Monday, December 29, 2008

The Conflict in Gaza

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An immediate ceasefire is to be desired. The victims of conflict are always the working class who will be injured or killed, who will live in fear whilst it is ongoing, who will see the birth of even more hatred.

The real solution to the continuing carnage in Gaza and the wider area is for Palestinians and Israeli workers to understand their class position and recognise they have more in common with one another than they do with their ruling classes, be they Israeli or Hamas. Two States, One State or similar is not a solution. Zionism and other nationalisms (compounded by religious superstitions) only divide the working class.

"The workers have no country, they have a world to win" is as true a maxim today as it was in 1848. But such an internationalist position will only emerge when workers adopt the socialist position.

Within the tormented area of the struggle Arab and Jewish workers have already given evidence of where the chains rub them by the strikes that have taken place against Jewish, Arab and alien masters. These Jewish and Arab workers form the vast mass of the population of the territories involved; they are the poverty-stricken exploitable material without which neither the Jewish nor Arab capitalists and landowners, nor outside capitalists, would be able to reap their harvest of profit from those rich areas.

Industrially and commercially Jewish capitalists have been the progressive force. They have brought highly developed Western methods to a backward area, and in places have made the desert bloom. But with Western methods they have brought Western forms of wage-slavery and expanded under cover of nationalist ideals. For the Arab and Jewish worker neither Arab nor Jewish national independence will remove the mark of subservience from their brows. Their only hope of a life of comfort and security lies in joining with their brethren of other countries in a world socialist movement to overthrow capitalist domination in all its forms and establish Socialism in its place. Only a world Socialist system can remove from society the machinations of the oil and other capitalist interests that periodically turn the world into turmoil and bring greater misery to the millions of the workers.

(from an article "Palestine and its Problems", Socialist Standard, June 1948.)

The SPGB published a pamphlet in 1947 called The Racial Problem: A Socialist Analysis. (.pdf file.) It has three chapters on anti-semitism and Zionism which provide useful background information.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Is the World Slump Over Yet?

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In 1994, David Perrin reviewed a book which argued that the worst had yet to come in the then present world economic crisis. 14 years later, "ring of truth" comes to mind. - Gray

The Great Reckoning by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg (Pan, London, 1994 £7.99), subtitled "How the World Will Change Before 2000", aims to be prophetic. It forsees rocketing taxes, worldwide stock market crashes, a further fall in the property market, a collapse of the welfare state, social disintegration writ large, petty nationalist squabbles and terrorism.

The odd thing is that its authors are both gung-ho supporters of the very system - capitalism - that is capable of unleashing such horror, and find no contradiction in their position. They view the economic basis of capitalism as being fundamentally unstable, yet their advice is only to those already wealthy enough to be able to use their capital to their own advantage in the coming economic crunch. No talk of revolution here.

Nevertheless, The Great Reckoning is a fairly sophisticated book, which is unusual for one that prophecies a Doomsday scenario. Central to its analysis is its prediction of a 1930s-style economic crisis from which other dangers will follow. Davidson and Rees-Mogg claim that there are two main reasons why the world capitalist economy is in for a major period of slump. One is taken from the Austrian Physicist Cesare Marchetti who has spent time analysing the penetration of innovations and products in the capitalist economy. Marchetti dispenses with price-analysis and deals only in physical quantities, claiming that the penetration of commodities into markets can be equated with the spread of living species. He has, for instance, argued that the growth and spread of motor-cars into Western Europe can be explained by the same logistic equation that describes the penetration of, say, rabbits into Australia. Ten years ago Marchetti claimed that most of the markets that provided the spur for the post-war economic boom, like motor-cars, had become saturated. This, he reasoned, would mean economic slowdown.

Economic Slowdown

Marchetti'a argument doesn't fully take into account that technological innovation is itself a spur to capitalist growth and that the "old" industries are forever being replaced by new ones - and continue to be so. If capitalism is true to its development so far, the industries supposedly at the point of market saturation today will be heard of only in history books in the future. It should also be noted that devices exist - from proverbially "reinventing the wheel" to built-in obsolescence - which ensure that the long-term growth in cars, televisions and many other lines of production continue apace. There used to be near-physical market saturation for black-and-white TVs, but did that stop growth in the market for television? - Hitachi, Sony and Ferguson are testament to the fact that it did not. The manufacturers replaced black-and-white with colour, then brought out VCRs, then replaced colour mono with colour stereo, then stereo with surround-sound. Market saturation disappeared in a flurry of pound notes and dollar bills.

In truth Davidson and Rees-Mogg have a far better argument than Marchetti's to justify their view of the major world economic slowdown. Their second, more plausible view, is that capitalism is currently drowning in an ocean of debt:

Debt cannot go on compounding faster than output forever. At the rate it expanded in the United States in the 1980s, interest payments would consume 100 per cent of GNP by the year 2015. No such thing will happen. Long before debt reaches that extreme, it will be wiped away...One way or other we expect a great reckoning. A settling of accounts. We expect the long economic boom and credit expansion that began with World War II to come to an end. The end, when it comes, will not only reveal the insolvency of many individuals and corporations, it may also bring bankruptcy to the welfare state and breakdown of authority within political economies.


There is more than a grain of truth in this. In many world economies, debt is compunding at a faster rate than income and total world indebtedness, by every yardstick that can be named, was heavier at the start of the present slump than at the beginning of any other. In the United States alone the rate of debt to national GNP is now 195 percent, compared with 120 percent before the 1929 crash.

History has demonstarted that sustainable recoveries only begin when a considerable portion of debt built-up during the boom has been liquidated. If debt liquidation is insufficient, growth will remain sluggish even when "recovery" has supposedly begun, such as at present. Davidson and Rees-Mogg estimate that the amount of debt still to be liquidated during this slump in the US is three to four trillion dollars-worth.

The extension of credit effectively delays the onset of capitalism's periodic economic crises only to make them worse when they finally occur. In all economic booms some industries over-extend their operations in the pursuit of further profits and find that they have overproduced for their particular markets. A case in point in the present slump was the commercial property sector.

Perilous Situation

While some industries get into difficultie, other sections of the owning class find that their profits are increasing. The banks, acting as intermediaries between the buyers and sellers of money capital, lend out their accumulated capital to the enterprises in difficulty to keep them going. But this cannot generally correct the fundamental disproportion in growth between the industries and uneven expansion in relation to market demand. Through knock-on effects in industry overproduction spreads and the demand for money capital rises, pushing interest rates up. In this way, the mechanisms of credit extension in the capitalist economy papers over the underlying weaknesses in the productive sphere and buys firms some breathing space before the crisis comes - and this usually comes when the demand for credit is highest and interest rates are at their peak. However, the ultimate outstanding debt increases through this process, requiring a much greater "correction" in the slump as capital assets are devalued to bring productive capacity back into line. The result is not merely an industrial slump, but a financial, banking and property crash as well, as in the 1930s.

Davidson and Rees-Mogg see this as the present outlook for world capitalism. Mounting corporate, government and personal debt has placed the world economy into its most parlous situation for decades. They are all too aware that the only way out for capitalism, sooner or later, is a financial reckoning which will bring about a growth in poverty, a reduction in social welfare programmes and possibly more armed conflict between nation states.

Their analysis of the situation ends there. There is no prescription for how the slump can be avoided - e must just let it wash over us. The authors are completely blind to how the world might be organised to avoid financial slumps, without the market mechanisms which causes them in the first place. They dismiss the Soviet Union's model of capitalist planning out of hand, as well they might, but in doing so claim that this proves socialism to be an impossible dream. Particularly crass is a chapter on the fall of the Eastern Bloc - which socialists predicted - containing the assertion that this demonstartes the failure of Marxism. Indeed, some of the cooments in this chapter, like the assertion on page 188 that workers exploit capitalists rather than the other way around, defy rational analysis and are completely at variance with the otherwise coherent account presented. But, of course, the likes of Davidson and Rees-Mogg want workers to think that there really is no alternative to capitalism, however bad it may be, and that, despite everything, workers still get a good deal out of the system. Unluckily for them some of us know different.

Dave Perrin. Socialist Standard, August 1994.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Alternative Queen's Speech

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(A text to be read before the real thing on Christmas Day.)

I'm speaking to you today from Sandringham - or is it Balmoral? No matter, it is one of the big houses or palaces I own and every Christmas Day I intrude on whatever enjoyment you might be having to foist a boring speech on you which is supposed to strike a thoughtful, humane note among the celebrations. I'm sitting in a sort of study and behind me is a window which opens onto the lush estate where my house stands.

I own these places because I'm a very rich woman - in fact about the sixth wealthiest person in the world and I'm worth about £3,340 million. Although I was born into this wealth and have never known what it is like to be poor, I shall be talking to you as if I was the sort of ordinary, everyday mum you're likely to have a chat with in the bus queue or in the doctor's waiting room or at the supermarket check-out. Except that I am the mother of the nation (for my recent ancestors it was the Empire) unless Margaret Thatcher manages to take that bit over as well.So for this broadcast I compose my face into the maternal expression - calm, caring, perceptive, wise.

A lot of people seem to believe it is my speech, all thought up by me. Well I do have a say in it but it's really what the people I work for tell me to say. I'm what is called a constitutional monarch - I do what the government tell me - and if I kick over the traces I will end up like my Uncle Edward.

Whatever is in my speech the media will report it as if it's really profound, earth-shattering, historical. They'll dredge through the frigid platitudes in the hope of finding some small nugget of humour, or controversy or intelligence. Then they'll blow it up into a big headline - "Queen Says War's A Killer", that sort of thing. I don't blame them; media people are like everyone else - except those like me - they have to work for a living.

In case my speech comes over as too boring and trivial I try to touch on some real problems which you might be experiencing. Like being homeless or struggling with life in a slum or in a high rise or battling to keep up with the mortgage on a regimented semi somewhere. This is a bit of a cheek, coming from someone who owns these big houses but I can't let on about the real housing problem - like shopping at the supermarket or having to queue for the doctor it's part of the wider poverty of all who work for their living.

This being Christmas I have to say something about children, to fit in with all that schmaltz about liitle faces aglow around the tree and so on. I drop hints that childhood is not like that - about violent, broken families, drugs, crime, dead-end years in comprehensive schools. It wasn't like that for my children; they had the best of everything, their schools carefully chosen and their whole lives based on the confidence that they would never want for anything. Perhaps that's why I get so upset at all those news items about Koo Stark and so on.

I often refer to problems abroad which, I say sadly, are casting such a blight across the joys of this great Christmas festival. Like war, famine, epidemics - always easy to talk about because they are going on somewhere all the time, wiping out millions every year. I pretend they're like social quirks which would go away if the Christmas spirit- peace on earth, goodwill to all, and so on - were allowed to last all year. Some people might be awkward and ask about these problems being knit into the fabric of the social system which awards these great privileges to me and forces degradation onto you. But they're obviously suffering from a lack of Christmas spirit.

And that brings me to Christmas itself. All those singing cash registers. All that rubbish being sold. All that nonsense spouted from pulpits and in programmes like this one. I try to forget that Christmas is only a short break in the routine, year-in year-out, exploitation, poverty, conflict and insecurity which you endure and the wealth and capital accumulation which keeps me so cosy. That's what destroys people's hopes, distorts their lives, represses them, kills them. And I'm one of its most prominent figureheads.

But I mustn't go on like this. My job is to encourage the most massive diversion of your attention from reality into a circus world of noise and colour. Remember my wedding? My coronation? The jubilee? The weddings of my children? You loved them all, they made you forget where you stand in the social order, what your lives are really like. And that is what I'm supposed to do, in this Christmas Day broadcast for example.

Well it's been nice getting this off my chest - a change from the usual twaddle. Oh, there's something else... Merry Christmas Suckers.

Socialist Standard editorial, December 1988.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Is Socialism Still Relevant?

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That is the title of an article by Guy Sorman in the "Comment is Free" section of Saturday's Guardian.

The article does not deal with that question at all. Instead we are (yet again) given a rehash of the confused notions of what socialism is. For example:

European socialists have failed to address the crisis cogently because of their internal divisions. Born anti-capitalist, these parties all (to greater and lesser degrees) came to accept the free market as the foundation of the economy. Moreover, since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet system, the left has lacked a clear model with which to oppose capitalism.

When any old party is labelled "socialist" and the author feels under no compulsion to define the term or why the parties he thinks are socialist, what chance any meaningful attempt to answer the question posed?

For definitions, cogent articles on the economic crisis and arguments on why socialism is relevant, make your New Year's resolution a subscription to the Socialist Standard!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

ANC & COPE want to keep you in chains

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South Africa has a new political party called Congress of the People. But given that "..it is expected to adopt many of the policies pursued by the ANC government under Mbeki", COPE, as it is otherwise known, is perhaps best not described as 'new' but rather an ANC re-tread.

Whether therefore voters in the next election choose one congress or the other is moot. One can hope that the garlic & vinegar days of HIV/AIDS treatment are over and the new government will not be tempted to follow Zuma's example of HIV prevention (taking a shower after unprotected sex with an infected woman) as an excuse for abandoning effective but costly treatment with antiretrovirals. A recent study by Harvard researchers estimated that the ANC are responsible for the premature deaths of 365,000 people earlier this decade.

But is there any reason to think that that there will be no more billion $ arms deals ('dodgy' or otherwise), a reduction in the hundreds of thousands of homeless people, less xenophobia, better sanitation, etc? No. The horrors of apartheid have passed, but economically South Africa is still one of the most unequal countries in the world. Almost all the land, mines and industry remain in the same (mostly white) hands. Almost half the population lives below subsistence level. Unemployment is widespread; children scavenge on dumps and landfill sites from sunrise to sunset seven days a week. Life expectancy is falling (a drop of 13 years since 1990) as AIDS, drug-resistant TB and other diseases spread.
Little wonder then anti-aparthied activist Rassool Snyman felt compelled to state:
"They never freed us. They only took the chain from around our neck and put it on our ankles."

Zuma said recently that the ANC would be in power until Christ's second coming. In reality, this is probably a desire for a electoral system such as that in Turkmenistan where the turnout reached 93.87% in the election for 288 candidates, all of whom support the policies of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Whatever, if Mosiuoa Lekota of COPE is to be believed "Public servants now talk in whispers when they discuss COPE. They report that they risk their jobs if they are seen to befriend us. Tales of spying on each other, as under apartheid, on who attends COPE meetings, abound" and "Songs threatening or encouraging the hatred of and the killing of COPE leaders have been composed and are sung at meetings,".

True liberation for the workers of South Africa and across the world will not take place before they act consciously and democratically (i.e. without leaders) to shed the chains of wage slavery.

Monday, December 15, 2008

“Crass Keynesianism”

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That’s how the German Minister of Finance, SDP member Peer Steinbr├╝ck, has described Gordon Brown’s attempt to spend Britain’s way out of the Depression that’s already started. He’s right. It is. But at least Brown is trying to carry out the policy the Labour Party, heavily influenced by Keynes, adopted at its 1944 Conference:

“If bad trade and general unemployment threatens, this means that total purchasing power is falling too low. Therefore we should at once increase expenditure, both on consumption and on development, i.e. both on consumer goods and capital goods. We should give people more money and not less, to spend. If need be we should borrow to cover government expenditure. We need not aim at balancing the budget year by year." (Full Employment and Finance Policy).

The trouble is that when the last Labour government tried this in the slump of the mid-1970s it didn’t work and the Labour Prime Minister of the time, James Callaghan, had to declare that it was no longer an option. It didn’t work either when President Mitterrand of France tried it to get France out of the slump of the early 1980s. All it led to was “stagflation” (recession + inflation) and to the devaluation of the currency (which has already begun this time here).

Brown is justifying his policy on the grounds that the money the government is spending is coming from borrowing. Not quite, according to Anatole Kaletsky, the financial journalist and commentator, writing in The Times (11 December):

“Where will the money come from? As the US Congress prepares to vote on a multibillion auto bailout and governments around the world pledge sums running into trillions to prevent a 1930s-style economic collapse, this obvious question is being asked by taxpayers and opposition politicians everywhere, from David Cameron's Tories to Trotskyites in France.

For the next year or two, the money for the British fiscal stimulus will come from the Bank of England's printing works in Dedham. In the case of the far bigger job-creation schemes and industry bailouts planned by Barack Obama, the money will come from the Washington and Fort Worth facilities of the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing, an institution rejoicing in the most succinctly descriptive internet address I have encountered: www.moneyfactory.gov.

There is nothing wrong with printing money – and plenty of it – in a period when prices are falling, property and stockmarket values are collapsing, banks are paralysed and the only assets that savers are willing to invest in are pieces of paper issued by the government.
Printing money and spending it on public works or on tax cuts, far from being profligate or imprudent in such conditions, is the only responsible thing for politicians to do. This is what Keynes demonstrated in 1936 in his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, which is one of the main reasons why there has not been a genuine depression in any capitalist economy since he published that revelatory book.”

The claim in the last sentence is very much open to question (otherwise, why the slumps of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s) and it can be doubted if Keynes really was that “crass” a Keynesian. He was, however, in favour of trying to prevent the general level of prices falling in a slump by inflating the currency. But what is not open to challenge is that “printing money – and plenty of it” has been the main cause of the non-stop rise in the general price level that has gone on in Britain since the first Keynesian budget was adopted in 1940.

Gordon Brown imagines that he’s saviour of the world, but he’s likely go down in history not only as the man who vainly boasted to have ended the boom-bust-slump cycle but as yet another leader who tried and failed to spend the way out of slump. Capitalist production will only begin expanding again when the possibilities for making a profit out of it return. For this to happen stocks must be cleared, inefficient businesses go to the wall and wages fall as a result of growing unemployment. That’s the way capitalism works and there’s nothing governments can do about it – except making matters worse, or as Marx put it, “Ignorant and mistaken bank legislation . . . can intensify this money crisis. But no kind of bank legislation can eliminate a crisis” (Capital, Volume III, chapter 30).

ALB

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The class struggles in Sark

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Sark, one of the Channel Islands, was the last part of Britain to have a feudal system of government with political power in the hands of hereditary landowners. Some years ago two jumped-up capitalists, the Barclay brothers who own the Daily Telegraph, The Spectator and other press titles, moved there and financed a campaign, which went to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg, to get the old regime overturned. It was, and for the first time democratic elections to the law-making body were held on Thursday.

The rich capitalists had their own list of candidates, but they didn’t do well, with supporters of the outgoing feudal Seigneur winning a majority of the seats. Defeated at the polls, the capitalists immediately used the power that money rather than land gave them and shut down their businesses on the island to punish those who hadn‘t voted for them

Which shows that capitalist talk of “democracy” still is, as it was in the 19th century, just a way of trying to transfer political power from the old landed classes to themselves. A change of masters for the common people, just as it was in the French Revolution. But the people of Sark preferred the devil they knew to the devil they didn’t. And we can all see that capitalists believe in democracy only as long as they get their own way.

ALB

Friday, December 12, 2008

Boom and Bust

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Poor old Gordon Brown. He must be thinking, when he is not saving the World (sic), the longed for PM job was not all it was cracked up to be after all.

Not only are those humourless Germans after him with regard to the present state of the economy, the Tories have been after him too. They reminded him of his oft said promise, when he was Chancellor, of Labour never returning to the boom and bust we had under the Tories.

The boom and bust attack is typical opposition talk. Britain did have recession (defined in academic terms as two consecutive quarters of decline in GDP) under the Tories lest they forget. The Tories are merely trying to make political capital from the situation.

Many years ago, I rang in to a Sky News phone in. Alas, the ever lovely Natasha Kaplinsky did not give me the chance to come back on my point to the Labour man, who was the guest.

I put it to him that capitalism is an inherently anarchic system of production and Browns statement on boom and bust was just so much spin. The politicians do not control capitalism and sooner or later the system delivers a bust.

The Tories, like Labour, do not base their views on boom and bust (of course) on the theories of Karl Marx - theories that are proving themselves of far more weight than their waffle.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Socialist Standard December 2008

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Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
October 2008 click for full page
editorial: contents:
Also available as HTML (image lite) and PDF
Pages: 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Contamination Inc.

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The presence of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in animal feed and pork samples from Ireland was confirmed on Saturday afternoon. This is the latest reported example of food adulteration. You do not need to have been paying close attention to the news in order to think of others, whether it is the near 300,000 children in China who became became ill as a result of consuming dairy products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. or the delightfully monikered Maggot Pete, who sold contaminated chicken from a rat-infested and sewage-ridden factory in Denby, England. But such adulteration, not to forget the related human and animal suffering, is far from new:

“In London, there are two sorts of bakers, the “full priced”, who sell bread at its
full value, and the “undersellers”, who sell it at less than its value.
The latter class comprises more than three-quarters of the total number of
bakers (cites report). The undersellers, almost without exception, sell
bread adulterated with alum, soap, pearl-ash, chalk, Derbyshire stone dust
and other similar agreeable, nourishing and wholesome ingredients (Marx
cites another report). Sir John Gordon stated before the committee of 1855
that ‘in consequence of theses adulterations, the poor man, who lives on
two pounds of bread a day, does not now get one-fourth part of nourishing
matter, let alone the deleterious effects on his health.” (Capital Vol 1
Chapter 6: The Sale and Purchase of Labour-Power, Page 278, footnote,
Penguin edition).

Simply put, adulteration = more profit and competitiveness, a
natural part of capitalism.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Lech Walesa & the Killer King

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Workers in Poland including one Lech Walesa once struggled against an undemocratic, unaccountable Stalinist bureaucracy. Fast forward several decades to a scene in that country which beggars belief: the one time Solidarity leader giving a prize named after himself to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for his contribution towards "inter-faith dialogue, tolerance, peace and international cooperation", and his charity work. The goal of the €100,000/$126,500 Lech Walesa Prize is to "reward those who work for understanding and cooperation among nations in the name of freedom and the values of Solidarity".

Does the giving of this prize suggest alternate realities exist? The Saudi Arabia we know about is one where people are detained and tortured without trial, homosexuals are beheaded, adulterous women executed, trade unions and non-muslim religions are proscribed and where the death penalty awaits those alleged to be guilty of a hundred "crimes" Perhaps the prize for Orwellian doublespeak should go to Gordon Brown. Speaking of dictatorial regimes, the prime minister said: "A message should go out to anyone facing persecution, anywhere from Burma and Zimbabwe: human rights are universal and no injustice can last forever." But what are these prizes and diplomatic visits about? Peter Tatchell said of King Abdullah's first visit to the UK in 20 years (during which, of course, he was given the blood-red carpet treatment, and exchanged pleasantries with the Queen and Prime Minister): "The Killer King''s visit is about business, very big business. And under Labour, as with their Conservative predecessors, money-making trumps human rights every time." Correct. Killing is one such business interest and buisness is good. You will recall that in December 2006, the Labour government shut down a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the £40 billion al-Yamamah arms deals, which purportedly involved backhanders of £1 billion being paid to Saudi government representatives. Remember also the deal to buy 72 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter planes from Britain at a cost of almost £4.5 billion.

Needless to say, Brown, Windsor and former trade union leader Walesa are not alone in kowtowing to some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. Blair had a very close working relationship with the leader of the world's number one rogue state George W Bush. Margaret Thatcher thought the moon shone out of General Pinochet's arse. Churchill said of Hitler's coming to power: "The story of that struggle, cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy conciliate or overcome, all the authority of resistances which barred his path". And commenting on Spain in 1937, Brigadier Packenham Walsh stated "Winston says at heart he is for Franco'". Edward VIII, after giving up the throne to marry divorced American Wallace Simpson in 1937, visited Germany and met Hitler, voicing admiration for his policies. He once remarked while on a visit to the USA: "It would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler were overthrown." Another late royal parasite, the Queen Mum, once sent a copy of Mein Kampf to a friend in the pre-war years and noted: "Even a skip through gives a good idea of his obvious sincerity." And so on. Big business, profits and class privilege go hand in hand with corruption, hypocrisy and human rights abuses. True freedom, understanding and cooperation cannot exist in a world of competing nations but only in a world without countries, 'nothing to kill or die for and no religion too'.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Remember Bhopal!

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On this day in 1984 thosands of people died after a cloud of gas escaped from a pesticide plant operated by a Union Carbide subsidiary in Bhopal, India. According to wikipedia the total number of related deaths is 16,000, twice that stated in this article from the Socialist Standard.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Marxist-Leninist

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On this day in 1961 the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro declared "I am a Marxist-Leninist and shall be one until the end of my life." This phrase is a contradiction in terms and Socialists at the time said so. "Marxist terrorists" is another self-contradictory expression. Why? Well, Marx advocated a universal system
of common ownership and the production of goods and services solely
for use in a world system necessarily based on the widest possible
human consensus and established by conscious democratic political
action, not a Leninist vanguard. Still not convinced? Good - doubt everything, but give serious consideration to the following descriptions of Marxism and Lennism and decide for yourself whether these terms are, as Socialists contend, mutually exclusive.


Marxism

The socialist theory formulated by Marx and Engels and further developed by socialists. Marx regarded himself as having given expression, in theory, to a movement that was already going on; it was the direct product of the recognition of the class struggle and the anarchy of production in capitalist society. Socialist theory arose in opposition to capitalism, but expressed itself in terms of already existing ideas. Marx’s close collaborator, Engels, identified three intellectual trends that they were able to draw upon:

Utopian socialism (Fourier, St. Simon, Owen)
German philosophy (Hegel, the Young Hegelians)
Classical political economy (Adam Smith, David Ricardo)

Socialist theory was a critical blending together of these three tendencies in the light of the actual class struggle.
The utopian socialists provided a constructive criticism of capitalism (its private property, competitiveness, etc.) and some interesting ideas about the possibilities of socialism (dissolving the distinction between town and country, individual self-development, etc.). But, lacking an adequate understanding of the class nature of society and social change, they were unable to see socialism as anything other than an ideal society, one that could have been established at any time. What was needed was a politics that acknowledged the class struggle.

An adequate theory of society and social change is what Marx was to contribute to socialist theory, providing it with a scientific basis. Hegelian philosophy tried to explain history, law, political institutions and so on, in terms of the development of ideas. Marx inverted this method and argued that the explanation lay not in the development of ideas, but in the development of social classes and their material conditions of life. Marx’s method for studying the general process of historical change is called the materialist conception of history.

By 1844 Marx had become a socialist and had reached the conclusion that the anatomy of ‘civil society’ (i.e. capitalism) was to be sought in political economy, in economics. Marx studied the classics of British political economy, Adam Smith and particularly David Ricardo. In Ricardo’s labour theory of value the value of a commodity was said to be determined by the amount of labour used in producing it. Profits, according to some of Ricardo’s followers, represented the unpaid labour of the workers; and so it was said that workers were not paid their full value and were cheated by their employers. Marx’s version of the labour theory of value explained exploitation, not by the capitalists cheating the workers, but as the natural result of the workings of the capitalist market. Marx pointed out that what the workers sold to the capitalists was not their labour, but their labour power; workers sell their skills, but have to surrender the entire product to the employer. Workers are exploited even though we are generally paid the full value of what we have to sell. Marx produced a theory of how the capitalist economy functioned which is still broadly acceptable today.

The Socialist Party has further developed Marx’s theories, and has made plain where it disagrees with Marx. We do not endorse Marx’s ideas regarding struggles for national liberation, minimum reform programmes, labour vouchers and the lower stage of communism. On some of these points the Socialist Party does not reject what Marx advocated in his own day, but rejects their applicability to socialists now. There are other issues upon which the Socialist Party might appear to be at variance with Marx, but is in fact only disputing distortions of Marx’s thinking. For example, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is usually understood in its Leninist interpretation. Indeed, it is a tragedy of world-historical proportions that Marx has been Leninized; what is basically a method of social analysis with a view to taking informed political action by the working class, has had its name put to a state ideology of repression of the working class. Instead of being known as a tool for working class self-emancipation, we have had the abomination of ‘Marxist states’.
Undeterred by these developments, the Socialist Party has made its own contributions to socialist theory whilst combating distortions of Marx’s ideas. In the light of all the above, the three main Marxist theories can be restated as:

The political theory of class struggle
The materialist theory of history
The labour theory of value

Marxism is not only a method for criticising capitalism; it also points to the alternative. Marxism explains the importance to the working class of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use and the means for establishing it. And while it is desirable that socialist activists should acquaint themselves with the basics of Marxism, it is absolutely essential that a majority of workers have a working knowledge of how capitalism operates and what the change to socialism will mean.


Leninism.

According to Stalin, Leninism is ‘Marxism in the era of imperialism and of the proletarian revolution … Leninism is the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular’ (Foundations of Leninism, 1924). Accordingly, this ideology is often referred to as ‘Marxism-Leninism’. This, however, is a contradiction in terms: Marxism is essentially anti-Leninist. But not everything Lenin wrote is worthless; for example, his article entitled The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism (1913), contains a concise exposition of Marxism. Why, then, is Leninism objectionable? Because, for socialists, it is anti-democratic and it advocates a course of political action which can never lead to socialism.

In What Is To Be Done? (1902) Lenin said: ‘the history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness’. Lenin argued that socialist consciousness had to be brought to the working class by professional revolutionaries, drawn from the petty bourgeoisie, and organised as a vanguard party. But in 1879 Marx and Engels issued a circular in which they declared:

‘When the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle cry: The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot, therefore, co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic big bourgeois and petty bourgeois.’

Nor is this an academic point, since the history of Leninism in power shows that allowing elites to rule ‘on behalf of’ the working class is always a disaster. Working class self-emancipation necessarily precludes the role of political leadership.

In State and Revolution (1917) Lenin said that his ‘prime task is to re-establish what Marx really taught on the subject of the state’. Lenin argued that socialism is a transitional society between capitalism and full communism, in which ‘there still remains the need for a state… For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary’. Moreover, Lenin claimed that according to Marx work and wages would be guided by the ‘socialist principle’ (though in fact it comes from St Paul): ‘He who does not work shall not eat.’ (Sometimes this is reformulated as: ‘to each according to his work’.) Marx and Engels used no such ‘principle’; they made no such distinction between socialism and communism. Lenin in fact did not re-establish Marx’s position but substantially distorted it to suit the situation in which the Bolsheviks found themselves. When Stalin announced the doctrine of ‘Socialism in One Country’ (i.e. State Capitalism in Russia) he was drawing on an idea implicit in Lenin’s writings.

In State and Revolution, Lenin gave special emphasis to the concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. This phrase was sometimes used by Marx and Engels and meant working class conquest of power, which (unlike Lenin) they did not confuse with a socialist society. Engels had cited the Paris Commune of 1871 as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat, though Marx in his writings on this subject did not mention this as an example, since for him it meant conquest of state power, which the Commune was not. Nevertheless, the Commune impressed itself upon Marx and Engels for its ultra-democratic features - non-hierarchical, the use of revocable delegates, etc. Lenin, on the other hand, tended to identify democracy with a state ruled by a vanguard party. When the Bolsheviks actually gained power they centralised political power more and more in the hands of the Communist Party.

For Lenin the dictatorship of the proletariat was ‘the very essence of Marx’s teaching’ (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918). Notice, however, that Lenin’s Three Sources article - referred to above - contains no mention of the phrase or Lenin’s particular conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And for modern Leninists this concept, in Lenin’s interpretation, is central to their politics. So, for its anti-democratic elitism and its advocacy of an irrelevant transitional society misnamed ‘socialism’, in theory and in practice, Leninism deserves the hostility of workers everywhere.


Castro also stated in 1961 that "Marxism or scientific socialism has become the revolutionary movement of the working class." In this it could be said that he was not wrong just premature.