Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Spend, Spend, Spend

We are constantly being reminded that the UK is going through an economic recession, but dire as these times might be it would seem that the owning class can still spend millions in the auction houses. 'A £40m van Gogh, £15m Patek Philippe watch and a £5m Stamp: How 2014 saw super-rich investors make series of world record purchases at auction houses. Very rare 19th century stamp from British Guiana sold for £5.6m in June . 114 bottles of Romanee-Conti Superlot sold  for £1m  - £1,100 per glass.' (Daily Mail, 30 December) People starving while some parasite spends over £1,000 for a glass of wine. Capitalism is crazy. RD

No Cuts Here

At a time when the government seems especially keen on making welfare cuts, witness the NHS, Old Folk's Homes and libraries there is one area that seems untouched by any cuts. SNP ministers have been accused of enjoying a luxurious lifestyle at some of the world's grandest five-star hotels. 'Among those to enjoy top treatment while on government business are Humza Yousaf, the minister for Europe  and international development. He stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Qatar - which boasts its own inclusive island and the Middle East's largest chandelier, decorated with 2,300 crystals The stay cost almost £1,400.' (Times, 29 December) RD

An Unpredictable Society

Capitalism is an unpredictable society only a couple of years ago it was predicted that there was going to be an oil and gas boom, but this has turned out to be a complete fallacy. 'The oil and gas industry is set for a year of mergers and takeovers as a result of the plummeting oil price, a business consultancy has predicted. PwC said 2015 may bring the first hostile takeover in the sector in living memory. It warned of "uncertain times" for the estimated 440,000 people employed in the UK's oil and gas industry. The oil price has fallen from $115 a barrel in the middle of the year to about $60.' (BBC News, 29 December) Market forces dictate slumps and booms not the "experts". RD

A Dire Future

'Almost 7,000 homes and buildings will be sacrificed to the rising seas around England and Wales over the next century, according to an unpublished Environment Agency (EA) analysis seen by the Guardian.' (Guardian, 29 December) It is reckoned over 800 of the properties will be lost to coastal erosion over the next 20 years. The properties, worth well over £1bn, will be allowed to fall into the sea because the cost of protecting them would be far greater. But there is no compensation scheme in place for homeowners to enable them to move to a safer location. RD

The Goal of the Working Class

Slavery existed long before capitalism. When members of competing tribes were captured, they often became slaves. A form of slavery still predominates today. It is called wage-slavery. Workers are forced to sell themselves (actually, their labour power) in order to survive. Economic necessity prevents the overwhelming mass of humanity from being truly free. The corporations and businesses own the economy — the factories, the transport, the retail stores, etc. Workers own only their ability to work and the few personal possessions they have been able to accumulate in a lifetime of toil. When some read the word slavery, they think it couldn't possibly be that people are literally slaves today - slavery seems like an outmoded form of life from previous centuries. They blithely assume that "wage slavery" is merely a metaphor. Whatever we feel, slavery is very much a fact of life for all people in the world today. A person is a slave if he has lost control over his life and is dominated by someone or something--whether he is aware of this or not.

The reason why workers sell their labour to capitalists in the first place is that they have no other choice. In a capitalist society one needs money in order to purchase the essentials of life, such as food, shelter and clothing. Thus in order to avoid starvation or at best extreme poverty one must accumulate money. In order to accumulate money the vast majority of people in a capitalist society sell their labour to capitalists in exchange for a wage. This is because most people do not own capital or receive a large inheritance with which to start a business. It is true that some workers manage to create their own businesses and become self-employed but in order to do this they must accumulate the money required to buy the necessary capital and means of production for their business and thus at some point must partake in wage labour. Therefore the vast majority of individuals who engage in wage labour do so because if they do not they cannot purchase the goods and services required to survive. Since workers engage in wage labour because they have no other choice it follows that wage labour is not voluntary, a choice lacking a meaningful alternative is no choice at all. Workers are dependent on the bosses to live. They must sell their ability to do a job of some type to a capitalist, day after day, month after month, year after year. If the bosses won’t hire them or business falls off, then the workers are out of luck. They work at the will of the owners. A wage slave can't quit an oppressive job to find a less slave-like job, because in our present society, almost all jobs involve wage-slavery. So the options are obey and stay, die of starvation, or become a vagrant, which is illegal.

It is time to openly attack and expose capitalism and advocate for its opposite, socialism. People suffer from the law of the maximisation of profit, which drives capitalism. The management want to introduce new technology and put in automation because they want to lower their labour costs by laying off workers and then extracting more out of the workers who remain on the job. Everyday life itself is more and more forcefully presenting workers with the question: capitalism or socialism? The intensifying exploitation of the working class is the inevitable product of capitalism. Socialism is the way out. The necessity for socialism arises, in the first place, from the struggle of the working class for emancipation from capitalist wage-slavery. Under capitalism workers are looked upon solely as a means for enriching their employers.  The working class can only emancipate itself by abolishing the capitalist system, stripping the tiny minority of capitalist owners of the "right" to monopolise the economic lifeline of society and of the "right" to exploit the labor of the workers. By turning the means of production into the common, social property of the whole society, socialism at once eliminates the exploitation of the workers and creates the foundations for genuine social, economic and political equality.

Economic inequality is at obscene levels. Mass suffering is increasing as the stock market reaches new highs — despite its ups and downs. Working-class debt of all types goes up as bank profits soar. People are living in a state of financial insecurity, unable to meet an unexpected bill without borrowing money or selling something. Millions are working at low-wage jobs, are forced to work part time or are working two and three jobs just to make ends meet. Student loans debt indentures the new generation to the banks. All television networks, mainstream newspapers and major politicians  leave out what the working class needs to know above all, and it is that the problem is the capitalist system of wage slavery — and the solution is socialism. The struggle against capitalism and for socialism requires knowledge of the system of exploitation. Understanding our enemy is a basic necessity for the working-class. Anyone who thinks even for a minute about the enormous productive capacity of our society cannot but ask: why is a world with such modern means of production unable to guarantee the economic rights and well-being of the people? Why is the curse of unemployment and the plague of falling wages and living standards undermining the lives of hundreds of millions? We must work hard to understand just what has led to our enslavement and what kinds of actions will be necessary to free ourselves from these insidious chains of servitude. We first need to understand the basics of our present economic situation. We must realize that our economic situation at present--a very few obscenely rich people owning companies and corporations and having illegally seized state and federal political power--is one which we can and must change. Our current economic and political circumstances are not written in stone; humans have lived under very different political and economic conditions throughout our history. We must begin to overthrow this present state of affairs where all workers suffer under capitalist wage-slavery. The political system and the economic situation should be directed toward the welfare of all, not just a few. We can bring about these changes; it is not impossible.

The necessity for socialism is arising from every pore and cell of our society. The most fundamental fact is that everywhere the social character of our society is forcing itself to the surface, demanding recognition but the capitalist system is blocking the way forward. It is the capitalist system which is denying billions the right to secure a livelihood. It is the system of private property in the means of production which exploits human labour and creativity and turns society into an arena in which the rich live off the labour of the poor. It is the system of private property in the means of production which refuses to plan for the health of the population and instead produces health care as a commodity available on the basis of who has the most money. It is the capitalist system which is poisoning the air we breathe and the water we drink. Even though modern science is able to know the effect of human action on nature, capitalism – based on the anarchy of production – willfully destroys the natural environment in the pursuit of maximum profit.

"Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number.
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Winter Of Discontent

It is difficult to imagine a more disastrous Christmas occurring. 'AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ8501 travelling from Indonesia to Singapore goes missing with 162 people on board, the company says.' (BBC News, 27 December) Snow and ice in the French Alps have stranded 15,000 vehicles, snarling up holiday traffic to and from ski resorts. Rail passengers have been told to expect delays at some London stations after thousands faced major disruption on Saturday. Overrunning engineering works meant trains in and out of King's Cross and between London Paddington and Reading were cancelled on Saturday. A fire has broken out on a Greek ferry leading to the forced evacuation of 460 passengers and crew. A far from Merry Christmas. RD

Cancelled Operations

The worsening of the NHS can be gauged by these alarming figures. 'More than 300 patients a day are having operations cancelled as the National Health Service runs out of beds, official figures show. Surgeons were forced to delay planned, "elective" procedures 3,113 times in the first two weeks of this month.' (Sunday Times, 27 December)This is an average of 311 each working day and a rise of almost 50% on the same period two years ago. The numbers are up 16% in the last year alone. Cancelled operations - it is difficult to think of anything more severe. RD

Boast Of ThenYear

"You've been driving a cab for ten years. I've been in the Cabinet, I'm an award winning broadcaster, I'm a Queen's Council. You think that your experiences are anything compared to mine?" Modest and charming David Mellors effortlessly alienates the UK's driving fraternity." (Independent, 26 December) Mellors sums up politicians' opinion of their all-consuming importance. RD

The Spirit Of Christmas

'A major in South-Western France has been accused of a shameful lack of Christmas spirit after banishing homeless people from the city centre by placing metal cages on public  benches.' (Daily Telegraph, 26 December) It seems  that 34 year-old Right wing major Xavier Bonnefont, Angouleme's major has little sympathy for the homeless. He believes the homeless will just use the facility for drinking alcohol. This sums up the contempt that many officials have for the working class. RD

Which side are you on?

Why can’t we ensure that everyone has good food to eat, that everyone can access medical services, that all youngsters get the education they desire, that our elderly live in security and dignity, that working conditions are safe and that the environment is protected. The answer is that we live under CAPITALISM – a global system based on the exploitation of the majority by the minority. And the solution to all these problems is SOCIALISM – a global system based on mass democracy. Socialism has nothing to do with state control. The governments of the United States and China control a similar proportion of their economies – about 30 percent – and neither nation is socialist. Both the U.S. and China are capitalist nations with economies based on the private ownership of production. Socialism is based on the collective and democratic control of production. There are no socialist economies in the world today, no nations where the working-class collectively controls production. Not any – not even close. Socialism is not possible in one workplace, one city, one state or one nation because only one class can rule.

The capitalist class and the working class have opposite goals and conflicting values: Bosses want workers to produce more and faster. Workers want to slow down to preserve their health. Bosses want lower wages so they can boost profits. Workers want higher wages so they can pay their bills. The drive for profit shapes values of the capitalist class – greed, corruption, and the hunger for power. Mutual dependence shapes the values of the working class – solidarity (an injury to one is an injury to all) and self-determination (what we wish for ourselves, we want for all). The capitalist class and the working class are like oil and water.

Who is better qualified to meet human needs: the capitalist elite that produces only for profit; or the working people who produce the goods and provide the services we all need? Who is more cooperative: the bosses who compete for profit; or the workers who must pull together to get the job done? Humanity has spent the vast majority of its history in cooperative, sharing societies. Class-divisions appeared only about 10,000 years ago. Modern socialism would differ from primitive socialism in two important ways: it would be organized on a global scale; and it would be based on abundance, not scarcity. It’s time that we organized to take back our world. The current crisis is opening a space to discuss genuine socialism, a democracy where ordinary people take collective control of the economy and direct it to meet human needs. The material conditions already exist for such a society. Because socialism is based on sharing, there must be more than enough to go around. That is not a problem. Between 1800 and 2000, the amount of wealth produced grew eight times faster than the global population. Only a few have benefited.

Most people do not view socialism as a viable alternative, because they have been bamboozled into thinking that there is no alternative to capitalism. This makes no sense. Human beings create society. We have changed it many times in the past, and we can change it again.  Most people would be much better off in a cooperative society. However, capitalism cannot tolerate demands for a society based on cooperation. The people in power must make “socialism” a dirty word because, if the majority realized that they could solve their problems and meet their needs without bosses and rulers, they would abandon capitalism in a heartbeat. To make socialism a viable alternative, we must build socialist organizations where workers can break free of the lies that bind and blind them to capitalism, including the lie that they are too stupid or lazy to run the world for themselves and one another. Where the capitalists divide in order to rule, socialists connect individuals, causes, past events and future dreams into a unified struggle for majority rule. Where the capitalists infect workers with fear, pessimism and a sense of powerlessness, socialists link workers’ experience of individual suffering with their collective power to eliminate that suffering.

Socialists believe in the working class, even when it does not believe in itself. No one can know when the next struggles will erupt, or what their outcome will be. One thing is certain. The needs of the capitalist class will continue to clash with the needs of human beings. We have a choice. We can continue to accept the insanity of capitalism, or we can organize a socialist future. The time is now. Let us all go forward to build a global mass democracy to end the rule of the few and the misery of the many – because working people create all social wealth and have the right and the ability to produce it for the benefit of all. As long as the working-class majority does not believe in itself, it will accept the rule of the capitalist class. But as soon as that changes, capitalism will torn asunder. The working class will build a completely new society, a socialist society based on real democracy, solidarity and self-determination. In the battle between capital and labor, one must take sides. Which side are you on?

Monday, December 29, 2014

NHS Legal Costs

MPs are demanding that the NHS complaints system should be "completely overhauled" in   the face of rising litigation costs that now take up a greater bill for clinical negligence claims. 'The NHS complaints system should be "completely overhauled" in the face of rising litigation costs that now take up a quarter of the annual £1 billion bill for clinical negligence claims, an MP is demanding. The amount paid out by the NHS Litigations Authority has already doubled in five years, with legal costs of £250 million. In 2009-10 the total bill for claims was £650 million, with £150 million of it going to to cover legal costs.' (Times, 26 December) The incompetence of the NHS is leading to an immense legal bill. RD

A Depressing Future

Failures in giving people with mental health problems the treatment they need are a significant factor in the growing pressure on accident and emergency departments, a minister has said. 'The care and support minister, Norman Lamb, who has long championed the rights of those with mental health problems, said patients with conditions such as depression and anxiety often still faced discrimination and often did not get the help they needed. As a result they added to the strain on hospital A&E departments, which have seen record numbers of patients waiting more than four hours for treatment, he said.' (Guardian, 25 December) Depression and anxiety should be easy targets for treatment in todays medical atmosphere. RD

Queuing For Treatment

A picture in the Daily Mail summed up the perilous state of the NHS. It depicted thirty patients standing shivering in a queue outside their GP surgery in the cold at dawn, in the desperate hope of getting an appointment. In the wake of our front page picture yesterday, readers have come forward with their own experiences of trying to visit a family doctor. 'In total, there were 37.4million failed attempts to book an appointment last year, affecting 4.7million people. Others are getting consultations lasting two minutes!' (Daily Mail, 24 December} RD

The Cost Of Cuts

As part of their cost-cutting the government have a completely inadequate nursing home for the elderly programme. One patient waited a full year to be discharged despite being well enough to leave hospital."Elderly people are being trapped in hospital beds for up to eight months after they have recovered because nursing homes places are unavailable. One patient waited a full year to be discharged despite being well enough to leave hospital. (Daily Telegraph, 24 December) Capitalism's cost-cutting leads to crazy situations. RD

A World in Common – A Future We Can Have

The co-operative commonwealth, common ownership, and the sharing of the commons are overlapping and sometimes poorly understood concepts. Socialism is one of the most complicated political ideas out there, not because it is so hard to understand, but rather because there are so many variety of interpretations of it. Private property is very different from personal property. People have always had personal-use items (homes, clothes, toys, tools, etc.) that they keep, share or trade, and this will always be so, regardless of the type of social system. The important question is who owns the natural resources, tools and technology that people need to survive. Is it privately owned or commonly shared? Common property is also confused with public property. Common property is not property at all, because no one owns it. It is shared or “owned in common.” In contrast, public property is private property that is owned by the State. Because the State claims to represent all the people, State or public property is assumed to be commonly owned. It is not. Common ownership means that common people are in control. Public ownership means that State officials are in control.

Many people think that socialism means government ownership. It is not true. With socialism, all social decisions will be vested in the people. Industry will be administered democratically from bottom to top by those elected directly by the workers in each industry and subject to their control. All delegates will be subject to recall at any time by those who elected them. In each workplace (and in each school, hospital, etc.), the workers will collectively determine workplace policies and will elect a committee to plan the overall plant operations. In each sub-division of a plant, the workers will participate in determining how best to implement the plans of the committee and assure the efficient running of their economic unit. Bourgeois (parliamentary) democracy fails to deliver such freedom, predominately because capitalism subordinates the mass of society through the process of wage slavery.  These capitalist relations not only create material inequality but also inequality in terms of political influence.  Political power is stacked at the feet of capitalists who control production.  The capitalist wage slavery relationship inflicts a physiological effects, conditioning the working class to a submissive mentality in the workplace.  This submissive mentality then manifests into passive behaviour in the political lives of the working class.

The State’s role in the socialist project is not and never was to nationalise industry and create a vast bureaucratic state-owned economy. Rather, the workers parties were to be elected to the national government and would expropriate the big capitalist enterprises. Political power would then be decentralised and direct democracy introduced, the “withering away of the state” that Marx and Engels talked about. Socialists seek a better world founded on common ownership, equality and democracy. In this we see the means to meet all mankind’s material needs and to personal and individual development to the greatest possible height. Yet in the name of socialism we see common ownership changed into state wage-slavery.

William Paul, a member of the De Leonist Socialist Labour Party, and later member of the Communist Party of Great Britain explains in his book, The State: Its Origins and Function, published in 1917:
"The revolutionary Socialist denies that State ownership can end in anything other than a bureaucratic despotism. We have seen why the State cannot democratically control industry. Industry can only be democratically owned and controlled by the workers electing directly from their own ranks industrial administrative committees. Socialism will be fundamentally an industrial system; its constituencies will be of an industrial character. Thus those carrying on the social activities and industries of society will be directly represented in the local and central industrial councils of social administration. In this way the powers of such delegates will flow upwards from those carrying on the work and conversant with the needs of the community. When the central administrative industrial committee meets it will represent every sphere of social activity. Hence the capitalist political or geographical State will be replaced by the industrial administrative committee of socialism. The transition from the one social system to the other will be the social revolution. The political State throughout history has meant the government of men by ruling classes; the Republic of Socialism will be the government of industry administered on behalf of the whole community. The former meant the economic and political subjection of the many: the latter will mean the economic freedom of all – it will be, therefore, a true democracy. Socialism will require no political State because there will be neither a privileged property class nor a downtrodden propertyless class; there will be no social disorder as a result, because there will be no clash of economic interests; there will be no need to create a power to make ‘order’. Thus, as Engels shows, the State will die out…In the last analysis State ownership is more a mean of controlling and regimenting the worker than of controlling industry ... The attempt of the State to control industry is therefore the attempt of the ruling class to dominate Labour”

Engels himself, in his "Anti-Dühring", specifically warned against any vulgar equation of socialism with state ownership:
"... since Bismarck adopted state ownership a certain spurious socialism has made its appearance here and there even degenerating into a kind of flunkeyism which declares that all taking over by the state, even of the Bismarckian kind, is itself socialist. If, however, the taking over of the tobacco trade by the State was socialist, Napoleon and Metternich would rank among the founders of socialism. If the Belgian state, for quite ordinary political and financial reasons, constructed its own main railway lines, if Bismarck... took over the main railway lines in Prussia, simply in order to be better able to organise and use them for war, to train the railway officials as the government’s voting cattle, and especially to secure a new source of revenue independent of immediate votes - such actions were in no sense socialist measures. Otherwise the Royal Maritime Company, the Royal Porcelain Manufacturer, and even the regimental tailors in the army, would be socialist institutions."

Another great cause of confusion has been a misunder­standing of the nature and significance of the regime which followed the Russian Revolution of 1917, a regime which has probably done far more to retard than advance the cause of the socialist movement as a whole as it has been assumed that because the October Revolution was led by socialists who had, by what­ever means, retained state power, the society which resulted was in some way a socialist one, and, as a result, an example, even a mandatory one, for others to follow. The Russian economy nor that of its satellites in Eastern Europe were not in any sense a model for the organisation of a socialist society but shows how the job should not, in fact, be done.

The opposite of private property is socialism, or common control of society. There are no genuinely socialist societies in the world today, nor has there been. Not any.  Real socialism (as opposed to what the Bolsheviks erected under Lenin’s direction in the former Russian Empire after their coup d’etat known as the October Revolution) is not the end of democracy but the beginning of true democracy.  Without economic democracy, political democracy is meaningless. Lenin never made any attempt to introduce socialism to the Soviet Union.  By his own declaration, he and his disciples set up what he himself called state capitalism. Leninism and all of its offspring (Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, Castroism, etc.) are an aberration from, not the fulfillment of, Marx and Engels. The socialist movement found itself stunted in growth from the splits within its own ranks caused by the hands of Lenin and his inner circle reaching out to control the whole international movement with as iron a hand as they controlled Russia. Until Lenin and his clique removed their cloaks and showed their true colors, praise for their accomplishment in the October “Revolution” (coup d’etat) was well nigh universal among socialists world-wide. Once news began to trickle out about the lack of real democracy, the increasing centralized control by the highest organs of the Party with no input from below appreciated, various atrocities, and the emasculation of the soviets, the councils of the people in whose name Lenin & Co. ruled with an iron heel, genuine socialists became more vocal in their criticisms. Rosa Luxemburg was one of the first, as, of course, was the Socialist Party. 

There are times when social and economic problems become so bad that people are forced to choose between the social system that makes their lives difficult and a new one that will make their lives better. We face that kind of choice today. Capitalism—the social system we live under—no longer serves the interests of the people. It creates countless problems that it cannot solve. It uses technology to throw people out of work and to make those who keep their jobs work harder. It creates hardship and poverty for millions, while the few who own and control the economy grow rich off the labor of those allowed to keep their jobs. It destroys the cities that we built up. It is destroying the natural environment that is the source of the food we eat and the air we breathe. Technology that could and should be used to lessen the need for arduous toil and to enhance our lives is used instead to eliminate jobs and increase exploitation. Poverty is as widespread as it has ever been. Wages go down even as productivity rises. Joblessness, homelessness, helplessness and despair are spreading. Economic insecurity and social breakdown place an unbearable strain on our families, our children and ourselves. Emotional stress, crime, prostitution, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, and many more signs of unhappiness and hopelessness, are on the rise. Is this what we want? Should we keep a social system that is destroying the lives, the liberties and the chance for happiness that our work and productivity make possible? Is it really worth the price to keep a small and despotic class of capitalists living in obscene wealth?

World socialism could stop the dying from hunger immediately, and provide the conditions for good health and material security for all people across the Earth within a short time. It would do this by producing goods and services directly for need. World socialism will operate with one simple and ordinary human ability which is universal: the ability of every individual to cooperate with others in a world-wide community of interests. For too long has indignation at human suffering been dissipated by useless causes. How much longer must the price of failure be the misery of countless millions? Only useful labour applied through world cooperation in a system of common ownership can solve the problems of world poverty. We live in a world which has the potential to adequately feed, house and provide clean water and decent medical care for every single man, woman and child on Earth. The resources exist to banish material want as a problem for members of the human race. Yet millions throughout the world are malnourished, live in squalor or are actually dying of starvation or starvation-related diseases.

The Socialist Party calls upon people to organise with a view to substitute the present state of unplanned production, commercial competition war and social disorder with the co-operative commonwealth for; in which every worker shall have the free exercise and full benefit of his or her faculties. Why socialism? Because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. The Socialist Party has never wanted to set up anything like a “People’s Democratic Socialist Workers Republic” controlled by a party “vanguard”.  No, our idea is the Cooperative Commonwealth. Much of the history of the past 200 years revolved around a vision that life could be lived in peace and brotherhood if only property were shared by all, eliminating the source of greed, envy, poverty and strife. This idea is called "socialism" and it was mankind’s most ambitious attempt at liberation

“What I mean by Socialism is a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master's man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain­slack brain workers, nor heart­sick hand workers, in a word, in which all men would be living in equality of condition, and would manage their affairs unwastefully, and with the full consciousness that harm to one would mean harm to all - the realisation at last of the meaning of the word COMMONWEALTH.” William Morris, 1896

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Imagine World Socialism (video)

Developing Depression Among The Young

Statistics Canada recently issued some interesting information on young people. Only one in five children in Canada who need mental health services ever receives professional help; about 3.2. million young people in Canada aged twelve to nineteen are at risk for developing depression; One in four will experience clinical depression by age eighteen; in Canada 75% of mental disorders develop by age 24, fifty per cent by age 14; suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people, after accident, accounting for almost a quarter of all deaths among 15-24 year olds. The pressures and insecurity of life under capitalism affect parents and children. Psychologists and other mental health workers do help patients to cope with the stress of life better but removing the cause would be preferable. Socialism offers security, stability and fulfillment. John Ayers.

Dying For Work

One of the illusions beloved by the media is that the working class are a work-shy, lazy bunch of parasites, but the facts completely contradict that notion. "At least 15 migrants die in "shameful" Calais conditions in 2014. Guardian investigations reveals death toll over 12 months with many desperate trying risky routes into UK to escape makeshift  camps without sanitation at French port." (Guardian, 23 December) Workers in those Calais camps are so desperate for work that they risk their lives in pursuit of employment. RD

A Twelve Hour Wait

According to a leaked letter a "worrying increase" in the number of patients waiting on trolleys for up to 12 hours before they are admitted to hospital is being blamed by NHS bosses on the vulnerable nature of the health service in winter. Latest figures show a doubling in the number of patients forced to wait up to 12 hours for a bed on a ward, and the head of the NHS in England has warned that any patient forced to wait that long should be classed as a "serious incident". "There should be a zero tolerance of over 12-hour waits for admission and such a wait should be classed as a serious incident, and we would expect a full root-cause analysis to take place, - Prof Sir Bruce says in the letter. It is signed jointly by Dr Kathy McLean, medical director of the NHS Trust Development Authority, and Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor, the medical director of Monitor." (Guardian, 24 December) RD

American Nightmare

When Martin Luther King gave his famous "! have a dream" speech many foolishly thought that was the end of race discrimination in the USA. 'US police have clashed with protesters in St Louis after an officer shot dead a black teenager near where Michael Brown was killed in August, a death that triggered national protests. A crowd of about 100 people gathered at the scene early on Wednesday following scuffles the night before. ..... For weeks there have been protests about alleged police brutality.' (BBC News, 24 December) In fact here a few recent facts about racial discrimination in that country. Only two black billionaire exist in a country of 500 white billionaires. Only 9.8% of over 25 age blacks have a degree and 37% of prison inmates are black. More a nightmare than a dream. RD

We need socialism

The monetary system doesn’t work anymore and is obsolete. Money has outplayed its role on this planet. It turns out that it’s not money we need. We cannot eat money, or build houses with them. Money, private property and the exchange economy is just a hindrance in making the resources available for everyone. The Socialist Party envisages a new worldwide social system where the world’s resources are considered the heritage of all the inhabitants of this planet. It’s not a utopian dream, it’s just a possible direction for society to take. It is the the next step in the evolution and development of society, if we want it to be.

Many believe that socialism means government or state ownership and control. Who can blame them when that is what the schools teach and what the media, politicians and others who oppose socialism say? Worse, some who call themselves socialist say it, too—but not the Socialist Party. Socialism is a concept that neither individuals nor the government, should have ownership of land or the means of production but rather the whole community owns in common and democratically controls the land, goods, and production.  In this system all share equally in the work, to the best of their ability, and have free access to the collective fruits of their labour. Socialism we would produce for use and to satisfy the needs of all the people. In socialism the factories and industries would be used to benefit all of us, not restricted to the creation of profits for the enrichment of a small group of capitalist owners or government bureaucrats. Advanced methods of new technology are not social evils as they are under capitalism leading to either unemployment or intensified toil and drudgery but could be a blessing and put to the benefit of the vast majority. Socialism is based on the idea that we should use the vast resources of society to meet people’s needs. It seems so obvious--if people are hungry, they should be fed; if people are homeless, we should build homes for them; if people are sick, the best health-care should be available to them. We could use our technological knowledge to eliminate boring or dangerous jobs as much as possible--and share out equally the tasks we couldn’t automate. The goal would be to free all people to do the work they enjoy--and to give them the leisure time to take pleasure in the world around them.

It is within the power of the working class to establish such a society as soon as we recognise the need for it and organize to establish it. There’s no blueprint for what a socialist society will look like. That will be determined by the generations to come who are living in one. The means of production--the factories, offices, mines, and so on--would be owned by all of society. Under the current system, important economic decisions are left to the chaos of the free market and to the blind competition of capitalists scrambling for profits. In socialism, the majority of people would plan democratically what to do and how do it.

The kindness and generosity of ordinary people is boundless. Even to-day’s rat race society simply couldn’t function without a basic sense of cooperation and sacrifice among ordinary people--within families, among coworkers, and so on. Capitalist society obscures this basic decency. Working people are forced--whether they like it or not--to pit themselves against one another and to compete just to keep their job or maintain their standard of living--much less get ahead. As a result, the idea of people uniting for social change can seem distant and unrealistic. For most people, the experience of their lives teaches them that they don’t have any power over what happens in the world--and that they don’t know enough to have an opinion about it anyway. Powerlessness produces what appears to be apathy among people, about their own future and the future of society.

Fighting back requires unity. Activists committed to the fight around a particular issue have to grapple with questions about their aims. What kind of change do they want, and how do they achieve it? Their answers evolve with their experiences and convince them that the struggle against one injustice can only be won by linking it to the fight against all other injustices--and for a different kind of society completely. People begin to see the connections between the struggles they’re involved in and other issues--and the nature of the system itself. Ideas can change very quickly. An organisation of socialists can unite people so they can share their experiences and hammer out an understanding of how capitalism works. We need these socialists working nonstop on political discussions. Socialists need to show how the current day-to-day fights are part of a bigger fight for bigger political change, putting forward a vision of a society that is radically different from the status quo. Imagine a society where all its members organise production and distribution on a cooperative, democratic basis according not to profit, but solely on the basis of need. Huge wealth is created under capitalism so are we in a state of poverty. We are living under a system that impoverishes the planet. Far from being a society languishing in poverty, a socialist society would be a society of abundance. 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. Society's vast wealth would be collectively used to enhance the welfare of all rather than that of a small group. Such a society is not utopian.

The word socialism can be replaced/overlapped by many other terms. Communism. Cooperative Commonwealth, Resource Based Economy, Sharing Society, Gift Economy. It is all the same thing. It doesn’t really matter what we call it, as long as it has the basic notion of an economic system where no money is used, ownership and trade is abandoned and replaced all resources shared and managed properly. People do not “own” anything, but have access to everything. Anything ever needed, like food, clothing, housing, travel, etc. is provided in abundance through the use of our technology. There’s no “state” that is the owner of the resources, and nothing is privately owned. Imagine a world without money, barter or exchange, where everything is provided for everyone, and everyone can pursue their own interests and dreams and live in the way they want. In a society where we don’t have to think about money and profit, we can truly develop ourselves and the humanity into something wonderful. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Money Making Business

On the face of it seems as if Russia and Ukraine are at daggers drawn, but business is business and the state energy firm Naftogaz said Tuesday it had transferred $1.65 billion to Russia's Gazprom - the second tranche of a debt repayment agreed under a deal  that saw Moscow resume gas supplies to Ukraine earlier this month. 'In November, Moscow, Kiev and the European Union reached a deal under which Russia would restart flows to Ukraine over the winter in return for Ukraine paying $3.1 billion in two tranches by the end of the 2014. Russia started pumping gas to Ukraine in early December after halting them six months ago due to the dispute over prices and unpaid debts.' (Moscow Times, 24 December) RD

Immigration Desperation

The desperation of immigrants to Italy can be gauged by the latest statistics. 'The Italian navy rescued at least 1,300 migrants in several operations late on Christmas Day, among them a Nigerian woman who gave birth while on board one of the rescue vessels, local media have said . Most of the migrants were on boats adrift off the coast of Sicily and were expected to be brought ashore later Friday. Italian media said one man was found dead on board one of the boats. At least another 1,000 migrants were also rescued by the Italian navy on Christmas Eve.' (Guardian, 26 December) Italy has been trying to cope  with a massive rise in the number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, the majority of them from Eritrea or war-racked Syria. According to the interior ministry, 167,462 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea between the start of the year and 17 December. RD

Food Bank Reality

Despite the claims of various economists that the worst of the recession is in sight the growth of food banks in Wales would seem to contradict that notion. 'The number of people using food banks in Wales has continued to rise, according to latest figures for 2014. In the six months to September, 39,174 people were given three days' emergency food from the network of centres run by the Trussell Trust. This is a 20% rise on the same period in 2013.' (BBC News, 24 December) RD

Orbiston –The New Babylon

Commemorating Orbiston in Strathclyde Park, the plaque reads
"The Babylon Community, Orbiston (1825-1828)
The first experiment in communal living in Britain" 
 Since the beginning of civilisation, men have repeatedly attempted to build better societies than the ones they have known. The industrial revolution had changed both the prospects and livelihoods of the majority of workers, and rather than increasing their opportunities, they had led to greater uncertainties. The earliest communitarian movements attempted to transform this by forming religious and secular communities with participatory governments and to produce an equilibrium between the private and common ownership of property and work.

The word ‘socialism’ originates with the followers of Robert Owen who is still popularly regarded as “the father of British socialism”. It is not always remembered, however, that the socialism he advocated was co-operative or community socialism. Owen did not think along the lines of the later socialists. His approach was basically apolitical and he rejected the notion of class struggle as a means of social change. Instead, he believed in communitarianism as a method of social reform. Society, he argued, was to be radically transformed by means of experimental communities, villages of cooperation, and this he regarded as a valid alternative to other methods of effecting change, such as revolution or legislation. The foundation of communities was not a series of more-or-less accidental happenings, but the attempt to put into practice a coherent theory of social change. One such project was a Orbiston, later nicknamed Babylon by the locals, near Motherwell and not too far from the reknown New Lanark site. Owen subscribed £10,000, but ultimately withdrew from the scheme because of differences of opinion with other promoters. Instead Owen himself commenced another at New Harmony, in Indiana, America which is surprisingly better known than the Scottish attempt. A  proposal by the British and Foreign Philanthropic Society for the first Owenite Community begn with the purchase of 600 acres of land, owned by Hamilton of Dalzell for the community. After 3 years of inactivity the Motherwell community never came into existence and the scheme was overtaken and in its place, in 1825, Archibald Hamilton and Abram Combe founded a community near Bellshill  at Orbiston, the estate of Hamilton’s father.

Abram Combe was born in Edinburgh on 15 January 1775. In 1826, Combe's health began to fail; he suffered from a serious lung disease, which killed him on 19 September 1827 (11th or 27th of  August according to other sources). His death spelled the end of the Orbiston co-operative. In 1820, Combe met Robert Owen and visited his co-operative community at New Lanark. Combe, a tanner by trade, was quickly converted to the cause of co-operation and became an advocate of Owen's principles. He wrote ‘Metaphorical Sketches of the Old and New Systems’ (1823), a critique of competition and exposition of co-operation. Combe influenced the Ricardian socialist economist John Gray, who paid tribute to him in an appendix of his book The Social System (1831).  In Edinburgh, Leather Workers Community was a short-lived community experiment set up in Combe's Edinburgh Tanyard - the leather workers lived communally and operated a profit sharing scheme. The Practical Society was a co-operative venture set up in 1821 by Archibald James Hamilton in partnership with Abram Combe. The Society aimed to improve the lives of members and opened a store for the sale of goods to 500 families. A school was established and members were required to sign a pledge to abstain from drink, tobacco and swearing. At first successful, the Practical Society foundered within a year when the storekeeper appropriated Society funds. Hamilton and Combe proceeded with plans for a grander, co-operative experiment at Orbiston. Archibald James Hamilton (1793-1834) was the eldest son of General John Hamilton, 11th of Orbiston and 6th of Dalzell. Archibald was an idealist and social reformer, and was chiefly responsible for the establishment of an experimental socialistic community on Orbiston Estate. Hamilton's prospectus for establishing a socialistic community at Orbiston was based on Robert Owen's "Report to the County of Lanark of a plan to relieve distress etc ", 1820. Owen's report had been rejected by Parliament as too idealistic, but Hamilton was determined to pursue his dream of creating a community in which "the poor and working classes .. provide themselves…with the necessaries and comforts of life." His prospectus invited wealthy individuals to apply for shares in the Orbiston Community. Share-holders would form a company and could expect in return "full interest and the satisfaction of seeing poverty, and ignorance disappear from their neighbourhood." Funds for the project were not initially forthcoming, and it was left to Hamilton and Abram Combe to bring the project to fruition.

Orbiston Community

The Orbiston Community, dreamt of introducing a new social order to the world and was situated on 290 acres of land. Separate from Owen, Combe purchased land in cooperation with John Hamilton with the help of a bond issued by a joint-stock company, The Orbiston Company. The community did not see the immediate success that had taken place at New Lanark, nor did it predicate its existence on that model. In fact, Owen did not learn of its existence until months after the community was founded. Orbiston was built around the ideals of liberty, security, and knowledge. Combe was to instill this in the membership from the beginning. The commune was constructed around a series of community buildings at its center along a running stream, with a school being central to this plan. As with Owen, Combe tied the idea of education to personal and economic advancement. The main building consisted of a large center building with two wings for living quarters, containing some 120 private rooms. The community also included a theater for cultural advancement, a foundry and forge, and a press for printing its newspaper, The Register. Everything was whitewashed with blue slate roofs. The pearl white community was surrounded by scenic hills and had the appearance of utopia, even if it may not have reached that goal. Combe would work himself to sickness to see its success.

Orbiston was built to earlier plans though with modifications. The main building resembled the design advocated earlier in Relief for the Poor and the Report to Lanark. A classically styled central block (somewhat akin to both the Institute and Mill No. 3 at New Lanark) was to be four storeys high and be intended for community use. It would house the kitchens, dining rooms (to accommodate up to 800 persons), drawing rooms, ball room, lecture hall and library. The vast symmetrical L-shaped wings on either side were to provide private living quarters for the communitarians, with Orbiston was therefore built to earlier plans though with modifications. The last consisted mainly of workers who had fallen victim to the on-going slump following the end of the wars, particularly a group of hand-loom weavers, casualties of mechanisation. As in the original scheme the poor and unemployed were being assisted much as Owen intended. Among the educationists were Catherine Whitwell, and, for a time, Joseph Applegarth, another Owenite teacher, who later participated in the New Harmony community. Economic foundations, in common with the majority of the Owenite communities, were shaky, though as the design suggests, considerable thought had been given to the social and educational aspects of life.

290 members of the community nicknamed 'Babylon' worked as weavers, blacksmiths, joiners, cabinet makers, wheelwrights, printers, painters, shoemakers, tailors, seamstresses and harness-makers. They ran a successful iron-foundery on the 291 acre site that included a 5 storey main communal building, school, apartments & communal dining facilities. 75 acres of the land was cultivated with vegetable garden & orchard. The land being manured with waste from the community sewage system.

 Orbiston community never became truly solvent and survived precariously as it constantly ran short of capital due to the little success it had in production and manufacturing in all areas of endeavor. This had to do with some of the inhabitants it initially attracted, more than a few of which were unsuited for the hard work and others who were idlers by nature. Locals came to call the place “Babylon” referring to the collection of rabble that flocked to the community from the surrounding area. The community spent its second year ridding itself of these and consolidating its membership around those that truly wanted to work toward the commune’s success. Orbiston’s internal government was a further trouble as the members were divided over the operation of the community. The division of income also became a matter of contention as well. The community originally was founded on a system of individual reward for labour, with economic equality to follow later. By integrating agriculture and industrial manufacturing it was believed that this would encourage outside capitalists to invest in the venture. When this did not materialize, the community was hard pressed to survive on its own capitalization.

Abram Combe produced a newsletter "The Register", which reported on progress being made within the community as well as on lectures, plays and other events organised for the edification of Society members. The first edition of the Register was issued on 10 November 1825. Abram Combe wrote of his perplexity at the pessimistic views on the commune's viability being expressed by two Orbiston Company members, who opposed moves to transfer proprietorship of the commune to the tenants, believing that the members were not up to the task. Combe was confident that a restructure of the community into departments was showing signs of success and that an audit of accounts for each department would produce a favourable outcome. Combe disapproved of the thoroughly communistic principles which were adopted in September 1826, after the scheme had been at work for a year. 1827 had begun as a period of hope and renewal at the Orbiston Community. The old payment system had been replaced by one of total communism: communal ownership of property, and equal distribution of wealth. The division of the community into 6 departments or companies was showing signs of success. Weavers were manufacturing cotton for shirts, trousers and jackets. Bookbinders and printers were gainfully employed, and the foundry and horticultural departments were planning to provide goods for the Glasgow market.

The community could satisfy certain personal goals, particularly of people who were in some way social misfits. It offered a solution to problems of personal deficiency or social maladjustment, and had an obvious appeal to those who sought security or escape from the world. Communities such as Orbiston collected their share of such types.  Combe’s views of the earliest members of Orbiston were recorded in the Orbiston Register of 19th August 1827:
“A worse selection of individuals, men, women and children, could scarcely have been made — a population made up for the most part of the worst part of Society. The adults were steeped in poverty ; lazy, dirty and thriftless : the smell of tobacco in almost every house, and a dunghill beginning to rise under almost every window. The children and youths were no better ; they were quarrelsome, unmannerly”
It is clear that Combe believed that the poor folk seeking refuge at Orbiston were fleeing the designs and misery of the Old System, “rather than to seek the advantages of the New.”

The death of Combe in 1827, the single point of commonality for the community was lost and signalled the beginning of the end for the socialistic community at Orbiston. With the loss of Combe came a loss of direction. Funding for the community was becoming scarce. Pressure for repayment of a loan forced William Combe to announce the abandonment of the bold social experiment in December 1827. In November 1828, Thomas Lawrie from Edinburgh compiled a report on behalf of General John Hamilton advising on the value of the lands, and on the best method of dividing the estate for a sell-off. The proprietors soon suspended all further proceedings and disposed of the property after two years and the buildings were pulled down. The demise of the community at Orbiston was attributed more to a lack of interest and desire by its residents in its success, than to its economic failure. More to the truth was its problem with under capitalization. Profits could not overcome the community’s early over expenditures. At least one of Orbiston’s investors was placed in “debtors prison” for advances made to the community, and this fact cannot be discounted as a detriment to future undertakings.

The last remnants of the "Orbiston Community" experiment in social reform can be found in Strathclyde Park, North Lanarkshire; close to the park's Visitor Centre on the Bellshill side of the park. Stone pillars or Key Stones mark a spot near where the Orbiston Community was sited. Known locally as "New Babylon" on account of the unorthodox views and behaviour of residents, the lands and buildings of the Orbiston Community were sold on 7 December 1830, bought by Mrs Douglas, a local landowner who ordered all trace of the community to be removed. A housing estate now covers part of the site and the community is remembered in street names such as Babylon Rd., Community Rd., Hamilcombe Rd. and Register Avenue.

The Influence

Pioneer socialist, John Gray, published a criticism of Combe's experiment, entitled: A Word of Advice to the Orbistonians, on the Principles Which Ought to Regulate their Present Proceedings. The co-operative, anti-capitalist nature of Owen's New System created tension between the administrators and the communitarian's themselves. And, although various trade persons and artisans were initially attracted to Orbiston, the community itself could not generate enough wealth to permit complete autarky and it began to borrow in order to remain buoyant. Internal factionalism and animosity began to tear Orbiston apart. His death marked the end of the scheme; the buildings were pulled down in 1828. Still, Orbiston came closer to success than some later communities would. But Robert Owen appeared blind to the eminent failure of Orbiston and in 1828 he wrote:
“It will gratify you to learn that the good cause is progressing substantially in all countries, and that your exertions, although not crowned with immediate success at Orbiston, have contributed essentially to make the principles known, and to prepare the way for their practice in many places.”

Some previously involved in the Orbiston project later become active in the trade union and Chartist movements, but most slipped back into what Owen had termed the Old Order.

Henry Jones, who was to become founder of Canada’s only Owenite community and perhaps the earliest avowed socialist in British North America, came to Scotland that year  making a loan of £5,000 (approximately a third of his assets) towards its funds that was given to Hamilton Jones was already sufficiently involved in the Owenite movement to become a member of the society’s committee and became one of its auditors.  In the summer of 1826, when Combe had to leave Orbiston temporarily because of illness, Jones took charge of it. But by 1827 the difficulties caused by the poor selection of members had made him apprehensive of its future. In a letter of 23 March he broached to Hamilton the matter of a return of his loan to the Motherwell community and accused him of an “Aristocracy of decision” in his “pronunciation respecting the identity of the friends of the New Views, – and the proper understanding of the principles of the System.” Nevertheless, Jones continued, “We may go on, separately, to exert ourselves in what we believe will best advance the object which we profess to have in view, and where we can, conjointly.” His forebodings were justified when the Orbiston community came to an end after Combe’s death in August. In later years the loan was to prove the cause of litigation that would consume much of Jones’s time and energy. Archibald James Hamilton had died in 1834 and for several years Jones was involved in complex litigation to get back from Hamilton’s estate the money he had advanced to the Motherwell community.

In 1827 Jones sailed to New York and travelled, mostly by water, to Lake Huron, where Jones found suitable land for a new cooperative community in Upper Canada near the mouth of Perch Creek, about 10 miles northeast of present-day Sarnia. Jones returned to Britain later that year. In 1828 he gathered together a group of settlers from the Glasgow area… the community, which he called Maxwell, reputedly after Robert Owen’s residence at New Lanark, Scotland. He hoped eventually to settle between 50 and 100 families. The first contingent of 20 people, which arrived early in 1829 accompanied by a surgeon, consisted mostly of former members of the Orbiston community, almost all of whom were Lowland Scots and unemployed hand-loom weavers. A log building was erected that year with Orbiston as a model, for there were individual family apartments and common kitchens and dining-rooms. A contemporary sketch shows the building, not entirely completed, occupying three sides of a rectangular green; there is a central, two-story block and the wings are single-storeyed. Jones also established a store and a school on Owenite principles.

In 1834 on 17 May after Jones had left on a trip to England and Scotland a fire started in the community house and, as Henry John Jones, his son, recorded, “in less than an hour Maxwell had disappeared – the greater part of the books and light furniture was saved.” The few people remaining in the community after the fire lived in the barn and above the stables until a new building was erected. Jones returned to Upper Canada some time after July 1843, he may have partly shed his Owenism and may have largely remained immune from phalansterianism. In 1840, after Owen’s presentation to Queen Victoria had resulted in vigorous criticism of his principles, Henry John Jones had noted that his father seemed “a little ashamed of ‘Socialism.’” He nevertheless appears to have remained a utopian thinker and planner and, in the sense of desiring a social change in the direction of voluntary association apart from the state, a kind of libertarian socialist. Henry John Jones, remarked in 1839, that his father became “further gone in Socialism than ever.” He bombarded his reluctant relatives in Canada with letters suggesting that they should form a kind of “family community” with the few settlers who remained at Maxwell. He talked “of bringing out another ragged regiment to form a community in case his own family shd fail to come to terms.” Jones’s days of activity ended. He found that the few people at Maxwell who remained from the original settlement had established their own households and had no interest in forming a new community. The family home at Maxwell had been burnt down in 1839 but was rebuilt in 1842 and there Jones lived the rest of his life. Nobody in Canada was influenced by his utopian ideas,


A study of Orbitson reveals the following:
The creation of a new community is likely to attract those who seek an immediate escape from the old order and interests are liable to conflict. And of course there can be no islands of socialism in an ocean of capitalism. The rules of finance still rule.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Build the Social Revolution!

The debate of revolutionary or reformist approaches to social change have been argued through the ages. After several years of capitalist crisis and the imposition of anti-working class austerity, socialism still seems as far from the political agenda as it has ever been. We live at a time when resistance to capitalism and the struggle for a better world are almost totally detached from any striving for socialism. Instead we hear the calls for the British Left either to “reclaim Labour” or to build a new “Labour” party (e.g. Left Unity.) The capitalism versus socialism distinction is largely irrelevant for many political campaigners who see socialism as constituting neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for overcoming the specific injustice they happen to be concerned about. This is also true of many that call themselves “socialists” but who we can label as Left reformists. While they may still believe in a vague and distant vision of socialism, this vision is so vague and distant that it makes no material difference to their conception of political action and who are willing to make whatever compromises are deemed necessary for the realisation of immediate demands. "Reformism", in short, has replaced socialism; and paradoxically, the most militant protests of today are fought for the cause of "reformism" rather than of socialism. The fact that protests or struggles today are informed not by socialism but by "reformism" makes the contemporary period rather unique in the history of capitalism, since from the days of the "utopian socialists" right until late into the last century, capitalism had always been haunted by the spectre of socialism. The vanishing of this spectre therefore makes the contemporary period quite unprecedented. At present, the working class movement is clearly dominated by reformist forces, trade unions and “social-democratic” parties that are not oriented towards overcoming of capitalism. The prevailing narrative is that there is no alternative to "reformism" and a virtue is made out of necessity by pretending that "reformism" also works, that it is in fact the only thing that works. The danger of reformism is clear for all see, with any social democratic or labour party that has ever been in existence being dragged to the right by the flawed idea that by creating a catch-all broad front based on reforming capitalism, with socialism as some 'abstract' distant goal. Trying to create a mass movement of people united against austerity attacks is one that must be supported, however not providing a clear and detailed path towards a socialist society to that mass movement, and trying to convince them of socialism as a "long term aim" is a mistake. A party without a clear commitment towards socialism will be mired in long term reformism. We don't need to wait until sometime in the future, the time has arrived a long time ago.

It must be recognised that reformism is a cancer to the socialist movement, and its only cure is a principled objective towards a socialist society that is under the democratic control of the working class. Perhaps one of the most difficult things many have in understanding the Socialist Party’s almost unique political position is our attitude towards the practice of reformism and actual reforms, which we differentiate between. There is an essential difference between practical struggles for reforms and the ideology of reformism. Although reformism partly grew out of the struggle for reforms, there is a difference. To contrast socialism with "reformism" is not to run down the reforms in which the "reformists" are interested.  Socialists too are in most cases interested in struggling for those very "reforms". The point is not the "reforms" as such but the context and perspective within which the struggle for them is carried out.  And here the contrast between socialists and "reformists" could not be sharper. Surprisingly, Stalin before Stalinism expresses a broadly similar attitude to our own.
“Reformism regards socialism as a remote goal and nothing more, and actually repudiates the socialist revolution …Reformism advocates not class struggle, but class collaboration.” (Anarchism or Socialism, 1907)

The struggle for reforms is a much more mundane aspect of capitalist society. Capitalism is in a constant process of change. These changes generate innumerable and continually varying conflicts which underpin a diversity of social movements for change within the system. Though these movements are typically reformist in scope, it is perhaps of more importance that they move. Workers are brought up to believe that capitalism is normal. Society tells us that anyone who believes the status quo can be changed is simply extremist, utopian or unrealistic. This leads people to believe that capitalism cannot be brought down by working class people, and that we have to rely on reformism.

Socialists and left reformists differ not merely in their methods but in their very goals. Left reformism often involves a state-led, top-down conception of social transformation and frequently does not aim at a genuine form of socialism at all. Left reformists intend merely to take over and transform the existing state into a form of “state capitalism”. Left reformists suggest that a government that is not committed to a socialist perspective can be induced to enact a series of radical reforms which seriously undermine capitalism and galvanise a revolutionary challenge against it, holding to a mistaken view of the neutrality of the capitalist state, totally ignoring the constraints which entail that “realistic” politics is restricted to change within the system and in line with the perceived imperatives of the system. States are capitalist institutions and act as conduits for capitalist “common sense” by constraining the parameters of the reforms considered reasonable. Reformist politicians quickly shift from leading movements to acting as a brake on their further radicalisation if they dare to place unrealizable demands within the limits of the system. The tragedy of reformism is that it tends to become a prisoner of capitalism. It leaves the essentials untouched and doesn’t challenge deeper economic relations. The assumption underlying "reformism" is that an improvement in the condition of the people is possible within the system, and that successful struggles for "incremental" improvements can cumulate to an overall change that constitutes the achievement of a noticeably better world.  What this assumption overlooks is that capitalism is not a malleable but a self-driven system which is governed by its own immanent tendencies. The "normal" role of the capitalist State is to facilitate or aid its development and progress by hastening changes or removing impediments to it.

The argument against "reformism" can also be put as follows. The proposition that the condition of the workers can be improved under capitalism through "reformist" struggles assumes that an advance made by any segment of the oppressed is a durable one over time, that the system will remain "frozen" in the new state where this advance will become incorporated into it, and that from this state a further advance can be made. "Reformism" in short believes in incremental improvements where each improvement is irreversible, and sets the stage for the next improvement; it visualises a sequence of ever shifting, ever forward-moving "equilibrium" states.  But the immanent tendencies of capitalism entail that from each improvement there is a "spontaneous" slide-back towards the pre-improvement situation, unless the balance of class forces is such that the improvement is defended and further extended as part of the dialectics of subversion of the logic of capital, which must be prepared to transcend capitalism and move on to socialism. There exists no possibility of a "frozen" state or "equilibrium", let alone an "equilibrium" from which we advance to another, the next higher one.  Nothing is irreversible, as we witness in the rolling back of the Welfare State, and there is a continuous struggle between moving ahead and moving back. What we see in these times of austerity is that to sustain the initial improvements, more and more intensive intervention by workers in the class struggle becomes necessary, which, if not effected, leads to a slide-back. In times of boom capitalism might concede small demands to workers, but in times of bust bosses always try to claw back their profits by attacking workers.

Is it never possible then for the workers under capitalism to improve their condition within this system? To argue from an absence of class-struggles that such struggles are unnecessary, that the system that prevents the building up of resistance is benign enough to effect improvements even in the absence of such resistance, is spurious.  Because the system has successfully insulated itself against resistance and has successfully blunted working class action, its transcendence becomes all the more necessary.  Even the capitalist is not the hero of the capitalist system acting on the basis of his own free will but an economic agent coerced by the system into behaving in a certain manner. Under capitalism it is economics that drives politics which makes democracy in capitalism hollow.  The "individual" who is supposed to arrive under capitalism undertakes actions not of his or her own volition but under the coercion of the system and hence becomes devoid of "subjectivity".  The "people", far from being the "subjects" as is claimed under bourgeois democracy, i.e. democracy in its capitalist integument, become mere "objects", victims of the inherent tendencies of a system over which they have little control. In fact the objective of socialism is to transform people from being "objects" to becoming "subjects" who collectively take charge of their lives and destiny through political action, under a system where politics drives economics rather than the other way around.  It follows then that authentic democracy can get realized only under socialism. Social ownership of the means of production, which simultaneously entails the end of labour-power as a commodity, puts an end to competition, and hence to the immanent tendencies that originated from it.  Social ownership therefore is a necessary condition for socialism and the realisation of authentic democracy and freedom. Socialism necessarily entails the creation of a new "community". Socialism is essential for the authentic realisation of democracy then democracy too is essential for the authentic realisation of socialism. Socialism, it follows, is not a happening that takes place on the morrow of a revolution.

The Socialist Party  believe that fostering independent working class political activity is of fundamentally greater value to the socialist project than winning parliamentary elections or engaging in “united fronts” coalitions in which socialists work alongside non-socialists to offer a left electoral alternative to mainstream parties importantly there exists different goals. By winning parliamentary elections The Socialist Party’s aim is to achieve socialism. By contrast, the best reformists can hope for by gaining political office is an improved version of the status quo. Reformists play an important role for the capitalist class in that they help to propagate capitalist ideas among the workers and to implement the employers interests. They politically tie the working class to the prospering of their own capital and their own national state. The influence of reformism will not diminish even in periods of revolutionary upheavals. On the contrary, reformist organisations will play a key role because of their traditional roots within the working class in appeasing and preventing revolutions.

James Connolly once said "The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system, it must go." His words ring true more so now than they ever did. The Socialist Party fully understands the fact that revolutions are not made, but that they come, that capitalism itself is bound to create the revolutionary crisis that will ultimately set the working class into motion. It holds, therefore, that it is the duty of a bona fide party of socialism always to hold the issue of the abolition of wage slavery up before the workers and to expose reforms as temporary respite where they are not concealed measures of reaction.

Why be moderate? Demand the World!  

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Black Snow! Time Is Running Out.

Scientists have just become aware of a new aspect of global warming – nearly invisible particles of carbon resulting from incomplete combustion in diesel engines. Some particles are being swept by wind from industrial centers to the Arctic. This phenomenon, called black snow, reduces the ability of snow and ice to reflect sunlight. In fact, in one month this process, called albedo, dropped twenty per cent. A team of French government scientists reported that the arctic ice cap, that is thought to have lost an average of 12.9 billion tonnes of ice a year between 1992 and 2010 due to general warming, may be losing an extra 27 billion tonnes a year because of black snow causing the sea level to rise several centimeters . To put it bluntly, time is running out, and since socialism is the only real solution, we must act fast. John Ayers.

The Election Scramble

As we near the general election we can see the contract between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats beginning to crack up. George Osborne has ben accused by his Liberal Democrat deputy Danny Alexandra of planning the "wilful destruction of key public services if the Tories win the general election". "Danny Alexandra, a loyal ally of the Chancellor since the coalition was formed in 2010, said Mr Osborne would make £60bn of unnecessary cuts by 2020." (Independent, 23 December) Alexander claims that his Treasury boss wants to "shrink the state", he warned that even deeper cuts would be needed to deliver the Tories planned "unfunded" £7.2 bn income tax reduction. RD

Teacher Shortage

In times of economic recession one of the first actions a government takes is to make welfare cuts and education is one of the most likely targets. Teachers numbers have fallen in half of Scottish areas this year. 'The largest fall was in in Fife, which lost 67 teaching posts in 2014. This was followed by Edinburgh where 63 teachers were cut, then 44 in the Borders, 29 in Dundee and 28 in South Lanarksire. ..... Overall, the number of teachers in Scotland have fallen by more than 205 to 50,824 over the course of this year.' (Times, 23 December) RD

Avoidable Deaths

Hospital specialists have protested at plans to reduce funding for specialised operations and treatments NHS trusts provide, including some cancer care. 'Some 345 specialists have written to NHS England saying the changes could mean longer waiting lists and avoidable deaths, the Daily Telegraph reports. Under the plans, centres treating more patients than expected would receive just half the extra treatment costs.' (BBC News, 24 December) Avoidable deaths, so what? Think of the money the owning class are saving. RD

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It is Not Enough to Be Anti-Capitalist

 The anti-capitalist movement has produced some tremendous figures, Susan George and Naomi Klein to name only two, yet the ideas of the leading writers and thinkers of this movement has still failed to present a convincing alternative which challenges capitalism and lays the basis for a new world, a socialist one. They and ourselves in the World Socialist Movement may share a similar aspiration which involves humankind sharing the resources of this planet, but it is only possible by production for use on a world scale, not be re-formulations of tax-laws. If there is no alternative to capitalism, why fight it?  The Socialist Party is entitled to ask the question “anti-capitalist but pro-what?”

Capitalism has stopped “delivering the goods” for quite a while now. Malcolm X once said “Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture and can only suck the blood of the helpless”. Capitalism is marked by wage labour. If the means of production are managed by some group other than the direct producers then we have capitalism, regardless of who owns them. Unless the relations of production are revolutionised, the means of production can change hands (passing, for example, from private to state hands) without fundamentally changing the nature of society. Whatever the formal status of property, capitalism will still exist if workers are separated from the means of production and do not own them in common and manage them directly. Our aim is to replace capitalism altogether by a free cooperative commonwealth and we further argue that the social revolution finds its agency in the self-organisation and the self-education of the working class.

Why isn't socialism dead? Many anti-socialists say it is. As proof, they point to the failure of the Soviet Union, an undemocratic government controlling the means of production with bureaucratic planning of production and distribution. But our own view of undeveloped countries like tsarist Russia with a minority working class was they were in no position to make  a global change from an interdependent world market to socialism "as the act of the dominant peoples 'all at once' and simultaneously."  If anything the USSR's failure proved us right! Marx envisioned not government control of the means of production but control by the working class, joined to democratic planning not by bureaucrats but "by the associated producers." So Marx's own vision of socialism was not proved a failure by the demise of the USSR because it was not tested.

Granted none of us will live to see Socialism, and like millions before us we will probably die without seeing that really better world we long and struggle for. No genuine working class fighter fought only because he or she believed in “Socialism in our time” but simply to bring it that bit closer. We can understand why workers join and build union, collective self-interest. We recognize socialist solidarity was built upon the vision of something better, not just to get ourselves a wage rise. The hope of a socialist utopia was around long before Marx and continues to this day, although today it exists only by a thread. At a certain point, a new principle comes on to the scene, it gets a name which is spoken publicly and understood, everything else begins to redefine itself in the light of the new principle and a process of concretisation begins which is the real business of overthrowing existing social conditions. We are not there yet, so far as the socialist ideal is concerned. We are living through that period when many different principles exist side-by-side in mutual contradiction. To abandon the search for such an ideal however would be just as foolhardy yet interestingly, it is those on the Left who today are the first to explain to you why genuine socialism is a fantasy. Hardly surprising since their own activity and relations are so remote from socialist principles. The majority of young anti-capitalist activists are blissfully ignorant of the socialist ideal in fact. The Trotskyist transitional demand programme is the height of deception: politically conscious workers, including the socialists themselves, understand that the demand cannot be met other through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism — otherwise it wouldn’t be a transitional demand at all — and yet, what is desired is that the mass of workers shall embrace the demand as if it can be achieved without a revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the state, something for which the workers are not yet prepared — otherwise you wouldn’t need a transitional demand! How do socialists come by their ideas? By hearing about them from someone. Isn’t it an insult to think that others in the mass movements are too dumb to get these lofty ideas, and have to be somehow tricked into becoming radical?

Capitalism stinks. It doesn’t work for the overwhelming majority of the globe’s people. The profit system has proved itself unworthy to exist. And now, with global warming and other environmental crises, it threatens the very existence of the planet. As for the likelihood of reform, capitalism has been around since the 16th century. If it were capable of transforming into a humane and sustainable system, that would have happened by now! So being anti-capitalist is logical. But to become a socialist means believing that a collectively owned, planned economy is a workable and desirable alternative. One basic difference between socialism and capitalism is that nobody really controls capitalism — even the capitalists! That is why it regularly runs amok from boom to bust.  Socialism short-circuits this insanity with a planned economy, in which we only produce what we need, without the waste caused by market competition. Supermarket shelves will no longer brim over with 20 brands of identical toothpaste; buildings lacking occupants won’t go up. Technology won’t be cornered to drive up prices, or buried when advances might injure profits.

The organised use of resources and the end of war will make the Earth a far richer place in a hurry. We will be able to turn to solving the problems of climate change and toxic waste, stopping the destruction of cultures and species, developing renewable energy and aiding the world as a whole to develop in a rational, sustainable, and humanitarian manner. Imagine the freedom of never knowing the struggle for survival that occupies so much of our lives today! Contrary to myth, it is not “human nature” for people to be at each other’s throats. Rather, dog-eat-dog attitudes are learned behavior, taught by a ruling class based on theft, competition and greed.

In becoming whole people, and a whole society, we will naturally get rid of all the hateful divisions that mark society today. There are those who argue that the bigotries of racism, sexism, homophobia, and national and religious antagonisms are so deep-seated that it is naive to think socialism can get rid of them easily. But all of these things are driven by poverty and under-privilege. Humans are a social species. We succeeded in evolution because we worked together cooperatively for survival or all would be chaos. Socialism will be far ahead of what we can even imagine today!

The Socialist Party spreads the word that socialism is not only a workable alternative, but the only alternative — that capitalism has proved itself incapable of permanent, significant reform and that reformism is the real utopian delusion. We spread the word that socialism is the next step of human evolution, in which we as a species can fulfill everyone’s needs, and then proceed to find out what humanity is really capable of achieving.