Monday, November 30, 2009

Scientific Socialism?

Kirsty kindly provided some feedback to an earlier posting, On the Origin of Species:

"Darwin's theory is accepted as its been scrutinised through the scientific method, and mountains of evidence have been published in respected peer reviewed scientific journals. As far as I know the same isn't true of Marx. Pointing out a few similarities doesn't prove Marx right by association."

Can Socialism be considered scientific? One of Marx's opponents, Ramsay Macdonald, seemed to think so:

Marx’s co-ordination of historical facts and explanation of historical movement from the point of view of the Hegelian left wing brought the whole theory of Socialism from the misty dreams of vague desire to the clearly defined empire of science.

But a better explanation is to be found in our A to Z of Marxism:

In academia and capitalist production a theory is said to be ‘scientific’ if its has been peer-reviewed and approved by practising scientists. In socialist theory, however, science means something different. According to Marx, ‘all science would be superfluous if the outward appearances and essences of things directly coincided’ (Capital, Vol. 2, Ch. 48); and ‘that in their appearances things often represent themselves in inverted form is pretty well-known in every science except political economy’ (Capital, Vol. 1, Ch. 19). Marx argued that his scientific method penetrated the surface of capitalist social relations to reveal their inner workings. His labour theory of value shows the exploitative nature of capitalism, whereas political economy takes capitalism at face value as the free and equal exchange of commodities in the market.

Here from The Western Socialist, Journal of Scientific Socialism in the Western Hemisphere, is a more detailed look at this topic.

"We in the Socialist Party of Great Britain claim to be "scientific socialists" (no doubt to distinguish ourselves from the other kinds, although there is perhaps some ambiguity here as the other kinds are not socialists at all). There are many definitions of "scientific" given in dictionaries but for our purpose I think we can settle on: "testing soundness of conclusions, systematic, accurate". We are not scientists in the sense of people in white dustcoats examining solutions in test tubes or working on some enormous machine for smashing particles in Chicago University (althougn one student SPGBer is, at the time of writing, doing just that -not that particles have ever done him any harm, to my knowledge) . The journal. the Scientific American, is usually associated with the laboratory type of scientist, but their liberal application of the term "scientific" enables them to discuss in their columns such things as The Professionalization of the U.S. Labour Force, this being the title of an article in their issue of March, 1979, which we in turn think worth discussing 'here.

The sub-heading of the article reads: "The increased number of college graduates in the U.S. has altered the composition of its work force. Professionals and managers now hold one out of four of the nation's jobs." The first reaction that occurred to the present writer was - so what? (And the second, too.) The revelation seems to be one of quite monumental unimportance. But the journal is a famous and rather important one, while the article itself consists of thousands of words of closely printed type spread over five pages, so one steels oneself to read it - and write about it. But perhaps I am being a little uncharitable and it may well be that a quote like the following is worth noting:

"Managers and administrators provide the most comprehensive count of the population of college graduates, granted that some college graduates are also found in Iower-ranking jobs among sales, clerical, blue-collar and even service workers. An economy once dominated by entrepeneurs and self'-employed professionals is now dependent on managers and professionals mainly employed on salary by large organizations, public and private."

To a socialist - one who looks at the society he Iives in with open eyes and an open mind (the only scientific way of doing things) this is,stating the obvious. How nice it would be if Eli Ginzberg would have gone on to say:

"This confirms the view that scientific socialists have been propounding for quite some time. Namely, that while in the early days of capitalism, the system was built up under the dynamic leadership of enterprising go-getters, today the running of society is done from top to bottom by wage-slaves. High-paid wage-slaves. And low-paid wage slaves. Some who have been to college. Some who have hardly been educated at all, Some of them highly intellectual. Some who can only be described as thick. (It would make another nice thesis for Ginsberg if he would research the problem whether the graduates are more thick than the others or not. I 'have certainly known professors who seemed far more obtuse than the average plumber or bricklayer."

So what use are the present day capitalitsts? By definition, no use at all. As the working class does it all, it follows that the capitalists are merely eaters of surplus value.

Not to undermine, but to overthrow

Let us have a look at some more quotes. Ginzberg tells us that many of these graduates,

"educated for six or seven years beyond high school ... have had time to learn to think critically: they do not automatically accept the values, goals and patterns of t!he society around them or of the organisations they [oin. It was economist Josep'h Schumpeter's perceptive insight that the enJistment of such people in the management of the capitalist system might ultimately undermine it."

It would be pleasant for socialists to think that this really was "perceptive insiglht" and that there was some real evidence that graduates were flocking to the banner of socialism (unless there is some other way of undermining capitalism which the scientists have not yet revealed). It rnight be better if Schumpeter stopped blowing his own schumpet and looked at the real world and not at his own insight. The sad fact is that graduates are proving just as slow in understanding the society in which they live and the need not to undermine it but to overthrow it - and it is quite unscientific to think that a professor is better equipped to understand the need to change our social. system than a slave of the conveyor belt. Socialtsm is in reality a quite straightforward proposition which should be readily undertandable by workers of all kinds. At present it is, consciously or otherwise , rejected by the great majority of them. Including the great majority of professors.

A little later on we are given the unsurprising information that the number of graduates in the workforce went up from 286,000 in 1955 to 900,000 in 1977 "and the vast majority of these went to swell t'he ranks of managers and professionals throughout the economy." But in the same paragraph we are told that "college graduates make up nearly a fourth of the total labour force." I fancy it is significant that the famous Scientific American can print stuff which would not be allowed in the unfamous Western Socialist or Socialist Standard. Ginzberg then goes on to show how the "professional" segment of the workforce is made up. It seems it is not only composed of scientists, professors, lawyers, etc., but it also includes over a million in the category 'writers, artists and entertainers." To which one can only suggest that if the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Jane Fonda or Vanessa Redgrave are (a) scientists or (b) underminers of capitalism, it's all news to' me. And while we are dealing with the changing face of the working class, it is notable that the Scientific American felt it necessary to illustrate this aspect by taking up two large chunks of expensive space with cartoon drawings of bodies of workers in first the 1940s and second the 1970s. The workers shuffling past the payoffice window are what in England are called cloth-capped types and in U.S. blue-collars (pity the thing wasn't in colour) - in drawing number one. And in drawing number two, we see nattily dressed professionals all looking very intellectual as they engage in important discussion (presumably about how to increase the profits which their masters steal from the working olass Including thernselves) . The inference is that the. scientific readers of the journal couldn't manage to absorb a few simple facts without the help of drawings which would really fit quite nicely into a comic for ten-year-olds.

Ginsberg just manages to include the odd phrase, in passing, which says more than all the shower of uninteresting statistics (thoug'h he clearly doesn't appreciate that himself).

"There are signs now that the growth of these occupations having arrived at one out of four in the labour force, may be slowing down. It is significant that the ranks of the professoriate appear to have closed, that newly-rninted PhDs, even in the sciences, have great difficulty in finding good academic appointments. The Federal Government has throttled down for more than a decade the increase in its outlays for university science ..."

Well, how interesting. It means, in the simple language that socialists have been using for many decades now, that members of the working class of all types are subject to the great law of capitalism: if it is not profitable to produce goods - food, clothes, steel, homes - then production wiJl be. throtted down, no matter how many millions of human beings are hungry, If it is not profitable to employ wage slaves - dustmen or professors or computer engineers - then tbey will join the ranks of the unemployed with all the misery that is involved. As Ginzberg says, this is "significant." What a pity that the real signifance is the real necessity, is a socialist revolution."

'The Unscientific American', L. E. Weidberg (SPGB), The Western Socialist, Fall - 1979

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Asbestos Scandal

Further to this post the Independent continues its campaigning journalism in support of victims of the asbestos industry.

Insurance companies were yesterday accused of profiteering from victims of the deadly asbestos cancer mesothelioma. Hundreds of victims of the disease are going without compensation because many of the insurance policies meant to protect workers allegedly have been lost. A scheme to track down insurance details of defunct companies, run by the industry itself, is failing to find almost half of the policies which would cover victims' compensation. Untraced mesothelioma cases save the insurance industry an estimated £60m a year, leaving sufferers and their families to struggle on government benefits that are a tenth of what they would be paid in a claim.

"It's an astronomical windfall for the insurance industry," said Ian McFall, head of asbestos policy at Thompsons Solicitors. "At best, they are culpable of mismanaging their policy record archives and at worst they're guilty of profiting from incompetence."

"The insurers save millions of pounds by not finding these records," said Kevin Johnson, solicitor at the asbestos specialists John Pickering and Partners. "They profit from the failure of the tracing scheme, so why would it be in their interests to commit resources to it? The ABI tracing scheme has failed. You've got insurers policing themselves and the whole thing is fundamentally flawed."

Tony Whitston of the Asbestos Victims Support Group said: "...Robbed of their lives through no fault of their own, insult is heaped on injury as they fall back on taxpayer-funded, nominal, government compensation while insurers walk away from their liabilities with their back pockets stuffed with cash. This is utterly shameful."

The Government admitted yesterday that the voluntary scheme, which is overseen by the Association of British Insurers was "not delivering" and that the figures were not acceptable. The failure to find 48 per cent of policies for mesothelioma sufferers has been described as "utterly shameful", particularly as many of the "lost policies" date from after 1972 when it was compulsory to have employer insurance.The Government said the scheme had been such a failure that it was now considering the establishment of a "more formal" tracing office.

Profits before Patients

The Independent on Sunday reports :-

" is criminal that market forces are coming ahead of people's health and lives."

11 per cent of UK pharmacies and a small proportion of dispensing doctors are exploiting the European market and effectively diverting £30m worth of medicines meant for British patients to patients overseas every month.Profiteering pharmacists, hospitals and wholesalers are putting British patients' lives at risk by selling prescription drugs, intended for the UK, to customers in Europe. Nearly 50 drugs needed by patients, with conditions ranging from breast cancer and Parkinson's disease to depression and epilepsy, are in short supply because traders are selling the drugs for higher prices overseas in a trade worth at least £360m a year. Wholesalers are also believed to be playing a "very significant role", says the pharmaceutical trade association, ABPI.
Recent guidance issued by the Department of Health, regulators and professional bodies "reminded" all potential traders of their legal obligations to prioritise UK patients before profit.Drug companies sell the same drug at different prices in every country.
In the past, Britain was one of Europe's biggest importers of "cheap drugs" from Spain and Greece. But since the pound fell against the euro and UK drug prices dropped, the tables have turned and there is now a massive demand for British medicines overseas.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The New Capitalist Pyramid




Friday, November 27, 2009

Creating Food Junkies


From an interview with the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration ,Dr. David Kessler , and author of "The End of Overeating"

"...we asked the question: If you want to stay alive, what are the things you can do to prevent getting a major disease? Three-quarters of us are going to die of cardiovascular disease or stroke or cancer.So I was very interested in preventing disease. And if you're interested in preventing disease, weight is a critical, critical factor...[ About one-third of American adults are obese or overweight, a rate that's double what it was three decades ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control.]

...The food industry has been able to figure out the bliss point, the optimal combinations of fat and salt, fat and sugar, fat, sugar and salt that you think tastes good, but when you look at the science, we now know that those ingredients stimulate, they activate the brain's circuitry.They stimulate our intake. They condition us. They drive us to want more. They affect the neural circuits. For decades, the food industry has said, "We're just giving consumers what they want." But, in fact, now we know that what they're doing is excessively activating the brains of millions of Americans...

...I used to think I was eating for nutrition, that I was eating to satisfy me, satisfy myself. I didn't realize that I was eating for stimulation and that that stimulation locked in the neural circuits, strengthened those neural circuits, so every time I engaged in that behavior, I would do it again and again. I didn't understand why I had gained and lost weight, you know, over my lifetime many times...

...There is a syndrome that has emerged, not a disease, but several characteristics that we have studied. We've taken people who have these characteristics: loss of control in the face of highly palatable foods, lack of satiation, preoccupation with foods. And we've scanned them. We've done the neuro-imaging.And what's fascinating is that their response to the anticipation of food, to the cues, just to the sight or the smell, their brains get activated. Their amygdala regions become activated and become amplified much greater than healthy controls.And what's fascinating is people who have this condition of hyper-eating, once they start consuming the food, that activation stays elevated and doesn't shut off until the food is gone. It's not a matter of willpower...

...The business plan of the industry has been to take fat, sugar and salt, make it multi-sensory, make it irresistible, put it on every corner, and that that behavior has resulted in millions of Americans having a very hard time controlling their eating...It's only going to change once we understand what's going on. If we continue to allow the food industry to put fat, sugar and salt on every corner, to load it in our food, to be double-frying our food, to be injecting it with needles, to be bathing it in solutions of sugar and fat, to be predigesting that food, adding the emotional gloss, advertising, cueing us, stimulating the brains of millions of Americans, we're never going to be able to get a handle on health care and especially the costs of health care.The food is, in essence, it's constructed..."
[ food is even designed to be pre-digested. Factory-farmed meats are ground up, injected with salt, water, a multitude of flavorings and chemicals, reconstituted and often processed with extra fat. It's "adult baby food." ]

Kessler provides additional evidence that certain forms of overeating qualify as legitimate drug addictions. Just as it is with, say, cocaine addicts, the supersaturated reward pathways of the brain do not have effective mechanisms for signaling: “That’s enough. Stop eating.” It may seem obvious in retrospect that the same mechanisms that make it so difficult for many drug addicts to “just say no” would also function in the case of addicted overeaters. What happens is similar to the flooding of reward circuitry that occurs in cases of what we might call “compulsive overdrugging,” otherwise known as addiction. The food industry, according to Kessler, has figured out what works, has packaged fat-and-sugar foods in products that scarcely even have to be chewed, and it has priced these products to move. Kessler examines iconic foods such as Big Macs, all of which have skilled marketing machines promoting consumption. Such nutritionally unbalanced foods propel people who already tend to eat more than mere physical need might otherwise warrant into uncontrolled behavior patterns of irrational eating. These persistent psychological and sensory stimuli lead to what Kessler terms “conditioned hypereating,” which he believes is a disease rather than a failure of willpower.Kessler explains that, normally, humans satiate after eating "enough" food, but the "normal" satiety point is overridden by the reinforcing effects of "multi-sensory" foods - those that stimulate several senses - like taste, sight and smell. We have learned to LOVE the combinations of fat and salt (French fries) or sugar and fat (ice cream) so much so that we eat even when we're not hungry.Of course, the fast-food industry, restaurants, and manufacturers of prepared foods use this knowledge to their advantage.

We can't stop because we're hooked, and the food industry is the pusher. Food companies can trot out willing doctors, dieticians and nutritionists who claim that eating their brand of poison in moderation can be part of a balanced diet but the companies are like drug dealers who prey on junkies. As Morgan Spurlock explained about McDonald's in Supersize Me, the targets are "heavy users," who visit the Golden Arches at least once a week and "super heavy users,” who visit ten times a month or more. In fact, according to one study, super heavy users "make up approximately 75 percent of McDonald's sales." The entire food industry, perhaps best described as "eatertainment" has refined the science of taking the cheap commodities pumped out by agribusiness and processing them into foodstuffs that are downright addictive. But food is far more than mere fuel. It is marketed as a salve for our emotional and psychological ills, as a social activity, a cultural outlet and entertainment.Americans are under the thrall of the food industry. More than half the population eats fast food at least once a week; 92 percent eat fast food every month; and every month about 90 percent of American children between the ages of three and nine visit a McDonald's

One anonymous food-industry executive told Kessler, "Higher sugar, fat and salt make you want to eat more." The executive admitted food is designed to be "highly hedonic," and that the food industry is "the manipulator of the consumers' minds and desires."

Changing our perilous food system means making choices -- not to simply shop for a greener planet or call for improved food labelling , but to collectively dismantle the nexus of factory farming, food corporations and the political and economic system that enables them.

For our American readers -Happy Thanksgiving


Thursday, November 26, 2009

China's new aristocrats

We read 0.1% of all households in China hold nearly half of the total wealth.

It is said there are 143,000 multimillionaires and 8,800 billionaires in Beijing and that there are 116,000 multimillionaires and 7,000 billionaires in Shanghai.

In order to be regarded as one of the city's "new aristocrats", or upper class ,high-rollers in Beijing need to spend at least 87 million yuan on property, cars and other luxury goods and to own at least three dwellings of their own, including a villa, like the 400-sq-m Ziyu Shanzhuang villa costing 24 million yuan, a luxury apartment in the downtown area for work purposes, and a Siheyuan courtyard house probably in Houhai.In their luxury homes, they also have rare porcelain and jade ware collections interspersed with works of ancient or contemporary painters.The rich in Beijing consider Cartier as the favorite luxury brand .

Said Rupert Hoogewerf, founder and publisher of the Hurun Report. "Many of them say they want to be a sort of upper class, rather than only being rich."

Most of them prefer investing in arts and they are willing to spend as much as 50,000 yuan for a year of piano classes, said the report.They probably drive a 1 million yuan Mercedes Benz R500 limousine and are also members of Yongfoo Lite, the most popular club for Beijing's wealthiest.Their wives usually frequent the Lan Club with friends, wear Bulgari platinum and diamond watches and drive BMW sports cars.
Japan's Osaka and Tokyo are the top travel destinations for spouses, and they attend musicals and the opera several times a year.
Annual spending of the rich in Beijing is estimated at about 5.7 million yuan, mainly for new cars, collections and about 1 million yuan for donations, the report said.

It was reported that a Shanxi coalmine boss bought 100 million yuan ($14.7 million) worth of villas in Beijing in the first half of this year while a blue-collar worker in the city needs to work and save for 90 years to be able to buy a second-hand 70-sq-m apartment.

SOYMB wonders if this is the “core values of socialism” which Xi Jinping, vice president of the state and president of the Central Party School recommends .

Marx or Stalin

A 1936 Socialist Standard article makes its web debut .

Socialists Do Stand for Equality

The new draft Constitution now being considered in Russia lays it down that "to each according to the quality and quantity of his work" is a socialist principle. In the July SOCIALIST STANDARD that assertion was challenged on the ground that the principle is a capitalist one. As the question is an important one, and much confusion is likely to result from the Russian declaration, it was proposed to follow the matter up. In the meantime, the Daily Worker (July 4th) has departed from the general rule of the Communists of ignoring the S.P.G.B. by replying to the comment published in THE SOCIALIST STANDARD. While the Daily Worker’s observations are not well-informed, they will serve as an introduction. This is what the Daily Worker says: —

"Marxists have always drawn a distinction, corresponding to the distinction in reality, between Socialism and Communism, Socialism being that period between the seizure of power, by the working-class and the epoch of full Communism. In the period of Socialism, the principle "from each according to his ability, to each according to the quantity and quality of his work" obtains. Only with full Communism, the conditions for which are built in the period of Socialism, will the principle " from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" be realised."
Lest, however, the "Socialist Standard" should doubt that this has always been the view of true Socialists, I would suggest that the writer of this illiterate piece of nonsense should read Karl Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme, where he will find this alleged "corrupted version" fully explained and justified."
— Daily Worker. July 4th, 1936.

The writer of the above, with more trust in Stalin than knowledge of the subject, has simply repeated what Stalin has said on several occasions. It happens, however, that Stalin's version of Socialist theory, and even of the past activities of the Bolsheviks, can be shown to be false. Let us, therefore, examine the points one by one, beginning with the terms Socialism and Communism.

The Terms Socialism and Communism

These terms have had a chequered history, but it can be said with certainty that the Daily Worker’s statement about them is wrong. It is not correct that Marxists have always used the term Socialism to mean a "period between the seizure of power by the working-class and the epoch of full Communism." Marx did not, neither did Engels, and Lenin knew this even if the Daily Worker does not know it. Lenin, in The State and Revolution, actually quotes from Marx a passage in which Marx referred to such a period, but did not use the term Socialism to describe it. The passage Lenin quoted from Marx begins with the words: "But these defects are unavoidable in the first phase of Communist society ..." (See The State and Revolution, by N. Lenin. Pub. Allen & Unwin, Ltd. p. 96.)
We see then that Marx at that date, did not call this period Socialism but "the first phase of Communism." It is Lenin, not Marx, who then interposed the words "generally called Socialism." (p. 96.)

Notice, too, that while the Daily Worker says "always" Lenin said "generally"; but even Lenin's more cautious statement is wrong, except possibly as regards usage in Russia alone. To what extent in Russia the terms Socialism and Communism were used in this way we do not know, although it seems probable that even there it has been a comparatively recent development. Outside Russia it appears to have existed only in the imagination of the Daily Worker.

Marx and Engels used the terms Communism and Socialism to mean precisely the same thing. They used "Communism" in the early years up to about 1875, and after that date mainly used the term "Socialism" There was a reason for this. In the early days, about 1847-1850, Marx and Engels chose the name "Communism" in order to distinguish their ideas from Utopian, reactionary or disreputable movements then in existence, which called themselves "Socialist" Later on, when these movements disappeared or went into obscurity, and when, from 1870 onwards, parties were being formed in many countries under the name Social-Democratic Party or Socialist Party, Marx and Engels reverted to the words Socialist and Socialism. Thus when Marx in 1875 (as mentioned by Lenin) wanted to make the distinction referred to by the Daily Worker, he spoke of the "first phase of Communist society" and "a higher phase of Communist society" Engels, writing in the same year, used the term Socialism, not Communism, and habitually did so afterwards. Marx also fell, more or less closely, into line with this change of names and terms, using sometimes the one, sometimes the other, without any distinction of meaning.

It will be noticed that one of the most widely circulated works of Engels was called by him "Socialism, Utopian and Scientific" not "Communism, Utopian and Scientific."

Another partial break in the use of names came in 1918, when the Bolshevists (the majority wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Party) wished to indicate their repudiation of the wartime actions of their associates in the Second International. To do this they changed their name to Communist Party, and when they formed the Third International they called it Communist. Even then the British Communist Party only partly fell into line in the use of terms, and continued very largely to use the term Socialism as synonymous with Communism. Thus, the 1929 Election manifesto of the Communist Party of Great Britain, "Class against Class" repeatedly uses the term Socialism, and only once the term Communism. Each time Socialism occurs in that manifesto it is as the equivalent of Communism, and never in the way the Daily Worker says that "Marxists have always" used it.

The S.P.G.B., throughout its existence, has used the term Socialism, never in the manner the Daily Worker alleges the term is used, but always to mean what Marx and Engels meant by Socialism and Communism. Further, the S.P.G.B. has never helped to spread confusion by conceding the term Socialist to such bodies as the British Labour Party. The Communist Party—in this as in other directions has managed to box the compass, declaring at one time that the Labour Party is "the third capitalist party. It lays claim to the title of Socialist Party, but has nothing to do with Socialism " ("Class against Class," p. 8), and at another time referring to it as a Socialist Party (Mr. Harry Pollitt, in a letter to the Town Crier, Birmingham, June 26th, 1936).

Among many other illustrations of the way in which the terms Socialism and Communism have been used may be mentioned the English translation of the Communist Bogdanoff's "A Short Course of Economic Science" the final chapter of which carries the sub-title, "Socialist Society" and uses the term Socialism in place of and as the equivalent of Communism. The book was published by the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1923.

So much for the question of terms. Now for the basic principle of Socialism and Stalin's revised version of it, remembering all the while that Stalin, when he uses the term Socialism, means the phase after the workers' capture of power, and when he uses the term Communism he means the later phase. Stalin claims that Russia is now in the first phase and developing towards the later phase.

"From Everyone According to His Capacities, to Everyone According to His Needs"
This principle, quoted by Marx in the course of his criticism of the programme adopted by the German Social-Democrats at their Congress at Gotha in 1875, was by no means original. Similar ideas were discussed by the equalitarians during the French Revolution, and later on by such men as Louis Blanc, in France, and J. F. Bray, in England. Louis Blanc was using this same principle in 1839, although on occasion he employed it in reverse order—" To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities." It was framed in opposition to the doctrine of the followers of Saint-Simon, "Let each be placed according to his capacity and rewarded according to his work."

Now for Marx's views on the subject. In his criticism of the Gotha programme in 1875, he pointed out that "the co-operative commonwealth based upon common ownership of the means of production" (i.e., Socialism, or, as he then called it, Communism) would have a "first phase" in which it would be "afflicted with the congenital defects of the society from which it has sprung." In this first phase the individual "receives from society a voucher showing that he has done so-and-so much work. . . . On presentation of this voucher he withdraws from the communal storehouse of articles of consumption as much as this quantum of work is worth." (The quotations are from the S.L.P. edition called "the Socialist Programme," translated by Eden and Cedar Paul, and published in 1918.) In this first phase there would, Marx says, be mal-adaptations. Thus if each individual were required "to do an equal quantum of work, and all to receive an equal share from the social fund of articles of consumption," the man with dependants to keep would be worse off than the single man, while the stronger and more clever individuals would be able to do the required amount of work with less effort than the weak. Marx added that "such mal-adaptations are inevitable in the first phase of Communist society, because it is born out of capitalist society."

In due course the first phase would go, giving place to a higher phase: -

"In a higher phase of communist society, when the slavish subordination of the individual to the yoke of the division of labour has disappeared, and when concomitantly the distinction between mental and physical work has ceased to exist; when labour is no longer the means to live, but is in itself the first of vital needs; when the productive forces of society have expanded proportionately with the multi- form development of the individuals of whom society is made up—then will the narrow bourgeois outlook be utterly transcended, and then will society inscribe upon its banners, "From everyone according to his capacities, to everyone according to his needs!"

(It may be mentioned that Louis Blanc and others had also preceded Marx in stating that this last principle would not be applicable until after a "transition" period.)

Before going on to the present distortion of Marx's writings by the Russian Communists, , certain observations may be made in order to put Marx's words into proper perspective. His comments on the Gotha programme were "marginal notes" to use his own description, and were written at a time when he was "overwhelmed with work." They are, for the most part, clear enough, but in certain passages undue compression has left ambiguity. For example, there is the solitary reference to "the distinction between mental and physical work" which has been seized upon by Stalin as the basis of his revision. Though it is by no means certain what Marx meant, it is arguable that he considered that, in the "first phase" , "mental " workers would have to be placed on a somewhat higher level than other workers. They would get a somewhat larger share of products. If that was Marx's view it is still questionable, however—even in the circumstances envisaged by him in 1875—whether any such differentiation would not produce more problems and difficulties than it would solve. More importantly, the circumstances envisaged by Marx at that time are widely different from the circumstances that would now obtain after a Socialist majority have gained control of the political machinery. In 60 years the "productive forces of society have expanded" greatly—thus removing to a considerable extent one of the obstacles to the inauguration of the "higher phase" . Secondly, the working class have already travelled some distance away from capitalist notions about work and pay. Thirdly, we know from the experience of these 60 years that the understanding of Socialism which the workers will have to acquire before the conquest of power for Socialism becomes a possibility will be considerably greater than Marx held to be necessary in 1875. In short, all the reasons for having a phase based on "to each according to his work" (and for possible differentiation between mental and physical work) will have disappeared or be greatly weakened.

Now let us look further at Marx's views, and also Lenin's views on the subject of equality of wages.

Marx and Lenin on Equal Pay

Whatever Marx may have had in mind about the "distinction between mental and physical work" there is no doubt whatever that he strongly favoured at least approximate equality of wages, in the first phase, until such time as distribution "according to need" would eliminate the whole problem. Writing on the Paris Communards of 1871, Marx, in his Civil War in France (Labour Publishing Co. edition, 1921), highly approved their rule that "from the members of the Commune downwards the public service had to be done at workmen's wages" (p. 31. See also p. 34).

At one time (but not now) the Bolsheviks were aware of this. Lenin, in his Soviets at Work, an address he delivered in April, 1918, expressly endorsed the—

"principles of the Paris Commune and of any proletarian rule, which demand the reduction of salaries to the standard of remuneration of the average worker . . . ." (See edition published in 1919 by the Socialist Information and Research Bureau, Glasgow. Pages 17-19.)

Lenin was regretting that necessity compelled the Russian Government to pay high salaries to specialists. He did not pretend that it was anything but a backward step. He said, "Such a measure is not merely a halt in a certain part and to a certain degree of the offensive against capitalism . . . but also a step backward by our Socialist Soviet State, which has from the very beginning proclaimed and carried on a policy of reducing high salaries to the standard of wages of the average worker." (Emphasis ours.)

Lenin went on to call the payment of high salaries "the old bourgeois method," and said, ''the corrupting influence of high salaries is beyond dispute—both on the Soviets . . . and on the mass of the workers." He admitted that "to pay unequal salaries is really a step backward; we will not cheat the people by pretending otherwise."

Lenin had also referred to the matter in 1917 in The State and Revolution. Using the Post Office as an example, Lenin declared (pages 52 and 53) that, after overthrowing the capitalists, the task of the Communists would be to—

"Make practical use of the experience .... which the Commune has given us. To organise our whole material economy like the postal system, but in such a way that the technical experts, inspectors, clerks, and, indeed, all the persons employed, should receive no higher wage than the working man. . . ." (Emphasis ours.)

We see, therefore, what Marx said; how Lenin interpreted Marx; and what Lenin's own emphatic views were.

Then there was a resolution passed by the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party in 1921, an English version of which is given as follows in "Economic History" (January, 1932. Supplement of the Economic Journal): —

"The theory and practice as regards wages should be based upon as equal a distribution as possible of the standard articles of consumption. However, the Unions will make use of wages both in money and kind, as a means of improving discipline and production."

Now let us jump from Marx and Lenin to Stalin and the present-day Bolsheviks.

Marx and Lenin versus Stalin and the Daily Worker

The first point to notice is that, whereas Marx and Lenin used the expression "To each according to the quantity of his work" (and Bogdanoff says, "in proportion to the amount of labour"), the new draft Russian Constitution has smuggled in the word "quality" also. (The first Constitution, adopted in 1918, was silent on the point, merely proclaiming the principle, "He that does not work, neither shall he eat.")
Stalin, in recent speeches, has also inserted this word quality, absent from earlier statements of the principle.

Now if this change meant only that the work demanded of the able-bodied shall be of good quality, one could say that the inclusion of the word is unnecessary but harmless, unnecessary because nobody in his senses argues in favour of bad work.

If, on the other hand, it meant that all Russian "able-bodied citizens," from the members of the Government downwards"—to apply the words Marx applied to the Commune—are being paid approximately on the same standard, i.e., "workmen's wages" plus some small bonus for output or for quality as a stimulus to greater output and better quality, three criticisms could be made. One is that such a system would need great care in its application to avoid penalising the weak. The second is that such a measure (justified by Marx and others, for application during the first phase, on the ground of capitalist mentality and low productivity) would be hard to square with Bolshevik claims about their success in making the population Socialist in outlook, and their claims about the high productivity of industry.

The third criticism is, nothing can excuse the Russian Communists' pretence that such a principle is a Socialist one. Even if they were compelled to bow to necessity in the matter of their system of distribution (owing to low productivity and the capitalist outlook of the population) that cannot in any way justify them in circulating in English-speaking countries an English version of the Constitution which declares that "to each according to the quantity and quality of work" , particularly as it is applied in Russia, is "the principle of Socialism" . The Communists know full well that large numbers of workers have already been deceived by them into believing that what we call Socialism (and what Marx and Engels called Socialism or Communism) has been established in Russia. The Communists cannot escape the charge that they are wilfully deceiving the workers.

Furthermore, Stalin is using this word "quality" as cover for something much worse than differentiated wage rates. Whereas Lenin admitted that inequality was a regrettable necessity, a step backward, a corrupting influence, Stalin (and his new admirer, Sidney Webb) is glorifying it, and doing so under cover of the altered version of Marx's and Lenin's statements.

Lenin wrote in "Soviets at Work" that "our Socialist-Soviet State . . . has from the very beginning proclaimed and carried on a policy of reducing high salaries to the standard of the average worker."

Stalin's Government, far from reducing high salaries, is encouraging them. He goes further and according to the Webbs in their Soviet Communism denounces those who now put Lenin's point of view as "leftist blockheads" He declares that the Bolsheviks never held that view.

The Webbs quote from a speech of Stalin's delivered in January, 1934, at the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of Russia: —

"These people ["leftist blockheads," he calls them elsewhere] evidently think that Socialism calls for equality, for levelling the requirements and the personal lives of the members of society. Needless to say, such an assumption has nothing in common with Marxism, with Leninism. By equality Marxism means, not equality in personal requirements and personal life, but the abolition of class. . . ." (Soviet Communism, p. 702.)

Stalin's speech contains one true and important point, that Socialists are interested primarily in abolishing the private ownership and control of the means of life which is the basis of class division. Stalin is also right in repudiating the idea that Socialists aim at imposing uniformity. But in the light of what is actually being done in Russia under Stalin's Government, what meaning are we to attach to his further statement that "Marxism starts out with the assumption that people's abilities and requirements are not, and cannot be, equal in quality or in quantity, either in the period of Socialism or in the period of Communism ?" (Webbs, p. 702).

Marx and Lenin laid it down that in the first phase everyone should be at least approximately on workmen's wages, and in the higher phase, when productivity had increased and prejudices disappeared, all should be treated on the principle "each according to his needs" .Stalin's Government does no such thing. It promotes great inequality between the various rates of workmen's pay and between those rates and the salaries, fees, and royalties of technicians, high officials, popular literary men, novelists and so on, and for the later phase it promises "to each according to his needs" but only on the basis that (in Stalin's words) "requirements are not and cannot be equal in quality or in quantity." This can only mean that some are always to have a higher standard of living than others.

The Daily Worker objected to our statement that the new Russian principle is a "corrupted version" of the basic principle of Socialism. Is it not evident, however, that Stalin's words and the actions of his Government embody precisely that "corrupting influence" which Lenin associated with high salaries in his Soviets at Work?

Let us examine some of the actual applications of Stalin's theory in Russia.

Workmen and Others

The Webbs, who thoroughly approve of Stalin's views on this subject, report, in their Soviet Communism (p. 711) that in Russian industry work and pay are graded into anything from eight to seventeen grades, but—and this is important—"always excluding the apprentices, with the mere porters, cleaners or gate-keepers on the one hand, and the foremen, technicians and managers on the other." (Note the reference to "mere porters" by our Labour Peer!)

The difference between the pay of the highest and lowest grades of workmen varies according to occupation. In some cases it appears that the highest may be three or four times the amount of the lowest—but outside and above the rates of pay of these workmen's grades are the salaries of foremen and administrative and technical staffs. Why? On what principle? What has become of Lenin's demand that, in the Post Office, for example, technical experts, inspectors, and so on, should get no more than a workman's wage? What has happened to the example of the Commune so praised by Marx and Lenin?

On what ground does the playwright Schkwarkin get 300,000 roubles a year from royalties on his plays (compared with a skilled workman's 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 roubles), making him a very rich man even after deduction of income tax? Is this in accordance with the quantity of his work, even if modified for the supposed distinction between mental and physical work? Is it, like the average factory worker's pay, based on output or piece-work?

The pay of a head of a department in the Russian local government service is 700 to 1,000 roubles a month, while that of a typist is 175 to 250 roubles a month. How does a Communist decide that the head of a department is worth four typists? And why is he worth half as much again as an engineer or a lawyer (400 to 700 roubles)?

(These figures are taken from the Bulletin of the "International Committee of Employees, etc." Moscow. June, 1936.)

The same question applies to all the favoured groups of politicians, technicians, officials, managers, popular writers and playwrights, etc.

The fact is that the real or supposed needs of Russian state capitalism and of the ruling group and their close associates have given rise to riches and poverty, privilege and lack of privileges, the features of capitalism generally. Russia is faced with the largely non-Socialist outlook of the population and the still relatively low productive capacity of industry. Lenin, when faced with such a necessity, said: "To pay unequal salaries is a step backward; we will not cheat the people by pretending otherwise" . Stalin, rather than admit the truth, chooses to gloss it over by misusing Socialist phrases, and by corrupting statements of Socialist principle. His hangers-on throughout the world first give their unqualified support to whatever he may say from time to time, then try to find reasons for doing so afterwards, quite regardless of the interests of the working class and the Socialist movement.
(Socialist Standard, August 1936)
For a Stalin's view on socialism that is more in keeping with Marx and dating not 1936 but from 1906 go to Anarchism or Socialism
"...Future society will be socialist society. This means primarily, that there will be no classes in that society; there will be neither capitalists nor proletarians and, con sequently, there will be no exploitation. In that society there will be only workers engaged in collective labour.
Future society will be socialist society. This means also that, with the abolition of exploitation commodity production and buying and selling will also be abolished and, therefore, there will be no room for buyers and sellers of labour power, for employers and employed -- there will be only free workers.
Future society will be socialist society. This means, lastly, that in that society the abolition of wage-labour will be accompanied by the complete abolition of the private ownership of the instruments and means of production; there will be neither poor proletarians nor rich capitalists -- there will be only workers who collectively own all the land and minerals, all the forests, all the factories and mills, all the railways, etc.
As you see, the main purpose of production in the future will be to satisfy the needs of society and not to produce goods for sale in order to increase the profits of the capitalists. Where there will be no room for commodity production, struggle for profits, etc.
It is also clear that future production will be socialistically organised, highly developed production, which will take into account the needs of society and will produce as much as society needs. Here there will be no room whether for scattered production, competition, crises, or unemployment.
Where there are no classes, where there are neither rich nor poor, there is no need for a state, there is no need either for political power, which oppresses the poor and protects the rich. Consequently, in socialist society there will be no need for the existence of political power..."


The economics editor of The Telegraph quotes a report from consultants AT Kearney that the richest 1% in the UK hold some 70% of the country’s wealth.

He also quotes the latest UN report on the gini coefficient (in which a score of 0 means absolutely equal income across the population and 100 means one person has all the income), the UK scored 36.0, Australia 35.2, USA: 40.8. The gini coefficient (certainly in the US, probably in the UK) are at levels comparable with the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Just in case you doubted that the world population is divided between a small percentage who own most of the wealth and the vast majority who must work for them in order to survive.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On the Origin of Species

Darwin's seminal work was published on this day in 1859. Fifty years ago, the Darwin Centenary Issue of our journal carried the following related editorial.

As this month is the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, a book that raised a storm in its day, we are devoting considerable space in this issue to Darwinism and its relation to Marxism, particularly as Marx published the first section of his main work the same year.

Darwinism is an outlook based upon certain fundamental propositions put forward by Charles Darwin, just as Marxism is an outlook based upon certain fundamental propositions put forward by Karl Marx. Books by both of them were published in 1859 which clearly stated their fundamental propositions, and each devoted the rest of his life to accumulating facts in support of the theories that had been put forward. In both instances their theories have been enriched and qualified in certain directions by subsequent investigation, but in neither instance has the accuracy of their fundamental propositions been affected.

Just as Darwin brought order into biological investigation, so Marx brought order into social investigations. Darwin demonstrated that living forms evolve and Marx demonstrated that social forms evolve.

Again, in both instances, their theories were assailed from all sides, and they were showered with vituperation, but, in spite of the critical efforts focussed upon them, a great deal that each put forward has become absorbed into accepted practice today. Every writer of repute in biological fields seeks to explain living forms at any period by delving into those that existed before them, in order to see how the new ones came into existence. In like manner, every writer of repute in sociological fields seeks to explain the social forms of a period by delving into the social organisation that preceded them, and observing the changes that brought into existence the new social form.

The idea of evolution was in the air long before Darwin wrote his book, but he brought it to earth by his observation and comparison of different living forms, and of the biological forms that had existed in past ages. In like manner the idea of Socialism was in the air long before
Marx wrote anything, but it was associated with experimental colonies out of touch with the general conditions of life of the times, Marx brought the idea to earth by his analysis of capitalism and of the forces within it that made for change, the principal of which was an organised and understanding working class. He also brought hope by showing the inevitability of a change from the present sordid system of profit-hunting, into a system where everyone could enjoy the best that life could offer.

In articles in this issue will be found an assessment of the work of both Darwin and Marx, and the effect they have had upon subsequent ideas.

In the early years of the Socialist Party of Great Britain the Darwin controversy was still at white heat. We accepted his theory of evolution and had to defend it from the platforms and in our literature. Now the antagonists have fled the field, the evolutionary theory is generally accepted, and the various religious denominations, which used to be its bitterest opponents, are trying their hardest to digest it into their deluding creeds, just as the economists and historians are trying to digest and demoralize Marxism.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Barking Cough

The Independent reports
As early as 1898, the chief inspector of factories in the UK reported that asbestos had "easily demonstrated" health risks. In Barking itself, alarm bells sounded in 1929 when the medical officer of health wrote in his annual report: "Many people in Barking are suffering from diseases of the lungs due to the inhalation of asbestos dust." By 1945, the medical officer wrote that asbestos was a "deadly and dangerous commodity" that should probably be banned.

Asbestos dust was being inhaled into the lungs where it could lie unnoticed before causing crippling illnesses such lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma which one medical professor has described as "perhaps the most terrible cancer known, in which the decline is the most cruel". Exposure to asbestos is now the biggest killer in the British workforce, killing about 4,000 people every year – more than who die in traffic accidents.The World Health Organisation says asbestos currently kills at least 90,000 workers every year. One report estimated the asbestos cancer epidemic could claim anywhere between five and 10 million lives before it is banned worldwide and exposure ceases.Scars, known as pleural plaques, can be a warning that victims may develop one of the fatal cancers that inhaling the lethal fibres can result in.For 21 years, sufferers of pleural plaques were compensated by their employers for the scars caused by exposure to the deadly fibres, but in 2007 this was overturned by a Law Lords ruling. Politicians and medical experts accuse the Government of pandering to the insurance lobby and claim they are now ignoring crucial new medical evidence which reveals the physical and mental toll of pleural plaques.Those with pleural plaques are 1,000 times more likely to suffer from an asbestos-related cancer than the rest of the population
Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham, said the lack of compensation for pleural plaques sufferers was scandalous. "If that amount of death occurred in any other profession it would be a national scandal," he said. "It's a working-class disease and it doesn't get the attention it should do: it's a life sentence. You've got to think about the corporate interests of insurance companies and compare that with a lagger. There's no equivalent in the power game here."

Cape Asbestos factory in Barking, east London, insisted asbestos was harmless even after the factory closed. Richard Gaze, former chief scientist for Cape Asbestos, defended its record throughout the 1970s until he died of mesothelioma himself, aged 65, in 1982.Geoffrey Tweedale, an asbestos industry expert, said: "No one knows the death toll, but it's possibly in the thousands. Cape never had to release their records." Workers were told that drinking half a pint of milk would prevent illness and were left to toil in the thick dust with no masks. Dust from the building spewed on to the streets from giant fans, leaving cotton wool-like wisps to settle on the streets. The streets "looked like Christmas", residents recall. Children in Northbury School, which was adjacent to the factory, used to gather up this "snow" and throw it at each other. Peter Williams of Field Fisher Waterhouse, solicitors specialising in asbestos disease, said, "I think Cape would have known that asbestos was highly dangerous. From the people we've spoken to that worked in the factory and lived in the surrounding area, no precautions were taken and no one from Cape ever mentioned it was dangerous."

MPs and others will meet government lawyers to press for the controversial 2007 Lords decision on plaques to be challenged. Andrew Dismore MP, who is attempting for a second time to get a bill through the House of Lords which would challenge the decision, said: "It's a manifest injustice. The law treats psychological injury differently from physical injury. The insurers are obviously trying to minimise their loss and the Government also has a potential liability for some of these cases."

more oil wars?


The United States is massively building up its potential for nuclear and non-nuclear strikes in Latin America and the Caribbean by acquiring unprecedented freedom of action in seven new military, naval and air bases in Colombia.And, this being US foreign policy, a tell-tale trail of oil is evident.This from The Independent

The fact that the US gets half its oil from Latin America was one of the reasons the US Fourth Fleet was re-established in the region's waters in 2008. The fleet's vessels can include Polaris nuclear-armed submarines – a deployment seen by some experts as a violation of the 1967 Tlatelolco Treaty, which bans nuclear weapons from the continent. Indications of US willingness to envisage the stationing of nuclear weapons in Colombia are seen as an additional threat to the spirit of nuclear disarmament. After the establishment of the Tlatelolco Treaty in 1967, four more nuclear-weapon-free zones were set up in Africa, the South Pacific, South-east Asia and Central Asia. Between them, the five treaties cover nearly two-thirds of the countries of the world and almost all the southern hemisphere.

new US strategy was clearly set out in May in an enthusiastic US Air Force (USAF) proposal for its military construction programme for the fiscal year 2010. One Colombian air base, Palanquero, was, the proposal said, unique "in a critical sub-region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from... anti-US governments".

The proposal sets out a scheme to develop Palanquero which, the USAF says, offers an opportunity for conducting "full-spectrum operations throughout South America.... It also supports mobility missions by providing access to the entire continent, except the Cape Horn region, if fuel is available, and over half the continent if un-refuelled". ("Full-spectrum operations" is the Pentagon's jargon for its long-established goal of securing crushing military superiority with atomic and conventional weapons across the globe and in space.)Palanquero could also be useful in ferrying arms and personnel to Africa via the British mid-Atlantic island of Ascension, French Guiana and Aruba, the Dutch island off Venezuela. The US has access to them all.The USAF proposal contradicted the assurances constantly issued by US diplomats that the bases would not be used against third countries. These were repeated by the Colombian military to the Colombian congress on 29 July.

Brazil had already expressed its unhappiness at the presence of US naval vessels in its massive new offshore oilfields off Rio de Janeiro, destined soon to make Brazil a giant oil producer eligible for membership in Opec.

The United States depends on oil for more than 40 percent of its primary energy needs.
The US National Security Council in their 1999 report to the White House stated “The US will continue to have a vital interest in ensuring access to foreign oil supplies..."

"When our national security interests are threatened, we will, as America always has, use diplomacy when we can, but force if we must. We will act with others when we can, but alone when we must." Clinton 1996

History teaches us troops could be mobilised overnight when profits are threatened and that deals are only as strong as the paper they are written on when "the greatest material prize in world history" is at stake as the United States State Department once described oil .

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blood for oil

Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens told Congress that U.S. energy companies are "entitled" to some of Iraq's crude because of the large number of American troops that lost their lives fighting in the country.

Boone, speaking to the newly formed Congressional Natural Gas Caucus, complained that the Iraqi government has awarded contracts to foreign companies, particularly Chinese firms, to develop Iraq's vast reserves.

"They're opening them [oil fields] up to other companies all over the world ... We're entitled to it," Pickens said of Iraq's oil. "Heck, we even lost 5,000 of our people, 65,000 injured and a trillion, five hundred billion dollars."

"We leave there with the Chinese getting the oil," he said

As Burns said "The best plans of men and mice often go awry" !!!

Nice ,isn't it?

SOYMB has commented previously upon the price of a life when it comes to issuing much needed drug treatments and we are not at all surprised that the subject has once more returned to the news .The National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has turned down a new drug to combat advanced liver cancer because it is too expensive to justify the modest benefits it provides.Nexavar extends the life of terminal patients by an average of 2.8 months but some have lived for over one year. Between 600 and 700 patients out of the 3,000 a year diagnosed with liver cancer would be eligible for treatment with Nexavar. However the cost to the NHS of treating them would be £9 million a year.

The Guardian editorial explains "Everyone agrees it provides extra months, but it will not be administered – except to the rich – as it fails to provide enough extra months for the money...The sanctity of life is compromised even though there are enough physical resources to give every patient what they need. For drug prices are not governed by scarcity... it's unthinkable that a competitive world would ever unite in the way that would be required to put people before profit. But then isn't it also unthinkable to ask people to accept early death when there could be another way?"

The basic socialist case presented , indeed , but the Guardian declines to take the argument to its full logical conclusion and demand that all the means to life ( food , clothing and shelter) are made freely available to all .

Thursday, November 19, 2009

an anti-capitalist pope ??

After this earlier post which has the Catholic Church praising Marx , and after we have had The Pope saying "The emergencies of famine and the environment demonstrate with growing clarity that the logic of profit, if predominant, increases the disproportion between the rich and the poor and leads to a ruinous exploitation of the planet," he said. "Capitalism should not be considered the only valid model of economic organisation,"

Benedict said today told a United Nations world food summit that "the Earth can sufficiently feed all of its inhabitants" despite the "devastation" caused by global warming, and blamed the "greed" of speculators in cereals markets for aggravating world hunger.

The Pope said that "even if there are some regions where climate change has devastated production, globally speaking there is enough food to satisfy demand now and for the foreseeable future". He added: " show that there is no cause and effect relationship between population growth and hunger, and therefore is another proof of the deplorable trend to destroy food chains for profit". He condemned "greed which causes speculation to rear its head even in the marketing of cereals, as if food were to be treated just like any other commodity."

He still requires a bit more education about the nature of capitalism but a Socialist Standard is on its way to St Peters !!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's Christmas Time!

Christmas Time.

Sorry to bring everybody down; I must ask though: has anything really changed since that Band Aid record was released all those years ago?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Land of Plenty

About 14.6 percent of U.S. households, equal to 49.1 million people, "had difficulty obtaining food for all their members due to a lack of resources" during 2008, up 3.5 percentage from 2007.

"Millions of Americans simply don't have enough money to buy food," said Ross Fraser, spokesman for Feeding America ,a network of more than 200 food banks across the country .

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Man Before His Time

Later this week there will be a meeting
concerning the work and ideas of Gerrard Winstanley. an early advocate of a classless and moneyless society.

Gerrard Winstanley was born at Wigan in 1609. Little is known of his life. After school he went to London to work in the cloth business. Like many others he was ruined in the Civil War and withdrew to the country. Somewhere in the Thames Valley friends gave him a home in return for which he acted as their cattleman.

In 1648 his interest turned to politics and he wrote The New Law of Righteousness, a sort of Communist Manifesto of his day. In 1649-50 he worked and wrote for the Diggers. In 1652 he published The Law of Freedom in a Platform, a call to Cromwell to lay the foundations of a 'communist commonwealth'. In this he sketched a classless society, a blend of the radical democracy of the Levellers, the 'communism' of More's Utopia and his own secularism. Like More he advocated an economy without money, organised around public storehouses to which each would bring the product of his labour and from which each should satisfy his needs. Although his book lacked More's literary imagination, in the history of the development of socialist thought it was more significant, since not only did it spring out of a 'workers' movement, but actually proposed a workable plan. More clearly than any who preceded him, he saw that the source of all exploitation was private property. He said "labour is the source of all wealth and no man ever grew rich save by appropriating the fruits of others' work". He also saw that this exploitation was the source of all oppression and war. Economic inequality degrades those who must submit to it and infests them with a consciousness of their 'predestined' inferiority. The enslaved worker looks upon himself as imperfect and so is "dejected in his spirit".

Although Winstanley was sympathetic to the Levellers, he was not one of them. He did not want peasant ownership but 'community life', by which he meant both team work and 'eating at a common table'.

Although he never quite abandoned the idea of a God, this God bore no resemblance to that of any religion; he described God as follows:

"God is reason. Neither are you to look for God in a place of glory beyond the sun, but within yourself and in every man. He that looks for a God outside himself and worships a God at a distance, worships he knows not what".

He knew organised religion as the instrument of the owning class. In his The Law of Freedom he stated:

"this doctrine (religion) is made a cloak of policy by the subtle elder brother to cheat his simple younger brother of the freedoms of the earth. For saith the elder brother 'The earth is mine, and not yours, brother. You must therefore not work upon it unless you will hire it from me and you must not take the fruits of it unless you will buy them from me by that which I pay for your labour; for if you should do otherwise, God will not love you and you shall not go to heaven when you die but the devil will have you and you must be damned in hell. You must believe what is written and what is told you and if you will not believe, your damnation will be greater'. The younger brother, being weak in spirit and having not a grounded knowledge of creation nor of himself is terrified and lets go his hold in the earth and submits himself to be a slave to his brother for fear of damnation in hell after death and in hopes to get heaven thereby—so his eyes are put out and his reason is blinded.
So that this divining spiritual doctrine is a cheat, for while men are gazing up to heaven, imagining after a happiness or fearing a hell after they are dead, their eyes are put out that they see not what is their birthright and what is to be done by them here on earth while they are living."

Thus, two centuries before Marx, Winstanley said in plain English "religion is the opium of the people".


(Socialist Standard, October 1968)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

hand outs

An Oxford academic , moral philosopher Dr Toby Ord , has promised to give half of his future earnings - up to £1m - to fund the fight against poverty.Ord has also set up a society, called Giving What We Can, to encourage people to give up at least 10% of their salary.He also hopes that those on lower incomes will be inspired to donate.
"I've looked into this and I've found that I can do a tremendous amount of good," Dr Ord told Sky News."I could potentially save about 3,000 lives and also produce a huge amounts of benefits for people who aren't in danger of dying, but are suffering from terrible diseases."

Oh well , if the good professor has the spare cash that he can spread around as he wishes then who are we to mock him but if he has any delusion that by re-distributing poverty it will somehow do little more than alleviate some suffering of a very few then he will be sadly disappointed . Poverty is an inherent part of capitalism and no amount of good intentions and good deeds by well-meaning philanthropists will do anything more than present cosmetic palliatives . The philanthropists are, as always, deluding themselves by thinking that the system can somehow be turned into a society where meaning and genuine collectiveness can flourish. charity, however well-meaning, is no answer . The remedies do not cure the disease,they merely prolong it.

Charity is big business in Britain with , as of March 2006, 167,000 registered charities . In the USA there are 1.3 million charities . 85 percent of the British public give regularly to charities. According to a survey the percentage of volunteers in America is the largest of any country - almost 56 percent. The average hours volunteered per week by an individual is 3.5 hours. According to Charity America, donations to charity for 2002 were $241 billion, 76.3 per cent of this given by individuals.

Humans are endowed with the ability to sympathise and empathise with their fellow humans. Humans derive great pleasure from doing good, are at their best when faced with the worst and will go to extraordinary lengths to help alleviate the suffering of others.

It is the profit system that stands in the way of satisfying human needs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


The share of national wealth spent on wages has been in sharp decline. Two-thirds of national wealth was spent on wages in 1975, but the figure had slumped to 53% now, said the TUC.

The wages of middle income earners had increased by 1.6% a year since 1980, while productivity had grown by 1.9% annually, it was found.Those at the top have seen their earnings grow by as much as 56 per cent.

"The truth is that ordinary families have had their wages squeezed and have had to borrow money which should have been part of the wage packet instead.While the super-rich secured themselves a personal wealth boom on a scale not seen since Dickensian times - a direct result of the rising profits share - those on middle incomes slipped behind in wages and living standards."

As wages fell relative to prices, people have borrowed more to maintain their standard of living, with average household debt growing from 45 per cent in 1980 to 157 per cent in 2007.

Stewart Lansley, author of the study, said: "For the last 30 years Britain's low and middle earners have seen their pay and living conditions stall while the incomes of the affluent, the rich and super-rich have vastly outpaced them.We now have an increasingly unequal society with growing income, wealth and opportunity gaps."

"It is not any amelioration of the conditions of the most miserable that will satisfy us: it is justice to all that we demand. It is not the mere improvement of the social life of our class that we seek, but the abolition of classes and the destruction of those wicked distinctions which have divided the human race into princes and paupers , landlords and labourers , masters and slaves . It is not any patching and cobbling up of the present system we aspire to accomplish , but the annihilation of the system and the substitution , in its stead , of an order of things in which all shall labour and all enjoy , and the happiness of each guarantee the welfare of the entire community."
George Julian Harney , 1850 , Red Republican

Will Hutton tries to defend capitalism

Went to hear Will Hutton speak last night on “Them and Us: how capitalism without fairness is capitalism without a future”. It was a lecture at the LSE in the “Ralph Miliband series on the Future of Global Capitalism” (yes, he is related to the two Labour Cabinet ministers; he was their father though he’d probably disown their political views). Former Guardian and Observer journalist Hutton has converted himself into a left-of-centre political philosopher. He started by claiming that all humans have an in-built concept of fairness and that present-day capitalism didn’t live up to it.

The whole idea of a “fair capitalism” is of course a contradiction in terms since capitalism is based on the exploitation of those forced to work for a wage or salary. And as the chairman of the meeting pointed out, even if humans did have an “instinct” for fairness this tells us nothing about what any particular group of humans considers to be fair. In fact Hutton himself criticised the arrogance of the “financial oligarchs” (the “Them” of the title of the talk) for considering themselves to be the “deserving rich” and that it was therefore unfair that they should be taxed and not be allowed big bonuses.

He’s one of the “blame the bankers” school. His version of a “fair capitalism” is one where the banks are broken up into smaller units and where the state intervenes to ensure highly competitive markets so that no enterprise or non-financial entrepreneur gets too big an income for too long. Their profits would be fair because they would have been earned - they would be getting “due deserts for discretionary effort”. He claimed that the “early Marx” supported this and proceeded to quote from his Critique of the Gotha Programme - which was in written when Marx was 57 and eight years before he died. An elementary mistake for a would-be political philosopher who wants to be taken seriously.

Hutton’s claim was that Marx thought that “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” would not be realisable for “decades and decades and decades” and that in the meantime people should be rewarded “according to their contribution”. It is true that Marx did envisage, had socialism been established in 1875, that there couldn’t have been distribution according to needs and went along with the view that in the meantime there’d have to be distribution according to hours worked. But this was because he considered that the means of production weren’t then developed enough, not because this was what humans instinctively considered to be fair. And there is no evidence that he thought such a system would have to exist for a hundred years. As a matter of fact, that was Stalin’s distortion of the Critique of the Gotha Programme when in the 1930s the rulers of state-capitalist Russia officially relegated free distribution according to needs to the distant future and insisted on payment according to work done and praised piecework and high salaries for managers (and themselves). But of course Hutton wouldn’t have wanted to call in Stalin to defend his position.

If this is the best that left-of-centre champions of a reformed capitalism can come up with, it confirms that it’s just not possible to put up a credible intellectual defence of capitalism. It’s the idea of a fair capitalism, not of a socialist society where people would have free access to what they need, that’s unrealistic.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

wasted lives , wasting away

A third of deaths in children under five in those countries in the developing world are linked to poor diet, a report by Unicef suggests.More than one third of children who die from pneumonia, diarrhea and other illnesses could have survived had they not been undernourished. Those who survive often suffer from poorer physical health throughout their lives and from a diminished capacity to learn and to earn a decent income.
"They become trapped in an intergenerational cycle of ill health and poverty," UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said.

The 119-page report, titled "Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition," provides the most recent health and nutrition data.It also provides information that demonstrates how improving child nutrition is entirely feasible.

195 million children - one in three - have stunted growth.

An estimated 129 million children are underweight.

Eighty percent of the developing world's stunted children live in 24 countries, including India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Vietnam, Sudan, Kenya, Mexico and South Africa. The 18 countries with the highest prevalence of stunting among children under 5 years old include Afghanistan, Yemen, Guatemala, Timor-Leste, Burundi, Madagascar, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Zambia. The prevalence rate in these 18 countries is 45 percent or more, with the rate in nine of these countries topping 50 percent.

But little money has gone into ensuring kids in the developing world get enough food, compared to high-profile problems like AIDS. Though AIDS causes about 2 percent of all child deaths, it gets more than 20 cents of every dollar spent on public health.UNICEF was unable to say how much it spends on nutrition. But last year, its sister agency, the World Health Organization, spent about six times as much on AIDS in Africa as it did on nutrition.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

israel - the intolerant nation

SOYMB often accuses the media of simply reporting only the news that our masters of the capitalist class wishes us to know . Once again its come to our notice that although reported in the Israeli press this blogger is still to see this item highlighted in the British newspapers .

Israel dismally fails the requirements of a tolerant pluralistic society, according to a new report from the U.S. State Department. Despite boasting religious freedom and protection of all holy sites, Israel falls short in tolerance toward minorities, equal treatment of ethnic groups, openness toward various streams within society, and respect for holy and other sites. The comprehensive report, written by the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, says Israel discriminates against groups including Muslims, Jehova's Witnesses, Reform Jews, Christians, women and Bedouin.
The report says that the 1967 law on the protection of holy places refers to all religious groups in the country, including in Jerusalem, but
"the government implements regulations only for Jewish sites. Non-Jewish holy sites do not enjoy legal protection under it because the government does not recognize them as official holy sites."
At the end of 2008, for example, all of the 137 officially recognized holy sites were Jewish. Moreover, Israel issued regulations for the identification, preservation and guarding of Jewish sites only. Many Christian and Muslim sites are said to be neglected, inaccessible or at risk of exploitation by real estate entrepreneurs and local authorities.

The report makes it clear that practices that have become routine in Israel are considered unacceptable in enlightened countries and should be corrected.
Naturally , to justify the support of the Israeli policies against the Palestinians it is necessary to scape-goat the Palestinians and Hamas as the "bad guys" and present Israel as the shining beacon of "western" democracy and values .

Israeli settler radio stations often depicted Arabs as subhuman and called for Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank. Some of this rhetoric contained religious references. Jewish settlers, acting either alone or in groups, assaulted Palestinians and destroyed Palestinian property. Most instances of violence or property destruction reportedly committed against Palestinians did not result in arrests or convictions during the reporting period.Palestinian media published and broadcast material criticizing the Israeli occupation, but during the reporting period official PA media contained almost no derogatory statements about Israel and Jews. (Unofficial Palestinian media frequently published and broadcast anti-Semitic content. Rhetoric by Palestinian terrorist groups included expressions of anti-Semitism, as did sermons by some Muslim religious leaders carried on Palestinian television)

The full report can be read here

What class are you in?

Chris Harman, one of the leaders of the SWP died last week. He had a mistaken idea of who the “working class” were.

What class you are in is defined by the position in which you stand with regard to the means of production. In capitalist society there are two basic classes: those who own and control the means of production and those who own no productive resources apart from their ability to work.

The working class in capitalist society is made up of all those who are obliged through economic necessity to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary. If this is your position then you are a member of the working class. The job you do and the status it might have, the pay you receive and how you chose to spent it, are irrelevant as long as you are dependent on working for a wage or salary in order to live.

In Britain over 90 percent of the population are members of the working class. Of the rest only about 2-3 per cent are members of the exploiting, capitalist class who enjoy a privileged non-work income derived from the surplus value produced by the working class over and above what they are paid as wages and salaries. The others are the self-employed – small shopkeepers, independent workers, professional people – whose income is derived from selling some service or other directly to the consumer rather than from selling their labour power to an employer. And many of these can be assimilated, in terms of income, to the ordinary worker.

What this means is that essentially we are living in a two-class society of capitalists and workers. But what about the “middle class”? The existence of such a middle class is one of the greatest myths of the twentieth century. In the last century, the term was used by the up-and-coming industrial section of the capitalist class in Britain to describe themselves; they were the class between the landed aristocracy (who at that time dominated political power) and the working class. Eventually, however, the middle class of industrial capitalists replaced the landed aristocracy as the ruling class and the two classes merged into the capitalist class we know today. In other words, the 19th century middle class became part of the upper class and disappeared as a “middle” class.

The term, however, lived on and came to be applied to civil servants, teachers and other such white-collar workers. But there was no justification for this, as such people were clearly workers just as much obliged by economic necessity to sell their ability to work as were factory workers, miners, engine drivers and dockers. The only difference was the type of job they were employed to do – and a certain amount of snobbery attached to it. .

It is not just the Daily Mail persists in believing that there is a middle class. So does the SWP which has come forward with a theory of the “new middle class”. This “class” is said to be composed of higher-grade white collar workers and to make up between 10 and 20 percent of the workforce (The Changing Working Class by SWP leaders Alex Callinicos and Chris Harman, p. 37). The reason given for excluding these people from the working class is that they exercise some degree of control over the use of the means of production and/or authority over other workers; in short, because they perform some managerial role.

To adopt this view is to abandon the relationship-to-the-means-of-production theory of class for one based on occupation. Socialists have always maintained that, as far as the actual production of wealth is concerned, the capitalist class are redundant. They play no part in production, which is run from top to bottom by hired workers of one sort or another. This means that all job, including those concerned with managing production and/or disciplining other members of the working class, are performed by members of the working class. To exclude from the working class workers with no productive resources of their own who are paid, among other things, to exercise authority of behalf of the employing class over other workers is to give more importance to the job done (occupation) than to the economic necessity of having to sell labour power for a wage or salary which for Marxists is the defining feature of the working class.

Of course not everybody who receives an income in the form of a salary is necessarily a member of the working class. Some capitalists chose to manage their own businesses and pay themselves a “salary” for doing this. Although a part of this might correspond to the price of labour power (the part corresponding to what the capitalist would have to pay to hire a professional manager to do the same job), usually most of it is only a disguised way of distributing some of the surplus value at the expense of the other shareholders. What makes a salary-earner a member of the working class is not the mere receipt of a salary but being economically dependent on it for a living.

Having to work for an employer was not only how Marx defined the working class. It is also, and more importantly, the view of many workers who have never heard of Marx. When asked, as in a number of recent radio broadcasts, a surprising – and pleasing – number have replied that anyone who has to work for a living is a worker. Which makes them more sensible than both the Daily Mail and the SWP.


Monday, November 09, 2009

20 Years after the wall fell

No doubt the media will soon be making a lot of noise about how the Berlin Wall and the barbed wire which separated the then G.D.R., Czechoslovakia and Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Romania from Western Europe were torn down and celebration 20 years of “freedom” for the citizens of the above places.

The Thatchers of this world will no doubt want to milk as much credit as possible for having won the cold war. The truth of course lies somewhere else. The changes were bought about by and large by Revolution, a mixture of reform from above and revolution from below.

The term joint venture had existed for some time before, Fiat in particular were keen to manufacture some of their cars in Poland where the wages were considerably lower than in Italy and any workers thinking of striking could be intimidated much more openly there. This is just one example there are many more.

Western Capitalists saw half a continent where they could profitably unload their shoddy trinkets and Eastern State Capitalists saw the chance to make them selves even richer. Guarding and maintaining their intimidating borders to prevent Eastern Europeans fleeing one corrupt system to “escape” to another was an expensive matter and when the World Bank made it a condition of helping out Hungary that all citizens should have access to a passport and foreign travel it was logical that barbed wire borders were no longer needed. Capitalists to the last they even cut vast sections of the wire into small strips and sold them off as souvenirs from the cold war.

After East Germans flocked to Hungary for their holidays to take advantage of this loop hole metaphorically and literally the end was in sight. What frightened the East German ruling classes most was not the mass exodus, (after all those too old or ill to work had always been pushed sometimes unwillingly through the door to the west) but the demonstrators who bore placards “wir bleiben hier” – We are staying here. Finally the changes came so quickly that even the multinationals of the planet like Coca Cola were not quick enough to grab advertising time between the announcement of the opening of the Berlin Wall and the gates being opened.

It would be unkind to ignore the role the Polish workforce played, organising itself into the Trade Union Solidarity and standing defiant to opposition and intimidation they showed the way.

It would be churlish to say that in reality there are no changes; even the so called “freedom” of the Eastern Europeans to holiday on crowded Spanish beaches instead of crowded Bulgarian ones was progress for them. Even the dropping of the world Socialism from the full names of their countries has to be seen as progress from our point of view, e.g. the true name should have been Union of State Capitalist Republics in the case of USSR.

The bosses, except for the despicable Ceaucescu in Romania stayed the same and just wore a different hat – no where was this more apparent than in former Czechoslovakia where in theory everyone received shares in the organisation where they worked only to find in a very short time 10 percent of the population owner all the shares again. In reality they have swapped a maximum security jail for the relative freedom of an “open prison” where to a certain extent they can chose who exploits them.

The transitions came so smoothly precisely because the two so-called diametrically opposed systems were for all intents and purposes the same. The ruling classes had the embarrassing task of explaining how the same soldiers of the Polish, Czechoslovak, Hungarian etc armies who were our mortal enemies during the cold war were now our best friends when they joined NATO. In some cases not even the uniforms changed. Those non-believers like myself who enjoyed Bob Dylan’s song “With God on our side” could be excused a wry chuckle.

We should stand solid with our brothers and sisters from the East, even learn a little from them how to organise and throw off their chains, what we should not do is stop when we have changed one set of owners for another. There is a whole planet which should be the common property of us all, don’t stop until we get it.