Friday, July 31, 2015

Piper Alpha (1988)

Piper Alpha (1988)

From the August 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard
"We now go over to the ITN studios for a newsflash . . . ", "An emergency telephone number has been issued for anxious relatives . . . "
The explosion and fire aboard the Piper Alpha platform on 6 July was waiting to happen. The revelations and admissions that followed within a few days of the disaster make that clear. The only surprise should be that it hadn't happened sooner.

Speaking in the House of Commons in the immediate aftermath of the fire the Energy Secretary, Cecil Parkinson, said, "Safety is the first priority of the Government and the operators." This is not true. Certainly safety is the a very high priority, for accidents cause lost production and in the case of Piper Alpha this was on a massive scale. But safety is not top priority. What stops a company from ceasing trading - a poor health and safety record alone or simply a lack of profit? What the House of Commons should have heard from Parkinson is that safety takes second place - to production.

The unavoidable fact about capitalism is that profit ultimately dictates. This is as true for the very first days of the North sea oil boom as it is for the last days of Piper Alpha.

To relieve pressure on the balance of payments and raise tax revenues as quickly as possible, British governments of the 1960s and 1970s - both Labour and Tory - went out of their way to ensure that offshore oil reserves were exploited at the earliest opportunity, particularly following the oil crisis of 1973. In planning their exploitation and production schedules, the oil companies were therefore presented with few government restrictions. Just as capitalism forced companies to maximise productions and profits, so the state too, is required to put safety to one side when convenient. As the professor of Marine Technology at Strathclyde University put it, "the number one priority after the 1973 oil crisis was to get oil quickly, and you don't get a Rolls-Royce for the price of a Mini".

Like other platforms, the Piper Alpha was built at a fraction of the value that would be created once production started. It cost £530m and was in production for 12 years, during which it pimped approximately 1,000 million barrels of oil ashore. At the current (depressed) price that is the equivalent to some £10,000m. The cost of the platform and wages bill (about £20m per annum) over the period amounts to just a few per cent of the wealth created. In the UK sector of the North Sea some 1,500 million pounds worth of oil is pumped out per month, with the government making £300m in export revenue.

These figures give some indication of the vast fortunes to be made in the North Sea -not, needless to say, from working there but just by owning. It is in the context of the disaster appeal - £1m from both the Government and petty cash box of Occidental Petroleum - should be viewed.

Much is made of how well-paid the average offshore worker is. The average pay is between £200 and £600 a week for a very exhausting, anti-social and stressful lifestyle. If that is high pay, what can be said of Dr Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum and one of the richest men in North America? The present writer was offshore on 6 July, on a platform from which the Piper Alpha was just a faint glow fifty miles to the north. Talking with some of the oil-workers as increasingly alarming reports were coming in, the impression gained was far from the usual macho image of oil-workers. It's not bravery or stupidity that makes them work offshore, but simple necessity. As one man put it to me, "You don't like to think about it. You can't afford to think about it".

Workers have regularly had to die for oil. When "their" countries go to war over ownership of natural resources, workers are required to do the dirty work of killing and dying for companies like Texaco, ELF or Esso. It's much the same in "peacetime": the war to defend profitability, the battle to advance the share of the oil market, is fought on the front line oil platforms by members of the working class.

So we shouldn't be shocked at the latest casualty figures. Within 48 hours of the disaster, grieving Occidental accountants recovered their composure long enough to calculate the cost to the company would be about $25m, reducing the estimated profit for this financial year to $200m. Shareholders would have to bite the bullet and suffer the tragic loss of 5-10 cents a share.

It's not all black armbands in the City though. The fire which devastated the platform and did much the same to 170 families, prompted some ferocious trading in New York and London while still smoldering: "Crude prices jump on news of disaster". (Headline, Guardian 8 July). North sea oil prices, previously depressed by a production "glut" (how many OAP's died of hypothermia last winter?), immediately rose by 25 cents a barrel.

The public inquiry which starts next month is likely to call for changes in the organisation of offshore safety. In 1980 responsibility for North Sea safety was transferred to the Department of Energy, whose function it also is to maximise production. At present, a variety of regulatory agencies and inspectorates have this responsibility but are insufficiently strict because they compete with each other for business. What is needed, according to experts, journalists and politicians, is an "independent" body such as the Health and Safety Executive, who presently enforce (if that is the right word) health and safety on the mainland.

The HSE is, however, a separate arm of the same body. As a watchdog it may be on a longer leash but it has little bark and fewer teeth. Its independence is as genuine as the Energy Department's and divorce from the overriding motive for capitalist production is, in any case, impossible.

It is likely that the inquiry will recommend improved designs of platforms and that most of these will be ignored or disputed by the oil companies on grounds of cost. Even the measures that can be introduced may only be effected if required across the board, of all operators; otherwise, companies will claim that new safety measures would make them uncompetitive. Many improvements could be made: larger platforms would allow the accommodation areas (where so many died on Piper Alpha) to be sited further away from production units; adjacent accommodation rigs would be safer still; fully automated systems are technologically feasible.

The immensely impressive technology used to extract oil from the sea-bed is not, it appears, available for ensuring worker safety. Technology under capitalism is redundant until it finds a market:

  • On the Australian barrier reef a vast floating hotel and leisure complex is being built, designed to withstand typhoons.
  • A shipping tycoon recently unveiled plans for the largest luxury liner ever. Complete with gardens, theatres, a couple of gymnasiums and dozens of restaurants it will cater for thousands of the Dr Hammers of the world.
Capitalism has made this level of technology possible, but available only to the minority who can afford it. A sane society will not need to rely on governments, companies or authorities to enforce safety. Socialism will rip the price tags from everything and liberate the productive potential of the world. It's a point to consider the next time your programme is interrupted by a newsflash and pictures of Mrs. Thatcher on another ward round.

Brian Gardner
Glasgow Branch

The idea of socialism

Have you ever wondered about socialism? What it is? We live in a world where technological achievements are now almost beyond imagination. Yet never before have the fruits of our labour threatened our very existence with the looming ecological threats. Our society is dominated by insecurity and our lives are characterised by isolation and loneliness. Socialism is not "workers' ownership". There is no ownership at all in socialist society, because it's based on classless production relations and the expropriation of private property over the means of production, where control, distribution and management are shifted from individuals to the working collective.

Our world is filled with poverty, war, hunger, racism, and so many other injustices. So what are we going to do about it? We can pretend we are removing the worst of it by fighting for reforms. We can look inward and focus upon ourselves and ignore the suffering of others. Or we can be the catalysts for change in the world. To build a society organized to meet human needs, capitalism must be abolished. Socialism should extend democracy and self-organization at all levels. Socialist society is based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Socialism can be created only by ending world scarcity. We must organise labour and resources and develop production on a world scale, not within a single country. The working class can and must take power within existing state boundaries. It must extend the revolution by offering political and material solidarity with workers’ struggles abroad. In the advanced capitalist countries, we must expropriate and disarm our own ruling class. Our loyalty is not with our ruling class but with fellow workers around the world. As socialists, we urge our brothers and sisters to break with the capitalist parties and to fight for their own independent class interests. We are fighting for a world fit for human beings. We know what has to be done to stop climate change. We also know why the ruling class refuses to take decisive action. We need a total break from the ideology of the capitalist market. We need a vision of a world of human solidarity.

We agree that class struggles can change society. But forming a socialist political party will help build a more powerful movement, to defend ourselves, they have the mass media, the courts, the police, and other instruments of repression. In order to be successful, we need to challenge this power in every arena we can. We need a political party that is democratically controlled by its members. We need a political party that is able to challenge the corporate domination of the mass media with its own working-class message. We need a political party that can organize and bring into its fold the tens of millions of workers who are fed up with corporate-dominated politics. We don’t agree with the anarchists that contesting elections is a distraction from that class struggle. In fact, we believe that if it is done correctly it can help build those struggles. Running socialist candidates is all about exposing the agenda of the capitalist class. Some people argue that if we participate in elections, we will sell out our movement. There believe that the elections were created as a trap to ensnare our movements. In reality, the ruling class have systematically tried to deny anyone the right to vote except themselves. The working class fought and died for universal suffrage. This has been resisted at every step by the rulers, who have used every means at their disposal to divide us and keep us from the polls. If we limit our struggles just to the workplace, schools, and the streets, then that allows the 1% to dominate the other arenas available in society. They already control the courts, the police, and the mass media. But we can challenge them in the political arena. The ruling elite spend billions of dollars to get the public to vote for one of their two parties in power to legitimate their rule. Otherwise, we would effectively live in a dictatorship of the 1%.

Corporations spend billions of dollars to promote its agenda and through their election campaigns, they have a direct route into every home. The idea that boycotting or abstaining from the election is the best way to challenge the 1% neglects this fact. That’s why we need to challenge them in the elections as well as in every other arena. The ruling class uses the rigged electoral system to channel the frustration and struggles of the 99% into “proper channels,” We can and should use electoral politics as an opportunity to raise our criticism of capitalism and fight back. Capitalism has failed and should be abolished and we mean to establish a cooperative commonwealth.

Socialism will undoubtedly bring about a revolutionary transformation of human activity and association in all fields previously conditioned by the division of society into classes—in work, in education, in sports and amusements, in manners and morals, and in incentives and rewards. In attempting an approximate estimate of what life will be like under socialism, we run up against the inadequacy of present-day society as a measuring rod or basis of comparison with the future. One must project himself into a different world, where the main incentives and compulsions of present-day society will no longer be operative; where in time they will be completely forgotten, and have merely a puzzling interest to students of an outlived age. The necessary amount of productive labour time which will be required of each individual in the new society cannot be calculated on the basis of the present stage of industrial development. The advances in science and technology which can be anticipated, plus the elimination of waste caused by competition, parasitism, etc., will render any such calculation obsolete. Our thought about the future must be fitted into the frame of the future.

Even at the present stage of economic development, if everybody worked and there was no waste, a universal four-hour day would undoubtedly be enough to provide abundance for all in the advanced countries. And once the whole thought and energy of society is concentrated on the problem of increasing productivity, it is easily conceivable that a new scientific-technological-industrial revolution would soon render a compulsory productive working day of four hours, throughout the normal lifetime of an individual, so absurdly unnecessary that it would be recognised as an impossibility. The labour necessary to produce food, clothing, shelter, and all the conveniences and refinements of material life in the new society will be operative, social labour—with an ever-increasing emphasis on labour-saving and automatic, labour-eliminating machinery, inventions and scientific discoveries, designed to increase the rate of productivity. This labour will be highly organised and therefore disciplined in the interests of efficiency in production. There can be no anarchy in the cooperative labour process; but only freedom from labour, to an ever-increasing extent as science and technology advance productivity and automatically reduce the amount of labour time required from the individual.

The progressive reduction of this labour time required of each individual will, in my opinion, soon render it impractical to compute this labour time on a daily, weekly, or even yearly basis. It is reasonable to assume - but only an opinion - that the amount of labour time required of the individual by society during his whole life expectancy, will be approximately computed, and that he will be allowed to elect when to make this contribution. We can speculate to the idea that the great majority will elect to get their required labour time over with in their early youth, working a full day for a year or two. Thereafter, they would be free for the rest of their lives to devote themselves, with freedom in their labour, to any scientific pursuit, to any creative work or play or study which might interest them. The necessary productive labour they have contributed in a few years of their youth will pay for their entire lifetime maintenance, on the same principle that the workers today pay for their own paltry “national insurance” for a miserly “social security” in advance.

When people will have no further use for money there will not even be any bookkeeping transactions or coupons to regulate how much one works and how much he gets. When labour has ceased to be a mere means of life and becomes life’s prime necessity, people will work without any compulsion and take what they need. So said Marx. For 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. Does that sound “visionary”? When you visualise society in which there is plenty for all, what purpose would be served in keeping accounts of what each one gets to eat and to wear? There would be no need for compulsion or forcible allotment of material means. “Wages” will become a term of obsolete significance, which only students of ancient history will know about. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that anything contrary to capitalist rules and ethics is utopian, or visionary. No, what’s absurd is to think that this insane madhouse is permanent and for all time. The ethic of capitalism is: “From each whatever you can pillage—to each whatever you can grab.” The socialist society of universal abundance will be regulated by a different standard. It will “inscribe on its banners”—said Marx—“From each according to his ability—to each according to his needs.”

In socialism there will be no more private property, except for personal use. Consequently there can be no more crimes against private property—which are 90% or more of all the crimes committed today—and no need of all this huge apparatus for the prevention, detection, prosecution, and punishment of crimes against property. No need of jails and prisons, policemen, judges, probation officers, lawyers, bureaucrats; no need for guards, bailiffs, wardens, prosecutors. No need for this whole mass of parasitical human flotsam which represents the present-day state and which devours so much of the substance of the people.

In the present society people are haunted by insecurity Their mental health is undermined by fear for their future and the future of their children. They are never free from fear that if something happens, if they have a sickness or an accident for which they are not responsible, the punishment will be visited upon their children; that their children will be deprived of an education and proper food and clothing. Under such conditions “human nature”, which we hear so much about, is like a plant trying to flower in a dark cellar; it really doesn’t get much chance to show its true nature, its boundless potentialities. In the socialist society of shared abundance, this nightmare will be lifted from the minds of the people. They will be secure and free from fear; and this will work a revolution in their attitude toward life and their enjoyment of it. Human nature will get a chance to show what it is really made of. The present division of society into classes, under which the few have all the privileges and the many are condemned to poverty and insecurity, carries with it a number of artificial and unnatural divisions which deform the individual and prevent the all-around development of his personality and his harmonious association with his kind. There is the division between men’s work and women’s work, to say nothing of men’s rights and women’s rights. There is the division of race prejudice between the black and white, which is cruelly unjust to the former and degrading to the latter. The socialist society based on human solidarity will have no use for such unscientific and degrading inhuman notions as the idea that one man is superior to another because, many thousands of years ago, the ancestors of the first lived in an environment that produced in the course of time a lighter skin colour than was produced by the environment of the ancestors of the second. Race prejudice will vanish with the ending of the social system that produced and nourished it. Then the human family will live together in peace and harmony, each of its sons and daughters free at last to make the full contribution of his or her talents to the benefit of all. There is the division between manual and intellectual labour, which produces half-men on each side. There is the division between the city and the country, which is harmful to the inhabitants of both. These divisions are not ordained for all time, as some people may think. They are the artificial product of class society and will fall with it.

Homes will not be designed by real-estate developers and speculators building for profit—which is what the great bulk of “home building” amounts to today. The people will have what they want. Your house will have as the things it is proudest of, certain things specially made for you by people who like you. This easy chair made to your own measure by your friend so-and-so. This hand-crafted bookcase made for you by a cabinetmaker, as a gift and its books and your important and most treasured books, which came well-bound from the print shops of the socialist society, have been rebound in fancy leather, by an old-fashioned bookbinder, a real craftsman.  And those pictures and decorations on the walls—they were not machine stamped at the factory, but hand painted especially for you by an artist friend. He does this outside his general contribution to the cooperative labour process, as a form of creative self-expression and as an act of friendship. Great joy and satisfaction to be an expert craftsman in the coming time.

A new science and new art will flower—the science and art of city planning. There is such a profession today, but the private ownership of industry and real estate deprives it of any real scope. With socialism the universities will take up the study of city planning, not for the profitable juxtaposition of slums and factories, but for the construction of cities fit to live in. Art in the new society will undoubtedly be more cooperative, more social. The city planners will organise landscapers, architects, sculptors, and mural painters to work as a team in the construction of new cities which will be a delight to live in and a joy to behold. Communal centres of all kinds will arise to serve the people’s interests and needs. Centres of art and centres of science, cities designed for beauty, for ease of living, for attractiveness to the eye and to the whole being. Where the factory farm is already in existence, tens of thousands of acres operated with modern machine methods and scientific utilisation of the soil, for the private profit of absentee owners, these factory farms will not be broken up. They will be taken over and developed on a vaster scale.

The people will have ambition to explore the great universe and to unlock its secrets, and to extract from their knowledge new resources for the betterment of all the people. They will organise an all-out war against sickness and disease and there will be a flowering of the great science of medicine. They will look back with indignation, when they read in their history books that at one time people had to live in a society where there was a shortage of doctors, artificially maintained. It can be said with certainty that among the heroes of the new society, whom the youth will venerate, will be the doctors of all kinds who will really be at the service of man in the struggle for the conquest of those diseases which lay him low. Man’s health will be a major concern, and sickness and disease a disgrace, not to the victim, but to the society which permits it. Everybody will be to live comfortably and to travel freely, without passports, and the idea will grow up amongst the people: “Why shouldn’t we, with all our abundance—we have plenty—why shouldn’t we travel around and enjoy climate with the seasons—just like the birds.” Leisure is the condition for all cultural development. Machines and science will be the slaves, and they will be far more productive, a thousand, 10,000 times more productive. With socialism, all will share in the benefits of abundance, not merely a favoured few at the top. All the people will have time and be secure for an ever higher development. All will be artists. All will be workers and students, builders and creators. All will be free and equal. Human solidarity will encircle the globe.

With the end of classes and their conflicting interests there will be no more “politics”, because politics is essentially an expression of the class struggle; and no more parties, as they are now known, for parties are the political representatives of classes. That is not to say there won’t be differences and heated debates. Groupings, we must assume, will arise in the course of these disputes. But they will not be based on separate class interests. They will be “parties” based on differences of opinion as to what kind of an economic plan we should have; what great scheme of highways should be developed; what system of education; what type of architecture for the wonder cities. Differences on these, and numerous other questions of public interest and general concern, will give the competitive instincts of the people all kinds of room for free expression. Groups will be formed and contend with each other for popular support without “politics” or parties in the old sense of class struggle and the conflict of material interest. In the classless society of the future there will be no state which will wither away and die out, for the state is the most concentrated expression of violence. Where there is violence, there is no freedom. The society of the free and equal will have no need and no room for violence and will not tolerate it in any form. It is difficult for us to comprehend such a possibility, living in a society where even the smallest children are taught that they have to fight and scramble to protect themselves in a hostile world. We can hardly visualise a world without violence. But that’s what socialism means. The people will turn their attention then to that most important problem of all—the problem of the free development of the human personality. Then human nature will begin to change, or rather, to assert its real self. People will recover some of the virtues of primitive society, which was based on solidarity and cooperation, and improve them and develop them to a higher degree.

It may well be that ourselves will not fortunate to live in the socialist society of the future. Perhaps it is our destiny to live under capitalism but it will our task and our mission mission is to clear it away it filth and misery. That is our struggle, our reason for life. We possibly cannot be citizens of the socialist future, except by anticipation yet it is precisely this anticipation, this vision of the future which makes us cry out for socialist revolution and the liberation of humanity. And that is the highest privilege today and most worthy of a human being. No matter whether we personally see the dawn of socialism or not, no matter what our personal fate may be, the cause for which we fight has social evolution and right on its side. It will bring humanity a new day.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Myth of Red Clydeside

 "We will support the officials just so long
 as they represent the workers,
 but we will act independently immediately
 they misrepresent them"
 From the April/June 1976 issues of the Socialist Standard

The "Red Clydeside" first put itself on the map in the agitated years of the First World War. Since then, it has received plenty of examination. It has been portrayed as a possible revolution in the making; one that could have formed a link with the Bolsheviks and the Spartacists. The Clyde Workers' Committee was the main body in the agitation of the period. It was an unofficial industrial organization of the type that is today favoured by various claimants to the Bolshevik title.

When Britain entered the war in August 1914, the Clyde area joined in the nationwide enthusiasm. Yet soon after, it proved to be an area that would tolerate opponents of the war who were elsewhere reviled. John MacLean, in particular, soon became noted for his pugnacious attitude. A member of the British Socialist Party,[1] the local members shared his stand along with Independent Labour Party and Socialist Labour Party members. All three groups were relatively strong in the area although only the ILP had any significant strength.

 At first the recalcitrance of part of the population was not strong enough to warrant any special attention. More important was the production of munitions from the local engineering works. The government had soon realized that success in the war depended as much on the armaments as the bodies that could thrown into the fray. Clydeside as an engineering centre was thus under heavy scrutiny on the home front.

Trouble first arose over the negotiation of a wage agreement by the local engineers. The skilled craftsmen who had lost out on the last deal, put in a pace-setting claim for 2d an hour which the employers rejected. Early in 1915, an overtime ban and then a strike in support of the claim brought patriotic wrath down on them. The executive of the men's union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, had already pledged its support for the war effort and condemned the strike. With no official support, the strike was organized by the shop stewards — a growing influence in the Union. A ballot conducted by the ASE showed a 10-1 majority against the acceptance of an offer by the employers. However, with no strike money and in an atmosphere of slander and government threats, the strike folded after two weeks. In the end they half of their original claim.

The gulf between the Clyde militants and their union widened during the year. The ASE executive signed the Treasury Agreement and a referendum endorsed this.[2] Then the passing of the Munitions Act in July established the ground on which the CWC was to form. The Act, to be applied to munitions work, outlawed strikes, abolished restrictive practices and limited the right to leave a job. Prosecutions and convictions followed and the weak response of union officials to this prompted the establishment of the Clyde Workers' Committee in November.

The CWC was based on the organization that had developed during the second strike. Their manifesto proclaimed the Committee's aim as the defence of the trade union rights summarily abolished by the Munitions Act. It claimed to be " . . . composed of Delegates from every shop . . . untrammelled by obsolete rule or law . . . We can act immediately according to the merits of the case and the desire of the rank and file." This was a challenge to the government and was soon recognised as such. Government officials began discussing the best way to dispose of this obstacle to their plans.

Unrelated to the activities of the CWC, the 1915 rent strike was coming to a conclusion at about the same time. The war had brought an influx of workers into an area already infamous for its housing and the landlords had been raising rents to an extent that earned them the title — "the Huns at home". A rent strike had been in progress and in November some men were taken to court to get unpaid rent stopped from their wages. On the day of the case a number of sporadic strikes took place and a demonstration outside the courtroom threatened a wider strike unless the rises were stopped. The cases were dismissed and soon after rents were frozen. This was done seemingly on demand in order to avoid what would have been, in the government's eyes, unnecessary trouble (and, even more important, more wage disputes).

Meanwhile the CWC was more concerned with the looming threat of dilution. In recent years, the development of new techniques had been making the skills of the engineering craftsman increasingly redundant. The ASE, in which most of them were organized, had resisted this threat to their livelihoods by a closed-shop policy designed to keep semi-skilled workers and their lower wages out of the craftsman's traditional preserves. In this they had a measure of success with the results that their skills were often under-used and the employers reluctant to introduce new methods. This was an obvious obstacle to the government's demand for the maximum output of armaments and they were determined that it should go. A greater division of labour was to be brought in and dilutees, mainly women, were to be put on much of the work. In the short term this would have no effect on the engineers as there was an overwhelming demand for them. However, when the war was over it was likely that ASE members would find a restricted market for their abilities in a modernized industry.

The CWC was now operating regularly with 250-300 delegates attending their weekly meetings. The most representative delegations came from the heavy engineering works and this was reflected in the composition of the small working committee. This included men from the ILP, BSP and SLP with the latter having the most coherent influence.

The CWC was not an anti-war organization and this was shown by the policy adopted to meet dilution. This, in contradiction to the ASE, accepted the inevitability of dilution but wanted nationalization and workers' participation in management in return. This led to the expulsion from the CWC of two of MacLean's associates who wanted opposition to the war effort, not workers' participation in the management of it.

It was wishful thinking to believe that any great opportunity was missed by the consequent split between the CWC and MacLean. Quite simply, when it came to the crunch they were concerned with industrial matters where he was concerned to oppose the war. After this, he and a small band of supporters, interrupted by jail sentences, continued with tenacious opposition gaining much sympathy but no real support. Despite his principled stand, MacLean's optimistic illusions about the development of the Irish nationalist and Bolshevik movements show that he did not understand Socialism and what was required to achieve it.

The CWC ignored political reality in pursuing their dilution policy. Regardless of the implications of their demands, they made no provision to back them up. On a visit to Glasgow in December, Lloyd George, the Minister of Munitions, contemptuously dismissed the proposals. Later, after the Minister's stormy meeting with 3,000 workers, and ILP and a BSP paper were suppressed for printing truthful accounts of the proceedings.
Con Friel

[1] The BSP was basically the Social Democratic Federation under a new name. Statements in some publications that the BSP was a breakaway from SDF are wrong.
[2] Of 190,000 eligible to vote, 18,000 were for and 4,000 against. (Quoted in "The First Shop Stewards Movement" by James Hinton.)

Part 2

The Clyde Workers' Committee resistance was broken after government intervention in Glasgow. In January 1916, workers at Beardmore's (whose strong representation in the CWC proved to be a maverick one) accepted a dilution scheme contrary to the CWC policy. Next month, the suppression of the CWC's paper, three associated arrests, a dispute at Beardmore's over the working of the dilution agreement, and subsequent strikes on these issues provided the opportunity for the removal of those identified as the trouble-makers. Eventually, seven were jailed and a further ten deported to other parts of Britain.

The Government's attack revealed disunity and a lack of resolve within the CWC and they went down without much of a fight. It was basically a weak organization. Like all so-called "rank-and-file" groups, the most significant thing about them was that they embraced less of the rank and file than the parent unions. Unable to gain any support from them, the place where their particular concerns were most relevant, they were never likely to do anything more substantial. Mindless of this, they challenged a government with dictatorial powers and were slapped down.

Till late 1917 the truncated CWC was subdued, taking no part in the engineers' struggle as it developed in England. In the same year, the political climate on Clydeside began to change. The liberation of the prisoners and deportees, the turmoil in Russia and the growing war-weariness all combined to raise the temperature. The CWC revived and in January 1918 stated opposition to the war. However, no action was ever taken to support this. Possibly, they had realized by this time that David only beats Goliath in fairy tales.

After the war's end, unemployment began to grow. The idea had also been developing that the time was ripe for cutting the working week. Inevitably, the two issues became linked with the aim of cutting hours to reduce unemployment. Early in 1919, local union officials and shop stewards met with Glasgow Trades Council and eventually resolved to issue a call for a general strike in support of a 40-hour week.

The strike began on January 27th with mixed success. There was a wide response from shipbuilding and engineering but power and transport, two prime targets, continued. After a few days, 100,000 were claimed to be out. Contact with the authorities began on the 29th when a deputation asked the Lord Provost of Glasgow to put the strikers' demands to the government. This he did, but not in the way that the strikers intended. He wired to London representing the strike as an unconstitutional threat and indicated that the strikers' request was an ultimatum. This was partly true, as the mass picket had been introduced to "induce" recalcitrant workers to come out. The government decided to hold fire in the absence of a more obvious challenge but to make the preparations to enable quick military intervention if necessary. Mindful of similar discontent in Belfast and recent events in Russia and Germany, they were prepared to take no chances.

Oblivious to these developments, the strikers returned on the 31st to hear the reply to the Provost's telegram. While a deputation went to see the Provost, trouble broke out among the thousands outside in George Square. A tramcar trying to pass through the throng was stopped and police drew batons to try to clear a way. Violence then spread throughout the Square and the Riot Act was read. Although there were allegations of plots by both sides no proof of any premeditation was produced.

By morning, troops were on guard in the city and six tanks were being held in reserve. Attempts were now made to spread the strike but the most hopeful effort was averted by the government. Power workers in London threatened to black-out the city but after the wartime Defence of the Realm Act was invoked to make the strike illegal, the Electrical Trades Union backed down. Within another week the strike was over.

The strike failed to go outside the West of Scotland and had failed to become general within that area. The need for mass pickets was proof of the lack of support from many workers, and any "induced" to strike were hardly likely to be reliable.

The end of the strike was claimed to be a tactical retreat to organize a better effort, but the movement died. The most significant political outcome of the period was the election to parliament in 1923 of 10 ILP members from the 15 Glasgow constituencies. The Labour Party has dominated politics in the area ever since. Others joined the new Communist Party, and that has also remained relatively strong in the area. From then on, energies were concentrated on the mainstream of British politics, and the idea of Clydeside as a maverick area within the nation was largely dead. Against this trend was MacLean. He formed the nationalist Scottish Workers' Republican Party which withered away after his death in 1923.

The most notable thing about the period was the parochialism of the activities. They were always centred on Clydeside and mainly in the engineering industry. However, they faced a capitalist class organized nationally and proved no match. This lesson seems to have been realized by the end of the 40-hours strike.

As a possible revolutionary movement, the Clydesiders were non-starters. Apart from the occasional pronouncement, nearly all their actions were in support of purely industrial aims. The exception was the rent strike. As the government had no real opposition to their aims, however, the achievement was not great.

The events of early 1916 and early 1919 show that the power of the state must be treated very seriously. Capitalist democracy, paltry though it may be by Socialist standards, is well enough organized to defeat any minority. Just as important, on the same basis it is possible for a revolutionary majority to gain control of political power. However, this is not enough. Capitalism is organized on a world scale operating through national units and, thus, any serious challenge to this order of society must follow the same pattern. This is an enormous task but it is the only one that fits the measure of the Socialist aim.
Con Friel
Glasgow Branch

Racism, Nationalism, Patriotism, Xenophobia and Bigotry

Working class people are tired of living in poverty, tired of living payslip to payslip, tired of seeing the products of their hard efforts evaporate before their very eyes. The times are tough for many of us, where we don't know how we're going to survive. Politician after politician makes empty promises, and still there's no relief for us workers. So we start to look around at who to blame, and it's easy enough... we blame black people, brown people, immigrants. It's simple enough. We're in competition with these people for jobs and resources, so it seems like a logical enough conclusion to come to. Historically, we've always been at odds with foreigners. We can better relate to others born here, no matter how poor or rich. They're more like us, and that's something we can identify with, come to terms with. So, obviously, our natural enemies become those not from here. 

The only problem with this idea is that we've had it wrong for centuries. The lynch-mob approach, the ganging-up on victims defined as of lesser importance, appeals to bullies, whose humanity is stunted and who lack any notion of fair play. We've been kept blind to the true nature of what is really going on. Look around. Who fills council estates and inner city slums with us? Who works in the factories or fast food restaurants with us? Who is beside us working in the fields, picking produce that we'll never really be able to afford? Is it rich people? Hell no, it isn't. It's brown people, black people, yellow people. It's people with different accents than us. They are the people that are in similar situations to us, living paycheck to paycheck, suffering like we do. So why then would we view them as our enemy? When you walk into your workplace tomorrow, where are the majority of the blacks? Or brown-skinned people? Or migrants? Are they in positions of power over us? Sure, a few might be. But where are the majority of those that are at our workplace? That's right: side by side with us, experiencing the same drudgery and wage slavery as us. So, logic might tell us that they should also be side by side with us in our fight for liberty and an end to oppression. Wouldn't that make more sense than working side by side with the same people that rob our paychecks and swindle us out of the products of our labor?

The true interests of workers lie with other workers, no matter what their race or natuonality. Other workers, of all races, are exploited. We are exploited. We work to barely meet our needs, while bosses and the people in charge profit from that labor. We are born and we die in squalor or relative poverty while the rich and the politicians live in the lap of luxury. Who are these rich people? Who are these politicians? Tonight when we go to bed in our overcrowded apartments, our small damp houses they are the ones who will go to bed in luxury, in comfort, with no worries at all.

The blunt reality is that working class people have been used by rich people to colonise for, kill for, work for, and then better the living standards of those same white rich people, all the while sacrificing our own needs, wants, aspirations, and even lives. It really is as simple as that. No one denies the history of what has happened at working people's expenses. Wars, poverty, homelessness, wage slavery... these are all ills created by someone, and perpetuated by us... the same workers who suffer these ills. For centuries we've been used by the rich among our own country to promote their agenda and suffered because of it. Yet, somehow, we've still been convinced that our allegiance is to our nation, to these same rich elite that would just as soon see us die as they would be to help us as fellow citizens. Let's get real, how often do the rich actually give handouts to us poor kin-folk? Do you really think they care at all about our well-being? Where's the allegiance from them, the people that put us in the worst situations we face and spew out the racist, xenophobic speeches?

The heart of the matter is that we've been too busy fighting the people who should naturally be our allies against these injustices. The rich have used our skin colour against us, have blinded us with their nationalism and patriotism into fighting other working people of other nationalities while they sit on the sideline and reap the benefits. For far too long, the ignorant stooges of the wealthy within our own class used words like "red" and "commie" at folk that may have finally started to awaken to the truth of what's really happening. Real socialists hate Lenin, hate Stalin, hate Mao. But we also hate Cameron, Merkel and Obama. These people, all of them, are the ruling elites that we despise, who live in relative luxury while the rest of us work away our very existence to barely eat.

The time is now actually better our lives. It's time to see who our friends must be. For starters, we have to reject the ridiculous notion that immigrants from other countries are our enemy, that they are somehow stealing our jobs, that they somehow really threaten us. Let's get real. Who's really stealing our jobs? Who closes the factories, relocate the offices, off-shore the jobs. Who's really stealing our jobs? Poverty stricken Eastern Europeans or rich CEOs? We're fed ridiculous ideas of the "invading" foreigners. If we're busy fighting asylum seekers at the border, and busy trying to round up all the "illegals" working in restaurants then we're too busy to fight that real enemy, that one that keeps eluding us, the ruling class we keep talking about. If we want to defend our families and our communities, then fight our real enemy, the "enemy within" , our employers and landlords but in reality, we're weakening ourselves even more by attacking fellow workers. The rich people have us so confused that we'd rather be on the border hunting for foreigners than actually fighting those people that create the social conditions that we all collectively suffer in. Our blind hatred of non-native people will continue to be the nails in our coffins (Other nails will be the attitudes we show toward women, the old and the young, people with different sexual and gender identities, people with disabilities, and people of different religions.)

The rich have been very keen on dividing us up as much as they can, by distorting and magnifying existing divisions and differences among those of us that suffer at their hands. We would rather vote for somebody that stands against giving sanctuary to the suffering even though he will still steal our money and exploit us economically.  We consistently get used just to expand the power of those already above us. We'd rather fight against the newcomers than actually organise for higher pay and better conditions.

Deep down, we all know that no matter who we vote for, we're still going to be screwed, and we're still going to be ranting about our jobs being stolen or  the Roma being too ‘criminal’while ignoring the rich that rake in the profits and power. Wake up! We've fallen for this deceit for far too long! No Farage or UKIP is going to save us. Only we can do it... together, as people of all lands and backgrounds that are sick of living like this!

This is an open call to ignore the baiting of the right-wing EDL/BNP, to ignore the racist allegiances that the rich try to get us to buy into, to ignore the illogical and ridiculous calls among the ignorant among us. This is a call to reject the idea that our allegiance is somehow determined by what skin pigment we have or the place of our birth, no matter whether our real life situations are so different. Our enemy is the capitalist class. Our friends are those people who are forced to work for a living. Until we get these simple ideas into our head, then we're doomed. Doomed to repeat everything that's happened for the last centuries. We'll still be here trying to climb out of the squalor we find ourselves in, and our children will inherit that destiny as well, and their children after them, and so on... until finally, a generation of working people realises that we've been tricked. That we've been used by our masters. To meet other working people who really want a life worth living, you can join the Socialist Party.  Hurry. There's no time to lose. We've been losing for too long.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I don't understand those socialists...(cartoon)

Another of Edinburgh branch's Jack Gold  cartoon this tiime from the February 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Dundee Despair

One in four children in Dundee are now said to be living in poverty and that figure rises to one in three in some of the worst areas of deprivation.  Of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, only Glasgow has a greater problem with child poverty.

“We currently have a frankly scandalous situation where one in five of Scotland’s children are growing up in poverty,” Child Poverty Action Group director John Dickie said on a recent visit to Dundee“That is over 220,000 children growing up in families with incomes that are inadequate for the task of giving them a fair start in life in 21st Century Scotland. Sadly, the harsh reality is that in Dundee an even greater proportion of children are growing up in poverty, with one in four children living below the poverty line. In some areas, that figure jumps to one in three children.”
Experts have stressed that child poverty cannot be looked at in isolation, as 25.6% of Dundonians under the age of 16 live in homes affected by unemployment and where people receive welfare payments. Some of their worst struggles have been linked to changes to the welfare system and the imposition of benefit sanctions.

What do we mean by no countries

One world without borders

"Because the condition of the workers of all countries is the same, because their interests are the same, their enemies the same, they must also fight together, they must oppose the brotherhood of the bourgeoisie of all nations with a brotherhood of the workers of all nations." - Engels

Just as capitalism is a world system of society, so too must socialism be. There never has been, and never can be, socialism in just one country. Socialism will be one world-wide community without national boundaries, a united humanity, sharing a world of common interests, would also share world administration. This is the socialist alternative to the way that capitalism divides the planet into rival states and sets people against each other. But this does not rule out local democracy. It is sometimes said that world administration would mean power of central control over local democracy. In fact a democratic system of decision-making would require that the basic unit of social organisation would be the local community. However, the nature of some of the problems we face and the many goods and services presently produced, such as raw materials, energy sources, agricultural products, world transport and communications, need production and distribution to be organised at a world level. One of the great technical developments under capitalism has been communications and the rapid processing and distribution of information. This will alter our awareness of being in the world and the boundaries between what is local and distant are shifted or become blurred. So, as well as the face-to-face contacts of our daily lives at home and at work with friends, neighbours and relatives, and as well as our part in local affairs, at the same time we would be involved with all other people in world issues and events of every kind.

The motivation for this new world comes from the common class interest of those who produce but do not possess. An important part of this motivation comes from the global problems thrown up by capitalism. There are no national solutions to world problems like world poverty, hunger and disease. Ecological problems make a nonsense of the efforts of governments. War and the continuing threat of nuclear war affect us all. The problem of uneven development means that many producers in the underdeveloped countries suffer starvation, disease and absolute poverty. All of these problems of capitalism can only be solved within the framework of a socialist world.

One of the great technical developments under capitalism has been communications and the rapid processing and distribution of information. This will alter our awareness of being in the world and the boundaries between what is local and distant are shifted or become blurred. From one moment to another we are able to take in local news, issues and events and those on the regional or world scene. Socialism will be a co-operative world wide system. Nations and frontiers and governments and armed forces will disappear. Groups of people may well preserve their languages and customs but this will have nothing to do with claiming territorial rights or military dominances over pieces of the world surface. To move forward, the dispossessed majority across the world must now look beyond the artificial barriers of nation-states and regional blocs, to perceive a common identity and purpose. .

Because political power in capitalism is organised on a territorial basis each socialist party has the task of seeking democratically to gain political power in the country where it operates. This however is merely an organisational convenience; there is only one socialist movement, of which the separate socialist organisations are constituent parts. When the socialist movement grows larger its activities will be fully co-ordinated through its world-wide organisation. It is suggested that socialist ideas might develop unevenly across the world, and that socialists of only a part of the world were in a position to get political control. This relates to the possibility that the socialist movement could be larger in one country than in another and at the stage of being able to gain control of the machinery of government before the socialist movements elsewhere were as far advanced. The decision about the action to be taken would be one for the whole of the socialist movement in the light of all the circumstances at the time. It would certainly be a folly, however, to base a programme of political action on the assumption that socialist ideas will develop unevenly and that we must therefore be prepared to establish "socialism" in one country or even a group of countries like the European Community. For a start, it is an unreasonable assumption that socialist ideas will develop unevenly. Given the world-wide nature of capitalism and its social relationships, the vast majority of people live under basically similar conditions, and because of the world-wide system of communications and media, there is no reason for socialist ideas to be restricted to one part of the world. Any attempt to establish "socialism" in one country would be bound to fail owing to the pressures exerted by the world market on that country's means of production. Those who become socialists will realise this and also the importance of uniting with workers in all countries. The socialist idea is not one that could spread unevenly. Thus the socialist parties will be in a position to gain political control in the industrially advanced countries within a short period of each other. (It is conceivable that in some less developed countries, where the working class is weak in numbers, the privileged rulers may be able to retain their class position for a little longer. But as soon as the workers had won in the advanced countries they would give all the help needed elsewhere. The less developed countries might present socialism with a problems, but they do not constitute a barrier to the immediate establishment of socialism as a world system.)

"...By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth, and especially the civilized peoples, into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others...It follows that the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries – that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany.... It is a universal revolution and will, accordingly, have a universal range...The nationalities of the peoples associating themselves in accordance with the principle of community will be compelled to mingle with each other as a result of this association and thereby to dissolve themselves, just as the various estate and class distinctions must disappear through the abolition of their basis, private property." Engels

There is but one world and we exist as one people in need of each other and with the same basic needs. There is far more that unites us than can ever divide us along cultural, nationalistic or religious lines. Together we can create a civilisation worth living in, but before that happens we need the conscious cooperation of ordinary people across the world, united in one common cause—to create a world in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation, a world without borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders and a world in which production is at last freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the good of humanity—socialism. There is in reality only one world. It is high time we reclaimed it.

A nation is not a natural community that existed before the state, but that it's the other way round: the state existed first and then proceeded to impose on those it ruled over the idea that they formed a “nation”. States pre-existed and in a very real sense created nations. Nations are groups of people ruled by a state or a would-be state. The Polish nationalist Pilsudski observed that "It is the state that makes the nation, not the nation the state." What is a nation? It is simply the people and the territory which have been appropriated by a class of robbers at some point in history. It has less to do with a common language, religion, race, culture, and all the other things which nationalists imagine or pretend are essential ingredients in the making of nations.

The concept of the nation is very real force in the minds of people today. The idea that the world is naturally divided into nations is widespread. This can be partly explained by the propaganda of nationalist groups, but there are other reasons too. People are not machines; they need something else, something to sustain them. By no means do they get this at work, they feel lost in this vast meaningless world of capital, just another cog in the machine, and they would be right. So naturally they seek meaning. Often they find meaning in the idea of the nation. This search for meaning and identity can often be found in the notions of “us and them” even though this is profoundly illogical. It is no coincidence that a person with a immensely draining and alienating job, say repetitive work, will tend to cling desperately to this collective idea of nationality, as they find meaning and comfort in this idea, since they have no meaning in their work.the ideology of nationalism ultimately means that workers and capitalists living in a particular geographical area must have a common interest. As with most myths there is an element of truth in this. Normally, a common language is shared (Language became a factor in establishing state power, and thus it became a factor in determining a "nation". It's no coincidence that the rise of the nation-state coincides with the invention of the dictionary) and on a superficial level at least, a common "culture" can be defined, i.e. "the British way of life". However, if one probes slightly deeper such an analysis fails to stand up.
The only way to define such national identity is to define it in terms of what and who it is not, i.e. negatively. Thus nationalism sets itself as being against other countries, striving to define a uniqueness of national cultures as to once and for all set its country apart from others, to know itself by what is un-like it. At one extreme this can include myths about race and blood, trying to attach the national abstraction to some trait of genetics or similar such nonsense. Since people have a strong desire to retain their own perceived identity, and to have a good opinion of themselves, often the creeds based on such identities function in a highly irrational, and ultimately, defensive way. Thus it is usually a sign of desperation and of an incapacity to formulate a coherent argument when our masters resort to playing the nationalist card.

All this of course benefits the ruling class. If the workers were ever to put their passion into something like socialism, then it would be the end of the ruling class. It benefits them to see the workers placing meaning and identity in things that are irrelevant and mythical to the truth of class struggle. Keeping the workers unable to see the true state of affairs in the world works to the ruling class's advantage. Class existed before the nation state. Throughout history one ruling class or another has attempted to impose its view on those they ruled over, manipulating their passions and pretending that its interests and their interests were the same. So, in another of life's ironies, the masses waste their energy fighting amongst themselves, believing their interests and the interests of their rulers are linked. Nationalism has always been one of the biggest poisons for the working class. It has served to divide workers into different nation states not only literally but ideologically. Today it is probably fair to say that a majority of workers—to one extent or another—align themselves to their domestic ruling class. Historically, nationalism and national feeling have been the tool of the capitalist class for both winning and retaining power.The ruling class have cultivated such ideas as nationalism, propagating the illusion that we live in a society with a collective social interest. The more enlightened capitalists probably saw the effects of separating and alienating people from each other and their labour, and so stepped up the spreading of beliefs like nationalism in order to try and convince people that they were not so exploited as they really were, and that everyone had a common interest. Nationalism is a relatively new concept for social control, (religion was once the principle method of control over the majority).

To the Socialist, class-consciousness is the breaking-down of all barriers to understanding. The conflict between the classes is more than a struggle for each to gain from the other: it is the division which reaches across all others. The class-conscious working man knows where he stands in society. His interests are opposed at every point to those of the capitalist class. Nationalism is not their interest but their rulers'. The presence of nationalist ideas is an indication that some groups in society feel its real material interests are being frustrated by forces outside or even inside the nation. But the desire to achieve their aims is never expressed in terms of their own needs only. In order to enlist the necessary working class support such arguments as “justice”, “freedom”, and “the nation” are used to justify the real bone of contention and to give it an aura of sanctity. The concept of nationality, the idea that an area dominated by a privileged class which thrives on the enforced poverty of that area's productive class, should grant to the latter the right to live there providing its members accept their wage-slave status and endorse the right of the privileged to live on their backs is offensive to any intelligent person. Those who promote such nonsense are enemies of our class .

The world of nationalism is full of contradictions, odd ideas and illogical notions. The idea that a line of a map, a so-called “national border”, should actually mean something concrete to the workers is laughable. Let's imagine that a human, born in the area of land known as France, is standing two feet from the “border” with the piece of land known as Germany. Another human is facing them from across this line, a so-called “German”. Are these two people utterly alien to each other? They may speak differently and have differing customs perhaps, but that is all due to material conditions and the ideology of the ruling group. Both people have to sell their labour power for wages, and are manipulated and exploited by a capitalist class. A typical nationalist would argue that they are alien because all French people are a certain way and all Germans are a certain differing way. But any differences that do exist are minor. A true understanding of the implications of socialism will reveal that the very idea of nations as a political concept can have no part to play, though there will of course still be cultural differences among people (e.g. language). Despite many workers finding it difficult to communicate with and understand each other because of language or cultural barriers this does not alter the fact that they are all part of one globalised exploited mass with more in common with each other than with their indigenous bosses.

Workers do not share a common interest with their bosses. It does not follow that if the "national wealth" increases, or if trade increases, or even if profit increases, that higher wages will be gained by workers. In fact capitalists can only make a profit by appropriating the wealth produced by the workers to themselves; but in the topsy-turvy world of ideology, it seems that workers will only have good pay and wealth when the capitalists are doing well. So it appears that workers and capitalists share a common interest. In fact, the interest of workers is conditioned by the interest of the capitalist, in exactly the same manner as hostages held by a kidnapper: unless the kidnapper- capitalists's demands are met, they will not allow the hostage-workers to have what they need to live. There is a well-documented effect of hostage situations, called "The Stockholm Syndrome" in which hostages under duress began to identify with their kidnappers, and believe in their cause. Nationalism works in much the same way. It is the Stockholm Syndrome on a grand scale. The working class who are dependent on the capitalists, to whom they are bonded by state-boundaries across which they are not permitted to escape, begin to believe that they share an identity with them.

Leninist-inspired distinction between the nationalism of the oppressors (which is always bad) and the nationalism of the oppressed (allegedly always worth supporting, even if critically). This even though that oppressed nations, once "free", can easily become oppressors in turn. Oppression, however, has to be seen in class, not national terms. Both so-called oppressor and oppressed nations consist of oppressor and oppressed classes, and "national liberation" enables an oppressor class to consolidate and expand its power, rather than freeing all the people of a formerly oppressed nation. The absurdity of Lenin's theory can be proved by a living example from the life of a worker in the Indian subcontinent. Suppose he is 70 years old and now a citizen of so-called independent Bangladesh. He was a subject of Pakistan and before that of the British Empire. According to Lenin's theory, he was subjugated by "British imperialists" up to 1947, then by "Pakistani imperialists" up to 1972. Now by which? Yet all through these years he remained a wage slave, not free, though his masters and nationality changed. What a ridiculous proposition is Lenin's theory! Many on the political left will argue that Palestinian nationalism is somehow progressive and different to Israeli nationalism and should therefore be supported. As socialists, we say that this is a dangerous poison that is being spread by the left .We argue that every nation state is by its very nature anti-working class. The “nation” is a myth as there can be no community of interests between two classes in antagonism with one another, the non-owners in society and the owners. Self-determination for "nations" just equates with freedom and self-determination for a ruling class. Lenin's theory of imperialism made the most significant struggle at world level not the class struggle but the struggle between states, between so-called anti-imperialist and progressive states and so-called imperialist and reactionary states. This was a dangerous diversion from the class struggle and led to workers supporting the killing in wars of other workers in the interest of one or other state and its ruling class.

To sum it up, the illusions of nationality are yet another tool of the ruling class, intended to trick workers into thinking that this really is some kind of collective society, and to misplace their passions that could otherwise be directed into the class struggle. Nationalism is the ideology which seeks to justify the capitalist division of the world into separate “nation-states”. We utterly reject this view of the way humanity should organise itself. We condemn all nationalisms equally. When countries achieved independence little changed except the personnel of the state machinery

As socialists we re-affirm that all peoples should seek their emancipation, not as members of nations or religions or ethnic groups, but as human beings, as members of the human race. They should unite to abolish the division of the world into so-called nation-states and to establish a World Cooperative Commonwealth of which we will all be free and equal members - citizens of the world, not subjects of nation-states. The goal of the socialist movement is not to assist in the creation of even more states but to establish a real world community without frontiers where all states as they currently exist will be destroyed. In a socialist society communities, towns and cities will have the opportunity to thrive – and people will no doubt feel an attachment to places that are real and tangible – but the nation states will be consigned to the history books where they belong

Monday, July 27, 2015

Jack Finds Out About Capitalism (cartoon)

Cartoon for the January 1973 Socialist Standard issue by Jack Gold of Edinburgh Branch 

What do we mean by socialism

Marx and Engels, used the terms socialism and communism to mean the same thing - a moneyless, wageless, stateless society - as did numerous others, including the early Social Democrats. People have seem to have fogetten about this in their ill-informed attempt to dismiss free access communism. They have failed to see just how much their own perspective is imprisoned within narrrow horizon of bourgeois rights and bourgeois behaviour patterns It is perhaps difficult now to appreciate but, in the late 19th century/early 20th century, when people talked about a socialist society they meant basically a communist society. In fact, earlier on, when Marx and Engels drew up their "Communist Manifesto", they explained why, at the time, they did not call it the Socialist Manifesto - because of the association of the term socialism with certain political currents they did not favour - but increasingly over time they shifted over to using the term socialism rather than communism - particularly Engels. Large numbers of writers in the late 19th century-early 20th adopted this practice. One thinks of people like William Morris, Hyndman, Kropotkin, Kautsky and many others. Even the Russian Social Democrats before they split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks used the term "socialism" in this way and Stalin wrote a pamphlet in 1906 in which he defined socialism as a moneyless wageless society. In fact, this is how these terms were generally understood up until the early 20th century - as synonym. The distinction between socialism and communism primarily emerged with Lenin - it was never found in Marx identifying the former with what we would call "state capitalism" but even Lenin was not consistent in this and in an interview with Arthur Ransome in 1922 reverted to the old usage.

In the Critique of the Gotha Programme it is clear that Marx was equating the higher stage of communism with free access communism (No, we do not forget that the Critique of the Gotha programme is a primary source of theoretical support for the advocates of labour vouchers). In the Critique he talks of the right of producers being proportional to the labor they supply; and how these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.

“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

That last phrase did indeed originate with Louis Blanc but as a revision of Saint Simon's argument that individuals should be rewarded according to their labour input. In other words it specifically repudiates the notion of payment for work - whether in cash or labour vouchers or whatever

People who argue against the "Impossibilist" perspective on the grounds that we cannot really know what a socialist society will be like until we live in it are taking up a rather absurd and extreme position which incidentally traps them in Catch 22 situation - how are we ever going to get to live in a socialist society if we dont know what it is in advance of creating it? Indeed, how would we even know that what we created was socialism at all! Socialism is obviously impossible without workers having some idea of what socialism is beforehand but all that is needed is a basic idea, a rudimentary mental model of a classless wageless stateless society. It does not require a theoretical grasp of the organic composition of capital or the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

Lenin talking quite explicitly of a communist society without labour vouchers:
"Communist labour in the narrower and stricter sense of the term is labour performed gratis for the benefit of society, labour performed not as a definite duty, not for the purpose of obtaining a right to certain products, not according to previously established and legally fixed quotas, but voluntary labour, irrespective of quotas; it is labour performed without expectation of reward, without reward as a condition, labour performed because it has become a habit to work for the common good, and because of a conscious realisation (that has become a habit) of the necessity of working for the common good—labour as the requirement of a healthy organism.
It must be clear to everybody that we, i.e., our society, our social system, are still a very long way from the application of this form of labour on a broad, really mass scale.
But the very fact that this question has been raised, and raised both by the whole of the advanced proletariat (the Communist Party and the trade unions) and by the state authorities, is a step in this direction." From the Destruction of the Old Social System, To the Creation of the New

We have the evidence of ABC of Communism by the Bolshevik Bukharin that he was not alone.
"Distribution in the communist system:
The communist method of production presupposes in addition that production is not for the market, but for use. Under communism, it is no longer the individual manufacturer or the individual peasant who produces; the work of production is effected by the gigantic cooperative as a whole. In consequence of this change, we no longer have commodities, but only products. These products are not exchanged one for another; they are neither bought nor sold. They are simply stored in the communal warehouses, and are subsequently delivered to those who need them. In such conditions, money will no longer be required. 'How can that be?' some of you will ask. 'In that case one person will get too much and another too little. What sense is there in such a method of distribution?' The answer is as follows. At first, doubtless, and perhaps for twenty or thirty years, it will be necessary to have various regulations. Maybe certain products will only be supplied to those persons who have a special entry in their work-book or on their work-card. Subsequently, when communist society has been consolidated and fully developed, no such regulations will be needed. There will be an ample quantity of all products, our present wounds will long since have been healed, and everyone will be able to get just as much as he needs. 'But will not people find it to their interest to take more than they need?' Certainly not. Today, for example, no one thinks it worth while when he wants one seat in a tram, to take three tickets and keep two places empty. It will be just the same in the case of all products. A person will take from the communal storehouse precisely as much as he needs, no more. No one will have any interest in taking more than he wants in order to sell the surplus to others, since all these others can satisfy their needs whenever they please. Money will then have no value. Our meaning is that at the outset, in the first days of communist society, products will probably be distributed in accordance with the amount of work done by the applicant; at a later stage, however, they will simply be supplied according to the needs of the comrades. It has often been contended that in the future society everyone will have the right to the full product of his labour. 'What you have made by your labour, that you will receive.' This is false. It would never be possible to realize it fully. Why not? For this reason, that if everyone were to receive the full product of his labour, there would never be any possibility of developing, expanding, and improving production. Part of the work done must always be devoted to the development and improvement of production.
If we had to consume and to use up everything we have produced, then we could never produce machines, for these cannot be eaten or worn. But it is obvious that the bettering of life will go hand in hand with the extension and improvement of machinery. It is plain that more and more machines must continually be produced. Now this implies that part of the labour which has been incorporated in the machines will not be returned to the person who has done the work. It implies that no one can ever receive the full product of his labour.But nothing of the kind is necessary. With the aid of good machinery, production will be so arranged that all needs will be satisfied.

To sum up, at the outset products will be distributed in proportion to the work done (which does not mean that the worker will receive 'the full product of his labour'); subsequently, products will be distributed according to need, for there will be an abundance of everything. In a communist society there will be no classes. But if there will be no classes, this implies that in communist society there will likewise be no State. We have previously seen that the State is a class organization of the rulers. The State is always directed by one class against the other. A bourgeois State is directed against the proletariat, whereas a proletarian State is directed against the bourgeoisie. In the communist social order there are neither landlords, nor capitalists, nor wage workers; there are simply people - comrades. If there are no classes, then there is no class war, and there are no class organizations. Consequently the State has ceased to exist. Since there is no class war, the State has become superfluous. There is no one to be held in restraint, and there is no one to impose restraint.

But how, they will ask us, can this vast organization be set in motion without any administration? Who is going to work out the plans for social production? Who will distribute labour power? Who is going to keep account of social income and expenditure? In a word, who is going to supervise the whole affair? It is not difficult to answer these questions. The main direction will be entrusted to various kinds of book-keeping offices or statistical bureaux. There, from day to day, account will be kept of production and all its needs; there also it will be decided whither workers must be sent, whence they must be taken, and how much work there is to be done. And inasmuch as, from childhood onwards, all will have been accustomed to social labour, and since all will understand that this work is necessary and that life goes easier when everything is done according to a prearranged plan and when the social order is like a well-oiled machine, all will work in accordance with the indications of these statistical bureaux. There will be no need for special ministers of State, for police and prisons, for laws and decrees - nothing of the sort. Just as in an orchestra all the performers watch the conductor's baton and act accordingly, so here all will consult the statistical reports and will direct their work accordingly. The State, therefore, has ceased to exist. There are no groups and there is no class standing above all other classes. Moreover, in these statistical bureaux one person will work today, another tomorrow. The bureaucracy, the permanent officialdom, will disappear. The State will die out. Manifestly this will only happen in the fully developed and strongly established communist system, after the complete and definitive victory of the proletariat; nor will it follow immediately upon that victory. For a long time yet, the working class will have to fight against, all its enemies, and in especial against the relics of the past, such as sloth, slackness, criminality, pride. All these will have to be stamped out. Two or three generations of persons will have to grow up under the new conditions before the need will pass for laws and punishments and for the use of repressive measures by the workers' State. Not until then will all the vestiges of the capitalist past disappear.

Though in the intervening period the existence of the workers' State is indispensable, subsequently, in the fully developed communist system, when the vestiges of capitalism are extinct, the proletarian State authority will also pass away. The proletariat itself will become mingled with all the other strata of the population, for everyone will by degrees come to participate in the common labour. Within a few decades there will be quite a new world, with new people and new customs."

Then there was Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed, Chapter 3, Socialism and the State that says it all:
“The material premise of communism should be so high a development of the economic powers of man that productive labor, having ceased to be a burden, will not require any goad, and the distribution of life’s goods, existing in continual abundance, will not demand – as it does not now in any well-off family or "decent" boarding-house – any control except that of education, habit and social opinion. Speaking frankly, I think it would be pretty dull-witted to consider such a really modest perspective "utopian."

What Trotsky is advocating here is the abandonment of the idea of material rewards or remuneration as a so-called incentive to produce. And if that is not enough we also have Trotsky saying:
"True, Abramovich demonstrated to us most learnedly that under Socialism there will be no compulsion, that the principle of compulsion contradicts Socialism, that
under Socialism we shall be moved by the feeling of duty, the habit of working, the attractiveness of labor, etc., etc. This is unquestionable.
Only this unquestionable truth must be a little extended. In point of fact, under Socialism there will not exist the apparatus of compulsion itself, namely, the State: for it will have melted away entirely into a producing and consuming commune. None the less, the road to Socialism lies through a period of the highest possible intensification of the principle of the State. And you and I are just passing through that period. Just as a lamp, before going out, shoots up in a brilliant flame, so the State, before disappearing, assumes the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the most ruthless form of State, which embraces the life of the citizens authoritatively in every direction. Now just that insignificant little fact – that historical step of the State dictatorship – Abramovich, and in his person the whole of Menshevism, did not notice; and consequently, he has fallen over it."

And Kautsky, too:
"Besides this rigid allocation of an equal measure of the necessaries and enjoyments of life to each individual, another form of Socialism without money is conceivable, the Leninite interpretation of what Marx described as the second phase of communism: each to produce of his own accord as much as he can, the productivity of labour being so high and the quantity and variety of products so immense that everyone may be trusted to take what he needs. For this purpose money would not be needed.
We have not yet progressed so far as this. At present we are unable to divine whether we shall ever reach this state. But that Socialism with which we are alone concerned to-day, whose features we can discern with some precision from the indications that already exist, will unfortunately not have this enviable freedom and abundance at its disposal, and will therefore not be able to do without money."
The Labour Revolution III. The Economic Revolution X. MONEY

Finally, the Anglo-Marxist, founder of the Social Democratic Federation, HM Hyndman
"A much more serious objection to Kropotkin and other Anarchists is their wholly unscrupulous habit of reiterating statements that have been repeatedly proved to be incorrect, and even outrageous, by the men and women to whom they are attributed. Time after time I have told Kropotkin, time after time has he read it in print, that Social-Democrats work for the complete overthrow of the wages system. He has admitted this to be so. But a month or so afterwards the same old oft-refuted misrepresentation appears in the same old authoritative fashion, as if no refutation of the calumny, that we wish to maintain wage-slavery, had ever been made."

The Left Apologists

So perverse are the arguments presented by critics of free access communism that they uncritically project into communism the same kind of atomistic self- interested outlook that prevails in capitalism forgetting that we are talking about quite a different kind of society altogther. In fact, free access communism is the most complete example of what is called a “gift economy" in anthropological terms. It is based on the principle of “generalised reciprocity” and the clear recognition of our mutual inter-dependence. It is not economic restrictions in the form of some kind of rationing that we should be focussing on but, rather a radical reconfiguration of the relationship between the individual and society and the realisation of human beings as truly social individuals ( a social individualn is an individual who realises his or her needs are part of a collective process of development and stimulation and thus has no need to hoard, monopolise, accumulate objects, articles for purposes other than that of use.). Critics of free access communism need now to fundamentally question and reassess the assumptions upon which they base their criticisms. The time is long overdue to restore and reassert the vision of higher communism as the explicit goal of revolutionaries everywhere. Anything short of that has either failed dismally or been found wanting. Revolutionaries today, 150 years after Marx, should NOT be advocating questionable stop-gap measures that have long been rendered obsolete by technological development. We should be hell-bent on getting the real thing - a society based on the principle "from each according to ability to each according to need"!

Of course, we cannot have socialism right now because the conscious majoritarian support for such a system simply does not yet exist. You can't have socialism without a large majority wanting and understanding it. The ends and the means have to be in harmony. There is absolutely no way you can force communism on a reluctant population that doesnt want or understand it. They are required to understand what it entails. They will realise very well that with a system of voluntary labour we will each depend upon one another for a communist society to function properly. The point is that in communism, unlike in capitalism, we shall have a genuine vested interest in promoting the well-being of others - if for no other than reason than that our own welfare is bound up with theirs. Socialist writer Keith Graham has written:
"...the very nature of the future society is such that it must be sustained by people clearly aware of what they are doing, actively and voluntarily cooperating in social production. It is literally unthinkable that a population should organise its affairs according to such principles without being aware that this is what they are doing. People can be coerced or duped into doing what what they themselves do not comprehend or desire but they cannot be coerced or duped into doing what they voluntarily choose to do"
When we meet these preconditions then people will fully appreciate, their mutual interdependence and the need to pull together for the common good.

You cannot just simply project into a communist society the same kind of behavioural assumptions that underlie this dog-eat-dog capitalist society. Human behaviour and human thinking is at least in part a product of the kind of society we live in. Critics illegitimately project into communism, the behaviour patterns and modes of thinking that pertain to capitalism - including, its atomised individualistic way of looking at things. Capitalist competition fosters egoism. This is why narrow economically-focussed criticisms of a communist society fail miserably every time because they take no account of the fundamentally different sociological framework within which a communist society will operate. Free-access communism eliminates the need for greed and removes the rationale for acquiring status through the accumulation of material wealth. The only way in which one can acquire status and the respect of one's fellows - a hugely powerful motivator in any society - would be through one's contribution to society, not what one takes out of it. Critics of free access or higher communism have fallen into the same erroneous way of looking at the matter as the bourgeois economists with their taken-for-granted assumptions about human nature being inherently lazy or greedy. Remember the myth about The Commons? How The Commons were destroyed by the ignorance, the democracy of the commoners, ruining the land through over-grazing; without taking proper steps to conserve fertility; through, according to our mythologists, that combination of greed, stupidity, and laziness that the bourgeoisie project unto everybody else when in fact it describes them to a T? But it was a myth. The Commons were not destroyed by either ignorance, abuse, or laziness of the commoners-- they were managed quite well, and democratically by the commoners, who willingly worked out the terms of shared use, and proper conservation. The argument that says "Oh, if human beings can just have free access to things, they'll act like locusts" has at its base, a version of that same myth

The goal of social ownership and democratic control of production and distribution has to be articulated directly. To seek political improvements to the capitalist system is a distraction from what needs to be done. When we insist that the working class has to be educated before it can make progress, some people on the left who have good intentions say that they "don't want to wait that long." But this isn't an option. A "revolution" carried out by people who are angry at the injustices of the old social system, but unclear about what to replace it with, or not sufficiently dedicated to the democratic structure of the new system, is the road to a new dictatorship. The working class who will create a socialist society must also know how to operate it. They need to understand what the basic rules of the game are, so to speak. There needs to be a widespread consensus about what to expect of people if a socialist society is to properly function. "Anti-capitalism" in itself can never succeed in overthrowing capitalism. To bring capitalism to an an end we need to have a viable alternative to put in its place. And this is an alternative that we need to be conscious and desirous of before it can ever be put in place. A class imbued with socialist consciousness will be far more militant and empowered than any amount of mere "anti-capitalism". Socialist consciousness is class consciousness in its most developed sense. The idea that such an alternative could somehow materialise out of thin air without a majority of workers actually wanting it or knowing about it is simply not realistic. Such an alternative can function if people know what it entails. In itself, engaging a workplace struggles within capitalism - important though this is - doesnt take us much forward since capitalism can only ever be run in the interest of capital. The capitalist system isn't a failure due to bad leaders or bad policies, but because of the kind of system that it is.

Socialism in other words meant a moneyless, wageless, stateless commonwealth. This was the general understanding of what socialism meant. Marx didn't talk about a "transitional society". He talked about the lower phase of communism. It was still communism...that is, a classless society. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”

Who decides what your ability or need is? It would take some sort of position of power to determine who is in need and who has ability. Power naturally corrupts and tends to find ways to increase and consolidate power. After time, you are left with those who have consolidated power to abuse, and those who don't. Therefore who decides? The answer, you do! This is the whole point of the communist slogan "from each according to ability to each according to need". The autonomy of the individual is maximised and as a result, we all benefit. As the Communist Manifesto put it:

"In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all"

Specifically a communist (aka socialist) society - or at least what Marx called the "higher stage" of communism - exhibits two key features:

1) Free access to goods and services - no buying and selling. No barter. You simply go to the distribution point and take what you require according to your self determined needs. This depends on there being a relatively advanced technological infrastructure to produce enough to satisfy our basic needs. Such a possibility already exists. Capitalism, however, increasingly thwarts this potential. In fact, most of the work we do today in the formal sector will be completely unnecessary in a communist society - it serves only to prop up capitalism. What possible use would there be for a banking system under communism, for example? We could effectively more than double the quantities of resources and human labour power available for socially useful production by scrapping capitalism. Communism will destroy the need for greed and conspicuous consumption

2) Volunteer labour. Your contribution to society is completely voluntary. There is no wage labour or other forms of co-erced labour. You can do as little or as much work as you choose. And you can do as many different kinds of jobs as you want, too. The presumption is that people would freely choose to work under communism for all sorts of reasons:

- the conditions under which we work will be radically different, without an employing class dictating terms work will become fulfilling and pleasant
- we need to work, to express ourselves creatively
- with free access to goods, conspicuous consumption will be rendered meaningless as a way of gaining respect and social esteem. Which leaves only what we give to society as a way of gaining the respect of our peers. This should not be underestimated; it is one of the most important motivational drives in human beings as numerous studies in industrial psychology have confimed
- Communism depends on people recognising our mutual interdependence. There is, in other words, a sense of moral obligation that goes with the territory
- Communism will permit a far greater degree of technological adaptation without the constraints of the profit system. Intrinsically backbreaking or unpleasannt work can be automated. Conversely some work may be deliberately made more labour intensive and craft based.
- Even under capitalism today most work is unpaid or unremunerated - the household economy, the volunteer sector and so on. So it is not as if this is something we are unaccustomed to. Volunteers moreover tend to be the most highly motivated as studies have confirmed; they dont require so called external incentives
- We will get rid of an awful lot of crappy and pointless jobs that serve as a disincentive to work
- since we would be free to do any job we chose to what this means in effect is that for any particular job there would be a massive back-up supply of labour to cover it consisting of most people in society. In capitalism this cannot happen since labour mobility is severely restricted since if you have a job you cannot just choose to abandon it for the sake of another more urgent job from the standpoint of society

With these two core characteristics of a communist society - free access to goods and services plus volunteer labour - there can be no political leverage that anyone or any group could exercise over anyone else. The material basis of class power would have completely dissolved. What we would be left with is simply human beings being free to express their fundamentally social and coooperative nature

Free access communism is not going to be brought to the point of collapse by the fact that we cannot all have a Porshe or Ferrari parked outside our front door. Imagine what it could be like without a boss class on our backs? Imagine what our workplaces could become without the cost cutting constraints of capitalism and having the freedom to decide on these matters ourselves. Imagine not being tied tdown to one single kind of job all the time but being given the opportunity to experiment with different jobs, to travel abroad to work in new places, to taste new experiences. Imagine a moneyeless, wageless communist world in which most of the occupations that we do today - from bankers to pay departments to arms producers to sales-people - will simply disappear at a stroke releasing vast amounts of resources and, yes, human labour power as well for socially useful production. Kropotkin was quite right. We dont need the whiplash of the wages system to compel us to work. The mere fact that we recognise our mutual interdependence in a society in which we will fully realise our social nature will suffice to impose upon us a sense of moral obligation to contribute to the common good of our own free will. Indeed we already, to some extent, do this today even under capitalism, given that fully half of all the work that we do today is completely unremunerated. How much more conducive will a communist moral economy be to the performance of unremunerated work is not hard to see.

Summer School

Summer School 2017

Summer School 2017  21st – 23rd July Fircroft College, Birmingham   These days, con...