Thursday, June 28, 2007

World War One - exploding a popular myth

Gavrilo Princip is arrested after fatally woulding Archduke Franz Ferdinand - an action wrongly attributed to the cause of World War One

Contrary to popular belief, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand 93 years ago today was NOT the cause of World War I. The Socialist position was summarised well in an edition of the Party's journal marking the 50th anniversary of the world's first Great War:

"..The origins ..lay in the fact that the nineteenth century industrial military and naval predominance of British and French capitalism was being challenged by the rapid expansion of Germany. As German industry grew, German production and exports were catching up and the German navy had grown to a size and striking power comparable with the British.

After the German annexation of the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine in 1871, the war was opened for the link-up of Lorraine ore with Westphalian coal, and Germany's pig-iron production soon jumped ahead. In 1870-74 it was 1,800,000 tons a year against Britain's 6,400,000, but by 1908 German production was far ahead. The same was true of steel and the German mercantile shipping fleet was being rapidly expanded.

A warning had been given by the Commission on the Depression of Trade in its Report as early as 1886 about German competition in world markets:-

A reference to the reports from abroad will show that in every quarter of the world the perseverance and enterprise of the Germans are making themselves felt. In actual production of commodities we have now few, if any, advantages over them, and in a knowledge of the markets of the world, a desire to accommodate themselves to local tastes and idiosyncrasies, a determination to obtain a footing wherever they can and a tenacity in maintaining it, they appear to be gaining ground upon us.

An area of acute conflict was in the field of colonies. Britain and France, along with Belgium, had been first in this field. Britain in India and Asia and all of them in Africa. Germany, the late comer, seeking to enter and expand in Africa, more and more threatened the future of those who were there first and had taken most of the profitable areas. When Germany showed in 1911, by sending a gunboat to Agadir, that she intended to get a foothold in Morocco, Mr. Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, at once reacted with a speech threatening war. This incident had the effect of bringing French and British capitalism nearer together in mutual self-protection.

One of the more dramatic forms of the conflict was the German plan for a Berlin to Baghdad railway, a counter-blast to the British scheme of the Cape to Cairo line. The German plan involved pushing Russian influence out of the Balkans, cutting Russia off from the Mediterranean by control of the Dardenelles, and in opening up a way for Germany to expand towards the Persian Gulf and India.

The 1914 war did not start overnight through an assassin's bullets; it was the outcome of years of conflicting capitalist interests" (Socialist Standard, August 1964).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The UN - Happy Birthday. 62 today!

The United Nations is sixty-two years old, but should have been pensioned off years ago. Those present at the birth were naive in the extreme for thinking that in signing the charter they would come within light years of saving "succeeding generations from the scourge of war." Surely, even an historian such as Simon Sebag Montefiore can appreciate that there have been many more wars since 1945 than he has fingers and toes!

Socialists knew at the birth of the UN, or rather its earlier incarnation, the League of Nations, shortly after the 'war to end all wars', that as an agency for bringing peace and prosperity to all it was doomed to failure, because:

"...the 'League' is a mere phantasm, a spineless, parchment entity which can have no power or influence in the real world - the world of strife for economic interests." (Socialist Standard, July 1919)

Fifty years ago we repeated this fact, one which "most politicians, British and foreign, have always been well aware of...But politicians, if they are to keep their jobs, must profess to have an answer. After each world war the working class has looked to its "leaders" for a scheme to prevent the next one. No politician in these circumstances could hope to win votes without some solution to offer..." (Socialist Standard, February 1957)

Just over ten years ago we asked:

"Is it irony, or just plain coincidence, that the world's top five arms suppliers (USA, Britain, France, China and Russia) just happen to be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council? Indeed, does this fact not make a mockery of any pretensions they have of proving the world with 'security'?"

Adding: "Just how secure the world really is can be judged by the fact that there have been over 300 conflicts since the establishment of the UN Security Council after world War Two and that 30 still rage and that more are threatened."

The article concluded:

"Perhaps then, the "Insecurity Council" would be a more fitting title for the UN's five most important members, as "peace" is merely preparation for war under capitalism. Fifty million killed in wars since the foundation of the UN are testament to this." (Socialist Standard, May 1996)

Not until we win the war to end all wars, the class war, we will have the possibility to employ the UN's framework, in a world without nations, to, as the Charter puts it, "...plan together so that everyone would have a fair [self-defined] share of the good things of life."

Oliver in Blunderland

In a recent speech Tory MP and would-be intellectual Oliver Letwin – his last brilliant idea was the poll tax – ventured to discuss Marx and Marxism. After mocking Gordon Brown for mouthing sounds such as “post neo-classical endogamous growth theory” he himself offered an alternative set of sounds in “shift the locus of debate from an economo-centric paradigm to a socio-centric paradigm”, and continued:

“It all goes back to Marx. Before Marx, politics was multi-dimensional – constitutional, social, environmental as well as economic. But Marx changed all that. The real triumph of Marxism consisted in the way that it defined the preoccupations not only of its supporters but also of its opponents. After Marx, socialists defended socialism and free marketeers defended capitalism. For both sides, the centrepiece of the debate was the system of economic management” (Daily Telegraph, 10 May).

Marx did argue that the key issue in politics ought to be the ownership and control of the means of wealth-production, but unfortunately the actual debate in the 20th century was not between socialism (common ownership) and capitalism (sectional ownership). It was merely over the best way to manage capitalism: through state ownership and control or by leaving things to the free play of competing, profit-seeking private enterprises.

This debate, says Letwin, is now over:

“Since Thatcher, and despite recent recurrences of something like full-blooded socialism is some parts of Latin America, the capitalist/socialist debate has in general ceased to dominate modern politics. From Beijing to Brussels, the free market has won the battle of economic ideas”.

In other words, except for Chavez we’re all pro-capitalists now. We have, claims Letwin, “entered a post-Marxist era”.

He is assuming that socialism and government ownership are the same thing and that Marx favoured government ownership, and concluded that anyone favouring government ownership was a Marxist. Both premises and the conclusion are wrong.

That government ownership is socialism is a popular misconception and, to be honest, is how the word “socialism” has come to be used. But it has never been accepted by Marxian socialists, who have always drawn a distinction between state capitalism (nationalisation by a capitalist government) and socialism.

Nationalisation has been carried out by all sorts of governments, both in Britain and in other countries. The Post Office became a government monopoly in Britain in 1680. A Tory government nationalised the telegraph system while successive Liberal and Tory government nationalised the telephone network. An Act of 1844, piloted through by Gladstone, provided for the nationalisation of the railways if need be. In France cigarette production was a government monopoly and in Prussia the railways were government-owned. So, on Letwin’s logic, Napoleon, Gladstone and Bismarck must have been Marxists.

Marx was always clear that socialism as such had nothing to do with government ownership of capitalist industry. It was a new social system where the means of production would belong to the whole community – not the state, which as an instrument of minority class rule, would disappear – and where there would be production to satisfy people’s needs not for sale and profit, and so where there’d be no money, no banks, nor working for wages.

Socialism in this sense or capitalism should have been the burning issue of the 20th century but, as stated, unfortunately it wasn’t. Far from entering "a post-Marxist era” we are still in a “pre-Marxist era” where politics has yet to be what Marx wanted: a political struggle by the class of wage and salary workers to win control of political power with a view to establishing the common ownership of the means of production by the whole people.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Are You a Human or a Robot?

Do you too get annoyed at unsolicited and unwelcome calls from telemarketers? Not only do they call at the most inconvenient moments. They always start with a tedious verification of your identity, so it takes a while before you’re sure what kind of call it is.

Unless, that is, you interrupt and ask: “Excuse me, are you an advertisement?” If you’re a Brit they probably won’t understand the question because you’ve forgotten to stress the third syllable instead of the second. But even if they do understand you won’t get a straight answer. They are following a prepared script that doesn’t make provision for such impertinent interruptions.

Anyway, by this time you know it isn’t a long-lost friend or relative trying to trace you. The easiest thing is to hang up. That’s what I did – usually.

Unless I happened to be in an especially irritable mood. Then I would tell the hapless telemarketer off for invading my privacy, demand an immediate apology, and urge him or her to stop bothering people. I might even inquire: “Are you a human or a robot?” Reactions varied. The most common one was to terminate the call. Sometimes the caller would turn nasty. Once the poor woman at the other end was clearly upset.

That stopped me short. I really didn’t want to upset or antagonize anyone. After all, they were only members of the working class trying to earn a living by selling their labor power – their talking power in this case. They were not robots, but neither were they allowed to be fully human. They were robotized, alienated human beings. One man said: “I’m doing my job. If you can get me another job I’ll give it up.” I reflected that it was largely a matter of luck that I wasn’t in the same plight myself.

Since then I’ve tried not to be too rude to telemarketers. On occasions I’ve been quite nice. But that too is problematic. You see, even when I’m trying to be nice I can’t bring myself to stick to the script. Once I made a joke about the spiel. The talk-seller laughed and responded in kind. That was pleasant for us both, but if a monitor had been listening in she would have got into trouble for abandoning the script. And it would have been my fault.

I decided that I did, after all, want to complain. But I would direct my complaint higher up. I would call the company CEO – or, failing that, the marketing director. At home. At 3 am.

But I got no further than the telemarketer’s immediate supervisor, who adamantly refused to put me in touch with anyone above her. Those responsible for bothering so many people make damn sure they don’t get bothered themselves – the cowardly, hypocritical wretches!

Well, here’s my new line. “I don’t like getting your call, but rest assured I understand your position. You don’t really want to bother strangers all day and endlessly repeat this crap, but you can’t find a better way of earning a living. I deeply sympathize.” I wonder what response that will get. An eloquent silence, I expect. Got to stick to the script.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Howard, a National Disaster and the Solution to the Aboriginal Question

So, that most magnanimous of White Supremacists John Howard is at last going to take an interest and solve the problem that is disgracing Australia in the eyes of the world (BBC World News 21.06.2007) – the collectively degenerate behavior of the collectively degenerate non-people known as Aboriginals. Their behavior is quite unacceptable to the Leader and by taking matters away from the government of the Northern Territories he has branded them as incapable of dealing with the problem posed to Australia’s image by alcohol, drug, solvent and child abusing “Blacks”. How will the far-sighted Howard achieve this solution? Why, by the simple expedient of banning sales of alcohol for six months and giving every aboriginal child a medical. A solution so obvious that it’s a miracle no one thought of it before. What a decisive, insightful Leader Howard is, a true successor to that long line of decisive, insightful and yes, humane Leaders of that so-called Rainbow Nation – Australia.

That a culture which had developed and thrived over a period of 40,000 years is in such dire circumstances as to come to the notice of, and require the attention of the Leader is a tragedy for its people and a cause of everlasting shame to their colonial masters. The BBC reported Leader Howard’s initiative in a positive light, totally failing to focus on any of the contributing factors and merely portraying Aboriginals as dissolute and irresponsible. It was much more important to show the Leader patronising the natives whilst clutching his bottle of mineral water.

The repression, the separate development, the isolation, the suppression of opportunity, the suppression of culture, the enforced “invisibility”, even, in the not so distant past, the murder of these non-people by “Big Game Hunters” goes or went largely unreported either inside or outside of Australia and is a measure of the worth given to these people by the capitalist system. In this system the only people of value are the Western type consumers, just as long as they keep consuming; all of the rest are either of some limited labour value or else surplus to requirements.

Australia’s indigenous people are in the latter category, otherwise how else to explain that a six month prohibition on alcohol and a medical examination of children (presumably to establish whether there has been any physical/sexual abuse so that the all-caring state can take them into protective custody) is deemed sufficient to reverse the collapse of Aboriginal society. Addressing the root causes of this society’s problems would expose the institutionalised racism that is endemic in the country and its system, and no decent, upright Australian Leader wants that, do they?

Would 80% of children with potentially blinding trachoma be acceptable in Western type consumer society? Is it acceptable that diseases like diabetes and rheumatic fever, which was brought under control in the slums of the UK a hundred years ago, still affect a quarter of the adult Aboriginal population?

Aboriginals are 2% of the population yet account for 90% of overcrowded homes and a third of the prisoners in Rockhampton Jail. Perhaps that is that acceptable?

The Federal Government spends about 25% less on health per head of the Aboriginal population compared with the rest of the population and 20 cents compared with each dollar spent under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Is that acceptable?

The life expectancy of Aborigines is up to 25 years less than whites. Wars apart, Australia has the distinction of having the lowest life expectancy rate among its indigenous peoples of any country in the world. Is that acceptable?

Howard, the magnanimous Leader whose first act on coming to office in 1996 was to wipe A$400 million from the budget of the ‘Aboriginal industry’, because, he claimed, ”political correctness had gone too far.” This was announced in a speech in Queensland, a state where historic racism is so entrenched that it elected Pauline Hanson as its representative to the Federal Parliament on an anti-Aboriginal, anti-immigrant racist ticket; the Leader, at home amongst his own kind! Is that acceptable?

The tragedy is not just for the “Aboriginal” peoples of this world, be they in Australia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guatemala, Palestine, USA, Sudan, Cambodia, it is also the tragedy of the majority non-people of the whole planet. Massage a few statistics here and there and you have the lot of most of humankind. There is an answer to all this injustice, you know it and I know it – Socialism, real Socialism, a Socialist society based upon the values of the Global Movement that holds each human being to be of equal value. That so few have a handle on what we really stand for is not just our problem, it is a problem for all of humanity – look around you. Look at what the Masters of the Universe (the Capitalists) are doing to us. Is that acceptable?

Are you angry? I know I am, but each of us needs to get beyond that emotion and do something, anything that will make change possible. As socialists we must spread the message, we must “make” more socialists. Unless we help others to understand what we already understand we fail – there is no other way to describe it. Did YOU make another socialist today? This week? This month? THIS YEAR? Did you actually talk to someone today about Socialism? If the answer is no, then you are not angry enough and THAT really is unacceptable.

We are all people; there are no non-people, despite what the “Howards” of this world say, despite what the system teaches you and despite whatever comfort bribes the system gives you. Passion is a weapon, use it. The Capitalists do, every day and in every way. Australian Aboriginals had their Charlie Perkins, American Blacks their Martin Luther King, outspoken cage rattlers and comfort zone intruders prepared to make themselves heard. Worldwide we activists are few, but we each know that there is a massive groundswell of support for what we stand for – people are just looking for a few candle holders to light the way and that groundswell will become a tsunami of change for the better. Vanguards are anathema to true Socialists, but someone has to pass the torch of knowledge on, will you commit yourself? Will you be one of the anonymous champions who bequeathed a better world to all of the children and the non-people of our planet, who gave that little bit extra that made the difference? It seems to me that Socialism (and I understand the contradiction) is an individual thing; we can only be responsible for our own actions or inactions. By spreading the “word” we each create the micro-conditions that at some point will meld together to bring about the society we seek, a society of equals with justice and fair shares for all. This is our challenge, to show people what we stand for in such a way that they want to join us and make a difference too. Resolutions at conference are all very well, but commitments to spread the word are where it’s really at. Is that acceptable?


Find out more about how you can get involved in organizing for socialism by clicking on the link.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Profit System Must Go

Things are not produced today to meet people’s needs. They are produced to make a profit. And that’s the cause of the problems we face.

Under the profit system profits always come first, before providing basic services like health care and transport, before improving conditions at work, and before protecting the environment. At the same time it encourages a get-rich-quick climate where competition to make money takes over from cooperation and community values. Everything is reduced to its cash value and people are judged, not for what they are but by how much money they have.

Look at the results. The health service is crumbling. The transport system is in chaos. Schools have become swot shops. Pollution is rife and the environment under attack. The poor have got poorer. Begging and homelessness have spread. Crime is rising. Racism is reviving. Business culture reigns supreme, with “market forces”, “competition” and “profit” as the buzz-words. Life is becoming more and more commercialized and empty. People are becoming isolated from each other, with drug abuse and mental illness on the increase. The standard of living may be going up, but the standard of life is going down. Under the profit system production is in the hands of profit-seeking business enterprises - some state-owned, but mostly private - all competing to maximise the rate of return on the money invested in them. Decisions as to what to produce and how much, and how and where to produce it, are made not in response to people’s needs but in response to market forces. For a business, its profits are the difference between its sales receipts and its production costs. Market forces act on both. Through competition between different firms, they force each firm to seek to maximise its sales and to minimise its costs.

Both these have serious consequences for the way we live.

Maximising sales turns society into one huge marketplace. Advertising, the hard sell and swindles to trap the unwary have all grown over the years, and are getting worse. At one time television was free from commercial ads. Not any longer. Then came commercial radio. Then came the pressure to allow Sunday selling, so that buying and selling now goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All this represents a commercialisation and a degradation of our lives. Minimising costs so as to maximise profits has equally harmful consequences. When a firm has a choice between two materials or two methods of production, one cheaper and the other safer or less damaging to the environment, it has to chose the first. Otherwise its production costs would be higher and it would lose out in the battle of competition. Its profits would be less and it would eventually risk being driven out of business altogether. The health and welfare of the workforce and the effects on the environment take second place. That's what minimising costs means. This why at work we suffer speed-up, pain, stress, boredom, overwork and accidents. This is why we have to work long hours, shiftwork and nightwork. This is why the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe are all polluted. This is why the Earth's non-renewal mineral and energy resources are plundered. This is why natural balances are upset and the environment destroyed.

The profit system can't help doing this. It's the only way it can work. Which is why it must go.


Further reading:

  • From Capitalism To Socialism
  • Thursday, June 21, 2007

    Shoot the Bad Guys – Or Change the System?

    My starting point is an article from The Guardian (June 5) by George Monbiot about the corporate promotion of baby formula in the Philippines. Most Filipinos lack access to clean water, so the widespread use of formula instead of breastfeeding kills thousands of children every year. The Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), representing the manufacturers and backed by the US government and Chamber of Commerce, has led a campaign to thwart an attempt by the Philippines government to restrict the promotion of formula, using lobbying, diplomatic pressure, legal action, and (apparently) targeted assassinations.

    For more detail please read the article, together with readers’ responses. It is an excellent article, unusually forthright for the generally wishy-washy Guardian. But I do want to raise some problems.

    It is a pity that discussion is so easily diverted into the channel of national hatred or, to be specific, anti-Americanism. “America Puts Profit Above Babies’ Lives” – runs the headline in the newspaper (though not on the website). Of course, the American government and American business do put profit above babies’ lives (and above everything else). So do government and business in other countries. But ordinary American readers are likely to feel that an accusation against “America” is aimed at them too. “You British are just as bad!” – is their natural response.

    In fact, nothing could be more irrelevant than the nationality of a profiteer. The first target of activists opposing the promotion of baby formula in underdeveloped countries was Nestlé – a Swiss company. The members that PHAP represents include European, Australian, and Japanese as well as American companies. They are equally ruthless.

    Another thing that makes me uneasy is the moralistic nature of the agitation against “baby killers” and the extreme emotion it arouses. Extreme emotion paralyzes thought and generates futile fantasies of revenge. “The world right now,” one reader writes, “needs another Revolution like the Bastille when all these greedy, unprincipled, corrupt and criminal politicians/industrialists are rounded up and are summarily executed.” Another reader replies: “Please, do try to understand the ‘root cause’ of the problem, in which we ALL play a part (including you on the Left), before shooting anyone.”

    Indeed, this remedy has already been tried in various countries (France, Russia, China, etc.) and there are still plenty of bad guys around, so why should another lot of executions do the trick? The really clever bad guys survive such upheavals by joining the winning side in good time. It is mainly the small fry who get shot.

    Most of the people involved in making and selling harmful products are not intrinsically evil. The saleswoman dressed as a nurse to sell more baby formula and earn her commission, the Chinese tobacco farmer and the Afghan poppy grower, the armaments worker making landmines that will maim and kill children in theaters of war – they are all doing immoral things. But they have to make a living somehow. They have to feed and clothe their own children. Some are lucky enough to come by a livelihood that allows them the luxury of a clean conscience (more or less). Some are not so lucky.
    There are systemic forces that place people in such excruciating dilemmas, penalizing altruistic impulses while rewarding ruthless selfishness, inexorably turning good guys into bad guys. If we can understand these forces, we can devise a way of freeing people to heed the voice of conscience and freely contribute their talents to society, without thereby jeopardizing their families’ survival and wellbeing.


    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    The New "New World"

    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

    The famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty that has greeted arrivals to New York Harbour since 1903 is from another era, when this newest of capitalist nations would (at least in theory) let anybody in.

    But capitalism has moved on, and instead of a shining beacon the Statue holds a bio-metric ID scanner and mass spectrometer. The developed “New World” has a different slogan now. Not so pithy perhaps but more relevant to these more selective times: “Bring me your wealthy tourists, skilled immigrants and cheap labour . . . as long as we can decide when to send them back”.

    But while doors close to humans, its open all hours for capital. With Manhattan bogged down in some pesky restrictions caused by something called Enron a few years back, London is fast becoming the biggest finance centre in the world, removing any sort of restriction on, or regulatory scrutiny of, the movement of capital.

    In contrast the UK government is looking to upgrade and formalise its strategy for the movement of human resources (or what you and I might call humans) with its new “Managing Global Migration” strategy. This is designed to promote Britain as a “migration destination” with an international marketing campaign designed to attract businesses and people with the “right skills”.

    Qualifications and entrepreneurship skills count for most. The government has already unveiled a complex points system whereby if you are seeking asylum because you have been persecuted, tortured, raped or had members of your family murdered in front of you, you can automatically qualify for almost as many points as if you had an HNC in Berry-Picking, or a degree in Dishwashing.

    In tandem with this is the move to define “Britishness”. While this writer is in complete favour of having a “British Day” (I'd wear a Pearly King outfit if it meant another day off work) the recently proposed Britishness test complete with examination is beyond mockery. Here are some example questions: What is the Queen's official role and what ceremonial duties does she have? How is political debate reported? Are newspapers free to publish opinions or do they have to remain impartial? I suspect I might not give the answers they are looking for.

    But behind the strategy is a recognition that the global market holds all the strings and is beyond regulation. Governments control labour resources in the same way that they “control” interest rates (ie they don't). They must expend vast sums if they are to have any hope of effectively securing borders, control immigration, issue ID cards. As with so many issues, politicians are slowly realising that governments must accommodate to capitalism with regard to migration.

    The world over, workers must do what they can individually and collectively to survive and resist capitalism. In many parts of the world that means escaping the tyranny of political terror or economic poverty. Politically however, workers should try and resist taking sides in the battles of the economic blocs who just happen to be named on the front of your passport. Instead workers should look beyond the glowing rhetoric written on the Statue of Liberty, the bureaucracy of passports, and the inanity of “Britishness” Tests, and recognise the reality that WORKERS HAVE NO COUNTRY.

    The world socialist movement didn't get its name for nothing: unique amongst all political parties left and right we have no national axe to grind. We side with no particular state, no government, no currency. We have no time for nationalisation or privatisation, for border controls or for immigration incentives. We don't make demands of our national boss class that they increase employment locally, or export unemployment overseas. We reject the selective immigration restrictions of the early 21st Century just as we rejected the “huddled masses” rhetoric of the early 20th Century.

    We oppose the global employers' class whether represented by republican or democrat, whether Palestinian Authority or Israeli government, whether Muslim or secular, and whether Christian “socialist” or state “socialist”. Our comrades in Africa put the same arguments as those in Europe. North American socialists and South American socialists are in agreement. The World Socialist Movement may use different languages, but it genuinely - and uniquely - speaks with one voice.

    If you are interested in joining us, get in contact with us . Wherever you are on the planet, we currently have a few vacancies for new members at a branch near you !


    Monday, June 18, 2007

    Looking After No. 1

    While the G8 leaders were all Heiligendammed by Bob Geldof's recent expletives, we should ask if his anger over the failure of the G8 to make any real progress on world hunger is really aimed at the right target. This writer has no illusions as to what sort of dysfunctional, arrogant and patronising sociopaths probably reach the top table at the G8 shindig, but even if they were not all (in Geldof's words) “fucking creeps", would it make any real difference ? After all they still have a global economic system to serve that is united in little but the supposedly immutable law that wealth (including of course, food) should only be created where it can ultimately turn a profit for its owner.

    Geldof's outburst will doubtless help retain some of his credibility with frustrated poverty campaigners - at least until Japan in 2008, when the next AGM of Planet Earth plc occurs. Crucially, despite all the bleeps in his post-G8 press conference he seems happy to come back for more, on the basis that "there isn't another option". Needless to say it shouldnt be forgotten that the world unarguably has the technical capacity to easily feed many times its population (see 'Socialism would solve global hunger') yet the market mechanism appears wholly incapable of matching demand to supply.

    At the Gleneagles summit two years ago, world socialist activists handed out literature saying that despite the rhetoric nothing substantial would be achieved, and the “Make Poverty History” campaign itself was likely to be as ineffective as the G8 summit. Since then, while reformers have waited for crumbs to fall from the overflowing plates of world capital, the hunger holocaust has continued: another nine million fellow members of our species will die slow and needless deaths by the time the appetisers arrive at the next G8 summit banquet.


    Further reading:

  • Showbiz Revisits Poverty (from the July 2005 Socialist Standard)
  • Making poverty history or helping capitalists exploit Africa? (from the July 2005 Socialist Standard)
  • In defence of Anglo-Marxism

    In his latest blog Dave Osler raises the question as to why there has never been a "substantial Marxist movement" in the Anglosphere (Britain, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand). "Is there," he asks, "something specific about Anglo-Saxon political culture that makes it impervious to dialectical materialism?"

    The question that immediately arises is that of what is to count as a "Marxist" movement? Presumably, as far as he is concerned, any movement that claims to be Marxist. And it is true that there has never been any "substantial" movement in the Anglosphere that has claimed to be Marxist.

    But his question could be put the other way round: why were there substantial parties in the countries of Europe which claimed to be Marxist? Why did parties which were essentially the equivalent of the British Labour Party there, i.e. out merely to obtain social and democratic reforms favourable to the working class within capitalism, claim to be Marxist? What was it in their "political cultures" that made them adopt Marxism as their ideology?

    Because it was just an ideology. The German Social Democratic Party was never a revolutionary socialist party in the Marxian sense. The SPD embraced Marxism as its ideology when it adopted a new programme at its Congress in Erfurt in 1891. This programme had been drafted by Kautsky who was directly influenced by Engels and it became a model for similar parties in the rest of Europe.

    But the Erfurt programme contained two parts. A maximum programme of political and social revolution to replace capitalism by socialism and a minimum programme of democratic and social reforms to be achieved within capitalism. As Germany at that time was not a political democracy the SPD attracted the support not just of workers concerned to improve their lot within capitalism (in the same sort of way as did the Labour Party in Britain) but also of those who wanted political democracy. It was on this basis that its "substantial" support was built up. In other words, it was an essentially reformist party with a Marxist ideology. Although some of its leaders and a minority of its members were revolutionary socialists the majority weren't. This was bound to lead to tension sooner or later. And it did, at the turn of the century when Bernstein started the "revisionist" controversy by pointing out that the revolutionary emperor had no clothes and calling for the party to recognise itself for what it was: a reformist party of gradual social and democratic reform.

    The Austrian party was similar to the German one. In France the attraction of Marxism was both its commitment to revolution (misunderstood as fighting on the barricades) and to materialism, both of which fitted into the French Left's political culture and tradition. But the French equivalent of the German SPD was not entirely Marxist even nominally. It's leader, Jean Jaurès, didn't claim to be a Marxist. It was essentially a radical, anti-clerical party.

    The same sort of thing could be said about the Spanish and Italian parties. As to the parties in Holland and the Scandinavian countries, they, like Labour in Britain, were essentially the political expression of the trade union movement. This was the case in Belgium too, where the Belgian Labour Party was, apart from its anti-clericalism, very similar to the British one and in fact never adopted Marxism as its ideology.

    In Eastern Europe and Russia Marxism was popular as a theory of the revolutionary overthrow of the autocratic regimes there and in fact became the ideology of the latter-day equivalent of the bourgeois revolutionaries of the French Revolution.

    So, in the end, there were probably no more Marxian revolutionary socialists in the countries of Europe than there were in the English-speaking countries.

    In a debate we once had with the Trotskyist Sean Matgamna, the leading member of what is now the Alliance for Workers Liberty, he said we were "Anglo-Marxists". Actually, within limits it's not such a bad term as there could be said to be a distinction tradition of English-speaking Marxism.

    Anglo-Marxism approached the problem of reform and revolution from a different perspective from Continental Marxism. On the continent Marxism was adopted as an ideology by parties that already enjoyed some support on the basis of their programmes of democratic and social reforms. This inclined them to justify on theoretical grounds their "minimum programme" of reforms and in practice to concentrate on this rather than their "maximum programme" of socialism. The Anglo-Marxist parties didn't have to carry this baggage, at least not to the same extent, and were able to propose that a revolutionary socialist party should only have the maximum programme. A conclusion reached independently, by William Morris and the Socialist League in the 1880s, by De Leon and the Socialist Labor Party at the turn of the century, by the Socialist Party of British Colombia (later the Socialist Party of Canada) and by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Elements within the Socialist Party of America took up a similar position.

    So, the situation in the Anglosphere in fact allowed Marxists there to gain a clearer understanding of what needed to be done than the more substantial "Marxist" parties of Europe. True, we never attracted substantial support but our contribution to Marxist theory is not to be dismissed.


    Further reading:

  • Review of Meghnad Desai's 'Marx's Revenge: the Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of State Socialism' (from the November 2002 Socialist Standard)
  • Sunday, June 17, 2007

    Where is the anti-war movement going?

    The anti-war movement has arrived at a somewhat novel situation.

    For years socialists have argued that wars are fought for the economic reasons. War happens when the economic competition between gangs of capitalists takes the form of a violent confrontation and contest over whom will have the right to an exploitable wealth.

    In the present case it is over who is to have the right to control and exploit the oil in Iraq and the region as a whole. The real reasons for war would never have been sufficient to inspire the whole of the working class to fight. Hence the reasons given for wars have always been a tissue of lies and falsehoods. As in the present case.

    The strength of the present anti war movement rests on the fact that many have now perhaps for the first time understood the real reasons for war and object to it on that basis in what looks for all the world like international working class solidarity.

    The question is, can this movement stay the hands on the levers of power?

    So far the anti-war movement has only understood the nature of the problem, the solution it seems to be proposing is nothing more than an appeal to those in power to stop.

    To some extent this has possibly already been partially successful, without the present level of consciousness of the working class they might have already bombed Iran into oblivion.

    However the prospect of the US capitalist class losing control of Middle Eastern oil to another economic power bloc may be more than they can endure under any circumstances. Given the inevitable catastrophic consequences of a war with Iran an outraged domestic population may be the least of their concerns.

    If they become desperate enough they still might bomb Iran and be damned to all the consequences, and to a united anti war movement. In a way the capitalists are no more in control of the system than we are, which is why we need to get rid of it.

    Protesting against the system without a programme for getting rid of it is as futile as howling at the moon and voting for the `Democrats' on an anti-war ticket.

    It is the capitalist system itself, while it is left in place to run its own course that will dictate events.

    It isn't the revolutionary socialists who are praying, praying to the powers above that have already slid back the bolt, not to kick open the gates of hell.


    Saturday, June 16, 2007

    Revolting peasants

    This week, way back in 1381, was an important, instructive and inspirational period in the history of class struggle. Indeed, on the 600th anniversary of the Peasants' Revolt the June 1981 Socialist Standard carried an essay marking the event. The conclusions drawn are if anything even more relevant today, over twenty-five years later: capitalism remains, but most of the old state-capitalist regimes have fallen and undreamt of advances in medicine and technology offer the possibility longer, healthier and leisure-rich lives for all - in a Socialist world....

    Revolting peasants of 1381

    In the midst of the most apparently solid and unchanging social structures, the cry for change is ever present. Six hundred years ago this month, in a feudal English society which gave legal and moral backing to the omnipotence of a mighty king and his ruling class of baronial landlords, a movement of resistance emerged to take on the established relationships of power. The existence of such a movement proves the essential contention of Marxist historical materialism: where there is a division between those who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution and those who do not there must be a class struggle.

    To the contemporary observer, feudal society seemed to be rigidly unshakable by popular dissent. The king had the right to own all land. The aristocracy were permitted to control areas of this land in return for feudal obligations, such as the payment of money or produce, the provision of peasants to fight in the kings wars and the maintenance of the church and the law. The church, in return for the control of extensive lands, provided the king and the landlords with an effective propaganda machine which morally justified their class privilege in terms that the most humble could comprehend. To oppose the church was heresy and the punishment for heretics was to be burnt alive. To deny that the ruling class were the divinely appointed masters of society was heresy. With such constraints upon them most people conformed.

    Most people were peasants, dependent on their livelihoods upon the permission of a manorial lord to work the land he controlled. Production was not primarily for the market as it is now, and neither was it simply for subsistence. The peasant had to work not only so that he and his family could have a pittance to ensure their survival, but also so that the barons, the bishops and the monarch could live in parasitic luxury. The peasant bore the burden of all the classes above him in the well-known feudal social pyramid. If he was a serf he was legally bound to work his master's land for a certain number of days each week, leaving his spare time to work the common land to provide for his own needs. There was a thin line between slavery and serfdom; at least a slave-owner had to feed, clothe and shelter his possession, whereas the so-called free peasant was often left to starve after he had satisfied his master's needs.

    Like capitalism today, one of feudalism's main stabilising factors was the belief of most people that it would never change. Just as today there are workers who cannot conceive of a society in which they are not employed for wages, so under feudalism the vast majority of peasants believed that God had created the social structure for evermore. But the material contradictions thrown up by social formations have a habit of driving people to desire change. Resistance to the status quo is never the result of abstract ideals being conceived by thousands of people, but arises from ideas which are the direct result of day to day experience.

    Six hundred years ago the experiences of the peasants led to a mass movement of resistance to the poverty of their condition. The main immediate cause of the Revolt was the fall in the peasant population following the bubonic plagues of 1349, 1361, 1369 and 1375 which resulted in a serious shortage of - and therefore greater demand for - labour. Following the government's Statute of Labourers, there was a widespread attempt by landlords to increase rents and feudal duties in order to compensate for their loss of tenants. If these did not serve to economically cripple the peasants, the successive government poll taxes to pay for the king's wars were the final straw. In 1380 a tax of one shilling a head to pay for the king's war with France led to the rebellion. In May 1381 the rising began in Essex and soon spread to Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire.

    The Peasants' Revolt was more than a spontaneous outburst. Throughout the fourteenth century popular criticism of the feudal state was emerging. Geoffrey Chaucer's cutting literary condemnation of clerical power in The Canterbury Tales was part of a general disillusionment with the clergy's claim to privilege. John Wycliffe and his Lollard supporters had burned for their questioning of church theory. The years leading to the Revolt produced some of the best versions of the Robin Hood folk legend about the robbery of the rich by the poor in order to get back some of the wealth which had been Stolen from them. One ballad, of Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough and William of Cloudsley is one of the most readable stories of class war - concerning three outlaws who take on the entire population of Carlisle - which this writer has had the pleasure to read. Social dissent was even spreading to the universities. John Bromyard, a Dominican friar and Chancellor of Cambridge University wrote that

    "The poor for their good works are not rewarded, but are so oppressed by the rich and powerful that however true a case a poor man may have against a rich man in this world, it will nonetheless happen to him so it did the lamb at the hands of the wolf...the poor man, indeed, if he steals the rich man's food is hung. The rich man is not punished at all for seizing the goods of the poor, even when he is worthy of the gallows."

    William Langlan's Piers Plowmam, while not a radical poem, served nonetheless to describe the intolerable conditions of

    "...the poor in the cottage
    Charged with a crew of children and
    a landlord's rent.
    What they win by their spinning to
    make their porridge with
    Milk and meal, to satisfy the babes -
    The babes that continually cry for food -
    This they must spend on the rent of
    their houses..."

    Accompanying the immediate factors leading to the Revolt were dreams of a communistic future. Indeed, these were Utopian in vision and often based on such notions as a popular monarchy. or a religious brotherhood. Perhaps the greatest of the fourteenth century cries for Utopia was the anonymously written and extremely popular poem, The Land of Cokaygne. Ignored by most modern literary critics as a harmless anticlerical satire, Cokaygne was a wonderful vision of a communist Utopia:

    "In Cokaygne we drink and eat
    Freely without care or sweat
    The food is choice and clear the wine
    At fourses and at supper time,
    I say again, and I dare swear,
    Under heaven no land like this,
    Of such joy and endless bliss."

    In Cockaygne,

    "All is day, there is no night,
    There is no quarrelling nor strife,
    There is no death, but endless life,
    There is no lack of food or cloth,
    There is no man or woman wroth."

    The most amusing feature of the poem is

    "That geese fly roasted on the spit,
    As God's my witness to that spot,
    Crying out, "Geese, all hot, all hot!"
    Every goose in garlic drest,
    Of all the food the seemliest."

    Many of the peasants, artisans, merchants, and lower clergy who participated in the Revolt of 1381 ultimately sought a society of human equality. When they reached London they showed that they meant business by executing the chief government Ministers, including the Chancellor and the Treasurer. On June 14 at Mile End in London, the peasants' leader, Wat Tyler, demanded of the King Richard II that

    "The property and goods of the holy church should be taken and divided according to the needs of the people in each parish...and that there be no more villeins in England, but all free and of one condition. " (As noted at the time by the historian Froissart.)

    The devious king conceded the demands, but within a day Tyler was murdered and the concessions withdrawn. G. Kreihn's definitive Studies in the Sources of the Social Revolt of 1381 (American Historical Review 1902) shows how the trickery of the king and the murder of Wat Tyler were intentional state policies designed to break up the peasants' movement and defend the status quo.

    The day after the Mile End meeting (June 15) the peasants gathered at Smithfield to present an even more radical set of demands. But by the end of June 1381 the Revolt was suppressed and all the concessions withdrawn. The peasants had shown their political muscle, but they were unable to strip the king, and his tenants-in-chief, the barons, of their right of ownership. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the new merchant class was able to enact some of the peasants' demands (such as the disposition of church lands), but the great demand for a society of equality has yet to be fulfilled.

    In the most famous chronicle of the Peasants' Revolt we are told of

    "A crazy priest in the county of Kent, call John Ball, who for his absurd preaching had thrice been confined in prison...was accustomed to assemble a crowd round him in the market place and preach to them. On such occasions he would say, "My good friends, matters cannot go well in England until all things are held in common, when their neither shall be vassals nor lords; when the lords shall be no more masters than ourselves. How ill they behave to us! For what reason do they hold us in bondage?...And what can they show, or what reason can they give, why they should be more masters than ourselves? They are clothed in velvet and rich stuffs, ornamented with ermine and other furs, while we are forced to wear poor clothing. They have wines, spices and fine bread, while we have only rye, and the refuse of the straw, and when we drink it must be water. They have handsome seats and manors, while we brave the wind and rain in our labours in the field; and it is by our labours that they have wherewith to support their pomp. We are called slaves, and if we do not perform our service we are beaten, and we have no sovereign to whom we can complain or who would be willing to hear us. Let us go to the King and remonstrate with him, he is young and from him we may obtain a favourable answer, and if not we must ourselves seek to amend our conditions." (Froissart, Chronicles of France, England and Spain)

    It is exactly six hundred years ago since our ancestors went to their rulers. and pleaded for justice. The reformist Left today are still doing the same thing . (Incredibly enough, in Socialist Worker (4/4/81) we are told that the Peasants' Revolt "inspires all progressive people today".) But six hundred years after the Revolt is it not time to learn an important lesson? We, the "crazy" workers who are called impossibilists for our "absurd preaching", are still surrounded by a society of acute class inequality in which the oppressed and impoverished believe that history has come to an end and that capitalism is here to stay. For six hundred years we have sought favourable answers from those whose interests are not ours; it is now time to change our condition and build for ourselves and our children an obtainable Cokaygne.


    The play world and capitalist realities

    As a parent of a mentally retarded daughter whose mental age is stuck permanently at two, I get to watch a lot of TV programs and videos designed for young children.

    While many parents may try to protect their children from the realities of life under capitalism, those realities inevitably start to intrude at quite an early age. Children become aware, for instance, that a mysterious thing called money is needed to get things and that some people have much more of it than others. However, many of the programs they watch present an ideal play world in which a benevolent parental figure like Barney or the Bear in the Big Blue House looks after all their needs and teaches them an egalitarian ethic of give and take, taking turns, and fair shares. The most isolated and self-contained play world is, no doubt, that of the Telly Tubbies, who play together harmoniously in an empty idyllic landscape, fed and kept clean by the robot Noonoo.

    Some programs do set the children’s play against a sporadically glimpsed background of adult life. Some attempt may even be made to reassure children regarding some of the adult problems that affect them, such as divorce. And yet the most discomfiting realities remain concealed.

    You would never guess from Sesame Street, for instance, that the great majority of Americans live in racially segregated areas. Although Sesame Street is evidently an inner city neighborhood, everyone seems to live in modest comfort, no one is on drugs, and any hint of violence is taboo. The employment relationship, which dominates most people’s lives, is relegated to the margins of awareness by making most of the main adult characters self-employed (Maria and Louis have a fixit shop, Alan has a store, Gina is a vet, etc.). Other programs are set in a community of family farms, achieving the same effect.

    Rather than avoiding the issue of employment, one British series openly glorifies the institution. Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends are trains and other animated machines on the Island of Sodor. They all work for a man named Sir Topham Hatt, who is forever telling them off for “causing confusion and delay” when they forget his instructions and follow their own inclinations.

    The most honest children’s program I have seen is a cartoon called Arthur (an eight-year-old anthropomorphic aardvark). It confronts the viewer with social inequality as a problematic phenomenon, featuring characters in families at various economic levels, from Buster and his impoverished single-parent mother to Muffy, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy businessman. When Francine is embarrassed at having a trash collector as her father, he demonstrates to her and her friends the social value of his work. And Arthur himself learns that injustice is also a real problem when he is unjustly accused of stealing money that belongs to his school. Of course, he is vindicated at the last moment. Certain limits must be observed, after all, when revealing to children the existence of injustice.


    Friday, June 15, 2007

    Socialism - questions and answers

    1. What is The Socialist Party?

  • It is a political party separate from all others. It stands for the sole aim of establishing a global system of society in which there will be common ownership and democratic control of the world's natural and industrial resources. We advocate a world social system in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation and an equal say in how their society is run; a world in which production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the benefit of all.

  • 2. What is Socialism?

  • To elaborate slightly on the above - Socialism is yet to exist. When it is established it must be on a global basis, as a real alternative to the present system. In a socialist society there will be common ownership of the earth by its inhabitants and no minority will dictate to us that production must give priority to profit. There will be no owners. The people of the world will share the world. Production will be for use, not sale. The only questions we will need to ask about production are what do people need and can these needs be met. Science and technology will at last be used to their fullest potential and in the service of humanity. The basic socialist principle will be that people give according to their abilities and take according to their needs. There will be no buying or selling, as money will have been abolished and will not be necessary in a world of free access. Socialism will mean a world without borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders, states or governments, force or coercion.

  • 3. How does this differ from Capitalism?

  • Capitalism is the social system that now exists in all the countries of the world. Under this system, the means of production and distribution are monopolised by a small, wealthy elite. All wealth is produced by us, the working class who sell our physical and mental abilities for a wage or salary. The object of wealth production is to create goods and services which can be sold profitably. Not only do capitalists live off the profits they obtain by exploiting us, they reinvest their profits with a view to accumulating more wealth. Because of the logic of their system, if goods cannot be sold at a profit, they are either destroyed or not produced at all. Because of capitalist competition, wars break our fairly regularly, being fought over trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets and mineral resources - all sources of profit for capitalists.

  • 4. So how will Socialism solve the problems of society?

  • Capitalism, with its endless drive to make profits, throws up an endless stream of problems. Many workers feel insecure about their future and work related stress is on the increase. Crime, homelessness, poverty - these are all ongoing problems. A society based on production for use will end these problems because the priority of socialist society will be the fullest possible satisfaction of needs. Abolishing the money system will mean food will not have to be destroyed it can't be sold. Wars will no longer be fought if there are no more borders or frontiers and the source of their cause has been removed. At present it is not 'economically viable' to solve many of the problems that plague us - it eats into profits. Socialism will mean nothing but the best for every human being.

  • 5. Surely it is easier just to reform the present system?

  • No. As long as capitalism exists, profits will always take priority over our real needs. Some workers welcome reforms; some reforms have improved working class conditions, but no reform can abolish that basic contradiction between profits and need. No matter how well meaning the politicians, nor how colourful their promises, they are bound to fail because they do not control the system - it controls them. The governments of the world may well introduce 1000 reforms, but we would still continue to live in a world ravaged by starvation, war, homelessness, unemployment, poverty and every other social ill. We would still live in a two class society, with our real needs subordinated to the wishes of a minority. Why campaign for crumbs when the whole bakery is there to be taken?

  • 6. Is Nationalisation an alternative to capitalism?

  • No. Although the old Labour Party used to think so, and many leftists still do, there is nothing progressive in nationalisation. It simply means the workers are exploited by the state in the interests of capitalists. There were once many nationalised industries in Britain. This did not stop the government closing them down and making hundreds of thousands of workers redundant when they ceased being profitable - and these nationalised industries supposedly 'belonged' to us.

  • 7. What about kibbutzim? Is this not akin to Socialism?

  • Socialism can only exist, as capitalism does, on a global scale. It cannot be established in one country, let alone one farm. The kibbutzim do show that humans can live without money and work without wages, but their small scale means that what they can offer is very restricted so young people tend to leave them. In practice they have paved the way for the development of capitalism in Israel and some have themselves become capitalist institutions employing outside wage labour and producing for the market with a view to profit.

  • 8. Have there ever been Socialist countries? What about the former Soviet Union?

  • No. Those countries which claimed they were socialist were in reality state capitalist. Power was monopolised by a privileged elite who became the new ruling and controlling class. Countries like Russia and China and Yugoslavia still had money and buying and selling. They still had wage slavery, exploitation and commodity production. They still traded with capitalist states and according to the dictates of international capital and were ever ready to go to war to defend their economic interests.
  • Thursday, June 14, 2007

    Is there objective truth: is Richard Rorty dead?

    Richard Rorty, whose death at the age of 75 the newspapers reported last week, was one of the intellectual godfathers of “postmodernism” - the view that in human affairs there can be no such thing as objective truth; there are only subjective beliefs. According to Rorty, “each of us must search for our own conclusions about life and try to respect the differences among us.” This view became hugely influential in academia. In his main works, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) and Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (1988), Rorty argued that truth was not a correspondence between words and reality but rather “the widest possible intersubjective agreement.” In other words, if enough people say it's so, then it's so; if there is a widespread belief that the Nazi holocaust never happened, then it never happened.

    The Times obituary reported that Rorty's parents were both Trotskyists. Although he called himself a socialist, he claimed that America was “an example of the best kind of society so far invented” and that “welfare-state capitalism” was the “best we can hope for.” Rorty's relativism is typical of many on the left-wing, that “everything is relative.” From the fact that many things are relative (e.g. morality), it does not follow that an objectively true account of the past and present is unattainable. Socialists are not merely giving a point of view about world capitalism; we are engaged in the revolutionary process of persuading others about what is really happening in the capitalist world. But more than that, we are not just interested in interpreting the world but in its revolutionary socialist transformation.


    Parecon or Socialism?

    From the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

    There are few political debates currently occurring of any real significance to the majority of the world's population. The debate concerning the nature of a post-capitalist economy ranks as the most important on the revolutionary agenda.

    Thus, we present recent correspondence between ourselves and the author of the book Parecon: Life After Capitalism.

    The review of Parecon: Life After Capitalism, appearing in February Socialist Standard, was troubling. The review says the economic system proposed in the book called participatory economics, or parecon for short, permits profits, just not excessive profits. But in parecon there are no owners. In fact there are no classes. More, no one earns income based on ownership of any kind. There are, therefore, no profits - none.

    Yes, society produces a social product. Yes, some plants produce a total value of output greater, and in some cases even much greater, than the total value of their inputs, including their labor. But, no, this does not enrich anyone associated with those plants relative to the incomes, say, of people working at plants that are far less productive. Remuneration is uncorrelated to value of output save that people must do socially valuable labor to be remunerated for labor at all. What the reviewer says about profit affecting wages, etc., in parecon, is simply about some other system...unless the reviewer is saying, if total output for a parecon is lower, average income is lower, which is, of course, a truism, having zero to do with profits, which don't exist in a parecon.

    The reviewer says, incredibly, that getting rid of private ownership of production, markets, top down decision making, the corporate division of labor, and remuneration for property and power, the core economic institutions of capitalism, and replacing them with self managing workers and consumers councils, balanced job complexes, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of labor, and participatory planning, the core economic institutions of parecon - is correcting political dimensions, but not economics. I doubt the reviewer read the book. It is confined to addressing economic dimensions, not the polity.

    I suspect that this reviewer thinks that because in parecon there are income, wages, and valuations - prices - it must be capitalism. This marks a major confusion. A letter I received from the host periodical signed off, "Yours for a moneyless, wageless world of common ownership." This too, is troubling.

    In this world you desire to attain there is, I presume, production. Likewise, I assume you agree that people will consume. More, beyond production and consumption, is there some regulation of what is produced and in what quantity? The alternative would be that anyone can produce anything, with no concern other than that they wish to. This is nonsense, but if there is regulation of how resources, energies, and labor are allocated to generate outputs, does that regulation reflect the preferences that both producers and consumers have and especially a full valuation of the relative contribution to well being and development of different choices? If it does, then to that extent it includes "money." The valuations are prices, albeit not necessarily as we have known them in market and centrally planned systems.

    In turn, do people receive a share of the product? Obviously they must if they are to survive, much less attain their capacities. So, that being true, is there any correlation between the share one gets and what one does as one's work? If not, anyone can take anything, in any amount, and do no work - which, of course, is absurd, since demand would exceed supply. If there is a correlation, however, then there are to that extent "wages" according to some norm, even if the correlation is due to people collectively and responsibly establishing their own incomes. In parecon, these are the reasons why there are "money" and "wages." The task becomes having this limited money and wages, which is to say valuations and shares of income, inevitably present in any economy, in accord with our full aspirations and values.

    Money - more importantly, relative valuations of products and processes - exists in a parecon, therefore, so that people might make choices in light of full and true social costs and benefits. Participatory planning facilitates the determination of true and full values as decided by the self managing population.

    Wages - more importantly, shares of social product allotted to citizens - exists in a parecon so that, of course, we can all equitably benefit from the social product, and specifically so that choices regarding such things as how long people work, how hard we work, producing what items, and what we justly consume, can be determined by the population, again, in accord with true social costs and benefits and, as well, with attaining equitable outcomes and self management.

    I would claim, and the book does claim, that parecon is not only a serious economy able to meet needs, develop potentials, incorporate true self management, and be not just profitless but, beyond that, classless - but is also as close to having no money and no wages as is possible without incurring immense damage. That is, it has valuations and it has income shares, like any economy, but not the pejorative aspects of either - distinguishing it from all capitalist, market, or centrally planned economies.

    Michael Albert, ZNet / Z Magazine


    The gist of your complaint is that, contrary to the claim made in the review of your book Parecon in the February Socialist Standard, you maintain that there are no profits in parecon because "no one earns income based on ownership of any kind. There are, therefore, no profits - none". But this is only because you have defined profit as a property income. It's still there, however, as you admit in your second paragraph above: "... some plants produce a total value of output greater, and in some cases much greater, than the total value of their inputs, including their labour". For profit to exist - or more generally “surplus value” (rent, interest and profit) - it is not necessary that these accrue to individuals through their ownership of property. Profit is simply the difference between expenditure and income and derives from the unpaid labour of the workers. Profits therefore existed in the former state-capitalist USSR and exist in the present-day Vatican - even though there is no individual ownership.

    On page 132 of your book the rate of profit appears under the guise of "benefit cost ratio":

    "Each round of planning, or iteration, yields a new set of proposed activities. Taken together, these proposals yield new data regarding the status of each good, the average consumption per person, and the average production 'benefit cost ratio' per firm. All this allows for calculation of new price projections and new predictions for average income and work, which in turn lead to modifications in proposals ..." (Chapter 8, subsection: Proceeding From One Proposal To Another)

    You say the "benefit cost ratio" has nothing to do with profit because the "benefit cost ratio" will only benefit parecon society as a whole and not any individual. But as we have seen, this is based on a misunderstanding of what profit means. Moreover, you also claim on the same page in your book that:

    "...workers’ councils whose ratios of social benefits of their outputs to social costs of their inputs were lower than average would come under pressure to increase either efficiency or effort..."

    Or go bust, presumably, unless profits were redistributed from workers' councils with above average ratios. This shows the limits of planning in “parecon”, for in their planning considerations they must maintain profit rates. And while planning might be based on past or current profit rates, profits themselves are inherently unpredictable and this may scupper plans for the future. There is also the antagonism between wages and profits. Parecon society would need to maintain a positive rate of profit or lurch into crisis. This means that workers could not push up wages to the level that stopped profits being made, and this again sets definite limits to what can be planned.

    Of course production and consumption will be regulated in a socialist society. That’s an essential part of it, but this does not require recourse to money either as a means of exchange or for costing products and production. Calculation - and “costing” - in socialism will take place in kind (in tonnes of steel, kilowatt-hours of electricity, person-hours of work and so on) without having to put a monetary value on anything and everything. Socialist society will decide - through democratic discussion and from what people indicate they want by what they take from the common stores - what it needs to satisfy individual and collective consumption, and to replace and expand (if need be) the productive apparatus and then will bring together the physical and human resources to produce this. This will be done in the most technically efficient way, after taking into account good working conditions and environmental considerations.

    In implementing the long-standing socialist principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”, socialist society breaks the link between work done and consumption. Rather than being “allotted” what to consume as under “parecon”, people would be able to take from the common store of wealth set aside for individual consumption what they judged they needed to live and enjoy life, irrespective of what they had contributed to production. Every able-bodied person would be expected to contribute something, but we don’t share your bleak view that, in this event, not enough would be produced to satisfy people’s needs (that “demand would exceed supply”, as you put it) - and that therefore, not just profits, but the wages system too would have to be retained as a means of both obliging people to work and of limiting their consumption. Just like under capitalism.

    Hence our original description of “parecon” as “post-capitalist capitalism”, i.e. not post-capitalism at all. We would be prepared to refer to it as a “utopian blueprint for an ideal society” if you prefer.- Editors.


    By any definition I have ever encountered, surpluses are not profits per se, though they may become profits under certain social relations, of course. Definitions aside, Parecon people's income, in any case, is not correlated to output, or to revenues minus expenditures, but to effort expended in socially valued production. No class takes income based on unpaid workers labor. No one does, other than those infirm and unable to work, that is. On the other hand, society and each of its members very much benefits if the total social product per time worked and inputs used up, is more, rather than less, socially valuable.

    Saying that if a firm produces things of greater social value than it uses up, that means there are profits and the system is capitalist, is, honestly, absurd. In any economy, from now until the sun burns out and beyond, one will want workplaces of humans to actually generate more worth than they use up, of course. How the social product is then dispersed among the population is a very important issue, to be sure. Doing it according to effort, having also eliminated not only private owners above workers, but a coordinator class above workers, by balancing job complexes and instituting self management, is equitable.

    Our real difference is probably best encapsulated in your calling the old Soviet Union state capitalist, and my saying that since it didn't have private owners of means of production, and it didn't have markets, but it did have a ruling economic class composed of those monopolizing empowering tasks in the economy, it is far more sensibly called not capitalist, not socialist, but coordinatorist, after its ruling class.

    I share your desire that a future desirable economy involve workers and consumers cooperatively negotiating economic activities and their distribution. That is what parecon accomplishes. Given space limits, I guess for now we just have to agree to disagree about a lot, beyond that desire, however.

    Michael Albert


    It is only under capitalism that the social surplus takes the form of a monetary surplus value and, as you admit, this is what will exist in “parecon”. And this is what will be the imperative guiding and limiting its planning decisions. The institutional changes you advocate (no legal individual ownership of means of production, self-management, etc.) are inadequate reasons for claiming that capitalism has been overthrown.

    We agree that the former Soviet Union did have a ruling class, but not that there were no markets there. Even the regime’s ideologists admitted that there was “commodity-production”, i.e. production for sale, and that buying and selling relationships existed between state enterprises. While there was no individual legal ownership of the main means of production (though there was of some things: dachas, works of art, state bonds, bank accounts), these means of production were not owned by society as a whole but effectively by a class which monopolised them, via the state, and which lived a privileged life from the surplus value extracted from the wage-labour of the workers. That is why we think the best description of that and similar societies was state capitalist.

    Your attitude towards the former Soviet Union is revealing in that it shows that you had nothing against the continued existence there of the key features of capitalism that are production for sale, money, wages, profits, etc but only to the fact that the economic system involving these was controlled by a privileged ruling class and not democratically by the workers. “Parecon” is thus revealed to be the idea of the economic system that existed in Russia “self-managed” by the workers. A sort of “self-managed capitalism” that could only exist on paper.

    Socialism will break free from the financial bureaucracy of capitalist calculation. It will treat people as ends in themselves. It will produce directly for human needs. It will break the link between individual effort and individual consumption. That’s what all those who consider themselves to be anti-capitalist should be aiming at. - Editors.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Post-capitalist capitalism

    Book Review from the February 2006 Socialist Standard

    Michael Albert: Parecon: Life After Capitalism (Verso)

    Participatory economics, or parecon for short, is a vision of life after capitalism favoured by many in the anti-capitalist movement. The author of this particular vision helped to establish Z Magazine and its web site Zmag (, including its subsidiary page devoted to parecon (, which debates the issues raised by this book.

    Parecon opposes “corporate globalisation” and argues for its replacement by “equity, solidarity, diversity and self-management.” For Albert, capitalism means “private ownership of the means of production, market allocation, and corporate divisions of labour.” Life after capitalism is said to combine “social ownership, participatory planning allocation, council structure, balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, and participatory self-management with no class differentiation.” The council structure involves workplaces, neighbourhoods, and “facilitation boards” which co-ordinate planning.

    So-called “market socialism” is rejected because the market and class differentials would remain, as would buyers and sellers of labour power (capacity to work). In Albert's account, because class differentiation disappears in parecon, “you cannot choose to hire wage slaves nor to sell yourself as a wage slave.” Parecon permits workers to assess their own pay and conditions in their decision-making by inputting their preferences via councils. It apportions income in accord with effort and “does not force or even permit people to try to maximise profits, surplus, or even revenues.”

    Notice however that Albert is specifically talking about prohibiting profit maximisation, not profits as such. Profits are acceptable; “excessive” profits are not. In the procedure envisaged, individuals and councils submit proposals for their own activities, receive new information including new indicative prices, and submit revised proposals until they reach a point of agreement. This process is open-ended and in Albert's book a hypothetical example is discussed which reaches a seventh planning cycle, or as Albert calls it “planning iteration.” In reviews of this book much has been made of the potential for bureaucracy in this procedure, but a more telling criticism would be its unquestioning acceptance of the profit system. Wages cannot rise to the point which prevent profits being made; and a fall in profits will put a downward pressure on wages. This is called the class struggle.

    “Parecon is basically an anarchistic economic vision”, admits Albert, and it shows. Like many on the left, the difference between capitalism and post-capitalism presented here is essentially political, not economic. As indicated by the title, the crucial factor is participatory planning. The capitalist economy would remain substantially the same in parecon: the accumulation of capital out of profits produced by the unpaid labour of the working class.


    Reminder: we’re not born anything

    An interesting insight into one of the elements that underpins religious, political, and nationalistic intolerance was revealed when Gerry Kelly was interviewed by BBC reporter Mervyn Jess. The interview was reported in the Belfast Telegraph (23 May).

    Kelly’s initial claim to fame arose when he was one of a party of IRA prisoners who staged a mass break-out from the infamous Long Kesh prison camp where he was incarcerated for his participation in armed violence aimed at bringing an end to the Northern Ireland state.

    Kelly is now a Minister in the government of the state of Northern Ireland and, with his Sinn Fein comrades, now deplores the activities of those ‘dissidents’ who would use violence to overthrow the state of Northern Ireland. The latter, of course, affirm that Kelly has sold his principles - a case, they say, of cell to sell.

    In the BBC interview Kelly said he was “born” a Catholic and accepts that had he been born a Protestant he would have accepted a different viewpoint. This scribe has never attended a birth but his researches reveal no evidence of babies being born with ideological labels on their backsides.

    Unfortunately, babies are not given a choice; before they can understand a single word they have the religious views inherited by their parents imposed on them and thereafter are ‘protected’ from religious competitors by intensive indoctrination.

    With this amendment, we would accept the Kelly thesis; yes, if his parents had been Protestants he might now be a member of Paisley’s DUP without need of serious contemplation.

    Kelly claims to despise the politics of sectarianism but nationalism as an ideology - whether the Ulster or Irish variety - is as hate-promoting, murderous and divisive as is religion. Its promotion does not originate in the material interests of working class life but in the economic interests of a real, or aspiring, ruling class who fabricate the fiction that slave and master are beholden to a common national identity.


    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    The Haves and the Have-yachts

    The rich are not all equally wealthy. According to am article in Times at the end of last year (4 December), a rift is opening up among wealthy Britons between the merely rich, and the super-rich. The reporter went to a West London nursery school – £1800 a term, or £5400 a year – and found the conversation mainly about the forthcoming City bonuses. "According to the centre for Economics and Business Research, a staggering £8.8 billion will be paid out in this next round, with more than 4200 individuals receiving more than £1 million each. Much of that money (around £5 billion) will find its way into property, half of it in London; and of the overall bonus, between 60 and 70 percent will go to non-UK residents – i.e., foreign nationals working in London, many of whom will not be liable for UK tax." Many of these latter are now the super-rich, whose expenditure is soaring above that of the rich: as Rachel Johnston put it in her book Notting Hell, it is now "the Haves versus the Have Yachts".

    One of the main reasons for the rise of the super-rich is the policy of the Labour government: Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and their friends do love the wealthy. "Britain has one of the most business-friendly tax environments on the planet, exemplified by the non-domicile (or 'non-dom') tax laws. In simple terms, these allow wealthy foreign nationals to hold their main liquid assets in tax-free offshore environments while operating freely within the UK - largely untroubled by the Exchequer (the same is not true of British nationals)." The result is that "London's status as the place to make and take money has only been reinforced in recent years".

    With such competition, the merely rich feel jealous about the super-rich. One City fund manager (Eton and Oxford) said "Not only do they look down on us, they have made our lives more uncomfortable from a financial point of view too, by pushing up the price of traditional wealth assets - school fees, house prices, staff." An investment banker said, "the super-rich are fine. They either don't need to pay tax at all or find ways of avoiding it. I don't have enough cash to employ a clever accountant."

    The Have Yachts – people "with more than £15 million to invest" – operate on a higher level. "These are people who think nothing of spending several million on a party, or having their children picked up from school by helicopter and transported to a waiting private jet for a weekend in Gstaad. They have so much money that they pay experts to help them spend it." For example, "at Quintessentially, the global concierge service, their 'elite' membership is by invitation only and costs a basic £24,000 a year. For that, members have access to finders and fixers in every major city across the world, 24 hours a day." Among the requests they have dealt with are "finding a premiership footballer to play with a member's son; sourcing twelve albino peacocks for a party with just three hours' notice; completely redesigning a London hotel room; and organizing a trip to Hudson Bay, Canada, during the one month each year when the world's largest concentration of polar bears gathers on the ice". One service in much demand is finding appropriate houses, usually in London, or by the sea in the west country.

    A director of a Central London estate agency said "super-rich foreigners" were their best customers. "Between 70 and 80 percent of our top deals are with foreign nationals." The steady injection of largely tax-free money by the super-rich into the London housing market (prices in the "most exclusive districts" went up by 31 percent in the year to February 2007) keeps all prices rising, because the cost of cheaper houses follows the market upwards; so ultimately all the young people trying to get their own property, or giving up in despair, are feeling the knock-on effects of the Blair/Brown romance with the rich. If the specially favourable terms for foreign magnates are thought to be under threat, prices decline. "House prices in Central London took a considerable dip in 2004 when 'non-dom' was last under serious review; but a sustained campaign from the City and the Exchequer persuaded" the Chancellor to relent, and the super-rich breathed a sigh of relief.

    The International Monetary Fund has decided that Britain is now an offshore tax haven, listing it "alongside the likes of Bermuda and the Cayman Islands - unregulated jurisdictions associated with illicit funds" (Observer, 22 April). The "non-dom" people save vast amounts by largely avoiding British income tax. "The accountancy firm Grant Thornton worked out that the UK's fifty-four billionaires paid income tax totalling just £14.7 million on their £126 billion combined fortunes" (Observer 4 March). That makes a rate of about one-hundredth part the percentage that the merely rich, who can't wangle this particular tax-exemption, have to pay on their incomes. Among the "non-dom" Londoners are Lakshmi Mittal, Roman Abramovich, and the Hinduja brothers. The Observer (22 April) has several times asked Sir Ronald Cohen, who was born in Egypt and is now Gordon Brown's "senior City advisor" (Brown has appointed him to several "taskforces") whether he is lucky enough to have this "non-dom" tax status; Sir Ronald has refused to answer. If he has this status, he has something to thank the Labour Party for, and he – like Lakshmi Mittal, who tops the Sunday Times Rich List this year ( 20 April) – is among those who have generously donated funds to the Labour Party.

    If you think that the law says that foreigners cannot contribute to British party funds, you would be mistaken: the Inland Revenue (whose regulations are laid down by Gordon Brown) says that people living in Britain under the "non-dom" rules can still be counted as residents, who can thus legally give money to – for example – the Labour Party (Observer 18 February). So that's all right then.