Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eat shit and die

Reformism has been portrayed as a carrot on a stick. Thanks to Representative Paul Broun, we have another perhaps better image: "..a huge cow patty with a piece of marshmallow stuck in the middle of it and I am not going to eat that cow patty.” Quite correct, the working class have been eating shit for far too long. All the while our masters consume nothing but the best. How many more spins on the reformist misery-go-round are needed? Do not expect any anwers from the likes of Paul Broun or Mia Farrow. But Oscar Wilde provided a hint when he said 'A man who does not think for himself does not think at all'.

Friday, September 26, 2008

God and the Market

God and the Market

Commenting on the current world financial crisis former 1968 student leader and now a Green MP, Daniel Cohn Bendit, said that “the belief that the market is god is over” (Guardian, 17 September). Someone who should now more about God, the Archbishop of Canterbury, hopes this is so as he thinks that the Market has become a rival to his god.

In an article in the Spectator (26 September) Dr Rowan Williams accused “market fundamentalists” of breaking the First Commandment - “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. He even called in Marx to back up this charge of idolatry:

“Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves; he was right about that, if about little else. And ascribing independent reality to what you have in fact made yourself is a perfect definition of what the Jewish and Christian Scriptures call idolatry.”

Dr Williams is said to be a learned man and he is right: Marx did see capital as the product of human labour which had come to dominate those who produced it (except that he saw this as applying to capitalism in general not just to “unbridled capitalism”).

This was in fact his whole “critique of political economy” (the subtitle of Capital), that the economic laws of capitalism were not the natural laws that Adam Smith, David Ricardo, the Rev Thomas Malthus, John Stuart Mill and the others thought but forces that came into operation only because society was organised in a particular way. Market forces were the result of human activity which had escaped from human control and which had come to dominate them as if they were a natural force.

Dr Williams may also be aware that here Marx was applying to economics the theory that Ludwig Feuerbach had applied to religion in his 1841 The Essence of Christianity (translated into English in 1854 by George Eliot). Feuerbach argued that, far from God making man in his own image, it was the other way round. Humans made God in their image and attributed to him the powers which they collectively possessed, and then bowed down and worshipped this figment of their imagination. If humans were to realise this and take their own destiny in hand there would be no need for God or religion. So, according to Feuerbach, the Archbishop’s god was also an idol.

The Archbishop was getting a dig at Marx in when he said he said he was right about this “if about little else”. But Marx once made a harsh comment about the Church of England, writing in the Preface to the first edition of Capital, that it would “more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on 1/39 of its income”.

It is interesting to speculate what the one article it would keep might be. At one time it would have been obvious - Article XXXVIII that “the riches and goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast . . .” If he keeps on reading Marx maybe the Archbishop might be prepared to abandon this one too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Culture of Violence

Yesterday's shootings, the second in Finland within the space of a year, will undoubtedly raise some old questions. But are they all the right ones? Is there something more fundamental about our present society which leads to such tragedies? - Gray

On a summer day in August, Michael Ryan took to the streets of Hungerford armed with an assortment of lethal weapons and embarked on an orgy of terror and violence leaving in his wake a trail of dead and injured before, finally, turning a gun on himself. The media had a field day - a sensational story in the middle of the "silly season". After the sickening accounts of Ryan's massacre, came the instant diagnoses, remedies and pop psychology: Ryan was a madman, under the influence of too much violent television and films, with too easy an access to firearms. The "solution": ban violence on television and stop madmen from getting hold guns.

But the "solution" proposed not only does nothing to deal with the problem of violence but also fosters a dangerous illusion — that this incident was an exception, something out of the ordinary, the product of a deranged mind. Michael Ryan may or may not have been schizophrenic, psychotic or paranoid; he may or may not have been over-protected by his mother; he may or may not have had sexual hang-ups (there is, in any case, something grotesque about engaging in posthumous psychoanalysis), but some of this explains why the particular form his disturbance took was so violent and anti-social.

It is, no doubt, very comforting to some people struggling to make sense of what happened, to simply label Ryan as "mad". To do so gives the impression that his violence was an individual, pathological problem and in no way connected to the society in which we live. But in fact although the scale of the violence in this case was perhaps exceptional, the violence itself was not. It is part of a continuum of violence with Saturday night pub brawls, child abuse and wife battering at one end and war and genocide at the other. Each and every day numerous acts of violence are committed: they are so routine as to go largely unnoticed. In a violent society it takes a massacre for violence to hit the headlines.

Ryan, we were told, was, at the time of his attack, dressed in Rambo-style combat gear complete with headband. Doesn't this, they argue, prove that he was acting out a fantasy inspired by the film? Shouldn't we then ban depictions of violence in films and on television? Although the causal connection between violent images and violent behaviour remains unproved, what is clear is that films like Rambo and Death Wish, and television programmes like Miami Vice and the A Team are tremendously popular. Why? Could it be that, rather than causing the violence that exists in society, they are a part of, and contribute to, a culture that allows violence to flourish? The same newspapers that screamed "shock, horror" from their headlines the day after the events in Hungerford, routinely encourage and romanticise xenophobia, militarism and war and glorify "heroes" of the Rambo ilk.

And then, to add to the hypocrisy, having dismissed Ryan as a madman, they then call for gun laws to be tightened up to stop other lunatics from getting their hands on sub¬machine guns. But gun laws, however restrictive, necessarily presuppose guns and guns are, by their very nature, weapons of violence — despite what the gun lobby might say about their "sporting" uses. The same culture of violence that makes films like Rambo successful also creates a market for real live guns that are manufactured and sold for profit through gun shops, arms dealers and mail order magazines, who have little interest in the state of mind of the buyer, or the use to which they might be put. There is after all money to be made from violence, as the state which permits and encourages arms dealing knows only too well.

The massacre in Hungerford might, momentarily, have shattered any cosy illusions that people might hold that we live in the best of all possible worlds but the "instant" analysis and irrelevant "solutions" quickly papered over the cracks with reassuring pap about it being an isolated incident, the actions of a crazed man who should never have been permitted a firearms certificate, allowing people to fall back into the complacent belief that "something" is being done. Gun laws are to be reviewed, television schedules were altered. Well that's alright then, isn't it?

JPS. Socialist Standard, October 1987

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is the Left finished?

With a 700 billion dollar US Govt. bail out of the financial sector being negotiated and with financial institutions being nationalised, the otherwise flagging Left is beginning to find new gusto for its calls for more state intervention in the Capitalist economy. (The Guardian the other day was a case in point. See below.)

The following article from 1990 looked at the possibility of the Left's traditional ideas returning to the political stage. - Gray

A decade ago, after the utter failure of the last Labour government, its capitulation to the IMF and its attacks on the social services, and with the mass unemployment and high inflation years of the first Thatcher administration, the position of the Labour Left was probably as strong as it had ever been. Organisations such as the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and the Rank and File Mobilising Committee — not to mention Militant — were able to steer the Labour Party leftwards, opening the way for the desertion of some of the rightwing with the formation of the SDP in 1981 and then, in 1983, for the presentation of Labour's most leftwing election manifesto since 1945.

By 1990 the strength and significance of the Labour Left has changed dramatically. Labour leader Neil Kinnock, the man who said that he "would keep the party unilateralist", has embraced multilateralism and taken most of the party with him. Nationalisation is seen as a relic from the party's dinosaur days, with the Policy Review document tentatively suggesting that the state's holding in British Telecom might possibly be increased from 49 per cent to 51 per cent. Tony Benn, the guru of the Left, now seems to be the forgotten man of British politics while his side-kick Dennis Skinner contents himself with the position of unofficial Court Jester to the Palace of Westminster. Gone are the heady days of those bewildering Conference resolutions calling for massive extensions of state ownership and a "fundamental shift in power and wealth towards working people and their families".

It was only a matter of time before a party as wedded to reformism as Labour would decide that all the composite resolutions in the world would not be of any use unless they were in line with what both the capitalist class and the electorate at large think and expect. The modern Conservative Party is at pains to deny that it had anything to do with the economic difficulties and industrial strife of the pre-Thatcher period. Indeed, much of its success has depended on people associating the 1960s and 70s with the Labour Party, Ted Heath, state intervention and borrowing. That Labour never really implemented a full-blooded programme for state capitalism along the Benn lines is neither here nor there — it is the association which counts.

This, combined with the general shift away from direct state ownership in the economy and from the strained East-West relations of the pre-Gorbachev period, ensured that after its initial successes the Left became isolated and ineffectual. Nationalisation was increasingly out of step with the further internationalisation of capitalist ownership and investment, while unilateral nuclear disarmament was the last thing the other NATO bloc states were looking to Britain for.

So instead of the Labour Party changing society it has been the developments in society which have served to change the Labour Party. Past Labour governments are testimony to the fact that there is nothing really new in this except for one thing — it is the first time the Labour Party has shifted its stance while in opposition. The Left are, of course, aware of this. Former MP Reg Race told a conference in May of "Labour Party Socialists" in Sheffield that the Party's new policy document:

is the most right-wing document ever published by the Labour Party in opposition. Instead of shedding its socialist policies in power, Labour has performed its policy U-turn before the election.

The prospect for state capitalism and its supporters looks fairly grim. The tide of history would appear to have done the Left a disservice. However, the Left have never been slow to cash in on the failings of other reformers and there is no reason why they shouldn't do so again. Now that Neil Kinnock and the Shadow Cabinet have openly fallen in love with the market, their election to office may well give the Left the fillip it needs. Labour's inevitable failure to solve the major problems facing the working class would provide the Left with the chance to re-establish themselves as serious contenders within the realm of capitalist politics. After all, nothing breeds discontent like failure — especially repeated failure. Indeed, one delegate at the Sheffield conference is reported to have stated that:

They want to do nothing about the economy. We will not win the vote at the [Labour Party] Conference, but the failure of that policy after the election will provide us with the opportunity. (Guardian, 21 May).

State intervention and capitalism

There is something else which may also serve to benefit the Left in the longer term. Even though nationalisation and other traditional forms of state intervention have been on the retreat in much of the developed world, there is no reason to assume that they will be of no use to the capitalist class for ever more.

Politicians such as Tony Benn have long argued that the financial scandals to which the City and private enterprise are prone would be remedied by a good dose of nationalisation and "workers' control" and that selective nationalisation would introduce a degree of planning into an otherwise anarchic system. Even though the Left attacks Kinnock for saying that Labour's task should be to make capitalism work better than it has under the Tories, they are in effect saying the same thing — only they have different ideas about how it can be done.

The problems of the environment are another crucial area in which the interventionism favoured by the Left may have something to offer capitalism. Even Prince Charles seems to have come to the conclusion that capitalism cannot go on as it has been doing for much longer, such is the conflict between the life-sustaining systems of the Earth and the profit motive.

Of course countries which have had state capitalism such as East Germany have long had very serious pollution, but it is difficult to see how something could be done within capitalism about environmental problems without a move towards state intervention and regulation of the operation of enterprises. The state will have to take responsibility for investment that the private sector is unwilling to provide, but which may be necessary for the interests of the capitalist class in the long run. The Green Party, which has taken on a number of the viewpoints and perspectives of the Left, pledged itself at the last General Election to "support socially useful products and services, not just commercially viable ones".

The Labour Left and the Greens start out from the same premiss that the free market and uncontrolled growth are the cause of the world environmental crisis and they both say that selective state intervention and a changed system of taxation are necessary as a response. Some of these ideas may look increasingly attractive to capitalist governments in the not too distant future as a way of eliminating some of the worst effects of pollution.

Capitalism is an anarchic and unplannable system which goes its own way ignoring the requirements of billions of people. It is not therefore surprising that many set out to bring the system to heel. The Greens may have been a product of the environmental crisis, but the Labour left spring from a different tradition, one which has concerned itself with the many ways in which capitalism has shown itself to be out of control — crises and depressions, unemployment amidst poverty and need, and so on. As these features of capitalism persist, as they will, so will political groupings which have ideas to get rid of them by "planning" capitalism.

The Thatcher victory in 1979 was partly a result of the failure of the Left to plan capitalism smoothly in the 1960s and 70s. Come the next slump, Thatcher, Kinnock and the other worshippers of the market may have nowhere to run. The Labour Left may find that state intervention is on the capitalist political agenda again.

Whether or not some form of state regulation of the market economy will get its chance again will depend on the attitude of the working class — and it is up to the working class to see that one form of failure isn't replaced with a resurrected old one.

DAP. Socialist Standard, October 1990

Monday, September 22, 2008

Majority understanding or minority action?

"The Baader Meinhof Complex" is a new film opening this week in Germany. Reaction so far has been generally positive. Joerg Schleyer, son of industrialist and former SS member Dr.Schleyer, one of the estimated 34 people murdered by the Red Army Faction (aka Baader-Meinhof Gang), said the film ".. shows the wanton brutality of the RAF without sullying its victims' memory,..You see how my father's chauffeur and another passenger in the car were just slaughtered. It hurts me to watch that but it is the only way to make clear to young people how brutal and bloodthirsty the RAF was at that time. They were not rebels or freedom fighters. They were murderers." Yes they were murderers, but to suggest that rebels or freedom fighters, whether identified as icons (Che, Mao, etc) or groups (ANC, Contras, etc.), did not murder their victims is a dangerous conceit.

Further information about this murderous bunch of 'freedom fighters' is given in the following contemporaneous account:

"..On the 21st October this year [1977], the Paris daily Liberation, carried this statement from the Baader-Meinhofs: "We will never forget the blood spilled by Schmidt and the Imperialists who support him. The battle has only begun. Freedom by the anti-Imperialists." So, like the present Eurocommunists, the Baader-Meinhofs believe that the section of the population to be overthrown is not the capitalst class as a whole, but only part of that class. (The Eurocommunists would claim that it is the "monopoly capitalists" whereas the Baader-Meinhofs make out that it is the "Imperialists".) And like the 19th century Blanquists, the Baader-Meinhofs believe that they can change society by confrontation with the state power. But it is impossible for such action to succeed, because they have to take on the ruling power: the existing army, the police force, etc. The existing state machines have access to vastly greater resources to build armaments etc. than any minority group can hope for. Often the result of terrorism is to increase repression. The governments of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina have adopted ruthless methods against terrorists; and there has been talk, in the Conservative Party in Great Britain recently, of bringing back hanging for terrorists.

The British government refused to give way to the demands of the Tupamaros when they held captive the British Ambassador to Uruguay Geoffrey Jackson. And the Dutch Government held firm while the industrialist Dr. Herrema was held by members of the IRA in 1975.

Moreover, in the rare event of the minority grouping succeeding in taking over state power by force, it is inevitable that the group will have to maintain power by force, or by being prepared to use force if and when necessary. In the 1940s in China, Mao Tse-Tung and his guerilla army succeeded in building up a sufficiently strong force to overthtrow the legitimate government of the Kuomintang. They were able to do this partly because of hostility among large sections of the Chinese peasantry towards the Japanese who were occupying parts of China. But the Chinese "Communist" party have kept a 2.5 million strong so-called "People's Army" (which, of course, is not an army of the people, a conceptwhich is nonsensical, but an army which, if necessary, would act contrary to the interests of the people.)

Terrorism is no new force of warfare: the slaves led by Spartacus in Rome were in many ways like the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - "not to be confused with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command" according to Wikipedia, something which would be funny if it were not so tragic]. But, as a form of "warfare" it does seem to be growing. Richard Clutterbuck, in a recent book on the subject, argues that though as old as civilization, terrorism has replaced old-style wars between armies as a form of international coercion. Whether or not this is true terrorism cannot be an agent of socialist revolution, because Socialism requires a majority understanding and accepting the socialist case. Instead, terrorists are making the task more difficult by bringing into disrepute the word Revolution."

Alision Waters (Socialist Standard, December 1977)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Blobby Culture

Damien Hirst was in the news again recently, as he sold some two hundred works at auction. The NY Times reported on three of his pieces:

On Monday, the evening’s star was “The Golden Calf,” a white bullock preserved in formaldehyde, with hoofs and horns made of 18-carat gold and a gold disc crowning the head. The work was estimated at $15.8 million to $23.6 million and drew three bidders. It went for $18.6 million to a buyer on the phone.

A work along similar lines, “The Black Sheep With the Golden Horn,” had just two bidders, with the winner paying $4.7 million, in the middle of its $3.9 million to $5.9 million estimate. Three potential buyers vied for “The Kingdom,” another formaldehyde-preserved work, this one a tiger shark. It sold for $17.2 million, well above its high estimate of $11.8 million.

Workers don't buy these things and not a few think preserved animals or the things nominated for the Turner Prize are pointless, pretentious rubbish! Personally, I agree. It's not all modern art that is like that though. When modern art started ( with Picasso, Duchamp's "Fountain" and the Dadaists), there was a view that da Vinci was the greatest, that was how you made art and that European Bourgeois Society was the pinnacle of civilisation. The death of a generation in the trenches in 1914-1918 led to an artistic revolt questioning those assumptions.

Freud's theories on the human mind was a further source of inspiration and would play a role in the works of surrealism. Some of the painters at the time were "Reds" who saw a revolutionary role for modern art.

Modern art today is empty of any meaning and probably sold to nervous capitalists who want a safe place to put their cash in market crises. The following article from 1994 takes a look at art today. - Gray

The new emblem of British culture has been unleashed. From the great system of dynamic enterprise which tried to sell us the Sinclair C5 and Charles 'n' Di mugs has emerged the ubiquitous Mister Blobby. Once a mere pseudo-personality to share a screen with the non-personality of Noel Edmonds, now Blobby has achieved the success of shooting to the top of the Christmas record charts and being mobbed by adoring fans wherever he appears. That he is not real (there is not even an out-of-work actor inside him, we are told by an official at the BBC) well reflects the condition of contemporary art. Like a glove puppet with no human hand to manipulate him, Blobby embodies - if not emblobbies - the emptiness of late-twentieth century market culture.

Blobby was not invited to be a judge in the Turner Prize for the greatest art in Britain. His comments would have been about as meaningful and dynamic as the Snobbies from the art critics' enclosure whose task was to determine which piece of socially estranged exhibition art deserved the jackpot. It was awarded eventually to Rachel Whiteread whose dislocated semi-house structure beat the pile of rice with neon lights running through it which was another contender for the most vacuous piece of insignificance to stun the red-rimmed spectacled spectators. A pile of bricks in the Tate Gallery, a sack of neon-lit rice, an inside-out house, Mister Blobby booming from the radio ... is somebody trying to tell us something?

Perhaps they are telling us this: that capitalism has run out of ideas. Just as its political defenders can think of nothing at all except to go back to basics which they can't define, those who write, paint, sculpt or dance to the tune of a social order which is increasingly socially fragmented and ideologically unconfident in itself will all too frequently produce nonsense.

This is not to attack artistic modernity in defence of some romanticized memory of high art which was largely the production of pompous postures for the privileged. The art critic, Brian Sewell, whose arrogant dismissal of "the new" is a thinly-disguised fear of artistic expression by those previously excluded from "posh art" (women, non-Europeans and the non-rich), persists in defending a vision of artistic quality which means little more than the fading values of a worn-out aristocracy. Anyone tempted by the snobbish ramblings of Sewell should read William Morris's Art Under Plutocracy (1883) or Art And Socialism (1884) as an antidote.

The issue is not really about art at all. It is about finding meanings in a world that has become meaningless to so many people. The old-guard defenders of High Culture seek meaning in a past where capitalist relations were still dynamic and able to offer some inspiration to creative minds. The new snobs invent ever more outrageous adventures in escapist and abstracted imagery in a bid to create meaning where nothing is meant. It is like a restaurant which has run out of recipes selling expensive bowls of boiled water which is coloured purple to make the punters imagine they are tasting something new.

The problem of capitalism's current cultural crisis is that productive relations are so outmoded in relation to the potential for dynamic productivity of creative abundance that artists thinking and working within the belief-structure of the capitalist system are only likely to reproduce the stagnation arising from redundant relationships. Just as the late Roman Empire produced a decadent and dying artistic culture and the collapsing Ottoman Empire found itself artistically adrift, so "art" in the present stage of capitalism is increasingly divided between the commercial populism of cartoon video imagery which is pointless and often poisonous and fake innovations which impress only those who are paid to be impressionable.

Living art must relate to people as we are and not to trained consumers of warmed-up relics by the dead or pretentious trash by the dead boring. The rhythm of art is social activity: productive work in its broadest sense (from wood-cutting to mixing paints). As Ernst Fischer explained in his very clearly-stated Marxist analysis, The Necessity of Art:

Art... is a form of work, and work is an activity peculiar to mankind . . . Man takes possession of the natural by transforming it. Work is transformation of the natural. Man also dreams of working magic upon nature, of being able to change objects and give them new form by magic means. This is the equivalent in the imagination of what work means in reality. Man is, from the outset, a magician.

But the magicians of our age are more like tricky conjurers pulling imitation rabbits out of their hats. For, the principal art of capitalism is the advertising industry and its insidious assault upon our tastes and desires does not reflect the rhythm of life but rather seeks to dictate it. Today's "artists" are the producers of ads for Renault and Guiness - the product is immaterial: drive it or drink it, but the boys in red-rimmed specs will make you buy it.

Is there any hope for meaningful art in a society where money buys creativity, distorts wants and crushes hope? Is such a wretched social order capable of much more than Mister Blobby?

And yet there does emerge subversive art. Sometimes it is appropriated by those it threatens. Just as armies defuse explosive devices, the artists who rebel are made safe by being given jobs and allowed to turn rebellion into a fashion. So it is that designer-made Anarchist symbols can now be purchased from the trendiest clothes shops and chinless wonders frequent the wine bars of Kensington wearing ripped jeans and expensive punk labels. Capitalism finds it easier to buy subversion than to fight it.

Exceptions do exist. The photo-art of the Brazilian photographer, Sebastiao Salgada, whose images of the hellish lives of workers were recently exhibited in a remarkable free exhibition "Workers - An Archeology of the Industrial Age" at the Royal Festival Hall, shows just how much of an impact the depiction of the conditions of contemporary wage slavery can make.

For the present writer (as for several other socialists who saw the exhibition) this was a refreshing glimmer of haunting reality within an art world usually inhabited by preciously insignificant artifacts. Without lionizing workers in the grotesque manner of the old "socialist realists", Salgada's pictures capture the essential dignity of productive creation while never flinching from the nightmarish wretchedness which characterizes so much daily labour. (A book containing some of the photographs has been published.) Here is art penetrating existing relations rather than retreating from them into the pseudo-inner-soul of the artist.

Those who saw Tony Hancock's satirical depiction of the pretensions of the art world in his 1960 film, The Rebel, will recognize that with the Turner Prize art has come to imitate comedy. Likewise, readers of Aldous Huxley's novel, Brave New World, will detect in the recent superstardom of Mister Blobby the rise of a form of artistic expression only possible when its audience is being conditioned to the idiotic level of meaningless entertainment. Poverty takes many forms, and not the least of them is that which holds up an artistic mirror to the social ethos and reflects in it an abstract, ludicrous portrait of a system of social chaos.

S. Coleman. Socialist Standard, February 1994

Friday, September 19, 2008

The end of capitalism -- or just of "neo-liberalism"?

In the 1980s, with Reagan in America and Thatcher in Britain, it became acceptable amongst the system’s supporters to use the word "capitalism" again. Before that if you used it you risked being called a "communist". But by capitalism they meant the ideology of free-market, private-enterprise capitalism, a capitalism with much less state intervention and regulation than up till then.

The supporters of the old form of mixed private/state capitalism were appalled. They denounced the new form taken by capitalism as "neo-liberalism", using the term "liberal" in its 19th century sense when the Manchester cotton lords who wanted free trade were supporters of the old Liberal Party.

Both supporters and opponents of free-market capitalism now seem agreed that the current financial and economic crisis represents a turning point. Even the free-marketeers recognise this, though they don't like it. "An historic turning point has been reached", wrote Anatole Kaletsky in the Times (12 September) following the State take-over of the US mortgage companies, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, "the West is ditching its faith in free markets and private enterprise".

The decision of the US State to let Lehman's go bankrupt revived their spirits a little. "What critics are too hasty to see as capitalism in crisis is, in fact, capitalism in action", the Times editorialised on 17 September, explaining: "It might be brutal and unforgiving but this is how capitalism works. The market ensures that those who make mistakes are accountable for them". But that was before the US State intervened to try to save AIG, the insurance giant that sponsors Manchester United. Collapse of the stout party.

On the same day the Guardian asked a number of well-known, self-proclaimed "anti-capitalists" -- among them Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Ken Livingstone, Tony Benn, George Galloway, George Monbiot and the leaders of the SWP -- for their views on the current crisis . None of them saw this as a final crisis of capitalism (as of course it isn't). Most of them called for an end to "neo-liberalism" and a return to the more state-regulated capitalism of previous decades. As if this hadn't proved a failure too from the point of view of meeting the needs of wage and salary workers and their families.

Ken Livingstone put it this way: "Sadly, I don't think this will be the end of capitalism. But there is going to have to be a return to a much, much more interventionist state". 1968 students' leader and now a Green MEP Daniel Cohn Bendit followed suit: "It's not the end of capitalism because capitalism has always had the intelligence to reform itself. It will be the end of capitalism when it's incapable of reforming. However, the belief that the market is god is over. It must now be regulated". Fellow Green MEP Caroline Lucas, from the UK, agreed: "This is a defining moment; the end of the kind of unbridled, deregulated capitalism of the past few decades. We are going to have to return finance to its role as servant rather than master of the global economy".

George Monbiot wanted to revive Keynes, the discredited 1930s economist: "A Keynesian solution along the lines of Roosevelt's New Deal could deliver many of the things the left is calling for -- more public spending, more training and education". Respect Party councillor, Salma Yaqoob, and Lindsey Germain of the SWP were more moderate. They called for just one reform measure. "Why not do something literally concrete on the ground and start building cheaper social housing?" said the one. "The left needs to put forward answers. People have the right to work; we have a housing crisis, so why not employ people to build more houses?" echoed the other. It's true that by concentrating on one reform such as housing these would-be vanguardists have a better chance of fooling people into following them than if they raised a demand for a "Keynesian solution". That wouldn’t "mobilise the masses" and would also expose them for the reformers of capitalism they are in practice.

Chris Harman, Tony Cliff's successor as the SWP's theoretical guru replied, curiously: "This is a very, very serious crisis of capitalism: it has been the build-up of private borrowing that has kept the system going, and it's coming unstuck". Since when has capitalism been kept going by consumer spending, whether financed by borrowing or not? This is a new version of the SWP's old mistake of thinking that what kept capitalism going was arms spending (exposed as wrong when arms spending was cut and capitalism kept going).

What keeps capitalism going as an economic system is the pursuit and attainment of profits. It falters when profits are not attained, though it can also be temporarily upset by a financial crisis. What also keeps capitalism going is of course, politically, the support or acquiescence of the vast majority of the population who see no alternative to the money-wages-profit system that is capitalism. Livingstone, Galloway, Benn, the SWP and the Greens, in only criticising "neo-liberalism" and advocating instead what might be called a "neo-statism", are not helping to dissipate this acceptance of some form of capitalism as the only possible way of organising the production and distribution of wealth.

The only real alternative to capitalism, whether private enterprise or state capitalist or a mixture of the two, is a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, with production to meet people's needs not to make profits and distribution on the principle of "from each according to ability, to each according to needs". A view the Guardian too omitted to mention.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

For the Diary

Just a reminder that the Socialist Party will be holding a forum with Ian Bone (Class War) tomorrow.

In October, our Manchester Branch has organised the following

Tour of Marx' and Engels' Manchester
Saturday 11 October
Meet by the ticket office at Victoria Station at 2pm


Manchester Branch meeting
Monday 27 October, 8.30pm
Discussion on The Priorities of Socialist Society
Unicorn, Church Street, City centre

All events are free and open for all

Is There A Crash Coming?

The news is awash with statements about Capitalism not going to be the same again following e.g. the collapse of Lehman or the US Govt. nationalising parts of its economy. It's quite probable that people are wondering if Capitalism is on the verge of some sort of collapse. As Spiegel Online put it

In fact, it really does look as if the foundations of US capitalism have shattered. Since 1864, American banking has been split into commercial banks and investment banks. But now that's changing. Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch -- overnight, some of the biggest names on Wall Street have disappeared into thin air. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are the only giants left standing. Despite tolerable quarterly results, even they have been hurt by mysterious slumps in prices and -- at least in Morgan Stanley's case -- have prepared themselves for the end.

"Nothing will be like it was before," said James Allroy, a broker who was brooding over his chai latte at a Starbucks on Wall Street. "The world as we know it is going down."

Many are drawing comparisons with the Great Depression, the national trauma that has been the benchmark for everything since. "I think it has the chance to be the worst period of time since 1929," financing legend Donald Trump told CNN. And the Wall Street Journal seconds that opinion, giving one story the title: "Worst Crisis Since '30s, With No End Yet in Sight."

But what's really happening? Experts have so far been unable to agree on any conclusions. Is this the beginning of the end? Or is it just a painful, but normal cycle correcting the excesses of recent years?
The following article puts some perspective on it. - Gray

Capitalism is an inherently unstable system of society. Changes are continuously taking place, most of them unforeseen by workers and capitalists alike. Workers suddenly find that their supposedly safe jobs have disappeared; capitalists' markets and profits fade out. Something like 100,000 British companies have been wound up in the past ten years.

Every day something goes wrong for some group or other, and out of this uncertainty many observers over the past 200 years have concluded that capitalism will, or may, fall into chaos from which it cannot recover. Some have been capitalist spokesmen who feared what was apparently taking place. In 1829 William Huskisson, former President of the Board of Trade, wrote: "I consider the country to be in a most unsatisfactory state, that some great convulsion must soon take place". In 1884 Lord Randolph Churchill, describing the difficulties in which most industries found themselves because of the current depression, said: "Turn your eyes where you will, survey any branch of British industry you like, you will find signs of mortal disease". And in 1876 a Board of Trade official, Sidney Bourne, issued a warning about the dire consequences that would follow if the nation failed to tackle a problem that all the economists and politicians were talking about in June of this year — the adverse balance of trade, the excess of imports over exports.

While those people feared the "great convulsion", there were other observers who welcomed the possibility of a "collapse of capitalism" because they supposed that it would force the workers to introduce socialism. So in every depression there were forecasts of that kind. Typical of them is the statement by H.M. Hyndman of the Social Democratic Federation in 1884: "It is quite possible that during this very crisis ... an attempt will be made to substitute collective for capitalist control". In 1919 Herman Cahn published his The Collapse of Capitalism in which he said that it could not be postponed any longer and was "imminent". In 1922 W. Paul, a prominent member of the Communist Party, wrote: "There is the greatest possibility that the social revolution may take place in the immediate future:, and in 1931 James Maxton of the Independent Labour Party said that it was only a matter of months: "collapse is sure and certain".

There have been several different theories about the way the supposed collapse would be brought about. Herman Cahn's bogey was the 1914-1918 wartime inflation and consequent depreciation of the currencies of many countries in terms of gold. It was no more difficult to restore stable currencies after that war than it had been after the Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War. Lots of banks did go broke and depositors and shareholders lost money, but "bad debts" are a normal feature of capitalism. In recent years some prophets of collapse have concentrated on the huge debts owed to American and European banks by Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and other borrowers who now want to default on repayment. It has all happened before, repeatedly in the nineteenth century and between the wars. A century ago, when British capitalists were the big world lenders, a large proportion of loans were never repaid.

Then there is the "adverse balance of trade". It is possible for a country to have its imports and exports tidily balanced, but actually there are always some countries with an adverse balance, that is, imports greater than exports and other countries with exports greater than imports. (For the world as a whole, of course, total imports and exports are identical, one country's exports being another country's imports.) The country with a favourable balance is one whose products are cheapest and which therefore predominate in world markets. For some time it has been Japan; earlier it had been Britain (in the nineteenth century), Germany and America. In due course it will be some other country or countries underselling Japan. It is a situation which largely repeats itself. If Japanese exporters capture markets the importers have to pay in Japanese yen, which they acquire by selling their pounds, dollars and so forth. This has the effect of putting up the exchange rate of the yen and depressing the exchange rates of pounds and dollars . . . which in turn takes away the relative cheap¬ness of Japanese goods and makes the American or British goods more competitive. Fifty years ago Professor Edwin Carman, when asked what governments should do about the "problem", told them to stop publishing import/export figures and just forget all about it.

Like Herman Cahn, many later politicians and economists have seen in inflation the great threat to the continuance of capitalism, Mrs Thatcher among them. She says that inflation causes unemployment and trade depressions, and has proposed to end it and get a stable price level. The Tory Election Programme 1987 had this:

Our success in the battle against inflation has been the key to Britain's economic revival. We will not be content until we have stable prices, with inflation eradicated altogether.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, has always been favourably disposed to inflation. The 1974-79 Labour government more than doubled the cost of living in five years, and during the depression between the wars their leading economist, Pethick Lawrence proclaimed the very opposjfe of the Thatcher theory. He wrote: "I regard it as indisputable that unemployment, as it has existed in the world in recent years, is due to falling prices". The Labour Party's remedy at that time was to get prices up again.

If the Tories and the Labour Party looked at the history of capitalism they would find that unemployment and depression exist whether prices are falling, rising or stationary.

Probably the most widely accepted "collapse" theory centres around the belief that unemployment is bound to get larger and larger. Karl Marx's colleague Frederick Engls put it forward in 1886, three years after Marx's death. He wrote:

Meanwhile, each succeeding winter brings up afresh the great question "what to do with the unemployed"; but while the numbers of unemployed keep swelling from year to year, there is nobody to answer that question; and we can almost calculate the moment when the unemployed, losing patience, will take their own fate into their own hands.

The same theory was advanced again in the depression which began in 1979 and it has met the same fate. Within a short time Engels saw unemployment falling and he aban¬doned the theory. And unemployment in the 1930s, which reached 23 per cent in Britain and 25 per cent in the United States was nearly double the unemployment rates'of recent years. British unemployment is now slowly falling again-, and American unemployment is at an all-time low.

When Engels put forward the theory he recognised that it was not a view held by Marx. It was Marx who put the whole question in perspective, showing that it is a continuous cycle, the recovery from the depression being as inevitable as the depression itself:

Capitalist production. . . moves through certain periodical cycles. It moves through a state of quiescence, growing animation, prosperity, overtrade, crisis and stagnation.

Britain is now in the phase of "growing animation" with production, real wages, profits and employment all rising in the past few years.

Events since Marx wrote have fully confirmed the accuracy of his description, and all of the attempts by governments to promote permanent boom and full employment have failed. But we have something further to say about it. It needs more than capitalism's crises to produce socialism. It needs a predominantly socialist working class. As it was phrased in our pamphlet Why capitalism will not collapse, published in 1932:

So long as the workers are prepared to resign themselves to the evils of capitalism, and so long as they are prepared to place in control of Parliament parties that will use their power for the purpose of maintaining capitalism, there is no escape from the effects of capitalism.

H. Socialist Standard, September 1988

The Toronto Propane Explosion

Capitalism has a nasty habit of suddenly laying a ton of grief on unsuspecting members of the working class. A typical example is when the employees of Consumers Glass in Etobicoke, Ontario, were recently told the plant was going to be shut down just two weeks after they had negotiated a union contract. But the explosion at the Sunrise Propane yard in Toronto on August 10 takes some beating. This happened at 4 am in a heavily populated residential area. 12 000 people living in a 1.6 kilometre radius were evacuated, many clad only in night clothes. A 25-year veteran of the Toronto Fire Department died fighting the blaze, and a Sunrise employee was missing presumed dead. He was reportedly last seen heading towards the fire. Considering the blast shattered windows over a wide area and flying debris damaged buildings hundreds of metres away, it was surprising casualties were not greater. Thousands forced to flee from their homes are demanding answers from the Toronto City Council as to why Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases was allowed to build a distribution plant in a long established residential area three years ago. Although the casualties were light, the residents wonder why they were not consulted when plans to move the company into this working class neighbourhood were made. "We weren’t even advised they were going to be there. They just moved in." (resident’s response, Toronto Star, 11 August).

The area councilor, Maria Augimeri, had to cut short her holiday in Italy to return and face the anger. Augimeri organized a meeting at the same time as the local ratepayers association had theirs. When asked why she didn’t simply attend the ratepayers’ meeting she told the reporter to ‘shut up’.

The technical Standards and Safety Authority which is charged with monitoring the handling, transport, storage, and use of fuel products and Transport Canada that oversees the shipment of fuel were unable to provide details of their standards and regulations, including how close to residential neighbourhoods propane should be stored. This is in part the legacy of the government of neocon Mike Harris who dismantled government agencies charged with safety in industry in a massive privatization move designed to save his government money that was mostly returned to the wealthier Ontarians via tax cuts. The tainted water scandal at Walkerton was one disastrous result. This appears to be another, although the Liberals, now in their second term, have done little to correct the situation. The Propane Association of Canada did issue a statement that "incidents like this are extremely rare." The fact is, one is too many.

Acting mayor, Shelley Carroll, said the proper mechanisms were in place to ensure the explosions were sent north-south rather than east-west towards the residents. Famous last words! According to Michael Birk, head of mechanical and materials engineering at Queen’s University, "Propane technology is very safe and industry standards are updated." Neither of these comments mean anything to those who have had their homes damaged or suffered personal injury. The plain fact is that it’s far too dangerous to have a propane yard near any homes, let alone in the middle of a densely populated area.

Propane, the main constituent of liquid petroleum gas (LPG), widely used for home heating and barbecues, is heavier than air, meaning it will sink to the ground and stay there. Even a spark can set it off. Propane tanks, whether they be a 22 000 litre storage unit or a barbecue tank, contain 80% liquid and the remaining space for vapour. Relief valves on the tank open when the pressure exceeds the design limits. The gas that escapes rapidly expands. The 18 litres of liquid in the average barbecue tank could expand to more than 380 cubic metres of potentially explosive gas, enough to cover a parking garage 30 metres by 40 metres. The tanks involved in the fire had the capacity for 220 000 litres, more than 12 000 times as much as the back yard barbecue tank. Though fire fighters were dispatched from all over Toronto, they could only work with full equipment, including breathing apparatus, for 20 to 30minutes at a time in such intense heat. As one commented, "If there is a fire under one of these cylinders, it will warm up that cylinder and bring it to a point where it is boiling, and if there is a slight crack in that cylinder, then the likelihood is that you’re going to have an explosion.

Ontario’s Ministry of Environment ordered Sunrise Propane to take care of the clean- up three days after the explosion, but when it became clear they were not moving fast enough, the City of Toronto took over. Shelley Carroll informed residents that crews would be going door to door to advise them when that would be. Within four days of the blast, two law firms filed $500 million law suits on behalf of outraged residents against Sunrise Propane.

To a socialist, the fact that the company will pay compensation isn’t the point. That their operations in a residential area is not in violation of the City of Toronto by-laws is very much the point. It means the politicians, who run the day-to-day business for capitalism are more focused on that aspect than on public safety. What is also very much to the point is that the yard was situated in a working class neighbourhood. Imagine the uproar if it had been proposed to locate it in the affluent Rosedale area, or in Westchester, Westmount, or near Buckingham Palace! Nor does it make sense to argue that there are countries and provinces with better environmental and safety regulations than Ontario. Within capitalism, such regulations will always be subordinate to the profit motive that is the lifeblood of the capitalist system. Along with wars, starvation, and other deprivations of our current system, that subordination will constantly lead to preventable loss of and threat to human life. Common sense dictates, and socialism would naturally include, that top priority would be given to the health and general welfare of the citizens simply because they would be the ones making the decisions in the interests of all. Dangerous chemicals, if needed, would be located away from populated areas and managed by qualified personnel.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Great Crash 1929

"We are heading into a storm and it's reminiscent of the 1930s", warns investment guru George Soros

This was in the Daily Mail today. 1929 and the Great Crash invariably comes up as people discuss the turmoil capitalism is undergoing at present. Crises do not repeat themselves - it is worth, though, looking at the events of 1929 and afterwards.

The following article (by ALB) was published in the October 1979 Socialist Standard

FIFTY YEARS AGO, on Tuesday 29 October, the boom in the price of stocks and shares on the New York stock exchange came to an abrupt end in what has gone down in history as the Great Crash.

Stocks and shares are titles to ownership of part of a business. They entitle their owners to a percentage of the profits of that business in the form of dividends or, in the case of certain kinds of shares, fixed interest payments. In theory the price of a share refects the value of the firm's assets. In practice it fluctuates with the firm's profit-making record and expected profits. It is this latter that introduces an element of gambling into shareholding, since the firm can never know in advance whether or not it will in actual fact make the hoped for profits. If it doesn't then the price of its shares will fall and the shareholders will suffer a loss. If it does then the price of its shares will increase and the shareholder will receive a capital gain as well as a dividend.

A stock exchange boom is essentially a period of speculation for capital gains in rising share prices. It need have nothing whatsoever to do with the profit-making record or prospects of the firms whose shares are traded. It is enough that there is a sustained excess of buyers over sellers on the stock market. With prices continually rising, capital gains can be made simply by buying shares one day and selling them the next. A telephone call is ail the effort required.

Until October 1929 there was such a boom on the New York stock exchange. Share prices were rising, and everybody expected them to go on rising. Stories of people 'getting rich quick' from buying and selling shares encouraged others to try their luck. Actually, as long as the boom continued it was not a question of luck at all but a matter of having money. If you didn't have ready cash, you could borrow the money to buy the shares. Certainly you needed some collateral, but there were cases of shares already bought on loans — and even of the shares to be bought by that loan - being accepted as collateral.

The trouble with a speculative boom of this sort is that it cannot go on for ever. Sooner or later the excess of buyers over sellers must disappear. Everybody knows this, but investors can't resist the temptation to make easy money.

The Great Crash was followed by a severe industrial depression, summarised by J.K. Gaibraith in his very readable book on the subject:

After the Great Crash came the Great Depression which lasted, with varying severity, for ten years. In 1933, Gross National Product (total production of the economy) was nearly a third less than in 1929. Not until 1937 did the physical volume of production recover to the levels of 1929, and then it promptly slipped back again. Until 1941 the dollar value of production remained below 1929. Between 1930 and 1940 only once, in 1937, did the average number unemployed during the year drop below eight million. In 1933 nearly thirteen million were out of work, or about one in every four in the labour force. In 1938 one person in five was still out of work. (The Great Crash 1929, Pelican, p. 186.)

One school of thought, the monetarists, sees the Great Crash and Great Depression as the outcome of government interference in the 'natural' workings of capitalism. According to them, the stock exchange boom and its inevitable crash were caused by the monetary policy pursued by the US government and central bank (the Federal Reserve Board). What gives monetarist explanations of this crisis, and of crises in general, a semblance of plausibility, is the fact that monetary bungling can aggravate a crisis. And there is no doubt that in the years up to 1929 the Federal Reserve Board, in pursuing a cheap money policy with easy credit and low interest rates, did encourage the stock exchange boom, and so helped make the crash all the greater when it came. A stricter monetary policy might have cut short the boom at a much earlier stage and thus prevented so great a crash, even if not a minor one, but the question is: would it also have avoided the Great Depression?

Here the answer must be no. For a slowing down on economic activity was evident in the summer of 1929, some months before the Crash (a knowledge of this must have been a factor in bringing the stock exchange boom to an end). This downturn was particularly evident in the consumer goods sector, where the firms concerned had overestimated demand and were finding themselves lumbered with excessive stocks. In other words, the depression was going to happen anyway, whether or not there had been the stock exchange boom and crash. More fundamental economic factors were at work than speculations on the stock market or the monetary bungling of the Federal Reserve Board.

An attempt to identify these fundamental economic factors using the categories of Marxian economics has been made by Sydney H. Coontz in Productive Labour and Effective Demand (1965) and by Ernest Mandel.

A depression is the result of an unbalanced growth of one sector of the economy having expanded too fast for the other sectors. Simplifying matters, the economy can be divided into two main sectors, the one producing means of production (sometimes called 'capital soods" or, more accurately, 'producer goods'), and the other producing consumer goods. The conditions for steady, balanced growth under capitalism can then be stated to be:

The purchase of consumer goods by all the workers and capitalists engaged in producing capital goods must be equivalent to the purchases of capital goods by the capitalists engaged in producing consumer goods (including in both categories the purchases needed to expand production). The constant reproduction of these conditions of equilibrium thus requires a proportional development of the two sectors of production. The periodical occurrence of crises is to be explained only by a periodical break in this proportionality or, in other words, by an uneven development of these two sectors. (Mandel. Marxist Economy Theory, Vol I , p.349.)

What happened in America in the 1920s was that the producer goods sector expanded too fast for the consumer goods sector. Production and productivity increased while wages and prices remained comparatively stable. Wages did in fact rise, but the main benefits of the increase in productivity went to the capitalists in the form of increased profits. Most of these additional profits were reinvested in production (though some found their way to the New York stock exchange). It was this that led, according to figures quoted by Galbraith, to the rapid expansion of the producer goods sector as compared with the consumer goods sector:

During the twenties, the production of capital goods increased at an average annual rate of 6.4 per cent; non¬durable consumers' goods, a category which includes such objects of mass consumption as food and clothing, increased at a rate of only 2.8 per cent. (pp. 192-3)

An expansion of the producer goods sector at a faster rate than the consumer goods sector is not in itself a situation of disproportionate development. Indeed, it has been precisely the historical role of capitalism to build up and develop the means of production at the expense of consumption. But so-called 'production for production's sake' cannot in practice continue indefinitely, since it demands either a sustained series of new inventions and innovations or a continually expanding market for consumer goods.

The relatively full employment in America in the 1920s — unemployment was officially only 0.9 per cent in 1929 - did mean that the market for consumer goods expanded, but the falling share of wages and salaries in National Income meant that this was not going to continue. The expansion of the producer goods sector levelled off, further retracting the market for consumer goods since its workers now had less to spend. Expressed in terms of the formula for balanced growth stated above, the purchase of consumer goods by the workers (and capitalists) in the producer goods sector had come to be less than the purchase of producer goods by the capitalists in the consumer goods sector. In other words, an overcapacity had developed in the consumer goods sector, which expressed itself in an overproduction of consumer goods and the build-up of stocks. As Coontz puts it (using the language of academic economics):

. . . stagnation in the capital goods industry, the displacement of labour in this sector, meant that worker and entrepreneurial consumption expenditures failed to rise pari passu with investment in the consumer sector. It was this disproportionality that generated the Great Depression, (p. 154)

The Great Depression — which occurred all over the world and not just in America - was not an accident, but simply capitalism working in a normal way. It exposed capitalism for the irrational, anti-socia! system that it is. While millions were unemployed and reduced to bare subsistence levels, food was destroyed because it could not be sold profitably. It was in the 1930s that the Roosevelt administration introduced the notorious policy of paying farmers not to grow food, a policy accurately described by a later President, Kennedy, as 'planned underproduction'. Even in times of boom and prosperity capitalism underproduces, but in times of depression this is even more flagrant.

The Depression eventually came to an end — with the war and preparations for war.

Capitalism: boom & bust

The downturn in the global economy appears to be broadening and deepening. The sub-prime slime has became the "Credit Crunch" in 2008, and last month heralded a further round of casualties on what some are starting to call "Manic Monday".

US house repossessions started it all off, followed by mortgage lenders and banks in Europe. But more recently the US government felt unable to allow their Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (public mortgage lenders) go under, but stopped short of baling out Lehman Brothers.

The contagious fear of vanishing profits extended beyond mortgages to insurance giant AIG and beyond, and the geographical spread has widened to China and Japan.

Workers could be excused feeling some sort of schadenfreude at the news of a bank running out of money or an insurance company failing to manage risk and hedge their bets. Who can fail to smile as another financial institution is found to have ignored its own advice ("The value of your investment can go down as well as up. You may not get back the amount of money you invested and should only invest sums of money you are prepared to lose").

So there may be fewer stories in the news of £100 burgers in the bistros or £30,000 drinks bills in the restaurants of the City of London, but of course the economic downturn impacts more on the poor than the rich.

World socialists are opposed to capitalism – boom or bust. Recession just helps throw into sharp relief the logic of the market system. It does however also provide a good opportunity to highlight some important differences between capitalism, and socialism – where money and wages would not exist and production of wealth would be based on meeting real human needs.

Firstly of course inside socialism there will be no work at all for the whole financial sector that is under such pressure at present. Pensions advisors, insurance salespersons, "independent" financial advisers, mortgage brokers, fund managers: all of these jobs are essential to the smooth operation of capitalism, but are socially-useless and would have no place in a socialist society.

Over 1 million people in the UK – 4 percent of the workforce – are engaged in such activities which are wholly useless. When you factor in related jobs such as accountancy, real estate, and ancillary financial services the numbers mount up. Socialism will really make these positions redundant, but with the pay-off that people will be free to engage in work that is genuinely productive and socially useful.

But there is another less obvious way in which the market system is an incredibly wasteful mechanism for organising the production of wealth. Arguably, one of capitalism's "unique selling points" is that the money system provides a mechanism whereby the cost of all aspects of a product or commodity can be expressed in a single number, a common denominator or price, thereby allowing a simple means of comparison: the cost of a barrel of oil can be quantified against an acre of land, or a gram of cocaine. A sure thing now can be hedged against a risk tomorrow.

But the benefits of this are dubious. And in any case, behind the apparent simplicity and power of comparing like with like around the world, minute by minute, and even hedged into the future, the reality is very different. This reduces your power over production. Interest rates rise in the US, and a hospital gets mothballed in the UK? The oil price rises and thousands of holidaymakers get stranded in a foreign country? The need for constant minute-by-minute re-evaluations of cashflow projections or return on investment expectations, for every project, every industry, every product results in a colossal waste of the planet's resources and humanity's energy and ingenuity

Brian Gardner

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Peace in Palestine?

Fifteen years ago today at the White House, the Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chirman Yasser Arafat shook hands after signing an accord granting limited Palestinian autonomy. Did these two dead terrorists believe that anything resembling lasting peace would result from their discussions? If so they were deluding themselves, as Socialists made clear at the time:

Peace is always better than war. Because wars are never fought in the interests of ordinary people. And because in wars it is always ordinary people who suffer. So, irrespective of the issues involved or the terms agreed, Socialists can only welcome the ending of any war in any part of the world. Stop the killing is our permanent policy.

In that artificial subdivision of the old Ottoman Empire known as Palestine, those who suffered from the irrational attempt to set up a Jewish State there have been both the original population - whether of Muslim, Christian or Jewish religious background - and those who were misled by the Zionists into emigrating there.

Socialists and Zionists have been opponents since the beginning. Inevitably, as they represented two incompatible views as to the solution workers of Jewish background should seek to the problem of anti-semitism.

The Socialist attitude was expressed early on by Karl Marx, himself of course of Jewish background even though brought up a Christian. In one of his first articles after becoming a Socialist Marx argued that Jewish people should seek emancipation, not as Jews, but as human beings. To do this they should abandon their religion - just as Christians should abandon theirs - and become members of a secular human community in which money and the state should be abolished, i.e. Socialism. In the meantime, under capitalism, Jews should enjoy the same political rights, in a secular democratic state, as Christians and others.

The Zionist movement propounded the opposite view: that the Jews were a separate nation and that as such they were entitled to their own state, in Palestine. People of Jewish background should not seek emancipation as human beings, but as Jews. Neither should they seek integration within the political states in which they found themselves, but separation in a state of their own.

The battle lines were thus drawn and throughout Europe and America Socialists and Zionists vied for the support of workers of Jewish background. Socialists argued against the idea that the Jews were a nation or a race; most Jews were workers and should join with other workers to achieve socialism which would mean “the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex”. Even though many Zionists were not religious, all they had to go on to justify Palestine as the place for their Jewish State was an irrational belief, the religious myth set out in some holy book that the Jewish God had given Palestine to the Jews to be their homeland.

Many Jewish workers were convinced by the Socialist argument and rejected Zionism, and played - and still play - a considerable part in the Socialist movement. Most Jews rejected Zionism in practice - and still do - by integrating into the countries where they lived. The terrible experience of the Second World war, however, convinced many (though by no means most) European Jews to embrace the idea of a Jewish State.

In l948 the Zionist dream was realised. Palestine was partitioned and a State of Israel established. Zionist extremists practised what is now called “ethnic cleansing” and hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish inhabitants of the Israeli part of Palestine were driven from their homes. Those who remained suffered the same fate the Zionists sought to free Jews from: being a minority in someone else's "nation state".

The establishment of Israel did not end anti-semitism. In fact it caused it to spread to where it had never existed before - to the Arab-speaking parts of the world. For centuries Jews had lived in peace and security, integrated and speaking Arabic, in these parts of the world. Now, as a direct result of the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine, they came to suffer the same persecution that the European Jews had. The result was that centuries of integration was undone in decades. Today there are virtually no Jews living in Arab countries: most Arab Jews are now in Israel where they form an underprivileged group.

Opposition to Zionism does not mean that we support the PLO. Unlike some, we don't single out Jewish nationalism for special condemnation. We should condemn all nationalisms equally. The “Palestinian nation” is just as much a myth as the “Jewish nation”, or any other nation. Nationalism is the ideology which seeks to justify the capitalist division of the world into separate “nation-states”, each competing to gain a place in the sun for its ruling class and each with killing machine. We should utterly reject this view of the way humanity should organise itself.

As Socialists we re-affirm that all peoples should seek their emancipation, not as members of nations or religions or ethnic groups, but as human beings, as members of the human race. They should unite to abolish the division of the world into so-called nation-states and to establish a World Co-operative Commonwealth in which we will all be free and equal members - citizens of the world, not subjects of nation-states.

(Socialist Standard, October 1993)

Friday, September 12, 2008

The poverty line in Turkey

"The Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) sparked an outcry earlier this week by recommending to civil servants' unions that TurkStat's food poverty line of YTL255 (£116) a month be adopted instead of the higher figure proposed by the unions during their negotiations on salary hikes and benefits." Ercan Han of the Turkish Public Workers' Labour Union said that TurkStat has been using the method adopted by the World Bank, World Health Organisation and the United Nations which use the food poverty line as a tool in determining starvation criteria for the world. Han, "this calculation does not take into account non-food expenditures such as housing and to satisfy basic needs."

"This food poverty line, the minimum amount of money required to buy the necessary food for subsistence, was declared by Turkstat to be YTL255 a month for a family of four. The food poverty line favoured by unions is determined according to the minimum financial income recognised by society as needed by a person for food and other basic needs including housing and transportation to and from work. The Public Workers' Labour Union calculate this to be YTL1,012 (£460) to include housing, heating, lighting, clean drinking water, transportation and communication." "YTL255 means YTL2 or 3 (90p-£1.36) per person a day," said the president of the Civil Servants' Union. "If they –TurkStat – insist on this amount we will ask them to go out and try to survive on this little amount of money. Maybe they could empathize then."

In the same week in a Turkish language local paper are some special offers for Ramadan from a cut-price supermarket: Special pack: 1kg each of rice, bulgur, dried beans, lentils, flour; 500g of tomato puree, macaroni, tea; 750g of sugar and salt and 1ltr of cooking oil. YTL20 (£9.00)

What will YTL255 purchase? In a 30-day month it equates to YTL60 a week. One special Ramadan pack (absolute basic needs for a week) YTL20.

Average weekly bread consumption for four people YTL40. This leaves nothing at all for dairy products, eggs, olives, fresh vegetables, fruit, /meat!/ and (if you live in Izmir) water at about YTL4 for 40 litres. Tap water costs about YTL 12.5 per cubic metre and is billed bi-monthly. Also not factored in are electricity, cooking gas, winter heating, housing costs such as rent and council tax, laundry and household cleaning requirements, personal care items, clothes and transport. Current fuel prices are; diesel £1.30, 95 octane petrol £1.50.

[Information taken from a national, daily, English language, Turkish newspaper, "Today's Zaman" (Today's Times), sister paper of the widely read Turkish language "Zaman" (Times), August 28th 2008.]


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Terrorism versus terrorism

On the 7th anniversary of the suicide attacks in the US which resulted in over 3000 deaths, for Socialists our message is unchanged:

"The 'free world' is not free and it is not democratic. As the ruling class tries to drum up support for yet more terror, we urge our fellow workers to get involved in no war but the class war."

Socialist Standard, October 2001

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stephen Jay Gould

On the anniversary on the birth of the famous scientist Stephen Jay Gould, who sadly died in 2002 at the young age of sixty, readers might like to see what Socialists have to say about his work, evolutionary theory and related matters:

Gould v. Dawkins

Dawkins wars (1 & 2)

Socialism & Darwinism

Why Gould was wrong, and why Dawkins might be even more wrong

Are we prisioners of our genes?

The November 1959 Socialist Standard was billed as a Darwin centenary issue to mark 100 years since the publication of the Origin of Species. Next February sees the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, an event which is likely to be commemorated by the Socialist Party.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Mao Zedong died on this day in 1976. Described variously as a dictator or 'Communist leader', the latter a contradiction in terms, at least he was correct to point out in 1949, the year the People's Republic of China was founded, that the new society would not be Socialist:

"To counter imperialist oppression and raise her backward economy to a higher level, China must utilize all the factors of urban and rural capitalism that are beneficial and not harmful to the national economy and people's livelihood...Our present policy is to regulate capitalism, not to destroy it."

Mao also stated that such development would mean "several decades of hardship". Mao was right but, of course, wrong about the timescale: the hardship continues. The true level of suffering though beggars belief:

"..In the purges carried out since 1949 the total number executed is estimated at well over 10 000 000.." (The Western Socialist, January-February, 1955). Note the date of publication, over a decade before Mao launched the Cultural revolution! That same article concludes:

"While someday the Chinese will produce automobiles instead of rickshaws, will produce all the various consumer and capital goods that the industralized West produces, and the commissars of the "People's Democracy" will delude them with the propaganda that they have advanced into Socialism, the status of the Chinese workers will still be that of workers of the world over - wage slaves for a master class. Until this relationship is done away with there will be no Socialism."

More on Mao and China

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Freddie and Fannie

It is not uncommon to hear some right-wingers say that Government intervention in the economy is the preserve of Left politics. That this is untrue can be seen from the past - all that has differed has been the scope of such intervention and the purposes served.

A further case in point is today's news that Freddie Mac and Frannie Mae are to be bailed out by temperorary Public Ownership. As the Guardian website reports

The US government today announced the biggest financial bailout in the country's history as it took troubled mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae into temporary public ownership to save them from collapse.

The US treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, said the Federal Housing Finance Agency, hitherto the two companies' regulator, would henceforth run the companies in a state of "conservatorship" and the two chief executives would be replaced by new men.

Paulson had briefed presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain over the weekend about the plan. McCain gave it his immediate backing but Obama said he would reserve judgment until he saw further details, adding that determining the future of the companies would be a top priority if he won the White House.

Interestingly, the Republican McCain gave immediate backing.

Governments of whatever hew will step in pretty quickly if some business is deemed of sufficient importance. As the Guardian writes

The US government was forced to announce a plan to prop up the finances of the troubled mortgage giants in July. Paulson said then that Washington would buy up shares in the two companies and underwrite their ballooning debt, which has risen to around $800bn (£452bn) each. Congress at the time approved lending unlimited amounts to the two companies or taking a stake in them if they ran into real trouble.

The two companies have lent or underwritten about $5.3 trillion of the total $12tn of outstanding mortgage debt in the United States. Freddie and Fannie have long been considered as being too big to be allowed to fail.

Socialist Standard September 2008

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editorial: contents: Also available as HTML (image lite) and PDF

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008

Then as now

"Everywhere I could reduce men into two classes both equally pitiable; in the one the rich who was the slave of his pleasures; in the other the unhappy victims of fortune; and I never found in the former the desire to be better or in the latter the possibility of becoming so, as though both classes were working for their common misery...; I saw the rich continually increasing the chains of the poor, while doubling his own luxury, while the poor, insulted and despised by the other, did not even receive the encouragement necessary to bear his burden. I demanded equality and was told it was utopian; but I soon saw those who denied its possibility were those who would loose by it..."

The Marquis de Sade wrote the above before 1788. Wherever you look in the world today you will find a small, parasitical minority suffering an embarras de richesses and the toiling masses for whom suffering unnecessarily is very much part of their everyday lives. But even de Sade would find some examples of class divided society shocking. Consider King Mswatti III the absolute monarch of Swaziland. Virgins have vied for his favour: more than 50,000 of them sought to become his 13th wife in 2005. One of them, a 16 year old explained, not unreasonably, that she wanted a nice life, a BMW and a cellphone. This weekend, the king is throwing a party to celebrate his 40 indulgent years and Swaziland's 40th anniversary of independence. Eight of his wives have recently returned from a shopping spree in Dubai. Let's hope they read the Socialist Standard and therefore recall that he already has a ".. Daimler-Chrysler Maybach 62, powered by a six-litre bioturbo engine, and fitted out with a television, a 21-speaker surround sound system, a heated steering wheel, champagne flutes within reach of the fully reclining seats, a refrigerator, a cordless telephone, a gold bag and a pollen and dust filter..." The cost? A mere £360,000. But such is small change, after all million$ have been spent in order for the king to enjoy his right to party. Remember this is a country where "..more than 80 percent exist on one US dollar a day, and almost 40 percent of adults have HIV/AIDS, the highest rate in the world." There have been demonstrations at such waste amongst so much want, but if one report is to be believed even "...Mswati's sharpest critics say they don't want to overthrow the monarchy. "He can be a king, but with fewer powers," said 32-year-old Moses Gama, a member of a militant opposition group." Sharpest critic?! If only the journalist bothered to ask a WSM member existing in Swaziland, such as Mandla Ntshakala ( PO Box 981, Manzini)! Verily, the meek will not inherit the earth! No that will take an enlightened majority, as the first reasoned socialist recognized: "You can only govern men by deceiving them; one must be hypocritical to deceive them; the enlightened man will never let himself be led, therefore it is necessary to deprive him of enlightenment to lead him as we want..."