Saturday, April 30, 2022

All About Socialism

 1. What is the Socialist Party ?

It is a political party, separate from all others, Left, Right or Centre. It stands for the sole aim of establishing a world social system based upon human need instead of private or state profit. The Object and Declaration of Principles printed in all of our literature were adopted by the Socialist Party in 1904 and have been maintained without compromise since then. In other countries there are companion parties sharing the same object and principles, and they too remain independent from all other political parties.

2. What is capitalism?

Capitalism is the social system which now exists in all countries of the world. Under this system, the means of production and distribution (land, factories, offices, transport, media, etc.) are monopolised by a minority, the capitalist class. All wealth is produced by us, the majority working class, who sell our mental and physical energies to the capitalists in return for a price called a wage or salary. The object of wealth production is to create goods and services which can be sold on the market at a profit. Not only do the capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class, but, as a class, they go on accumulating wealth extracted from each generation of workers.

3. Can capitalism be reformed in our interests?

No: as long as capitalism exists, profits will come before needs. Some reforms are welcomed by some workers, but no reform can abolish the fundamental contradiction between profit and need which is built into the present system. No matter whether promises to make capitalism run in the interests of the workers are made sincerely or by opportunist politicians they are bound to fail, for such a promise is like offering to run the slaughter house in the interests of the cattle.

4. Is nationalisation an alternative to capitalism?

No: nationalised industries simply mean that workers are exploited by the state, acting on behalf of the capitalists of one country, rather than by an individual capitalist or company. The workers in nationalised Austin Rover are no less the servants of profit than workers in privately-owned Ford. The mines no more belong to "the public" or the miners now than they did before 1947 when they were nationalized. Nationalization is state capitalism.

5. Are there any “socialist countries”?

No: the so-called socialist countries are systems of state capitalism. In the former Soviet Union and its empire, in China, Cuba, Albania, former Yugoslavia and the other countries which call themselves socialist, social power is monopolized by privileged Party bureaucrats. The features of capitalism, as outlined above, are all present. An examination of international commerce shows that the bogus socialist states are part of the world capitalist market and cannot detach themselves from the requirements of profit.

6. What Is the meaning of socialism?

Socialism does not yet exist. When it is established it must be on a worldwide basis, as an alternative to the outdated system of world capitalism. In a socialist society, there will be common ownership and democratic control of the earth by its inhabitants. No minority class will be in a position to dictate to the majority that production must be geared to profit. There will be no owners: everything will belong to everyone. Production will be solely for use, not for sale. The only questions society will need to ask about wealth production will be: what do people require, and can the needs be met? These questions will be answered on the basis of the resources available to meet such needs. Then, unlike now, modern technology and communications will be able to be used to their fullest extent. The basic socialist principle will be that people give according to their abilities and take according to their self-defined needs. Work will be on the basis of voluntary co-operation: the coercion of wage and salary work will be abolished. There will be no buying or selling and money will not be necessary, in a society of common ownership and free access. For the first time ever the people of the world will have common possession of the planet earth.

7. How will socialism solve the problems of society?

Capitalism, with its constant drive to serve profit before need, throws up an endless stream of problems. Most workers in Britain feel insecure about their future; almost one in four families with children live below the official government poverty line; many old people live in dangerously cold conditions each winter and thousands die; millions of our fellow men and women are dying of starvation — tens of thousands of them each day. A society based on production for use will end those problems because the priority of a socialist society will be the fullest possible satisfaction of needs. At the moment food is destroyed and farmers are subsidised not to produce more: yet many millions are malnourished. At the moment hospital queues are growing longer and people are dying of curable illnesses; yet it is not "economically viable" to provide decent health treatment for all. In a socialist society nothing short of the best will be good enough for any human being.

8. What about human nature?

Human behaviour is not fixed, but determined by the kind of society people are conditioned to live in. The capitalist jungle produces vicious, competitive ways of thinking and acting. But we humans are able to adapt our behaviour and there is no reason why our rational desire for comfort and human welfare should not allow us to co-operate. Even under capitalism people often obtain pleasure from doing a good turn for others; few people enjoy participating in the "civilised" warfare of the daily rat-race. Think how much better it would be if society was based on co-operation.

9. Are socialists democrats?

Yes: the Socialist Party has no leaders. It is a democratic organisation controlled by its members. It understands that Socialism can only be established by a conscious majority of workers — that workers must liberate themselves and will not be liberated by leaders or parties. Socialism will not be brought about by a dedicated minority "smashing the state", as some left-wingers would have it. Nor do the activities of paid, professional politicians have anything to do with Socialism — the experience of seven Labour governments has shown this. Once a majority of the working class understand and want Socialism, they will take the necessary step to organise consciously for the democratic conquest of political power. There will be no Socialism without a socialist majority.

10. What is the next step?

Many workers know that there is something wrong and want to change society. Some join reform groups in the hope that capitalism can be patched up, but such efforts are futile because you cannot run a system of class exploitation in the interests of the exploited majority. People who fear wars may join various peace movements. but as long as nation-states exist, economic rivalry means that the world will never be safe from the threat of war. There are countless dedicated campaigns and good causes in which many sincere people are caught up, but there is only one solution to the problems of capitalism and that is to get rid of it and establish Socialism. Before we can do that we need socialists; winning workers to that cause requires knowledge, principles and enthusiasm for change. These qualities can be developed by anyone — and are essential for anyone who is serious about changing society. Capitalism in the 1980s is still a system of waste, deprivation and frightening insecurity. You owe it to yourself to find out about the one movement which stands for the alternative.

If you have read this set of principles and agree with some or all of them, contact the Socialist Party with your questions and ideas about what you can do to help speed the progress toward Socialism.

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Task of Socialists


The need of the hour is to re-kindle the former flame—weak and uncertain though it was—of internationalism based on the slowly growing recognition that the interests of the world working-class of all nations are one. We hold that hope for the future lies in the direction of trying to keep alive independent global socialist organisation. We hold that it is the duty of socialists here to continue their work of spreading socialist knowledge confident that socialists in every other country will be doing what they can in face of the difficulties that beset them. At a time when the international fraternity of the working-class is drowned by the roar of guns, we re-affirm our faith that only through international, socialist action can the future peace and well-being of the working-class be attained. 

The task of the Socialist Party is clear and uncompromising; that is, to continue at all times to propagate the cause for which we are organised (the establishment of socialism), whatever the difficulties and however powerful the forces of reaction may be. Let us, then, go forward to the accomplishment of our task, spurred by the memory of activists of former days; cheered by the response to the socialist message in all parts of the capitalist world, and steeled by the difficulties and formidableness of the task confronting us. This, comrades, is a battle worth fighting.

The dislocation caused in people’s lives by the war in Ukraine has set many of them devising plans for making the world a better place to live in when hostilities have ended. Ideas thus generated find expression in schemes for remedying the outstanding evils of which the majority of people are victims. The Socialist Party claims that these evils cannot be remedied within the framework of the existing social order. Nothing less than social revolution offers a sound basis for post-war social reconstruction. The abolition of private ownership of the means and instruments of production and distribution, the end of the wages system, the production of wealth solely for use instead of for profit—this, and nothing else, will provide the foundation for the construction of the social system that we so urgently desire. Any planning for “a brave new world” that does not include these fundamental changes is doomed to bring disappointment to those who hope to experience substantial improvements. 

War, the most colossal of all tragedies, must be ended for all time. Only socialism offers a guarantee of a permanently peaceful future.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

End War Now


In February of this year we recognised that talk of peace was the harbinger of war: the louder the talk the nearer the war. When governments are protesting their peaceful intentions one can be sure that a war is in the offing.

The pacifist argument is, if everyone refused to participate in war there could be no war. True. But one could as readily say that if everyone refused to be unemployed there could be no unemployment. The logic is sound, but the premise is false. A widespread refusal to participate in war will not, and cannot spring from sentimentalism and emotionalism. It must have its roots in an understanding of the cause of war, the purposes for which wars are fought and a recognition of worldwide class interests, irrespective of nationality, language, colour, sex or any other sectional division. When the majority of workers realise that they have a common interest with those whom they are sent to kill and that the real enemy is the social class that sends them to do the killing, then there is the prospect of an end to war. Until then, mere sentiment will no more stop future wars than it has staved them off in the past. Sentiment is the hotbed from which grows patriotism, racial prejudice, hatred of foreigners and national bigotry, all of which can be suitably fertilised by propaganda, history teaching, martial music, etc.

This state of affairs will not be remedied until class-divided society has given place to socialism. The peace organisations, admirable as their intentions may be, are useless for the purpose of preventing war. War is a product of social conditions and those conditions must be examined for its cause before it can be eradicated. Socialism alone has the solution that can end war for all time.

There is no working-class interest to be served in any capitalist war. They are not worth the shedding of working-class blood. But the workers must not be passive. There is a war to fight, a war against those who would maintain the existing system of production for profit. The class war. That calls for a very determined and fighting working class, not a sentimental pacifist one. The question of morals or the evil of war does not enter into it. Where there is a conflict of interest there must be a readiness to fight. If we object to fighting then we must remove the conflicting interests. If we remove the capitalist class we shall have solved the problem of all wars, international as well as class. But we shall not remove the capitalist class with sentiment and talk about morality.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Join us

 Listening to the political parties trying to explain the points of difference in their respective policies reminds one of that popular ditty of a few years back, “You say ‘neether' and I say ‘nyther.' " There is no basic idea now held by any one of the parties which are  not held by the other, though each may express it in different words. The truth is that all parties undertake to run capitalism, and alters its programme of reforms according to what is most likely to retain support. What more damning indictment could be made against any M.P. than to show that he or she is acquiescing in the very measures to which one’s party has long been traditional if only nominally opposed?

What are the lessons to be learned from this growing unity of policy of the main contestants for political power in this country? One is that any party that advocates reforms can command a big following by promising to solve the problems that capitalism engenders, just so long as it is not called upon to form the government. Another is that at a time when it is a toss-up which party will win the next election each must offer the electorate all that is popular in the rival programme plus a little extra in order to tip the balance.

But the most important lesson for members of the working class is that if they want to express their dissatisfaction with the past results of capitalism they are wasting their time voting for any party offering to make a better job of it in future. They must understand that it is capitalism that determines the policies of the governments that undertake to run it, and not the other way round. In the light of this knowledge they will then organise with us for the establishment of socialism, which alone can make a reality the dreams of a better life that capitalism has made potentially possible, but can never actualise.


Another lesson to be learned from working-class struggles is that working conditions bitterly fought for and won through struggle on the industrial battlefield over the years can be wiped out, comparatively speaking, in a few minutes by those who control the political machinery. The political weapon is the dominant one and whilst it remains in the hands of the capitalist class no amount of struggle will free the workers from the yoke of capital. If only our fellow workers would raise the cry, “Abolish the wages system” instead of making a modest demand for a tiny wage increase, then they would be heading towards a system free from lock-outs, strikes, poverty, wars, ill-health, bad housing, dictatorships, over-work and the host of other evils which beset them.

When the S.P.G.B. was formed in 1904 one of its earliest warnings to workers was to beware of the delusion that nationalisation is socialism or can solve working-class problems. The warning was not heeded and the penalty has been the waste of precious years campaigning for something worthless. Only socialism can emancipate the working class.

Socialists considers money as the instrument of the market, the means by which individual labour is transformed into socially necessary labour. Where private property and production for the market exist, such an instrument is an essential corollary of it. It is only through it that the separation of consumption and production, or of individual labour and socially necessary labour can be overcome.

Socialism, by abolishing private property, also abolishes the need for such an instrument. In the ultimate communist society of which Marx spoke, all labour would be directly socially-necessary labour, since private property and class distinction would have been abolished. There would be collective ownership of the means of production and this would have led to so great an increase of the available wealth that distribution would be on the basis of 'from everyone according to ability, to every one according to needs.' 

We are inviting you to join the Socialist Party. It is no boast when we say that it is the only political party in this country worthy of working-class support; the only party whose sole object is the overthrow of this fantastic system whereby the majority of human beings —the working class—produce the wealth of the world for the small minority—the capitalists—who own it. You are a worker, so we need hardly tell you that the share you are allowed to have in this wealth just about keeps you living from week to week and capable of producing the goods you cannot possess.

You have listened to our speakers many times and have read our literature and social media, so you know that the system we wish to see established, socialism, under which all human beings will own in common, and have free access to, the world’s wealth, cannot be brought about by tinkering with or patching up by means of reform, the system existing now. For this reason, you do not give your support to the Labour, Tory, nationalist or leftist parties, or any other political organisation—you have seen through their promises of better conditions if only you put them in power. Yet you are not with us in the S.P.G.B. . . . It may be because you feel despondent and think the task of establishing Socialism an almost impossible one in the face of the powerful propaganda pumped into the working class by all the means capitalists have at their disposal—radio, newspapers, politicians and so on. But look at the problem in this way—modern capitalism requires a trained working class to run it, it is no longer a matter of using brute force against Nature in order to produce wealth. Trained people cannot be kept wholly in the dark about world events, therefore the owning class have to “spill the beans” to you and your fellow workers, in half-truths at least. Join us in laying bare to members of our class the facts behind the news, so that they too can analyse it and draw their own conclusions and not those ready-made for them. All the propaganda will then be useless and the world will move forward to Socialism at a greatly increased rate. You see, it all depends on you! Our organisation is small, but it is based on principles sound and irrefutable, which in the forty-seven years of the Party’s existence, have never had to give way to expediency.

If we have your help and that of our many other sympathisers, we will grow, and your despondency will vanish. Just now you may have an indefinable and deep sense of dissatisfaction; life is just drudgery and purposeless, merely a matter of existing from day to day, even if you are one of those “lucky” workers producing beautiful and useful things—unlike the millions who are engaged in many utterly worthless tasks peculiar to capitalism and its monetary and profit system. There are many outlets in the S.P.G.B. which will help to counteract this. There is the satisfaction to be gained by helping with our many meetings, pushing up the sales of our pamphlets and the Socialist Standard, or writing articles for the latter. There are worthwhile discussions and lectures at branch meetings. By no means least, there is the comradeship one feels in being engaged with others in working for a sane system of society.

When can we expect your membership application form?

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Why the Socialist Party is Different

 Someone claimed that the lesson of history is that people never learn the lesson of history. Obviously this is untrue (otherwise there could never have been any progress, social or technical) but such a cynical view could be justified if it was based on the antics of the Left, because they never learn.

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

We in the Socialist Party reject the conventional method of political analysis that seeks to understand politics in terms of ‘left’ or ‘right’. The left and right are different only to the extent that they provide a different political and organisational apparatus for administering the same capitalist system. This includes those on the left who aim for socialism sometime in the distant future but in the meantime demand some form of transitional capitalism. For this reason, the Socialist Party cannot be usefully identified as either ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’. Many political groups, somewhat disenchanted with orthodox reformist practice, fancy themselves as "the Left". We do not. Typically the Left shares the following ideas:

1. State ownership is socialism or a step on the way to socialism.
2. Russia set out on the way to socialism.
3. Socialism will arrive by violent insurrection.
4. Workers cannot attain socialist consciousness by their own efforts, only a trade union consciousness.
5. Workers must vote for the Labour Party.
6. Workers must be led by an elite - a ‘vanguard’.
7. Workers must be offered bait to follow this vanguard in the form of ‘transitional demands’, a selective programme of reforms.

These beliefs interlock and support each other. If, for example, workers are so feeble-minded that they cannot understand socialist arguments then they need to be led. Socialism will therefore come about without mass understanding, by a disciplined minority seizing power. Widespread socialist education is not only unnecessary, it is pointless. If the best workers can do is reach a trade union consciousness and vote Labour, then this is what they must be urged to do. Since workers must have some incentive to follow the vanguard, 'transitional demands’ in the form of reformist promises are necessary, and since these tactics were successful in carrying to power the Russian Bolsheviks, it is assumed that Russia must have set out on the road to socialism. The basic dogma on which all this is founded is that the mass of the workers cannot understand socialism. When it is suggested that the majority of the working class must attain a clear desire for the abolition of the wages system, and the introduction of a worldwide money-fee community, the Left replies that this is “too abstract”, or “too academic”. Indeed, they themselves do not strive for such a socialist system. None of the Left groups advocates worldwide the immediate establishment of a world without wages, with production democratically geared to meeting people's needs. Some of them say, when pushed, that they look forward to such a world “ultimately”, but since this “ultimate” aim has no effect on their actions it can only be interpreted as an empty platitude. Far from specifying socialism as their aim, they are reticent and muddled about even the capitalist reforms they will introduce if they get power. The Marxist revisionist Bernstein dictum's “The movement is everything, the goal nothing” sums up the Left. The 'Left' may claim that it enjoys the best of both worlds, both supporting reforms and advocating revolution. But in fact its revolutionary posturing.

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

Reformist political parties in opposition always claim how much better everything would be if only they were in power. Everything would be better: the NHS, the environment, the economy, industrial efficiency and productivity. On top of all this, there would be savings of many millions, even billions, of pounds, giving us all more spending power as well as big savings for businesses. And how is all this to be achieved? By two old leftist illusions; taxing the rich and nationalisation disguised as public or social ownership. If all their proposed reforms were adopted – nationalisation, the multitude of changes in the tax system, defence budget cuts, etc., we’d still be living in a money-driven, buying and selling economy, still working for wages and salaries, still insecure, being hired and fired, in short, in capitalism. The demand for reforms will often only succeed if it can be reconciled with the profit-making needs of the system. In other words, the reform will often be turned to the benefit of the capitalist class at the expense of any working class gain. The aim of the left-wing has always been to establish state capitalism, the profit system planned centrally by a miracle-performing state. The source of the wealth would still be the surplus value wrung from the working class. Lacking an honest revolutionary stance for a new society, the Left becomes caught in a pointless and frustrating circular battle with an economic system that is based on exploitation. As long as the accumulation of capital takes precedence, either in the hands of the individual capitalist or state institutions, the primary concern of exploitation of labour and making profit will take precedence over the concerns of human need.

The ideology of national capitalism, reflecting the interests of small-scale capitalists, is still strong and finds support both from the “right-wing ” and the “left-wing” who beat the same nationalist drum. The Left in effect argue that workers should support national as opposed to transnational capitalism (Cuba or Venezuela, arguesfor example). Socialists, on the other hand, don’t take sides in this conflict between different sections of the capitalist class. The Left downplays the idea of directly challenging the system and organising an alternative political economy and is working instead on the terrain of capitalism.

The Left like to act as though they are Moses, and lay down the commandments in stone for ignorant followers to obey. Left Wing propaganda offering leadership adds to the impression that the worker is an inferior being who is incapable of thinking, organising and acting and imbues further the master-and-servant mentality of the worker. As already stated all Left organisations start from the premise that workers are too stupid to understand or want socialism by their own volition. Therefore, revolutionary ideas have to be introduced from outside the working class by all-knowing "professional revolutionaries" who will lead workers to the promised land.

When someone comes across the Socialist Party for the first time, a common reaction is to consider us as just another left-wing political organisation. The Left use similar terminology to us, talking of socialism, class struggle, exploitation, etc, and invoking Karl Marx. But digging a little deeper will show that our political position is very different from that of the Left. The Socialist Party is not on The Left. There is so much manipulation, dishonesty, and downright erroneous thinking connected with the Left that we would not wish to be associated with them in any way. We are not and never have been connected with Lenin, Trotsky or Stalin. We are not related in any way to the Socialist Worker's Party or SPEW, the Socialist Party of England and Wales. We've never had any connection with the Communist Party, or any of its offshoots. We have always been opponents of nationalisation and the idea that capitalism can be reformed away. Unlike the Left, we did not feel that the working class should have to experience yet another Labour government to realise that it would be anti-working class. We are a party that consciously does not have leaders and our members are all members of the working class. There's nothing wrong with contesting elections, but if socialists are going to do this it should be done on a sound basis: getting elected on a straight socialist programme but not about trying to get elected through non-socialist votes on a programme of attractive-sounding reforms to capitalism. It should be clear that the Socialist Party is quite unlike the Left , and that we are definitely and for good reason not part of the Left. We in the Socialist Party are very much a different breed from all those others who like to use the term “socialist”.

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

Monday, April 25, 2022

Our Planet's Problems and Socialism's Answer

 The dream of a just and class-free society has long stirred the hopes of women and men, shackled by exploitation, poverty, oppression, and war. The early 19th-century labor movement envisioned a cooperative community of producers and many constructed intricate blueprints for egalitarian societies. So we can’t claim that Marx and Engels invented the idea of a society defined by common ownership, mutuality, freedom and equality although they said much about socialism. Climate change in particular has radicalising potential, as more and more people are beginning to question the prevailing economic system’s detrimental effect on the environment. But mainstream environmental groups aren’t offering a coherent critique of capitalism’s ecological consequences or doing the work of presenting alternatives.

The global economy, despite all of the bumps in the road, is delivering aggregate annual growth of 3-4%, leading to a doubling of output every generation. Yet the global economy is not delivering sustainable growth in two basic senses. In many parts of the world, growth has been deeply skewed in favour of the rich; and it has been environmentally destructive – indeed, life-threatening. Climate change is the greatest of these environmental threats. Given the current trajectory of global fossil-fuel use, the planet’s temperature is likely to rise by 4-6 degrees Celsius above its pre-industrial level, an increase that would be catastrophic for food production, human health, and biodiversity; indeed, in many parts of the world, it would threaten communities’ survival. Governments have already agreed to keep warming below 2ยบ Celsius but have yet to take decisive action toward creating a low-carbon energy system.

Capitalism has inflicted incalculable harm on the inhabitants of the earth. Tragically, the future could be even worse for a simple reason: capitalism’s destructive power, driven by its inner logic to expand, is doing irreversible damage to life in all its forms all around the planet. Rosa Luxemburg famously said that humanity had a choice, “socialism or barbarism.” In these days of climate change, her warning has even more meaning. Almost daily we hear of species extinction, global warming, resource depletion, deforestation, desertification, and on and on to the point where we are nearly accustomed to this gathering catastrophe. Our planet cannot indefinitely absorb the impact of profit-driven, growth-without-limits capitalism. Unless we radically change our methods of production and pattern of consumption, we will reach the point where the harmful effects to the environment will become irreversible. Even the most modest measures of environmental reform are resisted by sections of the capitalist class. This makes the establishment of a socialist society all the more imperative.

At one time the environmentalist was all about conserving a unique spot of nature or protecting this or that rare animal. Now, they are activists against the extractive industries, campaigners against the consumer culture and increasing protesters against the profit system. They are fighting for the planet. People may not care much about a few islands disappearing. But untold millions of people will face the need to escape cities worldwide that will not be able to cope with and survive many feet of higher oceans flooding their infrastructure, streets and housing. Where will those millions of people go? How will such a deep economic disaster be managed by governments? Scientists are unanimous in warning us that unless we very rapidly reduce CO2 emissions, we risk passing a tipping point beyond which we will be powerless to prevent uncontrollable global warming. We risk a human-produced extinction event. Before irreversible climatic feed-back loops take over, making human action useless, we must replace fossil fuels completely by renewable energy. This is by no means a hopeless task. The technology needed is already in place. The main obstacle to be overcome are the fossil fuel industries. They will use any method, fair or foul, to cash in on the vast deposits of fossil fuels which they own.

“If you want parents to make the choice to reduce their number of offspring, there’s no better way than making sure those offspring survive,” said Joel Cohen, author of the magisterial book How Many People Can the Earth Support? “There’s no example of decline in fertility that has not been preceded by a decline in child mortality that I know of.” There is abundant evidence of this pattern all over the world, regardless of religion. Where children die and women are repressed, population booms. Where children thrive, and women are empowered, population growth stops.

Sustainable agriculture expert Gordon Conway writes in his book, One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?:

“A popular misconception is that providing the developing countries with more food will serve to increase populations; in other words, it is a self-defeating policy. The more food women have, the more children they will have and the greater will be their children’s survival, leading to population growth, so goes the argument. However, the experience of the demographic transition described above suggests the opposite. As people become more prosperous, which includes being better fed and having lower child mortality, the fewer children women want. Providing they then have access to family planning methods, the fertility rates will drop and the population will cease to grow.”

The key factor connecting child mortality and lack of women’s rights is poverty. Therefore, environmentalists have to do is, first and foremost, campaign for social justice. If ending all poverty were as simple as producing enough food to feed everyone, our work would be done. Farms already grow enough food for every person on the planet — 2,800 calories a day, if it were divvied up equally. But we have never shared resources equally.

Clearly there’s tremendous room for improvement, and increasing yields. In Sub-Saharan Africa, farmers get a little over a ton of grain per hectare in an average year — about what farmers in Europe were getting during the Roman Empire. During the Green Revolution, the push to increase yields was focused on large farmers, and sometimes smaller farmers did not benefit. There’s a huge amount of conflicting literature on this point. As Conway writes, “A review of over three hundred studies found that for 80 percent of the studies inequality had worsened.” In addition, the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizer during the Green Revolution caused all sorts of environmental problems.

The current jargon is “sustainable intensification,” which — as happens with jargon — is taken to mean everything and nothing. Sustainable intensification includes a panoply of agroecological techniques. Farmers are planting nitrogen-fixing trees, which shelter crops, prevent erosion, and provide fertilizer. There’s the push-pull strategy, where farmers push bugs away from grain by growing insect-repellent plants along the rows, while also pulling pests away from the crops by planting attractive flowering plants outside the fields. Aquaculture is on the rise, creating an opportunity for more fish polyculture. Farm technology isn’t a war between good and evil — it’s a quest for whatever works. Small farmers have proven that they can use tools of industrial ag in a non-industrial way. They use high-tech hybrid seeds to get record-breaking yields with an alternative cropping technique. In Niger, farmers developed a method of using Big Ag fertilizer on a tiny scale: by filling a soda-cap with a mix of phosphorus and nitrogen and dumping this micro-dose in with each seed.

Many people worry that giving poor farmers industrial technology will lock them into an industrial path. There’s no doubt that is true, as far as it goes. If it’s easy to get nitrogen, you may not want to do all the work, and develop the skills needed, to nurture nitrogen-fixing trees to maturity. GMOs, because they are politicized, are especially controversial. Genetic engineering is not a silver bullet. At the same time, the goal of helping small farmers improve their lives gets a lot harder if they are held to an impossibly high standard, and we keep rejecting the tools that they’d like to use. Small farmers are already taking a middle path — it’s not as if use of some modern technology will forever corrupt them. In Ghana, farmers trained by 4-H in agroecological techniques abandon them when they actually have to manage their own land and make a living. And an organic farmer training people in Malawi has found that teaching small farmers how to use a little bit of synthetic fertilizer and herbicide is much more likely to work than the all-natural alternatives. As the U.N.’s former special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, put it, “While investment in organic fertilizing techniques should be a priority, this should not exclude the use of other fertilizers.”

A wider issue is the lack of infrastructure, the lack of good transport. Roads and railways are terrible for the environment when built through undeveloped wilderness, but great for the environment when built through poverty-stricken rural regions.

One way or another, the coming decades will be decisive for the fate of human civilisation. Unless greenhouse emissions are swiftly and drastically curbed the result will be an environmental catastrophe on an almost unimaginable scale, threatening the survival of all life on the planet. The reality of climate change is already manifesting itself in an increasing number of extreme weather events, such as heat-waves, droughts, floods and typhoons. Melting ice sheets are resulting in rising sea levels and increased flooding of low-lying areas. Some islands will soon be totally submerged, turning their inhabitants into climate refugees. Some solutions to climate change are known and simple: rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels, make the switch to renewables and halt deforestation. But significant economic interests at the heart of the capitalist system have big investments in coal, oil and gas. Protecting these interests, governments refuse to take more than token measures to halt climate change. The goal of the big corporations is to secure the greatest possible profits for their super-rich owners — regardless of the consequences to the planet and its people.

Imagine an alternative, a society where each individual has the means to live a life of dignity and fulfilment, without exception; where discrimination and prejudice are wiped out; where all members of society are guaranteed a decent life, the means to contribute to society; and where the environment is protected and rehabilitated. This is socialism — a truly humane, a truly ecological society. With socialism, our work would engage our skills and bring personal satisfaction. Leisure time would be expanded and fulfilling. Our skies, oceans, lakes, rivers and streams will be pollution-free. Our neighbourhoods would become green spaces for rest and recreation. Communal institutions, like cafeterias will serve up healthy and delicious food and offer a menu of cultural events.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The dead hand of the past


Socialism is a social system, not a political regime, or a phase of some other system. It requires a revolutionary change for its establishment and the cooperative effort of the whole community for its successful functioning. It necessitates fundamental changes in the relationships of the members of the community, the casting aside of long-cherished and deep-rooted ideas and customs. This change cannot be brought about except by the conscious effort of at least the majority of those concerned. No dictatorship, no matter how determined, how well-intentioned, how efficient, how “human,” could ever impose such fundamental changes on society. Dictatorships have crashed for attempting less. If the establishment of socialism requires a majority effort then majority decisions “in meeting each and every situation” are necessary for the struggle for its achievement. This is not a “dogmatic assertion.” We are not concerned about whether “democratic methods are always good and dictatorial methods are always wrong.” We are concerned only with effective means of achieving socialism.

Those who seek to explain by reference to “ideologies” the swift movement of events in the world, the sudden collapse of impregnable positions, the seemingly inexplicable changes which show the grand old men of yesterday to be the dodderers of to-day, must be bewildered and confused by what is going on before their eyes.

The idealist who tries to discern the pattern in history, past and present, is prevented from doing so because he believes that ideas and beliefs have an independent origin and that one set of ideas will triumph over another if only the men who hold them have leaders of goodwill and integrity. The socialist who looks to social relations and economic forces is better placed. Not, of course, that the socialist can predict with certainty just how and when a conflict of forces will work out in the future, but at least he or she knows what is the nature of the forces on which the issue depends. Knowing, as Marx puts it, that “it is not men’s consciousness which determines their life,” but “their social life which determines their consciousness,” we also allow for the fact that at any given period of history the vital forces at work have to struggle with ideas which resulted from past conditions—”the tradition of all past generations weighs like an alp upon the brain of the living.”

The safeguarding of property interests is the dead hand of the past, but what of the more active forces pushing towards change and reorganisation in Europe? Can the men who appear as leaders hold developments in check, or failing that can they guide them into the channels they desire? Are they the creatures or the masters of the forces behind and below them?