Saturday, May 30, 2009

Reform or Revolution

Steve Richards of The Independent asks "would we really accept a genuine political revolution?" Alas, he fails to answer question and instead argues that "it is in the Labour Party's self-interest to advance a radical programme of change." John Freedland's "A Whiff of Revolution in the London Air" shows he is similarly misinformed about reformism and revolution. This essay will hopefully provide clarification.

An acceptance of capitalism is indicative of a political approach that must inevitably enmesh itself with the reformation of the system and not with its abolition. Conversely, a genuine opposition to capitalism implies an understanding and knowledge that should preclude any desire to embark on a reformist program, recognizing the futility of such action, irrespective of the merits of the reforms contemplated.

Wherever and whenever there is a program of reforms you will always find the "Leaders" ready and willing to perform, but always unable in the end to properly fulfill the prornises which originally were so artfully dangled. Reforms never live up to their expectations because the very nature of capitalism invariably sabotages the performance of the reformers. Even when certain problems get resolved they are replaced with new ones, generally of an equal or greater magnitude. Apart from the wasted energy and time that reformism engenders, the danger of such activity lies in the inevitable apathy and disillusionment that arises in the aftermath. These are the breeding grounds for dictatorial regimes.

It is a political delusion to think that one can shelve the case for socialism and still serve the interests of the working class by helping to reform capitalism in its quest for greater efficiency. The interests of the majority can only be served by the elimination of a system that can never be made to operate on their behalf irrespective of how it is manipulated or reforrned. Socialist, political energies are channeled solely for the achievement of socialism - we do not concern ourselves directly with the adrninistration of a system whose major social evils are irrernovable notwithstanding the nature of the reforms that may be introduced. Reforms leave the fundamental basis of the system unaltered. It is this social and economic core, resting up on the class ownership of the means of production and distribution, that gives rise to the insoluble probierns.

In conjunction with this approach, we nevertheless urge our fellow workers to maintain and improve their standards of living through active participation in the Trade Union movement. However, such activity should always be kept in proper perspective with the realization that Trade Unions are limited in their scope. They demonstrate the class struggle in ever-constant action, as distinct from the separate policy of reformism to which we are opposed.

With logic and socialist insight, we advocate peaceful, democratic revolution as the only political course to follow. At the same time, we recognize the necessity for the working class to continuously strive at safeguarding and improving their economic conditions, through appropriate, well-conceived Trade Union activity, in the interirn.

Can the working class "relate" to such a policy? We emphatically claim that they can, and should - without delay!

Socialism, of course, can never be established or operated without a socialalist majority. Once this fundamental position is fully apprecited it becomes obvious that any so-called Socialist Party that advocates a policy of reforms would automatically attract to its ranks reformists but not revolutionists. In no time at all any Party which naively attempted to take a dual position of reformation combined with "revolution" would be swamped and outnumbered by the reformists and would be politically castrated as far as socialism is concerned. The Fabian Society, established in January 1884, as a Society and not as a Political Party, and the Social Democratic Federation, which changed its name to the Social Democratic Party in 1908, both originating in England, are examples of reformist organizations that, in addition, purported to advocate socialism. The Fabian Society's doctrine was "the inevitability of gradualness," while the SDF referred to their reforms as "stepping sones lo Socialism." A small group of secessionists from the SDF, opposing the reformist approach, forrned the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904 with an object and set of principles that uniquely distinguished them as a Socialist Party in every sense of the term.

Rosa Luxemburg in her work entitled "Reform or Revolution" written in April 1899, stated in her Introduction:

"The daily struggle for reforms, for the amelioration of the condition of the workers within the framework of the existing social order, and for democratie institutions, offers to the Social-Democracy the only means of engaging in the proletarian class war and working in the direction of the final goa - the conquest of political power and the suppression of wagelabor. Between social reforms and revolution there exists for the Social-Democracy an indissoluble tie. The struggle for reforms is its means; the social revolution, its aim."

This statement is fallacious in content and deviates from the significance of her title which poses a choice between reform or revolution.

Another unacceptable aspect supported by Rosa Luxemburg, is the theory that at some stage of development, due to the contradictions of the system, capitalism will "collapse" and that, quoting, "Without the collapse of capitalism the expropriation of the capitalist class is impossible." We would deny this statement and substitute a vital alternative position: without a socialist working dass socialism is impossible! Capitalism has demonstrated its remarkable staying-power and adaptability from crises to crises, through recessions and depressions. And even if a "collapse" occurred, socialism could never be introduced unless the vast majority were already converted to the socialist case and properly organized to attain political power. When this situation happens it would of course be completely unnecessary to wait for a "collapse," because socialism becomes immediately practical. However, in fairness to Rosa Luxemburg, affectionately called Red Rosa by the SPGB for her heroic class-conscious defense in her trial at Weimar in 1907, she also supported a positive role to be played by the working class, and indicated that the workers might achieve power before the breakdown of the system took place. The socialist position looks for no anticipated crash that would mark the deaththroes of capitalism-on the contrary, we emphasize that the socialist revolution depends upon a sufficiency of socialists and we work towards this end.

As and when socialist delegates become elected to the Congresses and Parliaments throughout the world, with a mandate for socialism, they will of course be confronted from time to time with reformist measures, and called up on to either vote or abstain, approve or otherwise. They will be instructed in these matters by their respective Socialist Parties. The guiding principle will revolve around the interests of the working class together with the achievement of socialism. The socialist delegates will therefore act within this framework. They will also never lose any practical opportunity for propagating, at the applicable time, the case for socialism. When the World Socialist Parties finally get representation in the seats of power, we can rest assured that the ruling class and their aides will be churning out a plethora ofreforms in order to appease the growing, awakening socialist working class in an effort to delay the inevitable. The foregoing scenario is in no way analogous to the advocacy of reforrns as an initial attempt to gain political support' and vote.catching representation.

With the magnificent, international declaration and enactment that every human being is the common owner, with democratic 'ontrol, of the means of production and distribution, with free access to all goods and services, a new era commences. Poverty, unemployment, insecurity and war become immediately and irrevocahly eliminated. Their cause, the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution by a minority, in a "commodity society," would have been eradicated. The structure of a socialist society makes their existence an economic and social impossibility.

What reform, or series of reforms, could match, or in any way be comparable with, this position and attainment?

There can be no poverty in a classless society, technologically capable of satisfying the needs of the population, with free access to all goods and services.

There can be no unemployment, or employment, when all men and women are co-owners of the means of production and distribution, giving of their abilities in useful work for society as well IS for themselves.

There can be no insecurity when all "needs" can be satisfied as the rresult of "cornmon ownership" and "free access."

There can be no war when humanity is united as a whole without states, national boundaries, or armed forces; with production and distribution solely for use, and not for profit, eliminating money, wages, exchange, and the "market place."

Poverty remains endemic in this system however even after the myriad of reforms that have been passed and promises made and broken since the advent of capitalism. A classic example is the history of the still extant Child Poverty Action Group.

"Beginning a letter to Labour Party Prime Minister Harold Wilson on 22 December 1965, AF Philip, Chairman of the newly-formed Child Poverty Action Group wrote: “There is evidence that at least half a million children in this country are in homes where there is hardship due to poverty.” He ended his plea on behalf of Britain’s deprived minors thus: “We earnestly beg you to see that steps are taken at the earliest possible moment to help these families.” So confident that child poverty would be quickly eradicated by the amazing magical wand that Wilson often wielded, Labour suggested the CPAG would be obsolete within a year, the problem it was set up to help eradicate a thing of the past."

Today, one in two children in the world exist in poverty, some 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no safe water to drink and 270 million lack health services. In 2003 alone, 10.6 million children died before they reached the age of 5 (circa 29,000 children per day). Almost half the world — over 3 billion people — exist on less than $2.50 a day. And yet the reformists continue to urge us to join their misery-go-round. Others direct their ingenuity and efforts towards the "rninor sores" of society. These have included so-called high taxes, "the economy," balancing the budget (but not yours), inflation, violence, crime, pollution, premature death and ill-health caused directly by the system, racism, "freedorns" and "human rights.' And, lest we forget, the "privilege" of working class women having "equal rights" with the men of being exploited on equal terrns. Presumably, also, the right to be massacred in the wars, alongside the men, for their masters' interests - all this in the name of "equality"!

Every major political party in the U.S.A., Europe and elsewhere that has taken on the job of running capitalism has done so on a reformist ticket, failing dismally as far as the interests of the working class are concerned. And it can never be otherwise. Capitalism will always remain a system of perpetual crises, with unending competition and confrontation, both on the social and individual levels, all this impervious to reforms and reformism.

(The original version of this essay appears in 'The Futility of Reformism' by Samuel Leight)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shoulder to shoulder

France is soon to open a military base in the Persian Gulf including facilities for their navy, an air force installation, and a barracks for several hundred French soldiers.

The French at last standing shoulder to shoulder with the Brits and the Yanks against potential nuclear threats from Iran perhaps? The Iranian government want to develop a nuclear capability just like the Brits, and the Yanks, and the French. President Sarkosy has, hypocritically, labelled this as “unacceptable”.

Well that's partly the reason but there is of course an upside to all the expense this will entail.

For the past fifty years or so French foreign policy has concentrated on the continent of Africa. But of late the emphasis has shifted to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean because “In addition to being sources of oil and potential markets for French technology, these areas are key to France's security...” according to Edward Cody of the Washington Post.

The move will help “capture a share of the region's rich arms market for the French defense industry.” In other words a nice little earner for the likes of Dassault Aviation whose chief executive, Charles Edelstenne, accompanied Sarkozy and two members of the Dassault family to the inauguration of the military facilities.

They hope to sell 60 Rafale warplanes manufactured by Dassault Aviation which have until now been slow movers in the arms market. They have been on sale for more than a decade but, as yet, only the French military have been willing to stump up up the readies.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Euro Appeal

We don't want your vote. We don't want your vote if you think socialism means nationalisation, higher taxation, welfare state, council estates, national liberation, legalising marijuana or anything of that sort. In short, we don't want your vote if you think we need to keep and act within existing capitalism.

On the other hand, if you do want a society of common ownership and democratic control; a worldwide co-operative commonwealth; the emancipation of labour from the chains of capital; then we're your people, because that's all we stand for.

Well, there's a further catch, because all we're doing is holding the banner aloft. If you want to make socialism happen you've got to prepared to do the work yourself - we're not leaders, and don't want to be. If you need someone to lead you into the promised land, some other bugger'll lead you straight back out again.

That's the choice in this election in a nutshell. A choice between confusing the issue, like whether it's better to be dominated by British capitalists or European ones; whether it's better to only allow capitalists to exploit us for a third of our waking hours, rather than a half; whether the state is the one that extracts profits from our labour, or private employers; or, making our demands crystal clear.

If you call yourself a socialist, why do you want to waste time trying to figure out how to make capitalism run better, anyway? The power to change the world lies in your hands, you don't need to be bound by accepting things as they are – the point is to change them. If a majority decided to remake the world, no force on Earth could stop them.

A vote for the Socialist Party is a vote that says you are ready to act to make this change. A signal to your fellow socialists that they are not alone. A signal to your fellow workers that some people take the actual idea of socialism seriously, rather than relegating it to some bedtime fairytale never-never for after the work of running capitalism is done.

Let's end on William Morris:
“One man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman: two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and peace upon the Earth? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer that question.”

The Materialist Conception Of History

A contributor to the World Socialist Movement Discussion Forum has asked for simple explanation of the Materialist Conception of History. Read on.

The socialist is politically opposed to the system in which he finds himself; this opposition arises from an analysis of capitalism, and the realization that socialism will solve the majority of the economic and social problems that exist today. We further claim that a policy of reformation will do nothing to alter the basis of capitalism, and therefore no major social evil can ever be removed by any reform or group of reforms.

Socialists attempt to survey the historic development of society, to ascertain how society has evolved, and to discover the prime causes that have been responsible for the changes that have taken place. It is indisputable that society has passed from one system to another, but the underlying dynamics for this is not initially obvious, and has been a matter for conjecture and controversy. The answer to this question is of paramount importance, because armed with the correct scientific approach to the historic development of mankind it is reasonable to suppose that this same method will enable us to properly examine the system under which we now live, and by so doing create first, the theoretical sound solution to current social problerns, and second, the practical application of the theory.

The interpretation of history put forward by Karl Marx and supported by The World Socialist Party and its companion parties is referred to as The Materialist Conception Of History. The name itself implies that it is distinct from other approaches, and that there are contrary concepts.

The Materialist Conception Of History asserts as its funda­mental proposition that it is the economic basis of any society, and the way in which production and distribution of wealth is organized, that is the main determining factor of the social structure of society, and the foundation on which the outlooks, ideas, conduct, social relationships, legal and political structures rest. Further, that these conditions are never static, but are continuously in the process of change and development; that they constitute the main element of historic change, and are the predominate dynamic influence responsible for social evolution. This social evolution has been reflected in different systems of society with different economic basis that have evolved one from the other.

Since the advent of private property history has been a record of class struggles, and the control of the state machine has always been of prime importance to the ruling class of any era. Man acts within his environment and is conditioned accordingly. He affects and makes history but only within the scope of the material eonditions in which he lives. There is, therefore, an interplay between man and his surrounding material conditions that react one upon the other and out of which change and development occur. The Materialist Coneeption Of History does not preclude other influences upon historical development, such as geographical and climatic conditions, or, for example, tradi­tional social hangovers from the past, but the economic factor constitutes the main determining and dominating condition - the way people associate together in order to produce a livelihood.

We can now compare this materialist approach to history with other concepts and recognize the fundamental differences.

The socialist discards the "Great Man Theory", although we have already acknowledged that man plays an active part in reacting to his existing circumstances. But to view history as the record of the deeds of so-called great men, leaders, kings, and emperors is to ignore the fact that these historic figures were the result of the prevailing material conditions and not vice versa. Such an approach perverts historic truth, but nevertheless is taught openly, or implied covertly within the educational system, affording the ruling class with a technique for preserving their power position, by encouraging nationalistic and patriotic ideas, and propagandizing youth to accept misconceptions of leadership, and the glorification of war with its legalized vio­lence.

To the extent that one considers Divine Providence and God's will as the determining factor of historic developrnent we find ourselves in the realm of mental fantasy, becoming divorced from reality. A true working class materialist approach to the world is sabotaged and never given an opportunity to mature.

While the Materialist Conception accepts the influence of ideas upon history we at the same time relate the ideas to the material conditions from which they have developed. Ideas themselves are the result of the action of the brain, which is the phenomena of thinking matter. These ideas originate from their material surroundings and are the mental products resulting from an evolving society. The universe exists apart from man's consciousness, and ideas as we understand them have only existed since the advent of man, through the function of his brain. The materialist approach recognizes that man's awareness of the universe is registered through his thinking faculties, but that the totality of things existed before man, and that man is a compara­tive recent arrival upon the scene.

The socialist rejects all metaphysical and supernatural ap­proaches, and regards astrology, associated outlooks, and pre­dictions as having no scientific value or supportable proof.

Members of the working class should discard in their entirety these false approaches to history, because not only do they do an injustice to intelligence, but they create yet another intellectual barrier to the comprehension of the socialist case.

It is unreasonable to presume that capitalism represents the final cycle in social development. We contend that socialism is the next logical progression and that capitalism has long age fulfilled its historic purpose and has outlived its usefulness. Man has journeyed through changing and different systems of society. To contend that he has reached the pinnacle of economic development with a system that has produced poverty amidst plenty, and economic insecurity along with production techniques that have virtually unlimited potential capacities, is to close one's mind to the future and to ignore the historic facts of the past. Society has never been static, it is always on the move, forever changing; every past system has evolved into another. The advent of socialism, for the first time in history, will mark the conscious social and political effort of a majority establishing a new system of society, and being at the same time fully aware of the meaning, implications, and social justifications for this revolutionary act. The social consciousness of man will have arrived, somewhat belatedly, at a new, inspiring plateau.

Regressing to trace man's progress through organized society, we find a period wherein he lived in tribal groups, referred to as primitive communism. Everyone within the tribe had the right of access to whatever was owned by the tribe. In good times their simple needs were satisfied, and in periods of shortages there was hardship. Man lived by picking his food from the trees and vegetation, and by the killing of wild animals. Initially his tools were simple in construction. Fire was discovered, stone clubs and spears fashioned, the bow and arrow invented, and polished stone instruments were made. The art of pottery was developed, the taming and herding of animals, together with the use of bronze, and primitive agriculture and the cultivation of crops. Then, with the discovery of the process of smelting iron and the making of iron tools, together with the advances made in agriculture, man began producing in excess of the needs of the tribe. Private property made its appearance; with this there came a need for protection, and the authority of government.

A new society was developing which took the form of warrior chiefdoms that covered vast areas of the world, and which comprised the patriarchal warrior chief and the clansmen who owed allegiance to him. The main mode of production was agricultural. Chattel slave empires developed in Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. The economy was mainly agricultural, with some trading; the slaves forrned an economic basis in society and were owned outright by their masters. The city-state came into being and was an instrument of power used by the ruling class, and these states later grew into empires.

From this society feudalism evolved. Manorial estates were established; instead of the warrior chief there was the lord of the manor, with serfs who were tied to the land, but unlike the chattel slaves were not physically owned by their master. The serfs tilled a small portion of the land for themselves for a part of the week, and the balance of the week worked for the lord on his estates. All their rights were subordinate to the feudal lord. Within this feudal system merchant capitalism began to grow and small home manufacturing was started. Steam was utilized, harnessed to tools, and production was revolutionized.

With colonial expansion, commerce and trade prospered and feudalism, with its aristocracy, came into conflict with the new emerging capitalist class. The Industrial Revolution of 1760 in England, in France in 1789, brought with it large scale manu­facturing based upon wage labor, and the production of comn­modities for sale and profit in the market place. The handicraft, and the mode of individual production under feudalism, had undergone a transformation to social production based upon wage labor, with the private ownership of the means of produc­tion and distribution by a minority of the population - the new ruling class. Capitalism had arrived - and with it new forms of misery, inequality, and deprivation for the majority. To complete the picture, the 1917 Revolution in Russia marked the commence­ment of capitalism in the U.S.S.R. operated on a national basis through the state machine, with the so-called Communist Party in dictatorial control.

Socialists maintain that to properly understand the ideas of any period of social development it is essential to examine the economics of that era, and to realize that the prevailing ideas are co-related to the economic base.

With this approach as a political yardstick, and if it is understood that the capitalist system can only operate in the interests of the capitalist class, all overtures made by reformist and capitalist parties for continued support should be rejected. Social problems must be analyzed from a materialist standpoint and all promises made by so-called leaders regarded with profound skepticism. They function as agents representing the interests of the capitalist class - it can never be otherwise.

We have often been accused of possessing a cold approach towards humanity because of the connotation inaccurately applied to the term "materialism". But on the contrary, we state that in order to eliminate all the inhumanities of capitalisrn a materialist approach is mandatory. The application of materialism in the social sense means an investigation that leads unerringly to socialism as the logical next stage of man's organizational development.

Together with Karl Marx we say: "Our task is not only to understand the world but to change it!"

(This essay first appeared in 'World Without Wages (Money, Poverty and War!), a series of Tuscon Radio Broadcasts presented for the World Socialist Party of the United States by Samel Leight)

Further reading.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A big banker

Ten years ago the Socialist Standard carried an article titled The death of dismal science.

Even so, it is perhaps a little surprising to learn that a degree in this subject is not a prerequisite for those seeking to run the World Bank. The current chief Robert Zoellick lacks one. He also shows that even the most basic knowlegde of political geography is not required either:

"Eastern Europe is in a tricky situation, particularly the Baltic countries like Romania"

Workers run the world but do so in the interest of the capitalist class. When a majority of us come to realise the truth of this, banking along with so many other socially useless or destructive aspects of capitalism will be cast into the dustbin of history.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Overpopulation"- Bugaboo and Biological Scapegoat!

For the past twenty years David Attenborough has "never had any doubt that the source of the Earth's ills is overpopulation". This view is far from uncommon. Indeed journalists such as Alex Renton repeat the lie as an established truth: "But the burghers of Ghent would have had much more impact on the planet’s health if they had announced that they were all going to have one less child". He unsurprisingly fails to identify the real reason the "appalling rates of malnutrition among children" in India. You can read why such doom mongers are wrong in the updated essay below.

Many are under the impression that the world is overpopulated and that this condition results in a variety of social evils all of which are due to the prolific nature of men and women. People, and especially the very poor, are accused of indiscriminate procreation, and as a consequence creating poverty, shortages, unemployment and overcrowding. Workers are admonished to exercise discretion, use restraint, and practice birth control. On the surface it might appear to the unsophisticated and naive that the ruling class and their spokesmen are prompted by genuine compassion. Socialists, however, have learned to regard philanthropy, charity and advice with a jaundiced eye and to seek economic reasons when they receive ruling class counseling.

Let us examine the facts, and trace the origins of the "over­population" bugaboo. In 1798 the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, a professed English economist and member of the holy orders, published anonymously the first edition of" An Essay on the Principle of Population," with subsequent additions which finally became a book, the sixth edition of which was published in 1826. His thesis was based upon the premise that population tends to outrun the growth of production; that it develops, if unchecked, in a geometrical progression whilst the means of subsistence increases only in arithmetical progression. These two different ratios result in a condition of overpopulation, and consequently the quest for social happiness must forever be elusive because population will always tend to exceed the capacity to sustain it. He maintained that food supplies, although they could be increased by various methods, would nevertheless always fall behind population increases, which could double in comparatively short periods of time. He viewed contraception as a "vice", accepted the "misery" of the workers as inevitable, approved of workhouses for the poor, as long as they were reasonably uncomfortable and provided a hard existence for the occupants, and favored late marriage and "moral restraint". And he regarded wars, famines, disease and plagues as a divine balance in the scheme of things.

It can easily be recognized that such an approach would have, and still does have, an overpowering appeal for the capitalist class. The blame is placed fairly and squarely on the poor for their own misery - the starved and destitute are responsible for their own starvation and destitution. They have taken the word of the Good Lord literally - they have gone forth and multiplied, but excessively! In addition these topsyturvy notions provide a justification and excuse for war and other atrocities. After all, if our problems are caused by being overburdened with millions and millions of people, and if this overpopulation produces premature death and disease - war, famine and human destruction should be accepted as inescapable and unfortunate cures. This pernicious, anti-working class doctrine is accepted by some - incredulous as it may seem.

In the summer of 1976 I was aboard a freighter heading for South Africa. I became involved with two of my fellow passengers on the subject of "overpopulation". Sam was a farmer from Ohio, and was blaming many of the current social problems on overpopulation, and Marc was a youngster of 18 who was agreeing with Sam in his moronic and morbid presentations. Finally, Sam made the statement that because of the tremendous problem of overpopulation, although it was regrettable to say, possibly Hitler's massacre of six million Jews was not such a tragedy after all. Poor Marc, who not only was Jewish but was fervently nationalistic towards Israel, be:came deathly white and looked as if he was ready to pass out. He wasn't getting seasick but he sure was sick of Sam! I chided him gently, but firmly, "You see, Marc, where this type of thinking must eventually take you." He understood, and I know that he will never forget the lesson or forgive his shipmate.

The Malthusian theory of overpopulation represented a wel come change inasmuch as it diverted the attention of the workers away from the true cause of their problems, capitalism, shifting the blame from an economic base to a biological and sexual one. It is always a necessity for the ruling class of any era to find a scapegoat, and" overpopulation" can be just as useful as racism, opposing nationalities, or "indolent" workers. Different times are conducive to different lies -just so long as the truth of how capitalism really functions is never discovered!

We readily admit that should human beings increase geo­metrically and indefinitely, a time would arrive when the food supply would be unable to sustain a population that had grown to numerical infinity. But this is an unacceptable, completely false hypothesis. There are no biological or natural laws that explain population growths. History will show that increases in population have not taken place with any formula of mathematical progression but, on the contrary, have varied from time to time, and the fluctuations are related to social, economic and material conditions. Population growths, therefore, cannot be regarded in a vacuum as a separate entity, operating automatically, inde pendent of the dynamics of society.

Malthus also does not take into account the human factor of the ability of man to use science, technology, and his own energies and ingenuity to master all his production and distribution challenges, whatever they might be. In addition when Malthus refers to "moral restraints" he concedes by implication that human beings can control their birth rate, and that the size of a family can become an elective choice of the individual, under certain given conditions, due to the existence of modem birth control techniques. This has been amply demonstrated in many countries during recent years when birth rates have dropped through the extensive use of artificial prevention. Of course birth control has been used as another red herring when it focuses attention on population as a cause unto itself, and ignores the limitations and restrictions that are inherent within capitalism, and result in food supplies being determined and conditioned by a market economy. If socialism would have been researched by the workers with as much diligence as has been displayed in the pursuit and relentless quest for new and improved birth control methods our movement would have greatly benefited.

Incidentally, many of the comparatively recent innovations in birth control, whilst affording the manufacturers substantial profits, have proved to be injurious to health and have produced side effects that are undesirable and which can ominously threaten our future well-being.

The term "overpopulation" in itself has no meaning or social significance unless it is related to specific conditions and has an applicable framework of reference. Countries are not over­populated in relationship to land mass, but modem industrial cities have concentrations that are completely disproportionate to other areas. In 2007 the United States had an estimated 306 million, and more than 3 out of every 4 lived in cities or suburbs, which occupied only fraction of the land.

As far as food supplies are concerned, there is no over­population problem relative to society's capacity for producing an overabundance either today, or within the foreseeable future. The resources of the earth have never been fully utilized. 'We' have the technology and land to sustain twice the current global population.

Furthermore, it has been established that there remain some 2.7 billion ha of land with crop production potential. There are many large are as in Africa, South America and Australia that are still virgin lands awaiting development that possess the potential for sustaining millions.

The sea represents an untapped larder rich in minerals and vegetables. It is a veritable treasure house of food supply and energy which can also be used as an additional means of irrigation through the conversion of sea water. Many modem ships today have their own distilling equipment which converts sea water to completely pure distilled water.

The possibilities for potential food supplies are unlimited but even under the restricted and restrained economy of capitalism, producing not to satisfy human needs, but for a market and for profit, overabundance and overproduction have often been a 'problem' and not the reverse. World grain production has, however, actually fallen for the past fifteen years or so, yet this is no way reflects diminishing resources. In fact, a staunch supporter of capitalism writing about the fall of cereal production reveals that a world of abundance is possible:

“the total landmass cultivated for arable crops in 2006, according Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), was 1.402 billion hectares - or 14 million sq km. In other words, all the world's cereals and vegetables are grown on an area equivalent to the USA and half of Canada. A further 34 million sq km - equivalent to the rest of North America, South America and two thirds of Australia - is given over to grazing, much of it extensive, unimproved grassland. The rest of the world - equivalent to the whole of Europe, Asia, Africa, Indonesia plus a third of Australia - is not used for food production in any way. Some of this land, of course, is desert, mountain or rainforest, which either cannot be used for agriculture at all or would require irrigation, engineering or clearance. But a vast amount of it could quite easily be converted into agriculture, but has until now not been needed.”

Of course the need is there, but as far as the market is concerned empty pockets do not fill empty stomachs!

Apart from food, the working class have clearly demonstrated their unique ability to produce .way in excess of what is needed for them to live on. The survival of the capitalist class should attest to the accuracy of this statement because they have been living on this surplus, in the lap of luxury, since the time of the Industrial Revolution.

Poverty and deprivation are of course not caused by so-called "overpopulation", but on the contrary unhealthy and unwhole some conditions of poverty result most frequently in large families. Karl Marx aptly stated in Capital that "The size of the family is in reverse ratio to the height in wages." The miserable conditions produced by abject poverty give rise to overcrowding, lack of proper sanitation, and an apathetic attitude born of despair and hopelessness. Add to this a lack of proper education and malnutrition and human beings become incapable of properly organising their personal lives even on an elementary basis. The terrible poverty to be found in India, with millions living in the streets, is an example. If all these impoverished and destitute humans became childless and sterile overnight their misery would still endure, because they are propertyless, have no work, and have little or no access to food, clothing and shelter. To blame their condition, and the similar ·plight of millions of workers throughout the world, on "overpopulation", in a society capable of producing untold wealth and abundance, is to add a terrible insult to their social misfortunes. Even in countries where the populations are small relative to the large areas of land, such as Canada and Latin America, poverty and hunger are prevalent and conspicuous.

There is, however, one outstanding feature common to all countries irrespective of their size and population. And that is the existence in each nation of a fortunate, privileged minority who never have to contend with problems of poverty or large families because they own and control the wealth of the world. They became rich through the efforts of the working class, and irrespective of their sexual or biological habits, and they will remain in this same economic position until their employees realize the true nature of the system that enslaves them. When this time arrives the age of scapegoats, red herrings and political baloney, no matter how it is sliced, will be at an end. And you can be certain that men and women who have finally obtained their emancipation and freedom, and have be come the common owners of the world's wealth, will also have the intelligence to control their numbers according to the desires and requirements of a socialist society.

(The original version of this essay appears in 'World Without Wages (Money, Poverty and War!), a series of Tuscon Radio Broadcasts presented for the World Socialist Party of the United States
by Samel Leight)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Junk science and junk law

While litigators across the Pond battle over intellectual property
rights, litigation over in the UK seems bent on abolishing intelligence. The well-known enthusiasm among member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to pursue libel suits against western newspapers and individuals seems now to have spilled over into junk science. Using libel law to prevent and punish unwelcome criticism is known as ‘lawfare’ and even ‘libel terrorism’, and is a standard tactic for the OIC, but now snake-oil merchants everywhere will be ecstatic that the British Chiropractic Association has won its libel case against the science writer Simon Singh, who described certain of its practices as ‘bogus’ (New Scientist, 16 May). This victory may owe a great deal to the fact that, in English libel law, the burden of proof is upon the defendant, not the prosecution, a peculiarity which has spawned a UK-centred ‘libel tourism’ industry. Now the homeopaths and crystal-therapists will be catching on. You don’t need to prove that your ‘alternative’ homespun voodoo works, you can just rely on the defence being unable to prove that it doesn’t. Were we to claim in the Socialist Standard that fairies don’t exist, we would nonetheless have a hard time proving it.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No candidate? Vote for yourself

Only vote for socialism if you are in agreement with our Object and Declaration of Principles.

You might have heard of the Euro elections, the biggest in history, 500
million people, 27 countries, June 4th? You’re supposed to choose which
of your local crème-de-la-crème get to go on free holidays to Brussels
and Strasbourg, and the powers that be are a bit worried that you won’t
take it seriously enough to bother voting. Shame on you!...Read more>

Français (French)

Italiano (Italian)

Svenska (Swedish)


Polska (Polish)

Türkçe (Turkish)

Nederlands (Dutch)

Download our election leaflets.

1, Manifesto for London Region (where we're contesting) (PDF)

2. Manifesto for outside London (where we're running a write-in
campaign) (PDF)

3. London manifesto in Bengali (PDF)

( If anyone wants copies of these leaflets to distribute they should
send an email to )

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Frederick Engels A Lifetime's Service

There is a new biography of Friedrich Engels which if half as good as the superlative one of Karl Marx by Francis Wheen,
should be worth reading. 'The Frock-Coated Communist' may well be reviewed in a future edition of the Socialist Standard. Meanwhile, for those wanting to know more about Engels, read on.

1995 was the Centenary of the death of Karl Marx's friend and collaborator Frederick Engels, and Engels spent his entire adult life working for socialism. A prolific and popular writer as well as indefatigable activist and theorist, his name is justly coupled wich that of his life-long friend as the originator of scientifc socialism.

Engels became a Socialist (or Communist in the language of the time) earlier than Marx, in October 1842 - at the age of 22 - after a meeting with Moses Hess. Hess, Engels wrote a year later, was the first of the "Young Hegelians" to embrace socialist ideas, so founding a school of German "philosophical communism".

The Young Hegelians were a group of intellectuals who gave Hegel's philosophi­cal views a radical twist and used them to criticise the then existing political and social order. Engels associated with them when he was in Berlin doing his military service in 1841-2.

Hegel (who had died in 1831) was a conservative who supported both Protestant Christianity and the Prussian monarchy, but as he saw the history of humanity as a progression through stages towards the goal of a free and rational society it is easy to see how his philosophical views could be given a radical interpretation, He himself saw "the end of history" , or the goal towards which society had been moving throughout history, as being the Protestant monarchy; the Young Hegelians saw this as a democraric and non-religious state; Moses Hess saw it as a society of equality and common ownership, a view to which Engels, as stated, adhered in 1842 and which Marx came over to towards the end of 1843.

Owenite Socialism

Soon after becoming a Communist Engels went to live and work in England, in the office of the Manchester branch of the cotton-spinning firm, Ermen & Engels, in which his father was a partner. Here he encountered another group which advocated common ownership, but which had reached this conclusion by a quite different route: the Owenites or, as they called themselves, the Socialists (they in fact invented the word).

Robert Owen, who could justly be called the father of modem, or industrial era, socialism, had developed a material ist theory of human behaviour and argued that marriage, religion and private prop­erty "together form the great trinity of causes of crime and.immorality among mankind".

The Owenites were essentially a propa ganda group carrying on agitation against this trinity. They repudiated state and church sponsored marriage for life and advocated divorce, birth control and worn en's liberation. They attacked the bible and Christianity as untrue (some from an atheist point of view, but others advocated a new "religion of humanity. They de nounced private property and competitive individualism and advocated a "rational system of society" where there would be common ownership and distribution according to needs without money or buying and selling. Insofar as they did more than propagare these ideas they attempted to set up settlements in both Britain and America on communist lines.

At this time - the early 1840s - the Owenite Socialists were the strongest they were ever to be. Their national association had tens of thousands of members they were able to open meeting places up and down the country, like the Hall of Science in Manchester. They also ran a weekly paper called the 'New Moral World' as well as publishing numerours tracts and pamphlets. Engels attended the Sunday lectures at the Manchester Hall of Science and was clearly impressed both by the hundreds of people attending but also by the quality of the lectures and discussions. There can be no doubt that, after becoming a philosophical communist under the influence of Hess, Engels learned much of the rest of his socialist ideas from the Owenites.

One obvious example is his views on marriage and women's liberation. Not only did he not believe in marriage but he did not practise it either. He and Mary Burns lived together as partners for 18 years until her death in 1863. Afterwards he and Lizzie Burns lived together as "Mr and Mrs Engels" till her death in 1878. In neither case were these relationships sanctified by the church or state (though Engels and Lizzie Burns did go through a formal marriage ceremony on her death-bed as her last wish). Marx's wife was so shocked by this flouting of bourgeois convention that she always refused to meet Mary Burns.

Engels's book on 'The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State', published in 1884, shows an evident sympathy for the plight of women as an oppressed group, as when he describes the ending of descent through the female line and the coming of the father-dominated patriarchal family as "the world-historic defeat of the female sex", a wrong which he argued would be undone through the (re-)establishment of common ownership in place of private property. The Owenites of the 1840s would have appreciated both the book and the sentiment.

Engels contributed articles to the 'New Moral World' from November 1843 to May 1845. He returned to Germany in August 1844 where he remained in his father's house in his home town of Bar men (near Dusseldorf in the Rhineland). Here he joined with Hess in carrying out a campaign in the area of basic socialist propaganda, i.e. straight arguments for a communist society without private property, competition, buying and selling or money. It was here too that he wrote his first book 'The Condition of the Working Class in England' based on information he had gathered while working in Manchester and associating with the Owenites, Chartists and trade unionists of the North of England.

Agitation for Socialism

In February 1845 he and Hess spoke at a series of meetings in Elberfeld. At the first of these Engels began by denouncing existing society in these terms:

"In our present-day society, each man works on his own, each strives for his own enrichment and is not in the least concerned with what the rest are doing; ra­tional organisation, or distribution of jobs, is out of the question; on the contrary, each seeks to get the better of the other, seeks to exploit any favourable opportunity for his own private advantage and has neither time nor inclination to think about the fact that, at bottom, his own interests coincide with those of all other people. The individual capitalist is involved in struggle with all the other capitalists; the individual worker with all the other workers; all capitalists fight against the workers just as the mass of workers in their turn have, of necessity, to fight against the mass of capitalists. ln this war of all against all, in this general confusion and mutual exploitation, the essence of present-day bourgeois society is to be found. But, gentlemen, such an unregulated economic system must, in the long run, lead to the most disastrous results for society ... "(Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vo1.4, p. 243).

Among these "disastrous results" were commercial crises. These would be im­possible in a communist society:

"In communist society, where the in terests of individuals are not opposed to one another but, on the contrary, are united, competition is eliminated. As is self-evident, there can no longer be any question of the ruin of particular classes, nor of the very existence of classes such as the rich and the poor nowadays. As soon as private gain, the aim of the individual to enrich himself on his own, disappears from the production and distribution of the goods necessary to life, trade crises will also disappear of themselves. In communist society it will be easy to be informed about both production and consumption. Since we know how much, on the average, a person needs, it is easy to calculate how much is needed by a given number of individuals, and since production is no longer in the hands of private producers but in those of the community and its administrative bodies, it is a trifling matter to regulate produc tion according to needs. Thus we see how the main evils of the present social situa­tion disappear under communist organi sation. "(Marx-Engels Collected Works, p.246).

Because he was arguing directly for Socialism Engels had to face the same objections as Socialists do today, in par­ticular "it' s a nice idea, but it would never work". Engels chose to counter this by saying that "community of goods" and voluntary work had been tried and were working in various communistic colonies set up by the Shakers, the Rappites and others, to show that people could live in communist conditions. For his informa­tion he relied heavily on a series of articles by the Owenite John Finch which had appeared in the 'New Moral World' be tween January and October 1844. Engels quoted Finch's description of how the Rappite community at Economy func tioned:

"They live in families of from twenty to forty individuals, each of whicn has a sepa­rate house and domestic establishment. The family gets its supplies as much as it requires from the common stores. They have an abundance for all and they get as much as they wish without charge. When they need clothing, they apply to the head tailor, the head seamstress or shoemaker and are fumished with it made to their taste. Fresh meat and the other foods are divided among the families according to the number of individuals in each, and they have everything in abundance and plenitude." ("Description of Recently Founded Communist Colonies Still in Exist­ence", Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol.4, p.220).

Engels envisaged a communist society (as opposed to a communist colony or commune) functioning on this sort of principle too. But what would be the incentive to work? Who would do the dirty work? Engels had already answered this in the first article he wrote for the 'New Moral World' in November 1843:

"It was Fourier, who, for the first time, established the great axiom of social philosophy, that every individual having an inclina­tion or predilection for some particular kind of work, the sum of all these inclinations of all individuals must be, upon the whole, an adequate power for providing for the wants of all. From this principle, it follows, that if every individual is left to his own inclination, to do and to leave what he pleases, the wants of all will be provided for, without the forcible means used by the present system of society. This assertion looks bold, and yet; after Fourier's mode of establishing it, is quite unassailable, almost self-evident - the egg of Colombus. Fourier proves, that every one is brnm with an inclination for some kind of work, that absolute idleness is nonsense, a thing which never existed, and cannot exist: that the essence of the human mind is to be active itself and to bring the body into activity; and that, therefore, there is no necessity for making people active by force, as in the now existing state of society, but only to give their natural activity the right direction. He goes on proving the identity of labour and enjoyment, and shows the irrationality of the present social system, which separates them, making labour a toil, and placing enjoyment above the reach of the majority of the labour ers; he shows further, how, under rational arrangements, labour may be made, what it is intended to be, an enjoyment, lea ving every one to follow his own inclinations." ('Progress of Social Reform on the Con ti nent', Marx-Engels Colleeted Works, Vol. 3, pp394-5).

Ahead of their time

Engels later revised his rather optimistic view of these communist-type settlements within capitalism. In 1848 in the Communist Manifesto, which he and Marx drafted, the section on "Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism" refers to "small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure", explaining this failure as being due to the fact that conditions weren't yet ripe for the establishment of socialism: industry wasn't developed enough nor was the working class.

This left the ideas the early Socialists expressed - ideas of common ownership, voluntary work, distribution according to need and no money and no buying and seIling - hanging in the air, as it were, with no material or class basis. As a result they appeared as abstract propositions - unrelated to practical reality, or "utopian" in that sense. The ideas themselves, however, remained perfectly valid as a description of the content of socialism, of the features of the society workers would have to establish to free themselves from the exploi­tation they suffered under capitalism.

Engels's criticism of the Utopian Socialists was not of their ideas for a new society but of the fact that these were not connected to the working class movement as a means of realising them, and in fact could not have been at the time they were first put forward in the 1820s and 1830s. As he and Marx went on to say in the same section of the Communist Manifesto:

"But these Socialist and Communist publications contain also a critical element. They attack every principle of existing society. Hence they are full of the most valuable materials for the enlightenment of the work­ing class. The practical measures proposed in them - such as the abolition of the distinction between town and country, of the family, of the carrying on of industries for the account of private individuals, of the wage system, the proclamation of social harmony, the conversion of the functions of the State into a mere superintendence of production, all these proposals point solely to the disappearance of class antagonisms."

Although Engels was never again to enter into such detail as to what a socialist society might be like as he did in 1843-5, he never departed from this view that the classless society the working class should strive for should be a society of common ownership, democratic control, production and distribution for needs, without buying and seiling, money, wages or the coercive state.

Socialist Standard, August 1995)

Click here for a review of John Green's 'Engels: a Revolutionary Life'

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Our kind of Lennonism

Hundreds of people gathered to hear the bells of Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral ring out the tune of John Lennon's Imagine. Lennon described the song as "anti-religious, anti-conventional". He also said it was "anti-capitalistic".

A spokesman for the Anglican Cathedral said: "The cathedral feel this performance has inspired many to think about their relationship with God in their lives."

My , how the churches can adopt such hypocritical positions simply to remain popular .

Let us remind ourselves of the lyrics to the song :

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

From World Socialist Movement , an article about John Lennon :
"...Lennon's understanding that he dwells in a godless universe is revealed in different places. For example, in "I Found Out," he stated: "There ain't no Jesus gonna come from the sky," and in the song "God" he goes one further: "God is a concept by which we measure our pain," a Feuerbachian and Marxian rooting of God in human psychology and material culture...."

"Imagine' there's no countries" John Lennon sang. "Nothing to kill or die for". Imagination only needs consciousness for it to become reality. As Lennon states , "It's easy if you try." His words echo our vision of a society . Humanity possesses not only the imagination but also the physical ability to make such a society possible.

Friday, May 15, 2009

class in the class-room

Another failure of reformism has been high-lighted here .

When the comprehensive education system was introduced into Scotland from the late 1960s onwards, one of the key drivers was equality. Under the former system, pupils were separated on academic ability after sitting a test at the end of primary school and sent either to senior secondaries, where pupils did Highers, or junior secondaries to learn a trade. While the system was not designed to segregate pupils along class lines, because exam success is often dictated by levels of deprivation the separation of pupils at such an early age - and on the basis of one test - was blamed for entrenching existing class divisions. Therefore, the new comprehensive schools were created to end such iniquitous divisions and extend opportunity to all.

A major report into the attainment of pupils from Scottish secondary schools between 1985 and 2005, conducted by Edinburgh University appears to indicate that segregation is as pronounced as it ever was. The study found the attainment gap between 18-year-olds from middle and working class backgrounds had actually increased between 1985 and 2005.

"Social class is the greatest source of inequality in attainment ..."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Asking the right questions

Stop the War has arranged a remember Gaza demonstration for this Saturday in London. Some supporters of this group will be joining a march for jobs in Birmingham on the same day. What they and so many other similar groups and well intentioned but ill informed people have yet to do is realise the futility of protesting at conflict in a social system where war is endemic. Marching for wage slavery is yet futher evidence that the right questions have yet to be asked. Read on.

Clear political thinking arises from asking the right questions. Ask bad questions and your answers will lead nowhere. For example, given the question, "Should I support the government of the day or a new government, much like them?", it is inevitable that the result, inherent in the flawed question, will lead to an effective non-choice between more of the same and more of something similar. Again, the question, "Should we federate within the European Union?" carries within it enough wrong assumptions to guarantee a useless answer. Who are the "we" in question: British millionaires or British wage slaves? Do both have common interests? Do workers have any interest in which trading bloc their bosses join? But, by confining the question to the narrow issue, the answer is bound to lead the questioner astray.

So, before seeking great political solutions, the task is to raise great political questions. These are not likely to coincide with the questions raised by the mass media. These tend to be narrowly based on the agenda of the capitalist system and its immediiate problems. So, media discussion is rather like observing the fire brigade at work after a bomb has exploded. Questions about who saw it in their interest to make the bomb and why they decided to do it and what other options they had are relegated to the margins. The mass media dismisses such 'why' questions as being too obscure. They want to know who planted the bomb, when it went off, how many people it killed or injured, what the scene of the fire fighters and the flames look like. An election - just like the recent one - might well be described as a competition between rival fire brigades to hose down the flames of the inferno, the cause of which is of no concern to them.

The most illuminating questions are those which concern cause and effect. These are the questions which have traditionally interested scientists. Had Newton's response to the apple falling been to merely study the effect and ask, "What's the best remedy for a bump on the head?", his enlightening thoughts about gravity might not have occurred to him. For most of us, it is the occurrence of regular metaphorical bumps on the head (experience, in short) which leads us to ask the question, "Why is this happening?"

Poltical headache

Here are some good examples of how experience determines questions:

A man is employed by Ford for twenty years. He is skilled and he needs the money in his wage packet. One day he receives a notice with his wages telling him that the job's finished. He is to be made redundant. Capitalism has given him its version of a thump on the head. What does he ask himself? He has a range of questions which he could ask: "Why is it me losing my job and not the other worker who is a different age, colour, gender...?" This kind of question (scapegoating) will only lead to frustration and bitterness. Or he might as, "How can I beg for my job back? Could I convince my employer that I can become even more productive for even less money?" This is the desperate reasoning of the wage slave. How about asking a few more useless questions:"Where was God when I needed him?" or "Why can't I get the right numbers for the lottery now that l'rn down on my luck?" Some people spend years entrapped by such useless questioning. They end up with huge political headaches and a conviction that asking questions leads nowhere.

Someone has a small business and a mortgaged home. The business goes bust because other small businessmen are unable to pay their bills on time. The bank is owed money. The business folds. Without a business income the mortgage payments fall into arrears. The family home is repossessed by the bank. Once again, the array of useless questions which could be - and often are- asked is huge: "Why weren't the other business men more prompt at paying their bills? Why wasn't the bank more flexible? Why should my family suffer from being homeless when I have done nothing but work my fingers to the bone? Why should this happen to me and not the people who own supermarkets?"

The need for these people, and millions like them suffering to a greater or lesser extent from social problems, is to ask the right questions. The right questions are ones which go to the root cause of the problem. Imagine going to a doctor with a pain in your leg: "Shall we cut your leg off or pray for a miracle relief?" she asks. Any sensible sufferer will soon be limping out of the surgery of such a lunatic. Any serious scientist will want to know the cause of the pain.

Religious people have their own answer. The cause of humanity's pain is original sin. Why is life full of woes? Because Eve was tempted by a snake to eat an apple. Well, if that kind of fairy story satisfies you there is little point in looking for further root causes. Why Hiroshima? Why the gas chambers? Why do millions of innocent children starve to death? Blame Adam and Eve. The Fall of Man. Human Nature. This is the most erroneous causal explanation in the history of ideas. It is a humanity-hating analysis which substitutes self-blame and guilt for more reasoned questioning.

The root cause

The socialist takes the opposite approach to questioning. We ask, "What is it about the way that society is organised which leads to effects which repeatedly harm so many people?" The same question could well be asked by people who are not socialists. Answers could range from "Because the government is lousy and we need a new government" to "Because there are too many people being born." All of these imagined root causes have been put from time to time. They are all wrong. Governments come and governments go, but still the basic social system remains. In fact, the system governs the government and not the other way round - as Messrs. Blair and Brown will soon come to realise. What these fail to do is address the nature of the way society is organised at root.

The root cause for socialists is the social system. By this we mean a particular network of social relationships existing at this point in has not always existed. It will not always exist. It will stop existing after enough people have questioned its practicality and desirability as the best possible social system.

Put simply, we state that the current social system is one which puts production for profit before production for human needs. Why does it do so? Because a minority own and control the productive resources of society and will only allow these to be used as long as they are making a profit for them. How do they make profits? By getting the majority of society, who own litt!e but our mental and physical energies, to work for them in return for wages or salaries which amount to less than what we are producing. Why does the majority work to make profits for a minority? Because they have yet to question why it is that their problems arise directly from a social system where minority profit comes before majority needs. And a good deal of money and energy is devoted to diverting the majority from asking such dangerous questions.

So, in an age filled to the brim with awful social problems and countless wrong solutions, ler's conclude with some questions rather than answers. Think long and hard enough about the right questions and the answers will take care of themselves.

Why are we living in a society capable of producing enough to feed, clothe and shelter everyone, yet millions are deprived of these needs being satisfied and hundreds of millions face relative poverty?

Why is production of goods and services geared to sale on the market with a view to profit rather than solely to meet people's needs? What kind of a society could we have if production solely for use replaced production for profit?

If the socialist alternative of common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, and production for use, is so sensible, why aren't millions of people insisting that we organise society on that basis?

Why not do something about working with other socialists to raise these vital questions and act upon the answers?

SC (Socialist Standard, June 1997)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Coming North Pole War ?

Once again the spectre of a capitalist war to capture raw materials has been raised . From a region of simply scientific curiousity the Arctic region due to the climate change and global warming has become a hot-bed of territorial expansion . Our companion blog Socialist Courier has been following this story for quite some time .

In the most recent development Russia raised the prospect of war in the Arctic yesterday as nations struggle for control of the world’s dwindling energy reserves. The country’s new national security strategy identified the intensifying battle for ownership of vast untapped oil and gas fields around its borders as a source of potential military conflict within a decade.

“In a competition for resources it cannot be ruled out that military force could be used to resolve emerging problems that would destroy the balance of forces near the borders of Russia and her allies.”

Its warnings of armed conflict suggest that it is willing to defend its interests by force if necessary as global warming makes exploitation of the region’s energy riches more feasible. An earlier Kremlin document declared the Arctic a strategic resource for Russia and said that development of its energy reserves by 2020 was a vital national objective. It set out plans to establish army bases along the Arctic frontier to “guarantee military security in different military-political situations”. Putin accused the West last year of coveting Russian energy reserves, saying: “Many conflicts, foreign policy actions and diplomatic moves smell of oil and gas. Behind all that there often is a desire to enforce an unfair competition and ensure access to our resources.”

But as Socialist Courier blog has high-lighted , Russia is by no means the sole culprit in the militarization of the Arctic Circle . In one stage of civilisation the food question causes tribe to fight against tribe, the fate of the defeated tribe being to serve as food for the victors. In another phase of civilisation those captured in battle are sent as slaves to toil for the benefit of those who have vanquished them. Our contention that war has always been fundamentally economic can be justified from every historical epoch, yet this has not always been obvious. The struggle for the oil and gas and minerals of the North Pole now clearly exposes the economic character of war .

The workers to-day has nothing to fight for. The interests of their masters are not their interests. National prestige is not their prestige. When the capitalist-class fully realises that they can no longer depend upon the working-class, when they find that the workers have , at last , come to understand their class position, and that they have no reason for fighting in their master’s interests against those with whom they have no personal quarrel, the capitalist will see that it is impossible to appeal to patriotism and all the rest and then it will be impossible to make war . Militarism is an inevitable effect of capitalist domination and the struggle for markets and profit, and so long as the workers are ruled by a master class, so long will their masters use them as cannon fodder. The only solution of the question of militarism from the proletarian point of view is the abolition of capitalist exploitation. It is then our duty to concentrate our efforts upon Socialism. The revolutionary Socialist is the truest peace advocate.

The origin of war lies in class ownership of the means whereby the people live. The straightest road is the shortest road, and the only way to get rid of the evil of militarism is to get rid of capitalism.

Hungry capitalism

The number of hungry people in the world could soon hit a record ONE BILLION (or roughly one-sixth of the world's population ) .

"We have never seen so many hungry people in the world," Food and Agriculture Organization's general director, Jacques Diouf said.

Capitalism makes men ill

Men are struggling to cope with the emotional impact of the recession . Almost 40% of men admit to feeling low at the moment with job security, work and money playing on their minds, a Mind survey of 2,000 adults found.

Research shows one in seven men develop depression within six months of losing their jobs.

Paul Farmer, chief executive at Mind, said: "The recession is clearly having a detrimental impact on the nation's mental health, but men in particular are struggling with the emotional impact. Being a breadwinner is something that is still crucial to the male psyche so if a man loses his job he loses a large part of his identity putting his mental wellbeing in jeopardy. "

Peter Cooper, spokesman for the British Psychological Society, said "With men there's much more shame about say the loss of a job or the loss of a home..."

Oxford University researchers recently found that the children of fathers with mental health disorders such as depression are more likely to develop anxiety, alcoholism and psychiatric problems in later life.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Who needs religious morality?


The capitalist system of society, with its production of wealth for sale at a profit on the market, has not always existed. Contrary to common belief, such social features as wage labour, the cash nexus and capitalist companies are relatively new developments in social evolution, To the citizen of England in the early fifteenth century, the economic characteristics which modern British workers are conditioned to regard as natural and inevitable simply did not exist.

Prior to capitalism the feudal mode of production prevailed. Under the feudal system all land was owned, theoretically at least, by the king. He allowed members of the feudal ruling dass - the aristocracy - to control areas of land on his behalf. Those who laboured on the land were peasants, obliged to contribute most of what they produced to the landlord, leaving the remainder for their own subsistence. Feudal Britain was almost entirely dominated by agrarian prcduction; neither industrial manufacture nor trade played any significant economic role. Most agricultural production was arable: in short, producing food for the domestic population was the chief feudal concern. It would be no exaggeration to say that it was the emergence of the European woollen cloth market, centred in Antwerp (the commercial capital of the Holy Roman Empire), that had the most profound effect on the transformation from feudal to capitalist production in Britain. As arable farrning was contracted to make way for sheep, as peasants' arable strips and common lands were enclosed to allow room for the new, relatively massive pastoral farrns, and as the landlord increasingly lost social power in relation to the merchant, the imperatives of capitalist trade - caring for nothing but profit and prepared to trample on tradition for the sake of commerce capitalism came to life. As early as the fourteenth century the export of woollen cloth began to be significant: in' the 1390s over 43,000 sacks of woollen cloth were exported; by the early 1500s the figure had increased to 84,789 sacks; in the years 1538-42, 118,000 sacks were exported accounting for 92 per cent of exported wool. With the rise of merchant trading, the priorities of sale and profit shook the social stability of the medieval slumber: the rise of capitalist trade transforrned peasants into landless labourers, robbed of their strips by landlords who were forced into commercial avarice by the dictates of the market. Propertyless, the peasants had no option but to offer themselves as hirelings to whoever could atford the price of their mental and physical energies. The class of wage slaves was born.

The morality of feudalism placed value on social routine. The king's power, and therefore the power of the ruling dass which owed feudal allegiance to him, was justified by the theory of divine right. Why was the king on top? Because a god ordained that he should be. And as the feudal god determined that the few should live in privilege, so it was His Holy Word that the poor should accept their lot with humility and deference. Feudal ethics left little room for the prospect of social mobility: inherited privilege and ordained poverty were not to be interfered with by social action. The Roman Catholic code of ethics condemned trade, moneylending for interest (usury) and the general idea that those who were not affluent should pursue riches at the expense of others. Catholicism was not a business morality, but one concerned with the perpetuation of class rule by undisturbed custorn. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic moralist, argued that "immoderate love of possessing" is covetous and "covetousness is a sin". His colleague, St. Antoninus, stated that "If the object of the trader is principally cupidity , which is the root of all evil, then certainly trade itself is evil". Until 1545 it was illegal for bankers (or moneylenders) in London to lend money for interest: there were cases of men being imprisoned for engaging in such practices. In an age in which the trader and the banker had little or no role, religious morality reflected the material interests of the land barons and the hereditary rulers.

With the rise of capitalism came the birth of a new morality. The ethic of capitalism was the holy scroll which the new legalised robbers wrapped around themselves to cover their naked class thievery. Now, there is a school of thought, dating back to the writings of those far from unreasonable social thinkers, Max Weber and R.H. Tawney, which contends that the emergence of the capitalist ethic protestantism, and especially Calvinist puritanism - gave rise to capitalism. This is to mistake cause for effect or, to be more precise, to ignore dialectical interaction between economic and intellectual forces (both of which are material) and to present an idealistic interpretation of history, that is, one which assurnes that ideas determine material development. The idea of capitalism did not give rise to the new social order. It was the evolution of the new system, generated by the contradictions between the emerging world market and the anachronistic social relationships of feudalism, which gave rise to new ethics.

The morality of capitalism reflected the class interest of those whose affluence was derived from surplus value - rent, interest and profit. The old feudal ethics were swept aside, much to the displeasure of the aristocratic remnants who maintained their moral whining for the old system of parasitism well into the nineteenth century. According to the new morals there was no contradiction at all between becoming rich at the expense of others and being morally pure: "O ye rich citizens, we tell you from Him, whose title is Rich in Mercy, that ye may be at once rich and holy", proclaimed the protestant preacher, Joseph Hall. The Nonconformist preacher, Richard Steele, urges capitalists "to be most happy in your shop and business and drive the nail whilst it is going. But direct all to a right. the honour of God, the Public Good as well as your Private Commodity, and then every step and stroke in your trade is sanctified". The protestant ethic of justification by faith left morality to the conscience of the individual: it you can kid yourself that your actions are motivated by love of god, only the outward expression of "simple faith" is required to ensure moral righteousness. In his 'Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses', the celebrated spokesman for the new capitalist theology, John Calvin. justified usury, rejecting the clairns of those Christians who still hung on to the old feudal morality:

... those who think differently may object, that we must abide by God's judgement, when he generaJly prohibits all usury to rus people. l reply, that the question is only as to the poor, and consequently, jf we have to do with the rich, that usury is freely permitted. (London, 1852 edn, Vol l, p.151.)

And so it came to pass that this god, invented by men to give moral backing to their class actions, had one law for the poor - who must not lend money for interest - and another for the capitalists.

As capitalism evolved, especially when it entered its industrial phase, the morality of the ruling class became more and more based upon the principles of profit as a reward for righteousness and thrift, humility and faith being the best virtues for the propertyless majority. The Church went hand in hand with the state, following the industrial capitalists in all of their sordid efforts to enrich themselves at the expense of others. And, as Bishop Sprat wrote in 1667, in his 'History of the Royal Society':

If our Church should be an enemy to commerce, intelligence, discovery, navigation, or any sort of mechanics, how could it be fit for the present genius of this nation?

As men, women and children were forced to labour in the most filthy, dangerous and undignified conditions, the churches blessed those who profited from such exploitation and counselled the exploited to accept their fate in obedience - for the righteous wage slave here on earth would be rewarded with paradise beyond the grave! The Church controlled education before 1870 and, in the age befare mass broadcasting or the popular press, it fell to the religious bodies to spread information to the workers. Despite "Thou shalt not kill", the moralists of 1914 found it within themselves to justify the slaughter of lives for the sake of the material advaneement of the ruling dass. Indeed, the sight of vicars blessing bombs has not been an uncommon one during this century of ethical hypocrisy. In 1916, when workers were conscripted to fight in the war, the Seventh Day Adventists (a small, fundamentalist Christian sect) refused to fight on the grounds that

As a Christian Church, believing in the undiminished authority and perpetuity of the moral law, given by God himself in the Ten Commandments, we hold that we are thereby forbidden to take part in combatant service in time of war. (Quoted in 'Seventh Day Adventists in Time of War' by F. Wilcox, Washington DC, 1936.)

lronically, more pragmatic Christian theologians were appointed to sit on tribunals and do their best to drive the fundamentalists away from their politically
unacceptab1e position. In fact, the position taken by the Seventh Day Adventists demonstrates very clearly why it is that morals, which are always presented as absolute precepts, are relative standards of social behaviour, adapted over the years to fit in with the class needs of different rulers. A striking modem example is the attitude of Islarnic morality towards commerce. R. Levy points out that "The Koran forbids as a deadly sin all taking of increment as distinguished from ... transfer for equivalents" ('The Social Structure of Islam', Cambridge, 1962, p 257). This has not prevented the extensive growth of banking and interest-taking in the Islamic countries in modem times.

Socialism is not a moral proposition based on absolute values but the product of a class analysis of capitalist society and its material contradictions. Once we have socialism there will be no need to advocate "socialist ethics": the people of the world will live their lives unfettered by the certainties of dogma.


(Socialist Standard, November 1984)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Listen suckers!

"We gather here determined to renew that most solemn undertaking, to build a society in which all people are freed from the shackles of discrimination, exploitation, want and disease."

"For as long as there are South Africans who die from preventable disease;
For as long as there are workers who struggle to feed their families;
For as long as there are communities without clean water, decent shelter or proper sanitation;
For as long as there are rural dwellers unable to make a decent living from the land on which they live;
For as long as there are women who are subjected to discrimination, exploitation or abuse;
For as long as there are children who do not have the means nor the opportunity to receive a decent education."

For as long as workers in South Africa and elsewhere believe the empty rhetoric of Zuma et al, such 'problems' will continue to beset our class

Friday, May 08, 2009

European Elections

European Elections

Click image to enlarge view

We are contesting in London but urging a write in vote elsewhere.
Our election Blog
Download our election leaflets.

1, Manifesto for London Region (where we're contesting) (PDF)
2. Manifesto for outside London (where we're running a write-in campaign) (PDF)
3. London manifesto in Bengali (PDF)


Dannny Lambert, Tristan Miller, Janet Carter, Bill Martin, Adam Buick, Simon Wigley, Frederick Allen, Patricia Deutz.

VE (Victory in Europe) Day, 8th May 1945

They called it Peace

VE Day in Britain was a typically bright and sunny late spring day, cloaked in a certain air of unreality. It had been obvious for several weeks that Germany was collapsing and that the war in Europe was drawing to a close. Hitler was dead and it was just a matter of time before the end. Over the radio came a stream of announcements in German, accompanied by martial music, that were later revealed to be false messages put out to spread confusion in a Germany that was sinking into chaos. In fact the choice of day was bungled. It had been intended to announce the final surrender on 9 May - the day the surrender was to be ratified at a stage-managed ceremony in Berlin - but the news was leaked by an American reporter and so the Western powers celebrated a day earlier.

People went through a repeat performance of 1918. Church bells were rung, floodlights were turned on, there was dancing in the streets and street parties, and the usual crowds outside Buckingham Palace. The mood was more realistic than in 1918. Just as in September 1939 there had been an absence of the hysteria of 1914, so in 1945 there were no wild expectations. People had at least learned enough to realise that this was not going to be a World Fit for Heroes and there was a complete absence of the Hang the Kaiser type of nonsense, the overwhelming feelings were of relief and concern about what lay ahead. After all, the first World War had only ended 27 years before, so people in early middle life could clearly remember what had followed it: a brief period of full employment and a slump that lasted, with fluctuations, until 1939. During all that time there were never less than a million unemployed, which served to keep down workers' wages, and even those who were children in the 1920s had vivid memories of the heroes of yesterday, often minus limbs, singing and playing for money in the streets. In 1945 prophesies were rife that there would be a couple of million unemployed, and war with Japan still had some time to run.

Wartime censorship was still in operation and decisions which were to shape future events hidden from the public. People who had grown up with the concept of an "Empire on which the sun never sets" had no idea that in not much more than a generation only a few distant outposts would remain. And while Hamburg and Dresden were in the past, the dropping of the atom bomb was still to come: an event that would make total annihilation a possibility. But perhaps the most important unknown fact was the deterioration of the relationship with Russia.

This latter was to present the authorities with one of their most difficult problems that of convincing people that those gallant, smiling heroic soldiers were in fact a menace to be feared. But they had had practice in such things in 1941, when they had to undo the propaganda efforts of the previous two years. From the signing of the Non-Aggression 'Pact with Germany just before the outbreak of war, through the invasion of eastem Poland and the attack on Finland, the Soviet Union was portrayed as a tyranny. The British Cornmunist Party opposed the war and the Daily Worker was suppressed. When, in June 1941, the Germans invaded Russia, a complete change around took place. The propaganda machine was tumed on full blast and for four years everything Russian became not only fashionable, but admirable. Russian faces looked down from hoardings and out from our news papers and magazines, Russian tunes poured from the radio, with danceband singers trying to sound like Cossacks. while Russian films drew long queues to the box office. Russia was portrayed as a kind of democracy, different from the West but still a democracy. Joseph Stalin was really a kindly old chap who smoked a pipe and had a sense of humour. The purges and show trials were portrayed as being aimed solely 'at Nazi Fifth Columnists. The Daily Worker was restored and used the same strip cartoons that had opposed the war to support it.

But on VE Day the public were blissfully unaware of this and Russian flags were carried with the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes. The media - newspapers and magazines, radio and films - consciously sought to create a feeling that the war had blown away much that was stuffy and stale and that we were about to emerge into an exciting new world. This had started quite abruptly at the end of 1940 after the collapse of France and the beginning of the Blitz. With no introduction or build-up, just as if they had tumed on a tap, the authorities started to talk about a new world. This was not the crude old stuff of the 1914-18 war, but much more subtle. Committees were set up and reports were issued covering every aspect of the economy. The most famous was the Beveridge Plan which, even from a capitalist point of view, hardly merited the claim to be "the hope of salvation for the future of the people of this country". However the propaganda machine pushed it until it became part of modem folklore. Planning Boards were set up for the development of town and country and to prevent the ugliness of pre-war urban sprawl. The bombing had laid bare large areas of the City of London and grandiose schemes were drawn up to lay these out with wide boulevards and open up a vista of St. Paul's from the Thames, with gardens and walks. But capitalism does not allow some of the most expensive land in the world to become flowerbeds. The result can be seen today in the Citv's forest of gigantic office blocks.

Alongside this, throughout the war, every effort was made to encourage discussion and education as a morale booster, and to allay the boredom of the troops who during the build-up to D Day had been kept in cornparative inaction. Radio prograrnmes like the Brains Trust and the lunch-time concerts in an empty National Gallery were part of this, as was the effort of the Arrny Bureau of Current Affairs, who sent out fortnightly pamphlets to Army units for discussion. One result of this was to produce a swing to the Left in political thinking, which helped to produce the Labour victory at the 1945 General Election.

During the war a political truce had prevailed and government was by coalition, on VE Day the truce was still intact but behind the scenes it was breaking up. Party leaders began to make veiled political speeches and after VE Day a General Election was called. This took place on 5 July but the count was delayed until 25 July to allow time for postal votes from the Arrned Forces to come in. It was a quiet affalr conducted on an out-of-date register and it resulted in a sweeping Labour victory. This was greeted by exaggerated hopes and fears. The Left saw it as the beginning of socialism which would sweep away the problems of the world, while some of the sillier Tories feared that they would be dispossessed, or at least lose their savings. Neither fears nor hopes were justified as all the Labour government could do was to run the country in the interest of the British capitalist dass. Not that they had the slightest intention of doing anything else.

The Conservative Party were badly shaken by their defeat. For twenty years they had had things their own way; they had undoubtedly lost touch with grassroots feelings and their organisatlon had become obsolete. After a period of sulking because the electorate had had the cheek to throw them out, they began a steady climb back. They did what they would have shunned before the war and went out on to the streets. We were treated to the sight of top Tories slumming and ex-Cabinet Ministers were prepared to debate with anybody. They even found a few Tory working men who could be relied on to drop their aitches at the right place and address Tory women delegates in flowered hats as "mate". They went over big with the well-heeled delegates at the annual conference. Once they began to pick up again, the Tories dropped all this kind of stuff.

The Labour government began with a massive programme of nationalisation, which they called socialism, and found it difficult to get the British economy going again after the war. They gradually became more and more unpopular. Fascism had been discredited during the war but was soon to rear its ugly head again.

There is no doubt that many men coming back from active service were determined that their children should grow up in a better world and that what they saw as the errors of the past should not be repeated. Unfortunately it was the inevitable workings of capitalism with which they were dealing. Slowly this political interest faded and for some years, once the immediate post war shortages had eased. things on the surface appeared much improved. Mass unemployment did not appear for many years and during the "never had it so good" era many people thought that the world had learned how to deal with such things as slumps. There were other problems of capitalism, principally the chronic housing shortage. People had jobs but nowhere decent to live. Love on the Dale was replaced by Cathy Come Home - and In Which We Serve by The War Game.


(Socialist Standard, May 1985)