humanity, both at an individual level and on a world scale, with regard to all peoples suffering from oppression. People would not develop by magic, they would develop because they struggle, they transform (in transforming circumstances, people transforms themselves).

Marx said that any truly fair distribution had to take into account people’s differentiated needs. Hence his maxim: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” distorted by the rich say who claim socialists will expropriate everything, your fridge, your car, your home, the clothes off your back, etc. Neither Marx nor any socialist has ever thought of collectivising people’s personal belongings. When we speak of abolishing capitalism, we mean abolishing the private ownership of the basic means of production and the profit-making system it engenders, which permits a few, the capitalistic class, to exploit the many. We mean that the natural resources, and the mines, mills, factories, transport, means of communication, shall be owned in common by all the people. We don’t mean that personal or private property is abolished in those things which are for personal use. What will be abolished is the use of private property to exploit the labor of another. 

What Marx proposed was the idea of giving society back what originally belonged to them, that is, the means of production, but which was unjustly appropriated by an elite. What the capitalist does not understand, or does not want to understand, is that there are only two sources of wealth: nature and human labour, and without human labour, the potential wealth contained in nature can never be transformed into real wealth. Marx pointed out that there is not only real human labour but also past labor, that is, labour incorporated into instruments of labour. The tools, machines, improvements made to land, and, of course, intellectual and scientific discoveries that substantially increased social productivity are a legacy passed down from generation to generation; they are a social heritage — a wealth of the people. The ruling class has convinced us that the capitalists are the owners of this wealth due to their efforts, their creativity, their entrepreneurial capacity, and that because they are the owners of the companies they have the right to appropriate what is produced. Only a socialist society recognises this inheritance as being social, which is why it must be given back to society and used for society, in the interest of society as a whole, and not to serve private interests. These goods, in which the labor of previous generations is incorporated, cannot belong to a specific person, or a special group, but must instead belong to humanity as a whole.

But simply handing over means of production to the state represents a mere juridical change in ownership, because the change to state-ownership is limited and the subordination of workers continues. A new management, which may call itself “socialist”, might replace the capitalist management but the alienated status of the workers in the production process remains unchanged. While formally public property, because the state represents society, real appropriation is still not collective. That is why Engels argued, “state ownership of the productive forces is not the solution to the conflict.” Furthermore, Marx argued that it was necessary to end the separation between intellectual and manual labour that transforms workers into one more clog in the machine. Enterprises need to be managed by their workers. But, then we have the argument of the managerial bureaucracy that says: How can we hand over management to the workers! They are not educated in the management of enterprises! Concentrating knowledge in the hands of management is one of the mechanisms that enable capital to exploit workers.

Unless capitalist control of the state is broken, they will use the military and the police to maintain their power. Attempts at building alternative forms of society without challenging the capitalist state are doomed to failure. There would be no wages and no physically coercive state in socialism. Marx nowhere in any of his writings distinguishes between a socialist and a communist stage of history. Marx used the word socialism and communism completely interchangeably in his work. In his later work, Critique of the Gotha Program written at the very end of his life, for instance, Marx speaks of a lower and a higher phase of communism, the first, the lower phase, still bearing the birthmarks of the older society, where the higher phase does not bear those birthmarks. But the notion that socialism and communism are distinct stages in history, was alien to Marxist thought because he was really saying a lower and higher phase of socialism.

 Marx never identified the dictatorship of the proletariat, a stage in which the working class assumes political control over society with socialism, he just never did. He wrote in Critique of the Gotha Program “between capitalist and communist [or socialist] society there lies the period the revolutionary transformation from one into the other. Corresponding to this is the political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship or the proletariat. Now Marx clearly refers to this dictatorship which meant to him NOT the dictatorship of the party on behalf of the workers, but rather the rule over society by the working class as a whole democratically. He explicitly says “this lies between capitalism and socialist or communist society.” The failure to distinguish between the political form of transition, between capitalism and socialism, from socialism itself, is extremely widespread in a lot of discussions on Marx and on contemporary issues, but it has no basis in Marx’s writings.

The Socialist Party strives for a peaceful road to socialism. We will do everything in our power to prevent the use of force and violence in establishing socialism, which we know full well cannot be undertaken here or elsewhere unless it has the support of the majority of the people.  But we cannot, of course, guarantee that the enemies of the people will accept the decision of the people to move to socialism. Socialism, however, is not yet on the order of the day and we campaign to make it so.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Perverse Effect

Thirty-six hours after the Obama government banned the importation of the AK-47 rifle as part of the sanctions against Russia, gun stores in the states sold out of them. Some customers bought eight to ten rifles at nearly $1000 each, stockpiling them as investment. " The great irony here is that the threat of regulation has the perverse effect of stimulating sales, and not by a little," said Philip Cook, a Duke University gun researcher and the author of, "The Gun Debate That Everyone Needs to Know." Whatever the intentions of the purchasers, two things are clear – the fact that there are so many guns out there regardless of whose hands they are in is indicative of a dysfunctional society, and the need for a society where no guns are needed or even produced. John Ayers.

Marx and The Treasure of Sierra Madre

A Diseased Society

It is typical of capitalism that even the awful scourge of Ebola is overtaken by the money system. Bodies of Ebola victims have been dumped outside a hospital in Sierra Leone by burial workers, who are protesting at the failure of authorities to pay them bonuses for their hazardous work, residents have said. 'Tensions in the eastern town of Kenema reached new heights with the action by members of the burial teams. Local residents said three bodies were abandoned in the hospital doorway, preventing people from entering. There were reports that 15 bodies in total had been left in the street.' (Guardian, 25 November) Healthcare workers have repeatedly gone on strike in Liberia and Sierra Leone over lack of pay, unfulfilled promises to pay them more and their dangerous working conditions. RD

Time For A Change

Around this time of the year charitable organisation like Oxfam and War on Want launch appeals for funds to deal with world hunger. Alarming tales about families trying to exist on the pittance of a couple of dollars a day are widely reported. However In contrast there was  a gathering in a Geneva lakeside hotel of extremely rich individuals attending an auction that lasted for a very exciting 15 minutes.  'A gold pocket watch made by Patek Philippe for a New York banker in the 1930s fetched 23.2m Swiss francs (£15m) at auction on Tuesday, smashing the record for a timepiece it previously set 15 years ago, Sotheby's said. Henry Graves commissioned the famed Swiss watchmaker to produce the world's most complicated watch and surpass one made for James Packard, the American automobile manufacturer.' (Guardian, 11 November) Very modestly, the seller and buyer chose to remain anonymous . RD

Political Duplicity

Politicians like to  make great play about how they will crack down on tax-avoiding companies but in practice they are much less thorough. For instance David Cameron has been getting cosy with executives of both Facebook and Google. 'Cameron appointed former Facebook head Joanna Shields to the Lords. Facebook has not paid any corporation tax in the UK for a second year, Tories are close to Google, which has also been accused of avoiding tax.' (Daily Mail, 26 November) RD

More Severe Cuts

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Minister speaking during a debate in the House of Commons said the NHS is entering a crisis even before the winter sets in. 'Health Secretary says he takes his own children to the Accident & Emergency at weekends because the wait to see a GP takes  too long.' (Daily Telegraph, 25 November) When even the Health Secretary admits to the inadequacy of the NHS it shows how severe the cuts have become. RD

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

For Common Ownership, For Free Access


"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" is commonly attributed to Karl Marx, but "à chacun selon ses besoins, de chacun selon ses facultés" was also written by Louis Blanc (1811-1882) as a rebuttal to Henri de Saint Simon who claimed that each should be rewarded according to how much they work. It is speculated that the phrase was inspired from two lines from the Bible: “All that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

The contradiction in capitalist society is between the means of production, which are socialized in this society, and private, not social, accumulation. This inherent contradiction is the basis of society’s division into classes, into the rich and poor. It’s also the source of the crises of capitalism. Marx and Engels’ vision was that socialism would do away with this contradiction by doing away with private appropriation altogether. The idea was that the overthrow of capitalism in favour of a socialist society would improve the lot of the people. Marx and Engels also envisioned the destruction of the arbitrary division between physical and mental labor. Think about it — is sanitation workers’ work any less worthy in promoting public health than the skills a doctor puts in? Is it any less important to society? Yet sanitation workers are devalued in capitalist society and therefore paid less.

Not everyone has the ability to work as much as others do. Moreover, different people have different needs — say, there’s two workers, but one is raising a family while the other is only supporting herself. Paying these workers the same amount isn’t exactly equality, even if they put in the same amount of work.

The focus of the Occupy Wall Street on rising inequality between the wealthy 1% and the 99%, representing the working class was a popular expression of the conditions that Marx and Engels discussed when they described the growing poverty among the masses and the fabulous wealth of the capitalist class

Driven by this constant revolution in the means of production, high-tech, present-day capitalism is characterized more and more by low-wage jobs and a permanent and growing reserve army of the unemployed. But what if the means of production were owned collectively by the workers and run for the purposes of providing for human needs? Then these advances in technology would be a liberating force for humanity. Everyone could be relieved of back-breaking labour and repetitive jobs. Instead of working 40, 50 or 60 hours per week, everyone could work a greatly reduced schedule, with time for leisure, advanced education and cultural activities.

Human beings could put their minds to solving the great challenges facing the global population, not only to raise the standard of living for all, but also to rescue the planet from the environmental degradation that has been imposed by capitalism and the profit system. We could imagine that digging for oil and gas or mining for coal — all the things that are dangerous and toxic to workers and the planet — could be eliminated by the true development of renewable energy sources. These are the kinds of possibilities that Marx and Engels predicted when they described the socialist future.

We also believe that when the capitalist class is eliminated as a class and class distinctions are a thing of the past, when there is no longer a struggle for the existence of the individual, the capitalist culture of racism, of divide and conquer, of promoting divisions by country, nationality, race, gender and sexuality could be eliminated as well. Generalised want promotes divisions, and of course, the capitalists use it to their advantage. When that want is eliminated, it will be all the more clear that we don’t need to fight among ourselves or allow ourselves to be divided into other categories.

Imagine a society where all its members organize production and distribution on a cooperative, democratic basis according not to profit, but solely on the basis of need.  Such a society has no exploiting minority or exploited majority. All property other than personal property is held in common, for the benefit of all. Consequently, there is also no money. If you are hungry, you can eat from the collective store of food. If you want to work, work is always available, and each contributes what he or she can. When you are sick or old or too young, society always takes care of you. All decisions are made collectively, and leadership is chosen rather than imposed. There are no prisons, no standing army, and no state bureaucracy. The threat of social ostracism is sufficient pressure against anyone who threatens the collective or harms another.

Similar societies have already existed in one form or another, in all parts of the world, in what is known as "primitive communism."
"The brotherly sentiments of the Redskins," wrote the Jesuit Charlevoix of the new world Indians he observed, "are doubtless in part ascribable to the fact that the words mine and thine...are all unknown as yet to the savages. The protection they extend to the orphans, the widows and the infirm, the hospitality which they exercise in so admirable a manner, are, in their eyes, but a consequence of the conviction which they hold that all things should be common to all men."

The question, then, is not: Is such a world possible? but: Is it possible again?

The productive prerequisites for such a society certainly exist. The previously undreamed-of material abundance created by capitalism renders hunger, want and even class divisions obsolete. There is enough food produced today to provide enough for every person on the planet. The introduction of ever-more-advanced machinery and technology has raised output to unimagined levels. Workers run things. In this sense, the ruling class today has become entirely parasitic, siphoning wealth but serving no useful social function. Society could do away with the ruling class and suffer no more than when tonsils or an appendix are removed.

Bill Gates once derided open source advocates with the worst epithet a capitalist can muster. These folks, he said, were a "new modern-day sort of communists”. When masses of people work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labour without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it's not unreasonable to call that socialism. In the late '90s, activist John Barlow began calling this drift, somewhat tongue in cheek, "dot-communism." Nearly every day another start-up proudly heralds a new way to harness online community action. Digital socialism is socialism without the state, without national borders and designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralization. We have peer-to-peer production, a bounty of free access. The online masses have an incredible willingness to share. The number of personal photos posted on Facebook and MySpace is astronomical, but it's a safe bet that the overwhelming majority of photos taken with a digital camera are shared in some fashion. Then there are status updates, map locations, half-thoughts posted online. Add to this the 6 billion videos served by YouTube each month in the US. The list of sharing organizations is almost endless. When individuals work together toward a large-scale goal, it produces results that emerge at the group level. Phillip Howard, an associate professor in communication at the University of Washington, reported in the weeks just before Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign "the total rate of tweets from Egypt  -  and around the world  -  about political change" exponentially grew from "2,300 a day to 230,000 a day." Not only have amateurs shared more than 3 billion photos on Flickr, but they have tagged them with categories, labels, and keywords. The popularity of Creative Commons licensing means that communally, if not outright communistically, your picture is my picture. In a curious way, this exceeds the socialist maxim of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" because it betters what you contribute and delivers more than you need.

Serious contributors to these sites put in far more energy than they could ever get in return, but they keep contributing in part because of the cultural power these instruments wield. A contributor's influence extends way beyond a lone vote, and the community's collective influence can be far out of proportion to the number of contributors. That is the whole point of social institutions—the sum outperforms the parts. Organized collaboration can produce results beyond the achievements of ad hoc cooperation. Just look at any of hundreds of open source software projects, such as the Apache Web server. In these endeavors, finely tuned communal tools generate high-quality products from the coordinated work of thousands or tens of thousands of members. An enthusiast may spend months writing code for a subroutine when the program's full utility is several years away. In fact, the work-reward ratio is so out of kilter from a free-market perspective—the workers do immense amounts of high-market-value work without being paid—that these collaborative efforts make no sense within capitalism. Instead of money, the peer producers who create the stuff gain credit, status, reputation, enjoyment, satisfaction, and experience. Not only is the product free, it can be copied freely and used as the basis for new products. Alternative schemes for managing intellectual property, including Creative Commons and the GNU licenses, were invented to ensure these "frees." Ohloh, a company that tracks the open source industry, lists roughly 250,000 people working on an amazing 275,000 projects. That's almost the size of General Motors' workforce. That is an awful lot of people working for free, even if they're not full-time. Imagine if all the employees of GM weren't paid yet continued to produce automobiles! One study estimates that 60,000 man-years of work have poured into last year's release of Fedora Linux 9.

The number of people who make things for free, share things for free, use things for free, belong to collective software farms, work on projects that require communal decisions, or experience the benefits of decentralized socialism has reached millions and counting. A survey of 2,784 open source developers explored their motivations. The most common was "to learn and develop new skills." The more we benefit from such collaboration, the more open we become to socialist concepts. We underestimate the power of our tools to reshape our minds. Did we really believe we could collaboratively build and inhabit virtual worlds all day, every day, and not have it affect our perspective? The force of online socialism is growing.

Even American Trotskyist James P. Cannon wrote that in a socialist society money, indeed, even a system for accounting for what was produced and how it was allotted would disappear: "In the socialist society, when there is plenty and abundance for all, what will be the point in keeping account of each one's share, any more than in the distribution of food at a well-supplied family table? You don't keep books as to who eats how many pancakes for breakfast or how many pieces of bread for dinner. Nobody grabs when the table is laden. If you have a guest, you don't seize the first piece of meat for yourself, you pass the plate and ask him to help himself first."

In socialism, society's surplus wealth would be collectively used to enhance the welfare of all rather than that of a small minority. Such a society may seem too utopian. But as Cannon said: "What's absurd is to think that this madhouse is permanent and for all time. The ethic of capitalism is: 'From each whatever you can get out of him--to each whatever he can grab.' The socialist society of universal abundance will be regulated by a different standard. It will 'inscribe on its banners ' abolish the wages system - said Marx - 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.'"

Endemic Distress

The government has cut the NHS so severely that it is now forced to re-fund the service. The NHS in England should be given £2bn more next year, the King's Fund health think tank has said. Extra money for the service are called for after the latest figures showed the deficit growing as performance deteriorates. 'Halfway through the 2014-15 financial year the service's deficit had reached £630m - up from £500m a few months ago. It comes as targets are being breached for A&E, hospital operations and cancer treatment. In a briefing document, the King's Fund said the levels of deficits - revealed in official NHS board papers - were "unprecedented" and showed financial distress had become "endemic".' (BBC News, 26 November) RD

World Hunger

There are many reasons to get rid of capitalism. War, crime, preventable diseases - the list is endless. The greatest plight of all though is probably world hunger. 'We grow enough food right now to feed about 10 billion people, yet according to the UN, nearly 1 billion people suffer from significant malnutrition, in a world of plenty. They are hungry because they are poor, and they are poor because they are (by and large) either small-scale farmers without enough land, credit, extension services, or investment, or they are unemployed workers with income too low to support their families.' (Christian Science Monitor, 23 October) One billion suffering from malnutrition. It must end!   RD

Hospitals In Crisis

Experts said hospitals were "full to bursting," with latest quarterly statistics showing hospitals operating at the highest capacity levels recorded for the time of year. 'NHS leaders said that many hospitals had become so busy that it would take little more than "a gust of wind" to bring some to collapse. Accident & Emergency doctors said many of the problems stemmed from lack  of social care, with too many elderly patients stuck in hospital for lack of   help to get them back home.' (Daily Telegraph, 20 November) Lack of NHS funding could lead to a real medical collapse this winter. RD

This Is A Ceasefire?

The hostilities continue in the Ukraine  despite a so-called ceasefire. 'An average of 13 people have been killed daily in eastern Ukraine since a 5 September ceasefire came into place, the UN human rights office says. In the eight weeks since the truce came into force, the UN says 957 people have been killed, amid continuing violations on both sides. A new report by the office describes a total breakdown of law and order in rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk.' (BBC News, 20 November)  The catalogue of human misery is horrendous - 4,317 deaths since April, 957 of them since the 5 September ceasefire, and 9,921 people wounded. Capitalism's conflicts always lead to working class suffering. RD

A Poisonous System

Under the shocking headline 'Supermarkets still selling chicken contaminated by deadly bacteria', we learn of the awful risks of disease and death as desperate retailers push for bigger and bigger sales. 'Supermarkets are selling chickens they know to be contaminated with a bacterium  that causes food poisoning and kills more than 100 people a year.' (Times, 19 November) The British Retail Consortium, which represents major retailers, said that its members were not required by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to withdraw contaminated batches.  Which is very convenient for them but hardly reassuring for potential customers. RD

Economic democracy and freedom

A 19th Century Protest banner
The Earth’s greatest single resource is its people. The world could be a paradise for its inhabitants but it definitely is not a paradise for the majority of people. Who and what is responsible? It is the capitalists and their profit-seeking system. Our planet is ruled for and by capitalists for their own interests. What is wrong with the world is the way society is organised, the “system of society” which prevails. Two  main features of this society are it is divided into rich and poor—a tiny handful of rich (1 per cent of the population own more than half the wealth) who need not do any work, and the overwhelming majority who toil their whole lives through and that wars,  involving incalculable suffering to the people, are a regular occurrence.

It is a system of exploitation. By exploitation we mean living off the labour of other people. There have been previous forms of exploitation. In slave society, the slave-owners lived off the labour of the slaves who were their property. In feudal society, the feudal lords lived off the forced labour of the serfs. In capitalist society the worker is neither a slave nor yet a serf, i.e. forced to do free, unpaid labour for a master. But he or she is exploited just the same, even though the form of this exploitation is not so open and clear as was the case with the slaves and the serfs. The essence of exploitation under capitalism consists in this — that the workers, when set to work with raw materials and machinery, produce far more in values than what is paid out by the capitalists in wages. In short, they produce a surplus which is taken by the capitalists and for which they are not paid. Thus they are robbed of the values they produce. This is the source of capitalist profit. It is on this surplus, produced by the workers, that the capitalist lives in riches and luxury. Capitalism is a system in which the means for producing the wealth (the land, the mines, factories, the machines, etc.) are in private hands. A tiny handful of people own these “means of production” as they are called. But they do not work them. The immense majority of the people own nothing (in the sense that they can live on what they own) but their power to work. Capitalism is a system in which the means for producing wealth are owned by a few who live by exploiting the workers, i.e. by robbing them of the values they produce over and above the value of their wages.

As we have seen, capitalism is a system in which there are different classes—exploiters and exploited, rich and poor. The interests of these two classes are clearly opposed. The exploiters try to increase the exploitation of the workers as much as possible in order to increase their profits. The exploited try to limit this exploitation, and to get back as much of the wealth as possible of which they have been robbed. This is one aspect of the class struggle which arises inevitably out of the whole character of capitalism as a class system based on exploitation. The working class has to fight both immediate and long-term struggles. The immediate struggles are those that are fought out on different aspects of the struggle within the existing capitalist order. These struggles can be victorious without a fundamental change of social system. Such struggles are those for wages or in defence of living standards by trade unions. But for a lasting solution of all these problems, it is necessary to end capitalism altogether and to replace it by a new system of society in which the working people rule.

The ending of the exploitation, the cruelty and injustice caused by class society in its various forms, has long been the dream of men. It found in the writings of men like John Ball, Robert Owen, the early English Chartists and the pioneers of the labour movement. But capitalism by itself does not “evolve” into Socialism. It has to be transformed into Socialism by the conscious action and struggle of men and women. The age-long dream of the thinkers and the fighters of the past can only be transformed into reality when the working class take political and economic power from the capitalist class and, having succeeded in this, sets about building a socialist society.

What will such a socialist society look like? The means of production—the factories, mines, land, banks and transport—are taken away from the capitalists. They are transformed into social property which means that they belong to and are worked by the whole of the people, that the fruits of production likewise become social property, used to advance the standard of life of the peoples. No longer can some men (the capitalists) by virtue of the fact that they own the means of production, live off (exploit) the labour of others (the working class). No longer are the workers compelled to sell their labour power to the capitalists in order to live. The workers are no longer property-less proletarians. They now own the means of production in common and work them in their own interests and in the interests of society. It is the only system in which the old definition of democracy as “government of the people, by the people, for the people” becomes a reality. Capitalist democracy is government of the people by the capitalists in the interests of the capitalists. Socialism cannot be imposed on the people from above. It develops from below. The state apparatus which serves capitalism will be transformed into one which serves the interests of the people. The people will play the decisive part in the running of their communities.

Most people, even some capitalists, believe in a fair distribution of wealth, but you have probably noticed that capitalists and workers understand fairness very differently. This is not surprising to Marxists because they use class analysis as their basic method for understanding society. On the basis of that method Marxists recognize that what people mean by fairness has a lot to do with their class position in society and the degree to which they are influenced by the class-based theories, intellectual fashions, and prejudices that dominate the societies in which they live. For example, slave owners in societies with slavery-based economies often try to justify the status quo by claiming that slave laborers are incapable of personal autonomy and self-government and therefore slavery is fair and beneficial both to slaves and society as a whole. Likewise, capitalists promote ideas about the absolute necessity of private property, the profit motive, and wage labor for building a modern civilization, ideas which in their minds justify the existence of the capitalist class, capitalist domination of the working class, and a lopsided distribution of wealth that creates a fabulously rich minority and an impoverished working-class majority.

Karl Marx in 1875, in a letter that is known today as the Critique of the Gotha Program formulated a famous principle about how wealth would be produced and distributed – “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

The first part of the principle—from each according to their ability—means that all members of society will have the right and the actual opportunity to develop their talents and abilities to the utmost and to use their talents to produce goods and services for the benefit of society. In other words, everyone will have an education that allows them to realize their highest potential and a job in which they will have the opportunity to give their best efforts back to society. There will be no uneducated or poorly educated people, no unemployment, and no one will be forced by economic necessity to work in fields unsuited to their abilities. The second part of the principle—to each according to their needs—explains what citizens will receive from society in return for their labor, and that will be nothing less than complete satisfaction of their material and cultural needs.

Marx also said something very interesting about the implications of a fair distribution of wealth in a socialist society. He said that the principle “to each according to their needs” actually entails that inside socialism any given individual will have the right to receive a quantity of goods and services that is unequal rather than equal to the quantity received by others. This will sound counterintuitive, or even wrong to many, because most of us have been taught to believe that equal rights are the highest form of fairness, but Marx shows that this is not the case with regard to the distribution of wealth. 

Imagine two women living in socialism. One woman is a bus driver with five children and the other is a bus driver with one child. Let’s ask ourselves a question: According to the principle “to each according to their needs” which woman should have the right to receive more goods and services (food, housing, clothing, medical and childcare services, etc.) in compensation for her labor?  You might be tempted to answer that both women should receive the same quantity because both are bus drivers, and it’s only fair that everyone be treated equally. That would be the correct answer if this society was being run on the principle “to each according to their work,” which would mean that all bus drivers would receive the same reward. But that is not what Marx had in mind for socialism. The problem is that if each woman were treated equally, the driver with one child would receive more relative to her needs than the driver with five children—the former would be objectively richer and the latter poorer. This shows that an equal distribution of wealth can actually result in a highly undesirable kind of inequality—a division between rich and poor. This happens because principles such as “to each according to their work” or “equal pay for equal work” fail to take individual needs into account.

The principle “to each according to their needs” overcomes this defect by treating individuals differently, but in a positive way that considers and meets their differing needs, rather than a negative way that ignores individual needs. In a socialist society the unique needs of every individual would be respected. Thus the answer is that the woman with five children should receive more because her needs are greater.

The principle holds true even if we compare our bus driver with her five children to a neurosurgeon with five children. Shouldn’t a neurosurgeon be entitled to more than a mere bus driver? Not at all, since it won’t matter what kind of work you do. What will matter is that you contribute to the best of your ability. In return, society will meet your needs. If the needs of an individual who happens to be a bus driver are greater than those of a neurosurgeon, then the bus driver will receive more. But the needs of both will be completely and ungrudgingly fulfilled. Who would have a problem with that except for people who want more than they need? And there’s a name for that condition; it’s called greed.

This should lay to rest the common misconception that socialism means everyone will be treated exactly the same, as in the oppressive uniformity of the anthill or the barracks. Socialism actually means the opposite: out of respect for the individual, everyone will be treated differently, but in a way that satisfies the individual’s needs. The right to an unequal share in the consumption of goods and services actually results in a higher form of equality—all people will be equal in the sense that the needs of all will be met. The capitalist principle of “fairness,” is “From each according to the capitalists’ needs, to each according to the capitalists’ greed.” But for the Socialist Party “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” is our inspiration and destination.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Clydesiders - Book Review

Book Review from the January 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Clydesiders by R. K. Middlemas 

In the general election of 1922 twenty Independent Labour Party members were elected from Glasgow and the West of Scotland alone. As a vast, hymn-singing crowd saw the new MPs onto the London train one of them, Emmanuel Shinwell, was aware that "they had a frightening faith is us . . . we had been elected because it was believed we could perform miracles and miracles were needed to relieve the tragedy of Clydeside in 1922." (Conflict Without Malice by E. Shinwell) The miracles, of course, failed to come. Capitalism proved more than a match for the reforms of the Independent Labour Party. Mr. Middlemas traces the gradual decline of that organisation.

The cover announces his book as "an important contribution to contemporary political history." This claim would not be so wide of the mark if he had got a few more of his facts right. Take, for example, his confusion of the founding of the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain with that the British Socialist Party on page 32:
The impossibilists', the hard core of followers of the American Daniel De Leon broke off in Scotland in 1903 to form the extremist Socialist Labour Party (SLP), and two years later in London to form the British Socialist Party.

Let us make it clear that our founder members were opposed to the confused industrial-unionism if De Leon and that the date of formation was 1904, not 1905 as he suggests. He is plainly mixing up the SPGB with the so-called 'British Socialist Party' (BSP), the inaugural meeting of which was held on 30th September, 1911—with Hyndman in the chair. (See H. M. Hyndman and British Socialism by C. Tsuzuki and the Socialist Standard, November 1912). The BSP held negotiations with sections of the SLP and of the ILP, and others, in 1920-21 and it was this reformist cocktail which eventually became the 'Communist' Party.

Despite the unfortunate mistakes, there are some interesting passages in this book. One of these, on page 276, gives a classic example of policy reversal by the Communists. In October 1932 the CP and ILP were co-operating and they organised the first Hunger March. Yet, only a year before, a Communist Party manifesto had referred to "the struggle against the ILP which is an inseparable part of British social fascism." Elsewhere we find that Shinwell gained his 'socialist' education by reading "the German Socialist Bernstein" and that Maxton, with unconscious schizophrenia, claimed to recognise the class struggle and the labour theory of value—but not the materialist conception of history!

Mr. Middlemas has little to say about the present little group, all that remains of the once powerful ILP. He merely reflects that "like the old-time SDF and the contemporary 'Impossibilists', the ILP was on the inverted road of splinter groups for whom it is more important to decide the details of the socialist millenium than the present methods of achieving it." But it is quite wrong to imply that the ILP sacrificed numbers for the sake of socialist understanding. They have been strongly influenced by anarchist ideas and, now that the great days of Maxton, Brockway and Wheatley have gone, feel that "parliamentary action . . . has many limitations, and its members cannot adequately represent the interests of the working class." Their demands include the extension of the "comprehensive system of education and abolition of the Grammar School system: and the introduction of "differential rent schemes", although "only a socialist society will be able to bring down the rents"! Finally, they have pledged themselves "to fight within the capitalist system" so that "commodity production (can) be organised for the benefit of the community." Could confusion go any further.

From the start the ILP followed an opportunist line and sneered at the 'impossibilists' in the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain. Never having Socialist principles, it could at least boast of a fair body of working class support. Now that that is gone, there is nothing left. It should be a lesson to all those who preach reformism.

John Crump

Dirty Tricks

During his five-decade-long leadership of the FBI bureau the Director J. Edgar Hoover was virtually unassailable. Presidents could come and go but Hoover still retained his supreme position. It is only now that some of the dirty tricks and double-dealing that kept him in power have come to light. One of Hoover's targets was the civil rights leader Martin Luther King whom the FBI had originally started monitoring because of suspected ties to the US Communist Party but after King began criticising the government for failing to enforce civil rights in the American South and his participation in the 1963 March on Washington the range of the FBI's surveillance spread. 'Now revealed are brazen threats to smear King by making details of his numerous extramarital affairs public and hints at an audiotape that may have accompanied the letter.' (BBC News, 20 November) Who knows what other surveillance and threats may have been used in the past or indeed in the present. RD

Wage Workers, Beware

Government officials  like to boast of an economic recovery, but the pathetic level of wages gives the lie to that notion. 'The wage rise, in the 12 months to April, was the smallest growth in 17 years and puts the average weekly salary full-time workers at £518, official figures show. Annual increases averaged around 1.4 per cent a year between 2009 and 2014, but this latest rise - the lowest since 1997 - is only 0.1 per cent, said the Office for National Statistics.' (Daily Express, 19 November)  The depth of decline highlights just how tentative any recent recovery remains, with the bottom 10th of full-time staff earning less than £288 a week, compared with £1,240 for the top 10 per cent. RD