Sunday, November 30, 2008

The next capitalist frontier

Over the last few centuries, one region of the planet after another has been “opened up” to capitalist plunder. Often rival capitalist powers fought over the spoils of conquest. In the 19th century they had the “scramble for Africa.” In the 21st they are scrambling to control the resources of the Arctic, which global warming and technological advance are making accessible to exploitation (Socialist Standard, September 2007).

Once the Arctic and Antarctic are brought fully under the sway of capital, what next? Won’t that be the end of the story, the closing of the last frontier? There remains space, to be sure. But won’t the costs of extracting resources and transporting them to Earth be prohibitive? So you might think.

In fact, the strategists of the six powers that now have active space programs – the United States, Russia, the European Union, China, India, and Japan – already have their sights on the commercial and military potential of the cosmos.

On 22 October India launched the Chandrayaan-1 satellite, and on 11 November it entered Moon orbit. One of its main tasks is to map deposits of Helium-3 (He-3). This isotope, used together with deuterium (H-2), is the optimal fuel for nuclear fusion: in particular, it minimises radioactive emissions. It is very rare on Earth – according to one estimate, only 30 kg is available – because the solar wind that carries it is blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field. The dust and rocks in the Moon’s surface layer contain millions of tonnes of the stuff.

It has been calculated that a single shuttle flight bearing a load of 25 tonnes (currently valued at $100 billion) would meet energy demand in India for several years or in the US for one year, while three flights a year would suffice for the world (Guardian, 21 October; Tribune, 23 October).

The main problem is extracting the He-3 as gas from the lunar soil. This requires heating the soil to a temperature of 800ºC. in furnaces or towers, using solar power. (Silicon for solar cells is also abundant on the Moon.) To collect enough gas for one load, it would be necessary to process 360,000 tonnes of soil. Nevertheless, technologically this is believed to be feasible; modern furnaces do actually process such huge quantities of material. Some specialists question whether it would be economically feasible to strip mine the Moon in this way.

Despite uncertainties, Indian strategists hope that the Chandrayaan-1 satellite will enable India to “stake a priority claim” on He-3 resources when lunar colonization begins (SkyNews). India’s main rivals in this field appear to be the US, which has “re-energised” its Moon program and plans to establish a manned base by 2020, and also China.

Enough for everyone?
Given the abundant supply of He-3 relative to foreseeable demand, why should India need to compete with other space powers for preferential access? Surely there is more than enough for everyone.

Yes, but some locations on the Moon’s surface are much better for mining than others. Finding the best locations is the main aim of satellite exploration.

First, the nature of the terrain will obviously matter when building bases and installations, whether operated by human workers or robots. It will be a great advantage to have water (ice) available nearby.
Second, it will be least expensive to work in areas where deposits are richest, where the smallest amount of soil has to be processed for each unit of gas extracted.

Third, reliance on solar power for soil heating (and other purposes) puts a premium on those parts of the lunar surface which are exposed to sunlight for most of the time.

These are also the warmest regions (by lunar standards). An example is the Shackleton Crater at the South Pole. India is especially interested in this area, and it is also here that the US wants to establish its base.

Militarisation of the Moon?
Certain places on the Moon are already thought of as “strategic locations.” Thus, the topography of Malapert Mountain makes it an ideal spot for a radio relay station. Near the Shackleton Crater, it enhances the strategic value of the crater area.

Considerations of this kind will become more important in the event of the Moon’s militarisation. This may happen as a result of competition for land and resources on the Moon itself. Or it may happen simply as an extension of existing military preparations: lunar stations may serve as reserve command centres for wars on Earth.

Even if international agreements are reached to constrain the process of militarisation and divide the lunar surface into zones belonging to the various space powers, military threats may arise from “dual use” technologies. Let us suppose, for instance, that instead of mining He-3 a space power decides to generate electricity on the Moon using solar cells and transmit it on microwave beams to a receiving station on Earth. The problem – under capitalism – is that these same beams may equally well be used as powerful weapons against Earth targets.

There will also be potential conflict between the space powers and other countries that for one reason or another are unable to compete in this sphere. Like the club of nuclear weapons states, the space powers may constitute themselves as an exclusive club and think up a rationale for joint efforts to thwart “space power proliferation,” that is, to prevent other countries from acquiring space capabilities. The two clubs will, of course, largely overlap.

Space programs and socialism
It is absurd for humanity to venture into the cosmos while still divided into rival states and still dominated by primitive mechanisms like capital accumulation. Even the first people in space, almost half a century ago, could see that our planet is a single fragile system.

A world socialist community will have to decide which elements of existing space programmes to retain and which to freeze or abandon. National programmes that are retained will be merged into global programmes, eliminating the wasteful duplication inherent in the competition among space powers. Ambitious programs of purely scientific interest may be deferred pending the solution of more urgent problems.
Attitudes in a socialist world toward reliance on space activities may diverge quite widely. Some people may wish to enjoy the benefits of a complex high-consumption lifestyle made possible by He-3 fuel for nuclear fusion and other off-Earth technologies. Others may prefer to avoid the irreducible risks of a space-dependent strategy and solve Earth’s problems here on Earth, at least to whatever extent this proves possible.
(Socialist Standard, December 2008)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Terrorism Inc.

125+ murdered in Mumbai and more today in 'terrorist' attacks from Afghanistan to Yemen. The media has focused on the latest atrocity in India and carried condemnatory comment from leaders across the globe. Interestingly, alongside promises of leaving no stone unturned in the search the perpetrators of such crimes we are reassured that it's business as usual:
"the terror attacks that rocked India's financial capital may depress stocks, dampen tourism and slow new investment, but are unlikely to inflict long-term damage on the nation's economy, analysts and business people said Thursday"
In other words, workers of the world permitting, capitalism will continue. Terrorism too. For the arms manufacturers business is good. But, of course, both sides in any conflict over trade routes, resources or areas of domination need cannon fodder. Our rulers and would-be rulers, past and present (remember the ANC, now responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands?) use the poison of nationalism and religion to cajole or force workers into killing members of their own class. One particularly powerful recruiting agent is poverty Whether it's the king's shilling or the 'terrorist' group's $$,
the only war worth fighting is the class war, and only whem a majority workers across the globe understand and accept this will be able to cast this social system and all its endemic problems into the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

“Commerce is more sovereign than the sovereign” (Karl Marx)

While the Chancellor of the Exchequer was making his pre-budget announcement based on the mere hope that recovery would begin in 2010, Gordon Brown was addressing a meeting of the employers’ organisation, the CBI. If he stuck to pre-released text of his speech he said:

“We have seen in previous recessions how a failure to take action at the start of a downturn has increased both the length and depth of the recession. That was the mistake made in the recessions of the 1980s and early 1990s. To fail to act now would be not only a failure of economic policy, but a failure of leadership” (Times, 24 October).

He was being rather selective in his choice of historical precedents. He forgot to mention what happened in the mid-1970s when the then Labour government did try, as his Labour government is trying today, to spend its was out of that recession – and failed. To such an extent that the Prime Minister James Callaghan had to confess to the 1976 Labour Party Conference:

“We used to think that you could just spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you, in all candour, that that option no longer exists and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting bigger doses of inflation into the economy, followed by higher levels of unemployment” (Times, 29 September 1976).

But Brown also forgot that an attempt was made to try the spend the way out of the 1980s recession. Not in Britain but in France, following the election as President of Labour-type reformist François Mitterrand in May 1981 and his party’s victory in the general election that followed in June. One of their election promises was to abandon the austerity approach of the previous conservative government in favour of:

“a relaunch of economic activity by an increase in the purchasing power of the most disadvantaged and so by a relaunch of consumer goods”.

Sound familiar?

And this is what they did, the first measure the new government took, in June 1981, being to increase the minimum wage, pensions, family allowance and housing benefits and to announce that 200,000 new government jobs were being created. Like Alistair Darling, the Minister of the Economy and Finance hoped to be saved by an early economic recovery:

“We are hoping to anticipate, but in a reasonable way, a recovery in the world economy”.

The world economy’s reply was to force a devaluation of the franc within four months, in October 1981. From then on it was downhill all the way. The following June the government had to devalue the franc a second time, the Prime Minister offering the pathetic explanation:

“the international recovery was not at the rendezvous”.

By October 1982 the Minister of Planning was admitting:

“We must not dream. The crisis we are going through is going to get worse”.

The Prime Minister continued with his inanities:

“The day will come when the recovery will be there”.

In December the Minister of the Economy and Finance confessed:

“It is not us who are the masters of the world. The world goes as it is, it is in the grip of forces that no one can master”.

Then after a third (yes!) devaluation in March 1983 he declared:

“We were banking on an economic growth of 3 percent, but the recovery didn’t come”.

In October 1984 the number of unemployed passed the peak of 3 million (it had only been 1.7 million when Mitterrand came into office).

This failure to shorten and lessen a slump by trying to relaunch popular spending is one of the most spectacular on record. No wonder Brown didn’t mention it.

Brown, Darling and the others may not be around to have to make the abject confessions of failure that Mitterrand’s ministers had to make. But they will have maintained Labour’s record of every Labour government leaving office with a greater number of unemployed than when they took over.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Capitalism or Socialism

Political parties of the left, right and centre, claim to be working for the betterment of society. Because society functions in the interests of the capitalist class, it is clear that these parties are then supporting the interests of the capitalist class. History shows us that no matter what these parties say, when elected they administer capitalism in the only way it can be administered - in the interests of the capitalist class.

Each of them has their own idea of how to run capitalism, often stealing the ideas of their supposed political opposites. The reforms that they implement must reflect economic reality. If they do not, they will not get re-elected - until the next party fails to reflect that reality. There is no way that capitalism can meet the needs of the majority, but all of these parties pretend it can if only they find the right plan. None of them have any really new ideas, only rehashed reforms that have failed in the past. Voting for any of these parties is voting for capitalism, forever.

Socialists are therefore hostile, not in the sense of committing violent acts against other parties or their members, but to the ideas of those parties which support capitalism.

Late last week one more was born, the Australian Sex Party. This group might be seen as a joke or part of a campaign, but its capitalist backers are obvious enough:
"Party convenor Fiona Patten, who is head of the national adult retail and entertainment lobby group the Eros Association, said the trigger had been the government's decision to place a mandatory filter on the Internet." But we are perhaps better served by focusing on more traditional, longer established parties, such as those who competed in local and regional elections in Norway last year.

The largest of them is the Labour Party, who, after a brief flirtation with Moscow in the early twenties, embraced conventional reformism thoroughly. Remarkably, given that they have over fifty years of government experience still claim to hold 'a vision of a just world without poverty, in peace and ecological balance, where people are free and equal and have influence on the conditions affecting their lives'. Orwell lives!

The much younger, smaller, and mis-named Democrats profess to be what they are not. The thoroughly democratic Socialist Party, by way of contrast, has never had let alone wanted a leader, knowing that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership.

The Norwegian Progress Party's ideological father is Anders Lange, a campaigner for low taxes and a supporter of apartheid-era South Africa! The Socialist Party has since its inception in 1904 claimed that the establishment of a classless world 'will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex'. With regard to taxation, it is our contention that the burden of payment falls on the propertied class and profits.

The Conservative Party has as one of its policies to increase the number of policemen/women. Great! More jobs for the working class! But viewing working for a wage as a form of prostitution, the Socialist Party want a world of unemployment. And one without police or law. Marx is worth remembering here:
"The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc; and all these different lines of business, which form equally many categories of the social division of labour, develop different capacities of the human spirit, create new needs and new ways of satisfying them. Torture alone has given rise to the most ingenious mechanical inventions, and employed many honourable craftsmen in the production of its instruments."
For more on this see here.

The Christian Democrats are against abortion, and clearly have not read an essay titled "Pro-life" hypocrites. Daniel Ortega would probably vote for them if he could!

The Coast Party wants to keep all resources in Norway, along with key industries etc. in Norwegian hands. This is, of course, utterly irrelevant to the interests of the working class: wage slavery will continue whether the means of production and distribution are owned by 'natives' or not. Has the new class of native black capitalists in South Africa ended crass exploitation? No! That the Coast Party is anti-immigration should come as no surprise. For the Socialist position see here.

The Green Party have yet to learn that pollution, like war, is endemic to the profit system. This issue is addressed here.

Another minor group, the Pensioners' Party, is all in favour of prisons. UK readers may recall the soundbite tough on crime and the causes of crime. Well, as one Socialist Standard article on this subject stated: "Whichever side of the law you're on, whether you're in or out of jail, if you're poor there is one sound-bite that will always ring true: Tough on you."

Red or the Red Alliance are state capitalists who have recently absorbed the Workers' Communist Party. Much can be said about the WCP, but the Norwegian newspaper
Aftenposten's headline from the 28th August 2005 probably cannot be bettered: "They
worshiped Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot".

The Centre Party are actually a left of centre group and coalition members of the present government alongside the Labour Party and Left Socialists. The CP want, among other things, Norwegian soldiers to desist from travelling the world, meeting interesting new people and killing them. The only conflict the Socialist Party supports is the class war.

Venstre, despite their name which translates as left, are a Liberal Party and support the minimum wage. This of course means minimum wages for us - and maximum profits for them.

The Socialist Left Party, the last member of the dirty dozen, apparently want a world without class differences. Here, like their fellows reformists in the Labour Party, they are being utterly Utopian.

The dirty dozen, like political parties elsewhere, seek to con us into continuning to ride their reformist bandwagon. Workers of the world wake up and embark on the revolutionary road to a world of free access!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


No work No money
No money No food
What a life

But it was not like this yesterday Think hard
Think hard

What the world would look like
If we lived without work
To only produce and serve
Out of sympathy and compulsion
Think hard

Think hard
To differentiate between Utopia and Slavery
Before you defend your poverty

Kephas Mulenga

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Capitalism kills

Socialist Courier's latest blog concerns the growing number of people enduring malnutrition or worse in the Horn of Africa. The fact that in some ways this is not regarded as news is a tragic reminder of the futility of reformism. In a world of abundance there is no need for any to go without sufficient food. But what about the 'land of the free'? Last year nearly 700,000 children went hungry there. You can read a more detailed state-by-state report of those going hungry here. Even the Community Food Bank is considering rationing its supplies for the first time. Meanwhile, with more and more workers being killed in wars, the US military machine is hungry for fresh fodder. Starved to death or shot, for capitalism it's business as usual.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Employment is prostitution

"..A pair of British grandmothers from the Women’s Institute—a homely club that is more often associated with cooking tips—made a tour of brothels in the Netherlands, America and the Antipodes: their aim was to find which system was best for the women who worked in the business. Their top marks went to a discreet house in a suburb of Wellington—classed in New Zealand as a “small owner-operated brothel”—where two women offered their services from Mondays to Fridays. “Just like a regular job,” one of the grannies noted." The Economist, 30 October 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"You can bring a horse to water but . . ."

However much "liquidity" is supplied to banks or however much they are "recapitalized" or however low the bank rate falls, unless banks think that the capitalist firms they lend most of their money to, directly or indirectly, are going to make a profit in which they can share they're not going to lend. As they say, you can bring a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

Because of the way it had been financed the initial overproduction in the US housing sector led to a worldwide credit crunch which burst the housing bubble in other countries too. This has led to workers with mortgages having less to spend and to construction and building supplies workers being laid off and having less to spend too, which is having a knock-on effect on other industries and services which has still not yet worked its way through. As a result capitalist entreprises are reluctant to invest at the same level as before because they don't think they could sell all they produced at a profit.

Governments are desperately rushing around trying to think of ways of restoring "business confidence" but basically have no idea whether the measures they are proposing will work. They are just hoping they will. They are now adopting the very same measures which they adopted to try to get out of the slump of the mid-1970s (ie trying to spend their way out) and which they knew failed and which they abandoned, and in fact reversed, to try to deal with the slump of the 1980s. Then, the policy was to cut State spending not to increase it, as is now being proposed again.

So, both increasing and decreasing State spending have been tried to deal with slumps, and both have failed. Not surprisingly, because it's not governments that control the way the capitalist economy works. The government can't doing anything to prevent the coming slump nor, when it comes, to help recovery. Basically it will just have to sit it out and wait for capitalism to go through its normal cycle while trying not to do anything to make things worse. Governments don't control the economy as they claim (and as many believe); they can only react to what the capitalist economy throws at them and navigate by sight while keeping their fingers crossed.

Capitalism will not collapse or breakdown of its own accord. It has to be consciously done to death by political action by the class of wage and salary workers. Until the working class are moved to do this capitalism will continue to stagger from boom to slump and back again.


Monday, November 10, 2008

A Good Listener

Studs Terkel, a prolific American writer and broadcaster over several decades, died at the end October at the age of 96. His style and approach is well illustrated by the sub-title of his 1975 book “Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do”. Besides the subject of work, he dealt with leisure, family and education, culture and sub-culture. An article partly based on his writings appeared in the Socialist Standard for August 2003.

Some of Terkel’s nine thousand interviews — especially the broadcast ones — were with celebrities of various kinds. But his books were mainly about the life experiences of everyday men and women. He quoted these graphic words of an assembly-line worker: “I stand in one spot, about two or three feet area all night . . . it don’t stop. It just goes and goes. I bet there’s men who lived and died out there, never seen the end of that line.” Or again: “They give better care to that machine than they will to you . . . If that machine breaks down, there’s somebody out there to fix it right away. If I break down, I’m just pushed over to the other side till another man takes my place. The only thing they have on their mind is to keep that line running.”

Terkel also captured people’s memories of the Depression years and the Second World War. Again and again the themes of solidarity and sharing shine through amidst the destitution and suffering. A woman born in 1911 recalls the ’20s in a mining town in Illinois: “we’d go out picnics, we’d go out fishing, all families. Everything for the picnic. And then when you went to the picnic, there was no money exchanged, no commercial, everything like one big family. They’d cook a pot of mulligan stew and everybody’d share out of that. That was a picnic. Today you go on a picnic, what is it? It’s commercial. You buy your ticket, you buy your popcorn, you buy your beer. If you haven’t got a fistful of money, you haven’t got no picnic.”

As Oliver Sacks once said, “There is no one in the world who can listen like Studs Terkel.” Reading his books provides an unforgettable picture of working-class American life and shows that, contrary to what may sometimes appear, American workers are dissatisfied with their lot and more than prepared to fight for better times.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A thank you letter from our rulers

On this day in 1965 a young man immolated himself in front of UN headquarters. He said he was against wars, all wars, and took this despearate measure as a religious act. Nineteen years ago today, the Berlin Wall opened. This weekend there have been ceremonies marking 'the war to end all wars'. What do these events, as well as the recent selection of Obama, have in common? None of them have or will bring about real change, for which the capitalist class is very grateful.

Thank you, loyal subjects, for your show of support now
and all those years ago. Yes we are glad to learn
that the deal we struck when you were fresh out of
school still holds. As you know we give you enough
money to live on, raise a new generation of wage
slaves, as well as the opportunity to buy fantastic
consumer items such as the jerry built house, the car
which will poison and kill you, foreign holidays
(where you can flaunt your pride in our country) and
satellite tv to kiss that troublesome mind goodbye
(although if you are religious, this has probably
already been achieved). But, devoted supporters of
the status quo, perhaps you are concerned that not everyone shares your
cherished values. Well, if you feel this is so,
encourage them to emulate your good selves. Here are
some pointers. Do not let them remove their
blinkers. For example, in this way, they will
continue to see that stress & depression (second
biggest killers in the western world) have nothing to
do with the way we live. The depressed, homeless,
etc., are best treated on an individual basis.
Encourage them to accept their lot (be it part of
god's plan or through seeking solace in mind-numbing
satellite tv). Similarly, promote family first
values and leave politics to the politicians - phrases
such as 'that's life' and 'human nature' are adequate
explanations for war, starvation, global poverty,
pollution, etc. There are of course some people who
refuse to resign themselves to the way things are;
labels such as idealistic or utopian are appropriate
here. But should the worst happen and someone dear
to you becomes a leftie, do not worry - it is just so
much hot air. Oh, yes, whatever you
do, do not listen to dangerous fanatics who say that
instead of producing things for sale and profit, we
should produce things to satisfy our own needs. Do
not listen to the extremists who say we could and
should take control of our own lives and collectively
make our own decisions about work and play. Whatever
you do, do not think, do not debate, do not look at
the world around you, do not question, do not ask
'Why?' That definitely will not change things.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama wins

So the next President of the USA will be Barack Obama. Of course as socialists we know that he is a capitalist politician, the representative of a capitalist party, who will form a capitalist administration to govern the most powerful capitalist country in the world.

And that, as a left-of-centre politician getting support with hints of redistributing wealth to the poorer sections of society, he is going to fail, for the simple reason that capitalism simply cannot be made to work in the interest of the majority of the members of society. It is a profit-making system that can only work as such, in the interest of the tiny minority who own and control the means of production and live off the profits produced by the unpaid labour of the majority.

This said, there are two points that can be made.

First, the rapidity with which ideas can change. A few decades ago it was unthinkable that a man regarded as “black” could be elected President of the USA by an a predominantly “white” electorate. It is only about fifty years since most “blacks” in the South were allowed to vote and that segregation was ended. In some States the union of Obama’s mother and father would have been illegal. But now, under the pressure of experience, such prejudices have been abandoned by a majority of people in America. We can look forward to the time when same thing happen to the pro-capitalist prejudices still held by the majority.

Second, the much higher turn-out shows that when people judge, rightly or wrongly, that what is at stake is important they are prepared to turn out and vote. We’ve seen this before in other circumstances, even if there too the issue wasn’t really as important as the majority judged. But they thought it was, and acted on this. In other words, that voting is a way in which a change in consciousness from pro-capitalist to socialist will express itself, despite what the “anti-parliamentarists” say.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Read Sod All About It!

The Happy Page

The Sun newspaper should be no more abhorrent to Socialists than any other capitalist propaganda rag. In a spirit of intellectual equanimity I occasionally take the wretched organ along with more sober rags of the ruling elite in order to gainsay and refute the views of supporters of the profit system.

Now, as the world capitalist system moves inexorably towards another catastrophic slump it behoves the class traitor scribblers of the “popular press” to divert our attention from the problems facing us as a consequence of capitalism’s irresolvable internal contradictions.

But don’t worry - The Sun says...

“The pound crumbles, the economy tumbles and Gordon Brown finally rumbles that we are heading for the big recession.
So to take your mind off the sad economic tidings there are plenty of cheery stories scattered throughout The Sun.
And for uninterrupted fun turn to Page 20 our new Happy Page.
If you have any stories or photos that will raise British spirits why not send them to us and do your bit in the War against Gloom effort.”
(Sun, 23 October

Socialists have long understood the function of the reactionary media in the intellectual conditioning of capitalist society. The workers of the world are bombarded by propaganda on a myriad of fronts. In the last 30 years The Sun has cornered the market in combining “politics“, gambling and tits with criminal and celebrity witch hunts.

I won’t elucidate upon the contents of Page 20 of the first Happy Page The Sun published on Thursday, October 23, 2008. It certainly did not make me “Happy” and I have no compunction to promote the contents of such a craven publication on this blog.

This item is intended no more as an attack upon The Sun newspaper as it is upon the more apparently “learned” daily journals such as the Guardian, Independent or Telegraph. The point I wish to make is more general. Whilst the world working class is entering a period in which there will be a sustained, angry and possibly violent attack upon our meagre living standards and individual rights by the Ruling Class, we must challenge the “official” media at every turn.

At this time the fanciful notion that “taxpayers money” is being used to stave off Capitalist crisis is being promulgated by the mainstream media. Whilst, in reality the capitalist class is using State Funds generated on the backs of the labour of ordinary workers to salvage the remnants of the profit system and to provide them with a surplus. Right now the capitalist media are wresting all their capacity in support of the New Austerity project of the ruling elite.

Catastrophists and environmentalists of many persuasions have engaged with left-leaning liberal apologists for capitalism to argue that the Earth and world society is being destroyed by human endeavour. This Socialist maintains that nothing could be further from the truth. Meanwhile, as the “Real Economy” goes into recession and people lose their jobs, homes and belief in the future of their communities we are exhorted by The Sun to turn to page 20 and have a chortle as workers’ lives under capitalism crumble around our ears.

The reasons for the failings of capitalism, and the potential to resolve the problems caused to people under the grip of the system are often very near to the grasp of workers’ thinking, both individually and collectively. My trajectory towards Socialist consciousness began as a very young man witnessing the “shaking out” of staff at R.M. Douglas Construction Ltd of Birmingham in 1992. I saw proud middle-aged, “company” men, some with over 25 years service, cry openly as they were told they were surplus to requirements for the firm.

So, as the reality of Capitalist recession imposes itself once more on the already beleaguered working class the last thing we need to do is to read “Happy News” on Page 20 of The Sun newspaper.

What is required is an unremitting critique of the capitalist system that divides, exploits and marginalises us from our collective Humanity. That is where a Socialist consciousness is founded. In due course such an outlook will lay the basis for a new form of society in which such monstrosities as The Sun newspaper’s “Happy Page” will be recorded for posterity in the popular imagination as one of the ruling class toe-rag’s refuges of last resort.

Andy P. Davies

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Professor of Dismal Sciece

Everyone wants to know is Barack Obama a socialist? Well, one might be forgiven for thinking so judging by the two million seven hundred and ninety thousand Google results to this question! Whatever, let us suppose you really do want to know - who ya gonna call? Ask whoever you want, and keep asking but be prepared for some confusing and contradictory answers. Perhaps if you are lucky or persistent, you will come across the Crapbusters. They are attracted like flies to anything with a high BS value. A Professor of Economics answering this question about BO in the Christian Science Monitor (sic), is likely to have a Bogus Socialism value that's off the scale. Until the end of last month we were spared such an abortion of socialst understanding.

Professor Boudreaux of George Mason University considers that BO is 'not exactly' a socialist, which is rather like saying that the DPRK isn't exactly democratic. The Professor's next mistake is to say "in the classic sense of the term "Socialism" originally meant government ownership of the major means of production and finance, such as land, coal mines, steel mills, automobile factories, and banks." BS! Actually, the term ‘socialist’ is found for the first time in the Owenite Co-operative Magazine of November 1827, where it stands for a society of common ownership. Marx and Engels used the words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ interchangeably to refer to a society of common ownership.

The Professor's goes on to state that a "principal promise of socialism was to replace the alleged uncertainty of markets with the comforting certainty of a central economic plan. No more guessing what consumers will buy next year and how suppliers and rival firms will behave: everyone will be led by government's visible hand to play his and her role in an all-encompassing central plan. The "wastes" of competition, cycles of booms and busts, and the "unfairness" of unequal incomes would be tossed into history's dustbin." Buy? Rival firms? Government? Central plan? None of these are features of Socialism, which the Professor says has utterly failed. By this he must mean efforts taken by the state to control capitalism's boom & bust business cycles, which is true enough.

Invoking the ghosts of Heilbroner and Hayek does not do the Professor any favours, as their understanding of Socialism is no better than his. Similiary, by saying that the collapse of the Iron Curtain has anything to do with Socialism Bourdreaux is digging himself an even deeper hole. Some countries today, as well as the Iron Curtain dictatorships of the past, have a form of state capitalism. The main features of this system are

· State ownership of the principal means of production.
· Generalised wage labour.
· Generalised use of money and money calculation.
· A relatively free market for consumer goods in the form of agricultural products and light industrial products.
· A market for means of production which is closely monitored by the state.
· Wide-scale planning activity, allocating supplies and directing products within the sphere of heavy industry, setting production targets, fixing prices and directing the flows of capital.
· A sizeable black-market.

Later Boudreaux produces another howler: "socialism's requirement that each person behave in ways prescribed by government planners is a recipe for tyranny." We in the World Socialist Movement stick to our principles and the original meaning of socialism: common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use. What place tyranny? More BS! Wealth we are told results chiefly from risk taking and explains how Michael Dell (you might be using one of 'his' computers) became a capitalist. BS! Wealth is, by definition, a product of human labour, acting upon nature-given materials, that is capable of satisfying needs. This identifies wealth with use-value. But capitalism is a society where wealth becomes a commodity having exchange value also, and sometimes only a socially-bounded use-value that is peculiar to this society – as with nuclear weapons.

So, the really important question is not whether we have Tweedledee or Tweedledum with his finger on the nuclear button, or even if BO is full of BS, but rather if you want to side with the Professor of Dismal Science and his capitalist masters in supporting a global system in which war, waste and want are endemic or strive for its replacement with real Socialism?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Is capitalism crumbling?

Stephen Muchiri, head of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, stated recently that
"The amount of money used for the bailouts in the U.S. and Europe -- people here are saying that money is enough to feed the poor in Africa for the next three years." This estimate seems to be rather conservative as, according to this month's Socialist Standard Editorial, "The sums of money hastily committed to increase banks' liquidity and stabilise the sector would – if used to meet real human needs - ensure not one person need die of hunger for the next 23 years." Read the editorial in full and let us know what you think:

Capitalism has never had such a bad press as the last few months. Countless commentators have given more than a passing consideration to the question, will capitalism collapse? Whilst this hopeful question could be expected to emanate from excitable journalists, and from the rump of what remains of the left-wing throughout the world, it should be noted that the likes of Bill Gates and Nicolas Sarkozy have been asking similar questions.

The real challenge to capitalism however is not so much a challenge to its on-going operation – it will carry on in some shape or form regardless. The last few months are after all nothing other than a "market correction", albeit a pretty big and widespread one. Rather, the challenge to capitalism is one that is of more interest to world socialists.

For us worthwhile social change cannot come about blindly in knee-jerk reaction to events, nor in the role of passive bystanders as events unfold around us. What has become crystal clear over the last few weeks is the extent to which the experts of capitalism, the self-styled "Masters of the Universe" were flying by the seat of their silk monogrammed pants, with little idea what they were actually buying and selling.

Genuine social change will require more than just restricting executives' bonuses, or trying to improve regulation of the financial services sector, as many are calling for. Even when it is working right, even when it is booming, the market system fails miserably to do the one thing it claims as its unique selling point. Far from efficiently sending market signals between supply and demand, between producer and consumer, the market system sends confused, unreliable and skewed information.

And of course there are some areas of demand that the economic system is just not interested in even supplying – because of the low profit returns available. World hunger is one example illustrating how the market operates on the basis of profit, not human need. There can surely be few clearer signs of the priorities of capitalism than the contrast between the painfully slow progress made to address world hunger over the last few decades, and the haste with which politicians around the world have responded to the banking crisis. The sums of money hastily committed to increase banks' liquidity and stabilise the sector would – if used to meet real human needs - ensure not one person need die of hunger for the next 23 years.

Capitalism won’t collapse of its own accord. But for many millions it has never functioned to start with. Instead the market system must be dismantled intellectually, ideologically and democratically. A genuine alternative society must be agreed before capitalism can start to be dismantled in reality, with alternative mechanisms emerging to replace both the market and the state.

If we want to get rid of capitalism we will need to work at it. That's why we exist: to try and help as one small part of that massive process. If you want to help out in that process – if you want to become humanity to become a "master" of its universe – then please make contact, and the sooner we may succeed.